Sunday, 7 December 2014

A pile of fresh titles for December

We’ve just added a pile of fresh products to the shop of essential reading and viewing for climbers. First off is Volker Schoffl and Thomas Hochholzer’s climbing injury book One Move Too Many. Reliable information on dealing with climbing injuries is still hard to come by in 2014 and climbers really have to make themselves experts in this field in order to minimise the disruption that injury will inevitably cause them in a life of climbing. As many of you will know, I am just finishing a book on this subject myself. However, climbers really cannot read enough on this subject and advice from such prolific researchers as these authors will reap huge benefits on your climbing. One Move Too Many has been around for a while, but this is a revised second edition, just out.

I was excited to see Steve McClure’s story finally out. Steve is a rare thing in climbing, or in sport in general. He is a brilliant athlete and has shown amazing commitment and vision in how he has achieved his world class routes which are still giving the likes of Adam Ondra something to chew on today. Yet almost everyone can relate to him as he has pursued that tricky balance of trying to make these achievements happen while still leading a ‘normal’ life of family, work and a generally well-rounded perspective on life. In other words, he is one of the best role models we have in climbing, and every climber ought to listen to what he has to say. Since he is also an excellent writer who has an ability to get to the core of why it’s worth talking about all of the themes explored in his book.

Next up is Alastair Lee’s Brit Rock 2014 DVD which is a collection of climbing and other outdoor sports films. As a climber, this DVD is a must have because of the first film on the disc; Stone Free, following the free solo exploits of Julian Lines. Although he is one of the world’s best solo climbers (if it’s a good idea to even say that out loud?!), he is the polar opposite of some of the other famous solo climbers around at the moment. And this is why we should watch it. It’s not just a jaw dropping, nerve tingling scare fest (although there is plenty of that). We get to see a very honest look into Jules mind and way of life. It is a way of life that is largely forgotten even by plenty of climbers these days. Listening to what Jules has to say about what his experiences on the mountain cliffs mean to him is a deeply inspiring watch. The running and biking films were bonuses for me, but they were both fantastic films and ones that I may not have seen unless I’d bought the DVD.

We have also added the Avalanche Pocket Guide to the shop. Now this is something it might be tempting to skip. It’s not the coolest (no pun intended) reading material to part with £7 of your hard earned cash for. However, think for just a moment about the scores of young folk just like you and me who die every winter under tons of snow. They are not different from you, they are not idiots, and they travel on the same terrain as you will be in the coming months. And they are dead. In many cases, their only mistake is ignorance. Having watched with my own eyes three climbers walk straight into an inevitable avalanche on Ben Nevis last winter (they survived, this time) it really reminded me how little we can afford to be ignorant on this subject. It’s up to you - you could either make sure you are fully briefed on the skills and lessons for making sound judgements in avalanche terrain, or you could take the risk and just hope for the best. If you can’t bear to read something so uncool yourself, at least fill your climbing partner’s Christmas stocking with it.

Finally, we have The Great Mountain Crags of Scotland in stock now and in a world where climbing media is increasingly cheap and cheerful, this book is a treat - well written by a who’s who of the activists on the crags, filled with great photography from the likes of Dave Cuthbertson and other talented folk and a wonderful reference to plan your adventures of future seasons in our mountains. Something to treasure.

As ever, we are dispatching daily to worldwide destinations via Royal Mail right up to and over Christmas. The main shop page is here.

Monday, 1 December 2014

West Highland Adventure Trail

West Highland Adventure Trail from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

The School of Adventure Studies at West Highland College asked us to edit together some footage they shot on the West Highland Adventure Trail they ran in the spring. It’s a pretty cool place to study, don’t you think?

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The fire

At this time of year, I often get manic. Im not really sure why. I know it’s not related to the season, because I’ve had the effects at other times in the year also. In a gradual process that takes many weeks to build up, I notice a string of quite striking mental and physical changes.

My mind tends to race all day long. When it gets to 2am and I’m still working or training, I’m exhausted and can barely conjure a rational thought. But I don’t want to stop. Going to bed and sleeping is so obviously required, but the other part of my mind resists it to the last. I find that I have amazing daydreams while driving or walking and find that these yield some strong ideas about whatever I’m working on, and all sorts of other things.

Because I’ve noticed this happening to me before in most years over the past decade of my life, I don’t mind it. It’s a kind of polariser of everything. It can cause me some serious problems, chiefly insomnia and being quite unreasonable. But I also find that I have the kind of fire of motivation that can drive a lot of things forward. The challenge is to tame it to harness the great benefits and try not to let it turn me into a sleep deprived zealot.

The first time I really became aware that this was not normal was in 2006. I was living in Dumbarton. I’d just done the first ascent of Rhapsody and after having pulled my climbing up from the odd 8b sport redpoint to 8c+ in a little over a year, I hadn’t done any work and was completely broke. I was counting out 2 pence pieces from a jar in my flat to by tins of beans and realised that I needed to change my life if I wanted to move forward onto new horizons in my climbing. The fire at that time was directed (outside of my climbing of course) onto starting to write this blog and trying to learn how to communicate what I’d learned from my life as a climber and student of sports science to coach other climbers. My accepted cut off for going to bed got later and later and I used to forcefully press the off button on the computer when I saw the sun start to rise out of my window.

My best effort at harnessing it was while I was writing my book 9 out of 10 in 2009. I found that I had so much mental energy that I was able to focus for up to 12 hours a day on writing with only trips to the kettle as breaks. When I don’t have the fire, I find it desperately hard to concentrate for long, uninterrupted periods. After I’d read, thought and written furiously for my shift, I’d attack my board at 10 or 11 at night, for a couple of hours. In less than two months, I got to the end of the book, and left for a sport trip in Spain.

The fire hadn’t gone, but I was physically exhausted. On the first day of the trip, I let my partners climb as a pair while I set up a rope to work on A’ Muerte (9a) by myself. After I’d set up the rope, I sat down at the base, put on my rock-shoes and paused for a moment, realising I felt pretty tired. I sat back against the rock to take a moment’s rest. Four hours later I woke up, and stumbled off to my sleeping bag. Despite being deprived of real rock for the previous two months, I started the trip with three days in bed before I felt recovered enough to begin climbing. But two weeks later I climbed the route for my first 9a, and felt in really great shape.

Right now, every night I feel like I’d need to hit myself over the head with a frying pan to stop my mind racing into the wee small hours. It’s really good being at home for a little while after spending most of this year out of the country on climbing trips. I wonder if it’s that opportunity to focus on climbing, training and work projects for a spell has brought on my current state of agitation. One minute I’m falling asleep over my dinner, the next I feel really good climbing on my board. One thing I have learned is that trying to work against what your mind and body want to do doesn’t really work. Not working, when I want to work, makes me depressed really quickly. Yet a mind that doesn’t have a diurnal ‘off switch’ is trying to square a circle. Like many problems in productivity, it may come down to an issue of habit replacement and self-discipline. I’m not really strict in following the simple rules of overcoming insomnia. I ought to be. An extreme problem requires an extreme intervention. I probably need some formal coaching in the field.

Complaints aside, I don’t really want this period to end. I know that I’m pretty lucky to have the feeling of burning motivation for the work I do, and I do enjoy it.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Drag Race

Drag Race 8A Rannoch Moor from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

On the vast, beautiful expanse of Rannoch Moor, a handful of granite erratics dotted around are kind of distracting for boulderers trying to drive in a straight line on the A82 into Glen Coe. In the low, crisp winter light, you’re always looking to see if you somehow missed a hidden boulder out there somewhere. I knew that the one big boulder close to the road had a few problems on perfect rough granite, but they were all easy.

But last year Alan Cassidy told me that a large flake had broken off the steep side, leaving a smooth sloping shelf and an excellent project he thought might be 8A or 8A+. I had a quick look in May and realised I had to come back as soon as it was cold enough to drag those perfect slopers.

Last week I had a quick try in poor conditions and worked out the moves. On the first day of proper snow in the mountains, I was straight back there and managed it. What a gem of a problem. As good quality as you’ll find anywhere. You can’t miss the boulder, easily seen from the road, five minutes walk from the first layby south of the Rannoch Moor summit.

Boulder season is ON!

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Ben Nevis North Face survey

Ben Nevis - The Hidden Side (TEASER!) from Nevis Landscape Partnership on Vimeo.

In August, we shot a film about a survey. It was the most fascinating fortnight I’ve had in a long time. The newly emerging Nevis Landscape Partnership has numerous impressive projects lined up for the Ben Nevis area, and this was one of them. A large team of climbers, botanists and geologists teamed up to explore the length and breadth of the north face over two weeks and try to get a better understanding of how the mountain was formed and which rare plants were hiding in the depths of the gullies as yet unrecorded.

We were asked to film the project. I’m editing the story that emerged at the moment and it certainly wasn’t what I expected. Generally speaking, I find most aspects of science interesting. But I have never spent any time learning about botany before and have only limited knowledge of geology. One overarching theme I wanted to explore while filming was what made these scientists tick. Climbers wax lyrical about the lines on Ben Nevis, the character of the ice, the weather and all the other ingredients for adventure. I bluntly asked the botanical and geological experts on the survey what the point of their work was.

One of Scotland’s leading botanists, Gordon Rothero’s reply was equally blunt. “Because it’s fun”. As I asked more and more of the scientists why they spent their lives studying the details of mountain environments, the same theme came back. Their studies made them happy. More specifically, It made them feel connected to the places they studied. This is something I felt the whole team, climbers and scientists of various disciplines had absolutely in common. By knowing the details of the mountains, they felt connected, and happy.

As for the survey findings, one story that emerged kind of took everyone by surprise. The geologists Jenny and Roddy had already told me when we shot the film for their FieldMove Clino app on the Ben in June that the available geological mapping that had been done 60 odd years ago was not matching what they had seen on the mountain. After a full two weeks gathering huge amounts of geological readings (using the app meant taking readings ten fold faster that traditional methods) it seemed like the old model of how Ben Nevis was formed was looking all but dead.

Roddy and Donald abseiling down the line of my own route Don't Die of Ignorance on the Comb. This part of the mountain is made of volcanic breccias; the result of violent volcanic eruption. I was kind of strange for me going back here after having climbed hard through this part in winter several years ago.

The traditional model of the formation of the Ben is that it was a ring fault where the centre of the ring collapsed into the earth’s magma below, with violent eruptions around the periphery. It now looks like the real picture may be very different. Their attention focused on the straight line of the Allt a’ Mhuillin itself and it may be that this was the fault in the earth’s crust that let granites come to the surface. It’s still unclear whether the rocks on the Ben Nevis side of the Allt a’ Mhuillin collapsed down, or the rocks on the other side rose up. It will take some time for them to analyse the data and they may need to collect more in order to obtain a clearer picture.

The problem with the traditional caldera subsidence model is space. What happens to the vast quantities of viscous magmas displaced by a sinking lump of the earth’s crust? There are subsequent surveys planned for the next few summers, and it may be that we cannot make a firm conclusion about Ben Nevis until after these have been completed.

Along the way I captured huge amounts of great interviews with interesting folk and footage of the deep dark gullies on the Ben. I also had a great night along with my mum up on Carn Mor Dearg bivvying out and shooting nice timelapses of the stars and sunrise on the north face.

If you want to see the film it’ll be showing at the Fort William Mountain Festival in February, and then released online afterwards. In the meantime, enjoy the teaser above.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

The Anatomist, Glen Torridon

The Anatomist, Torridon from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

Bouldering in Glen Torridon at this time of year does make me feel pretty lucky. The best rock in the British Isles, amazing scenery, solitude, good conditions, easy approaches and even some superb cafes. It doesn’t get much better. I’m pleased to say I’ve still got most of it to explore as well. I really ought to bend the ears of Ian Taylor, Dan Varian and a few other folk who’ve scouted about a bit more for good projects to try. I know of a couple of great ones, but they might be too hard for me, in the Font 8C region. Not that this will stop me trying.

In the meantime I wanted to just tick off some of the existing stuff. Last week I went to Dan Varians ‘The Anatomist’ (7C+) behind the new house in Annat. After 10.4 inches of rain in a couple of days in the west highalnds, it was dripping. Today I went back, armed with a towel, which was just as well. The landing is a bit on the poor side and I hauled up 5 mats since I was on my own.

I still managed to slip off and somersault backwards down the boulder gully, off my mats and onto some rather nasty rocks which took a fair chunk out of my elbow and added various other good bragging scars. At least I still did it. Check out the video above and see what you think of my falling technique. Classic problem.

This is always a busy time of year for me, finishing writing and filming projects and travelling around doing lectures and coaching events. In between all that, I’ve loved getting a bit of time in my climbing wall and starting on the ladder of finger strength and agility again. After the last two years of ups and downs, I feel I have am starting from half a rung lower. But my motivation is maybe that wee notch higher than ever. Hopefully soon I’ll be back in Torridon when the sun next shines and the slopers are even colder.

Friday, 31 October 2014

The Great Mountain Crags of Scotland and other new books in the shop

The long awaited book The Great Mountain Crags of Scotland, collated by Guy Robertson and Adrian Crofton is about to be released. Our stock is on the way and it’s up in the shop here for pre-order. We are expecting the stock in the next few days.

Having written a section of the book myself, on the Cobbler, I have been able to get a sneak preview of some of the other content. It’s going to be a brilliant book, and of course a must for anyone who climbs, or aspires to climb on the mountain crags. It’s great to see that in the internet age that big, chunky books of climbing inspiration, comparable, if not better than, the old extreme rock books can still come out. In my section I described my earliest days of climbing, jumping on the train after school and soloing some of the mountain's best mixed routes using whatever gear I could find or borrow. I had so much fun there.

With so much content, and so many contributing authors, this has of course been a long time coming. I think climbers will feel it has been worth the wait and will treasure their copy. I was both surprised and honoured to see that I have made the front cover!

We have also just added the new book by Martin Boysen on his life of exploratory and adventurous climbing all over the world from our own mountains to the likes of Cerro Torre and Annapurna. It's in the shop here.

Lectures coming up

Project Fear 8a+, Cima Ovest north face, Dolomites. Something I'll speak about in my talks coming up in the next month. Photo: Matt Pycroft/Coldhouse Collective

In the coming weeks I’m speaking in quite a few places around Scotland and England. I’ll be talking about some of the big wall expeditions I’ve been on recently; the big roof on Cima Ovest, The Mermoz in Patagonia and other very big lumps of rock. As always I’ll also try and make sense of the thoughts that run through my head that motivate me for climbing, training and getting back out on the lead after some rather nasty ground falls.

I’m in:

Inverness, Tiso Outdoor Experience on Nov 10th. Tickets here.

Edinburgh, Tiso Outdoor Experience on Nov 11th. Tickets here.

Aberdeen Transition Extreme, Scottish student's climbing festival Nov 12th. Tickets here.

Hathersage, Outside. Dec 6th. Tickets here.

See you there!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Bouldering, media and Messner's castle

A damp day in Magic Wood from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

A wee vid of one damp day in Magic Wood (Pirhana 7C and Left hand of Darkness 8a) and a quick hour on the way home at Kyloe in Northumberland (Hitchhiker's Sit Start 7C+). I last visited Kyloe maybe 12 or 13 years ago I think. And couldn't do this problem!

After the rather down few weeks following the no vote, I was fortunate enough to have a trip to look forward to. I’m now on my way home from a Gore-Tex event at the International Mountain Summit in the Dolomites. En route, Claire, Freida and I decided to make three stops of several days each. First we took on Disneyland Paris. Quite an experience.

Then we met up with friends in Fontainbleau. Much of our days here were spent finding things to do while rain poured down. We managed to get two or three sessions in on the boulders. Conditions were awful and so nothing hard was done. The hardest thing I could get to the top of was Salle Gosse (7C). There was a brief window of wind and although conditions were still pretty bad, I almost got the 8a sit start. I’d love to come back here in decent conditions.

The most important thing I did here was climb with Freida. She learned a lot from the brief opportunities for clambering up little boulders. Claire’s face was a picture when Freida started screaming ‘boulders!!!” and sprinted off in the direction of the rocks.

Next, we moved on to Magic Wood. And again, we spent most of the days waiting for it to stop raining. I did get one good session at the start and did the moves on an excellent long problem called ‘From Shallow Water to Riverbed’ (8B+). There’s no way I could do it in bad conditions. I get a bit annoyed with myself for never learning, and accepting how badly I climb it warm/damp conditions. My goal for this trip was simply to learn to pull hard on holds again after a summer of alpine north wall action and general multipitch big hold action. So I shouldn’t be worrying myself about this. But inevitably once presented with a forest full of hard and amazing boulders, I still want to climb them just as much. Bouldering trips teach me over and over again that I’m simply not strong enough to climb hard stuff when it’s greasy. I just have to suss out the sequence, and take my opportunity when the cold breeze finally comes. Easier said than done, for my fiery head anyway.

Freida inspecting the very wet Riverbed boulder, Magic Wood.

I reminded myself of my experience here last time, after over two weeks of failing and failing on Mystic Stylez (8B+), I needed literally one try to do it easily, the one time I turned up and there was a cold breeze. Keep that in mind, MacLeod.

After playing in the sand with Freida under a still soaking Riverbed boulder, I did get two nice problems climbed in semi-dry conditions Piranha (7C) and Left Hand of Darkness (8A/8A+). They are in the wee vid above. I do really like Magic Wood and am still totally inspired to train and come back here for a long trip in good conditions. Hopefully in the spring...

And then it was on to the IMS festival in Brixen. The folks at the IMS and Gore-Tex took great care of us. I was especially impressed on the climbing day to turn up at the crag at 9am to find catering staff already set up with tables spread with cakes, sausages, potatoes, apples and even beer!

On the last day I was due to take part in a panel discussion about climbing and the media at Reinhold Messner’s castle in Bolzano. There was a panel of rather esteemed climbers, journalists from near and far, and me. Generally speaking, there was were quite a few voices feeling that mainstream journalism was going rather downhill. Messner himself seemed worried about both the direction of journalism, and alpinism itself. 

While I totally agree that the newspapers spew out daily rubbish on everything from the usual propaganda to rubbish about climbers and climbing, I’m not sure how much of a problem this is for climbers. Messner and others expressed concern that kudos would be dished out unfairly to pretender alpinists, using their bottled oxygen to rattle out tweets while being dragged up Everest. Meanwhile, the real feats of alpinism go unnoticed. For some, seeking sponsorship to achieve some ‘real’ climbing feats, this must be an issue. But it balanced out in some ways. Sometimes, I feel that it’s convenient that much of the BS in climbing is kept contained within Everest instead of infecting the whole of climbing. In other words, leave them to it. We can still achieve plenty in the media, if not far more these days with social media.

When I say ‘achieve’, I’m not thinking of maximum dissemination of our boasts about our hardcore ascents. In my mind, the primary purpose of dealing with the media at all as climbers is to inspire and inform an audience, sharing our ideas about what climbing gives us and what we learn from our escapades in the mountains. However, some playing the media at it’s own game can help us with this goal.

Just as we love to hate climbers who use things like an oxygen and guide supported ascent of Everest to launch a narcissistic career in anything from motivational speaking to politics, we can use our ascents to spread a different message.

Guys like Tim Emmett and Will Gadd are great exemplars at this. They can both be showmen when it is the right time. This takes the attention. Then once they have the attention, they use it to show their audience some really great ideas and ways of living.

Social media has made this even easier than before. In days gone by, in order to sustain any profile, you had to keep doing things that got you mainstream media attention. Now, you can use just one appearance to gain an audience for your feed and off you go.

Now, I understand that only a very few can achieve the same reach in social media as you can in mainstream media, even today. However, I don’t think that mainstream media attention is always all it’s cracked up to be. It is often consumed at a passive level, and of course, often written up badly by journalists with selling more dead trees or eyeballs in mind, instead of exerting a positive influence on people.

Coming out of the discussion at Messner’s, I was left with the conclusion that complaining about other alpinists and journalists does little to help things. However, there is a lot we can do by focusing on our own responsibilities and resources. Where we do get a chance to speak through a mainstream media outlet, let’s use the opportunity to speak clearly about the good things in climbing. Otherwise, the stories will only ever be about deaths in the mountains and Everest shenanigans. As climbers I feel we are sometimes awkward in presenting our messages to a non-climbing audience. This may be partly or largely out of fear of oversimplifying or dumbing our ideas down. I think we have to get better at communicating to this audience, as well as accepting that we have to speak a little differently to an audience that has yet to learn that climbing is not all about death, risk and who is the fastest or first. Remaining aloof, prickly, or simply opting out of the discussion isn’t a great solution.

The good news is that even if some some profit driven journalist drives our climbing down to a level of ‘world record’ this or ‘adrenaline junkie’ that, as long as he points at our blog or twitter feed, we may have a second chance to speak to that audience and tell them a different story.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

What have we done?

What country voluntarily votes to hand over its own independence? Mine did. Yesterday I felt completely empty and devastated by what happened in Scotland. It was a moment when you suddenly realise how easily the chance for something really special can be obscured by the fear of losing what we already have.

Lots of folk have tried to point out positives in what has happened, and I admire them for that. They’ve said it’s got the Scots engaged in politics and that it’s a wake up call for the UK political system. I’m normally first to look for a positive way to look at things, but in this case I think we have to face up to the size and uniqueness of the opportunity we’ve just wasted. Sure, we got engaged in politics. But despite all the discussion, people somehow didn’t see that this movement towards independence wasn’t about nationalism, wasn’t about isolation of ourselves. Despite all the discussion, people still focused on the character of individuals like Alex Salmond, they thought that big corporates warning us that prices would go up was them speaking for our best interests, not theirs.

And what about that wake up call for the UK’s political system? I don’t think I can bear to watch as month by month, they slowly hit the snooze button and roll over. Just as they have done for the climate change wake up call, the banking crisis wake up call, The ever increasing mountain of debt, the food industry that is making us fat and ill, the slow failure of antibiotics and all these other problems that don’t win votes to address.

For a few weeks, I almost dared to feel that just once in my lifetime, a country could be smart and courageous enough to see past all this, and that country would be my country. It was too good to be true. I tried all day to digest it and in the end, wandered outside into a warm night, sat down in the grass and cried. Not for my own selfish interests, but for what this means for us as people all across the world.

Of course I respect the decision even though I thought it was an awful one. I certainly don’t blame some people for feeling that we don’t need independence. This may turn out to be true, in a way. Sure, we can settle for what we have right now. We are one of the luckiest countries in the world already. However, this only deepens the irony that we should pass up the opportunity for life in the country to have become much more meaningful, exciting and rewarding.

I have to admit that there is not a lot I can take from this experience to improve my own life and contribution. I will remember it for my remaining years as among the most hopeless days of my life. What I will take, is the biggest reminder I think I’ll ever have that our human minds are far too full of fear. Rather than changing for the better, it seems like modern life is making this even worse. So my lesson from this is that life is too short and shit not to be utterly fearless in grabbing the good opportunities that do come your way.