Kilimanjaro was a turning point and a big moment of growth for me as a traveler and a mountaineer. In January of 2022 I set my sights on Kilimanjaro. Post PCT in 2021 I wanted to line myself up for a big year in 2022 so I didn’t mentally tank after my months long adventure. In 2022 I had attempted the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire, gone to Iceland to backpack the Laugavegur Trail and now I was heading to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro, the 19,431’ highpoint of Africa, and set foot atop one of the seven summits.
For Kilimanjaro I opted to do it with a group, I felt that this was the way I most enjoyed traveling and would give me the most reward in this endeavor. I also knew that I had a lot of friends out there interested in the climb and bringing more people along was a great way to bring the cost down. Ultimately in July of 2022 we had a crew of 10 locked in and booked. I took charge of group travel logistics and booked everything in-country for the group; hotels, airport transfers, etc. It was awesome to take what I had done with trip planning domestically with UCMC and apply it to a trip like this, it was also a lot of pressure.
The group took off from 5 different airports in the US and arrived in 3 different groups in Tanzania on two separate days, I was the last to arrive. Having everyone finally in-country and ready to go was definitely a big weight off my shoulders as I often felt responsible for everyone at certain points along the way. Our hotel was nice by US standards and luxurious by Tanzanian standards. The first night we met with the guides, went over everyone’s gear individually and got setup to start out the next day. It was a light atmosphere and for the most part everyone was excited to get going. There were a few points during our pack shakedowns when people got a little heated with the guides for various reasons (guides wanting members to have additional layers for cold days, comments on not letting us carry our own backpacks and wanting us to carry lighter daypacks, etc.). What I will say is, the guides have your best interest at heart, they want to get you up the mountain because they want you to tip them well for it. That being said, when I stuck to my guns and said this is what I have, this is what I’ve done in this gear and this is what I’m doing on the mountain they let me run with what I wanted to do.
On day two we left for the three-hour drive to the Rongai gate, we had opted for a route up the rain shadow of the mountain that would take 6 days to complete car-to-car, 5 days to the summit and an additional day to descend via the Marangu Route back to the road. When we arrived, we were met with our porter team and were immediately struck by their number. For our group of 10 the typical team on Kilimanjaro includes: 1 head guide, 3 support guides, 1 cook, 2 servers/camp assistants, and 3 porters per-participant. Needless to say, it was a village, 47 people in total on the first day. The porters carried food for us and themselves, cooking equipment, tents, our bags if requested and way more. This is the climbing style of Kilimanjaro both by local want and government decree (you cannot be in the national park without a guide), the thought is, this promotes climber safety and creates jobs for the local economy.
As we started up from the Rongai gate, day 1 on the mountain, we progressed through light rain forest and up to the start of the moorland, a brushy landscape just below the alpine. We would wander through it the next 3 days as we progressed through the next three camps from 6,500’ to close to 14,200’ at Mawenzi Tarn Camp staring at Kibo Cone alone the way and thinking about the final climb up to Uhuru Peak at 19,431’. In those 3 days we learned a lot, the guides taught us about the mountain, much about its flora and fauna, we traded stories about what life was like in our countries and shared pieces of English and Swahili, it was like a casual backpacking trip for the most part.
Day three was a short day to Mawenzi Tarn Hut. As we climbed up towards 14,000’, the summit of Mawenzi faded in and out of the clouds. It was a beautiful mountain to look at. Mawenzi was the original highpoint of Kilimanjaro prior to Kibo erupting 250,000 years ago and it showed its age with a jagged ridge line and steep drop offs. Mawenzi, while lower than Kibo, is much more technical and rarely climbed. Our head guide, Adam, told us about a climber who got stuck on top of the summit for 3 days in an ice storm and had to eventually be taken down by helicopter. We spent the afternoon of day 3 lounging below the west face of Mawenzi and hiking around its valleys, it was a wonderful place to be. The peak faded in and out of the clouds and camp would occasionally fog in. In the evening it began to sleet, we all figured it would be a quick shower but it turned into heavy hail. As we sat in our tents to wind down for bed, Kat, Emily and Carly stated to yell my name from their tent. I tried to ignore it as long as I could but eventually put on my rain jacket and wandered out into the cold. Their tent was taking on water, the rainfly wasn’t a perfect fit. With how cold it was about to be that night we had to get it fixed fast before their sleeping bags got soaked, one of the guides and a few of the porters tried to help me stake it out but it was too late and water was dripping into their tent heavily. They separated into the other four tents and we all passed out for the night.
The morning of day 4 was beautiful, snow blanketed Mawenzi, the air was crisp and cold. We had a short day today on our way to Kibo Hut and we could see our high camp sitting at 15,200 just below the 3,000’ climb up to Gillman’s Point. The day was fun, we relaxed and chatted on the relatively flat walk across the saddle. The landscape was barren, nothing but rocks and the occasional bush on the walk across the alpine zone. As we reached Kibo Hut the sun faded in and out of approaching clouds, the temperature rose and fell rapidly, it was hard to keep warm or cool. When we reached camp, Andrew suddenly started to feel dizzy and tingly. He had slurred speech but was still coherent, he told us a similar thing had happened before when he got dehydrated. We got him in one of the tents, fed him some water and electrolytes and the guides gave him a little bit of oxygen just in case it had anything to do with altitude.
We all tried to eat lunch but the altitude was affecting our appetites. After short naps and a relaxing afternoon, we were sitting in the dining tent eating an early dinner before preparing for the summit push. Although Andrew had mostly recovered from his incident by dinner, we think a hypertensive crisis brought on by altitude and dehydration but couldn’t confirm due to lack of a blood pressure cuff, he wouldn’t be making the summit push. Andrew made the call I don’t know if I could, opting to stay behind at Kibo Hut and play it safe. In mountaineering we call it “Summit Fever”, an obsession with reaching the top, a determination that can both aid you in your climb and kill you. Many people who get Summit Fever have pushed past their limits and found new limits, many people have died from their obsession and determination to reach a summit. It’s a constant thought on some summits where altitude, avalanches or other factors can put your safety at risk. Kilimanjaro is one of the least risky summits I have ever done but you never know how your body might react to elevation.
The nine of us attempting the summit would go to sleep for 4-5 hours before waking up at 11:30pm to start our summit attempt at 12am. The logic for the early start was that the group could move very slowly at elevation, about one mile an hour, this pace would get us up to the summit just before sunrise and down a few hours after in order to avoid any afternoon inclimate weather and the potential for getting stuck in the beating sun at a high elevation on the way down (Tanzania is just below the equator AND the sun is stronger at a higher elevation so it doesn’t take long to get burnt to a crisp here).
Starting the hike was interesting to say the least, half of the group was still asleep, half the group was full of energy and ready to run up to the summit. As we lined up to leave base camp, a light snow began to fall. There was a full moon that faded in and out of the clouds. The snow would follow us up the slope to Gilman’s Point for the next three hours. We moved slowly, up a steep, switchback, scree slope. It wasn’t cold, but because of the moisture, it was hard to stay warm at times whiles moving so slow. Along the way, we would shelter in caves along the trail for water and layer breaks, at one point we got to a cave and I had a solid 2” of snow collected on my back and bag. To say the least, I was enjoying the morning, exhaustion from minimal sleep was sneaking in but I was in my happy place.
Around 17,500’, 2,000’ above base camp, one of our team member’s, Brian, started wheezing. He had had a cough from cold and dry air and we encouraged him to put a buff over his face to warm the air before it chilled his lungs but he didn’t listen, insisting he would get too warm. Brian started wheezing from thin air and strained air pathways; he took a huge gulp of cold air deep into his chest and blacked out. As I looked back down the trail at him, you could see his eyes get wide as he gasped for air. Brian never collapsed but his journey to the summit was done. Two of the guides rushed down to him and started to rub his chest to warm him up, as soon as he was coherent, he turned around and headed back to base camp with an escort.
The remaining eight of us continued on our way up towards the summit, slowly but surely. The clouds faded away and the snow eased, you could see the crater slope below us and the broad saddle over towards Mawenzi to our east. The snow had changed everything, the landscape glowing under the fading moonlight was incredible. We neared 18,500’, just below the start of the summit ridge at Gilman’s Point. I hadn’t hiked by Tom much on the way up, but when we took a break just below the point, he said he was spent. He couldn’t control his heart rate, the climb up was getting more difficult for him and he said his breathing felt heavy. The rest of the group continued on for a break and a cup of ginger tea at Gilman’s Point just below 19,000’. Tom wasn’t far from Gilman’s and his escort would push him up there for a cup of tea just after we left to continue on to Uhuru Peak. While he didn’t reach the highest point on the mountain, Tom is able to say he summited Kilimanjaro via one of its many volcanic sub-peaks.
As we left Gilman’s Point, I felt tired, my body was physically okay and my breathing was good but I was falling asleep. I felt so tired…. The 12am start was catching up with me, I was falling asleep as we walked towards Stella Point, about a half mile below Uhuru Peak. I was screaming in my head for the sun to come up, I needed that serotonin and adrenalin badly to push off my sleepy mind. Just after 6am, the sun rose behind Mawenzi, the Kilimanjaro Massif was blanket in light. I could feel my eyes widening and dilating, my senses were coming back, excitement grew in me as I realized we were nearing the summit.
We picked up the pace as we made our final approach, all of us were excited and more awake than we had been in hours. The atmosphere was jubilant, although, we were all spread out going through our own thoughts and emotions. This was the culmination of a week’s worth of travel, of a bit of walking and of a lot of anticipation. The sign for Uhuru Peak appeared over the final hill, as we walked across the summit plateau, I breathed a sigh of relief and let out a holler of celebration. I hadn’t fallen apart, I had crossed off a goal of elevation, I had made it to the top, 19,431’.
As always, we took summit photos, celebrated, and tried to get some snacks and water in us before the walk back down. Myself, Carly and Trace were the first to take off on the descent accompanied by Chongigi. We moved quickly down to Gilman’s Point and then the scree slope towards Kibo Hut. At Gilman’s we all developed a light headache that would gain power as we continued down the mountain. The scree slope turned the descent into almost skiing down the ridge, descending almost 1000’ in 10 minutes, it was an insane pace down…. By 8:30am we were back at camp with raging headaches and severe exhaustion, all three of us glugged some water and passed out for a long nap while the rest of the crew descended down the mountain behind us. It was over, we had reached the roof of Africa, but we still had two more days of walking back to a road…
Around noon the guides woke us from our slumber to pack up our tents and scarf down some lunch before our 5-mile hike to Horombo Hut at 12,000’. The further we descended, the stronger I felt, my exhaustion had faded and I was just happy and humble to be where I was in the world, traversing a beautiful mountain landscape with some amazing people. Again, we chatted with the guides and quickly moved down the mountain. Now that we were heading down, they mostly let us go at our own pace and hike as we wanted. By 2pm we were sitting in camp looking out over northern Tanzania, Moshi, and the large lakes of eastern Tanzania in the sweeping plains below us. We joked and played cards as we relaxed after our long day and thought about what we would do with the rest of our time in Tanzania. As the sun set, we sat and watched it fall behind the mountain. The journey to the summit was over but there was still much more for us to do in Tanzania.
On our last day on Kilimanjaro, we hiked through the rainforest, monkeys hung above in the canopy and a moist mountain breeze swept through the trees. It was a beautiful hike down the mountain as we headed for the Marangu Gate. Around noon we found ourselves back at the bottom of the mountain sitting around with a feast to celebrate the climb. After we tipped our porters and guide team we were back on our way to Moshi, hot showers and cushy hotel beds. We had chatted with one of our guides on the way back to town and he had told us he could setup a safari to Tarangire National Park to the west of Moshi for the following day so we happily said yes.
For the safari we road in Toyota Land Cruisers and once you entered the driving area of the park, you couldn’t leave the car, they didn’t want you getting dragged off by wild animals. We saw more impalas, zebra and elephants than I ever thought could exist together. We watched monkeys steal food from people’s lunches. There were giraffes hiding under trees and wildebeests roaming around the plains. We got to see ostriches strut around the cars and meercats scurry across the road. Of course, the highlight of any safari, we saw a pride of lions lounging around in a tree avoiding the mid-day sun. It was the full experience and I was happy to check it off by bucket list.
On the final day in country, I wandered around one of the markets picking up souvenirs for people back home. After 10 days in Tanzania, we were on our way home, with our various flights taking us back to our parts of the world. Kilimanjaro had opened a whole new set of goals in my mind, harder summits at elevation, new destinations at home and abroad.
On the near term list of goals is Rainier, Pico de Orizaba, hikes in the Himalaya and the Andes and more dreams than I have space in my head for. Knowing how my body will react to elevation opens the door to many more challenges and adventures. I’m excited for what’s next, I’m excited to see more of this world and stand atop its highest points, I’m excited to push the boundaries of what I know.
I’ve been home for almost two months and it feels more like a decade. This one took a long time to write, life lately, moves fast, its busy in good and bad ways. Iceland was an amazing time; I don’t think I could have asked for it to go much better but I do wish I had been there longer. We flew out of Minneapolis late on Wednesday the week of July 4th after a day of work and with a short nap over Greenland, woke up at 6AM landing at the main airport in Keflavik. It was a rainy windy day and after 6 hours in the air, they were only able to unload half the bags off the plane before everything was shut down for almost two hours. We sat and waited for Joe’s bag while Kat and I silently debated slipping off on a bus to Reykjavik.
Slowly we moved towards the airport exit and eventually we were on a bus driving along the highway into the city. The air was cold, a bit of a breeze and light rain, it felt like fall, a beautiful break from the July heat back home. Joe, Kat and I would spend the next two days wandering around Reykjavik as we waited for more friends flying in from LA. We hung out in our hostel, explored museums, wandered around the shops downtown and enjoyed the first vacation each of us had had in a long time. The city was a perfect escape, slow and sleepy but enough to keep you entertained.
On Friday our friends arrived, their journey was as eventful as our’s. Bobby was in full blown vacation mode, poppin drinks and having a great time. Alex and Arianna were in a much more relaxed mood but ready for an adventure. I was just happy everyone was in the same country and we’d be walking into the highlands of Iceland the next day. As we caught up in the hostel bar, we found out there would be a music festival there the next night and of course, tonight was opening night so it was bumpin all night long, getting to sleep wasn’t easy.
We woke up early and stumbled our way to the bus station, it would be a common fixture on our travels around the island for the next week. We stashed our extra gear in the luggage lockers and loaded up on the modified 4x4 bus that would take us overland to Landmannalauger. This 50-passenger tour bus had wheels almost as tall as me and suspension that would probably shoot you to the moon if you bounced on it just right. We drove through rivers and down backcountry roads I don’t even know if I’d take my own SUV down to Landmannalauger. It was a cold and breezy morning, we got our bags setup and started off towards the first hut we’d stay at, Hrafninnusker.
together and move forward in the mist. At one point the group was stretched out on a half mile long snow patch, I had lost track of the trail and couldn’t see the back of our group. I let Kat go on in what looked to be the right direction, loosely following a Swiss couple and waited for the rest to catchup. Arianna was soaked, the mist had drenched her hat and gloves, she was shivering, wanting to sit and rest. We kept pushing her forward and eventually made it to the hut. In hindsight, she most definitely had hypothermia setting in from the wet and cold so we had made it just in time before there was trouble. We sipped on tea and warm drinks while the only sunny patch of the day showered us in warmth. Eventually the clouds came back and the rain set in, it’d be an early night in the tent.
The next day was just as wet, cloudy and challenging in the morning. We packed up looking at the vast snowfield we had to cross as the clouds pushed at the upper bowl of the mountains. As we set off, the clouds pushed over the ridge and the valley clouded out, we pushed on. We’d traverse over windy ridges and passed massive snow caves; we’d have a close call that day with a fall by Alex into a patch of sharp rocks and falls by Kat and Arianna down some steep muddy slopes, it rained on us for over an hour. By the time we reached Alftavatn we were all cold and soaked to the bone but it was incredibly early in the day. I wanted to hike on to the next hut which would give us more time for additional adventures after this, but we made the best of our early day, relaxing, playing cards in the small café, drying clothes and when the clouds cleared in the afternoon, we explored the ridges around the outpost. It was one of my favorite afternoons of the hike.
The following morning, we were up early again hiking towards Emstrur. It was a short day with plenty of glacial river crossings but we had a lot of fun. The broad volcanic and glacial valley we hiked down was basked is sun all day long, it was beautiful. On this section of trail Joe and I spent the day trying to find the place Joe, Emily and Bryan had taken one of the famous RRT photos in (checkout the bathroom panorama next time you’re in the shop). We hunted for the spot taking picture after picture, it was fun, the group mood was light and joyous after two difficult and rainy days. I was happy to be on the trail and enjoying the trip that day.
We were all excited to be out there and the first few miles were beautiful. The trail weaved it’s way through pines and aspen trees, we spotted deer, all sorts of birds and of course had a few cows to share the trail with. We covered the miles fairly quickly but got lost along the way a few times. Occasionally the path would disappear in a field of fallen trees and we’d spend the next 15 minutes relocating the trail. It slowly became exhausting. After an 11 mile hike on only a few hours of sleep we decided to call it a day. Unfortunately, we hadn’t found water... We ended the day with a little over 2 liters of water each, not very much for a full day ahead plus making dinner. The next reliable water source was at the end of the next day.
We woke up early on the second day hoping to crush some miles and get to the water before the heat of the day. It was a rough morning and we were all aware of our need of water. We moved fast and then slow and then fast again as our sense of urgency changed throughout the hike. After a very long 10 miles we crossed the Old Carter Military Road and saw the first water for miles. Unfortunately, it was devastated by cow patties everywhere... Long Park Resivour was only a mile off from here so we knew we weren’t out of it yet. After a debate about the best way to get to water and an extremely friendly hunter offering us Powerade and water, we bushwhacked our way off trail to the road down to the reservoir. As we walked the road a truck drove by and asked us where we were heading. We told them we needed water and were heading up the mountain bypassing a 2 mile section of the Highline. Graciously, they gave us a ride up the mountain to an even better water source. This man, Quinn, and his family will forever have my gratitude for their help when we were so close to calling it quits.
After filling our bellies with water and having our spirits greatly lifted we continued another half mile up the road to camp near a beautiful alpine lake (semi-alpine I guess). It was a welcome end to a long day. Quinn stopped by again at one point to take some trash off our backs and offer us a few cold beverages, again, forever grateful for this mountain man. We traded stories about our mountain adventures. He said he was jealous of our journey and we, in turn, were jealous of his family and ease of access to such beautiful mountains to enjoy. It was a perfect ending to a long day.
I won't lie, not a huge fan of afternoon storms, especially not being in the alpine during afternoon storms. I sat by the lake nervous and ready to get moving at a moments notice as we ate lunch. It looked like the storms would hold off, but I was still on edge after my last time being in a pass with thunderstorms (lightening strikes within 20 feet at 12,000' in the Wind River Range). Again, we quickly made our way over the next pass and began working our way down as it began to lightly rain. I decided to move towards treeline a little faster and before I knew it I could hear thunder in the distance. Luckily it was coming from the other side of the pass so the storm had already passed us. We got down, regrouped and continued on, it was getting late in the day...
When we arrived at Chepeta Lake it was approaching 6:30 PM, a long day of moving. There was one truck in the parking lot and my mind had leaned farther and farther towards giving up on the Highline. I regret some of the way I handled the situation but right then and there, with that singular truck our best way back to the car I stopped walking, looked at everyone and said I want to be done with this hike. I didn't feel great about those words, but almost every bone in my body was telling me it was the right call. There was obviously some pushback to this idea, none of us are quitters. No one wanted to go home and say they failed. We, as a group, opted to mull the options over that night and hope that if we decided to bail there would be other chance to hitch a ride back to our car in the morning. It was a solemn night in camp, we talked sparingly and everyone had different thoughts on their mind. I didn't sleep much that night, preparing for either option the next morning. The thoughts of how do we finish this hike on one side of my head and how do we get to our cars 3 hours away on the other.
Long story short, we made it about 7 miles down a 20 mile dirt road before we got a hitch with some awesome people. It didn't hit us until we were halfway down the mountain that it was over. As we watched the high peaks fade away and the forest turn to desert we contemplated what we had decided to do. We rode in the back of their truck with their dog Mattie and they graciously took us all the way down to the town of Whiterocks where we waited for another ride to get us back to McKee Draw. The cab that picked us up was operated by two natives from the Uinta and Ouray Reservation, they were a funny pair. They were confused how we ended up in Whiterocks without a car, they had stories to tell about the entire area and they were fun to be with. Their stories removed my tensions, the pair were welcome comedic relief. Before we knew it after hours of riding in cars and waiting around we were back at my car heading for pizza, drinks and to pickup our friends still waiting at Chepeta Lake. We watched a storm work its way over the range and knew they were probably sitting in it up there.
Soon enough we were heading back up the road towards the lake, packing up and heading back down yet again to go get the other car. It was an equally long day of moving once we finally arrived at a place to sleep.
We got a bite to eat, grabbed a couple odds and ends from the store then headed to the trailhead. Of course, as soon as we got to the trailhead around 2:30, it started pouring down rain... Luckily, the rain quickly moved on and it was a beautiful afternoon in the mountains, it felt almost like fall. We talked and laughed and joked as we hiked up to Dollar Lake. It was a pretty hike, interspersed between alpine meadows, dense pines and groves of aspen trees. Eventually we made our way into the alpine and could start to see Kings Peak off in the distance. We spent that evening camped near Dollar Lake with many other groups around, almost all getting ready to hike Kings the next day.
We continued up the ridge, getting closer and closer, finding a bit of snow right below the final little climb up to the top of the ridge. Kings is a series of towers that each look like they were stacked there a long time ago and were just waiting to fall over into the valley. We were at the final tower.
I enjoy being in the mountains and wild places, I enjoy the journeys I have in these often remote locations and I thoroughly enjoy the sights I get to see along the way. At the end of the day, that's a big reason I do all this, I do it for the views... I've seen a collection of things that a fraction of the world will ever get to see in their lives and that collection only continues to grow with each journey. The crazy thing about it is that my collection is a drop in the ocean compared to what else it out there to experience. At the end of the day I realized it wasn't about completing the trail, it was about the stories and the places that I brought back with me after it.
After summiting, we made our way back to the tents and then to the car. I was happy we had gotten up early with the parade that was coming up the mountain as we descended. We had the unique experience of enjoying a pretty popular summit all by ourselves with extremely wonderful weather (minus the wildfire smog). It was a long couple miles back to the car. The day seemed to be continuous monotony of walking.
Eventually we made it back to the car with some very sore feet and a hankering for Mexican food. Luckily there was a town about 30 minutes away with just the kind of grub we were looking for. We filled our bellies and drove another hour or so to camp near Flamming Gorge. It was a warm evening and we were all a mixed of tired out and pumped up. Excited about what we had been able to do with the change of plans but tired from all the moving. We slept well that night.
In the morning, we woke up and moved around lazily trying to get the car halfway cleaned up for the drive back home. We said our goodbyes to our friend from Montana and headed back east. It was the usual boring drive and we made it home the next afternoon.
This trip got me to remember, don't go into the mountains without some wiggle room in your plan. Don't bite off more than you can chew, but if you do eat as much as you can. Last but not least, pack less food, you probably won't starve and your back will thank you for it.
My next big journey is most likely the PCT in 2021 if it doesn't get canceled due to COVID. I'm excited and I'm kind of happy we didn't get the Highline. It showed me the things I'll have to be open to if I want to complete the PCT, it also showed me that sometimes you need a zero day to get you going again. I'm looking forward to me next adventure in the mountains, it'll be the culmination of years of dreaming...
The big mountains have captivated me for a long time. My first journey into the tall places was a little over 4 years ago with the climb of my first Colorado 14er (Mt. Elbert, 14,439). The view from the top was wonderful and it was enough to keep me coming back. Over the past several years I’ve climbed higher class routes, added backcountry peaks to my resume and completed winter ascents in the West and along the East coast. It’s been a wild
I was lucky that I also had other friends that had the same draw as me, they had a hankering for the big mountains, and wanted to step it up a notch. I found a younger UCMCer, my friend Emily, that wanted to learn some glacial skills too. We found a course up in Bellingham, Washington on Mt. Baker that offered a few days of snow skills, glacier rescue and ice climbing. Sounded like the perfect thing for us, knowing a little already and wanting to grow our skills. We originally planned to do the course in May, but unfortunately had to delay due to COVID. Luckily, we were able to reschedule for July, so we booked plane tickets and were off.
We left Cincinnati on the 4th of July, great day to fly, especially during a global pandemic, and arrived in Seattle in the early afternoon. Getting the rental car was a small adventure in and of itself, but after some waiting and almost settling for driving a Ford Fusion, we got our SUV and were heading North. The drive up to Bellingham was refreshing, it was nice to be out of a plane, it felt great to be moving and the day was beautiful. Eventually we found our way up to Larrabee State Park and enjoyed a little walk up to a lookout over the coast. The view was wonderful, and it felt great to be out again. After so many trips had been canceled or postponed because of COVID, finally being on another big one was a great feeling.
After enjoying the coast, we found our way into Bellingham, got setup at our hotel and found the last local restaurant in town open on the 4th of July for dinner. Some delicious perogies and a beer later we were packing bags back at the hotel getting ready to meet our instructor at the American Alpine Institute (AAI) in the morning. We got there, bright and early at 7AM to meet up with Lani, our 26-year-old, mountain climbing guru. With a quick hour of pack shakedown and grabbing some final supplies we were driving up towards Mt. Baker to begin our fun.
This was definitely my worst “Oh Shit” moment of this trip, but I figured it wouldn’t kill us, I just needed to go for a long walk down and back. After letting everyone know about my mistake, Lani said she’d go get it since letting me wander off down the trail on my own was off limits on a skills course like this. A little bummed, but very appreciative, she went down and returned about two hours later during which Emily and I practiced wearing crampons again (after a few month break) and tying some different knots for rescue. We spent the evening practicing self-arresting on some low slopes and got to bed early, we planned a 2AM alpine start to avoid soft snow when coming down the mountain.
I woke up a few times throughout the night as other teams passed by us. The first around midnight and the last around 1:30AM. Eventually it was my turn to get out of the tent, so I booted up in the cold morning and watched the 1:30AM team’s head lamps disappear into the night going over Hogsback 1,000’ above us.
We passed the group of 5 I had watched disappear over Hogsback several hours before and continued towards the top. Our pace began to slow as we became tired and Emily became less sure about her footing. We were obviously being cautious, but our proximity to the top had me excited and moving fast, which was probably a pain in the ass with all the slack I was giving Emily. After about an hour and a half switch backing our way up the steep rib, we reached the summit and could see the small 50’ or so summit “knob”. The group we had played leapfrog with gladly took our picture in exchange for theirs. It felt great to be up there, the wind was strong, but not brutal and after spending so much time in the shadow of the mountain, the light gave me new life. It was probably a brisk 20 degrees with wind chill, but Emily and I didn’t mind. We were enjoying being at the top of the world again. I could tell on the other hand that Lani was ready to go down. She obviously was thinking about the rest of our walk down unlike us.
In the morning it was raining, a soft Northwest mist, it sounded pleasant on the tent. We packed up camp and moved 1,000’ down to below tree line and spent the day practicing knots and crevasse rescue techniques. This was the learning part of our trip after the fun summitting part. Lani spent the next two daysteaching Emily and I how to properly ascend and descend ropes, how to haul each other out from a crevasse fall and how to travel on a dry glacier. We spent a day ice
Some of our friends were down south near Mt. Rainier and we had talked about making a summit attempt with them before we flew out from Cincinnati, but we had both heard that the upper mountain was a mess this year. There weren’t many parties finding the way to the top and with fewer climbers the route wasn’t as visible. On top of that there had already been two groups that needed rescuing since the mountain had reopened in mid-June. We also couldn’t get permits to stay at Camp Muir which meant we’d have to do the whole thing in a day, it was an unobtainable goal for us. Nonetheless, Emily and I headed south and grouped up with our friends, spending a night trading stories about our climb of Baker and their time on Hood.
The next day they wanted to day hike to Camp Muir and we wanted to head out onto the Olympic Peninsula, so we gained our friend Lizzie in our group and the others went off on their journey. We arrived at the trailhead we wanted around noon, a little late to start the climb up Mt. Stone, but we still figured we’d go for it.
The trail began up from the parking area, snaking its way along the ledges above the valley floor, slowly gaining elevation to 2,300’ before rising sharply from the boarder of the National Park up 3,000’ over just two miles. It was a butt blaster of a hike, but we were all enjoying the challenge. The higher we rose the better the views of the surrounding area we go. Eventually our route left the well-established trail and we were working our way up a steep ravine next to a waterfall. Around 5,500’ we came out of the trees and were greeted with magnificent views of Mt. Skokomish and Mt. Pershing, Mt. Stone still towered 1,000’ above us and it was getting late in the day. We set a turnaround time of 4:30 and continued up the loose scree slope. As we neared what we were going to call our “summit” (the actual summit was unobtainable at that point due to our late start), the steepness and the terrain got the best of us, so we decided to turn back at around 6,150’. It was a good call; we were all getting tired and we knew we’d be pushing it to get down before it got dark or we ran out of snacks and water.
When we work up in the morning, we caught a ferry to Seattle and spent the next two days exploring the city. Another relaxing end to a very busy trip. We spent a lot of time talking about our next climbing pursuits or our next trips and we also spent a good bit of time just enjoying each other’s company during a much-needed break from all of our busy lives. A day later we were all boarding flights home and before we knew it, we were back to the rat race.
Even though I’m back, the mountains are still calling my name…. Until next time.
I had been down to RRG the week before to trail run and the river looked particularly inviting. After a morning splash and a swim at Jump Rock, I knew what I wanted to do the following weekend, I was going to packraft the Red River. I had taken the boats out on day paddles but nothing real solid since Alaska. So, the idea was in my head and I was off.
I had a few challenges, the first of which was, I’ve never paddled the Red River in my life. I knew the upper Red in the Clifty Wilderness could be pretty dicy in lower water (technical Class II) and in high water it was a Class III-IV run, so I didn’t want to mess with that too much. I also needed a partner cause paddling alone isn’t safe (never done that before...). In all reality I wanted some good company and didn’t really want to try something new alone.
After a few days of asking around I found my friend Lindsey who was super willing and able for this journey, so we were off. The night before we went down it poured in The Red and I knew the trails were going to be a mud bath, but luckily this also meant the river was at a perfect 4.5’ which would be excellent for paddling.
On Friday, without much fuss, we met up in Cincinnati and made the short drive south. It was an uneventful drive, with a little traffic and a stop for some fried chicken (much needed). After about two and a half hours we were at the trailhead, ready to go. Starting down Bison Way, it was a muddy, hot mess but we were both optimistic about the journey ahead. We didn’t run into many other backpackers as we headed out towards Lost Branch, a few groups looking for a home for the night, but for the most part the only noises were the birds, the river below and our occasional chatting. Eventually, after about an hour and a half of trudging through the afternoon heat, we arrived where we wanted to camp for the evening. Unfortunately, another backpacker had already setup his hammock and nabbed the spot I wanted by the river, so we settled for another spot hidden in a valley back along a tributary. We quickly setup camp and gathered some soggy sticks for a small fire as the darkness and a light fog settled in for the night.
I woke up around 3AM to a bright full moon, the temperature had dropped, and I was freezing my ass off (smart moving camping by the water...). I listened to the trickle of water in the creek and let it lull me back to sleep.
It was a good hike; Lindsey was proving to be a great partner and we were crushing it with our pace. As we neared the end of the hike, we peeled off onto the Eagle’s Nest loop, an unmarked and unmaintained route in the Clifty Wilderness. The trail was overgrown, covered in downed trees and full of spider webs, just the kind of hike I enjoy. It took some route finding and a good bit of patience, but we bobbed and weaved our way along the forested ridge through dense pines and small creeks until we eventually arrived at a steep downhill. We almost kept going, but my curiosity luckily got the better of me. We dropped packs and hiked up a the faint trail few hundred feet to a spot I had never visited before, the Eagle’s Nest. It was an awesome overlook with views off deep into the Clifty Wilderness and a few exposed ridges that seemed ripe for exploration. Lindsey and I enjoyed the views along with a few other hikers we discovered up there before heading down the muddy and scree covered cliff towards the Red River.
The rest of the paddle went wonderfully, we passed by day paddlers and enjoyed a nice drink in the sun. We both got a little too tan and had a very relaxing afternoon compared to our muddy and sweaty morning of walking. All in, it took us about 2 and a half hours to go around 7 miles down river to the Sheltowee Suspension Bridge. I hauled our packs up from the river to one of my favorite hidden campsites and then we continued another 1/4 mile to Jump Rock. I’ll give you a warning, if you’re worried about COVID-19, don’t go to Jump Rock in the afternoon… The place was packed with locals and weekend warriors alike, it felt nice to swim in the water and jump off the 15’ cliff at the end of a very long and rewarding day. It felt especially great to be back, having thought up this trip in this very spot a week before. I yelled at everyone to pick up their goddamn trash, we relaxed on the sandy beach for a bit and then eventually packed up the boats and walked up to our camp. We spent a nice evening by the fire, this one much better than the first night. Eventually the night cooled down and we both wandered off to bed. I laid in my hammock and watched the few stars I could see through the trees as I drifted off to sleep. The next day we packed up and road walked back to the car, a very anticlimactic end to our journey. We drove the long way around leaving the Gorge and I showed Lindsey some of RRG she hadn’t seen before. It was a tiring and relaxing weekend. I came out of it with a small hole in my left heel, thanks to a blister I ignored, and a very relaxed demeanor.
I spend a lot of time writing mostly about the exciting and happy moments during my trips. Every once in awhile there's a scary moment, or a challenging point but for the most part, after they happen, my journeys almost always pan out to happy memories and lessons learned. I finish one trip and move on to the next adventure.
For almost five years I've been obsessing about doing a long trail, a thru-hike. My first thought was the Appalachian Trail right after college, but that didn't fill the void. Eventually, after not much thought, I ended up with an obsession to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Canada to Mexico. The trail covers 2,653 miles across California, Oregon and Washington ending several days into North Cascades National Park at the Canadian boarder. The trail ranges from 13,153' at Forester Pass in the Sierras to 140' at Cascade Locks near the Columbia River. I've thought about every little detail of the trail, heavy snow in the Sierra, blistering heat in the Mojave, nonstop rain in Washington and the possibility of falls, injuries and failure on the trail. None of those possibilities or scenarios scare me, because I've come to terms with them.
Anyone who knows me knows I like to binge TV and movies. My latest victim is a YouTube series called "The Fifty". "The Fifty" follows Cody Townsend as he tries to climb and ski down the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. These mountains are massive, they're beautiful and they can be dangerous and deadly. Cody spends a lot of time during the series talking about measuring risk, and being in control. He's not someone like Alex Honnold or Tommy Caldwell who tend to appear fearless, he admits his fears and wears them on his sleeve. A big part of his process is thinking about the things that can go wrong and being as in control of the situation as possible. When he rips 4,000' down the side of a massive mountain, the guy has to be sure he knows what he's doing and throughout his journey he's had his moments where he's made the tough call and turned back.
The fear that sat in my mind during the past several months was that all of my upcoming trips would be canceled. Luckily I came to terms with that because fear became reality and none of them are happening. No Mt. Baker, no Havasu Falls, no 14ers, no South America. I affectively need to re-dream my year now. I've accepted that, I'm planning and I feel good about it, this was a tiny fear, barely present. The reality is that fear is something that's ever present in our lives, it hides in the back of our heads and often, our fears present themselves at the worst times. I believe the only way to beat your fears is to confront them before they confront you.
My greatest fear that has burrowed its way into my skull over the past six months isn't failure on the PCT, its not a delay because of CoVID, oddly, my greatest fear is finishing the trail. Weird, right?
Do I just continue the trend and go find the next adventure, settling back into where I was before my journey? Do I change my life and try something new? Maybe I'll have fell in love with a place during my long walk and stay there? Will I be so sick of walking after five months that I'll never do anything like that again? Will I be so consumed about the idea of being outside away from everything that coming home and sitting down on the couch becomes something that makes me feel uneasy? Will the mundaneness of life be something I can't put up with so I wander off into the woods never to be heard from again? Okay, the last one was a joke (kinda), but you get the point, I don't know what comes after.
I'm fearful of the end of my carefully built path, I'm fearful of accomplishing my greatest goal and not knowing what the next one is. Is that dumb? I mean, in all honesty, I'll dream up the next great adventure while dehydrated in the desert or lightheaded at the top of Mt. Whitney but until then, the idea of crossing the finish line into Canada will continue to give me the jitters in so many different ways.
I think this bothers me so much because I'm terrified of finally growing up. In my mind, when I finish the PCT, that could be my greatest journey (really don't want to peak young). I still want to run away every weekend and travel. I would, will and have told work I'm leaving early to go paddle or go on a long weekend trip. My priorities in life feel different from other's that I spend time around. They get busy with work, are focused on money or working on relationships and just in general have different pursuits. I would rather spend the day suffering through a climb than sitting on a beach. I would rather walk through the rain all day then sit at my desk. I'm a little weird...
I watched a movie recently called "Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Becky", Fred Becky was probably one of the greatest climbers of all time. He spent his life climbing first ascents around the world starting at age 13, he wrote the guidebook on climbing in the Pacific Northwest and the man had a passion that he let nothing get in the way of, he kept climbing until his death at age 94, the man has a friggen mountain in Alaska named after him... I fortunately/unfortunately will never be able to live up to the accomplishments of Fred but the idea of how he lived his life always gets me thinking. Always in pursuit of the next journey, uncompromising in his dedication to living the life that he wants. At the end though, what's left?
1. When are you going to hike the Appalachian Trail?
2. Do you think you'll ever climb Mt. Everest?
I won't lie, I've graduated college but I'm dreading the day I have to grow up and do the things everyone expects me to do in life. I got a job, isn't that enough? My goals aren't usually career oriented, their life oriented. I'm focused on making memories, seeing new things and creating friendships that I will always have. Everyone has their own ambitions, and mine involve being a dirtbag, walking for days on end and putting off growing up as long as I can.
Ultimately in the next five years I want to climb 2 of the 7 summits, I want to visit all 50 states (2 away), I want to see the Katmandu Valley with my own eyes and I want to finish the first leg of my triple crown. These are big goals, and they're piled on top of an ever growing list of things outside of traveling that I want to accomplish. I firmly believe that having these goals sets me apart from a lot of others. I've seen too many people get bogged down by life or settle for what comes easy, but I love doing the hard things no matter how much they hurt. I love searching out new journeys, even though they make me daydream and get lost along the way sometime and I think that these things will lead me to some great places.
My goals for the next two years are luckily, pretty simple, I want to be debt free (college ain't cheap), I want to pass my first engineering licensure exam, I would love to get to all fifty states (Hawaii I'm looking at you...), and I'm dead set on completing the Pacific Crest Trail. Luckily I've got an awesome employer and I'm pumped to announce that I intend to complete all of these before 2022. As of three weeks ago, I can say without a doubt, I'll be hiking the Pacific Crest Trail starting in May of 2021! The PCT has been a dream of mine for years and I'm excited that I finally have a concrete opportunity to do it. It will take me close to five months to complete the entire trail and I'm equally excited that my good friend Will Babb will be joining me for the journey. If you want to see what we've planned so far and eventually follow along on our progress, you can do all that right here by going to "The PCT" page.
Its been a long road coming and I'm not fully sure what I've given up and what I've gained to get to this point in my life (my stumbles along they way are countless), but I know I'm happy for now and I'll keep looking for happiness as I continue to explore and learn throughout the rest of my life.
"In the mountaineering parlance of the Western US, a fourteener is a peak with an elevation of at least 14,000'. There are 96 fourteeners in the United States. Colorado has the most (53) of any state"
In the morning, the sky was clear, and after a windy, restless night, the air was calm. Our group quickly covered the two hour drive to Guanella Pass and before I knew it, I was standing at 10,000' putting on snowshoes, heading up the snow covered road. We gradually hiked up, making it to the top of the pass in just under an hour. Toren, Dalton and I setup camp, planning to stay the night after summiting to acclimate as Olivia and Ike continued up the mountain with a head start, we were near 11,500'.
After we setup camp, and gathered together our summit packs we started into the willows up the west slope. As you head up Bierstadt in the warmer months, you travel through about a mile of thick willows and mushy marshland. Luckily, as we headed up, the boggy ground was frozen stiff and the willows had a clear trench worked in by other climbers. We quickly progressed up above the swamp to 12,500'.
I could feel the altitude wearing on my body. My chest was tight, it was hard to breath, the cold winter air bit at my lungs but upward we went. Gradually we closed in on 13,500' with a final 500' vertical push to the summit. This would be the only semi-exposed part of the climb, the east face was shear and the final pitch was blanketed in two small snow fields. As we rested behind some rocks before the push, a pair came down and said it was brutally windy up there. We weren't discouraged being so closed, but we knew it would be a quick up and down. Toren and I set off, climbing up, I felt like he was sprinting ahead of me, excited for the 14,060' summit. After a few short minutes we reached the top and took in the panoramic views of nothing insight but an endless expanse of mountains. Quickly, we were chased down by the wind as our friends made the final push up behind our descent.
Eventually we all made it down to 11,500' where we had setup basecamp. We traded stories of our somewhat separate trips up and down as we got a much needed snack. Eventually Olivia and Ike continued down the mountain, back to the car and headed home to Colorado Springs. Dalton, Toren and I got that much needed nap. After brushing off our alarms for close to an hour we finally arose from our slumber. I sat up, threw up and continued heaving out the tent door... I either had altitude sickness, or food poisoning or a combination of the two. Even if it was just food poisoning, being up at 11,500' was not making it better, both ends of my body felt like they wanted to explode...
We made the smart call to go down. As we packed camp, I was furious at my body for not keeping up. Once back at the car, I sunk into my seat, defeated and feeling like trash. We started off towards Colorado Springs. About halfway down Guanella Pass we ran into some skiers that had locked themselves out of their car and needed a ride to their key. Dalton and Toren obliged and helped them with a ride. I like to believe that that was our payment in good karma for the rest of the trip. After a few hours shuttling and then being stuck in Sunday ski traffic we arrived back in Colorado Springs and I was quickly in bed.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
Around 9 PM Ike arrived at our camp, waking me up from what had been a pretty good nap. I was happy though, him being there gave me a bit of comfort, after all, he's been there on most of the big ones. After getting settled in, we again dozed off to sleep to the sound of howling wind outside.
My watch began to vibrate at 6:30 AM, it was still dark. I began moving around looking for breakfast and water, knocking frost of the top of the tent. The wind had settled, but it still kicked up here and there. As the sun started to rise up through the gulch we reluctantly put on our cold boots and started up the south slope of Mt. Democrat from Kite Lake.
Full of excitement, Dalton and I dropped our packs and pushed over to the 14,286' summit. It was surprisingly easy and it was also surprisingly rejuvenating. We crossed over the furthest part of our route, we had all bagged 3 of the 4 and we were about to be on our way down. Slowly, we crossed another avalanche zone before continuing on to Bross at 14,172'. At the top, we sat for a second and celebrated. Something we had doubted doing that morning had just been completed. The group began down the summit back towards Kite Lake, all feeling tired, but all happy inside. We did a combination of rock hopping down the scree slopes and glissading down the couloirs to get back to camp. After an uneventful descent, we were back to camp.
The plan was to do Quandary the following day but I knew I would probably be too tired still and severely wanted some rest. I convinced Dalton and Toren to go to Leadville that night and stay at the Inn the Clouds Hostel for the next two nights to rest up before we finished our journey. Out of all the decisions I made I think this was the only one I regret.
We continued to gain the ridge, closing in on 13,000' and the final summit push. On the other side of the mountain, we could see a massive cloud blowing in. The winds were 50-60 mph with higher gusts and the light powder from the night before would blow against the smallest bit of exposed skin like shards of glass. It was a brutal and dangerous slog. Every time we stopped I thought about how long we could continue up into the -36°F weather with this kind of wind and what would happen if we found ourselves in a whiteout.
As we drove off I thought of all of the things that could have gone differently. Would the conditions have been better the day before? If we got a later start, would that have helped? Should I just have kept pushing onwards? It sits on your mind...
We left central Colorado and headed towards Rocky Mountain National Park in the Front Range for an overnight snowshoeing in the backcountry. When we got there the Rangers said we'd be the only people out, it was the height of the slow season. It was a fun couple of hours as we headed up to Glacier Gorge, enjoying the winter weather and making the most of the end of our trip. The snow blanketed everything and made the valleys beautiful. Longs Peak was socked in by snow, but it loomed above us as the night set in. It was an enjoyable end to a very memorable trip.
I spent a lot of time trying to decide what I want in life. For the better part of the past three years I've been obsessed by the idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, for the past two years I've been obsessed with trying to go on bigger and bigger trips and for the past year I've been so busy trying to make that all happen that I got tunnel vision. My goal coming out of this is to refocus, to be sure I'm moving towards what I want in life and make sure that at the end of this I'm not left more lost than when I began this journey. Its a big plate of things to work on, but luckily I have a lot of time...
Over the weekend, I drove out to Shenandoah National Park to meet up with my old roommate Bobby who now lives in New England. Somehow we decided Virginia was the middle between us, not sure how that worked out but its better than Pennsylvania I guess...
We met up in the north of the park at the Dickey Ridge Visitor's Center around 2PM, after a long drive we were all ready to stretch our legs. Bobby and I went inside to get permits and the lady at the desk looked at us like we were crazy, "You're going out this weekend? You know its supposed to snow and rain tomorrow night?" I assured her we knew what we were doing, got the permit filled out and headed south towards the trailhead. It took over an hour to get from the north end of the park to our trailhead at Brown's Gap, this park is long to say the least, but the views along the drive were beautiful. We got to the trailhead a little after 4:45, with the sun set at 5:15 we didn't have much time left before we'd be hiking in the dark. As Bobby got his pack rearranged and I got Wicket's pack on him and mine on me I noticed Wicket staring off into the woods. I assumed it was a deer or squirrel as usual and kept going about what I was doing, when I looked up again there were 3 black bears walking down the hill towards us. I definitely had an "oh shit" moment and quickly grabbed Wic before giving them a friendly greeting to go away. The mama and her two cubs, all no bigger than Wicket quickly got the message and continued on their way. That would be all the excitement for the day, we hiked 4 miles towards the setting sun before setting up camp in the dark on a ridge near Austin Mountain.
In the morning we awoke to cold frigid air and that feel of dread getting out of your sleeping bag. At least one of us was enjoying the cold air...
Soon enough we started gaining back the 1,300' we had gone down as we headed up Furnace Mountain. We played leapfrog with a couple of day hikers, but for the most part quickly found our way to the "summit". It wasn't a bad view, but I learned three things about Shenandoah, the views are always better in the fall, the summits aren't really summits and the temperature changes every 5 minutes. We enjoyed a quick break up top before heading on our way.
Suddenly the trees opened up into a boulder field and we found the best overlook of the trip as we reached the AT.
I spent my time in the car, and really the last few days, thinking about this weekend. Not just that it was nice to get out and nice to see a friend I hadn't seen in awhile but that it felt great to be out there and I actually have a lot of friends that I need to catch up with more often. During this trip and that drive I thought about what I wanted from life in the short term; I want to catch up with my close friends more often than I do, I want to get out on more little weekend trips, I want to talk to more new people like the guy we met at Blackrock Hut and I don't want to fall into the easy motions of life (go to work, go home, sleep, rinse and repeat). I've always been a planner, my goals are what guide what I do and I'm fixated on the PCT at the moment but I can't let that be the only thing guiding me. We'll see if I stick to what I say... Until next time!
I just want to take a second and thank everyone who has traveled with me, everyone who has been around and enjoyed a story, had a drink at the bar with me or been lucky enough to go on an adventure. Thanks to my friends and family for being awesome and not giving up on my ass yet. Also, thanks to everyone who reads these blogs about my journeys, without you I think I would have given up on writing these a long time ago... Seriously, they take a lot of time.
"There's so much aversion to risk taking. You have to take risks if you want to learn anything about yourself. You want to expand the self imposed walls we put around ourselves..."
- Hilaree Nelson
We bought plane tickets that December and began a 7 month process of building an amazing journey. Between booking float planes, guides and hotels as well as looking over all the routes and making sure everything we wanted to do would fit I probably obsessed over this trip for way too long. It didn’t kick in that I was even going on this trip until I sat down in the float plane at 11AM and took off from Lake Hood Sea Plane Base in Anchorage.
Lake Clark National Park
By 11AM on Wednesday we had met the pilot, loaded up the plane and taken off for Lake Clark National Park. We were quickly flying over the Cook Inlet, on our way deep into the Alaskan bush. We flew over alpine glaciers and alongside mountain peaks deep into the Alaska Range. The peaks were impossibly jagged and every valley would just lead on to a dozen more. The mountains seemed to go on endlessly in every direction.
We came out low over Telaquana Lake and its bright blue water excited me for our final destination. The plane banked to the south and flew over the highlands before coming upon Turquoise Lake, our drop off point. You could see the water approach as we went down to land and soon enough, a small bump and a rush of water on the floats slowed us down to a stop near the east shore. The glacial beach in front of us stretched on for almost a mile in each direction and the peaks behind it perfectly framed the scene. We setup camp as our pilot took off, once he was off the lake he was gone in the blink of an eye and we were alone. For the rest of the day we walked back miles and miles along the glacial river that formed the basin we were camped in. We crept closer and closer to the great glacier hiding back in the mountains. After several hours of hiking, a few wet boots, and a first day filled with blueberries and laughs we reached the moraine and could barely see the glacier still a mile off. We decided to turn back because of how late in the day it was, this wasn’t to be our glacier. In the evening, as we ate, we talked about how surreal our new surroundings were. We enjoyed an evening with good weather, decent food and great company.
The next day we awoke to a light rain that quickly tapered off. This was our day for day hiking in the valley, but the peaks were socked in and we had already bailed on the glacier once. Today was a camp day. Will and Olivia climbed up to the highest towers they could above camp while the rest of us lounged around in the on and off rain. After a few hours though, the rain subsided and we broke out the packrafts for a little afternoon paddle. Being on that lake in a boat was an out of this world feeling… Joe and I paddled up the shore and around a small fraction of the lake before returning and letting the others get a chance to get out. It was a fun and lazy afternoon topped off with a nice fire on the beach before we all crawled into bed. It was a good day but I was getting ancy to move.
As we approached where we wanted to camp, we realized a group had already beaten us there and was taking up the entire beach. Some colorful words and ideas may have gone around the group when we realized we might need a new plan. Eventually, after hiking through fields of blueberries, willows over your head, hidden streams, tussocks and a ton of mosquitos we found our way onto the next beach. Luckily, being the resourceful and smart people we are, we found a nice spot for the tents and the kitchen just to the other side of our guided friends. The rest of the day was spent exploring the beach and relaxing after a long day of moving, little did we know what the next day had in store for us.
We picked a bearing and entered the woods, dropping down into a ravine before making it to the dense forest and working out way south. Every once in a while I would call out a course correction to Joe as he led us through the brush but we moved quickly, trying to avoid the mosquitos. After over 8 miles bushwhacking, avoiding bears, crossing rivers and sliding down the side of mountains we finally made it to the north shore of Lower Twin Lake and setup camp. Everyone went for a much needed swim in the crystal clear water, we enjoyed cards on the beach and took our time to think about the journey so far as we neared our last two days in Lake Clark.
I thought about how the peaks weren’t as rugged and towering as The Winds in Wyoming, The Colorado Rockies or the Sawtooths in Idaho but they were packed in tighter than any of those ranges. The terrain was more unforgiving but it was breathtakingly beautiful and seemed as if every inch of it had something living there. I’ve been a lot of places and in many mountains but I can honestly say I’ve never experienced a landscape so vast. The amount of wildlife also amazed me, in one day we saw 7 grizzly bears, 2 moose, swans, ptarmigans, sheep, ground squirrels and an abundance of birds and bugs all surviving in this harsh landscape. It was a beautiful place to end a long day.
On the fifth day we awoke to rain, something we expected a lot more than we got on this trip. All of us laid hesitantly in our tents, hoping it would stop before giving up and crawling out for breakfast. As the morning went out and we packed up camp the rain tapered off and we got ready to cross the lake on our Kokopellis. The mouth of the Lower Twin Lake empties into the Chilikadrotna River and the water is cold, waste deep and moving fast so we planned to use our packrafts to shuttle people and gear across the gap. As the Will and I made our way across the lake, the rain stopped. Slowly but surely, after a lot of back and forth, we all made it across the lake and were on our way to our first stop, the ranger cabin on the south shore. Joe and I continued along in the packrafts while the others hiked along the shore. To him and I this was like a beach vacation, to everyone on the shore, not so much. After about a mile and a half we made it to the ranger cabin for lunch and a bathroom break on a real toilet seat. There was no ranger at home, but we made ourselves cozy outside on the porch for a bit. Eventually we packed up and continued along the shore of the lake, taking turns paddling and walking. After several hours of up and down as well as walking on rocks and snacking on blueberries we finally made it to the connector between Upper and Lower Twin Lakes. We called our bush pilot on the SAT phone and let them know that we would be there and waiting in the morning. For tonight though, we enjoyed floating down the river between the two lakes, playing Flux and eating the last of our food, knowing pickup was a few hours away. As we drifted to sleep that night, the first bits of Alaskan night finally hit.
In the morning we slowly made breakfast and packed up, getting tricked by a few different planes into thinking they were ours. Eventually our guy showed up, loaded us up and we were flying above the lake, covering what had taken us hours the day before in a matter of minutes. We were on our way to Anchorage, leaving the backcountry behind for now.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Miller’s Landing was our first chance at a shower in about a week and to my surprise, everyone but me passed on the opportunity. They missed out because a shower was great… The next day we got up, grabbed a grocery store breakfast and headed out to Exit Glacier for a climb up the mountain to the Harding Ice Field. The group had gotten a little too cozy in the past 24 hours being out of the backcountry, but I was prepared to crush this thing and get them back in the groove. Joe had told us it would take 8 hours and I could sense everyone was dreading that haul, so I did what I do best and started down the trail as fast as I could. Everyone followed suit (for the most part) and we quickly shook off the morning haze and were moving our way up along the glacier. After just under 4 hours we arrived at the top of the Exit Glacier Trail and looked out over the Harding Ice Field. It was massive. The sheet of ice stretched on for miles and had whole mountains buried in its icy belly. We relaxed and enjoyed the view before all beginning to get the feeling it was time to start heading down. As quick as we went up, we went down, back to the car and back to camp to get our gear ready for sea kayaking in the national park for the next three days. Everyone worried about being cold, about the rain and other things and didn’t know what to pack. For me, I was more worried that the guide wouldn’t bring enough food and I would be hungry…
The rest of the day was spent catching up on sleep, playing cards and going on a short paddle and hike to Southwest Glacier near our camp. After all that we got lucky and one of the fishing boats decided be nice and dropped off two huge salmon flays and a flay of rockfish. Dinner that night was good…
The water taxi to take us back to Seward arrived right on time, full of fishermen… We got loaded up, snagged some seats and began the two hour ride back to town. Sea Kayaking in Kenai felt like a completely separate trip, just days before we had been whacking our way through the bush in Lake Clark and now we were in a completely new place, with new challenges, new laughs and new adventures already leaving it behind. Dritz made the journey even more amazing, he had a life story twice his age, knew so much about the world around him and seemed to love every minute of his life. We tipped him very nicely… (Always tip your guides kids)
After we arrived back to Seward from our paddling journey we found ourselves tucked away in a cozy sea side retreat, surprised by Joe’s gracious upgrade from where we planned to stay. We sat on the balcony overlooking Resurrection Bay, laughing, eating and drinking trying not to remember that the end of this grand journey was just a few days away from us.
On Saturday we drove north into the Chugach National Forest working our way back towards Anchorage. I don’t think any of us wanted to leave that bungalow but we found a nice cheap campsite managed by the Forest Service. For one last time, we setup camp, hoped back in the cars and drove north to Crow Pass to hike up to one more glacier. After days in boats our legs had become sore and tightened up again, the first mile was rough. Eventually most of us fell into a stride and worked our way up the pass to its alpine lake and Crow Glacier. We sat enjoying our last moments in the Alaskan backcountry for a while before dark clouds of to the west on the other side of the mountains made us think twice about begin up there. We quickly made our way down below treeline, helping an older woman with a fear of heights down along the way (kudos to Olivia). We arrived near the car just as it started to rain the hardest and heading back towards the campground. In the evening we had one last camp meal, went for a little hike, saw another moose 50’ away, and watched schools of salmon float in the river nearby. It was a nice last night out…
On Monday, I went for a run while all the lazies slept in, we had breakfast, watched some New Girl and left for the airport. The trip had ended just days ago but already felt like a lifetime away. I found places I can’t wait to revisit, I grew some awesome friendships, I saw breathtaking views, I made jokes and laughed and enjoyed the hell out of a trip that’s been a long way coming. To have been able to do what we got so lucky with was an amazing thing and it will keep me dreaming for a long time about the trips to come.
When I looked back and counted, I found something that amazed and surprised me, I had taken 118+ people on 22 different trips to 18 different places, and those are just the ones I kept track of over the last few years. We had visited National Forests, Parks and wilderness areas across the country. We had gone canoeing in The Boundary Waters, we had snowshoed part of the way around Crater Lake, we had suffered in desert heat, we climbed the highest peaks on the continent and we played in the tallest sand dunes in North America. It was amazing to think about all the things I had done and all the people I had been able to share these adventures with.
I’ve learned so much from the people I've traveled with over the years and they've hopefully learned on journeys with me. They’ve shown me what it is to be a leader, what it takes to get people into your mindset, as well as how to encourage people to push onward in the face of adversity. On the other hand, I guess I taught them how to travel cheap, how to get places and do things that most of them probably never thought they’d be doing. I helped people become leaders of their own groups of friends and go on their own journeys. I guess learning was mutual.
As I stood atop Yosemite Point, halfway through our trip, and stared out into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I thought about how far I had come. I thought about both on this journey (from Ohio, to Arches, to Zion, to Death Valley, over the Sierra Nevadas all the way up Yosemite Falls) and on all the ones before this. I thought about the places I had visited and all the people I had had the chance to share those experiences with. I also thought about the adventures still to come, the places I still want to go, and the stories left to be told.
We left Cincinnati early on a Saturday morning and began our adventure across the country. We all quickly became friends during the car ride, singing, playing games and getting to know each other. It was a long ride, as usual, but seemed to fly by. Twenty-six hours after beginning our journey we arrived in the Superstition Wilderness at the Peralta Trailhead ready to hit the trail. We had heavy bags with water for 3 days, not quite sure what the desert would bring. About halfway up the first canyon, a local told us there was water everywhere and this was one of the wettest springs ever. The woman said she was 65 and had lived there for her entire life so, we happily poured out our water on the desert floor and quickly made our way up the to of Fremont Saddle. From there, we enjoyed the beautiful views and a much-needed snack.
After lunch, we quickly covered the rest of the day’s ground into camp, setup, swam in the flowing creek to wash off the day’s work and relaxed at camp after a long car ride. As the night set in, we enjoyed the beautiful views and a warm fire.
We turned off of the Dutchman’s Trail onto Peter’s Trail and began a big uphill climb above Charlebois Spring. When we first mapped out the route, we got this as ~1,400’ of gain, not too bad, but we were way off. About an hour into the climb up the canyon and over the ridge, we realize it’s gonna be a long day. We make it most of the way to the top before stopping for lunch and enjoy a bit of shade hidden behind some rocks.
As we pass over the final bit of the ridge, we dropped down into a dense canyon with a river flowing through it. The thorns tore at our clothes and packs and you had to keep your eyes out for pricker bushes hiding in with the regular branches. It was slow going and morale was definitely at a low point as we pushed onward. I will say, for as rough of a day as it was, these guys killed it and I couldn’t have wished for a better group of people to have been out there with. We neared the last ridge after almost 8 hours on the trail. There was a small campsite with not much water at the top. We voted and the group chose to continue down into Peter’s Canyon and look for a better spot.
The cliff down was steep, but the views of the canyon in front of us were amazing as the sun went down. We quickly found our way to water, and after a little searching, found a campsite perfect for our group. After the day we had just had, I was exhausted. I was out of energy, out of water and hurting hard. Luckily, I got taken care of and eventually recovered. We sat under the stars, sang songs around the campfire and enjoyed setting still after a long day of moving.
A few hours later we were on our way down the Red Tanks Trail through LaBarge Canyon and it was one of the most beautiful sections of the hike…. The canyon walls were covered in flowers and cacti, you could listen to the river gushing below and the trail was rocky, technical and fun. We quickly descended to the junction with Whisky Spring Trail only to find the campsite we had been told about was taken and the couple there wasn’t too keen on sharing... Luckily, we bushwhacked and scouted around for a bit and found a decent place by the river to call home. We enjoyed the rest of the sun for the day, swam in the river, and sat by a campfire late into the night, enjoying each other’s company.
After we left Superstition we journeyed on to Colorado, opting to spend 24 hours in Great Sand Dunes National Park instead of climbing a 14er as we had originally planned and of course we had some fun getting there. In retrospect I’m happy with the decision we made in the moment and I think everyone on the trip enjoyed that last night just as much as they would have enjoyed climbing the 14er. That last morning we woke up, raced to Pizza Ranch, stuffed our faces and worked our way back across the country to Cincinnati.
We left Cincinnati late on a Tuesday evening with the intent to drive overnight 15 hours to Northern Minnesota and enter the Boundary Waters Wilderness at the furthest point along the Gunflint Trail via our outfitter, Voyagers Canoeing, we would spend 4 days on the water in the wilderness.
Right off the bat getting there I was worried about my plan. My last big UCMC trip had ended in a change of plans (but a wonderful trip), not getting to complete our route at Crater Lake due to poor weather. This trip I had the same worry, the weather in Cincinnati leaving was in the 80s and up in Minnesota it was in the low 40s with snow forecast overnight the first evening. That swing in temperatures was enough to make me shiver a bit those first few hours... I tried to stress how cold it would be, and feel having not acclimated to that weather yet and I think everyone got the point but not one of us would say that we wouldn’t have brought something extra if we could have after the journey.
Once we arrived and rearranged our bags, we got our boats and paddles then set to loading up and launching down the Gull River. Within minutes, someone had already fallen in the water trying to get in their canoe, my worst fear. The water and air temperature were a perfect recipe for hypothermia, luckily, we were still right by the outfitter and warm dry clothes.
Portage - “The carrying of a boat or its cargo between two navigable waters.”
We paddled for a short while before coming to Trails End Campground and our first portage. It was a messy and long portage that most people would usually avoid in warm weather by walking their boats up the small creek, but in our freezing temperatures that was a no go. So, we unloaded boats, spent some time bushwhacking a trail and put in at the next small lake. Not long after we had yet another portage, this one with a bit better of a trail... Again, we unloaded boats and carried gear to the next put in. After about an hour of all of that crap right out the gate we found ourselves on Seagull Lake entering the wilderness.
Seagull was the second largest lake we would find ourselves on, and it
was dotted with islands, this made navigating somewhat a trick. Since
you didn’t have signs you just had to pick islands and paddle to them
then check to make sure you had the right island by looking for where the
next one should be. It was definitely a learning curve the first bit and
I definitely got us off the easiest route a few times throughout the journey.
After about 6 miles of paddling and the two portages early on in the day
we found ourselves in camp at Mile’s Island. It was a nice spot with three tent spaces, a tree in the middle and a good area to setup a kitchen under some trees. Everyone worked well together setting everything up and getting settled in. After it settled down, I cozied up for a warm nap only to wake up to all 8 other people piled in one 3-person tent for warmth playing cards, luckily, they didn’t smell too bad yet. A few hours later we all curled into our warm sleeping bags and began our first cold night’s sleep.
Getting ready in the cold definitely led to later starts, we usually didn’t hit the water until between 10 & 11AM but that was alright because it meant less time sitting cold in camp. That morning was a tough paddle, we had a good bit of wind and some decent waves as we made our way west across Seagull lake towards our first big portage. Lake the day before, it was another day of island hopping but we had the added benefit of shelter from the wind. We slowly slogged across the water and made our way to the bay that lead to our portage. At this point the sun was starting to pop out and the day was looking up.
My first idea was to avoid the portage by paddling up a small creek, when that didn’t work out, we ended up hauling all our gear across about 1/3 of a mile of puddly, muddy and wet trail to Alpine Lake and as we did the carry the weather began to change... The snow came back, the sun went away, and the wind whipped up, it was trash. People got chilly and the thought of cutting the day short began to circulate since we were near a campground.
As we continued on and got closer to camp the wind whipped up the greatest of the entire trip and the site wasn’t setup the best for it…. We had harsh wind blowing across the lake right into the campsite, there wasn’t much cover and it was already a cold day. So, we setup the best we could, made a fire, hunkered down and enjoyed our last night in the wild the best we could. In the morning we awoke to one of the coldest of the trip but luckily it was a short paddle back to our car that day. We had a fun morning, enjoying every last bit of our final bit of the journey.
It was a rewarding trip, it was a difficult trip, it was a fun trip and it was rejuvenating. I couldn’t have gotten any luckier with the group and the new friends I made. I couldn’t have had a more amazing time out there. Hopefully I get feeling back in my toes in the next few weeks, but regardless this is a trip I’ll be dreaming about for months to come.
"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined"
-Henry David Thoreau
Everything leading up to this trip and everything after it has been unbelievably busy, but for the week I was gone everything was perfect. My trips keep me sane, they get me balanced again and they reconnect me to where I need to be and this one was no different.
We left early on a Wednesday morning with a plan in hand:
As usual, we drove through the night to the Sawtooth Wilderness in Idaho and as usual it was a fun and goofy, yet uncomfortable night. We arrived in a completely different landscape than the one we had left behind, with cooler temperatures, fresh alpine air and towering mountains all around us. I knew the first day would be difficult because of the elevation gain and our exhaustion, but I also knew the milage was low. We hiked up and up and up, through boulder fields, past alpine lakes, streams and waterfalls onward to the Twin Lakes. When we arrived we were all tired from a long drive and a good day of hiking, we made camp and curled up in hammocks along the crystal clear lakes for a quick nap. It was a beautiful afternoon and a glorious feeling to be back among the towering mountains of the west.
Day number three we planned on hitting a backcountry summit, Payette Peak about 2,000' above us. The morning started pretty usual and then we found out one of our friends still wasn't feeling well from the day before. Its always a hard position to be in when someone from your team isn't doing well, you want to encourage them on and you also want them to feel better so you just have to try and understand their position. She opted to stay behind for the day as we began our journey. For several hours we bushwhacked our way up to the north towards our summit, it was grueling work going up through the boulder fields. Quickly, we came to our turn back time of 12PM.
After catching up with our friend and getting a good swim in the freezing cold Imogene Lake we talked about what the next day had to offer us. With our friend feeling no better than she had in the morning we decided that it was best to just turn it into a 10 mile day out to the car. This would give us an extra day, and allow us to pretty much flip our trip to get a little bit more relaxation time.
I have to say, so far this year; the month of June has probably been my busiest yet. Between work and travel I didn’t have an empty day on the calendar. I whitewater rafted in Pennsylvania, hiked in Red River Gorge Kentucky, backpacked along the western coast of Michigan, and flew “across the pond” for an amazing couple of days in London and Paris. It was an awesome and exhausting months’ worth of travels that reinvigorated me when I got home, settled some of my long lasting urges and at the same time, created all new ones.
The month began with a rafting trip to Pennsylvania with some old friends and a few new ones as well… I spent a day rafting Class V rapids on the Upper Youghiogheny River with some folks I had never met and then spent the next day running self-guided Class III+ rapids with my group of friends where we all found ourselves in the water at some point or another. It was a wild weekend and made me thirsty for some more time on a river somewhere, whitewater or not.
I think I have a unique situation where I never feel stressed or overly tired from my life or my travels. Often the only way I make it through a day at work is by thinking back on the last journey I had and using it as inspiration to work towards the next. I also find that when others say they are too busy for a trip, I will always find a way to make it work because we make time for what we love and what makes us happy.
My future is undoubtedly filled with traveling. Will it be as much as I did this past month, I have no idea… Will it be frequent and to far flung, unknown places, I’m sure of it… Will it be full of the same people I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy traveling with, I have no idea… The reality is that people grow older, get busy and change what they are doing. One thing I do know is that I will continue to journey the world wherever and whenever I can, I will always try to drag those around me along for the ride and I will surely reach out to friends old and new as our paths cross in our lives and in our travels.
*In the Spring of 2019 WOWAir went out of business so the flight details of these trips are no longer accurate...
Iceland has been a dream of mine for several years. Its capital city is full of diverse culture and overflowing with things to do. Then if you look inland, there's limitless trails, fjords and waterfalls to discover. Also, the country is easy to travel around via public transportation.
$880 for 12 days not including food and other expenses
What to do?
Visit the iconic Blue Lagoon, Mt. Esja over looking the city and hike the Laugavegur trail from Landmannalaugar to Porsmork (I love the names).
London is the capital of what was once one of the world's greatest empires. Its built up on top of itself so much that you get modern skyscrapers sitting next to buildings from the 15th century. London also serves as a great home base for large Europe trips with airfare relatively cheap and trains going almost anywhere you can think of.
$985 for 5 days with a guess at food, drinks and other expenses
What to do?
What is there not to do? Get a pint, visit Paraliment, Big Ben and the Eye of London. Say hello to the Queen. Catch a train outside of the city to nearby destinations.
Amsterdam is the inspiration and setting for quite a few of my favorite comedy movies, its also a city covered in art, culture and history. With gothic canals, churches and the Red Light District there's plenty to keep you entertained and get you in trouble too...
$1073 for 5 days that includes travel, lodging and a guess at expenses
What to do?
Walk the Red Light, visit iconic locations, take a trip to the top of the city, have a Heine where they're made and so much more.
Berlin is a city that was wrecked by war, torn apart and put back together again. Its people, for almost three decades, were even parts of different countries that were divided both physically and ideologically but Berlin rose from all of its history into a rich and modern city.
$825 for 5 days including travel, lodging and a guess as expenses
What to do?
Spend a morning at Berlin's oldest park, see the Reichstag, walk through the Holocaust Memorial and surly visit a beer garden.
Milan is about as steeped in history as they get. From famous buildings and paintings by Leonardo and Michelangelo to sprawling urban markets and mind blowing food, you'll never want to leave.
$1033 for 5 days in Milan and the added option for a day in Reykjavik, depending on who you fly with and at an added expense.
What to do?
Walk the streets and take in the history, eat till you drop or explore the many museums in the city.
I first planned to travel to the Winds in the spring of 2016 but a late winter storm dumped almost 2' of snow across the range and we ended up going to Zion and Great Sand Dunes National Parks instead (still amazing places). It wasn't the trip I had planned for but it was the trip that I got. Later that year we took another stab at the Winds. The plan was to drive over night to Wyoming and spend two days there and acclimate to the elevation before heading to Colorado to bag 14ers in the Rockies. We left on a Saturday and arrived at the Big Sandy trail-head on the south end of the range right at daybreak. It was an amazing site to be hiking among these giants as the sun rose over them. Our goal for this first trip was simple, enjoy our limited time, soak up the sites and get to the Cirque du Towers, a world renown destination for hikers and rock-climbers, home to famous climbs like Wolf's Head, and Pingora as well as Mitchell Peak and War Bonnet.
We soaked in the sun and flew down the first five miles of the trail to Big Sandy Lake where we took our first break for the day admiring the towering peaks around us. I don't think the feeling of amazement, being in one place one day and
then being in the middle of Wyoming in the mountains or anywhere the next will ever wear off. It really makes you appreciate the places you go and the opportunities you get. We knew what came after lunch would be a tough hike.
Unfortunately we only had a little over 24 hours in the range, so we explored as much as we could, climbed around, searched for spots for the next time and then packed up and headed back out the following day. That time left me wanting to go back and wanting more. It was an amazing and rewarding trip that I would go back and redo with another group a year later. I continued on to Colorado to summit several 14ers and end a wonderful trip.
A Year Later...
For this trip we were going to focus most of our time in the Wind River Range with some time at the end of the trip set aside for climbing Longs Peak in Colorado, a whole other blog in and of itself... Our goal was to explore the north end of the range this time near Elkhart trail-head getting into areas such as Titcomb Basin, Indian Basin and Indian Pass where the Knife Point Glacier resides as well as revisiting the Cirque du Towers in the south. We followed a similar plan, left early Saturday from Cincinnati, drove through the night and hit the trail at sunrise, and just like last time, it was an amazing morning. We hiked into the range constantly watching as the mountains above Titcomb Basin and Indian Pass grew closer and closer to us. As the day continued on some of the group began to suffer from exhaustion and a little bit of altitude sickness so we played it safe and made camp near Seneca Lake. Our goal the following day would be to get up to Indian Pass and the glacier.
The places I go are amazing, I'm lucky I get to do these things and the people I get to travel with are just as amazing. For now the Winds will remain at the top of my list as my favorite destination, but who knows, maybe a trip in the not so distant future will dethrone them and become my next day dream...
“A mountain is the best medicine for a troubled mind. Seldom does man ponder his own insignificance. He thinks he is master of all things. He thinks the world is his without bonds. Nothing could be farther from the truth."
1. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana
Drive Time: ~4 hours & 20 minutes via I-65
Destination: Dunewood Campground
Indiana Dunes, just east of Chicago, nestled on the southern shore of Lake Michigan is a beautiful place. I have yet to find a place on the shores of the Great Lakes that I haven't enjoyed. Although there isn't much opportunity for backpacking here, the cost for the Dunewood Campground and the many day hikes in the area make it a close and attractive location. Many people complain about not being close to the ocean in the mid-west but I think the lakes are even better than the ocean... Be sure to check out the Cowel's Bog Trail to get away from the crowds and see a unique ecosystem. Also, make sure you spend a sunset on the many miles of beaches.
Drive Time: ~4 hours & 40 minutes via I-64
Destination: Garden of the Gods Backpacking Trailhead
Visiting the Garden of the Gods (not the one in Colorado unfortunately) was an awesome adventure. I departed Cincinnati around 9PM EDT and got to Illinois a little after midnight local time. After night hiking for about 30 minutes I found the rest of my group's camp (them having got there a few hours before). I setup, settled into my sleeping bag and woke up to about 3" of snow and plenty of adventure the next day. We hiked, climbed and enjoyed our journey around the area, definitely a place I'll be going back to.
Drive Time: ~2 hours & 30 minutes via I-64
Destination: Two Lakes Loop Trailhead
Just a short drive from Cincinnati. I completed the Two Lakes Loop as an overnight trip in February. The weather had tricked us (or at least me) into thinking this would be an early spring hike with warm temperatures and lots of mud, instead we got cold temperatures, snow and A TON of mud. We crossed rivers in 30 degree weather, found a guy literally running laps around us on the trail and much more. It was a fun getaway and definitely a place I need to go enjoy in warmer weather! Bring lots of socks for this one.
Drive Time: ~2 hours via Ohio-32
Destination: Backpackers Parking Area outside the State Park
The Shawnee State Forest area is also known as the Little Smokies and I found out why on this trip. I set out on an adventure, not quite sure what to expect, on the hike I found awesome views, trickling streams and more than a few upward climbs. If you don't mind time in the thick woods then this is the place for you, and if you like fall colors or a little bit better of a view go in the late fall and winter. On my trip I also visited the Copperhead Fire Tower, one of the oldest in the state. As we climbed you could feel it sway in the wind but the views of the forest around me were well worth it. Definitely a place to go if you're looking for an easy get away and some uncrowded trails.
Drive Time: ~7 hours via I-31 (Ya its over 5 hours but its worth it...)
Destination: The Nurnberg Trailhead (Heads up, involves 5 mile drive down a sandy dirt road)
I stoped by the Nordhouse Dunes on the tail end of a 5 day trip around Michigan. I made some great friends on this trip and I also found one of my favorite places... Nordhouse Dunes is slightly out of the 5 hour range I dedicated this piece to but its definiately worth the extra time. Situated on the west coast of Michigan along the shore of Lake Michigan its a beautiful and isolated place. When we went in early October we only saw one other person and one other vehicle at the trailhead. As one of southern Michigan's only wilderness areas and being decently off the beaten path I would for sure recommend a visit. Be sure to bring a swimsuit, towel and flip-flops!
"And this, our life exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything."
The drive was long but easy; I had previously traveled with my cousin Nathan and my buddy Alex and knew they would be able to pull through the long night shifts. I figured the others could too, but I wanted to play it safe on the way out there. After 34 hours on the road we finally arrived in Klamath Falls, Oregon to collect our snowshoes and head up the road to Crater. We met the owner of a local shop who we rented shoes from and he told us what to expect up at Crater Lake, he also proceeded to tell us about wolves, bears and mountain lions and I could see some of my group member’s eyes widen.
It was a foggy day in town as we headed up Mt. Mazama (the long extinct volcano that holds Crater Lake in its teeth) but as we got closer the fog cleared and we could see the snowcapped peaks around the rim. After a short time, we gathered our permits drove up to the rim, got everything situated (including the car that had to be left 3 miles back, 1,200’ down at the visitor’s center in case the road up to the rim closed due to high snow, PS thanks for the rides up and down Craig and Sharron) and we were off. Our goal was to circumnavigate the entire caldera in 4 days and 3 nights, close to 30 miles all the way around. In the summer this would be a pleasant and nice trip, with very little elevation change and beautiful views, but in the winter, you strap on snowshoes and sometimes posthole deep into the 7’ snowpack making the hike a whole different challenge.
For most of the day everyone was getting used to the bulky snowshoes, we were enjoying the views and for those of us who didn’t already know each other, we were becoming friends. As the day went on I could feel myself start to wear out, having only slept for 5 hours out of 48 will do that too you… I really wanted to get into camp and knew we were getting close, after about 5 hours on the trail we had covered close to 7 miles, not bad for snowshoe pace. We made our goal for the day which was a good sign since I had already doubted our chances for success earlier in the day after seeing the upcoming forecast of snow later in the week. Once we got in, we stamped the snow, setup tents and dug out a pretty rugged snow kitchen. I was so exhausted from the past several days I collapsed into a deep nap waking up almost an hour later feeling much better.
It was decided that we would drive to California that night and camp, then in the morning we would hit the beach and day hike then backpack up into the mountains for the night. The next day we would come down and drive to either the Umpqua or Alvord hot springs in Oregon and camp depending on the weather at each location. Finally, from there we would continue back the way we came, spending a night in the Salt Flats of Utah and getting home sometime Saturday. All of this happened and so much more…
Yes, sometimes you can just throw everything in a bag and take off but not on the trips to the big mountains, the trips for days out on the water, and the trips to the woods for weeks on end; these require a little more finesse. Once you’ve picked a place, a trip always starts with what can often be the hardest part, picking a date. You must figure out all the schedules of those involved, find the permits, work around this and that person’s requests and make it all work. From there you figure out what you need, from gear and clothing to food and cash. You pile it all together and pack it all in, you think about it over and over again making sure you have everything you need for your excursion. Next you go over the route repeatedly until all you can think about is your destination. You get excited, you start to dream of what lies ahead. Finally, you’re off, heading for the mountains, the beach, the woods or wherever your destination may be in front of you.
From the initial planning of this trip, all the way through, I had my reservations. At first, we couldn’t button down a set group to go up and once we did it kept changing up until almost the day we left. Then, the weather kept changing making us need to adjust our window to summit so as not to have too cold of temperatures or be buried in feet of snow. Finally, there was the drive; if we couldn’t make it in the window we were giving ourselves the whole schedule would be thrown off, potentially making a summit bid impossible. At the time, trying to do so much in a weekend seemed like an impossible challenge.
Thursday February 8th
- 2AM – The alarm went off and I hopped out of bed, within minutes I was geared up, in the car and on the way to pick up my climbing partner, Lizzie.
- 3AM – Lizzie had needed a little help making sure she had the proper clothing for the trip since we were expecting negative temperatures and even greater wind chills. Even though we had to wake up her roommate to grab gear (Sorry Becca), we stayed on schedule and hit the highway around 3.
- 10AM – I drove the first several hours of the trip while Lizzie caught up on some much-needed sleep having not slept the night before making sure she was caught up on work and packed. When she finally woke up and we started talking the car ride flew by.
- 5PM – We were driving North quickly, making it around Boston and rush hour in perfect time ever minute brought us closer and closer to the mountains. The sky was clear as the sun set over New England and we had high hopes for the next few hours.
- 7PM – After arriving at Pinkham Notch, the trailhead for our trip, we went inside, checked in with the forest rangers and double checked to make sure we had all of our gear before setting out up the mountain toward Harvard Cabin.
- 9PM – A moderate hike in the snowy and cold darkness, constantly trying to figure out what layers kept us not too warm but just warm enough found us at the end of our day. We meet with my friends Bryan and Brandon who had climbed the mountain the day before at the cabin. The cabin was quaint, a wood burning stove, propane oven and room for about a dozen or so people inside, but that night it was only the four of us. Brandon gave me some extremely helpful information and reinforced my hopes of summiting the next day. We quickly got dinner and drifted off to sleep.
It was a complete whiteout with visibility down to about 30 feet from all the blowing snow and fog. Once we got across and found some safety we realized we couldn’t see another cairn anywhere around us. Knowing my bearings helped, I knew the mountain was up to the right, so we headed that way. After a short while of trudging through the snow and occasionally post holing up to our knees, Lizzie finally spotted a row of cairns. From there, we went just a little further and found our salvation, a sign that simply read, “Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail, Mt. Washington .3 →”. It was exhilarating for the both of us, not knowing how far we were in the clouds had made us each do battle with our own minds but now we were almost there. I ran up the ridge, with Lizzie right behind me. Just short of the top we stopped for one last drink knowing the winds would be punishing at the summit, while we sat I heard Lizzie tell me to turn around. When I did, all of a sudden, I could see everything for miles, the fog had lifted and our time in the white abyss was over. Minutes later we reached the top of the trail and began to walk for the summit sign for a photo (Pics or it didn’t happen, am I right?), the wind was whipping at near 50mph, so this last stretch was grueling, digging our crampons and ice axes in every step so as to not be blow over. We got to the top, took our photos, rejoiced in the moment and headed down.
As we went down the ridge, we could see where we had come from. It was odd knowing that we had only come a short distance, but it had felt so long in the white out. We talked about what we had just done along the way and made sure we were both in good shape and a good mindset to make it safely down.
Finishing all of this made me realize how much one could really do in just a few days’ time. I learned so much more from this mountain this winter, in my two short times there, than I ever could have expected. I finished my unfinished business, I made it to the top and I found another place that I'm sure will continue to call me back throughout my life.
"We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us"
- Albert Einstein
After a night of festivities celebrating the new year, I awoke early on the first day of a fresh new year and started off on a journey. For this trip, I traveled about 6 hours south of Cincinnati to the Roan Highlands along the Tennessee/North Carolina boarder to do a 5 day through hike along the Appalachian Trail with some of the awesome crew from my work, Roads, Rivers and Trails.
After just a short time on the trail and a long uphill, we broke tree-line. We took lunch and then set off for the top, quickly making the summit. I had forgotten that such views existed on the East Coast after being spoiled with my travels in the Rockies.
We snapped a few photos, soaked up the sun and set off to finish our 9 miles for the day. We arrived at Over Mountain and tucked in up in the attic for a cold night, everyone enjoyed a short reprieve from the trail. In the morning we tore down camp, packed our bags and set off for the highest point of the trip, Roan Mountain. Throughout the day we crossed Jane and Round Balds, took in the views and started looking at the weather for the night ahead. Knowing it was going to get down to the negatives overnight with windchills close to -30 degrees that wouldn't go away for several days, we decided we would spend the night up top at Roan Mountain Shelter and then come back down in the morning for a ride out.
Before I had even left Cincinnati I knew this would be one of the most difficult trips I had ever decided to go for. It was a monumental undertaking in my mind, to go up to New Hampshire, summit 5 of the tallest mountains of the northeast in the snow and wind over the course of three days having never done such a thing before. We started from Cincinnati around 3AM, picked up the rest of our crew in Cleveland around 7AM and continued smoothly north through New York. Getting into Connecticut winter storm Benji started to hit us. As we tried to outrun it in Vermont we quickly got bogged down by icy roads, we decided to spend the night about 2 hours away from our trailhead.
The next morning I woke up early and finished the drive north. After situating our gear, talking to the rangers about summit conditions and getting the forecast we began up the trail. It was quite a late start, around 10AM. Immediately we turned onto fresh powder and were breaking trail, luckily the snow was light and soft. I started to have my own reservations as the day continued on and the group began to move slower and slower. I love these guys and they did a great job but our pace continued to suffer. We slowly began to reevaluate our position and figure out our plan.
As the darkness (and cold) were beginning to close in towards the end of the day, we decided to spend the night at Osgood Camp around 2,500' below the summit of Mt. Madison, which was our objective for that day. We quickly set up tents, got situated and made warm food to keep us going. The group discussed different options and seeing the pace we had been at it was decided that we would most likely not be able to complete the 8 mile trek along the summit ridge to Mt. Washington safely before dark the next day. As a team, we looked over the map and decided that we would break camp in the morning, make a quick push to the nearest trailhead and go straight for Mt. Washington from Pinkham Notch. The next day by 7:30AM I was on the trail rushing towards the parking area. By 8:30 I had arrived, flagged down a driver (Thanks Susan!) and was heading back with my car to pick up the others.
After about an hour and a half we found where the Lion Head Trail took off for the summit. Under a cloudy sky, the conditions already beginning to deteriorate with increasing winds and on and off snow we took a photo at the closest point we would get to New Hampshire's highest summit and hunkered down at Hermit Lake Shelter #5 for a quick lunch. We had a light snack, shared a cup of hot tea and exchanged thoughts of our trip. Being still chilled us quickly so we got up and headed back to the trailhead where our warm car awaited. After about 30 minutes we reached the bottom and told our friends of how high we had reached.
Coming away from this trip I viewed it as a failure, I didn't touch a summit, I didn't push to go for Mt. Madison when we were so close and so many other things I didn't do that I might have been able to. Looking back on it though I learned so much and in that way it was a success. Next time I won't go so big until I know the team can take it. Next time I'll know what its like to slog through the snow and ice. I'll know what I can do, how to do it and have a better chance for success the next time. Every trip is an unknown adventure and the ones that I end up learning something from mean so much more to me.
"Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountains and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books"
-Sir John Lubbock
The Hopeless Wanderer