A nice story from the BBC on how a team of Afghan climbers, with help from European guides, plan to tackle Afghanistan’s highest mountain and hopefully use the lure of the region’s beauty to build tourism and hopefully, a better future for the people there. Check this link and enjoy.
I’m pretty much making this up, but I think it’s an interesting idea for all you hikers out there. I’m daring you to take the regional highpoint challenge.
So what is it? It goes something like this:
Our “region” includes Oklahoma and all the adjoining states. Those include Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas and New Mexico. The goal: Go to all the state high points and take a picture of yourself there. If you bag all the high points, you’ve successfully completed the challenge.
The good news is that bagging them won’t require any special tools, gear or climbing skills. Each high point is a walk-up. But some will be more challenging than others.
Here’s the high points:
Arkansas: Magazine Mountain, 2,753 feet. Basically a heavily wooded hill in northwest Arkansas. Looks beautiful.
Colorado: Mount Elbert, 14,433 feet. The second-highest peak in the lower 48 states. Good trail to the top, but a long and very tiring day fraught with altitude issues. Hike it the summer, but start early to avoid lightning. During late fall through spring, stay away unless you have winter mountaineering skills and gear.
Kansas: Mount Sunflower, 4,039 feet. The funniest high point of the bunch. It’s just a high point on a flat plain in west Kansas, with a pretty humorous marker showing the spot. Looks like you could drive to it.
Missouri: Taum Sauk Mountain, 1,772 feet. Similar to Magazine Mountain. From photos/reports I’ve seen, it looks like a high, tree-covered hill with nice views. Easy day hike in southeastern Missouri.
New Mexico: Wheeler Peak, 13,161 feet. Three routes to the top, all lengthy. The shortest, from Taos, is the steepest. The other two, from Red River, are more gradual but long — 16 and 20 miles, respectively. Follow the same rules I mentioned about Mount Elbert, but add higher avalanche danger during the months between late fall and late spring. Watch out for altitude sickness.
Oklahoma: Black Mesa, 4,973 feet. A decent day hike, not too lengthy, scenic in a rugged, semi-arid way. Isolated, as it sits in the far northwest corner of the Oklahoma Panhandle.
Texas: Guadalupe Peak, 8,749 feet. A healthy hike with some exposure and mild altitude issues in west Texas. Looks gorgeous, but very remote so take backcountry precautions.
Are you up to the task? I’ll confess to only having bagged two of these. I’d be interested to know if anyone else out there has bagged all of them and hear their thoughts.
I’d heard about this earlier in the spring: Dust covering some of the snowcapped peaks in the mountain west. At first glance, it means dirtier-looking snow. But it also means faster snowmelt. Here’s a story from The Associated Press about it:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Dust in the wind is rewriting the cycle of life in the mountains.
Throughout memory the warmth of spring has begun the mountain snowmelt, bringing life-giving water to greening plants so they can blossom and renew their species.
But now, scientists say, the timing is being thrown off by desert dust stirred as global warming dries larger areas and human activity increases in those regions.
This dust darkens the surface of winter snows, warming it by absorbing sunlight that the white surface would have reflected. That causes the snow to melt earlier than in the past, running off before the air has warmed enough to spur plant growth, researchers report in Tuesday’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“It is striking how different the landscape looks as result of this desert-mountain interaction,” Chris Landry, director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, Colo. and a co-author of the report, said in a statement.
The researchers established test plots in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. Some plots were left alone to collect snow and dust naturally, others had extra dust added and a third group had naturally arriving dust removed.
On average, according to the study, cleaning away the naturally arriving dust delayed snowmelt by 11 days compared to the plots that were left alone. Adding dust speeded up the melt by 7 to 13 days.
Overall, dust levels in the mountains are about five times greater than they were prior to the mid-19th century, due in large part to increased human activity in the deserts, the researchers said.
And, the researchers added, climate change is likely to result in greater dust accumulation in the mountains as the Southwest warms and dries further.
With the change in timing of snowmelt and plant growth the composition of alpine meadows could change as some species increase in abundance, while others are lost, possibly forever, according to lead author Heidi Steltzer, a research scientist at Colorado State University.
The research was supported by the British Ecological Society and the U.S. National Science Foundation.
So that, my friends, means you’ll want to head into the high country sooner if you want to view snow-capped peaks. I’m not sure how this will affect mountain streams in terms of fishing, but if I hear something, I’ll keep you posted.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics put a damper on one of my favorite reality/adventure shows, “Everest Beyond the Limit.” In order to allow a Chinese team of climbers to take the torch up Everest’s north slopes, the government pretty much squashed the Everest climbing season that year from the Tibetan side. Since that’s where the first two seasons of Discovery’s program were based, it left us without the benefit of watching Russell Brice haul a new group of would-be mountaineers up the world’s highest peak last year.
But the program will be back next fall, according to Discovery.com. This time, they’ll be climbing from the mountain’s south side (Nepal) and will take the route made famous by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay.
If you want to get a preview of the season, check this link to a blog on the 09 climbing season:
This little story goes back a ways, but it may help illustrate a point.
When I was younger, I was on a group float trip on the Illinois River. Me and another guy were in a canoe, with me in front and my partner in back. If you know anything about canoes, the person in the back of the boat is the one who steers. The person in front can help power the boat, but doesn’t have a whole lot of control of where the boat is going.
So we’re cruising down the river and in front of us is a canoe with a man and two boys. The man’s canoe is pinned between the current and a log.
The current is also taking us straight toward the canoe ahead. Unfortunately, my partner freezes, expects me to steer (not realizing that’s his job) and we T-bone the canoe. Canoes aren’t the most stable of boats, so as you might expect the man and his two boys get dumped over.
Now for the scary part. One of the boys is now a couple feet underwater, trapped between our boat and the log. And he’s panicking. I reached down, grabbed the kid’s shirt and pulled him up. He coughs a bit, but is otherwise fine. Tragedy averted.
So why do I tell this story? Because there are a lot of times where people get on the lake or in the rivers and the story does not end so well. Sometimes it’s an issue of preparation (life vests, for example) or human error (drinking while boating, swimming in non-swimming areas, being unfamiliar with proper boating techniques, or taking unneccessary risks). And then there’s overestimating your abilities on the water.
I mentioned my canoeing partner, but I’ve been guilty of this before, too. Last year, I jumped off a 25-foot cliff into the ocean. The seas were pretty rough, and my swimming skills were not up to snuff. I nearly drowned.
The fact is, we’re land animals. We’re designed to walk and live on land, but we’ve learned ways to navigate the water through swimming and use of boats. But it doesn’t change the fact that our bodies were designed for land and when given the alien conditions of water, everything changes. So please be sharp, be prepared, stay sober and be realistic about your boating and swimming skills. Summer is a great time of year, and a lot of fun can be had on Oklahoma lakes and rivers through swimming, water skiing, boating, floating and hopping on a personal watercraft. But one bad slip-up can turn a good day bad in a hurry.
Here’s a pretty good link that gives more tips on water safety:
I recently got this e-mail from Out There reader Larry Crooks, who had this to say about the Discovery Channel’s “Out of the Wild: The Alaska Experiment”:
Ouch. I’ll have to admit, there were some folks on the show who were a bit whiney. But when you look at the cast, it looks more like they did what most reality show casting crews do: they looked for potential conflict.
What we got: A New Jersey cop with no wilderness experience. A Wisconsin outdoorsman who was a bit of a loner. A middle-aged southern woman who likes to hunt, but is set in her ways. A lawyer. A personal trainer. A bus driver. All three of them had some outdoor experience. A recreational hiker and a New York hotshot. And lastly, a horse trainer who happened to be gay.
I won’t judge this bunch as harshly. First, they were living on a daily food intake that is less than what most people snarf down in one setting at McDonalds. They had to spend a lot of energy, in the cold, doing chores and finding food. Their hikes, while not long, were off trail bush-whacking affairs that can be pretty tiring. And those packs. Oh, those dreadful Yukon packs. Yuck.
All that said, only two cast members seemed to be somewhat confrontational, and they didn’t last long. The rest hung together pretty well, given the circumstances. Unlike most reality shows, it would appear the circumstances bound these folks together. That, or they found a way to rise above their differences and circumstances and pulled it together.
Still haven’t heard if there’s going to be a Season 3 casting call. But if I hear about it, I’ll post something here. If that happens, Larry, I fully expect you to sign up! I know I’ll be giving it some thought as well.
So I was talking with someone about the trip report I posted yesterday, and it occurred to me there’s some terminology in there that might need some explaining. So here goes:
POSTHOLING: When you’re walking/climbing through snow and your foot punches through deep into the snow, much like a fence post would do in a posthole. Tiring, not fun.
GLISSADE: To sit down on a snow slope and slide down the slope (hopefully in a controlled manner). People do this because 1. it can be fun and 2. it’s a much faster way to descend than hiking or downclimbing.
CRAMPONS: Metal spikes attached to your boots to assist in getting traction on snow and ice.
ICE AXE: Tool used to help ascend/descend on snow and ice and to self-belay in case of a fall (like using a brake). Which leads to…
BELAY: A safety measure to prevent a fall. Ice tools, ropes and rock climbing hardware are often used to belay climbers.
Man, this list could go on forever. So I’m going to stop and give you this link, if you want to know more about climbing terms:
I’d been planning the trip for months. Research, gear, recruiting someone to go with me.
The goal of the trip: Climb Mount Shavano’s Angel of Shavano couloir and any other snow fields we could find to the top of the 14,229-foot peak.
I had one taker, long-time climbing buddy Johnny Hunter, of Shawnee. We’d climbed Mount Yale the year before and had taken numerous forays into the Wichita Mountains of southwest Oklahoma.
This trip would be different. I purposely planned the trip for mid-June, hoping the weather would be favorable but also that the mountain would still have snow on it. Both of us have battled some injuries and health issues lately, and neither of us had any experience climbing through snow.
Sound ludicrous? Maybe. But we did the best we could in researching what it would take to make the climb a success, getting the right gear and picking the right peak. We’d initially thought of going for three peaks in the Missouri Gulch basin near Buena Vista, but later settled on Mount Shavano. Good thing, too, because reality would set in pretty quick.
Mount Shavano is plainly visible from Salida, Colo., and is part of a large chain of peaks in the Sawatch Range. From the east, the Angel of Shavano is also visible — a long, thin snow-filled couloir that features two upstretched arms that lead toward the higher reaches of the mountain. The idea was to use the couloir to ascend as high as we could go.
Ascending Shavano from this point is not difficult. The trail never gets too steep, but in some sections the trail is more or less a collection of rocks sticking up at various angles intermingled with loose stones. This isn’t a big deal going up, but going down after a long day is another matter.
Low on the trail, we passed through some very scenic aspen stands before the forest gave way to pines. As we went higher, we got some rewarding views of the surrounding peaks and could peer into Salida below us.
Had we chosen to do so, we could have camped higher up on the mountain. The trail passes by an excellent stream and had plenty of flat areas that would be perfect for camping. Some people camp at the trailhead, but the better spots are higher on the trail.
A couple hours in, we realized our conditioning wasn’t really all that great. I’d hoped to reach the Angel by 8:30. That wasn’t about to happen.
Somewhere just shy of 12,000 feet, we popped above treeline. The trail eventually rounded a bend to where we could finally see our first target: The Angel of Shavano. If we continued to follow the trail, we’d miss it entirely, so at this point we cut across and down to meet the snowfield. Once there, we stopped, ate some food and drank Gatorade, then put on our crampons and got our ice axes out. I also wore a helmet, just in case I slipped in the snow. Rock vs. head is never a good idea.
THE ANGEL OF SHAVANO
The couloir gets its name from an Indian legend about a woman who sacrificed herself so that her people would have enough water. As the angel melts, it is said that her tears supply the people with all the water they need.
For our purposes, it would be our path to the saddle just below the summit. We broke out of the trees above the bottom of the snowfield, but there would be more snow above us that would give us further opportunities for climbing in snow later on.
I personally found the climb in the snow much more enjoyable than the hike to get there. It was new, different and interesting. It was also steeper, but as we kick-stepped into the snow and used our other tools to ascend, we found the new experience to be pretty invigorating. We also made good time, giving us hope that we might be able to tackle Shavano’s adjoining peak, Tabeguache. More on that later.
One thing that also added to the experience was the wind. When we were below treeline, we could hear it whipping the treetops. Once above treeline, we met it full force: 30 to 40 mph winds, with gusts at 50+ mph. Gratefully, we were dressed right and never felt cold. But it did make the going a little harder, as it was right in our face. A few strong gusts even threatened to knock us back. Call me weird, but the added challenge of fighting the wind was enjoyable to me.
THE FINAL PITCH
Once on the saddle, we had a decision to make. Take the crampons off and work around the remaining snow or keep them on and use the snow to go up the peak. Shavano’s south face was blessed with a long run of snow that looked like it would take us to the top.
Johnny opted to lose the spikes and proceed on the rocky ridgeline, a decision he later said he regretted. I kept mine on and examined the south snowfield. It was steeper than the Angel, and would likely be a tougher task.
The snow on the Angel was soft but mostly stable. I didn’t posthole much, but the flatter snowfields on the saddle with thinner, softer and more prone to postholing. It made the going kinda slow as I approached the summit pitch. Once there, the steeper grade provided more substantial — and stable — snow.
By this time, Johnny had passed me and was waiting patiently as I kick-stepped upward. Again, I was having a blast ascending through the snow. But the going was more difficult due to the steeper conditions, higher altitude and fatigue that was beginning to set in. But with the summit in sight and incredible views all around, I found myself energized enough to yell out some celebratory words as the ascent neared its end.
We got to the summit late: 1:30 p.m. Normally, you want to get to the top before noon. Luckily, the weather held out for us. I’d been up this mountain once before, but that was five years and 15 pounds ago. It was also during August, so there was no snow then.
The reward was spectacular. The skies were bright. We could see Tabeguache Peak to the west and Mount Antero to the north. Far to the east was Pikes Peak. To the south, the Sangre de Cristo Range’s sharp summits were in view. Chipmunks and marmots checked in on us, hoping for some free grub (we declined).
More than anything, though, was the personal satisfaction of seeing all the planning and research into this climb pay off. It would have been easier with a guide teaching us the finer points of snow climbing, but there’s no one or no place in Oklahoma where that’s available. We did the best we could from books, Web sites and other sources, and it worked. It’s a satisfying feeling and left me wanting more. So more snow climbs are in the future.
Due to the lateness of the day and our overall tiredness, Tabeguache Peak would have to wait another day.
I suffer the most during downclimbs, mainly because my knees aren’t very good. My legs are plenty strong, but the joints have taken a beating over the years. Johnny recently had knee surgery, so he was suffering as well.
We went down the east face, rejoined the trail then headed down. We were already pretty spent. Not helping matters was the rocky nature of the trail below treeline. It’s better than bushwhacking, but both of us felt pretty beat up as we descended. I might also say that stated 9.25 miles from the trailhead to the summit and back seems a little short. But that may be the flatlander in me talking.
There were slightly over a dozen people on the mountain, including two people who were about 90 minutes or more behind us. As alarming as that was, we also ran into a guy who was on his way up as we approached treeline. We talked for a bit, and he thought wiser of it and turned around.
As the hike down dragged on, we looked for landmarks — the stream, the upper campsites, and further down, signs marking the Colorado Trail. By the time I heard the braying of cows in the distance, we knew we were about done.
Too beat to do much of anything else, a celebratory meal at a local pizzeria would wait until the next day when we could actually enjoy the meal and stop walking funny.
WHAT WE DID RIGHT: Our clothing choices (lots of layers) were perfect. Despite temperatures in the low 40s above 12,000 feet and blistering winds, we never felt cold. Our food choices — bananas, granola bars and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, plus Gatorade, also kept us going. We smartly decided against getting Tabeguache. Our pre-trip research and gear choices also paid off.
WHAT WE DID WRONG: We started a tad late, and our conditioning issues made us slow. Thankfully, that didn’t cost us. However, forgetting to apply sunscreen (a seriously rookie mistake) made for some pretty bad sunburns and windburns. That won’t happen again.
Me and my climbing partner, Johnny Hunter, sucessfully completed our snow climb up Colorado’s Mount Shavano today. It was an awesome experience. This is just an update; a full trip report will come soon! The pic is me on the final summit pitch, going up a snow slope. And yeah, it was loads of fun!
Spent the day acclimating. Checked out the drive to the trailhead and the lower portion of the trail. All that’s left is to get some rest, get up and climb that mountain! Pic above is the peak, Mount Shavano, that we’ll attempt; the other peak we want to hit is obscured from view. Stay tuned!