Tag Archives: #bloggingatoz

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!

PC123269.JPG

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.

IMG_0014 nikki haffner half half 06-3

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.

munter 1.jpg

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.

munter 2.jpg

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

Munter 3.jpg

 

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…

rundle 01-EFFECTS.jpg

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.

Nikki Tate Banff 2015.jpg

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.

IMG_2951.jpg

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

Of Knees, Knuckles, Knots and Kalymnos

My knees have never looked worse. Even as a kid I never had so many bumps, bruises, abrasions and scabs as during this past year of climbing. Regular run-ins (bang-ons) with rock and ice will do that. Sometimes, knee damage occurs due to poor technique (leading with a knee and crawling over a ledge is not considered to be beautiful, stylish climbing…) and sometimes due to the rock being a tad closer than expected (bang!). Not that knees are always in the way. There are a couple of techniques that depend on clever knee placement. Knee drops are one of those – kneebars are another.

This video shows how the climber pivots her foot on the hold, drops her knee, gets her hip close to the wall and is then able to reach up and through to a hold above using a dropped knee.

Kneebars require the climber to wedge the top of the knee against or behind a bit of rock while the foot on the same leg is jammed against another bit of rock. Tension in the leg then creates a pretty stiff anchor strong enough to support much of one’s body weight. You can then either take a quick rest and shake out one (or both) arms or gain a bit of extra distance with an arm when you need to reach for a hold.

This video shows a bunch of different knee bars on various routes.

My knuckles have also taken a bit of a beating – not just from superficial scrapes (they often make me look like I’ve been fighting in back alleys), but also because they regularly get stuck in tight places.

IMG_1827.jpg

My knuckles are still stiff, sore, and swollen after this crack climbing practice session at the University of Calgary climbing wall… Jamming your knuckles into a finger crack can make you feel pretty secure in the moment, and rather miserable for days after. 

As for knots, it seems like they are the bane of my existence at the moment. Being dyslexic, it sometimes takes me an inordinate amount of time to master any technique that relies on things moving through space in a particular direction. Over, under, around and through, recently I’ve been attempting to add more knots to my ropey repertoire.

IMG_1429.jpg

Here we are back at home a couple of weeks ago at our simulated anchor at the playground,  practicing crevasse rescues. Prussiks, Munters, Gardas, clove hitches, figure eights, overhands, and who knows what else were all knots we used during the exercise… Wherever possible, each was tied while wearing gloves – being able to tie a knot without taking your gloves off could mean the difference between frostbite and no frostbite, remaining functional and, well, perishing. 

As for Kalymnos, I really, really, really wish I had photos I had taken at this climbing mecca in Greece. As it is, I’ve never been there. Kalymnos is right at the top of my climbing bucket list: hopefully we’ll get there during next year’s planned sailing trip in the Med. For now, here’s a link to the guidebook:

Cover-CK-Final-noconv-1

Kalymnos or Bust! (Meanwhile, my birthday is coming up soon and I don’t yet have a copy of the guidebook… hint hint.

Hey, with any luck we will be on a sailboat next April, just in time for the 2017 A to Z Blogging Challenge! If my knuckles haven’t completely seized up before then, maybe we’ll do a water-logged blog and on this date next year I WILL be posting my own Kalymnos photos…

I is for Ice and Infamy

PC063053.jpg

Ice and rock – strange and beautiful sculptural bedfellows – This photo taken in an icy cave near the top of This House of Sky in the Ghost Wilderness Area

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fabio (right) leading the last pitch of Cascade Falls (Banff National Park) – the wind creates the most amazing twirling fingers of ice

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Johnson Canyon in the Rockies – a popular place for ice climbers and tourists alike

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This House of Sky

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.

IMG_1302

Fabio – Johnson Canyon

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

IMG_1169

Tuck in behind a curtain of ice like this one at Bear Spirit near Banff, Alberta and it can feel like you’ve been transported to a parallel universe… One where ice fairies might emerge from their glassy bedrooms to dust the wintery world outside with a sparkling of frost… 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ve got my brave game face on here, but I was actually terrified. I was about to step out and around a very steep column of ice at Louise Falls  early in the ice climbing season and very early in my ice climbing career. Though I had serious doubts about my ability to get to the top of this one, once my palpitations subsided, in the end all went well. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Haffner Creek in BC is a place lots of climbers go to practice their ice climbing skills. Here I’ve been sent on a mission meant to improve my footwork. Note that my ice tools are parked down at the bottom and I’m climbing without them. Instead of relying on hooking the tools into the ice and hauling myself up, I can only use my gloved (and increasingly cold) hands for a bit of balance. All the upward movement came from my feet, which is as it should be.

IMG_1177

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.

IMG_2318

The word “infamy” was not in the original Pearl Harbor speech. 

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.

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

IMG_2159.jpg

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…

IMG_2191.jpg

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.

IMG_2171.jpg

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.

Version 2.jpg

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.

Version 2 (1).jpg

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!

E is for Elvis, Ed Viesturs, Everest, and Easy

IMG_1865

Me playing around on the cool, textured rock (once a coral reef, I think) at Graceland… that leg on the left might just be a jiggling… 

One of the things I’ve found most entertaining over the past year is the way in which climbing routes are named. Take Graceland at Grassi Lakes. Every route on the wall is somehow Elvis-related. Some of the route names include: You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hang Dog (5.10d), Memphis (5.10d), Elvis Lives (5.10b/c), Heartbreak Hotel (5.10d) and Sunglasses and Sideburns (5.10c). Not that I can see why one piece of rock is more evocative of one song than another, but in the minds of those who put the routes up, there must have been some kind of logic.

Elvis’ name is used in another context at the crags. Having a bad case of Elvis Leg (sometimes known as Sewing Machine Leg) is the rather unnerving leg quiver that develops partway up a climb, the result of fatigue or nerves (or both). Generally, it happens at the worst possible moment, when you are perched high above the ground, one toe wedged onto a thin lip of rock, all the muscles in your leg tense, trying to balance or shift your weight and reach just… over … there… to some teeny weeny bump of a pebble-sized outcrop so you can reach up and over and continue climbing. If the jiggling gets too bad, it can send your whole body into sympathetic convulsions, a state of being not conducive to reaching the top. Elvis Leg often precedes a fall – wise belayers get ready to take action when the shaking begins…

The climb called Naked Teenage Girls at Barrier Mountain is named sort of sensibly, I guess. That particular wall is very smooth – no lumps and bumps to grab onto. Assholes of August at Skaha Bluffs is a nice, long crack climb – maybe the first ascenders were behaving badly in the summertime? [Editorial aside: It’s high time more women started putting up routes – surely we could come up with better names?]

Meathooks at Grassi Lakes is logically named as the steep, overhanging rock means you wind up hanging there a lot. When we were there last week there were bodies suspended everywhere (mine included… because of the overhanging angle I was suspended so far away from the place I fell off I had to be lowered, the rope twirling me like a top so I could start again from the ground)…

IMG_1906

Meathooks area – a place climbers go to hang(out)

Someone who probably doesn’t suffer from Elvis Leg too often is Ed Viesturs, a guy who is pretty famous in the climbing world. He’s the first American (maybe the only one?) to have climbed all 14 of the 8000 meter peaks, all without using supplemental oxygen. He’s a writer and motivational speaker and recently Fabio and I have been listening to the audio book version of his book, No Shortcuts to the Top.

cover no shortcuts 3

It’s a fascinating read that talks about his quest to reach the top of all the world’s highest mountains, perfect for our drives back and forth to our own mini expeditions. Ed was part of the IMAX film team that was shooting on Everest during the terrible 1996 season that claimed eight lives. That disaster became the focus of the book Into Thin Air by John Krakauer (another great read). Ed has climbed Everest seven times, which is why he made it onto E-Day.

And, finally, I wanted to say something about days when things go a little better than other days in the life of a geriatric climber. I’m in my fifties and sometimes it’s really discouraging to see all these youngsters in their 20s who are climbing hard and making it look easy, especially when I’m having a particularly off day. My list of creaky bits is getting long – I’ve talked about my recovering elbow more than often enough, but that’s just the first of a number of annoying failing  body parts that vie for my attention. There’s something wrong with my left shoulder (made worse in the fall) and which needs to be properly dealt with at some point. My physio’s theory is a torn rotator cuff, but to be honest, I’ve been leery about getting a scan and then learning I am going to need surgical intervention. Some things are better left unsaid. So, I tape up my shoulder and strap on my brace and take some Tylenol and get on with the day. Nights are for icing and, so far at least, even though I look like my arm is being held together by tape and velcro, it’s functioning well enough.

Long approaches are really hard on my arthritic hip, the one that was injured many moons ago when I fell off a bridge with my horse (long story, and nothing in there starts with the letter E, except maybe EEEEEk!). I use a ski pole and try not to be too hard on myself when I’m slow on uneven terrain, especially when carrying a pack. I really feel my age on days when the big toe joint on the opposite foot starts to act up. That’s pretty much seized up from arthritis and can be incredibly painful on long hikes. I’ve found that cranking my boots (when ice climbing), approach shoes (for hiking) and climbing shoes as tight as humanly possible basically immobilizes the joint, which makes things mostly tolerable. Various joints in my fingers and thumbs are starting to ache – in part because I’m climbing some stuff that requires hard pinching, crimping, and pulling, but in part because old injuries are coming back to haunt me with the onset of arthritis in all those joints, too… (this is the moment when, if you happen to have one, you send me your best suggestions for dealing with arthritis!)

Listing the aches and pains has taken me a bit off course, but the point is, some days it’s easy to get discouraged, to question what on earth I think I’m doing heading for the crags day after day to climb alongside mere children!! And then, there’s a day like yesterday at Barrier where I tackled several things that I have, in past visits, found difficult (or impossible) but which were, yesterday at least, EASY!! First, I LED a route – not a hard route – but still, a lead (the 5.7 everyone uses as a warmup). Nevertheless, I wasn’t stressed (too much) and made it all the way up pretty smoothly. So, progress. After that, I climbed several of the slightly harder routes, all without any trouble at all. Feeling thoroughly warmed up, I decided to challenge myself and climb my hardest-to-date outdoors route (a 5.11b called In Us, Under Us which even Fabio admitted was ‘stiff’) and would likely have climbed it clean except I missed a very obvious hold (just didn’t see it – it was right in front of my face – here, I blame my trifocals because, hey, I was probably the only person climbing yesterday who was wearing trifocals…) andI  popped off when I made an ambitious move (and almost made it!) to the next hold without using the previous (unseen) hold. Keep in mind this was on a steep, pretty blank, balanc-y face where I was trying to transition around to a corner, also without a whole lot of holds to work with… I actually had managed to grab the upper hold but just as I was about to grip and get settled, my foot (which I had managed to get nice and high with a heel hook!) slipped and I didn’t have quite enough grip on the upper hold and fell. I was a bit rattled at that point and it took a couple of tries to repeat the move (and a couple more falls) before Fabio called up, “Why don’t you use that hold right in front of your face?” At which point I saw the hold in front of my face, which was exactly where it needed to be, and I easily (EASILY!) made the next move and finished the rest of the climb without much trouble.

I tell you, that felt GREAT! I’ve been feeling a bit stuck recently, like I wasn’t making a whole lot of forward progress, but getting up to the top of that one was very encouraging. So much so I decided to have another go at the 5.10c crack climb (End Dance) that had given me such trouble on a previous visit. Flailing, I think was the word Fabio used to describe my efforts on my first attempt. Yesterday, float might have been a better word. It was so strange! It certainly helped that I had climbed it before (and done it so badly – I knew exactly what I didn’t want to do). It also helped that friend and roomie Paul was there to give me some advice as I climbed (good beta, Paul!). And, it helped that I had just climbed something I didn’t actually believe I could climb. The last time I tackled End Dance, I thought I could power up the crack by hauling myself up. This time, I used my feet, used my head, stayed relaxed and, yes, E is for Effortless!

This may all sound a bit bragalicious, but I feel quite confident that failure at the crag is just around the corner. Climbing is like that. The next time I attempt that crack climb it’s just as likely I’ll be back in flailing mode. And that’s ok. In the balance, the good moments outweigh the bad and that’s what keeps me coming back.

P9181184 Assholes of August 01

Assholes of August is the crack on the right – there’s a dude on there, if you zoom in… 

Bring on Assholes of August! I’m going to lead that puppy, you mark my words!!