Guest Blog 2 by Ken Wylie

Posted on Mar 15, 2016

Because he is such a prolific, engaging and interesting writer we're featuring Ken Wylie in our blog again. In this piece, written recently for powder magazine, Ken writes about some of the more interesting aspects of guiding in the mountains after his visit to Bella Coola Helisports guides training.


For the Love of Our Clients - Guest Blog by Ken Wylie

It has been long known to me that there is more to things than meets the eye: a depth in life that makes it challenging to know things intimately. Even simple tasks can be seemingly fathomless to master, which ultimately makes them captivating.

I have witnessed star-struck young men and women drawn to ski guide training programs thinking that they are destined for a life of play. Eying these keen individuals, I have witnessed their surprise and sometimes disheartenment upon learning that to become a ski guide takes time, commitment, hard work, and tenacity. I was one of them once, so I understand. Perhaps it is the guiding industry's Achilles’ heel: the idea that a career in snow is not difficult, nor should it require a high level of training and professionalism. I think we need to take ourselves more seriously and strive to be consumate professionals.

It is noble to competently lead people in hazardous winter environments where those following are entrusting their own lives and the future well-being of their families. The fact is that mountains in winter are hard as hell to master. Those of us who have backcountry skied for a few years eventually lose someone we know to decisions made about snow. Backcountry skiing is not for the faint of heart and requires resilience and great humility to survive, along with a healthy measure of luck.

In December 2015 I attended the Bella Coola Heli-Sports guides’ training. Most ski guides work hard at gathering information and skill about all aspects of their vocation, but there was something that set these guides apart from others I have known, a key to gaining mastery that many have missed.

The allure of wilderness skiing for work is obvious. It is a promise of a lifetime of powder turns where your job is to always go first, without question. No jockeying for position. No being labelled a greedy shyster. You are the point person for the untracked snow that blankets the slopes below your ski tips. This is only the surface of ski guiding, and if this is what it were all about, I suspect that the guides would get bored. Managing hazards however, engages and sustains interest even in the most spirited for their entire career.

Why? It may not be self-evident but at Bella Coola I witnessed the emergence of three disciplines in their training, two are common in most guides’ training and one is not. Their guiding disciplines championed by lead guides Paul Berntsen and Jan Neuspiel are: environmental knowledge, interpersonal skill, and intra-personal awareness (knowledge about oneself). This is the kind of stuff that holds interest because all of it is fascinating.

Environmental Knowledge. Guides study their medium. There are many things in the physical world to know when it comes to leading people in this "wicked" environment. Snow is the most obvious. The white stuff is complex because it is a record of the subtleties of the winter's weather, (and weather is a fickle phenomenon) which can produce layers that at times result in the potential for deadly avalanches. It is a constant process that can change in a very short span of time.

There are two rules that guides follow about snow. First, know as much as you can about recognizing its characteristics without making a habit of betting your and everyone else's life on your assessments. Second, listen when it is speaking to you. Yes, it has a language and being able to heed its monologue will help to keep you alive. These two rules take fantastic discipline to adhere to and this is what the best guides do. They set aside their impulsive desires and manage the same in the group as they make choices about where to ski safely. Sometimes this means taking flak from clients who have no reference point for the worst-case scenario and who believe they have paid in order to get the goods.

The second object of study about the environment, after snow, is terrain. Ski guides are studious about mountain-scape as it relates to skiing safely. Accustomed to the mercurial nature of snow, guides study the art of putting landscape features in positive play. It is a practice of picking the slope angle and shape that is unlikely to slide regardless of snow conditions. This is called a "terrain eye" and relies on an intimate knowledge of assessing slope angle and shape. A healthy terrain discipline holds fast to the principles of "supported" terrain, which is concave in shape. Terrain is the predictable part of the backcountry skiing game, but there is an art to being able to pick and ski the sweetest line. Choose the wrong line and clients may not follow, which can lead to safety issues down the road.

Finally, guide training includes all of the hard skills development so that the guides are ready for the challenges that may come, which includes various forms of emergency response; avalanche response, crevasse rescue, and lost skiers searches.

Interpersonal. A good guide knows the social environment that is required for safety, and cultivates this environment. A safe social environment is one where all members work together in a situation to bring the important decision making information to light. The guide must be a good communicator and show the group that they are willing to listen to information from any source that will help to keep the group out of harm's way.

Next, a first-rate guide puts the needs of the group before their own desires. I repeat: desires, not needs. It is about taking the time to manage a situation as it needs to be managed as opposed to being impatient. For example: pulling a shovel out to make a difficult traverse easy for a struggling client, where a guide could easily side slip on their own. Coaching the client step-by-step to use the right technique that matches their ability mitigates risk through action and pedagogy. This self-sacrifice is not one of the superficially alluring aspects of being a guide. It shows a level of care to attend to details and to mitigate problems before they happen, and ultimately becomes rewarding for the mature person.

Intra-Personal. Decision-making in hazardous environments is about gathering all of the available information and making a choice based on due diligence. Any military commander knows that to win a battle they have to know the personal habits of the opponent, and perhaps themself extremely well. It is personal, which can be a scary place to journey into. Tragedies are human-made. Without question, we make poor decisions if we let our egos or other unsavoury personality aspects get in the way. (See Taming Your Avalanche Dragons, the previous IAG blog by Ken). Most impressive about Bella Coola Helisports, and what sets this operation apart from most other operations is that as an organization, the guiding staff have the courage to delve into understanding themselves individually, to see the underpinnings of their personalities and to share these with their team members. Their training is also about developing self-awareness.

Throughout history, humankind has told tales of human journeys with a moral to the story, a lesson that the hero or heroine learned or failed to learn along the way that helped them to avert or to suffer disaster. The guiding team at Bella Coola have tapped into this wisdom to make a practice of gaining insight from their experiences through reflection. This sets them apart as perhaps one of the best heli-ski guiding operations in Canada.

With great wisdom, they have embraced the practice of mastering themselves. It was refreshing to participate in their training because I came to know myself better, which will help make me a better guide. Hard training work for the entire team, in an effort to protect the client, which is perhaps an act of love.

Ken Wylie

March 2016

Guest Blog - Ken Wylie

Posted on Jan 19, 2016

For this blog I am delighted to feature a contribution by mountain guide, friend, colleague and IAG guide Ken Wylie. You can read much more about Ken in his bio on our Guide Bios page. It is my belief that Ken is making some important contributions to mountain safety by pointing out that the best way we can mitigate risk is to know ourselves better.

Taming Your Avalanche Dragon - Guest Blog by Ken Wylie

 

Over the last ten years there have been fantastic advances in the field of avalanche safety through research and technical development. Additions made to snow stability evaluations like 'fracture character' during the 'compression test' deepen our awareness of what is happening with the snow. There have also been the development terrain assessment tools, which help us to make choices while traveling in avalanche terrain. Fruitful advances in avalanche response: digital avalanche transceivers, smart probes, and better shovelling techniques like the ‘V shaped snow conveyer belt’ make it more efficient by considering the avalanche subjects’ needs, like not being stepped on and having the air pocket collapse.

When I look at all of the effort, research hours, and costs that have been invested in avalanche safety, I am frustrated that people are still dying out there each winter; even some of the best; Robson Gmoser. The fact is that even the best in the game need to make it safer somehow.

One can argue that the mountains are inherently dangerous, and that would be true. However this argument only serves us in accepting the risk before a tragedy strikes, and is never to be used as an excuse after. Why? Because it inhibits the potential for learning: to hide behind the statement after the fatally wounded are dug out in effect stunts our growth.

Ian McCammon's work with Heuristic traps is helpful: the idea that we are guided by "rules of thumb" or unconscious ways of being, like familiarity. As if a past experience will predict a future one. Or by seeking acceptance from others socially, yet not sharing what we know to be true for ourselves. These are also a great step forward toward the idea that our decisions are in some way flawed, and this is true. I propose, however, that we go even deeper.

From my own experience I have discerned that the problem is not one that can be solved entirely through technology or new techniques or anything external to ourselves, like a ‘trap‘. Certainly, tools and knowledge give us more leverage, and the efforts of scientists, engineers, and researchers have been valuable and have saved lives. I would posit that the real issue is less about tools and techniques, and more of an intrinsic personal challenge. Like keen martial artists we need to study our hearts, because who we are as individuals and how we act and react is a key part of the equation.

The idea is that the largest part of the avalanche problem is our own character flaws. This may be frightening to most. Maybe we think human error is beyond our capacity to observe clearly and treat with any level of accuracy; that we have to be a certified psychologist to delve into that territory, which is beyond our capacity to manage in day-to-day operations. But I am certain that this is not the case. Frankly, we are afraid; terrified of looking closely at our internally motivated behaviour for the answer.

In "Transforming Your Dragons" Dr. Jose Stevens lays out seven archetypes that humans can be afflicted with that I see negatively affecting our decision-making capabilities in high-risk environments like skiing in avalanche terrain. In his work is a powerful tool for putting a language to human factors in a way that we can easily identify with, if not fully admit to. Stevens calls them "Dragons" and they are:

1. Arrogance

2. Self-Deprecation

3. Impatience

4. Martyrdom

5. Greed

6. Self-Destruction

7. Stubbornness

According to Stevens, each of us is particularly plagued by one of these seven dragons and they surface, or gain control, in the presence of fear. However, it is also important to keep all of them in our awareness. Let’s take a closer look at each one of these and see how they can play out in the backcountry skiing paradigm.

Arrogance. There is a big difference between confidence and arrogance. A confident winter backcountry guide or enthusiast also has an ear to listening to other people's input. There is a willingness on the part of the confident individual to welcome new information from anyone in the group. Conversely, a person with the arrogance dragon will say, "I am/know the best" and believe it. Paired with this belief - that we are the most skilled or qualified - is the complete inability to receive input from others. To us, there is only one way to do something, or the opinion we hold is the only one worth considering. We might scoff at other people's ideas and mock them as substandard or stupid. Rooted in the arrogance dragon is the fear that we are not good enough and reject other input because we are too insecure to hear other perspectives.

This is a real hazard while traveling in avalanche terrain because individuals do not make as good decisions as they would with the input of other people. Any leader worth their salt uses advisors and listens to and considers the most humble advice. Individuals have blind spots; a limited perspective grounded in our biases and perceptions. If we invite others into the process, the scope of available information broadens, which can impart the choices we make. Those of us plagued with the arrogance dragon do not invite more information, especially from people we perceive as having less experience or who are lower on the totem pole. This can and does lead to information gaps in the decision making process. I have lived this situation.

Self-Deprecation. If self-deprecation is our dragon we do not feel worthy. We suffer from a lack of self-confidence and feel that our contribution is not of value, so we do not speak up and share what we know. If we have this dragon and are paired with an individual with the arrogance dragon, watch out. If the arrogance sets up an unhealthy hierarchy, a person who suffers from self-deprecation reinforces it. Self-deprecation is a lack of confidence to the point that we forfeit our voice in the decision making process. We may possess the most relevant piece of information, but we are too afraid to share it because we feel we carry no value in our perceptions. If we consider that all parties exposed to the hazard of an avalanche are risking the same thing - their life - then from an ethical perspective, each person deserves a voice. If self-deprecation is our dragon, we need to become aware of it, gather our courage and speak up. Fear is what feeds all dragons, and it is up to us with the self-deprecation dragon to master social courage.

Impatience. Impatience is characterized by needing to have something now and the phrase "Don't get in the way" depicts how single minded we can be when consumed by this dragon. People with the impatience dragon are stricken with the fear that if things are not happening quickly, something bad will happen. However, being in a hurry can lead to a failure to take the required time to do a task safely and efficiently. In the mountains, speed is most often equated with safety. However, faster does not always mean safer. There are many times when going more slowly can help us maintain a higher level of diligence and therefore safety. There are situations when the only way to manage the risk is to go slowly. Implementing any safety measure will take time, yet the dividends can be worth a great deal. Think of crossing an avalanche slope one at a time. It is uncomfortable to travel slowly sometimes. With the impatience dragon on our back, we fear worsening conditions with time, but only time will tell if the conditions worsen. If time is a real issue, explore other options and terrain choices rather than rush through a critical piece of terrain.

Martyrdom. Martyrs believe we are the "victims" of a situation and see ourselves as oppressed. As a victim, we feel like we have no choice in a situation; that others are deciding things for us and that we have no other option but to heed the directives of others. It is different from self-deprecation in that we feel that we have good ideas, but they are not heard or heeded by our colleagues or friends. The emphasis is on a sense of powerlessness, not that our ideas are bad. Following others onto a suspect avalanche slope with martyrdom as our dragon can be deadly to us and to others. There is a chance that other people will die when we choose not to share a key piece of information: a difficult consequence to live with. As a martyr, we abdicate the decisions to others and take a "woe is me" attitude. We say "Oh, I don't think this is okay, but they want to go there, so I guess I'll go with the flow, I don't want to make waves." The interesting thing about martyring oneself while backcountry skiing is that death in this arena is not for an important social cause, like freedom from oppression or for peace. Again, fear is the cause, fear of standing in one's truth and living it to the full, regardless of social fallout.

Greed. Greed is an easy dragon to understand, especially on a powder day when the sun is shining. The statistical fact that more avalanche tragedies happen on sunny days with new snow underpins the concept of greed. The phrase, "There are no friends on a powder day" is funny, but illuminates the effect of greed. Greed is the fear of "not enough". We fear that we will not get our quota of powder turns as it compares to other groups. After a long period without any snow it becomes more likely that we may undermine our own ability to make rational decisions when there eventually is snow, making "going for it" easier, and escalating our tolerance for risk. Our greed dragon also comes into play when we race ahead of other groups in order to get first tracks. Our focus on the "race" and fear of not getting our share of the untracked snow can erode good decision-making.

Self-Destruction. When we have self-destruction as our dragon we lack the ability to care for and nurture our own best interest. Self-destruction may be fuelled by a general propensity for self-hate, depression, or a sense of despair. This is not a sought-after ingredient for making good decisions in avalanche terrain. It brings a "devil may care" attitude to an activity that requires great care and diligence to make good choices for the well-being of self and others. If self-destruction is our dragon, we look for drama in our lives and find ways to make bad things happen to us, often unconsciously. Our fear is a fear of success and the responsibility that it brings. This dragon may fuel a long list of successes in the mountains but the question is, from what place are they coming?

Stubbornness. When afflicted by the stubbornness dragon, we refuse to cooperate. It may be that we are afraid to be wrong about the choices we have in mind, and will not adopt other suggestions. Or we are so fixed on the objective of the day that we can't shake ourselves from achieving the goal. Single mindedness can be a required strength in hazardous environments but the game is about seeking the best solution to the challenges we face. There is a story about three skiers who abandoned a fourth in a remote place in the Selkirk Mountains because the fourth did not feel that a slope, on a part of a high level ski traverse, was safe to ski. The three left the fourth all alone in the middle of nowhere to fend for himself and his own retreat. It would seem that the three were afraid of not completing the objective and were fixated on it. Stubborn, and perhaps greedy, but make no mistake... this is profoundly unethical behaviour in the mountains. The fourth skier called in to Parks Canada and was flown out, so it ended well, but at the risk of another party, the park wardens.

Arrogance, self-deprecation, impatience, martyrdom, greed, self-destruction, and stubbornness are all fueled by fear. Respectively the fear; of being found out as being not as good as we claim, our own self-efficacy, not enough time, taking personal responsibility for our actions, not having enough, being happy and healthy, and of being wrong. These are all a hazard to the backcountry skier, or to a human being traversing through life. I think I have been gripped by all of these dragons at one time or another. However, mostly I have tripped on being a victim to others: martyrdom. Now it is all in awareness, which is all I can do to remedy the fear that fuels the dragon.

Love conquers the fear that fuels the dragons. It nurtures the opposites: meekness, self-approval, composure, contentment, generosity, self-creation, and flexibility. There is a place for fear in the backcountry skiing game. Fear keeps us on our toes and brings focus to hazardous situations... but that is all the credence we should lend to fear. As far as improving ourselves in the game of backcountry skiing, ultimately the easy thing is to point out other people's dragons, but the real task is to come to know our own. That is the birth-place of courage and self-knowledge. This is where we will make a leap forward in terms of fewer tragedies; when we become conscious of our behaviour out there. All of life seeks this very evolution: the evolution of consciousness.

 

Winter Predictions

Posted on Sep 20, 2015

I guess I should not be surprised, given my line of work, that as the season changes from summer to fall a lot of folks will open a conversation with me by asking for my predictions for the winter ahead.

Well I suppose that is fair enough. Truth is the snow gods have not been so generous the last couple of winters so snow lovers are understandably nervous about the coming winter.

Humans have been trying for some time to do long term forecasting. Think back to the Farmers Almanac with it’s predictive methodology cloaked in secrecy and even mysticism.  What is their secret formula? Pig livers or something?! Well modern seasonal forecasting is a lot more scientific and open about it’s methodology. The science has advanced to the point where the skill with which it predicts is comparable to a 6-8 day weather forecast: it’s better than random guessing, but not quite something you can bank on.

So before we start to make conclusive statements about how the winter ahead will be, let’s take a brief look at what the predictive skill of these seasonal forecasts actually is.

Seasonal forecasts work primarily by following the development of slow moving patterns of ocean temperature and then linking these with historical changes in global weather. It’s a bit like how big box stores predict you’re life situation by examining your buying habits: The ocean/atmosphere relationships may have predictive value when viewed from the perspective of understood theories of how heat and moisture move around the earth over a time frame of weeks to months.

The International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University describes the predictive skill of these models this way:

“Forecasts of the likelihood of enhanced or suppressed rainfall, or lower or higher temperatures than the average, over the course of a season have a level of accuracy that is far from perfect but noticeably above the level of random chance”

If you’re interested in seeing a statistically based and very graphic representation of the predictive skill of the seasonal forecast system at Environment Canada check this out.

This tool basically looks at the percentage of the time that seasonal forecasts were accurate in the past. Play with it a little by entering different lead times, different times of year and either temperature or precipitation. What you’ll find for example is that with a three month lead time for an autumn forecast (Sep/Oct/Nov) of temperatures, these forecasts historically have have been correct about 55% of the time for Vancouver Island. On the six month time frame that percentage drops to a 0-40% range.

So for sure, sea surface temperatures are above “historical norms” at present and this could well mean that we are in for a warmer autumn than these historical norms. But the fact is that climate is a varied and complex thing and it's only September as I write!

I’ve been an avalanche forecaster for long enough to know how often we can get things wrong and how wrong we can get them! So what is my message? Well simply stated: don’t get your knickers all in a twist about another terrible winter lying ahead of us. Recognize that while the predictors are suggesting the possibility of warmer temperatures this autumn, that really does not say much about what our winter will look like.

Environment Canada meteoroligist Matthew MacDonald (who is also a keen backcountry skier and works with our professional avalanche association) had this to say in a recent discussion with me on this subject:

“What we can tell you is that strong El Niño’s typically result in warmer than normal winters on the west coast and slightly drier than normal conditions. Does this mean it won’t snow at Mt Washington this winter? No. Does this mean we won’t see an Arctic Outbreak this winter? No. All it means is that once we get to April 2016 and look back on the previous 3 months’ worth of weather, the average 3 month temperature will likely have been warmer than normal.”

A colleague of Matt's who also does lots of work for the avalanche industry, David Jones, wrote an informative, critical and funny paper on this subject called “The Cold, Dry and Bitter Truth about Seasonal Forecasts”. From the title you can guess that David is also wanting to shed some light of reality onto seasonal forecasting. You can download that paper here.

If you find all this interesting and want to dig deeper, in addition to resources we’ve mentioned above, here are some other resources for you:

A tutorial called “The Science and Practice of Seasonal Climate Forecasting” can be found at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society web site here.

If you are interested in a .pdf file of the current “Environment Canada Integrated Seasonal Climate Bulletin” send us an email and we can send you a copy of that document.

Here at Island Alpine Guides we are as excited for winter as ever and can’t wait to get on our skis and snowboards! As always, we’ll have our team of the island’s most experienced mountain professionals ready to get you out into the snow. This winter we’ll continue to offer our range of excellent Avalanche Skills Trainings and Tours. In addition we’re really excited to be rolling out the island’s first ever Hut Based Touring and are stoked for the return of the Women’s Backcountry Weekend. We’ve just started to put dates up on the web site for the coming winter and are keen to hear from you if you have specific dates that you’d like to see particular programs happening on. So check out the web site and get in touch to let us know what you want to do in the snow this winter.

Now go kick it old school and throw some skis on a bonfire for Ullr and we’ll see you in the snow!

Jan and the team at Island Alpine Guides

Hiking or Mountaineering?

Posted on Jun 18, 2015

The Golden Hinde Traverse, Albert Edward to Comox Glacier, Flower Ridge to Love Lake and Della Falls, Rambler Peak, Elkhorn Mountain. These are just a a few examples of the incredible mountain trips that await hikers in Vancouver Island’s amazing mountain ranges. But for many hikers these and other trips are just out of reach because they require some basic mountaineering skills to negotiate the terrain and to manage risk effectively. We’re not talking about needing to become hardened, technica, high-altitude alpinists here, just about having some basic skills in snow climbing, glacier travel and alpine rock climbing that would allow a person to manage that terrain that is just a little more than hiking but which is inevitably found on many of the classic island mountain trips.

So how to make the transition to being able to manage these trips? What skills are required and how do you get them?

Snow 

With a generous (normally!) winter snowpack in the island alps, a hiker will often encounter sections of steeper mountain terrain that remain snow covered right through the summer. Often a slip or fall on this snow could result in significant harm because of what awaits you at the bottom of the slope. Managing this terrain effectively means knowing how to use an ice axe and perhaps crampons and a rope in a number of different ways. Whereas coming across snow-covered terrain may have turned you around on a trip on the past, having basic snow climbing skills will allow you to continue safely and to achieve your desired objective.

Glaciers 

While glaciers on the island tend to be small, there are plenty of great mountain trips which require you to cross glaciers. Don’t be mistaken: though island glaciers may be smaller than their cousins in other ranges, they still present all the same glacial hazards such as crevasses, mill holes and bergschrunds. Travelling on glaciers requires knowledge in glacial route finding, knowing how to rope up for glacier travel and knowing how to pull someone out of a crevasse should they fall in.

Rock 

Good route finding and experience can certainly go a long ways in helping you avoid having to climb any steep rock on a mountain trip. But the reality of many of the great island mountain trips is that inevitably there will be some “scrambling” on rock to be done. Managing this fourth and low fifth class terrain requires a set of techniques that differ from those you may have used when rock climbing at local cliffs. Route finding on rock, short roping and short pitching are just some of the alpine rock techniques that will serve you very well when negotiating these sometimes tricky little sections of island mountain terrain.

I’ve discussed all the above skills in the context of the Island Alps but of course these skills are universal and will translate to trips in mountain ranges all over the world if that is your desire!

How does one get these skills you ask? Well there are many ways and they each have their advantages and disadvantages. Rather than go over all of these here I’ll refer to a couple of blogs I have written on the subject in past years: Why Professionial Instruction? and Your Alpine Education both address these questions. In short I think that a range of experiences from learning from friends, through club offerings all the way to professional training are all relevant and have their pluses and minuses. But I will make a renewed plea here for the value of getting your initial training from professionals. It simply means that you’ll get a solid grounding in skills taught correctly to the current, international and professional standard. What better platform to start from than that?

We’ve got a bunch of really great skills trainings coming up that are perfectly designed to get you into the mountains and doing those trips that you’ve only been able to imagine doing up to now. And we’ve got a lot of dates to choose from as well. Check them out!:

Mountain Skills Fly-in - This course manages to cover a big range of snow climbing, glacier travel and crevasse rescue skills and even some alpine rock climbing skills in just three days. We achieve this by using a helicopter to access a spectacular site at the toe of a glacier allowing us to get three full days of intensive learning in. We cover all the curriculum of a five day full mountain skills course in just three days and all of this comes for basically the same price as the five day course, including the helicopter! 

Alpine Rock Skills - We've had a lot of requests for an alpine rock climbing skills course so here it is! Travelling in the Island Alps, or any mountain range for that matter, inevitably involves managing rock climbing terrain in that fourth and low to mid fifth class range. The "pitching" or "end roping" techniques which we use at the crags are not appropriate in this terrain as they are too slow and actually increase risk from hazards like rock fall. On this course we'll cover all the short roping and short pitching techniques that you need to move efficiently in alpine rock terrain as well as route finding skills, transitions from snow and ice to rock and much more.

Learn to Lead on Rock - If climbing more technical rock in the alpine is on your list of skills then our two day traditional learn to lead course is the thing for you. From anchor building to leading perfect pitches on traditional, removable protection, we’ll get you all tuned up to lead safe pitches on your own.

Intro to Rock - If you have never rock climbed and are interested in being introduced to the sport this two day course will teach you everything you need to know to go out top roped climbing on your own. This makes a great starting point both for rock climbing as a sport in it’s own right or for using rock climbing skills in the alpine.

Rock Rescue - If you're climbing multiple rope lengths of rock either in a cragging setting or in the mountains you’ll need to know what to do when things don’t go quite right! Check out the blog I wrote about rock rescue here: http://www.islandalpineguides.com/posts/19 and watch the story that Chek News did about our rock rescue courses here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMDdSNwCON8.

Elkhorn - For some people the best way to learn to start with is by observing. Others aren’t really interested in learning the skills they just want someone to manage the risk, make the decisions and get them to a summit on a great day of climbing. Either way our guided climbs of island peaks may be perfect for you. One of the classics is the island’s second highest peak Elkhorn. The “Matterhorn of the Island Alps” is a beauty and the ascent of it’s north west ridge unforgettable.

There is of course much more adventure awaiting you at our web site. Take a trip there and choose your trips for the summer. And of course get in touch if you have any questions. We’re always happy to help with info for your personal trips as well.

Enjoy what we have here on the island this spring and summer!

Jan and the team at Island Alpine Guides

Making the Most of this "Winter"

Posted on Mar 21, 2015

Well the lack of a winter here on the island has certainly been sad for the skiers amongst us but I have to say that I’ve seen a whole bunch of inspired response to this unusual weather we’ve been having.

First of all we did have enough winter initially that we managed to provide avalanche training to a lot of people before our lower elevation snow disappeared in early February. We managed to teach about 100 students who were keen and got a lot out of the courses. It is always gratifying for us as instructors to pass on our experience so that our students can enjoy the mountains in winter by effectively managing avalanche risk. No doubt the conditions in the island alpine this weekend are an excellent opportunity for those we have trained to put that training to good use!

Being the flexible and inventive lot that you Islanders are the other trend that we have noticed is that people either went higher or farther to get their sliding fixes.  The higher alpine on Vancouver Island has been providing touring options right through the winter and indeed has even been receiving some fresh snow of late. It just takes a little more effort to get there than usual. Others have travelled a little farther a field to the coast range and beyond. I for one have been getting some nice powder only about 150km from home in the Mount Waddington area!

The climbers and hikers amongst us have actually reveled in the lack of winter by getting out there in force this winter to bag new routes and to do things in winter that rarely see these kinds of conditions. You need only glance at the Vancouver Island Climbing and Mountaineering Facebook page to get a sense of the level of activity out there this winter:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/islandclimbing/.

I’m not sure if the weather is responsible or not but here at IAG we’ve been seeing a significant early surge in interest in the climbing and hiking programs that we offer. Multiple Learn to Lead, Rock Rescue, Mountain Skills Fly-in and Navigation Courses are filling up already even before winter has decided to end. We’re excited about how busy things are looking for our spring and summer. If you are interested in getting involved in some of our programs we suggest getting in touch early. One of our challenges is that there are only so many Association of Canadian Mountain Guides qualified guides on Vancouver Island so when our schedule gets filled up with work we sometimes have to turn people away simply because all of our guides are engaged on the busiest dates.

Thinking of getting outdoors and of outdoor education in general I came across this informative video from the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjHYJbh8mAM&feature=channel
While I realize that this is perhaps a little too basic for our more experienced readers it does a nice job of re-iterating the basics and reminding even seasoned mountain travellers of the things to do before you go. Even if this stuff is too basic for you I believe it is the kind of thing that would be great to pass on to friends who are less experienced and are asking about how to best be prepared for outdoor adventure.

Keep making the most of the conditions and we hope to see you on a course or trip with us this spring and summer!

Happy adventures!

Jan and the team at Island Alpine Guides