Thursday, 18 December 2008

New Fontainbleau guidebook in the shop

We just got our stock of the new Fontainbleau guideook from Stone Country. It's the first guide to Font under a tenner and it's a collection of the 350 best problems at each grade in the forest. John has done a superb job as usual creating a beautiful little book full of colour shots and well designed maps to get you in front of the problems with no hassles. Good effort John!

You can get hold of a copy of Essential Fontainbleau from the shop here.

PS: We are still dispatching orders in time for Christmas until tomorrow afternoon. And after that give us an email and we can send items next day special delivery for extra charge (which depends on the wight of the item).

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

I miss the pressure

My climbing right now is going through a mixed up time of stored up energy with few outlets. Why? I did Echo Wall already, and my current projects are not in condition yet.

So, for now I train for when they are. This is fine, although it’s not the way I normally do it (normally, I train for the projects by trying the projects).

I miss the pressure of being under the shadow of a huge redpoint project like Echo Wall. I can’t wait to be under it again. Without it I am a pretty mediocre climber. With it I can drag myself up by the bootstraps for brief moments into surprising myself. There is nothing like the pressure of something really big to gain (or lose) to transform the level of your effort.

What does it mean?

Committing yourself to climbing a route you cannot touch at present is a special experience that can change your life. Sure you, can dismiss this potential for an adventure because ‘it’s not an onsight’ or whatever you like. Some people will do this because they respond differently to the stimulus climbing gives, others because they are actually frightened they do not have the commitment but won’t admit this to themselves (note: this is not something to be frightened of – it’s actually an essential ingredient of the reward) and others because they don’t follow the two rules of this type of adventure.

The two rules are

1. The chosen challenge has to be genuinely impossible at the time of choosing. If it’s too easy, it will leave you cold. Need numbers? Add four grades to your onsight level.

2. Committing yourself means committing yourself. Not trying it and seeing how you get on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for quitting when it’s the correct conditions for doing so (see The Dip by S. Godin for advice on this), but most people just quit because they gave up. To underline this, feeling like you might not be able to do it is a necessary part of the plan, not the reason to abandon it. You must do the route, whatever it takes (bar cheating).

Can you tell I need a project yet?

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Something on the winter scorecard

Nice zebra stripes on Mullach nan Coirean.

After the dry tooling comp in Glen Coe, it was time to get home and swing into action to get ready for some mixed action out in the real world the next morning.

Home, Metallica on, dishes washed, tools resharpened, bag packed, lunch made (a sport climbers hill food day of five biscuits and a wee bag of nuts).

The next morning a bleary eyed stagger into the quiet coires of the Mamores with Malcolm Kent brought us to the foot of a project Donald told me about. Donald, with Mike Pescod and Andy Turner had developed a granite cliff on the ridge of Mullach nan Coirean. It looked great! Nice to climb granite in the west of Scotland, and very different to the big plates and blocks of Cairngorm granite.

Donald had spoken of an overhanging groove with an undercut start that looked hard and bold, with potential for a large grade. It was both. It took me nearly an hour to make 20 feet of progress off the ground, and get two dubious runners in, too low to be of any use. The climbing was harder than the final of the dry tooling comp the night before, but without the luxury of nice bolts and brightly coloured blobs to go for next.

The key getting up Scottish mixed climbs at a high level is largely your ability to be more tenacious than the will to live, but not letting your determination slide into careless frustration. If you’ve been pumped solid for two or three hours and every move feels like your last before you fall or back off, it’s kinda hard not to either just give in, or lose your cool and rush it. But a super cool head is the only thing that will save you from making a rash move and popping off thin hooks.

After nearly three hours, my arms were almost spent, but I found myself wobbling into undercut torques on a block (that moves!), but staring out a big turf ledge right above. It was nice to be back in fully committed land again. It’s been a wee while since I have with all the sport climbing I’ve done this autumn. Not enough energy to reverse, not enough to stay put and think about things, only one option – swallow hard, trust my ability and press on.

So after two failed days so far this season, we got our first top-out, in the wispy pre-dusk light on the Mamore ridge. God knows what grade it was, it’s been ages since I repeated any hard winter routes. Certainly it was similar to, but harder than the Duel in Glen Coe. Malc (with more of a sport-mixed background) rated it M8+. But you would hit the ground from the hardest moves. Ermm.. I’ll give it something for now and work it out later after repeating some more stuff. Malcolm blogged about the day here.

Yo Bro VIII, 9 Dave MacLeod, Malcolm Kent Dec 14th 2008
The overhanging groove right of Himalayan Shuffle. The first 20 metres are very sustained and in the first half, serious.
1. 35m Climb the overhanging groove with little respite to the angle change, continue on easier ground to belay on large ledges.
2. 35m Continue easily on the same line to the ridge.

Carrot Cake

Check that bad boy out. Carrot Cake I made last night. Recipe, as ever, on Claire's blog here.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Glen Coe Dry Tooling Masters

Kevin high on the men’s final route

It’s not often I say this, but today I went to a climbing competition. It was the final of the Scottish Dry Tooling Masters at the Ice Factor in Glen Coe. This morning I was not psyched. I had a strange dizzy spell after getting out of bed (no It wasn’t anything to do with alcohol, or an early start). Weird dizziness persisted and I wasn’t even sure if I’d be ok to drive to the Coe, but I got back my level head (sic) after several cups of tea and three breakfasts (two healthy, one not).

Go on... Go on... Go on....!

The leap, on the ‘leap of faith’ route in the ice room.

After feeling ok on the axes in the relaxed qualifiers, things got horribly formal with isolations, finals, and then a superfinal. I puffed my way to the belay of the final route, but the superfinal was a tad different. I lunged for a well sketchy hook and didn’t get it right. I reached for the rope to pull up slack and clip, and got as far as whispering the ‘watch…’ of ‘watch me incase I ping off making this clip’ and next thing I knew I was flying. A good place to end the night and head up the windy Loch Leven road with Nevis Radio’s ‘Take the Floor’ as the tunes of psyche.

Wobbling to a shaky win in the finals.

Friday, 12 December 2008

The Reds are back

We've been waiting a while to get them back in, but our Mountain Equipment red pro-team T-shirts are back in stock again this morning. A lot of you were emailing to ask when we'd have them in again, so I thought I'd let y'all know. Thanks also for sending in your tales of miraculous grade increases while wearing them. It's still working for me too! But rememeber only bring them out for proper redpoints otherwise the effect wears off...

Other Christmas beta - We are delivering orders from the shop right up until the 23rd of December. UK orders before 2pm on the 19th will arrive before Christmas day if Royal Mail keep their promise. If you want to get something in after that, drop us an email - we'll give you a price to send it next day special delivery right up to the 23rd.

Something else that has come up a lot recently (esp. with our Echo Wall film) is that many of you said you wished you'd asked to get the DVD signed but. Just as some folk are too shy to ask, we've been too shy to offer! So here goes; if you would like a DVD signed or a message for whoever you are buying for, just ask in the 'special instructions' box on the paypal checkout page.

Over on Velvet Antlers, Claire is having a bit of a last minute sale with 20% off all her hampers until the 19th.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

At the Christmas Market today

Claire and I are taking Velvet Antlers (Claire's hampers and other rather nice creations and treats) to the Christmas market, Lochaber College, Fort William today (weds). Drop in and say hello if yer passing.


Any Idiot can face a crisis. It’s this day to day living that wears you out.

Anton Chekhov

Emma’s post on a grim train journey made me think of the above aphorism. Give me an E11 project any day compared to a daily commute of the type Emma describes (noisybusycrampedtraininbusycity).

It’s so true that we can turn around and see things in a completely different way if we want to. When dedicated climbs I’ve tried in the past that were hard for me, I’ve felt gut wrenchingly frustrated, exasperated, fatigued, terrified and under immense pressure.

But in a way that makes me smile to think back on those moments and wish I felt like that again, right now.

Do you know what I mean?

The other day someone told me that watching our film of Echo Wall left them feeling a little morbid at the seriousness of the situation on the lead. Sure I had to have a careful think if it was the right moment to climb a route like that. It’s all too easy to lose sight of your fragility when you have walked a long way down the road of confidence. But I felt lighter of step and of heart at the moment of starting up that route than maybe any other time in my life.

The great paradox in climbing is that the apparently uncomfortable journeys it takes you on are the best you’ll ever get. A grim commute can be a means to an end, sure. If the ends include nothing else but the mortgage getting paid, it might not be worth it. Can you tell if it is or not?

My feeling from climbing has been that hardship feels pretty grim, but only some of the time. The rest of the time, you turn round surprised at what hardship washed right over you, and you didn’t even notice (you were too busy thinking about where you were going with it). If it’s worth it, you will recognise this feeling. If not, hardship will always feel grim, but perhaps in numb way. Western living is good anaesthetic.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Another false start to the winter

Early morning light hits the hills above Loch Linnhe

Yesterday I was able to climb a difficult pitch of unclimbedness on the north face of Ben Nevis. It was a nice wake up call to winter climbing – starting waay too early in the morning, feeling pretty chilly, feeling like I’m about to take a fall I’d really rather not, and fighting hard for two solid hours to get up a pitch. But it wasn’t possible for us to start the next pitch, so I had to abseil off. The route will have to wait till next time.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Filming winter

Claire sees off another slice of fruit loaf, Coire an Lochain, Cairngorm

I was home from Spain about 5 hours when it was time to leave again to film Kev on a winter climb on Cairngorm. I didn’t work out on the winter climb, but it was good for us to go and learn some more beta about filming in this environment.
Claire did really well moving across icy slopes and learning to move with spikes on, especially in the gloom of a November night on Coire an Lochain’s headwall.

A chilly dangle in the mist for me. Remind me not to use my sport climbing harness for this again.

I must admit I struggled slightly with carrying camera equipment, a very long rope and climbing gear too. Hardcore. Must think on about how this might work in the future… More pics and thoughts on this from Claire on her blog.

Home in the winter wonderland

The highlands have given me a nice welcome home with much snow covering everything in sight. Hopefully I can go out and play in it later this week after the great catch up from my travels. Thanks to everyone who came out to see my talk in Dundee the other night.

Tonight I am kind of relieved after having my second training session since I’ve been back - I was kind of worried that a nasty elbow tweak I picked up in Spain was getting worse. But instead it seems to be getting better. I must not take my eye off the ball for a month or so, but fingers crossed it will calm down and allow full training to resume. I am very very psyched to train right now. I want to do 9a+!

This week I’m also going to be doing some marketing work on Claire’s Velvet Antlers site, buying some ads and helping her sort out all the last minute stuff with the hampers. In my shop we’ve got Committed 2 in as Claire said before - I was really excited to see it for the first time and get a look at the latest crop of nails hard trad routes from this year. It was brilliant. Got me well keen for a visit to the Peak to try Peter Whittaker’s E9. The most eye popping moment for me though was seeing Steve McClure on Rhapsody - going left to the jugs on the left arête two moves before the redpoint crux, a link I did in August 2005 and considered finishing the route this way and making an E10. It was contrived to carry on direct following the crack right to the top, probably daft on my part, but that’s what all the fuss was about, and for me what made it scrape into E11. I thought hard about it and eventually felt it would a shame to take the escape just before the culmination of the route, and also saw when I tried to link it going direct that this route had the opportunity to make a really tough route – that’s what I was after. I paid for that decision with several more falls from the final move, a winter of worry and many nights of training, all the time knowing I could just traverse left from the sidepull for an easy option and still get an E10 tick.

Only two last moves; but those are the moves that make you fall, as is obvious if you watch the film E11. It’s a shame that arête is there, and so the route I took has to have an eliminate rule. But at least the rule is super simple - don’t go to the left arête. I was glad Sonnie saw the significance of that. I got past that escape point on my second redpoint, same as Steve. I could have gone left, only had one small fall from the same place as Steve, and finished the project in 2005. But I wanted to make a hard route, so I went direct. All this is no problem in my mind, folk can and should climb whatever way they want on a cliff.

Pumkin Pie, the hard way

Michael makes a fine job of the pastry, Dave reads Desnivel and looks on.

Many of you are aware of Claire's fine selection of killer recipies on her blog. Consider this an 'anti recipie'. Actually, it wasn't the recipie that was the problem, only our control over out 'oven'. In our flat in Spain, Alicia was determined to make Pumpkin Pie for thanksgiving, but the lack of any oven was causing us some considerable head stress. Michael had the smart idea of using 'embers' in our open fire to bake the pie. Cool!

Michael, perhaps was a touch keen with the coals and built an impressive fire.

Everything looked fine though, Pie looking good going into out terracotta oven.

We put the lid on and waited. After not too long we were shedding jumpers and feeling the heat a little. One of us piped up 'Do you think it could be a little hot in there?' Alicia looked worried. After 15 minutes we felt a visual check might be in order, if we could actually get near it.

Upon removing the lid our creation looked damn fine for about three seconds, before spontaneously combusting before our eyes. Oh Well. Moral? When one finds oneself without an oven, stick to the microwave! Our microwave produced quite exquisite apple and pear crumble and chocolate brownies. Who would have thought...

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Climbing time in Margalef

Climbing Sin Domseticar 8c+, Margalef, Catalunya

For the past three weeks or so, I have been just climbing and not doing anything else for the first time in a looooong time. I’ve been soaking up the rest time and starting to get back to feeling normal after the whirlwind of the last few months.

I’m in Siurana (Spain) right now, climbing limestone. It always takes some time for mind and body (mostly the skin on my middle two fingers!) to adjust to this alien rock type again. On the first couple of days I just took in some classics like Kalea Borroka 8b+, Migranya 8b and a flash of La Cara no Miente 8a+. Since then I have been heading over to Margalef and soon found myself staring the belay of an 8c+ in the face on redpoint. But I hesitated, feeling I was out of gas and came off. That was a shame since heavy rain the next day flooded the river and made the crag inaccessible for several more days.

Always after climbing big projects like Echo Wall, I have to take quite some time to figure out if I still want to be climbing at all. That’s not to say I’ve ever felt that I don’t want to, but after such a big experience I think it’s normal to have some months of figuring out where you stand and what you want to do next.

After I did Rhapsody in 2006 I got pretty psyched to do a lot of training and increase my level a bit. I already had Echo Wall in the back of my head, but the main reason was just because I enjoy training. I am feeling that again right now, especially as the last month’s training seems to have had a good effect on my level.

I have hard projects on my list in bouldering, and winter climbing already, but not really any in trad or sport climbing. In these disciplines I’ll need to travel a bit, and see what comes my way. That will be fun! As soon as I’m back, the ice tools will be out and I’ll be in the cave getting strong on axes for the big yin.

After the flood

The dam at Margalef having it’s work cut out

We made an impressive dam across the swollen river with a bit of Scottish caber tossing from Michael and myself and got back to Cova Soliada for another shot at the 8c+, Sin Domesticar (a Dani Andrada route from earlier this year). After two flood enforced days rest, I was feeling in good shape and dispatched this on my first try, with possibly over a minute on the bat hang at the lip of the roof. My toes are getting stronger. Here is a wee youtube of this:

After that I spent some time tussling with another 8c, L’Espiadonis, which I tried to redpoint with a totally duff sequence several times. Once I gave it some respect and worked out a decent method, it only slapped me one more time with a fall tickling the finishing jug before allowing me to climb it:

It’s been good so far to spend time consolidating 8c and 8c+ and doing some more routes quickly, for a while. I needed to do this just to see what it was like again. I don’t get a chance to do that in Scotland at all because I’ve done all the hard routes and the projects are all sick hard. But perhaps out of habit or more probably personality, I have confirmed for myself once again that I am happiest in long term project mode, on proper hard routes.

Alicia climbing with the aid of the car’s full beam

So I had gone back to trying things in the 9th level for the rest of my time, but when Dave Redpath left without finishing an unbelievable roof at Margalef that he had bolted earlier in the trip, it was time to back onto seek and destroy mode. Dave reckoned it would go for me but sounded hard above the lip of the cave. After a couple of hurried work sessions I set off and swung through the roof to arrive at an uncomfortable bat hang in a great position on the lip. The hang was a toe-torque rather than passive jam, so after a minute I found that my feet were too tired to let me pull back up to the holds. Doh! What the hell am I going to do now? After a few sets of crunches and pathetic swings at the pockets, I resorted to clambering up my own legs to regain upper body contact and get on with the crux. Happily the unintended extra stay in upsidedown land, and extra arm swinging helped shift the pump in my arms and a grunt around the lip got me quickly to the belay and my first Spanish first ascent – Knuckleduster 8b.

Imitating the bats that live in the roof crack of Knuckleduster 8b, during the first ascent.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Committed II DVD

The hotly anticipated new DVD from the Hot Aches guys will be with us soon - pre-orders are being taken in the shop now. It showcases five of Britain's best climbers on a spectacular array of hard routes; the terrifying Walk of Life (E12), one of Scotland's toughest winter routes, gritstone's best 'last great problem', the youngest female ascent of an E7 and the world's maddest mantel; it's all there.

Dave is still in Spain just now, happily clipping bolts in the sunshine but he'll back in time for Kendal at the weekend.


Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Awards for Echo Wall!

The premiere of Echo Wall passed in a blur for Claire and I on Sunday, with our first ever film picking up two awards, for Best Climbing Film and Best Film at the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival. It was very overwhelming to sit with 500 of you and watch the film we've worked night and day on flat out since the end of July.

Our feet still haven't touched the ground as I left Glasgow early the next morning for lectures in England and Claire has been busy sending out all our pre-orders of the DVD from Fort William. Thanks to everyone who ordered their copy in advance - I hope you enjoy the film!

If you would like to order a copy, you can get one here. Maybe I'll catch some of you in Preston on Friday night, Cotswolds at 7.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Many new articles on my site!

I have been a busy man. I’ve had a list of articles I wanted to write for this site for absolutely ages, but the great black hole of Echo Wall (the climb, then the film) blocked out everything else for so long. But I’ve been furiously preparing the articles all this week and uploaded them. They cover quite a range of subjects.

How to be a sponsored climber

How to get good at climbing, in one email

Prevention and management of split tips

Prevention and treatment of elbow injuries for climbers

Updated supporting article on cold treatment for finger injuries answering all your questions on it after my videocast.

Scottish climbing 101 – how to beat the rain and midges on a Scottish climbing trip

A list of the perma-dry crags in Scotland so you can keep climbing on those rare days when the sun doesn’t shine here.

Some suggestions for crag itineraries for those of you how haven’t visited Scotland before and want to know the best spot to take in.

A text, image and video topo of the newly developed (and rather good) Skeleton boulders in Glen Nevis, with seven youtubes to whet the appetite.

And that’s just my site…

I’ve also just built the website for our production company Rare Breed Productions, that we started for making films and other creative things. It has the full credits for Echo Wall including all the places to get hold of some of the tracks from the soundtrack, which I’ve already been getting asked about a lot.

Finally, I’ve just added the new Onsight DVD just out today to the shop. Many of you were emailing to ask if I’d be selling it because you were keen to get it along with my e-book How to Climb Hard Trad which I’m still giving away with all DVD and book orders.

Phew! Between Echo Wall, this lot and a pile of other stuff, I’ve been spending some quite silly hours in front of the screen since July. But tomorrow is my last day in front of a computer screen for 6 weeks! Yeehaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Maybe I’ll catch some of you at EMFF or my lectures in Harrogate, Manchester and Preston next week. And I should have some copies of the Echo Wall DVD too. Exciting stuff, but it’s fair to say I’ll be a tad jumpy until the delivery man comes with the DVDs.

Enjoy the articles…

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Relax, while you can

Resting in between circuits at Fort William bouldering wall tonight

Training is going reasonably well right now although I’ve had to skip a day again because of work. Now I’m feeling better and stronger in my sessions when I’m climbing every day than if I take more rest days. Five years ago doing these kinds of sessions every day would have floored me.

Another small advance in PB on the campus board tonight. The body is responding in the right direction, and a climbing trip is looming in the future. It’s great to be excited about completely new projects again.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Echo Wall DVD - the full route list

A lot of folk have been asking us which other routes are on the Echo Wall DVD. Here is the full list:


Bear Trap Prow V12
Frontal System V12
Saturn Crack V9
Big Long Now V13

All these problems are in Glen Nevis

Winter mixed

Don’t Die of Ignorance XI,11 Ben Nevis


Echo Wall
Sublime E8 6c, Glen Coe
Jahu E6 6a (solo), Glen Nevis
Sweet Little Mystery E4 6a (Kev Shields soloing), Glen Nevis

Sport climbing

Darwin Dixit 8c (solo)
Los Ultimo Hippies 8c
Alzheimer Bros 8b+
Malapel 8b
Sativa Patatica 8a flash

All of those are in Margalef, Spain

We’ve also been getting asked about wholesale of the Echo Wall DVD for those of you that run your own shops. For wholesale copies, just get in touch and we’ll give you the lowdown.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Echo Wall premiere is nearly sold out

The Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival have just reported that Alien Rock have about 20 tickets left, with a few more at Tiso for the sunday night session which includes the premiere of Echo Wall. Better get on that phone. If you miss out, we are sending out the pre-ordered DVDs right after the premiere. You can get your order in here.

Should be a good night, see y'all there.

New V12 at Sky Pilot

After a day’s rest I felt really strong, but pretty spaced out from the usual late night working and not really chilling out. I headed up the glen at 3pm after work and knew I might have a chance on a straight up project at Sky Pilot I’ve tried a few times in the past. All I needed to do was wake up!

I sat about in the car for a bit and listened to the radio, and then walked in, stumbling about on the wet rocks and feeling decidedly un-athletic. My warm-up was no different, although I could certainly feel the strength in the background from the past few weeks intense training.

After a 90 minute (!) warm-up I finally felt myself and moved onto the project. After a couple of chilled out starting moves you have a hard match in a very slopey break with a toe-hook. If you can get your left hand seated just right on a nasty little pinch in the break, you are ready for an amazing deadpoint to a perfect finger sloper on the lip of Sky Pilot’s 45 degree overhanging wall.

I’d done the move last session and was revelling in the anticipation of catching this highly satisfying move on the link. 15 tries later I must have spent a total of ten seconds hanging the sloper but every time dropping off on the swing back. A rainstorm signalled hometime and with everything packed up and leaving the crag I spotted some evening glow at the end of the shower. Better just hang around.

Sure enough, a stunning evening glow on the glen's orange and yellow autumn hues, was enough to dry the sloper and allow another five tries. I counted them down, muscles getting tired and skin wearing off. Last try – breath in, relax, it doesn’t matter any more, you’re not going to do it today.

Then I hit every hold perfectly and hung the sloper with a smile on my face before my feet even swung back. Another brilliant line in the glen, V12 this time I reckon. I’ll try and get some pics or video of it to show it off next time I’m up there with some company

It had to go...

Sometimes you need to make sacrifices, to meet your goals in life. This means some hard choices. But you know deep down when it’s the right thing to do.

Hard training

In between the work preparing to release the Echo Wall film, I have been training, hard. With the Lochaber monsoon in full swing, this has been entirely indoors at Fort William bouldering wall, and occasional trips to The Ice Factor's, brilliant bouldering wall.

My body has been responding well to daily campus boarding, and I did briefly break a couple of strength PBs on crimps. I have some superb circuits on the go at both walls also and I’ve bee really happy with my gains in endurance too. I seem to be able to manage more training volume than in past years. Happy days! The feeling of impending fitness stored up ready for unleashing on the rock is one of the most exciting in climbing. More work days are on the immediate horizon, but after that, a climbing trip. It’ll be my first climbing trip since a week in Spain back in April. I can’t wait.

One of the best things about training at Lochaber’s climbing walls is a pretty focused environment for training. No distractions, just the training, thankyou. Ice factor sessions are usually done with a group of like minded train-a-holics. Sessions at Fort William right now are often done late and therefore alone, with just my iPod for encouragement. I like it this way. It’s not entirely the focused solitude that encourages me to train late. I just feel better late in the evening and recovered from the previous day’s training. With slightly more time available since we finished editing the film, we have also been eating well too, which is a real delight. Today’s recipe of kings is Claire’s Lentil and Ham soup, (the formula is over on Claire’s blog here).

Another project at Sky Pilot is in danger if tonight’s rain isn’t too heavy.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Echo Wall review - Stone Country

Stone Country Press have reviewed the Echo Wall DVD here

We have just heard from our manufacturers that the DVDs should still be with us in time for the Premiere at EMFF on Sunday 19th. I hear from EMFF that the majority of the tickets for the premiere night have sold, so if you want to be there, get a ticket asap. If you can't make it to that we'll be posting out all our pre-orders as soon as the DVDs arrive.

Echo Wall falling rocks clip

Here is another wee clip of soloing about on some right choss to get back to the top of Echo Wall and dislodging a couple of hefty rocks. Ouch!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Jimmy Marshall interview

As part of our film about Echo Wall we really hoped to get an interview with the ice climbing legend Jimmy Marshall, who was perhaps the finest ice climber ever in the step cutting generation which ended during the late 1960's when people started using two ice axes and frontpoint crampons to climb ice. 

Jimmy is famously reluctant to give interviews so we were extremely lucky that he agreed to give us an hour of his time to share stories and thoughts on climbing on Ben Nevis. Some of these are in our Echo Wall film as well as an extended edit of the interview in the DVD extras. Here is a short teaser from that, where Jimmy describes a massive factor 2 fall while attempting a new winter route on the Ben in the 60's. Brilliant!

Monday, 6 October 2008

Climb Magazine review Echo Wall

Neil Pearsons, editor of Climb Magazine has posted up the first review of the Echo Wall film on his site here.

“...Echo Wall on Ben Nevis is essential viewing for anyone interested not only in the physical and mental aspects of climbing a hard bold traditional route, but also how it has to dominate the climber’s life to become a reality.”

The full review is here.

Sunday, 5 October 2008 new stuff

I have been adding some new stuff to my main site just now:

The trailer and full details about the Echo Wall film which is released October 19th.

Lecture dates this autumn – Harrogate Oct 20th, Manchester Oct 21st, Preston Oct 24th, Dundee Nov 28th, Shrewsbury Jan 6th, Fort William March 12th. I’ll be talking about Echo Wall and other climbs on Ben Nevis and elsewhere and showing some footage from the film. Full details on my lectures page.

New photos of Echo Wall in the Gallery.

And I’ve re-arranged my articles section to make the archives of my site and this blog more searchable as well as placing all my youtubes on one page.

Bigfoot project

Glacier polish? or a primeval footprint? You choose. Lovely rock on a V14 project, Glen Nevis, henceforth dubbed the 'Bigfoot project'.

The grade of Echo Wall

Shaking out before the final crux on Echo Wall (video still)

It’s been an interesting experiment, climbing the hardest route of my life but not giving it a grade. Contrary to what some people seem to be thinking, this was not to make any particular point, merely because I didn’t know what to grade it. That said, it always irritated me that the grades of my routes or repeats ended up at the centre of the discussion, rather that at the fringe where they belong. I have noticed people even referring to my climb Rhapsody as ‘E11’ as if that were it’s name rather than an insignificant and rather meaningless number attached to it.

Part of the reason writing this blog is useful is that I can answer question folk commonly ask and hopefully steer the chat back towards what’s important - the climbing - and away from grading (ha! he says, optimistically). Anyway, perhaps some more details will help folk get on with pigeon holing a beautiful climb into a ill fitting picture.

Right now, I still have no idea what to grade Echo Wall, so I’m not going to at the moment. Perhaps at some point I’ll have repeated some more routes given E grades in double figures and have a better idea. Grades evolve. With few references to go on, they are pretty shaky. Once there are more routes and more climber’s opinions on them, they become a bit more useful. Echo Wall is much harder than any trad route I’ve ever done or tried, thats all I know right now.

Quite apart from the line and the mountain, I was really inspired by making a route that had the combination of 8c or harder climbing, an uncompromising level of seriousness (which, if you need it spelled out, means you would die if you fell off it), and a remoteness of situation that would create a logistical challenge of actually working on the climb. Echo Wall was perfect in this respect. None of the Ben’s hardest routes to date have had high standard physical climbing. Why? Because it’s just not practical. It’s covered in snow, rain, mist, lichen or moss 99.9% of the time. Go to somewhere like the lakes and you’ll get nice weather, nice chilled approaches and pretty small and convenient crags. When I first began to think about trying Echo Wall, I figured I would be able to absorb this hurdle and that the climbing would be the main problem. The climbing challenge was be to be able to climb 9a at the same time as spending lots of time in the mountains to have a realistic chance of linking Echo Wall on a top rope. As it turned out, this was the easy bit!

My headache here is how should this be reflected in the grade? We have trad routes given big grades like E9 or E10 that are completely piss on a toprope (like 8a+ or easier) but their grades stand the test of repeats because of either seriousness or mountain situation (often stretched quite a bit!). I actually agree that proper mountain trad routes should have some recognition of their remoteness and awkwardness reflected in the grade. Echo Wall feels like 8c/+ on a top rope, with the real prospect of death from the redpoint crux, on a crag with more logisitcal issues than any other mountain crag in the UK.

Do you see my problem? I am uncomfortable with the feeling of grades advancing too quickly due to overgrading, but on the other hand feel that Echo Wall might well earn a laughable quanta of E points over anything else I’ve done, based on the way the E scale has been used traditionally over the past couple of decades. I just don’t know.

Grades will always be very shaky and mobile at the cutting edge, but it would be a shame for these grades to lose any credibility they did have just because the standard going through a period of rise. On the other hand, if you really believe a route is a certain grade, it’s important to just be straight up and make the proposal. James Pearson has just done this with a stunning looking new line in Devon. An inspired piece of work from one of the world’s top climbers in the trad and bouldering disciplines right now. And top effort for sticking his neck out and pinning the E12 grade to a climb for the first time.

So what is the solution to all this uncertainty? Like most hard truths, you knew it already - time and repeat ascents. It will take climbers to drag themselves to these corners of our isles and make the time to get these things repeated. Until then, comparison between them is a fools errand.

For that reason, Echo Wall is ungraded, for now. It doesn’t matter, because the interesting part is the story of the ascent, and I’ve not been nearly so cautious in making sure it can be heard!

Even more stats, if you are into number crunching:

Echo Wall took me longer to link on a top rope than A’ Muerte 9a, i.e. Many days, while in Spain I was able to consistently climb 8b+ and 8c in a day.

Echo Wall is 8a+ up to the roof at 12m, with the smallest BD micro cam for gear. This section is comparable with If Six Was Nine E9 in the Lakes. At the roof I could get about 40 seconds rest out of the kneebar.

After the roof is the technical crux. There are three bits of gear protecting this - a poor Camalot in a very shallow slot, a good wire but in a suspect tooth of rock and wire in dubious rock. It’s dubious because there used to be another wire placement right beside it which was the best of the lot, but the placement broke and fell off randomly in between my visits. Scary!

Right after the crux there is an RP3, quite good but blindly placed. Then a runout to a shakeout.

The shakeout isn’t so good, and afterwards there is final hard section and this is where I fell many times when trying to link it. There is an RP and very poor skyhook at the shakeout, but the placement is in a loose flake of rock so I’m pretty sure they would just pull right through if you fell here. You have to do the final boulder problem pumped, knowing if you fall you will die.

Winter is on the way

If you are into winter climbing, the sight of the first autumn snows on the mountains has strange effect on you. Partners, rock climbers, and other groups of sane people find it quite unfathomable why the sight of a few bits of white gets us so excited, but it just does.

Fresh snow in five finger gully, Ben Nevis

It’s a feeling that reminds you of when you first started climbing – everything is a possibility, who knows what the coming season will bring. But either way you know you are going to enjoy it. It was bitter in the glen right through the day and frosty again tonight.

Bring it on.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Echo Wall trailer

Here is a trailer for the Echo Wall film. We are expecting the DVD in late October (I hesitate to say an exact date!!) but if you would like to get your copy in, you can pre-order it from the shop now.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Plans for winter

Although my time recently has been so hectic with our work on the Echo Wall film, things have been more relaxed in my climbing, which makes a nice change really. Relaxed in some senses, but not in others you understand. I have been ruthlessly attacking Kimber’s campus board every night and mixing this with loads of bouldering and endurance training ready for the winter season of valley level rock climbing. I’ve not had enough time for any flexibility work which has been irritating me, but I will have soon.

Since doing Echo Wall I’ve gradually come to enjoy the feeling of not having any particular looming focus of a big project right now. It’s something I obviously had a lot in past years, but have been really focused on big hard redpointing routes over the past couple of years. This winter I’ll be bouldering a lot and onsighting much more too, mainly on mixed. People sometime ask me why I don’t do more onsighting, but I think they forget that I do all year long, just that it’s on winter mixed. I have three big winter lines at the top of my hitlist. One is just so laughable it’s ridiculous, but in a funny sort of way, I could see myself doing it. So the ice axes will be featuring in my training during December too.

My goal here is to do something of the order of Echo Wall, but in the discipline of winter climbing. I have the projects, I have the psyche and some availability of partners (the Shields is particularly psyched this season). So all that’s left is to get amongst it. Looks like some early dustings of winteriness are hitting the highlands over the next few days too. There is nothing like that anticipation if you are into winter climbing!

Kev Shields soloing Sweet Little Mystery E4 6a, Glen Nevis last week (the film of this is in the Echo Wall extras).

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Big Long Now

Exit problem, Big Long Now, Sky Pilot (video still from Echo Wall)

Usually a couple of times a year I start a post by saying sorry to you guys for not posting in a while. The volume of work on the Echo Wall film has made it impossible though over the past couple of weeks. But here I am, in the car with Claire on the way to Glasgow to hand over the finished tapes to the DVD manufacturers. Woohoo! Well, we ain’t relaxing just yet until we get many large boxes of DVD in our living room in a couple of weeks time.

We are happy with our film though, and all the extras to go on the DVD - Spanish sport climbing, Glen Nevis soloing and bouldering and an extended interview with the climbing legend Jimmy Marshall. After we get back from Glasgow we’ll be sorting out a trailer for you to see what all the fuss is about some time next week, and you’ll even be able to pre-order a copy of the film from the shop shortly too.

In amongst the craziness of putting the finishing touches to the film and lectures in different cities in Scotland, I have made time to sneak out for some local climbing sessions. Climbing is so utterly relaxing for me, that even after back to back 18 hour days editing for many days, just getting out into the glen and running up to Sky Pilot for a session makes me feel fresh.

And much fitter than I expected given lack of sleep. The resilience of the body is quite an amazing thing really. In my last post I was getting excited as I was really close to the monster traverse of Sky Pilot. Constant wet weather was getting in the way, but sessions in poor conditions were excellent training. At one point I was resorting to blasting along the first part with a towel scarf and drying the soaking holds as I went. It didn’t really work.

Back with Kev on Sunday i got through the crux for the first time but a great big slug sliming over the crucial foothold needed to be removed with a gentle nudge of the toe, which destroyed my reserve on the last couple of moves (you’ll see in the film).

Big Long Now, the ‘barrel’ section, about 25 metres in, 25 metres to go! (video still from Echo Wall)

But the ‘September High’ was on the way. Five days of dry weather was the final piece of the puzzle. Last night (friday) I sprinted up after getting home from my lecture and pretty much knew it was ‘on’. First time out I lost my concentration with the anticipation of doing it and fumbled the crux. Next time I was more relaxed and got through to the kneebar with a margin to spare.

Ten minutes is a long, long time to feel the suspense about the last traversing section and the exit problem. Especially when hanging upside down from your knee. Yeah, you ‘should’ do it if you get there, but it takes a fair bit of composure not to let the anticipation get to you. That is the great thing about endurance climbing. I love that!

I didn’t need to worry too much, this was definitely my moment to nail this project, and I topped out with just a gentle pump in my arms. Brilliant. The massive 50 metre horizontal trip across the crag is now ‘Big Long Now’ and Font 8bish although a highly unusual one and quite hard to grade. Certainly the hardest link I’ve done on rock anyway. But it’s hard to know if I’m just rubbish at this type of climbing?? I see some of my problems at Dumbarton are receiving some upgrades with repeats. Perhaps this could be harder than V13? It’s certainly much harder than A Muerte at 9a which would make it V14. I lose track to be honest. Anyway the vid of it will be in Echo Wall so you can see for yourself its the brilliant climbing that stands out here. Because this was my endurance training project for Echo Wall it’s a nice feeling of completeness to finish it for it’s own sake and also in time to make it into the film.

Perfecto timing - now I can get to work on the more conventional straight up projects just in time for the good autumn conditions. Bring it on (but don’t worry i will have a trailer done for y’all during the week). More video still of Echo Wall on Claire's blog here.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Back to the big Sky Pilot trip

Working the mammoth traverse of Sky Pilot back in July. Pics: Stone Country

After a few days working away from home I’m back in the routine of working and training/climbing in Glen Nevis. Training by going climbing on real projects is often much preferable to training indoors, so long as you discipline yourself to work hard and subordinate perfect rested attempts for getting a good workout. Those of you who read this page regularly will know I worked on a massive traverse of Sky Pilot as my endurance training for Echo Wall during June and July.

I was starting to feel pretty close to this in late July but then work trips and Echo Wall itself demanded different focus. The big trip has always stayed firmly in my mind as a solid V13 project (at least) and eating away that I could never make it through the crux and nail it.

The climb starts off with 10 metres of V5, then 10 metres of V6, then 10 metres of V9 then another ten of V9, followed a final ten of V8. Nothing even remotely hard in individual sections, but add all that together you need a lot of stamina and excellent pacing and timing to save your strength for the right moment at the end. It reminds me of running 1500 metre events actually. Hold back, holding back until you hit the crux at the end and pulling down through melting arms.

Last week’s training binge followed by two days of rest, good food and some more sleep had a rather positive effect on me, it seems. Over the past two nights I have made two small improvements on my backlinks through the crux. Tonight’s backlink was from before the start of the hard climbing, and in less than useful conditions with several wet holds and a chasing pack of midges.

I only have a 10 metre V5 to add onto the start now. It’s possible that a good few days of conditions and a few heaps of broccoli could be all that separates me from the end of this amazing upside down rock climbing trip. More updates later this week…

I’m looking forward to the attempt when I grab that bloody pinch after 40 metres of climbing and have juice left to squeeze it.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Wake up & smell the coffee part 1

Getting Echo Wall ready for it’s test screening at Fort William bouldering wall last week kept us up until some silly hours last week. But we got there. The screening got us pretty excited but also gave us a long list of tweaks to make over the coming couple of weeks. Thanks so much to everyone that came and for the great encouragement and feedback. By the way, the recipe for Claire’s gingerbread is here. So far it's powered the current hardest climb in Scotland in bouldering, mixed climbing, sport climbing and trad climbing. The ultimate sports fuel? Let me tell you this pattern ain't no accident.

After three and a half weeks of no training to work on the film I couldn’t handle it any more and went on an eight day training bender, cutting the editing down to 12 hours a day to make room. It felt so good! Everything hurts right now. Some sleep would help, but in some ways I think the rest has done me some good. My body feels quite strong right now if a bit heavy – ready for some bouldering. On a visit to Glasgow I stopped by at Dumbarton and Glasgow climbing wall for a couple of references and 1-5-8 on Glasgow’s campus board was feeling pretty easy. I had been getting the fear because I have yet to succeed on 1-4-7 on Fort William’s board, but it seems that I can happily blame the desperate board, rather than weakness in this instance. A rested body with a good base of strength is a good base to build on.

A video still of Don’t Die of Ignorance XI,11 from the Echo Wall film I’ve been editing this week.

I have three major boulder projects in the Glen for my local winter projects. A V13 and two V14s. Right now the conditions are perfect to work on these. But work is in the way. Work is always in the way.

This is something I struggle with constantly. I should do less work, but I keep doing more. Learn the word NO Dave goddammit!! The trouble is that work is too damn interesting a lot of the time. The work I did over the past two years allowed me the opportunity to have a spring and summer with much climbing on Echo Wall and to save up enough to make the purchases necessary to make a film about it. That’s pretty cool. But where do I stop? As always with work, new work creates new directions and openings. So which ones to close in order to stay focused?

Right now I am on the verge of total lack of focus and a bit of an implosion. Perhaps a symptom of having completed Echo Wall and not taken time to sit back and take some decisions about what to do next.

Anyway, enough moaning. Hugh reckons:

It’s all good. My moan is simply about the lack of hours in the day to fit in all the good things. I can honestly say I have not felt bored for a single second for at least the last eight years. But enough of being so knackered all the time I can’t enjoy all this stuff properly.

This is a wake up and smell the coffee time for me. Some stuff needs to change. First step, I’m off for some zzzzzzs.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Addictions, Aversions

Bank of Scotland arête, Nairn High Street

It’s been another week of ups and downs working on our film of Echo Wall. We were most definitely in need of a break from the screen by Friday. It was Claire’s birthday so we headed for Tilda Swinton’s very retro cool film festival in Nairn. Just being outside the house was so brilliant. I got really excited to be out travelling around Scotland after so long indoors. On our return I managed two brief escapes to Sky Pilot to claw back the fitness, throwing myself on the problems like no tomorrow.

The film inches closer to a final cut. Most exciting! We’ve certainly chosen the right moment to be editing a film. The Lochaber monsoon has been impressive as usual, but excelling even itself for August.

As always, I’ve been learning lots from the whole experience of doing Echo Wall, even though the route itself is done. I was expecting to feel, and did indeed feel a massive sense of nothingness after doing the route. After so long aligning yourself to one goal, it’s suddenly gone and you are left with no focus until something replaces it.

That’s nice because it reminded me just how much I like the simple act of climbing, solving climbing problems being outside. A massive reminder has been of my need (or addiction) to exercise. I’m not sure if it’s exercise or rock movement or whether they can be separated at all. But either way, it’s real! I’ve been in total withdrawal these last two weeks, literally climbing the walls in the house. This is a happy addiction. If it dies before I do, I’ll be extremely surprised.

I’ve been reading a lot too about approaches to risk, and satisfaction from things like sport. Partly for my own sake and partly to help me distill my ideas to communicate in our film.

Three general traits of human nature, demonstrated in research, but obvious and tangible to ourselves only in moments of clarity, usually after a highly emotive experience, stand out for me.

The first is our aversion to loss. People hate to lose things more than they take pleasure in gains of a higher magnitude. A gift of an amount of money affects our mood far less than the stress caused by losing an equivalent amount. This aversion to loss progresses to a default position of unreasonable aversion to risk when coupled with a second trait. We aren’t very good at visualising probabilities and usually end up stressing far too much about remote possibilities while distracted from the really important stuff. We worry more about small chances of injury, public failure etc than we do about the rewards and satisfaction of going for something good.

The third is our rather poor ability to forecast our own feelings down the line. In general, we place way too much importance on immediate gratification, at the expense of suffering short term discomfort for a much larger windfall of satisfaction later. This has the secondary problem of us not giving enough weight to things that will make us happier for longer, but forecasting in error that sources of immediate happiness will last much longer than they actually do.

Avoiding these natural pitfalls is a tough job, requiring constant attention. But awareness of their constant pervasive influence at least allows the opportunity to stay above them.

More on this later

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

From one extreme to the other

Over the past two weeks I have done a good job of replacing climbaholism with workaholism. It’s funny how things fit together nicely. August just happens to be the worst month for climbing in Scotland (often too wet in the mountains and getting colder, but still warm and midgy in the glens) and this August as been something of a monsoon. It was a good decision to grab my chance on Echo Wall when I did. If I hadn’t it would have been next year for sure. 

Is this workaholism healthy? Definitely not. A week straight of 4/5am finishes makes one’s edges a little frayed. But it has it’s uses. and in the very short term can be a good idea. After setting up our production company to make the film about Echo Wall and working with Claire on some editing, I headed back up the Ben as soon as the clouds broke to film a bit of running and nice footage of the mountain.

Bill Murray said “ No man will ever know Ben Nevis” When I was climbing Echo Wall I did feel like I did have a small window, a partial insight into understanding how to move well on this mountain, just for a second. But the feeling, illusionary or not, soon wore off. Arms and legs are hurting once again from the climbing and running efforts - a good feeling.

Time in the computer chair can be deadening for both mind and body at times, but so long as the connection to climbing isn’t allowed to become too distant, it can strengthen the motivation.

I always forget just how much I love rock movement until I have enforced time away. This is great for me. After 15 years of rock climbing, to still feel the psyche to be on the rock stronger than ever makes me so excited and full of energy to start new projects, whatever they might be???

Right now I’m in the car with Claire on our way to meet with Jimmy Marshall and talk about Ben Nevis climbing. You’ll see it in the film.

Sunday, 17 August 2008


After a week of loooong days in front of the screen or filming things for Echo Wall, it's hard to express how much I want to boulder at the present minute.

I was knackered after finishing work at 10pm and contemplating the choice - train, or go to bed. I'm really glad I trained. Good feeling to be hanging from one hand on the hangboard again. Note to self: if in doubt, train, you'll be glad you did.

More blogging tomorrow. Now, sleep. 

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Filming Echo Wall

A sublime morning on Tower Ridge (Video still)

Many many thanks for all the comments you guys sent Claire and I over the past week about Echo Wall, and thanks for coming with me on the path, through my blog. It’s been a strange week since doing the route, with many thoughts running through our heads and interesting discussions.

The only time I’ve ever done this type of thing before (really dedicate myself to one thing for a spell) was with Rhapsody in 2006. So I was expecting to feel a highly strange sense of ‘nothingness’ after completing it, where this enormous part of your life suddenly evaporates. Whilst I am deeply happy with climbing the route and about every part of the process, it’s kind of sad in a way when it’s over.

It might sound funny or even objectionable to some people but I’m most in my element in the thick of grappling with these projects. Right now I feel kind of like a crashed car lying in the middle of the road on it’s roof with the engine still roaring and wheels spinning. It’s hard to wind down, suddenly at least.

No worries, because life always serves up so many brilliant things to fill the day while you wonder what to do next. Some days off are planned with Claire. But the main immediate activity that has replaced climbing Echo Wall has been filming Echo Wall!!

Claire decided to film the whole process of me trying this climb back last year. We blew all our savings (and then some) on the necessary equipment, and Claire began slogging it up the hill with me to capture the blood sweat and tears of trying to do a new route on the Ben. The idea of a film remained just a hypothesis until last Monday. Even though I realised last month that the climb was possible for me, we were at the mercy of the weather and it could easily have been next year or beyond unless I had been blessed with a perfect day of conditions and form last week. Now that the route is done, we turned around the next day and said to each other “we’ll be making a film then!”


The implications of this are somewhat scary. And scarier still after we worked out some ‘to do’ lists. But we are going to have a go at getting it ready for October. We reckon that the Ben is such a special place and it really deserves someone to go for it and try to capture it’s character, inspiration, intimidation and of course it’s beauty on film.

I’ll talk more about how this is coming along soon, but for now here are some photos from my filming the other day. Echo Wall, being on a big north face, doesn’t see much sun, But Echo Wall catches an hour or so just after dawn in mid summer. So my first stint behind the camera was to sleep out on Tower Ridge and capture a time lapse of the sun hitting Echo Wall.

All I can say is that it was a sublime night of visual delights – the milky way, amazing shooting stars, and a beautiful sunrise. I could get into this film making lark…

The morning sun hits the topout of Echo Wall

Tell me that doesn’t make you want to climb?!

The mountains of Knoydart bathe in the cold morning mist

Pre Dawn over Carn Mor Dearg