Trip Report
Ben Nevis, Scotland. Tower Ridge - Night Ascent
Sunday April 6, 2014 11:26am
Trip report from my blog with photos included.

Moonlight illuminating Ben Nevis, Scotland on a midnight approach.
Moonlight illuminating Ben Nevis, Scotland on a midnight approach.
Credit: martinmckenna

It started out very randomly. I was sitting at home working on my dissertation when I got a notification on Facebook about someone interested in doing a night accent of Tower Ridge, leaving that very night. I had never met this person before but they had posted on a group used for people looking for climbing partners. It sounded like a cool adventure! Within a few minutes I had Luke on the phone who instantly agreed to join me (I knew this thing would be right up his street) and started packing my rucksack with unbelievable about of psyche!

We decided to strip our rack down and climb with one rope so we would be moving as quickly as possible on the approach and on the route. This was the first time I had chosen to climb like this in winter so I was excited to see how it went.

Andrew and Tim had offered us a lift from Falkirk to The Ben. We met them at around half 7 and quickly set off up the road, arriving at the North Face car park around 11 ish. Luke and I were already packed and ready to go so left Andrew and Tim and headed on up towards the CIC Hut.

The approach was spectacular! With clear skies and a full moon there was no need for head torches. This was Luke's first time walking into the North Face and what a night for it! The moonlight illuminating North East Buttress was utterly incredible. It was cold, but with no wind we were able to walk in with only a tshirt and light trousers. Being out there in those conditions was great and made even better by the fact we were dressed so lightly!

We arrived at the CIC Hut at around half 1 with Andrew and Tim arrived shortly after. Quickly unpacking the bags and gearing up we once again set off and started the walk up towards Observatory Gully. Preparing to start a route at that time of night was very strange indeed, especially knowing that as you are battling your way up Tower Ridge everyone in the CIC Hut will be tucked up in bed.

Andrew and Tim had mentioned about a short cut onto the ridge avoiding the first chimney and we decided we would also take this option. Leaving Observatory Gully we started up a steep snow slope and with every step the gradient was slowly increasing. Now and then I was looking down back at Luke seeing if he was happy to carry on. There was a few worried glances and not so funny jokes about how steep it was becoming, but we decided to keep going. After about 10 minutes of climbing the slope had got to the point where a slip would have resulted in a fall hundreds of feet back down into Observatory Gully. With a final short traverse we gained the ridge and out of the danger zone. As Andrew later commented, it had been good how dark it was because being in that position during the day, being able to see exactly what awaited you should you fall would have been horrifying. After that Luke and I agreed we never wanted to do anything like that again.

Andrew and Tim started leading out and we followed. The first few pitches I was still feeling uneasy from the initial solo and this was not helped by lack of protection and the poor quality ice. After about 3 pitches we finally found our rhythm and before we knew it we were at the first challenging obstacle of The Little Tower. Luke managed this without any problem and I continued on upwards. Ice became increasingly good as we gained altitude and we found a number of reasonable ice screw placements. A few small snow pitches lead us onward towards The Great Tower.

It was now around half 5 and we were both really enjoying ourselves. Continuing up the ridge I pulled over a bulge and in front of me in the distance was The Great Tower. I could see Andrew and Tim's head torches as they inched round the Eastern Traverse and right at that moment the most amazing purple light struck the tower and surrounding buttresses as the first rays of sunlight appeared. After a quick photo I was yanking at the rope trying to get Luke up in time to see this beautiful light and watch the sunrise.

After sitting down for a bit to take in the views and watch the sunrise we powered on. The Eastern Traverse was Lukes lead. Slowly working his way along the step cut platform he reached the belay and brought me round and it was my turn to lead through up to the belay before Tower Gap. The Gap I had heard was tricky however it didn't phase us at all and before we knew it both of us were over and looking up at the final snow slope watching Andrew and Tim top out.

With a quick 2 pitches using buried axes Luke topped out and belayed me up. Pulling over onto the summit plateau I was greeted with a blast of wind, blue skies and the sun. Visibility was near perfect and the surrounding mountains were covered in snow. It was at that point I realized what a special day we had just had. One that for the rest of my life I will remember.

  Trip Report Views: 749
About the Author
martinmckenna is a mountain climber from Falkirk.

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Trad climber
Santa Clara, CA
  Apr 6, 2014 - 11:33am PT
The last pic is awesome.

Why all the trad gear, looks like it's an ice-climb? Maybe you just didn't post the rock sections?

Nice way to spend an evening!

Mountain climber
Author's Reply  Apr 6, 2014 - 11:49am PT
Hey Bluering. Thanks for the reply.

Conditions this year in Scotland have been quite exceptional. The amount of persistant snow we have had has meant a lot of routes have changed characteristic from the style they are usually climbed in.

This route is usually considered a mixed mountain ridge. To take 4 ice screws on a route like this would almost be considered unusual as the placements opportunities would be almost zero. Most of our placements were still using the wires and hexs but the screws did come in useful on occasion.
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
  Apr 6, 2014 - 12:33pm PT
no no.... you missunderstand bluey.

He wants to know why the hell don't you just bolt the piss out of it like they do in California?

Trad climber
Santa Clara, CA
  Apr 6, 2014 - 12:51pm PT
Good stuff, all the same. You guys went prepared.

Bring a power-drill next time. Bruce is right! Hehe....

Trad climber
minneapolis, mn
  Apr 6, 2014 - 01:52pm PT
that's pretty cool -- not enough Highlands representation on the taco

btw, how easy/difficult is it for a yankee to head over and find partners for ice/mixed? anything like a Camp 4 scene where one can find partners

Mountain climber
Author's Reply  Apr 6, 2014 - 03:50pm PT
Ah I'm with you guys now! ;)

There are some events organised throughout the year like the BMC International Winter Meet and the Scottish Winter Climbing meet that are probably of interest if you are heading over looking for people to climb with. Other than that I can imagine it would be quite hard to just come over and find a partner.

My advice would be come with someone or find someone active within the Scottish winter scene that can help you find someone to climb with. The winter climbing community in Scotland is great. People will be happy to help you out.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Apr 10, 2014 - 07:51am PT
Nice pictures and write up,
Thank you!!!!
John Duffield

Mountain climber
New York
  Apr 10, 2014 - 03:01pm PT
Nice adventure!!! Thanks for posting Up!

I took the touron route last week with microspikes and one trekking pole. I'm doing a lot of different things here and can't be arsed to carry much stuff. The glissade down though, put a quick end to it.

Credit: John Duffield

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