Stuff of legends

There are times when I think I have the world’s greatest job. Saturday night for example. Some of the most famous names in mountaineering history were at Neptune talking about their first ascents and adventures. The vivid descriptions weren’t power points or efficient…it was simple, old school story telling, the kind lost and shunned these days. I loved it, and the inspiration felt is palpable. Stories of bivouacs on ledges in storms, crumbling hand and footholds and sheer adventure – back in the glory days of adventure when National Geographic routinely paid people to explore and share their stories – were abundant.

A highlight for me was when Ed Webster, a man who pioneered a first ascent on the remote, brutally difficult, and almost never-climbed Kangshung face of Everest signed his book for me, with a very special inscriptions shown in the photo.

Will that ever happen? Doubtful. But then again, a spark can trigger the imagination, and the imagination can trigger great things. I will say that despite not getting home from the night till 1 am – reunions of legends are hard to break up – I was inspired to get up , climb a small mountain and go for a ski still.

Greatness rubs off, and I feel fortunate to have been surrounded by it.

Stuff of legends

Stuff of legends

Stuff of legends

Dry June

Recovering from our off days can be a bigger challenge than recovering from work. Lots of mountain time the past three days led to general fatigue at the start of the ride into work. The nice thing is riding makes them feel better as it sends the lactic acid elsewhere. Very hot and dry too. The fires are surrounding us in all directions.

This seems to be a pattern in these parts the past few years. June has turned into high and dry month. Last year June saw flames flickering over the Flatirons, and Elaine and I buying renter's insurance in case our home burned during the Colorado Trail hike. It was all for not, because on day two of our hike, in very early July, the monsoon started and didn't let up till Durango 25 days later. Maybe we'll get a repeat this year. 

We should re-name this one trail we ride the cobweb ride, because it's inevitably an endless stream of breaking cobwebs as we go through. We take turns leading, and there-by equally getting drenched in the webs. I'm not sure why – because I never normally think about this – but mountain lions were on my mind today. Perhaps we should call this trail "Lair in the bush," because with all the rock outcroppings and dense trees, I wouldn't be surprised if a lion or two called this area home. 

Tomorrow, a rest day, a mellow walk in the woods, Walden-style. 

Summer Solstice Musings

SummersolsticeSummer solstice sunset writing companion…

It's a perfect Thursday evening on the longest day of the year. Writing on the deck tonight, enjoying the long setting sun. I'm doing a bit more of the writing on this journal these days, as Elaine is spending her time writing THE BOOK. It's going to be good…more soonish.

The mountains are calm and summer has taken hold. Off in the distance, the echo of the railroad, two valleys over, rings. Thrushes and blue birds dance among the trees, dandelions and bright yellow plants in front of the home. A fox makes his way across the meadow, doing laps, scouting the terrain for food. Truthfully, he's practically tame, but I enjoy watching the wild in him nonetheless. The sounds of a summer evenings – the creek far below, and the birds singing – are completely relaxing. 


The local fox.

We went for another ski today. We tried to get up Jasper Peak and failed. Not so much failed though, as simply listened to what the mountains were telling us, and observing the signs. A massive cornice had fallen, scattering debris across our path, no more than a day before. As we were putting on our boots and crampons, readying for the long, steep climb up the east face, rockfall dropped off the cliffs directly adjacent to the climb, echoing a menacing sound across the glacial basin and sending roller balls of snow a couple dozen feet away from our perch. Things were warming up too fast, neither of us felt good about it, and we made the decision to pull the plug. We want to be in these mountains for a long time, and the way to do that is to know when to turn around. 


It's tough going 95% of the way there, as we did today to Jasper, but if things don't look and feel right in the mountains, you have to listen and act accordingly. I pray that lesson never leaves me. 

ChillinHanging out in the pinball machine before high tailing out of the rock fall. 

I've come the point in life where this no longer bothers me so much. Oh sure, I like to reach a summit as much as the next person, and the adrenaline and feeling of satisfaction from skiing off a peak is undeniable. But it's not my identity anymore, and being free from that burden allows for a richer experience. More and more, I just enjoy being out there. It's the woods and mountain time that matters – the smells, the sounds, the sights. I enjoy spending the whole day out there, and not just the moment for the peak and descent. I love watching Elaine's progression in the sport. As long as she's having fun, and it's an adventure, I suspect the sky is the limit for her.  I look forward to sharing that ride, and the ride of life, with her.  I've also learned that turning around in the mountains teaches lessons and inevitably leads to greater focus, better planning and more success in the future.  Mountain sports are not gym sports. While you do indeed have some control – you decide to wake up, how to prepare, smart choice in routes and keeping yourself fit  - you don't have all the control. It's not like going to the gym and doing squats. There are other forces at work. 


YelpdogManaged to find some good turns and a nice line off Yelping Dog Peak. 

I love the ritual of preparation. I enjoy coming home from work and piling all my clothes into the perfect order for dawn patrol excursions. It doesn't matter if it's skiing or biking or hiking…the preparation is the reset button, the zen-like meditation faze before the act. And oh the memories it congers. Tonight I was lubing my bike chain with an old bottle of Tri-Flow, and all these things came flooding back from the simple smell of the $8.95 bottle of bike lube. Wednesday night rides with the Mad River Riders. Muddy granny gear climbs up Plum Creek and behind GMVS. Fig newtons, thumb shifters, my old Rockhopper and mud bogs.

I think we all have a tendency to focus on the future too much. But then we all reminisce about the past a lot too. Maybe instead of reminiscing or looking ahead too much, we should focus on the here and now. Maybe the place were in is exactly where we're supposed to be, and the time is right now. Here's to creating new memories today, and every day to come. 

Happy Summer Solstice! 

YawnThese days are so long and packed, we all feel tired!

Crooked Couloir on Mt. Audubon


The real reason to get into the mountains: sheer beauty. 

Sometimes life just calls with responsibilities. It can range, but life will make its demands of everybody. So, for the past couple of weeks, Dan and I have been making do with “sanity skis” at the ‘Bou and biking to work. It keeps you sane, but inevitably, you just want more. Today, life stuff having settled into its hibernation for a bit, we packed up our ski gear, and headed out in the early morn’. 

Having had it on faith from some customers, we knew that the gate up at Brainard Lake was still closed, so we prepped for the three mile road walk and adjusted our time accordingly. Most people take bikes (and for good reason!) but we are not sure how Stella’s paws would do with the pavement. So we walk. It adds an hour on either end, but all in all, it’s more time out there!

The plan for today was to ski Crooked Couloir off of Mt. Audubon. It was also to be my first intro to snow climbing, as instead of climbing up Mt. Audubon’s flank as we have done in the past, we were going to hike to Blue Lake, and head straight up the couloir. 

After a restless night of sleep (it’s been so hot lately, it’s been hard to sleep), we dragged ourselves from bed. The best thing about spring skiing is definitely not the early start. In fact, it may very well be the worst part. Groggy-eyed, we got ready, munching breakfast, and then piling into the car. After almost falling back asleep on the way to the trailhead, and I was happy for the long approach by road: it gave my body time to wake up and warm up. 

Once again, it was cruiser going. The road is completely clear, and the trail up to Mitchell Lake is almost clear, and if you hit it in the morning, the snow patches that are there are very solid. After Mitchell, it becomes more snowy, but it was still early, and hadn’t softened up, so we continued in our shoes. 

After seeing a couple of bikes at the Mitchell Lake Trailhead, we’d been debating which peak the people in front of us were going to ski (both of us were leaning towards Mt. Audubon). As we crested a ridge between Mitchell Lake and Blue Lake, we saw two guys at the base of Crooked. Yep, Mt. Audubon it was! We picked our way through the scree to a rock where we sat down to change, out of sight of the other guys. One thing about being in the mountains is the etiquette, and just as I don’t want anybody to intrude upon my time up here, I don’t want to intrude on anybody else’s. 


Blue Lake with Mt. Toll in the background.

As we changed into our ski boots, Dan began giving me some pointers about using crampons. One main thing for me to remember was that the linking bar on my crampons was too long, and as I have yet to cut it, I have to be careful to not catch it on my pants, which might have the potential of sending me on an unintentional, impressive acrobatic descent of the couloir. 

Boots and crampons on, we started up the couloir. I was immediately quite impressed with the crampons. The amount of security you get from them versus with just your boots is (obviously!) huge. We never had to do the triple kick to get a good hold, and even if I just had the two front points in the snow, it felt solid. This made me happy, as I do have a history of not being the happiest li’l thing in the world when heights are involved. But, even as we neared the steepest point, I felt sturdy. Now, that’s not saying I was dancing a two-step, but I was also a long cry from hugging the scree to either side of me and declaring that I was going to fall off of the world. 


Just shy of the top!

Since it’d been so long since we’d actually gone out and done a bigger day, I was concerned about my fitness. Spring skiing is hands down the hardest sport I’ve ever done, and booting straight up a couloir definitely does not make it any easier. Thus, I was pleased when I only felt slightly nauseous with the effort.

There’s not much that I’m aware of that can make the soul more happy than to climb a mountain in the sun with the man I love most, sharing a summit hug at the top, and then skiing an awesome line that practically dumps you right into an incredible alpine lake. For me, it just doesn’t get much better than that. 


Sometimes life just can't get any better.

As we stopped at the top, gazing around at the surrounding peaks (Mt. Toll still looks really good!), the guys who had been down by the lake crested the top, and we all chatted for a bit, one of them recognizing us from Neptune’s. Then it was descent time.


Heading in. One thing to say about going up what you ski: you know for a fact you can ski down it! As I am a much worse climber than skier, if I can climb it, I know I can ski it!


Hubby rippin' it up. 



Morning fun.

Crooked Couloir is just fun. It’s steep enough that you can really enjoy it, but not steep enough to be gripped about it. When we ski Caribou in the summer, we wear shorts, do goofy hop turns, peer into marmot holes, and laugh. Crooked is none of that, but it still makes me grin with euphoria. 

Sitting at the lake, eating, drinking, grinning with joy, we basked in the sun, bade goodbye as the other two headed off, and finally began to get ready. It was still a longish trek out to the car, and it was a hot one. We changed into shorts, and left the basin in companionable silence, stopping to look back every once in a while. 

There is so much in life to enjoy and experience, sometimes I don’t know how we’re supposed to have enough time to capture it all, but we do our best to. Part of the problem, too, is the more we do, the more we want to do. I am a lucky woman to be with the most amazing man in the world, and share all of our adventures! 


Drama at 11,000 feet

The first day off after a work cycle is intentionally a relaxed day for us. Sleep in some and then hit the local snowfield for a couple laps. It's a nice way to get back into a good mental place and ramp up for the days to come.

High drama this morning up in the hills. Upon arriving at the local ski hill parking area, we were approached by grizzled, mountain-man type who informed us, with a distinctive Rocky Mountain twang in his voice, that he "saw a big cat up by snow line when he was out fishing for brookies." He also told us he only goes out in the woods with a pistol and recommended we do the same. Classic. Reminded me a of the time Meriwether and I headed up to Alaska to do the 24 Hours of Light Bike Race, and decided to shake out the epic road trip cobwebs at a dashed line we found on the Gazetteer called the Eagle Trail. Long and short of the story, some Alaskan's loaned us a gun – which neither of us had a clue how to fire – to handle bears. We sure looked bad ass riding our single speeds with a loaded gun, but if we actually had to use it, I'm not sure either us would've had a clue what to do. 

Mountain lions do live up here, but except for about a nano-second glance of one on a late evening summer mountain bike ride on Coon Track about a decade ago, I've never encountered one. Apparently they attack from the back in a stealthy fashion. Makes me wonder how effective a pistol would be in such an event. I'd need Jesse James like quickness and skills to defend myself. No, I don't plan on carrying pistols around the woods. 

When we got up to the snowfield, the evidence was fresh. There is a marmot hole up here that I've encountered the past three years on my spring skis. The hole was there today too, but no sign of the marmot. More telling, there was large predator scat around the hole, and it sure looked like some of it contained the remnants of brown fur. It could have been a bad past few days for the marmot. 

Another sign – we saw quite a few deer up around snow line. Mountain lions tend to follow their food, and their food of choice is deer. I have no doubts that there is a mountain lion up there, and I have no problem with that. Personally, I like woods that have predators in them, and I'm not totally sold that the most natural experience is to be in a tame, zoo-like forest It's a small sacrifice on my part. I have to be more alert and keep Stella close. That's how it should be in the woods. If I wanted to go to the mall, I'd go to the mall. 

I remember when Elaine and I went up to Denali a few years back. There were a couple kids in the ranger permit office from Idaho asking if they could pack fire arms in the park to defend themselves from bears and wolves. It was about all I had to not get in a debate with them. Fortunately, the ranger took care of it for me, and told them in no uncertain terms that while, yes, they could carry guns, they better have a damned good reason for unloading bullets on an animal in the park. Thing is, we saw a bear on that trip, and it was a rather close encounter. The bear was eating berries, about 50 feet from where we were hiking. It got up on it's legs to watch us, and went back to eating berries. No harm, no foul. I wonder what the Idaho boys would have done in the same situation? 

We ran into a couple guys in their 50's or 60's doing the same ski as us this morning. We've encountered them three times this June. It's a real rush hour up there these days!  It's their ritual, like ours…milking the last turns of the season before we move to a once-a-month ski schedule in the last half of the warm season. Showed 'em the secret bridge across the creek to keep the feet dry and enjoyed the company. This time of year is less about racing for first tracks, and more about celebrating snow, an awesome winter, the mountains and wild places where humans are not on the top of the food chain and humility and alertness are essential. 


Sleepy woods

And on the fifth day, we were bone tired. Blank stare bone tired. Thanks to a couple late nights – Super Happy Fun Day at Neptune and then Father's Day at Elaine's home – combined with five days of ten hour work shifts, we emerged on this morning's ride sleepy.  Not quite enough sleep. Still, it was good to get out. 42° at the start of the ride, and it was the Ibex woolly and knee warmers all the way to the secret passage. The woods were excellent this morning and I savor the time I get to spend in it. It's pretty cool to ride through the different climates, from conifer forest to pinyon forest to the Great Plains. We commute between two significant geographic locales in North America – the transition between two major regions, the Rockies and the Plains. It's fun to witness and experience it on a bicycle. 

Lots of buzz for biking these days at the place of work. It's funny, because we are a mountaineering store, but there is some serious passion for mountain biking in the place. Our ski buyer is looking at maybe getting a Walt Works. Our Operations Manager just got this crazy full sus Pivot 29er that looks like a lot of fun. One of managers has an awesome S-Works commuter and our GM and our shipper are in France right now riding the Alpe d'Huez. Elaine is rocking the Stumpy, and I'm having a blast on the Moots single. It seems like we talk more about bikes in the shop than we do climbing, and that's fine by me. One of my favorite things about working in the outdoor industry is the constant banter about activities and the stoke that this banter provides. I loved it at IMBA, missed it teaching and am glad to have it back. 

Fixie Dave Nice stopped by the shop today. Always good to see him, and I'm so psyched he completed his Tour Divide on a fixed gear effort. An eclectic dude with a great heart and an awesome love for the sport of cycling. I'm hoping to have him present his story at Neptune sometime this summer. It'd be different and very cool. Bikes, mountaineering, hiking, skiing – who cares. It's all adventure and different ways to move through the mountains. To me, bikes are very utilitarian – an alternative, superior choice for transportation, but there is adventure too. 

Three days off. Time to ski, ride, relax and take care of business. Four days till the Summer Solstice! 


Big smile

It's funny, but pretty much every time I look at Elaine on our mountain bike rides to work, on days like today, she's smiling. Something about being in the woods for two-plus hours, exploring new trails, diving into the green and flowered wonderland, breaking through cobwebs, swooping down hills, blasting back up them, dodging branches, ducking logs and turning a part of the day that most people dread into an adventure will do that to you. Bikes are fun, commuting to work on singletrack is fun, made more so when you do it with the person you love most.