Project LP.A4 (2014 - 2016)
North Face Survey
It's all over!
Three years of geological & botanical surveying on Britain's biggest mountain has drawn to a close however the results from the final year remain to be collated, analysed and put together nicely in a report for all of us to get a grasp on just how big a job this was.
Year one was the first time the team got an idea of the scale of this mammoth project. The logistics of hauling climbing gear, rope and each other all over the side of the UK's biggest mountain was challenging to say the least and the weather was less than friendly! Despite these challenges the team completed training and an amazing exchange of knowledge took place between botanists, geologists and mountaineers throughout the course of the week-long survey. Film-maker Dave MacLeod captured the entire survey in our short documentary Ben Nevis: The Hidden Side, click to have a watch.
Year two picked up where year one left off and another fortnight of exploring, recording, mapping and rigging began. Amongst visits from BBC Out of Doors & Landward the team made discoveries of new populations of rare alpine plant species and collected huge amounts of geological data using an innovative mobile-app called FieldMove.
Year three's final survey week took place in August and after five days of hard-work and surveying this ground-breaking project came to a close. What a fantastic experience for all involved, a huge thanks to all of you. The final year was very, very wet but our team tackled the weather to record even more plant locations, take even more geological field notes, get everyone dangled into slimy gullies and up awkward scree slopes; all in the name of science & conservation! Now the hours of collating and assessing the data gathered begins to form the first comprehensive botanical map of Ben Nevis and Midland Valley will add their field notes from this year to their already impressive 3D Map of Ben Nevis to complete it and hopefully finally reveal how this wonderful mountain came to be.
Well done North Face Survey Team 2014 - 2016!
NORTH FACE SURVEY READING LIST
The North Face Survey is generously funded by Heritage Lottery Fund & Scottish Natural Heritage.
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North Face Survey
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Ben Nevis Film+
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Nevis Training Programme
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August 2014 (Training Day #1)
We're off! The team gathered at LMRT's base in Fort William to get to grips with long rope lowers, abseil techniques and the geology of Ben Nevis. The training session was incredibly detailed and after one day the team covered how to record geological features, GPS mapping of plant species and an introduction to montane habitats.
August 2014 (Training Day #2)
The team had their first full day in the field today with Ian & Gordon, our botanical experts, identifying common and rare flora. The importance of "indicator species" was made clear to the team, certain soil types and plants can be clues to where rare plants can be found. More practice in the field of recording data and day two is complete!
August 2014 (Training Day #3)
Do you know your sweep from your deep? Our team have been getting in another day of fieldwork in preparation for next week's survey and refining the techniques they will use to identify, record and map important areas of geological and botanical significance. Mike Pescod detailed the mountaineering ropework required to protect the team in rough, untracked areas.
August 2014 (Training Day #4)
The last training day, what better time to discuss the ropes and rigging required for such a mammoth project. Specialist equipment kindly provided by Mammut was put to good use by Mike Pescod as he lead the team through long-line abseil practice on Carn Dearg Buttress. The mountaineers can combine their knowledge of ropes with their new-found survey skills and assist in the areas the scientists have previously been unable to explore.
August 2014 (Survey Day #1)
An early start & a quick briefing at the CIC Hut before splitting into four teams to explore South Castle, #3, #4, North, Castle and Garadh Gullies. The first team found no significant species in SC Gully and the loose ground is too high risk for a return visit. The other teams faired better with a significant amount of data capture to be checked with the experts at CIC Hut base camp. Hurricane Bertha has made for some pretty slimy ascents, fair play team!
August 2014 (Survey Day #2)
Busy day today! The team surveying North-East Buttress were joined by Chris Sleight from BBC Radio Scotland's Out of Doors for a very wet and windy interview which will go out on Friday morning. Other teams were busy surveying the upper sections of the Brenva face and setting up rigging on The Comb for our celebrity guest tomorrow.
August 2014 (Survey Day #3)
BIG DAY! Jim McIntosh of the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland stopped by and was treated to the discovery of two new populations of Highland Saxifrage in No. 5 Gully, Ian Strachan was dangled off a 200M abseil and discovered new populations of Alpine Saxifrage & Dougie Vipond tentatively tackled the Tower Face of The Comb for an upcoming episode of BBC Landward.
August 2014 (Survey Day #4)
Geology on Secondary Tower Ridge, climbing on Orion Face & Observatory Ridge, surveying continues in Coire Leis and new records of Highland Saxifrage in No. 3 Gully whilst the final team worked above Tridents Buttresses. The weather has (thankfully) eased up and the team enjoyed sunshine on the penutimate day of this year's North Face Survey.
August 2014 (Survey Day #5)
Cathy Mayne, SNH & Mike Pescod abseiled down The Great Corner today to explore the lush green ledges. They found heaps of Alpine Lady Fern, Rose Root & Globe Flowers amongst others, what a result on the last day. Like most adventures year one has challenging, inspiring, hard work and rewarding. Make sure you read the full report of what everyone dangled off, discovered and learned here, well done team!
August 2015 (Training Day)
We're back for year two! Our team are now such experts in geology, botany and big walling that we reduced the training week to a training day. The team headed for the North Face to brush up on survey techniques, data collection, botanical recording, ropes, rigging and rock types amongst a few other bits and pieces. A full-on refresher day to get everyone in the mood for next week's survey.
August 2015 (Survey Day #1)
Day one and we're straight back into it! Using the very impressive FieldMove application the geological contacts of Inner Granite & Volcanic Pile were traced from the base of North-East Buttress, around Little Brenva Face and up onto Carn Mor Dearg Aréte. All contacts of these two rock types are now recorded and the geologists can begin constructing their 3D model of Ben Nevis.
August 2015 (Survey Day #2)
Today was a pretty big day all round! Five teams were exploring various areas of Ben Nevis on behalf of the botanists and discovered four never-before-recorded sites for Highland Saxifrage, Alpine Meadow-Grass, Starwort Mouse Ear & Arctic Mouse Ear. The geologists were mapping Tower Ridge & Castle Ridge in great detail to determine the possibility of a feeder dike for the Summit Andesites and the discovery of amygdales.
August 2015 (Survey Day #3)
Further geological mapping of the sedimentary rocks forming the lower slopes of Little Brenva Face has enabled the orientation of the original sedimentary bedding to be determined today, another huge success for the geologists! Donald King & Dan Watson came across populations of the fantastic sounding Mountain Speedwell under Castle Ridge along with Alpine Lady Fern and Juniper, famed for it's hardiness we're not surprised it can survive up here!
August 2015 (Survey Day #4)
Jim McIntosh, Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland came back to visit the team this year, he explored Coire Leis with Will and made recordings of Curved Woodrush & Sibbaldia. All over the North Face our teams have been recording all sorts of alpine-plants, Ian Strachan & Gordon Rothero will collate all the findings at the end of the week and create a comprehensive guide to the rich and varied botany of Ben Nevis.
August 2015 (Survey Day #5)
Another year, another survey comes to a close! The various teams spent the last day much like the rest; gathering important data, recording alpine-plant populations and dangling experts off ropes to get into every nook and cranny of Ben Nevis that might be hiding a rare species or unusual geological feature. Now the mammoth task of collating all the data begins! Read the full report on year two here.
August 2016 (Charity/Staff Training)
A project as exciting as this ought to be shared with everyone & anyone! Today was a chance to exactly that as staff & volunteers from various enviromental organsiations gathered to explore the ground the team will cover next week. Everyone had a go at some of the smaller abseils and had fun using the geological mapping application FieldMove. A great day had by all, thanks for coming folks!
August 2016 (Team Training)
"You know it's the North Face Survey week when you pack a full change of hill clothes for The CIC Hut, two sets of waterproofs for those gully moments, heaps of food, a load of rope, a full rack of climbing gear and an extra expedition bag to put it all in." David Buckett, The Highland Mountain Company
August 2016 (Survey Day #1)
"Today I abseiled down Green Gully. I don't know of anyone that has descended it in summer! It is wet, loose and full of rare plants including Arctic Mouse Ear, Starwort Mouse Ear, Alpine speedwell, Highland Saxifrage and Alpine Meadow Grass. Actually much of this extends across the terrace running towards Number Three Gully Buttress and over the bright green patch of moss that gives Green Gully it's name." Mike Pescod, Abacus Mountain Guides
August 2016 (Survey Day #2)
"Heading up Ledge Route again with more rope bags this time joined by Donald, Will & Susan. We were going to help Ian explore #2 Gully today however the rock was really unstable so the guides moved across to another abseil points and checked out a different buttress. It was pretty cold on top so Beccy and I build a fort from the rope bags which made quite a nice shelter!" Hannah, Trainee Volunteer Ranger
August 2016 (Survey Day #3)
"After a day on radio duty in the CIC hut I was out with Murdo, Dave Buckett, Dan Waton & Ali Austin. We headed to the botanical treasure trove that is #4 Gully. We were sheltered from the worst of the weather and it was reassuring to see many of the nationally rare plants that were once thought to be in a very unfavourable condition to be doing so well." David Anderson, Lochaber Guides
August 2016 (Survey Day #4)
"The ability to capture all of your data in a single application, significantly reduces the amount of field equipment that the geologist needs to carry. Being able then to export your data with one click frees up more mapping and thinking time to ensure we're getting the most from the Ben Nevis Survey." Roddy Muir, Midland Valley
August 2016 (Survey Day #5)
"Reports are being written but we have identified huge new populations of nationally scarce plants as well as contributing to a better understanding of the formation of Britain's highest mountain. Every now and then you get to be a part of a project where the whole is truly greater than the sum of the parts, the synergy that this project generated was great to feel and results have already been described as truely valuable and extremely exciting." Alan Halewood, Mountaineering Instructor.
September 2016 (Field Trip!)
Advanced Higher Biology students from Lochaber High School visited the North Face with their teacher, Lewis & Ali Auston from John Muir Trust. The idea was to give local students an insight into the amazing flora, fauna and biodiversity of the mountain; the reason this mammoth project was undertaken. All the students enjoyed being out in the field retracing the steps of botanists, geologists and mountaineers. We hope to see them again soon!
August 2016 (Ropes & Kit)
The project required A LOT of climbing gear and even more rope. We realised however much of the kit could easily be re-used now the survey is complete as almost all the rope was brand-new, bought as a contingency, and the gear was in favourable condition. Lewis decided the best place for it was Ben Nevis, specifically with Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team. We're delighted the legacy of the North Face Survey will be staying alive & keeping others safe for years to come.