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.
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!
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!