Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy New Year!

The quantity of writing on this blog is directly proportional to the amount of time I have and how inspired I am. When I'm psyched I can get a lot done when under life's fire, but when I'm down, well, not much gets done. The temperatures have been ridiculous here in the Rockies, and I gotta admit I'm down about that. Some friends from France are going back a week early because they've had it with these disastrous temps. I asked if I could go back with them but they told me I had too much to do, and they're right. So the lack of posts reflect both temperature-induced torpor syndrome (five points to whomever figures that one out first) and the quantity of stuff I've had going on. Two magazine articles, a journalist inhabiting my life, Christmas, kid, parties, shoveling the walk, feeding the fire and a whole list of other excuses for the limited climbing and posting I've done lately. I have stayed on the training bandwagon though, getting stronger! See the picture for my latest training tactic, it's a triceps workout from hell combined with kid care!

But there are going to be even fewer posts for the next week, as I'm packing duffels and and clanking gear like mad. The quest is on, and we're off tomorrow morning. I can't say much more about it than that, but there's a big route out there, time to go hunting for ice!


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Minus 35 (Edit: -42 last night!)

Cold weather always makes me feel excited in a, "I sure am glad I'm not on a climb!" sort of way. The squeaking crunch of the snow underfoot, the sudden numbness in an earlobe, the hyper-real sound transmission in the air and of course the, "Just how cold is this going to go?" feeling all combine to make cold weather something I really look forward to. I know there's no way in hell I'm going to do anything except hike in this weather, which is sort of liberating.

Fortunately I climbed the last two days in a row before this "cold snap" blew in. I say fortunately because I give up on ice climbing below about -20, I just don't enjoy it. I've done some days at -30, it's just too damn nasty. I also feel like the line between survival and total chaos is much closer when the temperature is so low; break a leg at -5 and you'll have a shot at living until help shows up, but at -30, well, good luck. But I still feel invigorated by extreme cold, it's just such a clean, sharp feeling every time I step out the door to get more wood for the stove. Overall I'm pleased with the wood stove addition to the house, and we haven't had to turn the heat on yet. All the wood cutting in the fall (standing dead trees only, they have very low moisture content and so are OK to burn now) is paying off! 

Minus 35 isn't that bad compared to the cold I've felt in the far north, but just a week ago it was warm enough to climb rock outside in the sun! Amazing transition.


Mostly outdoors on one long route and a few drytooling days, although I did get sucked into a wicked session at the Vsion two days ago. I went in for a quick evening slam after a short day out in the morning; I had clear-cut goals (front levers, power pulls) but the Junior team had a new toy: A speed system... Stand on the little pedal, punch it to the top, hit a buzzer. The Juniors were going fast and it looked like fun, so I had to play. Before I knew it 45 minutes of desperate yanking laps had gone by. I lowered my initial time of seven seconds (short wall) down to just under 2.5 seconds but couldn't get it any lower despite trying as hard as I could. The record is 1.91 seconds (nice work Eric!) to go from standing at the bottom to the buzzer on the top of the roughly 20 foot wall. Basically three power moves in a row to the top, so maybe it was a good power workout after all! 

One thing I know now is that when you get a groove on in a training session it's way better to go with that than to try and force the original plan. Staying fresh mentally is as or more important than anything else. If you're not motivated by your workouts then you ultimately won't go. So next time I hit the front levers and power pulls I'll be feeling extra aggro and psyched, and the speed didn't hurt my forward progress. If anything the psyche pushed me to try harder and go deeper, which is what good training is often all about.

Stay warm!

PS--the temp is now -36, could we hit -40 tonight? I haven't seen -40 in many years in the Rockies (apparently neither have the pine beetles, one reason they are expanding their range so dramatically to the north). Cold, cold, let's go -40! The sun doesn't come up until 8:38 tomorrow, so lots of time left tonight...

11:20 PPS--Now we're down to -37! Time for bed, but I'll check the stats from last night in the morning, this is getting really, really cold!

The temp dropped to -42 last night. I can't remember the last time it was -40 something around here, nice to see.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


We all need inspiration. I find a lot of mine outdoors, from friends and family, but also in music and reading. If you're looking for some inspiration here's what I've been abusing my ear drums and eyes with:


Raw Shark Text: This is about the weirdest thing I've ever read, and one of the best. There's this idea that words can become alive, and eat us as "sharks." Brilliant stuff, I wish I were half as smart as the author.

Five Novels: Phillip K. Dick. This guy saw the world so very differently. I picked this lunker of a collection up in some airport on the way to Europe because it had the most words per Euro of anything on the rack, and it then took over my mind. Dick defined so many pre-cursors to things we take for granted today (cyber punk, the ascendance of the electronic over the physical, viruses, electronic propaganda, etc. etc.) up to 50 years ago. Cool read.


MGMT: Evil good pop.
Buck 65. So many good lines... 
Old Crystal Method: I was playing some of this in the office today after a good Nordic workout when my daughter wandered in and started grooving like a glam queen. Hard to argue with that, I was too.

The reason I'm thinking about inspiration is that I can sense it's time for winter climbing to change for me again. Ice climbing isn't going to look the same in 20 years as it does now; sometimes climbing evolution is incremental, other times a new idea comes along that completely shakes things up. Mixed climbing did that for me, and changed the sport around the world pretty dramatically. Standards on both ice and mixed have shot up massively in the last five years, and that's cool. I saw that yesterday while teaching a clinic; two guys I didn't really know came into Grotto and climbed brilliantly up the ice. Their technique was obviously refined well past the usual "X and grunt" method of ascending; nice body position, safe, fast. It would have been impossible to see that 20 years ago as that technique didn't exist. Now the question is, "What next?" I need a shot of Phillip K. Dick's futurecasting to find the path of most interesting resistance and drop into the groove of new possibilities.

Training: Did some more icicles of late, having a ton of fun just climbing ice with the odd mixed bit throw in, plus it's the start of the ski season. Nothing like pounding for an hour with a 30-pound kidlet on my back, killer workout and fun for both of us.

Give 'er.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008


There's finally enough ice and time to get out, yeah! Last Wed. I headed up to the Stanley Headwall with my favorite philosopher, David, who moonlights as some kind of oil-patch bidness man and general outdoor organizer. We've been climbing and attempting to climb together for over 20 years, so it's always good to get out with him. Anyhow, we left the car kinda late (8:40) with vague plans to do Killer Pillar, but there was a party on that. Plan B was to do Suffer Machine, but there was a party on that. Plan C was to climb anything without people on it, and somehow that made Nemesis the goal. Nemesis is one of those all-time classic ice routes, something that novices wonder about, up-and-comers epic on, and the experienced tell two-beer stories about. It's about 160M of very steep ice, and back in the day it was a very long day at best and a bivouac situation. Times change.

At the base David was looking nervous about the time; I'd had to stop and duct-tape my heels together (first time skiing in ice boots that season, joy) so now it was going on eleven, and David had to be back in Calgary to give a slideshow that evening. My wife, Kim, had done the route pretty fast with Scott S. back in the day, and we had 80M ropes so I figured we could do the route in two pitches (normally 4). We wouldn't be slowed down too much by placing protection as I'd kinda only brought eight screws, a bit light. I know David can move, so I semi-jokingly said, "We'll be back at the packs in under three hours, no problem." I figured we'd probably rap from the first anchor but what the hell, I'd never actually done the climb (put me in the "up and comers having an epic back in the day" category for sure) and really wanted to!

Swing, kick, swing, kick, kick, kick, gee that screw is a long way down there, anchor 80M later. David raced up despite somehow taking a softball sized chunk to the helmet; I know how big it was 'cause it left that sized dent in his helmet. He wasn't feeling too hot but was still game, so off to the top, crux move fighting through the soft slab and finding an anchor, back down at the packs in under three hours, David made his show and reportedly did well despite the head injury. Sure was a nice day, thanks!

Also had fun at Hafner yesterday; I love thin ice climbing, the kind where it's just thick enough to hold your pick but thin enough to show the first tooth. This type of climbing is just provocative, like a strip tease show but more interesting; what you can't see is what it's really all about. A nice day out with old guard again. I like going climbing with people who have a sense of humor as black as their coffee, plenty of both going around. Nice crowd in Hafner despite the fact that it rained all the way from Canmore to about 10K from Hafner. I was sure we were on a drive to a coffee shop with a detour toward a climbing area but the temps and ice were fine if a bit wet. There is just nothing like pulling the crux of a climb with a shower of ice-water in your face and running down your neck, I will NEVER whine about the temps while sport climbing again.

So the season is on around here, lots to do, yeah! And today there is snow outside my window and the temps are down to -10 finally, I was starting to think global warming had finally arrived.

Training: Yep. Had a wicked session with Dr. Simon in the gym the other night. 15 minutes of big offset pulls and front levers turned into something more than that, thanks for the motivation. Today I took my kidlet to kidlet gymnastics (she's going well!), and managed to almost hold a front lever on the rings for a second. It's coming! My workouts haven't been perfect, but they have been as regular as I can make 'em, and the results are starting to show.

Hope you're having fun outside wherever you are!


Friday, November 21, 2008


I've been out wandering a bit in search of new ice, but not much success. Normally this time of year I'm climbing a fair amount, but there isn't all that much ice in at the moment, or at least ice I haven't climbed. I'm always up for climbing just about anything, but given a choice I'd rather wander the woods in search of something new than climb something I already have. So more wandering will take place!

Training: Good gym sessions. Spoga, offset pulls, bouldering, lots of laps up and down the wall locking off on every hold and reaching up, some front lever training. It's going.

I hope it's game on wherever you are!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Training and Logging

Had a wicked session in the gym today (well, yesterday as it's late at night now), and a decent one Wed. Plus I did some solid logging recently, very nice dry wood from standing trees with Keith, and scored a whack of wood from Alpine Precision Tree Removal (Thanks Jeff and Chad!). The picture is of me being a tree hugger, all proud of the very dead tree that went down cleanly. Oh, cutting that thing up and then splitting it was a bad-ass workout too--knotty-ass tree, I had to resort to the new chainsaw a couple of time to win. Kinda weak but that's how it goes sometimes, all of it is very nice firewood now. New saw required a new chain too, knowing how to sharpen ice tools does not translate directly to sharpening chain saws. It is possible to remove too much of that little tooth that sets the depth of the cut. Bought a guide thing.

Training Wed: Good warmup, then bouldering, then kinda got psyched to work with the Vsion Junior Team for a bit on some skills, then blasted myself on the system board for body tension and power moves. Wicked.

Training Friday: Solid warmup, sent some problems that had been beating me down, wore my soft skin out then got on the dry tool campus board. Big offset pulls, new season record (I'll take any victory I can get), half levers, worked. Full Spoga set in there too, never stopped moving except when I had to gasp like a new-born for breath. Love that.

Plus wrestling a couple of tons of wood, some walks with live weight on my back. A good week, beat some long-standing office stuff into at least a stand-off, the kind of work that just keeps piling up and piling up then it's really late so it's even worse to deal with so I didn't until this week. Lame, but fixed now.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Winter and Weather Change

The ice season is on around here, but the temps have been really warm. Only the relatively high and north-facing ice (Ranger Creek, Replicant, etc) has stayed in. The last month has really reminded me of winter in Colorado--highs above freezing most days, warm enough to rock climb in the sun, a few degrees below freezing at night at most, pretty stable weather in general. While this has been pleasant, it's not right for mid-November in the Canadian Rockies. It rained here in Canmore last night, and the most snow we've seen this season was in August. WTF? I've decided "global warming" is a misnomer; what the term should really be is, "Weather Fuckitedus." It may be colder, warmer, windier, wetter, dryer, sunnier, cloudier or just generally totally unpredictable compared to any pattern you might once have recognized.

Training: It's fallen apart a bit due to weather-induced lassitude. It's hard to get really psyched to mixed climb when it's sunny and plus five, or raining. But these little lulls often lead to better results in the end. I'm likely tired from all the mad travel, and my motivation is the first thing to suffer when I'm not fully in the game mentally. I expect things will come back with a vengeance here shortly. Over the years I've found that pushing through demotivated periods often leads to injuries, or severe and long-lasting demotivation. Better to focus on things in life that need to get done, stay healthy, train when the energy is there, and know that it will come back when it's right. That was a hard lesson to learn for me...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Walking in the woods

Yesterday I went for an all-time fugly walk in the woods. We went the wrong way repeatedly, mired ourselves deep in the debris of an overgrown logging slash, fell down, groveled, cursed and were rewarded at the end of this experience by not finding any ice to climb. But you know what? It was a pretty good day of it. This is what's funny about climbing; you can not climb anything and still have a good day. If I'm working in the office and, say, the video editing system implodes it can ruin my entire day. But I can sweat and grovel for three or four hours in the mountains and it's pretty fun. This just confirms my basic idea that office work is evil.

The day did end well when I scored a bigger chainsaw in good condition for a fair price. This things should wail through the bigger logs with aplomb (can you use a word like that to describe a chainsaw?). I had a dream last night that I used it to quarry a huge cave in my back yard, it was going through solid rock like butter. This is likely a man dream that women will not relate to, but I was stoked, sad to wake up and find out it wasn't true. My backyard is cobbles for at least a hundred feet of depth anyhow.

Training: See above, with some time spent hanging by the tools in the garage. Getting stronger!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Training, friends, Obama, winter

Every so often my home gym, the Vsion, has a bouldering comp. All the local climbers rejoice not just because the comp is fun, which it is, but because the new routesetting means a total reorganization of the holds on the wall, and a lot of new boulder problems. Something like 50. Yesterday I went in with Scott, and we started on the easiest, 1, and worked ourselves up to about 35. Yeah, it's not the best mixed training but it sure was fun! Lots of big hold jug pulling and body tension, I feel it today after the relatively lower-angled climbing in Poland.

Then my friend Keith and I went and chopped down some dead standing trees as part of Firewood Quest 2008. This is undoubtedly the most dangerous thing I do; I don't know shit about chopping trees down, so we're making it up. My favorite line from yesterday was, "Keep running!" from Keith as I headed out of the danger zone. It was a big tree, and not really going the direction I'd have liked it to... Some kind of workout for sure. 

A few interesting bits from friends:

-Andy Kirkpatrick, one of the more entertaining guys in climbing, just finished his book, Psychovertical. Worth checking out for sure, and part of the Banff Book Festival.

-Kev Shields, the one-handed but all-talent climber, went and soloed a classic M10--again.

-The Coldsmoke powder festival is on again for Nelson. I can't imagine any sort of cold smoke coming out of Nelson given the astounding ability of the locals to create hot smoke. Wait, I think that means powder, not greenery. A really cool event by all reports, I'll be heading there this winter to get my ski on.

Finally, Obama, as anyone who doesn't live in solitary confinement knows, is the president elect in the United States. Politics generally just piss me off (I've got a degree in political science so it's an educated annoyance), but this is genuinely cool. Finally a slim majority of Americans got their heads out of their asses and voted for something different. I say that as a part-American; nothing is more frustrating than watching a country you know reasonably well go so wrong for so long. Maybe Obama is just another pawn of the powers that be, maybe not, but I am damn glad he's president-elect and not McCain. On the other hand, a bunch of states voted for anti-gay marriage ballot measures, so fear and loathing of the "different" is still alive and well. I can't fathom the fear and small-mindedness of voting against allowing someone else to marry someone he, she or it truly loves. With all the problems in the world, so many children in pain, so many people suffering, gay marriage is worth spending millions to fight? Shame on those who would rather spend money on fighting for fear and intolerance rather than helping others.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Poland, Travel, Training


Leave Calgary at 6:00 p.m., change planes a bunch,  (you know you've spent to much time in airports when you know which lounge to go to at the Frankfurt airport, and recognize some of the servers...), get off last plane in Krakow, Poland. Surprisingly, it looks pretty much like Germany or something. Massive construction, nice houses, very Western European feel. Locals drag me off to dinner in the nicest wooden building I've ever seen, then somewhere else, and then it's 7:00 in the morning and I'm drytooling up the side of an obscure quarry so jet-lagged I can barely lift my tools. But it's fun. The weather is supposedly too shitty to go alpine climbing in the Tatras, then the sun comes out and we go sport climbing in another quarry somewhere.

There's a really obvious cool roof crack line, but I end up on some bouldery 7a (11d) in the shade and fall off in a frozen haze. Then it's onto the roof crack, which the local master (serious master--this Micah dude can PULL) absolutely hikes without jamming once. I spool up, fall off the opening move before I even get to any bolts, laugh, then trash my hands in the crack 'cause if you don't jam it's 7b+ or something. I jam like a mofo on the serrated edges and get to the anchor with everyone asking me exactly what the hell I was doing with my hands in the crack--"there are no holds in there?" Then we meet more great people, do an impromptu movie night with the best scotch I've ever tasted,  and then drive somewhere else and then it's off to bed in a haze. 

Morning strikes (it doesn't rise when I'm jet-lagged, it strikes me in the forehead like a snake), and it's more driving. Somehow, despite the distances never being more than a few hundred K, we drive hours and hours each day. This time only drive an hour, and then ride a tram up into the Tatra Mountains, which are incredibly beautiful peaks. My handlers tell me these mountains are small, not so nice, not so many good climbs, etc. By the end of the trip I figure out that if anyone in Poland says something is going to be not so nice then it's going to be great. It's a national characteristic among Poles to talk down everything Polish. Sort of Canadian in a way, I feel right at home. I also suspect there was some serious sandbagging going on with the grades, but payback on that one will be fun when the team comes over to Canada.

Anyhow, we hike up to the top of a peak from the tram, and it's just gorgeous. I spy a long granite ridge running off into the distance and immediately have to do it, it's just too cool looking. My handlers decline my offer to come, and we have no rope anyhow, so it's a solo game. One side of the ridge is in beaming sun and so warm I have to take off everything, the other side is -10 with ice, snow, and frozen turf everywhere. After cruising around some rocky bits I'm into some mixed on the north side, and go for the crampons. Unfortunately they aren't in my pack. All I have is a huge loaf of bread, two pounds of cheese, an empty water bottle, and an mp3 player with broken headphones. I do have one ice tool, so I keep going, ripping my hands up some more jamming in the cracks with added force 'cause, well, I don't have crampons and falling off would be bad. It's a mega couple of hours of breathing hard, going the wrong way, going the right way, climbing past rap anchors, being horrified on the dry sunny grass, being horrified on the frozen grass, and eventually making it back to the tram after one of the coolest ridge traverses I've ever done. Yep, these Polish Tatras are not so nice... Lying Poles, these mountains are fantastic. There were some really nice mixed lines to do if one had two ice tools, some crampons, some gear, a rope and a partner. But no complaints, absolutely a great afternoon of it.

Then it's off on a mad tour of Poland for the Black Diamond slide shows. My translator (Adam) can climb 8c, the guy I'm doing the shows with has done 13 of the fourteen 8,000m (Piotr) peaks, then there's me stuffed in the backseat for at least five hours a day between gigs. I've driven all over the world, but I gotta say that the Polish roads and drivers are far more engaging than I'd expected. The shows go well, nobody dies on the road, and we're back in Krakow in one piece. Adam suggests we visit a local crag that's, "Not so nice," and of course it's a great little crag with perfect grass at the base. We would KILL for a crag like this here in Canada! One more show and then it's off to the after-event party, where I survive one of the all-time greatest attempts on my life. Many people have tried to kill me in foreign countries with drinking games, but this was seriously a world-class effort. I had to use every Jedi mind trick I knew to make it out alive, and still the next morning barely qualified as "alive."

My overall impression of Poland is nothing like what I'd expected. I grew up listening to the radio reports from Poland in the late seventies, when Lech Walesa was leading strikes and the government was pretty aggressive to the people. But what I found was a country a lot more like Germany and Austria than the other countries I've visited in the former "east" European block. Construction everywhere, good infrastructure (good in general, the roads could use some more time in finished state and less under construction), and a generally optimistic people. The "communism" years are ancient history for anyone under 30, and many of the older people simply don't want to look back. I kept digging for information about what the country was like when I was a kid and hearing about the strikes on the radio, but it's a chapter of life that's just less interesting for the Poles than the future. I admire that outlook, and the results show in the country. The Tatras are fantastic and worth visiting again, there are some really big walls with mixed routes to do (maybe already done, no idea, but they look great).

My deepest and sincere thanks to Michal, Adam, Maciev (sorry, you're welcome at my house anytime but I never did figure out how to spell your name!), all the Piotrs and the many stellar people who put us up in their houses and truly went out of the way to help me have a great Polish experience. Sometimes slideshow trips are pretty industrial; this one had industrial moments, but it was without a doubt the most enjoyable week of travel I've had in a long time. I know I'll see some of the people I met in the future, either at my house in Canada or around the world somewhere. I look forward to that. And if some of my hosts show up at my house I'll do my best to show them some things in Canada that, "Aren't so nice..." Right. Thanks also to Raphael for recording the video segments for the shows in Poland, they worked well.


PS--Training: Two days of sport climbing, one day of mountain beating, one day of gym climbing/training, some hiking. Not ideal, but I feel pretty good about getting all that in while on the road so much. Back at it here now!

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I'm in Poland, having loads of fun. More later, but some nice photos here. Managing to have a very good time and get some climbing in.

Off to the crags now.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Spoga, etc.

I've had a few emails asking what Spoga is--explained it a few posts ago, but it's what I laughingly call "speed yoga." It's yoga without all the woo-woo, which likely means it isn't yoga to those who practice some form of Yoga. I fit a fairly fixed collection of about 20 different "poses" (asanas) that flow together in roughly five "sets." If I do these straight through they take as little as 20 minutes or as long as an hour. One thing I don't like about most yoga classes is that I often want to stop and work with a position a bit longer, or not go into some movement because my body doesn't feel right for it then. That's what I do in Spoga--do my routine, but feel the positions carefully, really move well into each pose in my own time, feel it. I'm wired like a Jack Russel dog, not a lot of flexibility going on here, but I've been doing my routine off and on for three years now, and it has really helped me. So I often do a set or problem or whatever in the climbing gym, then recover by working through a set of my Spoga poses, repeat. It keeps me moving, helps me breathe well while gasping for air, and fits more good stuff into less time. Spoga, it works for me...


I'm on this near-compulsive firewood gathering kick, so I've been knocking over dead and living (only when they were destined to die anyhow, I might as well burn 'em rather than have them go to the landfill) trees and carting the carcasses back home. My driveway looked like it belonged in the Yukon, so many logs... My neighbors thought it was pretty funny. The whole process has just worked me. After a lot of work I'm down to about a cord of wood that is too wet to use this year; I've gathered, moved, split and stacked a lot of wood over the last two weeks, and in the last three days that's been my main training. I'm going to get some freaky wood chopping/carrying muscles if these keeps up... I figure moving several tons of wood around has got to be good for something, it's certainly worked all the climbing muscles with the exception of power grip strength and maybe lats (although picking huge rounds up gets in there some).

Anyhow, after the mega wood workout from hell I got back into the gym tonight. Good warmup, then did five laps (up and down until failure) on this longish jug haul problem out a roof, no feet, big moves. Grrr.... Hard enough for me that I had to do spoga between sets, fully anaerobic death. Then an accuracy drill on the tool board where I hang one-handed and try to slot a pocket with the other tool. Harder than it sounds, and an important skill. Then one-handed hangs on the tool shafts (can't hold that long before I end up on the grip), then 20/20 intervals to get a good deep pump. Front lever training to finish it out (still just extending one leg while horizontal, back to full hang, repeat until all I can do is curl my feet up level with the bar, back straight, hold that until done. That's one set. I do somewhere between 3 and 5 depending on what I've got in me).

The intensity level is going up. I'll start climbing more and more as the season progresses, and that will take care of specific strengths and specific endurance. Now I want the power to bust the more difficult moves out without injury. I've got some slight tweak in my anterior delt but otherwise good to go. The 20/20 gives a good level of endurance, the fine-tuning will come in action.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

First Ice

On Sunday the venerable (same age as me except for four days so I can use that term) Dr. Slawinski and I actually went ice climbing. Yeah! Typical early season ice, bit odd and sketchy but super fun afternoon of it. It sure was great to get out into the snowy (yep, snow on the ground!) mountains for the first time of the season, and even better that my knee worked. I'd say I'm fully recovered from meniscus surgery and all the other little injuries, yeah! Fell into a beaver pond kinda for a complete day. Felt solid on the walk--my ice pack is lighter than my kid-carrier pack, I found that sorta funny. The climbing wasn't so hard but no pump once I relaxed, so good to swing tools and be out in the mountains with Raph.

I missed blogging a couple of workouts in there due to the mad scramble to finish a bunch of stuff around the house before the snow flies, and working on some projects for 2009, plus I leave for a Poland tour (three presentations, going to be fun!) this Friday. Full madness, love it.

Anyhow, I've been hiking/charging up hills and hitting the climbin gym, did the gym thing on Sunday, good gym workout last night that involved:

Deep warmup (15 minutes of near-constant motion, cycling the pump a bit as I warmed up).
Four endurance burns on a 30-move problem with Spoga between efforts.
Campusing on the 45 degree wall, big holds, lots of pikes and core effort required to huck the moves.
Campus board with tools.

So blasted this morning, excellent! The power workouts always get me...

The rest of the day involved computer time, putting casing around the wood stove alcove, caulking and screwing together the side of the house where the wind was removing it, kidlet action and sorting firewood out. Firewood is a lot of work, could be a training action all of its own! 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Training Update October 16th.

Wed., October 15 (really--I somehow tweaked my dates, fixed now for recent entries...)

Savage workout. Limbed some trees, bucked them up, moved them to truck, unloaded. Helped out with some more bucking up of trees also. Eight hours of wrestling chunks of wood ranging from light to 150+ pounds, chainsawing like mad, wicked workout. I think this sort of thing is a real test of how "real world" fit you are; climbing fitness is very specific and that's great, but old-fashioned manual toil is just good for you.

A note on chainsaws: I have a "purse-sized" Stihl (my friend Margo loves to mock it), but it has a short bar and a thin chain that allows it to wail through wood as fast as many bigger saws. Keep the chain sharp and the saw in tune and there's not much that saw won't do with some creativity. I was cutting 24-inch spruce with it yesterday, kinda cool to get a big job done with a small saw. I'm just too cheap to spend $500 on a more manly saw when this one gets the job done well. Yeah, a bigger bar and more power might be nice, but I don't burn out on moving my saw around either, and mostly what I do is cut up logs up to about 12 inches in diameter, often in awkward positions, a small saw is just easier for that. Unless someone wants to send me a big old new saw, maybe I'll get into those timbersports comps, those people are nuts....

Tuesday, October 14th.
-Spoga between sets/exercises as usual.
-Warmup with easy movement.
-Climb up and down slightly overhanging wall locking off as low as possible on good holds, hold lockoff for a few seconds with the other hand over head before grabbing hold, repeat until flamed...
-Boulder with tools in cave, focus on accuracy and swings. Good deep pump several times.
-Tool pegboard, big offset pulls, one per side until can't do anymore. Wicked.

Monday October 13th
-Spoga as usual.
-Long traverses to warm up (cold!)
-Front lever training. Nasty and short but good. Getting better at these.
-Enduro training hanging on tool shafts, odd Figure 4 thrown in just to keep it interesting... 20 on, 20 off, you are pumped up! Let go with one hand occasionally if this is getting easy, and grab the tools above the grips so that you slide down onto them when you're too pumped to hang onto just the shafts anymore...

Sunday October 12th.

Good walk in the woods, nothing too major but good to get out.

Saturday October 11th.

All-time lousy workout. Got sucked into a boulder problem I couldn't do, tired, unmotivated, basically went through the motions but into mentally into the workout. Did my best.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Training Log: Body Tensions is not about situps!

First off, a quick rant about body tension.

I often watch people with saggy-ass syndrome (poor body tension) do endless situps. This does NOT solve the problem of keeping your feet on while climbing. "Core" strength or "body tension" in climbing means being able to hold on with your hands and keep your feet on an overhanging wall. Situps (or any ab-isolating exercise) are near-useless for this, it's all about making your shoulders, lats, and abs work together. Some version of front-lever, or whatever "curl up" exercise you can do, is the base of body tension on steep routes. Off-topic rant, but I hate to see good training time wasted. Of course, if the goal is pretty little stomach muscles then great, but that's not the reason I'm at the gym. And if you can do a front lever you'll have good abs, the difference is that you'll have functional strength, not poseur strength.

Wed. Oct 8th

Wrestled a wood stove most of the day in addition to video work, kid. Wood stove won the opening rounds but not the match. Nothing like trying to move 400+ pounds around... Crossfit style experience.

Rode bike to hill. Went up hill fast on foot. Knee good. 45 minutes.

Soundtrack: The world. I don't listen to music while I'm out in the hills, they sound great au naturel.

Thursday Oct. 9th.

I let life go sideways (Calgary, etc.) so I ended up in the gym at 8:15 in the evening, not my favorite time to train. Had to use chemical stimulants to get it going, yeah, those little cans of motivation. Felt like an ambushed owl for the opening 10 minutes but then got it moving. Warmed up well then got sucked into a boulder session with Big Frank. Super fun, big body-tension moves on decent holds so kinda what I wanted and sure fun. SPOGA between boulder problem goes.

Then about 15 minutes of movement with the tools in the mixed cave. Every time I drytool for the first time of the seasn I hate it. The tools move around too much, I'm terrified they will blow on every movement, and I wonder why I bother. Hell, it's a climbing gym, why not just use shoes and chalk? Then I start hucking small dynos, moving through the fear and it becomes fun, but those first few moves always destroy me. I need to pad the little finger of my Fusions already, forgot gloves the first day and my little finger is already swelling. I helped design these tools and wanted a positive little finger grip, what was I thinking? Well, not ideal for the gym but exactly what you need with gloves on for hard routes.

Then over to the drytool campus board. More vertical offset pulls but with a one-arm lock at the top of each pull, release lower tool for a few seconds. Only did three per side and didn't hold the lock long, but I feel them today for sure, a power movement. Then an exercise I've been doing for a few years to help my shoulder: hang from both tools, let go with one hand, and slowly, slowly, rotate about 150 degrees so you're facing out from the wall a bit, rotate back and grab the other tool. If it gets sloppy put your feet down right away. I think it's important to build all the little muscles and train them to work together for moves like this, seems to help me prevent shoulder problems. Drag your feet if you can't do this in control. Surprisingly hard to do in control, but if you build the coordination and strength to do this then you won't be doing it out of control on a route, and maybe won't rip your shoulder joint apart...

Then front lever (core) training. Getting better recruitment after only one session, could hold one leg out for a few seconds! So much of climbing is specific muscle fiber recruitment and coordination, not just "power."
Finished the evening out with some "pump you up" exercises of hanging onto just the tool shafts (no support from the bumps) on 20-second on, 20-second off intervals. Wicked pump in short order...

Maybe not the perfect workout, but far better than lying on the couch drinking scotch and doing fuck all, which is where I was headed at 8:00 p.m.

Soundtrack: Crystal Method was on in the gym. I always forget how good Crystal Method can be.

Friday October 10:

Passed wood stove inspection. Wrestled wood. Keyboard. Then blast on bike to hill, up hill to "lower rocks," back down. Under an hour. Stoked. Burned first load of wood in stove, house did not burn down. Cool.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Use Fedex, not UPS

I ship a lot of stuff back and forth to the US and around the world. I've just had the most incredible go-around with UPS, and still don't have some parts that were overnighted from Utah more than a week ago. The parts made it from Utah through Canadian customs in about 24 hours, then spent two days sitting on the ground while UPS's private contractor tried to figure out how to get a box across town in Nanaimo. They couldn't figure that out for more than 48 hours despite the "super priority" shipment status. I left town before they could figure it out, and called UPS three times to get the box forwarded to Canmore. Unfortunately they couldn't even tell me where it was until today. Yep, Nanaimo. UPS promises delivery tomorrow, we'll see. I really like my local UPS guy here in Canmore, but as far as actually delivering a package on time, well, UPS is not going to get any more of my business, and I'll urge everyone I work with to use Fedex, DHL, Purolator, donkey express or anyone but UPS. Fedex normally gets my packages back and forth to the US in well under 48 hours. UPS sucks.

Back to your mountain sports blog now.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Winter is coming: Train.


It's that time of year again when the nights are well below freezing, the snow is sticking up high and the leaves are committing suicide in a very beautiful way. Yep, winter climbing is coming and quickly. I'm coming off a decently strong fall of rock climbing (for me) so I've got a base in there somewhere, but in the last two weeks I've done nothing but drive (sit) and fly the paramotor (sit) with a few aerobic blasts but not much. Two weeks and my arms are smaller than their normal skeletal size, my ab muscles aren't looking too defined and my aerobic fitness is pretty pathetic. Time to get it on.

My goals are all over the place at the moment, but I have a couple of big ice/mixed trips coming up and one weird goal that I'll maybe share later. That goal would involve an insane amount of ice, so I need to have the power for decently hard mixed and the endurance to go hard for many hours of "easy" movement on steep ice... Totally contradictory physiological goals, what else is new.

I'm going to post my workouts and climbing efforts as they happen, both to amuse the reader and motivate me. Maybe some public pressure to get it done will help, and I'll take any scrap of motivation I can find. I have a 16-month old star of a daughter, work, a hole in the side of my house that needs fixing (love those renos) and a lot of other stuff that's competing for my time and energy. In short, I'm likely a lot like many of you who read these ramblings: over-committed, short on time and looking for all kinds of climbing action instead of specificity.

Tuesday, October 7th: Day One. Weather poor in general.

Back in the source of power, the Vsion. After two weeks totally off I wanted to start kinda slow, I've found that's a good way to prevent injury. I had one hour and 30 minutes to get it done, here's what felt right:

20 minutes of movement on the walls: Just moving, stretching on the wall (this is great for range of motion and feeling where my body is at), getting to the point where removing the sweatshirt is necessary. No movements that tax me, mellow but real pump.

First half of my 30-minute speed yoga (Spoga) thing (three A suns, three B, bunch of flow poses that I link, it works for me to keep my body from binding up too much). I used to care if I looked like a geek in the gym while doing this routine. Thankfully I've made peace with the fact that I am a geek in the gym, I need to do this Spoga thing or I start moving like a geriatric. Let the kids laugh, it's good for them and me.

-Four laps on "Yellow," about 30 moves on generally big holds, enough to get pumped and have to try a bit but no tweaky moves, with the rest of my Spoga done between intervals. No time in the gym should be wasted; either you're going at it, stretching, belaying or gasping. Sitting around is a waste of time.

-Dangle off tools in the mixed cave for about about 10 minutes. Make sure to release gently and fully onto each shoulder in one-handed hangs, keep it controlled and very smooth. Not really bouldering, just letting my shoulders and hands know that I'm going to be abusing them in the coming weeks--but not today.

-Three rounds of: vertical offset pullups (one per side, both sides, good form, no straining), front levers off tools (nowhere even close to front levers, rock climbing does NOTHING for my core compared to mixed. Just pull knees to chest, extend one leg, collapse, repeat until I can't get knees to chest).

-Mess about with a few figure 4s off tools focusing on smooth releases and catches, not going to failure at all, just remembering the motions and feeling my body move through the range of its joints.

Closed it out with a few minutes of light campusing, I still want to do a few rock climbs that require some degree of contact strength...

That's it, 90 minutes of near-constant motion of varying intensity. On a scale where "1" is my couch and "10" is all-out I'd rate this one about a 4.73. The emphasis is on waking my body up to the movement and stress, not building new strength. I'll be sore tomorrow because I haven't trained these movements but not painfully so. The worst mistake I could make right now would be to blast my muscles and joints so hard that things started to break down either suddenly (injury) or over time (injury).

Soundtrack: Buck 65:
"Sign of the times, choose a blind man to guide the blind,
We all try to find a good excuse to hide behind
Difficult isn't it? The point? there is none
Forget what you know, cause that's true wisdom

Chorus: Cop shades, falcon versus eagle
Cop shades, weapons and sex toys
Cop shades, falcon versus eagle
Cop shades, waepons and sex toys"

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Strait Up called on account of wind

For the last 15 years I've flown at least 50 or 60 days a year in western North America, and watched the winds aloft for at least another 100 days a season. I do this through Navcanada's flight planning site, a useful tool for any pilot. I've always thought that I "knew" the winds in western North America pretty well; they blow out of some derivative of west most of the time, unless there is a big low, high or something whacky going on. Then they'll blow whatever direction for a day, maybe two, before settling back into a range of about 220-320 degrees.

For the week we were on Vancouver Island the winds as far east as Cranbrooke blew from between 90 and 200 degrees. Every day. My line over the strait depended on some version of west winds. I never once saw anything approaching 270. There are a lot of ways to fly over the Strait, but the safest plan is to use west winds and line up some possible landing features such as islands. We saw more east and southeast winds aloft than I've ever seen. It felt like groundhog day--check the updated winds aloft at night, predicted southeast. Morning, predicted stronger southeast. Actual: strong southeast aloft. Paramotor engines sometimes just don't work. Although sorely tempted, I was not willing to take off over the Strait with the winds against me. And even if I had made it over the strait there was no place to go on the mainland with the southeast winds....

I was reminded of the variable nature of paramotor engines on Tuesday while doing a flight from the Keenan farm. The winds on the ground were north, the sky perfectly blue, I just couldn't believe that the winds up high were southeast. I took off, climbed to about 1,000 feet, and sure enough the winds were southeast.... I was messing about shooting some stills and slowly descending when the engine stopped. Hmmm.... I tried to restart, nothing, primed, got gas, checked anything I could while looking at the engine over my shoulder, and then headed for a rocky beach. Fortunately I had more than enough altitude to glide to land and not end up in the water, but the beach I had as a "reserve" was really rocky. Stuck the landing fine, the Keenans's and my dad came up and got me, soon we had the head and cylinder off in the Keenan's field. Stewart was a real assist for that, I'm no two-stroke mechanic but he knew a lot. In the end the diagnosis was simple: there was a big hole in my piston, right above the spark plug. I called up RPM and they sent parts right away, then I took the engine into Walker's Saw shop in Nanaimo to to get a Walbro rebuild kit.

Walker's is a Naniamo institution, the kind of place where any man who ever ran a chain saw would recognize as a mecca of all things two-stroke. Don Walker is a second-generation two-stroke master; he raced Kart at a high level, and instantly diagnosed the engine problem and volunteered to fix it overnight. Problem was, UPS sent the parts to Africa... In the end we had to limp homeward with no parts, the wind still south and a broken engine in the truck bed. I'm going to send the motor back to Walker's though, it's just dead obvious when you meet someone with a world-class knowledge of something, thanks to him.

I had to push the dates of this trip back due to knee surgery; August would have been better. Other than that we just had winds against us. I still feel lucky that the motor didn't blow up over the ocean somewhere too far from the beach to glide to...

I'd like to say thanks to my dad, Ben, for support, Peter at Talon Helicopters for believing in the madness, Mark Miller with Discovery, Mark Johnson (who has the best bachelor life of about any man on the planet!), the Keenan clan (great people!) and everyone else who worked with us to try and make this happen. JK and Gabe at RB provided positive energy and support too, nothing would happen without them. I WILL be back, and will send this trip, it's a dream that won't go away. Resistance is natural in life; sometimes you gotta be the ocean and just wear the SOB down until you can get over it. Big goals have big problems; the trick is to just never give up.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Strait Up

I'm on Vancouver island with a paramotor. The obvious thing to do from here is fly it back over to the mainland, and then maybe on home to Canmore. The strait isn't too wide, about 35-50K depending on where you went, but it's pretty wet and not a good place to land. The Vancouver airport also makes things more difficult due to all the airspace restrictions and heavy jet traffic.

My dad came along to help out with logistics and chase, and we've been in the Qualicum Beach area for the last three days. The reasons I haven't flown back over yet are varied, mainly that the wind has been warping out of the southeast for the last three days. I've also blown a hole in the top of my piston, we're going to rebuild today if the parts show up...

The best part of the trip so far has been the amazing help I've had from locals. Mark Johnson, a bud from back in the day, has been invaluable in helping to find launch locations and just generally being his positive self. The first real problem here was to find some kind of place to launch north of Nanaimo; the island has a lot of trees, and not many clearings...

We were driving around the Fanny Bay area looking for fields when we saw this absolute perfect farm; big fields, several possible launch directions, nice grass, just a very well-tended piece of Vancouver Island. So we drove up and knocked on the door, and had the great good fortune to meet the Keenan family. I can't thank them enough for all their help and enthusiasm. Yesterday when I blew a hole in my piston on a test flight they came and got me with their truck, then helped break down the engine on tailgate, diagnose the problem, and then feed us lunch. I think I would have thrown the motor into the ocean and gone home without the Keenan family, thanks. So much of flying for me is not just the flying but the opportunity to meet great people I might not meet otherwise.

Parts should be here today, Mark ("Yeah, I have all the bits necessary to do anything to a motor, bring it on over.") Johnson is on the situation. Thanks.

The weather is perfect, we just need wind other than southeast so I can fly northwest!

Last night we hiked up a peak around here to get rid of some stress. So much focus, intensity, desire and the general unknown of the situation had wrung me out. The sunset was fantastic, and on the hike I realized that having the piston blow in a place where I could land on a rocky beach was a lot better than having it blow in the middle of the strait. It was a lucky day.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

New Books from the Senior Gadds

I don't normally write about my family on here, but it's pretty much unavoidable at the moment.

As many readers may know, my dad is Ben Gadd, author of the Canadian Rockies "bible," the Handbook of the Canadian Rockies. The Handbook is definitely the most-consulted resource for anyone who needs to know about the plants, animals, geology and much more that is found in the Canadian Rockies. I expect there is a copy in the library if not in the pack of every naturalist, tour guide, hiking guide and "curious" Rockies inhabitant or visitor.

For the last five or so years my dad has been hard at work on not one but two new books. The first is an instructional guide on how to hike and backpack in Canada; it's a distillation of my dad's more than 40 years of strapping a pack on and getting out into the mountains. I experienced about 39 of those 40+ years and I survived so he must have some decent skills. While it's written specifically for Canada, it's a worthwhile book for anyone who would like to enjoy afternoons or multi-day trips on the trail. Our old family friend, Lonnie Springer, shot most of the excellent photos.

The second book is at the opposite end of the exertion spectrum; a guide to the geology found along (or at least within sight) of the roads of the Canadian Rockies. It's organized by mileage and also by GPS waypoints, so you just drive down the road, keep track of your mileage or GPS position and stop to have a look at the best geologic features along the way. I grew up with both mobile and stationary lectures on what was happening geologically out the car windows, so I'll vouch for the fact that my dad is both well-qualified and uniquely enthusiastic about all things geologic. I remember taking Geology 101 and thinking, "Yeah, that was covered when I was about six, somewhere up near the Icefields." There is a series of roadside geology guides for the US, this book is the solution for the Canadian Rockies. If you've ever driven the Trans-Can and wondered, "Why is all that rock falling onto the road?," Canadian Rockies Geology Road Tours has the answer.

It should also be pointed out that while my dad wrote the books, it was my mom who edited them, put up with my dad over the years in all sorts of foul weather in small tents, and also often served as the scale model in many of the shots in both books. My parents are dedicated pro-environment people, and love to share the mountains with both friends and the groups they take out into the Rockies. I think they have likely spent more time on foot in the Rockies than anyone since the aboriginal people who lived here first.

If you're looking for a Christmas present or some solid self-education please check these books out. Also know that you're supporting some good people who don't live large; while writing the geology tour book my parents camped and lived out of their aging Subaru for weeks at a time. These books are written for people like us who live to be outside and understand the natural world, not to make the author rich or to simply sit on a coffee table in Japan (although with any luck both scenarios might happen!).

So a big congratulations to Ben and Cia for their work!

A proud son,


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Canadian Sport Climbing

Yesterday I learned a few things about being a sport climber in Canada. That's what I am right now in terms of climbing; I go clip bolts. And I'm totally into it. My tendons are creaking, my feet are completely jacked from stuffing them into frozen shoes and my fingertips are raw like pounded beef. In Red Rocks or some other areas I can climb up to ten decently hard routes every other day and still have some skin, but Rockies limestone makes my skin feel pretty much like it did after I accidentally ran my fingers instead of a ski through the base grinder I worked with during college. But I have no complaints, it's right where I want to be. Sport climbing in Canada is mega, especially now that we have great fall temps. There were at least one or two hours this summer where it was almost too warm to climb, thank god those days are behind us. We're in the sending season now!

A friend at the crag yesterday suggested we write an article about being a sport climber in Canada, but it's more fun to blog about it 'cause, well, I can write whatever I want. Here is a list of things the crew at Acephale came up with yesterday:

You know you're a Canadian sport climber when:

1. The current temperature is zero and the forecast high is 12, but you still head to a high, windswept north-facing cliff anyhow 'cause that's where your project is, and conditions will be "perfect!"

2. You smell like a hippie tree planter despite living in an apartment. And you would rather breathe smoke while climbing than freeze while resting.

3. You heat small rocks near the fire to put in your chalkbag, and are happy to trade the weight for the warmth.

4. You change the metric units on the forecast into imperial units 'cause a high of "50" sounds so much better than "10." And -2C is depressing, but how bad can "28" be? Might even be too warm!

5. You scrape frost from the car in the morning but are excited when the car seat is slightly heated from the sun. Never mind that you're going someplace that never sees sun, and is 1500 feet higher than your car.

6. Even though the overnight low was -3 and the forecast high is 10 you still go to the shady crag 'cause you're saving the sunny crags, "Until it gets really cold."

7. You suddenly realize that the temps are really warm compared to what you normally mixed climb in, and this convoluted reasoning somehow cheers you up.

8. You break a sweat on a route despite the near-freezing temps and then seriously complain about the "humidity."

9. You're thankful that the wet pocket on your project is just wet; you were worried on the hike up that there would be ice in it, which is harder to get rid of.

10. You take the fact that most of the snow on the sunny approach has melted off as somehow indicative that conditions are "improving."

10. You ponder heading south to Rifle or someplace, but don't want to miss the "crisp fall conditions!" at home.

11. You rip a huge flapper off your finger but keep climbing to the top of the pitch despite leaving a trail of blood like a wounded rabbit. It just doesn't matter 'cause your hands are numb anyhow, and the rock is cold enough to act as an antiseptic.

12. You seriously eye the "climbing cut" of a huge insulated jacket.

13. Bacon, eggs, steak, beer and bowls of pasta bigger than your head are absolutely part of a high-performance sport climbing diet. You'll need the calories to stay warm.

14. You confuse the gender of other climbers at the crag due to all the clothing, then wonder if you're gay.

15. You breathe in and out of your climbing shoes to warm them up before putting them on. This is something you would ordinarily only do after losing a bet.

16. The most dangerous part of the day is gathering dead wood for the fire.

17. "Warming up" takes most of the day, but "cooling down" is taken care of on the lower off the route.

18. You don't want to go mountain biking or hiking 'cause it will be too cold, but climbing seems like a good idea.

And, despite nothing in the forecast that indicates pleasurable temps or even good weather in the foreseeable future, you've still got plans to go climbing every chance you can for the next two weeks. And will go.

Thanks to the Acephale crew for a fun afternoon, let's do it again Thursday. The forecast looks pretty good, a high of 50! It'll be tropical, we might want to go early to beat the heat.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Climbing, and "Rules"

For the first time in 18 months I don't have any serious injuries, and I'm loving it! Yeah, I still hobble a little on my left knee, but I'm climbing full-speed for the first time in a very long time. Pumped silly, hanging on by single cuticle and doing my absolute best to succeed without even knowing that I am until I either get to the top or don't. Only climbing gives me that feeling, and I am damn happy to have it back in my life. Everything else in life works better when I'm climbing enough.


Climbing has a whole slew of rules. The rules used to be quite simple: "Thou shalt not fall" covered most situations. Then the rules got more and more explicit. "Thou shalt not hang on the rope and call it a free ascent. Except when you're working the route to get a free ascent." The rules today are more nuanced and fine than ever, and as a result people are arguing more and more about what constitutes a flash or an onsight or even an ascent. Sometimes the "infractions" are blatantly obvious; there are at least two Everest "climbers" who claim summits they likely never set foot on. This has of course been going on for a long time, but I've seen some examples at the crag where a "bend" in the rules is becoming a common tactic.

I'd like to think we all, in our hearts, know when what we've done matches up to the "rules" of whatever game we're playing. The dissonance comes when any climber claims to have done something by a certain set of rules when he or she didn't. Or changed the rules in a subtle way. Sport climbing, which I've been doing a lot of lately, has lots of rules, and I've seen a lot of rule "bending." In one way this doesn't bother me at all--nothing anyone is doing is hurting the rock beyond what any other ascent does, so why care? But this summer I've seen a lot of rule-bending and it does grate on me. Why? I don't have a clear answer to this question, and the lack of an answer bothers me. It's just intellectually lazy to be bothered by something and not be able to figure out why.

So here are some situations I've seen at the crag of late:

Adding long draws to the anchor to skip moves. The anchor was put in a certain place to clip; the route ends when you clip that anchor. Occasionally a hold will break or the anchor is put into some sort of retarded place, but if a route has been climbed for 10 years with the same holds then there's no reason to remove a move or two, especially if the last move is the crux. I have fallen off dozens of routes while staring at the anchor. If I could have clipped one move lower I would have done 'em...

Clipping the third or higher bolt. Climbing is not meant to be totally risk-free, but it's also not meant to be ridiculously dangerous. I will stick-clip high if the fall is horrible, and if I know I'm not strong enough to try the route safely. Some routes are designed to be done with the third bolt clipped, but most are not. I would not call an ascent where I started with the third draw clipped a "redpoint" in general, and specifically not if the first 50 ascents of the route didn't clip the third draw from the ground on a six-bolt route. Action Direct might be a little easier if you just stick-clipped that tricky clip from the ground...

Having the rope stop a serious swing and still claiming a redpoint. Sometimes this doesn't matter at all (you've got a handlebar in both hands and the belayer shortropes you a bit, so what). But often it makes all the difference in the world. I once watched a very good climber get short roped on a swing and continue to the top. The route was at his limit, and at the time it was among the world's hardest. He came down, pulled the rope and tried another few times before giving up for the day. I respect that, and his eventual send all the more knowing that a slight cheat many people would be happy with wasn't good enough for him. He did his best. I shortroped a friend the other day, he just jumped off. My error, respect to him.

Finally, claiming to have climbed at a certain grade when you haven't. Many years ago I once put on a resume that I could climb, "Up to 5.14." I had climbed a route rated 13d (it was feather-bed soft for the grade and obscure, but it said 13d in the guide...), so in a way I'd climbed "up to" but not 5.14, yeah? Wrong. It was lame. I still haven't climbed a 5.14, or even "up to" one... I've come pretty close (an extendo draw might have helped), but a little word dance using the words "up to" was just that. I changed my resume to reflect reality and not my ego, but I hear a lot of, "I've climbed X route" when in fact the person never did without hanging on the rope. Wait, I have climbed 5.14, that was just a few moments on the rope... My face is still red from the slap my hand just gave it. So far I haven't slapped anyone else, but I've considered it.

So why I do I care? If I'm going to be happy with what I've done then I need to play by the rules I've set out for myself. These rules generally have some sort of historic precedent, or make me feel like I've done my best. I know when I haven't given my best even if my ego sometimes gets in the way. I'm still annoyed at myself for "doing" Genesis (Eldo canyon) when I actually fell off the crux, went back to the no-hands rest at the mid-point lower off anchor and then sent it. It would have been a finer effort to go from the ground to the top, even though others have claimed ascents of Genesis with this rules bend. I never did. Well, maybe once. And that weakness is what bothers me; I hate it in myself. It's like the old battle with annoying friends; generally the characteristics we dislike in them are the same as those that we dislike in ourselves. When I see climbers celebrating after climbing on a route with the third bolt clipped, a swing stopped at the crux and an extendo draw on the anchor I think they have short-changed their success and their integrity. And when I do that it really bothers me... It's unsporting, it's dishonest and it's weak--or at least it is for me in my climbing.

If I have invested meaning to the rules and others don't see that meaning then does that mean my rules are meaningless, or that I don't have to keep them quite so strict? Why not just extend that draw 20M from the anchor and clip it from the ground? Which shouldn't matter in some ways as all climbing is meaningless by any objective measure, but is that really an ascent? Which leaves me right back where I started this commentary from. I either have to get some longer draws to get rid of the last move on a few routes I can't do, or not care when someone else does. Anything else is just pissing into the wind. And I would rather climb 'cause, even if I may disagree with some people about what a send is, I'd still much rather be out there with them and having some fun together than not. I do reserve the old-timer's right to heckle.

So there's my answer: Pull down, shut up, do your best. Or don't, but only the climber really knows what that means in the end. And, like my "ascent" of Genesis 20+ years ago, the truth is always with us even if we don't want to admit it at the time. Looks like I'm going to have to go climb Genesis (not again, but really climb it for the first time) to get that monkey out of my mind. I'll take any motivation I can find to train.


PS-To quote Robert Frost, ""Poetry without rhyme is like tennis without a net" Is climbing without rules like tennis without a net? Wait, I've read some damn good poetry that didn't rhyme... Frost was a wuss anyhow, he should have started bushwhacking when the two roads diverged in a yellow wood. There are fewer rules out there.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Kootenay Flying

On Sunday we drove from Chelan, WA to the Nelson area. The sky was perfect the whole way, just insane! I so wanted to get into the air, but we needed to work it home to stay on the schedule. We hooked up with some friends in Winlaw Sunday night, and after checking the weather and winds forecasts I had to change the schedule, Monday just looked too epic to miss...

Thanks to Jason at Kootenay paragliding for the information on the Slocan Ridge, which is a hang gliding site basically just above Winlaw. He warned me to get off early because of strong conditions in mid-day, but due to some 4wd escapades we didn't make it to launch until about 1:30. Then the problems started--launch was a flat patch of dirt in front of a radio tower with a steep hillside to fall down after the dirt patch ended. The lines on my comp glider are so long that with my feet only a few feet from the edge my glider was right up against the shed/tower, which put the glider firmly into the rotor. I can't drag my comp lines through the rocks like I could with a lower-performance glider, it has to come up sorta clean or the lines will just break. I tried for an hour, then finally moved down the hillside to a snag-infested little hummock. I'd almost given up getting off the hill when the perfect cycle came through, and with some Santacroce-inspired glider dancing I was able to lift the wing out of the junk without snapping any lines and get into the air. Despite the strong cycles I sunk down about 1,000 feet before getting absolutely beamed out in a solid 6m/s climb to base. Yeah!

I flew toward the Valhallas just 'cause they looked so cool. Spires everywhere! I gotta go climbing there! The Slocan ridge was pumping to the end and even out over the valley so just kept flying toward the Valhallas. Eventually I got a great view of these amazing granite faces from the next ridge to the north (west?). I considered flying right into the Vallhallas, but there was about 20K of headwind, I didn't want to beat into that anymore. I ran back to the Slocan Ridge, and got just beamed back out to base again. I love XC flying in new areas--it's a real test to figure out what's going to work where, and it's a joy to plan the game and have it work cleanly.

I wanted to tour the whole Nelson area, and from 3500M the options were pretty wide open. I flew out toward Castlegar for a bit until I could see it clearly and check that area out, then headed back toward Nelson over Bluet (sp). It was about 4:30 by this time and and the sky was starting to dry up a bit as a new airmass moved in, but the lee thermals were still working well. Just bomb it into a logging cut, "BOOM" back up, mega fun flying. The Kootenays are in general pretty "round" mountains; it would be hard to glide out from several of the summits, the small valleys don't slope enough. There's usually a logging cut down there somewhere, but some caution is in order. I got a little concerned about the glide when I was deep in the mountains southwest of Nelson, gliding out into the wind could have been challenging. But it was working really well, just glide downwind of the sunny windward slopes and latch a rowdy lee climb out. It seemed a bit odd that the climbs were so far downwind of their sources given that the wind was only about 20K, but that's how it was.

I kept it pretty deep and headed up toward Ymir and Salmo. I'm not at all familiar with this area (I couldn't find the road to Ymir until I got low enough to see some pavement, figured that valley had to to go to Ymir and Salmo--but which town was first in the valley exactly? No map...), cool to be just making it up. The sky seemed to so expansive and the possibilities endless; it suddenly hit me that this was what I loved about flying, the sheer unconstrained sense of openness and possibility. I could see literally dozens of potential launches, hundreds of things to climb, about a dozen rivers worth paddling, and so many little nooks and crannies that really ought to be explored... My friends from Winlaw loved being up at launch; it was the first time they really figured out how their valley doglegged, and where the drainages were. I hope to take them flying sometime there; it's just fantastic to tie all the ground-based features together into a coherent whole. Anyhow, it sure was fun to see Nelson (stayed well out of the way due to air traffic concerns) and all the valleys spread out.

I worked up the west side of the Nelson/Ymir valley with adequate but not exactly endless landing possibilities until I could see a small town below me, and then suddenly two gliders popped out of a mining/logging cut. Yeah! I figured this was likely to be Ymir, home to Kootenay paragliding. That's right, a full-fledged school and tandem operation! I still wasn't totally sure if this was Ymir (no GPS with a map in it, no map), and headed farther along the valley toward the next town to be sure. Eventually I was able to recognize Salmo from the small ski hill I'd driven by ten days earlier on the way to Chelan, and headed back to Ymir. The ridge was still working, so I did a few more climb and glides in the late afternoon light before setting up for a pretty tight landing along the river. Whatever doubt I had about where I had flown to was quickly dispelled by the sign on the building 50 feet in front of my wing: Ymir Hotel. There is a more wide-open LZ, but it had gone into shade and I didn't want to be trying to find powerlines and such in it, better to land in the sun where I could see everything.

Jason, from Kootenay Paragliding, came out and let me use his phone to call the crew back in Winlaw (no cell), and then his student, Douglas, gave me a lift back into Nelson. The ride was surprisingly long--from the air everything around Nelson looks pretty close, but the valleys curve and meander so much that it takes a relatively long time to drive anywhere. I could probably fly from the Slocan Ridge to Ymir in lesss time than it would take to drive if I went at it.

This was my first flight in the Nelson area, and all I've got say is, "MORE!!!" There are so many potential launches, so many great flights to do, it's just wide open to exploration and adventure flying. Apparently the season hasn't been great this year, but the forecast for the next week is epic, I might have to go back. If you're ever in the area it's well worth a stop. I'd recommend some other launch than the Slocan Ridge if you're on a PG, it's gnarly, but there have got to be better launches elsewhere. And when I was climbing out from the Slocan Ridge I saw some small meadows basically straight down from launch that looked really nice.

There are six pilots in Ymir and another dozen or so in Nelson; given the size of these towns (Ymir must be under 1,000 people?) this is just incredible. But I can see the Nelson area becoming one of the epicentres of flying in Canada, the potential just so obviously excellent. I often check the winds aloft for most of western Canada, and they are usually much lighter in the Nelson area than in the Rockies. The weather probably isn't as good on average, but I'll bet that in a given season you can do a lot more flying in Nelson than in Golden, and have a lot more choice for wind direction. I'm contemplating a move west--climb in the Valhallas, ski, paddle, so much to do!

Thanks to Kim, Warren and Margo for the ride to launch and patience.

Last Chelan Task

The last two days of flying have been off the charts fun, just epic!

The last day of the Chelan comp was fantastic--a 120K triangle with absolutely rocking conditions. If there was wind I was planning to blow the task off and try my luck chasing down the Washington state record, but with minimal wind (maybe 10-20K) the task just looked like too much fun not to do... I went out hard and led to the first turnpoint, where I broke my speed bar. We were headed crosswind to the next turnpoint so a bar would be nice to have--I spent some time tying the bits back together as the lead gaggle caught me and then flew by while I tied knots, but I got back into the game to the second turnpoint until the cord broke again. I was having a bit of a hard time tying knots as I had forgotten my gloves on launch and had pretty cold hands, and the course was now taking us back into the headwind. The lead gaggle went right, I went left under some better clouds so I could try and glide straight while tying knots. Eventually I rigged up a full junk show system with my speed bar line coming straight out of my pod to the risers. This required holding the riser with one hand while pushing bar, but it worked enough to get moving again. I wasn't racing for any sort of lead in the comp as I had sucked the first two days, so I got stinking high and stayed there, just enjoying the conditions over the flats. As usual I flew almost the entire day on my own, I just like that better than gaggle flying. I like flying with my friends, but the gaggles just annoy the hell out of me, it doesn't feel "free." The smart "comp" thing to do was push it hard to goal, but I tanked up super high on the rim and flew over the goal on the moon so I could tag launch on top of Chelan Butte and close out the triangle totally. This added maybe 10K to the overall flight but was well worth it--so much fun to burn it back into launch after flying a big task!

I'm pretty sure I'm done with paragliding comps. I just do not make a good herd animal--I want to fly the air, not other gliders. There's too much waiting around on launch, too much circling, just too much in the way of FLYING for me. I like seeing friends and the whole scene, but the part of flying done in the air is for me fundamentally about the experience of the atmosphere and my very small slice of it. There's a joy in being all alone or with a couple of friends way out in the middle of nowhere that I just don't find in comps very often. It was great to see Bernard, Nate and some of my other friends out on course, but turning circles before the start with so many gliders just doesn't fill me with joy--in fact, it pisses me right off. That's not how I want to feel in the air. One of the hardest things in life to do is recognize when you have changed; I could keep going back to comps, which have taught me a lot over the years and I highly recommend for any pilot, or seek out what truly lights my mind up today: XC flying, preferably with a huge goal or in a new place where simple exploration makes me happy. I need equal measures of what I feel as meaning and uncertainty to truly get into flying; I love winning, but that doesn't pull as much as the thought of, "What's over that ridge over there?" Yeah! Paragliding is one fantastic sport with so many different possibilities, and a great community. If we could have a comp without the comp that would be great--fly with friends, come up with interesting goals and celebrate flight without having to mess about I'd be in.

Congratulations to Keith MacCullough, who defended his Canadian National Paragliding Champion title successfully. Keith has gone from a talented pilot who would generally do random things in about half the tasks to a focused competitor. He wants results in comps, and has matured enough to get 'em. Well done.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Chelan Ice Caves and Bouldering

Yesterday was blown out for flying so pilots started searching out other adventures. Mini-golf, mountain biking and "toasting" (Franglish for tanning) were all popular. James and Pam suggested that we check out some "ice caves" near Chelan. The problem was that the entrance to the caves was dynamited in the sixties because the local government figured they were a hazard. This is despite the fact that the the local fruit growers used to store their fruit over the summer in the caves. The caves were popular enough to have been a state park at one time... They must have been big, there is a lot of fruit around here. A local pilot, Brad, thought he might know where they were because every time he rides his motorcycle through a small canyon the air temperature drops very noticeably. Pam and James went to the Chelan museum, checked out Google Earth, and we were off. We found where the cave used to be--the air blowing out between the boulders was frigid. I went on a bit of a hike up the hill side (first one with my knee, feeling good!) in search of other entrances but couldn't find any unfortunately. But from my perch up on the hillside I could see what looked like a decent boulder field across the canyon. Our ice cave expedition turned into a boulder recon mission in short order.

I think somebody at some time must have climbed a little on these boulders as there were some rocks stacked up in strategic places, but there had been no cleaning, no chalk, just a collection of decent boulders. I did a half dozen good problems in my running shoes before the expedition was called due to hunger. It's not Bishop, but it's a worthwhile spot given that there doesn't seem to be much in the way of climbing close to Chelan. The wind finally died this morning so we might get to fly today, but if not I'm pretty fired up to go back and get amongst the Ice Cave boulders. Anyone who knows about these boulders might drop me a line, I'd be a curious on their history if any.

Friday, August 01, 2008


We've only had two days of flying at the Chelan XC open/Canadian Nationals. Both days have been relatively weak and low, with short tasks. Very challenging flying. I'm doing my usual thing, which is to head off on my own plan. This isn't working, but I dislike gaggle flying enough that I'm resigned to it. It's not the strategy to pull a result on weak days, but I'd rather finish last doing my own thing than gaggle fly for a place other than first. Right now I'm working on finishing last, grin... Keith is doing well for Team Canada, currently winning our Nationals and third overall, which if he can hold onto it will be his best finish in a major meet yet. Keep with it Keith!

Tomorrow looks OK, but if it's not on we're going to head north and check out the Nelson/Slocan area and do some flying there. The knee is feeling pretty healed despite falling off a bicycle a couple of nights ago when a little kid challenged me to do a wheelie. How can you resit, "Hey, old guy, can you do a wheelie? Just try!" I did and busted out a decent wheelie but came off the bike with less than perfect coordination. It was all worth it to hear the kid say with the supreme confidence of a ten-year old, "Hey, you got skills."

Time to hit the taco cart up in downtown Chelan. That cart is one of the very best things about Chelan.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Knee Surgery

When I was about 27 or so I jumped off a fence wearing a 50-pound paragliding bag. Yeah, real smart. My left knee hurt like hell for a month or so but got better, my right knee healed faster. In the last 13 years I've put more miles on my body than long distance trucker, and that knee never really felt great. I just dealt with it. Then last November I was kite skiing and ambitiously hucked a pretty good air that unfortunately greatly exceeded my ability to successfully land it... I was also on a frozen lake with less than 10cm of snow. That really hurt my knee, but I sucked it up, only pussies need knee surgery. I then tore my oblique after walking, or rather hobbling, into an ice climb. I had to "hip kip" every step to make my knee work, and the oblique was just worn out from the effort. The walk out sucked as the entire left side of my body was a mess. Anyhow, long story short, I finally got into have the meniscus sorted out.

6:00 a.m.: Arrive at the Banff Hospital without any coffee or other stimulants in my blood stream. A tremendous waste of a nice morning for sure, how does anyone live without caffeine?

6:30: Fill out all the paperwork. Get given a bed to wait on. Fall asleep.

8:30: Wake up, my room now has two other patients. They see me asleep in the bed and assume that I've already had surgery. I'm grumpy and surly due to the lack of morning java and feed them horror stories about it until I give in and admit I'm waiting too. We joke about it all but everyone is nervous. Someone is shortly going to stick huge tent stakes into our knees... I spend five minutes scrubbing my leg with a disinfectant sponge that smells like the stuff I used to put under my tape to make it stick better. I have flashbacks of climbing in Joshua Tree, all that morning coffee before we went out and cranked...

9:00 a.m. I'm on the table, and Dr. B and his team are attaching various monitors etc. The anesthesiologist asks if I want some happy juice in my IV before they stick a monster needle attached to roughly a can of Red Bull full of anesthetic into my knee. I decline, I want to watch this action and be fully with the program.

9:01 a.m. There's a med student sticking the needle in. She's looking worried. I try and get her psyched and relaxed by joking with her. She gets more nervous until I tell her I'm just joking, I won't yell if she does it wrong. The mood lightens up, and she does a great job. I want everyone in that room psyched and into working the game. I know I'll get better results if they see this all matters to me. It does.

9:15 The camera on the end of one tent stake shows the operating room, then dark redness, then it's exactly like watching one of those TV shows where the sub is thousands of meters below the surface and searching for some nightmarish creature. My femur, patella and various tree trunks of ligaments float by. It's surreal, almost like the old TV show where a bunch of people are miniaturized and dropped into someone's blood stream. Who knew there was a universe inside my knee?

9:16. Dr. B goes to work. The only thing that tells me that the image on the screen is inside my knee is that the various yanks and snaps correspond to movements I feel only as dull forces. It's dentistry meets carving a turkey in a tent at night. Dr. B. does an excellent job of telling me what he sees and is doing, and I'm glad I looked at a bunch of photos so I could follow along reasonably well

9:30 Dr. B finishes up with the medial meniscus and gives me a tour of the rest of my knee. I have to say that was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. It's also enjoyable because my ACL and the rest of the bits are in good shape considering how much I have abused them over the years. The tent stakes come out of my leg, the room relaxes, the team starts breaking down and I'm wheeled out. Very professional, very smooth, thanks.

9:45 Because I've refused the happy juice I go directly back to my earlier room and not the recovery room. I get handed the single worst turkey sandwich I've ever experienced in my life. What is it with hospital food???! I eat the first half of it anyhow 'cause I'm really hungry. The second half wins, and I back down.

10:30 I hobble out. My knee is still totally numb, but apparently this is OK. My ride shows, we head for coffee and painkillers immediately.

Monday Afternoon. My body knows something is really wrong, but can't figure out what. Amazingly, the anesthetic lasts until 2:00 a.m. Tuesday morning. I know it fully wore off at 2:18 a.m. 'cause that's when I woke up. My knee actually hurt less than it often did before the surgery, and I'm too lazy to get up and find the pain pills so I go back to sleep. I am pretty certain that I'm not going to be able to compete in the Canadian Paragliding Nationals, which start a week from today.

Tueday: Pretty much the same as Monday but now I can at least feel my knee. I didn't want to do much on Monday because I figured that I needed to be able to feel my knee to know if what I was doing was too much. I don't do much but ice and walk to the fridge for more food. Pain pills still not necessary.

Wed: Feel better. Walk slowly, get some work done, the meniscus actually doesn't hurt too much but my range of motion is pretty limited and slow to move through.

Thur: I feel pretty darn good until I walk more than 30m. The problem isn't the meniscus but all the supporting muscles firing in weird ways.

Today: I'm packing for the Canadian Nationals as I can walk more or less normally if not fast. Flying seems like the logical thing to do because I can't really walk, can't ride a bike, can't kayak (water in wound not good), can't climb, can't even go swimming. I might have to get my friends to help me get off the hill, but that will be pretty funny too. My knee didn't hurt at all last night for the first time in about four months. Amazing. I haven't taken any of the big pain pills as it simply hurts less than it often did over the last couple of months. I don't know if this means if the pain isn't too bad or that I have adapted to a lot of pain in my knee. In either case I have a nice big bottle of industrial pain kills to stick in the first aid kit.

Thanks to Dr. B and the team at the Banff hospital, I really hope the rest of this goes as well as it has for the first five days.

See ya in Chelan!


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

17,990 feet Over Boulder: Serious hypoxia and?

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to enjoy some truly epic flying conditions off of Lookout Mountain, near Golden, Colorado. Those conditions took me to 14,500 feet. I've flown off of Lookout hundreds of times, but only reached that altitude maybe a half-dozen times. Today I flew at over 16,000 feet for far too long, and hit the FAA ceiling of 18,000 feet. This was an interesting experience, one of the top three "weird" things I've ever had happen on a paraglider. Here's the story, pounded out fast about July 15th but forgot to post it up.

The morning started out with a nice hike up Green Mountain. Despite a meniscus tear I can still hike on trails, I just can't walk around Home Depot on the cement floors for more than 15 minutes without starting to hobble like, well, a guy with a torn meniscus. At 10:00 in the morning the temperature was already hot, and the morning thermal cycles were strong enough to move the trees around on top of Green. All other plans were canceled, time to go fly.

By about 1:00 I was on launch in Golden with MR and a few other pilots. It was great to see MR and Rusty were still at it! But conditions seemed rather weak, with a few pilots sinking out. For whatever reason the day just wasn't on there yet. Eventually MR and I launched, and climbed out slowly out to about 9500 feet (my vario is in meters so feet are an approximation). The rest of the pilots soon joined in, and we bounced of the inversion for a while. There was a guy on a yellow Advance already heading north, but the Boom 5 with bar made catching up pretty simple. I passed under him and headed on before hitting a 5m/s thermal, which was about double what we had gotten so far. BOOM! Soon I was climbing through 15,000 feet, a new record for flying over the Front Range for me, and I decided to start gliding north as 15,000 feet is, ah, plenty high. Yeah!

That's when the first jet went by overhead. Not super close, but close enough to have a good look. My heart rate went up a little, but the sky is big. It's not uncommon to have jets fly overheard, that one was just a little bit closer than I like. I'd like to know what the guy on the yellow Advance got up to--the last time I saw him he was many thousands of feet below me and still heading north. (Edit--you can read Sam's account and see his excellent photos here, what a day! Glad Sam took some photos 'cause I didn't.)

Denver International Airport is about 30 miles east of Lookout, and it's normal for the jets heading west to overfly us as we head north to Boulder. No big deal, I continued gliding north. Strangely, I was still climbing despite having some bar on and flying straight. 16,000 feet is when I started to get pretty excited and notice the symptoms of hypoxia (slow thinking, less than prompt reactions, the usual). But a perfect cloud street was popping in front of me toward Boulder, and I wanted to be out of the area where the jets were so I stayed on bar, and kept slowly climbing.

At about 16,500 I hit the west winds and started to drift east a bit, but made sure to crab so that I was nowhere near DIA airspace (I stayed west of the Boulder-Golden road to be sure). 17,000 feet is when I pulled big ears, and the second and third jets went by. Again, not close enough to file an incident report, but a jet looks pretty big when you're a butterfly. My heart rate accelerated dramatically.
By this time I was high enough to have a clear visual on DIA, and I kept a very sharp eye to the east. I didn't want to fly back through the lift I'd just been in as that would have put me above 18,000 for sure (base looked to be about 20,000), and the clouds to my west looked even harder. Clouds with flat hard bases mean stronger lift, something I did not need. I couldn't really go east as that would put me more toward DIA. I pondered spiral diving, but would that put me back into the altitude range of the jets coming out of DIA?

So I kept heading north. By now I was well north of DIA and right at the FAA ceiling for hang and paragliders, 18,000 feet. I let myself drift a bit farther east, still cautious of the Denver airspace, and flew east of Boulder. There's a very active drop zone in Boulder, I didn't want any part of that. Then another jet flew right under me, and my heart rate really went ballistic. I also noticed that I couldn't relax my hands anymore, my lips were tingling and my thinking process very, very slow. I was also frozen--I'd launched expecting to maybe hit 10,000, now I was near 18,000 and cold.

There was a perfect line of clouds heading east, but I was feeling pretty concerned about the air traffic, was noticeably hypoxic and had generally had enough. I flew north toward a big blue hole, which normally means sinking air. At this point my hands and forearms were cramped clubs. I was not losing altitude, clouds kept popping above me... Normally when you get beamed to 17,000 feet plus you fly out of the lift and plummet back to a much more reasonable altitude where it's possible to recover from the oxygen deprivation. I'd now been above 15,000 feet for close to an hour, and decided that I would just glide until I was below 9,000. The ground out north of Longmont is probably at about 5,000, so if I felt like continuing I could from that altitude. But I still wasn't losing altitude. I'd been watching the sky carefully for signs of serious over development (or jets) and there just weren't any so I wasn't concerned about that, but my body was in full revolt. I was as near puking as I've ever been in the air, and had all the fun symptoms of both normal old paragliding hypoxia and also the ever-fun altitude sickness more familiar from climbing too high too fast on mountains. As hypoxic as I was, I didn't want to start spiral diving to lose altitude and add more stress to my body, but with non-functional hands and a seriously messed up mind the situation was not what I like when flying. If I continued to gain altitude I would be in controlled airspace. But that might be the least of the immediate problems--what if this got so bad that I blacked out? I've been to near 20,000 feet+ over Telluride and about 18,000 feet a lot in Aspen, but I was well-acclimated at the time. At a site where 11,000 feet is considered high I'd just flown high enough for long enough to encounter a new physiological wall, something I'd never experienced anywhere else in flying.

I mulled the options in my mind while sucking huge lung fulls of air in. I know from being high in the mountains that even while at relative rest my pulse and respiration often at least doubles, but this was much, much more intense. I wasn't panicked, but I was sure as hell stressed out. Jets, altitude, something was really going wrong...

I literally could not open my hands, and my glider inputs were reduced to moving my arms with my biceps and lats. I fly like that a lot when cold, but I just wasn't that cold... As my vision narrowed I decided I was extremely hypoxic and near systems shut down. I contemplated throwing my reserve, but throwing my reserve at just under 18,000 feet didn't seem like a good idea. I figured that if I were to pass out I would likely wake up before I hit the ground as I was at least two miles above it, plus I wasn't sure if I could make my hands work well enough to throw the reserve anyhow. Like I said, new physiological and mental ground... I focused intensely on staying with the program and continuing to breathe as more and more of my body cramped up. I have never had anything like this happen in flying, it was kinda traumatic.

Eventually the sink alarm went off, and feeling started to return to my arms and face as I continued to glide northeast. By the time I was down to 10,000 feet I felt pretty good, but went through the most excruciating "screaming barfies" I've had in years as I windmilled my arms to pump blood back through them. I don't think the barfies were just from the cold as I was reasonably warm, it was the cramps that kept my blood from circulating. I flew straight through some decent lift while sorting my hands out, I just didn't want to take it high again.

By 8,000 feet I realized I'd flown myself into a large shaded area, and there was likely no getting back up. This really didn't both me too much. The west winds had pushed me well north and east toward Greeley, not sure where exactly as I didn't bother to put a waypoint into my GPS for launch. Eventually the west winds turned to east winds and I landed smoothly next to a gigantic green lawn perfect for folding my glider up on. The lawn's owner came up, real friendly guy, and we talked as I folded. I still had my balaclava on, which must have seemed a bit odd in the heat (102 according to my host), but he rolled with it. A liter of water and some food put the situation more or less right, but in retrospect I find it somewhere between humorous and frightening that I forgot to ask Mr. Lawn where I was--and that I didn’t think to take my balaclava off... My mind still wasn't all there. I knew I had to go east and south to get my truck back at launch, and my host told me it was about 50 or 60 miles away as the crow flies. Not an epic flight in terms of distance, but epic in lots of other ways.

The hitchhiking went pretty well; a solid guy named Jim picked me up and drove me into Longmont, where we did a friendly cash deal that found me back at my truck in reasonably short order. As always, I enjoyed the ride and talking to a random guy about life, politics and whatever else was going on. If Jim finds this scribble, thanks for the ride, absolutely worth it in many ways, hope to hear from you in the future!

Tonight I started to research the effects of hypoxia to try and understand my experience. Hypoxia/altitude sickness certainly explains the muddled mind, urge to vomit and so on, but cramped hands and tingling are not the usual course of the experience, at least according to the ten minutes I spent on the web tonight. Those symptoms fit much better with hyperventilation, where the calcium levels in your body can get seriously whacked. I had consciously been breathing deeply and smoothly while high, I've found that really helps me with altitude while climbing. Had I done too much of it? Had the stress from the jets sent me over the edge? Does hyperventilation cause cramps and tingling faster at high altitude de to some combination of lower partial pressures and oxygen saturation? Who knows, I'll do some more research and find somebody who does, 'cause that was an experience I don't want to repeat. Lookout mountain sure delivered the goods...

July 23rd note: I'm more certain now that, while I was certainly hypoxic, the situation was likely compounded through hyperventilation-induced problems.

I've also checked a sectional for the airspace rules around DIA, I was not in controlled airspace at any point. It's just that neither were the jets, and they move a lot faster than I do. I would suggest staying below 15,000 feet anywhere along the Front Range, I did not enjoy the experience of so much air traffic even if it was relatively far away. It's not something to gamble with in my opinion.