Tim Blakemore cruxing through Sioux Wall (VIII,8, 5 pitches), Ben Nevis (1343m), Scotland. On November 23, he and Steve Ashworth made the third winter-conditions ascent of this route, which was the impetus for the development of hard mixed routes in the Third Gully Buttress area of Ben Nevis, profiled in Alpinist 22. [Photo] Steve Ashworth
On November 23, Steve Ashworth and Tim Blakemore made a winter-conditions ascent of Sioux Wall (VIII,8, 4 pitches, 90m), coincidentally just in time for the release of Alpinist 22, which features a Mountain Profile on Ben Nevis (1343m).
Ashworth and Blakemore’s ascent is likely the third. Oliver Metherell and Ian Parnell attempted the route in 2005 but traversed off, avoiding some of the difficulties up high; Andy Turner and Duncan Hodgson nailed the direct for the first true winter ascent. Freddie Wilkinson and Rok Zalokar completed the second ascent at the 2007 BMC Meet.
Although Metherell and Parnell are not credited with an ascent, Blakemore noted that their climb “was an important milestone in developing [that area of Ben Nevis] and started activity and interest.” The Number Three Gully Buttress area, with its steep and rime-encrusted crack systems, is becoming Scotland’s premier M-climbing testing ground, exhibiting a collection of routes like Arthur (VIII,8), Curly’s Arete (VIII,8), Siuox Wall (VIII,8) and Knuckleduster (VIII,9), which Ashworth established with Blair Fyffe last season.
Ashworth and Blakemore seized a high-pressure forecast and surprisingly good conditions: “[our experience on Sioux Wall] shows that the Ben can come almost immediately into mixed condition (for years people have said the Ben is not a mixed venue and needs long freeze-thaw cycles),” Blakemore said. “The climbing [on Sioux Wall] is steep, sustained and reasonably protected on mostly positive hooks and torques. All three [crux] pitches have technical 8 in them, with the first probably being the crux (though the third is hard to start).” Ashworth described: “the corner continues to give a third pitch which is capped by intimidating looking overhangs, which fortunately sit back and provide very useful hooks when you get to them… Conditions were just about perfect with just enough white stuff but not too much.” After the difficulties, a Grade 6 exit pitch is followed by a 70-meter jaunt up Number Three Gully Buttress (III).
“Winter ascents of summer rock routes are increasingly looked upon as fair game and climbers are looking to lines like these to develop the sport,” Blakemore added. “And the scope for new routes is still there. Within a few hundred metres of [Sioux Wall] alone I can think of half a dozen crack lines or features that would succumb to modern mixed techniques. All the activists know where they are; it’s a matter of getting conditions, partners and motivation together all at once.”