”He'd done all boulder problems at Dumbarton, so I knew he was pretty strong but I was really surprised because he was technically crap, his footwork was awful. And god he wore socks with his climbing shoes. What type of climber is that?”
Not only that but he wears a helmet for goodness sake and is that a mullet he's sporting? I wouldn't be surprised if Dave MacLeod has several pairs of Ronhills in his closet. He says he's weak. He's king of the punters. Now is all this crap climber to brilliant climber just a marketing hook, viral spin woven by some behind the scenes Alastair Campbell? After all MacLeod is in the same Mountain Equipment stable as that other celebrity climber John Dunne whose hype was that despite eating five meat and potato pies a day he could still crank E10 and 9a, and in the process gave hope to a large fan base of lard-guzzling climbers around the world. Has John been giving Dave some marketing advice?
Thing is with MacLeod is that he comes across as genuine, walks with no swagger, no sign of arrogance, shuns elitism (I'm sure he'd never utter the word 'punter' to describe his fellow climbers), promotes the egalitarian ethos and for the last year or so has lived his life under the glare of Big Brother-like cameras. A climber of the people. On top of that he climbs as often as he can, trains most days, has a website, two blogs, writes magazine articles, coaches (both live and online) and he works for several climbing companies as a sponsored athelete (Black Diamond and Scarpa as well as Mountain Equipment). A Protestant work ethic in the extreme. Perhaps he's a Scottish Presbyterian.
Like countless climbers before him, Sir Chris Bonington being the most successful (where's Tom Patey when you need him), MacLeod is doing what he has to do to follow his passion, using the full arsenal of 21st Century media to earn a crust and importantly we get to witness it.
But my god is he obsessed, a trait he shares with most top professional climbers (Cut that editor, change it to 'most climbers.'). I believe that there are very few climbers who can get off the couch and crank hard. They must work for it or have worked for it. You can too if you want and MacLeod is proof of this, but you may have to pay a price for this effort.
Like most of us when deep in an obsession he must be at times hell to live with and that is the impression, despite his charm and good looks, that the film E11 gave me. Leaving his wife Claire to go out 9-5 whilst Dave climbs rocks, following his passion, a dream most us all surely have. Selfish bastards that we are. She is very understanding. Sound familiar? But it must have driven her nuts and she says as much.
“So what do you think about Dave's career choice,?” she is asked.
“I was going to swear there. Really really jealous,” she answers with a lovely big grin on her face, “Jealous as all fuck. No I think it's really really amazing that someone can do what they love and it's great to see in a person.” Yet we can all hear what is unsaid. She does explain more but you'll have to wait until you see the film.
Dave Brown and Paul Diffley of the Edinburgh based company Hot Aches have done a terrific job in not just documenting how one of the hardest rock climbs in the world was climbed but they have painted a colourful portrait of the man and woman behind that route. I mean let's be honest Dave couldn't have climbed Rhapsody without the support of his wife Claire and to leave that side of the story out wouldn't have left much of a story at all. It would have been just another Masters of Stone video. Climbing is far more than climbing rocks. Anyone will be engrossed by this story, whether you are beanie-clad boulderer who has never tied on (Dave has impeccable bouldering credentials) to a non-climbing housewife from Skelmersdale who does step aerobics once a week (there's drama, excitement, sex appeal and a bit of a confessional). There's also frustration, determination, boredom and finally elation. No mean feet capturing all those emotions on film. And blood, yes there's blood and there easily could have been a lot more wounds, let's not kid ourselves.
So we sat down in some student house in Ambleside (the heart of Dave Birkett country) and watched E11. I brought beer but the beverage of choice was water amongst the assembled crew of young climbers. Haven't times changed? There was Tom Dixon, Alex Willy, Michael Robinson, Mike, Chris Stirling and Sue Wood. There was silence all through E11 punctuated with the occaisional gasp as MacLeod plummeted 70ft and "earned his E-points.” The sound track was excellent, a mix of local Scottish hip-hop and folk to suite the most eclectic of tastes. The sound and film quality was perfect by the way. But those falls, the falls! You won't be disappointed. This was the reaction of various yanks at Supertopo.com after watching the E11 trailer.
Caughtinside from Davis, California said, “Normally I'm not a fan of video trailers, but that one is worth watching just for the whipper footage! Yikes!”
Graham from Ventura, California said, “Thanks for the link that was outrageous! "
Gnome from Boulder, Colorado said, “And in another 20 years he will wonder why his knees don't work and he will move to Joshua Tree to spend time in the old climbers retirement community where all good belays are bumper belays.”
Rhodo-Router from Otto, North Carolina said, “Hard Grit now looks like a bunch of weenies.”
The Hard Grit comparison will be made and we all love judging one thing against another. My take is that they are both equally as good and just as Hard Grit has had tremendous influence throughout the world (headpointing from America to Italy) so I think will E11. So there Ken Wilson, you were wrong when you said bolts would take over the world!
When the final credits rolled in the small apartment, a spit from the Golden Rule in Ambleside, the room was quiet. Then there was a collective, ” that was awesome.” Everyone wanted to watch it again, so we watched the slimmed down 'Psyche Edit' without all the fluffy bits, then one of bouldering, soloing an 8b sport route....and we all wanted to go climbing.
The kicker is though, once you've watched someone elses video will you buy your own copy. Everyone in the room said yes, and E11 is there on my DVD rack next to Hard Grit, Kes and Whistle Down the Wind. Got to have house copies of movies that you love.
What are your long term climbing plans? In other words, after Rhapsody, Bodyswerve etc etc....what is next on the horizon for you both in the UK and further afield?
Just to push my climbing as far as I can manage. I still feel like I'm pretty near the beginning of a progression, my body seems to get steadily stronger and I'm still as psyched as I ever have been. I still enjoy doing the 'all-round' thing, so I want to keep doing that. If I can push my standard higher in each discipline and keep doing good new routes that that is what I want. I'd love to do an E11 in the mountains and have seen a line that would be that grade at a minimum. It's probably unjustifiable but as usual time and days spent on it will tell. I also feel that Scottish winter climbing could go a fair bit further in a short time. I mean Steve Mclure, Cubby and Dave Birkett have really shown the way that as long as you are psyched then you can just keep getting better at climbing. I'd like to emulate that in my own (all-rounder) niche.
I should be able to travel a little bit more in the next year and hopefully run a car for the first time. That will get me out of Dumbarton Rock and around Europe a bit more. But I've still not succeeded in getting the kind of sponsorship that would allow me to go on bigger trips. I think I could make a good contribution to climbing if I get opportunities to travel.
That's the long term... In the short term I just need to finish fitting The kitchen so I can get back to the Anvil.
You can read Jo George's (of Cubby Images and a UKClimbing.com gear reviewer) review including an interview with the film makers here
You can read Björn Pohl's 8a.nu review...hold on I thought they just did bouldering and sport climbing?......here
Synopsis:E11 tells the story behind the first ascent of Rhapsody, a route considered to be the hardest tradition rock climb in the world. Told in an off beat dramadoc style the film attempts to understand what it takes to climb a route of this standard. E11 strives to get inside the head of its first ascensionist, the understated yet quite remarkable Dave MacLeod. Oh yeah, it's also packed full of ankle smashing, gear ripping, monster falls!
E11: A Film by Paul Diffley & Dave Brown (Hot Aches)
With Dave MacLeod & Claire Macleod
Direction & Screenplay: Paul Diffley
Production: Dave Brown
Price: £18.99 / $30US
Special DVD features:
Mick Ryan is the editor at UKClimbing.com you can read the article Dave MacLeod, The Modern Traditionalist – E11 here
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