Friday, 13 November 2015

Earning my Santa hat immunity

Pleased to redpoint Aitzol 8c. Definitely my first 8c warm-up!

After a long drive from Magic Wood we arrived in Catalunya feeling a bit tired. I had a bit of realisation that going from pulling on for a couple of seconds on a Font 8C to trying to do stamina routes in Margalef was maybe not going to be easy, especially as I still couldn’t pull on pockets properly after straining a lumbrical in Magic Wood.

My goal for the week was not too ambitious. All I wanted to get was revenge on Aitzol (soft 8c). In late 2013 I was here for a week with Alicia. We’d had the trip booked for ages and in the interim period I needed to get my second ankle surgery and the date for that fell just over two weeks before the trip. Not ideal. I said I would still go and just do what I could - probably just belay and feel sorry for myself.

I arrived in Margalef still barely able to walk 100 yards and still taking antibiotics for a painful wound infection. On the first day I was almost in tears just walking from the car 100 metres to buy the guidebook. I limped up a 200m approach and just belayed Alicia and popped painkillers.

After that the tide turned on that particular recovery. And quickly. The next day I did one 6c. The next a 7a+. The next an 8a redpoint. Then on the final day I got 7c+ onsight, 8a+ redpoint and almost managed to redpoint Aitzol 8c.

I fell just after the crux but couldn’t really make the most of the heel hook rest and couldn’t do any drop knees. It was fantastic to leap back trough the grades day after day and switch from delicate surgical patient to rock climber again. I knew that my next time in Margalef I would be straight back to try and finish Aitzol.

I had a couple of tries in awful conditions and although the moves were no problem, I was getting pumped after ten seconds on the rock. But after a rest day the rock was drier and I returned and started up it straight away, opting to just work the moves a bit for my warm-up. I arrived at the heel hook rest feeling quite good, so decided to continue. Next thing I was through the crux. I was definitely feeling quite warmed up by then.

I climbed all the way to the anchor without really getting that pumped. At the start of the trip I bought a silly Santa hat in Barcelona in prep for Christmas family silliness. We a pact that if I fell off a 6c or failed to get overlapping halves on Aitzol, or if Alicia said ‘take’ on lead, we’d have to wear the Santa hat for the next three routes.

After my 8c ‘warm-up’ I was chuffed when Alicia announced that I’d earned full immunity from the Santa hat for the rest of the trip. With my project done in the first ten minutes of the session, we headed off for a brew and then got on Llamps i Trons (8c+/9a post hold break). I certainly wont be climbing that in our last couple of days here. But I think I have a new project to return to Margalef for.

A lovely day filming Alicia with the drone on her favourite run in Serra de Montsant.

Alicia enjoying the last morning in Magic Wood before the monster drive to Catalunya.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Climbing Coaching workshops at the MacLeod wall, FWMF 2016

Sunday boarding from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

When I designed and built my climbing wall last year, I had two purposes in mind:

1. To get ridiculously strong.

2. To coach other climbers there, in a nice environment with everything I’d want to be able to give good coaching.

I was too busy writing Make or Break last year to start offering coaching again, and this year has been rather taken up with recovering from surgery and then going on climbing trips to make up for the lost time.

But finally I’m excited to say I have my first MacLeod wall climbing coaching sessions arranged. I’ll be running them over three days of the Fort William Mountain Festival in February 2016. I’ll run two days of sessions on rock climbing technique and one day focused on dry tooling/winter climbing technique. The content is aimed at any climbing ability level and there will be up to 6 climbers in each session so you can come with friends and partners as folk often do. In the video and pics you can get a taste of the wall.

Afterwards I hope you’ll join me at the excellent Fort William Mountain Festival for speakers and films which are always totally inspiring. All the workshop (and festival) details are on the festival site here. Best book a place soon, they do tend to sell out.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Natalie's Transition

A couple of years ago Natalie Berry asked if I’d be keen to show her some trad climbing places around Scotland as she was making a move from competition climbing into trying out trad and general mountain adventures. Of course I was delighted to climb with her and along the way, the Hot Aches crew of Paul Diffley and Chris Prescott followed her progress and the fun times we had. The trailer above is for the film which is now finished and premiering at the Kendal festival shortly. We’ll see you there if you are coming.

The process nearly fell at the first hurdle thanks to my ineptitude at catching a tiny crimp properly on Hold Fast Hold True (E9) in Glen Nevis. It was the very first day Nat and I climbed together. Nat did her first trad lead and then we climbed another few pitches before I decided to go for Hold True. I was actually climbing it really well and was almost distracted by the fact that I’d just dispatched the crux totally static. Then I just caught a crimp one finger-width to the right of where I should. A tiny error. My left ankle was already in a sub-optimal state after a fall 15 odd years before. Landing on it again from a great height didn’t help it much at all. I was seriously not happy with myself for making an error at one of the worst possible moments, not least because of how the experience of watching someone fall earthward might affect Natalie. It’s not really in the ‘mentor’ job description.

However, she still wanted to climb with me (once I’d had surgery) and so we went on to have quite a few nice trips to some amazing corners of our islands. We did quite a few mega classics, got freezing cold on ice routes, got too warm on melting ice routes, took falls, went for long runouts, opened new routes and stood on top of the Ben on a perfect day after a fine ice climb. It kind of led up to Natalie’s ascent of Dalriada on the Cobbler just a few weeks ago, a fantastic effort in very cold late season conditions. 

The film is great because you don’t normally get to see someone as they progress right through from fumbling wires on a hard severe, to calmly running it out on mountain E7 in the mist, while shivering away from the cold.

It was a pleasure to watch Nat’s progress unfold. It’s always a pleasure to watch great climbers progress - when they have talent and a determination to see through what they started, you know they will get there in the end. Watching the film back also made me want to have more trips like those, if Nat will tie on the the rope with me again. I promise I wont fall off and hit the deck, and will leave the crag before it’s totally dark!

If you are at Kendal, I'm speaking there at 10am on Sat 21st. Transition is premiering at 7.30pm on Friday 20th. All the details are on the Kendal site here.

Another Magic trip

Magic night in the Wood from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

The last two weeks have been my third time in Magic Wood in Switzerland. The place is packed with some of the hardest and most iconic boulder problems in the world and for that reason it’s a great testing ground of your level in bouldering.

It’s still a long term ambition of mine to climb a Font 8C, but fit this into my normal all-round climbing life of trad new routing, winter climbing etc. I’ve always admired the Chris Sharma creation ‘Practice of the Wild’ and have this as a lifetime climbing goal.

It’s a little tough as a goal, not just because it is 8C but also because sometimes one particular boulder problem that’s above your current limit might not match your strengths. However, it’s not just about the grade - I’d just love to one day climb that line. For to happen I know I’d need to be doing a lot more bouldering than I do now. Coming from a summer of big wall climbing and a bit of trad, I felt totally weak on it when I arrived two weeks ago. Just nowhere near even doing the moves.

So I tried some other projects. First I went into the Darkness Cave and spent a couple of sessions on Dark Sakai 8B. I almost got it about 5 times and felt quite confident that I might manage it after a rest day. Unfortunately I woke the next morning to realised quite badly tweaked my finger (strained lumbrical) on the nasty pocket at the start. I went back to it but immediately realised I’d have to leave it for this trip - my finger was not happy.

I sat out some wet days and then started from scratch on another dream line I’ve been wanting to do for a few years - One summer in Paradise (8B). I worked out the moves over a couple of quick sessions when it was still really damp. Although I could do the moves, I wasn’t feeling very confident about my power level.

Yet on the third session and around two weeks into my trip, I finally started to feel some strength returning to my fingers and after a warm-up in the encroaching darkness, I climbed it pretty easily first try. I was absolutely delighted to feel like I was moving well on the rock and feeling like I could actually do something.

I was expecting to be trying the line all evening so I headed down to the famous Riverbed 8B which I’d played on a little previously. I was enjoying just working out the moves in a kind of relaxed fashion and started thinking I would probably return to it. But when I started from the start I found myself climbing the whole thing. As I climbed through the crux I realised I better really concentrate and try and do it, but relax at the same time. There were some exciting moments as I hadn’t placed my torch to shine on the upper headwall and ended up groping around in the dark trying to find the finishing jugs.

Brilliant! I was over the moon to climb two dream 8Bs in a night. Like so many climbers I watched Dave Graham doing the first ascent of Riverbed in the Dosage films and was inspired to visit Switzerland for bouldering. 

I had one session left and decided to return to Practice of the Wild. It was still really damp (it’s in a deep cave and seems rarely totally dry) and on warming up I almost just left it because the holds were quite slippery. But curiosity basically drove me to keep trying and after an hour I finally managed to do all the moves. I couldn’t do any more than that, but I was ecstatic. For me that feels like a real breakthrough and a tentative thumbs up for some changes in my training picture recently.

It’s definitely put some extra fire into my motivation to train specifically for bouldering and return to Magic Wood with the confidence that this climb is actually a possibility for me.

For now we are off to Spain for a week or so to go back to the sport climbing. Hopefully at least I will be able to pull on the holds, although no doubt I will be pumped by the third bolt.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Claire in Outlandia

Claire MacLeod - Outlandia Artist in Residence from Nevis Landscape Partnership on Vimeo.

Here is a short video I made of Claire’s week up in the fantastic Outlandia in Glen Nevis. Claire used her artist’s residency week hand stitching text that was written by residents of the Glen a few hundred years ago onto clothing.

If people are interested in a residency, Outlandia is run by the Nevis Landscape Partnership and take applications.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Bouldering Season gets going

Cameron Stone Arete 8A+ from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

After an abortive September start in the warm weather, bouldering season felt like it kicked off a bit today with a chill breeze and a notable absence of the midge. Here is my starter for ten - a repeat of the Cameron Stone Arete (8A+) put up by Dan Varian in the spring. I should really have done this years ago, but it gave a nice excuse to return to the boulder.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Waiting for autumn

Finishing the hard section on The Force, 8b at Brin Rock. I'm just in from bolting a potential 8b+ or 8c there which looks excellent. Photo: Chris Prescott

The weather in Scotland over the past six weeks has been too damn good! My plan for the autumn was to start trying a couple of hard bouldering projects early, so that I would hopefully be well placed to maximise my chances of success from the start of the autumn good conditions.

I had about 5 sessions on my project in the Arisaig Cave it super hot conditions in early Sept. Although I made much progress and have a good sequence, I started going backwards on the problem. It was getting hotter! The other problem was a common one with projecting - I was actually losing strength because I wasn’t training, just trying the project with rest days in between. After a couple of weeks the weather was showing no signs of cooling, so it was better to go back to some training and wait for the cold winds.

Repeating The Fury 8a+ at Brin. Most of September has been like this. Hence not a lot of time for blogging! Photo: Chris Prescott

I did 10 days or so of good training on my board, interspersed with some trad days on Creag Dubh. Among other things I repeated Gary Latter’s ‘Aye’ E7 6b, in 25 degree full sun. Gary has been doing a good job of tidying up the crag and adding new routes lately. I also have made a couple of visits to Brin Rock’s new sport routes. I’d heard there was a new 8b there called The Force. I went on it after a week of daily board training, feeling pretty exhausted. I nearly got it on my first redpoint and kicked myself because I felt I had no energy left.

Four goes later I got up it. It’s definitely good to trash yourself like this once in a while. After two days rest jumping about with Freida, I felt a bit fitter. I was back at Brin yesterday and repeated ‘The Fury’ 8a+ and another excellent 8a+ up a great flake crack. Still the sun was roasting hot.

So the unseasonably hot autumn has somewhat messed with my plan, but I am a bit fitter and hopefully ready to try the boulder and sport projects this week.

Masa finds a welcome rest on Ruff Licks E3 at Creag Dubh in 25 degree October heat.

Dan starting up the 6b at Brin. Where are my sunglasses? On the way to Brin, Dan filled me in on the exciting progress of Fort William's imminent climbing centre. Work is underway!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Disco 2000

Disco 2000, 8a+ Blåmman from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

The video above takes in some of the great climbing on Disco 2000. The pitches went at 7b, 8a+, 7a, 8a+, 7c, 7c, 7b+, 7a, 7a, 6a, 6c, 6b+, 5+.

It was while freeing Bongo Bar on the north face of Blåmman, 4 years ago that I got the spark of curiosity to try to free Disco 2000. Looking across at the maze of roofs to my right, I saw a bolt belay looking lonely in the middle of nowhere on a blank looking granite wall. Huge roofs above and below. I could picture Marten Blixt hand drilling them by headtorch in some blizzard during their winter aid ascent in 2000.

After 4 days of sitting in the rain in our tent below the wall, Jacob and myself were desperate to make more progress in aiding up to that belay and finding out if the line was even possible to free. We continued aiding through the ‘night’ (the midnight sun period had just passed) and made it up to bolts. There were definitely enough holds on the crux pitch. However, the next roof, which was split by a soaring finger crack, was completely soaking.

Returning to our tents to sit through some more days of rain, we began to realise that wetness was going to be a major problem for us in trying to free this line. Calum Muskett arrived, bringing a couple of dry days with him. Jacob and I were so impatient as the wall started to dry out again that we raced back up to try the Arctandria corner at around 11pm.

On the crux of pitch 2; the Arctandria corner (8a+).

Disco 2000 shares the first two (and crux) pitches of Arctandria before breaking out left through the roofs. Arctandria was first freed in 2005 by Didier Berthod and Giovanni Quirci. The immaculate 50 metre open groove on the second pitch went at 8a+. We were both rather intimidated by it.

It turned out to be a bit easier than we had worried. Perhaps a combination of mutual keenness to climb it, and cool conditions of the middle of the night helped. After working out the moves and gear placements, Jacob went first and dispatched it. His telescopic arms spidered through the whole crux section in two moves. I went straight afterwards. It was after midnight and a little hard to see the odd foothold, so a few smears were improvised in a hurry.

After going down for a rest as it got light, we climbed back up the fixed line later the same afternoon and I finished cleaning the crux pitch while Calum worked on the Arctandria corner. Later on it started to rain again. Calum descended the fixed rope first, and as myself and Jacob descended, I noticed the temperature dropping. I stopped and asked Jacob if I could try the crux pitch now. As it turned out, while I led this, Jacob was getting steadily soaked by the rain on the hanging belay below me. On the roofs above, I didn’t even notice. I was in my own bubble, absorbed by this brilliant varied pitch.

On thin crimps where the aid line pendulums on pitch 4 (8a+)

The load carrying involved in remote big walling has been a little hard on my still recovering ankle, so just now I feel such pleasure to step into rockshoes and move freely without pain, or having to concentrate on every step to avoid it. Still, I was anxious not to take a long fall from the delicate final groove to the belay, the result of which would have been a nasty slam into the wall. We also took turns to free an unbelievable finger crack through the next roof. Even though the fingerlocks were wet, it was still one of the best pitches anywhere. Jacob joked that there ‘might be some crimp on the lip’ to help us pull over where the crack thinned. I agreed outwardly. Inwardly, I thought ‘there’s no crimp up there!’ As it happened, there was the most badass jug exactly where you’d want it. Swinging footless from this proves a spectacular finale to the roof pitches.

Calum approaching another roof on pitch 6 (7c)

The rain prevented us from doing any more, so we went down. But the next morning the sun was shining and the air seemed really dry. The upper pitches had had seeps of around 100m in length after all the wet weather, but today they looked much shorter and more broken. So we blasted back up the ropes to start trying the upper pitches. Jacob and Calum had a good tussle with another E7 pitch of laybacking and slippery undercutting. The next E7 above had a worrying gap between holds where the aid line pendulums. It needed cleaning which I did as quickly as possible and then Jacob asked to jump on the lead. He wanted to try and dyno sideways across the gap. He clearly likes and is good at dynos. But when he flung himself at the hold, slid off it and hurtled down to join me on the belay stance, I suggested he look at the crimps just above. 

He wasn’t having any of it. Instead, shaking with a wee dose of adrenaline, he scuttled back up the flake and took off sideways again. This time he stuck it. I knew there was no way he’d let himself fall off the sustained E6 climbing that followed. So I relaxed and waited for my turn. I found a technical traverse on sidepulls just above and next thing we were all hanging awkwardly from the next belay. 

Nice camp site below the wall

At this point it was nearly midnight, it was clearly raining to the north and south of us and we knew the next 4 day spell of rain was due to hit in a couple of hours. It seemed like continuing would almost certainly mean a cold and wet retreat from near the top of the wall. On the other hand, if those pitches were easier, we could just make it. They still looked wet and we knew that this moment was likely our only realistic chance to complete the free ascent. So we carried on, first with a soaking wet E4 groove. I slithered and power screamed my way up it. It wasn’t pretty, but I got to the next ledge. The following two pitches went a little quicker in the gloom of the night and landed us on a ledge with two pitches to go. The rain clouds looked like they were just a few minutes away. To be honest, the rain wouldn’t have made much difference to the next pitch.

I climbed it by pasting the back of my Gore-Tex jacket on the wettest, moss ridden side of the groove, while leaning both feet out to the driest footholds out left. A ridiculous technique to look at, and to do, but I got higher. Every so often I lobbed dripping lumps of turf over my shoulder to reveal soggy handjams beneath. I slithered across a bulge that would be easy in the dry, getting really pumped. I shouted to Jacob that I couldn’t hold on to the wet holds any longer. He didn’t believe me. If it wasn’t for a wee kneebar on the lip, I would have been right. In the end, the rain started just as I pulled over the last pitch of proper climbing. Within 5 minutes we were completely soaked and water was pouring down the rock, but we scrambled to the summit, happy.

With the all the route now freed, we would have returned to make a single day redpoint which is definitely possible. But after more days of rain, the face was soaking again, so we didn’t get to even try. I was still really happy that we managed to take every moment of dry weather to get all the pitches freed in the 50 hour, rain interrupted sessions we did get. The locals we met in between the solitude of our camp below the wall were extremely friendly and kind to us. Both the climbers and the various people we hitched lifts from. It made it such a nice experience on top of all the great climbing, and this left us very impressed by the community in this part of Norway.

A rather finely placed jug on the lip of pitch 5 (7c)

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Blamman 1

Myself and Jacob Cook enjoying another night shift on Blamman’s north face.

Right now I am in arctic Norway with Jacob Cook and Calum Muskett, climbing on Blamman’s north face. I was here 4 years ago on a Gore-Tex Experience Tour trip and made the first free ascent of Bongo Bar (400m, 8a). While I was dangling around on Bongo Bar I remember looking to the right and seeing the aid line of Disco 2000, going through roof after roof of rather blank looking granite. I remember seeing a bolt belay, seemingly in the middle of nowhere on a smooth face between roofs. At that moment,  spark of curiosity was opened in my mind to see if this could make an obviously really hard free route.

And so now we are here, trying it.

The first few days have been a little slow in progress. We have aided through the crux pitches in the first half of the route and done some cleaning and investigating if there are enough holds to make a free ascent possible.

We have done nearly all the moves on the three hardest pitches now, all F8s. But we have also spent a lot of time sitting in the tent, listening to the rain falling. So it’s looking like our time will be too short to free climb so many hard pitches. One of the hard pitches is still dripping wet with seepage too. But we’ll see.

Whether we can or not, so long as we find dry rock, I'm sure we will have a good time and a good workout.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Another little milestone

Waiting for the breeze to come back at the base of Bark at the Moon E8 6c, Glen Clova. Photos by Masa Sakano.

Last week I went for a wee wander about Glen Clova. I hadn’t been there before and checked out a couple of routes I’d heard about. One was Tim Rankin’s E8 6c Bark at the Moon, a great looking line up a big steep prow. I felt it would be a good milestone to build a bit of confidence in my trad climbing. I worked out the moves quickly and was desperate to get back with a partner and give it a try.

So yesterday I returned with Masa to try and do it. Masa started with an impressive tussle with Empire of the Sun and it was great to watch him top out after really going for it. I seconded and didn’t feel I was moving very well. But it was just the strong sunshine I think. We abbed into the start of Bark at the Moon and conditions felt much better.

On the headwall of Bark at the Moon.

After a quick wait for the sun to go behind a cloud, I headed upwards. The route is pretty bouldery so you have to move quickly. Before I knew it I’d moved solidly through the crux and noticed myself letting out a deep breath to relax a bit and enjoy the pumpy upper headwall. 

Although I felt strong and solid on the crux, I’m aware that I am still feeling rather self-conscious in my movement - I am still climbing up the rock thinking about my ankle rather than about nothing. I can see it will take a little while yet to lose this feeling and be able to enter a decent state of concentration on the rock.

Although I wasn’t totally relaxed, I was still very pleased overall to have made another little milestone of progress. I feel I should probably do another few E8s before progressing back to E9 again.

Finishing off with Sunset Song E5 6b

Masa going for it on Empire of the Sun E4 6a

Ab rope stuck in a crack. Got there eventually.

The midges we waiting for us to decide to do one more route. We thought better of it.