You wouldn’t be dead for quids – (How good is living)

Baz – Boar’s Head, Blue Mountains, Australia

A beautiful day is once again shaping up in one of the world’s greatest cities, the Harbour City, Sydney, Australia.

The dogs have been fed, Janet and TomO are still in dreamland, and I’m heading to the Blue Mountains to climb and abseil at Malatia Point.

 This is a stunningly spectacular part of the mountains, not too far from downtown Katoomba, that will offer us a great view of the “Three Sisters” as we descend and climb.

And a big day for TomO, he’s meeting up with a couple of friends, with one eye on someone special, and heading to the movies – he’s as anxious as a gold fish in a blender!

Watching him grow and develop – You’ve just got to love it!

And Janet?

Well, she declared the couch and a book is her destination today, with a mug of hot tea!

Life, you wouldn’t be “dead for quids, hey”…

So what is happening in your part of the world today?

Ps: And remember, if all else fails – just stay out of control and see what develops…

Dope on a Rope – The Saga Continues (What – You can’t tie shoelaces?)

Okay, confession time, I can’t tie my shoelaces.

Phew! That wasn’t too bad now I’ve finally got it off my chest, in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever admitted that before.

Actually, I did admit it to TomO, my 12 year-old son a few years back when he was struggling with the concept. And I recall being a little snookered at the time, especially when he asked for a demo of how it was done.

I just didn’t want to go there and let’s face it there are plenty of things that can mess around with a young mind and this didn’t need to be one of them. So I ‘fessed up and sent him to speak with his mother.

And speaking of his mother, I did mention it to Janet, as there was some risk of tripping over as I led her arm-in-arm down the aisle on our wedding day. Believe me, I’m assured of tripping at least once a week with the way I tie my shoelaces. Imagine the wedding shots with me sporting a black eye in them, all because I tripped on a rogue shoelace that had come undone.

I’m sure many would find the recounting of such a story funny, but I’d be the brunt of endless jokes down at the local football club.

“Hey Baz, you didn’t even get down the aisle and you’re sporting a black eye already”. Bluey and the boys would be on to me with the ferocity of a ‘pit-bull terrier’ nipping at your heels…”

I ran the gauntlet when playing football as a pre-pubescent teenager growing up in Townsville. The other boys were always impressed my mother turned up for every single game we played, always on the sideline cheering away, but of course I never told them that mum and I ducked around to the back of the sheds before the game so she could tie my boots up.

Only a loving mother could do that, and boy it saved me from embarrassment at a very delicate age. We won every game that year and the boys nominated mum as our lucky charm.

I think I can even trace back my life-long habit of sleeping without bed-clothes, you know, in the nuddy, due to this problem, despite telling Janet I was just a new-age type of guy. It did start a trend though…

Remember those flannelette pyjamas, the ones with the draw-cord that you had to tie off?

I still have nightmares over them and go into a cold-sweat whenever I pass a rack of jarmies at our local K-Mart store…

I used to tie them off in my usual way, but after a few tosses and turns in the bed my bow would become a knot.  Invariably I’d wake up needing to visit the little room, you know, the call of nature, make a quick dash down the hallway worried I might only just make it, only to find the knot at the last critical moment.

Talk about panic, sheer panic!

No one ever owned up to who hid the scissors in the little room, although I think mum has always suspected me.  Perhaps the tell tale sign was a severed cord in my pyjamas, but funny as it seems now, she never asked why I didn’t need any new pyjamas from that moment on.

And what about Dunlop Volleys, I had stacks of those in my young adult years. The first thing I did when I opened the box was to rip the laces out and throw them away, problem solved.  I thought it looked so cool walking around in them without laces. Mind you it should come as no surprise that I would put that sort of spin on it.

It did look cool, didn’t it?

I mean Janet never said it didn’t, but back then we were freshly wedded and you know how those things work, nodding yes, but thinking no! Mind you she never criticised those yellow pants I used to wear, well not back then anyway, but she’s managed to toss that one out there a couple of times recently…

These days if I had a pair of the old Dunlop’s on without laces someone would be offering me 5 bucks to buy some and telling me to keep the change to get myself a feed.

While we’re on shoes, how good are running shoes these days? The ones with the Quicklace for one pull tightening, no need to tie anything. I was right on to them when they first came out.

My running mates were impressed and I was singing their virtues so often that I’m sure they must have been thinking I was on some sort of retainer from the company. The unfortunate downside is they made my stockpile of Dunlop Volley’s redundant, after all how am I supposed to offload a dozen pair without shoelaces?

So by now you are probably thinking, okay Baz, bravo, but what’s with it? I’m sure there are others with a similar problem even if we’ve never come across them…

Well you see any mountaineer worth his or her salt will have a repertoire of some complex knots that they can perform blindfolded. And I’m sure there is one knot for every letter in the alphabet, and then a hundred more!

The girth hitch, a water knot, a figure eight fisherman’s knot, the munter hitch, and something called a stopper knot that sounds like it’s a pretty important one.

On a recent abseiling course my marker was finally called in…

I had a quick mental debate over whether I should admit to our instructor that I couldn’t tie my shoelaces, but thought better of it because it might be me first up on the rope after I’ve tied it off.

Besides, I’m sure there is a climber’s creed that says something like, you tied it, you try it!

And it would save them any embarrassment when under cross-examination in a coronial inquiry.

Imagine having to defend a fact that you allowed someone who could not tie their shoelaces to tie off the anchor points on top of the cliff that lead to the sudden demise of some poor family man with a dozen mouths to feed.

Yep, there’d be no doubting they’d be too smart to be caught out like that, so it was more likely to be me abseiling at 100 kilometres an hour with one end of the rope in each hand.

Mind you I did think of mum, but a fear of heights ruled her out. Besides, would I really want my mother with me asking have I got my handkerchief just as I’m about to abseil over the edge?

So here it was, my moment of truth. 

Actually it wasn’t too bad.

They all thought it was a great joke and everyone laughed loudly. Even though this was serious business it could still be fun and there is nothing like a rope joke to break the ice.

But the laughing floated away into the valley below when I explained it was true!

I could even see a couple of them processing this and clearly questioning in their minds whether it was in fact a tree root I tripped on as we made our way down to the cliff-face from the carpark. And like wandering eyes drawn to the busom of a woman in a low cut dress, they spent the rest of the day fixated on my shoes.

Our instructor was quite good about it really and offered some comforting words and said I shouldn’t worry as there are probably many people like me, and thinking they probably weren’t abseilers though.

As soon as I turned my back he was right on to those knots I tied. Strewth, I would have been if I was him, especially as he was clipped on a safety line that I had just tied-off. The colour drained from his face as he stepped back from the cliff edge, shaking visibly!

But we did work away at those knots; the figure eight was popular, very strong and guaranteed to hold everything in place, just as long as you got it right.  I practised away, at times feeling like I had a fistful of thumbs as I worked on those fisherman’s knots. But I was mastering it, on my way to becoming a pro!

And my rigging was successfully put to the test; but mind you I still have a problem of sorts.

I’ve been working so fervently on my climber’s knots that I still haven’t got around to working out how to tie my shoelaces.

Remember as a kid when you got your first pair of shiny black shoes?

I do. I refused to take them off for a week, even insisting on wearing them to bed despite being offered as much ice-cream I could eat in return for removing them.

You see I’ve been practicing my fisherman’s knot on my work shoes (Doh!) and anyone with even a basic understanding of knots will know the fisherman’s knot is designed to never come undone, something I overlooked as I was high-fiving TomO.

The penny dropped as I headed for a shower and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, and a couple of those naughty words did slip out.

But there we have it, tonight it looks like I’m going to bed with my shoes on for the first time in years and no amount of ice-cream is going to save the situation. I just need to broach the topic with Janet.

It’s kind of funny really; here I am dressed to the nines for bed in just my work shoes. Who would have thought my mountaineering journey would have a twist like this in it?

Am I alone on this one, or is there a huge group, inspired by my confession, about to come-out?

Come on; join the movement… if you belong, I’ve got some Dunlop Volley’s you can have for the asking!

Dope on a Rope (An ongoing saga of a mountaineering journey)

Jamison Valley & the Three Sisters, Katoomba
Jamison Valley and The Three Sisters, Katoomba, Australia

Yesterday promised so much and I can happily say, it delivered.

 I have been itching to get out and about in the mountains since returning from my climb in New Zealand about one month ago and there is little that will beat a beautiful spring day in the mountains.

 I packed The Landy and was on the road by 7am heading to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, about a 90 minute drive to the west of Sydney.

And the Blue Mountains is a great adventure playground. The area is an internationally recognised World Heritage Area where you can bush walk, mountain bike, abseil, climb and canyon in any number of spectacular locations.

As part of my mountaineering training I want to do plenty of multi-pitch abseiling to ensure I can do it quickly, safely, and with a high level of proficiency.

Malatia Wall, Katoomba
Malatia Wall, Katoomba

Our choice was Malatia Wall, which is not too far from the main street of Katoomba and close to the scenic railway, a very popular tourist destination.

The plan was to abseil into the Jamison Valley and walk back out via the Furber Stairs, a short, but very spectacular bush-walk which starts at the base of the scenic railway.

Bushwalking Katoomba
Katoomba Falls, Blue Mountains

The descent is around 230 metres in total requiring five abseils on two 60-metre ropes. On average each abseil was around 40-50 metres. On the first pitch I just had to stop on the wall and take in the view over the Jamison Valley and The Three Sisters. In the valley below cockatoos and lorikeets flew amongst the tall standing trees.

Overlooking the Three Sisters, Katomba
Malatia Wall, Multi-pitch Abseil
Three Sisters
Malatia Wall over looking the Jamison Valley

I marveled at the view as I hung in my harness.

 And if everything goes to plan I’ll be back up in the mountains next weekend to multi-pitch off of Boar’s Head, with a climb back out…

 And speaking of a Dope on a Rope, if the hat fits wear it I say – I forgot to charge my Go-Pro battery, so I had limited footage!

Crikey – Wire me up and check if I have a heart (beat)

Recently I wrote about Acute Mountain Sickness and the effects it can have on the body as you gain altitude when climbing. As we all know the human body was never designed to function at extremely high altitudes and supplemental oxygen is usually required.

And although Mt Everest and other 8,000 metre peaks have been climbed many times without the assistance of supplemental oxygen, the occurrence is rare.

I am taking a number of steps to help prepare for the climbing I am doing over the coming year. I’m training intensely to ensure I am in a peak physical condition, eating a well-balanced diet, and another consideration is to ensure that I do not have any medical conditions that might create issues for myself or others.

Monitoring the latter is an important process.

Grey's Peak New Zealand
Grey’s Peak, New Zealand

I routinely see a Specialist Sports Doctor for ailments and issues associated with exercising. I just saw him a week ago to discuss my high altitude climbing and to obtain a referral to a cardiologist so I can undergo a full coronary check-up, which is something we discussed a few months back.

I don’t expect the tests to reveal anything adverse as all indications are I am in good shape and have no family history of coronary disease. Mind you, if they do produce a negative result at least I can deal with it now!

Friday this week is my appointment day.

Well, as it would turn out I have been suffering a low level cold for the past couple of weeks, you know the type, nothing too serious to cause concern, just enough to be irritating. Janet, my partner has been suffering a full-blown cold for the past few days, although she is recovering now, and TomO, our son has also had one.

On Tuesday this week I woke up feeling a little tight in the chest, wheezing, runny nose, and feeling a little short of breathe. I’m making it sound worse than it was, but I’m a mere male and you know what we are like when it comes to being sick!

And with some rock climbing coming up this weekend in the Blue Mountains, just to the west of Sydney, I wanted to ensure I nipped this in the bud before it got any worse. Later in the day I visited my local General Medical Practitioner in the hope he had some instant cure…

mountaineering
Rock-climbing, Blue Mountains

Crikey, didn’t I open a can of worms!

After describing my symptoms he immediately sent me for an ECG, chest x-ray, and a plethora of other tests, including cholesterol, blood sugar, prostate (phew, at least I got the pathological test) and a couple of others for good measure.

I did suggest that I would be having most of these tests this Friday, but he wouldn’t be swayed. Just as well as I didn’t hear any sirens at the time otherwise I would have been in a mild big panic thinking it was an ambulance coming to collect me!

And don’t get me wrong, better to be safe than sorry, after all he has my health at forefront of mind for sure.

So there I was, lying on the bed, I had more wires on me than you could poke a stick at, and everyone asking did I have any chest pains.

It was just a common cold surely and I just wanted something to make me feel better!

As an aside, when I arrived at the reception of the pathology company the nurse reviewed my requirements, but asked would I mind waiting while she finished ordering her stores for the week. I wasn’t sure whether she meant her groceries or something for the medical practice.

Either way I didn’t mind, it was just a common cold after all I reassured myself. Geez, my heart was starting to beat a little faster by now…

About 10 minutes later when we entered the ECG room she immediately asked whether I had any chest pains.

I just chuckled to myself and said,  “no”. Really I was glad she got her stores done!

Must be an insurance thingy, maybe the waiting room is still on my watch, not theirs? Cark it in the waiting room, well bad luck, but just don’t do it in the consultation room, that’s far too much paper work…

I’m pleased to say all the tests were normal and I still have my specialist appointment tomorrow which will include a stress-test. In fact, for the most part, the results are above average for my age…

But as I was having my ECG I got to thinking that many of us exercise for fitness, health, and general well-being and we assume that it goes a long way towards that goal.

I’m sure it does.

Rowing in the Shed
Baz on the C2 Rower

But equally, there is most likely a point where you can push the body too far, a point at which the exercise undertaken may become detrimental to your health…

I can’t imagine changing anything I do, despite that possibility as I enjoy pushing to the limits, but it is always something to be mindful of!

So how much is too much, what do you reckon?

High Altitude Climbing and Acute Mountain Sickness

I have been researching the impact that high altitude climbing will have on my body, what I can expect, what I can do to assist my body’s ability to cope, and importantly, to be able to recognise the onset of Acute Mountain Sickness in its more serious forms.

Acute Mountain Sickness, AMS as it is often referred to, is the effect the declining number of molecules of oxygen in the atmosphere has on our body as we ascend in altitude. It can range from a mild illness, to the more severe life-threatening forms of the illness, such as High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE).

The latter two conditions require immediate attention and descent from altitude otherwise death is the most likely outcome.

I’m not intending to go into a great discussion on either, nor am I qualified to do so, but as part of my “journey to the mountains” and extreme  altitude climbing I want to gain a better understanding of both conditions.

High altitude is defined as 5,000 to 11,500 feet, very high altitude 11,500 to 18,000, and extreme altitude as 18,000 feet and above.  At extreme altitudes physiologic function will outstrip  acclimatisation eventually.

My reading has taken me across a wide variety of topics, but the one that caught my attention was the connection between muscle and the requirement to fuel our muscles with oxygen when under exertion.

Over the years I have trained as a power-lifter for strength purposes and I have achieved results I am happy with.  As a consequence I have grown muscularly and currently weigh-in around the 95 kilogram mark.  This has given me a good power-for-weight ratio and has enhanced my speed on the kayak, and rowing machine over the short to mid sprint distances.

Power-lifting has helped me develop strong legs, especially my quads through the nature of the exercise; squatting, and dead-lifting.  I can squat around 180 kilograms (400lbs) and dead-lift 220 kilograms (460 lbs).

Will this muscle help, or hinder me on the mountain as I trudge up the side of an 8,000 metre peak??

When exercising, the body, or more specifically the contracting muscles, have an increased need for oxygen, and this is usually achieved by a higher blood flow to these muscles.  And herein lies the dilemma as I see it.  Due to the less dense air at altitude the number of oxygen molecules for any given mass of air will drop. Consequently, mental and physical performance will decline. The larger the muscles, the larger the requirement for oxygen to prevent muscular fatigue…

So what can I do?

There is not a lot that you can do to prepare for the effect of AMS, some people will adapt and perform better at altitude than others, and this is hard to predict from one individual to another.

What I can do is decrease my muscle mass. Whilst that will mean a decrease in overall strength I can try and maintain the power for weight ratio balance.

The upshot of all this is that ahead of my climb in New Zealand in January, and later next year in Nepal where I will be climbing three 6,000 metre peaks, including Lobuche East, I will deliberately take around 12-15 kilograms out of my frame…

The climbs in Nepal will be done without the aid of supplemental oxygen.

Essentially, I will not change my training routine at all, I will maintain my same level of weight training, kayaking, rowing, and other activities. I have found the best way to control weight change, either gaining, or losing, is via the kitchen, and diet. In fact I won’t even modify my diet to any great extent, simply quantity control.

Narrabeen Lake, Sydney, Australia

If you have any thoughts on the topic I’d welcome your insight!

You don’t know how lucky you are!

I was mentioning the other day about how excited (very excited) I am about an upcoming trip I have to New Zealand. I depart in two weeks to further my climbing and mountaineering experience in preparation for some upcoming trips to New Zealand and the Himalayas in 2013.  

Mt Aspiring, Southern Alps, New Zealand

I have a whole week climbing some smaller peaks in the Southern Alps of New Zealand’s south island, along with some ice-climbing, and we might even camp out if it isn’t too cold.

Anyway, over dinner last night, Janet, my partner, casually remarked to me…

“You don’t know how lucky you are.” 

It is a favourite saying in her family, but usually reserved for occasions when you have been spoilt, been very spoilt!

I’ve heard it often!

Sensibly, I approached the comment with caution, not sure if this was serious or mischief, although odds-on it was mischief in the making. It wasn’t my birthday, it was unlikely I was getting a gift or present, besides with all the climbing gear I have bought recently even TomO, our son, remarked that I had already received my Christmas presents…for the next few years! (note to self, tell Janet about the new back-pack)

“Have you thought about all the activities and holidays you are about to embark on?”

I sensed where this was heading and there was a cheeky glint in both of their eyes, but in the interest of self-preservation I played dumb, which isn’t too hard for me!

You see, we were due to have a holiday in April this year on a tropical island located in the island nation of Fiji in the romantic South Pacific.  As it turns out on the very island, Yasawa Island, that was featured in the movie Blue Lagoon.  However, due to extreme weather it had to be postponed to this September as you could not even get to the small resort by boat or plane at the time.

The holiday was planned as a thank you to Janet from her boys for putting up with one who is rapidly approaching puberty and the other that hasn’t grown up yet…

I’m sure you’ve got it figured who’s who in the zoo here…

Anyway, this is the cool bit.

I head to New Zealand and the tail-end of its winter on a Friday. The day after I return I am participating in Tough Mudder, a 20-kilometre commando style course peppered with obstacles that you have to jump over, climb over, hurdle flaming hay bales, and even get zapped by 10,000 volts after being submerged in ice-cold water (is that supposed to be fun?) and then, get this, onto Fiji the very next day.

Mind you, our flight to Fiji is at silly-o’clock in the morning, and there is a chance, okay a big chance, there will be a few beers after Tough Mudder, either that or I’ll be in the back of an ambulance or something similar suffering third degree burns, or hypothermia…

And Janet added,

“if that isn’t enough when we get home from Fiji we are going to the Blue Mountains, just to the west of Sydney, to do some climbing and abseiling for a few days”…

I’m betting that while TomO and I climb, Janet will be putting the credit card through its paces in the quaint galleries and dress shops that are a part of the Blue Mountains scene…

And who would I be to complain!

Yes, I don’t know how lucky I am…What do you think?

I’m excited today (very excited)

Mt Aspiring, Southern Alps, New Zealand

Well to be honest, most days excite me, perhaps some more than others, but today I booked a week of mountaineering in the Southern Alps of New Zealand leaving in two weeks time, and I’m really excited about the prospect of getting out and about…

Hinchinbrook Island, Australia

I was intending to walk the Thornsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island, in North Queensland as it has been on my list of walks to do for as long as I can remember. However, each time I have planned to walk it something else has come along to interrupt the plan. Usually something that I have had no control over.

I’ve often joked that there is an unknown force at work that prevents me from going. Perhaps it is saving me from the jaws of one of those pre-historic reptiles, the crocodile, that inhabit the region, but I digress…

 I already have a trip booked to climb Mt Aspiring located in the Southern Alps of New Zealand this coming January. But January seems so far away, so I thought, why not give those hand-crafted mountaineering boots I just purchased a run for their money instead of walking the Thornsborne Trail?

Yep, I had no trouble rationalising that one in my own mind.

A quick call to our travel agent, was followed up with a call to the wonderful team at Adventure Consultants, located at Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island, to confirm I was on my way.

New Zealand is recognised around the world as a great training ground for mountaineering, and although most peaks are only around 3,000 metres in height, they are similar in ruggedness and valley to summit altitude gains as the higher peaks in the Himalayas.

English: Southern Alps from Mt Hutt, New Zealand
Southern Alps, New Zealand

The week of guiding and instruction, the Seven Summits Course, is designed for people like me who are looking to progress to high altitude climbing, to gain exposure to snow camping, improve on crampon and ice axe skills, master ladder crossings over crevasses, along with other general mountaineering skills.

In Australia, it is more difficult to gain this type of exposure.

I have elected to undertake as much tuition as I possibly can, especially in the earlier stages of my journey to Cho Oyu, and Beyond, as this will hopefully make me safer on the mountain, and give me a strong base to build from and to assist in achieving my goals.

One area I will be focussing heavily on is my decision making skills, and I’ll be getting the team at Adventure Consultants to put me to the test on this aspect…

And I still need to break the news to Janet, my partner, that there is plenty more gear I need to buy before I go.

Mind you, Janet has not been watching the bank balance, but has asked only one thing of me, and that is to be safe at all times, reminding me there is always another day.

Her words of wisdom constantly echo in my mind, “summiting is optional, getting down is mandatory.”

 Who has a mountaineering story they can share?

Dope on a Rope (an ongoing saga)

I’ve just spent the past four days with the team from the Australian School of Mountaineering, ASM, learning more about rock-climbing and advancing my rope handling skills.

This was done in the Blue Mountains, just to the west of Sydney, a place where I am finding myself with increasing frequency of late, and not surprisingly as there is plenty of opportunity to hone my abseiling and climbing skills on the abundance of cliff faces in the region.

And what better place to do it than one of the world’s great mountain heritage areas.

Whilst my ultimate goal is high-altitude climbing, there are basic skills that can’t be practiced enough, much like military drilling, to ensure that the skills are second nature and can be performed under extreme conditions. I have been placing a lot of focus on rescue skills, after all, it is good fun until something goes wrong, and whilst there is always a chance of that how you respond will have a great bearing on the outcome…

That isn’t to say it shouldn’t be fun, and when I embarked on this journey I made a promise to myself that if I stopped having fun it is game over and time to do something else…

And we did have a lot of fun, and Shane, who instructed me on my advanced abseiling and rope rescue course, laughed as we welcomed each other and asked whether I can tie my shoelaces yet?  Sadly, I had to tell him I couldn’t, but I had mastered quite a few other knots.

There were three other people on the first two days of the course as it has various stages that can be done separately, and with some time due off from work, I decided to spend four days in the mountains to cover as much as possible.

Our climbing was done in the spectacular Mt York area, not too far from the small township of Mt Victoria, against a very scenery backdrop.

The course began in the headquarters of ASM located in Katoomba covering important aspects such as safe movement on and around the cliffs.

On the first day we undertook a series of small climbs at Mt York, in near freezing conditions. These climbs left me wondering what they call larger climbs!

It was great to be on the rock-face, improving skills under the guidance of our very experienced instructors, and there were even some moments where I happily found myself outside my comfort zone!

Our second day was spent entirely on the rock-face, climbing and learning, and we managed around five climbs of varying degrees of difficulty.

It was nice to have the weekend pass knowing that I still had another two days in the mountains learning and climbing. I did this with Nathan, another ASM instructor who was covering important areas like route selection, hazard assessment, and protection systems. We did some revision work on rescues using Z-drags, and abseiling an injured climber in tandem. I hope the need never arises, but it is important to be proficient just in case either is called upon as a rescue tool.

We were greeted with fantastic weather for the final day which was spent setting up climbs, climbing, and moving on to another climb.

It was quite an exhilarating weekend of climbing, learning new skills, getting outside the comfort zone and just having fun out and about. I can’t wait to get back out there for another crawl up the wall.

As for Dope on a Rope, let’s just say I’ve improved greatly!!

Blue Mountains Climbing – Chomping at the bit

On the Rope, Mt York, Blue Mountains

I’m off to climb in the Blue Mountains this weekend to further advance my skills with the team from the Australian School of Mountaineering, the weather is perfect and I’m chomping at the bit…

 I am currently investing time in developing and advancing my rope handling skills with a big focus on self-rescue and rescue techniques generally in preparation for a climb I am doing in New Zealand this coming January, Mt Aspiring in the country’s South Island.

I’ll be spending a total of two weeks in New Zealand, training and practising my skills and working on steep technical climbs as well as crevice rescues.

Later in 2013 I am heading to Nepal to climb three 6,000 metre peaks, Island Peak, Pokalde, and Lobuche East.  This will enable me to further develop my skills, visit a wonderful country with my family, and to be able to take a peek at Cho Oyu.

My aim is to make an attempt on Cho Oyu in 2014.

 Cho Oyu is the world’s sixth highest mountain and possibly one of the easiest of the world’s fourteen 8,000 metre peaks. Although, this is more because of the ease of access, as there is nothing really easy about exposing yourself to 8,000 metre peaks.

I have partnered with Adventure Consultants, a New Zealand based high altitude Specialist Company that was started by the legendary Rob Hall and Gary Ball in the early 1990s. Their stories are ones of great adventure and determination and I’d encourage anyone with an interest in adventure to take time to read about them. And I must say the team at Adventure Consultants have been very helpful thus far in assisting me to meet my goals.

For me this is a journey, of which one can never be sure of where it will lead, or what you will see and do along the way, and that makes it incredibly exciting. It also provides the motivation to take my fitness to a completely new level.

I am a great believer of simply living in the moment and sometimes I feel like I am planning my life away, however there is much planning to do, and as we all know, time seems to fly…

But, it is one step at a time, so I’m looking forward to this weekend, and the backdrop of the Blue Mountains makes rock climbing in the area even that more pleasant.

 

Ordinary People – Achieving Great Things

Andy Campbell

The other day I came across an inspirational story, the story of Andy Campbell.

On 7 June, Andy left London to travel 30,000 miles around the world in a wheelchair, a journey that is expected to take two years, will cross four continents with environments ranging from oceans to deserts, an odessy that has never been attempted before in which he will ski, scubadive, kayak, and even paraglide.

Eight years ago Andy had an abseiling accident, a fall from a rock-face that left him paralysed, losing the use of his legs.

But, in his own words, he kept his “ life and his ambition”.

 “The more I tasted freedom the greater my appetite became and I realised the only way to ensure something’s impossible is to not try, to accept failure and physically stop”.

Motivated by a desire to escape the concrete jungle and urban environments that often confines those in wheelchairs,  Andy has continued to pursue what he enjoys most, adventure. Following the accident he went on to learn the skills necessary to be able to ski, sitting down, kayak, bike ride, scuba dive, and even rock-climbing again, all without the use of his legs.

Andy Campbell Paragliding

Andy will use his journey as a way to help increase the accessibly and enjoyment of the outdoors for those with spinal cord injuries.

His vision is simple, “to help create a world in which people with a spinal cord injury are not restricted from active participation in outdoor recreation by a lack of access to adequate equipment.”

His goal, “to raise 1 million pounds.”

Good luck Andy, you truly are an inspiration, a great example of how ordinary people, achieve great things!

(You can follow Andy’s adventure at www.pushingthelimits.com)

But Baz – You can’t even tie your shoelaces

Shoelaces, photo taken in Sweden

Okay, confession time, I can’t tie my shoelaces.

Phew! That wasn’t too bad now I’ve finally got it off my chest, in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever admitted that before.

Actually, I did admit it to TomO, my 12 year-old son a few years back when he was struggling with the concept. And I recall being a little snookered at the time, especially when he asked for a demo of how it was done. I just didn’t want to go there and let’s face it there are plenty of things that can mess around with a young mind and this didn’t need to be one of them. So I ‘fessed up and sent him to speak with his mother.

And speaking of his mother, I did mention it to Janet, as there was some risk of tripping over as I led her arm-in-arm down the aisle on our wedding day. Believe me, I’m assured of tripping at least once a week with the way I tie my shoelaces. Imagine the wedding shots with me sporting a black eye in them, all because I tripped on a rogue shoelace that had come undone. I’m sure many would find the recounting of such a story funny, but I’d be the brunt of endless jokes down at the local football club.

“Hey Baz, you didn’t even get down the aisle and you’re sporting a black eye already”. Bluey and the boys would be on to me with the ferocity of a ‘pit-bull terrier’ nipping at your heels…

I ran the gauntlet when playing football as a pre-pubescent teenager growing up in Townsville. The other boys were always impressed my mother turned up for every single game we played, always on the sideline cheering away, but of course I never told them that mum and I ducked around to the back of the sheds before the game so she could tie my boots up.

Only a loving mother could do that, and boy it saved me from embarrassment at a very delicate age. We won every game that year and the boys nominated mum as our lucky charm.

I think I can even trace back my life-long habit of sleeping without bed-clothes, you know, in the nude, due to this problem, despite telling Janet I was just a new-age type of guy. It did start a trend though…

Stay with me here!  

Remember those flannelette pyjamas, the ones with the draw-cord that you had to tie off?

I still have nightmares over them, and go into a cold-sweat whenever I pass a rack of them at our local K-Mart store…

I used to tie them off in my usual way, but after a few tosses and turns in the bed my bow would become a knot.  Invariably I’d wake up needing to visit the little room, you know, the call of nature, make a quick dash down the hallway worried I might only just make it, only to find the knot at the last critical moment.

Talk about panic, sheer panic!

No one ever owned up to who hid the scissors in the little room, although I think mum has always suspected me.  Perhaps the tell tale sign was a severed cord in my pyjamas, but funny as it seems now, she never asked why I didn’t need any new pyjamas from that moment on.

And what about Dunlop Volleys, I had stacks of those in my young adult years. The first thing I did when I opened the box was to rip the laces out and throw them away, problem solved.  I thought it looked so cool walking around in them without laces. Mind you it should come as no surprise that I would put that sort of spin on it.

It did look cool, didn’t it?

I mean Janet never said it didn’t, but back then we were freshly wedded and you know how those things work, nodding yes, but thinking no! Mind you she never criticised those yellow pants I used to wear, well not back then anyway, but she’s managed to toss that one out there a couple of times recently…

These days if I had a pair of the old Dunlop’s on without laces someone would be offering me 5 bucks to buy some and telling me to keep the change to get myself a feed.

While we’re on shoes, how good are running shoes these days? The ones with the Quicklace for one pull tightening, no need to tie anything. I was right on to them when they first came out. My running mates were impressed and I was singing their virtues so often that I’m sure they must have been thinking I was on some sort of retainer from the company. The unfortunate downside is they made my stockpile of Dunlop Volley’s redundant, after all how am I supposed to offload a dozen pair without shoelaces?

So by now you are probably thinking, okay Baz, bravo, but what’s with it? I’m sure there are others with a similar problem even if we’ve never come across them…

Well you see any mountaineer worth his or her salt will have a repertoire of some complex knots that they can perform blindfolded. And I’m sure there is one knot for every letter in the alphabet, and then a hundred more! The girth hitch, a water knot, a figure eight fisherman’s knot, the munter hitch, and something called a stopper knot that sounds like it’s a pretty important one.

On a recent abseiling course my marker was finally called in…

I had a quick mental debate over whether I should admit to our instructor that I couldn’t tie my shoelaces, but thought better of it because it might be me first up on the rope after I’ve tied it off.

Besides, I’m sure there is a climber’s creed that says something like, you tied it, you try it!

And it would save them any embarrassment when under cross-examination in a coronial inquiry.

Imagine having to defend a fact that you allowed someone who could not tie their shoelaces to tie off the anchor points on top of the cliff that lead to the sudden demise of some poor family man with a dozen mouths to feed.

Yep, there’d be no doubting they’d be too smart to be caught out like that, so it was more likely to be me abseiling at 100 kilometres an hour with one end of the rope in each hand.

Mind you I did think of mum, but a fear of heights ruled her out. Besides, would I really want my mother with me asking have I got my handkerchief just as I’m about to abseil over the edge?

So here it was, my moment of truth. Actually it wasn’t too bad.

They all thought it was a great joke and everyone laughed loudly. Even though this was serious business it could still be fun and there is nothing like a rope joke to break the ice.

But the laughing floated away into the valley below when I explained it was true! I could even see a couple of them processing this and clearly questioning in their minds whether it was in fact a tree root I tripped on as we made our way down to the cliff-face from the carpark. And like wandering eyes drawn to the busom of a woman in a low cut dress, they spent the rest of the day fixated on my shoes.

Our instructor was quite good about it really and offered some comforting words and said I shouldn’t worry as there are probably many people like me, and thinking they probably weren’t abseilers though.

As soon as I turned my back he was right on to those knots I tied. Struth, I would have been if I was him, especially as he was clipped on a safety line that I had just tied-off. The colour drained from his face as he stepped back from the cliff edge, shaking visibly!

But we did work away at those knots; the figure eight was popular, very strong and guaranteed to hold everything in place, just as long as you got it right.  I practised away, at times feeling like I had a fistful of thumbs as I worked on those fisherman’s knots. But I was mastering it, on my way to becoming a pro!

And my rigging was successfully put to the test; but mind you I still have a problem of sorts.

I’ve been working so fervently on my climber’s knots that I still haven’t got around to working out how to tie my shoelaces.

Remember as a kid when you got your first pair of shiny black shoes?

I do. I refused to take them off for a week, even insisting on wearing them to bed despite being offered as much ice-cream I could eat in return for removing them.

You see I’ve been practicing my fisherman’s knot on my work shoes (Doh!) and anyone with even a basic understanding of knots will know the fisherman’s knot is designed to never come undone, something I overlooked as I was high-fiving TomO.

The penny dropped as I headed for a shower and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, and a couple of those naughty words did slip out.

But there we have it, tonight it looks like I’m going to bed with my shoes on for the first time in years and no amount of ice-cream is going to save the situation. I just need to broach the topic with Janet.

It’s kind of funny really; here I am dressed to the nines for bed in just my work shoes. Who would have thought my mountaineering journey would have a twist like this in it?

Am I alone on this one, or is there a huge group, inspired by my confession, about to come-out?

Come on; join the movement… if you belong, I’ve got some Dunlop Volley’s you can have for the asking!

Abseil – Why don’t you go down upside down

Over I go…

As part of my journey to Cho Oyu and beyond I thought it best I start with some basics, learning the ropes so to speak. And for someone who still to this day can’t tie shoelaces in the normal way, learning the ropes and how to tie them off has taken on a different level of importance given the implication will be far greater than tripping on an untied shoelace.

I will confess to having some previous experience at abseiling, my first and only abseil prior to this weekend was off the AMP Building in Sydney a couple of years ago with my partner, Janet,  in support of the Sir David Martin Foundation, and assisted by a great Australian Mountaineer and Adventurer, Andrew Lock.  I have even exited a plane on numerous occasions, with a parachute strapped to my back, and spent many hours upside down in aerobatic planes, but when our guide for the day suggested I abseil upside down, head-first after a morning of abseil practice, I thought this is crazy, in a nice kind of way!

Baz & Jaz

The setting was the Blue Mountains which is situated just to the West of Sydney and easily accessed along the Great Western Highway. In fact the route to, and over, the Blue Mountains is much the same as that taken by the intrepid explorers, Blaxland, Wentworth, and Lawson when they crossed the Mountains for the first time in 1813.  And it was a perfect weekend to undertake my basic abseil course, as we were joined by two couples and their boys, close friends, who both happened to be celebrating their wedding anniversaries on the Saturday. So the Saturday night always promised to be full of cheer, and festivities, if I survived the day.  There was even the chance of an encounter with the big guy in the Red Suit, Santa, given the area was hosting its Yuletide in July festival.

Saturday morning in downtown Katoomba and  I met up with fellow course participants at the Australian School of Mountaineering located in the Paddy Pallin store in the main street.  Some were doing a half day course and three of us had signed up for the full day.  And what a fantastic winter’s day, the sky was a deep blue, little cloud, but the wind was blowing quite hard from the west, leaving me with a vision of trainees’ swinging in the wind off the side of a cliff – but our guides, Alice and Jem, or J as she preferred, didn’t look the type that were about to send us to our end…but I’ve found looks are often deceptive and there was a  kind of mischief in their smiles.

It was a short drive to Mt York, the site of our first abseils for the day, and following a safety brief, we were gearing-up for our first descents.  I was very pleased the gear I had recently bought, a Petzl Adjama climbing harness, as it fitted well and was very comfortable, and let’s face it, this is the thing that you will fix a rope to and so having confidence in it was paramount.

Oddly enough, you would think walking up to the edge of a 100 metre tall building and leaning back over the edge would be much harder than doing it on a small rock formation little more than 10 metres in height, but the heart was racing a bit as I stepped backwards, but what a buzz.  We spent the morning on a number of different formations, some with overhangs, practicing newly learnt skills, and of course seeing how many bounces you could get to the bottom in . And I must say the emphasis was on safety, as you would expect.

Mt York

Time goes quickly as they say when you are having fun, and before long we were heading back towards Katoomba to drop off the half-day participants. It was then on to Narrow Neck for a picnic lunch, and more abseiling.  Now I did think it was rather ambitious putting out a small table-cloth onto the ground for lunch, as the wind was howling, and the setting was blown in the air like a spinnaker cast adrift. But it was a great lunch and the company was great, Alice and J were imparting their stories of climbing and caving exploits, which only whetted our appetite for more adventure, so we headed over to the cliff.  The first was about a 20 metre drop with an overhang, but the wind was full on as it raced up the cliff.  Surely we weren’t going over the edge?  My mind ticked over as Alice tossed a rope over the edge, saying watch this! The strength of the wind blew the rope straight up into the air in what would be a great party trick, except the next thing going over was me!

And what a vista we had, looking out over the valley I couldn’t help but think ‘you wouldn’t be dead for quids’ so off I went, and surprisingly, once over the edge and into the full blast of the wind it wasn’t quite what I expected, I wasn’t being blown around like a fly-strip under the ceiling fan after all. A number of descents later we headed over to a larger cliff face, about 30-40 metres with a large over-hang which meant a free-descent down the rope. I couldn’t get enough of it and did quite a few descents, along with the scramble back up the side of the formation to the top, before a short-drive back to Katoomba at day’s end.

And as I headed up the hill to meet family and friends, who were well established around the fire in the Carrington Hotel,  champagne flutes in hand, I was pleased how the day had gone, having some adventure in a spectacular setting, learning and developing new skills – and as for being upside down, as tempted as I was to give it a go I didn’t want to scratch my new helmet, so I’ll save that for my next trip…

Fun in the mountains

I’m booked to do the Senior Abseil Certificate and Rope Rescue course in early August, and Janet said she could get used to me abseiling in the Blue Mountains, after all, there was unfinished business in the local art, craft, and dress shops!  And TomO, our adventurous 12 year old, who is already an old hand at abseiling, is itching to be out there with me, can’t wait mate (he can tie his  shoe laces – phew!)…