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.