Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Tower Ridge on my 23rd birthday
Tower Ridge is a route I have wanted to do for years--in fact, it is probably the first big mountaineering route I can remember aspiring to do. It has length, character, reputation, and a superlative line. Several times over the past two winters I have come close to attempting it but have always been put off by conditions or logistics. Like the Matterhorn, it is a piece of rock that inspires me, a dream of mountaineering in its own right, more a symbol than a climb. Yes it is now a trade route, but that does not belittle this fine ridge.
Early this morning, at 1:30am, Isi and I left the North Face car park and began a leisurely walk through the forest towards the CIC hut. Our plan was to be the first on the route, see the sunrise from high on the ridge, and have the summit to ourselves. However we also resolved to take our time, as Isi had just finished a shift behind the bar! At just before 4am we stood beneath the scramble leading up to the Douglas Boulder, and thus the climb began.
My overall impression is one of sustained scrambling interspersed by the odd pitch of Moderate and Difficult climbing. The chimney pitch out of the Douglas Gap was the first entertaining bit of rock climbing, dead easy but exhilarating. I was climbing in my winter boots and we decided to solo everything we could, although I carried a 100ft rope coiled around my shoulders and also my trusty Aschenbrenner ice axe, a relic from the 1930s and the best axe for cutting steps I have ever owned. The chimney pitch passed without incident and soon we began the sustained scrambling to reach the top of the Little Tower.
We ended up soloing almost everything, as the climbing was easy. Only in the chockstone tunnel pitch did I need to employ my ice axe, cutting steps up the hard ice banked up in the tunnel. Upon reaching Tower Gap we decided to take a direct belay to protect the initial exposed step into the Gap: an easy move, but with a high penalty for a slip or loss of confidence.
By around 7am we were on the summit of Britain, alone with the silence and the majestic views looking down on all the other mountains of the British Isles. We descended with the same leisurely pace, reaching the Ben Nevis Inn just after 10am and realising that it was far too early to expect them to serve us a post-hill pint!
Another highly memorable day in the mountains, a satisfying conclusion to years of dreaming about Tower Ridge, and the best birthday I can remember in many a year.
Photos from today.