Joy – The Final Chapter

Joy - Part 3

Joy – Part 3

When it rains, it pours – as they say! I’ve been working feverishly on multiple book projects and have also finally tackled learning various Adobe Creative Suite programs including Premiere (video editing) and After Effects (more video editing). To go with those, I’m also learning to use Audition (audio editing) and Story (script writing and scheduling) and you can see why my head is spinning! I’ve also been busy behind the scenes organizing a new website for a big storytelling festival here on Vancouver Island (happening summer of 2016)… so I’m learning how to build a Wix website that includes a shop for tickets and links to all the mandatory social media tools – which means setting up new twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google+ accounts…

dinner with friends

Add to all that work-y stuff several visitors are staying with us at the moment (from Switzerland and Australia) so my calendar has been full, full full for the past couple of weeks. There is also a chance I’ll be heading off with the Ocean Legacy crew on August 3 for ten days or so of remote beach cleanup on the Brooks Peninsula, a very cool wilderness trip I’m super excited about but for which I have been scurrying about gathering necessary items in my spare (!) time – stuff like a decent lightweight backpacking tent and bear spray and some parachute cord.  You can see why this final Joy post has been pushed aside a bit…

I had grand plans for integrating some spiffy video (you know, because of my newfound skills with Premiere), but the learning curve is steep, so that isn’t going to happen in a hurry – for the moment, stills and prose will have to suffice!

So, Joy – I think I left things hanging as we approached the top of the slab some ten or so pitches and about four hours after hiking in from the parking area and then wobbling over the talus approach (see the earlier posts – Joy Part One and Joy Part Two). Which is about where I’ll pick up the story.

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Anne and I were all smiles as we reached the top of the slab.

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When I think about climbing up mountains I think about climbing up, as if getting to the top is going to be the big effort.

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We made it! Now we go home, right? Well... kind of.

We made it! Now we go home, right? Well… kind of.

In the case of Joy, dancing up the slab was actually pretty joyful. The problem is coming back down. Because there are no permanent rappel anchors you’d have to abandon your temporary gear up there if you used ropes to aid your descent. Even though it isn’t super steep or anything, a slip would mean you could bump and slither your way down the slope for quite some distance before friction stopped your descent.

I shudder to think where you might wind up if you tripped or toppled over and started rolling.

Anyway, without ropes to stop you from cartwheeling into oblivion in case of a fall, the only option is to exit through the back door. Except the back door on that part of Mount Indefatigable doesn’t lead to a handy escalator or a paved road or even much of a goat track. The top edge of the slab sort of crumbles away into this narrow ledge and lump, which is where Anne and I waited while Fabio took the other ends of the ropes and picked his way along the most ridiculous of non paths I have ever encountered. The rock was terrible – crumbly and fragile. At some point he put a foot down, shifted his weight and the lump of rock he had been about to stand on gave way and ricocheted off into … I have no idea where it went. Over the edge and down, down, down. I couldn’t see where it wound up, but judging by the ever diminishing sounds of its endless descent over the back side of the mountain, it must have fallen fifty miles or so. If one of us went over…

I had plenty of time to think about the perils of missteps and loose rock as I was to be the last one to traverse the tricky you-call-that-a-ledge? ledge. That meant I had to sit and wait on the exposed lump at the end of the mountain until Fabio had found a decent place to anchor the ropes for me and Anne and then for Anne to pick her way along the edge and around the corner to safety. The good news was I got to enjoy the spectacular view over the slab and into the valley for the longest of all of us.

The bad news was that the wind had picked up and I could feel the mountainside vibrating below me.

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The rock to the right was pretty good – you know, slab. The rock to the left was not so good – you know, gravel pile.

I thought mountains were big, solid things until I sat on one that was quivering. Not long ago a chunk of El Capitan peeled off Half Dome, a thousand foot tall slab of granite that keeps an eye on visitors to Yosemite. The chunk wasn’t something insignificant like something the size of a fridge or a couch or even a bus. The monster piece of granite that ‘flaked’ off is estimated to be about 100 X 200 feet!! (If you want more details, there is no shortage of articles about the incident online. Here’s a link to one from ABC News.) It was probably quivering before it let go!

So anyway, I was sitting up there thinking about glaciers calving and mountains cleaving and rock slides like the Frank slide that carry enough debris along with them as the mountain exhales and sheds a few billion tons of excess weight and wondering how long I would stay conscious in the event that the mountain did fall apart under the weight of my backside.

Was I going to be the straw that broke the back of Mount Indefatigable?

Fabio picking his way around the corner on the back side of Joy...

Fabio picking his way around the corner on the back side of Joy…

I decided that I would probably black out in sheer terror if my perch dropped out from beneath me and that at most I would have maybe a minute to feel exuberantly, gloriously alive before the falling rocks buried me.

I could only hope that something big clunked me on the head early in the going so it would be over as quickly as possible.

With thoughts like these wheeling slowly through my mind, I watched Fabio first place temporary gear in tenuous, crumbly rock and then think better of his plan. He climb up to a point above us and out of sight but where, he shouted back down to us, he found a much better place to set up an anchor. Secured from above by a rope, Anne made her way along the precipice and around the corner, Fabio flipping the rope over the sharp rocks from his vantage point above.

Brave Anne - I don't think she broke a sweat during our descent...

Brave Anne – I don’t think she broke a sweat during our descent…

Once Anne was safe, it was up to me to disassemble the anchor we had used to ascend the final pitch and then follow along. Having a task was great – I took apart the slings, snapped carabiners to my gear loops and pretended like I was getting comfortable up there ‘just doing my job.’ And then I set off.

What is amazing to me is how sure-footed a person can be when a gaping space yaws beneath one’s backside, when there are no holds to speak of (I grabbed a rock at some point and it came away in my hand. I tossed it over my shoulder and tried not to count the seconds before the noises it made while falling finally ceased), and when one looks down (mistake!) and realizes the ‘path’ in places  is only wide enough for one’s toes and the ball of the foot and arches and heels are being nicely cooled from the draft below.

What choice does one have in a situation like this but to keep going?

Slow and steady breathing on a regular basis, resisting the urge to grab, lunge, or leap – or the opposite – freeze, refuse to move, and curl up in a little ball, crying. Not that there was any room to curl into a ball and crying seemed a bit pointless, but I could see how people could react exactly that way when one’s reptilian brain threatens to take over. The fact is, with that top rope in place, I might have missed a step and fallen a few feet. I might have dangled for a few seconds before regrouping, climbing back up and continuing on. There wasn’t actually any real danger at this point, but the body and its fierce desire to stay alive and out of trouble can trick you into thinking ‘this is it! Say your good-byes!’ and for someone who hasn’t had a lot of experience in such situations on the top of fragile windy peaks, it was all a bit unnerving.

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Had serenity and a pleasant stroll back down to the parking lot been the end of this expedition, well, I could have wrapped up this blog post right about now. But the next section was what they call a ‘challenging scramble’ which, translated, means, “You have got to be kidding!” At this point the other two really put me to shame, marching along a narrow goat track, seemingly oblivious to the kilometre (? I’m not exactly sure of the distance, but that’s probably not so far off) drop just to our right. At some point Fabio decided it was best to short rope one section, a technique where the leader basically puts the followers on a short leash so that if he feels one of us losing our balance he can lean against the wobble and help the vertiginous regain equilibrium. To me, this seemed like a good way for a wobbler to pull all three people off the mountain in one fell swoop as he was not actually fastened to the mountain by anything more than experience and the sure-footedness of a mountain goat.

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Thankfully, this bit didn’t take too long and after we used ropes to back us up though a rubble-filled chute (probably not necessary – at this point I was feeling confident enough that I would have tackled that without out support) we emerged from the worst of the endless end of the climb.

Getting over that hurdle was still not the end of my troubles, though. Though the terrain lightened up a bit and shifted from loose pile of rock to something rather grassy and alpine meadow-y, we were now in prime mosquito and grizzly territory.

Honestly, I don’t know what was worse – the clouds of mosquitoes that immediately found us and settled on every inch of exposed skin or the shocking numbers of bear diggings we found in amongst the wild strawberry plants.

We could not step more than a few feet in any direction before we saw evidence of bear activity. Fresh digging. Heaps of scat. We all got very noisy, especially Anne and Fabio who sang and whistled and called and shouted so there was no chance that we would accidentally stumble on a bear with its head in a hole rooting around for succulent grubs (or whatever it is they were digging for). The bear population is so dense in this corner of the Rockies that the Mount Indefatigable Trail has been closed since 2005.

Fortunately, the creature coming around the corner was NOT a grizzly...

Fortunately, the creature coming around the corner was NOT a grizzly…

It had rained the night before (which might explain the mosquito frenzy) and the steep slope was slippery making it necessary to proceed carefully, though I would have preferred to jog (sprint?) through to get out of the way of any bears curious about the approaching singers. This bit of bear meadow was followed by a LONG scree gully, down which we had to slither/ski, trying to stay close enough together that lose rock (or falling people) didn’t gain enough momentum to take the others out and far enough apart that falling people didn’t take each other out.

And, by falling people, I mostly mean me.

Between my arthritic hips and wounded arm (I was worried about losing my balance and falling on it, even with the brace) I was a) slow and b) hopeless at this ludicrous sport. Imagine trying to stay upright while timing each step on a still fairly steep slope while everything around you is shifting and sliding. Scree is a dreadful mix of gravel and smallish stones, all of which start moving along with you as you go so your descent is precariously accomplished atop a modest landslide you can only hope doesn’t get too terribly out of control.

Packing up the gear at the top of the scree slope

Packing up the gear at the top of the scree slope

Descending the back side of that ruddy mountain took nearly twice as long as climbing up the front of it and by the time we reached the trail leading back to the car I have to say I heaved a huge sigh of relief! That said, by the time I reached the car maybe half an hour later, I was scheming and plotting where I could go to work on my scree ski skills and how I was going to learn about placing gear and how long it was going to be before I could get back up on another mountain.

Top of the scree slope - we slipped and slithered more or less all the way down to the level of the lake...

Top of the scree slope – we slipped and slithered more or less all the way down to the level of the lake…

My theory is that a similar mechanism to the one that allows women to endure childbirth more than once was at work because these days if anyone asks if I found joy on Joy I don’t hesitate to answer, “YES!”  And really, does life get any better than finding a way to a high point where one can look back on the valley below and consider how far one has come? Even better, do all that with fine company and good conversation and it seems to me that whoever named the route Joy knew exactly what he was doing.

Of Trees and Love

Originally posted on Nikki Tate :

Trees and Love

While looking for tree quotes that might be suitable for the CIP page of Deep Roots I came across this one by Khalil Gibran who is a pretty quotable guy. I probably won’t use it in the book (I’m leaning toward something from Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell). Another possibility is a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry that ends with, The tree is a slow, enduring force straining to win the sky. It turns out plenty of people have lots to say about trees so my challenge is not finding a quote to use but rather sorting through dozens and dozens to find one that works for the image selected for the page (which is not the image above… but of a young woman standing beneath a large tree at the water’s edge. She has one arm extended so it looks  as if she’s holding hands with the tree… a…

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My Kingdom for a Caption

Originally posted on Nikki Tate :

Deep Roots:How Trees Sustain Our Planet is back on my desk for a few days. This is part of the Orca Footprints series (Orca Book Publishers) and, like the other books in this series, it looks beeee-u-tee-ful! Jenn at Orca is doing a great job with these titles and it’s so exciting to see things coming together! My next task is to add a few more captions (some of the images have changed) and then provide nitty gritty finishing touches like the dedication and acknowledgements… Soon, soon we will have a book on hand!

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Joy – Part Two

joy part two title IMG_4809If you look up an established route in a climbing guidebook you’ll get an idea of how many pitches and the length of each, what permanent bolts or other hardware (fixed gear) might already be there, and what kind of gear you will need to haul up the mountain with you.

If you don't own your own ropes, cams, XX, slings, and stuff you don't even know the names of and have no clue how to use any of it, it's handy to hang out with people who a) have stuff and b) know how to use it

If you don’t own your own ropes, cams, nuts, quickdraws, slings, and stuff you don’t even know the names of and have no clue how to use anyway, it’s handy to hang out with people who a) have stuff and b) know how to use it. Note the cheerful smile. A positive attitude and endless patience are fine attributes in someone leading newbies up mountains. And by newbie I am referring to me and not Anne, the third member of our party on Joy Day. Anne, it turns out, is gazelle-like in her navigation of talus (see previous post) and willing and able to belay pitch after pitch when climbing with injured geriatrics… 

Every time I turned around there was some new vista to photograph. Next time, I'm going to haul my better camera up with me, though the iphone did an admirable job. It constantly amazes me how tiny wildflowers, moss, lichen and, yes trees are able to grow in what appears to be a totally inhospitable environment.

Every time I turned around there was some new vista to photograph. Next time, I’m going to haul my better camera up with me, though the iphone did an admirable job. It constantly amazes me how tiny wildflowers, moss, lichen, clumps of grass and, yes trees are able to grow in what appears to be a totally inhospitable environment.

Once all the mysterious gear was organized and strapped to bodies (mostly to the body of our fearless leader), the work of keeping us all more or less safe began. This was my first multi-pitch climb so I was totally intrigued by the various do-hickeys and how they were used (expert rock climbers, forgive anything completely stupid I may say and, yes – I know they are not called do-hickeys).

Anne Belay ready to play out rope as our fearless leader starts moving up the slab, hauling ropes behind him that will later be used to prevent either of us from sliding backwards off the mountain.

Anne tied in and getting ready to belay (play out rope) as our fearless leader starts moving up the slab, hauling ropes behind him that will later be used to prevent either of us from sliding backwards off the mountain.

Crouching on the slab, Fabio looks for a good spot to jam some of that gear into handy crack so the ropes will be attached to something reasonably solid...

Crouching on the slab, Fabio looks for a good spot to jam some of that gear into a handy crack so the ropes will be attached to something reasonably solid…

All the way up the slope, Fabio bounded ahead, stopping occasionally to set more rope traps (yes, yes – I know that’s not what they are called either…). As he went, dragging the climbing ropes behind him, he clipped them in as he placed draws and kept going until the ropes stretched between him and us were basically used up. Along the way Anne played out the slack so if Fabio fell he would only crash backwards as far as the last piece of protection he had placed.

It was amazing how tightly some of those do-hickeys held on to that crack...

It was amazing how tightly some of those do-hickeys held on to that crack…

Anne paying close attention while belaying...

Anne paying close attention while belaying…

Fabio scampering up the rock face dragging the ropes behind him...

Fabio scampering up the rock face dragging the ropes behind him…

IMG_4786 IMG_4788Me, snapping photos while the other two did all the hard work…

Meanwhile, gear continued to be placed up above us. When Fabio reached the end of the rope then he set up an anchor so he could belay us, taking up the slack as we climbed up to join him. Sometimes belay anchors were located on a luxurious ledge so we could all stand with feet more or less level. Just as often, we had no space to maneuver and sort of perched with screaming calves on the rock, hoping the next section would go quickly so we could move on again. (By the way, if you click on one of those smaller images you can enlarge it and click through the gallery…)

And that was the pattern for several hours – Fabio led the way (while Anne belayed, something my injured elbow really didn’t do well), set gear, and established a belay anchor so we could follow him up. We repeated the process about ten times (I was going to keep a very accurate and precise log detailing each pitch but confess I totally lost track after about four or five…).

Eventually, we reached the top (actually, eventually came pretty quickly – we moved fast and made it up in under four hours). Every time I turned around and looked back as we reached a new resting spot the views did, indeed, got better and better as more and more of the lakes below appeared.

At some point Anne and I failed miserably in our attempts to free a nut from the crack (refer to earlier comment about how hard those little suckers hang on) so Fabio had to climb back down to retrieve it and then climb back up to join us.

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To be continued… I’ll leave the climb at this point and continue in the next post because the worst part of the whole expedition was the bit AFTER we had reached the top and somehow had to get back down again…

In Search of Joy – Part 1

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The timing of my elbow injury couldn’t have been much worse, really. It happened right at the beginning of the climbing season and I was so excited about heading outside and climbing actual rocks and not just inside in the gym (which has been a lot of fun, but I was raring to go feel some wind whistling through my helmet ventilation holes!)

I briefly considered cancelling a planned trip to the Rockies (brief=nanosecond) but it turns out that with a brace and a knowledgeable guide it’s entirely possible to find routes up mountains that are stunning and fun and which require very little of one’s elbows.

Joy is the name of a route on Mount Indefatigable which overlooks the Kananaskis Lakes, a name I assume was given to the route by one of the three first ascentionists in 1995 (Peter Gatzsch, Urs Kallen and Geoff Powter).  …photo from the Gripped.com article about four routes along the Bighorn Highway in Alberta. The white line indicates the route known as Joy.

When I first heard the name I wondered if I would find it joyous to climb. From what I could find online, it seemed like the climbing wouldn’t be too hard and would require little if any pulling with my bad arm. It also seemed like it would take a while (it’s about ten pitches long and though none of the sections are difficult, think about marching uphill on a pretty steep grade for several hours after having recently arrived from sea level and you can see why I imagined there could be a bit of huffing and puffing and calf-burning going on toward the top).

The hike in from the parking lot took maybe 45 minutes to the bottom of a truly dreadful rock pile.

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Knowledgeable guide: “We are here. We need to go up there.”

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Experienced companion: Halfway up the rubble pile before I could even get started. (See her way up there?) Knowledgeable guide: The trick is to take small steps, find a level place to put your foot, and get into a rhythm. Me: Rock piles suck. I thought we were here to climb a mountain?

Things I learned about the Rocky Mountains:

1. They are falling apart. The quantity of crumbled rock that has fallen from on high is staggering.

2. A huge expanse of fallen rock lying at the base of one’s objective is known as talus.

3. If the resting angle of the talus slope exceeds 33-37 degrees, things will start to slither. I am glad I did not know this and had no way to measure the angle of the slope we had to traverse because I would likely have enjoyed my wobbly trip even less.

4. Marching across a talus slope is an obnoxious exercise. Every step is uncertain. It’s pretty steep: even though it’s not anything like a cliff, losing your balance would suck big time. I could easily imagine slipping and sliding my way toward the bottom, surrounded by a hail of rocks big enough to snap bones. When this sort of thing happens one engages in some sort of self arrest procedure. This basically means using boots, hands, walking stick, teeth – anything to dig in and grab on and stop sliding. This seems all well and good in theory, but how one would self arrest in a landslide when everything around you is slithering and big enough to cause some serious damage I’m not exactly sure. Variations of this maneuver are also carried out on ice and snow using ski poles and pick axes. At this point I remain unconvinced about how much fun ice climbing and glacier whacking could possibly be. At this point, my winter heart sings sailing songs in southern climes.

5. Fortunately, if you do as you are told by the experienced guide (read the micro-terrain, place each foot in as level a spot as possible, stand up, take small steps, use your pole as your third leg, get into a steady rhythm and let momentum carry you) it is possible to pick your way over a sizeable talus slope without dislodging anything too big or toppling over backwards. The end result? A somewhat sweaty arrival at the base of the slab.

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Rope Management 101: try not to get too many knots in the ropes. Try not to drop your rope over the edge. Make sure you have a knot in the end of the rope so it doesn’t slip through a belay device, which could result in you dropping over the edge of a precipice. Try not to think about stuff like dropping off the edge of a precipice or your climbing experience suddenly becomes a lot less fun.

While the two pros were busy sorting out gear, organizing ropes, and making sure essential supplies like sunflower seeds were handy, I gawked around at the view.

In the foreground to the right the tail end of the rubble heap we scrambled over to get to the start of the climb proper.

In the foreground to the right is the tail end of the rubble heap we scrambled over to get to the start of the climb proper.

I thought the view was pretty great right from the start of the climb, but the others insisted things would just get better the higher we got.

Looking to our right, the slab and, beyond that, Upper Kananaskis Lake.

Looking to our right, the slab and, beyond that, Upper Kananaskis Lake.

As the winds blew clouds over the lake, the patterns of light and water shifted and changed so even when we were standing still (waiting for our fearless leader to set up the next belay anchor, for example) the show was an ever-changing treat. Though I suppose we could have sat and had a picnic and then scrambled back down over the dreaded talus slope, we were all eager to get going.

Looking up the slab - though mostly smooth, every now and then a dramatic crack opened in the rock before us

Looking up the slab – though mostly smooth, every now and then a dramatic crack opened in the rock before us. 

The route up Joy is pretty straightforward – basically follow the little crack at the base of the outcropping on the left and head uphill. The crack, it turns out, is perfect for shoving in all manner of knobbly things known collectively as ‘gear.’  More about gear placement and what the lead climber does (and what we followers had to do) to come in the next post, but this is getting rather long and I’m a bit worried about creating a mega post with a gazillion photos that will take forever to load.

Day 12 – architecture and monochrome (Photo 101)

  

Snapped this yesterday when walking up the stairs to rooftop parking at a local shopping mall. A very ordinary photo was made more dramatic by converting to black and white and upping the contrast a bit. 

Day 11 – a Pop of Color (Photo 101)

A splash of colour...

A splash of colour…

In a brash move (in the spirit of yesterday’s post), I am posting this assignment out of order!  The challenge was to choose one bold colour possibly set off against a neutral background. Though the composition is more cluttered than I think was intended, the colour is so intense I’m posting anyway. This is an azalea variety which has an intense scent to match its brilliant display. It always starts to flower right around my birthday at the beginning of May and, for me, is a sure sign that hot summer weather is just around the corner.

As for those missing posts? I’m working on them… Maybe I’ll get around to posting and maybe I won’t. That’s just the way it is when you are dealing with a rebel blogger…