Saturday, August 31, 2019

Reflections on Mentorship

Let's go back to the summer of 2003. I was fresh out of college, with visions of big mountain travels and big mountain careers shimmering just out of reach. I didn't spend my teens climbing and skiing, but I knew I wanted to spend the coming decades that way. I spent the winter of 02-03 in Bishop, California. I fell in with the sort of climbing and skiing crowd that one dreams about. I formed an excellent partnership with a ski mentor, and glimpsed great possibilities in climbing. I was more passionate about skiing, and had a stronger background therein. But climbing, especially alpine climbing, was exotic and appealing. That summer I motored back East to reboot, earn some dollars, and spend too much time not climbing. That reimmersion into a former life only steeled my motivation to dive fully into the mountains.

Josh and Matt, high on Teewinot. 27 August 2019

I met Josh Beckner while we were both substitute teaching at the Bishop public schools that winter of 02-03. We first partied a little together and sport climbed a time or two. We were similar in age, and both from non-climbing families back East. He'd put more into climbing by that time than I had; quite a bit more. I understood the fundamentals and the mechanics, but didn't have the judgment and "soft skills" that big mountain climbing requires. He had that mojo, with trips to Chamonix, Northwest Territories, and the Bugaboos, among others, behind him already. I could place cams, read a topo, build anchors, and climb 5.9 confidently. I had acquired these fundamental "hard skills" through course work, books, and in experimenting with equal-skilled partners. Not too uncommon a path, to that point. I was ready for the next step, and ready for great mentorship. I didn't know that, at the time. Or, at least, I didn't articulate it so. I simply spent that summer of 02-03, between hangovers from summer-camp staff weekend parties, dreaming of big climbs and maybe of teaming up with Josh for some of them.

Again, Josh and Matt. This time, ever vigilant on the East Ridge of South Teton. 29 August 2019
Sure enough, Josh and I, and a whole ragtag posse of climbing bums, returned to the Sierra Eastside as temps returned to humane in the autumn of 2003. We climbed fall and winter, and dispersed each summer, for a few more years. Like the mid-20s years of most, those were special times for a variety of reasons. For my climbing development, those seasons are most memorable for Josh's mentorship.

Josh and I, planning a trip to Greenland. Spring 2007
Aside from a few specific tidbits, Josh's mentorship role was simply to be a climbing partner, with greater experience than I. He was the backstop as I learned and honed the judgment, pacing, big picture planning, progression, bailing, and other subtleties of big climbing. From the beginning there were things I was better at than he (I mean, we got lost in January on Split Mountain. He had been on the route before, and I knew better, but he led us right into the wrong couloir...), but overall there were more things that he was better at than I.

The legendary Owens River Gorge "10-10-10-10-40". Ca 2007. I'm on the far left, Josh on the far right. 

He was just a kid too. He likely didn't think of himself as my mentor. But he was definitely that. He didn't try and teach me much. When he did, it stuck. One time, early in our climbing partnership, he pointed out that I needed to figure out how to organize my harness. "You don't need to use my system, just use a system." (I noticed just this week, nearly 20 years later, that he and I still use the same harness racking arrangement...) in early April one year, on Charlotte Dome (read: remote, and quiet, with cold nights and days-long snowy approach/exit), as we climbed runout (again, off-route) granite face climbing, he simply said "remember where you are". Otherwise, it was a partnership. Without any stated hierarchy or clear roles. That is a great thing. And, likely, crucial to the development of any well-rounded climber.

Josh, ice, and Bobby. Middle Teton. 28 August 2019. No, I'm not sure what's going on here either. 
This past week Josh and I worked together, as equal colleagues, in the Tetons. Together we raced, with two guests, through the Grand Traverse. Our paths since Bishop have veered slightly different directions, and in some ways I scooted ahead of him (I finished my IFMGA certification in 2013. He finished in 2018). The Grand Traverse isn't completed very often. Its hard to tell, but I bet the full "success ratio" is less than 30%. It's a damn hard thing. My Garmin says that I spent 39 hours on the go, between 4am Tuesday and 9pm Thursday. That's action -high, hard, consequential action- for 39 out of 65 hours. I've done it before, and every time is memorable. This one will be memorable for coming "full circle" with Josh. We each called on everything we have to guide the Grand Traverse, and we did it together.

What I have done and what I can do, at least in terms of climbing, is traceable to years of Josh's mentorship at a crucial point in that development. As someone that could almost be called an "old timer" in climbing, I'm asked about mentorship with some regularity. It is an excellent, ongoing conversation in the climbing and guiding community. Our stories are all slightly different, but they all involve excellent mentorship. As you ponder mentorship, consider its value and limitations. I suggest that you learn foundational skills in a structured manner, with mentorship coming in at least two different settings. Mentorship in a formal sense, where the roles are clearly defined and the hierarchy is indubitable, has its place. Similarly, and complementing other environments, unstructured partnerships are a critical piece of climbing development. Thanks, Josh, for that.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Scary/Risky Matrix

What scares you isn't the same as that which can harm you.

What you are scared of is often conflated and reversed from what is actually risky. You can be scared of something that isn't risky (or have fear of something out of proportion with its risk) and the opposite can certainly be the case.

The "Risky/Scary Matrix".

What is risky to you is a function of two very simple factors. Risk is a function of only likelihood and consequence. That's it. Risk doesn't depend, directly, on your experience, your mood, your desires, or anything other than fundamental likelihood and consequence. We can reduce the likelihoods and consequences with skill, judgement, and equipment, but we cannot otherwise change the risks.

Your fear of something, or lack thereof, is far more nuanced. It can depend on risk and be correlated with risk, but it isn't perfectly so. Fear is an emotion, risk is closer to fact. Fear depends on experience, desires, training, cultural and social factors, factors in your faith (or lack thereof), personal values, and your fundamental emotional/biochemical/neurological make up.

I shared this idea recently with a client. It blew her mind. She said "I'm going to go home now and reexamine my whole life with this in mind". I like that. Mountain stuff distills lessons we need in "real life". I've long examined fear and risk, and their interplay. Mountains force that examination, eventually. We can fake it for a time, but we can't escape it. The rest of our lives, individually and collectively, are complicated and muddied by misunderstanding the interplay of risk and fear.

I can tell you, with great confidence, that understanding of the risky/scary matrix and subsequent examination in an ongoing fashion, results in a better and better alignment of what is scary and what is risky. The trickiest situations are those in which risk and fear are out of balance. When we fear something that isn't risky, we miss opportunities and experiences. When we don't fear something that is actually risky, we expose ourselves to undue hazard.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Career Thoughts

Every couple months or so I get an inquiry from an aspiring guide. Some are partway there, while some are totally new to the idea. All are genuinely curious and super passionate. This is one response that I composed a couple months back.

First, there is a broad field of options under the label of “outdoor professions”. What I do is in one, specialized corner of that landscape. It happens to be, in my view, the most lifestyle-friendly and financially responsible corner, but it is also the most dangerous and requires the most pre-career background. 

What I do is best called “Commercial Mountain Guiding”. I take people rock climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, ice climbing, and ski mountaineering. I do so about half the time here in Wyoming’s Teton Range (my current home) and about half the time elsewhere around the western hemisphere. I complement this income with some outdoor gear consulting, some avalanche safety instruction, and occasional Air Bnb rental of my home. 

Every single day is amazing. Sometimes waking up and starting is drudgery. But each day in the mountains and with excited, passionate, healthy clients is a gift. It’s a demanding gig with great rewards. Yesterday, for instance, I woke at 4am to workout, then drove an hour and a half to a field site for a day of standing around in the cold. Over the shoulder was perhaps the greatest possible view of the Teton range. I was home by 6pm and finally sat down for an episode of TV after dinner and dishes and repacking and gear maintenance and post-day notes at 8pm. Up today at 5:30 for a slightly gentler, but similar agenda. These are pretty busy days. 

I did a little bit of skiing as a kid, and got into backpacking as a teenager. Late in college (I graduated in 2001) I resolved to become a professional mountain guide. I buckled down on that path immediately after college. 2017 was the first year I was both a homeowner and maxed out my IRA and 401k contributions. I basically mark 2017 as the start of my actual career. Up to that point was career development of some sort.
I don’t have kids, but I want to. I have a string of ex-wives and ex-girlfriends that all cite my lifestyle (traveling and/or dangerous) in respective breakups. I think it's possible to have a relationship and a family, but it ain’t easy. 

In short, it’s an amazing way to spend my time and earn a living. But it is hard. There are other outdoor recreation fields that require far less education and experience. These other professions (hiking, rafting, bicycle guiding. Also, so-called “outdoor education” like the National Outdoor Leadership School or various wilderness therapy programs) are easier to enter but you hit a career and financial ceiling well before income and lifestyle stabilize. These other gigs are a common stepping-stone for young people seeking a career as a guide. 

Reading back through this I realize that it all sounds quite negative. I guess its tough to put into words. The social media streams tell part of the good side of the story. The setting is spectacular, to put it mildly. The real “perk”, though, is the interpersonal interactions. I spend hours to days to weeks, in intimate and serious settings, with excellent people. I have relationships with some clients that span more than a decade and I meet new people every month. I cannot think of another profession in which I could meet and interact with people like mountain guiding allows. Relationships with clients are symbiotic, professional, personal, and very appreciated, regardless of whether it is a few hours of rock climbing or a 10-year shared pursuit of some huge goal.  

Friday, April 19, 2019

Various Expedition "Kits"

I'm headed to Alaska for two months, starting tomorrow.

I spent yesterday revamping my various "kits" of small things. It was a good job done, and I better organized everything for extended wilderness travel. This is how I roll:

It all starts with the day-to-day emergency/first aid kit. I keep this page largely updated, and that post is one of my most visited pages on the site. I revamped this yesterday too. This kit goes everywhere with me; Short, long, high, basic. Big pack, small pack, it always has a place. 

On most trips I add some or all of this "day-to-day" kit:

[]toilet paper
[]hand sanitizer
[]Dermatone white
[]Dermatone clear
[]lip balm
[]toe/hand warmers
[]Extra ziplock
[]Potable aqua tabs

All in a zip lock, in a small black stuff sack

On overnight trips, a rigid sunglasses case with eye and tooth care is added. 

And then, for bigger, wilder trips, these various "kits" are added as needed. For AK 2019, all of it. 

First, the expedition first aid kit addendum. In addition to what's in the standard first aid/emergency kit:

[]2 pairs gloves
[]Various gauzes
[]Blister covers
[]Anti diarrheal
[]daytime cold medicine
[]nighttime cold medicine
[]Advil PM
[]cough drops
[]Alcohol wipes
[]KT tape
[]Coban/Vet Wrap
[]Steri strips
[]Tincture of Benzoine
[]Antibiotic ointment
[]Spare contact lens
[]ace wrap
[]ear plugs
[]ski strap
[]Hand sanitizer
[]AMGA altitude guidelines
[]Wet wipes
[]All in a rigid tupperware
[]First aid book
[]hardcore painkillers
[]Loratadine (claritin)
[]Needle and thread
[]Hand/toe warmers
[]skin salve
[]Iodine pills

Next, a bulked up repair kit. Also, in addition to stuff already in the standard daily kit:

[]Duct tape
[]Leatherman Charge
[]Leatherman bits
[]Leatherman bit extender
[]Thermarest repair kit
[]3-4 needles
[]Heavy nylon thread
[]Dental Floss
[]Tenacious tape
[]Alcohol wipes
[]bailing wire
[]zip ties
[]Free Sole
[]Pocket Rocket
[]All stored in a suitable sized snap lid tupperware
[]Barge Cement
[]super glue gel
[]one large trash compactor bag
[]Electrical tape
[]Various strings
[]Elastic cord
[]small side lock buckles
[]cord lock
[]Torx 25 key
[]allen keys 5, 4, 3, 2.5

When the expeditions involve skiing, this kit is added:

[]Bit driver
[]torx 15
[]torx 20
[]torx 25
[]flat head bit
[]small phillips
[]Pozi drive bit
[]Two drill bits
[]Various screws, t-nuts, bolts. 
[]Including bolts for sled construciton
[]duct tape
[]glide wax wipes
[]skin wax
[]kick wax purple
[]steel wool
[]two ski straps

Finally, a bulked up collection of toiletries etc:

[]Hand sanitizer
[]extra contacts
[]contact case
[]gold bond
[]wet wipes
[]dental floss
[]ear plugs
[]hand salve
[]big nail clippers
[]hand and toe warmers
[]vitamins. Glucosamine, fish oil
[]tiny pack towel