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    Looking up the line of Total Kheops (VI,6) on the left side of the upper part of Minus One Buttress. This outstanding line is one of the finest thin face routes added to Ben Nevis in recent years (Photo Remi Thivel)

    Looking up the line of Total Kheops (VI,6) on the left side of the upper part of Minus One Buttress. This outstanding line is one of the most aesthetic-looking thin face routes added to Ben Nevis in recent years. (Photo Remi Thivel)

    Remi Thivel has provided more details about his inspirational run of routes on Ben Nevis climbed with Laurence Girard in early March.

    After warming up on Minus One and Minus Three gullies on March 10, Remi and Laurence had an outstanding day on March 11 when they started up Astronomy, crossed over to the Basin and then made the second ascent of Spaced Out (VII,7) before finishing up the icy wall left of the Orion Direct exit. Climbing solo, Remi then made the second ascent of a more direct version of Shooting Star (VI,6) thinking it was Urban Spaceman.

    The following day (March 12) they made an early repeat of Point Blank (VII,6) before adding Total Kheops (VI,6) on the left flank of Minus One Buttress. This beautiful-looking corner is very rarely iced, and is one of the most compelling new ice lines added to the Ben in recent years. Remi and Laurence’s tally of four outstanding routes over two days is one of the most impressive displays of thin ice climbing the mountain has ever seen.

    The pair was assisted by the outstanding conditions that week, but not surprisingly, Remi knows Ben Nevis well and this was his ninth trip to the mountain. “I decided to climb the dihedral [of Total Kheops] when I got to the bottom just because it looked very nice,” Remi told me. “I didn’t know it had never been done before. The ice was thin but sticky and very good, and it is not very steep. I did not know my client before the trip, but she was very motivated for anything so we just climbed all day and every day. Such beautiful conditions, we had to take advantage of it!”

    Nick Bullock climbing pitch 5 of The Shield Direct (VII,7) on Ben Nevis on 24th March. Instead of going left above the chimney-flake as per the guidebook description, Bullock and Guy Robertson continued straight up an icicle-draped overhanging wall, which proved to be the crux of the route. If anyone else has gone this way then please get in touch as it will be recorded as an alternative finish in the next edition of the SMC guidebook (Photo Guy Robertson)

    Nick Bullock climbing pitch 5 of The Shield Direct (VII,7) on Ben Nevis on 24 March. Instead of going left above the chimney-flake as per the guidebook description, Bullock and Guy Robertson continued straight up an icicle-draped overhanging wall, which proved to be the crux of the route. If anyone else has gone this way, then please get in touch, as it will be recorded as an alternative finish in the next edition of the SMC guidebook. (Photo Guy Robertson)

    “And again, like all of the times before in this winter of difficult conditions and wrong weather forecasts, Guy Robertson, normally so knowledgeable in where to go, procrastinated,” Nick Bullock writes. “An Teallach, Beinn Eighe, Glen Coe. I received text messages throughout the day, each one telling me what crag and what time to meet. Finally, at 7pm, Cairn Dearg, the venue I had suggested at the start of the text tennis, was decided upon.

    The heavy snow storm on Saturday, followed by rain, more snow, rain, snow and almost the first frost of winter on Sunday night, made for possibility anywhere on Cairn Dearg but neither Guy nor myself had been on The Ben for a while and I felt the weight to produce something good for Guy as he had once again been building pressure like my coffee pot.

    ‘Something will be in Guy; it has to be given that snow and a frost.’

    6.30am – And as we walked the frozen gravel, avoiding the snake tongues of clear blue ice welded to the surface of the footpath, I could sense the weight lifting from both our shoulders.

    The CIC Hut was near and like the frost scraped from my windscreen earlier, the alpenglow warmed the white summits for the first time of my 2014, and in this one fell swoop, it made up for much of the battling. We were still heading for Cairn Dearg, but with open minds and a monster rack of gear, hopefully we had all bases covered. The only two things we did not bring were ice screws and a guidebook.

    9.00am – Gently, I flicked an axe. The pick curved in the cold air and penetrated a thin skin of ice. Gentle, the second axe-pick connected but with downward dragging force, the pick sliced, puckered and wrinkled the frozen water until it caught and held on some hidden obstruction. I breathed deep and stepped from the snow. Above me, the steep corner of The Shield Direct with a continuous stream of thin ice beckoned. And above this, the two hundred and eighty five metres – flakes, chimneys, rock-overhangs, snow-fields, overhanging-ice, history, reputation, connection, surprise – Fowler and Saunder’s thirty-five year-old climb.

    Once again an axe arced gentle and the pick penetrated thin with a stabbing flesh squish. Spindrift lifted from the summit slopes poured down the line clotting my eyelashes. I shouted to Guy,

    ‘Do you know where we are going?’

    His answer was succinct, ‘Up.’”

    Iain Small moving up to the first crux bulge on a new VIII,8 on Ben Nevis. This sustained 50m-long groove was the climax to the five-pitch route on the North Wall of Carn Dearg. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    Iain Small moving through a bulge on From The Jaws of Defeat, a new VIII,8 on Ben Nevis. This sustained and spectacular 50m-long groove was the climax to the five-pitch route on the North Wall of Carn Dearg. (Photo Simon Richardson)

    The vertical triangular headwall on the left side of the North Wall of Carn Dearg on Ben Nevis is split by a spectacular groove that runs up to the very apex of the wall. It had fascinated me for years, so when Iain Small suggested we try and climb it last Sunday (March 23), I jumped at the chance.

    Unfortunately, conditions were not too helpful as a deep thaw had stripped the cliffs the previous week, and before it had a chance to re-freeze, a heavy snowfall had smothered the crags on Friday and Saturday. We hummed and hawed about trying something in Coire na Ciste instead, but in the end we settled for Plan A and headed up to the base of Carn Dearg.

    Iain and I had climbed the deep chimney on the left side of the triangular headwall when we made the first ascent of The Cone Gatherers in 2008. On that occasion we raced against darkness as we climbed into the gloom of the December twilight, which sums up the challenge of climbing on this wall because it is such a difficult place to get to.

    This time, with longer March days we felt we had time on our side, but our initial choice of line ground to halt in deep snow overlying unfrozen turf. With our time advantage quickly slipping away, it would have been easy to turn tail, but instead we knew that we had to find an alternative that relied solely on snowed up rock. I remembered that the rock was clean and steep on the wall left of Staircase Climb Direct that I had climbed with Chris Cartwright way back in 1999, so we retraced our steps and headed up towards that.

    The tactic worked. Iain led a spectacular tech 8 pitch left of an overhanging prow, and then we ploughed up easier ground for a couple of pitches to gain the foot of the triangular headwall. The snow was deep with a layer of windslab, and at one point I was considering the wisdom of continuing (especially when we heard the boom of one of the Castle gullies avalanching), but there was the odd running belay, which encouraged upward progress.

    The first pitch on the headwall was steep and devious, but eventually it led to the base of a spectacular 50m-long groove that soared vertically upwards into the late afternoon sky. This was a perfect Iain Small pitch, with reasonably straightforward tech 7 climbing to start, but as it steepened the protection became sparser, and two crux sections led to a devious slabby finish. At the top, Iain likened it to a mini version of The Great Corner, but there was no time for pleasantries as the light was fading fast.

    Two long snow pitches took us onto the upper crest of Ledge Route, where a welcome set of footsteps wound down into the lower reaches of Number Five Gully and the warmth and welcome of the CIC Hut. It had been a fine adventure snatched from the very jaws of defeat.

    The Minus and Orion faces on Ben Nevis on 12 March 2014. The red arrow shows the icy V-groove climbed by Remi Thivel and Laurence Girand that afternoon. A perfect combination of heavy snowfall, short thaw and freeze brought the thin face routes into the best conditions in living memory, but unfortunately the optimum conditions only lasted two days before they were swept away with warm air from the Atlantic. (Photo Mike Pescod)

    The Minus and Orion faces on Ben Nevis on 12 March 2014. The red arrow shows the icy V-groove on Minus One Buttress climbed by Remi Thivel and Laurence Girard. A perfect combination of heavy snowfall, short thaw and freeze brought the thin face routes on Ben Nevis into the best conditions in living memory, but unfortunately they only lasted three days before being swept away with warm air from the Atlantic. (Photo Mike Pescod)

    I’ve been trying to find out more details on the extraordinary run of routes climbed on Ben Nevis by a French team staying at the CIC Hut a couple of weeks ago. I was climbing on The Ben on Sunday so was able to extract the following details from the hut book.

    Laurence Girard and guide Remi Thivel started their campaign on March 10 with ascents of Minus One and Minus Three gullies. The weather was cooling down that day after a quick thaw over the weekend had transformed the huge amount of snow lying on the Orion and Minus faces into perfect neve.

    On the morning of March 11, Remi and Laurence started up Astronomy, crossed over to the Basin and then climbed a line between Space Invaders and Journey into Space before finishing up the icy wall left of the Orion Direct exit. Although this line is similar to Shooting Star (climbed by Robin Clothier and Rich Bentley last season), to my knowledge this link up had not been climbed before, and the pitches on Orion Face may be new.

    In the afternoon Remi then made a remarkable solo on the Orion Face. He started up Urban Spaceman (which only saw its first repeat last year) and continued up the chimney of Zybernaught to finish, taking 40 minutes in all.

    The following morning (March 12), Remi and Laurence climbed Point Blank on Observatory Buttress, which Remi wrote was “fantastic and exposed.” In the afternoon they started up Minus Two Gully, but instead of stepping left into the upper gully after the first two pitches, they continued up and into the clean-cut V-groove on Minus One Buttress left of the crux corner of Subtraction. This outstanding feature is rarely iced and was unclimbed in either summer or winter. “The dihedral was fantastic’” Remi wrote. “It was 35 metres-long, 75/80 degrees of thin ice, and protected by a C3 yellow and a C4 green.”

    The perfect conditions disappeared overnight as warm front swept in from the south-west, so Remi and Laurence concluded their remarkable haul of routes with an ascent of Match Point in the rain before finishing up Observatory Buttress Direct climbed on wet snow.

    It was raining and windy the following morning, but they put it to good use – “ A long lie-in and a good breakfast…”

    Murdoch Jamieson nearing the top of Minis One Superdirect (VII,8) on Ben Nevis. This was the first time the direct line up the centre of Minus One Buttress had been climbed in winter, although this pitch had previously been climbed by Guy Robertson, Pete Benson and Nick Bullock four years before. (Photo Iain Small)

    Murdoch Jamieson nearing the top of Minus One Superdirect (VII,6) on Ben Nevis. This was the first time the direct line up the centre of Minus One Buttress had been climbed in winter, although this pitch had previously been climbed by Guy Robertson, Pete Benson and Nick Bullock four years before. (Photo Iain Small)

    Following their new route on the Astronomy face of Ben Nevis, Iain Small and Uisdean Hawthorn had an even more outstanding day on March 12.

    “Wednesday was another stunning day with a good frost and rock-solid snow,” Iain told me. “Murdoch [Jamieson] joined us and we followed the line of French teams heading back to the Minus and Orion faces – wise choices given the monster cornice/seracs threatening most other areas. Observatory Buttress also seemed safe, and we spotted a team on a very fat-looking Point Blank.

    With so many quality lines on offer we thought hard and settled on the line of Minus One Buttress as the most aesthetic and compelling, given the generous conditions. Other lines were put aside for another day. With the sheer quantity and quality of neve I was quietly hoping for a very direct line but was happy just to get on this most elusive of winter features.

    Uisdean romped up the first pitch to the big plinth then it was decision time – follow the original winter line or move out right onto the front face as per the summer line. ‘Take a look’ was the consensus. I was totally enthralled climbing that pitch, not really believing you could find conditions that would make it possible, and yet we were there, soaking it up and smiling. This long pitch took us to below the upper Chandelle-like buttress where we joined the line taken during Guy Robertson, Pete Benson and Nick Bullock’s ascent of Minus One Direct.

    Murdoch got a great pitch up this on thin ice, and then Uisdean had a slightly unconsolidated lead to the final crest and another dash up North-East Buttress and into the sun. So Minus One Buttress Superdirect (VII,6). There are so many variations on Minus One Buttress now for both summer and now winter I don’t fancy being the writer of the next guidebook. [Don’t worry Iain, that’s me!] Our take on the route will be a rare memory from an unsettled and sometimes frustrating winter. Murdoch even went as far to say that it was ‘quite good!’”

    Uisdean Hawthorn on the first ascent of Dark Star on Ben Nevis. This five pitch-long VI,5, takes the line of grooves on the left side of the Astronomy face overlooking Minus Gully. It had been lusted over by Nevis winter aficionados for several decades waiting for the right conditions. (Photo Iain Small)

    Uisdean Hawthorn on the first ascent of Dark Star on Ben Nevis. This five-pitch VI,5 takes the line of grooves on the left side of the Astronomy face overlooking Minus One Gully. It had been lusted over by Nevis winter aficionados for several decades waiting for the right conditions. (Photo Iain Small)

    The thaw last weekend and high pressure and overnight frosts earlier this week, finally transformed the huge quantities of snow on Ben Nevis into ice and neve, to the delight of those fortunate enough to be in the vicinity mid-week.

    “The Minus Face was in stunning condition, “Iain told me. “I had been watching the webcam and hoping that signs of actual rock emerging from the previous uniform whiteness meant neve. And it did, like I’ve never seen before! I managed to get hold of Uisdean (Hawthorn) and we arranged for a day on Tuesday, then Murdo (Jamieson) would join us on Wednesday if the conditions were OK . [They were - second post to follow!] No ambiguity about that, a welcome change after so many call offs and aborted days out. Time to cash in on the Ben in classic garb!

    On Tuesday (March 11) we aimed for the Astronomy face and a line of corners and grooves bounding it’s left side and overlooking Minus One Gully. This gave us five fine pitches on perfect neve and ice, finishing up North-East Buttress in beautiful sunshine. Dark Star was VI,5 in those conditions, but on an average year it could prove quite thin in places.

    There was an Alpine feel to the Minus Face with the many French teams based at the CIC Hut making the most of conditions. Left-Hand Route and Right-Hand Route were popular along with the Minus gullies, and one guided team followed the Smith-Holt Route into the basin and finished up Spaced Out. The guide then soloed Great Slab Rib and up Urban Spaceman – a pretty good day out!”

    Nick Bullock climbing Extasy (VIII,8) on Creag Meagaidh. The third ascent of this legendary route on the second day of the BMC Winter Meet set the tone for the rest of the week. Despite poor weather, more new routes and high standard repeats were achieved than ever before. (Photo Jon Walsh)

    Nick Bullock climbing Extasy (VIII,8) on Creag Meagaidh. The third ascent of this legendary route on the second day of the BMC Winter Meet set the tone for the rest of the week. Despite poor weather, more new routes and high standard repeats were achieved than ever before. (Photo Jon Walsh)

    The BMC Winter International Meet took place between January 27 and February 1. The meet was based at Glenmore Lodge, and 44 guests from 26 countries paired up with UK hosts to experience the delights of Scottish winter climbing. Despite the challenging weather and almost continuous gale force easterly winds, the meet was an outstanding success with over a dozen new routes and a significant number of repeats. Once again, Becky McGovern and Nick Colton from the BMC did a superb job keeping everyone teamed up with appropriate partners and staying cool and calm whilst fixing innumerable logistical issues.

    The big route from the early part of the meet was the third ascent of Extasy (VIII,8) on Creag Meagaidh by Nick Bullock with Canadian climber Jon Walsh on January 28. This long, serious and poorly protected route, which was first climbed during the 2005 Winter Meet by Bruno Sourzac and Dave Hesleden, has only been repeated once. Nick and Jon encountered difficult thin and ‘cruddy’ ice conditions. “Even Jon, who has done more hard Rockies alpine routes than most, was slowed down by the first pitch,” said Nick afterwards. In general, the snow was too heavy for good climbing on Meagaidh, although one determined team succeeded on Staghorn Gully.

    Ian Parnell and Michelle Kadatz from Canada took advantage of a very snowy Ben Nevis to make the fourth winter ascent of Centurion (VIII,8) on Carn Dearg Buttress. Although this route was first climbed in winter 28 years ago, it has maintained its reputation as one of the more difficult Scottish Grade VIIIs. This ascent rounded off an exceptional three days for Michelle who had already made the third ascent of Slenderhead (VIII,8) on Stob Coire nan Lochan and the fourth ascent of West Central Gully (VII,8) on Beinn Eighe.

    In Coire Ciste, Greg Boswell and Mirko Breckner from Germany made the second ascent of Heidbanger (VIII,8) on Central Trident Buttress. This challenging winter climb is graded E1 in summer and was first climbed by Rich Cross and Andy Benson in 2007. Nearby on South Trident Buttress, Fiona Murray and Siw Ornhaug from Norway repeated Gallifrey Groove (IV,5).

    Tower Ridge saw multiple ascents and was a wise choice in the conditions, but the low snow level also brought The Douglas Boulder into play. The classic South-West Ridge, Cutlass and Militant Chimney saw ascents, and on January 28, Neil Silver and Kenshi Imai from Japan climbed Nutless and added the Arete Variation (VI,6). The weather was wild the following day (January 29), but Rose Pearson from New Zealand and myself followed the summer line of East Ridge (IV,5). Rather surprisingly, I can find no record of a winter ascent of this short and accessible climb, which proved to be a good route for a stormy day. I returned again on January 30 with Stefan Jacobsen from Denmark to climb Alaska Highway (IV,4), the crest of the buttress taken by Lower East Wall Route before finishing up Tower Ridge.

    Dave Almond and Gustav Mellgren from Sweden braved the higher slopes of Coire na Ciste to climb Sidewinder adding the Unwound Finish (VI,6) which climbs up directly rather than traversing left into the exit gully as per the original route. The rarely climbed 1944 Route also saw an ascent by Ian Bryant and Pawel Wojdyga (Poland), and lower down on Carn Dearg Buttress Kenton Cool and Corne Brouwer from the Netherlands climbed Route One. Nearby on Am Bodach in the Mamores, Andy Nisbet and Ricardo Guerra from Portugal made the first ascent of the 350m-high South Buttress (II).

    Further South, Stob Coire nan Lochan was in superb icy condition and ascents were made of Scabbard Chimney, Sceptre, Raeburn’s Route, SC Gully, Moonshadow, Tilt, Chimney Route, Crest Route, Para Andy and Central Grooves.

    Greg Boswell and Mirko Breckner and Andy Inglis and Martin Zumer (Slovenia) made early repeats of Central Buttress with the Starting Blocks Start (VII,8), and Slenderhead (VIII,8) saw second and third ascents by Will Sim and Michelle Kadatz (Canada) and Ian Parnell and Olov Isaksson (Sweden). The finest performance in the corrie came from Harry Holmes and Polish climber Piotr Sulowski who made an ascent of Unicorn (VIII,8). Not only was Harry recently back from the Ice World Cup, but Piotr’s ascent of the difficult second pitch was his first ever Scottish winter lead!

    Simon Yearsley making the first ascent of Galifrey Groove (IV,4) on Ben Nevis. After last week’s generally settled weather, a series of occluded fronts over the weekend made predicting climbing conditions difficult, and this is one of the few new routes climbed in recent days. (Photo Malcolm Bass)

    Simon Yearsley making the first ascent of Gallifrey Groove (IV,5) on Ben Nevis. After last week’s generally settled weather, a series of occluded fronts over the weekend made predicting climbing conditions difficult. As a result, this is one of the few new routes climbed in recent days. (Photo Malcolm Bass)

    “It’s proving tricky to make the best of the fluctuating conditions this winter,” Simon Yearsley writes. “This weekend was no exception. The forecasts changed daily as a variety of fronts pushed through at seemingly random speeds. So, as Malcolm [Bass] has to make the long drive up from North Yorkshire to get his winter hits, we decided to go high and climb on the Ben with the hope that we’d at least have a good choice of different altitudes and aspects to choose from. Even as the weekend approached, our plans had to adapt to the shifting forecasts. Friday and Saturday deteriorated before our very eyes, and by the time we got to Saturday evening, Sunday wasn’t looking too great, and we were distinctly running out of weekend. Fortunately, Malcolm had Monday off work, so decided to walk up to the CIC hut on the Sunday, and climb in the short weather window on Monday, January 21.

    The mid morning walk up to the Ben was a very sociable affair as we chatted to a stream of friends, the majority of whom were making their way down because of unstable snow conditions high up. We spent the afternoon and early evening pottering around various mid-height areas of the Ben. Snow conditions were not ideal, and things definitely not freezing at 1000m, despite the forecast 700m freezing level in the afternoon. However, we did see that the central groove line on North Trident Buttress was looking nice and icy, and if the promised freeze came in later that evening and overnight, it looked like a worthwhile short new line. Malcolm and I had spotted this feature several years ago (it’s even drawn as a feature on the line drawing in the guidebook), and when Helen Rennard and I had climbed the next-door ramp-line of Day of The Doctor in November, I’d confirmed it was a nice-looking line.

    We left the hut pretty early on the Monday morning, with everything nicely frozen. The climbing was very pleasant up the open icy groove, which gave several steep steps and a quite tricky leftwards traverse back into the upper groove. The top pitch was well positioned with a short V-groove on the left providing more entertainment. The route was only 60m long to where it joins the horizontal ridge crest of that part of the buttress, but given the fact that Malcolm had to be home that evening, and that the weather had decided to change (again!) and it was now raining (!!) we agreed to finish the route there. We also took the decision to establish an abseil point on the horizontal ridge. With a sling and crab in place, this route and Day of The Doctor provide useful mid-height objectives that can easily both be done one after the other, with the option of an abseil descent if you don’t fancy continuing to the plateau.

    The name was pretty easy… something to illiterate with ‘groove’ and to have a connection to Doctor Who. It had to be ‘Gallifrey Groove’.

    When Helen and I climbed Day Of The Doctor in solid turf and powder conditions, we both thought it would be easier with more ice. When Malcolm and I did Gallifrey Groove in icy conditions, we both thought it would be harder with less ice. Both routes felt like IV,5 in the conditions they were climbed in. Both are pleasant wee routes, probably both climbable in a variety of conditions. The more ice, the easier they’ll be!”

    Malcolm Bass on the first winter ascent of Turkish on Ben Nevis. “We thought it was about VII,7 on the day, uncommonly amenable for a Ben Nevis HVS, enjoyable in its variety and situations and definitely worth a star!” (Photo Simon Yearsley)

    Malcolm Bass on the first winter ascent of Turkish on Ben Nevis. “We thought it was about VII,7 on the day, uncommonly amenable for a Ben Nevis HVS, enjoyable in its variety and situations and definitely worth a star!” (Photo Simon Yearsley)

    Malcolm Bass, Helen Rennard and Simon Yearsley had an excellent day on Ben Nevis on Saturday January 4, when they made the first winter ascent of Turkish (VII,7) on Number Five Gully Buttress.

    “Since climbing Free Range with Jim Higgins back in 2011, Simon and I have been waiting for an opportunity to get back on Number Five Gully Buttress,” Malcolm explained. “We’re not really drawn to winter ascents of classic summer rock routes, but the HVS Turkish, described in the Ben guide as ‘a poor route’, was first climbed in 1967, and hasn’t experienced a noticeable surge of popularity since then. So it was deemed a legitimate target.

    This area of the buttress faces south-east, and needs cold damp south-easterlies, or at least southerlies, to come into winter condition. Through last week the seemingly endless gales swung south-easterly for a few days and hopes were raised. But would there be enough of a gap in the storms to allow for an attempt? On Saturday there was, but it was forecast to be warm the preceding night before dropping colder during the day, and the cliffs were well defended by wet, fresh, slabby snow on the approaches. So, with Helen Rennard, we decided on a late start to let things cool and settle down, and packed spare head torch batteries. The bowl underneath the buttress can be nasty, so we’d planned to get in by abseiling down to the foot it from high on Ledge Route. But luckily, Number Five had already avalanched, very impressively, so we were able to climb the debris and then skirt round just under the crag.

    The climbing on the route was very varied. Steep corners with exits on good ice. Consolidated snow allowing progress up compact slabs. And a delicate technical crux. We are fairly confident that we followed the summer line, but a 1967 summer route description defined by ‘loose blocks’ on pitch three isn’t the best guide to a snowy 2014 ascent. At the base of the big corner we weren’t sure where to ‘trend across the left wall’. On my first attempt I went too far up the corner and experienced a rapid downwards trend. Party conference was in favour of a more defined steer to the left, and that took us across delicate sloping slabs to the crux steps under a bulging wall, which yielded (eventually) to crimps, undercuts, and thin hooks to gain a steep corner full of stacked flakes, well bonded by ice. We think this was where the tension traverse was used to avoid loose blocks on the summer first ascent. The darkness took us on this pitch, but there was virtually no wind.

    After topping out on Ledge Route we dropped down this a way, then, mindful of the lurking snow bowl, abseiled down to the sacs, and cramponed back down the avalanche chute to the CIC. The empty hut, the quiet mountain, stillness, darkness and gently falling snow – The Ben had trusted us with sight of one of its less familiar moods.”

    Andy Inglis climbing the third pitch of The Brass Monkey on Ben Nevis during the second winter ascent. “Pitch three was the crux, but pitch four was just really awkward!” Neil commented afterwards. (Photo Neil Adams)

    Andy Inglis climbing the third pitch of The Brass Monkey (VII,8) on Ben Nevis during the second winter ascent. “Pitch three was the crux, but pitch four was just really awkward!” Neil commented afterwards. (Photo Neil Adams)

    Neil Adams and Andy Inglis pulled off an important second ascent on Ben Nevis January 1, when they repeated The Brass Monkey (VII,8) on the east side of Tower Ridge. This imposing corner which bounds the right side of Echo Wall is a rarely climbed summer HVS, and was first climbed in winter by Pete Davies and Tim Marsh in December 2008. The first ascent turned into something of an epic when Pete fell off seconding after dropping his headtorch. Tim heroically prussicked the last pitch in total darkness dragging both rucksacks behind him, and the descent of Tower Ridge under heavy powder with only one torch between them, understandably took some time. They eventually reached the car park at 12.30am after a 19-hour round trip.

    Neil and Andy, who have made an impressive start to their season with a string of powerful ascents, had a more mellow time. “It’s a good route and deserves more traffic, Neil told me. “It’s not too hard for the grade but probably graded right at VII,8. We ran the first two pitches together, which makes sense on 60m ropes as it’s easy climbing. [Interestingly, on the first winter ascent, Pete and Tim found these pitches quite tricky, with powder-covered rock and some committing moves on thin ice]. We had decent weather on the route but the winds really picked up during the day so the descent down Tower Ridge was in a full-on blizzard and fading light, which was probably the spiciest bit of the day!”