Category Archives: Adventure

The long road to California

The weather is beautiful and sunny here in Southern California. I arrived this morning (March 21st) after a week of adventures in the Southwestern US.  This post will be broken down by destinations and travel days to attempt to make it a bit more reader friendly, enjoy!

Getting on the road

As most of you who have been following my blog are already aware, Megan and I had been planning a ‘spring break’ road trip to California, the dates of which lined up nicely for the start of my PCT thru-hike and Megan’s break from CSU.  After what seemed like months of planning our route, acquiring gear, and and coordinating with friends, March 14th finally arrived and to say we were excited would be an understatement.

While Megan finished up some mid-terms, I organized and loaded the last of our gear into the Forester, a task which proved challenging.  The gear necessary for two people to enjoy a 1300 mile road trip including hiking climbing and camping is substantial.  Add to that everything else that I own, which needed to come with us to California, and you are looking at very little space for the two people who are needed to actually pilot and navigate said car.  It seemed improbable but we managed to fit everything, with a little leg room.

We shifted the car into drive some time around noon and immediately made our first stop at New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins.  In addition to the two bombers of La Folie and Tree Shaker that Megan had purloined, we needed to fill her growler, a 64oz. (half gallon) container with some sweet nectar before heading into Utah.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Utah’s liquor laws, lets just say that they make acquiring beer with alcohol percentages higher then 3.2% ‘difficult’.

We ALWAYS have a great time at New Belgium and this visit proved consistent with the past.  Our bartender turned out to be a 2010 Appalachian trail thru-hiker known as ‘Tree’.  Once he heard that I was on my way to California to begin a thru-hike of the PCT, his eyes grew wide and he came alive, recounting his trail experience a few years ago.  We ended up chatting for 45 minutes in which time he offered me that highly valuable information that thru-hiking alumni always seem to posses.  As if that wasn’t enough, Tree wished us well and sent us on our way with tasters and a growler fill, free of charge!  The trail magic had begun and we weren’t even 15 minutes from the start of our road trip.  It is already apparent to me that the community of thru-hikers I am about to immerse myself in are wonderful people.

Beer in hand, we rolled out of Fort Collins towards Boulder to make a few more pit stops before stopping by my friend Jason’s house in Conifer.  I took one last look through some belongings that J is looking after for me.  I grabbed some fly fishing gear and stuffed it god-knows-where in the solid brick of equipment that had become my car before wishing Jason farewell and resuming our momentum West, towards the coast.

Some other highlights of our first day of driving included bar-b-q in South Park, beers in Breckenridge, and an unplanned motel night in Grand Junction.  We had originally planned on driving straight through to Indian Creek that evening to meet up with our friends who we planned on camping with.  Initially I was a little irritated at Megan’s suggestion to stop driving, wanting to get to our destination.  In hindsight, her GOOD idea got us into bed by 11pm, not 2am.  We both got roughly seven hours of sleep, waking up early the next morning to finish the last four hours of driving.

Indian Creek

As climbers, Megan and I had seen pictures, heard stories, and dreamed of the day we would get to climb at the iconic desert sandstone cliffs that are Indian Creek.  This BLM managed piece of land is located in the high desert of South-Eastern Utah.  Heading South through the red rock landscape of Moab, the sun slowly climbed past the horizon and the landscape whispered canyon country.  We wandered across washes and around mesas until turning off the main highway towards an area known as the Newspaper Rock Recreation

Literally on the side of the road.

Literally on the side of the road.

Area.

After climbing through a small window in the sandstone fortress ahead of us, the road angled steeply and drunkenly downwards thrusting us into the canyons below.  Crossing cattle guards and making winding turns led us to the parking area for Newspaper Rock, a sort of community canvas of pictographs and petroglyphs.  Megan and I stopped briefly to snap a few quick photos but resumed our drive, arriving at the Supercrack parking area about 40 minutes ahead of schedule.

Upon stepping out of the car, we immediate dug out our down jackets – it was coooold and the parking area was not yet basking in the same sunshine splashing over the sandstone cliffs above.  We had been on the road since 5am and we needed sustenance.  With the Coleman 2-burner set up on the hood, we brewed coffee, Megan had oatmeal, and I ate some granola and yogurt.

After some driving around, we managed to run into Jeramiah and Kevin, our friends we were looking for.  They led us down Beef Basin road to a fantastic camp site right below the Technicolor Wall.  To say this spot was scenic wouldn’t do it justice.  We were tucked right below the massive sandstone walls we would be climbing that afternoon, in the middle of a valley that winded it’s way between buttresses of red iron.  In the distance, snow-dusted peaks showed winter’s reluctance to let go of this stark landscape.  Not long after pulling into camp, our friend Ian came motoring up the road on a dirt bike he was just learning to ride.  He attempted some advanced maneuver which resulted in him laying the bike down immediately in front of the group, resulting in laughter.  It was quite a grand entrance.  We laughed, met new friends, stuffed climbing gear into packs and headed up the ridge line to the Technicolor wall.

Upon arrival, Ian ‘warmed up’ on a fist and off-hands-sized corner that was damn near 60 meters long.  On top-rope I was humbled by the nature of the climbing as my hands were sanded into submission.  No tape could protect me from the ancient sea floor.  Megan and I marveled at the nature of the climbing, managing our way up the climbs but without the style or grace of our friends who have obviously honed their desert crack climbing technique from previous visits.  We were beat down and we were loving it.  The cracks and chimneys that made up this small part of the climbing area kept us occupied until the sun dropped below the canyon walls and we retreated to our barracks for the evening.

Dinner consisted of meat products (meat stick and bacon) in cheesy mac – let the flatulence begin!  We shared 20140321-170147.jpgbeer and good company around a campfire with a million stars overhead.  My night alternated between moments of deep sleep as well as waking – I often sleep this way outdoors, I can’t quite explain it.  In the early morning I listened to the cries of coyotes.

Day two saw us driving towards the Pistol Whipped wall, a bit further down Beef Basin road.  After a steep approach to the base of the cliff, we traversed right until we found some appropriate climbs to warm up on.  I jumped on lead on a short and think finger crack while Ian set up one of the tightest chimneys I have ever climbed.  After a boost of confidence I got to watch Ian onsite a 5.12- finger crack, impressive.  Ian and Jaremiah mentioned a climb called Jolly Rancher when we had initially hiked up to the climbing area for the day and at 5.10, it seemed like a grade I could manage.  After collecting close to 20 cams, I walked around the buttress until a splitter hand crack came into view.  After the previous day I knew that although this line looked beautiful, the climbing would be strenuous and challenging.

20140321-170135.jpgThe first few moves off the ground were difficult – slightly insecure jams with thin feet.  I managed to reach high enough for a solid thumbs-down jam, camming my feet into the crack, finally feeling secure enough to reach down and select a cam.  After a few more moves the climbing eased a bit more and I repeated the process of selecting a cam and protecting my upwards movement.  After about twenty feet I placed one more cam and decided to take a rest.  Crack climbing is really no different then any other type of climbing when you get down to the underlying strategy.  Conserve energy, hold your body close to the rock with your hands and use your feet for upward progress whenever possible.  I have told hundreds of students those very strategies and thankfully Ian and Jeremiah were there reminding me of these basics.  It’s easy to lose sight of the simple things when your forearms feel like they are about to rupture and you are on the sharp end of the rope.

I wish I could say that after that rest I run right up the rest of the climb.  The truth is that it took me about 45 minutes to finish the remaining 120 feet of the route.  Rock climbing can be extremely humbling and this was a perfect case of ‘first time at the Creek’.  I didn’t give up though, thrashing my way up the crack, running out

The Author climbing Jolly Rancher 5.10, Pistol Whipped Wall, Indian Creek, Utah

The Author climbing Jolly Rancher 5.10, Pistol Whipped Wall, Indian Creek, Utah

of small gear when I desperately wanted it right at the end.  After clipping the anchors and being lowered I rested for a long time.  I was beat down but I enjoyed it.  Jamming your way up a splitter crack, in the middle of a blank sandstone face, in the desert turned out to be an excellent experience.  I look forward to next time.

That afternoon Megan and I decided that we ought to continue our journey South to Blanding, Utah.  Our friends were getting on the road back to Salt Lake City that afternoon and we needed gas in the car as well as water and some other food items.  Simultaneously cracking open beers in the parking area, we recounted our experience that day and laughed together.  Ian bestowed upon me some lighter trekking poles for my PCT hike and he and Jeremiah offered to help out with mailing supplies to me on the trail if necessary.  The trail magic continues and I’m not even on the trail yet.

South-Eastern Utah, Butler Wash

After leaving Indian Creek, Megan and I had a short drive South, through Monticello and Blanding, Utah.  We rolled down Butler Wash late Sunday evening and without too much difficulty, found a spot to park the car.  For those of you that are unfamiliar with South-East Utah, amazing Native American ruins and artifacts reside in the sandy, winding canyons that make up this arid landscape.  Butler Wash road, South of Blanding, gives access to Comb Ridge, a sandstone incline punctuated with many easily accessible canyons.  In these canyons you will find many Anasazi ruins as well as petroglyphs, pictographs, potshards, and many other artifacts.  The Non-Technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau, by Michael R. Kelsey, is a fantastic resource.

20140321-170216.jpg

Since we were climbing nearby, exploring some of the cultural past that Utah has to offer seemed like a fun and relaxing option (not to mention convenient, less then an hour from Indian Creek).  After a productive morning, cleaning and organizing the car as well as cooking bacon and eggs in cast iron over our campfire, we were feeling motivated to do some walking.  We quickly learned (or maybe I already knew) that BLM land often has limited signage.  Having neglected to reset the odometer on the car as we turned off the main road, 20140321-170255.jpgfiguring out the specific turns to access the ruins we were looking for proved challenging.  While I drove aimlessly down the dirt road, Megan glassed Comb ridge with her binoculars and suggested that we take one of the side roads to our West.  Leaving the main road and heading towards Comb Ridge, we eventually found a parking area with trail markers.  With water and cameras in our packs, we began the pleasant walk towards the canyons.

Within five minutes sandstone walls rose on both sides, funneling us towards the cool shade of the alcoves and brush within the confines of the canyon ahead.  We continued down the well-worn path, eventually cross in front of a sign the warned ‘do not disturb cultural resources’.  We were on the right path.  A few more minutes of walking and the canyon opened.  We didn’t see the ruins immediately, they blended into the orange and red rock which they were perched on.  Upon closer inspection, we could now see an overhanging alcove with two levels.  Stone and mud walls were carefully perched on the edge of each level, offering a living space for what appeared to be multiple family groups.

Upon closer inspection we found pieces of pottery, stone flakes from the creation of tools and grinding marks 20140321-170232.jpgfrom processing grain (we guessed).  The walls of the canyons nearby were inscribed with carved images known as petroglyphs depicting events long passed.  As we climbed among the old structures we imagined the people who made this place their home and wished we were so lucky to live in a canyon as beautiful as this.

As we began out walk out of this location, our attention to detail had shifted and we now saw many more petroglyphs on the walls that we had previously passed.  It’s amazing how these ancient pieces of artwork could be sitting right in front of us and go unnoticed.  We had gotten a late start this morning and wanted to visit at least one more canyon before getting on the road.  Getting back to our car, we consulted the map and picked another side road to explore.

The next trail that we found led us to an area known as Monarch cave, one of the deeper and more expansive alcoves we had seen containing similar structures.  This particular site had some features that we had not previously seen including wood incorporated into the stone dwellings as supports and also as roofing.  We found some grinding plates as well as lots and LOTS of carved and drawn images on the nearby walls.

20140321-170322.jpgAfter our cultural exploration was complete, we headed back to Blanding to pick up an atlas and some food items.  We needed an oil change and a destination.  After talking to the caretaker for a local RV campground, we decided to drive a little further to the town of Bluff, to find a campground that might offer showers and internet.  Bluff didn’t disappoint and we were able to get cleaned up and upload email a few photos to our friends and family.

The Grand Canyon

Megan and I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Southeastern Utah, but with California in the distance, we had to get on the road and put some more miles behind us. Morning saw us rolling across the Navajo nation through Monument Valley and ultimately ending at the Grand Canyon.

Prior to starting our road trip I had attempted to contact a good friend of mine who has been on a road trip for the past 10 months.  Craig retired, and now that he is receiving social security, he is living his life on the road!  I am impressed that someone such as Craig is able to find happiness and peace living a simple life, enjoying the National Parks and other Federal lands from the comfort of his tent.  I wish more people could see how much value exists in a life lived this way.

As we climbed the long road out of the desert up to the entrance station to the park, I mentioned to Megan that I had not yet successfully gotten in touch with Craig.  His daughter told me that we would find him at the Grand Canyon but knowing Craig, he could be anywhere in the Southwest soaking in the sun in his camping chair.  We took a chance and headed towards the campgrounds on the South Rim, hoping to find my friend.

There are over 250 designated camp sites on the South Rim and we started with number 1.  Megan and I drove slowly around the loops looking for the green Tacoma and L.L. Bean tent.  Winding through the pines, we searched every corner of the campground loops without much luck.  Occasionally we would see a promising site, but no luck, Craig was nowhere to be found.  Driving through the last loop, I was feeling a bit discouraged, preparing myself for the task of finding our own site and setting up all of our equipment when we saw something promising.  Through the trees a big, 70’s style tent came into view, complete with a tanned, shirtless dude, sitting in a camp chair, his white handlebar mustache almost fluorescent in the afternoon sun.

Craig’s familiar smile crept onto his face as he waved hello and we stepped out of the car to greet him.  It was

We found our friend Craig, livin' the life, resident at the Grand Canyon and loving it!

We found our friend Craig, livin’ the life, resident at the Grand Canyon and loving it!

really wonderful seeing Craig who I originally met working in Boulder, Colorado, trimming marijuana in a dimly-lit warehouse.  The two of us hit it off, with similar life experiences and a love of the outdoors.  I was so happy to introduce Megan and the three of us immediately drank a few beers and shared stories from the road.

Craig was happy to have us stay at his site and he offered to let us sleep in his tent as he was using the back of his truck.  We gladly obliged, saving us some time and allowing us to kick back and enjoy some beers.  That afternoon we all hiked to the rim where we watched the sun retreat behind the horizon, painting the canyon walls orange, red, and magenta.

The following morning Craig headed into town for gas and other provisions while Megan and I had a dense pancake breakfast.  We discussed our options and decided that a nice day hike on the Bright Angel Trail would give us a taste of what the Canyon had to offer.  Packing our gear for the day we made sure to put a couple beers in our packs to enjoy during lunch.  Megan and I hit the trailhead at 10:30 and began our descent.

The Bright Angel Trail is one of the most famous hiking trails in the Canyon, eventually winding it’s way down to Phantom Ranch.  As we began our hike, it was clear that the trail was manufactured, carved into the steep side of the upper canyon.  The more switchbacks we rounded, the warmer the air got and the fewer other park visitors we encountered.  We were headed to Indian Gardens, a campground part way down the trail.  Amazingly, there are MULTIPLE bathrooms and water filling stations on the way down the trail (in just 3 miles).  While I laughed and joke with Megan that we better get our $25 worth, it occurred to me that multiple guests probably would have died without these services.  While the existence of these structures don’t exactly lend themselves to creating a wilderness experience, I remembered that this was not a wilderness, this was a park.  There is an obvious difference.

Megan and I eventually made it to Indian Gardens which felt like an oasis, complete with flowering shrubs, Grand Canyon NP sunsetsinging birds, and flowing water.  We had brought PLENTY of water and didn’t need a refill.  Instead we continued on towards Plateau Point, our halfway point and planned destination.  Our new trail diverged from the Bright Angel Trail, and we became further removed from the crowds.  Park visitors were replaced with barrel and prickly pear cactus as the hiking became nearly flat.  Megan and I covered the remaining mile, ending at a beautiful rock point overlooking the Colorado river 2000 feet below.

Megan and I ate some lunch and fended off ground squirrels with my trekking poles, those little bastards, I wanted to smack them over the cliff near by.  It occurred to me that the ‘chiselers’ are only so food agressive because of all the park visitors that have fed them in the past.  While keeping a close eye on our packs, Megan and I snapped a bunch of photos and took some time to relax before beginning our 3000 foot climb back to the canyon rim.  By the time we reached the end of our 12 mile hike, we had both worked up a substantial appetite and immediately began cooking food when we got to camp.

Enjoying refreshments at Plateau Point, GCNP.

Enjoying refreshments at Plateau Point, GCNP.

Our final evening with Craig was enjoyed around a campfire, drinking good beers and sipping some red corn and oat bourbon we brought all the way from Fort Collins.  Megan and I wanted to stay longer and do more hiking and exploring but Megan had some family events to attend and needed to get to the airport in Las Vegas by 3 the next afternoon.  In the morning, right before getting on the road, Craig bestowed upon me a ‘lucky’ coin that has been in his possession for 40 years.  This gesture of generosity and thoughtfulness is a perfect example of Craig’s nature.  He is thoughtful and selfless and we were happy to spend some time in his presence, soaking in the sun in the freedom of the outdoors.

 

Las Vegas, Joshua Tree and the West Coast

We continue rolling forwards, the solid mass of gear that is my car carrying us across the arid landscape towards the most unsustainable city EVER.  This black hole continuously grows bigger, sucking the life out of the Colorado River, beaming electric sex into the atmosphere and the minds of those poor souls that succumb to it’s draw like moths to a light.  This is Vegas.  We pointed the car straight at it and hit cruise..

When we saw the signs for the Hoover dam, it only made sense to burn extra gas exiting the highway to go back in the direction we just came from to see the biggest pile of concrete man has ever crapped out onto the

surface of this beautiful planet.  This massive wall would ultimately stop you if you traveled the length of the Grand Canyon and continued across lake Mead (not a lake but a reservoir).  We looked for the free parking, ran to the edge of the precipice, snapped a picture and got back on the road.  We needed a cheap buffet, probably the only positive thing that place has ever or will ever do for me.

After filling up on the mediocrity that was ‘best Vagas buffet’ or some similar ironic title, we rolled on towards the airport where Megan caught her flight to Florida.  I immediately got on the road towards California, intent to leave the city and get back to the more wild places.  Megan and I had initially planned on doing some climbing in Red Rock Canyon but now that my partner was in the air headed towards the East Coast, I couldn’t see the appeal in hanging around (unable to climb).

California was close and I reached Barstow quickly.  I continued on through the desert, the vegetation changing slowly until Joshua trees abounded and the park felt within my grasp.  I passed the fee station at 8 o’clock and drove on, through the rocks and ridges, looking for a place to camp for the night.  This quickly proved to be more difficult then I expected, surprising for a Thursday evening.

I drove from one campground to the next, cruising every loop without any luck – EVERY single campsite was full.  When I say full I don’t necessarily mean that the sites were packed with tents.  Instead, every single site had a paper ticket on the site number post, showing that someone had reserved it or paid for it prior to my arrival.  As my frustration mounted, my driving speeds increased, carrying me through every campground in the park with no luck.  Eventually I parked at the group camping area, threw my pad on the ground, forgoing a tent, and fell asleep with troubled thoughts.

Awaking to the sound of an owl, just before sunrise, I quickly packed up and looked for a good spot to photograph the changing light.  A few nice photos were the only thing I was motivated to accomplish that morning and after some difficult communications, I decided to leave the crowded park (in favor of LA? geeze…) and continued my road trip to it’s Western terminus.  It only took roughly 3 hours to get from Joshua Tree to my Father’s house.  I had made it.

Stunning sunrise, J Tree NP

Stunning sunrise, J Tree NP

Our trip from Colorado to California ended up being a bit shorter then we originally planned, but Megan and I had a fulfilling and wonderful time sharing the company of each other as well as our friends.  We had the pleasure of spending a few days together in LA when Megan flew back out to enjoy the last three days of her spring break.  We hiked, climbed, and explored the city.

Where one trip ends, another begins, and this is far from the end for either of us.  My head is literally ready to melt after writing this article although reliving the experience in the confines of my mind has been a blast.  The Pacific Crest Trail is 2 weeks away and I’m on the cusp of starting something great.  Thanks for following along so far and I hope you all read along as I take the next big leap.  Stay adventurous my friends!

Granite Pass, RMNP

Enjoying some shelter from the wind in RMNP

Enjoying some shelter from the wind in RMNP

My friend Jason is one of my more regular partners when it comes to adventure.  We do our best to get out regularly and motivate each other to stay active.  It might seem silly for two people who live in Colorado to need motivation to get out but we all need it now and then.

Jason called me up this past weekend to reminded me that his kids were in day care on Mondays and to see if I had any plans yet.  I jumped at the opportunity to get out for a couple of reasons.  I have been sick this past week and have scaled back my physical activity significantly in an effort to recover and be healthy for the climbing road trip I am about to take.  I was excited to get outside and enjoy some physical activity.  I also have my new pack from Gregory, the Z55 which I have been eager to load and test out on a real hike.  I told Jason I was in and we discussed our options in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We would be headed to the Longs Peak trail head which is off the Peak to Peak highway, a couple miles South of Estes Park.  This is one of my favorite park access points (free…).  Jason and I agreed to meet at the parking lot no later then nine o’clock to get started.

My drive to the trail head from Fort Collins was uneventful although I got to see a lot of flood damage on highway 34 that I had not previously seen.  Houses hanging off of slopes that had been partially washed away and metal pipes wrapped around trees like pieces of ribbon were a few of the highlights.  The construction crews are still busy at work, repairing pull-offs, adjusting the riverbed, and cleaning up debris.

I breezed through Estes park, buying a crappy cup of coffee at one of the local gas stations before heading South to the trail head.

When I pulled in, Jason was practically ready to go.  I rolled out of my car looking like I had just woken up.  I apologized for not having any of my gear ready to go.  It took me about 30 minutes to get organized, change clothes, and drink a few sips of water.  We decided to don snowshoes (uhggg) and got on the trail a little before ten.

Following the trail towards Granite Pass would give us the option to hike Mt. Lady Washington, Storm Peak, or the Keyhole (on Long’s Peak).  We didn’t want to set a specific goal until we got up above treeline and could assess the conditions and make an educated decision.  We meandered through the trees, taking our time and enjoying the fresh air.  After what seemed like a long time (we both remembered it being shorter) we ascended a small snow slope and broke out of the trees.  The views of Meeker and Longs were commanding.

Snow swirled in wintery dust devils high on the North face of Long’s.  The alpine intensity of the sun beamed down on us like a laser and I was thankful to have my goggles.  We picked a point up the valley and began the slow walk up hill.  This is when I realized that my energy reserves are still quite low from being sick (or maybe it was the altitude…or both).  Either way I felt like I was moving at a snails pace and I mentioned this to Jason to his amusement.  He said it made him feel great to see me moving slow for once.

After what seemed like 45 minutes we had made it about half way up the rocky slopes between us and the summit of Granite pass.  We decided that just making it to the pass would be enough of an accomplishment for both of us.  Even though our objective was in sight, things began to get a bit more challenging as waves of wind blasted us with spindrift from the slopes above.  In addition to our outdoor pursuits, both of us worked on a 14er as Interpretive Rangers.  Jason and I have had plenty of exposure to high terrain and the wind that seems to persist there.  Today however was a bit more extreme.  Individual gusts began hitting us and we estimated them in the vicinity of 60 miles per hour.  We watched as these waves of energy descended the slopes above us, excavating and launching pieces of wind-crusted snow high into the air.  It was spectacular.

We continued upwards, stopping occasionally to steady ourselves with trekking poles, orienting our bodies to combat the powerful wind.  We were both almost blown over multiple times before we reached the summit some time around three o’clock.  On the saddle that is Granite pass the wind was less gusty and much more consistently insane, prompting me to find a large rock for shelter.  I shuffled over to make room for J as he sat down beside me, a look of satisfaction on his face.  We drank some water and decided that with how slow we were moving and how late in the day it was already, we better bust a move and start heading down.  We decided to make a little circuit and head down a different way then we originally came up.  A pleasantly angled ridge appeared to lead right back to our descent route.  We put our packs back on and began hiking again.

Often times in an alpine environment or any outdoor environment for that matter, our perception of the environment can be skewed.  Ill use our descent route as an example.  This benign looking ridge, with it’s few rock outcroppings and snow-free crest appeared to be a great choice.  After walking with snowshoes on for the better part of the day we were thrilled to have a nice tundra walk sans awkward foot attachments.  The reality of the situation was that, yes – the walking was pleasant.  Something that was difficult to judge however was the severity of the wind that we were about to experience.  Because there was no snow present on this ridge, it was difficult to SEE the wind.  As we worked our way down, the wind steadily increased.  By the time we were within a hundred yards of the rock outcroppings we had seen from afar, the wind seemed that of a tropical storm…no correction, of an arctic storm.  The icy blast increased as we approached the rock tower to a point at which I’m pretty sure we were being blasted in excess of 80 miles an hour.  The rocky tower was big enough and positioned perfectly to deflect the wind raging up the ridge and channel it around both sides to a focal point.  I stood in this location, facing the blast, leaning forwards, held at roughly a 40 degree angle by the tempest.

I had my fun for a few moments before seeking shelter once again.  In the lee of the rock I was able to comfortably sit down and watch Jason approach.  Watching him stumble his way across the tundra, almost being knocked on his ass brought me to the point of hysterical laughter.  Once he arrived safely we both ate some more food and drank.  We discussed the next obstacle, a saddle roughly 100 yards wide that we needed to cross to continue our descent.  It was the low point of the ridge and a frigid cloud of spindrift scouring this exposed area made it apparent that the wind at this location might be even more intense then what we had just experienced.

As we began our trek forward our predictions proved correct.  This intensity of the wind was almost enough to suck the breath right out of our lungs and we staggered across the low spot on the ridge.  Spindrift pelted the few millimeters of exposed skin on our faces, making us feel as if we were being sand-blasted.  Speaking to each other was pointless, we couldn’t hear a thing.  As we stumbled through the invisible force that attempted to prevent our travel we managed to cross the saddle only to arrive on an exposed high point.  We crouched for a moment and quickly decided to continue.  After rounding this small summit we almost let out a shout of joy as we dove into some haggard looking Limber Pine.  Shelter is a wonderful thing.

Hiking in RMNP

Hiking in RMNP

Our descent became much more tolerable as we wound through this dwarf forest of Pines in a place which was clearly demonstrated to us as one of the most extreme environments where life can carve out a foothold.  We remarked at how pleasant the now 40 mile per hour wind was as we crossed our old footprints and regained the trail down into the Spruce/Fir forest.  We walked with a spring in our step, enjoying the downhill grade and the shelter we could finally enjoy.

Just before getting to the trail head we ran into a group of four young hikers who asked if we had seen their friend.  They had gotten split up as he short-cutted the switch backs while they stuck to the trail.  Separated, they wrote a note in the snow for him and decided to head back to their truck.  We eluded to the extreme nature of the weather up high and wished them luck in finding their friend.

Getting back to the car always creates mixed feelings.  On the one hand there is relief.  The safety the vehicle seems to provide reassures us that we have ‘made it out alive’ and that we are going to be ‘ok’.  At the same time, reaching the car signifies the end of our adventure.  We recall our hours of exposure up high in the alpine, where we can only rely on each other and our previous experiences to keep us safe.  It is in those moments that we smile and know that we will go back at some point, a reassurance that the adventure is not over, we’re just taking a little break so we can rest, refuel, and do it again next week.

Planing the trip to CA

I’m writing to you all from Fort Collins, Colorado today.  The weather here is warm and while the mountains seems to continue receiving consistent snowfall, the flats are drying up nicely.  I’m going to attempt a re-cap here before discussing my plans for the next few weeks.

Since returning to the Front Range from Salida, where we experienced an epic weekend of powder at Monarch mountain, I have been running all over the place.  I have spent some time with my girlfriend Megan in Fort Collins, attending a few of her classes.  Most memorable of those was a natural resource class in which we had an interesting lecture focussed on water law in the Western United States, a lecture that immediately made me think of the lack of water I am going to be experiencing in Southern California while on the PCT.

I have also recently re-united with a former co-worker from the Forest Service who was just accepted into a Smoke Jumping program in Alaska for the upcoming fire season.  Fantastic work Kael!  We caught up over some sour beers and exchanged stories from the past two years.  Kael is in the process of training for his upcoming work season and I joined him for a 7.5 mile run near Horse Tooth Reservoir, just West of Fort Collins.  We encountered lots of snow and had a great time.  Has it really been months since the last time I did some trail running?  I felt great and got a boost of confidence regarding my fitness level at the moment.

Megan, her friend Annie and I took a weekend trip over to Tabernash, Colorado and stayed with some College friends of mine.  We got two great days of skiing in at Winter Park, with great snow and a fantastic guide (thanks Andy).

After returning from Grand County I got in touch my friend Chris who was on a NOLS semester course with me in 2005.  We got together in Clear Creek Canyon to celebrate Chris’s birthday with some ice climbing and then drove back to Summit County for a brewery crawl that evening.  The following day I enjoyed Chris and his friends’ company for a day of skiing at Keystone.

From Summit County I headed back to the East side of the divide to stay with my friend and climbing/skiing partner Jason and his family.  They are the best hosts.  We ate some amazing food and Megan drove down to join me for a day of skiing at Loveland.  We had 5 inches of fresh snow from that evening at it continued snowing all day while we enjoyed some of the less-traveled terrain in the vicinity of lift 8.  Megan headed back up to school and I stayed around for one more day of skiing at Loveland.  The snow my second day was very wind-affected and I skied a short day before heading back to Fort Collins to have a wonderful Valentine’s day dinner with Megan.

Megan and I also managed to get back to Clear Creek for an afternoon of ice climbing.  We also recently just got in an afternoon of dragging at North Table Mountain in Golden, Colorado.

I also managed to find a used Thule cargo topper for my car.  Finally I have a bit more room inside to manage all my belongings.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks.

So here I am in the present.  Hanging in Fort Collins, starting to put together our (Megan and my) plants to drive to California in March.  As of now our route looks like we will be headed to Indian Creek for some climbing, then to the Grand Mesa (also in South-Eastern Utah) to hike to some Anasazi ruins.  We will then drive to the Grand Canyon for some camping and hiking before heading to Red Rocks in Nevada for some loooong desert multi-pitch climbing.  After Nevada we will be driving down to Joshua Tree for a bit more desert climbing before arriving in Los Angeles where our road trip will end (insert sad face here).

After that long recap, I find myself listening to some notes I have recorded in the past few weeks on my new voice recorder.  The idea was to get a tool that would help me remember writing ideas which seem to escape my mind just as easily as they materialize.  The most intriguing thought that Id love to explore with you right now is the idea of coincidence.  What exactly is coincidence?  Can we use coincidence as a way to explain events that seem linked together?  Is coincidence merely a tool that we use to help rationalize certain decisions that we make in life?The actual question that I recorded for myself three weeks ago was: Are coincidences us changing our consciousness to help convince ourselves that we are taking the right path or making the right decision in life?

Google defines coincidence as, ‘a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection’.  In my life right now coincidence takes the form of events that seem to be telling me that right now is the time I am supposed to be hiking the PCT.  Clearly all the decisions we make in life lead us to certain outcomes.  Making the conscious decision to hike the PCT this year has led me to take certain steps to make this dream a reality.  Coincidence comes into the picture in the form of events that seem to conspire or convince me that my decision to hike the PCT is a correct decision for me at this time in my life.  A good example is meeting ‘Hot Wing’ this year in the town of Nederland.  He is an avid long-distance hiker and offered me lots of great advice about my ambitions.  Another great coincidence is the fact that my father lives in Los Angeles, a great jumping-off point for the PCT.  Something that logistically makes getting on the trail easier for me (easier then the CDT or AT at least).  These are simply two examples and there have been other coincidences that I only vaguely remember at this point.

Without diving into my own personal examples any further perhaps any of you reading this can share some of your own examples?

Chasing Powder

I think I finally understand people who are addicted to white powder.  I just indulged a powder addiction myself (snow not blow) for three days at Monarch, a ski area just outside of Salida, Colorado.

I love Monarch Ski area.

I love Monarch Ski area.

Let’s rewind for a moment.  If you read about my recent trip to Utah you know that I got totally skunked in terms of snow in that part of the country.  Ill pick up where I left off.

Jason and I had been camping and hiking on the San Rafael swell, a remote area north of I-70 in Utah.  Because we had cell service I was able to keep an eye on OpenSnow, my favorite website for keeping up on the weather.  The minute we saw major moisture headed towards Colorado with favorable predictions, we immediately broke down camp and headed East.  It was Tuesday and our plan was to drive back to the Front Range, re-organize our gear, do laundry, and head to Salida, Colorado, on Wednesday, just ahead of the storm.

Looking at the sky on Wednesday morning, you wouldn’t believe that Colorado was about to get one of the biggest storms of the season, but the radar didn’t lie.  Lots of Pacific moisture was headed our way and we put our

Breezeway liftline faceshots for Jeremiah.

Breezeway liftline faceshots for Jeremiah.

faith in the predictions as we re-packed the car and hit the road.  As we left Conifer, some higher clouds came into view, promising loads of snow in the near future.

Our drive was uneventful but provided some musical entertainment.  Jason is one of the more knowledgeable sources of music education in my life and he enlightened me with some artists such as the Rollins Band, Kool Kieth, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, and others.  I always come away from our adventures with new music to listen to.

Our room at the Days Inn in Salida was pretty standard.  Nothing too fancy,

J shredding.

J shredding.

inexpensive, and a continental breakfast makes life a little easier when you are trying to wake up early to get to the hill before the chairs start turning.  That evening we grabbed some food at Currents, a solid choice in Salida if you want descent food at a reasonable price.  We were not disappointed.

When I woke up Thursday morning, pumped to ski, I was a little worried.  Aside from being overcast, there wasn’t any new snow on the ground and temperatures were slightly above freezing.  I had to tell myself, ‘Monarch pass always gets snow, it’s always snowing up there even if it isn’t snowing in Salida.  Jason and I ate some food, got our gear together, and hit the road.

Faceshots all day long at Monarch

Faceshots all day long at Monarch

As we began driving up highway 50 I slowly felt better and better as snow began falling the higher up the pass we drove.  By the time we pulled into the parking lot at Monarch, there was at least 10 inches of snow, conditions were looking great.  Oh, and the parking lot was empty.  I love skiing during the week.

Without describing every run, I’ll say that those three days of skiing were some of the best turns I have had this season.  We received roughly 36″ of snow over three days.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.  Until next time friends.

Powder turns on Outback.

Powder turns on Outback.

Utah, Solitude, and the San Rafael Swell

Have you ever had conditions that were so terrible for skiing that you just couldn’t motivate yourself to actually ski?  This was the unfortunate case for our trip to Utah – they haven’t image (2)received any new snow for more then two weeks.  Our friends Jeremiah and Grace explained the state of affairs to us as we unpacked our things.  They mentioned the weather conditions; ‘severe clear’.  Any resort skiing was not looking very good and ice climbing in the canyons is treacherous – delaminated and deteriorating quickly.

Jason and I had planned our trip to Utah months in advance, J taking the time to look at data and pick a less popular resort that was guaranteed to have snow for us.  Well obviously there is no guarantee with the weather, and to J’s credit he tried.

After making the eight hour drive to Salt Lake we weren’t about to give up without trying on our big ski trip for the year.  Our hosts fed us some incredible vegetarian food and the next morning J and I packed up our gear and headed for Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon, hoping that we could at least find some corduroy to dig into.

image (1)The drive up Big Cottonwood is an awesome journey through millions of years of sedimentary rock.  We were both amazed how close all this skiing is to downtown Salt Lake – it took us thirty minutes to get to the mountain.  The weather was warm with blue skies and we hoped that the awesome terrain we were looking at was going to be fun to ski.  After our first lift ride we were amazed at how hard-packed the snow was, bulletproof is a good description.  No worries, it was warm and the snow would soften up as the day progressed right?  Unfortunately not and except for the occasional patch of soft snow, everything looked glazed and nothing was easy to dig into.  We were both hesitant to ride the way we usually do, worried that we might lose and edge and hurt ourselves.

Discouraged, we left after a short day to regroup and make plans.  We already had two hotel nights booked in Ogden in anticipation of skiing Snowbasin later in the week but with the conditions we experienced at Solitude, neither of us wanted to spend any money on lift tickets.  That night I re-learned cribbage with the help of our hosts and the next day J managed to get a full hotel refund.  We talked a bit and decided to head South towards I-70, DCIM101GOPROpr-positioning ourselves to do some camping and hiking but so that we were prepared to head back to Colorado – a storm is on the horizon.

 Jason and I had the idea to head to Canyonlands National Park to do a short backpacking route in the Needles District.  We assume that the park would be relatively empty – a circumstance that we welcome when looking for recreation opportunities.  But we had been keeping a close eye on opensnow.com for weather updates from the moment we left Salt Lake and things were beginning to look promising for the central mountains of Colorado.  We both have Loveland passes which include days at Monarch, one of our favorite small (by Colorado standards) ski area.

We drove roughly three hours south to an area just North of I-70, an area known as the San Rafael Swell.  This collection of wilderness study areas is free to recreate in and promises solitude, it is BLM land after all.  Arriving after dark, we couldn’t see our surroundings but we knew that we picked a nice secluded spot for some camping, hiking, and we had cell service *gasp* so we were able to keep an eye on the weather to help us make an educated decision regarding our goals which were originally to ski/ride some powder.

After a cold (fucking cold) night, we packed our gear for a day-hike.  Our man Joel (www.opensnow.com) was calling for high amounts of snow, now with high confidence for the central mountains, numbers in the double digits made our decision easy; we were imageheaded back to Colorado (after a nice hike).  We did a small loop into the canyons in the area, hiking in on a trail with terrible signage (24k scale topos are a must in this area for easy navigation) and hiking out off-trail across the mesa tops.

We spent the rest of the day packing our things, and driving back to the front range.  With our sights set on Monarch, we are feeling positive.  Hotel room is booked and the forecast is looking very promising – with the possibility of over 30 inches of snow in the next three days.  The adventure continues – until next time friends!

Adventure #1: Ouray & British Columbia

I’ve been wanting to write a blog article for some time now but have been struggling with finding free time.  I have been putting of writing because my computer is broken and I have been attempting to blog from my iPad.  I’ve also been busy.  I just got back to Colorado on Monday the 20th after a couple weeks of traveling.

My most recent trip began by driving West – headed to South-Western Colorado; Ouray.  As you near this awesome little town, the San Juan mountains come into view and you instantly know these mountains are different then the Front Range.  Different colors and layers are visible in the strata that rise up on both sides of Main Street.  Our plan was to stay in Ouray for a couple days, camping one night and ice climbing at the ice park both days before dashing back to Fort Collins.

Day one was mostly an opportunity to find a campsite as well as figure out the details

Welcome to Ouray

Welcome to Ouray

regarding the ice park.  It turns out that there is no fee for climbing (unless you want to become a member to support the park) and that ice farmers turn on sprinkler heads at roughly 4 o’clock every night to fatten up the walls and pillars of ice that drip down into the narrow box canyon.  Camp Bird road turned up some easy car camping opportunities and after stomping out a platform to pitch our tent, we headed back to town for a beer at the local brewery.  Their brown ale was fantastic.

We did some bouldering on a small wall right next to the upper bridge to warm up before I jumped on lead for a short pitch to set up a top-rope for Megan and I to do some laps.  The climbing was pleasant with warm temperatures making the ice climbing secure.  After the warm up we headed to steeper and longer lines in the ice park a little way above the upper Climber at Ouray Ice Parkbridge.  Our final day involved each of us top-roping some even steeper climbing, my route involving some steep mushroom formations and Megan’s climb following some steep and thin sections with exposed rock.

Although there were a lot of other things we wanted to do such as check out the hotsprings and explore more of the park, we needed to make our way back to the Front Range to pack and start our drive to BC the next day.  Things felt somewhat rushed but at the same time we were very excited to be on the road to some awesome skiing.

After a near sleepless night filled with packing and figuring out last-minute details, we got up nice and early to meet the other folks that were driving up to BC with us.  This whole trip was organized by the CSU Outdoor club and was open to anyone (non-students like myself included).  We rented minivans and packed an improbable amount of gear and

Driving to Canada

Driving to Canada

people into them.  I was shocked that we were able to fit everything.

Day one of driving was 10 hours ending in Montana.  Day two we crossed the Canadian border (the border guards do not like jokes) and drove 11 hours, arriving in Golden, Canada at about 11 o’clock that evening.  Checking into the Dreamcatcher hostel was a blast – we rented the whole place for our group.  The hostel owners were really wonderful and accommodating of our group, making us feel right at home.  One bit of advice – buy beer and booze before entering Canada – there are not many craft breweries up there and the crappy light American beer that is available goes for up to $50+ for a 24 pack.

Powder selfie at Kicking Horse ResortOur first day of skiing Kicking horse resort was great with a soft base and surprisingly steep terrain.  Welcome to BC.  That evening the upper parts of the mountain got roughly 1.5 feet with another 6-8 inches falling during the day and it took every ounce of energy I had to ski powder with 4000+ feet of vertical descent every top to bottom run. On our third day in Golden we took a drive with two friends on the Ice Fields parkway which led us all the way to Jasper where we got some beer and food.  The drive gave us some SPECTACULAR views of the rugged Canadian Rockies complete with hanging glaciers, 1000 foot frozen waterfalls and the occasional view of the Columbia Ice Sheet.

After our time in Golden I managed to get in one day of backcountry skiing in Yoho National Park which provided me with some of the best powder turns I have ever experienced.  Next we drove over Rogers Pass on our way to Revelstoke, another amazing Canadian ski area.

Boot-pack at Revelstoke

Boot-pack at Revelstoke

Revelstoke boats the most vertical of any ski mountain in North America, over 5000 feet.

Ski touring in Yoho National Park, Canada.

Ski touring in Yoho National Park, Canada.

Although the snow was similar to spring conditions in Colorado (they hadn’t received any substantial snow since the Friday before we arrived) the terrain was awesome and the scenery  top-notch.  The town had some great food including one of the best sushi restaurants I have eaten at in a long time.

Driving back to Colorado was uneventful and took a long time.  At this point I am officially moved out of my house so I am technically homeless – couch surfing it for the foreseeable future.  Right now I am packing and organizing gear in Conifer, Colorado, getting ready for a trip to Utah for some skiing and backpacking (possibly in Canyonlands NP).  Will work on updating the blog more frequently.  Until next time friends!

Redefining ‘Me’

You know what the funny thing is about relationships?  They can define us. I’ll suggest that this is an evolution and is also not universal.  I know quite a few people who remain individuals even though they are part of a committed partnership.  For some of us though, we slowly slip into cohesion with another and through this connection render our identity from the sum of ourselves and our partners.  Here is where things get interesting: a spectrum appears.  For some of us we remain our inner selves, for others we change. There is no right or wrong here, I don’t suggest that one is better then the other.  How frequently though do we take the time to step back and ask ourselves the question, ‘who am I?’.

In the wake of the most committed and serious relationship of my life (one that lasted 9 years), I found myself asking that very question: ‘who am I?’.  It’s a question I hadn’t addressed in a LONG time.  And why would I?  I was happy, content, fulfilled.  I felt loved, and for me, this pacified the need to have a strong identity as an individual.  I won’t say that I got to live my life EXACTLY as I wanted, but compromise is part of making a relationship work, right?  I certainly was living a lifestyle that made me smile on a daily basis. After graduating from college I moved to the Front Range of Colorado where I worked for the Forest Service seasonally as well as taught snowboarding, skiing, and finally settled into a job as the head grower for a commercial medical marijuana facility.

Fast forward to the present.  Getting laid off.  I guess that working in an industry that has a questionable legal status has it’s associated risks.  I showed up to work one morning a few weeks ago and got to speak to a DEA agent who informed me that a warrant was being exercised.  I was not allowed to be on the property, I was told to go home. After going out to eat breakfast with some co-workers and returning to my facility, I found out that $300,000+ of LEGAL medical marijuana had been cut down.  I won’t go into any more details other then mentioning, we were not doing anything illegal and this whole thing had to do with a previous business owner who wasn’t even involved with us.

Was the universe trying to communicate something to me?  The end of a major relationship, the end of a seemingly stable career/job?  What the hell is going on.  If there is one thing that therapy has taught me, and trust me, I’ve been to a LOT of therapy in the last 8 months, it’s this: dwelling on the past and what we wish could be different is not very healthy. Sure, talking about what we have experienced and figuring out how we feel about past events is important, but we can’t change what has happened.  We can acknowledge the events in our lives, replay them over and over and think of all the other possible outcomes, but we can’t change what has happened.  I already knew what I was working towards – a major change in my life.

I am almost 30, one year to go.  Most people seem to do a lot of adventuring in their 20’s and it seems I am almost a decade late.  I’m not one to worry about what others think though, and the opportunity to abandon all responsibility and live life exactly the way I choose is quite an exciting endeavor.

So here is the idea: this blog will function as a journal for personal reflection as well as a way to document my journey from here going forward.  The journey I am about to start begins in the middle of the Colorado ski season.

I have managed to get 6 days of skiing in so far – 4 at Loveland, 2 at Steamboat Springs, and one backcountry day.  In two days time I will be getting on a plane headed to Los Angeles to spend the holidays with my family on the West Coast. I return on the 30th and have a week of work before driving to Ouray with my girlfriend for two days of ice climbing at the Ouray ice festival.  We will then drive back to Fort Collins to pack up and drive to British Columbia for 10 days of skiing at Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, and the Rogers Pass backcountry.  We will then drive back and after 4 days in Colorado I will then be headed to Utah to connect with some college friends, hopefully drink some beer that is stronger then 3% and do 5 days of skiing at Solitude and Snowbasin before driving back through southern Colorado and getting in some days at either Monarch or Durango.

This is the plan right now and it is subject to change.  There are bigger ambitions just down the road and I hope some of you will be able to follow me on this journey I am about to begin. Here is to rediscovering who I am.