Runner’s high

I may have a new love: running on trails above timberline. I've never been much of a runner, but there is something about running uphill in the late summer tundra that is hard to beat. I experienced runners high, that euphoric, trance-like feeling that can only come after bounding along trails for two hours as the evening light falls. It just feels good.

Lots of activity in the mountains this evening. Saw a majestic elk ripping down the hillside, a healthy deer up on a high precipice and a family of fragile ptarmigan searching for food. There is such beauty in the mountains, especially in the morning before or after the crowds have arrived. 

Thus concludes a marvelous 24 hours. Had some friends up for pizza last night, a hike this morning, two naps, a run to the divide and pesto pasta for dinner. Back to work tomorrow, and feeling inspired and ready to roll. 


Why skiing in August is not silly


I tend to ski a lot. And sometimes, on mornings like yesterday morning, when there is barely enough snow to make ten turns, and you're walking for three hours to get to them, it might seem silly. And maybe, in the practical world, it is. But for some reason, I really enjoy these adventures. I like them better than just a simple hike. For one thing, my gear is super light which makes it easy to transport across the trails and tundra. And for another, the experience just feels rich.

I think there is something about the last 20 minutes, when I leave the main hiking trail and start scrambling over talus fields and boulders to the remnant snow field, that feels ancient. When doing that, I feel transported back in time, to a place when snow and glaciers were just covering the land. If the glaciers and snowfields are indeed moving out permanently, than getting to make some turns on their last breath is both meaningful and poignant. I imagine the storms they saw when the ice age was just beginning and the snow piling deep, and how strange it must be to see sunlight after centuries buried under ice. Silly personification I know, scoffed by scientists. But without the imagination to bring it to life, what use is science?

I try to leave a little signature on the landscape. A well-placed and executed ski track, with a massive mountain rising behind it, a lake in front of it and tundra all around, is a thing of beauty. It's not a permanent scar; instead it's a temporary etching of freedom. When done right, it can be artisitic and tell a story. Yesterday the pallet was small but aesthetic, and I took advantage.


More than anything, I like what I see and feel on these "ski" adventures. Most of is has nothing to do with skiing. I like seeing the mother ptarmigan and her chicks wandering across the tundra and marvel at their fragility. I like the smells in the woods, from rotten mulch, to pine to the indescribable. I love the sounds I hear…the trickle of creeks, the swoosh of the wind through the stubby pines up high, the splish-splash of waves on the high lake against the rocks. I like it when rocks fall (from a safe distance) in the massive, glacial carved cirques, sending echoes crashing. It feels powerful, more powerful than humans, and I like the humility it brings. I like the colors, from the brilliant floral extravaganza in spring and early summer, to the warmer, red hews on the tundra brought about by colder temperatures and the beginning of autumn. I like the feel of the cool mountain air, the hint of season's change, the breeze from the north, the invigorating aliveness it induces. 


Would I see and smell and hear and feel all this on a hike without skis on my back? Yes, but somehow the skis add to the experience and make it richer. You see, it's not really about the nine turns on the patch of snow clinging to the mountain. It's about everything I experience getting to and from the nine turns that really matters. And if it adds a little weight to my back, or the occassional smack of tails on the back of my legs, well, it's worth the cost. 


Ski day up on Isabelle Glacier

A screech owl crying and then a pack of coyotes howling. Active night in Happy Valley on this near full moon. Decided to head up to the Isabelle Glacier yesterday and make a few turns. Kind of distessing to see Lake Isabelle all drained – the engineers are doing their thing rebuilding the dam that made this lake so artificially big. Seems to me that if the dam is failing, they should leave it be and let nature take its course, as this is a designated Wilderness area.

Much nicer up higher with tundra, moss, lakes, waterfalls and of course the glacier. I've never been up here, and it's a good area. Solid skiing too for August 19 – shocked I've never headed here before. Not too steep, perfect for early/late season turns. More turns than many places we go. We'll have to return sooner than later. It was a warm day, so took advantage and went for a post-ski swim in the lake below the glacier. Chilly and invigorating…a far better wake-up than a strong cup of coffee. A leisurely hike back down, assuring everybody who saw our skis that yes, indeed there is snow up high!

Change on the tundra

44° and clear this morning. Since we didn't have to come into work till noon today, we decided to make a trip upcountry to the divide. Just about as perfect as it can be for August. The summer flowers are dying off, being replaced by splotches of red undergrowth everywhere. It won't be long now till the tundra becomes a splendid red of autumn. Crisp again up there. Soon the little ponds and creeks will be covered with a sheen of icy glass in the morning. We're certainly moving into one of my favorite times of the year. 

Neptune Mountaineering was well represented up there today. A couple of our co-workers, who had to be in by ten, were running down the pass as we were heading up. The shop was 4 for 4 in getting the first four folks up on the divide this morning. Not to shabby. Lots of inspiration to be had, and it comes from all directions. 


Happy birthday Elaine!

46° degrees this morning. We'll have to get this stove fired up soon, as these morning have been crisp! 

Today is Elaine's birthday. 23 years young. Started the day off right with some morning Swedish pancakes and a fresh cup of tea. Decided to spend the morning exploring a trail west of here that goes through some old growth forest. The mushrooms are simply incredible right now, thanks to all the moisture, and if I knew anything about which ones are good for eating I could probably make a small fortune. Lots of moss, and found some good fishing holes too. I must take the rod up here and see what the bounty is. A dinner of a few brook trout grilled in butter wouldn't be half bad, especially if there were some good mushrooms to go with it. 

This place is certainly a hiking mecca. It's funny – the last go around I spent so much time biking the same stuff I missed some hiking gems right in front of my face! This is a decent biking town, but an absolutely incredible hiking town. You'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else where you can literally walk out your door and be on trails in minutes. North, west, south…they're all good. The Indian Peaks Wilderness and the Continental Divide Trail are a stone's throw away, and the trails leading up to them cross beautiful pine and aspen forests, meadows, alpine lakes, mountain creeks, tundra and permanent snow fields. Can't ask for much more really.

We spent the afternoon relaxing, watching the birds and opening presents. Got the girl a few doo-dads like chocolate, sage and tea, as well as a nice Fjord Flannel shirt. The highlight gift was a spiffy new pack, made in Biddeford, Maine, USA out of cuben fiber sailboat material. She's been eyeing it ever since we got off the Colorado Trail last July. Light as a feather, waterproof, and strong as they come and not a bad price either. We'll have to break that in for some good adventures soon. I suspect it will get many thousands of miles of use in the years to come. 

Time for some dinner. I think we'll get some of those Nepalese dumplings from Kathmandu. It's a special occasion after all. I couldn't be a more lucky guy. Beauty, brains, talent and adventure…in my book Elaine is the perfect wife. Happy birthday beautiful! 


Fall dream

46° this morning. Chilly morning hikes have been the rule this week. Lots of work, so we're fortunate to live in a place where it's easy to get something in every morning. We'd go batty otherwise…not sure we can ever not live in the mountains. We've been doing uphill speed hikes, as we have loose aspirations to do a fast thru-hike of the Long Trail this fall if things fall into place. We'd need to go in fairly fit, as time off would be limited. Elaine has never seen Vermont and I have not been back in a decade plus. A north to south jaunt would be best, following the peak folliage. Of course we have to get this insulation thing done – that's the first priority. But if it works out, tickets to Vermont stay cheap and work is smooth, it would be amazing. It would be 270-miles of maple, oak and elm turning to a burning red and orange during peak foliage in the Green Mountains of Vermont. We'd shoot for 25 to 30 miles a day. We'd get to see raw beauty and have a nice kick up to ski season. We'll see…a lot has to fall into place to even make it a possibility

As I said, work has been busy. As such, quick jaunts up to the divide and five minutes of silence makes all the difference in the world. 

Up the old jeep road

60° at 7 am. Looking forward to colder nights soon. 

Decided to mix things up a little last night and go for a mountain bike ride. Up the old jeep road to the flats and down the narrow trail for a nice loop. The climb hurt. I need a lower gear on my 1×1. Elaine crushed it though. Nice to get the heart and legs really pumping. We'll have to toss this into the repertoire a couple times a week, as there are few things that beat the benefits of riding up that jeep road in terms of getting the body strong. Had to start somewhere and by October it should be a lot easier. 

The down was stellar. Dying light reminded me of the old days where I'd get home from rides in the dark back home in the Green Mountains. That's a nice trail – deep woods, narrow and lots of vegetation. A nice way to end the day. We rolled back into town in the dying mountain light feeling lucky to live in a place with so many options. 

I got the ditch dug, and it wasn't nearly as difficult as I'd thought. We certainly live in the "rocky" mountains, but this particular stretch of ground was smooth sailing. Elaine did some electrical work as well. The cabin continues to progress towards being cozy in winter. Hoping to finish unpacking today and make another trip up to the divide.