Tower Ridge – Ben Nevis

Scramble Completed on 29th September 2013

Tower Ridge, to date, has been the scariest and most awe inspiring scramble I have completed. It’s been just over 2 years now since I completed it, and at the time it was the first scramble I’d done that was above the level of a grade 1. For those that don’t know, Tower Ridge is a grade 3 scramble route, leading up to Ben Nevis – and is one of the UK’s most exciting and well known scrambles. It features around a kilometre of scrambling on good quality clean rock ascending 600 metres, and some heart stopping, anxiety inducing moments of exposure that do enough to justify the grade 3 rating.

I’m afraid that I can’t really go into details on the exact route as it was too long ago now although I have a feeling that we bypassed the initial Douglas Boulder, but from what I remember, the climbing was relatively straight forward and not overly technical for the most part. Around three quarters of the way up, the hardest section of the route begins with the Great Tower. The simplest way to ascend this is by first taking a ledge on the Eastern Traverse, before escaping through a crack/tunnel and emerging at the base of the most exposed and steepest wall of the whole route. Again, it’s not too technically difficult although it’s certainly not a good place to fall!

After a short climb, you end up on horizontal ground again but unfortunately there’s little respite as this is also the scariest part of the Tower Ridge. The ridge narrows to around one metre and so I ended up on my hands and knees! I know a metre is quite wide but believe it or not, I’m actually afraid of heights despite loving scrambling. On this occasion, the exposure made my legs turn to jelly and stomach somersault. Climbing down into the gap at the end of this ridge was the closest I’ve ever come to a full on panic attack, despite having the rope for protection.

Tower Ridge diagram
Diagram of Tower Ridge ©

Looking back, I’m a little ashamed of myself for reacting like that. Technically it wasn’t actually that difficult and it was just a matter of confidence or psychology. I just let the fear of heights get to me. After crossing the gap, the difficulties are over and it’s a simple climb to the summit, where you can’t help feeling very proud of yourself and developing a superiority complex knowing what you’ve just done compared to the vast majority of others on the summit!

Tower Ridge
Early stages of Tower Ridge
Tower Ridge
Getting higher!
Tower Ridge eastern traverse
The not-so-scary-in-reality ledge
Tower Ridge crack
A rare protected part
Tower gap
Tower Gap. The rope was to prevent me having a full on panic attack!
Ben Nevis summit
Feeling a real sense of achievement at the summit
Tower gap
Looking back across at Tower Gap from the summit of Ben Nevis

It’s really hard to get an idea of what this route is like simply from looking at the photographs. Luckily there’s a great POV video on YouTube from scrambler Damon Ritchie (who has a number of other very good POV videos in his playlist), filmed (I assume) with a GoPro camera. To find the parts that match the photos, the Eastern traverse starts at 55 mins, which leads immediately into the large crack and then the climb up the Great Tower. The walk across the metre wide ridge starts at 1:05:30 and continues into the drop into Tower Gap. See it for yourself below!


My Google photo album for this scramble
Tower Ridge – Wikipedia page

  1. Paul Shorrock says

    Great post – it’s a smashing route, isn’t it!

    1. M.Barrett says

      It is! The most exciting I’ve been on. Shame I can’t get to Scotland more often. I’m hoping to be able to replicate some of the excitement in Snowdonia next summer with the Cneifion Arete and Clogwyn y Person

  2. camperchristina says

    Wow! this is really really cool! I just added it to my bucket list! Reminds me a lot of a hike I did this summer called The Crack but this looks far more difficult. I am also afraid of heights but love to climb. Funny how that works. You seem to loose your nerve as you get older I think also? Last Sunday I did a bike ride and came to a bridge. You could climb over the railing easily to step onto a concrete platform that goes out a bit over the water. It is not dangerous in any way but somehow I got to the end of it (only 4 feet long by 3 feet wide or so) and I froze. My body betrayed me huge and didn’t want to move. I slowly backed up and got off the platform amazed at what just happened. I stand on cliffs and ledges all the time and no problem. You would think it would be the opposite, as in it gets easier when you get older as you’ve done it all before? I’m hoping it was just a knee issue (had surgery 4 weeks ago and i’m 100% yet). I always find now that the hardest part is getting down, not climbing up! Great post all around! thanks for sharing! Love seeing new places!

    1. M.Barrett says

      I know what you mean although I’m hoping to get better at it, not worse! Normally I have a rule of just concentrating on the rock and not admiring the view! I also struggle with standing at the edge of a cliff, and have an irrational fear that I’m just going to lean forward and fall off. Whenever I get back from a climb, I always struggle to get to sleep as every time I close my eyes, I keep imagining falling off some mountain or another. It’s a very strong imagining too where it feels real for a second and I get that weird feeling in my stomach and legs. It’s weird because that will happen even if I had no issues whatsoever with the climb itself. I’ve now added a link to the bottom of the post to my full photo album of the climb, and added a youtube video to the post along with some other minor edits.

      1. camperchristina says

        Wow! you have it really bad. That sucks. i guess we all have our demons we battle with in our heads? 🙁 I will check it out later. I hope you have an awesome day whatever you are up to over there! i think you sent me your weather. 🙁 dreary and rainy today. 🙁 lol

  3. clarepooley33 says

    Fantastic post! It is a very brave thing to do to carry on climbing when feeling so anxious. Of course as soon as the danger is past you wonder why you were so worried but that is the nature of any kind of anxiety and fear. You are also to be commended for admitting to your fear. More people than you’d think have a fear of heights and the more sufferers like you who admit to it but continue to climb, the better! The photos are very good. Thanks for the video.

    1. M.Barrett says

      It’s actually the reason that I started scrambling years ago…. to try and conquer my fear! It hasn’t worked but it doesn’t stop me either so it’s not all bad. I’m usually pretty confident on the rock… it’s just a matter of focusing on where you’re putting your hands and feet and not looking around you too much. Unfortunately on this particular route, it wasn’t possible for me to ignore the massive exposure!

      1. clarepooley33 says

        I could see that!! I am a little scared of heights but my husband is very nervous indeed! I often get the urge to jump which is a little scary!

        1. M.Barrett says

          I’m the same. I even get it at the train station, I don’t like being too close to the edge of the platform as I get an irrational fear that I’m going to lean forward and fall into the path of an oncoming train. It’s bizarre how the human brain works sometimes!

          1. clarepooley33 says

            Yes. A sub-conscious wish to fly perhaps? I don’t think most of us wish to fall really.

  4. High Hiker says

    Thats a tough climb and in parts quite risky, must have had the blood pumping! I’m walking Ben in August but won’t be doing your route…I’m good with heights but will need more experience before attempting that. lol

  5. Elizabeth says

    Oh wow! So seriously impressed here! We climbed Ben Nevis this summer. Our original plans were to go up the North Face but the weather wasn’t on our side, and as novice (inexperienced) climbers we thought we’d just take it safe on the tourist path. It was thick cloud at the summit so we never saw a thing – but your images – gosh, beautiful! I would love to do something like that one day with a group of experienced climbers. No worries about the nerves, it happens to us all in the most random situations! 🙂

    1. Hill Explorer says

      We were as inexperienced as they came when we did this… we had one guy with us who knew his stuff but the most I’d ever done before this was Crib Goch. It really didn’t help my confidence either to learn after I’d already climbed down into the gap that the rope wasn’t secured properly. Thank goodness I didn’t slip! I’m a bit more experienced nowadays and done a fair bit of scrambling this year in Snowdonia – but nothing has come close to the exposure I felt walking across that ridge to tower gap. It was truly scary. I’m not great with heights so I don’t know why I feel the need to punish myself like this!

  6. Margaux Doey says

    Looks amazing – I can see why it took your breath away! Definitely on the list to visit now!

    1. Hill Explorer says

      It’s a grade 3 scramble so would only attempt it with a guide and ropes. There are other interesting ways up that are less technical if you’re wanting something different to the tourist path, such as the CMD arete.

  7. Kate Jamieson says

    Wow, what a view! I’ve only done the ‘tourist route’ but this looks incredible! I know how you fel with the nerves, we had a reasonable path on the Barranco Wall up Kilimanjaro and I was still freaking out about the drop, haha!

    great post!


    1. Hill Explorer says

      If you go again, another interesting route up to the top, and less technical than this one, is via the CMD arete. That’s how I did it the first time. Google it!

  8. Lauren M (The Helpful Hiker) says

    Wow stunning photos and such an amazing scramble. I’m not surprised you had a little wobble, just looking at the photos scares me! I have done a little scrambling and it is good fun, I’ve only attempted the easy stuff though, I can see why you want to push yourself, I imagine the exhilateration and sense of achievement is immense!

    1. Hill Explorer says

      The photo still scares me! Normally I’m OK with scrambling – even on the higher grades. It’s only when I encounter sheer vertical drops that the panic sets in. I’m not great with heights… my normal trick is to just concentrate on the rock and not look around too much. Unfortunately on this one, it was impossible not to see the huge drop. And getting down on my stomach and dangling my legs over the edge was too much for my nerves to handle!

    2. Hill Explorer says

      Which scrambles have to done before?

  9. Sarah | The Urban Wanderer says

    I think even the hardiest of us might have a bit of a wobble to be honest! Well done for overcoming it though and making it to the summit – you totally deserved to to feel extremely proud.

    The photos are amazing and you had me dreaming of going there from the first one! I’m definitely adding it to the list.

    1. Hill Explorer says

      Thanks! My next target in Scotland is either the Torridons or the Ring of Steall, although when that will be, I don’t know. It’s an expensive trip in diesel.

  10. Suzanne says

    That really is a breathtaking day! Such and achievement that I can only admire from a distance. Maybe one day I will be fit enough!

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