October 2018 Journal

10.3

I was riding my bike out of Stanley Park as the sun barely illuminated English Bay. Suddenly I was cruising through a movie set… big men bustling around setting up a scene, road closures, so many gigantic eighteen wheelers, and a fancy food truck serving breakfast to the pretty people. Vancouver is relevant in the movie industry. Movies, another form of digital consumption. Human beings smattered with heavy make-up pretending to be someone they are not for the entertainment of others. Thirty meters away a homeless man lay curled up underneath a bench. The temperature was 36 degrees Fahrenheit. I felt so much anger. Tomorrow I will do better then anger and put some of my lunch down next to him.

10.4

I read the other day, “if you smile when no one else is around, you really mean it.” I find myself smiling on my bike in the dark cold mornings as rain whips me in the face. For no particular reason, a shit eating grin plastered across my face. I do it subconsciously and once I realize, I start to laugh. My existence has started to make me laugh. When I think of the outlandish choices I’ve made, I laugh. When I think about existing with other animals like sea turtles, sloths, and bats, I laugh. As I get splashed in the face by speeding car puddles, I laugh. I guess I really mean it.

The trees on campus are changing colors and it is cold all the time now. My mood seems to fluctuate with how dark it is, but the rain doesn’t really bother me. People move with purpose down the main mall in between classes. So many people. Most of them stare at their phone. I am acutely aware that I used to walk down main mall staring at my phone. It was prime instagram time. Now I look at the trees, and other people staring at their phones. The trees are nice.

10.5

I was walking across the overly crowded Save on Foods parking lot. I didn’t want to be there. Canadian thanksgiving made it a zoo and I was only adding another vehicle to the parking lot, another body to the saturated aisles. I started to feel sorry for myself. My mood matched the dark sky. The fall chill nipped at my face. I jammed my hands into my pockets and glanced up. A man helped a mentally and physically disabled girl get out of her wheel chair and into a van. She will never know what it is like to food shop in a busy store. She will never walk across a parking lot. I adjust my attitude.

I remember going to REI one evening in early July before leaving for the San Juans. I never dared drive I-25 before 7 p.m. The hot dry summer sun was sinking into the smog filled hazy blanket that covered Denver. I blared music and sang along with my windows down. I cannot remember what song was playing. I said to myself, “these are the things I am going to miss.” And they are. It seems so ass backwards. I should miss the mountains, but there are mountains here. I should miss the beauty, but there is beauty here. Instead, I miss trying to carry 72 bags up 6 flights of stairs to my apartment and being so out of breath at the top every. single. time. I miss trying to do pull ups at Earth Treks before my 8 a.m. at Mines. I miss that one ray of light that got through the crooked curtain in my room and woke me up every morning. I miss the final turn onto W. Dakota Ave after I’d been road tripping for a month. I miss all the Chipolte employees who knew exactly how to make my burrito bowl. It is the mundane, the familiar, the comfort of my old life that leads me into a dream like state at any given moment in my current life. I lean into my desk at University of British Columbia, take a deep breath and close my eyes. I am driving down I-25 towards REI singing and dancing. It’s warm, it’s dry, it’s familiar, and it’s no longer my life.

10.6

Some days are awful and some days are good, honestly, I am on a wild emotional driven roller coaster ride and I want to get off. But I can’t because this is just how it is right now. There are a few things I expected out of this move. First mistake, do not expect. Expectations are dangerous and I am really good at 1) recognizing that and 2) saying yes to opportunities without overthinking the outcome. But sometimes expectations creep in the back door and take up space at your dinner table. You’re like, hey, wait, I didn’t invite you, I don’t have enough food, but here you are. Please leave now. Without even realizing, I expected this move to be easy. I am adaptable, independent, and love a good adventure – new places are the best. I am not a tree, I do not have roots, I am freedom Kim damn it. Well apparently new places are the best, but only when you have a little apartment in the corner of Lakewood Colorado to go home to. I lived in Colorado for fifteen years and somehow that sneaky little bastard became my home and that makes the permanence of Canada feel really really really scary. Yes, I know nothing is forever (and I can always go back to Colorado) but 2-3 years feels like forever when you are a stranger in a strange land. For one month I fought these feelings. For two weeks I had several monumental moments where I froze, screaming in my head, WHAT THE F*#K HAVE I DONE!? Now I resign, I am simply going to ride the ups and downs, smile my way through, cry when I need to, kick a wall if I have to, and grow from all the experiences coming my way. I am grateful for not only procuring this opportunity but having the courage to say yes to it.        

There is however one thing that feels like home, and that is the friendship I have developed with Kim (other Kim, I am not my only friend). Not only is she down for all outdoor activity any time I ask, but she has a strength in character that I desperately search for in other humans. I have a very hard time with people, I do not like everyone and I am done apologizing for that. I am not a mean person and I generally care about the well being of others however, I only let a few in. When building a friendship I ask myself, what would this person do if the shit hit the fan in the mountains? Well Kim and I have already had a few messy moments and she just rubbed the shit all over her face and continued on. Not literally, her dog does that but we are a good team and I can put my trust in her. In addition, she is a runner but not runner obsessed, she loves all the sports and has big mountain dreams. She is also an incredible conversationalist and has some wildly hilarious stories. Her general stoke for life and inner strength is admirable. I love spending time with her and her little fox (kip the good/bad boy).

Last weekend I took a rock climbing anchor building class. Anyone who knows me knows I love to climb but I also hate to climb. It is the hardest most unnatural sport for me. I do not want to fall, not even three inches on top rope but I want to lead alpine trad. If none of these words make sense (mom), google trad rock climbing and then continue reading. For me climbing has been a long, brutally slow, inconsistent uphill battle. In the fall of 2017 I made an active decision to run less and climb more. And I did, oh boy did I. I followed so many men up multi-pitch sport and trad. I cragged for days at a time. I climbed through the entire winter and I learned as much as I possibly could. Some men were willing to teach, some just wanted a belayer but no matter what, I got to work on my climbing technique. That is how it can be for a new female climber. Climbing is an intimate sport where your life is literally in the hands of your partner. Absolutely no pun intended. If you are trying to learn, you end up with a man who is willing to take a chance on you, maybe he thinks you are cute and it will lead somewhere. It sure would be dreamy to travel all over with your lover and climb up rocks. However, I feel icky when I cannot do something on my own and lead climbing (google it mom) has seriously eluded me. I am scared, period. Until one day I woke up and said, if I can build anchors, I can lead. I signed up for a class, I learned to build anchors, I called Kim, and I said, “hey wanna go to a crag next weekend if we get some sun, just you and me?” Of course she said yes. I do not know this area at all, but Squamish is a climbing mecca so I deep dived the interwebs and found Electric Avenue’s west face, a perfect beginner crag.

On this beautiful sunny day in early October Kim and I tore down 99 towards Whistler. We spent the first part of the day hiking up to a moraine below Brandywine Mountain. We chatted, laughed, threw Kip (her dog) sticks, post holed up some ankle biting snow covered talus,slipped down a wet heather slope, and encountered a massive grizzly bear with her cub. What a magical sight to behold. We had to cross a river and give her a wide berth of space to get out. It was the first time I got to see these beautiful glaciated Canadian alpine peaks with sun shining on them and a bonus grizzly with a cub in tow!

It was time to rock climb, it was time to lead climb, just Kim and I. Kim and I are at the same skill level. Kim and I have both relied on men (mostly) to lead us, guide us, teach us, but in the end do all the rock things for us. Kim and I were both ready to be independent. I think I was so ready to be independent that I did not over think any of it. So in we marched up the steep access road, two ladies with nothing to prove but everything to gain. We picked our first route, I led it, I built an anchor, Kim top roped it, and then cleaned. Next Kim led, built an anchor, I top roped, and cleaned. We repeated variations of this process on different routes, high-fiving, fist pounding, and fully supporting one another. It was so chill and we were there, doing it, doing the one thing I honestly never thought I could do. As anything in life, it is impossible until you decide it isn’t. It really is that simple. I decided I wanted to shift into a place where I am a fully independent rock climber who can pick her own crags and climb her own routes and today I did that for the first time ever with my #1 adventure buddy who also happens to be female. It was fun, it was empowering, and it was addictive. I cannot wait to go back and challenge myself on some more difficult routes. Today was everything.

10.7

I have always run my best when I am emotionally distraught. When I began trail running I was getting over Toby and pills and cigarettes. I was an absolute mess and it translated to strength on the trails. Some people eat their feelings, I run mine. I connected the dots after my life stabilized. For one millisecond I got caught up in pace and race and pace and race. That period of my life ruined running for me. Running was never something I wanted to be the best at. Although I totally understand the allure, I always thought paying to run a controlled course was ridiculous. When I ran in groups it was all race and pace talk and I was never really having fun. It took me a year to understand that running is how I beat my feelings out. It is the space in which I solve problems and confront my demons. When I am upset, I run really fast. I have midterms and my hypothesis entry next week so it took me forever to get out the door today but by 5 p.m. I was thrashing around my backyard loop in the Lynn Valley headwaters park. I felt weightless, as if I was floating up the climbs. I was running 7 minute miles on the flats and I couldn’t even hear my breath. I did not hesitate as I slip n’ slid through the soaking wet rain forest. My emotions were driving my legs, my feelings were sending my toes shooting off wet rocks, effortlessly bouncing between rock and root, root and rock. I let my arms fly free as music pounded through my heart. I was so present in the run I had no time to think about anything else except release. The release of disappointment because I am not as emotionally bullet proof as I thought. After weeks of berating myself this release led to a feeling of pride, a gratefulness for exactly where I am instead of anger about where I think I should be. I am rediscovering my love for running at its root. Maybe the root I almost tripped on.

10.8

It is Canadian thanksgiving so I have the day off. I don’t care about thanksgiving in any country but the states give more days off. It is raining again but I figure I should take advantage of the day. I climb through the colorful forest up to the north and south summits of Black Mountain. From there I head through a maze of beautiful lakes on flooded “trails” to the poorly signed turn off for Donut Rock. The scramble to the top is sketchy. Any scramble on the north shore mountains in the rain is painfully unsafe. But I do it using what the PNWer’s call a “veg belay.” Turns out I am not on the actual summit. I slide down and bushwhack to the real summit which is a bump in a heavily wooded area. Either way, there are no views. I spend the entire day in a thick cloud/pea soup fog. I would say that coastal British Columbia allows you views one out of twelve mountain summits. You have to really love being outside. I continue on to the Eagle Bluffs, the scene of a double Kim dark rainy scary-ass descent at the end of our self-supported Baden Powell traverse. I enjoy some homemade granola and then “run” out. It is hard to get into a good running groove on such difficult terrain. I have ran trails all over the US but only on the east coast (Maine/New Hampshire/Vermont) have I experienced such fuckery. But British Columbia fuckery is even wetter and steeper. I digress. I will keep trying to run this crap until I can.

10.9

I am not one of those people who enjoys silence. I mean real silence. When I run there are forest noises. When I bike there are traffic noises. When I sleep, I do so with a fan. In my truck, music. While I cook, podcasts. You get the point. No better way for me to confront silence then to sit with my two office mates in a rectangular room with no windows where you can hear the dust settle. I should be able to sit comfortably with my thoughts but silence rattles me. Lun likes to talk, Liyang does not, I am somewhere in the middle. Lun comes in and out like a tornado. Liyang tip toes around, sometimes I forget he is there. I am somewhere in the middle. Ironically enough, I also sit in the middle. Hours melt away in that little rectangular room. It is so quiet. The occasional clicking of a keyboard or sigh of distress, relief or just a breath, a subtle reminder that you are in fact alive. I teach myself science all day, so does Lun, so does LiYang. I could be getting paid to do worse.

10.10

The Bike Chronicles

I see 1,745 buses on my bike route and they all have billboards or should I call them busboards advertising something. Recently I have been using my deep man voice to turn them into angry songs. For example, “FATBURGER THE IMPOSSIBLE BURGER. I WANT A BURGER AND SOME FRIES. FAT BURGER THE NUMBER ONE BURGER IN PAKISTAN. I WANT A BURGER AND SOME FRIES. THOUSAND ISLAND BURGER. QUEEN LATIFAS BURGER. THE LAST GREAT HAMBURGER STAND.” It’s a pretty fun game to play when I cannot hear my music over the loud ass rush hour traffic. Sometimes the buses get so close to me I feel shit squirts. These are really big buses. Have you ever had a mega bus plastered in a fat burger the size of a high rise building on the tail of your bike wheel? I start chanting, “this is not my favorite, this is not my favorite, this is not my favorite” as if anyone can hear me. No one can hear me. And it’s actually favoUrite here. Favourite. Colour. Vapour. You get the point.

10.15

Whew, five days and I have not jotted down any thoughts. The sign of a busy life. I am going to write a little trip report on my past weekend because I managed to rock climb and mountain climb (Mount MacFarlane and Mount Pierce). I am really proud of this past week as I was uber-productive. I managed two 1,000 meter swims, a few indoor rock and boulder sessions at school and one outdoor rock climbing day in Squamish, 230 km with 3200 meters of gain (143 miles with 10,498 feet) on my bike, and 56km with 3400 meters of gain (35 miles with 11,154 feet) on foot – running/hiking. Do my legs feel it? Absolutely. But I still woke up this morning and biked to and from school. My goal for this week is to bike to school every day. I have been doing 4 days a week for the last 2 weeks. On the school front, I have gotten through my midterms, I have a testable hypothesis, and my committee has been chosen. I need to start writing an insane literature review on wood adhesives and I have my third presentation in nanomaterials coming up. I am getting much more comfortable with public speaking. Dare I say, I enjoy it. Do I have a lot more time now that my phone is no longer a distraction? Yes, so much yes.

10.17

The best thing about Cinnamon Toast Crunch is that it does not taste like cinnamon or toast.

10.19

The Bike Chronicles

I have done it. I have surmounted the insurmountable. I have climbed the metaphoric mountain, which is more like a concrete jungle full of metal machines that want to run me over. I have bike commuted 5 out of 5 days (300 km or 187 miles with 4000 meters or 13,123 feet of gain). At some point I am going to creatively describe what bike commuting through Van City is really like but for now I am just happy to report that my vag-ass is deeply callused and permanently sore. I imagine this is what a porn star feels like most of the time. You see, a person can only do so much thinking, or listen to so much music before they need to laugh. And I do not mean chuckle, I’m talking about that deep belly laugh. People drive scary, so comic relief is necessary. I have adapted a lot of weird behaviors on my bike commute. This one only works on flats or slight ups. I lock eyes with the opposing lane of traffic, make the weirdest face ever, and peddle aggressively hard swaying my body back and forth like a possessed idiot. I can only do it for about 38 seconds before I start laughing. The kind of laughing that quickly escalates into cracking up. The kind of laughing you remember like 15 minutes later and you start laughing again. Allow me to demonstrate……

https://vimeo.com/296138761

10.21

What a weekend! The PNW has had two weeks of glorious sunshine (about to come to a car crash of an end) and I have enjoyed every single available minute outside. This weekend was epic. On Saturday I climbed a multi-pitch rock route outside of Squamish. 10 pitches, 10 freaking GLORIOUS pitches up to the summit of Mount Chek. If you know me, you know it has been a long time dream to climb a multi-pitch to the actual summit of a mountain. All dreams attained. More important then the accomplishment was the noticeable calmness that encapsulated me. One year ago, I decided I wanted to dedicate more time to climbing and less to running. Last fall I did just that. Rock climbing is the absolute hardest sport for me because I am scared. It is really that simple. I am scared to have my back hundreds to thousands of feet off the ground with nothing behind but air. That fear effects how I climb. Physically, I am not a bad climber but I have a bad head space, and that is extremely self limiting. I have worked so hard on that head space. I am leading outdoor sport and I am calm on ten pitch climbs. Progress my friends!

On Sunday Sara and I reunited in a different Walmart parking lot and climbed Tricouni Peak. This time Grant, Sara’s boyfriend came and man did it exponentially increase the fun level. Grant is from New Zealand and offered to drive to the trail head (thank god). The road to the trail head was death defying. I am not 100% sure Chessi girl would have been okay. But Grant has a tank (tricked out Toyota Tundra), so we made it. Tricouni Peak is incredible and a much more difficult scramble than Mount MacFarlane or Mount Pierce. A little “level-up” action. We met a dad with two twin 11 year old boys who put my scrambling and powerful vertical gainz skills to shame. It was a perfect day. In due time, I will write a separate report on this one.

10.23

This is the longest, most drawn out fall I have ever experienced, and I love it. The darkness has returned. The rain is back with a vengeance, punishment for two weeks of perfect weather. However, fall persists. There are a lot of big trees here. The maple leaves are the size of my body. Fall is beautiful. The city is on fire, flamed in yellows, oranges and reds. I never really got to experience fall proper in Colorado because school was always rocking me and I was too busy to go aspen peeping. Colorado has a very one dimensional and rather short fall season. Here in Vancouver, I have been soaking in the diversity and the colors as I peddle my life away (bike commuting is going really well).

I have a favorite road. It is canopied in every color from yellow to deep purple. It is beautiful in the sun and in the gloom. The leaves are falling. Recently, one side was raked while the other side remained a confetti cake. Why? Why rake the leaves into a pile and take them away? Why blow them around? Why take a fun-sprinkled road and turn it bland? Humans and their strange interactions with nature. Leave the leaves man.

10.25

I came out of nanomaterials class at 8:10 p.m. and walked on to the set of the CW television series, “The Flash.” Everyone on a television set wears black and is way too cool for me. The guy was like, “ya actually you are in our shot.” Oh well pardon me for exiting a class I pay to take at the university I attend. I should have said, “ya, well you are in my way and I’m trying to go to Chipolte.” Instead I just awkwardly put my hands up and said, “ya nanomaterials.” Apparently movie sets are a part of my life now.

10.28

Another incredible weekend. Put the bed back in Chessi my 4runner, packed for an over-nighter and took the ferry over to the Sunshine Coast early Saturday morning. Kim and I climbed Mount Steele which is absolutely stunning. This place is ridiculously diverse and every single hike/climb/run is just so different. I fully intend to see and do as much as humanely possible while I am here. I have really crested a difficult ridge line in my brain. All of my sadness over Colorado has been replaced with gratefulness for BC. There are only seven temperate rainforest ecosystems around the world, and North America is home to one of them. The Pacific Northwest temperate rainforests, which range from northern California to British Colombia, exist in what is the world’s largest temperate rainforest ecoregion. How lucky am I to live in such a special place and have a functioning body to explore? The answer is really lucky, and that is exactly how I have been feeling.

On Saturday evening I dropped Kim off at the ferry back to the mainland and I did something out of character, I went on a date (staying on the Sunshine Coast). After what seems like an eternity (and actually is), I feel like I am ready to date again. However, I still came up with every excuse to cancel. Ultimately, if I want to date, just like anything else in life, I will have to put in some effort. So I went on the date and we had such a great time. And now dating seems more attainable and less scary. 

Sunday I woke up to a heavy downpour. Fake news – the Sunshine Coast is actually just as rainy as Vancouver. I went for a short run along the coast and made the 8:40 ferry by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin. A commercial vehicle exiting the ferry ended up clipping the side of the ship and spilling diesel onto the ferry and into the ocean. They completely loaded our ferry but then kept delaying it. It took about one and half hours to leave the dock but they gave everyone free coffee. I used the time to nap in my truck-bed. They canceled the next ferry so I was happy I made it across.

11.1

It’s hard to believe it is November. Actually, no it’s not, seconds keep ticking and November’s keep coming. This is my 37th November and I am in a different country. What is hard to believe is how different this November is from last November, how utterly different my life is now. What is even harder to believe is how different I am now. I bike more then I run. I lead climb outside. I like the rain. I would even go as far as to say, I don’t mind being wet. I can now give presentations without turning bright red, holding my breath, and choking on my own spit. In accordance I have become the master of power point. The biggest change however is how much more present I am in my life sans social media. 

October ended with a bang……literally, Canadian Halloween is 1,450 times more impressive then American Halloween. We are talking Fourth of July style fireworks on every street and entire neighborhoods turned into haunted houses. I enjoyed the epic weirdness with my Canadian man-friend. The house I live in was in the Lynn Valley epicenter.

I honestly expected to miss social media, but I don’t. I never had withdrawals and on the day to day, I feel like life is so much more full without it. My goal was one month (attained) but I am not ready to come back. It has been nice to jot some thoughts down, I do love writing but I am not sure this is sustainable. I will try. If it becomes a burden, I will stop. I am going to end here. Hope everyone is doing well.

~October Songs~

Turnover – Dizzy On the Comedown

Bayside – It Don’t Exist

Japandroids – Love —> Building On Fire

Against Me! – Thrash Unreal

Freedom Fry – Shaky Ground 

Drug Church – Weed Pin

Roy Irwin – Demon Cave

CHAPPO – Come Home

And always remember, I am watching you. Just kidding, I’m totally not. I have no idea what anyone except my close friends are doing but I love the way my forearm veins pop in this photo.

Mount MacFarlane and Mount Pierce

I am in the process (emphasis on PROcess because I am Canadian now) of familiarizing myself with that them mountains here in beautiful British Columbia. These mountains are nothing and I mean NOTHING like the Colorado Rockies. I threw myself under the bus a few times before realizing that I am going to do amazing things here, amazing things yes indeed, amazing things that are going to require a shiny new set of skills. Acquiring said skills will demand patience which just so happens to be my least favorite virtue. But scientific research is slow, experiments are focused, and patience is the only way I am going to survive graduate school. Maybe I moved to Canada to learn zee patience? It has taken a few weeks but I am in full acceptance mode. I am in a new place, the living is harder, the science is harder, and the mountains are harder. By the time Canada spits me out, I will be hardened.

I bought a few guide books at the MEC. Let me give a brief review of each. Let’s start with, “105 Hikes In and Around Southwestern British Columbia,” by Stephen Hui. Stephen picks some good hikes and scrambles. He points me in a direction, unfortunately it is normally the wrong direction. I am not sure that Stephen knows left from right or east from west. He spends most of the description giving the wrong directions to the trailhead and then some of the description giving no direction up the mountain. The next guide book is, “The Glorious Mountains of Vancouver’s North Shore,” by David Crerar, Harry Crerar, and Bill Maurer. This book should be renamed, “How You are Going to Die on the North Shore.” This is the most dramatic guide book I have ever owned. While I appreciate the sentiment about safety and the emphasis on the real danger the north shore mountains present, every single route description t-bones with, “and don’t climb this mountain if it is raining, wet, cloudy, sunny, a bear has pooped in the woods at exactly 2 p.m., it is fall, it is winter, it is spring, it is summer, the moon is one quarter of the way full, and you have eaten oatmeal for breakfast or YOU WILL DIE.” The last guide book is, “Scrambles,” by Matt Gunn. This is the guide book I most identify with, although Matt is also confused by left and right, does not discuss the scramble in spicy tacos, and gives ascent time instead of round trip mileage. Since I moved here, I have climbed 17 mountains in British Columbia and gotten lost every single time. That is until Mount Mac, but I also did not listen to Matt when he told me to go right.

Anyway, Mount MacFarlane is in the Canadian Cascades, it is a stones throw from the US border (Washington Cascades) and is rated an easy scramble with a butt-load of vert. I knew it would be cold and icy up high (yes high is now 7,000 feet). I knew this would be a perfect peak to push my comfort level but not to the extreme. As I mentioned, patience, climbing mountains here is going to be a level-up situation. It is fairly simple, these mountains are much more difficult then Colorado’s mountains.

Mount MacFarlane – 2090 meters (6,867 feet)

Mount Pierce – 1945 meters (6,381 feet)

22.2 km with 2055 meters of gain (14 miles with 6,740 feet of gain)

10.14.18

Sara reached out to me before I vanquished myself from social media. Just like me, Sara is a displaced Coloradian in Vancouver. Better yet, Sara is a displaced Coloradian in Vancouver who I already know. I have run with Sara a few times. She is strong, intelligent, and fun, so I already knew it was going to be a great day. We met under the cover of darkness in a Walmart parking lot somewhere in the middle world between North Vancouver and Kits. We joked about the promise of car break-ins and gunshots as we rocketed toward Chilliwack. The hike began as most do, up a logging road, armed with poor directions. The hike continued as most do, straight up through the rainforest with absolutely no views. BUT THIS TIME THERE WAS SUN!!!! GLORIOUS SUN!!!! Although, truth be told, one has no idea what time of day, month, year, decade, or generation it is from inside the rain-forest canopy. There was only one direction….up and we melted away the gainz with meaningful conversation. We arrived at lower Pierce Lake and I pulled my phone out from my cleavage and took this super low quality photo.

Please please hold your applause. I also took this winner of Sara snacking. The theme here is, don’t photograph the beautiful blue Canadian lake to the right. Or is it left Matt? The photos get better, I promise.

It was nice to see daylight but back into the forest we went until we came to the first icy death trap. We negotiated up icy ledges and then to the right of a semi-frozen waterfall avoiding some questionable fixed ropes tied to vegetation. The ropes looked okay but not okay enough to dangle my life from. There are many challenges on Canadian peaks before you even get to ridge line. We made our way to the second level of waterfall and admired our sexy objective.

After a quick debate over which way to gain the final head wall we stumbled upon upper Pierce Lake. Things got beautiful real fast. Canadian beautiful. Cascade beautiful. 

We identified the northeast ridge and headed to the summit of Mount MacFarlane. This is where we negotiated the second icy death trap. The use of the veg-belay is a real thing here. I do not have any photos of the dicey section, obviously, as I was dangling from vegetation and ice.       

Unfortunately the sun is a double edged sword. While it was fantastic to not be scrambling in a cold wet snowy ice storm (Lady Peak cough cough), it washed most of my photos out. So, you are going to have to trust me that we had a pretty killer view of some aggressively scary looking mountains.

Next I did what I do best and surprised my partner with another mountain. There is always another mountain to climb. Sara consented and we headed off on a route finding adventure up the hellaciously steep Mount Pierce. Piercey-boy did not have a trail or any flagging but it did have a gigantic pile of bear poop, some secret lakes, a heinous heavy veg-schwack, and even better views then Mount Mac. 

The only thing left to do was go down and then back up and then back down, and then down some more, and more and more and more….seriously it was one longggggg descent.

_________________________

Sara guest wrote a haiku about the descent:

Down, down forever

Are we descending to hell?

Will it end? No. No.

_________________________

When the gunshots began we knew we were almost home.

No vehicles were broken into.

This whole Canada thing is really quite beautiful. I am excited to have started my new list – climb every single mountain in Canada.

_______________________________________________________________

“Over the mountains & through the woods, down the river & up the valley, over the boulders & through the stream to nobody’s house I go.”

Social Media Suicide

I was never really good at instagram but I was kind of the best. Sound egotistical? I am only speaking the truth. I was never good at curating what looked like a perfect life. I failed at managing my account (halfpint22) when it blew up to 80,000 followers. I hated hash tagging, I hated filling photos with two hundred tags in hopes of being featured by some bigger account, I hated pushing product (and so I never did), – we don’t need more stuff – I hated being approached by companies asking to trade a nalgene bottle for a post and a “shout out,” I hated that people treated me like I was famous when they met me in person (I’m not), I was a terrible ambassador and I did not want to organize meet ups… so I deleted it and never looked back. I was the best at sharing the good, the bad, the ugly, the fear, the joys, the laughs, the cries, the imperfections in my personality, and my struggle with addiction….ya know, what every single one of us REALLY experiences. I was good at being myself and somehow through all of the smoke and mirrors other human beings saw that, even before I did. Unbeknownst to me I created a small army of people who tuned in to watch my life unfold naturally in real time. My real life. My every day struggles. And I deeply helped people I did not even know until a few days ago, when I announced I would be leaving instagram indefinitely. (I am only talking about instagram and not social media as a whole because I have never had or used twitter and I barely used facebook, but this applies to any and all social media outlets – pick your poison)

I thought deleting halfpint22 would prove that I did not need validation or “instafame” and I was only around for the human connection and to meet people I might otherwise never cross paths with. And that is ultimately what I used instagram for, to snap my relateable life to others and inspire, especially women, to be strong, courageous, and go after whatever it is they want out of life. I met an incredible group of people and created a happy safe community when I continued on as throughbeingcool22. Hey, come over here to unapologetically be your weird ass self, everyone is welcome. I did not hashtag, I did not tag, and I surely did not care if I was featured. I am positive I only posted for myself and those who followed along. It was okay for a little while but I still could not put my phone down. I looked at other people with their 1,000,000 hashtags, and 5,000 tags per photo and it made me sick. I looked at heavily edited photos, hell I edited photos, and asked myself over and over again, “why can’t I just post this photo as it was actually seen?” Why do I need to saturate, fade out, warm up, add a filter and completely mangle a moment in my life that did not actually look like the moment I am now presenting days, weeks, sometimes months later? I remember a conversation with my friend Kate, some big instagram account featured one of her photos, she messaged them and said, “hey next time, could you please ask my permission before doing that?” They responded by telling her she should feel honored by the feature and then removed her photo. I’m sorry, honored, should feel? At the end of your life, does it really matter if you get insta-featured or not? And more importantly we “should” feel a certain way about sheer and utter nonsense? WHO. CARES. And then I had the people who told me that deleting an instagram account with 80,000 followers was the most insane thing a person could do, it was social suicide. I was famous, I had pull. Pull?

So here is the thing, my validation, my “pull” comes from doing hard things, from setting goals for myself, be-it physical, intellectual, or emotional and mustering the self drive to achieve said goals or fall on my face and learn something, either way trying, working hard. Hard work, remember that? What humans did before we all had iphones. Posting a photo on instagram is not hard work. Having 10k, 20k, 30k, 40k followers just means you spend too much time on instagram. Your hashtag game is strong and ultimately that is kind of ridiculous. Over time I grew bitter and hostile yet I continued to snap story, edited photos, and post. However, I was not growing bitter or hostile toward the gram and what it procures, I was bitter towards myself. Instagram exists and it will continue to exist but I do not have to exist with it. I cannot be true to my core being and have social media. Digital consumption is an alternative to reality. We are the screaming babies and it is our pacifier. Well, I do not want to be pacified. I do not want to be a sheep in an all consuming herd. I do not want the 1,400 dollar iphone X-12.0. I don’t care how many pixels it has, I would still edit the photo. Why? Because it is never enough. We need more more more more more more more more more more more more more….okay you get it.

I have not met many but there are a few unicorns out there who live social media free. I would occasionally find one and feel envy. I was never envious of other peoples little insta-squares but I was truly jealous of these beautiful horned stallions that had no handle. Who knew what they were doing? What they ate for lunch? How many miles they ran that day? What mountain they climbed eighteen throw back Thursdays ago? They just nonchalantly shrugged and said, “no, I don’t do social media.” Well how will we stay in touch? Oh you mean write each other through email, talk on the phone, or actually get together and hang out; make an effort. You mean, I can’t scroll through your “life” and secretly compare mine? It was at this point I knew I had to grow a horn and prod my way out of the #likeamountaingirl world and be a unicorn. I permanently deleted my facebook (the right way) and disabled my instagram account and it feels like I took a major dump that was all sorts of cramping my stomach.

Bring on the withdrawals, it’s cleansin’ time!

Six Years Ago I Couldn’t Divide

Admittedly, I am getting older and so is my memory but I remember walking into the Belmar Jefferson County Public Library six years ago like it was yesterday. Why? Because I was confronting my biggest fear head on, math.

I was a horrible student in high school, stuffed into a box, whispers around the small community I grew up in, “she should be smart, her father is a PhD mechanical engineer who runs an entire research laboratory at General Electric and her mother is a teacher.” I failed geometry, I ended up in summer school, I had to retake my New York state regents examination three times … the list goes on. I struggled and no one was there to guide me. I was lazy and no punishment from my parents was going to change that. Repeated failure and a negative label as a “challenged” student shaped my strong belief that I was stupid. I squeaked out of high school with an overall “C” average and went on to a small college in New Jersey where I was accepted on the condition that I take all remedial courses my freshman year. I was ashamed and dropped out before my second semester was over. I ran away to Philadelphia and flushed my turd of a life right down the toilet.

But this is not about the “lost years” as I like to call them, this is about walking into that library in Lakewood, Colorado thirteen years later…….

“Where are the how to learn math videos?” I asked the librarian. “What do you need to learn, algebra?” she responded. “No…….. I need to learn how to divide.”

She walked me over to the children’s DVD section and placed me in front of the elementary school level “how to” math videos. Once she was out of sight, I took a deep breath, tugged at my bangs, and grabbed the entire stack. I decided to go back to school and if I wanted to get into Red Rocks Community College (RRCC), I had to take a math placement test.

I spent the next two weeks watching cartoon animals do long division, fight about order of operations, and get caught in prime number storms, yes prime numbers rained from the sky above. I returned proudly to the library beating my chest – I now have the mathematic capabilities of a 5th grader. I took out the next series of videos which dove into the wild world of algebra. Another week, and I took that test and I placed into college level algebra. It was my first victory. But it was so much more then just a “W.” Today I look back and see that as a defining moment in my life. It took thirteen stinking years to remove the cage of self doubt that I allowed others to build around me. I was still the same Kim, the only thing that changed was I believed I could. And so the cage began to break down, one bar at a time.

I had tremendous success at Red Rocks Community College. I went through algebra, trigonometry, and calculus I. After receiving straight A’s, I became a math tutor through the school. I did common hour tutoring but my favorite was tutoring one on one because I was able to relate and help those who simply thought they “could not do math.” *(I hate that saying, you can do math, you just need to learn it like any other skill in life)* I became a teacher assistant for a biology 112 class. I ran the laboratory and wrote exams. I continued on in math, taking calculus II, calculus III, and differential equations – earning straight A’s. I took organic chemistry I and II and placed in the top 10th percentile on the nationwide exam, one of the best scores to come out of RRCC. I designed a cooling tower that would save the school 10% water usage and my design was implemented after I graduated. But most importantly I decided to shoot for the stars (even if I missed) and become an engineer who solved the oil based plastic packaging problem. I love this planet and I want to make a difference. I want future generations to have clean oceans, clean rivers, and clean air. I care. But I don’t just care, I do. It became my driving force. I worked like a crazy person and I was accepted into Colorado School of Mines (CSM) one of the best engineering schools in the United States.

But life is such and my transfer into CSM was anything but smooth. My tremendous success in community college gave me the necessary credits and the confidence I needed at 34 years old to step foot onto a traditional college campus full of 18 year olds. That is about all it did. There is nothing in life that could have prepared me for how difficult Colorado School of Mines would be, except maybe mountain climbing, because my motto became, “no matter how hard, how uncomfortable, and how scary, one foot in front of the other is the only way to get to the top, how bad do you want the summit?” This is what I say to myself when I am on the side of a mountain and this is what I said to myself nearly every day at CSM.

This is not a place for unnaturally gifted people. My peers were all top of their high school class and it showed. If they studied 5 hours for an exam, I studied 10 hours for the same exact grade. I immediately began having flashbacks to high school *** I am not good enough *** This is engineering school. You are not coddled. Your hand is not held. You are responsible for learning things like quantum mechanics, steel properties, and matlab on your own. YOU must figure out how it all works. And if you do not swim…..and swim hard, you will sink…. and fast. This is a school where sometimes a 56 is an “A” on an exam and you have to be okay with never really knowing what your grade is until the end of the semester. You cannot stop until the semester is over, there is no rest, there is no break, there is no free time; there is only never ending homework problem sets, weekly 30 page laboratory reports, and a stream of exams that are way too long for the time you are given. Everything about this system wants to break you, sink or swim, the choice was mine.

I was the oddball out, an old lady looking for redemption, it took a full year and a major change (chemical engineering to materials and metallurgical engineering) but I learned how to navigate. I grew an extra set of arms and swam the quadruple butterfly stroke. My second semester junior year was insanely difficult and I pulled a 4.0 grade point average. My first semester senior year was even more difficult and I pulled another 4.0. I made the Dean’s list, one of my greatest achievements to date.

This is not a rant about how difficult engineering school is (okay maybe a little bit). My point: you do not have to be what society calls “gifted” to do math. You do not need to be a high school mathlete to learn how to problem solve. You do not need to be 18 to go to college. If you decide that you want to do something that other people said would be impossible or even more so, you think is impossible, put two middle fingers to the sky and prove them and yourself wrong. I fought with everything inside me to walk across that stage set up on the Colorado School of Mines football field. I bled for the moment the president of the school handed me my diploma, shook my hand, and congratulated me. Really, I once ground my thumb off in the physical materials lab.

On May 11th 2018 I became an engineer. I am an engineer, not because I was good at math, not because I did well in high school and it was the obvious path, not because I simply “applied myself,” I am an engineer because I wanted it and I relentlessly worked until I was.

I have been accepted into a graduate program at the University of British Columbia in Canada where I will research biopolymers. My dream has always been to become a researcher and resolve the worlds oil based packaging problem and now I have created that opportunity for myself. I am terrified to leave Colorado and everything I know, but engineering school taught me more than just division. Engineering school taught me how to accept failure and force success.

There is a little voice in each one of us, the voice of impossible dreams that whispers the outlandish things we truly want. There is another voice, the voice of self-doubt that feeds off insecurity, past situations and silences the voice of impossible dreams. “You can’t do that. That is too hard. There’s no way you can make that work. Don’t do it.” If there is one piece of advice I can lend; send the voice of self-doubt packing and let the voice of impossible dreams run rampant. You ARE capable of creating any reality you want. Hard work trumps all else. If you are willing to lay it all on the line for your dreams and goals, achievement is inevitable.


“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the small world they’ve been given, than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact, it is an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration, it is a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

70 Million Year Old Rock!

There are mountains….and then there is the Grenadier Range. A measly 8 inaccessible miles long, they will touch something deep inside your soul forcing you to respect the history of this planet and how it was formed. The Grenadiers were uplifted 70 million years ago as part of the San Juan Dome, the Laramide Orogeny or the mountain building episode that is responsible for the creation of most of Colorado’s peaks. During the San Juan’s period of volcanic activity, nearly the entire surface was buried in layer after layer of lava and ash flows but the ash flows would just lap at the heels of the Grenadiers. Hopkins said, “The Grenadiers remained intact during the San Juan’s explosive formation to become a magnificent range of glacially carved metamorphic basement rock.” The rock itself is two billion year-old quartzite straight out of ancient middle earth. I am still trying to wrap my head around scrambling on such a fine piece of history.

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Vestal Peak

 


It has been a long time since I have written about climbing mountains. It’s a time consuming endeavor and I wonder how I wrote so much in the past. I enjoy putting climbs with photos and words but the more mountains I climb the less enthused I am to write about it.

I decided a few months ago that I want to climb all of the 13 + thousand foot mountains ranked and unranked in the state of Colorado. This includes the 14 thousand foot peaks and their sub summits. There are 764 ranked + unranked Colorado 13ers, 58 Colorado 14ers, and 16 sub-summits. That is 838 mountains and I have currently summited 187. Well on my way, *huge sweeping sarcastic chuckle*. I have no time limit on this goal. I do not want to be the first (someone has probably already done it) or the fastest. I just love the state of Colorado, its mountains, and plan on staying here forever, so why not make this a life goal. Life goals are good.

I decided to move to Ophir located just outside of Telluride for the summer. The San Juan mountain range is my favorite (next to the Gores). I wanted to put all of my efforts into climbing obscure 13 thousand foot peaks in this wild and tough region of Colorado. I knew it would make me stronger and develop my skills as a mountain climber. It did. This range is unforgiving. The approaches are long, brutal, and often without trail. There is little to no information on the lesser known peaks and the rock is AWFUL. That is unless you go into the Grenadiers. Everything else holds true but the rock is solid. Factor in the monsoonal weather and you have a recipe for some epic sufferfests and that is my thang.

I summited 58 of the 314 San Juan 13ers this summer, including a solo fast pack of Pigeon and Turret (which I should really write about but kind of want to keep as just mine). Sunday, I ran the Pikes Peak marathon where I finished the 58 Colorado 14ers (incredibly powerful experience), and Monday returned to Golden to finish my engineering degree with a fresh 8 a.m. mechanical behavior of materials class (for which I overslept and was three minutes late). I have seven classes left and I am a Colorado School of Mines graduate and then, well then it’s time to move to Durango because yes, southwest Colorado, yes.

So with a little backstory, onwards we go with the feature trip report, “A Grenadier Grand Slam (on 70 million but really 2 billion year old ancient middle earth basement rock)”…..

 


Vestal Peak 13,864’

Arrow Peak 13,803’

West Trinity 13,765’

Middle Trinity 13,805’

East Trinity 13,745’

32 miles

14,005 feet of vertical gain

Geoff and I sat in the laundromat just outside of Telluride late Thursday evening laughing at the abysmal forecast over the next couple of days. But is there really such a thing as good weather in the Weminuche during monsoon season? And can you really even say you’ve been Weminuched (yes I made it a verb) if you don’t weather dodge to make summits.

We should not have been doing laundry at 6 pm the night before the early morning we would head over Ophir pass to Molas Pass and start our backpack in. No, we should have been celebrating Allison’s birthday with good wine and good food, but we needed to start the adventure with clean socks and underwear (which I ended up forgetting, the underwear, not the socks). Allison isn’t the type of girl who wants that kind of birthday though. Allison is the type of girl who wants to spend her birthday slogging eleven miles through mud and rain on a faint trail that follows the bearing of hellaciously steep. This is why she is my friend. Speaking of friend, her birthday conveniently falls on the date of our one year friendversary. For her birthday last year we were set up by our friends Ryan and Julie on an instagram blind date. We met at the Zapata Falls trailhead under the cover of darkness and climbed Ellingwood and Blanca. Afterwards, we sat in the shade of Allison’s car tire while she opened up presents from her family and then we went to some shitty restaurant in Fort Garland and tried to force them to make a vegan entrée as we clinked wine glasses. For the record, this is how all great friendships begin.

Day 1 – The Pack In

As promised, it was wet. The trail from Molas Pass plummets down about 2,200 feet to the Animas River and the Durango-Silverton train tracks. Something to look forward to on the pack out. It is a good trail and I savored it.

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A promising sky at Molas Lake.

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The rain begins.

 

The bottom is over grown and stinging nettle hangs unavoidably over the path of most resistance. This wasn’t my first rodeo, I walked through a field of it on my approach to North Pigeon basin just a week prior. I am rather sensitive to its little death claws. Take it like a woman who stupidly chose to wear shorts, again. After the train tracks the trail winds through Elk Park until it reaches a beaver pond where a faint trail heads south and then east into Vestal Basin. We got somewhat turned around as the faint trail petered into a bunch of boulders. Across the boulder field and through more stinging nettle we went only to be dumped out on a decent trail. A piece of sage advice, hug the beaver pond, avoid the boulder field.

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First look at some sexy rock.

The trail then plummets down to vestal creek which must be crossed high above on some super janky (urban dictionary word) wet logs. From this point on we crawled through the mud under downed trees, climbed over downed trees, slipped on wet rock we couldn’t see as we worked our way through fields of sopping wet overgrown bluebells and willows all while the sky above unleashed monsoonal rain. Ironically, I am into this sort of thing.

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The rain continued.

And just as things started to flatten out we hit the meadow, ohhhhh the meadow. The trail turned to straight calf deep mud entombed by wet willows. By the time we found a camp spot at the far east end of the meadow under a cluster of tall pine trees we looked like drowned rats. Geoff and Allison had there tent set up and were inside warming in a matter of 15 minutes. I have been playing around with ultra light weight fast packing gear this summer. My tent is a Gossamer Gear pole tent. It uses my trekking poles and tension, there is no frame. It is a great light weight tent that I can set up in 3 minutes but I was having a hard time working with the small space backed up against the very soft and non supportive soil that surrounded the pine trees. Really, I just wanted to hang out in the rain for another hour or so and cement the fact that I and everything on me was sopping wet. 

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The gear.

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Camp viewzzzz.

 

Around 8 p.m. the clouds began to break and hints of sunshine came through. I prayed to the mountain gods to give us the weather window we needed to attempt the Trinity Traverse.

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Day 2 – The Trinity Traverse (west to east)

I had completely submitted to the idea that we may very well pack into the Grenadiers and sit in our respective tents for four days. Maybe I would hang out by a marmot den and talk to them in the rain. Maybe I would walk around Vestal Basin taking moody mountain pictures. Maybe I would read the history of these beautiful peaks and not be able to hold them in my hands, because while quartzite is so much fun dry it is a climbers worst nightmare when wet. The Trinity Traverse is no easy task and these mountains must be approached with the utmost respect. I am completely willing to pack into a basin in bad weather and go from there but climbing these mountains in a storm, no. From my personal experience a forecast is just that – to calculate or predict some future event or condition. Predictions are not full fact. If this trip did end up being an epic four day rain fest then I would come out of it tougher and with more miles and more vertical gain on the old legs than I did going in. Mountain climbing requires patience and sometimes you don’t get the peak, but you always learn something. Added bonus that I just really love being in the mountains, period. That’s my attitude.

Anyway, we woke up under clear skies, and it’s go time! The approach from camp to the saddle of Vestal Peak and West Trinity was rancid. We worked our way up a steep headwall to the upper meadow but in the grey morning light managed to loose the climbers trail and had to do some minor bushwhacking and rock scrambling around a cliff band. Oh and the upper meadow? All the same special features as the lower meadow including a large stream jump which Geoff and I both fell in. Allison of course cleared it because she is the mountain whisperer. After clawing our way up another head wall we were close to Vestal Lake and the alpenglow grazed Vestal and Arrow’s upper ramparts. I definitely could not feel my feet. 

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Trinitys in the grey morning light.

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Alpenglow on Vestal and Arrow.

 

As we approached the saddle my excitement to touch this very special rock was oozing out of control. I kept repeating out loud, “70 million but really 2 billion year old ancient middle earth basement rock.” We managed to get in the wrong gully. The gully we chose was two left of what would have been the easiest way to the saddle. For me, this was the scariest part of the day as it was littered with loose death blocks. We split up and tried to use more solid rock where possible. The not so fun gully was short lived and boom we were on west ridge proper heading up West Trinity.

We stayed on ridge proper. The climbing never felt above 3 spicy tacos (wait for it) but the ridge did get airy in places. The rock was everything I hoped it would be and more. Beautiful sustained scrambling. Take me back, now.

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Casual rock touching.

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Casual rock touching.

 

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Casual rock touching.

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Casual rock touching.

 

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About to summit West Trinity.

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The only summit register I found.

 

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The Needle District.

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A look ahead at Middle Trinity.

 

The traverse from West Trinity to Middle Trinity is the alleged crux of the route. It starts out with by descending West Trinity’s east ridge and then uses a ledge system to the south of Middle’s west ridge. I am not sure if you would need climbing gear to stay ridge proper, it looked like there is a big rappel out of sight in the above photo. Looking back it is really too convoluted to tell.

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Easy ledges.

To get to the summit of Middle Trinity several 4 spicy taco (wait for it) chimneys are climbed.

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Casual rock touching.

Then there’s some more stuff to climb. We got a little tangled up in a spine on the ridge meaning we probably topped out a little early.

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Casual rock touching.

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Delayering featuring spicy spine.

 

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I kept calling this Balls Lake, it is Balsam Lake.

It was a lot of sustained scrambling with some exposure. Even though we got off route a few times it wasn’t difficult to figure it out or get through the moves. That is what mountain climbing is all about. And then the summit.

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Middle Trinity + 1 year friendversary + Allison’s birthday = high stoke!!!

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A look back.

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A look forward at East Trinity.

 

From Middle Trinity, East Trinity looks like some impossible to climb medieval monster. You basically go straight up the inset gully seen in the photo above. But first, you must descend Middle’s east ridge or more like a steep gully just to the south of the east ridge. Cooper and Roach both warn of the dangers in this gully. There is definitely loose rock present but I have been in much much much worse. We were down and to the saddle between Middle and East quickly and no rocks were knocked loose.

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Can you spot Geoff?

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Geoff contemplating our future.

 

The bottom of the gully deposited us in a steep deep couloir that was full of bullet proof snow. The remaining route looked formidable. It was a little tricky to get out of the couloir and onto East Trinity. Allison and Geoff used a crack system and I went lower and used some slabs. East’s gully started out as 3 spicy tacos (wait for it).

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This is me all up in some ancient middle earth rock.

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Casual knee leaning.

As we reached the upper echelon it split and we had the choice of right or left, we chose left. This topped out directly on the summit. Both Cooper and Roach describe the route as topping out on the south ridge. My guess is their route goes to the right and remains 3 spicy tacos (it’s coming). Our route got a little intense with 4 to 5 spicy tacos (really it’s coming). It wasn’t the climbing, it was the loose blocks precariously teetering on top of every hold.

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Not so casual rock touching.

However, it was not sustained, 100-150 feet and then the final summit!

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Allison on East Trinity.

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A look back at Middle Trinity.

 

All that was left to do was descend East Trinity’s north ridge, go down a steep shale field, cross a basin with a beautiful unnamed lake, navigate a tricky headwall, bushwhack through some now dry willows, forge a swampy high meadow, another headwall, and return to camp. And that is just what we did.

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Casual shale touching.

Okay, mentally prepare yourself for an onslaught of photos of 70 million but really 2 billion year old ancient middle earth basement rock. If this does not get you as juiced up as me, we could never ever be friends.

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And here are some photos of humans walking on the 2 billion year old star dust from which they are made.

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And here is more because who wants to read words.

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The clouds were building as we returned to camp around noon and began consuming all the snacks. Shortly thereafter it began to hail. From camp to camp the Trinity traverse took about 6 hours. We did a normal amount of snacking, dancing, stopping and talking about rock/plants and picture taking. There was no rush because despite the forecasted 70% chance of storms by nine a.m., we had a beautiful morning. This is why you pack in and try instead of waiting for the perfect weather report.

After thoughts on this traverse: I read several trip reports, Roach and Coopers route descriptions and went into it with a respectable amount of fear. I feel everything I read was slightly over dramatized. If you have experience scrambling and route finding this traverse should be no problem. While we were scrambling all day long, it never went to my head and besides the climb up the initial gully and the upper part of East Trinity, I thought the rock was a solid 70 million but really 2 billion year old ancient middle earth basement rock. Perhaps I am desensitized from all the loose nightmare peaks I’ve been climbing all summer. This traverse is really fun (3.75 Spicy Tacos) – see below.

Earlier this summer I started rating ridges and climbs by the Scoville scale which is a measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chili peppers—or other spicy foods (tacos), as reported in Scoville heat units (SHU), a function of capsaicin concentration. I really feel we need to get rid of the class 1/2/3/4/5 system and just go with, how spicy is the taco? When I write my guidebook, “An Honest Guide to Scrambling in the San Juans,” this is the scale that will be used. Here is how it works:

The Spicy Taco Scrambling Scale …… according to Halfpint

Pepperoncini 100-500 SHU – a little bit sweet a little bit spicy but the spice only comes in the form of minor quad burn from walking uphill at altitude. 1 Spicy Taco

Anaheim 1,000-1,400 SHU – these mild chilies are long and skinny and have just a little more heat than the pepperoncini. They are often stuffed or added to salsa. The grade steepens, the hands go on the quads, breathing deepens. 2 Spicy Tacos

Jalapeno 3,500-4,500 SHU – The most common chili in the US. Jalapenos are used often because when used sparingly they add a nice amount of heat yet don’t have an overwhelming taste. This is your classic ladder scramble. It is beautiful, it is simple, your movement flows free, your mind wanders, there may be some exposure but you’re having too much fun to notice. Everyone loves jalapenos. 3 Spicy Tacos 

Habanero 200,000-300,000 SHU – This is the hottest chili you can find in your grocery store, almost 100 times hotter than a jalapeno. Don’t forget to wash your hands after handling or you may burn an eye right out of your skull. The ladder is gone, this scrambling requires skill, thought, and the headspace to deal with exposure. There may difficult moves covered in kitty litter rock. Your throat starts to burn but you’re hungry and the only way to full, is up. 4 Spicy Tacos

Ghost 1,000,000 SHU – The hottest pepper in the world. Believe it or not, there’s a demand for this small fiery chili. Of course there is. There is a small population of individuals who enjoy dangling off cliffs and route finding their way through nearly impenetrable cliff bands on mountains that are falling apart. This scrambling will get your attention. Have an ice cold glass of milk ready or….maybe a rope. 5 Spicy Tacos

Day 3 – Vestal Peak (south face)

Wham Ridge is Vestal’s premier route but this was not our route. I’m not sure any of us were ready to free solo 5.4 (5 Spicy Tacos) but it didn’t matter, we woke up to the pitter patter of light rain. After sleeping another half hour the rain tapered off but the clouds were unsettling. Without service it was hard to tell what the weather would do so we decided on Vestal’s easy (3 Spicy Tacos) standard route. The only reason this route gets three spicy tacos is because there is a good chunk of mindless ladder climbing on mostly solid rock with minor route finding. The route is straight forward. Scamper up “the due collector,” a steep junky slope to the saddle of Arrow and Vestal, turn east or left, follow a cairned ledge system under a major cliff band, run into a deep gully, turn north or left (before the gully), and get your 3 spicy tacos on. It’s a choose your own adventure to the summit. Photos, because enough with the words.

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Arrow looking fine in the morning light.

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Arrow.

 

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Casual rock touching.

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Pigeon Peak.

 

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Summit of Vestal.

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Casual rock touching.

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Vestal.

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Triple T’s

 

On the decent back to camp it hailed a little, rained a little, sunned a little, hailed a little, thundered a little, rained a little – typical Nuche. When we returned to camp we hit the snacks hard and the nap hard. The prior night a marmot viciously attacked my tent around 11:18 p.m. I know the exact time because I document these sort of things. When I crawled into my quilt for nap time I noticed 3 tear holes in the corner where my head rested. Oh you little F$&%*$#&$%. Luckily, Allison and Geoff brought repair tape and all was well, except it isn’t my tent, my friend Thomas lent it to me. OH you little F&$&#*$ S%%*$ marmot. After nap time, we had dinner. This summer, I chose to ditch the camp stove and cold soak my food in a rinsed out peanut butter container. Cold soaked salt, dried rice, dried beans, and dried vegetables for three nights in a row does not hit the spot at all but I enjoy a light pack and simplicity so boom. It probably started to rain, we went to sleep with dreams of Arrow swimming through our heads. 

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#campvibezzzzzzz

Day 4 – Arrow Peak (northeast face) and pack out

I was the most excited about Arrow and it delivered. Both Roach and Cooper detail the northeast face route quite nicely. The only thing I would interject is there is no reason what so ever to skip the first 200 feet of slab. It is fun. In addition, staying on the lower more eastern ramp for as long as possible eliminates having to negotiate a subpar loose gully and keeps the scrambling exciting. Once on the upper ramp, spicy tacos lurk around every corner. We stayed proper and pulled some moves. Why not when the scrambling is this good? I recommend reading up on the route but not getting too wrapped up in it. If you are climbing this mountain, you probably have experience scrambling, you probably enjoy a spicy taco or two, stuff your face, it does not get much better than this! I rate our route 4 fun party spiced tacos.

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My favorite photo of the trip – Allison on Arrow’s ramp.

 

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Slabs!

 

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Casual rock touching.

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Casual rock touching.

 

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Tricky section.

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Casual rock touching.

 

Luckily Allison snapped the four stages of summitting a mountain:

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Casual rock touching.

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The, I am not there yet slump.

 

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Oh my god YAY!

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Hard contemplation.

 

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And then down…..

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Bottom slabs that you should do.

We packed up camp and quickly moved out. The storms were a brewing by 9 a.m. It rained on and off the entire way out but the temperature was nice and the views were stunning.

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Goodbyeeeeeeeee

 

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There was a moose.

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There were train tracks.

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There was a bridge.

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And of course there was stinging nettle. The climb back up to Molas Pass flew by to end a wonderful trip with great friends.

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Quick Video:

 

What is really left to say except, 70 million but really 2 billion year old ancient middle earth basement rock, 70 million but really 2 billion year old ancient middle earth basement rock.

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“When you’re a mountain person, you understand the brilliance and beauty of contradiction…

The way land can be your greatest teacher.  How something can be both grounding yet elevating, intoxicating yet soothing, wild yet serene, intensely primal yet patient, and cycling yet predictable within the shifts, and rhythms.  Mountains keep us on edge yet wrap us in the sensation of safety all at once.  I don’t know of anything sweeter, or more magic inducing than that.”
– Victoria Erickson

“I’m Super Jealous”

Sadly, this is a message I get far too often from strangers on social media.  But fear not, I have some super top secret highly classified advice – don’t be, your life is whatever you make it.

If you want to see a place, see it.  If you want to climb a mountain, climb it.  If you want to quit your job, quit it.  If you like someone, tell them.  If you want to be a better daughter, sister, brother, son, friend, be one. If you want to dance in the middle of the grocery store, dance.  If you want to learn how to turn craft beer bottles into flying saucers that travel through black holes to different dimensions in space and time, do it – even if all you learn is it isn’t possible.

Everyone has a different story but we all have one thing in common, options.  Options lead to choices, choices lead to change, and change can be scary.  Sometimes so scary that we convince ourselves we don’t have options which abruptly eliminates choice making change impossible.  We create a self imposed prison.

There is no limit on what you are capable of.  I promise.  That cell you think you are stuck in, it’s a mirage.

Then:  I failed math in high school; algebra and geometry.  I spent two summers in a hot box retaking both.  I graduated with a 2.5 GPA and was told by a broken system that I wasn’t smart and probably wouldn’t amount to much.  I believed this for a decade.

Now:  I am three semesters away from graduating from Colorado School of Mines, one of the best engineering schools in the nation.  I am studying materials engineering and chemistry on full scholarship and am on par to graduate with honors.

Then:  I smoked cigarettes, used drugs, and drank alcohol.  I used substances to help me avoid dealing with my self imposed prison and anger towards the universe.  I blamed circumstance.

Now:  I trail run and climb mountains, mostly alone.  The time I spend moving through wild places guided by only the sound of my breath and patter of my heartbeat has given the scattered chatter in my brain a clear voice. There will never exist a place better than the mountains – indifferent to your pain – to confront the fists you wrap around invisible bars and the palms you press against ghostly walls.  Solo back country travel pushed me so far out of my comfort zone I eventually realized I don’t have zones. Comfort and discomfort are silly human terms.  There are only things to try, success or failure is strongly due to chance. When you sever the tie to expectation there is no room for disappointment, only lessons to be learned and growth to be had.

Then:  I dated men and held onto relationships that brought no meaning or growth to my life and I let these relationships completely define me.  One after the other until one day, I just didn’t.

Now:  I don’t need a lot of friends, only a few great ones.  I am single.  I go on dates (not often) and I read red flags.  I am not ready to be in a relationship unless I feel the person is right.  I have not yet felt that and I am not going to be with someone just to be with someone.  I taught myself how to read a map, climb a mountain, do math, solo road trip across countries on a budget, trail run, backpack, make a fire, rock climb, fix a vacuum, patch a tire, and survive in the back country.  I know that by myself I am capable of creating anything I want.  Not only do I know this but I am happy, satisfied, and fulfilled doing so.  In fact, I love being alone.  Being comfortable with myself has taken years to master and still every day I learn how to do it better.  They say you cannot love another until you love yourself and I believe it.  My relationships with my family and friends have so much more strength and depth now.

Don’t ever be jealous of another person.  Do not envy a life you see only from the outside.  Comparing yourself to others is a complete waste of energy.  Draw inspiration if you must but embrace your journey.  You will never really know what it took another person to get where they are or what they must do to keep going.

There is tremendous beauty in the struggle of figuring it all out, and by figuring it all out, I mean who you really are and what you really want.  If you wish you came pre-made like a certain person you admire then you are denying yourself the best parts and your story will never be written.

I recently returned home from a three week solo winter road trip.  Daylight fades quickly leaving plenty of time for thought and reflection.  I receive a lot of messages expressing jealousy towards my life and questions regarding “how” I do it all.  I mostly thought about the how.

Changing your thought process requires courage and a lot of effort.  Learning how to live in the present moment is not innate to human behavior.  Human beings have worrying minds.  Human beings have planning minds.  Human beings believe if this doesn’t happen, then that won’t happen, and if that doesn’t happen then all of this was wasted on that and everything is a failure.  We bury ourselves in self doubt.  I have spent the past four years actively training my mind to live present in each moment and because of this I have learned how to smoothly adapt in nearly any situation.  This is paramount in my ability and willingness to try anything regardless of success or failure.  I am able to enjoy my existence even on the most mundane or disheartening days.

It isn’t about where you go, what you see, or what you do, it is about how you choose to experience and process it all.  Once you understand this, the logistics to creating the life you want come easy.

Here are some of my favorite photos from my latest trip to Yosemite and back.  They are images, they do not capture the struggle of the cold, the harshness of the weather, the sleepless nights in a car frozen from the inside out, or how hungry and nutritionally depleted I felt for most of the trip.  They do not capture the joy that can be found in the emptiness of a winter landscape or the unimaginable solitude I found in places normally bustling with people.  Perhaps they capture the peace I felt in the middle of two chaotic semesters of school.  These photos are the skeleton outline of three weeks I spent alone probing deeper into my soul and processing another year of my life.  Thank you for reading and Happy New Year!

Arches National Park (Utah)

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Moab (Utah)

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Dead Horse Point State Park (Utah)

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Bryce National Park (Utah)

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Zion National Park (Utah)

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8

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From a Gas Station (almost Nevada)

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Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada)

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Red Rocks National Preserve (Nevada)

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The Mojave Desert (California)

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Kern Canyon, Lighting Peak (California)

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Sequoia National Park (California)

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26

27

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Yosemite National Park (California)

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” I took a little journey to the unknown and I came back changed I can feel it in my bones.”

What the Trump will happen to our land?

I feel like this is a reasonable question since the months that felt like a decade of childish fighting and low blow tweets yielded little to no information on the policies President Donald Trump’s campaign is based on.  I mean when it comes to presidential candidates, what is policy anyway?  It’s nice to know you can become  President of the United States of America without one solid educated reasonable stance on well, anything.  All of my friends and I wish we could graduate from engineering school without having to suffer through four years of mind bending mathematics, physics, chemistry, and thermodynamics.  But let’s be real, would you trust an engineer who does not have a solid foundation?

I am very close to officially being a materials and metallurgical engineer, something I have worked diligently towards for the past five years.  My daily life surrounds myself with other engineers, people who exist in a community based on logic, reason, and science.  We speak in experiments run over and over and over again, some failed, some successful.  We do not throw nonsense words at one another or try to spin data in a way that better suits our needs.  I have yet to meet an engineer (teacher or student alike) at Colorado School of Mines who does not understand science is NOT something we “believe” in, it is something we dedicate our entire lives to learn, master, and accept as being imperfect.  What have I learned in my five years?  A lot of what doesn’t work which opens the door for that which does. 

All that being said, I ended up in engineering school because of my intense love and dedication to protecting the wild places that I adore.  There is no other reason.  My focus is biomaterials; biodegradable packaging to be more specific.  Five years ago my life was directionless, I was co-dependent, unhappy, and insecure.  Five years ago I decided to change that.  I left everything that dominated my existence and I started over, alone.  I enrolled in classes at a community college and I bought a pair of trail runners and taught myself how to navigate mountain terrain.  Was it scary?  Hell ya.  I was terrible at math and the mountains are incredibly intimidating.  I cried a lot.  I questioned my sanity a lot.  But ultimately, I stuck with it and grew into a woman I can be proud of; fiercely independent, happy, secure, and educated through hard work and dedication. 

We all have a series of moments that define us and I remember my most important.  I had just returned home from a four month solo road trip in which I ran a new mountain, forest, waterfall, national park, etc. etc. every single day.  I wanted to finish climbing the mountains over fourteen thousand feet in the Colorado Sawatch Range.  I only had Mount Huron left, so I poured over maps and created a beautiful off-trail loop that would allow me to run out a ridge of several thirteen thousand foot peaks.  Solo ridge running is one of my favorite things.  It also requires high altitude back country navigation skills.  I had just summited my third mountain and I set off running for my fourth.  As I let gravity sweep me effortlessly down Brown Mountain I picked up my head and looked around.  Beautiful stone peaks accentuated by rolling green hillsides.  Silence.  Big horn sheep grazing one peak over.  Delicate alpine flowers struggling in the wind.  I was acutely aware of myself moving through this spectacular place like it was my actual home.  Not the apartment with the cushy bed or the trunk of my car.  Tears began to involuntarily run down my face.  The mountains had saved me.  The mountains had tested my strengths and weaknesses in a way nothing else could and forced me into the best possible version of myself.  I was already in engineering school, I was already interested in renewable energy but it was in that moment I accepted my purpose – to fight for and protect our undeveloped land.  It is our responsibility to pass on to future generations a place that will cleanse their soul and give a second, a third, and a fourth chance without asking for anything in return except connection.  Do you think Donald Trump who lives in a gold tower and eats pizza with a fork and knife understands this?

I do not claim to be an expert politician.  I will openly admit there is a lot I do not understand.  The government makes it that way for a reason.  What I do know, about half of America is potentially a little bit racist and a little bit sexist.  Scary, yes.  But the other half of the country realizes Donald Trump is a narcissistic hateful man with no solid plan for this country or its people.  Trump a 70 year old man once tweeted Jon Stewart at 1:30 in the morning and called him a “pussy.”  Apparently, he really likes that word. Twitter wars, something Trump loves to engage in are for 13 year old girls and The Real House Wives of Orange County….. speaking of reality t.v. shows and orange….like it or not, this is our president now.  Scary, yes.  He could unify half of the country based on hate, fear, and a lot of words that mean nothing.  “Make America Hate Again?”  

We do not have to be complacent, we do not need to mute our voices.  As a whole, we can speak up for the minority and against things we know are morally wrong.  We can fight for everything that does make America great, the diversity, the opportunity, and the beautiful open spaces.  For me this election was always about the land and the health of the planet.  I voted for Hillary because my environmental policies align with hers.  My biggest concern is who Trump will pick to head the Department of the Interior (in charge of national parks and public land), the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency.  While I feel our national parks are safe, they could be negatively impacted by the decisions made concerning public land.  As a lover of the outdoors, throughout this election, this has been my number one concern. 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is an agency within the United States Department of the Interior that administers more than 247.3 million acres of public lands in the United States which constitutes one-eighth of the landmass of the country. President Harry S. Truman created the BLM in 1946. The agency manages the federal government’s nearly 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate located beneath federal, state and private lands severed from their surface rights by the Homestead Act.  Most BLM public lands are located in these 12 western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.  Aside from Alaska (which I know is amazing), I have spent copious amounts of time in all of these states and they are BEAUTIFUL, in part because of this land.  National Parks are a treasure but some of the best forest land, mountains, and back country are located on these public lands.  If individual states are given control of these lands they will be sold and developed.  This is something the Republicans (who now control the house and senate) have wanted to do for a LONG time.   

Donald Trump has thrown around a name or two for who will head up the interior, and it’s not you and it’s not me (the public).  It’s Forrest Lucas, the 74-year-old co-founder of oil products company Lucas Oil. Lucas has openly spoke out against animal rights and his wife said this on facebook, “I’m sick and tired of minorities running our country! As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think that atheists (minority), muslims (minority)n or any other minority group has the right to tell the majority of the people in the United States what they can and cannot do here. Is everyone so scared that they can’t fight back for what is right or wrong with this country?”

The Department of Energy could go to Harold Hamm, the billionaire oilman from Oklahoma.  The EPA to Myron Ebell, the director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who is currently heading Trump’s transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. Ebell is also a staunch climate change denier who has faced scrutiny for accepting money from industrial polluters.

These (or people just like them) not could, but WILL be the men in charge of our land and our environment.  These are old white business men with massive amounts of self interest and plump bank accounts. These men are EXACTLY like Donald Trump.  “Drill baby drill. $$$”  Having a home supply of oil is not a bad thing.  It takes quite a bit of energy to transport oil from the middle east but what Donald Trump COULD do to our land and coastlines (fracking, pipelines, off shore drilling etc.) should scare you.  As well, climate change is not something we “believe” in, there is science that proves we go through natural cycles of change and some of what we are currently experiencing is natural.  This does not mean we should drill every available piece of land and ruin ecosystems and biodiversity.

The other half of us do not have to sit here and quietly do nothing.  First off, start today by understanding where the things you consume come from.  If they come from big oil, stop buying them.  Purchase a bike and give your car a rest.  You don’t need to drive 1.7 miles to the store.  Make a statement and stop contributing to the demand that oil supplies.

Are you mad?  Good.  Remember how you feel today and do not grow complacent.  We tend to do that.  Pay attention to what happens next.  Pay attention to the individuals Trump puts in his cabinet, they will run this country.  Pay attention to what is happening to our land, and if you don’t like it, fight it.  I know I will, both physically and intellectually.  I’ll chain myself to the mountain.  I will fight for funding science. Organize like minded individuals and be loud about it.  Use your voice, use your social media outlet to educate others in a respectable way.  If I was the president I would choose education, education is the safest and most effective weapon we have. Ask questions, seek answers, keep an open mind, do not turn down the opportunity to talk to someone who is different than you, and never ever ever stop fighting for the things you believe in.

_________________________________________________________________

For the record, I am not against Donald Trump.  My hope is that I am wrong and that he respects our lands, our science, our diversity, our women, and implements a positive progressive change.  My hope is that he is a great president.  I read something, “hoping he fails is like hoping the pilot crashes the plane, we are all still on it together.”

As always, I am here to have a conversation; male, female, black, white, brown, orange, christian, atheist, environmentalist, environment hater, Trump supporter, Hillary supporter, Taco supporter….do not let the conversations fizzle out.

Undulations ~ The Tale of Little Bear –Southwest Ridge from Como Road

Do you know how to drive your friends nuts for 16 hours?  I do! In two quick and easy steps….

Step 1)  Choose to climb Little Bear via its southwest ridge legally from Como Road

Step 2) Use the word undulation 4,567 times in the 16 hours it will take to execute.

9/5/16

Little Bear Peak (14,037’)

South Little Bear Peak (14,020’)

Route: Southwest Ridge

Trailhead:  Como Road @ 8,000 feet (High clearance 4 WD not required)

Trail:  None

13.8 miles

7,000 ish feet of gain

16 hours

Overview

Route overview

Red and Purple pins — general bushwack route

The southwest ridge of Little Bear is rarely climbed, you will know why after reading this.  Most whom have attempted/climbed Little Bear via the southwest ridge start at the Tobin Creek trailhead at 8,820 feet which requires driving roads located on private property.  Now, I am not scared of much in this life, but the Sangre de Cristo mountain people, them some scary shits when it comes to their land, so we figured we would keep it legal and start from 8,000 feet on Como Road.  Part of the allure of this route is the lack of information on the inter-webs and the down right brutality of the miles as a whole.  There is also no need for a high clearance 4WD vehicle.  Living in a state with such easily accessible information and mountain summits, I become obsessed with completing routes that lack both and this happens to be one (at least regarding our approach from Como Road).  This route has been on my radar for two years so I must write about it.

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Little Bear from SW ridge

Chris, Allison, and I started up Como Road at 2:43 a.m. under a no mooned sky after some typical morning f’ery.

 

We climbed 800 feet up the road chatting about life when Allison jumped to my left letting out a shriek and grumble.  Como Road is so beautiful.

 

Now try to imagine this at 2 a.m. in the beam of a head lamp.

We cut off the road around 8,800 feet and for the rest of the day there isn’t one inkling of a trail.  We contoured between 8,900 and 9,100 for three miles heading east/southeast until we hit Tobin Creek.  To be honest, even in the pitch black this part of the excursion went smoothly aside from one nasty creek crossing before Tobin Creek and some haunting thoughts of the Sangre de Cristo mountain people creeping through the desert scrub, machetes in hand — out for a morning hunt.

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We got 3 hikers out there bordering our land

The creek coming out of Chimney Gulch was flowing and full of those really awful stabbing shrubs.  Every trip report I read stated there would be NO water source along the way.  Incorrect.  In early September when everything should be at its driest there is the Chimney Gulch water source and Tobin Creek is raging (or maybe it’s all this late August moisture).  I believe others said this because they started at the Tobin Creek trailhead and not 3 miles away on Como Road.  After Tobin Creek there is no water source and one hell of a long, hot, time consuming ridge.  If one is so inclined to do this route legally there is at least one reliable water source at Tobin Creek.  That being said I carried 2.5 liters of water and drank maybe 1, but I am really into dehydration.

The Tobin Creek crossing is not that bad, I have whacked through worse, but the aftermath to get to 10,000 feet (yes only to 10,000 feet) is AWFUL aptly labeled “horrible” on the topo map above.  Now I have bushwhacked by myself up Crestone Peak from the Cottonwood Creek trailhead so I am no stranger to the abuse the Sangres inflict upon those willing to go off trail but this is some next level shit.  Imagine clawing your way up a near vertical slope on loose dirt/rock/talus blocks riddled with cacti and low growing Pinyon Pines, now throw in some blood stealing thorn bushes, wave the magic wand, make it denser than liquid mercury and walla you have the START of Little Bear’s southwest ridge.  It is almost like this mountain does not want to be climbed and grew itself a vegetation wall of hell.

None of us thought about pulling our cameras out because we were to busy pulling cacti out of various body parts, so just imagine it looks like this but with thorns.

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There is talus below tree line, but the below tree line talus ain’t got nothing on the above tree line talus.  Talus for days, no talus for weeks, no talus for months but really talus, lots of talus and when I say it keeps going and going I mean it undulates forever until you reach the false summit of South Little Bear which has its own false summit.  There are 48 false summits on this ridge.  SO MUCH UNDULATION.  The three of us are good at putting our heads down and slogging but it felt like five lifetimes had past by the time we got to PT 12,900’.

Little Bear

Undulating

Little Bear

Forever Talus

All of this was fine because I love the Sangres.  Out of all the ranges I think they best match my personality, rough around the edges, abrupt, dark, grey, rugged, difficult, and inhospitable unless worked for.  I love the dramatics of the rise and fall of their mangled cold walls.

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Little Bear

As we followed the undulations of ridge proper it finally turned north towards Little Bear.  With this turn we could hear the sound of a freight train, Chris asked if there was perhaps a waterfall the size of Niagara nearby.  We all chuckled, nope just the wind and it blew with the fierceness of a starving pack of wolves hunting elk.  This added an element of excitement to the disappointing climb we were about to partake in.  There is information on the “technical” section of ridge from the false summit of South Little Bear to Little Bear.  Basically stay ridge proper and use the west side to bypass a large fin.  Passing the fin is the only time we really had to drop from proper and the climbing is very intuitive.  The few reports we read amped us up for some difficult and exposed climbing, and after what we went through to get to the fun part we were excitedddddd, we earned our scramble!

Little Bear

Knife Edge

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Approaching the false summit of South Little Bear a.k.a “Mamma Bear”

This is the only way I know how to describe this traverse.  As a trail runner I love to be able to get into a rhythm on trail, the mind wanders just enough but not too far from the task at hand, otherwise I would eat it.  It is a wonderful form of meditation. Scrambling a nice aesthetic exposed class 4 ridge puts me in the same place, get in a rhythm and it’s a form of therapeutic meditation.  However, there are trails where I can never find that rhythm, these trails are “unrunnable” becoming choppy and unpleasant causing disconnect.  The flow lacks and while it’s doable and I do it, I will always prefer the runs where everything syncs together beautifully.  This ridge was like an “unrunnable” trail, it’s doable and I did it, but eh.  However, the views of the Little Bear to Blanca traverse from South Little Bear are epic.

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Little Bear — Blanca pano

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Little Bear — Blanca closer

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Summit of South Little Bear

That being said, there are some narrow sections with a good amount of exposure on both sides and the rock is very questionable.  My biggest concern for this outing was the recent two weeks of rain/snow/ice the high country has been getting.  Peak condition reports spoke of inches of snow and grapple being laid down above thirteen thousand feet in the Sangres.  I have read many an account of an entire section of ridge giving out after a big moisture event and water deposited in the cracks of rock during freeze/thaw cycles increases the risk of a major rock slide event.  The more people who use a route to climb a mountain the more likely the rock will be touched and moved around, the less likely it is to go.  Point being, no one climbs this route so the whole ridge is one big ticking time bomb.  While traversing from South Little Bear to Little Bear I was climbing in between Allison and Chris.  Allison crossed a very narrow section, I crossed it, and then as Chris crossed it the whole thing gave out underneath him causing a large rockslide down the east face.   It was absolutely sobering.  We had discussed the potential of this happening and his weight was not entirely on the one section that went.  Because his points of contact were spread out he was fine even though the ridgeline is forever changed.

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Chossy narrow ready to blow out ridge

We dropped our packs and went for Little Bear.

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Little Bear ahead and to the left

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After dropping left to avoid the fin we regained the ridge, I climbed back up to proper, Allison can be seen below to my left on a narrow (one foot wide) ledge system. Air below for thousands of feet.

Next I gouged a hole in my knee.

 

There was no one else on the mountain but we were very careful climbing high above the hourglass, which for the record looks miserable.  We summited at 11 a.m. eight hours and seventeen minutes after we started, wind roaring aloft.

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Little Bear – southwest ridge (which cannot be completely captured in one shot, just keep looking down and to the right until you hit the valley floor)

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When you tell Chris to do something….

Now to reverse the entire route.  I would be lying if I said we did not have a discussion about descending the hour glass and walking out on Como Road.  I believe this would have been WAY easier (although I will never really know).  I have found that even when descending eludes to being a daunting task it normally goes much quicker than expected (not the case here) and when in dangerous terrain it is always better to go back the way you came (probably a better decision than a blind descent of the hour glass).  The wind went from hurricane force to tornado like as we entered the eclipse of Little Bear’s southwest ridge.

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After scrambling back to the false summit of South Little Bear and then descending 4,000 feet of talus in soul crushing wind, one could say we were growing weary.  With exhaustion comes sloppiness and by the time we began descending the final 900 feet to the Tobin Creek crossing it was an all out shit show.  We would track to far east and then try to make up for it and track to far west and all this through that thick wall of hell Little Bear grows out of its bowels.  Still no photos but it looked a lot like this.

woods

And this

ghs

It is also worth mentioning that it was hot and we were all wearing long pants, long sleeves, and gators (an absolute must through this terrain).  Even though Allison took a tree branch to the ass and put her full body weight onto a cactus she remained the most positive.  Allison is my spirit animal and I am so happy to have shared some grueling days with her.  I hit the partner/friend jack pot with this one.  And of course Chris is my best friend in the entire world.

This is a small section of what the gps looked like.

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One re-crossing of Tobin Creek, a threat of putting Chris’s head in a fire ant mound, 3,000 animal bones (probably mostly human), 28 tree branches to the head, an accidental encounter with a rattle snake, 70 undulations, and 16 hours later we were back at our respective vehicles.

Chris sent me this picture of himself at work the next day.

Cactus-Man

This is a great route to do if you hate yourself.

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Hey guys, 2 a.m. start, bring a helmet, an ace bandage, and wear gators? Both said yes….love my friends.


”Your life’s course will not be determined by doing the things that you are certain you can do.  Those are the easy things.  It will be determined by whether you try the things that are hard.”

Ellingwood Point and Blanca Peak via Zapata Falls

I have never been interested in the standard route.  I am writing this report to aid other venturous climbers in a much more aesthetic and exciting way to climb these two mountains.  I have never been up Lake Como road but I have also never heard a good thing about it.  As I studied the north ridge route and sifted through trip reports I did not find many (there are a few older ones) that accurately depict this route (besides the route description which is pretty impartial).  I found a lot of opinions, most over or under dramatizing it, so I want to find a happy median and try to explain the “crux’’ better.

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In general, if you have experience and are comfortable with route finding, loose gullies, and class 3 this is a fantastic and FUN alternate route.  If you do not have experience with all three of these things then stick to the standard route or be prepared to step out of your comfort zone.

Ellingwood Point (14,042′) Blanca Peak (14,345′)

North Ridge route from Zapata falls + Ellingwood to Blanca traverse

14.7 miles/6,572′ of gain

The first crux is the road in a two door Honda Civic Sport.  Any other vehicle on the planet will be just fine but in my car I was doing about 1.5 mph.  It is so bumpy.  I picked up a German hitchhiker, transported him to the campground, and met Allison at the Zapata Falls trailhead at 9:30 p.m.  Allison, from New York, is on a road trip, a road trip with potentially no end.  She is a phenomenal human and I am so happy she decided to contact me via instagram to ask if I wanted to tackle some 14ers with her while she is in Colorado for a month.  She is literally the perfect partner; fun, excited to be there, strong, kept pace, doesn’t complain, knows how to route find etc. etc. etc. She also has a strong running background further convincing me that runners are the best humans on this planet.

No sleep later and we were melting away dark miles at four in the morning.  And by dark I mean a no moon partly cloudy black out.  The trail is good and crosses Zapata Creek four times.  The first creek crossing was raging and deep.  In the pitch black even our head lamps could not spot a viable way across (daylight showed there is log further down stream).  We removed our shoes and crossed the icy water, which always feels better to me than falling off slippery sticks and banging bones on perturbing rocks.  I am awful at crossings, 9 out of 10 times I just cross barefoot.  After the first creek crossing there is a massive spider web complete with a fist sized hairy spider blocking one of the switch backs.  Make sure to scream really loud so your partner thinks there is a bear.  The second creek crossing was running high (maybe all the rain) and appeared to be “flooding” the forest.  With some searching and some gentle coaxing from Allison we found a way to cross with shoes on.  The third and fourth crossings are smaller but still slippery.

By daylight we were in South Zapata Lake Basin, a beautiful quiet solitary place.

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The trail eventually fades into the lake.

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“The Crux” From the lake I immediately spotted the Crossfire Couloir (extra dangerous) and the C2 Couloir (dangerous).  We headed east (left) around the lake on a very faint trail that weaves in and out of rocks and marsh land to the base of what the eye fools to be undoable.  I made note to the southwest (right), the general vicinity of the C3 Couloir (unknown danger) and a grassy option to the west that gains the saddle of 13ers Twin Peaks (someday).  The C3 Couloir is far away and it appears in order to get to it travel on loose rock is required.  Loose rock is loose rock, I don’t know what C3 is like but C2 is the closer mess of sliding death so…..

From a distance C2 looks impossible but the one thing I have learned over the years is, it always looks impossible until it’s done.  A metaphor for life and mountains.

Although this is well described and documented in the 14ers dot com route description, here’s a few more lines drawn on some photos.

DRAWING

Red – No (Crossfire) Blue – Yes (C2) Green – If you want more miles (C3)

 

DRAW 2

A closer look Red – No (Crossfire) Blue – Yes (C2)

As to be expected the C2 Couloir is steep and loose.  I read one trip report that said you need rope, it should be labeled class 4/5, and it is 60 degrees at the top…not true, not true, not true.  You gain about 1,100 feet in a very short distance and truthfully on the way up, it is not too bad.  We were through it unscathed in about thirty minutes.  I took note of the places where lots of different sized rock sat precariously a top dirt and we avoided those sections.  The general method taken was stick to steep dirt in the center until a steep bench over to the right side allowed for some scrambling on more solid rock.  The “soild” rock was still covered in loose rock and some hand and foot holds popped.  Implying the trust nothing, test everything, stay close to your partner, and be light and nimble method worked great.  Towards the top, the couloir narrows and steepens considerably (stay right at a large and obvious fork).  A few moves and we neared the ridge where a marmot peered down on our foolish human ways.

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Peering down the fork (stay climbers right on ascent)

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The last 100 feet of C2.

Once we topped out on the ridge the views opened up as does a visual of the route to Ellingwood.  We chose to stay on the ridge crest all the way to the summit.  The ridge heads east and then south (so the west ridge turns into the north ridge).  Besides one never ending field of talus the scrambling is fun and airy in places but never unmanageable.  If you love class 3 scrambling on good rock as much as I do, enjoy the next hour or so of your life.

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Route ahead.

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Looking back at the west ridge and Pioneer Basin

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Allison on the North Ridge of Ellingwood

As the north ridge approaches its summit, things spice up a bit.  I had read in many trip reports that this part contains a knife edge, is super exposed, and should be bypassed to meet up with the standard route.  Why, I don’t know.  The “knife edge” has a ramp on the right side and then one airy move around a large rock to the final climb where a few class three moves attain the summit.  Any other way is asinine (get it).

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ass-in-nine

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Taken from the airy move.

We summited Ellingwood Point, my 50th Colorado 14er and Allison’s first Colorado 14er at 9:07 a.m.  Clouds continued to engulf Little Bear and creep over Blanca so we decided to go for the traverse right away.  However, the clouds in the immediate vicinity were rather superficial so I was not concerned.  Shark fin Blanca Peak looks down right terrifying from Ellingwood but the traverse is really fun.

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Blanca to Little Bear, yum.

From the north you do not see any part of the standard route or the traverse to Blanca until standing on top of Ellingwood so the beginning part of the traverse is the trickiest.  We stayed ridge proper all the way until the deep notch (low point in saddle) and did the class 3+ down climb variation into the gully.  I liked this way as it seemed to avoid the looser mess below.  Once in the gully we fubbed around, not spotting cairns (until the way back).  After the white gully there is a maze of exposed ledges and class 3/4 climbing (depending on your line).  I am not 100% sure of the route we took to get on Blanca’s northwest ridge but I believe we were too low.  On the return, we stayed high and it was much more fun (and solid).

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Looking back at Ellingwood during the traverse to Blanca.

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Huerfano Basin

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About 200 feet from the summit all we could see was cloud.  This was the same time we passed the wise Goddess of Blanca Peak (GOBP) who was descending.  Making small talk as I often do with people I encounter on mountains I asked her jokingly, “how’s the weather up there?”  She muttered some nonsense that ended with, “you two look very unprepared.”  Allison responded, “eh, I think we will be just fine” and then we continued to crack jokes about our under preparedness for the rest of the day.  I am not sure what made us look so pathetic as we both donned helmets, layers, and packs of stuff but the Goddess deemed us unworthy of a Blanca summit.  Against all odds, we made it in exactly one hour from Ellingwood’s quaint summit.

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#51

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There were zero views to the west/southwest as the superficial cloud billowed above ruining any chance of seeing the Little Bear/Blanca traverse up close and personal.  We ate food trying to fill our bellies but instead fed our tape worms.  Seriously, how much do I need to eat to be full?

As Missy Elliot told us in her very informative song, “Work It” …..

Is it worth it, let me work it
I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it

Time to reverse the whole thing.

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I don’t know what to do with my hands.

The re-ascent of Ellingwood was quick and more fun.  We caught up to Goddess of Blanca Peak and I decided to smother her in kindness.  We talked about Little Bear and she explained it is impossible to do unless you are a real mountaineer.  She reiterated this several times.  She then let us know, twelve times, that she is not a peak bagger but she had backpacked into Como to snag all three peaks.  We exchanged photos and with a wish of luck from the GOBP off we descended back to the C2 couloir.

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Matching Houdinis — planned telepathically.

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That one traverse everyone talks about.

Prepared or not, down we went.

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Unprepared.

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On the way back make note that C2 is NOT the lowest point in the ridge.  The gullies that shoot down from the low point look extra incredibly dangerous.  We had to ascend the first bump in the ridge before descending to find the entrance to C2.  Descending the C2 couloir was definitely more irritating than ascending but we managed just fine.  I employed a completely out of control ass slide that ripped up my palms and bruised my ass, while Allison demonstrated grace.

Back on grass we high-fived, emptied the mountain out of our trail runners, sat down, and fed our tapeworms.  It is here Allison told me it was her birthday!!!  I was flattered she chose to spend it in the clouds with me ( :

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South Zapata Lake

The remaining five miles flew by as I listened to Allison’s story.  She is on a beautiful journey that did not come without hardship.  I tend to find inspiration in the mountains, so when I find inspiration from a human while in the mountains, it’s been an extra special good day.

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Hey Goddess of Blanca Peak……

We went to Alamosa and had a proper birthday celebration at the ever so classy Rialto Bistro, then I drove four hours home and worked at 6 a.m. the next morning.

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The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are not the San Juans.  There are no lush green overly colorful approaches full of wildflowers.  The Sangres are dark, brooding, and full of attention demanding ridgelines.  The surrounding rock walls are magnificent and the stone grey views send a feeling of insignificance down one’s spine.  These two mountains via this route reminded me how much I absolutely love the Sangres.  I still have Little Bear and I can’t wait to pick a more interesting route than the hour glass.  Maybe one day, when I become a real mountaineer.


“Some call it the middle of no where, I call it the center of my world.”

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The Pile of Rubble Formally Known as Maroon Peak

After Capitol Peak Chris and I zoomed over to the Bells trailhead which doubles as a hub for every single tourist in the entire world with a camera.  The backdrop to Maroon Lake is two mountains, two very scary mountains.  We turned in early with visions of rubble dancing in our heads.  Alarms buzzed at 3 a.m. so did the rain, 4 a.m. rain and thunder, 5 a.m. rain, 6 a.m. it starts to die off.  7 a.m. seems like a reasonable time to start Maroon Peak during monsoon season, right? Wrong.

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I have seen this shot 4.5 billion times on instagram.  I am far more interested on standing a top those two badasses in the background.

For no reason at all we climbed half way up the 2,000 feet of suck (more like 2,800 feet in .9 miles) and decided to try again the next day.  If we had kept going we would have been stuck in a storm well before the summit.  At least I got “the” instagram shot out of the whole ordeal.  We went into Aspen and Chris played endless amounts of Pokemon while I ate fourteen different meals.

Stats – 13.1 miles/5,394 feet of gain (with a summit of 13,753)

Tomorrow, tomorrow, there’s always tomorrow.  With our game faces on we set out around 4 a.m. for real this time.  In day light we over shot the turn off for Maroon Peak.  Cool.  Once corrected, the up begins abruptly, and I mean this mountain goes up.  My bread and butter is climbing up 70 degree loose dirt rock grass slopes at altitude.  I was in heaven.  I wish I was being sarcastic but, the more straight up and hellacious, the better.  There are goat trails everywhere.  There are goats everywhere. We quickly picked our way up until we gained the south ridge.

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We crested the south ridge and what lie ahead but a pile of rubble…..

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Ridges of Rubble.

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Gullies of Rubble.

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Caress the Rubble.

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Climb the Rubble.

Eventually there is a very obvious and easy class 3 chimney full of rubble.  (Both photos taken on descent)

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Looking up.

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Looking down.

After we rounded about ten more corners full of rubble we were faced with this daunting view.

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Rubble Game Strong.

This is a place to vigilantly route find and not screw up.  We chose gully two, stuck to the solid rock on the left side, and exited just before the large patch of snow.  It worked out so well we did the same thing on the decent. Below, our route is sketched out in blue.  Gully one is an option, I am not sure why?

ROUTEHere are some shots inside the gully (also taken on the descent).  I am fairly certain collectively we took five photos on the ascent.

DCIM\100GOPRO\G0298508.Notice the goat center stage background.  Goats drop rubble bombs from above.  It’s quite like a video game.  Don’t die in a rubble slide, don’t get hit in the head by a rubble bomb, don’t put all your weight on a rubble hold…test everything, trust nothing.  In this video game you only get one life.

File Jul 26, 1 41 08 PMAfter the gully there is another corner, and then another gully, and then another corner, and then a complex face, all covered in…. rubble.  If you haven’t rounded 356 corners to consistently discouraging views of where the summit actually is then you have done something very wrong.

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Corners of Rubble.

There are zero photos from Gully 2 to summit ridge and I am not sure any words can explain it better than Bill and Gerry’s.  Just take your time to route find and all will be well.  Gaining the summit ridge there is a move marked by a medium sized marmot turd.  It is a blind move that requires pulling yourself up, so beware of a shitty situation.  The summit is Elk Range beautiful.

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Asking the magic eight ball if we should go for the traverse. (It replied, “the sky is dark and full of terrors). Also, I would never be comfortable doing the traverse without knowing the route off of North Maroon.

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Chris is very good at taking summit photos of us.

The last thing you need to do is everything you just did but in the opposite direction.

File Aug 01, 9 53 59 PMSince so much of the route is spent circumnavigating the allegedly insurmountable PT 13,753, we decided to summit it on the way out.  And we had a lovely scree surf off of it.  We also got a nice view of Maroon Peak from its summit.

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I was pretty surprised how fast we descended.

Oh and of course, goats.

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Hey bros, let me in on that sweet wildflower destruction.

I thought Maroon Peak was very fun and I would happily climb it again.  As much as I joke, like Pyramid and Capitol, I don’t think it is as loose as everyone makes it out to be. However, Chris and I did have the mountain to ourselves and we are both (for the most part), quick, light footed, and nimble.  North Maroon on the other hand……………** shakes fist angrily at sky ** is another story that I will someday tell.


“Motivation is a funny word.  I don’t need motivation to do what I love the most.”

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