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Plan B: Tower Ridge

Plan B: Tower Ridge


Postby dav2930 » Sat Jul 20, 2019 3:08 pm

Route description: Ben Nevis by the Carn Mor Dearg Arete

Munros included on this walk: Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg

Date walked: 14/07/2019

Distance: 18.5 km

Ascent: 1994m

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Plan A was for Centurion on the Carn Dearg Buttress. I'd been wanting to do this for years and my appetite for it had been whetted by correspondence with Past-My-Sell-by-date, who'd done the climb back in the 1990's. I'd managed to talk Karl into it and, by way of preparation, we'd notched up a few HVS's in the Lakes at weekends preceding this trip. We didn't really have a plan B, not a pre-conceived, definite one.

With a few days off work, we travelled up to Fort William on Saturday 13th July. There'd been heavy rain in the West Highlands the day before, and there was light rain on the Saturday morning, but the forecast was for dry weather with sunny intervals all through Sunday and Monday, before rain again on Tuesday. Centurion is basically a big corner-line which takes a fair bit of seepage, so it needs a period of warm, dry weather to dry out after significant rain. We hoped that by Monday morning the climb would be dry enough, and were encouraged when we arrived at the Glen Nevis campsite by the relatively dry ground.

After we'd pitched the tents, we went to the office to check the latest forecast. Bugger! It was now showing showers for Monday as well as Tuesday. That left Sunday (next day) as our only option, which was far from ideal. We'd just have to hope that this gave enough time for the climb to dry out sufficiently.

So we set off from the campsite the next morning at about 5.15am for the C.I.C hut, fully laden with all the climbing kit and 2 half-ropes. It took us 3 hours to get there.

P1030137.JPG
Approaching the C.I.C. hut around the northern flanks of Carn Dearg


P1030142.JPG
Orion Face and Tower Ridge from C.I.C. hut


P1030144.JPG
The mighty Carn Dearg Buttress from the C.I.C. hut


There were quite a few people at the hut, sorting out kit and preparing for their own objectives. We got chatting to some of them, who directed us to two well tanned and athletic-looking lads who'd 'done' Centurion the previous day. It had been "p****d through", apparently, and they'd had to resort to direct aid (pulling up on nuts and slings placed for protection), to get up the second pitch. "It should be OK today, though", they said. So, despite the obvious black streaks of water seeping down the walls to the left of Centurion, we set off over the ice-scoured outcrops and up the screes to the foot of the buttress. At least today's weather was as warm and sunny as one could want. We couldn't help but be impressed by the sheer scale and magnificence of the crags around us.

P1030145.JPG
Leaving the C.I.C. hut for the CD Buttress


We got to the start of the climb and peered up the corner, which was shaded. The base was sopping wet and water dripped from above to a steady andante metronome. The first pitch, up a crack in the left wall, didn't look too bad, but was still smeared with wetness in places where it might have mattered. The second pitch, up the corner above, was the critical one, so I tried to get as good a view of it as possible. The left wall looked very green. It was hard to tell just how wet it was, but at best it was damp and greasy. My heart was sinking. "It's p****d through", Karl chimed in, as if to reinforce what he knew I was beginning to accept and what he'd already concluded (probably with some relief). I didn't want to commit both of us to a protracted struggle up slippery rock on a climb which would have been challenging enough even when dry. So, given the beautiful weather, it was a question of salvaging the day. Tower Ridge is such a dominant feature it's hard to ignore. It was catching the sun and, being a ridge, was almost certain to be dry. We hadn't done TR before but had a pretty good idea of the approach and general features of the route, so without further ado we made that our plan B.

However, this meant going all the way back down to the hut and walking up the path into Coire Leis. At the hut we took the opportunity to jettison a lot of our kit, which we left there to be collected later (much later). We took with us a minimal rack and just one of the half-ropes. But our big rucksacks still felt quite heavy. We'd packed our rock shoes just in case, but that turned out to be a completely unnecessary burden we could have done without (along with several items of spare clothing). It was getting on for 10am by the time we set off up the path into Coire Leis - a lot later than desirable really.

It would have been nice to have started up the Direct Route on the Douglas Boulder, but in view of the time we thought we'd better just go the usual way around its east side and up to the gap.

P1030147.JPG
Heading up the east side of Douglas Boulder to the gap


P1030148.JPG
Just above the Douglas gap with the top of the 'Boulder' behind, at the start of Tower Ridge.


P1030149.JPG
Carn Dearg from Tower Ridge


The first part of the ridge was mainly easy scrambling with a few bits of more serious scrambling.

P1030150.JPG
Looking up the lower part of TR to the Little Tower


We roped up but moved together, alpine style. Karl didn't like this mode of locomotion on exposed rock as it meant that if one of us slipped the other would be pulled off as well. Quite so, but it saved a lot of time and meant we could get belayed with immediate effect when necessary. Towards the top of Little Tower the rocks steepened so we pitched it properly for two rope-lengths.

P1030151.JPG
Little Tower


Between the top of the Little Tower and the base of the Great Tower is little more than a walk, albeit in very grand surroundings.

P1030152.JPG
Top of Orion Face and Observatory Ridge


At the base of Great Tower is a large, flat area with a big block on the left and a tenuous ledge leading horizontally across the eastern face of the tower. I took this to be the Eastern Traverse. A few crampon scratches encouraged that false assumption, but when I reached the other end there was no obvious way up or out, no scratches on the rock and certainly no tunnel with a fallen block across the top. I needed to consult the guidebook, but it was in Karl's rucksack. Karl duly came across, but when I read the guide my suspicion was confirmed that the proper Eastern Traverse was higher up, so we needed to go back to the flat area. It wouldn't have mattered but for the waste of time - my fault for not checking the guidebook properly first. The lower rocks of the Great Tower were easy and led to a very obvious and well-trodden ledge crossing the east side of the tower at the point where the latter became smooth and vertical. Unlike the false traverse lower down, this was just an exposed walk.

P1030154.JPG
The Eastern Traverse


P1030156.JPG
Top of Ben Nevis from end of Eastern Traverse


At the other end of the traverse was the instantly recognisable tunnel with the fallen block. This was fun - made awkward only by our oversized rucksacks!

P1030157.JPG
Looking down through the tunnel


Above the tunnel a steep and awkward little pitch leads to the top of the Great Tower. From there, a level and very exposed ridge leads to the Tower Gap.

P1030159.JPG
Karl near the edge of Tower Gap


This is usually reckoned to be the crux of TR so we approached it with interest and care. Another party was ahead of us.

P1030162.JPG
Looking down the west side of Tower Gap


The easiest way to get down into the gap was pretty obvious - first on the right side then around the end between two blocks then down the left side (facing out, but one needs to face in). An in-situ piece of tape in reasonable condition was tied around the end block. A quick-draw clipped to this protected both leader and second on the moves down into the gap. In fact this tape would adequately protect even a soloist provided he/she was wearing a harness and had a sling or two with carabiners to clip to it. Stepping across the gap is unproblematic and a good side-pull on the left is easily reached to bring one onto the other side.

P1030164.JPG
Looking back across Tower Gap to the Great Tower - another party approaching the gap


Straightforward scrambling led from here to the summit plateau of the Ben. We'd been feeling the pressure of time the whole way up, knowing that we'd started TR later than we'd have liked. But then again, at this time of year daylight wasn't really an issue.

P1030165.JPG
Upper part of Tower Ridge from summit plateau, Carn Dearg behind


It was 4.45pm when we reached the summit. It was nice to sit down, put the gear away and have a drink and a munch.

P1030167.JPG
Ben Nevis summit


If we'd planned to do TR in the first place, we'd have gone much lighter and not needed to leave kit at the C.I.C. hut. In which case, from here we could have taken the easier and quicker option of descending directly down the Pony Track back to Glen Nevis. But as it was we needed to get back to the C.I.C. hut. I had a vague idea it was possible to descend gully no.4 but wasn't sure and suspected that any of the gullies would be unpleasantly loose, so we decided to go round the arete to Carn Mor Dearg, giving Karl the bonus of an extra Munro tick. It was well past 5.00pm by the time we set off from the Ben's summit.

It was rough going over the boulders down towards the arete, and seemed to take ages.

P1030173.JPG
The Ring of Steall and Steall Falls, from above CMD Arete


By the time we reached the arete itself, we were feeling tired. Each step on the awkward, bouldery ground was an effort.

P1030174.JPG
NE Buttress and Tower Ridge, from CMD Arete


Our pace had slowed considerably and, as we started going up towards CMD, my back was aching badly (as it sometimes does). I think I was in a worse state than Karl, but he was cursing the rough ground!

P1030175.JPG
Looking back along CMD Arete


P1030176.JPG
The ridge to CMD


After what seemed an eternity we reached the summit of CMD and had a brief rest. Karl had run out of water so we were keen to get down to the hut. We weren't relishing the unrelentingly steep descent, though.

P1030177.JPG
The Ben from CMD


We started the descent from the col between CMD and Carn Dearg Meadhonach where it was possible to keep to grass for most of the way. Our legs were definitely feeling the strain down here. It was about 8.00pm when we finally reached the hut. We filled our bottles from the water spout and after a much needed slurp, had a good rest and collected the kit we'd left, thus adding to the weight of our sacks. At least there was a good path to follow back to Glen Nevis and most of it downhill. Our temptation to linger at the hut was offset by a plague of midges, which soon got us moving - a rare instance of midges actually providing a useful service! :lol:

P1030180.JPG
The Ben Nevis cliffs from C.I.C. hut, evening


It was a really beautiful evening and as we rounded Carn Dearg towards Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe we were able to appreciate the sunset views over Loch Eil and the Glen Finnan hills. After a brief ascent to reach the Pony Track, we embarked on the long descent into Glen Nevis. As Sgurr a' Mhaim and Stob Ban blushed in the deepening twighlight, we wondered, just wondered, what the weather would actually be like the next day.

Irony of ironies, the next day was as fine as could be. We checked the latest forecast and there was no mention of showers, just 80% chance of cloud-free Munros. Indeed there were no showers, and the Ben was clear of cloud most of the day. The corner of Centurion would surely have been dry by then. If only we'd stuck to our original plan of going up on Monday, instead of being influenced by the forecast! But how could we sensibly have done that? It was too late now. Besides, we were too knackered to go all the way back up there with all the kit. We'd missed our chance and just had to accept it. :cry:

Still, Tower Ridge had made a grand day out, and that was no cause for complaint. :)


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Last edited by dav2930 on Sat Jul 27, 2019 9:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Plan B: Tower Ridge

Postby past my sell by date » Sat Jul 20, 2019 5:51 pm

Great report - a tiny typo - I did it in the 90's I think it was put up in the 60's - Brown and Whilans? But why start from Glen Nevis for the N face? I always set off across the golf course, but can't you now drive up the track close to the distillery. When I did it , the second pitch was bone dry - no greenery, but the first pitch is quite a fierce 4c.
I think it's a well known maxim that if you're doing Tower Ridge you DON'T do thre Douglas boulder. I did it in "spring" conditions - the Eastern traverse was the path you went on, but the tunnel was blocked by snow and there was a short icy slope/cornice at the very top where the leader rather "grandly" inserted a ice screw :lol: :lol: :lol:
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Re: Plan B: Tower Ridge

Postby gaffr » Sat Jul 20, 2019 5:59 pm

A real classic route...more than just a big corner...good variety of pitches... Traverse after the corner a couple of easier pitches follow with two good pitches to finish.. Forgot the first wall pitch....1968 for us to enjoy this one.
However there is nought wrong with having the several ridges on the Ben for a good day out.
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Re: Plan B: Tower Ridge

Postby prog99 » Sat Jul 20, 2019 6:12 pm

But why start from Glen Nevis for the N face? I always set off across the golf course, but can't you now drive up the track close to the distillery.

I was wondering about that one. Normal start point for climbing on the ben is the North Face carpark just off the road near Torlundy.
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Re: Plan B: Tower Ridge

Postby dav2930 » Sat Jul 20, 2019 9:20 pm

past my sell by date wrote:Great report - a tiny typo - I did it in the 90's I think it was put up in the 60's - Brown and Whilans? But why start from Glen Nevis for the N face? I always set off across the golf course, but can't you now drive up the track close to the distillery. When I did it , the second pitch was bone dry - no greenery, but the first pitch is quite a fierce 4c.
I think it's a well known maxim that if you're doing Tower Ridge you DON'T do thre Douglas boulder. I did it in "spring" conditions - the Eastern traverse was the path you went on, but the tunnel was blocked by snow and there was a short icy slope/cornice at the very top where the leader rather "grandly" inserted a ice screw :lol: :lol: :lol:

Sorry about the typo Tony! Centurion was put up in 1956 by Whillans and Bob Downes. I'm rather glad it isn't considered usual to start TR with the Douglas Boulder! We thought about starting from the N face car park, but as we were camped in Glen Nevis we thought we'd save the drive. Not sure if that saved any time - I was under the impression that there's not much difference between the two walk-ins timewise? Anyway, maybe next time (when it's BONE DRY) I'll try the approach you suggest. :lol:

gaffr wrote:A real classic route...more than just a big corner...good variety of pitches... Traverse after the corner a couple of easier pitches follow with two good pitches to finish.. Forgot the first wall pitch....1968 for us to enjoy this one.
However there is nought wrong with having the several ridges on the Ben for a good day out.

Yes I'm so disappointed not to have done Centurion. I just hope I get another chance sometime soon, though I have my doubts it'll be this year. 1968 was an early ascent! Maybe I was getting your ascent mixed up with PMSD's?

prog99 wrote:
But why start from Glen Nevis for the N face? I always set off across the golf course, but can't you now drive up the track close to the distillery.

I was wondering about that one. Normal start point for climbing on the ben is the North Face carpark just off the road near Torlundy.

I think next time I'll go from the NF car park. As I said to PMSD, the only reason we went from Glen Nevis was because we were camped there so could avoid a drive. But if there's a significant difference in time/effort between the two approaches then it'd be worth the drive I suppose.
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Re: Plan B: Tower Ridge

Postby prog99 » Sat Jul 20, 2019 9:50 pm

dav2930 wrote:I think next time I'll go from the NF car park. As I said to PMSD, the only reason we went from Glen Nevis was because we were camped there so could avoid a drive. But if there's a significant difference in time/effort between the two approaches then it'd be worth the drive I suppose.

Its much shorter and on a good track all the way. I'd not even bother visiting the cic hut if your intent on doing centurion or anything else on Carn Dearg.
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Re: Plan B: Tower Ridge

Postby rockhopper » Sat Jul 20, 2019 10:55 pm

A very enjoyable read and a lot of helpful detail for future users. Was fine with the CMD ridge but the rest is way beyond me though as a walker and not a climber - thanks :)
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Re: Plan B: Tower Ridge

Postby martin.h » Sun Jul 21, 2019 12:19 pm

Hi Dave, we were on Carn Mor Dearg summit 11am on Sunday 14th waiting for the North Face to clear for some photies.
the mist was swirling around. We could hear people across the glen on the face but couldn't see where they were even when it cleared.

I did TR in 1993 with a couple of mates, we were doing it free until we got to Tower Gap, the nerves were jangling a bit, it's a good job we needed to rope up otherwise I might still be there, glued to the spot, I was very happy when we got to the summit :lol:
It's a great day out but I'm in no rush to do it again :lol:
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Re: Plan B: Tower Ridge

Postby past my sell by date » Sun Jul 21, 2019 12:26 pm

martin.h wrote:Hi Dave, we were on Carn Mor Dearg summit 11am on Sunday 14th waiting for the North Face to clear for some photies.
the mist was swirling around. We could hear people across the glen on the face but couldn't see where they were even when it cleared.

I did TR in 1993 with a couple of mates, we were doing it free until we got to Tower Gap, the nerves were jangling a bit, it's a good job we needed to rope up otherwise I might still be there, glued to the spot, I was very happy when we got to the summit :lol:
It's a great day out but I'm in no rush to do it again :lol:

Yes the Tower gap has a very exposed feeling to it - though is actually much easier than it looks :)
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Re: Plan B: Tower Ridge

Postby Alteknacker » Sun Jul 21, 2019 12:58 pm

Great stuff, as usual. Lots of useful detail for the future - for this is one that's been near the top of my list for a few years, but I still have to do. Most of the videos done with a head cam are too "woozy" to really get a feel for what conditions are like, and how difficult it is. I guess it must be one of the finest scrambles in the country.

I must say, I'm with Karl on the matter of moving roped up. Although I've never done it, I find the prospect absolutely terrifying: I just can't imagine how one would have the time to react quickly enough to be able to hold one's partner if they fell :roll: :shock: .
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Re: Plan B: Tower Ridge

Postby past my sell by date » Sun Jul 21, 2019 1:08 pm

[quote="Alteknacker"
I must say, I'm with Karl on the matter of moving roped up. Although I've never done it, I find the prospect absolutely terrifying: I just can't imagine how one would have the time to react quickly enough to be able to hold one's partner if they fell :roll: :shock: .[/quote]
But the whole idea is that the leader puts runners on as he goes, and the second takes them off. If someone falls, they may get hurt, but the party remains attached to the mountain - not lying in a heap at the bottom :(
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Re: Plan B: Tower Ridge

Postby Alteknacker » Sun Jul 21, 2019 1:57 pm

past my sell by date wrote:But the whole idea is that the leader puts runners on as he goes, and the second takes them off. If someone falls, they may get hurt, but the party remains attached to the mountain - not lying in a heap at the bottom :(


OK, my response/neurosis no doubt reflects my lack of experience. I've seen a good few groups using the moving roped together technique on my local hills (Snowdonia) - particularly where there are obvious beginners in the group - and never seen any runners - could be I wasn't looking carefully enough. :?
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Re: Plan B: Tower Ridge

Postby past my sell by date » Sun Jul 21, 2019 2:09 pm

Alteknacker wrote:
past my sell by date wrote:But the whole idea is that the leader puts runners on as he goes, and the second takes them off. If someone falls, they may get hurt, but the party remains attached to the mountain - not lying in a heap at the bottom :(


OK, my response/neurosis no doubt reflects my lack of experience. I've seen a good few groups using the moving roped together technique on my local hills (Snowdonia) - particularly where there are obvious beginners in the group - and never seen any runners - could be I wasn't looking carefully enough. :?

Sadly - not everyone does what they are supposed to do. A little learning can be a dangerous thing :wink:
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Re: Plan B: Tower Ridge

Postby Sunset tripper » Sun Jul 21, 2019 4:01 pm

That's a pretty impressive plan B. I was on the ben on the monday. A last minute thing, and it was indeed a glorious day with deep blue skys.
All the best. :D
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Re: Plan B: Tower Ridge

Postby dav2930 » Mon Jul 22, 2019 8:24 pm

rockhopper wrote:A very enjoyable read and a lot of helpful detail for future users. Was fine with the CMD ridge but the rest is way beyond me though as a walker and not a climber - thanks :)

Thanks RH, very kind of you. Quite a lot of TR is actually no more difficult than the CMD arete, but yes, there are parts which are definitely climbing rather than walking, albeit easy as climbing goes. We were pretty tired by the time we got to the CMD arete, which made us appreciate how rough and bouldery it is; exposed enough too if you balance all the way along the crest (which we didn't :lol: ) - a fine way up the Ben giving superb views of the NE face on a clear day. :)

martin.h wrote:Hi Dave, we were on Carn Mor Dearg summit 11am on Sunday 14th waiting for the North Face to clear for some photies.
the mist was swirling around. We could hear people across the glen on the face but couldn't see where they were even when it cleared.

I did TR in 1993 with a couple of mates, we were doing it free until we got to Tower Gap, the nerves were jangling a bit, it's a good job we needed to rope up otherwise I might still be there, glued to the spot, I was very happy when we got to the summit :lol:
It's a great day out but I'm in no rush to do it again :lol:

Hi Martin. That's the second time you've been on the tops at the same time we've been climbing or scrambling lower down - amazing coincidence! :o Well done on doing TR yourself - it's certainly a big step up from Aoanach Eagach or Curved Ridge. The gap is pretty exposed, but there's plenty to get hold of. I'm sure there were some bits lower down that felt more difficult than the gap! There's so much to go at on the Ben, I don't think I'll bother with TR again, certainly not with a rope anyway. :)

Alteknacker wrote:Great stuff, as usual. Lots of useful detail for the future - for this is one that's been near the top of my list for a few years, but I still have to do. Most of the videos done with a head cam are too "woozy" to really get a feel for what conditions are like, and how difficult it is. I guess it must be one of the finest scrambles in the country.

I must say, I'm with Karl on the matter of moving roped up. Although I've never done it, I find the prospect absolutely terrifying: I just can't imagine how one would have the time to react quickly enough to be able to hold one's partner if they fell :roll: :shock: .

Thanks AK. I'm sure you would really enjoy TR. There's nothing really difficult on it and the gap can be made fairly safe even if you're soloing. Indeed I think in many ways you're better off soloing TR (in good weather) as you can go so much faster (speed being a crucial factor on this of all routes). I thought the most serious parts (if soloing) would be the upper part of the Little Tower and the bit between the top of the chimney/tunnel and the top of the Great Tower. But all difficulties are short-lived and most of the route is just scrambling or even walking!

As for 'moving together' roped, as past my sell by date says, the person in front can place the odd sling or nut which will protect both until the second man removes it. It works best on ridges (not on faces), where the leader can also pass the rope behind blocks and spikes - faster than placing runners and equally safe. On really easy ground there's no need for either, but you stay roped just to save all the time and hassle of untying, coiling and stowing the rope only to have to uncoil it and tie back on again later. On the trickiest bits we pitched properly, which pleased Karl. If he'd had his way we would have pitched nearly all of it, but then we'd probably still be there now! :lol:

Sunset tripper wrote:That's a pretty impressive plan B. I was on the ben on the monday. A last minute thing, and it was indeed a glorious day with deep blue skys.
All the best. :D

Thanks Sunset tripper. I'm not usually gutted when the weather turns out to be a lot better than forecast, but on this occasion I was devastated! :( :lol: Glad you were able to take advantage of it - and on the Ben too! Cheers :)
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