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:
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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
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:
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!
Jan and the team at Island Alpine Guides
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!