Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Unorthodox style of Chris Bangs

Justene nearing the top of the snow headwall at the Bugaboo Snowpatch Col

I was looking to write a blog about being low-tech vs. hji-tech.  About camping low on the mountain  and not carrying heavy loads into a high camp.  About riding nearly 700 miles on a bicycle in a pair of Crocs.  There are so many things that I do and practice that are not usually the way someone would do things.  About the fact that when I head out on a big alpine day, I sleep in and totally forget about the alpine start.  The way I figure it is if I'm going to get up at 3am and walk up the approach to my climb in the dark, what's the difference then between sleeping in, waking up a casually hour and walking the end of the day back down the trail in the dark?  Either way I'm walking around in a forest in the dark, and I've never had a big problem with that anyway.
Now I'm not saying that I've got all these thing figured out.  There are obvious flaws in my systems; like during a ten hour day on a bicycle in a pair of Crocs, yes my feet do ache a little more than when I'm wearing my expensive cycling shoes.  But then there is the flip side to that one also.  Expensive cycling shoes are expensive, they look stupid when your not on your bike, and they walk only a little more comfortably than those Dutch wooden clogs.  Crocs may not be the most fashionable foot wear out there but they are about the most comfortable and light weight piece of gear I'm carrying with me.  My Crocs are also 4 years old, so for the price you can't beat that.
Our first climb together in the Bug; Eastpost Spire

Human-Powered Mountaineering (HPM) is the opposite of Mile per Hour (MPH).  This is another part of our so-called style.  HPM is the opposite of MPH; we're not in a hurry.  In fact we are the opposite of being in a hurry.  We are trying our hardest to slow things down for ourselves.  Non of this "car-to-car in ten hours" bullshit lingo here.  We take our time, because why did we come here anyway?  Just to be in hurry.  This place is super, natural British Columbia.  I'm not going to go around bragging about how I was in this super awesome beautiful place and I made it back to my car (or bike as the case may be) as fast as I could.  That's just stupid, and I'm just as guilty as anyone for having done it.  But I'm learning.  I'm learning that I really love being in the mountains.  Like last night walking back to camp by myself.  I was sore and tired and didn't have clue what time it was and everyone I met on the trail on their way in was looking at me like I was some sort of lost hiker, because who would be walking back at this time and with that small of a backpack there is no way I'm a "climber",  just look at those old inexpensive generic shoes he's wearing, definitely not a "climber",  just a lost day hiker posing for a rescue add.  "Climbers" have heavy duty shiny boots, huge packs, and often the judgement to match how much they spent on all that crap.  How do I know this?  Well again, I'm as guilty as an anyone for doing this.  When I first started climbing I was hooked.  I wanted to climb every mountain in the world.  But I was a young kid just starting my own business and I couldn't afford all that gear.  Even if I didn't know what all that gear was for, it didn't matter, I wanted it.  I wanted more than anything to be a "Climber".   It's funny how things work themselves out, because now days, it's what I do.  I'm a rock climber.  I'm making a documentary on rock climbing.  I'm living in a tent for months at a time.  Still can't afford all the fancy crap, and still don't know what some it is for, or if we really even need it for that matter.  But here I am, living in the Bugaboo Mountains for an entire summer.
My new friend Evan on top of Bugaboo Spire

That brings me to another of the things that I think that I have figured out for myself about style in the mountains.  Walking home slowly.  At the end of a big day I make sure to slow way down.  For me it's the difference between waking up totally cramped up the next morning because I ran down the trail to brag about how fast I went, or waking up the next day ready to do it again because I walked the last 6-10km at a snail's pace.  We all know or have heard that walking downhill is bad for your knees and your joints, but there is more to it than that.  Those last few kilometres of the day can be therapeutic if you walk slow or they can be damaging to your joints and muscles if your worried and hurried. By walking slowly at the end of the day I'm giving my body time to recover from what I have just done in a way that sitting and resting doesn't do.  In fact last night I was starting to get quite sore on the trail.  My feet hurt, my right leg felt a little crampy, my lower back was tight, but when I woke up this morning I felt great.  No lower back pain, no cramped muscles, no sore feet.  All because I made sure to walk back down the trail nice and slow.  The other thing that I think that helps quite a bit is the bicycle.  After my marathon day climbing Bugaboo Spire by myself, I got back to the trailhead to my bicycle and rode the 4km back to my camp on the river.  Cycling is great for the joints and muscles in the legs, but again only if your doing it right.  By right I mean spinning, and by spinning I'm referring to peddling fast.  It burns out all that lactic acid in your legs.  If you peddle slowly it builds up synovial fluid in your knees and makes them swell up as well as cause your legs to cramp up.  So I hike slow and peddle fast.  I don't have a shoe sponsor yet (hint hint Crocs) and I soloed Bugaboo Spire yesterday in a snow storm, kind of.  Actually it only snowed a little bit while I was on the crux pitch, the famous Gendarme Pitch, so I turned around at that point because I was not carrying a rope and I didn't not want to get stranded near the summit of the mountain.  Then I would have been the poster boy for the rescue add. Instead I started down until I met a party of 3 that was also debating whether or not they should retreat or if they would wait out the storm and keep going.  We decided to join forces and keep going.  In the end we all made it to the summit and it worked out well for all of us.  I trailed a rope up the crux pitch for  them and then was able join them on 3 rapples on the way off the summit. A great day in the mountains!!!  
Another beautiful day in the mountains

The best parts were the internal visuals that I had of seeing myself in a bright green jacket, clinging to the side of a vertical cliff with no rope attached to myself, thousands of feet off the ground near the summit of one of the most iconic peaks in North America with the wind blowing light snow around, slowly making the next move upward, testing the hand hold, taping my foot on the foothold, feeling solid and connected to the mountain in both a physical and spiritual sense, those were the best moment for me that day.  And when the guy in camp the day before asked me why I would do such a thing, I got lost in thought and don't even remember if I answered him, because I was dreaming about the sensations of timeless weightlessness that the Mountain can give to me once I've arrived at that moment of perfect connection  and union with the Mountain.  This is the ultimate!!!  So a better question than,  'why would I do it" is, WHY WOULDN'T I????  I mean really.  In a world were you can fret about everything.  Why not train myself to perfect some thing as grand as this?

A baby Ermin came up to us to say "Hi"

Then a Spruce Grouse and five babies hung out with us on the trail for a few minutes.

And finally this toad was in the trail waiting for us to come by.  Quite the day!!
Our animal friends are one of the things that make these adventures special and remind us why we live this life the way that we choose, in harmony and in love and fearless....


  1. Wow, love the photos and the humor about expensive bike shoes and hiking gear.

    awesome, made me laugh.

  2. Thanks again Mel! Chris does have a style all his own and a great writing style, I'm always laughing as I proofread for him too!