December 23, 2009 posted by

Echo Wall

In need of a last-minute Christmas gift? I suggest Echo Wall, Claire Macleod’s award-winning film about her husband’s obsession to climb what is probably the hardest dangerous pitch on the planet. It’s a low budget affair but plot is one of legend. In stark contrast to “porn” format that defines most climbing films, Echo Wall is a human interest story that happens to be about climbing. It follows a man on top of his game who’s willing to risk everything, literally, in pursuit of a dream.

Echo Wall was released over a year ago but the climbing world is still coming to grips with it. This is because Macleod refused to rate the route of the film’s title. It’s obviously hard, since he solos an 8c (5.14b) sport route to prepare himself to execute hard moves in a dire situation. Given the actual ascent of the climb looks much harder than that, we’re left to guess about it. It’s also located deep in the high mountains of northern Scotland, with a frightfully long approach, and has a very short climbing season. Hot shot climbers from around the globe aren’t exactly lining up for a repeat. Planet Mountain recently sat down with Dave where he reflects on the route and how it has changed his life.

Echo Wall, Ben Nevis, by Dave Macleod

From the article,

It was interesting to see how others reacted to the route in the UK after I had done it. Mostly people were interested in the significance of the route – to find the correct pigeon hole for it. Is it E11? Is it the hardest trad route in the world? Did you nearly die on it? The best I could offer to answer all of these questions was ‘possibly’ or at best ‘probably’. In fact, to offer any answer at all felt uncomfortable for me because weak comparisons between routes that could be a little bit hard or a little bit easier could not be further from my reasons for climbing it. How many trad routes are there in the world with 8c or harder climbing in a situation where falling will be fatal and situated on a mountain with few days of good conditions? As far as I know, Echo Wall is the only one? But is this important? The level of commitment required was very high.

Ultimately it’s this type of thinking that sets the film Echo Wall apart. Macleod is an analytical climber who understands the physiology of his sport (he has a degree in it) and is steeped in its history. This perspective helps drive the film’s narrative(as well as their last, E11). He understands the significance of his objective, as well as the fact that moments like this are rare in life.

I was so lucky to find such a great outlet for my energy. It was really worth looking and looking to find it. When the right conditions are set up like this, so much flows from the connection of energy and inspiration. Even after the route, the experience kept producing new pleasures in making our film of the preparation and ascent with my wife Claire. Watching Claire push herself hard to make the filming of this possible helped me to raise my effort too. I hope we are able to find something like this again.

In the film we get to see Macleod’s mind transform as the route goes from pipe dream project, when he can’t manage the individual moves, to a reality when he manages to toprope it. These scene where he makes the decision to lead it is gut wrenching. We can’t even imagine what’s going through his wife’s mind as she’s filming him but the thought is not comforting. Her words are withdrawn, tentative, as are his responses. But then we see another transformation and finally understand why his commitment is so crystal clear.

In the article, Macleod sums up his Echo Wall experience with, “I felt that people are only limited by deciding what they really want to do, not whether they can do it or not. It’s as simple as that. It’s great that a sport can teach such a powerful lesson.”


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