In his inspirational book on Scottish winter climbing ‘Chasing the Ephemeral’, Simon Richardson says: “Predicting conditions and selecting an appropriate route is the underlying challenge”.
On Ben Nevis, this has been easier since 2018 thanks to a webcam and weather station at the CIC hut below the mountain’s northern face. Every 20 minutes it sends out information about conditions on Scotland’s premier winter climbing cliff.
The Scottish Mountaineering Club spent £6000 to get the equipment up and running, and the Trust met half the cost.
The camera captures two views. The wider one covers the North Face from North East Buttress to Point Five Gully; a closer-up view shows Observatory Ridge West Face, with the bottom of Hadrian’s Wall Direct and Point Five Gully, with the line of Orion Direct to the second slab rib. Weather reports, in tables and charts, show temperature, wind speed and direction, both current and for the last 24 hours or 7 days. Both weather and pictures are sent out from 0800 to 2000.
Specialist company Campbell Scientific supplied the camera system and web interface. They rely on the strong 4G signal round the hut, and are powered by its wind generator and battery system. A heated element clears the lens of snow and ice, so it’s a very reliable source of information.
In 2021, weather data gathered since 2018 will be brought together in an archive – a successor to the weather records from the Ben’s summit observatory, active from 1883-1904 and 660m higher up.
Neil Adams, a leading Scottish winter climber, says, “The webcam itself is useful for gauging the snowline and seeing the ice build, but I find the weather station data even more useful. The ability to see what the weather has been doing over the last few days is just as important for judging conditions as live data, e.g. to answer ‘how bad was that thaw’ or ‘will the turf be frozen?’
“I’ve certainly saved myself some wasted journeys!”
At 680m altitude, the CIC hut beside the Allt a Mhuilinn 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. Arguably the only alpine-style mountain hut in the UK, it provides shelter from some extremely harsh weather and gives unparalleled access to summer and winter climbing on the Ben’s North Face. It is one of a growing number of huts that the Trust has helped upgrade. Like the others it is open to bookings from other clubs and individuals.
To view the latest from the cam, visit the SMC site at https://www.smc.org.uk/cicwebcam/cic_weather.php .
For information on the hut itself, go to