Saturday, July 30, 2011


On Tuesday, we took a rest day by way of Yellowstone.  We did the tourist thing - sat at Old Faithful for 2 hours waiting to watch it shoot water 60 feet in the air for a few minutes.  I have to admit that it is an impressive sight, but also felt silly sitting there with a few thousand strangers waiting to see it blow.

Despite our best attempts to see the mighty Grizz, the man-eating bears were nowhere to be found.  I guess they were sleeping.

The cool thing about Yellowstone is that it has so many different features to check out.  We started with the geysers and hot springs, then checked out the Yellowstone canyon and waterfalls, and then saw some of the wildlife in the park as well as breathtaking views of Yellowstone lake.  I'm sure there is a lot more to see once you get away from the roadside attractions, but we only gave ourselves a day to play tourist in the park.

Here are some photos from our day in the park.

Here is a cool self-portrait.  The orange color is from bacteria growing in the water.

Some cool views of Mammoth Hotsprings.

Some wildlife photos:

The majestic Yosemite Falls.  Incredible volume of water...powerful!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Grand Teton National Park - Middle Teton (Part 1)

It all started when I looked out the window of the Delta narrowbody jet during landing and saw the Grand Teton staring me in the face.  Whoa!  I was eye-level with an unbelievable chunk of rock.   It made me think twice about trying to scale the beast.  Nevertheless, it was an awakening to the incredible beauty and grandeur of these mountains.  There are bigger and more technical climbs, but the combination of both make these mountains some of the most beautiful and fun in the world.  The beauty of it is that these mountains are still relatively lightly traveled compared to other national parks, so it makes for a nice, peaceful place to visit.

I tried to use my new iPad to chronicle some of these adventures in real time, but the inability to upload photos held me back a bit.  Having just returned, I am busily sorting through photos and video and trying to get all of this documented in a comprehensible fashion.  Here is the first installment of the Tetons, Yellowstone, and Yosemite extravaganza with a little bit of Napa Valley and Muir Woods blended in for good measure.  Hope you enjoy the stories as much as I enjoyed experiencing them!

Tetons - Part 1

After a nice breakfast in town, Goat and I stopped by the Teton Mountaineer to pick up some last minute gear. I bought a pair of Superfeet shoe insoles for my leather mountaineering boots and Goat picked up a pair of strap-on crampons.  Then, after checking out of the hotel, we stopped at Albertson's to provision our party with food.  Afterward, we headed back to the Teton Mountaineer as Goat talked me into a smaller pack. My pack was probably fine, but I did save some weight with the new Osprey Hornet 24 pack and I will be able to move better on the rock with it.  Before I spent more money, we jumped in the rented Ford Escape and escaped to the National Park. The views driving up to the park were just amazing. The Tetons are very much like the Alps in that they are jagged, rocky, snow covered peaks, but they start at a lower elevation. The vertical gain on these climbs is impressive at about 6,000 feet, but the base of the climbs is well below 7,000 feet.  With record snow falls this past winter, it makes the climbing more challenging in many respects.  We needed to carry an ice axe, helmet, crampons, gaitors, gloves, etc. as well as 3 liters of water, food, sunscreen, camera, hat, puffy jacket, shell jacket, and more.  Suddenly, my new 1,400 cubic inch pack was looking very small.

We stopped at the visitor center to purchase a national park pass.  I purchased the annual pass since Char and I will be at Yosemite next week. We watched the tourist video, and then made our way to the American Alpine Club Climber's Ranch.  The ranch is a great deal at $22 per night for non-members and $15 per night for AAC members. The place is great. If you don't mind dorm style living on wooden bunks, pack your air mattress and sleeping bag and chill out with some really cool and diverse people.

There are hot showers here, gas grill, washer/dryer, library, wifi, and unbelievable views.  I have tried to get some decent shots, but my camera can't seem to handle the contrast in lighting very well.

Our CT Climbers friend, Pam, drove up from Boulder, CO to spend a few days with us, and arrived at the ranch shortly after we settled in.  It was good to catch up with her.

We attempted to cook some burritos for dinner, but they left a bit to be desired. We agreed to go out for dinner the next night.  After dinner, it was prep time for our ascent of Middle Teton.  Middle Teton tops out at about 12,800 feet. The Climbers Ranch is located at 6,600 ft. elevation, so it's about 6,000 vertical to do it in a day.  We knew we were biting off a bit, but figured it would familiarize us with the high peaks, so we could plan other climbs such as the Grand Teton.

We attempted to pack light, so we could make good time, but included all the items I mentioned above. We did not pack climbing gear as the Southwest Couloir route was rated a Class 3 rock scramble.  We left the ranch at 6AM with a plan to reach the summit by noon.  Things started well when a kind fellow offered us a ride to the trailhead saving us about a half mile walk.  As it turns out he was an ultra runner from Illlinois who just placed 3rd in a local 50 miler. Of course, we told him to come out to run Traprock.

The trail started off easy enough meandering through meadows.  It took a minute to pick up the trail as it entered the woods, but then we started climbing. The path was easy to follow, but the Mosquitos were the worst I have ever experienced.

We had no bug spray, so suffered mightily.  An Exum Mountaineering guide blew by us on the trail.  I imagine he was probably trying to stay ahead of the bugs.  Once the sun came out in force , the bugs faded away, and we settled down and started to enjoy the views.   This little Marmot seemed to be enjoying the view as well.

Garnett Canyon is amazing!

Before too long, we hit snow (around 9,000 feet elevation), and decided to don the axe and crampons. The crampons were a bit of overkill, and we switched back and forth a couple times which caused us to lose some time.   At the Meadows, the trail splits with the Middle Teton trail going left and the Grand Teton trail going right.

We went left and headed up a steep snowfield. This is the first place you really could use the crampons.  At the top of the pitch, Pam decided to rest and abort the summit attempt. Her heavy plastic mountaineering boots were uncomfortable and slowed her down considerably.  She seemed in good spirits, and urged us to push on ahead as she would take her time and meet us at Icefloe lake.  Kevin and I pressed on for another hour or so, but then the weather got nasty.  It was raining and hailing, and the skies looked really bad.  We were concerned about Pam, and decided to turn back at 11AM and 11,000 ft.  Kevin was moving well at that point, but the altitude and fatigue were getting to me. We estimated at least another 1.5 hours to the summit at that point and there was no way we could leave Pam alone in a storm for that long.  We retreated quickly, and luckily saw Pam taking shelter in a spot just above where we had parted ways.  She didn't recognize me at first, but was happy to see us as we got closer.  Note: After reading this entry again, I realized we were probably at least 3 hours from the summit given our pace. It was a wise move to turn back given the technical nature of the rock leading to the summit.

We regrouped, the sun came out, and we descended the snowfield back down to the Meadow. Due to the warm temps, snow was balling up on my crampons, giving me great difficulty.  Luckily, the slope was not too steep, but I made a mental note to get some anti-balling plates when we went back into town.

Once we arrived back at the Meadow, we removed crampons and started heading for home. We chatted with folks doing the Grand as they retreated as well.  Some made the summit by leaving from the Exum guide hut at 11,000 feet at 4AM.  The guides have provisioned everything for their clients.  They don't even need to carry a sleeping bag or climbing gear.  For me, i can't see that as a true adventure.  It's great for some people, but just not for me.  We have our bivy gear, so bivying at a higher camp is an option, but I prefer moving fast and light and banging it out in a day if at all possible.

On the descent, we made a wrong turn which probably added 1-2 miles to our trek.  We were worn out when we got back to the ranch, and decided to soak our legs in the frigid river near camp before heading into town for some dinner.

We found a nice organic food restaurant in Jackson, and I enjoyed fish tacos while we licked our wounds.  We discussed options for the coming days, and all agreed we needed an easy day to recover and further acclimatize before making another summit attempt.

All in all it was a good day.  I knew the likelihood of reaching the summit on day 1 was a longshot.  The climb allowed us to get familiar with the area, acclimatize, understand our timing/pace, and work out our gear systems.  It was a chance for Goat and Pam to learn some mountaineering skills as well.  For me, I realized my fitness was still not 100%, but I thought it would be sufficient to get me through the week.  I decided to give up on the heavy leather mountaineering boots, and use my new goretex Salomen trail running shoes for the next attempt.  Goat had a similar set-up, and the crampons worked fine with them.  This would enable me to move faster and save energy.  I also needed to get a water bladder as stopping to pull out water bottles was too time consuming, and I was not drinking enough as a result.

We were tired after day 1, but it allowed me to quickly get my mind and body adjusted to vacation mode.  I did not have a cell signal to check email, and was pleased to fall asleep listening to the sound of the guitar player strumming away at the cabin next door.  Life is good.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Almost home

Great workout tonight!

I was really bummed last night after trying to run to the end of my road and back.  It's less than a mile round trip and I was really hurting every step of the way.  The downhill tore me up and I hobbled for the full distance.  The uphill wasn't too bad, but I never felt in synch.  After finishing, I started thinking about Terry Laughlin's "Total Immersion Swimming" philosophy and the process they use to perfect technique.  They don't worry about piling on the laps or miles.  They work on the technique.  Once the technique is right, the speed and miles come with less effort.  This is what I have been attempting to do with my 1 mile runs a couple times each week.  I'm getting stronger and faster, but my stride is still way out of wack.  Only doing a mile helps me concentrate a bit on form, but I needed to break it down further.   I decided to run "sprints" (for me these days this is 7:30 - 8:30 min/mile pace with the afterburners on full throttle) up my driveway a few times, and really focus on my stride.  It seemed to help some as I started to feel more like a runner and less like a gimpy old man.   It gave me a little hope after a lousy run down the road.

Tonight was another story.  After doing a 15 minute warm-up on the bike and doing all my pre-run warm-up exercises and stretches, I gave the dreadmill another shot.  I was determined to take a crack at the 8 minute/mile barrier.  OK, I'm no Roger Bannister, but 8 min/mile is a challenge at this point in my recovery.  I used to think I could run 8 min miles forever.  It was effortless for me and it almost seemed harder to go slower.  I used to run marathons at sub 7 min pace, and it's a daily mental mind game wondering if I can ever get back to that form.  I figured if I could get a couple steps of a good, pain-free stride, I could duplicate it over and over.  If I could do an 8 minute mile with a reasonable stride, there would be hope....I think I can, I think I can...

Once I started the treadmill, I knew I had a shot!  My stride was significantly improved, and I quickly cranked the pace down below 8:30/mile.  To make an 8 minute story very short, I did about a 7:52ish mile and finished the last 200 yards at a 7:35 pace.  Wooohoo!  I am feeling better now!  The nice kicker was that my knee pain was not as bad and the stride felt much improved.  I'm still wobbly, but I'm able to push off more with the left leg.  The stride did get sloppy at times, but I only needed a couple good strides to tell me what is possible....I can do the work to make it repeatable.

After doing my PT, I decided to celebrate and pay homage to Mr.  Laughlin by doing a few laps in the pool.  I tried to focus on my technique and noticed a little improvement.  It was actually enjoyable.  I have a long way to go, but I'll get to that triathlon one of these days.

I know I can, I know I can....

Now, off to finalize plans for the Tetons and Yosemite!  Looking forward to a great trip!



Sunday, July 10, 2011

Adirondacks Report: Mt. Colden and summer fun!

Every year the Connecticut Climbers and Mountaineers hosts a trip to the Adirondacks on July 4th weekend.  We camp at Whispering Pines Campground located halfway between Keene and Lake Placid in the heart of the high peaks region.  There is a lot of tradition associated with the events of the weekend, so there is usually very few surprises for those who have attended in the past.  It's a great time, and I have attended almost every year for the past 8 years.  Last year I missed the trip, so Charlotte and I could spend some time together as we had just started dating.  This year, Charlotte and her younger son, Christopher, joined me for a great adventure.

Since there were 3 of us going, I needed to figure out sleeping arrangements for us.  My tent will only hold 2 people comfortably.  No worries though as I was anxious to try out sleeping in the Honda Element, so I started building a sleeping platform.  I got some ideas on the Honda Elements Club Owners Forum, and came up with some embelishments of my own.  I barely finished the construction before packing all the gear on Thursday night, so didn't have much time to check out the system.  I removed one of the Element rear seats for added room, and was glad I did.  This would be the maiden voyage for car camping in the E!

We drove up Friday afternoon, set up a tent for Christopher, and greeted CCM members as they arrived at camp.  It was great to see my friend, Paul (a.k.a. EuroMan) as I haven't seen him in approximately 6 months.  We drove into Lake Placid for dinner and ran into the Goat, Jessica, and Batboy at a local Greek restaurant.  The food was excellent.  I highly recommend the Greek Salad with beans.  Yum!  After dinner, we headed back to camp, prepped the Element for sleeping mode, and caught up with many friends at the campfire.  The typical question is, "What are you climbing tomorrow?" and "Who are you climbing with...?"  For us, we were planning a big hike and had our eyes set on summiting Algonquin.  As it turns out, Goat, Jessica, Batboy, and Euroman (and Grover) had similar plans, so we all agreed to go together.

After a hearty breakfast in Keene, we headed for the ADK Loj trailhead only to find the parking lot full. No worries...we went to the trailhead on Meadow Road.  This is the cheaper option since it is free, but adds a couple miles to the round trip.  It's a pleasant, relatively flat walk to Marcy Dam, so the added mileage is no big deal.

With Euroman and Grover taking the point, we set off for Marcy Dam.

I was pleased that I was able to keep up with everyone with minimal discomfort.  I figured I would be the weakest link on this hike, so was paying close attention to my aches and pains to ensure I did not put us in a situation that would slow us down too much or create a potential rescue situation.  Here's a shot of the crew taking a break at Marcy Dam.

The plan was to hike through Avalanche Pass to Lake Colden and then decide whether to conquer Algonquin (2nd highest peak in NY) or Mt. Colden (still a big peak at 4,700+ feet elevation).    The hike around Avalanche and Colden Lakes is so much fun and the views are amazing.

After covering more than 5.5 miles, we decided to take a left and save a little time by hiking Mt. Colden.  It only saves about 1-2 miles on the round trip, but it was a wise decision nonetheless.  Once we started the climb up to the ridge, it became obvious that Charlotte's son, Chris, was slowing down.  I hung back with Chris and did my best to coax him along.  Goat, Euroman, and I took turns trying to keep him moving along.  Chris hung in there and we finally made it to the summit and collapsed for a short break.

Goat and Euroman were a bit restless and wanted to get back in time for happy hour while Char and I hung back with Chris.  Chris was having trouble on the descent, and it seemed he was bonking and possibly not getting enough electrolytes.  I put some endurolyte powder in his water bottle, and after awhile he seemed to get back to normal.

We chugged along and finally made it back to Marcy Dam where the faithful and trusty Euroman was waiting for us.  The four of us hiked back to the E while being attacked by mosquitos.  It was a long 9.5 hours covering about 15 miles and Chris asked that we never do that again!  After realizing I may have traumatized him again (1st time was the climbing accident where I dropped 100 feet to land right next to him), I figured I better come up with something to make up for it.

We had a fantastic potluck dinner at camp that evening with a cello suite solo by the burgeoning Batboy!   If you haven't heard the Batboy play the cello, you are missing something special.  He's got talent!  The nice thing is that he makes it cool to play the cello.  All the young kids sat quietly and listened intently while he played.

During the potluck, I quizzed the families for ideas fun kid activities for Sunday.  I've spend at lot of time in the DAKS, but most of it was climbing or hiking.  Piton Paul and Jen Reed both advised me to take Char and Chris to a gorge with cliff jumping.  It sounded like fun, but I was a little nervous about jumping off another cliff despite the fact that water was down below.  Nevertheless, after a big breakfast in Lake Placid (huge pancakes at the diner next to Mr. Mike's Pizza), we headed off for some swimming.

This swimming spot is on the right side of the road 1/2 mile past the KOA in Wilmington Notch.  It's free and about 100 feet from the pull out parking spot.  There are 3 tiers on the cliff where you can jump into the water below the waterfalls.  Here is  someone jumping from the middle tier.  The upper tier is about 30 feet up!  Yikes!  Chris and I both jumped from the middle tier and Jessica (Goat's girlfriend) jumped from the upper tier.  Yeah!   Chris had a blast playing in the water.  The current is really strong in spots, so be careful if you go there.  We hung out there for a bit and then went to find some lunch.

We decided to have a picnic at Cascade Pass next to the lake just below the cascade.  Chris, Char, and I had fun thumb wrestling, and enjoying the views.  Life was good!  After a bit, we headed back to camp and Char and I decided to try a run together.  We stayed on the gravel road going through camp and I experimented with the shim in my shoe.  It hurt like heck to run downhill, so my run was more like a controlled limp.  Either way, we covered a little over 2 miles in about 22 minutes, and I followed it up with a full set of physical therapy exercises and stretches.

It's always fun to hear the stories of the day from all the climbers and hikers as they filter back into camp.  The best stories are the late arrivals of the hardmen as they arrive late for pizza at Mr. Mike's in Lake Placid.  At Mr. Mike's, we always have big bowls of family style salad, pizza, and Sammies.  We toast the Chief, Dennis, and Ken, take the traditional group photo, and make our way to the ice skating rink for the traditional snow ball fight courtesy of the zamboni shavings.

Chris was really into the snowball fight, and snow kept flying as we made our way down to Ben & Jerry's for the traditional ice cream stop.  All good fun and it was great to share it with Char and Chris for the first time.

We packed everything back into the Element on Monday morning, and set off down the road.  We stopped by the new Cedar Run bakery for breakfast and then said goodbye to Euroman who was setting off to save lives in Tennessee.  Grover wanted to stay with the CCM, but Euroman told him they had a higher calling.

All in all it was a good Adirondacks trip with some of the best weather I've seen on a July trip to the DAKS.  I'd like to get back on the rock at some point, but it didn't feel like the right time on this trip.

Running update:

Monday, July 4th

After returning home, I went over to the Plainville HS track and attempted another mile.  I ran without the shim and it seemed to be worse without it.  My time was 8:37 which was a bit slower than my last attempt.

Wednesday, July 6

15 minutes warm-up on the bike, and about 15 minutes of prescribed pre-run warm-up exercises (they seem to help)

2 miles on the treadmill - YEAH!

1st mile - 8:30
2nd mile - 9:15
Total - 17:45

Not bad, about equal to my old 5K time, but making progress.  Stride is feeling more natural, but still run a bit lop-sided.  Finished up with all my PT exercises, core work, and chin-ups.  Big workout!

Friday, July 8

Early morning PT session.  They beat me up good.  Eric gave me a real shim to put in my shoe.  It's about 1/8' -1/4" thick.  I had to remove it around lunchtime due to pain, but then got used to it later in the day.

Sunday, July 10

Goat and I went for the record for the Pinnacle to Rt. 6 and back 4.5 mile course.  I ran almost the entire way.  Our goal was to break one hour.  Last time I did the route with Char, it took 1:10, so I thought 1 hour was doable.  I worked my tail off, but we could only manage 1:01:30.  A new record, but a little short of the 1 hour mark.  Nevertheless, it is sub 14 minute pace on difficult single-track with some good elevation gain.  I'll take it for now!   Just need to keep getting stronger.

Post-Script -

Goat and I leave for the Tetons and Yellowstone on Saturday.  We'll be there for a week, and then I fly to San Francisco to meet Char for a few days in Yosemite.  We'll have plenty to report on when I return!

Be safe everyone!