The Raven and the Bear

Flash Foxy

Guest Author: Nikki Tate-Stratton

Nobody can accuse me of having a brilliant or early start to a stellar climbing career. I vaguely recall one afternoon of rock climbing when I was ten years old and a bit of gym climbing when I was in my early 30s. After that, there was a very busy gap that lasted more than twenty years. I raised a child, published a bunch of books, did some traveling, and started a small organic farm. There was no time for climbing. But after I handed the reins of my farm over to some much younger farmers at the beginning of 2015, I found myself at the local climbing gym, tentatively trying a few easy boulder problems. Not long after that, I took a top-rope class and joined a weekly women’s climbing group and was delighted to find that the core members were, like me, all comfortably over 50.

nikki first climb banff 6 Me at the age of 10. More…

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N is for Never too Late

I know I started the alphabet challenge waaaaaaay back in, what, April? May? And then I was spirited off to Hawaii and got swamped with work and blah blah blah – the next thing I know it’s the middle of summer and I still haven’t passed the letter ‘N’!

Return to Newcastle Island

I wrote about our first trip to Newcastle Island here. I had so much fun on that trip that I returned to Newcastle the following week to re-join Rosario and Denis aboard their Whitby 42, Counting Stars. 

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This is not Counting Stars. But it is a good example of how not to leave Nanaimo… These guys were all fine – they waited for the tide to return and then floated off… A tad embarrassing, though. This spot traps sailors in full view of Nanaimo Harbour, the cruise ship dock, and Newcastle Island. 

We sailed from Newcastle Island down to Clam Bay (between Kuper and Thetis Islands), where we anchored for the evening.

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A light breeze meant we were able to practice flying the spinnaker. 

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There’s nothing quite like the special calm that descends on a peaceful anchorage in the evening. This is Clam Bay in the Gulf Islands of BC. 

The Sylvester family lives nearby and Craig (Greg?) paddled out to the boat with a selection of carvings, including a hummingbird by his sister, Tamila (I’m not sure if I’ve spelled the names right and some googling is not turning up any further information… If you happen to know the Sylvesters and the location of a website, please let me know…).

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The next morning we continued down to Poets Cove on Pender Island to take part in the Bluewater Cruising Association Rendezvous. Just off Galliano Island we spotted three killer whales moseying along, too far away for photos with my phone, unfortunately.

The rendezvous itself was great fun, with quite a collection of boats showing up from all over the south coast (actually, from as far away as Mexico!) to gather for food, drink, and sea shanty singing.

Here’s our team practicing our sea shanty…

I had a flight booked back to the mountains, so had to leave part way through the weekend, which was a shame because I was having a LOT of fun singing, feasting, and meeting lots of sailors. Alas, much work awaited me…

New Books

Deadlines are deadlines and Dani and I were busy putting the finishing touches on two new books in the Orca Origins Series. Happy Birthday: Beyond Cake and Ice Cream should be out in the fall of this year. Christmas: From Solstice to Santa will be out in the Spring of 2018. Deadpoint, the climbing novel which will be part of the Orca Sports series should be out early in January of 2017. Perhaps the best part of writing these new books has been the research. From digging through family photos to interviewing various people to climbing mountains, reading some very cool books, and stumbling across some nifty corners of the internet, at every turn we learned lots and had fun while doing so.

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Forgive the terrible quality of this photo of a photo – this is my mother and her brothers and sister (and a cousin?) in Germany. Note those are real candles on the Christmas tree! No fire hazard there, I’m sure. 

Hard on the heels of those books are three more, currently in the research and writing stage. One is a biography for kids about Elizabeth May (more on that soon), a handbook for young activists (which will also feature profiles about some pretty amazing kids who are making real changes in the world), and a picture book about climbing. Oh, and then there’s another in the Orca Footprints series which, at its heart, is about love, community, and cooperation. It’s been interesting starting to research this one – my reading has taken me to distant places like the Congo where researchers are studying bonobos in order to learn more about what it means to be human. More, too, on this in a future post.

Also in the works (I may be done with text edits?) is a picture book that’s been picked up by Holiday House in New York. Subject matter? Bricklaying and baseball. And feminism. At the moment the search for an illustrator is on – I’m very curious to see who is selected and how he or she will tackle the artwork. Stay tuned…

I think that’s it for the children’s book projects. Whenever I can, I’m also working away on an adult memoir/popular science/medicine manuscript tentatively titled, The Dissolution of HW, which is about the nature of personality and my mother’s struggle with Pick’s Disease.

In the ‘waiting to see how it all turned out’ department, there’s Scylla and Charybdis, which may be out before the end of the year with Pearson. A retelling of part of The Odyssey, it was both challenging and fascinating to find a way to stay true to Homer’s story but still be accessible to a contemporary audience. Very much looking forward to seeing this when it comes out.

Never too Late

And, finally, in the ‘it’s never too late’ department, it’s never too late to set some crazy goals. I will mention ‘Navigate around the world’ again here just so you know I haven’t forgotten about this project.

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Approaching the crux on a pumpy 5.11a at Sunshine Slabs. Missed the clip right at the crux near the top and came flying off, but I will be back! (And by flying off, I mean, I fell as far as the previous clipped bolt… and, because this is a pretty steep, overhanging kind of climb, I didn’t really hit anything – just dangled for a bit until I gathered my thoughts and tried again. Never did make it all the way up on this particular afternoon, though I climbed it on toprope a few days later, which means I can get up there. So, leading this one is definitely within reach… And if I can lead a 5.11a, could 5.12 be far behind?)

And, I’m going to state publicly that before I die I am going to Nail a 5.12 climbing route. 5.12 is a grade of climb that’s decently challenging and which, though I sort of had this as a streeeeeeeeetch goal, I really doubted I could accomplish it until very recently. Two things changed my mind. First, I’ve been going to a physiotherapist and a personal trainer who are working together to develop a program for me to deal with my ongoing shoulder (torn labrum) and elbow (after effects of the dislocation/ligament shredding) issues. The results have been amazing and I’ve been seconding routes of various types in the 11s without suffering any terrible after effects. I’ve also made huge strides recently in the leading department and just last week successfully led my first 10d. Suddenly, it looks like I might get to 5.12 before old age and infirmity get to me. So there you go, I’ve gone and made a public declaration of my intentions! That’s the first step, right?

Getting Personal — Nikki Tate – Author, workshop leader, presenter

One of the things I love about the various Orca non-fiction series I’ve been working on is the way each author must insert themselves into the manuscript by including relevant personal anecdotes. As a result, we are writing about topics that a) interest us on a personal level and b) have some real connection to […]

via Getting Personal — Nikki Tate – Author, workshop leader, presenter

Gone Sailing

A pause in the climbing-themed blogging as I take a moment (well, a couple of weekends) for a sailing interlude… I will resume my climb through the alphabet soon, but at the moment, my world has taken a decidedly watery turn.

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The docks at Newcastle Island. Oh, we do live in paradise.

Not long ago I joined the Bluewater Cruising Association, a group of offshore sailors who have either been-there, done-that or who are planning to go-there, do-that. I am in the latter category, obviously – my open water crossings between the BVI and the Dutch West Indies hardly qualify me as a blue water sailor even though the crossing to Saba was decidedly awful (probably deserves a blog post all its own at some point).

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Storm clouds gather last year in the Caribbean…

Despite my recent land-based exploits, I have never stopped hankering after a long sailing expedition – and, by long, I mean a circumnavigation. I have no idea if I’ll ever actually get all the way around the globe, but I certainly would like to get on a boat and go somewhere far away….

With this in mind, I figured it would be a good idea to re-join the Power Squadron, take some navigation courses, and try to connect with some legitimate sailing types (as in, people who currently have boats). The Bluewater Cruising Association turns out to be a treasure trove of boats of all shapes and sizes (and their crews, who come in all shapes and sizes, too).

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On the dock at Newcastle Island watching as participants practiced mast-climbing…

Last weekend Fabio and I joined the group on Newcastle Island (in Nanaimo’s harbour) for a weekend of learning about on-board safety. We joined Denis and Rosario aboard their boat Counting Stars, a Whitby 42 ketch.

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Fabio following his speedy escape through a hatch after putting out a fire below (while blindfolded).  Oh, what fun and games we had at MIST (Mid-Island Sail Training).

We practiced fire drills (blindfolded, we took turns simulating putting out an engine fire and then exiting the vessel via a hatch), pumped out the bilge by hand, and prepared to abandon ship. Each drill underscored the need to have a plan, be prepared, and not panic. There was lots of laughter as we learned some pretty serious lessons about the importance of knowing how to get off the boat in a hurry but also realizing that in most cases staying aboard was actually the safest place to be.

After our dockside exploits, we set off on a blind navigation exercise in which we had to locate a buoy a few nautical miles away without using our electronic navigation systems. We’ve all become very dependent on iPads and chart plotters to find our way around, so it was pretty cool to see our ‘blind’ navigator, Rosario finding her way to the buoy even in a simulated thick fog without the benefit of radar or other hi-tech gadgetry.

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Chart plotting the analog way…

We had so much fun on that weekend (I wrote a bit more about it in an article over on the Bluewater Cruising website – I’ll add the link once that’s been posted) that I decided I really didn’t want to miss out on the following weekend’s fun at the group’s rendezvous to be held on Pender Island over the May long weekend.

Which is why I’m sitting aboard Counting Stars once again, typing this as I await our boat ride over to Nanaimo to pick up a few provisions for our trip down to Pender.

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Last weekend – Rosario, Denis and Fabio aboard Counting Stars. Can you blame me for wanting to come back for more?

Happy, happy, happy is how I’d describe my mood at the moment, despite the fact it’s chilly and the rain is pouring down outside. There’s something sort of cozy and reassuring about the sound of rain pattering down on the canvas dodger over the cockpit, the main companionway hatch open to let in the fresh morning air. Not that I’m happy about the rain, more like I’m so happy to be on a boat not even the rain can dampen my mood. This may change by the time we’ve spent the day sailing (or motoring, there’s no wind… of course), but for the moment I am thoroughly enjoying all the familiar smells of diesel and salt air, fresh coffee and seaweed.

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Can’t beat that view from my hatch!!

It’s also a lot of fun to be reminded of all those things about living on the boat that one forgets about until it’s time to find something in the very bottom of the fridge (fishing out the milk for this morning’s coffee caused an avalanche of smaller items that slithered into the hole left by the jug), flush the head (or walk up the hill to the on-shore facilities), or move piles of life jackets aside to find a place to sit.

And, there are all the wonderful aspects of life aboard, including good company and the extra good taste of coffee when accompanied by the background music of shorebirds greeting the day!

Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet – Nikki Tate

What a lovely review of Deep Roots! Thank you!

Youth Services Book Review

3711532      Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet – Nikki Tate, Orca Book Publishers, (9781459805828), 2016

Format:  Hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

What did you like about the book? This is a very personal and incredibly comprehensive guide to what trees should mean to everyone on earth. Lavishly illustrated the author shows us trees of the world and the roles they play in our lives. The format is more than friendly, it is compulsive reading. A detailed resource list and a glossary are included.

What didn’t you like about the book? Nothing to dislike here!

To whom would you recommend this book? I would recommend this book to everyone: not only is it extremely informative and interesting, it can open one’s eyes to the majestic magic of trees.

Who should buy this book? All public libraries and elementary and middle…

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M is for Munter (how to tie one), Mountains, Lady Mac, and Mixed Climbing

M is for mixed climbing, Munter and … and maybe mountains… and what about multi-pitches… Keep scrolling down if you want to get to the good part (the Munter video!)

On the first day of this challenge I was pretty sure I could dredge up something to say about climbing for each day of the alphabet… on about day five (E is for whatever E was for… M might also be about memory, or lack thereof…) I was feeling pretty panicky. I mean, you can only say so much about going up and not falling off, right? Well today I’m sitting here looking at my shortlist of M-words and I’m thinking that if I’m not careful this could develop into a long blog post!

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Me trying something waaaaaay too hard in the mixed climbing department. Sometimes you have to go past your limit to find the line in the sand… rock… ice… wherever. In this case, the line was about as high as you see here – just low enough, in fact that each time I fell off (many times) the rope stretch allowed me to gently hit the ground. With my backside.  

I’ll start with mixed climbing, a sub-genre of the climbing activity about which I had no idea before this past winter. In the vertical world in the dead of winter two solid forms (ice and rock) come together in the mountains. Climbing when you wind up transitioning from one to the other (and sometimes back again) is known as mixed climbing. The tools used are similar to ice climbing, but look closely and small difference begin to emerge.

Crampon points, for example. On a straight ice climb two front points give you a wider, more secure base upon which to perch (though, there are those who climb ice quite handily with mono-points). If there’s going to be a lot of rock on the route, though, it’s actually easier to climb with a mono-point, a single front prong. This is because the plane of the rock is very rarely exactly perpendicular to your foot placement. Unlike in ice where you can kick your foot in to create a more or less even distribution of weight over both points, on the rock, more likely you are going to carefully place your single point into an indent, small hole, or on a modest lip of rock. The chances of said placement point being exactly wide/deep/level/spaced to accommodate two fixed points on the front of your boot is slim.

Likewise, the blades of your ice tools can be swapped out with sturdier, less razor sharp options being better for rock than for ice. Fabio has a tool kit in the car especially for the purpose of swapping out pointy bits to best suit conditions.

Though both sections (rock and ice) of a mixed climb can be hard, sometimes the transitions between one and the other provides a particularly tricky challenge.

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Me transitioning between rock and ice at Haffner Creek earlier this season…

 

The Mighty Munter Hitch (Or, Italian Belay Knot)

A Munter hitch is named after Werner Munter, a Swiss mountain guide born in 1941 (though, the Italians were using it before Herr Munter, which is why it’s also known as an Italian hitch or Italian Belay). The knot is a bit like a clove hitch and can be used to belay a climber if you have a handy carabiner. What’s coolest about the knot is the way it’s sort of reversible – flipped in one direction it can be used like a brake (say when your buddy has fallen into a crevasse, you’ve stopped the fall by walloping your ice axe into the glacier and then throwing your body weight on top of the ax, and then you need to stop your friend from slithering deeper into said crevasse… After quickly building an anchor – and the thought of having to do this with gloves on and while sitting on my ice axe is nothing short of horrifying – you would then use a Munter to secure the rope leading to your fallen friend… well, not exactly – first you have to take the weight off the rope by transferring the weight of the climber to the newly built anchor… gads. That was meant to be a simple aside. Turns out it might need to be a whole other blog post.) Flip the same knot upside down and you can use it to belay your friend, letting out slack to lower her to a handy shelf or taking in slack as she climbs up and out of the crevasse.

Here’s my handy dandy how-to guide (and specially produced video!! Thanks to Fabio for being a Munter model…)

How to Tie a Munter Hitch

Step 1: Make a loop in the bit of rope that leads to the fallen climber. The end leading to the climber goes underneath.

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Step 2: Make another loop in the end of the rope that leads to your excess pile of rope (the end away from the climber). The excess end goes over the top.

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Step 3: Fold the rope in the middle to bring two loops together.

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Step 4: Insert a carabiner (preferably a nice big pear-shaped carabiner) through both loops.munter 4.jpg

Depending how the knot is oriented (which was much easier to show in the video), you can either belay (play out rope) or stop the rope from running. Now you have to watch the video, to see what I mean about flipping the knot’s orientation… Trust me. This will be the sexiest 90 seconds of knot tying you have ever had the pleasure of watching… there’s even music.

 

Mountains: I’m just going to throw the word in here because the entire world of rock climbing would disappear without them…

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Here’s one of my favourites, the iconic Mount Rundle in the Rockies. The first mountain I ever lived on was the more diminutive Tunnel Mountain, which reminded me of a round-backed hedgehog-like animal sleeping in a bucolic valley surrounded by unfriendly giants. As a kid I hiked up the Banff side of Tunnel on various occasions and, because our house was on the lower flank of this modest lump, spent many hours building forts, exploring, and playing hide and seek in the forest behind our house. It wasn’t until last summer, though, that I had the chance to climb up the steep backside of Tunnel and quickly realized that, in fact, even though it’s dwarfed by much bigger neighbours, Tunnel is still worthy of its mountain moniker.

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Mount Lady MacDonald is a popular hiking destination near Canmore. Here, she peeks over the trees at Grassi Lakes, where we were climbing yesterday afternoon. How handy that her name begins with the letter M.

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As for multi-pitches… well, another blog post, I guess! I am out of time… making that video was exhausting.

L is for Love Affair

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Much as I adore him, I would never dream of going on a date with Cliff without using protection…

It’s 4 am and the alarm isn’t due to go off for two more hours. Then, I’ll leap into action, make a quick lunch, and jump in the car to head for the mountains and a rendezvous with the love that has rocked my world. “I’m too old for this,” I think. “Roll over. Go back to sleep. Your date with Cliff will go a lot better if you’re well rested.”

And then I’m back in the middle of  a dream where my heart races and I feel a surge of excitement as I catch sight of those big angular shoulders and broad back and say something ridiculous like, “I think that’s cheese in my chalk bag.” Then, trying to disguise my awkwardness, I start to tie a follow-through figure eight knot but then realize I’m not having any luck because I’m not holding a climbing rope: the thing in my hands is a garden hose and it’s leaking red paint all over my favourite climbing shoes. And at that point a rock falls from the sky and cuts my new skinny rope and I fly backwards off the crag, down, down, down toward certain death. My own gasping wakes me and, heart thudding, I lie back on the pillow trying to calm myself with slow, even breaths. Because I am in love and obsessed and every night my dreams are filled with variations on the theme of Cliff.

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On the drive to see Cliff I make plans, visualize the way I will caress the stone face that awaits me, the way I will gently, but firmly, plug gear where it fits best. As the miles roll by and the grade gets steeper, I talk to myself about being brave and not letting my fears of attachment (or, failure to attach) get in the way of having the best date ever climbing to rapturous heights I could only imagine before finding this perfect partner of mine.

The signs of a love affair are everywhere: well-pawed climbing magazines cover the coffee table, my email inbox is full of ads from MEC and REI and Arcteryx and special promotions from Black Diamond and Evolv and La Sportiva. I drool over Facebook photos posted by one friend who has run away to Kalymnos, another living out of a van in Joshua Tree, yet another in Squamish. I stop on the way to the kitchen to hang from my fingerboard and count the minutes until I will see Cliff again.

Foul weather is no obstacle for our outdoorsy romance: even during the depths of winter there is evidence everywhere of where I would rather be: my ice tools and crampons dry over the heat vent in the living room, the Thermos waits on the kitchen counter to be filled with hot tea, and my thick puffy jacket is draped and at the ready by the back door. Cliff is never far from my mind, even on the coldest of days when he wears his frostiest of cloaks and tries to frighten me away with his icy glare. So fiery is my passion that sub-zero temperatures, high winds and snow flurries cannot keep me away.

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In the warmer months I wrap my fingers in tape before a date with Cliff with the same careful concentration as another woman might shave her legs before meeting her paramour. Instead of lotion to smooth my skin, I carefully dust a layer of chalk over my hands before ever so gently stroking my fingertips over my sweetheart’s waiting form. Occasionally I indulge in a spritz of insect repellant behind my ears.

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Lunch, a squashed sandwich or piece of bruised fruit is consumed at my true love’s feet, perched on a slab of stone, the sun tangled in the bit of pony tail that has escaped from beneath my helmet.

If a successful date is judged by how much sweating and grunting goes on before collapsing, utterly spent into bed, then a date with Cliff (or his big brother, Montagne) ranks right up there with the very best. Hanging out with (or, hanging off) Cliff leaves me no choice but to live in the moment and day after day finds me breathless and giddy, all a-quiver with the sheer joy of being alive and partnered up with the most magnificent of rock specimens in all of the great outdoors. I can’t imagine anything more delightful than lazy summer days spent playing footsie with his ledges or the moments of near rapture when I’m wrapped around his arete in a heartfelt embrace. Not quite as much fun are those times when I find myself spread-eagled and vulnerable, too scared to make the next move but unable to retreat.

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And I ask you, what better way is there to spend a long evening than with Cliff’s other lovers when we rehash those shared memories – both the exhilarating and the lamentable: that overcast morning when I got my hand stuck in a dark place and thought I’d never get it out, how, when the two of us are in balance it feels like we are performing a graceful pas de deux, and that time when Cliff and I stayed out dancing so late I needed a headlamp to find my way back to the car.

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Not that things are always perfect in this dizzying romance of mine. There are moments of tension, for sure – when I feel like the bottom is dropping out of my world, when I can’t trust the ground I’m (not) standing on, the way Cliff can be cold and heartless and unforgiving. There are days when I can’t stand the way he ignores my pleas for a handhold. There are times when I want to walk away because I don’t understand how it’s possible he doesn’t feel me shaking when anxiety threatens to overwhelm me. It baffles me how he can steadfastly refuse to do anything to help me get a grip. On those dark days it almost feels like Cliff is trying to shake me loose.

And yet, when I go back the next week, the next month, Cliff is there, strong and silent as always. Waiting. And when I lean up against that solid form, push my hips in close and take a moment to breathe, I feel another breath echoing my own. A whisper, calling me home.