Wednesday 30 July 2008

Echo Wall first ascent

The final hard move on Echo Wall, Ben Nevis. This is a video still shot by Claire.

On Monday night (July 28th) I led my Echo Wall project. I was for me a perfect climbing day. Folk always ask me how doing a degree in sport science helped me do hard routes, expecting to hear about little details about physical training practice. But the biggest thing I learned was about how disparate the ingredients of a good performance are and how big an effect it has on the rare occasions when they come together at just the right moment. Monday was one of those days for me.

Throughout the spring and early summer, I pounded myself with training to reach a higher base level in my all-round strength and fitness. Once I started tapering in early July, I felt that strength come through. But my body was heavy from putting on a little too much muscle. 3 pounds taken off with a little diet in America (despite the lovely pancakes!) slotted in another piece of the puzzle.

Racking up for the lead, looking pale. Video still: Claire MacLeod

The break from the route in the US brought back the freshness and the fire to be back at the wall spending more time in those beautiful surroundings and reminded me just how badly I wanted to climb this piece of rock. But it also took the edge off my fitness.

Two hard days on the wall immediately off the plane with two gentle rest days afterwards put me in really good physical shape. Then, Kev Shields, a man who ‘knows the score’ when it comes to bold routes and a good person to be around on a scary lead day, was up for a look at some other unclimbed rock beside my project. A day’s worth of clear air broke the cycle of humidity of late, so we walked in on a relaxed morning.

At the shakeout before the most serious part of the climb. Video Still: Claire MacLeod

The air was so crisp but it was hot. Kev checked out a big groove, I belayed, time passed. I was waiting for the Katabatic winds of the late evening rolling off the plateau and snowfields just above the route. At 8pm the chill wind gently got going. I waited and waited until the temperature and rock friction was perfect, and at 9pm exactly, all this preparation over months crystallised and I led the route in a dream state of confident execution.

It felt easy, as every hard route I’ve ever done has – the great paradox!

Echo Wall, I am just pulling over the roof, low on the arête. Video still: Claire MacLeod

As I hoped, my feeling at the start was not “how can I dare to lead this route?”, but “how can I dare not to lead this route?” What an opportunity! All these ingredients coming together to put such a fine climbing experience on a plate in front of me.

There was the question of the last boulder problem. I had fallen there sometimes on the toprope. To fall here on the lead is to leave yourself with only an RP in a finger width flake of suspect rock, with a skyhook stacked on top of the RP as the last barrier between you and a 20 metre fall to the floor.

The only chance of falling would be to continue above the roof knowing you were too tired due to poor conditions or errors. A clear judgement to jump off before it got too late and you got out of range of the gear. I would have done this if I needed to.

I felt that the biggest risk of all would be to stand at the foot of such a great and memorable route (experience) and back out due to fear of injury. My fear of lost opportunity is greater, attraction to the positive experience on offer greater still.

Claire a tiny dot in Observatory Gully, left of the snow.

The feeling of climbing the moves on perfect rock, in perfect conditions in the company of Claire and Kev will stay with me all my life for sure. It’s hard for me to describe the feeling of freedom from experiencing that something that had seemed so unreachable could feel so effortless, all that was required was to draw the right ingredients together, piece by piece over time.

My strongest image from the day though was of Claire as Kev and I arrived at the top of the wall, high on Tower Ridge, looking down on Claire – a tiny dot climbing the endless nightmare of scree (Observatory Gully) yet again. Although my name only is on the route description, it was a team ascent.

There are so many things to talk about – Ben Nevis climbing, what to do now, more about the climbing on Echo Wall… But that will do for now. Thanks for all your messages you sent me about this over the past months I really appreciate it! There are more video stills from the route and thoughts from Claire on her blog.

Claire looking remarkably happy to be on the Ben after midnight!

Route description:

Ben Nevis, east aspect of Tower Ridge, about 1100m alt.

Echo Wall **** 100m Dave MacLeod July 28th 2008

Grade: Harder than Rhapsody (or anything else I’ve been on)

A spectacular route taking the huge sharp arête of Echo Wall, well seen from Tower Ridge or when ascending Observatory Gully. Poorly protected in general with groundfall potential at 20 metres near the end of the crux section.

1. 30m Climb easy slabs to a belay at the foot of the grossly overhanging arête of the buttress.
2. 70m Pull into an overhung groove and exit this with immediate difficulty. A hard and poorly protected boulder problem leads to the roof and an upside down rest. (wires, poor camalot 6). Pull leftwards over the roof with desperate climbing up the wall just right of the arête to a shakeout (RP & Skyhook in suspect rock). Move left to the arête and make very serious moves up this to a good spike and reasonable gear. Continue with more ease up the arête (runout) to a small ledge (drop your left hand rope to relieve drag). Continue up steep flakes in a great position to gain easy ground and a short solo to reach Tower Ridge.

Looking west from Ben Nevis at the end of a long and perfect day's climbing.

Saturday 26 July 2008

Pushing through

Yesterday’s stint on the wall was a ‘pushing through’ day. I was amazed how after just two weeks away from the routine of training crimp endurance and ‘big day on the Ben’ endurance, how much I’d lost. I needed to put my body through some pain to get back to where I was fitness wise. The north face was feeling decidedly moody again with dark swirling thundery clouds and a strong wind. Wet holds have not been too much of a problem on this route so far, but the humid air was drawing every little seep out of the rock and made a link through the lower crux impossible. 

Some good links still occurred though - still learning more about the sequence, feeling like I’m getting close to understanding how to climb the route and generally being inspired and really happy to be spending more time among these cliffs.

Things are a bit fluid now. More time working on the moves and a little more training to be in 100% perfect condition would still yield some improvement on the physical side yet.

But psychologically I feel that I want to lead this route now. A fall from the end of the crux is possible for sure. But only if I make an incorrect judgement leaving the shakeout before it. This impending moment is weighing on my mind. Ticking... like a clock. I wouldn’t say I dread it. In fact I look forward to it more than anything. It’s what I am looking for - so I get it...

I’m at a point where my thoughts on the lead are beginnng to go round in circles in places, building up pressure where there needn’t be any. I want to lead it, I’m nearly ready to lead it, so I will lead it as soon as the right time arrives.

That might not be anytime soon as the current humid conditions look like continuing as far as the forecasts go. More work on the shunt in bad conditions will do no harm.

Thursday 24 July 2008

Back to the fray

After a late and rather sleepy jet lagged start I bounced up to Echo Wall for an evening shunt session. I had a good feeling after the scales read that I’d lost 3lb during my trip and back to a pound above fighting weight. Did it make a difference? Oh yeah! Although I’d lost a fair bit of crimp endurance I was way stronger on the moves and managed one more complete link. Unfortunately on the next two tries I fell from the death move at the end of the hard part. Scary stuff. But more time on this yielded an improved entry to the boulder problem and a dynamic spring to save an energy sappping static lock I was doing before and occasionally falling from. 

So my task now is to get that endurance back on track with some more days on the wall and training. 

Sadly, one of my other tasks this week is to try and encourage (again) someone to pay me for a lecture and coaching work I did for them back in January. I wish they would just do the right thing...

Dead end business

My trip abroad was a strange experience in putting me back in proximity to ‘real world’ companies. I’m involved in a couple of internet businesses and these days Claire and I do most of our shopping online now we live in the Highlands. It’s amazing to see that some businesses still don’t get the fact that they are about to be annihilated by online.

My compact camera is one of my most important tools for being a ‘pro’ climber and a blogger. It needed replacing. I was eager while in the US continent to see if I could get hold of a certain model cheaper than on the the net (which, needless to say is far cheaper than in the UK shops). 

So I walked into a large high street dedicated camera store called Lens & Shutter in Vancouver and looked for the camera. It worked out within a few pounds the same as I’d get it on Ebay but the Ebay prospect had a large memory card thrown in. I told the salesman my situation and that I’d take the camera right now if he would throw in the memory card. If he couldn’t do that I’d just buy it there and then (on Ebay) and it would be at my door back in Scotland before I was.

He let me know their policy was only to price match against stores in British Columbia. Surely if you don’t even try to compete with the biggest threat to you business since it began, you’re already as good as dead. I guess they must not have heard about the struggles of camera high st stores on our shores. 

I laughed and left, wishing him good luck in my head. Thankfully the shop on the other side of town had more sense, gave me a good deal and made the sale. 

Sure, if you sell coffee or your service adds some sort of value then you can choose to compete only with your neighbours down the street. But if you sell cameras, magazines, or climbing gear, realise that the real map is online, and expensive and slow and only open ‘business’ hours is not prime real estate.

Earlier this year I needed to replace my 100m static rope for working on Echo Wall. Claire happened to be in the same (unnamed so not to embarrass) city as their biggest store at the time so I called to see if they had any in stock, ready to buy one there and then. Whoever answered can’t have been in front of a computer with their stock info as they told me they’d need to put me through to the climbing dep’t. After some time on hold the same person came back on and told me ‘there doesn’t seem to be anyone around’ in the climbing section and asked me to call back in 5 minutes. As I waited the five minutes I searched, on my phone, for some prices online. One click on google found an amazing price and before my five minutes was up I’d ordered it and called Claire to let her know she wouldn’t be needing to visit the retail store.

I had phoned the store first out of loyalty after having bought a lot of gear from them over the years. But ultimately, it was a hands down win for the more switched on web stores.

As I write I’m still waiting for my lost baggage to arrive back from Air Canada. They told me it would definitely be here yesterday. Even if it had come today, I might have had my cams do climb a good new route in tomorrows sunny forecast. I won’t forget the lost day next time I want to go to Canada.

Back in da glens

Oh man it's good to be back in Scotland. My flying visit around the US and Canada for lectures was really great fun. However, there are some aspects depicted in the above graph I find challenging when away from home.

For sure I cannot function in the heat of a continental summer for too long. We went to Maple Canyon to climb for a day after my talk in the lovely Lander (Wild Iris) area of Wyoming. I carried many bottles of water to the cliff, but it was useless. Somebody had left some in-situ chairs below the big cave. I made the grave mistake of sitting in one after nearly melting while panting my way up one of the routes. An hour later Alicia shook me and told me it was time to have a redpoint or we had to leave. Of course I fell.

The locals at both Lander and Squamish were so friendly and welcoming. I wished Claire could have been with me. But unfortunately this had to be a flying and solo visit this time. This year is one of major projects at home for both of us. But a long ass road trip through both countries is on the to do list for future, and the excellent festivals at Lander and Squamish will be on the itinerary for sure. Thanks to everyone who came to my talks and for the kind words about this website and other things. I arrive home with good memories from the trip.

Clear titles jump off the shelf

Whether it's breakfast, hunting, or especially cars, the Americans like to go for 'big' every time.

While I Squamish I managed to squeeze in a couple of sessions on the famous trad route Cobra Crack. It's a really nice piece of rock, although climbing it involves pain for those not well kent in finger jamming with no footholds. After a wasted day when I was so excited on arrival in Squamish I ran up the track without my harness (see improvised harness below - it worked, sort of), I could do all the moves on my first properly harnessed day and get some links on the second. I would definitely come back for more action on that if I was passing through Squamish again.

Having said that the prospect of pulling on some nice crimps again tomorrow is a lovely thought. I write in the middle of the night - a pleasant mix of jet lag induced insomnia, overdoing it on Scottish tea, birthday cake, and excitement to be back home with Claire and ready to rock on the cliffs tomorrow. Yeehaaa!

Monday 7 July 2008

Echo Wall linked!

Resting on Echo Wall before the crux.

A major step forward on Echo Wall yesterday – linked in one at last. The many days of circuits at Sky Pilot obviously had the effect I was looking for. After a month of impatiently waiting, it was great just to get back on the wall again, which was feeling decidedly moody in the swirling dark clouds last night.

I’m super excited now I know the project is possible – I can do it. But scared as well. My successful link was 5th try of the day, after falling three times at the first crux in the roof (on the lead this means a 10 metre fall and slab smash) and once at the main crux. But at least I didn’t fall from the final crux (where falling on the lead is not an option).

The upshot? - much more to do yet. My fitness feels 85%. It needs to be 100%. The problem is that tomorrow night I leave for lectures in the US and Canada. So my next opportunity to be on Echo Wall is the end of this month. Until then, I will continue to work my body hard.

I’ve posted up a couple of pics of the project that Claire took last night, but most of them are up on Claire’s blog

Skeleton Boulder pics

Here are some video stills of the new traverse I did the other week at the Skeleton Boulders, Glen Nevis. The problem is called Frontal System (V11). The footage will be in the film we are making, but I thought I’d upload some stills because it’s a really amazing problem (and boulder) and deserves a bit of attention.

As you can see from the pics the holds on the crux are not the biggest and I could only pull on them in fairly cold weather. I thought my chances of getting good enough conditions for it were done until autumn, but one afternoon I spotted from the forecast that the incoming front has some super strong easterlies ahead of it – just right to howl past the wall and keep the holds nice and cool and dry. The window just before the rain started falling would be just the right time.

At the crag the wind was getting stronger and stronger as the clouds got darker, but I waited until the first spits of rain started falling and took my opportunity to nail it first go and head off down the hill in the downpour – soaked but happy!

Tactics are so important in climbing!

I’m preparing a topo for all these new boulders in the glen with some clips and pictures which I’ll upload in a couple of weeks after I’m back from the states.

Thursday 3 July 2008

Dumbarton video - Chahala FA

A wee clip I've been meaning to upload for ages of Chahala Sit Start V11 at Dumbarton Rock. The clip shows the first ascent. It's a cool problem that folk looked at for a long time. There is also some playing about afterwards doing Hap Slappy V9 and In Bloom V9. Thanks to Imelda Neale who shot the footage.