Memories of the Charles Inglis Clark (C.I.C.) Memorial Hut,CIC Hut Ben Nevis
The Hut below the Ben.
How many times have I walked that path?
Through forestry and muddy track.
Bag bulging, sweat pouring,
Then the great cliffs mourning.
Watching in the mist and clouds,
Emerge, along with memories.
Many happy, many sad.
Long carries in the dead of night,
With unknown people.
Many glad to be alive.
The hut beckons
Hidden until the last.
Then it appears as if by magic
Looking grey and bleak.
Inside a place of warmth and soon heat.
A place of mystery and history.
Over the years I have been lucky enough to stay in the CIC hut for many years since I started climbing. The hut is situated below the classic North Face on Ben Nevis and is owned by the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC) it a historic building in mountaineering. The hut in many ways is controversial forget the environmental ethics and to some mountaineers it is seen by some as as an elite club hut for the few ( I am member of the SMC) and love the place. The hut can still be booked and used by kindred Mountaineering clubs from all over many come from overseas to climb and to me is a great place to stay right below the huge North Face . It is infused in history and there have been various battles in the past with the establishment and many young climbers If you get the opportunity, staying in the CIC hut is a wonderful experience not to be missed. The hut is privately run by the SMC but allows access to affiliated clubs and is not as exclusive as is often thought. Visit the SMC site for more info [www.smc.org.uk]
You will never be disappointed!
“Charles Inglis Clark (C.I.C.) Memorial Hut, Ben NevisThe hut was erected in 1928/9 by Dr and Mrs Inglis Clark in memory of their son Charles Inglis Clark who was killed in action in the 1914-1918 War. The original building was extensively refurbished and extended between 2008 and 2012.
The C.I.C. Hut is situated on the north side of Ben Nevis by the Allt a’Mhuilinn at 680m (NN 1671 7222). Access to the hut by the Allt a’Mhuilinn is permitted by Rio Tinto Alcan Smelting (owners of the cliff side of the mountain).
There is accommodation for 24 persons on Alpine platforms with mattresses. During the Winter six places are reserved each weekend for Members and their guests. Cooking and heating are by propane gas; lighting is electric (wind turbine). There are a few power socket outlets that can be used for mobile phone chargers (reception for all major networks can be found on the downhill side of the hut) and other low power appliances. The hut has a drying room and two composting toilets (for hut occupants’ use only). Water is taken from the outside standpipe.
The hut is in high demand throughout the winter season, thus bookings should be made well in advance to secure bunks.
The CIC Hut has a fee of £15 per person per night.”
My use of the hut began in 1972 when I joined Mountain Rescue Team and was involved with Lochaber MRT on many rescues as it is situated below the huge North Face it is ideally situated for climbers and by those over the years who may need help. Many of my early Rescues were here and it was also a meeting point for climbers who congregate outside, sheltering especially in the winter and putting on gear ready for the climb. It has a hose connected to the burn which is nearly always running which you can get a drink after the “race to the hut”. There is attached to the hut a Mountain Rescue Post containing a Stretcher, Avalanche probes and other Rescue gear, maintained by the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team. The hut also has a radio to speak direct to the Police in Fort William that has been a life saver over many years. The hut occupants will never refuse to give shelter in an emergency and this must never be forgotten by those inside and has been the scene of many rescues and epics over the years. After a hard call – out on the huge North Face it is amazing how many can get in the hut to regroup, have a brew and shelter. I have met so many of the so called names in mountaineering over the years and with my dog who I can say now used to stay in the hut (against the rules ) hiding under the Alpine beds. He has followed many on the walk to the start of routes over the years when we used to leave him outside the hut in his later years and his climbing days were over. One well known American had him follow him on an orgy of soling on the Ben and was amazed that the dog followed him up to the Base of many routes. Over the years the hut has changed drastically and is now a 5 star hut with environmental toilets and space and better facilites, many come from all over the world to use the hut and climb especially in winter.
This hut is full of history from the tales of the old pot bellied stove and the talk of coal carried up to the old table that is still inside that was the scene of many wild raucous nights. Add in the debates and even medical treatments of battered and bruised climbers over the years, this is a place that has seen everything. This place is steeped in history as many of the old and bold used this as a base for climbing on The Ben. These tales are well told in incredible book “Ben Nevis Britain’s highest mountains” by the Scottish Mountain Trust.
This 2nd edition of “Ben Nevis: Britain’s Highest Mountain” brings the history of Ben Nevis right up to date from the 1st edition, by adding the period from 1986 to 2008. This is a highly illustrated and painstakingly researched history of a mountain whose global status far outstrips its modest altitude; a story of climbers, poets, geologists, map makers and pioneering meteorologists. For more than 100 years, mountaineers have honed their skills and equipment on its flanks and ridges and applied them to dazzling effect in the Alps and Greater Ranges. Today, climbing on Ben Nevis is more popular than ever and the mountain’s international reputation continues to grow, as its cliffs offer up some of the most challenging traditional summer and winter climbs in the world. This title offers fully updated history of Britain’s most famous mountain from 1585 – 2008. It is highly illustrated with more than 400 (mostly colour) photographs, diagrams and maps. It features significant new research and historical photographs, and includes chapters on: Ben Nevis Observatory, Ben Nevis Distillery, Ben Nevis Aluminium Smelter, Ben Nevis Hill Race, Environment and Conservation, Gaelic Place Names, Geology and Mapping
The CIC hut has a custodian it is not manned though and the keys are gained from him they are the guardians of the hut. Each custodian comes with a personality and character and there have been some disagreements with many wild climbers over the years. The tales of the problems in the past with young climbers and the establishment on attempted illegal use of the hut are mountaineering folklore. Nowadays the hut is defended by incredible security doors protected by steel and windows that are storm proof and the final security is the Rubik cube locks. Our prisons could learn from such security. The current Custodian Robin Clothier is another formidable character, a big man, a great climber who like the others loves the Ben and the history of the hut continues to contend with its modern problems. There is now a power source outside the hut a big wind mill and it faces some weather in its fight to produce power, changed days.
Why do we love Ben Nevis and its North Face?
“The Cliffs on Ben Nevis “It has the tallest and most extensive cliffs, and attracts some of the most severe winter weather. This unique combination produces some of the best snow and ice climbing of its type in the world.” Simon Richardson, Ben Nevis Rock and Ice Climbs, SMC, 2002
Dave MacLeod with input from Allan Halwood UKC 2009
“As our highest mountain, our “only Alpine mountain” and one with perhaps the richest history of climbing of any place in the UK; Ben Nevis is as big as it gets. Although its scale is often the first detail mentioned about the mountain, it is really the nature of the place and its climbs that stand out most. In fact Jimmy Marshall summed it up as being hard to equal for hidden depths of character.
These hidden depths offer new discoveries every time you climb there by virtue of the array of coires, buttresses and huge ridges that form it’s north-east face. I can’t imagine the feeling of anticipation that hits you on emerging from the CIC hut door on a sunny morning, and taking in the full vista of grand cliffs, ever fading.”
I love this place and need to get back in winter now I am getting fit again the hut is busy and space booked well in advance especially in the winter season. There have been so many great days on the Ben for me but after a day out and having a tea or a dram while the weather batters the door is an experience to cherish. I have had some great nights socially here with many of the old and bold and always love this place. It has been the scene of great joy to me great companions,superb climbing so many great days and I am privileged and lucky to have climbed on the North Face on so many routes in summer and winter. It was great to take new troops out for a night in the hut after a day on these cliffs and engage them in the history of this place. The old path to the hut is now refurbished it was a mud bath and a nightmare for many years and is now a pleasant walk now but still one not to be taken lightly especially in the winter. The walk from Fort William on a wild night, with heavy snow is never easy. The hut can be easily missed in the dark and in a white out and with high rivers has been the scene of some near misses by climbers, especially after a dram before you leave Fort William. The hut is fairly high up at 676 metres over 2000 feet and the easiest way is up the Allt na Mhuillin from sea level and with a big bag it is never easy unless you can get a lift up the Forestry Track. At times it is a wild place to be with the winds crashing against the cliffs and the ever changing weather. Many camp up by the hut but there is an ongoing problem with human waste and rubbish. For many years we would visit after the winter and remove much of the waste by helicopter, we called it the “Jobbie run” before the days of the hut toilet till the RAF Health & Safety stopped it. ( The hut has a drying room and two composting toilets (for hut occupants’ use only) What can be done about this serious issue I wonder as the mountain in winter attracts so many people? ) The problem continues and will in my mind get worse as the impact of winter climbing on Ben Nevis gets busier each year.
We were lucky to use the CIC hut for many years ago on our Annual Winter Course for RAF Mountain Rescue Teams which had ended early after a long two weeks due to poor weather. I had wandered back up to the hut as I was staying on with The RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team for a weekend exercise in Roybridge. The weather was very poor as I walked up early and I met two young lads who had been staying in a tent nearby outside the hut. They had been up on the Ben for 3 days on the Ben and not managed a route. They like most in the hut many were heading down the next day, fed up with the weather. We had a chat and I said that despite the forecast they may manage a short route. I said that Tower Scoop about 200 feet on the Eastern Flank of Tower Ridge will be a good test. This is a short, grade 3 two star ice climb by an old RAF Team member Ian Clough and G.Grandison in 1961. It is sheltered from the weather and I had done it several times yet in descent it can be interesting in heavy snow as it finishes on the terrace below Tower Gully. Anyway we ended up teaming up together and having a bit of fun and a wild descent in increasing high winds and the heavy snow made it a place not to linger. It is really a short climb but all mainly fairly steep ice but it can be a character building day. It was that day especially after a bit of an epic on the route when one dropped an axe. There was no belay at the top and now in a white out, it was turning out to be interesting. My young companions seemed overwhelmed by the situation by the snow and the rapid weather changes that is life on the Ben in winter at times. The descent to the hut was interesting but we got off safely back to the hut. We said good bye after a brew in the hut and then they vanished down the path happy. Then the winds rose and the noise of it crashing on the cliffs along with more snow, sent the remaining climbers scurrying of routes. In between gusts the Ben was shedding the snow in huge avalanches it was a wild day. Only a few remaining climbers had decided to stay in the hut and now I was sharing it with three others. I had managed to get an updated forecast and the weather was going to be even worse over 80 mph winds and more snow coming in with a high avalanche forecast. I got a message to my pals in the Mountain Rescue troops who were travelling up for the weekend at Roybridge. I told them the conditions were such it was not worth the effort coming up to the hut. I was going to walk out in the morning in daylight as I was pretty tired after my two weeks winter course and my short but wild day out. I as I always do got my radio out and earphones and went to bed and was soon asleep for an afternoon nap.
Later after tea I went outside it was so wild I could hardly open the door and got some water for the morning . I had an early night while the storm blew outside constantly the hut getting hit by the winds. At about 2300 the door was banged and rattled heavily in the hut and I was amazed that my two pals Al and Jamie had walked up in the blizzard. I was not expecting to see them, they were covered in ice and snow and I opened the door and left them to sort out their gear in the basic drying room. It had been an adventure for them and I think they were chuffed they had found the hut in the weather. I made then a brew without walking the few left in the hut and left them sorting out their kit. They said they would have a dram in the foyer rather than wake everyone up in the hut and I left them to it! They staggered into bed about 0100 giggling like school kids and got a bollocking from me and a few moans from the others. It was back to sleep and then an hour later the door was battered again at first I thought maybe the boys had gone back out but they were fast asleep. I went to the door and this time the storm was worse and two shapes in the snowy gloom said there they had an epic and their tents was smashed by the winds and snow and were pretty hypothermic could they come in . They were not in a good way and in they came dragging their tent and belongings in a pool of snow on the floor. I left them to get sorted and put a brew on and the lights on in the main hut. A grumpy climber was not impressed but told him that there was a problem and boiled the kettle. I went out again put on the lights in the foyer and gave them a hot brew. I stepped on the tent and there was something in it !
To be continued!