Sunday, December 29, 2013

the things you find when you're sort of looking

Inventory.  It's a word that can strike fear into the heart of any firefighter.  Inventory is a necessary, but mind numbing, evil.  We inventory everything: equipment on vehicles, tools, all our gear.  In fact, you can't call yourself a firefighter until you've spent tedious hours counting bandaids in first aid kits and separating fire pants in piles of small, medium, large and extra large.  We inventory at the beginning of the season, before preparedness reviews, at the end of the season, and whenever I start to hear statements like "I can't find..," "I thought we had 5 blivets on here...," and, "We're out of ...!" Nobody really likes to do inventory, but occasionally we find something....interesting.

One day Logan, an EMT, rummaged through the search and rescue cabinet on a rainy day. "What's this?" he mumbled, emerging with a small carton.  It was an emergency survival kit from the 1970s.  "This chocolate is older than me," Logan declared, fearlessly trying it.  There was something else in there I recognized:

I'm not sure about the "balanced nutrition" part.
"Space food sticks!" I yelled, remembering them from  childhood camping trips..  A precursor to energy bars, they were eaten by astronauts on space missions and then marketed to the public.  The crew looked at me blankly, too young to remember.  "Those are really weird," one muttered.

Another crew sorted through a pile of tents, deciding to set them up to see which ones were missing poles or had broken zippers.  One tent looked strange, tall and skinny.  We circled it.  Then it dawned on me.
You can find it here if you want to buy it. Only $12.50!
"It's a TOILET TENT," I exclaimed.  Why did we have this item in the fire cache, when the woods all around you on fires works great for that purpose?  It remains a mystery, unless it was from one of those wilderness fires we all dread...not because of the fire, but because you are not allowed to use the woods, resulting in your friendly helitack crew dealing with the results as they are flown out by helicopter in buckets.

Then there's these orange flight suits and coveralls we found:

This picture looks stretched on this computer. We are really not this large.
This pĂ­cture looks stretched on this computer.  We are not really this large.

But by far the most disturbing item I ever found while doing inventory (even worse than the nest of baby mice) lurked innocently in a pile of sleeping bags.  Opening the fire cache in the spring, I sighed, seeing that the last crew to return from an assignment the previous fall had just thrown their dirty bags into the cache, expecting someone else to wash them.  Being that someone else, I started going through them. Something was stuffed into the toe of one of them.  I fished it out, and discovered I was holding a 6 month old, fossilized roast beef sandwich.

WHO DOES THIS?  "Oh, I'm not hungry right now, I think I'll save this sandwich for later.  My sleeping bag, I think that's a good place to put it."

What about you? Have you ever found anything strange at work?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve Walk

My friend B. was in town so we took her two fluffy dogs for a walk on a snowy trail.

Nobody was at the snowy trailhead except a lone Canadian car.

I was planning to run today, but this was better.

View from the overlook about 1.5 miles along the trail.  The sun was out for once!

Happy dog loving the snow.

The other dog needed a photo op as well.

B. walks by the cliffs.  The trail comes to a high point and then contours downhill.  We hiked about 5 miles.

It's a winter wonderland!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

running for life

I'm not a running blogger, for a couple of reasons: there are plenty of them out there, and because I've been running for so long (longer than some of the running bloggers have been alive).  I don't have a lot to say about it; it's just something I do.

Most firefighters run, because it's the quickest and easiest way to obtain and maintain endurance.  It's cheap too.  At my base we don't have a gym, unless we go over to the hotshots and use theirs.  We can't afford to buy weights, and we have trails out the back door, mostly old, abandoned roads and dirt bike tracks.  So we run.

But I didn't start running for work.  I started when I was 14.  My dad ran, the only one in the neighborhood, back when it was called jogging.  "There goes the jogger," the neighbors would say.  My sister and I made it 1/4 mile down the block on our first run without stopping.  Later, we would circle the neighborhood with our friend Laura on summer nights, sometimes stopping to walk up hills, talking about boys.

It was the start of a running boom.  There were races every weekend in the summertime.  I started to win some of them.  The same people showed up at the starting line; we all knew each other.  I sported the first pair of running tights in town, having to get them specially made by a seamstress.  "Your legs are blue!" people said, not knowing what to make of them.  I was recruited by the local university cross country coach; we ran for hours on the lakeside trails and sand hills.

For years, all I did was run.  Other sports seemed somehow inferior.  I was so obsessed that I would run on treacherous ice, in snowstorms, and once during a tornado watch.  I had a rigid schedule: run 10 miles today, no excuses!  I planned my day around running, and would get anxious if anything might interfere with it.  It stopped being fun a lot of the time. 

Then I moved west and started working in national parks.  Some of my coworkers ran, but they also hiked, rode bikes, and climbed mountains.  Going along, I had sore muscles afterward.  I realized that I couldn't do a pullup, or very many pushups either.  My knees made crackling noises when I knelt down, and sometimes hurt from overuse.  I was fit for running, but that was about it.

I started giving myself permission not to run every day.  Instead, I went for hikes, snowshoed, rock climbed, cross country skied.  I lifted weights.  I gained new muscle.  I had two knee surgeries that weren't running related; I had to stop running for 6 months.  I had to redefine myself.  I had put so much emphasis on my identity as a runner.  What else was I?

I bought a kayak, and learned (sort of, it's debatable) to snowboard.  I run now about two or three days a week.  I almost exclusively run on trails.  Most of the time I guess how far it is.  I don't wear any gadgets except a running watch, and sometimes I forget to take it.  I don't have any knee pain; in fact I've never had a significant running injury.

Some people can run at a high level for a long time.  At one point, at the height of my obsession, I thought I would too.  I'm grateful for the race years because they helped me realize that I was an athlete instead of a skinny girl who was afraid of everything.  But I want to do other things.  And I want to be able to run for the rest of my life.

Climbing in Nepal for 3 weeks, I didn't even take running shoes.  When I got back, I put them on and went for a run.  Fit from weeks of trekking at high altitude, my body settled into the rhythm of running.  There were no stopwatches, and the trail was icy, but it was like seeing an old friend, one you know will be there for life.  Hello again, I thought. I knew you'd be here, waiting for me.  And I ran on.

Monday, December 16, 2013

more things need warning labels and expiration dates

This bear spray expired 11 years ago.  Want to test it out?
In the wildland firefighting world we are constantly checking our gear and equipment because we rely on it for our survival.  We are always inventorying and looking at even the little things.  Statements like this can often be heard throughout our hangar:

"The eyewash is expired! We need to buy more, or somebody needs to have an eye injury and use it. Haha, just kidding."

"This bottled water expired in 2010! Can water really expire?"

"This bear spray has an expiration date of 2002!  Think it's still good?"

"YOU GUYS.  Please clean out the fridge!  There's milk in here from three months ago!"

It occurred to me that it would be great if there were more expiration dates in other aspects of life.  For example:

Bad Moods.  If you knew when grumpiness and general irritability would end, both in yourself and others, life would be easier.  Upon seeing someone in a bad mood, you could practice see and avoid techniques, as in, "Oh look, it says here that my sister's bad mood will be over at 8:00 Monday evening, but if I want to accelerate the process, give her some chocolate."  For yourself, you could take a *cough* sick day *cough* until the expiration date passed.

Jobs.  Everyone's had one of those...the job where you stayed just a little too long.  (Hi, current boss, not this one!)  Job offers should come with this information:  "Hello, corporate slave, welcome to your new position. Just so you know, your excitement and enthusiasm for this position will expire on April 27, 2017.  Please plan ahead and avoid major purchases around this date.  Continuing in this position until the sweet embrace of death is possible, however, increased annoyance and intolerance will occur."

Boyfriends.  If only that person came with a label, such as, "Warning! This boyfriend expires in May, 2011.  Symptoms of declining performance in this boyfriend include: phone call avoidance, extreme backpedaling, and increased interest in other women.  Proceed at your own risk, however, there are no warranties, implied or otherwise."  Of course, there are those who are shelf-stable, need no refrigeration, and are good for life!  This kind needs no warning label and never expires.

That workout funk.  Anyone who has exercised regularly for awhile knows this one.  For some reason, a 3 mile run seems like torture; you get surly just thinking about the gym.  Wouldn't it be nice to know when this would be over?  For example:  "This workout funk will last two days.  Go for a walk instead."  Then you could check your calendar: "Oh, the funk is over! Time to go run the Hill of Doom! This is going to be great!"

Weight fluctuations.  You know when you feel like you are eating well and exercising but for some reason your weight is up?  Well, here's where a nice warning label would come in handy: "Hi there.  The universe is going to mess with your weight for four days, just cause it's fun and because a butterfly in Asia flapped its wings somewhere.  Don't weigh yourself! I said, don't weigh yourself!  Stop!" Wouldn't it be a relief not to CSI your food journal to find out which gram of sodium or gluten particle caused this and instead just relax a little?

What do you think? What else could use an expiration date or warning label?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

in praise of ranch kids

Picture from here
I think I've mentioned this before, but it's on my mind again, since I went to a meeting today about seasonal hiring.  I firmly believe that, at least for the jobs I hire for, your best bet is a former ranch (or farm) kid.  Here's why.

1.  Ranch kids are used to getting up early.  On fires, we often have to be at morning briefings at 5 am.  The ranch kids are always on time, and don't complain about how early it is.

2.  They are used to doing all kinds of dirty, difficult jobs.  Did they take care of animals, fix fence, deal with cows?  This means they'll happily fight fire, clear trails, and work on vehicles. 

3.  They're used to getting paid little, if at all.  Some of these guys and gals grew up doing work around the ranch because they were part of the family, not for money.  Later in life they're grateful for the opportunity to work hard and make money doing it.  I've never met a ranch kid who felt entitled or wanted to know what I could do for him, rather than the other way around.

4.  They're fit.  Lots of hard physical work in the outdoors will do that for you.

5.  Bad weather doesn't faze them.  Have you BEEN to a ranch in eastern Montana?  Pretty harsh weather, people!

6.  They're self sufficient.  A. grew up on a ranch near the Canadian border; the closest town has 300 residents.  Obviously, he had no problem working alone.  He was always happy to see other people though!

5.  They're usually cheerful.  I'm sure there's some grumpy farm boys and girls out there, but I have yet to meet them!  One of my favorite ranch kids, "Danimal", always had a smile on his face, even when dodging bears (his other nickname was "Bear Bait").

Any ranch/farm kids out there?  Tell me what other positive traits I've missed!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

six months till fire season

About this time of year, it's hard to believe that in just a few short months we will be seeing this again (at least in some parts of the country):

It is currently -1 F, with colder temperatures on the way.  Despising the treadmill, I run outside.  Despite the temperature, there are other people on the trails.  People in Montana are tough.

Winter runner, or burglar?

It's a winter wonderland at the top of the ski area.  There's so much snow that all the runs will be open in a couple days.

For firefighters, it's a time to relax.  Take vacation days.  Travel.  Appreciate a forest for what it is, instead of watching for smoke.  Because in just a few short months, it will all begin again.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

things people say to me about my job

1. "That must be exciting!"  Well...yes, sometimes.  I've been a firefighter for over half my life now so sometimes I lose my frame of reference.  What might be exciting to someone who works in a cube farm is just another day to me.  (Also, if I got to go to a cube farm, I'd probably be unreasonably excited by computers that actually work, and printers that don't take two hours to print a 100 page PDF document).  Yes, there are exciting moments: chasing fire, saving houses...but also long stretches of boredom and monotony, doing project work and waiting for fires to actually happen.

2.  "Do you jump out of planes?"  No, those are my buddies the smokejumpers.  They are great, but I've known too many broken ones to have considered that job for myself.  We take different methods to get to a fire, but once we are there, our job is the same.

3.  "You're so brave!" do you answer this?  "Yes, why yes I am!"?  The truth is, a lot of stuff scares me, but we learn to assess and manage risk.  I've done some pretty brave things on the fireline, but I've also known when to back off and let nature take its course.

4.  "That's a hard job."  Yes, it can be.  Hard on your body, hard on relationships, mentally hard sometimes.  Other times, when it's just you and one other person perched on a peak in the middle of nowhere watching a fire, it's the best job ever.

5.  "How did you get started doing that?"  Honestly, it was really an accident.  I never meant to make this a career.

6.  "Do you fly the helicopter?"  No, we have a pilot for that.  Thank goodness, because I'm really bad at it.

7.  "Do you fight fires all over the country?"  Yes, we go all over the place, and some lucky people get to go places like Australia and Russia.

8.  "You're lucky, you get paid to exercise."  Yes, in theory we get "PT time" every day.  Often it doesn't happen because of a fire or a project.  It's great, but we don't have the budget for workout equipment so we can sometimes be found lifting logs and rocks (it works, though).  Also, it's necessary:  we are often required to hike long distances out of fires; 20 miles is common.  Where I work people sometimes hike 50 miles to get back to civilization.  You have to be fit to be able to do that. Whether you're 19 years old or 55, nobody cares: you have to keep up, and carry all your stuff.

9.  "Why don't you cut more trees down so people's houses don't burn?"  Sorry, there's just not enough money or personnel to do this everywhere.  If people who live in the forest would clear out around their houses, it would reduce their risk greatly.  I've watched houses burn and it's heartbreaking to know that a little brushing and cutting by the landowner would have saved them.

10.  And my favorite:  "You women don't really fight fires, do you? You just go along and cook for the men."  In this guy's defense, this was said about 20 years ago and he didn't know any better.  Men who camp out on the fireline are usually pretty good cooks if we get fresh food (or know how to doctor up MREs).  And if you need anything sewn, see a smokejumper.  Most of them know their way around a sewing machine like no other.

What do people say about YOUR job?

Monday, November 25, 2013

I'm a bad weather friend

We sit eating turkey burgers, an early "Friendsgiving," commenting on the American Music Awards.  "Look at Miley," we say.  "What is she wearing?" Earlier, we snowshoed up the ski hill, and then went to see the second Hunger Games movie.  The day before we hiked to a frozen lake.  My friends laugh and pass around salad and wine.  I probably don't deserve them, the way I float in and out of their lives, but I'm here nevertheless.

Here's how you know who your real friends are.  Bail on everything for six months a year.  Weddings, birthdays, holiday barbecues.  Make plans because you think you have a day off, and then cancel at the last minute because you're on your way to Alaska.  Tell them you'll be back in three weeks.  If you do have a few hours, meet them at the Nite Owl or the Dam Town.  Show up in smoky nomex and fire boots, and leave early, because you have to be at work by six the next morning.  Don't answer emails or texts for a long time because you don't have cell service on your fire in Wyoming.  At the end of fire season, come back.  Start contacting people: you're available now! What are they doing?  If they welcome you back, and are happy to see you, and it's like no time at all has gone by, do what you can to keep them.

Friends on the trail

We stopped to look at this icy stream

Almost frozen lake at about 15 F

Top of the ski area

Thursday, November 21, 2013

running stream of consciousness

Well ok.  My work computer is independently deciding to run a check disk and get rid of bad files.  Um, thanks? Maybe I should run.  Ok, I will.  Probably kind of cold out there.  7:30 and it's starting to get light out.  Shirt with sleeves that fold into mittens, check.  Light jacket.  Hat. Running tights.  I remember when I had the first pair of running tights in town.  I had to get them specially made by a seamstress.  At races, people said, "Your legs are blue!" OK, focus. Spikes? No, it's probably not that slippery.  Where's my watch?  Oh, here it is.  Here we go.  Oh, I looked at the thermometer.  It's 5 F.  Brrr. Well, too late now.  Running toward the trail. I feel fortunate to live so close to a trail system.  Actually it's one of the reasons I bought this house.  Good, there's nobody parked here.  The trail is frosty but there's no snow here anymore.  Oops, I forgot to wear orange.  I'll run on the east side trail that goes up by some houses, there won't be any hunters there.  Turn left now. It's kind of cold out.  Here comes the hill.  The sun's not up yet.  Is that black thing a bear? No, it's a stump.  Probably should have worn my contacts.  Top of the hill!  There's the castle house.  I never see anybody there.  I wonder if they just have a caretaker and never come here.  Could have used another layer.  There's the house with the little barky dogs.  They're not out.  Yay, downhill!  Climb over the mountain bike jumps now.  I wonder who built these?  My feet are cold.  Stop it, you're lucky to be able to run.  I really can't run on the treadmill, ugh.  Trail junction, go left.  Slight downhill here.  I read yesterday that most humans have 2.5% Neanderthal DNA, that's so interesting.  Why did I think of that?  This is why I've failed at meditating.  Coming up to the turnaround point.  Not running too fast today.  Main trail, turn around.  I've warmed up a little.  I wonder what I should eat for breakfast.  Oh, there's yogurt that's expired.  I'm sure it's still good.  Trail junction, turn right.  Back over the mountain bike jumps.  I've only seen a few bikers in here.  This hill seems longer than usual.  I'm cold again, what's up with that? Hi, castle house.  Downhill again!  There's that connector trail.  Can't believe I've been running in here for so long and just found another trail the other day.  At least I don't get lost in here anymore.  Turn right now.  Sun's still not up.  Should have worn warmer tights.  It's good to get exercise out of the way first thing.  Here's the gate.  Less than 1/4 mile left.  My neighbor has already gone to work.  Look at my cute house, I love it.  OK, I'm done!  Running in the morning is the best!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

the simple life

I was a seasonal employee for many years.  Unlike now, it was almost impossible to get the coveted permanent appointment with benefits and guaranteed work.  You either waited it out, quit and went back to school, or applied to another government agency.  My friend D. did this, fleeing to the IRS in the early '90s to obtain the needed status to be able to apply back to our agency for the jobs he really wanted.  "I found out that there's a certain amount of money you can owe and it's not worth it for the IRS to come after you," he reported back, adding helpfully, "but I can't tell you what it is."

These days my employees have more toys than I do, but in my seasonal days, we thought that kind of life was well beyond us.  Not knowing when, if ever, we would even be able to apply for permanent jobs (most of these openings only allowed people who were already in the system to compete), our needs were minimal. 

I hiked in jeans or old goretex running pants.  I fit everything I owned in a small hatchback car.  I didn't have a TV or a phone.  For fun, I did things like lug a bottle of sherry up a mountain to an old lookout site to watch a meteor shower with friends (why sherry? I have no idea. It tasted awful).  I bought my own crash and burn health insurance and it would never have occurred to me to complain about it.  I  had everything I needed, including an overseas trip now and then.  I had few ties.  I felt free.

One winter, I kept the heat at 55 degrees in a small apartment I rented.  "It's cold in here!" visitors would say.  "Here's a blanket," I replied.  "OK," they answered, seasonals themselves.  They got it.

Once I showed up for a mountaineering class obliviously toting my trusty orange pup tent of 1970s vintage, handed down to me from my parents.  The instructor eyed it warily.  "We'll just leave this one at base camp as an extra gear tent," he suggested kindly.  I moved into a pricey dome tent with a Scottish guy named Andrew for the rest of the class (sorry, Andrew, wherever you might be).

This is not me, but this is the same tent.  Unfortunately I found this picture on a backpackers forum and they did not credit the photographer either.
I've had a permanent job for many years now.  I have a house and a hot tub, a kayak and a bike.  If I see some camping gear I want, I usually buy it.  I travel to amazing places.  Still, I drive a 14 year old truck; it is only the third vehicle I have ever owned.  I would rather eat bread and cheese at the top of a peak than go to a restaurant any day.  People still tell me it's cold in my house.  I think my long ago seasonal self would be proud.  "You don't need all that stuff.  Take the money and go to Antarctica," I think she would say.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

dude looks like a lady

(Remember that song? Is it stuck in your head now? You're welcome).

Awhile back, I wrote this post about what I've learned from working with mostly men for decades in a job that is primarily manual labor.  Sometimes I wonder if it's changed me from the person I would have been if I had chosen a more traditionally female role.  If I had chosen to be a nurse or a teacher, would I still dislike asking for help, considering it a sign of weakness? Would I still rather go away than talk it out? Would I actually enjoy talking about my feelings? 

I ran this theory by a male friend.  "Sometimes I feel like I AM a man," I said.

"Dude, you ARE," he replied.  Sigh.

Don't misunderstand.  I like to wear dresses, I get my hair highlighted, and I have a weakness for cute boots.  I will never refuse chocolate because "I have a chew in."  I have three cats.  I wouldn't want to go to Jared, worry about getting in a fight, or pretend football is interesting.  So, I'm not REALLY a guy.  But I do understand them.  I don't, like some women, think they are a different species, are from Mars, or that there is a certain set of "Rules" that need to be followed to get them interested.

I can't say whether I would have turned out differently if I hadn't spent almost my entire adult life working around men.  I'm not sorry, though.  I appreciate my "masculine side."  Don't expect me to ask for directions.  I might be driving around in circles, but I'll be wearing some really cute boots doing it.

Kind of a dude...

...but not really.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013


While other people were celebrating July 4 with barbecues and fireworks, I was in Boise waiting for a helicopter to arrive so I could travel with it to fight fires.  Since it was delayed, I wandered over to the Wildland Firefighters Memorial.  This is a quiet place with stones to remember firefighters lost over the years.

I walked around the loop, recognizing names.  People had left trinkets or flowers at some of the stones.  It was nearly 100 degrees, but I found a shaded bench and worked on my laptop, until I heard voices.

An older couple was walking around the memorial with a guide.  The woman bent to place red roses at one of the stones.  She was crying.

They came up to me. "These are X's parents," the person with them said.  I recognized the name, but couldn't remember the details.  It didn't matter; he was still one of my fire brothers, gone in a way all firefighters think about sometimes when they can't sleep.  I later read that he had died alone, overcome by flames on a fire in Utah several years ago.

I hugged them. "I'm sorry," I said. The words felt inadequate. "Thank you for all you do," the man said.  At first, this felt wrong.  I just do my job.  Often, this involves long stretches of boredom, waiting for something to happen, or endless red tape.  Sometimes it seems senseless to try and hold back this force of nature that was meant to happen.

Still.  There are those days when it all makes sense.  The time the pilot and I loaded up two people stranded at a cabin in Alaska with an 80,000 acre fire bearing down on them, and took them out of harm's way.  The days where we dropped in like angels to rescue loggers and firefighters, surrounded by fire.  The houses I helped save with little more than my hands.  The people we found on searches, some alive and some lost to the hills but at least brought home one last time.

I can't imagine the pain X's parents feel, and I don't think his death, or those of the Yarnell 19, or any of them, is worth it.  Not to save a house or a forest.  But I do accept their words of thanks, because of those brief, shining moments, the ones we might only get a few times in a lifetime, where we really do make a difference.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

a slave to travelocity, or, I need to plan better

Are you a spontaneous traveler, or do you plan trips for months?

I recently realized that the way I approach travel is sort of, well, different.  Or is it?

I'm not talking about road trips or weekend destinations.  I mean international, passport required, travel insurance-worthy travel.

I mean, who decides all of a sudden that in a couple months they are going to climb this:

Kilimanjaro, 19,341'

Or this:

Cotopaxi, Ecuador, 19,347'

And this!

Mera Peak, Nepal, 21,247'
 That would be me.

 I do have some excuses, kind of.  My job as a firefighter makes planning any sort of travel between May and November pretty iffy.  In June through October most years, I don't even know if I'll be home that night, or in 3 weeks.  When fire season is over, there are meetings and paperwork and training classes; often these come up unexpectedly.  After being gone a lot in the summer, I usually don't even want to think about traveling for awhile.  Then when I do, I suddenly realize it's November and I've made NONE OF THE PLANS.

This often leads to last minute scouring of the internet for a destination, finding out it rains eight inches there in the month I want to go, wondering if I really want to go there that much, abandoning that plan and finding another place, then constant scanning of Orbitz and Expedia and Hotwire at the very worst time to find cheap fares.  It means minimal time to brush up on the local language and a lack of similarly spontaneous travel companions.  My trips always work out, but the planning can be stressful.

So I'm trying to reform.  Kind of.  It feels strange to be looking up places I can go to in six months, instead of two.  I realize a lot of people plan trips a year in advance, but that will probably never be me.  A lot can happen in a year!

Here's where I want to go next.  It's winter there now though.  So I might actually have to plan.  How strange!


Friday, October 25, 2013

the mountains are talking about summer

“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news”
John Muir

Luckily, there are plenty of mountains around here with stories to tell.

This is one of the local hiking areas at the end of June this year:

And this is the same lake, looking from above, in early October:

Summer is short here, barely time for the snow to melt off the trails and it is falling again. I drove up the road to the trailhead, feeling apprehensive as I encountered snow and ice on the way.  At the last minute I decided to forego the basin for the 7000 foot peak, hoping that the open ridge above treeline might have melted off more.

This was the right choice as the snow was knee deep in the basin.

I passed all the other people on the trail and climbed up to the ridge.

The summit was cold but bathed in sunshine.

The people in this picture said I was "brave" to be up there by myself.  I'm not really sure what they meant by that.  I doubt they would have said the same thing to a man hiking alone.  Their dogs were nice though, so I took some pictures for them.

Here I am with my brave, bad self.

When you travel in the mountains alone you can really listen to their stories.  You can hear what it is they want you to know.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

one foot in winter

On Saturday I decided to hike the Highline trail in the park.  I pictured myself hiking happily through the meadows without a grizzly bear in sight, maybe even wearing shorts.

I obviously had a serious case of Winter Denial.  There is easily two feet of snow at the trailhead, which you can't even drive to (and won't be able to until at least the end of June).  It was clearly time for a new plan.

I parked at the pullout where a gate closed the road.  From here my idea was to hike up the road three miles to the pass, see some snow, and mosey back down.  It wasn't too ambitious, and it was a road; still, in two more days a lower gate would be closed and it would be a 15 mile hike or ski to the pass one way.  I wanted to see it before winter closed in.

The road was deserted, kind of like after the zombie apocalypse.

I could walk right down the middle of it.

Why didn't I bring my bike? Oh, right.

It was foggy at the pass, and definitely winter.
I considered my options.  I could turn around, but it was still early.  I decided to hike up behind the closed visitor center toward the Hidden Lake overlook.  In the summer this is an easy jaunt of about 3 miles roundtrip which hundreds of visitors take.  Now it was a different story.  There was one set of ski tracks across the knee deep snow.  I wouldn't go the whole way, I told myself.  Just a little farther...
But it started to clear up...

...and I couldn't help myself.  I slogged on.

At one point I found myself kicking steps in the snow on an airy traverse.  A cliff lurked below.  My feet skidded on icy rocks.  "Just keep going!" I told myself.  "If someone can ski here, you can walk here."  I decided not to look down, and skittered along toward flatter ground.  Finally I arrived at the overlook, which, to be honest, was my goal all along.
The lake wasn't yet frozen.

It was a beautiful view.
Reluctantly I turned to head back down, at one point encountering the friendly skier whose tracks I had followed (but not walked in, because that's just wrong).  Nobody else came up that far.  As I descended I slowly left winter behind, to return to autumn for just a little while longer.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

happy second chances day

Ten years ago today this happened.

I really thought I wouldn't make it out of it alive, but I did.


Every year, I send the pilot a thank you card.  He had about 2 seconds to react to a catastrophic mechanical failure.

Sometimes this world can be frustrating and heartbreaking, but most of the time it is pretty wonderful.  I'm glad I'm still in  it.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

My favorites....(so far)

I'm suffering from a lack of good blogging material lately, being as I'm still furloughed from my government job, and it is cold and rainy around here.  So here it is, another list of random things I really like! Feel free to add yours in the comments or in your blog and include the link...if anyone is out there.  Anyone? Bueller?

Favorite lake: Lago de los Tres, Patagonia (Argentina).  It was a cold, rainy, snowy day when I hiked here, but it was magical.

Favorite peak climbed: Although I loved the experience of Kilimanjaro and some of the others, Mera Peak (21,247') in Nepal was my favorite.  I really liked the other people I climbed with and Nepal is an amazing country.

Favorite beach:  Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand.  If you arrive around low tide, you can dig a hole in the sand and it fills up with hot water, making your own hot spring.  It's been a really long time since I was there though, and it looks like it's much more popular now.  You wouldn't have a lot of privacy, unless you went at night or at an off time of year.

Image from here
Favorite wild animal:  Mountain goat. I love the high places where they live.

I took this picture on a trail near here.  Look how fluffy!
Favorite tropical destination:  Probably Belize, although I'd like to go back there with someone different this time.

Favorite Oreo: Birthday Cake, of course! I seriously can't control myself around them, though.

Oh and by the way, while searching for a picture of these, I came across the fact that they also make a fudge covered version of these. Thanks a lot, Internet. Thanks a lot.

Favorite place to stay: A fire lookout. National forests in many areas rent them out.

Favorite place to run:  Any trail.  I rarely run on roads anymore.

Favorite place I've worked:  North Cascades National Park.  So many trails to hike...beautiful mountains.

Photo from Wikipedia

But enough about me...what about you?