Anyway, oblivious to all this chaos in the north west, we're doing the usual thing, stuffing our faces with pork pies and whisky as preparation for a big route on Beinn Bhan. I've always wanted to do a route in one of the enourmous corries that line its east flank. They're long, serious, rarely in condition. I'm gambling that the sustained cold weather will bring the massive icefalls into good nick. The classic direct route is Silver Tear, but we're all sadly too shit at ice climbing for that one, so instead the plan is Wall of the Early Morning Light, a slightly easier route that wanders all over the place seeking out the easiest way through a series of steep sandstone tiers.
The corries of Beinn Bhan from the road
The team is myself, Pat and Graham. Me and Pat are carrying most of the gear in, so we will make Graham lead all the hard scary bits. Don't want a couple of southern ponces upsetting Scottish pride after all. The walk in is pretty steady, and by about 8am we are in the awesome amphitheater of Coire na Poite, trying to spy a feasible route through a series of steep dribbles of ice and snowy terraces. After the north face of the Ben it's easily the most impressive wall I've ever seen in Scotland. Makes Sneachda look like a bouldering wall.
Entering the mental Coire na Poite
We gear up at the bottom and figure out a line to take through the initial icefall. The most direct line looks pretty steep and not brilliantly formed, so instead we head further right to better looking ice. Looking in the north highlands definitive guide afterwards we might've climbed the start of a route called Meanderthal, but it's pretty hard to get info on this face, so fuck knows. Anyway, I lead the first pitch, steady IV climbing with decent ice and screws, and belay on screws when I get to easier angled stuff above. And by easier angled I mean 50-55 degree bullet hard neve, which is something we will get increasingly familiar with as the route goes on.....
Graham is the only one of us with any sort of talent for this ice climbing business, so he leads the next 2 pitches to another terrace of snow, past a thin crux section near the top. Pat and I hack our way up after. The belay is on dodgy screws and because of the angle of the neve we're perched on there's no way to take a proper rest there. Instead we kick steps into the fucking stuff and try not to weight the anchors. Not easy finding space for 3. To save time me and Pat traverse simultaneously across the terrace towards where we think the route usually goes. But the scale of the face is such that we don't get anywhere near the next section of ice, so end up bringing Graham across on some utter toss belay so he can finish the traverse. I lead another pitch up and across some ice and belay off a single tied off peg just right of the steep bit. No obvious way through presents itself. I vaguely remember something about a chimney in the guidebook description (like 3 sentences for a 400m route) but I'm not sure where it's meant to be. But it's Graham's problem so who gives a fuck....
Me leading the first of 18 pitches
He traverses left then spies the chimney and starts climbing upwards. We can hear him yelling that it's fucking nails, and I stare at the tied off peg and fight to supress hysterical laughter. What fun we're having. But he gets up the bastard like the ice weapon he is, and soon enough it's my turn to follow. The gear is wank and it's pretty hard and steep, easily V 5. Superb lead by Graham. Above there's what looks like a short ice step, that turns out to be almost as hard and cruddy as fuck. I gibber my way upwards towards what I hope is a ledge. This turns out, of course, to be yet more 55 degree neve. There's another step barring access to what I'm sure is the final snow terrace before we head left into a big fault line to the top. So I have a go at it but it's steep, off balance, and the ice is complete toss. No problem, I'll just belay and make Graham lead it instead. Serves him right for not carrying a rope in.
Graham leads the final ice step, and it is indeed fucking hard. Pat and I wearily grovel up after him and we peer across the terrace with thousand yard stares, hoping there's an easy line to the top just round the corner. It's getting on in the day and I'm starting to wonder if we'll finish the route before it gets dark. And whatever else we encounter there's definitely a cornice to be overcome. Still, I reckon we'll be alright, can't be too bad now - so of course the traverse across the terrace alone takes another 3 pitches. Bastard. But at least we can see the fault line now and it doesn't look that hard. Graham and I lead a pitch each before the daylight fails and darkness steals across the highlands......fantastic.
Just to make matters worse I now desperately need a shit. It's so bad I get Pat to belay Graham up pitch god-knows-what, while I undo the waist belt of my harness, teeter on my front points, and unleash a foul torrent of cack down the mountain. Pat stoically pretends that he's.....fucking anywhere else but here, I suppose. If I overbalance mid-shit then I'll probably pull the 3 of us off the sodding hill altogether, hurling us all to a messy, shitty death at the bottom. Still, I feel much better for it, and that's the main thing.
So it's proper headtorch climbing now, and I reckon we've at least 3 more pitches to go. From Graham's wank belay I traverse across unconsolidated snow towards a break in otherwise steep looking ground. A hard move with no footholds sees me on a slightly gentler slope of neve, and I manage to find an ok hex belay just above. Once again the 3 of us perch miserably on our front points, unwilling to test the only thing that's holding us to this sodding face. Graham leads a final unprotected pitch up steep snow ice to where I'm frantically hoping the final snow slope lies. Thankfully our estimation is correct, and from this last belay I trudge up steep neve towards the looming cornice above.
Much to my surprise and relief, there's a big notch in the bastard, so it's completely piss. I crawl onto the summit plateau of Beinn Bhan on my hands and knees, dig in, and belay Pat and Graham up after me. It's bitterly cold in the wind but I'm so tired I find myself nodding off as I pull the rope in. It's about 10pm now. We quickly pack up the gear and begin a fairly straightforward plod back down to the cars. 18 pitches, probably 600m of climbing with the right hand start, rubbish belays, fuck all good runners, and a few unfortunate flecks of shite still clinging to my trousers.....what a fucking route!