The last time I visited the Ben for a winter route was in 2007 when the ice was thick, the sun was shining and hard, scary routes became easy. After a couple of good Patey routes I thought that Ben Nevis mixed would be a good idea and the recent Crocket & Richardson Nevis book put plenty of oil into the flames. So James and I decided to give it a bash on Thursday. The idea of maybe trying the stunning Darth Vadar as a first VII,7 was quickly abandoned when we saw the dark, steep creature. Also the cold, wind and iced up cracks made Darth say 'come, try me for a wee epic' in-between the deep pneumonic breaths.
So we went for Gargoyle wall VI,6*** as an alternative. Here is James approaching the cliffs. Darth Vadar is the off with on the right of number 3 gully and the gargoyle of Gargoyle wall is potruding on the left wall.
Here is another photo of Gargoyle wall coming down number 3 gully after the climb. The wide crack at the top belongs to Babylon VII,8.
I started pitch one and found it awkward, being more used to Cairngorms granite than to the iced up rock on the Ben. A step to a large ledge proved to be difficult as I did not yet trust the Nevis snow ice and the dodgy gear. At one stage I considered jumping in the style of Sylvester Stallone but then cut a step and went across. In contrast, James, who is more used to Nevis ice cruised it and then climbed the second pitch while I did the third one. Here is James following with big exposure.
The fourth pitch is the definate crux. All the holds and gear slots were covered with ice and James did a fantastic job staying on, getting some mostly dodgy gear in. It was a serious, thin lead and I struggled even to second the pitch because it is steep, there are few positive hooks never mind torques. The guidebook said it is 'memorable'. Here is James while I was standing below right in the line of fire. Needless to say, I was grateful that he didn't come off.
The fifth pitch was a groove with good neve but hardly any gear. I got a bit used to the Nevis neve at that stage and climbed better than at the beginning. Here is me starting the groove on a photo taken by James Richardson before his camera gave up!
Finally after an airy traverse on steep neve I ended up on the easy finishing ramp of number 3 buttress. A long way down followed. We saw still two parties in Green gully and the second must have become benighted. But a gully is better than a face route after dark.