Sunday, October 11, 2015

Little Fish

Karl Birkeland is the director of the National Avalanche
Center. Colorado Snow and Ava Workshop. 10/2015
Dad doesn’t fish a lot, but he has always had wise words about fish and ponds. Specifically, he uses the fish-and-ponds-and-their-relative-sizes metaphor. I remember nothing specific about his fish and pond advice, but I know what has sunk in. Be careful when you start to feel like the big fish in a little pond. That feels good, but life’s real growth comes when the little fish has to scramble for scraps in the big pond.

Now, ego is what it is, and feelings are what they are. While very nice things have been said about me, it would be hard to defend the idea that I’ve ever been a big fish in any size pond. But I have taken recent months to intentionally put myself in the position of a tiny fish in a variety of big ponds. And it’s hard as heck. It is quite the lesson in humility to be the full-time, respected professional at the bottom of the heap. If the humility growth is significant, however, it is all the other lessons that are absolutely huge. My dad isn’t the only one to recommend being the dumbest person in the room, but he’s the one I respect the most. All these smart people know that learning and growth accelerates through the roof when one teams up with the more experienced and stronger. 

Who wouldn't jump at the chance to teach alongside Tommy
Caldwell? ROCKProject 10/15

What does that look like for a mountain guide and professional climber/skier? That’s a good question. I’ve lived much of my life directed by my father’s fish and pond admonitions. That intentional search for mentorship and inspiration underlays much of what I do. If I could build my entire annual schedule around educational opportunities and mentored experiences, I would. However, I must also make a living. Education and apprenticeships are expensive, at the very least with the opportunity cost of not working. The trick, therefore, has been to balance paid work with new lessons and terrain and to find ways to receive compensation while also working under more experienced practitioners. This year, 2015, I have, better than ever before, minimized my ichthyological size while maximizing the bodies of proverbial water I'm swimming. 

To get the lessons and growth, you must give things up. First, let go of familiarity. In 2015 I have on-sighted more terrain, both on the clock and off, than ever before. I skied, for work and for play, on new terrain in Canada, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and even California. On known terrain, on skis, one can generally go closer to that avalanche hazard line, and go a little longer. New terrain offers lessons, but requires conservatism. Climbing is similar. Climbing and guiding unknown routes is slower and more mentally taxing. That mental stimulus, however, is rewarded with a skill-improving response that makes one better and better. 
Josh Beckner. School for International Expedition Training. 6/15

Next, give up some pay. I worked in Peru this year, under the amazing supervision and mentorship of expedition guru (and good friend) Josh Beckner. I made considerably less than I could have made in another setting, but my professional growth was exponential. The mental stress of on-sighting was there, and the financial compromise is stressful, but the overall advancement was well worth it. In other instances, primarily the last couple weeks this fall, I have forgone paid work in the interest of volunteering, co-teaching, conference attendance, and formal professional development. This latest binge of non-paid time has been taxing. I woke this morning with my body and mind feeling the same sort of relief and satisfaction that follows a big stint of guiding, without the financial reward that those big stints bring. Basically, over the last two weeks I have received no compensation, but have gotten up before dark more days than not. I have climbed precious little. As the lessons and experiences continue to sink in, however, the value will overcome the financial stress. I am a better climber, skier, and professional because of time spent volunteering, studying, and trying these recent days. 

Finally, let go of the pride. I worked for almost ten years in the Sierra. In that time I put myself on the top of the heap, so to speak. Other than company owners, I was the most experienced and well-trained guide in the entire range. I had clients coming directly to me, by reputation alone. I had other guides in all stages of their careers come to me for advice and guidance. Climbers and skiers sought out my intimate terrain knowledge. The experience and terrain familiarity I developed there will go no where. But my “status” there is gone. That status means nothing to
The Exum guide team holds an amazing depth and breadth of
experience and knowledge. Grand Teton, 9/15
anyone but me. But it was valuable. It mattered to me, it turns out. To switch gears this summer made sense, in a variety of ways. Going to the Tetons to work for Exum was closer to where my wife would spend her summer. The Teton region is one in which both Meagan and I can envision spending at least the next stage of our shared life. The Sierra is not. However, pulling up Sierra roots and being the “new guy” on the Exum roster was a challenge. Thankfully Exum is full of experience and history and institutional power. My position at Exum is very much that of the tiny fish in the huge pond. It is a friendly body of water, welcoming and supportive. But the big fish are powerful and experienced. I have much to learn from the Exum and Teton community. I can’t possibly live long enough to develop the terrain familiarity that top Exum climbers and skiers have. 
Talking avalanche rescue with the big dogs.
LouDawson on the left, Bruce Edgerly on the right.
A-Basin, 10/15.

You have heard this sort of thing before. But, if you’re anything like me, general advice like “surround yourself with challenge and strong mentors” is a little vague. As a general life philosophy, it is sure to guide you in the right directions. Having that guidance rattling around in the back of your mind will help steer choices to the path that encourages rapid and significant growth. When it comes to the guiding and mountain life, hopefully my few examples here will suggest at least slightly more concrete options.  

The original fish in a new pond. Dad, his jeep, and immense Moab cliffs. 10/14

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Three Things Thursday. Issue #5

Jake Gerry. Mayflower Traverse. October 7, 2015

  • Inflammation kills. Athletes, fight it with a "recovery shower". Cycling hot and cold is proven by science and Scandinavians to reduce intramuscular inflammation and in turn aid in recovery from training. Recover better: perform better. 
  • Life is balance, right? For us mountain types, in our thirties, the most fascinating components to balance are mountains and social or family time. Sometimes they come together, but often they are at odds. Some give up one in favor of the other. But I'm not into that. I find balance in time management. And binges. I work a ton, all at once. I ski a ton, all at once. I spend a ton of time with Meagan, all together. I take weeks to go back east and visit family. And I admire those that find their own balance. I don't know Jim Herson personally, but I feel as though I do. His web presence, and "coverage" of his family and climbing time is legendary. You should check him out. Whether you climb or not, whether you have kids or not, whether you want kids or not, he's got something for you. Dig through his site.  
  • Climbing locations aren't all sunsets and rainbows and neon lichen. Sometimes there's graffiti. Sometimes it's worth taking some time to clean that graffiti up. Ideally, work with your local climbing organization. And use "Elephant Snot". That's really what its called. And it's made by a company called Graffiti Solutions. No joke. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Three Things Thursday, Issue #4

Lone Peak Cirque, Utah. 9/20/15. Climber: Josh Beckner

  • I can get you a deal on any of Evolv's Cruzer shoe line, for a limited time. Tag me and #evolvcruzers in an Instagram photo if you want the code. (Or just shoot me an email.)
  • Poop smart. I love traveling light. I'll leave all sorts of amenities behind. But we have a responsibility to the land. Dealing with our feces responsibly is high on the list of important things. Sometimes there are facilities for us, sometimes we carry it out, but many times we need to bury it. I don't care how clever you are, you won't dig as deep a hole without a tool of some sort. Your ice axe works, but you won't always have that. All the rest of the time? Bring a trowel. Please. 
  • This is my favorite trip report in a while. I'm biased, but I think Ian's ridge-climbing acumen and accomplishments makes him one of the country's best traversers, ever. And he gives us all this great window into his latest creation.  

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Stuff To Sell, Autumn 2015 Edition.

Whatchu want? Let's use Paypal to make the transaction. Most of this stuff I can ship to you. Or you can retrieve it from me in Leadville, CO.  If we ship, you cover shipping costs. Shoot me an email

Mountain Hardwear Synthetic 0Deg sleeping bag. $75

Women's Mountain Equipment Coop GoreTex Jacket. Size S $20

Black Diamond Headlamp. Works. $10

Petzl tikka. Works. $10

Patagonia Women's fleece. Size small. $18

Patagonia women's tank top. Size XS. $10

Columbia women's base layer. Size small. $12

MEC women's base layer. Size small. $12

Go lite pyramid tent. With stakes and poles. Used. But fully functional. $75

black diamond yellow headlamp. $10

Cheapo three person tent. $20

Black Diamond Sabretooth crampons. $45

LL Bean down vest. Reversible. Size kids large. $20

Mec lightweight fleece. Women's xs. $15

Mountain HardWear women's hiking pants. Tan. Size 4 $20

Tan women's hiking pants. Rei brand. Size 4 $18

Pink champion women's tank top. Size small. $5

Maroon mid weight women's base layer. Brand unknown, size small. $12 

Arc Teryx bora 80. $100

  • Black Diamond Ice Screws. I have One 22cm, one 16cm, one 10cm and  7 13cms. The nice kind with the knob. $35 each.

  • A whole mess of Black Diamond Oz carabiners.And some HoodWires. The new ones, with the notch-less gate. $4 each. 

$9 each.

Two different Black Diamond Raven Pro ice axes. Both are 65cm. Both are lightly used. Retail $100. One is fully intact for $55 and the other is cut to that length, therefore omitting the "spike". Cut end shown in photo. $40

Pelican case. $10 retail. $6

Marmot Force 3P tent. Basically brand new. Set up once, in the shade, and used there for 11 nights. $250 

La Sportiva Trango Evo boots. Size 41.5. Pretty well used. But lots of mileage left in them. $35

Black Diamond Stigma skis. 168cm. With Black Diamond Full Mohair skins. And mounted with Ski Trab race adjustable bindings. The bindings, as mounted, work well for boots between about 280 and 300mm. Everything has been used about 20 days, and is still fully functional. Awesome super light set up. $600. Bindings alone retail for $600.

Outdoor Research Rumor Hoody. Lightly used. Fully functional. $50

Size 24.0 Women's Garmont Mega Star AT ski boots. $100 

Voile avalanche shovel. Handle extends. Well used. $15

Brooks range Hybrid Sweater. Size medium. No down insulation on the back. $40

Chalk bag. Brand new. With belt. $8

Evolv Geshido. "Split sized".  10 left. 9.5 right $35