Tag Archives: climbing

I is for Ice and Infamy

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Fabio – Johnson Canyon

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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.

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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… 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

H is for Hawaii, Sarah Hueniken, Hips and Hula

I’ve got it! The connection between climbing and hula is (obviously) hip action!

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Watching the hula in Honolulu this evening made a lot of people (yes, including me) pretty happy.

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.

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Hips in – that’s Joe climbing This House of Sky in the Ghost River Wilderness Area earlier this season…

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Hips out – Fabio on This House of Sky

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…

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Sunset – Waikiki – nothing in this photo has anything to do with the letter H. Sorry.

 

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:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mariachily/6024815858/in/photolist-aboKRu-waLU8i-aJ7itH-pFMNGe-fKXMpK-fKXPog-qq5vFi-nAZbfi-fLfpx5-6ovGXN-6Aqm8w-5cRBju-6QviGM-ac5aPK-qB45fV-8vM8gK-nZSSdS-itcQeG-7LUuAz-7qCygK-dcazTq-o3prYU-dB3QSJ-o3AWMW-qGwhUK-njuuf5-neLmLJ-mponkB-9sids1-jgoh5v-6Lh5gp-7R1T8E-6Lkyr9-qiPc4o-dppNdo-ncgC2d-p4eUUz-pDoofL-nrHE3u-7YKC5L-3fpp6r-eJmRpJ-fJb2xo-nL23Zd-gNcRM-4TJ3pS-oeWCi8-778wUb-atpHUq-jgrWNE

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!

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

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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)…

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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.

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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.

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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!!

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