30 December 2008

Breaking in the blisters

It's an annual rite of winter; my first backcountry tour trip. The trip itself is not actually the momentous occasion. Rather it is the result of the outing which alters my body for a good 5 months - the forming of the heel blisters.

Like a patient vineyard owner, it takes attention and time to cultivate such painful spots on my heels. But after the growing and the consequential ripping of the irritated skin, I can grow calluses, which will save me - hopefully - from painful skinning across valleys and up slopes.

Was out way too late with friends on Monday night. After feeling like I have lived at work the past few weeks - because in a sense, I have been - I slept in on Tuesday. My laziness made my initial destination moot. I wouldn't be able to get a good full tour up at Forest Lakes with the later departure time.

So I loaded up the pack and harried the Tacoma to a familiar haunt - St Mary's.

Looking down while skinning up the slope. It was about this time I began developing the first blister on the left heel.

I was expecting hurricane-force gusts once I broke out of the forest. Instead it was sunny and relatively calm. I soon began overheating. However I had a good tempo going, so instead of shedding layers, I merely unzipped and poled with my arms further akimbo.

I quickly caught up to a couple of hikers - I'd call them snowshoers but the snow was so firm, they merely carried the snowshoes - whom I spied taking off down the trail as I pulled into the parking lot. We talked for about 10 minutes and I offered some good snowshoeing destinations when queried.

When I realized that we were going about the same pace, I stopped for a bit to let them get ahead and enjoy some solitude. I felt foolish for having my probe and avy shovel, because the snow was bulletproof sustrugi - frozen wind-sculpted waves. The texture is completely unpliable and if you don't stay focused and scout a good line of least resistance, can result in some dangerous skiing.

Pretty for pictures, pain for skiing

It was a good tour and I stopped on the flats at the top of the "glacier" where it expands into a giant tundra leading in several directions for miles. My stopping point wasn't dictated by stamina nor fatigue; I was entertaining the idea of skiing up the slopes of James Peak - I felt that good. Instead it was the snow got more wild, more bulletproof - would that be missile-proof? - and I knew that skiing down what I already came up was going to be a strenuous task for my quads.

James Peak. A pretty view from the top. Very seldom does it have good snow for skiing.

Mount Bancroft. A fun mountain I'd like to scale this spring. Some nice technical steps, as Rak would attest to.

The ski run down was as how I prophesied; challenging and bouncy. I had to actually jump turn at one point to avoid a mawing hole in my way. But no torn ACLs and only one skid out on the final bomb back to the lake.

My line down. To skier right, above the rocks was filled with stored energy, waiting for catalyst to instigate a fracture line. A few smaller ones sheared on the other side of center.

Some alpine texture

The National - Mr November

05 December 2008

Powder shots

Tuesday I made the plunge. While I said, and truly believed, I wouldn't go resort skiing until after the New Year, I was too tempted to not make the drive up I-70. Loveland Ski Area reported almost four feet of snow over the previous weekend. A friend confirmed that the snow was spectacular when she went up on Monday.

It was good to get the first turns in. And yes, the snow was glorious and the ski area was less crowded than I expected; the benefit of having a Tuesday off.

It got a bit windy later in the afternoon, as evident by the above video. That was taken off the top of Chair 2.

I found out that I was a day premature. John Sellers, the PR guru at Loveland, informed me they opened up Chair 4 - where some of my favorite terrain is located - the next day. Also Chair 8 opened up later in the week as well. That leaves only Chair 9 as the lift not yet operating.

25 November 2008

Mount Morrison

AKA: When the toughest part is going down

It never warmed up to the 60s promised in the forecasts. Tiring of waiting and holding onto the faith of meteorologists' reports, at 11:30 am, I decided it was time for a different plan other than mountain biking.

Hiking seemed a rather mundane choice, but better than not doing anything. Then I remembered this "route" posted on MountainProject. It seemed like a good choice. I remember a few years back Tasha and I trying to find a way up, only to get stopped by barbed-wire fencing.

Mount Morrison is easily seen from any place in Denver. It's the bump above Red Rocks with antenna on top. I parked at the upper circular parking lot at Red Rocks. After reading the start of the trail can be difficult to spot, I stumbled upon it 15 feet from my driver's seat.

Some strange ruin about 200 feet up the trail with Red Rocks behind

Looking up at the midway point of the hike

Funny how the trail looks like it is going down. It actually is a gentle uphill section

So this "route" was beginning to become lame. It's a hike. I'm on a trail, albeit a steep trail that is giving me a good cardio workout. Those cliffs better hold some promise.

Coming to the first outcropping, I wandered off the trail to the lowest one and began scrambling. It is nice solid gneiss and deceivingly tougher than it looked. Much of the bedding was down-sloping. Some nice edges and round knobs though made it fun and doable in my approach shoes.

The "route" was enjoyable enough. A series of 20-30-foot-tall rock-croppings interspersed by grassy benches. Finally I came to one which looked like it would be a challenge to tackle straight on. Slightly overhanging with a semi-detached tower on it, this cliff looked like it had some spice to it. I just underestimated how much.

The first half was easy. Then came a stem across a very blank slab with an overhanging finish. A break partway up proved to be a Fool's Gold area. All the handholds faced down. I grabbed a slightly positive edge, other hand on a slopper, one foot smearing a bump and the other stemming across, toeing an indentation in a dihedral.

And then my good foot blew. It was a strange moment. I could feel gravity pulling at me like a hand trying to pry me away, as opposed to "This is Physics - gravity is all around you, you fall you go down". I know it really doesn't make sense, but it really did feel like a hand grabbing my shoulders.

The other odd thing as I could feel my weight shift perilously towards the jumbled rocks below was the thought which formed in my head. Nothing along the lines of, "Get your foot back on!", nor "Don't fall!", and not even something as base as, "Oh sh*t!".

No my single thought was, "How humiliating would that be. I'm on Mount Morrison of all things."

Suffice to say, I got my left foot back on, scrambled my right foot up putting me in a frog position, hip shift, reach up to a flat edge, and past the difficulties.

The next rock-cropping was the same way. A climb up led to a traverse which led to a foot blowing when the rock crumbled under my weight and I whacked my knees pretty hard into the rock. Smeared the right foot back on, left foot up to a heel hook and reach up to a bomber hold.

Some bedding where a tram rail once went up. You can see the gash in the mountainside from the parking lot

Some more hiking and I was at the top. 40 minutes to go 1,400 vertical feet.

No, apparently I can't put a hat on straight

The views:

Now going down. How to describe the hike down? Mmmm.... ball-bearings, tedious, torturous, and treacherous. Now the following statements will read like hyperbole, but while slowly making my way back I mulled over things and decided these were much better alternatives I have experienced:

• I would rather downclimb vertical scree on Jasper Peak.
• I would rather climb a mountain with a severely sprained ankle.
• I would rather read a Charles Dickens novel.

I nearly bit it countless times with my feet sliding out from underneath me. It took me 50 minutes to get back to the car with a couple of sore knees.

And here's the thing; I'm dumb enough to go do it again. Sometime in the future the awfulness of the hiking down will wear away, the memory will become somewhat frayed and blurry and I will think, "It wasn't THAT bad, was it?"

Actually I would like to try it again with all of the stuff frozen solid and a bit of ice on top.

19 November 2008

When is enough going to be enough

Helped out on a Habitat for Humanity project today. Instead of giving a hand building a house, I helped with a deconstruction project. One could argue these types of projects are what keep Habitat going.

Denver Metro Habitat has two home improvement warehouses where donated household and construction items are sold. Because of the success of these two stores, Habitat can say every dollar donated goes directly to a building project. The two outlets cover the organization's overhead and office costs.

I arrived at the house to be torn down and was shocked at what I was greeted by. A block east of Washington Park, this house was an incredible century-old house. It was renovated only five years ago and was not only in solid shape, it was beautiful.

The kitchen while the island and cabinets are taken out.

I don't know exactly what happened, but my guess the house was about to go through or went through foreclosure. We were guestimating while eating lunch that the lot itself would go for $500,000 because of the location. The developer, who lives three houses down, is going to completely tear it down and build a brand new house, which will probably be too big for the lot it will sit on.

It's a shame really. This not only is a beautiful house, but it was once somebody's home. I am reminded about the temporary nature of things whenever I go back to Chicago to my mother's neighborhood. My best friend PJ's old house he grew up in, across the alley from my mother's - gone. Nothing but a lot.

Still it made me a bit sad and wonder, what is the limit when enough is enough.

18 November 2008

Work interrupted, handlebar ejection

It's a little more than a week before Thanksgiving and it's over 70 degrees outside. And luck would have it, it's my day off. Sometimes fate does smile upon me - and not only after pulling the karmic rug from underneath me either.

Not too bad considering I had to keep my eye on the trail.

Two big loops in three hours. One instance of being jailhouse violated by my saddle when I unexpectedly came to a switchback. And one instance of a spectacular over-the-handlebars flip when I pinched my tire in a granite constriction. I stuck the landing and avoided the tree so I should receive high marks from the judges (except the Peruvian one. He's always shifty.).

Wanted to kick myself for not bringing my climbing shoes or at least my approach shoes. Elephant Butte was beckoning me. Perfect temps, perfect lighting and no compound fractures. I really just need to start bringing the whole kit when I head out. Some 300 feet of solo slabbing would have been a perfect dessert.

16 November 2008

Is this how it starts?

It's a bit past 8 o'clock and I'm ready for bed. Got up at 6 am for work. Worked. Picked up Rak and off we went to Matthews Winters Park for bouldering. Went to Golden, visited with Steve and Robyn for a couple of hours. Drop off Rak. Home.

Seriously, it's 8 o'clock and I'm tired! What's next? This?

And I can't even really all what we did as bouldering. While driving we decided on Matthews Winters, but neither of us were really up for an intimidating match with the Millennium Boulder. So I had remember ready some other stuff on the cliffs. So off we went and came up empty handed after much bushwhacking through rocky brush. Either too easy or too Sharma.

So we settled for this block I remember bouldering on before, and distinctly remember thinking, this sucks. Well it did. But it didn't just suck, it just shut us down completely. And the sad thing is I remember nailing two of the problems I was trying. Hell, the easy stuff on the west side I have done before was shutting my ass down.

Just not a good active day and now I'm pooped. This isn't going over too well in my head.

Ah well. As The National sing:
I won't f**k us over. I'm Mr. November. I wish I believed in fate. I wish I didn't sleep so late.

14 November 2008

Actually I don't want a lap dance

First off, the numbness is starting to wear off. Maybe the shock is passing on Thursday night's announcement that the Cubs aren't going to pursue re-signing Kerry Wood is passing. I've gotten learned in experiencing shock. It's not the initial blow, it's how quickly you recover.

New teams beware of injuries accrued by playing Guitar Hero

Still it would be easier if the guy was a high-ego, self-centered scumball. Instead, here is a guy who was invested in the community and because of his bulldog competitiveness probably made himself more injured than he should have. A really good column puts all of this much more succinctly than I can.

OK, the title probably caught some people's attention. The proposition certainly caught my attention when it was uttered to me. It must be that I appear trust-worthy, honest or just not like a serial killer. That or I have a "Taxi" sign on my Tacoma. But on both Monday or Tuesday I was implored for rides home from strange girls late at night.

Monday after meeting my climbing buddy Ian for drinks I'm walking the four or so blocks away where I parked in a brisk breeze. Some hipster asks me if I'm going home and if I have a car. She offers me gas money if I could take her home. A sucker for a damsel in distress, I offer. Before I know it I'm giving two girls, coming down from the happy effects of liquor and ecstasy, a ride to 11th & Washington.

Ian enjoying a beverage at The Irish Rover

The girl in the front won't shut up. The two girls start arguing - not yelling, but that raised imploring voice girls use with each other. I tell them if they want the ride home, they gotta knock that out. Girl in front begins apologizing and leaning over and rubbing my arm and chest. "And you gotta knock that out to."

Drop them off at 11th & Washington. Girl in front doesn't know where she is. "I'll just walk home from here." "You don't know where you are. How the hell are you going to walk home?" Girl in back, who has been quiet and leery outside of the argument - probably because she looked over and saw I still have a hatchet in the back of my truck from my camping trip the weekend before - states she can get her home.

Tuesday after a strong night at climbing gym and then beers at CB & Potts and The Cherry Cricket, driving home. I'm thirsty so I stop at a gas station for a Sobe Green Tea. Girl comes up to me and asks if I'm going north. She needs a ride and where she's going is less than a mile away. I chuckle and comply.

Get in, she tosses me a fake name. I ask if she's had a good night. She says she just came from her girlfriend's place and got a great lapdance. "Why? Do you want a lap dance? I can give you a lap dance if you want one."

Hmm.. .let's see: Girl is barely legal, girl has bloodshot eyes, girl is, well, she's not the type when you were younger that you brought home to meet your mother. And wow, getting offered a lapdance in less than a minute into conversation. While I admire her candid get-to-the-pointedness, yeah, DEFINITELY going to pass on that one.

Get to her apartment complex. She thanks me for the ride. Asks if I really do want to come up for the lapdance and.. oh! Here's the caveat: "Do you have any drugs on you?"

Have a good night fake girl name. "You know my name is ____? Wow, you have a good memory."

Which of course made me think, do I look like the guy desperate enough to accept a lapdance from a tripped-out girlie picked up at the gas station? And are there guys ho have evolved to possess opposable thumbs who would?


Scanned in some old Utah photos from a trip back in the 90s. Good times with Mike & Simon. Whenever we reminisce about it, our jaws hurt afterwards from laughing so much.

Mike's boulder he wanted to take home from Capitol Reef NP; Mike bouldering outside of Moab. Me leading a climb on a windy day in Capitol Reef NP

08 November 2008

Two snakes in the reeds

Knowing that full-time employment was impending on Monday, last Friday I shuffled some obligations and plans and gunned the bug-splattered nose of the Tacoma away from the waxing sun, climbing higher on its journey.

I originally planned on setting up base on BLM land northwest of Moab. However while speeding through DeBeque Canyon, the pull of my home was too strong. I decided to shelve any decisions until reaching Moab, which happened a couple of hours later. Gassing up the truck, gaging the position of the sun, the decision to go another 75 miles was easy. I'm going home.

Pulled into my normal campsite. I thought it would be strange since the last time I stayed at this spot I was married. But memories didn't haunt this sojourn. After quickly setting up camp, gunned west again and hopped out of the truck, slung on the pack and off I went - time for some sandstone scampering.

Unfortunately this next photo does absolutely no justice to the scene transpiring at the time. In truth, unless you have a very nice camera and an advanced proficiency of using it, you can never capture The Needles very well.

I started on one side of sandstone, scampered to a sentinel, and then picked my way across the slickrock due south. Sometimes I had to make a leap across a gaping slot, sometimes I climbed up hoping there would be a different way down. All in all I mentally marked three key bottleneck downclimbs and hoped I would find them by headlamp on the way down.

I went 2-for-3, not too bad; the third required only a few minutes of wandering to find.

Saturday I blended my memories. Sometimes time blurs together and two landmarks which are on two separate trails were merged into one journey in my synapses. I hit a nostalgic pass first - encumbered with no distraught - and then continued down Lost Canyon.

Now here is when things got jumbled again. Parts of the trail seemed familiar. Others did not match up with my mental map. I'm pretty sure I've hiked every single trail in this district of Canyonlands. Either way, I enjoyed the time and the unique setting. While I am partial to as much slickrock as possible, I followed canyon bottoms for much of the time.

I came across a couple of watering holes, two snakes and something large which shifted as I passed by. Parts of it where a poor facsimile of what I imagine the Serengeti would feel like - sans the towering canyon walls surrounding me. Dried grass and still green reeds stretched higher than my head at times. An elephant could be practicing yoga 10 feet away from me, and at times, I wouldn't be able to see it.

Finally I came up to another pass, took a nice long break to eat, strip off the boots and shirt and just soak in the place.

After completing the 9-mile hike, I decided to visit an old friend. As a child I spent countless days exploring and daydreaming on the slickrock which butts up against the Squaw Flat campground area. I hadn't been up that way in more than two decades. So I picked a spot and began climbing up. And that is when I discovered you can never go home again.

At some point between Regan's presidency and the waning days of the current Bush's, the NPS decided to build a cairned trail up on the bluffs. I came to a special spot for me - a double hump topping the sandstone mushroom like ocher icing.

Instead of feeling the joys of childhood innocence reclaimed, I felt sadden by the desecration. A USGS marker topped one of the camelbacks and defiling scrawls left by visitors, whose intent was to capture their names for eons on the soft rock, marred the second.

Sunday, armed with a camera, car keys and a Clif Bar I took a hike up in Island in the Sky District before breakfast and coffee - yes, I can actually function before the first cup of coffee. I just prefer not to.

My quick jaunt wound up being a 6-mile wandering. It was good it was cool, overcast and breezy since forgetting a water bottle at the truck would have been uncomfortable if conditions were different.

Grim blackness cloaked distant ranges and towers in three directions. After eating a large, late breakfast in Moab, it began drizzling and canceling the bouldering session I had planned at Big Bend boulders.

I have an established history of driving through snow storms returning from Canyonlands. I wished to avoid that this time - since nothing is better than driving through blinding snow at slow speeds at the end of a 5 1/2-hour drive.

I lucked out with dry roads - the storm went north and hit Steamboat Springs instead - and felt lucky to bring in November with a great trip and probably the last mild weather spell of the year.