Posts Tagged ‘preparation’

And very nearly did last night.

Not to us on this occasion, but we were quite close to the scene: basically a girl next to us who was belaying (securing the rope for her partner who was climbing up) had not secured the belaying device to her safety harness properly and it slipped out when her partner was close to the top. At the time this happened, fortunately the guy was firmly secured with his hands and legs on the wall, but had he not been, there would have been a nasty ten metre fall awaiting him that would have caused serious injury at the least. The monitors seeing what had happened rushed over to secure the rope and connect it to one of their own harnesses so the climber could come down safely.

Dan Osman - at the limit

A while ago, back in 1998, a massively experienced climber, Dan Osman, fell to his death whilst performing “controlled jumps” which led to the ropes snapping. In spite of all his experience, perhaps his self-confidence got the better of him, and he used equipment that had been exposed to the elements for months.

Accidents can happen. I have had a couple of small things happen to me – one stupid: climbing up one wall, I lifted my hand up quite quickly and caught it on a “rock” on the wall; still hurts now, five days after it happened. The other time was not really my fault: a “rock” was slightly loose and turned suddenly under the weight of my foot which was taking all my weight when I was traversing along at the bottom of the wall – almost got a groin strain but fortunately was okay. Much worse things that are out of our control can happen outside of the safety of the gym. Climbers have been killed in avalanches and in severe weather after conditions changed on their mountain in the blink of an eye.

Climbing, if everything is done properly, is pretty safe. Incidents like what happened to the girl and her partner; what happened to my finger and what happened to Dan Osman can certainly be avoided (otherwise us climbers would (literally) be dropping like flies!): We must always be aware of exactly what is happening to ourselves and with our colleagues. We should be calm and steady in our movements to avoid breaking any of our own bones…! We must be careful with all of our equipment to make sure everything is set up properly before taking steps forward into potentially dangerous situations even a few metres off the ground. We must always take care of and maintain the equipment itself.

Things can always happen that are beyond our control. The weather might close in on us in the worst of places. All we can do is try to be prepared for even the worst and minimise these risks. Waiting for avalanches to happen before attempting an ascent; ALWAYS looking at the weather and being prepared for the harshest of conditions. The risks of “rocks” turning around (rocks come loose on the mountain, that’s for sure) can also be reduced: looking and feeling the lay of everywhere we place our hands our feet. Is it secure and stable?? Does it feel loose? Can we move somewhere better?

Always maintaining a distinct sense of … not fear, but awareness of the possibilities… can be a real life saver. After all, no matter how many mountains we climb, we are far from invincible.

A happy patient!

In the larger scale of American emergency medicine, First Responders are quite low on the totem pole. Here in the United States, the general order from least trained to most is: First Aid, First responder, Emergency Medical Technician – which is then divided into EMT-B (basic) and EMT-I (intermediate). Above that you have your Paramedics, Medical Directors etc. Learning any type of emergency medicine however is a crash course in seeing the world differently. Cuts, wounds, a broken leg, how people injure themselves; it all takes on new life. Instead of seeing an accident and saying “Oh My Gosh!” you begin to say, “Cool. How can I help?”

Wrapping a hypothermic patient

Wrapping a hypothermic patient

Wilderness Medical Associates hosted a fantastic 8-day class at an Outward Bound house in northern Philadelphia, PA. The two instructors, Brian and Carl, were a plethora of information and balanced each others personalities quite well. Plus, we learned a thing or two about how to save someone’s life.

For eight days we ate, drank, slept, breathed and literally lived in a world of Wilderness Emergency Medicine. Breakfast at 8, with everyone in the class, class from 8:30 until 6pm, then dinner (again with everyone) and then study time. Study time was going back to our seats in the class room, discussing what we learned, asking questions, and throwing ideas around about different scenarios. During the day we learned the technical aspects and applications to treating and figuring out various symptoms. At night we discussed situations and how these technical aspects would apply. We began to get creative. We began to contemplate wilder and stranger situations. We learned some pretty important lessons through it.

The first: Medicine is always changing and there is no ‘never’ and ‘always’. What might work for someone, might not work for someone else. That being said, not every question has a permanent answer. The answer may change with the context.

With that, we learned about questions that cannot be answered or are unexpected. It was presented in this way.

Instructor: “If you hear hooves running behind you, when you turn around, what do you expect to see?”

Class: “A horse.”

Instructor: “Nope, it’s a zebra.”

Basically saying that not all questions will give you the answer you expect. We had a lot of “zebra questions” throughout our class.

In the end, we learned our 6 protocols for what we’ve been trained to do, and how to do it well. We learned how to deliver certain medications for pain, anaphylaxis and asthma. Spine day seemed to have made quite an impression on me as I had a dream last night that someone got into a fight and I had to “clear” his spine to make sure there were no injuries to the spinal cord.

For anyone that goes on hikes, works outside, has kids or simply is interested in emergency medicine, there is no better company than Wilderness Medical Associates. Everyday we learned something new, the instructors were honest about their knowledge base, and they took all of our questions seriously – including the zebras.

Now it’s up to us to review the information in months to come and make sure it’s fresh in my head. Unfortunately, as with many things, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

I’ll end this post with some quotes I wrote down in my notebook from the instructors. Whether odd, useful, or funny – they all have their place!

“As long as we’re eating and breathing, peeing and pooping; life is good.”

“Despite all our best efforts, good intentions and right decisions, some people just die.”

“Everybody gets one free puke. After that, it’s serious.”

“Repeat after me, ‘I will never, ever, ever, give anyone, insulin. Ever.’ It can kill even the most healthy person.”

“If you learn anything from CPR, remember one thing: Pump Hard, Pump Fast.”

“Treat what you see, do what makes sense.”

“A lot of what we’re teaching you isn’t only for being out in the wilderness. It’s just good medicine.”

“At the same temperature, water takes heat away from our bodies 25 times faster than air.”

And Lastly, one of the more important things our instructors said. It applies to just about any situation whether you’re in emergency medicine, corporate management or making life decisions.

“Do the best you can with what you got.”

Almost every day, the team members are training general climbing skills at the climbing wall at the gym, and they are frequently going out to locations in the countryside in Brazil and the United States to practice in the natural environment. Norm has just got back from climbing at the Gunks, Natalia and I will be going to Salesopolis tomorrow and have also been to places like Pedra Grande to develop our skills.

Rock climbing, rather than depending completely on muscular force, is extremely technical: knowing how to use your feet and leg muscles especially so you stay balanced and don’t tire yourself out by depending on your arm muscles is quite a skill to learn (this is not to say that we don’t use these muscles – far from it!). It sounds obvious when you say it, but the legs can, and do continually, hold much more weight than your arms for much longer periods – we just don’t think about it. And your feet, being the base of your legs are, ultimately, the base of everything.

One of the skills when starting out climbing is learning how to depend on your legs and feet in a much more precise fashion – and is something that Natalia and I at least are really having to concentrate on. Every day we just step back and forth without really thinking about it – but with climbing, we need to really think about where to put our feet so we stay balanced with our weight on the toes. Even the tiniest of nooks in the rock is a potential place to put a foot; the point of our large toes taking our weight – almost like ballet dancers! With two feet firmly in place like this, the body can stay balanced with just one hand (or even finger) securing the tiniest of points in the rock (making triangle-like shape with these three points of the body), spending very little energy, so we can continue onwards and upwards for much longer. It is funny that rock climbers probably end up spending more time looking down to their feet rather than up.

Rock climbing skills are integral to the 360 Extremes Expedition – the skills developed here will be integral for when we go through some of the largest canyons in the world. Also the skills are transferable to mountaineering which, whilst obviously different being in icy conditions and depending on equipment like crampons and ice axes, will also need similar body movements and basic skills. Skills such as balance and simply looking carefully where to tread will be of incredible importance as we go over difficult terrain in harsh conditions. Furthermore, one of the most important aspects of climbing is the psychological aspect: climbing encourages a massively positive way of thinking in that we are pushing ourselves to the top and we know that we can do it; problem solving when it is not obvious where to go or when one gets into a bit of a difficulty; and team work, as we depend on our team members for our very survival.

Read more news and stories about our rock climbing exploits at the gym and on the rocks.

If you’re picking up where I left off last time, it’s usually here where the conflict in a good novel comes in. “We were good to go…” could be followed by “or so we thought.” But this isn’t a novel, this is real life. It started so serendipitously that Jamie and I pulled into the gym parking lot at almost the same time. He, his dog Kaya and I jumped into his car and off we went for the gunks.

We made it to New Paltz in no time. We arrived and stopped at the local convenience store for a quick sandwich before heading a little further to the main parking lot for the cliffs. As we got out of the car, stuffing our faces with bacon and eggs, the air nipped at our bare faces. We both brought up how much colder it felt than we expected. “Best to get walking, I suppose,” I said to Jamie, thinking that the approach to the cliff would warm us up nicely. Before heading out though, we had a quick look at our gear. We decided to use Jamie’s rack, grabbed the rope, and away we went.

The Gunks are divided into a number of cliffs, the most popular called “The Trapps”. It’s approach is a long, 8 foot wide gravel path called “under cliff road”. Compared to many rock climbing spots, this spacious path is luxurious and therefore can host the most people. It’s almost like an outdoor climbing gym. I’ve not experienced it during the summer and fall months but apparently you can expect to wait in lines at the bottom of the crags, and sometimes waits can be as long as an hour. On a Sunday in early March though, we had the place practically to ourselves. That day, we decided to try out the “Near Trapps” or simply, the “nears”. With a trail more reminiscent of a hiking trail than a grand gravel path, the ‘nears’ is the second most popular climbing cliff in the area. The most remote and least popular is Millbrook.

We reached our first climb. It was a right facing corner called “Eenie Meanie” and had a beautiful orange coloration to its rocks. Gunks ratings can be quite stiff and this one was a 5.6. (See the Wikipedia entry for the Yosemite Decimal System rating system and how it compares to other rating systems.) We looked at the climb for a while, noticing a lot of flakes sticking out of the corner. Jamie led, and as we had suspected, many


of those flakes were hollow sounding and precariously loose. I followed, cleaning the gear and getting some sun on my back. We got up to the first belay station and rapped (rappelled, not sang rhymes) back down to the path. It was an okay climb, but the first belay station was under a washing machine sized rock balanced on smaller rocks. We decided to turn our sights to more classic climbs.

Yum Yum Yab Yum. No, I’m not talking about delicious breakfast sandwiches. YYYY is the name of 5.4 gunks climb that is quickly gaining popularity in the nears. Starting out on an easy slab, it reaches a thick pine tree before going vertical. And oh, for a 5.4, it goes vertical. My first really vertical climb was Horseman’s (5.5) back in December. It was the end of the day, my hands were freezing cold, and the steepness of the climb was still quite intimidating. Getting that vertical this time was just plain fun. A great 5.4 with tons of jugs to hold

Jamie leading the first pitch of YYYY

onto, if you take a minute to turn around, it’s well worth the view. And that’s just pitch one! I can’t imagine what we could have seen from pitch 2 or 3.

From there, we went to meet some of Jamie’s friend’s who were on a “workout wall”. What they meant was they set up a couple of top rope routes so they could work out, not worry about falling, and try some harder climbs. It was coming up on 1 pm at this point and we took the camaraderie of fellow climbers to sit down for a minute and eat lunch. Tuna fish sandwich, some homemade energy bars and coffee from a thermos – out in the wilderness it’s the little things that make life more pleasurable.

As we ate, Jamie looked through the guidebook. We were sitting right in front of a 5.8 called Farewell to Arms. This climb, while 5.8’s are a breeze in the gym, turned out to be a climb with a lot of committing moves and a corner that wants to spit you out. When they say that the ratings on Gunks climbs are “stiff”, they mean it.

Preparing for the Devil’s Path

Posted: February 16, 2012 by None Smith in English, Training
Tags: , , ,

“Well, if we reach the Devil’s Tombstone campground by the end of day one we can definitely do it in two days.” Paul mentioned to me as we discussed the upcoming trip.

Unfortunately, this trip was been up in the air as of a some days ago. Paul (of Tamandua Jungle Expeditions), recently caught a cold of sorts while he was in Nagarhole National Forest in Karnataka, India. As of Saturday, he said it wasn’t going to happen – he was too sick. I had also been depending on him for the car ride to the Catskills from New Jersey. The window of opportunity was closing and I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to attempt my long sought after trail during winter months.

We were planning on leaving on Wednesday. On Monday, I received a phone call as I was eating dinner. “Hey man, I just got a cold-weather sleeping bag from my cousin. I’m feeling a lot better, I think the symptoms are passing. We’re good to go. What do you think, two days?”

With 14,000 feet of elevation gain and loss over the course of 24 miles, I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s going to take us longer than two days. And that’s if it doesn’t snow.

The path was named as such by Dutch explorers. I paraphrase, but from what I’ve read they said, “Only the cloven-footed devil could traverse these mountains to escape the world of men.” So we’re going to try our might at this path.

As Ben and Natalia prepare for their Bolivian Mountaineering training in a couple months, I am doing what I can to keep up with their training and make sure my wits are about me while in the mountains. As I prepare my gear for the Devil’s Path, I think this will prove a worthy challenge and a good training ground for the expedition. We will be donning and doffing our packs at multiple peaks, climbing on hands and knees, pulling on roots and rocks to make our way up the cliffs. None the less, we will be traversing 7 mountains over 3500 feet. We’re expecting a tough challenge and hopefully some exciting surprises.

The trip will be a nice escape from work and suburban life. It’s a chance to finally put my hands on some real rock. It will also be a worthy gauge of a lot of skills that will come in handy on the expedition such as packing, pack weight, food, thermo-regulation, keeping warm, wind protection and more.

Local Maps

For all you gear junkies, here’s the gear I will be bringing. Feel free to critique.

Shelter and Sleeping:

Backpack – The North Face

Marmot Never Summer Sleeping Bag – Rated 0 F

Food and Water, Mmm.

Z-Lite Sleeping Pad

MSR Hubba Hubba 2-Person Tent

Food and Cooking:

MSR Pocket Rocket Stove

GSI Pinnacle Soloist Cooking set

Ramen Noodles

Homeemade GORP

Instant Oatmeal

An old Italian camping recipe that consist of (all raw) Tuna, Roman Beans and Onions with Salt and Pepper. Before you judge, try it – its great trail food with a ton of protein.

Around 5L of water each.


Two pairs of synthetic thermal underwear (tops and bottoms)

A Fleece (or two)

Assortment of Gear

Marmot Bastione Jacket for camp

3 Pairs of Wool Socks

Rain Pants

Outer Synthetic Pants

Merrell Isotherm 8 Winter Boots

Other gear:

Books and Maps



Headlamp (Princeton Tec Apex)

Firestarters and more

Paul will also have a water filter that we will use along the way.

As you read this, we’re probably already on the trail, on our way the Devil’s Tombstone Campground. I’ll be trying to send tweets along the way with updates, but I’m no 100% if I’ll get service. Either way, @normrasmussen and check out where we are!

As an added bonus, my brother-in-law recently got rid of his old Camera, a Canon EOS RebelG – an old SLR. It’s a great knock-around camera and I’m excited to test it out on this trip!

New Camera!

With such a project and journey at hand, it can be difficult to wrap your head around it all. Even in this modern age, where the world is (mostly) mapped out and a major airline can bring you virtually anywhere on the globe, envisioning how this can be completed can be difficult. It sometimes feels like trying to imagine the edge of the universe, the end of infinity. “What do you mean walking across the poles?” my family members asked me after I told them about my recent decision to join the 360Extremes team. Have you ever taken a look at the North Pole on Google Earth? It’s all blue. It’s a massive area of water that is simply covered in frozen ice – there is no land beneath it as there is in Antarctica. Our changing environment also poses a challenge for crossing the North Pole. With the pack ice decreasing in thickness each year, the opportunity to journey across it by foot may not be feasible for our grandchildren.

There is a certain level of mental endurance needed to complete this expedition and it is as important, if not more so, than our physical training and technical knowledge. The expedition will traverse numerous environments and ecosystems. We will need to know at least the basics of mountaineering, climbing, backpacking and back country skills, bicycle touring, and sailing to name a few. Many of these skills will also need to be used in different environments – from summer to winter, rain, snow, diamond dust; desert sands; high winds and more.

Even now as I read through my go to textbook, Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, my head swims with all the knowledge I am trying to absorb. Anyone can learn technical skills. What is going to make the difference for us and really help us get to our final goal is the mental endurance to persevere, keep each other’s morale positive, and keep our wits about us when things don’t go according to plan. So how do you even begin training for this? Hiking is usually my go to for a day adventure or when I need to get away without doing something overly strenuous (Ramapo Mountains and Harriman state park don’t top out much above 1,000ft/304m).

However, for training for this journey, I will be using these hills for extremely long day hikes – hikes that when I get to the trail head in the morning, seem too long to complete in one day. This will force me to think in survival mode and “what ifs” – What if I get stuck in inclement weather, or hurt myself, or don’t move fast enough? Packing for all possible situations is just as necessary on a day hike as it is on a global expedition. Many climbers have died from a day hike or climb that they have done many times before – check this recent story about a New Hampshire climber. This isn’t meant to scare anyone – it is to show how serious preparation and planning is for any outdoor excursion and how seriously we will be taking it.

For those of you up to date with this years winter in the north-east of the United States, it’s been quite mild. About a month ago we had a little snow storm that dumped around 6-7 inches across the hills. The storm started at around 4am. At 7am I was waking up and by 8am I was at the trail head. What was an unplanned hike at first turned into a 7 mile trek during the storm with ever-increasing ground snow.

It was at the 2 mile mark where I made the decision to take a long route that, once started, would be better to push through than turn back. I looked long and hard at my map, wondering if this was a good idea. I then looked down the snow-covered path seeing a mysterious trail with unknowns ahead of me. How long will this take? What time will I make it home? How much snow will be dumped in the next couple of hours? I opened up my pack to check my contents – medical kit, head lamp, extra food and water, and a few extra dry articles of clothing.

I then realized that it’s the mystery, the unknown that makes it exciting.

I came out in a snow storm on purpose because I didn’t know what the trails were going to be like. I took a step forward and began my long trek home. Hours later, the snow became a burden, and going uphill was painful. I was pushing five or so hours of almost non-stop hiking in 6 inches of snow with only my winter boots. As I approached the last mile away the trail head, my mind found excuses to kneel down, or lean against a tree.My rest periods kept increasing in length. I got tired more quickly. I remember a paragraph from a book I read called “War” by Sebastian Junger. (See full New York Times review here). He talks about exhaustion in a war-like setting – places where not only are the elements against you, but other human beings. The mentality of constantly hunting and being hunted. I’ll paraphrase but he relates exhaustion as going down into a valley from a ridge. By the time your mind thinks the body is drained of energy and cannot go on further, you’ve only barely made it off the ridge. In truth, you have so much further to go into the valley before you’ve completely bonked. In essence, it’s all a mind game.

I plan on doing more of these long hikes and hope, as the weather improves, to start doing long cycle tours, working my way up to overnight trips to really get into the habit of land travel, camping and survival. Physically, I hope to not only to gain enough strength to endure these long journey’s but to get my body used to using and consuming that many calories.

Mentally, I hope to realize long journeys are simply made up of smaller parts. Joe Simpson crossed the crevasse field after a long and already strenuous ordeal by breaking the crawl into small portions – x amount of meters here, y amount of meters there. He was severely injured and lived! Surely unhurt people can do the same!

Lastly, I’ve heard great reviews about Arno Ilgner’s “The Rock Warrior’s Way”. Not only are the mental tips and tricks useful for climbers – but for anyone when it comes to overcoming fears and doubts. Next week a friend and I will be heading up to the Catskills in New York State to hike the 24 mile Devil’s Path. Considered one of the hardest hiking trails on the East Coast, I hope the 18,000ft (5486m) of elevation gain and loss will give me an inkling into what alpine conditions are like. It should prove to be a fun, exciting and challenging time as well as good training for the 360Extremes Expedition.

In the mean time, I’d love to hear the community’s take on this – what have you done to train your mind for tough, run-out type conditions?

Yesterday was out first proper climbing session, out in the open at a place called Pedra Bela, about 100km north of São Paulo city. The rock stands out about 60 metres high at the top of a hill in a rather picturesque area, and there is a church on top of it. It is quite popular for both beginner and advanced climbers as there are parts which are only around 70-80 degrees – nice and positive – with plenty of places for hands and feet, as well as vertical climbs with few decent places to get a grip.

Heading out at 7am with a group of about 16 people from the Casa de Pedra climbing gym, we had a beautiful day for it – almost too beautiful, with temperatures of around 35C. We weren’t complaining though as, had it been raining it would have been cancelled, and it has been raining a lot these days in São Paulo.

It was great to be out of the climbing wall! Though it was very different – at the wall, there are plenty of big hand grips and places to put your feet. On the rock, we were clinging to tiny rock tips which were sticking out. Also in the safety of the gym, the “rocks” are not sharp..!  So whilst we would never get dropped on the rock, losing your balance could, and did, lead to lots of cuts, scrapes and bruises across the body!

I think both of us did well. We managed the basic climbs with no problems whatsoever, though when we got to the vertical ones… well these were hard. Natalia has definitely done well in terms of her progress in technical climbing and she managed these quite a bit quicker than me. I am slowly getting better with the technique but still need to work on it – with the last climb I did, I almost cried when I got to the top as it took so long and my legs and hands were hurting with the cuts sustained in loosing balance a couple of times! I need to depend and trust more in my feet and legs as opposed to my hands and arms.

We both, in the end, managed just about all the climbs we tried, though Natalia did one extra climb than myself – I lost a lot of energy with the climbs I did, and my fingers were burning from the cuts. Running out of water at those temperatures was not the best thing either, and there was nowhere around selling anything.

Got back home about 14 hours after we left, so it was a full day. It felt amazingly good to jump into a cold shower at the end, as in spite of a good factor 50 sun cream, we still ended up quite badly burned as well as sweaty and covered in chalk dust for keeping our fingers dry! Certainly slept well last night as well.

All worth the effort, though, and we will be back there soon – plenty more work to do and plenty to learn!

Exciting news in moving this project forward in that we have established a partnership with Mountain Guides International – an Alaskan-based international mountain guides organization and expedition organizer.

We shall be working with them in our training, first of all by going on our first expedition to Bolivia – a 21 day adventure which will start off at La Paz (the highest capital city in the world) and see us have a bit of sight seeing at Tiwanaku and Lake Titicaca, before we go further up in the Andes and climb Pequeno Alpamayo, the 6,088m Huayana Potosi peak, and the 6,438m Illimani mountain – the second highest peak in Bolivia.

The trip will see us learning advanced roping techniques, navigation through crevassed areas as well as helping us really experience in climbing in the cold, high altitude. Looks like it will be a lot of fun and certainly great preparation for the main expedition ahead!

Before we started this project, I had never climbed properly before. Sure, going up the Chinese mountains along the tourist trails was something, but that was walking, not proper climbing. Having been very much afraid of heights ever since I was a child certainly was a contributing factor.

Going up escalators, I prefer to be on the side nearest a wall or where you can’t see down below. Walking over those grids in the street isn’t exactly nice either, and I can’t watch people standing on the edge of the balcony in a theatre; by the edge of a large open window on anything higher than a first floor, or at the top of a high building…Taking work from the top of our office building of the city around us… not nice at all. And, going up the mountains in China on stairs carved into the rock where there were sheer drops to the side: absolutely terrifying!!

Well, it’s something I really do have to get over and am not sure of what other ways to do it apart from what we are doing now which is climbing just about every night of the week. This coming weekend, we will be going to a place called Pedra Bella to go climbing for real in the natural environment – again, it’s another new experience and will lead to lots of new aspects of this project: In about four months or so, we will be going to Bolivia for some proper mountaineering.

I still don’t deal too well with heights – still not the best feeling at the top of the climbing wall looking down even though its only fourteen metres or so. Just thinking that Natalia just needs to lose concentration or the rope snaps, and I start to feel a bit queasy, and am always extremely happy when my feet touch the ground again. Things have certainly got to change for me to get up Everest!!! But slowly and surely am working on it and am determined to make sure it doesn’t stay any problem – at least I can make it to the top of the climbing wall now and next week, Pedra Bella awaits..!