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.


  1. Anonymous30 July, 2008

    Inspirational ascent. Well done!

  2. Congratulations! I'm really happy for you!

  3. Anonymous30 July, 2008


  4. What?! I could hardly believe what my feed-reader was telling me. Your first ascent, done? Already? I was expecting another month or two of buildup at least. I feel let down Dave! But I bet you don't ;) Congratulations from Australia mate.

  5. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    Outstanding! Way to go.

  6. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    Congratulations! Amazing! Reading this makes me so psyched to send my own summer project. You continue to inspire!!

  7. Right on, Dave! Well done!

  8. Awesome! (from Singapore)

  9. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    Blimey, good effort!

  10. Awesome effort Dave! SOOOOO pleased for you, and for your wife that you aint dead! ;)

    Inspirational and groundbreaking come nowhere close to describing what you have achieved and will continue to achieve.

    I'm sure that i "echo" (like what i did there?) the thoughts of the whole of scottish climbing when i say....


  11. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    You've got an awesome attitude to rock climbing - congratulations on sending the route ya mad b*stard.

  12. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    Outstanding! Many congratulations. Maybe that trip to North America was just what you needed!

  13. Just awesome Dave. Congratulations.


  14. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    Hats off to you Dave McInspiration,

    I'm speechless.....


  15. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    An amazing first asent, well done. I was aore struck when I saw the route at your lecture in Oxford. Congratulations.

  16. Nice one Dave! You'll have to get a book out on how your pulling the training together into such momentus outcomes. D.

  17. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    What an amazing achievement.Can't wait to see the video footage now. Congrats from Ireland

  18. Truely awesome effort Dave, congratulations all round and cant wait to see the dvd.

  19. So losing the hair was the final weight loss tactic? :-) Nice. It suits you! You are a man given to extremes, of course!

    Superb effort, Dave. Well done. We can stop holding our breath now.....until the next time, of course! I can't wait to see the film, Claire.


  20. Well done Dave. Perhaps it's good that climbing isn't an Olympic sport, but us climbers all know this was an Olympian effort. The beautiful sunsets will have to be your gold medal. Many, many congratulations from Finland.

  21. Congrats on the route dave.
    Looking forward to hearing about it at the talk in ratho.


  22. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    Congratulations Dave. As I was reading this (amazingly emotive and exciting documentation of a truely inspiring journey), I felt the ecstacy for you. I can only admire your determination and true focus and professionalism.

    This one will go down as one of the greatest ascents of all time because it certainly sounds harder than E11!!
    I think you now deserve to bask in the achievement, the positive fall-out from the climbing community and the true satisfaction from this.

    Also just say that out of all the peices of rock you have climbed over the years, there is one such rock that will always be more precious than all the rest - Claire!! You both make such a great team!!!

    God Bless


  23. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    Congratulation Dave! U sure you never got a stunt double with short hair to do it for you!

    Claire will be happy, no more 4hr walks.



  24. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    Congrats Dave on another hugely significant route.

    Just want to say thank you for all the blog entries as it has been interesting to follow the build up to this through the last few months.

    So the only question that remains now is when will be Claire’s big moment at the film premier? Hope that side of the project goes as well as the climbing :-)

  25. Well done and congratulations. I've been following your blog for a good while now and it's always been inspiring. I hope you continue to find challenges and contentment and many more perfect days of climbing.

  26. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    Cool. Well Done.


  27. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    Also, thankyou for sharing your climbing through your insprational blog. Please find something a bit less life threatening for your next project, you're making us all nervous!

  28. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    Nice one Dave, what a fantastic achievement and a massive inspiration to me. It's making me want to quit my job and go climbing all the time!

  29. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    Ace!! A well-deserved end to a noble and pure quest. Thanks for sharing some of it with us along the way. The route is what the route is and everything it means to you, and you're the Mac-Daddy!

  30. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    Good effort Dave. Now go and have some kids.

  31. Great stuff Well done!

  32. Teared up a little reading yours and Claire's blog. Congrats!!!! It's been great to follow this all summer long.

    Ben Renich
    Eugene, Oregon USA

  33. F*cking Awesome Dave!!!!!!!

    I've been watching your blogs for the last few months, and was really rooting for you to do the route this year.

    I'm super glad you made it without injury. I don't think i've ever been quite so concerned about a celeb climber doing such a hard route.

    Well done mate!

  34. Well damn! Congratulations; sounds like a real classic. Enjoy it for a while, eh?

  35. You're only a Fcukin Legend!

    Well done for pushing through and showing the way!


  36. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    amazin, we are what we do repeatedly. ecellence, then, is not an act but a habit.(Aristotle)

    you have the habit so keep it up.

    you are an nspiration to me.

    Whats Next?

    Matthew (Somerset)

  37. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    Brilliant Effort Mr McCleod
    E-11 Really inspired me it was good to see how many times you can keep going back to a problem like "pressure" before you get the payback.
    I keep falling of V4's but maybe one of these days
    looking forward to seeing the Film and i wish you and Claire all the best with it

  38. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    Lunacy, but inspiring lunacy.

    Interesting comment above re: "An olympian achievement". Does your sports science background have anything to say about the fact that when climbing your can pick "your" moment, but in the Olympics you have to deliver on a specific day? I've always thought this is an interesting question, having tackled both types of challenge (climbing hard when I feel great and racing hard on a given date).

    Anyway, awesome route. I just can't quite believe you've led this utter chop route. Astounding.

  39. Congratulations from Norway as well! Truly inspiring!

  40. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    truly amazing stuff dave, an unbelievable acheivement. congratulations.

  41. Anonymous31 July, 2008

    You are I N C R E D I B L E!!!!

    I think I learned something.

    Thank you.

    Rosy from Italy

  42. EXCELLENT!! you've been working on this a long time! Glad it all came together finally!!!

    Nice hair cut too!! did that help *shave* a few ounces off??

  43. pure quality big man

  44. Great stuff Dave. I hope everything goes well with the film - a great team effort.

  45. Congratulations!

    but...what happened to your beautiful locks? - shedding every last ounce in preparation?

  46. Amazing Dave, congratulations! You are a true inspiration, a hero of our times.

  47. Congratulation! What an achievement!

    And very enjoyable to read too.

    Best of luck for whatever comes next.

  48. Flabberf*ckinggasted!!!

    Your success will reverberate for years.

    What next?!?

  49. "Chapeau bas" as we say in French...

    I was at the Squamish mountain festival when you talked about the route, I was feeling really bad as it reminded me the day I went to another festival where Patrick Berhault was talking about his future endeavors... and few time later he died in this tragic accident... Sorry to mention this in such a moment of celebration, it seems quite inappropriate... Actually it's not far from what you said about thinking about what you can loose but also what it will represent to you... I don't have your courage, but what you did is really inspiring, from now if I have a challenge to face I will remember that I should not see only the obstacles but also what I'll be missing if I give up...

    Thanks Dave, you're an amazing climber !!!

  50. Unbelievable...respect!!!

  51. Great effort and another inspiring route from yourself.

    Keep on living the dream.

  52. Well done Dave looking faword to the DVD!!

  53. Well done Dave! Really pleased to hear you've done the route. A few days with your feet up now? ;-)

  54. Nice Work Mate, never a dull moment. Please continue to shine, your light reaches us over here in Canada too. What next?

  55. One of the best first ascent chronicles I've seen. Amazing job; incredibly inspiring. Congratulations! Can't wait to see what captivates you next.

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  57. scotty not dog29 August, 2010

    Epic effort yesterday. Quite inspiring. Rock On