11 January 2014

Ski mountaineering in Žiarska dolina

Every year around New Year me and my friends go to the mountains. This time me, Martin and Kolo chose Žiarska dolina in West Tatras in Slovakia. The weather before our trip was very hot and most of the snow disappeared from the mountains. As we approached Tatras and saw the grassy slopes, I became quite sceptical about the conditions, but in the end it turned out to be one of my best ski touring trips.


We first went to Smutné sedlo (1965 m, sad saddle in Slovak), to do an easy ride and check the snow conditions. The ascent was icy and Martin had some trouble, since he didn't have ski crampons. We had to wait for him and Kolo used this opportunity to make two rides from the saddle.

Since the weather was great and the snow was okay in the upper parts, we decided to go to Hrubá kopa (2166 m). The ascent was very steep and again, Martin was a bit slower, because he didn't have an ice axe but Kolo created nice snow stairs for him and me.

Climbing the chute using stairs in the snow. We skied down the same way.
Western view with Baníkov (2178 m)
The descent has been my hardest ride ever. I had ice on my binding and it released once in the beginning because of that. I carefully cleaned it but after that I wasn't confident enough to do quick turns down the steep 40-degree chute on hard packed snow. A small mistake and released binding would send me onto the surrounding rocks.

The sky turned orange after we skied the chute.


We decided on an easy trip to Žiarske sedlo (1917 m), since we didn't see snow elsewhere. While approaching, we saw that the nearby peak Plačlivô (2125 m) was completely covered in white and looked easy to ski. Martin was afraid of getting hypoglycemia, so he staid in the saddle and took awesome pictures, while me and Kolo went up. We had breathtaking views from the top and there was almost no wind, a perfect day in the mountains!

Kolo and me climbing up with ice axes. We skied the same line.
Sea of clouds with Kráľová hoľa in the background
The ride was less steep than the previous day and the snow much better. As a bonus, we had the whole mountain and surrounding valley only for ourselves. Žiarska dolina is full of great ski lines, so we have to return some day.

Small selection of my photos is on Flickr and an album merged from 3 cameras is on Google Photos.

04 January 2014

Crisis of men

A severe crisis of men has been happening in the last 3 decades and perhaps even longer. You probably don't know what I'm talking about and are as surprised as I was 2 years ago when I first heard about it. Psychologists and sociologists write books about it but nobody else seems to care. There is plenty of publicity on breast cancer, abortions, unrealistic beauty standards for women but very rarely you hear about men's problems. Don't get me wrong, women's problems are important and we should talk about them, but why is everyone ignoring problems of half of our population? Aren't we striving for gender equality?

Symptoms of the crisis include
  • rising levels of depression, social anxiety and addictions among men
  • men's unemployment has worse tendencies than women's
  • men feel lack of life purpose
  • average testosterone levels are 20% lower than they used to be 20 years ago
  • men are dropping out of college more than before
  • more and more women are asking "Where are all the men? I only meet boys."


What is the cause of all this? It's probably several things and different people have different opinions.

Some people blame addictions to drugs and arousal addictions (video games, porn, internet). This is a worse problem for men, since men's brains are more prone to addictions. Have the drugs, video games and porn got more addictive in the recent years? Maybe.

Other people blame technology. Men used to do most of the manual work but now it's done by machines, so many men lost their jobs and feel not needed anymore.

It might also be the testosterone dip. However, this is a typical correlation versus causation case and it's hard to see what comes first.
  • Maybe the testosteron dip is the effect of the crisis and not the cause. After all, low testosterone can be caused by stress, lack of sleep and exercise.
  • Maybe there are some toxins in the air, water and food that cause low testosterone levels. We also move less, eat bad stuff, sleep too little and that has bad effects. Lower testosterone levels cause depression, decrease focus, lower confidence, so they could actually lead to the crisis.

Create more, consume less

Boys used to become men by getting a job and providing for their families. This is not good enough anymore, since families can now function without large contributions from men. These men lack life purpose and often turn to consumption which can lead to addictions.
A woman simply is, but a man must become. Masculinity is risky and elusive. It is achieved by a revolt from woman, and it is confirmed only by other men. – Camille Paglia
One of the proposed solutions I really like is to create more and consume less:
  • Instead of watching football on TV, organize a game every weekend with your friends.
  • Instead of buying fast food on your way home, cook dinner for you and your friends.
  • Instead of playing video games, create one.
  • Instead of paying someone else for your vacation, plan your own road trip.
  • Instead of complaining about your employer, start your own company.

Culture(s) at fault

It has been an evolutionary advantage for men not to show emotions in front of their enemies and competitors. However, we still have emotions and I think we are perfectly capable of expressing them to the people closest to us. We were told that "men don't cry" but I think that is too simplistic and harmful. I would change it to "men don't cry before strangers".

Some cultures have a tradition of shaming which is also harmful. Suppose a guy asks a girl out but gets rejected. A typical response of his friend is "What did you think, she's way out of your league!?". This is true especially in the Western world, but less so in Slovakia for example. Try saying "I know how you feel, let me buy you a drink" instead. And if your friend's company goes bankrupt, say "That sucks" instead of "Your business idea was stupid".

Apparently failure is considered a bad thing but in reality it's necessary for progress.
Here's an unavoidable truth: You are going to screw up. Everyone  including very successful people  makes boatloads of mistakes. The key to success is, as everyone knows, to learn from those mistakes and keep moving forward. But not everyone knows how. Self-compassion is the how you've been looking for. So please, give yourself a break. – From To Succeed, Forget Self-Esteem
Men might consume so much these days, because they are afraid of failure. Everyone makes mistakes while creating, but it's very hard to fail to consume.

If your friends fail to build a company, learn a new skill or beat their addiction, give them encouragement and support. Men need that now more than ever.

Don't blame feminisim

It would be easy to blame feminism for all of this. Mark Manson said it well.
Feminists were often (and still are) perceived to be “the enemy,” scapegoated for the tattered state of modern masculinity. But if you take the time and side-step past the rape culture paranoia, some of the patriarchy lunacy, and a lot of unnecessary soap-box speeches, then you get to the heart of that movement: economic and social realities forced women to confront and transcend what defined them as women, and now it is time for men to do the same thing. And right now we’re sucking at it. – Mark Manson: A New Masculinity
Men face a similar struggle as women did couple of decades ago. We should deal with it and not blame others.