Saturday, 26 June 2010

A dawn solo climb of Tower Ridge

Tower Ridge - the line leading directly up the middle

Alex and I have had a long run of good luck for the last couple of months with regards to our climbing. The weather has been consistently perfect for our days off, and in the last few weeks we've had so many great days. A mid-May solo ascent of Number 2 Gully on Ben Nevis was the grand finale to our unforgettable winter, but the spring has not failed to disappoint.

Based on this "on a role" feeling, I decided it was time to go and have one of those days your remember for years.

Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis is one of the most well known and finest climbs in Scotland. It's fair to say that as soon as I'd even started to take the slightest interest in scrambling and climbing, I'd heard of Tower Ridge, and I wanted to do it. Even though I've lived in Glencoe for the last 15 months and have been out in the mountains every single week, I'd never got around to climbing it until last week.

Despite, and probably because, of Alex's strict advice not to solo climb it, I decided to do just that. I finished work at half past midnight, slept for 2 hours, and was at the North face car park by 3am. As I made the long familiar walk into Allt a'Mhuillin, it was one of those stunning clear mid-summer Scottish mornings when you can just feel it's going to be a memorable day.

A blue dawn looking North East from Tower Ridge

By 5am I was at the foot of the Douglas Boulder. A damp, eroded scree gully leads up to the Douglas Gap, the point from which the climbing starts.The first gully out of the Douglas Gap is actually one of the more tricky parts of the ridge, and it's obvious that many teams will pitch it.

Once out of this gully I stormed up the ridge. I was absolutely buzzing with confidence, and for no particular reason wanted to go as fast as I possibly could. A lot of the ridge is Grade 3(S) or Moderate, but in the most magnificent of locations. The mighty North East Buttress towers above you to the East, and below Coire na Ciste and the Carn Dearg buttress look dwarfed compared to their usual splendour. The deep snow patches of Tower Gully stretched beneath my feet, their extent quite surprising for mid June. There are several points on Tower Ridge which are quite exiting if soloing like I was. The climb up the Little Tower is one, and another is the "cave pitch", where a giant chockstone has created a fantastic tunnel (still with snow in the bottom).

The "cave pitch" high on Tower Ridge, still with the smallest amount of snow.

Surprisingly quickly, I was stood at Tower Gap. One of the most iconic of all climbing locations in Scotland, and a place I have heard fearsome stories about. The narrowest of ridges leads to a deep notch in the mountain, the location of many epics and benightments. The drop down is very very exposed if soloing, as once you are making the move you can't really see the foothold, which is downwards sloping. To each side, gaping drops open their jaws.

A self portrait on Tower Ridge at 6am

A quick self-portrait taken with the timer on my camera was in order. Soon over Tower Gap, and alone on the summit of Ben Nevis by 7am. Such a treat, with no one else up there, my stomping ground stretching away in all directions below me. A quick jog over the Carn Mor Dearg arete, and I was down before I usually have breakfast. Great day.

The view from Ben Nevis to Sgurr a'Mhaim with Bidean nam Bian behind


  1. Superb.

    Great writing too ;-)

  2. I still think your nuts! But I'm ever so slightly jealous!