The Thrilling World of Ice Climbing18/09/2023
CLIMBING POINT FIVE GULLY
AUTHOR | STEVE HOLMES
Point Five Gully, a prominent feature on the North Face of Ben Nevis, has earned a legendary status among climbers worldwide. In this blog, we’ll take you on an exhilarating journey to explore the history, allure, and challenges of climbing Point Five Gully, offering a glimpse into the unique world of winter mountaineering.
Before delving into the details of Point Five Gully, it’s essential to understand the allure of Ben Nevis itself. Located in the Scottish Highlands, near the town of Fort William, Ben Nevis is a beacon for climbers, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts. The mountain’s dramatic topography, unpredictable weather, and challenging routes have drawn adventurers for centuries.
The name “Ben Nevis” is derived from the Gaelic term “Beinn Nibheis,” which translates to “Mountain of Heaven.” This poetic name reflects the mystical, awe-inspiring nature of the mountain. One of the most iconic aspects of Ben Nevis is its North Face, a steep and formidable cliff that rises dramatically from the glen below. This face is home to some of the most challenging and sought-after winter climbing routes in the world, including Point Five Gully.
Point Five Gully has a rich history, with its first ascent dating back to 1959. It was first climbed by a group led by Ian Clough, and took 40 hours over a six day period. Their daring feat marked the birth of modern ice climbing in Scotland. At the time of its first ascent, Point Five Gully was considered one of the most difficult and dangerous ice climbs in the world. The climbers faced treacherous conditions and minimal gear compared to today’s standards. Their success not only showcased their remarkable skill and determination but also established Point Five Gully as a symbol of extreme winter climbing.
Point Five Gully is a gully route that starts from the base of the North Face of Ben Nevis and ascends steeply to the summit plateau. While the gully itself is only around 250 meters in length, it packs a punch with its sustained difficulty and unforgiving conditions. Here are some of the key challenges climbers face when tackling Point Five Gully:
1. Technical Difficulty: Point Five Gully offers a mix of ice and mixed climbing. The route includes steep ice pitches, frozen waterfalls, and sections of rock climbing. Climbers need to be proficient in using ice tools, crampons, and traditional climbing protection.
2. Weather and Conditions: Ben Nevis is notorious for its rapidly changing weather. Climbers must be prepared to face extreme cold, strong winds, heavy snowfall, and limited visibility. The ice conditions can also vary significantly from one day to the next.
3. Avalanche Risk: The gully is exposed to avalanche danger, especially after fresh snowfall or during thaw conditions. Climbers must constantly assess the avalanche risk and take appropriate precautions.
4. Physical Endurance: The sustained nature of the climb requires climbers to have excellent stamina. Ascending steep ice and mixed terrain while carrying heavy gear can be physically demanding.
5. Navigation: Navigating through the North Face in poor visibility can be challenging. Climbers need to be proficient in map reading and GPS use to ensure they find the bottom of the route safely.
To embark on a climb up Point Five Gully, climbers typically start their journey from the North Face car park, which serves as the trailhead. The approach involves a hike up a steep and rugged path, followed by a traverse under the Douglas Boulder, which offers breathtaking views of the North Face and the surrounding landscape.
Upon reaching the base of Point Five Gully, climbers must assess the conditions, rope up, and begin their ascent. The first pitches often involve climbing steep ice and navigating narrow chimneys. As the gully narrows, the challenge intensifies. Climbers must make a series of technical moves on both ice and rock, often using a combination of ice screws, cams, and wires for protection.
The central section of the gully, known as the “Rouge Pitch,” is the most challenging part of the climb. Here, the ice can be exceptionally steep and soft, requiring precise tool placements and strong nerves. Climbers must carefully choose their route, looking for weaknesses in the ice and rock to make upward progress.
Throughout the ascent, communication and teamwork are crucial. Climbers must stay connected with their partners, constantly assessing the safety of the route and each other. The mental and physical demands are substantial.
As climbers inch their way up Point Five Gully, they are rewarded not only with a sense of accomplishment but also with awe-inspiring vistas of the Scottish Highlands. The view from the summit of Ben Nevis is a breathtaking panorama that stretches as far as the eye can see, encompassing rugged peaks, deep glens, and pristine lochs.
Summiting Ben Nevis, especially via Point Five Gully, is a rare and memorable experience. Climbers can savour the achievement of conquering a historic and challenging route while taking in the grandeur of the Scottish wilderness.
While the allure of Point Five Gully is undeniable, it’s essential to emphasize the importance of safety in winter mountaineering. The North Face of Ben Nevis is known for its unpredictable conditions, and even experienced climbers have encountered unexpected challenges. Here are some safety considerations for those contemplating a climb:
1. Experience: Climbing Point Five Gully is not for beginners. Ensure you have the necessary experience and skills for ice and mixed climbing, as well as the ability to make sound judgments in challenging conditions.
2. Weather Forecast: Always check the weather forecast before embarking on your climb. Be prepared to turn back if conditions deteriorate.
3. Avalanche Awareness: Educate yourself on avalanche risks and carry appropriate safety equipment, such as avalanche transceivers, shovels, and probes.
4. Equipment: Ensure your gear is in excellent condition, including ice tools, crampons, ropes, and protection. 10 x short screws are enough, along with a set of wires and 3 or 4 mid-size cams or hexes. Carry extra layers to stay warm in cold conditions.
5. Navigation: Familiarize yourself with the route and carry a guidebook, map, GPS, and a compass. Know how to use them effectively.
6. Communication: Maintain clear and consistent communication with your climbing partners. Develop a plan for emergencies.
Climbing Point Five Gully on Ben Nevis is a dream for many experienced mountaineers. It represents the pinnacle of winter climbing challenges in the UK and has a storied history that continues to inspire climbers worldwide. However, this iconic route demands not only technical skill and physical fitness but also a deep respect for the unpredictable forces of nature.
As climbers ascend Point Five Gully, they navigate a world where the elements rule and every move is a calculated risk. The reward, though, is an unparalleled sense of accomplishment, a connection with the pioneers of the past, and the privilege of witnessing the untamed beauty of the Scottish Highlands from the summit of Ben Nevis. Whether you’re an aspiring winter mountaineer or an armchair adventurer, the legend of Point Five Gully will continue to capture the imagination and stir the spirit of exploration for generations to come.
Climb Point Five Gully with Synergy Guides – Performance Winter Climbing.
Synergy Guides deliver Winter Mountaineering from our base in Fort William where we teach people how to stay safe in the winter environment. We aim to cover the basics plus climb some classic introductory mountaineering routes on Ben Nevis and in Glencoe.