Hadrian's Wall Direct (V,5), Ben Nevis

Plan A had been to climb Point Five Gully but there was too much congestion. The lead climber ahead of us patiently waited for the first belay to be vacated so that he could make himself safe and bring his partner up. The gully looked like a motorway of concertinaing traffic in rush hour.

Point Five Gully... Busy

Climbers starting the second pitch of Hadrian's Wall

We made our way across to Hadrian's Wall, which was now free of traffic after busy start. I led the first pitch up the broad, bulging ice flow. It was typical Ben Nevis snowy ice. Easy axe placements but I wouldn't have wanted to test my screws placements. I placed three screws for the belay and sunk my axes for good measure as well. Time to bring Ryan and Mike up.

Me climbing the first pitch of Haidran's Wall Direct
(Photo by Ryan Wilson)

A yell emanated from Point Five Gully. The lead climber from the group that would have been immediately ahead of us clattered down the full height of the Rogue pitch landing back beside his belayer. Then there was silence. Ryan called up to them. A response came in a low voice. The leader was ok but had broken his leg. We asked if they could abseil back down the route but that was a negative. Ryan rang mountain rescue.

What could we do to help? Ryan suggested I abseil back down our route but abseiling off snowy Ben Nevis ice was a serious proposition. Could I trust an abalakov? Besides what could we then do to help from the bottom of the route when they were too pitches up the route. Even if we climbed up to them there would be nothing we could further offer without a stretcher to help the injured climber down. As the bird flies the climbers were only a short horizontal distance from us but the steep ground between was serious. It seemed uncaring, even selfish, but the best thing for us was to continue up the route and maybe if we could gain the top quickly enough in order to provide assistance from the top down. In the meantime we could could stay in contact with the climbers whilst the mountain rescue teams mobilised.

Soon the Sea King helicopter was on the scene. It dropped off a dozen or so climbers at the base of Observatory Gully before departing the scene. The magnitude of response of the mountain rescue teams was touching. Another team had been dropped on the Western side of the mountain. They would summit and then descend to the top of the route. Eventually to lower the injured climber by stretch to their colleagues waiting at the bottom.

Mountain rescue arrive in numbers

Ryan and Mike joined me at the belay. Ryan traversed out left and then pushed on up the steep continuation of ice to easier ground. A tough third pitch ensued up a icy chimney with little gear to speak of. Then easier ground for a number of pitches. Delays with commencement of climbing, followed delays associated with accident now caught up with us. Darkness descended. Some steep delicate climbing led to the top.

Ryan on the start of the second pitch

Mike seconding the second pitch

The Pony track seemed the obvious route of descent at this late hour. Somehow we lost the trail at some point and were soon climbing through creaks and over loose ground. The temptation was to leave the car in the North Face car park and descend to our guest-house in Achintee. That would mean walking or hitching to the North Face car park the following day though, which didn't overly appeal. With no clue where the pig track now lay we traversed round the mountain to the West side and then descended to meet the path close to Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe. From here wet get across the heather and bog led us to the upper car park. It was maybe 11pm by the time we arrived back at the car. Tomorrow would be a rest day.


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