Dave MacLeod has made the first ascent of a bold new Ben Nevis E9 6c on Titan's Wall, Carn Dearg Buttress, which he has named Mnemosyne.
In a vlog about his climb, Dave said:
"Several years ago, Steve McClure mentioned to me that he'd seen an extremely hard and dangerous-looking project on Titan's Wall on the North Face of Ben Nevis. I'd spent a lot of time climbing elsewhere on the mountain, and had never looked at this wall myself."
Britain's highest mountain is usually too cold and wintry for hard rock routes, and Scottish summers are typically not the driest. It wasn't until June this year when Dave had the opportunity to return. He spent two sessions on the wall with Iain Small, who confirmed that the line was 'maybe a bit hard and bold.' Describing the gear, Dave said:
"There's really, really sparse protection, almost none really to speak of before the crux, and that's about 15 metres above the belay. You're not going to hit the ground if you fall off, but you could clip the halfway belay ledge on Titan's Wall."
Dave realised that in order to seriously try the route, it would be critical to spend many days on it to be really sure that he wouldn't fall off on the lead. He explained:
"It wasn't practical to try it with a partner every time. I needed to accept that I'd have to rope-solo on Titan's Wall every time I wanted to try it. This was actually quite good for me to build confidence leading on the wall and reinforce a sense of complete self-reliance, which is certainly an important mindset for leading the project itself."
When alone on the wall, Dave had to rope-solo two pitches simply to hang a rope down the line for practice. Despite less-than-perfect conditions during many attempts, he used this opportunity to optimise his sequences to ensure a no-fall lead. A minor elbow injury led to a week off training, but fortunately Dave recovered quickly. He increased his home board endurance training to account for this, but mostly trained on the line itself. He roped-in Robbie Phillips for a belay when time and conditions aligned.
Dave considers the physical difficulty of the climbing to be around 8a, but with fiddly gear, he estimates that completing it while placing gear on lead in one push bumps the difficulty to 8b. He explained:
"There are actually more than a dozen runners between the belay ledge and the crux. The trouble is that more or less every one is marginal aid style placements, shall we say small wires and sky hooks, that seemed quite likely to rip in a fall. To make a lead feasible, you really need to place them all, but this creates its own problem because they are very fiddly and time-consuming to place right in the middle of hard fingery climbing. It's around 8a to climb straight through, but two or three grades harder to place the gear."
Dave opted to place gear on lead in three separate batches, downclimbing to the ledge without weighting the rope between each group of placements. Placing the highest hooks and microwires followed by a downclimb seemed very precarious and "highly unlikely" to Dave during practice sessions. He said:
"Most of the time I couldn't get the microwires in the right spot in the placement, and so they could just ping straight out in a fall. Even worse, they may momentarily hold, causing you to swing in towards the cliff before dumping you on the belay ledge with broken legs, or worse."
In his last practice session, Dave successfully fiddled in the wires on lead — not perfectly, but sufficiently so to trust them for a full lead attempt.
Dave used a range of microwires, peckers, RPs and sky hooks with screamers tied-off with a rope to the belay ledge to ensure they remained in place. At one point on the successful attempt, he mixed up his sky hooks and had to reset and replace them.
Dave struggled to downclimb from the third batch of gear placements, but managed it with a few powerscreams. Next, he climbed up Titan's Wall to set up a camera for the full lead attempt. Having put in a considerable number of moves simply placing gear already, Dave felt that this was to his advantage. He said:
"With so much climbing already done on the wall that day I felt exactly as you would want to in order to push through the crux without hesitation: warmed up, relaxed and determined to finish the job."
Dave even adjusted the camera on the lead to capture the top section. Summing up his tick, he commented:
'This route had been weighing on my mind for a couple of years now. I thought it would be just too serious for me to ever justify leading, but you never know until you actually complete the preparation. I did recognise that I couldn't really move on with my new exploration of Ben Nevis, until this one was done. So now I can get on many of the other ones that I want to do, if we are gifted with more dry summers like this one."
Commenting on the name 'Mnemosyne', the Greek Titaness of memory, Dave told UKC: "I don't have any special reason for the name, it just carries on the Titan naming theme and I liked it, but it balances out the male-heavy list of Titans."