Archive for the ‘climbing’ Tag

Adventuring Death Valley: Extremes   16 comments

I’ve posted this one before, but it’s worth a repeat. Telescope Peak and the Panamint Range from Saratoga Springs in south Death Valley.

More than for most parks, appreciating Death Valley begs you to stop and smell the creosote.  Camp out and take a stroll out into the desert as evening is coming on.  Listen to the silence, perhaps broken by a coyote’s howl.  Wake early and experience day-break from the salt flats as Telescope Peak catches the sun’s first light.  Get off the beaten track and take off on foot up a canyon.  Have an adventure!

LAND OF EXTREMES

One of the main reasons I love this place is all the extremes.  The most obvious one, exemplified by the image above, is the extreme of altitude.  On my first trip to Death Valley as a freshman in a college group learning about its natural history, I found out how much I love extremes.  The instructor, who taught my 200-level series geology course, was also very much a biologist, birder and ecologist.  We learned about how the plants and animals are so perfectly adapted to the harsh realities of desert life.  It’s fascinating how everything here seems to work together as an integrated whole that reflects the park’s extreme heat and aridity, along with its extreme terrain and geology.

You have to be exceptionally clever to survive in Death Valley: coyote.

One day, with our teacher pointing out hawks and rock formations as we went, we drove the van up and out of the desert.  The narrow Wildrose Canyon Road leads to the high country of the Panamint Range, ending at the Charcoal Kilns.  These large stone beehives, perfectly preserved in the desert air, are ovens once used for turning trees into fuel to run smelters during the mining era of the late 1800s.  They’re lined up symmetrically in a forest clearing with views of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada (image below).

We hiked from the kilns, heading up to snowy Mahogany Meadows, which lies in a saddle at the crest of the range.  While named for its mountain mahogany, the ancient pinyon pines here are especially impressive.  I remember wondering how we could have, in a few short hours, gone from toasty desert conditions to this other world, a cool, snowy forest.  From the meadows, which are perched at 8133 feet elevation, we peered down into the below-sea-level depths of the valley.  Talk about extremes!  We had a huge snowball fight.

The Charcoal Kilns with snow-capped Mt. Whitney and the Sierras in the distance.

CLIMBING TELESCOPE PEAK

The place impressed me so much I returned with friends a couple years later, again in March.  The three of us were set on climbing Telescope Peak, at 11,043′ the highest point in the park.  It had been a cold, snowy winter, with late storms that left deep powder mantling the high Panamints.   Though just a few inches lay at the Kilns, a couple feet of the white stuff greeted us at Mahogany Meadows, our planned campsite for the night.  And what a cold night it was!

We had an MSR camp stove with us, the kind that was euphemistically called a “blow torch” because there were just two settings:  off and rocket-blast.  It could also accept any kind of fuel, so when we realized we had forgotten to pack extra camping gas we had an idea.  Hiking back down to the car, we backed up onto a curb and tapped a small amount of gas from the carburetor.  Yes I’m old enough to have had a car with a carburetor; and no we didn’t have a hose to siphon from the tank with.

Magnificent old-growth pinyon pine: Mahogany Flats, Death Valley N.P.

After the kind of night where your body burns many calories just keeping warm, we woke just before dawn to find a half-foot of fresh white stuff.  We didn’t know it then, but tapping that unleaded was very smart.  It allowed us to eat a pile of hot oatmeal with raisins that morning, and we’d need all the energy we could get that day.

Telescope Peak is just under 7 miles one-way from Mahogany Meadows, with about 3300 feet of elevation gain.  Without snow it is a difficult but straightforward hike.  Years later when I repeated the ascent in much kinder conditions it was like I was climbing a completely different mountain.

What makes Telescope more difficult than it might seem is the necessity to hike over two large peaks (Rogers and Bennet) before tackling the main ascent.  Up until then I’d never really hiked a distance in deep fresh snow, but struggling that day through hip-deep drifts up steep slopes made a life-long impression (not least that snowshoes were a great invention).  By the time we reached the base of the mountain it was mid-afternoon and we were spent.

Descending into Death Valley.

DEATH VALLEY DATES

It was the dates that saved the day.  With only a PB&J each for lunch, it was lucky that we’d packed Death Valley’s famous dates for trail snacks.  Those dates, which you can buy at Furnace Creek where they’re grown, powered us up the steep, final icy slope to the summit.   A stupendous view, so different than any other in the park, greeted us.  But turning west, where the mountain had blocked our view on the ascent, one glance convinced us that summit time would be ultra-brief.  A compact but dark and angry storm was rapidly approaching from that direction, with lightning bolts shooting out of it at regular intervals.  It was headed straight for us.

We shoved a few more dates into our mouths and prepared for a quick exit.  As I took one last look around, I noticed something strange about my two partners.  We’d all taken our wool hats off to shed heat during the climb, and now their hair was standing straight up, just like in High School science class when you touch that electrified ball.  I heard a faint but very distinct buzzing all around, and growing louder.  It was the first time I’d ever experienced something like that, but it was clear what was taking place.  We were about to see what lightning was like, up close and personal.  That is, if we didn’t get the hell off that mountain but quick!

The two white substances in Death Valley: salt and snow.

The return hike was long and exhausting (those two peaks were again in the way).  We had been going hard since sunup, and the Death Valley dates continued to provide critical energy.  We disagreed on a return route and ended up splitting up.  When Gene and I finally pulled into camp at dusk, Mel was sticking his head out of the tent, puking up dates.

Although on paper Telescope Peak shouldn’t even be in the top 50 hardest climbs I’ve ever done, it sticks out in my mind as one of the toughest, #3 or even #2.  Even after all these years.  We didn’t relish another frigid night at 8100 feet.  So we quickly struck camp and hiked in the dark a few miles more to reach the car.  Then it was down, down, and back to summer.  That warm air felt so good!  Parking at the sand dunes we grabbed sleeping bags and headlamps and stumbled a couple hundred yards into the dunes to crash under a huge night sky.  The stars must have been spectacular that night, but darned if I can remember ever seeing them.

Thanks for reading.  Wishing all a very Merry Christmas!

Evening draws near in the dunes at Mesquite Flat, Death Valley National Park.

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Respecting the Sherpa   19 comments

Stupa and Ama Dablam:  Khumbu, Nepal

Stupa and Ama Dablam: Khumbu, Nepal.  Click on pictures to see and download high-res. versions.

A Chinese climber has apparently climbed Mt. Everest from the Nepal side, the first to do it since a tragic avalanche last month killed 16 climbing Sherpas.  The avalanche occurred on the notorious Khumbu Icefall portion of the main route on Everest.  After the accident, Sherpas all agreed to go home and grieve for their fallen comrades instead of continuing to work.  All the companies guiding climbers withdrew out of respect for the Sherpas’ decision.  The Chinese woman used Sherpas contracted privately.

She also reportedly used a helicopter to leapfrog the Icefall.  She maintains that only her cook and other staff were flown to Camp II.  If she is lying about that then she breached climbing etiquette big time.  Most climbers would not consider her summit of Everest genuine.  It just would not count.  But that is a minor quibble compared to the main question.  Should she have climbed at all, at least from the Nepal side?  What do you think?

The highest mountain in the world, Sagarmatha.

The highest mountain in the world, Sagarmatha.  The west face is so steep that little snow and ice can stick to it.

Two young Sherpa friends haul equipment on the trail to Namche Bazaar in Nepal.

Two young Sherpa friends haul equipment on the trail to Namche Bazaar in Nepal.

When you trek through the Khumbu region near Everest, as I did in 2010, you have the time to absorb and appreciate Sherpa culture.  Or you do if you’re paying attention.  It helps if you choose to diverge from the main trekking routes, on trails like that running along the east side of Gokyo Valley to Khumjung for example.  The pictures below are from that area.  The little boy lives on that farm with the blue roof and stone fences.  You see more wildlife on trails like this as well (see photo of the tahr below).

The spectacular Khumbu Himal.

The spectacular Khumbu Himal.

A lone farmstead in the Khumbu region of Nepal's HImalayan Mountains lies in spectacularly rugged country.

A lone farmstead in the Khumbu region of Nepal’s HImalayas lies in spectacularly rugged country.

Drying chilies on a windowsill in a Sherpa home.

Drying chilies on a windowsill in a Sherpa home.

For me this little Sherpa boy makes me think of the tragedy that killed 16 Sherpas last month on Everest.  He is in the doorway waiting for his father to return.

This little Sherpa boy makes me think of the tragedy that killed 16 Sherpas last month on Everest. He is in the doorway waiting for his father to return.

Khumbu has elements of the past, before Everest became a commodity.  Sherpas are an extremely proud yet humble people.  In fact, the two opposite qualities coexist more gracefully in Sherpas than in any people I’ve come across in my travels.  But Sherpas in the Khumbu are in the midst of change.  Many are making real money while most Nepalis, especially in rural mountainous areas, continue to struggle.  There’s a reason many of the abused workers in Dubai are from Nepal.

This increased wealth has effects both good and bad.  Children are receiving better educations than children ever have in that region.  The negative effects are more subtle.  They mark the slow change (destruction?) of a culture into something more like the developed world.  Homogenization continues across the world, and the Khumbu is one place where some of its earlier stages are very obvious.  I pray that it at least remains roadless.

A trekking Sherpa leads his charge down to Gokyo from Renjo La in Khumbu, Nepal.

A trekking Sherpa and his charge head down to Gokyo Lake from Renjo La in Khumbu, Nepal.  He is on the cell phone making sure there is room in a tea house.

At base camp for Island Peak, night before summit day.  Sherpas hauled these tents.

At base camp for Island Peak the night before summit day. Sherpas hauled these tents.

A woman in the Himalaya of Nepal is proud of her vegetable garden, and her grandson.

A woman in the Himalaya of Nepal is proud of her vegetable garden, and her grandson.

While I try my best not to judge the actions of others (the Chinese climber gets to make her own decisions), I believe the decision by the Sherpas at base camp on Everest was the right one.  I think every climber true to the sport should respect that decision.  Either that or climb fast and light without Sherpa support.  While there are plenty of people in the world at a fitness level sufficient to summit Everest, very very few have the ability to do it unsupported by Sherpas.

She did not respect the decision of the climbing Sherpas.  She took the easy way out.  Climbing Sherpas make good money (for Nepal).  It is a competitive job, and there are always plenty of trekking Sherpas who await their chance to get in on the action.  I don’t blame those that hired on with the Chinese woman.  They don’t make the kind of money that climbing Sherpas do.  Most climbing Sherpas can easily afford a season off.  They are working of course, trekking the lower trails instead of climbing.

Taboche and prayer flags, Khumbu region, Nepal.

Taboche and prayer flags, Khumbu region, Nepal.

A mountain is slowly revealed through the clouds in the Khumbu region of Nepal.

A mountain is slowly revealed through the clouds in the Khumbu region of Nepal.

The ubiquitous yak.

The ubiquitous yak of the Himalayas.

It’s true that the Chinese climber may have hired Sherpas who disagreed with the majority decision to pull off the mountain.  But I suspect she hired Sherpas who don’t routinely climb on Everest. It would have been a simple thing for her to hire perhaps one climbing Sherpa plus a small team of strong trekking Sherpas, eager for their chance at the “big bucks”.  Was that disrespectful to those mourning for the fallen?  I know what I believe, but I would like to hear your opinions.

Thanks for reading and commenting.  If interested in any of these images, just click on them.  Then click “Download Options” for pricing.  If you want to work a deal or have any other questions, please contact me.  Thanks for your interest!

Two Himalayan Tahr descend from the high country in the Khumbu of Nepal.

The setting sun's alpenglow hits the spectacular western face of Nup Tse in Nepal.  Everest is just left out of frame.

Setting sunlight hits the spectacular western face of Nup Tse in Nepal. Everest is just left out of frame.

To the Summit of Mount St. Helens!   6 comments

The view of Mount St. Helens' lava dome from the summit along the south rim of the crater.

The view of Mount St. Helens’ lava dome from the summit along the south rim of the crater.

Last week a friend and I climbed Mount St. Helens, the famous volcano in Washington state.  I have up to this point only skied it, hiking up on my skis and then doing the moderate and fun descent.  I would have done it this way again, but with my ribs still healing, I didn’t want to take the chance of a re-injury.  So I just hiked it while my friend hiked up carrying his AT skis.  His wife came along, but she was only into a hike, so didn’t summit with us.

Mount St. Helens' steep crater wall is dangerous to stand at the edge of when you climb it, so stay back from that edge!

Mount St. Helens’ steep crater wall is dangerous to stand at the edge of when you climb it, so stay back from that edge!

It was a gorgeous day, perfect really.  The temperatures were not too cool and not too warm.  And so we didn’t sweat gallons, nor did the snow soften up too much for great skiing.  If it were any cooler though, crampons would have been required.  As it was we only hit one icy patch, which was easily handled by kicking steps.  I did have my ice axe, and that helped near the top.

Crater View II

Mount Rainier pokes above the clouds, as viewed from the summit of Mount St. Helens.

My friend had a great run down while I glissaded.  It has been awhile since I’ve done any glissading, (sliding down a snowfield to descend a mountain).  It is normally done on your butt, but it can also be accomplished on your feet, on your belly (penguin style!) or use your imagination.  A pair of slick rain pants will allow you to glissade shallower (and safer) slopes.  I alternated between a butt and foot glissade.

Mount St. Helens looms above my friend as he shoulders the skis after his descent.

Mount St. Helens looms above my friend as he shoulders the skis after his descent.

Glissade safety tips:  When glissading, it’s important to see where you are going and stay off the really steep stuff.  You want a “runout”, where the grade flattens a bit and you can slow to a stop.  If things get steep, and yet you still feel safe with a glissade, you must have an ice axe and slide on your butt, braking all the way with the axe.  You also need to be comfortable doing a self-arrest in case things get out of hand.  Safety first of course, but when you feel the need for speed and you have a good runout below you, let ‘er go!

The Big Boy, Mount Rainier, from Mount St. Helens.

The Big Boy, Mount Rainier, from Mount St. Helens.

After the climb I headed home to Portland the back way.  In other words, instead of returning west to I5 then south (boring!), I drove east on Forest Road 90, continuing as it turns into Curly Creek Road.  I slept overnight in my van along the upper Lewis River and did a couple short hikes next day in the beautiful forest here.   It was good to stretch my legs, which were sore from the climb.  Then I continued, turning right on the Wind River Road all the way into Carson.  I did stop again to do a hike along the beautiful Falls Creek Falls (see next post for that).  Then I simply traveled Hwy. 14 from Carson west to Vancouver and across the river to Portland.

Skiing Mount St. Helens.

Skiing Mount St. Helens.

Note that to climb Mount St. Helens you need to visit the MSHI website for instructions on the permitting process.  During summer a limited-entry permitting system is in place.  But I’ve always done it in Spring, where you can buy the $22 permit online, pick it up in Cougar on the way to the trailhead, and have at the mountain when it still has significant snow.  Believe me it is easier to climb it in snow, because of the loose pumice (2 steps up – 1 step down) nature of the surface in summertime.

The glissading track formed in the snow from climbers descending Mount St. Helens.  Mount Hood is visible in the distance.

The glissading track formed in the snow from climbers descending Mount St. Helens. Mount Hood is visible in the distance.

I Love Mountains II   13 comments

Everest (center) stands tall betwen its equally enormous neighbors.

Everest (center) stands tall betwen its equally enormous neighbors.

This is the second of two parts on mountains, inspired by the theme post on Where’s my Backpack.  I have a ton of mountain images, and quite a few stories as well.  So I split the theme into two posts.  Check the first one out too.

I fell in love with mountains when I was young and we started to go camping in the Appalachians of Virginia.  Like many kids I loved climbing around on rocks.  I still remember a favorite rock in the park near where I grew up.  I called it the Big Rock (I know, original).  We played for hours in the woods around that rock, using it as a sort of base.  Not many years ago, I returned to that place and walked through the park.  It was strange revisiting all of my childhood haunts.

Mount Rainier in Washington is mantled with lovely subalpine meadows.

Mount Rainier in Washington is mantled with lovely subalpine meadows.

On my first trip west, at the age of 12, we visited my uncle in Colorado (he was stationed at Colorado Springs in the Air Force).  As we approached the Front Range, in a bus on the plains of eastern Colorado, I remember my first view of truly big mountains.  I thought they were clouds.  Then when I realized what they were I was just floored.  I was hooked.  Right then I knew most of my life would be spent around big mountains.

The evening light is beautiful at base camp on the evening before climbing Island Peak in the Everest region of Nepal.

The evening light is beautiful at base camp on the evening before climbing Island Peak in the Everest region of Nepal.

Right after I got my license some friends all piled in my Pontiac and we went camping in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.  It was freezing cold, and we climbed up through the woods in an out-of-the-way part of the park.  We camped up on a ridge, and I had to stay up and keep the fire going to avoid freezing to death.  Our gear was pretty sad.  Next day we found the trail and climbed up a mountain called Old Rag.  Those familiar with Shenandoah probably know of this peak.  We did it from the opposite side, away from Skyline Drive.  It was really my first climb.  It was the first time where the entire goal of the trip was to stand upon the summit of a mountain; the first of many to come.

Mount Hood, near home in Oregon, is decked out in winter white.

Mount Hood, near home in Oregon, is decked out in winter white.

I learned on that trip that you really have to WANT to make the summit in order to be successful.  That drive for the summit has stayed with me all my life.  In younger years that drive almost cost me my life on several occasions.  It is good that the Lord looks after the young and foolish to some extent.  I’m smart enough to know I’ve used up my second chances, and I’m much more likely to turn around in unsuitable conditions now.

Glaciated mountains like the Himalaya have turquoise jewels for lakes, because of the fine rock flour that glacial erosion produces.

Glaciated mountains like the Himalaya have turquoise jewels for lakes, because of the fine rock flour that glacial erosion produces.

The environment around mountains is special.  The plants, trees, wild animals, all of it really, is perfectly suited to living in a harsh climate.  All climbers and hikers should feel humble in the presence of these beings who are much more at home here than humans could ever be.

A glacial tarn reflects the high Rocky Mountains in Wyoming.

A moose lives in the spectacular shadow of the Grand Teton in Wyoming.

Two Himalayan tahr descend the Himalayas of Nepal

Descending on snow is always so much fun.  One time coming off of Oregon’s South Sister, we foot-glissaded (sliding upright on your feet) down a steep slope.  One after the other, the four of us slid down.  I was last and after each guy went down, he disappeared from view and after 5 or 10 seconds I heard a distant shout/scream.  I didn’t see any choice but to follow, and we all ended up crashing together in a heap at the bottom, laughing our butts off.

Another time in Alaska a friend and I got caught in a “wet slide”, which is a relatively slow-moving avalanche that happens when the snow is soft and the weather warm.  We were in a chute, and at first it was fun, like being on a big conveyor belt.  But then it sped up and we saw that we would end up going over a huge cliff if we didn’t get out.  We both were able to grab hold of little bushes on the edge of the chute and drag ourselves out of the slide.  We got separated doing so, and it was an hour or so later that I found my friend.  We were both afraid the other hadn’t made it.

A mountain covered in winter snow is just begging to be skied.

Mountains come in all shapes and sizes, from huge pieces of the seafloor that have been uplifted miles into the sky (as in the Himalaya) to tropical Karst mountains (above) to volcanoes whether snow-covered or steaming.  Some mountains are old and eroded while others are young, jagged, and still rising.

Crater lake in Oregon was formed 7000 years ago when the volcano in Oregon erupted and collapsed back into its magma chamber, forming a caldera that later filled with snowmelt.

Rinjani Crater Lake

Rinjani volcano on the island of Lombok, Indonesia, has a crater lake formed in a similar way to Oregon’s Crater Lake. The water, however, comes from tropical rainfall not snowmelt.

This rugged mountain Nepal is young and still rising.

Karst mountains are unique in their shape. This region of Thailand is covered in limestone karst terrain like this.

Yosemite Valley’s Half Dome is an enormous mass of granite.

The Brooks Range in Alaska is one of the state’s oldest mountain ranges, and so is eroded into gentle forms.

Sunrise from the highest volcano in Central America, Tajamulco, is a fantastic reward for the climb.

Of course mountain weather can be dangerous.  It’s always a good idea to consider turning around no matter how close to the summit you are if the weather turns nasty, because it can change much more rapidly than you think.  One time climbing in California we were very close to the top of a peak in the White Mountains after a long slog, including deep snow.  A storm was moving in as we approached the summit, and we weren’t willing to turn around when we had already worked so hard.  But the moment we summited, the storm hit.  As we scrambled off the peak, I looked over and saw my friend’s hair standing completely straight away from his head.  I heard a loud buzzing and felt electricity in my hands and feet.  The peak was struck spectacularly by lightning only a few minutes after we got off the summit.

This was taken of my partner as he climbed the last few meters to the top of a peak in Nepal.

Lenticular clouds form over Mt Hood in Oregon.

I love how the mountains draw the mist and clouds up their slopes.

I love how the mountains draw the mist and clouds up their slopes.

Mountain weather can be seen and experience, as here at Mt Rainier.

As I said in part I, I would love to live right up in the mountains one day.  The people I’ve met who have mountains in their blood are some of the finest salt-of-the-earth people in the world.  They work hard, they have faces as weathered as mine, and they are reserved yet very warm and welcoming, like me.

Two young Sherpa girls know nothing but mountain life.  Here they are weary after a long climb hauling heavy loads.

Two young Sherpa girls know nothing but mountain life. Here they are weary after a long climb hauling heavy loads.

A Sherpa from Khumbu region, Nepal, had summited Everest 8 times by the time I met him, all without oxygen.

A Sherpa from Khumbu region, Nepal, had summited Everest 8 times by the time I met him, all without oxygen.

Trekking in Nepal is nown in other places as hiking, walking, rambling, scrambling, tramping, & going for a walkabout.

Many of these stories and pictures are from much younger days.  My climbs are few and far between now, sad to say.  I’m still healthy and strong enough to climb of course, but the crazy stuff is behind me.  This post has reminded me to get back up there into the mountains I love, and soon!

The Colorado Rockies in fall is for mountain lovers the right place at the right time.

The Colorado Rockies in fall is for mountain lovers the right place at the right time.

By the way, please contact me if you are interested in any of these pictures.  I’ll make sure you get the high resolution versions, or can also ship fully mounted and framed pieces.  These versions are much too small to use.  Also, they are copyrighted.  Thanks for your interest and cooperation.

Alpenglow highlights the spectacular western face of Nup Tse near Mt Everest in Nepal.

Alpenglow highlights the spectacular western face of Nup Tse near Mt Everest in Nepal.

I Love Mountains I   14 comments

The world's highest mountain, Everest (Sagarmatha).  I finally made it here on a trek in Nepal, but did not climb it.

The world’s highest mountain, Everest (Sagarmatha in Nepali). I finally made it here on a trek in Nepal, but did not climb it.

I’m taking a break from the mind-bending stuff to post on one of my favorite subjects: mountains.  It’s inspired by a post on Ailsa’s blog.  The theme is mountains.  I’ve been a climber for quite a long time.  I have had such joyful experiences in the mountains.  Some have been scary, some miserable even, but all have made me feel more alive.  For that I am sincerely grateful.  I think mountains are the most spectacular aspect of Earth’s surface.

The mountain closest to home for me, Oregon's highest, Mt Hood.

The mountain closest to home for me, Oregon’s highest, Mt Hood.

First I’ll give kudos to the mountains nearest home in Oregon.  These are the Cascades.  Mount Hood, which I’ve climbed about 10 times, is closest.  But Mount St Helens, the famous volcano that exploded in 1980, is close-by too.  And Rainier, the iconic Washington mountain I’ve climbed twice, is only a few hour’s drive from home.  Mt Adams, also in Washington, is even closer.

Mount St Helens in Washington is clearly visible from the Portland, Oregon area.

Mount St Helens in Washington is clearly visible from the Portland, Oregon area.

A rare flat stretch while climbing in the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest.

A rare flat stretch while climbing in the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest.  Mt Adams and Mt Rainier are visible.

The aptly named Reflection Lakes in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

The aptly named Reflection Lakes in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Mountains don’t have to be high to be awesome.  Though I have climbed mountains up to 22,000 feet in elevation, the hardest one I ever climbed is just over 6000 feet.  It’s called Pioneer Peak, and is located in Alaska.  It took us 22 hours non-stop to climb this peak’s toughest face.  You start at about 10 feet above sea level.  Only two of the three of us made it to the top.  The only one of us with a wife and kid ultimately lost his nerve and froze just before the final pitch.  We picked him up on the way down.  The descent was hairy.  We slid down waterfalls, getting soaked.  We came upon cliffs we didn’t know were there and had to rappel.  Near the end, we bushwacked for hours, going over invisible droppoffs in the thick brush, grabbing at alder branches to soften the landing.

This is a typical climb in Alaska.  No trail, hellish approach, and just plain difficult after that.

This is a typical climb in Alaska. No trail, hellish approach, and just plain difficult after that.

To approach this part of the Alaska Range, you need to cross an enormous swampy river valley full of moose and grizzly bears, maybe a wolf pack.

To approach this part of the Alaska Range, you need to cross an enormous swampy river valley full of moose and grizzly bears, maybe a wolf pack.

This is the best way to "cheat" while climbing a mountain, taken just west of Denali on older film camera.

This is the best way to “cheat” while climbing a mountain, taken just west of Denali on older film camera.

A winter climb in Alaska.

A winter climb in Alaska.

One of Alaska's idyllic places to fly in, pitch camp, and catch dinner, the Wood-Tikchik Lakes in the Wood River Mountains.

One of Alaska’s idyllic places to fly in, pitch camp, and catch dinner, the Wood-Tikchik Lakes in the Wood River Mountains.

Sometimes river crossings on the approach to mountains are much more dangerous than the climb.  One time in Oregon’s Wallowas I was swept away and just barely escaped drowning by grabbing hold of a branch.  In Alaska on the return from a peak we got separated in the dark.  I had a bear following me for awhile, trying to cross a stream.  I kept going upstream and he (on the opposite bank) kept following me.  My friend Bob got swept downstream and ended up dragging himself out.  He was so cold he lay down and was about to fall asleep when he heard our shouts searching for him.  He hadn’t showed up at the truck.

One of North America's most beautiful range of mountains, the Grand Tetons.

One of North America’s most beautiful range of mountains, the Grand Tetons.

My favorites are mountains that aren’t at all planned, and whose name I don’t know.  One time in Northern California’s Marble Mountains we were camped, enjoying some whiskey.  Half-lit, the pair of us decided to climb the peak across the lake from us.  We named it Irish Peak, and it was so fun!  By the time we got to the hard stuff we had sobered up enough.  Ascending a ridge, it looked like we would have to turn around because of sheer cliffs.  We didn’t have a rope.  But we found a natural tunnel through the ridge that took us to the other side, which was easier and covered with an ice-field.  I had to go #2 very badly, and ended up squatting and dropping the bomb down a deep crevasse.

Prayer flags fly beneath Taboche in Nepal.

Prayer flags fly beneath Taboche in Nepal.

I would love one day to live right in the mountains, though I think my attitude towards them would be different in some ways.  It would be more mature, more intimate, less like they’re my playground.  I think my respect for their power would inevitably deepen.  Many people across the world, but especially Asia, have a spiritual connection with mountains.  They simply could not conceive of living anywhere else.  Perhaps I would grow to be like this if I lived in such places.

Tangboche, a buddhist monastery in the Himalaya, is a magical place to be at dawn when the deep bell calling monks to prayer echoes off the peaks.

Tangboche, a buddhist monastery in the Himalaya, is a magical place to be at dawn when the deep bell calling monks to prayer echoes off the peaks.

Mountains feed rich farmland in river valleys the world over, including here at Mt Hood.

Mountains feed rich farmland in river valleys the world over, as here at Mt Hood.

Tune in for the second part of this tomorrow.  By the way, if you are interested in any of these images, whether for a web use or just to hang on your wall, let me know and I’ll make sure you get the higher resolution versions.  These versions are much to small to use, and are copyrighted.  Thanks for your interest and cooperation.

The Tetons appear to be catching fire beneath a gorgeous sunset.

The Tetons appear to be catching fire beneath a gorgeous sunset.

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