Prevention & Recovery for Climbers

Interview with Brad Farra, D.C., CCSP, CSCS. Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician. Owner of Evolution Healthcare & Fitness. By Michael Vincerra.

How did you became attracted to sports medicine?
I was in the Navy for 6 1/2 years. I was a helicopter rescue swimmer and EMT, and it definitely spurred my interest in healthcare. I felt like that was definitely a calling for me. I enjoyed every aspect of search and rescue. After I got out of the Navy, I thought "that was the intention the whole time. Let’s get in [the Navy], get an idea of what I might want to do, and earn some college money." Then I started doing my undergraduate degree as pre-med in allopathic medicine, but I quickly realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I was irritated when all I ever had was sports injuries, and they had no tools for me. Then somebody gave me some really good advice: "Figure out who you want to work with, what you want to treat, and decide which profession is going to help you get the right toolbox." I quickly realized the Sports Chiropractor has the best toolbox to work on sports injuries and give people tools to take care of themselves.

Your profile indicates that you specialize in “recovery and prevention strategies.” Mountaineers and climbers encounter all types of injuries. Could you explain a little about your strategies in prevention and what makes them unique?
Strictly speaking on a preventive basis, if someone comes to me with absolutely no injury, there are a lot of things that we can do to determine risk and vulnerability for injury. We do movement screens, we assess tissue quality, we do orthopedic testing, and a lot of that is looking at movement patterns and figuring where we need to go to minimize risk for injury. For a climber, I’d rather look at the way they squat, the way they move their shoulders, and how they transition from back to neck to shoulders—fundamental movement patterns.

Why look at the squat?
We use the way someone squats to determine their risk and vulnerability to injury. For example, a toddler knows exactly how to squat and it’s a perfect squat every time. But as adults in the 21st century, we sit. All the time. Sitting jacks up the post of your chain and the motor pattern, it shortens the hip flexors, and it turns off the glutes and gets our core weak. Eventually that leads to mobility problems in the upper back and the hips, not allowing us to move properly through a squat. The squat tells me about how they’re moving throughout the day. Then that tells me how they’re going to move up on the mountain for 3,000 feet, and where the breakdown is going to be. It’s amazing how much we can gather by watching somebody move and develop a set of corrective exercises.

Can you explain one of these methods in detail and the benefits it has to your patients?
“Class 4 therapeutic laser, graston technique, soft tissue manipulation, rehab, and nutrition.” A lot of people think, "I don’t need chiropractics." You’re probably thinking of a chiropractic adjustment or manipulation. Chiropractic is a profession, not a procedure. I’m looking at the research, taking all the best tools, and helping my patients with the problems they come to me with. So take Graston technique, which is basically an instrument- assisted soft-tissue mobilization technique. It does a phenomenal job of breaking up scar tissue, resetting the nervous system, and bringing fresh blood to the area. I see it being effective for my patients day in and day out. With the research they’ve done, using pre- and post-diagnostic ultrasound, they’ve demonstrated scar-tissue adhesions breaking up and lining-up of tissue fibers, which allows tissues to glide and move. 

How does your chiropractic background inform what you do as a Sports Medicine Physician? 
Well, that’s interesting. I have a B.S. in Human Biology. I went to a four-year professional school that mirrors medical school. You spend a couple years in basic sciences, you get into clinical sciences, and continue as your start an internship. I’m reading the same sports science research that everybody else is reading. And because of my scope of practice, I’m able to apply all those tools like another practitioner would, like a physical therapist or a physiatrist would. At this point in time, 80% of my practice is extremity sports injuries: ankle, knee, hip, wrist, elbow, and shoulders. 

What is the most popular injury among climbers?
Medial and lateral epicondylopathy. Their nicknames are "golf elbow" and "tennis elbow." It tends to be a chronic condition, not an acute condition. I also see a lot of pulley and tendon injuries. On fingers, you have the pulley that holds the tendon down. Sometimes, it’s not just the tendon that gets injured from cramping but also the pulley that holds the tendon down. Sometimes both. I’m able to accelerate the healing process and guide somebody back to sport. That’s really the biggest question: ‘When can I climb again?" If we go back too soon, it’s going to prolong the healing process. Shoulder injuries is the next biggest one. Because the shoulder is such an important part in the way we move. If someone is not moving properly at the shoulder, the elbow takes more of the load, and they end up with epicondilytis. And a lot of the rehab for elbow injuries is shoulder stability and strengthening. So it depends on the specific presentation. 

Especially for a lot of the Mazama climbers, it’s about their cardiovascular "motor" and that the core is strong, the hips are strong, and we’re able to deliver the climber to the mountain and not get injured. I like to say that the core allowsyou to transfer power to your extremities. Whether you’re a throwing athlete or a climber that needs to carry a 50 lb. pack up the hill, you need to have a strong core so you don’t lose energy.

Has your own experience as a mountaineer taught you how to prevent sport injuries?
As a strength coach and a climber, I feel it’s a really helpful tool to speak the language of the climber. So that when they tell me, "I was pulling this Gaston and felt a pinch in my elbow ..." I’m able to talk to a climber about what they’re doing and to help them and guide them back sport.

I definitely feel like my experience as a climber gives me a better perspective on what a climber is dealing with and their goals. I enjoy working with motivated people who just want to get back out there and do their thing.

Come and learn from Brad: Training for Alpine Climbing on Nov. 17 at Evolution Healthcare & Fitness.


Pushing the Boundaries of Possibility

Interview with Christof Teuscher, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Portland State University, investigating next generation computing models and technologies. In his off time he stays busy with photography and ultra running. By Kevin Machtenlinckx.

They say that when you were a boy growing up in the Swiss Alps, you learned to ski before you learned to walk. Any truth behind that?
Yes. There is some Kodak Super 8 footage out there of me on a pair of wooden skis in the Swiss Alps. I keep falling over and over in the film, but I always seemed to get back up. My mom says that I was relentless.

You only got into trail running in the last three years. Why now?
I sustained a knee injury way back in high school while running down a mountain with some friends. It never really healed properly and that kept me away from running. I thought it was just not meant for me. Then, a few years ago, a friend asked me if I would run a 50k with her. I don’t know why, but I said yes. I had always stayed in shape through mountaineering, backpacking and mountain biking, so the few months that I had to train leading up to the race wasn’t as bad as it would be for some. Still, and I didn’t know it at the time, it isn’t advisable to ramp up to race shape so fast and I sustained injuries during training. I still ended up going through with the race and finished it successfully. My goal became to do a 100-miler within one year.

Have you competed?
Yes, I’m fairly competitive and signing up for races gives me something to work toward, otherwise it gets to be a bit hard to stay motivated to run long distances week in, week out. Right now I’m focused on long distance mainly due to my age. You see a lot of younger folks who are physically much stronger than I, but they don’t necessarily have experience or the mental toughness to deal with tough situations of long distance races, which is why I can still compete.

You’ve recently completed a five peak traverse by climbing South Sister, Middle Sister, North Sister, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Hood, trail running between all of them. You’ve also completed the 750-mile Oregon Desert Trail (ODT) this summer, attempting a speed record. Where do these massive goals come from? 
I’m not entirely sure, but these goals do give me the chance to learn about myself and where limits are. I find it fascinating to explore the human physical and mental limits. I enjoy the logistics and planning that some of these projects require, too. The ODT, for example, was a two year project. I also like to do things that people think are impossible, not necessarily to prove people wrong, but rather to prove to myself that these things are possible. 

Do you find that the way you approach physical undertakings affects how you tackle problems in other aspects of your life?
Absolutely. There are lots of connections. In my research, for example, I like to explore the limits of what technology and computers are able to do. We fail often in academia because we go into projects unsure of what the limits are. We might spend years on a project only to find out there is simply a fundamental theoretical limit. Those who can resist those setbacks will be the most successful, which is the same mindset found in long distance running. 

There is undeniably an element of mental toughness required to spend days on end running through the desert. How do you train for that?
I would say mental toughness is more important than physical condition and is often overlooked. There is a scientifically-based technique called Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) that I use to get me through the tough times during runs. After enough practice, this becomes second nature and the brain automatically switches to this method of thinking when the physical pain starts. The body actually has a much higher physical limit than we think and, often, the mind is more of the limiting factor.

Your talk will be focused on embracing failures so as to improve. Can you give us a taste of one of your failures that you will share with us?
At one moment during the ODT, at night, I was searching for a food cache and couldn’t find it. The GPS coordinates were not entirely accurate and I couldn’t remember where it was. I dug up a large part of the 300’ x 300’ square that I was searching but found nothing. I was exhausted, in a lot of pain, and wanted nothing more than to quit. After a long search I gave up and started walking to the trail, getting out my SPOT device to send a message to my wife telling her to pick me up. All of a sudden, I stumbled upon half of the marker that was left on a bush. I had found a valid reason to quit, but now that reason was taken away. I didn’t know how to feel. There was no one out there to talk this over with but myself. My wife pointed out that I’m not a person that needs a reason to continue. In that moment, I just didn’t have a good enough reason not to continue. So I kept going.

Easy question ... how do you relax?

I’m restless by nature. Usually an hour in the hot tub is enough. Otherwise I don’t necessarily try to take a week off or anything. Running in itself acts as stress relief. I tried to take a week off from running once and it was a disaster. I’m someone who thrives from always having an activity.

Come and here Christof share his experiences at Fail Often to Succeed Sooner at Evolution Healthcare & Fitness on Nov. 18. 


Exploring the World of Fast-Packing

Interview with Willie McBride (portlandalpinefest.org), a Portland, Oregon based ultra runner, climber, and ski mountaineer, as well as co-owner/founder, coach, and guide at Wy’east Wolfpack. He loves writing about and sharing his outdoor experiences and enthusiasm with others.
By Darrin Gunkel.

Of all your mountain activities, which achievements are you particularly proud? 
Traveling to Peru 8 years ago was definitely a highlight. I’d never been among mountains that big in my life. It was a pretty grand experience to feel extra small. We get to feel small a lot when we get out to local outdoors places, but being in that scale is a different thing for sure. I try to climb Mt. Hood a lot as well, and I’ve been trying to push myself to do it faster and faster. So this year I got it down to 3:22 round trip from Timberline Lodge. So I was pretty proud about that. 

How many marathons and ultras have you done? 
I don’t have an exact number but dozens, including a couple of hundred-milers, a hundred-and-twenty-miler and the Tahoe 200. But now, I’m really aiming towards self-planned adventures and moving a little bit more away from the racing. 

Why move away from racing? 
Well, I come from a background of self-planning adventures and being more of a climber and backpacker. So, one, a lot of it just comes naturally and two, I take joy in the process of mapping out routes and doing logistical planning, and races already have that taken care of for you. The ultra running community is very supportive, and inclusive, but still in any race there’s a clock hanging over your head. It can cause a lot of anxiety. Certain people can do the distance, but they can’t do it in the allotted time, and they have to stress out about that instead of enjoying the experience. I believe they can achieve these things, but just not in somebody else’s time frame. 

How do you motivate? 
Just setting your intention. If you really love something and you’re really into it, then hopefully you stay on course. One easy exercise—well, simple, not easy—that we do with clients is we have people stick their arms straight out at their side, at 90 degrees from their body. The goal is to keep your arms straight out, without wavering, for say, seven or eight minutes. And it is terrible! At about three minutes in—or less—your arms are screaming and it’s just terribly uncomfortable, and yet people can make it! So if your mind is screaming at two minutes, but you can make it to eight minutes, what’s the difference? It comes down to mental strength. Your mind is like any muscle in that if you work it, it gets stronger. Since starting that in classes a couple of years ago, we’ve had countless people say to us, “You know, this weekend I did this really tough hike, I got to the gnarliest part and it was beating me down, and I thought of that arm thing and it just got easier.” Micro exercises like this that tweek out comfort with discomfort can really reach into all aspects of life.

Advice for somebody thinking about taking up fast-packing? 

The only way to fast pack is to get really light gear that costs more. That can be prohibitive. Don’t fall into the trap that it’s a deal breaker. You don’t have to have the lightest of all gear. You can go a little less light but a little more expensive and a not break your bank. And like anything, start small. You don’t go from zero miles to an ultra marathon overnight, and you don’t go from day trips to week long fast packing trips overnight either. Start with a single night out. That’s all you gotta do. You don’t have to go super deep. Just get out there and try it out. 

Come and see Willie, along with his partners Brian Donnelly and Nick Triolo at Base Camp Brewing Company on Nov. 16 for "True Motivation: Fast-Packing the Cordillera Huayhuash."


BCEP Leads to the Arrigetch Peaks

Interview with Katie Mills, mechanical engineer, peak bagger, and 2016 Portland Alpine Fest athlete. Katie fondly remembers the old days when there used to be an off season. Now the off season consists of the week between rock climbing in Red Rocks for Thanksgiving and hitting up the Bozeman Ice Fest the next weekend. By Kevin Machtelinckx.

Photo: Jed Brown.
What made you join Mazamas and start the Basic Education Climbing Program (BCEP) in 2006? Did you continue with the Intermediate Climbing School (ICS) as well? 
I moved up here from Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina destroyed my apartment. Like everyone else who moves here, I wanted to climb the iconic Mt. Hood staring in my face every day, but I also wanted to do it safely so I asked around and people told me about BCEP. I’m the kind of person who learns things by taking a class and can’t teach myself anything. So BCEP was perfect. After BCEP I climbed for a year, got some more experience, then went back and took ICS. 

Was there a defining moment in your early climbing career that stands out to you as one that ‘sealed the deal’ on climbing? 
I knew as soon as I climbed my first mountain, Mt. Hood. I was so giddy with happiness after doing the climb that I couldn’t sleep the following night. I had never planned on becoming a technical climber though. In ICS, I shied away from rock climbing and proclaimed it too dangerous. Scrambling and snow slogs were for me! But five years after BCEP, I had climbed all of the major mountains by their non-technical routes, and there was nothing else to do, so learning the technical climbing skills was the logical next step. 

You and your team received the Bob Wilson Grant in 2015 for a 2016 expedition to the Arrigetch Peaks in Alaska. Can you talk about the experience of putting together and organizing an expedition of such scale? How did it differ from your other trips in terms of logistics? 
Photo: Mandy Barbee
I had attempted Aconcagua with two friends on a previous expedition, but I wasn’t the leader so I had all the logistics handed to me and was unable to appreciate what being a leader entails. All of the gear was carried on mule to basecamp so weight was less of an issue. For the Arrigetch trip everything depended on me. From coordinating flights and figuring out which lake I wanted the bush plane to land us on, to deciding which valleys and mountains to hedge our best bets on, to helping my team decide which gear to take. Organizing food you have to carry on your back for 24 days is also a very big task (I took 80 granola bars, and that was just lunch!), not to mention the fact you have to fit it all into bear containers. I also researched every AAJ journal entry ever concerning the Arrigetch back to 1965.

What advice do you have for people who would like to make the jump from mountaineering locally to expedition-style climbing? 
Getting mentally used to the remoteness of alpine climbing and having to be self-sufficient is key. Practice climbing alpine rock because it is very different from cragging, especially when you’re out for weeks at a time. I think routes on Mt. Stuart are an excellent training ground because it is so big you really have to practice your navigation, routefinding, and multipitch ropework skills. But sadly if you want to climb over 5.8 you have to go cragging too! Get your trad skills dialed in by crack climbing at places like Trout Creek or Indian Creek, which is what I did all year before the trip, and is the only reason I was able to succeed on the FA we did. For remote places, I recommend two-way texters over satellite phones. Way cheaper and lighter too.

Photo: Kai Waldron
You’ve climbed on some women’s only teams. Can you talk about the significance of this? What does it mean to you and why is it important?
Often when women go out climbing with men, the man feels societal pressure that he has to ‘lead’. Even if the woman is more skilled, he may be braver. I’m not one to arm wrestle over a lead and will gladly hand it over. But when I’m climbing with only women, it’s nice to not have those pressures and stereotypes. You just woman-up or proudly watch your friend woman-up and get it done. Don’t get me wrong, I know quite a few women who will slap that lead out of a man’s hands cuz they want it and I admire the hell out of them, but not all of us are that assertive.

There are, undoubtedly, a lot of engineers and other science-based professionals that make up the climbing community, including yourself. The engineering mindset can have many advantages out in the mountains. Can you think of any disadvantages
I think the only reason I am a good alpinist is because I am excellent at problem solving, which is also why I’m an engineer. Sometimes I do miss the colorful artsy people that are less common in the climbing/engineering world. Perhaps a disadvantage of being an engineer is being data driven,
Photo: Cigdem Milobinski
focused on the summit/pushing the grade/accomplishing an achievement and missing out on the more subtle rewards, like appreciating the beauty of the approach hike or the silly banter with your teammates when you epically fail. For me, who I climb with is more important than what I climb. I’d rather climb something easy with someone I know I am going to form a lasting friendship with than have a random ropegun stranger I have nothing in common with get me up something awesome. But to each their own! You gotta do what makes you personally happy because that is the point.

Most outstanding memory of your climbing career so far?
One of my favorites is climbing the Red Dihedral on the Incredible Hulk with Rebecca Madore in 2014. We were planning on climbing a much more chill route on the Grand Teton, but it was snowing so we chose the Incredible Hulk instead. It was my first climb where we didn’t know if we could pull it off. So we had to push ourselves to do it. The feeling of accomplishment after that was amazing. "Send of the Century," I called it!

Future goals or expeditions? 
Ruth Gorge girl-power mixed/ice climbing with Rebecca in the spring! I’d also like to go back to the Arrigetch because I saw some pretty stunning unclimbed peaks that I was unable to attempt because I did not have the proper equipment. It seems not a lot of people venture back there a second time, but I definitely want to go back as an experienced veteran instead of a floundering first-timer!

Hear more about Katie's expedition, along with her partners Todd Torres and Nick Pappas at "Into the Arrigetch" on Nov. 15 at the Mazama Mountaineering Center.

Get More Info & Tickets at portlandalpinefest.org.


Climbing Life: An Interview with Scott Bennett

Photo Credit: Garrett Grove
Interview with Scott Bennett, 2016 Portland Alpine Fest athlete. With first ascents, from Alaska to the Waddington range, the Cascades to Patagonia, Scott has established himself as one of the most active alpinists of his generation. By Joe Fox.

You said you were climbing yesterday? What was going on? Where were you guys?

Yesterday, I was kind of unintentionally climbing. We went for a ridge run-scramble. My friend, Jon Frederick, and I went up to Red Peak which is in Summit County, kinda near Vale in the mountains of Colorado. And scrambled up the peak, which is I think low 13-er, and tried to traverse this long ridge of towers and buttresses and such, and it was one of the chossiest things either of us has ever been on. Actually Jon grew up in Washington, so he’s climbed a bunch in the Cascades, and he was like this
Photo Credit: Cheyne Lempe
is Cascades-quality choss up here. So, we got pretty scared running around in running shoes for a while. And eventually found a way to bale off it down some gully. We meant to go swing tools for the first time of the season, but it was too hot. It was like 80 degrees in Denver.

Can you pinpoint a moment perhaps in time or in your own thinking about the sport of mountaineering, where you took a conscious step away from being a hobbyist and toward being a true professional, expert, master?

That's a really good question. The question of mentality, of intention with it. The moment for me where I started to think of myself as accomplished, or more capable, as someone who had a unique skill set. It was probably my first trip to Patagonia, which was in January of 2011. I went into that trip and I had never done any first ascents. I had never set foot onto a glacier. I grew up in the Midwest and I learned to climb mostly in Colorado and Utah, in warm dry places. I hadn't really ice climbed at all. But a climbing partner, Blake Harrington, who is another Northwest guy, we rock climbed a bunch in Denver, in Colorado that year, and he suggested we go. And obviously I was pretty intimidated by that idea. But he convinced me it was a good idea and so we went down there. And, I don't know, just right away felt at home there, in those wild big granite mountains, sticking up through the glaciers. The photos had seemed really intimidating, but when we actually got there it just felt like rock climbing, which is what I'd been doing anyway. So that was the moment for me, where I was like, “I'm really comfortable in this environment." And I know not everyone is or can be, so I think I have something unique going for me here that I should really focus on. So that trip was the first of a whole series of more alpine-
Photo Credit: Colin Simon
focused expeditions for me. Going to back to Patagonia the next year, and going to Alaska the next year, going to the Waddington Range in British Columbia. And at that point my climbing really moved away from just going on a road trip to Indian Creek ... which is super fun—I'm going there next week actually—it's something I still love doing. But it's more of a social, recreation thing, and when I think of making progress in my own climbing, it's expeditions, its big trips, it's first ascents, and something with an exploratory element as well. So, yeah, that first trip to Patagonia opened up my eyes, I guess, to the fact that this was possible and that I had a lot of the skills necessary and I had the right kind of desire and boldness to go do those things. That's really when my focus shifted.

On where he learned to climb...

I grew up in Michigan. And I did learn to climb when I was in college in Ohio. I was involved with the outdoor club at my little liberal arts school in rural Ohio. And there wasn't much to do, so I was in the outdoor club, to go on backpacking trips, and we would do weekly trips, also, to a makeshift
Photo Credit: Blake Herrington
climbing tower that this farmer had built in his field, fifteen minutes away from campus. So we would go there every week and climb indoors, in what looked like a silo, it wasn't actually a grain silo, but that's sort of what it looked like. And he had a mix of actual gym handholds, and some were just rocks and pieces of wood that were bolted onto the walls. It wasn't a public gym. The farmer would let us climb there; the guy who owned it, he was also a climber, and he gave us keys for it and let us climb there. And, we'd go in the winter and it wasn't heated. It had a propane heater, but it wouldn't be on. So we'd have to go and start the generator, and start the propane heater, and get the lights turned on and get it heating up, before we could start climbing. So it actually, in hindsight, was good preparation for alpine climbing. Because you would frequently get “the screaming barfies” on your first climb of the day. Because it would just be Ohio in January. It would be freezing.

Wow. The Ohio farmer who converts a grain silo into a climbing gym. Sounds like an interesting character. 

Yeah, totally. Tom is his name. I've been meaning to climb with him again. I know he comes out to Vegas pretty often to climb at Red Rocks. So I'll have to get in touch with him and climb with him now, because it's been, what, 9 years, 10 years since I graduated from college? So I haven't seen him in a while.

So for kind of all four years of college we climbed there, and then my senior year, me and the few other people that were really into climbing, we found a professor that had at one point climbed at The Gunks, and had been a climber in his youth, and still had a trad rack, and we convinced him to take
us out climbing at the New River Gorge. And that was the first time I went outside. And he taught us how to place hexes, and whatever. This was like easy cracks at the New River Gorge. But it really progressed super quickly for me from there. Because this was my last year of college and I was climbing outside for the first time, but then within a couple years, I was climbing, almost full time. I mean I wasn't doing anything else. Working, waiting tables so I could make enough money to pay rent and buy food, and just climbing a 100% of the remainder of the time. I had moved out to Colorado at that point. So the progress came really quickly. In terms of getting out to Yosemite and climbing on El Cap, probably, within a year of first climbing outdoors.

My next question is a little bit darker. But I did all the interviews last year for the Alpine Fest as well. And among the folks I interviewed barely a year ago was the late, great Scott Adamson. Scott was a truly brilliant climber and a great friend to the Mazamas who was lost this past season in the mountains of Pakistan. And as I was sitting down to make some new questions for this year and trying to figure out which of the old questions would still work, I felt particularly focused on risk, and in particular the risk of death in alpine climbing. And just the fragility of human life, you know? I still have the audio recording of Scott talking about how he took a 100 foot whipper in the dark and thought he was going to die, you know what I mean? And then he did. And it's just kind of, hard to stomach. And I was just wondering how you regard your own mortality. Do you think about death, since you've taken it to this next level?

Photo Caption: Matt Van Biene
You know, it might be a self-protective thing, but I don't really think about my death in the mountains. I mean, intellectually I know that there are certainly a lot of risks with what we do. But, yeah, the possibility of my own death isn't something I am emotionally connected to. It doesn't seem vivid. I don't have nightmares or anything. But what I do think a lot about is friends dying in the mountains, because that's happened to me. And it sucks. I guess my own safety feels like it's in my control. I mean, obviously, it's not fully in my control. If I'm climbing in the Karakoram underneath a serac, you know? That's an objective hazard. But that's something I can deal with and mitigate. But friends dying ... Kyle and Scott were friends. I didn't climb with either of those guys, but I certainly knew them and respected them. And they were heroes of mine, and friends as well. That's something that I do worry about. And again, I guess maybe from a self-protective standpoint, I think I've intentionally kept my circle of really close climbing partners fairly small. Like I really only do big trips with a handful of people, really two or three actually. And folks that, obviously, whose judgment I trust 100%. So I can feel pretty good about them going out on trips without me, that they're going to come back safely. Because that's the fear that gets to me the most, I think, is having friends leave and not come back. I've been lucky enough, that none of my truly close climbing partners or friends has died in the mountains.

But with Kyle and Scott... I was climbing in the Karakoram last summer, which is going to be subject of the slideshow that I give in Portland, is that trip. And we were climbing at the same time as Kyle and Scott, in a different place, in a different valley, but we were well aware that they were over there and we were thinking about them pretty often. And we did actually find out about Scott's big fall and injury while we were in the mountains, at our base camp. We had a sat phone and we were in contact with friends back in the States and so we found out about it through them. And it really did kind of color our experience for the remainder of our trip. I think it made us more conservative with what we were willing to do, and just a little wearier. It was a strange season last year, I guess this was 2015, because it was quite warm. It was unseasonably warm all summer. The snow was not super well set up. A lot of the ice was coming apart. And I suspect that's what led to their accident last year, the 2015 accident. So those things were in our minds when we were climbing on K6 which was our big objective on that trip.

On big wall speed climbing and it's applications for alpine climbing....

I'll set myself sort of arbitrary goals, whether it's here in Colorado or in Yosemite. Trying to do multiple walls in a short time period or trying to do a specific route really fast. Stuff that can kind of seem silly and arbitrary, but which really forces you to develop a new creative skill set. That you can then apply in the mountains and apply onto bigger routes, where moving fast is necessary to be safe and to actually finish the climb.

Photo Credit: Garrett Grove
There's a local climb here at the wall that's the five pitch route, up the middle of the wall. Its a 5.11, so it's kind of the classic, moderately hard route that people aspire to do. And I've done it a bunch of times, so over the years I've tried to whittle it down to faster and faster and faster. And I'll time it from the base up to the summit, and back down again. And over the course of a couple years, I took my own personal time from over an hour, like an hour and half, down to now less than half an hour. So I took this climb that most parties would approach as a full day climb, and that in the past I'd approach as, at least, two or three hours if you're moving at a normal pace, and just ruthlessly making it more efficient and dialing in your systems, so you can climb it really fast.

Mountaineering legend, Reinhold Messner, has often been quoted comparing mountaineering to a creative pursuit, and the climber to the artist. Does this idea resonate for you at all in your experience?

I mean definitely, this is something that's been said many times, but doing a first ascent, you know, looking up at a wall, and painting in that line in your mind, “we're gonna link this feature with this feature.” I mean it's partially a logical pursuit. “Ok this crack looks good. This crack over here looks good. We're going to avoid that section because it's got rock.” So there is a very analytical side to that. But I do think that there's also an aesthetic sense, “this is where the line should go. This is going to be the most rewarding way that we can get up this mountain.” My friends and I often talk about trying the line of strength of the mountain, the proudest line we can find. That obviously has an implicit aesthetic judgment. Part of the reward of climbing is getting down and then drawing that line onto a photo, and being like, “yeah, that's beautiful. That's something that I created and its beautiful. It's art.”

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Scott Bennett's Portland Alpine Fest Schedule

  • Alpine Fast & Light (Clinic) Nov. 16, 8–11 a.m. at PRG (FULL)
  • Intermediate/Advanced Ice/Mixed Climbing (Clinic) Nov. 16, 1–4 p.m. at the MMC
  • Into the Karakoram (Clinic) Nov. 16, 7 p.m. at the MMC
  • Intro to Ice/Mixed Climbing (Clinic) Nov. 17, 6–9 p.m. at the MMC (FULL)
  • Big Wall Techniques, Nov. 18, 8–11 a.m. at PRG


Geeking out on the Mountains

Interview with Colin Haley. Colin credits most of his success in climbing to this early apprenticeship in the most rugged mountains available in the Lower 48. He strives to maintain a relatively high level in every discipline of climbing, from bouldering, to El Cap routes, to highly-technical alpinism, to high-altitude slogging. While Seattle is still technically his home, he spends much more time in his three favorite towns on three separate continents: El Chaltén, Argentina, Squamish, BC, and Chamonix, France. By Joe Fox.

Can you pinpoint a moment perhaps in time or in your own thinking about the sport of mountaineering, when you took a conscious step away from being a hobbyist and toward being a true professional, expert, master?
Pretty much ever since I was 12, 13, 14 years old I wanted to make climbing my life and I wanted to raise my skills as high as I could and do the hardest climbs I could. It’s not like I was a climber for a long time who wasn’t ambitious, and then all of the sudden decided “ohh, I’m gonna start taking this seriously.” I’ve always been ambitious with climbing, it’s not something that happened at any one point.

My relationship with climbing, in terms of what it means to me and how seriously I take it has pretty much always been the same.

How did you get into it so early?
I’ve been backpacking and skiing and backcountry skiing and all that stuff since I was super young. Like I have no memory of learning how to ski, for instance. So I’ve always been doing stuff in the mountains. And then around when I was 10 years old my dad started taking my brother and I mountaineering.

How do you regard your own mortality? Do you think about death, given the extreme risks involved in this sport?
Yeah, I do. I’ve had a lot of friends and climbing partners who have died. Some of them quite close, people I’ve climbed with a lot, and some of them just acquaintances. And I think it would be delusional to do the type of climbing that I do, with the frequency that I do it, and not realize that that inherently exposes me to a lot of risks in the mountains, regardless of how careful I am and how smart of decisions I make. I mean, I accept that. Everyone accepts risk at some level for the climbing they do. I really don’t want to die climbing. I’d like to live to get old. And so I do everything I can to minimize those risks, which is of course a balance with trying to achieve the things you want to do. But I know there’s a possibility that I would die in the mountains. And I accept that. Someone who claims otherwise is not being realistic and conscious.

What motivates a climb like your remarkable recent free solo, 12 hour and 29 minute, ascent of the Infinite Spur on Mount Foraker in Alaska?
Well, I had been scheming to solo the Infinite Spur for at least five years. Climbing it with Rob Smith, beforehand, kind of confirmed for me that it was something that I wanted to do. But ... I don’t really think that deciding to solo the Infinite Spur has any great difference in motivation from anyone going and climbing mountains. Because I’ve dedicated my life to climbing mountains, doing something that puts me in a place where I feel really challenged and really excited about the goal, is going to of course be a different sort of scenario than someone who has much less climbing experience. But I think that the general search for this challenge, and this intensity of experience in an extreme environment, is the same whether it’s a beginner going up The Tooth, or me trying to solo the Infinite Spur.

There are a lot of different esoteric fields of knowledge that help the mountaineer’s lifestyle. What do you geek out on the most? What’s the “shop talk” conversation that you could have with any climber in the world, no problem?
Hmm ... tons. I’m a total geek in general. And I can say very confidently that that aspect of alpinism, the fact that there’s such a mental side to it, and such a geeky side to it, in terms of logistics and scheming how to go about things, is definitely one of the biggest reasons why I like alpine climbing. It’s not just running a hundred meter dash, or sport climbing, which are very distilled athletic activities. But it also has this very big mental component to it. It’s a very big part of why I like climbing mountains.

In terms of what I like geeking out on? Tons of things. Everything from how to train efficiently, to what to eat while on a climb, to how to use your stove in the most fuel efficient way possible, to how to make your gear lighter, to how to use different belay techniques to be more efficient. I mean, the list could go on and on and on. But everything from using knowledge of chemistry, to physics, to physiology.

What’s something that you’ve been turned onto recently or learned recently that has helped you?
I mean this will get pretty geeky pretty fast. But have you used isobutane stoves much in cold weather?

Umm ... yes not with a lot of luck, but ...
Yeah, they don’t work that well in the cold, because of pv=nrt—you know, decreasing pressure in the canister causes the canister to get colder, which lowers the pressure even more, and, you know, your stove just stops working very well.

About 20 years ago, the canisters that we would get for these kinds of stoves were pure isobutene, and then about 20 years ago or 15 years ago, they started making them a mix of isobutane and propane. And the reason they do that is because propane has a higher vapor pressure than butane. So it creates more pressure in the canister and helps the stove function better in cold weather. But they can’t make it all propane because then there would be too much pressure in the canister when it’s warm out, and you would risk having the canister explode. And so it’s this balance. But one thing you might have noticed sometimes is you put a fresh canister on the stove, and it works really well for a while, and then all of the sudden it starts working really poorly. It’s not like this slow gradual taper, it just sort of falls off a cliff at some point. And I just recently learned why, and it’s because when the canister is sitting upright, the propane is mostly in a gaseous form at the top of the canister, and the butane is mostly in a liquid form at the bottom of the canister, and so basically you burn off all the propane first, and then all of the sudden the pressure inside the canister drops because it’s mostly butane that’s left.

Wow, and can you mitigate that effect by shaking the canister up, or something like that? Umm, shaking it up wouldn’t work, but that is why turning the canister upside down can be helpful. Which I had heard years ago, and I had tried turning the canister upside down, and I was like well, it doesn’t really seem to get much better, so I thought that must be wrong. And that’s because when the canister is full, having it upside down or right side up won’t really make much of any difference, but having it upside down should theoretically make a difference over the longevity of the canister because when it’s upside down you’re mostly exiting butane out of the canister because it’s in liquid sitting at the bottom, and the propane higher up is maintaining that pressure inside the canister to help push the butane out, and so by turning the canister upside down you’re not getting rid of the propane straight away, you’re keeping it in the canister for longer. I told it would get geeky fast, so ...

Wow. Yeah, I love it. I love it. That’s great. But that’s something that I learned recently, that I thought was very interesting, and I thought could have a positive effect on my ability to climb mountains.

So, did you discover that when talking to somebody else, or did you just read about that? I discovered that when talking to somebody else. There’s a guy who I met because he’s in the Alpine Mentors Pacific Northwest Program and I volunteered a couple days for that, a couple of years ago. His name is Alex. He’s doing a PhD in some field of chemistry and we were talking about this stuff, and he explained that to me.

On bringing his iPod shuffle up the Infinite Spur ... I don’t listen to music when I’m doing properly technical climbing. At that point I want to hear, you know, how my crampons sound when I’m putting them on a hold, and all these little things. But when I’m doing less technical climbing like just pounding up a 50 degree ice slope, or just walking up a glacier, or ski touring or something, I love listening to music. And I feel that if I’m listening to music, I can be putting out a really high cardio effort and it doesn’t feel as much like an effort, it’s just so much fun.

What are you listening to on those trips? What is some of your “high energy” music? A few examples of some of the artists that are on the Shuffle, some of it’s guitar like Tool and Alice in Chains, some of it’s electronic stuff like Sub Focus and Knife Party, some of it’s dark in between stuff like Nine Inch Nails, some of its techno, some of its dubstep, some of it’s drum and bass, some of it’s metal, some of it’s grunge.

Do you ever think of doing a “Snow Slog Playlist” a la Barack Obama? Haha Not really. But yeah I could some time. That’d be a cool idea. Maybe I should. I’ll make a blog post about it.

On his goals for his presentation at next month’s Portland Alpine Fest? My general guideline is that I try to put together a slideshow that I know I would be psyched to watch. So probably, I think that most of the people at my slideshows whether they are beginners or not will enjoy it, but I think the people that like my slideshows the most are the ones who are like me - climbers who are fully in the grips of the alpine climbing addiction, just can’t get enough, and are super excited about it and dream of all these things they want to do. Yeah, I think my slideshow is catered more to them than anyone else.

I love giving slideshows in the Northwest because it’s my home turf as a person, and also because the audience is full of people that really love the mountains, and really know the mountains, and that just makes for a fun energy.

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Colin's Schedule at the Portland Alpine Fest:

  • Moving Fast in 5th Class Terrain (Clinic) Nov. 18, 9 a.m.–noon at the MMC (Full!)
  • Beyond Waterfalls (Clinic) Nov. 18, 1–4 p.m. at the MMC
  • Beyond Waterfalls (Clinic) Nov. 19, 9 a.m.–noon at the MMC
  • Ski Mountaineering: Mixing Skis with Ice Axes (Seminar) Nov. 19, 12:30–2 p.m. at the Mountain Shop
  • The Summit: An Evening with Colin Haley & Sasha DiGiulian, Nov. 19, 5–10 p.m. at Revolution Hall