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Tower Ridge in Winter - Ben Nevis

Date: 27th January 2005
Submitted by: Columba McLaughlin
The Short version for those in a hurry or with little attention span – Up Tower Ridge, Down Number 4 Gully, A wee dram in Glasgow – a great day. The Long version: To quote Bill Murray ‘how often do the red letter days of our mountaineering come with complete surprise? Well that is what happened to me in late January 2005. I was in Glasgow on business and had made arrangements to go climbing in the Arrochar Alps with a Scottish friend Gerry Young on Thursday 27th Jan 2005. Scotland had been plastered with snow for the previous week and the snow pack was well consolidated. However, whilst a thaw was beginning, conditions still seemed to be good. Unfortunately, at very short notice Gerry was placed on emergency on-call in his local hospital in Glasgow. I did not want to go home without climbing something so, I phoned Alan Kimber for his thoughts. He confirmed that conditions on the Ben were not excellent but were very good. Without any further discussion I was on the A82 and by 8.30pm I was having a nice Cabernet Sauvignon with my dinner in Fortwilliam. This was nicely followed with a few cold beer. In the morning and by 10.30am we were on the crest of Tower Ridge and just above the Douglas Gap. The snow was crisp but vertical rocks on the climb up the Little Tower were plastered with a thin film of icy verglas. However, there was thick verglas just where you needed it most. The ice was brittle and required delicate handling with the axe. However, the odd lump of frozen Scottish turf improved the feeling of being safe and made the hairy climb much more enjoyable. Before long we were on top of the Little Tower and heading towards the Great Tower. The climb up to the base of the Great Tower was easier than expected and snow conditions were improving. The Eastern traverse under the great tower was banked at a steep angle with good nevé. It was not a place for a slip. The climb up to the summit of the Great Tower was a little hairy due to poor snow conditions on the rocks. I found the descent into Tower Gap, much easier than expected and very well protected. Whilst there, we watched the lovely Theo climb up Glover’s Chimney. The exit out of Tower Gap should be easy enough on a dry summer’s day but the direct exit was awkward in the thin verglas and required an undignified move at one point. I was not annoyed as I seen two other climbers do the same thing at the same point. By 2.30pm we were on the summit. As the cornices were all very small, we looked down Number 2 gully and reminisced over my rude interruption of Nicky’s freestyle descent towards the CIC hut in March 2004. We then had a look down Comb Gully. Fair dues to Bill and Alan for climbing it in March 2004. Then we made our way towards Number 4 gully and descended there. By 8.30pm I had my dinner and was sitting in front of an open fire in Glasgow having a (large) dram of Glenmorangie. Probably, one of the most eventful 24 hours I have had for a long time. What a day.

Photo of Route