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Free Solo Movie

I just saw the Free Solo movie in a theater this weekend. It’s an excellent documentary style movie about what is probably the hardest, most dangerous human achievement ever recorded on film.

I can’t think of a single dangerous activity and or extreme sport that compares to what he did. Extreme base jumping in a squirrel suit comes close, but even that has some safety margin built in. You can fly away from the cliff and pop your chute early. And you are falling through the air, so peak physical strength is not a requirement.

In any other extreme athletic activity you can name, there is always room for a couple small errors. They won’t immediately kill you. What Alex did has zero room for errors. Oh sure, there were easier sections, but on the crux moves, like that boulder problem, he either nailed it or he died. Bouldering is normally done on boulders, literally 15 feet high, max. And there are piles of landing pads underneath you, with friends to help catch a fall. Alex calling that move a boulder move is strictly for Hollywood effect.

I hesitated to even buy the ticket because I knew I was contributing in a small way toward encouraging him to do more free soloing. As they say in the movie, all the best free soloists have died, with maybe a few exceptions. That guy he was talking to named Peter Croft has been soloing for decades and is still alive. Back in the eighties I used to see Peter every few weeks free soloing routes that I couldn’t even climb with a rope. He was a really nice guy, and would talk with average climbers like me and my wife if we had a question about a route.

We also used to see John Bachar at Joshua Tree every year at Xmas. He would be free soloing hard routes like left ski track. He looked so solid I would have felt safe on his back. As they said in the movie, John is dead now, he fell on a route in his late forties, ropeless.

Alex knows all this stuff. He knows all about our tribe of climbers. Some might consider him one of our leaders, though I’m sure he would scoff at the idea.

While I have tremendous respect for his skill and dedication to achieving his goal. I am troubled by the low value he places on living. We all have our ups and downs. But in general, I really like being alive. I hope to live to a ripe old age. Life is endlessly fascinating to me. I feel like my best years may still be ahead of me. This is in regards to my painting, which is just coming into it’s own in my mid sixties.

But regardless of your hobbies, or lack thereof, life always has something interesting coming around the corner. You might not even know what and or who it is…but it will be worth waiting for.

Alex does not seem to see life that way. He is, in the movie at least, so focused on his goal that he is willing to make that ultra dangerous  boulder move, or die trying. And to me, that means (normal) life is just not that fun for Alex. I could walk away from climbing tomorrow and still enjoy my life.

I have my hobbies, my amazing kids and my lovely wife…all of whom are climbers. But we also have other interests. Life is not focused solely on climbing. I love climbing, it’s the best sport in the world! But I’m intimately aware that it could kill me at any time. One small lapse in judgement and I could die. And I climb doing it the “safe” way, with ropes. But there is still plenty of danger. We try to minimize the danger as much as possible. But at a certain point, you have to just say: “These rap anchors held the last party as they rapped down, why would they fail on me?”

Some of the above words may sound like I’m passing judgement on Alex. I don’t mean to do that. We each get one chance at life. I’d like mine to be long, gosh, I keep hoping I’ll have time to finally get it right. Alex is different. He has goals, and he achieves them…so far. I have no right to tell him, or all the other free soloists and base jumpers how to live their life.

I do however feel sad for them. Life is a grand adventure. It stays good for a long time, it’s still good for me, and I’m twice Alex’s age. To be his age and already be willing to give it all up for a silly rock climb that you want to do without a safety rope. It just strikes me as sad.

Addendum:

On a side note, I should mention that I have done some free soloing. Back in my twenties Paul and I used to free solo some short sixes, and even a short 5.9. I was young, bold and dumb back then. I’m not proud of it, but it did happen. Even today, there are approaches to rock climbs that come close to free soloing. It would take too long to get the rope out so we simply “scramble”, knowing we are unlikely to slip. We call it dangerous hiking, or “approach pitches”. But most of the time a fall would not kill us. We’d break some bones…and spend some time in the hospital…so we tread very carefully.

I like to think that the kind of climbing I’ve done for 40 years can be compared to driving a car in bad weather at 60 miles an hour on a two lane road. One twitch of the steering wheel and someone could die. So we try to stay very focused on safe driving…and hope the other guy is doing the same. 37,400 people die in the US every year driving cars.

When climbing with ropes, we normally have layers of safety. If we slip, the rope will catch us. If we bang our head, we have a helmet on. If some of our gear rips out, we have more gear to back it up. If we think the climb has become too hard, or it starts to rain or gets dark, we build an anchor and rappel down. We are never faced with an all or nothing situation: Do this move cleanly or die right now. I value life too highly to get in that situation. I hope Alex gives up free soloing and lives a long happy life. He should have plenty of money now after this movie takes off.


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PETZL Sirocco broken buckle fix

I’ve had a PETZL Sirocco helmet for a year and I like it a lot. But my buckle just broke during my yearly Christmas trip to Joshua Tree. Before the Sirocco I had been wearing a 1993 Joe Brown helmet. It blew a rivet, so this Sirocco looked very attractive. It’s super light, and as long as I stuff something inside it (to protect it from crushing), I can pack my pack normally and it survived until last week. The buckle Petzl uses is very fragile. The plastic snap tabs are ultra small. There is a magnet inside the buckle that helps pull it closed. Unfortunately, the magnet also attracts iron ore, of which there is a lot in Jtree. I was constantly having to scrape and blow out the sand stuck to the magnet before it would snap.

Finally, up on the “Heart of Darkness” route, one side of the buckle broke completely. I had to borrow a helmet that day. When I got back to camp I replaced the buckle with one I bought at the jtree climbing store. To get the old buckles off, I shaved down the plastic with a razor knife until I could slide the nylon out of the old buckles. Then I prusiked on the new buckle, extended the strap with some tubular nylon using a water knot and had a helmet again. The repair job is stronger than the original. Here are the photos:

PETZL Sirocco broken buckle fix
PETZL Sirocco broken buckle fix

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PETZL Sirocco broken buckle
PETZL Sirocco broken buckle
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Crossed over to the dark side

Ever since 1976, practically a lifetime ago, Sue and I have been trying to master telemark skiing. We used to do it on cross country skinny skis with 3 pin bindings. It got harder and harder as we got older, natural I guess, since it is such a difficult and dynamic turn. It’s like doing squats, except while hurtling down the ski slope.

There used to be a mindset among my generation during the 80’s when we were young. We shunned the downhill ski areas. They were too crowded and too expensive. We would skin up into the mountains where it was free. There were no crowds, no chair lifts, and we prided ourselves on our hardiness. The only reasonably light ski back then was the cross country ski. We’d buy the ones with metal edges. They were light on the uphill, challenging on the downhill, but that was all part of the fun.

senior ticket to snoqualmie in the rain
senior ticket to snoqualmie in the rain

When we had kids, they followed us up on their skinny skis, but they never really mastered the telemark turn. It requires a lot of practice. As they became adults, with money of their own, they looked at the learning curve in telemarking and went straight to Randonee skis. These are also called AT (All Terrain) skis. You can still skin up into the backcountry, but on the way down you lock your heels, just like a downhill ski binding.

Because they both have great jobs in the medical field, they were able buy downhill tickets and quickly mastered the difficult skiing conditions found in the backcountry. Whenever we took them out into the mountains (usually Paradise at Mt. Rainier), they would leave us in the dust.

5 years ago we bought new telemark gear, the first in 30 years. We thought it would be the ticket to skiing better. It did help a lot. When I bought my yearly downhill ticket I could ski all day on my telegear. That never used to happen on my skinny skis.

But I still can’t even begin to keep up with my kids. The teleturn requires so much practice that it is basically impossible to master without a season pass. And even then it’s not a super fast turn like you can do on downhill skis.

Diamond Helios and Blizzard Zero G 95
Diamond Helios and Blizzard Zero G 95

Long story short, Sue and I pulled some money out of savings and invested in new backcountry AT gear. They feature pivoting toes for skinning up, and  lock down heels on the bindings for skiing down.

I feel a bit guilty for giving up on my dream of being a great telemarker. There is an old saying about skiing: “Free the heel, free the mind”. It’s a bumper sticker seen at ski areas. Supposedly telemark skiing with it’s free floating heel is more of a zen experience. It is lovely turn, no doubt. But at our advanced state of decrepitude, I think we need all the help we can get.

There is another old saying in regards to telemark skiing. When you give up on telemark skiing, and buy skis with lock down heels, you have “crossed over to the dark side”. Still, now that I’m on the dark side maybe I have a chance of keeping up with my daughter. I just need to ride the chair a few times to get the hang of downhill skiing again.

Who knows, perhaps there’s hope for us old duffers. Sue got Black Diamond Helios skis, with the Dynafit speed Radical binding, while I got the Blizzard 95 Zero G skis, with the Dynafit TLT Radical ST 2.0 Binding. I’m dreading looking at my credit card balance after these purchases. But, these skis should be the last skis we ever buy, so it may be money well invested. We’ve skied on them once, in the rain, $40 lift tickets and they worked fabulous. It’s like having brand new downhill skis, which we haven’t had in 35 years. The bindings released correctly twice when I fell. I like the theory behind these Dynafit bindings. I did some research and they’ve been around since the late 80’s. They started as a modification of the Ramer binding, which was my downhill binding up until last week. Ramers had a “tuning fork” that would pivot on some pins. In  a fall, the tuning fork would flex enough to open, releasing the boot from the ski. These Dynafit bindings have a mechanism that reflects that heritage.

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Iphone on a budget $15 a month for service

One of the excuses I like to trot out for failing as a fine artist is that I am a geek. Instead of drawing for an hour a day like a real artist, I will read about smartphones or computers.

I’m always trying to get the best phone for the cheapest price. For a decade I argued with Verizon and AT&T about their plans. I wanted them to let me pay for what I used, instead of a two year contract at a high rate just because I had a smartphone.

For the last two years I’ve had a Republic Wireless Moto-X. It costs $13 a month. I can upgrade to 3G data for another $13. So it’s nice and cheap. My wife and my sister’s family all have Republic and they are a fine company. They were one of the first to challenge the big wireless providers. They are a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), meaning they don’t own any cell towers. Out where I live they piggyback on the Sprint towers, with a fall back to Verizon. Service is great.

Because it looks like I may have a full time gig again next quarter, I decided to reward myself with a new iPhone. I’ve had 3 Android phones but have always wondered what an iPhone would be like. Plus, as a web developer it’s helpful to have an easy way to test on both operating systems. My wife has Android.

So I walked into the Apple store in Tacoma and bought a brand new unlocked iPhone. Republic doesn’t allow anything but their custom built Androids. With a new unlocked iPhone I could take it to any wireless provider because it has all the modern antennas…meaning GSM and CDMA.

For $9.00 Ting sent me a GSM sim card and my problems started. My brand new iPhone wouldn’t work at the house. The GSM network out here relies on T-Mobile and we live in a dead zone.

I measured my signal strength using an app and it was -140 dbm which equals a dead phone. On an iPhone,  dial *3001#12345#* to check signal strength. I called the guys at weboost and he said I was out of luck. Their $400 cell phone signal boosters top out at -108 dbm. He said that right under a cell tower you would get a signal of  -70 dbm.

I thought, no problem, I’ll do wifi calling since the GSM (T-Mobile) network was fine in town. This phone and that network doesn’t allow it. Next I tried google voice, since I still have a number dating back to my wifi phone days with an iTouch. Oops, VOIP calling is blocked. Finally I tried Skype, and that worked, but it costs money to call my wife because she doesn’t have data for a free Skype call. Or, she would have data if she would pay extra to Republic. But she insisted that my phone problems weren’t her problems, and why should she pay extra?

I couldn’t argue with that, and besides I thought there must be a way to get my iPhone to work cheaply, at the house. I went on a big quest to the big cell companies who have decent towers out there, seeing if they had finally lowered their rates. Verizon,  Sprint and AT&T are all still singing the same song. You have to pay a minimum of $40 a month for a smartphone…even if you bring your own unlocked phone-device (BYOD).

One of the reasons I went with ting is they have real people that answer the phone. Check out this video:

When I called Ting, someone answered right away and he spoke English! He said a CDMA sim might be better as that uses the Sprint network…and Sprint piggybacks on Verizon. Verizon has the only good towers out here in the sticks. Ting sent me a CDMA sim for free, second day air, to replace my GSM sim.

As soon as I swapped sim cards my new iPhone worked flawlessly with a signal strength of -89 dbm. In laymans terms that means I went from (maybe) one bar to two full bars and a working phone. I was able to easily swap-port phone numbers from the old GSM sim to the new CDMA sim using the online forms. That took about 3 hours to port.
Then I had the bright idea to port out my old number from Republic to Ting. I deleted the working Ting number and filled out the port forms online. For two days I carried both phones around, waiting for one (Android) to die, and one (iPhone) to live.
Finally I got online and found that Republic can take up to 10 days to port. I decided that was not going to work…I wasn’t married to my old phone number. As my wife said: “No one remembers numbers anymore, they just press the contact button”.
Bottom line, I have a new number, and an iPhone. My plan starts around $15 a month, depending on how much data I consume. Ting only charges you for what you use. I’ve been trying to treat my phone like a dumb phone, meaning I only use data when I have wifi.
IOS is a remarkably smooth OS. It’s fun learning how to navigate around in a new operating system. I’ve always enjoyed reading manuals. I guess I’m a geek. I do miss painting though. I’ve not painted since Christmas.

 

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Lumix DMC-TS3 Review

Lumix DMC-TS3 Review

Lumix DMC-TS3 Review
Lumix DMC-TS3

I broke my little point and shoot camera while climbing an overhang in Leavenworth last weekend. I bought the Lumix DMC-TS3 to replace it. I needed a camera that did not have any moving parts outside the body. Moving parts get banged up when the camera is hanging from your wrist on a cliff. The internal lens structure on the TS3 looked very attractive. I didn’t really need  it to be waterproof since I have a couple Pelican cases already, but the fact that the TS3 was waterproof down to 40 feet, and shockproof to 6 feet sounded great though, as that would mean two less things to worry about.

I’ve tested it underwater now, though just in the kitchen sink. You can view the video here: underwater_test_lumix_DMC_TS3

I was very careful to inspect the seals before I put this beautiful new camera underwater. There are detailed instructions in the manual on how to clean the gaskets. They even ship a gasket cleaning brush with the camera, which I used rigorously. I also wore magnifying spectacles and a bright light. I was not looking forward to sending it back to Amazon if it leaked due to my negligence.

Lumix DMC-TS3 twilight from the Narrows Bridge
Lumix DMC-TS3 twilight from the Narrows Bridge

I’ve also had it on a couple bike rides. I’ve shot at night, indoors, and even below decks on a ship. I’ve been using it in iA mode (Intelligent Auto Mode). The camera picks the shutter speed and aperture for you. There are many scene modes, and I’ve used them a little with good results. With this type of point and shoot, they assume you will be shooting in difficult environments, like, underwater, or skiing with gloves on. The assumption is that you don’t want to mess with settings.

I would prefer to have some choices for manual settings, but for that I can always carry my SLR: a Canon 50D. This Lumix DMC-TS3 is meant to be used when I don’t want to pack my heavy SLR up the cliff, or out on the top of a sea kayak.

The Adventuress Schooner
The Adventuress Schooner

Sue and I pedaled around Olympia on the weekend and found this really cool one hundred foot, one hundred year old sail boat giving free tours. This boat, The Adventuress, was built in 1913 for the millionaire who started the Yellow Cab business in New York. I took my TS3 down on the pier to shoot some images of the beautiful old boat as climbed on board and explored.

The Adventuress Schooner
The Adventuress Schooner

The camera did a stand up job. I couldn’t have done much better with my SLR. I would have needed two lenses to shoot the images the TS3 was able to capture, and I would have been worried about getting my SLR wet…no worries here. Plus, my SLR is so big I don’t bring it for a casual bike ride…but the TS3 is a pocket camera. The camera you use is the one you carry 🙂

The Adventuress Schooner
The Adventuress Schooner

They let me walk down belowdecks where I found 24 sleeping births, a full galley with a cook preparing meals. The engine room was open, as was the front of the ship, and the above deck “house” though that was too crowded to see. If I’d had more time, I could have paid $50 for a sail that afternoon.

All of the following images were shot with the Lumix DMC-TS3. I can’t comment yet on the battery life, but most reviews say it is good, especially if you leave the GPS off. I think this camera is quite comparable with my Cannon sd1100. Both are point and shoots aimed at the “keep it simple and light” camera market. I have noticed that the TS3 over sharpens a bit when you view the pixels at 100%. So if this is your only camera, and you are shooting a once in a lifetime wedding, you may want to keep looking, and get one that shoots in raw…but for the market this camera is aimed at, I’d say they hit the mark. I will update this post if things change as I get deeper into the functions.

The Adventuress, shot with Lumix DMC-TS3
The Adventuress, shot with Lumix DMC-TS3
photographed with Lumix DMC-TS3
photographed with Lumix DMC-TS3

 

photographed with Lumix DMC-TS3
Macro mode Lumix DMC-TS3

 

Macro mode Lumix DMC-TS3
Macro mode Lumix DMC-TS3