Monday, December 31, 2012

A little slice of Death

On a recent run to Vegas to visit the in-laws--Oy!--we hit Death Valley on the way back and packed in a couple of nice hikes.  We left grey, off-and-on snow/hail to land in perfect weather--cool, clear, a day for wandering and dreaming and feeling the joy of life.  These are obscure, off trail hikes, and the car featured above forced us to think about water in this driest of places.  That car is from the 1940's, giver or take, yet the interior is filled with rocks and debris.  That means that once in a great while, this wash is actually awash in volumes that can move rocks and slowly bury a car abandoned decades ago.  It's so hard to imagine water flowing in this place, but flow it must.  I personally have never seen moving water in Death Valley.  It is now, officially, the hottest place on earth, so we only go in the winter.  I understand that many Europeans, especially Germans, like to come in the summer.  The problem with that is that one is confined to staying close to the car, hotel, whatever.  Hikes of any length are simply too dangerous and/or miserable. To each his own.  We hiked in the Funeral Mountains  and then camped in Panamint Valley to the west.  We feel blessed to have these spectacular areas so close to home.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Out and About

Storms line up in the Pacific and roll in waves onto the shore.  It's always a good time to get out, to fill the sting of frosty air, the push of winds and snow and mist.  Only a few hardy souls dare to venture out, even if conditions don't require much hardiness.  No, all you need is the hunger for movement and a thirst for what the world has to say for itself, in all its moods.

Squeezing in a hike as the weather settles in:

Oak leaves and granite:

Monday, December 17, 2012

Eye on the prize

I've been surfing the web, obsessing about my goal of climbing the Incredible Hulk and came upon this photo by Tad Hunt from a trip report on SuperTopo.  The clarity of the image, the burning edges of alpen glow, the clear sky all speak to me in a deep way.  I was incorrect about the length of the route in a previous post.  It's more like 1,500 ft.  Yow.  That is a big rock.  Gotta keep my eye on the prize, keep the workouts solid, and hit the rock whenever I can.  Stoke the stoke.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

December in Tehachistan

Winter, now almost officially here, is one of our favorite seasons in this remote region.  We've had at least one minor dusting of snow earlier in the year, but this is the first substantial coverage, although nothing compared to the truly High Sierras.  Within a few days, most of it will be gone--toy snow.  Unlike so many, too many of our box-bound neighbors, Jodi, Django, and I can't help but get ourselves out into the crisp air and sometimes tempestuous elements.  We recently loaded up the packs and struck out for the summit of Black (now white--see above) Mtn.  We summited a couple of days ago before this current storm rolled in to do work its magic.

The ascent gains about 1,500 ft. overall, most of it on the continuous ridge that drops down to the right of the summit.  The views are spectacular.  In the photo below, if you look closely, you'll see snow covered peaks in the distance--Mineral King, at over 13,000 ft.:

These hikes and the rock climbing that we pursue whenever possible have filled the void left by the end of The Tour, which lingers in our minds every day.  In my office, as I type these words, I often look over at the opposite wall to see a map of the United States that currently has the route of my 2007 cross country ride on it.  I'll be adding the Rocky Mountain tour soon.  Those states, the mountains and miles, the hard-won transits have left their mark.  I've begun work on my new book about the Rocky Mountain tour, so those experiences will live large for months to come.  While our histories are vital, enriching our lives and setting a course for the future, we must live in the present, pulling joy from each day.  Here's a parting shot from this morning's outing.  Django knows how to be in the moment.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sucking wind

Hit the slopes this morning with moderately heavy pack, trekking poles, and Django the Wonder Dog.  I've started doing my usual loop, which involves a nice stretch of single-track, but I'm occasionally adding in a steep ridge climb near the end.  It's not much longer, but Hay-soos, it's steep!  The ridge featured in the photo can be followed for a total of nearly 1,500 feet of elevation gain.  When we have more time and want some stank on the hike, this route is one of our favorites.

Still life: Pack, poles, hound, mountain...

I'm really enjoying the extra effort wearing the pack requires-- and that light spring in the step when I take it off at the end of the hike.  Note the whacky contrails above the summit of Black Mtn. in the background.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Gear talk: Our new tent

Since Jodi and I have recommitted ourselves to foot-powered travel, I started thinking about ways to shave weight from our packs.  We've already purchased a couple of REI Flash Packs, which we like very much, and these save us about 3 lbs. over our previous Dana Astralplanes (no longer in production), which are huge, more than needed for backpacking.  We used these for mega mountaineering loads, but even then, they're probably heavier than they need to be.  Then I considered the tent.  We own several, and they've all been great performers--a couple of Sierra Designs (one and three person models), two Mountain Hardware (one and two person models), the Big Agnes used on our recent Rocky Mountain tour, an old Black Diamond Megamid, and, featured above, the new Black Diamond Betamid Light.  I know, I know.  That's a boat load of tents, but keep in mind we've been at this outdoor adventure thang for decades, and we tend not to sell or give away gear as often as we should.  This has proved useful with the Vision Quest outings because now we have some good gear to loan out.  With cycle touring, I tend not to worry about a few extra pounds, but when the weight is bearing directly on shoulders, backs, hips and knees, those pounds really start to count, hence the new tent.

I researched many models, and the Betamid plus bug liner seemed to be the best compromise for us between weight, cost and function.  Taken altogether, including stakes, the tent clocks in at about 3.75 lbs.--a full two pounds lighter than our Mtn. Hardware or "light" Big Agnes.  If we decided to go without the bug liner and use a light tarp for a floor, we can get the tent weight down to about 1 lb. 10 oz.  That's some insane weight savings.  A big part of the weight savings is accomplished by using trekking poles for tent poles.  We've been pole converts for sometime. 

They provide greater stability and help take the load off knees during steep descents.  Also, using poles engages the arms and shoulders for a better workout and aid in ascending, too.  So if you're going to be hiking with poles, why not use them as part of the tent?  There are lighter tents out there, but size is a consideration.  I'm 6'4", and we hike with good ol' Django, so the super light micro-tents were out.  Also, we wanted secure bug protection for some outings.  The bug liner can be pitched alone or left behind--very flexible system.  In the picture below, with brewski to set scale, the small bag is the actual tent.  The bigger bag is the bug liner:

The tent body is that fancy new sil-nylon, incredibly tough and waterproof.  The big grey tarp we used to cover the trikes on the Rocky Mountain tour was of the same material.  The one drawback is that the material, for some reason, cannot be factory seam sealed, so that duty falls to me.  Tomorrow, I'll pitch the tent inside out on the lawn and go to work.  It's best to have tension on the seems so that the sealer can properly penetrate.  Note:  You need special sealant for sil-nylon.  This tent is not free standing, so a minimum of six stakes is required, but we've found that our so-called "free standing" tents need staking, too, so that's a wash.

I can't wait to take this new rig out into the field.  Soon we'll do a little overnight in the local mountains, which will be the subject of another post.  Don't touch that dial (yoiks! dated reference, boyz and girlz).

Carry on...

A quick trip to the rocks...

Jodi, Django and I were blessed with the time and weather window to zoom out to the eastern Sierras for a day of rock climbing.  Our goal, as is often the case, the Alabama Hills, which we can reach in about two hours from home--traffic free driving.  Sweet.  The day was cool and bright with hardly a breath of wind.  We both surprised ourselves by climbing at--for us--a pretty good standard and no falls on some 5.10 climbs.  We have our aches and pains as a couple of middle-aged warriors, but overall, we done good.  I've got no action shots, but some mood pieces will have to suffice.  Above, afternoon sun on the rocks.

On the drive: Django in "Gimme sum!" mode:

One of our climbs: The route follows the clean, steep slab in the middle of the picture:

Waste not a minute (yeah, right!) for life is short....

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Re-Vision of the Vision Quest

This photo, by Louis M Lenzenhuber, features the central challenge of what will become of Vision Quest 2013.  While I still love cycling and touring, I've felt an overload of that type of experience, the unavoidable fact of cars and traffic and noise.  I feel it is time to test myself and the few who join me in a different way, a return to my roots. That huge mountain is Olancha Peak, the first mountain in the southern Sierras over 12,000 ft--12,132 ft. to be exact.  While not the highest in the range, its eastern aspect featured here provides an exceptional challenge: A continuous hiking and scrambling ascent of over 8,000 vertical feet starting at the desert floor amidst creosote bushes and finishing far above timberline where travelers will find nothing but rocks, ice, and wind.  If my young companions didn't find "visions" on the bike tours, this should do it!  Now, too, Jodi and Django will join us.   I suppose it is unlikely, but we're hoping to interest some intrepid women to join us.  Few, male or female, are up to the demands of my various Vision Quest expeditions, and this peak challenge perhaps winnows the field even more, but when I began to think about a different sort of outing, this peak immediately came to mind.  Years ago, pre-Django, Jodi and I ascended this route, and we still regard it as one of the most satisfying adventures we've ever had.  It's wild, it's difficult, and virtually no one does it, only adding to its appeal.  Included with this climb will be two days on the rocks and another mountain climb, a hard one-day ascent of Boundary Peak, 13,140 ft., highest peak in Nevada (photo from Wikipedia):

Overall, the adventure challenge will last ten days, provide a lifetime of memories, and raise a few dollars for wounded veterans.  Too many Americans go through their daily lives without thinking about the fact that we are STILL at war, veterans still coming home in need of care and support.  Bumper-sticker support is meaningless.  Participants in Vision Quest 2013 must provide at least $100 for the cause in order to come on the big trip.  That, however, is a whimpy amount, so I'm hoping for a better fund raising effort.