Tuesday, December 11, 2012

recent ASC posts

Since becoming an official contributing writer for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, I've been speaking to some pretty incredible people. I regularly am in contact with Gregg Treinish, the founder / director of ASC and 2008 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for his first-ever through hike of the Andes mountain range. Most recently, I wrote a blog post advocating for ASC and the American Alpine Club, which can be found here at the ASC Blog.
Gregg has set me up to interview several fascinating adventurers and scientists, with many more on next year's slate as ASC continues to pick up steam.

Dave and Amy Freeman-
Dave and Amy run Wilderness Classroom, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching young students about the importance of ecosystems around the planet. Dave and Amy are currently finishing up a three year, 11,700 mile trek by paddling from the Great Lakes to Key West by way of the Atlantic Ocean. They are participating in several ASC studies, and my story detailing their expedition can be found at the ASC Blog.

Lonnie Dupre-
Lonnie is a world-renowned mountaineer who attempted the first-ever winter solo summit of Denali in Alaska last year. Lonnie had to bivouac in an emergency snowcave for seven days at 14,000 feet before even being able to retreat. While in the cave and on his descent, he fought 96 mph winds and temps that, with windchill factored in, hit -75 degrees Fahrenheit. Lonnie has his own adventure blog with detailed accounts and audio clips of his harrowing attempt. Beginning Dec. 29th, he will attempt to summit Denali again while collecting microbial samples for the ASC Microbe Study.

Dragos Zaharescu-
Dragos is a climatologist at the University of Arizona in Tuscon, and heads a fascinating study about nutrient cycling via microbial breakdown of bedrock in alpine environments. Dragos is working with Lonnie Dupre to collect samples from high on Denali's apline ecosystem, and through ASC advocates the link between the effectiveness of science and public awareness. He is excited about the future of ASC and has said wonderful things of his involvement with the organization thus far. Stay tuned for my next story that will explain the relationship between Dragos, Lonnie and their study.

Monday, November 26, 2012

we're on the trip

After road trippin' in the Caravan (it was the Sport model, so it was legit) came to a close, I had been searching for closure. I spent many hours processing the trip through memories, photos and my journals I kept along the way, thinking that I would develop some new paradigm on how I see the world. But I've discovered that closure isn't what I needed. I have come to realize I require transition and inspiration, which I recently stepped into knee-deep.

Eric and I had a phrase that we exclaimed profoundly, a brief and obvious statement that always got a rise out of the other person. I've learned that people actively pursuing something they've worked hard for often have one of these, something to keep themselves grounded and lifted simultaneously. For us, it was "We're on the trip!" This phrase represented the continuing culmination of something over a year in the making, and it always provided a kick during a long, stale drive or a tedious hike through hot, dry country.
I guess for us it was akin to "It's really happening!" and we loved it. There's nothing that provides the palpable taste of accomplishment like truly living in the moment, as the present is all we truly ever experience. When you can enjoy the current moment above everything past and future, you feel pure elation and time ceases to exist.

We also kept things in perspective with the axiom "everything is temporary." Usually this phrase was uttered during a trial or something that could cause some negativity, but we came to learn that its meaning extended to the good things as well. Mental reconciliation became a huge part of our lives. When any chill-inducing, this-is-life moment was happening, I'd try to really soak it up as I knew it would eventually come to a close, and that a low moment lurked somewhere in the darkness beyond.

One of my most memorable moments was towards the end of our return trip, which was a straight shot from the beach in Arcata, California to our point of origin in Morgantown, West Virginia. We were passing by Pittsburgh and we realized that we had to keep the phrase "Were on the trip!" alive. To us, this represented continuing life with the mindset that the adventure never ends, it only takes different forms. While the road trip that we had invested so much into and had pulled off, quite successfully, was coming to a close, a new phoenix would rise from the ropetrip's ashes and carry us off to a new thrill. I wasn't sure what the hell it was going to be as I was close to broke and in need of employment, but I knew I'd reinvent myself one way or another.

I had always joked that being destitute was the source of financial adventure, as you never really know what you're made of until you're forced to produce. It's not as primal or adrenal as true physical survival, but in today's global society, I feel it creates waves just as big. Necessity is the mother of invention, and it was time to hit the drawing board. But I discovered the inspiration was a struggle to sustain. It's hard to produce mental positivity when you're in a lull. Attainable goals are often placed on the backburner, simmering for far too long and steaming away into delusions of grandeur. The endorphin-flooded thoughts that are supposed to push us to strive for a better life slip away into sleep and become pipe dreams.

The silver lining of hitting a low means the only way to go is up. My resting was done, and I wanted to be on the trip again. So I looked into graduate school for a morale boost, discovering a feasible career through studying environmental policy. I also took a shot in the dark and emailed Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation director Gregg Treinish (we had participated in the pika study during the roadtrip through Montana) and asked for advice on building a career based around writing and conservation. I would have been happy with any response from Gregg, but what I was offered was a major step in the right direction. Gregg and ASC invited me to become a contributing writer, actually getting paid for my words and effectively shocking my dead journalism career back to life. He also encouraged me to apply for an incredible travelling job through ASC which I am anxious to hear back about. The same evening, I received my acceptance letter for grad school at West Virginia University.

All of it goes to show that the trip never ends. Things begin and things come to a close. Adventures start and finish, and the most important lesson of all is to enjoy the journey. Because when it's over and you ponder everything that happened, all you're left with is the aching wonder of what's next. It is this downtime, the lull between major chapters of our lives, that produces the peaks we aim to summit. And it is during this time that we must remember - we're all on the trip.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

backyard crag

While Eric is back on the road and doing sweet things like climbing Devil's Tower in Wyoming and living at The Red in Kentucky, I'm back in a chair at a desk. Fortunately, I've taken full advantage of autumn in the Appalachians by biking, hiking and climbing through this most perfect of seasons. The air is cool and dry, the leaves absolutely explode with color and energy is in the air. One of the best parts has been the discovery of my own personal outdoor training gym. My neighbor, a very cool man by the name of George, has a set of boulders in his backyard that possess a number of pretty fun boulder problems. They don't sport the classic quality of routes up at Coopers Rock, but for being 100 feet from my door it's surprisingly good. George is a traveler and a doctor. He's been all over working with Doctors Without Borders as well as other NGOs. Currently, he's in Syria doing medical work - I can't imagine leaving the tranquil fall in West Virginia for war-torn Syria, but I have great respect for him. He's also a climber - he drilled a bolt into the top of a large boulder right off his back deck so he can self-belay and top rope it. He's really enjoyed my eye for spotting boulder problems that he never would have contemplated.

my backyard - fall in wv
Currently, I've sent eight fun routes and have eyed up a few more that are way above my ability - but it's something to work towards. My best accomplishment was finally topping out a highball problem that took me three weeks to figure out. I'll consider it my greatest and only true first ascent - I was extremely stoked to send it clean. It's definitely made me stronger and has improved my technique quite well. Now that the leaves are off the trees, the relentless overcast and grim forests look like they are ready to succumb to the cold grip of winter. With a few great weekends remaining, climbing season will come to a close, save the occasional 60 degree winter day we always have in the Mid-Atlantic. With one last big trip to the Red planned for mid November, I'm crushing as much as I can at my backyard crag to stay strong for next spring.

Here's the sequence for the highball that took my several weeks to get beta dialed in:

Mike McDonald on a nice face climb:

Monday, October 8, 2012

ropetrip reboot

Like Mitt Romney's campaign, the ropetrip got a little stale. So what do you do when what you're doing isn't working? You say you're gonna reboot it and be magically given a fresh slate. Now while I didn't throw 47% of you under the bus, I neglected to keep up on what's going on post-trip. Part of the reason we came home is because we really love fall in West Virginia. What we still believe is the best sandstone in the country at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky and the New River Gorge in West-by-God is mere hours away. We also have some pretty decent bouldering at Coopers Rock State Forest and some secret local spots that remain low-impact. My neighbor has a rather cool set of boulders right behind his house, and has given me free reign over developing whatever I want to. So far I've eyed up 6 or 7 decent routes that make this place my own personal outdoor training gym. Eric is back on the road, visiting a friend in Kansas then heading down to post up at the Red in Kentucky. While he's down there, some friends from Motown are going to join me for a 4-5 day trip. This weekend we're hitting the New again, and get to take whips on a brand spankin' new Sterling Rope. So while we're not exploring new territory, we're soaking up the best of what our favorite season has to offer in the always-inviting Appalachians.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

by the numbers

Now that the climbing roadtrip has been completed, and we reside again in West Virginia, albeit temporarily, it's time to crunch the stats of the journey.

states visited - 20
miles driven - 12,000
states climbed - 8
destinations climbed - 13
routes completed - 121
vertical feet climbed (outdoors) - 8,610
climbing gyms visited - 4
nights spent indoors - 8
national parks visited - 5
miles hiked in backcountry - 71
bears encountered - 5
lives changed - 2

Monday, September 10, 2012

backcountry u.s.a.

Although the focus of the ropetrip has been traveling to America's premier climbing destinations, Eric and I also enjoy the occasional backpacking trip. Loading up a hefty pack with forty pounds of all you need to survive and walking tens of miles into the wilderness is a truly unique experience that only so many outdoors enthusiasts tackle in our national parks. Numbers of backpackers are limited, mainly because not many people like to leave the securities of our modern lifestyle. Second, coveted backpacking wildernesses are limited to use by permit systems in most national parks. These permits ensure those entering the backcountry are able-bodied, educated, and respectful of Leave No Trace trail ethics to minimize impact in our treasured wilderness areas.

Eric and I had planned on backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park back in late June, but the big fire at the park's main entrance town of Estes Park forced us up into Wyoming. Fastforward to August, and we were hungry for a backcountry epic. We cruised from Missoula, Montana north to Glacier National Park - endearingly referred to as the Crown Jewel of the Continent. Glacier is billed as an International Peace Park, sharing land with Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park. The 1,000,000 plus-acre park is dissected by the continent-dividing Rocky Mountains, with many peaks over 10,000 feet. The glaciated landscaped is one of geological wonder, with massive U-shaped valleys, over 130 named lakes (some hundreds of feet deep), gushing waterfalls, and over 1,000 species of flora and fauna. But most notably, tons of bears. Grizzly and black bears occupy the park in massive numbers, and the National Park Service makes all visitors aware of this. To obtain a backcoutry permit for any of Glacier's many trail systems, hikers must watch a 14 minute educational video on bear behavior. The park offers bear canisters for food storage along with any other items that carry the smallest inkling of a scent. Bears have extremely sensitive noses - a girl was recently roused at night in her tent because she had washed her hair with berry-scented shampoo several days before her hike.

The park's namesake glaciers are disappearing before our eyes. The scenery that inspires so many can only be understood through the geologic timescale - the uplift that created the mountains occured 170 million years ago. However, the glaciers that attract millions of people every year are shrinking away in the length of a human lifetime. Glacier was home to around 150 glaciers in the nineteenth century - now only 25 named glaciers remain. And those 25 are estimated to disappear by 2025. So if you want to gaze on one of the most powerful erosive forces on the planet, book your trip to Montana now. It will be a sad story that we have to tell our children and grandchildren - "back in my day, there used to be huge fields of snow all over the place!"  As climbers, the death of the glaciers and premature melting of mountain frost is a source of danger. Each year as temps hit early records, crucial ice acting as an arctic cement melts away, leading to rock falls and scree avalanches that are killing and injuring climbers at alarmingly high numbers.

Now that the depressing truth has been presented, let's get to the good stuff. We did a 35 mile beast of a hike in two days. We started at Kintla Lake Trailhead at the far northwest corner of the park. Day one completed the 17.5 miles in to gain the top of Boulder Pass where the backcountry campground is. The trail follows the north shore of Kintla Lake, a massive glacial lake over 450 feet deep. The trail heads upslope into a large burnt out meadow with great views of the Border Mountains, then onto the north bank of Upper Kintla Lake. After 12 miles, the 3,280 feet of elevation begins. Five miles of uphill switch backs through old growth forest and alpine meadows set you up for the grand finale, Boulder Pass. The campground sits at 7,100 feet and has three tent sites, a communal cooking area with a convenient bear hang wire, and one of the world's top ten outdoor toilets. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1078738/Loo-view-The-worlds-toilets-best-vistas.html - check it out for a look see.
boulder pass in all its glory - agassiz glacier visible to the left, flanked by the 10,101 ft kintla peak

Our arrival at the pass was made more exciting by the presence of a male grizzly bear about 50 feet from where we collapsed on a small snowfield. When we noticed he was there, we did as they told us and faced him while backing up slowly - you never want to turn your back on a bear. He barely acknowledged us, flopped down on the snow, and seemed quite happy to be where he was. So we got an easy exit and didn't have to use the bear spray - the best way to experience a closeup grizz. We spent a night at the pass, rewarded with the clearest night sky either of us have ever seen, and woke up at sunrise to have a quick breakfast and manhandle the 17.5 mile hike back to the trailhead. We would have preferred to do a loop hike, but the requirement of a shuttle and hitchhiking back to the trialhead left us questioning the practicality of the loop. With one mile to go, exhausted, sore, hungry and sporting a low morale, a black bear sow and two cubs occupied the trail, forcing us to backtrack and try to circumvent the aggravated beast. She eventually let us pass, and we were glad. All we wanted at that point was to get the hell out, drive the 1.5 hour gravel road to the nearest town, and grab a cold beer and a burger.

the grizz from the snowpatch - photo by other hikers

becoming rarer by the year, it was great to safely encounter one of these beasts in the wilderness

Although we were completely fried by the end of the hike, the experience was amazing. Glacier is home to the some of the greatest alpine scenery the country has to offer. I highly recommend a trip to this national treasure, and don't let our story keep you away if you're not a hearty woodsman. Glacier has over 700 miles of trails, some even ADA accessible and paved. The Going to the Sun Road lets motorists catch glimpses of wildlife and scenery. Put this park at the top of your list - it won't be as it is much longer.