CIC Meet – 19th-21st May 2023

The CIC meet will always be eventful, sometimes, it can be too eventful. There were lots of good memories from this meet but also lots of lessons learned! Here’s a summary of what went on. Enjoy!

The Friday Night

Friday gave us sunny conditions for the walk into the CIC hut located at an elevation of 680 meters below the picturesque North Face of Ben Nevis. It was cloudy around the Ben Nevis summit but otherwise fine weather for the long walk-in. In the hut we had the usual discussion of routes and planned for the morning.

Sas & Vicky on the Walk-in



Saturday’s forecast was looking okay: good temperatures, low wind speeds, and a possibility of showers only in the late afternoon.


Tower Ridge

The pairing Baptiste and Steven were first to head up Tower Ridge, followed shortly after by Hannah and Scott. The two teams roped up when needed and they moved quickly, only slowing down for the Tower Gap, the crux of the climb. They all summited around midday and heading down Ledge Route for an early finish at the hut.

Ledge Route

A pairing comprising of Guy and Dutch tourist also staying in the hut decided to scramble up Ledge Route. They descended via the CMD arête and came down just as the rain started.


Raeburn Arete

Alan and Charlie headed to attempt Raeburn Arete. As a severe graded climb and with Charlie being fairly new to climbing, this turned out to be overwhelming for the pair who safely backed off via abseil following the first three pitches.


Observatory Ridge

There were six folk approaching Observatory Ridge intending to climb as three pairs (Miles and James, Sas and Jamie, and Carl and Vicky). The first pair of Miles and James roped up and had started climbing as the others arrived behind. The other four were setting up below when a half-football sized rock was dislodged and plummeted to the ground. The rock landed with a terrifying thud, it hit Sas’ rucksack spraying the bag’s contents around and destroying her helmet. Given Sas was next to her rucksack, this was a very lucky escape. After collecting up belongings and thoughts, Sas headed down the mountain eventually meeting Mia and a friend in Glen Nevis to do some more relaxed climbing in Polldubh.

Miles and James Setting Off up the First Pitch

The remaining three, Vicky (many years of climbing experience), Jamie (a year or so trad climbing), and Carl (first time multipitch climbing) decided to continue and tackle Observatory Ridge as a three. They began their ascent, completing the lower VDiff grade pitches without issue before settling on a ledge for some lunch. Shortly after the lunch stop at around 2:30/3pm, some rain came in and the group took a quick break in a storm shelter for a chat. Here they realised the forecast had changed to heavy rain for the remainder of the day. Considering the convoluted route up so far, and the remainder of the route described as grade 3 scrambling with the odd Diff/VDiff section, they decided pushing for the summit was the best option.

Left: Carl Climbing; Middle: The Lunch Ledge; Right: A Quick Weather Break

The rain slowed all groups down significantly with the first pair summitting around 6pm. The summited group waited for an hour before heading down to the hut without the others.

On the ridge the remaining group of three had slowed right down. Despite moving together for some short sections, confidence was low, so they pitched most of the route. The odd tricky move combined with pitching meant significant time was being taken to travel small distances.

There was limited communication with the hut and those in the CIC hut were beginning to worry. Around 8pm a message was received saying the group were only 100 metres from the top. Two hours later a further message came saying they were still 80 metres from the top. Poor phone reception meant different people in the hut could contact different people on the hill and messages were getting confused. What was clear was that the group on the hill were having major problems.

The light was drawing in and the ridge was now wet and dark, despite this the group pushed on. Being the most experienced, Vicky had taken role of leading following completion of the second pitch. Often, she was trying to extend pitches to minimise the number of belays which meant she was commonly out of site with rope tugs being the main form of communication. As the night started to fall, there was a lengthy period where the group had neither heard from Vicky nor saw the ropes move. With no line of sight and following a second call and query from the CIC hut group, Jamie agreed to the group contacting the local Mountain Rescue Team (MRT).


Meanwhile in the CIC Hut…

There was some hesitation within the hut and a broken discussion as others tried to get through to Vicky on the phone. Eventually 999 was called and reported the group missing. The police dispatcher asked the questions they needed to but often details had to be clarified. They took our word that the local Mountain Rescue Team would understand where the CIC hut was and where Observatory ridge would be.

Still concerned and believing the group were only 70 meters from the top, there were plans to head up the mountain from the CIC hut. Waterproofs were donned, climbing equipment was packed and the group were ready to head out. As the group were readying to depart a call was received from MRT. They advised that the group on the mountain had stopped and that we should not head up the mountain. At this point some went to bed and others stayed up for a while discussing the events of the day.


Back on the Ridge….

On the ridge, the ropes finally moved, and the group reconvened on a small rocky ledge which turned out to be around 80-90m from the summit plateau. Vicky was bought up to speed on the MRT call out before taking a call from James who was in the CIC hut. A message was passed on advising us to stay together before Jamie took a call directly from the local MRT team.

Left: A Wet Vicky & Jamie; Middle: Benighted on the Ben; Right: The Bivvy Spot

Through further discussion, the group agreed staying on the ridge and waiting for first light would be the best solution. It was now 23:30, it had been completely dark for over an hour and the route continued to be treacherous. If MRT were to come and assist, they would take several hours to reach with a wait until dawn anyway before ropes could be passed down.

Vicky was carrying a 4-person emergency shelter for protection so with the decision made to settle for the night, the group huddled inside and worked on getting layered up and insulated from the cold rock. At this point, Jamie was worst off with his waterproofs safely back in the CIC hut and his main insulation (a down jacket) soaked through. Fortunately, everyone had spare clothing so between them, rucksacks, ropes, and a foil blanket were arranged to try and optimise comfort. An emergency bag of Haribo and some cereal bars were chomped before they settled down to try and get some rest.





Observatory Ridge

Around 5am, the sun began to rise, and the group stirred from what little sleep they had managed to get. At around 6am, they finally emerged, and Jamie bravely battled through an initial exposed and tricky move from the ledge to lead the final two pitches which turned out to be around 50 and 30 metres respectively. Shortly after topping out, they met a father and daughter pair, who had been benighted elsewhere on the mountain also fortunately making it through the night. They travelled as a group to the summit cairn before beginning the descent to the hut.

Left: Jamie & Vicky on the Finale; Middle: The Top Out; Right: The Summit
Ben Nevis Summit

Steven, Hannah and Scott set up from the CIC hut with an array of edible treats, tea and water to meet the benighted team. They finally met them at the top of the zig-zags on the tourist path. This was gratefully received by the group who, after eating pork pies and drinking tea, handed off their climbing equipment to the others and continued the walk down to the CIC hut. The group eventually reached the hut around midday, a mere 27 hours after they had left the hut the morning before.

Alan and Charlie also headed up passing everyone on their way to the summit.

Back at the hut, more food and cake was chomped before the final pack-up and the fortunately uneventful walk back to the North Face Car Park.


Lessons Learnt

As we all know, climbing comes with its risks and we all make choices on what we feel is acceptable to us. Lots of things could have changed the outcome so Vicky and Steven have had a think and jotted down some of our main thoughts in the hope that others may be able to learn from what went on and the decisions made. Here goes:

• Taking well practiced people a route can be done quickly when moving together.

• Even if climbing well on single pitch, multipitch climbs will be significantly more intimidating at the same grade.

• Rock fall can happen at any time, climbers above can dislodge rocks. Great care should be taken when approaching climbs and thought given to staying out of potential lines of fire or donning helmets early.

• There are alternative starts to Observatory Ridge which may have had more solid rock. Taking the time to independently review the guidebook may have led to the group starting in a different place.

• Rain, even on a relatively straightforward route, will drastically slow down a climb.

• We often check each other’s climbing knots, why not have a quick chat on general bag contents too on potentially bigger mountain days.

• Having a single main lead climber in a group of three puts significant mental and physical loading on the leader.

• Radios could help with communication between climbers on longer multipitch routes or in situations where direct communication maybe difficult / not possible.

• Have clear communication channels, where lots of people hear different things, can cause more concern as the information isn’t clear. Having a single communication channel would have meant everyone knew who to contact.

• The request to call MRT from the hut did cause confusion. Those in trouble should call MRT directly if they can, they will be able to directly communicate with them and will not put others in a convoluted communication channel.

• Calling MRT does not mean you are getting everyone out of bed to come get you. They will make a judgement given the prevailing weather, the terrain, and the condition of the group. As nobody was injured and were well equipped, MRT knew the best thing was to wait it out. As the climber you may not be in the best place to judge the situation and that discussion would be worthwhile.

• Emergency shelters are essential in these situations. It brings shelter from the wind and rain; allows the body heat to be shared by the group; and allows sheltered rest. Some of them pack pretty small for the protection they offer:

Four Person Shelters. Left: From; Right: From Vango

• Spare battery packs for mobile phones are often very portable these days and could help reduce battery life worries if something happens.

• The benighted group were significantly further from the summit than they thought, much longer than our 70 metre ropes would have been long enough. If the CIC hut group had made a rescue attempt, ropes would not have reached them potentially leaving more people stranded / at risk.

• If packs allow, spare food / water is always welcomed when needed.

• Steven’s partner makes extremely good cake!