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The Importance of Preparation and the Value of Experience

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Bootboy, Mar 4, 2016.

  1. Bootboy

    Bootboy Atwood Gear

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    I started to write this in the pothole thread but it got a bit long winded and I felt that it deserved its own topic.

    I will share personal experiences that have taught me the value of adequate mental and physical preparation as a package and how I have come to appreciate the value of experience.


    ----------------------------------------


    A few years ago, 3 of us went into Poe. Technically prepared, but perhaps not as physically or mentally prepared as we could have been. And I'm not talking cardio. 2 of us had just gotten off of a week long trip with some great canyoneers in a venue that yielded much learning. Among them was the incomparable Jenny West. After getting to know her over the course of a week, I was all the more inspired and excited about my pending Poe trip but I was already ignoring some details of preparation. She assured me that we'd be fine. I let her vote of confidence go to my head and to let my guard down and to set aside the importance of adequate prep. Indeed we were "fine" in the end but I learned a valuable lesson, that of mental and physical preparation in concert with each other.

    I didn't know what I didn't know.

    As the trip approached, the weight began to settle and I became increasingly anxious every day.

    After a sleepless freezing night, a later than desired start, route finding difficulties, and a narrowly averted disaster involving rockfall that surely would have ended my canyoneering days or perhaps even my life, we suited up and I was already rattled and mentally taxed.

    I was keenly aware of my compromised faculties but I didn't want to show my partners any weakness. I think I had placed too great a mental load on myself and felt entirely responsible for the success of the trip. I felt the whole thing depended on me. There was no reason to doubt my partners skills and after several trips together already that season, I knew they were good natured, talented, and cool in the heat of battle. I didn't trust that knowledge and that lack of trust only served to impose an unnecessary mental load to my already anxious mind.

    Once we were in the canyon things went smoothly enough but admittedly, I was not enjoying myself.

    We arrived at the pit and went about the business of dispatching the crux of the canyon by the prescribed method. It didn't go so well. We spent way too much time there. I seem to recall it being about at least 2.5 hours. We relied on the now mostly washed-away rubble pile to stick our bags on for the escape. Providence? None of us could make the throw. I think by dumb luck maybe we got one bag over the lip. We had blown out 2 sand bags already and resorted to using rope bags with gravel as ballast.

    I attempted climbing out once and pulled the bags. Total reset. Starting over at such a formidable obstacle so sapped of energy was a significant physical and physchological blow. After another round of less than ideal throws, I went into the pit a second time. I slithered up over the edge and screamed a scream of anger and frustration, not one of triumph or satisfaction. We eventually got everyone out, cleaned up, and got moving again but the delay meant stumbling into camp without a minute of daylight to spare.

    Poe ain't over till she's over. The pit may be the crux but you're by no means out of the woods at that point. Much fatigue followed and I was deteriorating right up to the moment I limped into camp.

    Feeling so defeated and being utterly exhausted, we spent another chilly night in halls creek.

    I felt like I had let my friends down. I know they didn't feel the same, but we tend to be our own harshest critics. Feeling beaten and being disappointed with both my physical and mental performance I vowed to spend more time training physically for specific make-or-break, do-or-die type skills, and also to improve my mental game as well. To work on being sharper mentally and physically would prove to be a very worthwhile endeavor.

    Fast forward one year. I got an invite to go back to Poe with a different crew. Over the course of several trips earlier in the year I was afforded many opportunities to really sharpen my skills. I was privileged to learn from very talented people not only technical skills, but logistical skills and I observed what a talent these people have for putting together and executing some serious big time, high stakes trips.


    As the Poe trip approached I knew what I needed to do. My mental game had improved considerably and I knew how to prepare mentally. As for the physical prep, I had spent time lifting weights for canyon specific muscles and had spent many a session in the yard throwing sandbags to the point of exhaustion. The body was ready.

    I had thought and learned much about how to move better in the canyon environment and was much more confident and proficient in my technical skills.

    I had though about some of Poe's unique challenges and how to best deal with them. Not the least of which was The Pit. It occurred to me to remove my wetsuit top for throw so as to free up my arms and a have maximum mobility. I had considered how to stage people at some key obstacles and to anticipate a variety of conditions.

    We definitely had a strong and experienced team and in no way do I intend to minimize or take away from the value of their positive demeanors or the value of their talent. It certainly reduced my mental load knowing that while I anticipated being the point man on most of the tough stuff, I was among cool heads and skilled canyoneers. The mind was ready


    The movement through the canyon was relaxed and I enjoyed the journey much more, not feeling so anxious about the whole thing, despite the conditions being considerably more difficult.

    We arrived at The Pit with a plan. People were staged gear was organized and everyone was helping in the effort. It went so smoothly and I stuck throw after throw. Of a total of 8 throws, 5 bags easily reached the lip on the far side. I suited back up and into the pit I went. I was out in a flash and the others soon followed. 2 man hauls had the lighter members easily sailing up out of the pit. The coordination with which we executed the plan and the cooperation of the whole team had us all out of the pit, fed, cleaned up, and moving on in an hour and a half. The rest of the canyon went smoothly and we were back in camp, eating dinner with ample sunshine to spare.

    I slept very well feeling satisfied that I had fixed so many things that had bothered me for a year. All because I made it a goal to better prepare physically and mentally. The ability to do so was certainly the dividend of the invaluable experience I had gained in the intervening year.
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2016
  2. Tirrus

    Tirrus Rope rider.

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    Thank you for the well written and honest account. Sharing these type of experiences help the rest of us stay humble, not become complacent, and are a testament to mental and physical training.
  3. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Nice. Well-spoken. Good on ya.

    T
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  4. Rapterman

    Rapterman

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    Great lesson for us all!
    :twothumbs:
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  5. Ram

    Ram

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    There is a lot pieces to take away and comment on, with this post. I will start with what Taylor's experience taught me.

    I had said for several years that the throw at the Pit, in Poe, was harder than the hand over hand climb out exit. That most people could not do the climb out, but far less could do the throw. I had profiled those that were able to do the throw and they fell into 2 categories. One was the very tall. Strong helps, but tall was most important. The additional leverage, size of the swing all make this body type the most reliable pool of folks to pull from. The other type, I referred to as the "powerful sprinters." Those people who can generate explosive speed in their movements. For sure technique and teamwork is still needed. The support of the throwers left foot, a person coordinating loose rope to be tossed at just the right moment to reduce drag. Knowing that low trajectory is better than large arcs all help. The taking off of the top of the wet suit, to allow more power, on the throw, is something I never considered. Sound thinking. I also am a proponent of having 2 people that can do the throw and 2 that can make the subsequent climb out. Would hate to have a minor injury, say a tweaked shoulder, have so many larger consequences

    But the real prejudice that I had was thinking that folks would " either have the ability to throw the 44 feet, or they would not." I expressed these concerns to Taylor before his first trip. I remember him seeing, upon coming off that first effort how disconsolate he felt and his humility in thinking the rock fall, which had just shown up and is now washed away, saved their bacon. What I had not considered was that one could practice and train to such an extent, that what was far from possible once, now was squarely within one's ability. I knew this fella to be one determined hombre, but failed to grasp the results of those traits. Kudo's on many levels.
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2016
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  6. Mike Rogers

    Mike Rogers

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    If anyone ever needs a very tall--but otherwise incompetent!--person to help them make the throw, let me know!
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  7. Ram

    Ram

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    I love your Grand Canyon trip reports. They bespeak of a strong endurance athlete...unless you are someone who gathers exceptional folks to take care of him (like I do), reveling in masochism, who regularly travels 2,500 miles across the county...to do these brutal canyon trips...I ain't buying it.
    I bet you are top shelf.
    :thumbsup::twothumbs:;)
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  8. Rapter

    Rapter

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    Will we be able to see a TR of said trip; including pictures?
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  9. Mountaineer

    Mountaineer Is that an X slot?

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    It is a formidable obstacle for sure. I didn't realize how much planning you did prior. Great write up.

    I practiced at home on two ladders, and could make about half of them at the 45' distance. The actual stance is more awkward, and remember there is a big drop under you. With a hard throw forward, you have a tendency to slip...don't do that; while still making it.

    I think I missed the timing on one of the rope throws with you, so it should be 5 out of 7. ;-)

    The pit should not be underestimated.
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  10. Bootboy

    Bootboy Atwood Gear

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    First or second trip?
  11. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Really valuable moral story! Thanks for sharing it, Taylor.

    Terse line, "I let her vote of confidence go to my head and to let my guard down".

    Most of us have probably been there - on both sides of that equation. We often forecast ones success based on a comparison of those who have done a thing, to those who are being considered to do a thing. And it's a fair evaluation. Unfortunately, by no-fault, that evaluation will overlook the mutable components of a place or setting, those that are unforeseen or even unimagined. Mental, physical, psychological well-being, skill and experience, get out maneuvered by plain old grit and determination (as illustrated in the story). And that's a quality that should NOT be under-valued.

    I've seen pictures of The Pit, and the awkward throwing stance. But for the benefit of us who haven't Poe'd:
    What is the estimated weight of the bag?
    What size rope (mm) is tied to the bag?
    What is the ascent distance (feet), out of yonder hole?

    Sounds like a fun and entertaining activity for the next get together - Poe Pit Toss Across.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2016
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  12. Ram

    Ram

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    Weight? A few pounds. It works with the bag a tad less than 1/4 full. The geometry is ideal if you get into the 2nd constriction which is a foot and a half down from the top of the lip. Land the first constriction? It will pull over the lip easily. Nice that you can't tell until you try to get out .

    We have just used 8mm's. I mean you wanna keep weight down and not using the bolts (wise?), you need to bring more rope. Brendan has advocated for using pull cord to make the throw easier. 6mm? But really, it is nice to have some width for the climb out

    It is 24 feet deep down to bedrock, on the down canyon size. So it is a swimmer 18 feet down. Consider that it is easier, warmer and more controlled when water is very low....but.....The fall is bigger if the rope pulls and when empty the fall will injure one severely. There is that spot in places like this, just at the lip, where more forces will be placed on the bags, making it even more serious. Interestingly, when we found it high water, just 5 feet from the lip, the 5 feet was so goo covered snot slippery, that we had to do the same toss, as if it was nearly empty. I think I posted pictures on this
    here they are. Mike McPhee
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    Mud coated, he stood up and promptly fell ALMOST going right back in the hole :rolleyes::D;)

    And when you are there, don't forget to pay homage to the high route....and try to imagine what it took to place bolts at that angle. And from the 2nd bolt, consider the exposure and the size of the pendulum, to land down canyon of the lip. Awing.
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2016
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  13. Bootboy

    Bootboy Atwood Gear

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    8-12 lbs. during my practice sessions at home, I weighed bags that were 1/4 - 1/3 full and I seem to recall
    them coming in around that range. Certainly no more.

    8mm rope

    My first trip was only a climb of around 7 feet. Second time it was about 12.

    Another trick that helps with the throw is to tie a knot in the throw rope about a foot from the end. It makes your grip much more secure and the release much more precise.

    A foot from the end is the sweet spot. Any closer and you are not taking advantage of the longer arc of the swing. Any longer and you cant impart all of that energy to the bag because the arc is too long and cuz, Ya know, physics....
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  14. Jolly Green

    Jolly Green

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    I'll provide my intel on the subject, being on this trip with Taylor. We had quite a few things going for us and against us that day. First off, it was pushing 90 degrees, much warmer than expected for the end of Sept. In light of this, we skimped on the overnight gear to go lighter. We ended up camping just above Halls Creek, which made things significantly cooler. While this sounds good, trying to sleep with little more than a fleece blanket while the temps were in the low 40s makes for little to no rest the night before. Not ideal. Thus, a late departure from camp.

    By time we hit the approach slab it is again hot in the sunlight and I slow down. I am what you might call an over-heater. Ram recently invited me to Freeze Fest to do a canyon. It was 10 degrees when we started. I started sweating 10 minutes into the day and didn't stop until we got back to the car. Several days of hiking in hot weather slows me down. Again, not ideal.

    Now we are in the canyon- this place is a blast. Recent rains had left it with plenty of water turning several raps into jumps. We tackled each obstacle, in my estimation, with ease and kept moving forward with the Pit in the back of our minds. Taylor had mentioned how anxious he was but he was dispensing with the pothole problems with ease, so Justin and I just enjoyed the day.

    Eventually, we reached the Pit. Enough of this practice stuff, it's game time. We eat a little and hop right to it. Problem #1- no sand, just super sloppy mud and rocks. Ram said to fill these suckers 1/4-1/3 full, but that's with sand, not oozing mud. Oh well, 1/3 should work. As Ram stated, it's good to have a tall guy to throw, I am 6'6", so it's on me to get it done. Like Taylor, I'd been training in the backyard and easily threw a 1/2 full potshot 45 feet. Time to get into position.

    Let's rewind a month, our same threesome found ourselves in a somewhat similar position on an exploration (to us at least) of a canyon. In front us was a big pothole of unknown depth that we needed to throw a sandbag over to make sure we could get out. I'd guess that throw was around 40 feet. I went for it. First attempt was 12 inches short. Next attempt, nailed it. Sweet, I'm ready to make the throw in Poe. The difference- much better stance and about 30 feet or so of elevation loss. I'm confident I can make the throw in Poe though.

    Now, I make the climb up to the stance to make the throw over the Pit. Higher than the pictures make it seem. I've got a great grip for my right foot but my left foot is slipping all over the place. Justin is out front ready to flank the rope. Taylor is behind belaying me so I don't tumble down. Problem #2- our 4th guy bailed a couple days before the trip, it would have been very different having someone there to support that left foot.

    I make a couple off balance throws- not quite there. Taylor makes a few- nope. Justin throws- nope. We are getting tired after just 30 minutes. Problem #3- we didn't really ever stop to eat much more than a couple granola bars and fruit strips. Why did we spend 20 minutes dinking around trying to land pack tosses in the plaza area that we could have just walked around? I wish I had that energy back. Taylor decides to try the climb out but just pulls the bags into the pit. Pull out Taylor. Pull out the bags.

    Round 2- let's try less mud and rocks in the bag. Ooooh. Only 2 feet short. My turn again, this one is also a foot short but we are getting more accurate. Just a touch less mud and we are there. Suddenly my hip flexors that I have been rehabbing for a few months start to cramp up. Game over for me. I was brought along to make the throw and I couldn't even drop one bag. A black eye for me. Taylor and Justin throw a few more and we land one. Suddenly we have the idea to use the rock fall for the bags that were a few feet short. Taylor goes in and the rest is history.

    I think Taylor's timing is off a little as Justin and I timed the Pit sequence at 1:45 but it did feel like we were there longer than that. That's not the point of this in my mind though. Taylor has been a different canyoneer since that day, same with Justin and me. I was in a different place mentally than Taylor that day and remained convinced that with the knowledge we gained in our failed throws and less mud in the bags, we would have stuck them. Instead, we adapted to what was around us and did fine. Not exactly how any of us imagined it going though.

    Poe is challenging and not to be underestimated. Follow Ram's advice. Prepare. And be prepared to genuflect.

    P9232731.JPG
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  15. Mountaineer

    Mountaineer Is that an X slot?

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    The water level on your first trip looks much higher than the second trip. Wow.

    I have to chime in on your comment quoted here. I really resonated with it. An inspiring perspective, so thank you for opening up your true feelings.

    You point out the mental. Perhaps my biggest weakness, and I would dare say a weakness of many. Group dynamics. I seem to do better mentally solo, or with just those I closely know. My moves have more confidence. I can make that climb, or set the rope on a sketchy traverse. However, with strangers around me it seems harder. We seem to measure ourselves up. It can take out some of the fun. But, I also think it can compliment with the proper expectations.

    Several years ago while snowmobiling I had an accident. I was in the same area I've hill climbed a thousand times. The snow conditions were perfect. However, fatigue was playing in after a long day with an experienced group with vastly more skill. Their competence seemed to overshadow mine. That led to a tree and the loss of use of my arm for several weeks. I've since learned to recognize the signs, and adjust my risks with the dynamics.

    You gave no indication of weakness on our second trip. You were super ready on round two, the prep work you describe is encouraging to learn from. Nicely done Taylor. And yes, please post or send some pics of trip two. Not sure I have many of them yet. ;-)
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  16. Bogie

    Bogie

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    Knowing where you're going, knowing what you're doing, knowing how to get there, and knowing how to do it are all part of being prepared, but what if you don't know ... ? What then?
    I think the "mental" part of preparedness is the most important and most difficult to accomplish. Bootboy said it all when he said that, and I also think that Jenny is incomparable.
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  17. Bootboy

    Bootboy Atwood Gear

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    Let me be clear that in no way do I fault Jenny for her words. I, and I alone, am responsible for any effect her words may have had on me. I wrote that sentence several times when writing the OP so as to best place all responsibility for said effects squarely on me and my naïveté.

    Admittedly, we had just had a week where I think I had made a very good impression on a group of 12 total strangers. I fired on all cylinders for a week and with an undeniable component of luck, everything had gone flawlessly. I even had a chance to play hero by volunteering to be the last man down a free-hanging 270' rappel which required passing a knot 150' off the deck.

    I would dare say my head was a little swollen and Poe equated to a big slice of humble pie. The timing of it all was actually pretty remarkable. I could never have seen it coming.

    I should add something about humility to the title of this thread.
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  18. Deagol

    Deagol too many hobbies

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    That's pretty darn impressive IMHO
  19. Bootboy

    Bootboy Atwood Gear

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    I've long thought that it's amazing what you can getaway with if you simply act like you know what you're doing...
  20. Deagol

    Deagol too many hobbies

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    True, but it that case, gravity obviously believed you....
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