Friday 14 March 2014

Review of 2013 climbing

Eiger north face. One of the best bits of 2013 climbing for me.

I wrote the post below a while ago, but just posting it now. It's mainly for my own benefit to see what I did in 2013 and get an idea of what direction to head in 2014.

2012 which was a year of intense projecting for me (to climb Font 8b+ in Switzerland and redpoint my long term 9a project at Steall). So in 2013 I made a casual decision to swing the other way and go to some new places and do some disciplines (multipitch climbing and dry tooling) which I haven’t done much of for ages.

In January 2013 I was just learning to climb again after surgery on my right ankle. I kicked the year off with a nice week in Spain where I was able to start gaining some confidence and claw some fitness back on Malsonando (8c).

In February I started to be able to move around cautiously on crampons and in the mountains, and after a couple of short winter routes, I inadvertently got involved with the huge overhanging walls near the CIC cascades on Ben Nevis. I had gone up with Kev Shields to have a day of ice pitches starting with the cascade itself, but I ended up deciding to give the big seam across the roof a look and this became the best dry tooling route I’ve ever done. It was a fantastic piece of climbing. Unfortunately it proved a bit too controversial for the Scottish winter scene, so I ended up not even claiming it as a route. I say it was a bit too controversial, but any time it comes up in conversation with climbers, they have universally told me they couldn't see the problem a few folk had with it. It's just that they didn't say so on the public discussion at the time.

In March I put a bit of work into my linkup idea, but it didn’t come together this year. There were about 4 days when it looked like I might get lucky and all the climbs would be in condition. But it was always going to be a tall order, and so it’ll have to wait. It’s such an amazing project though, so I am super keen for my next opportunity to try it.

For the rest of the spring, I did some important work to set me and my family up for the long term. We moved house in the summer to Roybridge and now have a great base for all our MacLeod needs. Settling into a good house is something I feel is very important to be able to sustain a good lifestyle over the decades to come. It takes a huge amount of work and some sacrifices in the short term. But I’m certain it’s worth it. So during April and May I worked as hard as I could to prepare my house for sale. Houses in the highlands often take north of 2 years to sell, and that would have made life quite difficult for us. I was determined to give ourselves the best chance to complete the sale and move more quickly.  The work paid off. We sold our old place in Letterfinlay to the first couple who viewed it.

During this period I was also doing a bit of running. Right after my surgery in Nov 2012, I entered the West Highland Way footrace (95 miles) as a little goal to help me with my recovery, and because It’s something I’ve always wanted to try. Unfortunately, the injuries to my foot and ankle were just too bad to allow it. I could only run intermittently during the spring and although I did manage some not bad runs, my plantar fascia which was nearly ruptured in the accident started to hurt more and more in the couple of weeks leading up to the race. I still lined up at the start line, knowing full well I wouldn’t be going far. I ran 20 miles to Balmaha. Although the rest of me was not even warmed up, my right foot was screaming in pain and I got in the car. It was a bitter moment for me. I doubt that I’ll ever be able to run again due to the damage in my ankle joint, although I continue to keep an open mind about this.

My trip to Pabbay with Donald King was a nice contrast to the running. We went with the objective of making the first free ascent of the Pabbay Arch project, tried by Cubby and later Steve McClure. I redpointed it very quickly and it is one of the most spectacular trad climbs I’ve ever seen. I’d love to go back to that roof sometime. 

It was around this time that I had a call to say my father had been taken into hospital with pneumonia. What followed was a difficult three weeks where his condition looked initially not too bad, then deteriorated steadily until he died. Needless to say this had quite an effect on me and the process of dealing with it is not really over.

I hadn’t climbed for around 6 weeks when the date came around to meet Calum in the alps for a few weeks of trying hard alpine faces. I was unfit, but not really in a caring sort of mood, so I was happy to go straight for the hardest route on the list (Paciencia on the Eiger north face) and just see what happened. I was able to climb it by leaning on skills other than fitness. It was a fun experience, but in hindsight I still was not really in a good place.

After the Eiger we headed to the Dolomites to repeat Bellavista on Cima Ovest, but we were met by a week of thunderstorms. So I went home and hastily arranged a last chance return trip with Alan Cassidy two weeks later.

Unfortunately, during that two weeks, while climbing with Natalie, I made a little mistake while leading Hold Fast, Hold True (E9 6c) in Glen Nevis and decked out, badly spraining my left ankle and breaking off several bone spurs around the rim of the joint. They had been growing since I last broke that ankle, 16 years ago, when a hold snapped during a solo of a grit E8. I knew I would need surgery, but couldn’t get it until after the dolomites trip. The day before I was due to leave for the dolomites, the swelling went down enough to get a rock shoe on my foot, so we went out, again with a ‘don’t give a ….’ attitude on my part.

I had to walk on the scree as if I was walking on broken glass, but once climbing I felt like I could go up the rock, if a little like a robot. Nothing was working anyway, it was raining, snowing and then really snowing. So on the last day when we went up to strip our fixed rope from the crux roof, I really didn’t care. That, combined with the training effect of trying to climb it when it was soaking wet for the preceding week, was a perfect scenario. It was winter conditions, but finally dry, and I was in the mood for a good fight with the pitch. So I climbed it. On the place home I remember not quite believing I’d managed to get two great alpine ticks like those two routes despite such poor preparation before the trips.

Once home, I was just on surgery countdown, and afterwards, taking the long walk through the valley of rehab, every night, doing my strange exercises standing on one leg. It’s not a whole lot of fun, but there’s no choice. Rehab exercises make you better. Finally after 6 weeks, I’m able to do winter walk-ins and even managed to jump down from about head height onto my feet at TCA.

Just now I’m flying to Patagonia for a month of whatever the Patagonian weather throws at us. I’m a little apprehensive about my lack of recent climbing, to say the least. However, I am never the type to rate my chances. What I need to remember is how much good climbing I got done in 2013 despite 2 surgeries, 2 months of DIY and dealing with the loss of my father. I also found time to write another 40,000 words or so of my injuries book which gets ever closer to being ready. I’m halfway through a redraft now and the ingredients are one by one falling into place. Working on this book has taken a huge amount of my energy and I think it will be a massive weight of my shoulders when it is complete, not to mention freeing up a lot more hours in the week for everything from climbing to spending time with my family.

In 2014 my goals are to be a bit more organised about trying the projects I want to try. Instead of just taking things as they come I want to focus on one thing until it’s done. I always work better in this mode and I need to get back to it. I also have realised I want to make some major changes in the way I train. Some of these are practical things which will mean I can get more training done and keep better control over it’s content. But I also want to change my approach to performing a bit too. I think it will make a big difference. You never know what life brings, but I would like it if the next year had less big upsets than last year. After a lot of travelling in 2013 I’m really excited about spending more time based at home in my new house and raiding projects from there. I'm also looking forward to be neither awaiting or recovering from surgery, after the year of being held back by injuries.

After Patagonia I’ve got some great Scottish projects lined up in all the climbing disciplines for the spring and early summer and then I’d like to go to the alps to try a mind blowing new route I’ve seen. I’m also going to build the most badass training board ever in my new garage!

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