Monthly Archives: April 2016
Early in my teaching career, I was assigned the assistant coach of a junior varsity lacrosse team. I had never played lacrosse; I did not even know the basic rules. I felt well outside my comfort zone. Despite my trepidation, I entered the season determined to contribute positively to the team.
Fortunately, the program included a number of excellent and experienced coaches who would mentor me for the season. The varsity head coach explained the system they used from the freshman to the varsity team and the fundamentals they focused on reinforcing. The JV head coach assigned me certain tasks and responsibilities within my skill set that set me up for success rather than failure. Having previously coached other sports for several years, I was already able to help the players with the mental aspect of the game – readying oneself for a game and maintaining one’s cool in challenging situations – and as the season continued, I branched out offering more sport specific advice. That season reinforced in me the value of venturing out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to do so in the future.
Fast forwarding nearly twenty years, I found myself standing at the base of Kinsman Notch this winter working with an REI Ice Climbing group. Ice climbing? I’m more of a rock climber; how did I get here?
For years, I had gone out once or twice a season for an ice climb. While I enjoyed the sport itself and saw the cross-over of various skills, the cold discouraged me. I am not tough (anyone who knows me would heartily agree), but it’s more than simply not wanting to be cold. I love cross-country skiing and running in the winter, and I feel a great sense of empowerment enjoying these activities when the temperature drops. But for even longer than I have been climbing, I have had joint implant for my right ring finger. As a result, I need to tape my ring finger to my middle finger for support when I climb, and the poor circulation in my hand is exacerbated by the cold. My finger has turned blue several times in colder hockey rinks.
About four or five years ago, I followed the advice and encouragement of my friend and mentor, Art, and decided to expand my guiding repertoire. That winter I began to assist the MMG winter trips (though I had not signed on for the single digit temperatures at my first MMG winter training day). Underdressed because I lacked the proper clothing but anxious to learn, I soaked in both the big picture topics that we discussed that day as well as the subtle tips the more experienced guides provided. From others’ suggestions on how to swing the axe more effectively and efficiently to Mike’s advice of placing the carabiner in one’s teeth to avoid its sticking to one’s lips, I broadened my knowledge base. On the drive home, it seemed like an hour before I could feel my toes, but I left the day excited about the upcoming opportunities.
A couple of weeks later, I shadowed a weekend REI Mount Washington trip. Armed with a borrowed set of Gore-Tex bibs, a warmer puffy, and a set of proper mittens and gloves, the cold was a non-factor. In fact, I needed to take off a layer on the last leg to the summit because I was overheating. I spent the weekend absorbing all the tips that Art and Jim offered: adjusting the grips on the poles, carving out steps, and effective layering of clothes to name a few. By the time we returned to the truck on the final day of the trip, I was exhausted but hungry to learn and to experience more.
In the following few winters, I climbed more with my friends and helped out with the ice climbing trips for the school where I teach. This past year, I even invested in a set of boots and axes and took advantage of additional free time this January by climbing recreationally with friends and working with my more experienced colleagues on several of the MMG ice climbing trips.
Following a climb near the Greeley Pond
At the base of the pitch.
Happy to have the rope above me
Although more knowledgeable about the sport of ice climbing than lacrosse, I felt less sure of myself than guiding rock. However, I recognized that despite the different terrain and techniques between ice and rock climbing, the heart of guiding remains the same: build and maintain a level of trust in the guide and the safety systems to help guests venture out of their comfort zone by providing them with enough advice (but not too much) so that they can accomplish the task. Each day, I observed the way Alex, Erik, or Tim taught the fundamental skills, and I tried to apply those lessons to my own teaching. I learned so much conversing with each of them on the drives to and from the crag as well. And I learned from the guests on those trips. Seeing them struggle and succeed, I talked with them about the process. I reflected on what helped each climber most and saw a variety of effective ways to present an idea.
Erik teaching a lesson to a group
I have found through my experiences as a teacher, a guide, and a climber myself that stretching one’s comfort zones is when the greatest learning takes place. This past winter, I certainly applied this mindset to my own winter climbing, and I sought out situations where I felt safe but less confident in the past. Carrying these lessons forward, I am excited about this coming rock season and all that it will encompass.
For me, the calculated risks that I took yielded tremendous success for myself as a climber, a guide, and an individual. I encourage others to do to same.
Good luck on the rocks in the coming months.
This past fall, our friends at Mammut were kind enough to let us test the Broad Peak Hooded Jacket. Having worn similar jackets from other companies over the years, I had expected a range of uses and parameters. This jacket far exceeded my expectations.
The Broad Peak Jacket
For starters, the snug fit tapered well to my body, insulating me from the cold and wind while still stretching enough so that I could add layers and still move comfortably. Rock climbing this fall, I found the Broad Peak packed down nicely so that it did not take up much room in my pack and served as a valuable piece when I was belaying on a cold day. The front collar and hood provide good comfort without making me feel claustrophobic. and the hood was snug, but not uncomfortable, effectively trapping in the heat. Especially when I wore a hat underneath, I felt noticeable warmer.
Alex sporting the Broad Peak on the summit of Mount Washington
When I was out and about this winter in cold, windy weather wearing the Broad Peak under a soft shell was plenty warm. Since this past winter was milder than most, I did not use it as a layering piece when active because it was, in fact, too warm the few times that I tried. Had I ventured out in the few really cold days, I certainly would have brought this jacket with me. In addition, the jacket worked quite well around town, standing or walking around in windy conditions (especially one cold winter night when we wandered the streets of Somerville looking for our car).
While I am hoping that the cold days are behind us for this season, I am not packing the Broad Peak away just yet.
Art staying warm for the belay
I expect to use it in the coming months when belaying on some of the colder spring days, and I plan to add it to my winter layering system next season.
An older post, saved from a while back. It seemed applicable to post it today as we enter rock season. Follow Steve’s lead, and get the whole family outdoors and rock climbing!
I have had the pleasure of climbing with Steve twice over the past few weeks. Once with a his son and two friends, and a second time with his son a daughter. Both days were spent on the beautiful granite slabs of Whitehorse in North Conway, NH. Whitehorse seems to be the superior area for a family rock climbing outing. The slabs offering a host of routes that everyone can enjoy together.
This inclusiveness is important to Steve. As a climber himself, learning the craft on the granite big walls of Yosemite Vally, he wants to pass on the joy he received from climbing on to his two children. Moving to New England less than a year ago and not knowing the terrain prompted Steve to seek out Mooney Mountain Guides. Together we decided that Whitehorse would be the proper venue for his goals.
In two days, more than ten pitches had been climbed from the Echo roof to Beginners Route. Lots of rappels, lowers, and funny pictures later everyone was happy to have shared the experience together. I was happy to have helped introduce the next generation of climbers to the sport.
Thank you Steve, family and friends for two great days on the rock.