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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

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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.

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.

Takoda Leaving Yellowstone was bittersweet since there was much more to see only being there a short four days. Plenty of area was covered and I had entertaining experiences seeing wildlife and intriguing natural resources. The wolves, Selway of the Gallatin Packboth wild and captive, were the highlight of this stop on my journey since they’re my spirit animal. I plan to continue learning the diverse traits these advanced animals have. Impressive also, was the animal of abundance to the Native Americans, the bison with their raw strength and casual demeanor.

Gardiner, MTI had excitement going to Bozeman, a city I’ve heard much about and wanted to spend enough time there to see if this would be a place I would consider living. As I hoped for, a café was just outside of the park in Gardiner, MT. The aroma in High Country Trading and Espresso spiked my craving for a large dark brew. With java in hand and after taking a quick stroll throughView to Bozeman this tiny western town that gets buried with snow in the winter I hopped in the truck for a short scenic drive to Bozeman. Highway speed felt strange after the relaxing pace in Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.

Welcome to BozemanThe first stop in Bozeman was to the visitor’s center to find a local campground. I chose Bear Canyon Campground on the outskirts of town keeping close to see what the city had to offer. This stop was different than the others staying in a busy environment and reconnecting with the general population. The family style campground offered more than found at the national parks and includedBear Canyon Campground laundry and showers, a bonus since most showers have been from a gallon container with cool water. The hot showers were excellent and it was time to wash well worn clothes!

Sunset Over BozemanBozeman has the western feel you think it would. The wide Main Street had a variety of shops, cafés, museums and restaurants. I toured the small city and found the area to have a pleasant atmosphere. After a few days hearing the light roar of Route 90 from the campground it was time to visit at least one of the six different mountain ranges that surround the area. I found a local climbing shop to query With my shadow overlooking I-90experienced locals to find a rigorous hike. The decision was made to hike Sacagawea Peak(9665 ft), the highest point in the Bridger Range, a sub-range of the Rocky Mountains and visible from Bozeman.

Road to Fairy Lake CampgroundI took an investigative drive to the Gallatin National Forest and Fairy Lake campground. The drive was hilly before the long dirt road to the campground located at the base of Sacagawea Peak. I saw both  wildlife and “domesticlife”, a curious cow, on the slow drive in and captured a section of the Bridger range which is on the Peaceful Pathfinder homepage. The crystal blue water of Fairy Lake and the bare mountain range looked and felt perfect for the next few days. The campground was empty being a weekday now that families were Evening Entertainmenthome with school underway. This was the spot I’d return to the following day. The next afternoon I broke camp at Bear Canyon and made the one hour trek back to the secluded campground. When camp was set I gathered enough firewood for a few nights of entertainment and meditative medicine from a warm fire.

Looking north at Sacagawea PeakWaking to a cool crisp morning with an orange sky I prepared oatmeal and coffee before donning the backpack for the short steep two plus miles to the peak. The moderate to strenuous hike matched the rating of the guide shop and I decided to continue along the ridge encountering a few risky areas that weren’t difficult to maneuver. No mountain goats could be seen roaming the ridge, but a large black and red hairy tarantula was almost under foot. Turning back after encountering a section of the ridge that was too risky to scramble I stopped at the summit to take in the Tarantulaviews and serenity where the absence of sound was peaceful. The quick, steep return to camp left plenty of time to hike around Fairy Lake before sunset. Arriving back at camp a fire was lit and enjoyed for a few hours before ending a rejuvenating day.

Fellow Adventurers Larry and MollyThe next afternoon I checked back in at Bear Canyon Campground meeting fellow adventures and climbers Larry and his wife Molly. We exchanged travel stories and the generous couple offered a place to stay if I was in the area of Glacier National Park. Glacier N.P. was the favorite park of my most preferred college professor Richard Picard who I learned passed Richard Picardfrom a very coincidental encounter with his widow Anne at an Appalachian Mountain Club function in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I had the opportunity to tell Anne a few great stories how Richard prepared us for the real world awaiting us after graduation. I wish I had the chance to join him in the mountains. Aho Mr. Picard!

Gallatin National Forest (South)Saturday of the last weekend in Bozeman I hiked another beautiful area of Gallatin N.F. south of the city, then on the overcast Sunday made a three hour drive northwest to Missoula. The small city was quiet and most stores were closed except for a cavernous café with a beer and wine selection from around the world. I knew which beer was calling after meeting Belgian friend Oliver in Grand Teton National Park. Westmalle! I purchased the beer along with the proper accompanying beer glass.(Different shapes of Belgian beer glasses complement varied styles of beer enhancing aromas and showcasing appearance.) Four months in Belgium taught me plenty about the best beers in the world. The Belgian treat Westmalle!was saved for dinner the last night in Montana NOT to include Ramen noodles and tuna! This time jambalaya and extra sharp cheddar cheese were cuisine of the night. The taste bud trio more than satisfied my pallet and eating outdoors with a beautiful sunset added that special touch to the meal.

Preparing to leave Bozeman a disappointing realization set in that travel would be eastward from here back to New England. There was still more to see and the next stops to Devils Tower National Monument and Badlands National Park were places of intrigue since the formation and landscapes were to be different than anything I’ve experienced. Locating the campsite at Badlands at night eerily sits in my bones today.

Stay tuned for Badlands and powerful Native American lands…

– Greg

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”  – Helen Keller

Driving to Wyoming I played the first CD of The Way of the Peaceful Warrior (Dan Millman’s international bestseller about the universal quest for happiness) audio book Pam offered before leaving Boulder. The journey, U.S. Tour, wasn’t just about seeing friends and great places it was also a time for looking inward to connect with my soul desires. I had endless time on the roads, trails, and journaling to think about important aspects of life and career direction, companionship, where to live and thrive, and find purpose giving attention to family, friends, and relationships. The deepest times for expression were while journaling looking back on the day and life experiences. My personal journey will continue with the interest of growth walking a desired path Native Americans call the Red Road.

On the road …

PronghornTo have manageable road time I drove to Rock Springs, Wyoming keeping to daylight hours after being forewarned of pronghorn dashing across roads at dusk. Three hundred miles and six hours later this small trucker town just off of Route 80 was roaring with big rigs. Not interested in the fast food stops and diners I unpacked the camp stove and cooked dinner outside my room at an aged, never updated, “Bates” motel. The tent would have been preferred over this shady looking place but I made the best of it throwing the sleeping bag on the bed getting a few hours of sleep. Checking out early with an hour’s drive down the orange sun lit road I entered the Wrangler Café for breakfast and conversation with locals. The Connecticut plates would draw the comment, “Connecticut?! You’re a long way from home!” These are places of meeting interesting down to earth people and hearing talk of local and The Wrangler Cafénational issues. The smell of bacon and seeing biscuits and gravy leave the kitchen made me order the hungry man’s special while drinking too many cups of coffee before sliding into the truck.

Inspiration Point & Jenny LakeA few hours later I was in Jackson Hole stopping for supplies and the Craig Thomas Visitors Center collecting information for the stay in Grand Teton National Park. Shortly after entering the park and selecting a campsite near the Grand Teton Lodge I hiked around Jenny Lake to calming area at Inspiration Point before sunset. In need of good rest before climbing Middle Teton (12, 804 ft.), camp was set and the lantern was out early after dinner. The following morning, rising before the sun, forcing down a few packets of instant oatmeal, cheese and coffee I made way to the Lupine Meadow Trailhead passing more than a dozen grazing elk. Boots were laced, the backpack slung over my shoulder and I started on the trail just as the sun was breaking over the eastern hills. A short time into the hike I met my first friend. She didn’t say much but was willing to lead the way with a funny walk. After a few minutes I asked if this was the correct trail to Middle Teton. There was no answer.  What did I expect from a two legged feather friend, the Ruffed Grouse. Food was more important than companionship to this bird!

AscendingNot far back was the trail junction to Garnet Canyon Trail where I connected with three men from Idaho who welcomed me to their team after a quick introduction. During this non technical climb, we hiked packed dirt, rock, scree and crossed a few snow fields to the base of the final ascent where we visually marked the best line to take. The final ascent was slow due to loose talus and being ready to duck or move to the call out of “rock” when some became ajar, which they did. A helmet would have been a good idea through this area. We scrambled the final boulders and formations to make the summit where a misstep could mean tumbling Geodetic Marker (Unfortunate Writing)down 1,000 plus feet. Six hours and 6,000 feet of elevation gain later the summit geodetic survey marker was within reach. Our team stayed at the summit having lunch and taking in the views causing times of vertigo in the calm 65 degree day. The descent was fairly quick and uneventful except for foot glissading down a few snow fields. At the trailhead thanks were given for the invitation to join before they returned to their home state and I back to camp. This was a truly incredible and epic day.

Nibbled Reese's from a StowawyTaking the backpack out of the truck I noticed signs of a stowaway since a few mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups had been nibbled on. After a quick look and being too tired the critter could stay for the night to finish the treat it started. The stove was lit and dinner was a few packs of Ramen noodles, a staple for the trip, always having a chunk of cheese to enjoy with the meal. I slept deeply and awoke to birds and quiet sounds of a new camp neighbor before French pressing coffee, asking a new Belgian friend Oliver to join. Spending four months in Belgium earlier in my career gave us plenty to talk about since favorite foods, chocolate and beer are from the small quiet With Belgian Cyclist Olivercountry. Friends made in Belgium were inviting especially in the historic town of Lier where there’s a plethora of restaurants and cafés. I made note of Oliver’s favorite beer, Westmalle Trappist Ale, (remember this for the upcoming Montana post!) and even though it was breakfast we both could have enjoyed one at that moment. We sipped two brews of fresh coffee and told a few travel stories before I broke camp and he headed into the back country.

Two Ocean's Lake with TetonsWith the stowaway still enjoying the Reese’s I packed the gear and drove north to Lizard Creek Campground on Jackson Lake to reserve a campsite. Two Ocean Lake Trailhead wasn’t far down the road where a leisurely hike was a nice change from scrambling steep talus. The trail wasn’t always next to the water’s edge and decided to bushwhack through a small wooded area to make it to the lake. Noticing huge moose tracks and bedding areas thought came to mind it was probably best to stick to the trail and leave their territory.Two Ocean Lake Closed Trail With slight nervousness and caution I stalked back to the trail since outrunning a bull moose or worse a grizzly wasn’t going to happen. I realized how risky my action was after encountering two Park Rangers closing the trail, one with a loaded and drawn shotgun when they asked if there was sign of an elk carcass from a grizzly kill nearby. Thankfully there wasn’t and I was now at a safe area.

Jackson Lake and the TetonsBack at Lizard Creek I set up the tent, AGAIN, made Ramen noodles and tuna, AGAIN, then relaxed for the rest of the evening spending much of the time at the shoreline of Jackson Lake listening to the water wash upon the rocks and viewing the north faces of the Tetons. The stowaway stayed comfortable in the truck Orb Web Weaverand I in the tent waking to a new friend the Orb Web Weaver. Company was everywhere and anticipation set in that morning knowing just fifteen minutes further north was the next stop to one of America’s most visited national parks, Yellowstone.

Next…Wolves, bison and hot springs…

-Greg

“Balance is implicit in the Red Road. When you’re on the Red Road, you are in the center. Yet, you do not go to either extreme, and you allow both sides to exist. This is accomplished by continually postponing surrendering to temptation, whatever it may be. It is saying `later’ instead of `no.'”

— Dr. A.C. Ross (Ehanamani), LAKOTA

 

Coyote CantinaReturning to Boulder I was seeing the same landscape for the third time passing Great Sand Dunes National Park, Collegiate Peaks and the eclectic looking Coyote Café. I decided to forgo the café and stop at Hog Heaven, a great barbeque restaurant a short distance up the road. Eating there on a previous trip my taste buds were ready for ribs, jalapeno cornbread, beans and bread pudding. The heavy food would last me a long while.

Mountaineering Museum, Golden, CO

I detoured to Golden, CO, home of the Coors Brewing Company but more importantly (for myself anyway), the home of the Bradford Washburn Mountaineering Museum dedicated to the climbers, technology, culture and spirit of mountaineering. Mountaineering caught my interest ten years ago and has brought challenging climbs ever since. The museum displays exhibits on climate, science, cultures and the humanities as they relate to mountains. Bradford Washburn was an American explorer, mountaineer, photographer, and cartographer who A Bradford Washburn photograph of Mt. Huntington’s Incredible North Face. Alaska, April 2, 1978established the Boston Museum of Science. He and his wife, Barbara, the first woman to summit Mt. McKinley (Denali), lead incredible lives  spending much time in Alaska pioneering the use of aerial photography of mountains and glaciers.

After looking at exhibits and early clothing and gear mountaineers used it’s easy to realize today’s mountaineers are spoiled by high tech gear allowing many to go beyond their capability where some will never leave mountaintops such as Mt. Everest. Having good gear is necessary, but experience and common sense keeps you alive!

Roosevelt National ForestRoosevelt National Forest was an hour and a half drive, the end following the same mountainous route I rode the bike on making me think how crazy, but accomplishing the ride was. I signed in at the park, selected a camp site and set out to get in a quick evening hike. Taking that time before sunset was a nice way to ground myself after an exhausting day of driving and sightseeing. Finishing the Hog Heaven leftovers I was ready for a good night’s sleep before continuing on to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Elk Outside of Estes ParkNo time was wasted breaking camp in the morning for the short one hour drive to Estes Park, CO where elk can overrun the town during the rut (breeding season). Being a few weeks early the town was elk free but many were roaming just on the outskirts. I entered the park with a seasonal Interagency Annual Pass then studied a map to see the lay of the land to best make my way through the park the next few days. “Home” was at three different campgrounds, Longs Peak the first few nights, Aspenglen the next, and lastly Timber Creek.

HomeLongs Peak is a tent only campground having platforms at each site. No RVs in this area means no running generators which owners are required to turn off at night. After constructing the tent and purchasing firewood I drove to nearby vistas, taking a hike and returning a few hours later for dinner, a fire and journaling. This was the first campfire of the trip surprisingly enough. Nights were cooler being at a higher elevation (9,500 ft.) than at Roosevelt N.F. making the fire great to get warm before slipping into the sleeping bag.

Grazing Bull Elk

Deciding to see as much of the park as possible I opted out of back country camping moving campgrounds to appreciate more vistas and see more wildlife. Aspenglen campground was the next stop a few mornings later to reserve a tent site before the possibility of a full campground with late season vacationers. Elk were expanding roaming areas as each day of the mating season came closer bringing a massive majestic bull elk close to the road that was undeterred by a train of vehicles.

Elk Grazing in Campground

Final camp was the barren Timber Creek in the southwest corner of the park having almost no trees due to the mountain pine beetle killing tens of thousands of pines. This area of the park was quiet and I met a few friendly travelers, Leroy and his dad out for father and son bonding, two recent college grads on a bike tour of the Midwest and a wildlife photographer. Rising early on a quiet starry morning I walked along a watershed hoping to see wildlife and was fortunate to see moose, deer and elk.

Tom and His Father Leroy

Meeting good people and seeing wildlife was a perfect way to end the stay in Rocky Mountain National Park. I savored a burger and fries just outside the park before the next destination of Grand Teton National Park.

 – Greg

“In every walk with nature one receives more than he seeks.” – John Muir

The tour continues…

For the second time in two years I was in the beautiful little city just east of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder, Colorado. A good friend Pam moved to Boulder from Connecticut more than a few years ago and is responsible for getting me on an upgraded 1989 Trek and introducing me to winter on Mt. Washington. I’ve been hooked since. The nice friend she is she sent me on a crazy bike ride outside of Boulder, details to come.

Eldorado Canyon outside of BoulderThere are incredible place to hike outside of Boulder and I chose Eldorado Canyon State Park spending a day trip in and around the canyon logging about 12 miles on the trails. It felt great to be back in the wilderness after the long drives and stops from Asheville. During the stay I went further into the back country to Arapaho National Forest then mildly “attacked” two 14,000 footers, Grays(14,278 ft) and Torreys(14,275 ft) Peaks, probably two of the easiest 14,000 footers to hike. I could feel the thinner air at about 13,000 feet needing a few short rests and noticed recovery was quick. The trip to Arapahoe N.F. was a long day trek through semiGrays and Torreys Peaks mountainous areas to a few crystal clear ponds. Making a late start this particular day made for dicey conditions when summiting one peak. Peaks should be summited by 1:00 or you face the changing weather coming in early afternoon. Summiting on a bare mountain peak during thunder and lightning strikes is a harrowing experience.

Indian Mountains in Roosevelt National ParkI rode the Trek once on this journey and it was an epic ride Pam mapped out. Knowing it would be in the hills made me step up for the challenge. Long story short, the 60 mile ride was MOUNTAINOUS (short video end of post)! This is an average ride for the super fit who live in Boulder, a training Mecca for world class athletes because of the elevation, good climate and terrain. A few highlights of the ride were stopping in the small mountain town of Jamestown, population 250 and going in to the Jamestown Mercantile for a great IOU malt. I continued through the town gaining elevation until reaching Brainard Lake of Roosevelt National Forest. Destination success! I cruised a few short roads of the park before heading back to Boulder burning the brakes offRiver in Roosevelt National Forest of the bike from the steep down hills that could have you going over 60 mph. The following day I returned to the Mercantile (in my truck this time) to square up my IOU, have a beer and listen to a great “Newgrass” band. The welcoming comfort of the rustic local gathering place made for an enjoyable restful evening.

Collegiate PeaksWith friends arriving to fill Pam’s home and wanting to return to New Mexico to hike/climb Wheeler Peak (13,167 ft.), the highest point in the state, I made the return 300 mile drive. Seven hours later, passing Collegiate Peaks, I was back in New Mexico finding a great location to set up camp just outside the small quaint town of Arroy Secco next to Carson National Forest. After the long drive I was looking forward to spending the night in my tent and sleeping bag.

Double RainbowThe first morning I woke to a double rainbow. There’s no video with me hallucinating or trying to understand the meaning of it. (Some of you will know what I’m speaking about.) Having the small town nearby for good coffee, natural foods and the famous Taos Cow ice cream parlor was a bonus.

Returning to camp one evening after surveying the area was a large van with six men of Mexican decent at the adjoining campsite. I thought this was going to be a long sleepless night because of the number of men and music. I made assumptions I shouldn’t. While pulling a few items from the truck one of the men respectfully told me they were staying to cook dinner and return to a local motel for the night and asked me to join them. I felt empty and didn’t know what to say with a feeling of shame that came over me for making judgments. I couldn’t say no to the offer from this generous man and company would be good. I grabbed something to drink to not go empty handed. Approaching the group I sensed I was not welcomed by all and now I was being judged and was going to eat their food! Did I do the right thing accepting the offer!? A few of the men spoke English and we had a spirited conversation about where home is and what it’s like being on the road for extended time. The mood lightened, but a few men weren’t completely welcoming which I accepted and understood.

Mixed Meat Mexican DinnerOverhanging the fire was a cast iron kettle filled with pork, beef, cut up hot dogs, jalapeños, all combined with a red chili sauce. I followed their lead grabbing a tortilla and filling it with the spicy meat mixture. I have to say it was pretty tasteful and satisfying. We ate and traded stories for a while before they broke camp. When leaving the man, who I took as the group leader, offered the rest of the food otherwise it was going to waste since they had no way to store it. The kindness was humbling and not having to cook dinner the next night was fine by me.

Onto Wheeler Peak…

Not being a skier I didn’t know the Taos ski area is a great place and is highly recommended from reviews I’ve read. The resort was closed, but the parking area was open for hikers who want to roam the trails or summit Wheeler Peak.

Wheeler PeakA few miles on the trail I approached a few people from the New Mexico Mountaineers making the climb to the summit. They were a fit spunky group of retirees with an average age of late sixties who travel and hike mid west and western mountains. After a lively conversation and a few pictures I continued on to the summit passing big horn sheep and little furry creatures. The summit had a great view and I carried along a ridge to the boarder of the 17,361 acre Taos Pueblo Native American property. This sacred land with a view of the sacred Blue Lake was not to be trespassed or photographed(the lake). On the decent I was able to view more big horn sheep and returned to a truck covered with snow from the changing mountain weather. The rest of the Mexican mixed meat dinner tasted great. Probably anything would have at that point.

Taos Pueblo Indian ReservationThe following day I visited the 1,000 year old Taos Pueblo Indian Reservation. Very few acres are available for non-natives to see and explore which was disappointing but understandable since they should have more land than they were given. (after it was taken away, but I digress). I toured the reservation where some Indians live and have shops as part of their homes. A few highlights were a Native man drumming and singing, Fry Breadmiscellaneous jewelry and craft shops and fry bread for lunch. Rest was a good part of this day and visits to shops and long talks with owners made for interesting conversation on how some visitors have expectations of a movie style Indian life.

Returning to camp early evening I prepared dinner and spent time journaling before a good nights sleep. Travel the next day would be passing through Boulder, back to Roosevelt National Forest then onto Rocky Mountain National Park. The trek back to New Mexico was well worth it.

– Greg

“No individual or group can block another individual’s path or change it against what fits his nature and his purpose.”   

– Rolling Thunder, Cherokee

Ronald Bradley Mack

Ronald Bradley Mack

This post is dedicated to my friend Ronald “Ron” Bradley Mack who passed recently. A favorite place of Ron’s was Boulder, CO where he studied at the Rocky Mountain Healing Arts Institute. Ron was a healer using The Bradley Technique energy work he developed and evolved over the 30 years of his practice. He performed his healing work in his home, the historic Melville House Bed & Breakfast in New Bedford, MA, where he was the proprietor.

Ron was a friend and mentor who put me on the path of the journey I walk today. Peace to you Ron!

Ron's favorite evening place

Ron enjoying his front garden

Driving across the United States was a desire since high school. The thought of being on the open road, driving through different states, seeing new places and meeting new people seemed exciting. I’ve spent more time than one should behind the wheel for previous employers and driving throughout New England to destinations for hiking, fishing and camping trips so making the effort didn’t faze me as long as I had good music or company.

The U.S. Tour with Detailed StopsOn July 22, 2009 I embarked on my longest and most distant road trip, a 10,000 mile tour lasting almost two months traveling from CT to North Carolina, Texas, and Montana then returning east. Spending two months traveling throughout Utah, Oregon and parts of Washington State a year earlier kept the trip from going as far as the west coast.

World's Largest GPSThe loosely thought out plan was to visit friends in Asheville, NC, Houston, TX and Boulder, CO, see areas I was interested moving to and visit national parks and forests. Instead of one hundred of AAA maps I used an application on my 17” laptop making the world’s biggest GPS (Which sat on the passenger’s seat.). I wanted to make this journey as free form as possible having the only schedule be the segment to Asheville. My career has been full of strict planning and promptness with executive teams and customers making this a relief to do what I wanted and when. The trip was like Forrest Gump on his run back and forth across the country. When I wanted to see something, I saw it. When I needed to eat, I ate. When I needed to sleep, I slept and when I needed to…., you know, I went!

Full LoadTo start off the road trip Mitzy the Montero was packed with a bike, camping and hiking gear, clothes and a small amount of food and water. With 176,000 miles, no air conditioning and a recent tune up I knew she would be fine although the thought of no air conditioning wasn’t pleasant.

The tour started in Connecticut with a short stop in Massachusetts to pick up a climbing and hiking friend. Chris made the trek to Asheville then flew back. From Asheville onward I’d be going soul”o”. My soul needed a break from my home area and was touched, tested, and poked more than a few times on this journey. (See the Emerson quote in the Peaceful Introduction.)

Making almost 90 noteworthy stops there are too many experiences to tell in this post and will follow with more. For now, I bring you the beginning of the trip, will introduce you to a few friends and tell you of places visited.

Hop in and enjoy the 10,000 mile ride….

Copperhead (Coiled) & Brown Water Snake

There’s a sense of freedom and increased adrenaline I experience being on the road knowing new places for adventure are in the near future. The early part of the trip was familiar territory from driving south more than a few times. We rested for the night in Winchester, NC before navigating the winding Skyline Drive of Shenandoah National Park the following day. Stops were made for a few short hikes to scenic overviews, entertainment for the afternoon being a few snakes, deer and watching people with cameras chase bears with cubs. Not wanting to use my wilderness medicine training Chris and I shook our heads and guided our way through the park. As much as we wanted to experience the Blue Ridge Parkway, which follows Skyline Drive, too many additional hours would have been added to meet our friend Tricia waiting for us in Asheville.

Tricia on Shining Rock Pisgah National ForestTricia, who moved to Asheville more than a few years ago to open a yoga studio, greeted us with good cold beer and welcomed us into her home where we chatted for the rest of the evening. The next day she gave us a tour of one of the coolest, eclectic small cities I’ve been to on the east coast. Asheville offers a welcoming atmosphere, great food, wine and microbrew beer with community activities taking place throughout the city on weekends. There are many similarities to Portland, Oregon. In a short ride you could be in Great Smokey Mountain National Park or Pisgah, Nantahala or Cherokee Mt. Mitchell Eastern U.S. HighpointNational Forests. In an hour’s drive Mt. Mitchell (6684 ft.), the highest point east of the Mississippi River, is an easy to moderate hike. The only likeness to New England’s highest point, Mt. Washington (6288 ft.), is an access road to the summit. Mt. Mitchell can’t boast of the world’s worst weather or the difficult terrain of Mt. Washington, although it provides excellent views of Pisgah National Forest. A trail I embarked on before leaving the area had signs of bear and the quietness of only a few late season campers.

After visiting Tricia, hiking and seeing the quaint, spunky city of Asheville Chris flew back to Massachusetts and I began a long, scorching drive southwest to Houston needing to stop in Lafayette, LA before falling asleep behind the wheel. The heat while driving was hardly bearable rising over 100 degrees causing the power supply for my laptop to melt.

LeoA business colleague and friend I hadn’t seen in 10 years was the reason for the Houston stop. Leo is a proud decorated Silver Star Purple Heart Vietnam Veteran fighting effects from Agent Orange exposure. He’s one of the most interesting and funny men you’ll ever meet. Leo “Gets” from Lethal Weapon is almost as entertaining.  If you have an interest in Vietnam War history, Leo fought in one of the most brutal engagements documented in The Lost Battalion of TET: Breakout of the 2/12 Cavalry at Hue. Time was well spent catching up, keeping company and visiting a few of his favorite restaurants. For “protection” he gave me a set of mounted steer horns you would see on a Cadillac at a big Texas ranch.

HOT and no A/C!Leaving Houston was the most sweltering drive yet. Outside temperature was 106 to 108 at times and hotter in the truck.  Mathew Broderick’s line in Biloxi Blues kept coming to mind “This is Africa hot!” when he disembarked the train in Mississippi. The hot wind blowing in the truck didn’t help and being stopped by a road worker made for a big white sauna on four wheels. Kudos to the workers doing road repairs in the sun and heat.

My plan was to camp after leaving Houston except a stop was needed before leaving Texas given the heat was physically draining and setting up a tent didn’t seem to be the best idea. Coming to the rescue was my brother Jamie, a traveler for work who has a million travel miles. I placed an SOS call and he made a reservation in Amarillo, TX offering his miles for the stay. Jamie, a savior for the evening, and I would meet later during the trip in Chicago.

The Hot Flatlands of TexasPsychologically it felt good heading north early the next morning after a refreshing stay and saying goodbye to the desert heat of Texas. In short time I was in New Mexico where mountains and appealing landscapes were coming into view. Boulder, CO was the next stop and while driving through New Mexico the thought of staying a few nights came to mind but I had Boulder in the sights. As fate would have it I would return to New Mexico a week and a half later because of a full house at my kind friend Pam’s place. Thoughts of climbing the highest peak in New Mexico and visiting the Taos Pueblo Indian Reservation also intrigued me, so back on the road I went driving 300 miles south where I recently driven….

Stay tuned for the next stops…..Taos and Colorado for hiking, camping and more.

– Greg

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”R.W. Emerson

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