Friday, December 31, 2010

Turn, Turn, Turn

A glum day today as my wonderful, faithful, and beautiful dog who has been my steadfast companion for 13 years is slowly dying.  It's hard to watch him slowly fading away. 

To everything there is a season, 
a time for every purpose under the sun. 
A time to be born and a time to die;   
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

 Kumo, engaged in one of his favourite activities, pulling sticks out of the river.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Enough About Me, Now About Me

Well, we all suffer from a little narcissism. After all, studies show that 80% of us believe ourselves to be above average. But, some people take these beliefs to a whole new dimension and enter the realm of narcissus and can do no wrong. It took me a long while to realize I had a narcissist in my life. The thing about narcissists is, they can be so damn charming. And, as expert manipulators, narcissists know exactly what to say to keep you hanging around. Being always the victim, narcissists can really work on your sympathies and you find yourself forgiving all kinds of behaviour that most of us consider unkind and inappropriate at best, belittling, demeaning and down-right nasty at worst.

I like to live with the philosophy that everyone is doing their best to get through life, and I still hold to that belief when thinking about the narcissist in my life. But, at some point, narcissists can become so toxic to your own well-being that sometimes you just have to disengage. 

 Moon Rise Over the Doghouse

Monday, December 27, 2010

Always Learning

I was skiing today - great skiing, BTW - with my friend Scott who is, without a doubt, one of the most positive people I've ever met. The great thing about skiing with Scott is not just his overall positive attitude to life, but his commitment to always learning. Scott is just one of those people who uses every opportunity to learn. You can learn a lot from someone with that attitude. A lot of skills, facts and knowledge, for sure, but also just coming to know that continuing to learn is one of life's greatest gifts. Think about it, no matter how old or how young, how experienced or naive, what nationality, colour, religion, or gender, learning is life's free gift to us all.

Today, I learnt that a good attitude to have is embodied by Scott's philosophy of life - and I quote Scott - "I play by kindergarten rules." What are kindergarten rules - sharing.

 Looking at the terrain we were skiing today.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

On Finding Ski Terrain

Recently, one of my Facebook friends who was following my regular postings of our ski days, asked how we found so many great runs and were we using Google Earth. The short answer is yes and no, and the long answer, well, that's the subject of this blog entry.

Finding good ski terrain requires a whole mish-mash of skills and knowledge that generally takes years to acquire - if it is acquired at all. First, you need to have a good handle on the weather, the past, the current, the forecast as well as general synoptic trends. Second, you must be able to read a map really well. Third, that map reading ability must translate into the ability to efficiently navigate mountainous terrain, and fourth, you must be willing to break a sweat and explore a little.

Synoptic weather patterns will tell you which areas, generally, receive more snow. Even in a relatively small area like the West Kootenays, precipitation amounts vary. The Rossland Range gets less of the white stuff than the Nelson Range. And, within the Nelson Range, the east side of Kootenay Pass will have less snow than right up at the Pass. The Kokanee Ranges do well for snowfall, while the Valkyr Range gets less. The storm track, in winter, runs a little north, so northern areas, like the Goat and Nakusp Ranges will often pick up more snow than ranges further south.

Moving from large scale synoptic patterns to day to day weather, things like wind strength and direction, cloud cover, presence of inversions can help you work out which aspect is going to have the best snow on any particular ski day. If it's been sunny with an inversion, you can pretty much rule out south or west aspects. Artic highs generally blow in with strong north winds, scouring north aspects so you'll have to look for either well protected north slopes or work other aspects. The best way to keep track of day to day weather is to keep your own weather log.

Thirdly, you MUST be able to read a map. A lot of people are hoping Google Earth will save them from learning to visualize a three dimensional image of terrain from a two dimensional map. But Google Earth actually depicts slope angle, something that is critically important to a skier, relatively poorly. Google Earth employs a digital elevation model to generate a 3D image from 2D photos so the quality and accuracy of the resultant 3D image depends on the accuracy, completeness and comprehensiveness of the digital elevation model used. Currently, Google Earth depictions of slope angle are not nearly as accurate as an experienced human user interpreting slope angle from map contours, particularly if the user has access to 20 metre TRIM data.

Being able to visualize three dimensional terrain at home from a map is of little use if, once in the field, you are unable to identify landmarks, locate terrain features and handrails, and efficiently navigate to your chosen destination. Blindly following a series of GPS waypoints plugged into your handy "turn off your brain" GPS does not count. Anecdotal as well as experimental evidence shows that people who use a GPS to navigate make more navigation errors, take more time, travel longer distances and take more stops than people navigating by "old-fashioned" methods such as using handrails, backstops, checkstops and other terrain features to find their way.

Finally, and probably most important, you gotta go out on a limb and push into terrain that is unknown to you. Sometimes everything comes together, you pick the perfect slope, with an ideal slope angle, with just the right aspect and vegetation coverage to suit the current, past and forecast weather conditions and you find some great skiing. Other times, you'll have a washout. The slope you thought was good was too steep, too shallow, too densely treed or facing the wrong way, and nothing seems to go right. What you do then is go home, think about what worked and what didn't work, what erroneous assumptions you'd made and you refine your criteria for next time. Most of us, learn the most important lessons when things don't go exactly as planned. So don't curse a wasted ski day, think about all the things you learnt that will help you make better choices next time.

 When it all comes together.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ski Touring Without a Map

Christmas Day Doug and I always go for a ski tour. The location varies, but the fact never does. We love each other, we love the mountains, we love ski touring, so spending the day out in the mountains, on skis, on Christmas Day always seems perfect.

My habit is to carry a "pocket map" on my mountain travels. A pocket map is simply a section of either the NTS 1:50,000 series or BC Basemap (TRIM) of the area we will be traveling in printed out onto a standard 8 by 11 sheet of paper. I stick this map into a zip-lock bag and shove it in my pocket. The map is so handy, that I can whip it out and look at it even while I'm skiing. Great for keeping oriented and for smart route-finding.

Lately, however, we've been skiing in some semi-secret locations - I can't divulge them here - and we never know exactly where we'll be until we get there, so I never have printed out exactly the right section of map. Today, my map didn't go quite far enough to the north or the west, so planning our exact trip was difficult. We did, in fact, spend the day skiing the area at the very edge of my map, so were not strictly in no mans land. But, I sure did miss having the full extent of the area we potentially could cover on my pocket map.

Although I can't say for sure - who can predict a future that never happened - but we may have traveled farther afield had we had in our possession a map that covered a larger area. 

 If we had more map, perhaps we could have skied to the summit of this named peak

Friday, December 24, 2010

Can You Handle the WOD?

There's a bunch of websites out there where you can get the Workout of the Day or WOD. Mountain Athlete, Gym Jones (Marc Twight's gym), Crossfit, and the Alpine Training Center, are just a few of the coaching outfits that feature killer work-outs that vary endlessly. Crossfit, as far as I know, was one of the first in the field to develop the WOD and to train individuals broadly in functional fitness. Rob Shaul, who runs Mountain Athlete, and Marc Twight, who runs Gym Jones, have taken some of the Crossfit philosophy but added more sport specific training and continue to tweak their training programs in the search for fitter and fitter athletes.

There's a whole philosophy behind these kind of training programs that - owing to my short attention span - I have never really delved into. But, what I lack in attention to philosophy, I make up for in commitment to WOD'ing. I was first introduced to WOD'ing by my strongman friend, René. I had just progressed through a fitness programme designed for ACMG guides and was dismayed to find myself the weakest and least fit I had been for years. René, who had been shaking his head at my dedication to this programme for months, avoided the dreaded, "I told you so" and simply pointed me in the direction of Crossfit. The rest, as they say, is history.

A year of religiously doing Crossfit WOD's and I was stronger than ever before. I could pump out pull-ups - even weighted pull-ups, pushups, squats, and strong-arm my way through various Olympic lifts. My climbing ability jumped a solid grade or two. Some people, particularly those in the health industry, seemed threatened by this new type of work-out and constantly felt the need to "diss" the workouts, finding fault with just about everything. But these were the same people who were miles behind when we were out ski-touring and who couldn't pull off a single pull-up.

These days, I'm a Mountain Athlete junky. Rob Shaul at Mountain Athlete trains mountain climbers and guides, skiers, bikers and ice and rock jocks. Crossfit WOD's are thee days on, one day off, while Mountain Athlete is a three times weekly schedule. Being prone to overdoing, rather than underdoing things, I actually try to fit in four workouts a week, two climbing and two general fitness workouts. The interesting thing about WOD's is that only a select group of people will make the effort to do the workouts and stick with them. It seems that 99% of people, just can't hack them. I think the best way I could sum up any one of these workouts is by quoting a Crossfit regular who quipped, when asked what the "standard" Crossfit cool-down was, said "collapse on the floor and try not to vomit." 

 Pullups on the Millenium Bridge

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On Track Setting

I hate poorly set skin-tracks. You know the ones - they feature excessive (any more than zero is excessive) kick turns, they climb straight up for a distance only to drop down again, they feature too many turns and you feel like you are going in circles. Or they feature too few turns and you end up either miles from your destination, perhaps in unfriendly or worse, dangerous, terrain. Skin tracks that ignore the nuances of terrain and bust up silly steep angles or go up and over every minor terrain feature instead of contouring. But, surely the worst skin track of all is the one that you are going to follow back out at the end of the day that goes uphill, when it should go gently downill, so you sweat and strain to climb up little rises with your skins off and your freshly waxed bases doing what they do best - slide downhill.

I wish I could say I always set great skin tracks, but I don't. I try my best, but sometimes I get it wrong, not horribly wrong (usually) but annoyingly wrong. Like today. Doug and I skinned up to Signpost Pass out of Kootenay Pass. Setting a good up-track up to Signpost Pass is important because, at the end of the day, when you ski out, you'll be using it. People familiar with Signpost Pass will remember that, apart from the final 200 metres climb to the pass, the terrain in the valley leading up to Signpost Pass is very low angle - flat, low angle. So, ideally, your trail climbs gently from the get-go and, at the end of the day, you ski down the top 200 metres, then pick up your up-track and cruise out.

Once around the ridge that runs north from Baldy Rocks, it's actually quite easy to set a good up-track if you stay pretty much smack dab in the middle of the valley. I usually use the creek as a handrail and this has always led me naturally and easily to the pass. Getting around the ridge, however, is very difficult to get the perfect up-track as the terrain almost always forces some downhill (on the way up) sections. Today, I would say Doug and I set probably the worst up-track I've ever set to Signpost Pass.

I started the problem by going too low getting around the ridge and ended up setting a track that was almost all uphill - on the way out. Then Doug took over and climbed too high and too far east onto a minor spur ridge that lies on the east side of the valley. Then, further up the valley, we both agreed to go right (west) near the final climb, instead of left (east), and ended up to the west of Signpost Pass. None of these were egregious errors, and, on the way up, they probably only delayed us by a few minutes, but at the end of the day, skiing out in the semi-dark, we did not have a nice quick track to follow and ended up slipping, sliding, sweating and swearing as we followed a poorly set up-track. We probably spent an extra ten minutes getting out. What's the big deal with ten minutes, you might be thinking, but on long trips that require fast and efficient travel, ten minutes here and there adds up to a lot of time and energy over the course of the day and could just make the difference between making your destination, having to turn back early, or even, worse, getting benighted.

You can read more about good track-setting here, but the best way to learn good track setting is to get out into lots of different and unfamiliar terrain and work on your technique. 

 Wind Rolls on the south side of the Crags, a challenge for track setting.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Silky light on the Slocan Rail Grade

Today Doug and I cross-country skied along the rail-grade that runs from South Slocan to Slocan City.  The rail-grade is non-motorized - what a joy - and runs gently uphill to Slocan City.  While not wilderness, a ski, hike or bike along the rail-grade makes a pleasant and largely peaceful outing.  

As we skied south on our return, silvery light was playing across the Slocan River and onto the trees fringing the river, seemingly almost to dance up to the mountains of the Bonnington Range.  As ethereal as mist, I could not capture it with my camera. 

The Bonnington Range behind the Slocan River

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On Personal Responsibility

Over the weekend there was a KMC ski trip to the top of Mount Dundee in the Nelson Range. At this point, you should not panic if you know nothing about Mount Dundee as, at 1919 metres, it is hardly a mountain of great note or repute. Mount Dundee lies on the height of land between Oscar and Ymir (Wildhorse) Creeks and is, in fact, almost completely tree covered. I say almost, as there are some views of Mounts Baldy and Wurttemberg from the top. An old mine lies on the west slopes and provides some interesting wandering among old mine tunnels and grave sites if you happen to be in the area. But, as a ski trip, Mount Dundee is not one that most people will overly enjoy as, depending on what route you take, it involves a long slog up a logging road that is frequently rutted and icy from the passage of snow-mobiles.

I have, in fact, to my own consternation, skied to the summit of Mount Dundee twice. The first time, I skied up via an old mining road on the west side, spending exactly 1 hour and 50 minutes on roads (the main-line and an old mining road) and the remaining 1 hour and 25 minutes skiing through light timber and open glades. I skied off the south side enjoying some pleasant glade skiing for the first 120 metres before the timber got tighter to the mainline - which was groomed - and out to my starting point in 50 minutes.

The second time I skied up Mount Dundee the road was plowed to 1640 metres and we skied to the summit via a cutblock, lightly treed slopes and glades on the south side in about 40 minutes. The ski down was almost fun, the whole adventure consuming under one hour of travel time.

All that aside, as a ski destination, the truth is that Mount Dundee is unlikely to appeal to most people. While there are a few people who either enjoy or at least happily tolerate long logging road slogs, my read of the majority of skiers is that they prefer trips that involve less valley slogging, more time in the alpine and more opportunities to make turns. So, I'm always surprised at how many people turn out for what may become (this is the second year in a row the trip has run) the annual Mount Dundee ski tour.

The people I've heard from who've done the tour seem to have returned sore footed and somewhat disgruntled, apparently surprised that they spent the greater part of the day skiing up and down a logging road. Now, two things come to mind. The first, of course, is that perhaps the trip coordinator should make it clear that this trip involves at least three to four hours of logging road skiing, and the second is that perhaps the onus should be on participants to think a little bit about what they are getting involved in. Even a cursory glance at 82F/06 (you'll find Mount Dundee at GR892605, NAD83) should give even the dimmest skier some idea of what the trip will involve.

Which in the end, brings me round to personal responsibility. All the information required to work out exactly what sort of day you'll have skiing up Mount Dundee is readily available - paper maps and on-line maps, Google Earth, and, there is even a trip report of last years ski trip to Mount Dundee in the January/February issue of the newsletter. So, whose fault is it that you returned foot sore and weary - your own. 

 Taken from the top of Mount Dundee, looking NE, the big peak is Mount Baldy

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Purpose of Blogs

As far as I can see, the purpose of a blog is so you can get onto your own personal soap-box and enjoy the occasional - or depending on temperament - frequent rant.  And, as anyone who admits to even a passing acquaintance with me knows, I do enjoy an episodic rant.  

Having recently become hooked into the Facebook network - Doug and I have taken to posting photos of our mountain adventures.  It's fun to post a couple of pictures of your latest day out skiing or climbing, fun to see what your friends have been doing, and, I'll admit it, fun to engage in some spraying.  So maybe, it should come as no surprise that a bit of spraying about the awesome skiing we've had lately inevitably draws out of the woodwork all the people who want to know exactly where you were skiing so they can go there themselves.  

Generally, I'm kind of vague about that.  Likely, it's just pure selfishness - I've found some great skiing in some awesome terrain with superb snow and I'd like to keep it to myself.  After all, "there are no friends on powder days."  Undoubtedly, this drives all the people who want the exact directions, right turns, left turns, GPS coordinates, latitude, longitude whatever, crazy.  But there it is. 

I could pass off my lack of explicit directions as owing to some kind of philosophical belief that allows that only that which we have truly earned - by finding the location for yourself - will we truly appreciate, but, it's likely that it's just pure selfishness. 

Certainly, the desire to go out and explore terrain seems to be a dying value.  I always think of exploring terrain as a calculated risk - the slope/terrain that looks so awesome on the map may or may not turn out to be as good as you think.  The risk is that you slog all day for some miserable skiing, the reward is that the terrain turns out to be better than you think and you have one of the greatest days of the season.  The more you explore, the better you get at judging terrain from a map, and the higher ratio of great days to miserable days you have, so, that by the time you've been doing this as long as I have, there are actually few surprises. 

But, you may have to suffer through a few days, weeks, seasons or years - depending on how motivated you are to learn - of time where the miserable days outnumber the great days.  But, in the end, the beauty of it is, it's all up to you.  Seek out information, learn as much as you can, test your hypotheses and honestly examine the results and soon you'll be spraying about the great places you've been skiing and I'll be asking for directions.  

Ski touring in some big, beautiful alpine terrain over the weekend - don't ask where it is.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Surface facets and surface hoar make for fun skiing.

Skiing up in the Valhallas today with six other friends - a larger group than I normally like but who can say no to friends?  We had clear skies to start but, by mid-afternoon a mini-storm had moved in.  It was chilly - 12C on my thermometer with a nasty cold northeast wind blowing.  The cold temperatures had facetted the surface snow and together with a healthy crop of surface hoar, the skiing was fast and fun.  

 Skinning up a minor bump on the way home

Here's a link for some video from the day out.  

Friday, December 17, 2010

Back to the Blog

It seems I have not posted an entry to my blog since June 2007.  It's not that I haven't been doing anything, on the contrary, maybe I have been doing too much.  But, here it is ski season again, time to restart the blog with adventures in the West Kootenays, opinion pieces and general rants ... 

Here's a teaser of reports to come from a grand day out skiing in the south end of the Kokanee Range.