This is not a Peaceful post. The latest life lost attempting to summit Mount Washington was an unnecessary death. The challenge was a solo climb in the Presidential Range. The climber was experienced, fit, and goal driven, but ignored obvious weather warnings that deterred the experienced local guides. The practical mind can be overwhelmed by obsessive, ego driven goals that force bad decisions. When applied to Mt. Washington, “Home of the World’s Worst Weather”, bad decisions can turn deadly.

I debated posting this story, but there are lessons to be learned from this tragedy. Almost every year a person perishes in the White Mountains, often due to bad decisions. Although I remain hopeful, further deaths will occur even in the face of documented errors and loss of life. With this in mind, a few personal thoughts became words leading me to write, bringing light to one heartfelt aspect of this latest fatality.

A certain skill set is required for successful mountaineering – fitness, training, awareness of changing conditions, but nothing is more important than good judgment. Being conservative is safe and smart. I read mountaineering accidents and journals to gain knowledge of what can go wrong during an unsuccessful climb. Weighing these new facts against my climbing experience can help inform personal collected knowledge to make future expeditions successful and safe. My experience and review of the recent February 15 incident offer some insight to the tragic outcome, which I now share to demonstrate what can happen in the White Mountains in the winter.

My skill level as a mountaineer is intermediate. Most climbing has been nontechnical using crampons and a mountaineering axe on terrain not requiring ropes and ice screws. I’ve attempted to summit Mt. Washington a few dozen times only successfully making it half of those attempts. Turning back was necessary when weather became ominous or to assist another climber down not ready for the undertaking. The mountain will be there for another attempt. Rope is carried for emergencies and safety. I’ve experienced adverse weather conditions including a white out on Mt. Katahdin in Maine, battled 70 MPH winds with an International Mountain Equipment guide to get to safety and thrown to the ground in wind gusts exceeding 80 MPH. Experience has been gained from a climbing partner, the International Mountain Climbing School, SOLO Wilderness Medicine School, Tracker Survival School and personal mountaineering experience. There’s a complimentary pairing of what my safe, knowledgeable climbing partner and I bring to a climb. We are usually not only responsible for ourselves but for others in our group. A winter attempt of Mt. Washington is a serious undertaking where weather risks are assessed from days before to the morning of a climb. Changing weather conditions and group safety are monitored throughout ascending and descending a climb and there are set checkpoints where we decide to continue, bail out or proceed to a safer trail below treeline.

When weather conditions change quickly there is little room for error on snow and ice covered mountains. Most accidents occur while descending due to fatigue or because it is technically more difficult to downclimb than ascend. Accidents can start with one bad decision leading to another then another. Injury adds potential danger to the climber and the rescue team. Pure accidents including breakaway rocks or ice happen, this is a risk mountaineers know and take, but risks must be mitigated. What happened recently in the Presidential Range wasn’t a pure accident. This was completely preventable starting with the climber never approaching the trailhead or leaving the hotel for that matter. Monitoring the weather is top priority. Forecasts are provided by the Mount Washington Observatory website including posting of severe warnings which were present on the site throughout the weekend. The article “The Young Woman and the Mountain” details the events that occurred.

The climber, a successful, goal driven, 32 year old woman climbed throughout the world. Her fitness and climbing skill were strong enough to climb Mt. Washington and she must have thought she was capable of pressing through severe weather. During the period of her attempt  Mt. Washington had the second coldest recorded temperature in the world after the South Pole with wind gusts recorded at 140 MPH. Another mistake was setting out climbing alone. A partner could have deterred forward progress or helped with a rescue. Another was attempting an overly optimistic trek to summit the four presidential summits of Madison, Adams, Jefferson and Washington in a season with a short period of daylight.

She was prepared with the correct clothing and gear, including an emergency beacon and GPS. Missing was a sleeping bag which would have been of use only if shelter was found below tree line. Unpacking a sleeping bag in exposed, hurricane force winds would be impossible. Digging a snow cave would have only been possible below tree line. I’ve seen a shovel become a sail lifting a climber off the ground in strong winds. Removing a backpack would result in it being blown away. Hers was. Bitter cold and roaring winds left her to a crawl hoping to find a place of refuge below tree line she didn’t make. What struck me in this tragedy is this woman died alone in a frightening situation. No one should die alone. Not on a mountain, at home or in a hospital. Not anywhere. This was her bad decision but I do have compassion for her final moments.

I’ve read comments about this young woman’s death and differ with those mentioning, “At least she died doing what she loved.” Here’s my rebuttal you may or may not agree with. When you are in a hypothermic condition being pelted with snow and pinned to the ground barely able to inhale the deafening 100 MPH winds you know death is near. This is not doing what you love. There was nothing spiritual in this tragedy.

Peaceful thoughts to you Kate Matrosova.

In Peace – Greg

Snow was falling leaving Sylvan Lake and the Crazy Horse monument which is easily seen on a clear day was barely visible. The roads of the Black Hills National Forest were unplowed and growing thicker by the minute. I didn’t have a good feeling about this next leg of the trek and tenseness set in.

A friend called to check in on the status of the hike and my safety. The conversation turned to Thanksgiving and I thought of the friends and family I’d miss on a favorite day of the year. Enjoying good food with friends and family provides connection and community not always occurring throughout the year. Instantly I felt overwhelmed thinking of all the people who have been a part of my life. I’m truly gifted to have some of the best friends in the world. I knew I would not only miss them on Thanksgiving but for an unknown period of time. Thoughts that I could or should have waited heading west until after Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or New Years or even the spring were swirling in my mind. Was this the best thing to do at this point in my life? With a bucket of doubts raining down turning back crossed my mind. A bad idea. I left when I did to minimize the winter weather I would encounter and waiting until the spring wasn’t an option. The time was now to move forward. I procrastinated to head west long enough. I regained composure and continued on the snow and ice covered roads.

Snow, Ice, Wind & 6% Downhill Grade“The Little Truck that Could” pulled hard up the mountains then engine braking down the steep 6% grades. No fun on snow and ice. We, the truck and I, were traveling at less than half the speed limit locked into 4WD. The line the truck took was fairly stable and we stayed on the road away from magnetic guardrails wanting to pull us in. I left finger impressions deeper than what was already on the steering wheel. True white knuckled driving. An hour later entering Deadwood I was craving a cheeseburger. (McDonald’s wasn’t an option.) As much I wanted a one more daylight miles were needed and there was a break in the weather. Finally on I-90 a better speed was obtainable making good miles. So I thought. More snow came then wind. Snow covered roads became ice. My hyper focus on the road was more than when I played the video game Asteroids in high school. I held on with a death grip and had to pry my fingers from the steering wheel to change hand positions. This was crazy, insane even. There were places where if I was blown off the highway there was no getting back to the road. Maybe I could get help from my brother Dave’s Navy helicopter team. My life’s belongings would sit at the bottom of one of these slopes forever. More thoughts of turning back consumed me. The weather wasn’t going to suddenly get better leaving South Dakota and crossing Wyoming. With these wild thoughts building an eagle suddenly flew across my path, wings spread wide, dangling legs and long talons. I couldn’t translate the sign this majestic bird was providing, but I was being guided by another raptor.

Iced Aero TrailerThe weather worsened and I knew the department of transportation would be closing the highway. I just needed to make the next exit in Gillette, Wyoming. Mentally wiped out and hungry I found a busy Mexican restaurant playing an extreme level of La Cucaracha three times normal speed. I would have won a taco eating contest that night and couldn’t leave fast enough even though the tequila menu looked tempting. I finished a much needed beer and found my place of rest. The snow sprayed from the rear tires to the trailer made an aerodynamic design I’m submitting to U-Haul for a patent. The following morning a weather advisory had me sequestered in the hotel where I tried to figure out what exactly was in pre-made waffle batter which made better sponges than a breakfast treat. I was surely not in Belgium!

Iced Over The Toyota is Ready to Press OnBack on the road at 10:00 AM snow was disappearing and I could relax into normal driving. My willpower broke down and treated myself to a double filet-o-fish and a small fry for lunch. I deserved it. The Toyota received a treat of high octane. I left Wyoming with a few mental scars from the previous day. Crossing into Montana the terrain began to change. Outlines of mountains near Bozeman were fading as darkness took over the sky. Cresting a mountain exposed the city lights of Butte which reminded me of pacing in the Wasatch 100. I welcomed seeing the city knowing my head would soon hit a pillow.

Clearing in MontanaMisting clouds broke early the next morning creating rainbows in the mountains. The “Little Truck That Could” pressed on and pulled the heavy load through the mountains of Montana and into virgin territory of Idaho. A state I’ve never been to before. I had to give the truck a name. Being strong, stocky and rugged, Tatonka would be fitting. Meaning buffalo in Lakota. We were gifted with warmer than normal weather and clear skies reducing the fear of sliding off the motorway. Idaho came and went with a long final decent into Washington through Spokane then into the high desert region of the state. Refueling in springlike temperatures felt good and odd. Was this the same month I was in a few states ago? No green was to be seen and as dusk set in I crossed the Columbia River into Oregon and decided to make the final push to Portland. Maybe I would be in time for Thanksgiving leftovers.

Just outside of Portland, fatigued almost to the point being delirious, mixed thoughts and emotions arose while I wondered about this new beginning and if this was the right thing to do. I was here and it was time to move forward. Arriving in Portland my Tatonka - High Desert Rest Areacousin’s family and aunt welcomed me to a warm hello and much needed plate of Thanksgiving dinner.

I was with family for Thanksgiving, thankful for making the 3,500 miles safely and ready to begin a lot of new.

A grateful thank you to Christine, Jill and Bob who were virtual passengers throughout the trek.

Thank you! Peace – Greg

“You have to accept whatever comes, and the only important thing is that you meet it with the best you have to give.”  – Eleanor Roosevelt

“There is unknowing until you’re in the throes of your decision.”               – G. Chokas Cross Country Trek With Numbered Stops A special thanks to all of my family and friends who have been with me through this journey west: Mom, Dad, Jamie, Lyn, Danielle, Gram Roy, Jane, Dennis, Christine, Jill, Bob & Catherine, Sue, Phil, Jenn, Keith, Alan & Kim, Stacey, Mike, Rich, Carl & Maggie, Lynne, Vicki, Peter, Reuben and family, Pam, Elisa, Suwan, Kathee, Pat, Bob, Rick, Brooke, Rick 3, Eric, Donna, and to those I haven’t been in touch with for years who have sent messages. If you’re not listed you’re not forgotten!

The silent morning broke to conversing crows. Waking to their caw is welcome over any man made noise. The day was to be one of reprieve from windy highways to hike in the Black Hills re-energizing my legs and my being. The destination was Harney Peak(7,242 feet). The highest peak in South Dakota. A sacred area where the famous Oglala Lakota Medicine and Holy Man, Black Elk, received a great vision.

Crazy Horse Memorial MonumentIn route to the trailhead I could see the distant Crazy Horse Monument standing 563 ft. tall staring into the eastern rising sun. I knew I’d return later. Missing the trail parking area I was soon at Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. A monument I had little interest seeing. The presidential faces of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln chiseled into sacred land of the Lakota’s after the broken Treaty of Fort Laramie is considered a disrespectful undertaking. The Black Hills were “given” to the Indians who originally resided in the area. When gold was found by trespassing settlers the land was retaken resulting in the Great Sioux War of 1876.

Mt. RushmoreNot wanting to stay long I was allowed to enter the memorial for trail information and a few photographs. Although an impressive sculpture, history and common sense told me this was in the wrong place. I left for the trailhead and noticing the parking area was no place for the truck and trailer Crazy Horse Monument became the next stop.

Construction on the monument began in 1948 by Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. Chief Standing Bear of the Oglala Lakota people asked Korczak because he and other chiefs wanted the white man to know that Native Americans also have great heroes. There is some controversy by certain Native American Groups of defacing a mountain but the work continues supported by most. In addition to the monument there are currently seven buildings including the well planned Indian Museum of North America. I watched an introductory video of the construction, perused the buildings and took a guided tour for a closer look at the monument. Impressive is an Crazy Horse Memorial Monumentunderstatement. The exhibits are meticulous and seeing people from native tribes working in the museum providing historic information was good. I highly recommend visiting the monument which is supported only by private funding.

The day worked out well since making the hike on the difficult northern route would have added to the previous day’s exhaustion. The following morning I broke camp at 4:30AM and left the site at 5:30. An 8-point buck bid farewell strolling in front of the truck to see his bedded mate a few yards away. Off I went through the hills to find the southern route.

Black Hills National ForestI’m not sure if the morning caffeine didn’t kick in but I couldn’t find the trail head. The icy road became steep and I engaged the truck into 4WD crawling upwards with areas of no guardrails only to find no trailhead. I drove down the unprotected side of the road to a dirt road encountering a locked gate. Reversing the trailer wasn’t an easy task. It took numerous attempts to back out onto a thankfully rarely used road this time of year. To give the destination another try I went back to where I was sure the trailhead was then down again. With no luck I stopped in the town of Custer with disappointment. Looking at the map a final time and not easily deterred I drove the seven miles up the dangerous road again to finally find the trailhead at Sylvan Lake.

Packed for Camp and the RoadConditions were full on winter with hard packed snow. Fresh covering snow provided enough to see deer and coyote tracks who are smart enough to use a man made trail when humans are nowhere to be found. The backpack had more than needed in case of an emergency in those conditions. With the heavy load and being behind schedule I had to make good time to Harney Peak 3.5 miles out. The trail was moderate taking a few hours to reach the sacred area Black Elk would have his vision quests. The fire tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Core (CCC) in the 1938, an organization my grandfather Chokas was part of in Connecticut. Winds were gusting up to 60 MPH and I ate as much and quickly as possible in the tower to refuel for the Harney Peak Lookout Towerreturn. After a few minutes of personal thoughts and prayer I kept a brisk pace to stay warm and cut time knowing long roads were ahead of me. Fresh coyote and deer tracks were in my inbound tracks. I wasn’t alone and it felt good to have unseen company watching me in the forest.

Hungry FriendsReturning to the truck at 1:30PM a change of clothes was made and I was ready to drive down the unprotected side of the steep, winding, icy hill for the last time. Similar to leaving the campsite I was shown out by deer.

I slowly regained strength and awareness for the trek back to I-90W. The stress of not finding the trailhead, driving the icy roads and maintaining a fast pace on the trail was draining. With snow falling and more mountains for the truck to climb and descend it would make for a long day and stressful driving…

Up next…White knuckled driving and thoughts of turning back.

Peace – Greg

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” – Mohandas Gandhi

Stacked and PackedPutting plan in action I picked up the U-Haul trailer to load my possessions. I thought I was over zealous getting the largest trailer my truck could pull but after trimming down everything fit with little room to spare. Eight AM on November 19 a short good bye was said to my incredible Aunt Jane. The Toyota, trailer and I were westward bound. Wheels in motion to start a new chapter or maybe this is a new book. My mind was racing, “Whoa! Am I really doing this?!”. Thoughts and emotions were churning as I kept driving.

Interstates 84 and 80 provided the western route to the first overnight stop in Pennsylvania 500 miles away. Soon after entering the interstate two red tail hawks, spirit guides, lead the early stage of the journey. I was fortunate to see this raptor along with others many times while crossing the country signaling I was being watched. With the heavy load the ride was uneventful only stopping for gas and slowing for deer grazing casually on the side of the busy interstate.

Uncle Den's Train SetTen hours later I was in Greenville, Pennsylvania. A town once known for manufacturing automobiles and railroad cars. With industry long gone the town has become financially distressed. Uncle Dennis put me up for the next few nights to visit and see the model train set he builds piece by piece by piece. The trains, tracks, and towns are as you would imagine to see 60 years ago. The complexity of the different number of trains and crossings almost require a locomotive license to be at the helm of this train set. The following day I met a special cousin, Vicki, catching up on the many changes in our lives and was reminded as always she’s my elder by 22 days. The time was good to see family during the early stage of this journey.

Leaving Rockford, ILThe next morning the trek resumed. Light snow was in the air and I prayed it didn’t fall any heavier. Travel continued on Interstate 80 until sweeping around Chicago connecting to I-90 making for another 500 mile day stopping in Rockford, IL. After the motel check in I hauled in the next days necessities and a sleeping bag which I find more comfortable (and safer) than bedding in quick stop motels where the “Free” breakfast is marginal along with rubberized hard boiled eggs. A nearby Starbucks saved me with a venti dose of caffeine to begin the day ending in Mitchell, South Dakota, 600 miles later. Not much to see in this truck Ready for the Huntstop town with gas stations and motels. Same routine, check in, necessities and sleeping bag. Early next morning pheasant hunters and their canine companions from Alabama were preparing for the fields. The dogs were more excited than the hunters after a 12 hour drive and six hours of sleep.

The Plains of South Dakota delivered severe headwinds trying to push the Toyota and me back to Connecticut. The drive was unnerving since the Toyota is the shape of a refrigerator towing a giant block. Not aerodynamic to say the least. Completing only 300 miles both the Toyota and I were done for the day which worked well being near my only other planned stop, the sacred Black Hills. A tourist center was just Home in Custer State Parkoff the highway and when asking about camping I was looked at rather strangely since few camp in the winter months. I was reminded it was the off season and cold. Fortunately, one campground was open and my response to the cold was cold is relative. I surveyed local shops for food and supplies pulling this large white and orange container. Driving through parking lots was no easy task since it was the weekend before Thanksgiving and Christmas shopping madness had begun. I found needed items, refueled myself with yet another Starbucks and the truck with a treat of high octane gasoline.

Ramen and ChickenCuster State Park was outside of town and my residence for two nights of solitude being the only camper on the premises. In short time the tent was erected, sleeping gear thrown in and water boiling. If you’ve followed the U.S. Tour posts you know ramen noodles are a personal staple. They were again, only this time I had (store) roasted chicken to add instead of tuna. Nice!

Brutal head winds, navigating through Rapid City, locating and setting camp made for an exhausting day. I was looking forward to sliding into a -30 degree sleeping bag even though temps were in the low 20’s, which, by the way, is barely cold to winter campers.

Up next… Mt. Rushmore by accident, The Crazy Horse Memorial, a hike to a sacred area that almost didn’t happen.

Peace – Greg

“When you remove the risk, you remove the challenge, when you remove the challenge, you wither on the vine.”  –  Alex Lowe

Thanks for returning to the Peaceful Pathfinder blog. (Pardon my sabbatical.)

This post is dedicated to my sister Danielle who who provides encouragement while seeing a second brother pursue new opportunities in other regions of the country. Keep smiling Danielle!

Each birthday I plan something special. This year I decided to celebrate the milestone of turning 50 in Portland, Oregon. This was my fourth trip to a very diverse geographic region of the country wanting the Pacific Northwest experience one more time exploring more of Oregon and visiting friends in Seattle. After returning, a few busy months passed and I encountered crossroads of staying in southern New England or make a major life change and journey to the Pacific Northwest. Not wanting regrets the decision was made to go west. A decision I’ve made more difficult than needed with an overactive mind and personal situations. Challenges from layoffs, effects of an ended relationship, and physical issues took their toll. I can’t explain it all exactly. Being stuck, hitting a wall or the dreaded mid-life crisis was in my path. Years ago I told myself a mid-life crisis would never happen. No way! Well it happened and I’m moving on doing my best to leave behind what’s no longer serving me. Time for a lot of new including uncertainty and adventure.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Well, I survived the storm and there’s been an upside of personal growth through travel, a new connection with nature, reading the right books and being with the right people. Currently there’s a relief since the past year provided healing and recovery from health, heart, and ego which bites me now and again (Must be the stubborn Taurus in me.).

Society says at this point in life I should be married, have two point something kids, own a home, have a lot of stuff and work so much I hardly see family. I’ve wanted all of it, even the amount of work if that’s what it took to support a household. These events haven’t happened for reasons I don’t know why. I am where I am and what the future holds is unclear. I can only be the change I want to see and major changes are in process. I’ve sold or donated bigger items of furniture, downsized and minimized personal belongings and will be bringing my life to Portland to see where I’m directed. The drive will be a 3,000+ mile journey where I plan to make road reprieves visiting family in western Pennsylvania and spending a few nights in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota. Traveling this time of year may present weather obstacles effecting roads and towing a trailer the size of my truck will add to the driving challenge.

The decision leaves behind family and an incredible circle of friends who fulfilled my life with camaraderie, outdoor recreation and support. Being a person of connection, the distance away won’t be easy especially through the holidays. Many friends are as close as sisters and brothers and are part of my tribe. Along with people, I’ll miss the four seasons but there will be glacier covered mountains to climb, rides along the coastal highway and fly fishing in beautiful streams and rivers. Do I have fears and doubts? I sure do and it’s a matter of working with and through them. Faith and trust are by my side.

When starting this blog a goal has been to share interesting trips of India, a 10,000 Mile U.S. Tour and other journeys. Travel was more than sightseeing it was also to provide opportunities to investigate new places to live and experience culture outside of areas I’ve resided most of my life. The Pacific Northwest has been on my mind for many years and I won’t know the experience without making the leap, no matter my age, time of year, or any reason. With personal interests in hiking, camping, climbing, tracking, fishing, hunting I look forward to the experiences.

Thanks for joining this journey. I hope the related posts are intriguing and provide insight to similar circumstances you may be encountering. Feel free to drop a personal note or question as I believe in paying it forward from advice and experience.

Up next… Packing up and beginning the cross country trek.

Peace – Greg

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” Eleanor Roosevelt


In 2003 I was introduced to Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. The highest peak in the Northeastern United States. “Home of the Great Spirit” given by the Native Americans. The 6,288 ft summit may pale in comparison to the 10,000 ft plus summits of Mt. Hood, Whitney or Rainier located on the west coast, but what makes this mountain “special” is the weather. Mt. Washington is “Home of the World’s Worst Weather”. Yes, in the world. Converging storm tracks from the south, west and north, the Presidential Range, and the Atlantic coastline combine to make very unpredictable and potent weather. Formal weather observations began in 1870 and until 2010 Mt. Washington had recorded the highest wind gust speed of 231 mph in 1934. Anything but Peaceful. Since 1849 over 135 people have perished from quick weather changes, unpreparedness, underestimating the task of the final 1 mile summit push, and a lack of respect of not adhering to posted avalanche warnings or soloing less climbed routes. Not Without Peril speaks of some of the history of the mountain and accidents. Care and planning go into each summit attempt with the team I climb with which will be detailed in another post. Two prominent ravines, Tuckerman and Huntington, add to the beauty and danger of this majestic mountain. Early February a team of four of us made one summit attempt. Sustained 55 mph winds gusting to 70 and -30 degree temps along with one broken crampon stopped us at our final decision point. The mountain will be there for another attempt. For current weather temps and information visit the Mount Washington Observatory. Peace – Greg “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” – John Muir

Mt. Washington from North Conway - Courtesy Fellow Photographer

Mt. Washington from North Conway – Courtesy Fellow Photographer

Approach from Lake of the Clouds Hut

Approach from Lake of the Clouds Hut

Mt. Washington and Mt. Washington Hotel

Mt. Washington and Mt. Washington Hotel

The Presidentials. Left to right Mt. Jefferson, Adams and Madison.

The Presidentials. Left to right Mt. Jefferson, Adams and Madison.

Lake of the Clouds Hut Between Monroe and Washington

Lake of the Clouds Hut Between Monroe and Washington

Tuckerman Ravine Headwall

Tuckerman Ravine Headwall

Ammonoosuc Trail

Ammonoosuc Trail

Looking into Tuckerman Ravine

Looking into Tuckerman Ravine

View of Katahdin on the way to Roaring Brook.

Winter hiking and mountaineering provide beautiful and challenging days out. The contrast of deep blue skies beyond snow covered mountains, the smell of pines and cold crisp air taking your breath away make for unforgettable times. Mountaineering carries an element of risk and weather conditions can be unpredictable and harsh. Having the right team, gear, training and knowledge make for safe and enjoyable times out even in demanding conditions.

The previous statements are true except a winter summit attempt of Maine’s highest peak, Mt. Katahdin (5,269 ft.), tested my patience, resolve and leadership a few years ago. An excellent initial plan to climb this remote mountain contained a few missteps and a precarious situation for two fellow climbers and myself. (Names of the climbers have been omitted for privacy.)

Knowledge learned is knowledge gained…

The Katahdin plan was seven climbers making a trek into Baxter State Park to summit the mountain in a three day push. Hike in day one. Summit day two. Hike out day three. With good weather this can be easily accomplished. Three in the group have climbed this mountain in the winter and one had Mt. Everest to his accolades. An excellent crew to be with.

Two weeks before departure no one took the lead and the three with Katahdin experience dropped. With no responses I volunteered as leader since planning and safety are engrained from experience, Outward Bound and good friend Rick K. Although not an arctic expedition, it’s one of a smaller scale being more than twelve miles from civilization in barren wilderness. We were quickly down to four. Three of us climbed together knowing each others experience and abilities. The fourth, only known by one in the remaining group, missed a training hike and pre-climb discussion. Meeting all team members before an excursion is important to see the personality, training, fitness, use of gear and mental toughness under stress. Two of us had concerns not meeting her. We were told as a personal trainer she was fit, but being fit is only part of the needed requirements.

The night before heading to Maine one climber tore his rotator cuff snowboarding. He was out after months of training. We were down to three. The next morning our small team met and I was introduced to the unknown, friendly and rambunctious trekker. Five hours later we were in Millinocket, Maine for dinner and a night in a local motel. Rising early we arrived at the trail head with plenty of time to reach Roaring Brook bunkhouse by sunset. The option of hauling gear is Pulking it incarrying a 75lb. pack or “pulking” it in. I opted for the pulk with another climber building and testing it a month before trip. The two of us divvied much of the load from our friend so she would have a less strenuous trek to the bunk house and conserve energy for the following day.

The nine miles in was fairly flat with intermittent views of Mt. Katahdin. Arriving before dark we collected water from a nearby stream and made dinner. Before lights out I called for a gear check. Our newbie didn’t have compatible crampons for her boots and no hooded jacket. Both are a MUST! With some swapping of gear we were able to make compatible boot/crampon sets and I had an extra hooded jacket. Obstacles cleared.

Ready to go at 7AMWe left the cabin at morning light. The three mile trek to the Chimney Pond bunkhouse was a light uphill pull. Discussing conditions and best routes with climbers in the cabin the decision was made to hike Saddle Trail, 2.2 miles to the summit from where we were. Other routes required technical ice climbing gear we weren’t prepared for nor had the experience. We pulled our mountaineering packs from the pulks and set off after signing the register. The trail winded through pines to a steep ascent to the ridge where I demonstrated proper technique for using a mountaineering ax. We were on the ridge at Ascending Saddle Trail11:00 encountering 6 climbers/volunteers of the New Hampshire Mountain Rescue Service. They mentioned conditions were passable after a short conversation. The summit was one mile from our present location and cairns could be seen marking the trail. We carried on.

We were almost there or were we? With 75 yard visibility and 20 mph winds conditions were comfortable. Whiteout conditions can quickly occur and a half hour later winds increased and we were no longer able to see snowshoe tracks from the New Hampshire group. Cairns were fading in the windblown snow. Closing in on the summit, visibility quickly shortened to 25 feet and the wind increased to 40 to 50 mph. We gathered and I motioned we were finished with forward progress. Communicating could only be done by signaling and yelling to overcome the howling winds. Time to turn back. The summit would be there for another day. We turned around and saw our recent tracks already blown over. Panic set in with the others. The ridge was to our right where getting too get close could cause a break away from a possible cornice resulting in a deadly fall (see pics Below). We moved ahead slowly keeping a safe distance from the ridge. A short time later were postholing from our waist to armpits. Getting out of these were laborious. What looked to be princess pines weren’t. They were the tops of pines tens of feet tall.

Panic stricken eyes were upon me and I was asked to take the map out again and again. The wind made it impossible to get the compass on it, plus there was no way to get a bearing to find our location. Three panic stricken hikers was a sure way to make the news in an undesired way. Keeping composure a snow cave came to mind as time passed and conditions worsened. I wanted to be off of the mountain as much as the others but there’s a time staying put is the right decision. Riding out a storm is better than wandering and postholing with the probability of hypothermia…or worse. With time expiring we had an hour to find Saddle Trail. I yelled out to the lead to take his compass and march due east where we would encounter the ridge, hopefully at a safe area. At that time we were opposite of the ridge giving us a break from the wind. Heading east took us back up the mountain. Not the desired direction by the others. With Spartanlike steps we pushed on to higher ground encountering more wind and face pelting snow. I took the rear and looking at my compass making sure neither fell behind and stayed on course. Fifteen to thirty minutes later we crested the ridge noticing the Saddle Trail marker where we ascended to earlier. We were being watched over. I was relieved while watching the other two hugging joyfully.

Safe? Not yet. Most accidents happen coming down a mountain due to fatigue, rushing and being careless. During the steep decent I showed one climber proper technique while the other decided the to glissade (sliding on your butt). “Really? This wasn’t the time.” Thinking to myself. I yelled “Crampons’ off!”. Besides most accidents happening on the decent, most injuries occur from glissading wearing crampons that catch the snow and ice tearing knee and ankle ligaments creating a new set of problems. I’ve seen the ugly results of this first hand on another climb. I turned and continued down. A few minutes later a food bag bounced by. I was expecting the owner to be right behind it. I shook my head wondering what was going to happen next. We gathered at the base of the ridge to collect ourselves and replenish with food and water when I Base of ridge on Saddle Trailheard, “Governor Baxter almost kicked our a$$!!” I was in a horror movie or an alternate scene of the climbing movie K2… This wasn’t something to laugh or joke about. None of it was. Maybe that was their way to deal with the last few hours of uncertainty. We could have been on the ridge overnight making for a very uncomfortable night…or worse.

Shortly after, we entered the cabin to the surprised looking crew from New Hampshire. One said they were about to leave and search for us. A nearly impossible task to perform in pitch black nightfall and whiteout conditions. Unpacking my stove, making a large meal I played the day over and over in my head on how the situation could have went better including my own performance. I was in the bunk room solo with my journal turning the lights off for a restless nights sleep before the others came in.

The next morning I was more at ease and started to relinquish analysis of the previous days events. The trek in Baxter State Park was not only to attempt the challenging mountain summit, it was also to enjoy the winter wilderness, the frozen ponds, possibilities of wildlife, the crisp air and the people I was with, admittedly a struggle at times. After breakfast I took a short walk to Chimney Pond for some final views knowing I would come back again with a much better plan. We packed the pulks and set off on the 12 mile exit having a chance to ride them like bobsleds the first few miles.

Leaving the park I was at times preoccupied taking mental notes of the knowledge gained through this experience. After loading the car I slept most of the way back to our meeting point in Massachusetts. We said our good byes and I received a gracious thank you from one who encountered much more than she imagined. Waiting at a friend’s place was a burger, fries and growler of beer with four people to share an unforgettable story including forgettable moments.

Peace – Greg

“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.”  – Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps

Lessons for any excursion (partial):

  • Know your leader
  • Know your team
  • Know your gear and check each others
  • Know how to use your gear
  • Safety is the priority
  • Expect the unexpected
  • Watch the weather
  • One problem leads to another and another
  • Don’t risk injury the night before
  • There is no room for ego on a mountain
  • Know your limitations and those of others
  • Ascend and descend all using the same technique
  • Be prepared for the worst and know bailout plans
  • The mountain will be there for another day
  • Communicate
  • Bring hot chocolate

There are numerous books on mountaineering. Freedom of the Hills is one of the best. My suggestion is if you’re interested challenging yourself to a winter summit of a mountain go to a climbing shop/school, talk with the guides and take a course. Preparation is key.

I took food for granted growing up always having hot meals and an abundance on holidays. My mother cooks the best comfort food with plenty of love,(and butter!) and prepares meals for those who can’t themselves. Besides Mom, an Outward Bound excursion opened my eyes to the importance of food and community. At the end of the first day out, starving, I was with seven newly made friends after a long paddle. The designated cooks prepared a meal while the rest of the team set camp. Dinner brought us together to talk about the day and time for each of us to give an introduction and share personal histories. Food brought this new community/tribe together and changed our state of being under challenging circumstances.

Years later at the Tracker School’s Standard course one day was given to primitive cooking with demonstrations on boiling, grilling, roasting, steaming, smoking, frying and baking. The methods were interesting, but more so was the lecture on the importance of food bringing family and community together. The lecture was powerful and soul striking I’ve heard. Great detail went into a moving personal story and how the Native community bonded through the hunt, preparation and feasting. Part of the lecture were reasons fast foods aren’t desirable. We know the unhealthy aspects of fast and medium fast foods from field to wrapper. Going with these fast(er) foods is eating fast with little conversation. It feels right to give thanks to a turkey but surely not a McCheeseburger.

One memorable meal happened unplanned because of my oversight. I was giving a presentation of a trip to India and wanted a complete theme ordering Indian food from a local restaurant along with preparing a few dishes. Little did I know the complexity of cooking Indian food. People began to arrive and the meal was half prepared. Instead of friends watching and waiting they joined in cutting, chopping, and stirring. We created the meal together adding “flavor” to the experience. A true community effort.

Being part of a community effort has been volunteering to prepare and serve foods for homeless or less fortunate. The day after Christmas 400 meals were prepared and served at the St. Francis House in Boston. Volunteers and workers came together, as they do each day to serve the poorest in the city. It was discerning to see those who suffer mental illness coming in from the streets. Boston in the winter is no place for people with this disease and of course they shouldn’t be living in the streets in any city or town. A complex situation where more help and effort is needed.

In a fast paced world slow the time, give thanks, enjoy homemade foods, good company and good conversation. Consider giving back a days effort to cleanse the soul.

Peace & Happy New Year! – Greg

“If you want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him…the people who give you their food give you their heart.”  Cesar Chavez

A favorite dish to serve or bring to a community gathering. (Thanks Gramp!)

Grampa Roy’s Salmon PieGramp Emile Joseph Roy 1916 - 1978    TEC 5 US Army WWII

  • 2 – 14 oz. cans Red Salmon
  • 3 – 4 Medium peeled potatoes cut into 3/4 inch cubes, boiled until soft
  • 1 Medium onion chopped fine sautéed until translucent
  • 1 Celery stalk chopped fine and sautéed until tender (optional)
  • Pie Crust – 2 pieces (store bought or homemade)
  • Dashes of salt and pepper are optional. (I do this to taste after.)
  • Dash cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Serve with a medium white sauce.
  • Cooked frozen peas.
  1. Drain salmon keeping juice.
  2. Put salmon into a large bowl and remove skin and bones.
  3. Add 1/2 of the drained salmon juice.
  4. Add sautéed onion, celery and potatoes.
  5. Add additional spices if desired.
  6. Mix with hand masher.
  7. Line 9“ pie plate with one pie crust and add filling.
  8. Cover with second pie crust and pinch edges.
  9. Dot top with fork.
  10. Brush with egg wash.Bake at 400 for 15 minutes then turn down to 325 for 45 minutes.

White Sauce (optional as my grandfather would pass on this!)

  • 1.5 Cups Milk
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 4 Tbs Flour
  1. Melt butter
  2. Slowly whisk in flour
  3. Add milk and whisk until almost to a boil (add flour to thicken or milk to thin)

Serve white sauce over individual slices. Mix white sauce and peas if desired.


The theme of an adventure and journey seems fitting and The Way strikes a personal chord.

Martin and Emilio Promoting The way

Martin and Emilio Promoting The way

A few months ago while browsing Amazon I noticed a movie that looked interesting. The Way. Initially, it was the actors who caught my eye. Martin Sheen and Emilio Estévez. Both I’ve liked for years. If you’re not aware, Martin Sheen (Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez) is Emilio’s father. Emilio wrote, directed and produced The Way which takes place in southern France and Spain. Martin, “Tom”, flies to France to identify his son’s body Daniel, played by Emilio, who dies in the Pyrenees on his first day of a 500 mile pilgrimage walk from the French Basque town St. Jean Pied de Port to the Camino de Santiago. A father and son making a movie together. A father directed by his son, playing the role of a father carrying his son’s remains on a pilgrimage walk across the north of Spain. From the description I’m hooked and acquire the movie never watching a trailer. I was and still am enamored with the film and the soundtrack. The journey Tom partakes is emotional, physical and spiritual. Not a practicing Catholic, Tom regains his faith and although there’s a powerful scene at Santiago de Compostela cathedral the movie isn’t one about religion.

Tom reminisces about Daniel and has an awakening, spontaneously deciding to walk the Camino. A journey he’ll carry forward for the rest of his life. Tom didn’t have to walk the path of El Camino de Santiago or “The Way of St. James”. He felt it was right since being disconnected with his son and wanted Daniel to finish the journey he began. Once Tom made the decision, he had the clarity and focus of walking his path on the Camino even though he wasn’t prepared for it physically or mentally. Nothing was going to stop him. A few events almost did, but you’ll need to see the movie for the details. His goal for the 500 mile trek was set and the unknown brushed to the side to be dealt with when it happened. Tom meets a few other pilgrims on the Camino in Wizard of Oz fashion who were on their personal journeys adding depth and humor to the storyline. The variety of characters from different countries added a cultural mix and community, working through personal times together. A bond was created with the sharing of food, wine, emotions, nights in albergues (hostiles), and the final scene at the Atlantic Coast in Muxia.

I have many good things to say about The Way which was filmed on location as the cast (including Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick van Wageningen, and James Nesbitt) trekked the Camino. The characters, views of Spain, the soundtrack kept me engaged and the storyline is within reality and family ready. If you like wholesome, uplifting movies consider The Way ($5 on Amazon at time of writing). The DVD offers a commentary version with Martin and Emilio speaking of events and thoughts during the film. I didn’t know of The Way when it was released a few years ago(2010) probably because it wasn’t made as a “blockbuster” buy the industry. The Way was mostly self-promoted with Martin and Emilio touring the country by bus. Since its release word of the film continues to spread around the world. Check out The Way Facebook page for interesting following and news.

I can’t relate to a life changing journey on the premise of losing a son or daughter. I can relate to being on life changing journeys. Haven’t we all? One was not accepting an opportunity to be Outward Bound instructor. A path I sometimes regret. If I took the O.B. path I would never have had the opportunity to live and work in Europe, unfortunately never making it to Spain. I learned how incredible the journey was. More so now than then. I met one of my closest friends and “brother”, Phil, reconnected with hiking and camping, experienced different cultures, and enjoyed local foods and spirits. In the end, the path I chose lead to an incredible opportunity and a time of personal growth. We should accept our journeys, having no regret, living the path we chose at that particular time. There’s an introspective line Daniel tells his father, “You don’t choose a life Dad. You live one.” Great advice.

I wish you a “Buen Camino!” or “Good Path!” as is said to the pilgrims making the trek on the Camino.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Peace – Greg

The Path

If anyone asks you what the Path is about,

It’s about generosity.

It’s about morality.

It’s about concentration.

It’s about gaining insight through

focused self observation.

It’s about the cultivation of subjective states

of compassion and love based on insight.

And it’s about translating that compassion and love into actions in the real world.

–  Shinzen Young

Notes: Emilio shares my grandfather’s name of French descent, Emile. There will be second movie of Tom’s journey which Emilio has the difficult challenge matching the power and success of the first. And “Along The Way”, a dual memoir by Martin and Emilio, tells of their individual careers and includes stories during the filming of The Way I found interesting and entertaining.

The Peaceful Pathfinder blog has been live for ten months. Thank you for following. To date, posts have focused on travel, hiking, and camping experiences. To not make this another travel blog I offer an addition of thoughts why I immerse myself into the natural world. There are people who have had personal impact directly and indirectly, either through their presence, books, or philosophy contributing to my immersion and writing. They’ll be noted and I’ll continue to include past and present travels since there is much to share.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

I shamelessly borrowed the title of a new book, Environmental Connection*, my “Brother”, Keith Cowley recently released for the name of this post. Coming to the forefront of why I enjoy outdoor excursions and immersions is connection with the environment and wildlife. This connection brings me Peace. Hence Peaceful Pathfinder.  A name Keith is partly responsible for. Discussing Native American ways, travels, outdoor education and similar philosophies for a few years with him I mentioned creating a blog and couldn’t find a fitting word to follow Peaceful. Peaceful Warrior has been taken by Dan Millman and “warrior” is overused outside of its true meaning. Keith took a few minutes and presented Pathfinder. The Peaceful Pathfinder name was born. A name containing many meanings. One I present to you here and more will follow in future posts. For this post I present Peace.

Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake, Oregon

Being in the natural environment in any of my pursuits from fishing to climbing brings Peace. What does Peace mean in this context? For me, this Peace is a calm sense of being bringing a clear mind. When Peace is present my breathing relaxes, my heart slows, shoulders drop, face eases, and senses of smell, touch, and hearing become heightened. The smell of the ocean, sounds of waves and loons, and beauty from northeastern lakes to the granite mountains of the Tetons and the rugged coast of Big Sur are favorites engrained in my mind. Each bringing Peace.

The Tetons, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

The Tetons, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

The natural environment brings Peace during times of heartache, stress and anxiety. Mother Earth has her healing ways. Presence of physical pain is the most difficult time to receive Peace. Controlled, aware breathing helps temporarily reduce or eliminate discomfort, even if for a short period. There are many sacred places, a Native American term, I go to get connected to relieve discomfort life can bring or just accept. Sacred places are special areas within a favorite location. You may have one or more you’re not aware of. Do you find yourself going to a certain outdoor place and think? If so, you have a sacred place. Being near water especially brings calmness which helps from my experience.

Osprey and Sunset, Napatree Point, Rhode Island

Osprey and Sunset, Napatree Point, Rhode Island

Special close encounters with wildlife bring a Peaceful connectedness along with contained excitement. A beaver slapping it’s tail a few feet away, hearing a deer tear at grass, sitting with a black phase rattlesnake, a fisher at my feet, watching a dozen turkey vultures ride thermals in front and below me are times I’ve had the experience. Words do little to describe these times. Native Americans have a saying “Mitakuye Oyasin”. ‘All my relations.’, ‘We are related.’, ‘All are connected.’ are a few of the meanings. Much can be learned from observing the web of nature. A web we’re connected to.

Deer at McLeans Game Refuge, Granby, Connecticut

Environmental connection is what inspires me from short nature walks to harsh winter summits of Mt. Washington, always respecting what Mother Nature is capable of.  When I have this connection I’m at Peace and my essence arises. It’s at these times I’m most confident in an non-egoic way.

Summit of Mt. Washington, New Hampshire

Summit of Mt. Washington, New Hampshire

The next time you’re on a nature walk or an outdoor excursion intently notice the environment around you. Observe nature, the sound of water, the shape of trees, the smell of the pines and the animal or bird you’ve seen again and again. Look for something you haven’t noticed before. You may sense and find new inner Peace.

As Always, Peace – Greg

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” – Chief Seattle

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”  – John Muir

Storm Over Tetons

Storm Over the Tetons

*Note: I highly recommend Environmental Connection. Keith’s thought provoking book includes fascinating stories of his deep immersion into Westerly, RI Land Trust preserves. His words resonate in and outside of the natural environment enriching daily life. Funds from his book benefit the New-Native Foundation bringing outdoor educators together dispersing their knowledge to children and adults. (The New-Native Foundation is a non-profit in development and in pursuit of 501(c)3 status.)


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