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    • Words and images by Dave MacLeod

      Glen Pean

      Glen Pean, Scotland.

    The Rough Bounds

    Doing my first new route changed my life. Before that, I looked in guidebooks to direct my climbing. After that I just went running in the mountains and looked for new possibilities. It did open my eyes to trying things that I wouldn’t otherwise have taken on. It also made me look at life differently.

    From my new routing I developed a habit of looking for gaps in my knowledge, and found it easier to deal with uncertainty in general.

    One thing I always wondered was if I’d ever feel like I’d gone past that magical feeling when you just start out exploring the mountains, when you don’t yet know whats out there. But after 25 years of climbing, it feels like the opposite. The more places I explore, the more I have a sense of abundance, of more places and climbs and projects that I’ll ever fit into my life.

    Glen Pean is only about 25 miles from my house. There are thousands of new routes to climb there, and I’ll never get through them all. I walk around that place and I just feel like I’m going to wake up from a dream, it’s just brilliant.

    I did my first new route as a 21-year-old. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it changed my life. Up to that point, I looked in guidebooks to direct my climbing. If it wasn’t a named, graded and carefully described climb in a guidebook, it wasn’t on my radar. It didn’t occur to me at all that it was odd that I looked at mountains and rocks through the lens of someone else’s climbing. Obviously, the fact that climbs have been cleaned, climbed and described for you has many good points. And you still get to just use the guide as your starting place to look at the walls and see what inspires you to actually climb yourself. But its also clear to me now that there is something different about approaching a climb that has never been done. Invisible barriers that I did not even know were there were lowered, just by making the switch from always following other climbers to exploring some new ground.

    It was a step change. If it was now acceptable to try climbs that had never been done, then why not climbs that I wasn’t sure could be done at all? Although there is absolutely no need for new routes to be hard routes, trying harder routes was a side effect of the new approach.

    One thing I really did not expect was that new routing made me approach life rather differently. In earlier years I had a natural fear of unknowns in general – things I did not know much about, fear of making mistakes, of being wrong, of uncertainty and ambiguity. I now feel a lot more comfortable with uncertainty in life in general and find that I’m more willing than before to stare down black holes in my knowledge and try to fill them. Its possible I’d have learned this habit anyway, but I find it hard to believe this is unrelated to pursuing a life in climbing new routes.

    It was the huge sense of undiscovered places that first attracted me to climbing, just seeing a horizon full of endless mountains on a bike trip north of Glasgow and wondering what dramatic places might lie among them. Since then I’ve always had a slight tension in the back of my mind that one day I might lose this sense of more undiscovered places and feel like I’d seen all the best mountains and climbs and start to run out of excitement for it. But after 25 years of climbing not stop, it feel like the opposite. If anything I have an increased sense of abundance. There are just so many new places and climbs I keep finding. I find them faster than I can climb them.

    I have two critical advantages on my side. First, I live in one of the best climbing areas in the world. Moving to live in the mountains, close to endless climbing, was one of the key good decisions of my life. Second, by virtue of living in a quiet mountain area, largely away from the popular culture of climbing, I find it easier to be open to trying new things and being willing to waste a day, or a whole season trying a project that might not work.

    I’ve just started opening some new routes in Glen Pean, which is only 25 miles from my house. There are countless crags and boulders; a lifetime of climbing to be done. Its untouched because of its relative remoteness from the road. But I can still get there in under 3 hours by bike and on foot, or by boat. A couple of people mentioned it to me a few years ago, so I took a run in to see if there was as much rock as they said.

    I was blown away. In fact, on my first three visits I basically ran around the glen like a headless chicken, totally overwhelmed by the cliffs everywhere. I actually feel like I need to put blinkers on, to be able to focus on one thing at a time. Every time I stop or a second and look around, I feel a bit like I must be dreaming. The place is exactly what I would wish for. The only problem I might have at this point, is finding time to keep exploring anywhere else.

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