Early days attempts on Point 5 Ben Nevis – A great line from the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal May 1959.

To many on Ben Nevis Point Five Gully is perhaps the most famous gully in Scotland, and one of the world’s most sought-after winter climbs. Its first ascent, led by Ian Clough, in 1959 took 40 hours over 6 days and involved around 1000 feet of fixed rope and 60 rock and ice pitons. They experienced classic Scottish winter weather, with storms raging around them and spindrift avalanches pouring over them as they climbed. The following year saw the first one-day ascent, with most parties taking 5-6 hours to climb the route these days. Nowadays with modern equipment many say it has been tamed. Yet every year so many have it on their wish list. I only climbed it once after a few attempts and was out of my comfort zone after being to a few incidents in the area. What a climb though and all the way I thought of those early attempts and the gear used.

In the days before the internet and mobile phones I loved hearing how climbers were very secretive about their plans, especially for new routes. There was great rivalry all over Scotland and few knew what each other was up to. I was very lucky to have met a few heavily involved in these tales I love reading about the classic mountaineering routes winter and summer and the stories around them. Many are shrouded in history but there are a few who write about them the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMCJ) Journals have so many wonderful tales in them. I also spoke to Hamish MacInnes about these tales, his memory was superb going back into these days. He had a lot of time for Ian Clough who served with the RAF Mountain Rescue Team at Kinloss in Morayshire . Ian was a National Serviceman who served with the Kinloss Team in the late 50’s when there was so many new routes being climbed. Lines like Point 5 on Ben Nevis had a fearsome reputation with the basic equipment that was around then. There was none of the fancy axes, crampons or ice protection leaders were bold and sadly there were a few deaths of those pushing the standards. This is from Ian Clough article in the wonderful SMC Journal.

Ian Clough on the old guide book.

“On arriving at the fish and chip shop one evening during Easter 1958. I was presented with an envelope by the girl behind the counter. She said “ Hamish left this for you” Tearing open the envelope I found a short note with , with typical MacInnes casualness “ Fancy trying Point 5 ? Come up to the CIC hut as soon as possible. Bring food with you from the last sentence I assumed that Hamish as usual had no food. These few words were enough to quicken my pulse, however I knew quite a lot of the story of Point 5 thus far and I was very pleased to have the chance to climb it. I asked permission to leave the Kinloss Rescue Team with which I was on exercise and started up for the CIC hut that night.” Ian Clough on an early attempt on Point 5 “A Ben Nevis Saga”. Its worth getting hold of the complete article in the SMC Journal. Two attempts were made by Ian Clough and Hamish MacInnes a third they were joined by Tom Patey.

The book “Cold climbs” states : of the first ascent ” A five day sieged ascent of a long standing problem. A very controversial ascent. I.S. Clough, J. Alexander, D. Pipes and R. Shaw. Dignity was restored when Jimmy Marshal and Robin Smith did the second ascent in 7 hours. A time many would find respectable with modern gear.

The late Ian Clough who was killed in Annapurna at the end of a very successful Annapurna expedition in the early 1970’s. Ian was a past member of the RAF Kinloss MRT and was an outstanding mountaineer and person. It was sad to read about him and how he died clearing up the mountain at the end of the trip when he was hit by a serac.

late 50’s high on Observatory Ridge. Basic Gear!

It was great to see the RAF team members climb this classic and the buzz they got from it. After my trip to Canada in 1984 it looked a lot less fearsome but still was a wonderful route. Climb it late in season and a day of limited spindrift if you get the chance but be careful.

2008 Point 5. Photo A.Barnyard.

The team had a history at the beginning of climbing this route and I was there in the early 70’s when Big Ian Nicholson soloed both Point 5 and Zero in a morning and got a pint in Fort William at lunchtime. Big changes since the early attempts and the route will hopefully be enjoyed for years to come.

My mate Al MacLeod after Ted Atkins fell on him on Point 5 sadly both now gone.

Comments welcome.

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, Enviroment, Ice climbing Canada, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Recomended books and Guides, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Weather, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

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