Monday, March 16, 2015

What if it's not true?

There is a well known quote from Mark Twain to the effect that if you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reflect and most likely change course.

As I look around at all of the things that interest me, my passions, my pursuits, etc., I realise more and more that what I considered "truths" in these fields have all been washed away and proven wrong. In short, my beliefs related to these areas have disappeared as new information, experiences, evaluations, on and on, have caused me to reflect and alter my older mindset. These days in fact, I try not to have beliefs. Why? Because latching on to the security of your beliefs causes stagnation. It is a mental laziness in which a person thinks, "That's what I believe, I don't have to think about it anymore, I can put it in its own compartment in my mind and be done with it!".

"Call me crazy, but I believe that changing and improving your life requires destroying a part of yourself and replacing it with a newer, better part of yourself. It is therefore, by definition, a painful process full of resistance and anxiety. You can’t grow muscle without challenging it with greater weight. You can’t build emotional resilience without forging through hardship and loss. And you can’t build a better mind without challenging your own beliefs and assumptions." - Mark Mason (

The vigorous questioning of your beliefs and assumptions is the best way to make progress in your fitness, nutrition, training, technique, etc. I would put forward that the greatest impediment to improving and evolving is consciously or unconsciously clinging to a self-created belief.

Ruthlessly examine, ruthlessly identify, ruthlessly eliminate, ruthlessly.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Black Crows Nevis Freebird Review

This season I've been skiing the Black Crows Nevis Freebird as my ski touring ski. I am skiing the 187.7cm length with either Dynafit TLT6 Performance boots, or the older TLT5 Performance boot also from Dynafit.

More information can be found at the Black Crow's site:

The ski is 187.7cm long with a 21 meter radius. Tip - waist - tail dimensions are 134-103-121. The weight is 3900 grams, according the Black Crows. The ski is designed as the touring version of the Navis. There are some material differences and construction adaptations to make the Navis Freebird a bit lighter and therefore more touring friendly. Note, that there are also construction differences between the various lengths of the Navis Freebird which manifest itself as pretty striking weight differences, more than the additional centimetres, between the various ski lengths.

I mounted ATK ( super-light weight race bindings on the skis. This places the boot very close to the top of the ski and there is very little ramp angle between the heel and toe piece of the binding.

This set-up makes the ski most suitable to skiing powder and soft snow, which is what I'm looking for when I'm skiing in the backcountry. For backcountry, self-powered skiing I want a ski that I can do everything from short half-day tours to week-long, or longer, traverses.  Additionally, i am normally doing some type of ski mountaineering endeavour, so I am often carrying the skis on my pack. 

My criteria for the selection of the ski was: waist around 100mm, not too much sidecut and therefore a radius of around 20 meters, wood core, laminated construction with a re-inforcing top sheet, not too much rocker - if any at all, and length at around 180-185cm. Other skis i considered were the La Sportive High5, Daystar Cham High Mountain / Cham 117, Line Sir Francis Bacon and Dynafit Grand Teton.

In the first few days of March, the Salzburg area got two decent storms with 30-40cm of new snow up high with each cycle. I really fell in love with skis as I could ski a number of days in a row on them. I developed the sense of playing around with the skis sweet spot. I found that I could ski all size and types of turns in a playful and powerful way. I was on terrain that included tight trees, wide-open slopes, narrow trails, forest roads, etc., really all types of terrain.  The snow conditions ranged from light, deep powder to hard-packed, skied-out trails and roads.

The ski is very stable and damp, sucking up changes in snow constancy. They power trough variable snow very well. The skis are stiff and have excellent edge hold. I believe that you have to stay forward on the ski and they respond immediately to rider input. They are certainly skis that need to be actively controlled.
In the past years, I have skied Line Prophets at 186cm, White Dot Preachers at 189cm for lift-serviced free riding and some shorter ski tours. For more traditional ski touring and ski mountaineering, I have been on Dynafit Stokes and Dynastar Mystic Riders that were around 175cm.

I ski lift-serviced stuff with Lange Free Ride boots with a 130 flex rating and Dynastar Vulcans (120 flex?). For all ski touring, I am on the TLT6 Performance - which for me is a fantastic fit and performance combination. If I plan on combing alpine ice & mixed climbing with a ski approach, I'll switch over to the striped down TLT5 Performance boot which climbs ice, snow and rock better.
The Black Crows are what I label as a "Chamonix ski": stiff. traditional chamber with a small amount of rocker, a bit heavy and very well built and sturdy. They ski and feel like a number of Dynastar skis. Also a bit like Völkl's older Mantra or Gotoma, with a little more heft and mass. I have surprised by the Black Crows nimbleness. The skis are really quick in tight terrain for their length.

At first, I was a bit too tentative on the ski. Once I found the skis sweet spot and was a little more aggressive, everything clicked. The ski is really inspiring for me to ski. It is certainly a ski that won't hold me back or leave me waiting in any way.

Monday, March 2, 2015


"We often fail to do what we most want to do - or at the very least we fail to do what, at the end of the day (or year, or lifetime) we will most wish we had done." - Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape

Looking up from the mid-point of soloing some (unclimbed?) alpine ice in the Gastein valley
What is the benefit of climbing? Alpinism? Going further than that, what is the point of expending energy and effort into something that is not based on commodity exchange? Is there any reason or meaning to engaging in the risks that are innately intrinsic to the mountains? 

There are certainly aspects to climbing and alpinism of truly maximising your own well being through practicing the various alpine disciplines. Undertaking alpine activities can lead to developing meaningful contentment in an individual in a sustainable way that brings authentic, lasting value. The pursuit of mastery, developing a long-term practice, learning lessons that than can be applied to other parts of life are all benefits of being in the mountains. There are no short-term rewards, no pursuit of ease and comfort. the embracing of uncertainty, of struggle and suffering, for the sake of personal growth.
Searching for well being a few hundred meters above the Siglitz valley
Alpinism and certain practices of climbing can be thought of as a vehicle for transformation, transcendence, metamorphism - "alteration of the composition or structure ... by pressure, or other natural agency". Big words, big concepts. The structure is you in the physical and metaphysical sense. Meaningful changes in the nature of the mind through alpine pursuits can bring about a true sense of well being, accomplishment and satisfaction.

Personal change and evolution begin with a type of metaphoric "death". A conscious or unconscious decision to terminate. Be it the death an unproductive habit, self-limiting belief, unenlightened way of living, etc. One must give up something and allow it to wither away as the beginning step towards something new and different in an evolutionary movement towards authentic personal well-being. The letting go of a belief, faith, opinion, ...

Of course this is an universal concept (i.e., truism of the universe) expressed abundantly in nature, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, and by writers such as Joseph Campbell, among many, many others.
Walter Bonatti in front of the Matterhorn north face
In contrast to a metaphorical death that leads to change and transformation there is a "dead-end death", one that avoids upsetting the status quo and trying to recreate the past in a misguided attempt to find happiness and well being. Nothing in the world works this way. It is a paradox of humanity that we think if we could just try to do and recreate what we remember made us happy, safe or satisfied in the past, then we will be happy, safe and satisfied in the future.

"Death" (analogous to giving up a part, letting go, releasing) > Change > Transformation > Transcendence > Awe

The "death" of your old self, old beliefs, old behaviours is the start of a transformation that opens forward and expands into a greater life. Accepting your personal status quo, fear, resistance, all that inhibits self-actualisation and keeps you seeking the comfort of staying the same is a "dead-end death". The later is the life akin to that of the "living dead", misguidedly trying to avoid discomfort, side-step the obstacles, the struggle, the uncertainty, while all the time striving to re-create the past.

In this manner, life is seen as part of a commodity civilisation - everything is reduced to a "deal" with others and yourself. Manipulate, acquire, consume. Become more and more isolated in the delusions of the ego. Happiness and contentment are fleeting at best, but terminally elusive.
What exactly is the value of scaling an un-climbed piece of ice? 
A transformative, metaphorical death of the old self and superficial ego has been part of human existence since millennia. Those who embrace this process from Odysseus in the Iliad, to Leonidas, Marcus Aurelius, Gautama Buddha, Meister Eckhardt, Sitting Bull, Ghandi, etc., etc., move towards a new life of abundant gifts that can not be belittled by applying a monetary value to them. These gifts are not part of any type of transaction.
The view of the way up, the path down and all in-between
Literally buying into the ideologies of consumerism, materialism, more is better, me against you, us against them, comparing, weighing, competing, judging ... all of it leads to a hardening, blunting, dehumanising inner death that goes no where - it is the death of the magic and mystery of the human spirit.

Climbing is a gift. It is a gift that has its own identity. It is a gift that is an agent of change and transformation and can therefore be the catalyst to transformation and perhaps transcendence  A bearer of new life. At best, leading the practitioner to a sense of awe and wonder.
Grateful for the gift
The gift that is climbing passes through the body, mind, spirit and leaves us altered. The best climbing is the creator of the impetus of individual transformation and a teacher of lessons of living that can save our lives as well as extinguish them. As with the spirit, applying values of commodity to your climbing or alpine experience pollutes and corrupts the endeavour and process. There is no greater proof of this than the example of what has gone on in the last couple of years on Everest.

The proper response to the gift of climbing is thankfulness and gratitude. In the beginning, it is easy to see the first powerful effects of climbing on your life and glimpse some of its teachings. Occasional insights may translate into other parts of your life. However, transformation is slow and it takes some time before the messages really sink in.

Looking back with humility, I can say that embracing the process of living the life of a climber, skier, alpinist, has opened up my consciousness to what is possible in my life. The intricate web that has been woven interconnecting interests, passions, experiences, etc. is unbelievably vast and ever expanding. There have been times of great satisfaction, joy, awe and meaningfulness as well as sadness, frustration, loss and anger. It is not good or bad. It just is what it is.

Note: this post has been inspired and influenced by reading the books of Sam Harris, particularly the the latest one I read, The Moral Landscape. Additionally, Lewis Hyde's book, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, supplied many of the themes and conflicts that I continue to wrestle with as I try to earn my living by pursuing a calling towards alpinism. (and I philosophically struggled with many years ago as a classical guitarist) However, the impetus for expressing these thoughts came from a podcast interview with Seth Godin conducted by James Altucher, and indirectly from Godin's books, The Icarus Deception and Linchpin.