Ben Nevis 2012 Summit
United Kingdom - Scotland
4,409 feet 1344 meters

My Memories Are Everything® climbs are to raise awareness and research money for Alzheimer's Disease. My mom, Ida, passed away from Alzheimer's in 2009.

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Ben Nevis, while not all that high, is steeped in mountaineering history and offers some of the best winter climbing in Europe. I had always wanted to climb Ben but never thought I would have the opportunity so when planning to speak at an Alzheimer's conference in London in March 2012, I quickly seized the opportunity to add a short side trip to Scotland to my schedule.

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click to enlargeMy trip started by flying into Glasgow, renting a car and navigating the winding and very narrow (did I mention they were narrow?) roads to the small city of Fort William at the northeast edge of Scotland. Amazingly, the day was mostly clear with only a few sprinkles along the way. I somewhat easily found the Ben Nevis Inn; a stone barn converted into a comfortable bunkhouse and used in the movie Braveheart. For $25 a night, I got a bunk with covers and a great meal at their restaurant.

Fort William

Being totally unfamiliar with the area and Ben, I had arranged a guide using Abacus Mountaineering a month earlier. Mike Pescod was prompt and informative in his email exchanges and set me up with another guide Ken Applegate who also lived in Ft. William. I met up with Ken on Monday, March 5 at the Inn.

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We joined with Mike who was guiding two other clients on a different route on Ben and used the secret key to get by a gate and thus access to the most upper parking lot where we began the 1.5 hour hike to the Charles Inglis Clark (CIC) Hut on the north side and at the base of Ben. The weather was beyond perfect - no wind, temps near freezing with an occasional costal cloud passing by. It was around 10:00 AM when we reached the hut.

Suffering from a bit of jet lag I took my time getting to the hut and from there followed Ken another few minutes to the start of the route, on the Tower Ridge. A wind turbine near the hut was quiet, which was a good signal it was going to be a good weather day for climbing in Scotland … in the winter.



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Ben Nevis offers over 200 routes to the summit in addition to the easy walkup aptly named the Pony Track. Over 150,000 people a year climb Ben with 99% of those on the Pony but today there were 50 or more on the technical routes for the north and east faces, gullies and ridges that offer the most interesting climbs. A new layer of snow, a few inches, made things interesting.

The Tower Ridge is considered a classic in mountaineering circles. It is an 1800' gain and only about half a mile long but offers a bit of everything from rock scrambling to challenging vertical gains, albeit short, to a crazy drop in to the Tower Gap. All in all a route worthy of testing any set of skills.

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Tower Ridge

The route starts with the option of climbing the Douglas Boulder or simply going around. Given there was a large group ahead of us and bottlenecks are common higher up on the route, we choose to take the sidestep up Observatory Gulley, into the Eastern Gulley and finally onto Douglas Gap and gained the ridge proper - and ahead of the masses.

The rock was solid but the footing very fragile with the fresh snow on the smooth rocks and using crampons.

We were now roped up and making good time as we cleared the first large bump in the ridge and after very sustained elevation gain, soon came upon the Little Tower. However there was nothing little about it. Ben is made up of rock that without snow would be a somewhat simple high class 4 rock climb on most of the route. But with the snow, the difficulty increased to the low Class 5 (YDS) level in my estimation.

There were multiple teams now on the route and Ken masterfully maneuvered around them sometimes requiring an aggressive move or two. We were now climbing in a strong and sustained manner and I became ever impressed with the quality of this route.

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We achieved the Little Tower and came upon a bit easier terrain until we approached the imposing face of the Great Tower. This is a near vertical face that thankfully we went around but it came at more exposure. The so called Eastern Traverse is infamous for being about 1 foot wide and a several hundred foot drop off. The ledge was snow covered without not much of a boot track yet; it was a lesson in focus.

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With the crowds on our heels, Ken next chose a direct line up the east face of the Great Tower and we climbed overhanging boulders, what I would easily put at 5.9, in winter conditions, section. With Ken belaying me, I made it to the upper sections of the Great Tower only to see the very narrow section of the Tower Gap down below.

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We soon were sitting together on the rock ledge looking out and over the Tower Gap. This is considered the crux of the Tower Ridge, but I thought it was only another section at this point. However as Ken simply said slide over, facing in and ease down until you feel you feet hit the rock; the true mean of "crux" became clear.

After a few moments of inspection, I did as instructed while holding on with a death grip to the sling that protected my life from a deadly fall. In the end it was actually easier than I thought. I cleared the gap and made my way across the very narrow and exposed rock ledge and onto the final section of 30 degree snow slope to the to of the Tower Ridge.

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The true summit was a few minutes away around a large corniced opening. At the true summit, marked with a rock pillar and a rescue hut perched on rock footings, we celebrated our climb and took in the views. We topped out around 2:30 making our climb on the ridge about 4 hours, not bad for winter conditions.

We took the Pony Track partly down but cut across the bogs back to the parking lot.

Ben Nevis was a tremendous amount of fun. I can easily see why the locals are so proud. As Mike jokingly told me, my 7 Summits had prepared me to climb the Tower Ridge - he was not far off.

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