Scottish winter climbing is world renowned for its adventure and quality of experience. Nowhere is it better than on Ben Nevis. So popular and well known is Ben Nevis, that climbers from all parts of the globe can be heard calling to each other while enjoying the unique style of climbing found here. The traditional approach to climbing is strongly maintained and the history of the climbs is well remembered. Modern ice climbing was developed here and that heritage adds greatly to the modern day climbing experience.
Harold Raeburn made the first ascent of Green Gully just over one hundred years ago which remained the hardest ice climb in the world for early 30 years. In his expedition report he apologised for not being able to climb the main objective, Comb Buttress, and being forced to go for the lesser objective of the gully running up its side. He was a man very far ahead of his time and his ice axe plays a significant role in the Scottish Mountaineering Club to this day.
In the winter of 1960 Jimmy Marshall and Robin Smith completed the most significant week of climbing ever achieved in Scotland. Orion Direct, Smith's Route, Minus Two Gully and the first single day and free ascent of Point Five Gully were amongst the seven climbs they completed on consecutive days. All of this was achieved with a single ice axe each and crampons with no front points. Jimmy Marshall is renowned as the master of climbing ice by step cutting and was the main driver behind the amazing week of first ascents he made in 1960 with Robin Smith, often referred to as
"The Pinnacle" of the step cutting era.
Ten years later in 1970 Yvon Chouinard made a brief visit which was to trigger a change that would revolutionise winter climbing. Using prototype curved ice hammers he made some very fast ascents demonstrating how to climb ice by direct aid, hanging off the pick itself embedded in the ice. Comparing techniques with John Cunningham, Hamish MacInnes and many others, modern ice climbing was born.
That year Hamish MacInnes developed "The Terrordactyl", a short, all metal ice tool with a steeply dropped pick. The "Terror" and Chouinard's ice hammer dominated the forefront of international ice climbing for several years. Eventually these two designs were combined to create the banana pick which is still the basis for modern ice tool design. Today, nearly fifty years on from The Terrordactyl, we are still using the same techniques. It's no exaggeration to say that modern ice climbing technique was developed in Lochaber and Hamish MacIness was at the forefront of this.
Currently, the hardest naturally protected winter mixed climb in the world is on Ben Nevis - Anubis, climbed by Dave MacLeod. Ben Nevis has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years and is now again at the forefront of winter climbing. By continuing to be the venue for cutting edge climbs with the style of climbing and protection we’ve used for over one hundred years, Ben Nevis is setting a worldwide standard for climbing and continues to produce some of the finest climbers in the world. Our style of adventurous climbing is now seeing a resurgence in other countries and our ethos of mountaineering is worth defending.
Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These blog posts and conditions reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.