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Category Archives: A to Z Challenge 2016
Today’s post for the A to Z Blogging Challenge will be mostly photos – of ice. Which is definitely a bit strange given I am sitting beside a swimming pool in Hawaii as I write this… But ice has been a bit of a theme back at home this year. I knew there were people who climbed frozen waterfalls, but to be honest, I didn’t really think I’d ever be one of them. And then, I met Fabio, who is obsessed with ice climbing.
I can’t say that I’ve become obsessed with ice climbing in the same way climbing rock has seized me, but I have lost track of how many times I’ve had my breath taken away while in the presence of some icy feature.
At various points during this winter’s explorations I’ve found myself hanging out in ice caves – either to get out of the wind, wait my turn to climb, belay safely without getting bonked on the head by falling ice or, once, when I decided I wasn’t up to the final, steep pitch and was happier waiting for the others to climb while I snapped a few photos.
By turn brutal and delicate, intimidating and fragile, ice is nothing if not unpredictable. From one day to the next it can change and, depending on its mood, can make for a fabulous climbing partner or an obnoxious opponent determined to thwart one’s best efforts to ascend. Softer, wetter conditions make it much easier to sink your ice tools deep, but too warm and things can literally start falling apart beneath you.
Whack at a piece of hard, glassy, blue, extremely cold ice and your tool is just as likely to bounce back at you, barely leaving a scratch on the surface. Hit the rock hard surface at a slight angle and you might dislodge a knife-edged slab of ice capable of decapitating you or your belayer.
As I write this today I could not be farther away from that magical, icy world of the mountains in winter. Here in Hawaii we visited Pearl Harbour this morning and spent some time in quiet thought at the memorial of the sunken battleship, Arizona. In the museum I was intrigued to see the handwritten edits to one of the world’s most famous speeches delivered by F. D. Roosevelt the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
I’m busily editing three different manuscripts in progress at the moment and they all look a bit like that typed page, full of additions and deletions and new directions and re-thinkings. Not that any will be as significant as The Infamy Speech, but it is reassuring to see that even the most eloquent of writing likely started out looking quite different to its final, polished form.
I’ve got it! The connection between climbing and hula is (obviously) hip action!
It only makes sense that one generally wants to keep those hips in close to the wall – there’s no point in shifting your centre of gravity way away from the rock face – that kind of thing will pull you off faster than you can say ‘take!!'[For non-climbers, that’s what you yell at your belayer when you need the slack to be taken out of the rope, generally yelled during a moment of panic and/or exhaustion, often just as you are beginning to fall.]
At the same time, it’s impossible to see where you are putting your feet if you keep your hips glued to the wall and never look down. Which is where the hip action comes in. This is particularly pronounced when ice climbing when you need to stick your backside waaaaaaaay out before you move your feet.
Pushing your backside out accomplishes two things – your arms stay straight (less tiring than keeping them flexed by pulling into the wall) and allows you to yank the points of your crampons out of the ice, move your feet up, and kick them back into new positions higher up. Once your feet are comfortably set, you push your hips in toward the ice before you pluck your ice tool free and swing it home again above you.
If you want to watch a short (and very cool) video about ice climbing by my friend Craig Hall (handy his last name starts with the letter H) about Sarah Hueniken, here’s the link.
That’s all I’ve got – I’ll let the sun set on this blog entry…
“Do a gaston!”
It’s always fun to get advice partway up a climb that makes no sense. A gaston? What the heck? Who, or what is a gaston?
Turns out it’s a climbing hold named after Gaston Rebuffat, French mountain guide and climber (and author of various books including On Ice and Snow and Rock in which he is seen doing a double gaston) who liked to use a reverse grip that requires turning the hands backwards and pressing outwards to create resistance. The image used to describe what a double-gaston looks like is to think of how you’d put your hands if you were trying to pry open an elevator door.
Maria Ly posted this image of a double gaston in action:
Much like in this photo, there was a narrow crack right in front of me that would have been very useful, had I known what a gaston was before I found myself looking for somewhere useful to stick my fingers. Enough said. Now I know. The gaston has been added to my toolbox of climbing tricks.
(I was also going to write about ice climbing in the Ghost River Wilderness Area and the super fun multi-pitch called Geronimo at Red Rocks, but alas, hula dancing is calling my name, so those subjects will have to wait for another day… Not sure if/how I’ll be able to link hula dancing to climbing, so even though tomorrow will feature the letter H, you may never get to find out how my evening is about to go here in Hawaii…)
Is it possible to sit on a plane with a laptop and not blog about it? Apparently not, if you’re me. I’m on a flight from Calgary to Honolulu, at this very moment being tossed about in a turbulent patch having just eaten airplane food
and considering having a nap. The trip was a last minute thing where the stars aligned and Westjet had a spectacular seat sale (usually I learn about these 24 hours AFTER the deadline) and my brother needed a house sitter. You may conclude that, therefore, I offered to housesit, but my daughter, Dani, had already jumped in to volunteer! However, Dani is not just my daughter. She’s also my co-author on a couple of current projects and we’ve been trying to figure out how best to get away and spend some concentrated work time together. Voila! Opportunity knocked! We’ll write a bit each day BEFORE we surf, swim, kayak, hike, or hang out…
As for the climbing connection, I’m hoping to hook up with some local climbers as the crags on Oahu have recently been reopened after a long closure following a rockfall accident. Stay tuned.
Because this is meant to be an A to Z blog challenge relating to climbing, I couldn’t really get past the letter F without a nod to Fabio and how he has changed the way I climb. Being one of his regular belayers (he has many friends, and many of those friends climb, so I am but one in an army of people who belay for him), I’ve nevertheless had lots of opportunities to watch him climb over the past year or so. And every time he floats up some ludicrous holds-free wall, I find myself mesmerized. There are days, when he is at the top of his game, that it’s like watching vertical ballet.
Every move is efficient, controlled, graceful, and deliberate. Unlike when I thrash around, groping for holds or pawing at the wall with my shoes but unable to find any purchase anywhere, he looks, spies a teeny weeny hold the size of a grain of salt, stretches out his leg and ever so precisely places his toe on said non-existent hold. A subtle weight shift follows and then he releases the one finger he’s been holding on with, smoothly reaches around behind him to dip his fingers in his chalk bag, and then circles his arm back to the wall where, without fail, his fingertips land on another ripple in the rock face. There may not be another hold handy for his other foot to move to, so sometimes he stretches that limb out around behind him where it crosses behind his first leg (the one balanced on the grain of salt) and, toe pointed, he uses the second limb like a counter balance, pressing it against the blank wall behind him (a maneuver known as a flag). Using body tension and willpower alone, he stands there ever so calmly on one toe, considering his options. And then he makes another move, equally elegant. He rarely falls. He never panics. I don’t think his heart or breathing rate ever changes except for when he is watching me flounder around when it’s my turn to climb. “Use your feet!” he’ll shout up. “On what?” I’ll mutter into the rock, because seriously, half the time there is nothing there that could reasonably be called a hold of any kind. But I can’t really say much in argument because he will have just led the route and, obviously, found all kinds of holds along the way.
Watching him climb is, in turn, inspiring and frustrating. I have learned so much about footwork and balance and patience and seeing holds that don’t look like they would support a grasshopper, never mind a human. At the same time, there is nothing worse than getting completely stuck half way up a route and going suddenly rock blind, the term I use when it’s like a giant eraser descends from on high and wipes out any usable feature on the rock. From fifty feet away, with his bionic rock eyes, Fabio will say, “What about that hold to your right?” I’ll look to my right and see… nothing. Absolutely nothing. “To your right. Level with your elbow. The side pull!” And suddenly, it materializes as if he has conjured it up for me! An inch long lip running vertically beside me in exactly the right spot to reach out and hook my fingertips around, a perfect little hold to lean against so I can shift my weight onto my left foot so I can move my right foot up to… Oh, God – up to where? At this point as my right foot waves uselessly in the air, I can hear Fabio below tutting and groaning, wanting to pull his hair out with frustration because, of course, even from way down there he knows exactly where my right foot needs to go.
Sigh. At times like this when frustration fuels my fury I need to remind myself that Fabio is in his fourth decade of climbing, which gives him a small advantage over those of us who are relative newcomers. Which is where fortitude comes in. I’ll need lots of that if I’m going to keep having fun feeling my way forward to future footwork finesse!