From the Cairn Ban Archives... 

The Long Way Up - Tower Ridge

Alex Haken, 16 March 2008

On Sunday 16th March Alex, Billy, Alan, Steve and Steve's friend Chris set off 'Alpine Start' from Fort William on what proved to be an epic ascent of Tower Ridge - Ben Nevis. The weather forecast was good, light winds, clearing skies and cold. The snowline was well below the base of the Ben and by the time we reached the CIC hut it was snowing lightly. Tower Ridge was swirling around in the mist & clouds. We kitted up and roped up as 2 teams, a three and a pair and set off up Douglas Gap East Gully. The first section of technical climbing out of the East Gully onto the start of the ridge was an eye opener to those who had not done the ridge before. Climbing iced up rock in crampons, with protection that kept falling out when you climbed past it was a new experience to most. Onto the ridge and a short scrambling section lead us to another icy pitch which we took on the right hand side. Bomber runners round rock spikes up to the 'Little Tower'. We pitch climbed the front face of the Little Tower until we could not climb any further than made a scary traverse by the west face on a ledge of soft snow protected only by a half driven ice screw.

The next section of easier ground took us up to the 'Great Tower' and the 'Eastern Traverse'. The Eastern Traverse was easier than I remember (as long as you don't look down) but protection of an old rusty in-situ piton, sling round a rock and a half screwed ice screw (ice was too thin) that fell out as I went past it was not brilliant. I was glad to get round to the chockstone (buried under about 3 metres of snow) and a good belay. The next section proved the hardest on the route and almost our undoing. An vertical/overhanging rock climb of about 5 or 6 metres on icy ledges and poor protection (that again fell out as soon as we passed it) took some time (and a bit of pulling) to get the whole team over. To get everyone up safely, Steve and I effectively soloed it.

By this time it was almost 6pm, the cloud had surrounded us and it was getting darker. No one was openly worried but the look on everyone's faces said it all. We needed to get over 'Tower Gap' asap. If we could not do this we were facing benightment on the ridge. By this time we were also holding up another pair of climbers behind us. Luckily, Tower Gap is well protected with in-situ slings round a big boulder and we got both our teams across with no major issues.

The last 2 ropes lengths were run out on great, hard snow and as we stepped onto the summit it was as if someone had turned the lights out. It was almost 7pm at this point. We got ourselves together, took a bearing and headed out into the mist & cloud on a long rope (just in case anyone fell through a cornice at the top of one of the gullies). There must have been a lot of traffic on the Ben that day because we soon came across a well trodden path at the zig-zags. The cloud cleared and we descended back to the carpark (in 3 hours) with breathtaking views of snow-covered Ben Nevis by moonlight. We managed to catch last orders in the Fort William chippy and get home about 1am Monday morning. It was a struggle to get up for work the next morning but definitely worth it. It took 10 hours on Tower Ridge plus 2 hours walk in and 3 hours walk out. Including driving it was a 22 hour day by the end. But I would do it all again tomorrow... if I wasn't so sore !!

Alex