Dave MacLeod needs no introduction; he is one of Britain's best Trad climbers... and Sport Climbers... and Boulderers... and Winter Climbers! Dave is the author of perhaps the worlds hardest traditional route; Rhapsody E11. He has just soloed Darwin Dixit (F8c) and as far as we know this is the hardest solo in the world.
"I started climbing in 1993 at Dumbarton Rock and spent three years working my way through most of the boulder problems here. By age 18 I was climbing Font 7c and E7 new routes and started to get more and more interested in new routing. Around this time I was also repeating most of Scotland's hardest climbs and hard grit routes in the Peak District. I started studying Sport Science and getting an understanding of how to improve more quickly.
By 2002 I graduated from this and began to get established as an all-round climber, with Scotland's first E9's, Font 8a+s, Scottish IX onsight in winter and E7 onsight in summer. Since finishing my sport science MSc I have been climbing much more and working as a writer, coach and lecturer, trying to push my all round climbing as far as it can go. I live in Lochaber with my wife Claire and my cat pusspuss."
I caught up with Dave to ask him how the ascent of Darwin Dixit went:
Jack: Bloody hell Dave, I now have to reassess my sport climbing. That is totally unfair of you! Good effort. You previously climbed the route with a rope - did it feel easier or harder when you soloed it?
Dave: "Cheers! - Soloing is always physically much easier because you don't have to break your rhythm to clip quickdraws. I'm not sure of the difference on this route, but I remember from Hurly-Burly [Dave soloed an F8b - Jack] a few years ago timing the video of the ascent on the rope for curiosity. It was exactly three minutes to lead and exactly two minutes to solo! On a power endurance route in a roof that's a pretty big difference. Mentally it's obviously in a different league as a challenge. I guess you are preparing for these bold leads in the back of your head for months or sometimes even years. So, solos are much more mental work to prepare for, but they absolutely must feel easy when you do them."
Jack: So, how many days and attempts did you have on it before the original redpoint and when you were working it for the solo?
Dave: "On the original redpoint I did it 4th try; I had two dogging sessions and got it on my second redpoint. This trip I had one dogging session and redpointed it again once, before soloing it. I knew I was ready to solo it after that go, so I didn't want to over practice it - to make sure I felt fresh on the solo."
Jack: Soloing 8c is something that I can't imagine. My top redpoint grade is 8b, yours is 9a right? Did it feel similar to how you would have felt soloing an 8a when you were a 8b climber? I'm just trying to imagine what it was like mentally.
Dave: "Yes, it felt similar to previous solos I've done when my level was lower. The only difference was I'm much better at anticipating my own performance level in different conditions now, so in that sense it was probably more in control and safer. When you and Caff** were soloing up the slabs past us in the summer whilst I was trying Trauma I was thinking to myself “I wouldn't do that”. I mean, I could, and have done it from time to time, but I wouldn't solo stacks of climbing habitually."
** [James 'Caff' McHaffie and I visited Dave on Dinas Mot last year and were having a little race up Lorraine Direct HVS - Jack]
"Basically I wouldn't solo unless it was a particular route I was extremely motivated for, or in this case training that must be done for a really important route. In the past nine years I've spent exactly 4.5 minutes soloing, and they were the most concentrated and focused and planned for few minutes of my life. But that said my soloing head is not so good now simply because I don't do it so much. I'm sure if I did it more often on easier routes I'd develop the right awareness. I'm quite happy to only solo occasionally though. It's the level of concentration that makes a seemingly hard solo safe."
Jack: You say this is in preparation for a line on Ben Nevis, it must be hard. Any info or thoughts about that? Where is it? Have you tried it much?
Dave: "I've tried a line called Echo Wall on Ben Nevis. It's much harder than any climb I've ever been on. I've done the moves on it but there is just so much hard and serious climbing and it's a challenge just getting on it. It's a 70 metre pitch up a huge overhanging arête. I think it's probably as hard as A Muerte (9a) at the crux. The crux moves are protected by a couple of shaky runners in a block I have yet to test properly, but the really worrying bit is afterwards there is another crux which is unprotected. It's massive, so I'm just patiently trying it and making sure I'm in the best shape possible. I'll probably never be able to climb it, but it's fun to try, just to work on something so cool. Ben Nevis is definitely a place which will feature a lot in the future with respect to top end Trad routes. I've never seen somewhere with so many unclimbed blank looking buttresses of rock. You should come up sometime in the summer!"
Jack: Erm.. yeah, I'll let you know...! [gulp!] Any thoughts on the new Beth Rodden route 'The Meltdown'? - that is an amazing effort, she's clearly on fire.
Dave: "Beth Rodden is a really inspiring climber, I'd love to meet her one day. Can't wait to see the video of her new climb."
Whilst we are on the subject of videos - Dave's ascent of Darwin Dixit was filmed by his wife Claire and will feature on an exciting new film they are putting together. We will give you more details when the film comes close to completion, but you can see some images and thoughts on Claire's blog: www.velvetantlers.co.uk.
Dave has his own blog: www.davemacleod.blogspot.com
Dave is sponsored by Mountain Equipment, Scarpa, Gore-Tex and Black Diamond