A few years ago Nigel was successfully treated for cancer. For his whole life, he has enjoyed climbing and walking in mountains all the way around the world. Chatting with him is fascinating. Every now and then there's a comment such as "when I was in the Western Cwm on Everest..." or "this is what it was like on Denali" or "when we were aid climbing at Malham we used sack cloth for leg loops to go with our harness belts". Nigel has done a lot of climbing, is incredibly experienced and was determined that a period of illness was not going to stop him.
He was successfully treated for cancer but the treatment itself has left him with some pretty awkward and long lasting side effects. He had to have another bit of surgery this year to help manage these and today's rock climbing in Glen Nevis was an exploration of what is possible for him now. The crags at Poldubh are perfect for this, with dozens of brilliant routes at all grades, easily accessible from the road. We made a tentative start to see what worked and what didn't work; thankfully climbing in a regular sit harness and abseiling like normal were fine. So, we ended up doing a whole selection of multipitch climbs of Difficult and Very Difficult on beautiful dry grippy rock, totalling 15 pitches before the rain came in at 4pm.
Movement on rock outside in the natural environment, taking on challenges and leaving your day to day stresses for a few hours, are such restorative things for us all to do. The more I do, the more I understand this. In addition, it so rewarding for me to be able to help people carry on engaging in these things, despite anything else they are going through in their lives. In fact, it's easy to see that going climbing is even more important because of things they are going through in their lives.
Some days the rock feels grippy, the holds feel bigger than normal and your feet stick to everything. Yesterday, I had a day like this at Ardverikie with Billy. We climbed Ardverikie Wall first, because you have to. It's Scotland's best Hard Severe rock climb, every one of its six pitches being a winner on stunning rock. On the walk down you pass Kubla Khan, so we climbed that as well, another excellent Hard Severe climb that is just about as good as Ardverikie Wall.
Since it was only 2pm, after lunch we went for another climb, one that I have seen many times abseiling off Kubla Khan. It is called The Rubaiyat, a thin slab next to a big overlap graded E1 5b. Everything felt good so we went back up to try this route. The first pitch is a bit lichenous and mossy, but the main pitch up the slab is lovely. There is one thin bit and some long runouts, but there are long runouts on the first two climbs we did as well. and the rock was very grippy, so it all went well.
Billy first came up to climb Tower Ridge in winter a couple of years ago. As it worked out, we had just had a massive fall of snow and more was building up during the day. We decided to give Tower Ridge a go anyway and it turned out to be one of the hardest days I have spent on Ben Nevis! You can read about our Trench Warfare here.
Today, since it was raining, we decided to climb Tower Ridge again in summer conditions (without any snow at least) to be able to compare the two. Of course it was a lot easier and most of it was unrecognisable, but certain key sections really stood out.
In summer, the Eastern Traverse is a nice, wide, easy ledge that you can stroll around. In winter, it is a steeply banked line of snow traversing above a massive drop that feels particularly insecure. Walking across to Tower Gap is a breeze when you can see the flat solid rock under your feet. In winter, with snow up to your thighs in a razor sharp crest, not knowing what you are standing on, it feels quite different. And Tower Gap is a simple step down, step across and back up the other side in summer. In winter, with all the holds covered in snow, and still covered in ice when you have cleared away all the snow, it is a different climb altogether.
So it was really nice to be able to climb Tower Ridge smoothly and swiftly today, despite the slippery, wet conditions. We came back down Ledge Route and we could see across Coire na Ciste to Tower Ridge; the weather was not as bad as it might have been today. We managed to climb between the worst of the rain and low cloud.
Next week we have lower temperatures forecast and the first sign of a little snowfall on the summit of Ben Nevis. This is good news since there is a lot of cooling down to do after a long hot summer, the ground is very warm and it will take several months to get cold enough to freeze properly.
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.