Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Shot by Rock

A few years ago in Spring, I pulled one fine Monday morning into the parking lot at work and saw a colleague getting out of his car.  This was one of those ass-kicking shiny new sports cars, all angles and chrome, the car version of a Jersey Shore character in a tight t-shirt.  My colleague-- let's call him Dee-- was pretty proud of his ride.  "It's only $750 a month," he said, "and I signed a five-year lease, so I can get out of it at the end."   He looked pretty tired and I asked him if he was OK.  He said he was tired from his weekend job-- bouncing at a club on Granville.

Later that week, I heard a colleague-- let's call her Pulley-- doing one of two things that property-owning Vancouverites do when they discuss real estate: patting themselves on the back.  "I'm SO glad we bought on the East Side," she said, "But out in know.  I LOVE our neighbours, where we are now."  That, dear readers, is code for "West Siders are rich snobs," which is in turn code for "I feel inadequate because I earn less money."

Ah yes, the rat race.

Some weeks later, Dee was on "stress leave" and I googled his car, which, it turned out, cost about $60,000 with $7000 down for the lease.  The guy made $3500 a month, after tax say $2800, and his car payments were $750.  Leave him $2100 to live.  His house was worth around $350,000 so let's add in $1200 for mortgage and whatnot.  Leaves him $900/month for food, gas and whatnot.  No wonder he was moonlighting!  Now, the house made sense...but the car?  Really?  $10,000 a year for a showpiece? 

I didn't get it until a few months later, when I was playing a session out in Langley.  This, as my snobbish colleagues say, is Redneckville.  The pub parking lot was full of drug dealer cars-- Asian things with fins, spoilers and small galaxies of chrome-- and of suburban rides, like big SUVs.  My own shitbox looked like a rusty toy.  This was where Dee wonder the guy felt like he had to throw down for the appearance of $60,000 worth of car.

It was a warm September evening and as I carried my mandolin past groups of weight-room-jacked twenty somethings in tight t-shirts discussing how "parts for that  thing will kill you," I felt much the same as I did eating lunch with colleagues:  totally out of place.  But not uncomfortably so.  It didn't really matter to me that my car is a piece of crap-- my mandolin is worth three times what the car is-- and that I live in a one-bedroom apartment. 

It didn't matter, cos I'd been immunised by mountains.  My peer group includes The Filth, whose aims in life include writing a novel, raising his kid, and climbing V10.  Then there is The Surveyor, who pretty much lives for his kid and his camera...he's an abstract photographer.  Then there's Tony McLane and Hannah Preston, who live to climb, and climb to live (both are new guides).  The Brewer has two kids, has been married 18 years, and still sleeps with his wife on a futon on the floor.

One thing none of these people care about is appearances.  They drive crappy cars.  They cook, bake and brew.  They read.  They volunteer.  They paint, make art, or play music.  They take care of kids. They do work they like, or they don't work.  They CLIMB.  A good day for them is being so fucking tired at 8 PM that they can't move a muscle but still have ten pitches left to climb. 

I guess it helps that none of us are involved in the corporate world, where, as a friend put it, a woman needs to spend at least $2000/year on clothing alone to keep up appearances (a corporate woman's suit can be worn for 15 months, apparently), and where the reward for work is money and a title.  It also helps that, for most of us, activities and people matter far more than stuff.  While I do feel somewhat self-conscious when I go to a yuppie cunt restaurant in Vancouver, it doesn't really matter: what is a new outfit compared to runout 5.whatever?

The Fall day I first climbed the Grand Wall clean, my friend Corinne and I stopped for shawarmas in Vancouver, and we had to cross party-zone Granville St.  On finishing eating, walking back to the car, we were accosted by a group of Jersey Shore types:  tight shirts, gelled hir, bla bla.  It took me a minute, buzzed from food and Wall, to realise that these guys-- for no apparent reason-- wanted to fight.  One of them swore at me.  I dunno what he said.  I DO remember saying something like the following: "About two hours ago I had a 3 mm thick piece of metal between me and a 300 meter groundfall.  So I'm not really going to worry about you."  I remember smiling at him. It was like, despite all he booze and testosterone in his system, he was 200 yards away.  It was fine.

Once I was coming back from lunch with my ex-girlfriend, and she stopped at a fancy furniture store window.  Man, was their stuff ever cool.  I made myself look away, and did the same thing two stores down at the shoe store.  You look at this stuff, you see it on TV, you think about it, you imagine your living room or closet filled with it, and suddenly you're making career and vacation choices around it, and you feel bad if you don't have it.

Fuck it.  The mountains gave me a reality shot, and Tyler Durden was right:  the things you own end up owning you.  "We buy crap we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't care about." Or, as Ron Kuk put it, "climbing showed me that there are two worlds: one where moneynis sacred, and another where EVERYTHING is sacred."

My colleague Dee went on to develop a coke habit.  He went to work in the Alberta oilfields, where he had some kind of epiphany at 3 a.m., wrestling a couple of hundred kilos of twisting pipe into a hole, came back, ditched the fancy car, and downsized the house.  Drives a beater, chills with his woman and kid on weekends, and actually enjoys time off.  Pulley is happy as a clam with her East Side house.  After all, since Vancouver real estate went up nine billion percent, she can now consider herself a de facto zillionaire, which has gotta be worth something, even though it's, sigh, not Dunbar.

Some notes on food

What to eat?  I am always interested in what people eat and bring climbing.  So here in no specific order are some food observations for those doing long days in the mountains.

First, diet should basically focus on three main most important aspects: adequate calories for your day, not too much sugar or simple carbs (otherwise you get carb crashes aka bonking), and good post-hoc recovery food which should have protein, good fats and complex carbs.  Oh and water.

Second, diet, in terms of training, is not that important. As Will Gadd puts it, a guy eating McDonald's and training 30 hours a week is going to kick the ass of a guy who trains 5 hours a week and eats strict organic Paleo or whatever.  The world's best runners-- Kenyans-- eat basically everything, and they drink gallons of sugary tea, and that long-distance nut-job runner Dean Karnazes (sp?) orders pizza and burgers during his 200 km epics.

  • Vegetarians-- awesome-- but big prob is, you guys need low-glycemic-index food (food that turns to blood sugar SLOWLY) and outside of nuts and cheese there is very little such in the vegetarian world.  The shit that I see vegetarians bring on big days-- bars-- generally fry them; man cannot live on carbs alone.
  • The energy you have today is what you ate yesterday.  Stuff yourself at dinner.
  • I think bars and gels are a massive rip-off.  In terms of cents per calorie they are crappy (best deal is still IMHO Sesame Snaps). 
  • The single best food I have ever taken into the alpine are Landjäger-style pork sausage.  Easy to stick in pocket, no wrapping, plus they have masses of fat, which is a slow-burner and loaded with calories.
  • In terms of diet, the only two I have ever seen that had results worth focusing on (ie they give you long-term stable energy, are healthy, and are do-able) are The Zone and ketogenic.  The Zone is great but a pain in the ass because you have to balance out carbs fat protein etc into "blocks." Ketogenic diets-- where about 85% of calories come from fat-- are the holy grail of good eating for climbers because getting your energy from ketone bodies instead of glucose means much more, and much more stable, energy.  
My brother, despite a stress-free and happy life, some years ago developed insomnia, and after a ton of tests pills and other whatnot, long story short, he discovered he basically couldn't tolerate simple carbs.  This led him to the ketogenic diet, which stabilised his sleep immediately but which had two unanticipated side effects: (a) he lost a bunch of weight and (b) his energy level and consistency of energy level went through the roof.  His wife and kid went "on keto," and then my sister, but the most surprising thing was my nephew.  He had always managed to easily gain and keep weight on, to the point where at 5'10" he weighed around 250.  When I saw him at Christmas I didn't recognise him: he was down to 170, this despite being an Engineering (read: no life) student. Secret? Keto.

I personally don't need keto-- I'm skinny as a rail and I have no sleep etc issues-- but if you are the kind of person who gains weight easily, check it out.  The best resource I have found (explaining the science, and adding a few recipes, plus some fascinating anthropology), is This book.  Note that keto is not the Atkins diet.

  • Water.  Without it, nothing else works.  Your heart slows, your brain slows, your muscle seize, you cramp...Bring more, and either drink and then piss more, or dump it.  Alpinists set their watches to force themselves to drink every 15 minutes.  A good guide is, if you are operating at 70% of max heart rate at sea level at 18 degrees Celsius, you need one litre of water per hour (cycling data).  If your piss is not clear, you are dehydrated.  Those "hydration bladder" thingies are great BUT I have never yet seen one that didn't explode so I'd bring 2 extra bottles and periodically refill the bladder.  If the bladder blows you still have water.
  • The worst food is an all-day supply of bars. You WILL bonk at some point.
  • Back in the day alpinists liked sausages, and also shots of olive oil (and dried red peppers): yummy, fatty, dense in calories...
  • For recovery, the most important things are water, complex carbs and PROTEIN if the day has been hard on muscles.
  • If you are vegan, good luck in the mountains.
  • There is a lot to be said for introspection re: diet.  Add or cut something out for a week, and see how it feels.
  • If whatever you do re: food in mountains or in normal life makes you miserable, hungry, craving-filled, etc, it's a bad idea in short term and unsustainable in long term.
  • Any "diet"-- system of eating for any specific purpose-- should focus ONLY on your comfort and performance.  If you are dieting for weight loss, you are going to have problems long-term.  Why do we do-- and stick with-- things in the long term? Because they make us feel good.  And we feel good when we can DO stuff.  If you are out climbing, hking, walking, playing tennis, whatever, and it's making you sweat, and it's fun, and you can do it with a buddy, you'll want to go back to it.  Your "diet" should be designed to enable you to do that fun stuff.  All other reasons-- unless you have a medical condition-- are bogus.
  • One should not IMHO skimp on the fun stuff. Peter Croft's coffee consumption is LEGENDARY, as is his ability to scarf pie after epic trad days.  Will Gadd likes Scotch post-send. I know a few sponsored climber types who love an occasional cigarette. Most people would basically pre-sell their future or current children for good chocolate.   People in keto will avoid sugary stuff (and after awhile won't want any anyway), but generally I would say, eat it! 

A Cap on Crap

A few weeks ago the Hink and I climbed the direct North Ridge of Stuart.  Now, the Hink and I disagree about everything-- Israeli foreign policy, God, evolution etc-- but we can crank big routes together so off to this Fifty Cassic it was.

Hink brought twenty pages of maps and topos, a cell-phone that linked to GPS and google maps so you could watch where you were in real time even when out of cell range (don't ask me how he did it), an altimeter, a watch and a Thingy that could send both distress calls and sexts to the person of your choice via satelite.

Hink kept meticulous track of time: when we left the car, when we got to ____, when we started ____, how hig we were when ____ etc etc.

The route-- about 3,000 feet, with 5 pitches of 5.7, 5.8, 5.9, 5.9, 5.9 and a load of around 5.3-- went down according to Hink in 6 hours.  The return to car was no problem.

It would turn out that we actually needed two things on route: a simple coutour map of the area to let us get to the base of the route, and a photo taken from the descent that showed the descent couloir.  Unnecessary was everything else.  It turned out to be like the difference between the Stupidtopo guide to Mt Russel's Fishhook Arête in the Sierras, and Croft's. The Stupidtopo has an entire page of details, descriptions, beta, bla bla.  Croft's has "the arête is climbed from its base."

I was yesterday hiking with my 73-year-old Mom in the Kananaskis and there were all these young fuckers with their toys.  Cameras, phones, GPSs, walking sticks, pack covers, MP3 players (why?--
mountain silence is music), printouts of trail maps, etc.  It seemed like most of them were making
sure that reality conformed to its electronic, reported, printed etc counterparts, than vice versa.  The Filth and I once in Vegas got four pitches up something which had a chimney with 50 foot runouts, no bolts, and no bolted anchors.  We managed to convince ourselves through focus on the topo that we were, in fact, on a bolted face route before realising, no, we're idiots, we are not on route.

And here's the lesson: we interact with what we bring.  If you have a map, you'll stare at it.  If you have a phone, you'll answer it.  If you have a GPS (God help you) your waypoints will be much more interesting than the route or the wildflowers. If you have a watch, you'll be noting the time.   If you have a Thingy, you'll be sexting your sweetie or spraying to your buddiesninstead of watching the sunset.

I'm a total pussy and I havn't soloed anything really hard, but I must say that the most memorable climbing has always been freesolos.  Not because of fear (if it's scary, you shouldn't be soloing it), but because all distractions disappear.  There is nothing except you and the rock.  So the climb fills your head.  I can tell you every move on the Snowpatch route despite having done it only once, three years ago, whilst with sport projects I need to do them like 7 times to remember sequences.  Why is surfing the world's second-coolest activity? Because there is nothing between you and the ocean's power.  It is experience, reduced to its essence.

I thought about this often. In the Creek, you meet these Colorado yuppie cunts who whine about their jobs but drive $50,000 trucks. Hello, who the fuck needs $50,000 worth of truck?  Chains and snow tires are WAY cheaper than 4x4 and an immense cargo box is a mere $1,000, much cheaper than than gas etc involved in driving a rig.  $15,000 worth of used Subaru could translate into months of stress-free dirtbagging.

I have never driven anything other than shitboxes-- my most recent, a Yaris, is only 7 years old, the newest car I have ever owned-- and while the inevitable social pressures exert themselves on me (it feels way cooler to drive a big-assed truck or fancy Benz or whatever my Dad currently has, because, let's face it, we are inherently status-sensitive and cars are the second-biggest status marker)-- I take the long view: bad cars = good times.  And so it is with anything else techy.  Objects = distraction.  Get rid of it.  A GPS is not necessary unless you are on an Alaska glacier at night in a snowstorm.  Who needs a watch?  Who cares whether you've walked 3 or 3 1/2 hours?  The most useful item on a watch is an alarm clock.  Altimeters-- if you aren't in the Himalaya, not necessary.  Satellite phone or texting Thingy? Not on a 50 Classics climb.  Google Earth maps loaded onto a GPS-linked phone? How about we just look around us instead?  Plus, as soon as you have your backups, your guard goes down.  I can't imagine cell phone users with reception beng more cautious in the backcountry than those without...

Anyway, Hink and I basically ended up looking only at a map.  The objects stayed stashed in pack.  To me this was the lesson: less is more.  What you bring defines and limits the experience.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Da muddafuggin' Beckey-Chouinard

You weigh each item between mosquito swats, eyeing the rapidly-filling pack.  Extra longjohns? Nah. More coffee? Fuck yeah!  It's three hours and 3,000 vertical feet to the Applebee campsite in the Bugaboos and every gram counts....sort of.

McBennett and I are sweating balls at 9:00 AM and storms are far from our minds.  This trip-- hastily improvised around the end of what looks like the best-ever Bugs weather window-- is going to be a headcleaner.  Both of us are looking down the barrel at life changes.  In my case, a recent breakup which, if I detailed it, no-one would believe, kids moving on, being on strike, the busiest year of all time professionally, watching my Dad suffer and then struggle with recovering from a stroke.

Especially tough has been watching Dad deal with the stroke.  At age 81 this kind of thing is expected, but you don't ever really get OK with it.  Watching a guy who once shredded black diamond ski runs, who arrived n Canada with $20 and no English and built a multi-million dollar business, and who is strong as an ox, work at walking to the bathroom with two canes is fucking hard.  Even worse was seeing the rest of the stroke patients at the Fanning Center in Calgary:  people who had one body-side not working, who drooled,  who flapped their hands helplessly, who struggled in the dry July sunlight to roll medicinal joints outside.  My Mom, ten years younger and in amazing shape, one day said to me "if I ever end up like that, pull the plug."

McBennett is a guy I have tried hard (for me) trad climbing with, and he and I have the climber's sine qua non: total confidence in each other.  The worries, when they come, will be outside the circle of us two.  While one or both of us might not be able to pull a move, do an approach or whatever, together, things will hang together.  McBennett is 15 years my younger and three times the climber and I'm grateful for his enthusiasm and mad rock skillz.

So of course we shit-talk each other before strapping on death-sized loads and beginning the hump.  I am amazed at McBennet's fresh-veggie menu and his immense set of clothing options, which include two pairs of longjohns.  My newly smoking-free lungs power me up the approach and I arrive at Applebee sweating but not blasted.  And there are like 200 people there.  Literally every flat spot has a tent on it.

The first person I run into is Will  guzzling both water and A Prayer For Owen Meany in
the mid-day sun.  He and Matt are working on some sick insane 14+ trad line but they are doing it sportclimber style: three burns a day starting at 1 pm.  We catalogue who brought in which books (me a Murakami novel; Will a story collection; Matt has audiobooks; Mcbennett a book about astrology) and this is good; if (no-- when; this is the Bugs) the weather shits on us, we have entertainment options other than meditation and route discussion.  I am also psyched that Will is there because this guy always has a giant-sized stash of Ibuprofen with him and he is a generous sort.  McBennett arrives a bit later, gassed from the approach-- the guy has been working endless 12-hour shifts-- so we decide to work on our tans and reading.

Bugs weather speculation, built of at-best sketchy data-- weather reports checked at km18 end-of-cell range, fragments heard on the radio, or  imported by the ranger every morning-- begins.  Our objective is the Beckey-Chouinard (no bivvying-- I have it in my head that this would be poor style. Not that I can define good style exactly) and we need a lack of rain.  Tomorrow looks like 30% chance of  showers, thereafter shittier, so over a dinner of coconut-milk veggie and quinoa curry, the decision is made to go for it.

Sleep does not come easily.  I piss again and again the tea I foolishly drank at 8 pm.  A midnight, atop Bugaboo Spire, headlamps pick their way down the Gendarme. Oh, you poor motherfuckers.  My stomach is doing backflips around coconut curry, and horrendous gas is coming out of both of us.  At this rate I'll be able to plug my anus into the stove to brew coffee.  When the alarm goes at 3 AM I can't tell if I've been asleep.  After coffee and food McBennett says "just watch me, I feel weird," and of course I promptly ignore this warning.  Intuition, experience and reason all go out the window as I am so fucking stoked to climb this route.

We avoid the Snowpatch-Bugaboo col, which looks like a giant took a shit on it, massive rockstains all down its front, rockfall having chopped a couple of climbers' ropes mid-rap (they survived) and sneak around the base of Snowpatch.  As we leave camp, we see a pair of lights attempting the Snowpatch col.  Madness.  It's been shitting rocks all night.  Atop the Vowell Glacier, in now blowing rain and mist, stumble six apparitions.  It's the Bugaboo crew, now in their 30th hour of movement, having spent all night descending the Kain route.  We feed them granola bars and sandwiches, knowing suddenly that, holy crap, climbing the Beckey feeling like this, in this weather, is a REALLY DUMB IDEA and wondering, how the fuck did we ignore all the signs?

When I finally wake up again in the tent, it is 10 AM and the smell of coffee makes the sun impossible to ignore.  It is a magnificent day and Will and Matt are rolling out of bed, the campground is nearly deserted, and somebody is smoking weed, man.  The Weed Man turns out to be a Yankee who, on crossing into Canada and not having any weed, man, decided to google "where can I buy weed in Osoyoos?"  This actually found a man, a place and a time, and eventually a half which American Weed Man was sharing.

Coffee can't just sit in the bag on a sunny day so after four blastersfull and some serious leg vibrations McBennett and I go up to do McTech which I have wanted to try like 30 times but there are always 18 parties on it.  With a 70 meter rope we do it in 2.5 pitches and I get why it's always crowded-- amazing perfect granite cracks that make me forget the disappointment of the non-Beckey.

At camp the weather speculation begins again-- 30% Thurs, 70% Fri, let's do it, let's not, one chance, what if it rains on top, etc-- so we decide, YES.  This dinner features no coconut so both of us actually sleep and at 3 AM we are up and at it.  I have a bivvy sack so elect not to bring my micro-downie.

We leave camp at 4:30, trudge up to where we'd met the Apparitions, then head up the SW side of Pigeon and descend into East Creek.  At 9:00 I am plugging cams into perfect granite and we are off.  We have a double set and a 4, and are simulclimbing on blocks.  At Pitch 11 we catch up with Tom and Brian from Philadelphia.  McBennett is still gassed from work and hands the last couple of leads over to me.  Clouds are rolling in and wind is up, and McBennett mutters about his heart feeling weird.  Shit.

The Beckey is not hard, but it is one hell of a workout.  Every pitch is sixty meters.  You are guaranteed a crux far enough up from your belayer that a fall would be ugly (the exception being the first 10a pitch, which McBennet leads in fine style).  And if you're dumb enough to do the thing in a day, you've already been walking for 4 hours when the first of about 2,500 feet of climbing starts.

The route's real pleasure, other than its amazing rock, is its situation.  You are way up there, with wild remote valleys, no roads, masses of glaciated peaks, etc, all behind you, and the astonishing vertical North Howser off to your left.  You feel like you're OUT THERE.

At the top of the 14th pitch the weather finally shits the bed completely.  Howling wind and rain smack us and we strip and add longjohns and all other clothing options-- which in my case do not include a downie-- to shaking bodies.  Tom and Brian haul our rope and fix it so we get a free jug up the last icy pitch and then it's routefinding 101: a rap, then fifth-class ledges to the summit.

I've just climbed the most famous alpine rock route in North America and I don't have thirty seconds to stop and look around.  The wind is so strong we can't hear each other from ten feet away, we can't tell one direction from another because it's so foggy, and we therefore have no idea where the fuck we get off this thing.

On top of this, it's freezing, and like an idiot I havn't brought gloves.  It was at this point that McBennett, who's been feeling like crap for most of the day, revives.  I am fried-- I've just led fourteen pitches, found the 5th class approach to the summit, and am freezing-- but McBennett tunes right in.  "We have to stack and carry ropes on rap," he shouts over the wind, "and let's simulrap with Tom and Brian."  Good ideas all. We find the raps and got moving.  Here's us starting the descent.

My biggest worry after finding the raps is hypothermia.  Tom and I simply don't have enough clothes.  I have a bivvy sack but...small consolation if you end up with stuck ropes on rappel on a footledge 200 meters off the deck.  Rapping with Tom and Brian slows us considerably, but is safer, I think: if we have rope issues, we could use one of their two 60s.

Here is us setting off on the third or so rappel.

 Eventually we get to the glacier and then it is a mad sprint toward the Snowpatch rappels that bypass the glacier.  We find them, and manage the six raps with only one stuck rope, then stumble for hours through hallcinatory boulders and snowpatches and into Applebee at 1:30 AM.

The next day every muscle in my body felt like it had been chewed on by sharks.  I drank litre after litre of water but could not shake the cottony feeling from my mouth.  Six pots of coffee couldn't wake me.

Will, and Matt-- who had what looked like a partial pinkie amputation-- also spent the day lazing around and we got to spend a bit of time chatting.  There's a few things that impress me about these guys.  First, they climb like fiends and drive shitty cars.  I can guarantee you that if you meet a guy with an awesome 4x4 truck he will talk much much harder than he climbs.  Will has an awesome purple-red minivan that looks like a giant stealth suburban grape.  It's an old question: what is worth investing in?  In my experience, bad cars = good times.  I did the math on my last shitbox, a Hyundai Accident, and it came out to-- all in-- something like $3,000/year.  Had I opted for anything fancier, or with 4wd, or newer, or whatever, the bill would have been $2,000 a year higher.  But man, a crappy car paid for trips to Bolivia and Colombia and loads of climbing.  I look like a joke driving it.  It's especially funny at work where all my colleagues have nice respectable vehicles, SUVs or trucks if they can (suburban status and all).  But I can tell you, when I die, I won't give a fuck about what car I had-- or even remember what I drove-- but I'll be stoked that I had enough time and $$ to climb.  I always remember the dude from Colorado I met in the Creek who whined about the dreadful hours his job demanded.  His truck must have cost $70,000.  Holy shit, dude, ditch the awful job and the small-penis compensator and get a life!  Owning a piece of crap car would buy you a year of climbing.

Then there's the devotion.  These guys will have spent eighty days by summer's end working four pitches.  Two bolted at 13+ and two on gear at mid-14 and they expect another summer needed to send.  Holy crap, the monks had nothing on these guys.  I also like that they both read and are far more interested in talking about things they've read or watched or done outside of climbing than they are in yapping about climbing.  (This is a quality I've noticed in a few of the other elite climber types I've met.  Croft HATES climber talk; Long likes any kind of story and is pretty philosophical; Will Gadd is a rabid reader of everything (if the guy wasn't a climber he'd be a great lawyer or lit professor) bla bla).  Actually a good solid personality quirk of any thoughtful human:  can you talk about something other than your job?

On Saturday it was pissing rain so we packed up and ambled down the trail.  Well we only did one cragging day and one alpine route but then I thought about luck.  First, McBennett AGAIN proved himself.  How awesome is it to know your partner's got your back?  Second, I was walking.  WALKING.  My Dad can't do that.  Neither can a load of people.  Third, I was climbing.  CLIMBING!  What do poor people in most of the world do when they have a day off?  Fuck all, that's what, cos that's what one can afford.  Fourth, I felt that fine, clear sense of balance you sometimes get.  On the one hand we could have died if getting off Howser had gone wrong.  On the other, my Dad for whatever reason was still alive.  We choose near death;  others get thrown into it.  Made me feel arrogant and grateful.

At the bottom Will and Matt were off in Will's stealth raspberry van to the Big Horn Motel in Radium for four beers each, a shower and some Interwebz time.  How awesome is that?  Think about this.  These guys are among six or so people in the climbing world who can climb 14+ trad.  This makes them the climbing  equivalent of Lebron James or Michael Jordan.  James and Jordan pull(ed) in like $40,000,000 a year and have multiple cars, yachts, yadda yadda.  You can bet that Lebron doesn't stay in a motel after a big game.  I watched an interview with Alex Honnold where at the end they showed the white van he lives in.  The interviewer said "you live in this?" as if the van was a death sentence and Honnold smiled and said "yeah dude it's AWESOME got a bed and everything!" and he beamed as he showed the interviewer his pull-out gear drawers.  If objects and status are your goals, climbing s an idiotic life choice.  If living LIFE is your goal, climb, or have kids, or build/make something new.  Honnold, who Will Stanhope describes as "the best in the world," lives like a '70s hippie minus the drugs.  

Best lesson of all from mountains, one we learn over and over:  I'm alive, thank God, and there is way more to life than owning crap.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I Hate The Environment.

The other day a colleague asked me whether I would be climbing a lot this summer.  I said yes.

He then said "you're really into the environment, aren't you, Butch?"  This was a reference to both climbing and to one of my work projects, which involved building a community garden.

"Fuck no," I said, "I hate the environment."

The lunch crowd fell silent.  No; I had not mis-spoken.  I do, in fact, hate the environment.  I want it destroyed, used up, chewed-over and spit out.  I want it dead.  I want endangered species gone, plentiful species endangered, topsoil trashed, and a planet so fucking hot from human CO2 emissions that I can bathe in the Arctic ocean in January wearing only my thong and some SPF400 waterproof sunblock.

I guess I oughtta explain what I mean.

What does love mean?  Caring for and sustaining something which we recognise has worth-- as much worth as we ourselves--in and of itself.  Your wife, your dog, your kids, your friends: yes, you may want sex, affection, old-age security or climbing partnerships from them, but fundamentally you recognise something inherently valuable and dignified in them, and you support and care for them because of that.  They might not love you back, or they might love you more or less than you love them, but still.

And hate?  Well, a short definition might be "a selfish disregard".  In other words, if I hate something, I use it for my own ends and I don't care about its needs.  This could involve projecting fear and self-loathing onto people of a different colour, language, origin etc, from me, and me then calling them names, or beating on them with a baseball bat.  It might mean sixteen-year-old me making friends with the dorky kid in computer class just so he would do our dreaded programming project and I could get the necessary B.  It could involve me ignoring the homeless guy outside the IGA on my way to the pub, with my $3,000 mandolin and $20 to spend on beer.

So, do I love the environment?  No.  I fucking hate it. 

What I LOVE is this.  I love my shiny new iPhone.  I love my girlfriend and our kids.  I love climbing and the wilderness, especially when it doesn't have too many people, or too much garbage, in it.

One of my colleagues then asked me about the outdoors.  "If it serves me," I said, "I love it.  Other than that, fuck it."

If I loved the environment, rather than hating it, this is what I would do.

I would first of all stop working.  Work earns us money; money has value only insofar as it allows us to use or trade stuff, all of which has its origin in the natural world.  Money is made of oil, coal, natural gas, steel and other mined goods, of harvested fish, of grasslands and woods turned petroleum-product-fertiliser-and-pesticide-powered monocultures.  Money is made of resource extraction.  And if you don't earn money directly from the environment, such as by being a teacher, a politician, a lawyer, a "knowledge worker", or what have you, you're getting a cut of what the "extractors" are making.  As scientists will tell you, in the majority of the countries with economies in transition [to higher GDPs] the growth of GDP per capita associates with growth in emission per capita.  Some more than others, but the bottom line is clear:  you wanna be rich, you do it by extracting more stuff from the environment, and then you spew more crap-- like CO2 and garbage-- back into the environment.

If you want to be nice to the environment, you have to use less stuff, and then throw less garbage into it.  That functionally means you don't own a car.  You eat little meat.  You work mostly at making food that you grow yourself.  You live in a small house, with loads of people, you don't travel (except by foot, or horse if you're rich), and you own few objects, all of which last a long time and are then recycled.  You make food, medicine, music, clothing and shelter.  The science is crystal clear:  an ecologically sane life = less stuff and fewer activities.  

But that socially sucks.  I would have to live in a shack, eat simply, not travel, ditch my shiny new iPhone, etc.  Fuck THAT-- let the Third Worlders live like that.  I want what's MINE.

Now, you may well say "ah yes, let's focus on the really important things in life, like learning, and community. Let's value those over owning stuff.  Let's direct our energy (literally) into "good things" instead of McMansions, cars and vacations in Hawaii.  Well, sadly, as Jame H. Brown et al note, "it has not been possible to increase socially desirable goods and services substantially without concomitantly increasing the consumption of energy and other natural resources and without increasing environmental impacts that now include climate change, pollution, altered biogeochemical cycles, and reduced biodiversity."  In other words, even the "good stuff"-- like music lessons for the kids, wheelchairs for the elderly and education for all-- involves trashing the world.

If I loved the environment, I would stop climbing.  I used $200 worth of gas to go to the Sierra and back last summer.  If everybody in the world had equal access to oil products, we would have one litre per person per day, for everything-- heating, driving, making nylon ropes and plaastic TVs, etc.  I have $2000 worth of climbing gear, mostly oil products an aluminum...pure garbage and pollution.

I would stop traveling and flying in airplanes.  It takes a hundred or so litres of jet fuel to get me to Indian Creek and back.  Worth about the yearly per-capita GDP of Mali.

I would stop eating meat.  The simplest of Google searches will show you that eating any meat other than the occasional backyard chicken, who's grown fat by eating scraps and grubs, is the single most destructive thing a person can do.  It takes ten calories of edible plants to produce one calorie of meat.

I would stop driving.  Even my shitbox costs $4000/year to run.  Enough $$ to support four Guatemalans.  And no, I would not drive a Prius or other hybrid.  After all, a Prius gets 90% of the gas mileage as a shitbox like my Hyndai Accent...but costs twice as much.  The $15,000 more that you pay for the Prius...that's money, and money is energy, and natural resources.  (I do like hybrids, though, because if I stop thinking, I can feel like I'm better than rednecks and other motorists with big vehicles.   I can Show That I Care)

If I really loved the environment, I'd be a hunter-gatherer, as agriculture is probably even more environmentally destructive than mining and the use of fossil fuels.

Anyway, the upshot of it all is that I want it all.  I want an easy job, security, lots of fun recreation and few hassles.  I want shiny new objects regularly.  I want clean national aprks and crags.  All I want is what people around me have.  Is it unreasonable to want exactly what others have?  I didn't think so.

So, yeah.  Fuck the environment, and fuck the five billion people on the planet who live on one-twentieth of what I do, in the midst of filth and deprivation.  Gimme my stuff, my climbing and my life!

Friday, May 25, 2012

The ugly side

At the crack of noon, under a cloudless sky, The Brewer and I roped up for Beulah's and Heliotrope, at the Solar Slab in Red Rocks. I was sweating from the approach and stuffed my shell into my pack on top of our post-climb PBRs.

"Butch," said The Brewer, "I'm bringing my shell."

I rumaged around memories of epics and concluded that The Brewer was right and stuuffed the shell into a stuff sack, clipped it to my harness, and set off.

I sweated enough to strip down to my blinding white skin, and on arriving on the Solar Slab terrace, we looked up and saw five people at the bottom of Heliotrope, which shares a first belay with Solar Slab and Sunflower.

At the belay were two parties. One was three women-- one experienced and two not. These had started their day at 6:00 AM at the gate, and had taken six hours to climb the three pitches of Johnny Vegas. The other two were a couple from Oregon. The girl wore a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, and her boyfriend shorts and a t-shirt, as well as a surprsingly large pack. They were on their first multi-pitch.

The three women set off up Solar Slab and I chatted with the girl as she followed up Heliotrope and I led behind her. They were on their first-ever multi-pitch. At this point the wind had picked up considerably, and we enjoyed perfect temps with the sun.

As I arrived at the bottom of the third pitch of Heliotrope, the guy was leading up onto the very runout fourth pitch, and, in somewhat higher wind, his girlfriend was shivering. I lent her my shell and brought The Brewer up. The girl thanked me for the shell and said she had left hers at the base. When I asked what we in her boyfriend's pack, she said he was carrying another rope, and their lunches.

Meanwhile, way below us, the party of three was still on the first pitch of Solar Slab proper. Their leader was a snail, as were the seconds, who were not simul-seconding, even though they had two ropes.

The Oregonian leader got scared and bailed onto the neighbouring route, Sunflower, and The Brewer and I climbed up. At the top of Heliotrope, the wind was ripping, the sun was gone, and clouds were moving in. We ran into two girls, Heather and Angela, and agreed to share ropes and simulrap down the Solar Slab raps. Heather had a shell, but Angela didn't, and so The Brewer gave her his. He had two wool layers and a fleece on.

As Heather and I rapped down, we looked across and saw the Oregonians. I asked them if they were bailing, and they said "nah, we're gonna finish."

I said "It's cold, you don't have a lot of clothes, and it might rain. You should bail." They wanted to comtinue.

A few raps later and we reached the belay where we had first met the Oregonians and the three women. The three women were bailing in what was now near darkness, very high-- like sideways ropes high-- wind, and very cold temps. It took them fucking forever to set up their rap, and then they refused to simul-rap. Above us, The Brewer was yelling rap beta to the Oregonians, who lacked not only clothes but headlamps.

"Look," I said to the three women, "there are seven people here. You're going to hold all of us up in bad weather. If you are worried about simulrapping, the first person can fireman the rest."

"Um, we're not comfortable with that," said the experienced woman.

The Brewer and Angela arrived, and The Brewer explained that the Oregonians had now found the rap route. They did have a light, it turned out-- one had a micro pen-light. At this point I stopped worrying about the Oregonians. All they had to do was rap straight down and they would get back to their packs. Iw as a bit worried about The Brewer. He's tough as nails, and smart, but there's only so much you can do while the wind rips away at you.

By the time we rapped onto the Solar Slab terrace, it was dark, and the wind was howling. The three slugs managed to stay ahead of us on the next rappel, but on the rappel after that, they went the wrong way, and their whole system turned into a clusterfuck. The first woman rapped way past the anchor, into the wrong part of the gully, and decided to jug up.

"Fuck it," I said, "we're passing," and installed a sling and biener on a tree to bypass the slugs. Heather and I set off, passing the slug woman and her prussiks. If you have ever climbed the Solar Slab gully, you will know how ridiculous this is-- it's third class, and here was this woman, jugging!

As Heather and I started the final rap, a few drops of rain and hail fell. By the time we reached the ground, thirty seconds later, it was pouring and sleeting. And by the time we retrieved our packs and brought them to the ropes-- maybe two minutes-- there was a waterfall blasting down the gully, out of which emerged a soaked Brewer and Angela. I could nto believe my eyes. The waterfall was literally so powerful that no normal human being could have moved up it, even ont he third-class rock under it.

As we packed, we heard yelling, and looked up. The three slugs were doing their slow thing in the guly, but the Oregonians were atop the Solar Slab buttress, their tiny lamp a-flicker. Through the howling sideways wind and sleet, we heard "HEEEELLLLLLP!"


There comes a time for all of us when the decision we are about to make will have life-and-death consequences. We had all of our clothes on, and were freezing. Above us were two climbers minus proper lights and clothes, in what was now a full-on snowstorm.

There was no way to climb back up to help them. Sandstone is mush in water; the gully had a waterfall blasting down it; we were frozen and out of food. So we called 911.

The S.A.R. guy they put us onto said that there was literally nothing to be done. He told us not to attempt a rescue. He also told us that there was nothing he could do until morning: sleet, darkness and very high winds would prevent both climbers and helicopters from doing anything. He also advised us to make sure we were not putting ourselves in danger.

We went to Vegas for fast food and what followed was the most miserable night of my life. There were two dead people out there. Cotton clothes, no light, and trouble finding the bottom half of the rap route = death. I tossed and turned.

The next morning, as we silently waited for coffee to boil, a climber walked into our site and told us that S.A.R. had flown out at first light and had found the Oregonians, who had rapped Johnny Vegas, having had to cut various stuck ropes, and who had made it to the ground, but were too hypothermic to move. When S.A.R. got to them at 6:00 AM, the girl's body temp was 83 degrees. Both were in critical condition in the hospital.

An hour later we saw a Ranger, who said "your 911 call saved their lives."

* * * *

The question as to what we did right and wrong still bugs me. Should we have done anything differently? I have a few ideas.

a) It should-- but unfortunately doesn't-- go without saying that if you are on a multi-pitch, you should, always, have a rain-shell, a hat, and a headlamp, which can hang, light and hassle-free, from your harness. Angela lacked hers, as did the Oregonians, and I nearly left mine behind. There is no way that having this stuff is gonna slow you down, or compromise your experience, so just fucking bring it.

b) The three women slugs made poor decisions. If you are climbing in three, and you are paranoid, and slow, and one of your party is a gumbie, you should not be on a multipitch. And if it takes you six hours to climb three pitches, you would be best off not starting a six-pitch route at 1:30 PM. If things go sideways, and one experienced person has to mandhandle two others off a route, you are asking for trouble. It is necessary to re-evaluate objectives in light of what happens. As I write, four people just died on Everest, and what it comes down to is, they wanted it badly enough that objective reality (it was late, and they were exhausted and sick) got ignored.

On top of that, when the shit hits the fan, you defer to the experienced, and you move fast. We simulrapped with the girls; the slugs should have done the same, or at least let us pass earlier. If you are gonna fuck around, don't interfere with others.

c) The Oregonians made every mistake in the book. Too much gear, too little clothing, not assessing their situation, refusing to turn around, no headlights, not having proper beta for finding the rap route-- add that to bad weather and you've got a disaster.

d) Did we screw up? We did...but there is no way we could have known that we did. The Brewer managed to direct the Oregonians to the rap route, and then we descended. We could have waited for them on the Solar Slab terrace, but when we were rappeling off the terrace, we saw them, descending the rap route. We had no way of knowing that they would have trouble finding the rap route off the terrace. They also had double ropes, which, we assumed, would make for fast raps, as they had for us. They had, after all, climbed up past the rap route that morning.

Should we have waited at the base of the cliff for the Oregonians? Maybe...but we were out of food, and frozen, and we did not have any emergency equipment like bivvy sacks. If the Oregonians had come down with any problems (e.g. hypothermia) we could have done little more than huddle with them. This would however also have put us into major danger. We could not have gone back in, because the park gates were closed.

My S.A.R. friends in Squamish say that you take care of first yourself, then your rescue team, and finally the accident victims, in that order. A rescuer or team who are in danger or unable to do X or Y are going to not only not help the victims but also put themselves in danger, potentially amplifying the problem.

e) Finally, making things safer for people does not actually make things safer. Solar Slab, which gets at least ten ascents a day, was equipped with a dedicated, 30-meter-at-a-time, bolted rap route. Paradoxically, this route has not done much to reduce epics and accidents. While it is now easier and faster to get off, this same ease and speed means that more less-experienced, slower, weaker etc parties will try the route. This will obviously lead to congestion, but it will also mean that, when things go sideways-- like rockfall, or weather-- there will be more people with fewer skills up there. The best rap route in the world is not going to help you if you can't retrieve stuck ropes, or if you forget your shell, or if you climb into poor weather too late in the day.

e) There is my Supertopo post (and many responses) here.

Anyway. Everyone survived...but now I look at sunny 5.6 routes and I'm glad I have a light shell and a pocket lamp.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Gota story

It's been two years since The Driller and I put up La Gota Fria. As of this writing, we have the FCA-- first complete ass-- with two pitches (12c ansd 12a?) remaining to be freed. I'm not holding my breath.

After our ascent, a bit of a shit-storm happened on-line. Basically, Napoleon was unhappy that Driller and I had done the First Ass of the route without him. He having done the First Ass of some of the pitches, wanted to be included in the First Ass, but wasn't, and this is why.

When we began the route, in 2008, Napoleon and I started ground-up. We immediately ran into one problem: Napoleon didn't want to show up for work. After the second day on the route, we made plans to work a third, and Napoleon sent in his stead Kasper Podgoski, who nabbed the Fist Ass of P1 and 2 with me (on aid).

After this point, Napoleon would only show up for the occasional day. It became obvious that the route was going to go, and it became equally obvious that, if we wnet at Napoleon's pace (one day per month) we would be retired by the time the FA came around. So I recruited The Driller, who has a ton of aid experience. The Driller, despite having a non-climbing girlfriend (now his wife), a full-time job, and full-time school, ALL AT THE SAME TIME, became a regular feature on the route. I also had a non-climbing girlfriend-- and we have kids-- and a full-time job, so during the doing of this route, both Driller and I gave up quite a few climbing days.

Together we pushed the route -- entirely ground up, via aid-- to the top of P10. Napoleon disagreed with the tactics. For him, ground-up was too dangerous. However, he had not led a single pitch. At this point he proposed that he rap in from the top, so he and our friend Ben hauled a few hundred meters of rope up there and they rapped down and isntalled fixed ropes to the top of P10.

We now had fixed ropes-- as of April 2009-- on the whole route, and it basically came time to clean, log and bolt. This work, while not awful, isn't nearly as fun as actual climbing. You are hanging from aiders or a butt-bag, hacking away at dirt, logs or flakes of rock. Yes, you can shit-talk with your partner, and the views are great, but it's not climbing.

As the route progressed, Napoleon did less and less work, while Driller and I kept at it. Napoleon would send us missives which included JPEGs of the route with suggestions that we "scrub variations" on the route. In the summer of 2009, on several occasions I was on the route, working, while Napoleon would project this or that on the Badge, and yell at us "hey fuckers, you guys should try climbing something!" and so on. Indeed, that summer, Napoleon-- who was working 8 hours per week and not in school-- was climbing five days per week, and came out twice to work on the route.

In March of 2010, Driller and I told Napoleon flat-out that when the first ascent was going to happen, he would not be on it unless he massively upped his work commitment. He responded with "I will be available to work on the route in May and June." Instead, he went to the Valley and we didn't see him for two months.

One week before the first ascent, I ran into Napoleon and his girlfriend in Starbucks. I told him that Driller and I were gunning for the First Complete Ass next weekend. He said "cool" and I said that we would save the two 12+ pitches for him, to which he said "cool."

On July 10, 2010, Driller and I did the F.C.A. of La Gota Fria, freeing all but two of the pitches.

The next day, when I put the topo online, the shitstorm started, with Napoleon name-calling both Driller and I on Squamishclimbing. He was told by the admin that if his comments persisted they would ban him, as he was slandering both of us.

When I added up the days of work on the route, it had taken something like 53 person-days. I had done around 30, Driller 15, and Napoleon 8. Other people like Ian Bennet, Tony McLane, Ben Roy, Paul Cordy and Kasper Podgorski had put in time as well.

Napoleon was angry that he'd been excluded from the F.A. I still have mixed feelings about this. His lack of work-- especially considering that he had no job, no girlfriend, and summers off-- was shocking. At one point in the summer of 2009, I called him to see if he wanted to get out onto the route, and he said "I can't; I've been climbing all week and I am too tired." While he enjoyed a climbing summer, Driller and I hung on ropes and dug mud.

Were we selfish in excluding him from the F.A.? Probably. Were we justified? Dunno, but it felt like it, and still does. If I were as generous as I'd like to be, I might've forgiven him...but that route came at great personal expense, it cost Driller and I many climbing days, and it felt like Napoleon was more into talking about the route than doing the work. Indeed, it became particularly galling when Driller and I would run into acquaintances mutual to us and Napoleon, and hear them say "so Napoleon was talking about your guys' route. How is it going?", when Napoleon would have been months not climbing the route.

In the end, the route forged a much stronger and deeper bond between the Driller and I, who shared some hair-raising moments. It also taught me to aid-climb, to confront fear, and it showed me that small acts of selfishness (like showing up hours late for climbing days, and refusing to work, and assuming your partner will bring all of the stuff you forgot to pack cos you were out partying till 3 A.M. the night before) often portend much bigger ones.

So, yeah. Ya dance with them what brung ya. But not forever.