Monday, 16 August 2010


Forecast was looking good for the weekend and I had a sudden impulse to go and do Tower Ridge with RB. I'd wanted to do Tower Ridge for years but never had the oppurtunity as all my climbing partners had done it before or wern't interested or able. We drove up to Lochaber and camped at Roybridge on Saturday eve, meeting D at the N.Face carpark at 8am on Sunday morning. D had always wanted to do Tower Ridge too but was never sure he'd be able to solo Tower Gap so never had the oppurtunity to go up, not being a lover of ropes.
I thought we'd probably manage to solo all of it, just roping up for Tower Gap, but I took some bits of gear just incase RB or D (or me!) decided it looked too iffy to solo in places.
The walk in didn't seem to take long at all and even RB didn't seem to mind it once we were out of the forest and onto flatter ground and she could gaze at the cliffs, never having seen them before. Within a couple of hours we were passing the CIC hut and bypassing round the Douglas Boulder.
Seemed like there were already 2 parties on the Douglas Boulder and there were 2 teams above us heading up to do Tower Ridge. We had some difficulty finding the start of the ridge as the guide says to look for a grassy bay. I saw a grassy bay with what looked like a path heading up from it and a chimney at the top near to Douglas Gap and I was sure we should be going that way. But the 2 teams ahead of us were both heading further up Observatory Gully. So we ignored that first grassy bay and headed up the gully too. I was convinced that we were going far too high up the gully as I could see another large gap in the ridge (top of the Great Chimney) and we seemed far past the Douglas Boulder. The first party had gone far too high up and were coming back down and the 2nd party headed onto the ridge from a 2nd grassy bay. There seemed to be a well worn path here so we reckoned we'd just go up that way too. Looking at the topo now that I'm home, I reckon the first grassy bay was the correct way to go as we missed out the 20m polished chimney which climbs out of the Douglas Gap and came onto the crest just past the Gap.
No problem, we were on the ridge and the going was very easy at first, scrambling over blocks and boulders. The ridge then came to a short steepening and we were catching up with the 2 parties ahead which made me nervous that it must be hard as they were moving slowly.
Getting closer though and it didn't look too bad. I asked RB is she was happy to solo and she'd be committed once she started, which she was happy with. This bit was graded moderate and went easily enough and wasn't very long. Then followed some more easy and blocky scrambling followed by the ridge narrowing which RB really enjoyed. We then came to another steepening, the Little Tower. Both parties ahead were roping up for this but RB was happy to solo and D was happy to solo if we were. Again, seeing the folk ahead roping up made me think it might be tricky but the start was a doddle. We had to wait for a while for both parties to move upwards. I didn't want to be climbing directly under folk seen as we were soloing and we were making good time so didn't have a problem with waiting. After the first section there was a bit where we moved left and there was a steep step to overcome. This section was pretty hard for Diff and was quite off balance. But the holds were good and we were shortly all up and past it. We again caught up with the 2nd roped party, who seemed to be going the wrong way. No problem, it gave us space to overtake them.
I really enjoyed this next section. We moved right, back onto the crest of the ridge and took it direct. The climbing was lovely and easy with a nice bit of exposure thrown in. It was over all too quickly though and then we arrived at a more blocky section again. We stopped for a wee breather here and let one of the parties, who'd been finishing the Douglas Boulder as we arrived on the ridge, past us as they were moving faster. A section of easy scrambling led to the Eastern Traverse. The guys ahead were nosying at a more difficult variation up a wall above the traverse, deciding against it as they couldn't be bothered roping up again. One of the guys was stood in the middle of the traverse and I was nervous about squeezing past, so he shifted over a bit. But there was nothing to worry about as the traverse is a big wide path in summer that you could happily have a picnic on.
The through route was great fun, real classic climbing! I thought you might have to back and foot it, but there were big massive holds in the chimney, on the left wall, both for hands and feet. But it was reassuring to squeeze in far enough so that the right wall gave a little support. I think the next section was really the technical crux of the route. It was damn steep for Diff climbing, but again with massive holds. The rock really bulged outwards here and there was one section were you had to squeeze into a groove so as not to be thrown outwards. There was one wee hidden thread type hold that I could hook my hand through and yard up on. This was followed by another steep groove and then we were up onto a nice and flat level section, with the ridge narrowing considerably up to the Tower Gap beyond.
The first roped up party were having some lunch here and the soloing party were approaching the Gap very cautiously and spent considerable time deciding how to pass it.
We decided to stop for some lunch too, which in retropsect maybe wasn't the best idea as it gave me more time to get nervous about the gap until I was making myself feel sick about it. A guided party arrived and we let them past to give us time to contemplate and for D to go over and have a nosey to see if he was happy soloing it or not, which he was. I decided that RB and I should rope across though as I wasn't sure what to expect. We let the first roped party go ahead first as I thought I might be quite slow and didn't want to hold anyone up.
I had a bit of a faff with the rope, I've hardly done any climbing this summer and it's amazing how your rope skills need a good thinking about when you've not used it for ages! I ended up going first as I wasn't sure RB would know how to protect me coming across as a second. I felt bad as it's easier for the person going first on the rope, but alteast I'd be able to give her some protection. I flung the rope around a big block and got her to sit on one side and I went down the other side. I also clipped a quickdraw into a heap of slings around a lower block that you use to downclimb on so I could protect RB on her way down.
The step down was really awkward to figure and felt weird. Most people hold onto the big block that the slings are round and step down onto a smaller ledge below before stepping down onto a bigger block further down. Well I couldn't reach the smaller ledge below by holding onto the big block, so I had to grasp the big block with one hand, clasp my hand round the back of a lower block beneath the big block, then drop my foot into space and flap it about to find the lower ledge which you were unable to see as you were facing in. Finally found it and felt more balanced and then had to get my hand round the side of the massive block where there is a small edge that you can use as a side pull to hold yourself in balance while you step across the lower block.
It's awkward to figure if you're small but once you've sussed it the move is actually really easy. Then once on the lower block it's just a matter of stepping across the gap and climbing out the other side which is a doddle. I messed things up here though. I should have climbed right down and protected RB from down the bottom, but I decided to protect her from the other side. This resulted in awful rope drag and I had to get RB to fling the rope off the big block, but I was happy enough now being unprotected. A sling that I'd flung round the lower block to protect her had also lifted off because I'd gone upwards. Now there was no drag I was able to finish going upwards and fling a sling round a block to belay her from. It wasn't ideal, but it would protected that first awkward step down which is the hardest bit really.
She managed it fine though, doing it almost the same way as me and also found the rest a doddle. Once across, we shoved the rope back into the bag and carried on up past the easy scrambling and onto the top of the ridge.
That was it, Tower Ridge done. What a buzz! I felt so happy and was grinning from ear to ear. 'Finally done it!' I exclaimed and gave everyone a big hug, woohoo!
RB thought it was superb and really enjoyed herself.
'That was so much more fun that hillwalking,' she said happily.  I was really impressed that she'd managed to solo it all, and the gap was more intimidating by it's reputation, rather than being hard.  She showed no fear whatsover in soloing the route and even went ahead on up the ridge by herself, doing the routefinding at times (which did make Mum a bit nervous!)
We decided to head on past the summit and find a quiet spot to have something to eat and enjoy the sunshine and views, the top being totally clear of cloud.  I wished I'd ditched my gear into the sack straight away though as I felt a bit of a pleb passing the summit with my harness still on!  We had a bite to eat near the top of NE Buttress and then began the slog down to the Carn Mor Dearg Arete.  The walk down to the arete is horrible in summer!  I'm so used to it being a steep snow slope in winter but in summer it's a steep boulder field, yuck!  RB didn't enjoy it either and we all contemplated heading down the Coire Leis headwall rather than going the arete as RB was pretty knackered.  It looked steep and bouldery that way too so we decided it was probably just as quick heading round.
RB picked up again once we were on the arete and seemed to be enjoying it, though it did seem a bit of an anti-climax after Tower Ridge.  Imagine that I used to worry that she'd find going to the summit of the Ben via the CMD too tiring, and now here she was scampering around it after doing the Ben via Tower Ridge.  She scampered ahead of D and me, zooming off to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg itself, leaving D and I behind in a smoke of dust.  We stopped again for a while and then began the slog down.  There is a path down but where it crosses a stream I didn't notice it, and carried on down a different path which was pretty steep and minging.  RB coped really well though, and even though her knees and legs were aching, she kept up a fast a pace as I was doing once back down and then even ran down through most of the woods back to the carpark.
We're all having a rest day from climbing today though, as legs are achy!  What a route though and a thoroughly enjoyable day by all, superb!

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