Jim and I had a great weekend at the Scottish Winter Climbing meet in Fort William, organised by Richard Bentley (http://www.scottishwinterclimbing.co.uk/). It was an excellent opportunity to meet a load of other keen winter climbers, exchange stories & plans and (on Saturday at least) get some routes in in perfect weather.
Jim & I headed out together for a long-standing objective of Jim's - Avenging Angel Direct on Creag Coire na Ciste. This is a combination of two existing routes - the lower two pitches of Iain Small and Tony Stone's route Angels with Dirty Faces, and the upper two pitches of Nick Bullock's Avenging Angel. This combination makes for a great straight-up line, as Simon Richardson pointed out in his write-up of Iain and Tony's route (http://www.scottishwinter.com/?p=1762), but as far as we know, it hadn't been done this way before.
With so little prior knowledge of either route, we knew we were in for an adventure! But the weather was kind, with blue skies and hardly any wind. Coire na Ciste was well rimed but not utterly blootered, so we had no excuses.
The route takes the big central corner just left of the pillar in the lower section of the buttress, then steps left up the steep corners above. Jim won the toss for pitch one, which turned out to be really quite bold and technical. There was no obvious sign of panic from Jim when he was on lead, so it was a shock when seconding to find out how hard this pitch really was!
The second pitch took another steep corner, this time with an offwidth-cum-chimney in it. I grunted and scrabbled by way up this to the point where the right wall steepened and I found I could no longer just wedge myself in the crag and hope for the best! Committing out onto hooks and turf was strenuous and off-balance, but the climbing soon eased, leading across to the next steep corner which marked the junction with the original line of Avenging Angels.
Jim got this next pitch, which culminated in an unlikely-looking capping roof which fortunately held good hooks and gear (including some fixed gear from the first ascent). This led to a belay below the final short corner. The corner itself turned out to be completely blind, so I made a thin traverse left and went up cracks on the steep wall. I'm not very good at committing to steep moves above gear so this involved a lot of strenuous procrastination, over and above the handing around required to find & clear out the hooks & gear placements. Eventually, after much huffing and puffing, I managed to pull over. The cornice above was an unexpected bonus which I could have done without, but it only took a few minutes of digging to demolish a path through it, so I suppose I got off lightly.
This direct line gives four pitches of excellent climbing so is highly recommended for anyone looking for something challenging that's not on the standard tick-list of Ben Nevis mixed classics.
The day was topped off with continuing festivities of the Scottish Winter Climbing meet at the Ben Nevis Inn in Achintee. Stovies were served, pints were drunk and stories from the day were exchanged. Simon Richardson gave an excellent talk on some of his Scottish winter climbing experiences, and took great interest in what we'd all been up to too.
Simon Frost and I hatched an ambitious plan to get out again today, but after seeing the updated weather forecast he later texted me to call off. I supposed I should have been disappointed, but it was a relief to be able to switch the alarm off and go back to sleep to rest aching muscles. With wind, rain and warm temperatures today, I don't think we missed anything!
The meet seemed to be a great success, and I hope it continues to run in future years. Thanks to Richard for organising it, and thanks to everyone I met there for the good company and inspiration.