21 hours awake, 15 on the moutain, 10 on the face! The North Face of Ben Nevis, half a kilometer of vertical rock face hidden from the sun by it’s own presence, leaving a damp mossy surface in most of the foot and hand holds.

The “long climb” as it’s called in the handbook, is well named and it doesn’t help when you lose your way on the last 3rd, adding an extra 50 mtrs to the root! That’s what happens when neither of you have ever been on the face and your only guide is a photocopy of a page out of the guide book folded into your hip pocket.

Radek lead the first pitch, our ropes were 50 mtrs long, we were climbing with what you call half ropes, two of them, thinner than standard ropes but safer than a single, but heavier to drag up. The second climber has to carry the rucksack with all the gear that you need, like jackets, gloves, walking in shoes and food etc. I’ve never climbed more than one pitch before, so I’ve never climbed with a laden pack on my back, it’s far more difficult than I had anticipated, climbing is about technique, balance and keeping your body as close to the wall as possible.

Climbing with the pack on changes everything you have learned about climbing! The footing felt very greasy and with little places to set our hardwear (hardwear is equipment that you place into cracks in the rock or hook over rocks, there called freinds, nuts or slings, your life depends on these!) If there are few areas to set the hardwear the climb can be very frightening, sometimes having to travel more than 15 mtrs before you find anywhere good to place one, if you slip with that much slack then it’s 30 mtrs you fall on the face (your both toast!) you know I spent 15 years erecting steel, walking on beams only 100mm wide hundreds of feet in the air, I never felt vulnerable, I always knew that if I slipped I could grab on to the beam I was walking on, up there there is nothing to grab onto, only a vast rock face of nothingness.

Pitch after pitch we climbed on, each one becoming more difficult as we went on, by the time we reached the 6th pitch we had been on the face for more than 5 and a half hours, the tecnical difficulty of the rock became hard for me, I new that I was climbing at my limit, we also new that we had lost our way on the face, heading in to ungraded routes, there was no way I could let Radek know how vunerable I felt, each time I lead, I could hear my heart pounding in my chest, fighting for each purchase on the face, jamming my fingers onto every tiny crack, grinding my feet against the slippery surface, sometimes wiping the soles of my shoe on my trousers to try and dry them.
The thing is that you are so committed you can’t go down nor is it easier to go sideways, you can’t just give up and say “ok time out, I want to go home now!” You have to go up!

Two hours later I had set the 8th pitch on a small mossy ledge about 18 inches by 18 inches, I stood with my back to the wall with three freinds in a small crack, the only crack that there was to fix anything into! When Radek arrived we had to swap the gear, he took the hardwear off me and I took the pack, only I couldn’t get it on to my back, not standing where I was anyway! Radek set the next pitch and shouted for me to climb, I couldn’t get the pack on, if I did it would surely push me out off balance.

The pack had now become the most hated part of my climb, it felt like the Devil was hanging from my back, trying to pull me off at every single chance it had!

I clipped it to my harness and tried to climb to a better spot that I could get the stupid thing back on my back! At the base of the 10th pitch I felt spooked, it seemed to be going on for ever, I was now mentally and physically fighting the fear, I had taken my phone out to briefly try and take a photo, catching a glimpse of Linzie and the kids on my screen saver, now I’m wandering what the hell I’m doing nearly half a Kilometer up a vertical slab risking everything that I have by placing myself in such a vulnerable situation!

At the top of the 11th pitch we reached the first Plato, this was the first time that I felt safe, the first time that I could actually have a joke with Radek, the fear dissolved and my confidence returned.

We short roped the last 3 extra pitches that we had created as the climbing became less demanding, on to our prize.
Over ten hours on the face, fifteen mins to the summit, a few photos and a mouthfull of red wine then a down climb down gully number 4 and hike back to the LandRover followed by a 3 and a half hour drive home.

Nothing was going to stop my from going Home!!!!

The Big Ben

neil On September - 2 - 2010Comments Off

We are in a tent park west of the Ben in a place called Glen Nevis, camping at the base of the Ben is frowned on! So we will have to drive to the car park in the morning and walk in, we also can’t leave the camp site till 6am.

The weather is fantastic, not a cloud in the sky, well that is if I could see the sky through the layer of migies that darkens the skyline! We are on our third beer and last beer, just enough to put us to sleep, we spent a little time in Fort William today, nice! A bit like a scene from Deliverance, thankfully we are 2 miles clear of there now!
Good night my freinds!

The North East Buttress

neil On August - 30 - 20102 COMMENTS

We have decided to do the Ben this Thursday/Friday! We are going to leave late afternoon on the Thursday, it’ll take about 4 for us to drive there, then we’ll have to walk in to the base, set up the tent, sort out our gear so we are ready for an early attack.

The route that we intend to climb is called the “long climb” and consists of approx 11 pitches over 450 mts, this is a Scottish grade VS ***, but warns that if the conditions are not anything but perfect then the route will be significantly harder! The weather is forecast for cloudy so we will just have to see what happens!

We will try to film some of the route, now I’ve studied the footage from Mont Blanc, it’s clear to see that the head camera isn’t working to well, just cus when you are climbing you basicly spend the whole time looking at your hands and feet, let’s face it I ain’t no movie director, but I am learning from my mistakes!

I’ll let you know how we get on!