I clearly remember that weekend in 1987, we had quite an epic adventure on Ben Nevis. Bob Bennett had written the Lake District Winter Climbs Guide and climbed all the important winter climbs in the Lake District adding many new routes there too but he still hadn’t had an opportunity to climb the super classic Point Five Gully V,5 up on Ben Nevis.
We set off up the hill on a perfect day. Bob was so psyched to finally be getting to grips with Point Five, he allocated the pitches so that he got the plum pitch! I happily set off up the first pitch of the historic Point Five Gully, expecting an easy ride, suddenly as I climbed up I got smashed in the face by a small but painful lump of ice, it was a warning to keep my head down! I set up a good sheltered stance off to the side and out of the line of fie! Soon I would be seconding Bob on the infamous second pitch.
Bob followed me and was soon making smooth work of the second pitch, conditions were excellent. Just as some spindrift rushed down the pitch I thought I could hear Bob calling down “climb when you’re ready”.
I waited safely to one side for the spindrift to ease but it continued to get worse. After quite a while I thought to myself time is pressing so I’d better set off now and it should soon ease and anyway I am on top rope. I called “climbing” and traversed out and into the spindrift. Keeping my head well down I climbed quickly with the confidence of the rope above me and in a blur was soon stood below pitch three and finally the spindrift had stopped. “Well done Steve” Bob shouted across “You may as well continue , there’s no need to come over here.” With no more incident the angle eased and we were soon up on the summit.
Another party were just leaving the summit as we sat down all self congratulatory for a quick snack. Visiability was difficult in near whiteout conditions so I dug out my crib sheet for navigating off the top. Meanwhile another party arrived at the top. But no!, it was the same party that had just left and walked around in a big loop only to end up back at the summit cairn all confused! We all set off together this time I was navigating down, counting paces… Soon there was more voices appearing out of the mist “Are you heading down? do you know where the top of the descent gully is? came we join you?” So there I was leading a dozen folks down off the hill. One party left us to descend back down the north face towards the hut while the day trippers followed me down out out of the clouds and safely back towards the cars. While walking down Bob commented on how fast I had climbed the crux pitch and how difficult it had been to take in the iced up rope through his belay plate. It was one summer’s evening six months later in a bar in the Lake District that Bob finally admitted that while I climbed the second pitch, head down, he was taking in the ropes had over hand and when I topped the second pitch he didn’t want me to see what happened which is why he pressed me to continue quickly up the third pitch while he sorted out the ropes behind my back as I continued upwards!