3 Ways inReach Made Our Mountaineering Trip Easier

Brian and I recently returned from a trip of a lifetime: we went to the highest place on earth we’ve ever been. With our hut at 2057 meters (6750 ft) and peaks rising from there, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Would our bodies respond favourably to the altitude? Would we move efficiently through the terrain? Would we even like being up there? Would our inReach work???

Aside: An inReach is the world’s first two-way satellite communicator with built-in navigation. It has the ability to plan routes and waypoints ahead of time, receive weather forecasts, and can send and receive messages to any cell phone, email address or inReach device. It can also pair with Facebook and Twitter for update. It also has a built-in digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer sensors that provide heading and bearing info, accurate elevation readings, speed, and more. (source)

In those 7 days at the ACC Toronto Section‘s mountaineering camp, Selkirks North, I was full to the brim with knowledge. I learned about managing risk, conquering exposure, how to stare at and study the clouds for a really important purpose – safety – and more. I learned that tools were important; specific ropes, shoes, techniques… And I learned how much I truly value owning an inReach.

Like a lot of the backcountry hiking we’ve done with our inReach, here in the Selkirks there is no cell signal. There is no landline. There isn’t anyone but the group you came in with. While still remaining satisfactorily disconnected from the world we enjoyed escaping for a few days, having a tool like the inReach allowed us a little more intel about the terrain, the atmosphere, and what was to come.

Here are 3 ways inReach made our alpine adventure easier:

Checking the Weather

Weather, I learned, is one of the key factors in deciding your day when you’re at in the mountains. If there are clouds in the sky, you study them at all hours of the day. Was it cloudy overnight? If so, the snow on the mountains will be softer than if it were clear. Are there clouds at 3am? 4am? 5am? It might not be a great idea to push too far ahead. Will it rain tomorrow? What sorts of risks come along with these situations?

Our ACMG guide Mark Klassen said he uses a satellite phone to call someone for weather reports every couple days. On the 3rd day, he tried to contact his source but the calls continually dropped. That’s when I discovered the inReach’s ability to check the weather. For the cost of one message, you can get a 3-day forecast for a waypoint or your location. Because we had variable cloudiness all week, having this information available to us was extremely valuable.

Like a kid in elementary school who’d just finished their drawing before anyone else, I eagerly brought my findings to the group. “I have the weather!” I said proudly. They initially seemed hesitant, perhaps because we talked up this connectivity device in a place where we all worshipped remoteness. But as the week went on individuals planning specific routes began to ask if we could check the weather for a certain area. “Yes!” I said. And this information helped them plan accordingly.

The inReach, in this situation, provided a small bit of assurance allowing executable prep both with gear and mental planning.

Communication

Our camp was graciously and expertly catered by Mo’s Mountain Cuisine. “Remember, this is a vacation,” one of our leaders told me when my jaw dropped to the floor upon seeing our first 3-course meal.

“Right,” I replied, devouring dinner.

Heather (pictured below) had a binder full of recipes, a meal plan she executed with ease. But we were week 1 of a 2 week camp and the dropped calls on the satellite phone began to worry her. How would she communicate with her colleague about restocking food for week 2? We offered up our inReach of course and with 3 messages she was able to contact ground control. This was our first experience at altitude where the inReach completely mitigated our quandary. But this wasn’t our last…

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On the last day of our trip, despite being warned about the inability of keeping to scheduled pick-ups when going in and out of the mountains via helicopter, we had a tight schedule. Here was the low down: I was co-host of my cousin’s baby shower happening on Sunday in London, Ontario. I really wanted to be there and so I took a deep breathe when booking our travel and said that the risk of making such tight travel plans was worth possibly making the shower. The latest flight from Calgary to London that would allow us to make it to the shower on time departed Sunday at 6am. Are scheduled departure from the Hut was Saturday at 2pm. As 2pm approached, when we were supposed to be picked up by helicopter and brought to our shuttle back to Golden, the helicopter was nowhere to be seen.

Missing this 2pm helicopter pick up meant that the odds of us catching the last bus out of Golden at 7pm were low. If we missed the last bus, how would we get to Calgary? Thankfully, with our inReach device, we were able to contact Brian’s mom who was standing by in case we required help shuffling our travel tickets around. We spent the afternoon at ease as she researched different ways for us to get to town and texted them back to the device. This information helped others travelling to Calgary, too.

We ended up making it to the baby shower through a strange fusion of seclusion and connection. The inReach device really helped us out of a bind.

Route Finding

Perhaps the most obvious and practical use of the inReach is route finding. When we embarked on a 6 hour granite climb up Quadrant – an adventure that turned into a 12.5 hour day due to elements and our route, we used the device to see exactly where we were, where we took a wrong turn, and where we descended. The device also gave us accurate timings, elevation, and maps so that other groups could leverage this knowledge and apply it to their climbs up Quadrant in the following day (yes – our adventure paired with our GPS route fuelled others to climb Quadrant!).

We also used the inReach when summitting Mount Damon (2740 m/8990 ft). While this route was very direct and we didn’t really require any route finding, we did enjoy the ability to study our path, elevation, and waypoints. 

 The inReach allowed us insight that we wouldn’t otherwise have without it. It played a key role in planning and execution of alpine adventures and helped set aside some unavoidable stressed that comes with travelling in the backcountry. It’s definitely remains a must-have in my pack, and an investment I’m extremely happy with.


Why I’m Thrilled to Run the Bruce Trail

Blog Post- The Bruce Trail 01.JPGThe first time I saw a map of the Bruce Trail I took a photo of it and it didn’t even fit into the frame.

I thought it was neat, albeit surprisingly long, and covered territory that I’d often driven over or through in my many commutes between my birthplace of London, my new hometown Toronto, and my many adventures across the Southern Ontarian landscape.

All that to say, I wondered why I’d never heard of it.

Last fall I was approached by Aly Bird who pitched an idea to me: a relay run of the entire Bruce Trail by an all-female team. I immediately said yes and, although I’m not an avid runner, I thought this adventure would be a good goal-inside-a-goal to my larger mountaineer training schedule. And so I started furiously searching for information about this infamous trail.

There are many countless things in life that you’ve never heard of because there are many… well… countless things in life. I’d always been fascinated by the outdoors but it wasn’t until I found my true adult self here in Toronto that I’ve begun to explore the green space all around me. I find that when you put your best foot forward with the truest intentions, the places and people you’ve always longed to meet have a really inherent way of making themselves known. So here I was holding a map of the Bruce Trail and trying to wrap my head around how we’d all get from one end to the other in a mere matter of days.

Running the Bruce Trail is just one example of a tangible goal. It’s a big one for me, mostly because it involves running, but it’s also a big one in terms of numbers, heavily reliant on a group of motivated people. Running the Bruce Trail stands as an example of capability, belief, and chance: it challenges the ideas I have of myself and how capable I think I am, it fuels me with the belief that I am not a couch potato despite all those late night pizza-eating binge-tv-watching nights I have to myself, and it forces me to take a chance on myself, the group I’m a part of, and the land that we’ll tread.

As much and as often as I travel, it’s taken me this long to begin to explore the land that is all around me. And in doing so, I must must must must emphasize this:

Canada is friggin’ amazing.

I’ve travelled hours on an overseas flight to get to places I’ve only dreamed of being – ones I read about in textbooks during World History 101 – and I’ve done just as much research on those trips as I have for this one. It’s so important to familiarize yourself with where you’re going because it changes our time and place within it. I am thrilled to explore these 900 kilometers of Southern Ontario. All because of this:

BTregions_2011The Bruce Trail has been around since 1960, the brainchild of 4 dudes who convinced Niagara escarpment landowners and a few surrounding towns to build a connected footpath for public use. Over the next 7 years regional clubs between Niagara and Tobermory were formed and by 1967 the Bruce Trail was officially born. It’s 895 km long, stretching over public and private land as roadside trail and emboldened, hidden pathways… and only 51.4% of it is safe from development.

But here we are, and as a result of people – ordinary people – dedicated to keeping this pathway connected and available for public use, the Bruce Trail has existed in its entirety for 49 years. These people (The Bruce Trail Conservatory) work towards annual acquirement of land so that this trail can maintain in tact for people like us to run it, and for others to walk, stroll, dance, climb, and experience it.

The first part of the trail – Tobermory to Wiarton – is the roughest and most remote but apparently has some of the best cliffside views of Georgian Bay of 10 storey cliffs. From there the trail is marked with white blazes, side trails marked in blue blazes, so we hopefully won’t get lost! It is considered a footpath so no motorized vehicles – even horses – are allowed on the trail, save for the road sides parts. This is to respect not only the landowners but the land itself!

Think about it: in some places, only feet will have tread the land.

There are caves and crevices along the way.

Rattlesnakes and bears. Rattlesnakes. Rattle. Snakes. But don’t worry – apparently their fangs are tiny and they have a very short strike distance. “Stop, listen for the rattle and go back the other way,” a tip from the BT Magazine.

Plants that can blind you. “Putting Poison Ivy to shame, the harmful effects of Giant Hogweed can be severe, including burns, blisters, scarring and even permanent blindness,” explains this pamphlet. Imagine a piece of green so fierce! This plant sounds like a monster!

GIant Hogweed: “The average height of a typical plant ranges between 8-15 feet. It has distinctive umbrella shaped clusters of small white flowers that grow on massive seed heads that can be up to 2 feet across. Its leaves are dark green and coarsely toothed and can be huge, growing upwards of 5 feet wide. Perhaps the most identifying features, apart from the size of this monstrous plant (no other similar plant compares to its size), are the purple blotches or spots that exist on the hollow green bristly stem.”

Warblers and wild flowers!

In spring, the frogs come alive, too. Wood frogs, Spring Peepers and Chrous frogs… Yippee!

I get real excited to hear nature, not just to be in it. But I always think of running as being a quiet sport. It can be independent, charged, emotional, heavy, hard, and hearty but I wouldn’t say it’s quiet – and this always surprises me (especially in winter!!). When I run, I’m a loud breather and deep thinker. I sometimes talk aloud because I was told that if you’re training properly, you should be able to have a conversation while running. I never could and now I can so I just want to talk talk talk! It’s a wonder I think running is quiet because it’s actually so loud.

When I run in nature I expect to hear all the things when, in most cases, I can primarily hear the thump thump of my heart. I guess the difference is that I hear my heart, and then I hear something amazing: I hear wind, and the trees, and my feet against the terrain, and I feel my hands on my face and my hips and, if I’m lucky, I feel so surrounded by wildlife because I see. Beats the honking cars, people on cell phones, the podcast in my ears, and the inherent urge to run the city without getting hit by a car! I’ll take a sleepy rattlesnake over that.


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Looking Back, Charging Forward: Our Top 10 Moments of 2015

We can’t even begin to describe in words how epic 2015 was for us. For starters, this ENTIRE project began in the first few days of 2015. Mere days after new years Matt Manhire brought the idea to summit the tallest points in each province and territory to Brian after a crossfit class, who brought the idea to me (Andrea) knowing I just started a production company. We slowly formed a true force of energy and inspiration, the 3 of us, giving birth to all the wonderful goals, dreams, and adventures you’ve seen us embark on throughout the entire year.

We spent cold winter days in cafe, we learned how to rock climb, we laughed a lot, we sat in silence a lot, we wrote and spoke and researched a lot, we all bought freeze-dried food, bear spray, and gators for the first time… I learned what gators were for the first time… All this to say that looking back at our top ten moments of 2015 is a much needed task because, without these moments (and so, so, so many more), we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Our Top 10 Moments of 2015

#1 // Camping under a meteor shower in Cypress Hills Inter-Provincial Park

While there aren’t any meteors in this photo, there is a vast and wondrous sky. We stood outside our tent with our heads cocked north for so long that we didn’t notice the cramps in our necks. It was the first time we’d ever seen a sky like this, and we’ll never forget the moment we looked up. Jaws dropped, we didn’t want to fall asleep for fear of missing out.

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#2 // #DiscoverYourWild

On July 1st we organized our first meetup with the help of the amazing people we met at MEC Outdoor Nation (see next item!). Discover Your Wild has not only taught us that it’s EASY to get outside, but it’s made it accessible and fun for so many other people other than ourselves. Last year we explored an urban jungle steps away from a subway stop, we saw graffiti via bike all over the city, and we ran hills and through beautiful parks that are just behind our houses. We meet up every Wednesday, and would love for you to join us! Oh yeah – and Discover Your Wild is always free! Thank you to MEC Nation for providing the platform to create such a thing as this.

#3 // MEC Outdoor Nation (& MEC Staff in general)

MEC Outdoor Nation was where we really came together with our community. We’d been chatting up the Vancouver-based MEC Nation team for months and we finally got to connect in person to share goals, ideas, and passions with them and 135 other people in Toronto and surrounding area. It was a short but incredibly fun weekend where we met similar minds who have helped us improve ourselves and build programs like Discover Your Wild. (Photos below courtesy of MEC Nation)

#4 // Ishpatina Ridge round 1

Going out to Ishpatina Ridge in the dead of winter not only kick-started our systems and our belief in our abilities but it challenged us in innumerable ways. We can’t wait to share the story with you March 25th, 2016 when we share Episode 1: Ishaptina Ridge with you. Stay tuned!

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#5 // Finding a geocache box on the summit ridge of White Hill

We don’t want to give too much away but once we hit the summit ridge of White Hill, Nova Scotia’s highest peak which is buried in the Cape Breton isle, it was one of the best feelings in the world. Complete isolation turned into a grounding sense of success and connectivity, knowing that we were two of a small group of 3 individuals who had touched that tip the entire year.

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#6 // Turkish Coffee (mention Phil & Seb and Capital)

We learned quickly that the luxuries of aeropress coffee in the wild was something we didn’t want to carry on our backs for days. Every ounce in your pack counts. So we picked up some deliciously roasted beans (THANK YOU PHIL & SEB) and found a method that worked for us. Turkish-style camping coffee. Check out the video we made on how to brew this us for yourself!

#7 // The thunderstorm on Baldy Mountain

At the top of Baldy Mountain’s lookout tower in Manitoba a storm brewed above us and it got louder and louder the longer we were up there. We planned to hike Beaver Trail, a 3km loop off the edge of the tower and we decided to stick with it since it wasn’t raining yet. We got our packs ready for rain and embarked down the mountain-side. The weather in Duck Mountain Provincial Park was hot and sticky – we were sweating, having overdressed for what we were sure would be a downpour. I looked up at the sky at one point and said, “We are ready for you! Just let it all go!!!” and 100 steps later it began to rain. It was a glorious feeling, knowing that we were (a) prepared, (b) in serious need of a cool down, and (c) on the edge of a mountain as thunder roared and we walked this beautiful trail all by ourselves in the summer.

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#8 // Discovering inReach

We did an interview with Nik at MEC Toronto last year who recommend this GPS device that sounded too good to be true. Well, it is true. It is a real thing that you can hold and rely on. The DeLorme inReach added such an incredible element to your travels. Among its features is a GPS app you can pair with your iPhone (many times Brian would hold onto the inReach and I would hold onto my phone, meaning that we both had map access), capabilities to send emails if we were in need (i.e. “I’m not going to make it to work on Monday because I’m lost in Ontario wilderness!!”), and the ability to log our coordinates on a map that was on our main webpage so family, friends, and followers could see where we were at any given moment. We wouldn’t have felt as safely secluded and on track as we did without this little machine. It was a key piece in our packs and we’re really grateful that technology like this exists as we embark on such a wild journey. Oh – and we tweeted from the peaks of all the places we’ve been to! Who can say they’ve done that!? Thank you inReach Canada!

#9 //Getting real with our bodies and our minds

This project not only challenges our minds but our bodies and it has shown us that our bodies are capable of amazing feats. Body and mind go hand and hand – don’t be fooled! Without one you wouldn’t have the other! Strength of mind and body is something we actively work on every day and we’ve noticed a positive change in ourselves since starting this project. Our relationship with each other, the urban world around us, and the beautiful and wild Canadian terrain we have been exploring has blossomed in an energetic way. We feel better, we communicate better, and we understand the world a little bit better just by actively being a part of it.

Matt and Brian at the start of the 13km bushwhack.

Matt and Brian at the start of the 13km bushwhack.

#10 // Meeting people like you

We met so many incredible people this year, it’s hard to really wrap our heads around it! We’ve managed to somehow organically surround ourselves with people who do the same things we are doing or who do the activities we want to do and it’s been the best way to prove that anything is possible. Living with an open heart and open mind has brought us to places that have touched and truly changed our lives. Mountaineering is a skill we never thought we’d so actively be acquiring and, yes, we have our doubts, fears, and hesitations, but we embrace it. The stories from the people we have met – every ability, age, and attitude – excite and inspire us in an indescribable way. You are what you believe you can do, and this year has shown us that we can do anything we put our minds to. And that’s in great part thanks to you.

Thank you for reading, and for being a part of this journey.

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PEI, Missing Flights, and Channeling Happiness: how my attitude affects what happens in my life

I scribbled this post on the plane back from Vancouver, British Columbia to our home in Toronto, Ontario last week, Thursday, October 22nd, 2015:

This morning we woke up in a king size bed overlooking the Vancouver harbour. Speckled red and orange trees amongst coastal evergreens filled the backdrop of our wide window behind boats and in front of mountains where clouds moved them in and out of sight. How gloriously lucky I felt to be there in that moment among fluffy pillows and beside someone I truly loved. It’s almost inexplicable for I know its feeling is far greater than any sentence I could ever write.

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We got dressed to the sounds of a Canadian classic: Dumb and Dumber. I snickered at jokes about hooters — referring to owls — and Brian stared up at me with a smirk. We took hands and embarked on a quick walk to the park before heading back to Toronto. “A quick walk, breakfast, a coffee shop stop… We’ll pick up your gift at Mark’s and then drop Shannon’s gift off before heading straight to the airport. I think we’ll make it,” I said. “It’ll be tight,” was Brian’s response with slight hesitation. Looking at our plan now, it seems drastically complicated with what time we had.

Our walk was beautiful. We stepped fifty feet into the park before turning back but it was a splendid handful of moments. The bike and walking paths were packed with people whose purpose was to strictly enjoy Stanley Park at 10am on a Thursday. We knew this because there wasn’t anywhere else to go along the path but into the park. What a harmonizing thought, that this many people were set off to enjoy the trees and the waterfront. I felt envious that this could be a daily deal for residents, and that I never did this regularly when I lived here.

We spent most of our moments with one tall tree, bare in bark until two thirds up where it blossomed in green. A stump stood ten feet in front of it as the perfect pedestal for its photographical worship. We obliged.

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We jumped in a smart car and flew to Forty Ninth Parallel, one of the best coffee shops in the world according to Roast. We’ve had their stuff before but going there was supreme. Our coffees were starkly different in taste but equally delicious. A perfect cap to our full breakfast bellies and foliage-reflected eyes. Besides their coffee, there were donuts and beautiful teal coloured cups that made me weak in the knees, especially when set against the mahogany coloured hardwood that made up the cafe. A thrilling pinterest-worthy view. When we rushed out, the sun shone and, though I fretted about being late, I was happy we were here.

Two quick trips back in the smart car to pick up a thank you gift and to drop another off and we were off to the airport. I reconciled in my mind that we would make it in time and would likely not get our checked bag onto the plane. We were heading home so I wasn’t worried. In my much travelled life, showing up 45 minutes before your flight meant our luggage would get the shaft and make it onto another flight and we’d get it later. That’s fine. Zipping through town we parked the car promptly, made it to the airport shuttle pickup, and into the terminal, running like Catherine O’Hara did when she realized Kevin wasn’t on their flight to Paris. My hair is even long enough now to feel legitimately similar to her as I ran.

We didn’t make it in time. “The bag must stay with the passenger,” we were told and, thus, we’re not allowed on the flight. We were about two minutes past the 45 minute cut off for bag check, despite being told we were supposed to arrive an hour prior. My mood dropped. I don’t like when my perfectly planned timelines are thwarted by conflicting information and a policy that didn’t lend any grace to help two out of breath youngin’s onto their flight home. I felt defeated by the system and my eyes welled at the complexity of my emotions.

We opted to go on standby in hopes that we’d get onto one of the next 4 flights leaving Vancouver. I spent the next hour chronically all my airport marathon runs (yes — I’ve had handfuls) and how they’d always seemed to work out and I wondered why this one wasn’t the same. I dwelled in our mistake, to be honest, and my mood turned into a thick sludge as we waited to hear if we’d get on the next flight.

We did, we got onto the flight. “Middle seats are all we have,” said the clerk as she handed us our boarding passes. Upon entering the plane and seeing my seat, I had to chuckle and feel utterly sorry for myself, still in a thick emotional sludge at the sight of where I was to sit for the next 5 hours:

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“This is karma,” I thought to myself. “This seat is karma for my rotten mood the past hour.”

When I sat down and said bye to Brian who moved to the back of the plane, I told myself that my time to be needlessly upset was over. I wholly believe that you choose your attitude and my poor one led me to this chair. I’d had long enough to feel silly for missing something that seemed so grandure in my mind. Would I take away anything we did this morning to make that flight, now knowing that everything worked itself out? No way! I wouldn’t take away our mountain view, our park romp, our quiet breakfast, our coffee and donut date, our quick goodbye and thank you pit stops… I wouldn’t want to leave this beautiful city without one of those things, and here I was on a plane going home at no extra cost, an hour after our initial takeoff. I have a choice, I told myself. I must feel gratitude, I said. And so I did.

Two weeks ago we were on Prince Edward Island marvelling at the red roads and hilled valleys. We’d seen New Brunswick’s peak and had no idea what we were in for in Cape Breton’s Nova Scotia. We visited friends, cafes, the Hopewell Rocks, and harbours and here I was now, on the other side of the country, feeling sorry for myself for enjoying Stanley Park a little too long. As I pulled out book one of Anne of Green Gables, which I’d picked up when visiting the gable, I thought about how incredibly lucky I was to have the morning I did. To see the water, mountains, to breath the air and to stare up the trunk of a thousand year old tree. And then to think the book in my lap came from a place 6000 km away and to say that I’d just been there, well, I’m anything in the world but unlucky.

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The greatest feeling this whole day is sitting in this seat and letting the thick emotional sludge slide down and out of me. Letting it slide into the floor of the plane, through it, past the luggage and random boxes and letting it go into the windy outside world. I’m sitting here channelling my inner Anne and trying to end this post with a just verbalization of what it is like to travel across this country in all its glory. To choose to do so. To ditch my dreams of Thailand, Columbia, Romania, and Mexico for the mean time so I can see the sights I’ve dreamed about since youth. We learn about this landscape our whole lives, it’s like we’ve already seen it, but breathing in the air outside Green Gables, watching the ocean rise around the Hopewell Rocks, standing amidst an 800 year old hollow tree, or skipping along lookout in the hilled valleys of Saskatchewan (yes — hills!) is nothing compared to words on paper.

If The Peakbaggers does anything, I hope it encourages just one person to journey to these spots and to feel as grateful as I am for doing so. We can read all we want in book but setting a goal and achieving it is nothing compared to turning the next page and reading on about someone else’s adventure. I hope you can make it your own because, after all, this country is ripe for exploring.


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MERU: a doc about possibility… and how to touch the sky

Nearly every mountaineering doc is told through interviews and re-enactments and Meru, in this fashion, is an entirely contemporary approach to this sort of storytelling. What it’s like to be 21, 000 feet in the sky – twenty one thousand – and to follow that journey on foot from the comfort of your home is now possible. Think about it: taking the steps to the top, the actual – literal – steps onto a summit ridge where no one has ever gone before. It’s harrowing and thrilling and inspiring and terrifying and beautiful… and it’s possible. This is Meru.

Meru follows three climbers – Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk – up a peak that’s never been touched. It’s a big wall climb; an extremely technical climb. It has put these climbers, Conrad especially, at the top of the list in the mountaineering community. The best in the world. It took them two tries, but they made it and documented the entire feat.

  • Meru – 6
    Renan Ozturk in MERU. Courtesy of Music Box Films. Photo by Jimmy Chin.
  • The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011
    Renan Ozturk in MERU. Courtesy of Music Box Films. Photo by Jimmy Chin.
  • The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011
    Conrad Anker in MERU. Courtesy of Music Box Films. Photo by Jimmy Chin.
  • Meru Expedition, Garwhal, India
    Jimmy Chin in MERU. Courtesy of Music Box Films. Photo by Renan Ozturk.
  • The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011
    Conrad Anker and Jimmy Chin in MERU. Courtesy of Music Box Films. Photo by Renan Ozturk.
  • The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011
    Jimmy Chin in MERU. Courtesy of Music Box Films. Photo by Renan Ozturk.

What does it take to document something like this? Think of the amount of time it takes to make a video or to take and post a photo to Instagram, and then multiply that by thousands and add the difficulty of doing this in the mountains. Think of the time it takes to tell a story. Sitting in a cold theatre watching these three climbers grow, struggle, commit, and convince themselves to return to the Shark’s Fin of Meru was incredible. To be brought along on a journey of passion and perseverance by the prolific photographer, Jimmy Chin, is at once a gift and a thrill. To my joy, it is said in the film and it must be said here that climbing a mountain like Meru is insane, but filming and photographing it along the way is almost unbelievable. It’s an extremely difficult thing to do.

I’ve been learning to balance emotions tenfold with The Peakbaggers. Filming our journey while being a part of it is a difficult task. To objectively think about a story that I am participating in, to balance my fears, concerns, astonishment, and adrenaline and to remember to capture all of it is really difficult. Jimmy is an inspiration in this right, and a true role model for what we are creating with The Peakbaggers. Telling a story like this is an obvious risk but, as a storyteller, it’s one I, and I’m sure Jimmy, never once questioned and never will question. It’s a story that must be told.

Risk is an element of Meru that is repeatedly explored; the weight of the word is never enough to describe the internal burden of this word’s reality. To be the best climber is to know the risk of what you’re doing; to be the one who knows where the line is and can exhibit how strong you are by getting extremely close to it without crossing it is the greatest sense of accomplishment as a climber. This is the biggest lesson I have learned in mountaineering and one I cherish in sport and in life. We all must take risks if we want to experience life – truly experience life. But crossing the line a risk that doesn’t need to be taken.

There’s something missing in The Peakbaggers, though. Something that Meru staked high importance in. Mentorship. Each climber had a mentor; a person who taught them the ropes. Took them in. Encouraged them to push hard in the realm of accomplishment and safety. To fear less. To persevere. To overcome. To come home. While we’ve met so many incredible people – more than I can count… and we only began this journey in January – who are models of passion and perseverance but I feel a massive gap. I feel a little lost and a little scared. I feel like I would love to look up to someone who understands what we want; what we’re going for.

Mountaineering to me is so individualistic, it’s hard to fill this hole. Being in a city, too, and without a tonne of expendable income is definitely challenging. But it’s not the end. We are, in fact, just getting started. What keeps me going are the people who tell us these stories, stories like Meru. Daily inspirers like these instagrammers: Jimmy (@jimmy_chin), Renan Ozturk (@renan_ozturk), Kalen Thorien (@kalenthorien), Eric Larsen (@elexpolore), Will Gadd (@realwillgadd)… Populating life with images and people with similar goals keeps fuel on the fire and what Meru taught me is that all of this is possible. It’s harrowing and thrilling and inspiring and terrifying and beautiful… but it’s possible.


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A Handful of Mountaineering Tips from Helmut Microys

This year we joined the Alpine Club of Canada (the ACC), an organization founded in 1906 with a focus on mountaineering. We joined the Toronto chapter which offers trips, meet ups, and other opportunities to explore the world of mountaineering within our own community. Besides the incredible community that we’re welcomed in to, another great perk of the ACC is their huts located across Canada and the U.S. that offer accommodations for members at really incredible rates.

Our first meet up with the ACC was a talk by Helmut Microys. We all gathered in the upstairs of a pub off Yonge – it was packed. Scattered pints, grins, and anticipation packed the space between members as we huddled beside one another for a peak at the projector screen.

Helmut has six decades of climbing experience. His thick accent and quick sense of direction led us on a journey up and down slopes he’s conquered in his native Austria and around the world. It was my first time hearing someone talk in detail about their mountaineering experience and offering advice on crevasses, scrambling, and experienced to extremely inexperienced passerbys.

He made a joke explaining scrambling and why it’s important to be really good at it. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s dead easy. I said that once to someone and he said to me, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t say dead,’ so I guess I should say, ‘It’s life easy.'” This was the sort of humour Helmut had.

There are about six or seven points that Helmut made that stuck out to me, a novice climber.

If you don’t put your socks on standing on one leg, start. It’s good practice.

Good balance is a key element to your own and others safety.

Scramble scramble scramble. Practice makes perfect.

Scrambling lies somewhere between rock climbing and hiking. Often on a rock edge or ridge, your hands and feet (but no ropes) are used as you move up or down the path. It is important to know how to scramble effectively so that you and your team can approach loose rock and unknown territory safely and soundly.

The second most important element of mountaineering next to scrambling is finding your route.

Have an updated and working GPS system and map.

If you can help it, never run out of rope.

There are many stories of climber summiting peaks and running out of rope a few feet shy of the top. It’s important to calculate your distances precisely and to do your best to ensure this does not happen.

Learn how to do it blindly.

Helmut urged that it’s smart to be able to comfortably climb and descend an area blindly. Tying knots, fishing in your pack, accessing different tools – it’s a good idea to know where everything is located with your eyes closed. This will give you the confidence and ability to go up and down with as little trouble as possible.

And last but not least, I scribbled down Helmut’s last slide, not out of fear, but out of determination to prepare for each and every one of these factors.

helmutmicroys_acc_presentation

The many ways of falling off a moutain:

  • Rock fall
  • Avalanche
  • Seracs
  • Crevasses (Glaciers, humps, dips, and transported snow (streaks).. You’d don’t walk you belay..)
  • Moats (Randkluft)
  • Bergshchrund
  • Repelling
  • Sudden bad weather
  • Altitude sickness
  • Hypothermia
  • Frost bite
  • River crossing
  • Animals
  • Bad judgement

Header Photo © Helmut Microys, 1967, Mt. Ontario


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How To Make Difficult Decisions Easy

A few months ago I read a book by Paul Fischer called “A Kim Jong-Il Production.” It followed the story of two South Korean filmmakers and lovers who were kidnapped by Kim Jong-Il after their divorce and brought back together in North Korea for the betterment of North Korean cinema. It’s a harrowing, emotional, and often times unbelievable story but a literary adventure I highly recommend. From it, I pulled a quote that I’ve thought about when developing my own stories. This quote is from a description Fischer wrote on the term ‘seed’ used in the making of Korean cinema:

“The seed was a film’s main nucleus and ideological kernel. As a farmer selects and sews a good seed intended well to reap good fruit, so the seed of a film shall be chosen correctly and its depiction deepened on that basis to produce an excellent work.”

I look at the seed as akin to our identity; the momentous footprint we want to leave in our wake, or the ways in which our presence directly affects the world around us. What is my seed, I wonder.

Thinking about the bigger picture – my seed – helps me focus on day to day, minute to minute ideas. If I remember what my goals are, or the purpose I wish to put forward, it becomes easier for me to make those sometimes difficult decisions that cross my path in daily life. Not knowing or having any idea about what my seed is, however, makes these day to day decisions a lot more difficult.

It’s taken me years to really sort out my seed. I’ve discovered and continue to uncover passions of mine, but putting them into action is where the challenge comes in. It’s important to focus on your passion, your spark, your interest, and to take steps toward it.

In simple terms, my seed is empowerment. It is discovery, curiosity, fear, and forward motion. Is what I’m doing empowering to myself and to others and, if not, what are the steps I can take to get there? When I determine my next step, I ask myself: is this right for me and am I moving forward? I think of Brian’s post about making a 1% effort every day, and I ask myself if I’m doing so and how can I improve on this? Am I curious about something and do I attempt to rectify this curiosity? What am I scared of and how do I combat these fears? The first part of the question is the recognition and the second part is the action. These are my seeds, my main nucleus, and ideological kernel. What are yours?


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Why It’s Important to Keep Your Mind’s Eye Alive

With my eyes shut tight I searched for any colours or shapes that would suggest that my mind’s eye has not calcified and prematurely died just because I’ve gotten older. My mind’s eye, the part of me that draws in light, sparks imagination, drives dreaming; it’s this tiny ball of retinal tissue similar to our two seeing eyes that sits in a pocket between the two of them, my yoga teacher explained. For whatever reasons, over time it can become calcified, she said – “Perhaps too much fluoride?” – and that’s why we don’t dream as vividly or as brightly or as often as we did as children. But I’m still dreaming vividly, brightly, and often, I wanted to say. I’ve been dreaming this way until recently, that is, and this wave of hot panic came over me from behind; its strength compressing my shoulders and charging me with worry. Has my mind’s eye gone sour? Lost its touch? Grown mouldy with age?

“We’re going to do the entire class blindfolded,” my teacher said. “We’re going to try to light up our mind’s eye, especially for those who have lost it.” She instructed us to take a face cloth and a yoga strap and to fasten them tightly around out temples to block out all the light. “After 75 minutes, I hope you’ll be able to see colours and shapes again,” she said, encouragingly. The most discouraging sight, however, was what I saw when I shut my eyes tight and fastened the yoga strap around my head. Complete darkness. All I saw was black.

black

Maybe it doesn’t work right away?

For the entire class I tried my best to see colour. Is that purple? We tried to balance in tree pose in complete darkness. It wasn’t purple. It was black. Maybe it’s deep purple, I thought, trying to appease myself. Focus on yoga, I barked internally and in frustration.

What if these images and stories and sights were gone forever, I feared. It was one way I vowed to never live: without imagination. There have always been people in my life telling me to stop, slow down, quiet down, get down… I despised those words but they also taught me to move on and up and to continue dreaming; to continue climbing and yelling and breathing and seeing all the stories and places others were incapable of seeing… Incapable – it was clear to me, now – because their mind’s eye has calcified. And now I’m in this yoga class, blindfolded, rocking side to side in happy baby pose, wondering if I’ll ever see colours and shapes again.

As we practiced and moved through a flow a little too quick for the unbalanced black mud I was wading through, I began to see something. I began to see cracks. As the black behind my eyes cracked, a white light shone through. Is that yellow? I thought. No, it was white. I stretched and breathed to a black cracked wall of white light peeking through. I’m getting somewhere, I gleamed, but I was still searching for colour.

cracks

The cracks began to form shapes. The emotion I felt could only be described as being too short to peek over a tall brick wall, and knowing there was something incredible on the other side that I just couldn’t see. As the jagged corners formed curves, I wondered about what could be beyond them. Where was the white light coming from? What did I want to see? I knew one thing for sure: I wanted to see the source. I wanted to be on the other side.

When class ended I felt this insatiable need to solve this mystery; the same charged feeling of picking up a Nancy Drew book or Babysitter’s Little Sister book as a young girl. I didn’t stop reading until I knew how it all ended. A daughter of art and narrative and not one of science, I’ve grown increasingly interested in this peculiar form of study. It explains a lot and I pinch myself for not harbouring even a bit of interest back in high school. I furiously typed in ‘mind’s eye calcifying’ in my search engine to learn more about this common blockage. Here’s what I found:

The ‘mind’s eye’ is scientifically referred to as the pineal gland, “a small, pine-cone shaped endocrine gland in the brain that produces and secretes the hormone melatonin.” It is this gland that releases DMT, or Dimethyltryptamine, a psychedelic compound found in nearly every living organism and also, strangely, us. (As an aside: watch this awesome doc called DMT, which I believe is also on Netflix Canada.) Descartes even described this gland as the “principle seat of the soul.”

The gland’s importance and awareness is growing in popularity and the idea of ‘awakening’ it so that we, as humans, can function optimally is rapidly gaining momentum. I mean, this pineal gland has made its way into my yoga glass and I would love to awaken or arouse my own from it’s nap. The problem with calcification of our pineal glands is that it causes us to become sluggish. With a strong correlation with Alzheimer’s disease, the pineal gland’s rate of calcification is directly affected by our diets, mentality, and lifestyle choices.

The solution? A healthy, chemical-free habit of consuming. In short: eat real food.

As my teacher mentioned, fluoride is a huge impacter of this calcification, being rapidly collected and held in the gland itself. Fluoride also has the ability to inhibit our ability to get a deep, rejuvenating sleep, simply because it decreases melatonin production. So what can we do to prevent calcification of the pineal gland?

  • Stop further calcification by cutting out fluoride, mainly found in toothpaste and improperly filtered water
  • Avoid processed calcium intake (calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate and dicalcium phosphate) which can be found in most processed foods and also as fillers in calcium supplements
    • A tip! The best form of calcium comes from natural and/or organic foods like sesame seeds, chia seeds, spinach, kale, broccoli, quinoa, and oranges
  • Take apple cider vinegar to detoxify and to make your body more alkaline (balanced)
    • A tip! Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to your 1 litre reusable bottles of water!
  • Eat iodine-rich foods to reduce sodium fluoride in the body
    • A tip! These are foods like seaweed, kelp, cranberries, green beans, kale, darky leafy greens, bananas…
  • Subscribe to healthy fats like coconut oil, ghee, and butter from grass-fed cows
  • Eat raw cocoa to stimulate the brain and pineal gland
  • Up your garlic intake! Garlic dissolves calcium and acts as an antioxidant
  • Consume natural herbs like alfalfa sprouts, and parsley to heal and de-calcify
  • Chaga mushroom – the most powerful mushroom of them all – is a great source of melanin that feeds our pineal glands
  • Let the light in by ditching the sunglasses and exposing your eyes to indirect sunlight
    • A tip! Vitamin D helps fight depression and improves brain stimulation while stimulating the pineal gland; when we are low on natural sunlight in the winter, consider supplementing with Vitamin D pills

As an aside, I also did some research on white light. Looking for answers, connections, and possibilities is something I love to believe in. White light is said to be completely absent of colour, yet containing every wavelength of the visible spectrum at equal acuteness. In a spiritual sense it is where positive energies are stored and is often used for transformation or purification. I’ll take that as an internal sense of encouragement; like I had spent the class cleansing my aura and I am, in a sense, recharged and refreshed; a clean slate of sorts.

(A big thanks to True Activist, our primary source, as well as decalcifypenialgland.com)


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What Stops Us From Getting Outside?

If I haven’t talked about this before, then I constantly think it. I sometimes feel so bogged down in the city that I feel this urge to get out and into nature. The trees and wind and stars and sky don’t judge me, bother me, poke me, or invade my privacy. They just… exist.

What’s amazing about The Peakbaggers and, now, Discover Your Wild, is that it’s given me an opportunity to get outside without any excuses. I’m motivated by the goals of both projects and always surrounded by people who sometimes feel what I do and want the same – to get out of this busy buzz of city living. One of the neatest things about Toronto is that this can happen right outside my front door.

I never saw Toronto as a city that could provide this for me until I actually moved here. I took up residence in The Beaches and ran the boardwalk every morning at 6am because it was there and it was beautiful. I never thought I’d be a runner, or want to run for that matter, but I did and I shocked myself and most my friends. That little decision to change is what has brought me here, to this point, today.

Two weekends ago we took The Peakbaggers to MEC Outdoor Nation where 135 like-minded people gathered to discuss things like motivation and barriers. Shannon Lyon of the Natural Leaders Alliance created and led an amazing activity where the group of us each took little dots and placed them in a variety of categories. She first asked, “What stops you from getting outside?” and I went up and put my three dots on three of 13 categories. Then she asked, “What isn’t a problem for you to get outside?” I basically ran to motivation, cultural connection, and friends to go with (factors that would be so different for me only a few years ago). Shannon then flipped the question. “Think of someone you know who doesn’t get outside. What, in your opinion, stops them from getting outside?”

Shannon compiled the data and found the following:

  • What stops us: money, time
  • What we think stops them: motivation, self-confidence
  • What sometimes stops us: friends to go with, skill level, time
  • What we think sometimes stops them: motivation, skill level, body type
  • What doesn’t stop us: motivation, cultural connection
  • What we think doesn’t stop them: time, friends to go with, transportation

– Results from Natural Leaders Alliance‘s motivation/barrier workshop

Our smaller barriers of motivation and self-confidence are our friends’ biggest barriers, Shannon explained. But one observation in particular validated my love for this blog, itself, and that’s Shannon’s observation that “we all sometimes get stopped by not knowing the skills.” If we want the Peakbaggers and Discover Your Wild to be a success, we want to focus on these elements – motivation, self-confidence, friends to go with and time and ability to learn the skills. This is our goal and this excites me so much. I feel all these barriers, and here is a program to combat them.

Last weekend Brian and I booked and Air BnB cabin (get $32 off your next trip here!) on the back acreage of a farm in Kawartha Lakes. One of my favourite feelings over the time I spent there was the same one I feel when I’m hanging in a park like Christie Pitts or running the boardwalk in the Beaches. It’s that of connection – to the earth and sky and air… and bugs. Oh, and the people around me! Alone or in a group, I’m never the only runner, slackliner, smiler… The only difference between this secluded farm and Christie Pitts is that you can feel the subway come and go below you if you’re lying on the south side grass of Christie Pitts park – and whole other set of emotions comes with that!

hepeakbaggers-andreawrobel-horsie

The Peakbaggers and Discover Your Wild are yours as much as they are ours. I sound preachy but, hey, it’s working for me! We’re all climbing mountains of different sorts and, if I’ve learned anything since we’ve started, it’s that we’ll all get much farther if we go together. So, let’s go together.


What stops you from getting outside? Let us know in the comments below!

We’re heading to Trinity Bellwoods Park on Wednesday, July 15th at 7pm for a WOD in the park – that means we’re going to do a workout in the park! Bring your runners, water bottle, fury friend, or non-fury friend! Stay tuned to @ThePeakbaggers for more details.

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How to Stay Active When You Feel Too Busy

I’ve fallen into a vortex of “other things” (possibly termed “distractions” (I’m in denial)) that have been keeping me from training to climb a mountain. While Brian works on his mountain training regiment and Matt hits 6am CrossFit classes, I’m twirling my thumbs on a film set (my day job), stress eating and standing still. When I think about the work do be done, I panic. But what can I do, I wonder?

It’s really easy to get caught up with the tasks that pay your bills. We all have responsibility and most of us want to exceed our own expectations. In my panic I turned to the nearest railing and did ten push-ups against the wall. I felt better. Just a little bit better.

But I’ve deceived you – I haven’t totally been standing still while working but, compared to my usual routine of running, yoga, and strength training (bootcamp or crossfit) multiple times a week, it feels like I’m going nowhere. The classes I take keep me sane and centred and help me feel good. Without them I feel like I’m immobile, despite hustling around all day. On set, I make time to stretch throughout the day. I consciously correct my poor posture, a result of being too tired to think straight/stand straight. I obsessively plan which days and classes I’ll attend once this production I’m working on wraps. And then I stretch again.

“How do you do it?” I asked a colleague of mine who runs every evening, despite our 10-18 hours work days. This particular conversation started with him asking me if I ran last night, something he’s been asking since day 1 of prep. “No,” I replied, a bashful look overcoming me once again. “How do you do it? When we’re working 18 hour days, how do you find time to work and run and spend time with your family and…”

“You do it because you want to do it,” he said. “You do it because you’d rather run for an hour and get 5 hours sleep then get 6 hours sleep. Or you run for 30 minutes with your kid or partner or you find time with them and with your running. You do it because you want to.” Pursing my lips, I nodded. It’s that simple.

He told me that you have to want to do something bad enough that you actually do it. Thinking about it doesn’t cut it. Good intentions only get you so far, he said. You have to get up and go. Put your shoes on, and give yourself 15 minutes on the pavement. You’ll feel better, he said.

That night, as inspired as I was, I got home and was so tired I fell asleep after putting on my running tights.

When you exercise, your body creates endorphins that make you feel good. Really good. So good that when you don’t exercise, your body craves those good vibes and you feel awful. You feel guilty. You feel depressed. I’m feeling all of these things and I’m giving it up. I’m leaving these feelings at home.

In an effort to curb my “inactivity” while on a busy contract, here’s a few things I’ve drummed up during my mini breaks:

  • Dynamic stretches (arm and leg swings, body shakes and twists)
  • Always take the stairs
  • Walk as much as possible
  • Stand up every 30 minutes
  • Wall pushups (and when people see you doing these, invite them to join in!)
  • Calf raises (when standing, lift yourself on to your tippy toes and lower yourself down again)
  • Offering to carry things for coworkers
  • Constant hydration

Nothing beats getting outside, running through the trees, hiking up a hill, and enjoying the sunlight. I am grateful for all those moments I have in parks and pathways and in nature because, when I’m busy like this, I crave them. Distractions are a great way to motivate you to get creative with your body and abilities. I plan to take FULL advantage of summer once we’re wrapped here. But for now… I’ve got a couple wall pushups to do!

thepeakbaggers-andrea-canoe


Do you have any tips and tricks for staying active while being busy? Let us know in the comments below!

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