Thursday, September 30, 2010

From Backpacking to Trail Running: Clothing (Part 5 of 5)

Clothing is a multibillion dollar a year industry. This is so much variety and so many options between all of the different clothing lines. It can easily be confusing when deciding what to wear. Additionally, what has been successful for me may not work for others. Physically people are different.

For me the clothing system starts with the shorts. Running shorts are a must in my book. They are the lightest option. Many styles have pockets which allow you to carry food, a phone, a rain jackets or other small essentials you feel you need. Currently I am using a pair of ASICS with five mesh pockets around the waist. At $40 per pair for running shorts it is the only pair of running shorts that I have with all of the pockets. They are also longer than the typical pair of running shorts going to just above the knee.

Next is deciding what to wear on top. Depending on the weather this could be nothing or a hundred dollar technical insulation. I have switched to synthetic materials the last few years. I don't wear cotton when I run. I used to and it is acceptable in good weather but synthetic shirts keep me drier and if it gets cold, they keep me warmer. I rarely run shirtless. Typically in warmer weather (50 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer) I will wear a short sleeve. No particular brand. Usually a recent race t-shirt. When it is colder (30-50 degrees) I will wear a long sleeve Nike shirt. It's a great length both the sleeves and torso. It's also fitted, which means it fits a little tighter and doesn't bounce around as much as an unfitted shirt.

When the temperature gets colder it can get more complicated. I have two of those Nike long sleeve shirts and I will wear them both. I also have a Patagonia R1 Hoody which I wear, often in combination with a wind shell. I like the hoody so much that I wore it about a month in Pakistan. The wind shell that I currently use is the Montbell U.L. Wind Parka. For three ounces it is totally worth the wind and water protection. It keeps me mostly dry and fairly warm. Then I typically wear some thin Black Diamond Powerstretch gloves. I also have a pair of Patagonia Nordic tights which they no longer make. They are great tights. They are thick to keep me warm, they don't itch, and they stretch very nicely. I wore these tights on Broad Peak as well. For socks I wear some pair of synthetic blend running socks. I have many pairs of Wigwam socks, since I only live a few miles from the factory and this summer I started using Zulu socks since they are so comfortable.

For accessories I wear a white Nike hat and Tifosi Slip sunglasses. The sunglasses vent well and I'm on my second pair. Several of my relatives have had skin cancer and I try to take a few measures to prevent my own skin cancer. I even wear sunscreen.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

From Backpacking to Trail Running: Food (Part 4 of 5)

When running for more than two or three hours you will be using so many carbohydrates that replacing them during the run becomes important. The longer the run the more important to consume calories during the run.

Now it is very possible to run a marathon without eating. The only time I have run 26 miles I only ate one gel and drank eight ounces of water and I finished the run quite strong. However, in general trying to complete a multi-day backpacking trip in one day of running involves more up and down than your typical road run. It might also involve higher altitudes, which raise your metabolic rate, so you need to eat more. It could also involve in-climate weather and eating helps keep you warm.

I had energy bars for the first time when I started backpacking in 2001. I started using energy gels in January 2008 for my long runs. One of the slowest things that you can plan to do when "running" a trail is plan to cook or sit and eat. If you can't eat it while you are running or at least walking, it is too complex. The keys to food choice are taste, digestibility, and simplicity.

You have to like, or at least tolerate well, what you are eating. Otherwise there is a very good chance that you will get to a point where you just do not want to eat what you have. Then you are carrying dead weight and you are not getting the calories you need. It has to be digestible. Energy gels are a prefect example of easy to digest. Blocks of cheese and meat on the other hand take a little more effort. Additionally, it has to be easy. If you plan to eat a sandwich, make it before you go instead of carting the ingredients separately. Cold, bloated, shaking, and sweating hands will make it difficult to make a sandwich at mile 35. I have eaten a bag of potato chips while running and it was hard to breathe and chew without choking. Cliff Shots have a Litter Leash that keeps the top of the energy gel attached to the packet so that there is only one pice of trash. One piece trash makes things simple.

It is also important to eat at consistent intervals. This could be as simple as eat an energy gel every 45 minutes. It could be eat when you feel like. It is simply important to keep eating. Try not to let yourself go a few hours without eating or your body may choose to shut down for some undesirable length of time.

Finally, keep an eye on nutrition. You need mostly carbohydrates to run. You will also need sodium and potassium to avoid cramps or hyponatremia. While it is important to eat what you like, so that you eat something, salty carbs are at the top of the list for beneficial ultra running foods.

Some of my recommendations to try are the chewables, like Cliff Shot Bloks, Jelly Belly Sport Beans, GU Chomps. Try energy gels if you have not. Some of the flavors are not very good but other flavors taste better than jelly. Chocolate almond butter might be my new favorite. I have eaten the protein bars while on runs and I find them too dense to consume while I run. They are fine when I am sitting and great after I am done but during a run the protein is just too heavy. Ultimately, you have to try the different brands and flavors to find out what works best for you. Enjoy shopping!

Previous Trail Running articles in this series: Attitude, Footwear and Water.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

From Backpacking to Trail Running: Water (Part 3 of 5)

Water is an important commodity. Without it your future can be measured in hours as easily as it can be measured in days. Attempting to run for half of a day or a whole day requires a large amount of water. So much water that it would be prohibitive to carry all of your water from the start. Additionally, how you carry the water will make a difference for your comfort and hydration.

Pick a method that allows you to drink a little bit whenever you want. That is to say a water bladder or a water bottle you can sip from. Unfortunately, a traditional one liter Nalgene will probably not work. With a splash guard you can walk and drink however walking and running are somewhat different. A one liter Nalgene is also hard to hold for more than a few minutes.

I started my trail runs with a 100 ounce Camelbak. I would fill it as full as I thought I needed it. It worked well. The mouth piece was near my mouth so drinking was easy. Unfortunately, the water sloshed around and bounced up and down on my back. The weight of the backpack was also unwelcome, despite it being less than a pound. A nice option for very long trail runs where an overnight stay might be required.

The second option, and my currently preferred option is hand held water bottles. I have a pair of Ultimate Direction FastDraw Plus water bottles. Each bottle is twenty ounces. Take one or two depending on the length of your run. I do have a smaller four ounce elliptical water bottle that I use occasionally on long road runs when I am not terribly concerned about hydration but want those four ounces. Other companies make water bottles with hand straps. I bought these because they were highly reviewed and they have worked great!

Now if the run is simply a few hours then all the water can be carried from the start. On the more complicated hand, in many trail running situations water will need to be purified along the way. Since I've had quite the tutelage in purifying water I'm going to explain that as well.

There are many ways to purify water. First is boiling. Simply boil the water for a few minutes (the exact length of time is very disputed from the second it starts boiling to ten minutes is what "experts" say). This is the most common method at high altitudes where snow and ice is the only source of water. At lower altitudes for people carrying some amount of weight a filter is most common. One filter can purify hundreds of gallons of water. Once the water is purified it is instantly clean. This is a great method but most pumps weight around a pound. Third is a UV pen. I've never used one but I hear good things about it. However these still weigh a descent amount and the batteries can die. Fourth is iodine. Pour a few drops of concentrated iodine solution or a tablet into a bottle. Five to fifteen minutes later bleed the threads by turning the bottle upside down, unscrewing it until a little water comes out, then screw the lid on tight. Then weight for some length of time, 30 to 120 minutes usually, and enjoy. The fifth method, and my trail running favorite, is Micropur MP1. It is very similar to iodine. It uses chlorine dioxide to kill everything in the water. The water tastes like pool water.

Anyway, as I was 70 odd miles into the Wonderland Trail I had to purify another bottle after coming over Panhandle Gap and to spice up the 90 second experience I took pictures!

First I would take the Micropur and my van key out of the pockets on the water bottles.

Next I would cut the foil on the Micropur with the key and tear it far enough to get the pill out.

Then I would fill the bottle with the cold clear mountain water.

Pop in the Micropur and screw the lid on. About fifteen minutes later I would bleed the threads and squeeze some water through the mouthpiece. An hour after I put the lid on I considered the water safe to drink. Not Katadyn recommends four hours to kill everything in the water. However I was using a one liter dose for only 20 ounces. It was also clear water that my hands heat up. Hot water allows the chlorine to work faster. I learned all of this from a Katadyn sales representative four years ago. He said that 30 minutes would kill everything in warm clear water.

Monday, September 27, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 25

We are all living at places in the world. I'm not sure how to better describe that thought in one sentence. 23,000 feet on a mountain in Pakistan, a hostel in Costa Rica, a couch in Seattle, a ledge in Yosemite, a cabin in Colorado, a street in Worcester, and a basement in Wisconsin. They are all places that a person can go. There are all simply places on the Earth. The air is more or less the same. The sun is the same sun. The moon and the stars are the same. We still need water. We still need food.

Just some musings now that I am back "home" with my family in Wisconsin. Everywhere I go I am still on the Earth, so far. It's an exponential relationship. The more I see the more I want to see. The more I do the more I want to do. The more I accomplish the more I want to accomplish. Perhaps this concept is only expressed modestly in my life. Anyway, I am in Wisconsin.

I'm visiting family, and waiting to hear about a recent job interview on the East Coast. In the past week I have also garnered an interview of sorts, for this coming week. It is with a large global company. A company that has produced one of the 100 richest people in the current world.

Overall the economy must be rebounding. In the last two months the job search changed. I had been applying with no call backs and no interest from companies in my skills. Now, I feel like I have a shot. Lunches, interviews, emails, and hope abounds.

I ran nine miles in two runs. My legs are still somewhat trashed from the 93 mile run two weeks ago. Fortunately, recovery is going better than expected. As for climbing, I started building a wooden fingerboard or hangboard.  Another project started! It will probably be done early this week. If it goes anywhere there will be more details.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sleeping in Strange Places

On my recent four week road trip I slept in a number of very strange places. In more or less chronological order:

  • Utah: Castleton Tower's free primitive drive in campground was my first stop. It is this little patch of private property that is adjacent to the National Forrest with Castleton Tower. There are several leveled tent platforms and fire rings and it is totally free. 
  • California: I pulled off on the side of the road near the east entrance to Yosemite in the National Forrest and simply slept in my van. It was a nice cool night.
  • Yosemite: Camp 4! I spent three nights there although I only spent one sleeping under the stars and bears the next two nights encouraged me to sleep in my van in the parking lot instead. I paid for all three nights. 
  • Yosemite(ish): The National Forrest on the west entrance to the park has a small unimproved road when I spent two nights in my van.
  • Yosemite: I spent one night sleeping at the base of Halfdome with a backcountry permit. That was hard to get to sleep because I kept thinking that a rock would fall while I was sleeping and hurt me. Falling rocks is too common in the mountains. It's not as common in Yosemite as some lesser climbed places such as the Elk Range in Colorado but still a danger. 
  • Yosemite: I spent a night on the South Face of Washington Column. I was sleeping on this little three foot wide ledge at least 400 feet above the trees. I was roped in yet still somewhat scared of falling off.
  • California: I spent two nights with a college friend in San Francisco on Mission Street. On a couch in a room with two other people sleeping on couches. For real there were three couches and each one had a sleeping person on it.
  • California: I spent two nights on a guest bed in a guest room in Redwood City with an American friend I met in Pakistan. The second night his wife had their first child so I was alone in the house.
  • Seattle: I spent a slew of nights with another American that I met in Pakistan sleeping on his couch. I guess as far as strange situations goes, this was pretty normal.
  • Washington: I slept for five and a half hours on a porch at a deserted cabin perhaps ten miles from any electricity or running water. I shivered almost all night. I had to scare away an elk when I first tried to go to sleep. I slept like a rock, when I slept. The porch was hard and there were really no comfortable positions for sleeping but on my side in the fetal position was the warmest so I went with that.
  • Seattle: I slept in one of my new friend's bed while he slept in the guest bed. Pretty nice to sleep in a bed. 
  • Montana: I slept on a short couch in my friend's apartment. It warmed up in the middle of the night and my feet were up in the air. Not the most comfortable.
  • Colorado: I spent a few nights at my friends' house in Rollinsville. Again on a bed. I have the best friends!
So basically I greatly benefited from the generosity of others. At some point I hope to have a guest room, ooohh or even a guest house! That way other travelers can visit me. I have slept in many different places, not just on this trip. I have spent weeks sleeping on uncomfortable surfaces. I have been cold on a mountain and hot on a beach. The truth is, when I am tired enough, I sleep. 

Each new and different (and strange or scary) location I sleep builds confidence and relaxation. Just watch veteran expeditioners in Asia approaching a mountain. They are not phased by the height of the mountains. They aren't daunted at the first or second snow storm. They are as comfortable relaxing on an oddly slopping rock at 15,000 feet as they are at a hotel in the shade in a city. Every new experience callouses to some extent. Future similar experiences are less dramatic or frightening. Other new experiences are not as frightening either because of the depth and/or range of previous terrifying experiences that turned out with no permanent damage. 

The best part is, it was all legal.  

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lessons from the Big Stone

My time in Yosemite was very educational. While I started four climbs and finished none of them I did some things well. I also learned some things.

  1. Jugging. I learned to ascend ropes better. I have ascended ropes many times both on simple steep snow and ice in Pakistan and on overhanging terrain in New England. However, I had never ascended rope with a backpack full of four days of big wall supplies. That was really hard. It took probably three hours to get up 400 feet. I learned to use a chest harness. By clipping a quickdraw to the shoulder straps of my backpack and clipping that to my highest ascender it kept me from flipping backwards with 50+ pounds of stuff on my back.
  2. Anchors. I've encountered two bolt anchors on multipitch climbs before. However, nearly every anchor on the standard routes in Yosemite are two bolt anchors. I finally had the chance to use a more simple system. Simply using two carabiners I would clove hitch the rope I was tied in with into one bolt and then clove hitch or tie a figure 8 on a bite and carabiner that to the second bolt. Then I would clip the backpack into one bolt. If either bolt failed the whole system would hang by the other bolt given that the rope doesn't break. It is generally accepted that the rope is the strongest element in the climbing system. Other single elements might break or fail but the rope is never supposed to fail. They have several times but it is very very rare.
  3. Partners. I did a lot of solo climbing. Which is fine, but it is harder. It takes more effort to haul everything alone. It is tiring to lead every pitch. The rope management is more difficult. It is mentally more difficult being motivated only by yourself. Simply put, I prefer to climb with people. 
  4. Camping. It is free to bivy, camp without a tent, below Halfdome, and other places. So the night before climbs on Halfdome or other remote locations you can camp for free. It is free to bivy on routes. So taking multiple days to climb a route is nice because you can sleep on ledges or on a portaledge if you have one. Camp 4 is great but the seven day limit during the summer is a little restrictive. Camp 4 also has a huge bear problem. You probably have a three out of four chance of seeing a bear any given night there. There is free camping just outside of the park boundaries in the national forests, but from "The Valley" it is at least a 30 minute drive and not really worth it.
  5. Food. The pizza place at Curry Village was my preferred restaurant in the afternoon. The Yosemite Lodge Cafeteria was my preferred breakfast place, although I never ate there in the afternoons so it could be good as well. I also ate lots of Ramen and tortillas that I brought into the park. In the park grocery stores I was a fan of the quart cartons of milk for 99 cents. Even the chocolate milk was only 99 cents. Finally, I was turned onto almond butter from Trader Joes by one of my climbing partners. It is good stuff.
  6. Showers. The most fun method of washing is jumping off of the El Capitan bridge into the Merced. It is about seven feet above the water so watch out for a nose bleed. (It didn't hurt I was fine.) The Merced is chilly but compared to the heat in August it is perfect. The dry air dries your body in minutes and you can stare at El Cap as you dry off. The more traditional alternative is to shower at Curry Village. If you wait until after 6 PM it is free, or at least it was free while I was there. However, there is often a line because people know it is free. During the day it is $5 to take a shower at Curry Village. 
  7. Tri-Cams must have been invented for angle piton scars. Yosemite is full of angle piton scars and Tri-Cams fit in them perfectly. Be sure to bring a black (.25 size) and pink (.5 size).
Those are the major lessons I learned at Yosemite. I also learned more about climbing but those were smaller lessons in the big picture. Yosemite feels like a crag. It feels like the rocks are all 80 feet tall. The approaches are usually pretty short and the cracks are mostly clean. Part of climbing well is feeling comfortable in your surroundings. Eventually I will return to Yosemite. Now that I know it better I am sure I will get higher up whatever I try next time. Perhaps I will even top out El Cap...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

From Backpacking to Trail Running: Footwear (Part 2 of 5)

I've been most successful out here on the west coast trail running, not climbing. So for the benefit of others I will describe how I have learned to conquer trails faster. For Attitude (Part 1) click here.

This tutorial begins at the ground. Like any good machine it is built from the ground up. The first step in going faster is your choice of footwear. While there can be some discussion about the perfect footwear the fastest choice is lightweight running shoes. In the past two months I have carried 60 pound backpacks with lightweight running shoes, I have free soloed 5.0 rock climbing, and ran for most of 31 and a half hours. All with the same pair of shoes.

Backpacker Magazine several years ago put out a article about lightening your load so that you could save energy and hike farther. One of their pieces of information was that one pound of weight on your feet is like carrying another 6.4 pounds on your back (page 51). The idea is that you have to move your feet a whole lot more than the stuff on your back gets moved. That is to say that if you can make your footwear two pounds lighter you could carry over 12 pounds more gear in your backpack and still burn the same amount of energy. Alternatively, you could simply save the weight and hike a fraction of a mile per hour faster and an hour or so longer than your previous backpacking.

I realize that running shoes are not for everyone or every situation. Approach shoes, street shoes designed for climbing, are designed for climbers tackling fourth class or easy fifth class terrain so that they can approach the difficult section of the climb without having to stop and change their shoes multiple times. However, when the climbing is never very difficult they can simply use the approach shoes for the entire route instead of even bringing climbing shoes, saving more weight. The more technical the terrain the more sophisticated gear that will be necessary to cross it. Steep ice climbing will require boots, crampons, and ice axes.

Getting back to simple non-technical trail, keep in mind that the goal is speed. Now imagine that you can only burn so many calories in the course of a day. The less weight you are carrying the easier it will be. Lighter shoes are the way to go. I recommend going for the lightest running shoe you can find that offers you enough support. I am a fan of minimalist shoes so the shoes I have been trail running in this summer are Mizuno Wave Ronin 2s which come in at 8 ounces and are advertised as racing shoes. I think they are actually partly responsibly for my stress reaction, but they have a very nice, fairly durable tread which is better than the other seven pairs of lightweight shoes I have. The point being, a good tread is important. Trails have wet rocks, mud, sand, stream crossings, polished logs, and moss that all conspire to reduce the traction between your shoe and the ground. So whatever shoe you go with bring something that won't fall apart after a few miles.

Be sure that your shoes and socks combination works for you without giving you blisters. Going up and down and around switchbacks will throw your feet around your shoes like crazy. I feel that I am more likely to get blisters on these runs with difficult terrain than I am pounding the pavement. With proper shoe fitting and a nice pair of socks you should be fine. Although, there are no guarantees.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

From Backpacking to Trail Running: Attitude (Part 1 of 5)

I've been most successful out on the west coast trail running, not climbing. So for the benefit of others I will describe how I have learned to conquer trails faster.

1. Think about the goal.
2. Talk about the goal.
3. Accomplish the goal.

Before reaching the point where a 20 mile trail run is no big deal there is the mental quest. The process of telling yourself that you are capable of doing it. I think this little process happens in all aspects of life. It has applied to me accomplishing many goals.

Trail running is different than backpacking or hiking. Somewhere in the the middle of the run the only people to be encountered will be people with backpacks and tents. They will stare at you as if you are crazy. They will tell you how awesome it is what you are doing. They will think that you are not really enjoying the outdoors. They will envy you. They get worried that they might have to help you when you can't help yourself.

Trail running is very much going out on a limb. Carrying only a bare minimum of supplies for survival. It is very elegant. It is very simple. Yet it is also somewhat risky. Generally supplies are not carried for injuries. While a backpacker could easily camp at the location an injury occurs, a trail runner without overnight supplies is forced to keep going to lie down and wait for others to help. It could involve shivering for hours, hypothermia and fending off animals.

In fact, hypothermia is a huge concern. Many of the most scenic places to run through are the exact places where hypothermia strikes. Challenging mountain weather with a three ounce rain shell can be cold. The key is often to just keep moving. Wearing just running shorts and a thin shirt is asking to get hypothermia in 40 degree rain.

Do not be afraid to sweat. Old school backpacking and mountaineering involved working just easy enough that you did not sweat very much. Well forget that when you run. Running involves sweating, panting, fatigue, and even bleeding now and then. There is a lot of suffering, but it doesn't last long. I have had some consecutive days backpacking that were wet and cold. The sky was cloudy and dark. While the sound of rain on a tent is amazing, a damp sleeping bag and wet shoes are not. Runner's get to spend the night inside in a bed most of the time. Pretty comfy if you ask me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Running the Wonderland Trail

As with many of my adventures, this one began only two days in advance with a whole lot of encouragement from some of my friends. To be honest the idea was sparked the evening of Sunday the 12th of September after I ran The Enchantments. A friend suggested it and I could not stop thinking about it. Monday I decided I wanted to go for the unsupported fastest known time. The previous time was 33 hours and 45 minutes. Which for 93 miles is less than three miles an hour. I thought that would be very manageable.

Monday night I stopped by the Seattle REI and bought $35 of energy food including:

  • 16 GU and Clif Shot energy gels (1600 calories)
  • 1 GU Chomps (180 calories)
  • 1 Sports Beans (100 calories)
  • 1 Clif Roks (270 calories)
  • 1 Clif Builder Bar (270 calories)
  • 1 Clif Fruit and Nut (130 calories)
  • 3 Clif Bars White Chocolate Macadamia Nut flavor (720 Calories)
  • 2 Clif Shot Bloks (400 calories)
  • 4 Chocolate Almond Butter packets (720 calories)

I also took the other gear in the picture as well as a long sleeve blue Nike shirt, Asics shorts with large mesh pockets and Discovery Channel cycling jersey.

Tuesday I woke at 6 AM with excitement. I started with an energy filled McDonalds breakfast with two sandwiches and a mocha. For six dollars it is hard to get so many calories at most places. I also stopped to buy gas, Gatorade, Five Hour Energy, and pick up some salt packets. One of my new friends, a former ultrarunner who still parties with the Seattle ultra crowd, highly suggested that I take extra salt so that I don't cramp. I've never cramped before but I took his advice.

I arrived at Longmire around 9:30. I checked in at the Wilderness Ranger station and told them what I was up to. I wanted someone nearby to know that a crazy kid was out there trying to do something ridiculous. I finished changing into my running clothes and packing food and gear into my eight pockets.  At 9:55:39 AM I took a picture by the sign to the Wonderland Trail. The weather was amazing! I started running...

I was more or less flying at the beginning. I filled my bottles with Gatorade so the first 40 ounces of fluid had 200 calories which was really nice. I passed the South Puyallup River trail intersection at 12:47:29 PM. Thats 12 miles in 2:52. I didn't do the math at the time but looking at it now that's moving well.

It was hard running carrying the three pounds of food and other pound of clothing and gear and two pounds of water. It all added up to make the running less exciting than running unencumbered over a trail. But then again I had the ability to go farther. I forgot the salt in my van so throughout the day I was trying to lick my own sweat from my arms, forehead, and hat. In fact, if you wet the brim of your hat a little you can suck out the sweat and get all of that sodium.

I believe I passed the bridge at North Puyallup River at 2:28 PM because that's when I took a bunch of pictures of a bridge and steep hills upriver which both match the time stamps and topo map.

Of course this whole section was going very easy. I drew on many past experiences to get me through this. Compared to the Presidential Traverse the trail was a piece of cake. In fact, the whole Wonderland Trail is just amazing. I am sure that it would make a great six (or 11) day backpacking trek. Compared to the Indian Peaks loop I did earlier this summer the altitude is no problem at all. Compared to my adventure on the Casual Route in 2008 (20 hours on the go) 12 or 14 hours is not a very long time.

The whole afternoon was really a blast. My legs were feeling great and I was just cruising. The weather was good. I had food. My super-glued shoes weren't falling apart. What more could you want?

I arrived at Mowich Lake at 6:22 PM. Arriving at the campground was strange. For the past eight and a half hours it had been just myself and backpackers. No day hikers. No car campers. No roads. Then all of a sudden I arrive at a family wearing cotton hoodies and grilling. I was very excited to be through about one-third of the trail in such a quick time. My mind started to fill with delusions of a sub 24 hour run. 

That being said, I was also getting a little tired. Not bad at all, but tired none the less. Look at my face in the picture, not exactly feeling fresh. I purified some water and watched a crawfish five inches long crawl inches from my open bottle. It was really interesting yet somewhat creepy. I've eaten smaller shrimp. 

I was a little slow moving through Mowich Lake. It took about nine minutes from the time I remember arriving until the last picture was taken. Obviously I was starting to move a little slower. 

I went out and over Isput Pass. That is just a phenomenal view. I tried to take a picture but after 10 seconds of struggling with my back pockets I gave up. So you will just have to visit Isput Pass to see it. The valley just stretches away. It is the kind of view that helps me understand why we have national parks. What I mean is, if Yosemite wasn't a national park there is a good chance that some private owner would charge people to look and climb. I mean that national parks are not a right. They are a privilege that we are very fortunate to have in the United States.

I ran down the pass as the sun set. At about 7:30 PM I decided to put my headlamp on. I turned my hat backwards and adjusted the light. I was a little frustrated that I had to put my light on so early because I had planned to turn it on after 8, but that is life. I mean with my lithium batteries I have hundreds of hours of battery life anyway. Those batteries are also almost fresh. I used them in my GPS in Pakistan but only on the summit push and then only for half an hour at camp three. 

I progressed through the night until the lower crossing at Carbon River. The normal trail to the upper crossing and the suspension bridge was out so I had to detour along the lower crossing. I made my way up to Dick Creek  and perhaps a quarter of a mile or half of a mile after passing through there my batteries died. I immediately halted. I pressed the on button again. The light flickered for half a second and went out again. I took the light off my head and gave it a futile shake. I tried the button again and the light went on and off as fast as you can think it. It was 9:10 PM. 

This was a trip changing event. I sat down on the nearest rock and ate one of my Clif Bars. I am a huge fan of the White Chocolate Macadamia Nut. They could probably be sold at Starbucks, unpackaged, for twice the price they are sold at REI. 

Anyway, I took out my iPhone to light the map and contemplated the future. I tried to lay out my options. I could sleep there on the trail. I had my iPhone light so I could use that to keep going. I could use my iPhone to get back to Mowich and end the run. 

There was really only one decision that stuck out in my head. Use the iPhone to keep going. On the map there was a patrol cabin at Mystic Lake about 4.5 miles away. My iPhone battery was full so I thought I could make it that far. Then I could decided what to do next. Well, no time like the present.

I started hiking and I went slow. The light only provided about ten feet of visibility so I was moving at maybe 1.5 miles an hour. As the trail went up the side of the hill there were sections without trees where the night sky lit up the trail enough to turn my light off. There was about a first quarter moon but it was on the other side of the valley so it was not giving me any light besides reflection off of glaciers and clouds. 

The hike that would have taken not much more than an hour in the daylight or with a good headlamp took two and a half hours in the dark with an iPhone. When I was moving fast I was not feeling bad. As soon as the pace slowed it was like my legs and head were on the same page again. Realizing the 40 odd miles they had already covered they agreed to be tired. 

Hiking alone in the dark is one of the more scary things to do. In fact, it is one of the most scary things that I know of. I would rather sit at a hanging belay a thousand feet in the air than go hiking alone in the dark. I was not nearly as scared this time as I usually am. I think that all of the bear, elk, and moose encounters I have had this year have given me more confidence in the wilderness. During the hike by iPhone I did scare up some animal. I never saw it but it was a larger size of animal. At least deer size. Half of the fear is hearing a crashing in the trees 20 feet away and not knowing what it is.

At about 11:45 PM I arrived at the patrol cabin. At this point the enthusiasm for my ethics about being unsupported were low. I was planning to ask the rangers for AAA batteries. I pay lots of money for National Park entry fees and a few batteries would be a huge help. If they didn't have batteries I was going to ask to sleep inside their cabin for a few hours. 

Step number one, wake up the rangers. I pounded on the door and windows and shined light through the windows. I circled the cabin and finally realized that it was locked from the outside. Truly locked. I was alone. I was exhausted. 

Fortunately, there was a blue tarp behind the cabin folded on top of a wood pile. I took it off and went to the porch. I wrapped the tarp around me and put on every piece of clothing I had (a long sleeve shirt and wind shell). I ate and drank a little food then I passed out. For the next five and a half hours it was a mix of shivering and waking up to my phone alarm. The first alarm was at 3 AM, the second at 4 AM and at 5 AM I woke up shivering naturally. It was a terrible night. Not as scary as getting altitude sickness at 20,300 feet in Pakistan or sleeping on a ledge in Yosemite so I slept like a rock in between shivering sessions. 

When I woke up at 5 AM I rolled around another half an hour before I decided to get up and go. The night is coldest before the dawn and about 5 AM with a 6:30 AM sunrise is very cold at 5700 feet in Mt. Rainier National Park. I sat up around 5:30 AM and ate some more food. I folded up the tarp and headed back on the trail, with the iPhone lighting my way. Just ten minutes down the trail in a small meadow I scared up a rock. At least I thought it was a rock until I was 25 feet away. It stood up and lumbered 20 feet away from the trail. At three feet tall, bulky, and black, it was a bear. I started talking and yelling and trying to make noise and scare it away. After only a few seconds it ran into the forrest. I continued to make noise as I scampered down the trail. There was a fair amount of talking out loud during this time. Had the bear not moved when it did I could have touched it another five or ten seconds down the road. Encountering a bear alone in the dark is not high on my to do list.

The sun came up and I gladly resumed my trotting and speed walking rhythm. The above picture captures part of the north face at 7:34:07 AM on Wednesday the 15th. The North face of Mt. Rainier looks so interesting. Very difficult. I had no idea there was any face like that on Mt. Rainier. I would have taken a better picture but it was simply too dark for my camera from 7:30 PM to 7:30 AM. I arrived at White River at 9:00 AM on the dot after scaring several early morning backpackers. I was continually hiking or running up behind people so fast that I gave them a scare. I started to announce my presence 20 feet back or farther so that they had some time to know I was there. 

Again it was strange to arrive at White River with roads, people, cars, and industrialized stuff. From then on out the trail was amazing. I mean world class hiking. From White River to Summerland was seven great miles. That being said, I was getting tired. Uphills were not as fun as they had been. I had a fair amount of food left so I was eating more per mile than I had before. The whole run I was most concerned about getting up Panhandle Gap. At 6800 feet it was the highest elevation on the Wonderland Trail. It was also at the beginning of a long stretch without any way to get off the trail in case of emergency. 

However it was quite easy and I arrived on top at 11:17 AM according to the above picture. I think that mountain in the center right of the picture is Mt. Hood. This picture is looking south from Panhandle Gap. Then of course the token self portrait with Mt. Rainier in the background.

From there it was nice running, but starting to get a little painful. Down and down some more. I figured that I had 7000 feet of descending left and 3000 feet of ascending and just over 22 miles. I was almost done!

Just above Indian Bar I had a conversation with two rangers. 

Me, "I have a tough question. Vanilla or Strawberry?" In reference to which flavor of gel I was going to eat next.

Younger ranger female, "Vanilla, definitely."

Then we proceeded to talk about what I was doing for about 15 seconds and then I was off hiking uphill again. From there I just kept moving, eating and drinking. It gradually became more cloudy and was sprinkling slightly as I passed through a deserted Box Canyon. 

With 11-12 miles to go I managed to think of what I had left to do as only a 12 mile run. I thought I could push hard and pick up the pace and do it in less than two hours. For about a mile I moved rather fast. I probably did a sub 10 minute mile uphill. That soon ended.

Around mile 82 my right leg which had been hurting for 10-15 miles spiked to a five out of ten. That's not runable unless I am in fear for my life. My right ankle near the front was really hurting. It hurt most running downhill. Walking uphill was bearable so I spent most of the next few miles walking. I know from reading about ultrarunning that pain often turns around and people can continue on. That happened.

Around mile 85 when I saw the 7.5 miles to Longmire sign the pain subsided in my right ankle and I resumed a moderate amount of running. I passed some backpackers that were dong the Wonderland Trail in six days and of all the people I have met that is the fastest anyone has tried to do it.

At the sign that said 1.7 miles to the finish I started running hardish again. The rain picked up but not enough for my wind shell. At this point 12 minute miles downhill was my version of redlining. Every sign was nice to see. 1.6 miles. 1.4 miles. I was going to finish this massive trail. I popped out into Longmire at the same place I had entered the trail. I was slightly bewildered that the entry and exit were the same place. I took the picture below at 5:26:17 PM.

I walked over to the Wilderness Ranger Station and pounded on the locked door. The ranger I talked to the day before came down and we talked for a minute. She was impressed, and happy they didn't have to come rescue me. I changed into cotton clothes in the bathroom. Next, having forgotten the salt packets, I sat in the driver's seat, wearing cotton and ate a salt packet. I had a very strange feeling of all the muscles in my legs relaxing. They were not cramped up but they were tight and that salt packet was almost as good as a massage. I had five energy gels left so I ate about 3700 calories during the run. I also drank a quart of strawberry lemonade, my first Five Hour Energy, and a pint of water. That was enough to get me to Ashford. 

At the local watering hole I had a bacon double cheeseburger. I have never actually had a double hamburger and I devoured a huge one with lots of cheese and bacon. The fries didn't slow me down either. I followed that down with a salted margarita and a tall glass of milk. 

That got me to Puyallup where I stopped at Krispy Kreme and Jamba Juice for a few hundred more calories. 

That was enough to get me back to Ballard to a friend's house. I took three steps toward his house and he just laughed at how I was walking. I had hot spots on my feet, my legs were sore, and I was tired. Strangely enough I wasn't tired enough to go to sleep. I talked with him and his roommates about big wall climbing in Yosemite and other adventures. We watched District 9 which I managed to stay awake through. It is a good movie. I ended the adventure by collapsing in a spare bed and sleeping like a rock.

Monday, September 20, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 24

What  a week! This week was the culmination of why I headed out west. That is to say, I "finished" what I set out to do... something, big.

The week started off in Leavenworth, Washington. After a late start the group was going to do another day of sport climbing. I really was not feeling like sport climbing. The two pitches I led on Saturday I had backed down from before I reached the anchor. To some large extent I was scared of falling. I just did not want to succeed on those climbs bad enough to keep going. That has kind of been a theme with me this summer. I have started up so many routes simply to end the route with a whole bunch of rappelling. The most recent Patagonia catalog was dedicated to failed climbs. That was a nice bit of motivation.

The way I view success and failure in mountaineering is a mixture of survival, experience, fear, accomplishment, and mental barriers. That is to say that while I have succeeded on so few routes this summer I have learned many things, which I will blog about over the next several months. The point is, making the top is only a small part of mountaineering.

Anyway, back to Sunday. I mentioned at breakfast that I was considering running The Enchantments, and they ended up talking me into it.

We all ate hamburgers at the Heidleburger Drive-In (it's a hamburger place) and someone mentioned that I should run the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier. They mentioned that it was 90 miles so I answered that that was crazy. Then I could not stop thinking about it on the two hour drive back to Seattle. I decided on Monday after getting coffee from the first Starbucks that I would go for it. The first Starbuck is not cool by the way. It's a total tourist trap. Good coffee though... The weather was scheduled to cooperate for Tuesday and Wednesday and I wasn't terribly tired from The Enchantments so I went for the Wonderland Trail Tuesday morning. That trip report will be up tomorrow.

The rest of the week involved me driving 3000 miles from Seattle back east. Along the way I overnighted in Bozeman at a friend's house. That makes it five different friends houses on this road trip. Thank you awesome friends! I had coffee in the morning in Bozeman and interestingly enough I had as hard of a time finding parking on Main Street in Bozeman as I did in downtown San Francisco.

Saturday I spent part of the day looking at the Four Mile Canyon Fire, also known as the Boulder Fire. It was very surprising. The fire came within ten feet of burning houses at Gold Hill. While Gold Hill is only a 200 person town, anytime a a town burns it is devastating. It was strange to drive down the roads and see one house burned to the ground and the next house 30 feet away was fine. After seeing the destruction and ashes it scares me to think of being evacuated. When the fire department gives the order to evacuate the fire is still a mile or two away and everyone is in denial about their house being burnt. You could lose everything, or nothing.
Above is the Colorado Mountain Ranch. The main building on the right was saved but the rest of the ranch was pretty much destroyed. The red glass on the buses tail lights melted and ran down in gruesome trails. It was not a happy scene.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Running The Enchantments

Sunday September 12th I ran The Enchantments in Washington state just South of Leavenworth. I had planned on rock climbing that day but as the morning slowly moved on and the suggestion arose... Everyone was so encouraging that I do it so I did.

Just after Asgard Pass
I started at the Coldchuck Lake trailhead at 11:40 AM exactly by my watch. The running was pretty easy and most of it was actual running until Coldchuck Lake. Around the lake were a few second class sections that slowed me down. Then it was quite a steep climb up to Asgard Pass. Mostly walking with a little running thrown in there. I reached Asgard Pass 1:59 after I started. From then on it was nearly all down hill.

More or less it was a gradual downhill run. The scenery was composed of rocks, lakes, and some trees here and there. The mountains like Dragontail were rather steep although I never actually saw the top of Dragontail because of the clouds.

I continued down hill reaching the level of the first big lake (Snow Lake?) at 3:10 PM and it took 20 minutes to go around it crossing the little man made causeway at the end at about 3:30 PM. I ran down the switchbacks and just kept going. I took a fall and skinned off my right knee a little and had three minutes of pain walking. Then it started to feel much better and I started running again. There were some very nice clear six degree downhill sections of trail where I really worked to get my legs turning over and I was flying downhill.

I hit a wall about 4:10 into my run but passed through it in only about ten minutes. After that I decided I wanted to finish in less than five hours. So I was really pushing it.
Between the two big lakes (Snow Lake I think was one behind me in this picture)
I finished at 4:51 PM 5:11 after I started. About 22 miles and about 2100 feet lower than I started despite running up over 4000 feet in the first two hours of the run.

The Finish

Probably only a minute after I finished my friends who had spent the day rock climbing pulled into the parking lot to check if I had finished. It was amazing timing. We finished up the weekend with a splash in the river and food at the Heildelburger. Seattle was quite welcome that night with flat soft beds.

Monday, September 13, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 23

The week started off with me starting up the South Face of Washington Column  in Yosemite again. I spent a night on a ledge probably 400 feet up in the air. It was long enough for three people but only a few feet wide. Falling asleep was a little more difficult than normal because there was a constant fear that I would roll off the edge. Exhaustion soon won over and I was asleep. I also decided that night that I just was not feeling like climbing a big wall solo. It's slow, lonely, hard, and I did not want it that bad. So I rappelled down in the morning and headed north for Seattle.

At Seattle I have been staying with another friend from Pakistan. All things considered it was a slow week. We went to a few local restaurants, a few different coffee shops, and the locks between the lake in the middle of town and the ocean. In the process I met several of his friends. Some of whom work for companies that interest me. Thus I applied for several jobs in the Seattle area that I had not planned on applying for.

The end of the week involved my friend and I driving to Leavenworth, WA to start a climbing trip in The Enchantments. However, we had a problem getting a permit for the right backountry zone and thus changed our plans from an alpine climb to a climb at one of the local crags. This worked out well because we ended up with a group of eight people. Car camping and cragging was a good option for all of the different skill levels and size of the group.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What Can Be Run?

There are about 41 million runners in the United States according to the Outdoor Industry Association. From treadmils to Olympians people run. Many people strive to go faster or farther. I do. If I could run a marathon under a certain time I would be so estatic, yet simply the ability to run one has been a blessing. Even the ability to run a mile is a blessing after an injury.

Much of the attention of running is focused on several standard events. Marathons are a huge draw. A strong athlete can make a living by running two marathons a year. That's it. Two races a year can make enough money to pay the bills, if you can run those two races fast enough. For non-professional runners, like most of us, it's not about making money but about accomplishing something that we are not entirely sure we can actually accomplish.

With that challenge in mind I have developed several other challenges for myself. Learning what it is possible to run. For example, this summer I had the opportunity to run some class 2 terrain. That is to say I have "run" across steep rock fields known as talus fields. It is very slow running, perhaps half as fast as running on flat ground. I have also run at high altitudes, even above 16,000 feet. So I have to ask what I see as the next logical question in both of those cases: Can I run class 3 terrain? Can I run even higher than 16,000 feet?

Running is defined as having both feet off of the ground at some point in the stride. I would add to that having boths hands in the air. Although, if I could run at 21,000 feet with treking poles I might. Opperation Everest (I, II, and III) have all studdied the response of humans to exercising in barometric chambers at altitudes equivalent to 29,000 feet. Under those conditions, people were able to exercise. However, 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 1/3 sea level air pressure is not the same as -20 degrees Fahrenheit and 1/3 sea level air pressure with a wind after you have been hiking for ten hours and camping for a month and a half.

So... I don't know what I can do. I know what I have done, and I know it was not easy. One step at a time I am learning. The future definately looks interesting.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Stages of Mountaineering

This is an expanded and modified version of the process that I learned this summer from the animal chef at the Denver Zoo. I do not recall his name but he has been featured in climbing magazines several times and climbed very hard routes so he is a legitimate authority on the matter. He was taught the Stages of Mountaineering from an older mountaineer, whose name I recognized yet I forget that as well.

There is a rather predictable process that most mountaineers go through. It is not always this way but often it is.
  1. Rock Climbing. Before this phase many mountaineers are simply hikers or backpackers. They probably even go up steep things, but in general before rock climbing everything the climber does could be done in normal flexible average shoes. Rock climbing is somewhat more dangerous than hiking. At least it feels that way. Accidents can happen and people do get seriously hurt and die every year. However, with proper techniques the danger is very low. Strong anchors, safe ropes, and relatively new equipment used properly will prevent most serious injuries.
  2. Ice Climbing. At this point the climber would like to try something a little more challenging. Instead of shorts and a t-shirt on a sunny day rock climbing the climber will wear expensive clothing, boots, and more exotic gear. The adventure becomes more dangerous. Ice screws, bollards, and v-threads have the ability to melt out or fracture and break the ice. While a chock or bolt used rock climbing may be safe for years ice features can melt in a matter of hours. It is a more committing sport and people are seriously injured and die every year as a result of that increased danger. Fewer people take part in this sport (about 200,000 people in the US versus 4 million rock climbers).
  3. Alpine Mountaineering. The climber now seeks to obtain a better view from higher peaks on harder and longer routes. Skills of both ice climbing and rock climbing are used as well as backpacking, cooking, and dealing with altitude, often in remote locations. There is more danger on this step than the previous two. Avalanches, altitude related illnesses, exhaustion, environmental conditions that change over the course of several days on a route, and logistical problems can all conspire against a mountaineer. At the greatest heights of mountaineering on 8000 meter (26,300 feet) tall mountains in Asia all of the mountains have summit to death ratios at or above 1%. That is to say for every 100 people that make it to the top at least one dies. On K2 the second highest mountain in the world that ratio is about 25%. For every four mountaineers that make it to the top one dies. This level is dangerous.
  4. Fishing. Often mountaineers will realize the danger of their sport and proceed to partake in a less dangerous hobby. One that ends with fresh fish eaten in a dry house followed by sleeping in a warm and soft bed. The reasons for this transition are varied. Families, children, old age, close calls, becoming seriously injured, and lack of motivation are all causes for a mountaineer to develop his or her fishing skills. This is also a step where uninitiated mountaineers may be safely brought along on trips. This stage of the process can be shared by the very young and very old alike with almost no danger.
Occasionally a mountaineer that reaches stage four will start back at stage one ten or twenty years later. Climbing things is a very satisfying experience. It is an experience that is hard to replace by other activities. That is to say that the fisherman may perhaps enjoy a little rock climbing now and then.With the advent of climbing gyms an even safer first step can occur. To the best of my knowledge only one person has ever died in a a climbing gym. She was planning ot rappel from about 45 feet in the air and fell off the edge while she was unclipped to anything. Considering the hundreds of thousands of people that use climbing gyms every year that is a miniscule number of tragedies. Also, it appeared to be in part human error, not equipment failure that led to that tragedy, whereas in stages one through three gear has failed outdoors leading to serious injuries and death. That is to say, go try out your local rock climbing gym for a safe taste of mountaineering. You never know where it will lead you.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 22

Another week and the end of another month that I survived. At the end of the day when things are not as rosy as had been planned my friends and I say something to the effect of, "we survived." Not entirely a week like that but it is always a good thing.

El Capitan, featuring The Nose in the center of the photograph
Halfdome Summit Picture
Sunday started with an off day. After spending two days and getting torn up on The Nose (the center ridge above) I needed a day of no climbing. So I turned to my other hobby, running. In 2000 when my family had vacationed in Yosemite I remember seeing Halfdome from Glacier Point and thinking how amazing it appeared. I wanted to come back and climb it someday. At the time that simply meant getting to the top. So I decided I would run Halfdome. From the Happy Isles bus stop to the top of the rock was two hours and 13 minutes. Thats 4800 feet of elevation rise over about 8.5 miles. All things considered it was an easy run. The maximum elevation was less than 9000 feet which allowed easier breathing. After a short break on the top I ran back down in about two hours.
The View from Halfdome of Halfdome and down Yosemite Valley
Bobcat with 30 feet of me that simply didn't care I was on the trail
Monday I decided to give the big walls another go. The South Face of Washington Column is known as the easiest big wall in Yosemite Valley, perhaps the world. It goes at 5.8 C1 and 11 pitches. That is to say well within my capabilities. However, after the approach hike, roping up, and starting up I was only 40 feet up the first pitch and I scared myself. I decided to get off the wall and that I just was not ready to climb big walls. It is so hard alone. The rope work is more complicated. There is no one there for conversation. There is no one to watch your back. There is no one to double check your work. There is no one to share the work load. So I headed down, had a pizza at Curry Village, and headed out via Camp 4...

I wanted to stop by and see my friend Andrew and let him know that unless he wanted to climb something I was leaving the valley. Strangely enough, he was there. He was also interested in climbing Halfdome, the steep way. I was very excited so we set plans to leave early Tuesday and do some climbing.

Tuesday we obtained the backcountry permit and bought the remaining supplies. Soon enough we were headed up the trail around the back of Halfdome to the base of the wall. At about 3 PM we arrived at the bottom of the very large wall. The spring of water was running, fortunately, so we purified water to supplement our supplies. About this time I had a funny experience. Andrew my climbing partner had long hair and wore a headband. He was wearing a dark shirt and light pants. I was looking at him and talking to him then I bent down to reach into my backpack. When I stood up I was facing the opposite direction and standing 200 feet away appeared to be Andrew. I quickly looked back at the real Andrew before returning my gaze to the new Andrew. He was just standing there staring at me. I was terrified that I was halucinating. The few times in the mountains I have seen things have been when I have been very tired and dehydrated. They have also never been clear things. For example, tree branches seem to be as strait as two by fours and part of a picnic area, versus simply tree branches. It is similar to seeing shadows in the dark and being afraid it is something more than shadows. However, this halucination was clear and real. Fortunately, about two seconds later I saw his climbing partner. He moved and then we started talking. They were planning to do the same route we were (The Regular Northwest Face) but they had a bit more experience.

We fixed the first two pitches and then they fixed the third pitch and then we went to sleep with half of our view of the stars obstructed by the immense piece of granite next to us. Both teams were attempting their first big wall and we agreed that working together would probably benefit the both of us.

Wednesday began at 3:00 AM or 3:25 AM by the time I actually woke up. We put together our gear and started ascending the ropes we fixed yesterday. Andrew was in the lead and I was behind. His headlamp died that morning and I proceeded to knock mine off of my helmet at the first belay ledge. He then clipped one of his ascenders to the other accidently. Add to all of this it was 5 AM and very dark and he had never used ascenders until the day before. Needless to say between the two of us we were not feeling the best about going a whole lot higher on the wall. So we rappelled down. We ate breakfast while we watched the more skilled team flail around on the fourth pitch and drop a #3 Camalot before calling it quits. It was a long dusty hike nine miles down to the valley. We marched in defeat, yet very satisfied to have tried such a climb.

That evening I headed to San Francisco to see a college friend. I arrived late, but with free parking. One comment on driving in the Bay Area is that it is really not a problem to find free parking and navigate. Compared to Boston driving was no trouble at all. The next day I woke up and as he headed to work I headed to Sausalito to spend my day reading, running, and having the best sushi I have ever had. That evening I hung out with my friend and his friends and had a small introduction to the social scene that makes San Fransisco famous...

Friday I went to my friend's house in Redwood City. We had been together in Pakistan and spent many hours together. I was interested in talking to him about how his transition back to normal life was. There was a long transition to normal life after the trauma of Pakistan. Since that was my first major trip it was especially difficult to return to normal life. Talking to others that through that experience allows me to process what happened.

Saturday I spent the day reading and sitting at the Apple store in Palo Alto (a close walk to Stanford). When I returned to my friend's house he called me on the phone. His wife had gone into labor and they wouldn't be home that night! I knew she was ready to give birth but it was supposed to be several weeks. I visit my friends and they have a baby. What is next?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Failing, Failing, and More Failing

I just rappelled off of the South Face route on Washington column. It
is the easiest big wall in the valley and in the Supertopo guidebook.
I've rappelled off of The Nose on El Cap 500 feet up and then
Wednesday off of The Regular Northwest Face on Halfdome. Three big
walls I have started in a week and rappelled off of. Two solo and one
with a partner.

On Washinvton Column I was just aiding up a perfect C1 crack and being
alone I got scared. There was too much lichen on the rock. It was too
windy. I didn't know where the route went well enough. (For those that
do not understand C1 is as easy as it gets. There are no hook moves,
like the one I blew on El Cap. Every piece used as protection could
handle a fall. At least a smallish 10 foot kind of fall. In short,
it's safe even for a not terribly experienced person like me.)

From my point of view with my high standards I have wasted some time
and failed at what i started out to do I have three points to make in
an attempt to make myself feel better.

1. "If you aren't whole without it (the summit, etc), you won't be
whole with it." - Stu Remensnyder. I had a phone conversation with one
of the owners of the company I went to Pakistan with minutes after I
rappelled off and he said that. The point is climbing (and other
things) are things that we do not who we are. It can be very had to
seperate the two. The point is I don't need the summit or the top of
the cliff to know that I have value. It can be hard for me to
understand that sometimes. Pretty shallow, I know. Extrapolate it to
other aspects of life like school or work and other athletics. The
value of a person is not solely their accomplishments on paper. This
endeavour or sport of mountaineering is a lifestlye choice with risk.
It is very difficult to compare this to sports like basketball because
it is such a massively involved activity.

2. "Your instincts are telling you something. Trust them and Listen."
- Ed Viesturs. Several times this summer I have turned around on
moderate obectives in Rocky Mountain National Park because of weather
or doubts about the strength of the climbing team or simply time
constraints. Overall I have a very good history with bad weather. I
have many times turned around in mildly bad weather just to have it
rapidly detoriate. I do not think I have ever really escaped death
(except for a lightening storm in 2006...) because of bad weather.
However it only takes one misstep to end a life. It is better to be a
little dissapointed than to have an epic which ends at a hospital or a
funeral home.

3. I was trying to eat the whole cake in one bite. El Cap solo for my
first big wall? Am I crazy? No one I have ever heard of headed off to
solo a grade IV route for their first grade V or IV. I totally have
the skills. I cruised a C2+ pitch before I fell on the next C2 pitch.
I have some vey nice aid moves. There was one offset Peenut move in a
shallow wide flaring crack... It was simply the most difficult chock
placement of my life. I also had a hook move on the third pitch that
went very well. I have the technical skills aid climbing to handle it.
I have the rope management skills to solo multipitch stuff and take
four gallons of water up in the air. All of that being said there is a
psycological component that I'm still working on.

I call it my fear of heights or fear of being alone yet that does not
entirely describe it.

Sent from my iPhone