Saturday, December 11, 2010

And we're off...

Well, it's time to head up the mountain. We've spent the past few days here in Mendoza buying and packing food and supplies for the expedition. Everyone comes into town tomorrow, and we head up on Monday.

We have a new cybercast that actually lets you listen to the voicemail we leave - no transcription in the middle. So you get the garbles, the transmission breaks, and the sluggish processing of minds at high altitude. Enjoy!! We're Team 3 at

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

And back again

But in the Northwest, winter has come early. There's plenty of snow to cover up most of the rocks, and plenty of motivation to get out: the dark time is upon us here in the Cascades, and we have to get out, because the alternative is to hibernate. And skiing is really much more fun.

As a side note, my frequent trips between Seattle and Bellingham often involve use of the train, a very pleasant 2-hour ride along the coast for around $29. But this time my skis were already in place, and a mid-day transit made much more sense, so I actually took Amtrak - on the bus. Yes, Amtrak has a fair amount of bus service, and it turns out to be quite pleasant and in duration, for only $20! The buses seem to be contracted private coaches, so they're more like bus travel should be. Highly recommended.

This time we headed up to the snow with a couple other skiers/snowboarders. Between the five of us we had all sorts of snow travel combinations, so the bigger-the-group-the-slower-the-travel rule kicked in. A couple miles of logging road, a little tree-dodging, up a couple avalanche chutes (appropriate precautions taken), and finally to the rounded top, Cascade peaks all around. Beautiful.

Of course, there's still the down, and we ended up skiing the last of the logging road in the dark (which is not recommended). The two dogs with us had worked much harder over the day, being without skis in unconsolidated snow, and were possibly happier than we to see the trucks when we finally reached them. As a climbing partner once said: Any day where no one gets hurt is a good day in the mountains.

Good to get one last dose of snow before heading south. As I write this (belatedly), it is currently dumping again in the Cascades. Two feet of forecast snow, followed by a warming trend and heavy rain. A recipe for unstable snow, and a good time to be in the Southern hemisphere...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunshine tour

Family previously visited + Climbing partner with time off + Shoulder season + looking for warm weather = Bike tour in California! After some casual scheming, we decided to spend Thanksgiving cycling down the central California coast, basking in the November sunshine.

Just in time, too - a big storm cycle hit the Northwest, and we drove through snow all the way to mid-Oregon! My car got a flat sometime around when we hit completely stopped traffic, so not only did we not lose time, but we also provided some entertainment for other stuck drivers. Of course, the spare was all the way at the bottom of our neatly packed trunk, so off came the bikes and out came the gear. And since it is occasionally a perfect world, traffic got unstuck just as we were packing back up. Sweet!

Our plan was to drive to Monterey, bike down to Santa Barbara, and take the train back. And for a completely un-researched plan, it worked amazingly well. Sometimes it just happens like that. There was free long-term parking at the Amtrak station. We actually cycled the miles we needed to reach Santa Barbara. They had bike boxes requiring little disassembly for purchase there. AND, my car was actually still there when we got back!

The trip itself was great. The Big Sur coast south of Monterey has one 2-lane road and almost no towns, doesn't connect anything to anything. So there was very little traffic and lots of beautiful bluffs and bridges and sandy beaches and hillsides. It was actually pretty quiet most of the time, which was exactly what we were looking for. Pedal, look around, pedal, stop for a snack overlooking the ocean, pedal, wonder if the last bit of land you can see is where we stop for the night, pedal...

After the first few hours of cold wind and rain showers, it was sunny all week. It was, however, also quite cold. Snow in Seattle means quite a cold weather system, which translated to highs in the 50s in Cali, and lows near freezing! Being the seasoned outdoor veterans that we are, we used out bivi sacks and Jetboil and savvy outdoor survival skills to camp in the state parks... once. It was cold! Frost was forming on the top of the picnic table as made dinner. Brr!

So the rest of the time these two savvy outdoor women got hotels, took showers, and actually washed their socks at night. Safeway makes a mean meatloaf and salad for dinner. And we got a much earlier start when we could leave our room at sunrise rather than wait for the warmth of the sun before peeking out of our sleeping bags. Yes, we are wise savvy outdoor women.

South of Big Sur we got to wind through fields and rolling hills and the occasional little town (does San Luis Obispo count as little?) and generally just keep enjoying being outside. Our last stop was just a few miles short of Santa Barbara since we didn't want to get lost and miss our train back. Just over 300 miles in just over 4 days, but a little lopsided, with a couple 45-mile days and a couple 95-mile days. Funny - they didn't seem any longer or shorter, just more or less time spent stopped vs pedaling.

I love the zen of pedaling long miles. (Especially when the hills are mellow.) We drove back without incident, knowing that the perfectly executed trips make up for all those other times...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Most people have probably heard by this point about how strong a La Nina winter this is supposed to be, and here in the Northwest, how cold and snowy that is supposed to make our mountains. It seemed to be coming true in September, when we got plenty of new snow on Mt Rainier, and it is continuing to show such a trend, with some significant snow above about 4000' in the North Cascades.

Coming back from the east, with three more days off before returning to work, we did a little cycling and indoor climbing as the weather turned cold and rainy, then went to check out the mountains, hoping that the rain had indeed been good snow up high, as rumored.

Indeed. Hiking up to Skyline Ridge, close to Mt Baker, we topped out at 5800' and, lo and behold, there was about 18" of rained-on consolidated base, with 2-3" of new, smooth, fluffy snow on top, just waiting for us to ski it. Four skiers and boarders were there just ahead of us, but their tracks helped provide some depth perception in the otherwise featureless white surface the snow becomes in clouded conditions.

The inevitable first-of-the-season gear shakedown meant that I forgot mine and was using Dave's skins while he tried his new short "kicker" skins that don't cover the whole ski, just the part underfoot. They worked pretty well and he patiently took a less-steep path to climb back up after each run. Down the steeper part, across a bench, and down to the thicker trees. Skins on, hike up, and repeat. Good skiing in November, who'd have thunk it?

A bit of a storm is moving through this weekend, with very cold temperatures, including a good chance of snow in the city. Really? In November? Sounds like it's time to wax the skis and put the chains in the car. Winter, here we come!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

To the Near East

November is the time of short days, grey skies, and rain here in the Northwest. While we're all waiting for snow to come to the mountains, the recreational shoulder season makes November the perfect time to visit family in the east and appreciate the fall leaves and cold sunny days, which we don't get much of here.

To Virginia to do a little hunting (which in deer season means a lot of sitting still and quiet in chilly wooden tree stands) and eating (mothers' jobs are to keep their children well-fed) with Dave's family, then off to West Virginia to visit Seneca Rocks and do some climbing. Believe it or not, I've never actually climbed on the east coast! My outdoor awakening began post-college, in the great Northwest, but there is plenty of good rock in those much older mountains.

We were blessed with some seriously sunny days, warm and beautiful, even one afternoon in t-shirts! The town of Seneca Rocks exists of several buildings clustered around a T-intersection - two rival guide services, two rival tourist/convenien
ce stores, and a cafe. We were able to stay at the apartment above the guide service Dave used to work for, so the approach to the rock was all of a 10-minute walk across the road. Sweet!

Seneca Rocks is a big fin of stone folded vertically into the ground, relatively solid and in a beautiful setting. Unlike many crags, this has more of a mountain feel, requiring some hiking and offering longer multi-pitch routes. And the south peak happens to be the only summit east of the Mississippi that you can't hike or scramble to, pointy enough to require ropes and technical climbing.

Only a few days there, just long enough to get my steep-rock climbing skills back in order, then time to move on. We left the beautiful sparsely-populated valleys of West Virginia and continued the trip to visit my parents and sister. Raked leaves in Maryland, saw other of Dave's friends from guiding days, and suddenly two weeks was up, time to head back. Good to visit, see other places, catch up with old friends, and always good to head back home.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Trek

I've spent too much time updating Alpine's cybercast to be excited about doing a condensed version here, so for the moment check out for details and pictures. More eventually!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Beautiful Kathmandu

Wow - now that was a flight itinerary. 40-some-odd hours of traveling, but that wasn't the interesting part...

Got to the Seattle airport at 5:30am (appropriately early) but hadn't written down my flight specifics. Darn! Stood in line at the wrong airline (as per the departures board), got to the right one, waited for someone to come check my visa, then for someone to sort my luggage out, and got to security 6 minutes before my flight closed. Never going to happen. Fortunately the priority line TSA person had mercy and I got on the plane with 1 minute to spare. Whew!

But then... Hung out at LAX by the earlier Asiana flight to Seoul only to discover that the next one left from a different terminal. Ran to the shuttle, waited, then ran through the terminal like in the movies, desperately trying to make the flight - missing it would have been a 2-day stay in LA or worse. Got to security and, thankfully, the flight had been delayed 20 minutes, just enough time to make it through. 13 hours on a plane...

Straight to the connecting flight in Seoul, another 7-hour ride, then 12 hours in the Delhi airport. (Which is unrecognizable from 4 years ago when I first went to India. Then, the lack of bathrooms and ceiling tiles and order made for your average developing-nation experience; now, it's almost like a modern terminal, food courts and everything! Though they still confuse automated with accurate...) The new airport is a lot bigger, so I almost missed my flight again. Ha!

But I finally made it to Kathmandu, and have spent the last day in the concrete capital of southern Asia. It's not that there's more concrete, necessarily, than in other places, but it has been let grow willy-nilly, so that the roads are more like slot canyons than roads. Add to this the smog, continuing political unrest and lack of functional government or any green space, and you've got a place that doesn't hold much for me. I've been to my share of chaotic markets and temples, and there's only so much culture you can absorb from itinerant backpackers.

I did find the potted garden on the roof of the hotel this afternoon, and it offers a view to the north of the city that gives hope of the wide-open spaces we'll be in a few days from now. Children's kites danced in the breeze above the rooftops and big puffy clouds formed over the foothills, and before too long we'll be headed over those hills to the mountains beyond. I'm looking forward to a little walking.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

End of summer

Sometimes summer lingers in the Cascades. There's a good rain at the beginning of September when everyone resigns themselves to going to school, work, and the returning darkness, but then it continues to be sunny through much of September and a little of October, letting those of us who can continue to play.

Sometimes it doesn't.

Word is a La Nina winter is coming, which in the northwest means more precipitation and colder temperatures than normal. Read: a good snow year. To those hoping to climb Mt Rainier in September, however, it means little hope of success this year. As of the end of this trip, no one had summited the mountain in 10 days, and it doesn't look likely in the next few.

Last week a bunch of snow fell over the course of a storm or two, and the mountain now looks ready for winter, fully cloaked in snow. This means snow angels are possible, but avalanches are as well; up to four feet of fresh snow are sitting on top of a smooth crust with the potential to slide. Not a big deal on a small slope, but on a big one, with a crevasse not too far below, it is a risk to be weighed carefully, especially when leading clients on the mountain. On my most recent trip (and last of my season), it was raining and blowing 90 miles an hour at Camp Muir at 6am. We left camp going down, not up.

But there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing (well, sort of). The fall rains aren't the end of outdoor recreation, just a shift. Dave and I went for a drizzly hike up a grunt of a peak near Bellingham, and instead of flowers and mountain views, were rewarded with blueberries, a bear sighting, and plenty of solitude. What more can you ask for? When your hands get cold from picking berries, you can just hunker down and do it like the bears do...

That's the end of my Cascade season, and I'm ready for a little more stable weather. Next up, it's time to head to Nepal for Alpine's Everest Base Camp trek again. No Island Peak climb this time, just walking in more beautiful mountain terrain.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Four days

With six days off together in late August, Dave and I had planned a big trip, way back into the North Cascades, one of those climbs where only the first few hours are spent on a trail. In two days, climb the alpine rock route for two days, find our way out by a different cross-country route for two days. Mt Terror - mmm. But having learned our lessons about impending inclement weather and trying to cram too much into time off, we decided to change objectives and do a slightly shorter climb of equal quality - the NE buttress of Mt Goode. (Goode instead of Terror - see, we're learning...)

We drove to the trailhead on Rainy Pass the night before, looking up toward the Pickets and feeling good about not wandering around in the rain. Starting out at the PCT south trailhead, our path soon veered off that trail and up a side valley, away from the likelihood of encountering other people. Sixteen miles in, camped at the end of the trail by a beautiful river, all to ourselves. Next morning, bushwhacked and scrambled up 2000 feet to another amazing campsite, settled in, and then walked up to the start of the climb to make sure the glacier would let us pass. A few cracks to step over, but getting onto the rock was assured. Next morning we were up before light, moving early so as to start the rock climbing at first light and maximize our daylight travel time.

The NE buttress of Mt Goode is a classic but not often done route in the Cascades. It's a good ways in, and the route itself, while not necessarily difficult, is long and committing. It is 2800' of rock climbing, and retreating partway up would involve leaving a lot of gear behind. The way we went, when you reach the top you have to go down the back side of the mountain and walk all the way around, to the top of another small glacier which you descend to get back to camp. But it's in a fantastic setting, way up an unpopulated wilderness valley, long and beautiful and remote. The only people we saw were two hiking in as we were hiking out the last day.

We moved pretty well on the third- to fifth-class terrain, roped the entire time but with more or less protection as the steepness of the rock dictated. Close to the top we came across a bivy site perched on the edge of the ridge with melting snow just retreating from the edge - a perfect place to melt water and replenish for the second half of the day: getting down. On a long, hot day, it's more efficient to carry two pounds of Jetboil stove and fuel than to carry countless liters of water at two pounds per liter. We filled up all our water bottles and scoped out the decent notch before continuing on to the summit.

The Cascades continue to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. From the top we could see snowy volcanoes, lakes and valleys, and a sea of peaks in every direction. It is in a different quarter than most of the climbing I have done, so mountains are rearranged and showing a different side from this perch. It is staggering to think of how many things there are around us to climb, but the sun continues to move through the sky and we must begin our descent. Rappel, scramble, rappel, walk down a gully, cross some snow, hike up, cross more snow, ascend to a small pass, rappel, downclimb 50 degree snow to the glacier... turn on headlamps. Weave through crevasses, dodge more crevasses, watch the full moon rise, skirt a rock band, arrive at the slopes just above camp. Camp.

Next morning, we took a little time to appreciate the beauty of this place that cannot be described, only taken in. Then packed up, made our way back down to the valley trail, and hiked the 16 miles back to the trailhead. The beauty of a sleep-in-able vehicle is that we didn't have to go anywhere, just to sleep and listen to the returning rain on the roof of the truck.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Six days

One of my favorite things to do for Alpine Ascents is teach the 6-day course, a basic introduction to mountaineering skills. It's fun, entertaining, and rewarding - people with a range of skills, from none to perhaps some rock climbing background, show up on the first morning with a backpack full of gear, and by the end of 6 days they have learned how to use it. Not enough to start running up mountains by one's self, perhaps, but enough to know how to use an ice axe, which side of the crampons are up, and how to get out of a crevasse should they end up in one in ideal circumstances. Those are the basics - all the rest comes from experience.

And this time, near-perfect weather. What more can you ask for - a beautiful setting in which to hang out with ten excited, engaged, intelligent people from all over the country? Done. The views from up there are great - you're not so high that the lower peaks are distant and indistinguishable, but rather closeby and intriguing. The upper camp, termed the "honeymoon suite", looks directly across at the North Twin Sister, which Dave and I climbed a couple weeks ago. Not too shabby.

We start with the basics - various foot techniques for walking on snow, proper crampon placement, ice axe arrest (face buried in the snow, using axe and feet to stop a fall) on flatter ground for practice - then move on to finer skills. How long the rope should be between climbers, lots of different knots, belaying and rappelling on steeper slopes... These skills culminate in learning how to rescue oneself or a teammate from a crevasse, putting together all of the critical thinking and various skills learned over the past few days. Oh, and summitting the mountain, which is the more immediate goal.

I've personally never fallen in a crevasse. I've punched a foot through a snowbridge, snow that builds up to cover the crevasse and then slowly melts away in the summer. These cracks in the snow and ice of the glacier can be wide or narrow, deep or shallow, and hanging on one end of the rope or holding a fallen teammate on the other end can be equally harrowing experiences. If and when it happens, you need to know what to do, so we practice. And the practice is pretty cool - how often do you get to hang in a big crack in the ice and feel safe and secure? While the summit is an important part of the trip, this is often the highlight of the trip for students.

Playing on glaciers for 6 days with fun, motivated people for 6 days - I'll take it. (Thanks to everybody who wants to learn and keeps me doing this stuff!) They say that good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement, so good luck folks - be safe!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Where does the summer go??

Wow. One or two trips, a personal climb, another three trips, and all of a sudden it's three weeks later. Summer is too short, or perhaps too long, given how much I try to pack into it. Three months is a long time to be chronically sleep-deprived...

The Cascades got a ridiculous amount of snow this winter and spring, so all of the glaciers and snow slopes are still in excellent shape. This means that crevasses and ice that would normally make routes longer (having to go around them) or more technical (it's harder to climb a given angle of ice than of snow) are still covered in snow. It makes our guiding days a little shorter and a little easier; right now we have conditions that are more typical of late June/early July than of August. It's nice.

I got to climb the Kautz route (new for me) on Mt Rainer for Alpine Ascents, do a couple more laps on the Disappointment Cleaver, the standard route, and take some climbers up Mt Baker. In between, with some of that precious time off, Dave and I took a day to climb the south face of the North Twin Sister, close by Bellingham. It's a fun, relatively easy climb in a beautiful setting, and we didn't see anyone else the entire day. Perfect weather, beautiful climb, easy climbing partner - these things all help recover mentally from so much taking care of other people while guiding. Nice.

Also crammed into these three weeks was the RAMROD, Ride Around Mt Rainier in One Day, a 150-mile, 10,000' elevation gain road ride organized by a local cycling club. I remember hearing about this early in my Washington life, and thinking that this was something for people with an entirely different idea of fun than I. How was it? Fantastic. Apparently climbing is good cross-training for cycling. Tiring, yes, but I wasn't dying to get off the bike by the end, and the route goes through some really beautiful areas, both in and out of the national park. The best part? I started up a Rainier climb the next day with little more than tired muscles. Ha!

So that's a glimpse of summer in the Cascades. So much to do. Such limited time in the sunshine. It's a good thing it starts to rain again sometime in September/October, or we wouldn't be able to keep up with our bodies! Sleep is good...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Forbidden Torment

If there was a climb called Forbidden-Torment, you'd want to climb it, right?

Several years ago, Mary said "I want to climb Forbidden." It is a well-known climb in the North Cascades, classic easy-moderate rock in a beautiful alpine setting, way up in the high mountains on a ridge with views of mountains and lakes and forests and pointy rocks all around. I said, "how about the Forbidden-Torment traverse?"

This traverse is, among other things, featured in a coffee table book called "50 Classic Climbs" which popularized some beautiful climbs, many of them not prohibitively difficult for your average climber. It is a mile-long pointy ridge between Mt Torment and Mt Forbidden, and requires both technical rock climbing skills and commitment to the route - once you rappel onto the north side of the ridge from Torment, it is prohibitively difficult to get off the ridge without continuing to Forbidden at the other end.

Four years ago Mary and I got caught in an ice-storm up there, and were on the traverse for four days instead of our planned two, just continuing to climb the ice-coated ridge in zero visibility so we could get off. We ran out of food and were at times very concerned about hypothermia - it's the first time I've actually contemplated the possibility of dying in the mountains. (The above picture is of Mary on that first attempt.) But we made it down in one piece, and came up one other time to attempt the route before turning around.

This time, Mary led the hardest part - getting off the glacier and onto the rock - and we headed for the top of Torment. Unfortunately, we haven't done much climbing together recently, and in the end we were moving too slow to anticipate a good climb - the time we had would not permit us to have normal-length days and achieve our objective. We'd done the traverse itself once, though it wasn't fun. If we weren't enjoying this climb, why were we doing it? So we came down and camped with the marmots, and enjoyed the sunset.

Next time Mary says "I want to climb this mountain," I'm just going to say, "OK."

Friday, July 9, 2010

Vantage and Baker

So this might not be the kind of climbing that inspires dramatic posts. It was not hard, it was not impressive. It wasn't something new or different, in fact I think I've climbed most of what we did before. But it has been some time for me and Mary and Erin, both since we climbed individually and since we got to play together. Which means... things got a little ridiculous.

The three of us have climbed Rainier in tiaras, and basically find joint ventures to be an excuse to indulge our inner 12-year-olds. Or younger in this case - we got silly stretchy bracelets and temporary tattoos and just enjoyed a sunny weekend in the desert of Eastern Washington with the excuse of doing some rock climbing. Really, what more do you need? Our original plan had been to climb Mt Baker with a couple other folks, but the forecast was for rain, and we found out later that's exactly what it did - boy was it nice to be in the hot and dry! It had been a pretty crappy spring here in the Northwest so far.

A week later, the switch for summer flipped here, and it was beautiful everywhere. So I did go to Mt Baker, but this time with skis. Dave and two of his friends and I went up to ski the Squak Glacier - an ancient native name for "glacier without big crevasses". The snowline was finally rising, so we had to cross the lowland rivers and hike up to the snow. From there it was a mellow day, just skiing up as high as we wanted and then making big turns down the vast canvas of the unbroken snow. Sweet!! More weather like this, please!

Thursday, July 1, 2010


OK, so I had a little time off, and it was (of course) promptly filled with those day-to-day things that most people take for granted, but which are impossible to do while on the hill. Catching up on life stuff, and a little fun thrown in for good measure: manage the email (obviously), sleep, do laundry, spend time with boyfriend/partner Dave, go skiing, work one Rainier climb, get a haircut, do a few RAMROD training rides, catch up with a few friends in town...

There's always plenty to do, but as with all lives, it becomes part of the day-to-day, strange as that may sound. After the chaos of the RAAM, it was nice to have my time back for a little while.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

End or beginning?

Three and a half days, 857 miles, pedaling on 6 hours of sleep. 5000' climbs and descents, a massive lightning storm in the night through Monument Valley, brutal headwinds, welcome tailwinds, navigating through towns and 120 miles on one stretch of highway...

Samim rode well, proved he is a rider who belongs at a race like RAAM, and gave it everything he had, including an amazing stretch getting to Durango yesterday. He was diagnosed with influenza pneumonia this morning at about 3am. The X-ray and lab results confirmed what we had become sure of as he tried to ride in the cold of early morning: his lungs and body were succumbing to a bacterial battle, had trumped his training and mental toughness, and his compromised body was just unable to continue the race. It took a lot of convincing even after the diagnosis (no no, I can keep riding...), but Sam's bid for the RAAM this year is done.

The fact that he's been riding with this for the last couple of days just underscores the amazing mental and physical strength that he brings to this race. I keep trying to find words to describe what he must have been going through yesterday, but I just can't. I know it was hard beyond any physical endeavor I've ever engaged in.

Which is not to say that crewing for those four days was easy either! We averaged about 3 hours of sleep a day, alternating between trying to find supplies in whatever local town, and being in the follow vehicle, trying to get Sam what he needed and keep him on the road. I spent the last three nights driving about 40 feet behind him at 20 miles an hour, trying to keep him in the headlights but not run him down, for hours and hours at a time. We'd pull up next to him, hand him drinks and food, and fall back to our follow position, all while watching out for vehicles flying by on these open western roads. Whew!

So we're here in Durango, CO, hoping that with a lot of rest and down time and the medicines he was given, the pneumonia will heal and he'll be able to travel in a week or so. He actually completed the course for the parallel race, Race Across the West, which ends here instead of Annapolis. We're hoping that with the experience and knowledge gained from this shortened time, he'll be able to come back next year dialed in, knowing how it all goes, ready to rock the RAAM. Go Samim, go!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

On your marks...

Would you believe I've never been to Southern California before? It really is 70 degrees here all the time! I was able to get in a couple of runs along 101, beside the ocean with surfers and everything, but our time has largely been spent organizing and getting ready for the Race Across America (RAAM).

Packing for an expedition is always the hardest part - most stressful, complicated, and least rewarding. But this is way worse, especially since it's something none of us have done before. So there's T-shirts to get printed, flashing lights to fit to the top of the van, inspections to be on time for, food to buy, bike supplies to get, and those weird extra things, like finding a cigarette lighter extension so the lights can actually get to a power outlet. Six people tripping over each other, all with ideas on everything, trying to run this thing like a democracy instead of having assigned roles. An interesting cultural experience in my own country!

The most frustrating thing has been the difference in sense of time. I've spent some serious time getting to understand the sense of time (or lack thereof) in India, so I've come to understand that 5 minutes actually means as-long-as-it-takes. But here, we get a 15 minute penalty on Samim's final time if we're late for vehicle inspection. So leaving the hotel at 10:30 really does mean 10:30, not 11:00 or whenever we get around to it. Despite what must be extremely annoying nagging on my part, we're still en route to get our food, at 6pm the night before, let along organizing the vans or getting to bed early. It should all be fine as long as we're ready to go and Samim gets to sleep early tonight, but it has taken a fine balance between patience and trying not to let us get too far behind!

Tomorrow, though, at noon, Samim will start riding from the beach here in Oceanside, CA (just north of San Diego), and be on the clock until he arrives at the other side, in Maryland, in 9 or 10 days. 18 other solo men will be riding the same route, along with five women who started today and assorted other teams of 2-8 people. They're all crazy. But inspired, and that's why I'm here, to help him achieve his dream. (Different than hallucinations - those will come later, when lack of sleep sets in...)

We'll have internet connectivity in the van, so I'll be able to update. There will also be lots of forms of electronic media (live streaming video from the van, twitter, facebook, blogs etc), but I'm not sure where or what they all are, or when they'll be up. There's always Google, but there's also the leaderboard at

Go Samim, Go!!!!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


One Rainier climb between big trips, then off to California (and all the states between there and Maryland...).

Summit day for us was Monday, and even though it was snowing, it wasn't too windy. Decent visibility, and wands marking the route every 100 feet or so. I turned around with someone who was just out of energy and had to go down, but half the team summited. The weather was slightly borderline, but as the guide leading the trip said, "the weather was never bad enough to justify turning around."

Interestingly, there was a monster storm that came through about a week and a half ago, catching RMI out on the upper mountain (our team was almost down by then). Through a variety of events, one guide got frostbite so badly he might well lose his entire hand. Wow. So yesterday, they turned around at our first break - avalanche danger and high winds. Hmm. Would be nice if people could just make reasonable decisions consistently instead of reacting to whatever luck, good or bad, they've experienced recently. We as humans are subject to hubris and gunshy-ness, all of us - gives us something to work on, and definitely keeps life interesting.

But honestly, I'm actually ready for some time away from mountains! It's true. So my plan is to go sit in a car, driving 20 mph across the country for two weeks. Following a cyclist. Who's from India, competing in arguably the toughest endurance event in the world. Check it out: Race Across America 3000 miles, 100,000 feet of elevation gain, 10 days. Glad it's not me...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Go Team 1!

Nice to be able to give Alpine Ascents a summit for their first team on Denali for the year! And nice to finally be able to stand on top and take some pictures. Team 1 was little, just me and three climbers, but we worked hard, got along well, took care of ourselves, and made it up and down safely.

Our fly-on day was delayed by weather, so we ate, drank, sat around, ate some more, waited, and did actually get to fly on the next afternoon, through some clouds that were borderline acceptable to fly in. (I sharpened my crampons while we were waiting at the airstrip.) On our first few days working up the mountain, we encountered lots of teams coming down who hadn't been able to get a day of good summit weather, and had to come down. Only two teams in our first few days had been successful, the first summits of the season.

The weather for our overall trip worked out perfectly. We had some pretty nasty days in the middle, between 11,000' and 14,000' camps, but the team dealt with the strong winds and snow quite well, staying warm and functional as we carried gear and moved camp. It prepared us for summit conditions, which were less windy than those we encountered down low!

Once we reached 14,000' camp, things cleared up a bit, and we were able to actually see some of the amazing scenery around us. We moved to high camp at 17,000', took our rest day, and were duly rewarded with a seemingly suitable summit day. The winds died down to almost pleasant for the second half of our day (OK, it was still cold enough to wear my down pants, balaclava, and goggles) and we were able to stand on top at about 8:30pm. Go Team 1!

Fortunately, it doesn't ever get really dark there this time of year, so we got down around 1am and cooked some dinner before going to bed. Two days later, we arrived back at base camp, drank the beers we had stashed there for our return (only good ones - Alaska Amber and Moose Drool), and got right on a 4-seater
plane back to Talkeetna. Sweet!

Third time's a charm. It was nice to finally be able to stand on top and take some pictures. A big thanks to my team for persevering and making it up there. Nice job, crew! And huge thanks to everyone back home for your thoughts and prayers - we aren't out there all alone...