Ben Nevis weekend double
September 6, 2016
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The weekend (3-4 September) saw a double ascent of Ben Nevis, a grandstand view of the annual Ben Nevis Race to the summit and back, plus a reminder (not that it was needed) of the Ben’s capacity for spectacularly grim weather.

On Saturday I led a decent-sized group up to the summit for Large Outdoors, a company with a good reputation for adventures which have a social side. Along with the capable services of two other guides, Iain Smith and Alan Cameron, the entire group of 27 made it to the summit for a well deserved photo at the trig point. It was a great day with plenty of conversation about whether or not mountains should be on TripAdvisor (verdict: they shouldn’t) and the merits of climbing higher than midges can fly.

Despite being late in the season, the Pony Trail was still very busy and the damp weather hadn’t dampened peoples’ enthusiasm. Part of the reason for the crowds was the annual Ben Nevis Race. Held every year since 1951, the race sees some of Scotland’s best (and strongest-ankled) fell runners haring up to the summit and back down. These athletes are very good and very single-minded; we saw a few slipping and falling on the wet grass, only to bounce straight back up again and carry on their mad descent. This year’s winner was Finlay Wild, who finished in an impressive 1:28:45 – only 3 minutes and 11 seconds longer than the all-time record.

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Race runners on descent

I’d had Tower Ridge in my sights for a while before Sunday. It’s a classic Grade 3 scramble and one of Scotland’s iconic mountain ridge routes. Marie joined me for an early start, and we set off at 7.30am from the North Face car park in light drizzle. After an initial misstep (going too far up Observatory Gully in the mist) we gained the high ground and made good progress. Despite a ‘brief ridge’ of high pressure being forecast by MWIS, the mist clung to the crags all day and we were constantly drizzled on. The wet and slippery rock made for a slightly more challenging experience but we made good progress, enjoying the occasional views down to the Allt a’ Mhuillin and – further northwards – the Loch Lochy munros.

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Looking north, with Carn Dearg Buttress in the background

The rope first came out for a pitch at the start of the Little Tower, where the ridge steepens quite sharply. Good holds on wet rock saw us up and over this initial obstacle in good time. The next milestone, the Great Tower, was easily scrambled over and then around via the Eastern Traverse. It was a lot of fun, but sadly the view was hidden by the dense cloud.

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An atmospheric Eastern Traverse

The short wall up the eastern edge of the Great Tower was (unexpectedly) the only white-knuckle part of my day as I soloed it in the wet, and with a heavy rucksack, before toprope belaying Marie after me. Tower Gap – the grand finale and the crux of Tower Ridge – is fantastically exposed. There’s nothing like lowering yourself over an edge with nothing but 200 metres of empty space beneath your feet.

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Facing Tower Gap. Photo credit: Marie Cheung

The climb out of Tower Gap, on a blank wet slab in walking boots, was a sting in the tail but by then we were on a roll and cruised up to the top of ridge and the summit plateau. It was an excellent day made more memorable by good company and the claggy weather. And the sun finally came out as we reached the plateau!

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