|Approaching our target as the day breaks|
|NE Buttress, Observatory Ridge and Tower Ridge|
|Davie Scott, Kev Shields, Dave Anderson and Craig McDonald. Not smiling for long.|
|Approaching East Gully|
|Ascending to the Douglas Gap|
|The Gully taking us onto the Ridge proper|
|Try and spot Kev and Dave amid the jumbled rocks below the Little Tower|
|Preparing for what turned out to be one of the trickier ascents under the conditions|
|Dave and Kev negotiate the Eastern Traverse, while Davie looks on|
|Davie makes light work of the massively banked out Eastern Traverse|
|The Cave, filling nicely. Its more like swimming uphill through porridge than climbing!|
|The light fails as we reach Tower Gap. Dave crosses and makes tentative progress|
|Finally darkness consumes us, and the headtorches come out|
|Cold, tired, relieved and thrilled at the top. It's a long walk back down though....|
|On the tourist track in pitch darkness. A very different place to the summer track so many people know...|
Fast forward to Tuesday afternoon, and Davie and I are again discussing what we want to get on with this good weather, and he mentions that him and a few others are going to attempt Tower Ridge the following day, and invites me along. After considering for all of 20 seconds, it was on. Needless to say, I was pretty nervous and certainly didnt want to hold the other guys up, but certainly didn't want to miss this opportunity!
And so it was that at 6 am on a freezing November morning, I met up with Davie, Kev Shields and Dave Anderson and headed on up towards the North Face. Under the cover of darkness we made quick progress, morale was high and the banter was flowing. We came across a few others hoping to make good ascents in the fine weather, and day was beginning to break as we reached the CIC hut. We didn't hang around long, but got moving up towards East Gully on the approach to the Douglas Gap. We harnessed and helmetted up, and after inspecting the snow pack on a few occasions we made quick progress up into the Gap. Dave and Davie made nice solo ascents of the chimney, and I got 3/4 of the way up before losing my cool and getting a rope dropped down - better safe than dead, but annoyingly as the rope popped into view I discovered an excellent foothold I completely and utterly missed! Kev came up quickly behind, and we were all content to be on the ridge proper!
We moved on over easy ground with poor, deep snow until we reached the Little Tower, where Dave and Davie again put up some excellent leads directly up the Tower, with Kev and I following on. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to lead this pitch, although in hindsight the gear was excellent when it was found. Again we were able to make quick progress after this tricky section, overcoming easier obstacles and enjoying the absolutely stunning panoramic views all around.
Finally we reached the base of the Great Tower, where we had to face the first of two traditional cruxes - the Eastern Traverse. It was seriously banked out, and the snow was falling away under our feet. Every step was a lottery. Dave and Davie laced the line with good gear, and the next thing we knew we were swimming up through the Cave, with barely inches to spare as we squeezed through the other side! From here Dave put up a stunning lead onto the top of the Tower just as the light was fading. I don't think any of us really realised just how arduous the ridge had been under the given conditions, but we pressed on into the darkness regardless and negotiated the second crux - Tower Gap. Climbing tentatively along this metre wide ridge, dropping your weight onto snow covered ledges with only some tat for support is certainly not for the faint hearted. Leaning across the gap and trying to climb up the other side seemed almost ludicrous at the time: but we did it. The screams and yells of exasperation from another team on NE Buttress certainly didn't boost confidence though! It was headtorch central as we moved up the final slopes and steps to the exit chimney, the only part of the whole day which provided secure feeling axe placements. And then that was it, we were on the summit, elated. Cold, wet, tired but elated. We shook hands, smiles all round as we snapped a few finishing photos and grabbed a quick bite to eat before making our way swiftly to the tourist track and back to the car park over the bog. It was here that I stuffed my expensive gloves down my jacket - the last time I ever saw them :( When I unclasped my waist belt they must have dropped out - I jogged up early the next morning to find them but they were gone! Absolutely gutted! Best gloves I ever had, and now the theme of many a good joke!
So there we have it. My first winter route of the 12/13 season was on top of my tick list. It was in horrific condition, with no frozen turf, soft sugary snow, no consolidation whatsoever and not a drop of ice to aid our ascent. But it was done. So can I therefore rest on my laurels, glad to have achieved my number one target? Can I buggery - the next outting is already in the pipe line!!!
Thanks lads for a trully memorable ascent - certainly my most challenging to date and one that will take a long time to forget!