Friday, December 7, 2012

How Blindness Affects Social Learning Theory and Communication in the Family

by: Kyle Coon
University of Central Florida


In the 1960s, Albert Bandura ran a series of studies in which he videotaped children performing acts of violence to inanimate objects.  This occurred after the children had been shown a video of an adult performing similar acts of violence to a dummy/doll.  The children that imitated the violent acts did not stop at just mimicking the exact acts but rather enhanced the violence, performing harsher and more violent.  Children selected toys that were not typically meant to be instruments of violence and turned them into instruments of violence.  In short, Bandura's studies and observations led him to develop the Social Learning Theory of Aggression (Bandura).  This later evolved and became simply Social Learning Theory, sometimes referred to as Social Cognitive Learning Theory.

The theory has been applied to a whole host of topics e.g.  drug use, abuse, violence, etc.  In all cases the theory points toward developing children.  In this paper we are going to examine Social Learning Theory and how it can be applied when dealing with children and families dealing with a severe visual impairment and/or blindness.

Social Learning Theory:

Social Learning Theory posits that we learn from watching others (Bandura).  "The major framework of social cognitive learning theory can be found in its recognition of the reciprocity and interaction among cognitive, behavioral, environmental and physiological/affective influences" (Money).  Essentially, the actions of people in certain situations depend strongly upon the interaction among the various influences with a primary focus on social cognitive factors (Money).  The experiences of people guide them in the course of making decisions, what and what not to do.  Everyone has a variety of experiences from which they learn, and in many cases these experiences are from watching and observing the actions of others (Money).  "The different sources of influence" i.e.  cognitive, behavioral, environmental and physiological/affective influences "do not have to be of equal strength or occur simultaneously" (Money).

In no other group than are these influences more prevalent than in children.  As children grow and develop they watch and learn from their surroundings.  Their experiences and proximal social influence and interactions with their parents, teachers, peers, mass media and cultural institutions mold and shape how they view the world and in partcular how they should act in it (Money).  At first, childrens behavior is self-regulated by anticipated outcomes in the social environment (Money).  In other words, children act one way and then when they receive approval or disapproval from their social environment, i.e.  parents, teachers, peers, they act in the way they are expected.  Over time, "as children develop, their personal standards...  [and] conduct are based upon increasing experiences, social knowledge, and cognitive development" (Money).  Throughout the course of their development, the regulation of their behavior shifts from predominantly external stimuli and sanctions to a more "gradual substitution of internal mandates rooted in personal standards" (Money).

Once this shift from external stimuli to internal personal standards occurs self-efficacy plays a major function in the development (Money).  "Self efficacy is defined as an individual's beliefs about his or her ability to perform specific tasks" (Heng-Hsiang and Chou-Kang).  Learning behaviors are influenced by both outcome expectations and self efficacy (Heng-Hsiang and Chou-Kang).  Our self-efficacy affects our thinking patterns which can be a help or a hinderance (Money).  As a general rule, "the stronger the perceived self-efficacy the higher the goals individuals may set for themselves and the firmer the commitment to those goals" (Money).  What we think may influence the way we predict the occurrence of events and create the means for exercising control over events that affect ours and other persons' lives (Money).  People "generate hypotheses, develop weights, and integrate these data into complex rules, test judgments, [and] remember what works and what does not [work]" by drawing upon their general knowledge (Money).  A person's perceptions of their efficcacy will also influence the types of anticipatory scenarios that they construct within their mind (Money).  If he or she has a high sense of efficacy then they will visualize more successful scenarios that provide positive guides for future task performance (Money).  Likewise, those persons with a lower sense of self-efficacy then they will envision less positive or negative scenarios that provide less positive and negative guides for future task performance.

Now how does Social Learning Theory fit in with blindness, communication and the family? In the next section we will explore the idea that the first level of a child's social learning and education starts at home.  This is critical, especially when introducing an element such as blindness into the equation.

Blindness and Social Learning Theory:

Approximately 3 percent or more of the population is classified as blind or visually impaired (Mojab).  To be considered legally blind a "person [must have] a visual acuity of 20/200 or less or a visual field of 20 degrees or less in the better seeing eye" (Mojab).  Blindness has been portrayed on two complete opposite ends of the spectrum.  In some parts of the world blindness is seen as a gift where the person is almost worshipped as a saint or one who can connect with the supernatural, while in other parts of the world blindness is seen as a curse (Tenberken).  In places such as Tibet, blind people are shunned, spit upon and are thought to be possessed by demons (Tenberken).  In the United States, our culture has taught us to feel emotions such pity or just to be awkward around persons with physical or mental disabilities.  Typically pity is a feeling that suggests the person without the disability has a feeling of higher social status than the person with the disability (Mojab).  Awkwardness usually just means that the person has a lack of knowledge and just is ignorant and does not know how to act or what to say (Mojab).  But while the sighted world may feel awkward, unsure, pity, etc, those in the blind community often may experience similar feelings depending on their self-efficacy which stems from their social education as young children.

In 2005, Bishop, Hobson and Lee researched "Symbolic Play in Congenitally Blind Children".  They defined symbolic play as "pretending one object was another, attributing novel properties to an object, or pretending that an absent object was present" (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).  During the course of their research they came across several studies that had been performed in the 1970s through the 1990s that tried to explore if blindness affected the development of young children.  In an early study performed in the 1970s a young congenitally blind girl, Kathie, who was presented with a tub of water, a doll and a towel (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).  Kathie was then encouraged to give the doll a bath (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).  However, when Kathie touched the water she stepped into the tub and began chanting her own bath-time songs (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).  Even when prompted to pretend the doll was the one taking the bath, Kathie did not partake in the game.  Kathie did not start the role of symbolic play--pretending the doll was a real person--until after she turned four, when she was more developed (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).

Symbolic play has been seen in sighted children as early as the age of 17 months (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).  Other early studies showed blind children may be delayed in the ability to symbolize, very similar to that of children with autism (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).  When provided with the opportunity for symbolic play, the blind children had a tendency to regress to simple repetitive activities and their play was an exact repetition of some event (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).  In the studies, "although blind children [could] often say what their caregivers or other people [said] to them, they [were] less able to enact the role of someone else, and early attempts at role play [lackedgg the constant reversal of roles that is familiar in the play of sighted young children" (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).  However, some children made use of language and sounds as a means of expressing pretend/symbolic play (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).

Bishop, Hobson and Lee hypothesized that "blind children may be handicapped in developing creative symbolic play by virtue of their difficulty in seeing how other people relate to things and events in a shared world, and identifying with others' psychological orientation" (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).  "They are [also] handicapped in discovering how people ascribe new meanings to objects that have an alternative, "objective" meaning" and "the handicap is most severe for those who are also less strongly or affectively engaged with other people's attitudes to the world, for the reason that this further limits their propensity to identify with such attitudes to objects and events" (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).  The researchers realized that due to everyone being different there was a severe chance that symbolic play in blind children could be a result of their social ability.  So when they conducted their study they emphasized that "socially able children of the age and cognitive ability studied would have overcome much of the handicap they might have that there would be few if any substantial differences between their symbolic play and that of matched sighted children" (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).  They also "predicted that when socially impaired blind children compared with socially able blind children of the same age and cognitive ability, the [socially impaired] group would show deficits in symbolic play" (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).  And "in some children, congenital blindness may constitute a contributory but not sufficient factor for the development of symbolic play deficits" (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).

After surveying and receiving recommendations from teachers, Bishop, Hobson and Lee separated two groups of congenitally blind children, one considered socially able and the other more socially impaired and conducted two symbolic play exercises with each child.  The symbolic play exercise was then performed with same aged sighted children.  In the end, Bishop, Hobson and Lee determined that "congenitally blind children who were socially impaired were shown to have limitations in symbolic play when compared with language-matched congenitally blind children who were socially able" (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).  They also concurred with earlier studies that "by middle childhood, symbolic play can develop to sophisticated levels in congenitally blind children who are socially more able" but that "lack of vision is not a barrier to developing fully elaborated symbolic play" (Bishop, Hobson and Lee).

In an indirect way, the study performed by Bishop, Hobson and Lee was a way of testing Social Learning Theory.  It can be assumed that the children that were considered more "socially able" had a higher degree of exposure and experience and were better socialized at home.  This ties directly in with Bandura's Social Learning Theory in that children learn from watching others (Bandura).  But it can be argued that these blind children in the study did not "watch" anybody perform symbolic or pretend play.  However, just because a blind child can not see does not mean that they do not pick up on what is going on around them.  But to ensure a proper start in preparing a blind child for later life it is essential for the parents of the child to teach and communicate effectively to their children what is right and wrong and to instill within them a high self-efficacy.

Communicating Social Learning to Blind Children:

Ed Weihenmayer is a former Marine attack pilot and Wall Street executive.  He is probably best known for being the business manager and Father of World Class Blind Athlete Erik Weihenmayer.  Erik Weihenmayer is world famous for being the first blind man to climb the Seven Summits--the tallest peak on each continent--including Mt Everest.  "What holds most blind people back from being the best they can be in life is their physical awkwardness, their discomfort or lack of confidence in their own body movement" said Weihenmayer in an article he wrote for the National Association of Parents of the Visually Impaired (Weihenmayer).  This "discomfort or lack of confidence" is manifested when a blind person clumsily enters a room in which they can not find a seat or eats sloppily with friends at a table or weakly shakes the hand of a person they first meet (Weihenmayer).  And again it is "evident when they walk awkwardly beside someone on a sidewalk or can not hind the door to get into their friend's car" (Weihenmayer).  Weihenmayer explains that all of these situations make it appear as though the blind person is hesitant, unsure or lacks confidence (Weihenmayer).  Not only does it accomplish these impressions but it also makes the person interacting with the blind or visually impaired person uncomfortable as well (Weihenmayer).  "Judgments are frequently made in the first 30 seconds of a situation [which can impeed] a blind person" (Weihenmayer).

Ed Weihenmayer points out that "we [can not] control the environment in which a blind person lives and operates" but "we can control the mobility of the blind person" by teaching them the necessary skills at home (Weihenmayer).  However, it is almost impossible to just sit a child down and explain to them that they need to be confident and have that high sense of self-efficacy.  This is where the communication from parent to child becomes more action oriented.

In 2002, Steve Barnes of the Orlando Sentinel wrote a brief article about a young ten year old blind rock climber from Jacksonville, Florida, named Kyle Coon, who was competing in a statewide series of rock climbing competitions.  After meeting Ed and Erik Weihenmayer after losing his sight at age six Coon took up rock climbing and with the encouragement of his family excelled.  Coon's Father said that the inspiration of meeting Erik Weihenmayer and the sport of rock climbing showed Kyle that his disability did not mean he could not do the things that other kids did (Barnes).  Kyle's Father said `he has become one very determined individual--he [does not] let too much stand in his way` (Barnes).

This is again an example of what Ed Weihenmayer discussed above about empowering blind children and teaching them to be confident with their body.  Ed Weihenmayer wrote that if he were to be a parent to another blind youngster then he would "aggressively urge the child into the pool to become a good swimmer" (Weihenmayer).  He would encourage sports such as wrestling, gymnastics, tumbling, dance and rock climbing (Weihenmayer).  What all these sports have in common are complete body control and awareness.

Essentially, when it comes to teaching social skills to blind children it is most effective to do so in a way that teaches them to be mobile and confident with their movements and in their own skin.  At the same time it is important to have effective verbal communication with blind children.  While sighted children can see, recognize and even imitate an angry, upset or happy/approving expression, it is more important that when parenting a blind child the parent vocalizes those emotions so that the child knows when he or she has received approval or disapproval for an action.  Rather than learning through what they see, blind children learn through what they hear, touch, smell and taste more than sighted children.  They rely on these other four senses to learn what is and is not socially appropriate, and it is up to the parents, teachers and peers of that child to be his or her eyes.
Although this method of socializing blind children seems simple enough, there are barriers that often comes up.  Apart from the stereotypes and perceptions of others placed upon blind people, possibly the biggest obstacle for the parents of the blind child is the protective instinct.  "As parents we want to protect our children" says Ed Weihenmayer and then adds "but we also know we need to let go" (Weihenmayer).  Weihenmayer then recounts an episode when his son Erik was about 11 or 12 years old.  Erik had brought another blind boy over to the house and the two boys went back through the woods behind the Weihenmayers house and to a rushing stream.  Erik, having been brought up in an athletic family and unafraid and completely aware of himself and his surroundings, jumped right in and started swimming around.  However, the other boy clung to the bank scared that if he were to go beneath the water he would become disoriented and not know which way was up and therefore he would drown (Weihenmayer).  The boy had been told this by his parents in order to protect him and keep him safe, but on the other hand Weihenmayer points out that the boy might still be alive today because of that protectiveness but he is more than likely no where close to what he potentially could be.

Weihenmayer then recollects standing at the base of the 3000 foot overhanging rockface of El Capitan as Erik attemfted to become the first blind man to reach the top.  He remarked to a passerby that his blind son was up there (Weihenmayer).  The woman said that Ed was a terrible parent and how she could not believe how a Father could ever let his blind son do something as dangerous as climbing a rockface (Weihenmayer).  Then a friend of Ed's said, about Erik, "he also skydives" (Weihenmayer).  Needless to say, the woman was a little angry and upset with Ed and went speeding off in her car (Weihenmayer).  It is reactions and over protectiveness like the woman's that hinder a person's--blind or sighted--potential.


Within this paper we have explored what is Social Learning Theory.  In the simplest explanation, Social Learning Theory says that we learn from watching others (Bandura).  These observations and imitations of others can be both positive and/or negative especially with young impressionable children.  While Social Learning Theory can be applied across all age ranges it is most closely assigned to that of young children.  The home and family are the first levels of education for children.

We then examined how Social Learning Theory may affect children who are blind or visually impaired and concluded that no matter what, vision--or any other physical handicap--should not be a hinderance in the social education of children.  When it comes to blind children "academics are important and blindness skills--cane mobility, braille, computer--are essential but physical mobility and one's comfort with that mobility is just as important" (Weihenmayer).  Effective verbal communication between parents and children is key.  But the willingness to let go, if ever so slightly, of the overly protective instinct is also crucial.


Bandura, A.  (1978).  Social Learning Theory of Aggression.  Journal of Communication-Volume 28, Issue 3, Summer, 1978

Barnes, S.  (2002).  Tests of Agility, Strength Have Kids Climbing Walls.  Orlando Sentinel, Orlando, FL May 30, 2002 J1

Bishop, M., Hobson, P.R., Lee, A.  (2005).  Symbolic Play in Congenitally Blind Children.  Development and Psychopathology-Volume 17, Issue 2, April, 2005

Heng-Hsiang, H., Chou-Kang, C.  (2006).  Proposing Student Learning Performance in Physical Education by Applying Social Cognitive Theory.  Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge.  9, 2, September, 2006 280-284

Mojab, C.G.  (1999).  Helping The Visually Impaired or Blind Mother Breastfeed.  Leaven.  35.  3.  July 31, 1999: 51-56

Money, W.H.  (1995).  Applying Group Support Systems to Classroom Settings: A Social Cognitive Learning Theory Explanation.  Journal of Management Information Systems.  12, 3.  Winter 1995/1996 65

Tenberken, Sabriye (2003) My Path Leads to Tibet: The Inspiring Story of How One Young Blind Woman Brought Hope to the Blind Children of Tibet.  Arcade Publishing House New York, NY

Weihenmayer, E.  Parenting A Blind Child.  National Association of Parents of the Visually Impaired

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Month For Thanks

I'm a huge sports fan, and I listen to a lot of Sports Talk Radio.  Quite often a discussion gets going about "what is the best sports month of the year?" Is it February because of the Superbowl, or is it March because of March Madness, October with college football, the NFL season in full swing and the World Series; or is it another month? While this is a fascinating topic, that isn't what I want to discuss here.  However, the month of the year is the reason for this posting.

The month of November is probably the most significant for me personally.  Why? Well, first and foremost is because I was born in the month of November and so were several members of my family (including my older sister, a cousin, aunt and a couple of close friends).  Secondly, because the month of November seems to have taken on a military appreciation feel.  We all recognize November 11 as a day to remember those brave men and women who have served, currently serve and who will serve this great country of ours.  They have sacrificed themselves in order to provide for us the many freedoms we all take for granted.

For my family, November 10 is also an important date on the calendar due to it being the birthday of the United States Marine Corps.  My Dad served as a Marine for six years and in the Corps he learned many values: honor, courage, commitment, and many others that would serve him and my Mom well as they dealt with raising a family and in particular dealing with the challenges of having a kid with cancer which would result in my going blind.  As an odd little coincidence, November also happens to be Retinoblastoma Awareness Month (the same childhood cancer that I had) and Retinoblastoma's Awareness color just so happens to be green (my favorite color).

My Dad raised his four children (three girls and me) strictly on those values that he learned in the Marines.  We learned the values of hard work, humility, honor, courage and so many more.  These values have kept me on a path that will hopefully lead to a successful life.  I also plan to eventually instill these same beliefs in my kids whenever that time may come.

Finally, November plays host to my favorite holiday on the calendar, Thanksgiving.  Okay, yes some of the reasons why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday is due to the fact that I love to stuff myself with turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, and pumpkin and apple pie...but it is also a day of the year where we as a nation get to sit down and recognize all that we have and be thankful for it.  For me personally, I have so much to be thankful for.  I have had a very blessed and privileged life.  Overcoming cancer and excelling as a blind person, I have had the opportunity to travel and experience places and partake in activities that most people can only dream of.  However, I would never have been able to do all that I have done (and do what I hope to do in the future) without the love, support, and encouragement of my family, friends, teachers and mentors.

So in short, in this month of Thanksgiving let's remember to stop and be thankful for all we have.  Not just material things, but our peace of mind, the values that make us into the greatest nation on earth and especially the people with whom we choose to share our lives.

Thank you to our Veterans and current Service men and women for the sacrifices you and your families have made and make on a daily basis.  Thank you to my Mom and Dad for raising me to have the values that shape who I am today and shape me for the days ahead.  Thanks to my sisters and friends for never going easy on me and for always being there when I need you.  Thank you to the countless teachers and mentors who saw something in me and went the extra mile to make sure I could be successful.  Thank you to the Seeing Eye for providing me with a wonderful guide dog, companion and set of eyes.  And a special thanks to my wonderful girlfriend, Kailee, who keeps me sane and very happy as we forge on through life together.  I really don't know how she puts up with me on a daily basis.

We have so much to be thankful for, not just on Thanksgiving Day, not just in the month of November, but every day of the year.

Climb High!


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Trip Report from Brad: Sahale Glacier Camp Rescue

The Sahale Glacier Camp is located in the North Cascades in the middle of the park.  I found the camp in an issue of Backpacker magazine in a "Best Campsites in America" feature.  I have been wanting to do the hike for a while.  Finally finding a weekend to do it recently I asked my friend Tim if he wanted to go.  We found a weekend, and got ready to roll.  The hike gains over 4000 feet in elevation in just over 5 miles.  There is no camping permitted anywhere along the trail until you get to the glacier camp.

Tim and I left on a Friday around 5 and drove up to the park.  We got there just as the ranger station was closing...just in time to nab the last of the permits for the camp.  Only 6 are available every night, so we got a bit lucky.  We drove to the trail head, put up our tent, and ate the last couple McDonald's fries we had picked up before bedding down for the evening. 

The next morning we got up before the sun rose left the parking lot at 7 AM looking to make it to the Sahale Glacier camp that we had a permit for by 4:00 or so.  The beginning of the hike goes through some forested area that was really cool to walk through in the early morning.  After about an hour we came through the forest and hit the next "zone" of the hike -- which was more of a sub-alpine like area.  About 10 minutes after coming out of the forest area I saw what looked like two people farther up on the trail.  They looked to be sitting on the side of the trail.  
That odd thing about this was the fact that we were the first one to leave the parking lot.  With only 6 permits available it was easy to notice that when we left there were still 5 tents up in the campground at the trailhead and we were going to be the first ones on the trail that morning.  We walked the rest of the way up to the couple people and instantly noticed something was wrong.  I checked my altimeter and noticed were about 1,000 vertical feet up (around an hour and a half in to the hike).  We had run into
 a 16 year old girl who had broken her leg and her father who really needed help.  The girl's leg was in bad shape.  Her father had stopped the little bleeding there was, but besides that nothing was done.  Apparently the two had left late in the morning two days before and got up to the Sahale camp late in the day.  The next morning they left the camp late and were the last ones to leave the high camp.  Somewhere on the way down the girl (Tara was her name) had slipped and broken her leg on some of the larger boulders on the side of the trail.  Having no way to communicate with anyone they had spent the night out waiting for help the next morning (which turned out to be Tim and I).

Tim and I talked about it, but it wasn't even a decision. Tim and I both dropped our packs on the side of the trail and helped out. We splinted the girl's busted up leg with a trekking pole, and then put a sleeping pad around it.  Tim and I had nearly 5 liters of water between the two of us.  We gave all but one of those to the two of them, which they desperately needed.  To start we tried to have Tara help herself down by hobbling down the rest of the trail with a person on both sides of her (like you see football trainers doing to carry off an injured player).  However, that didn't really work.  Tara was exhausted (i'm guessing they didn't get much sleep) and she couldn't put any weight on her busted leg.  So we switched it up.   Since her dad was also exhausted Tim and I rotated between piggy-backing Tara down and carrying her Dad's pack.  After around an hour and a half of this we got Tara and her dad back to the parking lot, and then to the ranger station.  

After that we headed back up to get our packs. We ended up hiking to the top of Glacier pass (where this picture is taken from) and then decided we were just too tired to make it the additional 2000 vertical feet to the Glacier camp.  We grabbed some pictures, and then headed down.  My best one is below.

Hell of an experience for sure.  Tim and I returned to Seattle a day early, but completely exhausted.  I've done plenty of exhausting hikes and climbs, and I've never been as sore as I was waking up the next morning after we got back.  My quads and calfs were tight, but in the end it was all worth it.  Tim and I are already planning on going back to Sahale next summer to make the full trip all the way to the high camp.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Trip Report from Joe - North Ridge of Lone Pine Peak

Lone Pine Peak is located between the town of Lone Pine, CA and the tall ridge of the High Sierras. Because this prominent peak is almost 13,000 ft. tall and much closer to highway 395 than its taller neighbors, many people mistake this mountain for Mt. Whitney. The North Ridge is one of several long broken ridges that radiate from the blocky summit of Lone Pine Peak. I first learned about this climb when I was back in school. One day as I was browsing between classes, I ran across a trip report from three San Diego climbers who had traversed the ridge in near winter conditions. Their description of the route and the exciting pictures stirred pangs of jealousy as I wished that I lived closer to the mountains. Now that I'm in Redlands and in striking distance of the southern Sierras, it was time to make an attempt on this peak and cross a long lived objective off my tick-list.

Friday (7/27)
  • Chris and I left Redlands a little after 5:00pm and made good time up to Lone Pine, CA and the Whitney Portal. 
  • At the Portal we found a great parking spot right next to the "Hiker's Camping," and we were also able to grab the last tent pad in that small campground. There was a lot of activity around us as people prepped for their next day's adventures and others relaxed after a long day on the trails. Chris and I reviewed the route beta, stowed our food, got our packs ready, and still got to sleep at a pretty decent hour.
Saturday (7/28)
  • My "Climb Time" alarm went off at 4:30am. After a solid breakfast, double checking gear, and some last minute logistics, Chris and I drove down a few minutes to the Meysan Lakes trail head, just outside the family campground.
  • We had been a little concerned about being able to find the trail, but there was a good sign next to the road and more signs that directed us through the campground and cabins and onto the trail proper that led up into Meysan Lake watershed.
    Sign for the trail 
  • The hike up the trail was surprisingly nice. We enjoyed ideal weather on a mellow, well maintained trail that gradually made its way up the valley, running roughly parallel to the North Ridge. 
    My first view of the North Ridge from the trail. Long Pine Peak is glowing in the morning light.
  • We continued up this trail until we got to about 9,800 ft. At that point, we turned off the trail, jumped over Meysan Creek, and made our way east toward a notch in the ridge. The cross country travel was pretty easy and we even occasionally found ourselves following an intermittent trail.
  • About an hour after leaving the trail we gained the top of the North Ridge and started making our way south towards the summit. This first section was filled with enjoyable class 2-3 scrambling and easy route finding (just head towards the top).
    We gained the ridge at this notch.
  • For a detailed description of the ridge climbing, check out the trip report that Chris wrote up on SummitPost: North Ridge of Lone Pine Peak Car to Car in Only 21 Hours. His report is full of more pictures and entertaining writing.
    The requisite picture of the huge fin. Shown here, Chris making his way up and left.
  • We made the summit of Lone Pine Peak around 7:00pm, caught our breath, signed a summit log, took in the view, and then started down the descent.
    The shadow of Lone Pine Peak in the east valley as the sun sets behind us.
  • The descent has a reputation for being somewhat tricky to find, so I had logged the coordinates for the top of the correct gully on my GPS. Unfortunately, the batteries in my GPS had died, so we had to rely on what we could remember from the route descriptions; Chris was able to find it pretty quickly though. A large part of the descent includes dropping down a long gully filled with loose scree and talus. Any semblance of a trail quickly deteriorated just a few hundred feet down, and we just kicked, stepped, and slid down the rest of the way while "choosing our own adventure". 
    Chris making his way towards the descent gully.
  • The sun set and the sky darkened long before we reached the bottom, and when we did reach the bottom, we found ourselves in a muddy tarn filled with large, dumpster size boulders. Frequent map checks and our efforts to revive the GPS directed us in a north easterly direction, until we finally got to a lake. At the lake we talked to a camper who gave us directions to the trail, and Chris, totally dehydrated, drank straight from the shore.
  • After finding the trail, Chris and I, no longer in a hurry and confident that we would make it back to camp that night, took several breaks on our way back down. Chris called them his "Swamp Water" breaks because he didn't want to make himself sick by over-exerting himself after drinking tons of water. 
  • We arrived at the car and camp around 2:00am. We had been a little worried about leaving our stuff staying in the "Hiker's Overnight" campground for more than 24 hours, but everything was just how we'd left it and we were quickly asleep.
Sunday (7/29)
  • After our long day on Saturday, we enjoyed a relaxed morning in camp, waking up mid-morning, breaking camp and then grabbing some breakfast at the Portal Store. I ordered the pancake...
    Joe versus the Pancake... Joe - 0 : Pancake - 1
  • After breakfast, we drove home.
I learned a lot from my experience on the North Ridge of Lone Pine Peak. 
  1. First, I learned that Peter Croft is a bit of a sandbagger: in his guide he claims that this is a good route for people feeling the altitude or hungover. 
  2. Second, the importance of checking the settings on my GPS, with the compass utility on, a fresh set of batteries won't even last a full day. 
  3. Third, I learned the importance of moving quickly over easy terrain and looking ahead to where you want to go/be. 
  4. Fourth, I need to be faster in my transitions from unroped to roped climbing (I spent a lot of time gearing up that I could have shaved down).

Overall however, it was an enjoyable climb in a beautiful place with ideal weather. We successfully summited and descended without an epic. And I finally got to cross one of my long-term goals off my climbing list!

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Olympic Peninsula

For the most part, when I think of the Olympic Peninsula, or the Pacific Northwest for that matter, I think of cool mountain air, the vast Pacific Ocean, mild temperatures, and family.  A large majority of my extended family lives in a small town nestled in the foothills of Olympic National Park, just a short walk from the breezy Straits of Juan De Fuca.  For several years now, my family and I would make an annual pilgrimage away from the scorching heat of North Texas and stay awhile with grandparents in Sequim, Washington. 
Sequim is a small town, just off Highway 101, about 20 miles east of Port Angeles.  The majority of people who go there are just passing through, with the exception of relatives and tourists making their way through the region.  This year though, was a very different one.  This year, I brought my wife, Caitlin, for the first time.  She had never been to the Pacific Northwest before and had no idea what to expect. 
When we would visit as I kid all the family would get together, go hiking in Olympic National Park, take the boat out on the straits, walk the beach on the Dungeness Spit or just walk around town and enjoy the weather.  I knew this trip would be full of fun stuff for us. I wanted to show Caitlin part of what I did as a kid and just why I love coming to the area. 
From the moment we got off the plane in Seattle, I knew Caitlin was in for a shock.  When we left Dallas it was already in the mid 90’s…at 7a.m.  Seattle was barely breaking the low 70’s, and it felt refreshing.  Cold to Caitlin….  On our first day we took a road trip, visiting the family’s old stomping grounds with my grand dad as our tour guide.  We stopped in several small towns, pointing out some family history for Caitlin, including a stop in Forks, where my grandmother had lived for a time.  As a teenager, Caitlin was a big Twilight fan and was excited to see Forks, where the books took place. 
A few days later we made our way in to Olympic National Park where we took a day hike up Hurricane Ridge.  Not exactly a hard hike, but fun, and extremely scenic.  In total, there was roughly 1,000 feet or so worth of elevation gain, while looking out over valleys filled with green pine trees, mountain meadows and snow capped peaks.  From the top of the ridge we looked down at the town of Port Angeles, the Straits, and Vancouver Island.  I had almost forgotten how breathtaking the view was from the ridge, and I could tell by the look on her face that Caitlin loved it as much as I did. 
Close to the park were a few other hot spots that we decided to check out such as Crescent lake, Merrymere and Madison Falls, and the Elwa River.  The Olympic Peninsula is without a doubt and outdoor enthusiasts’ treasure trove, and several days of our trip were willed with short day hikes around the park area.  Caitlin especially enjoyed hiking out to the falls. 
While we may not have climbed any snow capped peaks or traversed any glaciers, the trip served as a great inspiration for Caitlin and I to tackle several outdoor adventures as a couple.  She even expressed an interest in trying to climb Mt. Rainier! 
With our upcoming move to Cheyenne, Wyoming, the thing I took away most from this trip Washington was the fact that I have a lot of work to do….mainly buying gear for Caitlin! 

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Comma

The Comma:

The morning after Michael Phelps won his 19th medal and became "The most decorated Olympian of all-time" I was watching ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning on TV. Mike Greenberg commented that what you are in life, or what you are remembered for is often defined by what comes after the comma when you are introduced. For example, "Erik Weihenmayer, first blind man to climb the Mt Everest". "Michael Phelps, most decorated Olympian of all-time." "Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon."

I think that we spend so much time focusing on giving our lives reason and purpose based on our achievements, accomplishments, etc. But let's examine ourselves for a moment. What is your most notable accomplishment that people think of you as? What do you think of yourself as? Do you still let that high school football state championship define you? Or, do you moan about how good of a rock climber or cyclist you were or could have been when you were 10-11 years old. We can't get caught up in our past accomplishments or lack there of. We need to learn to look on the past with fondness, or whatever emotion you want to, learn from it and move on.

At the same time we can't simply live for the future. My girlfriend's Father, Randy, Kailee and I were sitting on the couch after dinner one night just talking about finances, investments, savings and the like since Kailee and I had a few questions. We all agreed that it's good to save money. It's good to put it away and invest in your future. At one point Kailee’s Dad was heavily into stocks and investment portfolios (he still enjoys studying them every now and again). When he was in his late 20s he mentioned to one family member that if he kept up at this same rate he’d be very happy financially by retirement. His family member passed along some good advice, “remember don't forget to live along the way". And so Kailee’s Dad advised Kailee and me of the same thing. Just don’t let the future consume us.

Too often, I think, do we get caught up in the past or the future. But then on the other hand there are those who get caught up in the present and dedicate themselves solely to one task without caring about yesterday or tomorrow but only for today. None of these is an ideal way of living. Ideally, we need to find that balance in our lives. I hear my Dad talk about balance a lot. Balancing finances, obligations, emotions, everything. We're always seeking that sense of balance in our lives. And as I constantly remind my spinners in each one of my spin classes "we're all at different levels". Your balance is different than my balance. I may be off balance while that same situation might keep you in balance.

In short, learn from the past, look forward to the future and live in the present. Don't let what's after that "comma" define who you are, or how people think of you for life. What do you want to be known for? Do you want to be known as a great athlete, a billionaire, a great parent, sibling, friend, spouse? Find that balance. It'll take some time and some mess ups but eventually we all will reach it one way or another.

Climb High,

Kyle Coon

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Peaks And Valleys

Peaks and Valleys:

I haven't paid the closest of attention to the olympics this year, however, I have kept up with them. So one morning I mentioned to my girlfriend how I was surprised that Ryan Lochte wasn't performing as well as people had hoped. Kailee (my girlfriend) was a competitive swimmer through middle and high school and had often analyzed swimmers technique during the olympic trials and had discussed them with me. As a Spinning Instructor, Group Exercise Instructor, and Certified Personal Trainer I like to learn all I can about health, fitness, training etc. So I enjoyed getting Kailee's and her Dad's perspective on swimming and sports that they'd participated in which I hadn't. But I digress. Kailee mentioned that she felt maybe Lochte was just in too many events and trying to push himself too hard. I thought about this and it made sense to me. I'd heard this sentiment echoed on sports radio and in some articles that I'd perused. That night I went over to Kailee's house and we discussed the olympics a little further. I wondered aloud if, possibly, Lochte's technique was possibly hampering him, since his technique and style of swimming was slightly different than the classic swimmer's. However, Kailee's Dad pointed out that Lochte's been swimming for so long and training so much that his technique is probably as close to automatic as they come. This made sense to me. But then an idea hit me.

Chris Carmichael of Carmichael Training Systems, had recently sent out an email talking about peaking at the right time in the season for your respective sport. Since Carmichael is primarily a cycling coach he used Mark Cavendish, the talented British Sprinter who was, at that time, competing in the Tour de France, and would be one of the favorites for a gold medal in the London Olympics. Carmichael said that he had wondered about why Cavendish didn't seem as strong as he usually appears in the Tour de France. Cavendish had won Stage 2 but didn't win another stage of the Tour until almost the end. But then Carmichael pointed out how this cycling season was so peculiar compared to others because of the olympics. Cyclists tend to tailor their racing and training schedules around a series of peaks in performance so that hopefully they reach higher and higher peaks so that their best performance is in the biggest event of the year. Whether that event is one of the Cycling Grand Tours, World Championships, or Olympics. Carmichael then reasoned that since Cavendish was such a heavy favorite to win Gold in London (home soil for him) he had probably tailored his training schedule so that he would ideally peak and have his best performance during the Olympic Road Race. Sprinters tend to have a much shorter peak period that other cyclists due to the intense high energy effort of an all out sprint at the end of a long 150 mile road race. This made sense to Carmichael and also to me.

So I remembered that newsletter and made the suggestion to Kailee and her Dad that maybe Ryan Lochte had peaked too early. He'd peaked at the Olympic Trials when he showed such dominance and became that heavy favorite to be the next Michael Phelps. Now, at a crucial time Lochte wasn't performing up to expectations. France's dramatic split second victory in the 400 meter Freestyle Relay made people pause and wonder what's wrong with Lochte. Then Lochte placed fourth (not even medaling) in the 200 meter Freestyle (an individual event) which he'd been heavily favored to win. Whether Lochte snaps out of this funk or doesn't we'll only know in each successive event. The possibility of peaking too early is always a danger to any athlete. But let's take this concept of peaking and look at it in different ways apart from the 2012 Olympics.

For me personally I know all too well about peaking at the right time. When I was in high school I always seemed to peak too early in the wrestling season until my senior year when it looked as though I might be able to peak at the right time. I had a heavy January wrestling schedule and tore up my opponents, winning big matches in dominating fashion. Finally, in late January I fell ill and tried to wrestle through it. I lost a match I probably should have won and then in the very next match I sprained my ankle so bad that I had to go to physical therapy and I missed the Conference Tournament the next week (a tournament I would have been heavily favored to win). This set me back and I wound up taking fourth at Districts, and falling off the edge at Regionals failing in my goal of going to States. I was disappointed. I hadn't peaked at the right time. I tried to tailor my training so that I would peak at the right time in my freshman year of college wrestling season. But again, I seemed to peak just a little early and missed out on going to Nationals by just one match. When we climbed Gannet Peak in 2010, I struggled at the beginning hitting my absolute low point on the day we made our summit attempt. After I waited with my teammate Justin at a certain point on the trail for our other four teammates, I began to feel better. The next two days on our hike out I felt much stronger than at the beginning. I was still exhausted, but feeling stronger than I had on the first day. If I'd had a second shot at the summit, who knows I might have made it. If I'd done better at managing where I peaked I also probably could have pushed it out to the summit. Who knows...

If we look around in our lives, our entire year, careers, etc are based around peaks. I always here my Dad talk about market peaks and valleys. I hear him talk about how the summer months are the peak of grilling season and that is typically when he's busiest. This is why my family used to always take a winter vacation rather than a summer vacation. I even looked at my school grades recently and saw a pattern. My Fall Semester grades tended to be slightly lower and my grades tended to rise throughout the school year with my highest grades being in March and April right at the end of the Spring Semester. In high school my best grades also tended to be in the second half of the year.

The more experienced we become in our discipline, whether that's a sport, school or business, we become better and more efficient about managing our peaks and valleys. We can't just peak early in life or just late in life. We're going to have both peaks and valleys every year, every day of our lives. We need to learn to manage our lives, to manage our peaks and valleys. We need to try and strive for each peak to be higher than the last and for valley to be slightly higher than that last valley. Now, of course we're going to have those times where the valley dips a little deeper than planned or expected, but that just means we need to work a little harder to climb out of it. I haven't quite learned how to manage all of my peaks and valleys, but I'm getting better. I try to help those people I train in my Spin classes to push themselves a little higher up that ladder, trying to help them break through those mental barriers. Kailee and I both become stressed at times and at those times we stay strong for each other and help each other out of that valley and begin working up towards our next peak. Sometimes we just need to remember to take a deep breath, relax and just take it one day, project, event, competition, at a time. We will peak and we will valley. We need to strive to make those valleys higher than the previous valley, in addition to making those peaks as high as we possibly can.

Until next time.

Climb High!

Kyle Coon

Monday, July 16, 2012

What's the latest with TSU?

So, what exactly is happening right now with Team Sight Unseen?  Why haven't we heard from the team lately?  Are there any big trips planned, or what's going on next?  If you're like a lot of our friends, family, or supporters you probably are wondering the same thing and have similar questions.  The truth is we haven't done much lately, but we are planning big things for the future.  Our last big trip was to Gannett Peak in the summer of 2010.  There we grew a lot as a team hiking over 60 miles to the top of Gannett Peak and back.  We learned what it would take to accomplish some of the goals we have set for ourselves, and how hard those goals would be.  However, we haven't quit on those goals by any means...

In the past two years team members have gone through a ton of exciting life changes.  Brad graduated college (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and moved to Seattle and started working for Safeco Insurance (doing Software Development work).  Justin also graduated college (University of North Texas) and got married!  He will be moving to Wyoming this fall with his new wife.  Ben graduated college (University of Oregon) and is now working full-time.  Joe and his wife are enjoying the rigors of a new little girl.  Kyle is in his final year of school at the University of Central Florida and will be graduating with his degree in three years.  Finally, Pete continues to travel the US working for NOLS and guiding overnight biking trips.

However, now everyone is starting to settle down (location-wise) we are examining the team goals again and where we want to go.  In very exciting news Kyle is working with an advertising professor of his to start the process of making the team a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.  If we can obtain this designation we would be able to raise funds much easier as all donations would be tax-exempt.  We would also be able to use websites and organizations such as Kickstarter and in order to help us raise funds.  We are all very hopeful that with this professor's help we can obtain this designation.  If anyone has any contacts with the legal profession that would be willing to help us please give us their contact information!  (send us an email at  We are exploring all avenues in order to make this happen.  This is by far the biggest hurdle we have right now as a team.

Our goal right now is to be on a plane heading to Aconcagua in the winter (Jan/Feb) of 2014.  This is an ambitious goal, but one we think we can obtain.  We will need to raise significant funds, but feel that we will be able to do this.  We want to get back on the slopes together as a team in order to continue accomplishing our goals and showing the world that blindness is no obstacle!

Another thing we have been kicking around is the idea of Camp Sight Unseen.  This camp would allow us to reach out to blind and visually-impaired children and allow them to experience what we experienced in our first days of working together.  We want to show them that there is so much out in the world for them to experience, and blindness should not be a limitation to that.  We were truly blessed having Global Explorers bring us together, and we want to share that experience with more children.  Our idea for the camp is to mix blind and visually-impaired with sighted campers in order to give them a rich experience.

Obviously this is a big undertaking and we realize that.  We have thrown around the idea of "piggy-backing" on another camp's logistics (with their approval of course) and then having our own smaller program inside the larger camp itself.  We have already pitched this idea to Sanborn Camps in Colorado (whom Kyle worked for last summer).  Personally we feel like this is our biggest area for opportunity and an area that we want to grow a lot.  We feel that we have a lot to offer blind and visually-impaired children and we want to open their eyes to what is possible.

So right now, that is where we stand.  We have all been in pretty constant contact throughout the past year or two.  Brad took a trip down to Florida to backpack for a few days with Kyle.  Team members continue to meet up to discuss goals and plan for the future.  What does everyone think?  Like our plans?

Climb High,
-Brad and the rest of the team