Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Addictions, Aversions

Bank of Scotland arĂȘte, Nairn High Street

It’s been another week of ups and downs working on our film of Echo Wall. We were most definitely in need of a break from the screen by Friday. It was Claire’s birthday so we headed for Tilda Swinton’s very retro cool film festival in Nairn. Just being outside the house was so brilliant. I got really excited to be out travelling around Scotland after so long indoors. On our return I managed two brief escapes to Sky Pilot to claw back the fitness, throwing myself on the problems like no tomorrow.

The film inches closer to a final cut. Most exciting! We’ve certainly chosen the right moment to be editing a film. The Lochaber monsoon has been impressive as usual, but excelling even itself for August.

As always, I’ve been learning lots from the whole experience of doing Echo Wall, even though the route itself is done. I was expecting to feel, and did indeed feel a massive sense of nothingness after doing the route. After so long aligning yourself to one goal, it’s suddenly gone and you are left with no focus until something replaces it.

That’s nice because it reminded me just how much I like the simple act of climbing, solving climbing problems being outside. A massive reminder has been of my need (or addiction) to exercise. I’m not sure if it’s exercise or rock movement or whether they can be separated at all. But either way, it’s real! I’ve been in total withdrawal these last two weeks, literally climbing the walls in the house. This is a happy addiction. If it dies before I do, I’ll be extremely surprised.

I’ve been reading a lot too about approaches to risk, and satisfaction from things like sport. Partly for my own sake and partly to help me distill my ideas to communicate in our film.

Three general traits of human nature, demonstrated in research, but obvious and tangible to ourselves only in moments of clarity, usually after a highly emotive experience, stand out for me.

The first is our aversion to loss. People hate to lose things more than they take pleasure in gains of a higher magnitude. A gift of an amount of money affects our mood far less than the stress caused by losing an equivalent amount. This aversion to loss progresses to a default position of unreasonable aversion to risk when coupled with a second trait. We aren’t very good at visualising probabilities and usually end up stressing far too much about remote possibilities while distracted from the really important stuff. We worry more about small chances of injury, public failure etc than we do about the rewards and satisfaction of going for something good.

The third is our rather poor ability to forecast our own feelings down the line. In general, we place way too much importance on immediate gratification, at the expense of suffering short term discomfort for a much larger windfall of satisfaction later. This has the secondary problem of us not giving enough weight to things that will make us happier for longer, but forecasting in error that sources of immediate happiness will last much longer than they actually do.

Avoiding these natural pitfalls is a tough job, requiring constant attention. But awareness of their constant pervasive influence at least allows the opportunity to stay above them.

More on this later

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

From one extreme to the other

Over the past two weeks I have done a good job of replacing climbaholism with workaholism. It’s funny how things fit together nicely. August just happens to be the worst month for climbing in Scotland (often too wet in the mountains and getting colder, but still warm and midgy in the glens) and this August as been something of a monsoon. It was a good decision to grab my chance on Echo Wall when I did. If I hadn’t it would have been next year for sure. 

Is this workaholism healthy? Definitely not. A week straight of 4/5am finishes makes one’s edges a little frayed. But it has it’s uses. and in the very short term can be a good idea. After setting up our production company to make the film about Echo Wall and working with Claire on some editing, I headed back up the Ben as soon as the clouds broke to film a bit of running and nice footage of the mountain.

Bill Murray said “ No man will ever know Ben Nevis” When I was climbing Echo Wall I did feel like I did have a small window, a partial insight into understanding how to move well on this mountain, just for a second. But the feeling, illusionary or not, soon wore off. Arms and legs are hurting once again from the climbing and running efforts - a good feeling.

Time in the computer chair can be deadening for both mind and body at times, but so long as the connection to climbing isn’t allowed to become too distant, it can strengthen the motivation.

I always forget just how much I love rock movement until I have enforced time away. This is great for me. After 15 years of rock climbing, to still feel the psyche to be on the rock stronger than ever makes me so excited and full of energy to start new projects, whatever they might be???

Right now I’m in the car with Claire on our way to meet with Jimmy Marshall and talk about Ben Nevis climbing. You’ll see it in the film.

Sunday, 17 August 2008


After a week of loooong days in front of the screen or filming things for Echo Wall, it's hard to express how much I want to boulder at the present minute.

I was knackered after finishing work at 10pm and contemplating the choice - train, or go to bed. I'm really glad I trained. Good feeling to be hanging from one hand on the hangboard again. Note to self: if in doubt, train, you'll be glad you did.

More blogging tomorrow. Now, sleep. 

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Filming Echo Wall

A sublime morning on Tower Ridge (Video still)

Many many thanks for all the comments you guys sent Claire and I over the past week about Echo Wall, and thanks for coming with me on the path, through my blog. It’s been a strange week since doing the route, with many thoughts running through our heads and interesting discussions.

The only time I’ve ever done this type of thing before (really dedicate myself to one thing for a spell) was with Rhapsody in 2006. So I was expecting to feel a highly strange sense of ‘nothingness’ after completing it, where this enormous part of your life suddenly evaporates. Whilst I am deeply happy with climbing the route and about every part of the process, it’s kind of sad in a way when it’s over.

It might sound funny or even objectionable to some people but I’m most in my element in the thick of grappling with these projects. Right now I feel kind of like a crashed car lying in the middle of the road on it’s roof with the engine still roaring and wheels spinning. It’s hard to wind down, suddenly at least.

No worries, because life always serves up so many brilliant things to fill the day while you wonder what to do next. Some days off are planned with Claire. But the main immediate activity that has replaced climbing Echo Wall has been filming Echo Wall!!

Claire decided to film the whole process of me trying this climb back last year. We blew all our savings (and then some) on the necessary equipment, and Claire began slogging it up the hill with me to capture the blood sweat and tears of trying to do a new route on the Ben. The idea of a film remained just a hypothesis until last Monday. Even though I realised last month that the climb was possible for me, we were at the mercy of the weather and it could easily have been next year or beyond unless I had been blessed with a perfect day of conditions and form last week. Now that the route is done, we turned around the next day and said to each other “we’ll be making a film then!”


The implications of this are somewhat scary. And scarier still after we worked out some ‘to do’ lists. But we are going to have a go at getting it ready for October. We reckon that the Ben is such a special place and it really deserves someone to go for it and try to capture it’s character, inspiration, intimidation and of course it’s beauty on film.

I’ll talk more about how this is coming along soon, but for now here are some photos from my filming the other day. Echo Wall, being on a big north face, doesn’t see much sun, But Echo Wall catches an hour or so just after dawn in mid summer. So my first stint behind the camera was to sleep out on Tower Ridge and capture a time lapse of the sun hitting Echo Wall.

All I can say is that it was a sublime night of visual delights – the milky way, amazing shooting stars, and a beautiful sunrise. I could get into this film making lark…

The morning sun hits the topout of Echo Wall

Tell me that doesn’t make you want to climb?!

The mountains of Knoydart bathe in the cold morning mist

Pre Dawn over Carn Mor Dearg

Near Miss

Claire swings away from the slabs to begin ascending the ropes to film Echo Wall. Would you like to find out someone had removed your belay at this moment? Read on…

After I did the first ascent of Echo Wall last week I abseiled back down to the base as it got dark to get Claire off the slabs and the hill safely. I left the 100 metre static rope in place to return and retrieve some other gear etc.

Just as well I ended up going back up Tower Ridge to the top of the route rather than going to the base and jugging up!!!!! It was only a whim to decide to solo an easy route to get to the top rather than jug the line.

Someone obviously climbing tower ridge had dismantled my belay (Camalot 4, Camalot 5, BD microstopper 5, slings etc), stolen the kit and left the rope wrapped around a small rock on the ground that might have held long enough for one of us to swing out into space above the slabs and then have a fatal drop.

It was totally obvious the rope was left deliberately for ongoing climbing activity rather than an escape abseil – a 100 m white static 10.5mm with a rope protector at the crag lip. I was pretty dumfounded that someone thought it was OK to leave such an obvious situation for a fatal accident. Why not just steal the rope too or at least throw it off or pull it up?

I hope whoever it was will at least do the decent thing and post the equipment back to me. My address is here. If you hear your mate tell you he found some big cams on Tower Ridge please shame them with the story above and encourage them to return the kit.

New shop stuff

Kev Shields models the ME pro-Team Tshirt in Glen Nevis

A couple of months ago we started selling the ME pro-team Tshirts from my webshop. They were so popular you sold us out of Male mediums several times over!

We’ve just got another load in if you missed out last time and it’s now available in Black too.

The shop page is here