Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Hello everyone!

I have started a new blog, using a better blogging program.

Check it out at:

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Being self-sufficient in the backcountry is one of the most liberating, simplifying, and grounding experiences a person can have.

You need nothing you don't have, you want for nothing you don't need. Life is nothing but movement, food, and sleep. The most basic and essential elements.

Perhaps too simple.

NPR has had an excellent series lately, called The Human Edge. They have been exploring all the adaptations, quirks, and habits of our species, and analyzing how each eccentricity has given us an adaptive edge -- made us advance in ways other species never had.

Emotion has been a prevalent subject. Some of their featured speculations (theories posed by various anthropologists and scientists) have challenged my hard-science trained brain -- conclusions drawn more from reason than by experimental replication. Thus is the nature of a subject which cannot be subject to experimentation!

But whether or not you can provide a replicable experiment, every human can tell you there is something more than just food, sleep, and basic physical activity that we need. That something integrates our complex emotional side -- it is the feeling of being home. The companionship, security, and belonging that we associate with our home.

And so, it is very nice to be, once again, home. We are spoiled to live such controlled, predictable lives.

Perhaps this is why we seek out the mountains -- to remind ourselves what we appreciate about the place we call home.

Nonetheless, I had a spectacular month backpacking a very large swath of the Sierra Nevada. For me, some new trails, some old, but ever spectacular. The more time I spend in these mountains, the deeper I fall in love. There is a subtlety hiding behind the harsh exterior. A softness to the arid landscape, a comfort under the brooding peaks.

It is this which I enjoy sharing with my clients -- whether on the side of Matterhorn Peak or from the depths of Le Conte Canyon.

I am glad to be home for now, but soon enough, home will feel too safe, too comfortable. And I will seek that reminder -- the essence of the life we used to live. The simplified version -- where we walk, we eat, and we sleep. And that is all.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Hard rock, thin air, a rope."

Pardon the cliché, but really, where does time go? It's as if, with every passing year, time itself seems to accelerate.

But I suppose that is better than if it were slowing, dragging on, challenging you to find ways to fill it up lest you get bored.
I have a good friend who has suggested that our own inability to ever accomplish everything we want to do, the fact that we never seem to have the time to do it all, is the root of all unhappiness.

I disagree.

I think it keeps you interested; tuned in.

Thus it has been for me this summer: Interesting.
Indeed, there is no way to recap it all in the few short hours left before I head back out into the field once again. But for the sake of preventing literary stagnation on this blog I decided to keep, I will give the highlights:

Late April, I headed up for the season on Mt. Shasta. El Nino treated us well this year, and we had some seriously stellar climbing (and skiing) conditions. With winter storms swirling through well into April, we saw periods of very challenging conditions interspersed with conditions that can only be described by the phrase "Stairway to Heaven." In short, it was a full-on season. And somewhere in there, I started learning to fly fish. I think when I retire from this mountain guiding stuff, I might like to be a fly fishing guide.

At the end of July, it was time to say goodbye to Shasta, and pick up in the Sierra Nevada. I had a couple of trips on Matterhorn Peak with some extraordinarily strong climbers. One up the regular mountaineer's route (3rd class gully with some 4th class scrambling to the top), and one on the ultra-classic North Arete (full-value 5.7 alpine rock), one of my favorite routes in the Sierra Nevada.

August had been booked for months ahead of time -- I was to be guiding the John Muir Trail. Unusual guiding opportunity -- how could I pass it up? My client was a bit set back by the terrain (having done most of his backpacking in the desert) and his heavy gear, so we had to adjust our itinerary. Luckily, he was not set on completing the JMT for any reason, and we have been able to pick several highlight trips along the JMT. We just completed the Evolution Loop, from North Lake to South Lake through the Evolution and Dusy Basins in northern Kings Canyon National Park. Hands down one of the most spectacular areas in the Sierra Nevada.

It has been a lovely respite from the challenges of guiding in the alpine realm, and I am savoring every bit. But come September, refreshed and re-energized, I will be much excited to get back to "hard rock, thin air, a rope." (High Conquest, James Ramsey Ullman)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Esha Peak ski descent

Esha Peak, Sierra Nevada, California (near Mt. McGee, Crowley Lake)


Esha Peak is an inviting mountain. It has a round top, with pinwheel snow chutes that join at the base in a large bowl. It begs to be skied, every time you drive by on 395.

From afar, the chutes look massive, steep, and intimidating. In reality, they are only 38-40 degrees. But your mind refuses to believe it so long as the mountain looms overhead and up valley.

An old friend of Dave's from college, Gregor, called Thursday to ask if we wanted to ski Esha. Dave had been non-stop skiing for 7 weeks (guiding in Europe and Alaska), and I had been letting the conditions determine my sport while he was gone, which meant a lot of skiing on Mt. Shasta and in the Sierra Nevada for me. It was an amazing winter for skiing, and thus has continued as an incredible spring skiing season. So much snow!

Both Dave and I had been jonesing to climb, but decided we could take a day off for one last classic Sierra Nevada ski. And to hang out with Gregor, more importantly.

We had a leisurely start on Saturday morning, knowing that with the projected weather forecast for cool temperatures, we would be hard-pressed to find any soft, buttery "corn" snow, warmed by the sun, and lovely for skiing. Upon arrival to the trailhead, we found not only cool temperatures but heinous winds. We suited up quickly and darted across the creek and into the drainage, hoping to get out of the wind.

Out of the wind-tunnel, we were more at peace, but gusts still swirled, and we grew increasingly skeptical about the snow conditions. We took long breaks, hoping if we stalled, the day might warm a bit more and the snow might soften up.
But the winds held steady, and slowly our objective grew closer. The slope kicked up, and we slid on the ski crampons, kept climbing. We traversed to a more easterly-almost-southerly aspect, knowing that would have received the most solar radiation.

Indeed it was softer, but it was only the top inch that had consolidated into nice springtime "corn" snow. Underneath was crummy, old winter snow. We punched through stashes of ice and slush, varying randomly. We kept hoping it might get better, so we kept climbing.
Finally it became apparent that there were no good turns to be had on this mountain today. So we declared it a day to "just be out there." Enjoy the good views, good friends, and the opportunity for a challenge on our skis.

And a challenge, it was.Much lower down in the drainage, however, we found some perfectly buttery corn snow, and savored every turn.

Back in the brush, below the snow line, we shimmied back across the log bridge over the roaring creek, past fishermen and day-hikers in tank tops and shorts. Gregor, a top manager at Patagonia, could name each article of Patagonia clothing the hikers were wearing from at least 50 meters away. I was impressed.

A few fishermen stepped out of their idling diesel trucks to ask us if we had just skied that mountain right there.

"No, we skied Esha Peak, just up that drainage."

"Oh, you mean it's further away?"

"Yea, by a few miles and 4,000ft."


We asked them how the fishing was. Only the little guys were biting, apparently. Still too cold to catch anything good. But it was great to be out.


Just as we were getting ready to pull out of our parking spot, another fisherman came over to the window.

"Excuse me, but my friend over there just told me you guys skied a mountain back up in that drainage. Is that true?"

"Yes, Esha Peak. You can see it from 395."

"Really!? So you, like, carried your skis all the way up there and then skied all the way down?"

"Yea, exactly. Not the best snow today, but a beautiful climb."

"Wow, that's amazing. Well, you folks have a good day."

"Thanks, you too."

A bit of perspective after a disappointingly demoralizing ski descent.

At the end of the day, it's all about "just being out there." Skiing, fishing, or hiking.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Natural History of Interstate 5

Identifying the true essence of the human spirit has been, for some reason, high priority in my thoughts of late.

I have had a rather busy April, spending 11 full days in the field since April 10th, and awaiting more this weekend. I suppose sleeping outside so much changes you a bit.

I have always noticed this transformation, from the very first expedition kayaking trip I took in Baja to the simple half-day at the local crag. The scope of the effect is, of course, different, but if you look deeply enough, you can recognize the same magnetic force. It pulls you in, makes you feel alive, restructures your priorities, even if just for a split second, and resets your frame of mind. When you return to "life as usual" you feel cleansed, and maybe you don't know why.

I think I came close to understanding while discussing various political, social, and hot-button wilderness topics with some of my favorite Shasta co-guides on my first trip of the season this week. You get away from materialism, consumerism, societal stresses and pressures, thrown into the elements. You realize what matters: food, water, beauty, friends, and the ability to mend your own clothing and equipment. You need nothing new and flashy, just what you have. The duct tape holding your pants together doesn't matter, it is neither fashion sin nor dirtbag status declaration. It just works. Self-sufficiency and ingenuity are mandatory skills. Flimsy green bills can't save you here.

I have been stunned at how fortunate I am to have found a profession that gives me such satisfaction on every level I need: lots of time outside, physical activity, and the opportunity to teach to a willing and able audience of enthusiastic students. My three favorite things wrapped up into one profession.

So amidst this several-week-long work stint, I have come to feel very grounded in the forces of nature, with a heightened sensitivity to the natural beauty surrounding me. And it has affected me in very interesting ways.

I was refilling the propane canister in my boyfriend's camper van at a run-down gas station in Redding when a bird chirped and flew off to another tree in the distance. I heard it loud and clear. I did not hear the road or the freeway, nor the people talking and slamming doors. I heard the wind rustling the leaves on the few trees emerging from the concrete. And the bird again.

I felt exceptionally spacey on the drive to San Francisco, and realized I was seeing the periphery more than the lane in front of me. I was watching the rolling hills, the springtime blooms, the wild clouds revealing high atmospheric winds. I was imagining the forces that could have formed the ripples in the earth before me. I couldn't hear the road noise, my music felt distracting. I turned it off a heard my own breathing.

And then I remembered an interview on NPR with a guy who has researched the effects of noise pollution. He discussed the therapeutic value of natural sounds. People who live in cities have shown to benefit greatly from the presence of natural sounds. In fact, when there are just a few birds chirping above the hum and buzz of the city's traffic (imagine yourself in New York' Central Park), people have reported feeling less stress.

We are genetically programmed to hear these sounds, not the sounds of motors and horns and jackhammers. With the latter, we cope, we do not thrive.

But never before have I been so acutely aware of the sounds I was hearing. And as the daughter of a musician, always sensitive to tone quality and the presence of sound, never before have I been able to tune out the white noise.

This day, it was as if my natural programming had taken over. And it was the most lovely, peaceful drive down I-5 I have ever experienced.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How many points in an anchor?

Perhaps the best way to introduce these three is in a photo. Look closely.
Upon first glance, they appear to be, quite simply, three young, able-bodied men, well-prepared for the mountaineering task at hand. And this they were.

But they were so much more. As work buddies from the US Coast Guard, they were also a team of compassionate sh*t-givers, travel companions, and relentless older brothers.

Take, for example, the rainbow hat Robby is wearing. John and Ryan, on the right, declared it "the best $6 I ever spent." They found the hat at a gas station while on the road, and slyly replaced Robby's normal warm hat with this one, hiding the normal one such that Robby was forced to wear it when his ears finally got cold. Classic older brother maneuver.

I kept wondering why, on the first 3 days of our rock portion, John and Ryan kept asking Robby if his ears were cold, eliciting a defensively irritated (but notably amused) response. "No. No, they're not."

Climbing and hiking while at altitude are one thing, but has anyone studied the effects of excessive laughter in the upper elevations? Before embarking on a serious high-altitude objective with these three, you may want to consider your own laugh-fitness. I'm pretty sure I could have climbed Everest after this trip.

John, Ryan and Robby signed up for our 7-day Alpine Climbing course. In February, they had 2 days of ice climbing with Jed, another one of our guides, and finished up with 5 days of rock and snow skills with me this April.

With heinous weather rolling in, we spent 3 days working on rock skills in the Owens River Gorge. The first day was simply a climbing day, just to get some movement skills down. We introduced some basic crack climbing skills, which allowed us to get on a slightly more difficult crack climb the next day. Crack climbing is a crucial skill for alpine climbing, as much of the rock in the high mountains of the world is made of granitic rock, which fractures into spectacular blocks of all sizes, weather-worn and otherwise minimally featured.

The second day was half climbing and half skills, getting into gear placement, anchoring, and some mock multi-pitch climbing. As if a testament to the value of keeping things fun and light, these three absorbed all of the information instantly, enthusiastically putting it to immediate use, asking great questions, and practicing again and again until they really understood. Every instructor's dream student... except, perhaps, for that crusty old math teacher who forgot how to smile 30 years ago.

Crusty, old, and math teacher I am not. So we smiled, laughed, and learned at light speed for 5 days straight.

With weather moving in, we spent another day in the Gorge, under the protection of the El Dorado Roof, beginning our work on crevasse rescue and haul systems. This would allow us to apply our skills quickly and easily to the snow in our now-shortened timeframe.

For the last two days, we hiked up the Horse Creek drainage toward Matterhorn Peak, worked on our last new subjects, snow travel and snow anchors, and applied our rescue and haul systems to the new terrain.


I just finished a rather long stint of work, ending with this year's guide training for my upcoming season with Shasta Mountain Guides. We had some very interesting discussions with the guides, both new and old. I was struck at how many of us aligned on our responses when asked why we like guiding. Both a sign of the nature of our venue (Mt. Shasta is not a high profile peak, so people who come to climb with us are often most interested in learning and enjoying the experience) and the quality of the owners' direction, SMG attracts a type of guide who is proficient, open-minded, and respectful. Our resounding response: we simply enjoy facilitating a challenging and exciting experience for our climbers, helping them to attain something they may never have thought possible. California Alpine Guides has worked closely with SMG for many years, largely a reflection of shared ethics and similar priorities -- just different venues.

And in reality, as Dave (CAG owner) has often said, we learn far more from our clients than they learn from us. Most come to us with some knowledge of backcountry travel techniques. Prior to this April, I knew next to nothing about our Coast Guard or the people in it.

It was fascinating to hear about the systems they use for rescues (which is probably why these three picked everything up so quickly!), as well as what all it is they do out there.

But alas, after five days, these three still thought that a single-point, hoovering anchor, used in conjunction with a steel braided rope, is an acceptable setup for a 2:1 hauling system. Guys, come on. Where is the equalized master point? And what kind of prusik are you going to use on a steel rope? (See photo below, courtesy of Ryan Hawn). ;-)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Haute Route Trek!!!

I'm not sure how many people out there in bloggerland are following my posts... but I wanted to use this space to let you all know (even if it's just my mom) that Dave and I at International Alpine Guides (a division of California Alpine Guides) are offering a trekking version of the classic Haute Route this summer, July 10-18.

The Haute Route is a famous route done by backcountry skiers in the winter and spring. It traverses the French and Swiss Alps, traveling from Chamonix to Zermatt, and passing through some of the most spectacular mountainous terrain in the world. We hike through high peaks and passes, dropping down to sleep in Alpine huts and sometimes in little mountain villages, where we have fine French and Swiss meals, drink excellent wine, and explore the world of cheese. That's my favorite part.

I will be guiding the trip, as I am fluent in French and have lived in the French Alps. I am so excited about this trip that I wanted to write about it here, and ask you all to spread the word! If you or someone you know are looking for a grand and scenic adventure this summer, or just some stunning, life-changing mountain vistas, this is one to consider very seriously.

Check out our website for more info: