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, 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 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.