Thursday, July 21, 2011

Athleticism, for real!
I grabbed a solo day yesterday. And it was awesome. My work schedule has me well acclimated, somewhat rested, and coiled like a spring! I have had excellent trips, with really enjoyable folks and objectives. Guiding is mentally and physically and emotionally engagine. But solo time in the mountains can make it purely physical. And that is what yesterday was about. The route I chose (or, really, part of a route) turned out to have reasonable route-finding, minimal objective hazards, and fit perfectly into a 12 hour spurt of activity. I spent basically that entire 12 hour period moving, keeping my heart rate and exertion near 75% of my max. Perfection, in my book. When one moves at that rate, reflection and sight-seeing fade to the periphery. Its just movement. When one is alone and on reasonable terrain, technical challenges simply spread out the impact and demands over more
of the body. Never did I fear for my safety. With the intention of only scouting a portion of the Evolution Traverse, the pressure normally associated with finishing the objective was a non-issue. Once again, all added up to pure movement. Mountain athleticism at its purest, in my book.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Here I am, at Carl's Jr pigging out on fast food. For weeks I've been watching a couple of humming birds incubate, hatch and then grow to bulge up out of the nest. What a simple pleasure that has been. Simple for me, but apparently not for the parents of these fast-growing, fast metabolizing critters. Looks like a lot of work. Not so simple after all.

And then, here at the fast food joint, I overheard two teenaged employees. One says to the other "do you know that diet soda is worse for you than regular?" The other replied in the affirmative, and it was therefore a fact. Everything, from the candid way in which it was brought up, through the brevity of the conversation, to the underlying understanding of nutrition suggests simplicity. And what an admirable way to exist. Now, I happen to agree with the sentiment expressed. But I know it isn't that simple. My mind races through the questions, defenses, exceptions and qualifiers one must attach to what these kids simply agreed was a fact.

Will these kids one day wake up and look at questions like "which is worse, diet or regular soda?" With a more sophisticated (fancy word for jaded and cynical?) View? Or will they gradually accumulate life experience that encourages them to look more skeptically, more empirically, at the world?

Do any of us really stop "growing" that way? If not desirable, is it inevitable? Do I now have simplistic views of the world that I will look back at and question one day? If pressed, I would have to say that my pendulum has swung waaaay away from the simplistic view these kids have expressed. I view even the most clear-cut situations through a lens of contrived complications. How do I get it swung back towards reality? Not the naive reality of a teenager, but also far from the skeptical reality of my jaded early 30's. Food for thought, food for fattening, and food for comfort, all at your local Carl's Jr.

Classic Ridges!

Ridges Rock! As Peter Croft says, "it's like being on the summit all day long." They also happen to be somewhat easier climbing than their adjacent faces, they dry faster, and they keep one above the rockfall and avalanche hazard that plague some mountain sides. Here in the Sierra, we have amazing ridges. The most famous are the big granite gendarme'd traverses: The Palisade Traverse, the Evolution Traverse, and their smaller cousins all along the range. But it doesn't have to be a multi-peak traverse, nor does it have to be in the granite zone. In fact, some of our best climbs are the single day, "roadside" ascents on the front-range peaks. Up north that means metamorphic ridging. When I first moved to Bishop the Nevahbe Ridge was real trendy. Seemed like everyone was giving it a go and coming back to tell their tale. Funny how even the most permanent of geologic features can come and go in fashion. Alex and I did an ascent of the Nevahbe Ridge a couple weeks back. I had never jumped on the bandwagon back in the early 2000's, but I am glad we finally got there.

It's a sweet adventure. Relatively easy, and straightforward, scrambling keeps one on the very crest of this geologic marvel. Rock types switch from one step to the next while the view stays spectacular. One can begin scrambling just a few hundred yards from the car. That doesn't mean the approach is easy though. McGee Creek guards the approach, and on a big melt year like this one, that crossing can be burly. Check out our strategy:

The descent was fairly chill, if not exactly certain. We spent about equal time on snow and scree. At the end we rigged a sweet tyrolean traverse across the river, rather than reverse the sketchy tree-to-tree transfer.

The Nevahbe was a good tune-up for the alpine climbing season, as well as a lovely social day out in the mountains.

The very next week Alex and I climbed the North Ridge of Lone Pine Peak. This route is one I had done way back in 2004 as one of my first big alpine climbs in the range. It was a serious outing for me then. It is still a serious outing, and it was nice to return and climb in a similar style with far greater confidence in route-finding, movement, and risk-management abilities. Alex is a rock-star alpine climbing partner, and rallied for a committing climb in uncertain conditions while under the weather with allergies. The wind both buffetted us on the ridge and stirred up allergens that seem to plague so many desert denizens in a wet spring like we have had. We climbed and climbed, using the rope just a little, and less and and less as the climb went on. It's fair to say we got in the groove. What a day we had!

Snow Climbing

The past few weeks have been chock full of guiding and instructing snow climbing. Of all the "disciplines" of climbing, snow climbing is probably the most overlooked. Rock climbers and ice climbers consider the snow to be something that just covers the approach, or something that complicates the route. Peakbaggers often try and avoid the snow as much as possible. Even when forced onto the snow, otherwise accomplished climbers do not necessarily know what to do with themselves. The best strategy, I am finding, is to treat it as the unique and challenging medium that it is. Disregarding the huge avalanche component of snow travel (that's a whole 'nuther course, quite literally), it is still a complicated force to reckon with. Climbing up and down on snow is not the same as "just walking". The surface is slippery, variable, and often steep. The consequences of slipping are sometimes nonexistent, but sometimes very significant. One must assess which skills and equipment are needed for progress as well as for stopping a fall. Not to mention actually having those skills and equipment in place and well practiced.

To say the least, it is a full-on climbing discipline of its own and dedicated training and instruction helps. In the last month I have done seven different trips with at least a minor snow-travel instruction component. On most of those, snow travel instruction was the main thrust of the course. For years now I have brainstormed with students, other guides, and accomplished snow-travelers. The main challenge has been identifying exactly what makes snow different under foot and what skill, experience and judgement need to be accumulated before one can be comfortable, efficient and safe there. Secondary has been the discussion of the pedagogy of snow-travel instruction. Finally, there are the challenges associated with instructing snow skills on an ever changing medium.

I feel like we are getting it now: getting people psyched and well-prepared for long, comfortable, efficient and safe "careers" clambering about on big snowy mountains. It's an awesome feeling to significantly change another's capacity and abilities and perspective in an unfamiliar and unfriendly environment.

Highlights of this past month included a group of fathers whipping themselves down a steep slope and safely stopping these accellerating "falls". After each giggling lap back up they'd again plunge down like the little kids they're raising. What a trip! Another highlight was a summit of Mt. Ritter via the SE glacier route. Possibly the most classic wilderness snow climb in the Sierra, Mt. Ritter couldn't have been in better condition.

What does this all mean for the recreational climber out there? All I am trying to say is that climbing snowy routes on mountains can be an enjoyable experience with the right movement and risk-management skills and equipment. It doesn't have to be the oft-derided epic "slog". I mean, with the right conditions and terrain, one can slide down almost as fast as a skier can. And if it's almost as cool as skiing, that's pretty damn cool! Even if your goal is alpine rock climbing, or scrambling, or even high-country backpacking, coming up to speed with some snow skills can expand your options and make those snowy bits even more efficient. Learn to move well on snow and you save your energy and stress for the truly hard parts. Think about it...

Early June

June seems to be a "shoulder" season, no matter how much we want it to be summer. I have certain expectations about what conditions we will find in the mountains in each month. For instance, April brings full winter storms, powder skiing, and longer days. Occasionally the skiing and climbing can be spring-like in April. May can go either way. It can be warm and sunny, with corn skiing and dry high-country rock climbs. It can be stormy and windy with short periods of powder skiing between sunny episodes. I have somewhat twisted expectations of what June can be like. I always picture it as summer, and I always seem to be let down. It is still cold, it can still storm, rock climbs up high are still not as dry as one would hope. Especially this year! Man, was it grim up high this year. I mean, I skied powder snow on May 30!

So, we changed it up. I spent a bunch of time "cragging", sometimes really cold. One notable day at Benton Crags was like mid-winter in the Gorge. Gnarly.