Sunshine and Ice
Some times a climb can act like a shot of adrenalin straight into your veins. It revitalises your motivation, picks you up and shows you why climbing In this small country is the best in the world. It started with a phone call at 4pm on a Friday afternoon.
‘Fancy going climbing this weekend?’
‘Aye how about Sunday. ’
‘Ok, where do fancy going?’
‘There’s only one option, the Ben.’
Climbing can be spontaneous but when Willie Milne phones to casually enquire about climbing you know that there will be some cunning plan with an obscure classic route identified as the objective. True to form the Langie B team rolled out into the North face car park at a laxadasical 9am on a beautiful spring morning. One and a half hours of sweat later the Novice and Willie arrived at the CIC Hut. What route should we do enquired Novice? The Ben looked awesome, like an alpine peak, with blue skies and sunshine above and thick fat ice on all the high crags from the minus face round to No.4 gully. Every classic line looked amazing, zero, point five, comb and green gully. 'Like a fairy cake' as Willie put it. After a brief discussion the objective was agreed, Green Gully
The Langside rumour mill had whispered that two other langie teams had enjoyed this classic route weeks before. Indeed there was even the suggestion that a well known and experienced langside member had fallen off the first pitch on an earlier attempt. Could the B team raise their game to follow in Raeburns ice steps?
The anticipation began to take hold. That wonderful feeling of uncertainty and excitement had begun to weave its spell. One hour later and Willie unable to contain his excitement had bounded to the bottom of the route as Novice trudged up in his wake. Luckily only one other team lay ahead in the gully, so an ice screw belay was set as the gear was sorted. Willie took the first steep ice pitch in short time as Novices thoughts drifted back to his original master class on the Ben. What tips could he learn today on the second instalment of the master class? The first lesson was clear, slow, steady and calm on steep ice. At the first belay came the words ' this is magic, totally awesome, I've never seen so much good ice on the Ben.' The second pitch passed much easier than the first. A peg belay on the right wall provided a magical perch set within steep rock walls with a short steep ice pitch curving up to the left and back to the right out of site, unknown. The second lesson, place gear when it's easy as Willie placed an ice screw as the ice began to steepen to what appeared to be vertical. It's often said that 70 to 75 degree ice seems to the climber to be vertical and 90-degree ice seems to overhang. This was the first pitch that Novice had to hang out from his axes in ernest and put lesson number 1 to good use. The third belay was reached, 'This is what life is all about, it doesnae get any better than this' extolled Willie. 'We should've done something harder given how good the conditions are'
Again the fourth pitch reared up with vertical ice and a short bulge. The master class was progressing and the student had to apply the lessons at the sharp end for the second time. Lesson 2 was applied with an ice screw on easier ground. Lesson 1 took the Novice up over the steep pitch and into the summit funnel. One final sting in the tail as always with any great climb, ‘which way do we finish?' Willie quickly opted for the water ice pitch and the steep snow to outflank the cornice on the left. The classic cold climb finish. Soon after the Novice stepped over the cornice blinking into the bright sunshine with tourists in T-shirts walking past. The first words from student to master, 'How the F##k did Raeburn cut steps up that?'
And there endeth the second instalment of the master class. A quick shimmy up to the summit for Willie to top up his tan from Rome and doon the red burn to the half way lochan. At 7pm the B team arrived back at the car lost for words, 'Sunshine and ice, the Ben at its best.'