Playing the weather game

When you live in a place where weather conditions can be variable or unpredictable I think its really important not to underestimate the skill and experience it takes to make good decisions based upon the weather and the extent of fun you can personally have in what conditions. This not only requires you to know a little about what’s doable in what weather, but it also requires you to know yourself and what your prepared to sacrifice for a day that might not turn out too great due to the weather.

A few things of late have sparked the subject of this blog, some of which include evaluating the worth of ski trips to the local mountain this season in below average snow conditions but also the usual challenge in trying to squeeze out valuable climbing days during the winter months in a temperate and typically rainy climate.

When I lived in the UK and was pretty fresh to trad climbing regularly I was really bad at gauging if the weather forecast was going to make it worthwhile to get out climbing or not. I remember a very frustrating period where it felt like I spent a lot of time sacrificing other interests and plans trying to go climbing but not actually managing to climb anything because of the weather. I couldn’t understand how I wasn’t managing to get any climbing in when I was always so psyched. But what – for me – was worse was that although I had a great deal of psyche for climbing and would happily sacrifice many things to go climbing, I wasn’t as prepared to let down friends, miss out on other plans or mitigate my sleep needs to sit in the car at the crag car park watching the rain pour down. I’d much rather have had a good night at the pub the night before and be watching the rain come down from my hungover state inside the warm house, or be down the wall making the most of the time to train, or drinking tea, or doing laundry, or whatever, but wasting time being rained off so often quickly became pretty demotivating and I felt pretty frustrated which reflected on my psyche.

(A frustratingly familiar scenario!)

Someone was told me that it was something you got better at – deciding if it was worth going climbing or not. At the time I thought this was Bullshit, ‘how can you get good at this’ I thought – ‘there’s nothing to get good at – surely it’s just luck based? If it rains on your days off it sucks and you cant go climbing?? And if you don’t try when it looks like it might rain but you’re not certain, well then surely you’re just not psyched enough are you?? And I was psyched alright.

Now I’ve spent too many days in the crag cafe after it pissed it down halfway through the warm up route lamenting about how unlucky I had been and that ‘it was soo dry and crisp (perfect climbing weather!) the other day’ when I had happened to have plans to go to a music festival with friends or was visiting family, to know a little better…Thankfully.

So although – if your anything like me – (a headstrong non-believer who wants to find out everything for themselves – mostly the hard way but often the only way) –  you wont listen anyway, BUT, I wanted to write this blog to let anyone who feels as frustrated as me playing the weather game that it is something you can learn with experience and it does get better!

Moving to BC has definitely helped in my strategy for playing the weather game, for a few reasons: 1) I don’t care what anybody says when they are moaning about the rain on the West Coast, the weather is still more predictable than the UK. 2) Even when the weather is ‘bad’ there is still more fun shit to be done.3) I’ve become inherently more selfish, one dimensional and down right boring and I don’t really care*! haha – I mean christ! Its a saturday night and I’m sat in finishing off a blog about how to make the most of the weather, rock and effing roll!! But this makes it easier to feel less jilted when the weather fucks you over.

*Note: The third tactic is not necessarily encouraged as I am fully aware that this is probably a grave detriment to my character and long term happiness not to mention a huge addition to the reason that I’m currently still single and my beloved family and close friends are millions of miles away. However after consistently being let down in other relationships of all kinds by friends and family (Note inside note: DEFINATELY not all) shamelessly pursuing their selfish endeavors and shrugging off my willingness to sacrifice and benevolent efforts almost as stupidity (a sort of ‘more fool you’ attitude!) I decided that instead of growing old and bitter about it I would step up and play their game of every man for themselves – hell it seemed to work for them – why the hell was I left to be the one compromising and suffering. And as a short term consequence life is much more straight forward when your one dimensional and I’m ecstatically happy. I’ll worry about the other stuff when I’m old and lonely!!

An example of reason #2, in the winter in Vancouver its generally pretty wet and cold and that pretty much puts the brakes on regular trips to Squamish or any other local rock for that matter. Whilst that is sad and fairly confusing for most of us (also one dimensional) climbers it only needs to be below about 6 degrees in the city for that rain to be forming as snow on the local mountains and even less for some of the still accessible higher peaks around (Whistler, anything in the Coq’, my list could go on and on!)

So learning to ski this year has not only been awesome fun but time well invested in what will hopefully be a future for me in maintaining fun and adventure through the winter months whilst living in BC.

(Good Paul playing the ‘Air-ski’ after bailing in good spirits in some unusually deep pow one very fun evening on Cypress)

My last blog discussed the psyche I had for getting into touring more and hoping for some decent snow in a fairly dry ski-season. Since then I sealed the deal on a second hand pair of BD Starlets, some sweet, lightweight ski’s already equipped with my preferred Dynafit tech binding – good to go! Although, after having yet another hard time on a steep learning curve on an icy trip to Manning Park on family-day long weekend I conceded that I needed to get some proper mileage in on the downhill to be able to improve enough to tackle some of the technical terrain I was encountering touring. Because of the North shore’s dry spell it meant that conditions were less and less likely to be good enough to see me on more challenging terrain and the more I improved the more I was craving that extra push. Hitting Cypress up most Wednesday evenings with Tom and crew was certainly super worthwhile in the early stages to give me the exposure I needed to get to grips with the basics but with little coverage off piste on most trips it just wasn’t enough any more. I started playing the weather game.

Whistler started getting better snow and better conditions and since my new AT skis had survived their first resort trip on a crazy Friday night with team shred at Cypress (despite me forgetting to close Tom’s ski rack and them falling off the roof and then Tom driving off without all of the passengers in the car – it was a yard sale type of night!) I decided they could handle some more resort exposure to get me familiar with skiing them on Whistler.

Since then Ive now put about five days in up at Whistler and had an absolute ball. From Riding mileage groomers and off piste trees with some great peeps in tough low-vis conditions to getting a guaranteed ‘push’ on my level of skiing trying to keep up with Rosie as she drags me to all the sweetest spots on the mountain – like having my own guide – thanks Rosie!!

A great weekend recently with a fun bunch of ladies saw Rosie and I ride the lower mountain and hit up some fun trees in poor visibility and warm/wet conditions on the Saturday and then take my first run off Spankys into Ruby Bowl in sweet bluebird spring-like conditions on the Sunday. Not to mention a theraputic hot-tub session with cold beer to congratulate ourselves on making a successful ski day out of the less than ideal conditions on the Saturday.

(Rosie finishing up in fun moguls after shredding through Ruby Bowl in beautiful blue skies, this photo does not do it justice!)

With all this surprisingly dry weather there has also been a pleasingly good amount of bonus winter climbing days too. Pauly and I had a successful day trad climbing in the Bluffs on the Saturday of Family day long weekend (before the 2-day ski trip started) when he finally sent ‘Yorkshire Gripper’ and I was pleased to only take one fall on my quick burn on it on TR – it is now on the radar as something I could work (especially since it is so aptly named!) Thanks for the inspiration Pauly! We then went on to finish off ‘The Smoke Bluff connection’ which Emily and I had started back in the summer and gotten rained off on the second pitch. Pauly kindly took the first two leads allowing me to have ‘Jabberwocky’ and the wicked rising traverse on ‘Wonderland’ as mine since I’d not done them before. A highly successful and beautifully sunny day for a -1 / 0 degree temps rating.

Emilsa, Sue, her two awesome dogs and I also managed to get a cheeky day of bouldering in a couple weeks back when the weather looked too overcast to be warm enough for some Pet’-wall sport projecting. This was one of those days that could have gone either way with the weather. It wasn’t supposed to be particularly sunny (which would warm and dry what can be miserably damp and cold rock in the winter) and it was forecast to snow in the afternoon. Though thankfully I can always rely on Em to have high psyche to go in for these risky days. I didn’t play the weather game by the rules I set for myself this time but since I felt like I had been pretty good at making good decisions based on activity and conditions of late I decided that if the day was unsuccessful my motivation level could take it and it was worth the risk. To our delight it paid off and despite it being a fairly easy going/ chilled sesh some sending (of American Gigilo for me) happened! As a bonus we took a stroll up around the base of the grand wall and I got super amped for a season of sending sweet granite routes! After a good nights sleep I got up the next morning bright and early for a day of skiing in Whistler. Cant argue with another weekend like that!

(Em giving it some on ‘Bobo Jones’ of the Black Dyke area Grand Wall boulders)

Len revealing his inner mogul ninja on another great day skiing in Whistler)

Of late as the nights are getting lighter, the sun is shining just that bit more and the weather is getting slightly warmer I am becoming less psyched for skiing proportionate to the more likely it seems that climbing will happen. Don’t get me wrong the ski- season has been brilliant fun and I’ve learnt soo so much, but its never going to be climbing! And I’ve said before that its going to be hard for me to see Skiing (awesome as it is) as anything but a bridge between the gap in the start and end of the climbing season. I’m not fooled by the fact that regular and consistent climbing in Squamish is still a while off and Skiing will still be on my radar for a little time yet, but I am noticing a shift in my motivations already.

So as a finishing note, while another shoulder season is upon us, I can forsee my trusted mountain bike coming into its own again. I cant lament enough how good getting into mountain biking has been for low-input ( and risk) high output type 1 fun! A prime example was today. A fairly wet, cloudy, miserable day in Vancouver turned into a low key, low organisiation highly fun day riding the Fromme trails with Nat on the NS.

After a casual start of 11am allowing for a night on the beers last night and still enough sleep to feel reasonably fresh, not to mention a lazy coffee and breakfast at little mountain before jumping in the NatScho mobile and collecting a sweet demo bike from Different Bikes (thanks Duncan!!) on the way, Nat and I arrived at the snowy trailhead around 1pm. That time allowed for some excessive faffage and managing to get a little lost too. We still got a good couple of hours in riding the likes of the bermy and flowy and utterly fun ‘Bobsled’ a couple times, before turning the gnarly dial up a notch and hitting up floppy bunny for a couple of burns and then riding out Griffen back to the car. A fun but chilled day, home in time to get a good feed in – Jamica style – at the ‘reef’ back in the city and still have the evening to myself! Although it took a bit of persuading to reassure Nat that the trails wouldn’t be too sketch in the wet snow I feel like I now have a convert to rainy day riding for when climbing just isn’t a goer. We both agreed that the skiing would probably not have been great conditions and both feeling in need of a bit of time at the either end of our days we were stoked that riding the trails was the best use of the day!

(Nat and I tearing up Fromme in the snow!)

It feels somewhat ironic that I am finishing off this blog tonight, aimed at encouraging over psyched young climbers like my former self to just ‘say no’ when the weather is crap as a trade off for keeping frustration levels at a minimum and doing other fun stuff –  whilst my bags are packed for a day of cragging tomorrow with some doubts surrounding the weather coming from other members in the team. Its been pretty wet today and with a slightly overcast forecast for tomorrow there is some worry that things won’t be dry. I’m advocating for going still obviously and think that as long as we choose our crag wisely something will for sure get done, but I wont lie and say that it hasn’t injected a small amount of doubt into my mind too, possibly along with a little guilt that I may be leading my friends towards a wasted day, but the good thing about being generally better at playing the weather game is that I think you can afford to be a little risky sometimes. Its going to be a bit of an anomaly in my experience if everything we were hoping to do tomorrow is too wet to get on and if it is, well I’ll feel happier that we tried than if we sacked it off and went to Coquitlam to pull on some plastic only to hear stories during the following week from more committed individuals of epic success on the granite that day!

On that note I shall leave you awaiting the outcome of my risky game tactics….until next time!


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