In summer, Ledge Route is a 450 metre grade 2 scramble that finishes at the summit of Carn Dearg, a 1221 metre subsidiary top of Ben Nevis. Under snow and ice it is a grade II winter route and reputedly the best of its grade on the mountain.

On 10th January this year, three of us headed up the valley of the Allt a Mhuilinn in the grey half light of a wet morning. The imposing massive wall of Carn Dearg rose to our right from the valley floor, its higher crags lost in the pale misty cloud, snow clinging to its flanks on ledges and in gullies, where it could get some purchase.

Allt a Mhuillinn and Carn Dearg

Patches of wet, soft snow slowed our progress as we gradually gained height on our approach to No.5 Gully, the start of our route.
There had been a lot of rain in Lochaber since Christmas, and at this altitude it had fallen as snow. This had become unstable in fluctuating temperatures and as we climbed the slope towards the start of No.5 Gully we had to pick our way over and around the previous weeks avalanche debris. This had refrozen to give us a safe, if awkward, passage.

The entrance to No.5 Gully

As Rob, the leader of our team, prepared the first belay stance and we put on harnesses and tied in, the snow began to fall anew, large white flakes falling from the pale grey sky. Strong winds were forecast from the southwest, but here on the north face we had reasonable protection, and the snow fell in a moderating breeze.

Ledge Route gets its name from a rightward slanting ledge that then sweeps back left to overlook No.5 Gully. Here the route turns right again to join the ridge proper, and leads to some very exposed situations.
The ledges and gullies were banked out with fresh deposits of snow lying over older and more consolidated material. It was decided to pitch this section of the route, and with Rob leading, we plunged our cramponed boots and ice axes deep into the steeply sloping snow to get purchase and made our way carefully up towards the ridge line.

Steady progress towards the ridge

Once on the ridge we could move a little more easily, and ‘moving together’, in Alpine fashion, we made steady progress along the sometimes very exposed ridge.
We stopped for a brief lunch on a small platform before continuing towards our goal, Carn Dearg summit.

Carn Dearg and the end of the climb

Icy cold strong winds and whiteout conditions greeted us as we topped out making the 2km walk to the summit of Ben Nevis itself an unpleasant option, so we quickly stowed our gear before navigating down the southwest side of the mountain to the Red Burn, a stream that in winter becomes a shallow, snow filled gully.

As we walked down and out of the cloud Glen Nevis opened up before us in shades of russet green and brown, the wind eased, and we had the pleasure of seeing several pairs of ptarmigan, an iconic highland bird of the grouse family, in their white coats. They called in alarm at our passing, their distinctive harsh, throaty staccato call filling the cold air.

Descending the Red Burn towards the Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe

We made our way back, firstly by the path running alongside the Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, and then over sodden, boggy heath to wade the Altt a Mhuilinn and return to our transport.
Our final destination for the day was the Nevis Range cafe, where we indulged ourselves with tea and cake, a fine end to a brilliant day.

Thanks and acknowledgement go to Rob Johnson of http://www.expeditionguide.com/ for leading the day and for some of the images, and to Mark Shaw for his good company.

Bidean nam Bian and Stob Coire Sgreamhach from Stob Coire Leith
 
After my week on Skye I was looking forward to a different view, different terrain, and to meeting up with some old friends I had not seen for a little over 12 months.
It was a beautiful sunny day as I drove down through Glen Sheil and Glen Garry, with magnificent views of glimmering lochs, bright green forests and snow flecked mountains. I was heading for Kinlochleven, at the head of Loch Leven, to stay at the Fell and Rock Club hut there,  as a guest of my good buddy Les Meer.
 
Sunday dawned cloudy and cool, but crucially there was little wind and the cloud was high, so four of us decided to go for the Aonach Eagach ridge, on the northern side of Glencoe. This iconic serrated ridge boasts two Munro’s and some of the best scrambling in Scotland, and is usually done east to west, with a finish at the Clachaig Inn, and this indeed was our plan.

The route ahead from Am Bodach
The ridge is a mix of easier walking sections and some grade 2/3 scrambling, most notably the Pinnacles, where the exposure is breathtaking, and a good head for heights and a steady nerve are required.
After the long pull on a well made path up to our starting point, Am Bodach, we picked our way along the ridge, first negotiating the down climb from Am Bodach, and then on to the first Munro, Meall Dearg. From here the going got harder as we approached the Pinnacles, and to add a little spice to the day it began to rain, making the well polished holds slippery and needing extra care, so much so that the camera stayed firming in my pack over this section!
Les and Dave posing for the camera
 
 
The rain eased and eventually stopped and too soon we reached Stob Coire Leith, pausing to take in the stunning views all around. To the north, Ben Nevis and the Mamores; to the south the huge bulk that is the complex mountain, Bidean nam Bian, still with a reasonable covering of snow;  and to the west Loch Leven, Loch Linnhe and the seemingly never ending panorama of mountains beyond. 
 
From here the route became easier, more of a ridge walk than a scramble, as we made our way on to Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, the second Munro and the end of the ridge.
 
Looking back along the Aonach Eagach ridge
 
 
 
 
 
The old, traditional route down from here is the Clachaig Gully, but this has become eroded and very dangerous, so we headed across the slope below Cnap Glas, getting more magnificent views down Loch Leven and beyond, before reaching the road and our transport back to the Clachaig Inn for a well earned pint.
 
Day 2 – Monday, we planned to head down into Glen Etive and climb the 1078 metre Ben Starav and it’s neighbour Glas Bheinn Mhor, at 997 metres.
Again the day was cloudy, but a little warmer than the one before, and it felt it as we began our ascent of the long north ridge of this imposing Munro. The summit drifted in and out of the clouds and light rain showers accompanied us as we climbed.
On the north ridge of Ben Starav

Here too, the upper corries still held winter snow, and we felt the chill as we made the final push to the summit over a difficult and greasy boulder field.
Winter had hardly released it’s grip on these mountains, the sparse grasses were brown and blasted, with very little sign of any new spring growth anywhere, despite it being the beginning of June.

Lunch at the summit of Ben Starav was interrupted by more rain and we soon moved on along the pleasantly narrow summit ridge to the subsidiary top of Stob Coire Dheirg and then down the rocky east ridge to the bealach.  From here an undulating whale back ridge continued north east to Glas Bheinn Mhor, our second summit of the day.

Ben Starav from below the east ridge

After a steep and scrambling decent to another bealach, we followed a lovely rocky path alongside the Allt Mheuran. Small tumbling waterfalls and the babbling rush of this small mountain stream delighting us as we made our way back into Glen Etive, down here in the glen there were signs that spring was beginning, with chattering birds in the brightly green birch trees and butterworts glowing yellow in the wet hillside flushes.