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!

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Curtain solo video

The Curtain - Solo from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

Here is a wee video shot on my GoPro of my solo of The Curtain on Ben Nevis the other week. I was up in the north face to do something else but because of conditions eded up going for a wee solo. I’d never done the Curtain and wanted to solo it for ages but never got round to it.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Gimme That Swing, 8B


Gimme That Swing 8B, Glen Nevis from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

Returning home from Mull I could see the incredible spell of weather was about to break. I dived out to my project on The Cameron Stone in Glen Nevis, which I was very close to completing before I left. It was starting to rain as I got there and the top rapidly got soaked.

The project is super crimpy and I’ve split my fingertips on it twice already. Basically, you only get a handful of tries at the crux match and jump before it splits. On each try, you gamble with ‘one more try’ until your finger splits and you lose two days training.

The project starts up Dan Varian’s problem up the arete, completed last spring at 8A+ and repeated by me last September. I could see there was an obvious harder link to go leftwards on the tiny crimps and jump to the good block on the neighbouring 7C+ ‘The news in Pidgin Gaelic’. I’m never too sure about the grade, especially with super crimpy lines, but if the arete is 8A+ then it’s got to be a grade harder.

As usual I didn’t think I had all that much chance of success, but though I better hang my Prohpet Jacket off the baby Scot’s Pine growing out of the top-out crack, just in case I got there and needed dry(er) holds.

About 4th try, I finally held the jump and braced myself for sliding off the soaking wet top-out and into the bog below. With a careful approach, the top was actually fine and I strolled off down the hill, delighted to have finished a great project in such unlikely conditions. Check out the video above.


Before I go to Switzerland, I have two more boulder projects I would like to try, but going by the forecast for the next week, I might be training instead. Actually that will do me good. I feel like I’m getting a bit weak from all this outdoor climbing! A good problem to have.

Monday, 21 March 2016

First great trad route of the season


First ascent of Ice Burn E8 6c, on the Ice Wall, Kintra, Isle of Mull. Photo Chris Prescott

I was all geared up for some winter projects when the Scottish weather, as always, changed the plan. I’m certainly not complaining. The weather turned amazing for all things rock climbing. Bouldering, sport, trad - all in top condition, no rain, no midge. I tried to keep calm and not go headless chicken.

Within an evening I'd settled on a plan of heading to Mull to look at a granite crack project Michael Tweedley had told me about for years. The whole coastline at Kintra has many unexplored trad and bouldering possibilities. I jumped in the car with Claire, Freida and Michael and was later joined by Chris Prescott, Natalie Berry and some more family for a right old gathering on the coast.

I started trying the crack which was amazing. I’m not really a crack person, so it felt like 8a+ to me and would definitely be a good sustained fight. None of the individual moves were that hard but I could just tell the last few metres would be exciting after very sustained climbing and placing all those cams.

Although I had several days in hand, I was anxious as always to get my chance to try it. The perfect week of weather had unfortunately proved not quite perfect - under the thin layer of inversion cloud, some drizzle was forecast. And one stubbornly seeping hold in the crack looked like it could scupper the whole thing unless it got sun and wind on it.

On the first day Chris and Nat joined us, the hold was too wet and we explored the bouldering instead. Both Natalie and I flashed Greg Chapman’s Roughcut Reality 7C+, feeling it was a bit easier than the given grade. Next door I started looking at the project sit start Greg had mentioned on a big prow. It looked a perfect line, but surely at least 8a+. But once the beta was unlocked I got it in about 15 minutes or so. High Heidyin, 7C. A bit too good a line to be considered a salvage of the day!


First ascent of High Heidyin 7C, Kintra, Isle of Mull. Photo Chris Prescott

The next day I scrutinised the wind forecast. A burst of strong northerlies was due to reach it’s peak at 6pm. So I waited until 4 and walked out. A bit of frantic hold drying and I realised it was a great opportunity to do the project.

So I tied right in and got started. It was freezing and the granite was definitely grippy. I told myself two things before starting - the cams will inevitably take that couple of seconds longer than you’d like to place and clip them, and that no matter how well it goes, I’ll need to be ready for a fight at the last five metres. I think it was good advice.

I did indeed arrive at the last few metres a bit more pumped than I would like from the extra effort of arranging the cams. At the last cam, my right arm was burning. But I actually felt like I had enough strength to deal with it and was able to step up a gear and bear down on the final crimps. With a shout I leapt for the top of the crag and there was no way I was letting go.

First trad route of the year, and a belter it was too. Ice Burn, E8 6c. Tomorrow I have one more day to look at another hard sounding trad project before it’s back to bouldering mode. I have three Scottish bouldering projects I want to try in the next two weeks. One 8A+ and two 8Bs, and then it will be time for me to drive to CH.


First ascent of Grasas Saturadas E6 6b on The Barriga de Cerveza, Isle of Mull last night. Photo: Chris Prescott I almost fell off because my fingers were freezing. Thanks to Michael for pointing me at this great route.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Natalie Berry's film

Natalie Berry, recipient of the 2016 Youth Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture from Fort William Mountain Festival on Vimeo.

Here is a film I made about Natalie Berry, this year’s recipient of the Scottish Youth Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture at the Fort William Mountain Festival. Special thanks to Paul Diffley at Hot Aches Productions for the additional footage from the film Transition. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a great film and you can download it from here.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Spring arrives early in Scotland


With the good forecast we made a snap decision that winter was over and just arrived on Mull to try a mega crack project that Michael told me about. Yesterday I had a full day on it and managed to link the moves once. But couldn’t repeat it. Feels like the top end of 8a+ without placing the cams. Tomorrow I’ll get on the lead if it’s dry and start taking some airtime no doubt!


Lovely granite walls, sunshine and cool temperatures.


Claire checking out Scoor beach (video still from my drone of course)


Saturday, 12 March 2016

Mick Tighe's film

Mick Tighe, recipient of the 2016 Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture from Fort William Mountain Festival on Vimeo.

Here is a wee film I made about Mick Tighe, this year’s recipient of the Scottish Award fro Excellence in Mountain Culture at the Fort William Mountain Festival. Hope you like it as much as I did making it.


Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Review: Spike's book

Ian Sykes (Spike) gave me a copy of his new book ‘In the shadow of Ben Nevis’ which is just out. Spike is a household name in the Lochaber area due to his founding of Nevisport, the Nevis Range ski resort as well as his involvement in the climbing and mountain rescue scene over many decades. So this, his life story is pretty essential reading for Lochaber locals to understand the cultural history of the development of outdoor sports in the area. But it’s also well worth reading for everyone else, for a few reasons.

First, his stories of epic mountain rescues before the age of helicopter assistance, good communications, organised rescue teams and enforced drink driving laws are riveting. Somehow rescues always seemed to come on Hogmanay when every mountaineer in Scotland seemed to be legless. In Spike’s defence, the call to rescue stricken fellow climbers also came when Spike had just returned from epic climbs of his own, or other rescues. Despite these problems, they achieved daring and spectacular rescues, feats of endurance with or without a hangover. I was impressed and enthralled by the struggles they had to save lives. Particularly impressive was the ethos of taking personal responsibility to give as much as you can to help those in danger, and that rescue was part and parcel of mountaineering adventures rather than a ‘problem’ in our sport.

His stories of starting and developing his primary businesses of Nevisport and Nevis Range were also fantastic as stories in their own right, as well as vehicles to explore Spike’s approach to life and business which is to be much admired in my opinion. Through local knowledge, I’d heard snippets of many of the stories already, but it was great to read the full narratives. Even his stories of his many seasons exploring Antarctica and various remote big walls around the world taught me much about a spirit of adventure in a different age.


Like any autobiography, the best of it is the exploration into the person and their approach to their life’s challenges. I don’t know if was Spike’s approach, his style of describing it, or both, but I enjoyed this a lot and reflected on my own view of how to approach challenges. Spikes challenges (losing fingers, big business disasters or near disasters, and failures to save fallen climbers among them) seemed to be something that Spike found his own way of dealing with, even though they clearly affected him a lot. I liked that he was not a robot personality of ego and bulletproof drive— he spoke of lingering upset about events and thoughts of how they could have panned out differently. Yet his approach led him to many successes. By the end I felt a renewed sense of the possibilities for what can be done with a brave approach and an acceptance that life will bring renewed rewards even after some dark moments.

I decided to buy some copies in for my webshop. You can find In the Shadow of Ben Nevis here.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Get them in


Getting ready to get extremely pumped and scared all over again on the second pitch of Night Fury IX, 9, Ben Nevis.

The late winter/early spring period is an absolutely amazing time in Scotland. Everything is in great condition. I usually have to do a lot of work in the earlier part of the winter to pay the bills, but I use the time to do a lot of training as well. Ideally, when late Feb arrives and the weather turns perfect in Lochaber, I’m fit and keen.


Liam Fyfe enjoying Fàilte gu clach Cameron Font 7c in Glen Nevis.

It always goes past in a blur. You are either climbing, or at home in a stupor of exhaustion trying to eat, sleep and get ready for tomorrow’s adventure. The day after I was on Beinn Eighe, I showed Liam and Rhiannon the Arisaig Cave.

At first I thought I was too tired to climb at all, but once I got started I decided to have a training session and repeat some of the cave’s classic problems and show Liam the beta in the process. I was fine up to about Font 7c+ but didn’t quite have the strength to repeat 4th wave. Returning there got me inspired to plan a campaign on the remaining project, the link of Eternity’s Gate into 4th Wave. This would work out at 25 moves of Font 8a+ into a hard 8B. The link would very likely be a Font 8C. It’s in condition to work and try 6 or 7 months of the year and nearly always dry. Next winter, you’ll mostly find me in there.

The following morning we were at the Cameron Stone in Glen Nevis. I didn’t think anyone had ever climbed the obvious crimps coming in from the left to finish up ‘The News in Pidgin Gaelic’. If it has indeed not been done, then I call this problem ‘Failte gu clach Cameron’ Font 7c. I headed down to Glasgow afterwards to speak at TCA at a fundraising event for refugees. Good to see this kind of event being organised among climbers - we clearly need to show our governments the way when it comes to doing what we can to take care of the vulnerable.


About to get scared on pitch 2 of Night Fury, IX,9 Ben Nevis. The hanging hexes give an idea of the steepness! Photo: Helen Rennard

The next morning I walked into the Ben with Helen Rennard to try a new route on the walls right of Echo Wall, where we had already added a hard new route here last season. After getting through the initial hard section, I found myself at the foot of a smooth corner choked with ice. I knew it was going to be hard to protect and moved up gingerly, working hard to try and find a crucial runner. I got three psychological-only runners and continued, telling myself I would not go another move higher without finding a solid piece of protection. 6 metres higher, I was still in the same position, having ignored my own ultimatum for about 15 moves in a row. I was gripped, with legs shaking and looking at a 60 foot ground fall if a tool ripped, so I was very careful and kept a cool head. 

After about 25 minutes of excavating verglas, shaking and gibbering, I got a hex in and could relax again. From a hanging belay above I could see that the next pitch had a desperate looking overhang, again looking hard to protect as well as climb. Typical Ben Nevis. I told Helen I’d go up and arrange what gear I could and then make a decision if I should commit to the overhang.

The gear was mostly rubbish, but one sort of okay cam convinced me not to rig an abseil straight away. I hung in for ages, totally pumped trying to place a small ice hook. After countless attempts I finally got it to at least not fall out, but it was clearly rubbish. I was unsure what to do. A fall from over the lip would end up on the slab below the belay and it looked hard, if only for a short way.

Eventually I switched my brain off and committed, arms on the last of their reserves. I am still here to write this, so I didn’t make any mistakes. 

To follow the dragon naming theme from our route Red Dragon just to the left, we called the route Night Fury, IX, 9. My arms were so tired, it was an effort to hold the pen and write the description in the CIC hut new routes book.


Descending back into Observatory Gully with very tired arms.