Sunday, 31 January 2016

BMC Women in Adventure film comp

Miles Away


I’ve entered my wee film Miles Away into the BMC women in adventure film competition. I noticed that they rank and shortlist the films based on the number of views on BMC TV. So even if you already saw it please do take a couple of minutes to enjoy Alicia Hudleson’s articulate thoughts on running in the mountains, and the lovely Swiss and Catalunyan hills.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Wake up MacLeod, it's redpoint time



Last night I worked till around midnight (editing Mick Tighe's voice) which is kind of early for me normally. But I didn’t get to sleep and so was a complete mess when the alarm went off at 7 to belay Alicia at Laboratori. I belayed until noon and felt so sleepy I decided not to even climb.

As we packed the car I changed my mind and decided to have a play on Photo-Shot 8b. After a couple of ridiculous tries where I first fell off the hardest move by fumbling the hold, and then fell off the easiest move by completely missing the jug, I got it done in full roasting hot sun. This was not a very professional performance. But it was a good fight nonetheless.

Lesson. Get your work done early, go to bed. Wake up with a functioning brain. 


Video above.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Working Week



This week, I am in Margalef, getting fit for projects, getting fit on projects, and editing video in every spare moment in between. We just arrived and after failing on some hard routes, I did a quick 10 min redpoint of La Bombi, 8b with the head torch. The following day I got a 1st redpoint of Zona 30 8b before moving onto my main course of failing on hard routes. There is some beta for Zona 30 in the video above.

I am suffering from slight lack of focus. I still can’t really pull on two-finger pockets because of a torn lumbrical although I’m fine on crimps. Anyone who has climbed in Margalef will understand why this presents a bit of a problem. What I really need a good project to get stuck into. But the two hard routes I’ve tried so far are either not very nice climbing or pretty reliant on being able to pull with that ring finger. I’m trying to decide whether to try an 9a that I know I’ll just be able to play on until my finger gets better, or get on some other classic 8cs. Problems problems eh?

Today is a rest day and I’m editing some great footage of articulate people and inspiring athletes from back home in Lochaber.

I got some news today that my wee short film of Alicia running ‘Miles Away’ has won best short film at the Fort William Mountain Festival which is in three short weeks time! Delighted. Miles Away is also showing at this year’s Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival which I’m speaking at as well. It’s also showing at the Dronefest film festival in London tonight (I think) if you happen to be there.

Miles Away from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Scottish Winter Kit list and Ellis Brigham ice event

Scottish Winter Kit list from Ellis Brigham on Vimeo.

Here is a video I made going through the kit I take for Scottish winter climbing - sack, clothing, climbing equipment, food etc. It’s something people quite rightly obsess over since it makes a huge difference to your day on the face.

Thanks to Ellis Brigham, Mountain Equipment and Gore-Tex for arranging the video. Speaking of Brighams. I’m speaking and running ice climbing technique masterclasses at their stores in London Covent Garden on Feb 3rd and Manchester on Feb 10th.


If you’d like to win a free ice climbing masterclass at the indoor ice walls in both locations, head here to enter (and best be quick). The classes are during the afternoon. In the evening lectures, I’ll be speaking about various adventures on Scottish hard bits of climbing and other adventures on big faces around the world. Look forward to seeing y’all there. You can get your tickets for the evening lectures from here, and it may be a plan to get them in advance.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Southern Freeze



Enjoying the fine position on the second pitch of Southern Freeze IX,9 Photo Helen Rennard

The Arrochar Alps are not just my favourite winter playground because I’m from Glasgow. I still love going there in winter even though I live under the Ben these days. Just before I moved to the highlands in 2007 I visited the south peak of the Cobbler to attempt Ken Johnstone’s summer E2 ‘Southern Freeze’. It was an obvious winter line, being festooned with luminous lumps of moss and turf. That day I discovered that the route was pretty hard and sustained. It took me around two hours of being continually pumped to climb the first 25 metres to the crux bulge. When I got there, I just didn’t have any more juice in the tank. I scraped about uselessly at the bulge, then lowered off.


The Cobbler south peak in fine condition. Southern Freeze takes the left skyline through the bulges.

It was always on my mind and I made a couple of abortive tries to go back, mostly finding it out of condition or poor weather. On Friday we knew the Cobbler would be in excellent condition and Helen Rennard and I made a difficult journey down from Lochaber in heavy snow. The walk was similarly slow and I started up the wall at noon. The same delicate, pumpy and at times scary two hours later, I arrived back at my highpoint. But this time, either with recent training paying off, or the benefit of experience, I had power left in my arms. After a short rest I climbed quickly and confidently across the bulge, finding the hooks more quickly than I expected. I didn’t take more than a split second to take in the exhilarating position on the lip. I was far too busy grunting and eyeing up the tufts above. Once Helen had warmed up and joined me at the belay, I swung around an easy bulge and cruised up the much easier corner above, taking in the spectacular afternoon light looking down the Clyde and across to Ben Lomond. 


On the crux of Southern Freeze, IX,9 Photo: Helen Rennard

After a very busy (18 hour) work day the next day, I picked Helen up at 5am, two hours after I’d got to bed and was feeling decidedly unmotivated as we drove back south to go for Mammoth (IX,9) on The Brack. I was even less psyched meeting Stuart the Postie in the car park, who confidently predicted the turf would not be frozen on such a low mountain. I still thought the steep open walls would be frozen even if the grade Vs with deep corners would be insulated by the snow. 

I had been so busy with work the day before, I hadn’t got time to look at Mammoth’s description. I just knew it took steep cracks right of the big arete on the crag. What the hell, it probably wouldn’t be white/frozen anyway. Well it turned out to be both white and frozen! I climbed a 10 metre corner to the first steep crack and launched up this. It looked desperate and under the liberal plastering it took me ages hanging right on the steepest bit trying to find the hooks to pull over. Eventually I spotted a wee flake and the move was easy! If only I hadn’t had the 30 minute workout to find it.


Mammoth looking in great condition.

At the next belay I could see this was a logical place to climb the crack on the left as Guy had mentioned in his blog. But that was the third pitch? I suddenly realised I must have missed out the initial 10m pitch which is rather indirect off to the left of the main line of cracks. Idiot. Oh well, there wasn’t much I could do about it now! So I just got stuck into the next tech 9 pitch. Guy had mentioned perfect protection but the crack today was choked with ice and not accepting gear readily. On the overhanging part, I got a killer no-hands kneebar which helped a lot to buy me enough time to fiddle wires into the icy crack. Later Helen said she just touched them and they fell out. I managed to complete the pitch without getting too pumped and still felt like I had plenty of energy. I think my recent training changes have another thumbs up. The last pitch was thankfully a bit more chilled tech 7 which I enjoyed despite getting cold hands. We abseiled back down the wall and with my head torch beam I sussed out where we went wrong on the first pitch. I suggested to Helen that I just tie in and do the pitch for completeness, but she was shivering and not making keen noises, so we kept going down. Next time I’ll make a point of reading the guidebook. 


Startring up the crux pitch of Mammoth IX, 9 on the Brack. Photo: Helen Rennard


Heading out left to the turfier crack o the net tech 9 pitch.


I got a handy kneebar right at the hardest bit. Handy because I fumbled my wires and nearly dropped all of them.

Both routes were a brilliant reminder of how good Southern Highlands mixed climbing is. Mammoth is a fantastic pumpy line and quite low stress since it’s well protected. Although we annoyingly missed out on the first bit, the climbing on Southern Freeze was a good bit harder overall so I think I’ll suggest IX,9 for that as well. I’m also beginning to wonder if two of my new routes on the Ben back in March (High Pressure Crack and Red Dragon) could potentially be IX as they had harder climbing. A fun start to the mixed season, even though I’m about to leave for Catalunya.


Helen dispatching another pitch on Mammoth


Friday, 8 January 2016

New years resolutions

Judging by the number of books we’ve been stuffing into the wee postbox in Inverroy since January 1st, there are a lot of climbers out there with new year’s resolutions to change your habits and up your level. Great! Let me know how you get on. I would say ‘good luck’, but that would be irrelevant. You’ll make your own luck, or you won’t. 

Both 9 out of 10 climbers and Make or Break are in part behavioural science books. They explain how having willpower is not really the centre of behaviour change that leads youth better climbing performance, or getting back to full form after an injury. Rather, changing the environment helps you to make the changes you need without having to constantly force it by willing yourself to do something against your natural tendencies.

My own new year’s resolution is pretty simple - to get more sleep. 8 hours minimum and 10 hours after a heavy training day. I think it has been the missing link in my own training for a long time. I’m ashamed to say I’ve probably squandered the effort of many a training session by not giving my body the chance to benefit from it in recovery, simply by not sleeping enough.

As not-so-subtly hinted in 9/10’s title, this training error might be something you should think about too. I dare say there are tons of climbers out there who spend ages researching and doing different training regimes, only to waste all of that time and effort by under-sleeping and missing out on the gains from that training.

Depending on what mood and mindset you apply to the problem, you could see it as a super simple thing to change. Just go to f**kin bed early! Simple. But of course real life is not so simple. You have to be organised. Being organised requires stepping back from the actual schedule and taking a dispassionate look at what activities there are in your life that are unnecessary. Stepping out of your own bubble is essential to do this. For instance, a lot of folk would have more time for all sorts of things simply by deleting the Facebook app from their phone. 


Is Facebook undermining your performance in sport? is commuting time? Is the fact you haven’t build your training board at home yet? Is your commute, or your phone (or whatever it is in your life) really more important to you than your climbing dreams? It’s your choice.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Fort William Mountain Festival reel

Fort William Mountain Festival 2016 showreel from Fort William Mountain Festival on Vimeo.

I just put together the reel for the Fort William Mountain Festival which is coming up in mid February. The showreel has just a fraction of the films and speakers involved in this year’s festival

I’ve been to the FWMF every year for a decade and I know I’m highly biased, but it is the best mountain festival I’ve ever been to. Why? The combination of location, great shows and especially great vibe. 

I remember being blown away at a previous festival when during a hill running night the MC asked the audience how many people in the room were active hill runners and I reckon over 250 people raised a hand. I don’t know anywhere else where you get such energy of like minded people coming together and sharing their keenness. The great thing about FWMF is that folk are always out on the hill or in a workshop during the day enjoying some climbing or other activity. So everyone shares the ‘glow’ as they head back to the Fort for the evening film and lecture sessions.

As always I’m doing quite a lot at this year’s festival. as well as putting together the showreel, mountain culture award films and various sponsors films, I’ve also entered my own film ‘Miles Away’ and will be premiering the film I’m making this year for the Nevis Landscape Partnership, which will feature characters old and new from the Nevis area.

I’m also running my climbing technique masterclasses. In previous years I’ve run them at the Ice Factor, but this year, I’m pleased to say I’m running them at my own climbing wall!! It will be the first time my wall will be open to the climbing world beyond my friends. The Saturday and Sunday sessions are sold out but there are a couple of spaces left on the rock climbing and also dry tooling/winter sessions on Friday 19th Feb.


Tickets for the festival nights are here. If you want to grab those remaining spaces on my climbing sessions, check out the details here. See you there in a handful of weeks.

Friday, 18 December 2015

My first drone film 'Miles Away'

Miles Away from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

I’ve had my drone for several months now and been gathering some footage for various projects in Scotland, but I’ve just finished my first drone film. It’s just a short fly about the Swiss alps, and Catalunyan hills, following Alicia Hudelson as she explains what mountain running means to her. It was great fun to make on my rest days from climbing. Thanks Alicia for being describing your thoughts about running so well and taking us to such nice places.

I just heard its been shortlisted for the Drone Fest film festival in London next month. Nice! I think it's the first time I've entered a film competition since my first film Echo Wall seven years ago!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

The 4th Wave - Arisaig project done.


4th Wave, 8B first ascent from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

I had a strong feeling I was going to be able to climb my project in the Arisaig Cave imminently. I have been climbing rather better than of late and could feel the moves getting easier and easier. Since returning from my great trip in Europe in October, I’d had a bit of a crap period with a few things not really going well. When feeling a bit fed up with things not going well, I tend to stutter in my energy levels, with periods of intense motivation and energy and other periods where the motivation is there but the energy is not.

Yesterday started out as one of those low days. I sat in the car for twenty minutes just doing nothing before walking in. I wasn’t really thinking about anything. I think perhaps I needed to do that for a few minutes. I strolled in to the Rhu Peninsula and began my warm-up routine in the cave. I was definitely feeling strong, but not sharp and a little sluggish. Experience tells me to keep going with the routine even in this state. At worst, you have another workout, another chance to learn more about the project. At best, the non-plussed state of mind can defend you from nerves when you are very close to a hard project. As I’ve written about before, despite what many sport psychology textbooks tell you, there’s no need to be feeling positive before producing a good performance. People are just way more complicated than that.

On my first try I finally broke through the crux and fell at the last hard move, powered out. After two more rubbish tries, I cruised through the crux, feeling the strongest I’ve ever felt on the line. Arriving back at the final slap to the apex of the cave, I felt my power draining. But I slapped, and I didn’t fall. It’s hard for me to explain this or to accurately describe my state of mind in this move. Although focusing during a 100% effort is totally automatic for me, I wouldn’t say I felt particularly concentrated. It just seemed to happen without me really feeling like I was making it. And so I found myself at the finishing holds, project (on and off) of three years, done.

All a bit surreal really. I celebrated my moving directly on to the big yin - a link of my earlier monster line right through the cave into my now ex-project. 25 moves of Font 8a to an awkward kneebar rest and then into a tough 8B. You can see the video I made of Eternity’s Gate a few years back below. It’s an amazing piece of climbing. And it’s dry almost all of the year. That should give me something to chew on for a few seasons!



The above musing on psychological states may well be rather peripheral to this project getting climbed. The bottom line is I felt really strong on it. Why? Well take a look at the graph below of my weight over the past 6 months. It doesn’t take a genius to spot the pattern. The ‘how’ of this process is complex and a subject for another blog post. But the ‘why’ is an important part of my current improved form.

I was rather heavier than I am now when I was a teenager but lost a fair amount of fat since getting keen to push my climbing about 18 years ago (height 5 feet 8 inches btw). Of the numerous ways that can be used to lower your weight temporarily, large amounts of running, often in a fasted state, was probably most effective for me to maintain a fighting weight for projects. However, since my accident at Steall in 2012, I haven’t been able to run. I also found that the other tactics I used were now frustratingly ineffective. My weight has slowly crept up over the past three years as a result, despite intermittent efforts by me to settle on a strategy to counter this. The low point of this was the peak of the graph above in early October, when I took 5 tries to climb an 8b (The Force at Brin Rock) I was not happy with this performance!

After reaching a stage where I was finally able to let go of pre-established ideas and come to the subject a-new, I started to read piles of books, 100s of research papers and countless online discussions in order to get a better grasp of the subject. Although this only scratches the surface of the understanding required (hence my reluctance to share more than the results at the moment), I do feel like I have finally got somewhere. 

On one hand, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of knowing what you are doing before making an effort to manipulate your diet or weight. For a start, being lighter may not be an advantage at all for a large proportion of climbers. For example, some climbers cannot influence their weight much no matter what they do. I have noticed that these climbers sometimes struggle to understand why it seems to make such a huge difference to some others. The health consequences of getting all this wrong are about as big as they get. I have spent countless long nights reading on this subject. Unfortunately, due to the poor quality of much of the available research, and unbelievably poor quality of a good deal of the popular press articles and books on the subject, it’s a complete big fat minefield. On the other hand, one cannot opt out of eating a diet and maintaining choices in how we live - what if the choices we are making that form our baseline are the bad ones? Doing nothing for fear of making an error could be the worst possible scenario. Yet the barrier of being able to read and process enough raw science to be able to distinguish good personalised advice from bad is not realistic for a lot of people. It’s an impossible situation.

All I can say is that I am lucky to have the opportunity to be able to plough through all of these papers and run my ‘experiment of one’ from a position of being slightly less in the dark than I might be. It’s an ongoing experiment and I have so much to learn - it’s a bit daunting and I am determined to maintain a dispassionate approach. But the first step was to try it for a couple of months and see if there was a positive impact on my climbing. At this point, that is an emphatic yes!

Friday, 13 November 2015

Earning my Santa hat immunity



Pleased to redpoint Aitzol 8c. Definitely my first 8c warm-up!

After a long drive from Magic Wood we arrived in Catalunya feeling a bit tired. I had a bit of realisation that going from pulling on for a couple of seconds on a Font 8C to trying to do stamina routes in Margalef was maybe not going to be easy, especially as I still couldn’t pull on pockets properly after straining a lumbrical in Magic Wood.

My goal for the week was not too ambitious. All I wanted to get was revenge on Aitzol (soft 8c). In late 2013 I was here for a week with Alicia. We’d had the trip booked for ages and in the interim period I needed to get my second ankle surgery and the date for that fell just over two weeks before the trip. Not ideal. I said I would still go and just do what I could - probably just belay and feel sorry for myself.

I arrived in Margalef still barely able to walk 100 yards and still taking antibiotics for a painful wound infection. On the first day I was almost in tears just walking from the car 100 metres to buy the guidebook. I limped up a 200m approach and just belayed Alicia and popped painkillers.

After that the tide turned on that particular recovery. And quickly. The next day I did one 6c. The next a 7a+. The next an 8a redpoint. Then on the final day I got 7c+ onsight, 8a+ redpoint and almost managed to redpoint Aitzol 8c.

I fell just after the crux but couldn’t really make the most of the heel hook rest and couldn’t do any drop knees. It was fantastic to leap back trough the grades day after day and switch from delicate surgical patient to rock climber again. I knew that my next time in Margalef I would be straight back to try and finish Aitzol.

I had a couple of tries in awful conditions and although the moves were no problem, I was getting pumped after ten seconds on the rock. But after a rest day the rock was drier and I returned and started up it straight away, opting to just work the moves a bit for my warm-up. I arrived at the heel hook rest feeling quite good, so decided to continue. Next thing I was through the crux. I was definitely feeling quite warmed up by then.

I climbed all the way to the anchor without really getting that pumped. At the start of the trip I bought a silly Santa hat in Barcelona in prep for Christmas family silliness. We a pact that if I fell off a 6c or failed to get overlapping halves on Aitzol, or if Alicia said ‘take’ on lead, we’d have to wear the Santa hat for the next three routes.

After my 8c ‘warm-up’ I was chuffed when Alicia announced that I’d earned full immunity from the Santa hat for the rest of the trip. With my project done in the first ten minutes of the session, we headed off for a brew and then got on Llamps i Trons (8c+/9a post hold break). I certainly wont be climbing that in our last couple of days here. But I think I have a new project to return to Margalef for.


A lovely day filming Alicia with the drone on her favourite run in Serra de Montsant.


Alicia enjoying the last morning in Magic Wood before the monster drive to Catalunya.