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Northeast Buttress

Date: 26th Sep 2009
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney

PJ's pampering, sorry convalesence, trip to Scotland was a perfect opportunity for Mike, Sandra, George and I to catch a cheap Glasgow flight for a weekend in Glencoe. She and I swapped cars so that the bigger Touran could ferry us about, but I think PJ may have regretted that when my mucky mobile was parked up next to the gleaming Mercs and Beemers at her stately lodgings. Anyway we gathered in Glasgow centre on the Friday evening and scoffed a greasy fish supper before heading north, though PJ elected for a disgustingly battered burger that looked to be full of minced eyeballs, tubes and hoofs. Yum!

The target for this trip was North-East Buttress on Ben Nevis, the only ridge on the north face that we hadn't yet tackled. To make things spicier we were going to tackle Raeburn's Arete (230m Severe) to start, joining the main NE arete which is then a further 300m of VDiff climbing. 10 hours from carpark to carpark according to the guide. After last year's fiasco where Mike and I were way too blase about climbing conditions on the Ben and ended up spending a cold wet night, this time I was determined to get everything absolutely right. So I asked PJ to sort lunch stuff on Friday so we wouldn't be faffing in Morrison's at 8am, encouraged everyone into a 7am wake up call and packed a light rucksack with the (as yet untried) emergency bothy.

We were in the North Face carpark before 8am and one "hoof and a half" later, for the first time ever, I was first to arrive at the CIC hut just before 9:30am. George and Mike were barely 2 mins behind me though and the girls maybe 2 mins behind that. I got accused of eating a sneaky extra Weetabix that morning to power on so, but it was more about ensuring we had every possible minute of daylight available. A short pause here and I encouraged Mike into battering on so we'd be first on the rock, assuming George and the girls would overtake us at some point during the day anyway.

The start to Raeburn's is easy to spot, the "black overhang" low down on the face visible from the CIC hut even. You can take a number of lines on the lower 2 pitches, only later being channelled into a narrower line, so I started off on an obvious crack and immediately ran into trouble. The day was slightly overcast with only an occasional spit of rain but the rock was very damp and we'd forgone rock shoes in favour of big boots. My crack ran into steeper stuff that would maybe be HS in the dry and I wouldn't trust the boots on a thumb sized toe hold. George and the girls, as predicted, had overtaken me so I swallowed the pride and waited for George and PJ to lower me a rope.

After this initial pitch we all started to move quite well. Mike and I were on a shorter 50m rope while George belayed the girls on twin 60m ropes, so both parties ended up on staggered belays and, bar 1 or 2 incidents, managed to stay out of each other's way. Gear was minimal: 4 friends and a set of nuts so that changeovers were very quick. The top 3 pitches were steeper but much drier and made for very enjoyable, fast climbing. The final pitch ended on a steep slab with some pinchy fingerholds and smears for the boots but conditions were so good, that despite some initial trepidation, it was all over in 3 moves.

By now it was 1:30pm and we stopped for a very quick lunch, admiring the dozens of climbers on Carn Mor Dearg Arete who had the advantage of climbing in occasional sunshine. We were still in shadow but the cloud cover was high and light and we were more than happy to not be braving icy rain like last year. We weren't quite sure if we'd started the North-East line as yet and so there were some concerns over the time but a few metres of easy scrambling and we'd found the First Platform.

From here the climbing was much easier and Mike and I climbed and swapped leads at a very fast rate. George and the girls were moving quickly too though George's eagerness to get climbing may have had something to do with Sandra's tendency to break into show tunes when stuck at a belay point for any length of time, Phantom of The Opera getting a real pasting! Only one minor mishap broke up the rhythm, when George and I chose separate lines out of a series of chimneys. Mine turned out correct and George had to traverse to join us but it was a short delay and we arrived at the infamous ManTrap together. This is a very short but very polished series of 3 moves up a steep little face but it's quite exposed to the right and I was more than happy to clip into the in situ pitons. In winter it'd be a tough little task and Alan Kimber admitted that evening that he always bypasses it to the left, but it was our first time on the route so we had to try it.

Above the ManTrap is 40 Foot Corner, another polished section that was unnervingly wet. Some pitons were very welcome here too and I also used several bits of my own gear before reaching the upper ledges and exiting right. A grassy walk and short scramble then led Mike and I to the top just before 5pm and some grinning congratulations on actually finishing and getting there first. The others were scant minutes behind and we gathered up on the quiet cloudy summit, pondered on why there were so few people out on such a decent day, took a bearing and set off for the tourist path down.

I'm not much of a descender, the soles of my feet seem to take a real battering, so I let the others run on ahead. The plan was to use the (recently well refurbished) tourist path to drop to the lake then circle back to the Allt a Mhuilinn path and the car park. I met the others where the path divides and the girls tried to persuade me (with much batting of the eyelashes) to go get the car while they all went to the Achintee Inn. You can imagine my response to that! Put the words "Off" and "Feck" into an appropriate exclamation. Eventually we decided to stump up for a taxi and set off for the inn.

We arrived to a bit of drama. George had scooted on ahead and, like the rest of us, had taken great delight in bouncing from stone to wet stone, overtaking the limping charity walkers and generally showing off. Until he went arse over tit about 100 yards from the inn and carried out a magnificent face plant, gouging a hefty lump from his right knee. As PJ hunted for her first aid kit we realised that I hadn't closed her rucksack top properly after taking out her compass on the summit. 1 relatively new shiny silver mobile phone missing. Aagh! There was no answer on calling it and it was a subdued rather than celebratory pint inside, while I tried to avoid having my shins kicked under the table. But my shins were saved a few pints later. Sandra had just returned with the car when I decided to try the phone again and a Middleborough man answered! His daughter had found the phone and could we please meet him in Fortwilliam post haste as they were leaving within the hour? We never did get the guy's name as PJ wouldn't stop hugging him but thanks are in order.

We were a tired lot and after a Chinese and a discussion on the next day's fun an early night beckoned. We wanted an easier day and settled on the Pap of Glencoe over a big fry up next morning. Sandra headed off early to visit her Mum in Glasgow so the four of us set off for Glencoe for some light snacks and to find the path up to the summit. We stopped in the local garage planning to fill up with diesel and snacks. I managed to leave without paying for the diesel as the chatty guy behind the counter ranted on about windy summits, sore legs, his 13 hour shift, the price of beef jerky in Outer Mongolia and whether Sly Stallone should make Rambo V. When I realised my mistake I turned back and found the poor guy counting his till, rewinding the CCTV tape and about to hit the third 9 on his telephone keypad, while telling all and sundry the £40 would have to come out of his wages. Prison sentence avoided we returned to the path just outside Glencoe.

The path winds from the edge of the forest and heads steeply up towards Sgorr nam Fiannaidh and the end of the Aonach Eagach ridge. At some point it probably forks left to the Pap but we chose to cut directly across the steep heather towards the summit rather than continue heading away. The summit is only 742 metres so think "Errigal" in terms of size. It was more like the back of Muckish in the earlier terrain, but towards the summit the similarity to Errigal returned with a loose rocky path. It got quite windy towards the top but we spotted a few descending parties. On top we came across 2 locals, each supping a bottle of Budweiser and enjoying the views down to Kinlochleven. They took a photo for us, then just for the craic I got out the bothy and managed to squeeze 4 of us into the 3 man skin. We warmed up very quickly and reluctantly packed it away again before descending back to the car and heading for the Clachaig Inn. Up in 2 hours, down in 1.

The Clachaig's whisky collection must be sampled if you pass through their hallowed doors and George and I sampled a Macduff and a Mortlach respectively amid the soup, chips and beers. The former is slightly smoky and quite fiery but the latter is very smooth and palateable. Listen to me, the whisky connoisseur! We continued the whisky theme after dinner in the Grog and Gruel that night opting for several Scapa (smooth) and struggling with an Ardbeg (tastes like licking the walls of a burnt out thatched cottage). I won't try and bullshit you with "hints of vanilla", "slight nuttiness" and all the other pap the pub guides had. They're either smooth or fiery, peaty or not. That's it. Meanwhile PJ and Mike were helping the local constabularly outside with their enquiries as some nutter tried to randomly kiss strangers and generally cause havoc. Oh and PJ also got blown a kiss through the window by a passing Casanova which seemed to make her night.

Another Spotify session back at Kimber's with rules about vetoing any of that Lloyd Cole and The Commotions crap saw us in bed for 4am and up at 10am despite the late afternoon flights. Breakfast in Nevisport, a bit of shopping, then a leisurely drive to Glasgow airport via the Drover's Inn in Inveraran for lunch. Nice spot and good food if you can put up with the overt Scottishness and loudspeakers piping laments at high volume. We found a large series of books on the subject of WWI on the shelf beside us which contained some stunning photos of British and German troops about to rush from the trenches in a bayonet charge. Some of the captions were hilarious too: Belgians in their khaki uniforms: "Almost but not quite British"; German soldiers playing skittles in the trenches: "The Hun in his Hour Of Ease". The stuffed animals in the foyer are brilliant too, especially the bear and the suit of armour and hung weapons give the place a haunted castle feel.

We'd hours to kill in the airport, as PJ needed to drop us off early, so I just nodded off in Starbucks while George and Mike sipped coffee and read their books. I'm hoping neither of them have photos of my slack drooling jaw. Great weekend but we're going to have to rack the brain for the next big UK challenge. Ideas anyone?

29 Sep 2009

That's more like it.

30 Sep 2009

Brother Feeny, Would The Old Man of Hoy be the obvious solution to the crisis?

30 Sep 2009

Well, there's always the full traverse on Liathach.

30 Sep 2009

Hoy could be on there and has been mentioned before. There's also the Cuiilin ridge in 1 day, the winter traverse of Aonach Eagach and a bunch of other stuff. Just need to figure out the time off!

Photo of Route