Thursday, June 30, 2011

Well, this is boring

My foot keeps getting bigger, now resembling a watermelon with small piggy toes.  I'm on crutches, hobbling around the house and sitting for way too long with my foot up in the air on ice.  Outside, it is delightfully - and finally - sunny and the forecast is good way into the future. 

Everyone is either out climbing or making climbing plans.  What they say about misery is not true.  Misery doesn't love company.  I would rather people got out and got at it.  

Happy climbing everyone.

Two ugly feet, one much bigger than the other

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Don't Let Your Guard Down

Today I climbed Megawatts, an 8 pitch 5.8 sport route up Brilliant Bluffs overlooking Castlegar. Eva and I swung leads which was super efficient and the climb was a lot of fun. It's not often I get to climb with other competent female climbers and I enjoyed the climb a lot.

Eva on the final pitch

We sat for a15 minutes on the overlook and had some lunch before descending. Walking on the virtually flat ground, I twisted my ankle and proceeded to limp the through the three kilometre descent. When I got back to the truck and took my shoe off, my foot was swollen like a grapefruit.

I surely hope this doesn't ruin my climbing season now that it has finally stopped raining. 

 My left foot looking much larger than my right, both are equally ugly

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Early Starts Rock

Today I climbed Mount Holmes at the north end of the Kokanee Range with a friend of mine. We left Nelson at 5 am, started bushwacking at about 7 am and were on the summit at 8,100 feet at 10.40 am. Even that early, however, there was a lot of convective build-up, although thunderstorms did not seem imminent. We had a quick two hour descent on good snow and were back at the truck just after 1.00 pm and home in Nelson at 3.00 pm.

Early starts rock - avoid thunderstorms, avoid epics, get up and down while the snow is still firm, and be back at home in time to do something else with the day. 

 The last 500 feet to the top of Mount Holmes, convective activity already building

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Stupid is as stupid does

I am in the midst of trying to organize a Summer Mountain Leadership course for my local "mountaineering" (using the term loosely) club. This club has almost 300 members. I need a minimum of three to run this course. Astute readers will have quickly worked out that this equates to 1% of the membership. The course, which will be taught by a full ACMG guide, has an excellent curriculum and is sponsored by our club (i.e. we will actually pay a portion of participants fees). Now you would think that a measly 1% of the membership might take advantage of this opportunity. But, you'd be wrong. To date, I have two people interested, that's right two (and without money in the bank, interest is only interest).

No doubt there could be, and probably are, many reasons why this course is not drawing great attention, but I have to suspect that one of the reasons is that people think they know everything there is to know about running a club (or private) trip. News flash, if you've ever done any of the things listed below (all of which I've seen happen), you are much more incompetent than you think and should sign up.

  • Organized a trip to a summit and not actually known where the summit is (because you are too stupid to look at a map).
  • Ran a trip without looking at a map.
  • Ran a trip without taking a map.
  • Ran a trip from the wrong start location when more than one person has told you exactly where to start and how to get to the top of the mountain.
  • Ran a trip to any mountain on which you took only a section of the 1:250,000 map (could be used as fire starter or, at a pinch toilet paper, but serves no other purpose).
  • Been the trip leader and had no map, compass or GPS.
  • Been the trip leader where the only navigational device in the party was a GPS.
  • Left too late in the day.
  • Ran a trip with too large a party.
  • Taken people on your trip that had no hope in hell of actually completing the trip.
  • Used inept, inadequate and just plain stupid group management techniques that resulted in falls on rock, slips on snow, or people being lost, and parties separated. And, yes, it is your fault.
  • Used no group management techniques whatsoever with resultant falls on rock, slips on snow, people getting lost, and etc.
  • Failed to notice that participants on your trip could not manage the terrain resulting in a whole other series of falls on rock and slips on snow.
  • Put trips on the schedule that you don't have the ability to do. If you can't lead 5.5 in the mountains, don't put a 5.5 route on the schedule.
  • Thought an early start meant meeting at 7 am and starting to climb or ski at 10.30 am or later!
  • Watched anyone slide 200 metres down a 40 degree snow slope and not gone down to help them.
Recognize yourself?  Stupid is as stupid does.

This party is too large

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On Early Starts

Inexplicable as it seems to me, some people think an early start means meeting at 7 or 8 am and then driving a few hours to the trailhead. An early start means being on foot or ski some time between 4 and 5 am, depending on your trip objective. If you are really slow, you may have to start even earlier.

Working out what time to start is simple. Decide what time you want to be off the mountain and work backwards. Factors to consider when deciding what time you want to be off the mountain include, but are not limited to, afternoon thunderstorms, short daylight hours, slow parties, snow conditions, aspect, and rock fall hazard.

Today, Doug and I skied up Mount Brennan. We wanted to be off the summit no later than 10 am - both to avoid afternoon thunderstorms and to descend before the snow became dangerously soft. Allowing 5 hours to reach the top, we needed to start skiing at 5 am. In order to achieve this early start, we camped at the trailhead, were completely organized the night before, got up at 4.30 am, left by 5 am, and traveled at a steady and consistent pace. Our time estimate had been conservative - always a good idea - and we reached the summit in just over 4 hours. We were back at the truck just after 10.30 am, before the snow became not only dangerously soft, but poor quality for skiing, and well ahead of any daytime thunderstorm build-up.

Being able to plan a trip in this way is a very basic mountain skill that surprisingly few people possess. But, it ain't rocket science. Work out what hazards you'll be exposed to, figure out how to minimize them and take appropriate action. Simple really. 

It's 9 am and Doug is perhaps 2 seconds from the summit

Monday, June 20, 2011

Partners Anyone?

My regular climbing partner has been down for two weeks with a wrist injury (from climbing) so I've been climbing with all sorts of different partners - basically anyone I can find who has a pulse and can hold the belay rope. This got me to thinking that you learn the most when you are out with people who are either better than you or worse than you.

If you climb/ski/mountaineer with better climbers/skiers/mountaineers than yourself you can learn an enormous amount from these people. Similarly, if you climb/ski/mountaineer with people who are less skilled than yourself, you get pushed beyond your comfort zone and have the opportunity to learn a lot too. Simply being fully responsible for leading every pitch, doing all the navigation and route finding, assessing stability, and making every single decision that has to be made in the course of the trip can be a huge learning experience.

Conversely, we learn the least when we recreate with people at about our own level of ability. In these situations bad habits, poor decisions, and sloppy skills often get reinforced as neither person has the expertise to correct the other.

The caveat to all this, of course, is that you are actually open and willing to learn, and, that, of course, is the hardest part. Most of us prefer to think we know everything. But be careful, you could be suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect. 

Route-finding on a KMC trip up the west ridge of Mount Kitchener

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Could it be...

The end of the interminable rains that have plagued this spring?  

Today, although the routes were a bit wet  in spots, we managed to climb almost an entire day before the rains came.  And, even then, they were light and not nearly as widespread as they have been for the past few weeks.  Could the monsoon finally be over?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

More Experience not More Stuff

Recently, I responded to a post on this bulletin board from a guy looking to buy a new tent. Seems innocuous enough, even the most miserly gear purchaser like myself, sometimes (although it is more occasional than you think) needs to purchase something new to replace something worn out. But, often times, these people seem more intent on accumulating stuff than they are on accumulating experience, fitness or expertise.

Unfortunately, stuff won't get you up Mount Columbia if you lack sufficient fitness to ski a long way across a big icefield to get to the base. Stuff won't give you the drive, the will or, as Rob Shaul calls it the "mental toughness" to keep moving to meet your goal. Stuff actually counts for very little in success or failure as anybody who has followed mountaineering history knows. Back in the day, mountaineers did a hell of a lot with a hell of a little - stuff that is, not mental toughness.

Although I gave this guy some tent advice what I really wanted to say was "no amount of stuff is gonna make you successful on your trips until you: (a) improve your fitness; (b) improve your skill set; and (c) get some mental toughness - not necessarily in that order."

None of which has nearly the appeal of going out and buying some new piece of stuff to thrust into the back of your already over-packed closet of stuff where it will lie lingering away until you take it out on one trip, where you'll get about 6 hours from the road, get tired, quit and go home stopping at some take-out joint on the way home and making up reasons for why you failed yet again, many of which will include the need to buy yet another piece of stuff. 

Getting out in all kinds of weather is a good way to get experience

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Training, Climbing and Saggy Bum Disease

I train obsessively - some of my friends think too obsessively - but hard training, if you focus on the right type of training sure does improve your climbing. Lately, I've been doing Crossfit work-outs. For a long time, I was a Mountain Athlete junkie but every single Mountain Athlete work-out is a beat down and, as I tend to take insufficient time off to recover, I was chronically tired and sore, and truthfully, not making any big strength or power gains.

Now, I'm Crossfitting three times a week, in addition to hill climbing (for time with a pack) and taking a rest day occasionally. I'm also continuing to work on my front lever, which is such an awesome core workout and a really good antidote to saggy bum climbing disease.

Saggy bum climbing disease is the epitome of climbing like you poo instead of like you screw. The bum hangs way down and out, the core is floppy, and the climber is inevitably pulling with the arms rather than pushing with the legs. Get rid of saggy bum climbing disease and your climbing grades will jump up immediately. Good exercises for combating saggy bum disease are knees to elbows or ankles to bar and front lever work.

What are you waiting for, grab a chin-up bar and get at it. 

Hips into the rock, no saggy bum disease here

Monday, June 13, 2011

Error Correction: Sometimes It's Just Too Late

Mountain guides have a concept called "error correction", the timely recognition and correction of errors in judgment when engaged in activities in mountain terrain. A simple yet elusive concept for recreationalists who frequently seem adept at not only failing to recognize their own errors in judgment but seem to actively obfuscate them.

I've read and heard so many trip reports where obvious glaring errors of judgment have been made - frequently at the very beginning of the trip - yet the participants of these trips will go on to relate all the wonderful judgment calls and decisions they made hence forth, seeming oblivious to the fact that the blinding error at the beginning of the trip has doomed the entire enterprise from the beginning.

Need an example? Remember the group who set off to ski a big south slope in mid-April at 11 am? This group related a series of decisions made throughout the remainder of the trip that were clearly meant to indicate to the listener/reader that the group was making good, safe, considered decisions. But, in this case, the first mistake was so big and so bad, and, well, frankly so dumb, that no amount of "good" decisions later on could possibly correct for it. Sometimes, it's just too late and you blew it just too badly. That's why mountain guides talk about TIMELY error correction. 

 This guy realized his error when the slope released below him, now he's madly side stepping back out of harm's way

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Decision Making 101

A group of people I know - three of whom have CAA Level 1 avalanche certification - recently attempted to ski to the summit of a big peak in the Purcells with the aim of skiing a line down the steep south face on a hot sunny day in mid-April. What time did they leave? You might guess 4 or maybe even 5 am, but as sure as the Republican party spawned the Tea Party, you'd be unlikely to guess just shy of 11 am.

Now I really don't know what anyone is thinking - led alone any one with enough training to make better decisions than that - starting a ski day at 11.00 am in any season. In fact, I wouldn't even start out for the summit of a big peak at 11.00 am in mid-summer (think thunderstorms).

There are a few basic rules in mountaineering - ski or otherwise - that everyone (at least everyone with any sense) recognizes as unequivocal standard practice, and, probably the first of these is START EARLY. It doesn't get any simpler than that. 

You don't want to be under this 4 metre debris pile

Friday, June 10, 2011


It's all anyone talks about around here lately. Seems we never get more than one good day in a row and, even these good days seem fairly rare. Today, was another typical day in this wet spring - rain overnight, low cloud in the morning, a few hours of dry weather, then rain again. I got out with a friend and managed to climb three pitches before the rain moved in. Luckily, it was heavy and unmistakable - I hate sucker holes. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

More of the same usually doesn't help ....

I was leading a rock climb yesterday that is near the upper limit of my climbing ability, and, somewhat predictably, a long train of negative thoughts began clack-clacking its way through my mind. Some of these I must have spoken aloud, because, after catching my inevitable fall, my partner commented that I habitually had negative thoughts when climbing near my limit. Suddenly, as these things so often do, I realized that a certain behavior had got me where I was and more of the same certainly was not going to help.

The analogy to life is obvious. Our enduring patterns of behavior figure strongly in the "problems" we experience in life; yet all too frequently, we attempt to solve our problems using the same behaviors that got us into a particular predicament in the first place. Integral then, to moving ahead is realizing that we might have a hand in creating our own quandaries.

In any event, falling off once was stimulus enough for me to commit fully to the moves a second time around, and, yes, I finished the climb. 

Nearing the top of Black Magic

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mental Flexibility

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so. Douglas Adams, Last Chance to See

I can completely understand people who don't want to take unsolicited advice about their personal life, but I don't get people who prefer to fail at their desired goal rather than incorporate pertinent information that has been passed on to them. Even more inexplicable are the people who feel it is their right to drag a whole bunch of people along on their failed trip while withholding the fact that they have information that would virtually guarantee success.

A woman I know recently attempted to get to the top of one of our local mountains via the south side and was unsuccessful. A week later, she planned to go back again with a similar group of people and try again to get to the top via the south side, but this time, starting slightly (perhaps 200 metres) to the west. Undoubtedly, it's clear to the reader that 200 metres either west or east is insignificant, as both routes are essentially the same.

Having been up this local mountain - it is very easy as a road, clearly marked on the map, passes within a half a kilometre of the summit - I, with some trepidation, offered her route beta. In fact, I knew this beta would be completely ignored - as it was - because some people, and you know them as soon as you meet them, just will not hear anything.

The issue isn't really that any of us should immediately discard our plans the moment someone else offers a contrary position. None of us would ever achieve anything if we adopted that tactic, but we should at least have the mental flexibility to consider additional information, and, if warranted make a change in our plans.

And, no, they didn't make it.

 I'd hate to be doing this simply because I couldn't rethink my plans in the light of new information

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Noobs and Gumbies

Frequently, on the internet, you'll hear newcomers to a sport described - I can only think pejoratively - as "gumbies", "newbies", "noobs", or a host of other not particularly flattering terms. The idea that these people are somehow lesser beings than ourselves is definitely implied and frequently stated outright. Somehow, we've all forgotten that, at some point, we were all new to our chosen sports and needed coaching, encouragement and patience to improve our skills.

Oftentimes, experienced people don't want to spend any time with beginners to a sport, but I find that you can learn a lot from getting out with novices. Today was the KMC Rock Review, which generally involves easy rock climbing on top-rope, with some volunteer (by me) instruction at one of the local crags. I've been doing this event for a number of years and, by and large, the climbers that come out are all relatively new to the sport and have a lot to learn. But that doesn't mean I don't also learn from them. Explaining, to someone new to climbing, why you do something a certain way, and what other equally safe options exist forces you to rethink everything you do, and, for all of us, that's not a bad thing once in a while.

Getting Some Rappel Practice

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sycophants and Cyber Bullies

I admit it, I'm hooked on discussion forums. Some have lots of information, some are friendly, some casual, but the most addictive internet forums are the long-standing ones where you can see people's personalities at play with - seemingly - none of the usual constraints of appropriate behavior that people exhibit when face to face.

There you find the cyber-bullies and their sycophants, the aggressively defensive, the terminally argumentative with poor impulse control, and, of course, the insecure who must, absolutely must, always have the last word.

Of course, there is also a smattering of normal, generally well adjusted folk; but the real joy of internet forums comes from watching the cyber-bully with an inferiority complex backed up by his/her sycophantic followers keep trying, and trying, and trying to have the last, very last, ultimately, the final, very final, last word. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Compass is Better

To say I'm not a fan of GPS units would be to speak too lightly. I find the current trend towards over-reliance on this piece of technology degrades people's existing (if they have any) map and compass skills and situational awareness in an exponential fashion. And, of course, there are all the trips I've been on that have become cluster-fucks or near cluster-fucks because people have spent inordinate amounts of time and energy with their full attention fastened on a screen the size of a matchbox. While I can readily acknowledge that there are some instances where GPS units are invaluable, I believe that the vast majority of our navigation should be done the old fashioned way, using a map, and if necessary a compass.

Recently (today in fact), I hiked to the summit of Mount Heinze from a logging road (Bear Creek FSR to Box Canyon FSR) to the east of the summit. We parked at around 900 metres due east of the mountain, so ascending the peak (all forested, no trail) was a simple matter of following a compass bearing due west. In these circumstances, I find a rough due west is good enough. Eventually, you'll hit the north-south running ridge of Heinze, and, gaining the summit, will simply mean following the ridge either north or south to the top.

I used a compass both to the summit and back to the truck, while my companion used a GPS. As usual, I found a compass perfectly adequate for the job, and, as usual, using a compass was actually faster and more efficient. While my companion would be forced to stand about waiting for a satellite fix, I could pull my compass from my pocket and confirm we were traveling in the right direction without even breaking stride. Add to that the inevitable dallying while batteries are changed and screens are flicked through and the compass wins hands down. 

 We are on the summit, but GPS users feel compelled to check the little screen