Thursday, 2 July 2015

Warming up the climbing a bit more

Transition Film Preview - Toast E7 6c 1st Ascent from Hot Aches Productions on Vimeo.

Last week I visited Suidhe Biorach on Skye for the first time, on a cold and windy day with Natalie. There are still plenty of great cliffs around the highlands that I’ve never visited, and I always have the hope of discovering good hard new routes to climb on them.

Climbing the excellent Mother's Pride, E4, Suidhe Biorach. Photos: Chris Prescott/Hot Aches Productions

That day we climbed Mother’s Pride, the big classic E4. Mega steep, mega jugs. At mid height I couldn’t help noticing the massive horizontal roof to it’s right. At the right end of this, Hovis (E6) crosses the roof at a narrower section with good flakes. But I could also see the odd ripple in the expanse of roof in between. 

At the end of the day I abbed down to have a look. At first it looked like there weren’t enough holds, but then I found one section of roof with just enough holds. I had to come straight back for this amazing line!

A couple of days later we were back. I abbed down again, giving the pitch a clean and checking out the gear and holds. It looked like it would go, but one move to spin round and toe hook the lip while holding a slopey press in the roof looked tough and was hard to try off the rope since the roof was totally horizontal.

It was gently raining although none of it was really bothering the route. So after a bit of hanging around we just abbed down and got on with it. You can see how we got on in the video above. The line was one of the best I’ve done in a long time. A great boulder problem in the roof, followed by a chilled out dangle about on the lip on big jugs and then a fun pumpy headwall with bomber gear. It’s obviously going to take me a little while to build up trad stamina after so long doing pure strength work while I was off my feet. This pitch was basically perfect for me right now.

After we had finished it was mid evening and had been raining most of the day and getting steadily wetter. I asked the team what we should do now. There was a suggestion of going for some food. I was keen as mustard to be out climbing and suggested we go down for another E6. After a brief pause I said “Only joking”. Diff said “Oh good” and we headed off. I wasn’t really joking, I wanted to CLIMB!

This week I’ve been staying in Blair Atholl with my family and trying to get out and run as many laps on Silk Purse down at Dunkeld as I can. That is definitely having some effect on the endurance. Hopefully enough to take another wee step up next week.

The fantastic pumpy headwall on Toast, E7, Suidhe Biorach.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Climbing begins

Enjoying the chilled out finish of Austerity Lite (E6 6b) on the first ascent, Financial Sector, Neist Point, Isle of Skye. Photo: Chris Prescott/Hot Aches Productions

First post surgery route. Just a 6b at Brin Rock. It was raining, it was midgy, but it still felt great.

After a spell of climbing on my recovering foot on big footholds (and trainers) on my board, I graduated to putting my rock shoes on again. At first I just stuck to the board but I’ve now been on the rock as well.

Naturally it feels great to be climbing again. I have been noticing the extra strength from all the foot-off training too. There are some challenges still ahead though. My foot is weak and still a little sore on the odd move. Smearing on slabs is still requiring a bit of care, and I’m quite timid on jumps.

My outdoor sessions have only been the last week and so far I’ve been just doing mileage on easier bouldering up to 7B. Yesterday I went to Neist Point on Skye with Natalie. Nat made a fine lead of Piggy Bank (E3 5c), starting off in drizzle, finishing in full on rain. Just as we were packing up to leave, the clouds suddenly cleared and so I gave the arete left of Piggy bank a quick clean and led a new E6 6b, Austerity Lite. I wondered if it would feel kind of weird being on a trad sharp end, pulling on tiny crimps. But it was totally fine.

It is still difficult to hold back and be very gentle in my climbing, especially as I've been training myself to be explosive with the upper body with foot-off climbing for three months. During the next week I'm hoping I'll feel good enough to try something a little harder.

Alicia on the Ruthven Boulder

Nat starting off on a damp Piggy Bank E3 5c, Neist Point.

Going for the finishing jug on Potential 7, 7B, Torridon Boulders.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Campus notes

Dave MacLeod systemise campusing and 1-4-7 campus board from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

During my surgery rehab I have done a LOT of climbing without my feet. Unsurprisingly I have got a little stronger. I have been training more or less every day for 2-4 hours. Around half the work has been fingerboard and campusboard workouts. I’ve also done some foot-off bouldering on both small and big holds. 

Another big chunk of the time has been endurance circuits of around 30 moves, performed with one foot. I started off trying to do these foot-off, but the intensity was a bit high, so I’ve settled for one foot on but keeping my trainers on. I find that if I put on the rockshoe it feels too much like normal climbing and it torments me that I can't use the other foot. It will be interesting to see the effects of this training. On one hand, it’s still fairly ‘ugly’ climbing on one foot and therefore not great for improving your efficiency. On the other hand, sustained endurance terrain on powerful juggy terrain is a weakness for me, so it may have been useful. I’ll find out in due course.

The final big chunk of my time has been taken up with all the peripheral stuff that is A) not actually that peripheral, and B) normally gets missed. I’ve really improved many aspects of my core strength and arm strength and completed what rehab exercises I was able to do before getting to the full weightbearing stage.

I’ve been starting to use my foot progressively more on the board over the past few weeks now and getting pretty close to my resumption of outdoor climbing. I want to make a solid start to normal climbing, so I'm leaving it until I'm sure I can do that. As this gets close, yesterday I had a nice little milestone of getting 1-4-7 on my campusboard (small Metolius wood grips rungs, 22cm spaced). 

I have done almost no campusing for years now, Partly because the climbing walls I had access to when I moved away from Glasgow in 2007 didn’t have any, and then from 2008 after my elbows started to complain and I just stuck to climbing only.

When I built my new climbing wall last spring I included a campus board and used the small Metolius rungs which are a fair bit harder than the old S7 small rungs in the Glasgow Climbing Centre board I used to train on. I could do 1-5-8 on that one and 1-4-7 pretty easily. I stayed away from the new campus board last year while I built a level of resistance back up after the previous year without a board to train on while I was in the process of moving house.

Right after my surgery, at the end of March, I started to play on it gently at first, and progressively doing a little more each week. A couple of times I felt I’d overdone it and left it again for at least 5 days. In those early weeks, I couldn’t get near 1-4-7. So to be able to do it now is a clear strength gain. You don’t get too many of those after 20 years climbing!

My experience of really dedicated spells of fingerboard or similar organised strength training is that apart from the initial few weeks of rapid gains, the gains you make are so small they can be hard to notice, especially if you are fit enough to train every day and so not coming to the board in a fully rested state. The time you notice it is generally months down the line, when you have had time to go and integrate those new strength gains into your technique on the rock. 

So bring on the projects, the time is just around the corner! shop summer sale

In a first for the shop, we are doing a summer sale with healthy discounts of 50-75% on lots of our climbing DVDs and clothing. Some examples:

Echo Wall and Longhope DVDs now £5. The BBC Great Climb on Sron Ulladale (first ascent of The Usual Suspects E9 7a with Tim Emmett) now £10. The Triple 5 DVD (5 first ascents between E5 and E8 on 5 Hebridean Islands in 5 days) now £10. Plus 50% discounts on some of our Mountain Equipment clothing.

Dispatching worldwide as always.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Robin Campbell film

Here is a wee film we put together about Robin Campbell for this year’s Fort William Mountain Festival. As well as Robin himself, it also features Jimmy Marshall, Paul Brian and Ken Crocket (thanks for joining in the singing Ken!).

Monday, 25 May 2015

6 weeks later

Camping at Creag Meagaidh with Freida a couple of weeks ago. One of the highlights of the last couple of months.

When I last wrote on my blog I was not long out of ankle surgery and feeling decidedly delicate. But I felt ok - I had experience on my side and was well prepared with a plan of action for the recovery period, mostly consisting of hanging from small holds without my feet. 

6 weeks later some things have changed and some have not. I am still feeling rather delicate, although my ankle has made steady progress. I am beginning to use it gently on my steep board and very  close to walking without my crutches. But not quite there. My fingers have definitely become a little stronger and will hopefully get stronger still by the time I am able to climb a piece of real rock again.

There are still various things on my ‘stuff to do while out of action’ list that are undone. But I suppose I have done the most important ones.

Despite the preparedness, I have felt the process mentally tough as ever. Perhaps some readers might be curious as to how I would live out my own advice in part 5 of my book Make or Break, where I propose a mindset and tactics to turn the mental challenge of a rehabilitation period into a positive experience. In that chapter I begin by reiterating that noone should underestimate how hard an injury rehab will hit them, if they are truly dependent on sport and exercise for their well being. Then I go on to lay out how to use the period to increase that well being, at least in the long term. These two messages go hand in hand. Yes it can be positive if you do everything right, but that doesn’t make it easier. You still have to go through it, not around it.

And so to be plain, I have felt the fear and the depression, just as I did after my previous surgeries. Fear that I won’t recover and depression from withdrawal from the places and experiences that I love so much. My approach to dealing with this is very much in The Stoics school of dealing with challenges: to face them head on rather than ignore them with positive thinking. In my view, this is the only effective way to deal with significant worries or problems. Aside from that, I find that if I think too much about what I plan to do after I can walk and climb again, it gets harder to remain patient and go through my daily routine.

Pulling on small holds on my wall has or course been a brilliant catalyst for getting through the period. I have thoroughly attacked the campus board, fingerboard and foot-off problems. I wouldn't say I’m the strongest I’ve ever been. But not far off it. Such a short time isn’t even nearly enough to make such an impact anyway. I’ve found that doing one foot circuits have been the most challenging simply because they are kind of unpleasant to do. But it’s all relative - They are not pretty compared to normal climbing, but I still love doing them compared to doing nothing! I also spent about a week resetting the whole board and making and adding more holds.

I still have a week before I check in with my surgeon and talk about dropping the crutches and putting my rock shoes on again. And even once I do, I still need to make time to ease into climbing. So there is still time to work a bit more on my full crimp strength and build a little more endurance before I return to the ROCK!

One of the things I've done over the past three weeks is learn to fly our new drone, or try to at least. I'm still pretty bad at it, but it's good to learn something new. It has also allowed me to go outside while I'm on crutches, if not so far from the car. Below you can see some of my practice, filming my brother Alan MacLeod practising his pipes in Glen Roy and Glen Nevis before my sister's wedding last weekend.

Alan MacLeod piping from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Speaking in Ambleside on Friday

Photo: Paul Diffley/Hot Aches Productions

I'm speaking in Ambleside on Friday with The Climber's Shop and Mountain Equipment, 7.30pm at the University of Cumbria Ambleside campus. All the details and tickets are here. Do come along - they mention refreshments on the climber shop page and the proceeds are being split between Langdale/Ambleside mountain rescue and Community Action Nepal. I'll be around at the Climber's Shop in Ambleside during the afternoon from around 2pm if you fancy dropping in for a chat.

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.