Go, Peakbaggers, Adventure, Mountaineering

Committing to “Go”

There’s something powerful and empowering about the word “go”… at least for me anyways. To “go” can be terrifying – causing hesitation – but once you’ve decided to actually “go” it can be invigorating – everything becomes real, you move past your hesitations and focus on doing what needs to be done.

One month ago Andrea and I had a big conversation about this project and our upcoming peaks and the challenges before us. We were confronted, once again, with a decision to go. Would be go to Alberta to summit Mt. Columbia this Summer? Were we ready to travel across glaciers and ski (and split-board) up and down a mountain? Did we have the skills to travel with ropes, and perform crevasse rescues if necessary?

Ultimately the response was, “No”, quickly followed with, “How do we get those skills?

We realized the ideal situation would be attending one of the Alpine Club of Canada‘s many mountaineering camps. The camps are all in mountain ranges near or in the Rockies, we would be on glaciers and mountains for a week, our bodies would be fully acclimatized to the 3,000 m (10,000 ft) elevations.

We initially hesitated and then finally went to book into a camp. With about 2 months or so before the first camp, everything was full. We put our names on the waitlist and waited. Then, two spots opened up on the Toronto Section camp opened up. This was happening!

It was a big moment when Andrea and I paid our deposit. Everything became real and official and terrifying. It was also extremely exciting and empowering. The decision had been made. From July 15-23 we would be high in the Selkirk Mountains, travelling on glaciers and summiting peaks around 3,000 m of elevation.

Things started to fall in to perspective. There was planning and preparing to do – we had a gear list to check off, technical skills to study and practice, and lots of physical training.

Since committing to go here are some of the ways I’ve prepared:

  • Attend a crevasse rescue clinic where I learned to ascend ropes and haul people using ropes
  • Read most of “Freedom Of the Hills“, “Alpine Skills Summer”, “Selkirks North. (Climbing Guide)
  • Aquire a mountain of gear including: Helmet, Alpine Pack, Belay/Rappel devices, Various carabinears, ropes and cords
  • Train 3x a week with a personal trainer focusing on single leg strength exercises, balance, and running

I’ve also had many, many moments of fear, hesitation and excitement. I find myself constantly checking in and asking, “Am I really doing this?” I am. And I’m not doing it alone.  I am going with Andrea, which helps a lot. We will also be out there with many more skilled members of the Alpine Club.

It’s one week away and I think we’re ready. We committed to go and we’re going. As Abraham Lincoln said, “I walk slowly, but I never walk backwards.”


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What you have to quit to move forward - The Peakbaggers

What You Have to Quit to Move Forward

At a meditation retreat on New Year’s Eve I was asked, “What are you willing to give up to move forward in your life?” Since then this question has been on mind almost every day in 2016.

To me the idea of removing actions, items, and people from my life seemed counterintuitive. If I wanted more in my life, don’t I just keep adding? When applied to mountaineering, backpacking, and outdoor exploring, the idea of senselessly adding more makes no sense. So why not in life too?

Just like planning for a trip I began to ask myself what I needed and what I didn’t. I’m still asking myself that question and would like to share with you what I’ve learned so far.

To Quit is To Make Room

If I want to add something to my life, I have to take something away. We all have a finite amount of energy. One thing I’ve done is to quit Olympic Weightlifting in order to work more on endurance activities (running, stair climbing, etc.)

Focus on the Inspiring

What inspires you? Is it learning a new skill, perfecting a yoga pose, going on a long walk with a friend? With all of the options out there, why give your attention to something that isn’t inspiring? For 2016 I’ve been trying to say “yes” to only the inspiring things. For me this means more time at the gym and less time on my phone.

Everything Has a Time and Place

What was your last friendship that ended? I’ve had a lot of friendships end and in some way or other, the ending has always sucked. More and more I’m trying to accept that things (like friendships, expeditions, vacations and more) all come to some sort of end – but it doesn’t have to suck. If I stand back and appreciate and honour the effect that a person, place, or thing has had on me, then that experience lives on. I’m trying to stay in the moment and appreciate things while I have time with them.

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I’m still learning how to quit some things and accept others – tweaking my criteria and growing along the way. I expect that as The Peakbaggers moves forward and our expeditions get longer, my life will get more simple and focused.

What about you? How are you trying to move forward in your life? What tips to you have for growing and quitting? Share in the comments below.


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An Update on What We’ve Been Doing For 3 Months

At the end of 2015 we told you we were taking a break from writing these blog updates, but not a break from our greater journey. We talked about how taking time off can be a difficult yet necessary decision. We love writing these posts and that decision back in December was difficult. Looking back, it was also a really great choice.

We’ve been up to a lot and I would love to update you on the highlights right now.

The beginning of 2016 has been dedicated to planning and preparation. There are six expeditions ahead of us that we hope to accomplish in two years. Five of those require being dropped in remote areas via chartered flights. Four will be involve traversing glaciers and dealing with avalanches. Two will require rock climbing skills. All of them will be difficult.

Knowing this means we know what we have to work on. On the glacier expeditions we hope to skin our way up the mountains and ski/snowboard down. So we need to practice or skiing/snowboarding. We also need to train in crevasse rescue and avalanche safety. For the expeditions that involve climbing, we need to learn how to lead climb and practice trad (outdoor) climbing as well. Then there are all the logistics of contacting parks, charter flight operators, preparing meal plans, etc.

Here is what we’ve been doing so far

Skiing/Snowboarding

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We spent the winter practicing our skiing and snowboarding. I’ve been snowboarding my whole life, but haven’t been in the past two seasons, so this was a good refresher. Andrea and I both really worked on our control and carving. It was Andrea’s second season skiing, so I’m sure she’ll share many more updates on how she progressed.

Climbing

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A new climbing gym, Basecamp, opened very close to where Andrea and I live and we took this as a chance to climb and climb often. The walls are 40ft tall (the highest in Toronto) and spending three sessions a week there is definitely challenging our bodies. I’ve also been working with the staff on getting some coaching tips for training and will be sharing those on the blog soon.

Reading

It’s one thing to get our bodies right for these excursions. Getting our minds ready is an important factor too. As we’ve already learned on our past six expeditions, there is a lot of stress that comes with being isolated in the wilderness. These upcoming expeditions will only be more difficult, more isolated, and more stressful.

Over the past three months I took to reading a lot more about mountaineering and plan to continue this habit. So far I’ve read the following books:

  • Not Won In A Day – an account of Jack Bennet on being the first person to summit the highest point in every Canadian Province and Territory. (we hope to be the first all-Canadian team). This book is a great resource to plan for our excursions and includes lots of maps and trip details.
  • Wild – the account of Cheryl Strayed hiking a large portion of The PCT. This book really showcased what it means to have perseverance. It gave me the confidence that if I put my mind to something and stick with it, I can do anything.
  • Into Thin Air – the harrowing account of the 1996 tragedy on Mt. Everest. This book is an incredibly well-written, detailed, and dramatic account of how a bunch of small mistakes can lead to big errors. Despite the terror and tragedy, it only inspired me more to be in the mountains.

 


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Why We’re Taking a Break (Don’t worry, we’ll be back!)

On January 28, 2015 we published our first blog post. Since then we have written about our journey on our blog almost every single week, while posting videos to YouTube, photos to Instagram, updates to Twitter, and more. And we are so happy so many of you have been following along.

Going on a journey like this and accomplishing goals requires consistent and perpetual effort. It also demands that you don’t over-exert yourself and burnout. We are firm believers in managing your energy so you can show up regularly and do your best work. Over the past month, after summiting our first 6 peaks and reaching a huge milestone, we realized that our energy was dwindling.

So, we here at The Peakbaggers had some serious discussions and have decided we will be taking a 3 month break from the blog. There’s a lot to do on this web series and we are a small team. And we want to do it all – but that’s impossible.

We realized that we need to take a break from writing and sending our newsletter to focus on some other, really exciting parts of this web series. Over the next 3 months we will continue to run our weekly meet ups in Toronto (#DiscoverYourWild), we will be making some updates to the web site, and we will be working on producing the first full-length episodes of the series!!

We will continue to update you and the rest of our followers on Social Media and respond to any and all emails. So, please stay in touch and we’ll talk to you more in March!

Love,

The Peakbaggers


There’s No Room for Ego in the Wild

I’m lying face-down in a thicket of thorny, dense, Nova Scotian brush. Cut, tired, almost in tears and and ready to give up on our summit of White Hill, Nova Scotia’s highest point, Andrea calls behind me, “Are you OK?” I take a deep breath, collect myself, and respond. “Yeah, I’m OK…”

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In the 4 days leading up to this expedition I had  been worried about this exact moment – bushwhacking through maritime forests, brittle and painful from a life exposed to harsh winds and salt-air. I read reports, looked at maps, and both Andrea and I had detailed conversations with Parks Canada staff. Still, I was worried and that worry resulted in tension.

My tension and stress caused me to be a total pain and often miserable hiking partner. It often was hard for me to relax and everything was taken a bit too seriously. Instead of voicing my concerns and discussing them and taking the time to relax, I tried to push through stubbornly.

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Lying there in the alders, when I heard Andrea’s voice, I realized that despite all of this my hiking partner never abandoned me. She was looking past my stressed-out attitude and the harsh conditions of our journey and focused on the goal. When I heard her voice I realized how much of my ego was getting in the way. I decided to put that aside, accept the conditions, focus on the journey and be present in the moment.

This resulted in me being more aware and observing natural breaks in the brush that animals had navigated and those paths allowed us to move through more “easily” (I use that term loosely). It allowed me to listen to my intuition and eventually find the trail we’d been searching for in our bushwhack.

After successfully reaching the summit I felt a wave of relief wash over me. As we embarked on the long journey back to the car I reflected on my attitude and the conditions we hiked through. I thought to myself, “nature has taught you an important lesson.”

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Nature is bigger than any of us. It is bigger than small worries, concerns, and disputes. Nature is a powerful force that will inspire awe and evoke an internal silence if you are willing to stop and appreciate it’s beauty. Nature demands a balance between adequately planning and preparing and being present- looking ahead and then setting that aside and being in the moment.

I am still learning that balance and trying to accept the many, many, lessons nature can teach me…even when that means falling-face first into some painful brush.


Insights Gained from Everest Documentary “Sherpa”

I wait with eager anticipation, staring at a blank movie screen at the Toronto International Film Festival, waiting to see the documentary Sherpa.  I think I know the story. I think I know about the 2014 avalanche on Chomolungma (aka Mt. Everest) that killed 16 Sherpa. I think “Sherpa” is just another word for a mountain guide.

How wrong I was!

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(all photos courtesy Felix Media)

Over the next 96 minutes Director Jen Peedom will take me on a heartbreaking and incredible journey that will teach me that the Sherpa are a Nepalise people with a delicate and spiritually inspiring lifestyle. I will be reminded of Tenzing Norgay’s amazing first summit of Chomolungma with Edmund Hillary and the subsequent injustices. I will mediate on topics like exploitation, cultural appropriation, the majesty of nature, death, and my own life.

As I watch, Sherpa after Sherpa string heavy loads of materials up to various camps along Everest. They haul oxygen, food, and even materials to build huts, all for the climbers who will summit thanks to their efforts. As I think about their strength, spirituality, and incredible attitudes, my heart swells. As the family of the main character of the film (Phurba Tashi Sherpa) describe their fears and plead with Phurba not to climb, tears stream down my face. Now, as I write this article, I hold back the tears just so I can get words onto the screen.

What Jen Peedom managed to capture was a deep understanding the Sherpa already know about the mountain. Daily, the Sherpa talk about not upsetting the mountain. Their village is filed with shrines and prayer wheels. They pray before climbs and during, burring plants and smudging themselves as ritual. I believe they do all of this because they understand the majesty of Chomolungma and other mountains. They recognize they are but only one part of this symbiotic relationship.

This attitude and understanding is one I am firmly believe in and one I am constantly trying to engrain in my journey. I believe, like the Sherpa (and many others) that nature demands our respect and that a lack of this respect can result in imbalances. Watching Sherpa I felt small and powerless. I also felt a great pull and a call, one that said, “challenge yourself in ways that will demand humility.”

My thoughts and prayers are with the Sherpa, the Nepalise, everyone who was affected by the tragedies in Nepal and Chomolungma and everyone who respectfully dares to go on adventure and in the hope of finding themselves.


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The Importance of Getting Lost

I’m driving down a steep cliff, in a car that isn’t my own, on a road I’ve never been in Cypress Hills Saskatchewan, over terrain that looks far too rough for the vehicle I’m in. I’m not exactly sure where I am and I’m not exactly sure if I’ll get out. I feel lost.

I have a love/hate relationship with that terrifying feeling of being lost. You know, the one that sits deep in your gut. The uncertain feeling that only comes when you are questioning just about everything. I hate the feeling because it sucks to be in that position. It sucks to have no idea where you are or what’s going to happen or what to do – it’s panic. I love that feeling because it challenges my problem solving skills. I first have to take a deep breath, calm my nerves, and ask myself what’s going on.

In A Field Guide to Getting Lost author Rebecca Solnit writes, “Worry is a way to pretend that you have knowledge or control over what you don’t – and it surprises me, even in myself, how much we prefer ugly scenarios to the pure unknown.”

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The feeling of being lost, of the unknown, is an inevitable one but also one we avoid. Being lost goes against our primal instinct of survival – if some things are uncertain than survival is uncertain too; or so we would believe. New York Times best-selling author Dr. Mercola writes, “Anxiety is a natural, normal response to potential threats, which puts your body into a heightened state of awareness.” The problem is that the feeling of general uncertainty alone isn’t a threat, yet we perceive it to be one. Dr. Eliot D. Cohen says we have a, “demand for certainty in a world that is always tentative and uncertain,” and that this demand is where a lot of problems arise.

We are exceptional at problem solving, yet when we are lost we panic and forget this. The trick is to accept this panic as a signal that something may be wrong and unsafe, but not a conclusion that things are definitely that way.

It seems there is a point on every one of The Peakbaggers summit attempts where we feel lost. A few months ago, on our second summit attempt of Ishpatina Ridge, things got pretty tense.  In the dense backcountry we had lost the barely visible trail.  We were 9km from the car and the terrain was wet and uneven. We were repeatedly checking our GPS just to make sure we were on the right path, and once we had come off the path things got worse. Everyone was frustrated, tensions were high, and our confidence was dwindling. I took a deep-breath, calmed my nerves, and focused on what I knew – we weren’t on the trail but were heading in the right direction, if we kept the lake on our right we’d eventually reach camp, we’re wet but we can easily dry our clothes. I tried to instil some of this confidence on the rest of the team by encouragingly shouting, “If we keep moving this way, we will intersect with the path!” And eventually, to our extreme delight, we did.

I reminded myself of this moment while driving to visit some of Saskatchewan’s highest points. In the driver’s seat I took a deep breath and told myself what I knew – we were with a guide who knew the way and if I took things slowly we would be fine. I slowed down, accepted and listened to my nerves as mere a cautionary tale – and not a reason to turn back – and kept going until we saw some of the most incredible views of Saskatchewan.

People are emotional, problem-solving creatures. Sometimes we think we have to push our emotions out of the way in order to think analytically. Getting lost forces you to balance your emotions and problem solving skills. It calls upon our sense of survival and requires focus. Practising getting lost in lower-stake situations can help both in everyday life and when things get more dire. If you’re used to feeling panic and still adapting to solve the problem, you’ll be more calm and collected, whether the situation is dealing with a computer error in a presentation or getting down a mountain.


Need help getting lost just about anywhere? Check out the mobile app Drift – it provides seemingly random instructions to help you loose yourself in familiar places.

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Teamwork – Going Fast vs. Going Far

You’ve probably heard the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Or, if you’re like me, you only heard of this recently (maybe even right now).

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It’s a simple yet powerful concept. One that emphasizes the importance of teamwork. Putting this in to practice is another thing. “Going together,” means making constant adjustments. It means that sometimes you’re moving at breakneck speeds – everyone is working efficiently, pushing the rest of the team in some sort of motivational infinity-loop. Other times it means that you have to slow down, re-asses and re-group. Which can be frustrating.

A few weeks ago I and the rest of The Peakbaggers decided to take this proverb to heart and create #DiscoverYour Wild. #DiscoverYourWild is a program where we invite anyone to join us every Wednesday at 7pm for a different, free outdoor adventure. We decided to invite others to join our training.

Initially it felt counter-intituitive. I asked myself, “Why bring others along?” Alone I could train how I wanted, when I wanted. In a group I would have to worry about planning, programming, and promoting the weekly adventures. Being in a group also means I’m accountable. It means that I HAVE to show-up, even when I don’t want to.

Last week I led a 12km bike-ride around some of Toronto’s scenic bike paths. Before the event I felt nervous and anxious and tired. It was hot and I was hungry and not sure if I felt like a ride. I also wanted the event to go really well and everyone to get something out of the experience. I questioned everything, “Is the course to short or long?” “Was there a better spot to meet?” etc. Once we met up a lot of those feelings disappeared.

Then, in the middle of the ride, I thought about how I really wanted a harder workout. The path was relatively flat and I wanted to either go really fast and leave everyone, or stop and do pull-ups. I joked about this with another rider and he said, “Why don’t we bike up that big hill at the end?” I rode up and let other’s know they could try and climb the hill too, or wait at the bottom. Everyone finished the 12km and then 4 of us started the climb. As I switched to my road bike’s lowest gear I started to pant heavily. The air was humid and thick and I thought about giving up. Then someone passed me and I knew I had to keep going. Four others joined in on the climb and we all high-fived at the top.

I was reminded again in that moment that having patience in a team can result in moments where you push yourself harder than you thought you could go. I rode my way home with some of the people (which was a workout in itself) and we all joked about how exhausted and tired we were and how the short bike ride turned in to so much more.

While I know at times I will still resist being around others and working in a team, I realize that going beyond my limits to unimaginable places means re-joining the group and letting each of us carry the other forward.


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How to Accomplish Impossible Goals

Do you have a goal that feels impossible? Something you want to get started but aren’t sure it’s achievable? Or maybe it is really daunting and you’re having trouble following through?

Whether it is a big, lofty goal, or something smaller, we all could use some help finding ways to stay motivated and put in the work to make those goals reality. In the next few paragraphs I’m going to tell you a personal story that I think explains the over-arching idea of “constant work” (which can be easier than it sounds) and then share one trick that has really helped me.

For me, the big, impossible goal has been having good balance. If I’m going to be honest, I would like to be able to walk across slacklines with calmness and ease, but simply standing on one foot for more than a few seconds or doing a single-leg squat would be a HUGE achievement for me. You see, when I was 7 I was diagnosed with a benign brain-tumour. The tumour was right at the part where my spine attaches to my brain – the part that controls things like motor function.

In the hospital room, after the tumor was successfully removed and I was out of a wheelchair, Doctors would watch me try to walk in a straight line across the room. I couldn’t do it. I would wobble and fall off course. It was upsetting and embarrassing. When I was out of the hospital I would practice this by walking on the edges of curbs or along the lines painted on the roads. I still do this and think about how I felt in that hospital so many years ago.

People told me, “you will always have poor balance,” or, “you’ve always been uncoordinated.” I’ve never believed that just because I’ve been one thing for most of my life doesn’t mean I can’t change. After the tumor  I couldn’t throw a baseball to a target. Then, in my 20s  I could. Despite being slow and uncoordinated, I ran cross-country in elementary school, played basketball and skateboarded. Later I played rugby in high school. Slowly things started getting better, but my balance was always terrible and still kind of is. I still will loose my balance while standing still or going down stairs. But slowly that is changing.

I’ve increased my focus on improving my balance. I now try to balance on one foot when brushing my teeth and grinding coffee. I’m slacklining and doing yoga as well. And last week I made an amazing leap forward. Standing in the kitchen, I stood on one foot and began to grind coffee without teetering. I smiled and said, “I’ve never been able to do this before…in my entire life.” I’m also able to do single-leg squats, or pistols – another thing that I’ve been working on for about 3 years.

My point is, if you keep working at something you will improve. It may be slow and the results may seem almost unnoticeable, but tiny achievements add up.

The GM for the British Cycling Team Dave Brailsford calls this the “aggregation of marginal gains.” The concept it simple, if you make a 1% improvement everyday the results will improve exponentially. He used this technique to bring Great Britain’s first Tour de France win in 2012.   James Clear, a studier and writer on “habits”, has made this great graph that highlights what just 1% a day can do:

 

In applying this thinking to my everyday life I’ve learned to stay focused and trust that the work will pay-off. Before I may have been frustrated that I wasn’t really seeing results after a week, month, or year of work. (Maybe you can relate?) Now, I tell myself, “Put in the 1%… Every. Day. Put in the 1%.” And I’m seeing it work in ways people told me were impossible.


What goals are you working on? Do you have any tips for making the impossible possible? Let us know below. Get article of motivation, workout tips, and exciting videos in your inbox every Monday – subscribe to our newsletter!

We’re meeting at Sherbourne and Bloor for our next Discover Your Wild adventure (July 22)! See you there!


Why Peer Validation Feels So Good

Have you ever had an idea and asked yourself, “Is this any good?” Or maybe you’re one of those super-confident types that tells themselves, “I know this idea is good!”

If you’re like me, you’ve fallen in to both camps. And regardless of where you stand, chances are at some point self-doubt has crept up while you’ve been working on a project or are in the process of trying to complete something. It’s natural to doubt. And doubt can be good. But doubt can also hold you back or slow you down from following-through or moving forward with that amazing thing.

Two weeks ago, after posting this article about my mountaineering training plan, I invited people to come run stairs with me. No one did. While I wasn’t extremely discouraged, it did sting.

Then last weekend Andrea and I attended MEC Outdoor Nation’s Toronto retreat – a weekend where over 135 18-30 year-olds hung out and brainstormed ways to inspire others to get outside. While there people mentioned time, money, and motivation as barriers to getting out more. Thinking about my invitation for people to train with me, we came up with a plan to invite people to train with us every week. When I stood up and told the group about the plan, several others came over and said they wanted to help. We then brainstormed and decided to host a different free outdoor activity in Toronto every Wednesday at 7pm. We call it #DiscoverYourWild.

The group of us stood in front of the room and presented this idea and everyone voted us in the top 3 ideas! It felt amazing and validating and inspiring. We received some funding to help us move this idea forward, but the votes were the most rewarding part. There’s something truly gratifying about people whose opinions you value and respect saying, “We think what you’re doing is worth doing…and we want to help you succeed.”

Last week we hosted our first activity – a 5km run – and 6 people came out. Thinking about the week before, when no one joined, I was so touched when I saw people showing up that week. More importantly, I felt motivated to keep going.  I know my peers are paying attention and want me to succeed. In turn I feel accountable to them and this idea and I think that is one of the best kinds of motivation.


What’s an idea you’re working on that you’ve presented to a group of peers? Or maybe something you’re still unsure of?

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