Sunday, June 24, 2018

Climbing, currying and shitshowing!

Me and Goose on top of the Chief

All photos posted here are from Goose's cellphone. I can possibly never ever get so good with selfies!

I was sick, and by sick I mean unwell (not the 'sick' in climber's lingo!). My voice was hoarse, throat sore and paining, feeling weak and panting for breath every few steps/moves uphill. Yet, even if it started and ended that way with me being in a bad physical state, it turned out to be a great day with one of my acquaintance back from Florida - and now hopefully more than just an acquaintance, a buddy rather! Climbing together does that, I guess, weaves a bond to say may be.

So it was Goose's probably last day in Squamish and hence I decided not to buckle up under my illness. Thankfully, my mind played a stronger role than my body in the decision making and I did not regret it a little (truthfully, may be a bit for just a few hours after I woke up for the next day).

So Goose drove all the way from Jacksonville, Florida across the USA doing some wonderful things enroute and now finding himself in Vancouver/Squamish on the last leg of his trip. The weekend before the climb, we had climbed together, but did not share the rope and that's when I planted the idea of taking him up the Chief the following weekend. He thought about it and gleefully accepted the invitation. This was to be my third full length climb up the Chief in the past two months.

Goose starting up the 5.9 pitch of Butt Light

However, a week later, unfortunately I was unwell and under heavy weather. But, I did not want it to ruin our plans. I knew I was in no physical condition to lead the route, yet I forced myself to believe I could. There is a distinction between being an doer and an enabler. Often the former being a prerequisite for being the latter. This time, the enabler in me coaxed the doer into believing the climb could be done.

Well, so I somehow gathered myself at 4.30 am that Saturday morning, still asleep, groggy and barely audible when I tried to speak. Made a hot cup of coffee, something warm to soothe my throat. Sat in the car, drove towards Squamish and after a failed attempt to secure a campsite, roped up and ready to go at 7.30 am at the base of Calculus crack - a 6 pitch 5.8 on Apron.

Goose apparently has to pull on piece the previous weekend when he climbed St. Vitus's dance (a five pitch 5.9) and so I checked with him if he wanted to do it again and clean. He jumped at it and just breezed past the first two pitches. I followed, huffing and puffing and panting as I pulled up on the Baseline ledge on top of pitch 2. I thought I will have to lead the next one, when he offered me to lead everything. I did not think twice and gladly took the offer. At that point I was just focused on completing the climb and being a good belayer to let Goose up his dream of climbing Chief.

I do not regret not wanting to lead that day a bit, for multiple reasons - one being Goose was super happy to do all pitches clean; second as I realized later that day, I could barely speak, let alone be loud with my climbing calls - off belay, you're on belay and so on. It would have been a nightmare to communicate with Goose from the top of the pitch had I lead any. As a follower, I could hear him clearly and all he had to do was start pulling the rope as soon as there was any slack in it once I was on belay. So we essentially climbed the 14 pitches that day without any communication at all and it worked out perfectly well.

Pitch 4 of Calculus crack

The climbing party above us on Calculus

Ledge traverse on Butt Light

The only pitch I regret not leading was the 5.9 Memorial crack, which was one of the best pitches for me on the climb. I felt so relaxed and comfortable even with a 10-12 lb backpack on it. I do not remember doing it so smoothly the last time I climbed it a couple of months back. I will go back and lead every single pitch of this climb when I repeat the route in the coming months with my wife and a visiting friend from India.

We finished the climb at around 2.30 pm, hiked up, spent some time on the true summit of Chief, packed up and started our hike, run rather, downhill. A good 8-hour climbing day.

We drove back to Vancouver, did some grocery and apparently I prepared one of the best Thai curries that Goose had ever had!

An interesting incident I would like to mentioned here that has nothing to do with Goose, me or our climb. On top of pitch 3 on Calculus crack, we saw two soloists cruising up on the route. They had a conversation that went something like this -

Dude, it's a shitshow up there on Calculus. I will go and solo something else. You sure you want to do Calculus?

The other guy nodded, to which the first guy said something and wandered away from the route.

Now, to give you the context, Calculus crack is one of the easiest route on the Apron. So, it sees a lot of gumbies and newbies on the route who spent way longer on the route than they should. But, I guess that's how everyone grows in the sport. At this point in my climbing curve, I am no gumbie with trad climbing, and I am a very decent in sport climber and boulderer. So I do not have a reason to take his comment personally. However, I know that I was a gumbie in all disciplines at some point in my life in all of my pursuits - climbing and beyond - everyone is. And assuming the soloist who grumbled about the shitshow wasn't a born superhero, he must have been a gumbie at all things he did including climbing when he got started. Then why this air of elitism when you solo? Why the slow learning curve of someone else must be called as a shitshow? I know that soloing is dangerous and needs a clean passage with as little distractions as possible and when you face a bottle neck on the route, you have every right to be concerned. But, my take on this is somewhat different - just because you decided to eschew forms of protection and rope on your climb doesn't give you the right of passage over other climbers. It's a public place and you are in queue. If you start soloing behind a party, you are not entitled to any special licenses over others. The fact that others usually give you right of passage is a goodwill on their part - its a gesture for the safety of soloist and you must have the ability of weaving through the shitshow you encounter on popular routes. If you don't have that ability, practice and learn it. Or, better yet become a better climber, grow some balls and go solo harder routes where you won't find the shitshow. Just remember that soloists aren't elite. Be polite first and respect others.

Happy Goose!

Coming back to the main topic of this blog - all in all, it was a wonderful day - climbing as well as cooking. The next morning was a nightmare for me though - bouts of coughing, severe headache, body ache and weakness - a true shitshow! ;-)

Addendum: A week before I had the privilege of hosting Goose, Alex and Katie from Jacksonville, FL also were in Vancouver. I was great to have them here. Likewise for you Kate. Although we did not do any multipitching together, we did get to boulder and spend some quality time together!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Well deserved injury streak and climbing downtime

So, I have been marred with injuries. Two kind of injuries actually.

First, the acute kind which was a result of a stupid fall causing me to land on my outstretched left arm and causing severe elbow damage; mostly soft tissue tear. This one is recent, happened just three weeks back. I don't think anything was broken, but I was panicked because of swelling, unbearable pain and loss of mobility for the first 24 hours. Really scared.

Its been three weeks now and I still feel some pain in my elbow. Mostly because of inadequate rest and getting back early to some easy training. Nonetheless, it is 3 steps forward and one step back for me with this injury, so overall progression is good, without unnecessary strength and mobility loss. But the injury itself was a result of stupid move on an indoor problem that I shouldn't have been gunning for in the first place.

Second injury is more of a chronic kind, result of overtraining, and pushing too hard too fast and for too long, and all of that, embarrassingly, indoors on plastic. Started in December and January, with the injury hitting my sometime in Feb 2018. Well, it was cold and wet in British Columbia when I moved here. I got my first V8s and a couple of V9/10s indoors and probably that fueled my desire to push it harder. I was bouldering hard at my limit 3 days a week, hangboarding and campusing twice each. It was not just the climbing specific training, but also the weighted pulls ups (with almost 50% of my bodyweight added) and presses. No wonder my tendons and pulleys had to give in at some point. And not too surprisingly it took all but one month for my ego to come down crashing. I did it all in December, started feeling tired in January (but still performing at a high level) and started breaking down from Feb 2018. It's been three months now (Feb, Mar and April) since I did something to my A2 pulley on the ring finger (sounds familiar??) and it is slowly coming back, not there yet completely.

I wasn't off climbing completely. But I was climbing atleast 4 grades easier for the past three months, heavily taping my fingers and not pushing hard at all, except once or twice on some impulsive moves. It is during this period of injury and rehab that I also did my only two V7s outside so far. Well, I have only bouldered thrice outside so far. I am the one for bolts and cams you see.

I was trying to be really disciplined with my A2 finger injury, when the acute elbow injury happened and that really pushed me into a frustrated-despressed mood. Not for long though. But, it's been three months of relatively hurtful and performance marring injury - one chronic and one acute. I haven't been able to train (fingerboard or campus) neither have I been able to do any boulders at my limits. So I have lost a fair bit of finger strength as well as power.

The rehab is on and getting there soon. I look forward to easing back into my training regimen and the climbing season is just beginning here in British Columbia. So all is not lost yet and the more disciplined I am indoors, the better the ticklist for the season will turn out to be.

Look forward to being disciplined with my rehab and training regimen in weeks to come.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Squamished - North Wall boulders

My second time bouldering out in Squamish -- North Wall boulders this time. Draped in a layer of green moss, the ash gray granite exposed just in the right spots to offer some holds and friction. The weather complied and it was a beautiful day.

North Wall boulder is less visited as compared to the much popular Grand Wall area. It was a long day of bouldering and managed to tick of some fun problems. I enjoyed Tyler's Dihedral, a really fun V3 and Close Shave low, which was my first ever V7 climbing outside. It is a two-move wonder, of which, the first was the crux for me. Once I sent it, it did not feel like a V7 effort honestly, but then that's always the case once you put together the pieces of any puzzle.

Probably it converted me to a pad-stacker than a clipper or plugger. Still early days and hard to say, but probably heading there I guess.

Tyler's Dihedral (V3) - North Wall boulders, Squamish
Reaching out to the crimp with a slopy ramp and a high left foot to start on Close shave (V7)

The high step start on Close shave (V7)

Next day, I spent some time clipping ropes and plugging cams, well, unplugging cams really. Lead a few routes at Murrin park and then followed a couple of classics like Supervalue and Centre street at Smoke bluffs. After this trip, because of poor weather and my niggling finger injuries, I had a mini hiatus from Squamish, almost three weeks before returning for another boulder session.

This second trip, late in April, was even more encouraging than the previous one. I managed to send a couple of V4s (Black mark and Squamish Special) and Undertow (V7), a typical Squamish problem with lot of friction dependent moves on sloper. Undertow is not really my style of climbing (I should stop saying that, and rather say that I am weak at the sloper-friction style of climbing), but the relative ease with which it went was a pleasant surprise and an encouragement for me. In fact, Squamish special, a top 100 V4 took a lot more out of me than Undertow.

Anyway, both these outings were really encouraging and I look forward with more zeal to the upcoming season here in Squamish.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The dust cloud - Timberline trail, Oregon

Timberline trail around Mt. Hood was beautiful in all respect. Fording rivers, beautiful lush green of the Mt. Hood National Forest, crossing across steep ravines, ethereal mist and fluctuating temperatures from searing highs to freezing lows.

One thing, however, that I did not expect and cherish on this trail was the dusty nature  of this trail. And it was not just a small stretch that was dusty, but rather almost 50 to 60 percent of the trail that left behind a cloud of dust as we plodded along. The sandy and dusty nature definitely was not the most enjoyable part, but it could not dent our enthusiasm or mar the serenity of the overall experience.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tan, dust and masala chai - Bollywood Theater, Portland

As an outdoorsy soul, I usually don't shoot or find share-worthy close up portraits. Even more so in an urban setting. However, this one is an exception.

It has a strong backcountry story associated after a 40 mile hike on the Timberline trail around the magnificent Mt. Hood, Oregon. The disheveled, dusty hair and the unkempt stubble definitely has a lot to say. But, in this moment it's all about enjoying  masala chai for him - the simmering hot cup of tea infused with flavors of aromatic indian spices, at Bollywood Theatre, Portland.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Highpoint on Timberline trail, Oregon

Day 4 and final day on Timberline trail, Mt. Hood, Oregon. We crossed the highpoint at around 7000+feet, gazing at the majestic massif of Mt. Hood on our right and the sweeping vistas on our left.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Eden Cove, Timberline Trail - Cold, damp and beautiful

It was cold, damp and beautiful. We shivered as we prepared the morning cup of tea, huddling and almost touching the hot pot on the very noisy primus stove. Anyone who owns a primus knows how noisy it can be, yet this time it was not able to break the serene silence of the place. The fog was pervasive and persistent, refusing to let the warmth of the rays pass through. We played for time. Yet, we wanted it to be forever. 

Eden Cove, Day 3 of the Timberline trail, Oregon.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Mithral Dihedral climb: Mt. Russell

Me and my partner climbed Mithral Dihedral, a 5.9+ or 5.10a 1000 feet long alpine route on Mt. Russell in the High Sierras, California. Mt. Russell has an elevation of 14,094 feet (4,296 m) and is the seventh-highest peak in the state.

For the trip report and story on how we epiced this climb, please read this post on Mowgli and Panda.

If you are in Lone Pine, do not miss a breakfast bite at Alabama Hills Cafe.

Our last good breakfast before heading out in the mountians.

Iceberg lake as seen from the Whitney-Russell col.
Start of the climb: Pitch one & two link up in a 200 feet long pitch

Still in the shade before starting on the dihedral proper

Dihedral proper: Sun and the hand jam corners

Beautiful views all round

Offwidth at the start of pitch 5

Last pitch before topping out the dihedral

Close up of the last layback section

Summit selfie

From L to R: Third needle, Day needle, Keeler needle and Mt. Whitney

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Milky way rising over Mt. Whitney & Mithril Dihedral climb on Mt. Russell

This is almost a repost from my blog post on Mowgli and Panda.

Two of the most memorable moments I experienced outdoors were separated by less than 24 hours. I had just climbed one of my proudest line yet - Mithril Dihedral - a 1000 feet 5.10a alpine route on Mt. Russell in the Californian High Sierras. Some people may call it 5.9/+ route. But, at almost 14000 feet it felt like .12a to me!

A short time lapse video of the milky way rising over Mt. Whitney and the needles. A series of 500+ images shot over four hours from the Iceberg lake (12,600+ feet) to compile this 10-second clip. 

The peaks seen in this clip are (L to R) - Third needle, Day needle, Keeler needle and on the far right, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney. 

Just 24 hours before I shot this time lapse, we (myself & Prajakta [PK]) were benighted on a small 4x4 feet ledge around 14000 feet high up on Mt. Russell. The night on the ledge was cold and miserably beautiful. The milky way overhead and the glittering stars reminded us of the unimaginable vastness and beauty of the universe. 

We eventually did summit the peak the following day and safely descended to the comfort of our tiny tent and sleeping bags the next day. However, the night on the ledge left and indelible impression of the milky way on us. Never before did we see our galaxy so clearly with our naked eyes. It was unreal.

The unparalleled magnificence of the night sky untainted by our urban lights made me realize how small and insignificant was my proudest climb yet (barely a day old)  as compared to the vastness of our universe - a meaningless pursuit worthless beyond the radius of my own personal bubble.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Adventure tours: An oxymoron

This post is triggered by a promotional email I recently received titled 'Some XYZ Adventure Tours'. The term 'adventure tour' is an oxymoron. Rather, it is a marketing bullshit trying to capitalize on the mass needs of doing something 'cool' that is 'share-worthy' in social circles, digital or otherwise.

The feeling of adventure should be discovered, not planned. Adventure includes an element of chance occurrence, and we wish that our adventures turns out to be a positive one. However, there is a likelihood that it could also turnout to be a painstaking one. And it is precisely this uncertainty, this element of chance that makes it worthy of being called as an 'adventure'.

We strive hard to make our undertakings a successful one. And it is in this bid of ours that we indulge in the process of detailed planning. We heavily tilt the probability of our undertaking being serendipitous and not a painstaking epic with type II fun.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am not saying that we should be unprepared and clueless about our undertakings. We should plan and be prepared so that we don't die out there. And to a lesser extent, we don't have to lose our gear and partners (at worst!) for those unplanned bails high on the route.

But today, with the detailed topos, accurate weather reports, trip logs and high resolution close up photos, I can plan my trip - heck, even the moves on individual pitches to such an extent that I can virtually visualize the alpine route - like I do at single pitch sport crags.

Is it a good thing? Bad thing? I don't know. I just don't feel the thrill of adventure at such a detailed level of planning. The joy of discovering things for oneself and making in-the-moment impromptu decisions as against pre-programmed ones definitely adds spice to the entire undertaking; and it is this spicy flavor that is sorely missed from an undertaking marred by the ultra-detailed level of planning. I have been guilty on more than a few occasions of indulging in such detailed planning to make it safe and successful. {Super Topos anyone? Do I really need a pitch by pitch description with details about the size of crack fist jam, lie backs and that hidden crimp behind the bulge? May be not, just the correct ridge and the line to be taken would have been enough.}

Now, the definition of success if an altogether different topic of debate and demands at the very least a separate blog post in itself, if not the whole book! It is  very much about the process vs product orientation. Anyway, don't we spend 99% of the time on planning, packing, approach and climbing and one or probably less than one percent on the summit?

Well, put yourself in the shoes of these tour operators (adventure companies?) and try preaching this to your prospective clients. Hell, yeah! All your clients and your potential revenue will go to another tour operator down the lane. The truth remains that your clients will want you to assure them of putting them on the summit and make every penny they spend worth it.

So these 'guiding services' are reduced to nothing more than a 'tour operator' who must employ all their logistical prowess, planning and manpower to ensure the 'success' of their clients, even at the cost of literally raping the mountains with fixed ropes, ladders and porters. As a tour operator, you will not leave the outcome to a chance occurrence. You will do everything possible to ensure that the summit bid turns out to be a successful one for your clients. I feel dissonance between the terms 'guide' and tour operator; a dissonance that is unwelcome in the sanctity of the wilderness.

These tour operators (a.k.a. guides) don't have much options either. Either they can do it (lug them up the mountains?) for their clients, or someone else will. Hence, I am not rambling to vilify these adventure tour operators, though at some level I feel they do their part to abet this soulless pursuit. However, with this post, I am throwing a larger tantrum at all the clientele who want to be guaranteed a successful outcome, come what may.

Having said that, I do understand that not everyone desires to have their asses whipped on their hard earned vacation after years of dreaming and planning. But, just realize that what you are doing out there is no adventure. It is a planned tour, a service guarantee that you buy in exchange for cash and someone else's expertise. They do the homework for you. Heck, not just the homework but also the fieldwork. Their expertise and planning attempts to remove all possible uncertainties that you may otherwise encounter along the way. And, the moment you remove this element of uncertainty to skew the probability away from the type II epic fun, then your outing no longer remains an adventure. It's a planned tour on vertical terrain.

Be glad. Go ahead and share that photo on social media. But remember, for God's sake think twice before abusing the word adventure in your next post riddled with a ridiculous number of hashtags. It was nothing more than a tour, far removed from adventure. The term adventure tour, truly is an oxymoron.