Climbing Demystified

Who is Dave MacLeod?

Dave MacLeod by Hot AchesDave MacLeod is one of the UK’s best climbers. Based in Fort William, Dave has been at the forefront of Scottish / British climbing for ten years. A graduate with a degree in Sports Science, Dave has excelled in all disciplines of climbing in Scotland without, it seems, suffering from any of the injury problems often plaguing elite climbers(!), so you can be sure he knows what he’s talking about. Here are some of his more recent achievements:
Summer Trad’ Climbing:
Dave has pushed the limits of headpointing serious and very difficult rock climbs. Although he previously climbed such routes as Hold Fast (E9), Glen Nevis and The Fugue (E9) in Arrochar it was To Hell and Back (E10) in the Cairngorms that pushed the limits. Since then he has become most famous for the ascent of the stunning main headwall on Dumbarton Rock with his route Rhapsody; the ascent being immortalised on film by Hot Aches Productions in the DVD titled E11. However, he has now potentially surpassed that with the ascent of Echo Wall high up on the flanks of Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis – the hardest trad’ route in the world?


Summer Sport Climbing:
Dave has been at the forefront of development of the hardest sport routes in Scotland with Body Swerve (F8c) and Metalcore (F8c ) at The Anvil. In preparation for his Echo Wall route he also soloed an 8c sport route in Spain.


In this area Dave is only matched by the world renowned Malcolm Smith. His ascents at Dumbarton of Perfect Crime and Sanction (both Font 8b) are the hardest in the country.


Winter Mixed Climbing:
Dave’s ascent of The Cathedral (X, 11) on the Cobbler in 2004 matched the hardest achieved at that time, but his route The Hurting (XI, 11) in the Northern Corries of Cairngorm marked a turning point in Scottish winter grades and remains the hardest winter route in Scotland with unprotected M10 climbing. Then in February 2008 his ascent of Don’t Die of Ignorance (XI, 11) on The Comb on Ben Nevis marked the next step in ground-up climbing style.


See Dave’s website for more information about his climbing as well as access to his unique ‘On-line Coach’ service at http://www.davemacleod.com/

In a new series of specially commissioned articles, climbing legend Dave MacLeod will give away some of the secrets of training to be a better climber. These articles are not aimed at the elite climber but at any climber operating at any grade (from ‘VD’ to the heady ‘E’ grades) from beginners to seasoned ‘old hands’ – anyone who wishes to see an improvement in their climbing.

The articles are taken from the CoachWise Series in the Scottish Mountaineer magazine, with additional information available only on this website – look for the ‘Top Tips’ boxes.

  • Introduction to the CoachWise Articles
    (November 2008)
    How to get the best from these coaching articles
  • Part 1: Don't Stray Off-Route
    (November 2008 pdf)
    Dave suggests climbing less statically - 'swing more, lock-off less'. He introduces the 'Big Three Factors' of movement, finger strength and body mass. TOP TIP: 'Beware of being too strong!'
  • Part 2: The Work is the Easy Part...
    (February 2009 pdf)
    Dave looks at ways of preventing everyday life sapping your motivation to train whether your'e starting from scratch or have reached a plateau. He suggests you also look at the people you climb with- people power! TOP TIPS: 'The truth about famous climbers' & 'Finger Strength training at home'
  • Part 3: Creatures of Habit
    (May 2009 pdf)
    Dave investigates those ingrained habits that are holding you back: it can be your negative personality or even your rockshoes! TOP TIPS: 'Fear of Falling' & 'Finding the will to attack the bad habits'
  • Part 4: Fail well, climb it next time
    (August 2009 pdf)
    This article investigates the fear of failure and to to turn failure to your advantage: 'Failure is Your Friend'. TOP TIPS: 'Make the most of your own situation' & 'The work your weakness platitude'
  • Part 5: Choose Your Heroes and your Coaches Carefully
    (November 2009 pdf)
    Dave's advice on who to look to for the best advice - great coaches or great climbers? TOP TIP: 'Learning good technique'
  • Part 6: Count Your Battle Scars
    (February 2010 pdf)
    Climbing walls have been a godsend for modern training, but you have to go back to climbing outdoors to become 'Battle Hardened' - psychological phenomena TOP TIPS: 'Work-arounds for the climbing wall climber' & 'Anticipation'
  • Part 7: TO COME


Introduction to the CoachWise Articles

By Dave MacLeod

Improving at climbing can seem to some like an awfully complicated business. But others seem to find it much more simple - "It’s all about getting strong” for example. So who is right? Is there a unifying simple answer to climbing harder? Of course not. It’s true that improvement in climbing is a complex maze with many different factors to consider and things to work on. The more knowledge you have, the more likely you are to make the best choices to make progress up the ladder. For most, the problem these days is not lack of information about how to get better at climbing, but too much! It’s really easy to get lost in the maze of information. What I want to do in these articles is give you some anchor points to keep you from getting bogged down in the detail and stay focused on the things that really matter.

If you can do that, and include the small matter of some hard graft over time, it’s really hard not to keep getting better, slowly but surely. And what’s more, if you find yourself down the line grinding to a halt in a plateau, injured or demotivated, if you revisit the most basic ideas of improvement in climbing, the answer to the problem will be somewhere here.

‘Training’ articles (training is a word that carries a lot of baggage so I try to avoid using it wherever possible) can be a little heavy going, even for those deeply interested in them, like I am. Often you find yourself getting to the end with more questions than answers. I don’t want mine to be like that! So what I’m going to do is put forward some simple ideas to get you thinking about what you do now in your climbing, and how you could change it for the better. If you want more detail on these ideas, I’ll direct you wherever I can to more technical articles I’ll be writing on the MCofS and my own websites where you can explore the nitty gritty of each aspect in more detail.

First a point about how to approach these articles:

For relative beginners - Your biggest problem is overload of information and too much learning at once. Digest information and new things you learn about climbing, piece by piece, day by day, over time. Come back to articles like this again and again and re-read them. They will keep teaching you new things as you begin to draw fragments of knowledge together to make a picture.

For relative experts - Your biggest problem is that you think you already know your limits and know how to improve. Unlearning all your bad habits and self-imposed limitations is your biggest hurdle. Keep trying to approach climbing and ideas about it as if you were a beginner. Whatever you habitually do, think or say about climbing - try the opposite, and you will discover little clues to where you are going wrong.

OK, now some ideas about climbing harder…

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