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.

~

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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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.

thepeakbaggers-vancouver-stanleypark
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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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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