Archive for December 2005

Gear: Leashless Quarks

Leashless QuarksBeing attached to your leashless tools is a good thing, especially if you’re planning on dropping them occassionally. This can make big alpine routes a lot more fun and a lot cheaper. Grivel make the Double Spring which sells for about $50 and seems to be designed so that you can hang from your tools via the leashes if you want. The clips they use are rated to 3kN for example. My leashes aren’t designed to hold much more than the weight of the tool, although they could be modified to.

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Review: "Cold Haul" DVD

Cold Haul - Front CoverFellow Brits Andy Kirkpatrick and Ian Parnell make the second ascent of the Lafaille route on the West face of the Dru (A4, Scottish VII) in winter. The DVD features a lot of hard aid climbing, mostly in bad weather.

The best thing about this film is what it’s not. It’s not some huge staged production. There are a ton of those out there already. Often shot with a dedicated camera crew in fantastic weather. Complete with staged shots of people taking leader falls and stepping onto virgin summits. All the while clad in brand spanking new gear provided by the film’s sponsors. And, in the time it takes you to say “Team North Face” you have a climbing film – albeit a formulaic one.

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Gear: The Alpine BOMB

Or, more aptly, how to modify a cannister stove to work in really cold weather. This isn’t my idea. It was published years ago in Mountain Review magazine (issue 7 page 74). It also appears in Mount McKinley Climbers Handbook, Glenn Randall (page 32). The version shown here is much simplified and not adapted for hanging. I also use a wind shield with it (not shown).

A few years back I was climbing in Southern BC with a friend of mine. We were staying at a hut but it was during a cold snap in late November. The end result was it was really cold even inside the tiny building. My climbing partner had brought the stove a cannister stove with a remote cannister, similar to an MSR WindPro. Getting the stove to work gave us much needed additional entertainment in the windowless hut. It also prompted me to dig out that Mountain Review article when I got home and start tinkering.

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Welcome to My World

So here goes…

I finally got my act together over Christmas and setup a climbing blog. Alpine climbing is “my thing”, I’ve been at it a fair while. Here you’ll find stuff I’ve picked up over the years; tips and tricks, equipment modifications, reviews of gear, books and DVDs I liked. Plus trip reports, pictures and other writing from some of my climbing.

My adopted home is the Pacific Northwest, so there’ll be plenty of information on climbing in the Cascades.

Only Happy When it Rains…

It’s raining here. It’s been raining here for days. If it’s not raining then it’s starting to rain, or has just stopped, but will start again real soon. So soon, that the water will still be dripping off the trees from the last downpour when the next one starts. The forecast says more to come.

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Here Today Gone Tomorrow…

Here today, gone tomorrow,
Don’t need myself remembered
But what I help create and leave behind,
is important to me.- Jello Biafra (1990)

This appeared as the opening quote in the front of my PhD thesis in 1993. I was living on unemployment and trying to finish writing it before Christmas so it wouldn’t be hanging over me for the holidays. I remember printing the final copies for binding late one December evening. I left them on my desk and walked home. It was pouring with rain when I left the faculty building for the half hour walk home. I was soaked within a few minutes. By the time I got home, I might as well have been for a swim. As far as I was concerned, it was a perfect evening.

Twelve year’s later Jello Biafra’s post punk mantra still seems as relevant as it did that wet December night. Life is emphemeral and we can’t all leave it with memorials like Abraham Lincoln but that doesn’t mean that the small “monuments” we do leave behind aren’t important.

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living

The shark’s mouth was a few feet away, its mouth gaping as wide as my shoulders. Row upon row of dagger like teeth extended from its grey lips into the back of its mouth. It looked back at me with dead uncaring eyes. The moment had an air if inevitability, finality, about it. Too late to move out of the way, only dumb luck can save me now.

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Joe and Einstein

The Adirondacks in New York have some of the best winter climbing anywhere in the World. The long cold winters combined with periodic warm fronts produce spectacular ice formations. Chapel Pond Lake, just outside of Keene freezes solid.

On the far side of the lake, cliffs rise several hundred feet into the trees. In winter the drainage lines on the rock freeze up and ice covers the whole cliff. In 1969 Yvon Chouinard, introduced modern ice tools to the US, and made the first ascent of the most prominent line on the Cliff “Chouinard’s Gully”. Since then climbers have established numerous climbs above Chapel Pond.

A few winters back in late November my friend Joe was trying to get that year’s first ascent of Power Play. The route follows a series of iced rock corners and steps before finishing up a vertical curtain of ice. Early in the year the ice is thinner and more fragile making early accents that much more demanding. The lower parts of the route involve scratching up vertical rock using crampons and ice tools in tiny edges.

Joe was half way up the first pitch struggling with a small roof about eighty feet above the ground. His climbing partner, Laurie, was holding the other end of Joe’s rope. Joe struggled with the roof trying to arrange adequate gear to protect himself in the event of a fall. He thrashed around trying to get a better stance, periodically cursing. Laurie was patiently holding the rope and stamping her feet trying to stay warm. Finally, she shouts up, “Do you think you can do it?”

“If I knew I could do it… then I wouldn’t be here would I” was Joe’s reply.

Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I guess Joe say that doing something when you’re already sure of the outcome is the definition of banality.

Because Life is About Stories

Every story has a beginning…

I was living in Bath and occasionally working in out of an office on the Kings Road in London. The unfashionable west end, past Conran’s Bluebird and the World’s End pub. The company I was working for had sub let two floors of a drab 70’s office building from British Telecom. Downstairs was the London sales team, all double breasted suits and Tag Heuer watches. East end boys “largin’ it up”, “dooin’ deals” and quite a lot of coke too as rumour had it.

I hung out upstairs with the web development crowd. We were busy migrating a web site to a new server platform. I was fronting for the Bath end of the team, mainly scruffy content editors and geeky software development. The London lot did business development and focused on being “a bit more corporate”.

One of the developers who was working there was Kiko. Kiko was a Canadian of Japanese descent who’d ended up in London after an IT project in Luxemburg went bad. Kiko looked more like a musician with long hair and a worn denim jacket. He was on an extended busman’s holiday working his way around Europe doing software work to pay for it. We’d hired him to do some scut programming work on a couple of projects.

Kiko was one of the few people I’ve ever met who could tell interesting stories involving computers; the Mexico City millennium web site, winning a Webby Award, writing software for Corel, and a hardware startup in Toronto. Kiko invariably carried a small book pack with him. He’d take it to work but usually you’d find it sitting next to him in various pubs and restaurants. To my knowledge Kiko didn’t really have any other baggage.

Kiko collected stories. Invariably when he was telling them props for these appeared out of the book pack; a ticket for a Dead Kennedys gig, a prototype graphics chip or a stripped own PDA for use in a TV film.

Kiko would say “Life isn’t about collecting money or stuff, it’s about collecting stories”. The more stories you have the richer you are.

So here are mine…