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…

InReach-ThePeakbaggers-Selkirks-02

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.


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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COLD: how Cory Richards’ story about being cold motivated me to climb mountains

Short films can be powerful little beasts, transporting you to another reality for one second to, well, 19 minutes in this case. Back in March, this story came up in conversation while we were interviewing Erin Mccutcheon about her winter camping experience on Lake Winnipeg.   Erin, in passing, said, “Oh, I recommend this documentary short called Cold. It’s about climbers getting caught in an avalanche. It’s… I have no words to describe it.” Our eyes widened at the thought.

Doing my due diligence and driven by curiosity, I sought out the film and watched the trailer. It’s been over two months, and I’ve only brought myself to watch the film now.

As I sat down with the 19 minute piece I thought, “Why has it taken me so long to watch this?” As soon as I clicked play, I knew.

“Beautiful. Spectacular. Free…” narrates Cory Richards at 21, 959 feet and -46°C. Cory is one of three subjects in the short and also the cinematographer. “But it’s just so cold,” he says. “What the fuck am I doing here?”

My eyes welled.

cold_film_cory_richards_1

Cold is about the resilience, drive, and circumstance of three climbers – Cory, Simone Moro, and Denis Urubko – who attempt and succeed at climbing one of Pakistan’s 8000 meter peaks in winter. They were the first team to make it. Only 16 expeditions have attempted in the last 26 years, and these men were the first to make it.

If The Peakbaggers didn’t exist and I didn’t think about them constantly, I don’t know if my eye would have welled. I mean, I’m sure they would have but for a completely different reason. Think about being there, I thought. Because we will be. We won’t be on that mountain, no, but we’ll be on mountains and in the cold and asking ourselves what the heck we’re doing here just the same. Watching the extraordinary feat of fellow climbers, full of fear and questions of mortality and doubt, I was both inspired and astounded at once.

Will I be able to do this?

“Go gently,” Cory repeats; advice from his father before he left. The power that words have, the small moments that mean the world to you as you look at it from thousands of meters in the air… I will enjoy my coffee and my cats and that lipstick I bought last week, I thought. I will enjoy my runs through city parks and the birds I hear outside my windows. I pictured myself missing these things. Did I ever miss them… and I’m amid them.

Cold is a brilliant storytelling of experiencing some of the most difficult, testing emotions we are capable of experiencing. And all by choice. Why do we make these choices? Because we’re driven and inspired and astounded by this beautiful earth… and we want to be a part of that.

“What the fuck am I doing here?”

The answer is yes.

The most resonating part of Cold for me, as I learn more about the world, the earth, the climate, the change, the air, is when Cory sees the sun after being in darkness for days. “When the first rays hit me – graced me – not yet with warmth, but with light,” he says, “I know now that I am alive again, and a part of this world.”

How distant and disconnected you can feel from home when you are so far away from it at night in a tent as the snow and frost settle on your sleeping bag. Ishpatina in March was only around -20°C. In Cold, the temperature reaches -46°C. We’re in for a treat; nothing short of an incredibly beautiful, spectacular adventure.

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Watch the trailer for COLD here:

COLD – TRAILER from Forge Motion Pictures on Vimeo.

For a detailed account of the team’s climb, Outside Magazine published an article called “Partly Crazy With a Chance of Frostbit” available here.


Do you have a story about being COLD? Let us know in the comments below!

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The Security Of My Inner Child

Growing up in Georgetown, Ontario with two very hardworking parents I spent the majority of my primary years with my globe trotting grandparents. They owned the most gorgeous property with a stunning house that they built themselves and that meant I had the absolute privilege of having 50 acres of protected Niagara Escarpment as my personal playground. A facility for exploration and imagination that was so stimulating I didn’t even have to make up friends, that world was abundant company. I have the most vivid memories of knowing that property like the back of my hand, running at top speed knowing where fallen trees, dips and sharp turns were on the trails. Abandoned limestone quarries that bordered into dense forest that had hidden caves that directed you to vast tall grassed orchards. If I could savour one sensation in every moment of my present life – as I go to work, train at the gym or walk my dog Tobi at High Park – it would be that navigator-child that I was.

So so much of this project demands that I am constantly re-evaluating my balance of fun and planning and ensuring I’m sharing enough of this amazing journey. Its a reality for anyone who makes work out of their passions and hobbies. On one hand, I can shamelessly say that this adventure may be one of my most selfish endeavours. On the other hand, I really believe that this project can be a positive contribution that enriches the world. The feedback and excitement from park staff and people who approach me and the team are all graciously tallied as little success. Each time someone reacts positively as we share our journey means, to me, that we are doing something right.

I actively strive to be somebody that I would be stoked to meet along the path. That wandering, trouble-making child of my past is my inspiration. Being outdoors, swatting bugs, splashing in lakes, getting lost are all such important elements of my being and to this day some of the most consistent activities. Planning these adventures with my friends ignites my curiosity and always holds so many unknowns, but amazingly is one of the few things that I can actually find security in, as if the fabric of the night sky is some sort of secruity-blanket that I haven’t been able to stop toting around.

I’m really excited for what’s approaching and genuinely can’t wait to share it with you and the rest of the world!


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