Sunday, 7 February 2016

East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

An image by Kay Nielsen from the Norwegian children's fairytale, East of the Sun and West of the Moon.
I've brought you along, dear reader, on a journey these last four years. It's never been my thing to pretend, I don't like leading you astray as you follow me through life. Sometimes it's been super awesome, and sometimes it's mostly just sucked. My life isn't perfect, nor is anyone's despite what we might think sometimes.

So with this in mind I guess I'll just share this with you; I said good-bye to my best friend, someone I loved more than anyone, a while ago now. Closing this last chapter of life has been the most difficult period of my 35 years. I've done my best to travel this road with as much grace and dignity as possible, but I know that I've made mistakes. I wish there was a template, a series of steps one could simply follow to boldly move forward into the new paradigm, but I just don't think there is. 

As I look back on the last half a year I can see themes building, and though it's painful to analyse, I think it's an important part of the process.

Probably what shines through the strongest is how integral the mountains have been during this change. I've felt an almost constant nagging to be in motion since we parted way, and the mountains have been my one source of joy during these last months. Surrounded by my friends, running against the wind in an alpine meadow, feeling the cold snow on my face, hearing the sound of a glacial stream, powder turns, sweat running down my face, being run out, all of these things bring me one step closer to peace, and I need this right now. In the mountains I feel a connection to the past, but can live for the future. 

Strangely, social media feels as though it has a place in this analysis. Ah social media, that giant black hole of validation and affirmation. I've inundated you with images and stories of adventure, which on the surface is so fun and light-hearted, but at its root is my own subversive attempt to find solace and validation in my achievements as I've struggled to come to terms with who I am now. I don't want you to think my life is one blissful adventure to the next. I don't want to coerce you into thinking I'm anything more than a girl who really likes to climb. Sure, I'm driven and I get out a lot, but I'm not Lynn Hill, Ingrid Backstromm, or Ines Papert. Glossy images of beautiful places can be misleading, and I'm no hero. I just happen to have friends that take pretty pictures, and maybe a slight inclination towards photography myself.

It's easy to confuse social media with a news source. Let me assure you, my social media channels are not a news source, I do not do anything news worthy. I do however have a strong desire to share stories and images of my journey. And it's been a journey! I don't know why, but maybe in part, it helps me process everything that's transpired. I also hope that through my own story, you too can find comfort in difficult times. So, if you feel I've lead you astray, please accept my apology and know that I'm here for no other reason than to say, "I've done it, and so can you!" I won't be offended if you don't feel like following my social media posts, but if you want to join me on my journey of life, then saddle up dear reader cuz it's gonna be a bumpy ride.

I guess I'll just close by acknowledging that the life that I had forged for myself in the company of my best friend was beautiful. We experienced success, failure, happiness, and sadness together, as I'm certain you've experienced with those you choose to love as well. I know my 35-year-old-self well enough, to know that I become easily overwhelmed with difficult times. For me, these periods seem to have no end, and the pain seems permanent. But for goodness sake if 35 years has taught me anything, it should be that pain never lasts. The goodness of my past is part of me now, it will always be there, but the goodness of my future is just around the corner.

Kay Neilsen
I don't want to wait anymore I'm tired of looking for answers
Take me some place where there's music and there's laughter
I don't know if I'm scared of dying but I'm scared of living too fast, too slow
Regret, remorse, hold on, oh no I've got to go
There’s no starting over, no new beginnings, time races on

And you've just gotta keep on keeping on
Gotta keep on going, looking straight out on the road
Can't worry 'bout what's behind you or what's coming for you further up the road
I try not to hold on to what is gone, I try to do right what is wrong

I try to keep on keeping on
Yeah I just keep on keeping on

I hear a voice calling
Calling out for me
These shackles I've made in an attempt to be free
Be it for reason, be it for love
I won't take the easy road

I've woken up in a hotel room, my worries as big as the moon
Having no idea who or what or where I am

Something good comes with the bad
A song's never just sad
There's hope, there's a silver lining
Show me my silver lining
Show me my silver lining

I hear a voice calling
Calling out for me
These shackles I've made in an attempt to be free
Be it for reason, be it for love
I won't take the easy road
~ First Aid Kit

I have a lot of catching up to do on my blog, because let's face it, I have been busy! To begin, let me share some photos and short stories from the people and places that have helped me find my way.

This past summer, I sort of became a runner. Running might just be the most emotionally stabilising sport out there. In fact, this quote kind of makes me chuckle, “I love running. I’m not into marathons, but I am into avoiding problems at an accelerated rate.” ~ Jarod Kintz. As you'll see, most of my alpine missions became more of an alpine "running" mission than a climbing trip. I hate heavy packs, and nothing gets me more psyched than racing up a mountain in a day, on a trip that would otherwise take 2 days. Maybe I also just really like wearing my alpine short shorts and a tank top while scampering around the mountains.

Rich and I decided to day trip Castle Tower (2675 m) in a remote corner of Garibaldi Provincial Park in late July. Living in Squamish, Garibaldi Park is my "backyard" so it only seemed natural to sleep comfortably in my own bed, wake early, race up the mountain, and return home in time for Pure Breads. I always leave the calculations to Rich, and he says we travelled about 40 km, gained 3000 m of elevation, and managed 10.5 hrs car-to-car. Castle Towers is generally completed as a two or three day adventure.

OK, maybe this picture was posed. Photo, Rich So.

Morning mist, and alpine short shorts. Photo, Rich So.

Running on to the Helm Glacier, which should be noted, is almost entirely gone. Eek! Photo, Rich So.

Rich scrambling with Garibaldi Lake below. Fun fact about Garibaldi Lake; At it's far northwestern end lava flow from nearby volcanoes formed a natural dam creating the lake. One day, when we have the earth's-biggest-earthquake this natural barrier will most likely be broken, releasing the lake and taking out my dear town of Squamish. Crazy! Photo, Sarah Hart.

Me, making a couple of technical moves as we near the summit. Photo, Rich So.

Yup, that's all she wrote for this mountain adventure, alpine short shorts, my beloved Spicy Jacket and my pink Travel Pack. So light, and so nice. Photo, Rich So.

Rich about to tag the summit. Photo, Sarah Hart.

That's me. Photo, Rich So.
The following weekend was another alpine running mission. This time, with my good friends Kelly and Julie. There's a cool new hiking trail around Rainbow Mountain, across the valley from Whistler. The trail, I believe it's called the Skywalk Trail, is great for running and pops you out at Iceberg Lake below Rainbow's East Glacier. The ridge scrambling from there is super duper fun.

Kelly scrambling along Rainbow's long East Ridge. Photo, Sarah Hart.

My buddies. Photo, Sarah Hart.

Kelly looks out across the Whistler valley. Photo, Sarah Hart.
Elise is my soul sister, and spending time with her always brings me peace. In September we ran/scrambled Mt. Tszil (2377 m) in the Joffre Lake area. This is an awesome mountain running adventure, I'd recommend it to anyone. With the recent trail work on the Joffre Lakes trail system, running to the third Joffre Lake takes no time at all, and then you're in the alpine!

Elise on the summit of Mt. Tszil, overlooking the Pemberton valley. Photo, Sarah Hart.

Yes, this shot is about as cliche as it gets, and also kind of ironic. Photo, Sarah Hart.
After all that running around, I was apparently, at least according to Rich, ready for something a little slower. So I joined Rich and Nick on a two day "fast packing" trip around the Pinecone-Burke divide, in Pinecone-Burke Provincial Park. It should be noted, the park incorporates some of the traditional territory of the Katzie First Nation. It's an incredibly fun high alpine ridge scramble that circumnavigates Pinecone Lake. We were above treeline almost the whole time, but for all the nerdy specs of the trip, we'll have to wait for Rich to finish his trip report. I should add, with these boys, nudity is pretty much guaranteed as you'll see below.

Rich's naked butt, and a beautiful alpine tarn. Photo, Sarah Hart.

Naked again. Rich and Nick jump into Pinecone Lake after dinner. Photo, Sarah Hart.

Our bivy! Photo, Sarah Hart.

Nick's naked butt, and some mountains. Atwell Peak and Garibladi are visible in the distance. Photo, Sarah Hart.
One last mountain running adventure to wrap up the season. I'd just raced the Rubble Creek Classic, one of the oldest organised trail races in British Columbia, dating back to 1985. The course travels 25 km from Chekamus Lake, through the high alpine of Helm Creek Meadows and then down through Rubble Creek. It's an institution and only a small number of racers are permitted each year. I felt lucky to make the roster and even luckier to experience my first runners high during the race. I was on top of the world. Though, it's hard to know if it was the chemicals coursing through my body, or just the Taylor Swift pumping through my speakers. I will run this race every year now! Following the race, Rich, Kate and I ran/climbed Blackcomb Buttress, on Blackcomb Peak. 

Not the best weather for a scramble up Blackcomb Buttress. But, whatever. Photo, Sarah Hart.

Kate traversing onto the buttress proper. Photo, Sarah Hart.
No report would be complete without a few stories and images of my first love, bouldering. I spent countless hours in the forest around my home picking away at my projects. I love climbing. One of my favourite climbing partners, Jamie Finlayson, always comes prepared with his camera. So, below are a few of his images, along with one from my friend Andrew Querner

The Weasel. This wiley weasel had evaded me for years, and years. Some problems just really get under your skin. This past summer I finally sent the thing. I love to hate this one. Photo, Jamie Finlayson.

The Method, a test in technical skill, and falling. This problem is awesome, but will require some serious focus, which is not my strong point. Photo, Jamie Finalyson.

The apple of my eye right now, Permanent Waves. This route was established by my hero Jim Sandford way back in 1993. It's one of the most stunning routes I've ever seen, and I am totally infatuated with it. Naturally, it plays to my strengths with a gentle 5.12 warm-up to a V9 boulder problem. Photo, Andrew Querner.
And here's my other obsession, The Black Hole. I came painfully close to sending this problem last fall. I'll be back for it this spring for sure. Photo, Jamie Finlayson.

The Black Hole up close. Photo, Jamie Finlayson.

The Weasel up close. Photo, Jamie Finlayson.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Under the Cover of Darkness

There is a burgeoning sub-culture in our Squamish climbing community. It’s not the obvious; Boulderers are not taking to ropes, and roped climbers are not giving up their bolts. It has to do with darkness, something that those of us living north of the 49th parallel learn to live with a lot of. Each Fall, when we *sigh* turn our clocks back, darkness is really all we know as card-carrying 9-5 commuters. There’s simply no way to get home in time to catch the last rays of sun on still-warm rock. And so a sub-culture has emerged. Under the cover of darkness boulderers have begun sleuthing about the forest with crash pads and lanterns in tow, vibrating with unbridled motivation. Because let’s face it, you need a lot of motivation to pack-up and leave your warm house at 7:30 pm in the pitch black.

I emerge from the "Black Hole" as darkness falls and our session is just getting underway. Photo, Jamie Finlayson.


I find myself totally smitten with the groups of boulderers quietly gathered around a lantern-lit boulder, discussing beta, listening to Odesza (because, when bouldering under the cover of darkness you must remain in a chill state of mind. No loud metal music here -- save that for the daylight). On any given cold and crisp night, there are three or four different groups of boulderers each huddled around their chosen nights objective.

Yes, I am emerging from a "Black Hole" which also happens to be the name of this problem and also perhaps, aptly describes my current state of mind. Photo, Jamie Finlayson.
These night warriors are not faint of heart; They are driven, they are motivated, and they are sending. I find this small, but perhaps growing sub-culture to be particularly inspiring. Many of these people have day jobs, have families, have children. They wear many hats and yet maintain a stubborn dedication to hard climbing. So much so that they/we have turned the dark, cold forest into our own personal bouldering gym. There is a lot of camaraderie among this ragtag group of bouldering outcasts. We hold a particular respect for one another knowing that sheer grit and determination is what’s bringing us together each night.

Yours truly on her project yet again. Photo, Kerim Ntumba Tshimanga.
As I type this post, there’s a shipment of eight rechargeable LED floodlights in the mail for myself and my crew of night boulderers. We will push the season to the bitter end, and almost certainly all under the protective cover of darkness. Allow me to insert a small public service announcement here. Don’t limit yourself to the literal or metaphorical daylight dear reader. Think outside of the box to achieve your goals. There is the tinniest segment of our community with the privilege of pursuing their goals in the daylight hours. If you are not one of these people, don’t let it distract you from achieving what you want. I have the highest respect for those who cannot make climbing their sole focus, and yet, achieve a standard matching that of the full-time climber. The mental fortitude required to compete on a similar platform as those who can climb all day, any day, is underrated and not applauded enough.

For inspiration, we need not look very far. Squamish local, Luke Zimmerman, has a full-time career, is a husband, and father to twin boys. Luke has quietly been ticking off every hard boulder problem in Squamish. Or take one of my favorite climbing partners, Jamie Finlayson, who is the founding partner of a custom construction company, a husband, and this-just-in…a father! Jamie might just be the strongest climber in Squamish. It’s people like this, who lead ordinary lives in a very extraordinary way that I find most inspiring.

I think, the first step to surpassing the perceived limitations of an ordinary life, is to think extraordinarily.  I enourage you all to give it a try and perhaps...get comfortable under the cover of darkness.

The Weasel, as darkness falls. Photo, Jamie Finlayson.

Darkness cometh. Photo, Jamie Finlayson.

Kelly and I have recently taken to working The Egg by lantern. Photo, Kelly Franz.

Like a night vision, Kelly emerges from the darkeness to...get shut down on The Egg, as has been our luck so far. Photo, Sarah Hart.
The Egg, and a dark, dark hole. Photo, Kelly Franz.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

There's nothing like French sunglasses...

A while ago now, I got a message from a friend asking if he could send my contact info. to the distributor for Julbo Eyewear here in Canada, "what?! Um, yes...of course! Holy crap!" For all the time I spend in the mountains; skiing, alpine climbing, running, sunbathing (OK, not really sunbathing) but you get the idea, having a slick pair of sunglasses is kind of key. I spend a lot of money on good sunglasses. I also lose a lot of good sunglasses, or sit on them, or drop them into holes. You know how it is. So, to be connected with Julbo, and learn that they were actually interested in giving me their sunglasses to wear, I was like, "whoa!" 

I figured I should share the good news with all of you out there, my fair reader, since it's momentous for me, and my Mom will really like to read this. Julbo glasses aren't just any sunglasses, they're French sunglasses. And if the French can make delicious pan o' chocolate, they definitely can make good sunglasses. OK, but in all honesty, they make fantastic sunglasses, that I have already been using for quite some time. I'm really honoured to have been given the chance to join the Canadian team and I will proudly wear my bright pink Megève or slick black Whoops at any opportunity. Et voilà!

Saturday, 8 August 2015

"For what it's worth: it's never too be whoever you want to be."

"For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again." ~ Unknown

I've been a lot of things in my 35 years; a morning person, a night owl, a dirtbag, a professional, a friend, a foe, a horse rider, a rock climber, a coffee slinger, a project manager, a traveller, an alpinist, a family member, an individual, a girlfriend, a wife. 

While in Patagonia this last season, I knew that I'd be reinventing myself yet again when I returned home. As much as I desperately wished I could just be a rock climber, I needed to be a money maker too. Knowing that I'd be soon be going back to full-time work, it was time for me to squeeze out every last opportunity to climb in cool places, and with cool people. 

Well, if this was my last opportunity I needed to learn how to be an ice climber. What better way to reinvent myself as an ice climber than to commit to a mountain climbing trip to the Central Alaska Range, where ice replaces rock 99-1. Never in my wildest dreams...or nightmares, would I have envisioned myself climbing big snowy mountains in Alaska. It is about as far from my skill set as a climber that one can get. But, when else in my life am I going to find the time to learn how to be an Alaskan alpinist.

Naturally, I wasn't just going to go to Alaska with anyone. I was going to go with a real Alaskan, my shit-talking old friend, Seth. Seth was born in Fairbanks, and lives there today, in a cabin without plumbing he built with his own hands. He likes to go on 100 miles nordic ski tours, and hang out in saunas. I mean, he's a real Alaskan. 

But, before we could go climb all the gnarliest (*read* easiest) mountains in Alaska, I needed to learn how to place an ice screw. Seth agreed to meet me in Canmore, Alberta. 

Motivation was high during our "Fat Camp 2015" and we climbed as many days as we were able to lift our hands above our heads in the morning. I learned how to place ice screws and lead ice in a variety of conditions. This is a little late, but I wanted to share some photos from Fat Camp 2015 because Seth took some really pretty ones.

My first real ice climb! Seth approaches the aptly named, Professor Falls. What a scholarly place to learn to ice climb.
Seth leading the first or second pitch of Professor Falls.
My very first ice lead! How cool! Look at that sport-bolted ice screw line.
Seth on the crux pitch of Professor Falls.
Needless to say, we were feeling mega-gnarl at the top. I should add, this was definitely NOT Seth's first ice climb, but he indulged me in my need to puff my chest up a little.
It was called Fat Camp because Seth needed to lose weight. Ha, he's going to kill me.
Next up, we headed to another uber classic. Louise Falls sits above the most photographed lake in the world, Lake Louise.
Our friend Julie joined us for this one. She works in Jasper as an Avalanche Technician every winter, and lives in Squamish during the summers. Unlike me, she actually is an ice climber.
Looking down from the top of the secon pitch. I'm looking down checking out our tourist audience far below.
Yes, another psyched-at-the-tippy-top shot.
In keeping with the Fat Camp theme our rest days comprised of racing up mountains. Here I am following Seth up high on Mt. Lady MacDonald, with Canmore far below.
Layering up at the base of Guinness Gully.
This would be my first WI4 lead. Was I ready?!
And there you have it. Apparently it was in really easy condition. I mean, there were giant holes all over the thing!
Seth on the next pitch, which was long and awesome.
Again, stoke was high during Fat Camp.
We made friends with a soloist halfway up Guinness Gully, and decided to team up. He graciously offered to lead us up the hardest pitch. How fortuitous.
Oh Sethie, looking so happy on the top.
Then we headed to the Stanley Headwall, where the big kids play. And where we intended to climb the easiest, measliest route on the wall, Sinus Gully.
I don't care if all we managed to do was climb the route with a snot reference. It was an amazing place to be, and I felt honoured to be climbing beside all these famous ice and mixed lines I'd only ever read about. 
Seth at the base of a classic WI 5 route, which I cannot remember the name of right now. Funny that, because at the time, I swore I was going to get good enough to climb it one day. I still will, I'll just hopefully figure out the name before I do it.
Then things got ugly. I'd always heard about how bad the snow was in the Rockies. Seth and I had to crawl on our hands and knees about 150 metres to the base of our route. It was that bad!
More of Seth's "lifestyle" handywork.
For a route named after snot, it's really beautiful. And was super fun! Seth on the first ice pitch.
Me climbing the second mixed pitch.
That was kind of it for the route. It was a long walk, and an even longer crawl to climb 2 pitches, but whatever.
The culmination of Fat Camp was to be Murchison Falls. Here's Seth approaching the route.
The weather kind of deteriorated as the day went on, which made it feel considerably more "mountain" than it otherwise would have. Which was good practise for Alaskan Alpinism!
Seth at our first belay as the wind and snow really start to roar.
Me leading off on the second pitch.
Above me is the third pitch, which I lead, in full-on spin drift. It felt heroic, if I do say so myself.
Me leading off on the third pitch. 
Seth following me.
My version of a hardcore alpinist selfie. Unfortunately, it didn't quite come off as hardcore as I had hoped. Typical.
Me following the final pitch. I really like this photo.
And that was it. A successful Fat Camp. I managed to progress through the grades a little, which was nice. And, like I said, I've now got my sights on a WI5, of which I have no idea the name. Ha!