Monday, September 27, 2010

Another 24 hours...the Doha Sequel...

With my blockbuster post from 2 days ago, the director asked if I would write a sequel to my runaway hit.  I graciously agreed on the caveat that they do something about the heat and humidity.  Well, if 99 degrees and a heat index of 107 degrees is better, then life is good.  Surprisingly, the temperatures did feel a bit better on my return walk to the Movenpick Tower and Suites this afternoon...I only felt 3/4 drained more than Qatar normal.
As discussed in my last post, Saturday was my day of R&R from the long plane ride halfway around the world.  Sunday was my Monday as it were.  I have a class of 14-15 students in my class and the cultural differences are interesting to observe.  The males occupy the front of the classroom and are fairly active in discussions.  The women occupy the back of the classroom and "generally" not as active in discussions, but they will ask questions if I walk near or they quietly get my attention to assist them.  For cultural and/or religious beliefs, women in the Islamic world dress in an abayas - some veiled while others are not.  As described in my hotel magazine, women wear abayas "to shroud their identity from the outside world."  It's very effective...

One difficulty in teaching this particular class is the abbreviated Qatari work schedule.  It's common to begin one's day around 8 AM, have a 30-minute brunch from 9:30-10 AM, a call to prayers at 11:45-12:15 PM and then depart for one's home by 2 PM.  This class is designed around an 8 hour work day so losing nearly 4 hours a day to teach is problematic at best.  One has to speed up delivery of instruction and skip exercises in order to complete the required materials.  Even with that, I'm rushed to get done what I can.

Following class, my principle lead for CGIS and I discussed work details afterwards and then drove me to another part of Qatar for an Arabic sandwich - basically a falafel chicken sandwich - very tasty from the local falafel store.  The great thing about this trip is I saw yet more of Doha while traveling in the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle.  Beats walking in the hot, humid sun - but....

Walk I did as the sun was setting yesterday.  The corniche is a many kilometer water promenade that goes around the Doha Bay.  From my hotel, I began my hours long walk past the newly constructed skyscrapers of West Bay taking many pictures.  I have to say, the architecture of these modern skyscrapers are unlike anything I've seen before.  For the most part, they're very sleek, very progressive, very modern, and very impressive.  Not knowing what to expect of Doha before my trip, I've been very impressed by the design of it's future and intrigue of it's past.  Doha is a very modern 21st century city with a centuries old past that is rapidly disappearing in the older areas of town to rubble and new construction.

After my return to the Movenpick, I ventured downstairs for dinner in the hotel restaurant.  Granted, in the US I would never do such a thing, but as I have no car and I was the Indian style buffet with amazing desserts had to suffice.  The prices are a bit much for such a meal so Monday night, I plan to return to the Souq Waqif via a taxi and enjoy an inexpensive and much more enjoyable night.

I wrapped up my day with a Skype video phone call to my girl and the boy.  First time I used this technology and it was great.  My day was nearing an end (9 PM Qatar time) and Karen's was just beginning (12 PM MST).  It was great to see her and the boy and get to talk to them - learned yet more about a new Beyblade that Ethan purchased - L-Drago!!!  Halfway around the world is a bit harder than 450 miles north of ABQ - but the result is still the same - not in the same town and missing each other.

Well, Tuesday is my last full day in Doha to conclude my 3-day class and then off to meet an ESRI colleague for dinner.  After that, get packed and ready to go for my return flight to the States - it will be a bit longer than the outbound flight due to going against the jet stream.  Gggggrrrreeeeeaaaaaaatttttttt....

Until then, climb on my friends!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Day in Doha...

My first full day in Doha, Qatar and I believe I maximized my immersion into this hot yet beautiful country.  A bit of a back story - I was selected by ESRI-Redlands 2 months ago to teach a 3-day class in Doha, Qatar.  As the course is now retired and the number of available staff to teach it decreasing, I thought this would be a great opportunity to explore another small part of the world.  My trip began on a beautiful Colorado Thursday afternoon from Denver to Washington DC.  A brief layover in Dulles allowed me to wolf down a buffalo burger and enjoy a fine brew from the Old Dominion Brewing Company before boarding a 777 Qatar Airways jet direct to Doha, Qatar - 12.5 hours non-stop.

My longest plane trip ever was from Los Angeles, CA to the Big Island of Hawaii many years ago.  That was only a 5 hour trip - very manageable.  This one...well...there's not a lot to do for 12.5 hours but one manages.  I met two college students in my row that were returning home to Islamabad, Pakistan after spending 6 months on a college visa to Indiana State University.  They were studying agriculture as well as touring a small part of the USA.  As the plane departed Dulles, we chatted for a while before donning our headphones to watch some movies.  I selected the latest Robin Hood (with Russell Crowe) - not a great movie but not a bad one either - the second movie I watched - Shrek IV - also feel into this category as well.  But the service on Qatar Airways is top notch - good food, free drinks, and plenty of attention to keep one comfortable on a long trip.  For 12.5 hours it was needed.

I attempted to sleep in my coach seat for a period of time but that was not exactly comfortable or successful.  One dozes more than sleeps.  I watched the computer map tracking our path across the Atlantic, over the UK, over northern Europe, over Turkey, skirting down the border of Iraq/Iran and down the Persian Gulf to Doha, Qatar.  My first impression at the 6:10 PM touchdown - a steamy 95 degrees in the face.  Mind you when I left Colorado, the temps fluctuated between 58 and 75 and low humidity.  How one forgets about humidity...ugh.

I sailed through immigration, grabbed my suitcase and found my limo driver with a sign "Welcome Robert LeClair."  We jumped into the car and it was off to the 5-star Movenpick Tower and Suites in West Bay, Doha.  The West Bay area is the newest construction in town and is a jungle of beautifully designed skyscrapers.  This part of Doha is very modern and very expensive - a lot of new found oil and natural gas wealth in the past 5 years.  After an Indian Buffet in the hotel restaurant - I crashed hard for the night.

7:30 AM on Saturday...what to do...well get a good workout in the gym first!  My body was screaming at me for sitting so long on the plane.  Then a good breakfast of waffles, hash browns, fresh fruit and coffee.  Afterwards I spoke with the concierge and arranged transportation to the Souq in old Doha and the nearby Museum of Islamic Art.  Originally I thought it would a nice day to walk the 4-5 miles along the water front to this area, but after seeing the weather report of 99 degrees and heat index of 113 - no way!  The Souq is the traditional Arabic "shopping mall" if you will where vendors sell everything for traditional Muslim garments, to trinkets, to spices/candy/dates, to birds and cats.  I wandered for 2 hours taking refuge in the air conditioned hallways before going back outside in the oppressive heat.  After a 1 hour break to check the training facility with my work contact, I returned downtown to the Museum of Islamic Art - a very modern building with Middle Eastern art back to the 5th/6th century - pretty cool stuff.

It is now middle afternoon and I'm starving!  I figured the 10-minute walk back to the Souq wouldn't be too bad - it was.  The heat/humidity is brutal!  A taxi driver pulled over - but I only had 5 minutes to go.  I poured myself into a Lebanese restaurant for chicken kabobs and a traditional Lebanese salad - incredible!  Afterwards, I followed up my meal with a traditional Turkish coffee - beats Starbucks by a mile!  Feeling refreshed I went the Corner Cafe to try a shisha - apple flavored tobacco in a Arabic traditional water pipe.  Cool experience - with plenty of people watching to do.  Westerners, Asians, Indonesians, Qatari, non-Qatari, veiled women, non-veiled woman - I'm not in Colorado for sure.  Spoke with Karen for 10 minutes on my ESRI global phone - she would enjoy this place but not the humidity.  By then, my apple tobacco is done and I'm hungry again.  It's off to an Indian restaurant for baryani chicken - the flavors oh so incredible!  By this time, I'm hot/tired/sweaty and ready for the hotel and air conditioning!  A $6 taxi ride and I'm now back looking over the West Bay of Doha from the 22nd floor updating my much neglected blog.

That's it for now.  I'm teaching classes for the next 3-days and then return to the states on Wednesday AM.  Climb On my friends!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Finishing the 14ers...

Two weeks ago, my climbing partner, Alan Arnette, completed his goal climbing all 54 14,000 peaks in Colorado.  Alan was part of a 6-person group to the Chicago Basin located in southwest Colorado between Durango and Silverton.  The 3 ranked 14ers, Mt. Eolus, Windom Peak, and Sunlight Peak are some of the most remote 14,000 peaks in Colorado that require a ride on the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to shorten the hike into the basin.  For all, this was a trip we had talked about doing for years.

Our first full day in the basin brought abundant sunshine and Colorado blue skies - perfect conditions for climbing Mt. Eolus and it's neighbor North Eolus.  One of our team members, John Little, had befriended Alan several years ago and had dreamed of climbing his first Class 3 mountain.  I had not met John until this trip but had corresponded with him over the years.  Eolus and North Eolus proved to be both very beautiful and very interesting rocks to climb.  For Alan, this brought him closer to his end goal with 52 successful summits.

Our second day in the basin brought consistent low cloud cover, rain, drizzle, and groppel - not exactly perfect conditions for climbing Windom Peak and Sunlight Peak.  We delayed our start time from camp about 1-2 hours to determine whether climbing was in the cards.  Seeing a window, we set out for Windom Peak.  Windom Peak is the easiest of the two mountains we were to attempt that day and through drizzle, groppel and some wind we summited the mountain surrounded by pea soup...53 successful summits for Alan.  We then made a hasty retreat down the mountain to avoid freezing conditions.  Successfully off of Windom, Alan and I attempted Sunlight Peak in marginal conditions.  I got 200' from the top and Alan about 50' from the top before we made the call to turn around.  Wet rock, exposed terrain, and icy conditions dictated that Sunlight, an unforgiving mountain, was not to be that day...stuck at 53 successful summits.

Our third day in the basin brought an overnight abundance of rain and hail but a dawn of abundant sunshine and Colorado blue skies.  I had to hike out of the basin that morning to catch my train while Alan awoke at 4:30 AM to summit Sunlight Peak.  Although he soloed Sunlight Peak, thoughts of his mother (who passed away from complications of Alzheimer's1 year and 1 day on his completion of the 14ers), his climbing accomplishments, and his memories of all 54 summits hopefully kept him company.  A hearty congratulations in completing the goal of climbing all 54 14,000 peaks in Colorado - a task undertaken by many but accomplished by few.

As our team returned to our respective homes, all of us have had time to think about this trip and what it meant for each individual.  For Alan, a completion of a goal and the beginning of a new goal - to raise awareness of and $1 million for Alzheimer's Research with his Memories are Everything:  The 7 Summits for Alzheimer's.  The project begins Q4 2010 and will conclude in 2011/2012.  You can follow Alan's progress with this project on the link above.  Please consider donating to this cause by giving 1 penny for each vertical foot Alan climbs - it can be for all 7 summits or just 1 - $13 to $196 depending on the summit.

Climb On my friends!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Third times a charm...

Kit Carson Peak (14,165') has been an elusive 14er to climb for me.  In 2009...on 2 respective trips...Kit Carson Peak thwarted my best efforts to gain the summit.  The June 2009 attempt brought 6 hikers together with varied climbing skills.  The snows from winter 2008-09 were still on the mountain - areas that required crampons and an ice axe.  Half of our team only made neighboring Challenger Point (14,081') but an iced over ledge system called "The Avenue" stopped us.  The September 2009 attempt brought 5 hikers together again but hours and hours of rain, groppel and hail throughout the night only iced the rock up.  It was not meant to be...

Fast forward to early August 2010 and the snows are a distant memory - winter 2010 is only months away though...  Ben Kubczak and I were the only folks able to give Kit Carson/Challenger Point a go this past weekend.  The plan, as suggested by Ben, was to make this a day hike versus an overnight backpacking trip.  The 14 miles round trip and 6250' gain/loss would have been easier broken into two days, but the advantage of 1 day was the ability to travel light.  And heck, it would be a challenge - I'm always up for a challenge.

I drove to the Willow Lake trail head Friday night and slept in the 4Runner for the first time.  Another perk of this "new to me" vehicle, I can lay down easily enough complete with pad and sleeping bag - couldn't do that with the CRV.  Ben met me at the 4x4 turn-off at 3:30 AM Saturday and we were on trail by 4 AM.   Walking through he woods by headlamp with only a sliver of moon was great.  The air was still and the forest not quite awake.  Ben noted that someone had seen a mountain lion here recently...ggggreeeeaaaatttttt....

We made Willow Lake in 2 hours 45 minutes and pumped water to refill our bottles.  From there, we began the climb up towards Challenger Point.  The standard trail is nothing more than a scree slope with some boulder hoping  thrown in for good measure.  Ben made it about halfway before calling his summit bid due to changing weather.  I decided to continue to get a fuller weather picture on Challenger Point.  I gained the summit and after evaluating the weather, decided Kit Carson was a go.  I met up with 3 other folks who had the same plan and from Challenger, we began the trip over to Kit Carson.

Kit Carson is a complex mountain with 3 summits - Kat Carson, Kit Carson, and Challenger Point (although some give it the nickname of Johnny Carson!)  The easiest way to summit Kit Carson is to use the ledge system (The Avenue) around the back side of the mountain to an easy Class 3 scramble to the summit.  From Challenger summit to Kit Carson summit was 45 minutes.  #47 in the books!  I enjoyed the scenery for 20-30 minutes, took some pictures, texted Karen, and then began the long hike down to the 4Runner...7 miles away and 6250' down.

I met Ben back at Willow Lake and we hiked down the mountain to clean clothes, sandals and the thought of pizza/beer in Salida.  After a hearty dinner, we departed to separate cities - me (Denver) and Ben (Colorado Springs).  The ride home was tough - I was very, very tired and drank coffee to keep awake.  Fortunately, the trip went well and I parked the car at home, left all my gear in the car, and promptly walked into my apartment and crashed for 10 hours.  I feel much better now...

Next weekend is the Eolus group trip north of Durango with my regular climbing partners, Alan Arnette and Patrick Vall as well as some new additions - John Little and Anne/Kevin Martin.  Looking forward to it!

Climb On my friends!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Marmot Love in the Crestones...

What the heck?  Marmot love?  Surely that has nothing and everything to do with climbing.  You see the Yellow Bellied Marmot live at altitudes above 6500' which is where I spend a lot of weekends during the summer climbing season.  And this last weekend was no different...

Several weeks ago, I sent an email out to my regular climbing partners, Alan Arnette and Patrick Vall, to see if they had any interest in returning to Crestone Peak (14,294') and Crestone Needle (14,197').  Both had done these peaks on different trips but these were 2 mountains on my 2010 summit list to complete.  Unfortunately Patrick was unavailable and Alan replied "only if we do the traverse."  The traverse is considered one of the 4 great 14,000' climbs among the 14er group and one of the more difficult due to route finding, rock scrambling, and exposure.  I was tentative about this traverse but agreed - what better way to gain more skills.

Alan and I left Denver Friday afternoon and 3.5 hours later we were at the trailhead, geared and ready for our 4 mile hike to base camp.  We arrived at camp around 6 PM, set up our tents, ate dinner, and set the alarm for a 3:40 AM wake-up call.  It arrived too soon but we were greeted by clear skies and tons of stars!  We left camp at 4 AM to climb Broken Hand Pass - a several hundred foot scree slope to a weakness in the mountain.  From there we descended to a beautiful lake valley and made our way to the Red Gully.  The Red Gully is a polished, red rock section that climbers take to within 200' of the summit block.  The hiking/climbing was moderately hard but manageable and soon enough we were on the summit of Crestone Peak.  But the "fun" was only beginning....

To reach the traverse entry point between Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle, one has to descend 600-700' from the saddle of Crestone Peak.  We spent some time attempting to find the entry point and eventually found a strong climbers trail - the traverse!  The traverse is a slog of upclimb and downclimb between gullies and fractured rock to an obvious rock formation called the Black Gendarme.  From this point on, the climbing gets more serious due to exposure - a fall in some portions is fatal.  We took our time finding the safest route and eventually found ourselves at the base of the crux.  The crux is an 80' climb on 70-80 degree rock with solid hand and foot holds.  Alan was a spider monkey on this portion and free climbed it to the top.  I, on the other hand, was a marmot but fortunately was able to tie into a rope from an earlier team that ascended this portion 10 minutes before us.  Tied into a safety system, I climbed the 80' crux with no problem and soon enjoyed the summit of Crestone Needle.  The remainder of the trip was a slog of a downclimb via the standard route off the Needle back to camp and exhaustive rest.

Overall, the Crestones are quite a beautiful range of mountains and I felt both spent from the exertion yet happy to have climbed these mountains.  Next on the agenda, an attempt on Capitol, Wilson, and El Diente this weekend.  The "list" grows shorter but my happiness in the mountains continue to grow...

Climb On my friends....

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A sporting climb...

For about 2 years now, two of my coworkers at ESRI and I have discussed rock climbing and the plethora of routes "near" the office.  As I've advanced my mountaineering and rock climbing skills through CMC classes and am now an assistant instructor for Basic Mountaineering School, my rock skills are slowly getting more solid.  And I'm getting more comfortable with exposure as well.

Earlier this week, Kevin Hodson approached me and asked if I was interested in some rock climbing before work on Thursday morning.  Seeing how my week has been chaotic at best with beta testing of updated course materials for ArcGIS 10, I was ready to get something in this week.  My running has been sidelined - mostly due to schedule and summer activities - so I said YES!

The plan - be at the base of High Wire Crag in Clear Creek Canyon by 5:45 AM to have a 2-2.5 hours to climb.  The routes we were looking to do was "Stone Cold Moderate"  (difficulty 5.7) and "Ace in the Hole" (difficulty 5.10a).  As these were sport climbs (bolts placed in the rock every 8-10' for protection), we did not have to worry about bring trad gear (cams, nuts, etc.) to place our protection.  Kevin has done some leading in this canyon before so I belayed him on both routes so he could set the top rope for my climbs up/down.

The first route, Stone Cold Moderate, was an enjoyable climb to warm up on.  The route follows a crack to chains 100' above the belay station.  We both climbed this route twice playing around with different handholds and footholds.  The second route, Ace in the Hole, was much more of a challenge both in rating and smaller handhold/footholds.  Kevin led this route again and it pushed his leading skills.  When I lowered him down to the belay station, he was pumped about doing the route and at the same time, glad to be down.  My turn now...this route was one of the harder routes that I've climbed this year but I was looking forward to it.  The handholds/footholds are a bit smaller and you have to look around for them but they are there.  It took me about 10-15 minutes to climb the 100' to the top but what a climb!  After being lowered, we packed the gear and drove the office to begin the work day.

This weekend was supposed to be our BMS Grad Climb to Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park but heavy rains/snow in the northern and central mountains as well as the Front Range, has put the kibosh on our plans.  Currently, the instructor team is quickly planning a day trip for Sunday morning but nothing solid as of yet.  Regardless, the weekend is here and for that I'm happy!

Next weekend, heading down to ABQ to see my girl and enjoy the warm New Mexico desert!  Climb On my friends!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Dog is not Dead...

Tsali, the wonder cat, is doing great in the LeClair household.  But "the dog" otherwise known as the Dead Dog Couloir off of Torreys Peak was simply an amazing snow climb.  I started climbing couloirs (i.e. a deep gully on mountain sides filled with snow) about 1.5 years ago for my Basic Mountaineering School class.  My first exposure to them was the Cristo Couloir off of Quandary Peak.  Since then, I've climbed the Lambslide Couloir off of Longs Peak as well but the Dead Dog Couloir had begun to intrigue me this year.

I have climbed Torreys Peak (14,267') via the standard route probably about 3 times now and although it is a very scenic mountain paired with neighboring Grays Peak (14,270'), it's probably not a mountain that I would actively choose to return to unless it was by a more technical approach.  Several weeks ago, I started formulating a plan to climb the Dead Dog towards the end of May 2010.  By months end, the snowpack has consolidated fairly nicely and the chance of point releases/wet slides are minimal - at least in the early morning hours.  I discussed my plans with 14er climbing partner, Alan Arnette, who planned to join us after his Little Bear Peak climb the day before as well as my ESRI co-worker, Kevin Hodson.  Two additional friends from the CMC, Greg Sherman and John Krhovjak, whom I've hiked with before had expressed an interest as well.  The plans were set in motion....

My alarm went off at 3 AM in Westminster, CO and I awakened to quickly eat some cereal, brew some coffee, and grab my pack to meet folks at the Morrison Park-n-Ride by 4 AM.  We wanted to be on the trail by 5 AM and at the base of the couloir by 6:30 AM in order to take advantage of hard snow.  As it turned out, Alan was unable to join us due to a "wardrobe malfunction" (his double plastic boots broke) so the remaining 4 folks drove to the summer trailhead and began to hike in.  The air temperature was in the high 30's and the snow on the trail was hard from the night's freezing temperatures - perfect!  We arrived at the base of couloir by 6:30 AM and started to get ready.  We put on our crampons, grabbed our ice axes, ate some food, drank some water and started up the couloir.  There was some wet slide activity from previous days but this was not too much of a worry - the snow was firm least until late morning.

The Dead Dog averages about 45 degrees most of the route up and steepens to 50 degrees for the last 100-200'.  We took about 1.5 hours to ascend the 1200' to the summit ridge and stood on the summit by 8:20 AM.  The views were simply amazing - a lot of snow is still on the high mountains although it's melting quickly.  We could see Breckenridge Resort 20 miles to the west as well as numerous other 14,000' mountains nearby.  This is one of the things I live for!  We enjoyed the summit for about 20-30 minutes and then began our descent back via the standard route to the trailhead.  Kevin had brought his tele skis so he skied down the couloir with another skier while Greg, John, and I glissaded 1200' down from the saddle between Grays and Torreys.

We were back at the 'yota by 11 AM and in Denver by 12 PM - perfect - we avoided the Memorial Day Weekend "rush hour" soon coming down I-70!

This weekend, my friend/lover/companion, Karen, is visiting this weekend for a weekend of concerts at Red Rocks, visiting with friends, hitting a festival or two, and catching up on lost time.  Climb on my friends! 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Da Bear...

Nope, Mike Ditka was not on Little Bear Peak (14,037') on May 22, 2010 but there were at least 8 climbers that were on summit.  My regular climbing partner, Patrick Vall, and I have been studying this mountain for a while now and came to the conclusion that the safest time to climb this mountain was when there was snow on the crux...otherwise known as the "hourglass."  The hourglass is a rock formation that has a lot in common with a traditional hourglass - wide at the top/bottom and pinch point in the middle.  In this case, the pinch point funnels a cascade of rocks onto water slicked cliff bands that climbers are attempting to ascend.  Not wanting to be a clay pigeon in this shooting gallery, we decided to try the "bear" when the snow has consolidated into solid climbing conditions.

I left Denver Friday AM to pick up Patrick in Colorado Springs on way to the town of Blanca, CO.  Not much in Blanca these days but they had big plans once.  If you ever pull up Google Earth, you'll understand my comment.  We drove about 3 miles up Lake Como Road until the 4Runner could no longer go up due to huge rock bands across the path.  From there it was a 2-2.5 mile hike to Lake Como at 11,900'.  As we were the first folks up to Lake Como, we selected a small 10x12 cabin that's been modified over the years for climbers and 4x4'ers alike.  This was a good thing as winter still has a grasp on the high country at around 12,000'.  After a dinner of Top Raman and tuna, we called it a night.

The alarm went off at 4 AM - we started to boil water for oatmeal and hot Starbucks coffee - thank God for Via!  By 5 AM, we were geared and working our way to the first crux - a 600' snow filled 30-35 degree sloped gully.  After some crampon maintenance, we were at the top of the gully and traversing across the west ridge to the base of the hourglass.  At Point 12,980' Patrick called his climb due to not feeling 100% for the hourglass and encouraged me to continue...I did after knowing that Patrick would be watching my ascent for safety.  Seeing 4 climbers ahead of me, I attempted to catch up with them to tag the summit.

The crux of the climb had arrived...the hourglass...something I've read about for a year now and I was nervous.  Seeing good snow positioned at a 45 degree angle to the summit, I ascended.  I caught the first of the 4-person party above the pinch point of the hourglass and took some pics for 14er partner's (Alan Arnette) attempt next weekend.  Above the pinch point, the ascent went climber's left to the summit - a 50-55 degree snow slope.  Since many parties has summited Friday and Saturday AM, there was a great set of "steps" in the snow.  Within minutes, I'm on top of Little Bear Peak - #40 out of 54 summits complete.  I called Patrick on the walkie-talkie - "I'm on summit!"

I spent the next 10-15 minutes talking to fellow climbers, taking pictures, and eating/drinking.  My climb was half I had to descend the hourglass.  It took about 2 hours to get back to the base of the gully but I had made it.  The "bear" is a tough is to be respected.  My BMS training this year and last was a major factor in my summiting and the training paid off.

Next on the schedule - Dead Dog Couloir on Torrey's Peak next Monday.

Climb On my friends...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Iceman Cometh...

Alright I'm not exactly a Colorado mountain yeti but I was up in the high country where there was May.  Two weekends ago was the Basic Mountaineering School's "Hard Snow" day.  The premise of this field trip was to introduce students to couloir climbing, hone self arrest skills with an ice axe, crampon use, and rope travel in teams.  The route - Cristo Couloir on Quandary Peak.

Quandary Peak (14,265') is located south of Breckenridge, CO and is part of the Tenmile-Mosquito Range.  It is generally climbable year round due to easy access and avy safe routes.  The Cristo Couloir is located on the south side of Quandary Peak and is rated a Class 2 snow climb.  The stats are 2.0 miles/2600' gain/loss.  Typically, Cristo Couloir becomes climbable in early May but this year, conditions were questionable in the weeks leading up to the climb due to late snows that had not had time to consolidate.  The only way to know for sure was to give it a shot.

Our student/instructor group left Denver at 4 AM and arrived at the trailhead at 5:30 AM for an alpine start.  The alpine glow on the surrounding mountains was simply incredible.  As the students geared up, we communicated the plans for the day.  From there, we worked our way to the base of the couloir.  Last year when I was a BMS student, the Cristo Couloir was my hard snow so I felt comfortable on this terrain.  Initially, we asked the students to practice the 4 styles of self arrest with an ice axe - sliding down a snow slope on your back feet first, in a seated position, on your stomach face first and my favorite, on your back head first.  Once they felt they had enough practice, we started our trek up the mountain.  Snow conditions were not great but we continued on up practicing skills.

We successfully summited Quandary Peak about 1:30 PM and enjoyed an outstanding view on summit for about 20-30 minutes.  A lot of folks called their Mom's to wish them a Happy Mother's Day.  I called Karen and my Mom as well to wish them both a happy, happy.  Afterwards, we down climbed about 500'-750' on the couloir before setting up the glissade - basically sitting on your butt and ride the snow down to the TH.  We probably lost 1500' in about 5 minutes of sliding - great fun!  All in all, hard snow day was a success and I believe the students learned quite a bit about snow travel.

Next on my agenda, climbing Little Bear Peak this Saturday AM with great friend and fellow climber, Patrick Vall.  Little Bear is a serious mountain - a Class 4 - more so in the summer because of rockfall.  Our plan is to do Little Bear as a snow climb thereby reducing the risk of rockfall.  That and the snow provides a more solid anchor of sorts - we'll have crampons and ice axes to aid us.  If successful, this will be #40 out 54 14,000' peaks in Colorado.

Climb On my friends!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

3rd Rockin' and Rollin'...

I apologize for the tardy update to the blog but finally had a moment to write.  You see, the past 1.5 has been chaotic at best and (partially) stressful at least.  Two weekends ago, I was in Albuquerque, NM visiting my wonderful girl and the boy after spending way too much time apart.  Unfortunately, the company (aka.  ESRI) summoned me to Redlands, CA soon thereafter to spend 5 days learning how to write multiple choice questions for an ArcSDE Instructor Exam.  It was a good experience but mentally drained me...I was happy to be home!

Basic Mountaineering School continues.  The BMS lecture format has ended but the field trips continue as the team nears the goal of the Grad Climb.  This past weekend was termed "3rd Rock Day" and is the final trip dedicated solely to rock climbing.  The goal  - to complete a 4-pitch climb on the 5th Flatiron directly west of Boulder, CO.  Last year when I was a student, the 5th Flatiron was my 3rd rock day and it pushed my comfort zone in terms of rock climbing and exposure.  It's amazing to think what a year makes in personal growth and comfort with accepting the exposure...yet to persevere higher.  I thoroughly enjoyed the 5th this time around.

Our team met at a reasonable 7 AM at the parking lot Chautaugua Park and geared up for the 1.5 mile, 1200' hike to Royal Arch.  From there, we hiked the climbers trail to the base of the 5th Flatiron.  Weather wise - it's was ever changing but the plan was to get the 4-pitch climb in.  My team was composed of one student and two instructors for a total of 3 folks.  We set about getting geared up and from there, our rock lead Chris Bartle started up.  The BMS student, Zack Schiel, was 2nd on the team and I was 3rd.  We successfully arrived at the first belay station as a team and then proceeded up the 2nd pitch.  During this time, the weather changed from mixed sun/clouds to light snow.  As the rocks were getting wetter and the weather showed no sign of improving, 2 of 3 teams decided to bail off the rock as conditions were sketchy at best.  Our team hastily set up a 40'-50' rappel to the south side of the 5th Flatiron and hiked down to meet the team.  The 3rd team remained on the rock and eventually completed the multi-pitch climb.  All in all a successful trip.

This weekend is termed "hard snow day" as we attempt the Cristo Couloir on the south side of Quandary Peak.  Conditions are mixed as of yet but we will see what the team can accomplish with crampon travel, ice axe work, glissading, and rope travel.  If we summit this particular 14er, it's a bonus.  But if snow conditions are poor, then we focus on training.

Climb On my friends!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On rappel...

For regular readers of my blog, the subject line may seem a bit familiar.  Back in January 2010, I joined a group of friends to ice climb down in Ouray.  Well, it's now April and the snow/ice is mostly gone from the Colorado Front Range (although I'm sure we'll get hit by one more snowstorm...but that's another story...)

This past Sunday was 1st Rock Day for my Basic Mountaineering School students.  As we prepared earlier in the week by testing the students about their knowledge of climbing knots and what they're used for, the field trip is intended to introduce them to the details of top roping, anchors, multi-pitch scenarios, how to escape the belay and ultimately to have fun.  As I noted in my last blog posting, I had a sneaky suspicion of some anxiety about 1st rock day but when the time arrived, the students completed the task and hopefully learned some things as well.

We arrived at the trailhead at 7 AM and geared up for the hike/climb.  Now granted, the climbing area was no more than 1/2 mile from the trailhead but the instructors thought it would be good practice to hike 1-2 miles with a full pack and climbing ropes.  Our rationale is that as the field trips progress, we'll be hiking longer and higher with heavy packs of climbing gear, food/water, overnight gear, etc.  We arrived at a big pile of rocks no more than 40' high and set up two anchor stations for top-roping and rappelling.  The top rope station allowed students the opportunity to rock climb in their mountaineering boots, to practice climbing signals, and to belay each other up the rock. The rappel station allowed students the opportunity to rappel down a nearly vertical rock face and to understand how the systems work.  The class builds redundancy into the climbing systems so the risk for injury is rather low.  Fortunately, the redundant systems worked well as one of our first students to rappel down managed to do a full 180 degree flip with her back against the rock and her head towards the ground.  To her credit, she held onto the rope, kept her wits about her, and righted herself to continue to rappel.  I was pleased/happy/relieved....  The remainder of the students did very well and did several rappels during the course of the day.  BTW, that's me on rappel...had to get one in!

This Sunday is 2nd rock day down in Castlewood Canyon near Castle Rock, CO.  On the docket is prussiking, passing the knot, how to build anchors, more rappelling, and rock climbing.  Should be great fun!

Climb On my friends!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Head west young man...or is it north...or...

This past Sunday AM, Easter Sunday, was the first field day for a new Basic Mountaineering School (BMS) class.  Last year at this same time, I was a student in BMS but this year I'm an assistant instructor.  BMS is a class offered by the Colorado Mountain Club and is designed to give aspiring mountaineers the skills necessary for navigation, rock climbing, and snow skills.  The class is broken down into 5 lecture nights and 6 mandatory fields trips with 2 "qualifying" trips afterwords to officially graduate from the school.  The field trips cover such topics as map/compass, rappelling, rock climbing, escaping the belay, "passing the knot" in the rope, self arrest with an ice axe, crampon travel, and a host of other skill sets to prepare the student to safely traverse the mountains - whether it's in Colorado or other loftier ascents.

I had an excellent BMS experience last year and was pushed outside my comfort zone often - particularly when we got to the rock climbing field trips.  I guess it's a natural fear that you don't want to fall off a mountain; yet rock climbing, by it's nature, is typically on vertical terrain and gravity always winds.  You have to train your mind to trust your gear, your fellow students, and your instructors.  It took some time to trust the gear but once I learned  the reality that my body weight on a rope is really nothing for the system, then my fear of falling decreased dramatically.  Now I can rappel off a 50-75' cliff without much fear.  The class also has the added benefit that as I get closer to completing the 54 14ers in Colorado, my comfort level on the more difficult peaks is better than if I had not taken the class.  Case in point, I climbed Pyramid Peak (one of the top 5 most difficult 14ers) last summer with my climbing partner, Alan Arnette, last summer and felt more confident in my abilities to summit.

So, this past day with the students.  The gist of the trip is to have the students guide the group to 6 points on a map using their compasses and terrain reading skills compared to the map.  Our roles as instructors was to make sure they did not get into difficult terrain, to assist those who did not understand how to use a map/compass and provide support.  Long story short, they were rock stars!  They found all 6 points without much difficulty and in reviewing the GPS track, did it in an efficient manner.  I was pleased with their teamwork and their skills.

Next Sunday is 1st rock day on Little Scraggy Peak.  My guess is there's some anxiety among some of the students but I'm hopeful that they will do well.  More to come...

Climb On my friends!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Make way for the Gubna...

When I set up this blog a while back, I figured it would be one way I would share my "altitude addictions" with friends and family.  Mostly I've stayed true to course...but sometimes change is good.  So with that, I'd like to introduce the Gubna.  For my non-Southern audience, that would be the "Governor."

As most of you know, I consider myself to be an amateur beer aficionado.  I appreciate microbrews from all across the country whether it's a porter, stout, india pale ale, amber, brown, red, pumpkin, winter ale, summer ale, lager - basically anything made by the smaller breweries.  Absolutely can't stand corporate beer - as in Budweiser, Coors, Miller, etc. or as Stone Brewing Company states on a bumper sticker - "fizzy, yellow beer is for wussies."  Not that I want to offend anyone who happens to think that's good beer...I'm just saying....  Anyway, I've been brewing my own off/on since 1995 and have an Imperial Stout that's aged nicely - a hopped stout that's mighty tasty when it's cold outside.  Friends of mine are also fellow homebrewers as well and have made some interesting brews that we share from time to time.  My appreciation for the finer arts of barley, yeast, water and hops all comes together once a year in downtown Denver at the "Great American Beer Fest".  As they advertise, close to 2000 beer samples in one convention hall...heaven!

So what's the Gubna you may ask?  Well as the ad says - "it's a hop grenade in a can."  As in a lot of in an explosion of hops in the back of your in strong ale (10%) in beer happiness.  It's brewed by Oskar Blues in Lyons, CO - just north of Boulder - and is simply an innovative brewery/restaurant.  It's one of my regular stops when I'm coming back from Rocky Mountain National Park - great food, great music and of course, great brews.  Why am I writing about the Gubna?  Well, I stopped by my local liquor store this evening to use my $$$ dividend that adds up with each purchase and basically walked away with a free 4-pack of the Gubna.  I had one with dinner and all I can say is IF Oskar Blues Brewing is in your local liquor really should try this or any of the other styles they make.  Simply amazing!  Very smooth taste, very strong hop character, and a mild citrus flavor towards the end.

So what's next for me?  I start "Basic Mountaineering School" as an assistant instructor on Monday.  This is the course I took as a student last year and was pushed outside of my comfort zone in a good way.  Now I get to do it all over again but on the other side teaching.

Sounds like fun....climb on my friends!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Baby we were born to run...

With apologies to "the Boss", but the phrase fit the day.  I can always tell when it's time to replace my pair of running shoes - something gets tweaked, a knee hurts, or it just doesn't feel right.  Today was that day.  With the best of intentions of a 1:10 training run late AM, it just did not happen.  Perhaps it was the 1:05 long run last Friday during the lunch hour or cross country skiing all day Saturday or maybe I just needed a rest day.

One minute into my run, I felt the interior quadriceps muscle at the knee insertion point on my left leg tweak - just did not feel good.  Overuse maybe, but fortunately just a muscle issue I'm thinking, I'm hoping.  After a minute massage, I tried again but it was not cooperating.  Realizing that's been 10+ months since I bought my Nike Air Max Moto 6's and many miles on them, I looked at them closer and realized that the heel tread was nearly gone and was exposing the white cushioning material.  Yep, they're due for retirement.  So I abandoned the run in favor of a rest day and made the pilgrimage to Runners Roost.  I looked at several Nike pairs as those have been good to me in the past but ultimately settled upon the Asics Gel Nimbus 11.  Compared to a top of the line Nike they just felt better - good cushion, good forefoot padding and to my surprise, the tweaky knee did not yell too much jogging outside the store during my "test drive."  I'll put them to the test Monday to see how they feel overall...

Speaking of running, I recently finished a great book - "Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen" by Christopher McDougall.  Interesting read about the Tarahumara Indians living in Copper Canyon, Mexico and their ability to run incredibly long distances without all the 21st century technologies of Nike, Asics, Reeboks, etc...  Rather they run in sandals, run for fun, run for sport, and run for life.  The book investigates why human beings are natural born runners with our unique breathing abilities compared to other mammals, sweat glands, and little hair on our bodies.  Our bodies are designed for long distance running over our life - originally for hunting/running down our food, but today mostly for sport and fitness.

It also investigates the rise of running injuries that 70-75% of us runners will experience in our lifetime that until 30 years ago was unheard of.  Why?  The book documents the rise of running shoes in the early-mid 1970's and the technologies developed to solve pronation, supination, arch weaknesses, etc. that may be the driving force behind these injuries.  The book studies runners prior to the rise of Nike and describes how human beings naturally are forefoot runners -- NOT heel strikers.  To understand what this means, go outside and run a short distance on the sidewalk.  By form and choice, you will run on your forefoot rather than heel strike - it feels better to do so - the heel can't take the force of concrete/stone/asphalt/etc. but the forefoot can because you run "softer" and use your knee as a natural shock absorber.  It might have some merit to change one's running form but the jury's still out.  Me - I'll try it periodically during my runs but I'm not sure if I'll fully transition...change is hard...but it makes sense to me.

Climb On my friends!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's "new to me"...

After 8 years of trusty, reliable service by my 2002 Honda CRV, "she" is officially retired!  Going places that it probably shouldn't, crossing Colorado streams for, as the 2002 Honda commercial advertises, "adventures in reality", numerous trips to Moab/Boise/Salt Lake City/Albuquerque/every place in Colorado, it was time to seek a replacement.

After months of researching different types of SUV's, CUV's, rugged station wagons and the like, I made my way to Mountain States Toyota last Saturday on the pretense of looking at a new vehicle.  The sales consultant who met me asked very focused questions of what I was looking in a vehicle - easy - a vehicle with good ground clearance, can get me, my gear, and my climbing partners to a rugged trailhead, is comfortable to drive, doesn't mind a 4x4 rock-strewn "road", and not $30K.  At that point, he directed me to a line of 12 used Toyota 4Runners - all quite nice.  Some were newer, some were low miles, some were "Toyota Certified", some were 2.9% financing for 60 months, and some had the aroma of way too much perfume/smoke.  What caught my eye was this beauty - a dark blue, 2006 4Runner SR5 with sunroof, skid plates, 6 cylinder, nice rims and a good price.  Qualifying for 2.9% was a major perk as well.  I spent most of Saturday afternoon test driving, asking a lot of questions, negotiating for new mats/new tires, deciding how much to put down and how much I could afford with monthly payments.  Time well spent.  By late afternoon, I was driving my 4Runner home and dreaming of new summits that the 2010 climbing season brings.

As one of my regular climbing partners, Patrick Vall, said and I quote..."I'm just glad you can't use your lame "my Honda can't make it up that road" excuse any more when we go 4-wheeling to get to a trailhead. My 160K mile 4Runner thanks you! I'm looking forward to sleeping while you drive;)"

Pretty much covers it...Climb On!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Belay is on, Climbing...Climb On!

Those set of verbal instructions are key for any rock or ice climber.  It means that their partner is ready to protect them from a fall as they climb higher and higher.  Those words were used A LOT this past weekend as I joined friends at the Ouray Ice Park in Ouray, CO to climb man-made waterfalls.

Winter means cold, snow, and ice for much of Colorado but it also opens a world to climbers when the mountains are covered in snow and, on some mountains, the risk of avalanche is too great to ascend safely without extensive training, avy gear and sometimes dumb luck to avoid the avy prone areas.  This past year has been an education into rock climbing and those skills translate nicely to ice climbing as well.  Granted, the terrain is a little different, the gear is a little different, but the core of vertical climbing is the same.  Ascend safely, try to figure out the route in front of you and descend safely.

The Ouray Ice Park is world renown for its sheer number of climbable ice that is for the most part entirely man-made.  The hundreds of routes available come to life every year with cold temperatures, a little water, and an extensive irrigation system that keeps the ice climbable for months.  Friends from the Colorado Mountain Club schools I've been involved with over the years invited me to go this year and try my hand at ice climbing.  Obviously, I said yes!  Now granted my vertical climbing resume is only 2-3 years old and not too impressive compared to many, but I had the beginning skill sets to climb safely and have fun.

Our first day was spent climbing the ice falls in the "School Room" - an area for beginner and intermediate routes of various heights (see pic above of me nearing the top of an 70-80' ice fall).  As the day progressed, I became more comfortable with the frozen environment and the techniques needed to ascend the ice.  This translated into more ice climbing on Day Two at "New Funtier" and the numerous routes of yet another part of the ice park.  Towards the end of the second day, as I was climbing a route, I thought to myself the absurdity of climbing ice with sharp tools (two ice axes and sharp crampons) when one's life being protected by a climbing rope.  The thought passed quickly tho' as I quickly placed my axe into the ice to keep climbing higher.  Life is like that - you know the risks but you savor the moments.  And the moment...was...bomber!

Will I go ice climbing again - YES!  It's an experience that is almost undescribable.  For now...Climb On!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Shreddin' the Gnar...or something like that!

That dot in the picture is me "screaming" down a black diamond called "Star Fire" run at Keystone Ski Resort this past Sunday.  The 2010 Ski Reunion was great fun - catching up with old friends, skiing a lot of blue/blue-black/black diamond ski runs, having a few brews, and hearing about each others families.  Hard to believe that it had been 6+ years since the last official ski trip.  We've discussed doing it again next year...hope so!

Well winter is in full weirdness here in Colorado - or par for the course perhaps.  Last week, night time lows were sub zero with daily high's barely creeping past the high single digits.  This week, the sun is shining and the temps are hovering near 50 degrees - perfect running weather in shorts!  The 5-day forecast shows more of the same and I'm okay with that.  The bone chilling cold of last week is a little too cold for my tastes but it doesn't last forever.  I know before I moved to CO I had this preconceived idea that Colorado winters were full of snow and cold.  While true for the high country, it's not so much on the Front Range.  Granted, we've had snow on the ground for nearly 30 days but I'm seeing more grass than white.  January's are typically "dry" with regard to snow accumulation, February's are hit and miss and the lion's share of the white stuff comes in March/April/May - the spring storms.

Tonight, I received an email from a good friend in Boise who knows someone at the National Weather Service.  The forecaster is starting to notice a breakdown in the pressure systems in the Pacific Ocean and the diminishing strength of the El Nino patterns as well.  His prediction is for a ton of moisture to be streaming into California and points east.  Does that mean big storms are on the agenda for CO soon?  I hope so - I want to snowshoe in powder soon!

Anyway, enough rambling about CO weather.  Next on the agenda is a trip to ABQ to visit Karen and Ethan during the MLK holiday and then off to Ouray, CO for some ice climbing the weekend after.  Have never ice climbed before but hey, it's a chance to use my new crampons purchased Spring 2009 and to climb!  I will take lots of pictures!  Climb On my friends!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

South Carolina Reunion Tour 2010

A few months ago, U of M graduate/city planner/father of 3 boys/former Greenville-ian Wes Munzel emailed me that he had a hall pass from his wife and was interested in coming out to Colorado to ski for a weekend.  I of course said come on out!

Some backstory for you - many years ago before I moved out to Colorado permanently, I lived in South Carolina for my undergrad/grad school/1st job.  Starting in 1993, my group of friends organized a ski trip to Snowshoe, WV to ski what we thought at the time was difficult terrain.  We did this 2 years in a row and had reasonably good conditions for East Coast skiing.  In 1995, we decided to expand our horizons and fly to Colorado to ski the big mountains of Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, and Aspen as well as Park City, UT.  The yearly groups were in the neighborhood of 6-10 folks usually and a good time was had by all.  Flash forward to 2003 - said group of friends are getting married, having children, and busy with work/life/play.  The ski trips take a hiatus for many years to follow but there was always talk of getting the gang together again.

So this weekend, flights from Ohio, Virginia and points east converge at Denver International Airport to jump into the ole reliable CRV to motor up the mountain to Breckenridge.  Ski rentals are reserved, lift tickets are to be purchased, it's snowing until Thursday PM in Breck and the forecast is for sun and highs in the mid to high 20's - perfection!  We have a condo reserved that has a hot tub I hope!  This will be my first ski trip for 2010 and a good warm up to using my 4-pack at Loveland in the next few months.  Looking forward to catching up with old friends, shreddin' the gnar, having a brew or two for apres ski, and enjoying life.

Climb On!