Cousinade on Ben Nevis

Neil Silver starting the second pitch during the first ascent of Cousinade (VII,8). This difficult mixed route was inspired by the summer line of Cousin’s Buttress Direct, but takes a different line in the steep lower section. (Photo Simon Yearsley)

Neil Silver starting the second pitch of Cousinade (VII,8) on Ben Nevis. This difficult new mixed route was inspired by the summer line of Cousin’s Buttress Direct, but takes a different line in the steep lower section. (Photo Simon Yearsley)

Malcolm Bass, Simon Yearsley and Neil Silver added a new route to Cousins’ Buttress on Ben Nevis on February 4. This had been a long-standing objective for Malcolm and Simon, having made two previous attempts on the buttress. The first was on the 2012 BMC International Winter Meet when Simon and Magnus Kestengren attempted to follow the summer line of the summer Severe route, Cousins Buttress Direct but struggled to find a way through the steep wall on the right-hand side of the buttress. In 2013, on the weekend of the Scottish Winter Climbing Meet organised by Richard Bentley, Malcolm and Simon returned and made a further attempt with Malcolm taking a nasty fall and hurting his ankle while probing the same area.

“It was on the second attempt that Malcolm peered round the corner into the steep open corner on the left hand side of the buttress,” Neil explained. “This corner system is a very obvious feature from the approach path to the CIC, but given its aspect and steepness it’s not often in good winter condition. Having seen it at close quarters, Malcolm thought it looked climbable but hard and hence this became the target for attempt number three – all we needed were good conditions!

The Ben was not first option on our list with the Applecross mountains in such great condition but we had work commitments so couldn’t make the longer drive north. However, having seen lots of pictures of the Carn Dearg area looking really white and icy, we were hopeful that the Cousins’ Buttress corner would be in condition. It was! We all agreed on the day that the this part of the Ben can feel like a different mountain more akin to a North-West cliff with great atmosphere provided by the ice of the Shroud and the steep North Wall of Carn Dearg framing Cousins’ Buttress.

Simon led a difficult approach pitch that finished with an exposed traverse relying on some crucial undercuts to set us up on a belay underneath the main corner.

I set off with very thin moves off the belay to gain some small icicles just below a flake and the tension of the hard moves was broken as the first swing into the top of the icicles caused a small waterfall. Keen not to be completely soaked on this cold day I was nearly off avoiding the outflow but managed to stay on and the ice lower down took a good screw and gave some safety. The ground above looked steep but good with some initial chockstones leading up and right via a jamming crack to the bottom of the main steep corner. The corner gave good gear but increasing steepness and after some procrastination I had to make a final push for the top and the promise of a good ledge. Exiting the steepness a final hard move to the left was required to gain the ledge, which was indeed good as promised!

Simon had hurt his shoulder seconding and struggled up on the top rope with increasing difficulty and pain to the belay where we re-organised. Malcolm led the next pitch through a steep off width and steep wall to take us to the saddle on top of the lower buttress.

The saddle brought the darkness and a decision of how to attack the top buttress. I led a short link pitch across the saddle and onto the side of the upper buttress where we took a belay below the upper icefall of Harrison’s. With Simon’s shoulder giving continued pain Malcolm headed on into the darkness up a gangway leading into a groove all with excellent easier climbing but sparse protection. Theses final two pitches were quickly dispatched and we arrived in the magnificent upper corrie. Joining Ledge Route we descended under the stars and finished with a fine glissade down Number Five!

Overall, we thought the grade was VII,8 with the top section of the main corner particularly technical and tenuous. For the route name, my wife Estelle is from France and her family celebrate an annual gathering of various cousins – Cousinade. It seemed to fit perfectly!”

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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