After a late arrival at the Grey Corries Lodge 12.00 midnight if I remember correctly, it was an early call, on Saturday morning 4.15a.m and Rick and myself were up and about Derek and Will were woken and the long day started.
Our taxi driver Mr Eastwood drove us all to the North Face car park he went back to bed dreaming of soaring around the hills. The familiar slog up towards the CIC hut started. Now I think that I am reasonably fit but it always puzzles me when I hear Derek telling me about his aches and pains and how he is feeling all the long days now and that he is only able to do one big day per weekend. I would love to discuss his ageing problems but I cannot keep up with him to do so.
On arrival at the CIC hut the unfit Derek and Will headed of towards Green Gully and Will started his basic textile course in climbing harness construction. I must say I was not happy with the size of Wills sack from the moment I saw it in the breakfast area it looked like he only had two slings and a cheese sandwich in the bloody thing, and as it proved I was right all along.
Anyway back to my story Rick had said that I needed a challenge and the North East Buttress was mine, my first grade 4 on the Ben and a tough one at that. It was agreed by Rick that we would go up Slingsbys Chimney onto the ridge and at a very easy grade 2 I thought it would be a nice introduction to the rest of the climb.
One whole hour after Rick had started the first pitch of our introductory easy warm up climb I was still belayed to nothing looking up a rope with no runners in it and no sight or sound from Rick. Not a good start I thought this is going to be a long day. Eventually the rope went tight and off I progressed upwards to find Rick attached the mountain via the only belay around for miles. The climbing was not easy and made alot worse by the complete lack of any protection.
My turn to lead so I thought I would do the same as Rick and lead the whole pitch with no protection also, only because I thought that is what you do on a grade 4 on the Ben. We were now on the ridge proper and swung the leads moving at a reasonable speed. The ground was steep and not much protection was found and I can assure you we both looked. The weather was reasonable but the odd blast of wind did both chill and buffet us.
Up we went looking for the famous mantrap which after a couple of false starts we found in fact you have no choice as the thing blocks any upward progress very abruptly. My lead and to be honest it looked very tough I offered it Rick for no other reason than it frightened me. Rick lead it and I followed and I was very glad Rick had been at the sharp end it was a terrific lead I thought it was very tough though only 3 moves and well protected according to the guide.
The 40 foot corner followed which is directly above the mantrap and a breeze compared to the last few feet. The end was in sight 2 more leads and the world was flat and nice and not as cold we scrambled into the summit shelter and got ourselves together. After food and drink we followed the cairns down and off the mountain.
My darling wife phoned me on the descent, not to ask if I was OK but to inform me our credit card had been stopped and could I do something about the situation. What I was expected to do about the from the financial centre that is Ben Nevis I do not know. Further down the mountain Eastwoods taxis phoned to say he could pick us up, what a hero that man is. We stepped of the path and into the Ben Nevis pub what a way to end an excellent day on the hill. As Rick and I enjoyed our pint Mr Eastwood joined us for a quick drink.
We then headed back to base I could not stop grinning all the way back and those of you who know me will realise how happy I must have been thanks to Keith for taking me to and from one of the best days I have ever had on the hill a a Huge thanks to Rick for the bit in between.