Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Year in Review, Professionally

I do this each year (2012, 2013). Each year my professional life evolves just a little bit. As does my personal life. In short, 2014 will be remembered for an intentional dearth of guiding work and a beautiful abundance of personal life changes. The two go hand in hand. The combination of a huge expedition smack in the middle of the summer (and the associated training and preparation for that expedition) and marriage to, and travel with, my lovely Meagan means that I did much less guiding than usual. I lowered my financial overhead even lower than usual, took on additional writing work and have been able to come out even further ahead, financially, than I'm accustomed to. Wins all around!
A Valdez Ski touring week should be on every skiers list. April 2014 wasn't "all time". But, even when it's bad in AK, it's still damn good!

Here's what my guiding life looked like, by the numbers:

  • I worked 33 guiding trips
  • Of those, 16 were single-day outings.
  • 7 were two day commitments. 
  • 3 were for 3 days
  • 4 trips went for four days
  • Chad and I did a 6-day trip in Sequoia
  • And Jon and I did an 18-day trip to Mount Hunter
  • Of all those trips, I slept in the backcountry for work just 25 nights. 
  • That adds up to 79 guiding days.
  • Of course, for every 3-4 guiding days, there is about one day of administrative work that includes packing, unpacking, food prep, etc. 
  • Of those 33 trips, nine of them were for alpine climbing.
  • 10 were ice climbing
  • 3 were rock climbing
  • 10 were for skiing
  • And one was a trekking, non-technical trip.
Center of the Sierra, wild, beautiful light. 

Nature of the people I work with and our goals together:
  • 15 of the 33 trips I did were with returning clients
  • on 18 of the 33 trips, the primary objective was education.
  • On 11 trips the primary objective was a peak or specific route.
  • The remaining 4 had other sorts of objectives, usually skiing where good snow is the goal.
  • Of the 11 trips on which the primary objective was a summit, summits, or specific route(s), on five did we accomplish exactly what we set out to do. That is a 45% success rate. This statistic deserves a little further explanation. I keep my records based on whether we accomplished our entire itinerary exactly as planned. If we set out to attempt three peaks, but only do 2 of them, the trip doesn't get marked as 100% successful. As I work more and more with returning guests, and we get more and more ambitious together, these longer trips get more and more common. Also, these returning guests are seeking more remote and obscure objectives. For instance, my biggest Sierra trip in 2014 was with long-time guest Chad B. We've ticked all the technical fourteeners together, skied big peaks, and done extensive rock climbing skills courses together. In 2014 we headed to the way obscure, cooking up a burly six-day itinerary to the center of the range. Our plan involved over 50 miles of walking, three technical routes (one of which was new in 2008, one of which has probably never been guided, and the last of which has been completed perhaps less than 20 times). When sending the North Arete of Hamilton Dome immediately followed by the West Ridge of Black Kaweah beat us down (all in a stormy cycle), we opted out of the Sabre Ridge. While I would call the trip we did a great one, because we did not tick all we set out to do, the trip is marked on my sheet as less than "100% successful". Maybe it's time for a new recording standard, in light of these burly, multi-peak itineraries…

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Haute Route

 Mark And Janelle Smiley and I are excited to be teaming up this coming spring in the Alps. Mark and I will guide while Janelle takes excellent photographs. 

We have all the details outlined on

Saturday, September 13, 2014

NE Ridge Bear Creek Spire, Speed Run

I busted out today what seems to be the "Fastest Known Time" (3:47:53) for the NE Ridge of Bear Creek Spire. I've already defended these silly speedy missions elsewhere. In short, its a great workout and a killer way to cover a ton of ground. Going for time motivates visits to places and times I may not otherwise.

I snapped one photo (below), and collected data with Strava. I've got other speed records documented on this page. 

I wore some clothes, ate some food, and went as fast as I could. For footwear I wore Hokas for the run and carried a pair of Evolv Addicts for the scrambling. The Hokas are awesome for everything but the scrambling. In that venue, they suck. The Addicts are compact and seemed more than worth their weight on this endeavor. I wore the rock shoes from where the NE Ridge and N. Arete join to the summit and down the Ulrich route to the sand.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Celebrating a Different Sort of Full-time Climber

"Some will fall in love with life and drink it from a fountain that is pouring like an avalanche coming down the mountain." B. Surfers. Pepper 

Chad dips water from Precipice Lake, Sequoia National Park
In our climbing community and circles we have ample opportunity to observe and share the lives of those that are "living the dream". Climbing's immersive nature and inspirational quality lends itself to uninhibited passion. 

But how? How to live that dream?

There is no shortage of media in our mountain and climbing community advocating for the nomadic, "dirtbag" life. Nor is there any shortage of this lifestyle in climbing's history. Whether you're perusing the Patagonia catalog, listening to our crowd's defining podcast, or lusting after the release of the next feature length climbing movie, one wouldn't be wrong to believe that having no permanent address is the only way to fully experience climbing. 

Our climbing communities attract those with counter-culture leanings. The immersive experience of mountain travel is addictive. One wants only more and more. Like junkies, many new and old climbers dive fully in. Influenced by the story of hero Alex Honnold living in his van full time, who was in turn preceded by California's legendary "Stonemasters", countless rock fiends hold the full-time, on-the-road schedule as the pinnacle of the climbing experience. Every corner of the internet holds a new blog documenting someone's "escape from cubicle hell". Indeed, wandering from one climbing area to the next is an amazing life; one finds a strong community, rapid improvement in the craft, and a life bouncing from one beautiful natural environment to the next.
Dale, high on Mt Tyndall. 

However, few if any can truly sustain this wandering existence. Whether the limits are financial or lifestyle, "living the dream" on the road is better described as "sampling one particular dream." There are many other ways to live in concert with the mountains. I've had the distinct pleasure of sharing mountain adventures in the past month, and for years, with two excellent men who each live their very own version of mountain and climbing nirvana. And neither life looks like anything we regularly see romanticized. Our climbing culture's neglect of yet another, more feasible and common, path is unfortunate. Both Chad and Dale get more time in the mountains than average. And both hold down full-time jobs and have healthy, grounded, sustainable lives. They make sacrifices for their pursuits, but that which is "lost" sure seems minimal. They each execute a version of the climbing life in their own way, but they share a passion, balance, and delightfully non-standard way of living an immersive climbing life.
Chad, in Pete Starr's footsteps. Chad and his Sierra pioneer hero share
lawyer training, SoCal residence, and  the summit of
Black Kaweah, about 80 years apart. 

A couple years ago I had the distinct pleasure of lending a very small hand in the production of the Supertopo High Sierra climbing guidebook. I edited a little, wrote a little, and contributed a few photographs. So did Dale, incidentally. And Chad made it into one of the photos I submitted. At the book release party I met ultra-sender, and dedicated lifer, Chris McNamara. Chris Mac has built much of his life around climbing (although he has a robust entrepreneurial spirit… I also work for him at and has a ridiculous climbing resume. Even as he's reviewing gear and selling guidebooks for climbing, he doesn't get out as much as he'd like. None of us do, really. I had him sign a copy of the guidebook for Chad. In explaining who Chad is, I noted that he and I had spent nineteen days together in the mountains in the previous year. Chris commented, asking "does this guy have a job? I don't even get out 19 days in a year". Yes, Chris, Chad has a job. He works in some fully engaging, high-energy, real estate business. I don't really get it, but I do know that Chad has changed positions a number of times, and is now responsible for his own business. As a guide, I interact with plenty of people who work in high-consequence environments. Upper level professionals, in this age of the smartphone, are accustomed to constant contact. Getting them out in the wilderness is stressful, at the least. Chad, however, lets it all go. When he's out, he's fully immersed.

Chad on Dunderberg

Dale's friends joke that he does too many things to be just one person. He climbs, skis, and bicycles at a high level. He spends a great deal of time with his family on the East Coast, travels for work, and still leads the Mammoth happy hour charge more often than not. I am pretty confident that "Dale" I get to hang out with is actually sometimes a hologram of the real Dale that is in Missouri fixing windmills or in Vermont eating white cheddar.

Dale on Mt. Williamson's "Long Twisting Rib"
While the aforementioned notion of "ditching it all" to climb and travel full-time is indeed romantic and much touted, Dale and Chad demonstrate that it isn't the only way our cutting edge forefathers chose to pursue their passions. Before he started really making money with photographs, Galen Rowell was notorious for driving hundreds of miles on his weekends off from fixing cars. Francis Farquhar, best known for his first ascent of Middle Palisade, was an accountant in the Bay Area. The legendary and athletic Pullharder climbing club, in it's heyday through the mid- to late-00's, was made up of students and professionals in San Diego. 

Hamilton Dome, Sequioa National Park
If nothing else, Chad and Dale and those like them prove that enjoyable immersion in climbing and mountain life does not require quitting one's job or living in a van. All of us have barriers to climbing more. A full-time job need not be one of them.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Stuff for Sale

Whatcha want?

I'm in Colorado right now, and so is this stuff. But it and myself will be headed to the Eastern Sierra by Thursday. And I can send things, if you pay the shipping.

Petzl Aztar Hammer. Used. 

 Marmot Col Membrain Sleeping bag. -20f rating. size long. Used just 4 nights. Retail $650. 

Brooks Range Hybrid Sweater. size medium. Retail $270.

OR Rumor Hoody, Used. Size medium.

Brooks Range Ultralite Guide Tarp. Retail $160. Well used, fully functional. 

Suunto Ambit 2S Watch. Used very lightly. Retail $350.

Northwest Alpine fleece hoody. size Medium. Used lightly. Retail $110. 

Scarpa Maestrale ski boots Size 27. Medium use.  Retail $700.  $275

Thermarest prolite plus. Regular length. Retail $110. Virtually brand new.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Colorado Thunderstorming

Out and about… a lot. Not interwebbing so much lately… But I cooked this up. Enjoy your summer, wherever it is.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

West Ridge of Mount Hunter, Alaska

Editors note: This was originally published here, then Feathered Friends hosted it for a while. Now, the FF version is gone, so it's back here. It may return to the original Ff url. At that point, it will live here:

Extra special thanks to Feathered Friends!

Navigating the crux rock band on the West Ridge of Hunter. For Sierra-trained ridgers, this rocky bit was no big deal. Jediah Porter Photo

West Ridge of Mount Hunter, AK

Climbing with Jon A is a guide's dream come true. While I have rambled on about the experience before, dishing out the platitudes over the years (Palisade Traverse '12, Evolution '12. Not documented: Palisade Traverse '09, V-Notch '10, Tetons '13), it still blows my mind to spend time with such a hard-charging, tough-as-nails, mountain fanatic. He is strong and mentally driven. He trains like a fiend and takes direction like a good soldier. Like most mountain fanatics, he tackles life's big questions with action and drive. That being said, I won't embarrass him to say that he needs my guidance just as much as any guest. He has his strengths and weaknesses. Long days of action are no problem. His residence at altitude works in our favor time and again. His pursuit of the finish line is deeply motivated. But he also pushes and scares himself sick and is happy to delegate technical skills and high-mountain risk management to this grateful pro.
Most of the West Ridge of Hunter. This guy's big. Jediah Porter Photo.

Jon and I have been fortunate to tackle big things together. And we've mainly succeeded. Our first climb together has been our only "failure". Not one of our endeavors has been undertaken in perfect conditions, but each success shares common themes. Stepping it up to the Alaska Range this spring, we merely adapted a familiar set of tactics. Safe, friendly, and successful return from each climb we've done, whether it's stormy ice climbing, sunny Sierra traversing, techy Teton-ing, or big and old school classic alpine climbing, can be attributed to the same set of guidelines.

We go light. Each climb we have "stepped it up" until on the West Ridge of Hunter we carried a total of under 5 pounds of group camping gear. That's right: tent, stove, pads, sleeping bag all together fit in half of one pack. Key to this mission is patience, close living, and the Feathered Friends Spoonbill bag. This double bag, and the willingness to do a little snuggling, meant for Jon and I, (as well as for Ian and I on the Winter Palisade Traverse) that we could keep ourselves insulated with about 2.5 lbs. To achieve a similar comfort level with standard gear, we'd each bring zero degree bags. No matter how you slice it, this would mean about 3 lbs each. Score sheet: traditional strategy 6 lbs, Spoonbilling 2.5. Major advantage. Other weight-saving tips: get proper alpine tools. Techy ice tools are too heavy and don't plunge well. Your walking piolet won't swing as efficiently into firm stuff. We had great luck and saved weight with matched pairs of Petzl Sum'Tec tools. Same for crampons: no need for techy ice spikes, but you need more than 10 points and material beefier than aluminum. Pack clothing for action and belaying. Get in the tent for cooking and chilling. Go light and instant with food. Think critically about avalanche gear...
Jon fluffing the double sleeping bag. Hunter high camp, 11,300. Jediah Porter Photo
We leave plenty of time. On most of the trips Jon and I have planned, we've allotted more time than is "standard". We almost always finish early and in this case we finished well ahead of schedule, but we have the option to wait a bit for excellent conditions (or "give 'er a try" in marginal conditions, knowing we can bail, rest up, and try again if need be). Time is precious, but safety is more precious-er. Put time on your side, and decision-making feels far more reasonable. When decision-making feels easy, the resulting choice is almost always safer and more effective.
Topping out the "Ice Face". Jediah Porter Photo.
We go, safely, into questionable weather. While the Alaska Range is experiencing (still… a week after we "sent") an historical high-pressure spell, we didn't have perfect conditions. We slept very poorly in gusty winds on nights 1 and 3. Our summit pitches, up and down, were in a white out. We had fitness, food, caffeine, and knowledge to spare. This cushion allowed us to go a little more vulnerable to weather and such. On other climbs, we've had similarly "marginal" weather. We've waited out lightning in the Tetons, tackled rare Sierra white-out in October, and snuck through a rare rainy spell in the Evolution group. Intimate knowledge of weather patterns, some upper-level decision-making, and a little luck has gotten us through.
Jon and Jed waiting out a Teton thunderstorm under the "suffer tarp". July 2013, Grand Traverse, Wyoming. Jediah Porter photo.

We start well-prepared. Do your route research, make a plan, a contingency plan, and a contingency to the contingency. Know your tech skills, but don't neglect the more subtle risk-management and judgement based knowledge. Tap in, somehow, to the wide world of knowledge out there. Internationally recognized tactics, training, and techniques make a difference.
Buttering up ultra-sender Mark Smiley for some intel. Jediah Porter Photo.

We go fast. Jon is fit. I'm no slouch either. One can never have power in excess. Stopping because the campsite is awesome is better than stopping because you are collapsing. Duh. I've been working with a trainer. Jon trains for 100 mile trail runs. (and is enrolled for a 200 miler. Dude!). But speed isn't just fitness. Sure, if need be I can break trail at 2000ft an hour, for hours at a time. But I can also route-find and hydrate and think at that rate. Learn to walk and navigate at the same time. Sure, it's harder than walking and chewing gum, but it is worth it. "Analysis Paralysis" costs more time than any amount of weight on the pack or heaves in the chest.

We know one another. We know that if we are each quiet for a few hours, we're just in the zone. He knows my stories and drama and quirks. I know his. He's been there as I have motored through a tumultuous personal life. He's come climbing with me while tackling growth in school and family and work. We both know now that if his stomach is protesting on night 1, it'll be all better by morning 2. If one of us is dragging-ass by the end of the day, we can count on an overnight rally. This isn't rocket science, but the confidence and knowledge go a long ways. All the scheduling, gear choices, and tactical discussions are built on a foundation of personal comfort and familiarity. We've each grown in the 5 years we've climbed together. And we'll continue to grow, regardless of how much more we climb together. Each trip we plant the seeds of the next (Don't think for a second, Jon, that I missed the reference… "I guess I gotta do Foraker next") but one sad day one or both of us will "move on". That is part of this journey too. The knowledge that partnership and fitness is ephemeral enhances its value. The mountains are forever, but our opportunity for sending is short. When the planets align, go for it!
Post send bacon cheeseburgers. Kahiltna Beach BBQ! Jon Arlien Photo

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...


  • 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.  
  • 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. 


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:

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 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.