Wednesday, October 26, 2011

From El Portero Chico

In El Portero Chico, in the northeastern part of Mexico, it is sunny, warm and grand weather for climbing – as it is most days. It is also Wednesday, just about 10 days after our arrival from the increasingly wet and cold British Columbia. There are six of us West Kootenay residents here for varying periods of time – Steve and Dany from Rossland for two months, Eva and Will from Nelson for two weeks, and Doug and I, splitting the difference for a month.

We've climbed everyday but one since we arrived, and everyone besides me is out climbing today. I have had a cold for about a week, and woke up this morning, feverish and achy and without a voice (some people might be glad about that). I think I kept Doug awake with some fairly incessant coughing in the night. So, despite having plans for a 7 pitch climb today, I stayed in and sent Doug off to climb at Mini-Super wall with the others.

So, today, I'm taking it easy, reading my book in the sun – delightful – and hanging around hoping my health will improve for tomorrow.

But, no-one is interested in that, what about the climbing? Well, the climbing, in a word, is fantastic. We have yet to do a bad route, and many have been superlative. The rock is limestone and is full of wrinkles and pulls, jug holds and threads, big and small pockets, cracks and crimpers. Generally, the routes are all sport routes, although there is a smattering of trad routes around, most climbers don't bring trad racks, so these have either fallen into obscurity or been retro-bolted. But, bolt spacing is not exactly like modern crags. The first clips are high – really high – well out of the reach of a stick clip (which we carry hopefully around with us but have yet to use), and often require some serious moves to reach. And, bolt spacing tends to be generous. When you are faced with some difficult climbing, the next clip can really look a long way away.

There is a pretty good range of routes, though limited under 5.10. Above 5.10 and there are at least 600 recorded routes. Many are multi-pitch and the descent is almost always by rappel, usually down the route, but occasionally down a different route. Routes are well set for rappeling with extra bolts at the belay station and generally easy pulls. A 70 metre rope is very helpful (or you'll need two ropes on some routes) and descents can be made much quicker by simul-rappeling, which is an easily mastered skill.

It is pretty warm – gets up to the high 20's or even low 30's - so climbing in the shade is most comfortable. You can climb pretty much anything in the shade if you go either early or later in the day, and it seems to be relatively easy to find shady multi-pitch routes. I've found a technical shoe works better than a soft shoe as there are all kinds of small pockets that a toe will go into, while a softer shoe will smear off. But, it is handy to have a couple of pairs of shoes, particularly a looser pair for days when it is hot and your feet are swollen.

The Mexicans are a friendly nation of people and the nearby town of Hidalgo has everything you really need – do you really need Canadian junk-food? Market days are Tuesday and Friday, the fresh produce, meat, chicken and eggs are awesome. You can get by with a little Spanish and even none at all, but learning some Spanish is fun and the Mexicans are more than happy to teach you a little Spanish.

There is also lots to do on rest days, although I've only taken one. There are a few hikes to high points, including one that goes to the top of El Toro, the big mountain here, there are caves to explore, bouldering to do, Spanish to learn, markets to wander through, or you can just hang out in the Mexican sun.

I hope it will be a long while before I have a chance to post another blog entry, as I am keen to get back out there climbing!

Photos later.  It is too much trouble to post them from here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Last Day on the Rock in the Koots

Yesterday, Doug and I went out and helped Hamish finish a route he had been working on at Polished Wall. Hamish and I had previously cleaned and bolted the line, but we had yet to lead climb the route. Hamish led the first pitch, I the second, and it was done. We also climbed a few other routes while we were there.

It was cold and there was no direct sun to warm us up. We climbed all day in long underwear and toques, and down jackets were quickly put on to belay. It was nice to have one last day climbing in the Kootenays, but I am also looking forward to spending a month climbing in the warm sun in El Portero Chico.

We leave first thing tomorrow.

 Hamish on pitch two

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Giving It All Ya Got

Today's Crossfit WOD (actually 24/Sept/11 WOD, but I am behind) was 7 rounds for time:
  • 35# dumbbell hang squat clean 18 reps
  • 18 pullups
  • 135# power clean 10 reps
  • 10 handstand pushups.

I did the dumbbell hang squat cleans with 12#, the power cleans with a measly 17# and subbed 5 ankles to bar for the pull-ups 'cos I can't do 126 pull-ups on any day and I was already fatigued from multiple work-out days in a row. And, finally, I did one of the easier variations of handstand pushups 'cos I also can't do a single full handstand pushup.

I finished in about 20 minutes, and, despite all these weakling modifications, I was shaky and wrecked when I finished and for hours afterward.

Under each days workout is a section to post feedback to the workout. This is generally where people post times and weights. The first four postings included two from women who had finished the workout as written (if you think you could do it, give it a try) and had finished in 46:21 and 70:20. Suddenly, my effort seemed not much short of pathetic. 

Scaling is fair, but scaling so much that you don't give a WOD your all out effort is just a cop-out. Here was a woman (Katie) who had plowed on with this workout for over an hour, and finished as prescribed. Now that is giving it all ya got.

Some impromptu pull-ups on the Millenium Bridge

Monday, October 10, 2011

More on GPS

I've been having a (half) joking round of conversation with a friend of mine about GPS use. This particular fellow, called anonymously enough here, Bob, is of the opinion that all you need to go out into the mountains is a GPS track. I, as any one who knows me, can readily attest, do not favor over reliance on a GPS. In fact, I've written about GPS use before in my blog.

The difficulty of arguing against over-reliance on GPS units is confounded by the lack of solid research demonstrating their pitfalls. A couple of studies have looked at the effects of GPS use on spatial awareness and navigating ability and both show that compared to people who navigate by direct experience, GPS users show less spatial awareness of their surroundings and take longer to reach a target. But, these were limited studies and easy to argue against.

If you have spent much time wandering around the wilderness both with and without GPS users, you will quickly recognize someone who relies excessively on their GPS unit. These individuals truly do show a lack of awareness to the terrain around them, their map and terrain reading ability is poor to non-existent, they do take longer to reach their objective (half of the reason for that is that instead of looking where they are going they are looking at a small screen in front of them), and without having a pre-determined track to follow, they literally can not find their way out of the parking lot.

Paradoxically, the people who rely most heavily on GPS units are those that have the worst terrain and map reading skills. These people suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect - i.e. their competence is so low that they cannot accurately estimate their own competence. They could no more work out a route on a map and implement it in the field than they could reverse the tides, but, their GPS unit allows them to - with unerring confidence - say "I know where I am," thus obscuring their own incompetence. These individuals have never competently moved through terrain using only a map and their own skill and, in their ignorance, they cannot conceive of doing so.

But, of course, all this is easy to recognize in the field but hard to prove in theory. And, GPS units are so seductively easy to use. GPS units circumvent the need to learn to read contour intervals and to develop a mental picture of the terrain represented by a map. There is no need to pay attention to terrain features as you move through them, when, with the click of a button a GPS will show you on a little (and completely useless) map exactly where you are.

One of the enduring characteristics of human nature - and surely one of our less endearing - is our tendency to take the easiest route possible and to avoid at all costs having to do anything like hard work. With this in mind, I expect over-reliance on GPS units to continue to increase.

Typical Completely Oblivious GPS User

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hiking Up Huscroft

Mid October in Interior BC typically brings wet weather, early snow and shorter, colder days. While it is still possible to climb some of the bigger peaks, smaller objectives are more likely to be give success, particularly on "iffy" weather days. On Thanksgiving weekend in 2011, Vicki and I drove over Kootenay Pass to the Creston area to hike up a small peak in the southeastern corner of the Nelson Range. At 2003 metres, Mount Huscroft doesn't even break treeline, but, given the weather forecast seemed like a reasonable objective for a wet weekend.

Driving south from Creston on West Creston Road we soon came to Corn Creek Road and followed it through pleasant open farmland to where the blacktop ends and the road continues west up the south side of Corn Creek. The road is in good shape and there are no junctions until you reach kilometre 18 where we took the uphill fork. The road became a little brushier but still reasonable and, within a further 2 kms we were below a cutblock to the east of Mount Huscroft.

An old recontoured skid road took us easily up into the cutblock where we found astonishingly good game trails that led up to a small outcrop of talus. We climbed up the east side of the talus field and, apart from a bit of steep rhododendron near the ridge top, easily gained the long SW ridge leading to Huscroft. A very good game trail, with occasional flagging and blazes, led us along the ridge, over two minor bumps on the ridge, and, within two hours we were standing in the mist on the summit.

After a quick, and somewhat damp and chilly lunch, we retraced our steps, but instead of following the talus field down, we continued along the ridge in a soutwest direction to see if the trail ran down a spur ridge that headed north. I can confirm that no trail runs anywhere down in this vicinity, but, as usual, instead of going back, we wacked down through head high rhododendron until we came out in a different cutblock to the west of our ascent route. A short easy hike through the cutblock got us back on Corn Creek FSR and 5 minutes of walking took us back to the truck.

Hiking the excellent game trail along the ridge

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Rainy Season

May be upon us in Nelson. This week has been a mix of rain, drizzle, mist, fog, and cloud, thus rendering it impossible to continue climbing outdoors. Training for El Portrero Chico has moved indoors. I've been pounding out Crossfit WODS and climbing three times a day on our indoor wall.

I've also starting going to yoga classes at the recreation centre in Nelson. Usually, I just do my own stretching at home, but, my muscles seem to be getting tighter and tighter so I started back at a regular class. The interesting thing about yoga classes is that there really isn't a lot of relaxing stretching involved. The postures we have been doing all demand a fair bit of core and leg strength. Rotating around various warrior poses and planks, tiptoe and chair poses, prayer and pyramid poses requires a fair bit of muscle strength to stabilize the pose.

Tomorrow, there may be a break in the weather, and we may find ourselves - with any luck - on a bit of dry rock. 

 Fall colours in our backyard

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Lost Opportunity

Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within. Stephen Jay Gould.

Recently, just yesterday in fact, THE cyber-bully on ClubTread was temporarily banned from the site for the second time in as many months. Any frequent, or even casual visitor to the site will know immediately who was banned and for what.

There has been much discussion about banning this person permanently from the site, with some people coming out strongly in favor (myself included) and others opposed. As far as I can make out, the opposition argument hinges on three things: (a) freedom of speech; (b) using the ignore button to just ignore this individual's postings; and (c) a belief that, on occasion, the individual makes some useful comments.

The pro-banning argument relies on the idea that we don't need to read extreme profanity in every post, insulting individuals simply because they disagree with you is childish and offensive, and, finally, but most importantly, that one individuals freedom of speech robs many other people of theirs.

Unfortunately, the lost opportunity for other individuals to express their opinions or report their achievements is immeasurable. We will never know what great trips we might have seen reported on, or what new ideas we might have heard had people not been too frightened to post for fear of retribution.

I could almost feel sorry for the individual in question as it just cannot be any fun living inside a head that is filled with anger, resentment, and self-loathing. But, taking away opportunity from other people for no other reason than that you can, makes such sympathy difficult.

To quote Stephen Jay Gould yet again, "we pass through this world but once." Why not make that a positive experience for people around you rather than a negative one?

 Volunteering is a good way to contribute

Sunday, October 2, 2011


All good is hard. All evil is easy. Dying, losing, cheating, and mediocrity is easy. Stay away from easy.  Scott Alexander.

I've come to believe that we are surrounded by mediocrity. Most of us are, despite what we would like to believe, mediocre. Everything we do, we do halfheartedly, rarely giving anything everything we've got. We stumble through life making poor decisions, ruing our situation and making more poor decisions. We go out to play and we pursue our chosen sport with half the vigour we could making excuses about why we aren't climbing/skiing/biking hard.

The only reason society advances at all is that there are a few rare individuals who rise above mediocrity and give themselves passionately over to something - be it work, play, or social causes. Thank god for those people.

On a mediocre route at Sedona, AZ

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bad Routes Suck

Around this time last year, Doug and I put in 14 new routes (half trad, half sport) at a couple of crags we called "Whirlwind Wall" and "Polished Wall". This was really my first experience putting up new rock routes and I learnt a lot. The first thing I did when we started our routing project was read Shaun King's excellent articles on Route Building. I got a lot of my basic ideas from these great articles.

Developing Whirlwind and Polished Walls, Doug and I spent a lot of time on the routes. Many of the lines we climbed were eventually turned into routes, but some lines were not. The lines that didn't make the cut were either inconsistent at the grade or just featured poor/unpleasant moves. Lines that did make the cut, got a thorough cleaning. In some instances this took a couple of hours, but some routes took multiple days. After that, we climbed the route a number of times to work out the best clipping stances/bolt placements if it was a sport route, or to ensure there were adequate gear placements if it was a trad route. If necessary, wandering bolt lines, poor clipping stances, etc. were fixed before we actually drilled. Finally, Doug placed the bolts and we led the route. In my opinion, and clearly I am biased, this resulted in all worthwhile, well protected routes.

In the Kootenays, route development continues at a rapid pace with new routes going in almost every week. Unfortunately, some of these new routes are seriously not worth the hardware they are equipped with. There seems to be an unfortunate tendency among some route builders to value quantity over quality with the result that there are some really bad routes going up. Likely, few if any of these routes will get repeated, and, if they do, you can bet people will warn their friends "don't do such and such a route - it's a real dog."

All of this is preamble to my guidelines for putting up a worthy route:
  • Clean it properly. Yes, you will get dirty, yes it will eat up time. But, clean off ledges, clean out cracks, pry off loose holds and blocks, remove any and all vegetation. Clean the damn thing. No-one, but no-one wants to climb a scruffy dirty route with suspect holds.
  • Climb it a few times before you bolt it. Don't just slap a bolt every 2 to 3 metres. Bolt placements should protect the leader from a ground fall, from hitting a ledge or some other nasty fall. Make sure there are decent clipping stances, not desperate one finger hangs with no footholds to clip from. Remember, not all climbers are 6 feet tall, place your bolts so shorties can clip from decent stances too.
  • Put the anchor in a sensible spot to avoid nasty rope eating edges, dropping the climber off the end of the rope when lowering, or having to clip the anchor from another desperate one finger no foothold hang.
  • Squeeze jobs suck.
  • Routes that wander all over the place suck.
  • Routes that are inconsistent at the grade suck. A few 11a moves on a 5.7 climb just makes for a route no-one will climb. 5.11 climbers can't be bothered, and 5.7 climbers can't do the 11a moves. Keep it consistent at the grade. 
Really, what you need to do is put a lot of time, effort and thought into your new routes.  Routes that are quickly slapped up without regard to the quality of climbing or protection will just as quickly fall into oblivion. Taking your reputation with them.
     Doug placing the anchor for a new route at Whirlwind Wall