High Mountain Guides / Reports / Scottish Winter / The Past is Close Behind

First Ascent "The Past is Close Behind", Ben Nevis

Blair tackling the tricky rising rightwards traverse on pitch 3 of 'The Past is Close Behind', Ben Nevis. Photo: Blair Fyffe

A report from the first ascent of "The Past is Close Behind", 250m, VIII,8, Ben Nevis by Blair Fyffe and Iain Small 18/2/2010

Article index

  1. The Past is Close Behind
  2. Route Description

Naismith, Raeburn, Marshall, Smith, Fyffe (senior), Geddes, Paul, Richardson, Perroux, MacLeod.

The history surrounding the creation of hard new winter routes on Ben Nevis can both intimidate and inspire.

As Blair Fyffe and Iain Small walked up the Allt a’Mhuillin before dawn on the morning of February 18th the past was very much in mind. Jimmy Marshall had spoken recently at the Fort William Mountain Festival and given a warm and appreciative audience an insight into some of the feelings behind his famous new routes created exactly 50 years ago. He had also given away some of his thoughts on the prolific solo new routing of 2nd world war conscientious objector Brian Kellet and his death with Nancy Forsyth on the North Wall of Carn Dearg in 1944. Ironically, considering Kellet’s prolific solo new routing career, this was in a roped climbing accident.

Blair and Iain speculatively started up the impressive andesite walls in the large gap between the well known steep ice route ‘The Shroud’ and the Martin Burrows-Smith / Mark Charlton 1991 winter route based on Kellet’s Carn Dearg ‘North Wall Route’ (1943).

After a straightforward first pitch the steep mixed technicalities ramped up. The climbing was brilliant. A classic on-sight of a true winter mixed route in fine ‘full’ conditions. Snowed up rock with verglassed cracks, turf, thinly iced slabs, neve, the lot. After climbing the last two hard and bold pitches in the dark the relieved team were glad to top out and descend the blissfully simple and tracked Ledge Route.

At 0010 back in Fort William I had just googled the number for the Fort William police when the welcome text came in:
“Coming off the hill now! Long day but route done, back in 30ish….”
Another great adventure and another small but significant bit of winter climbing history on Ben Nevis had been created.

Over to Bob Dylan…
“But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind,
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
Tangled up in blue.”


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