Archive for January, 2014

The Lake of 1000 Postholes

Posted in Backpacking with tags , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2014 by moosetracksca

I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to be in this drainage.

–Yup: I can’t see a damn thing, save the ten feet in front of me with this headlamp; I’ve been going hard for 9 hours and somehow I thought I’d been able to step up this moraine while still wearing my snowshoes.

Hear that? That’s running water beneath you. And up ahead? Yeah, that’s a cascade. Maybe I should have holed up on that shelf a few hundred yards back down. Maybe I should have made camp in the trees, near the running water, eaten a good dinner, tucked in warm with the sound of the breeze whispering through the tent.

–Maybe I should try not so hard to be so damn stubborn.

Oh, shut it. You’re almost to the lake.

–Really, sometimes the conversations in my head just crack me up.

Come on, now: Focus. Look around. Does anything go?

–Hell if I know.

Wait: there’s a loosey-goosey section just above you, then step across the blocks to those ledges.

–I can see the headline: woman buried under rockslide and her own pack.


–<sigh> OK, 10 steps up. Now 10 more. Now 10 more.

Well, isn’t this a lovely knoll… In the middle of nowhere.

–Hey: it’s flat, there’s snow for melting, there’s even a laundry tree.

Does this mean I’m done?

–For today. Now, get this tent up.


<poof> Nice work.

–What? I thought you enjoyed postholing.

Not when I have an objective.

–Oh really, now? And what would that be?

I’d like to finally get up Mt. Davis.

–And your plan to head around the lake instead of across it? How’s that workin’ for ya?

Wait: what’s that over there?


Does that big flat boulder not have any snow on it?

–Oh no you don’t. Don’t even think about it. We have miles to go…

And the sun just came out from behind the clouds. It’s so warm. My legs are tired. I’m tired. There’s a notch for my feet, and it rises at a perfect incline to lean back on my pack…

–Damitol, you are NOT succumbing to a nap rock. In January. Where you have the lake all to yourself, save a few loud-mouthed birds. Nope. Keep plugging. Time to head up the pass. Ready? Head down…



I can’t believe you made me slog around the lake instead of walking right on across it.

–Shut it. Have some whiskey. And triscuits. And cheese. Enjoy the last sun. At least your boots are dry.

Just try not to mix anything up with the marmot poop. Goddamn gorgeous knoll for camp.


High road or low road? Sliding up scree or sliding on ice?

–Really? That’s all you’ve got for me? Meh, let’s see how conditions are down low by the river.

It’s a long walk back up from Agnew Meadow, you know.

–Yeah, but I’ve got all day. And way too much energy stored up from the best nap ever.


Please see more pictures of the weekend here:

From the luckiest girl in the world:

Climb Hard. Be Safe.


On the Trail of the Bighorn: Mt. Lewis (Jan 3-5)

Posted in Backpacking, Skiing with tags , , , , , , , on January 18, 2014 by moosetracksca

The air barely moved at Tioga Pass as I stabbed my skis and poles into the drift. The Beast leaned up against my truck’s wheel well, waiting patiently for me to heave to and stumble in my boots towards what little snow covered the road. I had to smile up at Gaylor Peak, then over to Mt. Dana and Gibbs, and I shook my head at the sad view of their rocky slopes. The sun blazed in the early afternoon as I glided down to the Mono Pass trailhead, the fallen giants lay quiet between patches of white and brown.

Laura came into view twenty minutes after I arrived, her pack swollen and taller than she. “It’s mostly down,” she insisted, but I liked this idea of travelling with another woman loaded down as heavily as I.  Her touring rig slid easily down from the parking lot, while I pushed each step. Too late, I realized that the snow wasn’t sliding under my skis and skins, but instead was sticking, turning the skin track into a boot track. At the creek, I stopped to try and wring the skins out and wax them, but I was now part of the “Mountain Relocation Team”, where I would haul snow from the flats to higher elevations, whether I liked it or not.

Laura pulled ahead while I wallowed a bit, the skis too heavy to even kick against a tree to clear the snow. “It’ll just make me stronger!” I yelled ahead, and she laughed as she logged another sighting of porcupine tracks. There were signs of all sorts of wildlife, actually: marten, birds large and small, rabbit, even bear. I wondered if the lair was anywhere close. At dusk, Laura looped back a bit after spotting a flat bit of open ground in the trees, but I wasn’t done yet. I would prefer a view of some sort, having done the work, after all. We trudged another half mile to the clearing and meadow where the Mono and Parker Pass trails split. I found a clear spot on the lee of a great whitebark pine, and we quickly got to work setting up camp.

On an overhanging branch, I hung a new light I had received for Christmas, and our site became perfectly lit. Extinguishing our headlamps, we sat and laughed over stoves as we melted the meager snow and boiled water for dinner. There was red wine, a little tequila, tortellini and bacon-spinach pesto, and cookies for dessert. Under the Cheshire cat moon, we caught each other up on the fall activities, as well as how she and Rob had settled into Tuolumne. The air was still as we crawled into our bags, and the moon set behind the Kuna Crest. In the absolute dark, the stars were almost three-dimensional, reaching down to the earth; the Milky Way stained the northern sky. I drifted off watching Orion do his cartwheels to the south.

We awoke early, but were none too keen to spring from the lofty down cocoons behind the whitebark. Ice crusted the rim of my bag from my breathing. The sun was teasing the eastern faces of Koip and Kuna when we finally sat up and lit stoves for breakfast and coffee. Shadows of Dana and Gibbs reflected in the orange atmosphere across Tuolumne Meadows. Laura called in to Rob to give him a rough itinerary of the day, and we crossed the meadow to gain the ridge towards Parker Pass.

We ran out of snow atop the ridge looking across to Spillway and Helen Lakes, and both took stock of the pass to Lost Lakes, so sadly half-covered in this meager winter. At the top of the ridge, we racked our skis for ¼ mile before trading out our ski boots for trail runners. Stashing our skis and boots on a sun-soaked slab, we hiked up the rocks to the ridgeline, gazed back down into Bloody Canyon and to Mono Pass. I looked up to Laura, and was about to call out when she squatted and waved her arms at me, motioning for quiet. Twirling her hands about her head, she silently and emphatically mouthed, “BIGHORN.” My breath caught as I stepped to her, and I pulled out my little camera as quickly and quietly as I could. Not two hundred yards ahead on the ridge was a huge ram, solid and proud, out for a daily stroll, soaking in the sights.

Laura and I exchanged giant smiles, high-fives, mini-dances of happiness, and pulled up our shots to compare as we walked across the ridge. The ram had really not taken much notice, and had calmly walked around the corner. Excited, we followed the ridge to the great overlook, straining to see any sign of the ram, even with her binoculars. Laura whooped a bit, but I took her lead and bellowed out a call. “Great: harassing the sheep, now?” she smiled at me. But I turned to look a mile distant to the summit of Mt. Lewis, and up popped the rounded rack! So, we had a tour guide!

It took another 30 minutes to finally make the summit of Mt. Lewis, in trail runners, short-sleeve shirts, dripping sweat from our ball caps. The air was clear; a light breeze breathed its chill onto our necks. But the view was epic! The switchers to Koip Peak pass were devoid of snow, the snowfield shining blue and barren in the sun. I wondered aloud if the Alger Lakes might be skate-able. After eating lunch, and having a few more pulls of wine, we strode back down the easy, rocky slope and traversed back to our skis. The snow below wasn’t great, but at least we could claim about ten turns each in the facets.

The wind had picked up during our descent, and we were glad to have the tent that night, even though it meant being “in” for over 12 hours. Laura’s radio faltered, so by early morning she was packed and ready to go, eager to get in touch with Rob. I lingered in the morning dark, waiting for the sun as I sipped coffee and munched oatmeal. My toes screamed at being shoved into cold ski boots, but the downhill work quickly warmed me through. I passed through the silent forest, played tag with the sun as it rose around each corner. I couldn’t help but hum along with the wind in the trees as I slid across the lower meadows.

The road climbed from the trailhead, and opened to look across the lower slopes of Mt. Dana once again. I red stop sign just before the pass glowed against the white ground, blue sky, and dark trees. Leaning into each step, I found a rhythm.

Not a bad way to start the year. Image

Resolution: 2013 Review

Posted in Uncategorized on January 13, 2014 by moosetracksca

Someone recently asked me to give a letter grade to the past year, to rank the roller coaster on a bell curve of time. I had to laugh at the thought of somehow consolidating all that the past year had to offer, arriving at some standard about which I could either be proud or hide the results from my parents, forging their signature before returning it to my superiors.

Is this going on my permanent record?

Ok, I’ll give it a “B”.

But wait: we instinctively focus on the highs and lows, each extreme weighing on our memories like stones on a scale. Throw on a few expectations and the balance swings wildly hither and thus, further muddling our ability to evaluate the greater picture. I can remember what a crummy snow year it was; yet a master of the backcountry showed me the wing tracks of a bird of prey as it swooped to grab its dinner. The weather also conspired against me as I ventured north, and I met some incredible people and skied the skirts of Rainier on a bluebird day, dodging crevasses and riding 3000 feet of cream-corn under an icefall. I had my heart broken, but completed my most challenging birthday challenge to date and made a substantial donation to the Friends of the Inyo.

I lost a friend, but somehow saved someone else’s life.

There were so many stories from this past year, many I chose not to tell, except to those seeing me in person. There were some that I wish I had written: like how I managed to forget my big down jacket on a February overnight to Humphreys Basin; about hauling a sled into Rock Creek Lake with my best girl friends to celebrate green’s birthday; how my trip up north turned into a random assortment of fun, from visiting friends, to beer tasting, to climbing a few volcanoes, to driving the coast, to beer tasting, to jet-skiing the Columbia River, to playing with my nephews, to beer tasting; returning to a few 8000 vertical foot days both solo and with an incredible friend/photographer/backcountry hero; to resupplying my friend on the JMT and my ranger buddies in Rock Creek South; to dodging thunder storms with another dear friend during the Sierra Challenge.

I watched the leaves change in autumn, and slipped away from the grasp of social media for a while. I needed the space to regain perspective, to revisit exactly why I go out to have adventures of all sorts. Some may claim responsibility for my “leaving”, but I assure you all, this was coming for quite some time. In returning to my adventures as play — and, believe me, this is ALL play of some sort – I’ve found a new sort of happiness. I suppose these adventures are selfish in large part: I have goals, and know what sort of work it will take to achieve them. I will share some of the adventures, both in photos and words, but my focus must be inward still in order to finish healing and changing.

In cleaning out a section of the gear room last week, I came across one of my first assignments from grad school: my Mission Statement. Written in 1998, I remember keeping it pinned to a corkboard for years:

“I am determined to persevere in the face of adversity.

I will utilize my personality and talents to encourage, inspire, and challenge myself and those around me.

I will strive to maintain a balance of my passions: my family, my work, and my friends, knowing that they make my life fuller and richer.

I will be open to the experiences this world offers me, knowing that each dawn brings new hope and perspective.”

It’s more than a resolution: it’s a lifestyle. I am genuinely looking forward to what 2014 has to offer. There are plenty of lessons yet to be learned.

Oh, and maybe I should change that grade to an “A”.


Thanks to all for your continued support, and I’ll see you in the heights.


The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,700 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Long Night’s Journey Into Day: Winter Solstice Below Sawmill Pass

Posted in Backpacking with tags , , , on January 10, 2014 by moosetracksca

The north wind swept across the desert, chilled the drips of sweat that fell down the back of my neck. Under my first heavy pack of the winter, I kept a calm and focused stride as I followed the sandy trail across the face of Sawmill Point. Animals had already broken the occasional drifts across the path. I picked my head up at the pops of distant gunfire, and wondered if it was deer or elk that had been in the hunter’s sights. Across the narrow, rocky gap, the trail turned west into the canyon, gently descended to the toe of the Hogsback.

The Beast landed with a soft thunk in the shadowed snow near the creek. While I had frowned at the sun as I had plodded up the sandy slopes earlier, now I longed for its touch as it teased and lingered one hundred vertical feet above me. The pine boughs carried snow puffs; the branches sagged and swayed in the breeze. Miles to go, I thought, as I lugged the Beast back up onto my shoulders. The snow was only ankle-deep here, but steps were careful and regular.

Above the Hogsback and through the burn, the aspen of Sawmill Meadow were briefly backlit as I broke trail. I leaned back against a huge pine and watched the last rays hide behind the ridge. I could stay here, I thought. Plenty of snow to melt for water but not so deep that digging out a platform would be too much work. It was quiet, out of the wind.

But it was only 2 p.m.

Ahead, the headwall to Mule and Sawmill Lake was too much of a challenge for me to not attempt it. I knew the trail switchered through the forest, but I wasn’t totally sure where, so I headed right to the north wall, hoping that the snow was layered less thickly. Up and across the moraines I stumbled, the heavy pack pulled me back down the drainages as I fought forever upward. I found more than one bottomless hole between the boulders. Near the top I wallowed a traverse back into the trees, laughed at the steepness and knowing that a fall would cause nothing more than a bruised ego: a hapless tortoise on its back in the snow.

I admit I didn’t expect the uphill swim to take quite as much time, but the colors were fading from the above the Inyos across the valley as I finally started to search for a campsite. The purple haze of winter was chasing the pink sunset into the upper atmosphere when I spotted a small basin in which I could perch my tent. Pinecones flew in all directions as I nested. Every few minutes I would grunt as I tossed another shovel-full of snow, and I nervously glanced around the darkness, looking for eyes. Without the moon, my headlamp was a lonely beacon; my platform, a small sanctuary between creaking pines. I was glad to finally fire up my stove and go through the motions of melting snow and making dinner. If nothing else, the small rumble of the gas flame was company in the dark.

The longest night, I thought. And I remembered back to my first snow camps, to all of those who showed me just a little bit each time so that now I could confidently stride up into the hills and know I was safe.

The longest night, I thought. The darkness forced me to look inside, since I couldn’t see out. How long I had beaten myself up for one thing or another, how much energy I had spent on trying desperately to be perfect. How I had taken other’s compliments and used them as motivation to keep pushing myself, but how I had somehow morphed that into a responsibility to continue in order to make everyone else happy with pictures and stories. You must keep going, I would say. “They” are counting on you. And when I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, or didn’t want to keep going, there was my excuse to berate my weakness, my weight, my slowness, anything.

The longest night, I thought. My knee injury had been an excuse to stop and drop into a perilous state of apathy. Instead of being gentle and consistent, I motored through fits and starts, pushing myself hard and burning out. It was like I was playing with the stove, cranking the gas and then killing it.  It wasn’t fair to try and sprint through life, or even to think that I could. The pace I was trying to push wasn’t sustainable, so instead I did almost nothing. I convinced myself I was content to watch the world pass by, but then I wracked myself for not pushing forward. It was a dark and lonely cycle.

The longest night, I thought. I awoke after a few hours to a glow as the half-moon soared above the forest. Long shadows creased the snowdrifts; the wind touched the treetops and breathed gently through my tent. I was warm and safe, curled up with my bag tucked snugly under my chin and around my head. The hot water bottle had wandered somewhere between my legs. I tucked my hands across my chest until they fell asleep and needed a different position. For a few minutes, after I rolled over, adjusted the stuff-sack pillow, I stared into the orange moon-glow of the tent walls and listened to the quiet.

Seven miles in and five thousand feet up, a small orange tent perched in a snowy basin between the pines. The walls shuddered from movement within, and the zipper growled as the door opened.

I greeted the sunrise with a smile, sparkling eyes, and a new sort of confidence.

Another chapter had begun.