Saturday, August 25, 2012

A few days of Big Apple

Last night I got back from a few days in NYC. Before I left, F asked me if there were any climbing gyms in New York. "Yeah," I responded, "New York has a lot of everything except wide-open spaces and mountains." One of the things they have a lot of that I love the most is vegan restaurants.

Right after I checked into my hotel on Tuesday night, I headed over to Terri for supper. It's become a tradition of mine to eat there the first night I'm in town. Great-tasting vegan fast food always seems to hit the spot after half a day of airports, jets, and taxis.

The next night a coworker and I met up with a former colleague at Han Gawi, a vegan Korean restaurant. I'd been wanting to go there for a while, but it wasn't somewhere that I really wanted to go by myself. The food and atmosphere were both great.

Thursday was my last night in town, and I was feeling kind of burned out on being around so many people. So I was tempted to just hit the salad bar at Whole Foods and eat in my hotel room. But that would have left me with an evening of staring at the internet in hopes that it could alleviate my boredom. So instead I coaxed myself into walking down to Gingersnap Organics. I first heard about this place from Choosing Raw and have been wanting to check it out. But it's a little out of the way, and I was reluctant to try to drag omni' coworkers to a raw vegan place. So this was a perfect time to go by myself, and it did not disappoint. Nori rolls, a burger, and the most amazing coconut cream pie ever!

While I wasn't working or eating, I mostly spent my time reading and listening to the Enormocast. That's a fairly new podcast about climbing that I recently came across, and I'm catching up on all the episodes dating back to December of last year.

If you're even just a little bit into climbing, go check it out now. I'll wait right here for you.

I decided to send Chris Kalous, the producer/host of the show, an email to let him know that I'm enjoying it. I'm not sure I can really even call myself a climber at this point (almost all of my climbing so far has been in gyms), but I like having these virtual connections to the community. It was a very short exchange, but it caused me to reflect on a few things. And I reached the conclusion that I need to stop making excuses and letting my shyness hold me back from doing something I really want to do. So ignoring the fact that I have almost no free time in my schedule, I headed over to Mountain Project and decided to find myself a climbing partner. So hopefully I'll have rock-climbing stories to tell in the near future.

While I was packing for the trip, I grabbed two small paperbacks off my bookshelf to take with me. One was a Michael Moorcock novel - The War Hound and the World's Pain - that I picked up at a thrift store and hadn't read yet. It was a pretty good twist on the old Grail Quest theme. The other was Neal Stephenson's Zodiac, which I haven't read in ages. So it's been a real treat revisiting that one. One quote that struck me in particular, and belongs here on SPL, is this passage on riding a bicycle at night:
My nighttime attitude is, anyone can run you down and get away with it. Why give some drunk the chance to plaster me against a car? That's why I don't even own a bike light, or one of those godawful reflective suits. Because if you've put yourself in a position where someone has to see you in order for you to be safe -- to see you, and to give a fuck -- you've already blown it.

Cynical, but classic Stephenson Attitude. Love it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Quick plug: ABC Kids Climbing

I skipped this weekend's hiking/mountaineering outing in favor of an all-day climbing date with my daughter, F. We went out to one of the bouldering areas on Flagstaff Road in Boulder and did some climbing and scrambling for the first part of the day. For lunch we picnicked on almond butter & jelly sandwiches and apples from the tailgate of the truck. After that it was starting to get pretty warm (some of the rocks were hot enough to burn our hands), so we left there and headed back into town.

I heard about a kid-friendly climbing gym in Boulder, so we decided to check that out before calling it a day. The place is ABC Kid's Climbing, and the staff said it's the first, and possibly only, gym of its kind in the world. It was pretty amazing. There are many top-rope and boulder routes set up for little bodies with smaller reach, and they rent kid-sized gear. But there are also plenty of adult-sized routes to keep the parents entertained. In fact, many of the bouldering problems are more highball than what I'm used to at our local climbing gym.

When we arrived, I went through the quick belaying certification process so F could climb on the top-rope wall. But as soon as we were done with that, she went straight to a side room where they have a zip line set up and stayed in there the entire time. I'm not sure if she was just tired of climbing for the day or if the zip line was too much a temptation for her to focus on anything else. But in a small way, I'm glad that our regular gym doesn't have that particular distraction so she can actually work on her climbing while we're there.

Another thing: we witnessed two separate climbing birthday parties today - both for girls! (One of the really cool things about climbing is that it seems to be enjoyed by males and females equally at all levels.) One group was top-roping on Crown Rock on Flagstaff, and the other booked their party at ABC. Either way, what a great idea! We'll see how she feels come January, but for now F is saying that she wants to have her next birthday party at ABC.

So if you find yourself in Boulder with an adventurous kid, ABC is definitely worth checking out. Everyone is bound to have a good time.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Density vs. Friendliness

When it comes to human populations, there's an inverse relationship between density and friendliness. That isn't to say that people in big cities are necessarily unfriendly, but that in heavily populated areas, folks are just less likely to acknowledge each other than when there aren't so many people around.

It's evident when driving. In any rural area I've ever been in, if you drive by a local on a remote county road, he's probably going to raise a finger or two from his truck's steering wheel in a kind of wave. When you get into a town of any size, the waving stops.

I see it when I'm out riding my bike. Away from the city, on roads and paths that don't see a lot of two-wheeled traffic, cyclists generally greet one another as they pass. As you get into more heavily-traveled regions you're lucky to get an "on your left."

It's especially obvious on hiking trails. If you get out there early enough, everyone you encounter, and it usually isn't that many, will offer a "good morning!" The farther you get from the trail head, the better the potential for a brief conversation. If you meet someone on a seldom-visited summit, they just might talk your ear off. Comparatively speaking, anyway. But on your way back out, when the afternoon crowds are out for their weekend constitutionals, the pleasantries begin to erode until you're lucky to even get a nod of acknowledgement.

I get that, when there are a lot of people around, it becomes impractical to say hello to every single one of them. And I don't go out hiking or riding my bike so that I can socialize with strangers. Generally, that's my alone time and I'm out there to absorb the scenery and quiet focus not commonly afforded me at home.

But I'm not really out there to escape. I'm driven to the outdoors by joy and love for the trail. I see the same thing in a lot of the faces I meet. But I can also see that not everyone is there for that reason. And that's fine. One of the great things about Nature is that it can mean so many different things to different people at different times.

Maybe part of the reason for this density-to-friendliness ratio is that sparseness gives us more sense of identity within a Tribe - a feeling that there's something that unites and sets us few apart from everyone that isn't out there. But as density increases, it becomes less obvious what common thread might bind us together. Or the commonality becomes less relevant as numbers increase. Whatever the case, I try to hold in my mind the reason that I'm out there and let it remain untouched by whatever indifference may emanate from the afternoon crowd. They may not be the reason I'm there, but I almost always will have a smile, a nod, or a "Hi!" to share with them.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Decisions and consequences: Navajo and Apache Peaks

Lately I've been slowly reading through the classic text Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills. Before my weekly hike last Sunday, I had just finished a chapter about safety and risk mitigation. One of the things it talks about is observing decisions, both as they are made and after the fact, and determining whether they are good or bad. And if they are bad, ensuring that they do not lead to additional bad decisions which cascade and threaten the outcome of the climb.

In that spirit, I thought it would be fun to present last weekend's hike to Navajo and Apache peaks as a series of decisions, consequences, and observations.

Decision: Wait until the last minute to figure out where I'm going. Like, the night before, just minutes prior to going to bed. Consequence: less time for research on my proposed route, which was to go up Airplane Gully to Navajo and follow the ridge to Apache and possibly Shoshone.

Decision: don't bother setting the alarm clock. Consequence: Overslept. (Since when did 05:00 qualify as oversleeping?!) Trail-head parking was full by the time I got there, so I had to backtrack and park at a pull-off on the side of the road. No big deal, and led to an interesting opportunity...

Decision: park the truck as quickly as possible and head back up the road on foot to try to get a picture of the huge bull-moose I just saw skittering across the pavement in front of me. Inconsequential: he was long gone (or at least invisible) by the time I got there. But I'm sure he would have been happy to see me, too.

Observation: even without the perfect light of sunrise, there are some amazing photo opportunities in the IPW. It was a perfect day for hiking.

The moon about to set behind Shoshone

Navajo, Apache, and Shoshone reflected in Lake Isabelle

Decision: take the standard Class 3 route up Airplane Gully to Navajo. Consequence: it was safe and fun. There is some interesting history behind the plane crash that happened here in 1948. (Plundering souvenirs is illegal. Don't do it.)

Wreckage at the top of Airplane Gully

Observation: on the decent down the north side of Navajo, it's disconcerting to find, on what I expected to be a 3rd- or 4th-class scramble, a piece of forgotten protection in the rock from previous climbers who were using ropes. Maybe this route is a little more than I bargained for.

Navajo's north face. See if you can spot the hiker.

Observation: when Gerry Roach says a route is "impractical", he doesn't mean that it's a bit of a hassle when there are plenty of other perfectly serviceable routes available. (What do I care about practicality, anyway? You want to know what's impractical? Climbing a mountain, that's what. No practical purpose served at all. Practical is staying home and doing yard work.) No, what he means is he doesn't recommend it, and unless you really know what you're doing, you listen to Gerry Roach.

Observation: the Chessmen formations along the ridge between Apache and Shoshone look pretty serious. Gerry was right. It turns out that other people have done this traverse before, but doing it alone is probably irresponsible.

Amid the Chessmen

Decision: let's just go for it and see what happens. There should be bail-out points if it turns out to be impassable. Consequence: early bailout was imminent, but I had fun.

Observation: more protection, this time in the form of a piton, in the rock where I'm soloing down the ridge toward Isabelle Glacier. A piton? Seriously? What kind of unethical and underconfident climber drives a piton in a Class-4 route (at worst) where a nut would have more than sufficed?

Or maybe they knew something I don't. Hmmm.

Decision: a glissade down the glacier is the fastest, safest way off this mountain.

Two hikers and a dog out on the glacier

But this is what the glacier looks like on my way down the ridge.

Oh, wait! I made another decision this morning that I didn't even notice: leave the ice axe and gloves at home. But a wedge-shaped rock ought to serve okay as a brake. And as for my hands... well, there's nothing for it. At least I had my helmet. Self-arrest position, and Go!

Another decision: drop the rock before it hits me in the face. Consequence: one hell of a ride, numb hands, a bruised rib, and a funny story.

My glissade path, starting from the snow-filled gully at the top of the glacier
By way of a retrospective analysis, I think that this outing was well worth-while. It was scenic, exciting, and I learned a lot. People talk about knowing your limits and staying within them. But how can you know your limits without exceeding them once in a while? Fortunately, I didn't quite do that this time, though I may have sometimes bumped up against them a little. Still, maybe I need to stop pushing it more and more every time I go out. The thing is, it keeps getting more and more fun.

What I really need is a climbing partner with a compatible schedule.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Long time, no post

I realized the other day that it's been a few weeks since the last time I posted anything. I couldn't tell you why that is. I've been doing all sorts of fun, sometimes crazy stuff.

On July 15th, I hiked up Sawtooth and Algonquin in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. To save myself 6 or 7 miles of hiking, I drove in to the Beaver Creek trail head. Even with the TRD Offroad package, my Tacoma was barely up to the drive along Coney Flats Road. The drive back out was especially exciting (read: worrisome), since it was pouring down rain the whole time.

Sawtooth Mountain, viewed from the Beaver Creek trail head

The next weekend, on July 22nd, I climbed Mt. Neva, also in IPW. An early start from the 4th of July TH was important, since parking fills up quickly. The climb was super-fun, but the trail was a bit overcrowded on the return. I met a couple of guys on the summit, but otherwise felt like I had the mountain to myself. There was another party on the way up as I descended, but I short-cutted down the face of the ridge, so I didn't actually cross paths with them.

Mt. Neva, with Lake Dorothy in the foreground

On Thursday, July 26th, I ran in the Metro North Chamber Challenge 5k race again (see also: last year's post). This year we had a big turn-out from work - 11 runners in 3 teams. Everybody did really well. It was a lot of fun, and I got a couple of medals which I actually stuck around to receive this time.

(Most of) the group from work for the MNCC 5k

Saturdays are usually C's days to go to her art space while I hang out with the kids. Then we switch off and I go hiking on Sundays. On the 28th, my daughter F told me that she wanted us to all do something together on Sunday, so on July 29th, I finally got to take everybody out to IPW for the first time. Trail head parking was full, so we had to park by Brainard Lake and hike 1/2 mile to Long Lake. We found a great little area for beginner bouldering where we had a picnic and did a little bit of climbing.

F. sitting in front of a bouldering route she just sent.

Yesterday, August 5th, I was back in my normal solo hiking routine. I made last-minute plans to go up Navajo and Apache peaks, and I wanted to try to traverse over to Shoshone as well. That last one didn't work out, exactly, but it made for a pretty good adventure. More on that later.

Navajo and Apache Peaks

Aside from that, I got to attend a Colorado Mountain Club orientation - I finally joined with them so I can take some of their classes. I got to hang out with with a good friend of mine who was in town from Texas. That allowed for some catching up with other friends I haven't seen in ages. Early-morning bike rides up Lookout Mountain and Flagstaff Road, visits to the climbing gym, yard work, a dentist appointment...

So I can't claim that I've been too busy to write blog posts. Indeed, I have a couple of unfinished drafts sitting around. But I have been getting out and having fun. I'd love to hear what everyone else has been up to.