Thursday 21 April 2016

Magic times

Shallow Water to Riverbed 8B+ from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

Right now I am back in Magic Wood, Switzerland, waiting for the rain and snow to stop. I’ve been here for a week, with a mix of great climbing sessions and the usual wet days. I’m always full of anticipation and excitement for any climbing trip. But this one maybe that bit more than ever as I felt some signs that I feel in maybe the best climbing shape I have been.

In some ways I find this amazing since I worked ~16 hour days more or less non-stop between last October and the Fort William Mountain Festival in February. Some of this work included training and climbing. But the point is, I had a heavy workload with a lot or pressure on my ability to rest and thus sustain a training schedule. I have adapted some good strategies to squeeze maximum benefit from less resting time that I would like.

So what about the training? The minor factor in this has been a solid uninterrupted period of training through the winter on my board and not recovering from surgeries as I have been pretty much non-stop since late 2012! There is nothing ‘rocket science’ about the training really - just turning up, working my weaknesses, completing my workouts and then resting as well as I can between them. Because I have my own board, I have to take extra care not to become too set in my ways with the movements I set for myself. Part of this is having a good range of hold shapes, making sure to record and climb other climbers problems and set informal models of hard moves my projects. Part of it is just setting new problems often. But my big weakness remains ‘old school’ pure finger strength and body power. So I have many basic fingery problems and still spend plenty of time doing my deadhangs. When I do get the opportunity to go to large commercial walls (TCA in Glasgow is my favourite!), I forget the basic stuff and use the opportunity to get more variety of movement styles that expose and work my weaknesses. Obviously, this situation is quite specific to me.

The wall-based training factor is only the minor aspect of my recent improvement because it is overshadowed by the other factor has had such a dramatic effect on my climbing. This factor was radically changing my diet back in October. Many readers have asked me to write about this, and I will. However, it is an ongoing experiment and still a little early to draw any conclusions about exactly what has made the difference. I am also reluctant to potentially influence anyone before completing a broad base of reading on the scientific literature on the subject. This is something I have spent a lot of my spare moments doing and find it a mixture of fascinating, shocking, disturbing, exciting and depressing all at the same time. I have more stages of my ‘experiment of one’ yet to complete. No doubt I have much still to learn. However, so far I have experienced a range of quite dramatic health improvements, quite apart from the original goal - to increase my climbing level.

I did a bit of mixed climbing this season which did rather get in the way of rock training, but was certainly worth it with four IX’s onsight. I finished off just a couple of weeks ago with a repeat of Ines Papert’s Bavarinthia IX,9 in the Gorms. I kind of felt ready to get on something harder, but the season didn’t quite work out for me - the conditions disappeared just as I had my window to go mixed climbing more. Hence I went to Mull and did the crack project instead. Just before I left, I squeezed in two sessions on a nice boulder project on Skye. I was sooooo close on the second session. But it didn’t happen, so I’m hoping for some strong northerlies in mid May when I get my next chance to go there.

In Magic Wood one of my main trip goals was to work on the sit start to Riverbed (8B+). Although I did Riverbed (an 8B in itself) on my last trip very quickly, I got totally stumped by the sit start. I couldn’t do it at all!

At the end of a session last week I surprised myself by linking this part in about 30 minutes work, and excitedly reacquainted myself with the Riverbed section beyond. Next session I arrived rested but in slightly humid conditions. After a warm-up I shocked myself by completing the whole thing on my first try. I didn’t expect that! It’s only the third 8B+ repeat I’ve done, and it was great to feel it was not at my limit at the moment. Check out the video above - it’s a nice boulder!

So obviously I’m excited to see that some of my training decisions are paying off (at least for now) in quite dramatic style, but also what else I could climb while I’m here. Unfortunately, it’s now heaving it down with rain and snow. So I am sitting drinking tea and climbing nothing. Perhaps I will see some of you for my talk at the Aviemore Mountain Film Festival on Friday night (22nd) where I will discuss some of the ideas that have improved my climbing of late. After that I will return to Magic Wood and wait for the rain to stop again.

Tuesday 5 April 2016

Ben Nevis - Wild Times

Ben Nevis · Wild Times from Nevis Landscape Partnership on Vimeo.

I’m delighted to finally be able to share this film that I’ve been gathering footage for since last summer. The Nevis Landscape Partnership asked us to make a series of films for them related to the Ben Nevis/Glen Nevis area over a few years. Last year we focused on the huge survey of the Ben Nevis north face.

This year I wanted to focus more on Glen Nevis, and great people who are connected to it, both in the past and today. One place that I have always found one of the most special places on the earth is Steall in upper Glen Nevis. In the film I featured a little of the history of the folk who lived there, just a couple of generations ago. 

One of the things I find fascinating is the idea of the similarities and differences between the people of the past who lived and worked in these places, and those who use it today. Often, today people are using the mountains for sport, although many are also lucky enough to work in the mountains too.

I decided to do a bit of filming with local Fort William GP and British fell running champion Finlay Wild. Finlay is well known among the locals for winning the Ben Nevis Race every year and breaking various running records around the Scottish mountains, such as the Cuillin Ridge record.

I wanted to ask him about his relationship with The Ben and the Glen - whether the mountains seemed less wild or intimidating when you are fit enough run up Ben Nevis in less than an hour? What went through his mind while he was running? And for someone who could live anywhere, why he chose to stay among the mountains he grew up in. His thoughts on these issues were great, all with the backdrop of his amazing running.

I was particularly keen to capture his winter ridge runs with my drone and naturally it took a bit of time and organising to get a day when it might be possible to fly in full winter conditions. We waited in falling snow and mist until we were all freezing and finally the clouds just started to clear. At first I didn’t think the drone batteries would handle the cold, but I got one warmed up enough to fly and got some nice footage that to my mind captures something about why you would want to go to such effort to get fit and deal with all the hardships of the winter mountains and training. I was so exited to see the ‘drone’s eye view’ of Finlay charging along a snow-clad ridge, it was hard to concentrate on flying the drone.

After all the work of putting this together, I had a short break and start filming the next one tomorrow!