Archive for January, 2012

Before the Window Closes

Posted in Climbing, Day Hiking on January 19, 2012 by moosetracksca
Long after the sun’s arc had passed beyond the coastal ranges, the mountains of Yosemite’s high country held the pale light, grey warmth exuding from granite faces as the stars crept into position. Tenaya Lake still glowed white as I cruised by, headed to the Valley in January. I chased the final rays west until the Tioga Road intersected the branch heading back east and south, dropping into familiar territory in the dark.

It felt a little strange to be beneath the cliffs the next morning, if for no other reason than the time of year. Ice and frost edged the thin strip of water cascading over Yosemite Falls, only to disappear mid-day when sun finally crested the southern edge of the valley. Thick ice crystals outlined the detritus of the forest floor; skin covered the broad Merced. We walked and talked and laughed our way to Mirror Meadow, where Tom and I gazed up at the approach to the mighty face of Half Dome. Once we reached the turnoff to ascend Snow Creek, we all settled into different paces, either talking or huffing or thinking deep thoughts as we marched up the endless switchers out of the Valley.

I had not been on this trail for years, and, in fact, had never seen it, having ascended in the early morning dark hours the last time. I wish I could say I moved slowly so I could absorb all the nuances alone, appreciate a new vista and perspective. But I am still struggling to regain the bounce in my step, to control my breathing as I pace uphill. The legs wanted so much to bound up the trail, but my lungs had other ideas. And so I leaned into the grade, dutifully putting one foot in front of the other, pausing at the switchback ends to breathe and look around.

The dust smelled of summer as the sun peeked above the east face of Half Dome, its shadow extending high up the slopes of Basket Dome. Brittle leaves coated the trail, obscuring the smoothed granite beneath, the light long and full through the oaks, then manzanita, then pine. I fought against my competitive side as I watched some of the group pull ahead, the little voice coming back again and again to “get going, get up this hill, I can’t believe you let this happen to yourself again, they’re having to wait for you”. It was just too easy to slip back into beat-myself-up mode, especially while hiking with someone with whom plans during the year have been made. I paused at one switcher where two log stumps had been placed as seats, and looked across to Half Dome, standing stoic and quiet in the midday sun, breathing deeply for a few minutes. This place has always allowed me to refocus my energies inward.

Let the rabbits run, Laura, I told myself. It was my line from the Challenge, why I started at the back of the train every morning. Let those with speed get out and away, set your own pace. I had fallen into the trap that morning of expecting myself to keep up no matter what, setting my goals based on other’s abilities instead of my own. It was as if someone had said, “Oh: you’re raising money based on elevation gain? Well I gained 500,000+ last year, that would be a good goal.” I needed to let go and walk my own stride, no matter where that might take me. As I stood from the log, I allowed myself a small smile as I leaned once again into the grade.

“We’re going to climb this afternoon, right?” I asked as the group assembled at the tailgate of the TOF. We didn’t, but the hike up the mist trail above Vernal and Nevada Falls, was both old and new to me. Once again, the only evidence of January was the ice encrusting the cliffs around both, both having thin but strong strands of water coursing over the edges. We sunned ourselves on the slabs above Nevada, trying to soak every ounce of warmth out of the weak winter sun. I caught sunset that night at Olmsted Point on the way home, waved to Rob in his ranger truck parked at Tenaya. The wind was howling on the other side of the pass, and I wondered how much longer I would have to enjoy these heights the easy way.

Wednesday proved another free day, so Kevin and I trudged up Pine Creek to the falls to climb the ice. “I seem to remember this being steeper,” he said between wind gusts. Indeed, when I saw him standing and walking in the middle section, I knew it was going to be a light day. Instead of grunting my way up, the picks and kicks turned out to be light and solid. We simul-soloed the last two 30 foot cascades beyond the tall falls, then sat on rocks in the middle of the creek to eat lunch before hiking down. As I drove home, I could see the Sierra wave forming to the north, the clouds creeping in behind Mt. Humphreys. Tioga had closed, in anticipation of the weather, the night before.

The window was closing.

But now, where are those new skis?

A few pictures from the weekend:

Rest of the pics are here: Snow Creek. Mist Trail. Pine Creek Falls.

From the luckiest girl in the world:
Climb Hard. Be Safe.

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Tuolumne Dreamin’…

Posted in Climbing on January 13, 2012 by moosetracksca

It took four years for Kurt and I to actually pull off a climb together.

We planned; our schedules and lives jumped around each other; we set dates; we frowned at weather reports; we called each other at two in the morning because it was raining in town. We had almost completely given up.

But at long last, when he texted me last week, asking if I had a day during the week to come out and play, my schedule allowed for it. With no patients to see, I took an unpaid day to head up to Tuolumne Meadows with my globe-trotting friend.

The thin ice fall clung to every curve and bulge of the cliff face of Drug Dome, the start of the route awash with waves of yellow and white ice. What transpired was a gorgeous dance of watching Kurt lead the route, then me trudging up behind, my feet screaming in too-tight boots. But to look out across to the west: to Mt. Hoffman; the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne; trees and blue sky cut only by the occasional jet roaring overhead; to hang from the rope and my tools looking for the next step, the next strike; all of it drove home how special this moment was.

While smiling throughout, when I stepped into the sun beneath the second belay, a WI4 curtain separating me from Kurt’s anchor, I looked up at him and shot the biggest toothy grin I’ve had in a long time. We may have had to wait four years, but we sure hit this one out of the park.

On the way home, Kurt and I stopped at Tioga Lake to skate (only his second time ever!).

Rest of my pics are here.

The rest of Kurt’s pics are here.

From the luckiest girl in the world:
Climb Hard. Be Safe.

And this is just the beginning…

Posted in Alpine Skating, Climbing, Day Hiking on January 9, 2012 by moosetracksca

There’s a lot to be said about hiking in the dark. As a trudger, there are definitely times when I just need to put my head down and get the job done. Furtive glances at the stars and the silhouetted trees and mountains are about all I can afford without tripping over my own feet. So, with the moon hiding comfortably behind the mountains, and Brent’s headlamp nearby, we emerged from the trees and onto the rough old mining road of Pine Creek. I paced solidly and slow, trying not to let my breath get too far ahead of me, from getting too sweaty in the cold morning air.

My headlamp flashed against the ground, and I pulled up fast before stepping on a tremendous flow of ice in the middle of the road. In the small circle, the ice glowed yellow and white, bulbous flows overlapping thickly. We picked our way up along the side, slipping in the scree, the smell of freshly agitated sage filling the breeze. As I crested a rise, I caught my breath at the sight of a few springs merging along the wall, the ice looking like melting ice cream along the rock. Just below the trees at the bench line, our way was blocked again by a similar flow, forcing us to bushwhack up the slope to the flattest section, then stepping carefully across, our trail runners sticking and sucking against the wet top layer.

With the coming sunrise, grey light permeated the forest, reflecting off the amazing upper creek, frozen in place as if flooding. The log bridge was clear, although a slip off would be quite painful, rather than the usual soaking of summertime. As the first glow touched the tip of Feather Peak in the distance, we came upon Pine Creek Lake, it’s surface opaque and ruffled but clear of snow. Excitedly, we donned dry layers, and I sat down to tie on my skates. Stepping gingerly down from the edge, I dropped to a knee and turned my 7” screw into the lake in order to measure approximate ice thickness, which I repeated three or four times in different locations around the east shore. Around my neck hung specialized picks for reaching back to the ice should I fall through, a prospect which causes me to shiver in the warmth of my apartment.

The sun’s rays illuminated the striped rocks above the lake, and I turned to Brent. “There’s just a point where you have to be brave, you know?” I breathed deep, plotting a course directly across the lake, looking for smoother surfaces and minimal cracks, analyzing for changes in the ice, which could indicate a problem. As I pushed off, the skates rattled and bumped over the undulations, my body bent, my arms outstretched, not exactly the most graceful maneuvers I’ve performed. Reaching the other side, I realized I had been holding my breath, and I reached out for the rocks, gasping and smiling and laughing.

“Ka-CHUNG kachung kachung… kachung…”

The echo reverberated under the ice, and it seemed the walls around us, as I looked back across the lake to see Brent perk up a bit from his camera. The lake was singing at us as the ice settled a bit. I headed out again, this time paralleling the western shore, headed for the inlet at the southwest corner, the ice piled into a soft knoll. The frozen waves made for challenging gliding, especially during the first turns, and I struggled to find a clear path in the lake.

“Ka-CHUNG kachung kachung… kachung…”

“Oh, for godssake can you NOT do that while I’m out in the middle here?” I asked the lake, knowing that it’s probably 8-12” thickness (my screw never remotely broke through) would be highly unlikely to shatter. Giggling and whoopsy-ing, I stumbled back to the eastern shore where Brent waited patiently, shooting video and pics. We swapped out gear: I lay the 30ft of cord and picks at his side as he donned the skates, while I threw on my trail runners. Brent had skated as a kid, but never on a lake, and he shot me the same look as I had while he maneuvered down from the edge. In no time, he was getting the old hang of things, although the glide was as difficult for him on the ruffled surface.

“KACHUNG Ka-chung kachung…”

Brent headed back, his eyes wide with excitement. “You want another go of it?” he asked. Without hesitation, the skates jumped back on my feet, and I went hunting for more glide. I have been trying to video snippets of skating, but between the bouncing skates and my arms flailing I could barely capture the majesty of the scene. I turned and started striding back to the north shore, bending slightly and feeling the natural glide sink in, my legs gently pumping against the edges of skates…

Until I realized I wasn’t all that great at stopping! Luckily I didn’t land on the screw or my camera with the ensuing belly flop.

Having enough, Brent and I picked our way down the trail, which was mostly clear save for the giant ice patches we had avoided in the morning, donning microspikes to step across the floes. Later that evening, I joined Brent in Mammoth at the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center Annual Season Kickoff, a big fundraising event for the center and with Andrew McClean as a keynote speaker. Following the talk on skiing in the Arctic Circle and Antarctica, the organizers moved into the raffle. Just before the end, my number was called for a small bit of schwag, which just about justified the extra $40 I had contributed to tickets. The final prize: a pair of Fischer Watea powder skis. The number was called…

I walked out the door with new skis.

Sunday morning I met Brent at the Alabama Hills Café for breakfast, then headed into the hills themselves for a few hours of climbing. Oh, man, am I rusty. Brent wanted to warm up by walking, so I walked straight to the crag and a 5.1 that I had soloed multiple times in the past. Apparently it had been a distant enough past that I managed to get myself stuck half way up. Great job, Molnar. 1, 3, 5, 7, we worked our way across the face, the 7 giving me just enough nerves and pause, and my knee still not liking any sort of tall step up onto my toes. We worked fundamentals, and then I asked to lead the 5-easy routes to finish the session. Clockwork. Now that was another glide I could remember feeling in the past. You see, it’s all work right now, but my body is remembering.

At noon I strode up the NRT out of the Lone Pine CG, finding a pace I could maintain with a slightly elevated breathing rate. If I got going too fast, I’d stop and grab a few leaves of sage, rubbing them vigorously between my hands and breathing deep of the desert; or I’d stick my face into the sharp needles of the pinion pines and breathe equally deeply. While it was a workout, I took my time to really look around at the clarity in the Valley, watch the water tumble under the shimmering ice shields that branched from rock to rock. I semi-jogged the road to descend, it being in sun, and even stretched on the side for a few minutes to close my eyes, then peer down into the canyon from whence I had come. All the while, I was under the watchful gaze of Her Majesty at 14K, and I smiled up to her east face.

Now if it would just snow so I could try out these new skis…

Starting Over: You Don’t Know a Road…

Posted in Random Thoughts on January 4, 2012 by moosetracksca

You don’t know a road until you’ve walked it.

It’s something I learned once I moved up here to Bishop, where the roads are closed off at the beginning of winter, forcing us all to add the extra miles and elevation gain simply to arrive at the trailheads. It puts the backcountry even farther away. It heightens the effort to stride, glide, tromp, or posthole in order to achieve those summer objectives which may seem trivial.

Walking these roads, and the others criss-crossing the Owens Valley and up into the Whites, allows me to slow down a bit, to really examine every detail etched into the trees and rocks lining the borders. It teaches me the curves, the slight inclines and declines, just how far a mile is when your feet are struggling for purchase. I can hear how the winter winds whistle or howl through the pines. I can feel the heat rising from the desert sand. I can feel why the road bed was chosen on this particular grade, and not directly over the next rise, or why the quads and dirt bikes chose their particular path straight up the ridge.

The road I took last year had its definite ups and downs, hindered by my knee and by my own actions, or rather, inaction. I still got out there, had some incredible adventures and trips, but it took someone else reminding me of the good times to realize that I had achieved quite a bit. When I looked back at the pictures from 2011, I was indeed reminded of the amazing places I had explored, the sights seen, the stories I chose to share and those I kept to myself.

The storyteller in me hadn’t faded. In fact, in reviewing all of the pictures, I was reminded of each step I took on those fabulous days, both alone and with friends. I remembered snippets of phrases that had come to me while striding and gliding, my breath coming hard but the focus never changing. Other phrases also came to mind: feedback suggesting that I wrote and posted my stories for benefit of my ego alone, to show off my accomplishments. Like a sharp pebble deep in my boot, those words would shift into my consciousness whenever I would sit at the computer screen, and the happiness of my trip would fade into questioning why I was writing about it.

So I had to step back from writing for a bit. I took the words of criticism to heart, but used them to really think about what and why I was writing, why I enjoyed sharing my adventures so very much. And while driving for hours this past week through the Oregon Outback I finally came to terms with it all:

Telling stories is fun.

I know, entirely too simplistic, right? There has to be a deeper meaning, something that ties the ego and id and so on. I write to gain attention and accolades, to bring the spotlight onto my little world and keep it there, because without the adulation I would wither to dust.

Please.

I don’t have time for the naysayers anymore. There’s just entirely too much of the world to explore. There are too many roads to travel. There isn’t enough time to do it all. When I was up north, visiting my friend, MC, she asked what 2012 held for me. “I just need to get back into… everything!” was my response. She laughed out loud, commenting on the little pause that had come while I was thinking about what I wanted to do. I think meeting Gene Hall up on Mt. Dana was one of the most profound events of 2011 for me. Gene, whose smile conveyed such amazing contentment and happiness, who had worked with my dad for years and called him “famous” in their workplace, who so openly shared his own stories of adventure as I excitedly told him about that day of climbing the couloir, died unexpectedly a few days later in his tent. If there was ever a clearer example of grabbing hold of life and running with it, I don’t know it.

Now, the biggest naysayer I had to overcome was myself. A few years ago, I actually had to make a New Year’s resolution to stop calling myself fat, and slow, and whatever other nasty name came to mind while playing in the hills. But this past year, as I become one with my desk chair instead of eating properly and exercising, it was too easy to fall into old habits. I admit I am my own worst enemy when it comes to self-abuse: my good friend Joan called me on it 5 weeks after knee surgery on the summit of Mt. Gould when I couldn’t weight my left leg enough to step up to the summit block. More often than not, I found, I bullied myself into thinking I wasn’t strong enough, or fit enough, to head up into the hills anymore. I placed such high expectations on myself to perform that there was no way I could realistically follow through, and that ended up forcing me onto my butt more often than not. After all, how could I possibly top what I had already accomplished?

Again, please.

So I now have a plan. And I have some incredible people lined up to join me. There’s an anniversary to celebrate; miles of roads to explore, both outside and in. And now that the figurative clouds are clearing, there’s a lot of sunlight guiding the way.

And here’s the twist: I won’t be doing it just for myself.

Let’s face it, mountaineering it a pretty self-indulgent sport. Sure, there are fund-raising groups out there (Summit for Someone comes to mind, and the Leukemia Society has started hiking groups as well), but I have never liked asking people for money. Recently, my friend Gary was excited over achieving 100,000 vertical feet in a year. And my dear friend Chris donated to charity in my name as a Christmas gift. While bagging a peak, or fishing a lake, or exploring my backyard has its own rewards, how could I turn this into something special for someone else?

The Plan: One penny for every vertical foot gained. That is what I will set aside myself, to be donated at the end of the year. Every hike counts: training hikes, strolls for flowers, backcountry skis (if it ever snows!!). My GPS will be my friend and accomplice, and I’ll try to back up the data through TOPO! software.

The charity to which I will be donating is http://www.itgetsbetter.org/

I can’t say I’ve ever really been bullied in my life, except by myself, but I can say that being called Moose as a young girl wasn’t exactly flattering. Neither was being called a “Pudgy Plebe” while at the Naval Academy. Neither was being reminded of my size when trying to get into a rescue sled at Mammoth Mountain by a so-called “friend”. Bullying is pervasive, cruel, and destructive, and it’s leading to painful consequences everywhere.

My good friend Sam, as we were skiing last year, looked at me and said, “Laura, you’re the type who makes dreams come true.” His meaning was simple: I got an idea, and I got to work making it happen. My adventures this year will not only fulfill some of my own dreams, but I hope that with some small contribution, I can help make someone else’s dreams come true as well. So with each step up, each grunt and groan, each pause to look around and marvel at the wonders of this world, I’ll make a difference in both my own life and health and that of someone else. I hope this effort might give someone else a chance to write their own story, to see their own horizons, to wonder what’s on the other side of the ridge.

It’s a new year, folks. The weather is holding, I’ve got all the gear I could ever want or need. Let’s go for a walk. I started last night, hiking 1668 feet up into the foothills of the Whites. My knee was solid, even as I jogged a bit on the downhills. My breath came in gasps, my lungs and legs burned as I pushed hard up the steep roads. It took me one hour to hit my turn-around. I need the training, what with all the ideas and trips rolling around in my head. And you know what I see when I walk these roads? Divots from where I’ve pushed off my toes at the end of my stride. That’s the power to make a change.

This is going to be epic.

But most of all, it’s going to be fun.

Time to let the phoenix out of her cage. Let’s fly!

From the luckiest girl in the world,

Climb Hard, Be Safe.

-L