Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Thoughts in My Head

The following is a rough stream of thoughts in my head:

I should just quit. I'm so bad at landing. I can do just about everything else in the plane I have tried but I'm up over 25 hours now, and I still haven't soloed, and I'm not sure the end of dual instruction landings is even in sight. I feel like a failure. But isn't this always how it is? Most things I try I fail at. I just paid north of $400 today, spent 9 hours 15 minutes total on flying, and while the flying under the hood was really cool, and I nailed it, the landings sucked. I'm confident I can get to the ground in one piece, without crashing, but the landing gear is going to need more frequent inspection. Why can't I do this? Why am I spending so much money on this? I have basic status on United and American right now, why am I bothering to learn to fly an airplane?

Learning is so tough. I mean, I try these things and while I like to imagine I'm a fast learner, I don't think I am, I'm just stupidly stubborn enough to keep at it after everyone else quits. Look at me! There are tens of thousands of people just in the USA that could run ultras better than me they just aren't stupid enough to stick with it.

This is so frustrating. I need some encouragement, but of course I'm not going to ask for it. First world problems right? I can't land a plane well. Boohoo.

Maybe I should try helicopters? After all you basically just set it down. How hard could those landings be? I don't know. What's the point?

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.