Teetering on the ledge – sometimes all it takes is one person to change a life

Sometimes all it takes is one person to change the trajectory of an entire life and, in turn, create a ripple effect on many others. For Duncan McCallum, who is currently developing a world-class climbing centre and mental-health charity in the capital of the Scottish Highlands, teacher Steve Clousten was just that person.
As a youth struggling with dyslexia before it was a widely understood condition and an overwhelming sense of displacement and ostracism while enrolled at the Dingwall Academy in the 70s, Mr. Clousten walked into Duncan’s life when he needed him most…and it changed everything.
As the head of the school hillwalking club, Steve Clousten spent every weekend dragging a ragged, hopeless bunch of kids, Duncan included, off west to go bag Munros (mountains in Scotland over 3,000ft/915m) in the school Transit van. Some may think this type of company would spoil what would otherwise be an excellent hill day, but as far as Duncan recalls, Mr. Clousten loved sharing the magic of the mountains with them. It seemed like nothing but a joy for him to spend his time showing these kids a different perspective, both literally and figuratively.
It is this early exposure to the hills that lit a fire in Duncan’s heart. A newfound passion was born, and he finally felt like he had found his place – the mountains.
The first time Duncan ever roped in was at the protective hands of Mr. Clousten himself, but his first proper climb took place a year later with a young farm manager called Ian Dalley, who projected Duncan into a whole new world via the passenger seat of a dark blue MGB GT hurling west towards Ullapool.
To this day, Duncan can still recall the smell of the carburettor petrol as he stuffed cassettes into the tape player blaring, “The Kid in the Mountain” by Planxty on their drive. His role in this unstated contract? To hold Ian’s ropes as he climbed November Groove VS on Stac Pollaidh.
After this first escapade, Duncan was hooked and became an unofficial apprentice, first to Ian, and later to Lord John Mackenzie, who introduced Duncan to climbing first ascents, new routing and winter exploration.  Lord John, now the Clan Chief of the Mackenzies, was (and still is) a force of nature who had an unbounded enthusiasm for exploring the cliffs and mountains of the Highlands. But it was Kenny Spence (one of the most underrated climbers of his generation) and a group of activists from Edinburgh, including Rab Anderson and Dave ‘Cubbie’ Cuthbertson, who solidified Duncan’s budding passion for the sport of climbing…and it’s all Duncan has thought about since.
40 years later, Duncan often reflects on the astonishing people that exposed him to these life-changing experiences and is paying it forward to the next generation of adventurers by building a world-class climbing gym and mental health charity in the capital of the Scottish Highlands. This will not only be a centre of excellence, but also create a myriad of opportunities for all.
After years of travelling the globe in the pursuit of adventure, from the frozen tundra to the jungles of Borneo, Duncan is finally coming home to positively impact lives in memory of the man who took him out for his first heather cushioned steps in the hills, Steve Clousten. Sadly, Mr. Clousten is no longer here to see this dream fulfilled, but when completed, The Ledge will be a fitting celebration of his life and his commitment to sharing his love of the mountains with those who needed it most.
With a large, proposed school programme, as well as a commitment to work with those individuals most at risk, it is Duncan’s hope and desire that The Ledge Climbing Gym will bring hope and inspiration to those who need it most.
With the vision of ‘vertical living’, a phrase that signifies standing with confidence and clarity, the charity aims not only to nurture and inspire the next generation of climbers but also to offer skills and strategies grained through climbing as a springboard for better coping mechanisms, resilience, and strength in all aspects of the members’ lives moving forward.
Climbing walls are a place of transformation on all levels. Building mental, physical, and emotional strength and resilience, developing problem solving skills and reminding us that we are stronger and more capable than we realise. Climbing and adventure sports encourage us to push beyond our own perceived limits and those accomplishments replace self-loathing with a sense of pride and confidence. It’s this kind of personal growth that opens windows to new worlds, just when we thought all the doors were shut.

the ledge climbing gym


But much like climbing, the project has been an uphill battle, with a few false summits to boot. Despite multiple setbacks along the seven-year journey of making this dream a reality, the end is finally in view with the acquisition of a site and planning permission. Thanks to the perseverance gained from a life of adversity through adventure sports, Duncan is finally bringing Scotland its first bouldering wall of Olympic standard in the Highland capital.
Discussing his hopes for the future, Duncan McCallum, CEO of The Ledge, said: “The Ledge is not really the building, but the concept of community and collaboration anchored by climbing. I would like to see Ledge Centres in the likes of London, Birmingham, and Dundee, or at least our programmes being used in other places. It should become, or has become, the byword for changing lives in the outdoors world. If we change one life in 20 years that would be good, but of course, I would like to think we will have changed hundreds for the better, created jobs, pathways, and developed successful programs which could be rolled out internationally. There is no reason we cannot do this.”
A crowdfunding campaign has been launched to help support the build of the state-of-the-art centre. To find out more and support the charity’s aims of empowering the community, the link to donate is: https://www.theledgeclimbing.com/the-ledge-bouldering-and-climbing-gym/