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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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.”

Rebecca-Solnit-Lost-Quote-The-Peakbaggers

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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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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How I’m Dealing With My Fear of Going Outside

I’m sitting on the couch in my living room. The windows are open, the sun is streaming in, I can hear the city traffic go by and the birds chirping. I know it is a beautiful day out. “I could go for a run,” I think. “Or I could sit here, where it is safe.” I choose the latter and feel guilty until the sun goes down and it is dark.

This is the first time I’m admitting this fear… to myself and to everyone else. I don’t know when these feelings started creeping up in my life and I don’t know why. What I do know is that almost every time I think of going outside, a wave of anxiety hits me. Sometimes it is small, sometimes it is large. I hesitate and think of a variety of reasons not to go outside.

You don’t know what’s out there.”

It’s too much effort.”

It’s safer in here.”

Agoraphobia is defined as “an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety in situations where the sufferer perceives certain environments as dangerous or uncomfortable, often due to the environment’s vast openness or crowdedness” (Wikipedia). Maybe this is what I have. I’m not sure. Everyone feels anxious at certain points in their life. If you recognize that your anxiety has become more severe or has begun to impede certain actions, then it is time to speak with a doctor.

A lot of people I talk to speak about a fear of trying something new or “starting out.” It may be going to a new gym, starting a new activity, going to a new place… Because they are new, all of these possible actions bring up a variety of uncertainties. Seth Godin often talks about The Lizzard Brain or  The Resistance – the cause of most irrational human behaviour and compromise. Seth says that “the resistance is the voice in the back of our head telling us to back off, be careful, go slow, compromise.” I take comfort in knowing that everyone has some form of fear to deal with; that I’m not the only one. The people who are out running races, climbing mountains, and embarking on new adventures all have their own fears too.

But how do they deal with theirs and how do I learn from them so I can deal with mine?

Steven-Pressfield-The-Peakbaggers

In her TED Talk, Karen Thompson Walker suggests I think about what my fear means to me. She says, “Our fears focus our attention on a question that is as important in life as it is in literature: What will happen next?” This actually sounds terrifying. I mean, isn’t thinking about the all possibilities exactly the idea that is weighing me down? But it may actually be my avoidance of these fears that prevents me from breaking them down. Many sports psychologists suggest athletes embrace fear and use it as a way to fuel their adrenaline. In the book Great By Choice, Jim Collins suggests using fears to develop a plan for “what if?”

Based on this, other readings, and my own experiences, I’ve come up with a plan for embracing and confronting my fear of going outside:

  • Acknowledge my feelings without judgement. I use the mediation app Headspace to help me do this.
  • Break it down in to steps and focus on the first step. So, if I’m going running, I focus on putting on my running clothes and nothing else.
  • Put on a great, pump-up playlist… like this one.
  • Follow some blogs filled with motivational photos, like Vega’s #BestLifeProject – I suggest you pick a number, like 5 motivation photos, and then get moving right after.
  • Join a community of like-minded individuals. Matt recently wrote about joining a running crew.
  • Focus on something you love. Tara Sophia Mohr states that love and fear cannot coexist.
  • Work through the fear like a story, as Karen Thompson suggests.

Wow, I already feel better admitting this fear to myself and to you. Hopefully this posts helps motivate you in some way. I know it has motivated me. I also know that if my fears and anxiety become to overwhelming, I’ll reach out to a mental-health professional. If that is your case, help is out there. Here is a good list of helplines worldwide.


Let me know how you’re dealing with fear, watch Karen Thompson Walker’s TED Talk and Seth Godin’s speech about the Lizzard Brain below, then make sure to subscribe to our newsletter and never miss an update.


Socks, Mitts, Liners, Batteries… Bears…

The more pieces of clothing – socks, mitts, liners, batteries – that I gather, the closer we get to Mount Logan. Am I getting ahead of myself?

Tomorrow we embark on a winter camping trip; our first summit of 13. Ishpatina Ridge it’s called, in a beautifully named Ontario provincial park called Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater (a person I tried to learn about but only came across the names of two water bodies: Lady Evelyn River and Lake Smoothwater). A trail of thoughts run through my mind every time I think about how little experience I have, followed by an immediate thrill at the same notions.

“Oh, this is the perfect time,” Nik told us when we visited him at MEC Toronto last week. “The bears are coming out of hibernation…” I didn’t hear the rest of his sentence. I need to pick up a bear bell, I thought.

I spent a year in Vancouver trying to see a bear. I hung out at a salmon hatchery for an entire day – twice – because places like that are normally rich with wildlife. I drove to Tofino, along the Sunshine Coast, to Squamish, and around Whistler with my eyes peeled… multiple times. I camped beside the ocean and walked around quietly searching. I drove up and down logging roads slowly and surely, missing a family by two minutes (the other car in our clan saw that wonder). I skirted around North Vancouver because I was told bears were easily spotted there. I didn’t see one anywhere.

In Wilderness_Andrea Wrobel

“It’s very much still winter up here,” Lady-Evelyn Smoothwater Park superintendent, Kevin Pinkerton told Brian yesterday. The bears are still sleeping.

My first experience with a bear is going to be amazing. When that will be, no one can say. This sort of fear – the best kind – drives my ambition forward. Like my fears of trying something new, the mere thought of existing the same place as a bear thrills me. Growing up in the city and with parents who took me to a number of zoos, to African Lion Safari, to Sea World and Marine Land… I was profoundly affected as a child by the feeling that something wasn’t right with all these places. Businesses. That these animals were brought in so that we could see them; so that we knew they were real. In wilderness – in a park like Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater, or on a mountain like Logan – I am the animal and the bears, birds, foxes are the spectator; a sort of role reversal that I yearn to bask in… and leave untouched.

It’s likely that all we’ll encounter this weekend is ourselves and our ideas; our new boots that we’ll be breaking in and the flurries that are to potentially pass us by. Still a visitor by nature, we embark on this adventure: a 5 hour drive from Toronto ending with 70km of logging road leading to the beginning of the trailhead, a 15 km hike up the ridge, to a beautiful view of Ontario – snowstorm pending – from the tallest point in the province.


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