A Life Athletic

A Life Athletic

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Valdez Video

Just finished this little number. Nothing fancy, just some highlights.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Alaska Gear 2014

In continuing the series of blog posts on the gear I use out and about, I present the list of what I'll use on forthcoming Alaska climbs. The main event is a five or six day alpine-style climb of the West Ridge of Mount Hunter. Check out the Smileys video for a little perspective:



West Ridge of Mount Hunter, AK from Mark Smiley on Vimeo.

I cooked up similar lists for Sierra winter climbing, ski mountaineering, and more traditional backcountry skiing. I'll enumerate here climbing equipment for the multi-day endeavors. Additionally, and unlisted, we'll have a comfortable base camp kit, and some ski gear. So, without further ado...

Clothing:

  • La Sportiva Spantik boots
  • 2 pr Darn Tough Socks
  • Long underwear bottoms
  • Outdoor Research Cirque Pants
  • Patagonia Leashless shell pants
  • synthetic t shirt
  • OR Rumor Hoody
  • Arc Teryx Nuclei Hoody
  • OR Axiom shell Jacket
  • Feathered Friends Volant Jacket (incidentally, we awarded this the OutdoorGearLab Editors Choice award…)
  • IronClad Cold conditions gloves
  • Black Diamond Rambla gloves
  • Black Diamond Jupiter mitts
  • Buff
  • Fleece hat
  • Light colored glasses
  • Dark colored glasses

Tech Gear, etc:
  • Petzl Sarken Crampons. 
  • Petzl Sum'Tec hammer and adze pair.  
  • Rack: 
    • 5 slings
    • 5 cams
    • 5 nuts
    • 8 screws
  • Belay device and associated 'biner
  • 3 more locking carabiners
  • 12 foot 7mm cord
  • Double length sling
  • Petzl Micro Traxion
  • CAMP Blitz Harness
  • Black Diamond Vapor Helmet
  • Rope. Double 60m. 
  • Black Diamond Compacter ski pole.
  • First aid/emergency kit.
  • Two liters of water
  • Half a liter of some hot drink 
  • Iridium Extreme Sat Phone. 
  • iPhone loaded with relevant maps, gps app, emergency phone numbers, camera, route beta, guidebook photos, etc.
  • Food- Just add water dinners and breakfasts.  Fill a 1 qt ziploc with energy candy and bars etc for each day.  About 1.7-2.0 pounds per person per day total.  
Camping
  • 21x40 inch chunk of new, flat closed cell foam.  No egg-crate shapes, no ridges.  Just flat foam.  HTFU. 
  • Extra small Thermarest Prolite if I'm feeling extravagant.
  • Feathered Friends Spoonbill bag. This little number will save us pounds and pounds...
  • Black Diamond "Can't wait 'til" Firstlight.  
  • Jetboil and 2 oz per person per day of fuel.  
  • Food- Just add water dinners and breakfasts.  Fill a 1 qt ziploc with energy candy and bars etc for each day.  About 1.7-2.0 pounds per person per day total.  
  • All packed into Hyperlight Mountain Gear's 4400 Ice Pack. 

Months...

I've been working, and writing, and skiing my brain out the last couple months. Just not documenting it here. Here's the "catch up".

For work:

I worked every day in February.

Some Alpine guiding.
Venusian with Pieter


U Notch with Joe

Some ski guiding. Dunderberg with Chad:




I taught some avalanche skills.

Level One course at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare
Training Center


And wrote tens of thousands of words for OutdoorGearLab.
March was even more varied:

More ski guiding, this time in the Mammoth area.


Joshua Tree with Chad and Allie

I taught "MultiPitch Efficiency" at the Red Rock Rendezvous.
And then proceeded to be very inefficient on some personal climbing.
I didn't work much in April. But what I did do was badass! A week of ski touring around Valdez, Alaska should be on every skier's list.

You don't see this sort of sight at most ski destinations...

Coco and Torrey brought high-level downhill ski skills and unprecedented toughness to big and wild AK!
The weather in AK often looks like this. Helis are grounded and film crews steer clear. But touring skiers have the run of the place in this flat light.


For fun in the mountains:

I cooked this up back in early February: http://www.wildsnow.com/12403/sierra-backcountry-skiing/

I managed to grab some fun missions in March.

Sean, Dale and I skied Banner Peak. In a day. From June Lake. Hard stuff. 

With a little spin drifted down climb in the middle.
The work trip to Joshua Tree wasn't all work...
Nor was Red Rock...
Scott and I scored a short coverage window on some Mammoth area classic lines.
I got wicked sick in the middle of March. Laid low for over a week. I rallied out of bed for a solo mission to Virginia Peak.


Early April brought a round of fresh to Mammoth. Just in time for Meagan's visit. She said it was just as good as Rossland.
And the weather cleared out in time for a couple weeks of family fun on Mammoth Mountain. Thomas Greene photo. 


Finally, Meagan and I escaped to the corners of Yosemite for some Mount Lyell action. We had an eventful trip, to say the least...


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Inyo National Forest Plan Revision Process

Whether your passion is guided mountain travel, either as guest or guide, new-route rock climbing, ice climbing, or any of the other ways in which we enjoy our mountains, the Inyo National Forest (INF) wants to hear from you in their latest journey through an upper-level planning process. If you want increased access for commercial mountain guiding (or decreased access)... If you want more ice climbing in the Eastern Sierra (or less ice climbing)… If you want to be able to continue new-route rock climbing development (or crack down on new-routing)… Take an active role in what's going on over the coming weeks and months.

In a few different ways, I've recently been inspired to take a more active role in the democratic side of public land management. I play and work on Forest Service land. I am involved with various efforts to advocate for and facilitate climbing and other recreation on our Eastern Sierra public lands. In the process of engaging with the public comment and planning process, I've learned a few things that may help you in your own participation. If you are so inclined, here is a step-by-step tutorial on the most recent step in Inyo National Forest planning, with an admitted bias to what lights my fire. Formal information from the Forest Service is housed here. I find the bureaucratic presentation a bit confusing. Hopefully I can demystify things a little bit.

First of all, what is going on right now is a revision to the Inyo National Forest overall plan. Basically all of the mountainous terrain we recreate on in the Eastern and High Sierra is on, or requires passing through, the Inyo National Forest. The "Forest Plan" is an overarching, general document. The "constitution" of the Forest, if you will. This document will not include specific directives. It is, however, a document that will guide and structure the course of upcoming specific decisions the Forest Service will make.

The process of revising this 26 year old plan is a multi-year project, undertaken in conjunction with neighboring Forests as well. Inyo, Sequoia, and Sierra National Forests are all using a new method of plan writing that is supposed to better encourage public participation. The procedure includes online, interactive phases and occasional public meetings.

Inyo National Forest Draft Assessment

As of right now, mid-January 2014, the plan revision process is about halfway through. The Forest "assessment" has been completed. This pdf  holds the entire INF assessment. Essentially, the assessment is exactly that; it's a summary of how things are right now. Information of interest to mountain athletes and professionals is found in Chapters 6 and 9. (Pages 102 and 134, respectively)

A few excerpts from the Assessment stand out as relevant to us:
"Studies have clearly shown that local economies in this area are very dependent on tourism and recreational activities, and any changes in the level of these activities would have an effect on the economy."
"In 2010, travel and tourism related industries comprised almost 50 percent of jobs in the counties bordering the Inyo NF."
"Unmanaged recreation can negatively impact ecosystem health, for example, through the spread of invasive species, overfishing, and degradation of water quality. Examples of unmanaged recreation include development of rock climbing routes at newly discovered crags..."
"There may also be increased future desire for outfitter/guide services in wilderness as part of the overall increasing demand for recreation on public lands, and an aging population who want more amenities during their visit."
"The decline in agency budget and increasing public demand creates greater need for collaboration between the Inyo NF and partners, including private businesses, outfitters and guides, local governments, non-governmental groups and volunteers."
"Stakeholders also highlighted a demand for additional outfitter and guide services authorized under special use permits."
The most extensive mention of technical pursuits in the Forest comes under the topic of "Emerging Recreation":
"Rock climbing and mountaineering are popular recreation activities on the Inyo NF" 
Preliminary "Need to Change"

With the assessment basically complete, the Forest Service is now taking comment on aspects of Forest planning in need of change. From the assessment, the agency has distilled and consolidated the issues into six "Areas of Emphasis". One of these six is titled Sustainable Recreation. The issue, as the FS sees it, is that "declining federal budgets constrain the ability of the agency to meet current demands for recreation opportunities and access." What that means for backcountry users is that the FS cannot fund trail maintenance, visitor information services, and wilderness rangers. It also means that law enforcement is limited. Finally, it means that permitting commercial and special recreational uses is delayed or completely suspended. 

Right now, through January 30, the Forest Service is taking comments in response to this "Need to Change" document. Peruse it and compose some thoughts as to how the "need" can be better clarified and how you envision the changes being prioritized and implemented. Send an email with your comments in this vein to R5planrevision@fs.fed.us. If you comment by this Friday, January 24th, your comments will be considered for inclusion on the agenda of a series of meetings held the following week. Regional Forest Service staff will be touring next week to three locations to further gather public comment on the Need to Change. Here on the Eastside, the meeting series stops at the FS Administrative office in Bishop on Thursday, January 30 at 5pm. I'll be there in the big building on Line Street between the hospital and the DMV. There's free food, they say.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fitness, Formalized

Mark quietly watched the first cookie go down. But he intercepted the second.

Janelle stays fit, holds others to the same standard, and makes no apologies.

Mark and Janelle Smiley are some of my "favorites." Earning their companionship and respect has been an enjoyable journey. I never had any hope of keeping pace with Janelle. She goes hard. But I do smile just enough on foggy glaciers to earn my keep. And I only had a slightly greater chance of hanging with Mark. However, his interest in my diet gave me a glimmer of hope. If this guy, this guy who has beat Killian in the mountains, thought that skipping the cookie might make a difference, what else could I be doing?
Deep in the "pain cave". Near the end of a climb that demanded
68 out of 110 hours on the move Ian Photo

Until the Smileys lit a fire, I seemed to be advancing ever-so-slowly toward more regimented personal training.  No doubt, I've been no casual exerciser. For twenty years I've fooled around with intervals and cardio volume. I wore my first heart rate monitor as a teenager. I did fairly rigorous and disciplined physical therapy after a knee injury in 2002.  I lifted weights in a "standard" body-building style gym in middle school and again in college. I seem to run once a year, too far and painfully. I regularly charge hard enough in training to nearly vomit. I burn my upper respiratory with exertion. For a few years now I have had an on-again, off-again affair with Crossfit. Lynn Hill says she takes a month off from climbing each year. So I try and do that. My job blesses me with the opportunity for a great deal of exertion volume in the mountains. I have said that I hate running and lifting weights.

2013 was a big year. Ian M and I focused our preparations and executed the most physically demanding five days of my life. The Smileys dragged me on a big climb in Alaska's Coast Range in June. In August, with uber-client Jon, we on-sighted the Grand Traverse in Wyoming. All, except for the latter-most, have had their verbose treatment here. "Training" has long been a combination of "long-slow-distance" work hours, mellow rock climbing, big social days in the mountains, and occasional bouts of heavy breathing and heavy lifting at Crossfit. I've struggled to reconcile all these various efforts. With big goals always on the horizon, I felt ready this past fall to bring it all together and strive to be the fittest I can be. I resolved well before the turn of the year to make this the winter of mega fitness, and do so with focus and intention.

In order to know where to go, one must know where he is and where he's been. Check out the weekly-hourlies from most of 2013. The huge spike was the Winter Palisade Traverse. Spring is ski touring and rock climbing. Summer is long weeks of High Sierra guiding and climbing. I purposely ramped back the activity volume this fall. 

In terms of other milestones, I can consistently run a mile in just under six minutes, bust out 5000 feet of ski touring in under 4:30, climb most any 5.10, and survive those gnarly summer months under a big backpack. 20 hour days are regular occurrences, while back to back to back 12 hour sessions aren't unheard of.

Through it all, my entire athletic mountain "career", I've known there has to be a better way. There's no shortcut, but professional oversight was bound to make a difference. So I've now secured myself some coaching. Right here in Mammoth Lakes, California, the proprietor of Eastside Mountain Athletics is working as my coach this winter. Ian N (Not to be confused with Palisades Ian M) and I go way back. We've known one another socially since he was a teenage bouldering dirtbag lugging around rocks in the Buttermilks to "cross train". (I just learned that Ian's workout today was carrying rocks… "It'll make you man-strong!" He's a teenager no longer, but rock carrying apparently still has it's place).

Keeping the aerobic base, while winding down the volume through fall 2013.
Lifestyle friendly social time climbing and with family, with the occasional run and bike ride.
Ian has put himself through a thorough and disciplined coach's education. He's a motivated student of sports physiology, with a passion for mountain endeavors and mountain athletes. He is a strong skier and rock climber, with a solid understanding of the demands of alpine climbing. Ian has studied training -traditional, trendy, and everything in between- for his entire adult life. He's high-strung, articulate, and not afraid to tell it like it is. Ian is well-connected, and has been able to tap into the expertise of the best in the business. That street goes both ways. Andrew Castor, Mammoth area coach to elite internationally competitive runners, trusts the strength training of his runners to Ian.

As a coach, Ian has his strengths, and knows his limits. Yet he isn't afraid to step outside the box and expand his repertoire. He and I are learning together in this latter category. For one thing, we're working to reconcile the realities of focused training with the high activity volume inherent in both guiding and the Eastside social life. Ian is studying up to help me prepare for my preferred sort of climbing. And, as it turns out, there's no real well-developed training regimen for multi-day alpine climbing. Ian is combining his own knowledge with that of his peers, taking my input and needs, and advising me on improving my performance.

So, what are we doing and what can you take from it?

First of all, I took the fall off from alpine climbing. I guided my last alpine route on October 4. I didn't put boots, crampons, or an overnight pack on until mid-December. This crucial de-loading period serves to restock the stoke, allows joints to recover, and does some metabolic magic that I don't understand. That's a common theme: the intricacies of stimulus and response, especially in cardiovascular development, are thoroughly mystifying to me. I'm learning to trust in the process; trust in the principles and methodology. In any event, there is both a psychological and physiological benefit to intentionally winding things down for an extended period. Every mountain athlete can benefit from this sort of periodization. We're used to operating in seasons, but don't like to truly ramp it back. We tell ourselves that switching from summer alpine slogging to fall rock sending is enough of a down-shift. And it could be, if you're going from 30 hour weeks to 8 hour weeks. It doesn't count as de-loading if the volume stays high while the taxed muscle group changes.

De-loading. Cities, food, good company. No mountains in sight. Brooklyn pizza, Meagan photo.
Primarily, we're formalizing and quantifying the overall balance of work load, stress, and recovery. This is the big part, this is where professional oversight and intentional structure will help me the most. Ian has broken things down for me over the next few months. Based on prior training and activity volume, he's worked out a rough weekly schedule. Exercise each week is divided into specific workouts at defined intensity. The process of outlining any given week, not to mention the big-picture plan, is a complicated one.

In my head, to start, I divide my entire week into three major categories: Training, non-training stress, and recovery.  Every hour of every day can fit into one of these categories. Well known coach Mark Rippetoe offers up an effective definition of training, in the context of physical activity:
Exercise and training are two different things. Exercise is physical activity for its own sake, a workout done for the effect it produces today, during the workout or right after you’re through. 
Training is physical activity done with a longer-term goal in mind, the constituent workouts of which are specifically designed to produce that goal. If a program of physical activity isn’t designed to get you stronger or faster or better conditioned by producing a specific stress to which a specific desirable adaptation can occur, you don’t get to call it training. It’s just exercise.
Training time, as defined above, makes up 10-20 hours (volume dependent on the position in the training cycle) of focused and intentional movement each week. The classic 5-step zone system informs the overall structure of the cardio work I do. The overall chunk of time can be further divided into three major categories: Weight room time, zone 1 efforts, and work in the upper exertion zones. The vast majority of weekly training volume is to be fairly low intensity, with punctuated and crucial heavier sessions.

Weight-lifting time is fairly simple to describe. I'm in the EMA gym two days a week. Rarely more, rarely less.  Mainly, I move barbells around for joint durability and core stability. This is Ian's forte. Properly coached weight-lifting is life changing. And Ian is a proper coach. Everyone that uses his or her body for more than walking to a desk can benefit from well-coached weight lifting. Your joints, at the very least, will thank you. I promise.

There's nothing like lifting with professional "eyes on".  Ian N. Photo.

The remaining 8-18 hours of training each week can be conducted in a variety of settings. I run, ski, bike, hike, and climb. If I'm doing something like rock climbing, I work to count only the portion of the day that I am actually moving. Climbing and skiing time serve to tax the metabolic and musculoskeletal systems while also training sport-specific skill. The weekly volume is divided up into different chunks, depending on other goals of the week. Overall, I seem to do best with 2-3 days on, 1 day off.

I can get much of the aerobic base work while on the clock. Much of guiding work is in exertion zone 1. Occasionally zone 2. A large percentage is also below zone 1. I can also get a great deal of cardio work while skiing and alpine climbing for fun. "In season" I almost never need to contrive excuses for moving around.

If anything, I move too much. Much of my life (and yours, for that matter, regardless of your profession or lifestyle) can be considered "non-training stress". It has been shown that we could withstand much greater training volume if there were fewer external demands. Non-training stress has to include basically everything that isn't training or recovery. An overabundance of activity, on any one day or through the week, whether in the zones or at "recovery pace", is a non-training stressor. Psychological demands like work, social, and relationship drama, are definitely non-training stress. Drinking, illness, poor sleep, and driving all work against training and recovery goals. Ramp up the non-training stress, and recovery must improve while training volume must decrease. There's no secret recipe, no silver bullet. You are not exempt.
Non-training stress. What a lame and clinical way to characterize partying down with awesome people!
Finally, a good portion of each week is dedicated to recovery. In short, no one gets more fit while working out. It is the body rebuilding after and between workouts that increases capacity. Recovery includes sleeping, eating well, stretching, self-massage, office-time (as long as its not too psychologically taxing), and "active rest". Most are self-explanatory and simple: Love thyself.

Active rest, however, is a tricky one. How much is appropriate? What counts? Where is the threshold, the tipping point, between productive active rest, and a volume of recovery-paced effort that becomes non-training stress? The same can be said also for zone 1 work. Despite trendy deviation from this idea, it is well proven that "long, slow distance" is the key to endurance performance. At what point (in any given day or week) does the amount of zone 1 and active recovery work go from productive to counter productive? These are big questions for both Ian and me as we sort out the plan. Attention paid is bound to pay off, but we don't have an easy answer. There are certain realities in my lifestyle and profession around which I must build my fitness regimen. It is the same in yours. And we all do the best we can. We balance training with fun with social life with professional aspirations and demands. Even full-time professional athletes must make compromises in their training plans. In the end, that is the point. Compromise is key. Don't tell Mark, but I still eat lots of cookies.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 Year in Review, Professionally

I did this last year too. This was one of my lightest guiding years since diving in in 2005. In 2013 I took time off to climb in the Palisades with Ian and time off to finish my IFMGA certification. I took almost a month off to go to Florida and Alaska in early summer. I took a full 7 days off in the middle of July to climb for fun. In the fall I took a great deal of time to travel and rock climb and initiate more formalized fitness.  It adds up to 19 weeks of intentional time off work.
Chad on the SE face of Emerson, High Sierra CA

Alright, my guiding work in 2013 looked like this:

Nature of the Work:

  • 41 Trips total.
  • 16 of those were single day trips.
  • 2 trips were 2 days long.
  • 19 were 3 days and 2 nights.
  • 3 trips were 4 days.
  • And 1 was 5 days long.
  • For a total of 94 days guiding. 
  • 15 Trips were alpine climbing
  • 4 were ice climbing
  • 7 Rock climbing
  • 15 were skiing
Mike B in the Banana Chute, Mammoth CA
Nature of the people I got to hang out with and our goals together:
  • 20 trips had returning clients
  • A new category deserves mention this year: Five of the trips I worked were with new folks who came directly to me. Either via word of mouth, or via my website, these people found me independent of Sierra Mountain Guides.
  • 20 trips with returning clients plus 5 new folks directly to me means that 16 of my trips came off the SMG marketing program. 
  • On 18 trips the primary objective was education of some sort. "Success" on trips of this fashion is difficult to quantify.
  • Of the 26 trips that had specific objectives (Peak or peaks or a specific route or routes), in some cases in addition to education, we attained all of those objectives completely 16 times. 
  • On three of the 16 "successful" trips, I noted that we accomplished everything we set out to do, and then something more. 
  • This year: 62% success percentage.
  • 2012 72% success percentage. 
Jon A and I at the end of the Grand Traverse, Wyoming.

Conditions
  • On 34 trips I noted just "clear and sunny" weather.
  • On 6 trips it rained or hailed.
  • On one(!) trip it snowed. 
  • On 8 trips I noted that it seemed unseasonably warm
  • On 4 trips I noted that it seemed unseasonably cold
  • That means that on the remainder (29) the temperatures seemed "normal" to me.
In other work, I substitute taught 16 days and completed 5 full OutdoorGearLab reviews.