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Dave Macleod: What I’ve Learned

It’s easy to miss the beauty in climbing—the places it takes you, and the rock itself—if you only try routes you can do straight away.

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This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 195 (July 2011).


Photo: Keith Ladzinski.

It’s easy to miss the the beauty in climbing—the places it takes you, and the rock itself—if you only try routes you can do straight away. Facing routes that take time, that are hard for you, allows you to experience the rock and moves in more detail. One of the greatest things about mountain landscapes is how they change over time. Anyone who has a house in sight of nature knows this.

***

I can’t get enough of project climbing. People always tell me I’m very patient. For a long time I believed them. Later I understood that I’m actually just good at sustaining impatience for an obscenely long time.

***

Sometimes I’m glad that the weather is crap in Scotland. It relentlessly drums a let’s-hang-back-till-tomorrow attitude out of you. If you can get past this while still in your teens, it’s a major advantage. When it’s raining, get your work done. You sure as hell don’t want to have to sit out the good day when it comes. When the sun comes out, get after it. If you fall off, have another go because tomorrow it’ll be dripping again. The result is a lot of work done, bills paid, and probably just as much sending as you’d have done if it were blue skies every day.

***

There’s something magical about finishing a route when you know that was your only chance for the year and you grabbed it. It turns out that this attitude, forced on you by the Scottish climate, is pretty useful for self-employment.

***

Indian Face (E9, 5.13a X) still has a legendary reputation as one of the most dangerous trad routes in the world. My wife belayed me pregnant with our daughter, Freida. It helped as a reminder that I’m in the business of climbing dangerous routes safely. I looked down at Claire just before I committed to the crux—she was yawning. It’s funny how something like this makes you snap out of your romantic bubble of danger and drama, and just get to the belay so we can go down for tea.

***

I remember when I was 16 and had been climbing a year, I heard some chat at the crag about how Scottish climbing was so poorly recognized. Even then I could see the absurdity in waiting for someone else to wax lyrical about your life and dear places. The Brits are terribly worried about appearing immodest. In the process they fail to share stories and inspiration that get the next generation fired up. I really feel that sharing your energy and enthusiasm helps everyone, including yourself.

***

I love sport science and how it plays out in both the real world of humans and the messed-up world of sport. Modern consumer culture has an uneasy relationship with doing well in sport. Coaching climbers, I’ve seen many folk collecting sends, but not really enjoying their climbing very much. It’s as the Buddhists say—people get too busy doing to do any being.

***

Certain aspects of being a good climber are harder than ever. I was really lucky to discover new routing at the age of 20. It’s only by looking back that I can see why it motivated me. When you wander up a highland glen looking for new crags or boulders, you don’t know what you’re going to find. Instead of having your head in the guidebook adding up the tick you want to do, you’re forced to look at the rock, the lines, and you appreciate the enjoyment of climbing much more. I feel more connected with the rock before routes and grades come into the equation.


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