Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Training for the Ultimate Training Day



Tension between training for life and living to train.

Am I preparing, or just doing? When does preparation give way to just doing?

All this comes to mind because spring means renewing the skills, fitness and head-space for rock climbing. Mountain sports come in seasons. Obvious, right? Mainly, ski season, and climbing season. Fitness and preparation for alpine climbing, backcountry skiing and ice climbing seems to stay real all year-round. Or, in other words, little specific preparation is required to be able to step into one of those venues at any time. But rock climbing isn't so "general" in its demands. For me anyway. To function in steep rocky environments I need focused preparation on a seasonal basis. Each year I improve as compared to the last, but there is a parallel improvement in performance through the season. And I am tackling the early part of the rock-climbing curve right now. Fortunately, I have scored a schedule that allows an immersion course in climbing re-entry. I spent 5 days in Red Rock near Vegas, then 4 days in Idyllwild, then a day and a half in Joshua Tree. World class rock climbing, excellent partners, the distraction-free atmosphere of destination, and motivation. The planets, so far, are aligning for a sweet climbing season!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Alaska Stuff...

What's all this about Alaska? What the heck went on up there? Good questions, glad you asked.

How about a bulleted list, sloppily integrated with some pictures and video? Ok, if you insist, in rough chronological order:

  • Massive amounts of pop-diva music. Y'all oughta know that its now cool for raccoon-eyed, granola-eating 30-something dudes to rock out to Rihanna. Really. Believe me.
  • AMGA Ski Mountaineering Guides Course. Whatever.
  • Butterflies
  • Great Peers, making great turns, great laughs, and a great video (see, I told you female pop-stars are "in"):


  • A friggin' Helicopter ride. On my birthday. Wicked!
  • Incredible, glaciated wilderness mountains. Forever, as far as the eye can see, infinite...
  • On the course, a few good turns. Yours truly, making, you know, "guide turns".


  • Whiteouts, studying, planning, changing plans, planning for changing plans.
  • Packing and unpacking. Repeat. Daily. More than daily sometimes.

  • And then it got fun! Yeah, even more fun! You see, I invited 3 friends to fly up from "South America" to join me post-course. The plan was to ski whatever was the most fun. Or Mount Sanford, if conditions agreed. We opted for fun, and chased good snow over to Valdez. (Course skiing was at Hatcher Pass, Girdwood, and Turnagain Pass. Basically near Anchorage)
  • Some of the themes were consistent with the course days. Specifically, great people, rockin' skiing, the same make and model of rented minivan, white-outs, and the Alaska Factor. That state is huge, with many huge mountain ranges, each with many huge and inspiring mountains, all covered in beautiful and fat snow. Even on a "poor" snow year, we found world-class skiing almost every day.
  • The change in company, though, brought some important changes. We went into "vacation" mode. The "Alaska Alpine Start" is about 10 am. Days are long. Snow goes through the daily softening slowly. And refreezes even more slowly.
  • We shared decision-making, eased into terrain, and contrived lame photo-shoots.
  • We also changed up the sound-track. Less Ke$ha, more Rob/White Zombie. Superbeast.
  • Ate cheezy poofs and high-latitude Mexican food like they were going out of style.
  • John piloted us safely along Alaska's wilderness roads.
  • Steve cooked us breakfast each day. For real!
  • Scott has written it all up far more thoroughly than I. And more eloquently, with better pictures. Why reinvent the wheel? Check out Scott's Blog.

"In Canada..."


I won't lie. I am fascinated with Canada. And things Canadian. Some of my most vivid childhood family vacation memories are from Canada. I was once granted honorary Canadian status. My first wild partying experiences were in Canada. There was a time when I had visited a greater percentage of Canadian Provinces than I had visited US States. But then they went and split the Northwest Territories in two, and I kept plugging away at the State visits. Anyway, I dig Canada. I also have a coupon for free admission to any Canadian National Park. Sweet.

As if I wasn't already fully enamored with our 51st state, I've gone and started this guide-training regimen. When it comes to avalanche training and awareness, backcountry ski guiding, ski-guide instruction and ski clothing and equipment manufacturing, them Canadians are unparalleled. It's enough to drive an already obsessed person over the edge. Every other sentence out of AMGA and AIARE instructors starts with "Well, in Canada...". They just seem to get it. They have huge mountains, great snow, and reasonable access options. Roadside, wilderness, helicopters, huts, even railroads. However, I must confess that, aside from a weird trip to Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula, I have not yet skied in Canada. Weird, eh? Nonetheless, I think I am obsessed with Canadian "ski touring" (as they call it). These guide-trainers have me sold.

On top of all that, I was fortunate enough to receive a full-tuition scholarship for my AMGA Ski Mountaineering Guide Course that finished up a few weeks back. And it's a Canadian company that funded the generous honor! ArcTeryx is based in British Columbia and no one will argue that they make the absolute best mountain clothes, climbing harnesses and backpacks. Quite the flattering endorsement, to have them supporting my mission. To boot, I like using their stuff. I tromped all over Alaska in April in their ski pants, carried my overnight gear in a pack they made, and tied in with one of their innovative harnesses. To be clear, the pack I used is one they no longer make. But, whatever. I'm psyched with their stuff, their support, and their Canadian-ness. And that's what it's all a-boot, eh?
ArcTeryx pants, pack, and acres of sick Alaskan powder. Alaska is like Canada, but better!

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Longest Journey Home...
And it keeps going. On and on, this feels like the most extended homecoming ever. I'll flesh out the real good stuff with some proper entries, but let me work through this stuff in reverse chronological order. That'll make your brain hurt like mine does. I'm scheduled to fly into Mammoth tonight at 5. Mammoth is forecast to get 2-4 inches of snow this afternoon. We'll see. Right now I am at LAX. Flew here on a quickie from Seattle. Endured a 12 hour, bench-sleeping, bad-news-receiving layover there. Got to Seattle via a short cloudy sparsely attended flight from Anchorage. Spent sunday touristing around gritty Anchoragua. Saturday we ferried from Valdez to Whittier, and drove thence to Anchorage. We were supposed to Ferry on Friday, but it was cancelled for a coast guard inspection. So we touristed around gritty, shoulder-season Valdez. Highlight that day was the annual
May Day "fly-in". Pretty cool. Watched the Super Cubs practice for the STOL competition. Those things could land and take off crosswise on a 4 lane road. Thursday we began our journey towards home. We woke up in the wilderness and skied a couple thousand feet of amazing powder for breakfast. Then a lite version of an Alaskan bushwhacking slog exit. Definitely the only portion of our home bound travel that went more smoothly than we anticipated. Before that we were in the blessedly simple, and cruelly subtle in its dangers, wilds of high Alaska. That's where the entertainment lies, but a write up of that deserves a clearer mind, more comfortable writing atmosphere, and rosier outlook. For now join the darkness of a grueling trip home.