Wednesday 28 February 2018

Surprising Reminder Of A Past Winter Climb On Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis

The power of social media to put people in touch and bring back long-forgotten memories sometimes amazes me. This evening I received a Facebook note from a Peter White in Canada saying he'd been looking through old guide books and that on this day 35 years ago we climbed the Right-Hand Variation of Central Gully on Trident South Buttress. He finished by remarking that I probably didn't even remember him. Initially he was right - I not only didn't remember him but the name of the climb meant nothing to me. So I googled South Trident Buttress, found it was on Ben Nevis, and suddenly it all came back.

In February 1983 I took a snow and ice climbing course at Outward Bound Loch Eil, where I worked occasionally in the summer leading backpacking trips. And on the 28th instructor Peter White led me up this climb on a day of fine weather. It's a grade IV, harder than anything I'd done before, and I remember finding one pitch extremely tough, my arms aching from pulling on the axes which I was hitting too hard into the ice. I also remember the elation at finishing the climb. It was a great day.

That remains the hardest winter climb I ever did as that same February I also took a cross-country ski course with Cameron McNeish in the Cairngorms and skiing easily won over climbing. I really enjoyed the winter climbing I did but once I'd been ski touring I was hooked and snow in the mountains meant swooping over the snowfields rather than climbing up the steepest slopes.

I'm grateful to Peter for reminding me of this climb. I don't appear to have kept any notes at the time - the course was probably too intense - though I may some have some slides somewhere - and I could well have forgotten it forever. Being reminded of that day and that course has made for an upbeat evening.


  1. I remember that course chris, chalky white as he was introduced to us as was a temporary instructor that the centre drafted in as they hadn't got enough instructors to provide 1:2 tuition; I had a rest day that day as my feet were knackered from borrowing a pair of boots(with intent to purchase 2nd hand if they'd fitted ok!) from another of the staff team. I remember that you'd had a great day and feeling quite envious of what you two had got up to that day! I hadn't realised that it was so long ago -tempus fugit- hope all is well with you & yours: from Mark & Helen xxx

    1. Except for a vague memory of a climb that was too difficult for me I'd forgotten all about it! But it all came back once I'd looked up the route. If I remember rightly we also did a climb on Buachaille Etive Mor though I can't remember the name and The Zigzags on Gear Aonach.

    2. Looking at my 1981 copy of Winter Climbs Ben Nevis/Glencoe I've recorded us doing C-D Scoop on the west face of Aonach Dubh; D Gully on Stob Dearg on Buchaille Etive Mor ;and Garadh Gully on the Ben, as well as the first day learning about snow profiles/avalanche risks,and most daunting and fun in retrospect practising ice axe braking in various positions! from Mark & Helen xxx

    3. Thanks Mark. I expect I made notes in my copy too - I just have to find it! Thinking back The Zigzags was with Graham the year before when I did a snow and ice basics course.