Thursday, June 27, 2013

Week Three: Veni, Vidi, Vici.

What is a "good fight"? It is a tricky statement to analyze.

Approaching "good" from a moral perspective we could say it is for some ethereal higher cause. It might be for honor or some kind of "justice". A fight for your beliefs or a way of life perhaps. An entirely different picture of the "good fight" is presented if you look at "good", though, from the usage of something that is favorable. That good fight might be a hard day in the gym, or turning out that extra mile after you already ran the 10k. A good fight might be that day you can't get psyched enough to get on your bike and commute to work. No deeper metaphysical philosophy here, just you verses Newton's first law.

There is a problem that can arise here though. The problem is when you start looking for these "good fights" because somewhere along the line you overcame that "laziness". Finally after months of trying, you got into that habit of waking up at 5:30 am to do your morning run. Actually, you have managed to keep that schedule for quite some time, but you miss something. That masochistic endurance athlete deep inside you wants to fight something, things can't always flow correct. That something is yourself, somewhere you still want to be lazy, just so you can fight being lazy.

Of course you can't get lazy, that isn't the solution. In my experience, at this point all you can do is accept that even though your "good" there are tons of people out there that make you still look lazy (like those crazy fools who ride their bike to a marathon) You don't relish your accomplishments too long, you just shoot for something higher. One day you might slow down and take a break, only to realize just how high you have climbed.

 Day 14 - 6/17/13: A Meeting With "The Don"

My time of convalescence due to over consumption of alcohol gave me some time to reflect a bit at the "ant camp". I realized that I really wanted to paddle my canoe but the only place I knew of that had paddling near was on the other side of the mountains in Angel Fire. The idea of crossing two mountain passes (one there and one back) just to paddle for a few days was not going to be worth it.

Feeling refreshed I decided to pack up from "ant camp" and head to a near by trail head to climb a small mountain. At my last hotel stay in Taos, I roomed at the "Don Fernando Hotel". I even noticed a street with the name. The small mountain: Don Fernando Peak. At just a bit over 10,000' and still under the tree line, it can be seen from Taos and overlooks it.

The hike was nice with great views all around but I got pummeled by one of the Don's thugs. Taking one of the lesser hills on the ridge line I didn't quite feel up to tackling this little peak. I pushed on and a second thug got me. Apparently my meeting with The Don was getting me into trouble. I was going to be climbing in Italianios Canyon and I wanted the blessings of The Don.

Deep down inside, though, in my tiny little world of dissatisfaction, all I could think about was going canoeing. I decided to leave The Don and his group of thugs to find a place to canoe, and did I find a place to canoe...

I remembered noticing on the map something about a "Rio Grande Canoe and Kayak Race Course" on the Rio just outside of Taos. I made for that section on the map and saw there was a nearby campground. It turned out that the canyon created by the Rio Grande was recently set aside as Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument. It is the most recent addition to public lands having been set aside this past March when President Obama used the power of the Antiquities Act. That being the case the campgrounds were fantastic and the river was mostly calm. The park road ran along it for 6.5 miles and had numerous put in points. Suddenly, I knew I could self shuttle this river and I knew what I was doing tomorrow but there was still time to have fun today:

There was some great mountain biking in the park also. You could ascend one route to the canyon rim or follow the Rio Pueblo through its canyon. After a decent bike ride around I decided it might be nice to set out on a little hike.

My short hike led me to some great views of the canyon and then a really special spot came around: 

Petroglyphs. Sweet. Now only to transcend some meaning....

Overall it was a great day and one that needed to be celebrated. I called upon the power that was granted to me by a fellow journeyman. 

... The Screw-nicorn.

Day 15 - 6/18/13: A Grande Day.

I woke up early to do the "self shuttle" and actually had everything ready to go by 9am. On the steps down to the boat launch, while carrying my canoe, I had a really "quaint" meeting with one of the desert residents: 

Oh hey Ms.Cholla!


I fell into it and had a great half hour of removing cacti needles from my arm. Some were about a 1/4inch deep and left a little bruising. (I actually pulled one out the other day over a week later) Getting my act together I check out the signage on the river front and get a bit giddy and the prospect of what it implies:

Class II eh? this is gona be a step up from the Buffalo! 

Once on the water everything felt right. The weather was perfect and the scenery! There is something very unique about viewing a great canyon from its river. It's not like the trails that follow the rivers. It is much more intimate. 

The class II rapids that I encountered were overcome very nicely by my canoe. I only had one issue on the worst of all the rapids. The wind had picked up going up river. It was so strong that on flat sections it was creating white caps going up river. I had emptied my canoe of gear and hiked down stream a bit to drop it all off. This way I could run the rapid dry and not risk destroying my gear if I swamp the canoe. As my bow comes over the small one foot "waterfall" a gust of wind blows my bow far to port and I come over the falls parallel to it and perpendicular to the flow of water. I do not know how I managed to salvage it and not swamp the canoe. I was fairly shaken by the incident but soon I was laughing at the whole escapade. 

I got back to camp by 1 pm and relaxed in the hammock by getting into an excerpt of Edward Abbey's "Down the River". Appropriate reading I would say.

Day 16 - 6/19/13
I really enjoyed my evening yesterday of reading in the hammock and I decided to take a day of leisure. Waking up very late I made a huge pancake breakfast that was consumed at the great breakfast hour of noon. I followed my breakfast feast with a day of reading but, cabin fever and restlessness get to me before the day is done. I decided about 5pm to go mountain bike back up the rim route and watch the sun set. 

OH look the Jeep!

Rio Grande Del Norte from mumblefords on Vimeo.

Day 17 - 6/20/13: Italianios Canyon, Lobo Peak

My morning in the canyon got me thinking about some things I had read recently. I was reading about a National Geographic expedition that went to the Amazon to conduct a census of unknown tribes (how you do that they never explained). On meeting one of these tribes all three weeks of their food supply was consumed instantly and without their knowledge. The tribe, they would later find out, had no concept of "later". There was something slightly beautiful about that perspective.

I got up and went back down to Taos to do some more laundry and get resupplied before heading north to the Taos Ski Valley area. My plan was to camp at the Italianios Canyon camp ground. Driving in I could see some lenticular clouds forming over the moutnians.

Upon getting there I realized that it was only a trail head and not a campground. It was a bit late for any real climbing, past 2pm, but I could just backpack in and find a place. I get together a light pack with only about two nights and three days of supplies and head out. The canyon was one of the most spectacular mountain canyons I have been in.  It was a bit too narrow and often had tons of contrast of light and dark, making it terrible for pictures.

When I made it to a good view I realized that there was no action at all in the sky. It was totally clear.

and thats when I got a crazy idea. I could sleep on the summit of Lobo Peak, the mountain up Italianos! I decided to go the full 8 miles up to the summit and try it. Aside from the 30mph wind the summit was really nice.

The billowing cloud is not a thunderhead. It is the West Fork Fire. (I mistakenly say that its the "colorado springs fire" in the video below)

I decide to bivy in one of the small valleys to block the wind. I decide that it will be best to sleep on the small patches of snow for minimal impact on the alpine environment. As the evening falls it gets cold fast and for the  first time on the trip I get "down with it".

Lobo Peak/Bivy setup from mumblefords on Vimeo.

Day 18 - 6/21/13: The Solstice.

I do think it is a bit funny that on the summer solstice I woke up at 12,115', while sleeping on snow, in 29 degree temps. That is something I did find a bit funny. I got up and packed up camp to head back to the car. I got there at about noon after messing around in the canyon for a bit. It was only a 6 mile drive to the actual Taos Ski Valley from the trail head so I was there instantly. I set up camp at the base of the Bull of the Woods trail head for my shot at Wheeler peak tomorrow. Setting up my tent I realized that somewhere along the lines I ripped my tent fly on my Hubba.

I saw that there was a ski shop/gear shop in the little village . I hoped they would have a patch kit. They did not sadly. I did get some information on a new route up Wheeler peak though. Recently the forest service installed some switchbacks from Williams Lake. That meant that I could do a loop hike over an "out and back" route.

In the village I found the local watering hole and burger joint and got to talking to some of the summer employees. I met Pep-pe who was from Alps in southern France. He was one of the cooks for the St.Bernard hotel and also a super friendly guy. After a few drinks he invited me over to the hotel to see it. I was a bit hesitant at first but I agreed considering I had nothing else to do today. It was a great idea. He showed me the old hotel and brought me through the kitchen, gave me a good beer and then explained to me how soon some music students would be by for practice. Curious about this I looked around and found a baby grand piano. It was game time. I got to play for a good forty minutes much to Pep-pe's delight.

He told me the students were very talented and I got around to meeting a few. Students was a bit of an understatement for these guys. Some went to Juilliard. I found out that they would be putting on a concert tomorrow night at 8 of some Brahms and Debussy. I was not going to miss that after my climb of Wheeler.

Day 19 - 6/22/13: Wheeler Peak

I didn't quite make my alpine start for Wheeler. I got on the trail for 6:30am. I encountered tons of people on the trail and tons of these guys:

Colorado blue columbines. Your in the wrong state guys!

It was actually a really gentle route up to the alpine. Steady uphill but not nearly as bad as some of the stuff I have been hitting. Once in the alpine it was almost like being in a huge meadow, at 11,000' though...

OH, hey there is the ski valley!


Once on the west side of the mountain and up on the ridge the wind started kicking. Getting up to 30mph again and keeping the wind chill just at freezing.

The last big hill before the main ridge was one giant switch back system that seemed to have about 15 hikers on it. Talk about a crowded mountain!

The summit was easy to reach actually, no technical climbing or scrambles, just a gentle hike. A bit disappointing for the highest mountain in New Mexico.

Woo! Summit Party! Who brought the beer? The dog?

I was happy to see so many people up there actually. I enjoy talking to them. Its strange how on the summit of a mountain you have a small collection of America. People from the mid west, north, pacific NW, Atlantic coast, who could have thought that a mountain top could be so cosmopolitan. The population seems inherently transient though.

Coming down the Williams lake route was a great choice. It offered some great views of the peaks.

The best part about this route though was the ending. The trail let out right in the Ski Village at the main ski lift and right next to an outdoor bar and grill with free live music.

I enjoyed the latin funk band they had very much and was looking forward to my night of chamber music. At about 730 I went over to the St. Bernard and found Pep-pe who had prepared for the guests roasted duck for the event. Being I was not at the dinner I was not included in this feast but Pep-pe, being the good guy he is, "hooked a brotha' up". Waiting in the bar for the music to start I met a young man who was a horsepacking guide in the valley. He was decked out, cowboy hat, spurs, the whole 9 yards. The guy was actually a pretty decent mountaineer and we talked about climbing prior to the show. It was a bit funny we went from talking about mountains to talking about the Romantic period. The music was great although the Debussy went places I would have rather it had not.

Day 20 - 6/23/13: To the Rado'

The day hath come, when I can finally get to Colorado. I sleep in a bit knowing that I am only going 100 miles north to Great Sand Dunes National Park. It looked like they had bathrooms and showers so I was willing to pay the fees of the National Park.

I could see this moutnain range all the way from Taos when the smoke was clear. It had to be Blanca peak and the closer I got to it, the bigger it looked. I'm gonna climb that this week, I was thinking in a bit of fear.

Once at the dunes I found out they did not have showers, or internet. I paid for a site in the main campground only to find a backpacking site just a half a mile down a trail from the campground. I asked the ranger if I could transfer my payment to a back country site to get some seclusion from this bustling campground. Thats when I found out backcountry permits were free. I guess I have happily donated 20$ to GSDNP. (it was a self pay station = no refunds)

my campsite ended up being in a burnt out pinyon forest. As a storm started to roll in it became a very creepy place.

It never rained though and the sunset provided some nice shadow play.

An ominous omen for next week? hopefully not!
* * *
Veni, Vidi, Vici? maybe I like the words of the Hero Peter Venkman better,"We came, We saw, We kicked its ass!"


Friday, June 21, 2013

Week Two: Army of One.

Outdoorsmanship and warfare are quite possibly two of the oldest and most intertwined activities of mankind. There is clear evidence that these activities were being practiced by Hominids before Homo Sapiens-sapiens were even a species. The main difference is that the arts of warfare get to the nasty business of really pissing someone off and maybe loosing your own skin; where-as the nasty side of outdorsmanship involves really pissing some creature off for your dinner or meeting some unfortunate, untimely end.  Consider the parallels if you haven't.  One of the most famous achievements of military history is Hannibal getting his army across the Alps. The great battle at Thermopylae hung on the balance of a geologic feature exploited by the Greeks. Firearms? There are about three real uses for firearms, Military, Sport (target shooting), and Hunting (outdorsmanship). Being a good marksman in the back county is good because you get dinner, being a good marksman at war means you might keep truckin' a bit longer. The training and preparation for being a good solider and being a good outdoorsman are strikingly similar. Endurance in a number of situations, capable of dealing with prolonged stress and lack of comforts, proficiency in a number of tactical skills, maybe rappelling, climbing, or being able to silently paddle a small watercraft. Hell, they even use the term "military expedition". But to dispel any other doubts you might have: Lewis and Clark. The United States basically created a new branch of the military, "The Corps of Discovery" so it could happen and almost everyone in the crew was military. The only thing in american history that surpasses the achievement of their expedition is what has been accomplished in the past 60 years by NASA, once an attachment to the military and still strongly associated. Is the horse dead yet?

Day 7 - 6/10/13

The battle at Stillwater enters its second day. I hoped to get the Jeep into the Firestone at 7am but once I got there the employee that was to do my work wasn't and apparently wasn't going to be there at all. They suggested another shop, one that had also been suggested by the Jeep guys I talked to the other day. They were open by 7:30am and took my Jeep in. By 10:30 they called with the damage. Poor ignition caused by a bad spark plug. I had them change everything, Distributor cap, wires, and plugs. I even asked to put in a new air filter. While they did the work I visited the local gear shop: Stillwater Summit Co.

By 3:30pm the Jeep was done and running just fine.  I picked her up test drove around the town, picked up my remaining gear from the hotel and decided to head out to Texas. I can not begin to explain how bad the cross winds were. I had to pull over and do double tie downs for the bow and stern of the canoe.

I ended up driving into the night and didn't even realize that the site I selected was in a National Monument.

The battle at Stillwater had come to an end, with much relief,  but I was not quite sure if there was a clear Victor, seemed a bit of a stalemate.

Day 8 - 6/11/13

Today began a series of events: "The Seige of Jicarita"

The morning went by rapidly as I made haste to get out to New Mexico. The drive took a bit longer than I had wanted but I made it to my first mountain destination, the Pecos Wilderness, by 3pm. There was one problem though: the wilderness was on fire.

Morale was already low following Stillwater and now to be confronted with a fire at my first mountain did not help. At the trailhead I found the official notice. The enemy's terms were simple. I could still climb the mountain but I would run the risk of six months imprisonment or 10,000$. Logistically and logically, I could not commit to these terms. I would not take this as a defeat, I had simply been routed. The mountains could be accessed just 25 miles north in Carson National Forest and I could move south. I made it to the Angostura trail head and set out on a recon mission with my mountain bike to find a suitable campsite.

The recon mission was a success and I found a site just about a mile and a half up the trail. I got my backpacking gear together and set out for camp. My overall mission here started to come together on the hike to camp: Take the time to explore the trails in the forest  trying to find a mountain peak and make notes. I did not have a map but I could tell there was a complex trail network. The campsite I choose was right before the first fork in the trail.
The enemy was not done with me today yet. I thought my site was very nicely situated next to a small stream with nice grassy banks. At about 7:00pm an onslaught of rocky mountain mosquitoes attacked from said grassy banks.

I didn't care much though, I'm from New Orleans I can take some skeeters', I was just happy to be in the Mountains.

Day 9 - 6/12/13: Enter the Labyrinth.

My mission, to explore the trails and take a mountain, needed a few days and I had only brought two days of food with me. I had also forgot to tell anyone where I was because I wasn't in Pecos, like "I was supposed to be". Leaving base camp where it was, I hiked back to the Jeep with a light pack. There I would take my road bike and ride to set up a communications link. I knew there was a ski lodge about five miles down the highway and that they would have a phone at the very least.

It was an easy downhill five miles to Sipapu Ski Lodge.

This place was quite a stronghold of outdoor culture in the middle of the national forest. They even had an outdoor bar  and grill next to a mountain river. Hells yes.

I gained my communications link, purchased a few supplies and went back up the road to my Jeep. I picked up more food from my cache in the jeep and went back to base camp. At base camp I decided to start the recon mission of exploring the trail network. Not knowing what way to go I took the right trail in the first fork. This led me to immediate uphill and a major boost of morale; finally getting some action!

This was something I was looking for, I wanted to follow any uphill lead. I crossed a few more trail intersections but kept following uphill leads. Eventually I found this:

The sight of a mountain with snow was a great relief in the wake of the past few days. I took a bearing of the mountain with my compass and then started following uphill trails in its general direction.

Four hours passed on the recon mission and I came into a number of other meadows that had views of the mountain, each time closer and closer. Optimistic that this had to be the way, at about 10,100' the trails just started going down hill. Later, I would find out that this was a point called "The Knob" (great, so the first thing I climb is "the knob") I resolved to call the recon mission quits for the day and regroup back at base camp. Feeling well, with enough time and energy I packed up base camp and established a forward base of operation at the first meadow.

Forward base was at 9,000' of elevation and I could tell from the distance I had hiked earlier, and how close I got to it, that the mountain had to be in excess of 12,000'. The only mountain I knew of in this area at that height was Jicarita Peak and I had read there was a trail up it...
...find the trail!

Day 10 - 6/13/13

I had crossed the meadow yesterday by the north side going west but there was a southern trail I had bypassed. It went about SSW and I decided that I would take it once I got outfitted for another day of recon in the labyrinth of angostura. Immediately it went uphill and kept going uphill. I started to encounter a number of meadows that had multiple trails leading into them. Pig trails to secret spots, trails to campsites, and general trail intersections. I had to change tactics from just writing notes on bearings and landmarks in my journal. I started making cairns and these guys:

Coming into a nice meadow at about 10,500', I saw this:

There was quite a pick up in my pace at this point. The recon mission had clear orders to find the mountain and engage the enemy if the opportunity presented itself. It was only 11:30am and I knew the storms didnt start until about 3pm. Right when I started to rationalize the storm threat, there was a building thunderhead over the next meadow.

I continued to push uphill and eventually was certain I was on the right path when I encountered this stream with a high flow. The streams down the mountain were fairly small but this feature was flowing. Only one thing can produce that kind of water volume: Snow.

It wasn't too long after that I found myself exactly where I wanted to be...

 ...but it wasn't when I wanted to be there.

Waiting at the treeline for a half an hour, I watched the storm. Lightning and a rolling thunder that I have only heard in the mountains at altitude. I decided that the recon mission for the route up the mountain had been a success and that I would descend back to forward base at meadow one. I got back to camp and hashed out the details for tomorrow and the assault on the ridge.

Day 11 6/14/13: The Sack of Jicarita.

- 3:00am.
They say an "alpine start" is getting up earlier than your grandfather. This is true. It took some motivation to get my act together at this hour. At 3am the prospect of climbing 3,500' feet of elevation in the next few hours is not exactly exciting. It had taken me 3 1/2 hours to reach the alpine yesterday so I figured I could make it that far just after sunrise for around 6:30am.  I got out of camp at 3:45am, a little later than I wanted, and after a cold breakfast because I didn't want to spend the time prepping my stove.
On the trail by headlamp and flashlight I could see the band of the milky way. In the darkness though I started to spook myself. "Mountain lions! Are they stalking me? I'm alone!?!?!" I started to stop in the middle of meadows and say "ok I'll just wait until sunrise and continue". Keep ur' wits bout' yer'. I kept moving but I did loose a good bit of time in this paranoia of being preyed upon. The assault force continued. I watched the milky way fade and a pale blue take the sky. Suddenly, the entire forest lit up with a faint pink and I knew that I was in the phenomena that is the namesake of these mountains. The Sangre de Cristo mountains are translated as "The Blood of Christ Mountains" because the hue of their exposed rock looks a brilliant pink to red when hit by Alpen Glow. Alpen Glow is the phenomena of sunlight hitting a point of prominence (ie. a mountain) prior to sunrise.

I was still a ways off from the alpine though. At about an hour after sunrise I was in the alpine and does the sun rise fast up there! I took a break at the tree line to recover before the actual attack. I ate , drank water and psyched myself up. Jicaritas fortress walls met me:

Rush into 75 vertical feet of a moraine scramble. The ridge was mine.
Once over the walls a vast boulder field lay before me and gentle slopes

I ascended the hill that seemed to be the highest point on the ridge thinking that it was the summit and a victory had been won with fairly little action. I slowly began to notice the grade of the hill had obscured another point, the actual summit. I had made it into the courtyard of the castle. It was time to take the keep.

I was greeted on my approach by some of the most noble and respected guardians of the mountains.

This hill was huge and gnarly and I wasn't particularly happy about descending about 200 feet from my current hill only to go climb that beast.

A beast she was. Jicricta did not fall easily. Near the final few feet the boulders forced me into a class 3 scramble.

The summit was a soft rounded top with stunning views all around.

I had successfully found my way through the labyrinth to find this mountain fortress. After I had taken the Keep for myself I enjoyed its spoils of war.

It was about 9am and I started to notice a few thunderheads already building in the West. The wilderness had sent  for reinforcements to drive me out. It was a reminder that no matter how hard we fight in this world we are only visitors.

I got back to camp for about noon and there had been a significant amount of thunder on the descent. When I got into camp the sky opened up. It started hailing. Lightly, thankfully. I waited until the storm passed and pack up my gear to get out of the forest. I wanted to go to Sipapu for a good hot lunch and some cold beer after my victory in the siege.

The bar tender mentioned that they had made the decision to close all of Carson National Forest due to fire risk. I was really upset to hear this because Wheeler Peak (highest point in NM) is in Carson. I decided that if the forest was closed the best option was just to head into Taos and get a room and plan.
 The battery on my camera had died on the mountain and when I got back to the jeep to recharge it I received an error with the camera. I searched the issue once I got into Taos and found out that its an issue that can only be fixed if I send it to Cannon for repair.
I stopped in the main office for Carson National Forest at Taos and asked about the closure. The staff looked at me like a fool and said that only Pecos had closed due to fire. I already had got my room for the night so I decided to make the best of it and get a new camera while in town and go see a movie for the evening.
I saw that silly new movie about the Magicians that rob a bank. Eh, it was OK, there was a good third of the movie in New Orleans though and for the first time yet I missed home.

Day 12 - 6/15/13: Post climb recovery. 

By the time I had got out of the theater last night my legs had gone out on me. I really needed to just relax. I slept in as long as I could and ate as much free breakfast from the hotel as possible. I leisurely went about town and did my laundry at the local laundromat, visited the outdoor and cycling shops in town and "made some groceries". In a massive blow to my pride I had found a map of Carson National Forest. It turned out that the main trail from the trail head was the approach trail to the mountain. For all the "exploring" I did I only had to go straight. Some labyrinth...
 I knew the camp site I selected for the night was just outside of town and I could get there instantly. I didn't rush my day. Beer was a necessity and once I got to my site I cracked em and strung up my hammock.

I got a little carried away at camp watching these ants. I don't know if i was just getting drunk or if I was genuinely fascinated.


I thought he was gona make it. One big beetle vs one ant. Nope. The ant tossed him off the picnic bench and into the fray.

Day 13 - 6/16/13: Recovery day 2?

So... I have to recover another day. From drinking. I think the altitude crept on me ; ) but it will make for a good day to edit all these photos and write this.  Back in the war room...

Yes I am drinking a beer.



Handi Cam. Ep.3 "Roughin it" from mumblefords on Vimeo.