Observatory Ridge, Ben Nevis

Today was a great sunny, crisp and not too cold day on the north face of Ben Nevis.  With my friend Harry we made our way into the CIC hut and to the base of Observatory Ridge, which was pretty much bone dry.

After 4 pitches gaining the trickier bottom section of the ridge we moved together for the rest to the route to the top of North East Buttress.  The rock was cold so climbing in gloves was the order of the day but once we were move the temperature was pleasant with great views out west with the sun shinning on Rum, Eigg, Skye and Torridon.

After summiting we made for a quick descent down Ledge route.  A great day out and a good end to the rock season.  Let the winter arrive!

Harry enjoying the dry rock

Harry enjoying the dry rock


Scottish Mixed masters competition

Today was the Dry Tooling competition held at the Ice factor.  Without any training and a few weeks in Fontainebleau my aim was not to come last.  With a good turn out of about 40 climbers there was a buzz around the ice factor, mostly from the sweaty climbers.

With the competition taking the format of trying to get as many points on the 15 routes set, between the ice wall, the climbing wall and the bouldering wall, it was a test of endurance to be able to just hold on by the end of the routes.  The top 5 then went through to the final.

With some tactics needed we worked our way round.  Do you go for the harder routes at the start when you are fresh, or do you leave them to the end and save your energy for the climbs that you are most likely to get maximum points on?

A great day out and a good way to get some pre winter training in (or highlighting that some training would be a good thing).

For more photos visit my facebook page.

The comp in full swing

The comp in full swing

Carpe Diem

‘Seize the day’

Today was the day to head up Ben Nevis and help clear up the summit area of any litter left by the long summer of people getting to the top arraigned by The Outdoor Capital of the UK, as not everyone tidies up after themselves.

My half of the deal was to take 3 guys from the college and Bryon up Ledge route to the summit and then help clear it up.  And what a day for it: with blue sky, little wind and virtually the mountain to ourselves and 3 of the guys first time on the mountain, it could only be a good day.

On the way up we chatted about the geology and botany of the mountain and the classic rock and winter climbs around, with a perfect view of the crags it was the best way to inspire the guys for more adventures.

At the top of Carn Dearg we then made our way around the crag rim to join the last part of the main path near the summit, where we defiantly didn’t have the mountain to ourselves now.  With a good job put it by the other teams up Tower Ridge and the CMD arête we did the best we could of tidying up the summit.  Hopefully that will see it through to the winter and end of the main summer season.

Most of the team at the summit.

Most of the team at the summit.



Channel 5 news

2 and a half days into 2 and a half minutes of footage.

A couple of very interesting days of work on Ben Nevis with the film crew from Channel 5 news.  They had the unique idea of producing a film package from an iconic Scottish image, which turned out to be Ben Nevis.

Monday was an early start at 6.30am with 10 of us setting off: 5 instructors, a cameraman, reporter, producer and 2 guys with a drone camera and a very big, square, black box to be carried up to get the aerial shots.

The plan was to film on the way up, interview us about our views of the referendum, film a piece on the summit, edit back in the car park then go live back on the mountain at 5pm!  Luckily this changed through the day.

With a very cold summit a short piece was filmed after leaving Bob and Rhys with the drone (and box) at half way lochan trying to find a less windy spot to take off.  On the descent the plan then changed to a more feasible plan of film on Monday, go live on Tuesday at 5pm and 6.30pm.

We then spent the remainder of the afternoon by half way lochan with the drone flying very close to our heads, being interviewed and walking backwards and forwards.

With our opinions expressed, angles shot, big black box pack up (with a very small stand and camera) we made our way down.

Myself, Anna and Ali made the final cut and were included with a speaking part with the interviews and Scott and Tristan made good walking extras and kit carriers.

Tuesday was then the unglamorous task of myself, Scott and Ali walking back up with Adam and Peter (cameraman and reporter) to go live from the summit at 5pm and 6.30pm.  Good news for us was the weather was warmer at the summit and Channel 4 (who had the same idea) ended up reporting from Banavie quarry with Ben Nevis in the background.

The film in total

The reason we walked back up on Tuesday

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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