New website and home



I've moved!

You'll find me now at what-should-have-been-done-all-along website of www.nealmcquaid.com.

Two blogs:

  • Personal: all things related to travels, climbing, life, etc.
  • Tech and Education: Everything else. I have a passion for technology, trends so this facilitates this.




Climbing Competitions

With all the competitions that have been on, and are coming (deadline for the ILCC's is tomorrow.....) up, saw this and thought it was a great promotion of the 'fun' of competitions. Competitions have a bit of a reputation amongst many climbers of not being cool, interesting, not-real-climbing, etc - but having had my own perspective opened up over the years, even the National events are fantastic fun..... are you competing?



"The Competitor's Spirit" with Sierra Blair-Coyle from Cedar Wright on Vimeo.

* p.s unfortunately I'm on a course for the Irish Coaching Awards (email me if you want more details) so won't be doing the ILCC's myself. After running them for a few years, I was hoping to join in as a competitor this year which wasn't meant to be. Just means I'll have no excuses for next year :)

More Training Video insights from Daniel Woods

Louder Than Eleven continues to produce excellent videos - a live broadcast (video below) last night of a sample training session with Daniel Woods. Impressive. Also, anyone attending the Reel Rock 8 tomorrow night in Dublin, prepare to have a good laugh with the same individual :) With my own memories of early trips and naive mishaps and errors (although not on the same par as this!), I could only smile fondly. I just ended up thinking that I hope everyone has some of these amusing experiences.......

Updated: I've only managed to watch half of this myself. I'm amused to see Woods crushed after the initial exercises - my own experience with a Personal Trainer last year left me in the same condition (at one point, I had to sit down after the session for an hour before making the 15 minute cycle home!). It may sound grim, but I do know after only 5-6 weeks with this Trainer I was climbing the hardest boulder problems I'd ever done......


35 - "And Friends, of course, my Friends"


As I see this winning the Best Short Mountain Film at the Banff Film Festival, it's worth posting again. What's great is most of the video shows the guy climbing, but the movie is about everything else.

Only part I'd take something different is to choose getting on a plane - there's a big world out there, and as I see some very narrow-minded thinking in all walks of life, sometimes seeing a fresh perspective elsewhere will do wonders. So long as you're open to change of course.......






In short, Awesome.

Review: Belay Specs


We ended up getting a hand on a pair of belay glasses while in the Red also. Having looked at, and considered, them for years, it became quickly apparent pretty much all climbing in the Red River Gorge is overhanging so our necks were taking a pounding leaning back to keep an eye on the climber.

In short: Your neck is very very happy from these. No more tight neck and shoulder muscles from belaying!

In length: While attending the Rocktoberfest, we met the USA-based crew who manufacture Belay Specs (official website). In short, they work exactly the same as other models on sale, only at the much improved price (in the USA at least) of $80/€60. Can't go wrong at that.

In short, they've been great. The case is perfectly sized to keep the glasses snug and stop them rattling around. They come with a cleaning cloth for keeping the glass nice and clear. The fit is fine for me, an after learning to make they sure they were fully pushed back onto the bridge of my nose to give the steepest viewing angle, they were perfect.

A couple of points to note (which affect all belay glasses):

  • For some (including me), the first time I wore them I had a headache and eye strain, I think from focusing through the glass. After wearing them for the first two routes, I've never had it again.
  • You don't look perfectly up, it's most like a couple of degrees forward from vertical. It does mean you don't stand directly under the person, but back a bit.
  • As mentioned on the safety label inside the box, you shouldn't wear them for the first 6-8 metres as it's impossible to judge what is going on.
  • When a person falls off, it can be tricky to track where they're falling. On our last day, on very damp rock, Naomi fell off while clipping a quickdraw (i.e. with the rope in her hand) about 6 bolts up a route - I essentially lost sight of her momentarily as I adjusted my viewing direction as she took flight. Most importantly however, you get used to it! I also suspect for this reason belay glasses might be dodgy on mountain terrain and rockfall (I suspect it would not be easy to dodge rockfall looking through prisms!).


Unfortunately Belay Specs can't be purchased in Europe at this time due to some interesting issues between them and CU glasses but if you're visiting the States, it's well worth keeping an eye out for them.

The Red - end of trip catch-up

What a place:

Beautiful scenery (definitely coming in the Fall is the best time of year to come, just to see the changing of all the leaves across the forest).
America for all it's amazing qualities, and it's flaws.
The amusement of seeing Miguel's campsite in a 'dry' county, but able to purchase beer in another county only a kilometer up the road.
Eating Miguel's awesome pizzas.
The realization of just. how. big. the USA. is.


And the people, what a great bunch of people (mainly American, but lots of internationals too). This is why I travel as much as I climb - to meet those with a similar bond:
In no particular order:
- Spider, in his 50's/60's absolutely going for it on routes in the mid 7's/5.12's
- Dru, a soon-to-be-if-not-already 8b+/5.14a crusher, with an awesome attitude.
- Nate & Natalie - positive energy
- Elodie, still traveling and inspring!
- Sabina and Matt of Switzerland, eternally smiling as the Red pump overtook their arms
- Margarita, in her 40's/50's?, killing Flower Power 8a.
- The Austrians showing their on another level to everyone else.......
- All those females going for it on the 5.12's and 13's
- Pat and Boone the dog
- Johnny, the first every James Joyce fanatic I've come across, and in all places Kentucky. For reminding me I never want to wreck my shoulder climbing!
- Those two amputee climbers (both climbing with one prosthetic leg) climbing 5.13 (7c+ and above). I'm humbled.
- Canadian Phil, the wall owner, for what he's doing to help the local disadvantaged kids.
- Eddie B and Alex B, nice to meet faces from home!
- Amanda showing the Arkansaw psyche and laugh
- Rick and Liz Webber for showing me a true passion for giving back to the community

The RRGCC and the Webber's
What was truly inspiring was the structure in how access has been arranged to many of the climbing areas. In a turn that I've never seen anywhere else in the world, the local community of climbers have grouped together to form the Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition to not only maintain relationships with local land owners, but also buy any areas that have issues. Most notably, some of the most major climbing crags in The Red (Bob Marley, Chocolate Factory, The Motherlode, etc) all were threatened with closure due to access issues, so the RRGCC bought all 700 acres of land there (with the accompanying $30,000 a year mortgage), all fully funded by donations from climbers. How inspiring is that and the power of the community!
As for the Webbers, both in their late 60's (and Rick still climbing 5.12), they own, pay for 90% of all the maintenance fees, and host 30,000 climbers per year on their property, The Muir Valley - which is open to all, free of charge (although, they're obviously keen to take donations). Having met Rick on our first morning there, as he walked around to welcome everyone (as they seem to do every single morning), it was a privilege to get to explore their wonderful land and climbing (it's about the size of Glendalough valley with hundreds of climbs). For more information, Outsider Magazine has a great article/interview here.

And of course, I have to mention the climbing. Yes, it's as good as they say. Being sandstone, there is challenging sections caused by sheer blankness which can be overcome easily by reach or with major difficulty by shorter climbers, that's about the only bad thing I can say. The bolting is sparce too which makes for epic falls too and lets you focus just on the fun of climbing and movement. Knowing that there's lots of wild and dangerous creatures (snakes, bears, etc) in the forest makes for a truly special destination.

We camped this time at Miguel's but next time I'd love to bring enough people to book this out. The 'Penthouse', a 16-person cabin that Miguel has to rent.


Sipping down some of the local refreshment soft drink.
Five Ten Teams and a Sterling Nano rope. Both perfectly at home. If you're on the lookout for new gear, you'd be doing well to consider these.



Eddie Barbour, high on 'Last of the Bohicans', 5.13c/8b on a last-day send.

Hallowe'en dessert-eating party at Miguels. All made by the campers.
Lovely shot from last day of Naomi trying Chainsaw Massacre 5.12b/7b at the Motherlode on the least steep section of wall


Naomi taking the plummet of Chainsaw!
Nice book to arrive home to!
'Arty' shot taken approaching Chicago on the return flight.


In the end, it was a great trip. I didn't climb as well as I'd hoped (I was pushing to break into a new grade) but left onsighting most 7c's, almost onsighting 7c+ (dropped two soooo close to the chains) and climbing 8a+ third redpoint. I did have a go or two on one of the well known 8b's but came away with my tail between my legs from some crucial errors - it's becoming obvious that at 8b I can't always figure out the moves on my own, and also need some guidance on how to climb such difficult, sustained, movement. Nice to know I've been able to get to 8a+ on my own though. Not bad overall.
Naomi gained a lot of new experience climbing on the much steeper than usual terrain she's comfortable on which I suspect has opened up a lot of new climbing for her. Eddie Barbour was killing it under the guiding hand of Alex Barrows too - impressive to see the two guys taking down a bunch of hard routes including one of the classic 8b+'s in the Motherlode.

The Red 5

Beautiful looking 5.13b arete being cruised by a French climber we'd met in Ceuse

Eddie Barbour gunning for it on 'Last of the Bohicans' 5.13c at the Madness Cave, The Motherlode

Maurice Liddy on just another beautiful 5.11 in the Muir Valley

Naomi high on 'Bathtub Mary', 5.11b in the Muir Valley

Naomi on a short and sweet 5.11, Muir Valley


Belay Specs (review soon!) - the best purchase in ages and an essential requirement for the steepness of The Red

The Red 4

 Flash attempt of Flower Power, 5.13b/8a. Note to self, don't try this on third day of climbing.... Ended up unsuccessfully another clip higher. Wild climbing, 50+ degrees overhanging for 15 metres where the main action takes place. About 5.12a to the sit-down rest (where there's colouring books, crayons and magazines to keep you entertained - they've got a good sense of humor here :)

Naomi working moves on the classic route 'Tuna Town', 5.12d. Looking strong! Sustained climbing to a poor shake before a big run-out (and the crux) to the chains!


On-sight attempt of Easy Rider, 5.13a. Fell off the 2nd last hold, doh!

Taking the ride. The Red, home of big falls.

The Red 3 and Roctoberfest


Now that's a slackline!

Crate stacking at Roctoberfest - 28 crates is the record :)

Couple hundred to watch Reel Rock 8. Well worth watching. Roctoberfest being an amazing event - all proceeds going to buying the crags around The Red to ensure access. Inspiring to see the community come together.

Anyone want to take on a project for Ireland on a new photobook? It's been rumoured before and this book reminded me of it.....

Get better before you get stronger



Back when I was living in Sheffield and slowly drowning under the workload of commuting back and forth to Ireland at weekends and completing a Teacher Training course at the same time, I was only getting away climbing intermittently. In all honestly, work-life balance largely sucked and I never really got the opportunity make the most of the wonders of Sheffield. As is wont to happen when you're super busy, it's pretty obvious that it means limited time to train (And thus reduced performance). The problem above however gave me a lovely reminder in the ways of it not all being about strength. It's one called Captain Hook, one that the bloke in the photo above is doing his best to demolish with giant arms. (definitely not me then ;). I remember spending a session on this, thoroughly getting smacked down and coming away with the usual thoughts everyone gets from these experiences - not fit enough, not strong, etc...... As it happens I got away over Hallowe'en to the magical forest of Fontainbleau, a week-long blur of tearing around the forest just climbing for the sake of climbing (people still those sorts of trips right, it's not always about what you ticked, right?). The day after coming back, I floated up the above Captain Hook with ease......
I definitely didn't get stronger from just that week (although it obviously helped), but what it did to is re-engage a lot of motor skills and excellent climbing movement back into gear. What happened was my body awareness and balance got a jump-start.

The more and more coaching I do in recent times, the more and more I'm spending time re-thinking (and re-confirming) much of my opinions on the game of getting better. Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. So many people are rushing (or already have leapt down this route) down the 'must get stronger!' route) that I thought this was worth a refresher (I even re-read the article below myself again with fresh eyes to analyse my own climbing**). Of course that makes no sense without descriptions and much of it comes down to good technique. How many super-human strong people can you see at the wall pulling off fancy training stunts but not climbing anywhere better than those others at the wall? Spending time dialling in, and even re-dialling in, the essentials should be a pre-requisite for all.

I came across this excellent article from Andrew Bisharat (a previous editor of Rock and Ice, and author of the nice intro book to climbing book, Sport Climbing: From Top Rope to Redpoint, Techniques for Climbing Success) recently and it sums up many of the essentials. For anyone interested in improving, it's worth a read (even if you're 'experienced', it might give you a refresher in some skills).

*Fundamentals of course, also includes other things such as route-reading, confidence either above boulder pads or on a rope but they're another story. (although as a hint to many who seem to think just 'manning up', climbing way above your quickdraw and jumping off is the best way to learn how to be confident in falling, you're doing the wrong thing - start small!).

**I'm also not saying that getting stronger is the wrong thing to do (especially considering I myself and am currently focusing on this extensively at present), but that there's fundamental issues that should be worked on first and for an extensive period of time.

Free Climbing Tips: Why Get Stronger When You Can Get Better?
Being good at rock climbing is all about learning proper technique and then ingraining it so it becomes second nature. In the long run, technique will take you much further than a strong back and a vice grip. Yet most climbers are hyper-focused on trying to get stronger oftentimes at the expense of learning good tecehnique.Emily Harrington, who has climbed multiple 5.14's in various stages of personal fitness, recognizes the superlative of proper technique. Emily has been climbing for 13 years, putting in well over the requisite 10,000 hours one supposedly needs to master any craft. As a result, she believes that no matter what shape she's in, she will always be able to climb at a baseline of 5.12a (7a) throughout life.If you know how to move your body, you should be able to climb 5.12a (7a), Emily says, no matter how strong' you are.This may seem surprising to the climbers out there for whom 5.12a is a lifetime goal, yet the point is not that 5.12 is easy, but rather that proper technique honed over many hours of practice is more enduring than one's momentary form (strength and fitness). The problem is, it's easier to get stronger than it is to get better. Anyone can go to the gym and rip off a bunch of reps or climb a bunch of boulder problems and feel as though they have accomplished something. Training with the goal of improving technique is more cerebral, requiring a certain degree of consciousness about what you're doing. This is because good technique is all about ingraining movements, coordinating the upper and lower body and maintaining awareness of how much effort you're expending to the point that it becomes second nature. Great climbers aren't thinking about what they need to do -- they just do the exact right thing. This is the art of free climbing.Improvements in one's technique are much less tangible -- harder to measure or gauge. Thus, it can be difficult to know how to approach the gym with the goal of becoming a better free climber. Here are a few tips that you may find useful:First, be good: Many beginner and intermediate climbers have approached me wanting to know how to get strong, but I've never heard anyone ask how to get good. The two are undoubtedly related. But instead of jumping on the hardest route or boulder problem you think you can do, focus on making perfect ascents of easier routes and problems. Try to be good before you try to be strong. How perfectly can you climb something?Bad feet: Problems in the gym typically get harder as the hand holds become worse and farther apart, while usually the foot jibs remain pretty good. But if you have the ability to help set some problems wherever you climb indoors, I recommend setting decent hand holds and the worst, most polished, difficult-to-stand-on footholds you can find. You want them to be bad, but not so bad that you just force a campus move. You want the focus to be on using your feet properly -- the first and most lastingly important step in becoming good. As a double benefit, nothing will get you stronger than climbing problems with bad feet.Master the back-step: One of the most useful maneuvers in climbing is the back-step, where you stand on the outside edge of your right foot and rotate your lower body so that your right hip is against the wall (or vice versa). Most people climb straight on, with their hands and feet set as if they were climbing up a ladder. If you watch great climbers, they are rarely so squared up; one hip or another is always twisted toward the wall, with a foot back-stepping. Also, focus on getting into back-steps quicker. Many climbers put, say, their left foot on a hold, then match their right foot on the hold in the back-step position. Instead of messing around with matching feet, many times it's better to cross the right leg over and get into the back-step right away.
Stand Up: You've undoubtedly heard the advice, Keep your arms straight! But, of course, if your arms were straight the whole time, you wouldn't be able to flex them to pull yourself upward. When you're hanging on holds, indeed, it's a good idea to keep your arms straight. But the second part of this advice that's left out is how to begin initiating your upward movement. Typically, beginners will initiate the move with their arms: pulling themselves up, locking off like on a pull-up bar, with their feet way low. Instead, try to always initiate your upward movement with your legs. Keep your arms straight and lever yourself upward by pressing with your feet. Eventually, you'll have to flex your arms, but try to do so only after you've initiated the upward movement with the legs--even if it's just a little bit. Teach yourself what this feels like by climbing easy (5.6) routes in the gym. Hang from straight arms and try to drive yourself upward as far as you can by high-stepping your feet and using only your leg muscles to stand up on every hold.Wear better shoes: Beginners typically choose loose-fitting comfortable shoes. But no matter what grade you climb, I recommend you get a high-end pair of shoes that are snug (not tight!). Higher end shoes give youmuch more precision, and do a better job of allowing you to use all parts of your foot. This is the one and only piece of gear that can actually make a difference in your climbing! Get the best fitting pair of high-end shoes you can find.Develop your own style: Something that often gets lost when "experts" try to teach beginners how to climb/what to do is that there is no such thing as one perfect way to climb a route or problem. There are no hard and fast rules. For some climbers, the best solution to a problem will be to climb fast and very dynamically -- it's possible that this will be more efficient for them. Others may find it works better for them to climb at a slower pace, more statically and with greater control. This is where free climbing becomes an art of self-expression. Cherish this. For example, in his clinics, Dave Graham spends a lot of time helping people develop their own styles by having a group of people figure out two or three different beta sequences that work on a given problem. Try to climb a problem two or three different ways. See what works for you. Don't be afraid to experiment. Perhaps it's easiest to just dyno! Ultimately, the best style is the one that gets you to the top most efficiently.
Avoid finger injuries: Have you ever noticed that climbers typically blow a tendon within their first three years of climbing? Beginner climbers tend to race through the grades relying on rapid strength gains, not technique, which creates a false sense of ability that encourages them to get on hard, crimpy routes before their tendons are ready for them. While the musculature may be there, building up the tendon resilience to withstand the stress of hanging from small holds takes a long time -- sometimes three years or more. Avoid finger injuries by using the open-hand grip indoors whenever you can. Also, STOP crimping before your fingers feel sore! Admittedly, this is easier said than done.Build a base: Dani Andrada, one of the best climbers in the world, was rumored to have redpointed 50 5.13b's before he even considered getting on a 5.13c. While those grades are admittedly elite, the lesson still applies: Take the time needed to master the easier grades before moving on. Did you redpoint 50 5.11d's before even trying a 5.12a?Make climbing a practice: We try to perform our best every single time we enter the gym or a crag. Instead, start thinking of your climbing sessions as a practice. If you climb two or three times per week -- don't worry, the strength will come. But for right now, focus on mastering good technique.

Live stream of European Youth Cup this weekend (Irish youths competing!)


Firstly, congrats to Damo on taking over my role at Mountaineering Ireland. Exciting times in Irish climbing with the work from all the various participants of the era I started climbing in. Fun times!

On the Youth front, it's first weekend of the year for the IFSC Youth competitions taking place in Grindelwand, Switzerlenad. In a cool change reported on the IFSC official website, they're streaming the finals of the event! There's a nice trailer below.

Some may remember that Grindelwand was the major success story last year with Dominic Burns winning the event last year. With the strong field and all competitors in the older category of Youth A, here's looking forward to another great competition and experience for all the competitors :)
The Stream can be watched on www.boulderhappening.ch or on www.sac-cas.ch, May 26th 8:30 am – 4:00 pm (European Times)
Male Youth A finals (the category all the Irish competitors are in) start around 11:30am Irish time (from what I can work out on this page :)

Panorama(s) - Portrane and slacklining in Glendalough

After all the writing last week, some nice photos to mix it up today. If anyone discusses over whether to get an iPhone or not, my default answer is for the camera alone, an iPhone every time (the Panaroma feature works automagically, no extra apps/gimmicks required.

Enjoy.


Portrane last week on a beautiful day. Fond memories of my first forays bouldering outdoors here!

Naomi, of ElementsYoga (and provider of the climbing yoga classes at Awesome Walls and near Gravity) making the most of a nice platform up the path. Main bouldering area in Glendalough all below and to the left.

First time I'd ever seen this happening in Glendalough! Theo walking a slackline across the river yesterday. Super inspiring to watch!

....and thinking about the return journey. Which turned out to be much harder as the line was downhill so requires more preparation. Next time Theo!!!!!