Thursday, January 26, 2017

Three Things Thursday, Issue #22

Pitch 9 of 11. Aguja de l'S. Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Argentina. January 24, 2017
Three quickies:
  • Choose the right footwear. When you can, walk in shoes optimized for walking, rock climb in shoes optimized for rock, and tromp on snow and ice in appropriate kicks. When an endeavor involves all of these things, that gets tough. Make your compromises wisely... For instance, here in Patagonia, we're tackling big climbs after pretty big walks. Our packs are relatively small, and the approaches are strenuous but not technical. Walking in walking shoes, carrying the boots, seems like the call. Those choosing to walk in mountaineering boots are suffering for that choice. 
  • Use rituals to keep safe
  • Couples? Climbing, skiing, backpacking, hiking? Pure joy, or confounding suffering? Some thoughts on making it work

Friday, January 20, 2017

Alpine Climbing Gear List, 2017 Version.

Perfect granite and carefully selected gear. Paso Guillaumet,
Patagonia, Argentina. Jan 18, 2017. 
This oughta be fairly timely... I'm in the shadow of one of alpinism's most classic sky-lines, pondering gear, weight, logistics, and strategy while waiting for good weather in El Chalten. The climbing here is technical, long, with steep, human-powered approaches. In many ways, it is among the most challenging venues to pack for. What works here will work in any non-winter alpine range. Here's what we're packing for huge alpine mixed ice, snow, and rock climbs of Argentine Patagonia.

I divide the packing list right away into group and individual gear. If someone is equipped exactly this way, by my scale it should come to about 27 pounds individually. The group stuff, listed further below, comes to basically the same weight, but is then roughly divided in half. So the total team weight comes to about 84 pounds. And that is everything... Clothes, boots, rock shoes, tools, spikes, camping, food, rack, ropes, etc.  This is a hearty rack of pro, and two 60m ropes. Steel crampons, two ice tools per person... basically, for the most technical routes around. Put each climber in his or her clothes and personal climbing gear, and put a lead rope in play with the gear on the harness, and the packs end up being about 30 and 20 pounds. Now, that's not lightweight. But a competent climbing team should be able to climb smoothly to about 5.8 and WI 4 with packs like that. When it gets harder, get out the other rope and haul the heavier pack.

Also, note that many items can be swapped out for lighter alternatives. Easier rock climbs? Leave most of the cams behind. No ice? No screws, replace steel with aluminum crampons, ditch at least one tool each. Excellent weather forecast? No tent, substitute lighter shell gear. Shorter route? No camping gear of any sort. These are obvious things that the "list" doesn't fully capture. The list is on the "comprehensive" end of the spectrum, and the pack weights are still workable.

Without further ado...

Individual gear:

  • Synthetic t-shirt
  • Synthetic boxers
  • Two pairs of socks. I'm digging some Bridgedale, tall, thin "compression socks".
  • Arc Teryx Gamma AR pants
  • Patagonia thin gore tex pants
  • Patagonia R.5 hoody
  • Arc Teryx Nuclei puffy
  • Arc Teryx Alpha FL shell jacket
  • Feathered Friends Helios down jacket
  • Sun hat
  • Buff
  • CAMP belay gloves
  • CAMP Geko Light Raincover gloves
  • Camp G-Hot Dry gloves
Individual Camping "etc":
  • Sunglasses
  • Collapsible trekking pole
  • Wallet and passport
  • Two trash compacter bags
  • Headlamp. Petzl RXP
  • TP, hand sanitizer
  • Suunto Ambit GPS watch
  • Iphone and charging cord. Loaded up with maps and entertainment.
  • Headphones
  • About a pound of food per day
  • Spoon
  • The smallest Thermarest NeoAir
  • Feathered Friends Vireo... This thing is a secret weapon. Comfy and warm down to the low 20s, it works with your puffy jacket and keeps the weight to just over a pound. Game changer!
  • Arc Teryx Alpha FL 45 pack. 
Individual Climbing gear:
  • Cassin X-Light tool, pair. Modified with the after-market "X-Dry grips". 
  • Cassin C12 crampons
  • Evolv Kronos rock shoes
  • Garmont Ikon Plus boots
  • Hand Jammies
  • Two small lockers
  • Two larger lockers
  • Helmet. CAMP Speed 2.0
  • CAMP Flash Harness
  • Tibloc
  • Prussik loop
  • Micro traction
  • Belay device (I'm partial to the Edelrid Mega Jul these days... there's no real reason anymore to climb with a device that doesn't have some sort of assisted break. Ask me for more details...)
Group gear:
Camping, etc:
  • BD FirstLight tent
  • MSR Reactor stove and pot and hanging kit
  • Two lighters
  • Snow melt cup
  • Fuel (1-1.5 oz per person per day. Allows for some snow melt, but largely finding liquid water)
  • Iridium GO satellite communicator
  • Extra battery power to charge phones
  • Map and climbing topos
  • Emergency/First Aid kit
  • Pack towel (for tent condensation, mainly)
  • Sunscreen
Climbing gear:
  • Metolius "Mini Aider"... Sure, it's decadent. But iced up cracks are slow going. With an aider, they're less slow...
  • Pair of ascenders... Again, decadent. One of the first things to leave behind.
  • 10 draws. Mixture of short draws and shoulder length slings. All equipped with the category leading CAMP Nano 22. 
  • Knife
  • A set of Metolius Ultralight Master Cams from 0-4 (purple to red), each on a Nano 22  
  • A set of BD ultralight Camalot's from .5-4 (grey to grey), each on a Nano 22
  • Set of stoppers
  • Four pitons. thin
  • 5 ice screws. The aluminum Petzl ones
  • V-threader tool
  • 60m Esprit rappel cord
  • 60m 9.5mm lead rope

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Three Things Thursday. Issue #21

Today's theme, keeping the rope handy...

It is downright terrifying how often people die falling in the mountains, unroped. In the Sierra for instance, since 2011 or so, the fatality count for unroped alpine rock climbers and scramblers is approaching 20. That is horrible!

Now, don't get me wrong... There are many circumstances under which climbing unroped is understandable. First, I'll be the first to tell you that soloing can be very enjoyable, for its own sake. Next, sometimes, (though very, very rarely, especially among those well-trained in rope usage), going sans cord is the safest way to go. If time and/or loose rock concerns press in just the right way, skipping the rope can be a defensible safety move.

However, if you are skipping the rope for any of these reasons, you are kind of asking for it:

  • "There's no way to protect alpine ridges anyway"
  • "I don't know how to make this safer with a rope"
  • "It takes too much time to get the rope ready. It's just one little step. I'll be fine"
  • "I've never fallen on this before"
  • "It's too annoying to get the rope out"
  • etc...
Now, be honest with yourself... Are you soloing Matthes Crest or the Grand Traverse because that is the absolutely most enjoyable tactic for you, or do some of these empty excuses sneak underly your decision-making? 

Which brings me to my "Three Things" this week. Three "tricks" to keep the rope handier. If you own a rope, or have a rope along, these should allow you to keep said cord handier. 

  • First, use a shorter rope. It's extravagant, but I own climbing ropes in 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70m lengths. And I choose the appropriate one for the job. In the Tetons, that is often a 42 meter rope... Weird, I know. I guided the Evolution Traverse on 30m of rope. Less rope takes less time to deploy and stow. Less time is less of a hurdle. Fewer hurdles mean smoother progress. 
  • Next, learn to "Kiwi Coil". Look it up on line. Hire a certified guide to teach you. Have a friend teach you. I don't care. Learn to do it fast. I can shorten the tied-in distance between myself and another climber from 40m to 5m in about a minute. I can take that entire 40m rope and "wear" it for a walking section in about 2 minutes. I can get 10m of it back out and ready to use in the time it takes my partner to tie his or her figure-eight knot. Learn to do the same. 
  • Finally, check out the photo above for another way to "wear" a rope. In this case, we topped out an ice climb of Canada's Weeping Wall and were walking over to the rappel tree. Doug coiled back and forth over his shoulders, as if to put the rope away, and then contained the coils with his sternum strap instead of wrapping it up to put on his pack. Super slick. Keeps the rope handy. 
If you've gotten this far, shoot me a note if you'd have any interest in an online course in rope management for advanced climbers. The course would be largely video-based, with the goal being to introduce accomplished multi-pitch rock climbers to skills for handling the transitions that come with alpine terrain. What would you pay for this course? 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2016 Year in Review: Mountains, not working.

I'm not just a mountain guide. I am a climber and skier that guides. And I hope that the numbers show that. Well, the numbers probably show that I'm a "counter" that goes to the mountains. I hope that isn't true... Ha. These numbers are deduced mainly from my training log. So it won't necessarily jive with my guiding numbers, as posted just prior. For instance, I worked 34 days on trips that I considered "alpine guiding", but only spent 24 days alpine climbing. Lets look at a 2-day Grand Teton trip then... The whole trip is alpine guiding. But as far as my activity log is concerned, day 1 is hiking and day 2 is an alpine climb. Hence any sort of disparity.

First, the totals:

  • 24 days of alpine climbing.
  • 90 days of backcountry skiing.
  • 5 days of mountain biking. 
  • 15 days where gym climbing was my primary exercise
  • 18 days of hiking
  • 13 days of ice climbing.
  • 84 days of rest.
  • 58 days of rock climbing
  • 13 days I noted I was sick.
  • 9 days where the ski resort was my primary exercise
  • 28 days of travel (these are not rest days...)
  • 7 days in which weight lifting was my primary exercise
That should add up to 366. I'm not going to bother with the math. You get the gist of it. This notes the primary activity for the day. Many days I did something else. For instance, I lifted weights many more days than 7. But that doesn't make it into the primary activity column.
Some deductions and other data:
  • 217 days of 2016 I spent in the mountains, in action. Yowza.
  • 111 of those days in the mountains were for work. Approaching a 1:1 work to non-work fun-in-the-mountains ratio is pretty damn good, in my book. 
  • I'm not stoked on the 28 days of travel...
  • 126 days of inaction isn't that bad. 
  • 980 hours of action, for the whole year. And that's just the body moving. An 11 hour day on the Grand Teton, for instance, is more like 6 hours of actual movement. And that's how it gets recorded. 
  • 543 pitches of climbing. That's all kinds: rock, ice, alpine, gym. Don't worry... Teton Rock Gym "pitches" count as .5.
  • 326,800 vertical feet of ski touring. 
  • 50 nights camping in the backcountry. 
  • 104 nights away from home, but not in the backcountry. The bulk of this was camping around the west on the annual Rocktober pilgrimage. But I also visited family, toured Alaska, and worked from huts and hotels in Silverton, Cody, the Alps, Dubois, and Lake Louise Alberta. 
  • I've always been fascinated with athletic benchmarks in multiples of 5. Here's my list, with notes from 2016:
    • 5000 foot ski tour in 5 hours, car to car. Becoming commonplace. I guided this multiple times in 2016. 
    • 15000 feet of ski touring in a day, on multiple peaks. Finally checked this box
    • 50 mile run. Not yet... 
    • 5.10 rock climbing. Tons in 2016. Climbing better than ever!
    • WI 5 ice leading. Multiple pitches in 2016. Cody Wyoming and Lake Louise Canada. 
    • Skiing a sustained 50 degree pitch. Just a few times. This is rarer than you might think. Two Alaska runs and skiing the Briggs Route on the Grand Teton come to mind in 2016. 
    • V5 bouldering. Have yet to send a V5 outdoors. Though I can do it in the gym...
    • M5 mixed/dry-tool leading. Didn't do any mixed climbing in 2016 actually. 
    • 5 minute mile run. In my dreams... this is the outlier... Will take coaching and dedicated training. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2016 Year in Review, Professionally.

Maybe you've seen me do this before, maybe you've just tuned it out. In reflecting on the year past, I dig into some of my professional record keeping and present a summary here. The data gets a little deeper each year, and the numbers tell new stories each time. Notable in 2016 is the balance of mountain time. Of 111 guiding days, I spent:

  • 12 on ice
  • 34 alpine climbing
  • 23 rock climbing
  • and 42 days skiing. 
I don't think I've ever hit double digit days in all four disciplines. 

Bugaboos. British Columbia. September 2016. 

Here's what my guiding life looked like, by the numbers:
  • I worked 67 guiding trips 
  • Of those, 49 were single-day outings. 
  • 7 were two day commitments. 
  • 7 were for 3 days 
  • 1 trip went for four days 
  • 1 trip was 5 days and one trip was 7 days 
  • I did a 11 day ski trip to Alaska's Chugach with an amazing group in May.  
  • Of all those trips, I slept in the backcountry for work about 35 nights. I also slept away from home, but in hotels and huts a great deal. 
  • That adds up to 111 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 67 trips, fifteen of them were for alpine climbing (34 days worth). 
  • Nine were ice climbing, for a total of 12 ice guiding days in 2016. That's likely my most ever.  
  • 22 were rock climbing. (23 days)
  • 21 were for skiing. (42 days.)
  • I did five trips with folks that came directly to me. These fine guests were not the customers of another guide service nor had I climbed with them prior. They somehow found me, usually through word of mouth. 
  • 28 trips, for a total of 59 days, were with returning clients. This is also a milestone... More than half my work was with returning clients. Thanks team!
  • 18 trips were for educational purposes. Folks training or preparing for something else, in which I took a primarily instructional role. That's 29 days.
  • The next major category of trip objective, after education, is an amalgamation of mileage, exercise or excellent snow. These trips constituted 28 days over 15 trips. 
  • Finally, many folks come to me for a specific route or peak. In 2016 34 trips were initiated with a specific peak or route in mind. Of those 34, on only two did we not make the summit. This is unprecedented! The "normal" summit percentage in past years is closer to 60% than 2016's 94%! What good fortune... 
  • For comparison:
    • 2012 71% 
    • 2013 61% 
    • 2014 20% (An outlier. A rough year in the mountains... on the clock or off, I failed to "send" a number of big itineraries in 2014)
    • 2015 69%
  • Finally, and notably, I worked for my own company a total of 45 days in 2016. That's awesome! Much of that time was with the Certified Guides Cooperative, which is a great team that is steadily growing the guiding career in the US.