Firmly established as one of the world's best all-round climbers, Dave MacLeod has a string of outstanding ascents to his name.
I’ve been climbing for 27 years and like to push myself in most climbing disciplines, so far up to E11 trad, 9a sport, V15 boulder, XII mixed as well as various alpine and big walls. I live in Lochaber in the Scottish highlands and so spend most of my time doing first ascents, both on well-known mountains such as Ben Nevis and uncovering new areas such as Glen Pean.I spend my winters bouldering and mixed climbing depending on projects and conditions and my summers on mountain trad or big wall trips. It’s fair to say I’m pretty obsessed with getting better at climbing, so I have spent a lot of time studying the sciences that underpin athletic performance - exercise physiology, sports medicine, nutrition and health in general. I also spend a lot of time trying to share what I’ve learned in a useful format via the books I’ve written, blogs, social media and more recently on my YouTube channel. Generally speaking, I like to apply a Pareto Principle approach to most of these aspects, figuring out what are the most important habits or strategies and trying to get those right, which then allows for a flexible approach to living the lifestyle of a climber. I guess this becomes hardwired from trying to balance multiple climbing disciplines and living in a country with challenging and unpredictable weather conditions. I’m still improving in my climbing and that’s just as well because I have some big goals in the coming years.
The routes that mean the most
Rhapsody E11 7a, Dumbarton Rock, first ascent
This was the world’s first E11 trad route and was a huge project for me. I only began to really get involved with trying it because it was at my local crag and so it was of little consequence that it was far too hard for me. But the more I tried it, the more I wanted to do it and so I uncovered what I had to do to get there.
Echo Wall E10/11? Ben Nevis, first ascent
Echo Wall is a particularly serious route without much useful protection. Hence the uncertain grade. The difficulty very much depends on how you feel about operating in F8c terrain with almost no protection. This was definitely my hardest ascent at the time and remains unrepeated.
Anubis XII,12 Ben Nevis, first ascent
Anubis was a summer E8 of mine and the hardest summer route on Ben Nevis until I did Echo Wall. So the idea of trying to climb it in winter seemed ridiculous, which was exactly why I tried to. Of course, like all projects, once you commit, you solve all the problems one by one and end up doing it.
Lithium 8B+, Arisaig Cave, first ascent
I had this as an idea for a lifetime project which would keep me going for years because the Arisaig Cave is a dry and sheltered place to climb all winter through the Lochaber monsoon. In the end, because the featured quartzite lends itself to technique, I got it done rather sooner that I expected, but its still physically the hardest piece of climbing I’ve done.
This was a link-up ‘fun’ day out I’d wanted to do for years of all the ‘eights’, an 8A+ boulder, E8 trad route, 8a sport route, VIII,8 winter route, and 8 Munros in 24 hours, all done around Ben Nevis. It took several seasons before conditions were right and I was in suitable form to do it.
Five things I wish I’d known when I started climbing:
- I wish I had understood that GPs are not specialist sports medical doctors and even specialists do not necessarily have good understanding of specific sports or have read recent research. The majority of athletes get injured sooner or later and reading the scientific literature directly and then using it to work with, if not guide your doctor gets you closer to recovery from an injury much quicker with far less time wasted.
- I wish I had started hanging from a fingerboard on a regular basis a lot earlier than I did. This very time-efficient method of finger strength training fits in well with a standard climbing apprenticeship of doing lots and lots of moves on real rock. It would possibly have increased my level of basic strength at a key age, with no trade-off against any other aspect of performance.
- I wish I’d understood what a healthy diet actually was and just how big a difference it would make by following it. Various limitations in my climbing performance and my general health resolved when I paid proper attention to this. Some of these I did not appreciate could be treated with dietary intervention or even outright caused by poor diet.
- I started climbing at age 15, an age when you really appreciate being different from others and identifying with certain aspects of life if not just being different itself. I liked that climbing mountains on my own made me a ‘weirdo’ at school. I wish I’d appreciated more clearly how big an asset it is to be willing to be different from others if you want to be a professional athlete. To be the best, you need to hold yourself to a different standard from everyone else, even your little tribe of other ‘extreme’ folks in your world of rock climbing. I wish I had appreciated sooner that I wanted to be even more extreme than the most extreme climbing heroes I had.
- I wish I had moved out of the city earlier.
More from Dave
Read more about Dave's latest trad and bouldering projects.
Videos of Dave's latest ascents as well as advice on nutrition, training and technique.
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