Petestack Blog

3 April 2010

Long day on North-East Buttress

Filed under: Climbing — admin @ 12:05 pm

Yesterday I climbed North-East Buttress (IV,4, and one of the great classic ridges) on Ben Nevis with Isi Oakley in glorious late-season conditions.

Got overtaken early on by Steve Kennedy and Bob Hamilton, who disappeared soloing quickly up the gully above the First Platform, and spent much of the day catching another pair (Richard and Eva) and their 50m rope at stances before they finally lost us high up, but still can’t account for the length of time we were out on what was (bar my brief fight with the Mantrap) basically a straightforward ascent…

So we swung leads most of the day although Isi asked me to take the lead on one or two pitches and I got the gnarliest bits including an awkward rightward exit from that early gully (following Richard and Eva, who subsequently confirmed that I’d seen what I thought I’d seen when I said Steve and Bob had moved left there), the Mantrap (failed, and turned by the Tough-Brown Variant) and the 40ft Corner (OK, but protected by two marginal screws with no sign of the pegs I didn’t know were there). As for that Mantrap, I did try, but it’s an undeniably awkward obstacle in a mixed style I’m not that au fait with, better climbers than me have been repulsed by it and I thought it technically harder (some say tech 6!) than anything on the Grade Vs I did this season. However, it was still a great day out and (apart from a temporary deterioration to near-whiteout conditions in a chilly, rising wind as we topped out) memorable for the unusually good views as well as the great climbing.

To the eagle-eyed studying the photos, yes, we were consciously treating my light half ropes as twins! :-)


  1. I’m envious Pete, conditions look great. I’ve done the other two over the years (Tower Ridge and Observatory Ridge) but never got around to the NEB, maybe one day before I get even older…

    Comment by Andy Cole — 4 April 2010 @ 2:37 pm

  2. Done them in winter, Andy? In which case, you know that Observatory Ridge got upgraded to V,4 in the latest SMC Scottish Winter Climbs?

    As for me, I’m still vexed by the Mantrap (perhaps more so than at the time)… don’t care if it’s tech 4, 5 or 6, but think I should have been able to do it and keep wondering what I did wrong! :-/

    Comment by admin — 5 April 2010 @ 7:28 pm

  3. We climbed it the day after. Perfect conditions, though we couldn’t see much in the cloud. At the mantrap I started on the lefthand side of the crack from where I could reach over the top for a good hook, then pull up for another, and over. I think it would be harder with less reach.

    Comment by Keith Alexander — 6 April 2010 @ 1:10 pm

  4. Hi Keith, yes, I saw that you guys had logged it on UKC and am afraid that’s (‘Alex led mantrap’) partly what prompted my ‘vexed’ comment above. But you obviously got that bit right where I didn’t, so that’s that! Still surprised Alex says ‘it did feel a lot easier than Tower Ridge two months ago’ because I’d have rated it harder with or without the Mantrap.

    Comment by admin — 6 April 2010 @ 1:45 pm

  5. Well, it comes down to conditions, I think. NEB was in pretty much perfect nick, with good snow all the way to the top, ice where we needed it and a dry mantrap. Tower Ridge felt much harder on all the easy bits (see my full trip report which got published on UKC a few weeks ago), whereas we were happy to simul-climb or even solo most of NEB…

    As for the mantrap, I was ready to avoid it until I found the bomber hook (pretty high, on a small crack just to the right of the main one). And once you get your feet on the first small platform, there’s a very solid torqued crack and you just have to exit. I’m sure if you get back on it and find that first hook, you’ll dispatch it with no problems.

    On the other hand, the first pitch of Raeburn’s route on SCnL felt like a 30m long mantrap on shit gear :)

    Comment by Alexandre — 7 April 2010 @ 12:49 am

  6. To me, Tower Ridge and NEB seem pretty similar sorts of routes (long, with lots of easy terrain, and some short difficulties high on the route), but the easy ground on Tower Ridge is mellower than the easy ground on NEB. Mantrap felt like the same kind of problem as climbing up from Tower Gap (though the Gap is perhaps more exposed). I agree that TR is easier overall than NEB, which has more sustained moderate terrain and less ridge walking; though TR has bigger queues probably, which is another hazard!. 40ft corner also felt bolder than anything I remember on TR.

    I think Alex did TR in bad weather and had route-finding difficulties, whereas we had great conditions for NEB – the mantrap was dry (which I read is best), 40ft corner was full of hookable ice, and it wasn’t too cold or windy, which probably explains why he found TR harder.
    My guess is the mantrap is question of sufficient height to reach a good hook or two and enough time/patience to find them, rather than any particular technique.

    How would you rate Observatory Ridge, compared to TR and NEB ?

    Comment by Keith Alexander — 7 April 2010 @ 9:05 am

  7. @Alex, wondering where you found that bomber hook and whether it was what I’d tried? Which was a kind of torquey/hooky thing to the right of the main crack [2018 edit: broken link removed], but left me struggling to keep the axe there (so maybe I just didn’t twist it right?) as I pulled up needing one more good placement or hold (which I missed while still quite precariously positioned!) to finish the job.

    @Keith, yes, I’d agree that the 40ft Corner’s bolder (more serious than the Mantrap too), but have to put my failure on the Mantrap down to lack of nous rather than reach (which no-one who climbs with me would think a problem). As for Observatory Ridge, don’t know because I haven’t done it (yet!)… have you?

    Comment by admin — 7 April 2010 @ 10:55 am

  8. Hi Pete,

    Looking at that picture, and rereading the guide, I think we got it wrong, and didn’t do the mantrap either! I think I recognise that rock in the picture – I came up against it (but covered in hoar) when it was my lead and wondered if it was the famed mantrap. I stepped up on the ledge, but couldn’t find a secure hook, and seeing the traces of tracks to the right (and the 5m rock in front of me not having any obvious sign of being climbed, being still covered in snow and ice), I thought “this feels hard and precarious, and the route to the right looks more obvious, maybe this isn’t the mantrap?”. So I traversed right a little bit, and climbed a slightly tricky right-trending two step chimney with 2 pegs in it, onto a thin ridge going left to belay at a big rock. The pegs (and egotistical hope ;) ) made me (and Alex too I guess) think maybe I hadn’t bypassed it, and we would still encounter it further up. So we jumped to the conclusion that the 2-3m tricky step just before 40ft corner was the mantrap.

    Well – a good reason to go back and enjoy it again another time I guess :)

    I haven’t done Observatory Ridge either – was wondering how much harder it would be.

    Apologies for mistakenly adding to the vexation



    Comment by Keith Alexander — 7 April 2010 @ 2:11 pm

  9. @Keith: no, I can guarantee you that what I climbed was indeed the mantrap: I recognize the photo, the cracks and the pegs (it’s just tilted), and all the descriptions agree that it is very shortly below the 40ft corner and not 2 pitches away. I found another description of the route, and it seems the bit you are thinking about is called the “Overhanging Wall” (cf

    @pete: yes, that’s where the hook is. There are adequate hooks/torques in those cracks, and if you go *above* it (so on the upper section of the small “S” shape just above the lichen patch), then you get a bomber hook.

    Comment by Alexandre — 7 April 2010 @ 2:52 pm

  10. hmm.. not sure now – just read the SMC guide, and its description of the mantrap perfectly fits the mantrap we climbed (it says it’s directly beneath 40ft corner). The cicerone description (which says the mantrap is 5m high), and the picture on UKC (unless the climber, Robbie, is very small) seem to better fit the larger ‘mantrap’ roughly 2 pitches beneath the smaller mantrap (and 40ft corner).
    Here is what we climbed:

    Comment by Keith Alexander — 7 April 2010 @ 2:53 pm

  11. @Keith: what we climbed was 4-5m high, since I could reach a bit above halfway with my tools as high as possible. The ground drops steeply on the right side of the base, which gives the illusion of more height on the UKC photo.

    Comment by Alexandre — 7 April 2010 @ 3:15 pm

  12. Yep, Alex is right, there’s no mistaking the Mantrap (you can’t miss it!), it’s just below the 40ft Corner and the other bit sounds like the overhanging wall (which we turned by the exposed traverse, where we found a single peg, that you see in the photos ‘eva’ and ‘isitraverse’). So intrigued by Keith’s two-step chimney, which sounds like another way out of the same place?

    From Alex’s description of the hooks, I’d say my best was in the middle part of the S, so looks (as I thought) like I missed a trick there!

    Comment by admin — 8 April 2010 @ 10:53 am

  13. Yeah, sorry for the confusion. I just remembered it as being about 10ft, at least the main face of it (with a short upper facet above that I guess), and my pic (admittedly very foggy) makes it look less than 5m. The cicerone guide also doesn’t mention the 40ft corner by name, so I didn’t know until I read the SMC guide where the mantrap was supposed to be in relation to it.

    On the traverse bit, I think if I climbed up from the peg on the traverse, and found another peg a couple steps above it, and from there just pulled over onto the ridge. Maybe that missed out the exposed bit of the traverse (I think the cloud hid the drop in any case!)

    Comment by Keith Alexander — 8 April 2010 @ 1:52 pm

  14. Just come back to this thread Pete. I’ve done TR in winter a couple of times and only took about 3 or 4 pitches, whereas on OR we pitched pretty well the whole route until we took the option of going up the last few hundred feet of Zero – it was a great day out though, started from the road about 9am (in the days when you used to park by the golf club)and reached the plateau just as it got dark at about 6pm. The night was so clear we navigated back from the half way lochan to the dam using the pole star.

    Comment by Andy Cole — 8 April 2010 @ 10:52 pm

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