Tower Ridge
Ben Nevis - 1345m

Thursday 28th July 2016

Weather/Conditions: Previouss rain had left the rocks wet, even sometimes on the ridge crest. A dry day however, with little wind, mist on the upper mountain, and some blue sky here and there. Not bad.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 14.4km / 1300m / 7h 35m
Accompanying: Dave

With Dave imminently due to go home to Wales, we headed to Nevis for an attempt on Centurion. The weather was far from perfect, but with Dave's time in Scotland nearly out we thought it worth the punt.

With an early start, we were on our way north, stopping for Morrison's breakfast before pulling into the North Face car park and packing rucksacks full of climbing gear and double ropes.

However on the way into the CIC, it slowly dawned on me that not all was going to go our way, for among the clearing mist I could see the Carn Dearg slabs shining with rain water. At first I wondered it I was seeing things, but in time it became clear that no, today's gamble may not pay off - the whole thing was drenched. Centurion gets climbed in the wet, and that's all very well. But this wasn't just some seepage down a corner; the whole thing bottom to top was soaking. I knew immediately that it wasn't going to happen, and for a moment felt sheepish at getting Dave all the way here only to say "no go". He was good about it, but it left us with the question of what to do.

In periods post-rain, it's the ridges that dry out first and the obvious target in that regard was Tower Ridge. I'd never been up it, and this was Dave's first time on Nevis. We stashed gear outside the CIC and headed up to the Douglas Gap. At a mere Diff, Dave wasn't sold on the idea of taking a rope, but I was adamant what with the rain that had just fallen. So we took one bag...

We headed up the East Gully to the Gap - scree and dampness - to find a polished, scratched chimney which lead to the crest proper of the ridge.

The following section became relatively indistinct, with acres of steepenings interspersed by easier terrain. I was surprised at how disorientated I became on Tower Ridge, innumerable little humps and variations making the best way not obvious. But I knew enough to know the Great Tower would be totally obvious. There are two steepenings on the Ridge - the lower is the Little Tower, but there's a second steepening up underneath the Great Tower. This gave some exposed moves above Echo Wall - I was so aware of a huge drop here! That's a big cliff, after all. At one point we went the wrong way, and used the rope for perhaps 10 metres - wet, vegetated and loose: it helps not to go off route.

Despite the Great Tower being the crux of the day, it was really the easiest bit. I know this area so well that it was like I'd been before. But of course I hadn't: some places are just, justifiably, so famous. The route traverses off left (Eastern Traverse) to come across a cleft, like a small cave. Being sheltered, this was soaking inside, and smooth-soled trainers were skidding all over the place. A short scramble brought us up to the Great Tower, then over to the Gap itself. It was funny we'd used the rope briefly earlier on the ridge, yet the Gap was an easy solo. With a short climb out the other side we emerged onto the plateau, and a complete change of scenery.

At times Tower Ridge had actually felt strangely committing, but this can happen when on new objectives. It had all passed without hitch and our crux was in route finding rather than anything technical: the only place we made an error up was in selecting the wrong way on the steeping above Echo Wall. Tower Ridge had also been a little nervy at a couple of points: more than once we were tiptoeing rain-drenched slabs.

There was a light sun out on the Nevis plateau. We walked over to the top of Gardyloo Gully where folk were coming up the Pony Track in their dozens. It's such a change of scenery, and I know Dave thought it diminished the whole thing somewhat. My feeling was it's the highest hill in the country, would you expect any different? I might be used to it myself, and if I'd just climbed something like Tower Ridge having never been here before, I might not wholly expect to be confronted by legions of tourists.

As for getting down, we followed the path for a short distance then cut off following the cliff rim toward #4 gully. The alternative route back to the CIC hut was a longer walk via. the Red Burn. I wondered it we could take a chance on #4. It was probably a mistake: that is a pretty rough place in summer! A steep, wet and shattered upper gully turned to boulderfields lower down. I'm quite happy with boulderfields, but I'm not sure what Dave thought. Once down in Coire na Ciste we enjoyed some time by the lochan before going down to the CIC, picking up gear, then walking out in brightening skies to the car.

So no Centurion this time, but it was worth a punt. Shortly after, Dave was back on a flight home to Cardiff. You take your chances, sometimes you win, sometimes not.

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 8.50am North Face car park
(1.35) 10.25am CIC Hut
(2.20) 11.10am Start of Tower Ridge
(4.05) 12.55pm Top of Tower Ridge
(4.15) 1.05pm Ben Nevis
(7.35) 4.25pm North Face car park

Written: 2017-03-09