Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dreams and Choices: Feb1 - April 2

Life seems like a dream sometimes.  A big dream perhaps.  In the planning stages, this trip was dream-like.  Could we really do this, take a year off and adventure travel?  To do what we love with the one we love?  Do we deserve it?  Will two people in a Subie for eight months kill each other?
There are so many things that can hold you back: The job (that you may hate), money, mortgage, friends' opinions, doubt in yourself and in your relationship.  The list is long.  How real are the many  reasons we tell ourselves why we can't do what we're passionate about?  How many are constructed?   How much of our suffering is self-imposed?  To what extent are we in a prison of the mind?
This trip itself seems like a dream.  It's been better than I could have imagined.  It's been so good that my happiness container had to expand to keep from bursting.  Our relationship container has gotten bigger too.  It's deeper, richer, more exciting and more fun than I ever thought possible.  A friend asked me about how much could be expected from a relationship.  I said that I want it all: Fun, intimacy, romance, adventure, intellectual stimulation and pleasure.  The whole enchilada.  Why not have it all?  Fundamentally it's a choice.  A choice to live fully.  To live your dream.  And make it real.
I feel more open now because of the trip.  A trip like this is a risk.  So many ways to go wrong.  So many logistics, so many decisions to make.  Doing that successfully opens you up to life and to doing even more. 
Ice climbing makes a good analogy.  It's risky.  You're afraid to totally commit.  You tense up when you get scared, which makes you more tired.  You can get paralyzed by fear and become more likely to fail.  And failing can be painful.
A lot of sharp things are involved.  This is where you don't want to fail/fall onto your partner.  The key is to relax in the face of fear.  Each move is a decision.  Make it efficiently.  Assess it quickly, then commit.  Over and over again.  Hundreds of time per climb.  Your judgment improves and you know what you can trust.  After leading several climbs, you begin to relax into it. Ahhh.
And you can take on more challenging climbs. 
And experience more beauty.
Enjoy new sights, like Indian Prayer Flags.
Or finding your hidie hole.
Or finding snow bridges.


And powder stashes.
Sometimes, you have to wait until the avalanche slides have cleared the mountain to climb safely.  But then you have to walk past the avalanche debris to get to the climb.  To hike next to a big slide, that can take a while and can be unnerving to witness that power of nature.  We called this approach "tiptoeing past the carnage". 



We're now headed back home, listening to the "Love and Liberation" playlist.  It's even sweeter and truer than on the drive out West. "No Love without Freedom, No Freedom without Love".  Thank you Dido.
A friend asked if we were sad that this leg of the trip is over after 8 months.  That's an easy "No" because it's not just a trip, it's the test drive of a lifestyle.  We'll keep doing this as long as we can.  In shorter blocks of time probably.  Time is more important than money at this point.  Quality of time is the most important.  Living fully now.  Not waiting.  Reminds me of the story by Leo Buscaglia about the farmer and his wife.  Every time they went to town and walked by a women's clothing shop, she admired the red dress in the window.  And every time, he said he would get it for her next year.  Eventually she died.  He bought the red dress and she was buried in it.  Which raises the question: What are you waiting for?
This question became significant to me eight years ago when I was diagnosed with leukemia.  After a bout of self-pity, I began to wake up to the choices that were right there.  Maybe I was too scared to live until I knew I was dying.  Leukemia gave me courage to live.  Fully and right now.  I barely knew Brenda when I sent her a text message from Chamonix and boldly invited her there for her vacation.  Her three word reply was the best text message ever:  "That could work".  An hour later, she had her ticket and was packing.
She wore the red dress (to our wedding even).  We now eat the whole enchilada. 
We dwell in this moment right here, right now, and only occasionally ask: "So what's next?"



Saturday, January 31, 2015

Solitude, eh? Canada weeks 23-26

I'm not sure when you're supposed to say "eh" in Canada.  I think it's after you've said something significant and that you want to make sure the other person gets.  That would be never in my case, 'course I won't let that deter me.

They do have a lot of big open spaces with relatively few (to the US) people in it.  They have protected these spaces and have labeled them "their heritage".  The power of labels.  Harder to strip mine or frack your heritage, eh?

Here's the view behind our rental.

It's actually hard to take pictures here.  The scale is so vast.  Imagine six national parks linked together along with several wilderness areas and you get the idea.  For us, in January, it's a lot of snow, but the locals call this a low snow year.  Climate change.  Unless your ideology says otherwise.  We're in Yoho National Park, on the Eastern border of British Columbia. 
To continue the salvation theme, we're staying in the basement of a place called the Old Church House.  It's a former Anglican Church, complete with pews for seats.  Now it's a private home.  And no, we haven't been struck by lightning.  Yet.   It's going to be hard to leave this one alone. 
Anyway, the powder snow is waist deep in the trees and less likely to avalanche.  So that's where we start looking for, as backcountry skiers like to say, "the goods" - untracked, blower, pow.  We check the avalanche and weather reports everyday, then go hunting for the goods.
This is the goods:

The goods include ice climbs, like this one.

Not this one:


The ice climbs look good, or at least better than this guy, but we decide to concentrate on skiing first and get better at avalanche avoidance.  The avi forecasts are specific to each national park, but generic in the sense that local conditions vary greatly.  They vary from alpine, to treeline to below treeline and from windward to leeward sides of the mountain.  And the conditions even vary locally from one 1000 ft, sorry - 300 meter, section to the next.  Added to that we're a couple of bumpkins from West Virginia.  Think it's time for an avalanche course, eh? 

We contact Yamnuska Mountain Guides and hire a fella by the name of Grant Meekins.  He grew up in  the Yukon Territories, has lived North of the Arctic Circle, and has every guide certificate imaginable in his 30 years of experience as a guide.  He also trains other guides to the high
Canadian standards.  Plus his wife is a two-times world champion extreme skier.  We're in good hands and he can explain things clearly. 

We're pretty serious about learning this avi stuff.  We've had a one-day course in Colorado and read the books.  Brenda's a physical chemist and understands ice crystals, vapor pressures, temperature gradients, among other geeky stuff.   But we don't know enough for the Canadian Rockies.  Grant does.  In our two day course, he demonstrates critical features of the local snowpack, and we practice a simulated avalanche and partner rescue scenario with a buried avi beacon on the mountain side.  We find it and dig it out in 5 minutes.  A buried skier has 15 minutes.  This is not casual stuff.

We spend most of our time learning about the terrain - where to go, where not to go to avoid a real rescue scenario.  There were plentiful opportunities to learn where not to go, because other people are skiing there.  Luckier than smart.  Even though we have all the avalanche safety equipment, including float bags, the idea is to not depend on luck and rescue gear.  We also have these things now called brains.

On our second day, we ski with Grant at a place just above treeline called Hidden Bowl - after carefully assessing the conditions. 

Especially the cornices to the left and above the safe-ski zone.  There's also a hanging bowl of snow on the right and above that slides on a regular basis.  It's only safe in the center. 

Here's Brenda enjoying the fresh powder  in Hidden Bowl.  Hey diddle diddle, right down the middle.


The latter half of January got warm.  Record temps - near 50 near Jasper, Alberta.  That's pretty far North if you're curious.  More climate change.  With it so frequent now, our strategy is to adapt.  The snow melted and refroze and it didn't snow again for a while.  As you can imagine, the skiing sucked.

Most ice climbs are in avalanche terrain, or have that above them.  But with the frozen snow, the avi danger was low - time to break out the ice gear and swing some tools.



And the drive back home after ice climbing is not too bad either.  Oh, Canada:

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Ski Runs Through It: Montana, weeks 21-22.

Whoa partner!  Now we're talking.  Talk about open spaces without crowds.  Paradise or at least Paradise Valley, outside of Bozeman, where "A River Runs Through It" was filmed.

Along the way we stopped near Salt Lake and skied with our friend Ron at Alta Ski Resort for a couple of days.  Alta is interesting and Ron loves this place.  It's a kind of ski-anywhere resort that has a cult following.  Lots of crusty, patchouli-smelling, drop-knee tree fairies (telemarkers) skiing some amazing stuff.  They like their tree skiing tight and steep.  No snowboarders allowed at Alta!  We had two fun days of powder skiing, then headed North.

Stopped by Grand Targhee for a few turns, then on to Bozeman.  Boz is like Boulder 50 years ago.  Snow-covered mountains all around, a couple of outdoor sports shops, a college and a cool downtown, complete with brew pubs.  No obviously rude people.  Call it cowboy chic if you want.  We climbed ice in Hyalite Canyon until the avalanche danger got too high.  At night, you just have to look for the blue search light on the tallest building in town.  They turn it on when it snows more than 2 inches.  That's a ski town.  Bridger Bowl is just outside of town.

There is a Fairfield Inn (Marriott) on the road to Bridger Bowl.  Beautiful location with mountains in the background.  We walk in and there is a sign welcoming Brenda Korte (my wife) as Guest of the Day (G.O.D.).  You know where this is going, especially if you're a guy.  What an opportunity.  A second chance at salvation.  A chance for sex with GOD.   Amen, brothers and sisters, I feel a healing coming on.

Skiing was pretty good at Bridger, but we're hunting untracked powder.  So West to Lost Trail Pass where Lewis and Clark got frustrated that they couldn't find a short cut to the Columbia River.  There are no shortcuts in the Bitterroot Mtns. But there is lots of powder.  Sixty two inches of beautiful, fluffy snow in 8 days.  What skiers call "blower pow".  It was good at the local ski resort, Lost Trail Powder Mountain.

But the goods were in the backcountry.  So glad my girl likes to break trail.  Especially with that much fresh powder on the ground.

She can shred too.

 Easy to recognize her with frosted hair and orange goggles.

Lucky guy - after salvation.

 Then on to Glacier National Park.  How cold is it?  -25 F for the low.  That's the "feels like" temp. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Anti-trending part II: Red Rocks, week 15-20.

Red Rocks, Las Vegas.  Beautiful sandstone cliffs, some over 2000 ft. high.  It's been my favorite place to climb since the 90s.  You rarely saw other climbers once you walked back into a canyon for an hour.

But it's changed. A lot.  It's trending now.  Today you walk past a wilderness sign to get to an outdoor climbing gym.  Climbers are everywhere.  We hiked a couple of hours in to one route that has a reputation of not being popular.  There were nine people on it. 

There is trash everywhere.  One person brought in a poop bag, used it and just left it there on a rock.  Along with a coffee cup.  Nice touch.  This kind of thing was everywhere.  We need to anti-trend.  ASAP.

It took some time to get over the nostalgia of what a great place it used to be and find climbs we could enjoy in the present.  We took the "connoisseurs of the obscure" to the next level - long hikes to obscure routes and got in some fun climbs.

Here is Sensuous Mortician.  Pretty sensuous.

Brenda on the 6th pitch of Purblind Pillar in the pic below.  A beautiful route close to "Group Therapy".  We're looking for groupless therapy.

 For a change of pace and climate, we even got in some rainy day mountain biking. 

Here's Brenda on her new bike "Gonzo".  The name seems to please her.

This "connoisseurs of the obscure approach" was working out fairly well, but we wanted more.  Even better experiences without any crowding. Zero. We determined to approach routes that were beyond mere hiking, but required suffering to get there.  Or, at least we thought we did.  Inspired by a 16th century Titian painting, such as the one below, we decided to go bigger for a chance at climbing salvation.

While you can't see it in this picture, the one that toured the National Gallery shows the victim having his skin, or outer self, being flayed, or stripped away. The suffering reveals his true nature.  On his face is a blissful look of " I get it now"

Inspired by this notion, we saddled up for a climb called Eagle Dance.  4 1/2 hours up Oak Creek Canyon.  Then 1000 ft of steep slabs to the beginning of the roped climbing.   That gets you to the base of this wall:

Note the eagle image in right lower portion of this pic.  The eagle is outlined by dark varnish and is flying left.  You can make out the beak, eye, neck and wings.   The climb goes through the neck.

To get there, we started hiking in across the desert at 4:30 by moonlight and by headlamp when the trail got rougher. 

In the canyon, it got a lot rougher, scrambling up room-sized, water polished boulders for hours.    Hours of boulder thrashing with climbing packs became our suffering.   But wait - some of the boulders were works of art. The eons of water polishing by Oak Creek has revealed detailed patterns in the stone.  We called this one the Saturn boulder:
 And this one, the hieroglyphic boulder:

We got to the base of the climb a bit flayed.  And proceeded to give it what we had left.

What we had left just wasn't enough to finish the route.  Maybe next time, or maybe I'll just  relax and enjoy the natural beauty of my partner in nature.  Who could ask for more?

 Of course, there's always the hike out by headlamp.  Not to worry - boulder thrashing is easier on the way down.  There was only one casualty - the pants Brenda is wearing in this pic.  She wore the ass out of her britches butt-scooting down the rocks.  She reported that it made for a drafty hike out.  It was just one step at a time for me.


Having not given up on salvation yet, we shifted into Winter mode and headed to Montana with a few days skiing along the way at Alta (near Salt Lake).