Thursday, June 14, 2012

Go Pro, Go Boring

It seems you can't go anywhere lately without seeing at least a dozen people with POV cameras mounted on their helmets. The footage is everywhere, on Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, various bulletin boards, chat rooms and personal web-pages. I'm surprised we aren't seeing POV footage live streamed into public toilets.

Almost without exception the products of the POV camera are boring. And I mean, deathly boring. Imagine yourself watching paint dry and amplify the boredom about 6 million times and you are getting close to how boring the footage is. Particularly bad are the videos where someone has the head cam running while they ski a run - any run - all you see is one pole going forward for a pole plant, then the other, then the first pole, then the other.... Now that takes boring to a whole new level.

Then there are the videos of people out climbing. Sadly, but inevitably, the people who decide to film themselves are either teetering on the brink of incompetence or have long since fallen off that particular precipice. You could make a fantastic "how not to" series from these videos as you watch people rope up in stupid places, build and use dodgy belays, stagger their way up the normal route on some peak somewhere and, finally, rappel off some super manky rappel anchor.

On a bulletin board recently, I saw someone post something along these lines: "waiting my turn to summit Pelion." Turns out the dude posted this while waiting in a line of climbers on the summit ridge of Mount Pelion in the Tantalus Range for his "turn" to go up the rope (super-dodgy belay) to the summit. As you might guess, not long after, the POV footage showed up.

What happened to climbing just because you loved it?

Not doing anything worth filming, just looking up at the moon

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses. Alphonse Karr.

I am suffering from house stress these days as we wait (impatiently) for our house to sell, or, more appropriately wait, hoping it will sell, but, each day feeling a little less hopeful. Given that my life is actually incredibly easy - I have a wonderful husband, a lovely house in a beautiful area of BC, suffer no ill-health, have lots of hobbies and goals, and, have no job to interfere with the pursuit of my hobbies and goals - I'm always dismayed at how stressed I can feel about things that are really insignificant.

Then, I start to wonder if living an almost zero stress life as I do, a person starts to lose the ability to deal with stress. Or, perhaps I never was able to deal with stress. It's been over 10 years since I last held down a job - the usual biggest stressor in the developed world - and I don't really remember whether I was stressed out then or not.

A good way to get your priorities straight is by listening to Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now" radio show (or Depress Me Now, as it is sometimes known). I listened today while I was climbing on my indoor wall. The show finished with a piece about New York housing and a new piece of legislation that will evict people - the poor, obviously, why are the rich never evicted - from subsidized housing because some rat-brained legislator has decided that subsidized housing doesn't reduce homelessness. How stressful is that.

Summer storm approaching

Monday, June 11, 2012

Short On Information On Short-Roping

I rarely short-rope in the mountains and never short-rope on glaciers. I find the technique most useful on moderate alpine routes where there are good stances - behind boulders, over ridge-lines, etc. - or horns, fins, boulders, etc. to quickly sling for added protection. In other circumstances, such as climbing steep snow slopes, I find the idea of tying myself to another person without any reliable protection in place (deadmen, snow pickets, etc.) tantamount to playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun. One person slips and doesn't immediately self arrest, and we are all sliding down the mountain. A quick, remarkably efficient way to turn one injury or fatality into a massacre.

Some research conducted in New Zealand after a high profile accident where a guide and both clients were killed after one client slipped on easy terrain, led to some research on holding power and holding forces. The results were not encouraging. The average recreational climber might, if they happened to be carrying a "guide-loop" which most recreationalists do not, be able to hold a short fall on soft snow up to 40 degrees, on harder/firmer snow and with no guide-loop the chance of holding a fall diminished rapidly. Sobering data. Further tests in Europe confirmed these findings.

Yet, you still see people short-roping glaciers and/or snow slopes. Short-roping on a glacier has to be reserved for the truly witless, as, not only will you/your party have no chance of holding a fall if someone slips, but, if one person happens to punch through a snow bridge and fall in a crevasse, the rest of the party is likely to follow the leader in. In other words, you've compounded your risk by short-roping - you have no protection against crevasse falls and no protection against another member of your party falling and pulling you off. Dumb meet dumber.

Roping up on snow slopes, unless you are going to place bomber protection is also fool-hardy, but most climbers seem to recognize this and don't do it. Short-roping on glaciers, however, seems to persist. If the glacier is so steep that a fall is possible, the only thing you can do to increase your safety is to choose your partners wisely. Do what I do and don't tie onto the rope with anyone who does not have a solid self-belay or self-arrest and can't demonstrate solid snow climbing skills. Generally, these folk are pretty obvious. But, be careful, the incompetent snow climber could be you.

Easy snow climbing, pointless to tie everyone together

Saturday, June 9, 2012

It's Called A Workout

Today was Toonie day in Nelson, and, as it was raining yet again, I did my Crossfit work-out for $2 at the local community recreation centre. This was the first time I've worked out in a "globo-gym" for years and years, and, yes, years. All I can say is, nothing has changed. I felt like I'd flashed back to the 70's and the days of Jane Fonda aerobic classes and leg warmers.

My workout today was three rounds for time of:
  • 400 metre row;
  • 50 back extensions;
  • 10 A2B.

At the end, I threw in some pull-ups, medicine ball squats (although the medicine balls at the recreation centre are way too light being half the weight of my home made one - a basketball filled with sand), and some balance work.

The one piece of equipment I don't have in my home gym is a rowing machine and so I was stoked to use the one at the recreation centre. I set the dial to 10 - recommended is 3 - but in Crossfit, you don't use no girlie weights, and rowed as fast as I could. Awesome workout.

Pretty soon I had the familiar Crossfit grimace and the sweat was flying. Off the machine and run over and pump out the back extensions as quick as possible. Unfortunately, the equipment they have at Nelson recreation centre for back extensions is easier than mine, so I really should have added some weight as 50 repetitions was too easy. Then, race over to the pull-up bar and pump out the A2B.

The rowing machine is in the area with the other "cardio" equipment, and the people there just gawked at me as I rowed as if I were fleeing the sinking Titanic. No-one uses the rowing machine, only the ellipticals, the bikes, the treadmills, and no-one was working very hard. They were all just casually turning the wheels, stepping, walking or jogging while watching TV or reading. Here is your first clue that you are not working hard enough - you can read or watch TV while you do "cardio." Remember the word "work" is a more than half of "workout."

In the weight room area, where the other equipment including the back extension equipment and the underused pull-up bar is, no-one was using the free weights or the medicine balls (too light in any case), or the big bars (also too light), or the pull-up bars. Most people were either using machines, standing around - perhaps preparatory to using machines - or doing some half-arsed knee bends that I can't in all honesty call a squat (knees should be below hips).

I felt pretty spanked by the time I finished and did the standard Crossfit cool-down which is collapsing on the floor in a sweat soaked heap. Everyone else was looking surprisingly fresh. I am embarrassed to admit I once worked out the way everyone else was and thought it was useful.

Once I'd recovered enough to stand up and look around me, I wanted to unplug all the machines and shout, "Step away from the machines." Or, as the Crossfitter's like to say "Don't use machines, become one."

Alpine bouldering in the Selkirks

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Monsoon Rains

Our backyard rain gauge recorded 121 mm of rain in the past three days. That's a whole lotta water. The morning was dry but foggy, and it began raining again in the early afternoon. June is always a wet month in this part of BC.

I joined the KMC on a pleasant hike through forest around the area of Duhamel Creek during which we managed to avoid the rain.

It was the usual scene. Everyone but me started out at a sprint as if the starters gun had gone off, while I started off at my usual pace, the one I can keep up all day. Within half an hour, I went from the back of the line to the front of line as the sprinters inevitably slowed right down, and, by the time we were walking back at the end of the hike, I found the pace too slow. Now what was that about the tortoise and the hare?

 Trail apparently built by Doug

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Nobody Said It Would Be Easy

No, it doesn't ever get any easier. You wouldn't want it to either. Greg Glassman.

I admit I am a Crossfit junkie. Difficult, continually novel workouts that you never quite master and leave you gasping on the floor are somehow fun. As Marc Twight said "it doesn't have to be fun to be fun." While Crossfit has spread in popularity and garnered support among big name climber types - Will Gadd for example - Crossfit will never be for the masses.

Nor will the Crossfit corollary - the Paleo diet. Both run counter to conventional fitness and nutrition "wisdom". Imagine, not eating grains and eating fat - nuts, seeds, avocado, olives, all types of oils and nut butters, even butter - and fueling your workouts, climbing days, ski trips on a diet heavy on protein and fat and light on carbohydrates. Almost like asking the Pope to shack up with a couple of gay guys, practice contraception, and take off that ridiculous head piece he wears (he could ditch the robes while he's at it). Just ain't gonna happen.

For those of us that have been fully assimilated into the Crossfit work-out ethic and the Paleo lifestyle, we can't understand why people - particularly people who want to excel at their sports - don't train hard Crossfit style, eat Paleo, and find themselves crushing their sport. Probably there are a multitude of reasons, but a big one, I think, is not being willing to be humbled. Crossfit workouts are hard, you will suck at them - especially at the beginning - you'll have to learn a lot of new skills, most likely, you'll find that you aren't the big shot you thought you were. After all, a goldfish looks big swimming in a pool of tadpoles.

So don't come out with this excuse - or any variation thereof - "I can't do the workouts/moves/exercises, so I quit." No shit, Sherlock. No-one said it would be easy.

Starting A Sierra Ski Traverse, 7 day pack, skis, walking, 
good thing you did all those killer workouts

Monday, June 4, 2012

Arbitrary Lists

You must have long term goals to keep you from being frustrated by short term failures. Charles C. Noble.

After my resounding but humdrum failure on Mount Shardelow yesterday, I started the drive home feeling like a complete failure. An over-reaction perhaps, but I am one of those goal oriented individuals who expects to succeed at whatever they set out to do. And, truthfully, an ascent of Mount Shardelow was easily within my technical and (arguably not yesterday) physical abilities. My first thought, in fact, was, "I should have gone for Mount Jeldness," even though one of the reasons I chose Mount Shardelow over Mount Jeldness was because the climbing promised to be slightly more interesting on Mount Shardelow.

As the years pass, either in response to getting older, becoming a better climber, or just a process of natural evolution, I have become more interested in climbing interesting routes than merely slogging up the easiest route possible. Admittedly at heart, I am still a peak bagger - one of those folks for whom the summit is the goal, the route less important - but simply checking off a new peak on the list is no longer as fulfilling as it once was.

All these thoughts were rattling round in my brain as I bashed my way down through thickets of alder. Quality had, at some point, become more important than either quantity or, more importantly, novelty. I suddenly realized that I could have gone out for a nice steep snow climb close to home and close to the road. I would have saved myself a couple of hours of driving, interminable alder thrashing, and, as I suddenly realized, actually been doing what I wanted to do, instead of being tied to an artificial "list" of peaks to climb.

The middle of the year may not be the traditional time for resolutions, but I hence forth resolved to go climb fun peaks/routes with some challenge rather than mindlessly going out to tick another name off an arbitrary project list. 
Climbing Sentinel Peak in the Adamants

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Enough of Novelty

I've been working on the West Kootenay Project List since I moved to the West Kootenay 10 years ago. Overall, it has been a fun project. I have climbed over 200 of the peaks on the list, visited many beautiful areas and had many great trips. The problem I now confront is that getting a new peak requires more and more driving as the list dwindles to less and less accessible peaks. Second only to alder thrashing comes my detestation of driving.

Today, with mixed weather forecast, I had narrowed my choice to two peaks within reasonable driving distance that were also reasonably accessible - roads above about 1,300 metres are snow-bound, so access is still limited.

One peak, Mount Jeldness, is a mere 1405 metres high, and requires about 200 km of driving. I have, in fact, previously failed on Mount Jeldness, when I attempted it as a club trip in late fall/early winter. Fresh snow, poor weather, slippery rock turned us back long before the summit. The other peak, Mount Shardelow, at almost 2,400 metres, was much more interesting, and, I thought, might provide some fun snow climbing and required only about 100 km of driving. Easy choice, Mount Shardelow.

Seldom have I failed so spectacularly as I did on Mount Shardelow today. Road access has deteriorated in the past 10 years since a friend of mine climbed Mount Shardelow from Dago Creek FSR. In 2002, Dago Creek FSR was driveable to the end at about 4,800 feet, and the ascent took 3.5 hours. In 2012, Dago Creek FSR is completely non-navigable, as is the last 4 to 5 km of Koch Creek FSR (which leads to Dago Creek FSR).

I biked the final section of Koch Creek FSR, an uncomfortable proposition as I don't own a bike and had to borrow one. The bike I borrowed was far too big for me and I could barely reach both the pedals and the handle-bars at the same time. Biking, as I found, uses a whole different set of muscles which pretty quickly began to scream.

Nevertheless, with frequent lifting of my buttocks from the seat, I biked up Dago Creek FSR until I hit snow at the depressingly low elevation of 4,100 feet. On foot, the first half a kilometre was not too bad, although my legs quickly became shaky and weak from the previous days Stronglifts workout. All too soon the road I was following deteriorated to some of the thickest alder I have ever encountered. I felt depressed looking ahead at the tangle, especially given how fatigued my legs felt, how far I was from treeline, and just how far I had to go.

After much staggering, thrashing, creek wading, alder crawling, log crawling and, finally au-chevalling across a fallen log over Dago Creek, the bridge having long since fallen away, I reached the lofty elevation of 4,860 feet. In almost three hours, I had managed only to gain 1,200 feet of elevation. I was still at least 5 km and 3,000 feet from the summit of Mount Shardelow, the terrain in front of me was, hard as it is to imagine, even worse than the terrain I had covered, and my legs were quivering like jelly. A quick calculation of the time I might, should I survive long enough, reach the summit at my current pace seemed to indicate topping out at 5.00 pm. Although, it is dubious I would have had the fortitude to continue on for nine hours - one way.

I had some food hoping some calories - I had not eaten at all since the night before - might pick me up, but they didn't. I confess to feeling defeated, demoralized, and, more than a bit stupid as, when I had been planning this trip I knew that approaching from the east as I was, would likely end in failure. Approaching from the west, however, meant even more driving, which I truly could not face. After all, I had reckoned, how hard could walking a bit of road be?

I thought about continuing on for another hour and seeing how far I got, but, the return trip was hanging over my head like a Damocles sword, and, truthfully, thrashing around for a further hour seemed not only futile but a little too much like self-flagellation to induce comfort. So, I turned around. Returning was slightly easier as much of the alder was somewhat pointing down slope, but, I was feeling fairly tired by the time I mounted the bike and rode back to the truck.

A fairly (understatement) nasty trip, one I do not care to repeat. However, I did learn some things, and those will be the subject of my next blog. 

I hate alder

Friday, June 1, 2012

Rolling Through the High Country

Phacelia Creek FSR

Staggering up a steep cutblock alternately falling hip deep in rotten snow drifts and clambering over downed trees, I thought "Getting to Battleship Lakes sure is a battle." The day before we had driven south from Lillooet and met Captain Bivouac and Betsy at the start of the now defunct Lizzie Lake FSR just before 11 am. After the usual car shuttle debate - physics and the logistics of car shuttles both leave me glassy eyed - we had driven south to Rogers Creek FSR and managed to get the $800 Bivouac-mobile - a 1993 Subaru - up to the start of the Cloudraker Spur.

Nice Alder on the road

Returning in our truck to Phacelia Creek FSR we had only managed to drive to about 800 metres before getting stopped by boulders on the rapidly deteriorating road. Of course, in the process of getting that far we had snapped our tow strap pulling a large half-uprooted tree off the road. This enabled us to drive all of 30 metres before being irrevocably halted. In the end, backing up beyond the offending tree was the only option and we ended up back where we had started. Such is progress on BC's logging roads.

Finally getting away at 3.45 pm we thrashed our way up the deteriorating logging road with skis on our packs fighting like wildcats through the dense overlapping slide alder that infested the road bed. After about two hours we reached a dilapidated bridge over the outflow stream of Battleship Lakes. A steep nasty cutblock loomed above. Deciding to put that battle off until next day, we scratched out two marginally flat tent sites among the slide alder near the bridge.

Not the most salubrious campsite

Battleship Lakes and Bellavista Ridge

We had a sprinkle of rain in the night, but the morning was dry as we packed up and prepared for the steep 500 metre climb to the first of the several Battleship Lakes. The cutblock was every bit as bad as it looked, but we did manage to claw our way up to the old growth, which, while steep, afforded easier walking on dry ground. At 1375 metres, a metre of settled snow appeared within a few paces, but the terrain was still steep and the tree wells deep so we continued kicking steps up for a further 100 metres to a flat spot at 1470 metres.

Travel was much easier with our skis on our feet instead of our backs although the terrain was still steep. After skinning up for perhaps 15 minutes I heard a series of expletives - some new and original - issuing forth from Captain Bivouac whose skins - from which he inexplicably but infallibly removes the tail attachment system - had, predictably, fallen off, followed by the roll of hockey tape he carries to secure skins to skis plummeting downhill into Phacelia Creek. 

An hour or so of steep skinning allowed us to ski out of the trees and we reached the lowest Battleship Lake. Robin, who arrived last, had managed to skin up with one skin on and one skin off, something I guess you can do if you never apply glide wax to your bases but allow season after season of skin glue to accumulate. We found a bare clump of rocks for a snack, but it was cold, breezy and cloudy and we were all anxious to start "rolling through the high country" as Robin was lyrically describing this trip.

Skiing across Battleship Lake

Easy terrain led to the broad pass to the east of Bellavista Ridge. We dumped our packs here and skied easily to the top of Bellavista Ridge site of Steve Grant's famous "So You're Not Afraid Of Cornices" photo, the location of which was easily recognizable. Some nice turns on corn snow took us back down to our packs, and then down a further 100 metres to a campsite by a tarn. While the others lounged in camp, I skinned up the southwest facing slope above camp to a viewpoint overlooking Priory Peaks, Lindisfarne and Meditation Mountains, Meadow Dome, and Bellavista Ridge. Some nice, but slightly sloppy turns on overcooked corn brought me back to camp in time for dinner.

Captain Bivouac on Bellavista Ridge

Cherry Pip Pass, Tabletop Mountain, Iceberg Lake

A clear night allowed a solid freeze and we had a somewhat icy descent into the headwaters of Rogers Creek where we intersected a logging road at 1500 metres. This descent was straight forward apart from the last 50 metres through an over-planted cutblock riddled with skier swallowing tree wells which necessitated some interesting ski techniques to avoid. The climb up the northwest facing slope to Cherry Pip Pass is straight forward but threatened by huge overhanging cornices, so we skinned up as fast as one can when carrying a big pack. At Cherry Pip Pass we had great views into all the high alpine terrain of this area including the route of the Stein ski traverse.

We debated contouring around the east side of Tabletop Mountain but the snow was dangerously soft and the terrain steep, so instead we skinned up the east ridge of Tabletop, also on mushy snow, to a broad plateau at 2100 metres. We found a deluxe lunch spot with dry rocks and heather overlooking Rogers Creek valley about 1.5 km northeast of Tabletop Mountain.

Doug skinning up to Cherry Pip Pass

After lunch, Doug and I skinned up the southeast ridge of Tabletop Mountain kicking off innumerable wet avalanches that quickly over-ran our uptrack. Captain Bivouac and Betsy wisely stayed out of the way on a rock promontory overlooking Anemome and Table until we had descended. Together again we skied easily down to Iceberg Lake and made camp near another patch of bare rocks and heather perfect for a "leisure (pronounced to rhyme with Cesar) centre".

While the others lounged about like lizards in the sun, I rolled through the high country to the long ridge leading southwest from Arrowhead Mountain where I had good views of Tynemouth Mountain, Long and Diversion Peaks and the beautiful Cloudraker Mountain. On the way back to camp, I also skinned up a ramp to the west ridge of Arrowhead and got within 40 metres (I later discovered) from the summit before collapsing snow on the ridge and the lateness of the hour turned me back.

Looking down on camp near Iceberg Lake

Arrowhead and Tynemouth Mountains, Tarn Peak and Sapphire Lake

Our fourth day started sunny but quickly clouded up and became gusty and cool. We cruised on frozen snow to the base of Moraine Pass, skinned up and through the pass and dropped our packs on a patch of dry rocks between Tynemouth and Arrowhead. We skied to the top of Arrowhead via the east ridge and lounged for a while on top planning the route up Tynemouth, before a pleasant, but too short corn snow descent back to our packs. 

After snacking, we skied up a ramp to the northeast ridge of Tynemouth. Skiing southwest along this ridge was incredibly scenic and four cameras were wildly clicking off pictures and video. Doug and I skied to the summit of Tynemouth via the southwest ridge after steep, icy traverse - ski crampons reduced made this traverse much easier - of the north face. Betsy ambled along the ridge to the northeast, while Robin got within 20 metres of the summit kicking steps up the north face close by the northeast ridge, before a steep exposed section turned him back. The corn snow descent back to our packs was excellent, but, again way too short. Clouds were thickening and the wind was increasing as we cruised the corn southwest past a series of lakes to Sapphire Lake where we hunted out a relatively sheltered campsite.

Doug skinning towards Tynemouth Mountain

Captain Bivouac and Betsy built a rudimentary wall around their tent then went for a tour to Tarn Peak - a low lying ridge with high quality views - and further west to get a view north down the valley to Lizzie Lake. I left Doug excavating snow blocks and also skied up Tarn Peak before rolling through the high country to the west towards Mount Shields. When I returned to camp an hour or so later, Doug had constructed a sturdy compound around our tent complete with kitchen and shelving units and was busy filming our estate compared to the Waddington-Tivy establishment. It was a cold windy night and people retired early to their tents.

Exit to Cloudraker Spur

Our good weather disappeared, as we feared, overnight and we woke to low lying cloud, fog and drizzle. In a dry break, we darted out of tents and packed up. We skied west through corridors between bluffs and tarns to reach a broad saddle east of Shields Peak where an easy descent down alpine terrain led into open timber. Continuing easily down through trees brought us to a prominent marsh and y staying on the west side of the creek draining the marsh on increasingly dirty snow we skied out into a cutblock above the Cloudraker spur. Cloudraker was solidly in the clouds and little of the ascent route could be seen. We skied down the spur road to 1200 metres where the snow abruptly disappeared and the trip ended, as all Coast Mountain adventures do, with the usual hike down a logging spur. 

Back at the Lizzie Creek FSR, Captain Bivouac urged the Bivouac-mobile perhaps a kilometre up Phacelia Creek FSR before being defeated by a deep water bar. With my MP3 player blasting tunes, I hiked up the road to retrieve our truck frequently hooting "yo bear" as I was following large fresh bear tracks and scat the entire distance. However, no beasties were encountered and our truck was unmolested. Driving south to Squamish, where we stopped for a curry dinner, Doug commented that he could now shave off his beard as his last ski trip of the season was now complete.

Rolling through the high country