Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Zero Gully V,4 - Excising My Demons 04.03.13

Zero Gully V,4 on the North Face of Ben Nevis has long had a reputation as a very serious and dangerous place to be, its history is littered with epics, accidents and fatalities.  As described in Scottish climbers bible, 'Cold Climbs' (compiled by Ken Wilson, Dave Alcock and John Barry)

" The winter ascent is a serious expedition and should only be attempted by parties experienced in advanced snow and ice techniques.  The lower section of the gully presents sustained high angle ice climbing with minimal natural protection and exposure to spin-drift avalanches in wind"

This climb, and the thought of attempting it has always haunted me, even more so as of the 19th February 2012, when a friend and I were climbing on Good Friday Climb on Indicator Wall and were horrified to hear the scream of a climber echoing round the North Face as he fell to his death whilst climbing in Zero Gully.  Since then, this climb had cemented itself in my mind as a very serious and consequential endeavor.  I take no shame in admitting that when my climbing partner, Dave Anderson and I were considering an attempt on this route, that it took me a few days to get my head in the right place and to try and excise my demons.

The day of the climb started at the North Face car park in Torlundy at around 0600hrs, from there we drove to the top car park and started the walk up to the CIC hut where we geared up initially  leaving the crampons off until the bottom of Observatory Gully.  On our approach to Zero, we could see a guided team already making the first few moves on Orion Direct and two french teams heading into Point Five Gully.  After a bit of a slog we found ourselves at the start of the first pitch and after the usual first belay faff, Dave started up the first pitch, which was a very pleasant but ever steepening ice chute, and got a good belay off a spike at the top of the pitch before the traverse.  After seconding the first pitch and feeling happy with the ice (shit for screws but good for axes), I left the belay and made my way across a very delicate traverse over a rocky rib to reach the gully proper.  Once in the gully another 30m of sustained steep ice lead to a good Stake and nut belay in a snow bay.  Once Dave had seconded the pitch, we both breathed a collective sigh of relief, knowing that the main difficulties had now been climbed and were behind us.  We were however still very aware that most accidents in Zero had occurred whilst parties were moving together on this easier grade II ground and with this in mind, as tedious as it was we opted to pitch the remainder of the route which we did in good time and soon found ourselves on the summit, another classic V in the bag!

So how do I feel about Zero Gully now that I've climbed it?  The first 2 pitches of the route were as steep,enjoyable and challenging as any other route I have ever climbed and deserve the 3 star rating. However, the lack of good belays and protection make for a very serious 'don't fall' approach for both leader and second and merits the grade V.  Would I climb it again?  ask me later.

Zero Gully (center) and Point Five Gully (right)

Zero Gully V,4

Dave leads off up the first pitch on an ever steepening ice chute

The view looking down P1, the tiny blue dot at the end of the rope is me!

A very delicate traverse on thin ice as I start P2 

Sustained steep ice nearing the top of P2

Smiles all round as Dave seconds the last of the difficulties on P2

Leading off on easier, but serious ground up Zero Gully

Looking back down Zero, with Dave,dwarfed by the scale of the climb

Dave just before topping out

No comments:

Post a Comment