Tag Archives: a to z challenge

Ordinary Day at the Office

There are days when I just love my job. Writing the novel Deadpoint (which is a hi-interest, low-vocabulary novel for reluctant teen readers) has been fun from Day One. Day One was spent sitting at the bottom of a crag near Mount Yamnuska observing a class of climbers new to climbing outside. Fabio was one of the teachers and I took pages and pages of notes of what was going on. I was pretty new to the whole outdoor climbing world myself and it was a great chance to pay close attention to the kinds of challenges faced by people making the transition from gym climbing to real rock.

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When making observations on the spot you really never know what might wind up being useful. I love, love, love just scribbling away, recording every impression I possibly can – trying to use all my senses with a minimal amount of reflection. Eventually, a surprising number of these weird details, snippets of dialogue, etc. wind up making their way into the story. 

As I was sitting in the sun, scribbling away in my notebook, the three main characters started to emerge from wherever characters come from. Ayla is a keen gym climber who competes in climbing competitions, but struggles with a fear of falling (ok, that weird quirk – the fear of falling – was directly drawn from my own psyche). Lissy, her best friend, is a hard core outdoors enthusiast who was ‘conceived in a tent, born in a gully, and raised in a backpack.’ Lissy and her family can’t imagine a better place to hang out than somewhere deep in the wilderness. And then, there’s the boy – Carlos, a city kid who likes to free solo buildings for fun. Carlos is new in town and catches Lissy’s eye, which sets up the friendship tension in the story.

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Carlos was born at the base of a cliff on that very first day of note-taking. 

Long story short (you need to read the book if you want to see how it all turns out), the three teenagers find themselves in trouble on a multi-pitch climb in the mountains when the adult leader of the group is injured and incapacitated. I was pretty happy with the way things were going (more or less smoothly!) through the writing and editing process. It’s great when that happens – some stories come together a bit easier than others – this one was generally straightforward and involved lots of fun conversations and discussions with my in-house consultant, Fabio, about technical details of the climbing, the accident, the rescue, etc… In fact, we wound up working out plot problems while we were on our long climbing road trip down in the USA earlier this year. I wrote away while Fabio drove…

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This surprised me a bit, just how much climbers think and talk about falling. 

And then, after a couple of rounds of edits with two different editors at Orca, I was sent a cover mock-up. I don’t think I can post the photo that was originally suggested because of copyright issues, but basically it showed a teenager top-roping what is clearly a sport climb – she has been cleaning the route and has draws clipped to her harness. It’s almost a perfect image – the sense of being way up high is pretty good, the climbing isn’t terribly difficult, the model is age appropriate… But, if one is seconding on a trad route, a multi pitch, what she would have dangling from her gear loops would be cams and nuts and maybe a sling around her torso and, yes, some draws…

An interesting debate with the editor, publisher, and book designer followed about how important it was (or wasn’t) to get the technical details right in the cover image. The thought at the publishing house (where nobody climbs) was that the image they found made it look plenty scary and showed a climber way up high. When Fabio and I looked at the image we knew that a) it wasn’t accurate and b) really didn’t reflect what was going on in the story – which has a lot to do with the strange and very specific details of trad climbing. True, someone who knows nothing about climbing would not spot the differences, but anyone who read the book and was interested in climbing, or wanted to learn more, or who might actually have done some climbing would definitely be confused.

So, I suggested we could probably stage something that was equally interesting visually (appropriately aged female, seconding on a trad route, cams dangling from her gear loops, good exposure drop-off-wise, and – bonus – a lake in the distance, which is mentioned in the story as the place where the group sets up camp).

Both the editor and designer were skeptical that I could tick all the boxes and come up with something appropriate that was going to work better than the stock image. I suggested politely they let me try and sent a couple of generic shots I happened to have on hand from some climbs at Barrier Mountain.

All of this is quite unusual – in most cases, I am presented with a cover for a new book and we all know it’s basically a fait accompli. Writers don’t get to design covers, which is how it should be. I am not a designer. I tell stories. I am usually more than happy to let the experts deal with their areas of specialty.

So I was a bit surprised and rather delighted when I got the word back from the publisher that we could go ahead and see if we could come up with something.

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Our hard-working belayers up top, managing ropes and keeping us safe. Thanks, guys! (Fabio on the left, Greg on the right – we couldn’t have done it without you!)

Of course, this immediately threw me into a bit of a logistical tizzy. I needed someone who could climb, who could pass for 16/17, and who would be willing to be climb up and down and pose in different positions so we could get the right shot. We needed to have me in position parallel with her, and we needed her to be belayed from above. We needed a pair of patient and competent belayers who could lead the routes we had in mind. And, we needed some reasonable weather – the rain and clouds and thunderstorms of the first part of summer this year have not exactly made for perfect climbing weather. We needed some appropriate gear to dangle from the climber’s harness… And we needed that perfect location that would make sense within the story.

Which is how Anne and I wound up climbing side by side routes on the upper bit of Barrier Wall. Barrier Lake is off in the background and by shooting from The Flake (11a) towards In Us, Under Us (11b) we could get a sense of the exposure we were looking for. The climber needed to fill out the frame, so I didn’t want to be too far away.

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Anne on In Us, Under Us. Not a bad spot, hey? And, note that technically accurate assortment of gear hanging from her harness. There’s even a sling around her body and, if you look very closely, a nut tool. 

Fabio led In Us, Under Us and Greg McKee led The Flake and then the two very patient belayers set up belays above us. They stopped and started belaying as Anne and I climbed up side by side. We took dozens of photos along the way, with me clipping to bolts so I could push my feet against the wall and get both Anne and the backdrop framed reasonably well… Poor Anne had to climb and re-climb sections so I could climb a bit above her and then beside her to try to get something useable. And some of what she had to re-climb was not easy!

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Anne approaching the start of the climb, which begins on the ledge you see just above her. Getting started required climbing up the lower routes so we would appear to be high enough that a multi-pitch scenario would be plausible. 

We tried having her look up, look down, look away and pretend to be stressed, concentrating, scared, and neutral. We had her traverse off the route to try to get her to stand out better against the sky. We took some action shots, some pensive shots, and some just for fun of Anne looking happy. We lucked out with the weather (it was a glorious evening when we shot the series) and, in the end, one of the shots turned out well enough that – yes – it will be on the cover of the book!

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Anne was great about going up and moving back down and letting me get repositioned to try this angle and that…

 

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This shot was taken by Greg from above as we were working (note me being very bossy and pointing out where Anne should put her hand…). What’s weird about it is that it was taken right at the top of the climb but it doesn’t look like we are that far up. We were actually about 10 storeys up and right at the limit of what our ropes would allow us do in a single push from the ground… But right below us is a bit of a bulge in the rock so you can’t actually see the vast expanse of rock we’ve climbed up to get to where we are. The next photo below gives a better idea of the scale of the particular cliff we were working on. (Photo Credit: Greg McKee)

A couple of times as I was dangling and angling for a good shot I found myself marvelling at how absolutely cool it was to be climbing with such great people in such a stunning spot on a glorious day all in the name of work! Really, a day at the office simply does not get much better than this!

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At the very end of the day our reward was to climb the classic Beautiful Rainbow (11a). Look closely… I’m in there somewhere up toward the top. Remind me not to wear brown pants if I hope to be spotted on the rock! (Photo credit: Anne Rozek)

And, in the end, this is what the cover will look like!

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Something to ponder… keen observers who know the area will note that one, but not both, roads were removed from the image (ah, the joys of Photoshop!)… Stay tuned for a longer discussion in a future blog post about why, or why not, a designer might choose to modify an image… 

Kudos to Rachel at Orca Book Publishers for coming up with this cool-looking cover… Fingers crossed that the cover will catch the eye of some teen readers in search of a bit of vicarious adventure! Deadpoint is scheduled for release in January, 2017. If you happen to be a book blogger or a climbing blogger and you’d like to receive a review copy, get in touch and we may be able to send a one your way! Then you, too, can pick apart the cover and see whether or not we got it right!

 

 

 

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.

J is for Jungle, and Jolly Good Jumping (on rocks)

G is for Gaston

“Do a gaston!”

“Say, what?”

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:

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Photo by Maria Ly (Flickr, made available under a Creative Commons license)

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…)

 

F is for Flight, Food, Fortitude, and Fabio’s Fabulous Fancy Footwork

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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  IMG_2155.jpg

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…

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There it is – the obligatory toes in the sand shot! After we touched bases about all the writing we are going to be doing, we headed for the beach to recover from too much thinking about serious things. 

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.

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Until I can find someone to climb with (or, find the crags and wander around looking like a lost puppy hoping someone will take pity on me… hey, it has worked for me before), I can always get in a little practice by climbing trees. Though, this looks like some weird variation on the pole dancing theme.

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.

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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.

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Fancy Footwork Fabio – dancing his way up the steepest of walls without a care in the world… 

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!

D is for Deadpoint – A to Z Blog Challenge

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Coming soon to a bookstore near you…

How handy is this? Today is brought to us by the letter D!! Which means I can pull off a super-smooth segue and mention my new, soon-to-be-released book, Deadpoint. This will be my third in the Orca Sports series of novels for reluctant teen (tween) readers and (conveniently, given this series of posts all relate to climbing), it’s set in the world of – yes, climbing.

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It’s not the first time that an obsession of mine has made it into a book. The StableMates series of novels all have to do with horses and riding and kids having adventures with their  equine companions…

 

tarragon-islandIn the Tarragon Island novels there are some sailing references and in Down to Earth I wrote quite a bit about my farm and local food production…

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In Deadpoint, three teenagers find themselves stranded on the side of a mountain when their leader is knocked unconscious by rockfall. As with all my books that blend fiction and reality, I drew on personal experience in various places in the book – people who know me well will recognize my fear of falling, my reluctance to crawl out of my sleeping bag at night when nature calls, and my interest in the street art versus graffiti debate. There are also various Fabio-isms sprinkled throughout the book (my favourite being, “You can’t fall off if you don’t let go.”)

The title, Deadpoint  comes from a particular moment in the story when the kids have to climb past the crux on a pitch that requires them to have faith and launch upwards as they reach for a handhold. In climbing parlance, deadpoint refers to the moment at the top of one’s upward dynamic move (it’s a bit easier to imagine a basketball player at the very top point of a layup) when one appears to be suspended in the air (and not because you are hanging from your rope). It’s the moment just before gravity reclaims you and drags you down.

It’s the moment just before gravity reclaims you and drags you down.

In climbing, it’s the moment when you can let go of the hold below and reach up for the hold above. Timing, balance, and nerves all have to come together for dynamic moves like this to work out in your favour and, of course, for those of us (Ayla in the book, me in real life) with fear of falling issues, it can be pure awfulness to leap and reach and trust that things will work out ok.

One of the things I love about writing fiction is the trauma I can inflict on the characters in my books. I sure had fun tormenting everyone in this novel! There are head injuries and a broken leg, friendship troubles, climbing challenges and near hypothermia. There are also snuggles and bonding and finding ways to dig deep and get through nasty situations, so it’s not all grim.

Unfortunately, in all the gazillions of climbing photos I have I don’t have a single one that shows a deadpoint moment. By nature, that moment is fleeting – gravity doesn’t have a whole lot of patience.

(** I was also going to add some tips on nailing drop knees… but maybe I’ll hang onto drop knees for the letter K)

C is for All Things Climbing, Apparently

 

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Crazed crack climber at the U of (forgive the deer in the headlights expression – that’s what happens when the photographer suddenly appears above you when you’re least expecting anyone to be up there! – thanks, Paul…)

How to chose what to write about today? Cliffs? Climbing as a philosophical metaphor for life? Crimps? Cracks? Carabiners? Chimneys? Chalk? Chicken heads? (yes, that’s a thing – I’m not getting confused with my past life as a farmer…) Chicken wing? (also a thing – actually, a technique and quite different to a chicken head, which is a type of rock formation). Campus boards? Clipping in? Crash pad? Crampon? Crags? Careful footwork? Crusty scabs? Couloirs? Camping? What about cranking? Cordelettes? Corners? Clipsticks? Or, the most common word people who don’t climb use to describe climbers – Crazy! Just listing the possibilities could add up to the day’s blog post!

And then there are the people – Conrad Anker – or Chris Sharma – or Chris Bonnington – Alycia Cavadi – or the names of specific climbs – Cookie Cliff in Yosemite or Cat Wall in Indian Creek… Or more general climbing destinations – Croatia, Colorado, California…

Where to begin??

How about calories? As in, how many calories does a climber burn? According to nutristrategy.com, a 130 lb person will burn about 650 calories in an hour of climbing rock. More, I guess, if you are carrying a heavy pack. The more you weigh, the more calories you burn, which makes sense as it’s a huge effort to haul yourself upwards…

This handy dandy calculator estimates how many calories you’ll burn if you climb for an hour (based on age, gender, height, and weight)… [I would burn off about 350 calories, my climbing partner 450 calories]

Which might account for why, after we leave the crags after a full day of climbing we can be ravenously hungry even if we’ve been snacking… say, on CLIF Bars!!

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The one on the left contains 250 calories – the one on the right, 200