climbing Gardyloo gully, the north face of Ben Nevis by mistake

 Winter at its best

Winter at its best

The plan for the week was to enjoy Scotlands wilderness by walking in the hills.

 
 Crampons mounted

Crampons mounted

 

In the morning we established that neither one of us had had more than 3 hours of sleep and so I packed my rashons to be exact; a Snickers for when we get to the foot of Ben Nevis and a second Snickers for when we reached the top.

I figured there would be enough snow, so a bottle of water would only hold me back and for that short time, I would survive.

Protection was out of the question as both of us had left our trad racks at home. In the end what was left to pack was an emergency shelter, ice axes, harness and a rope, of course, both of us thought it was unnecessary to take a rope, but why not?

 
 Squeaky ice

Squeaky ice

 

It wasn't until we had gotten over the crest and looked up that we realised that in front of us was around 45+ degrees gully, spiring all the way to the summit. We both stared at this map and only then did I realise what we signed up for. 700M of loose snow, rocks and hard work.

Upon establishing that going backwards would only put more pressure on the snow we figured there was only one way out of there, up.

Up is where we went't shot git serious and we decided to bound ourselves to one another via rope, so if one dies, at least we could shake hands in heaven.

As it so happens drift snow built up and we were no longer focussed on snow entering our shoes, instead, my thoughts were more considered about keeping the now out of my pants.

Insisting that I would climb lead s I could get some shots of Luke from the top down. It was quite a struggle, sometimes taking 15minutes to ascend 2meters, one step up tree steps backwards was routine.

 
 Morning wakeup call 

Morning wakeup call 

 

This spot came along around 70m off the actual summit, where from the bottom up it looked like we were about to climb over a bomb solid ledge and safety was only a pitch away.

With the snow high above us, in-fact lunch had already passed and we were looking at getting back around 3 pm, I was still on lead, shooting when ever I wasn't busy feeling sorry for ourselves.

By now the gully was only a few meters wide and the false promise of a solid ledge was edging closer. Until it was a throw of the axe away, I braced for ice or rock impact, instead, I was greeted with the same old buttery snow I had just made my way trough, no hold and no sign of a solid ledge. Instead piled up snow blown in from every corner of this gully.

 

As usual, I jammed my axe into some rock and hoped for the best. Luke soon joined me and we looked back on our efforts, from this cave the view was incredible and all of our sweat and jelly legs were well justified.

 
 Needle thread climb 

Needle thread climb 

 

It was way past 2 pm by the time we finished our climb and we decided to go celebrate in the shelter hut at the top of Ben Nevis, Daium bars where the first to emerge out of Lukes bag, along with skittles and similar mouth dribbling goods. He then followed up by saying “I lied to you, the climb was graded 2-3”. Back at the hotel, we found out that we borderline soloed Gardyloo gully.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The plan for the week was to enjoy Scotlands wilderness by walking in the hills.


This plan changed when my friend Luke Ogden chugged his last gulp of Swedish ribina juice and continued to ask me to climb this “small gully” he spotted a few hours prior to sitting on this round table.

“Four-hour walk up to the top of Ben and an hour dee-cent, we'll make it back in time for breakfast and then we can do some snowboarding.” “I googled it and the gully is a grade 1” he added.

The conversation lasted a few minutes before we decided to meet in the car park, and with that being set, we headed for bed.

 
 Almost there? 

Almost there? 

 

 

We set off on the northern path of Ben Nevis, on a well-traded path, trough the trees. Which took us as far as the memorial hut, a small wooden building powered by and solar. It offers a night or more on the foothills of Ben Nevis, for those who are organised at least.

According to our time schedule, we were about 10minutes behind but with one and a half hours of wiggle room, this was nothing to be concerned about.

The path further up was still covered in fresh snow, glistering in the light of our head torches. Now only viable by previous footsteps stomped into the 30cm fresh snow.

 

Having fitted our crampons, was back on track and we were heading even deeper into the valley. By now the foot prints where dispersing quick, into every corner of the valley and soon we were the only ones heading for our chosen gully.

At the mouth we were greeted by some peculiar rocky looking outcrops, it was hard to guess till we stepped on those boulders, which is when we found out that it was, in fact, an avalanche which had come down a day or two ago.

 

Being at the mouth of the gully meant to me that it was at most a 400m climb to the summit, having worked out the gradient in my head it would have put us to around 25-30 degrees, nothing much to worry about I thought to my self and so we started our climb.

Lukes watch was showing -9 degrees, which meant the snow was still crisp and squeaked with every footstep, this gave me some confidence that we won't have to worry about an avalanche just yet and so I set about eating some snow.

 

By around 6:30 we had made it around 200m up, I was set on the gully being no more than 400m high. With the faint bit of sunlight and the end of my light touching a crest around 50m up I was dead set on my beans on toast, followed by chocolate quasons. Back in our hotel.

 
 The long way down 

The long way down 

 

 

 

 

By around 8 the clouds lit up by the morning sun, filled up with pink and purple. A reminder that we were in nature and that we should appreciate our surroundings. At this however, I was more considered about getting to the next pit stop where I could jam my axe into some rock, for a quick breather. Which meant my inner photographer was nowhere to be seen and neither were the pictures.

 

With a lot of faffing and swearing pitch by pitch, we made our way up the gully. By around 11 am it seemed like we had gained around 300m and what ever laid ahead of us just kept on getting steeper, colder and more work.

Not having seen Luke eat a thing I figured he had the same idea as me and was still waiting for his breakfast, so I rationed my snickers to share with him once we got to a suitable spot.

 

 
 The reward 

The reward 

 

At this point, I was going to give him a bite of my Snickers and very quickly replied with “oh no don't worry I have a whole bag of food, I'll give you some when we get to the top”.

Questioning life at this point but releaved I wouldn't have to share my Snickers, I shoved it in my gob.

By now we had gotten ourselves quite accustomed with the loose snow and ahead of us was only a few meters climb, followed by a needle thread ice climb, “grade one”. “Last push, gonna be a walk in the park”.

 

For extra we did this part in two pitches and got to the bottom of the needle thread ice climb. My procrastinating got to work with bringing down all of the icicles, before attempting this climb.

Some swearing and a huge lack of progress, I called it in “not doable, get the helicopter”.

By this time I had been on lead for around 9 hours. And so Luke offered to be the mad and get shit done.

With some wriggling and shouting, he made it to the summit, dug himself in and was ready to pull me up. A text via SMS let me know that he was safe and I was able to climb.

Leaving both of our bags tied to the bottom of the rope, I had to climb halfway to try and squeeze our bags trough the small shaft.

 

 Top of Ben Nevis 

Top of Ben Nevis 


 Approach trough the forrest 

Approach trough the forrest