The Self-Sandbag


The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) defines a "sandbag" as "a route whose grade belies its difficulty. This can be either because it is undergraded, or requires a trick move to overcome the crux. Or it’s just more work than it looks". 

To "sandbag" someone, they explain, is to "direct someone to a route that is a sandbag, saying things like, 'It’s easy; you will love it.'" 

And while sandbagging is a fine and noble tradition, most of the time, someone else needs to be involved in the equation to get yourself into a sandbag. Either the first ascensionist on a climbing route who decides that a 5.11 is really more of a 5.9d. Or that friend who tells you that "it's fine, it's a short day hike" or "don't worry, there isn't much tight tree skiing". All cards on the table, I'm usually that friend. 

But recently, I've discovered a new form of sandbagging. The self sandbag. 

The self sandbag requires two things. First, some level of ignorance, intentional or otherwise, about the thing you're about to do. Second, being unprepared. 

Case in point, my recent Saturday outing biking and skiing up Mount Seymour. 

It was Friday, and the previous day, temperatures in the Coast Mountains near Vancouver spiked. As the thermometers rose, instability followed, and two successive avalanches and a mudslide shut down the Duffey Lake Road, closing off my planned objective for the weekend. 

So, that afternoon, I decided to pull a "this is probably a bad idea" ideas from my mental deck and made a plan. The next morning I would hop on my bike, load up my splitboard and use leg power to travel from my front door in East Vancouver to the summit of Mount Seymour. 

In the end, the trip would log just shy of 1500 meters of elevation from sea level to the summit – the first 1000m by bike, the last 500m on a splitboard. Total distance door to door would be somewhere just shy of 100km.

Of course, I didn't look into any of this before I set out. Step 1 to the self sandbag. 

Instead, I took the bindings off my splitboard, attached it to my bike frame with ski straps and filled my backpack with ski clothes. I neglected to pack any food, save for one ancient Clif Bar, some almonds and a few hydration tablets left languishing in my backpack. Step 2. 

The first hour of the ride, I was confident. I stopped for coffee and a muffin, and met up with Adam, another unfortunate soul that I had tricked into joining this misadventure.   We made good time across the Second Narrows bridge to the base of Mount Seymour, where we stopped for more coffee before the real fun began. 

It turns out, Mount Seymour is one of the hardest road bike rides in the Vancouver area. While shorter than the road up nearby Cypress Mountain, Seymour is 11km of sustained uphill. The average grade comes in somewhere around 7%, but that average is deceiving, and the lower half of the ride is much steeper, particularly when you're, at best, a below overage cyclist with nearly 50lbs of gear weighing you down.

Less than 10 minutes into the uphill my legs were burning. In another 15 minutes, I was wheezing. In another 10, I was searching for someone to blame for getting me into this, forced only to curse my own name for having such a stupid idea.  

For two hours I trudged up the mountain road. My legs never stopped screaming, and even the friendly encouragement of passing road bikers did little to encourage me, convinced as I was that I would never reach the top. 

But, eventually the road relented and flattened out into a parking lot. From there, the hardest part of the day was done. With the mountain still sporting meters of snowpack, we skied the final 500 meters to the three summits of Mount Seymour with relative ease, transitioned and bombed back down the hill. Reversing the course that had taken us five hours to ascend in less than an hour. 

So what did I learn? 

A smarter person might have learned to do more research and think things through a little more before embarking on a mission like this. Not I. 

I learned that it's important not to think things through all the time, that sometimes, you need to jump blindly into the fray and that sometimes the only way to find your limit is to have absolutely no idea where it is. Sometimes, you need to sandbag yourself. 

Cameron Fenton