Number 4 Gully, Ben Nevis
The Ben is known as being one the highlights in British winter mountaineering and is rich in mountaineering history. Among the ice and mixed climbing are some more amenable mountaineering adventures such as the numbered gullies which carve their way through magnificent scenery giving a full mountaineering experience. One such gully is number 4 taking a line up through Creag Coire na Ciste tucked in under Pinnacle Arete. With the avalanche forecast and conditions taken into account and its a safe option for the day then the following route information should be good for use.
Resources and Links.
Map sheet, Ben Nevis and Glen Coe
Guidebook, SMC Ben Nevis
Before setting out be sure that you are tackling something within your abilities for all it is an easier option on the Ben it is a day with serious consequences for those who haven’t built up confidence in their feet. As with any Scottish winter climb or journey the conditions are key. Number 4 can offer anything from a wade to a steep and icy line where a slip or stumble would have very serious consequences. Most routes on the Ben's the big cliffs have often steep and long snow approaches making the area feel quite intimidating and serious. I won’t go into the style in which you wish to climb it but you could do anything from one axe and head up and over to perhaps making a couple of pitches through the narrows and over the steeper finish with two axes for security and confidence. Certainly bringing a rope for the final 30 or so metres would not be over cautious.
With the walk to the CIC hut done its up into the Corrie. The first gully spotted from the hut is number 3 right at the back of the corrie carving a visible line straight up to the summit plateaux. Although given the same grade one rating it often to me seems steeper in the final few metres and also gains a bigger cornice to exit through. I think number 4 would be the easiest of the number gullies. I should think this is why it's the popular option for climbers descending back after the harder ice climbs.
From the hut its a simple ascent up directly under number 5 gully and Ledge Route before you head left above a small band of outcrops either on snow in a good season or across a rocky path. Its worth noting that Number 5 gully is an avalanche black spot on account of the huge fan in its upper reaches. Avalanche debris is often visible cutting across this slope and path, a huge volume of snow can plunge down across the track leading up to Creag Coire na Ciste and so make a careful note of weather and avalanche conditions. Once the bottom of Creag Coire na Ciste is reached there is an obvious spot to gear up near the small Lochan. With the gear on and any sustenance requirements are met its on up the slope. The line into the gully will often be a well tracked line in the snow with the line often snaking up towards the toe of the buttress left of North Gully where it often forks with those heading towards number 3 and right for those heading towards North Gully and Number 4. From here travelling under North Gully, Wendigo and a number of other lines keep a wary eye out for anything falling from above from equipment to ice and rock. Once you gain the narrows of Number 4 you are relatively safe from things falling from above but keep alert to things coming from directly above in the gully lines as it often used in descent to. Once in here its worth noting that on a hard icy day then you have gained considerable height on the snow and a slip or fall would send you a long way back to the Lochan in the Corrie floor. Running a rope in a couple of pitches would be fine from here. The gully walls have quite a few simple options such as spikes or snow anchors. If pitching or using a rope from here then be aware that it can be a busy place and so zig zagging ropes across the gully will be hazardous to you and others. Try keep as much to one side or another as possible. Try to think should someone down climbing slip where would be the fall line and try if you can to keep the rope above that so if anyone where to fall it would be down and past you. Once your in the narrows a few short steps will bring you up to where the gully opens into a small bowl or fan at the top where a number of exits present themselves.
There will no doubt have been plenty of people who have traveled through here and as such the route over the top will be obvious. As the majority will have taken it. Steps will lead up to a notch often in the centre slightly right through the cornice. There is a small spike below roughly in the centre that offers a belay where the rope could be run out over the top to the huge cairn anchor set back from the edge. A 240cm sling fits perfectly over this cairn. There will usually be a few visible signs of snow anchors such as bollards or buried axes have been used. Be wary as they often melt a little and refreeze which can make for very solid anchor options but also should be checked throughly before use as they may have refrozen misshaped. Or for example a snow bollard which has been used for an abseil can be become very undercut when the ropes are pulled from below or may have refrozen into a shape which a sling or rope won’t fit around without rolling off.
Its also worth noting if planning on using a rope that from the spike on the last bit of rock with a spike on it needs to be forty metres or more. A hill rope won’t make it from there and over the top and certainly not all the way back to the cairn anchor with any spare for tying off or moving back towards the edge.
Once on top that’s it soak up the views or spindrift whichever is on offer. Its a short walk from here to the summit to finish off the day or cut out to the mountain track and make your way down the zig zags and out from there.
Its a great day and a chance to see the very best of UK mountaineering and get inspired for what to do next. Don't underestimate it though as it is a steep and long snow journey on ground which could have serious consequences if a fall or slip where to occur. If that went well then head for three or five and then it's time to tackle the ridges next.
Creag Coire na Ciste. The obvious open gully exiting in the sun is number 3 gully with the XXX butters to the right. With the obvious narrow gully with two visible climbers below it running up to the wide fanned its right hand corner catching the sun. Then Number four is the deep gully to the right of that curving round the sharp pointy block pocking into the sunny cornice.
Top left, looking down number four gully and climbers descending.
Top Right, Topping out of the Gully.
Middle left, The big cairn belay (if your rope is long enough) at the top of the route.
Middle right, entering the narrows of Number 4.
Above the Ciste Number 3 to 4