Thursday, November 24, 2011

Moved to

Moved to as of November 25, 2011.

I'm putting this blog along with all my various old websites, blogs, etc. together on, come on over and check it out! New post up on a mixed climbing accident/video, interesting.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Are Ice Tool Leashes As Archaic as Gaiters, Screamers and Third Tools?

The picture above is the last one I could find in my photo collection where I have a leash on a tool--Norway 2005.

This is another blog post inspired by a question from a reader. The question was roughly, "I was wondering your take on leashless climbing for beginners?  I am a sorta old school ice climber that still uses leashes for those 4 days a year I manage to get out ice climbing. (father in washington state)  I feel that I don't get enough time on ice to get strong enough to enjoy the benefits of leashless climbing.

I have heard many peoples opinion that beginners should start out leashless for several reasons.  many guides start clients this way.  I feel that the beginners need every advantage they can get to enjoy the day.

What is your take?"

Back in the day I thought leashes for ice tools were the only way to hang onto ice tools, and that gaiters were the only way to keep snow out of my boots. I now seldom to never use either leashes or gaiters. And I don't use Screamers/Force limiters much on ice screws, and I don't carry a third tool either. Amazing how what was once standard equipment is now history.

Leashes: To start with, very, very few people set their leashes up correctly to begin with. Most people grab their ice tool at 90 degrees to the shaft, set the leash length and call it good. But your hand tends to rotate when actually hanging on so the index finger isn't anywhere near 90; usually it points more "up" than parallell to the ground. This rotates the pinky up, putting it several centimetres higher than it should be. If your pinky isn't almost falling off the bottom of your tool the tool when hanging onto the tool it won't rotate correctly when swung. Different thicknesses of gloves will also effect where your hand is on the tool. So if you're going to use leashes at least set them up properly, and use a decent one for technical ice climbing like the Android.

That said, I can't remember the last time I used leashes, and don't think in most situations for most people they are worthwhile. Most people are strong enough rock climbers to hold onto the tools when (and not if, when) their feet blow. I have seen a mitten or glove still hanging through a wrist loop on a lonesome tool after the climber has fallen off; leashes help hold on, but not as much as is commonly assumed, and modern leashless tools are surprisingly easy to hold on to. It probably makes sense for people who don't rock climb at all during the sumer to use leashes; they may not have the hand strength to hang on if their feet blow. And in this situation an Android or equivalent really solid leash has to be used or the benefit is missed. I have sometimes used leashes for alpine climbing with hazard overhead, but more often I get too annoyed and just end up climbing leashless. However, I can see the theory even if I can't practice it.

I won't go into the benefits of leashless, other than to say the only thing a leashed tool still does better than a leashless tool is significant: Leashed tools swing better. I have yet to get a better swing out of a leashless tool than a well set-up leashed tool. The perfectly relaxed fast swing is the holy grail of leashless tools, and so far I haven't felt it, and I try every new tool I can. It's just that the other advantages of leashless tools outweight the disadvantages. Many climbers have only swung leashless tools; I've swung both thousands or maybe millions of times by now, and I have yet to swing a leashless tool that swings as fluidly as a leashed tool.

I was also very concerned about dropping leashless ice tools, but I've dropped more leashed tools than leashless tools over the years. I'm not sure why this is, but it's true for me. Occasionally I'll use the BD Spinner, mostly on alpine terrain. I used to think leashes were a good idea for novices so they didn't drop their tools, but they seem to mostly just leave them in the ice and hang on the rope. If they do fall I'm not sure having a leashed tool spinning around them is a great improvement in novice (close to the ground) environments... It might be better to just go pick it up. BD Spinners aren't rated for the sort of impacts a fall can generate and there are all kinds of skull and crossbones warnings on the packaging, but somehow they do occasionally hold slips. Best not to slip so far you need to rely on a piece of gear that's not at all designed for catching a slip...

There's a temptation to set your tools up to work with leashes as well as leashless "just in case." But a tool set up for leashless climbing has a different pommel/lower grip and swing than a leashed tool; the pommel/finger grip interferes so much with a leashed swing that it renders the tool near-useless. You can still swing a pair of leashless tools with the leashes clipped off to their own straps on your wrists if you set the "manacle" part up short, but not the other way around. If you're so pumped or weak that you want leashes then you should probably stop, clip into the bottom of the tool and rest on it anyhow, whether you've got leashes on or not. Climbing stupid pumped on ice is stupid, it removes any safety factor. Rest, retreat, whatever, just don't fall.

So, if you're a much better ice climber than you are a rock climber, and don't have the strength to hang on then your choices are either get stronger, which won't take all that much work, use leashes, or don't ice climb. Two of those solutions are reasonable.

And then there's gaiters. I use these slightly more than leashed tools (I just realized I don't even have a set of tools set up with leashes anymore so that's not saying a lot), but I like pants like the Arcteryx Gamma that have grommet holes and a grippy strip around the cuff. This offers a great seal without turning your boots into sweat baths like gaiters--a great deal of moisture goes out the top of your boots, gaiters just seal that in and soak everything. Most of my winter boots also have built-in gaiters, but these are more for warmth than to shed snow. Still, the combination of the pant with a lace hook/rubber strip/underfoot strap and a boot with a built in gaiter means no snow gets into my boots even when swimming in the deep stuff. If I'm wearing really light, low-cut boots like I'll use for sumer alpine adventures then I'll occasionally break out the lightest, most breathable gaiter I can find. But I don't like 'em, they are an inelegant solution to a problem.

Screamers: A good rope has relatively low impact force (single, I don't use half ropes much except for low-angle alpine scrabbling, their impact forces are often too high to be worthwhile except for gentle falls), so unless the gear is super sketchy I don't use Screamers anymore. I work hard to get good ice gear, and retreat if I can't. The nebulous line between "maybe good enough" and "GOOD" is too fine for me. I want my gear to be good, or I either solo or go home. Bad gear leads to bad decisions for me, others may have more self-restraint. Gear is not meant to be jewelry, it's meant to be solid. Playing games with shitty gear is seldom going to work out better than retreating if the movement isn't well within my skills. I used to believe "Some gear is better than none," but I'm moving more toward, "I like good gear, and will work hard to get it. If I can't get good gear then I go into solo mode, or retreat." 

Third Tools: haven't carried one in 20 years since replaceable picks came out. I did drop a tool once and had to borrow Jack Tackle's third tool, that was embarrassing enough I haven't done it since then, but appreciated the loaner.

So, what are we going to lose next? Socks? Hammers on our tools? Oh right, we lost those too! The future is definitely less, not more when it comes to gear. In the future leashed tools, gaiters and 60/40 Anoraks will all be found in the same section, and only available in dull earth colours. Or maybe, like tie-die shirts and disco, everything old will be new again one day, we'll see.

Thanks for the question.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ice Season Cometh: Q and A

First off, sorry for the long delay in blogging. I've been stupid busy with everything from getting my first guiding exam done, family, writing, doing a couple of TV shows and of course climbing, mountain biking (broke some ribs, healing now), travel, and just life. Enough excuses, I'm back, thanks for the heckling/encouraging emails.

I'm going to do a new section of this blog where I answer questions from readers, starting with these:

1) There has be a lot of discussion on knots for tying ropes to rappel. While for that purpose only few people are still using the double fishermans (I use an EDK backed up with a second EDK), it seems to be the knot of choice for tying abalakow slings. Why? Couldn’t I use a doubled EDK here as well? That would seem much easier to tie with gloves on.

2) Now this might sound stupid: While I would never think this could work, I have read a few accounts of long, repeated abseils where it sounded as if the climbing rope itself had been fed directly through the V-thread, saving cord. Did I get that wrong? Can that work? I would assume under load the rope would freeze in place for sure. Maybe something was lost in translation…

-Greetings to the Rockies from Hamburg, Germany.

A #1: The EDK (simple overhand knot) is used for a couple of different reasons: It's relatively easy to untie, it's relatively low-profile on the pull so it's less likely to get hang up, and it's very simple. It does require relatively long tails in case it rolls; if a second EDK is used then that requires yet more rope. An EDK may not be the best choice for ropes of different diameters; I have never seen or heard of a problem with an EDK in the fieldand different diameter ropes, but there's likely a reason some people won't use the EDK with different diameter ropes. Even when weighted you can usually work an EDK out. Sounds like a pretty good knot for rappels with the same ropes.

A fisherman's in contrast, is hard to untie and takes relatively little additional cord for long tails. That sounds like a pretty good knot for a v-thread/Abalokov for me. A simple overhand/EDK might work OK for a V-thread, but would require more cord for tails, and more monitoring. There was fatality here a few years ago where the climbers came down, clipped into the thread, pulled their rope, and the thread "broke." What actually happened is that they had clipped into the long tails on the thread, which had re-frozen into the ice. Sad as hell. Always make sure you're clipped into the true thread and not the tails. Why use a knot that requires long tails for threads? I like to be able to rotate the thread to check the cord all the way around. And I always back threads up with a screw, or two if I don't know the solidity of the thread.

Here's where it starts to get rather pedantic, but there are more reasons I like the EDK (just one with relatively long tails for me in general, but two is a standard in some circles) for raps and a fisherman's for threads. A rappel is a relatively low-load scenario where only the climber's weight is on the rope really, and only half the climber's weight on any one strand (assuming the rope isn't a pullley through the v-thread, which would be bad as it would cut the material through the thread!). So a simple overhand is really, really unlikely to flip under the low load. But a V-thread may have a lot of weight on it due to two or more climbers clipping into it, and the likely scenario of a climber clipped a sling into the thread above it and then slamming down below the thread if they blow undoing their belay device or something... I'd want something really strong that wouldn't roll for my thread material, full stop. If I were using webbing I'd tie a water knot, cord I like a Fisherman's.

You could use a lot of different knots for a thread, and for a rappel pull, and you'd likely live, but I like a fishermans for V-thread cord, and a water knot for webbing, and an EDK for rappels. Do use at least 7mm cord for threads.

#2: Yes, and I've done it lots. BUT, if the rope re-freezes even a tiny bit in the hole, or there's a lot of rope drag from, say, twists, you can rapidly have a bad experience with a stuck rope. If you want to rap using a rope fed through the thread you'll be feeding the "fat" rope through the hole; if you climb on two 8mm ropes or a single 9.1 then no problem, but if you're rapping off with ropes of different diameters then you need, as normal, to pull "skinny," which means the fat rope goes through the hole. If the rope is a hairy beast of rope or frozen up at all then the sharp bend in the back of the thread, or if you didn't get the thread perfect (and I normally am off by 20 percent or so) then there's a natural "pinch point" in the back of the thread. I actually leave 7mm cord or one-inch webbing with old 'biners or quicklinks on the cord if getting the rope stuck would be any problem at all, and definitely don't feed it through. It's one of those ideas that works really well occasionally, but in general opens up a mess of problems.

So there is a really long answer to two short questions! And there are levels to all of this; for me recreationally I'm totally fine with one loop of good-quality 7mm cord for the thread, but that' far from "full strength."

Few solutions or concepts in climbing are absolute. I've been playing this game for more than 30 years, and each year I revise, tune, toss out and otherwise change my systems in light of new ideas or data. This summer I took the first guiding course and exam here in Canada; I learned a lot, but the most important thing I learned was a different way of looking at climbing.The big thing is to have an understanding of what you're dealing with, or reduce the situation to parts that do make sense and will do the job at hand.

Finally, Mark Beverly has done a lot of good research, here is some he did on horizontal vs. vertical V-threads, as well as the differences materials make in the strength of threads. Fatter material is better. I'm not yet sold on the benefits of vertical vs. horizontal V-thread placements, but will play more with them this winter.

And there is ice in the Canadian Rockies, saw it today. Go get it!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Quick Review Notes on the Spot 2 and Spot Connect

Summary: If you're pondering buying a Spot for tracking and emegencies I'd suggest NOT getting the Spot Connect. To do anything but send an SOS message doesn't work without a bluetooth phone, and the bluetooth pairing is sketchy even sitting at your desk at home. A spot 2 is better if you're actually outside of civilization, which is where I generally use a Spot. Bad product design. Spot needs a Spot Connect with Spot 2 physical buttons/menus.


Spot beacons are a great idea. They send short satellite messages from anywhere, and there's a button for "SOS" services so if things go totally sideways the Spot may save your life. But the more day-to-day useful functions include tracking, which shows where you are every 20 minutes or so on a Google Map accessible to anyone on the internet. Your friends, family, etc. can see where you are (some screen grabs here), and Spot tracking pages are increasingly common for adventure races, expeditions, guiding, wherever people are out of cell range. The Spot 1 and 2 also have a button for an "OK" message, which sends that message to a set of friends/family/whatever emails. So far so good.

I recently bought the Spot Connect, which theoretically does all the same stuff as the Spot 1 and 2, but also allows you to send 40-character text messages, which seemed cool. You compose these messages on a Bluetooth "smart" phone (Iphone, Droid, whatever) App, and then send them to the Spot over Bluetooth. If you're paired properly and if your phone has battery juice then this system works. But my phone did not pair well with the Spot; or rather, the phone paired well with the Spot, but the Spott App wouldn't recognize that connection, and wouldn't allow me to send messages at least half the time.

This is only annoying at first, but after 24 hours your Spot Connect basically becomes a brick only capable of sending SOS messages unless you can connect to it with Bluetooth (and the App will work, not guaranteed). Put another way, to turn Tracking on or off, or send an OK message you need to have a Bluetooth phone connection, which is flaky at best. With the Spot 1 and Spot 2 models the physical buttons turn tracking on and off and send OK messages, so as long as you had Spot power you were good to go. With the Spot Connect there are no buttons beyond the SOS and power buttons, and after 24 hours you can't use the Tracking or "I'm OK" features. Those features must be turned on through the phone after 24 hours or they shut off and can't be turned back on physically, only through the phone... Oh, and if you turn the Spot Connect off (to replace or conserve batteries for example) during that 24 hours then when you turn it back on it's in "brick/SOS-only" mode again, and you'll need to pair it with your dead cellphone's bluetooth connection that doesn't work so well anyhow.

I think this is really poor product design. A product designed to be used outside of cell range should not be reliant on a cell phone for most of its functions. All it would take is a couple of buttons on the Spot Connect so it would do the same stuff as the Spot 2 at least. I didn't believe the Spot Connect would have such bad design when I bought it; generally new products do more than the old ones.

If you're using your spot primarily in the backcountry, as I imagine most of you reading this are, I'd also suggest adding a line in your Spot emergency contact information that you will most likely need helicopter rescue. Some friends of mine had an accident, hit the SOS button, only to eventually have an ambulance pull up at the trailhead 10K away... Make it clear in your pre-defined message that you're likely to be in a wilderness setting without road access.

So I'm taking my Spot Connect back and getting a Spot 2 until Spot makes something more functional. The added function of the 40-character messages on the Spot Connect is a nice idea, but for most people the ability to use the Tracking and "I'm OK" features is more important.

I didn't find any good reviews on the Spot Connect on the web, so I thought this info might be helpful to those pondering a Spot purchase.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I'm finding it hard to finish off the writing about my flying trip from Vernon home. The basic reason is simple: A week after that trip my friend Stewart crashed his glider on Lady Mac as I watched impotently from 1,000 feet over his head. He would not likely have been there if I hadn't stated that I was going to walk up, and walked with him when he wanted to go. Stewart's now recovering, but the starting point for that recovery is a broken neck with currently serious spinal cord issues. The battle back is going to be difficult, but Stewart is nothing if not resourceful mentally and physically, and he has a great family and friends to help. I also have to say a deep thanks to the professionals and hikers who helped Stewart out when he crashed; without them, well, they made all the difference.

So three of the absolute best flights of my life are juxtaposed with horror. My images of the Bugaboos, of landing and sleeping in the alpine meadows south of Revelstoke, of just the idea and joy of a flying adventure are mixed with images of a badly broken friend. I don't think his accident is my fault, but I do have to wonder about the mental game we all must play with risk sports in order to keep doing them. No one flight is worth what Stewart is going through, so the sum must be worth the risk or we wouldn't do it. Or are we pretending that the risks aren't real for us? I'm writing about this topic now and it feels good to write, but it's not ready for public consumption. My words are too full of contradiction, too full of nothing, too full of circular logic that would stand a pig on its head to fly into the sky. Yeah, my writing makes about as much sense as that image.

I'm also training hard for my assistant rock guide exam, which is a lot of fun thanks to the many people who are allowing me to run around the mountains with them. Climbing is a relatively static world; as I sit in the sun 1,000 feet up a cliff face belaying I feel the dynamic force of the wind, and connect it to the clouds over my head, and hear the whip of the thermals cracking by. I move my hands simply to belay, and hope my friend Stewart gets that experience again soon. The commonplace is only common when you can do it all the time. Today is not only another day, but a day with extreme freedom and ease compared to what so many people in the world are experiencing for no other reason than they were born were they were. Risk, freedom,, movement, life, death, it's all reflecting back at us every second of every day even if we don't see it. I intend to be looking at those reflections a lot more in the coming days, really looking at them and not just letting it all slip past.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Invermere to Canmore

I'm back home after flying the final leg of the whole trip. Yesterday was a really intense flight--windy, powerful air, cool terrain, and a flight I've dreamed of doing for at least ten years. Boom, the end of an adventure. Today it's way too windy up high to fly; I had incredibly good luck that yesterday was just on the edge of flyable, just. The screen grab of the Spot tracking page shows the basic line, but it doesn't show the waiting in the air, analyzing, or the wind...

I'll post some thoughts, more pictures and a little video (I didn't shoot much, but some) here as I get time and settle back down, it's been the best week of flying I've ever had. So many good experiences! I know I've just had some tremendously good luck with the weather, life and flying. The buzz from this whole trip is going to take a long time to wear off. You don't get many experiences like this week in life, hell yeah!

The trip would not have been possible without a few key people, including Dough Nitchie in Vernon (thanks for the socks, weather and stoke), Becky Bristow in Revelstoke (it's good to have friends who will come and get you when you call up on the satellite phone and say, "Help!"), Al Polster and Lisa in Revelstoke (they got me back in the game when I was beaten down, and up the hill), and Frank Kernick and Tracye in Invermere, who again kept the psyche up through a combination of water skiing, a soft bed, and a great attitude. And of course my mom, who I had to call from a cut block to figure out how to get out on her computer's Google Earth...

Friday, August 05, 2011

Invermere from near Revelstoke via the Bugaboos

In the last 48 hours I've top-landed in the alpine twice, camped high, had a ton of help from friends in Revelstoke and Invermere, and flown the coolest mountain flight I've ever had. And sunk out into a cut block, but escaped this time!

I have some wicked photos of flying right through the Bugaboos, a flight I've dreamed of for going on 15 years. Never have I flown so deep for so many hours, so stoked! From just south of Revelstoke to Brisco to landing on the beach in Inveremere, where a bunch of friends were having dinner. The Spot log should show the line, I'll post photos when I get home as all I have is my phone. Today's weather doesn't look as good but Swansea launch awaits, want to try and fly home... Fired up!

-sent from my rotten Apple.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Aerial hero to cut block zero?

I'm out, ripped to shreds by the alder and cut block debris but stoked for the last two days... Not sure what the next move is but got a ride to revy and planning tactics. Making this up as I go for sure, great adventure so far. The freedom of going anywhere in the air is great, but I've learned some lessons.

edit--I just looked on the Spot tracking page, the satellite photo is NOTHING like reality on the ground! Nothing!! The photo must be from 20 years ago, most of the roads in that photo are no longer visible at all...

Not all cut blocks are launchable. In fact most are barely landable!! Logging roads grow over to the point where they are worse than the bush, even if they show on the gps. BC bush is really fierce. There's a fine line between vol bivouac and vol bushwhack, and I got well on the vegetation side of it.... I landed high in Plant creek about as deep as you can get in the Monashees, thought I had an ok cut block (logged area) that would be good to launch out of but wound up hanging 6 feet off the ground. Solved that, good thing i had a wrench for links on lines and can climb ok, nice night with morning bear, could not escape my block for hours in the morning. Priorities went from launching to finding a place to launch to just getting out of the valley I was in, epic bush. Totally impossible to move through that logged bush at more than a few hundred meters an hour. Finally called my mom on sat phone (you know it's bad when u call mom) who found a way out on google earth. Hiked about 10k of bush nasty grown over skidded trail and another 20 of road, got ride (thanks Becky!) to Revy. Happy to be here, developing new plan and solving tech issues with Spot etc

The flight was super fun, walking from the greyhound station in vernon to launch fun, fighting out of bc bush 80k later not so fun but not boring!! Flight conditions were not great, really happy to have flown what I did.

I'm not done yet. Forecast today not so good but I'm destroyed anyhow, see what I can come up with. Will solve Spot issues this morning...

A huge thanks to Doug N. for the help in Vernon!

-sent from my rotten Apple.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Aerial Exploring: Vernon East

From here to There?

After two weeks of frustrating delays due to bad weather I'm off at one tomorrow morning on a Greyhound bus to Vernon, BC, along with my glider. The basic idea is to ride the dog 350k west to Vernon and then try to fly and walk back home or to the eastern edge of the Rockies somewhere. I should be walking from the bus station toward the Vernon paragliding launch by about 8:00 in the morning. Beyond that I don't know much other than there's a lot of mountain terrain (all of the Columbia and Rocky Mountains) between Vernon and here. There aren't any "rules," but I want to do it all under my own walking power or by flying thermals, and do it self-supported meaning no chase crew.

The inspiration for this trip comes from a few places: The incredibly cool Red Bull X Alps that just concluded, and the uber-suffering Tour Divide/CTR bike races. I raced the Red Bull X Alps almost ten years ago, and loved covering terrain by foot and in the air, it's a magic combination. The Tour Divide bike race is a self-supported monster-length backcountry bike race from Banff, Alberta, to the Mexican border. The Colorado Trail Race is similar but more on trails and less on dirt roads, and crosses Colorado by mostly burly single track. My brother, Toby, starts that race tomorrow, so there will be some suffering Gadds by eleven or so tomorrow morning. What I like about both bike races is that racers bivouac wherever they can; in a hotel if they are near one, but mostly just by stopping beside the trail and sleeping. The rules in both races are "no non-commercial support," meaning hotels and gas station food is OK, but you can't have yer mom bring you a sandwich because that's not there for all racers.

All three events are races, and each is about taking a cool line across the terrain than just the fastest line. The Tour Divide follows the continental divide as closely as possible, the CTR takes the proud mountain biking line across Colorado, and the X Alps traverses most of the chain from the mountains to the sea. All of these events are races, but the on the X Alps each athlete has a "supporter" driving a van loaded with happy little presents like clean socks and food. This is good, as the vast majority of the walking in the X Alps is on paved roads. I hate walking on paved roads (every athlete in the X Alps is far tougher mentally than me, I would shoot myself in the foot before I'd walk like that again on paved roads), and in the Alps it's nearly impossible to be more than 10K from a paved road. I also like the self-reliance concept of the long bike races, that suits my individualistic style more. And I'm not going to race anyone; if I land high on evening I intend to enjoy the place.

One of my paragliding heroes, Pierre Boulliux of Sup'Air (one of the sport's originals, along with my friend Gin Seok Song, who runs Gin gliders) also did a lot of what he called "Vol Bivouac" flying in the alps. The point of this flying was to fly and stay high in the mountains, and what I want to do probably most closely follows this ideal. Some of the Pemberton monkeys are also on this program.

So my idea is to walk on paved roads as little as possible, ditch the "supporter" concept, and fly far while camping high. The forecast is pretty good, there's a lot of interesting terrain between Vernon and east side of the Rockies, let's see what happens! Ideally I'll fly during the peak hours of the day, then land high in the alpine, go for a bit of a walk around the landscape I love being in so much, and then take off in the morning from a happy little high alpine meadow (unfortunately our mountains lack the cows of the alps, so there are far fewer perfect little meadows, but there's the idea). If I land low in a valley I'll beat my way through the BC brush back up to the alpine or a logging cut block and take off again. If I can walk on a trail or even logging road I'll do that, but I flat-out refuse to walk on paved roads just to make distance.

Another huge chunk of inspiration is really the biggest source of motivation for me: Flying in remote areas. I've flown all over the world, but the mountains here in Canada are relatively unique because of their low population densities. I've done two or three forays into remote areas in the Rockies, but by approaching the Columbia and Rocky Mountains with a sleeping bag, tent, food, and expecting to land in remote areas I'll be totally mentally free to fly the coolest lines, not just the lines near roads. In paragliding we often talk about "Tiger Country," or places with no retrieve. I'm aiming for those places on purpose. I want to get high over Vernon, look east and take the best possible line even if there are no roads there to get retrieved on. I think that's going to be a tremendous feeling of freedom, of throwing off one of the most basic ideas of paragliding, to land somewhere where you can get back to where you took off...

My good friend Othar and the Red Bull X Alps team is also planning to run a race somewhere in Western North America next year, which I've been helping a bit with. Othar and I talked about doing a long hike and walk trip in Canada (we also did one in that involved hiking completely across the Andes with our gliders but not flying once!), so maybe my trip will help out a bit with understanding the unique challenges of an X Alps style race in North America's much more rugged mountains. Years ago my friend Jim Grossman and I flew our motorized paragliders across the US too, so there's some history in this idea.

I figure it will take about a week; I wanted to do more, but I have another time commitment coming up, and with the delayed start due to weather I want to do something I think I can get done in a week. This is gonna be fun!


Part of the fun of this was to do it with the gear I have lying around. So I have an old light harness, Gin GTO paraglider, BD First Light tent, ancient but still solid Feathered Friends sleeping bag, some food (no stove, weighs too much), bear spray, bug spray, vario, sat phone, and a Spot for safety and so friends and family can watch the game unfold. All told it weights about 20Kg, not too bad. I'll put the Spot tracking URL up later in case anyone wants to watch the silliness that will ensue. I hope to blog a bit from my phone if I can get cell service, which is increasingly likely from up high even in the mountains here...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sport Climbing season done, paragliding, MORE is not safer

Buy this book: A great new resource for local sport climbing, thanks to Derek for his work.

Yesterday I got out with my least-repressed friend, Mr. Tim Emmett, along with Mr. Slawinski and Mr. K.H., who does not want his name on the internet. We visited The Notch, another really good craig in Echo Canyon (and covered in Derek's Bow Valley Sport). The Notch looks across the wide canyon to the Lookout, where I've spent at least 10 days this spring. Both craigs are over an over an hour of walking from the car, but totally worth it. Echo Canyon has been my primary hang this spring, as I beat an old ice climber into a half-not-such-a-junk-show-sorta-OK-has-been sport climber again. I went from grovelling on the 5.11s to sending my project, Spicy Elephant, the best 13b I've ever done. It took three months go get back into half-decent (well, not compared to Ondra, we all SUCK, but it's been fun) shape. Tons of days, tons of climbing, tons of loose rock, it's a reminder of just how much pure sport climbing is!

Yesterday was a load of fun; good people, a good environment, and enough routes to stay busy. The Notch isn't as dialed in as the Lookout; broken holds, confused grades (My view is that the 12c with the rope ladder start is 11d with the rope ladder, the left 12a is 11d, the middle 12a is 12b, and the right one is 11c), but all-time fun climbing. The Notch feels sort of alpine; colder, crisper, windier, but it's a fun craig I'll go back to. I broke a hold on the 12d around the corner on the onsight effort, but that's a great route, and Mr. Tim killed it first go, well done! There is truly endless quantities of rock up Echo Canyon, thanks to Greg, Ian, Gerry, and the many, many other people who put the work into the area! These crags were all word of mouth sorta places until Derek's new guide recently came out; more traffic will really help these areas break in. We were all worried Derek was going to downrate everything to 5.9, but he protected our egos and kept consensus grades generally.

Now it's paragliding season, and not a moment too soon. I've been pushing injuries, shirking work, and generally going hard at the rock monkey program for the last three months. Now that will slow down as I hang in the chair in the sky for a month, fired up, stay tuned for some new projects there, as well as the Canadian Paragliding Nationals, starting this Sunday.

Serial Vs. "Open" or "Comp" gliders.
The paragliding world is still in an uproar about the recent banning of some paragliders from some competitions. The FAI (governing body of air sport) tried to make the World Championships safer by creating a certification process for competition gliders, but it's becoming increasingly obvious that this idea really didn't work out. Two deaths, many reserves parachute tosses, etc., all in the first two days... I think a lot of the problems were directly due to the FAI's efforts to make things safer. That story is too long to go into here, but I firmly believe in the law of unintended consequences in complex situations.

Now there's a huge debate about making all competitions "serial," or production gliders only that are certified to a reasonably high passive safety level. This is a bit like putting airbags and ABS brakes on race cars. I have been against this for many years, and broadly still am. I do not in general feel safer on a serial glider than competition gliders of previous years when competing on them. Pushing a serial glider to do a comp glider's job is like pushing a Corolla to do a Porsche's job. But I'm also less current (lousy weather means I only have maybe 10 hours in the air this spring, not the usual 50 or so by this point), and the class of competition gliders flying right now takes very different inputs to fly well. I am concerned that my "driving" patterns will not match those required from the new gliders, and I'm "rusty," so I'm competing on a glider that flies more like what I'm used to, and also has a higher level of passive safety.

Some people see my decision to fly a serial glider as an endorsement of the serial class only position. It's not. But I am making as honest a judgement as I can about my current (not what I have been, where I was, but where I AM) piloting ability with respect to the current comp gliders. If we fly a lot at Canadian Nationals then by the end of it I should be back on top of my game. I'm planning a little XC mission in the mountains of Canada in early August, and I might even fly a comp glider for that... But today I'm a very experienced pilot with rusty skills. That's a fact. I do have a serial glider I really, really like, the Gin GTO, so there's not a lot lost by flying it. In fact, it's going to be a lot of fun, and I will be seriously competing for the serial class national title so don't think I'm relaxing any! One thing I will say is that if the day looks epic I'm going to blow out of the comp and chase some records, grin...

I think that in the coming years all competitions are going to be held on "serial" or certified gliders with good passive safety. This may in fact ultimately be a good thing, I don't know, but I am sure that most of the reasons being put forward for serial gliders have far less to do with the gliders than the people behind the opinions. Ultimately paragliding is a dangerous sport; but if people blame the gliders for the accidents then it's possible to also say, "I don't fly one of those gliders, so I must be "safe." Never mind that the vast majority of accidents every year are on those "safe" gliders... By focusing on the equipment the delusion of safety can be maintained, when in reality not having an accident while paragliding is 99.99 percent about the pilot's decision ability. A comp pilot with a 200+ hour season under his competition wing is far safer in the air than a novice with a career 100 hours on a certified wing...

More Gear does not mean more Safety:

In every sport participants attempt to make the sport "safe" with equipment, and some decry those who participate with less equipment. Never mind that the vast majority of accidents in every sport I'm involved with (possibly with the exception of kayaking) tend to occur to those with MORE, not less, equipment. I think if we all take an honest look at our sports this trend holds true; it's the mind, not the gear or even the training, that effects the safety of the participant. Agree? Got examples of where the gear rules? Share...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Magnetron Carabiners

OK, the name is kinda dorky but these are the coolest new carabiners I've ever seen:

The guy in the video, my friend Bill B., handed me one of these a few months ago to look at, but didn't tell me how they worked. I wracked my brain trying to figure it out as I effortlessly opened and closed the gate, and finally it was like, "MAGNETS!!!!!" I'm a gear geek, and this is a huge step forward. No more fumbling one-handed with tricky gates, ropes unscrewing screw gates, "auto-lockers" that are total pain in the ass, etc. Huge step forward for boring old carabiners, a subject I thought was pretty much done in terms of huge evolutionary steps.

I've been just dying to talk about these 'biners since I saw the rough protos, now I finally can. I can't think of one thing these do less well than the best lockers on my rack now. Must be something I'll still use a screwgate for, but these truly autolock without the hassle of an autolock. Wicked.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Paragliding World Championships Musings

First off, paragliding can be a "reasonable" activity. I'd let my kids fly tandem with most any commercial operation in North America. But there are some problems lately with the competition scene, which is like comparing F1 to driving to the grocery store. The following commentary is opinion and ranting, but I'm thinking about it a lot so here goes:

The 2011 Paragliding World Championships were cancelled a few days ago. I don't think that's ever happened before. The FAI (uber-governing body of air sports globally) basically said the current "Competition" class gliders were too unstable to fly fast, and banned 'em. It's hard to argue with their reasoning; two pilots died and six or seven others threw their reserve parachutes, all in the first two days. There was no day three.

The big question in the paragliding world now is whether or not the 2011 comp gliders are more "dangerous" than usual. Some very good pilots I trust say they aren't, some others I also trust say they are. My sponsor, Gin, didn't have one of the new "2-line" gliders last year, so I didn't fly one. This year Gin does have one, reportedly a very fast one, but as I wasn't competing in the worlds this year (too much climbing of late) my order hasn't even shipped. I will be competing in the Canadian Nationals in a few days (defending my title, grin), but I didn't want to be charging on a new glider I hadn't flown at all so I cancelled my 2-liner order. I'll be flying a certified glider in a comp for the first time in almost ten years, it'll be fun! My decision also has something to do with the fact that these 2-line gliders also require very different flying control than what I'm used to. The accident and reserve rate in Spain certainly looks bad, and I don't want to add to it.

I think that maybe what's happened is that the new technology is relatively untried, and also demands new skills to fly. I doubt there were many pilots at the Worlds who had more than 50 hours on their new wings. Maybe it's a bit like going from a steering wheel to a joystick on a car while at the same time increasing the horsepower from 150 to 1,000 and dropping all speed limits; people are going to make errors, and those errors may be higher consequence. Maybe in a few years when everyone is used to driving fast with a joystick it'll all be good, but right now things are pretty crazy out there. But I don't have any time on 2011 2-liners to say really...

Or maybe the gliders had nothing to do with it, and it was all the low-skill pilots at the World Championships. This sounds somewhat unlikely to me, as any pilot who makes it to the worlds has some degree of decent skill. The two pilots who died were good pilots, and the one who died in the last world's was one of the best. But when accidents happen it's always tempting to say, "That can't happen to me because I'm (pick one) smarter, stronger, better, etc." The two pilots who died were, judging by their resumes and times flying, very good pilots and to believe I can do better in a competition on a new wing than they did is pretty much delusional to me. I'll learn how to fly these new gliders outside of competition, and then see about maybe competing on them after this year's Paragliding World Cup provides some answers. The pilots on the PWC are the best in the world, as opposed to the best in individual countries like the Worlds are.

If the PWC accident/incident rates remain relatively consistent then we'll have to look at something other than the gliders for clues to the problem, like pilot quality. If there are a lot more incidents than is historically normal at the PWC then we'll know that there is likely an issue with some of the 2011 gliders, even in the hands of the pilots who should be most capable of handling them. Until then we're all just guessing I think. The 2010 gliders certainly didn't look to be totally unstable, and some of them were 2-liners so things are weird out there.

I have been against mandatory serial gliders for competitions for many years, as I always felt safer on comp gliders. I almost threw my reserve twice on my Proton GT (serial glider from ten plus years ago, using it as an example) before I got back on the Boomerangs, on which I have relatively few close calls and none due to the glider. I am wondering if these new 2-liners share some of the problems of the GT.

The problem I had with the GT was that it felt rock solid, then it would just blow up incredibly violently and unexpectedly while I was flying on the speed bar. On the comp gliders I could feel the air very well, and adjust my speed or angle of attack to keep the glider open. The new comp gliders apparently feel very stable, but everyone admits that when they collapse they go big and may be totally unrecoverable. That sounds a lot like that old Proton GT of mine--everything going fine, then ka-boom, line twists and cascades. That glider for me was like a crazy relationship, all happy and then your stuff is cut up in pieces on the front lawn... By the way, I'm picking on the Proton GT from over ten years ago I think, I flew several other Ozone gliders back in the day that were simply awesome, and obviously they are a fine company today.

Until recently I did not feel that glider behaviour was in general a problem at competitions; most of the accidents I saw had far more to do with pilot error. But now I'm not so sure. I'm holding off on the latest "comp" glider technology for a season to see what's up. It helps that for once I have a serial wing I really like, the GTO. I have enough hours on it in strong conditions to feel good about flying it in Golden.

Over the years I've learned to recognize a sort of "smell" in the air when something isn't working right, and I smell that odour now around these gliders. Could be a passing bubble, could be the ball of shit from a wing that is non-recoverable from a stall (apparently how stalling was described in reference to recovering the current comp gliders), time will tell. Good luck to the PWC pilots, I really hope they don't need it!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sponsorship and "Extreme!" Sports

"How do I get sponsored?"

I get that question a lot. Usually there's a fresh-faced young person on the other end of the email, wanting to quit school and go climbing/kayaking/skateboarding/snowboarding/whatever for ever. And I fully support the idea of following your dreams, even if the dreams turn into nightmares. Sometimes it's a matter of crossing things off a life list until you find what you like. So even bad decisions can lead to good outcomes; it's like turning clay into a pot, sometimes you just have to turn "work" back into clay, but at least you know what didn't work out. If someone truly wants to try and do their sports full-time and get as good as he or she can be then I'm completely down with helping, and often do. But here's the truth: sponsorship isn't part of that process in general, at least not at first. There are no perpeetual"grants" to go and do the sports you love...

Here are a few fast thoughts about getting sponsored:

1. Get money to do stuff you truly want to do, not do stuff to get money.

This is a hugely important distinction. If you're getting $ to go do something you couldn't do without that money and will do anything short of selling yourself on the street (and maybe that) to get to that goal then your heart is true. If you're doing a stupid human trick (First person to ever drop into a half-pipe wearing a bed of nails strapped to your back) to get noticed and get $ then it's not clean, and it's Jackass time. Now, Jackass is totally funny, but it's entertainment, not achievment. I have a hard time explaining the difference between these two things, but it's clear to me when someone is doing something incredibly dangerous, stupid and even ridiculous because he or she honestly thinks it's just the best thing ever, and when someone is doing the same thing because he or she wants to get noticed. It's the difference between the guy who tied a whole whack of balloons to his lawn chair and flew above California and the guy who was going to put his kid into a weather balloon and get a science show out of the resulting publicity or whatever. One rings true, one doesn't.

2. You're the best at what you do, or on the way to being the best.
-Until this point don't bother asking for sponsor dollars. If you're the best 16-year old in North America then you can start asking, but if you just sent a 12c and won the East Podunk bouldering comp in your age division then train harder. It's not worth wasting the mental energy on sponsorship for the amount of dollars you'll get in return. Be the best or very close to it, then ask.

2.1 You have a plan that's not the same as everyone else's plan.
-If you want to win a snowboard comp or two and party your way into rehab (although by that point you probably won't be able to afford it) then join the line. But if you want to win the biggest comps and are training/riding seven days a week while doing the absolute minimal amount of non-riding possible, and you'd rather save the $6/day in beer for another day of riding then you've got some force in your life. And if you want to snowboard every single peak in Maine and have already done 4 then right on, you're different and have a dream. Dreams get people stoked. Especially cool dreams, dreamed by people who have the skills and drive to turn 'em into reality. But don't send in a proposal to be the first non-diabetic white guy under 37 but over 36 with two legs but a fake toe to climb Everest. If your proposal involves any, "With x ailment," "Oldest," "Youngest," "Dog," "White Guy," "Canadian," "Ohioian" or other qualifier then it's a personal achievement and that's great for you, congratulations!

3. Do what you like.
-If you're totally and completely obsessed with your sport and think and do nothing that doesn't involve it then great, your head is in the right place. You will live on chalk dust/wax scrapings just to be out there more. The best athletes I know didn't decide one day to become sponsored full-time athletes, they obsessed over their sports because they truly love them. At some point business entered that equation, and the goal became to work less at non-sport jobs through using sponsorship to spend more time doing the sports. But the love comes first, like the old guys still skiing 60 days a year. That's love. And you can only truly be great at something you love.

4. Understand work and play
-There's this idea that sponsors pay for you to win comps, look cool, and hang out with your friends. This is bullshit. Sponsors actually pay for their image on you in media, the right to use you in their advertising, and generally your ability to represent their brand in a positive way. When I go do a photo shoot for a sponsor that's work, and I try to work my ass off. When I'm climbing with my friends that's play for me, and why I work... These two worlds mix to some extent, but you've got to know the difference between them, and which hat you're wearing. Masters of this game make it look easy, but the sponsorship trail is littered with people who couldn't understand the difference between these two settings. For example, I can not think of one athlete on the Red Bull Canada team who doesn't work his or her ass off when it's time to do so, and play hard too. The world is full of talented people; but not that many actually work hard.

5. Let the action do the talking
-I often get emails with something like, "I'm gonna drop the biggest cliff ever, I'd like to get some sponsors first." OK, that's cool, but there's always a bigger cliff, and if you haven't dropped the first biggest cliff ever then you're just talking smack. And then if you actually do get sponsor $ you might feel a tad bit awkward when you get to the edge of that cliff and it's a really, really long way down--the difference between local hero and world-class is farther than it might at first appear when measured close to the edge of an sport... No amount of money is worth getting maimed or killed for, especially the amounts we see generally see in the "extreme" sports world. You'd better be at the top of the cliff 'cause you think it's the coolest thing ever, and all you really need to be there is your friends. And if you're maimed you'll note a little clause in your contract that says companies don't in general sponsor invalids anyhow. But if you're at the top of the world's biggest ever cliff 'cause there's no place you'd rather be then great, and when you walk into SuperXSport's office and say, "I've dropped the biggest cliff ever, super fun, here's my next project, could your company help a bit?" then your action matches your words.

7. Be true to yourself. Shakespeare had it right when he advised:

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A few things...

Right, it's finally spring here in Canmore! I'm almost afraid to say it too loudly, but I think it's really happening. I was actually too warm rock climbing yesterday, a season first. I even whined about it a bit just to make sure the sensation of warmth was real and not just a dream. Now all the snow around here has to melt--normally the valleys and even lower passes are good to go by this time of year for running and riding, but lots of snow out there still, as I just saw on a drive into the mountains. I was up helping out a bit with the Tour Divide, which is a race from Banff, Alberta to Mexico. My cousin is racing in it, go Dylan, knew a few other uber-lungs lined up at the start. I saw the leaders go by after about three hours, they were going faster than I normally ride when I'm out for an hour or two. Pretty cool to see.

Climbing Training

I'm on a day-on, day off program for climbing right now. It's about all my body can handle, and over the years I've found that I go harder on my training days when I know there's a rest day coming, and I enjoy resting more when I feel like I've earned it. But I've dug a little over-training hole for myself; yesterday I was worthless, but the day was worthy so it was nice to be out. I'm off on a week-long guiding course starting tomorrow so the tendon rest will be nice; I often go really hard on a cycle with the knowledge that I'll have a soft week or period following it, it seems to work well for me. With aerobic sports I can just cycle back the intensity and/or duration, but with climbing I have to beat myself up, recover, repeat, it's just a different beast than anything else I do. But it sure is fun to be getting a little bit of rock fitness back. Compared to the current state of the sport I completely suck (but then again pretty much everyone does now compared to Adam Ondra!) Ondra has set the bar so high, a total revolution in difficulty level, the Sharma of the high-school scene. That kid is mind-blowing, the future, awesome, inspirational. Anyhow, I'm psyched to climb easier routes and step it down for a week, then get after it until the flying turns on around here for the summer.

And I was reminded by this photo of how fun climbing is, no matter it is that we climb! My daughter busting out the H (for horn) 4 move on the steel Moose.

More soon--gear issue coming up again, new stuff that I love...

Monday, May 30, 2011

Response to Anon...

Anon--, I don't think there's any argument at all that being lighter will improve performance in many sports. I have never argued that weight is irrelevant for performance. Of course it's relevant, and I'm annoyed at myself for somehow not making that clear in my posts. So here goes, I'll make it clearer:

Consuming unsustainable and downright puritanical diets will not ultimately lead to better long-term performance. For the vast, vast majority of athletes (and the general public) simply training/exercising hard regularly and eating more simple food and less processed junk is the solution, just as it always has been. Some times the truth is really boring.

Focusing excessively (and if you regularly need to carry tupperware because you "can't find anything to eat and are over three years old that's excessive) is counter-productive at best, and downright damaging at worst., The diet game has a million new suckers a minute.

Let's look at the older athletes who have won or performed at top level over years or decades in contrast to this week's "Get real skinny and win!" book.

In general successful athletes focus on performance/winning, and then look at the pathways necessary to get to that point. Many amateur athletes look at the pathways more than they do at the goal. Do you want to be five percent BF for two months and place third in a local age division before blowing up or do you want to start at 12 percent, eat decently for a change, drop to 11 percent, place fourth in a local race, get stoked, train for another year, place 22nd nationally, notice you're now down to 8 percent because you're training like a fiend even though you eat the occasional banana split, and then win nationals the next year because you trained right (and holy shit, you did it at 7 percent, who knew!)? Or sit there worrying about whether or not to eat a piece of bread?

I see far too many athletes trying to control their performance by controlling their diet. Diet is simple to control short-term. So a bad race means a bad diet... No it doesn't, it most likely means the athlete didn't train well, or had a cold, or is distracted by a psychotic relationship or any of the other millions of things that can go wrong... But with the diet-based trainers it's always about the food, because they can control that (short term--long term they're gonna lose unless they're eating sustainably). Based on more than 25 years of competing in various sports where weight matters the diet-obsessed are not going to be the people on the podium in the long run. Nor are the 300 pound coach potatoes. Simple.

Diet is important, but performance is everything. Don't confuse the two, they are not interchangeable terms for god's sake! Read, understand, think, apply, train, adapt, understand, think some more, but do not become a victim of the diet is everything cult, it's a losing headspace.

Enough of this topic, my views are hopefully clear enough. There will always be a salesman with a new plan for getting skinny etc., learn to ignore them and focus on getting out the door as it's now time for me to do. Let's go get active, yeah!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Seasonal Confusion Disorder, randomness

I can't decide whether to climb, paraglide, mountain bike, run, kayak, or go speed flying. Hell, the skiing is still pretty good too! And there's a fence to paint, winter debris to pick up, plus some office work I haven't done, etc. Rather than actually doing any of the above I'm on the computer. This is what Seasonal Confusion Disorder, or SCD, can do to you. The weather isn't really perfect for any of the above, so it's easier to spin in circles than settle on any one activity. SCD is serious, ha ha!

I think I'll ride my bike to the post office the long way, send the books out to people that are overdue, continue on to the climbing gym (I need a savage bouldering style workout) and finish it all out with some mobility/WOD stuff. Happy spring, hell YEAH!

Here are a few things I find interesting lately:

Training types: I'm starting to think there are a few different types of people who "train." There's the "trainer" who is training purely to train, or perhaps to look better in a tight T-Shirt. There may be excuses made about training for other sports etc, but really "trainers" are just training to train. Bodybuilders, most big-box members and most people who even go into a gym of any kind are in this category. Even Crossfitters to a certain point; that's the point of a generalized training program. Then there are the Sport-Specific People, or SSPs. These are the actual athletes who want to be better at a sport, whether it's at an amateur or pro level, they are training to be better at a sport or activity. Then there's the Participation In General people, or PIGS. I'm mostly a PIG; I go kayaking, climbing, mountain biking, whatever, and that's 75 percent of my activity. About 25 percent is "training" for one activity or another, often a blend at the same time. Note that rehab etc. fits into SSP guidelines.

I break out these slightly tongue in cheek classes of people who train to maybe help people think about their own training. Are you a "Trainer," "SSP," or "PIG?" Because I see a whole lot of "Trainers" who think they are SSPs... If you don't do your sport more than you train for it then you're a Trainer. If there's not an end goal to whatever it is you're doing for training then either you're a Trainer or a PIG. And that's cool as long as you understand what's going on and are into it, but it's not cool when you're claiming to be training for sport X while doing something that is useless for doing sport X better, at least as measured on a time-invested basis. Training for a SSP must be measured in performance; does it help the person perform better? Otherwise it's just Training for the hell of it, and that is not worthwhile unless it's the goal... Just something to think about, I can fit into all of the categories above at various points of my life, but I do better when I understand the different stages of training and why I'm training for what, when. I also see a lot of what I would call confused people in the gym...

Nutrition: My last post was all about wasting energy by thinking about what to eat instead of how to train or actually training. Eating well is a good idea and may help performance to some extent, but eating and performance are not the same thing even if some people want them to be. Performance is what counts. Crossfit (which I support but have no formal relationship with) workouts are great, but they don't burn much energy compared to most of the exercise I do. If you sit on your ass 15 and a half hours a day and only workout for for 5 to 30 minutes then you are going to have to be a little more discerning about what you eat than someone who goes out and hikes around in the mountains all day, or trains like hell for two hours or whatever. Most of the really lean athletes are in aerobic sports, and they eat whatever the hell they want. But if you want to be ultra-lean and only work out 30 minutes a day then it's not going to work without strict dietary control, which where the whole neurotic Zone and other whacky diet action came from in the fitness scene. "Paleo" is a less restrictive and all-around better idea, but even one of the leading lights of Paleo (and a guy who knows more about nutrition than possibly anyone) says that if you're going to actually exercise hard for longer periods of time then you're going to need more carbs. Most of the athletes I hang with aren't just working out for 20 minutes four to six times a week; that's only two hours of activity, or one decent after-work mountain bike ride. So, if you're just doing short workouts and want to be really lean (for why I still haven't figured out, nor can anyone tell me why other than to look good nekkid) then by all means eat a convoluted diet that I guarantee will "fail" in a timespan of weeks, not years, but certainly within years. Or accept being somewhat higher in body fat, enjoy life, eat relatively simple foods, great. Or do higher-volume aerobic sports and eat whatever the hell you want, be reasonably lean, enjoy life. The only "losers" I see here are those who spend more time worrying about what they are going to eat than training and doing what they love in life.

Really Risky Jobs: this is cool.

Bad-ass people in the local gym: Yesterday I did a sort of "WTF + rehab" workout in the gym because I'm having some knee and back issues, it was raining and cold outside, so into the gym. My local gym (other than the garage, where Cultfit Coyote Way is back in action after the coach took a break for kidlet delivery) is Athletic Evolution. There are some good athletes who train in there for sure (Canmore Eagles, hockey team here), but there were two guys in there yesterday just giving it. One guy was doing deadlift sets of three with 325 pounds, maintaining absolutely beautiful form. Plus some other solid stuff. Another guy was throwing down some really clean heavy squats, bend the bar kinda shit. This amazes me because most of the "heavy" stuff I see in gyms all over the world is just piss-poor. I'm used to seeing no-name climbers do incredible stuff in the climbing gym, but in the weight room it's generally a gong show of technique (often including mine, no pretensions there). Really good form with heavy weight is an absolute rarity, I don't know who those guys were but it was cool to see. It's just odd how little really amazing ability I see in regular gyms compared to climbing gyms, on the river, mountain biking, whatever. I don't know what to make of this disparity; maybe the sport-specific athletes do their sports for longer and get better? Even without any formal coaching a kid can climb 5.14 and have amazing technique, but I rarely see anyone do a half-solid squat in a gym anywhere, even with "coaching." Something weird in all of this...

Happy Spring


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Eat this

I've received a few emails lately asking about "Sports Performance Diets." To sum up my philosophy on food for sports: You are what you eat, but the human body is amazing at processing just about anything. Here are some free-form thoughts:

-Unless you are truly "Elite," and by this I mean actually in the top one percent or so of a sport and not just claiming to be elite because you can do a workout that makes you gasp then what you eat is relevant only in that you have enough decent calories in your diet, but not way too many or you'll be too fat. Some body fat is OK; if you've been 12 percent your entire life then it's probably not worth the effort to drop to six percent, nor is it a realistic goal that will actually improve your performance as much as an extra few hours of training a week.

-The classic story about sports nutrition comes from my wife, Kim, who actually was an elite athlete--we know this because she got a scholarship to go to University as a nordic ski racer, along with some Americans and a few Norwegians. The Norwegians would win or place high in the ski race, eat a couple of boxes of Oreos for post-race recovery, have a beer, eat another huge dinner, and sleep 10 hours a night. The Americans would place mid-pack, recover with sports drinks, eat a "Pritikin" (very little fat) dinner, sleep poorly, and not improve. The Americans would also obsess about vitamins, body fat, etc. The Norwegians won races, the Americans worried about their diets... Chris Sharma does not eat Paleo/Zone/WTF. In fact, I can't think of one truly elite athlete that follows any incredibly strict diet. I would bet they are conscious of what they eat because they know their bodies, but not religious about it. Yet there are legions of people out there trying to improve their amateur sports performance through bizzare diets. I would call them idiots, but it's really a form of gullibility brought on by wishful thinking.

-Eat today as you will for the rest of your life. Radical exclusion diets of any kind eventually fail, every single one of them. There are no exceptions unless your diet kills you before you "fail" at it, which in a way anorexia or malnutrition can...

-The "Paleo/Pritikin/Atkins/Zone/Hollywood/Sports/WTF" diet are all doomed to eventual "failure;" I'd guess that optimistically maybe 1 in 10,000 people following them today will be following them in 20 years. That's the history of every diet ever, so why exactly does anyone think the latest "Best Ever For Sports Performance!!!" plans are any different? Diets and Ponzi schemes all end the same: the people who bought in either quit or are taken for a ride. It doesn't matter if it's real estate, investments or diets, it's never truly "different this time."

-Once you realize that the entire "diet" industry, even the "sports" version of it is somewhere between a scam and a religion (many religions have dietary prescriptions come to think of it) then you're on your way to decent nutrition, sports or otherwise.

-Generally eat food that's pretty close to the form it grew or lived in. Eat less when you don't need much energy (sitting at a desk). Eat more calorie-dense foods when you need calories (ski touring, etc.). If you're burning calories like mad ski touring then sugar is great. If you're sitting at a desk then it's not in general.

-Too much of anything for too long is a bad idea. One slice of cheesecake just doesn't matter. One hundred pieces do.

-Read up on insulin, the glycemic index, and listen to your body for what different foods make you feel like. Eat more vegetables for a week. What does that do? Drink less alcohol, drink more alcohol, take some notes, listen. Without the roar of the diet industry in your ears you might be surprised by what you find.

-Exercise hard, regularly. Exercise easily for long periods of time, like walking, regularly. Do sports that require serious effort at least once a week. Set aside one hour every single day to go out and breath hard, outside if at all possible, but at least breathing doing something fun.

-Spend way less time thinking about food than you do enjoying it. If you're spending more time thinking about what to eat than you are eating it then you have an eating disorder. I've seen a lot of athletes spend more time worrying about what they eat than actually training.

-There are no magic bullets, no metabolic master blasters, etc. etc. Sorry, the guy who trains 30 hours a week and eats at McDonalds will destroy the guy who trains five hours a week and eats a perfect Paleo diet. If Paleo boy steps his training up to 30 hours a week then he may be able to compete with McDonald's boy, but even then I'd bet that the skills, quality training time and attitude would still kick Paleo Boy's ass...

-Accept some fluctuation in your body. When you're training really hard and consistently you'll be leaner, stronger and generally "fitter." When you're only training two hours or less a week because of work, family, whatever, your body will change. This is OK, it's normal, either change life or accept it.

Yeah! Now I gotta go train, it's been a lousy two months due to all kinds of great stuff. I traded some fitness for some life stuff for a while, now the stoke is high again, time to get after it!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Doing it right.

Here's a complicated route with difficult gear on bad rock, and the guys keep it together well enough to re-climb pitches multiple times etc. I'd call this "not sucking," and doing a solid job of it. You can see every stick in the ice is solid--Raph gives each one a good "jerk," and even on the video you can hear the hum of the tools sticking in. This is a dangerous climb, but it's dangerous because of the route, not the errors the climbers are making. And Raph and Jerome are up to the task obviously. The lack of ego is also nice; this route is about as hard as it gets in terms of trad-proteced routes on Rockies limestone, but there's not too much BS. The cat is of course weird. Nice work gentlemen.

More info here. Nice one Raph, Grant, Pierre, Wiktor, Jerome and whoever else Raph snagglled into heading up Storm Creek.

Friday, March 25, 2011

How not to suck

The discussion on "Ice climbing is NOT rock climbing" has generally been useful; I learned a few things for sure, and I appreciate Jeff (the videographer) and the guys in the video taking it all well. I've talked to Jeff and the climbers, they're good people. I write this blog pretty much like I talk to my friends over morning coffee, and went a little overboard in not editing my comments a little. My sincere apologies to the Fall team for that, and I look forward to getting out with them next year.

Now for some more harshness: I see the errors in Jeff's video pretty much every single time I go climbing at a popular area; that's why I used his video. Bad sticks, poor knowledge of ice, standing under falling ice, equipment errors, the list goes on and on of what not to do. But these guys aren't special; the average day in Haffner, G1 at Hyalite or any other popular ice crag sees every single one of the errors in the video except perhaps the fall. I'm not picking on these guys personally; but novice ice climbers everywhere. These guys aren't especially stupid, ignorant or wilfully dangerous; they're about average from what I see out there. Yeah, that's right, it's not personal with these guys, I think that broadly most novices I see pretty much suck, and are a menace to themselves. I'm also arrogant enough to think that writing about errors, discussing errors publicly with all of you and sharing those errors around among the ice climbing community will help reduce the quantity of bad decision making I see... So, here's how not to suck:

Protect yourself: Every time we go climbing stuff is going to fall down either from our group, from people above us, avalanches, etc. etc. An ice climbing area is an accident waiting to happen; protect yourself at all times. I do not have to think this way at most sport crags, although I try to keep it in my mind. Ice climbing is different.

Toprope. I keep writing this, but I do not think it's possible to have much understanding of ice until you have done at least 150 pitches of it. I didn't learn this way, and I shudder to think of how many times I came close to maiming myself. I only truly learned to climb ice when I ran hundreds of laps on TR while training for ice climbing competitions. Think about how many pitches of rock climbing it takes to have even basic technical skills, never mind the ability to judge gear in what is a really simple and stable environment compared to an ice climb. So, toprope, lots. I hear people whine that, "I can't toprope in my area, not enough ice." Please. Walk a couple of hours, I can't think of one major ice climbing area that doesn't have plenty of ice if the climbers will walk a bit and get away from the crowds. Use a roadcut, flow some ice off the side of your house, it doesn't take much vertical at all, just run laps, play, learn. A week of toproping in Ouray will do more than ten weekends of sketchy leading one or two pitches a day.

Climb with good people. A basic class is a good start, but most of us enter ice climbing from rock climbing and don't want to be novices. OK, If you can't find a friend to take you who is solid (and by that I mean over 150 pitches of ice) then hire one. The money spent for a good day of instruction is a hell of a lot cheaper than a broken leg, skull fracture or death. If you get a couple of people together or even a small group the cost for a competent guide is pretty low for a day really, we probably spend more than that in the bar or on coffee. Look for guides that have been ice climbing for more than five years, and climb more than 50 days a season. Less than that is not enough. If you're coming to Canmore email me and I'll help you out; I don't guide, but have a lot of friends who do a good job at it. I can and will do the same for a lot of areas around North America and parts of Europe. I do not get a referral fee or anything for that btw.

Watch: There is a tremendous amount of material on Youtube and elsewhere about how to and how not to ice climb....

Read: I wrote a book on how to ice climb. I'd change a few parts of it today, but overall it's still what I believe. But get all the ice climbing books, articles, web stuff, whatever, and read. There is always more to learn. I read a tremendous amount about ice climbing, it's an obsession as those of you who read this blog regularly may have noticed. I'm an ice nerd...

Obsess: No detail is too small to get right, or wrong. I guarantee that you will make errors while climbing, and only if you do enough things right will the errors not kill you. I know this because I've made a lot of errors over the last 30 years of active climbing. I'm going to post my top screwups next post...

Be Honest: Did you climb that route with every single stick a reasonable belay, no foot slips, good gear, and relaxed hands? If not then you weren't climbing it at a "proficient" level. Getting up an ice climb is not good enough if you want to keep doing the sport for many years. Do not judge yourself by getting to the anchors or not, but by honestly how solid every single move was.

Don't be this guy at 1:40: Horrible sticks again, guy pitches off... Later in the video there are shots of top-roping, and it looks like technique may be improving. Cool. Falling off not cool. But it does look like a super fun trip, and unless the video is edited out of sequence the sticks are better at the end than the beginning... Let's be nice in the comments section, thanks.

PS--and for anyone who thinks TRing is boring, check this stunt out. I guarantee they weren't bored, and likely learned a few things. But keep the rope tighter while toproping than this team is, a guy I knew managed to fracture his femur while on TR when his points caught... Tight rope good.