Tuesday 21 September 2010

Pre-Great Climb interview

Here is a wee interview I did for Triple Echo in prep for the Great Climb, but didn’t end up used on the live broadcast since the climbing action didn’t let up! Thought I would share it. Questions by Lindsay Cannon.
As you can see it’s aimed at a non-climbing audience. Both my fears about the weather, and my confidence in Tim turned out to be right! But my fears about my own performance turned out to be the least of my worries on the day...
Full Name: Dave MacLeod
Date of Birth: 17 July 1978
Place of Birth: Glasgow

Nationality: British

Where do you live: 
Letterfinlay, in Lochaber.
Younger Sister Katy half-brothers Todd and Alan and half-sister Fiona.

Garnethill Primary, Charing Cross, Glasgow
Westerton Primary, Bearsden, Glasgow
Boclair Academy, Bearsden, Glasgow
BSc Sports science & physiology, University of Glasgow
MSc Sport & Exercise Science, University of Strathclyde

How would you describe yourself: 
A fairly passive, quiet and thoughtful sort of guy except when in comes to work or play where an obsessive, die-hard stubborn streak shows itself. I love being in wild places, training, solving problems and trying to do things that seem improbable by finding easy ways to do them.

How would you describe what you do for a living:
The short answer is that I climb rocks and mountains and tell stories about my experiences. 
The longer answer is that I climb routes that haven’t been done yet because of a combination of difficulty, apparent risk, remoteness or logistical awkwardness. I make a living from the interest of the stories of my climbs and the knowledge I’ve gained in how to prepare for them. I write a couple of blogs that a lot of people read and on that I run a shop on the site which sells books, films and clothing related to climbing. I also write the books, make the films and design the clothing, along with my wife, Claire. I also promote several climbing equipment companies, lecture about my climbing and coach it too. There isn’t much time left over.
The objective of all this is basically to have great experiences and use them to do creative work that helps others with their experiences in one way or another.

To follow my passions as energetically as possible and use this energy and experience to learn as much as possible and then share it with others.
Partner: Married to Claire.
Do they climb and if so to what grade: Claire skydives.
When did you start climbing and why:
I started climbing about 15. I discovered hills by accident by cycling out to the ‘Queen’s View’ just after I moved to the edge of Glasgow. I loved exploring the hills and the highlands and naturally gravitated increasingly towards cliffs rather than paths as the logical next stage. When I found out about the boulders at Dumbarton Rock I was totally hooked on climbing and didn’t look back.
First route you climbed and how you felt afterwards:
I can’t remember the first climb I succeeded on, but on the first day I went to Dumbarton Rock I soloed to the last moves of a route called ‘Plunge’ about 4 times and downclimbed it, too scared to climb up the castle wall at the end (I’d gone the wrong way, it turned out later). I found the process of dealing with my fear and having another attempt a brilliant experience. There were two climbers hanging around on ropes on a route called Requiem nearby, which was the hardest climb in Scotland at the time (first ascent Dave Cuthberston in 1983). They were laughing at me because I kept reappearing from the bottom of ‘Plunge’ with a sorry look on my face. But it seemed pretty ironic to me because at least I could climb to the last move without a rope, but they could barely make a single move on their climb without pulling up on the rope. On the train home I set a goal to climb Requiem when I was 16. I was 20 when I managed it.
Why did you want to continue climbing:
There are several big advantages of rock climbing over other sports (which I generally hated as a kid). First, the climb is always there, so if you fail you have another chance to solve the problems and have another go. Second, you can make it whatever you want it to be - completely safe, insanely dangerous, local at the climbing wall, or halfway round the world, hot and sunny in the south of France or bitterly cold on an Alpine north face, solitary free soloing or social bouldering. Total freedom and no rules! Third, it’s indefinable nature tends in most cases to keep the sport at an ethically sound level and closer to the original ideals of sport. It takes place in some of the most beautiful places in the world and the exposure to risk and the ‘no going back’ committing nature of the activity is one of the best feelings you can get. It’s free, and all you really need is your hands and feet to go and climb something.
What type of rock do you prefer and why:
The mathematical precision of the movement demanded by Dumbarton Basalt, or the elegant climbs and friction moves of Ben Nevis Andesite are my favourites, among many.
Which style of climbing do you prefer and why (sport,trad, winter mixed, ice etc)
I am a Scot so I tend not to prefer any - Scottish climbing has great climbing in all the disciplines so it’s hard not to love them all equally. But I find it extremely hard to live without the daily activity of bouldering.
What is the hardest route you have ever climbed and type:
The hardest route I have climbed is my own route Echo Wall on Ben Nevis. It’s very close to my physical limit of climbing difficulty, but in a situation where the consequences of a fall could not be higher.
Have you ever been injured and if so how did it happen:
Like most athletes I have had many injuries from training, to my fingers and elbows. Apart from minor scrapes, my only spell in hospital from a climbing fall was a badly broken ankle from a free-soloing fall in my late teens. It was an important stage in my development - I learnt a lot!
Which climber do you admire most and why:
It’s natural to connect more with climbers who have climbed the routes you have seen or attempted. When I started, all the hardest climbs in Scotland were opened by Dave Cuthbertson and the process of repeating many of his hardest routes during my development really taught me how much effort and commitment was needed to climb hard, especially across different disciplines. I was desperate to climb a new route project of his in Glen Nevis that he never quite completed. But it was so hard, it took me years before I could finally do it in 2007 (Ring of Steall 8c+). I knew where Cubby’s highpoint was in 1993 which was a world class climbing performance at the time and if it hadn’t been for discussing the movement details at length with Cubby I don’t think I could have done it.
How do you feel about the challenge of The Great Climb:
It’s an enormous challenge. In fact I better not think about it too much or I’ll get intimidated. The only thing that helps is to know that it’ll be a big challenge for everyone involved. Doing the hardest climbs these days is very dependent on the conditions being just right. Athletes in sports that have scheduled competitions often manage better performances in training than competition when internal and external conditions are ideal. Climbing isn’t normally scheduled so we keep attempting the climbs until everything works out right and then maybe we succeed. We have to take pot luck on the day for what the weather is like, so it could make our chosen climb impossible if we are unlucky. It’s a six hour climb so it’s comparable to distance running as a physiological challenge in some ways. You can see in marathon (a 2 or 3 hour event) how much conditions of wind and temperature affect the performances. Fast times just aren’t possible on a hot day with a headwind. On Sron Uladail, wind chill is our most likely enemy. If our muscles are very cold it will be much more draining to climb each section and we will tire more quickly and might fall. Or if it’s very wet or humid the holds will be much harder to use. Of course if it’s completely still, the midges might make it impossible for anyone to function and we may all have to run away! On a warm day with a good breeze we will have a fighting chance. In a westerly storm we’ll not even get off the ground. 
What do you feel are the strengths of your climbing partnership for The Great Climb:
Both Tim and myself are very experienced climbers on this type of climb. We know our limits fairly well but also how to operate right on those limits without getting into too much trouble. Tim has a huge amount of energy, an extremely positive attitude and is known for rising to the occasion when circumstances are not going to plan on a climb. He is absolutely dependable to bring the best out in not only himself, but climbing partners as well. My approach is subtly different I suppose in that I tend to really home in on the potential problems and how to make a plan to get round them. I’ve been training strength a lot in preparation for this climb because the start of pitch 2 has a short very intense section of hard, powerful moves. I’ve also spent a lot of time looking at the cliff and figured out exactly where to climb. So between us I think we have a lot to throw at the climb and there is a lot we can help each other with our separate leads on the climb.
Weaknesses of the above if any:
My biggest worry (apart from the weather on the day) is that I wont be able to reach one hold on the hardest move of the whole route. It’s the second move on the second pitch. It’s a huge reach with the left hand from a good hold to a finger edge. If I time the movement perfectly I can do the move, but I need to use 100% of my strength to reach the last three inches and it’s hard to be accurate to grab the hold directly - a bit like tennis serves; it’s hard to serve at 100% maximum speed without sacrificing accuracy. Even if I can complete the move, if I run out of strength higher up the pitch I think there’s no way I could have enough strength in reserve to have a second attempt. The other problem is that if I fall off that move, I might land directly on Tim who will be hanging on the belay right underneath. 
Tim’s pitches are also very hard and although I’m confident he can climb them, they are very tiring endurance bouts of climbing and if he slips near the end of a pitch it will be really tough to have another try. This is one of the big difficulties with a climb as long and steep as Sron Uladail - it is very unforgiving of mistakes on the ascent. If either of us takes any falls it will take every bit of fitness we have to succeed after that.

Climbing career highlights – top two:
See above Echo Wall and also watch the film!!
No.2 - The first winter ascent of Anubis on Ben Nevis. Anubis is a summer rock climb first climbed by myself in 2005 and was the hardest rock climb on the mountain at E8 until I did Echo Wall more recently. I made it a big goal to try to climb it under winter conditions of snow and ice as well. I managed to do it last winter on my fourth attempt. As a winter ascent of a summer rock climb it was a much higher standard than had been done before. The crux pitch took 5 and a half hours to lead and was the hardest test of endurance and composure I’ve had in climbing.

1 comment:

  1. how great to be able to tell people that you climb rocks and mountains for a living!