July 12, 2013
Posted in Uncategorized
Sometimes, life will get a little chaotic. It’s a good thing. Go with it. Unfortunately, when life gets a little crazy, things tend to slip through the cracks. And once things start to slip, it can be painfully difficult to get back on track.
That’s why I am sitting here, over a month since my last post, struggling to figure out what to write. So I guess I will write about struggling to write. But it’s not about just writing – it’s about getting back into anything that you let slip when life get’s a little bit chaotic.
About a month ago I parted with my beloved home in the PNW (don’t worry, I am going back). I packed up my car and headed to San Jose for a summer internship with a very large tech company.
As a side note, I can assure you, if you find yourself in a similar situation; when looking longingly at your splitboard trying to decide if it is worth throwing in the car to take with you the answer is unequivocally no. THERE IS NO SNOW. Okay, that is an exaggeration – thin white strips speckle the peaks and if you are willing to make the 6+ mile trek at over 10,000 feet, you might be able to connect 2-3 turns. For all I know, I may find myself doing just that at some point this summer as well.
The point is, I found myself heading to anew place, with a lot of unknowns. It’s not the first time – but every time is a little different. Just getting to San Jose was a wild adventure. Fueled by newfound friends and a desire to make the absolute most of the whole experience, I was so busy enjoying life that I kind of forgot to write any of it down.
Then I arrived in San Jose, met a couple of my new awesome roommates and before I had a chance to get comfortable or unpack, I found myself at my first day of work. I quickly found that the “real” job lifestyle eats away at your day, and by the time you eat dinner and unwind from the day, it’s already time for bed. At least that is what it felt like at first. The day’s flew by and soon it was Friday afternoon.
I’d let a few things slip, but I was going to make the most of this summer and that meant exploring all that this magnificent area has to offer. Dammit, I wasn’t going to let everything slip. Re-invigorated, I made a quick inventory of what I would need, and packed my car as fast as humanly possible the second I got home from work. I made it out to Yosemite in good time.
By good time, I mean I gave up trying to find somewhere to camp around 11:30 and accepted that I was going to sleep in my car with a bottle of wine to pass the hours. Of which there weren’t many – backpacking permits in the park are an interesting endeavor that involves waking up at the crack of dawn so that you can wait in line with fellow last-minute adventurers. To think that the only thing I’d forgotten was my hiking boots was rather impressive.
The drive to Yosemite is a doable weekend – but a long one. I found myself getting back late Sunday. A new roommate had appeared at some point over the weekend and, if anything, I was less unpacked than the week before. Another week came and went. My daily routine of walking to the office had been replaced by a stuffy car ride. Long overdue for an oil change, the AC on my car conveniently stopped working just as the heat picked up. Add that to the cracked windshield and the ever-growing list of things I know I should fix but never make the time for.
At the end of the week, I was a little more prepared, having packed in the morning so that I could leave straight from work. This time, the destination was climbing near Tahoe. Another amazing weekend, another late return.
Yes, that is what I wore to work they day before. And yes, I found these rad guys on the internet. And yes, we are chilling at the top of the second pitch on Haystack (a classic 5.8 on the East Wall at Lovers Leap). Oh and yes, I lugged my damn camera up this wall, who knows why I did that.
Not only am I still unpacked at this point, but now dangerously out of clean (I use the term clean loosely here) laundry as well. So it seems completely reasonable that writing is the last thing on my mind.
That’s where you would be wrong. I have had some incredible experiences. Seen incredible places, met incredible people, and learned interesting things about the world and myself. If anything, I should be writing more, not less! I don’t go off on adventures looking for interesting topics to write about. But when you remove yourself from the distractions of everyday life, you give yourself time to dwell on your thoughts. And when you surround yourself with nature, its beauty inspires imagination. It is damn near impossible to come back from an adventure and not have some thought that I want to write down.
It started to bother me – Not writing, that is. Instead of writing, I would make mental notes and try to remind myself that I should write. But I never would.
So the fourth came around. Taking advantage of what turned out to be a paid holiday, I yet again disappeared to Tahoe. Not four days since my last time making the trek. I had no plans, other than to relax. After three full days camping, I woke up in my tent and decided it was time to get back on track.
Nearly a week later I am finally sitting down to write. And for the record, I did finally unpack, and I have done laundry. And yes, I am packing my car (still no AC) so that I can leave for Yosemite after work tomorrow afternoon.
I am bummed that it has taken me so long to get back to writing. I have stories that are worth telling. The new friends who made a lasting impression, all because of a little whiskey. The backpackers who were kind enough to let me join them – from whom I learned so much about the Jewish religion and hiking the PCT. Even the holiday of solitude, where my thoughts turned inward. All are stories worth sharing.
So, let life get a little crazy. Embrace it and go with it. I promise you will have some memorable experiences if you do. And when life gets a little crazy, accept that you might drop the ball on something. But recognize that the hard part isn’t derailing your life – that’s as simple as hopping in your car on a Friday afternoon with zero plans, or drunkenly booking a plan ticket to that far away place that you always wanted to visit. It’s getting back on track that is tricky, because life doesn’t stop, or even slow down and wait for you. It can be overwhelming and easy to put off.
But make yourself get back. You will be happy once you do. I may not walk to work anymore – but I’ve managed to replace the walk with a pleasant bike ride (a fair substitute in my opinion). I still have a lot to write: nomadic pursuits, insights into earning trust, and an enriched world perspectives are just a few things I’ve delved into and hope to share in the near future, along with some rad adventures all over the place!
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May 21, 2013
Posted in Mountaineering, Splitboarding
When I moved to Seattle, well to be frank Mt Rainier was nothing more than a mountain. Surely impressive, but mountains were yet to captivate my imagination. It was merely an impressive and iconic backdrop to the city I lived in. Over the years, climbing Mt Rainier became a fantasy. It was a place for mountain climbers that I romanticized with a childlike fascination. To stand on top of that mountain, so close to Seattle, seemed so impossibly far away. Three years ago, had you invited me to climb Rainier, my imagination would have inevitably wandered to the fantasy of standing on the top, but reality would have set in and my response would have been something along the lines of, “Are you crazy?”
It is funny how perception can change over time. It started with snowboarding. I stopped sleeping in the car and starting staring out the windows. “Look at the line on that mountain! I bet that would be fun!” Dreams. At the time, I was confined to chairlifts. But as my eyes widened, I began to appreciate the mountains. When I started backpacking, I stopped simply looking at the mountains with wide eyes and started exploring their vast riches. Alpine lakes, waterfalls, and beaten trails marked the true beginning of my shift in perception.
My fascination with mountains grew the more time I began to spend in them. I came back from Montana completely absorbed in the snow-capped rugged peaks of the Cascades. Armed with new tools, knowledge, and a driving passion, I began looking at the mountains renewed. The lines I have stared at dozens, possibly hundreds of times, are no longer unobtainable fantasies, but plausible excursions. No longer do I simply look at a line and think “Man, wouldn’t that be awesome.” Instead, I think to myself, “That would be awesome, how accessible is it? Could I get there in a day? Who could I get to go with me?”
When I first started snowboarding in the backcountry, Rainier was still a fantasy. While my world was beginning to open up, it took nearly a year (and some incredible adventures) before I realized that Rainier was no longer a dream, but a goal. Once I made that shift, staring at Rainier from the city became insufferable. That mountain was sitting there, taunting me in all of its iconic majesty.
I started hearing of other people climbing it. I was even invited once or twice and had tentatively agreed to go with someone. But for one reason or another, I never made it. I kept saying that I would go for it during the next nice weather window.
Weeks began to slip by, and that wouldn’t be so concerning if I weren’t leaving for the summer. I began to realize that I was quickly running out of time if I were going to try to climb Rainier.
When my buddy Stu texted me, to see if I was interested, I was in the middle of hiking Mt Si with my dad. This was Monday. He wanted to go on Wednesday. I had work and was already exhausted. By all means, I had plenty of excuses for why I shouldn’t climb Rainier.
I thought about it for the rest of the afternoon. I was laying in my back yard, napping after the weekend excursions with my dad and I realized that I needed to go with Stu. I needed to work and I needed to rest as well. But I had an overwhelming desire to fulfill that goal – to climb Mt Rainier and snowboard off of the summit. I knew that if I didn’t try, I would sit at work staring about the mountain, daydreaming about being up there with my friends. Work and rest would have to wait.
We were ill prepared for the trip. None of us had much (if any) glacier travel experience and we had hastily thrown together an amalgamation of gear that we deemed sufficient to summit. Stu had summited once a few years ago with a guide, but apart from some vague recollections, he didn’t have much memories of the trip. At least not that would be beneficial for us while climbing. We were predicted to have sunny and warm weather for the next few days and coupled with our excitement, our concerns dissipated.
We laid out all of our gear in the paradise parking lot, taking up most of a parking space. We weren’t exactly traveling light. The crew was Stu, Eric, Laura, and myself; apart from me, it was a crew of Mt Baker instructors, all killing time between the end of the season and the start of their respective summer plans. Though only Stu, Eric, and I planned on summiting, we were carrying three days of gear and supplies for the four of us. The heavy pack and the warm weather made for an interesting day getting to Camp Muir.
Though we’d gotten an early start, it was dusk by the time we started setting up camp and we all decided that we should take a day to chill before attempting to summit.
The following morning, we took our time getting out of our tents, waiting for the morning sun to warm everything up before we decided to crawl out of our tents. After a drawn out breakfast of oatmeal with trailmix (a bit too heavy on the peanut MnM’s) we opted to take a lap down to the top of the Chute that drops in to the Nisqually.
The corn snow was fantastic and only a little slushy near the bottom.
On the hike up we ran into a couple of Eric’s friends from Seattle. The 6 of us chilled in the snow for a while, eating lunch and throwing snowballs at a ski pole. Ah, the joys of being easily entertained!
Our down day went by fast and made for an enjoyable way to spend a day relaxing in the sun and preparing to make the push for the summit.
After talking with the rangers and other climbers coming off of the mountain, we were growing increasingly weary of the conditions on the two routes we could take. The Ingraham direct route was well marked and, before the sun hit it, the snow bridges were holding well. However, as soon as the sun hit, the bridges were getting soft and icefall from the seracs was a huge problem. Basically, not somewhere you want to be after about 7:30 am. The other route, up Disappointment Cleaver, had it’s own issues. The unusually warm weather created an isothermal snowpack not conducive to climbing or riding. Not to mention, there was a sharp cliff at the bottom of the route, so it was unstable snow with high exposure. Oh, then there was the rock fall hazard during the day.
We stayed optimistic. Ultimately opting for an early, 2 am start, with the hopes of climbing Ingraham Direct and riding down the DC before it warmed up too much.
At 2 am, you are moving slow. I thought we were making good time, but with firm snow and an earlier-than-anticipated transition to crampons, by the time we made it to the toe of the Ingraham and roped up, the sun was starting to peak over the horizon.
We met up with another group of skiers on their way down, who were in a similar situation to us. They had started around midnight, giving us some good beta on the routes. Ultimately they bailed for reasons that would soon become apparent.
We got to the entrance to the Ingraham Direct route. It peeled off from the skin track and headed ominously straight up into the seracs. While we had heard the route was in good shape, I think we all agreed that our inexperience with glacier travel made skipping that option a no brainer. We continued on to the DC. At the base of the route, the snow was crummy. While we could have continued on, we were all now thinking about the ride down. It just didn’t seem worth subjecting ourselves to so much risk. This would be as far as we would make it.
While we were all a little bit defeated, we were not upset. As much as I wanted to reach the summit of Mt rainier, once a mere fantasy, we tried and we came close. I hadn’t fulfilled my goal of reaching the summit, but I put a large dent in achieving that goal. There will be other attempts and the knowledge I gained just from trying, will help me in the future.
When we turned back, it was still early. We made our way to a safe zone and stopped to rest. We’d been awake since 1 am and all that was left to do at this point was enjoy the sunrise and wait for the snow to soften a bit.
Eventually, we got impatient and made our way back to Camp Muir on firm snow. The ride back wasn’t exactly pleasant. Hard snow and disappointment are not exactly ideal conditions. After breaking camp, we threw our still-heavy packs on our backs and enjoyed some fabulous corn turns back to the car.
At the parking lot, we stripped our packs (an most of our clothes, did I mention it was hot?) and enjoyed the few cold beers that remained from our hidden stashes. (We presume one was found, I hope someone enjoyed those cold beers!) Driving off of the mountain I had mixed feelings. Sure I was disappointed that we didn’t reach the summit. But we gave it our best shot and it was factors outside of our control that ultimately led to us not making it. Could we have pushed it and made it to the top? Probably, but there was something satisfying about being able to make the tough decision to turn around. That was rewarding in itself.
Also, I now have some rad calf-burns. Pro-tip, if you roll up your pants, if only for a few minutes, apply sunscreen liberally. Snow-burns are quite pronounced and happen quicker than you think. Then again, who doesn’t enjoy funky tan lines?
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February 4, 2013
Posted in Uncategorized
My crazy adventures tend to manifest themselves during busy weeks at work. I will start the week refreshed and ready to go. As the work builds, my mind starts to wander. By Tuesday, I often find myself looking at the forecast and perusing recent trip reports. Wednesday, as the forecast for the weekend becomes more clear, I start to narrow down possible trips and start to hash out a few of the details. Thursday, I find myself doing a lot more of the same. On Friday, I inevitably end up scrambling through work, trying to get as much done as humanly possible, so that I can sneak away for the weekend without getting behind.
Actually, that is a good week for me. Many times I have zero plans for the weekend and resort to hastily throwing something together Friday evening over beer. Planning ahead isn’t one of my strong suits. All that is certain, is that I will find someway to make the most of the weekend by getting outdoors.
This past week was particularly hectic at work. I had a couple of projects that – every turn I would take – was met with more unexpected challenges. I often have to stop and remind myself that these intellectually stimulating challenges are what I enjoy. In a sense, working through a difficult problem is much the same in the office as it is out in the backcountry. The difference is in the reward – one being code compiling and running properly; the other an incredible view or deep untracked pow turns or, if I am really lucky, both.
The frustration began to set in early in the week. The challenges kept building and the reward was still a long ways off in the distance. I did what I do best; I procrastinated by planning for the weekend. Last week sucked, so the weekend adventure was going to be something big. Suddenly, a day trip just didn’t seem big enough. Thursday morning I’d figured it out. An overnight trip would surely help offset the frustrations of the long week.
The four of us, Wiktor, Enrique, Ben, and I met at the Nobel Fir to peruse maps and plan out our trip. I don’t know if it was the beer or everyone else having as rough of a week as me, but everyone was excited about our tentative plan. It was a bold plan nonetheless. We had to build an expedition sled, drag it in roughly 2.5 miles to where we would set up camp. Build a 4-person snow cave. Then, somehow find the time to tour an additional 16 miles in the surrounding mountains.
Friday night, after surviving the week, we met at my house for sled construction. I should’ve known when Ben arrived with a pink sled that this weekend was heading down a very different path than any of us had anticipated. After laboring over the sled for an hour or two – running cord through our hand-drilled almost-evenly-spaced holes, installing wakeboard fins to keep the thing going straight (and to make it look more badass), and stickering the shit out of the thing – we had ourselves an expedition sled.
With our sights still set on a long weekend tour, we awoke at 4 am after a meager 2 hours of sleep. We were at Stevens Pass by the time I would normally wake up for a day of riding. The sun was just coming up as we loaded the sled and hit the trail.
We made great time with the sled. Well, great time considering we were carrying about 20 pounds of alcohol, a bundle of firewood, and a couple of tents just in case our snow caving endeavor were to fail. Oh and two dslrs to document the whole weekend. Everything was going smoothly until we tried to take a shortcut straight up one of the switchbacks. Erique decided to take a crash course in skiing down the bulletproof rain crust and the rest of us struggled to drag a sled full of beer and whiskey up a hill. We all eventually made it, but I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. This was the first time over the weekend that I came dangerously close to pissing my pants.
By now, the sun was out and we were in t-shirts. The snow was terrible and though nobody said anything, we all knew our ambitious tour was turning into something else entirely. Soon thereafter we made it to a clearing where we began to set up basecamp. Step 1: dig cooler for beer. Step 2: Drink beer. The rest would sort itself out.
After nearly an hour of digging and drinking, we all took a break and voiced what we had all been thinking. The tour was off. It was a beautiful sunny day, we had a ton of alcohol, and frankly we all needed a little work on our suntans. The rest of the afternoon we took turns digging in the snow cave and digging out our fire pit, all while remaining appropriately hydrated.
Spirits were high and we spent a healthy amount of time messing around just laughing. I can’t really do justice to the fun we had, though the pictures hint at a small portion of the entertainment.
We ended up digging an impressive snow cave with plenty of room for the four of us. It was a roaring success – so much so, we decided to mark off the rather than destroy it. We will be back. On that note, if you stumble across our cave (the tang staircase is a dead giveaway) and want to use it, you are more than welcome – just leave it better than you found it. I know I plan on leaving a case of beer inside in the future.
After a failed fire (yes, even with the firewood we dragged in we couldn’t keep a fire going), we retired to our cave along with our gallon flask of brandy and lemon iced tea. I don’t know what compelled us to bring a gallon of such an obscure concoction, but dammit it was delicious. We ended the evening with the game of “kill the flask”. Ambitious? Yes. Did we win? Of course.
With the snow still crummy and a fair bit of alcohol left, Sunday degraded quickly. We were all content hanging out at camp and enjoying the day. And enjoy the day we did. We all practiced our flipping techniques.
We invented a new sport that involves using an ice axe to fling snow blocks and slicing them out of the air with a parang.
We even tested the idea that a tree could be used as a catapult.
When that failed, we resulted to jumping from tree to tree, with mild success.
Once we shotgunned the last of our beer, we decided to break camp and retreat home.
The fun wasn’t over yet, as the ski out proved eventful. Not wanting to be defeated by the hill that had challenged us on the approach, we opted to not take the easy way around. Getting dragged downhill by a sled was entertaining for everyone.
With a mellow downhill road out, we opted to take off our skins and practice our skiing. It was definitely a good call. In spots the road was steeper than I had remembered and without edges or any lateral support, all we could do was keep our weight forward, stay in the track and pray for the best. We may have done zero snowboarding, but the ski out was a blast.
In the end, our bold plan inspired by a hectic and frustrating work week didn’t happen. It didn’t matter to any of us. Sometimes the best escape isn’t about going deeper into the mountains and setting ambitious goals – but being able to stop, relax, and laugh so hard you almost piss your pants.
It’s now Monday and I am ready to get back to work, though I suspect if you ask me tomorrow, I will already have some idea for next week’s adventure.
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November 11, 2012
Posted in Uncategorized
With all but 13 miles left between my car, Ethan and me, the trip seemed to be nearing an end. Piegan Pass was not as popular a trail as either Gunsight or Swiftcurrent, so we were not overly optimistic with what was in store. Still, we were in Glacier, and the park hadn’t disappointed us yet, so our expectations were probably a little high.
We yet again got a brisk early morning start. Though we weren’t hiking too far, there was still the matter of catching a ride the few miles between the end of the trail and where my car was parked, driving back to camp and packing up, then rallying back to Ethan’s grandparents house on flathead. All of this, happening on the last day the Going to the Sun Road was open, so we were orchestrating all of this on a limited timeline (we weren’t exactly sure when the road closed, but we didn’t want to find out the hard way).
It was a chilly but calm and clear morning. We spent it meandering through the woods and hiking around the lakes that were one of the main draws of the Many Glacier area of the park. There were boats on some of the larger lakes that, during the middle of the day, ran tourists from the fancy lodge deep into the park without all of the hassle of having to walk more than a half mile.
Luckily, we made it past the lakes before the boats started running, allowing for some incredible photo opportunities. The sunrise over the calm water is what made this hike incredible, along with the sheer sense of calmness that came with it. We may have been tired and sore, but our spirits were high and the trail was already bringing us more than we had envisioned.
Our mood shifted quickly. A sign, written on an empty PBR case, informed us that a bridge was out, but if we were okay with backtracking, there was a way around. Well, we didn’t much feel like backtracking and decided to forge on ahead and we would ford the river, considering it at best a minor inconvenience.
At the crossing, we ran into the crew assembling a new bride and applauded them for their quality signage. It was a formidable crossing, but not unmanageable. Had it been a couple hours later, once the sun had a chance to warm the air, it might have actually been enjoyable. I stripped off my shoes, rolled up my pants and made my way across. Not bad at all. Ethan had elected to head downstream, eying what looking like a possible crossing without the need to get a little wet. I was about to start putting my shoes back on when I hear Ethan yelling at me.
Turns out, he had dropped a pair of sunglasses in the fast moving water. They were not his sunglasses. A series of misfortunate events led to him borrowing the sunglasses for the hike and let’s just say the person he was borrowing them from, has a strong fashion sense.
I went to help look, ultimately crossing the frigid water twice more, while Ethan waded around, crouched over trying to feel the glasses on the bottom of the river in a desperate hope of finding the lost glasses. When Ethan finally accepted that they were gone, and finally crossed the river himself, he was a little rattled, and managed to make another donation to the water gods, this time in the form of a much-valued, yet widely under appreciated sock.
A simple river crossing had turned into a disaster. We (mostly Ethan) were cold, wet and discouraged. The only thing we could do was push on. Eventually we stopped in a sunny clearing to take inventory, warm up, and MacGyver a sock out of the supplies we had with us. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.
Spirits were low, but improving. We broke out of the trees and began to climb. The elevation helped warm us, and the views brought back some of the energy. As we pressed on, we were passed by a couple of trail runners, one of whom was wearing nothing more than a flimsy pair of sandals on his feet. A stark contrast from our need for boots with thick soles and ankle support, and socks!
We pressed on and made good time to Piegan Pass, catching up the trail runners who passed us not long before. The view, yet again surprised me, for it was unique from the two prior hikes, with massive mountain walls lining the West side of the pass and open meadows filling in the basin and climbing up the more-gradual east side.
After scrambling up a boulder field to get a better view and stop for a bite to eat, we began the relatively short hike out to the road. A quick traverse down the south side of the pass and we were back into the forest, with not much left to see on our last hike in Glacier. Hiking in silence, I let my mind wander to all of the incredible things we had seen in our short stint in Glacier.
When we made it to the road, it was an awesome feeling. Though our journey wasn’t over, we had accomplished what we set out to do – an ambitious plan that took us through numerous areas of Glacier National Park. While there is always more to be explored, I felt like I was able to leave satisfied that I had made the most of my time in Glacier.
As planned, we quickly caught a right with a park employee headed over the pass, who gladly dropped us at our car. We made it back to camp, packed up (threw everything in the car, to be dealt with later), and made it back to Ethan’s grandparents house in time for a delicious spaghetti feast.
The following morning, we sorted through my car, which was quickly transforming into a disaster zone and hit the road. The last and final leg of the grand road trip (yes, I had company for the return trip!) had us winding through the stunningly beautiful hills of Montana, up over the mountains make up the entirety of the 45 minutes that it takes to cross Idaho, and squarely into the barren wasteland that makes up eastern Washington.
Finally, the journey came to an end with a final push through the dense smoke from forest fires and straining my eyes as I navigated the newly installed speed cameras that dot the highway over Snoqualmie Pass.
Ten days, nearly 2000 miles, 8 nights of camping in sun, rain, lightning, and snow, and some of the most incredible hiking I have done, the road trip was over.
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October 22, 2012
Posted in Uncategorized
We awoke in the morning to the cheerful sounds of a herd of teenage boys being dragged out of bed at the crack of dawn. My understanding is that it is natural instinct, for the teenage male, to alert as many people as humanly possible that their day is starting.
Albeit, Ethan and I still managed to have a slow, leisurely morning. We didn’t have much to do for the day, simply move camp to Many Glacier – our hub for the next couple of days. Our original goal for Glacier was to spend a couple nights backpacking through the park.
However, there were so many places we wanted to go, all centered around Many Glacier and Logan Pass, we realized backpacking would limit just how far we could travel. Instead, we hatched a bold plan. Dropping all of our camping gear in Many Glacier, we connected an assortment of trails that enabled two unique routes to and from Logan Pass. To make it all work, we left my car at the pass, and hiked back to Many Glacier via Swiftcurrent Pass. The final day, we left Many Glacier, hiking back to my car via Piegan Pass. Finally, driving back to Many Glacier to pick up camp and head home.
During out down-day, we had a nice chat with the Ranger, who was actually quite impressed with our plan. I am sure we are not the first to have done so, but the Ranger had never heard of such an adventure before. She did give us some helpful advice for places to check out along the way. We spent the rest of the day off playing cards, making a delicious curry, and discovering how wonderful duty-free whiskey tastes in hot chocolate. As an added bonus, it turns out marshmallows absorb whiskey quite well.
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October 16, 2012
Posted in Uncategorized
I wasn’t entirely sure where to go after Glacier. I was planning on driving in to Banff, because I had heard great things about the area. Realizing that it is a huge tourist destination, I was curious to visit, but not looking forward to finding somewhere to stay. I had subconsciously decided as part of the trip it was my goal to camp as many days as possible, avoiding civilization whenever possible.
Conveniently, in Glacier, I man an old-ish man from Australia, rocking some impressive dreads, who was in the middle of a greatly extended version of a trip similar to my own. I hadn’t really head much about the area, but this man told me to not drive into Banff, but instead head north into Jaspar National Park. After looking up campgrounds and hiking trails (again rated like a ski hill), I was convinced. Partially because of the Icefields Parkway, the self proclaimed “most spectacular journey in the world.”
I knew I didn’t have time to drive the entire road (I still had some semblance of a schedule to hold to) but it was worth the detour north. Not convinced that this was indeed the most spectacular journey in the world, I was at least intrigued enough to check it out. So, I picked up camp and left Glacier behind. Stopping shortly in the rain to get a bit of a history lesson at the top of Rogers pass and again in the town of Golden, where I found a quaint little café and got some work done. To illustrate just how incredible this region is, I had been sitting at the café for no more than 5 minutes when a local, Jay, walked in trying to sell his splitboard to the barista. Overhearing the conversation, I jumped in and had a nice chat with Jay. I ended up getting his number in case I was interested in buying a board…so if anyone needs one, I know where to get a good deal up in Canada.
I truly was in the heart of a region where backcountry skiing was not considered an obscure hobby, but a typical recreational activity. A concept I could get used to.
Eventually, I packed up my work, got back on the road, and made my way to the Icefields Parkway. It had been raining off and on all day, which wasn’t a particularly thrilling concept for camping, but was something I had just accepted as part of the adventure. What I wasn’t quite prepared for, the rain quickly transitioned to snow. So here I was, driving north, in Canada, to go camping.
And it was worth it. From the second I turned on to the Icefields Parkway, the views were absolutely breathtaking. It seemed every twist in the road revealed another peak, another valley, another lake, river, plateau, or canyon. The road meandered north, winding up mountain passes, and skirting through valleys. The snow came in patches, with the sky opening up just long enough for me to stop and take pictures. On top of the sheer beauty of the landscape, was the road itself. The snow wasn’t sticking, but was falling just hard enough to deter traffic. I was able to really experience the drive, as all great mountain roads should be driven.
After nearly two hours of breathtaking scenes, I arrived at my campground, just two miles shy of the Columbia glacier, in the snow. I bundled up, and set up camp in a hurry. Wasting no time, I got out my stove and prepared a hearty, warm bowl of tortellini to help keep me warm. Watching the snow start to accumulate on my tent, I decided to crawl into my tent early and read until I finally passed out.
When I awoke, not much had changed. It was still snowing slightly and not exactly warm. It was my goal to make it down to Montana by the end of the day, but I was determined to enjoy the where I was a little bit more. Dusting the snow off the tent, and throwing everything in the car, I headed down the road to check out the glacier. There is something awe inspiring about a glacier that you can drive to the edge of. There was a tour guide service running busses up on to the glacier, but I wasn’t about to pay money to walk on a little snow. I opted to enjoy the view from just below the toe.
From there, I turned back south, retracing my steps. As the day was still early, I made the most of my time by stopping at nearly every bend in the road, not wanting to miss any of the scenery. I stopped at a couple of lakes, and even attempted a short hike. I quickly gave up, as the fear of bears overpowered my desire to hike.
There was not a single person/car at the trailhead. I had been advised that the bear activity in the area was high, not to hike alone, make noise, and carry bear spray. I started seeing tracks fairly early in the hike, but dismissed them. The further I went, the fresher the tracks got and eventually, I freaked myself out. Though not before getting a couple of good pictures.
I continued south, stopping at all of the tourist spots along the road. Ending my driving journey at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. Both were crawling with people, and rightfully so. It is funny to think how many people stop there, when they could drive 15 minutes further, find equally stunning lakes and less than a 10th of the crowds.
Reflecting on my journey as I continued South leaving Jaspar and Banff behind and entering Koolani National Park (yes, the landscapes continued to be epic for the majority of the drive), it was hard to truly describe just how incredible the journey had been. Ultimately, the world is a huge place, with some pretty incredible landscapes. I am not quite comfortable giving the Icefields Parkway “ most spectacular journey in the world”, but I will give it this – most spectacular road I’ve ever driven in North America.
Next stop: Montana
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October 12, 2012
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I got an early start, hoping to make it all the way to Glacier NP in Canada with enough daylight to spare so that I wouldn’t be setting up camp in the dark. Well, I didn’t actually get that early of a start. In fact, I was a little behind. I had a long ways to go and I was determined to not fall behind on the first day.
Thankfully, the metric system is quite confusing. Sure, my speedometer has a couple tick marks to help correlate between km/h and mph. And I am sure that I could have made the conversion easily had I cared. But my general disregard for the speed limit was fueled by the extra step of having to actually figure out what it was. I opted for the easier solution, to go however fast I wanted/felt safe, and hope that speeding laws (which I know absolutely nothing about) are more lenient than they are across the border. I never did figure out how stringent the speeding laws are…
I did however make excellent time. The drive was spectacular. Almost immediately after I crossed the border into Canada I left the congested highways behind, and I found myself winding through the mountains. The road meandered northeast, quickly leaving the cascades behind, crossing a bit of flat desert land (think eastern Washington, except less painful to drive through), then into the Columbia mountains.
I rolled into Revelstoke around 4 pm. It had been my intention to stop and explore the infamous (well, it is if you know anything about snowboarding) town. But, I was in a hurry to get into Glacier and set up camp. I had absolutely no idea where I could camp, I just kind of went with it. I just knew it would be a lot easier to figure out in the light of day. So, I watched the town pass by from the highway, as I meandered up into the mountains.
It turns out that camping is fairly straightforward. You pay like 12 bucks a night to camp…plus 10 bucks a day to stay in the national park…plus another 8 if you want the luxury of a fire. I’d forgotten that it actually costs money to camp in designated sites. The campground was relatively full as people were out trying to make the most of the last few days of summer. Exhausted from the long day of driving, I cooked dinner, drank a few beers, and passed out early.
Now, I am not a huge morning person. But normally when I am camping, I tend to wake up at a reasonable time. Well, I did wake up decently early. Not because of the warm sun heating up my tent, but in fact the loud pitter-patter of rain endlessly falling. Not wanted to start my journey wet, I opted to lay in bed, read, and doze until the rain stopped. It finally did, and I managed to drag myself out of the tent a little after 10.
I made a quick decision to not move camp, and enjoy another night in Glacier. That way I could go for a longer hike, have time to work, and take a break from driving. It was a fantastic decision.
Fun fact, in Canada they rate their hiking trails much the same way they rate ski runs. I opted for a black diamond, because well, why not. Specifically, the Glacier Crest Trail, which offered a “Steep trail up onto a ridge providing a panoramic view of rock and glacial ice.”
I have to admit, I normally take phrasing like “steep trail” with a grain of salt and the stupid metric system wasn’t helping much either. So, 1000m over 5km, that’s not too bad right? Well, I will give Canada a little credit. This was probably the steepest day hike I have attempted.
It was completely worth it. After countless switchbacks, I found myself up on a ridge overlooking some spectacular peaks in the Columbia Mountains. I sat atop the ridge, soaking in the 360-degree panoramic view, reveling in the beauty. Wondering to myself, “If this is how I am just starting my trip, where is it going from here?”
While I was imagining the adventure that lay ahead, I watched storm clouds roll in and the ominous sound of thunder rumbling in the distance. I decided it was time to leave my perch atop the ridge and head back into the safety of the valley below.
I managed to escape with only a drizzle on the way down and began plotting the next leg of my adventure.
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October 11, 2012
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I hate plans. I am terrible at making them. I am terrible at following them. So, I try my best to avoid planning whenever possible. Knowing that I was expecting the trip to last roughly 10 days, I decided it couldn’t hurt to at least attempt to formulate a plan. So, I sat down and worked out an elaborate plan. It involved rallying out to Yellowstone, then cruising up to Flathead Lake, working for a couple of days, then exploring Glacier for a few days before returning home.
Almost as if the world was conspiring against me, my plans all fell apart at the last minute. My friend in Yellowstone was going to be out of town and Ethan likewise, was not going to be at his house on Flathead Lake as expected.
It was two days before I had intended on setting out and my trip was unraveling. Determined to make something happen, I got a little desperate. I pulled up Google maps and started looking around, to see where I could get to – no real destination in mind. I found myself poking around in Canada. Torn between fascination with what Canada had to offer, and dissuaded by the desire to keep things simple. The mere fact that I would have to find (yes…I keep it in a safe place and generally know whereit is, collecting dust) and carry my passport adds a layer of complexity.
There were three aspects that were appealing and ultimately helped me make a decision. First, I was able to plot a route that led me through towns with a plethora of cafes. One requirement for the trip was that I needed to get work done. Most of the work I could do offline, but I knew that I would eventually run in to issues that required Internet access. In fact, driving through Canada was about the only route I could find that allowed me to reach new destinations each day and have time to work for a few hours. Second, wow… Canada is rich in national parks. I had been to precisely none of the parks and they all looked and sounded spectacular. Third, Glacier. Most of you assume I am talking about the Glacier National Park/Waterton National Park that crosses from Montana into Canada. Did you know that Canada has another Glacier National Park? Did you also know that it sits right on top of Rogers Pass, aka a mecca for backcountry skiing?
I think it was the third fact that was most appealing… mainly because my trip now had a theme. I had been to neither Glacier National Parks, but was determined to experience both and make a completely subjective and biased opinion of which is better.
And with that, I threw my tent, backpack, a few clothes, and an assortment of food in my car and took off.
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September 4, 2012
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To describe Epic Float, it is best to start at the beginning. River floating is nothing new. Nor are large float trips. I hear San Diego has a bit of an issue with regular floatillas amassing and causing serious headaches for the local authorities. Here in Washington, floating is an activity normally associated with a bored group of friends looking for an easy way to spend a lazy day in the sun. In fact, this may well be the origin of the Epic Float. It started off small, each year, and friends inviting friends. Thanks to the power of social networks, the Epic Float network quickly grew and today the float has blown up into an annual endeavor for some 200 or so brave individuals.
I say brave, because this float requires navigating the intense rapids of the Yakima river, inflatable alligators, everclear, and the all-to-common banana hammock.
This year, we were much more prepared than last. Our group consisted of roughly 15 people and probably enough inflatable devices for each person to have their own. This was a overshadowed by one single inflatable device, which I will refer to as the floating island. I believe it was rated to hold 8 people, though it comfortably fit more. It had several built in coolers and an incredibly powerful built-in water-tight speaker system. We were floating in style!
The island made for a much more enjoyable and comfortable trip than in the past. Though none of us did, I bet you could have made it the entire day without getting wet. As per usual, we stopped for lunch about halfway through the float. It was full of the usual debauchery including cliff jumping. I don’t know what I was thinking last year (I probably wasn’t) when I did a backflip, but dang that was a higher cliff than I remember!
Last year, we pulled-out much too early, and in a fit of chaos, destroyed our rafts, my sunglasses, and were barraged by the worst cloud of mosquitoes I have even endured in my life. This year, we managed to follow directions and the pullout was considerably mellower. Thanks to the organizers for setting up giant signs along the river to keep us informed! At this point I should probably also thank the local police. They managed to get wind of the even and were out in force. At just about any point where the rapids picked up (okay, still not really rapids), the police/fire department could be seen on the shore watching to make sure our fun did not turn to disaster. While to the best of my knowledge, we pulled off the day without incident. Furthermore, for the most part I believe we were all respectful to the police who were there looking out for our safety, and the police seemed to be in good spirits about things as well.
The float itself is followed by camping outside of Cle Elum. We more or less took over the campground, with several parties going on well into the night. There was also a meteor shower going on. It was a strange mix of watching meteors shoot across the sky with the incessant thumping of an outdoor nightclub in the distance. I ended up ditching my tent in favor of a more remote open field, where I was accompanied by a couple of friends. We dragged out sleeping bags and a tart with us, and fell asleep watching the pretty light show unfolding above us.
I could go on and include more graphic imagery of the epicenes of the float, though I think I will leave that to your imagination and expect even that won’t fully do the weekend justice.
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August 9, 2012
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Recently, a friend was over and some of my pictures were flashing on the TV in the background. Occasionally we would stop and watch the impromptu slideshow. My friend remarked, “all of your pictures are in the snow” and it made me realize, that I have spend an absorbent amount of time in the snow this year. Yosemiteand a handful of other small trips make up the small exception. As it is now August, you may have expected me to cast aside my addiction to snowboarding to pursue slightly more typical summer activities. Well – no, I have not. I am still contemplating where my next adventure will be. My options are quickly narrowing to volcanoes and glaciers. Volcanoes are generally far away and limited in number (I would rather go somewhere I have not been to before) and I lack the knowledge/gear/experience to tackle some of the other glaciated routes (navigating crevasses doesn’t sound very fun).
I this comment made me realize that I have not been backpacking quite as much as I would like. There is something incredibly rewarding about spending some time alone in the wilderness. For me, disappearing into the wilderness for the weekend provides an escape from the busy world. It is always a mad rush to gather my gear, throw it in the car, and make it out of the city at a reasonable time; once I am out, the craziness is behind me. I am relaxed, alone with my thoughts and a good book. While I hike, my mind wanders to any number of things – friends, family, work, girls, what I am doing with life, what do I want to do, reflecting on what I have done, pretty much anything. As I hike, thoughts creep forward – thoughts that have been pushed back in my mind due to the chaos of life, or because I have been too afraid to confront. As I push forward on the trail, my mind does so as well. When I inevitably make it back to the car, I am exhausted but with a new clarity. Ready to return to the city.
Last weekend I had no idea where I was going. Frankly, I didn’t particularly care. I was just happy to be getting out. At the last minute, I formulated a plan to go to Sahale Arm in the North Cascades. I heard it was beautiful there and mostly snow free at this point. I wasn’t looking for a particularly challenging hike nor did I want to drive too far (Cascade Pass was still about a 3 hour drive). Deciding to put off packing until the morning, I woke up bright and early to throw everything in my car and hit the road. I needed a permit to camp in the North Cascades and I was hoping I could get lucky and get a spot at one of the handfuls of sites on the pass. Much like my experience in Yosemite, the permit gods were not in my favor (to be fair, Cascade Pass is one of the most popular areas in the park for people coming from Seattle). Thankfully, the ranger station was not very busy and the ranger was very friendly.
I explained what I was looking for (a short hike, not too far away), and wasn’t able to find anything. I accepted that I may have to drive a bit and a couple options opened up. The ranger pointed out a trail that led to a nice looking lake that still had a few sites available. Looking at the map, I got excited because it appeared that there was a nice little loop I could take. The ranger frowned at me and pointed out that the “loop” wasn’t a maintained trail and would more or less involve some cross-country travel. I smiled back and pointed out the last couple of trips I had taken in the North Cascades (Eldorado and Mt Hardy/snowy lakes). The ranger got really excited upon hearing this, and started plotting a new route for me involving a cross-country permit (i.e. no designated camp site, with some basic requirements for picking a site). Suddenly, my simple weekend trip was becoming a lot more complex. I think we were both feeding off of each other’s excitement, and my new plan was going to be quite an adventure.
The plan was to start at the Bridge Creek trailhead, branching off and taking a not-maintained trail up to the meadow below Stiletto Peak. From there, I had options. I could go up to a lookout for camp, or to a small alpine lake. Once I was in the meadow, I could set up camp pretty much wherever I want (making sure to not disturb the vegetation as much as possible). The following day, I could head off the meadow and reconnect with the Bridge Creek trail to return to the car. I was supposed to be a nice loop with some spectacular views.
It was a beautiful weekend and incredibly hot. For the first few minutes I was happy to be under the cover of the trees, though this attitude quickly changed. I lost track of the number of blow-downs that I had to crawl over and tramp around. At several points the trail was hardly discernable (and I had not yet left the main Bridge Creek trail). I couldn’t decide which was worse, the sun or the poorly maintained trail. Either way, I was enjoying all of it.
As I continued on, the trail branched a couple of times and I thought I had successfully navigated on to the right path. A couple hours in to my journey, I wasn’t so sure that I was on the right trail. I had expected to peel off to the left and start making switchbacks up to the foot of Stiletto Peak. However, the trail never branched and I wasn’t yet ready to abandon the trail I was on. Looking up at the peak, I could discern a clear route to where I thought I should be going. I decided to keep going, thinking I just hadn’t gone far enough and the turn off was still coming up. After another half hour or so, I was convinced I had missed the turn off. I could tell, because I now sat at the base of Twisp Pass, with Stiletto peak off behind me. A little disappointed in myself, I shrugged of my failed navigation and headed up the pass. I resolved to attempt to find the path up Stiletto peak in the morning on my way back to the car. If I had enough energy I would even try to make the climb (though I doubted the added 6-7 miles and several thousand feet in elevation would really happen).
It was a weird feeling when I got to the top of the pass. I was disappointed that I wasn’t where I had intended to be, but not disappointed in the least about where I was. The view was incredible. I meandered around for a while until I found a suitable site to set up camp. I threw down my pack and proceeded to scramble up to the top of the ridge. What I was rewarded with was better than I had hoped for. I wish my friend Kevin was with me to spew off the names and facts about the numerous peaks surrounding me. I was able to figure out a couple like Twisp Peak, Stilleto, even Eldorado (I think) off in the distance. But my USGS map only provided a handful names for peaks I could see. Most extended well beyond the edges of my map.
I stayed on the ridge for a while, soaking up the view and allowing myself to just get lost in the mountains. Eventually, I decided to head back to my gear and set up camp. It had been a hot day and I was ready to relax a little and read for a while. However, when I got back to my pack, I was greeted by a swarm of mosquitoes and bees. I was veryhappy that I remembered to pick up more bug spray on the way out of town. I was too tired to look for a less-buggy site, and earnestly believed I couldn’t do much better anyways. I resorted to setting up my tent as fast as humanly possible and diving inside before I fed too many mosquitoes. The sun was still fairly high in the sky and I had naïvely picked a site that was not going to get shade for several hours. To be fair, when I picked my site, I was going for somewhere with an exceptional view and wasn’t concerned by silly things like shade. Using my sleeping bag, I erected a makeshift curtain on the side of my tent and proceeded to read/nap for a while.
When I awoke, the bugs were worse than before. It was dinnertime for both of us. I dragged myself out of my tent and cooked my pasta while not standing in one spot for too long. I am convinced that bugs have adapted and deet no longer repels bugs, but attracts them. I only left the tent once more that evening to admire the sunset (and take pictures) and get a little bit of water.
I laid awake for house, reading, thinking, and playing a new game I created which mainly involves flicking mosquitoes that landed on my tent (I know…I am easily amused). Opting not to put on my rainfly, I fell asleep with the stars filling the sky. It’s a sight that I will never get tired of. I awoke only once as the almost-full moon filled the sky with light.
In the morning, the mosquitoes were back and I was not too thrilled about that. I decided to pack up and get an early start. I would eat breakfast further down the trail where there was running water so that I could resupply. With the hot weather, I had already gone through 4l and knew I needed a lot more for the trek out.
I took off down the trail making good time. I never did find the damn trail up to Stiletto peak. I am convinced that it does not exist (despite the signs I had followed that were directing me towards it). This made me feel slightly better, since I was convinced that I had simply missed the turn on the way up. However, I soon became confused on the hike out. The trail seemed much more maintained than on the way in, notably with a number of blow-downs which had been cut out. I was baffled by this, but not complaining since it was making my journey much more enjoyable. I kept following the trail, only getting concerned once I hit the road. I was at the highway, but not where I had parked my car. I was very confused. My map made no mention of the trail I had apparently followed, and to think that this mysterious trail was better maintained than the marked trail absolutely baffled me. Not wanting to hike along the highway (considering I wasn’t sure how far I was from my trailhead), I elected to backtrack and find the turn I missed. Seriously, I have never had a problem missing turns before and according to my map, this trail wasn’t even supposed to exist. I was confused and frustrated. I backtracked nearly a mile. I even turned off the trail a couple times following what may have been incredibly poorly marked turns (they weren’t). Eventually, I decided that the only place I could have missed the turn was nearly another mile back, I decided it wasn’t worth it. After all, this trail was well maintained and took me back to the road. I figured I could find out how far it was to the trailhead fairly easy and either quickly make the embarrassing hike along the side of the highway with cars whizzing by at 60mph, or if need be, hitchhike. I blame the book I am reading, On the Road, for the latter idea.
Thankfully, there was a sign about 50 yards down the highway that conveniently informed me that the Bridge Creek Trailhead was only .1 mile down the road. Perfect. I could practically run that distance and spare myself too much embarrassment. Well, about 15 minutes later, I decided that the ‘.’ was a lie and the trailhead was actually a full mile down the road. I may be a poor judge of distance (and apparently terrible at navigation) but I can crawl .1 mile in less than 10 minutes.
I made it back to the car, another adventure completed (whether or not it was successful is debatable). I will just blame the heat. When I opened my car, a couple of things caught my eye. An old McDonalds cup had completely melted in my cup holder. It was hot in there. When I went to pick up my national parks’ pass, I grabbed the corner and the plastic card drooped down in my hand.
The trip was spectacular. I am still baffled at how I missed so many turns, but mosquito bites aside, I had an awesome time and I came back to the city feeling refreshed, my mind having followed a similar journey to my feet. I never felt like I was lost, but I never really felt like I knew where I was, and that made for an exciting journey.
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