Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Levitation 29

I clicked the electronic lock to our black rental car in the Oak Creek parking lot just before the desert sun faded into the evening’s blackness. It had been twelve hours on the move when we finally were able to heave ourselves onto the tail gate and pop open two of the most delicious brews we could imagine (It’s a well-known fact that beer tastes better after a hard day of climbing). Aside from the crunching of the blue corn tortilla chips we sat in silence gazed back up the canyon at the ethereal memory of the day that now seemed too short.

The night before we had brashly decided to tackle one of our bigger objectives. We were revitalized from a forced rest day and ready to get into some vibrant action. A couple years ago this seemed far from attainable. This climb would be a memorable experience as I would spend the day with one of my best friends and a gentleman who I have shared many years of adventure with since our youthful days romping in the hills of New Mexico. Of course sleep is difficult for me when I get excited about realizing a climbing dream but on days like this, when the alarm rings to bring me from my dreams I exhibit no hesitation in pulling back the covers and firing up the stove for a cup of coffee dark as the predawn night.

A few bleary eyed preparations were made at camp and then we joined the line of cars waiting for the scenic loop road of the Red Rock Canyon to open. When the gate rose we negotiated the curving road as the electronic thump of a Vegas radio station called the drunken pedestrians home from their night on the strip. Downtown Las Vegas is only a few miles away but we may as well have been on another planet.

In a blur of dust we slid into the parking lot, hurriedly threw back some yogurt and then kicked into motion for the long approach. Some people complain about the length and the challenge of difficult approaches like this but the enchantment of the red and yellow canyons in the early morning light allowed us to lose ourselves in introspection. Before long we had surmounted the endless slab and arrived at the base of Eagle Wall.

So much hype had been poured into this climb that the energy surrounding the route and a wall high up in one of the most cherished areas in North America began to gush forth. Nervous but eager for the experience I racked, stretched, yawned, scratched, and set off. The first pitch was good, really good. The movement was the perfect combination between intelligence and power. Jeff followed and we swapped leads until we had strung together the next few pitches to arrive at the technical crux of the route. 

We climbed fast and fluid up to this point so with little hesitation I grabbed the rack and checked my psych. Unbelievable moves opened the pitch up to a wide handjam that allowed me to pull into the corner above. Above the buldge a tiny hold felt that felt like a jug compared to the blankness surrounding it provided me with the security to move up try a few things out and then come back and rest. After a few more trial runs I committed to jogging left and throwing to a crimp I thought would unlock the sequence. No dice.

“Shit!” I hollered as I swung back into the corner. I would have to look for something else. Jeff held patiently as I evaluated a better sequence. When I finally started moving again I found one of those moves that is not at all how you had envisioned it and seems improbable in my recollection to this day. With a small crimp for my left hand, I smeared my feet to the left and pushed into the corner with my right arm. Desperate delicate foot placements allowed me to inch slightly higher. Balancing and trying to maintain some shallow breathing, my fingers crawled up the red glass until a crimp materialized that allowed me to connect the sequence. With a whoop and a few more beleaguered moves I hit the next anchor.

The next few pitches held some great climbing but the true aesthetic of the route revealed itself more in the sweeping views down Oak Creek and across at the striated canyons that fell off of Mount Wilson’s summit plateau. The wind picked up and we became isolated to our own thoughts at the belays, but every time we switched leaders we caught eyes and exchanged a smile that showed our mutual exuberance for the challenge we had overcome and the strengthening of our bond as friends.
It was bittersweet to hit the final anchor and rig the rappels for our retreat. This was one of the climbs where you wished the relentless pursuit of darkness would not bring the day to a close. We gave in to the cycle of nature and threw the ropes to return back to the world of the horizontal. Few words needed to be exchanged as we retraced our steps down the slab. We lingered on our way out of the majestic canyon for the desert was rich with pristine swimming holes engorged from a storm a few days before. Eventually, we saw the dark shimmer of our car and we knew that the experience was drawing to a fitting conclusion with those frosty beers awaiting our return.

The transient nature of the climbing experience is what makes it such a profound experience. When you return to your car or your campsite with a story, a couple of pictures, and a sweat stained shirt you have created something memorable. The memories from this day I am proud to have shared with a friend I know will continue to be there for me around every one of life’s turns.

Levitation 29
March 2016

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Bend in the River

Peeking through the trees draped in their luminescent hanging mosses I can barely make out the depths beyond.  The forest is in varying levels of decomposition.  Blissful mushrooms perch atop the swaths of red wood while ferns caress the bow of the mighty giants.

From afar it looks to be no more than any other shore I have ever stood upon.  As I emerge from the forest and draw nearer there is something novel that pulls me closer to the tumbling water.  I walk across a downed redwood which holds an intensity radiating from its bow.  The feeling is concentrated but blissful.  I duck past the old man’s vertically radiating branches and try to steady myself on the moist bark.  Before the moment is fully realized I find myself jumping down onto the beach.

It’s rockier than I expected and littered with the detritus of a river that swells and falls.  I stutter in my footsteps trying to find the space between the larger stones that is filled with small pebbles.  The insecurity underfoot is troubling for a stride accustomed to smooth city streets whose only surprise is the splintered crack where nature has begun to recolonize.  Such urban imperfection is always filled and smoothed over for the thousands wielding their briefcases.  Not here where imperfection has formed this utopia.  The sound of the current, a gentle change of temperature, and my expanding chest brings the mind back to this moment and I am still walking forward.  I come to embrace my broken gait.

The shore is sandier now.  The seating options unlimited.  The water seems to say, “Pull up a stool” and I am glad to oblige.  I now rest at the river and feel my spirit come to be.

I am pressured to ask, “What is this discord in me?”

It’s not an elaborate conversation, more a whisper of inner dialogue, but I long for the answers.  There seem to be many patterns in a world I’m yet to see. 

“Where will I go, and who will I be?” 

The river yawns and responds, “You’re guided by questions but are you really searching for answers?”

I stare back at the surface knowing that beneath the bubbling layer lies what I seek.  Underneath the molecules push among one another jockeying for dominance.  In the end democracy prevails and the molecules holding back the tide join with the others coursing downstream.

Moisture balls on the underbelly of a nearby twig hanging in defiance of gravity that will inevitably return it to the flow of the river below.  A drop falls slowly and plunks into the stream breaking my meditation with a smile.

I head back into the contenting forest and embrace that I have once again learned a lesson from nature.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

One Mountain to the Next

From the Colorado Rockies to the Sierras of California I have once again decided to relocate my home in my journey of self discovery.  The hardest thing about my restless life, a life filled with an endless yearning for motion, is saying goodbye.  I love developing new friendships and sharing my experiences with others while hearing about theirs.  This is what makes a life filled with travel one of constant excitement and fills it with value.  However, the desire for novel experience inevitably leads to a lot of goodbyes.  In the past year I've lived in five locations for a month or more and had significant experiences with people on shorter excursions in between.  I find deep personal connections with people that I've known for only a short period of time.  Change can be hard but usually I am greeted in a new location by a scene of natural beauty that shows me I am on the right path.

This time that experience was my first sight of the Sierras in eight months.  I had been on the road for 10 hours and had just driven through the lowest point, and one of the hottest places, in the U.S. Death Valley.  I was anxiously watching the temperature gauge on my car over the final rise out of Death Valley.  When I looked up from the dash I was breathless at the scene in front of me.  The early evening light dropped through the overlaying cloud layer.  Delicate sunbeams snuck through the undulations in the ridgeline and fell on the dust that had been swirled in the air by the unimpeded winds of the Owen's Valley.  Instead of the clarity and certainty one would hope to see in their future at this moment I saw mystery.  This unknown path that I have embarked upon is what excites me and propels me in my journey through life.  While I know that I must say goodbyes I continue to greet each new experience and personal connection as an essential ingredient in the melting pot of my soul.

Mother's Day Weekend on Mountain Momma

Living at 9,000 feet sometimes you are feel desperate to escape the snow and go in search of a climate that more resembles the season it is supposed to be.  That is why I decided to bail on the impending storm that was projected to dump two feet in Colorado's high country in the middle of May.  My car is always packed for a quick dash out for the weekend.  The work day ticked by and the tapping of my foot steadily became more rapid.  I couldn't take it anymore and burst out the door.  I jumped in the car, turned the wheel south, and depressed the accelerator.  In a few hours I pulled into one of Santa Fe's distinct adobe neighborhoods and met up with my friends Brandon and Nicole who were hosting me for the evening.  Brandon and I gathered our thoughts for the next morning and turned in early.

A gentle knock woke me up and some black coffee helped to pry my eyelids open.  We hoped into our expedition vehicle, a Jeep Rubicon, and off we headed towards the Sandia Mountains.  As usual driving through New Mexico was enchanting.  My eyes searched through vast lands and past small towns to the stunning mountains in the background that show their character best in the morning and at sunset.  I have been nowhere else where a landscape becomes painted so vibrantly during the rise and fall of the sun and the mountains absorb each day in remarkable hues of purple and red.

A winding mountain road and a cracked bottle of blue raspberry Mountain Dew is not always the best combination.  We reached the summit and after I had staggered around speaking gently to my angry stomach the immense feeling of nausea began to fade.  As soon as it was clear that my body would retain the blue liquid we began jogging down the La Luz trail.  Fueled by excitement (And Mountain Dew) I was soon hopping over rocks with a fervor intent on cruising a day of climbing.  We broke from the main La Luz trail and scrambled down talus to the old La Luz trail and then back up a gully steering towards our formation.  The gully ended up at a cliff and we began scrambling.  Fifteen feet below Brandon and 30 feet off the deck I heard him say, “Whoops this is definitely not it.  We need to be lower.”  Thus began our first rappel to get back to the base of the difficult and loose scramble we had just surmounted.

In the days preceding our climb Brandon and I discussed an approach that was more direct than either the guidebook or Mountain Project outlined.  Since he had climbed a route below the Torreon called Mexican Breakfast and had the approach dialed I decided this was a wise choice.

Down we hiked past thorny brush that drove straight through our clothes and into our flesh.  We regained the old La Luz and met a gentleman on a day hike.  Brandon asked him about the approach to the Torreon and I heard him mumble something incoherent, “Mmm, blahumph, five mile.”  I anxiously glanced over my shoulder trying to decipher his communication with Brandon but he was already 50 feet down the trail and so I followed.  We ran into the La Luz again and then veered sharp right up what looked like a heinously thorny gully.  Observation from below proved to accurately define this stretch of our approach.  Thick cat claw thorns were easy to avoid but it seemed that any plant that sported lush green also had thorns attached to stalk and stem.  A machete would have been valuable but according to Brandon if you bring a machete on the approach you must carry it in your teeth on the climb.  That seemed reasonable.  By crawling, swiping, and straddling thorn brush we eventually topped out the gully at another cliff band.  Whoops!  We had just spent another hour wallowing upwards only to realize we had again climbed the wrong gully.  When we turned around and headed downhill we both broke out in laughter as we found a brush free descent near the cliff that was merely a few feet from us the whole time.

We reached the trail again it was clear to both of us that we would have to hike back up to get a better view of our approach.  Switchback after switchback we climbed until we had a perfect view of three gullies.  We had climbed the highest and the lowest but the one in the middle gleamed like the yellow brick road leading us to the Torreon and our climb Mountain Momma!  We bee lined the approach from here and in no time were racking at the base of the climb and shaking our heads for our hasty decision to dive into the woods without accounting for our surroundings.

Soon I was headed up the first pitch sinking my fingers into the frigid granite and quickly losing all sense of touch.  Beads of sweat froze to my forehead and I continued clipping buttonheads and running the rope between placements.  Fantastic horizontal edges were juxtaposed between vertical cracks and the climbing felt adventurous.

I brought Brandon up to the first belay and he must have been wanting to maintain his core temp because he swooped the rack and ran up pitch two towards the sunny ledge above.  A thin seam led away from the belay and then wider constricting cracks reached upwards to a dihedral capped by a bulge.  Brandon crushed up to the bulge where he spent the most time sewing up the next moves with a small cam and two tricams.  He then hollered down, “I’m done screwing with this gear,” and then made what was likely the most fluid move of the pitch as he rocked over on his left leg and bypassed the bulge.  I followed his lead but the first “jug” I grabbed pulled out of the wall and followed the tug of gravity to the boulders below.  Two other monstrous blocks shifted in a horrifying fashion before I met with Brandon at the belay.

A bit shaken by the rock quality I looked at what looked appeared a relentless pitch of bulging rock above.  I took solace in knowing that this pitch would have a perfect hand crack splittling somewhere between bulges.  Good exposure led away from the belay as the route lead up and to the right.  A #0.5 Camalot protected the first bulge as I pulled on my fingers to reach a sloping jug and my heel was thrown over the lip.  True to form a 20 foot long splitter hand crack met my face as I balanced on a small ledge over the bulge.  This crack was worth the lower 300 feet of climbing for the few moves with secure and perfect hand jams.  Up next was the second bulge that widened a little before the lip and I threw my hand into a bat crap filled pocket to turn over the top.  I set up the belay and turned the iPhone to the one song I had in my music library, Three Six Mafia's "Stay Fly."

When Brandon met me at this belay we both raised our eyebrows and crained our necks looking for where to go on the traverse pitch.  It turns out the traverse was directly horizontal (Oh... a traverse...) but involved some thin 5.9 moves with no protection and dizzying exposure.  Brandon worked his way through the difficult traverse with a dearth of explicatives.  In short time we were making our way up the final pitch.  Other than it being a crumbling pile of choss it was fun and straight forward and we were soon high fiving and searching the ridge for a suitable location to anchor and find our way off the top.  We rappelled 80 feet to the notch and then found our way up a gully to the top of another fin of Sandia rock.  We were soon back in the Jeep and twisting down the road in the golden afternoon discussing our next objective.  One thing is for sure, with Brandon their is no telling what sort of epic our next adventure will hold.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lonely Desert Tower Seeks Climbers' Affection

Displaying photo 4.JPG
Driving down Ida Gulch
Six inches of fresh snow laid on the ground from the night before.  While most people were piling their ski quiver onto their racks and heading up into the mountains I was headed the opposite direction with lubricated cams, a short sleeve shirt, and to an area where moisture is more rare than any other commodity.  I was headed to the desert.

Moab, Utah is much more than a monotonous landscape devoid of life.  In fact it's just the opposite as the millions of annual visitors to the Arches National Park can attest to.  Erosion from water and wind created some of the most obtuse and abnormal rock features which often defy logic and one's imagination.  As a climber who has spent some time in this region over the past few months I have become intimately drawn to obscure formations and the belief that some of these astounding vertical pinnacles of geologic mastery can be surmounted with the adhesion of skin to rock.

In November I climbed my first two desert towers, South Six Shooter and Castleton Tower with "The Monkey Spankers," Simon Hirst and Andrey Romaniuk.  Both towers are listed among the area's best introductory climbs.  It was certainly a good place to start as a desert climber because little of what I had knew about climbing would benefit me on these beastly excursions.  You quickly become familiarized with eating piles of dirt and antiquated gear cobwebbed together at anchor stations.  As a belayer you learn that paying attention to your partner on the sharp end is as much for there protecting as your own.  The first waffle shaped rock that flips past hissing angrily like a tie fighter will remind you of your responsibility to focus.  These lessons were learned on two of the most modest lines where one would expect to find relatively clean climbing.  Now that I have started to venture into the realm of obscure towers things have started to get spicier.

Displaying photo 1.JPG
Castleton Tower Novermber 2013
When I sat atop Castleton Tower after topping out via the Kor-Ingalls route (III 5.9) I became intoxicated with the tower experience.  I looked across the plank connecting the Rectory with Castleton and observed a few parties on the stellar parallel finger cracks of Fine Jade (III 5.11-).  The route instantly made my future tick list.  What I did not noticed at the time was the formation a bit further in the distance known as Sister Superior which hosts Jah Man (II 5.10). Jah Man ascends the tallest spire of the group and this tower would be the first of our destinations on a weekend whirlwind of towers and four wheeling.

I turned onto the 128 pacing my speedometer against the setting sun.  Luckily I ran into Brandon Gabel's silver Jeep at the Ida Gulch turnout just down from the La Sal Mountain Loop.  We delighted over the rapturous sunset on the sandstone spires in front of us.  The truck and the Jeep hobbled down the wrinkled and narrow gulch until we reached our camping site.  We scouted out the approach and noticed a pair of bicycle tracks leading through the arduous sandy wash.  I commented on how it would be funny to run into a pair of rockstar climbers who I knew were traversing the desert on a quest to climb 50 towers.
In the morning we rose with the dull chill of the desert and watched as a group of four climbers who had more alpine in their start than us passed by our weary camp.  Eventually we shouldered packs and hiked the direct approach from the wash to the base of Jah Man.  We racked slowly as the two parties in the lead struggled to compress themselves into the infamous Sister Squeeze that defines the second pitch.  After the fourth member had grunted and nearly suffocated herself in the chimney I was glad that Brandon had eagerly decided to lead.  I started out and placed two cams over the low fifth class terrain and onto the pedestal under the chimney.  When Brandon arrived at my belay I kicked back thinking he would want to scout the moves ahead of him, but before I could make my first  joke he had already pulled the cams off my waist and was sucking in his gut and diving straight into the tight chimney.  He stayed within reach for a few minutes as he centimetered his way up to the breathable section of the chimney.  From there he blasted to the top of the pitch and belayed me up.  We both grinned and chuckled over the struggle with the rock as we collected sunshine on the first of many roomy belay ledges.
Displaying image.jpeg
The Sister Squeeze
I had the next lead which was quite different from the first as the face opened up and there was more exposure.  Thin hands lead to a traverse left under a bulge.  When I hit the traverse section it hit me that I hadn't placed a cam or jammed a crack in three months.  Not always the best feeling before committing to an airy traverse.  I pulled out a pretty simple trick I had learned watching Britney Griffith climb that involved oxygenating breaths oscillating from right to left hands jams.  When I had shaken my flash pump I dove under the bulge, trusted my jams, pulled over, and cruised an easy ramp to the next anchor.

The next two pitches were fluid as I had adjusted to the air beneath my feet and the familiar feeling of the sandy stone hugging my jams.  Each pitch was followed by a comfortable ledge that allowed for us to look over the Castle Valley at the monolithic Rectory, sovereign Castleton Tower, and the majestic La Sal Mountains flaunted their fresh coats of snow in the background.  We topped out and had plenty of time to share stories together on the summit before the next group arrived and courteously snapped our picture.  We rappelled and descended to our cars.

Displaying image.jpeg
Summit of Jah Man

We arrived at the Archway Inn on the North side of Moab and quickly parsed out gear and hoped into the Jeep for the bumpy ride into Canyonlands National Park.  We headed down Potash Road, past the mine, and over BLM land until we crossed the park boundary.  In all we traveled 30 miles in two and a half hours.  We were so relieved when we pulled into the turnoff for washerwoman that we simply threw our bags in the dirt and crashed.  In between dreams I awoke to look at the beautiful night sky darkened by the waning moon.  The stars vividly poked through the pitch black blanket and a few would occasionally streak across the horizon.

Washer Woman.  In Search of Suds (III 5.10) ascends the opposite side of the bin on the left, over the arch formed by the woman's arms, and up the head of the woman.
As the dawn broke and washed away the night we yawned and drew ourselves from our bags.  The new day brought a clear view of our objective the aptly named tower of Washer Woman.  Sometimes when I look up at vast climbs I can't comprehend how to ascend to the summit. However, when you are absorbed by the vertical each individual move matters and you find yourself gaining the ground you found unachievable as a whole.  The approach involved a stout hike to the base of the notch.  Below the notch a fixed rope weathered over many years left us to struggle with griping the sandy holds or trusting the frayed line.  When we arrived at the top Brandon once again eagerly jumped on the opportunity to lead the first pitch.  A twin crack with fingers on the left and tight hands on the right led to a bulge that required a fist jam to surmount.  From there off width sections were interspersed with easy but loose climbing to a belay at the "Eye of the Needle."  The eye is a sliver of the tower that has been eroded and allows you to see clearly through the other side while you pull yourself into a marginally protected chimney to start the second pitch.  A 5.7 chimney quickly led to more difficult jams around a bulge and shortly thereafter into a narrowing off width.  I was forced to stuff myself into the squeeze until I could reach up and sink a #5 Camelot that would protect the next few moves to the anchor.
Sweet belay ledge with Monster Tower behind
Deciding who would lead the next pitch involved a little verbal wrangling.  Despite Monster Tower's ominous lurking in the background I decided to lead and jammed perfect hands to another bulge.  Looking up, the holds looked less than positive.  Some poorly placed chalk marks convinced me to lead out to the left on chossy holds.  When I was completely committed to a crumbling mess the route clearly revealed that it had been straight up from my original position.  I slap tested a wobbly looking chockstone poorly cammed against a boulder and felt that it would hold to pull me over the bulge.  With a flick of the rope we were back on route and shortly up to the top of the wash bin.

Brandon led the traverse over the arch formed by the woman's arms and up the 5.9 face climb clipping a poorly driven knife blade piton as his choice of protection while his rope billowed in the wind.  He set up a spectacular belay under the head of the Washer Woman.

Final belay
Starting the headwal

Adding our marks to the summit log
When I caught up to him he graciously offered to let me lead the head wall on the varnished rock face protected by two pitons and a bolt.  It was difficult work on thin and sandy sloping crimps but we were both able to finish on the summit where we slapped high fives and shared our stoke.  We took the time to leave our mark in the summit register and returned the contents to their protected location in the crack on the summit.

Getting down to the anchors of the second rappel was entertaining

A exciting series of rappels led down from the summit involving a spectacular free hanging rappel off of the arch.  The wind was whipping and blowing the ropes dead horizontal while we rapped.  Lose rocks in a gully and high rope stick potential made the descent rather unnerving but neither became serious issues. We even scored half of a Mammut Infinity that a prior party had stuck.

We climbed back up over the notch and down the old sketchy fixed line to our packs.  With the success of being back in the horizontal world we shared some snacks, water, and a couple of Dale's Pale Ales before our hike back to the car.

Ground sweet ground
Shadows of Washer Woman and Monster Tower
Brandon had the foresight to reserve us a campsite beneath airport tower.  Since we did not have to bump our way back into town we enjoyed a hearty dinner and a long sleep.  After a walk along the canyon rim we decided to hit the road.

We rolled along pointing out all the other exciting towers that we hoped to climb someday.  Shortly we came across an orange jeep pulled off the road.  In the middle of the road stood a guy in a green shirt who looked a lot like Alex Honnold.  As we drove by I mentioned to Brandon that we had just passed the second iteration of the Sufferfest.  The original movie was a BANFF Mountain Film Festival Selection and followed Alex and Cedar on there journey to solo all of California's 14ers.  They are currently out in the desert making a sequel as they climb 50 desert towers moving across the land on bikes.  We came to find that they also had legendary alpinist Hayden Kennedy along as part of their support crew.  Alex, Hayden, Cedar, Canyon, and Sam were all very friendly and we swapped some stories about our recent adventures.  They were even happy to let us snap a picture to commemorate the obscurity of a meeting modern climbing legends in the middle of the desert.  We let them get back to their business of climbing Chip and Dale's towers seen in the background of the photo below.

Hayden Kennedy, Cedar Wright, Alex Honnold, Brandon Gabel, and Me
Brandon and I frolicked around a little more in Canyonlands and then headed down to Wall Street for a few more climbs before we parted ways.  A dust storm blew in signaling the end of our weekend in the desert.  I drove back to the mountains of Colorado chasing the precipitation and driving between rainbows.  I couldn't resist the temptation to stop off in Colorado Monument to gain some inspiration for the next adventure.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Art of Winter Trail Running

The white Dodge Ram creaks and rumbles into the snow packed parking lot before the morning sun reveals itself from a long night's slumber.  It's often difficult to summon the will power to leave the confines of the artificially heated vehicle and break the barrier separating humanity from nature.  Sometimes I sit and let the truck idle while I mentally prepare myself for the rush I will experience when the locks click up and the handle of the door is lifted.  The radio plays at an inaudible level while some dreary graveyard DJ signs off.  Despite the constriction of the driver's seat I power on my headlamp and begin to move my limbs.  By the time the first rays of sun breach the horizon I am committed to what lies ahead.  In the swiftest of motions I pop open the door and when my feet touch the frozen platform I'm already moving.
The first three steps are the hardest, after that there's no turning back.  Delicate foot placements are precisely located as I navigate the slippery surface.  Once I make it to the trees the snow will soften and I can open my stride a little more.  Inhalation is a forced effort that also requires a cautious start.  If your first breath is too deep you will choke on the harshness of the frosty air as it desiccates the alveoli of your lungs.  Gradual progression is a requirement despite the desire to quicken your movement to keep pace with the cold.  The crisp breaking of the snow's surface is like crunching into an apple that is at the peak of ripeness.  A newspaper is ruffled with each step.  My breath is heavy with the weight of the air and the characteristic inclines prevalent at the start of many of Summit County's trailheads.  This trail leads out of the parking lot and up a winding mountainside.  The solitary line of a hard packed trail cuts through the fresh snow and I follow the prints formed by a parade of snowshoers as they floated over the clouds that are inaccessible to the man on foot.
The sun is rising now as the grapefruit colored peaks stretch throughout the daylight world.  The sun is felt immediately through the fibers of my dark clothing.  This warmth is a hug from Mother Nature thanking me for spending the morning with her.  This feeling originates in my heart and radiates throughout my body.  I'm in the trees and moving swiftly now.  Light flashes intermittently through the gaps and shadows formed by the barren aspen trees.  Daybreak is my favorite part of Earth's rotation from West to East.  The snow softens as the sun soars into the sky and replaces the pink and purple on the snow laden peaks with a golden welcome to a new day.  Inevitably mountains will transition back to the pristine white that will remain until the sun bids this part of the world goodnight.
At a certain elevation the trail has seen fewer travelers and the snow is deeper.  Despite gentle steps there exists a point in every winter run between 10,000 and 11,000 feet where there is no respite for the foot traveler.  A soft footfall or balancing attempts between patches of firm snow may buy me some time. Eventually I will end up post holing if I am lucky or swimming through the mixture of air and water if I am unfortunate.  The turnaround point is usually reached when the ratio from running to swimming changes from 1:1 to 1:3.  I usually end up flopping out of my snow hole like a beached marine mammal in the wrong environment.  I always end up laughing as I try to catch my breath and pondering how ridiculous it is for me to attempt some of these trails in the heart of winter.
On a stable patch of snow I let the sun take over my thermoregulation as shake off the snow and smile while looking over the isolated patch of Earth I have found myself on.  Sparkles of light reflecting off of the snow crystals  perform a ballet in a virgin meadow untouched except for the paws of an elk.  I stare into the trees where they are most dense and I wonder what stares back.  Brief moments of nirvana are what push me to wake up early in the morning and find the warmth to run.
When you can't go further physically it's a great time to see where you can go mentally as you let your thoughts drift over the snow and up the mountains.  Heading down the trail I am able to notice the things I missed due to the darkness and exertion on the way up.  The shadows of trees fall over the snow in a thick tangle and, a trickle of water reveals itself through the snow.
I reach the car and come across the next crop of skiers strapping up to lay their tracks on top of mine.  Snow is so beautiful because it can preserves a footprint meticulously while holding the ability to erase the image within a matter of hours.  The transient nature of human impact is where I find beauty on these winter trails.
I strip down in the truck, toss my damp clothes on the dirtbag dryer, and I think to myself, "Man  I've earned this morning's cup of coffee."


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Summit County Sunrise

This morning I awoke and my spirit was low. I stepped outside with a simmering cup of coffee and watched the vapors being plucked from the cup by the bitter cold. On the horizon the gentle alpenglow painted the peaks in the Gore Range. A breath of cold air forced its way into my lungs and drew the warmth out of my chest. I was coerced to cough on my first taste of the morning. There I stood overlooking the hills in the one spot where I had desired to stand for so long. ...Contemplation of the decisions I have made and the risks I have taken in the past few months filled my mind. As the rising sun nudged the soft orange from the peaks, and my body and mind warmed to their external environment, I began to realize that my choices and sacrifices have been invaluable in revealing a place of great inner peace. My journey is just beginning. Already I have begun to illuminate what my soul has been searching for all this time. In my world there's no problem that fresh snow, a cup of Joe, and a beautiful Summit County sunrise can't remedy.