This is about as gut-wrenching an interview that I’ve seen. It deals with a British Columbia, Canada, avalanche that claimed a number of snowmobilers. Avalanche dangers also lurk for backcountry skiers/snowboarders, and is a real risk in any high mountain or big snow area. I feel for this guy. It’s also a grim reminder that nature, wherever you are, is wild and unpredictable.
This is a tragic story out of New Mexico. Check out this link:
Notice the key line here: The poor girl was not wearing a helmet.
I think I’ll be writing about this topic in the near future. Be safe, folks.
So this may be the most random blog I write. I got to thinking about how the past year has been and what sort of memories I have from various outings this year, as well as some from long ago. Making a living has a way of keeping me from getting into the backwoods, as do other life commitments. But I digress. I treasure the times I did get away.
Early this year (or was it late December 2007?), I got to spend a chilly day exploring the boulder field south of Elk Mountain in the Wichita Mountains. And I got my first taste of a Meers Burger.
Later in the winter, I was blessed with trips to Winter Park and Breckenridge, Colo. Much-needed honing of ski skills. Plus, I got to drive a dog sled. How cool was that!
Well, probably not as cool as climbing through a cave near Phang, Nga, Thailand. Now the official reason for going to Thailand was a church mission trip. But we did get a day to play, and scrambling through the middle of a mountain to an opening overlooking a placid tropical bay was probably about as cool as it gets. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
In terms of outdoor accomplishments, I’d have to put summiting Mount Yale in Colorado on the top of the list. While not a technical climb, it’s a real leg- and lung-buster. There’s also a scary backstory, but I’ll save that for another day. Needless to say, that summit was reached at a pretty heavy price.
Several recovery weeks later, I was able to find one last day trip getaway, this time exploring Charon’s Garden in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. That trip got me a close-up look at one of the more interesting geological formations there, Crab Eyes (pictured aboce). You might have read about it in an earlier post. And, of course, the day ended with the obligatory and well-received Meers Burger.
What I got out of those times were some awesome memories. Many times, those memories are shared experiences with close friends that we can relive with great fondness. There’s no amount of money, no special possession that can equal that. If you really want to know what gets people excited about being outdoors, the memories and shared experiences are a couple of big reasons.
My plans for 2009 are more ambitious. Possibly more skiing, more summits, more time outdoors with friends. God gave us a wonderful world to live in, full of amazing places to explore. And while Oklahoma doesn’t feature the extremes of a lot of places, there are incredible wild places here that are close by and worth seeing. I plan on writing about those quite a bit.
Cold weather equals no fun, right? Not so much. At least not for those who like to ski and snowboard. Winter is the season we get a chance to break out the snow gear, head to the mountains and hit the slopes.
But there’s a couple things about skiing and boarding that complicate things for those of us in the lowlands. First, these activities are inherently physical. And second, we just don’t get a chance to do them very much.
I’ve got a friend who loves to snowboard. He’ll probably get in three of four trips to Colorado before the season is over in late spring. For an Oklahoman, that’s a lot of boarding. For someone who lives in Colorado, it’s not much at all. As for the rest of us, we’re lucky to get up there once a year.
We look forward to it. Spend a lot of money on it. Dream about it. But what are you doing to prepare for it? Seriously, unless you’re on the slopes all the time, your body just isn’t physically ready for the gauntlet of physical punishment that comes with skiing and boarding. So that’s why I’m posting this.
You need to be (as much as possible) physically ready before you go. Otherwise, you’re an injury waiting to happen.
So let’s start with the legs. Any coach or trainer will tell you that the foundation of a good athlete is a pair of strong legs. Skiing and snowboarding are, by their nature, athletic endeavors. So you need to strengthen your legs. Some of my favorite exercises:
1. Squats. With or without weight, depending on your fitness level. Keep your feet about shoulder width apart, toes slightly out and back straight. Squat down until your legs are parallel to the ground, then stand back up. Do eight to 10 repetitions. Take a short (1 minute) break, then do that again. Do three sets. This works both the front and back of the thighs as well as your buttocks. Squats are widely considered the best overall exercise for legs, and if done right, also strengthens your core.
2. Lunges. Again, this can be done holding a pair of light dumbells or no weight at all. From a standing position, lunge forward with one leg, then push your body back up to a standing position. Alternate legs for eight to 10 reps each leg, again, for three sets. This works the same muscles are squats, but in a different way. If you are a telemark skier, this exercise is one your should do regularly anyway. If squats are considered the No. 1 leg exercise ever, lunges are No. 1a.
3. Calf raises. With your feet close together and legs straight (not locked), rise up on your toes, then down again slowly. Three sets of eight to 10 reps. Your calves do a lot more work than you think when you’re on the slopes.
4. Core work. Crunches, leg lifts and other abdominal exercises should be a part of your routine. They’ll help stabilize your upper body as you maneuver and reduce upper body fatigue. It will also help support the weight of your upper body, allowing your legs to be more focused on maneuvering.
You can use other leg weight machines at your gym or at home, but I stuck with the squats and lunges because they are compound exercises, where you are teaching your body to use several muscle groups in conjunction. I think that’s more realistic.
Lastly, I seriously recommend working on your cardiovascular strength. How you do it is up to you, whether it’s running, elliptical machines, bikes or something else. But you should try to get in 20 to 30 minutes of vigorous cardio work three times a week.
There’s a couple of reasons for this. First, the majority of us ski in the Rockies. Unlike east coast ski resorts, the Rockies are high elevation sites, with most runs starting above 9,000 feet. Most Oklahomans live at or below 1,200 feet. So the air is much thinner on the slopes, which will make your heart and lungs have to work harder.
Second (and this works in conjunction with the effects of altitude), a person who has a strong cardiovascular system doesn’t tire as easily as a person who is out of shape. And it’s when you’re tired that you’re more likely to have an accident. According to the netfit Web site, most accidents occur in the afternoon, when you’ve been at it all day. The unfit person will be on the low ebb of their energy; a fit person will remain strong right up to the time when the lifts are closed.
Ideally, you should begin training eight weeks before your trip, according to netfit. Some of you heading out for a Christmas ski holiday won’t have much time. But for those of you planning a mid-winter or Spring Break trip, there’s still plenty of time to get your body ready. I’d rather come home with good memories of a fun outing than a leg brace and a hospital appointment. One way to help prevent that: Get in shape!
I have to admit I am really intrigued by the concept of a vision quest. Not in the strictest terms of how Native Americans practiced it, but more of the basic idea of taking a solo trip into the wilderness to battle the elements, be in nature and clear my head. It simply bleeds outdoors romanticism.
This is something I’ve wanted to do for some time. Camping alone in Charon’s Garden down in the Wichitas. Spending a few nights at Horseshoe Lake in the Wheeler Peak Wilderness area. Or even a deeper foray into the remote San Juan Range of southwestern Colorado. But I’ve never done it, mostly because I like the idea of enjoying the outdoors with my friends.
The recent cold snap and freezing rains brought back to memory a reason to give me pause when it comes to solo treks. There’s a little bit of reading here, but these are great local examples of the risks associated with soloing. This is from the Jan. 23, 2007 edition of The Oklahoman:
WICHITA MOUNTAINS WILDLIFE REFUGE — A Texas man’s condition continued to improve Monday at an Oklahoma City hospital after surviving four nights and four days on the icy slopes of Mount Scott with a compound break in his right leg. The 50-year-old survivor, whose name is not being released, was discovered Friday after sunset by two local hikers, Deputy Refuge Manager Ralph Bryant said. Kevin Whitney, of Lawton, and his 9-yearold son Hunter discovered the injured Texan while walking down the paved roadway that spirals to the top of the mountain. Rescuers learned the man had slipped on the icy boulders while descending the west side of the mountain Jan. 15, plummeting about 20 feet before landing and breaking his leg above his right ankle. He crawled back to the road, and then dragged himself another mile and half before being found.As fate would have it, Mount Scott’s steep roadway had already been closed for several days because of slick and hazardous conditions. The road remained closed Monday.The sun had already set when the man’s fortunes changed.Whitney, 38, and his son were hiking down Mt. Scott’s spiraling paved roadway when they discovered the Texan sitting against a guardrail. Several layers of clothes were piled on him.“He was remarkably calm for someone in his situation, which I think speaks to his strong convictions,” Kevin Whitney said. “He said he prayed relentlessly to the Lord, and he believed the Lord was moving him in a direction where he would be found. We had no doubts he was going to live.”Whitney called 911 on his cell phone, and gave the man a bottle of water and all the food in his backpack.
“This really was divine intervention. We went down a route that evening — on the road — that we never go. We never go on roads,” Whitney said.
“It really is a remarkable survival story, one that could have very easily ended much worse than it did,” said Jeff Rupert, refuge manager. “That’s why we constantly emphasize to hikers to hike with partners and how they should always let someone know where they are going.
Victim was hiking alone
“We had no idea anyone was even missing.” The survivor’s family didn’t even know where he was, Bryant said. His vehicle also failed to draw attention because he parked at the nearby town of Medicine Park before leaving on foot to the west toward the refuge. His plan was to hike to the Holy City, a popular attraction for many of the 1.7 million tourists who visit the refuge annually.
Bryant said the man summited the east side of Mount Scott — a treacherous slope of granite boulders covered in snow and ice — before beginning his descent to the west. That’s where he slipped.
Hikers are regularly injured while trekking through the wilds of the 59,020-acre refuge.
“We probably conduct between 25 and 35 survival and rescue missions a year,” Bryant said. “Injuries are common, but most of the time, people are hiking with a buddy who is able to go for help.
“This man was all alone.”
In 1992, another man was all alone and his story did not have a happy ending.
Phil Mitchell, a 26-year-old physician intern and experienced climber, fell 40 feet down a crevice while hiking alone at Elk Mountain.
Mitchell broke bones in several places. Hundreds of rescuers searched the refuge for Mitchell, who was eventually found dead from exposure and hypothermia.
“He was an experienced climber,” Bryant said of Mitchell. “He just made one deadly mistake — he hiked alone.”
So as you can see, you don’t have to be in the Alaskan bush or the slot canyons of Moab, Utah, to get into trouble. I’ve done some hiking and bouldering in the refuge. When you’re off trail, this is rugged, challenging terrain in ideal conditions. Bushwhacking and boulder-hopping is quite tiring. Route finding is a challenge, as trees, rocks and underbrush block obvious paths. I’ve cliffed out a few times, thinking I was safely descending only to be turned back by 30-foot dropoffs. That’s what makes wild places fun — the challenge of navigating the untamed.
But when you’re alone, all the pressure is on you to be prepared and to make the right decisions. Even the savviest hiker can have an accident, become injured and be unable to extricate themselves from the grips of the wild. A sprained ankle maginifies the inherent challenges greatly; a broken leg can make the margin between life and death razor thin.
And then there’s the weather. In the story above, an icy rime covered the rocks and boulders of Mount Scott. The smooth nature of the rock in that area makes any kind of moisture — frozen or not — a dangerous element indeed. The heights of the Wichitas are also greatly exposed to lightning strikes.
The Texan mentioned here was profoundly lucky. Locally, no one knew he was there, and his family wasn’t given any sort of itinerary concerning the trip. The fact that he survived four days in ice storm conditions completely exposed to the elements and badly injured can be ascribed to inner toughness and divine intervention, in my opinion.
If you’re going to solo, someone needs to know when you’re going, where you’re going and what time you expect to return. That’s a bare minimum. Have a cell phone. Your pack should have appropriate clothing, shelter, food and tools (compass, knife, camp stove, matches, first-aid kit, etc.) to get you through any unexpected delays. Since it’s not really possible to haul in all the water you need, be sure to have a water filter with you and know the terrain you’re heading into so you can find natural water sources. If you do these things and something goes wrong, you should be able to hold out long enough while your friends and the authorities attempt a rescue. If not, you may find yourself in the same position as our wayward Texan, whose story would be much different had two hikers not stumbled across him.
I was saddened when I heard that the Chinese had closed the north side of Mount Everest in the run-up to the Olympics in Beijing. And for selfish reasons. I’d become a big fan of Discovery Channel’s “Everest: Beyond the Limit” series, which is filmed in April and May and later broadcast in the fall and winter months. Unfortunately, with only the Chinese Olympic torch team allowed to climb the north face of the mountain, the usual stars of the show were shut out.
Gratefully, I’ve found plenty of books to stoke my imagination of one of the more epic places to climb. And like most readers of these books, it allows me to vicariously live out an adventure that I have little to no chance of experiencing first-hand. If you’re into adventure/survival stories, check out these titles:
– “No Shortcuts to the Top,” Ed Viesturs. An autobiography of the climbing career of America’s finest high-altitude mountaineer, Ed Viesturs. He describes how he first came into climbing, his initial adventures in the Pacific Northwest and his eventual forays in the Himalayas. Viesturs is one of a handful of people who have climbed all 14 8,000-meter peaks. His descriptions of those climbs – and his great care to make sure people know how cautious he is — makes for an interesting account of how one leads this sort of life and lives to tell about it.
– “High Crimes: Mount Everest in an Age of Greed,” Michael Kodas. Written by a Hartford Courant journalist and mountaineer whose two summit bids on Everest ended short of his goal. The real story, however, is in the dark underbelly of the Everest scene which can be at times plagued by theivery, deceit, violence and a careless disregard for the lives of others. He goes into great detail about some of the major players on Everest’s north side climbing scene, and the picture isn’t always pretty. Kodas is quite the photographer, too, and some of his pictures are tremendous.
– “Dark Summit,” Nick Heil. A well-researched account of the 2006 climbing season. An unusually high number of people died on Everest that year, many needlessly so by some accounts. There were also great survival stories, like that of Lincoln Hall, who was left for dead more than 28,000 feet up the world’s highest mountain. It’s also a great backstory of season one of “Everest: Beyond the Limit.” I’m still reading this one, and I’m enjoying every page.
– “Into Thin Air,” John Krakauer. This is the granddaddy of modern Everest books. Krakauer, a fine narrative writer and himself an accomplished climber, originally went to Everest in 1996 to climb and write about how commercialized the scene had become. What he got instead was a first-hand look at the mountain’s deadliest season. Unlike the first three books mentioned here, this one is set on Everest’s south face in Nepal, and it traces the same route taken by Sir Edmund Hillary. Bad weather, poor decision-making, woeful inexperience and tragic coincidences made those days in May 1996 some of the worst in mountaineering memory and for very compelling reading.
Pick any one of these up and enjoy.
– Bob Doucette