Tuesday, 5 July 2016

New film of Michael on Tower Ridge

A Fine Line from Nevis Landscape Partnership on Vimeo.

Here is a wee film I made recently with Michael Tweedley and my DJI Inspire 1 drone, running the always fantastic Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis and the excellent paths around the mountain.

I made the film to help draw attention to the great work of the Nevis Landscape Partnership and Friends of Nevis in building and maintaining the paths in the Nevis area, alongside other organisations such as the John Muir Trust.

When I think back to the Allt a Mhuillin path as just one example, it’s in so much better shape that it used to be. Most grateful to the teams, especially the volunteers who build them. Please do volunteer and help - the days out are always good craic.

HELP WANTED! from Nevis Landscape Partnership on Vimeo.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Return of the King GoPro

GoPro of Return of the King E9 6c from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

Here is some GoPro footage of my ascent of Return of the King E9 in the Lakes last week. You can hear Steve Ashworth’s camera snapping away just behind the camera. But I didn’t notice any of that where I was, not that I would anyway in a bubble of climbing psyche. 

Actually when I was practising the route right before the lead, I did notice a lady on the path below look up and notice be dangling about on the wall and shout ‘Oh my god’ in a very loud voice. It reminded me a bit of climbing at Dumbarton back in the day. I’m not used to climbing in such busy places!

New white circuit for July in Three Wise Monkeys

3WM June 2016 White circuit from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

Yesterday I set a new white circuit (the hardest in the range of boulder circuits) in Three Wise Monkeys in Fort William. Most of them are pretty  steady in the V6/7 range. The easiest are roughly V5 and the hardest one maybe V8+ (the left hand death star one).

If you would like the beta, is some GoPro footage of all of them. Enjoy them Lochaber climbers and visitors! Great to be in there setting new boulders while the rain falls outside.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Return of the King

High on Return of the King, E9 6c, Scafell. Photo: Steve Ashworth/Lake District Images

Over the years I’ve repeated several of Dave Birkett’s excellent hard trad routes in the Lake District - If Six Was Nine (E9), Caution (E8), Impact Day (E8) Dawes Rides a Shovelhead (E8) and John Dunne’s route Breathless (E9). But I’d never got myself up to Scafell where Birkett left a trio of E9s that looked fantastic.

To me, Return of the King looked the most appealing line to try first. Last Tuesday I headed down and drove round to Wasdale for the first time. Lovely place! Having observed lots of ‘Vote Leave’ and UKIP banners in many of the Cumbrian villages on the drive round from Keswick, and having overheard several conversations in cafes and shops en route, I walked in with a head full of contemplation about the UK and its future, which at the time I still hoped would be to choose to stay in Europe. With the realisation that the bubble of ‘remain’ support I came from in Scotland was evidently not widely shared in the north of England, the enormity of the week and the prospects for my daughter’s life began to dawn on me.

So my first session on Return of the King was a little distracted. Nevertheless, I enjoyed myself. I sussed out the line, give it a quick clean and top roped it first try after trying the moves once. I was aware that both the previous ascents used preplaced gear and I could see why! The crucial small wire placements were right in the middle of the crux sections. So placing them on lead would basically be the crux of the route.

I had a bit of a cold so decided to take a rest the next day and go up on the Thursday to lead the route. On my rest day I bumped into Steve Ashworth who decided to pop up with his camera, hence the nice pictures!

Next day I dropped Alicia off north of Ambleside for a long run on her Bob Graham round preparation and drove round to Wasdale, with the agreement that we would rendezvous at Scafell and I would do Return of the King. Alicia arrived just as I was having a quick warm-up shunt on the route and I got on the lead straight afterwards.

I’ve only been bouldering and some winter climbing for some time now. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the sharp end on an E9. So I did feel that my normal routine of getting into a very psyched-up mindset for blasting off up a hard route with only a couple of RPs clipped to your harness. It did definitely help that I still had a bit of strength in my arms from the bouldering season. The moves of the route were feeling fine. 

The crux was placing the first crucial RP. I had found a heel hook that allowed me to hang the crimp long enough to get the gear in and clipped before my right arm started to melt. I have a low volume heel and found my left Muira was slightly more secure than my favourite boots (the Otaki). I only have one size of Otaki at the moment but a tighter pair would have worked just fine.

Placing the crucial wire on Return of the King (E9 6c), Scafell. Photo: Steve Ashworth/Lake District Images

The wire went in just fine although in my bubble of psyche I managed to clip the wrong rope into it which meant I had to reverse back down a move or two and sort ropes out. The rest of the pitch went really smoothly and I had plenty in the tank. Placing the second wire on the traverse left wasn’t as hard as I expected. Nice feeling to have some results from my training once again.

I did write a conclusion to this blog post referring to my inevitable linking of this climbing experience to the EU leave. But since I feel rather depressed right now with things outside of climbing, I deleted it. Right now, I will just get on with being alive.

Mid move on the second tricky section of Return of the King (E9 6c), Scafell. Again, the hardest bit was stopping mid moves to place the fiddly wires! Photo: Steve Ashworth/Lake District Images

Sunday, 19 June 2016

New sponsor - La Sportiva!

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

North By North West, direct

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

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

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

Practice of the Wild

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

Magic times

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.