Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Out of the Dark into the Light


A dark day with little daylight today and I am needing a rest day.  Climbing 3 days out of the last 7 and in between stretching/core and yoga as well as weights and running has left me sore and a bit run down.  So, a computer day and a day to plan for this weekends Ski Patrol Training day and my part on Recco and Beacon Searching. 

Glencoe and Nevis Range Recco Training
Anticipation for the following winter season is high. I am a long time out of MR now (10 years) but I can reflect that 37 years in MR was more than enough. Its not normal to be on 24 hour alert 365 with its subliminal affects, as well as normalising putting broken bodies into airtight bags, sadly sometimes in climbing’s small world that included people I have shared a rope with. Many folk stay on in MR into old age. I am glad I didn’t. While it gives a sense of belonging and tribe it’s a dark pastime in the busier Highland teams and being a mountain undertaker is just not normal. Yes, there are a lot of positives, but going into your climbing playground several times a year and putting broken people into body bags isn’t normal in any tribe, especially not if you have a love of climbing and mountains.

I recently read Stephen Hearn’s excellent book “Peak Performance Under Pressure” after he gave us an excellent lecture at our national ski patrol annual general meeting.

Although I am no longer involved in MR I still ski patrol, and I like the day shift unlike MR's winter darkness, and the more positive side including a lot more success with avalanche recovery. It has its moments too, and risk management for avalanche control and mitigation is part of it as well as casualty management. There are many more injuries skiing, all be it less life threatening than MR, although there are occasional serious ones too. So “Peak Performance under Pressure” is important as its still rescue from hostile terrain in awkward places, or avalanche terrain at times.

If you can't change the risk - change the consequences. 
Colleagues spotting were ready to dig me out
It's not hard to extrapolate performance under pressure knowledge and techniques to any part of the outdoor world. Be it guiding, off piste decision making, self-control while making hard technical climbing moves, managing a bad weather epic or at an accident.  I found myself using this arc of performance the other day doing an onsight of a sport 7a+ where warming up into the zone on easier routes got me onto the top of the performance arc. At one point I tipped over into "frazzle" so made myself arrange my body position so I could lockout and shakeout and recover, control my breathing and get back to control and so back into the zone and then complete the route.

Reframing while hanging like a bat! So easy to lose control and blow it. This is what I love about climbing, the absolute focus on hard sport routes, nothing else exists when in the zone. It’s not hard to see why accidents happen when good climbers are on easier routes as focus is lost. Just watch “Free Solo” and you see absolute focus or death and reflect on climbers who have died on easy routes solo. The only other sport that’s given me a similar feeling of total focus is road racing a bike. The psychology and two wheeled tactical chess, staying on a wheel, to jump and breakaway and go it alone, or take it to the line.
A day on easier local routes. Well below the "frazzle" zone

So winter may come more fully this year, unlike last, and while the anxieties of younger years and learned behaviour (will I survive, who will I find, will the darkness take my mind) is boxed. West coast winters are hard. Keeping busy helps and working for Recco and training others in avalanche rescue is a positive. I don’t mind some first aid on ski patrol but avoid providing medical training despite having been a medical trainer and paramedic for many years. While the algorithms and some diagnostic and treatment skills remain, skill fade in buckets makes me acutely aware that persons of my age should not be providing any invasive skills or emergency surgical procedures. I was at a car accident this summer and the automatic responses and patient assessment kicked in, but if for example I had needed to decompress a chest I would have shat it as the self-awareness, confidence and skill are just not there.


The social fun of bouldering even at -5 in Glen Nevis
I am re invested in my climbing and holding back the years to at least maintain grades and if possible go harder, and also looking forward to the days when the sun shines, the powder is deep and these slarving carving whoops of joy lift us up into the zone, and happiness.
Happy days, with Fiona at Nevis Range. Below "Easy Gully"
Nevis Range is Scotland's Freeride Heaven