Vlog #20 How to train for bouldering

I thought it would be nice to take an overview of the priorities and common mistakes for training for bouldering generally. I’ve pitched this video at climbers who’ve been climbing from a few months to a few years. But I also think it may an idea for much more experienced boulderers to watch it, since the challenge for this group tends to be spotting and unlearning bad habits they’ve developed over time. I go through how to use a bouldering facility to train strength and technique, how to choose good goals and manage your resources to train well.

Paleo Canteen Podcast

A few weeks ago, Ally Houston of the Paleo Canteen Podcast interviewed me. The podcast focuses on guest’s attitudes to food and diet. I spoke about my experiments with various diets and their effects on my climbing and various aspects of my health. Given that Paleo Canteen is based in Glasgow, the city in which both myself and the hosts grew up, we also talked about what it’s like to grow up in Glasgow’s food environment. If you like the podcast you’ll find all the episodes here. I also mentioned the study I published in the Journal of Sport Sciences several years ago. You’ll find that paper here.

If you listen right through, you’ll see that we go into some themes around carbohydrate dosing/restriction in sport training and performance. I give a casual discussion of some of the scientific evidence in this area of physiology research. I get a lot of questions about this. I will soon (I’m not sure exactly when I’ll get it finished) post up a long vlog + blog going into some detail about the evidence along with some speculation on how it may be applied to climbing.

Vlog #17 The Golden Road E9 7a first ascent

I first saw Creag Mo as most folk do when you’ve just come off the ferry from Skye and drive over the pass from Tarbert and drop down into Glen Scaladale. It dominates the lovely vista across Glen Scaladale to the Isle of Harris hills. I could see straight away that it would have massive new route potential for me. But given the weather luck we had on early Outer Hebrides trips, it was actually some years later when I first stood at the foot of it.

I went there with Brian Hall to check out potential new routes for a BBC film (which eventually became The Triple 5). I wanted to inspect the massive horizontal roof in the centre of the crag and Brian belayed me for hours as I aided across it and gave it an initial clean. That line was my first new route on the crag, climbed with Tim Emmett for the BBC film: The Realm E8 6c, 6b.

A few years later I returned on a very quick trip with Calum Muskett, we added another couple of great E5s, and cleaned and very briefly tried three other new routes but didn’t have time or weather to see them through. Two of them became The Mighty Chondrion E7 6c, 5c with Masa Sakano and then, a couple of weeks ago, The Hard Drive E7 6c, again with Masa.

The name ‘The Hard Drive’ came as a mark of respect for a friend Andy Nisbet who died in the mountains earlier this year in an awful accident, along with another friend and brilliant climber Steve Perry. Andy meticulously collected and processed new route information for the whole of Scotland for decades, feeding the information into the excellent SMC Scottish climber’s guidebook series with accuracy, attention to detail and outright obsessiveness that is rare. There was also the 1000s (not a typo) of new routes which he climbed himself. If you are not familiar with him as a character, I made a short film about him a few years ago, in which he took a terrifying whipper off a new winter route as I was filming/taking pics.

Every time, without exception, when I would post news of having climbed a new route on social media, I would get a reminder email from Andy immediately afterwards to make sure I sent him a description for the SMC journal and the guidebooks. Incidentally, the new Outer Hebrides guidebook is just recently published and we sell it in our shop. So I have come over years to associate climbing new routes in Scotland with Andy, and my first thought on completing this one was that it would my first new route with no contact from Andy. Andy was also known for his white knuckle driving around the highlands and I was told by someone else that he never had less than 12 points on his license (apologies Andy if I am perpetuating a myth here!). So I named the route after an appropriate sounding pipe tune by Fred Morrison called The Hard Drive.

The third route I’d looked at with Calum was the smooth wall of immaculate rough gneiss just to the right. On my trip with Calum, I couldn’t see a way to make the line work and gave up. But out of curiosity I swung the rope across and had another look. Perhaps the ‘no pressure’ play on it helped, but next thing I found a way to make a desperately thin traverse right just after the crux of The Hard Drive to reach the line. I devised several different sequences for the upper crux which were all desperate and I could only link one section if it was less than 10 degrees with a good wind. As soon as the wind dropped, I just couldn’t hold on to the ‘holds’.

Keita leading pitch 1 of Mega Kagikakko E7 6c

Keita leading pitch 1 of Mega Kagikakko E7 6c

Visiting Japanese climber Keita Kurakami, after climbing his new line Mega Kagikakko E7 6c, 6b, 5b, had a play as well and he found an improvement on my method that further sealed the deal for me to return to the island immediately. We both agreed that the line was kind of similar to and perhaps a bit harder overall than The Walk of Life E9 6c, a route we have both repeated.

Masa kindly offered to return with me soon afterwards, even if it was an uncertain bet whether I could be ready to lead it. For a couple of days, he and visiting Naoki Komine dodged showers on the sea cliffs while I sessioned the project in gaps in the drizzle. On the fourth day of our trip, it became clear that it would be a washout from the following day. So despite the continuing drizzle showers, we walked in determined to take any opportunity going. Naoki took a small fall on Drive Station, E5, when wet holds forced him to use an alternative undercut which promptly came off in his hands. After that there was a beefy shower and it looked like the game was up for me lead. But it was immediately followed by 5 minutes of sunshine. By the time I had my rock shoes on, it was raining again. What followed was a somewhat bizarre and stop-start ascent that briefly got to the ridiculous stage with me swapping feet on a decent foothold before the crux, watching the holds start to get wetter. Take a look at the vlog episode to see the outcome.

Myself and Keita on the FA of From The Depths E6 6c, 5c. Another top quality new route we added to this cliff.

Myself and Keita on the FA of From The Depths E6 6c, 5c. Another top quality new route we added to this cliff.

Vlog #15 20 years of depression resolved.

Vlog #15 I had mild/moderate depression for over 20 years. I tried many (non-drug) treatments but was unable to make any impact on it beyond managing the symptoms. Three years ago I made some dramatic changes to my diet for completely different reasons. An unexpected event that followed four weeks afterwards was that my depression completely resolved and has not returned. I will never know if the change caused the resolution. But as I discuss in this post, with reference to the evidence, it is at least plausible that it may have been causative. Nothing in this post is advice. I just want to share what I did. I should also urge anyone considering changes to their treatment regime for mental health issues, pharmacological or otherwise, to do so in consultation with their doctor.

The scientific references that accompany this post can be found below. I encourage interested viewers to read them in full rather than take them at face value.


1. LaChance, L. R. and D. Ramsey (2018). "Antidepressant foods: An evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression." World journal of psychiatry 8(3): 97-104. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30254980

2. Mattson, M. P., K. Moehl, N. Ghena, M. Schmaedick and A. Cheng (2018). "Intermittent metabolic switching, neuroplasticity and brain health." Nat Rev Neurosci 19(2): 63-80. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29321682

3. Brietzke, E., R. B. Mansur, M. Subramaniapillai, V. Balanza-Martinez, M. Vinberg, A. Gonzalez-Pinto, J. D. Rosenblat, R. Ho and R. S. McIntyre (2018). "Ketogenic diet as a metabolic therapy for mood disorders: Evidence and developments." Neurosci Biobehav Rev 94: 11-16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30075165

4. Pinto, A., A. Bonucci, E. Maggi, M. Corsi and R. Businaro (2018). "Anti-Oxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Ketogenic Diet: New Perspectives for Neuroprotection in Alzheimer's Disease." Antioxidants (Basel) 7(5). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5981249/

5. Gao, Y., M. Bielohuby, T. Fleming, G. F. Grabner, E. Foppen, W. Bernhard, M. Guzman-Ruiz, C. Layritz, B. Legutko, E. Zinser, C. Garcia-Caceres, R. M. Buijs, S. C. Woods, A. Kalsbeek, R. J. Seeley, P. P. Nawroth, M. Bidlingmaier, M. H. Tschop and C. X. Yi (2017). "Dietary sugars, not lipids, drive hypothalamic inflammation." Mol Metab 6(8): 897-908. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28752053

6. Akhtar, S., A. Ahmed, M. A. Randhawa, S. Atukorala, N. Arlappa, T. Ismail and Z. Ali (2013). "Prevalence of vitamin A deficiency in South Asia: causes, outcomes, and possible remedies." Journal of health, population, and nutrition 31(4): 413-423. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905635/ 

7. Spiteller, G. and M. Afzal (2014). "The action of peroxyl radicals, powerful deleterious reagents, explains why neither cholesterol nor saturated fatty acids cause atherogenesis and age-related diseases." Chemistry 20(46): 14928-14945. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25318456

8. Pepe, S., N. Tsuchiya, E. G. Lakatta and R. G. Hansford (1999). "PUFA and aging modulate cardiac mitochondrial membrane lipid composition and Ca2+ activation of PDH." Am J Physiol 276(1): H149-158. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9887028

9. Treadway, M. T., J. A. Cooper and A. H. Miller (2019). “Can't or Won’t? Immunometabolic Constraints on Dopaminergic Drive." Trends in Cognitive Sciences 23(5): 435-448. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30948204

10. Gerster, H. (1998). "Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)?" Int J Vitam Nutr Res 68(3): 159-173. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9637947

11. Hibbeln, J. R., K. Northstone, J. Evans and J. Golding (2018). "Vegetarian diets and depressive symptoms among men." J Affect Disord 225: 13-17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28777971 

Further notes

In the video I discuss differences in plant/animal forms of vitamins and their precursors. This relates to the concept of bioavailability. For a discussion on this, see this paper:

Gregory, J. F., 3rd (2012). "Accounting for differences in the bioactivity and bioavailability of vitamers." Food & nutrition research 56: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22489223

Vlog #12 Physical vs desk jobs
A comment after Vlog #11 prompted me to do a whole episode exploring the pros and cons of physical versus sedentary jobs and their interaction with your training for climbing. Folk in physically demanding jobs are often strong and resilient, but can be overtired if they don't stay on top of their routine.
Vlog #7 The most scared I've ever been
In climbing or in life in general, I discovered the hard way that its possible to be way more scared for someone else than it is for yourself. It's kind of weird going over climbing accidents I've had. I certainly hope it's a long, long time before I'm as scared as the night I describe in this vlog.
Nevis Faces part 5 Dougie Sinclair

Nevis Faces is a 6 part series of short films we made for the Nevis Landscape Partnership exploring various characters who work and live around the Nevis area. You can thank the enormous effort of Dougie Sinclair over the last 5 years for the huge improvement of the Ben Nevis Mountain path which is subject to significant erosion from over 160,000 visitors every year.

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Nevis Faces part 4 Jamie Hageman

Nevis Faces is a 6 part series of short films we made for the Nevis Landscape Partnership which explores various characters who work and live around the Nevis area. Jamie Hageman is a self-taught mountain landscape painter and is suitably based in the West Highlands of Scotland where, surrounded by mountains, much of his painting inspiration comes from.

Nevis Faces part 3 Helen Rennard

Nevis Faces is a 6 part series of short films we made for the Nevis Landscape Partnership which explores various characters who work and live around the Nevis area. Helen Rennard is an accomplished winter climber living in Fort William. We have made many first ascents together on Ben Nevis over the past ten years and Helen is one of the most solid climbing partners I know.