Tag Archives: rocky mountains

S is for Slug, Snow, Spindrift, Spring and Street Art (#AtoZChallenge2018)

 

 

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Spindrift [Fine snow that blows off a mountain… well, I guess it could blow off anywhere, but this was snow blowing around above the Bow Valley]

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Snow is melting away before our eyes as spring finally, finally finds its way to the Bow Valley. This year, it seems like winter has been here for a very long time. 

 

S, it turns out, is full of potential when it comes to this month’s daily blogging challenge! It seems everywhere I look it’s all about transformation (the theme this month is Travel, Transformation and Transition…).

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been receiving updates on a watercolour painting from Dad’s studio…

 

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In an artist’s studio, ideas are transformed into drawings, paintings, prints, lino cuts… 

 

The subject matter? Unusual, to say the least!

 

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Slug, slowly making his way to completion… 

 

 

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Slug on the Camino by E. Colin Williams (2018)

 

 

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Stormy Seas… by E. Colin Williams (Oil on Board) I don’t think that’s actually the real title, but today is day so I’ll leave it for now… I’m sure Dad will let me the correct title. 

 

When I travel, one of the things I love to photograph is the street art I come across. Somehow, even the roughest of neighbourhoods, most rustic back alleys, decrepit sheds, and ramshackle fences are transformed when someone takes the time to add a little art… Here are a few pieces of street art spotted while wondering through Paris earlier this month…

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And, of course, I can’t leave this post without mentioning Rodin and this piece of sculpture featuring a great stone… Oh, I sure did enjoy myself in Rodin’s garden!

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Oh, one last thought… sometimes the stones themselves become works of art as in this installation not far from my place here in Canmore.

 

 

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Portal XII by Lucie Bause, 2011

 

I could keep going for hours, but it’s been a very long day staring at the computer as I work my way through the draft of the new manuscript and my eyeballs are getting more square by the minute! So, away I go to slip off to SLEEP so I can transition into T is for tomorrow!

 

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Sleep by Abbott Handersaon Thayer, 1887

 

 

Q is for Quarry Lake (AtoZChallenge2018)

 

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Quarry Lake Park near Canmore

 

Well, sometimes the stars align, hey? I was wondering what on earth I’d dredge up to talk about when Q rolled around. After I picked A. up from a dentist appointment, we headed up to Quarry Lake for a stroll and a pizza-themed picnic. Because it’s so close (about a five-minute drive from downtown), it’s a pretty popular spot and even though the trails are  soggy at the moment there were lots of people out and about enjoying the spring sunshine (and, yes, it is very strange for me, a Vancouver Islander for so many years, to consider a snow-covered landscape to be in any way related to the word spring).

The views here are terrific – Ha Ling is one of my favourite mountains (we can see it from our condo, just across the valley), but up close and personal, it’s an impressive peak. Quarry Lake Park is also a designated off-leash dog park, which makes it a great place for pup-watching.

 

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Quarry Lake Tree (bark detail)… Keep an eye on the blog for a pastel interpretation of these great colours and patterns!  

 

The lake was still sort of frozen (everything is quite slushy this time of year) and overed with snow, but in the summer should one try to swim out a bit and dive down (good luck – it’s cold no matter what time of year you visit…), you’d have to hold your breath a loooong time before you reached the bottom as it’s over 100 meters deep in its deepest, darkest corners (if a lake can have corners…)

Once a quarry (surprise, surprise), the park is slowly reclaiming land once used for mining. And, yes, I do mean the park is doing the reclaiming. Picnic tables and toilets aside, large areas are just being left alone to slowly return to their natural state.

 

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Ha Ling from Quarry Lake Park, Mixed Media Experiment (yep, I touched Deb’s pastels… living dangerously! Don’t know what I’m talking about? Visit P is for Pastels)

 

See you tomorrow! I wonder if I’m actually going to make it through the R-S-T-U -V-When-will-the-alphabet-ever-end doldrums this year?? So far, so good… it’s looking promising!

 

 

Ah, Paris…

In the interest of sparing you the details, just let me say my ability to sleep on airplanes is greatly diminished these days. Are the planes really getting that much smaller? Or am I getting that much older and less bendy? Maybe a bit of both… What is not getting old, though, is arriving in Paris in the evening and heading out for a stroll around the block in order to see the tower sparkle!

At the top of each hour after dark, the tower twinkles as tour buses pull over and selfie stick-wielding tourists grin and snap photo after photo. I would have done the same except my selfie stick had not yet been unpacked, such was our haste to get out into the streets and take in the sights.

 

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Booksellers along the Seine… Just strolling by makes me happy!

 

Today has been a day of fighting jetlag, running errands (in the rain), and sticking close to home while trying to stay strong and not nap. I’ve also been making lists – both for work and for pleasure. On the work front, I was busy this morning (wide awake at 4am I eventually gave up on the going back to sleep project, and instead had a shower, breakfast and worked on the book about assisted dying). After reworking a rather cumbersome section that deals with definitions of suicide (surprisingly more complicated than one might think – while jumping from a tall building is pretty obviously suicide, if a very sick patient decides to stop eating and drinking, should that be called suicide? After all, the end result is the same…) I started working my way down the list of people I am planning to contact with questions relating to some aspect of the subject.

 

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As darkness falls at the BNB, I write… (and sketch in my notebook… one day maybe I’ll be brave enough to share those primitive efforts…)

 

Lists, Lists, and More Lists

With work out of the way, it was time to start making a list of what I’d like to try and see and do while I’m in town. I’m very much looking forward to a lunch with writing friends on the weekend and tomorrow am also hoping to meet up with a bookbinder/writer friend for coffee… I’d really like to get to the Rodin Museum this trip as well as pay a visit to the Musée d’Orsay. I’m not sure where the best place is to go to see portraits… I don’t think Paris has the equivalent of the National Portrait Gallery, though all the major museums will, of course, have some portraits in their collections. I’m particularly interested in self-portraits at the moment, in part because I’m intrigued by self-portraits, but also because of what’s been going on with Dad’s artwork ever since we did our Camino in the fall. Because I’ll be doing the AtoZ Blogging Challenge, I’ll save the details for one of the April posts…

Meanwhile, though, the list of possible museums to visit is long… As is the list of possible live performances I could take in. Comedy… musical… drama… And then there’s the English language cinema club… and the Shut Up and Write Group… and, and, and…

Because I have promised myself that I will continue to push ahead with this draft of the assisted dying book, I do need to allocate a certain number of hours a day to work, as well… All of which to say, a week in Paris is not enough!! Not nearly long enough…

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Being back here I am having one of those moments where I really wish I could clone myself. I love my home back in the mountains (I mean, what’s not to love?), but I really love this city, too…

Love Paris? 

When we were here last year I tried to come up with a list of reasons why I like this place so much… If you missed that post, here’s a link… 

Edith Piaf Alert

In case you are curious, the soundtrack in the background here this evening (actually the evening of my second full day here… I’m already way behind on ye olde blogge…) is an Edith Piaf playlist courtesy of Spotify. I have to make do with this as all tickets seem to be sold out for the Edith Piaf show I had wanted to see… Le sigh. Not sighing at the playlist, I hasten to add… at the dirth of tickets.

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Ruts are for Wimps (or, old dogs and new tricks)

Just when I thought I was more or less settling into a pleasant groove (the politically correct term for rut), life sort of took a turn. First, there was the big move from the coast to the mountains followed closely by the unexpected trip to Paris. Then there was the addition of a teenager into the household. Then there was the edict from my doctor to stop baking bread every day and give gluten free a try. A new bicycle (a very fast, very smooth bike…). A new phone (it was great for three days before I lost it overboard while sailing). A new iPad. And, a new backpack. The latter items were procured as I start my serious preparations for the Camino trip later in the fall. Actually, next month. And, if you’ve ever prepared for a big trip you know that can blast you out of even the deepest of ruts. These days, it feels like pretty much everything is up for negotiation, adjustment and change.

Dani, Dad and I are writing a book together about this Camino trip (Dani and I doing the bulk of the writing and Dad providing the artwork) and I have decided to finally ditch the kitchen sink from my must-take packing list. My goal is to take only the bare essentials needed for the walk. Given that I usually travel with laptop, reference books, a couple of notebooks, a small stationery store, camera, phone, go-pro, tripod, external hard drive, digital audio recorder, charging brick, cables to connect all of the above, plus multiples of all clothing options for any possible weather event plus a deck of cards, snacks, water bottle, and several hats and pairs of sunglasses, you can imagine this whole ‘packing light’ thing is quite the challenge. I’m even leaving my favourite pillow behind!

Given that this is a working trip, I do have to take some version of my office along with me. I bought a case with a built in keyboard for my iPad which, though fiddly (the whole setup is half the size of my MacBook), seems to function well. Yesterday, I slipped it into my tiny new pack and jumped on my bike (a great find by Fabio on the local used stuff website) to test out the equipment. Not only was I able to sit on a bench and type my observations and reflections on the spot (something I need to be able to do while we are en route), I even managed to insert an image snapped while sitting on said bench. Wow. Technology. When it works, it’s so COOL!! Then I fired off an email (yes, with an image attached) all while resting on a bench facing the mountains and felt rather proud of myself.

One of the things we want to try to do is send regular updates (Instagram, Medium Series, my Patreon blog, Facebook) while we are out there to try to share some of the experience with folks back home. I guess it’s a sign of my advanced years that I am still marvelling at how it’s possible to conceive of such magical computing and communications power contained in something smaller than a paperback.

I also find myself re-grieving the loss of my precious duffle bag containing all my trip journals and some unprocessed films when I was on my way back home from Greece back in 1981. Foolishly, I had left the bag in the baggage shelf at the back of the train car I was travelling in and some opportunistic moron (nope, forgiveness and acceptance remain elusive on this one) swiped my bag. Sadly for them (and for me) the bag contained only memories – souvenirs, the journals, the lost-forever films.

Options for protecting the data were limited back then. I could have made a parcel and shipped everything home, but packages can get lost and films were not always that robust), never mind the matter of cost for someone travelling on a very skinny budget. Even photocopiers were rare and expensive back in the day, so making a copy to put in another bag (or strap to my body under my clothes) wasn’t all that practical.

This piece of sculpture outside Elevation Place in Canmore is Touchstone by Peter Powning

Yes, I know that it’s entirely possible I could drop my iPad off a bridge (my recent iPhone/sailing disaster was a very good reminder of that) before the day’s images could be launched up into the cloud, but I’d be missing only a day’s worth of stuff and not several months worth of notes, laboriously hand-scrawled in a series of tattered notebooks.

Today’s post (created 100% on the WordPress app on my iPad) is another step in this ultra lite mobile direction. So far, I’m loving this latest aspect of my new normal. What about you? Have you ever had a painful loss of data (analog or digital) while travelling? How portable have you managed to make yourself these days? If you are a digital nomad (or even if you aren’t but your head is overflowing with good ideas), what’s the most valuable piece of advice you can give me before I set off on my next journey?

Winter Walk – Canmore, Alberta

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When the temperature shoots up to a balmy -16C it’s time to bundle up and head outside! It’s strange how the body remembers things from childhood…

  1. How snow squeaks underfoot when the temperatures dip
  2. How hard it is to get the scarf just right – too high, your glasses fog up, too low, your nose and cheeks freeze.
  3. How you feel like the Michelin Man with all those layers on.
  4. How cold your fingers get when you take off your gloves.
  5. How your lungs cringe when you sprint for the traffic light.
  6. The perpetually runny nose.
  7. Stepping inside and instantly being bathed in sweat under all those layers.
  8. The speed with which your glasses fog up when you come inside.
  9. The brilliant burn of sun on snow.
  10. Those mountains, in their fine white cloaks.
  11. The sheer delight of being out there when it’s really too cold to be out there.

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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!

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Mighty Munter Hitch (Or, Italian Belay Knot)

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

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

How to Tie a Munter Hitch

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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