Saturday, 29 November 2014

My Silver Lining

As you read this, I am on a plane bound for Argentina.

I am returning for my fifth austral summer to my southern home of El Chalten, Argentina. I'm sure you're scratching your head right now wondering how this all came to be. Rest assured your questions will be answered in due time. I'm certain as I while away the bad weather in Patagonia, I'll be able to wax philosophical about, my silver lining.

This was painted by my good buddy, Jacqui Hudson. Here is the Torres, and a beautiful Andean Condor.

Patagonia has embeded itself deep in my soul at this point. In part, because I crave adventures on those impeccable granite spires. And, I guess I'd be lying if I didn't admit that, I also have an ongoing love affair with a man that spends almost four months of every year down there. I have goals for this season, but like any wise Alpinist -- and I giggle at the fact that I am even using such a word to describe myself -- I will not reveal what they are, unless I manage to achieve said goal. Each season leading up to this one has effectively been a building block for the next one.

My very first season in Patagonia I was wide eyed and ignorant, and we got lucky. My second season in Patagonia, I just followed Colin around, kind of like a lost puppy. As much as I hate to admit, I learned alot from him that trip, and I suddenly I found myself a lot less ignorant. My third season, we upped the ante, and accomplished some pretty awesome things. Things I'm super proud of, and can look back on fondly, because I accomplished them with the person I love.

My fourth season I wanted more than to just follow Colin around. I wanted to start making decisions for myself in the mountains. I got to take the lead a few times, and though "my" routes were small on the grand scheme of things, they were huge steps in the development of my confidence in these mountains. I even had the opportunity to partner up with some women, and share the decision making responsibility. I have said before, and I'll say it again, I find it most satisfying to climb in the mountains with my girlfriends. When women team up together, there's is an awesome synergy that happens, and your successes, or failures, are a shared responsibility.

This season will be another progression in my Patagonian education. I'll be climbing with Colin, but only for a couple weeks. The rest will be spent with my good buddy Doerte Pietron, accomplished Patagonian hard woman, and Jenny Abegg, a girlfriend from Seattle who I consider to be somewhat of my soul sister. Doerte definitely holds the most experience in the mountains, and I have a lot to learn from her. If the weather, and our abilities permit, we've got big aspirations. For the last couple weeks of my season I'll partner up with Jenny. This will be Jenny's first time to Patagonia, and we'll focus on climbing many of the smaller objectives that I could never convince Colin to climb with me. I'm super stoked for the opportunity to put my Patagonian knowledge to use when Jenny and I climb together.

This season will be slightly different than the last, for one more reason. My amazing former employer, and now sponsor, MEC, will be sending me down with a bunch of radical prototypes to test out, and indeed they're going to let me share the whole process with you..."as it happens". I'll be posting to the MEC Instagram once per week for the full two months that I'm in Patagonia to share images from my adventures, a storey or two, and some "as it happens" insights from the gear testing grind. The culmination of this whole deal will be a second round "The Gear I Love" blog post.  I'll do my best to break it all down into bite sized pieces of gear I'd recommend for certain alpine applications. And, like any clothes loving girl, I might let you in on a few MEC pieces that I love just simply because they make my butt look cute. Throughout it all, I'll be keeping my personal blog up-to-date with stories straight from El Chalten.

I get excited about this stuff, because if you've not already gathered from previous blog posts, I love this shit; I love writing, I love sharing experiences, and I LOVE clothes. I'm honoured to take you all on this journey with me, and to do so with the blessing of my favourite Co-op. So, I guess I need to give you details of where to find me this season, other than in Chalten. I'll be posting to the MEC Instagram site, and the MEC Facebook page. I'll also be updating my personal blog, here. And, my own Instagram, and Facebook. Then, I'll work with MEC to broadcast "The Gear I Love Part II", once I return from Patagonia and have a chance to complete it, that will be sometime around the end of February. 

Finally, with all big life changes, I often find myself fixating on certain songs with lyrics that speak to the current state of my emotions. I've already shared with you a ski video featuring this song, but I'm going to paste the lyrics to this song below. Interpret them how you will, but ruminate on them a little all the same.  

And with this in mind I might just make my own hashtag for the whole adventure,

That's where you'll find me folks...

My Silver Lining First Aid Kit

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

I won't take the easy road
The easy road, the easy road

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Summer's long wave good bye...

Summer in Squamish has already come and gone, fall almost has for that matter too. I feel like I was generally sidetracked by other things most of the climbing season, but a recap is in order all the same. And, first up is a little shout out to my Squamish brother, Jamie Finlayson. Jamie recently had major spinal surgery, and so naturally, he missed the last half of our Squamish climbing season, but like all A-Types he took the down time from climbing to master, climbing photography. I think he's done a pretty darn good job, and I feel like a report on this season wouldn't be complete without a collection of the radical images Jamie took. Here are a few of my favourites.

I'm never satisfied with the amount of days I spend in the forest bouldering. And this summer quite possibly was my worst to date. One day in September Jamie came out with Colin and I, and we all enjoyed some fun messing around on problems we'd already done.

Sarah on that really hard V2 beside Super Fly. It's called Stu's Fly apprently.

Sarah topping out the V4 standing start to, The Golden Bowl. Isn't Colin giving such a good spot!

More good spotting technique displayed by Captain Safety. You guessed it folks, that's how he got his name. When it comes to pad placement, you better just throw them in a pile and let Captain Safety work his magic. He'll get mad if you don't.

Sarah in her natural habitat.

The Stinger Left, a super fun V6. 

Sweet photobomb courtesy of moi.

The Stinger Left from another angle.

And the top-out. Check out those muscles. I love how in all these photos Colin is the one spotting and I'm the one doing all the climbing. The boulders is the one place where I always get to be the leader. Take that boyfriend! Hehehe...

Then there was Shape Shifter, the crack to end all cracks in my opinion. I have a very severe love-hate relationship with this thing. I've tried it at least ten times now, and I just keep falling off it. But I keep coming back to it, all 30 metres of it's off-width to finger crack. 

Wow, gnarly! Jamie tells me I was pulling on a piece of gear here. Ha! That's awesome!

Jeez, I'm pretty sure I was about to fall here. 

This photo is out of order, sorry. This is near the beginning of Shape Shifter. But look, I've already got my terrified face on!

And some more fun playing around on the other cracks at the Long House. Here's a link to a topo and description for the Long House. Colin Moorhead has done a good job of summing it up.

Having fun on a 5.9 offwidth called Fire Water. I really do like climbing off widths. Look at that freakin' fist jam people!

Bam! Placing a no. 4.

SICK! It's a chicken wing!
Unfortunately, the following adventures aren't in any kind of order. In fact, I don't think I could remember when each of these adventures happened even if I wanted to. As many of you who follow me on Facebook, or Instagram will know, I kind of went on a minor naked streak (ha, no pun intended) this summer. For some reason, I just found it good for the soul to be in the mountains, naked, and generally alone. I did; however, get into the hills with my good buddy and naked speed ascent record holder, Lena Rowat, for a scramble up Sky Pilot. Many people have asked if we dropped our trousers before getting on the gondola. Rest assured, for the future of naked speed ascents above the gondola, we refrained from leaving our clothes at the car! Instead we stripped down after passing the cutoff for the Mt. Habrich trail. It was a rather volitile day, so we didn't expect to encounter many people, and indeed, we were alone until we happened to sneak upon a poor unsuspecting guy that was turned the other way putting on his crampons. His suprise was obvious when we streaked past him with nothing more than sneakers on, and a hearty, "Hello!" Poor guy. 

Lena, naked as the day she was born, and scrambling above the Stadium Glacier. 

A white butt in the mist.

Lena put on a bright pink negligee on the summit, and then proceeded to ride back down the gondola in it. Hahaha!

Mt. Habrich through the clouds.

The access provided by our new Sea to Sky Gondola was not lost on me this season, and though I was unable to get into the big mountains much this summer, I did manage many smaller adventures above the gondola. On one particular occassion I was joined by my girlfriends, Jenny Abegg, and Luisa Giles. Jenny is currently on her own spirit quest, similar to my pilgramage of the last two years. Check her out here. We climbed a Mt. Habrich classic called, Life on Earth. It's fun, and perhaps a little spicy. 

Jenny climbs above the valley on Life on Earth.

And there's home! We'll be there in an hour and half. Not bad for a day in the mountains.

Then, after a rather emotional week, I decided it would be fun to hike through face-height brush for a few hours to reach the long Northwest Ridge of Mt. Joffre, AD 5.8, 500 m, rising in it's entirity 5 km from the Duffy Lk. Road to the summit of Mt. Joffre. And you know, it was fun. Go do it!

Susie emerges from the grasp of the alder jungle.

Down climbing halfway along the ridge. Susie is rocking her alpine short-shorts.

Susie and Luisa in the sun, with half of the ridge and the emerald green, First Joffre Lk. below us.

Susie had a good day!

One of the bonuses of my romp up the Northwest Ridge was that is let me scope the descent and conditions for the classic Flavelle-Lane, TD- 5.9, 700 m, on Joffre's north side. I'd been keen on trying this one and had managed to coral my friend Joel Beckmann to join me for a try. The day started off great, Joel even read poetry at each rest stop. Ha! But, things pretty much went straight down hill after that. As we ascended the glacier below Joffre's north face we began to notice alot of large rocks peppering the snow. The time was also getting late, and the sun was beginning to warm the face aboveus. As we neared the base it became apparent that we were going to have a difficult time getting across the moast and onto the buttress. Having been a low snow year, and a very hot summer, things had really melted out!

As we fumbled about trying to get on to the buttress we heard the sound that makes your stomach go into your toes. Rock fall. We were now almost directly below the Twisting Couloir as it seemed the best place to jump onto the buttress. But what we hadn't taken into the consideration, was that the sun had now been warming the slopes beside the couloir for about an hour and it began releasing a blitzkrieg of rocks. Our only option was to make a dash for a tiny alcove on the face directly west of the couloir. Miraculously, we were safe there from the refridgerator sized blocks that came hurling past us only to explode on the snow at our feet. 

I kind of had a sickening feeling that we were in big trouble and we decided not to move. We ended up huddling in our safe nook for four hours as we waited for the sun to leave the face, and the rock fall to subside. Finally, we made a mad dash for safety at the toe of the glacier. I was scared, really scared, and I feel like we kind of got away with something that we shouldn't have. After that, Joel and I took a while to decompress, and we talked about what we did wrong. Hindsight is always 20/20 and there were several signs that we should have paid attention to, 1) we should have started way way earlier, and been at the base of the buttress before the sun even rose, 2) we should have paid attention to the rocks littering the glacier. That was a pretty obvious sign that this side of the mountain was very active with rockfall, 3) from here forward I will do my darndest to avoid couloirs as I approach my summer alpine rock climbs. I'm done with that shit. In winter, couloirs are endless fun, in summer, they're funnels for big rocks. Never again!

Joel is reading poetry people. And, yes, we should have already been at the base of our route.

The now infamous huddle ledge is just right of the major buttress in the centre of the picture.

This is where we huddled for four hours.

And here's the evidence. Rocks strewn all over the glacier.

I ended up climbing a few long routes on El Jefe with some good buddies, including Paul Cordy's new route, Parallel Passages. Here's the topo. It's super fun, with lots of burly wide cracks. Go do it! Here are some photos from a trip up Milk Road, which is the extention of Milk Run to the top of Tantalus Wall. What an incredible route, it's well worth all the stars it gets.

Paul leads the money 10d corner on Milk Road.

Susie following the very final pitch of the Milk Road. It might just be the best traverse in Squamish, and I typically hate traverses. With eight pitches or so below you, it feels like you're traversing on air.

Paul on that same pitch.

And there's even a perfectly flat ledge topout.

Sarah and Susie on top.

Luisa follows with her awesome sun glasses.

And I'm just including this picture because I love it so much. This is Susie on Quagmire Crack. 

And last, but not least, Captain Safety and I had lots of fun. He bought a van, "hello sweet road tripping vehicle." We named him Mario Cart, aka La Flama Blanca. Here's a few pictures of Ol' White Butt and I.

The first sleep in Mario Cart. I couldn't get Colin to wake up for this picture. Hahaha, typical.

Our friend Tim Matsui likes to take clever little photos with his iPhone. This was one of them.

That's love.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

David Suzuki!


This comes to you live from Vernon, British Columbia where I sit in a conference room waiting for my next appointment to view prAna's fall 2015 apparel line -- the clothing industry works many years ahead of the rest of us!

I wanted to share with you a link to an inteview I recently did for the David Suzuki Foundation, as part of their Sustainable Howe Sound Campaign. I was stoked to participate for a couple reasons, 1) I could spout off at nausium about how I wish Squamish would stick to their guns and build industry around tourism, as they said they would. Instead our council has been barking up the wrong tree, inviting resource extraction proposals to the table, and 2) IT'S DAVID SUZUKI'S FOUNDATION!

For the American's, and international folk, the name David Suzuki will mean little, but for this Canadian girl, David Suzuki's "Nature of Things" was a huge television influence growing up. As a family we always came together to watch the Nature of Things on the CBC. I learned so much from that show. Below is one particular episode, Save My Lake, originally aired in May of this year, just to give you an idea of what it's all about.

Now that you are a little better educated about David Suzuki, and his radical influence, allow me to share my interview. You'll find it here. 

In watermelon sugar.


Friday, 17 October 2014

Let's get back to the basics.

Good morning!

Alright, let's clear the air a little here and get back to the basics, of why we're here, of why I'm here. The clouds cleared around town briefly yesterday, and what did I glimpse, but snow, snow, snow! There's snow in them thar' hills people!

My friends have begun to speak of powder in hushed tones, we're not yet ready to commit ourselves to the "white room", but psyche is slowly building. It's almost time. Here's some motivation. Funny thing, I don't know why, but this little video makes me kind of emotional it's so darn beautiful. Or, maybe it's because I can practically feel the powder under my feet as I watch it.

In watermelon sugar.


Friday, 10 October 2014

The b$tch abides.

HI friends of the ether.

I am going to insert a reader disclaimer right at the beginning of this post. This post might end up being more about hormones than about rock climbing...

So, my male readers, please feel free to avert your eyes for the majority of this post. Or, if you consider yourself to be an enlightened male, then perhaps you want to take a read. This post might help you too as the climbing partners, lovers, friends, and husbands of womankind. I don't claim to be an expert on any of this. I guess, I'm really just an expert on myself. And, it was only in the last three months that I even earned the title "expert of myself", because the months and years leading up to this summer, I was pretty much completely in the dark about me, myself, and I. 

It seems like a fitting time for me to write this post because Oct. 5-11 is Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada. Alright, certainly those two words, Mental Illness, made you feel a little uncomfortable, but allow me to draw the connection between PMS and mental health with a little story. 

The female body is a funny thing. The only thing that stays the same about your body, is that nothing stays the same? One week you're riding high on some happy hormone, and the next week your body is coursing with an angry hormone and it doesn't matter how sweet anyone is to you, you're going to bite their head off. This is unfortunately, normal though. 

The happy hormone.
What isn't normal is when you're riding high one week; happy, calm, rational, and stable. Then, you wake one morning with a very dark cloud over your head. You cry simply because you can't shake the feeling that everything is falling apart, though nothing has changed from the day before. Over the last few years, this slowly became my reality. It got to the point where I would literally feel like I was having an out of body experience, watching myself explode with rage, fear, sadness, or whatever the negative emotion of the day was. It was scary. I was afraid of myself, and naturally, I thought I was falling ill, really mentally ill. 

It's a terrifying feeling to feel so volatile, and unpredictable. Above everyone else, you're supposed to know yourself the best. I didn't know who I'd become in the slightest. Was I bipolar, could I be losing my mind, was I a bad person who simply wanted to ruin my life, and the lives of others? I was terrified of the answer.

I "thought" I hit rock bottom a bunch of times. Then the next day, I'd wake up feeling perfectly fine again, and so would continue on living my life. Then it would happen again. I'd hit rock bottom. I'd spiral out of control for a couple days, effectively destroying every relationship in sight in the process. Why was I so messed up, how did I get this way? I really didn't want to ruin everything.

It wasn't until one more rock bottom experience this summer that something clicked. I couldn't be this way anymore. This wasn't me. I didn't want to simply be an observer to my own life anymore. I'd had a hunch that I had bad PMS. My mother had told me that she'd have some pretty dark days which she was certain were attributed to her menstrual cycle, but back in the 1960's you didn't get help for having PMS, it wasn't really even "a thing" back then. And, it wasn't much before that, that women who were dealing with PMS were labelled as "hysterical", given tranquilisers and confined to their rooms. Gosh that makes me really sad to think about. 

Regardless, I began to research PMS a little further, my research led me to my family Doctor, who referred me to a female Psychiatrist, who helped diagnose PMDD, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. For the first time in, ever, I had a support network and I wasn't going crazy, I didn't have bipolar disorder. I was a woman, who by some luck of the draw, was experiencing PMS symptoms severe enough to receive medical attention. PMDD was recently recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a tool often regarded as standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. The DSM identifies formalised treatment plans to assist those diagnosed, manage their symptoms day-to-day, or rather cycle-to-cycle.

The Psychiatrist prescribed a common anti-depressant which has been shown to interact with the hormonal effects of PMDD in a positive way. At the recommendation of the Psychiatrist I began tracking my mood day to day. Miraculously, the combination of seeing a Clinical Counsellor once per week, taking 20 mg of an anti-depressant daily, and simply having the self awareness that I wasn't f#ck$d up, I started to notice my "+'s" began to outweigh my "-'s" on the calendar. For the first time in a long time, I felt in control of myself. My mind was quiet, my relationships great, and I was content. 

This is perhaps a little scandalous, but then again, this whole post is a little scandalous. Yours truly, finding peace on the mountain top. 
This is why I share this with you. I want all those other women out there, climber or none climber, to hear my story and if this sounds like you, I want you to get help. I don't want another woman to watch helplessly as her life falls apart around her. I recognise that taking an anti-depressant gets a lot of bad rep. out there. But, let me encourage you by saying, this is your body's chemistry, and it's hard to fight nature. The human race has perpetuated because of nature, you can't win this battle on your own. 

Here's one particular resource that helped me alot. There is much more information out there, I have a whole bookmarks folder dedicated to PMDD. So, rest assured that if you seek help, the medical community is there to support you. The day after seeing my Doctor, in tears, I received a call from our local community health nurse who informed me that she had received my referral to see the Psychiatrist, and wanted to ensure that I had the counselling support I needed until I was able to see her. It was incredible to feel so validated and cared for, when all along, I'd just thought I was a bitch.

So, there you have it Ladies and Gentleman. How's that for a tell-all. I hope you still read my blog after this!

And, why don't we just close things off with a photo of a man riding a sea horse, because, let's be honest, who doesn't like to see people having fun with sea horses.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Mothers have it hardest.


I wanted to share this podcast from the Dirt Bag Diaries titled, "Mothers Have it Hardest". Colin's mom, Misty, shared it with me, and I thought it was really beautiful. Of course, my own mother is in denial that I have anything to do with this kind of dangerous stuff, but I guess, on a much smaller scale than Colin, I do. And yes, my dearest mother does have it hardest. 

Did I tell you about the time I was in Peru on a climbing trip to the Cordillera Blanca. I had called my mom from Huraz, and told her that we'd be heading up to climb a mountain and I'd call her on the sat. phone from our basecamp to say HI.  

I forgot to call her. And, by the time we'd returned to town I had frantic emails from a bunch of my friends telling me that, "my mom had tracked them down on the telephone and was grilling them about my wearabouts. She was frantic, and I had better call her stat."

My poor mother. I really have no idea how it would feel, because I've never had children, but that experience was a very poignant reminder that moms worry. Especially my mom. Sorry mom, I promise I'll never do that again.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

A climber once said...

"Don't over-commit because next thing you know, you're shitting on your ropes!"

Jeez, that's disgusting. Sorry. I shouldn't have posted that. Ha! You might ask who that climber was, and in what context such a disgusting thing was uttered. Well, that climber was my boyfriend, Captain Safety, and why he said it, well, I don't know if I want to share that with you here. You may never read my blog again. 

What I can tell you was that we were high on the 900 m north face of Mt. Sir Donald. Colin and I were in the middle of climbing a new route up this seldom visited north side of Donald. It was June sometime, I can't remember exactly when, it was THAT long ago now. But, the short of the storey is that we made it to the top, and we called our route Sashimi Don, 900m 60-85 degrees M4.

Funny enough, the beautiful north face of Mt. Sir Donald, 3284 m graces the cover of David Jones' climbing guidebook for the range. Somehow, no one else had decided to attempt the obvious line just left of the only existing route on the face?

Colin: How'd you like to go climb a route on this thing?
Sarah: Sure, where?
Colin: I was thinking right up the middle.
Sarah: OK

That's how most discussions go when we're deciding what to climb. 
Our route was a small success for Colin, but for me, it was another huge step in the right direction of becoming a better climber on snow and ice. Recall if you will, I cry very easily when downclimbing steep snow. It's generally quite embarassing, and when I can avoid a scenario like that, I feel pretty good about myself. So, I'm happy to report, NO TEARS! And, I don't think I felt freaked out even once, even crossing the sickly gapping bergshrund at 3:00 am. I have in the passed forced us to retreat from a climb because I refused to move a step closer to a bergshrund I was certain wanted to eat me whole. Yes, I have irrational fears, but come on, looks at this...

Frig' I'd hate to be that guy.
Colin wrote a full trip report, with all the manly details, so I won't bother going into it here; Partly because I just can't seem to find the time to blog, work, climb, and be a good girlfriend these days. Something needs to give, and unfortunately, it seems to be my long winded blog entries. Naturally, I can't leave out the photos though.

Did I mention we got to borrow the FiveTen Sprinter van? Seriously, you could stand up in this thing!

Typical Colin shenanigans. Here he realized that he could spit out his water while I took a picture and it would look like this. Apparently, this was rad. Hahaha...

Approach the beast with caution. Colin is using his James Bond monocle to check out conditions on Sir Donald. 

We hiked up to the high col at the base of Sir Donald's Northwest Ridge to bivy.

Here's a few pretty pictures from the col before we hit the sac. Behind Colin is Mt. Uto and, I think, Mt. Eagle. 

Colin in evening light. The base of Sir Donald's north face is behind him.

That's me, with Uto behind. 

Colin decided to put in some time stretching before we went to bed. Though, it's not entirely obvious to me what's going on here?

I like this picture. That's me, looking up at the Northwest Ridge of Sir Donald.

We woke up at 1:30, so this is me down climbing from our bivy to the glacier below.

And, crossing the glacier to the base of our route. You can see dawn on the horizon. This is the best part about climbing near the solstice. It was still light when we went to bed, and wasn't dark for very long once we woke up.

Colin climbing towards the bergshrund.

Jeez, look at that thing. Surely, it could eat me whole.

About two pitches up the lower couloir. 

...and a few more pitches up.

Colin leading the mixed crux. It looks really easy here. It wasn't.

Colin climbs higher still. 

I'm still stoked.

Climbing some easy snow arete as we get near to the summit.

If you look hard enough you can see our bivy way, way down there, in the upper middle part of the picture.

Colin climbing onto the final summit snowfield.

And here I am, one final slog to the summit. 

Woot, woot!

Colin heads down the South Ridge.

That's him, way down there...

Colin descending.

I thought those clouds were pretty. 

And there, that's me, and Sir Donald. Mission complete! Woot, woot!

And then we went back to Revelstoke to dry out our gear in the Library parking lot. Ha!