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5 x E8 Spree by Dave MacLeod

© Dave MacLeod

In the past month or so, Dave MacLeod has ticked five E8s, making two first ascents and three second ascents along the way.

Dave MacLeod on Second Round, Second Minute E8 6c.  © Dave MacLeod
Dave MacLeod on Second Round, Second Minute E8 6c.
© Dave MacLeod

Since finishing with his Masters degree in nutrition in mid-August, Dave has been making the most of the good weather in Scotland and has been out and about on local crags trying to build up his general fitness.

Dave's August ticklist:

  • The Great Reset E8 6c, Binnein Shuas (FA)
  • Go Hard, Go Early E8 6c, Binnein Shuas
  • Nosferatu E8 6c, Duntelchaig
  • The End of Arms E8 6c, Binnein Shuas
  • Second Round, Second Minute E8 6c, Glen Pean (FA)

We sent Dave some questions about his Scottish E8 rampage...

How was lockdown for you - was it much different to your normal training and climbing routine?

Yes I found the lockdown a real drag. First world problems perhaps, but being used to my whole rhythm of life revolving around being outdoors, I found the extra time stuck indoors was not enjoyable. I did a fair bit of training, but I must admit that I eventually got a bit fed up of just training and no mountains. However the lockdown was quite well timed in a way because I had exams in April for my masters degree and then a research study to plan and execute. So I put a lot of work into those which paid off.

You've done 5 E8s in the last month or so, two of which are first ascents. Tell us about the FAs.

At the end of the lockdown 'proper', I cleaned a big steep prow up on Binnein Shuas which was ideal for getting off the exam study couch. Quite well protected but just really nice and varied climbing. Shuas is a bit lower than the surrounding mountains (Creag Meagaidh, the Ben Alder range and the Grey Corries) and seems to catch a bit of a rain shadow effect. So it is often dry or just spitting with rain when it's obviously chucking it down on the adjacent mountains. The day I led the prow (The Great Reset E8 6c), it was raining gently but not really getting the rock wet. There is not much chance to get overhyped about the prospect of leading when it's like that. I was kind of waiting around for the rain to go off but it never did. Eventually I just had to tie in and climb. The rock wasn't getting wet so I had no excuses.

Shuas has such nice rock. I really like the steeper routes there, which are technical but powerful as well and they have some really nice shaped holds with amazing friction. It's also nice because it has a remote feel for a mountain crag that's so accessible. The outlook is into a glen which doesn't have a tarmac road, and 99% of climbers who go there only go for two particular routes, so it's very quiet. Throughout the summer I tend to go up there about 6 p.m. and come back out around midnight. It's a very nice, chilled experience and I'll miss the place!

The other new E8 I did was in Glen Pean which definitely is remote by Scottish standards. Pean has a great deal of climbing to be done and a lot of it will be quite hard. The rock is excellent quality but it doesn't seem to lend itself to being covered in holds or cracks. The first two lines I looked at there were 50m pitches and had no protection at all. However, the line I did at the weekend (Second Round, Second Minute, E8 6c) was adequately protected. There are so many buttresses to be climbed so I picked one that was a bit smaller and steeper to start with. I initially thought it should be an E6 but again the climbing tends to be harder than it looks here. I spent a long evening cleaning it, finishing well after dark on Thursday.

Second Round, Second Minute E8 6c FA ✅ Well worth two very long days in Glen Pean. Day one walk in, trek all over the hillside trying to choose which buttress to climb #firstworldclimberproblems Clean in the dark, walk back out in the middle of the night, get a fright meeting a very large wild boar in the bracken in front of me. Day two walk back in with Iain, clean some more and try some moves, belay Iain on his E7 then have a mumbling session about it getting dark, the wind dropping, the cams being poor, my skin is weird, my skin is worn, my arms are tired, legs tired. Then tie in and do the route. At least the second night when we met the boar on the way out it saw us and ran. Perhaps I should bring Iain along to intimidate it again next time. #firstascent #firstascentclimbing #tradclimbing #climbing #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #scottishhighlands #scotlandhighlands #meclimbing #liveclimbrepeat #lasportivauk

A post shared by Dave MacLeod (@climbermacleod) on

I walked out back to Loch Arkaig (about 2.5 hours to the road end) around midnight. There are tons of stags in the glen and they are all moaning away at this time of year. So I was well used to seeing their shiny eyes in my head torch beam through the whole walk out. But then in the bracken in front of me I came across a large animal walking in the same direction as me. Unlike the deer it didn't run away or even look round. I quickly realised it wasn't a stag but a pretty big wild boar. It gave me a wee fright and I did my best to contour away from it in case I annoyed it.

I came back in with Iain Small on Sunday and we both had another cleaning session on our prospective routes on different buttresses. I belayed Iain on his new line first, which went at E7 6b. At first he took a fall when a hold broke, glancing off a slab below with only a mild bump. That was a relief! It would be a serious place to hurt yourself with no phone signal even at the road end at Arkaig. Then we headed up the hill to my line. It's pretty strenuous to arrange the gear and I got a bit spooked when I couldn't get crucial shallow cams to seat properly and they kept falling out. Eventually I sorted that out and climbed down for a rest. I was pretty sure I was not going to try and do it, with a decent list of problems - the wind dropped, my skin was in poor shape, the cams were not great, I'd already broken off a useful foothold while putting them in and I was breaking a general rule of not trying to clean and climb hard trad routes in the same day. But, it's a long way to come with a partner and not get something done - so I tied in and forced myself to give it a shot. In the end I got on fine and could do the crux with some control. Thankfully I didn't notice the only decent runner popping out just as I did the move!

Walking out in the dark again we met the boar in the same area. This time it saw us and ran off (at an impressive speed). I'm glad it was intimidated by Iain.

I'm pretty excited to really get into doing more stuff in there, both bouldering and trad. I think tomorrow I'll head straight for the biggest wall on the north side of the glen. I hope it's as good as it looks from a distance.

It's relatively rare that you have routes in Scotland to repeat. What was it like getting to climb some of Iain Small and Robbie Phillips' routes?

There are some routes by others that I've not done in Scotland, not many but some. I do like repeating routes for several reasons, possibly most of all because I don't have to clean them myself. Iain is especially good at cleaning routes thoroughly, which is highly appreciated when you know how much time and hard work goes into that. There were two E8s of Iain's I repeated at Shuas. Of those, Farewell to Arms was the much more dangerous route. It's definitely a serious undertaking. A route to take a careful and thorough approach on. Even the bits that have gear are worrying and I doubt the gear would hold a fall. I broke a hold while trying the moves and fell off, in a position that would be pretty unthinkable on lead. I also added a really cool new top pitch to that route through the roof above.

Robbie's route Nosferatu at Duntelchaig was really different. Burly but well-protected climbing on a roadside crag. It was nice to climb something with a short approach for a change! There's another much harder project to be done there as well, which I'm hoping Robbie does so I can try it too.

You say you've done your last project on Shuas. Is it truly climbed-out, or do you just want a change of scene?

Oh there are more new routes to do on Shuas, just none that are a good difficulty for me. The remaining lines are either quite easy or way too hard and don't look all that good. But between myself and Iain we've added about five E7s, five E8s and an E10 at the crag since 2016, so yes it's a good time to go somewhere else!

It seems like you have your eye on some more lines in Glen Pean. Can you give anything away about these?

Well, I've not even been to a fraction of the walls in the glen. All I can say is there are lots and lots of walls, never mind individual routes to be done. There are long routes, short routes, steep routes, death routes, boulders, more boulders, stags and boars. A great place if you like new routes, great scenery, solitude and a lot of walking.

What are your plans for the winter season?

I'm not sure I've thought that far ahead. The combination of being involved with university study this year and lockdowns definitely closed in my focus to the next week or two. I have a couple of hard boulder projects I'd like to try, but I don't know just yet if they are realistic for me. I'll just have to go and try them and see. If we get a decent winter I'll do some mixed as well.

Watch Dave's vlogs about some of his recent climbs below:

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Quality! What a ledge.

4 Oct


Next up an Iain Small interview?

4 Oct

Epic work!

Although originally I read ‘boar’ as ‘bear’ and thought Dave had gone full Boswell!

If Glen Pean did have bears would that be worth an extra E-point?

I didn't know Scotland even had wild boars - how long has that been the case?


You cannot imagine how much both Natalie and myself would like to interview Iain, but I'm not sure how much Iain wants to be interviewed.

On the one hand this is clearly as shame, as I'd love to hear more about what he's been up to. Iain is probably one of the most prolific new routers within the UK, yet in spite of this he is far from being a household name. Perhaps this is a part of his brilliance though: he just goes about doing his thing completely under the radar, with absolutely no commitments to seek out sponsorship and publicity.

That said, Smally - if you are reading this - please reconsider as we'd all love to hear from you :-)

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