Boatbuilding as a Full Contact Sport

Using the linear planer is intense. I’ve adopted the role of board puller which means I’m face and eyes into the sawdust. I think I like it because it reminds me of skiing across Greenland or Sweden when we faced a blizzard. The sawdust from the planer whirls around just like snow. I also like taking all the sawdust for the team. It gets everywhere no matter how well I seal my clothing. I figure best to have only one of the team itching and plucking sawdust from every nook and cranny of their clothing. The linear planer enables us to make all the boards for a particular purpose the same thickness. Today we learned to use a jig in the planar to make two bevels on each board to create overlap ( a half-lap) on the planks on the sides of the dory.

You can see in the picture above, I’ve left a trail in the sawdust as I walked backwards from the planer. You can also see the bevel that the planer is cutting into the edge of the board. If you look closely, you can also see a finished yellow and green dory in the boat yard behind me. The boatbuilding shed just got a new concrete floor (note the lovely grey surface below my sawdust trail) and as a result, all the of the dories in progress had to spend the week outside. Next week, they’ll move back indoors for their finishing touches.

We also learned to cut the same bevel with a hand plane. Jerome, above, is demonstrating this for us. Once the long bevel was in place, we had to introduce another bevel right at the end of the plank bringing the leading edge to a tight feather. As you can see from many of the photos I’ve posted this week, boatbuilding requires full contact with the wood and with the boat that is taking shape from the wood. We wear the wood, shape the wood, cut the wood, smooth the wood, glue the wood, bend the wood, and fasten the wood into place. I’ve always loved working with wood-the smell, the feel, the lines so this week has been a thrilling learning experience.

Today progress was steady. We bevelled the first port garboard and then used it as a template for the starboard one. We installed both of them and then learned how to prepare the four planks that go over the garboards. We also scarfed two boards to enable them to be lengthened in order to be the top planks in our dory. They needed to set overnight so we will bevel and install them tomorrow. Our planing skills are getting better and better each day.

This is our dory at the close of building today. You can see the garboards and the first layer of planks installed. Taking the rectangular plank and wrapping it around the side of the boat was magical and a bit of a workout as we had to push hard to get it to attach at the counter and stem.

The lines and symmetry and mathematics of the dory are amazing to learn and see in action. The dory’s simplicity coupled with its functionality has made it a popular design in many parts of the world. We can’t believe that tomorrow is the last day of our workshop-the week has passed in the pass of a plane over a plank. Tomorrow we will finish as much as we can but there will be some leftover for Jerome and the two boatbuilding apprentices to complete as the summer goes on.

Happy Summer Solstice everyone!

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Finding Centre and Other Life Lessons from Boatbuilding

Day three of boatbuilding school at the Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador has come to an end and we’ve learned many more skills, ideas, and vocabulary today. We’ve focused on finding centre from almost minute one of the course. While drawing the template on the boards that would form the bottom of our dory, the first thing we did was draw a centre line. When we made the frames, each was marked at the centre. Today as we moved the dory onto the rack where we would pull the rocker into the bottom, the first thing we checked was that the boat’s centre line was under the plumb bob. Finding the boat’s centre has been central to almost each task of boatbuilding. Extrapolating that out to life, finding our own centre is likely as integral and perhaps, as challenging sometimes. Our instructor, Jerome, has many ways of adjusting the boatbuilding process on the fly–making a change here, or a change over there, moving the line, taking a plane to an angle that’s not quite right.

Not too tight, not too loose. That’s what my Buddhist teacher often said about meditation practice and life. Today when I was screwing the garboard to the boat (the garboard is the first plank fastened to the side and bottom of the boat and set the lines for all remaining planks), Jerome reminded me to attach the screw, not too tight, not too loose. The miraculous space between not too tight and not too loose is both microscopic and infinite. It’s a moving target. A moment. An illumination. Enlightenment. It is also fleeting. We find it. We lose it. Our centre. Found and lost moment by moment. Lifetime by lifetime.

One of the things that the first Buddhist teachers noticed when they arrived in the West is that we tend, without training, to be very hard on ourselves. We speak to ourselves so harshly, hold ourselves to impossible standards, and fail to treat ourselves with the compassion we so readily offer others. Sometimes I find my students so afraid to try something for fear of making a mistake. I don’t they they fear what I might say, they fear what they will call themselves. One of the greatest lessons that Buddhism has taught me is self-compassion. To put down the stick. To only speak kindly to myself. I manage that most of the time but occasionally slip up and pick up the stick. Fortunately, with both practice and practices, I drop it as soon as I realize I am carrying it.

Jerome has been modelling this to us as we learn boatbuilding. He’s super patient, encourages us to try new skills even when we fear we might ruin something, reminds us that no one is to blame if something is askew and that anything in the boat can be mended, adjusted, fixed, re-cut, battoned, glued, spiled, planed, or knocked gently into place. Building a boat is about successive approximations, learning to use your eye as one basis for judgment, using templates another, and learning to use a variety of traditional and modern tools. Sounds like a fine way to move through life as well.

It’s been great sharing this week of boatbuilding with two of my dear friends. From past projects, we’ve brought a familiarity of how each other works, exists, and things we are good at in the world. Mike is awesome at scribing and understanding in 3-D. Marian brings an eye to detail and a Macgyver can-do spirit. Me-I bring the spirit of adventure and curiosity and weaving all kinds of things together. Together with Jerome and Nicholas (his summer boatbuilding apprentice), we’ve formed a wonderful and engaged boatbuilding team. We laugh. We cuss. We measure. We measure again. We cut. Sometimes badly. Sometimes right on. Today as we fastened the ribbands, Jerome and Marian held them in place, Nicholas pre-drilled, I drilled the counter-sink, and then Mike drove the screw. Like clockwork. 14 times. Boatbuilding has lots of repetition. Lots of opportunities for practice. Lots of ways to learn from one another. Lots of ways to mess up and then fix it. When I became a Buddhist, I took refuge in the Buddha, his teachings (the Dharma), and in the community of his followers called the Sangha. Learning new skills usually requires both individual practice and a community to learn in. I’m grateful for the great team I’m learning with this week.

The ribbands, the narrow band of wood at the top of the frames, allowed us to see the total shape of our dory for the first time. They will also give some strength to and help hold the frames in place while we attach the planks tomorrow that will enclose the boat. Seeing this support for the boat come into place, I was reminded of how important support is. We have our frame, our mission, our goals, and our dreams. We have our centre. But sometimes we lose it. Sometimes we need to be surrounded with love and care until we can get our planks on. Once our planks are on and our seams caulked, we can float. Hopefully. Upright. But not always. In the sea between not too tight and not too loose.

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From Stem to Stern

Marian, Michael, and I are spending this week at the Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador in Winterton learning how to build a Grandy Dory (pictured above). I’ve been trying to get to a workshop here for a few years but this year, the pieces of my/out schedule came together. I’ve wanted to come attend a workshop with the idea of perhaps incorporating boat building (and then boat rowing) into an outdoor recreation course I would develop. It’s so great to finally be here and I’m enjoying being a student.

We are learning both hand and electric tool usage in boat boating. I’ve been so thankful to my dad as well as Mr. Walton, my junior high industrial arts teacher, this week as they gave me such a strong start with tool usage. Jerome Canning is our instructor and the workshop is elevating both our woodworking skills as well as introducing us to the many steps/aspects of building a dory from layout to cutting to fastening to finishing.

Today we learned to plane as we worked on both the stem and the counter (main beams at bow and stern). Our boatbuilding/nautical vocabulary is building each day as well. I’m pleased to report than my hand is recovered enough that I can do most tasks (and yes, I am listening to it and stopping if anything is tender. It’s taken longer than expected to get the incision to close but movement, stretching, and sensation are all going well).

I found myself quite taken by the shaving from the plane-enjoying the curls that fell to the floor as well as being able to see the tree rings so clearly in the shavings. It’s been a good mental workout as well as we’ve had to visualize the boat in 3-D while working on bevels and angles. Last night I spent some time researching Grand Canyon and McKenzie Dories. I’m thinking it could be very rewarding to build a downriver dory and take it on a big expedition.

Today we finished with the stem (long piece of wood at the front of the picture) and the counter (thing that looks like a bird tail) at the stern…it’s exciting to start to have the boat take shape. Tomorrow we will attach the frames we worked on today and will use a press to give the dory some rocker…stay tuned!

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I’m Always Climbing A Mountain or “How I climb anything is how I climb everything…”

If I said to you that I was following an exercise program with discipline, eating food of the highest nutritional quality, making sure that I’m getting lots of sleep, doing lots of body care, and seeing progress each day, what would you conclude? I suspect most followers of this blog would say that I was training for a mountain. I haven’t been getting ready for a mountain (but am just starting back to training for our climbing in Mongolia in August) I have been getting ready for, having, and now am recovering from hand surgery. Out for a walk today, I realized the process of getting ready and going through hand surgery has mirrored getting ready for a mountain, writing my book, making my high school soccer team, and finishing my Ph.D and so many other things in my life.

Eight years ago, I had a surgery date for my left hand for carpal tunnel syndrome. I elected to put it off, deciding at that moment, the risk/benefit analysis favoured trying to manage my condition with body work, posture, good hand position, and an occasion anti-inflammatory like Vitamin I. I had ups and downs with it but overall, managed pretty well. Last summer, in the lead-up to our Paddle2Peaks expedition, I managed to flare my carpal tunnel in both hands, get a trigger thumb in one hand, and De Quervain’s syndrome in the other. Those carpal tunnel flares and new hand challenges really took their toll and I was a hugely humbled by them in Labrador-especially when I had to sit out a day’s paddling to give them a break.

When I got back from the expedition, I sought out my hand team and we worked to get everything settled down-which with the help of a couple of steroid injections and some time, I got my hands back. During that same time, I had nerve conduction studies done again and found out that my left hand showed a decline from mild impairment to moderate. I was counselled to consider surgery before I hit severe nerve impairment and permanent damage.

I was offered a surgery date and I thought long and hard about whether to take it. The surgeon asked, (knowing my expeditionary lifestyle), “Is this a good time?”

I replied, “When will it ever be a good time for me?”

He said, “It’s not usually a question of if, but when.”

I remembered the agony of paddling last summer and having to stick my hands in the ocean every few paddle strokes to get relief. I said, “OK, Let’s do this-as I have a bit of a window and my next expedition is leg-based.” I’d already successfully paddled this spring and I wrestled with the decision of giving my “perfectly good hand” to the surgeon to cut into. I worried about a 1 in 100 complication rate, loss of hand strength, and recovery time on one side and the risk of permanent numbers/tingling and eventual strength loss on the other.

I got the letter with an early June surgery date. I gulped. I sighed.

I made the decision to climb the mountain. I had four weeks to get ready.

The first thing I did was totally re-arrange my course syllabi (as I teach with my hands) for my two intersession courses to ensure the classes I would miss would be covered.

The second thing I did was started doing push ups, grip strength , and other upper body exercises to build some strength so I could lose it again during recovery.

The third thing I did was learn what vitamins and other nutritional support a body needs to heal an incision and make nice scar tissue. I obtained those supplements and made a focused effort to eat really good, really nutrient dense food.

During the four weeks I had to stew about it, I just kept repeating, “permanent nerve damage” to myself and would go do more push-ups whenever I felt scared about the surgery. I cleared my schedule for the surgery date and the next three days afterward. I wanted to be able to sleep lots right after to help with healing. I also watched lots of videos about exercises I could do post surgery to help with mobility and strength-rebuilding.

The surgery went well. The surgeon and hospital staff were very kind. It took about 20 minutes and the decision was permanently made the moment that ligament was cut. Second guessing myself would no longer make any difference and I could focus 100 percent on recovery.

I’ve had no apparent complications and healing is progressing faster than anticipated. My incision is almost sealed up 100% and I can start scar massage as soon as it welds yet. I finished surgery at about 9 am on the day and by 9:30 am, I was already starting my rehab exercises 🙂 A little early in some people’s books but I remember the first time I had a knee scoped, the Orthopaedic Surgeon gave me some exercises to do and said, do them as soon as you wake up from surgery…so I’ve done taken his advice with every surgery I’ve had. Use it as soon as I can.

Of course, with this surgery they were “breaking” something, so there was not really any harm to be done 🙂 . My hand surgeon said that as long as I didn’t cause my incision to open (which he told me was pretty hard to do unless you fall on it) or get it wet, I could do anything I tolerated.

The first two days were a bit of a painkiller stupor but by day three my hand started to want to get back into life and I even helped out a bit in the garden that day. Since then, I’ve been gaining strength, mobility, and function with each day…and resting and propping my hand up when it needed that as well. Each day I see the incision get an increment better and the view of it changes. Just like the view changes with each step up a mountain.

This mountain has been both a long time coming and a rather short adventure. It’s going so well I’m considering having my other hand done as well this summer. I’m just waiting to see a) if that possible in the time I have before Mongolia and b) how the hand functions a little further out (from what I understand, it takes 14 days to heal the incision and about 42 days to totally heal all the internal structures.

So, it was interesting today when I was on a training walk with Marian and reflected on the past two weeks and realized it was a lot like climbing a mountain. I’ve appreciated my focus on all of my healing tasks (exercises, hand massage, good sleep, good eating, outdoor time, compassionate mind, etc.). After a year off from training, (both because of trying to get my hands to settle and because I needed to take a break after training last year for Everest), I was ready for a little “Discipline, Great Vision.”

One of my favourite quotes is, “How you do anything, is how you do everything.” So in reflecting on my experience of hand surgery, I might update that quote to “How I climb anything is how I climb everything.”

Thanks for all of your kind thoughts and support this past while. It’s been much appreciated.

(Building Lego this week is part of my hand therapy and I can see my ability to do it improve each day).

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Visual Soliloquy #1280 It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure…

It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.
–Joseph Campbell

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Visual Soliloquy #1279 If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind ?”

If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?”

–Mary Ann Pietzker

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Visual Soliloquy #1278 Our wounds are often the openings into the best and most beautiful part of us…

Our wounds are often the openings into the best and most beautiful part of us.
David Richo

photo Credit: Megan Frost

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Visual Soliloquy #1277 “It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always . All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story…

It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.
― Patrick Rothfuss

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Visual Soliloquy #1276 I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity…

I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.
Delicious Ambiguity.
― Gilda Radner

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Visual Soliloquy #1275 The only real battle in life is between hanging on and letting go…

The only real battle in life is between hanging on and letting go.
Shannon L. Alder

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Visual Soliloquy # 1274 I grow plants for many reasons: to please my eye or to please my soul, to challenge the elements or to challenge my patience, for novelty or for nostalgia, but mostly for the joy in seeing them grow…

I grow plants for many reasons: to please my eye or to please my soul, to challenge the elements or to challenge my patience, for novelty or for nostalgia, but mostly for the joy in seeing them grow.

— David Hobson

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Fire and Ice 2017: Time Flies

Today we travelled from Vik to Reykjavik. Vik means bay so when you see Vik in a name it likely is on a bay on the coast.

This is the famous hole in the wall near Vik. We reached this vantage point via adventurous driving instead of adventurous climbing.

This lighthouse has the same view.

This rock pillar is see from the another height of land just down from the lighthouse.

This is columnar basalt next to the black beach. All in all, the environs around Vik are quite stunning. Vik is the most southern town in Iceland. Can you find it on the map above? How about Iceland’s many ice caps~can you see them? Can you find a volcano? Or three? How about Iceland’s highest peak?

Our time here ends tomorrow but I’m sure we’ll sneak in a few more adventures tomorrow before we fly.

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Fire and Ice 2107: More Ice than Fire

It was another full day exploring the sights between Vagnsstaðir and Vik. We spent much of the day marvelling at the ice in all of it’s forms. Glacier tongues, lagoons, and crevasses drew our attention over and over again. I know I will return to do a ski expedition here-crossing one or two of the ice caps. I’m being called deep into “Ice” land.

The interesting thing about fire and ice in Iceland is that the fire is not far below the surface. There are some volcanoes here that are covered in snow and ice. When they erupt, not only do they cause lava damage, they cause massive flooding because the eruption causes much snow and ice to melt in a big hurry.

Another full day and time to hit the hay once again. Our legs were a wee bit tired today after yesterday’s climb but not as much as we expected. Here’s a shot from yesterday climbing above the clouds.

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Fire and Ice 2017: You Gotta Know when to Fold ‘Em

Hey Hey, as they say in Sweden. This will be quick. We’re down safe, we’ll fed, and ready for bed after getting up at four followed by a 13 hour climb.

We reached out turnaround time without reaching the summit. We had a marvellous day out that I can’t wait to tell you about bus I will have to wait.

Catch ya from tomorrow.

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Fire and Ice 2017: Brief Update

A day filled with lots of ice! Glacier ice A busy day moving across southern Iceland to be in place for the big climb tomorrow. Up at four am so hitting the hay.

More tomorrow after a big big day of up over snow and ice!

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Fire and Ice 2017: Transitioning to Iceland

After a appetizer visit to Stockholm, we spent much of the day transitioning to Iceland. Keflavik Airport kept us longer that we wanted but once released, we headed for a point of land that allowed us to look west to home and Newfoundland. We found that spot in Gardur and was not one, but two lighthouses to see.

This was the view west over the Atlantic towards Newfoundland and Labrador. I always get such a kick looking west over the Atlantic.

Iceland has so many Lighthouses. They are often orange but today we found a yellow one!

We also drove through massive lava fields that looked (to me) like the moon. We learned from someone at the hostel tonight that US astronauts trained for the lunar landing near Husavik, Iceland so my impression of lava as moon rock had some validity.

If you look carefully at the photo above, you will see some steam. This was near a geothermal electrical plant and I think that is a steam release valve. It’s always so cool to see steam seeping from the ground.

We’re driving the south coast tomorrow towards Vatnajokull. Tonight we saw Eyjafjallajokull volcano across the water. It’s slopes were covered in snow, it has a classic volcano shape, and the top appeared to be missing/like a crater. Some will remember that in 2010, an eruption of this volcano shut down air travel over the Atlantic for nine days.

We’ll drive by it tomorrow. And until then, good night.

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Fire and Ice 2017: Trains, Trams, and Sunken Ships Oh My

As we returned to trees and rocks and pastures and forests this morning out the train window, Marian and I reflected on our Northern Sweden experience. We shared our highs, lows, and things we learned.

Life in Stockholm initially seemed too intense as we tried to find our way out of the train station and to our hotel. Trading the red crosses of the Kungsleden for Google Maps was an abrupt trade but we finally got our bearings. We stored our multitude of bags and then headed out to master the metro 24 hour pass in hand, we took the metro to the King’s Garden (seemed fitting given we’d just spent ten days with the King’s Route. There, we (and many many others) were enchanted by the cherry blossoms.

When we’ve chatted with Swedes, it’s been clear that prior to this trip, I knew the Swedish Chef from the Muppets, IKEA, and ABBA as contributions to the world.Now after this trip, I can add many more.

This list includes the Vasa…a Swedish war ship from the 1600’s that sank 20 minutes into its maiden voyage. Our guide in the Vasa Museum said she loved that this museum celebrated a great failure. I couldn’t agree more.

Check out the provision list…63 litres of ale per month! Not much fresh food-huge risk of scurvy. The Vasa spent over 300 years at the bottom of the ocean, now it is here in Stockholm for visitors to learn from and study.
With our fab public transit pass in hand, we walked, rode, and boarded trains, trams, and buses Learning our way around Stockholm’s many island studded waterfront. After being outside for much of the past 10 days, it’s ironic that we are now in a hotel room without s window. They gave us a mural though :-). It feels a bit like the midnight sun with an off switch and with that I’m off to rest and to Iceland tomorrow.

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Fire and Ice 2017: Transition from Mountains to Villages

Today is a transition day from the mountains through villages to the train that will take us far from snow and ice for a few days. We took the scooter from Kebnekaise to Nikkaluokta this morning. It took about an hour and was a wee bit of a cold ride.

We then had a few moments to claim our duffel bag and ski box from the aptly named “Buss gods” and get the skis into place. We had a few moments left to enjoy a display of Sammi art. The Sammi are indigenous peoples of Northern Sweden who have herded reindeer for millennia. The pieces above and below caught my eye.

I also spied this photo from 1905 of Kebnekaise from Tarfala. We skied there two days ago and we can tell that the glacier has retreated significantly. There is a very long running glacier research station at Tarfala that is making measurements every year to track the changes.

This is likely the last year that the south summit of Kebnekaise will be the highest. It has a small glacier on top and had dropped 30 centimetres in the last year. During the ski mountaineering championships, they took a banner to the south summit thanking it for being the highest. Next year, they will place a banner on the north summit welcoming it as the highest peak in Sweden (its summit is rock covered so is not dropping in height).

We took the bus from Nikkaluokta to Kiruna train station. Kiruna is a mining town and the entire town is being moved 5 kilometres away because the current town location is at risk of falling into the mine shafts drilled beneath the town. Some buildings are being moved and some will be abandoned to become a ghost town of Kiruna past.

Near to Kiruna is an ice hotel called ICE HOTEL 365. They recently figured out how to keep the hotel from melting in spring using solar energy so now folks will be able to visit year round.

We had a few hours before our train so we repacked our bags and now are poking around the train station (which is a temporary one while the new one is being built in the new town).

We’re excited for another trip on the night train and we will wake up in Stockholm tomorrow. Until then, Team Fire and Ice out.

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Fire & Ice 2017 Day 9: Kiruna to Stockholm

Today after our overnight train ride, we will explore Stockholm, the capital of Sweden.

Did You Know?

Volvo, a Swedish company invented the 3-point seat belt system, and instead of patenting it to make their own company a lot more more they decided to share the technology with the world so all people could have a safer mode of transportation.

There is no word in the Swedish language for “please”.

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Fire and Ice 2017: Up Close and Personal with Some Ice

Today was an ice day. We skied down the scooter track a ways and then cut right to ski up to an ice filled canyon. First, though, we had to find a snow bridge over an open stream. As we were looking for a crossing, we spotted two moose.

They appeared to be mother and calf and at first, I thought they were reindeer because their undersides were light. As we got a bit closer, we could see clearly they were moose and then they ran off.

We had to put skins on ours skis because the snow cover wasn’t deep enough to hide the rocks. We started climbing up and zigzagging until we reached our canyon. We traded our skis for crampons and climbed down into the canyon with our skis stuck behind our backs.

Soon we had a top rope set up and we got up close and personal with some ice. It felt great to be climbing ice again and I was pleased that my carpal tunnel/ De Qurvain’s let me climb ice once again. I can tell it’s time to build grip strength again.

After climbing, we noticed some earlier versions of crampons being used as wall directions. Crampons give climbers purchase on slippery Ice and snow.

As we got quiet while climbing, we could hear the stream running below the ice.

After ice came fire once again and we perfected our sauna technique. We are sad that our time in the Swedish mountains is coming to an end but we will cherish our memories for the rest of our lives.

Tomorrow we are riding the scooter out then catching a bus then catching a train. Thanks for coming along.

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Fire & Ice 2017 Day 8: Kebnekaise to Nikkolauda to Kiruna

Today we will head out from Kebnekaise Mountain Station to Nikkolauda. There, we will catch a bus that will take us to Kiruna. There, we will catch a train to Stockholm.

Did You Know?

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Fire and Ice 2017: Lots of Ice (and some fire)

Today we said good bye to our ski expedition teammates. They rode out to Nikkaluokta by scooter, scooter being the Swedish name for snowmobile. Many folks ride between Kebnekaise and Nikkaluokta by scooter taxi while others ski or hike the 19 km.

Marian and I got many views of ice and snow today, after the big good-byes. We skied 8 km into Tarfala. At Tarfala, we met Lars, the hut warden, who said Tarfala was the most beautiful hut in Sweden. Located below three different glaciers and beside a glacier fed lake, we had to agree.

Ski conditions were very icy today but we “earned our turns” on the way down after climbing the 500 metres up from Kebnekaise Mountain Station up to Tarfala. This weekend is the Keb Classic Ski Mountaineering Race so we saw many competitors climbing up and skiing down the glaciers here. A glacier is a river of ice that moves slowly downhill over many years though for many glaciers, that movement is picking u speed.

Some of the snow and ice near the mountain station had already melted so we had to “ski” over the crow berries on occasion. Here they call Partridge berries, Lingonberries. Bakeapples are known as Cloud Berries.

Tomorrow we will be getting some close up views of some frozen waterfalls so it will be another ice day.

Currently the fire comes in the form of sauna or bastu as it is called here. Part cleansing ritual, part social time, and part bathing, we’ve come to love taking a sauna after an adventurous day.

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Fire & Ice 2017 Day 7: Kebnekaise Climb


Today is the big day. We will try to make our way to the highest point in Sweden, the summit of Kebnekaise (2099 m.).

Did You Know?

Haparanda in Sweden, and Tornio in Finland, are so close in proximity that they share the same post office. There are even two phone lines in the office, one for calls to Sweden and one for Finland.

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Fire & Ice 2017: Safe in Kebnekaise

After following the red crosses of the Kungsleden for six days and nearly 100 km, we are enjoying celebrating at Kebnekaise Mountain Station.

We had some fantastic weather and some horrible weather. We had to push hard some days but then laughed hard enough to make our bellies hurt.

9 Swedes, 1 Aussie and two Canucks came together through hours of skiing, hut chores, and thought-provoking discussion. I’ll write more soon and share more pics when I am not finger typing on my phone.

We are so saddened by events in Stockholm today and will be visiting there in a few days but for now, we are transitioning out of mountain life and sting good bye to new friends.

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Fire & Ice 2017 Day 6: Kebnekaise Mountain Station

Today we say good-bye to our ski teammates and meet our climbing ones. We’ll do some preparation for our climb of Kebnekaise (2099 m.) as well as rest and make everything ready for the climb.

Did You Know?

Something that stands out in Sweden from everywhere else is that it is not uncommon the least bit to see a Swedish civilian wearing a hat with a propeller on the top.

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Fire & Ice 2017 Day 5: Salka-Kebnekaise

This will be an exciting day as we will see Kebnekaise (2099 m.), Sweden’s highest peak, for the first time. We will be trying to spot the route up that we will use when climbing the peak. Today we ski from Salka mountain hut to Kebnekaise Mountain Station.

Did You Know?

We might think of skiing as something we do for fun on weekends, many Swedes see it as another mode of locomotion. Some will ski to train stations or bus stops; public transit comes equipped with storage space for skis. If someone lives close enough, they might even ski directly to the office.

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Fire & Ice 2017 Day 4: Tjakta-Salka

Today the rhythms of our ski days should be set as we make way from Tjakta mountain hut to Salka mountain hut.

Did You Know?

In Sweden, the traditional Christmas visitor is the “nisse” or “gnome”, a short, good-humoured sprite with a long beard and a tasseled red cap. Swedes believe he is thousands of years old. On Christmas Eve, they leave him bowls of porridge on their doorsteps.

Forests cover over 50% of Sweden, there are also around 100,000 lakes and over 24,000 islands throughout the country. Sweden’s right to public access laws allows these areas to be fully accessible by the public.

Fire & Ice Active Activity:

KUBB is a Swedish game that compares to bowling. It uses blocks instead of pins and sticks instead of bowling balls. It develops physical literacy in children i.e. throwing skills where the object is to knock over blocks by tossing sticks at them. It’s simple, yet, a Swedish childhood favourite.

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Fire & Ice 2017 Day 3: Alesjaure-Tjakta

Today we ski from Alesjaure mountain hut to Tjakta mountain hut. The huts were are using are maintained by the Swedish Tourism Association and help make the Swedish outdoors more accessible to everyone.

Did You Know?

“Lagom” is an important and often-used word in Sweden. Meaning good enough, or just right, it sums up Swedish cultural and social ideals of equality and fairness.

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Fire & Ice 2017 Day 2: Abiskojaure-Alesjaure

Today’s plan is to ski from Abisko.jaure-Alesjaure. We are learning all about the Letter “A”

Did You Know?

Between 300,000 and 400,000 moose (“Alces alces”) roam the Swedish woods. The moose is also considered the most dangerous animal in Sweden. Every year, they cause approximately 6,000 road accidents.

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Fire & Ice 2017 Day 1: Abisko Mountain Station-Abiskojaure

Today’s plan is to ski from Abisko Mountain Station to Abiskojaure mountain hut. It will be our first day out so we must take very good care of our feet since they will be adapting to the large volume of skiing.

Did You Know?

One of the most popular flavors of ice cream in Sweden is “salmiakki”, or salty licorice, which can also be coal black in color.

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Fire and Ice 2017: Headed Out

Marian and I skied a bit of the rout for tomorrow for today and we’re excited, nervous and now ready to go after a flurry of activity.

Our packs are heavy and the next few days will be tough but we’ll take it a step at a time.

Thanks for coming along and we’ll post audio updates only for the next week or so. No news just means no news (ie the sat phone is having trouble connecting) so don’t worry.

Here are some mammals from this area. Enjoy.

I’ll let you know if we see any of them or their tracks. In the meantime, you can practice your Swedish.

Good night.

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Fire and Ice 2017: Our Ski Route…

This map shows our entire ski route from Abisko to Kebnekaise and then finishing in Nikkaluokta.  We will be carrying some of our food supplies in our backpacks and acquiring some items along the way.  Out backpacks will weight between 15 and 20 kg.  Our ski distances will range from 10 to 20 km per day.  We are skiing a portion of the Kungsleden.  We can’t wait to share the adventure with you.

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Fire and Ice 2017: Arrival in Abisko, Sweden

Hello from 68 Degrees North!

After 45 hours of almost continuous travel, we arrived in Abisko midday. Going directly from the plane to a sleeper train reminded us how civilized train travel is. The extra space and ability to walk about was much appreciated for the last 15 hours! Not to mention the bright blue sky and increasing snow as we rolled northward.

We had a spectacular lunch
once we arrived with an even more spectacular view of the lake.

The lake, Torneträsk, is the 7th largest & 2nd deepest in Sweden. It is the largest mountain lake in all of Scandinavia and is 70 kilometres long. It provides a blanket of introduction to the mountains behind. Marian walked down to its shores and ventured out on the ice a bit. A hole cut into the ice to provide access to drinking water showed that the ice was about 9 inches or 22 cm thick. We learned that Torneträsk has ice from January to June most years. We saw people skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing.

This panorama was taken from the ice. We also hiked around and saw some of the sights around Abisko including a replica of a Sami camp, a river canyon, and Abisko National Park visitor centre. There we learned about the importance of reindeer to Sami culture.

Reindeer are domesticated caribou. Today we learned that he only species of caribou to be domesticated is the Mountain Caribou. Reindeer forms an important part of eating here as we’ve already had two dinners with reindeer meat in them.

We also learned that Abisko National Park is one of eight in Northern Sweden. We might have to come back to visit the others. Swedes have the right to travel across most lands in Sweden if they do so with great care. There were several posters educating visitors about how to do this well. I was impressed that they had the posters in seven different languages.

It’s been a rich and full day so I’m going to hit the hay. I’m going to miss the swaying of the train rocking me to sleep. More tomorrow.

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A Invitation to Fire & Ice 2017

Marian and I are off on another adventure and we’d like to invite you to come along. We are calling the expedition, “Fire and ice 2017” and we’re off to points north of here in Sweden and Iceland. The name is a mash-up play on the name of one of my favourite pizza restaurants in Kathmandu and the snow of Lappland and the geothermal excitement of Iceland.

We are skiing a portion of the Kungsleden (The King’s Route) from Abisko Mountain Station to Kebnekaise Mountain Station and then climbing Sweden’s highest peak, Kebnekaise (2099 m). We are exploring Stockholm for a day and then heading to Iceland for another go at Hvannadalshnúkur (2110 m). Some may remember our climb of Hvannadalshnúkur in 2011…we got shut down about 150 metres below the summit. You can read about that climb here. We loved our time in Iceland and have been looking for an excuse to return and a free stopover on Iceland Air provided the opportunity for the rematch.

We spent much of yesterday packing-finding the right balance between too much and too little, too heavy and too light. We are travelling by plane, train, ski, snowmobile, foot, and rental car so we had to give some thought to how to make it all work in terms of baggage allowance, portability, and coming home one week apart. We are travelling with ski gear so that brings a bit of complexity to it all as well.

A map is like an invitation to a party-so much excitement to attend! The map above is the portion of Northern Sweden that we will be skiing. We finish our trip and re-catch the train at Kiruna.

I found this map today from 1905. I’ve magnified the section of the map for Hvannadalshnúkur and you can see Vatnajökull Glacier represented by all the white on the map. There will be lots of snow and ice-but we’re hoping Öræfajökull Volcano stays quiet while we are there climbing. Interesting to note that Hvannadalshnúkur is 9 metres shorter than it used to be…It’s been remeasured…check out the story here.

If the St. John’s and Halifax weather cooperate, we fly out on Wednesday, arriving in Sweden on Thursday and Abisko on Friday! We hope you’ll join us and follow along on this adventure to explore fire and ice! Hopefully, the technology will all play nice and we’ll do audio updates from the ski portion and audio and photo updates after April 10. We hope you’ll join us and follow along on this adventure to explore fire and ice!

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Visual Soliloquy # 1273 The river has taught me to listen; you will learn from it, too. The river knows everything; one can learn everything from it. You have already learned from the river that it is good to strive downwards…

The river has taught me to listen; you will learn from it, too. The river knows everything; one can learn everything from it. You have already learned from the river that it is good to strive downwards, to sink, to seek the depths.
– Herman Hesse

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In Honour of Michael Beecher Smith 4/27/2007

With today being Bell’s Let’s Talk day, I’m thinking of Michael and his family. He is dearly missed by so many. I thought I would re-post this blog entry that I did from Everest basecamp on April 27, 2007.

Location: Mount Everest South Basecamp

Elevation: 5200 Meters

Elevation Gain: 100 Meters

Weather: Sunny and Windy

Michael Beecher Smith was a young man with a huge, huge heart. He passed away in January and the loss is huge. I taught Michael in two classes at Memorial University (MUN). He was a delight to teach and my mind is filled with fond memories of him.

He was also on the wrestling team at MUN and so spent lots of time in the weight room. We often overlapped there and he was a huge supporter of all of my climbs. As a wrestler and weightlifter, Michael knew how to “play through pain.” He had to make weight for wrestling and he was always trying to get me to take my greens and other supplements because I was training so hard.

Michael seemed just to know when to throw in an encouraging word or come over and tell me to push the bar a little further than I thought I could. I feel his spirit with me here on Everest. He was so excited for me. I have thought of him often when the going has been so hard.

I know if Michael were alive today, he would be following my climb daily. With permission of his family, I decided to create a memorial for Michael here recognizing his spirit, his heart, and his tenacity in a way that will help me climb both the literal and figurative mountain in front of me.

This morning I hiked out about an hour from basecamp towards Pumori and Gorak Shep. At a spot we call “The Ridge”, I climbed off the beaten path to a flat bench of land with a spectacular view. This special spot is on the shoulder of Pumori. Pumori means “Daughter of Everest.” I’m taking liberties and thinking of Pumori as inclusive of “Son of Everest” as well.

This ridgeline overlooks Everest basecamp, the Khumbu Icefall, and when there are no clouds, the summit of Mount Everest. At first, I thought I would build a memorial chorten as is tradition here, but since Michael did not die in Nepal, I came to a different vision.

Michael grew up in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The aboriginal people of Labrador use Inukshuks (stone people) to mark paths and guide people along the featureless tundra. Thinking that we all need guidance and direction, I decided to build an inukshuk for Michael’s spirit.

As I hauled each rock, I thought of each piece representing some part of Michael’s gifts and talents. It was tricky to get all the stones to balance on top of each other. During this time, I thought of Michael’s challenges and obstacles. When I put the crowning rock into place and hung Tibetan prayer flags from the inukshuk’s shoulders, I thought of Michael’s fondness and appreciation of me.

Michael understood that I am happiest when I can combine several passions into one moment. This morning, in Michael’s honour, I brought together mountains, teaching, spirituality, and stonework. I’m sure he would smile at the combination.

After the sculpture was finished, I sat in silence absorbing the same view at the inukshuk (the same one as in today’s picture). When the time was right, I stood, touched the inukshuk’s shoulder, wished Michael peace, and returned to the main trail with my eyes awash in salt water.

There is an award for student athletes at MUN in Michael’s memory. It is called the Michael Beecher Smith Heart Award. If by chance you would like to contribute to this award, please make out your check to Memorial University of Newfoundland and mail it to:

School of Human Kinetics and Recreation

Memorial University of Newfoundland

St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, A1C 5S7 CANADA

Attn: Michael Beecher Smith Award

I hope in the next hours, days, and weeks that I can draw on Michael’s heart, spirit, and determination to do “the thing I think I cannot do.” (Eleanor Roosevelt).

My thoughts and prayers are with Michael’s family as they make their way through this tremendous time of grief, loss, and sorrow.

With both an open and heavy heart,


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