On Sunday, I eventually managed to climb Tower Ridge, the classic climbing route on Ben Nevis, after several attempts in the past years that were foiled by either poor weather or a lost bag. It is a magnificent climb (graded Scottish IV,3), very alpine and constantly exposed (since it is indeed a ridge the whole way). Mountain guide Kenny Grant (from Abacus Mountaineering) was leading me and, by using minimal protection, he got us to the top in a fairly good time, since the climb per se took under five hours and the whole trip from the car park about seven and a half hours. We were the first team on the ridge and although a solo climber (Jim, who took the picture below) caught up with us at the Great Tower, he waited behind us till the top.
It was an exhilarating winter climb, with a lot of narrow passages and a wee frightening at times (like when we crossed the Eastern Traverse, as I abhor traverses and their potential for long falls!). The whole ridge was heavily covered in snow, which made Kenny’s leading the harder as he had to make the trace. And cleans the holds on the rock climbing portions. Actually, there was not much rock climbing as much as scrambling, which was good enough for me! The hardest bit, just after the Eastern Traverse, on the Great Tower, had me stuck for a few minutes, as it was an overhang with poor hand holds that I found too hard to negotiate with crampons, even with the ice-pick. (Placing a friend in an crack to haul myself up did not work. I eventually managed to crawl along a clean ridge back to the top of the overhand…) The crux of the climb was the passage of the dreaded gap, which is the last difficulty in the climb. Going down the gap was easy, especially with the help of a fixed rope (the top picture was taken by Phillip Thomson at this very moment!). The harder part was crossing the gap with a leg on each side and trusting the ice-pick hold. Fortunately, it did hold and I reached Kenny’s belay on the picture above. We were very lucky with the weather: it was neither windy nor rainy and the high clouds eventually lifted up to expose the whole region when we reached the Ben Nevis plateau, providing an incredible 360⁰ perspective of this uniquely beautiful landscape.
Needless to say, this is one of the top climbs I ever did, very rewarding both for the views and for the aerial feeling it provided most of the way. It was also one of my “top five” dream climbs (Jorasses traverse, Mittelegi Eiger ridge, Innominata or Peuterey ridge of the Mont Blanc, Zmuttgrat route of the Matterhorn), even though the others may remain a dream (and even more Mount Assiniboine in the Canadian Rockies or Cerro Torre in Patagonia)! Many thanks to Kenny for making this possible.