Tower Ridge – sort of.

The alarm went at 4.45am, I was working down in London for half term, decorating a school ready for use during the Olympics. The job wasn’t quite as expected however and two phone calls later work was sacked off for the rest of the week, kit was thrown in the van and Fort William became the objective. Chiz and Simon had been climbing on the Ben since the weekend and I was keen to get in on the action after the recent trip to the Atlas. The journey was slow – rampant roadworks, an hours snooze near Manchester and eventually I clambered into the back of the van alongside Loch Lomond, let my weary eyelids finally snap shut and slept rather soundly. Until the 4am alarm! Argh.

Tuesday was a rest day for the other two, so I got myself settled into Alan Kimber’s bunkhouse for the night and we all headed for a stroll along Glen Nevis. I’ve camped at the site up there but not gone any farther, the road itself is a winding mess of offset cambers and blind bends. Ace on a big trail bike in the first hour of dusk. The weather was taking a definite turn for the worse, the temperature was rising and a thaw was on it’s way.  I’ve climbed plenty of multipitch with Chiz in summer but had never even met Simon before and we had a quick discussion about climbing as a three. Whilst I’m happy to be out in the hills in winter and fairly competent in crampons, I’d never been roped up whilst the snow lay on the ground before, so no leading for me.

Early doors, a walk in to the legendary CIC hut and discussions started as to what we were going to climb. Tower Ridge? That was that. I could feel the adrenalin starting to flow, Tower Ridge was the first winter route to be climbed on the Ben, way back in 1895 and it always means something special to be walking in the footsteps of those early pioneers. I dunno, it just gives me a sense of pride and place in the world to be on a route that some chaps with hemp ropes, nailed boots and probably wool jumpers accompanied by tweed dispatched way back in the day. We didn’t complete the climb in the end but it didn’t really matter. Chiz was feeling really ropey by the time we were at the Little Tower, he’s normally battering away ahead of me and strong as an ox but he really had nothing in him. His room mate at the bunkhouse had been up all night throwing up, so who knows? We’d roped up for the rock above the Douglas Gap and  just soloed till then, I could see lines to be done at some time in the future everywhere – being on Tower Ridge and having odd views when the mist cleared in all directions was just grand.

Down we headed, back the way we came with just the one big abseil. Strange things were seen both on the way up and down – had someone really abseiled off a boulder that was wobbling and moving at the merest shove from Simon’s gloved hand? We recovered a shortish rope that someone had used and had to leave behind. Turns out some Irish climbers had a real epic the night before and had only got down off the ridge that morning. It does have a fearsome reputation for what is really a top end summer scramble, there’s no denying that Tower Ridge has to be respected. I suffered the hot aches…

The summit is never the real objective when mountaineering, it’s getting back down safely and we’d done just that. I had a great time, it had rained, hailed, my gloves (all of them) were soaked but even Chiz’s discomfort couldn’t take the edge off  Tower Ridge for me. I’ll be back.

The next day brought strong winds and high temperatures, so Chiz and I decided a stroll around the Grey Corries might be an adventure and we soon found ourselves with a raging torrent of melt water to cross. I wanted to just make a dash for it, Chiz was all for taking his boots off and I’m glad I followed his lead. Blimey – it was cold and strong, just like a chilled Stella Artois. After being put on our backsides by the winds once we were on the top of some munro, we slid down into a Coire, laughing as we picked up speed! Who needs skis? I even managed a standing glissade for a couple of metres. The thaw was biting hard and there was evidence of avalanche debris everywhere and huge cornices, that looked ready to crumble and bail from their precarious perches.

Sometimes a walk in the hills is every bit as good as a scramble or a climb and now we had left the windy ridges and summits above us, we sauntered out with blue skies above. Neither of us had been up in the Grey Corries before, it would make a grand place to wild vamp if it wasn’t so wet, and the map came out a few times as I played with a cheap GPS I’d bought a few weeks earlier – it’s nice to know that a human can locate himself anyway, just as well as a GPS if he’s well practiced and has kept a mental log of where he’s been. As we made our way down to the woods again, thoughts turned to the river crossing and with Chiz going first, I took the camera out of it’s dry bag… I’m not saying I wanted him to fall in, oh no, but it might have happened and I’d have had the picture!

Climbing was off the agenda with what we’d seen today, so plans were decided over a beer for a drive up to Mallaig, stopping for photies along the way. It’s a sad thing when the only fish and chips we could buy in the town, came from a cafe, were obviously not fresh and the smoked kippers Chiz bought for his good lady came from the Co-op. Is this evidence of the suffering our fishing industry or just the malaise affecting a small port, that’s now at the back end of nowhere since the bridge to Skye was built? We found a great secondhand book room in the Fishermans Retreat/Cafe/Toilet place and  I happily parted with a few pounds. The beaches alongside the road are utterly stunning, as is  the historical Glenfinnan, and Chiz took the opportunity for a swim in the sea. Madman! I legged back to the van and put my down jacket on it was that cold and when I returned to the beach… there he was, swimming away and loving it! Ha. I won’t post the pictures of him in a state of undress, I’d be uncertain of having a safe belay in future!

Then it was over, well, this part of the trip anyway as I was headed to the Arrochar Alps to meet up with some lads for a wild camp. Was it worth sacking off work for? Certainly! I’ll remember some of this for the rest of my life but that job in London would be a mere mote in the memory when I’m a retired and restless relic.

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