Guest Blog - Phillip Stone

Posted on Oct 21, 2014

For this latest blog I am happy to present the next in our series of guest blogs by prominent members of our community.

I am honoured that my friend Phillip Stone has agreed to contribute.

Many of our readers already know Phillip as the chronicler of islanders' exploits in their unique and beautiful mountains through his series of guide books. But Phillip is of course much more than a guide book author. From when I first met Phillip 25 years ago, he was clearly an adventurer driven to explore. He exuded a contagious excitement for the mountains which he shared generously. Indeed he continues to do this to today still exploring and authoring new routes in our Island Alps. On the eve of the release of his seventh book, Island Alpine Select, Phillip muses on his role as a writer and publisher and on the future of guidebooks.

Will Guidebooks Find Their Own Way? - Blog by Phillip Stone

Working in media, okay it’s pretty small town BC media, - still, I watch not only the ‘news’ but the business of media as well.  And you too, must have caught stories about the unstoppable rise of the internet and questions about the viability of print, like books, magazines and the like, in the future.


Print has been part of my working life since I was a kid. At age 11 I wanted a job and figured I could deliver newspapers. Thing was, we lived well outside of the city, St. John’s Newfoundland and it took some persuading to get the delivery van to drive the 30-some km north to drop off 25 copies of the Evening Telegraph every day. It was only 25 papers but in a spread out rural coastal village you can only imagine the experiences along the way. Cruel fall storms smashing the Atlantic almost to the doorstep; cold, clear starlit winter evenings with the Northern Lights flickering overhead. It was an interesting start to a life-long relationship with paper.

A school magazine followed - an awesome financial success because we launched at the parent-teacher night and sold it first to the parents by donation. Our end of year party that year rocked from the proceeds.

Now my livelihood depends on producing a steady-stream of publications and I feel happy to have merged my passions for adventure, rural-living and photography with my day to day work. Along with my line of guidebooks you probably know, I run a local news magazine and produce a variety of web sites and print publications. Much of it is tourism-related for Quadra and the Discovery Islands so all this talk of the demise of print worries me. But should it?

The murmurings of print’s expiration was already floating around in 2003 when I published the first edition of Island Alpine. That moment was a very proud day. I still remember well, as I described in the Preface, arriving at the south col of Mt Colonel Foster for the first time and being just simply blown-away by the sweep of endless snow-capped mountains and immediately deciding I would write a guidebook - eventually.

The motives were varied. As described, writing, and especially publishing is in my blood. Just as for others its mechanics, caring for others, crunching numbers or whatever. for me it’s about creating publications, large and small. So I can’t say exactly why I wanted to do that, god knows it was a long road, I just couldn’t help myself, I had to do it.

The thing about climbing guidebooks is though: they aren’t just any old book, another vertical spine on a shelf, a story to be read once, maybe twice and then forgotten. Climbing guidebooks have a life like few other books can ever imagine. For a bestselling novel, the story is contained within the pages. The reader delves into this world, becomes lost and returns, may share opinions, emotions and ideas with others but the story never really truly comes to life. Even if a blockbuster film results, it’s still completely intangible.

Not so the guidebook. Here the story is brief. The images just one snapshot in time. But the possibilities the guidebook incites are endless.

The guidebook is a catalyst for adventure a portal to infinite combinations of weather, time, season and emotion. Success, failure, suffering, relaxation all flow from the inspiration and action triggered by a few words.

Then there is the community. True, readers of the latest Governor-Generals award winner can have a cult-like kinship whipped up by the likes of the CBC’s Canada Reads. But again, this relationship is all based on a nebulous and finite narrative. For local climbers who share a love of their home-turf and are tied together by the threads of a common bible the bonds are far deeper. There is no joy greater than discovering another who has shared a route, who understands the challenges overcome, the puzzles solved, the rewards achieved.

Did I realize I would be a part of this back in 1991 when I sat on a boulder under Crest Creek Crag and lamely outlined the route topo in a sketchbook? Not a chance!

Now with the latest Vancouver Island mountain guidebook (Island Select) at the printers in Manitoba, there is a calm between the twin storms of production and distribution. I have some time to reflect on the process of writing a guidebook and to ponder the uncertainty of the risks involved.

The biggest risk brings us right back to the initial question of print books viability. Having just spent another decade, for a total of 25 years, accumulating photographs and 3 pretty solid years of repeating climbs and riding desk jockey committing it all to paper, I can’t say that there isn’t some apprehension. Will the Island community embrace this new book? Will Island Select fulfill its potential to tie our community bounds stronger, to inspire a new wave of adventure? And importantly for me personally, will it bring the financial return essential for me to be able to continue the endeavour?

Does SummitPost and FaceBook make a book seem quaint and trivial in the era of real time information sharing and gathering? What can a guidebook tell you that Google Earth can’t? Heaven knows I consulted it enough times writing it!

Of course this is not to say that today’s print book is confined to paper. With some extra work and know-how I’ve converted all my books into electronic editions and Island Select has been specifically designed from the outset to work in an eBook format.

While I’m most excited about the paper edition; a part of me is also curious to see what the potential for the eBook is.

Will regular updates have an effect on new route development? If you know your new climb is going to be appearing on iPhones and tablets within days of completion is that an incentive? Does that invite unnecessary risk? Will technology (and our ability to figure it out) allow more integration between the guidebook and social media, online mapping etc..? Is technology poised to offer un-precedented levels of risk aversion through real time forecasting - is this a persuasive argument for wi-fi in park’s?

There are still many questions to be answered but one things is certain. Our Island Alps are an amazing place to spend time and the next best thing to being out there, is day dreaming about them!

Ropes: Single, Half & Twin

Posted on Sep 22, 2014

It's been a while! I just realized that I haven't written in this space since June. The good news is that it's because we've had a busy summer.

This time I'm going to get a little more technical and less philisophical. Some questions I often hear are “What is the best rope system for climbing?” or “What is the difference between twin and half half ropes?” or “What should I buy as my first rope?”. I’ve answered these questions often enough that I think it may be of value to write something about this subject in this space.

In my view one rope system is not better than another. Each just has it’s own advantages and disadvantages. Each situation that you go into could make optimal use of a different rope system. In a perfect world a person would have a quiver of all the different rope systems and in different lengths and diameters, but that is of course is quite expensive.

Following is a list of the different systems, a few of their characteristics and their advantages and disadvantages:

Single Rope

Single ropes are designed to use for all applications in a single strand. The UIAAA symbol for a single rope is a circle with the number 1 in the middle of it. They range in diameter from traditional fat ropes of 11mm to some very modern singles as thin as 8.6mm!

The advantages of single ropes are that they are easy to manage in belaying and at belay stances and that they have the lightest weight per metre of all three rope options.

One disadvantage of single ropes is that on routes which wander a lot they require long extensions on protection and even then on very circuitous routes you could still end up with rope drag. Single ropes are not as good over edges as twin ropes but better than half ropes in this respect. Strength over edges is a particular concern with the very thin modern singles. Also single ropes give you only half the rappel length that you get with two rope systems.

Half Ropes

Half ropes are used in pairs but can be clipped individually to individual points of protection on lead. They are also rated for belaying a second on a single strand though caution is advised in this application in situations where the rope could be loaded over sharp edges. They are also rated for use in a single strand for glacier travel. The UIAA symbol for a half rope is a circle with a 1/2 fraction in the middle of it. Half ropes range in diameter from about 7.5mm to 9mm.

Half rope systems work well on routes that wander a lot without having to put lengthy extensions on placements. As mentioned above they can be used singly for glacier travel and to belay seconds on rock as long as sharp edges are not a concern. Half ropes also give full length rappel capability as you have two ropes.

Disadvantages of half ropes include that they are more difficult to manage in belaying and at stances, they have the heaviest weight per metre of all the rope systems and that they are not as good over edges as single or twin rope options.

Twin Ropes

Twin ropes are also used in pairs but can not be clipped individually. They are always clipped as a pair as if they were a single rope. They are not rated for use in a single strand though they can be a useful “backpacking” rope for short rappels or doubled for short leads. The UIAA symbol for twin ropes is two intersecting circles. Twin ropes come as thin as 7mm these days.

Because of the cumulative diameter of the two ropes twin ropes are the strongest rope system over sharp edges. Twin ropes of course offer full length rappel capability and they are a lighter weight rope system than half ropes but heavier than a single rope.

As both ropes must be clipped into all protection in a twin system, they are the same as single ropes on routes that wander a lot and will require long extensions on protection to avoid rope drag. As mentioned above one twin rope is does not meet the spec to use as a glacier rope or to belay a second on rock as you can with half ropes but it may have application as a lightweight “walkers rope”. As with half ropes, twins are more difficult to manage in belaying and at stances.

I hope that the above illustrates that there are good reasons to use each rope system in different circumstances. If you can not afford to own a lot of different ropes and are just starting out, it may be that the simplicity and lower cost of a single rope is the way to get going.

There are also questions of lengths, dry treatments, rope care etc. but I think I’ll leave those for another blog.

If you have questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at jan@islandalpineguides.com.

Happy autumn!

Jan and the team at Island Alpine Guides
 

Community Partnerships

Posted on Jun 11, 2014

This spring we are super excited to be announcing new partnerships with organizations and individuals in our community. Read on to learn about the latest of these:

Island Alpine Guides and North Island College

 

Recently completed, our new partnership with North Island College has IAG courses being recognized for credit in the NIC Adventure Guiding Certificate program. This partnership can work for you in two ways: 1) If you have taken IAG courses and have been thinking about a career in adventure tourism, you can now apply to have those IAG courses recognized for credit saving you both time and money. These credits go toward your pursit of the Adventure Guiding Certificate at NIC and if you wish to go further can move you toward the two year Tourism and Hospitality Management diploma, which will advance your business education and can provide further credit toward business degrees at NIC as well as tourism management degrees province wide. 2) If you are a student in the Adventure Guiding Certificate program at NIC you can now choose to mix mountain based skills training options in with the watersports currently offered in the program by taking IAG courses and having them recognized for credit. Options include Avalnche Skills Training, Winter Mountain Travel and Mountain Skills Training. Check out www.nic.bc.ca/program/adventure_guiding_certificate and contact the Adventure Guiding Certificate program director at NIC or Island Alpine Guides for more information.

Island Alpine Guides and Power To Be

 

For us at IAG some partnerships make good business sense while others just feel good to us. The latter is defiinitely true of our relationship with Power To Be. Power To Be provides adventure-based programs designed for youth and families in need of support. Through a collaborative approach and caring staff, Power To Be inspires connections with nature and the discovery of limitless ability. IAG provides tecnical leadership support to the Wilderness School Program at Power To Be. The Wilderness School fosters positive social development and life skills through outdoor adventure and education. The program offers adventurous overnight weekend programs every month and a multi-day expeditions each summer. As a three-year co-ed program, starting in Grade 8, the Wilderness School is designed to work with a wide range of youth that could benefit from positive and healthy extra-curricular outdoor programs, which they might not otherwise have opportunity to do. Learn more about Power To Be at www.powertobe.ca.

Island Alpine Guides and Lyle Fast

 

Partnerships are not just about organizations. Sometimes they are with individuals. Such is the case with our new partnership with an old friend and legend of island mountaineering, Lyle Fast. Lyle was Vancouver Islands first fully certified Association of Canadian Mountain Guides Ski Guide when he attained that qualification in 1991. Before and since he has been something of a legend on the island mountain scene logging many firsts and mentoring many people. We are very excited to announce that Lyle is joining the guiding team at IAG. We are also very excited to announce that he will be spearheading our latest winter project starting next winter: Vancouver Island's first ever hut based ski and snowboard touring. You can read more about Lyle here and about our new hut based program here. Watch this space next autumn for the official launch of our but based programs!

Finally, while we have your attention, here are a few things that we have coming up which have some space available on them:

July 18-20 Mountain Skills Fly-in Course. $795pp includes heli.

July 19-20 Intro to Rock. $295pp.

July 26-27 Learn to Lead on Rock. $390pp.

August 2-4 Comox Glacier Hike. $395pp.

August 9-10 Intro to Rock. $295pp.

These are just a few of the things we have coming up. Check our our web site and if you see things that interest you but not available dates, just get in touch and we'll add dates to our offerings that suit you. Most of our programs are done at such a low ratio that one person starting a trip will get us well on our way to filling it!

Have a safe spring and early summer and we'll look forward to seeing you in the mountains this summer!

Jan and the team at Island Alpine Guides

 

Deep Instabilities

Posted on Mar 31, 2014

This has been a very interesting winter from a snow and avalanche perspective. The season started off of course with very little snow and some impressively long and cold arctic cold snaps. When the snow finally came it buried a troublesome layer on February 10th that would become a player in the avalanche game over most of British Columbia and indeed on the island as well for some time. Though this layer is no longer a player in the island snow pack, I have been guiding in our back yard here in the Mount Waddington area and I can tell you it has been a player here and continues to be.

This February 10th layer is what we call a persistent snowpack instability. The name is very descriptve in that the layer gets buried under successive subsequent snowstorms which bury it deeper and deeper in the snowpack. The problem with these instabilites is both their depth (because with so much snow on top of the the problem layer you are looking at the possibility of very large avalanches) and it's persistence. As these things persist in the snow pack and get more and more load on them, our problem as forecasters is knowing when and where the critical load will make this layer fail. The fact of the matter is that we are not very good at making those predictions with these kinds of instabilities. Indeed these deep and persistent avalanche problems are the ones that we are least good at predicting.

I think that the management of these deep and persistent avalanche problems makes a great metaphor for a range of risk management decisions which we make in the mountains or anywhere in life for that matter. The fact that we are not good at predicting this problem should dictate what "risk treatment" we give it. An important first step I think is that we have to recognize that we have low confidence in our ability to predict. In the case of the persistent slab avalanche problem, given this lack of confidence in our ability to predict when or where these things will happen, we are left really with one option to manage the risk: conservative terrain selection. What this has meant for us at times this winter is not only skiing on low angle terrain that is not avalanche terrain, but also being vigilant about not having avalanche terrain above us either.

I think that we can take some lessons from the management of this problem into other areas of risk management in the mountains and elsewhere. In any hazard assessment I think it makes sense to try to objectively measure your level of confidence in your assessment. Ask youself how sure are you of the likely hood of realizing the hazard as well as the magnitude of the outcome should you realize it. If your confidence in these predictions is high because you have a lot of really good information and the information at hand relates directly to many experiences that you have had, then you can justifiably have high confidence in your assessment. But if you lack good information and/or what you are seeing does not relate directly or even indirectly to experiences that you have had or if you have not had much experience, then perhaps you should assign a lower confidence to your assessment and choose a more conservative decision around that hazard.

I guess in simple terms what this amounts to is being honest with yourself about how much you really know about a risk that you are trying to assess. If you are not so sure, then rather than flirting with a coin toss maybe the better chocie is to say no and pursue another option. Or even more simply put: If in doubt, don't.

I want readers to know that after 30 years in the avalanche game I am more happy than ever to talk about my lack of confidence and what I don't know. Indeed I think that being able to identify what we don't know and acting accordingly could be one of the most important skills in risk management.

Have a great spring out there and play safe!

Jan

Guest Blog - Rob Wood

Posted on Jan 22, 2014

Starting this month I am very pleased to announce the beggining of our series of guest blogs by prominent members of our community.

I am honoured to have my friend Rob Wood as our first contributor.

While many of our readers know who Rob Wood is, there is perhaps a younger generation of you who are not as aware of him. Rob came from Yorkshire to Canada in the late sixties. In the early seventies he particpiated in the first ascents of Weepling Wall, Cascade, Takakaw and Bourgueau falls, to name a few, as part of that group of Calgary climbers who invented waterfall ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies. In the Yosemtie Valley, Rob was part of the first non-American ascent of the Nose of El Capitan. Here on Vancouver Island he made the ground breaking first winter ascent of the Grand Central Couloir of Mount Colonel Foster with his friend and fellow climbing legend Doug Scott and American Greg Child. He has a storied history as an outdoor educator and climbing community philosopher and hails from his remote homestead on Maurelle Island here in the northern gulf islands. He is the author of “Toward the Unknown Mountains” a delightful meeting of adventure story and philosophical pondering.

CLIMBING AND THE LOVE OF LIFE

 

Right from when I first started climbing I experienced a sense of happiness and freedom on the crags and in the mountains and later in deep Canadian wilderness that was way over and above any other aspect of my normal everyday life. The more I experienced this natural high the more convinced I became that climbing manifested, for me at least, an essential ingredient of life that modern society was missing and possibly even precluding.

I spent many hours in steamed up pubs, around smoky campfires, on tent bound storm days and cold  dark bivouac ledges, discussing and defending the fascinating and illusive question of what exactly it is  about climbing that motivates climbers to risk their lives in such spectacular and dangerous ways. Even though many of us believe passionately that deep inside the rewards outweigh the risks, it seems impossible to explain the reason why to someone who has never done it. In other words the answer is beyond reason, beyond the ken of normality, which probably contributes to the attraction of the mystery.

Now, reflecting on fifty years of knocking about in the mountains, I see a fine line between success with profound satisfaction on the one hand and failure, desperation and even disaster on the other. The difference is determined not so much by quantifiable factors such as good planning, hard skills or even by good or bad luck so much as by state of mind, awareness and perceptions. Things go well when we are positive, focused and in tune with our surroundings and each other; when we are in the moment and in the Zone. Conversely things go badly when we are not paying complete attention and or not getting along with each other; when our minds are distracted and our spirits fragmented and scattered.

I had my fair share of fame and glory but after witnessing close friends getting killed and a few near death experiences myself I came to recognize the lethal impediments of excessive ego gratification and competition. They occupy our minds with deeply engrained and often habitual, culturally conditioned impressions of reality which prevent honest engagement with the actuality of the here and now.  If deliberately putting one’s life in danger just to impress other people were really what climbing is about, as might well be assumed by people who don’t do it, it would indeed be a mug’s game of questionable sanity.

To me the more profound, inestimable rewards of climbing occur when we break through the fearful, conditioned constraints of ego and conventional perception of being separate individual entities and engage ourselves with the dynamic flow of the powerful energy fields of the natural environment. Then, not only is our physical performance guided and enhanced but also our fear and anxiety is released, replaced by a secure and euphoric sense of love and unity with something much larger than our selves. While effectively reducing the risk of losing life, momentary as these transcendental experiences may be, they easily justify what remains of it by creating the freedom to be more fully conscious of the joy, unity and wonder of being alive.

Rob Wood     Maurelle Island   January 2014