30 September 2009

Wordless Wednesday

29 September 2009

Mount Democrat

30 August 2003

Rain fell all night. I kept wondering if maybe I shouldn’t try to hike today. I knew it would be snowing up high. But I had no way to contact my hiking partner, who was coming in from Utah to bag peaks all weekend.

At the trailhead, fog was dense. The air was full of hair-curling moisture. My bangs were all over the place and dripping, too.

The summit was a bit chilly. The kind of cold that prevents you from signing registers because taking your gloves off hurts.

We kept losing the trail on the way up. Just before we reached the saddle, two more hikers, Mike and Doug, caught up to us. This was exceptionally cool for me because I was now hiking with guys named Mike, Doug and John. Only Larry was missing. The remarkable coincidence ignited so many precious memories of hiking Marble Canyon with all four of my brothers when we were just wee kids. I wish I'd had my Nikon back then. Oh, the pictures I would have!

There indeed was snow on Democrat, and snow was falling again before we left the summit. There was no view whatsoever. One of the reasons I climb is to see the view. The hike was one of the easiest I’ve ever done. The snow made it just a little bit more work than, say, Grays and Torreys. The hardest part of the entire hike was trying to keep from getting blown off the summit. When we were on the side of the ridge that sheltered us from the wind, I did fine. But when we got up in the wind, ooh, baby, was it cold!

This summit counts as winter, right?

On the way down, I was feeling somewhat discouraged because I’ve had this hike planned for months, and if I’d waited until Monday to do it, as planned, the weather would have been fine, and I would have bagged all four peaks... Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln and Bross, or the DeCaLiBro, as the quad is affectionately known. I would have used lots of film. I would have been a happy camper.

My hiking partner, unfortunately, refused any hint of flexibility, even though he had more free days to climb than I had. He insisted I change my schedule to accommodate him, even though I provided the four-wheel-drive to get us to the trailhead. He thinks religion stinks, he hates the Olympics, and he wasted no time making his thoughts well known on just about everything I like. He seems to hate people in general, especially cheery people.

On the way down from Kite Lake, I stopped to give another motorist a jump. My hiking partner said he’d take care of the details, as it was raining. The gentlemanly thing to do.

Well, he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t figure out how to unlatch my hood. So I had to get out of the car and do it myself. I got back in the car and gave it gas while the other motorist tried to start his car. When his car started, my hiking partner gave me a thumb’s up and got back in my car without helping the other motorist detach the jumper cables!!! I couldn’t believe it! I mentioned he hadn’t closed the hood, and he sat there and grinned. “Oh, you’re right. I didn’t, did I?”

The rudest thing of all was when he stuck his hand into my homemade cranberry trail mix without asking! He just grabbed a heaping handful, more than half! I was walking way behind him. He stopped, stuck his hand in my bag and just started eating, as if that was acceptable behavior.

So, maybe the wind on the saddle really was NOT the worst part of my day…

28 September 2009

La Plata Peak

23 August 2003

I didn’t know a peak named La Plata existed until I bought my first 14er guidebook. La Plata is Colorado’s fifth tallest peak and was first climbed by the Hayden Survey Team on July 26, 1873. The team dubbed the peak La Plata, which means "silver" in Spanish. In 1921, mountaineering pioneer Albert Ellingwood made the first ascent – solo – of the daunting north ridge that now bears his name. He later reported dangling from a finger ledge for two full minutes.

But that’s not the route I took. I did the standard Northwest Ridge route, Class 2 with magnificent boulder hopping on top.

I had intended to be settled in my Twin Lakes camping space by 10 p.m. Friday for a 5 a.m. start up La Plata, but I had to shoot a wedding that evening, and I ended up not leaving the metro until after 10 p.m. (no regrets) I probably should have car camped or just left home at 3 a.m. Saturday morning, but I’d already paid for my camping spot. So I tucked into my sleeping bag at 2:05 a.m. and intentionally did not set my alarm.

I awoke at 6:05 and was on the trail within an hour. The nice thing about my late start is that I didn’t have to use a flashlight. I was amazed to see a tiny tint of muted yellow beginning to lace the aspens. On the trail, there were occasional flecks of gold, glistening with droplets of the previous evening’s rain.

The bridge over Lake Creek wasn’t the “three-logger” I thought I’d have to search for (obviously a more recent improvement than the printing of my trail guide) and provided a refreshing view of the murky copper-toned falls. The view of Ellingwood Ridge is stunning from atop the northwest ridge leading up to La Plata’s summit. The early morning sun hitting just slivers of a few spires atop the western edge of Ellingwood was breathtaking and awe-inspiring.

Wildflowers below treeline are beginning to suffer from cooler evening temperatures; there were very few left, and many of those already have taken on their fall attire. Fresh, fat raspberries along the trail made for a nutritious breakfast supplement, however, and twinberries also were plentiful. (I didn’t eat them.)

I enjoyed boulder hopping around the red-leafed summit (big root spring beauty???) but kept losing the braided trail, as did others, which resulted in my extra credit tagging of both false summits en route to the true summit. The wind atop the entire ridge wasn’t ferocious, but not exactly pleasant, either. Every few minutes I was feeling the need to subtract or add layers, but resisted and did not suffer any adverse consequences.

The view of Elbert, Massive, the Elk Range, the Collegiates, the Sawatch and Twin Lakes was marred only by a dark band of low clouds over the Maroon Bells Wilderness. I continually checked cloud movement to determine which direction the storm was tracking.

As I signed the summit register, a lightning bolt atop Elbert jarred the attention of everyone on La Plata’s summit. Of about 12 people on or near the summit at that point, six had just begun heading down, and another four climbers were still making their way up. Everyone in the mix-match group counted seconds – 15 – and quickly put away energy bar wrappers, snapped final summit photos, sealed the summit register and began beating feet back down, warning those still coming up of the closeness of that first bolt. That particular storm was moving in the opposite direction, but lightning doesn’t play by rules.

One of the hikers, announcing he is a geologist, pointed out the orange and red-colored slopes to the south of us. He stated the iron in those mountains, which also accounts for the murky condition of the water in Lake Creek and the countless signs warning hikers not to partake of any of the basin’s water, would draw lightning away from La Plata. Perhaps, but I in particular was not about to take any chances.

Lightning struck twice more to the south of La Plata before I reached treeline. More strikes rumbled in the valley throughout my descent, but none close. Tiny bead-sized hail assaulted me for about 10 minutes, followed by drizzle the rest of the trip down. I covered my camera in plastic, put on my raincoat and otherwise had no problems due to weather.

The trip down was a great experience because I was passing everyone, something I don’t often do, and my knee was giving me only mild twinges of pain. This was my first downclimb in two years that hasn’t left me limping the following day. Either I’ve punished my knee so much the nerve endings have gone dead, or all the training I’ve done this year has remarkably extended my threshold for pain. (big grin!)

I finished the day with a drizzly but fuchsia fireweed-lined bike ride up the Tenmile trail and back. I wish I’d brought a basket so I could collect all the gorgeous raspberries I passed!

25 September 2009

Fingerprint Friday

Steven Curtis Chapman sings:

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, see and share God's fingerprints with the rest of the world. See instructions to join in here. Also check the other blogs linked there to see more great Fingerprints!

* * *
I’ve been wanting to do a Fingerprint about music, and I’ve been composing words in my head for three days now. I’d heard a song in the grocery store last week that got stuck in my head, even though I hate the song. I used a song I’ve loved for years to try to keep the ugly song from taking hold of my senses.

I thought that would be a particularly moving Fingerprint. Now I believe it has grown just a little more powerful.

I just got off the phone with the auto mechanic. The news wasn’t good. He’d delivered similar news back in July. When I dropped off the car again this morning - same song, second verse - I specifically told him he could call with only good news. He wasn’t allowed to call with bad news!

Now I’m on the verge of tears because this is the second big repair in less than 90 days and the third big repair this year. I’m discouraged, and I’m concerned. This is not the economy to keep experiencing such heavy expenses. This is not the economy, for me, anyway, to consider buying a new car. This is not the season, unfortunately, for me to ride my bike to work and back every day for couple of months until I can save up the money. My entire commute both ways would be in near total darkness. I have lights for my bike, but that doesn’t mean every motorist will see me. And I don’t even want to think about riding home late on Friday nights...

I have to do the repairs; I don’t have a choice. I worry about what will happen next if I keep racking up the miles on this 11-year-old, paid-off-in-full seemingly money trap. No monthly payments, but boy are these repairs making up for that in a big way!

So now I’m trying to use that same song, the one I used last week to chase ugly thoughts and words from my head, to scatter feelings that prevent me from doing my best and mess up my concentration if I let them run rampant. And it's working. So many warm feelings are seeping into my soul.

My high school choir director is such a Fingerprint in my life. Still, after all these years! Every year, he incorporated a gospel song into our annual competitions. I don’t know if public schools can do that anymore, and if they can’t, boy are they missing out! We rehearsed our competition songs every school day, and we rehearsed them in parts, with and without accompaniment, during lunch hours, and in mandatory after-school rehearsals as performances drew near. Because we sang one particular [beautiful] song over and over and over again, it is imprinted in my core. I frequently draw upon it to do exactly what I need it to do right now. Many a long-distance bike ride has been pedaled while I sing old high school gospel and current church choir songs… mainly because I don’t have to worry about anyone nearby being offended by my voice OR the music!
The music helps the miles roll by. It replaces ugly thoughts with cheerful ones. It helps me put things back in perspective.

In today’s overwhelming environment of attempted thought and expression control, I am particularly thankful for a high school teacher who made sure all his students had at least one faith-promoting song they could use as a rock throughout their lives, regardless of religious preferences.

I'm thankful for music that helps put joy back into my life when I'm down.

I'm even thankful, now that I've settled down, that my car needed service here, in town, where it can be easily fixed, as opposed to breaking down in the wilderness while I'm shooting autumn pictures.

The music helped me remember Who is at the helm.

Friday Funny

A photo I snapped while walking to the park and ride one morning last summer

24 September 2009

Autumn Palette

Fisheye Fantasies

Yes, this is the very same photo you saw yesterday. There's a story behind it. Or actually, them.

I bought my dream camera, the Nikon D300, 19 months ago and was utterly thrilled to learn my entire collection of pre-1995 Nikon lenses save two are compatible.

My 100 mm lens was built in about 1980, before auto everything seized the entire photography market. The lens works just fine on the new camera, but I have no auto capabilities whatsoever. Which actually, I don’t mind at all.

The fisheye, however, is another story. Sadly, it probably was manufactured before I was, and even though it fit perfectly onto my FM2, it will not mount on the D300. So I set out to buy a new fisheye.

Ouch!!! The 14 mm lens I want costs more than the camera! Owie!!! Dang!!! So I had to take a step down. Actually, for me, it was more like sliding down a mountain headfirst. I have never been a fan of zoom lenses. They are convenient, and they are so lightweight when you’re carrying them in your Camelbak during a 75-mile charity bike ride. And if they break, they usually are inexpensive and easy to replace. (Just don’t break that camera when you wreck your bike!)

Hence the issue. My eyes see the reduction in quality in most zoom lenses. Tremendous improvement has been made since my first zoom lens back in about 1986. Nevertheless, I have yet to meet a zoom lens that has taken me by storm.

I purchased the least expensive name brand wide-angle zoom I could find, and I used it for nearly an entire year. Then, while shooting in 28 degrees below zero in Crested Butte last winter, the lens froze. Literally. Would not move. I thought maybe it might just need to thaw. But the housing actually broke/shattered when I tried to force movement the next day after 24 hours at room temperature.

Needless to say, I wasn’t about to buy the same lens again. So this time, after studying reviews by countless pro studio and wildlife photographers, I stepped up a few notches and bought a more expensive lens. Still not the one I want, and still a zoom, but hopefully built just a little better than the gray market one I’d just lost.

This new one seems to be a little more of a tank in tough shooting conditions, but winter is yet to come. It also is not a fisheye. It just barely fits into the category of wide angle.

Which means those marvelous sweeping landscapes just aren’t within the scope of my camera’s vision until I can upgrade. What’s a starving artist with narrow digital vision and a broad nature canvas to do???

Multiple shots. Seamed together. That’s the ticket!

And that’s exactly what I did at Crater Lake (the one in Colorado, not the more famous twin in Oregon) last weekend. The Maroon Bells, one of the most photographed and easily recognized mountain scenes in the US, framed by golden aspen and reflecting in a mirror-smooth lake, were more than my camera and lens could handle. Literally. I snapped four shots with the intention of fitting them together like a puzzle in my prehistoric version 7 of PhotoShop. For both water shots, I focused on the reflection instead of the shore. The sky shots were focused on the mountain peaks. (Yes, I still focus manually most of the time.)

I have three different stitching programs for assembling composites, but I’ve never used them because I’m still capable of putting pictures together manually. When the eyesight goes, then I’ll be forced to rely on modern technology.

I retouched my dust spots in the two shots with sky, then one by one pasted each of the entire frames into a new canvas four times the size of a regular digital frame. I carefully lined each shot up by matching trees, rocks, snow fields, etc.

I cropped the inside edges of each individual picture because wide-angle photography distorts edges, making shorelines and mountain ridges not line up properly.

I adjusted the shoreline brightness and contrast in the water exposures because the auto exposure setting compensated for less light on the water than in the sky, rendering the land too light in the two lower frames.

After I got everything lined up just right and densities matched, I merged the layers, cropped out white space on the borders and saved the composition in two different formats. I can edit the layer version later if I decide to make more changes. For now, though, the jpg suits me just fine.

I wish I had shot six frames instead of four, but this gives me logical reason to go back yet again next year and try this whole process all over again. I’m not sure anyone ever tires of annual autumn excursions to the Bells!

* I have no monetary interest in Photoshop and am not being compensated for mentioning it; I just love manipulating photos, and I love sharing my experience.

22 September 2009

South Maroon Peak

4 August 2003

Ferenc met me at my tent at 5 a.m., and we took off for South Maroon in the dark. Once we got out of the forest and onto the rocks, we turned off our flashlights and came across Porky once again, still rounding the lake. This time I did not pursue.

Within about an hour, I realized I was slowing Ferenc. It had rained during the night, and the clouds still had not cleared. Ferenc needed to get up the peak and get off the mountain while the weather held. We both are especially sensitive to lightning now, perhaps forever. When he asked if he could go on ahead, I cheerfully told him I’d manage alone and promised I would go as far as I could. He said he hoped I could make it to the top of the Class 2 section (where the real climbing, Class 3 and Class 4, begin), where he would have breakfast and wait for me.

I didn’t make it that far. I waved Ferenc on when I decided to turn back at maybe about 12,000 feet. I had done remarkably better than last week; I never got panicky or shaky. After scrambling up one of several loose moist dirt sections (short Class 3) and turning around to figure out if I’d be able to downclimb alone, I decided to head back because my bad knee did NOT hurt.

Last week I didn't turn back until my knee couldn't go any further. This time, I wanted to see if I could go back without using handholds. As a result, my knee never did bother me the entire trip, and I surprised myself by walking down the Class 2 trail without holding on, with the exception of short scrambles down three relatively easy Class 3 sections.

Ferenc made the summit in 5:50, followed by only five others. He was first on the summit and had it to himself for 20 minutes before the next two hikers appeared. Again, he hoped to attempt the traverse with other experienced climbers. Two younger guys expressed an interest in doing the traverse until Ferenc pointed them in the direction of the route. After looking at the steep slopes, they quickly changed their minds, so Ferenc did not get to do the traverse. This time. (He successfully completed all the classic traverses in 2007.)

He said the view of North Maroon from South Maroon is "ugly." He said route finding on the way up the top part of the Bell was a challenge because the cairns (rockpiles marking the trail) atop the cliffs were not visible from below, and several times he had to backtrack. He said North Maroon was technically more difficult, but South Maroon was longer and more frustrating due to multiple route choices.

He shocked me when he said he was tired but wanted to do La Plata anyway, which we estimated would put us home well after 1 a.m. I would have enjoyed actually summiting a peak this trip, especially since the short jaunt up a portion of South Maroon may well be the final hike we do together, but again I was concerned about weather, as well as descending in the dark. By the time we reached Independence Pass, I could have had my richly deserved shower by stepping out of the van with a bottle of shampoo in hand. Lightning on Elbert and Massive contributed to the somber decision to retire for the weekend.

Ferenc is going for two or three more peaks in the San Juans before returning home to his native Hungary with his family. It has been a great experience to hike with him and learn better climbing skills. I wish him and his family well in their pursuit to return to America again one day, next time hopefully on a permanent basis.

21 September 2009

Snowflake Monday

I was so super excited when I initially discovered the various Snowflake Mondays groups, all with the same purpose… crochet a snowflake every Monday. I silently and from the sidelines group-participated for a while, then decided I'd rather choose my own pattern than make the identical snowflake everyone else was making. After all, snowflakes aren't supposed to match, right?

Didn't take long before I decided to make up my own pattern each Monday. Then this morning I realized if I truly want to be a part of the SnowMon movement, I should share some of my patterns. Only one problem… I haven't written any of the patterns down!

So while I wait for the photo of my September 7 snowflake to upload via my very slow dial-up connection, I will write out instructions. You may do whatever you'd like with snowflakes you make from this pattern, but you may not republish or sell the pattern. Thanks, and enjoy!

The first original snowflake pattern I published and shared!

Finished Size: 5 3/4 inches from point to point
Materials: Size 10 crochet thread and size 7 crochet hook, empty pizza box, wax paper or foil, cellophane tape, glue, water, small container for glue/water mixture, paintbrush, stick pins that won't be used later for sewing, clear thread or fishing line

First SnowMon Snowflake Instructions

Ch 4, join to form ring.

Round 1: Ch 1, 12 sc in ring; join in first sc.

Round 2: Ch 4 (counts as first dc and ch 1), *dc in next sc, ch 1, rep from * 10 more times for a total of 12 dc; join in 3rd ch of beginning ch 4.

Round 3: Ch 3 (counts as first dc on this and following rounds), dc in same dc, *ch 3, 2 dc in next dc, ch 3, rep from * around; join in 3rd ch of beginning ch 3.

Round 4: Sl st in next dc and into next ch 3 space, ch 3, 2 dc in same space, *ch 3, sc in next ch 3 space, ch 3, sc in same ch 3 space, ch 3, 3 dc in next ch 3 space, rep around, ch 3; join in 3rd ch of beginning ch 3.

Round 5: Sl st in next dc, ch 3, dc in same dc, ch 2, 2 dc in same dc, *ch 7, 2 dc in center dc of next 3-dc shell, ch 2, 2 dc in same dc, rep from * around, ch 7, join in 3rd ch of beginning ch 3.

Round 6: Sl st in next dc and into next ch 2 space, ch 3, 2 dc in same ch 2 space, ch 2, 3dc in same ch 2 space (6-dc shell made), ch 5, sc into 4th ch of next ch 7 space, ch 5, 6-dc shell into next ch 2 space, ch 5, rep from * around ending with sc in last ch 7 space, ch 5; join in 3rd chain of beginning ch 3.

Round 7: Sl st in next 2 dc and into next ch 2 space, ch 3, 2 dc in same ch 2 space, *ch 3, dc into 3rd ch from hook (dc picot made), 2 more dc picots, 3 dc into same ch 2 sp, ch 4, sc into next ch 5 space, ch 7, sc into next ch 5 sp, ch 4, 3 dc into next ch 2 sp, rep from * around, ending with sc into last ch 5 sp, ch 4; join in 3rd ch of beginning ch 3; bind off. Weave in ends.

Finish: Tape wax paper or foil to top of empty pizza box. Pin snowflake to box on top of wax paper or foil. Pull chain spaces tight with pins to achieve shape. Mix a few drops of water with a teaspoon of glue in small washable container. Paint snowflake with glue mixture. Wash paintbrush and container thoroughly. Allow snowflake to dry at least 24 hours. Remove pins. Gently peel snowflake from wax paper or foil. Attach 10-inch clear thread to one point, weaving in end. Wrap fishing line around tree branch (or tape to ceiling or any overhead surface) and watch the snowflake twirl freely whenever you walk by! Snowflake also may be taped to window or tied to doorknob or cabinet handle.

17 September 2009

Fingerprint Friday

Steven Curtis Chapman sings:

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, see and share God's fingerprints with the rest of the world. See instructions to join in here. Also check the other blogs linked there to see more great Fingerprints!

* * *
Last weekend I was honored to serve as official photographer for the SMA Walk and Roll. Children with spinal muscular atrophy typically lose (or never have) voluntary muscle control. That means, depending upon when the disease strikes, they may lose the ability to crawl, sit up or walk. Some even lack the ability to swallow. In many cases, SMA is fatal.

These children cope and survive in a world where they see others able to move freely and function wholly. Parents of these children know their angels may not be with them for long. Friends of these families witness the pain, suffering and challenges faced, as well as triumphs, courage and compassion modeled, by children diagnosed with SMA.

Each year, children with SMA and their families and friends gather to raise money for necessary equipment and hopefully one day, a cure. Participants run, walk, skate, bike, roll, volunteer, and sometimes just hand out medals to those who cross the finish line, to honor the angels who have gone home and the angels who are still fighting the good battle. It is a marvelous way to celebrate life and the spirit of giving.

Fingerprints abound.

Friday Funny

I needed to shoot some dazzling photos of crocheted scarves, and I don't have a mannequin. I searched my house and found the next best thing. I think I like these shots better than if I'd used a drab dress form. Maybe I should consider adopting a live specimen for the next shoot! Do you think he or she would hold still long enough?

North Maroon Peak

3 August 2003

Following last weekend’s failed summit attempt, I knew I needed to do something difficult (to me) to maintain and build upon what I gained on Challenger Point. Ferenc graciously allowed me to accompany him to the Maroon Bells, my favorite autumn destination. This would be my first trip there during the busy, crowded summer. I backpacked into Crater Lake in the dark Friday night, while Ferenc camped in his van in the overnight lot.

We were to meet at the North Maroon trail junction at 6 a.m. Saturday. I planned to go up with him as far as I could before turning back to shoot wildflowers and be his "basecamp." Ferenc hoped to meet up with other amiable hikers planning to do the traverse (a VERY difficult route connecting the two Bells) and willing to allow him to tag along.

En route to the trailhead register, I came upon a porcupine in a tree, which resulted in me sacrificing yet another summit (attempt) to capture yet another mammal on film close-up. Because of the late start, Ferenc, who had never seen a porcupine, decided after a couple of shots of his own that he should not wait for me to finish my antics and headed up the mountain alone. Ferenc missed a party of five who did the traverse 45 minutes ahead of him. However, he reported the views of nearby 14ers Snowmass and Capitol from the summit of North Maroon are breathtaking.

Meanwhile, I followed the porcupine nearly all the way around Crater Lake. He seemed to be better at route finding than me until he crawled up a slanted boulder from which he could not escape without backtracking. But there I was. He flashed me a dirty look and returned to the boulder summit. I tried to back up slowly without falling and without taking my eyes off him, just to make sure I didn’t encounter his powerful self-defense system. He eyeballed the downclimb once again, then backtracked a little further down the boulder and gave me the evil eye once more. By this time, I had put the camera away and wanted nothing more than 10 to 15 extra feet between me and the beast. I worried about what he might do if I turned my back on him, since I had in essence unintentionally cornered him. He climbed to the top of the rock one final time, and I made my escape. He studied the other side of the rock for a long while, then returned back to the base as if I didn’t exist and moseyed along the shore once again, this time unstalked.

When Ferenc returned from his climb of North Maroon, he asked if I wanted to climb La Plata with him. !!! We grabbed a pizza and went up Independence Pass to check out weather conditions. No lightning, but it was raining at the Pass. The Pass is about ten miles from the La Plata trailhead.

I was concerned about the extra mileage we’d be forced to hike at that late hour because we took his van instead of my 4WD, as well as how late he’d have to start hiking the next morning if we hiked until 11 p.m. I also did not look forward to hiking to my tent after midnight. So we did not attempt La Plata.

15 September 2009

Flash of Light

I've always been afraid of and yet mesmerized by lightning. My dad was injured in a lightning-related incident before I was old enough to go to school. A next door neighbor's tree was hit, knocked down and set ablaze by the loudest bolt I've ever heard when I was about 7. And yet, I can hardly resist setting up the tripod when I see flashes.

I've debated for two weeks now whether I should move Ferenc' recounting of our Challenger/Kit Carson trip from my Geocities website that will disappear in a couple of weeks or if I should just let go of this tragic episode that left such an impression on my life.

I finally decided to preserve the memory because Stano's loss and Martina's life taught me to respect the elements. I don't want to forget them, and I don't want to forget the lessons I learned that week. I also cherish Ferenc' writing style. He did a beautiful job with his tribute.

After we returned from Challenger Point and Kit Carson and before we learned of Martina, I wrote my naïve and light-hearted trip report (republished here Monday), admitting to being so scared I couldn’t continue up the mountain. Climbers more experienced than me seized the opportunity to belittle me, mock me and make fun of my fear because "there's nothing hard about that mountain."

For three days, I hung my head in shame because I was an outcast and wimp among my peers. But then we heard the news via Ferenc' trip report.

As I read Ferenc' words the first time, a knot formed in my stomach. I knew my fear on Challenger Point was rooted in something deeper than the rocks on which I was climbing and steeper than the trail I was ascending. I believe Someone was trying to tell me I needed to get down off that mountain. Now. Not after I reach the summit. Not after I take five or six more pictures. NOW. I move very slowly, and mere minutes could have resulted in a different outcome for me. Something in my gut told me it was time to turn back, and it wasn’t a feeling I could ignore. Yes, I was scared, but I’m not so sure now the mountain is what put that fear in me.

There is a saying mountaineers often quote but, in my opinion, don't always live by: "The mountain will still be there tomorrow. Will you be?"

Tribute to Martina

by Ferenc Jacso

29 July 2003

I first met Martina Saturday 7/26/03. Hiking up on the Willow Creek Trail in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness with Deborah, we were close to the camp site at Willow Lake. Suddenly a young pair in their mid 20s passed us like a breeze. After 2,500 feet of elevation gain, just as if they started a short hike to a neighbouring hill. I hiked Quandary that morning then met Deborah in Fairplay to drive to the town of Crestone and further up a rough road to the Willow Creek Trailhead. Hiked another three hours when this pair passed us.

The night was miserable. Rain started just as we jumped into our tents. Then stopped. Then started again, pattering just a few inches above our heads on the tents. This pattern seemed to continue all night. Sleep came to our eyes just for short followed by long hours of vigilance. Can we make it after this many rain? Rocks will be slippery, we will get wet and cold and discouraged. I depicted walking down the trail in the rain all wet after not climbing anything. Not Challenger Point neither Kit Carson.

After 4 a.m. I couldn't sleep any more. Finally decided to get up and start in complete darkness at 5 a.m. To our great surprise the rocks were dry, just the plants hold plenty of water on their leaves. Missing and searching the trail again and again in the dark we finally made it above the waterfall of Willow Lake for the first lights of the morning. Overcast, sun hidden behind the gray-white clouds. I expected better treatment from a fourteener given I wake up this early already near the peak...

We hit the steep long slopes of Challenger Point. Deborah’s legs were getting shaky after a while, so she decided not to continue. Looking back I could see a pair approaching us climbing the same route we did. I made it to the top of Challenger Point, signed the peak log, took a few photos then hurried to Kit Carson so Deb shouldn't wait too much. From Kit Carson Avenue the views of the Crestones were stunning. Although I missed the easiest and shortest route, I didn't find any difficulties I faced on Longs Peak a month ago. I made it to the top quite easy, signed another peak log, and spent 20 minutes on the peak because the views were so beautiful. Just the sunshine was missing.

Shortly after I left the peak I met the same pair again who we met the night before. They approached Kit Carson on a different ridge than I descended so I just shouted a Hi and kept going. Oh, wait a second. "Hey guys, stop moving, let me take a photo of you. You look just cool!" "Are you Ferenc? Are you American?" "Yes it's me, I'm Hungarian actually." "Oh, we are from Slovakia, Martina and Stano. But we have been living in the States for six years now. Just moved to Colorado from NY a year ago." Slovakia is a neighbouring country to Hungary, just about the same small, both smaller than Colorado. I've been there several times. So we continued talking. I took a note of their phone number, and we agreed to meet next weekend and climb some San Juan fourteeners together.

I continued down and found Deborah in our campsite just finishing putting together everything. Great, we can go right away.

We could be some 10 minutes from Deborah’s car when it started raining. Oh, wow, didn't the sun shine just 15 minutes ago? This must be a short, easy shower then. But not. In just a few minutes it started to pour down like crazy. Lightning started to strike one after the other. By habit, what I learned from my father, I started counting the seconds after the flash to measure our distance from the place the lightning hits the ground. Five seconds. Oh my goodness, run!

It hit the ground just one mile from us! We get to the 4WD car finally. Here we can't get hit by a lightning, we are in a metal cage. We started to drive down, completely soaked but happy. Soon we still started to worry again. The flash flood started to wash away the road completely. Once we even got stuck in a deep ditch carved by the water roaring across the dirt road. Deborah's legs got shaky again. But the good old Toyota 4Runner did what I thought impossible. Then I walked ahead to make sure the road is still there, under the "rivers" crossing it. We escaped, finally.

We kept our fingers crossed for those who were still on the trail. At least 10 cars parked at the trailhead so we were really worrying given how difficult we could escape.

This morning (7/29/03) I finally called the number I got from the Slovak guys to discuss our next adventure. "Hi, I'm Ferenc, remember we met on Kit Carson." The voice replying my call was fading away. "Yes... I remember. But... something terrible happened..." Oh, no, come on, they fell on the rock or what - ripped through my mind. "Martina has died. She has been hit by a lightning. Me too, but I survived. She didn't."

I couldn't believe it. Two heavy teardrops rolled down my face finding their way to the carpet. Then Stano couldn't stop talking. He didn't want to put down the handset. We were talking for an hour.

"You know she loved mountains. She was so proud she can climb them, she jumped on the rocks fast and self-confident like a bighorn sheep. We did Blanca in snowy conditions two months ago. We climbed Kit Carson early to get down in time. When the thunderstorm hit us, we thought we were on a safe place, way below the peaks and ridges, maybe 1.5 miles from the car. Then it came just in a second. Just above the Willow Creek Park meadow. That was her favorite meadow. She loved it. We separated 30 feet from each other just in case something happened to the other, we could help each other. I wish I didn't separate from her, and we were gone both, together. I couldn't help her. She was burning.

"We dated for four years and then married two years ago. She was 25. Maybe she is happy now. She is all right up there. I waited next to her. Later hikers passed by and they called the emergency number by cell phone at 6 p.m. I got dry clothes from them but of course it got wet soon again. I was with her all night wet and cold in the dark. I couldn't believe nobody comes. The rescue arrived at 12 p.m. the next day."

Here is their last photo from near the top of Kit Carson, maybe the only one where they are together on a big mountain.

And here is her peak list from what I learned from Stano: Grays, Evans, Bierstadt, Snowmass, Blanca, Challenger Point, Kit Carson. "Not everybody can make it - she could."

Rest in peace, Martina.

14 September 2009

Challenger Point

Kit Carson Mountain from Humboldt Peak

If at First You Don't Succeed...
...use up all that film you toted up the mountain on the waterfall!

27 July 2003

I reached the South Crestone trailhead at about 5 p.m. Saturday and hiked uphill to the camping area east of Willow Lake. The spot I chose to set up my tent was relatively flat, far enough from the lake that I hoped mosquitoes would not be a problem, and just near enough the waterfall to hopefully be lulled to sleep by the dull roar. Unfortunately, lightning flashes and crashes throughout the night sparked the pitter pat of rain that turned my leaky tent into a sleeping bag float pool. All night I worried the steepest parts of Challenger Point might be slippery.

I left camp at 5 a.m. and was able to put away my flashlight by the time I got around the lake. The sky never turned pink but stayed mostly gray most of the day. Leftover bug lotion from my parenting days came in handy; mosquitoes were particularly thick in the humid air.

Challenger Peak is the most difficult 14er I've attempted so far, and my confidence level was not where it needed to be. Fortunately, the trail was not wet or slippery, but I did not enjoy the scree-laced gully leading up to the west ridge. In order to escape the loose rocks, I moved far left from the trail proper to climb solid rock and got stuck a couple of times due to fear factor. The gully, similar to the Trough on Longs, is rated at Class 2+, but I think the rock walls I climbed off route were more like the Homestretch on Longs, just without the degree of exposure.

Every handhold I reached for had to be checked for stability. Every rock protruding from the mountain had more colors than a box of crayons. The conglomerate treasure chests of pink, yellow and gray-green rocks couldn't hold my attention long enough to get me to the memorial plaque I so desperately longed to see in person. My knees were shaking, and I wasn't sure my bad knee would survive the downclimb, particularly if I stayed on solid rock, which would require more stability and strength than the talus-in-motion gully. Because my adrenaline flow was rising simultaneously with the altitude, I opted to turn back at the top of the west ridge at 13,300.

During a breather, I heard what I initially thought was the roar of a jet engine to my right, near Kit Carson Peak. I looked at the sky, only to have my attention riveted immediately downward at the sound of boulders crashing in the snowfield below. My mouth and eyes stood agape as I watched a ledge break free from the northeast side of a cliff and tumble down the steep slopes, gaining speed and bouncing and setting off other rockfalls along the talus slope.

Back at my campsite, I took down my tent, drank my sports drink and tried to pack all the wet things so they would not damage any dry things. I then headed back down the lengthy trail to my car.

About 10 minutes from my car, the sky dumped, and by the time I headed out of the parking lot, completely drenched, the already rough dirt road was bed to at least six new raging rivers from the runoff. Maneuvering across the chewed-up road for the next mile and a half turned out to be the most difficult part of my entire trip. Well, except for waiting until 11:30 that night to find out who won the Tour de France.

Crestone Peak

At one point, the landscape was coated with two inches of pea-sized hail. In Crestone, where the dirt road turned to pavement, villagers were out in mass with shovels trying to clear the culverts that had clogged with debris washing down the steep Sangres. The front yards of the eight or so residences along the main road looked like floating kelp on the ocean, buried by approximately eight inches of foaming muddy water. I anxiously awaited news of how many people were stranded at the trailhead due to the flash flood and if climbers headed up the mountain as I came down got off in time. I was mildly shocked to see the fresh dusting of snow on Ouray on my way back to Denver.

Monday morning I read the tiny town of Crestone received 18% of its annual rainfall in 20 minutes.

This hike was yet another learning experience for me. I learned I can do hard stuff when I need to, and I learned I need to get more experience under my belt and build my confidence before I try another Class 3. Both Columbia Point and Challenger Point, both of which bear plaques in memory of our lost shuttle crews, continue to call out to me. Here's to successful second attempts.

11 September 2009

Fingerprint Friday

Not only is Precipice Peak a jewel in God’s creation, but the ability to see this peak from this viewpoint (14,309 feet!) is one of the biggest blessings in my life, and that blessing is helping me see other tremendous blessings as well.

Five years ago this November, a dime-sized bone chip was surgically removed from my sciatic nerve. We don’t know how it got there, only that it rendered me unable to walk within five days of making contact with the nerve. My optional surgery wasn’t truly optional if I wanted to continue to function in this world.

The neurosurgeon said nerve damage can take up to seven years to heal. IF it heals. There are no promises. He said I probably would not be able to wear a fanny pack, and I might not ever be able to wear a backpack again.

Now, nearly five years later, I’m finally beginning to return to normal (keeping in mind normal is a setting on a washing machine and not a standard humans should endeavor to emulate). I’m rarely entirely pain-free, and I can’t wear a belt, panty hose or jeans with fixed waistbands, but I CAN carry my own pack, and I can finish the miles in the MS-150 and climb 14,000-foot peaks.

Last Saturday, we had to boogie down Uncompahgre to avoid storms produced by lightning-fast cloud buildup (pun intended). Two years ago, I would not have been able to return to our car safely in time. As we reached treeline, The Lizard quipped, “You’re doing so well today! You’re not waddling!”

Not waddling is God’s fingerprint on my soul. Being able to continue working toward recovery, even when progress seemed bleak and discouragement was a constant companion, is a fingerprint. The Lizard lovingly and patiently tolerating two years of carrying all his own gear plus mine and two more years of me tearfully whimpering, “I can’t go any further” is God’s fingerprint. Being able to live in such a beautiful place and share what I see is the Master’s fingerprint.

I am ever grateful He has afforded me the opportunity to experience all this.

See instructions to join in PamperingBeki’s Fingerprint Friday here. Also check other blogs linked there to see more great Fingerprints!

Friday Funny

The Lizard shared some very interesting Uncompahrable trivia following our awesome climb. First, a bit of history.

George Montague Wheeler led early expeditions to this place now known as Colorado, and his team, the Wheeler Survey, made topographic maps of the southwest at a scale of 8 miles to the inch. (Wow!!!) Two mountains, one in Nevada and one in New Mexico, and a great rock formation in Colorado now bear Wheeler’s name.

Geologist and Civil War army surgeon Dr. Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden also surveyed the Rocky Mountains during the same time period and was instrumental in the formation of Yellowstone as the first National Park in the US. Hayden Valley in Yellowstone is named after him, as is the town of Hayden in northwest Colorado, a peak near Steamboat Springs and a host of other mountains throughout the west. A garter snake also bears his name.

I really get into history, so I could go on and on. But for now, I’ll focus on these two guys because their survey parties experienced a couple of interesting encounters on Uncompahgre.

Members of he Hayden Survey team climbed Uncompahgre on August 8, 1874, and “were terribly taken aback when, at an elevation of over 13,000 feet, a she grizzly, with her two cubs, came rushing past from the top of the peak.” (Franklin Rhoda, “Report on the Topography of the San Juan Country.”)

Can you imagine climbing a peak, being out of breath and pretty darned beat, and having a mama bear and her cubs rush you on the summit?!?

Wheeler’s group reported an even closer encounter the following year. They found “a large cinnamon bear and her cub sportively tumbling and rolling from the summit.” Mama bear apparently heard the party coming and was investigating when one of the climbers poked his head above a ledge, frightening them both. Both the bear and the man “tumbled off the cliff”, and the man escaped with “a good fright and a few bruises.” (Executive & Descriptive Report of Lt. William L. Marshall, Corps of Engineers, on the Operation of Party No. 1, Colorado Section; Field Season of 1875.) They don’t record what became of the bear…

Why not?!? That would be the most captivating part of the story!!! But I think I understand. If it had been me, I’d have been hustling down the mountain as fast as I could, before the bear came to! And then, while writing in my journal that night, I think I’d have been counting my lucky stars I didn’t wind up as bear chow that day. I wouldn’t write about what happened to the bear because I didn’t stick around to find out!

10 September 2009

Uncompahgre Peak

5 September 2009

Neither of us planned to climb a fourteener. The weather wasn’t supposed to be accommodating. It was to be a picture-taking weekend.

My goal was to capture sunrise on the sixth tallest peak in Colorado. I’d climbed it six years ago, but a cloud formed around the top before I reached the peak, and I got zero views from what is supposed to be a pretty magnificent summit. I’ve been back for sunrise a couple of times, but my timing has never been right for the perfect sunrise.

Secretly, I hoped I might also get a moonset, but I didn’t know where in the sky the moon would be in relation to the peak, and I assumed Murphy’s Law would dictate a lunar hide and seek before I gained the ridge and could see the outline of the dramatic mountain.

We arrived at the trailhead at 1 a.m. Our phones, of course, had no signal, and I couldn’t find the little battery-powered satellite alarm clock I took on the Trek. So we had to wing it on what time we’d need to wake.

We woke at 4:50 and hit the trail ten minutes later, worried we might miss both the moonset and the sunrise. After pulling out of the trees and seeing the silhouette of the mountain against the royal blue sky, I set my camera on a tripod substitute (a big rock) and fired away.

Clouds prevented first sun hit on the tip of the peak minutes later, but before long, the entire east face of Uncompahgre turned fiery auburn.

I gave my cinnamon-colored bear to The Lizard and told him to motor on up to get pictures of Wetterhorn while the morning light was still good. The Lizard took off, quickly passing everyone on the trail ahead of us. I, meantime, snapped about 200 pictures on the way up to the second Wetterhorn viewpoint.

By then, clouds still looked as if they might accommodate a summit bid by a slow mover. I could see The Lizard near the summit, so I decided to go for it too, hoping he would feel good enough to go up a second time when we met up.

He met me on the switchbacks, accompanied me to the summit, keeping my incredibly slow pace and safekeeping my camera on the precarious cliff bands, which have eroded since I climbed it in 2003.
About 200 feet from the summit, I experienced a burst of energy and confidence, no doubt fueled by the joy of reaching the top, and I sprinted up the “final two flights."

I downed a recovery bar, posed the bears (The Lizard has now taken to calling me Goldilocks...), and then we quickly made our way back down the mountain, nearly reaching treeline before the first lightning bolt hit. For perhaps the first time ever, no descending climbers passed me on my way down. I nearly kept The Lizard’s downhill pace.

After a short nap in the car, we headed to Gunnison, where there was no room at the inn. We missed the last room by less than 30 seconds. Our favorite restaurant was closed, as has been the case most of our San Juan trips the last two years.

So we set up camp along Mill Creek, serenaded by the babbling stream. Cold Qdoba we brought along just in case tasted great in spite of the temperature. The hot tub in the hotel would have been nice, but no commercial lodging can match the magic and beauty of God’s masterpiece!

The moonset was a bonus. Reaching the top of the mountain was a bonus. The view from the top was a huge bonus. And being in the middle of paradise with my best friend is the best bonus of all.

08 September 2009

Red Hot Cinnamon Pass

Ever since I found out Colorado has fourteeners, I've been trying to climb them. Ever since I learned the name of Redcloud Peak, the 46th tallest peak in Colorado, I've wanted to photograph a red cloud above the mountain.
Finally had my first opportunity over the holiday weekend. The fabulous fourteener showed its best hues, but the clouds didn't quite cooperate. Aerosmith sings this [really strange] song that goes, "Pink... it's like red but not quite." Couldn't have described the San Juan cloud cover any better.
Meanwhile, over my shoulder, another set of clouds over Cinnamon Pass was singing, "Shoot me! Shoot me!"

04 September 2009

Fingerprint Friday

Steven Curtis Chapman (who is, by the way, a tremendous advocate of adoption, a topic very near and dear to my heart) sings:

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. Also check the other blogs linked there to see more great Fingerprints!

He holds my hand
When I walk alone
He blesses my life
When I need it and when I don't
He paints the morning sky with crimson red
He coats the autumn forest with quaking gold
He lets me know in ways big and small
He'll be with me 'til I grow old.
(by me)

Friday Funny

Before I became an empty nester, I was a foster parent and adoptive parent. When you take in older children, sometimes you have to teach a few odd basics that got missed somewhere along the way. Such as turning off the light when you leave the room, turning off the water when you’re done washing your hands or putting toothpaste on toothbrushes, not hair brushes.

Oh, and not sticking peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the VCR because they fit.

And sometimes, the kids you take in teach you lessons you never dreamed you'd need to learn.

We were eating dinner with company one night when my then almost-adopted 9-year-old son pointed out I had forgotten to pour him some milk.

I immediately poured half a glass. He reacted with shock.

"I can drink the whole thing!" he cried. "Milk is my life!"

Having previously learned – the hard way – not to pour whole glasses of fluid at mealtime, I told him he could have more after he finished.

"Welcome to the Snowflake household," he announced, sounding rather annoyed, to our amused guests. "We don't pour whole glasses around here, only halfs (sic). And you have to finish what you have before you get seconds!"

03 September 2009

Torreys Peak

4 July 2003

I climbed my first 14er of the year this morning – Torreys! I darn near bagged Grays again, too, chasing mountain goats. (as usual)

I camped at the standard Grays trailhead Thursday night. I had forgotten the topo map I keep in my car does not include pages 38 and 39, thanks to my son, who commandeered them for a school project and "forgot" to tell me. Much less ask! So I went to sleep with my fingers crossed. Lack of preparation.

I hit the trailhead at about 5:30 a.m. Friday, July 4, getting my first full glimpse of Torreys just as the rising sun painted it with orange beams of light a little more than half an hour later. I stopped to take photos of the peak’s reflection in a pond and got passed by seven hikers.

For the next hour or so, while making my way upward and admiring the bright-colored miniature flowers dotting the tundra, I studied the trail zigzagging across the face of Grays and the snowfield scars where hikers bypassed Grays and ascended the Grays/Torreys saddle directly, exactly what I planned to do. The route looked good. About half an hour later, however, I noticed six mountain goats on the ridge east of Grays.

So much for Torreys in three hours or less…

I gained the ridge while circling and shooting the mangy-looking mountain goats. I couldn’t get close to the one baby I could see, a disappointment, but not enough to discourage my summit attempt. I taught a couple of pairs of hikers how to get close to wildlife without harassing them. That alone made my off-route adventure worth it.

I likely could have summited Grays in less than half an hour, then descended the saddle and climbed Torreys as planned, but I worried the brief detour might make me late for a prescheduled afternoon holiday gathering with friends. So I backtracked down the slopes of Grays across some very loose talus and some very cold snow to get back on route.

About half an hour later, I was heading up Torreys, now being passed by scores of hikers, some with dogs. I had to stop frequently, not only to breathe, but also to shoot the abundant wildflowers, a marmot and incredible views of Kelso Ridge. Several hikers asked if I knew which mountain was which. It was fun to play park ranger again, a calling in life I have sorely missed in the last few months.

Atop Torreys, the views were outstanding, the summit was surprisingly small, the register was almost inaccessible, like the neighboring Grays there was no geological survey team pin, the weather was absolutely perfect, and posing on snowfields on July 4 felt magical! The four graduates from my impromptu Wildlife 101 photography class, who had all summited Grays, also reached the top of Torreys. After a bunch of photos and exchange of e-mail addresses, I began the descent.

On the way up, I had decided I would go off route on the way back down to shoot a waterfall because the falls were still in morning shadows during the ascent. Now they were bathed in midday sunlight, and the sky behind Grays and Torreys was deep, mesmerizing blue. I bushwhacked across a squishy, damp meadow to the thundering falls, then jumped across the stream at the narrowest point I could find to get just the right angle. My feet got wet, and that made my whole body feel like smiling.

I passed a couple carrying up perhaps the strangest thing I've ever seen toted up a mountain: bird cages with colorful singing birds, apparently very much in their element.

It feels awkward to say I’m back in the saddle, since I wasn’t actually IN the saddle today, but I felt like I had returned to me. Four rolls of film in less than six hours. I love my bike, and I wouldn’t trade my Ride the Rockies vacation for the world, but I have really missed hiking. I’m looking forward to the next four months!
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