Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cheese and Apple Pie

We had left-over apple pie after Thanksgiving dinner this year (which never lasts very long around here) and I was struck by the memory of a savory slice of pie that I had in Abilene several weeks prior with my church family at Minter Lane. My good friend Anna Jane, who lived with her husband for several years in England, baked a pie that had cheese in the crust and said it was a British tradition to have cheese and apple pie. I figured it made perfect sense to me since many people enjoy fresh fruit and cheese. She also mentioned that apple pie with a melted slice of cheese on it would be a good breakfast and we laughed trying to figure out how many of the necessary food groups it would satisfy. I did some brief research and it seems like it's a traditional way to serve pie in Yorkshire with cheese. And someone claimed that years ago it was against the law to serve pie in Wisconsin without a slice of cheese on it.

My friends will telly you that I like to experiment with food combinations so naturally I had to try it. It's probably not the best thing for you, but with a hot cup of coffee, it would be tough to beat a slice of warm apple pie with melted cheese. Thanks Anna Jane!

The pie pictured is a slice of store bought apple pie with smoked gouda on top.

Christmas Skiing

Last Saturday was some of the best skiing I've had in a long time. Dad and I got up to the mountain early, rode the chair up, and headed off out of bounds for some "slackcountry." We skinned up above the fog and the clouds and enjoyed beautiful blue skies, warm sunshine, and heavenly views. The cherry on the cake was skiing fresh, sun-softened powder snow. Then it was back home for family, food, and gifts. My sister was able to come up and spend the afternoon and evening with us for Christmas and we had some much needed family time with all four of us. It's amazing how often I am reminded that no matter how much fun it is to climb or ski in the mountains, life is always made richer with other people, particularly family.

View from the top of Skookaleel Ridge.

Slab fractures in snowpack analysis tests. We still felt comfortable skiing the lower-angle terrain below us. I have to admit it's fun geeking out about snow and avalanche potential. I plan on becoming very proficient and knowledgeable in avalanche terrain this winter.

Some Things I Learned While Hunting this Year

My first Fall back in Montana was a great one and I'm very grateful to have been able to hunt as much as I did with my dad. This Fall was also my first season bowhunting doubling the length of the hunting season, which brought twice as much joy as it did suffering and misery. I mean, who in their right mind would spend so much time at something without being "successful"?

Hunting is a lot like life. And all that time wandering silently through the woods allows one to ponder quite a bit. I came up with some not so obvious traits that you need to have to be a good hunter. I feel like they are easily carried over into normal life as well...

1. First and foremost, you must be eternally positive and optimistic. From the standpoint of hunting, if you let your guard down at any point or stop thinking there could be an animal around the next rock outcropping, you'll get that opportunity you've been waiting for. It could also become miserable if you got down on yourself. Negative thinking saps energy, decreases performance, and otherwise isn't a whole lot of fun.

A great hunting buddy gazing at an overwhelming amount of terrain.

2. You have to have a short memory. This one isn't all that hard because I think us humans are hard-wired to have this trait already. Think about a little kid fishing. If she is out there with her pole for hours catching nothing, she'll get bored and discouraged, start complaining and wanting to go home. But now let that kid catch a fish after all that time and she'll be rearing to go the next couple of uneventful hours. We remember the good times more than the bad because it allows us to move forward.

Not something you see everyday, especially sitting on your couch. Even after a rainy day I had a great after-work evening hunt.

While hunting, if you remember all the blisters, the cold and the wet, and the missed opportunities, then you'd never go hunting again. For me this season, I was burnt out half-way through archery season. I was ready to take a break and not hunt for a weekend. Then I called in a bull with a friend of mine and I was immediately fired up to go out again! Then I think about all the hunting of seasons' past where Dad and I killed whitetail bucks on the last weekend of the season. When someone asks me how those hunting seasons went I respond by remembering and retelling the tale of that day, not the 6 weeks prior of not seeing any animals. Keep remembering the good and you'll be itchin' to get back out there year after year.

3. When I get back from hunt, the first question people ask is, "Did you get anything?" I may be more excited about answering if I were more consistent in harvesting game so maybe this is a cop-out. However, there is so much more to hunting than just pulling the trigger or letting loose an arrow. Success needs to be defined more along the lines of having a good time, getting out alive and well, experiencing the glory of God's creation, and building better relationships with your hunting buddies. Getting an animal is just icing on top of an already delicious cake of experience. Define success along these lines instead of killing a trophy and I think you will have a lifetime of fulfillment.

2010's "icing on the cake": I harvested a whitetail doe filling my B-tag and putting fresh meat in the freezer.

4. Learn from your mistakes. I've heard people define insanity as "doing something over and over again while expecting different results." If it's not working, fix it. One of the best ways to get better at something is to figure out what went wrong and find a way to make it work. Next hunting season I'm going to be a lot better at calling, knowing when to draw back my bow, and finding the best hunting areas mostly because I didn't do a very good job at it this year. It's pretty easy to climb a ladder when you set the rungs pretty low, but you still have to climb it, eh?

On the flip side of this, don't second guess yourself. Don't beat yourself up with "woulda's" and "shoulda's" and "coulda's". Let's think scientifically about it. All you know about a mistake is that the results didn't turn out the way you wanted it to. If you had done something different, the hunt has a good chance of not going the way you planned it too. You have no way of performing the experiment again on that same day with the same situation. For example, I drew my bow back on that bull in September and he trotted away. I can speculate on what would have happened had I drawn back earlier or later, but will never know for sure. He may have turned and ran the same way. All I can do is learn from the experience and try something else the next chance I get. There would be nothing worse than freezing on the next opportunity because I was still thinking about making the same mistake.

5. Finally, don't fear the nap. You can be as extreme and hardcore as you want, but if you don't tone it down every once in a while you're going to fall apart...literally. Our bodies need rest to have recover and gain energy back for the next big push. I have never really been a nap person. I struggle to fall asleep and then am worthless for about an hour after I have to wake up, stumbling around with my brain in a fog. But I am learning that if I listen to my body and nap when it needs it, then I don't have that problem. Some of the best hunting days this season were those that started way before the crack of dawn and saw us hiking out to the truck in the dark, mostly because it also usually meant a nap on a sunny, warm, grassy slope.

Ahh, that's the life.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hoover Dam Bridge

View from the bridge. The guy beside me didn't know that his rear was going to be famous...

Officially called the "Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge," this feat of civil engineering (hence why I was so interested in it) spans the Colorado River near the Hoover Dam, a crazy historical project in its own right. The bridge was first proposed in the days following September 11th, 2001 when the country went on hyper-alert for more potential acts of terrorism. Traffic following Hwy 93 from Arizona into Nevada was restricted since it crossed the dam itself; the need for a bridge to divert traffic around the dam was immediately apparent.

My mom had originally suggested that I make it a point to visit the newly opened bridge after she had seen an article in the paper. I lucked out and my intended travel path from the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas to meet someone to climb in the Red Rocks. Crossing the Colorado River kind of sneaks up on you while driving 93. Drivers can see Boulder City across the way and you know that you must be getting near the dam. All of a sudden, though, you are on the bridge without a whole lot of sign-age notice. Unfortunately sitting in your car you can't see anything (no river, no dam) since the bridge is lined by tall concrete barriers.

View of the Hoover Dam from the bridge.

Thankfully there is an exit that takes you back to walking lane of the bridge and the dam visitor center. I went back to the parking area, after having my truck examined by security since it was filled to the brim with all my gear including some propane containers and a 2 gallon jug of gasoline...whoops! Then I walked across the bridge, snapped some photos, and tried to imagine the process it took to build something like the this bridge or even the Hoover Dam itself. What incredible achievements in the history of humankind.

First time I've ever been in Nevada!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Homemade Cliff Bars

I've been wanting to make my own version of the Cliff Bar for several years now, in attempts to cheapen the cost of an energy bar and just because I feel like it should be easy. Well, I finally made my first attempt this week. I searched lots of sites on the internet for a general ratio of ingredients. Practical Hacks had the closest to what I was looking for, so my recipe is bases loosely on "Kevin's." However, I definitely added my own twists: the biggest being adding chia seeds and quinoa flakes. These ingredients are well known for their incredible nutritional value and were/are staples in the diets of early civilizations/current people in Mexico and Peru, respectively. (I might post another discussion on these but I don't want to get into too much detail right now.) Thus I am dubbing my version of the Power Bar or Cliff Bar the "Bars of the Ancients." And if I add flax seed, which was prevalent in the diets of ancient Egyptians, it will fit even more...

And success! The bars came out very tasty. I added dried cranberries and chopped almonds (although it took waaay too long to chop the nuts, maybe use a blender next time?) and the flavor was tasty. I may have baked them too long, and winded up slightly burning a couple, but I wanted to make sure and cook the eggs enough so as not to kill my taste-testers. In the future I will be experimenting with adding some spices and fiddling with the ingredient ratio even more.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Edge of Never

" a skier I know that taking control requires moving toward the thing you most fear. On very steep terrain, everything in your being screams, Back off! Get away from the edge! But you learn to ignore those voices and move toward the emptiness because if you lean away from the void and into the slope, your ski bases tilt and you lose your edge--the only thing holding you to the hill. Lose your edge at the wrong moment, and it could be the last thing you ever do. Control comes from squaring your shoulders, reaching out and planting your pole down the hill, and moving with complete conviction toward the abyss. It's a thrilling, counterintuitive, high-stakes dance, and it's become my one enduring faith."

William "Bill" Kerig's The Edge of Never was to me a retrospective look at the extreme ski industry. He tries to tackle tough questions in his own life; questions that are important for anyone who has fun in the mountains to ask themselves. Why do we ski? What is the limit to which I can push myself?

The book chronicles Kerig's pursuit to make a ski documentary that will answer these questions to a wider audience. The thread that will hold it all together is a father-son story of Kye Peterson and his father Trevor. Trevor was killed in an avalanche in Chamounix. Kye has become one of the rising stars in the Canadian ski circuit and Kerig wants to take the 15 year old kid to Cham and film him retracing his dad's footprints or, more appropriately, his ski tracks. Through the mentorship of Anselme Baud, author of the Chamounix skiing "bible", Kye learns to ski the steeps becoming a man in the eyes of the filmmakers and guides. He becomes himself, gaining an identity separate from his father's. The kid ultimately skis the Exit Couloir where Trevor was killed, putting a finality on his graduation into the ranks of elite skiers like Glen Plake and Mike Hattrup.

Kerig questions himself the entire book on his role as a film director and the responsibility he has over the lives of the skiers he is wanting to shoot. He skied professionally and so understands the other side of the story. Skiers (and anyone for that matter) act differently and do things they wouldn't normally do while being filmed. Is this fair to put people's lives at risk in attempts of making a ski movie? He ends the narrative describing a day skiing with his family. You have to find a balance, he says, between acceptable risk and responsibility. It's up to each one to find where they are comfortable, but they should at least confront the question at some point in their lives. For me, I'm definitely on the conservative side, but I'm still trying to find that balance. It helps by finding authors like Kerig and Steve House who are willing to tackle some of the same questions that I struggle with.

"There are no guarantees. This is a lesson that the mountains teach. Humility and gratitude are the benefits of such an education and may be the best reasons for sharing this life with others. I think Anselme was right. It's beautiful, sometimes, and anyway, the mountains are here. We must take the best of the mountains and follow life."

Note: If you have seen the movie Steep, which Kerig co-produced, you may be asking why you never saw any of this story in the footage. That's because a tragic accident during the filming causes a lid to be put on the project, and ultimate control of the film in another director's hands. You'll have to read the book to find out what happens, or watch the film of the same title which was finally made recently. I for one am now hungry to see the footage that the book talked about so in depth.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Blast from the Past

View of the mesa along the road in Mesa Verde NP. It's amazing the elevation that you gain from the highway up to the dwellings.

I need to mention the 5th and 6th National Parks that I visited on my journey, Mesa Verde and the Petrified Forest respecively, together since they were different than all the other Parks I visited, yet extremely similar to each other. (One similarity is that neither were on my initial list of places to visit on this road trip, it just worked out!) The management of both had a focus on history and preservation of the past. This is due in part to not being able to blow visitors away with stunning vistas, majestic mountains, or giant trees. I have to admit that their offerings wouldn't normally appeal to me. In all the hustle and bustle of my life I want access to mountains and trails not historic information. However, it was important for me to pause and appreciate the past, getting out of myself, and experiencing a place that I might only ever see in pictures on the internet.

A distant view of the Cliff Palace.

I have been to Mesa Verde NP before, when I was a young whipper-snapper, and have some vague memories of the visit but wanted to experience it again. I was on my way from Moab, Utah to Stillwater, OK trying to cover some ground the evening of Wednesday so Thursday wouldn't be such a long drive. Thus I arrived at the entrance in the late afternoon and rushed to get to the ruins before closing time. Alas, I didn't make the drive across the mesa to the Cliff Palace of the Anasazis before they closed the area. You can't hike down into the ruins without the supervision of a Ranger, and I just missed the last available group tour. They are extremely protective of the ruins and I can understand why when it's the nature of so many people to be disrespectful, messy, and even destructive when presented with wonders in an outside setting. It was however incredible just to stand on the edge of the canyon and look down across the way to the adobe city believed to have been built in the 12th-13th centuries. Not to mention the view of the surrounding area from such a high "island" of the mesa was stunning both on the drive in and out.

Me in front of a large log of petrified wood. The picture doesn't do justice to the incredible colors contained in the chunk of old wood. You could even see the tree's rings in various colors of the minerals!

The Petrified Forest is located directly on Interstate 40 and I couldn't help but stop when driving by on my way to see the Grand Canyon (this put me a little behind on my itinerary, see the GC Post, but well worth it). As a part of the "painted desert" the Park had spectacular views of beautifully colored sandstone layers now visible due to erosion of the stone. In addition, the stream beds and washes which were dry when I arrived were able to sustain human inhabitants long ago and evidence of their dwellings and rock art were visible all over. As I understand it the minerals in the exposed sandstone undergo a chemical process (I don't remember if it was oxidizing or not...) and the surface gains a hard, varnished shell. This shell is what historical peoples chipped away to create the petroglyphs, creating pictures from tiny chipped-out dots. Unknown and separate to the artists of the time, they could be considered the first users of Pointillism, a branch of Impressionistic art in the late 1800's. My favorite painting is of a giant bird with a long curved beak that becomes the arm of a tiny human stick figure. I am humorously surmising that the artist of the bird got "pranked." Can you picture someone coming back to their picture and finding that someone had added a person making it look like he was being eaten by the bird? Modern pranksters would probably include some kind of speech balloon for the person being eaten...

Some of the petroglyphs I saw. Notice the "Bird and the Man" in the center?

The park gets its name from the petrified wood that is found in abundance in the area. Supposedly in the age of dinosaurs this area was a large wetland sort of like river delta and a giant forest was located upstream. Huge trees were washed down a river, similar to what happens today in rivers during spring run-off, and collected in the wetland. Over time the trees were covered by sediment, the living cells being replaced by minerals like gypsum, and Voila! were petrified. Now they are being uncovered as the soil is being removed by various forces of weathering. I was pretty cool to witness. Yet another excuse to "geek out" about rocks this adventure!

A gypsum bridge: the log was suspended when a stream eroded the softer rock above and below it. There is a concrete beam and pillars supporting the log added many years ago in an effort to preserve the phenomenon.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Grandest of Canyons

Entrance to the Grandest Canyon that I've ever been to.

Just like the Canyonlands National Park, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I drove in to experience the Grand Canyon. When I hear the word canyon I picture a crack in the earth, steep-walled, with an abrupt edge, and a river flowing through the bottom. Maybe this would be a better description of a gorge, I don't know. So when I hear that the Grand Canyon (GC) is 10 miles wide from rim to rim, that is what I picture: two rock walls carved out by a river separated by 10 miles of air. This is not necessarily the case, as I soon found out.

Self-portrait on the hike down the South Kaibab trail, close to the beginning of my trek.

I was running little late arriving at the GC, trying to stretch too thin the time I allotted myself between Abilene and meeting someone in Las Vegas to rock climb and driving through an unplanned National Park that beckoned from the edge of the Interstate itself. Fueling up in Flagstaff, I made some last minute phone calls and ate some lunch before heading up the road (and up the mountains) around 1 in the afternoon. I was feeling the pressure: I didn't just want to see the GC, I wanted to experience it, and my grand plan was to hike down to the Colorado River and back that day. Before I did anything else though, I parked my pickup and following the flow of other tourists to the canyon overlook and lost my breath. Not from the strenuous hike up the paved walk-way, mind you, but from the incredible grandeur of the canyon. You see, it's not as simple as I had thought in my head. It doesn't drop straight down to the river with sheer cliffs on both sides (in fact you can't even see the river from the rim), rather the sides of the canyon seem to heave downwards, grasping at the vertical but not quite reaching it. Towers of colorfully layered sandstone stand across the gap while ridges and fins stretch perpendicular to the canyon itself. Funny, but the word "canyonland" comes to mind better than trying to imagine one single canyon. Before I became too lost in my trance, trying to take in the enormity of such an immense geological phenomenon, I turned against the tide of onlookers and caught my breath because I knew I would need it for what I had planned next.

The furthest point recommended by the Park Service for hiking down and back in a day, S. Kaibab Trail.

My goal was a loop following the South Kaibab trail, down to the Colorado River, cross on the Kaibab suspension bridge, past the Ranger Station/mule house, and back across the river on another bridge leading to the Bright Angel Trail, which would ultimately take my back to the canyon rim. The park service's website says the S. Kaibab Trail, from the rim to the river, is 6.3 miles and loses 4860 vertical feet of elevation while the Bright Angel Trail would gain 4460 ft in 7.8 miles. Being the smart person I am, I decided to jog the paved rim trail from the Visitor Center parking lot to the S. Kaibab Trail Head, adding several miles and gaining several hundred vertical feet. The kicker of my proposed journey: I left my vehicle at 2:15 in the afternoon, meaning my "hike" had now become a "trail run." Thankfully I was able to cover the majority of the 18.6 miles (distance according to my GPS) before it got dark, ending at the Bright Angel Lodge in 4 hours and 45 minutes. I was worked, to say the least, and promptly drove to the nearest fastfood place and celebrated with a Micky-D's cheeseburger, fries, and hot chocolate!

The hike/run was unbelievable. Being there in November meant that it was cool enough to exert that much and traveling in the late afternoon and evening meant seeing some spectacular lighting on both sides of the canyon. I was in awe of the rippling layers of sandstone, the beautiful flow of the river, and even the evidence of amazing human feats of engineering and took more than fifty pictures despite the fact that I wanted to cover so much ground in as little time as possible.

A handful of Colorado River water!

I have some family connections with the GC. My granddad was an incredible man of the mountains in his own right and it's likely that his influence on my mom is responsible for my love of the outdoors. He took my mom and the rest of their family on a back packing trip in the GC many years ago, along the same route that I traveled, and my mom later did the overnight trip again with some friends in college. I found out from my aunt that he had quite an adventure running with some buddies down to the river and attempting to make it back to the rim with very little food and water. My thoughts along the trail were on my Grandpa Ron, hoping that God allowed him to watch my trek. I wish I could see the look on his face when the little squirt that he took for "hikes" on the road behind his house in Cedar Crest, New Mexico was now running for miles in the Grand Canyon. Much love to you Granddad.
The bridge crossing the River at the bottom of the S. Kaibab Trail.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Back Home!

Driving 6600 miles, through 13 states: mentally taxing,
Burning 311 gallons of gasoline: hard on the pocketbook,
Not being able to make it two hours home due to vehicle malfunction: frustratingly comical,
Visiting 12 National Parks and seeing a ton of friends and family: priceless!

For those of you following my road trip on my blog, I have finally arrived back at home after 24 days on the road. What a trip! I enjoyed every minute of it and feel extremely blessed by the love I felt from friends and family seen along the way. Montana greeted me home with winter, and I was able to climb up and make some turns on the local ski area one day this weekend. The forecast this week is for several days of below zero temperatures and potential snow, a far cry from the 80 degree weather I experienced in Death Valley a week ago. Employment is on my mind currently as I think about earning my keep at home, paying off student loans, and saving up for more adventurous trips this spring. The search will go on! Long live the Year Off!

Airport Security

I don't know about anyone else out there but I for one want to be "secure" when I'm up in the air. I'm a little disappointed with public reaction to TSA's increased security measures. The argument between privacy and public interest is tough and one to which I don't have the answer. However I do know that people are fickle and they will complain and rant against inconvenience in airport terminals, but as soon as someone gets through the checkpoints with a gun, explosive device, or knife they will say that TSA isn't doing their job. This puts the TSA in a tough spot: take every precaution to prevent sabotage or bow to public demands of comfort and convenience.

Pause a moment and take a look at yourself. Do you have wings? Not even feathers? So you're saying you wouldn't be able to fly without the modern technology of jets or airplanes? I would take that to mean that flight is a privilege, albeit one that we've come to take for granted. It's pretty convenient to be able to "hop the Pond" and be basically anywhere in the world in less than 48 hours: good for international business, good for experiencing new places, good for seeing friends and family. I really appreciated flying in South America while studying abroad in college. Every time the plane landed, the passengers would all break out in applause thanking the captain and crew for the safe flight. It seems like more of us spoiled Americans should have the same attitude.

The next time you have a flight somewhere, leave enough time to go through security before your plane leaves, placate the security crew (they're just doing their job to protect you), and enjoy the ride.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My Peeps

Last weekend was all about seeing good friends from school in Abilene. It was a whirlwind couple of days and I feel very grateful that I was able to see as many amigos as I did. Whenever people in Montana ask me how I "managed" to go to school in Texas, I shrug and say the people made it worth it. To be honest Abilene really isn't a special place, just like a roof and walls don't make a Home, it's the relationships that I was able to build over the course of four years that created the magic.

On Thursday night, I met my former roommate Marc in Stillwater, OK for dinner. We went to Eskimo Joes: an eclectic place internationally famous for its t-shirts displaying their smiling eskimo mascot. (By the way, Stillwater is where the Wrestling Hall of Fame is located. I saw the building, but was unable to go inside due to time commitments elsewhere. Pretty cool nonetheless.) Rolling down to Ft. Worth, I caught Branson for lunch and a quick catch-up conversation before he starts his new life as a married man. Friday night, I got to hang out and play Scrabble to the tune of hot cocoa and brownies with some pretty cool cats. Thanks bunches gals of 1217 and Bonnie! Saturday night was another game night (playing cribbage) at a hip local coffee shop called Mes Amis with Laura; getting coffee is a tradition that I want to keep alive for a long time.

I don't know how this worked out, but that Saturday turned out to be an Adopt-a-Crag cleanup event at Lake Brownwood. I was lucky enough to be able to attend, got a prize for driving the furthest distance to the event, and pull on some rock with my fellow Abilene climbers. As always I need to give a shout-out to my friend Eric's blog: Abilene Climbers. Check it out for good thoughts and trip reports from a fellow climbing hardman-turned-thoughtful writer...

Two of the coolest people in the world: Ben and Mary!

New-routing on virgin rock exposed by a low water level in the lake. From left to right: Asa, Eric (climbing), Jacob, and Tyler; strong climbers and outdoorsmen every one.

May the ACU-Outdoor Club live forever! I love smiling faces. Jessica (left), Jordan, Asa, Ryker, and Dillon.

What a joy it was on Sunday to be able to worship with my family at Minter Lane Church of Christ. It gives special meaning to songs lifted up to God when you are able to praise him with long missed friends. Plus, I was grateful to be able to worship with other people in general: out in my own little "cathedral" in the mountains and woods, I can experience God but not like celebrating our God with his Church. I teared up seeing good friends when I first walked in and was immediately greeted with hugs! After class, we had a big Thanksgiving meal together complete with turkey, stuffing, cranberry relish, and expressions of what we are thankful for.

Matthew 17:4 is quickly becoming the verse to describe my trip. I picture Peter being so overwhelmed by Jesus' transfiguration, as well as seeing Moses and Elijah, that he can't think of anything to say or do. With all the emotion and joy, all he can come up with is, "Lord, it is good for us to be here." Climbing, worshiping, and just plain hugging good friends overwhelms me and all that comes to mind is "It is good to be here!" and to thank God for allowing it to happen. There is a cool aspect to solitude on the road, being by myself, calling all the shots. But it's missing something if there aren't others involved. Something to note for the future.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Land of Canyons

I went into Canyonlands National Park expecting to be able to hike through the smooth-sided slot canyons that I've seen so often in canyoneering pictures. However, I realize now that those are more the arena of Bryce Canyon or Zion National Parks. Must be a different kind of sandstone or something. Even though my expectations were not fulfilled, the region was awe-inspiring on a completely different scale. The Island in the Sky district of the Park is so named because the canyons formed by the Green River and the Colorado River come together forming a sort of peninsula in the sky. Then there are two levels too, since there is a layer of "white rim" caprock that is more wear resistant than the surrounding stone. Thus the view from several viewpoints was incredible: deep canyons as far as the eye can see.

For my activity in this Park, I took a hike around the Syncline Loop. The loop was a little longer than 11 miles and took me through some pretty amazing country. Spectacular! I started in the dark, but quickly realized that I needed to stop and wait since I was missing the amazing views of the canyons. The trail was hard to follow in many places, as advertised at the trailhead, but that added to the experience. It looped in and out of several dry washes and creek bottoms. I could find my way by spotting cairns and tracking previous hikers. I took the side trail into Upheaval Crater to find myself in this crazy area with piles upon piles of eroded sandstone of all different colored; a giant storage closet for the materials to create the fantastic sandstone formations of the surrounding area.

Upheaval Crater

Back on the Syncline trail I hoofed it back to my truck, drove to the Grand Overlook, to try and spy the confluence of the Green River and the Colorado. There was a kiosk that pointed out where the two rivers came together, but I couldn't really see it. From my view on the Island in the Sky, I just had to take their word for it that there was water flowing, carving, shaping the landscape thousands of feet below.

Looking down from the Grande Overlook. Notice the white edge of the canyon in the right/center of the photo: it's the edge of the "second tier" of the Island in the sky. The next level down would be the river level.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Riding in Moab

Looking back toward the river in mid-climb up the Moab Rim trail.

Tuesday was my “Experience Moab Mountain-Biking Day.” I got up in the morning from a BLM campground right on the Colorado River near the trailhead for the Moab Rim trail, made some breakfast, and took off on one of the steepest rock trails I’ve ever been on. The first mile was pretty rough and I had to hike-a-bike a lot. Reaching the rim gave views of the Moab valley and the entire city below. I didn’t realize that the city of Moab was so big. Then the trail took off down the ridge following a jeep road. I missed the turn that took the “high road” and wound up in the “Extremely Sandy” portion of the trail, according to the trail map. I was grateful to have missed the turn however, since it took me by some pretty incredible sandstone cliffs, caves, and future arches. It was also in the bottom of a drainage which kept it cooler.

The road rejoined the section that had missed then took a sharp right and turned into the Hidden Valley hiking trail. This single track trail wound up to a pass and dropped into the Hidden Valley: a shallow grassy meadow about 200 yards wide in the midst several rock cliffs. For the mountain biker like myself, it was a dream flying down through the meadow. What it didn’t have in width, it made up in length. I rocked and rolled down about 2 miles of buffed-out single track. This ended at the Barney Rubble Hike-a-Bike back down to the Hidden Valley hikers’ trailhead. Once back on the floor of the Moab valley I rode the Under the Lines road back to the pavement and ultimately back to my truck. Whew! What a morning loop.

Enjoying a view from the pass, about to drop into the Hidden Valley.

After some lunch, I had to go experience the Slickrock Trail. You have to pay a 5 dollar entry fee in order to get into the County park, but it was worth every penny to ride on an internationally renowned trail. And if I thought the landscape in Arches or on the Moab Rim road resembled Mars, this took the cake. I really don’t know what I was expecting to ride at “Slickrock,” maybe some sandy trails interspersed with slabs of sandstone. However, the “trail” hardly ever touches dirt or sand: you’re riding on rolling hills and fins of sandstone, following a painted trail the whole way! And there are some unbelievably steep ups and downs. I have to say that I was really sketched out at first, probably freaked out from all the warnings of “Don’t ride if you don’t have the skills” or “Not for Novices…” After the first 15 minutes all I could do was get off my bike, sit down in the shade, breath, and pray for courage to keep riding. Yikes. However, by the end of the 12 mile loop, I was feeling the flow, hopping rocks, and charging the steeps. And the views themselves were worth the any fear or suffering! :)

The trail on the Slickrock Trail was a painted dotted line with directions like this written around too.

A taste of the Mars-like landscape. Can you find the jeep?

Finally feeling the flow!

Moab riding is fun-omenal, although different than anything I’ve ridden in Montana or Texas. I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys mountain biking. However, I wish that I was able to spend some more time there, experience some of the culture, ride some more trails, and above all have some rest days between big rides: I was worked after the slickrock trail!

Seeing Life in the Desert

Green on the slopes looking toward the La Sal Mountains.

Trees growing in a hidden alcove on the way to the Delicate Arch.

It really surprised me to seeing how much “life” there was in the sandy desert of the Moab area. Shrubs, grasses, and even trees seemed to flourish in an arid landscape. The soil has got to have low nutrients, get minimal water during the year, and maximum heat and sun, but the plants and animals seem to get along fine. I saw lizards, squirrels, and deer tracks too. For me, I struggled all week to stay hydrated. It was as though the dry air sucked the moisture right out of me. I never really felt like I was sweating a lot, but I figure that it was just evaporating so fast that I never could tell I was wet. The plants and animals in the area must have some pretty crazy traits that allow them to hold their water.

A close examination of the soil in many places reveals some dark “stuff” holding it all together. Informational signs tell you not to “Bust the Crust,” meaning these blackish mounds were colonies of living organisms that held the soil together, allowing it to hold moisture and releasing nutrients from the sandy soil. Crazy! Who would’ve thought that something so small would be so influential in sustaining life like that? It reminds me of scientific findings on Mars, where there is potentially life in underground seas or under the icecaps. Space explorers should come and train in Moab…
Cottonwood bottom along the Syncline Trail, Canyonlands.

Don't Bust the Crust: notice the black raised-up soil, entire colonies of micro-organisms!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Arches, Arches, and more Arches!

Thumbs up and smiles for a beautiful ride in Arches National Park!

I was lucky enough to greet the sun Monday morning while driving into the hopping little town of Moab, Utah. Bleary-eyed from a night at a truck stop it was nice to feel the warm rays of the sun and get my bearings in a very foreign landscape. I've never been to any place like the Moab area before: giant sandstone canyons, cliffs, towers, and crags everywhere. November is a good time to visit since I picture it being extremely hot during the summer. But it's still able to thrive and be green due to the presence of the Colorado River. The area is definitely an adventure-seeking tourist destination: campgrounds and guiding companies are advertised everywhere and there is access to trails for any off-road transportation imaginable (thankfully this includes mountain bikes...).

Prints left in the rock from dinosaurs found near the road.

With a full tank of fuel in the Champ, I headed back out to the Bar M trailhead, put together my bike, and took off on my first ride in the desert of Utah! My plan was to ride into Arches National Park via a back road and then make a loop back to my truck. It was an interesting style of riding: on sand, through washes, over sandstone slabs, all following a jeep road, but the views were phenomenal. Blue skies and sunshine abounded, giving a full view of the surrounding sandstone features peppering the otherwise barren landscape.

The feature on the right is called the Sheep's Head, can you see it? And can you see the "Baby Arch" on the right? These columns are though to be connected by an arch at some point.

The back road that I rode on hit the main Park road at the Balancing Rock, an interesting pillar of rock created when the softer stone of the base was eroding faster than the round block on top leaving a top-heavy looking balancing act. I then flew back down the pavement to the Park entrance, it was tough to keep focussed on the road for the endless distractions around me. No canopy of a vehicle to block any view and no windshield to block the wind whistling past my face, it was exhilarating.

The obligatory entry-sign-photo...

Back on the paved bike path that parallels highway 191 north toward a lot of the riding destinations, I was making the loop back to my truck when I saw a sign for the Killer B Hike-a-Bike up to the Bar M trails. Naturally I had to check it out seeing as how I was getting bored with riding a paved, so I hauled my bike up a pretty gnarly section of trail, hit the Bar B, Bar M, and Rockin’ A trails, and rumbled back to my pickup.

Me in front of the Balancing Rock.

Then the Little Champ took me for a driving tour of Arches NP, deciding to go all the way into the Park. I parked at the Devil’s Garden trail head and went for a jaunt down “Arches Alley.” It seemed as though there were sandstone arches every half mile down the trail: the Window arch, the Pine Tree arch, the Double O arch, the Navajo arch, the Private arch… It was very cool to see features like the Landscape Arch that are featured in hiking brochures and classic photos advertising the Park. You can make the hike into a loop by taking the “Primitive Trail” back, adding a little extra mileage but making it worth your while, escaping other tourists for some solitude and providing cool hiking terrain: scrambling over rocks, around pools, and down through some slots and sandy washes.

At the Landscape Arch. A 60 foot slab of rock fell from the thinnest part in 1991. Go see it quick before it all falls down!

With a couple hours of day light left, I couldn’t resist the hike into the Delicate Arch. The mile and a half hike leaves the road and takes you up some smooth sandstone before curving around the backside of the arch. They have ground a path up the rock, complete with stairs in some places, to provide safer travels for people to see the picturesque location. And what a treat to be there at sunset! The arch is the most photographed in the world, and rightly so with a sweeping sandstone bowl leading up to the arch itself and a backdrop of the snowy La Sal mountains behind.

I was fortunate to be up there with time to just sit and process a lot of the things that I had seen that day, doing a little writing in my notebook, and reflecting on the awesome power of our Creator. It is understandable that humanity has such an affinity for shape, form, beauty, and art knowing that God has a similar eye. I am thankful for the treats that he shares with us.

The Delicate Arch at sunset. Supposedly a picture is worth a thousand words, but my little camera will never be able to do justice to the grandeur of such amazing time and place.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Trip Update

sWhew! The time is flying by, I must be staying busy. No idle hands here.
I'm currently sitting in a McDonald's in Amarillo (did you know McDonalds has wireless? I didn't before now...), checking email, and trying to update my blog. It's been tough to keep up with everything!

For now here's a short run-down of the trip:
  • 5 National Parks visited
  • 1 County Park
  • 1 State Park
  • Biked 63+ miles
  • Hiked 31+ miles
  • Driven through 7 states (that's a lot of miles!)
Stay tuned for specific updates on Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, and biking in Moab...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Eldorado Canyon

I met Alex in Laramie Friday afternoon and got a brief tour of the Ag facilities on the UWyo campus. Being in an academic environment, especially in a graduate school arena, makes me want to go back to school. Although I feel the draw of skiing, climbing, and no studying for the next year more. After some brief packing at his house, Alex and I were off in a two rig caravan toward Golden to visit our other “brother from another mother,” Nathan.

As usual the traffic in Denver was atrocious, particularly if you’re a down-home Montana boy who doesn’t experience bumper to bumper action very often. When we met up with Nathan, he escorted us to downtown Golden for some pizza and brews at Woody’s: it was fantastic! And the conversation was first-rate as well. It is always good to catch up with old friends. Back at the apartment we schemed together for the next day’s adventure in Eldorado Canyon near Boulder.

Historical roots of Colorado climbing, and the rest of the world for that matter, run deep in Eldo (the affectionate nickname used by most climbers). Names like Roger Briggs and Layton Kor got their start here. It was this generation of Colorado hardmen that paved the way for modern day free climbing. They revolutionized the thinking of the average climber, first by aid climbing unbelievable lines and then discovering that they could be climbed free (using ropes and protection, but without directly pulling or standing on anything but the rock). Test pieces like the Naked Edge (5.11b) and the Diving Board (5.12?) are still the material of climbing movies and magazines.

And there we were, surrounded by all the past. We were fired up to climb together before arriving, but the feeling in the air took it to the next level. Our little crew geared up and threw ourselves at the 5 pitch Bastille Crack (5.7). The guidebook we had said that this climb is the second most sought after in the canyon and internationally renowned. I think its claim to fame is due to several factors: it’s very close to the parking lot, it’s a moderate multi-pitch, and it’s a great crack climb in an area that doesn’t have a whole lot of them. With 3 people climbing it was quite the endeavor reaching the summit of the Bastille, but each of us climbed solidly and with purpose. Tired, hungry, and thirsty upon reaching the top, we retreated back to the car for lunch and another plan of attack.

We decided on Breakfast in Bed, a one pitch 5.8 that we wouldn’t have a problem finishing before the day was over. In the parking lot, we were accosted by a gal on a bicycle who introduced herself as Megan. She was up by herself and looking for some climbing partners, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble. Feeling like we didn’t have any reason to say no, we increased our expedition by a member. I led the climb and there are few times when I was scared more on lead. The climbing was peculiar in that the protection was in a dihedral, but the best holds were on the face around the corner to the right of the crack. The holds were “juggy” but the route was overhung and pulling onto the face after placing pro was a bit exposed to say the least. Megan followed me up, removing gear as she came, and then rapped off to rejoin the others. We had been having trouble communicating from belayer to climber all day long and with some more frustrating attempts at conveyed simple commands like “Lower,” neither Nathan and Alex were able to finish the route. However, I’m just happy that some sort of gut instinct prevailed and we all ended the day safely.

The next morning was a little more subdued, and there was a lot less conversation over breakfast, due mostly I think to a lack of energy. But when a couple of Halloween costumes got busted out, the fire was back. We headed back into the canyon with our sights on V3, another single pitch 5.8. As we got out of the car, I recognized the John Gill Boulder, dredging up still some more climbing history from our memories. Needless to say, we had to scramble around on it in our costumes for some pictures… The approach to the day’s climb was long, taking about 35 minutes up a steep hillside. It never hurts to be warmed up for a climb though. The route turned out to be a superb crack climb in a dihedral nestled amongst two fins of rock. I could see the bottom from the belay on top and communication thankfully never was an issue that morning.
Back at Nathan’s apartment, Alex and I packed up our gear and we all said good bye. Eldorado Canyon has a lot of history in the climbing world, and it now has a connection to me. I will never forget these times with some of the best friends I’ve ever had, how climbing brings us closer together, strengthening our friendship and our brotherhood.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Public Land Rant

On the drive down to meet up with my buddy Alex in Laramie, WY I wanted to get out of the truck and move around a little. Looking on the map I found a section of the Medicine Bow National Forest near I-80 and hoped I could find an access point to a trail or a dirt road that I could run on. However, I ran into an interesting pickle: the Pitcher-Brokaw road that provided access to the National Forest wound through private land and ultimately "stopped" with the posting of "Private Road" signs. Not wanting to cause a fuss, I parked the Champ, changed my clothes, and took a jog back down the road.

It frustrates me that private landowners are able to block access to public land. Earlier this hunting season a buddy of mine and I were unable to gain access to some BLM land on an obvious BLM road, due to "No Trespassing" signs on private property. There is also a huge section of the Swan Range back home near Kalispell, from the Columbia Mountain trailhead to the Strawberry Lake trail that has no public access due to a lack of access points across private property. It doesn't seem fair that a landowner can block other people's access so that they can have a large section of land for their own enjoyment tax free.

I understand that we in America seem to have an inherent right to private property, but since we are all basically owners of the public land spread over the country we should have the right to access. I don't really have a solution for various access problems since it all takes money to maintain trails, roads, etc., but I just needed to blow off some steam. If any of you have a brilliant solution, or want to put me in my place, I'd love a response.