Team Mammut

Monday, July 23, 2018

Doing Nothing Well: Finding Frogs--and Success--on the Summits

Finding flies in between breaks in the Bugaboo's notoriously fickle weather.
This is the last exciting shot you'll see until the end of this post--but if you want to see exciting views, you've got to be able to put up with the rest!

Frogs aren't something you see on summits. Regardless, with the high-altitude climbing season well underway, they should serve as the inspiration for any aspiring summiteer—and also as a useful guide in the lower elevations. Consider the frog, sitting on its lily pad: If there are no flies nearby, there is nothing to do but sit and breathe. Impatiently swimming circles around the lily pad would only scare flies off...and there is no use trying to chase down a fly if you are a frog. So nothing is done, save sitting and breathing and waiting. Yet, all that “nothing” is a powerful, purposeful something. It is preparation for the precise moment when the fly does arrive. Suddenly, our squishy friend becomes the picture of complete readiness, focus, and action: Frog-tongue-fly-mouth. Task dispatched, it's back to sitting, breathing, and being ready.

This is why the frog is the perfect—if improbable—guide for climbers, the symbol for what we should aspire to be at elevation: Complete action when the moment is ripe, complete repose otherwise. For climbers, the tight confines of a wind-battered tent, filled with a crushing pile of gear, and stinking tentmates becomes our lily pad. And if the weather clears it becomes the launch pad. But when the mountain coldly commands us to wait, there is nothing left to do but sit and breathe and be.

Placid tent-time at Mt. Shuksan's Winnie's Bivvy

It seems easy, but paradoxically, this is a crux for many drawn to the mountains. While summits have little value outside of the climbing economy, save for the occasional cocktail conversation, climbers nonetheless seek this currency. In its own odd and useless way, climbing culture is goal-oriented and its population is driven. One one end of the spectrum are “dirtbag climbers” living in vans, flush with time, but dedicating every dollar to the next expedition. And then there are the “corporate climbers,” used to crushing office hours and squeezing training for high-altitude achievement into any spare moment. Over my years as an alpine guide, I have come to see that the vertical world presents this latter group with a peculiar challenge, for little in their training or in their lives has prepared them for the subtle craft of doing nothing. It is contrary to everything they think life has taught them: Namely, that progress is made by doing something. In fact, often one must do several somethings all at once, if perhaps poorly—what modernity calls “multi-tasking.” Eating is done while meetings are done while emailing clients. Life in lower-altitude, higher-pressure environments has taught them that this is how progress is made.

Like a frog on the lily-pad.  Out-chilling the chill. 

This approach has its own set of hazards in the lower elevations; taken into the higher atmospheres it can become positively deadly. With thin air and fickle weather, progress happens at a pace the mountain dictates. Violate those dictates and die. With a storm raging outside, sometimes the only thing to do after breakfast is to wait for lunch. There will be no clients to email during this lunch...only you with your dwindling salami slices and—after conversation with your tentmate has petered out like the terminus of a glacier, and the crackers are long gone—you with yourself. Success on the climb means becoming comfortable with your self doing no thing.
After retreating from this objective in the Swiss Alps in the pouring rain...

...we tented in the fog and awoke to find this view in the morning.

At this point, the counterintuitive logic of “frog-style mountaineering” comes into play. Accomplishing the goal becomes dependent upon an ability to frame the goal in a way more suitable to the mountain world. Antithetical to modern culture, progress becomes measured in terms of an ability to be still, in body and mind. Within the tight confines of the tent an object lesson is offered to each of us: “You are not in control of everything. Simply control those things you can and let go of the rest.” Slice some salami, squeeze the empty mustard bottle one more time, sit, breathe, and wait—perfectly accomplishing nothing. This is precisely what climbing is about: action when appropriate and doing nothing well. And—if our climb is truly successful—we will carry this approach with us back down to the valley.


Kel Rossiter guides globally with Rainier Mountaineering Incorporated and Adventure Spirit Rock+Ice+Alpine Experiences. He is an American Mountain Guides Association Certified Alpine and Rock Guide and holds a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies..

Just before heading BACK to the tent for the second time in a day...
(Snowpatch Spire in the distance)

Friday, March 23, 2018

Backyard Dispatch // Part 1

It started innocently, as I watched rain fall in the valley in February in Jackson, WY thinking that it shouldn’t be raining in the middle of winter. When the wheels starting turning about my impact and the ease at which we many of us can fly across the world when we don’t like the weather in our towns, I personally wanted to make a choice to change.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Guides for Glaciers: Mountain Guides and Mountain Enthusiasts on the Front Lines of Climate Change

Located in the most popular alpine arena in the North Cascades--Boston Basin--the Quien Sabe Glacier is rapidly diminishing.
National Geographic writes that "Guides are portals to the outdoor world."  Mountain guides are portals to the glacial world and today they are on the front lines of climate change, threatened both economically and physically by changes in the mountain environment.  Through their daily connection to glaciers and their interactions with client-climbers, guides are uniquely positioned to communicate about climate change in mountain environments and to take a lead in creating a healthy future for both mountain guides and all mountain enthusiasts.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Reflections in the Ice

Gazing into the lens of past ice seasons and considering what is in store.
Photo credit: Alysse Anton
Last year was likely the best season of my ice life. I enjoyed such a stellar season, both in terms of guiding and in terms of personal climbing that it prompts me to lean back, shake out, and ponder why—after all, it's much less the climbing that I seek in the ice, than the lens on life that this translucent and ephemeral substance provides me. So, taking my tools out of the closet and strapping on crampons for this season's ice, it'd be wise to reflect upon why. After all, the mind is a muscle—as vital to effective ice climbing as calves and triceps. So, as the leaves wither and we await first ice, as I do my lock-offs, calf raises, and tricep extensions to prepare my body for another season of ice, it's also wise to pay heed to the brain that this body carries around. Reflecting on last season, here's a couple of concepts that highlight the learning that stretched my brain muscle last season:

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Locker vom Hocker: A Foray into Legend

All good stories contain legendary characters and this one is no different.

Once upon time there were two influences in the world of climbing known as Kurt Albert and Wolfgang Gullich, unique to the times they pushed the limits of possibility. Influenced by the style of climbing going on in Saxony, Germany, Albert ushered in a new era of climbing in his home region of the Frankenjura known as Rotpunkt (point of red). He would paint a red X on a fixed pin so that he could avoid using it for a foot- or handhold. Once he was able to free climb (using only his hands and feet to advance upwards) the entire route, he would put a red dot at the base of the route. This was the origin of the free climbing movement that led to the development of sport climbing in the following decade.
Climbing the classics of the Frankenjura

Friday, September 29, 2017

Bow Valley Sport Guidebook - Second Edition

The second edition of our popular title, Bow Valley Sport, has just been released and is available on our website, quickdrawpublications.com. The Bow Valley is arguably the best climbing area in Canada for summer conditions and the vast limestone cliffs provide superb face climbing at every level. All the best areas are found in this book, including pocket-infested 5.8s at Grassi Lakes, immaculate 5.10 quartzite face climbs at Lake Louise and physical 5.12-5.13 overhangs at the The Lookout. Round this out with some superb multi-pitch sport climbing and you've got a great vacation on your hands. But don't just come to the Bow Valley for the climbing. Enjoy wildlife viewing, alpine hiking and refreshing swims in one of Canada's most gorgeous mountain environments!


Irene Tos on Stepping Stone (5.13b) at The Lookout. Photo: Greg Tos.