Mind Riot E10 first ascent

I could feel the remaining window of autumn was closing pretty fast to lead my Shuas project. On one hand, I did expect to be good enough to be even close to leading it, so its hard to be frustrated. On the other, as it dawned on me that there actually was a possibility I could do it, I was obviously highly motivated to grab the chance. I arranged with Masa Sakano to climb there on a good forecast and started to get scared.

As I left the house to meet Masa and his friend Ed in the morning, it rained most of the drive over (not forecast). But it was dry at the car park, so we proceeded. In the vlog episode above you can see it turned out to be a desperate day for preparing myself for a lead, with constant start-stops with rain showers.

On my first attempt, I slipped off one of the holds on the technical crux, but thankfully a body length before the runout gets into the slab-hitting zone. Thankfully the gear all held, although I later saw that the cam on the left-hand rope had half slipped out of its placement and had held on two cams. This probably helped me relax a bit. The second attempt I climbed the crux probably better than I ever have and same for the upper crux. I was definitely climbing well for me and feeling fit, light and strong.

Overall I’d say the route is almost as hard as I’ve climbed on trad. It was a long time ago but probably only Echo Wall is harder, since it is more serious again with poorer protection. In some ways, this route is more similar to Rhapsody - both in the region of 8c to top-rope. But this one has ground fall potential from a couple of moves at the end of the crux, and is in a mountain situation rather than an accessible roadside crag. So you may well ask why do I give it E10 when Rhapsody appears to have held its grade at E11.

The short answer is I’m not sure and just being a bit conservative really. I climbed Rhapsody a long time ago and maybe its harder than I remember? I’m also maybe not as bold to apply such a ridiculous grade as E11 as I was in the past. I’m not sure if that is right or wrong. It’s also not that important - someone else will come along and repeat it at some point and will have a more objective view than me. All that’s really important to know is that aside from Echo Wall I’ve not climbed a harder trad route than this.

I will be back to Shuas next summer. Not for anything quite as hard, but there are at least three more routes of E8 or harder that I’ve either cleaned already or know are possible. Its such a great place and can’t wait to get back there. For now, I can move on to several other projects for the autumn and winter, from a base of climbing well and feeling confident.

Oh, one last thing, the name comes from the Soundgarden song which I listened to a couple of times while jogging up and down the hill to try this project. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I’ve spoken recently about depression and suicide and one of many horrible losses in recent years was Chris Cornell who sung the song.

Paradise Lost 8B/8B+, Sustenpass, CH

Here is a short clip of me climbing Paradise Lost 8B/+ in Switzerland. I’m a real fan of this type of boulder - long, intricate roofs with some opportunities to find good rests and gymnastic movement generally. I spotted a Marmot dotting about in the talus around the boulder when I was there. So a few days later I came back with my daughter (we were staying down in the valley for a month last summer) and bivvied under the boulder to see if we could spot it. When we woke up in the morning, it was sitting right beside the boulder. Too easy!

This boulder was put up by Japanese climber Dai Koyamada, a climber I have always admired for his technique and focus. It was on one of his videos that I first saw it. I have a couple of things to go back for in Sustenpass, but not this autumn. So many other, harder things to do in Scotland right now.

AC Joint grade 3 separation - successful rehab protocol
I had a severe (grade 3) AC joint separation in 2017. I followed a careful rehab programme and was back to reasonably hard climbing (8b) in six weeks and normal climbing (V14) in 12 weeks, well ahead of schedule. In this episode, I share what I did, when and why.
Edge Hangboards are back!
Nice patterning on the Edge board

Nice patterning on the Edge board

We just collected a big batch of Edge Hangboards and these are back in stock in the shop shipping worldwide as always. Thanks to everyone who messaged and waited patiently with us for the new stock. The demand caught us a little by surprise! If you are unfamiliar with the Edge, what follows are some details about why I developed it.

I’ve used wooden fingerboards for 12 or 13 years and they propelled my standard in climbing beyond what I imagined they could. So despite being an extremely simple device, it is hard to overstate their importance in climbing training. I’d call fingerboards and fingerboarding the core exercise and equipment for strength in climbing. Something every climber ought to have in their home and use year round.

My first fingerboard was a single campus rung which cost me a few pounds. I used it to go from being stuck at around 8b/V10 for quite a few years to jumping forward to E11/9a/V14 in the space of about a year and a half. However, it wasn’t just any old piece of wood! The rounding and finish was just right for pain free comfortable training, and so I could do more on it and get stronger. Since then I’ve used some of the more popular models of wood fingerboard which are also pretty good. I’ve also visited some climbing walls with some fingerboard models which I feel are just nasty. Perhaps you can get away with lots of training on these for a while, but they just make my fingers hurt and as such end up being counterproductive in the long run. Obviously you can still make something great to train on by yourself if you have the skills. The problem is most people don’t do it and just want to buy one. So when asked to help design the Edge, I tried to think of the things I’d always wanted to make a fingerboard that is just right.

First, I wanted to avoid plunged pockets. I’ve seen some climbers do exactly what I tend to do and use poor form by ‘nestling’ fingers against the sides of the pockets for extra advantage. After a quarter of a century of climbing, my index finger joints have become permanently twisted. It could be just normal climbing that does this, I cannot be sure. However, I wanted to ensure my core training tool could not contribute to this. So I wanted a fingerboard to have an open rung to force the user to use good form.

Second, I wanted three rung sizes, all with a carefully designed profile. I experimented with lots of profiles and settled on shapes that for me hit the right balance of depth, roundedness and finish and would most likely suit most folks strength levels. The board is 580mm wide. Some climbers have asked me about the rung depths which are 45mm, 21mm and 15mm, so that they might compare between other hangboards, but this does not tell you anything useful as the difficulty of hanging the rung is a function of not just the depth but the roundedness and texture/finish of the wood. I’m all for looking at numbers in training where they can be genuinely informative. However, in my view this is not one of those cases. Which brings me to simplicity.

My overriding goal with the Edge was to make the design simple. Removing unnecessary complexity to me is a highly desirable goal in all aspects of training, including the equipment. Simplicity re-focuses the athlete on the important things like level of effort, strict form, completion of the training and listening to the body. Additionally I’m acutely aware through coaching many climbers that the somewhat garish appearance of some fingerboards are an impediment to building fingerboarding into the regular routine of climbers with family/shared homes and busy schedules. A fingerboard that is conveniently situated is a lot more likely to get used, but some non-climbing relatives or friends legitimately object to a loud or ‘homemade’ looking training setup being installed in an otherwise nicely decorated kitchen or living room! So we wanted to make the appearance of the Edge as low-key and neutral as it could be without sacrificing any functionality. Climbers who live in a climbing household, or alone, might scoff at this idea, but I’m certain that a good number of climbers I’ve coached will welcome it and finally get their home fingerboard installed.

Finally, we wanted to make the hangboard from wood that is sustainably and locally sourced and manufactured. The hardwoods used to make fingerboards is a resource which can be a contributor to environmental damage along several lines (GHG emissions, transport, deforestation etc) and we didn’t want to be a contributor to this. We knew this would noticeably raise the cost compared to some other boards which sometimes use imported wood and/or manufacture in distant corners of the globe. Edge boards are made from Scottish Ash and each board carries the precise grid reference of the source tree. It also carries the Scottish Working Woods logo. As a licensee of this label scheme, it ensures that the wood and manufacturing is local, and the scheme is managed by a range of environmental organisations such as The Forestry Commission and Reforesting Scotland, which promote sustainable practice of both forest management in Scotland and production of wood products. Clearly, this is something that’s important to me, and my guess is that it will be important to lot of climbers, who as a group are more environmentally aware in general and supportive of efforts to minimise the impact of our activities on the environment.

So, with all that said, if you are thinking “that all sounds good, I would like one, but how do I use it” I took some time to make the video above, with a good deal of information about most aspects of how to fingerboard. My view would be that what’s not in this video is less important, but if it leaves you with further questions, please leave a comment below and I’ll try to answer it, and if need be update the video. The video is aimed at folk who don’t yet habitually fingerboard, or do a bit and want to get more out of it. In due course I’ll make another one with some even more geeky details for real board monsters. I’ve also made the one below, dealing with some of the issues around metrics and measuring with respect to hangboard training.

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