Archive for the ‘mountains’ Tag

Adventuring Mt. Rainier ~ In the Dark   6 comments

Mt. Rainier and Upper Tipsoo Lake.

There really is no Cascade peak like Mount Rainier.  Mt. Hood is spectacularly beautiful.  Mt. Saint Helens has a dangerous beating heart.  And Glacier Peak is surrounded by the kind of wilderness that reminds of Alaska.  But Rainier is at another scale altogether.  Not only is it broad it’s lofty.  It is flanked by dramatically steep glaciers that drop dramatically down to relatively low-lying forested valleys.

From Seattle, Rainier looks like a normal snow-capped mountain.  But when you approach close to or inside the national park that covers the mountain, it’s a different story.  It’s a massively rugged mountain ringed by high country, like the Tatoosh Range to the south.  Each side of the mountain has its own character, with extensive subalpine meadows a consistent feature.

Last post I related a little bear story from one of these meadow areas:  Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground on Rainier’s southwest side.  I was a young buck then; years later I returned to photograph the wildflower display.  The thing about Indian Henry’s that makes it a little challenging is its distance from trailheads.  Most people backpack in.  But if you hike up Tahoma Creek trail from West Side Road, it’s a mostly straightforward, if long, day-hike.  Don’t take it too lightly though.  At over 12 miles round-trip with more than 2500 feet elevation gain, and with parts of the trail sometimes washed out, it isn’t an easy trek.

Mirror Lakes in the center of Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, Mt. Rainier National Park.


On a photo trip to Rainier five years ago I decided that Indian Henry’s would make a great late-day hike.  It’s the sort of hike only a nature photographer would consider.  The kind where you time it to be someplace awesome to shoot at sunset.   And since your camera gear alone is heavy enough, you really don’t want to schlep the extra gear for camping.  So your shoot is followed by a hike back in the dark.

I started at mid-day from where West Side Road is closed off to vehicle traffic.  After a couple miles on the gravel road-bed you take a trail that follows Tahoma Creek upstream.  This is a powerful glacier-fed stream, and the previous spring’s melt had torn out long sections of the trail.  The lower part of the hike thus featured a few nervous stream crossings.  I’ve been swept away before and felt very close to drowning, and so I respect rapidly moving water as much as I do anything in nature.

After a few long stretches of boulder-hopping I left the creek and climbed steeply to the meadows.  From the photos you can see the light was very nice, despite the cloudless skies.  Best of all the wildflowers were in perfect bloom.  It was late August, which may seem to be late in the season for peak flower bloom.  But Rainier’s subalpine meadows are high and snow lingers well into summer.  On that special day the wildflower close-ups and the grand scale shooting were both sublime.

The pasqueflower is a different sort of bloom: Mt. Rainier, Washington.

After the golden light left the mountain, dusk began to approach rapidly.  I packed my gear into the pack and wasted no time starting my descent.  Not long after crossing timberline and entering the forest night began to come on like a train.  I stopped at a waterfall and grabbed one more shot, confident of my headlamp.  But after only 20 minutes or so my headlamp began to flicker.  I had put what I thought were fresh batteries in before I started out, but they must have been well past expiration.  I should have had spares, but had failed to check my pack before starting out.  I silently cursed my impatience to get going.

Just as I began to hear the roar of Tahoma Creek below my lamp finally gave out and darkness gathered around me.  At first the trail was barely discernible and easy enough to follow.  I was confident of being able to reach and follow the creek bed.  But the night was moonless and exceptionally black.  I missed a turn and struggled to regain the trail, falling a good 10 feet or so between two huge rock outcrops.  I wasn’t hurt, but slowed down considerably after that close call.  Then I reached Tahoma Creek and began to follow it downstream.

Narada Falls at night-fall, Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington.

I was lucky.  If there had been more dense forest walking ahead I would have been forced to stop and spend a cold night with no shelter.  Luckily, frequent glacial floods had removed most of the trees along the creek, allowing the stars to shine through.  With eyes now fully dark-adapted, and with the normally unnoticed added light from many suns burning far away, I discovered that if I went slow, I could just barely see features before reaching them.

I lost the trail at the first washout and was forced to stumble down the rubbly stream bed for the duration.   I traveled in a sort of slow-motion crouch, using starlight to show me boulders and other obstacles.  I tripped and fell a bunch of times anyway.  And the stream crossings were even more fun than on the way up.  Thankfully by the time I reached them the stream’s flow was lessened because of slower melting from upstream glaciers brought on by the cool of night.

I followed the creek longer than necessary, not noticing the road off to my right beyond some dark trees.  When I finally realized my mistake I climbed the bank and crawled through the trees, where my feet touched something strange.  Flat, even ground, the road!  The feeling that washed over me was pure ecstasy.  But easy walking on the road felt very strange.  Have you experienced this?  Where your legs, after endlessly struggling up, over and around, can finally walk normally.  But it suddenly feels like you’re swinging heavy stone blocks?  My head and torso felt like they were floating above my too-heavy lower half.

My van looked even better than West Side Road had, parked there all alone, patiently waiting as if certain of my safe return.  The little clock on the dash said 2:55 a.m.  I can count on one hand the number of times in life that the cliche’ actually came true.  You know the one, where sleep takes you before your head even hits the pillow.  Going hard for so many hours will do that.

Next morning, it’s needless to say, my body was sore all over and bruised in a dozen places.  But it was worth it.  The photos, which turned out nicely with or without the accompanying adventure, seemed even better for having come at a price, and with a memory.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

Low clouds move up the Nisqually River, but the stars are revealed from a high perch on Rainier as night comes on.


Two for Tuesday: A Close Call   31 comments

Maroon Bells, near Aspen, Colorado.

Maroon Bells, near Aspen, Colorado.

Normally my Two for Tuesday series is about someone (or something) other than myself.  This time I’ll share a personal story, something scary that happened to me recently.

I’ve been traveling in Colorado, and made a swing through the Aspen area for the quaking aspen in fall color.  I wasn’t really planning to go to the ever-popular Maroon Bells, but found myself  driving up there as sunset approached.  I knew there was no way I would be shooting the “Bells” from Maroon Lake.  There are already about a million too-many shots of this on the internet and on walls everywhere.

Instead, I hiked past the throngs milling around the lake and on up-valley.  The lake is only a few minutes’ walk from the parking lot, and is admittedly quite scenic.  If you visit this area for the first time, go ahead and shoot from there.  I did on my first visit.  I’m really not trying to be smug.  But if you’re a serious photographer, I think you’ll want to get your own take on the place and avoid the tired composition that has been shot to death.

I climbed up an avalanche chute, bushwacking through the colorful but infuriating undergrowth.  I was sure I’d miss sunset, or rather the colorful skies as the sun set behind the mountains.  The trees and brush were in my way and it was getting steeper.  But I found a rock outcrop and, breathing hard, scrambled up.  I crept out to the edge and got a great view with aspens in the foreground (image at top).  I switched lenses from my Zeiss 21 mm. to the 50 mm. lens.  This was a crucial decision.

Next day I drove to another part of Colorado.  A couple evenings later I was shooting sunset and noticed an empty spot in my camera pack.  My Zeiss 21 mm. lens was gone!  This is a fairly new lens, currently the most expensive one I own.  So I was devastated.

On the computer I reviewed the metadata for all my recent images.  Although I had stopped and shot at a bunch of different spots to shoot, the last time I had used the Zeiss was shooting at the Maroon Bells.  Hooray for metadata!  Next morning I started the journey back across central Colorado, checking every place I had stopped, just in case the lens had somehow dropped out.  In the back of my mind I suspected it was at either at that rock outcrop or it was gone for good.

By late afternoon I was back hiking past all the photographers at Maroon Lake.  I had trouble finding the spot again.  It was just a random spot on the mountainside, away from any trail.  But toward sunset I recognized a tree and then the rock outcrop.  I was nervous; this was my last chance.  But I finally allowed myself to look down at where I’d been shooting.  And there it was!  It sat happily in the aspen leaves a foot or so from the edge of the cliff.

My shouts of joy echoed off the Maroon Bells.  I thanked the gods that I wasn’t the type of person who shoots from all the usual spots.  Needless to say, had I been at the lake that night, the lens would be long gone.  But nobody would likely ever shoot from that rock outcrop.  So except for the odd bear finding it and using it as a chew toy, I knew if I’d left it, it would still be there.  The sun was setting.  So to celebrate, I turned around and shot back toward the lake, where you can’t see but 50 or so tripods were lined up along the shore.

Maroon Lake sits in its aspen-lined valley, Colorado.

Maroon Lake sits in its aspen-lined valley, Colorado.

It’s a special kind of happy to find a lost $1600 lens on a mountain.  But I was also dismayed at my forgetful nature, which I’ve lived with since I was a kid.  Oh well, at this point in life you either accept all your failings or you drive yourself nuts.

Thanks for checking out the story and photos.  Have a wonderful week!

Friday Foto Talk: Missing   9 comments

I wrote a full post for today’s Friday Foto Talk, but could not get it illustrated because of problems with my wonderful high-priced Sony computer, the very last product from that company that I will ever buy.  In the meantime, enjoy this image from the (ancient) film archives, a time when I was young and full of fire, prowling the wilds of Alaska.  I may be out of touch for awhile because of this.  Have a great weekend.

Susitna River Valley & eastern Alaska Range, Alaska.

Moose Pasture:  Susitna River Valley & eastern Alaska Range, Alaska.

The 60th Anniversary of Hillary & Norgay’s First Ascent of Everest   4 comments

Everest (center) stands tall between its almost as enormous neighbors.

Everest (center) stands tall between its almost as enormous neighbors.

A quick break from extolling the virtues of the Palouse and channeled scablands of eastern Washington to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the climb of Mount Everest for the first time.  I happen to think George Mallory and Sandy Irvine made it in 1924 and died on the way down, but a successful ascent to me includes getting back down alive.  So Edmund Hillary (an amazing Kiwi among many amazing Kiwis) and Tenzig Norgay (an amazing Sherpa among many amazing Sherpas) have the honor of standing on Earth’s highest point for the first time.

By the way, I don’t go in the now-popular sport of bashing Everest.  Smug people, most of whom have climbed nothing of consequence, promote the myth that it has become a walk in the park.  True it is getting too crowded.  It’s called the world’s highest traffic jam because of a few major bottlenecks.  But this is one heck of a huge mountain, poking up into extremely thin air.  Though it is easier (and much more expensive!) to ascend now than it was in Hillary and Norgay’s time, it is still a very difficult and very awesome undertaking.

The 7165-meter high mountain of Pumori on the Nepal - Tibet border is a classic climber's peak.

The 7165-meter high mountain of Pumori on the Nepal – Tibet border is a classic climber’s peak.


I have traveled to Nepal twice.  The second visit brought me up to the Khumbu region of Nepal, where I trekked and climbed for a few weeks.  My best view and photo of the big boy Sagarmatha (Everest) was from a viewpoint called Kala Pathar.  This is a small ridge-top peak overlooking Everest and its huge neighbors.  When trekking to Everest Base Camp, you normally stay one night in the small group of teahouses at the base of Kala Pathar.

From this place, called Gorak Shep, you can hike up to the 5400-meter high Kala Pathar for a view of Everest, Lhotse, Pumori and more.  Most go in the early morning, because of the better chance for clear weather.  I don’t like getting up before light if I don’t have to, so took the chance and hiked up there in the late afternoon after I arrived and stoked myself up on a quart of tea.  The weather cleared for me and I had the place to myself.  It was magical!

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.


So these are the images I made there.  I remember being very impressed with both Pumori and Nuptse.  Pumori is just plain beautiful, a classic mountain.  And Nuptse’s west face is so incredibly steep and rugged!  What a view!  I definitely recommend that you include this in your trek.  Amazingly, some people are so fixated on the Base Camp that they blow right by this side-hike.  Everest Base Camp actually has a much poorer view of the mountain than you get from Kala Pathar.

The image below was my best of the mountain itself.  The alpenglow was perfect.  When I show this to people they wonder where all the snow is.  This is Everest’s southwest face, which is much too steep to hold the snow.  Enjoy!  Just click on the photos to go to the high-res. versions, where purchase is possible.  Sorry, they’re not available for free download without my permission.  Go ahead and contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for looking!

Alpenglow on Mount Everest from the 5400-meter high viewpoint of Kala Pathar in Nepal.

Alpenglow on Mount Everest from the 5400-meter high viewpoint of Kala Pathar in Nepal.

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.

The Grand Tetons: Overview   Leave a comment

In Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, old homesteads cluster together in an area known as Mormon Row.

I’ve been here a couple times over the past two years, once late August last year, and now in early October.  One of these years I may visit during the mid- to late-September period of peak Autumn colors.  But then again, given it’s popularity for photography workshops and groups during that time, maybe not.  Even now there are plenty of photographers here. I’m really not the type to fight other photographers for tripod space.

All that aside, it is really a nice National Park. I like the fact that it is less crowded and has less uptight staff than Yellowstone just to the north.  Who amongst us mountain lovers cannot love the Grand Tetons.  They are spectacular mountains, named by French trappers for the “big tits” they might have thought often about while paddling endless miles in search of beaver.  But as you can see from the pictures, if there are breasts like this on a woman somewhere, I would like to see them (or maybe not!).  The mountains, especially the Grand Teton, which at 13,770 feet (4200 meters) is the highest in the range, are by no means smooth.  In fact, they rise in jagged splendor from the Great Plains to the east.

A view of the high alpine country, Grand Tetons, Wyoming includes a beautiful tarn, erratics and an arrete.

Geological Tangent (feel free to skip if you’re not especially interested in how mountains are formed)

The Grand Teton is obviously the highest in the range viewed from most any angle, here from near park headquarters at Moose, Wyoming.

The Grand Tetons’ steepest side is to the east, on the Wyoming side. This sheer mountain front lies along a steep-angled fault in the earth’s crust called by geologists a normal fault.  The mountains rise (or remain static) while the basin drops along a steep (70 degrees or so) fault zone.  Jackson Hole is the lowest point of this down-dropped basin.  “So what” you might say.  How does this tie into the formation of the Rocky Mountains?  Well, this is a big deal.  It’s the main geological process that has made continents out of what was originally not much more than volcanic islands sticking out of a much-larger-than-now ocean.

In the case of the Rockies, back in the Dinosaurs’ prime time (the late Cretaceous) some 55-90 million years ago, the enormous Pacific tectonic plate (actually geologists call it the Farallon Plate to distinguish it from the modern Pacific Plate) got serious about pushing east against the North American Plate.  It had been doing so for a long time before this, but during the time the Rockies were formed it dove beneath the continent (as oceanic plates will do) at a much shallower angle.  This forced mountain building much farther inland than usual.  The tectonic collision resulted in buckling, folding, mashing and munching in rocks buried deep within the earth.  This “Laramide Orogeny” initially formed a large, high plateau, like modern Tibet.

Much of the massive compression during collisions between ocean basins and continents happens because numerous islands (which don’t dive down beneath the continent as well-behaved oceanic crust typically does) are slammed up against the continent.  It’s a process called accretion, and is responsible for  much of western California and the coastal ranges of the Pacific Northwest and Canada.  Anyway, as hinted at above, the orogeny did not push up the high mountains of the Rockes right away.  That’s what many people believe when they learn about this stuff.  Instead, the action took place deep below ground and very slowly (geological things are mostly very slow).

One thing that happened, other than the aforementioned folding and mashing, was melting.  Rocks on the continent melt at a relatively low temperature compared to those under the oceans.  Plus, since they’re made of a more diverse assortment of rocks, which all melt at different temps., the melting is really partial.  This means a lot of smallish magma chambers separated by solid (but hot!) rock.  I know, a lot of detail.

But here’s the kicker:  melted rock is lighter than solid rock.  And what’s more, partial melting then cooling of continental rocks result in granite and its relatives.  These are some of the lightest rocks around.  You might not be able to tell, with a piece of (oceanic) basalt in your left hand, a piece of granite in your right; but if you wait a half-million years, your right hand will start to rise while your left sinks.

This is what happens with mountain ranges like the Rockies (and Alps, Caucuses, etc.).  After much of the damage has been done by the compression and heating deep within the Earth, the crust adjusts.  The lighter rock, some still molten, rises and pushes up the land.  One other thing though.  The Earth’s crust along a mountain range like the Rockies thickens (’cause of the buckling and melting both).  But there’s a lot more rock added beneath the mountains than what is pushed up.  In other words, the root of the mountains, deep beneath our feet, is much more impressive than the height of the mountains.  This fact leads to a flexing upward of the entire crust along the length of the mountain range, as the crust adjusts to the added mass below.  This so-called isostatic adjustment really is the main cause for the creation of high country.

Anyway, once the mountain range is well on its way to being nice and high, two things happen.  The main thing, of course, is erosion.  (This is part of the reason for the root being much greater than the height.)  Water and (much later in the case of the Rockies) glacial ice, begins early and never, ever gives up its assault on the high ground.  Erosion, as you might have heard, always wins in the end.  But in the meantime, as long as the tectonic collision continues, the (lighter) mountains continue to rise, and the age-old battle with erosion is waged.

Mount Moran stands at the north end of the high Tetons in Wyoming.

Now we are finally back to the Tetons.  Well, the story is a bit complex, but the main thing you need to realize is that once all this land is lifted up, you often get stretching along the far (east) side of the mountain range from the big oceanic plate that’s causing all this havoc.  This area behind the mountains has long been called by geologiasts (even before the theory of plate tectonics) the “foreland belt”.  In the case of western North America, there was more than this normal extension along the foreland.  After all those ages of compression along the edge of western North America, which lifted the West we enjoy today from beneath the waves, the situation reversed in a big way.

Well into the Tertiary (the time of the rise of mammals), a pulling apart began, forming the Basin and Range.  We went from compression to extension because the Farallon Plate disappeared beneath North America and the modern Pacific Plate started to slide past the edge of North America along the San Andreas Fault.  Like people, continents, at least along their active margins, are rarely standing still.  They’re either getting munched or being pulled apart, albeit much more slowly than we our changes.  North America’s western edge has now entered a period where things could start getting pulled off it instead of added.  Eastern Africa is a bit further along this path, and a sea will eventually invade the Great Rift Valley there.  The same might occur here too, starting in SE California and southern Nevada and extending northward.

So I know I’m taking a while to get back to the Tetons.  The Basin & Range extension that continues today results in steep-angled normal faults, which in brittle rocks close to the surface is the way any rock will respond to being stretched.  The normal faults along the eastern back-side of the Rockies are the furthest east of these faults; nost occur in Nevada and bordering states, where the crust is much thinner.  But in the thicker crust of the rockes, these faults are responsible for some of the most spectacular mountain scenery of western North America.  The Grand Tetons are just one example.  It really is the end-game of mountain building here, where the thickened crust under the western Plains has fallen dramatically down while the Tetons have risen along the Teton Fault.  There is only so much rising and thickening to be accomplished before things start to break apart.

The battle between the rise of these mountains along the Teton Fault on one hand, and erosion on the other, creates the rugged, fantastic mountain landscape that climbers and photographers, that all of us really, admire.  But count yourself lucky that you are alive to enjoy it right now.  After all, it’s a temporary situation.  Remember, erosion always wins in the end.

In the Gros Ventre Mountains east of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, an earthquake in the 1950s created a beautiful lake. The well-named Red Hills are in the background.

Back to the Trip

I know that was a long-winded explanation, but if you sorta got it, you get the whole thing about mountain building throughout the world.  Well, besides the building of strictly volcanic mountain ranges, but a lot of the same concepts apply there too.

I spent a half a week here in the Tetons this time, not doing as much hiking as last year (see image of the tarn 2nd from the top, taken at the top of Paintbrush Canyon).  Also last year, I made it up the rough dirt road east of the Tetons, where there’s a gorgeous, quiet lake (image above).  But I did manage to wake for each sunrise this time, even though they were mostly blah in terms of color.  The leaves on the aspens and cottonwoods were browning rapidly, and the whole landscape looked dry and thirsty.  Fires continuing to burn in the region added some haze and smoke to the air.  In short, light for photography was not ideal.

But along came the evening of the 8th of October.  Clouds built through the afternoon over the Tetons, and I took a run along the excellent bike trail that stretches 20 miles from the town of Jackson and Jenny Lake in the Park (no I didn’t run 20 miles!).  After the sun set behind the mountains, as I expected might happen, the clouds lit up.   All of a sudden we had a fiery sunset!  I was not at one of the classic locations for landscape photography in this area, but near the park’s headquarters in Moose.

Ansel Adams made places like the Snake River Overlook and Oxbow Bend famous, and to get dawn and dusk shots from these spots you would need to fight for your tripod space.  I’m not into it.  So I just walked around the Snake River bridge near Moose, finding a spot where I could get a nice panorama of the Tetons.  I was happy.  One more post on the Tetons is to come, focusing on the wildlife.

The Grand Tetons surprise me with a fiery sunset on my last night in the park.

Nepal and the Himalaya (a return)   1 comment

I traveled back to Nepal for the fall trekking season.  Flying once again into Delhi, this time on Cathay Pacific, I had learned a lesson from my first trip.  On that flight I had done it all in one go from Portland, Oregon to Kathmandu.  Thirty-some hours is entirely too long to be traveling, especially if you can’t sleep on airplanes, like me.  I did fly Singapore across the Pacific, which helped (Or did it? Come to think of it, the beauty of their attendants hurt my chances for sleep).  This is the best airline in the world, and the reasons have to do with service.  The beautiful flight attendants are only part of the story.  But Cathay is no slouch either.  With the length of flight from America to south Asia, it pays to use a quality airline.  I got smart this time around & stopped for the night in Bangkok.  I then spent a few days in India before continuing to Nepal.

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

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Upon arrival, I stayed a night in Old Delhi, then hired a taxi for a two-day trip down to Agra to visit the Taj Majal.  This only cost about $100, and I had two guides for two days (try that in the U.S.).  I could have taken the train or a bus and gotten there for about half that price, but we made numerous stops that served to give me a strong feel for the average Indian’s life.  So I think it was a steal of a deal.  The Taj was the Taj, stunning but crowded.  Weeks later, on the way back from Nepal, I visited Calcutta, and I’ve never seen streets so lived in, so dense with humanity.  It was really amazing walking the streets there.

But this post is all to do with Nepal.  When I landed in Kathmandu on a bright beautiful morning, I had a strong feeling of being  back among friends.  I was met by the folks from my chosen guiding company, Himalayan RST, the one I rafted with in the spring of the same year.  But it was more than that: I feel at home in Nepal for some reason.

This time I had over a month in the country, and I was very excited on that morning, being back to see the highest mountains in the world. I spent 3 weeks on a trek and climb in the Khumbu region, home to Everest, and one week hanging around Kathmandu.    By the way, Mt Everest is called Sagarmatha in Nepalese.  I didn’t waste too much time getting started, buying last-minute supplies (including pills for altitude sickness that I ended up not needing).

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

Drying chili peppers in Khumjung, a delightful side-trip from Namche Bazaar.















In the densely packed streets of Thamel, the backpacker haven in Kathmandu, you can find anything related to trekking and touring.  If you wait until you arrive to buy your gear, you will not be charged too much, provided you can bargain.  But the gear will not be of the same quality that you find in the U.S. or western Europe.  Much of it is knocked off of companies like Marmot and North Face.  But there are real items from these companies available too.  It’s a little confusing.  I would recommend bringing most that you need from home, but there’s nothing wrong with supporting the community by buying some things in country.

A small stupa in Nepal’s Himalayan mountains allows Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike a moment of rest and reflection on the trekking trail.

After a delightful chat with Sharada, of Himalayan RST, in a tea garden in Thamel (there are little havens like this all over Thamel), I decided on the so-called “three passes trek”.  I went with this one because it included the big boy, Everest, and because the trek includes trails that are not so popular.  I also decided to take a guide, again since I wanted to explore some relatively untraveled trails.  This is by no means necessary on routes such as the Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit.

In fact, on any trek where the route has tea houses to stay in, you can be sure that the route is easy to follow, and that you can always ask which way to go if you are unsure.  On treks where you camp, only go without a guide if you have good maps and have experience backpacking and route-finding in mountainous terrain.  But in any case, it’s a fairly simple matter to trek independently in Nepal.  Regarding altitude, take it slow and allow your body to acclimatize.  I saw quite a few people who did not get very far into their trek before having to turn around because of sickness.  Each person is different in this regard, but everyone benefits from simply taking enough time while ascending.

The 3 passes route takes off from Lukla and follows the Everest Trek to Namche Bazaar.  It then departs the well-worn path and heads west to Thame and on up to 5400-meter Renjo La (La means pass).  Then the route descends to the gorgeous Gokyo Lake and joins a more heavily-traveled route over Cho La.  Then it descends to the Khumbu Valley, rejoining the Everest Trek and on up to Gorak Shep.  From here you can go up to Base Camp or take the hike up to the stunning viewpoint of Kala Pathar.  The final pass, Kongma La, is not heavily traveled.  This will take you over to Dingboche, where you descend past the beautiful Tengboche Monastery and back to Namche.

I did this trek a bit differently (surprise surprise!).  From Gokyo Lake I skipped the well-beaten trail over Cho La in favor of the quiet side of the valley that leads to Gokyo.  We descended from the busy trekking center of Gokyo (where I taught the manager of the tea house all about breakfast burritos) to Phortse, a charming, unpretentious and untouristed Sherpa village.  We saw plenty of wildlife on the way.  In the Himalaya, if you trek the major routes you will most likely not see wildlife.  But if you take any route that is less traveled, your chances shoot way up.

A young Sherpa boy in a remote area of the Himalaya of Nepal gives a soulful look.

A cute little Sherpa girl takes a break from her sewing lesson (her mother is behind her) to smile and joke with the foreigner.


After staying with a Sherpa family in Phortse, we headed up the Khumbu for the most spectacular alpine view I’ve ever taken in, at Kala Pathar.  I took a chance and hiked to the viewpoint in the afternoon, when clouds would normally obscure the view.  But the weather had been very clear the past couple days, and I figured with everyone heading up in the pre-dawn, that I would, as usual, be different.  I was rewarded with a gorgeous alpenglow on Everest and its neighbors.

Descending from Renjo La into the valley of the stunning Gokyo Lake, Nepal.

I had caught a serious cold.  Staying in teahouses you are exposed to all sorts of germs.  People from all over the world are sharing fairly tight quarters, and dishes are being washed in lukewarm water (water boils at low temps. at this altitude).  Since I was to climb a peak later that week from Chukung, I decided to skip Kongma La and head down the easier way.  I barely made it to Chukung (base camp for the climb), very weak & running a temperature.

I was not able to join the climbing clinic that was held over the next few days, instead resting and downing huge quantities of tea.  I rallied for the climb though, after convincing the guides I could do it (it took my best persuasion).  Island Peak at about 6200 meters (nearly 22,000 feet) is the highest mountain I have ever climbed.  I feel that given proper time for adapting to altitude, and with help from the invaluable climbing Sherpas, I could climb even the bigger peaks of the Himal.  It’s not Everest that stokes my passion but Pumori, an absolutely gorgeous mountain.  This costs some serious coin though.

Some highlights of the trek:

  • The flight in and out of Lukla, the world’s most dangerous airport, was exciting.  The runway is actually laid out on the slanted side of a mountain.
  • I met an older Sherpa along the way, a man from Thame, who has climbed Everest 8 times without oxygen.  His face said it all.  The North Face parka he wore was the most used I’ve ever seen, really the best advertisement for that company you could find.
  • Renjo La and the descent into Gokyo was probably the most spectacular hike I’ve ever done.
  • The hike to Phortse not only had many Himalayan tahr (a mountain sheep), but tons of yaks, beautiful mountain farms, and an intact Sherpa culture.
  • The view from Kala Pathar is unbelievable, several of the world’s highest mountains (including the highest) all in a row.
  • Reaching the top of Island Peak you can see an ocean of Himalayan mountains all around.
  • Tangboche Monastery is one of the most mysterious places I’ve ever been.  We attended evening prayers with the monks, and at dawn I was woken by the mournful sound of the gong echoing through the mountains, calling the monks to prayer (and me to one stunning photograph – see below).

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

A climber nears the summit of Island Peak, a mountain in the Everest region of Nepal, as the Himalaya stretch away to the horizon in bright early morning


I returned to Lukla on a beautiful day (our entire trip was blessed with great weather) and next day I was back in civilization.  Chilling out in Kathmandu with some new-found friends, visiting Boudhanath Stupa, taking walks through the city, and visiting some of Kathmandu’s attractions was very relaxing after three weeks in the mountains.  If you stay in Thamel, you might find like me that you can only take so much of its energy.  It is crowded and there is always something happening.  But it is also not the real Nepal but a sort of tourist village within Kathmandu.

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

The great monastery at Tangboche in Nepal’s Khumbu region wakes to a spectacular morning.



At the end of my stay I traveled up to a place called the Last Resort.  It is a camp about 10 miles from the Tibetan border that offers all kinds of adventure sports.  From whitewater rafting & kayaking to canyoning and bungi jumping, it is basecamp Nepal for adrenaline seekers.  But it’s also a beautiful place to stay and hike to nearby small villages where the people and their culture are relatively untouched by outside influences.  I met some great people there, including a Nepali Gurkha (soldier) now living in Hong Kong who was visiting home.  Later in my trip, he was good enough to show me around the amazing city of Hong Kong.

It sounds cliche to say that I was sad to leave Nepal, but this is one time that I really, really felt that way.  And it is the people of Nepal that made me genuinely feel this.  Next time I would like to trek a more adventurous and remote route through  the Himalaya, perhaps around Kanchenjunga.  Also I would love to raft the Tamur River in eastern Nepal.  I flew out of the country on my way to another adventure through Southeast Asia, part of what ended up to be a three-month trip.  As the Himalaya melted into the distance, becoming indistinguishable from the puffy clouds, I promised myself I would be back to this kingdom of mountains.

The Himalaya (Finally)   Leave a comment

Since I just started blogging not long ago, I am going to start an occasional series on recent travels, where I wrote only for myself.  I don’t journal on my laptop while traveling, only with pen and paper.  I carry a small netbook simply for photos and internet acces while traveling, but the idea of burying myself in a computer for my journal is anathema.  I would much rather sit at a cafe and people watch while writing.  I simply can’t do this when on a computer, plus nearly all screens are unsuitable for outdoors.

Alpenglow on Mount Everest from the 5400-meter high viewpoint of Kala Pathar in Nepal.

I’ve traveled pretty extensively over the past few years, at least for me.  As soon as I got the chance, I went to Nepal.  The Himalayas were at the top of my list.  I just did not want to wait until I was too old to see the highest mountains in the world.  Nepal was the obvious choice, but I went to north India as well.  I actually went twice in one year, once in Spring and once in Autumn.

The great stupa at Boudhanath, near Kathmandu, Nepal, draws Buddhists from all over Asia.

I traveled to Delhi, then to Kathmandu.  An amazingly chaotic and energetic city is Kathmandu, and I loved it.  My favorite was renting a mountain bike and doing a big loop up into the upper valley.  I definitely recommend this way of seeing the other face of the Kathmandu Valley.  It’s not all traffic and movement, as in the city.  The children run after you yelling Namaste! and if you stop they shyly smile and hide behind each other.  Utterly charming.  And such a great ride.  Do it if you find yourself in Kathmandu.

Another must if  you’re in Kathmandu is the pilgrimage site of Boudhanath (image left).  This is a huge stupa (temple) in a suburb of the city.  Just grab a taxi there and prepare to soak up an absolutely amazing atmosphere.  This could be spiritually transformative for you, it’s that powerful.  I’ve been three times, and will never miss it on any future trip to Nepal’s capital.

I stayed in Thamel (of course) and I found a nice little guiding company.  I just clicked with the woman running things in the office.  I still consider her a friend, and very much hope that she will be able to visit the USA someday, where I will be so happy to show her around.  She has been experiencing much trouble getting a visa to visit, since U.S. immigration assume every person from a 3rd world country wants to come to stay.  Even though she has a company, a family, a life in Nepal, they still think she wants to escape.  Amazing!

I arranged a trip with her company, Equator, now called Himalayan RST Expeditions, to head to western Nepal.  I was to spend a week rafting the Karnali, one of the world’s classic river runs.  Then I would visit Royal Bardia National Park.  I first traveled to Pokhara.  My hikes were only dayhikes, no trekking this time.  Also, I rented a motorbike to head into the rural areas around the touristy Pokhara.

Once you get into rural areas, you start running into folks who have walked in to markets from the surrounding countryside.  Back in the foothills of the Himal, where no roads travel, there are small villages of people who subsist on the edge.  They are very poor and very beautiful people.  Many are Muslim, but the majority of Nepalis are Hindu.  Buddhism is also prevalent.

The bus ride out to western Nepal took two days over the worst roads you can imagine.  It was a bone-jarring ride.  If you do this trip, unless you enjoy bus rides from hell, I would fly.  We arrived on the banks of the upper Karnali in the late afternoon.  Villagers joined us in our preparations, but they barely distracted me from the river.  It was utterly gorgeous, a beautiful turquoise color and cold!  The Karnali originates on one of the world’s most sacred mountains, Mount Kailash, in Tibet.  And this water certainly was heavenly.

What a river trip!  Seven glorious days on a river with huge and fun rapids in its upper stretches.  It calms somewhat in the middle stretch, and wildlife is abundant.  The lower part widens out and there are bigger villages.  We had company at most of our riverside camps.  The children were so adorable.  This was only my second encounter with true mountain people (the first in the Andes), and I was amazed at how hard they have to work to survive.  The women especially!  I saw women of short stature carrying huge, heavy loads of firewood on their heads and a baby in their arms.  Tough to do on any terrain, but they were going straight up extremely steep slopes.

A lone farmstead in Nepal’s HImalayan Mountains lies in spectacularly rugged country.

The effect of these small villages is easy to see.  The entire undergrowth of the surrounding forests iscompletely stripped bare.  The people burn to spur more growth, trying desperately to provide their goats with forage.  The big trees are still intact, thank heavens, but the forest is borderline ugly.  I took hikes every evening after our rafting, and I was the only one of the group to do so.  I will never understand my fellow tourists.  They tend to hang out with other white tourists if at all possible, eschewing real contact with either the local people or with nature.  This of course is a general observation that doesn’t apply to everyone.  But it is true worldwide.

I also visited the Royal Bardia National Park, along with one of my fellow rafters.  The park is very near to the takeout on the Karnali.  This park is beautiful, much more like northern India than Nepal.  It lies on a low, hot plain, and hosts a healthy population of one-horned rhino, elephant, leopard, and best of all, tigers.  I didn’t see the big cat, but I did see the biggest snake I’ve ever seen in my life.  It was a rock python, well over 20 feet long and FAT.  My guide said it was the biggest snake he had ever seen, and he grew up in the area.  It had recently eaten a deer, and that explained its girth.

There was a party our first night at Bardia, and I drank a bit too much wine.  One of the guides, an Indian fellow, was drinking pretty heavily too.  I danced with the local Nepali women, and had a great time.  Later that night, in my tent (I camped in their garden), I was woken by someone unzipping my tent.  I saw the silhouette of a man, and reacted on adrenaline.  I burst out of the tent and caught him by the throat, demanding to know what he wanted.  He either did not or could not speak English.  But he was nonetheless convinced that I did not want any company.

Then, in the middle of the night, I had another visitor.  This time it was the English woman from the rafting trip.  She wanted to take shelter in my tent, because someone had tried to get into her room.  She was pretty sure it was the Indian guide, who had been pursuing her much of the previous day.  She was very frightened, and I let her sleep in my tent.  Next day the manager of the lodge was pretty blase’ about the whole thing.  So I wrote an email to the tour company, and they ended up discontinuing their relationship with that lodge in Bardia.  In this part of the world, women do not have the power they have in the west, and so I felt I had to do some sticking up for her.  It made a big difference, let me tell you.

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

So this trip was near its end.  I got stranded for a night in the town of Nepalganj.  I noticed there many men dressed in the peculiar drab green that says “marxist”, and was reminded that this region is often the seat of unrest in the country.  I was the only tourist I saw, and I enjoyed the authentic look at the life of Nepalis.  The people of Nepal are some of the warmest, friendliest and most unaffected folks I’ve ever met.  Though I spent about three weeks there, I felt I did not have enough time to do the country justice, certainly not to take a major trek.  But the rafting trip was definitely the best of my life.  I was to return to Nepal with more time later that year, and that’s the subject for the next post.

Time for the High-Country: Cooper Spur   6 comments

Cloud Cap perches over the north side of Mount Hood, with the Hood River Valley & Mt Adams in the background.

It is finally time for the high country. A quick camping trip up to Cloud Cap on the north side of Mt Hood (Oregon) gave us access to the most spectacular alpine terrain within a day-trip’s distance of Portland, where I live. We had a late spring and cool early summer here in the Pacific Northwest. I even got stuck without chains on Mt Hood in a snowstorm – in June!

As the temperature in the lowlands climbed to 100 on this first hot weekend of the summer, three of us drove up through Hood River and to the campsite near Cloud Cap. Cloud Cap is the site of a historic & extremely well-built climbing lodge (image above). The temperatures would not exceed the mid-80s up here, and it felt cooler because of a breeze coming off the glacier.

A ski trip up Cooper Spur on the north side of Mt Hood. Note the flare at left.

The last time I was up here it was the middle of winter, with temps. in the low 20s on a gorgeous bluebird day (image above). In fact, I have most often been to this area for backcountry skiing, not hiking. One can drive all the way to Cloud Cap in summer, on a 9-mile long gravel road. But in winter you don snowshoes or strap skins on your skis to climb the steep direct Tilly Jane Trail. There is a nice cabin – Tilly Jane Guard Station – plus a shelter at the top of that trail, for those who have made arrangements to spend the night.

Andee walks the only flat part of Cooper Spur on the north side of Mt Hood.

Our plan was to hike up to Cooper Spur, a prominent ridge that extends northeastward from the north headwall of Mt Hood. We wanted to get to 9000 feet at least, on the 11,235-foot mountain. We climbed and my recent knee issue did not show up. So I was in the lead as we topped out on the Spur.

With the clear skies we had, the Cascade volcanoes of Mt Rainier, St Helens & Adams in Washington were in-your-face visible, and Mt Jefferson, the Three Sisters & Broken Top in Oregon also stood clear. Some low-lying smoke was visible from this lofty perch. This subtle layer of smoke hanging around has been transported all the way from huge fires in the Siberian Taiga.  The view down on to the heavily-crevassed Eliot Glacier (Mt Hood’s largest) was fantastic as well.

The idea behind a foot glissade is to “ski” on your boots; turning is difficult at best.


Mount Hood rises above the sandy but flowery approach to Cooper Spur (on the left).

We really wanted to get a closer look at this climbing route, one of Hood’s toughest.  So we climbed up to about 9250 feet, where the climb markedly steepens & becomes technical.  We had only ice axes, no crampons, so it was unwise to go further. But the mountain was certainly urging both Andee & I onward. Climbing conditions were excellent, and we were reluctant to turn around. This route now is firmly planted in my mind, and will bother me until I do it.

We glissaded back down. First we tried a standing glissade, but the snow conditions & steepeness demanded a sitting glissade, using the ice axe as a brake. Lower down, the snow fields offered fantastic foot glissading, which let’s face it, is usually more fun. I was able at one point to get a few shots of Andee in silhouette with Adams & Rainier (which is also calling me now) in the background (image above).

We passed the flower display that on this rocky and sandy side of Hood is fairly subtle, then back to camp just in time for sunset. It had been too long since I camped, & it felt great to gather around a crackling fire. The evening was cool enough to appreciate a fire.

Next day we traveled west along the Timberline Trail. A major flood in 2006 wiped out the crossing of Eliot Creek, and many people are turned around by this barrier even today. But it is not difficult to cross here, if you are sure to watch for loose falling rock. There are ropes to aid you on the steep canyon sides. We climbed up to the Languille Crags and descended an awesome knife-edge ridge.

The trees here are so stunted & bent (flagged) by the high winds & snows of winter that they look like a collection of old men. Some of these trees, such as the one pictured below left, are over 700 years old.  We also passed several memorial plaques, which commemorate mountaineers who paid the ultimate price of their sport.

When we returned, Cloud Cap was buzzing with activity. It was the hottest day of the year, a Saturday, and plenty of people were seeking relief in these high elevations. This short trip definitely stoked that fire in my belly that I’ve always had for high country. Mount Rainier here I come!



A twisted & bent 700-year old pine grows on the north side of Mt Hood, Oregon.

Creative seating options abound while traversing a jagged ridge on the north side of Mt Hood, Oregon.

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