Monday 30 March 2015

Project Fear film

Here is the Project Fear film about my new route on Cima Ovest last September. Truth be told, I was incredibly lucky that myself and Alan Cassidy were able to get the route climbed given the very poor weather in the Dolomites last season. Of course, to a certain extent we made our own luck as you see in the film, my cleaning and preparing the route through the poor weather rather than just sitting waiting.

However, the two sunny days we had were a crucial ingredient and I was desperate to make them count. I’m sure you’ll understand that my favourite part of the film are the parts playing with Freida at home in Glen Nevis. But this it is also a great memory of the adventures on that massive roof. It gets me psyched for summer's big wall expedition will be rather bigger in scale.

A special thanks to Mountain Equipment for supporting our trip and the film idea, Karl for exploring the roof with me and dodging the blocks I knocked off, Alan for coming with me on the route and the Coldhouse guys for being great craic and teaching me a lot.

Sunday 29 March 2015

Zeki Basan

Zeki Basan from Nevis Landscape Partnership on Vimeo.

Here is a short film we made about Zeki Basan, a great young character from over in the Gorms. Zeki won the Scottish youth award for mountain culture at this year’s Fort William Mountain Festival. He is the inaugural winner of the youth award and joins a formidable list of winners of the 'adult' award; Hamish McInnes, Jimmy Marshall, Richard Else, Myrtle Simpson, Ian 'Spike' Sykes, Andy Nisbet and Robin Campbell. We also made the film about Robin Campbell for his award this year and I'll post that up as soon as it's live.

I’m certainly used to meeting enthusiastic and smart young folk involved in all manner of mountain sports, but it was great to learn more about Zeki’s passion for bushcraft when we travelled over to speak to him for this film.

Friday 20 March 2015

It's foot-off time

Post surgery day 2. Anaesthetic drip disconnected, time for the training to start again.

I’ve been getting really motivated for training lately. Which is just as well, because I’m about to have a 6 week solid block of it during the spring. The reason? Ankle surgery. 

Yes, more ankle surgery. Readers of this blog will know that I’ve had surgery on both ankles in the past two years. In both cases this was for damage to the edge of the cartilage surface of my ankle joints. By far the worst injury was happened in this accident when I was lowered off the end of a rope. The microfracture surgery I had did work to an extent, but the nature of doing tons of walking on mountains has meant the lesion, although small, has not remained stable and has got a little worse. Knowing what I know now, I also suspect that some of the advice I was given for the post operative period was, well, sub standard and could well have contributed to it not working as well as it could have.

So I’ve tried to put my money where my mouth is and follow my own advice in my book, seeking the opinion of the best ankle surgeons in the world to see if there was anything else that could be done to protect my ankles from getting any worse. And there is. After speaking to surgeons based in Cambridge, Malaysia, Newcastle and then Munich, I’ve established that a newly developed procedure has a good probability of making the ankle feel better and protecting its health in the longer term.

All of this has taken 6 months to organise and considerable research and legwork on my part, not to mention working to meet the costs of the treatment. But now I approach the start line and I am in Munich and had my surgery yesterday. It all seemed to go fine and I feel ready to hit the fingerboard today. Nothing is certain in sports medicine and I know there is always a chance it won’t make much difference. But I still feel I ought to do the best I can now to keep myself well serviced so I am still in good form in the years and decades to come.

The sacrifice in the short term is that I have to do foot-off bouldering only for 6 weeks. Not too much of a sacrifice really. Foot off bouldering has always helped me feel really strong. So now I have a chance to have a good uninterrupted spell of it. During the recovery from my last surgeries, I thought it was good to place my focus onto writing my book. This time, I will have ample time to complete organised daily training as well as draw dinosaurs with Freida. It is kind of ridiculous that it takes leg surgery to make me train properly, but I just like going climbing too much. So let's see what I can do with this opportunity.

As I’m sure you can tell, I’ve set out a plan to make this a positive step in both the short and long term. There is really no reason why I shouldn’t be stronger and fitter for my rock projects by the start of May than I would otherwise be if I’d just been going out winter and rock climbing based on the weather. 

The process of organising this treatment was at times demoralising. Having actually arrived at the treatment stage feels like I’ve already come through a tough challenge in many areas. Just trying to get my MRI scans from the NHS was a bureaucratic shambles. Then even in the private sector things although good, were still frustratingly slow. The hardest part however has been finding sources of encouragement.

While I’m recovering I’ll be training 7 days a week on my board, fingerboard, campus board, rings, floor exercises, One foot cycling, swimming, general flexibility work, oh and the surgery rehab work itself! Not sure how I’ll fit it all in. But I’m pretty sure I’ll be in good shape after it. At least I start from a reasonable base of built up fitness. It will be interesting to see if the problems in the video below are no longer hard for me in a couple of months time. One way to find out...

Training 24 Feb 2015 from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

Thursday 19 March 2015

Pink Panther

On Pink Panther VI,6 Ben Nevis. Photo: Paul Diffley/Hot Aches

The day after doing Tripod I was heading back up the Allt a Mhuillin with Natalie Berry, intent on making the most of the fine ice conditions. We knew most folk would head for the Indicator Wall area, so instead we headed to the much quieter but almost as high up area above Raeburn’s Easy Route, just right of the Great Tower. We could see that the steep ice pillar of Pink Panther was looking fat and slogged up the neve to a spacious belay spot in the cave behind the icicle. Meanwhile, Paul Diffley abseiled in from the top to film us. The weather was beautiful and it was quite social chatting to Paul as I led up the crux pitch, which was actually quite easy in the current conditions.

Natalie led through up the easy snow to the top and we were rewarded with lovely sunshine and views on top. This was Ben Nevis at its most friendly and it was a nice relaxing day in contrast to the challenging new routing the day before. 

That great weekend will be my last of the winter season. It’s all change for me now, with 6 weeks of solid training for the rock season. More on that shortly.

We were accompanied by Paul Diffley and Chris Prescott from Hot Aches, who took some of these nice photos.

 Aye it wasn’t a bad afternoon on the plateau

Tuesday 17 March 2015


Leading the steep crack at the start of Tripod VII,7 on Ben Nevis. Photo Helen Rennard.

The walls on the left side of Tower Ridge is a part of Ben Nevis I’ve visited quite a lot over the years and really like. Obviously, my interest in this area started with Echo Wall some years ago. Since then I’ve done a couple of winter routes around here too. In winter it can provide good shelter from a westerly storm and also remains in condition for mixed quite late in the season. The other week Helen and myself climbed Red Dragon on the wall right of Echo Wall. On Saturday we needed to go higher to find good conditions and walked up to the wall up and left of Echo Wall, near Tower Scoop.

The other year we did a good new VII,8 here which I called Angry Chair. The name came from a huge detached block which I sat and belayed on, looking for a way to finish the route with overhanging blankness above. It reminded me of the song Angry Chair by a band I grew up listening to called Alice in Chains. The song starts:

“Sitting on the Angry Chair. Angry Walls that steal the air...”

Angry Chair followed the first pitch of Clefthanger (summer HVS, winter VI,6) before heading up a groove on the right. On Saturday I started up a steep crack just left of this which would lead into the iced up upper section of Clefthanger. The crack looked VI,6 from below, but turned out to be a good VII,7 with fiddly gear and poor footholds for quite a long way. It was excellent though and I continued all the way to the top in one 68m pitch.

I thought it might be nice to keep going with the Alice in Chains theme for names. I have always liked the grim lyrics and style and so we could call this one Tripod, after their rather darkly illustrated album. It kind of feels relevant to how I'm going to be climbing for the coming couple of months! The area right of Tower Scoop now has 4 good mixed routes between VI and VIII. Tripod starts up the short flow of ice at the base, into the cracks and then the big left leaning ice ramps.

Helen finishing the pitch on great ice.

Tripod starts up the short flow of ice at the base, into the cracks and then the big left leaning ice ramps.

Sunday 8 March 2015

After the rain

Never tire of this outlook back towards the Glenfinnan hills

Today I had a great day in the Arisaig Cave which was completely bone dry despite the 20cm of rain which has doused Lochaber over the past three days. What a great venue it is. Last year I didn’t do much bouldering really, I spent most of the time on Dolomitic big walls and lately I’ve been getting back into mixed climbing a bit.

Today was a nice reminder just how great it is - so relaxing to head off late morning and feel warm March sunshine in your face as you stroll across a deserted beach to the cave to work on a nice project.

I haven’t been to the cave for not far off two years. Last time I was there I managed, just, to do all the moves on the last remaining big straight up project. It might be as hard as 8B and a great piece of technical and burly climbing up a big diagonal flange. Today I re-worked it and did the moves again. Crucially, I got a good sequence dialled for the upper half of the problem and linked the last 5 moves to the top. I noticed myself getting tired on it quite quickly because of the very physical moves with compression and undercutting. I’ll definitely be back on this soon.

The flange project. training motivation. It’s definitely possible for me!

My tick marks from two years ago still there like it was yesterday. Can’t believe how rainproof the cave is. The ultimate boulder venue really!

Friday 6 March 2015

High Pressure Crack

Starting up pitch 3 of High Pressure Crack VIII,9 Ben Nevis. Photo: Masa Sakano

Returning from a trip to Manchester to speak and coach climbers at the climbing centre, it seemed there were not many breaks in the constant snow storms. But a ridge of high pressure was forecast for Wednesday and Masa Sakano agreed to venture onto the Ben with me. The avalanche forecast was ‘high’ and we’d heard of avalanche incidents the day before. So I thought of an unclimbed overhanging wall on the Douglas Boulder, which can be accessed safely in avalanche conditions so long as you make the descent by abseil.

Last year myself, Helen Rennard and Harry Holmes repeated Nick Bullock and Matt Heliker’s VII,8 ‘Rutless’ here. The crux pitch climbs the first few metres of a soaring overhanging crack and headwall, but quickly scuttles left along ledges and escapes via a corner. Something going right up that wall would be mega!

Approaching the hardest climbing on pitch 3, and starting to feel the pump. Photo: Masa Sakano

Masa led up the icy chimney of Gutless to the ledge below the wall. Watching him, I could see the headwall on the overhanging 3rd pitch. It looked like the crack went diagonally left across a smooth wall covered in a layer of ice and I worried a bit about how I might protect it if I could get there, although I figured the ice might be useful.

When I followed to the ledge, I launched up the overhanging wall without any hesitation so as to get worried. Although the crack was too icy to take more than a couple of cams, good wires spurred on my progress and I pressed on, getting gradually more pumped. Above the lip of the overhang I made a couple of committing pulls to a rest. I was struggling a bit to get gear. Everything was choked in ice. I dug out a big hex placement behind a couple of loose blocks. It was wobbly, so I packed the loose blocks back on top of it with lots of snow to keep it where it was.

The final part of the pitch up the headwall was fantastic on steep cracks on the exposed headwall. The best bit however, was remembering that I’d packed some sweets in the pocket of my Gore-Tex jacket for the belay. Masa led a 62 metre pitch on easier terrain to the top of the Douglas boulder and we headed down into gathering black clouds and eventually rain - it looks like winter is gone for a little while in Scotland. 

 Masa following pitch 1

 Masa in the fun chimney of Gutless.

Masa heading off on the long final pitch

Tuesday 3 March 2015

Red Dragon

Approaching the crux on the first ascent of Red Dragon VIII,9, Ben Nevis. Photo: Helen Rennard

Helen Rennard and myself were getting a bit fed up with waiting for a break in the stormy weather on the mountains, so we went up Ben Nevis on a blustery morning. There had been a very brief overnight thaw which we hoped would firm up the dangerous approach slopes. But as it got light it appeared to have stripped our possible new route objective. I also fell through a snowbridge on the path and went up to my knees in water. So we sat in the CIC hut for a while drying my boots and figuring out where to go. 

We opted for the steep walls right of Echo Wall which have few routes and we thought it might be relatively sheltered from the heavy snow shower rattling in from the west. On the way up Observatory Gully we passed a string of goggled-up climbers descending from their route objectives in the blizzard. They optimistically wished us luck as we hid in our hoods and pressed on.

Helen and myself heading up Observatory Gully towards Echo Wall (in cloud). Photo: Blair Fyffe

At the foot of the wall there was relative shelter and and we uncoiled the ropes below an overhanging crack feature soaring up the walls above. Helen had been here previously, but her partner had got very pumped and fallen from the first few metres, with a projected grade of 9 for this section. 

I managed to get over this first overhanging section without taking too much time, mainly because I didn’t want to hang about with poor gear in the extremely verglassed crack. On the following section I carried on with care, in the hope I’d get at least one solid runner, but I couldn't seem to get that. Eventually I arrived at an uncomfortable overhung slot below a very steep bulge in the crack above. I spent a very long time here.

I fiddled for ages, going up and down with some fear, trying in vain to get a good runner. Eventually, two very good hooks in the overhang persuaded me to move higher and I got a Spectre in. After a retreat to the slot, this runner provided the security to push a bit higher. A second Spectre went in and I now had enough protection to probe upwards with more commitment. Unfortunately I was by now getting pretty tired and was aware that Helen had been suffering the blizzard for some time without moving. She must have been freezing. On the other hand, I’d put in a fair bit of work and seemed to be only a few moves away from unlocking the pitch. So I committed upwards with a few heart pumping moments and burning forearms to an uncomfortable rest standing on one foot on the lip of the overhang.

I limped onwards to the belay, rather mentally exhausted and went through some savage hot aches before constructing a belay. Helen did a fine job of following the pitch from what must have been a very cold start. Understandably, she asked if I would lead on. The main problem on the final pitch was warming my freezing hands. It seems to me that your brain must shut out the memory of how bad hot aches can be. After descending Tower Ridge, we still had to don the goggles to walk down the Allt a Mhuillin!

We thought it would only be VIII,9 if the crack wasn't verglassed and would accept cams. It was a fine winter adventure - it does sometime pay off nicely if you press on through all the hurdles that Ben Nevis throws at you. But only with your wits about you at all times.