SMC International Winter Meet on Ben Nevis, 1345 m
Review of an outstanding climbing event that is second to none.
Winter mountaineering in Scotland – that is the epitome of battling the elements. Strong winds with high gusts on the approach and at the summit, snow flurries & spindrift in the gullies, plus wet conditions, the cold, little daylight and long approaches. If you come to Scotland in winter, you have to be prepared to suffer – at least that’s the broad notion (and my own experience from the past).
The SMC International Winter Meet, organised by the Scottish Mountaineering Club at the end of February 2023, proved that things can be different. Just in time for the start of the meet, a stable high-pressure zone set in over the Highlands, ensuring daily sunshine without any wind – just perfect for an intense week of climbing, understanding the whole of Ben Nevis with its numerous pillars, ridges and gullies, and learning what makes climbing on Scotland’s highest mountain so special. For winter mountaineering, the strong Scottish climbing ethic states that the faces must be covered with hoar frost, ice or snow and the turf must be frozen. A rule that makes perfect sense here. Everybody who has climbed Ben Nevis once understands why – and returns with strong experiences. Here you have to earn each single route, but they will remain in your memory for a long time. And that is ultimately what mountaineering is all about, isn’t it?
The week-long climbing meet took place in the legendary C.I.C. hut at the foot of Ben Nevis, short approaches guaranteed. Furthermore, we spent the first and last evening in the Lagangarbh Hut/Glen Coe. The idea of the climbing meet: For one week, local climbers present their area with all its peculiarities, meanings and rules to their international guests. The format is perfect: Daily climbing in international teams, good food in the evening, exciting talks, time for exchange, route planning and networking. The line-up: Eight international guests from Singapore, Korea, Poland, Italy, Germany and a corresponding number of local British climbers.
What a great event! It would be an enrichment for the worldwide climbing community if there were such climbing meets in other countries as well – hallo Germany!
A very big thank you to Simon Richardson for making this all happen and his excellent organisation of this event. Thanks to Robin and Chris for the smooth handling in the huts and to the cooking team of Carol, Anne and Marie who cared for us so lovingly. I am particularly grateful to my climbing partner Paul Ramsden for the special experiences on Ben Nevis.
Let’s see where it is:
Our route highlights, together with Paul Ramsden:
» Albatross, Indicator Wall
» Big Wednesday, Raeburns Wall
» Caledonia, Indicator Wall
» Indicator Right-Hand, Indicator Wall
» Point Five Gully, Observatory Ridge
» Shot in the Foot, Indicator Wall
» Smith’s Route, Gardyloo Buttress
» Stringfellow/Western Traverse/Pinnacle Buttress Direct/Tower Ridge, Tower Ridge West
» Tower Cleft, Tower Ridge East
» Two-Step Corner, Number Three Gully Buttress
The Scottish weather is incredibly variable – and so should be the clothes: Waterproofed jacket and pants are standard equipment in order to keep your body dry (and warm). Gaiters are helpful against wet feet during the approach walk while crossing numerous rivers. Hiking poles are useful, when you have to descend a slope during a storm. In Scotland a climbing pitch sometimes can take a little longer, so it is a good idea to bring a belay jacket (synthetic fiber in this case is the key). GPS, map and compass, snow goggles, mittens and extra gloves keep you capable of acting.
Climbing gear for the wild days:
The protection in classic mixed terrain works mainly with Stoppers (1 set Offwidth Stoppers and 1 set Regular Stoppers) Hexentrics and Tricams, Ice screws, Bulldogs and larger Peckers are also very useful. Camalots up to #2 are useful, but not good in icy cracks.