Tuesday 21 September 2010

ME Slackline sets are here too

I’ve just uploaded the new Slackline sets from Mountain Equipment to our shop right here. They have been super popular for ME and so they’ve updated them again this year. There are three sets, the Pro, Passion and Chill. We are getting the Chill in shortly when the new stock arrives at ME.
Both the Pro and Passion sets have a 25mm wide slackline with 3m padded anchor slings and heavy duty ratchets for racking them up. The Passion is 18 metres long and the Pro is 25m. Enjoy!

New colours in the ME beanies

We just got in a lot of new colours in our Mountain Equipment beanies ready for the coming winter. They are in the shop now right here.

In the books section I’ve added Eric Horst’s new book on mental skills for climbers - Maximum Climbing which is just out. It’s a very up to date and comprehensive guide to theory and practice in the psychology of performance in climbing. Horst has drawn on the developments in behavioral and cognitive psychology which has come on a lot in the past few years. Interesting reading (review on the way on OCC soon).

Coaching at Big Rock

Some pics from my technique coaching sessions at the opening on Big Rock in Milton Keynes. Thanks to Tom George for these!

Lectures in Harris, Lewis and Kendal

I’ve just arranged two lectures in the Western Isles pretty soon - I’m speaking on Harris at the Harris Hotel, Tarbert at 8pm on October 4th. On Oct 5th I’m at the Cala Inn in Stornoway. I’ll talk about how climbing transformed my life, thoughts on climbing Sron Uladail on live telly with an overdose of painkillers and why climbing is load safer than it looks…
Well, most of the time anyway.
I’m also speaking at this year’s Kendal Mountain Festival in November. On the Friday night  I’m speaking alongside Andy Turner at the Premiere of The Pinnacle (The Smith/Marshall ‘week’ on the Ben). On the Saturday it’s ‘Great Climb’ night and I’m co-hosting an evening of talking and film about the making of the BBC live broadcast alongside Richard Else, Brian Hall and Cameron McNeish. Should be fun!
See y’all there.

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.

Monday 20 September 2010

Kilted climbing

The other week mentioned a fun wee shoot I did with Steven Gordon. It was for Visit Scotland, promoting an adventure travel trade summit happening in Aviemore next month. Visit Scotland just sent over the picture they chose to promote the summit, so I thought I would share it.
I thought Steven did a fine job here!

Thursday 16 September 2010

Risk & Ethics of Adventure: EMFF Oct 24th

At this year’s Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival I’m speaking at a debate on the Ethics of Adventure. Sunday 24th October, 2pm, details on the EMFF site here.
Of course there are many ethical aspects to adventure and adventure sport, and which we discuss I’m sure will depend on what you guys want to talk about on the day. I guess the most discussed of all is of course the issue of risk. I’m never sure whether it’s because I’ve studied, written and talked about the subject for years now, or whether I rub noses with it a lot, or whether I’m getting older. But when I observe attitudes to risk in some others or society in general, I get quite riled. I’m a passive sort of chap and that doesn’t happen easily. 
It strikes me that the general attitudes to risk and which risks are acceptable are not in my society has got progressively more messed up in my lifetime. My sport of climbing has been a welcome sanctuary of sense a lot of the time! It seems that people are content to take huge risks with life, limb or lifestyle without giving much thought (or none at all), yet are aghast at others risk taking that is proportionally far smaller, or balanced against much greater reward.
I’m being a little provocative here of course. I know that it’s a question of perception. A lot of our grave errors in risk awareness and management aren’t really our fault. We’re not hardwired to cope with the sorts of risks of modern life, and the corrupting influences of the media compound this to a quite staggering level. 
So more on this on the 24th… See you there maybe for a lively chat.

Friday 10 September 2010

What now?

After I did Rhapsody at Dumbarton in 2006, I pretty quickly packed up and moved to the Highlands of Scotland. There were lots of reasons for doing this, climbing being just one. The ‘climbing reason’ was largely to find the most adventurous, arduous new routes I could lay my hands on, and try and do them. To Hell and Back, Echo Wall and more recently The Usual Suspects. All climbs where the actual climbing is only a small part of the deal. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time walking into Scottish coires in the rain with three ropes and two racks in my bag. I buy cleaning brushes in packs of 24. I’ve given myself three overuse injuries from cleaning new routes. On The Usual Suspects I think I spent 10 days on the rope on Sron Ulladale with my rockshoes just dangling from my harness before I finished finding, rigging and cleaning it and could actually start to move on it.
I’ve been doing first ascents for 12 years now and still I love it. Not in a count ‘em up ticking kind of way. It’s the creative expression of every stage of the process that I’ve enjoyed so far. Over the past few years I’ve really revelled in the inaccessibility, the awkwardness and the pure endurance factor of time and effort needed to open new routes on trad gear in the remotest possible places.
But climbing never has been about one channel for me. When judging the value of experiences, people often refer to how ‘memorable’ they were. This makes sense. I was reading Steve McClure’s column in Climb today and he was talking about how he found his long redpoint battles most memorable for him. I feel exactly the same. For me also, there is no substitute for the detail, the intricacy of the moves and the tactics and the totally enveloping focus of the redpoint effort, with all extraneous thought and movement distilled out by a thousand rehearsals in body and mind. Every bit of time, effort, sweat and will that goes into it, all add to it’s value.
I don’t think my memory of the smell and the summer sun on Echo Wall sessions will ever diminish. Or glissading down Observatory gully at 11pm in the sunset feeling totally at home. Or the roaring wind throwing me about on Sron Uladail, ropes rubbing on sharp edges, soaked to the skin as I looked for lines to climb. Mountains and mountain trad climbing inevitably make a deep stamp in your memory by their power. So is that an argument to forget everything else and go trad climbing all the time? No!
Memories are important, but they are not everything. We have to live in the moment too. Everyday needs and pleasures are also important. You might not remember your regular walk to your girlfriend’s or school or work on a particular day several years ago. But the everyday act of walking is something really important to lots of us. To say you’d soon miss it if it was taken away from you is a bit of an understatement. 
This everyday routine of climbing movement is the other side of climbing for me, and I know it is for lots of people, even if they don’t necessarily think of it that way. Whether it’s the exercise, or the emptying of the mind for a while, or the movement or whatever - it doesn’t matter. If you look at it directly it seems mundane. But the bigger picture shows that it becomes important to you. Especially if, like me, you’ve done it for 17 years.
I often feel like this in September. A long ‘summer’ of labour intensive mountain new routing leaves me counting the hours of being wet, walking with large sacks, shivering and hauling about on ropes and realising this comes at the expense of actual metres of hard moves climbed. This season, like all the previous, I have some fine adventures to show for it. If the last warm days, dry mountain crags and partners collide, I may yet have more. Now though, the pendulum needs to swing the other way and I need to climb some hard moves again. 

Short term plan: time to boulder

Thursday 9 September 2010

Good fun work

Pic by Steven Gordon, Kilt by 21st Century, Chalksporran by BD.
Photoshoot work last week with Steven Gordon for a Scottish client (obviously!). Good fun day despite me hobbling on a dodgy ankle and Steven dislocating his Patella. We ate a lot of vitamin I, got sunburned and soloed roofs in kilts. Good work…
Steven writes and posts more pics on his blog here.

Sunday 5 September 2010

Jodicus direct and clean

Starting up Jodicus Direct (without the peg) E7 6c
I was a bit bleary-eyed this morning heading out to meet Richard and Steve for an attack on Wave Buttress after yesterday’s good session at Steall. Yesterday, my ankle managed 90 minutes on steep tensiony climbing before tightening up. Today I was keen to get it moving on a sustained slab and work it a little bit harder.
Wave Buttress had an obvious challenge. In the early nineties Mark Mcgowan crimped his way up the honeycombed wall of Jodicus Direct. But with a pre-placed long sling enabling a peg to be clipped right before the crux, it was a bit of a weird proposition and never got popular. A few years ago the peg was removed but the climb was never re-led. An obvious challenge then to make a clean ascent ‘sans fer’, this time running it out on the 6c crux above an RP3.
I gave it a quick clean and play on the moves to wake myself up and then worried whether it was a good idea as I still in pain walking in tussocky grass at the base of the cliff. What the hell - suck it up. 

I was glad I did. A fine E7 6c. Afterwards all I could do was shuffle off for two dinners and a bath. But who cares.

Richard on Crackattack E3 6a

Steve On The Beach E5 6a

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Big Rock opening, Milton Keynes Sept 18th

On September 18th myself and Tim Emmett will be at the opening day of the new Big Rock climbing centre in Milton Keynes. We’ll be running masterclasses in climbing during the day (my classes start at 10.30am). You’ll have to give the centre a ring (quickly!) to book these. 
In the evening, starting 7.30 we’ll be both be hosting an evening’s climbing entertainment talking about our respective backgrounds in climbing, BASE jumping and then telling you our stories from The Great Climb. It should be a fun day - see y’all there!
Big Rock’s site is here. And their facebook is here.


The trauma of Saturday’s efforts has put my ankle injury back a bit, so it’s no climbing for me for another wee while to give the wound a chance to knit again. Unfortunately, I think it could get in the way of finishing my big trad projects of the summer. But never say die…
Who cares? At least I got through Saturday. I didn’t really tell anyone, but the whole of last week passed in a preoccupied state of worry that I wouldn’t be able to climb on the day. On the Wednesday morning I got out of bed and it was too painful to put on the ground for the first half hour. I guess the responsible thing to do would have been to say “I’m injured, so I’m out”. But I was remembering Paul Pritchard’s story about his and Johnny Dawes first ascent of The Scoop on Sron Uladail in 1988. As they faced failure to get past the capping roofs Pritchard said “In this sort of situation Dawes could be counted upon to throw caution to the wind and just be downright irresponsible”. Thanks for the inspiration guys!

Johnny Dawes about to take a rope snapping winger on the Scoop first ascent 1988. Pic: Paul Pritchard (via Mark Mcgowan's flickr)
For now it’s back to reality, an avalanche of work needing done, my bathroom won’t plaster itself and my book won’t finish itself. Here we go...