Saturday, July 15, 2017

Deescalating the Anxiety

In the past month there have been three instances where I consciously deescalated the anxiety of a person or group. One at work, one in the Bugaboos, and then one I won't mention the situation. I've done this for years, but only recently have I been able to articulate it.

What does it mean to deescalate? According to Google/Safari It means to "reduce the intensity of (a conflict or potentially violent situation)." Anxiety on the other hand I think of as self induced stress.

First I'll tell the Bugaboos example. The second pitch on Pigeon Spire my climbing partner comes up over the ridge to the belay and the look on his face said "I'M FREAKING OUT!!" So I asked him on a scale of 1 to 10 how much he was freaking out, and he said "SEVEN!! ... six." So I tried to get him to relax a bit by looking out away from the rock and potential fall, at the gear, taking a drink, and telling him how well he was doing, making a joke, and basically having a comforting demeanor myself. When he saw how unfazed I was he calmed down, and really enjoyed the rest of the climb. Those are standard ways to calm a person down, a more advanced tactic is to escalate the fear briefly for a minute or few second even, because showing that it was all a rouse, an act, often gets a person too scared to laugh, to actually relax a bit and laugh. However, that can backfire and I've been sworn at before when I misjudged that tactic.

Second we had a day at work where everyone seemed on edge and stressed out, myself included. So I told everyone how well they were doing, we went for a little 10 minute walk around the parking lot, and again I tried to tell a couple jokes to lighten the mood. It's easy to get the idea that our little thing we are working on is so critical, and the reality is it can wait, the world isn't ending. I think it worked, the mood was a little better an hour later, and the next day people were in pretty good moods.

So, when you see that others have fear and anxiety that might be preventing them from accomplishing the task at hand what can you do?

  • Be calm, speak calmly, don't express your emotions with yelling and anger.
  • Tell a joke, not a crude hate filled joke, but something light to ease the tension.
  • Compliment the person with the anxiety. It's hard to be stressed out when people are telling you you did a good job on something. 
  • Give the person something else to focus on, a small easy to accomplish task, that only takes a few minutes, like coiling the rope on a rock climb, or emailing me the contact information for a certain person at XYZ factory.
  • An advanced technique is to briefly escalate the anxiety for a few minutes, a facade really, but in the business setting use something that is clearly out of your influence or irrelevant to the project, because you cannot "invent" a true problem, like you can while rock climbing. Then deescalate quickly so that the person with anxiety thinks, 'well at least this is not as bad at that terrible thing happening!' Here is an example: not scared person, "Uh oh... I think the rope might be cut." Scared person, "WHAT!?!" Not scared person, "Sorry, my mistake it's fine, it's just the way it was coiled there. We are fine, look this rope is rated to hold 6000 pounds and it's in perfect condition."

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Trip Report: The Bugaboos 2017

For years I have wanted to get up to the Bugaboos. They hold a number of "classic" climbs on great rock, they are remote, and the approaches are real mountaineering challenges, not the gentle trails of California and Colorado that lead to the base of many climbs. However, they are notorious for bad weather and "epics" which is to say people having a much longer day than expected due to any number of reasons.

Like any big trip the preparation started months ago. Fortunately, work gave us July 3rd and 4th off, so taking just three days of vacation meant nine consecutive days off! First I had to attend my cousin's wedding in Wisconsin, which was great! My grandparents from the other side of the family even drove over form Minnesota to have a couple meals with us too! Sunday afternoon I flew out of Madison and arrived late in Calgary, although at 10 pm there is still plenty of sun in the sky at that hour early in July.

Funny story about climbing partners... I almost always have trouble getting people to actually come on a trip. Trips are expensive, they take vacation time, they are dangerous and there is a very real possibility that weather will shut the whole thing down so you go home without completing the route.  I started by inviting the eight most experienced climbing partners I regularly climb with, and three were interested, however, as the date approached, no one was ready to commit but me. So I went ahead and bought my plane tickets. I've spent plenty of time soloing in the past and I'm sure I will in the future too. If you are going to climb a lot, you are going to solo sometimes. What that means is that I travel very fast on non technical terrain, but rope soloing is a pretty slow process, so I end up being pretty conservative about the difficulty of routes that I do. Anyway nearing a month remaining until the trip none of my main climbing partners had bought a plane ticket so I offered the trip to one of my new and less experienced climbing partners... and he actually said yes. If he had not said yes I was going to open it up to all my Facebook friends, because frankly, even a very basic climbing would allow us to do more than me by myself.

Monday we woke up and went for a little 5k run then started the drive through the Canadian Rockies, Canmore, Banff, and the 45 km dirt road to get to the trailhead. As we left the plains of Calgary and entered the mountains around Canmore and Banff I stared at the wall wondering, 'what is so special about the Bugaboos that I've never even heard of any of these mountains that are far more accessible and still huge looking?' It's a good question, until about two minutes before the Bugaboo parking lot when the modest Hound's Tooth comes into view.
Photo from the hike between the parking lot and Conrad Kain Hut with Hound's Tooth in the background.
The parking lot is at 4700 feet, and most of "the Bugs" are in the 10,000 to 11,000 foot range. The Conrad Kain hut is at 7320 and so there is a big of a hike, just under 3 miles to get there, which takes about two hours.

Tuesday we tried the Kain Route on Bugaboo Spire. Unfortunately, I led us off too far to the left and we ended up on the west face and I was standing on top of a giant attached flake with no noticeable cracks, bolts or pitons for 30 feet of challenging climbing. About this time two guys that did the northeast ridge route came down the rappel route, which overlaps the Kain route at that point, about 25 feet to our right. It was getting into the afternoon so we rappelled the last three rappels and then scrambled down simul-climbing with a rope because there is some exposure in places.
View from our highest belay ledge with Snowpatch Spire below us.
Wednesday we planned to go up on Ears Between on Donkey Ears, part of the ridge on Crescent Spire, which isn't much of a spire but a long ridge. We went too far to the right, did a different route, decided to rappel the back side when we got to the top. Then we got the rope stuck while rappelling off a rock horn, and it took a long time to get it down, but we didn't leave anything behind! We trekked out and what we hoped would be an 8 hour sort of day was more like 10 hours of mini epic in great weather.
Getting ready to mini-epic off of Donkey Ears ridge with Snowpatch and Howser Towers in the background. 
Thursday was probably the highlight because we actually summited Pigeon Spire. A 5 AM wake up, 6:05 AM start from the hut and then a long day hiking to the base and climbing the whole thing. I should mention, we roped up and had gear in the whole way up and down. Most groups seemed to solo, or be tied together without gear in, which frankly is a bit dangerous because a fall off the ridge would most likely be fatal. However, a group from Montana climbed in the same style as us and I think gave Jake a little confidence that they had some fear too. Here is the summit video I took as I belayed with one hand and operated the camera with the other...
Here is a video we took on the way down from the upper Vowell Glacier showing all of the main spires in the Bugaboos.
Friday we slept in again, after a little bit of celebrating on Thursday night, and hiked up to the base of Lion's Way, but we were exhausted by that point of three long double digit hour days in the mountains and decided to head back down to the hut to read and play games. Oh I napped so well Friday afternoon!

Friday night we had a small celebration of sorts in the hut with our new friends. What a great little place! And for those that aren't familiar I typically do not mention people by name unless it is a pretty public person, or I asked the person in advance, so I won't publish specifics about my awesome new friends.
View looking out the front widows of the Conrad Kain Hut at Sunset.
Saturday we woke up, had breakfast and hiked out. We headed to Golden where we ran into IFMGA mountain guide Jonny Sims who then took us paddle boarding near the head of the Columbia river for a couple hours than over to a friend's house for some grilling and jam band music making. I would totally recommend you check him out for a trip if you are into this sort of thing. A bit surreal really. Are all Canadians so nice? Nice or not we were invited to move north by several different people, which doesn't happen in every country on every vacation.

A few more notes on the week, we had amazing weather! Look at this forecast at the hut, it's what really happened:
I was stunned how many women were at the hut or on the mountains! Seriously, usually in the mountains it's 80%+ men, and this time I think it was close to 65%+ women. I was stunned. It's great! It's nice to see more ladies out in the mountains.

It's light all the time up here this time of year! Seriously the sun starts coming up at 4:30 AM and finishes going down around 11:30 PM, and oh yeah, we had a full moon this week too. However, the mosquitos are pretty bad, even as high as the hut.
Panorama from high on Bugaboo Spire showing Conrad Kain Hut, Snowpatch Spire, Pigeon Spire, and the Howser Towers
And yes, I would go back again!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Expedition 2017: The Bugaboos!

Jake and I will be out of cell phone range until Saturday night and if you want to follow along, you can track up via Garmin:

I will also have Twitter updates from time to time, and probably a blog post when we finish. Tentative schedule is the 5.6 on Bugaboo Spire, 5.8 on Bugaboo Spire, 5.8 on Snowpatch Spire, and by that point, if we do those three routes... we'll see.

Sunday, June 18, 2017


"I don't believe in human caused climate change" he said. I didn't respond. As we walked I pondered what he really meant.

For Christians, "belief" is a strong word. We are told to put our faith, hope, and trust in the Lord, not in earthly things or people. I read a good article recently about how teaching climate science was not about facts, but emotion.

It didn't snow, at least snow enough to warrant a shovel, plow, or any snow removal equipment, this winter in Independence. It's an anecdotal data point, but people who have lived here for a decade or more say that it does in fact snow here, which makes it an interesting, four month long data point.

The glaciers are melting. Andrew's Glacier in Rocky Mountain National Park, just below Taylor Peak was the first time I wore crampons in the summer of 2004. I returned in August 2010 to climb Sharkstooth, and the glacier was totally melted. Again, I was there later in the season in 2010 than 2004, and it's one anecdotal data point, but for me that was a tough pill to swallow. I can't take someone else to that glacier to teach them snow technique, at least not toward the end of the summer.

The Khumbu ice fall on Mt. Everest seems to take more ladders and have more crevasses than it used to, according to the locals who have worked there for many years in a row.

The Khumbu glacier in 2016 was lower than in 2014.

In September 2015 I visited Mt. Hood, and apparently it was one of the lowest snow years, in decades, and with modern snow making machines and weather forecasting it was a surprise. We hiked up rocks and dirt for hours before reaching the snow.

Belief is not about facts, and facts are not about belief. The recent Tangier Island incident is a perfect example. The town believes one thing, in a person, yet there are facts affecting their life and future, which do not perfectly line up with what they are being told to worry about. Similarly when the "costal elite" scream that people should believe in this or that, it's a failure of vocabulary. Are glaciers melting, yes or no? Are sea levels rising, yes or no? In other words, it doesn't matter what you believe, the truth is the truth. The reasons for the facts... well, I suppose we have to leave something for us to argue about.

I'm not saying you should "believe" in human caused climate change, in the same way that you do not believe in the speed limit, airport security, or corporate benevolence as the purpose of life, or the answer to a given problem. I am saying that examining the evidence, and respecting the evidence and likely outcomes is just as wise as respecting the speed limit as you drive down the highway. The speed limit is not going to save you in the way that you believe Jesus has saved you; however, ignoring the speed limit might very well get you killed in the same way that ignoring climate change may cause dramatic coastal flooding.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Climate Change is Real

It wasn't hot the last few years on accident. It did not snow here in Independence this winter because the earth is warming. Hurricane Sandy didn't hit New York City by mistake. These recent torrential rains are not strange, we should expect more extreme weather events. Since climate change is in the news a lot today, and of course tomorrow will be another emotionally draining issue, her are the top five things trending on twitter:

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Birthdays are Depressing

"Everything is meaningless." Ecclesiastes 1:2. Birthdays are life's participation award. By any measure I've had an extremely successful year. I climbed Mt. Everest. I took a new job and moved to rural Kansas. I bought a house. I've climbed something like eight 14ers in Colorado, in the last 12 months. I ran a 7:10 100k. I got into alpine touring skiing. I even went on a couple dates, which leads into the depressing part.

Despite all of that incredibly awesome stuff, birthdays seem to remind me of the things I have not done in my life. Checking social media can be so hard. Classmates and friends getting married and having kids. Living in cool places, taking cool vacations, buying cool cars. It can be overwhelming, so I rarely open Facebook.

I hope that I motivate and encourage other people. I hope I do because I am afraid, based on only ever being myself, that left to our own thoughts we will be too depressed to ever enjoy our lives. Where I'm going with that, I'm 31 and single. I can count the relationships I have had on one hand that have made it two three dates. The vast majority of the time I'm fine just being alone. But at night before I go to bed when I am not working or running or doing something active I get lonely. Whatever, I'm not going to dwell on it tonight, at least in this paragraph.

Hopefully 2017 is the year I pay off my student loans, but this birthday serves to remind me that I am now 31 years old and still have student loans. (Yes I could have paid them off years ago but I thought that Everest was a better use of my money, and we can debate that in person sometime if you want.) The thing is, while I had more student loans than many people, I had far less, a third or less of what some people with engineering degrees have. Which just goes to show how crazy college tuitions have gotten.

To end on a good note, I remember being a little exasperated once in high school lamenting that I would probably eat processed meat on white bread for lunch when I got older, and let me tell you, I make way better sandwiches than that!

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Nike #Breaking2 Event

Wow! How cool is that that Eliud Kipchoge ran 2:00:25! Plenty of other sites are commentating on the event, so I'll just throw in my thoughts.

  • The drafting was the biggest advantage, both from the Tesla and huge clock (positioned high up so the people in the back row could see it).
  • The shoes are a step forward, but more like a 0.7% improvement rather than the 4% improvement Nike is advertising. I'm still considering buying a pair. Even 0.5% difference in a 100k or 24 hour run is tremendous. I bought the Adidas Adios Boost in March specifically for the Mad City 100k, and I averaged only 2 seconds per mile ahead of the guy behind me, with is within the realm of shoes giving that sort of advantage. On that note, I have some ideas for shoes that I think might be even faster than the current Vaporfly. In other words, the marketing gimmick that this event was worked.
  • Zersenay Tadese set a personal record by four minutes! Running 60:00, 1:06:50, that qualifies as running it the hard way. I think he finally got nutrition right in the marathon and I'm guessing he will throw down a 2:04 if paced a little better.
  • The weather was good, but a few degrees cooler might have been a little better, not cold, like 36F, but more like 46F might have been faster instead of 52F at the start.
  • Why didn't they lay down a rubber track surface instead of the concrete?!
  • I tweeted on Thursday: "The Nike attempt on Saturday will be thrilling. My guess is they'll be on record pace until like 38k, then it will be ugly." That was pretty close to what actually happened, they were on pace (2:00:06) at 38k, although I was wrong about ugly, it was simply painful.
  • I am excited for an actual competition with a similar format to happen in the new few years. I think that perhaps if the spectators of Boston or New York had been there they might have helped lift up the runners. I also think if it was an acknowledged competition, people would perhaps find that 0.5% improvement mentally. My vote is someone needs to build a 1000 meter oval rubberized track for distance events like the marathon. Surround it with trees on the infield and outfield and other wind breaks, like a workout building with big glass windows, in a cool mild predictable climate. Way better variety than a 400 meter track with a turf infield, but also easier than a concrete car race track. I would totally want to run a marathon on it, probably even 100k.
Pretty cool.