A bit windy in them hills!

Ok so winter has arrived, and what a start it was been.
Last Friday morning I headed off to Simon Yearsley’s house bright and early to meet up with him and head off towards Fort William for the STS on the Ben meet (sponsored by Big Tree campervans) that was being held at the CIC hut on Ben Nevis.
The meet was for the STS competition winners and special guests, and I was asked to be one of the hosts for the weekend.  Despite the awful weather forecast we managed to get some good routes done with good weather and everyone seemed to have a fun time.
On the Friday afternoon I teamed up with James Higgins for a route on the Douglas Boulder, we did “Gutlass” which is a fun little IV/5. We climbed this route in conjunction with Malcolm Bass and Harry Holmes who were also on the meet.
Me on the crux of
“The Big Cheese”
On the Saturday I paired up with Fiona Murray and photographer James Dunn for the day. We headed off towards South Trident Buttress to see what was looking good. We opted for the route “The Minge” which is a line that follows a series of steep cracks that cut through the lower section of the buttress. We made the second winter ascent of this VII/8 which was put up by Pete Macpherson and Ed Edwards back in 2009.
After a good day on the Saturday, we woke up to amazing clear skies on the Sunday and the whole North Face of the Ben as our playground for the day. Again, we headed up towards South Trident area with a couple of routes in mind, but whilst trudging up the hill I spotted a funky looking ice dagger hanging from a roof on Moonlight Gully Buttress. I quickly picked out a continuation line above the dagger and asked Harry and James Higgins if the where keen for trying a new line. They both said they were up for it, so it was off to the bottom of Moonlight full of anticipation.
After a bit of battling through the roof to gain the ice, I eventually (second try) managed to get situated in the groove and found a fairly restful position which I milked before heading boldly up the thin ices to the belay platform. Unfortunately on my first attempt to get sorted in the groove both my axes ripped out of the thin ice and I found myself hanging from the rope above the starting slab. But I lowered down and got it sent on my second go.
Even though it was not a super long route and despite the tricky last pitch, it was not very sustained. But the crux was hard and bold, so I opted for the grade of VIII/8**, this might vary depending on the conditions of the ice in the groove.
All in all it was a really good weekend with the STS group and it was good to see how well all the folk who are psyched for the tooling series got on in mountains.
Walking in to Creag an Socach
On the Sunday night after the weekend on the Ben, I chatted to a mate Will Sim who lives down south in St. Bees. I told him the conditions in the mountains were good and without hesitation he arrived eager and ready at my front door on the Monday afternoon.
We planned on heading back up the Ben to the CIC Hut for a couple of days, but decided to take a detour en-route to have a look at the well known IX/9 “Defenders of the Faith” on Beinn Dorain which was put up by Dave MacLeod and Fiona Murray in 2006. The route was originally climbed onsight, and was yet to see a second ascent. So off we went.
Gearing up beneath “Defenders of the Faith”
James Dunn, Will and I met up with Adam Russell in the very snowy Bridge of Orchy train station car park and from what we could see of the crag from there, it was looking very white! Filled with new hopes of finding our intended route in condition, and with the amazing blue skies and sunrise above us, we quickly pounded through the deep fresh snow up the base of the coire which gave us a full view of the line.
After picking out where the route went from the ground Will and I geared up and soloed up to the base of the crux pitch. I set off leading up the pitch and swiftly realised that it was steeper than It looked from below. But I pushed on and after some inventive gear placements and some even more inventive axe placements, I eventually arrived beneath the crux roof at the semi rest position.
Me leading the crux pitch of “Defenders”
I looked around and tried a couple of different moves to try and breach the roof to gain the headwall, but nothing seemed to show itself. So after a bit of dithering around I decided that the gung-ho approach would be best and blasted over in full throttle. Once on the headwall I felt a little exposed and the thought that my gear was now well below me beneath the roof was fresh in my mind. I found some super thin hooks and a sketchy kneebar which was good enough for me to find some gear, after getting some protection the good hooks showed themselves and I was then comfortable and in balance on the face.