Archive for February, 2012

Now this would be something that would be a fantastic but absolutely terrifying thing to do  when we get up to Utah…!!! Amazing stuff by Devin Graham!

A little detour from the main route, but perfectly do-able … a small matter of a 130 foot drop to deal with in the process, though..!

Just got to make sure that the equipment is sound and oh, yes, get over my fear of heights a bit more!

Read more at the Huffington Post and on Devin Graham’s blog site… what a guy!

Every once in a while I find myself in an urban environment and I have the sense that I’m just as alone or without a safety net as if I were miles away from civilization in the back country. While out in the wild, you begin to hone in on some skills that come naturally, and some that you have to work for. It is these skills that can help you change the tides in your favor in while out in the wilderness. Likewise, they can turn a potentially bad day in the city to a good one.

Previously, I talked about the need to really watch where you going and also the need to pay close attention to the weather.

Here are the next two points I learned from backpacking that have helped me in everyday matters.

Proper Footwear

You’re about to embark on an 18 mile, round trip day hike through rocky terrain. Or you have a meeting downtown which requires you to walk 8 blocks through a poorly maintained part of town. What your day entails changes what footwear is best.

For those of us who don’t have to go very far, or are in public transportation or our cars most of the time don’t have to worry too much about footwear. But when you have that lunch across town and need to walk a distance – are your leather shoes really a good fit? Sure, you’ll get there in one piece, but will they? Or will you be comfortable? Switching into a pair of sneakers can change your whole day.

When out in the wilderness, terrain can change drastically and footwear is of the utmost importance. On loose rock, you’ll want ankle support. On flat, well-kept trails, your trail runners or minimalist shoes will probably be fine. In urban settings, we usually see people change their shoes during the winter months when they commute with boots and then slip something more comfortable on when they get to work. Do you pay attention to your shoes or do you just wear whatever is in front of you? Test it out! If you haven’t commuted in sneakers before, try it and see how you feel.

Be Prepared for….

Everything! And no, I don’t mean carry a gun everyday because who knows when the zombie apocalypse will happen. But be prepared for as much as you can. For everyday in an urban setting, knowing basic things like what subway stations, trains or roads might be closed can make an easier transit. Out on the trails, know what “bail trails” you have available. A Bail Trail is the term for any possible “outs” you would use in case the situation got really bad. On my recent trek through Devil’s Path we found out we were over our heads with a lack of gear and used a “bail trail” to get out of a potentially bad situation early.

Preparedness is a huge topic. This section could be expanded into a book all on its own. Instead, I’ll keep it simple. If you’re not sure if you need your rain jacket or not – take it. Can’t decide whether to bring that extra pair of gloves or not? Pack ’em. This needs to be done within reason (no one should bring a kitchen sink on a backpacking trip or to work), but being aware of what you might or might not need can change a soggy, unhappy day to a pleasant one. I’ll use a quote an Uncle of mine once said: “It’s better to have it and not use it than to not have it and need it.”

Every once in a while I find myself in an urban environment and I have the sense that I’m just as alone or without a safety net as if I were miles away from civilization in the back country. While out in the wild, you begin to hone in on some skills that come naturally, and some that you have to work for. It is these skills that can help you change the tides in your favor in while out in the wilderness. Likewise, they can turn a potentially bad day in the city to a good one. Here are the first two of six things I learned from backpacking that have helped me in everyday matters.

Watch where you’re walking.

“Hey! Watch where you’re going you jerk!” Who, especially for those in New York City, hasn’t heard that pleasant little phrase before? You might have even said it yourself to that young teenager texting while he walked in a blind b-line straight for you.

A little more attention to your next footstep or to the next block can create a world of difference. By paying attention you’ll be able to navigate around that huge puddle that was waiting to ruin your new shoes. Or by looking the next block or two ahead you can quickly change your route instead of getting stuck at that road block up ahead.

This may seem basic, and your response might be: “I always watch where I’m going”. I know, I always ‘feel’ like I pay attention to where I’m going, but I still manage to do things that could be avoided. In the end, we’re all in some sort of rush and we all have to move quickly – paying a little more attention to your path can help you move more efficiently without getting frustrated.

Weather, Weather, Weather

Most people I know watch the weather on their phone or computer and have a vague idea of what a meteorologist said about the temperatures. That’s my default, too. Then I go about my day. 60% chance of rain? I’ll bring my umbrella. It’s great that we not only have that technology at our finger tips but the fact that it is updated to frequently as well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s helpful!

Great view, but the increasing clouds were a sign to get off the mountain

But what about when that freak storm rolls in? Or an unexpected confluence of cold and warm weather start to rub against each other and it’s happening right over where you are? Could that have been avoided? Unless there are minute by minute updates, and you are checking those updates (I imagine most aren’t following so closely), our phones can’t save us in these situations. What can save us however, is a little knowledge about the weather and being aware of it.

While we look at our phones, our greatest indicator is above our heads – just look to the sky to see what’s happening! Are the clouds turning dark and have a rolling feature to them? There’s a good chance for some wind and rain on the way. Do you see enormous, anvil type clouds with winds coming from that direction? You could be in for a thunderstorm. Perhaps your scope of vision is far less – but you notice that the sky is now gray and the temperature is dropping? I’d have an umbrella handy in that situation.

Sparse clouds - march onward! (Photo credit: Paul Amy)

Take a look at a couple of these websites and learn a little bit about clouds, weather and what certain changes mean – it might keep you dry right before your big client meeting.

Scienceray – Very visual and easy to understand

US Search and Rescue’s basic website on weather prediction

Instructables – Predicting the weather with clouds

Read on for more tips!

The Brazilian coast has to have some of the most spectacular beaches around in the world. Places such as Parati, where I finally ended up going some time ago, and Lençois up in the north-east, are pretty amazing. It was pretty nice to finally be able to take a couple of days off to enjoy Juquehy, on the north coast of São Paulo state.

Extremely picturesque, the place is a good 150 kilometres away from São Paulo city and, after having a quick couple of hours climbing at the gym on Friday evening, we ended up leaving at around 11pm, and getting there at 1am. Whilst the beach is not a deserted paradise by any stretch of the imagination (the whole São Paulo state coastline just about fills up over the weekends with like-minded people wanting to leave), after so much training and working over the last few weeks, it was great to finally get away.

I celebrated this escape from the big smoke by sleeping. Lots. In the car on the way there; at the guest house; in the morning on the beach; after a quick swim; whilst sitting down with my legs dangling in the pool back at the guest house in the early evening; in the hammock, and then when we went to bed. Not in the most comfortable positions either and I guess I got a bit of a reputation with the people we were with for just dozing off! I guess I was pretty exhausted really. It was great, after having spent the last few months going to bed at 2am and waking up at 7am to get so much sleep!! Just a shame that I didn’t quite use enough sun lotion, and my body is paying for that now.

Given my slumberous state, I only took one or two pictures of it all – Osmar, who was with us on the trip took some great pics (worth having a look at his Flickr as well – very nice albums!), which have included here (thanks Osmar!).

Shame in some ways to leave, though on the way back there was a terrific thunderstorm which kept me awake most of the way at least – lightning everywhere, without even half a second gap between all the flashes for at least an hour. Quite spectacular, and made me think of the elements that we will encounter when our journey starts for real – pretty exciting, and made me quite eager to get back to the training again.

PRAIA, PRAIA, PRAIA…!!

Posted: February 27, 2012 by Natália Almeida in Português
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Não me lembrava a última vez que tinha saído de Sampa, ou de ter ido a praia, fico confulsa entre ano novo em  Maresias, ou em Galápagos.

Mas mesmo assim qualquer uma das opções me faz pensar que faz mais de um ano.

Na quinta a Gi, uma grande amiga, me chama para irmos a praia na sexta, eu que ando muito cansada e precisando de férias aceito na hora, a semana estava ensolarada e prometia um final de semana quente. Mas morando nessa cidade sabe-se que a vida não é fácil e que normalmente o sol dura até sexta meio-dia e depois começa a chover. Dito e feito. Uma tempestade começa e nem sair da produtora consigo, mesmo assim me mantenho animada porque sei que saindo da cidade as minhas baterias se recarregam. Antes de pegar a estrada, eu e o Ben nos encontramos na Casa de Pedra, subimos umas paredes, tomamos um suco de açaí com banana e dividimos o único salgado que não tinha leite, um pão recheado com palmito. Feito isso, passada rápida em casa e saímos rumo a praia.

Juquehy foi o destino. Sábado quente, muito mormasso mas nem tanto sol, o mar estava bem gostoso o que nos fez passar um tempo nele. O Ben realmente relaxou, dormiu quase sábado todo, foi um dia recheado de cochilos dele. Eu umas 14h tomei uma caipirinha de kiwi que me baqueou, deitei na canga e devo ter dormido umas duas horas, acho que todo mundo dormiu. Acordamos todos muito queimados, o Ben vermelhaço. Eu graças a Deus tenho bastante melanina na pele o que me rendeu um bronze. Saímos da praia super moles, acho que meio desidratados, sentamos num restaurante e comemos peixe grelhado, arroz, feijão, salada, farofa e batata. De noite choveu mas foi bem rápido coisa de 15 minuto.

Domingo acordei pensando que estaria chovendo. Grande engano, ao abrir a porta vemos o sol, e o dia todo foi assim muito sol, muito mar e boas risadas. Voltamos pra capital com chuva e trânsito na estrada. Mas quem disse que paulistano pode se divertir sem sofrer nada por isso. Não adianta sempre tem algo pra tirar um pouco da sua energia seja na ida ou na volta. Mesmo assim, valeu muito a pena, já me faz pensar que na Páscoa seria bom repetir a dose.

Nothing too extreme here, the story and adventure is over, so now it’s time to evaluate the gear!

The good:

Marmot “Never Summer” Sleeping Bag

I’ve relied on this wonderful down sleeping bag for a couple cold-weather trips now. Rated at 0 degrees F, it’s always a pleasure getting cozy in the bag and waiting to warm up. Once enough body heat radiates around the bag, I stay toasty warm all night. An added plus is that the bag can also zip from the feet up so that in warmer weather you can vent out the extra heat. The only downside that I noticed (and that other reviewers had mentioned), is that the bag can collect water fairly easily. Keeping the bag dry is of the utmost important, and more attention must be paid to water than you might with a synthetic bag.

Rab-Polartec Hat

When I was learning how to climb trad in New Paltz, NY, I spent a couple of minutes looking around it’s must-see climbing store, Rock and Snow. On a rack with what seemed like a thousand other hats, I pulled out this thin little $15 hat and tried it on. From there, well, the rest is history. It wicks water beautifully and traps in heat like no other. On cold days when biking to work, it fits snugly underneath my helmet. I’ve also been using it as my “dry” hat – the hat I put on when I stop for a rest and I’m sweating. It keeps me warm and helps dry out my hair.

Check out the Thermarest Z-lite and it's conforming features!

Mountain Hardware Liner gloves

I actually don’t know the name of these gloves – I only know that they have the famous Mountain Hardware “nut” logo on them. I picked them up at an REI Garage sale to be used as liner gloves inside my mountaineering mittens. Within or without the heavy-duty mittens, these thin gloves stand their ground. I’ve used them skiing and cold-weather hiking and they withstand a fair amount of wetness before I feel it on my hands and it affects my comfort level. In drier climates they are fantastic at wicking away moisture from hands and keep them happy and dry when dexterity counts. Great biking gloves.

Thermarest Z-lite

Really? Thirty US Dollars at REI? What a steal! The reviews of everyone else live up to the quality of this sleeping bad. You can see in the picture how it conformed nicely to my rocky, uneven bed and left me comfortable and warm all night. The way it folds up, along with the egg crate design makes it great to sleep on or simply use it to rest against a tree. Must-have for any backpacker, alpinist or adventurer.

MSR Pocket Rocket and GSI Soloist

A classic low-cost stove for any outdoor enthusiast, I was unsure how well it was going to do in the cold, snowy Devil’s Path conditions. From set-up to boiling (we melted and boiled snow), we were ready to eat within 15 minutes. The GSI Pinnacle Soloist (or Dualist) make this setup a great pair as the stove conveniently fits inside to pot. Easy to store, carry and assemble. Although for the 360Extremes expedition,

Oodles of Gear

I’m not sure how this will work at high altitudes or extremely cold temperatures.

Patagonia Capilene 2 pants

I got these randomly for Christmas but they are now my go-to for a warm base layer. I can wear them, sweat a bit, rest, and they will be completely dry without donning or doffing any layers. As with anything Patagonia, it stands up to it’s quality, now it’s time to see if it stands up to the test of time.

The Bad:

Polyester “heavy duty” pants

Never buy outdoor pants at Kohls or Walmart or any department store that has an outdoor department. Others may have had better luck at these stores with layering pants, but I, sadly, have not. The polyester, “work-mans” outdoor pants got wet and didn’t dry at all. Thankfully, I had an extra pair.

EMS Wool Socks

For around the house, lounging and casual wear – I love these socks. They’ve kept me warm with my Merrell Barefoots and compress enough to wear with my Miura climbing shoes on cold days. However, on this trip, they really didn’t stand up on their own (pun intended?). Once they got a little wet, they stayed wet well into the next day and nothing worked for drying them out. I’ll keep them and continue to use them, but extra care will be taken to keep them dry. Update: days later after returning home, I found a hole in one of them….

My trusty "Never Summer" front and center (well, to the left).

The Ugly:

Sorel Timberwolf boots – cold when standing still, bad grip

Let me start by saying that for the price, these boots are great. I’ve had bad experiences with boots and most of the time my feet are cold and wet. The great thing about these boots is that my first experience with them was the Devil’s Path (see what happened to my Merrell Isotherm 8s after hike number 2), and I only had one small blister on my big toe, left foot. So point one for comfort without breaking in. Second, they kept my feet dry the entire time despite wet, sometimes slushy conditions. If I was moving, my feet were warm and dry. Here’s the ugly: when I stood still, my feet got cold quite quickly. Maybe some sweat had condensed inside (I didn’t seem to notice any dampness), but either way, my feet got cold.

Second, durability. After what happened to my Merrell’s, I wanted firm soles and durable boots. These seemed to deliver both – the soles were firmer than most boots and the material had few seams. These all seemed like great features, again, especially for the price. The ugly that threw me off was not either of these things – I still hold they boots can be great light weight mountaineering boots (I have yet to test them with crampons) – but the lack of traction. I found myself slipping more than I felt comfortable. The more I walked, the more I lost some confidence in the boot’s traction. I’m not about to throw them in the “retired” bin just yet though. After all, I’ve only tested them once! I put these in the ugly category because they need further review.

Marmot Bastione Jacket

Another REI garage sale buy, and for $60 it seems like I couldn’t go wrong. I love Marmot, and the reviews I quickly read about the jacket seemed overall positive. The jacket’s fleece liner with shell seemed of good quality and well constructed. I used when I was out skiing once and there did not seem to be any big flaws. All good things, right? In the end, when I stood still, this jacket did not provide a lot of insulation. To be short, this is a great around town jacket/shoveling the drive way but it’s bulkiness, weight and seemingly lack of insulation left me doubtful in bringing it on my more extreme outings.

When all's said and done

The Yungas Road, or the “Death Road” as it is also fondly called, looks to be one amazingly scary stretch of highway and, after leaving Brazil at Corumbá, we will be taking a slight detour at Santa Cruz de la Sierra in order to take it to La Paz.

I remember one of my brothers after having gone travelling through Bolivia and Peru telling tales of going along this road by bus and that it had been one hair-raising journey with the bus tearing along the highway which has a sheer drop on one side and a vertical climb on the other. I was pretty much captivated by the stories and have since long wanted to travel along it.

The 61 kilometre (43 miles), incredibly narrow (at parts, it is only three metres wide) road passes up over altitudes of  over 4,500 metres, and has been described by the Inter American Development Bank and reported by the BBC some time ago as “The world’s most dangerous road”, as apparently 300 or so people are killed along there each year.

Extreme weather conditions along the high altitudes of the road make it even more treacherous and just looking at images of the road from groups that have travelled along it makes one shiver. Reports from media showing busses crashing along it; landslides reported blocking the path for hours; near-death accidents with cyclists… don’t help too much!

As well as helping us get to grips with higher altitude conditions, it will be an amazing experience to go along it. Fortunately (though perhaps more tiring) we will be going up rather than down (downhill drivers never have rights of way and must go to the outside of the road), so we will try our best to keep to the inside: whilst I am working on my fear of heights and still have quite a lot of time to work on this, I still wouldn’t feel too comfortable riding so close to such a perilous drop!!

The ssqq.com website, from where the photos (thanks Rick!) here were provided, has some great stories and further terrifying images of the road.

Our Humble Abode

When I finally peeked my head out of my sleeping bag, I could hear a wind blowing through the trees. When we fell asleep there was no wind, so this was not a good sign – wind = cold. After scarfing down some oatmeal and warm water, we put on our boots and packed our stiffened bags. Our pants from the day before, frozen solid, remained horizontal. Despite my best efforts to dry my gloves, they too were frozen. Wearing them was out of the question. I would have to face the day without them.

Right before taking off we took a look at the map. Our options were to continue up Sugarloaf and try to make it to Devil’s Tombstone campground or at least our original Mink Hollow lean-to for another night. Most of our gear was already wet. Our spirits, despite sleeping well, were quite low as we had at least two descents ahead of us and descents were what got us the most wet. We also had the option to bail. In the valley between Twin and Sugarloaf mountains the red Devil’s Path trail intersects with the Blue trail which leads to roaring kill parking area. The last thing we had to consider was the 90% chance of rain and snow that was supposed to start that evening.

Were we willing to risk a couple more dangerous ascents and descents today? Would we be risking hypothermia by staying an extra night? If we did stay, did we have another “out” in case things got bad? To those reading; what would you have done?

Before we left the cave we decided we were in over our heads and did not have the technical gear to complete the full path. Considering we only made it a third of the entire path on the first day, the next 3-4 days were too unknown – and too treacherous – to venture into confidently. All we needed was some freezing rain that afternoon, plus below freezing temperatures at night, to leave us really in a dangerous situation.

That last descent down Twin turned out to be extremely precarious. Thin, icy trails with rocks on the uphill side and steep slopes going down hill forced us to walk slowly and carefully. Glissading (mountaineering term for sliding) stretches were much longer than the descent down Indian Head, meaning we were picking up a lot more speed. On top of long stretches of sliding, the trail often took switch backs; which meant if you didn’t hit the turn just right there was a good chance you’d miss the

Down Climbing backwards was often needed

trail and go sliding down into trees. This proved twice as dangerous for the second person as the first person would clear the snow, leaving a trail of slippery, exposed ice. At one point we had to face backwards and down climb a steep, icy rock face, carefully holding onto a small tree as our only anchor. Sweating, wet, and panting for a breath after barely an hour of descent, we were happy with our decision that it was time to go. When we finally reached the intersection of trails in the valley, it began raining.

As we drove away, I took one last look at the Catskills. The summits of the mountains were obscured by thick clouds, with larger, grayer, more ominous looking clouds quickly rolling in. As I pointed out the sight to Paul, we both exhaled a sigh of relief that we were again warm and safe. For all we know, we just skirted out of the path of the devil before he would really unleash some hairy conditions on the mountain. The rain only fell harder as we drove further away.

Usually when Paul and I go on adventures, we complete them. This Devil’s Path taught us some valuable lessons – most importantly, the thought of underestimation and it’s dangers. When traveling

Confirmation that we made the right decision

into the wilderness, especially during the dangerous months for that specific environment, you can never over prepare. Even over packing, despite carrying a heavy pack, can save your life if the gear is practical to the journey; that extra liter of water, the crampons you might not use, the waterproof shell. It can all become valuable depending on the situation that presents itself. Lastly, we learned how even the most unassuming hills and mountains can be dangerous places. The most mild winters at sea level can drastically change after a few thousand feet of elevation.

Most of all, it left me wanting more. I can’t wait to get back outdoors.

With the adventure said and done, we were grateful for the experience and the chance to get out of the house. In my last post on the Devil’s Path, check in for a mini-gear-review session with the good, the bad, and the ugly of the gear I used.

Yôga, mais uma primeira aula

Posted: February 23, 2012 by Natália Almeida in Português, Training
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Ainda me lembro da minha primeira aula de Yôga, foi na minha antiga academia e só nos exercícios de respiração passei mal umas 3 vezes – queda de pressão. Só tinha eu e mais uma garota com menos de 30 anos, e dava uma certa vergonha ver as senhorinhas pra lá de seus 65 anos fazer as posições com facilidade enquanto a meninada se tremia toda ou simplesmente não conseguia.

Ontem a sensação foi e mais uma vez 1 aula de Yôga, depois de quase um ano dessa primeira experiência, agora na Casa de Pedra e u e o Ben íamos começar juntos. Sentamos no colchonete e a Caludinha passa a primeira posição, já nos olhamos incrédulos com o que ela nos pede, o Ben com uma feição de assustado, enquanto eu já começo a pensar em como ele deve estar se arrependendo.
Mais uma posição, e mais uma frustração, acho que flexibilidade não existe nos nossos genes, e fico abismada com a minha falta de consciência corporal.

Depois de umas 3 posições impossíveis e diversas cambalhotas, nos deitamos e começamos os exercícios de respiração. Sinto que depois de tanta tortura finalmente um momento de relaxamento, 10 minutos assim deitados, respirando rápido e relaxando já esqueço de toda a frustração e já sinto vontade de vir a próxima aula.

Ao fim, nos olhamos e concordamos em voltar semana que vem e tentar de novo. Parece que todos os esportes que escolhemos não são simples e exigem muita dedicação e paciência, mais uma prática para essa lista.

In a word: painful. At least for a thirty year old first-timer like myself. In spite of developing flexibility with the climbing and the general fitness training, this was tantamount to sheer torture. Getting the body into all strange, wonderful and bizarre positions – or at least trying to – and hearing the joints and muscle screaming at me to stop, imploring me to relax a little and not go as far as I was going, and breathing a sigh of relief when the teacher told us to change positions… and then going through it all again. One hour was quite enough, thank you very much.

But at the end of it all… it didn’t feel too bad.

In a vague round-about sort of way, I even felt quite good once it all came to an end.  After all, pushing the body and its muscles to and beyond previously known (to self, at least) limits without injuring oneself can’t be bad! Though we are a long way off from being anywhere near the levels of balance and physical limits of our teacher, we are at the beginning of a process – just as with slack lining and climbing itself. And just as with those aspects of our training, practice will make perfect, so we will be doing yoga classes every Monday and Wednesday from now on. If we can manage to extend our bodies a few millimeters or centimetres every lesson, then I will certainly be happy.

Why are we doing Yoga you ask, when we should be working on fitness and technical skills? Again, I am probably going to sound a bit like an advert for it, but we are doing it for a reason. When we are climbing through the Himalayas, or going over the ice cap of the North Pole and the massive continent of Antarctica, we are going to be pretty much on our own. At the Poles we are going to have thousands of kilometres to walk and the terrain will not be easy: it will all be extremely challenging to our bodies and our muscles. If we pull muscles there, we are just going to make the adventure even more difficult – if not impossible, depending on the extent of the injury. By practicing yoga, and developing the flexibility in our muscles; further developing our senses of equilibrium and the stresses that our bodies will be able to take, we will be able to increase our chances of success no-end.

See Natalia’s post (in Portuguese) to see how she fared with the Yoga!

On the tight-rope!

Posted: February 22, 2012 by Ben Weber in Climbing, English, Training
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One of our recent discoveries at the climbing wall (where we have been making pretty decent progress in increasing the difficulties and reducing the times in our daily ascents) has been the tight rope, or slackline. A flat chord, about 5cm wide nylon webbing which is (at our gym at least) about 8 metres long and anchored between two points so it is quite firm and tense and can easily take the weight of a couple of people at one time. You sometimes see people walking over canyons over them (this is a pretty good example…).

What slacklining really does help you with is balance and concentration – integral aspects of climbing and also pretty useful attributes to have in general as well. We haven’t got quite as far as being able to walk over canyons yet – far from it; we have just started… and it is really pretty hard!

The first time you get on, without some previous surfing or gymnastic experience, you feel your legs trembling and the cord start swaying from side to side quite quickly. Without the help of someone to the side, you will invariably fall off quite quickly without even having taken a step forward. It takes (well, it did for us at least!) quite a bit of time before we were able to stand on it without the help of others.

The old mantra of “if at first you don’t succeed” comes into play. You fall off… you get straight back on again. There are tricks to helping yourself – looking to a fixed point on the other side; holding hands out and up; using a foot off the cord to help balance yourself – you certainly feel more secure with just one foot on the cord rather than two.

We are now able to get from between a quarter to half way along – where it seems harder to control the sway of the rope as the trembling seems to get amplified in the middle. Still plenty of work to do but good fun at least, and hopefully it will help us in our climbing efforts. Maybe we will be able to do it across a canyon as part of our journey!

 

Devils Path, Part 2: Descents

Posted: February 21, 2012 by None Smith in English, Training
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In the previous Devil’s Path post, I spoke about the ascent (going up) of Indian Head and the similar Twin mountain. Full of ice, snow, rocky ledges and steep slopes – an overall dangerous situation without crampons or an ice axe. Let’s see if I can convey the even more precarious descent of the two.

Despite our nasty ascent of Indian Head mountain, we traversed the summit and confidently began walking down the path that would lead us to a valley between Indian Head and Twin mountains. That confidence was immediately dashed against the rocks as I took my first tumble. I slipped quickly on the steep ice, falling on my side. As I righted myself onto my back and butt, I realized I was still moving, and even worse, picking up speed. As I quickly approached a rock slightly on the side of the trail, I readied my legs and braced for impact. With a grunt and a sudden stop, I had successfully stopped my descent. Grateful, I took a deep breath and realized this was going to be way more dangerous than the steep ascents. We had to self arrest all our falls on a rock strewn trail without ice axes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love adventure and the thrill of doing exciting outdoor challenges, but this was

Slippery, exposed ice

becoming serious. A wrong fall, a missed self-arrest, a slip off the trail could quickly result in serious injuries. The gravity of the situation began to weigh heavily upon us.

On the summit of Twin mountain (the ascent of Twin was very similar to Indian Head; see last post), we decided to take a look at the map and see how much longer we had ahead of us. After some quick calculations it turned out the ascent and summit of Twin took longer than we imagined. In the last two hours we had barely gone one mile. To arrive at Mink Hollow lean-to we still had three miles to go. It was already approaching late afternoon and within a couple hours the sun would begin to set, and the temperature drop. Descending and ascending these icy slopes would not be easy, or any safer in the cold dark.

We weighed out all the options. Three miles wasn’t that far. Twin’s summit is around 3600 ft (1097m). Sugarloaf, our next objective rises to about 3800 ft (1158m). The ravine between them drops to below 3000 ft (914m). Finally, the lean-to at Mink Hollow, goes down a couple hundred feet from Sugarloaf’s summit. So over the course of three miles we had to descend 600 feet, ascend 800, traverse the ridge to he summit and then descend a couple hundred feet. At the pace of our ascents and the dangerous speed we could pick up on our descents it seemed like a bad idea to continue. Yet, we were indecisive because the mileage didn’t seem that much – what’s three miles? We knew we had to go somewhere because we would have been really uncomfortable sleeping on the summit of Twin (as well as broken a few laws). I looked closely at the map and noticed something that I hadn’t seen before. I pointed it out to Paul. Just past the summit of Twin mountain was a little dot with the word “cave” next to it. I told him let’s start going down, check out the cave and come to a better decision. After a couple sketchy slides and a squeeze through a small rock passage, we found the cave. Small, but with rocks on all sides and a 12+ ft overhanging rock to protect us from rain, wind and snow. We discussed it all over again, and checked the time.

After the cave we took a right on PN (Blue)

5pm. The sun was going to set any minute now and, reluctantly, we admitted we were done with day 1. Cold, tired and wet, we huddled in the back corner of the cave, the rocks already covered in a layer of thin ice crystals. It reminded me vaguely of Cory Richards‘ tent in his award-winning movie, “Cold”.

We tried making a fire. Even the dry wood left over from previous campers was covered in ice and wouldn’t light. By 7:30pm we were in our sleeping bags trying to stay warm. Paul described the situation best, “Now that I know my sleeping bag is keeping me warm, I’ll be comfortable. I think it was the anticipation of being cold and waiting out the night that made me uncomfortable. I didn’t think I’d have a chance to sleep.”

Luckily, we did fall asleep. All night. Despite getting kicked in the head once by Paul and the normal waking-up-to-adjust-your-position, we slept relatively well. Even enough to discuss our dreams that we remembered. Ironically, I dreamed about being in a warm, desert-like country. When I awoke, it was still just a dream.

Ontem foi um dia bem proveitoso, na real esse carnaval anda sendo bem proveitoso. Talvez não esteja tendo muita festa, cerveja e música alta mas se o lado que estamos focando é esse projeto, então eu diria que esse carnaval está sendo MAIS que DEMAIS.

Eu e o Ben voltamos com força total à academia e agora tentamos seguir as regras da nutricionista. Temos que comer de três em três horas, não consumir laticínio e ingerir legumes, leguminosas, cereais, proteinas, folhas… Por aí vai.

O cardápio do feriado foi bem variado com café da manhã como esses : suco de acerola com laranja, pão com manteiga e banana ; ovo pochê com torradas integrais, suco de acerola e banana com linhaça e mel. Jantares: Suco de cupuaçu, sanduíche de pão integral com tomate, atum, cebola e ervilha; Filet de carne com arroz integral e salada de tomate e cebola. Nos lanches frutas, castanhas, açaí, sucos e damascos.

Hoje para economizar e também para ter mais opções de frutas desidratadas e castanhas fomos ao Mercadão, lugar que me encanta e que nós sempre vamos, seja para comprar queijos (coisa que estamos proibidos no momento), seja simplesmente para passear. Em uma banca só compramos castanha do pará, nozes, amendoas, tomate-seco, azeitonas chilenas, um mix de frutas secas e damascos. Quando chegou nosso horário de almoço, paramos na padaria e comemos um sanduíche de berinjela a camponata HUMMMM uma delícia.

De mochila cheia era hora de continuar a maratona saudável. Saímos de lá e fomos direto para a Casa de Pedra, pegamos uma chuvinha na caminhada do metro mas nada que nos deteve, chegando lá vamos brincar de escalar, porque agora a diversão é pura, escalar é um brincar que nos exige concentração e destreza. Dessa vez pra treinar agilidade escolhíamos vias e cronometrávamos, cada um tinha 5 minutos para subir, descobrimos que 5 minutos é muito tempo, na maioria das vias fazíamos em 3 minutos. Fomos dificultando um poquinho e ainda assim conseguíamos. Até que a via verde que tem um pedaço de teto nos tomou menos de 5 minutos, mas não pra subir e sim para nos mostrar que ainda não é a hora de conseguirmos ela… Mas tudo bem vamos continuar tentando e quando conseguirmos certeza que contaremos aqui.

Devils Path, Part 1: Ascents

Posted: February 19, 2012 by None Smith in English, Training
Tags: , , ,

We were excited for the adventure that lay ahead of us as the taxi drove away from the the Devil’s Path trail head at Prediger Road in Platte Clove/Elka Park. After leaving our car at the end point of the Devil’s Path on Spruceton road in West Kill this was the opposite of the point of no return – it was the point of complete return. At 12pm we picked up our packs, didn’t leave a trace of our presence at the trail head and away we went towards our first summit, Indian Head mountain.

The trail started out a little above 2,000 feet (approx) and had no snow on the ground. It was mostly

Trailhead signs at Prediger Road

flat. Spirits were up and we reached the first trail intersection (blue and red) with such speed, we figured this was going to be a breeze. Despite the New York Times article and the hype, we figured, “It’s the Catskills, all under 4000 feet and it’s been a warm winter – we got this.” We planned on reaching the Mink Hollow lean-to, 9 miles away, for our first shelter. We ended up only making it half way there.

The snow slowly increased, but to no more than 2 inches maximum. There were patches of ice, but nothing to worry about. The trail, heading south, met up with an old dirt road and we turned west to head up the ridge. According to the trail guide I found on cnyhiking.com, we had three steep ascents (with three view points) before reaching the summit. It was on the first steep ascent that we got a taste of what we were in for for the next 2 miles.

Ice. Pure, smooth, silky, ice. Hide that ice under 2 inches of snow with inclines of 40-50 degrees (sometimes more!) and you’ve got a treacherous path where every step can cause a slip. The three ascents left us sweating, breathless, and covered head-to-toe in snow. We didn’t have ice gear (ice axe, crampons, rope) as our preparations and research left us with the impression that ice wouldn’t be a problem (or non-existent). On one particular ascent, the ice-covered rocks became near vertical. We relied on protruding rocks and roots for handholds and carefully placed our feet to maneuver our way up the cliff. We would go one at a time, as if on belay, and advise the other on the best route.

We were quickly learning not to underestimate these unassuming mountains and hills of upstate New York. Our margin of safety was getting smaller as we realized a sprained ankle or twisted knee would mean trouble.

Half way up, as I was standing on a precariously small rock shelf, one hand on an uneasy root, the other hand searching upwards for a suitable hold, our taxi driver’s voice rang in my head. “You guys have cleats or crampons, right? I hear it’s icy up there.” Locals always know best.

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve really been pushing myself while climbing in the gym. Most mornings I have been waking up with “fat” hands and hurt joints – some fingers hurting more than others. From what I’ve heard and read about, there’s a good chance my tendons are getting stressed and my

An Icy Climb

calluses are building up on my skin. The physical feeling has come with a profound sense of satisfaction, feeling actual changes as my climbing ability improves. On that ice-strewn precipice, the feeling quickly slid away. The cold snowy tree branches and rocks were getting through my gloves and chilling my hands. My already sore tendons and muscles were contracting under my skin and each grip on a tree root cramped the muscle under my thumb. The ascents, on top of being dangerous, were becoming painful.

As I ascended another rocky outcrop, I hung to the right of the trail as it provided trees to hold on to for a ways up. The left side contained only icy rocks with steep drops and little to no hand holds. Just like that, the Devil’s Path toyed with us and the trail switched on itself. I was now standing in front of rock ledges full of ice and no places for my hands and the trees and hand holds were on the left hand side. Behind me, a 4 foot drop to the ledge below. With another small ledge below it, along with another below that. If I fell, there’s a good chance I would keep sliding. Looking up the trail, I was left with little choices. I had to get to the left hand side where there was better snow and something to hold on to. I placed one foot out into the middle of the trail. It seemed stable. I readied my stance and began to move my body weight on to my left foot. I saw the tree I intended to grab.

I stepped out onto the trail, planted my right foot and tried to grab the tree as steadily as possible. As with any other fall we experienced, it was surprising and uncontrolled. Both my feet went out from under me. Before I could fall any further my fingertips wrapped around the base of a small pine tree. I scrambled my way into a semi-steady position and slowly made my way up to solid snow.

Finally, we reached the summit of Indian Head mountain. We approached a ledge that provided an expansive view but around 10 feet from the ledge, Paul slipped. Flat on his back after yet another uncontrolled fall, we decided to stay away from getting close to any ledge – no matter what view it afforded.

On the summit we followed a narrow trail full of short evergreen trees. With snow everywhere it was

Bobcat Track; enlarge for detail

truly a magnificent sight. To add to our appreciation that thus far nothing serious had happened we began to notice a consistent set of foot prints. After close inspection, Paul, extremely knowledgeable in wildlife, gasped in surprise at what we had found. With four pads and no claws they were definitively cat tracks. The only wild cat that lives in the Catskills area at this elevation is the North American Bobcat. Since it had snowed earlier in the day, and the tracks were clear in the snow, it was obvious that the cat was here very recently. We were elated at our find and picked up our pace to hopefully get a glimpse of this solitary creature.

The ascent of Twin mountain provided much of the same difficulties Indian Head gave us. We had already learned the important lesson – never underestimate inclines and never underestimate the winter months. They can provide surprises at every turn. The devil of this path truly was a wily one.

For the technical: without ice, I would consider the steep ascents class 4 – with ice, WI1.

In the next post on the Devil’s Path I’ll describe the even more dangerous descents down Indian head and Twin mountain

Carnaval time in Brazil is a period of four days or so of pretty much constant partying and drinking in the streets. The country pretty much shuts down, with the better-known Carnaval parties in cities like Rio, Salvador, Olinda attracting millions of tourists. I went to Rio last year, not to the Sambodromo where the massively multi-coloured televised parade spectaculars go through, but to one of the “blocos” of the street Carnaval where there were just thousands of people dancing away to a band playing samba and various types of music at the head, leading us all on our merry way through the roads.  Away from these Carnaval hubs, there are also plenty of smaller but still fantastically traditional parties in the streets of other towns which maybe not so well-known for foreign tourists, but are still renowned for the colours and creativity of the peoples.

We are in São Paulo where there are still pretty impressive competitions between samba schools at the local Sambodromo. However, the city is not as famous for Carnaval as Rio for a good reason. The street Carnaval can be described as lacking a lot of the flare that its neighbouring city holds, and it is widely accepted that the city becomes much quieter during the period with the majority of people fleeing from the place to go to carnaval in the country towns or to the beach to relax. The city itself never really ceases to be the massive grey metropolis that it really is. The highways leaving the city transform from constantly busy to ridiculously overcrowded by 4pm on Friday afternoon and the one hour trip to the coastal region can transform to a 6-8 hour epic. A couple of colleagues went to Rio, but decided to drive or get the bus at around 1am to try to avoid the worst of it all. Hopefully they made it with not too much delay.

Not that I am complaining about São Paulo (too much) or that I would rather be in Rio where things are slightly more animated… but we are here with lots of things to do and we want and have to do them! After three days, we were back to the climbing wall yesterday, and it was good to be back, and we will be back again today. Am feeling slightly bad about those three days away from the place, though each day missed was unavoidable: the first night and I met with a couple of old colleagues to discuss the project and how it is going to happen with sponsorship and media etc; the second we met our nutritionist; and then on the third night a good friend (and now former colleague) had his leaving do, and it wasn’t something I wanted to miss considering I had missed lots of other nights out due to this project and this would probably be the last time for a very long time. We do need, however, to make up for the time missed…

…And the time that will be missed from our physical preparations in the future: We should hopefully have our first newspaper interview coming up soon – hopefully the first of many, which will also take time; then there is the small matter of sponsorship and having all the meetings with potential sponsors (got a short list of 400 companies or so, which we would like to expand a bit further..!), as well as time that will need to be spent organizing the logistics of this project.

When we said to friends that we were staying in São Paulo for this time, they looked at us as if we were slightly crazy party-poopers. However, not enjoying carnaval as we might have done otherwise is ultimately a small sacrifice and is worth it in every way imaginable: I know I won’t be regretting in a couple of years time when we leave São Paulo about the time that we are spending on this project instead of doing things like this. As I commented on in a previous article, this is a full-time job.

A little of what we are missing in the Rio street carnaval:

A little tired...