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Climbing, Spray, Death, Life

Date: 21st January 2012

In the last month I’ve been to Europe twice, taken an avalanche course, an ice guiding course, skied the sickest powder ever in Chamonix, climbed a bunch, had sick kids infect me (healed), and just generally been pinned. Stuff tends to start falling off the edges of life when I hit the hyperdrive button, including this blog. But I’m back–there are about ten things I should probably be doing other than writing, but writing is like, well, no analogies suitable for an R-rated blog so moving on.

First, I”m really missing an old friend, Jack Roberts. He took a 60-foot fall while ice climbing¬†Colorado’s Bridalveil Falls, and it didn’t work out. t can’t even remember the first time I climbed with Jack, but it was somewhere in the 80s in Boulder I think. Over the next three decades we’ve kept occasionally climbing together, often seeing each other at festivals and other events, and always catching up. A couple of Bozeman festivals ago we shared a hotel room and drank way too much scotch, I really enjoyed him. Jack had some tragic character flaws, but his essential heart was big, and I’m glad I got to spend some good time with him before he died. Peace to Pam and Jack’s many friends around the world.

Second, Canmore is really missing Carlyle Norman. I did not know her well, but she was part of the climbing and yoga scene around here for years, and I always enjoyed her when I ran into her. She died in Patagonia due primarily to rockfall by the sounds of it. I did my best to help with some communications between her friends and my friends in Patagonia, a big thank you to Rolo Garabotti and his team, as well as Guido and Red Bull (they’re down there filming again) for doing not only the right thing but also a lot more than was humanly expected. I did not expect any less, but it’s always good to see people rise to an occasion when given an opportunity to show their true colours. Thanks to you both, and everyone involved, thank you. In the midst of all the communication I became more invested in the situation. I would unhesitatingly try to help again, but I feel the pain and loss of my friends strongly. It is better to feel this pain than run from it, and any dissonance in my soul is nothing compared to Carlyle’s close friends. Peace to them.

Now it’s going to get a little controversial: In both of the accidents above good communications might have made a difference to if not the outcome then certainly the process and speed of response. Maybe nothing would have made a difference, but risks were taken and decisions made that good communications would have helped resolve faster, or at least reduce risks. I think that if you’re out in the mountains today without a Spot/DeLorme InReach (which was supposed to show up around here for a review two months ago?), satellite phone, appropriate radio or cell phone then, bluntly, you’re making a serious error and being an ass. In today’s world rescuers are going to come for you; if you can give a clear location then they will waste less time finding you, and put themselves at less risk. A Spot declares an emergency and provides a location, a very good start to being rescued efficiently. that. Two climbers were recently rescued off the top of the Goodsirs; I spoke with the guy doing the rescue, a friend of mine, all he knew was a GPS location from the Spot; he flew in, there they were, boom, off the mountain. There are problems with Spots, mainly that the communication isn’t two-way, but as any SAR person will tell you, finding the person quickly is the start of a successful rescue.

A Spot weighs very little, and I don’t generally head into the hills without mine now. But if I do then I’m in an area with good cell service, and keep the phone well charged. If there is no cell service then the choices are a Satellite phone or a radio. Radios take more knowledge to use (repeaters, frequencies, etc etc), but have some strong benefits, mainly on-going communication with the rescuers when they are close. Satellite phones also allow two-way communication, work anywhere (or almost anywhere), and are getting increasingly cheap to buy and operate.

No one tool is perfect, but the ability to declare an emergency and give a precise location is essential not only to the victim but also to those attempting to do the rescue. Full stop. I don’t want to even hear arguments about ethics and rescue etc. etc., in today’s world a rescue will be mounted, let’s keep it simple so it costs less, reduces risk to the rescuers and cuts trauma time for the family and friends down even if the person is dead. And if it saves the victim’s life then that’s a bonus. Most of the arguments around not bringing communications centre on the victim; don’t be a selfish victim, communicate.

So, take care, don’t have accidents, but if you do have minimal but effective communication. I expect this will become the norm shortly, as basic as a headlight in any outdoor user’s pack.

Spray Ice: Tomorrow we’re headed back to the spray ice at Helmcken Falls, yeah! I need to climb in the most visceral way, can’t wait. Climbing is both life and death to me, and with the two deaths above I’m very torn about it all. No easy words come to my fingers, Jack and Carlyle were both good people ripped into the ether by a sport I love. This is difficult for me, but far less difficult than for their close friends and family.

OK, what else? Oh, I rode a big-ass icicle last year, BD made a cool film, check it out:

And the text below should really show the video embedded, but I’m out of time, will sort out later.

And I should really do a blow-by-blow on what I did right and wrong, as I have for other outdoor adventures. Unfortunately I’m now out of time, but maybe someone will have fun with it in the comments section? Thanks!






Posted in: Blog


  1. Kim Graves   January 21, 2012 2:04 pm

    Hi Coach,

    I can’t see how this is controversial. It’s not if, it’s when they come. They will come and it is our responsibility to make the job as easy and safe as possible for SAR. Per your earlier suggestion, in addition to the Spot I carry my cell phone and a walkie-talkie (they work in the mountains). I updated my Spot profile to give complete info about me including medical and to come and actually get me if I send an SOS – don’t just send an ambulance to the trail head. I’m too old to fuck around and be a hero. It’s not romantic.

    Best, Kim

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