Sunday, January 30, 2011

What you can learn from dogs

Kumo had so few possessions - a bed, a blanket and a stuffed bear - yet he was probably the most joyful being I have ever known.  He thrived on experiences not inanimate objects.  In a world where people are consumed with having more and more possessions and yet become less and less satisfied, there is a lot to be learned from our best doggy friends.  

Kumo catnapping with his bear

Friday, January 28, 2011

I went to the woods ....

Henry David Thoreau went to the woods because he "wanted to live deliberately".  I went to the woods today for solace as I mourn the death of my best buddy, Kumo, because, "in every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."   (John Muir).  

 Kumo, running on the beach on the Oregon Coast for the sheer joy of moving

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dogs' lives are too short. Their only fault, really. ~Agnes Sligh Turnbull

Dogs are not our whole life.. .  but they make our lives whole.  ~Roger Cara

My life won't be the same without you. I miss you buddy.

Kumo cooling off at the Sir Donald bivouac site in the Selkirks

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Having or Doing

The hardcore punk band D.O.A. first coined the slogan talk minus action equals zero, but climbers are more familiar with Marc Twight's use of the phrase to describe climbers who spray constantly about how hard they climb, yet never seem to climb anything hard. Another brand of sprayer is the person who is always buying outdoor "stuff" - tents and sleeping bags, crampons and boots, climbing gear, stoves, ultra-high tech clothing, the latest greatest reverse camber, early riser, twin tip rockered skis, etc., etc., etc. If you've never met this kind of person, the best place to find them is on internet bulletin boards where they hang out spraying about all the gear they own. A perfect example can be found here..

The strange thing about these people is that they rarely post trip reports and the trip reports they do post always seem to be lame, half-hearted, half-arsed affairs where they never make the summit, do the climb or complete the route, generally because of a variety of half-baked excuses like the weather, rock, snow, ice wasn't perfect, they were recovering from a flu, they had a hangnail, or perhaps their nail polish just hadn't dried in time.

They do, however, post authoritative gear reviews, yet skeptics like myself will wonder how well any of their gear has actually been tested given the paucity of time they actually seem to spend in the outdoors.

There is something sad and somewhat desperate about the frantic accumulation of gear and concomitant spraying. Somehow it's all a bit like watching a three year old shout "look at me, watch me" as they slide down a slippery dip or swing on a swing set, except the three year old has more integrity as they are actually doing something rather than simply garnering more and more possessions.

 Tom on a 7 day ski traverse in the Rockies completed on second hand skis that cost $6 from Cheapskates in Vancouver

Monday, January 24, 2011

Yep, it really is stealing....

Among my many pet peeves is the rampart copy and pasting that you find on the internet where people put up a site and then pull all the information for their site from other sources. I've frequently found my stuff - trip and route descriptions, photos, etc. - snatched from my site and copied onto another, frequently commercial, site. The copy and paste crew might change a word or two so they can claim that my own stuff is just a "source", and fool themselves (and others?) that they aren't really doing what we were all taught in school was wrong - plagiarizing. But, stealing is stealing, and it's still stealing if you snatch it off the web and repost it on your own page without getting permission. 

 Another spot I won't be sharing the beta for as the plagiarists are lurking close by.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On Fundamental Attribution Error

On Saturday, January 15, 2011, two brothers were killed in an avalanche at a popular ski touring location in Kanaskasis Country. Almost immediately, the internet pundits came out to critique the actions of the victims with the ostensible goal of "learning from their mistakes." These critiques follow a simple and unvarying pattern: a few glaringly obvious errors may be pointed out, while subtle contributing causes almost invariably remain invisible, a small amount of token sympathy, but no real empathy will be expressed, and, finally, the victims are universally condemned as causing their own demise/injury.

Key to the pundits reactions is the attribution made for the accident/incident which, also invariably, will be internal. That is, the victim, through generally unchanging and personal characteristics, such as lack of knowledge or intelligence, caused their own demise. Interestingly, if the pundits ever (which they frequently do) get caught in an accident or incident of their own, the attribution made for their mishap will, also invariably, be external. That is, the fault of the weather, the map, a companion, their route description, etc.

Psychologists and sociologists call this fundamental attribution error. Essentially, when we assess our own behavior, we over-value situational contributions while under-valuing personality based explanations. When assessing the behavior of others, we do the opposite. Thus, we defend our own actions, while lambasting others for theirs.

In fact, if the pundits truly wanted to learn from someone's mistakes, who better than their own to learn from. But, facing up to our own inadequacies seldom gives us the ego boost we get by condemning the actions of others and requires that we take some action to correct our own inadequacies, and where's the fun in that?

 Arguing over where we are.  Whose fault is it that we are lost?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

On Cluster Fucks

You can try and deny it, but, if you've been recreating in the outdoors for any length of time you've been involved in at least one cluster-fuck (CF). We had our own CF last Wednesday, the result of a veritable tidal wave of discordant conditions coming together to create a classic CF.

As is often the case, our CF involved too large a party size (seven) and a bunch of strong personalities all at variance with one another. Poor communication, a factor of personalities and group size contributed, as it always does to CF's.

In the end, we were lucky, we had no serious accident or even incident resulting from our CF. Our group got separated, we found each other, we got back later than expected, our ski run pretty much sucked, but other than that, we suffered no loss of limb or life. Loss of ego, possibly, but egos grow as quickly blackflies in summer, and, we'd likely all be better off with less ego.

A CF in the making?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

On Leaders and Followers in Outdoor Recreation

At a rough guess, I'd say there are about ten followers for every leader participating in outdoor recreation. Leaders aren't necessarily the person on the trip schedule with their name down as "coordinator", nor are the necessarily the person who pulls the group together, books the cabin or organizes the carpool, but leaders are the people who are willing to push out into unknown terrain, who are willing to take risks, and who frequently find themselves recreating in the mountains with a whole slew (sometimes too many) of followers behind.

Leaders tend to accumulate followers the way whales accumulate barnacles. Followers want to go new and different places but lack either the creativity to pull together new trips or the courage to carry them out. But, they recognize in leaders a vehicle for getting where they want to go, just as barnacles are transported to new feeding grounds by whales.

Most recreational groups of peers will claim, if asked, that they have no leader and are making decisions by consensus. But, in reality, this is rarely the case. Although the issue of leadership has likely not been discussed, most of the people who are in the group are there simply to follow and are adept at picking up non-verbal and verbal cues as to who they should follow, and whose decisions they should back.

Leaders know they are leaders, followers, because our society favors leaders over followers, frequently pretend they aren't. 

 Following the leader

Thursday, January 6, 2011

There's Just No Sport In It

Skiing with Roland - aka the pension machine - you get kind of used to burning out the unsuspecting ski tourers who occasionally accompany us (usually only the once) on our expeditions. Roland seems to delight in toying with these folks, most especially the younger crowd, who look at us two or three grey haired old foagies and think, "how hard can it be ski touring with these guys?"

Well, harder than you might initially think. Yesterday, we cranked out a 1650 metre day which included a reasonable amount of travel, and, as Roland and I waited at the top of the last hill for the third and youngest member of our party - who, coincidentally, had lagged behind us on both the uphills and downhills all day and who had not broken even a foot of trail - I quipped to him "There's just no sport anymore in burning out the youth. It's like shooting gold-fish in a glass jar."

 Roland, in a brief quiescent period, fueling up to burn off some more youth.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Gym Climbing - A Necessary Evil

I hate gym climbing - it feels fake, and frankly, I find it demoralizing.  There's something about climbing on plastic that makes routes of the same grade feel way harder indoors than outdoors.  And, while at my local gym, the climbers are all friendly, the whole scene is just not the same as going out climbing at the crag or in the mountains.  It's kinda like comparing backcountry touring to resort skiing.  Both are skiing, but one is an adventure and the other is just so much of the same. 

But, ya gotta keep in shape, so I try and gym climb once a week in winter.  So, the good news is, I'm done for this week I guess.

Climbing at the 'Line, way more fun than the gym

Monday, January 3, 2011

On Efficient Route Setting: Qua Peak

On short trips, errors in route-finding don't make that much difference. Usually, you have plenty of time, energy and daylight to compensate for wasted time accrued through taking an inefficient route. But, on longer trips and during the winter months when days are shorter, and trail-breaking frequently heavy, efficient route-finding can make the difference between reaching your objective and getting home during the daylight hours, failing to reach your objective and having a frustrating day, or even finding yourself benighted.

I've been up what Doug and I refer to as Qua Peak (map 82F/06, GR926730, NAD83) four times now. It's a stunning trip involving a bit of everything, two long descents (not counting descending the ski hill at the end of the day), one south facing and one north facing, some step-kicking, and frequently, cornice cutting, and lots of travel and trail-breaking. Qua Peak is a long day for most people, involving between 1450 and 1700 metres of elevation gain (depending on your exact route) and about 15 km of travel. And, if you climb Qua Peak in December or January, daylight hours are relatively short and you must move expediently.

The last two times I climbed Qua Peak were in the month of January; once in 2010 and, most recently in 2011. These last two trips are clearest in my mind and provide a good comparison of the benefits of efficient route-finding. The best (in my opinion) route up Qua Peak is shown on the map below, with the most expedient exit from Qua Peak also shown (the descent via West Ymir - as the slackcountry tourers call it is not shown, but implied). As you can see, rather than following the head of Qua Creek up into the basin below Qua Peak, the most efficient route actually travels further east towards North Qua (GR930742) before climbing gradually around the steep NW shoulder of Qua Peak to gain the upper basin.

 Qua Peak and routes

While this route seems much less direct than following the head of Qua Creek up, it is in practice much more efficient - that is, it uses much less energy to build and follow the up-track, than following Qua Creek up. Good map readers will note that the contours are not only closer around Qua Creek but have a deep V indicating the creek itself is in a deep gully. In 2010, when we climbed Qua Peak, owing to some now long forgotten route finding error, we switchbacked up close to Qua Creek to gain the upper basin. Track setting was very difficult and involved countless steep kick-turns. Breaking the trail was a real energy sap, and even following the trail was tiring. In 2011, with a small tight-knit party, we were much more careful with our route-finding and followed the route farther to the east, and easily broke trail to the upper basin using much less time and energy.

You'll note that even though you are in timbered terrain in the bottom of Qua Creek there are handrails and checkpoints that can be used for route-finding. Not visible on the NTS 1:50,000 map, but visible on Google Earth and when you are actually on the route, a large slide path descends from the east side of the NW spur ridge of Qua Peak and should be your indicator that it is time to begin switchbacking up. If you are concerned about stability, you can skin up trees on either side of the slide-path, but Qua Peak is probably not a good choice for periods of poor stability anyway. The sharp NW spur ridge is also a good handrail, but it is not readily visible until you have gained elevation.

On the return journey, you'll notice that contouring generally west at about 1800 metres around the southwest ridge of Ymir Mountain avoids difficult track-setting higher up the southwest ridge (and avalanche terrain) and leads expediently to the gentle valley that leads to the west Ymir col. If stability is good, descending from West Ymir is quick and easy (but often chewed to rat-shit).

You don't need a GPS for this route as there are ample handrails, checkpoints and other navigation cues that you are on the right route, but an altimeter is handy, and, of course, a map, indispensable.

 Qua Peak