The stage was set.
Bands of low pressure and heavy rain had been passing through Lochaber all week, falling as snow high on the Ben. Every so often the cloud level would lift just enough to show the falling snow line. 700m, 600m, 500m. On saturday the rain stopped and the temperature in town fell. Winds were forecast from the north-east, meaning the norries would be getting the brunt of the ming and the west would (should?) be drier and less wild.
With the snow line at about 400m on Saturday we thought Castle Ridge would be a good choice, and a good introduction to mixed climbing for Chris. The guide says it can be climbed under virtually any conditions, so with a good covering of powder it would be pretty sporting.
Problems began on the walk in when we realised that the snow line had risen quite a bit, and that nothing was freezing. Still, it's a longish route so it might be freezing higher up.
We slogged up to the start, geared up and then moved off, deciding to move together until we reached something that deserved pitching.
About 100m later I set-up a belay and Chris joined me on a big ledge, above which the ridge started to steepen. All in all it had been a very disappointing experience. What had appeared as a decent bit of snow from below was only a dusting. There was a smattering of powder on the ledges and lots of soggy turf. Each step cleared the tiny layer of snow, exposing the naked wet grass beneath. What's more, every so often it started to drizzle. This was definitely not winter climbing. After a brief cost:benefit analysis we bailed off the ridge via easy ground into Castle Coire and then back to the track and the car. Strike 1, the first miss of the winter.
Soggy grass under a few centimetres of snow
Of course, the moral was that we should have headed up high, where Rob and Martin were. They did Strident Edge on the Trident Buttresses, and it sounds like a pretty gnarly route. The problem was that we were after an easier route as an intro for Chris, and there's not much easy mixed stuff up there.
"If this is winter climbing, winter climbing is crap": Chris's sentiments
Some you win, some you lose.
Another thing that's really bugging me is this: right now its about 2 degrees in the Fort with clear blue skies and hardly a breath of wind. A nice high pressure is sat over us as I write. I'm sat in the office trying to work (obviously not very hard if I'm writing this), and numerous people I know are up high on the Ben right now. What complete and utter bastards. I'm sure they will all have a good day, tick some hard routes and come back down and tell me all about it.
Living under the Ben is very cool, but having a job sucks. I'm still adjusting to this 'weekend warrior' thing, which is rather inconvenient when winter conditions are so fickle. Also, moving to a new place it's quite hard to get climbing partners because people genereally already have them, and buddies from down in Edinburgh tend to make their plans down there. I guess I'm just going to have to wave my flag and let people know I'm keen.
On another note, I crashed my car on tuesday, which is a bummer. I was going across to Aviemore to meet my boss and must have gone over a patch of ice or something slippery because before I knew what was happening I was going sideways. I slid across the road and along the verge for a wee way, ripping off the bumper and lots of other stuff underneath. Balls. The recovery chap reckoned it was a write-off due to the age and amount of damage. I'm still waiting for my insurance company to pull their finger out and let me know the outcome. Almost a week without a car in Fort William is a pain in the arse, and at the speed the insurance people are working it's going to be a wee while before I get back to the status quo. So, if anyone knows anyone with a car for sale let me know.