Posted on: December 1, 2007

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."

Sources: Steve Ashworth, Tim Blakemore, Blair Fyffe,, and

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steve ashworth

I don’t think Tim was in any way trying to detract anything from the achievements of Ian and Olly on their ascent of Sioux Wall, it was a great achievement that opened our eyes to the potential on this part of the crag.

The last thing he would have intended was to appear inaccurate. The SMC journal 2006 clearly credits the first ascent of Sioux wall in its entirety to Andy and Duncan. This was done shortly after Ian’s ascent but at the time received none of the media coverage of the first ascent. I wouldn’t want to “write the early pioneers of this line out of history” and it is for this reason that I highlight the ascent by Andy and Duncan.

I appreciate that winter ascents of summer lines don’t have to follow the summer lines religiously and that variants to summer lines may actually give better climbing however in this case Sioux wall is a very strong natural line, the belay where Ian moved right is half way up a corner system. The continuation pitch up the corner gives a very hard sequence before joining the ground climbed by Curlys aręte and would warrant another pitch of VIII 8, I’m pretty sure that Ian (who I know has a very good eye for a line) would, had he known his chosen line was going to be equally as hard, have carried on up the natural summer line of Sioux Wall.

2007-12-04 13:01:50
Ian Parnell

Wasn't going to comment when this story was first reported on British web sites. But considering that this now getting "cut and pasted" straight into then its worth putting the record straight.

Tim and Steve's fine repeat was surely the fourth. Olly and I on the first ascent didn't "traverse off". It was dissapointing of Tim to suggest that as he knows it's not actually possible to traverse off - you're in the middle of a hard steep wall with no ledges. We climbed an alternative straight up final pitch, parallel to the summer rock line. It went at VII 7 for that pitch very much in keeping with the standard of the rest of the route.

Andy and Duncan made the second ascent, being the first to climb that final pitch of the summer line. Having repeated most of that pitch on Curly's wall its about the same standard as our finish, but is a more direct line and makes a better route.

A route often evolves following repeats and refinements of the line, as has happened with Sioux Wall but theres no need to write early pioneers out of the history as Tim seems to be trying to do.

For readers wondering if this sounds like alot of fuss about a variation on some tiny mountain on the other side of the world. It is! but we are talking about the Ben here which beats most mountains eight times its size any day.

2007-12-04 11:27:52
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