Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Climbing wall, week 3.


I was hoping to keep posting some daily, or at least frequent climbing wall progress updates. But the chain 16+ hour days working on it kept me rather busy. It has come on a lot over the past week.


All the ply is now on and tidied up with a mission of long hours and going for it with Scott Muir from Dream Climbing Walls. Now the structure is built, it’s up to me to get it all finished. Last night was a bit ridiculous, still washing sanding dust off it at 4am. But today the first coat of paint has been going on and it’s looking great.


I took a couple of days off after Scott left and went to Glasgow. I managed to get my hands on some of Malcolm Smith’s new resin holds which are launching in a couple of weeks under the brand Stonesmith. They are pretty cool and I’ll post up some pics as soon as the paint dries on the wall and I can get them on.

I’ve also been making some of my own holds from hardwood. I’ve never had the tools for working with wood before, but have accumulated some better tools over the past year and I’m really keen to get better at making nice holds. Well made wooden holds are something a bit special. 


Not too long now before I can get rockshoes on and start training on this beast!




Monday, 31 March 2014

Climbing wall, Day 3


By day 2 of building my climbing wall, we’d moved the horizontal trusses up, giving four metres of height. Then it was time to start cutting and drilling the timber frame.


By the end of day three, we’d build most of the frame and I could start to see what the wall space will be like for the first time. It looks soooo good!


Scott from Dream Climbing Walls would be back on Monday, so I had the weekend off. I was feeling a bit fatigued after the building mission. But I was too excited and carried on over the weekend, doing more building and making holds out of hardwood. With any luck, within a week or a bit more, I'll be training on it and getting fit for the rock season.


A nice break came in the form of taking Freida camping since the Lochaber monsoon has finally broken at last. We had a great wee adventure. I woke to the sound of heavy breathing outside the tent in the wee small hours. I peeked outside to see around 15 highland cows surrounding the tent. I’m very much looking forward to taking Frieda on more adventures like this in the hills over the summer.


Thursday, 27 March 2014

Climbing wall build, Day 1


Day 1 of building my wall! Moving trusses, sawing, grinding, drilling and generally trying to keep up with Scott Muir from Dream Climbing Walls.

So excited.

Choosing carefully on the Ben


On the steep corner of Rutless, VII,8 Ben Nevis. My camera misted up a bit in the west coast air!

After a huge dump of fresh snow, a lot of folk, including myself, were desperate to get back up the Ben and get some winter routes in. I walked in on a rather wet morning with Helen and Harry to see what we could safely get to. Not much. In the CIC hut, we went round in circles trying to figure out what would be frozen, but not going to avalanche us. In the end, we walked out of the door with no plan, and just went upwards, expecting nothing.


Ice damage


Harry had mentioned a steep wall on the Douglas Boulder. Going beyond this looked dangerous, and it looked a bit more frozen than expected, so we tied in and started going up. After Helen’s tunneling pitch (in snow) and my tunneling pitch (the Gutless chimney), we arrived below the wall. Harry passed me back the lead and I set off, at first trying to go rightwards, before getting pumped trying to get any protection in an ice choked overhanging crack. Eventually, I settled for going left which was a god bit easier, although I was already quite tired from the direct venture.


 Helen moving a lot of snow to make upward progress.

Our late start and chilled out pace meant it was actually getting dark as we were abseiling off the top of the Douglas boulder. With bottomless windslab in the gully below, we continued abseiling down the slopes all the way back to our sacks for safety. We later found out that the route I took had been climbed a few years before by Nick Bullock and Matt Helicker (Rutless VII,8). It’s a good choice for a stormy or dangerous day on the Ben.


Harry and Helen enjoying the belay ledge.


A lot of folk walking out in the morning owing to the tricky conditions for accessing the classic routes.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Andy Nisbet film




Here is a little film that myself and Claire made about Andy Nisbet. Every year the Fort William Mountain Festival make an award for excellence in Mountain Culture. Andy was this year’s recipient and this film talks about his contribution which is huge. I went out filming with Andy and climbing partners, attempting a new route on Beinn Fhada and captured some pretty scary footage of them going for it and falling off! Enjoy!

It's great to see Andy recognised for being an inspiration to so many climbers and a huge direct help to them through his exhaustive and diligent guidebook work over the decades. Thanks Andy.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Two videos from Patagonia




Above is a video of a super problem I did in Patagonia called Wasabi (V12). I made the video while I was out there but the connection was too bad to upload it. I’d seen video of it before I went out and was determined to climb it while I was there. In the end it only took a few sessions.

The next video was put together by Calum Muskett of an attempt on a hard new mixed route on the east face of the Mermoz. Unfortunately we didn't have the right gear to protect a pitch high up and just didn't get another weather window to try again, this time.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Sorting my life out


Walking out from the Mermoz in Patagonia, frustrated by yet more crap weather and conditions. With a bit of time to think about our trip there, the memory of the waiting is fading and the fire to return growing. Photo: Calum Muskett

During February Ive had a lot of sorting out of my life to do since getting home from Patagonia. These sorts of periods are never very good for your health. It’s not good for you to get less than 8 hours of sleep for long periods. So I have to be careful. However, I have got a lot of important stuff done or in progress.

First of all, I have been continuing to tie up my injuries book. I’ve been editing the text and  collating feedback from other I’ve shown it too. I’m most grateful for the feedback which has been excellent. John at Croft Eleven is preparing the illustrations and I have finalised the list of photos I need to take. It’s really taken a huge step forward over the past three months and I’m excited to see the last bits fall into place. I’ve read a huge amount of research over the past months and most eager to share the developments in the different fields of sports medicine that are relevant to climbers. 


A little help from friends. Kev and Michael helping place a lot of T-nuts in my new climbing wall.

Second, I’ve been preparing to build my uber, badass, kick ass, stormer of a climbing wall at my new place in Roy Bridge. I have a large double garage which is shortly to be the best private bouldering centre in Scotland. Hopefully, some of you will be climbing at it too as I might run some technique coaching courses here at some point in the future. Scott at Dream Climbing Walls is designing and building the wall with me. To say I’m excited to see it done is a bit of an understatement. The garage is emptied, prepared and painted and the panels are T-nutted ready for us to start building in a couple of weeks time. 


With various lectures and bits of work during Feb out of the way I was hoping to get out winter climbing, but there is a bit of a blip just now with some warm weather, which was needed anyway to consolidate the snow on the hills. Yesterday I was out on rock in Scotland for the first time this year. I was feeling not bad for a start to the season. I did a bit of bouldering and trad with Calum, showing him around the Polldubh crags.

Finally, I've been starting to plan my trips for the summer. I have at least three big trips to new place in Scotland in mind, and one big one to the alps. Most definitely motivation for training as the rain falls outside.


Calum on the less than well protected Centrepiece, E6 6b, Glen Nevis yesterday.


Calum enjoying Jahu, E6 6a, Glen Nevis


Two nutters walking straight up towards number 5 gully on the Ben on a Cat 4 day with tons of snow being blown around. Surprise surprise, they got avalanched a few minutes later. Some folk are so casual with their own chances of survival.


Trying a new route on Ben Nevis with Donald. The storm got worse and worse and Donald eventually lowered off a pecker hand placed over a flake. We had to crawl in a whiteout back to the CIC hut. Good to be out in weather like that.


Two huge avalanches in the Grey Corries, taken from my living room window last week. Cant imagine how much snow moved in these two monsters.

Clif Bar



I have a new sponsor! During our arrangements to head to Patagonia I spoke to Clif Bar and will be now be eating a lot of Clif Bars in the hills. I’ve always been buying Clif bars by the box load online and had thought about speaking to them directly for some time. So it was a nice surprise that we got in touch with each other through our Patagonia trip. 


Their Energy Bars (oat, raisin and walnut bars are my favourite) have long been a staple for me for mountain days. But I also often eat the Builder’s Bars after training sessions or when I’m trying to be careful about weight. I used to get boxes of them from Amazon if they were hard to find in the retail stores, but they are much easier to find in outdoor retailers now, such as Cotswolds. Finding energy/recovery bars that are actually nice to eat and made of good ingredients can be a lot harder than you’d think it ought to be. For running back in the spring I was using a lot of their Clif-shot blocs as an alternative to gels. I still use gels when the time is right but the blocs are pleasant to eat on training runs and a good way of pacing your CHO intake.

I'm off to munch one now..

Review of 2013 climbing


Eiger north face. One of the best bits of 2013 climbing for me.

I wrote the post below a while ago, but just posting it now. It's mainly for my own benefit to see what I did in 2013 and get an idea of what direction to head in 2014.

2012 which was a year of intense projecting for me (to climb Font 8b+ in Switzerland and redpoint my long term 9a project at Steall). So in 2013 I made a casual decision to swing the other way and go to some new places and do some disciplines (multipitch climbing and dry tooling) which I haven’t done much of for ages.

In January 2013 I was just learning to climb again after surgery on my right ankle. I kicked the year off with a nice week in Spain where I was able to start gaining some confidence and claw some fitness back on Malsonando (8c).

In February I started to be able to move around cautiously on crampons and in the mountains, and after a couple of short winter routes, I inadvertently got involved with the huge overhanging walls near the CIC cascades on Ben Nevis. I had gone up with Kev Shields to have a day of ice pitches starting with the cascade itself, but I ended up deciding to give the big seam across the roof a look and this became the best dry tooling route I’ve ever done. It was a fantastic piece of climbing. Unfortunately it proved a bit too controversial for the Scottish winter scene, so I ended up not even claiming it as a route. I say it was a bit too controversial, but any time it comes up in conversation with climbers, they have universally told me they couldn't see the problem a few folk had with it. It's just that they didn't say so on the public discussion at the time.

In March I put a bit of work into my linkup idea, but it didn’t come together this year. There were about 4 days when it looked like I might get lucky and all the climbs would be in condition. But it was always going to be a tall order, and so it’ll have to wait. It’s such an amazing project though, so I am super keen for my next opportunity to try it.

For the rest of the spring, I did some important work to set me and my family up for the long term. We moved house in the summer to Roybridge and now have a great base for all our MacLeod needs. Settling into a good house is something I feel is very important to be able to sustain a good lifestyle over the decades to come. It takes a huge amount of work and some sacrifices in the short term. But I’m certain it’s worth it. So during April and May I worked as hard as I could to prepare my house for sale. Houses in the highlands often take north of 2 years to sell, and that would have made life quite difficult for us. I was determined to give ourselves the best chance to complete the sale and move more quickly.  The work paid off. We sold our old place in Letterfinlay to the first couple who viewed it.

During this period I was also doing a bit of running. Right after my surgery in Nov 2012, I entered the West Highland Way footrace (95 miles) as a little goal to help me with my recovery, and because It’s something I’ve always wanted to try. Unfortunately, the injuries to my foot and ankle were just too bad to allow it. I could only run intermittently during the spring and although I did manage some not bad runs, my plantar fascia which was nearly ruptured in the accident started to hurt more and more in the couple of weeks leading up to the race. I still lined up at the start line, knowing full well I wouldn’t be going far. I ran 20 miles to Balmaha. Although the rest of me was not even warmed up, my right foot was screaming in pain and I got in the car. It was a bitter moment for me. I doubt that I’ll ever be able to run again due to the damage in my ankle joint, although I continue to keep an open mind about this.

My trip to Pabbay with Donald King was a nice contrast to the running. We went with the objective of making the first free ascent of the Pabbay Arch project, tried by Cubby and later Steve McClure. I redpointed it very quickly and it is one of the most spectacular trad climbs I’ve ever seen. I’d love to go back to that roof sometime. 

It was around this time that I had a call to say my father had been taken into hospital with pneumonia. What followed was a difficult three weeks where his condition looked initially not too bad, then deteriorated steadily until he died. Needless to say this had quite an effect on me and the process of dealing with it is not really over.

I hadn’t climbed for around 6 weeks when the date came around to meet Calum in the alps for a few weeks of trying hard alpine faces. I was unfit, but not really in a caring sort of mood, so I was happy to go straight for the hardest route on the list (Paciencia on the Eiger north face) and just see what happened. I was able to climb it by leaning on skills other than fitness. It was a fun experience, but in hindsight I still was not really in a good place.

After the Eiger we headed to the Dolomites to repeat Bellavista on Cima Ovest, but we were met by a week of thunderstorms. So I went home and hastily arranged a last chance return trip with Alan Cassidy two weeks later.

Unfortunately, during that two weeks, while climbing with Natalie, I made a little mistake while leading Hold Fast, Hold True (E9 6c) in Glen Nevis and decked out, badly spraining my left ankle and breaking off several bone spurs around the rim of the joint. They had been growing since I last broke that ankle, 16 years ago, when a hold snapped during a solo of a grit E8. I knew I would need surgery, but couldn’t get it until after the dolomites trip. The day before I was due to leave for the dolomites, the swelling went down enough to get a rock shoe on my foot, so we went out, again with a ‘don’t give a ….’ attitude on my part.

I had to walk on the scree as if I was walking on broken glass, but once climbing I felt like I could go up the rock, if a little like a robot. Nothing was working anyway, it was raining, snowing and then really snowing. So on the last day when we went up to strip our fixed rope from the crux roof, I really didn’t care. That, combined with the training effect of trying to climb it when it was soaking wet for the preceding week, was a perfect scenario. It was winter conditions, but finally dry, and I was in the mood for a good fight with the pitch. So I climbed it. On the place home I remember not quite believing I’d managed to get two great alpine ticks like those two routes despite such poor preparation before the trips.

Once home, I was just on surgery countdown, and afterwards, taking the long walk through the valley of rehab, every night, doing my strange exercises standing on one leg. It’s not a whole lot of fun, but there’s no choice. Rehab exercises make you better. Finally after 6 weeks, I’m able to do winter walk-ins and even managed to jump down from about head height onto my feet at TCA.

Just now I’m flying to Patagonia for a month of whatever the Patagonian weather throws at us. I’m a little apprehensive about my lack of recent climbing, to say the least. However, I am never the type to rate my chances. What I need to remember is how much good climbing I got done in 2013 despite 2 surgeries, 2 months of DIY and dealing with the loss of my father. I also found time to write another 40,000 words or so of my injuries book which gets ever closer to being ready. I’m halfway through a redraft now and the ingredients are one by one falling into place. Working on this book has taken a huge amount of my energy and I think it will be a massive weight of my shoulders when it is complete, not to mention freeing up a lot more hours in the week for everything from climbing to spending time with my family.

In 2014 my goals are to be a bit more organised about trying the projects I want to try. Instead of just taking things as they come I want to focus on one thing until it’s done. I always work better in this mode and I need to get back to it. I also have realised I want to make some major changes in the way I train. Some of these are practical things which will mean I can get more training done and keep better control over it’s content. But I also want to change my approach to performing a bit too. I think it will make a big difference. You never know what life brings, but I would like it if the next year had less big upsets than last year. After a lot of travelling in 2013 I’m really excited about spending more time based at home in my new house and raiding projects from there. I'm also looking forward to be neither awaiting or recovering from surgery, after the year of being held back by injuries.

After Patagonia I’ve got some great Scottish projects lined up in all the climbing disciplines for the spring and early summer and then I’d like to go to the alps to try a mind blowing new route I’ve seen. I’m also going to build the most badass training board ever in my new garage!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Orient Express FWA


Adam Hughes seconding the crux pitch of Orient Express IX,8, Ben Nevis


I’ve been back from Patagonia for a week or two and every waking hour has been filled with family time, travelling to lectures, a bit of filmmaking and continuing to work flat out on my injuries book. Oh and a bit of mixed climbing.

Given the ridiculous volumes of snow on Ben Nevis this season, I had a mind to return to a route I’d had an abortive attempt on a few years ago. Orient Express is a summer E2 5c on the first platform of North East Buttress. After I did the first winter ascent of Steam Train (HVS) just to the right in 2006, I decided to see if it would go in winter. I had my doubts, since it was a slabby and bold looking E2. I guessed it might be too slopey and too bold to be climbable with ice tools.



Good winter line for an E2!


I had a go with Michael Tweedley in a pretty bad blizzard and got to the technical crux, where I could find no hooks at all. It felt like a total dead end, with only rounded smears leading up a steepening in the slabby ramp. But Nevis new lines tend to simmer in my mind, and I felt that if it ever got any real build up on the ramp, there might be some useful neve to make progress.

In early Feb I returned with Calum Muskett and subjected him to a long, cold belay while I probed around back at the blank looking crux for ages. There was some cruddy snow sticking to the ramps, but it was useless for the tools. Eventually, I found the tiniest flat hooks, a few mms wide to teeter upwards and onto a good flake and some gear. But above was a long section with only a couple of very poor peckers for protection, followed by another crux to gain access to the upper ramp system. I teetered about for ages, but finally couldn’t find any hooks to get over the bulge and decided to downclimb to the last gear I was happy to weight, apologising to Calum for inflicting such a cold belay on him.


 The ramps were well covered in snow, and I thought the recent freeze-thaws at this altitude might turn them into some useful ice. So yesterday I returned with Adam Hughes to see if I could get any higher. I regained my highpoint after an hour or so and could see a couple of blobs of cruddy neve well out left of the top bulge. Over the course of a good number of forays, I stretched up and tried to reach the ice blob, but it was just too far. The best I could get was a highly dubious stick just below it. After a bit of working up to it, I committed to swapping hands on the bad stick and reached the ice blob above, which did rip through a bit as I rocked over onto the bulge. Too late, I was either going up, or off! 

Thankfully the peckers weren’t tested today and we continued up lovely ice on the ramps to the top.


Adam getting stuck into great, if poorly protected ice on pitch 2.