Showing posts with label Adventure Spirit Guides. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Adventure Spirit Guides. Show all posts

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)

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:

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Essential Glacier & Crevasse Terrain Travel Strategies

It's the beauty of glaciers that bring us there--but we need strategies for doing so safely.
(Mt. Rainier)
Glacier Travel and Crevasse Terrain
Glaciers are a magical part of the alpine landscape—their massive icy hulks, laid down over the eons, are reminders of power of persistence and their diminishing modern state serves as a reminder of our precarious position as stewards of the Earth. Traveling over glaciers, experiencing the crevassing, tumbling, tumultuous, patterns is to experience the passage of time directly. But it is precisely because of this crevassing, tumbling, and tumult that your glacier travels skills need to be sharp before integrating glaciers into your alpine climbing quiver. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Keeping the Learning Edges Sharp

Scenes from the San Juan Mountains, site of the AMGA Ski Guide Course.
Heading to Ouray without ice tools in my bag stung like sharp shards coming off a misplaced swing on a bulletproof day. The wealth of ice climbing opportunities that this area of Colorado's North San Juan Mountain Range offers is well-known. Less well known—and as I would soon discover—is that the ski mountaineering options offered in the North San Juans is on par with the ice. I was headed out to explore those options, by way of the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Ski Guide Course (SGC). Having completed both the Alpine and Rock Guide certification programs a few years ago, I was interested in exploring the Ski Guide program with a eye toward International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) certification (you must complete all three tracks for IFMGA certification), but approached it with a keener focus on keeping my learning edges sharp.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

50 Miles of Wilderness for 50 Years of Wilderness

There are things that humans can't improve.

Wilderness has always been a contested term. The word offers an expanse of subjectivity in which to insert interpretation and to project meaning. In 1964, wilderness was given an official political definition with the passage of the Wilderness Act. Congressional acts aren't often noted for their eloquence, so The Wilderness Act of 1964 is all the more exceptional in its lyrical designation of wilderness as:

"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

With that act, Congress settled itself upon a term for what wilderness was and set about designating certain areas of federal lands—national parks, forests, and otherwise—as “Wilderness Areas.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What is Above Knows What is Below--A Reflection on the Rainier Season

Climbers on Rainier's crater rim.
This season on Rainier has been like the line of an EKG—valleys and summits, sadness and elation, life and death, reminding me of what it means to be here—to be doing what I'm called to do.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A Packing Gear and Equipment List for the North Ridge of Mount Baker

Climbing the North Ridge of Mount Baker is a unique summertime alpine objective: with the exception of a few ice couloirs in Sierras, it's pretty hard to find true blue ice climbing smack dab in the middle of the dog days of summer—but the North Ridge offers just that. Depending on how you handle the pitching out of your climbing, the time of year, and the particular route conditions, there are typically 3-4 pitches of enjoyable ice in the W12-WI3 range (and head further to climbers' right if you want to bump it into WI4), and a seemingly endless series of low-angle calf burner pitches to boot.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Beginning Again—Rediscovering My Ski Roots in the Alps

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
--T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Back on the boards--skiing down the Vallee Blanche in Chamonix.
Skiing set my first roots in the outdoor world. Middle-through-high school Saturdays I'd wake at an ungodly hour for the ski bus trek across Puget Sound to the Cascades. Later, as my ski buddies and I progressed, we'd sometimes tackle a bit of our “backyard backcountry” on the Olympic Peninsula's Hurricane Ridge. Notching things up for an overnight tour, we had a forced shiver-bivvy on the Mt. Tahoma Ski Trail when the hut we'd planned to stay at was either a lot longer away than we thought or we were lost. In the morning we followed our tracks back to the car, with our tails between our ski boots.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Lifetime of Alpine Learning Ahead--Success With the AMGA Alpine Guide Exam!

“You can't win if you don't play” is dubious advice often doled out by lottery agencies and the like, but it is solid counsel in the world of alpine climbing: Even in the face of slim weather odds, you've got to at least put yourself into position for success and be ready to maximize it should the slim odds work in your favor. And besides—what's the use in having high-quality alpine gear if you don't occasionally put it to the test? With those two bits of logic in place, I sat in the Newark Airport and stared grimly at the weather forecast for my destination, Washington State, where I was headed for the American Mountain Guide Association Alpine Guide Exam and steeled myself for the fates that awaited me. Fortunately, time and time again that alpine logic held true during my recent American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) Alpine Guide Exam (AGE).

Enjoying the last of the Cascades summertime "blue bubble", prepping for the Exam on the East Ridge of Forbidden. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Climbing in Mammut's Motherland

Coming in from Chamonix the drizzling day before my wife Alysse and I were bombarded by images of “it” everywhere. But for the whole of that damp day we had to be contented with six dollar cups of Zermatt coffee and seeing “it” only on kitchen spoons, jigsaw puzzles, envelope openers, and other kitsch—the real “it” remained lost in the clouds. Now gazing out of our tent in the clear blue morning, we were greeted by the signature lines of the mountain that made Switzerland synonymous with climbing—the Matterhorn. And though the weather in combination with our travel schedule put the kabosh on a climb of its fine lines, Alysse and I managed to salvage the day with some rock climbing on the Riffelhorn, enjoying an excellent vantage point on this Swiss icon, and an impeccable wrap-up to two weeks of summertime ice, rock, and alpine climbing blended up in the way that only the European Alps can provide.

Looking out the tent in the evening...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Serendipity is a sweet thing and it works in mysterious ways...My last Rainier trip with RMI wrapped up on July 10th and I was stoked to have a ten day period in the North Cascades trip on the horizon. For the last month or so I'd been lining up climbing partners—nobody had the whole stretch free, so I'd lined up several two-day projects, excited about them all. I set sail on July 11th, but I'd lost all of my camp spoons, so I swung by Whittaker Mountaineering on the way out of the Ashford/Rainier Basecamp. Up at the counter I ran into Pepper, an Amherst student working for the summer with Whittaker. He was looking for my opinion on ropes. Of course, any opinion on ropes necessitates knowing what the intended use was. Turns out Pepper was planning a trip that weekend with his cousin Seth up to Boston Basin—by chance exactly where I was headed—or so I thought. I gave Pepper some thoughts on ropes and headed on my way.

On the steep stuff--Shuksan's Hanging Glacier Route, Day 9 of 9.