Last week, I spent six days with Gavin, a regular client who has progressed from easy scrambles to rock climbing and winter climbing. We were joined by Alan Kimber for our first two days. He is the co-author of the ‘Winter Climbs Ben Nevis and Glencoe’ guidebook, an incredibly experienced guide and I am very fortunate that he is mentoring me through the last stage of my mountaineering instructing qualifications.
On day one we paid a visit to the north face of Ben Nevis, to introduce Gavin to movement on steep terrain with ice axes and crampons. We traversed under the Douglas Boulder to the east side of Tower Ridge and climbed steep snow as a biting wind picked up and whipped the snow around us. When ground became more steep and technical, we built a belay for Alan to lead a pitch with a short ice step. I took the lead on pitch two and climbed through some interesting mixed terrain.
Pitch three was a traverse across the ridge to the top of a short gully, where we belayed one last time to climb down onto a snow ramp that led to the bottom of the Douglas Boulder…
On day two, we took the gondola up Aonach Mor and traversed onto a sheltered snow slope to practice building snow belays. Day three brought particularly knarly weather so we went to a quiet dry tooling spot near Onich. Gavin made the most of the opportunity to climb a steep slab of rock on a top rope with ice axes and crampons – great practice for mixed winter climbing.
Day four was adventure day – Dinner Time Buttress on the west face of Aonach Dubh. The guidebook suggests an easy approach to 45m of grade I climbing, followed by an easy exit to the top of the ridge. The reality was a long approach up tricky grade I/II terrain with hard-won belays to secure Gavin. This led to two good pitches of steeper climbing, the second giving sustained interest at grade II/III. From the top of this technical section, it was clear that we still had a long way to go, up more grade I/II mixed ground.
The sun was setting, the moon was in the sky, Orion came out to keep us company and we pushed on through the dark, reaching the top of Aonach Dubh in an incredibly peaceful setting with a beautiful view of Stob Coire nan Lochan. We were tired but felt very lucky to be on the mountain on such an amazing night. Walking through deep snow to descend into the coire and down the valley, we reached the van a whole 13 hours after our departure. Hats off to Gavin for completing such a big day!
Day five brought us back to Ben Nevis, where Gavin climbed steeper ice steps and practiced removing ice screws…
With a train to catch on day six, we went to The Ice Factor and spent a few hours climbing much steeper ice. By the end of the session it was clear that Gavin will be ready for some much harder ice climbs next season!