Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Lucky man - part 1


A minute away from breaking a leg. And I just thought I was about to climb a great new trad first ascent. Photos: Masa Sakano

During August and September I was a wee bit frustrated, bothered by my decision to stay in Scotland and do mountain trad projects, only to be met with a dire wet summer. Still I was aware how lucky I was to have these sorts of problems to worry about. I did a ton of training and felt pretty fit, waiting for a weather window for a cool project on Binnien Shuas. My time finally came. As soon as the rain stopped I headed up with Masa, finished cleaning the line and tied in to lead it. Although it was a tough route and I didn’t expect to succeed first try, I was relaxed and just so delighted to be outside, with a cool breeze in my face and starting up a hard rock climb.


Inspecting the new line. It will be an amazing route, when I get the opportunity to go back to it!

I was just getting started, two moves up the route and was lifting my feet ready to place a good wire when suddenly I found myself hurtling backwards without warning. The big sidepull I’d been holding onto had broken off. I landed on one foot on the rock slab below the route and somersaulted backwards, also knocking Masa to the ground. We picked ourselves up in a tangle of ropes and heather and Masa asked if I was ok. ‘Yes, but maybe not my ankle’.

For a couple of minutes, I had a rather powerful adrenaline buzz, which faded to a looming feeling that things were not good. My leg and ankle were clearly ‘not right’. Sadly I am all too experienced with this situation and I defaulted to considering the immediate issue that I was at the top of a mountain with a broken leg and one hour’s walk and 30 min cycle away from the road. 

So I apologised to Masa and asked if it was ok if he would carry my lead ropes down the hill and if I could set off right away as I might be walking slowly! Masa agreed and said he would also retrieve my static rope which was also still hanging down the wall from having finished the cleaning.


Broken rock, broken leg.

I set off, every step becoming more painful and more worrying. However, with the help of my walking poles I arrived back at the bikes in good time and could kid myself on that my leg was not too bad while I had it immersed in the cold water of Lochan na-h Earba. Masa was a long time behind me and by the time he appeared out of the darkness, my heart was pounding out of my chest with worry. He did in fact have his own considerable adventures en route to the top of the crag, opting for the quicker route by soloing a v-diff gully climb which I normally use to access the top myself (so knew how steep it was). He slipped on wet grass on the final moves of this and fell 30 metres down the gully, apparently landing on his back, on his rucksack full of ropes and gear. Bruised but otherwise ok, he staggered off the hill behind me.


A fair walk with a broken leg. Bikes left at the beach at the end of the loch.

While he relayed this story to me as we limped onto our bikes in the dark, I wondered if I might be hallucinating because I was so worried to see Masa appear again that my brain might be inventing the image. I was nonetheless relieved to be on the bike and wobbling off down the track back to the road. Perhaps with the reappearance of Masa and the elapsed time since the injury my endorphin hit was wearing off, but I found it particularly challenging to get off the bike, walk it through the gate and get going again. By that point I was realising the game was up and I started to feel a bit low. 

After several days of lying low, Masa was back out on the crags and climbing again. When I returned home, Claire retrieved by crutches out of the shed and I got used to the idea of being off my feet and off the hills again. My MRI confirmed a broken Tibia and various bits of damage to the ankle I had repaired in March 2015. 

I reasoned with myself that after getting myself through three ankle surgeries in four years, and over a year of that time on crutches, I was well equipped to just do it again. And anyway, what else would I do? It didn’t work out quite like that, as I will describe in the next part of this blog.



 Masa attacking the roofs of Ardanfreaky E3 5c, earlier in the afternoon.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Urban Uprising


Myself and my friend Niall McNair who also spoke at the Urban Uprising event at TCA Glasgow the other week

A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk at a big boulder comp/party event at TCA Glasgow organised by the charity Urban Uprising. Various talks I’ve done in the past have raised money for Climbers Against Cancer, various mountain rescue teams and others, but I mention this one specifically, just because I really like what they do and want to encourage you to support it.

Urban Uprising take deprived or otherwise at risk kids climbing. Usually it’s the first time they’ve had an experience of an adventurous sport like climbing. In my view, this is a pretty special thing to do. I’m biased of course, because one experience I happened to have as a kid (randomly going out on my bike and finding mountains) totally changed my life. I have no doubt at all that this one experience not only set me on a path to make far more of myself than I otherwise would have, but it also allowed me to gain expertise I could then use to help others.

I was lucky enough to have a bike, and the freedom to choose to go out on it and have this life changing experience without any direct influence from anyone at that moment. So many others have neither the freedom or the resources. One of the great problems with helping young people to help themselves is that no-one ever values them. So why would they value themselves? They are seen by so many others in society as a problem. Actually they are an opportunity. When someone takes time to show them something good, it will have a positive effect on almost all. For a subset, it will change everything. That is worth supporting.


If you want to support them, head to their website, buy a cool T-shirt. Or just donate. 

Friday, 2 September 2016

Summer ups and downs




Completing my hard yellow circuit on the board for the first time yesterday. A small training milestone for the summer. If you would like to join me for some coaching at my own wall, I just announced some dates for coaching in December, and then in February. The details are here.

As the wet summer continues, my plans of mountain trad projects continue to wait in limbo and my body is broken on a daily basis with tough training. This is all good, I am fit! I've also used the time to tie up some other skills I've wanted to learn and am now a qualified drone pilot!

I got a day in Binnien Shuas and revisited a potential project I tried to abseil down about 5 years ago but gave up on. I say tried to abseil down - the line goes through a huge barrel shaped too system, and I couldn’t get any gear in to pull myself into the wall and get a look at it. Now armed with better aiding skills and kit, I managed fine this time and cleaned it up. It looks around 8a with fantastic moves and a thank-god cam near the crux, although the crux will be placing the cam and managing to keep going!

I was hoping to get in there today for a lead, but it was rain 15, dave 0. Meanwhile, back in the wall where I have been racking up the circuits each day, I have been making some progress, It’s always hard to tell how much progress, since I have not had a rest day in some time, but you get clues. The clues seem promising but not mind-blowing. The main issue has been the need to eat some carbs to fuel the anaerobic sessions. My body does not get on well with this and so I’ve been working hard to arrive at a strategy to keep these to an absolute minimum required for specific sessions. Manipulating the amounts and timing has been tricky and the trial and error process has contained a lot of error! I’ll get it right yet though and I continue to learn much about this, and about how my body responds to different regimens.

Eating in my own personalised formulation of a ketogenic diet while I was only bouldering was both highly effective and very easy for me (once I had learned quite a lot of prerequisite knowledge and corrected various early mistakes). I know many people don’t get on well with it. My hunch is that this is down to lack of knowledge or planning in many cases rather than inherent unsuitability of the strategy. Managing inclusion of some CHO in the diet for CHO-based anaerobic training is probably very easy for some, but not for me, and even small amounts kicks on many of the problems that led me to the ketogenic diet in the first place. I did wonder whether maintaining this style of eating would actually be the better end of the trade off for me for sport climbing too. At the moment, it looks like the optimal route for me will be some sort of periodised balance between minimal carbs during anaerobic sessions and moving back into ketosis as quickly as possible at other times could be the best. I emphasise ‘could be’ - I am not yet sure. What the optimal regimen will look like I’m not sure either. I am sure that it will take fairly meticulous planning though. 

The trouble with experiments of any kind in sports science, especially when they include both training changes and nutrition is that so many variables are moving at the same time. Attributing an effect, positive or negative, to one change is an exercise in something between futility and careful guesswork. Was it the sleep, the protein, the fat, the carbs, the type of food, the training, the conditions, your mental state or a whole host of things you hadn’t even thought of that were responsible for what you observe?

Overall, it’s fair to say I have stepped up my game in all aspects of the organisation of my training though. One thing can always throw a spanner in the works regarding training is life outside of climbing. I’ve had a couple of ups and downs outside of climbing lately. Being totally honest, I’ve stopped a couple of training sessions after warming up purely because I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to train (putting it mildly). Sometimes training can actually be an outlet for difficulties in ‘real’ life. In fact I’d say climbing has been utterly essential in getting me through some tough times. Sometimes though, I’ve just not been able to do it.

Summer ups and downs




Completing my hard yellow circuit on the board for the first time yesterday. A small training milestone for the summer. If you would like to join me for some coaching at my own wall, I just announced some dates for coaching in December, and then in February. The details are here.

As the wet summer continues, my plans of mountain trad projects continue to wait in limbo and my body is broken on a daily basis with tough training. This is all good, I am fit! I got a day in Binnien Shuas and revisited a potential project I tried to abseil down about 5 years ago but gave up on. I say tried to abseil down - the line goes through a huge barrel shaped too system, and I couldn’t get any gear in to pull myself into the wall and get a look at it. Now armed with better aiding skills and kit, I managed fine this time and cleaned it up. It looks around 8a with fantastic moves and a thank-god cam near the crux, although the crux will be placing the cam and managing to keep going!

I was hoping to get in there today for a lead, but it was rain 15, dave 0. Meanwhile, back in the wall where I have been racking up the circuits each day, I have been making some progress, It’s always hard to tell how much progress, since I have not had a rest day in some time, but you get clues. The clues seem promising but not mind-blowing. The main issue has been the need to eat some carbs to fuel the anaerobic sessions. My body does not get on well with this and so I’ve been working hard to arrive at a strategy to keep these to an absolute minimum required for specific sessions. Manipulating the amounts and timing has been tricky and the trial and error process has contained a lot of error! I’ll get it right yet though and I continue to learn much about this, and about how my body responds to different regimens.

Eating in my own personalised formulation of a ketogenic diet while I was only bouldering was both highly effective and very easy for me (once I had learned quite a lot of prerequisite knowledge and corrected various early mistakes). I know many people don’t get on well with it. My hunch is that this is down to lack of knowledge or planning in many cases rather than inherent unsuitability of the strategy. Managing inclusion of some CHO in the diet for CHO-based anaerobic training is probably very easy for some, but not for me, and even small amounts kicks on many of the problems that led me to the ketogenic diet in the first place. I did wonder whether maintaining this style of eating would actually be the better end of the trade off for me for sport climbing too. At the moment, it looks like the optimal route for me will be some sort of periodised balance between minimal carbs during anaerobic sessions and moving back into ketosis as quickly as possible at other times could be the best. I emphasise ‘could be’ - I am not yet sure. What the optimal regimen will look like I’m not sure either. I am sure that it will take fairly meticulous planning though. 

The trouble with experiments of any kind in sports science, especially when they include both training changes and nutrition is that so many variables are moving at the same time. Attributing an effect, positive or negative, to one change is an exercise in something between futility and careful guesswork. Was it the sleep, the protein, the fat, the carbs, the type of food, the training, the conditions, your mental state or a whole host of things you hadn’t even thought of that were responsible for what you observe?

Overall, it’s fair to say I have stepped up my game in all aspects of the organisation of my training though. One thing can always throw a spanner in the works regarding training is life outside of climbing. I’ve had a couple of ups and downs outside of climbing lately. Being totally honest, I’ve stopped a couple of training sessions after warming up purely because I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to train (putting it mildly). Sometimes training can actually be an outlet for difficulties in ‘real’ life. In fact I’d say climbing has been utterly essential in getting me through some tough times. Sometimes though, I’ve just not been able to do it.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

An Inconvenient Tooth





Mid crux on The Inconvenient Tooth E8 6c. Thanks to Cubby Images for these great pics.

During the good spell back in June, Dan McManus and Ross McKerchar climbed a great looking new E8 8c new routes the arete of the Bhasteir Tooth on Skye. I had never been up there but obviously knew the arete had not been climbed. I always wondered if the roofs would either have any holds on them, or be escapable onto the side walls, so I never went up to look. As it turned out, the side wall gave an E8 - all good!

So I was obviously keen to go up and repeat it. After going up with Calum last weekend and diverting to Algol in the drizzle, I had to return home for a couple of days work. Calum was working on Skye and managed to squeeze in a repeat of the route on the Thursday. I walked in with Iain Small and Cubby on Friday (my first opportunity) on a forecast of rain arriving around mid afternoon.

However, as we dropped our sacks at the foot of the route, it started to spit with rain. We both quickly went up the scramble route to the top of the tooth and abseiled down to check the gear and I hurriedly tied in with the rain still spitting, but only slightly. I expected it to get wet quickly, but moved as fast as I could to arrange the gear in case I could do it just in time. 




The crux was fine - easier than I expected and in no time I was on the easier upper arete which I took my time on since I would certainly not have another chance! I abseiled and stripped it as fast as I could and Iain tied in. The spits were gradually becoming just rain and it wasn’t clear that Iain would have time to do it.



Iain just after the crux.

With a shout he powered through the crux and as the rock started to get a little wet he moved round out of sight and up the final arete. The clouds got thicker and the rain got heavier and drips started to run off the faces that were catching the strengthening wind. Iain moved quickly and then stopped. But impressively, after a couple of minutes contemplation, he continued upward on the final metres of E3 terrain with was by now fairly wet. Winter climbing experience no doubt paid off!


We packed up soaking wet ropes and trudged back down feeling lucky to have made the best of every second of available dryness that day. I reflected that we could easily have not climbed it, all it would have taken would have been a pulse of slightly heavier drizzle before we started climbing. If we’d trudged down soaking wet without the tick, I’d no doubt have felt rather differently about the day, and perhaps about the merit of taking our chances on a poor forecast.



The rapidly worsening weather situation as Iain was climbing the upper arete.

As always with living in Scotland, the wet spells like we’ve had this summer seem to go on and on while you’re in them, but they are quickly forgotten when the conditions turn good and you can have your pick of routes to do. Despite the recent rain, I am gradually working through my list of routes to climb for the summer, although my Ben Nevis projects are looking a bit remote now. Unless we have a September like last year!


Sunnier times back in June - Rich Mayfield just sent me this pic of me repeating The Keswickian E8 7a in the Lakes. Oh for some more sunny days like that!

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Rapid Learning Curve


Calum Muskett entering the crux of Rapid Learning Curve E6 6b, Elgol, Isle of Skye.

In my last post I mentioned that I’d spent a fair bit of time on my board in the past few (wet) weeks and had prepared myself a detailed training program to prepare for the autumn’s sport climbing challenges. With a break in the weather forecast, I met up with Calum and Gabby and we headed for Skye to try and climb something in the Cuillin.

As is the theme for this summer we were met with drizzle and mist on the drive over Glen Shiel and onto the island. What a surprise. After tea and regroup in Broadford we diverted to Elgol and saw off the two E6s there, Rapid Learning Curve and Hovis. After doing these the midge defeated us. It was good to climb some actual rock but after driving home to Roy Bridge I couldn’t wait to try out my new campus rungs I’d spent the previous day making.

I had needed to take a couple of rest days from training as my Brachioradialis was complaining from rather relentless dead hanging routines. So as well as the usual ton of work to be done I took a bit of time to make a proper system/campus setup on my 45 and 15 degree boards. Foot-on campus style anaerobic intervals is never something I’ve really tried, probably because I’ve never properly trained endurance before! That might sound silly but it’s actually true. I’ve nearly always spent 60-80% of my time just going climbing outside year round, and in the periods where I’ve done more sustained stints of climbing indoors, it’s normally just basic strength and bouldering, with a bit of normal board endurance circuits of 30 moves upward.

Even the start I’ve made in the past couple of weeks of doing more regular endurance work has made a bit of an impact. It’s a nice feeling and its definitely spurred me on to enjoy the program I’ve set through to the end of October. I’ll keep the blog updated with progress and lessons learned along the way.

I did have some resin system blocks on my board already, but I did find them a bit harsh on the skin and didn’t end up using them that much, except for tooling at the start of last winter for a few weeks. It was on my to do list to replace the whole setup with quite positive but still fingery campus rungs that would be super skin friendly for maximum anaerobic burn and minimum skin pain. I’m hoping that if I use them in combination with my cadre of ‘real’ climbing circuits, they will come into their own, both for the intensity and the skin friendliness, since I have only a handful of rest days each month now. I’m still finding looking over my program a little scary at the same time as being exciting.



My campus rungs, about 40cm apart, with pinch blocks below (desperate for my weak grip!) and big holes for tooling in when December comes around. Not bad for an afternoon’s work.

I’m actually still not totally finished the plan either. I’m still trying to pin down the nutrition side of it, which is predictably taking a lot of work. And I don’t always feel like I’m getting closer to settled decisions. I say ‘decisions’ rather than ‘answers’ since there are very few solid answers in sports nutrition. The more solid others claim to have answers on sports nutrition, the less I trust them. So my work in progress nutrition plan contains many calculated gambles. Seeing if they work out will be a fun and fascinating exercise which will include eating a lot of really good food! I’m particularly proud of my workout drink schedule at the moment.


Fresh strawberries and milk, blended up. Not a bad delivery vehicle for my EAAs and circuit carbs.


Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Summer monsoon training


During July I was mostly to be found here in my wall, running many a lap.

After a successful couple of days in Early June visiting the lake and climbing Return of the King (E9), I returned for another quick trip of three days. On the first day I made the most of the uninspiring weather and repeated The Keswickian (E8 7a) in a couple of hours work. Unfortunately I was rained off the other two days.

I decided not to go on an alpine big wall trip this summer and instead stay in Scotland to try and climb some of the great mountain trad projects I have here, especially on Ben Nevis, where I have not climbed on in summer since I did Echo Wall way back in 2008!

Unfortunately, I have picked the wrong summer, and my gamble has not paid off. The last part of June and all of July has been very wet and poor and I’ve not been able to get on the projects in the west. Never mind - I’m used to being adaptable and trying to make the best of the situation to get ahead for the next goal.

On my horizon is the sport climbing season in the late autumn. I always like to set myself various all-rounds challenges that are fun to try and focus my energies. After last winter’s successful focus on bouldering, I wondered if I could climb an 8C boulder, 9a sport route and a really hard Scottish mixed route in one year. I’m not at all confident I can do it (no climber ever has, to my knowledge), which is the point - I want to push well out of my comfort zone. With the 8C boulder ticked, next up I would like to climb a long endurance 9a, probably in Spain, if I can turn myself into an endurance climber quickly enough. 

I know I’ll have to train in a very organised way to manage this, so I have written myself a very detailed training program. Although I’ve done this many times for other climbers, I’ve generally trained myself on a flexible basis because I’ve focused on going outside climbing whenever the weather is good as my first priority, and just fitted in training whenever it rains. This can work well up to a certain level and is a good option if you are able to keep a good working record of your training load and priorities. Not many people can/do.


Perhaps the awful weather in July has galvanised me to take a more long term view focused on the trip. Not to mention the success I had with doing my winter goal of climbing an 8C boulder with this approach. During July itself, I trained most days on my board, building a base of endurance and general conditioning, on which to build upon during September and October.


Full stretch on the reach crux of Nuclear Nightmare 8a+ on Creag Nan Cadhag near Gairloch.

I’ve snatched the rare dry days in the west of Scotland to tick off some of the harder sport routes in the north west. First, Remember to Roll (8b) and Stalks 8a+ Creag nan Luch. In the past week I had a couple of days at Creag nan Cadhag and ticked off Game Over (8a+) and Nuclear Nightmare (8a+) as well as flashes of the other 7cs on the wall. All great routes and great to be able to just turn up and climb sport routes in Scotland without having to equip and clean them first! Kudos to the equippers.

I can definitely feel my month of base training has done something and I have made some progress already. Looking at my training program is slightly terrifying though. I’ll just have to see if I have judged the training and recovery correctly. Already I am running into some issues; my right brachioradialis is complaining a little. I do get some aches here on and off, maybe every couple of years, and usually it passes if I take my recovery seriously and make sure I complete my antagonist workouts. Ongoing monitoring and adjustment is essential for any training program, since life never works out as planned.

I’ve planned the training as far as my sport climbing trip in November, and have a first crack at some hard routes then. If I get on well, I’ll switch straight onto tool training for the mixed season. It seems so far away, but it’s not. On with the training!


Climbing Stalks 8a+ on Creag nan Luch. I also climbed Remember to Roll 8b just to the right, back in June. Both fantastic routes which can be climbed in the rain.



Blair Fyffe on Whip and Ride, 7c, on Creag Nan Luch. I managed to get the flash of this great route shortly afterwards.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

New film of Michael on Tower Ridge

A Fine Line from Nevis Landscape Partnership on Vimeo.

Here is a wee film I made recently with Michael Tweedley and my DJI Inspire 1 drone, running the always fantastic Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis and the excellent paths around the mountain.

I made the film to help draw attention to the great work of the Nevis Landscape Partnership and Friends of Nevis in building and maintaining the paths in the Nevis area, alongside other organisations such as the John Muir Trust.

When I think back to the Allt a Mhuillin path as just one example, it’s in so much better shape that it used to be. Most grateful to the teams, especially the volunteers who build them. Please do volunteer and help - the days out are always good craic.

HELP WANTED! from Nevis Landscape Partnership on Vimeo.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Return of the King GoPro

GoPro of Return of the King E9 6c from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

Here is some GoPro footage of my ascent of Return of the King E9 in the Lakes last week. You can hear Steve Ashworth’s camera snapping away just behind the camera. But I didn’t notice any of that where I was, not that I would anyway in a bubble of climbing psyche. 


Actually when I was practising the route right before the lead, I did notice a lady on the path below look up and notice be dangling about on the wall and shout ‘Oh my god’ in a very loud voice. It reminded me a bit of climbing at Dumbarton back in the day. I’m not used to climbing in such busy places!

New white circuit for July in Three Wise Monkeys

3WM June 2016 White circuit from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

Yesterday I set a new white circuit (the hardest in the range of boulder circuits) in Three Wise Monkeys in Fort William. Most of them are pretty  steady in the V6/7 range. The easiest are roughly V5 and the hardest one maybe V8+ (the left hand death star one).


If you would like the beta, is some GoPro footage of all of them. Enjoy them Lochaber climbers and visitors! Great to be in there setting new boulders while the rain falls outside.