Yesterday I met a old mate Dougie who now works with the SAR helicopter at Bristows in Inverness as an engineer. We had a coffee in Elgin and he was talking about his days on the RAF Kinloss MRT in the early 80’s when he was a talented mountaineer and is now getting back into the mountains after working abroad for many years.
We were speaking about the Ben and some great days with his mate Tom MacDonald and the classic hill day the 4 great ridges on the Ben. It was a special day that many in the team had done over the years but Tom and Dougie did it fairly fast after a wild night in Glencoe. It was great to hear the stories but my view the way to do these ridges is one at a time and savour them as the solo climbers and others rush by.
|264-10/72||01/09/72||Ben Nevis||Tower Ridge||3 Royal Navy climbers, fell from Tower ridge had a small dog with them in rucksack – 3 fatal. John Hinde, Heavy, Bugsy Michael Rabbitts climbed the ridge after call – out. They were working on the radios in the CIC hut and having a day out afterwards.|
My first days rock climbing on Ben Nevis was the call – out in September 1972 on Tower Ridge when three Naval climbers who were staying in the CIC hut fell from Tower Ridge. After recovering the casualties with Lochaber MRT after an early morning drive to Fort William with no sleep.It was a huge eyeopener to me as a young guy and showed me how this mountain can be such a place for me of sorrow and joy over the years. I was with the late John Hinde who followed the line from where they fell from. It was wet and sloppy and a bit different from my previous climbs at Cummingston and other small crags! I was aware of the seriousness of this incredible climb that had everything I wanted out of the mountains. I remember the huge drops, the loose rock and the tower gap! I was a tired laddie at the end of the day. John was so wise and worked out where the accident had happened when all three were moving roped together with no protection! That was a huge reminder to me for future years that if roped be ready for a slip and always protect the climb if possible!
The 4 Ridges maybe 5 if you add Ledge Route are done anyway you want.
When I took 12 hours to climb them with Big Al MacLeod (RIP)we did Observatory Ridge down Tower Ridge then North East Buttress and down Castle Ridge. That for me it was a magic day and I used the rope fairly often much to Al’s laughter being a poor climber. I did it again a few times staying at the CIC hut and adding Ledge Route learning so much about this great hill. I have great memories of Al waiting and nearly falling asleep on the Great Tower.
To me Observatory Ridge is always a challenge and to me the trickiest. It has a serious start and is a long route taking you some wild scenery. Observatory Ridge as all the ridges even in summer can cause real interest they are long Alpine in length. Yet they can be a real fun and just to do one now at my age will sort me out. You never know what the Ben will give you as at times even in summer they can hold snow and verglas after a chilly night.
On the ridges It was always a day of introduction to this incredible mountain I loved doing one of the ridges with a new troop and then the walk onto the summit and round the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. One of the troops many years ago fell of on Castle Ridge at the steep chimney ! It was on Willie Mac’s first day out and I held him luckily. Willie gave up smoking after that and is now the man in charge of the RAF Mountain Rescue Teams.
North East Buttress is a special way to the summit and after the initial slabs the ridge is grand and what views the fun starts at the man/ woman trap near the top and then the 40 foot corner high up and this can be a lonely place in poor weather.
There are so many stories of these great classic ridge on the Ben and how serious they can be. They are Alpine at times and I wish so many of the rock athletes who go craging would enjoy these magnificent places. I have been with the stars on the small crags and climbing walls then in the Tower Gap in a wind and rain it all seems so serious from an indoor wall. These routes are great adventures and as the snow leaves these great cliffs it is time get out there and enjoy some of the best climbing in the Uk. It would be great if my club had a meet at the Ben on day and get the climbers out onto the big cliffs?
Many will find these climbs so easy others will be rushing but savour them and sit and enjoy this place with the great cliffs and look about and see the scope of this great mountains. Be careful of loose rock and changing weather and think that Tower Ridge was first done in descent in 1982.As Team Leader I used to let my new rock leaders loose on the Ben and many cut there teeth in the poor weather in late summer and learned so much, never underestimate this place. It was great to see them on their return or on the top of the Ben after an ascent of one of the great ridges.
So what are you up to this summer my advice is to get up these ridges get to know the Ben and then you can get on to the bigger climbs but that is another story.
B1954 Ben Nevis Diagram
There are some great books on the Ben well worth a read. This is the best what a read of the great climbs and the people who made them.