During the current lockdown, lots of people are walking more than before, and more frequently. New places are being discovered close to home that bring people into contact with nature, and for more lucky people totally immerse them in nature. Hopefully this will be one of the positive outcomes of the lockdown that we keep going on the other side of covid-19. Walking is very, very good for all of us. You don’t have to take my word for it. There’s a book I’d like you to read called “In Praise of Walking” by Shane O’Mara. Don’t be put off by the evangelical sounding title; it’s a fascinating read, very well referenced and backed up by scientific research, all about the astounding benefits of going for a walk.
The physical benefits of walking are very well understood. Regular walking brings positive changes in virtually every single measure of health including a drop in body mass index, a reduction of measured body fat as a percentage of total weight, a decrease in triglycerides thought to underlie some forms of heart and cardiovascular disease and an increase in production of heart loving fats called high-density lipoproteins. It works for everyone and the more you walk the more the benefit to physical health. The message is, if you need to lose weight and want to look after your heart, go for a long walk, as often as you can, ideally through nature and ideally build it into your daily routine.
Bizarrely, walking also makes us more intelligent. We know this by studies using the Stroop Test, a very simple method of evaluating cognitive performance using words written on paper in different colours. You would have thought that the cognitive demands of standing and walking would reduce the brain’s capacity to do more tasks. This is not the case. Standing and walking improve our cognitive performance, as demonstrated by the Stroop Test. Most of us who walk regularly understand this very well. We often think more clearly when we are walking, engage in interesting discussions and have our most creative thoughts. Philosophers have often commented that they can only think when they are walking.
Not only does walking improve the performance of our brains, it strengthens the physical structures of the brain. Studies on old people have shown that regular walking can reverse the effects of aging on the brain, making it two years “younger”. Simply by going for a walk, we make our brains stronger and more effective.
However, the most important benefit of walking is that walking in the natural environment has profound restorative effects on our wellbeing. “Attention Restoration Theory” tells us that the human experience of the natural world markedly assists in maintaining and fostering a strong sense of subjective wellbeing.
Modern day life in our urban, man-made environments, increases mental fatigue, stress and anxiety. Restoration of feelings of calm, relaxation, revitalisation and refreshment can be achieved by spending time in a natural environment. For it to be most effective, a natural environment should have three critical elements;
Going for a walk is perfect!
Removal from Normal Life
I’ve often said to people, walking is like meditation. We are removed physically and mentally from our everyday lives. We get so involved in the moment, in the activity and its demands on us, that we very often forget all about our normal worries and anxieties. The more we are challenged by the activity, the less cognitive bandwidth we have for anything else. It’s only when we get back home that we remember about the outstanding bills, the anxiety caused by our work or any number of things that cause our mental fatigue.
Fascinating Sensory Elements
It’s really obvious that our landscape is full of astounding visual and sensory elements that are fascinating, beautiful, full of wonder and surprising. Over the last few years I have increased my knowledge of the natural environment massively, especially through projects such as The North Face Survey on Ben Nevis. It’s also clear to me that there is a never-ending supply of new knowledge to gain, new insights to understand and new things to see. This understanding of the very small things in our landscape makes my enjoyment of the vast scale of the landscape even more rewarding.
It Should Be Expansive
By exploring the landscape that surrounds us in Scotland we get to feel the immense scale of the landscape, the power of the weather, and the never-ending nature of wildness, that can give us a proper sense of scale.
On a walk in Glen Nevis, when I find a stone with stripy layers that are bent and contorted I think of the age of the rock and the scale of the forces that resulted in this small stone. The rocks of the Mamores are about 800 million years old. Homo sapiens (us, the human race) evolved about 200,000 years ago making the Mamores 4000 times older than us. The Mamores were south of the equator back then and they have drifted up to where they are now moving at the same speed that your thumbnail grows. They were 10,000m high at one point, higher than Everest is now. The pressure on my stone and the heat required to metamorphose it into the rock it is today were provided by the weight of the mountains and the heat from the Earth’s centre towards which it was pushed.
Not everyone is into geology but just with this little bit of knowledge we can get a proper sense of the scale of our landscape and the age of the planet. It is a good reminder that each of us is not at the centre of things with the world revolving around us. We need to learn some humility and to take responsibility for ourselves. This is surely the expansive nature of the experience that is required to make its restorative effects most profound.
This is why I am passionate about spending time on our mountains. It maintains our physical health, it restores our mental health and it can have a profound influence on our spiritual well-being. It can counter the self-centred focus that modern day life has on us all. In these days of global climate change, an obesity epidemic, mental ill health and disconnectedness from nature, one solution is simple.
Go for a walk, preferably a long one and immerse yourself in nature!
Scotland has enjoyed enlightened access rights for seventeen years. The Land Reform Act of 2003, and the Outdoor Access Code that goes with it, gave us all the right to responsible access of any land other than gardens and industrial land. No other country in the world has such a good system that works both for landowners and for people seeking access.
We can go walking, climbing, cycling, horse riding and camping on the land, kayaking, canyoning and swimming in the rivers. We can do just about anything that is not powered by an engine and that is responsible. It's this key phrase, responsible, that is what makes this legislation different to any other access legislation, and what makes it work so well.
Our access legislation does not mean we have the right to go anywhere, in any way we like, to do what we like. Instead, it means we need to consider what is responsible, what will be the impact on other people including the land owner, other users and the population as a whole. We need to be considerate of other people, not selfish, when we exercise our right of access.
Climbing has been described as fundamentally selfish, it is of no benefit to anyone but the climber. Climbers often express the anarchistic side of their nature through their climbing, the rebelious urge to break rules, in fact the desire to play in an environment that does not have rules. Considering other people and being responsible are rarely our first considerations but the risks of accident and injury do impact our friends and family, and the nation as a whole when we rely on rescue services and the NHS.
How can we justify going climbing if it is fundamentally selfish and, potentially, costly to the nation? Each time there is an accident in the mountains that reaches the media, people describe the climbers as "selfish", "suicidal", "unjustified" and calls are made for them to pay for their rescue and medical treatment, for climbing to be banned, for our access rights to be taken away from us. Very prominent people in government say these things on radio discussion programmes. After all, if a small change in our access rights that affects a small number of people in our population might save a few lives and the cost to the tax payer, it would be worth it, right?
Well, no. It would be a disaster.
The benefits of climbing might not be quite as tangible or immediate as the very occasional accidents, but they are very powerful and benefit all of society. I've mentioned the benefits of climbing in several previous posts. They include physical health, mental health, spritual well-being, a proper and personal sense of risk assessment, a time of separation from our daily anxieties, immersion in nature and a sense of well-being that comes from connectedness with nature, respect for other people and a clear demonstration that, in the most basic of things, we are all equal.
We go climbing to remind ourselves what matters in this world.
When enough of us benefit from these things, society as a whole benefits, and our selfish acts of climbing become beneficial to to the rest of society. "Normal" life that includes everything that is designed to make life easier for us, simpler, more comfortable and more pleasurable, leads to a more self-centred way of living. Climbing does the opposite. Climbing grounds us, reminds us of what matters in this world, makes us less self-centred.
A lot of us are thinking about what matters in life right now as we deal with the COVID-19 emergency. A lot of us would really like to go climbing right now to help us deal with the very stressful situation we all find ourselves in. However, this is not the time to be anarchistic or to make decisions based on our personal risk assessments. Instead, right now is the time to demonstrate how responsible we can be when there is a requirement to do so. We have the right to responsible access, and to be responsible right now means we can not travel to do our daily excercise (not even five minutes in the car to a nearby walking area), we must stay at home, work at home if at all possible and stay apart from other people.
This is a temporary situation and right now it is more important than ever to maintain good relationships between neighbours and within communities. This is not about restricting the general right of responsible non-motorised access to land but it is part of the wider approach to prevent COVID-19 deaths and preserving the nation’s food supplies.
Most of us are doing the responsible thing, and all of us are looking forward to things going back to normal so we can go climbing again. However, I'm sure, like me, you are all questioning why we can't go climbing right now. Hopefully, this will help.
Here's the Ministerial Statement on Access Rights that very clearly explains what is expected of us and why.
Coming home from a big day of climbing I used to feel a real slump in energy. This isn’t very surprising really, a day on Ben Nevis is hard work and uses a lot of calories, so feeling tired at the end of it makes sense. It was a pain though - I come home to a chaos of children and their after school activities, phone calls and messages, Louise telling me about her day and all the jobs I need to do such as drying my gear, checking forecasts and trying to work out where to go tomorrow, when all I wanted to do was collapse on the sofa. I wanted a way to avoid this dip in energy and nutrition seemed to hold the answer.
Back then my strategy was to eat more. On a really big day I’d get a pack of five jam doughnuts and eat them all before eating a regular dinner later on. Instant sugar energy would pick me up, right? And I do so much exercise that the calories would be burned off the next day. As nice as this was, it wasn’t working.
A few friends were talking about a ketogenic diet like what Dave MacLeod has used successfully for a few years now. After completing his 24/8 project (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huL5TdBfTIE) Dave talks about finishing this amazing athletic feat feeling that he could carry on going. He describes feeling a uniform supply of energy, no peaks and troughs like you can get on a diet of carbohydrates.
Looking more closely at the ketogenic diet, I could not work out how I could get it to work for me. You can’t have cereal for breakfast or sandwiches for lunch. The practicalities, cost and dedication to follow it when the rest of my family was eating very different meals made me look elsewhere.
This is when I was lucky enough to hear some advice from Rebecca Dent, the High Performance Dietician, aimed at British Mountain Guides, with the aim of helping us stay fit and healthy enough to carry on climbing right through our careers and into retirement. Having taken her advice and acted on it, I realised half way through this winter that I do not now suffer the big energy dip I used to when I got home. It was a hard winter with lots of tough days. The only change I have made is in my diet, so I can only attribute the results to this.
The advice included a few things. In short; eat more protein, more omega 3 oil (found in oily fish), lots of vegetables every day and half of these should be green, berries every day, nuts and seeds, and beetroot juice. We should also eat protein in all our meals and eat lots of small snacks instead of a few big meals. Here’s great article written by Rebecca giving an example of what to eat and when to eat it on a big day of climbing
When we are working hard, day after day, we need more protein. The recommended intake for a normal lifestyle is 0.8g of protein per kg body mass. When we are working hard we should increase this to about 1.6g per kg body mass. As a guide, an egg contains about 13g of protein, a chicken breast of 172g has about 54g of protein. My body mass is 85kg so I need to take in about 136g of protein each day which is quite a lot.
We can get protein from meat, fish, eggs and dairy such as yoghurt. Nuts also have a lot of protein but we need to be wary of eating too much saturated fat that you get a lot of in nuts. Protein powders are very useful (like what bodybuilders use). I found there is a huge range of these and it is really hard to know which to go for. Find one with whey protein and creatine (3g per day), and a second one with casein (30g to 40g per day, best just before bed time).
Omega 3 oil is found in fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel (but not tuna, cod or haddock - fish fingers don’t count!). If you don’t like fish you can take fish oil tablets - three of the 1000mg tablets every day when you are exercising hard.
Do you get your five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, every day? Each portion is 80g and the total is 400g (minimum) each day. Half of this should be dark green vegetables such as sprouts, spinach, broccoli, kale, cabbage etc. Your dinner plate should be half covered in vegetables and half of these should be dark green.
You can look up the reasoning behind all these things, there’s too much to put into this article. The next step is to work out how to build this into your daily diet and routine. Don’t go for one big change, a complete overhaul of your food intake. Instead, make small changes over a period of time and work out what you can sustain. It’s hard to maintain a revolution, easier to make small changes in your daily habits.
Here’s how it works for me.
Breakfast - granola style cereal with yogurt, berries and toasted seeds and nuts. Packets of frozen berries are not so expensive and I make yogurt at home (see below).
Lunch - sardine sandwiches made with seedy, wholemeal bread with sardines in tomato sauce (35p per can) and a little extra tomato ketchup, eaten over three snacks during the day.
Back at the van - protein shake plus an apple and a pear.
When I get home - peanuts or mixed nuts.
Dinner - a source of protein, lots of vegetables and some brown rice or pasta, potatoes etc.
Supper - a slice of seedy, wholemeal bread with peanut butter or a bowl of granola cereal with yoghurt.
If you’ve climbed with me during the last year I probably went on about sardine sandwiches! I used to eat cheese, butter and mayonnaise sandwiches. By cutting these out and replacing them with sardines, I’ve cut out a lot of fat and replaced it with a cheap source of protein and omega 3 oil. It helps that I like sardine sandwiches and I’m aware that not everyone does!
I try to cut out as much refined sugar as I can. No more doughnuts (at least, not very often!), no sugar in my tea, no sweets and I prefer dark chocolate.
As for carbohydrates, I try to eat good quality carbs (brown rice instead of white, brown bread, sweet potatoes instead of regular spuds), and I try to match my intake with the exercise I do. The last two weeks have seen my level of exercise drop dramatically so I have reduced how much cereal, bread and rice/pasta I eat.
My diet is not perfect, not by a long way. I still eat biscuits, cake, fish and chips. But I’m more likely to reach for a protein snack instead of doughnuts, I eat a lot of spinach, and I eat sardines most days. The result is that I don’t have that dip in energy levels when I get home and, long term, I should have fewer niggling injuries and be able to keep on climbing for another thirty years. I’m 47 now, and I wish I’d done this 20 years ago!
Here's how to make yogurt.
I use an Easiyo tub to make it in. This is just an insulated tub which holds enough boiling water to surround the 1ltr container and keep the heat in for several hours. If you don't have something like this you can heat the milk and make the yogurt in a vacuum flask, or keep it warm in a warm slow cooker or even just on a radiator.
I mix up 1ltr of full fat milk with 1tbs live yoghurt (Yeo Valley Natural Yogurt) and 2tbs full fat milk powder in the container. I place this in the big tub with boiling water and leave it over night. It's as easy as that.
Without the insulated tub, heat 1ltr of full-fat milk over a medium-low heat until almost bubbling (85ºC), stirring often so it doesn’t catch on the bottom. Leave it to cool enough that you can stick your finger in it but it’s still pretty hot (46ºC). If you want to get more accurate, use a thermometer. Then mix in the yogurt and milk powder and keep warm and still for at least 5 hours.
Once started, you can use a spoon of the old yogurt to start the next batch.
One of my favourite post-workout snacks now is yogurt with berries and protein powder. It's filling, very tasty and really helps with the recovery.
This might sound like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, but there is a lot to gain from learning more skilful walking. We all learn how to walk at a very young age and we all do a lot of it. In some ways, this works against us when we are walking on rough, loose and unpredictable ground like we find in the mountains. Our gait is so deeply ingrained that it is difficult to change it to become more efficient when we go off road.
However, if we can become more efficient walkers, we will be able to walk further and enjoy it more. If we can become better walkers, we will slip, trip and stumble less often. And, as we move into scrambling and climbing, we will move much better on steep ground if we have good foundations in our walking technique.
Here are some tricks to get you thinking about how you walk and how to make it more efficient. You can do all of them in your daily walk or exercise routine during the Covid19 lockdown.
Often, one of the first drills you do when you start rock climbing is to climb with silent feet. The same goes for walking. Place your feet as quietly as possible as you walk along a trail (any trail). Of course, the gravel under your shoe will crunch but the thumping noise of your shoe striking the ground can be minimised. Tune in to what you are doing to make this work best.
You might find that you look to place your feet accurately instead of where ever they land, you might shorten your stride slightly, place your foot gently and softly, perhaps by putting it down toe first. All of these things are good.
Explore how you place your feet. You can use your toes, inside edge, outside edge, walk sideways. Learn to use small placements accurately and confidently. Shorten your stride to make it easier to shift your weight over the leading foot.
Pause and balance
Walking along a pavement or any regular, even surface, we tend to fall forwards onto our leading foot with full commitment. When the foot placement is predictable this is fine. On uneven surfaces, when the foot placement is unpredictable, a moment of pause, balanced on one foot (the trailing foot) is useful so you can check if the next placement is stable. All these drills are designed to build in a moment of pause, balanced on one leg.
Be centred and smooth
Hook your thumbs into your belt in front of your belly button or hold your hands behind your back. Focus on your hands and on moving them forward smoothly. Take this up a step by balancing small stones on the backs of your hands held just in front of your belly. You can make this a competition between the people you are with – the person who keeps the stones their hands longest wins.
Balance a small stone on your head while walking!
We tend to focus on our extremities, especially when we think about skilful walking, when we should be more centric, leading with our centres. Leading with our centres makes us walk more smoothly.
It’s common to end up with a lot of shock loading when we walk downhill. Long steps, landing on your heel, falling onto your leading foot, result in heavy strikes and a lot of stress going through your knees and hips. It’s also a good way to slip and slide. So, do the opposite. Walk on your toes in descent and take short quick, soft steps, placing your feet accurately.
Our joints can be used as shock absorbers that transfer impact force into muscles and tendons instead of the cartilage and bones within the joints. Cartilage is very hard to repair and replace, whereas muscles repair themselves and adapt quickly, and tendons are designed specifically for stretching and rebounding. If we use our ankle joints as well as our knees and hips, we add another shock absorbing joint and hugely reduce the impact force, wear and tear on our cartilage. To make this habitual (something we do all the time) we need to practice it purposefully on easy trails.
With purposeful practice of these skills by doing the drills we will build our walking technique. This means we should practice all the time we are out walking, as much as possible during the walk, regularly and often. Make it habitual; normal.
In addition, we should do specific exercises to build strength and balance in our ankles. The best way to do this is also to build it into a daily routine. We can use the time we brush our teeth for this! When we brush our teeth (twice a day for two minutes each time) –
One last thought is about walking poles. In descent, walking poles can help take a lot of shock loading off your joints relieving knee and hip pain, and they act as stabilisers, especially useful when your muscles are tired and legs are wobbley. However, there is a serious down side to over reliance on walking poles. We can learn to use the poles for balance, stability and correcting small errors in foot placements. This means that our muscles used in walking and our walking technique deteriorate. It seems to me that we should maintain our skilful walking technique and use walking poles only when we really need to such as walking through fresh snow or with a heavier than normal rucksack.
Covid-19 brought a rude end to our winter climbing, just when it was getting really good. Three weeks of lockdown and probable restrictions on travel after that mean we are unlikely to get out winter climbing again before next winter.
So, in traditional fashion, here are some images from my winter that give a flavour of what it was like: full of promise, disapointing, stormy, snowy, stormy, windy, brilliant, tough and amazing. It was very challenging for much of it, not just the weather and ground conditions, but the changeability of them, demanding a lot of careful consideration of the hazards.
I didnt get it right all winter, that's for sure. But I got it right enough and I got through it unscathed. It will certainly be a winter to remember for lots of reasons.
Another thaw yesterday fed the snow with water to dribble down the ice climbs and form more ice now that it is frezing properly. Today was dry, clear to the tops for much of the day but pretty windy as well. Elved, Tony and I did not want to go very high due to the wind so we went to the Minus Face and climbed a great couple of routes between Slingsby's Chimney and Minus Three Gully. First up was Platforms Rib which actually follows a groove about 6m left of Minus Three Gully. We abseiled down Slingsby's Chimney and landed at the foot of Right Hand Wall Route which was another lovely grade IV climb back to First Platform. The wind did drop later this afternoon but we were very happy with our two climbs.
The Minus Face was popular, as it has been for a few weeks now. Minus Three Gully had a couple of ascents and Yann and team went to Minus One Gully but I do not know how they got on. The wind was blowing up the face all day, carrying spindrift up into our faces as we tried to peer down to see our next foot placements. At least we new there was no avalanche risk where we were and the wind chill effect was firming up the ice and snow more quickly.
Mega Route X had a couple of ascents today and it was said to be taking good ice screws. All the big classic ice climbs are fat with ice. Rubicon Wall looks very good as well - Left Edge Route and Rubicon Wall look very nice, as well as Observatory Buttress. There is a certain amount of crust snow around on the climbs so some of the climbing might be a bit more awkward than it might be.
In Coire na Ciste there are big cornices above the gullies on Creag Coire na Ciste, some above The Comb and along the top of The Cascades. The big snow gullies are corniced as well. The Fawlty Towers area is poretty good and popular, The Crtain looked a bit thin at the top but Vanishing Gully looks OK - I don't know if it is good ice though.
Gemini melted away and The Shroud looks too thin and patchy for me. Waterfall Gully is still there as well as Boomers Requiem and Compression Cracks.
We had a deep thaw on Saturday with the temperature at 900m of +5C for several hours and heavy rain. Abacus Mountain Guides' teams managed to deliver some valuable training to Oban MRT members in Glen Coe while staying well clear of the numerous large avalanches during the day, and our skiing and climbing teams went east to find drier weather in the Cairngorms. We lost a good bit of snow cover but you would not have thought so looking at Stob Coire nan Lochan yesterday. Fresh snow on Sunday and yesterday added to what was already a very good cover of snow.
It has not properly refrozen at this level (about 1000m). The snow-ice on the climbs is detached in many places and has not frozen back in place. The turf is still well frozen - turf takes longer to freeze as well as to thaw out. Tony, Elved and I climbed Raeburn's Central Ordinary Buttress Route which was very nice. The snow-ice on the first pitch was slightly disconcerting since it sounded hollow and was slightly detached. The rest of the climb was very nice though, on solid snow for much of the way. Early in the season this climb is not as much fun with just a little snow on the rocks. Now that it has filled in properly it is much nicer to climb.
Owen and his team were climbing Evening Citizen which had a few nice patches of ice as well. Brad, Dave and Gregory climbed Twisting Gully Right Hand into Moonshaddow which had ice on the middle section leading to the cool chimney towards the top. Casper went up Twisting Gully which was nice and was best with an exit on the left. Looking down SC Gully, I was happy that I did not have to try to climb out past the steep soft snow and cornice at the top. There are a few cornices above the crags but they are not huge. It's mostly the gullies that are affected.
The weather front came in at lunchtime as forecast and gave us steady snowfall as we descended Broad Gully back into the coire and down to the van. Broad Gully is very full, wide and has no cornice. It would make an excellent steep ski at the moment and one snowboarder booted up to have a go. We made do with a bum slide!
We have another thaw right now but the temperature is dropping already and it looks like it will be cold with further fresh snowfall for the rest of the week.
That was a week to remember. For Tommy and me, that was probably the best week of Scottish winter climbing either of us have ever enjoyed. We've both done a huge amount of climbing and had very successful weeks in the past, but the combination of good (but still challenging) weather, first rate ice climbing conditions and a bit of luck to get onto climbs without queues resulted in a very satisfying list of climbs for us both. These are climbs that we have both wanted to do for very many years (decades in fact) and we did a good number of them this week. We're both very happy to take a rest day today with weary arms and a lot of satisfaction!
Of course we had to finish the week by climbing Mega Route X yesterday. This was on Tommy's list of dream routes from when he first got in to winter climbing, so it was really nice to be able to climb it on a lovely day and to find it in amazingly good condition. As we walked up to it, big Matt was cruising up it, having a lot of fun, and it was nice to share the experience of this climb with him and Martin. It also showed us just how steep it is! Mega Route X requires a very specific combination of snow above it, thaw and rain to produce water dribbling down the face, and freezing conditions to form the ice. Just too much or too little of any of these will stop if from forming. It looks like we have the perfect combination over the last couple of weeks. It is brilliant right now.
We climbed it in two pitches. The best line on the first pitch is different to how I found it a few years ago climbing with Abib - this time it seemed best to go up the crest of a pillar in the most sensational position to find the best ice for climbing! The second pitch looks as daunting as the first but once you get stuck in it works out very well with some wide bridging. Looking down from the top all you see are huge hanging icicles and pillars of ice on an extremely steep cliff. It is such an atmospheric place and was the perfect end to a fabulous week.
So, our list for the week is this -
It just goes to show how good the ice climbing conditions are at the moment, and how good the weather was for us this week. Lots of other people have been out having just as much as fun as us, and getting on to climbs that they have been waiting decades to try too. All the big classic grade V routes are in good condition, and some of them were climbed, such as Orion Direct. Today we have a thaw day with rain up to the summit, followed by a refreeze tomorrow and colder weather again next week. This thaw/freeze cycle will only improve the ice climbing conditions. We could be in for a mega Spring of classic ice climbing. Fingers crossed!
Yesterday I was thinking that the ice on Aonach Beag North Face must be good right now. I mentioned to Tommy about a route called Royal Pardon there and how the cover picture of the older SMC Ben Nevis guidebook was taken on this route. Then I saw a picture on the SAIS Blog clearly showing the ice was fat. So, Tommy and I had our objective for the day.
It's a nice approach. Step into the gondola at Nevis Range and ride it up to 650m. Walk downhill to the chairlift, put some more clothes on and glide up to 870m above sea level. Then walk gently up hill, over the summit of Aonach Mor and down to the Mor/Beag col. Gear up, leave a rucksack and descend nice steep snow slopes with no cornice to the start of the climb. If it is misty you might need to use a compass - I have turned 180 degrees up there without realising it!
The climb is fat with solid ice. In fact, the whole face is dripping with icicles and smears of ice everywhere. I think there is some new route potential for the very strong. The line of icicles in the right of the picture above looks like a fine objective for someone far stronger than me! Royal Pardon is steep enough! There is a section of about 8 axe placements where you are very much on your arms followed by a groove that takes away a little of the steepness by allowing some bridging. It's a 55m pitch to a rock belay but you could split it and belay on ice if you want. A bit of snow and a fourth pitch of lovely ice gets you to the top, a gentle stroll back over to the ski area and a nice coffee and cake.
Another attraction is that we had the whole crag to ourselves!
A triptych is a piece of art, often a painting or carving, made up of three panels placed side by side. The Minus Gullies on Ben Nevis form a beautiful, natural triptych and it's very satisfying to climb all three. A few years ago Tommy and I climbed Minus three Gully. On Monday we climbed Minus Two Gully and today we climbed Minus One Gully.
Yesterday we tried to get on to Minus One Gully but another team just got there first, so instead of waiting we went to climb Right Hand Route. This is a line I have been looking at for many years and wanted to climb. Robin Clothier climbed it last week, the first ascent it has had since the 90's. It follows the enormous right facing corner in Minus Two Buttress before stepping right into a long, sustained groove with many bulges. Above, there are two lovely pitches in a narrow groove and wee chimney at the tp that gets you to NE Buttress. Fantastic climbing, thin, steep and serious. Brilliant fun and nice to climb a Carrington/Rouse route.
Today, Tommy and I got up earlier and were lucky to get to Minus One Gully first. I climbed this once before, over 20 years ago, and it sticks in my memory very clearly. Since the route was climbed several times last week, we have had fresh snow blowing up the gully and this has covered the back wall below the first big overhang with soft snow.
Unfortunately this covered up the few patches of good ice on the crux left wall of the overhang! It took a bit of clearing and searching to find adequate placements to commit, and even then it was a bit thinner than what I remember from 20 years ago. Stepping left and escaping the chimney to a steep slab of fat ice is quite a moment.
The ice is fat and lovely to climb all the way to the top from there. Two long, amazing pitches past The Garden get you to the top snow patch and an escape left onto the crest of Minus One Buttress. Airy moves along this land you on NE Buttress and the now very familiar abseil descent to Slingsby's Chimney. Deep satisfaction and a warm inner glow is what we take away from the Minus Triptych.
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.