We took the gondola onto Aonach Mor on Monday morning, to reduce the effort and maximise the time on the snow and ice. The area around Aonach an Nid is perfect for gradually increasing the angle and difficulty of the terrain, as well as providing some entertaining slopes for practicing boot work, crampon use, and of course ice axe techniques. It was here that I realised I had trimmed the replacement straps on my hire crampons too short for using with big boots like Nepals, and the lads only had a tiny amount to pull on. I usually have to use them on B2 boots you see. Doh! Still, at least they didn't have to faff around tidying off long ends eh?
We had great fun working through the repertoire of arrest techniques, and culminated in whizzing quickly down on hard neve, headfirst, upside down, and then safely arresting. The lads picked it up very well, and indeed, one chap was so pleased with his progress that he chose to put it into effect a little later in the day as we descended, executing a perfect arrest, albeit in crampons....never recommended!
After the technical stuff, we went for a short 'journey', taking a look at the loaded and 'High' rated avalanche prone slopes on the Eastern face, before working our way over a small cornice, deep powder snow, onto neve, and then finally water ice. All of this helped the guys adapt their footwork to the ever-changing snow pack, placing their axes and making progress safely, taking small rests where safe to do so. Finally, we worked our way back down to the ski centre for the gondola down. Most civilised :)
Tuesday was a red-letter ascent of Ben Nevis. At 1344m high, and setting off from almost sea level, even the much-maligned Pony Track is an effort in winter. There were not the hordes that one sees during a summer ascent, though there were folks with rather less than the full winter package of safe kit, but that's unfortunately the norm. The benign weather meant this wasn't such an issue...this time, and the presence of the helicopter in the morning reminded us of the ongoing search for the missing climbers, let alone the two under-equipped folks rescued from the summit shelter on Saturday night.
Anyway, our ascent went smoothly, donning crampons at the Red Burn, and being assisted by some kind folks who had broken trail in the deep snow. The navigation cairns are always reassuring as we entered the 'white room' periodically, but there were some fantastic views in between. The summit had very deep snow, with the old observatory ruins being all but buried, and the trig cairn being just a step up, rather than the spiral steps of a couple of metres or so.
After a brief stop for lunch, we made our way swiftly down, chatting to various folks on their way up, and we had fun taking the more direct Route One where safe to do so, avoiding a zig and a zag or two. There is a team repairing sections of the path, and who had set up a diversion route on the zig zags below the wooden bridge, but we missed it on the way down, and made a nuisance of ourselves by walking through it all. Whoops....well, we did at least tell the fella that his signage had gone! We were down pretty much spot on our 7hr estimation, having had a top day out.
A great couple of days in good winter conditions. Hope to see you guys again maybe!