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.


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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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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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.

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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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