Final day of the survey….this year

Even though this is the end of the week and the last day of the surveying we are actually only 1/3 of the way through the project, with the other 2 weeks in the next 2 years.

Myself, Scot and Ian made our way up our usual commute to work via Ledge Route, picked up a 100m section of rope and made our way to Number 2 gully.  It quickly became apparent that the best anchor for the lower was the cairn on the Pony Track, so we got Andy to stand guard.

My job was to make sure that there were no loose blocks that could knock onto Ian when he went down after me to survey the area.  The blocks and rubble that I ended up knocking down were partly by design and mostly me just being there.  After about half an hour of watching big rocks fly down the gully the biggest challenge of the day was trying to climb back out the muddy gully without knocking more blocks onto me and the abseil rope.

It was then Ian’s turn and it was worth the effort.  A new area found of Highland Saxifrage and Tufted Saxifrage never before known.  What could lurk in the top of the other gullies will have to wait for next year.

With lots of places still to look at we have only just scrapped the surface.  With new discoveries of Alpine Saxifrage, new to the mountain and more than doubling the known numbers of areas holding other rare species on the mountain like the Tufted Saxifrage, Drooping Saxifrage and Wavy Meadow grass.  Not to mention a new, still evolving geological theory of how Ben Nevis was formed, there is still lots to be done.

More photos on my facebook page.

This project is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund and The Highland Council.  It is also sponsored by Mammut.

Ian, a happy, muddy extreme botanist

Ian, a happy, muddy extreme botanist

Stripping in Comb Gully

Today my job entailed another commute up Ledge route to the top of the Comb to abseil down Comb Gully and take out the belays holding the rope on the right line.  The abseil started down a vertical, slippery face of rock and then into Comb gully itself, which at this time of year is a rocky waterfall.

But it’s not all fun and games as half way down the gully unsurprisingly a basketball size rock came down and hit me on the shoulder, which just so happens to be near my head.  Luckily no damage done so down I went with just the snow patch to tunnel under at the base.

Yesterday turned out to be ‘big find Wednesday’ as on top of us finding the new area of Highland Saxifrage, Ian found a new area of Alpine Saxifrage.  Only the second area to be found on Ben Nevis, both by the survey team, with a 3rd area know to be on Aonach Beag, we have trebled the population area.

More photos on my facebook page.

This project is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund and The Highland Council.  It is also sponsored by Mammut.

Ab'ing in to Comb gully

Ab’ing in to Comb gully

Break through in Number 5 gully.

Day 3 of the survey and I was with Al and Jim from the Botanical Society of Britian and ireland. Our plan for the day was to move up Ledge route (which felt like a stroll without 200m of rope on my back) and then make our way down Number 5 gully from the top and survey the green stuff in the top 200 meters.

And we found a whole new area of Highland Saxifrage of over 300 plants, much bigger than the previous known location at the top of Number 4 gully that consists of about 30 plants.  It likes to grow on damp, mossy ground with constant water above 1000m in altitude.  In amongst the Highland Saxifrage we also found Alpine Speedwell and Arctic Mouse-ear, both key species in the survey looking very healthy and abundant.

After quickly ascending out of the loose gully we made our way round to the top of Number 4 gully and descended down to the contact line between the 2 rock types that enhances the mineral content in the soil and produces a richer area for plants to grow.  We performed a detailed count of the Drooping Saxifrage and Tufted Saxifrage which only grows in the area that we have found so far on Ben Nevis and came up with about 50 plants for each species.  So tread lightly on the snow next time you are descending in early winter!

It was then just a small case of descending the scree of Number 4 gully, an equally pleasant experience to the descent last week!

Also on the mountain today was Dougie Vipond from ‘The One Show’ on BBC 1, going down part of the abseil that was set up yesterday on the Comb.  The section will be aired on the first Friday in October.

More photos on my facebook page.

This project is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund and The Highland Council.  It is also sponsored by Mammut.

Highland Saxifrage

Highland Saxifrage

Day 2 Comb abseil

Today was a very different day to the others.  All rope work and very little botany and geology.  The aim of the day was to set up 2 abseils on the Comb ready for the geologists and botanists to go down tomorrow.

This started with moving the 1000m of rope from the base of Ledge route and walking up to the top of the Comb, an achievement in itself.  With a hand line in place along the top ridge of the Comb, Donald then set about putting the abseil lines down, which entailed about 7 re-belays along the way.

I then descended after him with an extra 100m of rope just in case we needed it.  Near the bottom of the abseil just above the vertical face were the climb ‘Don’t die of ignorance’ traverses over the roof, we needed the extra rope.  The climb was put up by Dave Macleod in 2008 and graded XI, 11 and is a very impressive feat.  With both of us safely on the scree at the base after about 300m of abseiling it was time for a little detour up No.4 gully to get the bags and look at some of the botany, especially the Alpine saxifrage, first seen on Ben Nevis by our team last week!.  A great day out.

There was also a reporter from BBC Scotland radio ‘Out of doors show’.  So if you are up between 7-8am on Saturday then listen to what we have been up to.

More photos on my facebook page.

This project is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund and The Highland Council.  It is also sponsored by Mammut.

In to nowhere!

In to nowhere!

 

1st day of the Ben Nevis survey

Once upon a time there were 2 botanists, 8 mountaineers and a forecast with the end of hurricane Bertha who all went out to look for rare plants on the north face of Ben Nevis….

And we came back with results.  The best of the day was another area of Wavey meadow grass (now the 3rd known on the north face), new areas of Alpine mouse- ear and Alpine speedwell and lots of Russet sedge and Sibbaldia.

Myself, Mike and Ian made our way around the base of Carn Dearg buttress and towards South Castle gully looking at the mostly wet, grassy ledges where we found a very good patch of Alpine speedwell and 2 plants of Alpine mouse-ear.  I think through the day I got wetter by the waterfalls coming off the crags and the wind blowing the water back up the crags than from the rain.  But it was a very successful day by the team.

More photos on my facebook page.

This project is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund and The Highland Council.  It is also sponsored by Mammut.

Ian and Mike in South Castle gully

Ian and Mike in South Castle gully

Last day of training, abseiling

After a leisurely walk in to the CIC hut without any heavy loads we picked up 1000 meters of rope and carried them up to the top of Route 1 on Carn Dearg, a 215 meter severe climb in summer and a VI, 6 in winter.  The aim of the day was for everyone to have a go at a big ab using the kit that we had brought and to see if the system worked and could be repeated for the survey week next week.

With the 2 abseils set up we were ready to go down, and what a position.  With the first 10 meters on the rock, about 60 meters free hanging and then the remainder over slab to the base.  After a quick walk back up No. 5 gully it was the experts turn.  I went down with Jenny from Midland Valley and guided her along the way, but she was so composed that she even had time to look at and study the geology.  Not bad.

It was then time to haul up and coil 800 meters of rope!  Made light by everyone getting stuck in.  An exciting day all round and with break through finds already with new theories for the geology and new  discoveries for the botanists next week should be good.

More photos on my facebook page.

This project is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund and The Highland Council.  It is also sponsored by Mammut.

Donald and Mike just making sure they are thinking the same thing.

Donald and Mike just making sure they are thinking the same thing.

 

Ben Nevis Survey Day 3

Today was all about moving round the mountain with the botany and geology experts on alpine ground looking at potential places to survey and surveying along the way.

I was with Al and Roddy the head of Midland Valley who made the app and who is a very knowledgeable geologist. We made our way from the CIC hut towards the base of Trident buttress and looked at the Ledge route fault line that runs along the base with some interesting deposits of silt alongside volcanic deposits.  Roddy was keen to survey the fault as much as possible so we followed it along onto Ledge route itself and then off the other side in the direction of the Castle area, where we got our first taste of mossy, muddy, loose ground that we will be on a lot.

At the top of Ledge route we dropped down from the plateaux on the way round to number 4 gully surveying the faults in the rock as we went.  With a not so quick descent of No 4. gully looking at the very rare plants along the way like the Highland Saxifrage, Alpine Speedwell and Sibbaldia and then further down Hair foot sedge, which is only found on this one location on Ben Nevis (but hopefully we will find more).

More photos on my facebook page.

This project is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund and The Highland Council.  It is also sponsored by Mammut.

Hair foot sedge

Hair foot sedge