This ‘Last Great’ Ice Climb on Ben Nevis is, Literally, a Fear Factory

If you’ve never climbed an ice route that you thought may completely detach from its rock base if you place protection, you’re not alone.

But that’s the rare terrain Greg Boswell, Hamish Frost, and Guy Robertson had to handle to pick off one of Ben Nevis’ last unclimbed ice formations.

The jagged fang of ice hangs off a steep, broken wall on the storied Scottish mountain. It doesn’t always form. And whenever it has in past years, nobody’s been able to answer the call to climb it. In 2013, Scottish climbing legend Dave MacLeod and Andy Nelson punched out the first ascent of the feature just to climber’s right. That line, The Snotter, goes at Scottish winter grade VIII, 8 or exactly one tick below the hardest ice route in the country.

Why ‘Fear Factory?’ Gripped on Ben Nevis

Boswell, Frost, and Robertson climbed their new route on March 6, and called it Fear Factory. The group felt that the Scottish system didn’t exactly apply to the route’s singular characteristics, so they notched it at WI6R. That would put it at entry level for expert climbers, with elevated fall danger.

Whether Fear Factory is harder than its neighbor or not isn’t really the point.

“I gained the massive ice tooth from the icy left wall and proceeded to teeter my way up,” Boswell recalled via Instagram. “With a 20m run-out section into the exposure ridden abyss…I wasn’t keen to place any screws in case the whole thing detached!”

One look at the route makes it easy to see what he’s talking about. The bright white ice looks brittle, and the formation itself somewhat defies belief — like a three-metre icicle hanging from a house gutter.

As so often happens on dangerous climbs, anticipation wracked the team while they waited.

“You ever get that feeling when something very stressful is looming above you and it feels like a massive weight on your shoulders?” Boswell wrote. “On Sunday, that feeling was very apparent as we sat and waited for the huge ice fang to move into the shade before our ascent. The long drawn out anticipation of what will or won’t happen feels like torture sometimes!

Boswell said that ultimately, Fear Factory was worth the angst and anxiety.

“I suppose it all just adds to the euphoria when we eventually get it right and climb that longed-for route,” he said. “But it really sucks at the time!”