Sunday, July 17, 2016

Van Life: Home Is Where You Park It

Exciting news folks!!!!!!

We said goodbye to Big Bird (our beloved yellow Subaru Baja) last week and welcomed a 1995 Chevy G30 Roadtrek Popular 210 into our family!

Ever since we have been spoiled by a decked out Sprinter van thanks to our Backpacker job in 2013, we have been sold on the idea of living in a van. J has casually searched for RVs and converted vans during the past 2 years, but this summer, we decided it was time to get serious.

We have a contract job lined up for later this summer (more on that another post), so the van will serve as our adventure mobile and partial home in the meantime. It will also be extremely useful when we launch another speaking tour next year.

We van shopped like it was our job, driving all over Colorado and looking at about a dozen. We hemmed and hawed about price, age and size. For 2 people who are anti-commitment and have a hard time deciding what to eat for dinner, it was amazing we found a winner.

We really loved everything about this one. It has a very clean interior with a lot of upgrades and added features. Of course, we plan to personalize it as much as we can (interior tour, coming soon), but everything happened so quickly and we hit the road as soon as the keys were in our hand.

Sure, it is a 1995, so there are blast-from-the-past features, but that just adds some character. The 210 model means it is 21 feet and is rarer among the Roadtreks. A beast to drive, but the extra feet are welcome when we are cozied inside. Mechanically, there are minor issues, but our maiden voyage across the US has given us the confidence it will perform well.
And now, we need your help in naming our new home on wheels. Leave a comment here on the blog, on Instagram, or Facebook with a name suggestion and if we pick yours, we will send you a prize!!!!

1) The contest will end on Sunday, July 31 at midnight.
2) The contest is open to U.S. residents only (for shipping purposes).
3) Feel free to suggest multiple names using all the social media!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Backpacking Wyoming: Wind River Range

This past weekend, we explored the highly acclaimed Wind River Range in Bridger National Forest in Wyoming. We hijacked a pre-planned trip with J's sis, Jamie, and her wifey, Rachel.
The short story is that we backpacked 40 miles in 3 days and every mile and every minute lived up to its reputation.
But I don't do short stories. I do long and detailed.

Day 1
Mileage: 12 miles
Elevation Gain: 2560 feet
Elevation Loss: 1063 feet

We started from the Elkhart Park Trailhead at 8,920 feet on the Pole Creek Trail. The first few miles traverses timberline terrain, then morphs into glacier-carved landscape and remote lake basins.
The hike was beautiful and uneventful, except for a passing thunderstorm along the exposed 1.4 mile Seneca Lake. To be safe, rather than sorry, we ducked into the boulder field for protection.

Our destination for the evening was Little Seneca Lake at 10,400 feet. We slept on a peninsula on the west end of the lake. There are tons of social trails leading you to pre-existing campsites, some a little too close to water, but all with rock chairs and dinner views.

Day 2
Mileage: 12 miles
Elevation Gain: 1601 feet
Elevation Loss: 1810 feet

The forecast remained blue sky and toothy for day 2. We planned an easy day with our backpacks ... we dropped them and set up camp at Island Lake 2 miles beyond Little Seneca Lake. Island Lake has a 360-degree panorama where bold granite spires surround the crystal clear lake and wildflower meadows.
Photo courtesy of Rachel (DocDoc)
Then, we day hiked the additional 5 miles to Ticomb Basin, sort of the end of the line before you get into more technical climbing in the Wind River Range. This is one of the approach options for Gannett Peak, the high point of Wyoming. It's 13,809 feet and entails crossing glaciers, snow climbing and technical rock scrambling. We'll save that for another day (gulp).

Titcomb Basin is a chain of lakes and getting to the last one at 10,598 feet gets you closest to the grandeur peaks of Fremont, Henderson and the Buttress. The weather was turning a little bit, but we pushed on. It was definitely the most dramatic part of the whole trip.

Day 3
Mileage: 16 miles
Elevation Gain: 1918 feet
Elevation Loss: 3065 feet

Knowing a cold front was pushing in, we made a group decision to hoof it all the way back to the trailhead. It should only be a 14-mile pilgrimage, but J & I got turned around on the trail when separated from the girls. A minor setback, but a message made of sticks on the trail from Rachel reunited the group within an hour.

The Pole Creek Trail is a very popular trail in the Wind River Range and is heavily used by climbers, anglers and backpackers, but we lucked out with minimal crowds. In fact, we saw the most people when we were on our way out Sunday.
Also, despite warnings of being in bear (black bear and grizzly) territory, we saw no tracks or poop. Aside from a plethora of curious marmots and one mama and baby moose, the wildlife was scant.

I have been hearing about the Wind River Range for years and am so glad to have experienced it. The terrain definitely reminds me of other places we've been in Washington and Oregon, but it did not disappoint at all. There are tons of trails and I'm sure we'll be back. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Te Araroa Book Progress

My month-long writer residency at Elsewhere Studios wrapped up what seems to be ages ago (May 30) and once again I thought I'd give you a long overdue post with some quick and dirty stats. While my book is currently collecting dust, I made major progress during my "artist in residence" program at at Elsewhere Studios in Paonia, Colorado.
In my 24 days living in the "Gingerbread House," I typed a whopping 24,505 words, which translates to 72 pages (Word, double space, Times, 12pt)! Typically, I wrote 1,000 words a day, working for about 5 hours give or take. Amazingly, I only had 3 days of writer's block (and only consumed 17 ounces of chocolate the whole month).
I seriously don't know how people wrote books on typewriters ... without the Internet. Gasp! 

Two of my 3 "roommates" were writers, so we really capitalized on our skills and participated in a few community events. Not only did we host the regular open houses and read our work at Elsewhere, there was open mic night, a writer's group, a radio reading and a workshop teaching others about writing.
The 3 Elsewhere writer residents participated in the radio show, "One Woman's Perspective" on the local "mountain-grown" radio station (KVNF). We each read an excerpt. 

Overall, Elsewhere was an awesome experience, I am in love with residences and I am ecstatic with the headway I've made. This brings my book grand total to 33,620 words, or 106 pages. I believe I am 70% done with the "writing" portion of my book. I am hoping to do a little more writing this fall and winter to potentially finish the words on paper portion. Let's not talk about the revision process though. Baby steps.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Southwest Colorado Spring Adventures

I know the Denali and Alaska blog posts piqued a lot of interest here in May and June, but while Justin was off climbing mountains, I was not just sitting on my butt in Colorado. And while this is a belated post, I still wanted to share. Today we celebrate 'Murica and I sure do enjoy exploring our beautiful country.

My temporary stint as a writer-in-residence in Paonia introduced me to a new area to explore during a new season. Colorado's winter and spring danced together for the first few weeks of May, keeping access to certain forest roads and trailheads closed. But a ridiculously rainy spring soon turned into an explosion of wildflowers at the lower elevations under bluebird days--perfect for hiking. Even though my regular adventure partner was unavailable, I found a new one! Liz, one of the other writer residents at Elsewhere, was happy to go exploring.
Photo credit for all photos: Liz Cantrell

Like the Colorado I've come to love, this particular neck of the state is full of sharp, stunning contrasts, from the eternally snow-capped mountains to the flattop mesas to the deep canyons. The following three hikes did not disappoint on any of the above.

Dark Canyon Trail - Gunnison National Forest
Mileage: 4 miles out and back (The Dark Canyon Trail actually goes 13.8 miles, but we only did a short day hike)

Elevation Gain/Loss: The trailhead starts at roughly 6,800 feet and stays fairly flat for the first few miles. It isn't until mile 5 or so where you start to gain 2,000 feet of elevation.

Description: The trail follows the narrow canyon along Anthracite Creek, which was roaring like an unleashed animal. The spring snowmelt also created an abundance of waterfalls thundering down from the cliffs above. I would say spring is the perfect time to explore this canyon, although I found 2 ticks that hitched a ride from the oak bushes, so be mindful!

Duncan Trail - Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area
Mileage: 3 miles out and back

Elevation Change/Gain: 840 feet - The trailhead starts at 6,500 feet.

The first thing I should mention is that Peach Valley Road to access the trailhead is primitive and would be best with a high-clearance vehicle. My AWD Baja did a-okay for first part, but we parked and walked the last mile to be safe.

The trail snakes down amongst juniper trees through the pink and mauve canyon layers to the Gunnison River. The last .5 miles is a bit of hand-over-foot scramble with multiple options for the "trail." We went down one way, and up another.

One of Colorado's nicknames is "the mother of rivers" because of the state's 8,000 miles of rivers and streams. The Gunnison is the fifth largest tributary of the Colorado River.

Once again, a great choice for cooler spring temperatures as opposed to the summer heat. Plus, the rattlesnakes. We nearly stepped on a well-blended bugger if not for his warning rattle ... I can only imagine how many are out during summer.

North Vista Trail - Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Mileage: 7 miles out and back

Elevation Change/Gain: 850 feet - The trailhead starts at the North Rim Visitor Center at roughly 7,700 feet.

With the National Park Service celebrating its centennial, there's bound to be bumper-to-bumper traffic in the most popular parks. But here's one of those places where the crowds do not flock. With only an average of 180,000 visitors during the past 10 years, we didn't even have to battle the masses for Memorial Day weekend.

We entered from the north rim of the park because it was closer to Paonia. The trail follows the rim of the canyon up to a high point on Green Mountain, with views playing peek-a-boo in between the bristlecone pine trees and wildflowers.

The Gunnison River appeared frothy in the Black Canyon, while in neighboring Gunnison Gorge it was more like a green ribbon. This is a very narrow section of the river, as this 2,500-foot canyon may be 1300 feet wide at the tip, it tapers to 40 feet at the bottom! Daylight only reaches the canyon floor 2,700 feet below for 33 minutes a day.

Another interesting observation we had in comparison to the Gunnison Gorge was that the rock faces did not have the same horizontal striation patterns. Instead, these walls were streaking downward, presumable from the snow and ice freezing and thawing.
All in all, I would say southwest Colorado, just like the rest of the state, has plenty to offer!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Currently: June

Currently living/working in: In limbo! We returned from Alaska June 16 and intended on only spending 1.5 weeks in Colorado … but we are still here. Just lots of adulting going on and we can’t make definitive plans until we sort out a few adult matters. 

Current mood: These in-between periods are always the most stressful for me, especially when you factor in some other things. 

Currently excited about: A possible backpacking trip next week to the Wind River Range … with J’s sister and wifey!

Currently not excited about: Have I mentioned on this blog how much I despise going to the dentist? Small mouth, bad genes, a major sweet tooth and poor hygiene are not a good combination. 

Currently worried about: Things. 

Currently thankful for: Comprehensive and affordable health coverage (not many can say that, so I count our blessings). 

Currently proud of: My husband. I still can’t get over how brave and bad ass he is. Or how beautiful the pictures are. 
Currently regretting: So it has been 90 bazillion degrees here in Denver since we returned and I have all of 4 short sleeved shirts in my possession. Since we are typically wintering in Colorado and summering elsewhere, my wardrobe is lopsided. I am going to venture to say my short-sleeved shirts are somewhere in this 10x10 storage unit. I am hoping we can soon visit the storage unit that we packed up this time last summer. 
Currently amazed by: Alaska. Yes, I love Colorado, but don’t tell my in-laws that I love Alaska more. 

Current guilty pleasure: Spending time with nephews ... first with our trip to Alaska with our oldest nephew and now with the two little ones here in Denver. However, we love giving them back. 

Currently reading: “No Shortcuts to the Top” by Ed Viesturs (with David Roberts). I stayed away from the mountaineering books while Justin was on Denali, but now they are back in rotation. Ed Viesturs is one of the strongest and most respected mountaineers out there, but has some pretty horrific survival tales to tell. I particularly love Ed’s motto, “Reaching the summit is optional. Climbing down is mandatory.” 

Currently watching on Netflix: Season 4 of “Orange is the New Black.” We are halfway through this latest season, and I feel the same way I did about seasons 2 & 3. It’s slow-burning and I could do without it. But, we’ll stick it out. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Denali Top Ten List

Another guest post from Justin (edited by Patrice of course)!

My previous mountaineering experiences helped me predict what to expect on Denali, but as with anything, you really don't know how it's really going to be until you are wearing the boots yourself. And since I received lots of questions about life on the mountain, especially where we went to the bathroom, I thought I'd share my top 10 list of things that may make you go, "what, huh, no way!" Be prepared for A LOT of photos.

Where do you go to the bathroom?
Part of camp-building duties including building an outdoor bathroom in the snow. This includes, once again, cutting ice blocks with a saw and building walls high enough to protect you from winds and well, for privacy. There is no roof of course. And my 8 team members and 3 guides all pooped into the same small bucket lined with a biodegradable bag.
Every few days, the guides would tie up the bag and before we left that camp, we would dispose of it into a crevasse specifically labeled by the National Park Service. So for example, at Camp 3 (14,200 feet) where we spent 11 days, we disposed of 4 bags.

Up at High Camp (17,200 feet), the bucket got smaller.
There is a great exhibit of climber's gear in Denali National Park Visitor Centers.

As for peeing, you never pee in the bucket, as that stuff freezes. Instead, you pee in a hole dug in the snow near the bucket. At night, you pee in your tent in your very own pee bottle, which you must keep in your sleeping bag. It is too damn cold to step outside (no one wants frost bite on their, you know). You have to keep the water bottle in your bag so it doesn't freeze and empty it in the morning. If it freezes, the bottle will expand. Then when it defrosts, the pressure could cause the bottle to explode. I've heard a few stories about exploding pee and it doesn't sound pleasant. I only had to pee in my bottle 5 times.
Don't eat the yellow snow.

Sunscreen is your most valuable piece of gear.
When temperatures drop to NEGATIVE 40, it seems weird to think about using sunscreen. Even in whiteout conditions, you need to apply. The sun is ALWAYS out in Alaska in the summer. We had dusk between midnight and 3am, but the sun would barely dip behind the surrounding mountains. I brought my headlight to Alaska, but I didn't bring it on the mountain. I also brought an eye mask, but I didn't find I needed that (our sleeping schedule was so odd--there was a lot of napping).

Not only is the sun always out, but it is very strong being so high up. And, it reflects on the snow. So you need to put sunscreen on every piece of exposed skin--up your nostrils, in your ears. Sometimes the roof of your mouth can get burnt. Believe it or not, the sun reflecting off the glacier can bring the mountain temps up to 40 degrees.

The only color is in your dreams.
The views are white mountains and white ground on blue sky, with the exception of camps, where multi-colored tents dot the landscape like flowers. It is a very sterile environment without many places for germs and allergens to live. The views were still unbelievable, but just colorless. When we flew back to Talkeetna on June 3, the snowy peaks gave way to a sea of pines and I immediately smelled it: Earth. It was an amazing smell.

Not only is your tent crowded, so is your sleeping bag. 
I sure wish I was snuggling up to Patrice every night, but instead, I was snuggling with my pee bottle, water bottles, batteries, all electronics, sunscreen, boot liners, any clothes I wasn't wearing and some food. If not, you would be sorry. One time, I left my sunblock out and woke up to it being frozen solid.
Building camp is sometimes harder work than trekking to camp. 
We slept in 5 places on the mountain--Base Camp (7,200 feet), Camp 1 (7,600 feet), Camp 2 (11,200 feet), Camp 3 (14,200 feet) and High Camp (17,200 feet). When Patrice and I are backpacking, getting to camp is a huge relief. We have to cook dinner and fetch water, but the hardest work is done.

This is not true for mountaineering. You first have to build camp for your own tent, the cooking tent (called the "posh") and the bathroom.
This is the "posh" where the team ate together.
You first level out a "platform," using shovels, snowshoes and your hands, then you use ice saws to cut cinderblock ice blocks. You stack the blocks to build walls around your tent and camp to protect your home from the winds.  These walls need to be built like you are a mason, filling in every crack.  Every camp is different, but it would normally take us at least 2 hours to do this task. At Camp 3 (14,200 feet), we probably cut well over 100 blocks to set up camp and many more in the days that followed to reinforce.

On Day 9 at Camp 3, I started feeling extreme pain in my left hand and attributed it to chopping ice. It grew to the size of a grapefruit over the next few days, but at least I had plenty of ice to treat it and the swelling went down eventually.

Over time, the ice blocks melt a bit and you have to keep making sure that wall is strong and dig out the area around the tent. You don't want to subject your tent to the winds. One time, I was standing outside and saw a huge tent flying toward me in the air. I jumped and grabbed it, but it dragged me down. The tent owners were very grateful I saved their expedition because their tent would have otherwise blown off the mountain.

Climbers make runways too. 
K2 is one of the companies that flies climbers on and off Kahiltna Glacier. Their "Otter" planes have wheels to land in Talkeetna on a normal runway, and skis to land on the glacier. The problem with the icy glacier runway is sometimes snow covers it. The new snow is too soft for the planes to land; they will sink.

Base camp from above
When our team climbed down the mountain to Base Camp (7,200 feet) on June 3, the basecamp director made an announcement for all climbers to strap on their skis and snowshoes. It must have been quite a site to see a hundred of us stomping along the glacier in unison!

You eat really well on the mountain.
Believe it or not, climbers eat really well on the mountain. Of course, you are still trying to still to the lighter weight foods, since you are hauling 22 days of food via sled and backpack, but still. Consider that the surrounding environment is a great refrigerator, though sometimes the setting is too cold and can freeze. I slept with my honey sometimes to keep it from freezing. My hummus froze, but it was in individual packs, so it was easy to defrost.

Part of my package deal with RMI Expeditions is they provide breakfast and dinner. For breakfast, we had bagels with cream cheese, smoked salmon, bacon, oatmeal. My favorite breakfast was on Day 15--pancakes with chocolate chips and peanut butter and pancakes with blueberries. The guides always had hot water for us but you have to bring your own coffee.
Inside the "posh"
For lunch, I brought guacamole and hummus, but often I was just grazing and snacking all day, eating a lot of Honey Stinger bars and waffles. My favorite snack was vanilla wafers with honey and Pringles, but I didn't bring nearly enough of those. I brought 2 cans of Pringles, and cached one can at Camp 2 (11,200 feet). I was dreaming about them when I finished my other can at Camp 3 (14,200 feet).
For dinner, the guides made some great creations. My favorites were mac and cheese with bacon and quesadilla with cheese and veggies. We always had a nightcap of "hots" (hot tea, hot chocolate or cider) as well and enjoyed a choice of 3 types of cookies about every other night--I always chose nutter butters.
Inside the posh with snow seats and tables!
Two months prior to leaving, I changed my diet to eliminate dairy. Some of you know I have a stomach condition that I've had since I was a teenager. In the past year, it has worsened and I have been experimenting with different dietary restrictions. Going dairy-free seemed to help. Well, cheese and hiking/mountaineering go hand in hand. I brought dairy-free cheese on the mountain and the guides substituted it in my meals. It was an okay, but man did I miss real cheese.
We were on the mountain for 23 days. We probably could have lasted another few days because 3 people left the expedition and had their food. But, no one really spends that long on the mountain and we were jonesing for some real grub by that point.
You have to make water.
When Patrice and I are backpacking, we can usually find a stream, puddle, pump, etc.

But on Denali, there is nothing running. Everything is frozen. You have to make your own water by melting snow. And this is no easy task, especially when you are providing water for an entire team. The higher you go in altitude, the longer it takes to melt snow into water. At High Camp (17,200 feet), it took well over an hour to boil a pot of snow into water.

Also, finding snow is difficult. Yes, it is all around you, but you have to dig deep to find good, clean snow. Never touch the yellow snow.

Every single thing (except poop bags) you bring on the mountain, comes off. 
It is amazing how much garbage you create in 23 days.

Flying on and off the mountain is almost as dangerous as climbing.
Our team got really lucky flying onto the mountain. We were right on RMI's intended schedule when we woke up on May 12 to see blue skies. We flew onto the mountain at 9am, sorted our gear and started the 5-mile/6-hour trek to Camp 1 (7,800 feet).

Flying off the mountain, however, was a different story. We got down to Base Camp (7,200 feet) early on Friday, June 3 and heard the news that no one had flown on or off the mountain for 2 days and there was a storm upon us, so it would probably be another 2-5 days.  Not the news I wanted to hear since I knew Patrice was waiting for me at the K2 Airport Hanger in Talkeetna. Of course everyone on my team wanted to get off the mountain after 23 days. There were about 100 climbers waiting to get off, and probably 50 waiting to get on. Our guides told us to set up our tents and sit tight. The base camp director still had us stomp out the runway, just in case.
I didn't even unpack my bag because I was hopeful we would leave! 
At about 7pm, the skies cleared a bit. Our guides reminded us not to get our hopes up high. But, minutes later, I heard the base camp director yell, "RMI, K2 is sending 4 planes. Pack up now, you have 10 minutes!"
 It was very chaotic, and the 45-minute flight back to Talkeetna was extremely turbulent, with the pilots dodging storms. But, we made it and I was reunited with my love.
If you'd like a "tour" of all my different camps on the mountain, check out the video I just uploaded on YouTube.