Recap – Kootenay Climbing Festival 2015

It’s amazing to think the Kootenay Climbing Festival has entered its fourth year. This past Sunday, September 20, the TAWKROC directors again returned to the natural rock climbing wall behind the Lions Head Pub in Robson, BC, and set up a zipline for the kids, slackline, door prize draw, silent auction, and the always popular Tower of Power competition, which sees competitors try to stack the most number of milk crates… while standing on them! New for this year was the kid climbing wall (affectionately referred to as the route “Underage Drinking,” as well as the story-telling competition at the end of the night in which competitors told tales based on the theme “Epic” and were awarded prizes.

The Kootenay Climbing Festival 2015 also included an excellent presentation by guest speaker Ian Welsted who talked about his various mountaineering adventures around the world and described what it took to win the prestigious Piolet D’Or award.

Over 200 moms, dads, kids and climbers visited the festival that lasted from 2pm until 9pm. The event is hosted by TAWKROC, a chapter of the Access Society of BC, and its mandate is to promote outdoor climbing and raise funds for new route development in the region.

Huge thanks go out to this year’s sponsors: CASBC, Vpo Nelson, Powderhound, ROAM, Snowpack, High Country Sports, Summit Mountain Guides, Black Diamond and Kootenay Meadows.

What’s It Like Helibiking Revelstoke, BC?

“Leonardo da Vinci sketched the first helicopter design in the late 1400s. Three hundred years later Comte Mede de Sivrac of France invented the celerifere, the precursor to the modern-day bicycle. Then, in July 2015, a Revelstoke-based company threw the two vehicles together and brought heli-biking to the masses.

Selkirk-Tangiers has spent almost 40 years taking people heli-skiing and boarding in the West Kootenay but this month marks its first foray into summer offerings: from July to September the company has access to a 50,000-acre tenure (its winter tenure is over 500,000) in which to guide its new heli-biking excursions.

Granted, air-lifting bicycles to the top of a mountain via helicopter is an activity that’s been around for years but it usually involves tossing bikes into a heap, lashing them together and then long-lining them to the summit. After reaching the top, you then replace all the bike parts that broke mid-flight.”

So begins my article for the Kootenay Mountain Culture Group website about the new tourist attraction that’s being offered by Selkirk-Tangiers: helibiking Revelstoke, specifically 2,600-metre-high Mount Cartier, located just outside of town. To read the story in its entirety and to find out what its like to careen down a 760-metre long steel cable at 90-kilometres an hour, log on to the Mountain Culture Group website.

I Saw a Dinosaur Then Wrote This Story

“Big fish do weird things to people. And by big fish I mean really big fish. They affect some part of our limbic brain and account for the bordering on manic popularity of Shark Week, River Monsters and Jaws(not so sure about this one, how about how people google giant catfish wrangling (magazines or movies?). This prehistoric connection overrides rational thought and amps up our cortisol levels

I’ve never given a second thought to swimming in Kootenay Lake (unless it’s February) but when Nelson-based fish biologist Sarah Stephenson showed me a photo of the dinosaur she hauled up from the depths last April near Creston, I froze: ‘That monster lives in the lake?’ She told me not to worry, as it was harmless to humans. But this fish was important – in fact, it could impact the future of its species.”

So begins my article for the Summer 2015 issue of Kootenay Mountain Culture magazine about the struggles of a unique fish species. To read the story in its entirety and see a map of where “Big Bertha” travelled last year, check out the Mountain Culture Group website.

Review of the Julbo Classic Vermont Sunglasses

I had never even seen a glacier when I first donned a pair of Julbos in the 1980s. Sunglasses have come a long way since then but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that, for its 125th anniversary, the France-based company relaunched its classic Vermont mountaineering glasses. Founded by Jules Baud, who originally made goggles for masons, Julbo is now a brand name synonymous with adventure eyewear and they’ve outfitted such legendary mountaineers as Yannick Lord and Eric Escoffier. Today, the company makes over 50 different styles of sunglasses, mostly using plastic and various polymers, and they all have a styling that I would consider distinctly “Euro.”

To read more about the Julbo Classic Vermont sunglasses, including their highlights and shortcomings, check out my review on the Mountain Culture Group website.

Review of the Black Diamond Nitro 22 Backpack

Utah-based Black Diamond has no shortage of backpack offerings. In fact, the company makes about 70 different kinds of packs and that doesn’t include the Gregory line of backpacks, which parent company Black Diamond Inc. owns. The new Nitro line (which comes in a 22L and 26L versions) is one of the smallest they make (the only smaller ones are the Bullet, Magnum and BBEE) and their intended use is day hiking, although I took mine on a few cragging excursions as well as one multi-pitch rock climbing trip.

To read my thoughts about this pack, including its highlights and shortcomings, check out my review on the Backcountry Skiing Canada website.

Popcorn Party Recap & Recipes


On Friday, April 17, 2015 Marley Bassett celebrated her birthday with the first-ever-of-its-kind “Pop Off” popcorn party. Twenty-four of Marley’s friends (2 to a team) were invited to vie for glory by making popcorn recipes in three different divisions: “Savoury,” “Sweet” and “Open.” Each had 30 minutes to create their dish and then offer it up to our three judges who scored for taste and presentation. (The judges were David the professional chef, Mike the cynic who doesn’t really like popcorn and, of course Marley the popcorn princess.)

In actuality we thought this was going to be a fun little event during which our friends would bring their favourite snacking popcorn recipes and we’d all chow down in relative relaxation.

We were wrong.

Photos by Nelson Rocha or Lynda DeChief

Some competitors practiced for weeks to perfect their popcorn offerings while others purchased expensive truffle oil, organic bacon and champagne to infuse their dish with. At times the kitchen was chaos and it didn’t help that the hot-air poppers blew the breakers – twice. Not only were there 24 competitors, three judges and one MC on site, but 50 other friends dropped by to wish the Popcorn Princess a happy birthday. According to one attendee, the party could be heard five blocks away.


The first category was “Open” and there was a delicious “Japanada – Pop-porn” entry (see recipes below), and no less than two teams used the seductive delights of bacon to woo the judges. One contestant even went so far as to dress in a costume shaped like a piece of bacon. (Nelson later took home the MC’s prize for best dressed.) Despite the fancy dress, though, the other team to use bacon won the judge’s hearts and stomachs. Dan and Lauren’s Maple Bacon Popcorn received the top prize for the Open category.

Dan and Lauren’s Maple Bacon Popcorn Recipe

  • 1 C kernels
  • 1 C maple syrup
  • 1/3 C butter
  • 2/3 lb bacon, cooked and chopped small
  • salt
  • fresh sage leaves

Pop the corn using your preferred method. Put butter and syrup in a pot and boil for a while so that some of the water evaporates. Sprinkle bacon on top of popcorn and pour syrup/butter over top, then toss so everything gets coated. Add salt. Fry sage leaves in some oil until they’re crispy, then salt lightly. Top popcorn with sage. Serve with sparklers.



The next category of the night was “Savoury” and by the time that was in full swing the venue was packed and the MC had to scream to be heard: “Only 5 minutes left! Get your popcorn plated!” Alcohol was evident among the party goers as well as the contestants’ offerings: two presentations in this category involved booze, specifically champagne and tequila. Perhaps the most inventive presentation of the night, though, was by Chris and Daiva and it was called “Butts, Boobs and Mo Butta.” I’ll let the VHS cover speak for itself.


Despite the obvious sexual flare of that entry, it was the tequila that won out in the end, or, more specifically, the spicy fiesta popcorn with a tequila chaser. When Lesley and Steph get off their “butts and mo butta” and share that recipe with me, I’ll be sure to post it here. In the meantime, this is the runner up recipe that also had a fantastic presentation: Jenn and Jeremy built a boxed platter similar to the ones used by ballpark hotdog vendors to deliver cones of their popcorn to all the party people in the house.

Jenn and Jeremy’s Garlic Bread Popcorn

Pop 1/2 cup kernels in popcorn maker of choice (WhirlyPop is best – use 1-3 Tbsps of oil) and then add:

  • 3 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 Tbsp grated parmesan
  • 3/4 tsp crushed rosemary (fresh is best)
  • 1/4 tsp garlic salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • * or in lieu of garlic salt & garlic powder, use 3 drops of “Oleo & Spice” steam distilled garlic oil (available from guy with aviator glasses & braids with booth set up next to Full Circle Cafe most days).  Add drops to melting butter for best results – a little goes a LONG way!

Drizzle butter over freshly popped popcorn, toss to evenly coat. Sprinkle cheese, garlic & herbs over popcorn. Enjoy!

The final category of the evening was “sweet,” both literally and figuratively. By now the competition was heated, the booze was flowing fast and the noise levels in the house were at decibels unsafe for human hearing. Two entries in this category utilized specially printed paper bags to present their offerings: one had a photograph of Marley’s cat on it and, of course, she melted when she saw it. The other entry by Sarah and Steve had a photo of Marley looking happy on one side and her looking spicy on the other – indicative of the salty and sweet treat inside. Drizzle butter over freshly popped popcorn, toss to evenly coat. Sprinkle cheese, garlic & herbs over popcorn. Enjoy!


In the end, though, it was the kitty bag, and the cinnamon bun popcorn within its folds, that won the category. Here is Dusty and Jeff’s recipe:

Dusty and Jeff’s “Sully’s Cinnamon Bun Popcorn”

Butter: Split a vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds, throw it in a pot (the skin & seeds) with as much butter as you want. Turn on low-med and let it melt away.

Glaze: Add some of the vanilla butter to some icing sugar (preferably organic) and a bit of milk or cream until it’s a nice glaze consistency.

Candied Pecans: Toast some pecans in a fry pan… once they are golden and hot drizzle with maple syrup and a dash of Chili powder and continue toasting in the pan until all the maple syrup is coating the nuts.

Popcorn: Pop some popcorn and when it’s piping hot drizzle with the vanilla butter, sprinkle with kosher salt and cinnamon. Mix well and then top with the glaze, then add the candied pecans. Serve with a macchiato.

A huge thank you goes out to all the competitors for making the Pop Off Party such an amazing event. Marley will never forget this particular birthday for sure. Also, a big thanks to our judges, to Leslie for making the birthday cakes, to Nicole Bassett and the Civic Theatre for providing prizes and to all the spectators and those friends who brought gifts and cards.

The kernels weren’t the only ones who had a blast that night!

Here are some of the other popcorn recipes from Marley’s birthday party:

Lynda and Nelson’s “Bacon Bedazzle” Popcorn

  1. order edible glitter (disco dust) from
  2. soak strips of back bacon in maple syrup for 5 days
  3. put on bacon costume
  4. put on “bedazzle” costume
  5. fry maple bacon
  6. make popcorn in air popper
  7. melt copious amounts of butter and add to popcorn, along with salt
  8. add bacon to popcorn
  9. add edible glitter (to taste) to popcorn
  10. cover with foil and insert sparklers into foil (the foil keeps the sparkler ashes out of the popcorn)
  11. light sparklers!
  12. lose to other team with maple bacon sparkler idea
  13. win best costume prize!

Amy and Joe’s Japanada Pop’porn

This recipe features a hot-air popped organic yellow corn seasoned with a mouth-sparkling fusion, specifically the subtleties of the most refined and savoury Japanese Geisha and the sweetness and brawn of a Canadian Casanova who suckled at birth on bottles of the purest No. 1 maple syrup. (Note: Proportions vary depending on how sultry we feel!)

  • Canadian Organic Yellow Corn
  • Canadian maple syrup
  • butter
  • red chili
  • mandarin orange
  • white truffle & flax seed oil
  • sansho
  • nori
  • poppy
  • sesame
  • hemp
  • salt

Steven and Alison’s Coconut Popcorn

This is simple. But sweet. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.

  • popcorn
  • coconut oil
  • butter
  • salt
  • ground pepper

See you next year!

Review of the Big Agnes Lost Ranger 15 Sleeping Bag & Q-Core Sleeping Pad

Recently I was asked to review the Big Agnes Lost Ranger sleeping bag and Q-Core insulated pad – a sleep system that subscribes to the theory that down is useless crushed under your body weight and instead you should utilize the sleeping pad’s insulating qualities. The Lost Ranger bag only has down in two-thirds of its structure and the pad slides into an integrated sleeve on the bottom of the bag. In other words, you can’t really have one without the other so if you already have a sleeping pad that you love, this product probably isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for a interesting sleep system that has various pros (and cons), then check out this review.

To read my entire review of the Big Agnes Lost Ranger 15 sleeping bag and Q-Core sleeping pad, log on to the Backcountry Skiing Canada website.

3 Things That Will Make You Climb a Grade Harder This Year

A few years ago, while on a trip to the climbing paradise of Kalymnos, Greece, I was loaned a copy of Arno Ilgner’s The Rock Warrior’s Way. It immediately made an impression because, unlike other training manuals I had read with their “do finger pull-ups until you weep” advice, Arno’s book dealt with the mental aspect of climbing.

In my opinion The Rock Warrior’s Way (Desiderata Institute, 2003) is a must read for any rock climber, if for no other reason than the practical tips it provides. Granted the start of the book can get a bit “new-agey” with its talk of “becoming conscious” and “manifested energy” but after Chapter 2 there’s a wealth of knowledge that will help improve your mental fitness for climbing.

I’m living proof the techniques suggested in Ilgner’s book work. During that trip to Kalymnos I went from struggling up 6c to confidently leading 7c by incorporating the three things listed below into every one of my climbs. Today, I still use these techniques and I promise that if you do too, you’ll climb a grade harder this season. (Of course, you need to get out and climb too. Sitting on the couch and ruminating about these points will not levitate you up the walls.) Happy climbing!

#1. Smile before every climb

Whether it’s a warm-up jaunt on a 5.7 slab or a 5.12 offwidth project, take a moment before beginning any route to smile. The idea is to get into a headspace that is relaxed but conscious. Sure that 15-foot roof looks daunting but if you pause to smile, you’ll remember just how much you love this sport. Alternatively, that 5.5 you’re putting up for your punter friend might seem boring but if you smile beforehand, guaranteed you’ll enjoy it more. Oh, and you look better when you smile. (And climbing’s all about how good you look anyway.)

#2. Exhale

You hear belayers shouting to their trembling rope guns all the time: “Keep breathing man!” What you don’t hear is specific advice about how to breathe. So here it is: Breathing is a two-way process and in order to benefit from a great intake of fresh oxygen, you must expel all the air in your lungs first. If you’re nervous on a route, or you’re about to tackle that crux section, exhale all the breath out of your lungs – blow out through your mouth and then use your diaphragm to push out the last puffs of air. After that you’ll be forced to fully inflate your lungs and all that sweet oxygen will help calm you and feed your gunned forearms. Remember: when your belayer yells “breathe” what he’s really saying is “exhale everything man!”

What would you name this hold?

#3. Name it. Don’t judge it.

As climbers we do this all the time when offering beta: “So you crimp off that nasty edge and then throw for the heinous sloper before reaching the ‘thank Jesus’ hold.” Wonderfully descriptive? Yes. Technically accurate? Not in the slightest. What we focus on in statements such as that one are the judgments – “nasty,” “heinous” and “thank Jesus” holds. Try this instead: the next time you’re scoping a route, offering beta or contemplating the next 10 feet of a climb, name the holds for what they are: “Reach for the three-finger crimp with your left hand, bump your right to the palm-sized sloper and then deadpoint for the large ledge.” By sticking to the technical descriptions of what you observe, you’re no longer obstructed by judgment. Instead you’re concentrating on exactly which areas of your hands and feet are going to be making contact with the rock at certain times. (Or, in the case of the route “Max Headroom” in Skaha, what part of your head is going to be shoved into the rock at what times.)

Review of the Sea to Summit Talus TS3 Sleeping Bag

When I was asked to review a Sea to Summit product, specifically the Talus TS3 sleeping bag, I jumped at the chance to check out something made by a company I respect so much. The Talus series of sleeping bags isn’t made from eVent fabric (unlike my favourite compression dry sacks made by Sea to Summit) but instead features a 2D NanoShell outer shell that the company says offers excellent breathability and water repellency. There are the 1, 2 and 3 series which correspond to weight and temperature rating – I was sent the TS3, which is one of the company’s warmest bags out of the 16 it manufactures. Unfortunately, given the mild winter we had, I didn’t have the opportunity to really test the claim is was comfortable in -17°C conditions, but I did get a chance to check out the other features.

To read my entire review of the Sea to Summit Talus TS3 sleeping bag, log on to the Backcountry Skiing Canada website.

Epic Bobsled Crash…and Recovery

The videos below show our bobsled team from Nelson, British Columbia, wiping out and then recovering at the Rossland Winter Carnival on Jan 31, 2015. Some footage was taken by Rossland mountain guide and our buddy Bob Sawyer and others were random folks who shared their vids with us after the festival.

My fiancé Marley and I, as well as our friends Sarah Stephenson and Steven Thompson are getting married this year and so we decided to do this race in wedding attire. And of course, to make it more fun, we went in drag. So in this video Steve and I are wearing the dresses and at the start of the race were the ones running to get the sled moving. Marley and Sarah are in the sled steering and operating the brakes. But because of the icy course, it was next to impossible to steer easily and so at the 2nd corner of our first lap (out of two) there was an over-correction that sent us into the right bank and so close to bystanders! Steve and I flew off the back of the sled and went sliding down the course.

Thankfully Sarah got the sled under control just as we finished our wipeouts. I jumped up and without really thinking ran and hopped back on the sled again. The same thing happened to Steve further down the course.

We definitely didn’t make the fastest time that day but I’d argue we had the most spectacular bobsled crash!

Thanks to all those who filmed this experience and thanks also to our buddies Joe and Graham who built the sled. (We promise we’ll fix the broken skis soon guys!)