Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Attaboy, Atalaya

I saw Atalaya Mountain like this.

Unusual for Santa Fe. One local commented that we received more snow in two days than the total for last year's winter. So. I hiked in the snow. And I needed it!

I left my indolence at the spa resort and drove to the trailhead, itching the whole way, chanting in my head, "Please let it be long enough." When I started, I promised myself that if it was too short, I'd repeat part of it or walk down another trail to get in at least three hours of sweaty indulgence.

When I got to the "Steeper - Easier" decision, I chose "Easier" because I figured it was longer. Though tempted to take pictures when I reached 8100, and got a view of the peak, (I hope I'm going there), I resisted. Save pictures for the way down. Indulge and sweat now!

By around 8400 feet, I was like, huh, who stretched out the mountain? The boot pack diminished to boot track, the snow deeper and not trampled by as many people. I hoped the trail would "go," -- reach the top of what I had viewed earlier and resolved to make my own way if I had to.

I slogged on, happy to greet a single guy descending with his dog, and later a couple who I quickly pinned the snow-drawn heart I had seen earlier on the trail on.  I didn't ask if they'd been to the top. I didn't want to jinx it.

At two hours and 17 minutes, sweaty and sated, I topped out and enjoyed the views.

Atalaya Mountain, 9121 feet. Seven miles, 1800 gain. 2:17 up, 4:00 total for the hike.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

That’s Me

“That’s me!” I yell up to John. I have felt the rope tug at my navel that signifies he’s pulled up the slack between us and can now set up to belay me. Shoed and helmeted, I climb the pitch.

“That’s me!” I yell inside my head. I am walking down a New Mexican road as the sun would be rising. There is no sunrise today - just a moisture-laden sky. New Mexico surrounds me: roosters crow, dogs bark, a hare - with those disproportionate ears - shuttles down the road, faster than I would have believed possible.

Snow pellets sting my eyes. I pull my mountaineering cap down and my buff up, covering as much skin as I can. My eyes can’t be helped.  Yet, I feel ten feet tall in my Microspikes, owning this road that has been tracked by only one vehicle.

“I’m better than the cars,” I think, as I stride down the icy rills. I see the vehicle had to arrest a skid and right itself to come back to center. I, on the other hand, stay right on center. Ha.

I have been at a spa resort for two days. I have been indolent. A good friend, upon hearing of my break-up, said, “Let’s go somewhere and get you healing.” I jumped all the way in and have been taking yoga and meditation classes, steam showers and massages. We’ve been eating gourmet meals and drinking wine and tequila.

Last night, my navel kicked in. I wanted to be outdoors and off of this compound. I woke at 5AM to four inches of snow coating the icy, packed snow from yesterday. I donned layers, boots, and spikes and climbed the hill out of the compound. I exited the gate out onto the road. Where I now stride, snow stinging my eyes and my arms cold, but with no intention of turning back. The allure of what’s around the next bend tugs. That’s me.

Monday, December 24, 2018

It's Christmas Eve

I wake up at 5AM and I know... it's Christmas Eve. Chills of excitement course through my 47 year-old body. I love this day.

I have awoken in the grooves of childhood when, on this day, I lived anticipation. First we would stomp out into the woods and spend hours debating over and wearing circles around contenders for the family tree. When we reached a consensus, it was turns with a saw and an axe to fell the thing. Then each kid would grab their portion, blue spruce needles poking through knit mittens, and drag it through the snow.

At home, Mom would be a blaze in the kitchen. She'd have every burner going with sauces, sautéing meatballs, and boiling potatoes. The oven could not fit another item. She made batches of rum cakes, candies, and bagels. She was a fury in the kitchen. Yet, while we were out, she had dragged down the boxes of tree ornaments and lights. The tree stand options awaited us in the garage: the green one if we'd gotten a big tree, the white one if a littler one.

We kids dragged the tree into the garage and gave it a prodding glance: "The time to look good is now." Mom would step out of the kitchen and give the tree an appraising look. All that circling the tree and debating was for her. We waited. We watched her face. She would either say, "Oh, that's a nice, full one," or "You'll have to make sure that bare spot is toward the wall," and the first person to have spotted the tree would either own their pick proudly or snap their head toward the tree, scanning for the bare spot.

Ornaments and lights came next. It took the whole afternoon - with breaks to nip into the kitchen for hot chocolate with milk straight from our cows and stirred with Nestle's on a burner that could be spared for five minutes.

Then came chore time, more onerous than ever with Christmas Eve so close. But as I got older, I got smarter and would dress quickly to get out and get chores started. Once chores were done, we were that much closer to presents. Milking the cows took two hours and felt like two days. Peter and I would run to the barn doors to see if we could spy Santa flying through the air, landing on our roof, by our chimney. Sarah would say, "You know he doesn't come if you're looking," causing a conflict that still twists my heart. Do I look and see the Santa of a lifetime, but risk not getting any presents, or do I fight that urge and miss my chance at seeing him?

When the last cow was milked and bedded for the night, we were released. Peter and I raced to the house and straight to the tree. We'd stand on the threshold to the living room and be dazzled by the lights, the pretty wrapping, and the sheer size of the mound of presents. I remember thinking it was a pile of presents on presents and it stopped me, just to gaze in awe, jaw dropped.

Showering was a fast affair, and then Mom's buffet - 18-plus dishes that she'd arrange around the kitchen and that Peter and I struggled to taste, every part of us being tugged toward that tree. The older kids and Mom and Dad tasted their food and talked. Sometimes, if Peter and I were good, we were dismissed and could go sit in front of the tree, but "Don't touch anything until we get there."

And then it came. The family would assemble around the living room and Peter and I could look at the tags and give the receiver their package. We each opened one gift first, so everyone got a chance to see at least one gift another person had received. Then the careful order dissolved as the present unwrapping proved irresistible and paper was ripped in every corner of the room and cries of, "Peter, look what I got!" and "Thank you, Santa!" filled the air.

We played then, driving toy tractors around the linoleum, trying and trading flavors in our LifeSavers books, playing the new family game. At some point, Peter and I might remember our tummies and go back into the kitchen to graze on the buffet that we could now taste. We stayed up late that night. Till our bellies hurt with tiredness and our eyelids grew heavy. But we wanted to stay up, to stretch the day, to make it last forever. When a preponderance of us were crabbing or rubbing our eyes or who-knows-how-they-knew, Dad and Mom hugged us and turned out the lights, allowing one more glimpse of that lighted tree, before sending us to bed.

We dragged heavy feet up the steps and poured heavy bodies into our beds, sated and grateful, having lived every moment of that day.

"Christmas was always a lean time," my dad now tells me. "Mom and I tried to use good judgement about the presents, but sometimes we got carried away." I need to tell him; I never sensed any of that fretting. He and my mom made Christmas fat and fulfilling and wonderful. And I'm grateful. Even at 47, their enchantment remains, singing through my veins when I awaken at 5AM. It's Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

My Plea

Let me remember you smiling and posing. Let me remember you loving and warm.

Not bitter and bucking.

We have both had a cost of living increase with this break-up. I know. It costs me too. I have to take the pit of my stomach wherever I go. The ache in my shoulders. The 3:30 AM second-guessing. I. Know.

The gnashing of my teeth and adrenaline spike when we "bump into" each other in my parking lot or when you email me SIX times in one day. I know it's hard to accept. Loss sucks.

But I don't want your bucking and refusing to accept to be what I remember. Do this graciously. Be generous. Be a person who I will rue someday. Be courageous. Accept it and move on. Find happiness. Be happy.

You just can't be with me.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

When the Bottom Drops Out

Sometimes my bottom drops out.

The foundation of me is an earthquake, shaking and undulating. I scramble and react, unsure of what footing to trust - not sure if trust is even a thing anymore. School is fractured fault lines, he is a landslide to dodge, sister and family never really understood and therefore never really loved me. All is seismic waves and blurry images. In snippets between the tremors, I remember that there is a self. I search for her.

I'm so lonesome I could cry. Close every door to me. All is sad music and scrambling.

The feeling is powerful. It is all of me. I used to tell a depressed friend; you have a choice. Identify it and fight it.

I still believe that. Except. At times. When it hits and you're in its grip. When it is you. It was me yesterday.

Today I grasp to remember because I'm coming out. I fear that someday(s) I won't come out. The quake won't cease. The tremors will just keep rocking me. I need to hear that voice that says...

  • Go for a walk
  • Do something that you're not currently doing
  • Play the keyboard (my *brilliant* escape last night)

That's my Red Cross. It's idiosyncratic what will work. Sometimes I can play the keyboard. But I haven't played in five years. So I have to be as flexible as my undulating quake. I have to roll with its punches. I am enabled to do this when I...

  • Eat right
  • Sleep right
  • Exercise

Those precede any heroic piano playing. They are my first line of defense. When I hear those and obey, I have a patch of solid earth. I have defended my brain chemistry.

Today I'm exhausted from fighting it. I want the other me back. The one that was sooooooo solid at the beginning of the week. Shoot, I was solid ground for others around me! And then I quaked.

I write because it happened. I write because I know it will happen again. I write because I want my house to sit on bedrock. I want to strap some shred of me together so it's there for me to cling to when the tectonics come again.


Friday, January 05, 2018

I Find Grateful

I did not summit Pacific Peak. The story has to begin there. My first attempt was last Thursday. I did not even glimpse the massif that day. I hightailed it off the approach when I heard the distinctive “whoompf, whoompf” of snow collapsing - an avalanche’s signal. Still, I was happy. Three hours of snowshoeing in a basin where Breckenridge and Frisco residents come with their dogs to backcountry ski is not a bad day.

Then I went back yesterday. I was up at 4AM after having awoken 5 times during the night: Is it time yet? I was ready. This time I saw the massif. And how.

I snowshoed the whole approach in two-ish hours, thanking my lucky stars that some other intrepid had made track almost to the entrance to the ridge. (It was a “his;” the tracks were like a giant had stridden/stormed up that drainage.) At this point, I felt so good that I took a look at the connecting ridge to Atlantic Peak and thought, “Hmmm…. Why get one peak when I could get two?”

It was clear to me that I could ditch my snowshoes and hiking poles. It was also clear to me that I wouldn’t need crampons or ice axe for the first bit I could see. Gnarly, beautiful rock lay ever-ascending in front of me, interspersed with the cloud to the silver lining - two-foot deep patches of snow. I began the ridge, rock-hopping where I could, expending energy to punch through those snow patches when I couldn’t. The sun finally met me and I took a break to eat a Gu and drink the last of my Nuun.

In front of me lay the first obstacle, a megalith of black and pink and white rock with a piercing top that pointed skyward. I would skirt around to the right of this thing, picking my way through icky rock. Loose and rotten, having been chipped away from the ridge, it was yearning to make its way down the side of the mountain to who-knows-where. I took the Gu and drank the water, checked my GPS, and thanked the sun for busting up on that 8 degree chill.

I began to work. I hit upon a strategy. I would pick a path up the next 15 feet of shitty-debris-wanting-to-be-downhill-from-here and outline it with my finger. Then I’d put my helmeted head back down and execute the moves. Downward pressure with my hands (or I would be delivering its wish to that shitty debris), precise placement of my feet. Looking, looking for a good hand, a solid foot, among the tumbles of rock and snow.

Upward and eastward I climbed around that first obstacle. And then found the obstructionist part of it: where does it end? Where do I stop traversing and ascend to regain the ridge? In a forest, you can’t see the forest for the trees; on an climb, you can’t see the mountain for the rock. I did the best I could. I consulted the GPS and the route description and decided that I was probably at the point where I needed to “carefully climb back to the ridge crest.” This I did - with more finger painting in the air and downward pressure with hands and feet.

On the ridge, I was happy. I LOVE ROCK. Even not 100% solid rock has its trustworthy sections if you take the time to find them and treat them right. I love the texture of rock - that hard, unyielding density. I also love the bumps and flakes and cracks that make nice handholds and allow me to get a leg up. Even the snow on the ridge had the courtesy to lay flat and not tilt all willy-nilly toward the basin below. (There should be a maxim: everything on the mountain wants to get off - except us humans.) I still had to punch through it one foot at a time, but at least it wasn’t with the fear of sliding to my demise with each step. That came soon enough.

I had to descend from the ridge to avoid another obstacle. In the summer, you would rock hop underneath the obstacle and be around it lickety-splickety. Today it held a steep bank of snow that plunged down onto a tilted slab of bedrock that plunged down in turn to a tumble of rock and scree. For a long ways. I looked at it. I did a risk-assessment. If I slipped, I would get hurt. Bad. So, could I do it without slipping?

My feet would have to go in the snow. My hands would be on the rock above. I scouted the rock for hand placements on this 20-foot section. It had some bumps and flakes and cracks that I could see, then an airy spot between the first rock and the second section of rock. That section was an unknown. And unknowable to me at that point. I couldn’t see if there were holds. But I could start and feel it out as I went.

I did. The first section was solid. My feet sank into the snow and mercifully didn’t slide. Then I came to the unknowable section. I could see a horn sticking out on the second section of rock. It was below me and I would have to tilt to grab it and then move my feet. I would have to trust the snow until I could get that horn. I didn’t think much. I committed and reached for the horn. My right hand grasped it. I exhaled and continued.

I regained the ridge, and the stress lessened for a bit. I made my way around several more obstacles, getting to climb over one especially gorgeous bit of pointy rock that looked impassible at first but yielded under close scrutiny and one-move-at-a-timeism. And then I could see the summit. At last! I checked the time and was amazed to see that it was already 10:57AM. I decided I could give this ridge one more hour and then needed to turn back or risk darkness and fatigue. Already I had signs of fatigue; I forgot that I’d moved my watch to my wrist and searched frantically for it for 30 seconds, I forgot that I’d moved my down mitten to my backpack’s side pocket and cursed myself for having (I thought) dropped it. I took another Gu and sipped still-warm (yay!) water.

I continued another 15 minutes, working that ridge. And then I got a full-on frontal of the class 3 gully that lay ahead of me. I looked at the right side of it. I looked at the left side of it. I didn’t want to look at the middle. It was chock-full of unknowable snow. Ugh. I flashed back to the airy traverse. I calculated that it would be at least another hour to the summit with this gully and the airy traverse and all the other careful, deliberate, brain-sucking moves to make on the way down. The descent of this ridge would go no faster than the ascent. I didn’t think much. I turned around and began the descent. I felt immediate relief.

Which was premature. The descent was tricky. I couldn’t see what was below me as I lowered myself off of shelves of rock, but really hoped a good foot would turn up, or at least a slanted bit that I could place my foot on for purchase until I could lower my hands. I lost my foot track and then found it again. I was sure of one thing: I needed to follow my track on this ridge. It was too cliffy to try out a new route on the way down. So I would search and search for my footprints in the snow between the rock sections. Blank snow meant I had gone elsewhere. It was fatiguing!

My body entered a lurching state. My bad knee was deciding whether to be trustworthy or not. I slowed down and started talking to myself. “What are you committing to in this stretch? What’s your path?” I finger painted and made my body follow.

The worst times were the doubting times. I agonized that I was descending too much and would end up needing to reclimb. I agonized that I was staying on the ridge too long and would cliff out and have to find the exit. I nearly descended the wrong gully but made myself scout the ridge one last time and found my track on the other side of a gnarly rock that I didn’t know I could (and had!) climbed. I committed to traversing a section of icky dirt and scree where I couldn’t see my track but felt it had to be the right level and came upon my track on the opposite side. I didn’t celebrate. I couldn’t. But I did exhale. Then I continued to search and talk to myself and finger paint. I reached my snowshoes and the end of that ridge in 8 minutes fewer than it had taken me to ascend.

Now I smiled. I took photos. I texted my fiancé. I drank water. It was still too cold to bask in the warmth of appreciation and gratitude, but I knew now that I could. I put on my snowshoes and descended into that sunny basin where the Breckenridge and Frisco residents bring their dogs to recreate.

I did not summit Pacific. It has become clear that I didn’t need to. I no longer have the summit fever of old. The summit fever I had when I first moved out here and climbed all the 14ers. I had something to prove. A life to re-define after divorce and ripping, tearing loss. Holes to fill, hungry and driving and blinding.

I didn’t need to summit Pacific yesterday. I am full for having been on that mountain for eight hours. I am grateful for being able to see it, to feel it beneath my fingers, to test it and tuck it away until summer when I look forward to seeing it again in a different light, a different season. I am grateful to descend into sunlight and hear the crunch of my snowshoes. I am grateful to come home and hug the world’s best fiance and tell him what was in my heart for those 8 hours. I am grateful to feel my body, to trust my hands and my feet. And my judgment. I can trust my judgment. I am very grateful for that.

I did not summit Pacific. The story ends there.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

13er Reflections


Dallas Peak, 13,809 Summit
Gladstone Peak, 13,913 Summit
Lizard Head Peak, 13,113 Attempt


Dallas Peak
I did climb the two thirteeners that I just summitted. It was my legs, my lungs, my sweat, my panting on unrelenting slopes. It was my crampons, my ice axe, my wet feet, and my chilly-cold fingers.

But it wasn’t my routefinding. It was my much stronger cousin who led the way, who pointed out the peaks and the path to them. Who tested icy class 5 upclimbs and sketchy snow traverses. Who then waved me on - hearing my whimpers on the former - but staying still and quiet for me.
Setting up rappel off Dallas, Sneffels looks on

I don’t know if I can claim them. I want to go back and get them for myself. I want to study those damn mountains and be able to pick Mt. Wilson from Wilson Peak and know Sneffels from every angle like he does. I want to spy a couloir from a mile away and pick a path that leads me to the base of it. I want to be the one to kick steps up the couloir - or at least take my share of doing so.  But I don’t want to do that for class 5 anymore. I don’t belong on class 5 snow climbs, especially since I don’t lead trad. If something happened to Jack when we were out, I would be hard-pressed to facilitate a rescue.

I am great on rock. I should stick to that and never put myself in a position to have to rely so heavily on a (albeit, willing) partner. I don’t like it. It’s a point of pride at this point. But it could become a matter of life and death. It was so cold on Dallas Peak. My hands and feet were soaking wet. So were Jack’s. If the weather had changed, if one of us had slipped… I felt the potential impacts of the potential errors as I stood in the shadow of a chock block, waiting for Jack to scout. I don’t want to die on a mountain. I want to be able to rescue my partner if something should happen to them. I want to learn more and be better.

I want to be stronger, and I will get stronger...

  1. Routefinding. I wil learn to draw GPX tracks and use my Garmin. I will study the map as I’m ascending. It will take me longer to summit, but I will start early and turn back if weather moves in -- even if it means I don’t summit at first. I can trust that I will get better with practice, and in the long run will summit more peaks in a way that makes me feel like I’ve really summitted them.
  2. Routefinding. Yep, I’m that bad at it. I almost think I shouldn’t go with Jack again until I am better at it so that I don’t let him take over. He’s too dang quick. In both routefinding and pace. I have to do these for myself.
  3. Knots, anchors, and rescue techniques. Read up on them and practice them.
  4. Crampon technique. I am great in snow, but I need practice at mixed climbing. I would la-dee-da across a traverse and then lurch my way across the rock sections. It’s like wearing a stinkin’ pair of high heels! Jack said place your whole crampon on if there’s space or finesse the midsection (no points) onto the edge of rocks. Which I pretty much figured out after 45 minutes of struggling!

I am good at:

  1. Rock, blessed rock! I love the way I can trust myself to pick a path through a thorny ridge. I love the way I know when to use downward pressure on slippery slopes. I love the way I place my feet. I love the way I hop boulder fields. I have a  bit of a thing for rock.
  2. Lizard Head, the one that got away
    Judgement. When we were up at Lizard Head, I knew the wind wasn’t gonna quit. I told Jack I would not take more than 10 steps in the hellacious stuff. I like that I am clear in communicating my (dis)comfort levels, even with a partner like him who I am trying to impress. And it’s also good that I know the difference. On Dallas, he offered to tie me in, and, after studying the path and tabulating my abilities, I followed him without a rope. On Lizard Head, it was clear to me that we’d both be in danger. Ahem, Jack, when you’re walking in a crouched position and still falling to your knees, it’s too windy to hope for a leeside to ascend a 4-pitch, 5.8+ tower!
  3. Drive. When I want a peak, I am willing to suffer for it. Dallas Peak was haaard, and scary and snowy, but I did it. I felt exhausted and defeated and dreaded the descent of Gladstone the next day, but I dug to some deep place within (by the way, what the heck is that?) and did it. And I made myself keep up with the three strong climbers I was with. Booyah!
  4. Nutrition and hydration. I have this pretty much dialed in. On peaks, I want formulated foods. Nuun, Clif, and Gu are my friends. Taken early and often, they chase away nausea, headaches, and prevent bonking.
  5. Confidence in and reading of my own abilities. I know the pace I can maintain for 10 hours. I know the rock and snow I can climb.