Sunday, December 21, 2008

Skiing into 2009

In the past month I have spent 20 days on my skis. Some days were definitely better than others, with conditions ranging from bony to frigid to plentiful powder. My previous life as a rock climber feels like a dream, and my biceps are shrinking steadily while my thighs expand. It's an annual thing for me, this migration of bulk south from my shoulders and arms to my legs and ass as my activities shift from clinging to rock faces to plowing uphill and down through unimaginably deep snow. Come spring, all that hard earned leg muscle will have to repeat the journey, this time against the pull of gravity, back up to my arms so I can cling to tufas in Spain.

The month began at Mustang Powder, a plush snowcat skiing operation in the Monashee Mountains of BC where the ACMG mechanized ski guide training was being held. Myself and 23 other candidates were educated on such topics as proper powder skiing hand placement, correct intonation while saying "follow me", swooping in and rescuing clients from near death on precarious cliffs, instructing clients to spoon their tracks no more than 17.5 cm apart and how to drink from shot glasses glued to a ski without getting unsightly alcohol dribbles on your lodge wear. As it turned out, the skiing was pretty terrible what with a seriously shallow snowpack and wacky temperature changes, luckily the lodgings were comfortable, the food was great and the company was FIRST CLASS.

Here are some photos from my ACMG experience:

I might not be the slickest ski in the snowcat,
but even I know a helicopter isn't supposed to land like this!

Chris clicking in while our transport heads to the pickup

On the ridge with the valley fog creeping in.s
The girl candidates Erika, Me, Veronika, and Erica participating in some non-ACMG sanctioned good times, flanked by a few of our gracious hosts at Mustang Lodge.

All I can say is that the dark sunglasses are not because it is bright out.
The whole ACMG crew and Boris the powder hound pose down on the final morning.

When my head finally stopped pounding I decided to head out skiing at my family's ski touring lodge in the Valhalla Mountains ( with my husband Evan and his clients Richard and Kathy from Seattle. The snow was decidedly better, the only challenge was staying warm in the major artic outflow conditions that brought -25 celcius temperatures.

Evan touring with Big Sister Mt. in the background

Sun and snow, what could be better! Too bad my feet are bricks of ice!

Kathy, Evan and Benny taking in the views at the Rugged-Big Sister Col

Finally, I have made a goal to put together some video clips periodically so I improve my editing skills. Here is my first effort using clips from the past month.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

November in Squamish

I spent the past few weeks enjoying all the things Squamish has to offer in the month of November. Ok ok, I know, this part of the world isn't exactly known as a great place to be in November. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Seasonal Affective Disorder :-( was invented here. That said, I have been managing to get out and do all kinds of cool things despite the dank air, rainy skies and short days.

I have been getting our for tons of cool runs and hikes with my dog. I have even tried to get out on my skis a bit, although we really need another few big dumps before it is really practical to go ski touring. I went to the Squamish River in Brackendale to check out the bald eagles, seals and all manner of ducks and sea gulls feasting on dead salmon. I even got out for a few brief outdoor bouldering sessions in the Apron Talus.

Here are a few snapshots and video clips from my staycation over the past few weeks:

Yum yum, rotting salmon

"Would you please take my ass off this leash so I can go eat some rotten fish?"

Evan and Benny flailing around in the brush below the Anniversary Glacier

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Road Weary Traveller

Being on the road is so great. Life is distilled down to the simplest tasks and I find myself pulled into an entirely different rhythm than I follow at home. I am awake at dawn or slightly before. I get up, pull on some clothes - whatever is handy and bunched at a ball by my pillow, more than likely exactly what I wore the day before - and crawl out of the tent. I give Benny a scoop of food and pee behind a juniper tree. Rummaging through the food bin in the truck I find the coffee, the cereal and I hunch down over the stove in the sand, making coffee. It is not what I am doing which is very remarkable or different from "home life", it is what I am NOT doing. I am not washing my face, brushing my hair, carefully picking out clothes, changing my underwear (OK OK, I don't entirely abandon this sanitary practice, it is just relegated to a less than diurnal occurrence), looking in a mirror, eating at a table, using running water, flushing a toilet, making the bed, taking out the garbage, getting ready for work. When on a road trip, it's as if I am taking a scalpel to my life and scraping away all the fluff, leaving behind the sinew, muscle and bone of eating, sleeping, playing and the barest minimum of chores and menial tasks. You will note that I have lumped 'going to work' in with the 'fluff' which shows my firm belief that if you don't want much, you don't need to work much. Unfortunately I am a bit past this point with a car, a dog, a mortgage, a student loan and all the fabulous trappings that keep me grinding out the work days (actually I really love my job and would be lost without it).

After the month that has passed since my last post I have climbed, drove, hiked, played with my dog, slept in a tent, slept in a truck, and crisscrossed five states and one province. It's crazy, but already, only a few days after being home it has all blended into one blurry memory. As far as climbing trips go, it was a pretty good one. I climbed quite a few new things (routes I hadn't done before), I got to read a bunch of great books, I took my dog on some beautiful hikes, I got to climb with some fabulous female partners and I got to spend a ton of great time with my husband Evan after a busy guiding season.

The crazy thing is, by the end of the trip, I was craving home so strongly that I didn't even really care what I climbed. Getting back to my own luxurious pocket of space in the universe was what I wanted more than ticking a route or struggling my way up a multipitch. Now that I am back here in Squamish in the rain I ask myself if I am crazy to have wanted to be back here. But the bottom line is, it just feels good! I have no shortage of things to do here, between training for my ski guide program by running, tuning up my beacon and crevasse rescue skills, and trying to get out on my skis before my guide training (and somewhat of an ACMG pre-test) begins on November 28. I also have yet ANOTHER iteration of my thesis to format which involves scanning through a 180 page document looking for spacing and heading mistakes. Attending yoga classes is also high on the list. Since I started doing yoga a few years ago, I have found it makes me feel SO GOOD to do regularly, but I fall out of practice periodically and going to classes makes me inspired to continue. Finally, some indoor training is in order for me. My power and strength slowly dwindled away this fall and I am psyched to train, possibly at the Squamish Bouldering Co-op if I can justify the steep membership fee.

Finally, some photos from my trip. You will notice there are hardly any. That's because my camera stayed in it's safe place under the seat in the truck for most of the trip. At least it didn't get any sand in it.

Me on Freerider
Chillin' at the Alcove on El Cap
Evan pre stomach flu at the Alcove on

Starting up the West Face of El Cap on a frigid day
(we had to bail cause we couldn't feel our fingies and toes)

On Beggar's Buttress

Emily Stiffler posing on Beggars Buttress

Benny getting busted inside the tent

Evan cuddling Benny while Benny winks at me

Indian Creek sunset from our campsite

Sunset at Indian Creek

Sunrise at Indian Creek

Evan basking in the sunrise on one of our early start mornings to beat the heat on our projs

Sunrise over Reservoir Wall

Friday, October 17, 2008

Road Trip Update - Yosemite

I am sitting in a comfortable antique lounge chair in the beautiful and elegant Ahwahnee Lodge. Someone is playing a grand piano so beautifully that I had to interrupt my trashy TV rest day indulgence via the free wireless here, pull off my headphones and reflect on what's happened in the several weeks since I left Squamish.

First and foremost, I've lost a lot of skin. There are those who claim that if you are a good crack climber that you won't damage your skin. If that's true than I need some serious technique lessons because I am scraped, bruised and scratched from my neck (gear sling chaffing) to my toes (from wearing rock shoes on multipitches for hours on end). Had many adventures since I've been here, and climbed some great routes. Freeblast, The Rostrum, the first 1/3 of the Nose, Hotline, as well as some amazing cragging including Fish Crack, Crimson Cringe, Separate Reality, Tales of Power. No great sends to speak of, but after a few weeks of steady climbing my fitness feels back up to midsummer levels.

As I was waiting in the lineup in front of the Camp 4 kiosk this morning to renew my site (a several hour endevour in the early AM chill) a climber who was leaving offered up his bike for free. It's a beat up 10 speed with only one speed working, seriously sketchy brakes and is really big for me. But I am currently carless because my husband Evan has taken our truck and left me here to climb while he attends the American Mountain Guides Association Annual Meetings in Bend, Oregon (he's on the Board of Directors). So... today was spent cruising around on the free bike. My rest day errands have taken me around at least 10 miles of road back and forth between Camp 4, the showers at Curry Village, the laundry at Housekeeping Camp, the Village Store, the clean bathrooms at Yosemite Lodge (with warm running water and taps that stay on!). Yes, the simple life is feeling pretty good these days.

No photos because I left my camera in my tent, but will post some next time. Until then, wish me fresh skin cells and a dose of Yosemite courage!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

ACMG ski guide program Part 1 - Alpine Skills Course

My Squamish rock season has pretty much wrapped up. I managed to complete one more of my summer's goals by nabbing what is likely the first female ascent of Leviticus, a 5.12d trad pitch located practically on top of Hwy 99. I am not sad to be done with that noisy climbing zone.

A big part of the next six months for me will be my journey through the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides ( ski guide program. There will be three training segments and an exam, and you can expect to find a post on each of them in addition to my other mishaps and shenanigans here.

The first training segment took place at the Kain Hut in Bugaboo Provincial Park last week. Topics included all kinds of ropework, glacier travel, crevasse rescue and improvised harnesses.

Chris Goliaff modelling his well proportioned improvised harness

If you want to look like a true guide, you need to be grouchy, wrinkly and carrying a mountaineer's coil

The weather started off beautiful, with golden larch trees dotting the landscape and offering a beautiful contrast to the shades of white, grey and blue cast by the snow, granite, sky and glacial ice.

Snowpatch and Bugaboo in fall glory

Marmolata and tumbling glaciers

Next phase of my fall is a 6 week US road trip through Yosemite, Indian Creek and Red Rocks. YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Lily the wonder dog

Lily is a Chesapeake Bay Retriever who is on her last legs and probably won't make it to another winter. She has been a part of my family since I was sixteen and I have spent countless days on the snow in the Valhalla Mountains skiing with Lily. Lily has numerous traits that make her such a great ski dog: she loves powder, she has seemingly limitless energy, and when the snow's too deep, she'll head down the uptrack and meet you at the bottom of the run. Lily's affectionate nature made her the center of attention with guests at my family's backcountry lodge (

Here are a few photos to help you appreciate Lily courtesy of Whit Richardson:

As I write this, my new dog Benny is sleeping under the table with his head resting on my feet. Benny has REALLY REALLY big shoes to fill.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Summing up summer

A mid-summer whirlwind of work wrapped up with an amazing day of guiding on the Chief. On August 7 I guided two women whom have only been climbing a few years up the Squamish Buttress via Diedre (a 12 pitch 5.10c route up the Squamish Chief). This would be a proud feat in its own, but is made truly inspiring by the fact that the climb was in celebration of one of the women's 70th birthday! Both women have fabulous determination and climbed well and maintained their spirits right until the last slabby moves onto the summit of the Chief, where their husbands were waiting with champagne and smiles.

Sandy the 70 year old dynamo climbing the Squamish Buttress

Susan and Sandy enjoying a few sips of well-earned champagne on the summit

The next adventure of the summer was some sorely needed personal climbing time in the Bugaboos with Mandoline Clark. Numerous obstacles tried to impede us from getting there, including a night at the worst bivy spot in BC (imagine a train track sandwich with you as the filling), a broken down truck (we abandoned it on the road and hitch-hiked, got a ride with the nicest Spaniards wearing the shortest shorts I have ever seen on a man) and pouring rain at the trailhead. After the gruelling approach to Applebee Camp with backbreaking packs, we arrived just before dark to a huge crew of friends who fed us food and booze and immediately we were PSYCHED.

Our first day dawned crystal clear and hot, so we decided to work the kinks out of our travel weary muscles on Energy Crisis, a 2 pitch 5.11+ route on Cresent Spire near camp. We sent that and foolishly decided to simulclimb up McTech Arete, despite the ominous black thunderheads looming overhead. BAD IDEA. Shortly after reaching the last station the wind began to wail, rain began to fall, and we began frantically to rappel. To make a long story short we got pummeled by the biggest hail stones I have ever witnessed for about 2o minutes. At one point I was alone at an anchor and couldn't move due to the sheer volume of hail raining down on me. By the time we got to the ground there were 3 m high piles of hail at the base of the wall and peoples ropes were frozen into them. I was truly hypothermic and soaked to the skin, so I had to strip down in front of various random people to get a dry layer on. There's nothing more humiliating than trying to wriggle dry clothes onto wet skin when you are shivering uncontrollably and blue all over. Only one day into the trip and a dozen climbers in the Bugaboos had seen my boobs... great start to the trip! To add insult to injury, we got back to camp to discover our tent had been blown away in the storm. Luckily for us some climbers saw it getting away and put heavy rocks on it for us, but not before it sustained serious damage. The large tears in it did not help the situation when it rained and snowed for the next two days. Most of our friends left to dry out in Golden, but we decided to tough it out and wait for the good weather that we just had to believe was on its way.

Muscly Mandoline unconsciously getting ready for the hail

"Yay, this whole alpine thing is awesome.. ha ha ha ha (sucker)"

"It might be raining and all our stuff might be wet, but we're still here!"

Our tent, before it was blown off the mountain and torn to shreds

A CMH heli looking for a lost climber (who was located safe and sound in the Radium Hotsprings!)

The rest of the Bugaboos trip was pretty chill in comparison to that first day. We climbed some beautiful routes including The Power of Lard and Sunshine Crack on Snowpatch Spire, and had a fun day of soloing around on the West Ridge of Pigeon and the Kain Route on Bugaboo Spire. Our buddy Jon Walsh ( shot a cool pic of me leading the last pitch on Sunshine Crack (IV 5.11a)

Sunshine Crack - Jon Walsh photo

The posse - Jon Walsh photo

My camera battery died on day three of the trip so that's all for Bugaboos images. Pretty amazing place, I am excited to head back in September for my ACMG ski guide glacier skills training week.

The second phase of my summer vacation was spent in the Slocan Valley visiting my Mum and sister Nyree. We did some climbing in the Valhallas and some mountain biking out of New Denver. My sister is a biking machine and I almost died trying to keep up with her... my only hope was to get her telling me stories about how many billions of trees she has planted (she works as a tree planter). We also did some really great runs in the rain and even had a survivor style adventure where a landslide blocked the highway when we were out getting groceries and we ended up running 10 km in the pissing rain on a muddy, bear shit covered trail to get home. Sometimes I feel like I have gotten to be such a city girl since I left the Kootenays! It was great to spend time with family and help my Mum out with here bakery business... yum yum. Nothing like coming out of the mountains to a garden full of all kinds of ripe goodies and two women who really know how to cook amazing food. Following are a few snapshots of some of my Mum and sister's delicacies.

Rustic apple tarts

Festival of sushi


Nyree making pesto

Mum making apple tarts

The final adventure to report is the new addition into Evan and I's family. No, it's not what you think, I have not caught the 'Squamish flu' that is spreading like wild fire through the women of Squamish. No babies for me. My Mum adopted a puppy from some neighbors and offered him to us. If you meet him you will understand why we will never, ever give him back. He does great at the crag, is really friendly and even exceeds Evan in his ability to laze around for hours. I named him Benny, after my friend Ben Demenech who taught me a ton about climbing and tragically died in the spring of 2001.


Well that's all that's fit to post, and then some.