How to Actually Climb a Mountain, Actually

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Last weekend, I accomplished another life goal of mine– I climbed Mt. Rainier.

Having just moved to the Pacific Northwest a few years ago, it was not immediately clear to me why anyone would consider this important enough to put on a list of goals.  But then, one day, as I was driving to work, I saw the mountain.

From 60 miles away.

Oh, snap. There it is! Photo credit: Marc Smith (flickr: marc_smith)

Especially after climbing Kilimanjaro, I knew that I wanted to spend more time in the mountains.  Considering that for the last 18 months, I’d been living within spitting distance of the premier glaciated mountain in the lower 48, it was doing time.  I always wished I would find myself without an excuse.  And then I did.

So for the last 8 months, I learned how to climb a mountain.  I learned it from reading books, talking to instructors, drawing on past experience, and, in a few cases, present experience.  I learned it searching the internet, highlighting manuals, peppering experienced mountaineers with questions (it was a long car ride, sorry MM!), and– most importantly– I learned it on the mountain, particularly Mt. Rainier, which I have now made the 2.5-hour drive to on more early Saturday mornings than I care to remember.

Climbing mountains is not an unusual thing to see on bucket lists.  There’s something appealing about dreaming about Everest.  But if you read this blog much, you’ll know that I get antsy around too much dreaming (it’s the “books about heaven” thing).

So I’m going to give you an antidote.  I’m going to tell you the basics of actually climbing a mountain.  Things like what to wear, what to buy, what to know, and what to learn elsewhere.

This is just an intro.  I’m a beginning mountaineer.  I’ll say many times here that this article doesn’t cover close to everything, but it covers enough to get you started.

And that’s the question here.  If you actually want to climb mountains, what will you do with this info?  Read it?  Skim the pictures? (they’re good, I promise)  Bookmark it for “later”?  Continue dreaming?

Or will you start tonight? Read More

[How-to] Find a Mentor

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Through a relatively unplanned series of events, I once found myself on the island of Zanzibar, just off the coast of Tanzania, with nothing to do for an entire week.

Zanzibar, like most tropical islands, is a tourist haunt.  And the tourists all do one thing: lay out on the beach.  But I have a fair Irish complexion (read: ghastly– people regularly mistake my taking my shirt off for the sun getting in their eyes) and attempting to tan myself is like roasting marshmallows with C-4, except boring.  And that’s no good.

Fortunately/accidentally, I found a mentor– a wizened old shopkeeper named Rashid who sold wooden masks to tourists in a small store along one of Stonetown’s hundreds of narrow streets.  Within five minutes of me striking up a conversation, he was lecturing me on the value of hard work.  And when a foreign old man starts talking to you about the value of hard work, you only have choice: you listen.

Rashid in his shop

He gave good advice.  But his views on thriftiness were the first droplets of the monsoon.  It turns out that Rashid had a lot of admonitions.  For instance:

  • Put your faith in God
  • You are young– have sex with many girls
  • [censored]
  • How much did you pay for that!?  Seriously!?  You are getting ripped off!

For the next six days, Rashid had my back.  He found me better-priced guides to go fishing with.  A cheaper hostel.  He brought me to the town square and gave me and my friends coffee and African pastries and introduced us to everyone who passed by who he knew (which was, more or less, everyone who passed by).  Most generous of all, of course, he gave me more advice than I have either the intention or the moral flexibility to put to use.

And all he ever asked in return was my American opinion on whether pro wrestling was staged or not.

Rashid was not who you might think of when you decide you want a mentor, but he had all the same qualities.  He knew Read More

[How-to] The 4 Commandments of Reading for Self-Education

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Photo credit: swamibu (from flickr.com)

Note: I'm not a big fan of trashy link bait names.  That being said, calling these the 4 commandments of reading for self-education is, while opinionated, not a stretch for me.  Forgive the self-aggrandizing title and if you think there needs to be an addition, let me know in the comments!

During the four years I was in college, I read definitely one, maybe two books– total (excluding schoolwork).  Now, I read definitely one, maybe two books every week.  I’ve only been doing this for a year and a half, so it’s not like I’ve read every book on the planet– but for just about every book I used to think wow, I should read that, I actually have.  And it’s pretty cool to be able to say that.

I’m not trying to chug through a list of supposed classics or something.  My aim here (trite as it sounds now) is wisdom– knowing how best to act in any situation.  As I see it, that’s the reason why anyone would try to educate themselves in the first place.

And that’s the aim I’m presuming you have too.  Reading only for entertainment is a bit saccharine, and if that’s what you want to do, you won’t find many tips in this essay to help you.  I don’t talk about how to speed read, and I don’t talk much about making time to read.  I liked The Hunger Games as much as the next person, but I’m much more excited about changing the way I live because of ideas I find.  Consequently, these commandments apply mostly for non-fiction (though a few fiction books really have changed my outlook on life).

I hope you have a pile of books you are dying to read.  I want you to devour them, highlighting and notating some and reading 3 chapters of others that you just toss away incomplete.  I want you not to say “I wanna read that!” but “I have read that, and a few of its sources.  Here are my favorite ideas.  I disagree with this part.  Here’s where I think the field is headed next.”

I submit this set of guidelines for going in that direction.

The 4 Commandments of Reading for Self-Education

  1. A book is only as good as what you remember from it
  2. Actually reading is more important than reading fast Read More

Bucket List Update: Mountaineering, Marathons, and Lýðveldið Ísland

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Lest you think I just sit around and read productivity books all day (cf. this and that), I figure I should post some of progress on my own life goals list every once and a while.  Since I got back from Africa, here are the goals I’ve been working towards– the ones that I’m most excited about right now.

 

21.) Climb Mt. Rainier

I am hard pressed to think of a family vacation growing up that didn’t involve either the open water or mountains.  It seemed like my dad’s definition of a relaxing time necessarily involved covering vast changes in elevation on foot.

And while I’ve wanted to climb mountains for years, after Kilimanjaro, I got the bug bad.  Something about staring down on the sunrise over the savanna maybe ;)

I’ve started training for Rainier– training referring more to learning mountaineering skills than, say, spinning classes.  That doesn’t mean you don’t need to be in shape for Rainier– at 14,400, it’s nothing to scoff at.  But an unhurried ascent, good body temperature monitoring, and plenty of water are more important than an olympian circulatory system.

A few weeks ago, I made my first technical climb– Humpback Mountain in the Cascades.  While it’s only a few minutes off I-90, the summit is a lot closer to the moon than it is to Seattle.

On the summit of Humpback Mountain

Next up is snow camping and glacier travel.

A friend of mine is a mountaineering instructor and he’s guiding me through the learning process here.  This is really ideal.  The small group we’ll climb Rainier with will ultimately be more flexible, more fun, and way cheaper than the guided mountaineering tours.

Tracking towards July 2012.

Read More

[How-to] Fire Poi: My Story Becoming a Fire-Spinner

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The author spinning traditional Maori fire poi

The author spinning traditional Maori fire poi

“Does anyone know what lung fire is?”, Eugene Kozlenko bellowed to the crowd surrounding him.  A few chuckles could be heard, but most people were silent.  It was 10 PM on a January night, and we were cold.

“It’s pretty much what it sounds like”, Eugene continued.  ”And it’s a good reason not to try this at home!”  A few more chuckles.  Mostly, there was anticipation.  Anticipation for what we had all come out for in the first place.

In a moment, Eugene’s friend and classmate Alex Davis would step into the center of the crowd with a lit torch, take a swig from a gas canister, and vaporize it through the torch, spewing a ten foot beam of fire into the freezing air.

That would be followed by another performer twisting, spinning, and rolling his flame-tipped staff around his body to pounding trip hop and trance.  The audience was getting a little warmer– they were forgetting about the cold, but the performers’ art could be felt from the far side of spitting distance.

For the final act, five performers came out at once.  Each one held two chains– one in their right hand, one in their left– and at the end of each two-foot chain was a monkey’s fist knot, dunked in oil, and presently lit on fire.  The music started and each one started spinning the chains around their body– loops, figure eights, weaves, and every sort of fluid motion.  Sometimes they would hit them with their feet to reverse their direction; others let the poi chains wrap around their arms– then quickly unwrapped them in the opposite direction.

“Alright”, I thought to myself as a piece of flaming wick shot off and Read More

[How-to] Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro

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A few days ago, I returned from a three-week vacation to Tanzania, where, among other things, I accomplished a life goal of mine: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.  I'd like to share some of these experiences here for those who are interested in doing a similar trek-- or just want to hear a bit about scaling the tallest mountain in Africa.

Mt. Kilimanjaro is not for everyone.

Specifically, the signs at the entrance to the park say it’s not for those with heart or lung problems, but I think it’s mostly not for those who don’t really, really want to climb it.

Best alarm clock of all time.

As the tallest mountain in Africa, and the tallest free-standing mountain from base to summit, Kili makes a lot of mountaineering lists.  Unlike many of the mountains on those lists, Kili is not a technical climb– you don’t need to know crevasse rescue techniques, or ice climbing or glissade or ice axe self-arrest– frankly, all you need to know how to do is to walk.

The main issue is that you need to walk a lot at a very high elevation.

And I don’t know if you know what it’s like to be up so high, but it’s not quite like it is down here.

Altitude

Have you ever been on the ocean for a few days?  You know how everything gets damp and salty and there’s water and salt everywhere and it contaminates everything and there’s nothing you can do about it?  (It’s the same with sand in deserts)  That’s what the elevation is like on Kilimanjaro.  Instead of there being salt and it’s everywhere, there’s oxygen and it’s nowhere.

Especially your lungs. Read More

[How-to] On Learning to Unicycle

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Photo credit: Stefano Corso (flickr: pensiero)

This is an essay on learning how to unicycle.  It’s more philosophy than how-to guide, so be forewarned/get excited.

(i) A Thousand Falls

The simplest advice I can give to learn how to ride a unicycle is this: fall off a unicycle a thousand times.

Of course, there’s a bit more technique to it, but this is the gist.  Fall off, get on, try again.  Repeat ten-hundred times.

I, like most people I know, learned how to ride a bike at a very young age.  And although I don’t remember the specifics, I’d imagine I fell off hundreds of times before I got it quite right.  That’s quite a few skinned knees.  Yet I have zero recollection of it.

But that’s the nature of kids, isn’t it?  They dive in with confidence and just keep trying.  Setbacks fade fast.

I think we forget that as we grow older.  No longer do we forget failure with such alacrity.  We’re a little less bold in how we approach our endeavors.  But I accidentally found a blast from that past, and it has one wheel and a seat.  Never since childhood have I failed so frequently at something and kept going.

And never has it felt so great to finally learn!  Finally being able to balance is great, but even the process leading up to it is exciting.  Your progress isn’t linear, so the entire process is you improving slowly, but also in leaps in bounds.  You’ll spend a few hours of unicycling time going just inches before bailing.  Then you’ll upgrade to feet.  Later, you’ll clear ten feet.  And a few days after that, a hundred.  And then you’ve got it.  At some point, you just stop falling off.  Crap, it feels wonderful.

(ii) Blue-Collar Failures

One thing that stuck out to me about falling off a unicycle was that it was a pretty objective measure of failure.

And we don’t have that a lot.  Or at least, I don’t.

In a lot of projects I work on, motivated waxes and wanes; excitement fades away, and perfectly good ideas are never brought to glorious execution.  It’s easy to rationalize these abandoned dreams.  Failure becomes less tangible.  It looks less like defeat and more like procrastination.  It’s not a knock-out blow to the head; it’s a dull sense of regret and a light flurry of rationalized excuses. Read More

[How-to] 5 Public Speaking Tips You Haven’t Heard Anywhere Else

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Photo credit: White House (flickr: barackobamadotcom)

Note: This is the first in a series of posts about skills and accomplishments that are either a.) common life goals, or b.) relevant to achieving specific life goals.  Want to create your own non-profit?  Or learn how to juggle?  Bucket List Society How-To's are guides and advice by people who've already done it.  Please leave a comment below-- is this useful?  What should I do different for the next how-to post?

I’ve read about, watched, and practiced public speaking.  I’ve been through seemingly endless hours of personal coaching in it.  And while I don’t guarantee you will never see these tips anywhere else, I want to offer here a breath of fresh air from the absolute inanity of tips like “rehearse in front of a mirror” and “practice, practice, practice” that adorn the first page of Google results for “public speaking tips”.

1. Get on stage early

I’ve never once heard this tip, but it’s the single best way I know of to deal with pre-speech nervousness.  Spend as much time as possible in front of my audience before the speech starts.  That’s all.

Are you speaking in a class?  Get up there as soon as the teacher starts jotting down her final notes on the last speaker.  Maybe you’re in a row of presentations at work?  Stand up and get your PowerPoint plugged in and ready to go as soon as you can.  If you can walk around the stage a bit, do that.  You’re getting to know the territory.  When you’re giving your speech in another minute and a half, it’ll feel just a bit more like your home turf. Read More