Training 24 Feb 2015 from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.
Friday, 20 March 2015
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.
Training 24 Feb 2015 from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.
Thursday, 19 March 2015
On Pink Panther VI,6 Ben Nevis. Photo: Paul Diffley/Hot Aches
Natalie led through up the easy snow to the top and we were rewarded with lovely sunshine and views on top. This was Ben Nevis at its most friendly and it was a nice relaxing day in contrast to the challenging new routing the day before.
That great weekend will be my last of the winter season. It’s all change for me now, with 6 weeks of solid training for the rock season. More on that shortly.
We were accompanied by Paul Diffley and Chris Prescott from Hot Aches, who took some of these nice photos.
Aye it wasn’t a bad afternoon on the plateau
Tuesday, 17 March 2015
Leading the steep crack at the start of Tripod VII,7 on Ben Nevis. Photo Helen Rennard.
The walls on the left side of Tower Ridge is a part of Ben Nevis I’ve visited quite a lot over the years and really like. Obviously, my interest in this area started with Echo Wall some years ago. Since then I’ve done a couple of winter routes around here too. In winter it can provide good shelter from a westerly storm and also remains in condition for mixed quite late in the season. The other week Helen and myself climbed Red Dragon on the wall right of Echo Wall. On Saturday we needed to go higher to find good conditions and walked up to the wall up and left of Echo Wall, near Tower Scoop.
The other year we did a good new VII,8 here which I called Angry Chair. The name came from a huge detached block which I sat and belayed on, looking for a way to finish the route with overhanging blankness above. It reminded me of the song Angry Chair by a band I grew up listening to called Alice in Chains. The song starts:
“Sitting on the Angry Chair. Angry Walls that steal the air...”
Angry Chair followed the first pitch of Clefthanger (summer HVS, winter VI,6) before heading up a groove on the right. On Saturday I started up a steep crack just left of this which would lead into the iced up upper section of Clefthanger. The crack looked VI,6 from below, but turned out to be a good VII,7 with fiddly gear and poor footholds for quite a long way. It was excellent though and I continued all the way to the top in one 68m pitch.
I thought it might be nice to keep going with the Alice in Chains theme for names. I have always liked the grim lyrics and style and so we could call this one Tripod, after their rather darkly illustrated album. It kind of feels relevant to how I'm going to be climbing for the coming couple of months! The area right of Tower Scoop now has 4 good mixed routes between VI and VIII. Tripod starts up the short flow of ice at the base, into the cracks and then the big left leaning ice ramps.
Helen finishing the pitch on great ice.
Tripod starts up the short flow of ice at the base, into the cracks and then the big left leaning ice ramps.
Sunday, 8 March 2015
Never tire of this outlook back towards the Glenfinnan hills
Today I had a great day in the Arisaig Cave which was completely bone dry despite the 20cm of rain which has doused Lochaber over the past three days. What a great venue it is. Last year I didn’t do much bouldering really, I spent most of the time on Dolomitic big walls and lately I’ve been getting back into mixed climbing a bit.
Today was a nice reminder just how great it is - so relaxing to head off late morning and feel warm March sunshine in your face as you stroll across a deserted beach to the cave to work on a nice project.
I haven’t been to the cave for not far off two years. Last time I was there I managed, just, to do all the moves on the last remaining big straight up project. It might be as hard as 8B and a great piece of technical and burly climbing up a big diagonal flange. Today I re-worked it and did the moves again. Crucially, I got a good sequence dialled for the upper half of the problem and linked the last 5 moves to the top. I noticed myself getting tired on it quite quickly because of the very physical moves with compression and undercutting. I’ll definitely be back on this soon.
The flange project. training motivation. It’s definitely possible for me!
My tick marks from two years ago still there like it was yesterday. Can’t believe how rainproof the cave is. The ultimate boulder venue really!
Labels: Scottish bouldering
Friday, 6 March 2015
Starting up pitch 3 of High Pressure Crack VIII,9 Ben Nevis. Photo: Masa Sakano
Last year myself, Helen Rennard and Harry Holmes repeated Nick Bullock and Matt Heliker’s VII,8 ‘Rutless’ here. The crux pitch climbs the first few metres of a soaring overhanging crack and headwall, but quickly scuttles left along ledges and escapes via a corner. Something going right up that wall would be mega!
Approaching the hardest climbing on pitch 3, and starting to feel the pump. Photo: Masa Sakano
Masa led up the icy chimney of Gutless to the ledge below the wall. Watching him, I could see the headwall on the overhanging 3rd pitch. It looked like the crack went diagonally left across a smooth wall covered in a layer of ice and I worried a bit about how I might protect it if I could get there, although I figured the ice might be useful.
When I followed to the ledge, I launched up the overhanging wall without any hesitation so as to get worried. Although the crack was too icy to take more than a couple of cams, good wires spurred on my progress and I pressed on, getting gradually more pumped. Above the lip of the overhang I made a couple of committing pulls to a rest. I was struggling a bit to get gear. Everything was choked in ice. I dug out a big hex placement behind a couple of loose blocks. It was wobbly, so I packed the loose blocks back on top of it with lots of snow to keep it where it was.
The final part of the pitch up the headwall was fantastic on steep cracks on the exposed headwall. The best bit however, was remembering that I’d packed some sweets in the pocket of my Gore-Tex jacket for the belay. Masa led a 62 metre pitch on easier terrain to the top of the Douglas boulder and we headed down into gathering black clouds and eventually rain - it looks like winter is gone for a little while in Scotland.
Masa following pitch 1
Masa in the fun chimney of Gutless.
Masa heading off on the long final pitch
Tuesday, 3 March 2015
Approaching the crux on the first ascent of Red Dragon VIII,9, Ben Nevis. Photo: Helen Rennard
Helen Rennard and myself were getting a bit fed up with waiting for a break in the stormy weather on the mountains, so we went up Ben Nevis on a blustery morning. There had been a very brief overnight thaw which we hoped would firm up the dangerous approach slopes. But as it got light it appeared to have stripped our possible new route objective. I also fell through a snowbridge on the path and went up to my knees in water. So we sat in the CIC hut for a while drying my boots and figuring out where to go.
We opted for the steep walls right of Echo Wall which have few routes and we thought it might be relatively sheltered from the heavy snow shower rattling in from the west. On the way up Observatory Gully we passed a string of goggled-up climbers descending from their route objectives in the blizzard. They optimistically wished us luck as we hid in our hoods and pressed on.
Helen and myself heading up Observatory Gully towards Echo Wall (in cloud). Photo: Blair Fyffe
At the foot of the wall there was relative shelter and and we uncoiled the ropes below an overhanging crack feature soaring up the walls above. Helen had been here previously, but her partner had got very pumped and fallen from the first few metres, with a projected grade of 9 for this section.
I managed to get over this first overhanging section without taking too much time, mainly because I didn’t want to hang about with poor gear in the extremely verglassed crack. On the following section I carried on with care, in the hope I’d get at least one solid runner, but I couldn't seem to get that. Eventually I arrived at an uncomfortable overhung slot below a very steep bulge in the crack above. I spent a very long time here.
I fiddled for ages, going up and down with some fear, trying in vain to get a good runner. Eventually, two very good hooks in the overhang persuaded me to move higher and I got a Spectre in. After a retreat to the slot, this runner provided the security to push a bit higher. A second Spectre went in and I now had enough protection to probe upwards with more commitment. Unfortunately I was by now getting pretty tired and was aware that Helen had been suffering the blizzard for some time without moving. She must have been freezing. On the other hand, I’d put in a fair bit of work and seemed to be only a few moves away from unlocking the pitch. So I committed upwards with a few heart pumping moments and burning forearms to an uncomfortable rest standing on one foot on the lip of the overhang.
I limped onwards to the belay, rather mentally exhausted and went through some savage hot aches before constructing a belay. Helen did a fine job of following the pitch from what must have been a very cold start. Understandably, she asked if I would lead on. The main problem on the final pitch was warming my freezing hands. It seems to me that your brain must shut out the memory of how bad hot aches can be. After descending Tower Ridge, we still had to don the goggles to walk down the Allt a Mhuillin!
We thought it would only be VIII,9 if the crack wasn't verglassed and would accept cams. It was a fine winter adventure - it does sometime pay off nicely if you press on through all the hurdles that Ben Nevis throws at you. But only with your wits about you at all times.
Wednesday, 25 February 2015
Sunday boarding from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.
Having come out of the other side of my massive book project and starting to climb regularly again, I have been thinking a lot about the nature of my need to climb and what I take from the activity. I’m aware that for some readers these comments may sound ridiculous, but they are my feelings and so you can take them or leave them - they simply are what they are.
My deprivation from climbing over the past months and years during this project has been relative. I have still climbed more metres of rock and ice than many people have the chance to and I am grateful for that. I’m also aware that the book project has had still greater disruption for my family. This post is not a moan. I understand that everyone has choices to make in their life which have a big mix of positive and negative consequences and then live with them. Nonetheless, whether it seems self-indulgent or not, the relative lack of climbing over the period had a huge effect on me. A negative effect.
Wanting to make the most of each and every possible opportunity in life can be both an advantage and a big problem. Being drawn in several different directions at once is destructive for success at most things that require work and application. I could write posts about all these directions, but in this I’m just writing about the climbing aspect.
Several years ago a climbing journalist interviewed me soon after I climbed Rhapsody at Dumbarton Rock. I remember him commenting after the interview that he still wasn’t really clear why I liked climbing so much. I think he was not seeing the wood for the trees. I don’t climb to notch up first ascents, to complete hard projects, or to be better than anyone else. Spending my time doing these things is the means, not the end. The end is simply the climbing. The hard projects, training and the pushing yourself simply intensifies the experience. If I’ve pushed myself harder than someone else, it’s simply because I enjoy the climbing that much.
So this need to climb is not something that has to be linked to achievements or grades etc. They merely assist in getting the most out of the climbing. In trying to find an analogy for this basic need to climb, I felt it was similar to the need to have the correct body heat. Imagine you were deprived of the heating or clothing to stay warm. You can still function in your activities of daily life, even enjoy good things. But it is just harder to enjoy them while you shiver. If exposed to this over time, you might even adapt to this state to an extent. The discomfort may fade to a dull hue, no longer at the front of your mind. But it is far from eliminated. At the extremes of deprivation, the discomfort would be strong enough to cancel out satisfaction from meeting any other basic needs or comforts.
Over the past three weeks I have been building back up my basic strength and fitness in my climbing wall. I have found that even when feeling rusty in my movements and weak on the small holds, climbing makes me feel that I can deal with the all the other problems in life. But as I’ve got stronger and fitter, I’ve noticed the effect is stronger. This is more than it being nice to be able to climb things I couldn’t before. The actual climbing feels better. More agility, control and confidence, as well as strength.
The book project has been a reminder that since I’m lucky enough to have opportunities to climb, I should take them wherever possible, not just for the direct enjoyment, but for the effects in all parts of life. It's also reminded me to take the time to train and build up to a good performance.
Thursday, 19 February 2015
Starting up Feeding Frenzy VI,7 on Ben Nevis last week
February is always all go in Lochaber. First of all, we have been sending out a lot of copies of Make or Break. Thanks to everyone who’s ordered it and I hope it is starting to help you with your climbing and injury rehab decisions already. We’ve had a few recurring questions about it:
‘Is it better [for us] to order it directly from our site, or Amazon?’
Yes it’s better to get it direct from us than the mighty Amazon. We are shipping them all over the world, every day. Plus, you get a signed copy this way!
‘Are we releasing an ebook/kindle version?’
No plans to at the moment, although we might do it sometime.
Thanks for everyone’s great feedback on the book so far. It means a lot.
In between dealing with book related things, I’ve been in my wall training a lot and rebuilding fitness. I love my wall! It’s so great to finally be in there regularly, just pulling on holds and enjoying it. I’ve also been out on the ice which has been in present in large quantities on the Scottish mountains recently.
On the first ascent of Transition VI,7 Ben Udlaidh. Photo: Chris Prescott/Hot Aches Productions
Firstly I visited Ben Udlaidh with Natalie. It’s somewhere I used to go a lot as a youngster and have done several new routes there, most of which are still kind of unknown since the guidebook is so out of date. The day we visited it was just starting to warm up and some pieces of ice were starting to fall off. So we had to grab some of the action quickly before it got a little dangerous. We climbed a lovely unclimbed steep icicle on the lower tier, with some steep mixed pulls at the bottom to gain the ice. Most folk go to Udlaidh for the pure ice lines, but the routes with a little mixed ground are really good fun and rather underrated.
Natalie enjoying an ice cave rest mid way up Transition VI,7 Ben Udlaidh
Approaching the icicle on Feeding Frenzy, VI,7 Ben Nevis
So we returned a couple of days later. I climbed up behind the icicle and at first tried to break a hole through the curtain to access the front face. It seemed pretty solid so I stepped onto it and climbed right around the whole thing and up the right edge of it. It was a fantastic trip and I see it got at least one further ascent from Nick Bullock and Tim Neill some days later. Kev wasn’t able to manage some of the cross through moves on the traverse to the ice with his prosthetic ice tool, so I had an exciting abseil down it to retrieve my gear from the back of the curtain.
Over the last day or two the weather has been poor, so it’s back to training. I’m also at the Fort William Mountain Festival each night over the next few nights. We went to the opening night last night which was brilliant. We premiered our film about the geological and botanical investigations on the north face of the Ben last summer and listened to several great speakers and musicians in a packed hall. There are still some tickets for the remaining nights, so do snap one up if you can make it. We will be in the exhibition hall each night with climbing books and films, and I’m speaking about Make or Break in the Book Festival line up on Saturday afternoon. See you there! Below is the showreel we put together for the festival to give you an idea of the footage in some of this year’s films.
Wednesday, 11 February 2015
Three Wise Monkeys Climbing crowd funding film from Three Wise Monkeys Climbing on Vimeo.
Check out the video we made above for Three Wise Monkeys Climbing, who have just launched a crowdfunding campaign to open a climbing centre in Fort William.
The video says it all really, but it’s a simple pitch - all of use who live in the area or visit it for climbing would love a high quality climbing facility in Fort William. They need to raise £40,000 in 28 days. The climbing scene here is pretty small, so don’t leave it to someone else. Go and make your pledge here, and I’ll see you in the wall in the summer.
Friday, 6 February 2015
For the past 4 years or so, I have been working on a book about climbing injuries. It spells out in detail how to treat them once you have them, based on the evidence from high quality scientific research and practice. More importantly, it discusses all the things we do in our climbing routine that cause our future injuries and prolong those we have already caused.
I have titled the book ‘Make or Break’. This is because becoming an expert in understanding the causes and treatments of climbing injuries will be make or break for your climbing career. As Wolfgang Gullich said, “getting strong is easy, getting strong without getting injured is hard”. In my first book, 9 out of 10 climbers make the same mistakes, I suggested that many aspects of training for climbing are not rocket science. Keep showing up, pulling on small holds, pushing the limits of your motivation and learning from others and you will get stronger fingers and get better at climbing.
It will be injuries that will get in the way of your progress, and if you let them, they will dictate how far you get in climbing. The research suggests that nearly all climbers get injured at some point. Finger injuries are most likely, followed by elbows and shoulders. Of course there are countless bits of our anatomy that can break if suitably mistreated. When you get one of these injuries, you need to be the expert, because unfortunately you cannot rely on anyone else to make sure you recover. This is not because doctors and therapists fail to do a good job (although they sometimes do). It is because there is no single source of advice on the vast array of things you must do to make sure you recover well and prevent future injuries. The climbing coaches, physiotherapists, otrhopaedic surgeons etc. that you will see will all give you pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, but it is you who must put them together.
Claire MacLeod dispatching our pre-orders the other night.
During the process of writing the book, I have discovered many pieces of hard scientific information and subtle concepts I wish I’d known when I was 16. They would have saved me so much of the pain and psychological torment of injuries that climbers everywhere share at some point in their career. There are many strands of information in the book. It is a handbook on how to take care of yourself as a lifelong climbing athlete. In this blog post, I will briefly outline three messages that will give you a flavour of what you will find in the book:
1. Tendons don’t like rest, or change.
1. Tendons don’t like rest, or change.
Surprisingly, sports medicine research still has a lot to learn about tendons and how they heal and respond to training. However, there have been several big steps forward in the research over the past decade or two. The only problem is, new knowledge in sports medicine takes years or even decades to filter through to the advice you receive. Consider the following quote:
“In general, it takes approximately 17 years to get 14% of research findings adopted into practice. Moreover, only 30–50% of patients receive recommended care, 20–30% receive care that is not needed or that is potentially harmful and 96% may receive care with the absence of evidence of effectiveness.”
I was shocked too when I read that. I was aware through my own experience that the advice I’d been given to recover from my own climbing injuries was often at odds with research I’d read. But to discover the extent of the lag between research findings and advice given to sportspeople is depressing. We only have one life and we cannot afford to receive outdated advice. Unfortunately, the internet hasn’t made the task of unearthing reliable advice any easier. Scientific journals remain hidden to most behind a paywall, while the same poor quality, outdated and non-specific advice drowns out the few reliable sources.
One of the shifts in understanding from the past decade is that slow-onset tendon injuries such as golfer’s elbow do not respond well to complete rest. In fact, it often makes the condition worse. Moreover, many of the adjunct treatments often offered - stretching, massage, ibuprofen may do little to contribute to healing, and only affect pain. Instead, the most promising treatment has been large volumes of exercise of a specific mode (eccentric) and at a level which causes some pain. Much of this seems counterintuitive at first sight, which is why a detailed understanding of what happens in injured tendons is so important.
Some practitioners in sports medicine are still working to a pre-1990s concept of tendon healing and will advise you to heal your injured tendons by resting them completely. In contrast, modern research has found that the best way to heal injured tendons is to use them, but only in a way that is specific to the nature of the injury. Tendons do not like rest or change. The successful formula is to provide constant stimulus to tendons to maintain their health. But if you want to change that stimulus, such as by training harder, you must do so very carefully, using all the cues from the body that you can listen to.
Section 1 of the book discusses in detail the limitations of the sports medicine industry and how to get the most out of it, and section 4 details the modern understanding of tendon injuries and how to successfully treat them.
2. Know pain, or no gain
Above I hinted at the difference between the pain level and the healing status of an injury - a crucial concept for any sportsperson to understand. Understanding of the nature of pain has been another area of science that has advanced hugely in sports medicine. It is not enough to be able to listen to your body. You need to be able to decode the messages and see the patterns in them. This is both a science and an art.
Climbers need to be able to differentiate between healthy soreness from training and activity, and damage that demands action. They need to be able to take understand how various treatments affect pain from their injuries and what this means for their daily decisions on how much activity to expose them to. They need to understand how many aspects of their environment and psychological state amplify or suppress pain sensations from their daily activities. Pain sensations are an essential measure for climbers to monitor, but without detailed knowledge of how it works, it is very easy to interpret those messages from pain wrongly.
Section 2 of the book is entirely devoted to understanding pain.
3. The luxury of doing sport badly will not last
A young body can withstand a surprising amount of abuse. But the relentlessness of sport and training amplifies the effect of small imbalances or errors, and it doesn’t take long before these accumulate to the point of injury. Balance is the key word here. One area of sports medicine that has come on a fair bit in recent years has been the recognition that athletes need to develop strength in a balanced way, taking care to strengthen muscles on both sides of joints. That is a good development, but it is not enough.
Balancing of the stress imposed by training for climbing needs to come in several other ways too. Matching increases in training intensity with improvements in the quality of rest is one way. Improving technique and the design of the training progression to spread that stress is another.
Sections 1, 3 and 4 deal with these concepts and the specific details that climbers should be aware of which commonly result in climbing injuries.
Repeated forceful internal rotation of the arm (the right arm on this move) is a big part of climbing. So it is no surprise that the internal rotators of the arm at the shoulder become dominant. You may well get years out of a healthy young shoulder without feeling a thing. But the resulting impingement syndrome affects so many climbers. If you'd rather prevent it, it's not hard to do a little work to keep the shoulder joint working well. And if you are already suffering, you may be able to reverse it quite quickly, unless you've really tried to ignore it for too long!
Maintaining awareness of the foot during hand movements is a core skill in climbing injury awareness. Slipping feet are a important cause of many finger and shoulder injuries. Do your feet slip too often? Do you know what to do when they do slip? Correct your climbing technique and you can push your body a lot harder before it starts to complain.
Finally, there is the psychological challenge of injuries which is hugely underestimated by both climbers and their friends and families. In sections 1 and 5 of the book, I present the idea that we should see the injuries we suffer as a crucial message that something must change in our way of approaching climbing. By seeing the injury as an opportunity to go back to basics, to understand what must change and make that change, we can not only improve our climbing, but enjoy the process rather than endure it.
I hope the book will help many climbers prevent their future injuries or overcome existing ones. You'll find the book in our shop here, dispatching worldwide.