Steinbeck’s words still resonate as after my r2r2r outing, I was glad to be headed back home to the Sierra – being settled for a spell after months of living out of a duffle bag, hotels and a bivy sack. Waking up to alpenglow on the granite peaks, dawn patrol season, and lazily reading a book on my couch sounded so appealing as I crossed the Nevada desert and I had a strong urge that my travelling was over for at least a month leading up to the holiday season.
Strange, because after being back in the Range of Light for only a week, with the weather behaving in typical shoulder season fickleness and with a week of no work for Thanksgiving, itchy feet returned again. “Ice is fat in the San Juans, Dale, and I have a place for us to stay,” Mike reported. After a bit of deliberation, the camel’s straw was our hosts in Ouray invited us to a Thanksgiving feast including elk and wild turkey…the decision was easy: time to pack for Southwestern CO and get on some classic icicles to start the winter right.
I barely had enough time to finish the laundry from the previous months’ travel, locate all my ice climbing gear and line up a place to store my vehicle for the next three weeks before staring down the tarmac of the desert southwest for the second time in three weeks. This time I had a wonderful travel partner, so the hours of empty road and no cell coverage would be filled with dialogue instead of the monologue of various authors and podcasts.
Funny, weeks earlier, like Steinbeck, as my car took me westward after the Grand Canyon, my travels felt over, and the thought of crossing I70 again was not even a consideration - a distaste even. I headed straight for Yosemite’s granite cracks and enjoyed being back in the area closest to what I call ‘home’ these days. But, as John eloquently stated in my previous post, trying to control a journey is frivolous, and I do not care for frivolities.
Besides, with the early winter breezes drawing a trickle from the nose and tears from the eyes, and after fulfilling the last desires for sun and warmth while being humbled by Yosemite’s granite, I was finally ready for winter. And then ‘winter’ came. Albeit, what I’ve come to understand as ‘California Winter.’ Yes an early spell of cold temps meant the mountains were blowing snow, but old man winter was not being friendly to the Sierra, so making a trek eastward to more seasonal conditions made more sense.
As an aside, I’m a firm believer that seasons are meant to change – just like humans. Philosopher I am not, but one thing that holds true to me is how much I love a discernible change in the temperatures and weather patterns and the concomitant shift in peoples’ moods and actions. Ironically, one of my favorite pieces of music -of all time - is the complete Four Seasons by Vivaldi. Earlier in 2013, when faced with many miles to drive on little sleep, it seemed the only thing to keep me sane was looping Vivaldi’s masterpiece, in order. For the longest time, my favorite part of this work was trying to guess which season was which based purely on listening to the different movements. After many, many iterations, I finally decided to set my record straight: I had my conclusions and wanted to see how they lined up with the composer who penned and named them.
Perhaps not so surprising, of the 12 segments Vivaldi created, hands down my favorite is Winter’s first movement, and I think that reflects my attitude toward winter and its arrival. For many of the last few years, I distinctly remember the first winter cold front to blow in and I welcomed it with some sort of triumphant celebration or act. I love the cold, and all the things that come with it, water freezing to make ice [horizontal and vertical], snow, skiing, sledding, roaring wood stoves, jackets, hats, coziness, big blankets, short days, hot cider and tea…I could go on. Needless to say, I rather naively believe Vivaldi thought the same way, and such an opinion shines through in his work making the arrival of winter powerful, memorable, joyous, and the best piece of his musical march through year.
I digress: the love of winter was one of many catalysts ushering me to Ouray, and four days of classic water ice [and mixed!] with a great partner to share the coup only made the love deeper. In one case, we were the first party to finish a classic route this season and to get so many great routes in good condition in one trip was pretty rare. Highlights abound, and while I’ve always considered SW Colorado as one of my favorite parts of the country, after experiencing these backcountry gems in such fine form, my opinion is only stronger.
Alas, one must pay the bills, and a quick trip to South Carolina and Missouri were necessary to help put a wrap on work travel for the year. South Carolina was good to network, spur creativity with professional colleagues and see familiar faces, but perhaps the most salient memory was a reminder from a one beautiful hostess of proper southern chivalry:
“I do not call men.” [said with a most sexy southern drawl].
I was efficient enough in MO on the way back west to notch my PR with time on the ground: I was on Midwest soil for a mere 16 hours, and glad to be returning to the wintry environs of the Sierra Nevada earlier than originally scheduled. 10 days of heavy work brought an end to the professional year, and before I knew it, I was bound for BTV for the third time in 2013.
Touching down in Burlington a couple days before an ice storm, I got to see the beauty of what happens when super-cooled fluids fall from the sky. Fortunately for most [except for communities in northern New York], the ice storm was more beauty than beast – damage was not close to that caused by a similar storm in 1998, and created scenes of frozen splendor throughout the state. I managed to rendezvous with a great friend and experience a growing phenomenon in Vermont – the explosion of craft beers. Never have I driven far out of my way for beer, but with crummy weather forcing a plan B, a posse of us were bound for Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom in search of the State’s best ales, lagers and IPA’s.
We were warned that wait times at a particular brewery exceeded 3 hours…that was silly, especially given the remoteness of Farm Hillstead tucked cozily on a hillside in Greensboro Hills, VT. We only waited 45 minutes despite a spilt-over parking lot of visitors from as far away as Pennsylvania, plenty of time to taste our flight, and determine our purchases when it was our turn to fill growlers. The brewers filling Vermont’s kegs are adding yet another notch into the Green Mountains’ allure of high quality of life, and though I don’t necessarily recommend enlarging your carbon footprint chasing breweries in far-flung corners of New England, every brew that graced my taste buds were very, very good and are worth asking your local restaurant if they have a variety on tap.
Following Christmas dinner and gift exchange, it was time for a bigger gift: one of those To Dale, From Dale presents. Jeff and I decided to pull the trigger weeks before and make our final Patagonia warm up a one-week stay on the Shoshone River’s South Fork. Technically not Cody, the ice smears lining these canyons are what I’ve come to know as ‘Cody,’ and for those of you who haven’t made the trip yet, put it on your list. To our surprise, we arrived to see conditions fatter than they’ve been in a decade. I’ll summarize our tick list:
2. View for a Thrill [bailed after ½]/Slogger
3. One Hitter
4. Joy after Pain
5. Ice Fest
Yes, we can confirm ice in Cody is experiencing a banner year, and with posh accommodations at the double diamond x ranch, we assured ourselves solid rest, minimal driving and deer risk, and plenty of time to plan our upcoming adventures. Of particular note is how a theme from the previous year continued to pan out on this trip – that of playing the hand you’re dealt. Having been to the South Fork a few times before, both of us were keen to explore the greater area a bit more – get some exploring in by getting up the East Rosebud Canyon’s California Ice, and then over to Cooke City for some of its backcountry ice gems. Given our short travel window, however, and such great conditions in Cody, it was easy to play the South Fork hand: Five straight days of steep, thick ice [Joy after Pain is incredible], and we walked away with no injuries, big smiles, and more experience and love for the place.
I did manage to break a crampon, but thankfully it occurred in a low–consequence situation and towards the end of our trip. The final day saw the first weather clearing since touchdown, and justified lugging the big glass around the country over the holidays. Gorgeous ice lines aside, the Shoshone’s South Fork area is visually beautiful. Large snow-capped buttes, wide open vistas and big mountains all meant many stops of the rental car while Jeff happily dozed off our coffee-less last afternoon in WY.
As Jeff and I went through security in Billings the next morning for our early flights back to work, we looked at each other with a grin as we received reminders of only a week before our next adventure: only seven days before check-in to the flight to Calafate…
…but before we could leave, loose ends [and knots] had to be tied. Work doesn’t sort itself out when leaving for three weeks, nor does the requisite gear acquire itself to prepare for the Aguja’s and Cerro’s that wait on the Austral 50th parallel. Coupled with the nuptials of Jess and Ian, the first week – and only work-week – of 2014 sailed by.
Phew…I’m rambling – to bring it full circle, I thought the journey was over, and I thought we passed into winter. As I walked around the northern hemisphere in a tee shirt, then got off the plane in the southern hemisphere in the same wardrobe a week later, ‘winter,’ though I love it, was proving to be different this year. Likewise, I thought my journey ended after the double-crossing of the big ditch…but I must say it only had a quick pause for a few breaths and reflection. Either way, I’m enjoying this road I’m on as 2014 started, and I hope you’re experiencing the same.