6:00am Awake and cosy in a borrowed bivvy bag, in the North Face car park. Birds singing. Crisp cold air as I fold back the top of the bag. Light the stove for coffee, eat an eccles cake, pack my bag and lock up the car. Off up the track by 7am.
8:00am Allt na Mhullain track. The Ben looming ahead, lots of snow and ice on the ridges and faces. Sun shining, blue sky and high clouds. Marching up just below a jog, sweating freely.
8:20am CIC Hut. Swap running top for dry Merino base layer. Lovely. Crampons & axe out, no other gear needed. Head off into Coire na Ciste.
8:45am Below Trident Buttress. Jubilee Climb is thin & incomplete, so off to Ledge Route. Traverse into No. 5 Gully & climb down to the first ledge.
9:30am Admire the view from Ledge Route over to Tower Ridge. Perfect conditions. Maybe I should have done that instead? No big deal, lots of options ahead.
10:20am Top of Ledge Route. Another eccles cake and a flapjack. Beautiful views all round.
10:30am Down No. 4 gully. Stepped out, and too bumpy to glissade. Stomp down the steps to the foot of North Gully.
11:00am First pitch of ‘Wendigo’. Steep ice but perfect condition, solid and plastic and safe as houses. Using my old Vertiges, and getting first time placements every time. A joy to climb. The neve slope above continues the fun, pure white frozen snow which squeaks as the axes sink all the way in. Don’t fancy the rock pitch above, so traverse easily to the top of North Gully and finish up just above No. 4 Gully.
11:30am Back down No 4. Head over to No. 2 Gully.
12:00 Bit of a slog now. Steep snow up to the gully, stopping often to rest aching calves.
12:30pm No. 2 Buttress looks more interesting than the Gully – three good ice pitches, linked by clean stretches of neve, weaving between the rocks. Looking up, choosing a line, spotting places to rest. Yeah. That’ll go.
1:00pm First two ice pitches over, resting on the neve above. It’s a long way up, sensationally poised above the gully, and looking across to a pair climbing on the other side. The leader pulls off a huge plate of ice. Cue shouting. Lots of shouting.
Above the third ice pitch, more ice tucked away between the rocks. Resting, flexing my ankles to ease cramping calves, wiggling fingers to keep them warm. Really a long, long way down. The ice is even better now though. No hurry, rest and enjoy the position. Savouring the climb, the views, the conditions, the pleasant ache of muscles working hard.
1:45pm Above the last rocks, steep neve to the plateau. No cornice. Feeling the effort now, thighs and calves protesting, sweat running into my face, breathing hard. Easy to get sloppy with the axe swings and front-pointing. Concentrate, make every one count. The gully yawns on one side, and the buttress falls away 200 clear metres below. Don’t stop.
1:55pm On the plateau, flat on my back. Gasping up into the blue sky. Walkers plod past, politely curious. Did you just climb up there?
Yes. It’s fine, really. Solid.
2:15pm Lunch at last, on the summit. Another bright, clear, sunny day, in the best country in the world.