Thursday, March 8, 2018

A Shared Sentiment

I almost never do this with this space, but in light of what is happening. I think this piece is worth a read. It is a reminder of what we stand to lose if we do not protect public lands.

From Adventure Journal

Friday, February 2, 2018

Mt. Kilimanjaro

Over the past couple of weeks I have been in Tanzania. I had booked the trip in order to visit Africa for the first time and also to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Rising to 19,341 ft, Kilimanjaro is about a mile higher than any mountain in the US lower 48. While not overly technical, it is a serious endeavor, and needed to be treated with planning and a healthy dose of respect. Preparation for the trip was a large undertaking. First were the shots. I got vaccinated for Typhoid (actually a couple of pills), Hep A & B, Japanese B Encephalitis, Varicella (yes, I've never had chicken pox), TD, Meningitis, Yellow Fever, and Rabies. And I also would take an anti-malarial while there. In addition to medical preparations, there was physical fitness involved. I joined a gym and hired a personal trainer to get my shoulders and core ready for carrying a pack long distances over rough terrain. I worked with the trainer once a week and incorporated weights and other core work into my schedule 3-4 times each week. Finally there was gear - a lot of gear. I won't go into the full list, but I will have a partial list of items needed/used for the trip at the end of this post.

I knew months in advance what I would be doing, so I purchased some gear and took a trip to Mt. Langley and also a trip to Anza Borrego to give it all a test run.  I ended up purchasing better gloves and a much better summit coat - both of which served me well on the roof of Africa.

I don't know that I'll post a lot about the 10 days I spent in Tanzania, or the 8 days on the mountain. I feel too close to the immensity of the undertaking at the moment. Suffice it to say, the trip was beautiful in every sense of the word - the people, the scenery, the weather - everything we encountered made me grateful to have made the decision to go on the journey.

Waterfall we encountered while hiking through the coffee plantation/cooperative

The day before heading to the mountain, a couple of people joined me for a tour of a coffee plantation that was comprised of 2,200 small farmers who had banded together to create a cooperative. We spent the better part of a day walking along single track trails on the side of a mountain looking at the farms where banana and avocado trees shaded the coffee plants. We also saw calabash, maize and quinine trees. Adults we encountered were friendly and as curious about us as we were about them. Children waved and smiled and periodically followed us as we meandered along the pathways through the fields and ended up at a beautiful waterfall.

Clemency, our coffee guide, showing us calabash plants along the way - they are in the background hanging from a trellace set up in front of the little farmhouse.

The tour concluded with us preparing coffee from scratch. First we separated shells from the dried coffee beans by means of a very large 2 person mortar and pestle. Next we roasted the beans to a medium roast. To do this, we stirred the beans over open coals in a blackened ceramic pot using a wooden spoon. That took about 20 minutes. We then put the roasted beans back into the mortar and pestle and smashed them by hand into an espresso grind. The resulting coffee was shockingly sweet and delicious.

Using an age-old technique for getting the beans to a medium roast

For the rest of the trip, my highlights were the rainforest days at the beginning and end - where we encountered monkeys and a civet. My favorite climbing day was the famed Barranco Wall - I could've gone back down and done it again. My favorite plants were found in the same climate zone as the wall - the giant senecio and the lobelia deckenii The Lobelia, in particular, is a fascinating plant. It holds a large amount of water in its open leaves during the day. So much so that, in fact, you can scoop out water with your hand. The plant shuts back up completely at night in order to protect itself from freezing. As it ages, it grows a large flowering top with hundreds of buds in little cave-like enclosures that attract bugs. The bugs in turn attract birds, and the birds both help pollenate and repopulate the plant - making for a true symbiotic relationship. 

The highlight of the trip was really the trip itself. The totality was certainly greater than the sum of the parts. However, since our group was interested in summiting, that remained the ultimate goal. It took us 6 hours of trudging from our high camp at 15,000 ft (already higher than any mountain in the US lower 48) to reach the summit at Uhuru Peak at 19,341 feet. We left camp at midnight in a snowstorm and simply went up at a snail's pace (due to the altitude). Step by step in the dark and cold for hours was psychically and physically difficult. There were many false summits. There were people we passed in serious distress due to altitude sickness - some heading down the mountain with help, while others paused to question the ramifications of following their dreams any further.  Honestly, I had never seen people with altitude sickness beyond a minor headache. It was shocking and difficult to witness. All, at least, were being helped.
Making our way up the mountain

Me looking a little less than graceful with a pack and solar panel hanging from it

The summit itself was magnificent. Huge castle-like glaciers clung to the mountain's outer walls while the interior gave way to the depths of a long extinct volcano crater. We spent about 30-40 minutes going from Stella Point at the low point summit to Uhuru at the top. Once there, the clock was ticking. Spending too much time over 19,000 feet is not a great idea. Photos were taken, tears were shed (at the absolute beauty of our surreal surroundings), and congratulatory embraces were given freely. 

The summit!

                                                Getting ready for a team pic.

Sunrise at the summit

Cold at the top - see the glacier over my left shoulder

White wonderland at 19,341 ft. Glaciers in the distance.

Throughout the trip, we we helped by guides and porters. The porters did every step of the trip we did except much faster and carrying much greater weight. Our guides made sure our pacing was perfect in order to limit recovery time needed and to aid in acclimatization. The guides were also fonts of knowledge for local flora and fauna. 

While being a porter is considered a good job in Tanzania, it is certainly a job no westerner would take. I have never seen people work harder in my life. I have also never witnessed people with such amazing dispositions and life outlooks. And that is something that can be found throughout Tanzania. The people there, in large part, are very poor - much poorer than I think most of us would even consider possible. But in the midst of poverty, they seem to be proud of who they are, have a lust for life, and a real desire to learn, to meet new people, and to share what they know. They take pride in appearance. Wherever we went people always looked good - children in spotless clothing, women in colorful dresses and head coverings, men in crisp shirts and pants. It was an odd culture shock from a western perspective - where we often look a bit, ummm... unkempt. On several occasions we joined our porters and guides in singing and dancing. The performances, in which we all participated, were beautiful and done with joyful abandon that quickly spread from Tanzanians to the visitors. 

Sharing songs and dances - Amani (in the orange) is leading this song

I had gone to Tanzania with quite a bit of money to buy gifts and mementos. Instead, I pretty much gave everything I brought away to help the people who had given me such a wonderful experience. Others in our group did much more - really stepping up to provide ongoing assistance to these sweet people who can do more with a little than others could do with a lot. 

I hope to be back in Tanzania in the future and see and share more of the wonderful place that I would describe as a complex paradise.

Partial list of gear:

Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka
Patagonia Torrentshell Jacket
Patagonia Torrentshell Pants
Patagonia Capilene Middleweight Bottoms
Patagonia Nano Puff Vest
Buff - 2 buffs
Julbo Spectron 4 sunglasses - 2 pair
Salomon 4D Quest Hiking Boots
Outdoor Research Sol Hat
Outdoor Research Men's Arete Gloves
Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain High Gaiters - note: did not use - in fact no one used the gaiters    they brought on this trip.
Marmot - Never Summer Sleeping Bag - note: the zipper malfunctioned, but I was able to use the bag for the trip. I spent a little time and fixed it upon my return home.
Black Diamond Headlamp 
Go Pro Hero 4 Camera
Osprey Kestrel 38 Pack - small, good pack - most of my provisions were carried by a porter.
1 x 1 ltr and 1 x 1.5 ltr Nalgene bottles
1 x 2 ltr - Nathan bladder
Leki Trek Poles

Friday, January 12, 2018

Change in an Instant

The following is a piece I had written in 2017, late summer, after a bike accident. I didn't publish at the time because I needed a bit of distance mentally to recalibrate and to change my focus from simply running, and fitness for fitness' sake, to a more well-rounded fitness with a purpose mind-set. Don't get me wrong. Running is still the pinnacle sport for me. It brings a self-awareness that is lacking in other sports (at least for me). There is a no BS factor to running. You either do it or you don't. But running won't help you climb mountains or hike long distances with a pack. I always thought it would, but it doesn't. 

Over the past 5 months I've worked with a trainer in a gym in order to improve fitness. I've also spent time with experienced friends as I have learned about mountaineering, trekking, multi-day hiking and camping, high-altitude assimilation and gear and the fitness needed to make weeks long trips successful. It is my hope that the accident in 2017 will lead to travels and treks in places both in the US and around the world that will be challenging and affirming, but also will allow me to be immersed in other cultures - to learn from and perhaps adopt good practices from the people I hope to meet along the way.

So here is the original post a few months later:

I had a bike accident on the trails recently that put the kibosh on either the Grand Canyon R2R2R or the Zion Traverse for 2017. My buddy, Chris, and I had planned to do one of the runs in October (which had already been rescheduled from March - following the Joshua Tree Traverse). But missing a month of real training in the two months leading up to the run shut down any notion of being able to knock it out in 2017. And, since 2018 and 2019 are just around the corner, I've little doubt that we will be able to push through one of the runs in the next 12-24 months.

The accident, which injured a hip and lung, put me off all training for about 5 days. Then I could only run short painful distances - 3-5 mi - before I wanted to stop. After a few weeks, the daily runs were 4 - 10 miles. But they were still irritatingly slow. Breathing was always painful. And in bed at night I had to lie in very specific positions in order to ease the pain enough to fall asleep. It has only been in the past couple of weeks that sleep hurts a bit less and speed and distance are starting to return to my runs. 

Here's a lovely pic of my leg below my hip taken a few days after the wreck. Ouch, Elliot!!

The break from mega miles allowed me to step back from my normal routine and examine what I am doing, and what I wish to accomplish over the next few years (in addition to the above-mentioned R2R2R or Zion Traverse). Having an accident of the sort I did made me aware of just how lucky I have been to be healthy and injury-free (mainly) for most of my life. But it also reminded me that circumstances can change in an instant. There are many things I want to do and have put off for various reasons. I want to climb several mountains, see two or three ancient ruins that I have not been to before, and finally hike in remote portions of the Southern Hemisphere.

So, while recuperating, I decided to stop waiting to do the things I want to do. I booked a couple of trips to climb mountains. I hired a trainer to work with me to build core strength. I dropped 15 lbs so far. I'm hoping to drop another 10-15 in the coming 2-3 months. I figure the less weight one carries up the side of a mountain, the better. If I go in a bit underweight, I'm sure I'll be able to put it back on upon my return home. 

Anyway, what sort of amazed me about everything is how easy it is. We live in a world where one simply can decide to undertake what in previous times would have been an epic journey. While still challenging, today we can simply set our minds to do wonderful things, train, learn, and then go and do. You do not have to be rich or a top-tier athlete.  You just need to decide what you want to do and then commit. And think about doing it soon. Because life can change in an instant.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

2017 - Best of:

I thought I'd take a moment and make a year-end list of things that I have enjoyed in 2017. I don't think a lot of explanation about each item is necessary. If you find something intriguing, please feel free to write me or to explore it on your own.

Best Thing I Did in 2017:

No question that the Joshua Tree Traverse was the best thing I did. To spend a day deep inside the spectacular national park with two friends on a self-contained 40 mile sufferfest was not simply a highlight of the year, but a highlight of my life. It was, for me, life-affirming and life-changing. The teamwork and camaraderie needed in planning and training with trips to the desert park that preceded the traverse all combined to make the whole experience tremendously fulfilling.

Scoring honorable mentions in the Best Thing I Did category were two trips: The first to Colorado to climb Mt. Evans by bike, and Mt. Massive a pied. The second to spend a few days in the Sierras hiking and camping above 11,500ft, culminating at the summit of Mt. Langley.

A couple of kayak trips down the Kaw also deserve honorable mentions as well. Too often I think I neglect to appreciate some pretty wonderful things I have right in my back yard. Paddling down a deserted huge river with a buddy, seeing bald eagles, and then hanging out midstream to watch fireworks going off overhead at the conclusion of the trip - priceless.

A sub category here - Top Adventure Buddy. There were five friends in the running for this designation who I joined in various forays into the wilderness. But there was only one who was involved in several episodes of the craziness. Jack Tyson gets this year's TAB award. He was instrumental in the success of the traverse. He also was the planner, stager, and teacher for the backpacking trip up Langley. That trip gave me a new level of confidence to tackle bigger mountains in 2018.

Best Thing I Read: 

Two non-fiction books tie for the honor in this category - Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2's Deadliest Day by Peter Zuckerman tells the story of a tragedy from the (often ignored) perspective of the Sherpas and high altitude workers who performed heroically throughout the ordeal. And Empire Made: My Search for an Outlaw Uncle Who Vanished in British India  by Kief Hilsbery, which is a personal story that tracks one family's roots through the period of British colonial rule in India and its neighboring countries.

The best work of fiction I read this year was from Irish author Sebastian Barry. His novel,  Days Without End , about two homeless youths trying to survive in the American West in the mid 1800's, is a masterpiece.

The best magazine I discovered was Alpinist. While it is one of those expensive quarterly publications, the writing and pictures are nonpareil. After buying my first issue at the newsstand, I finally ponied up the cash for a subscription (and I'm glad I did). Each issue is like getting a new wonderful book to read.

Best Thing I Saw:

I'm just going to have to list these in no particular order. I saw a lot of things that moved me in different ways (though a few were simply low-brow diversions that I found enjoyable). Some are series, some are movies, and some are documentaries:

Banff Film Festival - always good. Always.
I am Bolt
Master of None
Outback Truckers - all seasons(I really apologize for liking this, but I do)
Sirens - both seasons
Valley Uprising
One Mississippi
Shot in the Dark

Best Thing I Listened To:

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones concert which ended with my top song by them, Pretty Sad Excuse, topped my listening experiences this past year. And, while none of the following would qualify as my favorite song/band/artist, I listened to a lot of:

Kishi Bashi - any song
Matthew Byrne/Great Big Sea - The River Driver
Oliver Daldry - Catch the Wind
Lord Huron - The Night We Met
Teleman - Dusseldorf

Best Art/Science Experience:

I acquired many works of art this past year. My favorite piece would have to be by the very talented artist, Samara Umbral 5 Alive/Surge. A couple of photos by German artists, Jeanne Faust, Zu Sonst Wer Wie Du, and Tobias Zielony, Licht, also struck a chord within me. During the year I was also privileged to purchase works by Greg Thomas and Lisa Grossman to give to friends as gifts. For me, there is little that is better than being able to give a friend a piece of art he/she likes. The gift is good for the friend, but it also helps the artist to continue to make a living pursuing their passion.

While it wasn't really visual, Janet Cardiff's Forty Part Motet at the Nelson was a real highlight of the year for me. I experienced the Motet on numerous occasions, and each time I was transfixed. It never got old.

And finally, the Cockefaire lecture series at the Linda Hall Library - tracing the Transformation of the World - 1650-1720 was, perhaps the most knowledge I had dropped on me in a short time (over the course of three lectures). If you haven't been to an event at Linda Hall, or have not even visited the library, you should really put it on your schedule.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thanksgiving Running and Anza Borrego Trip Report

Thanksgiving weekend offered a number of days where running was a pleasure. I knocked out a Clinton N. Shore 10 mile Lands End loop on T-day, a 6-ish mile Lake Henry loop with a trip to the mound on Friday. A 4 mile nothing run on Sat. And then a 10 mile River Trail loop on Sun. Two of the runs were done solo, and two were with Hawk running buddies Mike and Jeff.  While wildlife sightings were not too varied, the deer sightings were plentiful, with each run offering multiple encounters.

On Sunday, after running with my friends, we knocked out some high-carb fare at the Breakfast Club at ECM. Later tat afternoon I popped back out to the trails with my bike. I had been planning to go at a pretty good clip, but ran into some friends - two of whom I had biked with around France in 2001 - so my plans changed to a fun ride spent catching up.

I had returned from a camping and hiking trip to Anza Borrego in southern California. I had never been to the park which sits in the Colorado desert inland from San Diego. The massive park offers mountains, desert, canyons, rock formations, mud caves, and hot springs. The first night we drove off the highway into a wash and up the backside of a hill to camp on the edge of a cliff that overlooked a Bryce Canyon-esque expanse. The place we chose, Fonts Point, is considered the best place in the park from which to view sunrises and sunsets. There were a few non-campers sitting near the edge in order to enjoy the vista. When the sun sank in the distance, they departed leaving us alone to enjoy the starry night and a decent number of meteors.


Canyon below our camp

Sunset the first night

After a short morning hike, we packed camp and headed about an hour away toward our home for the next two days, the campground at Aguas Calientes. On the way, we paused in the town of Borrego Springs to look at some art and to grab a fantastic meal at a restaurant called Red Ocotillo. We hadn't expected much when walking in. But we were both knocked out by the flavors that presented themselves in the food we ordered. We sat on a little patio under a tree surrounded by flat, beautiful desert. It was a great experience.

When we arrived at Aguas Calientes, the quiet calm of the trip changed. The campground, administered by the county of San Diego, was one of the most crowded places I had ever camped. We  had a couple of spots reserved for us and friends who showed up a bit later. We had a large family on one side and a noisy troop of boy scouts on the other. The afternoon and evening of the first day, we mainly spent setting up camp and then enjoying the hot springs. 

Day two found us in the desert about 6 miles away exploring mud caves and slot canyons. I rarely get bothered by places, but the fragile nature of the massive mud/dirt walls, overhangs, and caves got to me. I loved the view and the formations, but seeing huge chunks (some house-sized) of mud/dirt that had calved off of the cliffs (some very recently) gave me pause. We had wandered about a mile up one of the canyons passing through some very sketchy tunnels when I finally had to say that I had had enough. Interestingly, there was very quick agreement from another member of our party, and absolutely no objection from anyone else for turning around and calling it a hike. 

Mud Caves

Panorama of a more open mud canyon entrance

We returned to our camp after a long drive back along washboard paths. We took a hike on the Moonlight Trail - basically a 2 mile jaunt around a small mountain with a decent amount of elevation gain/loss. We saw a lot of rabbits and a number of ocotillos in bloom (always exciting to see).

Bighorn Sheep

Finally, One of the neatest things we saw during our stay in the desert was a trio of bighorn sheep. They hung out about 200 feet above our camp for three hours on day two of the trip. With boy scouts and campers noisily going about their lives below, the sheep grazed on the side of the slope paying little heed to their temporary human neighbors. It was pretty cool to witness.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Mt. Langley - My 1st Sierra Summit

So last week I bagged my third 14er for the year. I am just as fine with climbing 13ers. But, since there seems to be a certain cachet to the 14er oeuvre, that is what I'll write about today. My buddy, Jack Tyson (who you may recall from the Joshua Tree Traverse posts), and I did a three day trip to the Sierras that culminated at the summit of Mt. Langley.

Jack loaded up for the hike to base camp

Jack is an avid rock climber, hiker, mountain climber, and outdoorsman. He's been up Langley using different routes three times. So this trip was in his wheelhouse.

For me, though, it was a new (ish) experience. It was the first time I had spent three days camping at over 11,500ft. It was my first multi-day hike. It was also the first time I had drunk water from a stream. Since Africa and the Himalayas are in the offing, it was also a chance for me to try out new high-altitude, cold weather gear.

The first day we hiked up and in to a camping spot we created near Long Lake. The lake is part of a series of high mountain lakes that dot that part of the Sierras. The water is clear and clean. Enormous, gorgeous rock faces covered two directions, with the lake and more expansive scenic views were on our other sides. It is hard to describe the beauty and the enormity of our surroundings.

Sunrise on one side of Long Lake

The nights were cold - 19F on the first. It was chilly at the campsite due to a no campfire rule. We cooked over small backpacking stoves and then popped into our Marmot Never Summer sleeping bags early on both nights. 

On day 2, we awoke, packed up jackets, water, a GoPro, some food, and a couple of beers, and trudged up the New Army Trail toward High Lake and ultimately the summit of Langley. As with all 14ers, the uphill pace was a bit slow. The altitude and pitch combined to slow the speed. 

After a couple of hours (maybe a little more) we found ourselves just below the summit. the Class 2 trail led off in the distance for a slightly circuitous route to the top. Jack suggested that we blow that off and climb a Class 3 boulder route that stood directly between us and the summit. Not having done that before (well certainly not at 13,000 ft), I said 'sure'. And with that we stowed our poles by a boulder and began to climb. 

The Summit

We spent a bit of time on the summit, taking photos, videos, cracking a beer, eating PB and cheddar sandwiches, and watching the incredibly cute little high-altitude rock mice. The views were spectacular. Whitney was visible a few miles away. Due to the time of year, Jack and I had the summit all to ourselves. We hung out for 30-40 min and then went back down through the boulders and glissaded down to where the Old Army Trail connects with the summit trail. Even though taking the Old Army Trail would add a couple of miles to our journey, we took it down a cliff wall in order to see a new set of bowls and lakes. 

We came down the Old Army Trail along the wall at the far end of the photo above

Along the way back we passed deer and marmots (my all time favorite animal, if I had to choose). After the 12 mile roundtrip to the summit, we made dinner, had a couple of beers, and then hike out the next morning. 

I had always thought of the Sierras as secondary to the Rockies. Well, no more. The range is at least as spectacular. And it has a much smaller group of people who use it. I will definitely be back soon.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Kayaking and Colorado

It has been quite some time since I last posted here. I've been working on podcasts (both as guest and host - more on those later), running, reading, working, biking, and kayaking (my new love). I have a little kayak that my father used to use. He really liked to kayak and I never understood why until after he died and I tried it out. The little boat was/is super fun. I took it out on the Wakarusa a few time and it performed well. But when I decided to start paddling on the Kaw and Delaware I decided I needed  a bit more of a touring kayak. I picked up a Wilderness Experience 14 footer at Sunflower Outdoors, and have had nothing but wonderful experiences on the bigger rivers since. I also have found out that a lot of my friends also kayak. I have three main paddle partners and about ten others that just like to hit the water occasionally. It has been a real pleasure to find a new way to spend time in nature with friends.

Paddling behind Paul Endacott in his fabulous hand built wooden kayak on the Wakarusa

With Blair Sutton and a rainbow on the Kaw on July 4 - heading down from Perry to Lawrence to watch the fireworks from the river

Last week, in order to avoid the full brunt of July's heat and humidity, I popped out to Colorado with my buddy, Eric Struckoff. Eric and I and a few friends did a self-contained bike trip around Southern France in 2001. This time we took road and mountain bikes (as well as hiking gear and disc golf accoutrement). We hit Leadville, and spent 5 adventure-filled days. We biked to the top of Mt Evans at over 14,000ft. The road to the summit is highest paved road in North America. I hadn't been too sure about how that would pan out. While I bike a lot, I don't really consider myself a cyclist. The air gets pretty thin at that altitude. But nevertheless, I persisted. Eric (who is a stunningly good cyclist) was kind enough to go at a pace that I could handle. Honestly, it was a real joy to be on the side of the mountain. The views were awe-inspiring, and the ride challenging enough to keep it interesting. As a bonus, on the way to the top, we passed a herd of mountain goats.

Mountain goats on the slopes of Mt. Evans (photo taken at around 13,000 ft)

The next day we spent on the grounds of Colorado Mountain College. CMC not only has the highest disc golf course in the US, but it also has miles of fantastic mtn biking trails for all skill levels. Every climb up the mountain (super fun in itself) was rewarded with awesome downhills. There was even a portion of the trails that had man-made jumps and ramps.

Our final endeavor was to climb Mt. Massive. Instead of hiking the gently sloping longer routes from the Leadville side, Eric and I opted to go for a shorter, but more challenging, route from the back side if the mountain. The path we chose was intensely rocky, with much scrambling over scree and talus deposits. The path was also insanely steep, rising 1,000 ft / mile. I got a bit of vertigo a couple of times. And when we finally made it to the top ridge at 14,300ft, I called it a day while Eric popped over a few more outcroppings to the true summit. We had budgeted 3 hours for the trip. But between the rocks and the rise, the hike took about 6.5 hours. The beauty of the place was staggering. We walked over rocks and a little snow, between flowers and other heart high-altitude plants, and across a few little streams. There were a few other hikers. But our favorite company were the plump marmots that came out of multiple burrows in the rocks to check us out. Massive was tough. But again, we felt rewarded tenfold for the effort we put in.

Other things we undertook - a couple of rounds of disc golf on the aforementioned course, road biking the Mineral Belt Loop, ate great meals in Idaho Springs as well as at the fantastic Tennessee Pass Cafe in Leadville.

The views, as always, were perpetually stunning wherever we were. Colorado from the Front Range west never waivers from offering some of the most picturesque landscapes on the planet. I hope to make it back soon.