January 2017

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Monday, January 2nd, 2017 12:57 pm
Happy New Year! You're all no doubt itching to learn how I got on with my 2016 New Year's Resolutions.

[Content note: weight loss/gain]

  1. Make a first ascent in the Greater Ranges. In late August I led the Tortoisebutler Kyrgyzstan Expedition to the Kuiluu range in the Tien Shan. We successfully climbed four previously-unclimbed peaks surrounding the Kindyk valley, with heights 4605m, 4714m, 4554m and 4444m (that's 15108ft, 15466ft, 14941ft and 14580ft). The last two were done on the same day. You can read our summary report, our lessons learned document, or look at some photos. So this was a success.

    Kyrgyzstan was absolutely amazing, and I'd recommend it to anyone with the slightest hint of outdoorsiness in their blood (there's plenty to do short of exploratory mountaineering); the trip was great fun, with four excellent climbing days (one unsuccessful), lots of tiring-but beautiful hiking, and an unexpected bonus night's stay in a nomad's hut. Travelling in Kyrgyzstan was much easier and more pleasant than our previous trips to the developing world; that was largely because we paid ITMC to handle most of the logistics for us, but also because all the people we met were so friendly. If you're at all interested in visiting Kyrgyzstan or planning an expedition, I'd be delighted to talk to you about it - hit me up. But be quick, because the Mount Everest Foundation's grant-application deadline is January 31st.

  2. Get my body mass below 70kg. When I stepped on the scale yesterday, it read 76.4kg, so you might think this was a failure. But no!

    My low point for the year was actually 61.8kg on the 15th September, which means I lost nearly 20kg from my high-point of 81.4kg (on New Year's Day, naturally). That low point was as a result of losing several kilograms in a post-expedition bout of gastroenteritis; but my pre-trip weight of 67.8kg is below my target of 70kg, so I'm counting this as a success. The goal didn't specify "and maintain it until the end of the year", and what I really cared about was not having to lug a rucksack's-worth of surplus fat up the mountains. That said, my sharp post-trip weight gain has been annoying. Post-expedition motivation dip, repeated illness, an attempted bulk cycle (mostly failed, because I've been feeling too ill to go to the gym enough), lots of socialising. I plan to fix this.

  3. Show up for work in a timely fashion. I never quite got my Beeminder goal for this to work right; it nagged at me in a way that was annoying rather than helpful, and eventually I cancelled it (and all my other Beeminder goals) shortly before the trip when I couldn't handle the additional stress. After the trip I was really struggling with arrival time at work, but didn't want to go back to Beeminder; I tried Habitica, which was a dismal failure, and latterly I've been using a simple Google spreadsheet, which is definitely helping, but it's easy to put off doing the data-entry and I haven't worked out how to do nice auto-extending graphs like Beeminder's. Beeminder's "we'll charge you when you go off-road" design was actively demotivating, and the lack of support for weekday-only goals made it a poor fit for any work-related stuff (I really value my weekends, and I invariably forgot to schedule them as breaks the required 7 days in advance). They've since added "weekday-only" and "no money pledged" as paid features, but at the $16/mo and $32/mo levels, which seems rather high. Anyway, I'm counting this goal as half a success.

  4. Actually do some work while I'm there. As I noted at the time, this goal was poorly-defined. But looking at the contribution statistics for my main project, I'm going to have to class this as a failure.

  5. Read an average of one book a week. Last year I read 52 books, so this is another success! You might object that none of those books are exactly Joyce, and you'd be quite right; but that wasn't in the terms of the resolution. The point of this goal was to get back to reading regularly (and it's been great to have a "reading book" again, or more usually between 8 and 10 such books). Having done that, this year I plan to iterate and tighten up the definition of "book".

So, 3.5 out of 5. Not a bad haul. In particular, I achieved my Big Hairy Audacious Goal of making a first ascent in the Greater Ranges; some of my difficulty with goals #2 and #3 come from the motivational dip of having achieved a goal I'd been working towards for nearly two years. But overall, I think the strategy of setting ambitious, concrete (if somewhat arbitrary) goals has been working out well for me. I've been saying "I did a first ascent in the Greater Ranges, I can do this too" a lot since I got back (see also: running a marathon, doing a PhD).

On to 2017's resolutions:

  1. Lead a rock-climbing route graded E1. For those not familiar with the British system of climbing grades, Wikipedia has a handy comparison chart, in which E1 corresponds roughly to US 5.10a or French 6a. Looked at another way, it means "would have been cutting-edge in 1914". E1 is short for "Extreme, level 1": after that point, they gave up trying to think of ever-scarier adjectives and just assigned higher numbers as more difficult routes were climbed.

    But there's an important subtlety here: the US and French grading systems are used for all sorts of climbs, but the British one is only used for traditional-style ("trad") routes. Trad climbing is outdoors, on real rock, with all protection hand-placed by the leader (no pitons or bolts). This makes it significantly more scary than bolt-protected ("sport") or indoor climbing, but it can be done in remoter areas and with less impact on the mountain. Trad climbing, in other words, is the sort of climbing I ought to enjoy, if it weren't so fricking terrifying. Currently I can enjoy very easy trad routes, several grades below my rather unimpressive maximum grade of VS (5.7, F5a); if I can push my maximum grade to E1, my "comfortable" grade should rise to at least VS, which would open up hundreds of awesome mountain routes in the UK and the Alps. And, one day, Yosemite: my new climbing BHAG is to climb El Capitan, but that'll take several years to achieve; from what I've read there's a lot of great climbing in the Valley, mostly trad, but at 5.5-5.7 my options would be extremely limited. But, again, if I can get my climbing into the range 5.8-5.10 I'd be able to do a lot, even if I couldn't do the big wall routes that Yosemite's famous for.

    I'm also hoping that the level of emotional control I'll need to learn for climbing E1 will narrow the gap between my maximum and comfortable grades (and ideally transfer into other aspects of my life).
    This ought to be achievable. Though my trad grade is currently pitiful, I'm climbing much harder indoors: even with the post-Christmas spare tyre, I'm getting up routes graded French 6b on top-rope (similar technical difficulty to E2), and bouldering problems graded V4 (similar difficulty to the crux moves on E6 routes). The problem isn't technical difficulty, it's fear. I plan to continue pushing my technical grade indoors (and to work on some specific physical factors, like local anaerobic endurance in my forearms), but mostly I need to work on my fear of falling and my emotional control. The solution to needless fear is usually increased familiarity: in particular, the solution to fear of falling is to take lots (hundreds) of falls, of increasing length. Similarly, the solution to fear of nontrivial climbing above traditional gear is to do lots of it. So, I need a climbing partner (or partners) who's willing to hold me for hundreds of lead falls. I am of course willing to do the same in return. I'm also looking for people with whom to do lots of trad climbing once it gets a bit warmer, and for people with whom to do lots of winter climbing once it gets a bit colder. Anyone interested? Most of my current regular partners don't lead and don't climb outdoors. Maybe I should join a club or something, but I'm not much of a joiner.

    Note, incidentally, that the goal specifies leading a route, but not onsighting one. In the UK we have an obsession with on-sight climbing, and many British climbers feel that anything else isn't "real" climbing. Having read The Self-Coached Climber, I've become convinced that this attitude is unhelpful for making progress. If elite climbers can practice routes on top-rope and work individual moves before going for a "redpoint" attempt on lead, so can I.

  2. Get my body fat below 10%, and maintain a sub-70kg weight until the end of the year. 10% body fat should be about 66kg, which I achieved last year. This is not necessary for goal #1, because my problem is fear; on the other hand, lower body weight means I'll be using less of my strength for each move which means I'll hit my anaerobic threshold later which means I'll get pumped out slower which means I'll have more time before I have to make hard and scary moves with my fingers screaming that they cannae take it any more, Captain.

  3. Donate 10% of my after-tax income to effective charities. Currently I'm donating around 5% to the Against Malaria Foundation; my plan is to donate the rest to a climate-change charity like Cool Earth and make myself carbon-negative. I have just bought my first-ever car (getting to mountain crags by public transport is annoyingly difficult and time-consuming), making this more challenging from a financial and a carbon-emissions standpoint, but I think it's worth doing. After a little research, I've found that this doesn't meet the terms of the Giving What We Can Pledge: that refers to before-tax income, and Gift Aid only allows charities to reclaim tax at a lower band than I'm actually paying. If my employer had a payroll giving scheme, I could achieve the GWWC target but only feel the pain of a 10% after-tax donation; unfortunately, we don't appear to have such a thing. Maybe next year. I don't particularly want to take GWWC's pledge, because again, not a joiner.

  4. Read 52 non-children's books. Graphic novels are OK. Young adult books will be considered on a case-by-case basis. But if I'm in any doubt about whether it's worth counting a book towards the target, I probably shouldn't spend my time reading it.

  5. Go to bed before 11pm 90% of the time. There's no single reason why I failed at goal #4 last year, but I think a major contributory factor was poor sleep; I now take several days to recover from a bad night. There's a chicken/egg effect here, of course: doing badly at my job stresses me out and in turn makes me sleep badly. And then I want to recover something from a trainwreck of a day, which means trying to get something done before I go to bed, which means staying up just a bit later... But I've got to start somewhere, and going to bed early seems like a point of weakness.


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