Many of my colleagues have done a notable job recounting their 2013 exploits: tabulating days in the backcountry, reflecting on what the years’ travel and experiences brought them, what they learned and how that’s going to feed into the new year. As 2014 continues to ‘lose its spots,’ I look back on 2013 as a year where my journey took me. Of course, it’ll be a bit like a Tarantino movie in that I’m jumping around with my timelines with previous posts, but as I wait out some nasty weather in Patagonia and think back on my year, it brings many smiles to my face and my hope to yours as well.
I jumped the gun a bit with the previous entries recapping the period in southern Utah and the Grand Canyon. I skipped over some wonderful time spent with friends old and new at both foreign and familiar locales over the summer and early autumn. In one respect, the familiar places were those for work. 2013 was the year where the “fly-over states” became the “fly-into states.” I’m hesitant to make the final calculation, but I’m willing to bet I spent more time sleeping in the hotels in the greater Kansas City area than I did in my own bed in the Sierra Nevada. When the final reports came in from the third parties, and my various internal and external customers received word of complete capture matrices and confirmed design review schedules, the festive season arrived with a big sigh of relief: Yes I did spend a lot of time away from home for work purposes, but my project was showing great results on time and on budget. Yay me. Thank you, Missouri for showing me the wide world of cowboy boots, big thunderstorms, wonderful hospitality and mouthwatering BBQ.
From the previous entry, much travel ensued. The ranch reunion in Colo-rad-bro’s San Juan mountains was a joyous rendez-vous with many friends in one of my favorite parts of the country. I found myself back in Frisco, CO of all places…on a multi-pitch sport route of all things, and coupled with scrambling in RMNP, and my homage to the Colorado micro-brew epicenter, the summer sojourn in the “Colorful State” was a great one.
Then came time with the family in Vermont post-Independence Day festivities. Since making a warm weather journey back to the Green Mountains part of the annual plan four years ago, each year it seems to get better. Family, friends, sailing and surfing on Lake Champlain, porch-sitting, more microbrews and fresh organic produce out of the backyard garden are just a few reasons making New England so magnetic. No major events or experiences making headlines, just a lot of R&R and a growing respect for the area I still call ‘home.’ When I think about the places I’ve lived and the destinations I’ve frequented in the past decade, I can only jokingly blame my parents for raising me one of America’s many vacationlands and making me settle for nothing less inspiring and beautiful.
When I log miles on the road bike or stare at Vermont’s highest peaks from its largest lake and scenic, billboard-less roadways, I’m saturated with reverence for the beauty and exhilaration of the outdoors. My personal pursuits may have changed from the early days of backyard football and little league but an appreciation for where I live only grows stronger and is further bolstered with each return home, and with each external reference I read and hear about how good Vermont is.
Just a few days after returning to the Sierra after the east coast, I jumped back on a plane to visit Jeffrey in Seattle. In another entry I give the details of our itinerary, but to summarize, I was long overdue for a return to the Cascades and some additional experience in the Pacific Northwest. Some alpine shenanigans and sport climbing with a delightful posse of great people marked the weekends, while great food and more delightful company marked times during the week between work duty. Most memorable was taking whippers on gear on the granite faces outside Leavenworth. I’ve always believed the advice “If you’re not falling on rock, you’re not climbing hard enough,” So Jeff and I exercised the falling part and took turns on a tight finger crack with plenty of air under foot. All in all, I left the city a few days later with only fond memories of its people, sights and abundant adventures in close proximity, and like the CO trip, I can’t wait for the return in 2014.
Alas work beckoned, and after playing with more laser boxes and gawking at the new wind farm being erected behind GE’s Tehachapi office, I found myself back in Lone Pine facing one of my favorite mountains, and a bit of unfinished business. Earlier in the year, the birthday climb attempt was thwarted, so it was back to LPP’s sit start for another try. Weather was more favorable this go-around, but route finding became the crux. After dancing around a cliff band trying to find the right path [and ironically, the route’s crux], I tried four different ways…the last one revealing the pitons marking the correct route. With too much consequence should the lieback not go well, I opted to circumvent the crux – and though it technically means I didn’t fully complete the sit-start, I walked away from the summit satisfied with finishing the business my birthday climb had started.
Particularly noteworthy was the geologic scars on the descent. Weeks before there was a monsoon front that pushed through the southern Sierra and generated a ‘wet event.’ With so much of the range lacking flora to bond the scree slopes covering its side-slopes, the result were channels of land slides in excess of 10 feet deep. With gravity pulling the displaced earth down to alluvial fans at the bottom of the descent, the mere thought of what it was like during the event was terrifying. Tons and tons of dirt and rock slid down to the Meysan Lakes area, and what a sight to see. Back to the car with enough time to down some bubbly and finish the trek back to Mammoth.
Managed a trip back to a wall that captured my attention years ago. On the approach to Humphreys’ classic North Ridge, one can see a sheet of stellar granite to the lookers’ right…this is the Mountain Light Wall. With a monsoon flow returning to the Sierra, bigger mountain objectives were too risky for Keith’s and my palettes, so we rallied out to this crag that had intrigued us both for so long. The results of the trek were a tastefully-bolted, splendidly exposed four pitch classic, and a single pitch hand crack that left us both licking our chops for more. The tempest arrived, though, and after our five successful pitches, we counted ourselves lucky for the window we had. Back at the truck drinking beers and discussing life’s more important trials and tribulations by mid afternoon.
Then came the planning. I left Seattle with a strong appetite for Northern granite, and with a potential plan to hit Patagonia in 2014, Jeff and I wanted some alpine practice in the Bugaboos. The turbo packed with everything needed, I was bound northward, but fatigue slowed progress…then the sub-par weather reports for all our potential objectives: unsettled low pressure pushing landward from the gulf of Alaska meant we stood a very good chance of spending the next week in a tent, and less on granite.
24 hours later I snagged Jeffrey from the Reno airport and a few hours later we were stuffing our mits into Phoebos’ famed double hand cracks. “It’s so improbable” I yelled down as I was beside myself with glee. The weather dictated a Sierra staction so Jeffrey flexed the frequent flier miles and we hatched a plan for the Range of Light. Of course, no sooner did Jeffrey touch down when the smoke billowed over the Tahoe ridgeline from the Rim Fire and a Monsoon pushed northward from the south. To the drawing board we went – bookended to the north by suffocating forest fire smoke [no Incredible Hulk] and with big southern sierra objectives put on hold by afternoon thundershowers [occupy iceberg II postponed indefinitely], we approached our week of granite on a day-to-day basis.
We managed some big ticks on the list, namely the Temple-Galey-Sill traverse, Fairview’s Lucky Streaks and Pine Creek’s Rites of Spring. Sprinkle in another Tuolumne classic [Dana’s Third Pillar] and some surprisingly fruitful exploring [Mammoth Crest], and things turned out very well, all things considered. With a home base in Mammoth [replete with hot tub and cool lakes for rope swinging], we kept a keen eye on the weather, took advantage of the windows we saw and made a delicious batch of lemonade out of the lemons mother nature gave us.
Then what? Road Trip! The Wind River mountains in central Wyoming have been on the list for years, with two 50 classics virtually next to each other in the Cirque of the Towers. Mr. Feinstein was making the trek in, and with another small gap in the work schedule before more requisite travel, it was time to log some fast miles through rural Wyoming [and I mean rural] and get to the Winds. I find it comical that with my two smart phones on dueling network behemoths, I voluntarily moonlight in finding where in this country there are gaps in cell service. Needless to say, I do a good job on this front, and I’m very thorough. I also find the use of technology comical. For instance, locating exactly where Mr. Feinstein would be after hiking in three days after him would be a challenge, seeing how neither of us had made the trek in before. What to do? He excellently used his Spot to send the coordinates of camp that I found without a hiccup and of course he also used the same instrument to request more…ahem…critical provisions.
Weather foiled our group attempt on Wolf’s head the next day, and the short schedule in the backcountry meant my climbing exploits in the Cirque would have to wait for the next trip – and believe me, there will be another push back there. It’s almost as if there is a mini Yosemite Valley in the Wyoming backcountry brimming with immaculate granite splitters, stunning vistas and precipices just waiting for the hearty few willing to hump their heavy packs back there. The drive is a bit arduous [where else in the continental US do you find 50+ miles of a single dirt road], and the approach isn’t trivial [multiple miles, but very scenic and never back-breaking], but I broke it up with a most righteous nap halfway [before the vertical business], a riveting audio book and big glass for the golden hour. I can’t wait to return.
Within the next two days, Chris Dickey’s bachelor party so happened to be in a rock climbing crag beloved by many, and another tick on my list of places to explore. “Wait, you guys are doing a bachelor party of rock climbing here in the City of Rocks?” The patrolling ranger surprisingly inquired, “That’s the best bachelor party I’ve ever heard.” Yes, it was a great time – filled with wonderful people, spirited conversation, immaculate granite, great views and palette-pleasing food and beverage. I couldn’t have asked for a better prenuptial fete and introduction to one of the States’ great crags. It would seem a bit taboo for the groom to take part in planning his own bachelor party, but Chris and his friends always buck the trend, and I was so graciously able to partake. I can’t thank you enough, gentlemen.
A few days of work in Jackson before the wedding were finished with superb road biking and more brilliant hospitality, but the romps through the National Parks needed a work break, so shortly after the wedding I was bound for the Midwest to make sure the work party was hopping without my being a chaperone all the time. I’ll gloss over the details of that trip save one: I’ve never sat in a hotel room far away from anywhere I hold dear with a need to leave and no plan or itinerary to do so.
I had finished tasks on site early, and with no commitments to be anywhere, I had no exit plan from the Midwest – only a burning desire to leave. A quick scan of the weather revealed an astounding forecast for a week of New England autumn. Fuelled by fair weather, and an insatiable fondness of New England foliage and its concomitant apple season [mother of god, cider donuts bring tears to mine eyes] and I booked a quick trip home…again. This was a surprise, so I dialed up Gramp from the layover airport to secure travel on touchdown and next thing I knew I was enjoying a late lunch with 40% of the immediate family.
The next days were like nothing I can remember: Eight straight days in New England in Sept/Oct where the daytime temps seldom dropped below 70, only cosmetic clouds accentuating golden hour, a bumper apple crop and hero road biking. I was shirtless on a sailboat zipping across Champlain in October taking in the sunset, then feasting on the fruits of fall – I’ve already bloviated how much I love Vermont so I’ll stop here and just say the eight days will not easily be forgotten.
The Green Mountains are wonderful to visit, but the turbo awaited at the Salt Lake airport, and it was time to head west again. Upon touchdown in the land of Brigham Young, there was winter everywhere…except the Southern Utah desert. That meant Moab was the next destination in Google maps so phew! Back up to speed.
It’s only fitting that the book recommended and chosen to accompany me during a good portion of my travel in 2013 was Steinbeck’s Travels With Charlie. I recommend it to anyone who has any degree of wanderlust as John makes a perfect travelling companion and inspires one to pay closer attention to her surroundings. When I think back on the amount of travel I conducted in 2013, I’m reminded of a great quote in his book and leave you all with it, along with the best wishes of what 2014 has in store for all of you, whether it be full of travel, or fulfillment at home.