A Day With Dave MacLeod - And An Interview With Claire MacLeod

© Dave MacLeod
Tarquin Cooper gets to grips with wet rock
© Jack Geldard, Nov 2008
Working for has its perks and one of the best came along recently. Mountain Equipment got in touch to tell me about a press day they were hosting at Plas y Brenin. They invited me along to try out their new clothing range, and the icing on the cake was a day climbing with Mountain Equipment & Gore athlete, Dave MacLeod. I've been to quite a few similar events (not wanting to sound cynical here!) and some have been extremely interesting, whilst others... well being taken 'abseiling' for the day was a little bit boring.

Mountain Equipment (ME) were certainly on the ball, they knew a lot about UKC and knew that we are interested in climbing, not 'adrenaline activities', and I suspect that their interests are the same. So after being togged up in the latest fancy ME kit, and given a pair of prototype softshell trousers from Gore, I headed down to the Plas y Brenin climbing wall to get burnt off by Dave. I'd known about this event for a few weeks, but unfortunately for me, I hadn't had the chance to nip down to the wall and secretly get all the problems wired before Dave arrived.

The New GORE-TEX Pro Shell Changabang Jacket
Dave had a fair spread of journalist types (plus climbing bums like Ray Wood and myself and some keen staff from ME) to 'coach' and he had his work cut out. Being from an instructing background myself (and having taught others in the PyB wall on many occasions) I was interested in what Dave had to show us.

Firstly, his delivery and style were excellent, and he tailored the session perfectly to suit those who he was working with. I think the less experienced climbers like Tarquin from the Telegraph (pictured) certainly gained a lot of useful information and advice. Then it was my turn.

I wasn't firing off any personal bests, having been stronger, fitter, younger and generally better at other times in my climbing career, so I was longing for a magic formula that could shoot me up to E12. Did he have one? Erm, no. But Dave did keep his advice about training succinct (ie. he noticed I was a lazy bugger) and taught me a 5 minute stretch workout (that I still haven't been arsed to do...). Lessons for improvement - try harder and drink less beer!

Ray Wood tests out the Mountain Equipment Tupilak jacket!
© Jack Geldard, Nov 2008
We had soup and sandwiches while the rain lashed hard against the dining-hall roof. Any thoughts of climbing outside after lunch were washed away with the flood water. Then the other option was announced; hill walking in the rain. I suddenly suggested going to the Hylldrem bouldering crag, a perma-dry grot-hole near Beddgelert, which I was sure would be dry...

The weather was terrible and the floor was soaking wet, making bouldering hard work. However we got some moves done and Dave sent a few eliminates. Seeing Dave climbing in the wall earlier, I hadn't been blown away (obviously he didn't realise he was 'on show' - but hey, who isn't going to check out just how good he really is!) and although I thought he was strong, I was sure I had seen stronger.

Things changed on the glassy wet rock of Hylldrem. He was pretty phenomenal. While I slipped all over and failed on the V6 classics, Dave gripped those shiny pinches so hard, I swear I saw blood being squeezed out of them. Wet rock, terrible conditions, lashing rain, sheep crap on his boots, he was totally at home. You can tell he's Scottish!

"This rock's like Dumby, but with friction!" he laughed. I fell off and nearly landed on my dog. It was time to go.

Thanks go to Mountain Equipment, Gore, and of course Dave MacLeod. A top day out, some great clothes (See Ray Wood testing his Gore-tex Proshell Tupilak jacket!) and some useful coaching tips.

Dave MacLeod gives some advice in the PyB wall
© Jack Geldard, Nov 2008

Interview with Claire MacLeod

Claire MacLeod after filming Echo Wall on Ben Nevis
© Dave MacLeod
Dave and Claire have just released the award winning film Echo Wall (UKC Review). It has been a mammoth undertaking, and has finally hit the shelves. You can buy it direct from Dave's Website. I wanted to find out more about making the film, and more about Claire's perspective on the whole Echo Wall 'death route' concept:

Jack: Echo Wall has just won Best Climbing Film award and Best Film award at the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival. This is your first film right? How does it feel for it to be received in this positive way?

Claire: Yeah, it's our first film. I only took delivery of the camera in March and jumped on a plane to Spain the next day. I first turned the camera on in a Spanish apartment and Echo Wall Tape One starts with the typical footage of the floor/the ceiling/each other with accompanying audio of “Is it even on?” and “what does this button do?” type of conversation. It then cuts to Dave soloing 8c so it most definitely was a case of jumping in at the deep end.

For it to win two awards with it being our first film and being the first time it is shown is awesome – a word that is overused (I'm guilty of it myself) but I feel is justified here.

Jack: How long did it take to make the film? Including filming time? And editing time?

Claire: I started filming in March and Dave climbed the route on 28th July. That night as we were driving back from the Ben we turned to one another and said 'so we'll be making a film then!' Up until then, we'd been filming his training and preparation and neither of us knew if he would be ready to lead the route this year or even at all, never mind so quickly, so there was never a concrete plan or deadline, it just evolved naturally and we were both ready for it to take a long time. It just so happened all the different threads that are required to climb a route like that all came together that day.

We started editing properly straight away in early August and sent it to the printers late September. Hundreds of hours of editing were squeezed into those months, taking it in shifts basically. There were a lot of early starts and 5am finishes were the norm. I waved goodbye to my very hard won fitness in August.

Jack: What cameras, equipment and software did you use and how much did they cost?

Claire: Echo Wall was shot using only one camera, a Canon XH-A1, edited on a Mac Pro using Final Cut Studio and it scares me to think how much it has cost. I've deliberately avoided doing the sums as I'm quite sure it would give me the heaving dry boak [Jack – feel free to edit accordingly for non-Glaswegian readers] but, all in, starting from scratch with no kit to a finished product, it's in the region of £15-20k.

Oh god.

Quick, next question...

Dave MacLeod climbing at Hylldrem in pouring rain
© Jack Geldard, Nov 2008
Jack: What prompted you to make the film in the first place?

Claire: Dave has been asked by various filmmakers over the past few years if they could film him for different projects they were working on. I watched this going on and thought that it looked like quite a cool thing to be doing. I figured it would a creative thing that Dave and I could do together. The idea of a team effort was nice, in theory, but in practice, I was forgetting that Dave is not in possession of regular levels of obsessiveness. Rookie mistake. The reality of walking into the North Face for the 4th time in a week carrying all the camera kit had the opposite effect on me that it did on Dave.

Jack: Any favourite moments, both of the film and during the making of the film?

Claire: In the film – digging the snow patch of justice and the running sequence prior to the lead. During the making of – those days when Dave said he'll carry my sack in for me and walking down off the Ben in the dark.

Jack: Any tips for someone who is planning to make their own film?

Claire: Choose a subject you are passionate about as you are going to spend a lot of hours staring at the footage of it.

Jack: Did you ever think - “Oh my God, I might switch the camera off!” when Dave was climbing hard and dangerous routes?

Claire: No.

Jack: Did you consider the possibility that you might film him injuring himself or worse?

Claire: Yes.

Jack: Did you discuss that with Dave?

Claire: No, there was no need.

Jack: Would you do it again? And do have any plans for another film?

Claire: Absolutely I'd do it again and plans are already brewing for our next film.

Jack: Which was harder – filming Echo Wall or climbing it?!

Claire: On the lead day – climbing it. Every single other day – filming it.

Jack: If you had the time again, what would you do differently?

Claire: Nothing.

Jack: If you had to sum up the film in one sentence what would it be? And in one word?

Claire: Bloody hard work / Hard.

Jack: Any specific ideas for the next film?

Claire: Nothing concrete, there are lots in the dream tank but it's so soon after Echo Wall it's hard to say.

Dave MacLeod
© Jack Geldard, Nov 2008
Jack: Any out-takes that are funny? What's the story behind them?

Claire: No, not really. The nearest thing would be Dave improving his strength-to-weight ratio that we put up on his blog. I think the cat is funny... (See video at the base of this article)

Jack: How have you and Dave found moving to Fort William? Has that impacted heavily on both your lives?

Claire: I really miss the experience of going to the cinema. I used to go a couple of times a week when I worked in Glasgow. There are rumours of one opening in Fort William soon though. Aside from the trauma of not living near a cinema, my way of life could not be more different than before even though I'm only 100 miles up the road. The biggest change for me was going self-employed and going from working in a huge team 5 days a week where you got to 'turn off' when you walked out the door, to interacting with people via a computer within the 4 same walls 7 days a week. On the plus side, I've gained an extra two hours a day I used to spend commuting and get to make films on Ben Nevis. Life isn't too shabby.

Jack: Oh, so what is your favourite non climbing film?

Claire: I don't have a favourite.

Jack: So you now run your own company from home - Velvet Antlers. How's that doing?

Claire: Great, we are just gearing up for the big Christmas rush now.

(Claire runs Velvet Antlers - a small business making luxury gift hampers. It could be what you need to climb E12! Certainly easier than training...)

Jack: You had a 9-5 job, have given that up and become self-employed. Enjoying it? Would you recommend that kind of uncertain move to others?

Claire: It was the best move I've ever made. I was terrified at the time as I had come from having a wage packet (of various sizes) coming in every month since I first got a weekend job when I was 16, to having the uncertainty that nothing was going to come in. It was definitely a step into the dark for me. I work through to usually 3am, sometimes 5, you don't get a tea break, dinner is spent in front of the inbox, you never get a proper day off etc, etc. I still love it though. I'd definitely recommend it, though it has not been without its sacrifices, the benefits of working to your own timetable far outweigh these.

Jack: Do you climb yourself? Do you get sick of hearing/talking/seeing all about climbing 24/7 or do you both detach from it somehow?

Claire: No, I don't climb. I used to but quickly realised I don't like the cold. I wear enough down to sink a ship when filming that would render me immobile if I tried to climb in it. I quite often got laughed at by passers by waddling down the path from the north face of the Ben in the summer fully downed up but it takes ages for me to heat up after sitting in a harness in the shade all day. I look forward to this winter season with a heavy heart...

Jack: Who does the washing up? You or Dave?

Claire: It's on a strict rotational basis though there is room for negotiation. For example, if Dave volunteers to make pancakes for breakfast (he makes a mean pancake, better than mine frustratingly, even though it's my recipe) then that may be on the condition that I do his shot of the dishes for him. It's a delicate balance that has evolved over the years.

Jack: Who would win in an arm wrestle – you or Dave?

Claire: An actual arm wrestle? Dave obviously. The vocal equivalent? Me...obviously.

VIDEO: Dave loses those extra few ounces:

Click to buy Echo Wall

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27 Nov, 2008
Nice article although the outtakes question and answer is there twice. Is the lower one like h'the title of the video? I think if you are called Tarquin and you work for the Telegraph you should change your name by deed poll just so you don't confirm the stereotype, particularly if you are going to climb. :-) Others probably remember the late 90s Climber column.
27 Nov, 2008
Cheers Toby, now edited. Jack
27 Nov, 2008
27 Nov, 2008
27 Nov, 2008
Never mind the Toby Tarquin Telegraph triumvirate, you're missing the point! Which is, how come Dave makes better pancakes than Claire? And how does his gingerbread compare with hers, which is becoming the stuff of legend?
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