Monday, June 17, 2019

I don't really get summit fever.

Two of the people I have been hiking with recently talked about how they each get summit fever, and it scares me. I told both of them, "Don't attempt Everest yet, please." I really don't get summit fever much any more. I did, when I was somewhat new and felt I needed to get the summit to build up my climbing resume. But after enough bad weather days and a couple close calls high in the mountains, and reading enough accident reports, I don't really care about making the summit like I used to.

I like mountaineering, climbing, hiking, skiing, and being out in the mountains on difficult terrain in general. The summit is just a pile of rocks and snow, and they all basically look the same. The main difference is the size of the Longs Peak or Devil's Tower summit plateau vs a much smaller one like Crestone Needle or Mt. Everest, the same way some parking lots are larger than other parking lots.

It's interesting, the number of times in the last few years when I've been within about 500 vertical feet of the summit and been ambivalent about making it to the top. I would not have guessed this is a mental state of a climber. I used to think everyone wanted to get to the summit on every attempt. But now I realize that the process, the climbing itself is most of the fun. I've been on the top of well over 100 mountains above treeline, and while I will keep going after summits, I have no problem turning around near the top if conditions aren't right.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Weeks 38 to 40

I've been busy. May 26th to June 15th. My ankle has been healing well enough for me to get back into doing my more normal weekend fun. Actually, I feel my healing has plateaued the last two weeks or so, I'm not sure if that is temporary, or I need to get on my physical therapy exercises harder, or maybe there is a little more ligament damage than initially expected, or perhaps my weekend jaunts are a little more than I should be doing at this stage of the recovery.

So, June 1st I bicycled up Pikes Peak! I had two attempts last fall, both failing due to having a pulmonary embolism. Even though I am 10 pounds heavier now and in worse shape aerobically than I was last fall, I was able to do it. I think this particular Strava segment best encapsulates having a PE and in below average shape, and having no PE, in poor shape, and weighing 10 pounds more, meaning a PE makes it really hard to breathe.
58 minutes with a Pulmonary Embolism, 35 minutes without.
Fun fact, I don't think of myself as a great descender, on a bicycle or running. But I'm not bad. I mean, I generally take big descents at a speed that I feel very in control, but somehow I have the time to beat for the first 12 miles of the Pikes Peak descent this year.
Then on Tuesday, June 4th I fell off my bicycle near the top of "SuperJames" which is the HC bicycle climb that goes from highway 36 up to Jamestown and then up to 8,500 feet above Jamestown. It's my go to 42 mile bicycle ride. It's so cool to go bicycle a HC (French for beyond category, meaning something like 3,000+ feet of ascending) climb on an average weeknight from my apartment! We had snow May 21st, and maybe even more recent up there at 8,000 feet, so there was still quite a bit of sand on the road and I could not slow down enough to make a left hand turn and when I hit the sand I fell over and thankfully did not get hurt any more than a bruised knee! It really got my attention. My head (encased in my helmet of course) bounced when I hit the ground. I am sure I do not have any concussion, but without a helmet I probably would have. Plus, I had slowed down to maybe 10-12 mph when I finally fell over, I only slid about 10 feet. Whew! I could have easily been going 25 mph, and in that case I would have hit the guardrail (which I was only 3 feet away from when I stopped) and maybe even gone over a steep slope.

June 8th I attempted "The Loop" as I call it. From my apartment in Longmont to Estes Park, over Trail Ridge Road, through Granby, up Berthoud Pass, into Idaho Springs, down to Golden, up to Boulder and back to Longmont. It would be about 180 miles, and include a 12,000 foot pass and 11,000 foot pass. Well, I failed, but I had a really good ride. I bicycled up to Estes Park, and just wasn't feeling as strong as I feel I need to be successful and safe and finish in the daylight. So I turned left and bicycled down the Peak to Peak to Ward and then down Lefthand canyon for a little 86 mile bicycle ride with 7000 feet of elevation gain.

June 15th, yesterday, I did a 11 hour and 45 minute excursion up and over Mt. Yale and down the north ridge into the airplane gully in my continuing research for a Nolan's 14 attempt. There was a lot of snow and in places it spend up our progress, but overall it definitely slowed us down when we would inevitably post hole. We then did a loop hiking down the valley until we met up with the Colorado trail at 9,400 feet and went back up to nearly 12,000 feet and down into the Avalanche Gulch Trailhead. Apparently I burned 8,051 calories yesterday. I estimated it would take 6-8 hours, so I was pretty off on that estimate. My ankle held up well. I did limp a fair amount, and had to take many small steps (52,000 steps to be specific), but the three of us made it. It was the hardest thing I have done since moving out here. Harder than doing Pikes Peak, the 86 mile bicycle ride, the February Piz Badille climb, Princeton and Longs Peak with a pulmonary embolism. It rained, snowed, and hailed on us at different times. I don't think my ankle will be ready to attempt Nolan's 14 this year. Or at least, it will most likely not be in condition to go sub 48 hours on Nolan's this season.

Work has been good. It's been a bit stressful and I've put in a number of 10 hour days, mostly unintentionally, because I get excited. We have a customer delivery coming up and it's all hands on deck to mitigate as much risk as possible and make it successful. What are some highlights? We were trouble shooting an issue three weeks ago, an issue we had been working on for weeks before that, and we finally made enough changes to get rid of the issue! It's the classic: struggle, struggle, struggle, success! Then, just Friday a new subsystem that I designed was tested, and it worked! There were so many little thing wrong with my design and prototype parts, that frankly I was not very confident it would work. But it did! It's a completely new subsystem to our product, and something that will speed up both our internal operations and is a huge customer benefit. I was not at all the driving factor, the credit goes to my coworker J for pushing for a long time to get this subsystem designed and implemented. The difficulty was that I just had never designed something like this from scratch before, so I didn't have much confidence it would work. I was afraid there was something I did not understand that would lead to failure.

I hope you've had some good weeks too. Next weekend I'll be out in the northwest climbing Mt. Rainier, so check out my Garmin inReach tracking to see how that goes:

Monday, May 27, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 37

May 19 to 25. This was a good week! I bicycled 92 miles, which is good considering that four days of the week it was wet and rainy and I didn't want to go out and get my bicycle all dirty. My ankle is recovering well. At physical therapy on Friday my therapist said that it was time to start jumping, and next Friday, May 31st, I will run on the Alter G treadmill that they have! I've never seen an Alter G in person until I went to Altitude Physical Therapy, but I'm excited. If it goes well I'll probably run there a couple times a week for the beginning of June until my ankle is a lot stronger.

Saturday in particular was a good day for bicycling. I did 62 miles, from my apartment up Lefthand Canyon, then down the Peak to Peak highway into Lyons and back to my apartment. I rode past the Boy Scout camp I worked at in 2008 and 2010, the Piz Badile, which is a classic beginner trad climb, and plenty of other little cool spots along the front range of Colorado. In fact, the Millsite has closed and is for sale. Maybe I should buy it and only have it open on the weekends in the summer? We used to have a lot of fun there when I worked at the summer camp.

Work was down, and then up. We've been trying and trying and failing and failing at a project, and finally, at 7 PM on Friday night, it worked! The strange thing about my new industry compared to my old industry is that success can be measured in seconds and minutes now, where as in my old industry it was thousands of hours before you had any idea if it was successful. I'll tell you what, the more you fail at something, the more valuable it becomes when you finally succeed.

All startups talk about traction, which is basically being the preferred vendor for your customers, so I will too. When a business starts from scratch there are no customers and no product delivered yet, traction would be getting those early customers and keeping those early customers. We have traction, definitely, that's why I joined this little company last year. I could see that already in it's short life it was filling a need. Now that I've been here eight months I'm not sure we have enough traction. I think we have enough, but again, I've never been through a startup before. At my previous company roles were well defined, we were staffed for trough conditions meaning when business was good we were very busy, but no one was ever really laid off when business was bad, at least among the salaried workers. As we ramp up hiring, without directly ramping up revenue it's a strange feeling. That could all change with the stroke of a pen and a new customer contract, in which case hiring people and getting them up to speed, before the contract is signed is exactly what needs to happen now. I've just never been on the proactive side of business planning. My previous employer was generally reactive to increases in business.

Finally my 15 year class reunion was on Saturday in Kansas... and I didn't go. Friday night as I sat on my couch checking my phone to see our project updates I decided not to drive across the state of Kansas over the weekend. I had a good time at my 10 year high school reunion. However, between my recent pulmonary embolism, likely from driving across Kansas in March 2018, and the possibility that I might have worked over the weekend, I decided not to go. Plus, and I know it's not good to compare yourself to others, but my high school classmates are my ultimate peers, and seeing the vast majority married and with kids, I know I'll feel like a failure, at least as far as my relationships go. Feelings are not fact. I'm sure I'd end up talking about Mt. Everest, and maybe some of them might feel like failures. On top of all that, 15 years! In three years my high school graduation will only be the halfway point in my life. Where has the time gone? Goal for five years from now, have my pilot's license and access to a plane so that my major concern, the pulmonary embolism from 18 hours of sitting would only be six hours of sitting.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

People will keep dying on Mt. Everest.

It's in the news again, people are dying on Mt. Everest. I'm not surprised. The photo that is being circulated this year ( of the summit ridge traffic jam is pretty crazy. For perspective, when I summited at 4:35 AM on May 21st, 2016, there were three mini groups of 2-3 people each ahead of my Sherpa Tshering and I. In other words, my ascent was totally unencumbered by traffic. I have always had more traffic on the Casual Route on Long Peaks than I did ascending Everest. However, on the way down we passed the approximately 35-40 other people who summited Everest from the south side May 21st, and 40 is a very manageable reasonable number. Even 50 or 60 is probably no big deal, but when I see 80+ doing it on the same day, that's just too many.

Because Everest is the tallest, it's going to keep attracting people with the time and the money... and not necessarily the experience. I don't have a lot of sympathy for most of the people that die on Everest, the way I do for starving people in South Sudan, disabled veterans, Ebola victims, victims of gun violence and car accidents. When you go to an 8000 meter peak, you need (in my opinion) to think about all of the different ways you could die, and how that would affect people you are leaving behind, and then either go or don't go. Maybe 5-10 percent of the people that show up at Everest basecamp every season leave and go home when the full reality of the possible consequences (their death) hit them. I respect that. It's better to realize that when you are within a half mile of camp two or in the Khumbu ice fall than on the summit ridge.

That harsh attitude being said, there are some accidents, such as people who die alone in their tent of a heart attack or a pulmonary embolism, that do make me feel sympathetic. Especially since last year, when I had a pulmonary embolism, what if I had another one on an ordinary day at base camp? You can't predict that.

What are some possible solutions to reduce crowding and deaths?

  • Extend the season. With better weather forecasting, instead of waiting only for the eight perfect days a year we need to start using those days, and then the next best eight days, and probably extend the season into June a week or two.
  • Limit the number of climbers each day. It would not be that hard to put a human check point 200 yards outside of camp four where the fixed ropes for the summit start, and limit it to 60 or so people per day. Since you don't want to start a fist fight, people (Sherpas and Nepalis included) would be banned for life from getting a permit if they went past the check point after 60 people. (While it can be confusing to identify people in down suits, it's not that hard.) I realize this sounds nearly impossible to have a staff of say four people at the south col for a month, but with increasing helicopter technology it would not be impossible to drop off oxygen bottles. Plus, there are plenty of loose rocks at the south col, a makeshift stone hut could be built to protect a little area from the wind. Difficult? Yes. The potential to save lives? Yes. The possibility to do fascinating human research? Yes, definitely.
  • Start fixed ropes on another route, probably the west ridge. Actually, you could avoid the deadly Khumbu ice fall by going straight up to the ridge from base camp. I guarantee that announcing fixed ropes on the west ridge would attract a higher caliber of climber, because it will be hard, it's steep above 7000 meters. At this point, anything that takes the pressure off the south col route would be good.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Mountain Opportunity List

I've not put a list down in writing before because lists get people killed in the mountains. The 14 8000 meter peaks have killed hundreds of people, and dozens of people with more than five 8000 meter summits. How can a person with five 8000 meter summits put himself or herself in a position to die? There are old climbers and bold climbers, and despite what people probably frequently think of me, I plan to be an old climber. On Saturday, hours after I stood at the base of the Bastile Crack in Eldorado Canyon, a free solo climber died falling off. So for my whole climbing career up until now I've resisted a list, because I don't want to die, or take such a high risk, to stand on top of another pile of rock and ice.

I'm putting the list out now so that when other people want to do one of the same things they can invite me along if they are looking for a partner, or push me to organize an expedition and take him or her along. I've gotten to the point where I have so many climbing partners around the world, I can't keep track of what everyone is doing, wants to do, or is qualified to do. Plus, as I get older, doing all of these things while I am still very able looks like it might not be possible and I'd just like to attempt as many as possible.

In Pakistan (the coolest, most interesting, mountains I'd like to attempt):
  • Gasherbrum IV, any route, but the Southwest ridge first ascent would be super cool!
  • K2 (without bottled oxygen of course)
  • Trango Tower (Nameless Tower if there is any confusion)
  • Gasherbrum I and II... in one push
In the USA:
  • Mt. Rainier
    • Liberty Ridge
    • Willis Wall, any route
  • Mt. Hood
  • Mt. Baker
  • All Colorado 14ers in the winter
  • All Colorado 13ers (There are about 630 of them and I've done around 50)
  • All the lower 48 14ers
  • Lead the whole Casual Route on the Diamond (likely summer 2019)
  • Sykes Sickle on Spearhead (likely summer 2019)
  • Petit Grepon, any route (likely summer 2019)
  • Tetons Grand Traverse
  • Denali with a ski descent
  • Epinefrine at Red Rocks near Las Vegas
  • Nolan's 14 (attempting summer 2019)
  • Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert loop via the ridge with Oklahoma and French Mountain
  • John Muir Trail
  • The Appalachian Trail
  • The Nose on El Cap... in a day
  • Wind River Range in Wyoming, any technical route
In Canada:
  • Becky-Chiounard on South Howser Tower
  • Northeast ridge of Bugaboo Spire
  • Anything on Snowpatch Spire
  • Anything in the Adamants
  • Howse Peak, anything on the East Face
South America:
  • Aconcagua
  • Anything in Torres Del Paines national park
  • The Matterhorn
  • The North Face of the Eiger
  • The Dolomites, any long route
Islands in the Ocean:
  • Ball's Pyramid
  • Mt. Otemanu on Bora Bora
  • Bicycle up Mauna Kea from the ocean
  • Skellig Michael a first ascent
  • Faroe Islands a first ascent
  • Cross the continent, without motors, via the South Pole
  • Any route grade V or longer
Because "everything" I want to do seems super dangerous to most people, I have my limits and here are the mountains or routes I will not even attempt because they are simply too dangerous for my comfort level:
  • Annapurna, all routes
  • Lhotse the South Face
  • NW Face of Devil's Thumb in Alaska
Finally as a disclaimer, there are lots of routes and mountains where I'm open to attempting them, but everything (route conditions, partners, political situation, etc.) would have to be nearly perfect. Nanga Parbat and a lot of ice climbing routes, like M16 on Howse Peak, fall into that category. As I recently showed on Pikes Peak May 4th, 2019, I'm not afraid to turn around even in good weather if it's not my day. This list is not definitive, there are other very interesting things out there to go up and down. It's simply a list of things, that given the opportunity, I'd like to try. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Colorado Startup Life: Week 36

This was another good week. Really good actually! I bicycled 108 miles and went rock climbing three times, twice indoors and once outdoors at Eldorado Canyon. My new normal bicycle ride is 35 mile from my apartment up Lefthand Canyon to Jamestown and back. My ankle can tolerate the bicycling quite well. It is often swollen after, but the physician assistant I saw last week for my last doctor's check up said that will be normal for a while and it will be swollen just from normal use for six months or so from the ligament tears March 9th. Rock climbing, even just 200 vertical feet is harder on my ankle than a 37 mile bicycle ride. Twisting at those angles just takes some time to get used to. I still can't run, but I can walk without a limp. I'm supposed to be doing band exercises and single leg squats, and ow they are hard!

Work is going well. At a meeting I did not attend tempers flared, and there was a mini restructure of responsibilities afterward, and I'm happy with it. It could have happened two months ago and saved everyone some frustration, but sometimes you really have to dig in and make the mistakes super obvious before realizing them. We learn from failure, and sometimes we have to really fail to see it.

It's fascinating watching the emotions around the company. For myself I realized this past week, when I wasn't invited to two different meetings, that I was feeling entitled to go to those meetings. My ego was telling me, 'that since I have now been here for eight months, it's my right to go to those meetings, I've earned it.' It was very interesting! Coming from a big company, I can't remember ever having that feeling of entitlement to responsibility or to be part of the decision making. When there are people in their 40s and 50s and ever 60s around, being in my early 30s I still felt like the new kid on the block. Realizing that my ego was getting the best of me, I was mentally able to backtrack and simply go with the flow and be a little more humble. I'll go to the meetings I am invited to. It's a privilege to have the job I have, I don't need to go to all the meetings.

Along those lines, I said this years ago, everyone wants more control and more money. I spent months thinking about that after I first articulated it. At the time I wanted more money and more control specifically over my work. As I've gotten older my situation has changed. I've had a few promotions and raises since then. I have enough control over my work, that I no longer really want or feel the need for more money or more control. Yet I see in some of my coworkers the entitlement and desire for more control and more money. It's like the easy money venture capital rocket ship has accelerated the gradual build up of ego in some cases. To be fair, I'm being super critical of what I perceive is honestly a small issue that only affects a few people at the moment. The funny part is when I read about past startups, Apple, Google, etc. the issues we are facing are not new at all. They've affected technology startups for 40+ years. So I'm sure we'll get through them.

I hope you had a good week!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Future Proofing Designs

I'm working with the most expensive individual parts I ever have. The materials are expensive, the processing is expensive, and there aren't a huge number of suppliers capable of making these parts. Plus, since there can be six months between ordering and receiving the part, there can be some resistance to change. The challenge is when additional sensors, tubes and brackets are added later, there is nowhere to bolt them to. The solution is to future proof the design.

In high volume manufacturing these extra features might be scrutinized so much that it is not possible, but the again I would hope you are working with all of the requirements from the start (and I mean how sensor X is going to connect to location Y) because in low volume manufacturing that is often not the case. The ancillary systems are added in later after the bulk of the design is complete.

So this has been frustrating me a bit because I can see that in the next six months there are a lot of things we will need to add to one of our products and there aren't many places to add them. Years ago I owned the engine frame design for a large off road vehicle, and it was extremely eye opening how probably every other day someone would have a request to add a clip or a clamp, and this was just a few months before going to production! The solution was to add a few extra holes and mounting features in possible locations that might be useful in the future.

In short, if you ever are responsible for the design of a core part or a base part of a product, add a couple features so that when someone else comes by later and needs to route a wire or a tube they have a place. It's easier if you ask yourself the question before releasing the part, "will anyone ever want to attach something to this part that I was not expecting?"