31 August 2009

From My Old Website...

2003 Ride the Rockies symbol memorialized at the 2009 Quilts at the Capitol

14 March 2003

I rode my bike to work today, showered, then sat down at my desk to begin working on a couple of projects left over from yesterday. My friend Mike brought the mail. We chatted for a few minutes about snowshoeing last weekend and the best lakes in Glacier Gorge. He asked what I plan to do this weekend, and I told him I might go back up to Rocky Mountain National Park, but that I probably ought to start riding my bike every weekend, just in case I get drawn for Ride the Rockies.

I’ve been checking my mail every day, but nothing yet. There’s still another week before the news is supposed to be delivered.

I got a phone call, and Mike had to leave while I took a message. When I got off the phone, I started to go back to work, but I noticed a Denver Post packet on my desk addressed to me.

I knew what it was. My heart soared, and then stopped dead cold. Without even opening it, I knew what it was, and I was so excited, I wanted to jump up and down and scream for the whole building to hear, but I also wanted to die of a heart attack. I knew there was no way I could make the 107-mile-day. I don’t have what it takes.

I slowly tore open the envelope and pulled out the verification packet. I’m in. I’m in Ride the Rockies. I finally got drawn for Ride the Rockies!!!

I am in utter shock. I am terrified. I am so intimidated. And yet, I got what I wanted. I wanted to do this. This is my chance to prove I can do something hard. Something very physically demanding. I can prove I can take a beating and still survive. I can prove it to my kids. I can prove it to myself.

It is going to be so hard. And I really am terrified that I’m in over my head.

But I’m going to give it my best shot. I’m going to try to condition myself and get my knees stronger. I’m going to try to be able to ride up hills without getting off my bike to walk.

The adrenaline rush powered me up Fatal Hill tonight. I know that’s nothing compared to the mountain passes in Ride the Rockies, much less the ones I plan to tackle to train. I’ve always wanted to ride Trail Ridge Road. I wanted to do Ride the Rockies so I could do Trail Ridge Road. Now I might do Trail Ridge Road to get ready for Ride the Rockies.

Go figure!

I think I will do Mount Evans and Independence Pass, too, as well as Guanella Pass. If I can do those, I can do the Ride the Rockies.

And I get the jersey.

Woohoo! Not on ebay, not at Velo Swap, not at a thrift shop. I’ll get the jersey, and the training T-shirt, because I EARNED THEM.

28 August 2009

Fingerprint Friday

A song by Steven Curtis Chapman declares:

I can see the fingerprints of God
When I look at you
I can see the fingerprints of God
And I know its true
You're a masterpiece
That all creation quietly applauds
And you're covered with
The fingerprints of God

PamperingBeki challenges bloggers each Friday to discover, recognize and see God's fingerprints and share them with the rest of the world. See instructions to join in here.

I see His handiwork
In every night undone
In every wispy cloud
In every ray of sun

I feel His touch
In every stormy gust
In every drop of rain
In every snowy dust

His love is everywhere
It's in the air; it's in the sand
It envelopes all I see
Within His loving hand.
(by me)

Friday Funny

The summer Quilts at the Capitol exhibit ended last week. (Boohoo!) I volunteered to help take down the quilts. I had visions of having to climb a ladder while wearing white gloves, and trying to keep the gloves clean while I tried to figure out how to get down the ladder without dropping a quilt.

I’m SO afraid of ladders!

With our sue-happy society, powers-that-be weren't about to let any nimble-fingered quilters go up and down rickety metal ladders. They hired professionals with motorized cherry pickers to do the taking down. We quilters folded, bagged and ran the quilts.

You will not believe what they had me do! I did something no other quilter volunteered to do more than twice.

I took quilts to the basement, via the stairs, not the elevator, to be logged in. I descended and climbed four to six flights of stairs about 40 times. At least 200 flights of stairs in a day!

People who don't know me probably are wondering why the heck I would consider that funny.

I'd been feeling guilty all week because I hadn't had a chance to do the stairs at work. That's how I stay in shape to climb fourteeners. The building I work in has sixty flights of stairs, and I try to do them bottom to top at least once a week. Non-stop. Twice in a row if I have time. That's 120 flights.

So no feeling guilty for me! That was one devil of a workout. Some quilts are heavier than a backpack, too. But none I carried were heavier than my camera gear.

The funniest part of the entire experience happened when one of my dearest friends commented that she couldn't believe all 400 of us got our quilts back.

Well, of course we did. We had to show photo ID to prove we weren't stealing a quilt that didn't belong to us. What are you talking about?!?

"I'm surprised," she explained, "the governor didn't confiscate all the quilts for the homeless so all you quilters can buy more fabric and make new quilts."

27 August 2009

Mount Princeton


Those who know me know I shall undertake no adventure save that which Murphy’s Law gone bad dominates. Way back in 2003, I decided I had to have a winter mountain ascent under my belt. And Murphy’s Law had a heyday!

I'm not sure why I chose Mount Princeton, but I deliberately chose January 18 because it was the one-year anniversary of the day my adopted son had run away. Instead of mourning the loss and abandonment I felt, I wanted the day to be something I could celebrate.

What I got that day was a heck of a different experience than I planned, but I think in the long run, my mission was accomplished. I don’t think of January 18 as the day my son ran away anymore. It’s the day Princeton educated me.

The north-facing portions of the trail (which actually is a closed four-wheel-drive road) were challenging. The snow was iced over on top from abundant daily sunshine and frigid nightly temperature drops. It was difficult for me to stay balanced on snowshoes at the uphill angle with a loaded backpack when hit by a sudden gust of about 40 to 50 mph. Learning how to side step facing down a steep bank of snow with snowshoes five times longer than normal shoes isn't exactly what I'd call fun. I tripped by stepping on my snowshoes a couple of times.

I move so slowly, I expected to be passed several times by more experienced hikers/snowshoers/climbers. But the whole day, there wasn’t another soul on the whole mountain.

On slick, hard ice in the middle of a long, steep coulior, another of those blasted wind gusts knocked me off my feet. I began sliding. I furiously dug my snowshoes into the ice and clawed with all my strength to keep myself from an unplanned glissade of about 1,000 feet. Fortunately, I was sliding slow enough that I was able to grab some bushes and a rock as I passed. I watched about thirty rocks and snowslabs tumble all the way down the mountain.

At that point, I was done hiking. Not just for the day. Not just for the winter. As I was hanging on with every ounce of energy I could muster, I decided no peak, no lake, no meadow was worth this. I said a silent prayer, then I said another one out loud. I knew there was no way I could get off this mountain without God’s help.

I prayed for calmness. I prayed for inspiration of what to do next. I prayed someone else would come along.

I squirmed trying to get a foothold, with snowshoes, onto some nearby rocks frozen into the icebed. A rock came loose and tumbled down the crevasse.

That gave me an idea. Well, actually, God gave me the idea. I pulled a hand-sized rock out of some brittle ice and used it to carve a handhold in stronger ice. Once my left hand had a firm grasp, I carved another hand hold about three feet back toward the exposed section of road that had lead me to this precarious position. I dug my snowshoe crampons into the ice again, then pulled myself over three feet and proceeded to carve another handhold three feet further. Three feet at a time, I carved, dug and pulled until I got back to solid talus slope. Which, in retrospect, isn’t the best kind of ground to try to find footing with snowshoes still attached. But it was better than an ice slide. I relocated quite a few rocks in the next hour, trying to scramble back up to the road so I could get back to my car.

When you’re that intent on surviving, nothing really goes through your head except what you have to do next. I remember reaching flat roadbed, getting down on my knees and praying out loud. I couldn’t remember the last time I had actually thought about anything other than holding on tight.

I snowshoed back down the mountain, grimacing with muscle aches each time I had to take the snowshoes off for a few steps. I was going to be sore the next day. I was so pleased I’d already positioned my car so all I had to do was drive it down the mountain.

When I first reached my car, I felt so relieved at having survived the hike that I listened to a few chapters of a book on CD while I devoured a slice of the now frozen pizza from the night before I’d planned to reheat once I got back down to Buena Vista. I was so relaxed!

Once I got everything packed away, I started the car and put it in gear to begin the gentle roll down onto the road. The curve back onto the road was a little tighter than I would have liked, but my toes didn’t hurt. I thought I could survive just a few more minutes of tense maneuvering.

Unfortunately, the road had iced up since I’d parked that morning, and my back wheels began sliding down the mountain faster than my front wheels were being driven. I threw the car into four low and tried to rock the car gently back up into my parking spot so I could re-angle it. The car now was positioned perpendicular on the road and pointing down a tree-lined but terrorizingly steep drop-off.

My adrenaline raced, but I said a prayer to stay calm and then got out to attempt to dig my way off the ice and throw dirt and gravel under the tires. After about an hour of trying to improve road conditions, I said yet another prayer and tried once again to rock the car out of the slanted position where it rested.

The back wheels, which I had blocked with huge rocks, began sliding downhill again. Now my car was overhanging the road on the right front end, and I could see no way possible to get the car off the mountain without just letting it roll forward to tumble through the trees.

I panicked. I cried. I prayed. I didn’t know what to do except put the car in reverse, pull the emergency brake into place and get out of the car with as little movement as possible.

Initially, I stressed about the roaming charges I’d acquire by using my cell phone to call for help. But only briefly. I fumbled with the phone; my hands were cold. Digging in the snow and frozen gravel had soaked even my leather gloves. The frigid wind had become relentless, and the shadows were growing very tall.

After a few minutes of searching, the phone finally found a signal, and I dialed 911.

I had a big lump in my stomach because I knew the wrecker would be one of the most expensive lessons I’ve ever learned. I kept trying to think about how much my car cost and how much my camera cost. The value of a novel I’d been writing and my journal, both also helplessly trapped in my forlorn car, was even higher than the material stuff I was worried about. Whatever the price, the rescue would be worth it.

When the wrecker driver and the county sheriff finally got my car back to the parking lot at the foot of the mountain, I wanted to lie on the ground and hug it. While the wrecker driver wrote out the bill and copied my credit card information, I thanked God for keeping me safe the whole day so I could live to tell about my experience. I thanked Him for keeping my car safe so I could drive home instead of pay a taxi and take plenty more pictures throughout the life of my camera.

During the previous year, I’d felt as though I had lost everyone who was important to me. I felt so alone.

On Mount Princeton, I learned to always make sure someone knows where I'm going and when I'm expecting to be home. I learned climbing a mountain alone in winter on the verge of depression probably isn't the smartest thing to do. Most importantly, I realized God really does love me, even though I am not perfect, and I am never alone. Mount Princeton taught me God is always with me.

25 August 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Grays Peak

2 September 2002

I may have to climb this mountain again just to get a better trip report. I can’t believe I wrote only a couple of paragraphs!

The first known person to ascend Grays Peak, botanist Charles C. Parry, named the peak for his botanist colleague Asa Gray. Asa actually did not see the peak until 1872, 11 years later.

The summit of Grays Peak is the highest point of the Continental Divide. Typically it is climbed from Stevens Gulch and in conjunction with nearby Torreys Peak.

I didn’t try to climb Grays from the standard approach. The stream of people going up the standard approach on Bierstadt had left me yearning for the path not taken, the road not followed.

I went to Peru Creek, on the other side of the mountain, and climbed the wrong peak. Turns out the mountain I did climb, Argentine Peak, is the 131st tallest peak in Colorado, and it’s one of 600 13ers. I climbed my first 13er by accident!

I knew before I reached the summit I wasn’t on the right mountain. I could see both Grays and Torreys across the valley. But I was enjoying the climb, so I kept going.

A woman behind me was following the same trail, but she seemed to have little or no interest in the mountain. She was collecting mountain goat hair from shrubbery along the way and carding it as she walked. I wish I could see what she did with the yarn she likely spun from the colossal amount of fiber she gathered that day.

On my second attempt, I encountered an enormous male mountain goat with a perfectly groomed summer coat, and he was so photogenic and cooperative, I lost all interest in the peak. I used up I don’t know how many rolls of film on him. Then clouds moved in, and I had to beat feet back down to the car.

On my third try, I finally reached the summit of Grays, but clouds were moving in too quickly for me to attempt Torreys. Plus, I was hoping I might run into that mountain goat again.

Alas, my photographic dreams were shattered. He was nowhere to be found. The first high altitude snowfall of the season occurred the following week, and my quest for Torreys and more mountain goats would have to wait until the following summer.

24 August 2009

Mount Harvard

22 August 2009

Some lessons I must learn the hard way.

We set our alarm for midnight and left the Denver Metro area in quest of sunrise at Bear Lake high in the Sawatch Range within half an hour. We arrived at the Cottonwood Creek Trailhead about three hours later and were making our way up the eight-mile trail that leads to the summit of Colorado’s third highest peak by 3:50 a.m.

I had not been hiking at altitude since early June, and I thought the Trek had prepared me for the length of this hike. But I wasn’t gaining 4,500 feet on the Trek.

I missed sunrise at Bear Lake because I bonked. I bonked because I didn’t want to miss the sunrise.

I didn’t hydrate adequately because I was not hot. I didn’t eat because I was afraid if I stopped for five minutes, I’d miss the sunrise. As first light hit the slopes of nearby fourteener Mount Yale, I ran out of energy.

This is a lesson I’ve frequently had to drill home on my bike. During this year’s MS-150, I thought I had developed life-sustaining habits. I’m going to have to work on translating those habits into hiking!

Nevertheless, because I missed sunrise from Bear Lake, I was able to strategically place myself in just the right location to capture the sun popping over gendarmes along Mount Columbia’s rugged northwest ridge. I then spent nearly an hour shooting lake reflections, wildflowers and my crocheted bears at Bear Lake. The Lizard “blasted” up Harvard while I headed back to the car, shooting wildflowers along the way and stopping to dip my feet in the ice cold Cottonwood Creek once in a while.

The Lizard caught up to me at the Trailhead. He toted one of my bears up to the summit, delighting other climbers by naming the bear Harv and shooting photos of the little blue guy with all the nearby summits as proof the crocheted critter claimed its first fourteener.

The Lizard vowed to get me up Harvard in an overnight backpack next time. Going as far as I can at Harvard may have to wait a while, though. I have some autumn destinations on the calendar I don’t want to sacrifice. My “degrees” atop Princeton, Yale and Columbia will have to suffice for now!

Bear Lake

Mount Bierstadt

Late autumn sunset on the Sawtooth and Mount Bierstadt

21 July 2002

We spent the night on Guanella Pass at the base of Bierstadt on Friday. It was an experiment to see if I would experience altitude sickness while climbing the mountain after spending a night at 9,000 some-odd feet.

I reached the peak Saturday morning, without headaches, without lightheadedness, without nausea. I finally learned out how to hike a 14er without getting sick!

I’d never had altitude sickness before in my life until this year. I tried biking up Mount Evans back in May, but was forced to turn back with full-blown symptoms. In June, I made my first attempt to climb Evans on foot, and although the wind held me back, my second bout with altitude sickness made me temporarily wary of 14ers. Then my daughter and I climbed Evans together, and although my headache that day was mild, I did suffer minor effects yet again.

After successfully climbing Evans with my daughter, the two of us watched “Kilimanjaro” at the Imax theater. The hikers in the film spent a night at each significant altitude change to adapt to the thinner air before proceeding. The hike in miles isn’t a week‑long distance, but the rise of the mountain goes through every temperate zone from desert to tundra. The hikers took their time to prevent the very same side effects I’d experienced on Evans, a mountain I’d driven up countless times and had underestimated because of the ease of the vehicular ascent.

I realized after watching “Kilimanjaro” I had spent the night at the base of Longs before I climbed it, unprepared as I was at the time. I spent the night at the base of Elbert before I climbed it. I thought I was an expert. I couldn’t understand why I was getting sick on an easy mountain after I’d climbed a pretty tough mountain. After all the biking I’ve done. After all the hiking I’ve done. After all the running I’ve done.

I was going from Mile High Denver to 14,000 foot levels each time I tried Evans, instead of starting from a thinner-air elevation. Tourists get altitude sickness in Denver. Sports teams sometimes suffer the effects of altitude in Denver.

This teacher had to teach herself, and Bierstadt was her classroom.

I woke at 5:30, hoping to shoot a sunrise over the Sawtooth, an impressive jagged saddle between Evans and Bierstadt. But Evans, Spaulding and the Sawtooth are so tall, the sun didn’t peek over them until after 9 a.m. when we were halfway up Bierstadt. The sky got lighter and lighter after 6 a.m., when I woke my daughter to begin the hike, but the ground stayed in shadows, and all the lush green stayed frosted until the sun began melting the overnight moisture hours later.

Mist had settled on the lake and streams as we began our hike. Wildflowers were peeking out from beneath all the willows, but we couldn’t see the true color until our descent.

Every once in a while, I’d stop to take a photo of wildflowers in front of the dramatic silhouetted skyline of the Sawtooth. I’d take off my pack and dart across the tundra effortlessly. Then I’d be plodding again as soon as I put the pack back on. I realized one of the reasons climbing is so hard for me is because I always carry way too much stuff.

Once we reached the saddle, the trail did become fun, like Evans, and for the first time ever, I enjoyed exposure on all sides. I wasn’t shy of heights, snapping photos down deep crevasses, or even posing for photos against stark drop-offs.

My daughter shot a couple of photos of me, but then she petered out and took a rest atop a boulder. I didn’t know if she’d make it down the mountain! Then another hiker called out that he was sharing M&Ms, and she sprang to life. Anything for chocolate! (I’d brought grapes and nectarines.)

After a few minutes, she had her fill of chocolate and was ready to head down the mountain. She stopped to pet every dog along the way. Coming back down the mountain brought a new array of wildflowers I hadn’t noticed on the way up because of the deep mountain shadows. This peak literally was covered with flowers I’d never seen. I will be busy learning the names of all the flowers for the next few days!

21 August 2009

Friday Funny Too

No, I did not shoot this, but I wish I did! Notice how well-framed the picture is throughout the entire video and how steady the photographer's camera is, even when the car is moving, and even when the humans can't stop laughing...


Friday Funny

One brush with the law wasn’t enough. I had to go and do it again.

College is back in session, so the park and ride is full, and the trains and buses are packed. Easy pickin’s for public transportation fare cops.

Aboard the train, I was crocheting away, as usual, when fare cops began making their way down the center aisle. Students receive free passes and rarely carry them. The fine jar runneth over.

Normally, my blood pressure doesn’t rise when I hear, “Fares, please,” and typically I don’t devise strategies to sneak off the train at the next stop without being caught. But today was different. I reached into my purse and found an empty pocket where my train pass should have been.

I commuted via bicycle yesterday. I’d called My Knight in Shining Armor (alias, The Lizard) to rescue me ten miles into my ride home after I was engulfed by a black thunderhead. I took refuge beneath a bridge and waited for Prince Charming, who I then treated to dinner at Qdoba to repay his kindness. Plus, everyone knows the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

On the bright side, I DID have ID on the train because of that dinner. I still had my wallet in my hands when we arrived home, and like a good little girl and creature of habit, I did put it back in my purse where it belonged. I don’t know what the penalty is when you have no train fare and no ID. Thankfully, I might add, I STILL don’t know the penalty!

My pack needed to drip dry last night, so I hung it on the standard doorknob for the routine task, and there I left it. My public transportation pass, my office building key and my camera are still inside as I type. Yeah, can you believe I actually left my camera in a wet pack overnight?!? Must have been really tired!

So now my handy dandy crochet bag has a new occupant, and it’s not a cute little bear. I’ve joined the illustrious Warning Club. I have a yellow citation declaring I shall buy a single ride pass tonight or risk getting a real ticket. Three dollars, or the risk of a C-Note fine. The choice is mine. Easy choice, right?

Except I’ve been blessed with a friend who had already prearranged to pick me up tonight after work so we can attend her stake’s temple night. I don’t have to ride the train tonight! I don’t have to buy a one-way fare!

This wasn’t luck. This wasn’t coincidence. This is a pure and unabashed blessing at its best!

19 August 2009

Mount Evans

15 June 2002

Not only did I climb Mount Evans successfully today, so did my 15-year-old daughter!

She really complained when I woke her at 4 a.m. so I could shoot the sunrise before we began our hike. So I let her sleep in the car until 7 a.m. while I shot the smoky sunrise, a couple of ptarmigans and a herd of mountain goats, including a very, very young baby. Maybe two days old! It was so tiny, about the size of a cat! Whole roll of film...

The wind got bad a couple of times, but not anything near what it was doing last week when it was fanning the big Hayman fire I didn't even know about. We had to stay low to the ground in a couple of places when powerful gusts nearly knocked us off our feet, but we made it without any problems. My daughter has climbed her first 14er, and I have climbed my third.

I kept dreaming the previous week that I rescued some cute guy while I was hiking Mount Evans. In my dream, Prince Single and Available offered to take me to dinner because of my “heroic” act. I couldn't wait to hike because there existed the remote possibility that my dream just might, maybe, perhaps, if the stars aligned properly, come to life. (My fingers were crossed!)

While my daughter and I were taking a photo break during our genuine ascent, two guys approached us from behind. My daughter whispered to me that if they weren't hot guys, she was going to kick my butt. Turned out they were quite a bit older than me. Later I told my daughter maybe they were hot when they were our age.

The younger of the two, the 52-year-old, passed us and kept going after a friendly exchange. The 68-year-old, who had never climbed a mountain before in his life, tried to pass us, but he was very wobbly, almost as if he was drunk.

I asked him if he was okay, and he showed me a bloodied hand. He said he'd scraped it on a rock but didn't even know it because his hands were so cold. I asked if he was dizzy; he was. I asked if he had a headache; he did. I asked if he felt like he might throw up; he asked me please to not talk about that because he was trying to keep it out of his mind.

I told him he was suffering the symptoms of altitude sickness and that he needed to sit down for about ten minutes and drink some water. He sat down for about 30 seconds and then got right back up, worried that his friend was going to leave him behind. I don't think his friend knew how he was feeling.

My daughter and I walked behind this guy for a few minutes, but then he nearly lost his balance on a very steep and rocky ledge because he was so dizzy. Then he threw up.

I sent my daughter ahead to tell the other guy that his friend is sick and needs to rest before going on. Then I made this guy sit down, and I made him drink some water. I rubbed some snow on his hand to clean it, then I bandaged his fingers. I gave him some grapes and told him he wasn't going anywhere for at least 15 minutes. I told him my daughter was going to retrieve his friend. He actually stayed put until he began feeling better. By that time, his friend was back. I told him we'd wait with them a few more minutes, and that he should rest a while longer to make sure the altitude sickness passed.

Then I told him exactly what another hiker told me a week before – the mountain isn't going anywhere. I told him to take his time and rest whenever he feels dizzy. His friend asked me all kinds of questions about altitude sickness. He'd lived in Denver all his life, but had never been to Mount Evans before today. He wasn't experiencing any of the symptoms, so it never occurred to him that his friend might not be feeling well.

People sometimes die from unattended altitude sickness. More frequently, the result is falling off a dangerous mountain because they are so light-headed.

I did what any mother would do, but both of these guys acted as if I had performed a miracle. At the end, they took a picture of my daughter and me together on the summit. I hiked back down to my car, as did the younger the two guys. He beat me back up the summit in his car and picked up my daughter (who like the older guy, was done and did not want to descend on foot – good thing there’s a road on this mountain!).

My daughter reported both men said I am an angel, that I had saved the second man’s life, and that the second man said I'm a very attractive young woman.

So, I guess my dream sort of came true. In a kind of twisted way...

Wordless Wednesday

18 August 2009

High Points

Before the term “blog” was ever coined, I was writing trip reports on the ‘net so my family and friends in faraway places could vicariously enjoy my breathtaking and sometimes hair-raising adventures. All those early web pages were done on free web sites, most of which have long since died and gone to that big vacuum in the void, also known as “410 Error – Gone.”

Now down goes yet another of the early giants. Geocities is going away in October. That means I need to move more web pages or lose them forever.

This seems like a highly logical place to put some of the old stuff, so for the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some of my favorite memories from climbs, rides and blizzards, in addition to whatever new posts pop up between now and the end of this project. I will attempt to post trip reports in chronological order, except for Longs Peak, my first 14, which is well named because it is extremely LONG. Longs also is one of my most beloved trip reports. I haven’t quite decided what to do with that one yet, but when it does finally hit the press, you’ll know the process involved a lot of heartfelt emotion and editing.

I hope you enjoy these adventures as much as I enjoy reliving and updating them. And now, on with the show…

Mount Elbert

After I climbed Longs Peak, one of the more difficult 14ers in Colorado, I vowed to never climb another mountain as long as I live.

It’s a promise I did not keep and have no intention of keeping now. In the year that followed Longs, I mapped out a schedule to climb as many of Colorado’s 14ers as I am able. Then, the plan was to finish in five years. Here I am, nine years later, and I’m not done yet. But I haven't quit trying, either.

My second 14er came on the anniversary of my first. I (nearly) scaled Mount Elbert on Labor Day, 6 September 2001. Elbert is the tallest peak in the state, and the second tallest peak in the lower 48. The mountain gets its name from Colorado Territory Governor Samuel Hitt Elbert, who brokered a treaty with the Ute tribe that opened more than 3,000,000 acres of Indian reservation to mining and railroad activity. Mount Elbert is known as one of the easiest 14ers to ascend.

You don't really "climb" Elbert. You walk up. That’s even what they call it in guide books. A “walk-up.” I thought I would be literally “walking” up an easy mountain. I didn't expect it to so closely resemble climbing 60 flights of stairs over and over and over again the entire hike! I could reach in front of me and touch the trail I was supposed to be walking up. I remembered why, after the previous year’s climb, I didn’t want to climb any more mountains. But even that was not enough to keep me out of high country for too long.

There’s just something about alpine tundra. It makes me want to keep going back.

The moon was full and casting an eerie blue glow on Elbert’s southern slope when I began my climb. The mountain still was dark enough that I had to be careful about where I put my feet. I didn’t want any rocks or tree roots reaching out to grab my ankles.

An alpine lake in the shadow of the summit was too far off the beaten path to explore and still be able to witness sunrise from more than two miles above sea level. That lake made me remember, albeit briefly, I’m a destination hiker. Not a peakbagger. I like to take pictures of beautiful sights other hikers don’t notice, not pass them by.

When I hit Elbert’s treeline and spooked a herd of elk in the dark, yet another adrenaline explosion ignited inside me. I remembered why I like to hike. During daylight. I like to photograph animals, not scare them. And I definitely don’t like it when they put a few extra gray hairs on MY head!

Shortly after crossing paths with the excited elk and singing aloud "Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh, My!", I could hear voices of hikers behind me. At about 12,000 feet, I hadn’t expected to make it so far without being passed.

After I cleared Elbert’s first false summit, I decided to catch my breath and let the four hikers behind me pass. I thought I would be able to give the next portion of the climb everything I had if I fully rested and then followed other hikers. I would be able to keep their pace.

The hikers behind me took a long time to pass me. I began to shiver. I noticed for the first time frost on the ground. I hadn’t noticed the cold until I stood still long enough to slow my heartbeat.

When the other hikers finally passed me, we exchanged greetings, and I began to follow, but soon grew discouraged because they were moving much slower than I wanted to go, partly because of the temperature and partly because of the burst of energy I’d mustered.

I stopped again and let the other hikers pull far enough ahead of me that I couldn’t make out their conversation anymore. Then I tried to dig into that combustible energy I’d stored and hustle up the second false summit.

When I saw the true summit, my heart sank. It was much further than the first two had been. I was only about 200 yards beneath the peak, but it was at the edge of a huge bowl I would have to circle. I judged the twilight distance at about half a mile. I sat down on a rock, discouraged and out of breath. Within seconds, my fingers and toes were stinging from the cold, and my earlobes were soon to follow.

I looked out at the eastern horizon. The sun would be rising in about 10 minutes. The clouds weren’t painting the dramatic sunrise I’d hoped for, and the skyline of distant 14ers, due to cloud cover, wasn’t as distinct as I’d envisioned. Momentarily, I entertained the thought of shooting the sunrise and then heading back down the mountain, but my hands were too cold to pull my camera out of my backpack. Plus, I wasn’t sure I’d want to put the pack back on my shoulders if I took it off.

I turned and looked at the summit one more time. I knew I could do it. But would I be able to get back down the mountain?

I stood to judge my strength.

I nearly toppled over. My knees had grown stiff and cold. I was overwhelmed with humiliation, and the summit no longer called out to me. Without a second thought, I post haste began traipsing back down the mountain, hoping that by forcing my blood to circulate again, my knees would loosen up and I would chase the ominous frostbite from my extremities.

I was angry that I got up so early for nothing, but I didn’t regret not pushing forward. I didn’t regret not taking a single photo. In fact, I even convinced myself in the next hour that by failing to summit and having nothing to show for the entire experience, I would never again forget how much I hate climbing mountains. This was a lesson that would stay with me for life. I tried to pat myself on the back and congratulate myself for making it up one of the most difficult 14ers in the state and for attempting to make the tallest summit in the state on defective equipment aching body parts.

Once I got back into the trees, I roamed around looking for a sturdy branch I could use as a walking stick. I went down the rest of the mountain sideways to cushion the impact on my knees. I wore blisters on the downslope sides of my feet. However, my knees were safe.

Because my feet didn’t touch the actual summit, this climb doesn’t count in official circles, and I will go back one day. But for now, it’s number two on my list of peaks I’ve climbed, and you’ll never catch me looking down upon anyone who wasn’t able to make the entire climb. Even after I climb Elbert again – successfully – I will always be able to say I climbed a big mountain alone with no one to motivate me and keep me going and with a bike-wrecked knee and softball-stressed shoulder while lugging 50 pounds of camera equipment that never got used.

One promise I do intend to keep – I will have pictures after my next trip up Elbert!

17 August 2009

Twits, Twirps and Tweets

Everyone has been asking if The Lizard raced in Leadville last weekend. No. Sadly, the Leadville 100 is another favorite ride that operates on a lottery system, and The Lizard’s number has not come up. Yet. Stay tuned for next year…

We did, however, do a sunrise ride Saturday, and then we headed north in search of sunflowers. (Mission accomplished!) Because The Lizard is such an avid mountain biker, he instinctively knew it was time for The Race to be winding down just about the time we arrived back home.

So off he surfed in an attempt to get the latest Leadville 100 results. Six-time champ Dave Wiens and seven-time Tour de France champ Lance Armstrong were duking it out for ore cart trophy honors.

Leadville is about as small a town as you can get and still be incorporated, and there is no USA Today or CNN outpost there. The Lizard couldn't find any race updates anywhere.

I took the helm (slow boat to China – we're still old-fashioned dial-up) and within seconds had three or four Twitterers posting regular updates. Only one was an official news provider.

This was our first experience relying on Twitter to get the news we wanted when we wanted it. I personally find the technology amazing, but Twitter is not something I've had an interest in pursuing for any reason. Until the day I wanted news I could obtain only from the sidelines.

I remembered back in the days when dinosaur tracks were still fresh mud, back when we filed Associated Press stories by dictating via telephones with rotary dials and shipping photos on the next Greyhound bus. I remembered basking in the adrenaline rush of "scooping" the competition.

My tiny hometown newspaper was printed and delivered each weekday afternoon, while two sort of nearby big dailies went to press in the middle of the night and were on subscribers' doorsteps first thing in the morning.

If something newsworthy happened in the morning, I'd have the story in the afternoon edition, well before my cohorts with fancier cameras, company cars and four times the news staff. That was a "scoop," and the resulting thrill was better than any bowl of ice cream, no matter how hot the desert heat.

The way we gather, report and read news has changed. I think that urge to be first with big news is far from dead, though. Everyday people are posting eyewitness accounts (or reposting eyewitness accounts of others) almost instantly, and professional news organizations are getting scooped on everything that matters.

A full four minutes after a cycling fanatic at the finish line posted Lance's record-breaking time, Velo News, with reporters in "the corral," finally offered results of its own. Twenty minutes later, the finish still hadn't been posted on any of the major news sites but was being "tweeted" and "retweeted" hundreds of times over across the world. Word truly did travel fast. Just not via established and reliable networks.

As a retired journalist, I cringed as I read retweets that morphed details. Lance's "soft" back tire became "shredded" as the day passed, cloudy skies became "pouring rain" without dropping their loads, and the winner was on the trail for a grueling 14 hours. (That last one still baffles me. How can you text the 6:28.50 record in the same tweet and still expect anyone to believe anything you type?)

The process reminded me of a game we used to play in elementary school. We'd stand in a circle, and the teacher would whisper a sentence into the first child's ear. Each of us would pass on the secret by listening as it was whispered into our ear before turning to whisper it into the ear on the other side of us. The final sentence typically bore no resemblance whatsoever to the original.

I could easily become addicted to being able to receive my news instantly, as it happens, no matter where in the world I am or where the actual event is taking place. There is a certain sense of joy in getting caught up in the Twitter trend that has taken the world by storm.

I just have to keep in mind the fact-checking procedures that were a way of life in another life have not been incorporated into this newfangled technology. Nevertheless, it was pretty darned cool to read about a big race in a town without television coverage and see finish line phone pictures seconds after they were snapped even though I was 111 miles away.

Classic Graham Watson-style photography,
courtesy Jeff Valliere

14 August 2009

Friday Funny

I finally made time to shoot the quilts at the capitol, now that they'll be up only one more week. I boarded a really early train and arrived at the capitol just after the sun peeked over the horizon. Hardly anyone anywhere. I was lovin' the solitude.

When I reached the entrance of the Colorado State Capitol, I noticed a sign stating business hours are 7:30 to 5. Good ol' budget cuts. I had more than half an hour to wait. But I just happened to have my handy dandy crochet bag. I'd worked on a miniature brown bear on the train. Now would be the perfect time to finish him. I opted to lean against the wall of the entrance stairway instead of sitting on a bench because I have to sit all day at work. Standing would be a pleasant break from the long daily work routine.

I worked away for what felt like half an hour. I checked the time on my camera, saw that I still had more than 15 minutes to wait, and continued happily stitching away until I suddenly was approached by a state police officer.

"Ma'am," he said loudly from across the parking lot as he made his way toward me, "what are you doing?"

"I'm waiting to see the quilts," I casually answered, looking up from my work.

"The what?" He was now arm's length distance from me, and I couldn't help but notice his hand was positioned precariously above his holster.

"I'm waiting to see the quilts," I repeated, still crocheting but not looking at what I my fingers were doing.

He stopped, cocked his head, stared at me for a minute, then asked one more time, for good measure, "What are you doing?"

"I'm waiting to see the quilts. The quilts inside? Quilts at the Capitol?" I was still crocheting, just not as fast as I can go when I'm looking at what I'm doing.

He hesitated briefly, then informed me the building would not be open to the public until 7:30.

"Thank you," I said, looking back down at my work to make sure I hadn't skipped a stitch. (I didn't.)

He decided the woman who had parked in a reserved and well-labeled legislator's spot just a hundred feet or so away was more of a threat than I was and was audibly interrogating her within nanoseconds.

I couldn't help but chuckle.

"Yeah, I'm armed and dangerous!" I thought to myself. "I have a hook, and I know how to use it!"

13 August 2009

Snowflake Surgery

A couple of weeks ago, I found the PERFECT group for me. Snowflake Mondays. Never in my wildest dreams could I have dreamed someone other than me could concoct such a brilliant challenge – make a snowflake every Monday.

(And I can make it a more suitable challenge… Snap a creative and unusual photo of each new snowflake!)

I go through phases, and typically each lasts about two months. I quilt, sew, crochet, knit or embroider during my weekday commute on public transportation. My biggest challenges are trying not to stab fellow passengers when we stop unexpectedly and trying to fish various needles out of the seat or heater vents when I drop them due to unexpected stops or bumps.

I’ve been having such a ball designing and crocheting tiny bears on the way to work each day for the last 14 weeks or so, my current phase has yet to become boring. Throwing in an additional project one day a week is guaranteed to keep me from growing jaded until I break the world record for number of bears to inhabit a tote bag. Crocheting tiny bears is habit-forming.

Snowflakes are addictive, too. I made my first one in about 1981, with baby yarn, which didn’t work so well. Once I learned how to do them with thread, I was hooked and literally hooking every winter to fill my Christmas tree with new and improved lacy geometric masterpieces.

Because it’s been a while since I’d made a snowflake, I’d forgotten how fun it is to design them. Ever since I began the SnowMon challenge, I’ve found myself making them at home while I’m waiting on computer programs to run. Always multi-tasking…

I’d started yet another flake this morning while waiting for a CD of retouched senior photos to burn while simultaneously peeping out the window to monitor colors of the sunrise. I planned to shoot yet another snowflake sunrise and had taped my most recent snowflake to the window so I could capture it with the glowing golden orb behind it. (Didn’t your mother ever tell you never to look directly at the sun, especially through a telephoto lens?!?)

Everything finished at the same time, and I still had ten minutes before I had to leave for work. So I began pinning the snowflake to my starch factory, fashioned from a recycled pizza box. To my horror, I noticed I had added a couple of superfluous shells on one point. My snowflake was noticeably deformed!!!

Granted, real snowflakes aren’t always perfect, but crocheted snowflakes with extra shells are akin to teddy bears with extra arms. To me, the booboo just wasn’t appealing at all.

Under normal circumstances, I would have painstakingly taken the knot apart and unraveled so I could redo the faulty section. But I didn’t have that kind of time, and I knew if I waited, I wouldn’t want to fix it. I didn’t want my newest snowflake to wind up in the bottom of the already full “Things I’ll Fix One Day” drawer.

Without a second thought, I grabbed the sewing shears and cut between the two extra shells. Unraveling the one on the right was easy, just pulling out a stitch and redoing it. The one on the left, however, presented more of a challenge. Unraveling backwards is brain-coiling! After the amputation, I tied the two loose threads, wove the ends in through the neighboring stitches and pinned the snowflake to the pizza box for starching, which I then didn’t have ample time to do because it was past time to leave for work.

I gazed at the recovering flake for a few seconds, trying to see if I could tell what I had done. No blood. Not even my own! Suddenly it hit me that I had adopted special needs kids, and now I had created a special needs snowflake!

Too bad damaged kiddos don’t heal as easily as snowflakes!

06 August 2009

Lizards in my Bedroom!

Yes, you read that right. And the bedroom is better than in my sewing room, where they were born.

Lizards are better than spiders or flies, but still, the sewing machine was infested for nearly three years!

I truly wasn’t procrastinating when I didn’t finish the twin-size Crotaphytus-themed quilt I wanted to present to my boyfriend in time for his 40-something-th birthday. I’d started the quilt just a few days after making a cake for his previous birthday. It was our first birthday party together, and I was feeling some magical vibes. I wanted the next birthday to be one he would never forget.

His nickname is Lizard, and that caused me to visualize all kinds of fun designs. I began whittling away at a stack of rainbow-hued fat quarters I’d bought years earlier for no particular project, then appliquéing them one by one to thick black flannel because the soft, dark texture really set off the cotton batiks and would make a warm and loved blanket to boot.

Typically, I don’t get a lot of crafting done during the summer, when I’d rather be hiking in the mountains than stooped over a sewing machine. But I didn’t worry. I still had three seasons left to finish this masterpiece!

Fall came, but then so did a big surprise. Emergency back surgery left me incapable of comfortably hunching over the sewing machine for more than 18 months. By the time I was able to sew again, my boyfriend was no longer my boyfriend. He had become my husband (!!!), and a quilt for a twin-size bed would no longer be necessary or appropriate.

As the hours I could spend at the sewing machine increased, I began redesigning the lizard quilt. I could add a foot on each side and add a couple of additional feet to the top and bottom, and the quilt might be big enough to cover a queen-sized bed.

But then another dilemma entered the drawing board. I didn’t have enough fat quarters to complete any of the design revisions I came up with, and the original batiks were no longer available.

For a year, I tried to solve the perplexing creation I envisioned. I missed a good many birthdays, and my husband was about ready to give up on ever seeing this particular piece of cloth outside the sewing box.

I finally revised the revisions to include a new fabric around the original foundation, followed by a border of batik lizards and then another border of the new fabric. Voila! Kind of like a round robin, but I did it without having to send the quilt top around the country to achieve a hodgepodge harmony.

So now the lizards lazily take up residence in my bedroom instead of my sewing room. And The Lizard is one happy gecko.

I’m really glad I didn’t finish the quilt the year I started it. It would be neatly tucked away in storage now, a beautiful design that would likely never see the light of day. But who knows? Maybe fabric lizards multiply and replenish the batik stash when left too long in a dark linen closet…
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