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.