Spring Ice Perfection on Hadrian’s Wall Direct, Ben Nevis

4 Apr

A deep thaw followed by a rapid refreeze in late March saw the high ice routes on Ben Nevis come into superb condition. So when a perfect weather day appeared in the forecast it was a done deal – Andy and I headed straight for The Ben, targets locked on to the classic Hadrian’s Wall Direct (V, 5). Aiming to beat the crowds we left early, but evidently not early enough, as the only other team up beat us to it!

Spindrift showers the Orion Face and the big smear of Hadrian’s Wall Direct in the early morning gloaming

 

Realising we would have to wait a bit, we leisurely ambled up to the start of the route in an effort to preserve some energy for the trials ahead. As the morning light turned from blue to pink to gold, we soaked up the ambience, thankful to be in such an incredible place at just the right time.

The long slog up to the base of Hadrian’s is certainly made up for by the surroundings!

 

Andy on the final steepening to the base of the route, aiming for the peg belay on the right of the smear

 

The approach slopes steepen alarmingly as Observatory Gully drops away beneath you on the way to the routes – concentration required in my case. Both Point Five Gully (V) and Hadrian’s looked to be in excellent condition and it wasn’t long before the queues began to form. Banter was high at the first belay as we got ready to set off!

So it begins – Andy makes steady progress on pitch 1 as the realisation dawns that there would be no respite for 50m

 

Andy nearing the top of the relentless first pitch with the team ahead just beginning the second. Photo credit: Wil Treasure

 

The first pitch sweeps up in a series of steep slabs and steeper walls; the ice mostly excellent, barring the odd brittle patch from the refreeze.  Andy cruised out and up the smear but quickly realised this would be no pushover and engaged his brain for 50m of sustained climbing. When I arrived at his solid rock belay my hands succumbed to the worst hot-aches I’d had for years, which offset the pain in my calf muscles nicely. A good start then!

Chilling above the steep bit at the start of pitch 2. Photo credit: Andy Harrison

 

Once the fire in my hands had subsided, I got on with the job of taking us up the final steepening and through easier grooves and bulges to an in situ belay at the top of the smear; another amazing pitch!

Andy traverses to the belay at the top of pitch 2 as the exposure begins to build, along with the calf pump!

 

Wil Treasure and partner setting off on the first pitch of Point Five Gully after dodging lots of fallen ice and a flying jobby, gross

 

The way ahead was clear – a narrow ice-choked chimney leads up to the start of the easier ground in the middle of the face. It looked benign from below, but as is often the case with ice, it was steeper than it looked and not particularly well protected!

The chimney at the start of pitch 3 provided a short and sharp section of steep ice, protected by rock gear low down

 

The ice in the chimney was hacked out, so after placing a low-down rock runner, Andy elected to run it out until an ice screw could be more easily placed way above the chimney. Spicy! The pitch was joy to follow and once above the route opened out into easy-angled face climbing on solid but calf-bursting neve. The fatigue was real by this point, so instead of moving together we pitched our way between ice bosses and rock belays to the base of the steeper ice.

Nearing the top of the easy ground. The final ice pitch trends up and left around the headwall to the prominent rock fin on the skyline

 

Heading for the base of the final ice pitch at the end of the easy ground. Photo credit: Andy Harrison

 

Andy approaches the belay with all the ambience and exposure of an alpine face

 

The last pitch consisted of fat blue ice but was much longer and harder than we expected – especially at the very top where steep moves up brittle ice finally took us to the exit slopes and the plateau. By this point my calves had exploded and I toiled my way up the final metres to be greeted by a grinning Andy, basking in the sunshine, elated to have finally bagged such a classic!

Andy embarks on the final steep ice pitch which kept on giving right to the top!

 

Jacob Davies topping out Zero Gully after cannily using a deadman snow anchor to protect the final section

 

Once on the summit we ambled around in a contented daze; the sudden transition to the sunny horizontal world, complete with scampering dogs, a jarring contrast to the shadowed north face below. Faced with the gruelling descent we didn’t linger long, but who could resist savouring the view after a route like that?

Looking south down Loch Linnhe to the Isle of Mull in gorgeous afternoon light

3 Replies to “Spring Ice Perfection on Hadrian’s Wall Direct, Ben Nevis

  1. A great route, and good write up. I did it around the same time of year with an early start. We ran the first 2 pitches together with long ropes and the chimney was actually well protected when we did it, I don’t recall it being as icy as your pictures.
    The last pitch for us was easy but not well protected and involved a long traverse to get over the cornice.
    Great day out, we started the route at 0600, and were finished by 1200. Did 2 step after. The next day we were rock climbing at Poldubh in T shirts.
    Thanks for sharing,
    Iain

  2. A great account of your Hadrian Wall adventure. Helpful too for the future 🙂
    Thanks for sharing, and well done.

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