Orion Face Direct

Orion Face Direct

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 56.79806°N / 5.00067°W
Additional Information Route Type: Ice Climbing
Additional Information Difficulty: Scottish V 5 (5-/4+ in really good conditions)
Additional Information Number of Pitches: 8
Sign the Climber's Log


As you walk up the valley towards the North Face, on a good day the view is dominated by the profile of North East Buttress and the Orion Face.

This is the classic line, akin to an alpine face that takes a cunning, weaving route up the biggest face on Ben Nevis. Not the hardest route, but an outstanding classic. It was 1st climbed in 1960 by Smith and Marshall at the high water mark of the step cutting era. Much respect! Can be a little mixed in thin conditions. The whole route is around 300m and often at it's best in late season, spring conditions. By this time the snow cycles and melt/freeze will hopefully have created Super Ben Snow Ice that sicks to the often blank underlying rock.

The photos are mostly from Easter 07. It is undoubtedly one of the best routes I have climbed anywhere.

Some of the pics are poor scans from slides, so resolution could be better.

Apologies for the lack of comprehensive details, but I am living in Peru and my guidebooks are in the UK! Feel free to chip in any updates.
The Ben, as seen from the North Face approach.

Getting There.

Drive to Fort Bill and North Face Car park. Walk in on the new path and get climbing. Pick a quiet day or start very early to avoid the crowds in peak season.

Camping is a gamble. I have experienced many visits in excellent conditions though. Like the Alps, but better! The CIC Hut is an option for those who can.
Returning along the excellent North Face approach path.
Fort Bill re-fuel.  Mike, Mark, Chris & Nik get stuck into haggis and chips.

Route Description

Takes a line of runnels and open face sections and snow/ice fields, with bulgy/ mixed crux. There are small traverse sections. Route finding can be interesting in full conditions. Can get thin on the lower part in the late season.
P1. Ice/ groove on the toe of the buttress just lower and left of the foot of Zero Gully. Belay on ledge.
P2. Traverse slightly left and ascend shallow groove for nearly a rope length. Piton belay below rock overhang.
P3 + 4. A direct ascent can be made on steepening ice to the Basin. An alternative that may be more reliable, is to take a slight left traverse and ascend ramp lines to a rock outcrop that can involve a tricky traverse back up and right to the bottom of the basin. Ascend the easy snow of the basin, up and right, ascending some easy bulgy ice at the top. Traverse right with slight downclimb, to nut belay at second slab rib.
P5. Traverse out right then up on sloping shelves with immense exposure to ascend short steep ice wall. Sensational. Can be thin with poor protection. Continue on easier ice above to belay below next runnel.
P6. Straight up on bulgy ice at a sustained angle of around 75 degress. an excellent pitch.
P7 Straight up on sustained 60-65 degree ice.
P8 + 9 Continue up and slightly left in open groove, left of prominent buttress. This area (The "Exit Chimney's) can funnel loose ice in warm conditions. Follow line of least resistance easily to the top of North East Buttress.

Careful compass work may be needed for the descent in bad weather (which is likely), either via the summit or the CMD arete and abseil posts.

SMC Guidebooks for full details.
Orion Face as seen from below.

Essential Gear

Compact rock, coated in snow and ice, means finding a belay on The Ben can take as long as the pitch you climbed. The rack you carry may have to reflect the various opportunities (or lack of them) available. You may climb 20 metres without putting anything in, but you will want to make dam sure that when you get a chance, you'll have something that will fit!!!

60m ropes are handy but not essential. Dry treated ropes are recommended. 6 to 8 ice screws. A set of wires, small to medium friends, and a couple of small to medium hex. A selection of pitons. An ice hook is good in thin conditions for rock, or the occaisional bit of turf. I found some for a bomber placement on pitch 3 before a sketchy mixed traverse. "Ripper" slings are worthwhile.

A camera.

Some nice snacks and drink. You could be on it for a while!
A Ben Nevis belay.

External Links



These are local guides with good conditions links.


UK Climbing is an excellent site for information. You may have to be a member to view the logbook. Not sure.


Needle sports is a great shop, but not the only place to pick up one of the excellent SMC guidebooks for Ben Nevis, or any of the other awesome places to climb in Scotland.

Read "Cold Climbs" Published by Baton Wicks. Inspirational. Needle sports link below. The Front Cover of the Update supplement shows a climber on Orion Direct.


Additions and CorrectionsPost an Addition or Correction

Viewing: 1-1 of 1

Ken A - Nov 13, 2015 7:53 am - Hasn't voted

Updated info

Hi, Under 'External Links' could you please update the URL for West Coast Mountain Guides to: http://www.westcoast-mountainguides.co.uk/category/news/ Much appreciated! Ken Applegate

Viewing: 1-1 of 1



Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.

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