Sunday, 19 June 2016
Training in my new La Sportiva Otakis earlier today
I’m delighted to say I have joined the athlete team of La Sportiva after meeting the guys at Lyon Equipment last week. I don’t think it is news to any readers of this blog that I am pretty obsessive about the details in pushing my climbing and in optimising every aspect of it. So if I’m obsessive about climbing gear in general, when it comes to footwear, especially rock shoes, I take it to another level.
And why wouldn’t you? In rock climbing, the shoe on your foot becomes part of the machine. Your climbing style changes to match it. Anyone who's read 9 out of 10 and Make or Break knows my views on how important it is to get this right. But even if you follow good practice with choosing your rock shoes (trying on many pairs until you find something that fits your feet well) there is still the issue that individual models sometimes change, and your favoured model is no longer around. However, one lasting rule is that expert shoe manufacturers, with a long track record of designing and constructing high quality shoes can be relied upon to keep producing great designs.
I’d been deliberating about linking up with a footwear sponsor for some time. La Sportiva was the manufacturer in my mind to speak to. I got a great delivery of La Sportiva shoes earlier this week and obviously couldn’t wait to try them out. Over the past few days I’ve been climbing on very steep ground, first on a boulder project and then some sport climbing. I tend to prefer stiffer shoes than most, but I also like a good downturn. My favourite shoe so far for this type of climbing has been the new Otaki (I’m wearing in the pics) which is just out. They are brilliant for applying huge amounts of tension through a tiny foothold on steep ground and feel very compact and responsive on my feet. The overall ‘feel’ of a rock shoe definitely influences how you move on the rock and these feel secure, precise and just incredibly powerful on the vertical to 45 degree terrain I’ve climbed on them so far.
Although I still didn’t quite manage the boulder project I tried on my first outing with them (it is super hard for me!), they did feel fantastic and I could nearly do the project with some different foot beta I’d previously dismissed because I couldn’t get enough weight on my feet. The next day I did Remember to Roll (8b at Creag nan Luch) first redpoint in them and it felt pretty easy! Pretty good start.
Today I did a big training session on my board in them and they felt top notch on my entire cadre of hard problems and circuits on the 45 board. I’m always hesitant with hyperbole, but they did feel like I was getting a bit more body tension on these problems I know well than any other boot I’ve tried. You can take that with a pinch of salt since it’s a subjective comparison. But on the other hand, I know my board well, and I’m pretty sensitive to the differences between my many different rock shoes I’ve trained in over the years.
Obviously I’m also looking forward to climbing in La Sportiva’s winter boots this year, especially the Batura and Ice Cube. And I also feel a little coy about getting excited about new hillwalking boots. As a Scottish climber, my hill boots live in my car and I pretty much spend my waking life in either those or my rock shoes. If they are not super light, super comfortable and keep my feet nice and dry, my life would be a lot worse. I walked into my project on Skye in my new Trangos and know I will be a happy man pounding the Scottish hills in these.
The athlete team I have joined is rather humbling for me. It's quite a list. I better step up!
Thursday, 9 June 2016
Racing ahead of my chasing pack of midges to arrive at the roof on North by North West direct (E7 6b). From here you swing wildly left along the lip and get cracking on the big wall above.
Last week I decided to teach myself the lesson for a third time that boulder project season is over. I know, I’m a slow learner. However, to be fair I still almost pulled off my project. Since then I have been trying to get my endurance off the floor. One place on my project list was The Bonaidh Donn near Torridon, not an often visited crag I don’t think. Which is a shame because although it’s quite far from the road it’s really good.
There is one hard route there - an excellent sounding E7 of Stork’s called North by North West. It does a 5c first pitch and then traverses out above a roof to enter this wild finger crack soaring up an overhanging wall. I guessed a direct entry through the roof could be a good project. I went up and abseiled down for a look. Unfortunately the roof was blank. But there was obvious potential to come into the line along the lip of the roof from the right making a more direct single pitch version of the climb, probably at the same grade.
I went up on a super hot day with Alicia to have a go. After doing some other routes the midge appeared and the conditions were ridiculously bad. We sat with our hoods on and I contemplated the futility of trying it in full midge and heat. But I just don’t like going home without the route in the bag. So we went down and I tied in. In order that I didn’t melt, I was forced to take my midge hood and long sleeve top off to start up the initial wall. This provided about E7 6c midge factor scraping tons of midges off my arms while trying to get a first runner in. Things thankfully got more breezy by the roof and I was able to immensely enjoy the rest of the route, which didn’t feel too hard.
Great start to the trad season.
Alicia following 'Stoater' (Severe). The wall of North by North West can be seen in the background.
Alicia trying not to feed the midges
High on North by North West. Great line.
Good sunset beyond Loch Maree and the Minch
Labels: North West
Friday, 27 May 2016
Practice of the Wild from MOUNTAIN EQUIPMENT on Vimeo.
Above is the film of me climbing Practice of the Wild 8C in Switzerland the other week. The whole experience of that trip went pretty well. I had a good focus, good training and ended up doing not just the big goal, but almost everything else on my wishlist as well. I normally make pretty ambitious wish lists for trips and so if I manage even one of them I’m doing well. So I came home quite inspired to try and repeat the process.
However, your focus has to fall into line with what the conditions of the moment dictate. I wanted to climb one more boulder problem project back in Scotland, before the summer heat arrived. With many things to catch up on since I arrived home, I only got two chances to get on it. Last week I went up in not great conditions and almost did it. Yesterday I had another chance but couldn’t get away till late in the evening. My plan was to drive up, walk in and have a night session on it with the lights. But when I arrived in the car park at 10pm I felt too tired and decided just to sleep and go up early in the morning.
Next morning I walked in to find the project roasting hot, in full sun with no wind. No chance. I deluded myself for ten minutes and tried to warm up for it but quickly confirmed that bouldering season, at least for something as hard as this project, is now over.
So I packed up, turned around, and walked out, cursing myself for not managing to make this project happen while I had the form to actually climb it. I’ll just have to hope I still feel strong in the autumn, although by then I’ll be preparing for a 9a endurance route. I drove home rather frustrated, behind caravans.
Much as the failure is unpleasant in the short term, a kick in the ass is what I need now, to force me to move on, re-focus and prepare for what I want to climb next. One of the many lessons I learn about my climbing over and over again is that I do best with a clear focus rather than trying whatever. For the summer trad season, I have various ideas for hard projects to look at, but nothing I’ve actually been on yet. Next week I should have a chance to go and look at the first one or two of these potential new routes.
So for now I can only have a very short term focus - to start to claw back some endurance. I've been on the circuits, to try and turn myself into a route climber again. 3 sessions in, I already feel some progress and it’s actually really nice to climb more than 10 moves in a row.
Tuesday, 24 May 2016
Risk taking is something that continually fascinates me. It used to occupy my mind mainly in the context of running it out on scary trad routes. These days, more and more, I think of my risk taking in this environment as being quite simple most of the time. I either want to do the climb enough and feel able and willing to commit to it, or I don’t. Risk taking decisions in climbing are often quite formulaic. You put the pieces of information you have through the algorithm, and then churn out the decision. The spaces between the information get filled with intuition borne from experience (of past mistakes). Where you know you are relying on intuition, you must accept its limitations and be ready to escape as best you can if the adventure goes bad. If there is no intuition, no spaces between the data, there isn’t much excitement. Sport becomes robotic and dull.
More interesting are the more complex risks of life. Where the proportion of fragments of useful signal in the noise of unknowns are much scarcer. If I eat this, am I getting slightly more dead, or slightly closer to 8C? Will my life be better if I stay in the European Union? Given that the world is still turning after George W, will the end befall us under Donald Trump?
Still more tricky are parental decisions. My daughter balances along a wall. My head tells me there is only one way to learn about height: landing from a height. Better learning from a 3 foot drop than 30 foot. But learning carries the risk of things not working out well. There is no way around this. Avoiding short term risk during learning creates bigger risks later on. It’s why the rates of kids fractures go up, not down, when they replace the concrete with rubber flooring in play parks. Risky play is a serious business, of learning.
It was a year and a half ago now, but readers of this blog will remember that my take-home message from the referendum campaign for independence here in Scotland was that I resolved to be as fearless as possible in as many areas of my life as I could. I was left with a strong desire to rail against bias for the status quo until you have a path of solid data laid before you (data which can never be got without taking the leap and running the experiment). It colours my approach to many things, in my view in a good way. But I’ll not be offended if you read this and think differently. My perspective is that our norms are way too skewed in the direction of reluctance to experiment and take risks, and by pushing back against this, we get closer to an optimum balance. In other words, the tide of societal norms and especially media economics is constantly dragging us towards fearfulness. While the tide moves in this direction, we have to swim in the other direction, even just to stand still. I’m writing this post as much as anything to remind myself to keep up that resolve. I try every day, sometimes succeeding, sometimes badly failing. Failing is allowed. Failing to try is inexcusable.
As I get older I understand more and more that I have an appetite for taking risks in certain situations, even if the odds are not great. I don’t take stupid risks. You’ll never catch me in a bookmakers, for example. I’m also not that attached to the thrill of taking risks. I still get a wee bit scared to phone people I don’t know and things like that. I get no kick out of random risks, purely taken for the thrill. But if I’m curious about an outcome, I’ll gladly take a calculated risk to find out what will happen. In fact, I’ll find it harder not to take the risk. I find the status-quo an uncomfortable, stressful place. But pure indulgence of curiosity is not the only strand of motivation for risk taking for me. The need for change is another.
I heard an interesting quote the other day that there are only two things that drive significant change in a persons life; abject misery or profound inspiration.
If this is indeed true, then it is interesting because either will do. If you don’t have the inspiration, misery in its various forms will do just fine in its place. Maybe it’s just me but I feel myself getting gradually less tolerant of a part of our culture that is tyrannised by the need for data. I’m all for evidence, and the use of useful data. But life is full of unknowns - incomplete or absent data. Quite often the only way to get data is to go ahead and try, and learn the hard way. This is the rub for me - aversion to exploring areas with little data only succeeds in getting less data. If you are a data fiend, then the places where data does not exist are those that will feed your habit for more data.
If someone says “lets not try this until we have evidence”. The next question should be “can we get the evidence without trying it?” Life is far to short to get stuck in this dilemma all the time.
Monday, 2 May 2016
Video still of climbing Practice of the Wild (Font 8C) in Magic Wood last week.
The footage of Tyler Landman doing the second ascent of Practice of the Wild was what first inspired me to visit Magic Wood in 2012. Obviously I’d already heard about it, as ‘Chris Sharma’s hardest boulder problem’. I’d heard about Chris’s method for the last move - a wild all points off dyno across the roof. Landman looked so dynamic and strong on it and the climbing looked so good. It it was an exemplary piece of hard climbing. I had to go there.
But not for Practice of the Wild - at Font 8c and one the hardest problems in the world according to Daniel Woods who also repeated it, it was too hard for me. Although I do boulder for quite a few months in the year, sometimes as much as 6, I’ve never got much beyond a handful of Font 8Bs. On my 2012 visit, feeling in good shape for me, I did manage two 8B+s (New Base Line and Mystic Stylez) which I was very surprised and delighted with.
Of course bouldering grades do tend to be a bit stiffer in the UK and neither of these felt as hard as some of my own problems in Glen Nevis such as Seven of Nine. But operating pretty much on your own, it’s easy to get lost with grades, and I frequently do. I’ll give myself the excuse of not doing one climbing discipline for long enough to get an idea, and stick to it.
In 2012 I did try Practice of the Wild for a session, and confirmed that it was indeed far too hard for me. I couldn’t do any of the crux moves. None. But that was sort of irrelevant. Because I was inspired by it, which is all that really matters. I’m fully accepting that when you try something hard, you might never succeed. If that wasn’t true, it wouldn’t be hard, would it? So who cares whether it’s too hard, so long as it drives your motivation.
I visited Magic Wood again in 2013 for a week (of warm and wet weather). The hardest thing I climbed was 8A. Ridiculous as it is to say, the best thing about the trip was just to stand and look at Practice of the Wild again, and think.
Climbing Dark Sakai (8B) last week. I'd tried it before in October but tweaked my finger on a nasty pocket at the start. This time I could do it first try after a quick reacquaintance.
In the past year or so, I’d gone through two ankle surgery rehabs, a big chunk of the year on crutches and was looking at another surgery. I was 36 and after so much time just trying to be able to walk and climb anything, the idea of reaching a new level of Font 8C seemed laughable. A joke. I looked at the problem and even in my dreamy inner thoughts I felt there was no chance, ever. Don’t kid yourself on MacLeod.
For quite a while I accepted this. Actually it was part of a wider shift in my thinking at the time. I was really trying to come to terms with my loss of form after the surgeries. I wasn’t really prepared to deal with it and was trying to find the best way forward. For a time it seemed like I should accept that upward progress in sport climbing or bouldering was just over for me. As I wrote in Make or Break, I do feel that almost every serious battle scar you pick up in life changes your constraints. It changes the rules of the game for you, sometimes tipping the scales against you. If you are unprepared to push back against this and still fail, it may be better to leave the game. Eventually I realised this was not me. I do still enjoy trying to improve at climbing so much, that playing against poor odds is still worth it for me.
Given some time to recover from the surgeries, I naturally felt this black and white way of thinking melt away a bit. The reasons why I couldn’t keep improving seemed less important when I could get on with a daily routine of actually training and going climbing, ticking routes again, even if they were not hard ones.
Some footage of me climbing my model of Practice on my board in March
So with some positive feelings returning I made a statement of intent by building a model of Practice of the Wild on my board. It was a pretty good one! At first, I couldn’t do any of the moves. After several sessions, I could do two of them individually, then another, then another. But that’s where the progress basically ended. By last September, at my strongest I could string two moves together (of seven). At this rate, I’d maybe climb the model when I was 45?! I’d have to hope it was harder than the real thing. Actually I knew it wasn’t.
And so I knew I needed another ingredient, not an edge, but a supercharger on my climbing standard. You don’t get many of them at 37 (without crossing boundaries of legality and sporting fairness). But you do if you are not thin. I’ve never been a thin climber, and always struggled to keep my body fat % below about 15% (putting me firmly in the outlier category at the high fat end of the Font 8B+ or harder cohort). For reasons I couldn’t fully understand (even now I still only have fluid hypotheses) it was getting harder and harder for me to even tread water in this battle. I still had a hunch that somewhere beneath my tyre was a potential Font 8C climber.
So although this aspect of my preparation clearly would be the linchpin, the trouble with it was that I’d already thrown every single piece of advice coming from sports nutrition at it already, and failed. I’d slowly, depressingly failed for two decades. So how might I suddenly succeed? I’m sorry to break the narrative and potentially spoil the read at this point, but the ‘how’ what came next I’m going to save for a dedicated blog post (well, actually massive essay). Please forgive me for this, but it’s such a controversial topic that I am very concerned that I might be taken out of context, or seen as being flippant or glossing over important details in such an important issue. Also, and not least because the approach I took was precisely the one that many nutritionists warn is a path to outright failure in sport performance. So if you are interested in the ‘how’, it’s coming. For now, here’s what happened:
Phase one of me intervention was reading around 20 books and many hundreds of scientific papers and hundreds more webpages, so I had a handle on what I was doing. In phase two, I easily lost 3.5kgs in less than one month and my climbing standard took an immediate jump. I didn’t really get to test this other than on my board since it was the start of the winter. In phase 2, I maintained my new lower weight and felt great in training with much better energy and much to my surprise a few other long term health issues cleared up as well. During this time I managed to climb my model of Practice of the Wild. So I made it harder so I couldn’t do one of the first moves again and built up to being able to just climb it once at my limit.
In phase three of my dietary changes I dropped another 2.5Kgs, still feeling great and just before my trip to Magic Wood in April I could run laps on the model! When I arrived in Magic Wood I headed straight for Practice. I was somewhat bleary eyed after the long drive across Germany, but I could immediately feel I was much stronger on the moves. But it was on the second session, after a night’s sleep that reality hit - I could link it straight away to the last move! A huge leap in progress, and more than that a realisation that this was not a joke project. I could do this.
Since the start holds were still quite wet I spent time practicing the finishing big dyno a few times. On the third time I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder while holding the swing. “Oh no! Surely I’m not going to get injured now. Not now!!!” It didn’t feel that bad, but not good either. In hindsight I think I just scraped a rotator cuff tendon a bit. But I was worried it might be a SLAP tear. Either way I was terrified of doing the move that way again.
So one night while it snowed about a foot, I broke trail into the wood, set up my lights and worked out another method. A huge cross through stab to a crimp, and then I could get the jug statically. It was maybe a tiny bit harder, but I could do the move several times in isolation.
I had one more session of redpoints to the last move every time. One time I held it and my lower hand pinged off. I knew it could happen next session. But I also knew this could get harder psychologically - playing defensively creates pressure. When all you have to do is not blow your chance, somehow this becomes much harder to avoid!
Sure enough, next session I felt inexplicably a few % weaker. Two mistake riddled brawls to the last move, falling weakly. One fall from lower down. Then a hole opened in my finger. It was unravelling! I’d surely need two days to let the hole heal up, then the rain was coming. Practice of the Wild can stay wet for weeks at a time. I spent half and hour repeatedly doing the last move, systematically trying every tweak in the movement I could think of. I came upon a small improvement. If I pulled up a little higher and went for the move without dropping down so much (more of a snatch than a lunge), it felt a tiny bit more solid. I went for a walk. Looking at my shredded fingers, I figured I wanted one more try that day from the start. If I was going to take two days off and potentially more after the rain, what did it matter if my fingers were totally trashed?
Whatever happened in that moment, the pressure of anticipation for that session dissipating, the walk warming me up a bit, my skin hitting that sweet spot of friction just before it gets too thin, whatever, everything clicked. As soon as I pulled on I felt good. The moves flowed by and I arrived and the last move not feeling anything. It wasn’t until I felt my fingers bite into the crimp that I woke up and realised it was on. I breathed to force me to take my time setting my feet, and then grabbed the massive jug.
Video still of going for the jug on the last move on the successful attempt. I'll post up a video of it when it's ready.
None of this matters to anyone except me. And only two things about it really matter to me. Firstly, Practice of the Wild is a brilliant piece of climbing, and by being hard enough to give me a good battle, I was able to enjoy it all the more. Secondly, I had to make real progress in my climbing to do it. Well okay one more thing matters, I had to use my brain to figure out how to make the progress. The battle was won while sitting on my ass at 2am with square eyes reading obscure papers on cellular metabolism. There is more to climbing than just pulling on holds.
Footnote: I’m always a bit sensitive writing about weight and climbing. Personally, I think writing about it and being open is much better and healthier than being secretive. But I know disordered eating and inappropriate food restriction happens in climbing and it’s a problem. In my view we’ve got to be open about when it’s appropriate to look at weight as a priority for training for climbing. As I said above, I have a post coming on the ‘how’ of my training intervention. It’s a highly controversial and polarised topic that needs handling with care. So even in that post I’ll be urging you to listen to the whole body of research out there, not just one voice. But from this post if you take anything away from it regarding weight in climbing, let it be these three simple points:
1. I spent months and probably 1000s of hours studying vast quantities of scientific research and discussion before doing anything.
2. I used a strategy for weight loss which does not involve being hungry, or anything other than eating high quality real food.
3. I am a 37 year old male who had a tyre around my waist. My individual story is relevant to me, not you. Fat loss tends to be effective in climbers with excessive amounts of fat. It can be seriously performance negative (at the very least) in those who do not carry excess fat, or people who are growing or have other health conditions. This leads back to point one - start from an informed position.
Climbing Steppenwolf (8B) in three tries.
Thursday, 21 April 2016
Shallow Water to Riverbed 8B+ from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.
Right now I am back in Magic Wood, Switzerland, waiting for the rain and snow to stop. I’ve been here for a week, with a mix of great climbing sessions and the usual wet days. I’m always full of anticipation and excitement for any climbing trip. But this one maybe that bit more than ever as I felt some signs that I feel in maybe the best climbing shape I have been.
In some ways I find this amazing since I worked ~16 hour days more or less non-stop between last October and the Fort William Mountain Festival in February. Some of this work included training and climbing. But the point is, I had a heavy workload with a lot or pressure on my ability to rest and thus sustain a training schedule. I have adapted some good strategies to squeeze maximum benefit from less resting time that I would like.
So what about the training? The minor factor in this has been a solid uninterrupted period of training through the winter on my board and not recovering from surgeries as I have been pretty much non-stop since late 2012! There is nothing ‘rocket science’ about the training really - just turning up, working my weaknesses, completing my workouts and then resting as well as I can between them. Because I have my own board, I have to take extra care not to become too set in my ways with the movements I set for myself. Part of this is having a good range of hold shapes, making sure to record and climb other climbers problems and set informal models of hard moves my projects. Part of it is just setting new problems often. But my big weakness remains ‘old school’ pure finger strength and body power. So I have many basic fingery problems and still spend plenty of time doing my deadhangs. When I do get the opportunity to go to large commercial walls (TCA in Glasgow is my favourite!), I forget the basic stuff and use the opportunity to get more variety of movement styles that expose and work my weaknesses. Obviously, this situation is quite specific to me.
The wall-based training factor is only the minor aspect of my recent improvement because it is overshadowed by the other factor has had such a dramatic effect on my climbing. This factor was radically changing my diet back in October. Many readers have asked me to write about this, and I will. However, it is an ongoing experiment and still a little early to draw any conclusions about exactly what has made the difference. I am also reluctant to potentially influence anyone before completing a broad base of reading on the scientific literature on the subject. This is something I have spent a lot of my spare moments doing and find it a mixture of fascinating, shocking, disturbing, exciting and depressing all at the same time. I have more stages of my ‘experiment of one’ yet to complete. No doubt I have much still to learn. However, so far I have experienced a range of quite dramatic health improvements, quite apart from the original goal - to increase my climbing level.
I did a bit of mixed climbing this season which did rather get in the way of rock training, but was certainly worth it with four IX’s onsight. I finished off just a couple of weeks ago with a repeat of Ines Papert’s Bavarinthia IX,9 in the Gorms. I kind of felt ready to get on something harder, but the season didn’t quite work out for me - the conditions disappeared just as I had my window to go mixed climbing more. Hence I went to Mull and did the crack project instead. Just before I left, I squeezed in two sessions on a nice boulder project on Skye. I was sooooo close on the second session. But it didn’t happen, so I’m hoping for some strong northerlies in mid May when I get my next chance to go there.
In Magic Wood one of my main trip goals was to work on the sit start to Riverbed (8B+). Although I did Riverbed (an 8B in itself) on my last trip very quickly, I got totally stumped by the sit start. I couldn’t do it at all!
At the end of a session last week I surprised myself by linking this part in about 30 minutes work, and excitedly reacquainted myself with the Riverbed section beyond. Next session I arrived rested but in slightly humid conditions. After a warm-up I shocked myself by completing the whole thing on my first try. I didn’t expect that! It’s only the third 8B+ repeat I’ve done, and it was great to feel it was not at my limit at the moment. Check out the video above - it’s a nice boulder!
So obviously I’m excited to see that some of my training decisions are paying off (at least for now) in quite dramatic style, but also what else I could climb while I’m here. Unfortunately, it’s now heaving it down with rain and snow. So I am sitting drinking tea and climbing nothing. Perhaps I will see some of you for my talk at the Aviemore Mountain Film Festival on Friday night (22nd) where I will discuss some of the ideas that have improved my climbing of late. After that I will return to Magic Wood and wait for the rain to stop again.
Tuesday, 5 April 2016
Ben Nevis · Wild Times from Nevis Landscape Partnership on Vimeo.
I’m delighted to finally be able to share this film that I’ve been gathering footage for since last summer. The Nevis Landscape Partnership asked us to make a series of films for them related to the Ben Nevis/Glen Nevis area over a few years. Last year we focused on the huge survey of the Ben Nevis north face.
I’m delighted to finally be able to share this film that I’ve been gathering footage for since last summer. The Nevis Landscape Partnership asked us to make a series of films for them related to the Ben Nevis/Glen Nevis area over a few years. Last year we focused on the huge survey of the Ben Nevis north face.
This year I wanted to focus more on Glen Nevis, and great people who are connected to it, both in the past and today. One place that I have always found one of the most special places on the earth is Steall in upper Glen Nevis. In the film I featured a little of the history of the folk who lived there, just a couple of generations ago.
One of the things I find fascinating is the idea of the similarities and differences between the people of the past who lived and worked in these places, and those who use it today. Often, today people are using the mountains for sport, although many are also lucky enough to work in the mountains too.
I decided to do a bit of filming with local Fort William GP and British fell running champion Finlay Wild. Finlay is well known among the locals for winning the Ben Nevis Race every year and breaking various running records around the Scottish mountains, such as the Cuillin Ridge record.
I wanted to ask him about his relationship with The Ben and the Glen - whether the mountains seemed less wild or intimidating when you are fit enough run up Ben Nevis in less than an hour? What went through his mind while he was running? And for someone who could live anywhere, why he chose to stay among the mountains he grew up in. His thoughts on these issues were great, all with the backdrop of his amazing running.
I was particularly keen to capture his winter ridge runs with my drone and naturally it took a bit of time and organising to get a day when it might be possible to fly in full winter conditions. We waited in falling snow and mist until we were all freezing and finally the clouds just started to clear. At first I didn’t think the drone batteries would handle the cold, but I got one warmed up enough to fly and got some nice footage that to my mind captures something about why you would want to go to such effort to get fit and deal with all the hardships of the winter mountains and training. I was so exited to see the ‘drone’s eye view’ of Finlay charging along a snow-clad ridge, it was hard to concentrate on flying the drone.
After all the work of putting this together, I had a short break and start filming the next one tomorrow!
Sunday, 27 March 2016
The Curtain - Solo from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.
Here is a wee video shot on my GoPro of my solo of The Curtain on Ben Nevis the other week. I was up in the north face to do something else but because of conditions eded up going for a wee solo. I’d never done the Curtain and wanted to solo it for ages but never got round to it.
Thursday, 24 March 2016
Returning home from Mull I could see the incredible spell of weather was about to break. I dived out to my project on The Cameron Stone in Glen Nevis, which I was very close to completing before I left. It was starting to rain as I got there and the top rapidly got soaked.
The project is super crimpy and I’ve split my fingertips on it twice already. Basically, you only get a handful of tries at the crux match and jump before it splits. On each try, you gamble with ‘one more try’ until your finger splits and you lose two days training.
The project starts up Dan Varian’s problem up the arete, completed last spring at 8A+ and repeated by me last September. I could see there was an obvious harder link to go leftwards on the tiny crimps and jump to the good block on the neighbouring 7C+ ‘The news in Pidgin Gaelic’. I’m never too sure about the grade, especially with super crimpy lines, but if the arete is 8A+ then it’s got to be a grade harder.
As usual I didn’t think I had all that much chance of success, but though I better hang my Prohpet Jacket off the baby Scot’s Pine growing out of the top-out crack, just in case I got there and needed dry(er) holds.
About 4th try, I finally held the jump and braced myself for sliding off the soaking wet top-out and into the bog below. With a careful approach, the top was actually fine and I strolled off down the hill, delighted to have finished a great project in such unlikely conditions. Check out the video above.
Before I go to Switzerland, I have two more boulder projects I would like to try, but going by the forecast for the next week, I might be training instead. Actually that will do me good. I feel like I’m getting a bit weak from all this outdoor climbing! A good problem to have.
Monday, 21 March 2016
First ascent of Ice Burn E8 6c, on the Ice Wall, Kintra, Isle of Mull. Photo Chris Prescott
I was all geared up for some winter projects when the Scottish weather, as always, changed the plan. I’m certainly not complaining. The weather turned amazing for all things rock climbing. Bouldering, sport, trad - all in top condition, no rain, no midge. I tried to keep calm and not go headless chicken.
Within an evening I'd settled on a plan of heading to Mull to look at a granite crack project Michael Tweedley had told me about for years. The whole coastline at Kintra has many unexplored trad and bouldering possibilities. I jumped in the car with Claire, Freida and Michael and was later joined by Chris Prescott, Natalie Berry and some more family for a right old gathering on the coast.
I started trying the crack which was amazing. I’m not really a crack person, so it felt like 8a+ to me and would definitely be a good sustained fight. None of the individual moves were that hard but I could just tell the last few metres would be exciting after very sustained climbing and placing all those cams.
Although I had several days in hand, I was anxious as always to get my chance to try it. The perfect week of weather had unfortunately proved not quite perfect - under the thin layer of inversion cloud, some drizzle was forecast. And one stubbornly seeping hold in the crack looked like it could scupper the whole thing unless it got sun and wind on it.
On the first day Chris and Nat joined us, the hold was too wet and we explored the bouldering instead. Both Natalie and I flashed Greg Chapman’s Roughcut Reality 7C+, feeling it was a bit easier than the given grade. Next door I started looking at the project sit start Greg had mentioned on a big prow. It looked a perfect line, but surely at least 8a+. But once the beta was unlocked I got it in about 15 minutes or so. High Heidyin, 7C. A bit too good a line to be considered a salvage of the day!
First ascent of High Heidyin 7C, Kintra, Isle of Mull. Photo Chris Prescott
The next day I scrutinised the wind forecast. A burst of strong northerlies was due to reach it’s peak at 6pm. So I waited until 4 and walked out. A bit of frantic hold drying and I realised it was a great opportunity to do the project.
So I tied right in and got started. It was freezing and the granite was definitely grippy. I told myself two things before starting - the cams will inevitably take that couple of seconds longer than you’d like to place and clip them, and that no matter how well it goes, I’ll need to be ready for a fight at the last five metres. I think it was good advice.
I did indeed arrive at the last few metres a bit more pumped than I would like from the extra effort of arranging the cams. At the last cam, my right arm was burning. But I actually felt like I had enough strength to deal with it and was able to step up a gear and bear down on the final crimps. With a shout I leapt for the top of the crag and there was no way I was letting go.
First trad route of the year, and a belter it was too. Ice Burn, E8 6c. Tomorrow I have one more day to look at another hard sounding trad project before it’s back to bouldering mode. I have three Scottish bouldering projects I want to try in the next two weeks. One 8A+ and two 8Bs, and then it will be time for me to drive to CH.
First ascent of Grasas Saturadas E6 6b on The Barriga de Cerveza, Isle of Mull last night. Photo: Chris Prescott I almost fell off because my fingers were freezing. Thanks to Michael for pointing me at this great route.