Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mountain Movement

In the last 25 years I've spent a lot of time formally and informally teaching climbing, kayaking, paragliding and a few other sports. I've taught some very diverse groups, ranging from the very unfit to the uber-fit. I also do some sports performance coaching, and enjoy the hell out of that. I really love seeing and helping people with both the mental and physical gymnastics of sports on a competitive or recreational level.

Out of all this I've come to realize that fast and safe non-technical movement in the mountains is not all that basic, nor instinctive for most people. Relatively few people can move well across a chossy hillside, over talus, across a rounded and slippery river bed, or feel secure on a short step of higher-angle loose terrain. But the acquisition of these skills can be sped up immensely with a little coaching. I'm now working (slowly) on a book about mountain movement that covers pretty much everything from running talus to staying warm in winter. I want to test some of my theories and ideas this spring, and this is where you may come in...

Want to spend five days in the Canadian Rockies in early July having a lot of fun, falling down, getting wet, suffering and generally being outside a lot? I'm going to run a five-day mountain movement course, open to anyone but aimed mostly at the relatively new outdoor sports enthusiast. No more than five people, five days, either bare-bones or you arrive at the Calgary Airport and stop thinking about anything but movement. I'm working up a syllabus based on my book right now, drop me an email and I'll send it out if you're interested.

Also, if you have good tricks for helping people move in the mountains (non-technical movement) I'd love to hear them, thanks!


Denny said...

Great idea, I loved catching this Doug Robinson article "Running Talus" on supertopo:
(halfway down the page)

Sera Felice said...

I'll be your guinea pig!!! What are you thinking about money wise for this awesome course? I always seem to struggle and think that this is a great idea, because there really is no book that details it, because a lot of books have a little info.

Sera Felice said...

Sorry Will....I saw the link for your email after I posted! My email is

My friend's computer won't let me access hotmail or outlook, but I can access it elsewhere....such a good opportunity, I wanted to jump in on it! Thank you!

AlanL said...

Interesting topic, and something I've had my eyes opened to recently. My mountain background is British trad rock climbing. Ten years ago I moved to Munich, but shortly afterwards my son was born and I didn't get out much for a while. Now my son is bigger and I'm spending time in the hills again (and loving it!). Not doing much technical climbing any more; winters these days I'm busy getting my resort snowboarding up to a standard where I'm competent for the backcountry; summers I'm enjoying long scrambly tours a bit off the beaten track in the Alps.

And especially on the summer tours, I'm noticing there's an Alpine skill I never had to develop in Britain, and I think it's precisely the sort of thing you're talking about. My local hangout is the north eastern Alps (Wetterstein, Karwendel etc.), which is limestone country where if it ain't vertical, it's often choss. And this is a big contrast to my experience in Britain. In Britain (in summer) there's generally a clear divide between when you're "climbing" and when you're not. When you are, the rock is generally at least ok, and you have rock shoes and (usually) a harness and a rope on. You do get spells of crappy ground - wet descent gullies, vertical grass at the top of sea cliffs - but they are while you're in "climbing" mode, often still with a rope on, and generally over quickly.

Whereas in the Alps, you have to (learn to) spend hours moving quickly on ground where it's non-technical, and your climber's conscious mind sees no reason why you would fall; but there's no rope, it's often loose, and your unconscious mind is correctly pointing out that if you do fall, it could easily be Game Over. Rubble-covered sloping terraces above bands of cliffs are a particular non-favorite.

(I think this sort of ground would correspond to Yosemite "4th Class"? Except not on solid granite.)

For me, this is very much a skill I'm still learning. Some people do seem to be naturals at it: my wife grew up on the steppes, never set foot on a mountain until she was in her 30s, never climbed until the introductory course she went to at the gym last month, and strolls around unroped on Alpine grade I/II rock climbs and spring snow fields with a broad grin on her face.

I'd love to do your course, but don't think I could justify the airfare to Canada.

Dru said...

When you watch a mountain goat or bighorn moving on steep technical ground you see that they practice dynamic movement. A person in the mountains is often obsessed with security: they want to be able to stop moving at any point. I watched a goat descending a gully once. It was sliding on talus when it jumped with all four feet onto a sloping slab above a cliff. It didn't even try to stop on the slab but skittered down it towards the dropoff and at the last moment, jumped again to a flat ledge where it could stop and rest. A human in the same situation might have tried to stop on the slab, and panicked when he or she couldn't.

Butch said...

Take half as much gear as you think you need, eat twice as much as you usually do (the day before) and get up either very early, or much later than you think. You want either oodles of time, or so much rest that you can sprint through the thing.

Scott Semple gave me one piece of Gaddian advice which I think id superb-- do not approach maximum effort until you are at the crux of your activity. IE in climbing, you should not be busting a gut or hucking a lung on the approach.

PJG said...

Gadd, congrats on the 24. Full on!

Mt Movement: Don't know exactly where you're going with this but, my thoughts from teaching, especially skiing and less so kayaking.

For me teaching skiing is really about 'fear management.' Which for most people is about 'speed control.' Primary approach to this is thru tactics, rather than technique. Tell them to curve up the hill to slow down and especially with modern equipment and the most basic info about tech (ie., put the ski on edge and don't 'turn', but allow the sidecut to 'change' your direction,) and their body pretty much 'knows' what to do, if they can just get their head and fears out of the way and just let it. More they trust they can stay in control, more they relax. More they relax, more body does what it needs to do to maintain control; nice 'virtuous circle.' The other part of tactics is kind of our old 'class V moves, in class III water' from Otter Bar days. Go tackle the hard stuff; steeps, moguls, junk, whatever, in a place where they can take big risks, but has a easy safe, smooth, flat, etc. place to recovery or bail out to if they get scared or out of control. Again 'fear management' and confidence is the key because mastery or at least growth in those areas, as it is in all sliding sports in the mountains is based on how willing you to make a 'leap of faith;' in other words, throw yourself downhill with abandon.

I know you know all of this and have probably thought it through at least this well and I'm sure much better, but I put it down as a base for some new stuff I've been working on.

I've been teaching a lot of adaptive skiing over the last couple of years and I had the kids on skiis and on the mountain since they were months old. In both cases, I use tethers to provide, the speed control that has not yet developed, or at very least a 'safety' line that allows them to get beyond the 'fear' of letting go. I've started to take some of these ideas and equipment out of the adaptive world and have had some great successes working with mainstream skiers and boarders. And the tethers are just the 'tip of the iceberg' of the adaptive equipment that's out there to use. I know you wanted to stay 'non-technical' but sometimes crossing the boundaries of what we perceive as 'easy' with the technique or equipment we need to use when it's 'tough' might speed up the learning curve. This also starts to bridge over to some the "Slow Practice" studies that have come out recently (and anciently, ie. Tai Chi) and were featured in books like "The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How."

Don't know... but if any of that makes sense to you and it isn't a place you've fully explored before, let's talk. Grossman

PJG said...

Here, maybe this picture is worth more than the few hundred words I pathetically tried to use to express what is in my head...

Will Gadd said...

Thanks for all the positive feedback, ideas and emails! Looks like this is a go for July 3-8 roughly, I'll be sending out more information to everyone who emailed sometime in the next week or so, thanks!

Denny, yes, exactly.

Sara, thanks!

Alan, just come to Canada for the month whether you do the course or note, it's a nice place for a family trip! And yes on the movement too.

Butch, yes! Nice blog action too.

PJG--great stuff, send me more on the home email, thanks! I occasionally short-rope people on steep trails just to give them the confidence to move faster and relax, and they do both, very similar idea. Can't get the photo though, email to me directly? Thanks!!

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This is amazing because I can realize you're a perfect teacher, because you know to do a lot of sports, one of my favorites is climbing up the mountains because the adrenaline I can feel.