Mt. Elbert - 14,433 feet
17 State high points
Mt. Elbert - 14,433 feet
17 State high points
An omnipotent climber who handles every challenge with infinite, immutable tenacity is destined to succeed is she not? Why strive for anything if she is destined to be a loser? No matter because I forget since I’m always out doing, being and seeing and therefore only remember ideas and sensations then decided to improve my memory by doing unforgettable things to forget about my emotionally antiseptic life. Nearly everything I’ve climbed is of no importance, but it was important that I did it. One of the best quotes ever written here, “In recognition of my firm belief that I'm better than everyone else, I opted to try my own route.” Gladbach 3/11/2008. I too have opted to try my own routes because they were mine to try. Climbing 17 state high points over the last 20 years because there is an infinite difference between a little wrong and just right, between fairly good and the best. In the long run, I hit only what I aimed at. Therefore, I had better aim at something high. By the time I’m wise enough to watch my step I’ll be too old to go anywhere and it’s a long way downhill. This story is recreated for dramatic purposes.
Y2K didn’t kill us so I decided to go visit my dad for his birthday. I rented a Cessna 152 loaded up my toys and my sister and flew us to Oregon. The oil overheated and we made an emergency descent into Boise then rented a car. We went deep sea fishing for the day and that night dad chose his usual suspect Budweiser. Cheers dad, I’m going to bed and need princess sleep because I knew exactly what I wanted to do now that I had a car. But in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do and decided to go skiing on Mt. Hood. There were two lifts operating, both in a straight line up the mountain. After a warm-up run feeling dapper skiing on a hot, clear summer blasting up and down the slopes sometimes getting on at mid-station to avoid going all the way down because I kept looking up. At the upper lift ~8500 feet I flirted with to two climbers who I had seen hiking down from the summit. They told me that they started their hike at 0300 with a $150 snow-cat ride. It was then I decided to go ahead and try to climb to the summit, besides, I paid for my lift ticket and it was a beautiful day so I decided to see what it was like ignorant to climbing a major glaciated peak solo in the mushy snow but I was halfway there, so that was all the justification I needed.
Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy. Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me. Fast forward five years after Hood and I met my match. Mawwage. Mawwage is what bwings us togethew today. Mawwage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam within a dweam. I hate that I love climbing mountains and I’m afraid of how much I love them but prosaically they are easy when compared to the metaphorical mountain of marriage. True love is the greatest thing in the world, except for a nice climb where you get to run away from responsibilities and it feels good. The patience, acceptance and negotiations can be opposing but then you see the value in having a life partner and its importance to choose wisely then work with what you have. So we climbed Mount Elbert in the summer of 2005 that was advertised as a fun multi pitch 5.9 with no expectations. Just plug and play. The first pitch was exactly that and we both could see many bail outs all along P1 but neither took take the bait. The second pitch was a motherfucker and we both wanted to quit but up was out unless we left our expensive gear but stubbornness persisted. The third pitch had us meandering and wondering what to do, lost, me on lead because if there is a hard way I will find it. I decide to build a belay and bring him up so we could make decisions together. He was pissed about the whole climb and a bit resentful then we had a specious argument about which way to go and eventually get off the mountain together because life is better together. While I love the theater and not the drama I’ve been on Elbert the tallest in Colorado many times and the less dramatic story is my first time on Elbert with Marc we hiked the standard route and a mountain devil stole my sandwich. This was also the first time I had ever seen a marmot but don’t let the little furry fatball fool you. I knew there was something sinister about these creatures when we sat on the summit enjoying a PB&J and a greedy little paw grazed my ear then snatched at my sandwich. Odd fellow I thought but gave a morsel because I thought he was cute. I pity the fool.
With careless air after my first traditional climb in Eleven Mile Canyon I drove down to Taos NM knowing I could bag a state high point. I had climbed all the 14ers and a few 13ers now in 12 months with reckless abandon always in hurry and dopamine was high. Since I’m a thinker and a doer sleep is negotiable and success was always mine. I pursued pleasure with such breathless haste that I hurried past it. If I go to the way back machine now I can’t recall what anything looked like on or around Wheeler. There was more snow than I expected but I was a master kick stepper now. There was one older gentleman on the summit but he didn’t talk to me. I wouldn’t have listened anyway because I was on a mission to see how much I could get done in the little time I had away from home and work. Did I see the Culebra range? I saved some pictures of my first rock climb, my third state high point and a mountain bike ride in Angel Fire that I did in 3 days. There are times when I still fall prey to my old habits of the gladiatorial rush through life. Someday I’ll return and give them a fair shake.
Celebrating our 9 year anniversary Marc and I did our coveted southwest road trip. Sometimes we did pedestrian things especially if he chose but when I get my way, which is most of the time I can convince us we are capable of fantastical feats like hiking another state high point together. I bat my army green eyes, whip my blond hair across my shoulder and cock my hips then say things like if I don’t have some cake soon, I might die. Climbing mountains had become a drug and I was in a constant state of perpetual planning. The hike up was long but easy. The summit is pretty amazing when you look across the land and feel like you're standing on top of the world. You see craters, the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, the mesas Verde Valley and Oak Creek Canyon home of the Hopi Indians from a 360 degree panorama. We spent considerable time on top had our cake and ate it too then admired the geology. Arizona has many treasures.
What is the tallest mountain on the planet? The answer is debatable and depends on how you measure. From its base to the peak Mauna Kea is 33,500 feet. Marc and I were invited to a wedding in Hawaii and I had just broke my foot while being dropped on belay and was in a compression boot until the swelling subsided. With a bottle of vitamin ‘I’ we flew across the Pacific, danced at the wedding piggy back style then rented a jeep and drove up to the Gemini Observatory then crutched 0.5 miles to the absolute top of the world. Feeling like I was on Olympus Mons as things looked orderly from that height. We celebrated on top, me and my fetter foot him and his worry as I said his 4 favorites words, “I have an idea!” He gets goosebumps in a bad way when I scheme and dream. Success comes while you keep moving. Sure I make mistakes but don’t quit. Really I know one word for sure, fight! Truth is why lie I just want to sit on the beach and eat chips. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. So my crazy idea was to be on the tallest point immediately followed by the lowest point on the planet in the same day. After we gimpy hiked up Mauna Kea we enjoyed splashing in the ocean that afternoon and ate chips. The worst was yet to come. November 9, 2016 I was hit by a car while riding my bike home from work and traumatic amnesia prevents me from remembering the accident. With a fractured pelvis and back among many other broken bones I had to learn how to walk again. When knocked down I refuse to give up and instead will get up because failures aren’t fatal instead they are lessons and I listen. I have learned so many valuable lessons since the accident. I took so many things for granted and didn’t appreciate what I had. The opportunities I have now mean more to me than I can express in a trip report. When Marc asked what I wanted to do for my birthday to celebrate life I thought about standing on the absolute top of the world again with two good feet this time. We flew out to Hawaii in April of 2017 and did the same drive to the observatory followed by the short easy hike to the top and despite near record global temperature with the second hottest since measured in 1880 Mauna Kea had snow! I was suppose to feel something but instead overwhelming emptiness consumed me. The idea I had that day was to hike the easy trail then drive over to the observatory trail of Mauna Loa and hike 4 miles, intersect the North Pit trail and hike another 2 miles to the top. It was a big day and the drive was rough for my back fusion. We got to see where astronauts are training for Mars with our lunar rover and the hike took all day long. I remembered how I felt with fetter foot but that pails in comparison to feeling like something took me apart and put the pieces back together in the wrong way. Everything hurt and nothing felt right. However I don’t dwell on misfortune instead I do what I can with what I have where I’m at and we had a great day together.
We are born to succeed, not to fail. The successes, failures and values I’ve enjoyed from living life in a state of humble curiosity has given me more rewards than I deserve. The contrived difficulties I pursued pre-accident were hard just to prove that I could. The 10 feet tall and bulletproof mentality is a hard curse to break. I pushed too hard too soon on many occasions including Rainier. I had met a new partner and on my one year anniversary post accident we had a smashing time on an ice climb in RMNP called All Mixed Up. He thought I’d be a good partner for bigger objectives but wanted to see if our expedition styles were cohesive and suggested the Kautz Glacier route. He set me up with a crew of his OG’s because he was training for Ultar Star in the Hunza Valley. He was one of the strongest and most graceful climbers I have ever climbed with and at 50 years old he would’ve kicked all my former partners butts. When he called up to me after our climb and critiqued that I needed to work on my endurance I snapped back that a year ago I would’ve kicked his ass. He was supportive and always happy to help climbers of much lesser skill (me) and said he admired my tenacity. His Rainier crew were nice, strong and big dreamers. At base camp one after crossing the Nisqually Glacier they asked me what was next on my radar and I quickly remarked that this was it. Get up and down Rainier safely and enjoy it while it lasts because like you I used to chase rainbows being excited in the chase and never truly enjoying the adventure I was on because instead I had my mind on what was next. I didn’t make any friends at camp because I talk a lot, so I learned on this trip to tune myself out. House keeping on multi day glaciated peaks is a lot of work. While taking a trash bag and shovel to fill it up with snow to melt for cooking and drinking I noticed a stash of gear under a rock cairn. I dug around and found a plethora of valuables that had been there a while weathered by time. I brought back the bag and some of the gear and food I found but the crew insisted I take it back because we didn’t need it unless there was an emergency. Sharing a tent with 3 smelly guys I’d encourage anyone to bring edibles (they’re legal in Washington), earplugs and a full face balaclava. I slept peacefully a little too peaceful because in the morning crows had ransacked our camp and destroyed a couple of our freeze dried meals but guess who knew where the secret emergency stash was? Day 2 our only objective was to establish base camp 2. The weather was great and we had a leisure stroll upward to the base of the Kautz Glacier. Day 3 was summit day. We left base camp 2 very early and geared up. Navigating through one rock headwall then through the ice palace and finally to the technical piece where we teamed up in two’s me on lead on P1 that was nicely featured and I only placed one ice screw. On P2 while on belay we decided to race each other to the top. My blazintoes smoked him and it felt good to be back in the game. Glacier travel assumed after P2 and many false summits later we were on top! We journeyed over to the true summit and surmised that we were moving fast enough to head back down clean up base camp 2 and make it all the way to the parking lot in a day. How I love impossible missions. Two rappels and some hide and seek in the ice palace we found base camp intact then hurriedly packed and descended 9000 feet in 6 hours. I marveled at the hoards of people we saw flocking up and down the DC route then perfectly understood why we carried our shit up and down then dropped the blue poo bags in the metal drums. While flying home I got a good view of Rainier from my window seat and realized how big it is. The following month my partner died on Ultar Sar Peak in the Hunza Valley when his base camp was wiped away in the middle of the night by an avalanche. Unlike the SciFi movie Edge of Tomorrow where you get to live die and repeat, death is not something we get to practice. I call bullshit on the feel good phrase of ‘at least he died doing what he loves’. As time goes by the Rainier trip taught me to truly respect mountains and mountain people. Also instead of comparing myself with those more fortunate because my crew were all heavily decorated, I now compare myself with the great majority and it was then I realized I am among the privileged. We are all climbing the same mountain with the same privilege and we all respect it in our own way and no one should ever die while climbing a mountain. Losing a partner to the mountain Gods made me realize I need to slow down and appreciate what I already have.
I used to be a superhero but my therapist changed my mind. Marc and I went to an ice sculpture venue in December in Breckenridge after fat biking some groomed trails. The venue was brilliant and marvelous with a couple lit up ice slides. We watched as some gracefully landed while most shot out like a farmer blow. Marc has an unfair advantage from work when they deploy the emergency slides off the airplane and teach you how to land. I go first to prove I can still kick his ass at everything, deploy my cape and fly down the slide. The kaleidoscope of prisms blinds me and the frozen chute caused brain freeze for when it was time kick off my heels I suffered from dead butt syndrome and landed hard on my ass. Marc followed not knowing I crashed then landed a 10.0 and a few applauded. Show off. A couple days later I hiked up Horseshoe Peak to prepare my legs for with snowflake challenge determined to finish my winter 14ers list. The entire hike was riddled with problems. Wind was my constant companion and visibility was nil because of the spin drift. I summited then followed the orange line on my gps the entire time because the wind filled my tracks. On the descent my right leg started sending mixed signals to my brain that it was tracking hard to the left but when I’d look down I could see it moving in a straight line. These were the same mixed signals I got when learning how to walk again due to spinal nerve regeneration and it is exhausting to deal with. The remaining details are equally exhausting. I made it back to the car then worked a couple days later. While helping a patient out of wheelchair I felt a strain in my back and thought I pulled a muscle. That night the pain was unbearable and I drove to the ER with the sturdy Mauna Kea crutches. After weeks of prescription drugs, physical therapy and medical imaging it was finally discovered that my vertebral disc in my neck ruptured and my lumbar spine bulged causing nerve impingement and I blame my dead butt syndrome on the ice slide. After another surgery and a steroid injection I was advised to only walk for exercise. While studying the map of places I could go that are warm and only require a pair of shoes I chose Big Bend NP in Texas, yeehaw because hiking really is just walking right? Big Bend is one of the most beautiful National Parks I’ve ever seen and the hikes are plentiful. The state high point isn’t that far of a drive away and Guadalupe Peak whispered, ‘choose me instead of suicide’ because you may consider putting a bullet in your head while dealing with spinal nerve impingement. You can drive for hours in Texas and feel like you’re not really going anywhere because it is so big but eventually I got to the trail head before other hikers since I’m an early bird. It’s a proper hike with nearly 3000 feet of elevation gain in a little over 4 miles. On the way up in the wee hours of the brisk morning I saw the strangest animal I’ve ever seen called a javelina then stepped over some bear scat turned the corner and there she was. We were so close to each other I could’ve poked her with my walking stick. She was smaller than I imagined a black bear should be but instead of aggression she was annoyed that I was ruining her berry breakfast. Guadalupe has a very nice trail to the top that is easy to navigate and you start with desert vegetation then finish with sub alpine across a couple bridges and cliff drop offs nearing the summit. Also the summit is decorated with a braggadocios monolith long before they were cool and mysterious.
After a work training event in Birmingham driving to the Alabama high point Cheaha is 90 minutes away and you can visit Talladega along the way. My cousin was stationed in Columbus Mississippi at the time so I also could’ve seen Woodall Mountain if I had more time. My event finished on the third day at noon so I had just enough time to drive to Talladega because if you ain’t first, you’re last then blast over to Cheaha State Park. Do you believe? I do. Bigfoot is up there. Sometimes I’ll start a hike and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope to find the summit along the way and meandering around a mountain biking trail seemed the logical thing to do. Truth is you can drive to the summit, hang out in the summit temple, Quasimodo to the top and get sub optimal views of the land then saunter over to the scout ranch and talk to big foot. Expectation is the root of all heartache and I’m not sure what I was expecting but this state high point seemed lackluster. If you had a summit, could name it and decorate it what would you do? Would you monetize or educate?
History need not be a mystery and I had finally completed my winter snowflake challenge so now what? State high points became interesting again. Amidst a pandemic this project seemed doable and mountains are therapeutic. Travel restrictions were lifted now with new restrictions. With the middle seat unoccupied, double masks and glasses I felt safe to fly. Working in health care affords opportunities and training to keep myself and my family safe. There are rules I adhere to including to never touch my face and wearing glasses ensures I won’t touch my eyes. Never eat finger food and keep my hands clean and sanitized. Also if Alan Sheppard can pee in his spacesuit before launching into space I most certainly can cough sneeze and drool in my mask. I flew to Vegas and drove to Boundary Peak. I thought I was smart getting a Murano SUV but this gutless wonder couldn’t get up the sandy jeep road so I parked a little over a mile from Kennedy Point. I noticed a yellow caution sign painted with two donkeys on the highway and thought that was interesting and wondered what it meant. Do donkeys roam freely and cross the road in their stubborn manner? Marginal weather was predicted, which meant I may not get to the summit let alone Boundary and Montgomery in a day to say I was on the tallest in Nevada and a sub summit of California on the same trip so moving quickly was the theme. The climbing starts right away, is mildly steep but enjoyable. The first saddle is the crossbow between the north and south approach. My GPS along the way suggested the south approach to save 40 minutes of driving but when I looked at the map I could see this jeep road was a little rougher and longer than the north and looking down at the south now it was evident that I had chosen wisely. I could see puffy clouds start to build to the north and didn’t linger long at the saddle. The second segment was a gentle climb to the sub alpine where I saw the wild donkeys then thought of David Attenboruough. Everyone has seen Planet Earth. On the plains segment he says, ... “so long as grass can survive so can grazes...wild ass.” When connecting that close with the wild I feel I’m not alone, I am part of this place. They were big donkeys that looked more like wild horses to me. Time to keep going and get my wild ass up top because mother nature is chomping at my heels. The wind picked up and small snow pellets occasionally spit out. The sun was gone now and I layered up. I could hear voices ahead and when I got to the base of the second saddle I could see a group of 3 ahead of me. The final push is 1300 feet of scree and I caught up to the trio at the spine of the ridge. The views of the ridge are remarkable and look like a puzzle I can easily solve. The trio are 3 young guys wearing shorts and light wind breakers. They ask me how I approached and I said I drove from Vegas then up 95 to Coaldale and highway 6. They too came from Vegas but took the bait and went up 266 and said it was pretty rough. They asked about the weather and I gave them my best Kathy Sabin impersonation then said they can follow me if they want but we shouldn’t sit here much longer. I asked if they were cold and they shrugged their shoulders. Well if you move fast you can keep warm. They seemed hesitant and I said I had to go. I moved quickly, they followed for a short while and I moved quicker so I also could stay warm. Eventually they gave up retreated then waved goodbye. Bye bye fellas. The scramble to the top was fun and I had the summit to myself. So far the weather just spit at me and the snow thunder loomed ahead north to south. I thought I doubt therefore I might be as I summited. Lucky Ducky. Montgomery to my left and fickle Mother Nature to my right and I said to her, “I can’t compete with you physically, and you are no match for my brains, but let me sit here just a moment do my push ups and snap a picture or two.” Did you know it snows in the desert in summer? It does and it did and it was time to go. I blasted down the spine and down the scree in the snowstorm. Plunge stepping wet scree is quite fun. Enjoying another state high point at 13,147’ in a little over 9 miles r/t in 4 hours and getting a Strava QOM was a pretty little feather in my cap. I have more mountains to climb!
After Boundary I drove to Yosemite car camped and hiked to Half Dome via Clouds Rest and wow California makes some magnificent massive granite peaks. After dropping off Clouds Rest I crossed paths with a JMT thru hiker and we asked where each other was headed. She looked like a total bad ass and commanded respect. I told her that there was an earthquake at the Whitney Portal and it was shut down. She said by the time she gets there it will be cleaned up. I joked and said if not and you trespass the seismologists will feel you there. Half Dome was half crowded and I almost snapped up the final cables route because of the traffic jam but someone ahead brought baby Yoda so I used my Jedi sense and asked Yoda to show me the way. Keep cool trick is. Mmm hmmm. So what you’re saying is if it doesn’t break you it’ll make you stronger. Thanks Yoda. Somehow I found solitude up top because Half Dome was half full but to me was half cool. I had an opportunity at a clear path back down the cables clipped in with my harness and blasted down ASAP. I heard someone say, “I’ve never seen anyone do that before” as they looked my way. I smiled and scampered down the trail deciding to take the JMT segment 1 back. It was atrocious with downed trees everywhere and I can see why hikers choose Clouds Rest over this. Ugh. I drove to Lake Tahoe that evening and put my bike together. I have a Ritchey Breakaway steel bike that packs easily and is a great bike packing machine that I named Megatron. This is the bike I was hit on and it suffered no damage. My theory is the steel frame transferred all the energy into my body and my bones shattered from the force. Megatron is tough. My idea was to bike around Lake Tahoe and prepare my legs for the Mount Whitney Duathlon challenge by biking from Death Valley to Whitney in a day but the earthquake smashed that idea so I had to work on plan B. Lake Tahoe is beautiful. There are mountain people and beach people. This town has a lot of both. I was invited on an annual summer climbing trip with my main partner and decided to take the scenic route via Bears Valley along West Yosemite towards Fresno then Shuteye and made myself carsick on endless twisty roads. This entire place suffered massive loss during the summer fires and it was an honor to see it before the destruction. My partners team developed the rock climbing at Shuteye and it was a good refuel stop for me to tell them what I had accomplished and what was yet to come. We talked about the earthquake and other ways to access Whitney via Cottonwood but that would be an epic 60 mile day but did ignite my curiosity. Plan B required more planning so after a day of slab climbing I drove to Fresno got a hotel and negotiated my plans over the phone with Marc. Cottonwood pass to Whitney via the Army trail looked like a cruise on the maps. Go fast and light. After a long drive and another day of rest I biked up Horseshoe Meadows road before sunrise where the road was lined with cars. I locked my bike in the trees at Horseshoe meadow and started the long hike up to Cottonwood pass as the sun greeted me. There was water at Chicken Spring where I re hydrated snacked and decided to go down Army Pass where I was annihilated by mosquitoes who can only fly at 2mph. At 2.2mph with a heavy pack I had burned a match so when I got to the bear vaults at Rock Creek I decided to slim down. I dropped my big pack, tent and some food then took a little pack, stove and emergency bivy. It was so nice to be light and free. The west side here via PCT with Mt. Guyot to the left is relentless and rather boring. The only excitement was crossing paths with two park rangers on my way to Crab Tree. I think they didn’t harass me because they were making out in the trees. Everyone deserves free love. Once I got to Crab Tree a trail sign said 7.8 miles to Whitney. It was 4pm and I knew there was no way I would summit and make it back to my tent at the bear vaults that night so I scouted for emergency bivy spots on my way to Guitar Lake. I passed a couple hikers on the way to Guitar Lake expressed my conundrum and being the good humans hikers they are offered help. I told them I was just BMCing (bitching moaning complaining) and appreciated their offers but I was good. Hikers gathered around the lake and it looked like a fine place to pitch a tent. I’d been running for 12 solid hours now and feeling a little tired. Nothing a little vitamin ‘I’, a caffeine tab and my last Power Crunch bar can’t fix. The final 4.5 miles to Whitney with 3000’ elevation is the nicest segment of trail I’ve ever experienced on a state high point. A well manicured trail is just what my tired legs need. I passed one hiker to the top and he said there was a bit of snow along the way and the summit hut was open. The sunset over Guitar Lake was peaceful and we said goodbye then traipsed over the snow in the dark and eventually got to the summit hut. To bring awareness to veterans suicide prevention, my sister asked me to participate in 22 day 22 push up challenge. So I did my push ups in the dark on the summit by the tramp stamp bench mark and sent her the video then sent a spot to Marc and he wrote back ‘crazy skrat, sleep then head back’ . I wrote back, ‘And I did this on purpose, I will.’ 2-way communication is comforting. I lounged on the concrete bench and propped my legs up on the wall then boiled some tea. A couple hours passed and I could hear commotion. Two hikers made their way up and wanted to hang out in the hut too and wait for sunrise. This was a little too cozy for me and I was freezing my balls off anyway. Time to move. I packed up what little I had and started hiking back down as the sun came up. Maybe someday I’ll head back via the Portal and get a proper summit celebration. I moved quicker than expected on the way down and chose PCT via Walker Pass versus Army pass aka Schmarmy to avoid mosquitoes. I rescued my big pack from the bear vault and foot maintenance was necessary at Walker Pass to quell the blisters. On the long journey back I harassed nature and marveled at the mica rocks, the beautiful birds and yellow primrose. Eventually I rescued Megatron did my push ups because now it was the next day and zoomed down the road covering 60 miles on foot and 10 miles on bike in 26 hours and 25 minutes and over 13,000 vertical and it is an adventure I’ll never forget.
Wise men put trust in ideas not circumstances. We should brush nothing aside, set no restrictions. We were young and committed and there was nothing we could not do. My idea was to play in Wyoming and climb Devils Tower. Marc and I have been adventuring for many years now doing things together like suffering and celebrating through the mammatus clouds en route to scale the great Lady Mountain in Zion. Having someone who understands my fire, desire, and drive is a barometer of how I feel. At times it can be vexing and bring out the worst in me but typically it is comforting and balanced. The tower was busy this hot summer morning but we roped up and went for it. I picked a more difficult approach line to get to the base knowing we could pass the melee ahead. It was more difficult than expected but a great warm up and it was toasty. The classic Durrance route on the tower is an old school lower grade off width climb and even with princess pads bruises stack up as you shove every available inch of your body into the cracks. We both climbed beautifully and couldn’t enjoy the summit because it was infested with gigantic flying ants. Another party caught us on top and we scurried off to the south to find the rappels. I encouraged them to go first because it was obvious they were faster. We were both out of water and I felt extremely dehydrated. With a 70 meter rope there would be 4 rappels. In a hurry, tired from leading every pitch and thirsty I made a huge mistake on the second rappel and threaded the rope through the bolts with an over then under pattern. When we pulled the rope it started to get squiggly and we should’ve stopped immediately and pulled the other end through. The rope pulled through the bolts but the squiggles tightened and when the rope came down the pig tailed rope got caught in a crack 30 feet up. We tugged and the rope wouldn’t budge. Shame on me. Wisdom comes with age or at times when you can’t use it and our circumstances now caused a meltdown of my wisdom on devils tower. Marc asked if I could climb up and I flipped out having no idea what the route to the right of Durrance was. I was hysterically crying which is a sign of severe dehydration. Confidence comes from believing you are able but competence knows you're able. Sure I have the confidence to climb but Marc had the competence to know that we had enough rope to cut what was stuck and leave it behind. Perhaps this is one of the reasons opposites attract. Marc waved his magic hand, cast a spell on me to expellum stupidum and easily sliced the rope. We eventually got off the tower and all we lost was a 70 meter rope, some webbing and one biner. After dinner and a stay at one of the local KOA cabins I decided to call in sick the next day so we didn’t have to do the miserable drive through the night in the mammatus. On the drive home I noticed we were close enough to Panorama Point in Nebraska and getting another state high point would turn my frown upside down. It’s an easy drive to a bison farm in the middle of the west Nebraska grasslands but you know, there’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point? Another spectacularly mediocre adventure in the Marc and Amy books and as time goes on I am proud of the decisions we have made together.
After work on a Friday afternoon I drove to the Henry’s Fork TH that was obnoxiously packed and had to park a mile from the main trail. After a fitful car camp night thinking I could easily pound 30 miles r/t on an easy hike I leisurely rolled out of my sleeping bag and up a horse trail that intersected the Henry’s Fork. The sign on the trail read no bikes and I wished I could’ve biked because I would be done in a couple hours. Soon the multiple baby head rocks, creek crossings and tree roots squashed the bike idea and two trail runners blitzed by. Five miles in on the creek crossing of Henry’s Fork along the bridge a portly kiddo with dirt on his face and sweat beaded up on his puffy cheeks lamented, “how much farther to the trail head?” I told him just a little under a 10k. Poor kid, sure hope I don’t look like that on my return. The trail got busier and I started counting hikers as I passed by and got to 32 at Dollar Lake. I could see Gunsight Peak and pass now then took a little break down in the meadow wondering why my legs felt heavy. I wasn’t moving as fast as I wanted and hoped to finish this hike then head over to the Wind Rivers to climb Gannett Peak the next day. At the top of Gunsight I studied the hikers ahead looked at the map and sent Marc a spot. I decided to shoot straight up Gunsight and skirt the peak high around it’s base stay high and bisect the Uinta Highline. The upper Painter Basin had so many people in it, it looked like a cockroach farm. I counted 57 people up to now. I found the final stretch of the King’s Summit trail annoyingly difficult and stopped counting people when I got to 120 because the summit was completely mobbed. As I approached the malignant summit to take a picture of my favorite transitional object Sebastian who goes on every adventure with me and is a bit of a good luck charm with his impenetrable eyes and inscrutable countenance that gives nothing away to the bystander but to me he screams get me off this infested mountain! I placed him on the summit plaque and said out loud, “I know buddy you are right, there are too many people up here. They are everywhere. We won’t stay long.” Most everyone turned and walked away from the crazy lady and I got just what I wanted, solitude. I walked from the summit south to study the land but the fires nearby reduced visibility. This must be why I felt terrible. It was more interesting to people watch than study the area. A human pyramid was taking place just to take a picture so they can post it on their social media feed and I’d had enough of the idiocracy. Heading down I managed to stay away from everyone heading up and heard a little girl crying that she didn’t want to keep hiking. I couldn’t tell if her and her dad were going up or down because the strewn boulders were bigger than her. She needed help navigating and although her dad was encouraging, to me it seemed this hike was a bit much for a 5 year old. He was also taking pictures and I wondered what she will remember when she gets older. Then wanted to question him and everyone, “if you could never take picture or post of your adventure, would you still be doing the activity? I ask myself this question often. I slowly got to Gunsight and retraced my steps then got a message from Marc that said, “good smart skrat going around gunsight, you’ll shave 2 miles.” That put a little pep in my step. I ate a sandwich then watched a horse troupe come up Uinta, dock their equines to posts and hike up Gilbert Peak. A little rain sprinkled as I hiked down towards Dollar Lake. Lower in the marshy meadows were a bull and cow moose chewing on the willows. I imagine this hike would be miserable in spring being very wet and muddy. I picked up a lot of trash along the way and felt disappointed in humanity thinking of the acronym I coined a couple years ago: DIPSHITS. Disingenuous Ignoramus Posers Staging Heartless Instapraise Tales of Subterfuge. Everyone is fake and what for? Whatever you are, be a good one. King’s peak was 27 miles and less than 4,500 elevation gain in 9 hours and 45 minutes and is so far my least favorite state high point for many reasons. Hell is other people. This outing dampened my spirits, took longer than expected and the smoke from fires took a toll on my body. At least I beat the horses down. I decided to head home and try Gannett in a couple weeks when it was less smoky.
A lifelong love affair with a pile of rock ensued the first time I laid eyes on the Wind Rivers. Wyoming hides its treasures deep in the alpine but it is well worth the journey. It’s not a good idea to rush any climb or hike here and my idea to hike King’s then Gannett in a weekend was a bad one. Take your time, marinate and savor the journey. I decided to hike to Titcomb basin versus Glacier Trail for a few reasons. Shorter drive, shorter hike and I assumed Titcomb would be much like the Cirque of the Towers basin that gives Patagonia a run for its money. Titcomb basin is the core of the Wind Rivers and just a backpack into this area is worth the effort. I made many friends on the hike up to Photographer’s Point but I was among my people and all of us in love with the Winds. Even Sebastian made a friend with another pack Sherpa backpack pal named Donkey and I’m really starting to like donkeys. I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious and bring all my lucky charms including a rope this time. I was loaded down so it took a long while to get to lower Titcomb. I made base camp at Island Lake and rested. I readied my pack for the next day and decided to bring gear to make an upper base camp after the twin Titcom Lakes because day 2 was going to be huge. The next morning by headlamp I made my way to upper Titcomb and found a perfect rock bivy to stash some gear. The hike up Bonney Pass in late season is arduous and slippery with a long steep gnarly boulder field. There is sorta a climbers trail but tends to get mangled and weathered over time I assume. When I got to the top of the pass my heart sank to my stomach. The Dindywood and Gooseneck glaciers are giant monsters and I thought I should retreat but my gut instinct was shallow thinking believes in luck and strong thinking believes in cause and effect. Just think about my next step I thought. 1200 feet downhill it was time to get out the spiky things. I could see another solo climber way ahead north on the Dindywood and that comforted me. Dindywood glacier had a couple running water runnels. I filled up. Refreshing. The vertical cracks weren’t worrisome. The horizontal cracks worried me. I took my rubber boot off my trekking pole so I could check the weaknesses. I sent a spot to Marc and always do when I’m about to cross a technical section. I poked the other side of the crack that worried me with my pole and it was solid. As I stepped acrossed, the back foot snow collapsed and down I went into a crevasse but got a good ice ax placement on top and enough snow collapsed that it built a snow bridge beneath me. The crevasse was tight enough that my pack also stuck then Sebastian grew wings and flew me out. Good boy. Seriously though now I was scared as I stared into the black emptiness beneath me. I was able to jam my crampons behind me and work my way up with my ax and chimney out of the crevasse. I marked the spot on my GPS. I crossed onto Gooseneck Glacier and decided to swing a left to check the southeast couloir. Instead I was met with what looked like giant seracs and should’ve known better considering late season conditions. I scramble up the rocky slabs to the right covered in sand, mud and dirt knowing I’m not coming back this way but I can bisect the east ridge that will take me to the base of the couloirs that were hard icy and would’ve made self arrest impossible. Once passed this obstacle is where the true crux occurs because I had to cross a bergschrund and snow bridge but the climber ahead of me wasn’t dead yet so I kept going. I then scrambled up a 3rd class rock band with an iced up slab to the right but I could see the rappel station up ahead. I finally got on the final snow covered rock band up to ridge line where I met a trio heading down and they said the solo guy I asked about probably already summited by now. Cool. I offered my rope if they waited and wanted to rappel the sketchy sections below and they said they may not need it. “Well I sure as hell do”, I said. On the final ridge line I could hear a shrinking violet woman climber and what appeared to be a guide helping her down. She looked scared and very tired. He was a bit impatient as he coached her down and I concurred that this was the scariest mountain I have ever climbed. He immediately snapped and said, “well there isn’t much you can do about that now is there?” Kinda rude I thought even though he was right. I finally passed the other solo climber and he was much more chipper and encouraging. He told me I was very close and to keep going. At last by 4pm I was standing all alone on Gannett Peak but with little excitement felt and instead dread for the work that lay ahead. It is completely stunning on top of Gannett Peak and I took Sebastian's picture knowing he’d have instant celebrity status feted by social media thinking we’d all be couch potatoes if not for social media. I worried because I heard a helicopter nearby circling the area to the south and that’s where the Cirque lies. Feeling marooned on a crag of superiority in an ocean of rocky soldiers I’ll probably die standing because I am so stubborn. I quickly make it to the first rappel station and never crossed paths with the guide and the girl but could hear the trio ahead of me and they cheered making it down the bergschrund without issue. Good for them. Behind an able man there are always other able men. Time for my lucky charms. I rappelled three times to get to the bergschrund then went down the entire east rocky flank and finally onto the Gooseneck. At last I’m staring at the crevasse spot and on the return with more wisdom now I decided to run then jump across but that was only the 5th scariest part of the day. I probably should've had a partner. Across Dindywood then de-gear for the kidney punch hike back up the pass by headlamp now. Once at the top the cross-fit style boulder field below where I thought a life of infinite leisure is not accustomed to such rude interruptions as I stumbled over every boulder. Base camp 2 was waiting for me and after a cat nap I packed up and headed back to base camp 1 where I slept hard. On the long journey back I wondered why in 48 miles nearly 14,000 vertical and 22 hours I hadn’t seen one mountain animal. Sure I saw a few birds and chipmunks but zero majestic species. Not even the tenacious mountain devil. Where’d they all go? Maybe they are smarter than climbers. Aren’t most things?
I have never been to Maine and thought fall might be the best time to visit for leaf peeping. I flew into Portland and drove to Baxter State Park. I didn’t have a reservation but read that you can park at the Togue Pond Gatehouse and wait your turn. After an hour and filling out a Covid registration that you either had to quarantine or have a negative test to enter, I circled the boxes and paid a $15 entrance fee. You’re also required to check into the ranger station and list your desires. He said the wind was going to be bad as weather was expected to move in by noon. I circled the Cathedral then Knife Edge boxes and took off. I felt like 20 years old again starting a hike at 1400 feet. My legs felt powerful and I whipped them up to the what I though was the cute little Knife Edge in two hours. The trail up was non stop scrambling and bouldering that was a freaking blast. As I approached the eastern ridge of Pamola the wind whipped to and fro that required a bit of crouching tiger/hidden dragon skills to complete. I crossed Pamolas ridge and then saw the classic knife edge that required some genuine 4th class climbing that was super fun. Then I snaked along the ridge crest and passed a couple hikers on the way and my legs were on fire. I wished they always felt this way. On the summit now and this was the quickest most enjoyable climb I’ve ever had on a state high point. Spectacularly marvelous. I decided to descend the Cathedral ledges to avoid the wind where you descend three large rock buttresses. There were a couple scramblers coming up and I worried about fomite transmission when I saw one sneeze on the rocks. Ewe. I sanitized my hands and later soaked them the lower basin ponds. Katahdin was one of the best mountain scrambles ever and nothing in Colorado compares. I think you could do the loop in either direction with similar elation. I checked out of the Ranger station and drove to Acadia National Park because I wanted to be the first person to see the sunrise on the east coast since Acadia is the farthest east in the US you can go. The hike was amazing, the drive beautiful and the sunrise one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Don’t throw away your umbrella because you’re dry underneath. Instead, wait, then drive one million miles to the top of Mt Washington in fog, 80 mph winds and watch birds fly backwards. Sure enough after my amazing day on Katahdin I wouldn’t be so lucky on Mt. Washington that is notorious for horrendous weather and some of the highest winds ever recorded at an observatory. I waited at the gate because after reading about the weather I was going to be lucky if I even got to drive to the top. The gate opened and an old timey who said, “look at my wrinkles, I’ve been around a while I know what I’m talking about. Be careful if you choose to exit your vehicle. This kind of wind will rip the doors off.” This summit was the most expensive at $35 but worth the iconic drive on the oldest man made attraction that they give you a bumper sticker for completing. There are car, bicycle and foot races to the top every year but not this year due to the virus. Pastrana made the 7.6 mile race up the mountain in 2017 in a Subaru Impreza in 5 minutes 44 seconds. In a psychotic storm I made it up in 38 minutes with one driver ahead of me who I couldn’t see because of the fog. We were at a standstill on top to see who would be brave and exit their vehicle first. He won but didn’t make it past the wooden steps and crawled back to his car then drove away. That was uninspiring. I decided to layer up with two shirts, my puffy and windproof/waterproof pants and jacket. I crawled to the wooden steps then clawed my way up the bridge and over to the stage house where I read a sign that said the highest wind ever recorded was here at 231 mph so 80 shouldn’t be so bad. I was able to hide over at the Tip Top House and could see the giant summit cairn and with great bravado scaled to the true summit then sent Marc a spot. Feeling quite silly about the entire expedition it was time to head down and see if I could salvage the day. On the other side of the highway I parked at the AMC center in Pinkham and free soloed a route on the AT at Pinkham Ridge then drove to the airport and ordered a glass of wine in the most undignified way because of Covid restrictions. You scan a bar code that downloads the restaurants menu on your phone then select what you want by tapping the screen and voila an unnamed unknown person delivers your food. You pay and tip in the same manner. I fear many like this impersonal physical distancing and soon traditions and formalities will slowly vanish. I miss seeing peoples faces, smiles and I miss daily interactions. Guess I’ll keep climbing mountains.
Colorado had some uncomfortable weather predicted with crazy winds and after studying the information I decided to drive east since I’d have a tail wind and get good gas mileage. The Kansas high point was only a few hours away so why not. The gracious land owners with a great sense of humor decorate the summit with an obnoxious mail box and great flare that is in stark contrast to the entire state of plains bereft of topographic essence. To prove to myself that Kansas has hills I drove to Scott Lake afterward and mountain biked around it. Later that afternoon I drove to Picture Canyon in Campo Colorado in the southeast to check out a new mountain biking loop.
November 9, 2020
Today was my four year anniversary since the accident and what a better way to celebrate with just me and my bike. The only good luck many great men ever had was being born with the ability and determination to overcome bad luck. I will always love riding my bike because there is no better freedom than seeing life pass by on two wheels at a gentle speed. My achievements seem to be connected with action. Riding is extremely liberating and with impossible odds that I would ever be here again living this unimaginable life is fortunate beyond belief. I’ve slowed down because for one you miss things and Picture Canyon has secrets. On top of isolation there is great camping, hiking, biking and climbing. There are arches, caves, petroglyphs and road runner birds. Why do they run and not fly? The bike ride loop was fun. I took pictures and submitted them to MTB project. Along the ride way off in the distance I could see Black Mesa Preserve and this is the highest point in Oklahoma. I’m amazed at the good conditions of the dirt roads from Picture Canyon to Black Mesa. The BM trail head is quite nice with good parking and bathrooms. The vote of my confidence is overwhelming and I know I’m going to get to the top. It’s 4.5 miles to the top on a fairly easy flat trail with benches carved with the mile you’ve crossed along the way. It’s a vast open space with no place to hide and I imagine in the summer you will fry and die. There are a few switchbacks halfway up the final summit then a long mile walk see the Black Mesa Granite monolith. On the way up I watched a military KC 135 buzz the mesa and wished I would’ve got a picture. It’ll be forever etched in my mind. I didn’t set out to complete the state high point list and being 1/3 of the way done has allayed my hunger. There may be one or two more that satisfy my urge. Conventional wisdom says to cut the list of your desires to be happy. Marc thinks climbing to the top of the high point of anything is arbitrary and says he’s more impressed with my 14er pursuits. I’ve learned to accept my new normal as motivations are pure and the things I think are meaningful make sense. Things in life we are passionate about are folly. Recognize the excellence in yourself and keep on trucking because you know I will.
PS there are dinosaur tracks nearby. Consult your map.
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