Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas!

I wanted to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas this year and a Happy New Year! Tomorrow I leave early o'clock in the AM for Charlotte, NC to spend the holiday season with K, my brother's family, my Mom, and my brother's in-laws. It will be great to watch Christmas through my nieces eyes as they still get excited (at 6:30 AM Christmas morning) for Santa's arrival and gifts from the North Pole! Brings back memories of my early childhood that's for sure!

All the best this holiday season and I'll post a new entry upon my return to Colorado!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

An Early Christmas in the Rockies

Christmas in the Colorado high country - a bit early. Last weekend was the 5th or 6th (no one really knows) Annual Christmas Hut Trip complete with turkey, stuffing, home made cranberry sauce and a "white elephant" gift exchange. Most of the time when I tell friends and family that I'm doing a "hut trip", it's definitely not what they envision. Sure there is the slight detail of snowshoeing anywhere between 4-11 miles in order to get to the "hut", but it's well worth the effort!

The 10th Mountain Division hut system is a series of 29 huts in the central Colorado Rockies linked together by 350 miles of trails. The "huts" are typically 2 stories and can accommodate up to 16 people per night. Basically, one has all the basic necessities to survive many nights in typically sub-zero temperatures. There is an extensive kitchen complete with 4-burner propane stoves, solar paneled light system for the evening hours, 2 cast iron wood stoves for heating, and all the water you drink in the form of fresh fallen snow that you constantly gather and melt. Definitely visit the following URL for details:

Our group of 11 was composed of "grizzled" hut veterans as well as 2 hut virgins. The trip in was about 3 miles of snow covered roads and 3 miles of single track snow covered trail to the Uncle Bud's Hut at an elevation of 11,300'. The hut is named after World War II soldier Bud Winter (1925-1945) who trained at nearby Camp Hale north of Leadville, CO and was part of an elite force trained for winter combat. Our group took about 3-4 hours to traverse the 6 snow covered miles and were greeted by a warm hut and endless hor d'oeuvres to satisfy our hungry bodies. Food was abundant with the holiday dinner complete with wine, conversation was lively, and as per the norm, the "boys" hit the front porch later that evening for cigars and scotch at 10 degrees!

Morning brought a quick snow squall, but the cabin was warm as breakfast burritos and cowboy coffee were brewing in the kitchen. Our group left at different times throughout the morning, but the comfort/beauty of the hut trip was a nice way to start the holiday season.

Merry Christmas friends and Climb On!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Another Birthday...

Yesterday, I turned 41. I find it very hard to believe but the facts don't lie. Physically, Mother Nature confirms it although the mind does not. I remember as a kid I was thinking about the year 2000 and that I would be 33 years old. At the time I thought that was "old." Amazing how time changes one's perspective of things. Now many years on the other side of the year 2000, I wonder where the time goes and that the years seem to go by faster. I imagine most folks think the same thing.

So, where am I at 41? Career wise - I've found a very rewarding job that challenges me mentally and professionally. It took almost 20 years from college graduation but I think I've found what I've always known. I love to work with people and I enjoy the teaching profession. Perhaps it runs in the blood. My maternal grandparents were both public school teachers and my Mom is an Instructor at the University of Texas-Arlington. My aunt and uncle are both teachers. My cousins are both teachers. Hmm, notice the trend?

Personally, I'm at a place in my life that is opposite of what one thinks they will be when they think of their life from the 22-year old perspective. When I was 22, I thought I would follow "tradition", be married with children. Reality, I'm divorced - no children. Am I upset or bitter? Hardly, I've had a great life so far. I've found my "home" in Colorado. In Colorado, I've found my peace in mountaineering. I've made life long friends who share this passion as well. And I've found a wonderful woman that I can talk to, spend time with, and share my life with. K - you're wonderful!

At 22, I loved Jimmy Buffet. He had a song "A Pirate Looks at 40" - hmmm, I'm looking at 41. Aaarr.....

Climb On Friends!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Next Climb!

Waking up Tuesday morning and seeing the falling snow reminded me that 14er season in Colorado is officially over. Another major snow storm is again pounding the high country with reports of snow in the feet range and totals just under a foot here in the Broomfield area. When winter moves in to the Colorado high country, many of Colorado's 54 14ers (mountains over 14,000') are just too technical for the "fair weather" hiker/climber and only a few are hikeable without significant avalanche danger. Needless to say, my "14er addiction" takes a rest for 6 months and thoughts turn to winter pursuits such as snowshoeing, alpine skiing, XC skiing, and hut trips.

This year is different though. You see, my 14er crew (Alan "Big Pappy" Arnette, Patrick "The Navigator" Vall, and Scott "Ultra-Marathoner" Olmer) are all in training for Pico de Orizaba in Mexico! We have hired Mountain Professionals LLC ( based out of Boulder, Colorado to be our guides for the one week trip. Thus, my 14er "end of season" training has continued in earnest with hills runs (when it's not snowing), upper and lower body weight lifting workouts, and endless sessions on the StairMaster at the gym.

Some details about the trip - Pico de Orizaba translated means "Star Mountain" and is one of many dormant volcanoes in Mexico. Orizaba is the third highest mountain in North America standing anywhere between 18,490 and 18,900 depending on who you talk to. Whatever the correct elevation truly is, this will be my highest elevation challenge to date AND I'm very excited about this challenge. We will be ascending Orizaba via the normal route - "Glaciar Jamapa." For detailed information, you can visit one of my favorite climbing sites - SummitPost - to get specifics about the mountain. See the following URL:

Our trip is scheduled for January 20-27, 2008 and all appears to be going according to plan at this time. My Christmas list for the family has been focused on new climbing gear that I will need for the trip and can use for the 2008 14er season.

The only negative with the timing of this trip is that I will not be going to Walt Disney World this year for the Marathon Weekend (ran 2005-2007) and to see brother Jim run his first marathon! Honestly, I never thought he had any interest in endurance events but he and his wife, Andrea, are training hard! I'm very proud of them both!

So there you have it friends, details about my next climb. It will be a challenge of a lifetime and I'm grateful to be doing this with great friends. Until my next dispatch - Climb On Friends!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The teachers life...

I'm out of town this week in Albuquerque, NM teaching Introductory GIS concepts to a collection of students from the public and private sectors.

The first question I get after folks ask me what I do for a living (Corporate Trainer/Instructor by the way) is "What is GIS?" My answer is simply this - "...have you ever seen a National Geographic map?" Most folks answer yes. Then I follow up with - "...well our company produces the software that National Geographic uses to create those maps." This inevitably leads to next question - is it like Google Earth? Well, not exactly - GE is more like the "eye candy" or the "gateway drug" into GIS technologies. You see, people all around the world are involved with GIS technologies whether they know it or not. Car companies are installing GPS devices for street navigation in automobiles. Other are buying hand held GPS devices for geocaching or navigation. Runners have GPS wrist devices like Garmin Forerunners to track their distance and time. GIS has moved into the mainstream and most individuals don't realize it.

I work for a company called ESRI - Environmental System Research Institute ( ESRI is the world's largest GIS software company and has offices worldwide. In terms of market share, they are the largest in the industry. There are other GIS companies out there, such as MapInfo, Manifold, GRASS, OpenSource GIS, and a host of much smaller companies, but ESRI is certainly the largest.

I've been involved with GIS technologies for 15 years in both the public and private sectors before accepting a position with ESRI in January 2007. I fell into GIS completely by accident - it was the only job I could get right out of graduate school (horrible job market) AND I had zero experience. My first employer (South Carolina Appalachian Council of Governments - offered me a 1-year contract to learn the software and become productive. If, at the end of the first year, I was not able to learn/use GIS, then we would part ways. I stayed on board for over 5 years. I am completely self taught in ArcInfo, ArcView and ArcGIS. I've held the roles of GIS Technician, GIS Analyst, GIS Programmer (although I hate to program), GIS Coordinator, and now, GIS Instructor with ESRI.

I love my new position, meeting new people in the classes, and teaching them how to use the software. My biggest reward (besides salary... :-) ) is seeing the proverbial light bulb go off in their heads. The "ah-hah" moment I call it! In every class I teach, I can see when that moment hits and the student's understanding of what I've been lecturing for 2-5 days finally hits home. It's pretty cool!

Well, I'm about to begin a new lecture. Climb on friends!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Welcome to my Blog!

Outhiking - an email address I've used for 11 years. When I started the process of creating a blog, I debated about what to name what I hope to be an interesting blog for friends and family. Should I call it "Robert LeClair's Blog" or "Rleclair Blog" or something unique to my life in Colorado. Effective, yes, but somewhat boring. Then I started thinking about personal interests that have introduced me to many good friends and challenged me physically, mentally and sometimes emotionally.

Hiking, for me, began as a child hiking short hikes on family vacations, progressing to hikes under 5 miles in length with the Boy Scouts, to backpacking trips in Yellowstone and Alaska, to hiking 14ers in Colorado and in its current form, training to hike/climb bigger mountains. Hiking in its purist form is a way for me to reconnect with nature and myself. It's as simple as lacing up the boots and heading out the door. A recharge of the batteries if you will.

My hope/plan is to use this blog site as a way for friends and family to connect with me and me with them. I plan to post ramblings, pictures of my climbs, plans for the future, and just about anything that is on my mind. Pretty much what blogs are meant for I guess. If you stumble upon my site, I hope you enjoy it! Now get out there...lace up the boots and start hiking...