Monday, 4 February 2013

Tower Ridge - Winter

John text me a while ago suggesting he'd make the Catterick - Dalwhinnie journey sometime soon and we could get some winter climbing in. If it was anything like last time (see: Cummingston) there would be lots of alcohol, little actual climbing and sightings of sea badgers!

Despite a comms malfunction, John managed to locate the cabin in the woods that is Station Cottages in Dalwhinnie a.k.a. Timbuktu, around 11pm. There was a brief catch up over the important events of the previous evening in London with the Men of the West, which involved some mlarring messes and a new form of club-based communication called the 'liquorice allsort nod'.

The objective for the next day was then set: Tower Ridge, a route with a history of underestimations and benightments. Let's do it!

So, less than a year since I did the summer ascent with James, we make the early start that is required for a day on the Ben, never mind it's biggest winter. Despite a late night and very little exercise (for me anyway!) we made good time to the CIC hut and are soon standing under the huge bulk of the Douglas Boulder.

The usual slope leading to the initial chimney pitch looked loaded so we decided to avoid it and join the ridge further up. In our haste we also tried to overtake a roped party by picking an even more 'alternative' route onto the ridge by a horrendously exposed snow traverse. Quite possibly the scariest part of the route!!

Once on the ridge we roped up and took coils to start moving together over the initial easy sections, although easy is not necessarily the right word. The ridge immediately provides good climbing, plenty of exposure and amazing views. With the conditions the way they were, sandwich between awful winter storms, it wasn't surprising to see numerous teams on the ridge. This slowed things down a bit as a fair amount of time was spend queuing. Still, we couldn't complain.

The rock mass in the picture above is the little tower, the first real obstacle of the route. We managed to race up this and move over the next level section with lots of photo stops along the way. I had real trouble selecting the best photos from a batch of many, although I slightly wish I had taken the SLR along for such an epic route.

Next on the cards was the infamous Eastern Traverse. Looming above you is an impenetrable wall which would make anyone thing they've let themselves in more than they wanted, the Great Tower is a milestone of the route. Winding it's way around the east (huh, really) side is the traverse and to be honest makes you consider finding a way up the wall! Fortunately with plenty of beta under the belt I dispatched the traverse and managed to protect John's journey around it just as well.

The climbing after here is exceptional and the outlook over Observatory Gully is outstanding, definitely my favourite part of the route! We could see a trio finishing up Tower Scoop and Gardyloo Gully which had some point eaten the stoner we saw earlier on. Over the other side, Robbie was on the Tower Face of the Comb which looks a little stiff.

We got up on top of the Great Tower and joined the queue for Tower Gap. At this point it was getting Harry Gleanpigs (cold) so the duvets went on and we chatted to some guys who were partaking in the SMC Winter Meet, which explained why there were so many people in the coire.

Tower Gap has to be witnessed to really understand its complexity. It has exposure, sure, but the down climb forces you to look straight down into the abyss as you manoeuvre your feet to get down into the gap. Then there is the climb back out!! Lots of noises were made.

The Gap in profile
Words and photos just don't quite capture the scale and grandeur of this route, it really is one that has to be experienced. Our trip was 11.5 hrs car to car, with only 7.5hrs on the route. We worked out nearly 2hrs of which was queuing, so we managed the route in less time than my summer ascent. Not bad really!

I can only advise to anyone thinking of doing the route to try and get it in good (snow) condition and with good weather, if not just for the views.

Cheers John for making the journey up, first on the list of many!

Click any of the photos above to view the gallery in a new window

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