Are we nearly there yet??? Epic ascent of Tower Ridge, The Ben

Bags packed for the last 3 weeks and Geoff continually checking weather forecast for Scotland on the net every night. Just a little bit keen........Finally the perfect weekend had arrived and we were all set to go. I must admit I was a little worried at the prospect of tagging along with 2 super strong, super fit fellas (Rick `n Geoff). I am certainly not in that league.............Got loads of stamina yeah but as for strength and moving fast.......That aint me! Do they really want me to tag along? Surely not..........Will I be able to keep up? Don`t want to spoil their day..........Maybe I should just offer to stay at home..........I did.......but they insisted.........Ah well   here goes I thought to myself.

      Geoff had been keen to do Point 5 Gully and even suggested I could tackle it!!!! Hmmmm.......Fortunately the weather was telling us to avoid gullies so Rick suggested ` Tower Ridge` which would be a great day out.......much safer but a long day so we would have to set off early. Of course I knew nothing about Tower Ridge and what it involved but the prospect of a safer route even with a long day of about 10-12 hours seemed ok to me. I was now really looking forward our  `little` adventure. (The last time I had climbed the Ben was with my family when I was 14, up the zig zag path and wished then that I could have taken a more direct route ie. straight up! )

       11pm Time to settle down to bed in our tents pitched on the North Face car park.

       5am!!!! Woken by Geoff`s alarm. I had set mine for 4.45am so I could get a little snooze in before getting up but I was so snug `n cosy in my sleeping bag that I didn`t hear mine go off. Amazingly for me I was up bright and early ready for the 530 start. I was excited so getting up wasn`t a problem and I didn`t want to let the boys down......after all it would be me that would be holding them back and slowing them down all the way so I had to make sure I was ready and raring to go. After checking for bears in the woods around the North Face car park and sacs all packed off we set 530AM

         As expected the walk in was long and arduous. I was conscious all the time of keeping up and not letting the boys down but I was going as fast as my body would let me and that wasn`t fast enough.......Keep going......keep going I kept huffing to myself. Don`t be a girl! But I am! And not that young anymore either. Just keep going....... Rick , our great leader, was way ahead some of the time but he always stopped to wait and check we were ok. After 2 1/2hrs we arrived at the CIC hut and I was absolutely burnt out! But we hadn`t even started the hard bit yet!!!! We sat down and enjoyed a much needed rest and some food and drink then off we set and stopped at the bottom of Douglas Gap to gear up. At this point I was already weary and had no idea what was to come.

           9am We set off moving together up Douglas Gap a grade 1/2 gully with Geoff setting the pace. I was excited but every step I made was hard work. Nearing the top of the gully which had steepened somewhat I was relieved to see that we would be resting before our next ascent. I was totally wrecked and my head was pounding. I reached for my migraine tabs but stupid me I`d left them behind!!!! The rest was a relief but turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. It became clear that we were stuck in a queue behind 4 other climbers!!! Oh no........this is really going to slow us down . Rick was a little concerned. I wished I`d walked a little quicker earlier then maybe we wouldn`t have had to queue. As we sat and waited, perched on the edge of small ridge the wind chill started to penetrate and I was now feeling rather chilled. I looked up at the other climbers struggling up the rock and ice with axes and crampons and braced myself for what I had to do next. Is this what they call mixed climbing? I had never done anything like that before!

            We must have waited for about an hour before Rick had chance to lead the way. He made it look easy and the Scottish lads waitng behind us were impressed. Geoff set off next and even he seemed to be finding it difficult. Oh no! How will I manage? Well when it came to my turn I impressed myself and found it easier than expected. Being smaller I managed to make use of the crack on the way up and somehow got through the difficult start. Phew! Finally I caught sight of Geoff and Rick ahead. Wow ! This is great! I did it! Rock `n ice too! for once I didn`t feel I had let them down. I wasn`t too slow this time........exhausted though...

     When I stopped the pain in my head came back and I felt totally wrecked once more. Just gotta focus on the next part........a long ridge and moving together............Rick led the way followed by Geoff then me........!!!!!!!!!!!! I had never done anything quite like this before............wasn`t sure I could actually walk across..........but I had to ...........more chance of falling off if I did it any other way........just think of the balance beams as a kid at school........just a little higher.......and again........couldn`t let the boys down.......if I fell they would be coming with me!!!! Tentatively I walked across and with each step it became easier. ........Phew! Made it. I wedged myself in a safe spot and Rick secured me once more while we waited in ......THE QUEUE.......Oh dear, it was becoming clear that this was going to be a much longer day than we had expected........ My head began to pound and again I felt totally exhausted and so sick I couldn`t even eat anything..........I need to eat but I can`t...........I sat quietly and began to focus and get my head ready for the next challenge.......Little Tower.

      Are we nearly there yet? I kept thinking to myself....surely we will be soon. I mustered up all my strength and ascended Little Tower. I expected a large spacious area to relax before the next section but again Rick secured us both to a super strong belay in rather a precarious position just bofore the Eastern Traverse. Now Rick had mentioned this but I really didn`t think it would be as terrifying as it actually looked when I finally got to pop my head around the corner and take a peep. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And just how am I supposed to do that??? I asked Geoff. I was absolutely terrified. Pull yourself together I told myself and took another look. There was no doubt about it I just had to do it........there was certainly no going back. Then I saw what I had to do and off I set slowly making my way along the four inch ledge carefully positioning my feet and axes as I inched along. I was amazed at the intricate and highly sophisticated spider`s web of protection that Rick had laid out for us. What a star!! Once more each step I made became easier became clear that about 6 feet back my rope was entwined with Geoff`s so I could go no further......I was in a precarious position..........If the rope pulled on either side I would fall .........a very long way.........and swing..........and maybe take Geoff `n Rick with me..............I had to stay calm. Geoff set off , approached the ledge and sorted the problem out.........we were on our way once more. Finally I caught sight of Rick , we were expertly secured once more and time for just a little breather as we put on our head torches..........It was getting dark. Surely nothing could be worse than what I had just done.............but I was wrong.......the most feared was yet to come!

        I was so exhausted I didn`t even have the strength to turn my head and watch Rick expertly make his way to Tower Gap. Was that another ridge I aked Geoff? It looks like one. Oh no, Geoff said.........only looks like one it`s ok. NOT!!! My turn and once more my exhausted body kicked into action to traverse across to the tiniest knife edge ridge you could was dark and misty ...........and half way across the wind picked up!!!!!! I`ve survived so far.......I aint gonna fall now..........focus   ........and walk...................Made what?? Still more scary stuff to come .........still had to negotiate Tower Gap! expected Rick had expertly set up superb protection and I was lowered to safety..........well to another very small ledge which I shared with Rick and later Geoff too ............Glover`s Chimney beckoning below. Are we nearly there yet? No not even now........2 pitches to go.....

          Rick expertly secured us both then off he set along another precarious section and vanished out of sight........ It was hard to tell if he was ready for us to set off because we couldn`t hear and couldn`t see. Again I mustered up all my strength and set off once more. This next section was a hard climb......the ice was useless and my axes felt like they were holding onto nothing. At every available opportunity I wedge my axes into the cracks between the rocks but these were few and far between. I kept shouting for tension but wasn`t getting it and was fearful that I would lose my grip and fall .......It was a hard struggle and then I caught sight of the beam of light from Rick`s lighthouse of a headtorch and suddenly I became aware that this time he wasn`t attached to a solid rock belay .....but..........he was sitting in the snow with the rope around him..............attached to ice axes wedged deep in the snow!!!!!!! Crikey! How does he stay so calm? It`s still not over yet.........Amazing brilliance!!!!

      Geoff was soon at my heels and began to make his way to the summit 1st. Rick was securely wedged in the snow. small slip from either of us and .............we could have all fallen a long.....long ......long...long long ...way after all that hard work! We heard a shout as Geoff summited . I stayed fixed in a safe place so Rick could make his way up the grade 2 to the cornice and the summit. When it was finally my turn he practically pulled me over the top..........I was so exhausted I couldn`t even lift up my axes to cheer. I just dropped to the floor in relief and elation. PHEW!!!  I made it. 11.45PM

      Mist was all around and now and then the brightest of full moons would light up the sky. It was a long, long, long  walk down. Our great leader expertly led the way as I struggled to make my way down. I was so exhausted I could hardly put one foot in front of the other and each time I fell down I struggled to stand up again. I just wanted to sit down and fall asleep.........but I knew I couldn`t. I just had to keep going.  Are we nearly there yet? Still too far to go. Finally at 4am we were there...............

      Rick was soundly snoring before we had climbed into our bags. Ah heaven! All cosy `n warm in my sleeping bag. What an amazing adventure of a lifetime! Thank you so much for so expertly taking care of us Rick and of course thank you to my gorgeous Geoff for keeping me going.

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Comment by Leo Woodhead on May 4, 2012 at 19:38

Great post, really enjoyed reading it. It sounds like an epic adventure. I can't wait to to have my own epic on Tower Ridge!

Comment by Rick Riding on March 28, 2011 at 22:59
I think your "bigging me up " a little too much there Julie. I found some of the climbing pretty tough, so don't underestimate how well you did. Some of those Scottish guys that started behind us were amazed how well you were doing after I'd told them how little real winter experience you'd had. Conditions made the climbing pretty insecure and slower than normal.  It was a fantastic climb and a really memorable day with great company. I'd do it again without hesitation.....maybe a shorter route next time though!


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