Thursday, 23 June 2011

Mist and silence on Tower Ridge (posted by James)

Insomnia has returned in full force again, as it now always seems to during the summers. I'm finding that the best way to keep myself sane is to get out and do stuff during sleepless nights rather than simply lie awake in bed.

So last night I thought it would be interesting to go and climb Ben Nevis' most famous route in completely opposite conditions to the last time I climbed it. Tower Ridge was bathed in bright, warm morning sunshine when I climbed it this time last year. Last night however it was misty, damp and cold.

An eerie silent Tower Gap

It was an oddly rewarding experience. Although some of the harder moves were made far more difficult than usual due to being wet, it was a very useful and informative thing to do - to get an idea of the ridge in unfriendly conditions. Despite the large amount of "traffic" Tower Ridge sees throughout the year, there is still a lot of lichen, algae and areas of vegetated rock lower down as it is snow-covered for half the year. And these areas require a lot of care in wet conditions.

Upon reaching the Little Tower it struck me just how utterly silent it was. It was quite eerie, seeing glimpses of the snow-pack in Tower Gully making brief appearances through the mist and then disappearing immediately afterwards. Looking at Dave MacLeod's masterpiece "Echo Wall" I was tempted to shout and test it to see if it lived up to it's name, but I didn't want to break the silence.

The cave-pitch after the Eastern Traverse

I've thought about it a bit, and I think that actually Tower Ridge is my least favourite out of the three Nevis ridges that I've climbed (Observatory Ridge being the only one left to do). It's hard to explain why, but it's almost because it is such a perfectly formed route. On the North East Buttress, for a solo climber like myself good route-finding is absolutely critical, as is the ability to overcome a fierce, infamous and intimidating crux after almost 4400ft of ascent. For a soloist, the North-East Buttress feels like a committing undertaking, whereas for me there just isn't the same sense of adventure and mountaineering challenge on Tower Ridge.

Gardyloo Gully

That having been said, Tower Ridge justifiably remains the all-time classic Scottish summer route. I don't know how many times I've stood underneath it and have thought "wow". It is a masterpiece of natural architecture, and one which never fails to deliver.

Sp…a quiet, contemplative and rewarding way to climb Scotland's most famous ridge - with only a snow-bunting calling to a mate on the Orion Face to break the silence.


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