Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Grab the Rope Not the Bag!

Was this experience fabricated by talent?

The world was warm and light, but now dark and cold. Had I been transported to some strange void? I could not determine if I was up or down; was I weightless? Tumbling and rolling, I realized there was dimension in this abyss. Choosing a direction, I pushed upward.

I broke through a surface. A membrane to another world? An illusion? Gurgling and airy I could see briefly but, where was I? Who was I? It was bright now. I felt an impact upon my head. I had a body still, I was not a brain in a vat.

There was a whistle then shouts and I understood my reality. I saw into the eyes of a familiar face as they screamed, "Grab the rope! not the bag!!"


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Stagecoach NOLA to "Rolling Thunder"

We protect our ambitions for life with both defensive and offensive stratigies. It is good to have the judgment to know when to pull back and prepare for an onslaught; and also to know when to push forward and maintain the momentum of the attack.
My year started out with a short campagin of seven weeks of winter outdoor recreation in the mountains of Colorado and the canyons of Utah. The past two months following that trip were highly defensive, as I saved money and prepared for the coming push. I knew Jamey and myself were to be heading to New Mexico for our photographic odyssey and that shortly after that I would be back at the Ocoee River. I needed to prepare and now I'm here back at Ocoee reflecting on how I got here again.

The StageCoachNOLA trip was a huge success. Although I have yet to see the fantastic photos (and I know they will be) from Jamey, I can confidently say it was one of the cleanest trips I have ever led. The weather and timing was perfect and the progression of sites/sights was on point. The trip will serve as a landmark and example of how I should conduct like trips in the future.

SCNOLA, was a bit of a different trip for me. It was an aggressive campaign, requiring more logistics then usual. Normally, when I go out alone for 10+days I will spend an extended amount of that time in one area and rarely move. I enjoy building a connection to a place, but on this trip we rarely spent 24 hours in one location. We jumped from greater Palo Duro Canyon-> Santa Fe ->Bandelier/Valles Caldera -> Bisti/De na Zin ->Chaco Canyon->Albuquerque ->Valley of FIre -> White Sands -> Carlsbad. Jamey had never seen New Mexico and the trip was an oppertunity to see the great diversity of the state.

For myself the SCNOLA trip was another chance to try to grow mentally and spiritually. The pivotal moment for myself was our visit to the Basilica of St Francis in Santa Fe. St. Francis was one of my personally favorite saints in the Catholic pantheon. Growing up in New Orleans it is hard to not be raised Catholic and not learn a thing or two about the faith.

St. Francis of Assisi was known for his ability to communicate with and understand nature. He could speak to animals and see God in their beauty and hear their songs as glorifications of the creator. Even to this day the stories are exciting to hear, but what struck me was a plate inscribed with the prayer of St Francis from the Canticle of the Sun.

I have been struggling lately with some of my relationships. In someways I have been feeling I am taking more than I'm giving and the prayer of St. Francis, a prayer I used to recite so often as a child, was all I needed to break free from these feelings of selfishness and pride. It was a slap in the face reminder of where I have come from and a source of direction for the future. The visit to the basilica was early on in the trip and this prayer stayed in my mind in an almost constant recitation.

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

Yes, this is what I needed. I needed to ask why should I want when I can give, why should I worry when I can love.

It was an odd spoil of war. The prayer was there deep in the caverns of Carlsbad, it was with me admits the white dunes, it was with me on the lava fields. At Chaco I looked out at the ruins and could only think about how much we need peace as everything crumbles, we need hope, we need faith. A slight moment of personal growth but strong enough to give momentum. Momentum that I need to keep right now.

The summer campaign is not over. StageCoach NOLA is moving into "Rolling Thunder". It is still early season here at the river, we have less than 15 people here. Over the next few weeks we are going to get in about 30 more and this year many of them will be new. I'm being trained on the Olympic course from the 1996 Atlanta games and will probably begin training to be a trip leader. To meet these challenges I need the momentum.


If you want to see more photos of the trip check out Jamey's Blog and this album


Outdoor recreation and social media are in a developing relationship. We have access to devices capable of updating our social profiles giving us the ability to share our adventure live. This new power in our hands in combination with the growing selfie phenomena has created a new persona: "The Gnarcissist."

I'm sure you have at least one social media friend who falls into this category. They are always out doing something in the outdoors and they always have nice photos. Those photos though, more often then not, have only them as the subject in the outdoors and not the outdoors itself. No, these aren't Ansel Adams landscapes being posted, these are photos in ski googles with a selfie stick and a caption like "The gnar doesn't shred itself bro! Huckin this!"

Love them or hate them, you at least enjoy the idea of people doing outdoor recreation, its inspiring, but those selfies... why?! and why isn't that me!? and hey, could you move over a bit so I can see that mountain in the background? It is fun to follow these guys because they are really crushing it and there are generally great photos to tell the story. It is also a bit frustrating when the subject matter has changed from the great outdoors to the great outdoorsman. #mylifeisbetterthanyourvacation is a long hash tag, a little pretentious and is starting to drift away from outdoor attitudes but hey that's a sweet shot! Bro?! do you even!?

We need to find a balance or we are going to end up a silly flower.

Oh, Shucks, Im that guy for some people....


Sunday, April 26, 2015

So, What the Hell is Stagecoach NOLA?!?

The age of the stagecoach is gone. No longer do our illustrious citizens or southern debutants look for safe passage to the American West via a four horse luxurious carriage. Today's methods are a bit different, with more horsepower and possibly greater luxury. At this point of transition is where Endeavor comes in, but sadly we are not as illustrious as our historical counterparts.

Our stagecoach is my Jeep, Endeavor. James Shaw and myself are on our own personal journey via this modern stagecoach and we want to share our adventure.

(-photo courtesy of James Shaw)

Stagecoach NOLA is a photographic odyssey across the enchanted land; New Mexico.

One of my favorite states, New Mexico exhibits a great degree of diversity. The state has a prominent position in the history of the United States as one of the oldest colonized and inhabited places. In contrast New Mexico, in its natural environments, ranges from desert plateaus, juniper highlands, white sands, deep canyons, stunning caverns and mountain peaks up to 13,000ft. New Mexico, the land of enchantment, also is a cultural destination being the home of many Native American tribal lands and cultures. This is the experience we are after.

Stagecoach NOLA is an attempt to view and document these things and show you a glimpse of what New Mexico has to offer.

We have been on the road for six days now and will be out until the last day of the month. If you haven't ever followed a live adventure before this is your chance! Please follow us on Instagram and Facebook with the hashtag #StagecoachNOLA and if you are really adventurous follow my SnapChat @Rockintrees.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow


You may have noticed a lack of regular updates on my outdoor life. This is not because of laziness. Since I returned from Utah and Colorado in mid February, I found myself in a few different projects and working again full time. As I write this though, I am in the mountains of New Mexico in a coffee shop fully, fun-employed.

In Utah I learned something new about myself. In the desolate quiet canyons I was alone and deep in my mind. My experience at Crestone, and what I had come to understand about the classic "yin/yang" concept, began to accent my time in the canyons.

I sat on top of a yellow graben overlooking the Maze and Needles of Canyonlands. I could see the Henry mountains and the La Sal. In meditation, I asked the question I had been pondering for weeks, "Why is the flower perfect?" It was evening twilight and the silence was not lifted by even a slight wind. Opening my eyes again I changed the question "Why is the Mountain perfect?" and it became clear what the answer was. The mountain is perfect because it simply is the mountain, it does not have to try to be, it is. The power of the answer was another step to finding deeper enlightenment. It was an experience I seek in the wilderness but rarely find.

What I came to understand in Canyonlands revived my zeal and spirit. With a very positive advancement in my understanding of myself I was ready to return home for the Mardi Gras season in New Orleans.

Mardi Gras was enjoyable as always but immediately after I began work on a new painting. I had been dreaming about this piece for months now. In September last year, I paddled my canoe around the shoreline of Parksville Lake on the Ocoee river in TN. It was a suffer fest for 36 hours as I pushed out over 40 miles of canoeing. I was inspired to paint a paddling influenced contemporary composition.

Upon finishing the work I promptly started trying to find a place to hold a one night gallery show of my paintings. It ended up taking a month to get it all together and set up. About two weeks ago I had the show.

MY two months back in New Orleans were productive on my musical endeavors also. I have been lucky enough to start playing Clarinet with some guys on a weekly jam night and my piano playing has seen some good growth in my melodic structure. So, sorry about lack of posts, I've been working.


During my free time from working on being an artist I was also planning the trip im on right now. My friend and professional photographer, James Shaw, (who has worked with me before on this publication) was interested in a spring trip to New Mexico. I Was recruited to plan it, and provide my traveling expertise. Our plan has been simple: Emersion. My trip plan was to go from desert to mountain and keep going back and forth, all while enjoying to culture of New Mexico.

We started in Santa Fe touring the city and visiting the art galleries and museums. and now we are in the Jemez Mountains outside of Jemez Pueblo. Later today we are to head to the Bisti Badlands and back down into the desert. James is getting excited about heading to Albuquerque over the weekend as there will be one of the largest gatherings of Native American tribes in the world. Look for James' pictures from this trip. (he is way better than me)


I am planning for tomorrow and, honestly, that is also part of my lack of posts. This is my first real public announcement of this news and its very exciting. Many of my fellow guides on Ocoee river with the Nantahala Outdoor Center have been lucky enough to obtain a private permit down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. The expedition leader for this full river trip of 25 days invited me along. It will be my first expedition style trip. 8 oar rig rafts 16 people, no outside support 25+days on the water 250+ miles of river. We depart in November. Stoked is an understatement.

While 2014 turned out to be the year of the river for me, 2015 is shaping up to turn me into a desert rat.So, yeah, I'm alive and well, and I know this was a fairly informal post but I hope you at least enjoyed the news and pictures. Look for more updates on the New Mexico tour Stage Coach NOLA!


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Cool Story Bro

Have you ever tried to tell a travel story to someone who rarely travels? Odds are you met some difficulties in your delivery. There you are putting all of your energy into the tale. Hopeful your experience might be shared with some family member, friend, or stranger. But it's not a shared moment at all. They smile, nod, and give a comment with little substance; then the engagement is over. After such a limited response you might feel like the experience you were trying to convey wasn't as important as you initially thought. Calm down.

Even the people closest to you often fail to grasp how formative some experiences have been. You can tell them all the details, qualitative and quantitative, and still miss the mark. How can you expect someone to relate to a story set in a place they have never seen and filled with characters they never met. You have to keep the point simple and easy or else they are lost.

Occasionally you might meet someone who has been to the setting of your story. Awesome, they can relate! But most of the time they don't. As you explain your moment of enlightenment or despair there might be only one line of thought on their mind: "Why am I not there now? Why wasn't that me? My time there was better." Again, you still get the same smiles, nods and unsubstantial comments.

One very common reason for this phenomena though is simply because they just don't care. People who don't travel often generally have a reason why they are being tied down. Health, car note, house note, medical bills, overloaded at work, wife, husband, kids... They are overwhelmed and one of the last things they want to hear is how you found yourself under a waterfall in Fiji while they were stuck in a cubicle.

As a traveler you have to accept few people in your life will ever fully understand and appreciate your stories. It's hard because our stories are what make us; they are the fortune we have saved over the years of wandering. You have to look past it and see the real value was in the experience and not the ability to retell it, or have others relate to it. Eventually you might feel it is fine to smile and nod yourself, after there is no grand acknowledgement. Then, finally, you might just quit telling the stories outright, because you know all you are gonna hear is some variation of: "Cool story bro!"

Monday, January 26, 2015


 In the Annapurna region of the Himalaya there are shrines to an ancient mountain god. An archaic anthropomorphic deity, this gods presence predates both Buddhism and Hinduism in the area. It is a bestial god, both physically and in nature. Vengeful and demonic this metaphysical entity demands offerings and sacrifice. The keeper of fates in these high mountains, Mas-ta, is not known for mercy.

Peter Matthiessen, in his classic "The Snow Leopard", witnessed the people of this secluded mountain world paying homage to this pagan deity. At his shrines people place prayer stones, flowers, rams skulls and, commonly, cannabis.

Mas-ta is the fear and apprehension one has when entering the mountains. The projection of the negative emotions felt when confronted with the challenges of the elevated world. For all the joy and peace one can gain from the mountains Mas-ta is the opposing force; the suffering and helplessness.

I arrived at the trail-head for South Colony Lakes and the Crestone Basin late in the afternoon and was forced to wait until morning to begin my trek into the alpine. The sun rose over the Wet Mountains and I was making uphill progress by 8am. The gentle slopes of Marble Mountain and Humboldt Peak form the hall of South Colony Creek that was now mostly frozen over. It is as if you transcend the world as you go into these mountains. Progressing from the desert scrub on the lowlands to the juniper and pinion, lastly, the aspen before the alpine, devoid of trees.

 One person had been snowshoeing here before me and had made some headway compacting the trail. They had only gone two miles though before giving up and turning away. From then on I was breaking the trail, at times through deep snow. It took six hours to get to the treeline and I fell short of my goal of the lakes. Exhausted from the days work, I set up camp for the evening.

Over breakfast, the following morning, I could see a very steep gully that led up into the hanging valley of South Colony Lakes and I decided it would be a good challenge to ascend. It was longer and steeper then anything I had yet climbed, maybe at 500ft and at an angle > 60 degrees. Using my piolet and crampons I front-pointed with the assist of a few self belays to ascend the gully. Halfway through I looked back and hesitated. The anxiety hit; Mas-ta. The runout was safe if I fell and just last week I was practicing my self arrest. Reassuring myself, I began upward progress again.  From the top I was satisfied, the dynamic of positive and negative emotions swells inside. "Welcome back to life on the edge," I thought.

My view opened up and from my height atop the gully I could see upper and lower Colony Lakes, both frozen over. Luckily, I could also see where the trail was indicated giving me a safer route down back to camp. The basin is commanded by the presence of Crestone Needle between the two lakes. Crestone Needle, Crestone ridge and Broken Hand Peak have walls so steep little snow clings to their sides. In contrast Humboldt to the north, with its gentle slopes, is mostly wind blown and without snow. In summer this basin must seem like a paradise with the cool waters of the lakes and blooming alpine flowers; but there is an elegance and uniformity to winter. It is the flatness, the somber tones.


During my lunch break the wind picked up and I decided to head back for camp. I had climbed up the slopes of Humboldt to an elevation of 13,000ft when I began to descend.  Just below me was a long, icy snow field of a generous angle and I thought it would be a good spot to glissade. In an instant I had slid down 300ft. It was exhilrating until I lost control of the glisade and had to preform a self-arrest.

Steaidly, the wind picked up and when I got back to camp I was unable to prime my stove for dinner. I had the option of digging a snow trench to block the wind but snow was being kicked up now. It felt like being in a sand storm. The sky patchy and clear, then white out conditions for moments.

By twilight it was clear that the wind was not a short phenomena, it was the voice of Mas-ta. Tiny ledges on the mountain faces that held snow released their loads onto the valley below. Hundreds of wind caused miniature avalanches, a snow twister erupted briefly.

Throughout the night my tent buckled and caved in the heavy wind. I slept little. To pass the time and to keep my mind off my growing concern and feelings of helplessness I cleaned up my living space. Organizing my clothes and gear into my backpack, I prepared for the worst case of a major failure to my tent. I built a plan to escape to a nearby grove of trees if needed.

My mind needed to stay occupied and in this state I recalled something. In the history of Buddhism there are many stories of a teacher entering a town and dispelling the old demons. Mostly these stories can be interpreted as how Buddhism began to replace the old cults and sects of eastern peoples. Mas-ta was one of these usurped demons. My growing concern pushed me mentally to reach out and, then, verbally speak out, "Om! Om Mani Padme Hum!". The ancient chant that has been echoed for centuries to center and evoke peace.

Mas-ta continued to assail me. I continued my rites. A moment of serenity arose. No longer was I afraid of the wind, no longer was there anxiety but only peace with the wind. This is the way of the mountain! To every day there is a night and to every meeting there is a parting. This is just another embrace of the mountain. An expression of her glory.

The morning brought with it a new placidity to complement my new understanding. Now the air passed gently. After my pack had been reassembled and my gear all stowed away I began the long trek back. As I descended through the changing woodland I paused for a moment to reflect on how calm it had become. A light breeze blew and broke a tuft of snow from the branch of a pine. In the sunlight a thousand rainbows glittered and I heard a voice on the wind. Mas-ta?

It said, I salute you, "Namas-te."