Sunday, 27 May 2012

Tower Ridge

Owen and James' alpine training saga continues. Today I finally got around to climbing Tower Ridge, a route that has been sat on the wishlist for quite a while now. What a day to do it!

After a leisurely start from the North Face car park we sweated up the brutal gradient to emerge in wall to wall sunshine

The ridge looms above
The ridges comes into view
We considered doing the douglas boulder direct route to start but decided against it as we weren't sure of the time it would add on. So, we went around to the normal approach and scrambled up the gully to start the 20m chimney pitch.

James on the 20m chimney after Douglas Gap
James on the 20m chimney
We wanted to approach the route in an alpine manner, i.e. moving together. I pushed the idea that we put the rope away on sections where we were happy soloing, however we found this led to more time being wasted where we need to get it out again. The result was that we kept the rope on the whole time and went from pitching to moving together quite smoothly from there on.

'Line of least resistance' was the next lesson in alpine style movement. We opted for the uber direct line on the little tower which involved me taking a few moves that James described as VDiff 5a. This slowed us down a little bit, which although not a problem the Alps this could prove a problem.

James not loving the VDiff 5a!
"Was that really necessary??"
The conditions couldn't have been better for this route, with perfectly dry rock and just the right temperature when not moving too fast. We'd already learnt our lesson (ref: Snowholes and Sunburn) of not using sun cream when the sun's out and I was trialing the purchase of a new hat. Oh, and some boots (Scarpa Charmoz) which were both excellent - the left and the right foot ;)

Perfect alpine route

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The best part of the route is really reserved for the top sections. Mindful of the 'fake eastern traverse' we kept going until the slightly overhanging face of the great tower blocked our way and the traverse became obvious. It's easy to see how that becomes scary when banked out in winter, providing essentially a slide down into Observatory Gully! In summer however, it was relatively straightforward and let around to the fallen block chimney. This was my favourite bit of the day. Remnants of winter still lined the chimney which probably made it easier than it would normally be, then a lovely exposed climb out to the crest again, atop the great tower.......then the Gap!

Me on the eastern traverse
Me on the eastern traverse
Looking back down the fallen block chimney with remaining snow
Looking back down the fallen block chimney
I had been anticipating Tower Gap ever since I had first read the route description and seen pictures so long ago, and admittedly from everything i'd heard/seen it looked terrifying. With the caveat that, shrouded in mist and covered in snow it would probably make a grown man cry, today in these conditions I didn't find it too bad. Sure enough, the down climb is quite a long step down but the exposure didn't have me with my heart in my throat. I can only hope this is a good sign for the exposed Chamonix ridges to come in June!

Looking down Glovers Chimney from tower gap
Looking down Glover's Chimney from the gap
Nailed it!
James making the big step down
(on this part you disappear out of sight into the gap
before re-emerging up the other side)
All that was left was the final section up to the plateau which looked worse from afar than it actually was. Some remaining icy steps required caution, but we managed to move quickly with two runners between us. We went to the summit for the obligatory trig point shot, and ended up doing a litter sweep. I was outraged to see the amount of rubbish that people have discarded around the shelter, including vodka bottles! We used our lunch bags to gather up what we could but I dare say it won't have made a dent in the amount that's up there.

Double thumbs up
Double thumbs up!
Eastern traverse, great tower and tower gap in profile
Eastern Traverse, Great Tower and Tower Gap in profile
The rest of the ridge in profile
A mighty ridge
Ben Nevis North Face
Ben Nevis North Face after the tedious descent
Two bags of rubbish from the summit
An utter disgrace partly rectified
Apologies for the amount of pictures, but it seems right to do justice to such a brilliant day out. Lessons learnt and lots of fun had. If you having any viewing energy left, click the photos above to view the gallery for a more detailed view.

We thought we were the only people on the ridge today but it looks like Alan Halewood beat us to it: Blistering on Ben and after thoughts

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