There are many places in the British Isles that Stefan gets mistaken for Harry Styles. And Fort William is one of them.
Joined by Bill Spittal and driven by Harry Fisher, we pulled into the North Face Car park at around 1am. Some would argue that this is not the most ideal time to start the steep 2 hour ascent to base camp – but wired on redbull we loaded up and slogged up the Ben, finally zipping into sleeping bags well after 3am.
Immediately followed by 2 days of dangerously high winds, rain and spin-drift that makes your face bleed. Welcome to Scotland. We gambled on the weather settling later in the week, and passed the bad days in Mr Fishers palace of a tent listening to 90’s gangster rap and cooking weird meals.
This paid off, and we were greeted with 3 days of absolutely stonking weather, clear skies and sunshine with good freezing temps overnight. Not the sort of thing you’d expect in the Highlands!
Stefan: Day one of actual climbing and Harry and I went up Ledge Route, a Grade II classic, super good fun and a good way to get Harry confident using all this sharp kit he’d bought. Visibility was pretty poor but the route is easy to follow and we topped out in under two hours getting back to camp for early afternoon.
Two hours later Bill and Cherry turned up, Cherry with a substantial puncture wound to his left calf after falling in avalanche debris and tearing through two pairs of trousers and allot of flesh with some front points, painstakingly sharpened the night before.
Day two of actual climbing. This was the day. A large low pressure front finally ushered in settled sunny and surprisingly warm weather, with crystal clear visibility.
A 4.30am start got us on Tower Ridge for just after 7. The snow was solid, making it easy to move fast, I led every pitch with Harry putting in a stonking effort for this being his second winter route. The proximity to a pair of ‘friends’ meant that when I got agonising hot aches, I was treated to a torrent of abuse coupled with some colourful suggestions for cures.
Just before the Eastern Traverse we had an unexpected treat in the form of two ice pitches. What had been snow the year before was now thick, beautiful ice. A joy to swing into and although unprotected, the angle was enough to make it fun but sporting.
By the time we reached the Eastern Traverse, the sun had begun to soften the snow making the last pitch before Tower Gap like climbing Mr Whippy, with lots of ice falling from the Great Tower.
Topping out we waited for Cherry to gallantly rescue Kwok Cheung from Glovers Chimney.
Well worth the uncomfortable nights in damp tents and the crampon hole in my left calf for some of the finest days on the Ben that I’ll probably ever experience.
Another video bonus: Stefans hot Aches