Mountain Travel in the Time of COVID-19

Mountain Travel in the Time of COVID-19

Past:

Where to begin…  a little over eight weeks ago on my last day of work on Mt. Williard at the top of Crawford Notch, NH. It was St. Patrick’s Day, and at this point I had been anxious about the Corona Virus for weeks. Not scared, but anxious about what the future would hold for me, my business, and most importantly my family. Talking with friends and family, it seemed that while it was on people’s minds, there was an optimistic atmosphere. Fast forward several weeks, and the NYTimes has almost daily reporting on how egregiously delayed the U.S. response was to this pandemic and how the local, state, and Federal Government mislead the public into a false sense of security. We should have known better.

Old Lava Cores, Mt. Baker, WA

In general, I think climbers are an optimistic bunch. I mean who would participate in a sport that has both sport climbing, intended to be really hard, or R-rated climbing, really difficult to protect against a fall, on the same cliff? A bit nebulous to grasp to say the least. For me, that’s where the beauty lies; in our own expression of creativity through movement. I love all the contradictions in climbing and the evolution of the sport as time and technology ceaselessly march on. 

COVID has changed our world forever. Like many events over the course of recorded human history, this will have a lasting effect on our psyche and biology. Climbing too, will change. As will the profession of mountain guiding and climbing instruction.  

Present:

One thing I’m certain of is that this nebulous, very difficult, and sometimes dangerous sport is more relevant than ever. Climbing has always had the capacity to promote well being of the body and mind, and intensely strong bonds between people who share a rope. Yet, there is something even more pertinent than that in the age of COVID; climbing (and especially guiding), has taught me many things, but most of all it has taught me how to assess risk and make decisions.

I often feel that a guide is a “decision maker for hire”. In other words, we don’t have magic powers and make our guests levitate up climbs. In fact, our guests are amazing athletes and climbers in their own right. Their skills in movement, self care, rope management, etc. are many times top notch. What I bring to the table is the decision making capability, especially when it comes to mountain travel. 

Mountain Path, New Hampshire

So, currently I, like all of us, am faced with a whole host of decisions. Climb or not climb? If I do climb, what will it look like? If I add procedures to mitigate the risk, what are those procedures? What terrain do I choose and how do I choose to approach it? Do I open my business? Like any complex mountain objective, the current mental 4-dimensional labyrinth we find ourselves in is going to require a lot of decision making. Making decisions is what I have studied, trained and chosen for my life’s work. 

Future:

As time moves forward we will all come to our own decisions as to how to live in the new normal. As science progresses, new effective treatments will hopefully be developed to address this scary, highly infectious respiratory disease.  Climbing will also progress and shift. 

Always, but especially in the time of COVID, this nebulous, seemingly pointless practice of fighting gravity, struggling up a cliff just to come back down exhausted, has much more to teach us about who we are as individuals and our place on the Earth. It is my sincere hope that Mooney Mountain Guides can be a model to climbers everywhere for moving forward and making some of these challenging decisions for ourselves. 

Lumpy Ridge, CO

 

Some decisions I have made:
  • Climbing is worth it. Although I will apply a sport climbing mindset and implement procedures that mitigate the risk, while still allowing me to climb at a high level.
  • Guiding is possible. One overwhelming experience I have had during this time, is feedback from guests about just how much they trust my decision making. I never felt as though I took it for granted, but this pandemic certainly brought to light how valued the guest:guide relationship is.
  • Guide services, like Mooney Mountain Guides, are uniquely positioned and have a responsibility to promote sustainable climbing practices that will not jeopardize our health or ability to access the climbing areas we love so much.
  • I have publicly posted a “Code of Responsibility” to help promote sustainable climbing practices. http://www.mooneymountainguides.com/covid-19-response-updates/
  • I choose to continue the practice of making decisions and applying the most up to date technical skills to mitigate risk in my craft of mountain guiding.

I so look forward to exploring the evolution of climbing and decision making while traveling through the mountains with my treasured guests.

Alex Teixeira

Mooney Mountain Guides, Owner & Lead Guide

30 Pitch Project: Episode 2

Episode Two:

The Training Effect

Brought to you by Burgeon Outdoor: Mountain Made

 

Since the beginning, at least this is what my parents tell me, movement has been the language that I spoke best. At first it didn’t really matter what mode, but as a toddler the world is so new. So many connections to make, experiences to have, and things to explore. It was still a mystery as to what would take hold; fast forward a little over 30 years and climbing and skiing had won. 

Is it any wonder that when COVID-19 came along the first thing I thought about (after keeping my family safe, healthy, and fed) was the severe restrictions it would put on my movement. I’m sure for most who are reading this, our first language is Adventure. Seeking out that clarifying remedy to our mind’s and body’s eternal restlessness that can only be quenched through the well earned fatigue of a day climbing and/or skiing in the hills. Short answer, “No”, it isn’t any wonder. 

So, how then? How to keep moving during the “stay at home”, “shelter in place”, “don’t go climbing because you’ll be overstressing …” orders put forth by local and federal agencies? For my family and I, it wasn’t too hard. We made a list of activities we were okay with, we put a number on distance we were willing to travel, and we put systems in place that would allow us to distance ourselves from the rest of the restless souls out there. Of course, as time went by and we gained more experience social distancing (I wonder if that will be the word (phrase) of the year in Webster’s Dictionary) and adjustments were made. We avoid certain places at certain times and choose some activities over others, essentially adjusting to the new normal. 

It’s not too bad though. Living in New Hampshire we have lots of options close to home. Great fishing, hiking, trail running, skiing, climbing all basically in our backyard. We just stuck to our rules and that is that. 

Okay, cool. So what does this have to do with climbing 30 pitches on Cannon in a day? Good question. Climbing 30 pitches in a day on a crag like Cannon doesn’t just happen. Climbing well doesn’t just happen. Climbing is a practice like yoga, teaching, or medicine. Our craft is constantly evolving and growing over time. The more time spent practicing, the more growth and evolution. The inverse is also true, when we neglect or practice, we ooze agility in performing the task. When I think about myself climbing all those pitches I know I have to train. Choosing the objective was in part to motivate training. As a full time guide I am always climbing and training is part of that. So, where does that leave me during this COVID pandemic?

I began by boiling down the details of the task. Some of these details will be discussions for another day. Since this article is focused on physical training, I’ll focus our attention there: 

1) Knowing the climbs, approaches, and descents. Knowing the gear to take, the belays, the cruxes excetera. 

2) Having enough food and hydration to power this objective. How to stash the food or pre-package it for the variety of partners I will climb with during the day. 

3) Being mentally tuned in. 

4) None of the pitches I will climb are harder than 5.10, but there are many pitches, rappels, and walk off descents. Not to mention the talus field approach. This is where I’ll focus this segment. Training my body to withstand what will be many hours of abuse in rugged terrain. In this category, my mind went to hands and feet. As for legs and arms, I have lots of experience with 20 plus hour pushes, 10,000ft days on foot and on skis. I have the foot pain to proove it, which brings me full circle on my hands and feet. 

This is where I began my design process. In the physical training segment of this project. The list of items below will outline how I have approached each one.

General fitness: 

“How long is this objective going to take”, was question number one. My body has to be ready to continually move and effectively transport energy to my muscles for a very long period of time. That’s where I began. I would do all the things I normally do, but do them back to back all day long two or three days a week. My list of activities include but are not limited to the following: bouldering, climbing, running, canoeing, fly fishing, yard work, carpentry, general strength workouts, hangboard workouts, 45 degree wall workouts, and of course stretching. It almost doesn’t matter what I’m doing, as long as it’s physical and I’m on my feet for 12 hours straight. I can’t climb at my tiny local crags all day every day, nor can I climb on the home wall for 12 hours straight. This is supposed to be fun. I also have to take care of my property and prepare firewood for next winter. So, life becomes training. Again, my focus here is making sure my energy pathways are prepared to keep working for long periods of time at moderate output. What are some parts of your daily life that you can adjust to turn your routine into training? 

Strength as part of endurance: When you think about it, increasing strength does increase endurance. Now, if your bouldering all the time for weeks, sure you may have amazing strength but flame out just past the halfway point on a sport climb; however, consider the inverse of only pursuing endurance training for an endurance objective. Energy is finite, if it takes you more of X amount of energy to do every move no matter what and you don’ t have any real weight to loose, the only factor you can effect change on is the size of your capacity. By being stronger you have more capacity. In other words, by digging less deep you can go for longer.

Enter left hangboard and 45 wall. Each have their specialties. One is considerably more fun than the other, yet when used in tandem they can have a huge effect on your climbing. Hangboarding I have used to increase contact strength in my hands. Hanging on harder for longer. It’s so simple it’s hard. There is no substitute for time. It takes a lot of time. The 45 wall is for really hard movement, at or near my limit. By doing these moves again and again, they get easier. I am training. It’s fun to see progress. Hangboards do not have to be complex to be effective. A climber with a super basic homemade hangboard they actually use can see more results than the climber with the super fancy expensive one that they never use. 

Pure endurance: On alternating days I push in true endurance work. Step one, run. 30 minutes every other day. After six weeks, increase by 10 minutes a week. A combination of trail and road. (For me, this is on top of the 30 min run I already do every afternoon pushing my daughter after she gets up from her nap.) Step 2 go to the local crag and climb at 70-80% capacity. Increase the vertical feet by 2 laps a week until 2500’ total. I use a 50’ cliff, at about the 5.10a grade, and do no more than 10 laps without a rest. 

As you can see, none of this is groundbreaking stuff. It may seem hard or easy like Sunday morning. The real point here is that during this difficult time we are all experiencing, we have to get creative. For me setting a goal and working towards that goal has provided me with the creative outlet I need to keep the fire burning. 

Lastly, by no means do I suggest you leave your house and go climbing or any of the activities I listed. Many of you don’t have the same access I have to low risk outdoor venues that few people go. Keep it casual, keep it real. If it’s no fun don’t do it. Please follow your local guidelines and keep the virus out of your life. Even now as we are stepping out, weighing the risks with the rewards, deciding if it’s all worth it or not. Ultimately the choice is yours. In conclusion, even if I don’t get a chance to try this project, at least I had the dream and put myself in the position to try.

Alex Teixeira

30 Pitch Project: Episode One

30 Pitch Project: Episode One

 

For more than half my life, yes I can say that now, climbing has first of all been my creative outlet. I don’t paint, play music, act, take photos with a creative eye, or anything else in the artistic category. So, climbing it is. All the aspects of traveling up and down big hills, the pointer and steeper the better, I find alluring. I think my favorite part of this art is that there is no evidence of it. There is no paint on canvas, no sculpture, nothing except for footprints or ski tracks. The art is in the experience. It’s like all other art, but it’s in reverse; you start with the masterpiece (the mountain) and you (the climber) creates the image in their own mind creating each pixel with each step, hand jam, or carving turn. Like with all art, the more you practice, the more the artist becomes the art and the art becomes the artist. The line between the two becomes less defined, revealing the beauty of each. This is true of the climber and the mountain. The more the climber goes to the mountain and travels through it the more the climber and the mountain become one. To the climber this is the flow state, to the artist this is the flowstate. 

The creativity for the climber is seeking out, creating, new experiences. Onsite climbing, or first ascents for many represents the pinnacle of this art form. Alex Honnald has taken a new form of travel, free solo, into very familiar terrain to create his art. As with all art, the beauty lies in the beholder, so let’s not pass judgment on A.H. Instead, let’s allow Alex to practice his Art freely (pun intended). For myself, this has taken on many forms and I am sure will continue to evolve as I grow as a climber. 

Due to COVID-19 (how many times have you heard that statement?) instead of traveling to the desert south west and the pacific northwest to climb and share my art with my clients as a guide, I find myself looking to home. Places that are so familiar I feel at home even on the crux pitches. Cannon, the gem of Franconia Notch, is New England’s largest cliff, and even with its walk-off descent feels incredibly alpine in nature. For reasons I’m not sure of, Cannon is probably my favorite place to climb rock and ice. Maybe it’s the fascination with how the cliff formed, bursting out of the ground after glaciers stripped away the earth above, allowing the hot semi molten granite to expand and cool into a mountain. Maybe it’s the perfect crack systems. Maybe it’s the impeccably clean white granite, or the intense green of the lichen in the sunlight, or the updraft keeping me cool on hot summer days. Maybe it’s the way the sun rises over the Franconia Ridge, its orange glow washing down the cliff bringing its warmth with it. Maybe it’s the variety of climbs: how VMC Direct Direct can feel like a big wall, or the Whitney Gilman one of the most beautiful ridges in the U.S., or the excitement of the runout on the Half Moon Crack of Vertigo, or how I can lose myself on the superb pitches of Mobey Grape. This place is starting to sound world class, eah? It’s probably all those things, and that it’s in my own backyard. Spending time, stuffing my hands and feet into perfect splitters is my way of pushing my creative process forward. 

The next evolution of this creative process that I found myself drawn to is leading 30 pitches in a day on Cannon. The seed was planted when Tommy Caldwell freed two ElCap routes in a day. The Nose and Free Rider are both about 30 pitches each. Tommy climbed 60 pitches in a day! Including many pitches of 5.12 and some 5.13. It was an incredible feat of climbing and athleticism. Tommy’s project was a culmination of many smaller goals he had set for himself over time. Each goal being well worth the effort in the pursuit of his own art. Every goal attempted, failure or success, was Tommy’s way of self expression through his climbing and each one helped prepare him for free climbing two routes in a day on ElCap. I do not mean to compare Tommy’s achievement to my goal, it was simply the inspiration, the proverbial seed. 30 pitches on Cannon because ElCap is about 30 pitches. Cannon because I feel so connected to that place. I am sure that future goals I set or projects I undertake will in part be influenced by the experience of trying to free 30 pitches on Cannon in a day. In the words of AMGA IT Member Silas Rossi, “you are the best you have ever been today, because every day you climb makes you better, so no matter what you are always the best you have ever been”.

 

 So here I am, at home, not doing my art and bursting at the seams with a need for my creative outlet. So as I build a new treehouse for my daughter, repaint the entire house, custom make trim for my entire house, re-stain my deck, spread much, and cut down trees for firewood, and, and, and my mind is churning on all the different ways to complete this project. Even though I’m home with my family and not climbing on Cannon, I look forward to continuing to post updates on this goal of the future. For now it’s time to train, dream, prepare, and be good citizens and not go climbing. Will you will join me in sharing your motivations, creative outlets, and dreams in an effort to keep the hope alive during this difficult time. 

Wishing you all well,

Alex Teixeira

MMG Owner, Lead Guide