Friday, February 25, 2011

Cold Skiing

I've been having an absolute blast this past week skiing all the fresh snow that we've been getting. It's been tough to have to work these past two days, but I can't complain about skiing five days in a row.

Chris on Sunday afternoon heading out of bounds off the backside of the resort. Avy conditions were solid and surprisingly had the sidecountry relatively to ourselves. 

Last weekend was warm and clear at the resort. With no new recent snow for a couple of days I did multiple laps out of bounds into the side country with various friends and skied fantastic untracked snow for minimal effort. "Slackcountry" at it's finest!

Monday, my friend Chris and I headed into the actual backcountry in the Middle Fork for some great turns in blower snow. The conditions were incredible: really cold, deep, dry powder sitting on a firm base. We dug a pit and found the snowpack to be very stable. Our most memorable part of the day happened when Chris cartwheeled down a roller, stuck his ski under a firmer crust, and ejected from it. We spent probably 20-30 minutes probing around until he finally found the sucker! We couldn't have had better weather either and were wished a hearty good bye from the fat snowflakes starting to fall as we left our high point.

Putting on really cold wax for cold days on the mountain. We waxed our skis especially in preparation for Telemark Race league Thursday night but they canceled the race due to cold temps and high winds. Bummer, I really wanted to go stand around the top of the course waiting my turn in sub-zero weather... 

Tuesday and Wednesday were very cold at Big Mountain, with sub-freezing temperatures and gusty winds pushing the summit temps to -30 F with windchill. Needless to say, the lift ride was a little brutal but the snow was fun-tastic to say the least. Both days I was skiing my favorite lines well into the afternoon and still finding un-tracked lines of creamy, fresh snow. Tuesday was a my technical day and skiing by myself allowed me to challenge my skills without having to race to catch someone else or worry that the buddy following me would be comfortable skiing some gnarly stuff. I was particularly proud of a couple runs down North Bowl Chute. The conditions were great, I nailed all my turns, and blasted into the great snow out in the apron...twice! Skiing alone has its advantages but skiing with friends is much more enjoyable, and I had some great company on Wednesday. The ski posse was up there tearing it up. I wish I had some photos to share, especially of us huddled miserably on the chair, but it was too cold to want to even pull out a camera. Ha! I better get used to it if I want to document our Denali trip at all!

Why I Write

Writing, although enjoyable, have never been my strongest ability. In school, I knew how to get by, placating teachers with essays that I knew they would like.  I really enjoyed mathematical and scientific thinking: the objectivity, the discovery process, the "rules" that the natural world had to follow.  It wasn't just the written word either.  My sister and I devoured books growing up, developing a love for reading when we didn't have Television.  But the writing part of English class was just something I had to do pass my classes.  Never enjoyable. Never easy.

In the list below, I've tried to outline the reasons why I want to write and become a better composer of the written word.  The list is as much to encourage others as it is to remind myself that I do indeed want to continue writing.

1. Sharing my Life with My Family and Friends
Much of the original intention with this blog was to share my antics with my family of friends. I don't know if it will ever grow big enough to have a larger audience than that; I don't know if I want it to. There may be future pursuit of that elsewhere, but I want a small, personal, and very informal place in which to share my thoughts and aspirations. My extended family is pretty widely spread over the country and I don't see them very much. This documentation allows frequent "life updates" without scheduling phone calls. Also, I wouldn't describe myself as a very good communicator (see item number 3 below) and when I do have conversations via phone or email this blog hopefully provides conversation stimuli.

2. Documentation of my Outdoor Pursuits
I read a lot of blogs online, note the "Blogs I Follow" links in the right hand column, as well as various climbing and outdoor magazines (see item number 4 below). Naturally I developed a desire to document my own outdoor endeavors. It's probably a pipe dream, but to actually get paid or get gear compensation some day from an outdoor sports company or publication for my writing would be amazing. In addition, I have really enjoyed reflecting on the trips that I have been taking over the course of the last year or so. Writing stories down and posting them with pictures reminds me of how good the event actually was and I can go back and remember the time with more accuracy and vividness. Reflection on the events also allows me to go beyond a "Wow" phase that I often have during the course of the day and into an "Oh yeah" phase, connecting events and applying them to other parts of my life. They can't help but make me grateful for a creator God who has blessed me richly. I hope this is mirrored in my writing. And who knows, maybe all this will be material for a book that I write some day...

3. Become a Better Communicator
I find that I haven't been able to express myself very well in the past. Extended phone conversations were exhausting, coffee table-type conversation was a struggle, and any kind of debate was unheard of. By formulating my ideas and thoughts while writing (see also item number 5 below) it has allowed me to have more confidence in verbal communication. I can better express my feelings, desires, and opinions if I have thought about them in advance and then actually synthesize strong stances on new items more rapidly.

4. Provide some Output with all the Input
It was my senior year in college when I decided to start this blog, just under a year ago from writing this post. I was having discussion with a roommate of mine about how we are amazing consumers of media in this day and age. We are constantly being bombarded with information through books, magazines, the internet, television, and radio. But it doesn't truly affect us until we output something ourselves, when we wrap up all of the other opinions and facts out there and make it our own. Our college professors and other teachers have it figured out: you can lecture students all day long and assign them reading after reading but they won't actually learn the material unless you force them to react to it, whether that's writing a paper or solving a bunch of problems. Application of knowledge is when it really sticks in our brain.

5. To Develop my Ideas and Beliefs
Along the same lines of becoming a better communicator and balancing the output with the input, when I write I gain more control of who I am as a person. When I put my thoughts and feelings and opinions in words where I can reread them or change them, instead of flying randomly around in my head, it grounds me and lets me choose where I really stand. I find that I waffle a lot on tough issues, going along with the argument that I've heard most recently. But if I take the time to really think about an issue from all sides, taking into account all arguments that I've heard or read, and formulate them into my own statement or belief then later I'm am better prepared to communicate in conversation what I think. Certain topics of conversation, particularly politics and religion, seem to be considered taboo in  a lot of settings. I imagine this is because those beliefs come too close to define who we are as individuals and any discussion or conversation that would question them or make you take a stand for them makes us uncomfortable because we feel like like it is questioning who we are or we have to defend ourselves. Through writing, I find that this discomfort is somewhat diminished.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Born to Run

Numerous times I have told friends that I would never consider running a marathon. It's not that I don't enjoy running, I just didn't see wanting to put in the time to run enough to finish a 26.2 mile race. I thought it would take too much away from climbing, biking, or other activities that I love to do more. Then I read the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, and now I want to run an Ultra!

The book follows the development of a race held in the remote, rugged mountains of Copper Canyon in North Central Mexico on trails used by the Tarahumara people. The Tarahumara are the "Running People," living and breathing for churning their legs over rocky earth. This race brings together top Ultra runners from the U.S. with the locals, and even though the story gets excited when it looks like all the work is going to fall apart, the showdown goes down.

Intertwined throughout this story are side-notes about the running community, in a sense explaining why we were "born to run". There are sections on nutrition/diet, the trend of barefoot running, a great story about the Leadville 100, and a whole treatise on why humans have evolved to run. McDougall goes so far as to say that running is a "silver bullet" to treat the health problems rampant in the States: obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc. But over all of this is a theme of enjoyment while running. The secret of great Ultra runners like the Tarahumara or Scott Jurek is they run because they love to run. McDougall describes a look of joy on their faces.
Images used from Runner's

I think that's what I've been missing. Many of my friends run and I can see an incredible cross over into other sports that I do as well as being a great way to cover a lot of ground efficiently. The whole "light and fast" attitude is becoming more and more appealing. The desire to run is now there, I just have to find the joy. I think my problem in the past has been doing all my running on roads and in neighborhoods. It makes it really convenient, but I need to get out and run some trails enjoying the mountains that I love to be in anyway.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Influence of Christian Fiction

I had the privilege in college of being exposed to some great christian authors. Many were textual analysis of the Bible, others historical accounts, and some were commentary on certain passages. The books and authors that have had the most influence on my life have been fictional. It isn't so much as understanding how to live as a Christian but understanding who God is. I find that I have a very vivid imagination especially when reading good writing. Being able to picture God or visualize heaven helps me to get a better feel for the nature of the Creator.

Here's a brief list of books, read not just in college, that have been particularly influential:

Perelandra, C.S. Lewis  A great retelling of the temptation of Adam and Eve in the setting of a new planet, I feel like it has one of the best descriptions of how sin works on us. Near the very end Lewis also paints an amazing picture of the intertwining nature of God with the rest of the universe and humankind.

The Shack, William P. Young  An amazing glimpse at the subtleties of the Trinity, Young crafts an incredible journey of a man grieving after the murder of his daughter. I don't exactly know if everything is "biblical" per se, but I feel as though I understand the interaction of the Godhead better. It also helped dissolved my allusions of God as a being with sex or gender: he is a spiritual entity that is neither male nor female but has traits of both.

Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien  The book taken as a whole might be more of a "faery tale" in the words of Tolkien himself, but the opening chapter is a great portrayal of the creation of the world and how sin entered into it. The Creator creates a symphony of sorts, composing the music and creating what we know as the world today. A Satan figure causes dischord, but this itself is woven into the sound of universe.

Narnia Books, C.S. Lewis  These children's novels are fantastic and contain much of Lewis's theology. The content isn't very deep, being intended for a younger audience, but the message is just as powerful. Highlights of the series:
      Magician's Nephew: Another picture of the creation of the world and how sin entered it. Interesting to me is how Lewis, like Tolkien, also uses music in his creation. They were friends after all.
      The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: A story mirroring the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
      The Last Battle: The end of the book is a great image of the end of times and judgement day. It's in this book that Lewis describes earth as the "Shadowlands": merely a glimpse of what will come to us in heaven, if we travel "further up and further in."

Leaf by Niggle, J.R.R. Tolkien  Thought to be somewhat autobiographical, Tolkien writes about a poet's journey from life through death and on to heaven. He compares our life here on earth with how it might be after death.

The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis  Another perspective on Heaven and Hell and how we get there. Since I like to climb, his description of heaven as a far off mountain range that we travel to and climb hits home to me.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hauling Heavy Sleds

I've done some more modifying of our sled pulling system that we might use to climb Denali. It's still really simple, which I like: less parts to break, cheap, and easy to construct. It'll be easier if I just narrate through the pictures.
Showing the basic components of our sled pulling system. We are training with PVC pipe but will most likely use metal conduit on Denali for strength reasons. If you fall down the PVC will break but the conduit would only bend. Worst case scenario either way but still a concern. The pipe has an eye bolt through the end which is connected to the sled by running the "eye" through a U-bolt on the sides of the sled. This hopefully will provide a rigid connection transferring more of my precious energy into work done on the sled. It will also provide more control for the ski down. The knotted loop of rope acts as a break when sliding downhill with a load. I'm surprised how well it works: you almost have to pull the sled down the hill. This might be more work than just letting it slide but more than worth it to have more control. 

I tied a loop around the center of the poles to hold them in a crossed position. The cord is run through a hole in one pipe to hopefully secure it to the middle of the X. I've heard that this will help in steering, but we found that it helps get the sled onto your pack: it just holds the pipes together so your essentially messing with them as a unit, not individually.

I found a package of cheap bungees on sale at the hardware store, and used them as the connection via 'biners to our packs. The idea was to have some stretch so as to not feel a jolt from the weight of the sled every step, but these bungees are cheap and I didn't feel like it helped a whole lot. They also didn't provide very much support when skiing down. My next goal is to try and find a way to have a rigid connection to our packs. This would make skiing down a lot less hassle and hopefully even take away the jolting bounce of the load.

We went and did some "weight training" at Big Mountain last Friday, taking some mini-laps up a headwall on the lower mountain. The picture is looking behind me at Dad. We're carrying 30-40 lb packs and have 70 lb sand bags in our sleds to try and simulate loads on Denali. It was pretty tough.
PS. A big "shout out" to my mom who has been coming with Dad and I on Friday nights to practice skinning up the mountain. Mom got her first pair of backcountry skis, bindings, and boots for Christmas and is training hard for an upcoming trip to Canada at the end of March. I heard yesterday from a Canadian that the snow in BC is incredible. I can't wait!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Substitute Teaching

I was officially employed the past two days! It's been about a month since I first started the process of getting approved to substitute teach, with a background check and a whole lot of paperwork. I was finally successful in "selling myself." Last fall I called and was told that unless I was certified to teach or was a student teacher that I couldn't get on the list since there was such a large pool already. However, they told me to try back at the beginning of the next year. So I tried again at the beginning of January, getting an answering machine on the first try. Fairly frustrated with the job search and rejection, I let that bugger of a recorder have it. I told that machine that I knew that I wasn't certified but I had a Physics degree and a minor in Math for crying out loud and if they didn't use me for a science and math sub then they were out of their minds! Okay, okay. I didn't actually say it in as many words but you get the idea.  The sub coordinator called me back and said the policy still stands, but they always had a need for science and math substitutes so I was in!

My first official assignment came yesterday and I played the part of an 8th grade Physical Science teacher making the students do worksheets. Today I was a High School Biology teacher, also making the students do work sheets. It was definitely a trip down memory lane to walk the halls of my alma mater and rub elbows with my former teachers.  The highlights of today included being told I was my dad's look-alike, having lunch with the science faculty, and being able to work on my blog during a long prep period break in the middle of the day. The worst thing I had to deal with was a student trying to fit as many sticks of gum in his mouth as possible. I didn't have a problem with it: he most likely wasn't going to choke and he was getting his work done, albeit a little distracting to those around him. He stopped at 22 and took a hall pass to the bathroom to spit it out. His jaw is going to be really sore tomorrow.

I'll try to entertain with more random stories and experiences in the life of a substitute in the future.

Road Trip Truck Troubles

I need to preface my visit of Yosemite a little bit and frame it within some truck troubles. I was on my way into the Park, having picked up my camping permit at Wawona campground, and wanted to get into the Valley for some evening pictures. The “Tunnel Lookout” has a parking area that provides amazing views into the heart of the Yosemite Valley including landmarks like Bridalveil Falls, El Capitan, and Half Dome. The problem came when I started my truck and tried to turn on the lights. No luck. Somehow over the course of that day my headlight switch shorted out and I had no way to drive at night. Thus my desire to visit the Valley proper that evening was thwarted and I raced back to camp for the night.
The interior of my pickup torn apart trying to get
at the headlight switch. Ultimately, all this wasn't

Having no headlights would have been miserable had my uncle in Santa Rosa and I not been able to fiddle with the electronics under the hood and replace a fuse.  Whatever we did got the lights back on and me back on the road.

My pickup also sounded a little rough on the road in Northern California. I crawled underneath at one point and discovered a large hole in my muffler. The explained the noise but I had no way nor the time to fix or replace it, so I pressed on. It got annoying enough over the long miles that I had to screw in my headphones and listen to my mp3 player both trying to block out the sound and  listen to some music since I couldn’t hear the radio very well over the exhaust.  Oh well. You’ve got to take “bitter with the better.” I should have expected some minor vehicle problems on a 6500 mile race around the West.

Sequoia-King's Canyon National Parks

Note: I’m still publishing thoughts and reflections on my road trip from last fall.  The time has distanced me from the awe that I felt for these amazing places. I am really grateful for the pictures that I have, jarring my memory and reminding me of the beauty that I witnessed. My hope is that I am still able to express those feelings of amazement in my writing after several months. For those of you that have been waiting for me to wrap up the trip reports: Thank you for your patience.

Monkeying around at the entrance.
At this point, I’m in Southern California. I’ve driven in 10 different states and visited 8 National Parks.  I’m high on life and the experiences of this trip. I feel loved beyond comprehension; loved by God, my friends, and my family. I feel like I’ve memorized every Top 10 song in every genre on the radio, had phone conversations with lots of people, and eaten my way through several bags of sunflower seeds.  My truck is on the road in the pre-dawn light after waking up at yet another truck stop, rolling toward my next destination: Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks.
The giant Sentinel Tree: 257 feet high and about 25 feet in diameter at the base.
These two parks remind me geographically of Yellowstone and Grand Teton  parks. They cover similar landscapes and share common borders. You can drive freely between the two and can buy passes to visit both if you wanted. The area is definitive of the Sandia Mountains: high altitude, big luscious trees, and granite crags. King’s Canyon’s eastern border is actually the home of Mt. Whitney, the highest point of elevation in the lower 48 states. Interesting that it’s so close to the lowest point as well, eh?
Me standing in front of a large fire scar on one heck of a large, old tree.

I mentioned big trees above. That might be an understatement. Sequoia National Park is the home of the highest concentration of its namesake tree anywhere. Sequoia trees, also known loosely as an inland or interior redwood, are the biggest trees in the world by shear bulk. Their trunks don’t taper very quickly compared to other conifers, being more columnar and coming to a scraggly point only near the very top. Thus have an incredible amount of mass, pretty humbling to stand next to. The largest tree in the Grove of the Big Trees was the Sentinel soaring 257 feet high.  Near the tree they have brickwork laying out the size of the tree in the horizontal plane. Even 120 feet up in the air the trunk is still 11 feet thick! I took a little jog through a meadow where a large grove of Sequoias have made their home. In the morning light it was awe-inspiring. The grass, snow, small creek meandering through, and the trees standing guard gave me such a feeling of peace that I couldn‘t help but slow down my pace and contemplate the grandeur surrounding me.
Standing in front of th Grant Tree. It was very difficult to try and take pictures of the trees with people in them, there was not way to include the top!
Moving on down the road, I hiked to the General Sherman tree and the General Grant tree later in the afternoon in King’s Canyon.  The highway that you drive between the two was call the Highway of the Generals?, seemingly a memorial to the Civil War of our country’s history. Both of these giants were just as impressive as the Sentinel. I joke about being a tree hugger, but you’d need about 16 of your friends to give a group hug and make it all the way around these ones.  Much of the trail construction on the trails to the trees was done with blocks of granite that I assume was chosen because of the convenience of the material. They even had granite culverts! Talk about getting my “geek” on…
A granite culvert! Now I've seen culverts made from plastic, wood boards, logs, aluminum, galvanized steel, and rock.  I'm thankful I don't have to try and clean these ones though...

My First 10,000 ft Ski Day

So I went out yesterday with Brandon and Any. I knew it was going to be an exciting ride and was told it was going to be a "big day." Considering that Brandon claimed he was tired, since he had done a 10 thousand footer the day before, and said Andy wasn't that fast, just efficient, I figured I would be fine.  

We skinned in Skiumah Creek and up the ridge above Cascade Creek (a hidden hanging valley just to the east) gaining the ridge in what felt to me like record time. Then we skied a chute down the Rescue Creek side with 2500 feet of straight fall-line skiing with 3 feet of powder on a solid base. We put in a skin track back up to the ridge, hopped one chute over and got another 2500 foot shot back to the bottom of rescue. All of the transitions at this point were feeling like I was in a race: trying to catch up after being the last one to the top and the bottom, worrying about staying warm, and trying to eat and drink something. During the second lap I skied the whole run with half a sandwich in my cheeks like a crazed chipmunk. I was questioning whether I was having any fun and if going this big on a backcountry day was worth it to me. 

Once again we climbed back up the ridge, feeling myself getting slower with every step and being dropped off the back since Brandon wasn't having to break trail this time.  At the ridge we had a to do a sweet boot pack up the ridge. I put my poles between my back and my pack, and with a ski in each hand scrambled up the steep section of snow.  It felt so cool, like I was doing an epic ski mountaineering ascent that I got a second (or fourth by that time) wind.  I caught up to Brandon and Andy and was told that we had just finished off 9200 feet of climbing that day.  To celebrate we smoked the 3000 feet back to the bottom, once again in deep powder snow.  I started to get more efficient in my tele-turn, feeling the flow a little more.  Although my quad cramped up halfway down and I had to stop and catch my breath every 10 turns, that was the best ski run of my life! Perfect snow and floating solid turns. 

At the bottom, Brandon and I decided to skin 800 feet up our skin track just to get the 10er, being my first and Brandon's first back-to-back outside of racing. Our legs were toasted to say the least but it was well worth it to gain that last bit and not have that monkey on my back. It just gives me that much more respect for a guy like Greg Hill.

I was contemplating earlier that day about whether it was worth it to ski with Brandon. Was I having any fun at all? I had a good heart-to-heart with God to give me the strength to enjoy it. Although I find that I didn't have a lot of time during the day to reflect on God's creation and power, it's good to have the experience to reflect on now. It's a pretty good example of how he can lift us up when we're at our lowest, give us joy when a storm cloud it right over our heads. I've decided it's definitely a different kind of fun that I would have skiing with other more sane ski buddies, but fun nonetheless.  Yesterday ranks pretty high on my all-time list of days skied. Now that I've gone that big, know a little more about what I'm capable of, and am getting more efficient at transitions and skiing, the next big day of skiing will be much easier. I got a taste of what it's like to be able to ski so much untouched snow in the backcountry and it gives me incentive to train and get stronger to make it more enjoyable.   

My apologies for the lack of photos.  I didn't bring my camera to shuck any excess weight I could and knew that I wouldn't really have time to take pictures anyway. I'll wait and practice my photographer skills when I'm in the position of being more at the front of the pack.