Brave Girls: inspiring female adventurers

I just watched an inspiring TED talk by Caroline Paul: To Raise Brave Girls, Encourage Adventure. For starters, Caroline is an amazing role model: eloquent and intelligent, she’s also a paraglide captain, a firefighter, and she once attempted the world record for crawling. (She crawled for 12 hours!)

Caroline tells us how there is a gender bias in promoting bravery at a young age: while young boys are encouraged to engage in “risky play”, young girls are often told to avoid risks, to be careful. I’m not going to lie, when I asked to play hockey at age 9, I was registered for figure skating. (Although, I ended up finding a way to make that risky, attempting triple salchow over and over and over.)

This is part of the reason why Jo, Nancy and I made Girls Gone Wilderness, to do a small part in shaping opportunities for young women to be tempted by adventures that promote excitement, fun, and a bit of courage. It’s not always natural when we’ve been raised to see mostly guys doing adventure sports, especially in biking, skiing, and the extreme adventures. (Ps! Our next event is almost sold out!)

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After watching Caroline’s TED talk, I wanted to go back in time and meet some of the most courageous women throughout history. I went down a (wonderful) rabbit hole learning more about Katherine Switzer, (she broke the rules to become the first woman to run Boston Marathon) and Lynn Hill, (she was the first person, male or female, to free-climb The Nose in Yosemite) and Ann Trason (she broke, like, 20 world records in ultra-marathons). It was overwhelming, in a great way, and so I had to focus closer to home.  Today’s blog is about an inspiring BC mountaineer, whose first ascent was Grouse Mountain!

Introducing Phyllis Munday

Local BC lady Phyllis Munday, born in 1894, had a lifelong mission in the mountains. The first woman to reach the summit of Mount Robson, she was unique not only for her first ascents, but for her style of achieving them: she and her husband Don achieved many first ascents together, even after having a family.

Phyllis and Don pioneered routes in some of BC’s most sacred places, like Mount Waddington, where they spent over a decade of failed attempts. There is now a Mount Munday in the Waddington range (which, of course they summited, in 1930).

All this during a time when women weren’t really meant to even wear athletic attire:

Her male team members barely blinked when she’d stash her respectable city skirts somewhere on the trails and carry on in her bloomers. This was somehow less risqué than wearing trousers or knickerbockers.
Account from Experience Mountain Parks

To put this in perspective, when Phyllis was in her 4th or 5th attempts at Mount Waddington, US women had just gotten the right to vote, and women in Toronto still weren’t showing leg in public.

Time to do more, worry less. Like this time I had to crab-walk down a descent in the Rockies that scared me:

Terrified

Photo by Julien.

“Women, like men, should try to do the impossible, and when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others” – Amelia Earhart

Featured image, by Tory Scholtz.

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Keep it Humble and Fun: One first place, one last place

The weekend of February 24th & 25th was marked off on my calendar for a while, but I wasn’t sure if I would have the courage to go through with it. The idea was to attempt the Sigge’s P’ayakentsut (P’ayak) 50km cross country ski race in Whistler on the 24th, and then the Grouse Mountain Snowshoe Grind race on the 25th. I had never done a cross country ski race before, or a snowshoe race. (Sure, I do snowshoe quite a bit, but my cross country skiing is a disaster.) I wasn’t too worried about the snowshoe race, but how would I be able to do it if I was semi-destroyed from the ski race? When the idea came to me, I was hoping Joanna & Arielle would bring their Canmore Nordic Center abilities and their enjoyment for weird weekends like this. (Three suddenly feels like this is a popular idea.) I messaged them, but Alberta is far, so they weren’t going to join. I tried recruiting others by saying if they also did the “P’ayak / Grouse Double“, I’d buy them a beer. (There were no takers.) Even though it was clear I would be doing this alone, the uncertainties intrigued me. It all seemed foolish, but fun. I decided I would sign up at the last minute.

When race week arrived, I realized the nordic ski race was a really bad idea. I hadn’t “skate skied” since 6 weeks prior, and even then, my nordic ski training was nothing like the route in the event. But then, something came over me with one hour before the P’ayak race registration deadline… I was suddenly feeling amazing, and I was excited. I signed up! And for whatever reason, I also signed up for the 50k, which was 20k longer than I had ever skied in my life. (There’s something really exciting when you sign up for something that scares you!)

On the day before the epic snow race weekend, my blisters finally healed up from the previous weekend of ski touring in the wrong boots. I was ready!

Day 1: The P’ayak

Because I haven’t skied a lot, the cutoff time looked really scary to me. (My first 25k had to be done in 2.5 hours.) Heck, I can spend over one hour just eating a meal and putting my shoes on.

In order to finish, my plan was:

  1. Wax my skis for the first time ever, which should yield about 1k an hour.
  2. Stop at all the aid stations and devour lots of Clif bars.
  3. Start at the very back of the group, and don’t go anywhere near the real skiers.
  4. If timing gets close, just take off skis and run!

With this plan in mind, I took to the start line for the 50k with about 50 other skiers. The start confused me because there were all these classic tracks, and I thought we were doing a skate ski race? Confused and having never been in tracks before, another skier confirmed that I was in the right race, and that we were all meant to start within these tracks. I went inside a track doubtfully and waited for the start.

Within the first kilometer I was about 5 minutes back from the entire race, and I wondered what the hell I was doing! I navigated the turn-offs doubtfully and started to feel great anxiety for what lay ahead. It didn’t help that I had never felt the sensation of waxed skis before! Adding to my anxiety, after a while the 30km race began and hundreds of skiers came flying by on the narrow trail downhill. Meanwhile, I prayed I would not get trampled.

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Questionable technique.

My prayers were answered not only in avoiding the trampling, but being given a ski buddy! On one of many awkward moments in the race, I stopped for a minute wondering where to go. Just then, Raj skied up behind me and showed me the right direction, and it turned out we were exactly the same pace. From that point, which was about 5k into the race, we skied the entire 45k of the race together! It was amazing to have a buddy to laugh with, and to celebrate. Because Raj was wearing a GPS watch, at some point we both realized that we were well within the cutoff times, and we were skiing the route much faster than we had expected. So, for the whole second half of the race, it was pure smiles and laughs.

We finished! And although I came dead last in the women’s category, it didn’t matter at all. I felt so proud to have finished, one hour ahead of what I expected, and I even beat my best 50km run time, which I wasn’t expecting. It’s interesting to know that you can come in last, but still feel proud!

I felt great after the P’ayak, admittedly, my “just try to finish” cross country ski race style is much, much easier than my “try to kill yourself” running style. After lots of food, I was in great spirits, feeling surprisingly springy, and ready for day 2!

Raj skied 45k with me!

Raj skied 45k with me! Note that, as a joke, the t-shirt I was wearing was from the Golden Ultra and had a giant bulls-eye on the back that said “Leader”. Thankfully no one saw that, or they would have been really confused!

Day 2: The Snowshoe Grind Race

Let’s be clear, I run the Snowshoe Grind every single week, twice a week, as part of my fun job guiding at Grouse Mountain. So, I know the course pretty well… I knew this course would be really fun as a race, because it was only about ~20 minutes of work going uphill, then a fun downhill reward, to the finish.

Even though I snowshoe run a ton, I thought it might be weird to try and go really fast in the snowshoes. Maybe they would fall off? Technical difficulties seemed likely. I decided I would avoid full on sprinting, because I had never tried that before. My strategy for day two was:

  1. Use the downhill!
  2. Warmup… it’s such a short race that I felt a warmup would actually be useful.
  3. Wear a party dress…

And mostly, to have fun! The weather was looking perfect, and it was just turning to a bluebird day as the race was getting started. Plus there were so many friendly faces around with Ian, Herman, Ray and Daniel racing in the men’s, and Allison, Nancy, and fellow Grouse guides Lesley and Kristina racing in the women’s, plus a fun surprise– Terry Bremner came to watch!

Day 2 fun begins!

Day 2 fun begins!

We “ran” (mostly power-hiked) to the top of Dam Mountain, then 32 minutes and one second later, the race was already over! If intensity of breathing is any indication, that one felt much harder than the 50k P’ayak. (Somehow Allison Tai didn’t overtake me, which I was expecting, and I was able to snowshoe my way to a 6th overall / 1st woman on day two.) It’s quite clear where my strengths lie…

Party dress finish at the Grouse Snowshoe Grind. Great racing by Herman & amazing cheering by Terry!

Party dress finish at the Grouse Snowshoe Grind. Great racing by Herman & amazing cheering by Terry Bremner!

Time for a beer!

Overall, the random snow sports weekend was such a blast. I know a lot of people have an attitude where ski touring is at the top, and then resort skiing, and then everything else is below it. But for me, it’s so much fun just to be outside doing all types of activities. It’s fun to try new things, becoming humbled from some and gaining confidence from others. And once in a while, getting a surprise with doing much better than I had expected!

Who’s in for next year?!

Full Results: 2017 Grouse Snowshoe Grind Mountain Race

Full Results: 2017 Sigge’s P’ayakentsut

With winner Paulo, great job Paulo!

With Snowshoe Grind winner Paulo, great job Paulo!

 

Hey there, Squamish!

It’s now one month since our move from downtown Vancouver to downtown Squamish. Here are my first impressions after month one!

Squamish & Friendships

On first glance, it seemed like we were moving farther away from most of our friends. Maybe we would see them less? Yet so far, I have only found the opposite! In the first week after moving, we had three separate visits from friends, which is almost equal to the amount of visitors we had the entire time we lived in False Creek. Being situated at the gateway to the Sea to Sky mountains, this place is right on the way for friends coming on their journey to or from adventures, and it doesn’t hurt that we’re located right near Mag’s, the giant-portions Mexican hole in the wall. I didn’t really see friends much during the weekdays in Vancouver anyway, so the frequency of visits with friends hasn’t changed. Locally, people are so friendly and welcoming, and my small town conversations have been everything I hoped for. We discuss brown sugar at the grocery store, share news of bear encounters, and enjoy random conversations on snowy trails. Everyone here seems to have a love for ski touring, climbing, and playing outside– it’s a special place where people have come for their love of mountains.

Nancy comes for a mid-week sleepover / run to work!

Nancy comes for a mid-week sleepover / run to work!

 

Running to Elfin Lake with Drew and Dave!

Running to Red Heather Hut with Drew and Dave!

Sea to Sky Commuting

Living in Squamish and working in Vancouver is not everyone’s idea of a good time. But for me, it’s a small price I’m willing to pay. I love my home, and I really like my work, and the commute between just allows me this awesome combination where I can have both a small-town lifestyle, and an exciting start-up job in the city where I am learning lots. The key for me is that I joyride with my boyfriend three times a week, and I take the Squamish-Vancouver Connector twice a week. On the shuttle days, I can sit back and read or sleep, and there is this great energy in the bus. It feels like we’re a bunch of kids on our way to a field trip!  I’ve also met some incredible people on the Connector shuttle. On driving days, I add fun outdoor exercise to make the commuting worthwhile. On the way into work, Julien drops me off on the beach in West Van, and I run the seaside into work. On the way home I play in the mountains, guiding snowshoe running up at Grouse Drop-In Nights, or Nordic Skiing with Julien at Cypress. Although those days are long, they are lived to the maximum in every moment, fully appreciating the sea to city to sky.

 

My commute. Running at sunrise from Dundarave -> Downtown.

My commute. Running at sunrise from Dundarave -> Downtown.

 

Lions Gate Bridge -- my favourite! Looking back at Ambleside & Grouse in the background.

Lions Gate Bridge — my favourite! Waving back at Ambleside, Crown & Grouse mountains in the background.

Squamish Trails

I probably don’t have to tell you that the trails here– running, biking, skiing– are amazing. With the abundance of activities around, I feel so much balance. For once I am swayed slightly from running and more likely to go ski touring, snowshoeing, or nordic skiing. I feel so healthy and inspired from the variety at my doorstep. It was worth the wait!

Skiing down from Paul Ridge area in Squamish.

Julien skiing down from Paul Ridge area in Squamish.

 

Out the back door in the Squamish Estuary.

Out the back door in the Squamish Estuary.

Post-Adventure Food Discoveries

So there is more than the Howe Sound Brewpub and The WaterShed? In our first month, we’ve discovered a few favourites beyond the breweries that typically lure us: Essence of India, (amazing rich Indian, great for eating in or takeout) Bisla Indian right down our street, (more homestyle / less rich style of Indian, great for take-out) Mag’s, (amazing gigantic Mexican and beers!) and hearty homemade soup and sandwiches at Squamish Seniors’ Activity Centre (halleluja, all ages can go!)… Oh, and the best hot chocolates to be found are over at The Ledge Community Coffee House, where you can also gaze at art in their lovely two-storey space. Curling up and eating in by the fire is also super fun here, especially after a long day outside.

Only Downsides!

So far, there are only a couple of downsides with living here. First, the train. The train running through downtown Squamish is wonderful and enchanting while we’re awake. But at 2am, it’s not our favourite stimulus. As a heavy sleeper, I’m lucky to sleep peacefully through the whistles, but I know that not everyone in my house is so lucky! Any ideas, Squamish friends?!

The other terror is my hair after it’s been soaked with a nice hard water shower. The minerals cling to the strands, forming tufts on a daily basis. The only solution is to braid my hair like I’m Katniss Everdeen or something. Oh, and gross vinegar hair treatments!! I may just resort to hair vacations to friends’ showers in Vancouver once a week but any advice would be great! :p

Yes, I look more and more like Disney’s Brave every day with the hard water, but for me this is a small cost to a new adventure, and living in a place that makes me super happy.

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The Tantalus, being hard to get as usual, so close but so far (across the river).

Play With the Challenge – Hanes Valley Women’s FKT Attempt

We’ve all been in a situation where the going got TOUGH. What did you think in that moment?

For me, tough moments sneak up from behind. They often show up as being annoyed, or angry, maybe swearing at the terrain or myself, or tripping and falling on the ground. If I don’t catch that this is happening, it can often quickly progress to a situation where things are actually bad– I stop eating, or stop thinking about my goal, or the worst of all, I stop believing that I can achieve my goal. Often, I’m thinking I’m doing way worse than I actually am– and I beat myself up for no reason! This happens in running, and in learning Computer Science, too. It’s weird, because before these big challenges present themselves, I say I’m ready. In fact, I actively seek them out by signing up for experiences that will challenge me– ultras, computer science, start-ups. But the willingness to experience the tough doesn’t always translate to a capability to deal with it. It’s hard to be ready, because it can show up in so many forms, and I often find I’ve only prepared specifically for a few of the possible forms…

This past weekend, I had a run that showed me a glimpse of how to handle this.

Julien and I wanted to see how fast we could run the Hanes Valley Loop, a classic local run in North Vancouver. Gary Robbins had set a blistering fast time as the FKT, but there was no women’s FKT published. This was all Julien’s idea. I was hesitant, however. I had run Hanes Valley three other times and I knew it would be a huge endeavour to try and run it fast. When the route isn’t HURT-like, it’s going up a scree field or down a mountain biking trail. (Well, there is an easy beginning…!) But Julien knows how to stroke my competitive desires, so obviously this was happening. He loves uphill, and I love downhill, so it meant that we would be constantly uncomfortable.

I’m usually feeling strong when the trail gets technical, so I was looking forward to flying over some roots and rocks. But as soon as we passed Norvan Falls over the bridge, I felt like an awkward giraffe on the trail. I couldn’t predict where the trail would twist and turn, I couldn’t get into a rhythym, I even fell flat on my stomach at one point. I became very frustrated, expecting this trail to be my sweet spot.

I should have known that things were still going just great when we made it to the helicopter pad in Hanes Valley after 1 hour fifteen minutes. But instead, it was still this strange asshole part of my brain commanding me, telling me I wasn’t doing great. I scampered up the scree field trying to make up time, and of course, went way up the wrong side of the valley. Julien kept calling at me to come left, but I waited way too long, and now I was separated by a huge 20-foot bush from the correct side, with no flagging in sight. In this moment, I let myself get a bit more frustrated, as my efforts to hustle thus far seemed effectively pointless. In the past, I might have gotten angry and canned the effort. But as we walked down the scree back to where we left the flagging, I realized I could embrace this new, greater challenge. The getting lost was done, and all we could do now was make the best of it, and try to make up for it on the rest of the route. I apologized to Julien for being crazy, which was step one.

hanesScree

It was perfect timing to remain positive, as just when we found the flagging again, we saw a huge chunk of the bushes move and shake, about 10 meters away– where we just were! We both knew right away, this had to be a bear! Immediately we rushed as far left on the scree as we could, and climbed straight up. When we topped out from the scree field, a couple of hikers were watching our supposed “hiking fast right at the bear” from above.

In the end, the run did turn out great, as we made up for the detours with a smooth run through Crown Pass to the top of Grouse, down Mountain Highway, and down the winding Fromme trails. If I had let myself get too angry at my mistakes, it would have killed a great run! For now in this fleeting moment, it’s a current women’s fastest time–3h 45m 21s.

For those of you who want to run it for yourself, I found this Hanes Loop RunGo route really helpful on the last trails through Fromme. (I made this route from Gary Robbin’s GPS file from his run.) However, you need to keep your head up through the scree field… a) because of bears, and b) because since it’s more of a route without taking “turns”, RunGo didn’t give me directions up there. Hence the hiking straight up the wrong way, with my head down. Also, make sure you’ve got all the backcountry essentials. Since this is a major North Shore Search and Rescue spot, I always carry multiple navigation aids, (I carried RunGo, plus photos of my paper map on two fully-charged phones) a great jacket, food, water, and an emergency kit which has a mini turtle light, and basic first aid supplies.

If you want to run this fast, (and you should! You can do it!) my advice is to win with wisdom… essentially, to not get off track in the scree. You could also consider skipping the Grouse chalet. We stopped to refill water there, but if you wanted to skip that then you could cut about 2km off through the resort, plus the time to refill water. Here’s the link on Strava with all the stats from my run.

This was a day when I was able to play with the challenge. Definitely one to remember and re-produce!