Wednesday, July 02, 2008


I clearly remember the first time I saw someone who could truly walk well in the mountains. I was in Mexico, basically lost deep in Copper Canyon. A friend and I were carrying our kayaks on our heads and staggering around the trail like a couple of drunks in search of a bar. We never did find the river, but we did find a bar eventually, but that's another story. The locals in Copper Canyon are the Tarahumara indians. Being kinda ignorant (hence not finding the river) we didn't know much about these people, and my first sight of one came when an older woman with a huge stack of stuff floated past me up the trail. I can still remember the way her feet flowed around and through the rocks and mud, and the supple ease she displayed despite both her age, load and the tough going. It was as impressive to me at the time as watching Sharma boulder when I saw that for the first time many years later. She just knew how to move on a trail.

Over the years I've spent a lot of time beating around in the mountains while climbing, kayaking and paragliding. Often the walk to the "sport" takes far more time than the sport, and the success of many days in the mountains has often hinged more on the success of the approach and descent than the climbing or whatever. Some of my partners are very fast in all kinds of terrain, others slower despite being much stronger aerobically or physically. Of course, some people just plain kick my ass in terms of speed on about any type of terrain, I'm not claiming mastery here, just that I've put some time in and seen enough people in enough terrain to notice the differences in skills. Even those who have spent a fair amount of time on trails often fall apart when traversing some rubble fest on the side of a peak, and even fewer can move smoothly up a river bed or over a talus field. Given the importance of being able to walk well in the mountains no matter what our choice of sport in the mountains is, how do the people who do it well approach the movements, and what do they do that others don't?

Some time ago I wrote a short piece for a running magazine about how to trail run, and while that piece is still relevant to running I've had the chance to think more about moving well in the mountains over the years. I've also had a few situations in the last month that have really prompted me to think about moving in mountain terrain, so of course I'm now going to write about it 'cause that's what I do when I want to figure something out. If you have to teach something you have to understand it. So take the following posts on here as my attempt to understand something we all see as "basic," but that in my opinion isn't. I'm going to divide this writing up into three broad sections: Trails, Drainages/Talus and Steep Rubble. Look for the "trails" effort shortly, I'm pounding on it now. I'll welcome people's thoughts on the rough drafts about whether this makes sense or not, the final drafts of this writing will be used for a couple of projects I'm involved with, thanks.