Alan MacLeod piping from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.
Monday, 25 May 2015
Camping at Creag Meagaidh with Freida a couple of weeks ago. One of the highlights of the last couple of months.
When I last wrote on my blog I was not long out of ankle surgery and feeling decidedly delicate. But I felt ok - I had experience on my side and was well prepared with a plan of action for the recovery period, mostly consisting of hanging from small holds without my feet.
6 weeks later some things have changed and some have not. I am still feeling rather delicate, although my ankle has made steady progress. I am beginning to use it gently on my steep board and very close to walking without my crutches. But not quite there. My fingers have definitely become a little stronger and will hopefully get stronger still by the time I am able to climb a piece of real rock again.
There are still various things on my ‘stuff to do while out of action’ list that are undone. But I suppose I have done the most important ones.
Despite the preparedness, I have felt the process mentally tough as ever. Perhaps some readers might be curious as to how I would live out my own advice in part 5 of my book Make or Break, where I propose a mindset and tactics to turn the mental challenge of a rehabilitation period into a positive experience. In that chapter I begin by reiterating that noone should underestimate how hard an injury rehab will hit them, if they are truly dependent on sport and exercise for their well being. Then I go on to lay out how to use the period to increase that well being, at least in the long term. These two messages go hand in hand. Yes it can be positive if you do everything right, but that doesn’t make it easier. You still have to go through it, not around it.
And so to be plain, I have felt the fear and the depression, just as I did after my previous surgeries. Fear that I won’t recover and depression from withdrawal from the places and experiences that I love so much. My approach to dealing with this is very much in The Stoics school of dealing with challenges: to face them head on rather than ignore them with positive thinking. In my view, this is the only effective way to deal with significant worries or problems. Aside from that, I find that if I think too much about what I plan to do after I can walk and climb again, it gets harder to remain patient and go through my daily routine.
Pulling on small holds on my wall has or course been a brilliant catalyst for getting through the period. I have thoroughly attacked the campus board, fingerboard and foot-off problems. I wouldn't say I’m the strongest I’ve ever been. But not far off it. Such a short time isn’t even nearly enough to make such an impact anyway. I’ve found that doing one foot circuits have been the most challenging simply because they are kind of unpleasant to do. But it’s all relative - They are not pretty compared to normal climbing, but I still love doing them compared to doing nothing! I also spent about a week resetting the whole board and making and adding more holds.
I still have a week before I check in with my surgeon and talk about dropping the crutches and putting my rock shoes on again. And even once I do, I still need to make time to ease into climbing. So there is still time to work a bit more on my full crimp strength and build a little more endurance before I return to the ROCK!
One of the things I've done over the past three weeks is learn to fly our new drone, or try to at least. I'm still pretty bad at it, but it's good to learn something new. It has also allowed me to go outside while I'm on crutches, if not so far from the car. Below you can see some of my practice, filming my brother Alan MacLeod practising his pipes in Glen Roy and Glen Nevis before my sister's wedding last weekend.
Alan MacLeod piping from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.
Tuesday, 14 April 2015
Photo: Paul Diffley/Hot Aches Productions
I'm speaking in Ambleside on Friday with The Climber's Shop and Mountain Equipment, 7.30pm at the University of Cumbria Ambleside campus. All the details and tickets are here. Do come along - they mention refreshments on the climber shop page and the proceeds are being split between Langdale/Ambleside mountain rescue and Community Action Nepal. I'll be around at the Climber's Shop in Ambleside during the afternoon from around 2pm if you fancy dropping in for a chat.
Monday, 30 March 2015
Here is the Project Fear film about my new route on Cima Ovest last September. Truth be told, I was incredibly lucky that myself and Alan Cassidy were able to get the route climbed given the very poor weather in the Dolomites last season. Of course, to a certain extent we made our own luck as you see in the film, my cleaning and preparing the route through the poor weather rather than just sitting waiting.
However, the two sunny days we had were a crucial ingredient and I was desperate to make them count. I’m sure you’ll understand that my favourite part of the film are the parts playing with Freida at home in Glen Nevis. But this it is also a great memory of the adventures on that massive roof. It gets me psyched for summer's big wall expedition will be rather bigger in scale.
Sunday, 29 March 2015
Here is a short film we made about Zeki Basan, a great young character from over in the Gorms. Zeki won the Scottish youth award for mountain culture at this year’s Fort William Mountain Festival. He is the inaugural winner of the youth award and joins a formidable list of winners of the 'adult' award; Hamish McInnes, Jimmy Marshall, Richard Else, Myrtle Simpson, Ian 'Spike' Sykes, Andy Nisbet and Robin Campbell. We also made the film about Robin Campbell for his award this year and I'll post that up as soon as it's live.
I’m certainly used to meeting enthusiastic and smart young folk involved in all manner of mountain sports, but it was great to learn more about Zeki’s passion for bushcraft when we travelled over to speak to him for this film.
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.