Gotta Love Spring – Sunny Curved Ridge, Icy White Line

24 Mar

Sitting at my desk while high pressure brought a week of great weather and climbing conditions to the west coast was torture! Luckily the high was forecast to stay put for the weekend, so it was two relieved climbers who charged over from Aberdeen intent on making the most if it. A stable high pressure in the early spring can open up a wealth of possibilities – diurnal temperature variations create excellent ice conditions on the high shady north faces while southerly aspects bask in the warm sunshine. Camping in the glen each night was bloody cold though!

A temperature inversion was on the cards for Saturday and the thought of getting above the clouds on some warm rock was very appealing. Having never done the classic moderate Curved Ridge, on Buachaille Etive Mor, this seemed like a prime opportunity.

Debs casts a mildly erotic shadow on the approach to Curved Ridge


The scramble to the base of the ridge is a bit exposed at times and a few wet sections, thanks to snow melt from above, required care. We were soon under way though and moving together we made good progress over the series of short walls and towers, interspersed with easier scrambling terrain. It was great to feel warm rock under the skin again and the views as we climbed higher were incredible!

The climbing doesn’t always have to be hard to be fun – stunning views and situations half way up the route


Crampons were donned for the final picturesque gully leading to Crowberry Tower Gap and the summit snow slopes. Much basking and lounging around followed as we drank in the views and waved to our friends on the CMD arête to the north.

Roasting in the sun while slogging up to Crowberry Gap in thick porridge


All too soon it was time to head down but the fun wasn’t over yet – the Coire na Tulaich headwall consisted of very chopped up, steep icy snow, which I found difficult to descend. We were still down in good time and after re-packing for a different kind of adventure we hit the Clachaig for dinner and beers!

Looking north from the summit towards Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Beag


Great views all round – Stob na Doire left and Bidean nam Bian right


A much less leisurely start followed another frigid night and at 4 am we packed away the frost-covered tent, guzzled strong coffee and made for the north face car park of Ben Nevis. Despite the preceding week of warm temperatures, the lack of wind, rain and humidity meant the ‘wet bulb effect’ did a good job of preserving ice at higher elevations – rather than melting, the ice sublimates straight to vapour with the resulting energy loss keeping the surface temperature of the ice below freezing.

The incomparable north east face of Ben Nevis in all its icy glory! (photo credit: Richard Corfield)


The approach to Coire na Ciste catches the morning sun while the high north-west facing cliffs remain cold and icy


While the crowds headed for Observatory Gully, we sought solitude high on the north-west flank of Tower Ridge, aiming for The White Line on Goodeve’s Buttress. I had always been intrigued by this slightly less famous part of the mountain, reliably riven with drools of ice cascading down groove and gully systems, so it was great to at last climb one of the stand-out lines on the face.

The Gutter and The White Line are the two prominent ice lines on the left of the image on Goodeve’s Buttress. A very icy Raeburn’s Wall to the right.


Debs finishes the long approach to The White Line. We began the route with the icefall ten metres to her right


Debs promptly dispatched the first ice pitch, this providing an excellent warm up and blowing the cobwebs off our rusty technique. The second icefall was an absolute belter – fifty metres of sustained ice, which barring the final few metres, was in rude condition! The route was first climbed in the early 70’s during the front-point revolution and given a modest grade III, but by modern standards and thanks to the expansion of the grading system, that grade now comes with a bit of a health warning…

Plastic blue ice on pitch 1 – an excellent warm up!


Setting off on the sustained second pitch with fifty metres of great ice to come


Only the first half of the pitch was visible from the belay – my calves were burning by the top!


A dog-leg in our line bypassed the fickle third ice pitch, which appeared thin and detached, depositing us at the start of the final groove. I thought it was all over, but as Debs brought me up to her stance a hidden icefall materialised in a chimney leading up to the final snow slopes.

The final groove came as a bit of a surprise – great moves on steep ice to cap off an excellent route!


More excellent climbing followed, with the crux of the route coming right at the top as I bridged out and over the final bulge. We hustled to the crest of Tower Ridge and on to the plateau above, grinning from ear to ear – what a route!



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