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The Trip Report for Mt. Hood's Spicy Day 12 May 2018

LOL. That is the only way to respond to yesterday's Hood climb. You go in with certain expectations of how the day is going to go, and then you get a spicy day of climbing with challenges you did not foresee.

Despite a small reputation as a bit crazy, I feel like I am a careful evaluator of risk. I do my research, I get the right gear, I learn my skills, and I regularly contemplate the reward vs risk equation with a certain amount of emotional detachment.

So. Before we headed up to Mt. Hood yesterday, we laid out all of our gear and made a few decisions. We packed our backpacks and put a few additional pieces of technical climbing gear in a separate bag in case we wanted it after seeing the conditions firsthand at Timberline. We even brought sleeping bags in case the weather looked completely rubbish and sleeping in the car prior to starting a day of resort skiing seemed the better option. We also looked at the NWAC weather station's most current readings and the NOAA forecast. In short, we felt reasonably prepared.

As we were going through Welches—right at the base of Mt Hood—we got a few sprinkles of rain on the windshield. Fine, fine, we expected a bit of precipitation. As we gained elevation, large patches of fog appeared across the road. Thick, soupy fog. Then, as we turned to head up to Timberline Lodge, the fog lessened but the wind picked up with moderate sleet and snow hitting the windshield. I remember turning to Tina and saying, "I dunno, Tina..."

At Timberline though, the wind was blowing but the precipitation seemed less and you could see stars every so often. That is frequently the case on mountains—you go up or down a thousand feet and the weather is significantly different.

With the wind and weather, we decided to add the technical climbing gear to our packs as it seemed possible that higher up we might need it. Harnesses, rope, carabiners, and bits of cord all went into the packs. Better to have them and not need them, etc. Also, with the additional weight, more training: Yay!!

The wind kept coming during our ascent, probably in the 20-35mph range, with a few solid gusts that caused me to stumble a bit even when standing still. The wind was also picking up a fair amount of snow on its trip across the mountain face, stinging our eyes and face nearly continuously. Any skin exposed, say your fingers when changing into heavier gloves or when adjusting a small strap, took many minutes to rewarm.

We noticed in the climbing register outside the Wy'East Day Lodge that there were two small groups ahead of us. We met a 3-person team slightly above Palmer, maybe around 8800 feet, shortly after they had decided to turn around. The wind had sucked their energy dry and they were not optimistic about the summit. With the faint hope the wind would reduce (the forecast suggested it would in the early hours), we soldiered on.

It bears noting that a large group had gotten ahead of us by traveling via SnowCat to the top of Palmer and starting their climb there, nearly halving the vertical feet required to reach the summit. Just as we were departing the ski area boundary at the top of Palmer after a break, another SnowCat dropped off a second load of climbers. The mountain definitely had a couple dozen people on it.

As we approached Crater Rock, the wind disappeared, thanks to the protection provided by the mountain's features. Sadly, it returned in all its chilling glory shortly after we reached Devil's Kitchen.

And Devil's Kitchen was a sight to see. I have 14 attempts and 10 summits on Hood, and  I have never seen Devil's Kitchen quite like this. It was just so flat and open around the fumarole. So much in fact that the slope up to the Hogsback had a large crack in it where the warmth of the surrounding rocks had melted out the snow underneath. There was a snow bridge crossing it, but given the crack and the exposure above Devil's Kitchen, it did not seem the safest route up. With the cold air and the fact that the sun was not out, it seemed the safer course was to circle counter-clockwise around Devil's Kitchen, staying comfortably away from the Steel Cliffs, and head up the Hogsback from the other side.

The Hogsback was its normal self. Like Devil's Kitchen, the Hot Rocks to the west were significantly exposed with a number of cracks separating its top part from the upper snow. Not uncommon, but May 11th felt a bit early to see that much rock exposed. Above us, the Bergschrund was open, but there was plenty of room to navigate right, and so we headed up towards the Pearly Gates.

This is where we caught up to the large group that had passed us in the SnowCat while we were skinning up Palmer. Three rope teams...and they were moving slowly. The snow up to the point of the Bergschrund was solid. We had to make steps most of our trip thanks to the scouring effect of the wind, but the snow always felt stable and reliable.

Above the Bergschrund though, the snow got a little shit. You had a hard bottom layer, a variable layer of unseen rime ice on top of it, and then all of it covered with a few inches of fresh, loose snow. Sometimes you could force your ice axe's shaft in easily, sometimes it took a few solid tries, and every so often it would hardly penetrate the slope at all. And your crampon points might stick perfectly or simply scrape off the snow and rime. Testing your placements prior to moving was important.

The small group immediately above us was definitely having a hard time. It was a leader doing a belay for two tired beginner climbers. The beginners were leaning into the slope and even using their hands and knees to ascent. Being right below them was a bit uncomfortable. They tore up the snow and standing on the slope waiting for them to progress upwards was tiring. We were patient but we very nearly tried to pass them to the right, but felt it was only going to be an extra 10-15 minutes of waiting and giving them breathing space was important.

While they rested at their leader's belay station, we climbed around them and were just below the next group that was preparing to start the left, alternate to the Pearly Gates. Another group was already 30 feet to the right, at what I consider the Pearly Gates proper, and they were not looking speedy. We briefly chatted with the guide nearest to us and asked if it would be all right if we climbed past his group real quick. He said yes, and may have grumbled that we be careful of their rope.

Moving around his group to reach a slide snow ledge at the entrance of the chute was a bit arduous. Steeper slope and less secure crampon placement, but only 15 feet or so of vertical travel, thankfully. With a bit of effort, we got it done and moved into the chute proper. The chute was solid. Using our picks we ascended in no time, as if it was the simplest thing in the world. We took a few moments to catch our breath and proceeded onto the summit.

While we were negotiating the teams, a bit of weather had rolled in and by the time we reached the summit the dreamed of views were no where to be found. We chatted with two other climbers, had a water/snack break, took the usual summit photos, and started looking for our way down.

The groups that we had passed were still not fully up the Pearly Gates, so we went over and looked for the Old Chute. At this point, the weather was switching from simple cloudiness to a difficult to navigate diffusion of white. The snow and sky started blurring together and the usual landmarks were fading from view. Even our sense of direction became a bit muddled. One of the climbers on the summit said he had come up the Old Chute, but we could find absolutely no tracks towards it. It was befuddling.

In retrospect, this climber mentioned he had never summited Mt. Hood before, and I am reasonably sure he was with another climber who had skipped around the groups and summited via the Pearly Gates. Maybe bad information.

In any case, with the conditions and sketchiness of the snow, hunting for the Old Chute and crossing the knife's edge leading to it seemed like a poor choice. Instead, we saw another group beginning to climb out of the 1 o'clock couloir. Peeking in, we decided it was a far better option than trying to navigate around the other groups again and approaching the Bergschrund from above with the lousy snow.

So, the 1 o'clock couloir starts comfortably wide at the top, narrows to about 6 feet, and then widens again to join up with the Old Chute descent. The first few steps in were fine, but as it steepened it became clear the snow conditions were going to require the use of both our ice axes. We tried to stay climber's left of the group ascending to mitigate falling snow/ice issues, but the rime ice on the side was breaking off so we were not overly successful and simply moved as quickly as we could.

It was a slow descent through the couloir using two ice axes and a combination of duck step and front pointing technique—especially as it was Tina's first time with that technique and descending while thwacking narrow pieces of metal into a steep slope is not the most intuitive form of travel. It worked though and at no point did either of us feel unstable or unsafe climbing down. However, I did find the repeated kicks into the slope to find purchase for our crampons a wee exhausting.

By the time the route joined up with the main slope below the Old Chute, it had begun to snow and the whiteout was in complete effect. You literally could see nothing 10 meters away. No sign of the Hot Rocks, the Hogsback, or the Bergschrund. Your eyes could hardly distinguish the snow below your feet, which made each step tricky as you were not exactly sure if the surface was soft, hard, near, or far.

Unnerving is the not the right word. We never lost our cool or our sense that we would make it out safely, but I looked up at Tina as we navigated our way down and calmly said, "So, I'm a little bit stressed..." 

To be continued...

Sorry about that. We had to run off to Smith Rock for a day. More coming tomorrow.

The continuation...

The progress was slow and we squinted frequently trying to find a recognizable landmark in the enveloping whiteness. More than a few times we wondered if we really saw something or if it was just our eyes playing tricks on us. We had the compass and the GPS out so we knew approximately where we were headed, but the spatial disorientation was real.

We moved a few steps, looked around, moved a few more, looked around, and then heard voices. They were in the direction we were headed, so that felt promising but a hail to them went unanswered. So, we kept on moving and finally caught a glimpse of the Bergschrund. The main opening was off to our left but there was a small crack open to our right as well.

To make a long story short, we crossed the Bergschrund via a snow bridge above the Hot Rocks. Shortly after crossing it, we caught a glimpse of a couple figures below us. They also were disoriented and shouted that they had just descended from the Pearly Gates. With the Bergschrund visible and knowing the approximate location of the Pearly Gates, we descended an unrecognizable upper Hogsback to the main ridge, where we found the poles we had left there over an hour beforehand.

From the main ridge of the Hogsback, you could see neither Devil's Kitchen nor the Hot Rocks. Which even writing now, three days later, seems really weird. They are large, significant landmarks and within a stone's throw of the Hogsback. Not a bit of them could be seen through surrounding cloud and falling snow.

After a break to replenish our energy stores, we headed east off the Hogsback in the direction of Devil's Kitchen. Being leeward, there were still tracks from our climb up, which made the first few minutes of travel easy. By the time the slope started leveling out though, the tracks were gone. Still, we remembered our route and could even recognize a few landmarks carved into the snow. All we saw of the Devil's Kitchen was an occasional brown coloured smudge to our right.

On the other side of Devil's Kitchen is the Triangle Moraine and the beginning of the descent to Timberline Lodge. Nearly every guidebook for Mt. Hood mentions that in bad conditions it is incredibly easy to make a mistake here and end up in either Wind River Canyon or Zigzag Canyon. That is because the fall line naturally funnels people towards one or the other. Both of these canyons have steep drop-offs, so a mistake can be deadly.

The best thing you can do is navigate around Crater Rock and then head magnetic south, which will deliver you down to Timberline Lodge. And that is exactly what we did. Near the tip of Crater Rock, I pulled out the compass and found south. The GPS confirmed our path and off we went with another climber joining us for safety.

The next 1,500' of descent was similar whiteout conditions with us traveling 15 minutes, consulting our instruments, adjusting course, and continuing on. Finally, we started breaking through the cloud surrounding the summit and caught our first glimpse of the Palmer ski lift. A rousing cheer was made by all.

In no time, we reached our skis above the Palmer ski area and were ready to ski down to the lodge. The ski was exhausting on tired legs, but according to Strava we reached the parking lot in only 12 minutes. Not a bad way to lose a couple thousand feet of elevation.

•••

Take away lessons? I think the big one is that Mt. Hood is most assuredly a mountain to be taken seriously, no matter if you heard that someone once climbed it in high heels. Its weather can be unpredictable and unreliable, and you cannot trust the weather report when it says fair conditions are on the horizon. Also, know your route, bring a compass, have a map, and trust them. We are creatures with a keen sense of sight, and it is quite unnerving to lose that sense so completely in a dangerous area and needing to rely on scrawls on paper and strange unseen forces.

Otherwise, I am reasonably pleased. We handled the terrain well, kept our calm, made good decisions, and further solidified our existing snow/ice travel skills. Got a few new learning experiences and a story to tell. Hard to argue with that.


Thoughts Before a Climb 10 May 2018

We're intending to climb Mt. Hood tonight, or at least give it a shot. We were planning on going up early Saturday morning with a friend, but she has gotten a bad case of nasal lubrication galore and is unable to compel her body up a mountain side.

So, we're going tonight instead. The hope is that by going early Friday morning we will miss most of the weekend crowds. Sadly, we also seem to be getting the shittier weather as a storm just blew through Portland and it could be a bit damp and windy up there. Or not. I find the mountains to be surprisingly whimsical about their weather. 

I also may have a bit of something in my chest. The aforementioned friend is only one of three people we know who are sick currently, and my run yesterday on Mt. Tabor seemed particularly phlegmy on the uphill portions. Also, my left wrist got a strain while climbing Tuesday morning and we're scheduled to be climbing at Smith, so I need to baby it a bit, if I can. Still, I am already taking the day off from work, so I might as well head up and see how it goes, right? Right.

Since our beginner climber is staying home, my gear selection needs to be rethought. Our original plan was to take her up to the Hogsback and see how she felt. From there to the summit it is a bit more technical and the crowds are frequently problematic on weekends, so we thought we would play it by ear. Bring a lightweight rope, harnesses, a sling, some cord, and a snow anchor along with the usual ice axe and crampons.

Now, it is just us two. Tina and I are reasonably experienced and reports from climbers earlier in the week seem to indicate excellent climbing conditions. We'll also be skinning up, instead of booting with our friend, so that requires different packing too. My impulse is to pack light and if the conditions are more challenging than what we are geared for, we just turn around. Bringing the second ice axe though, not going to make that mistake again, Hood is just too moody up high.

I'll probably pack here and then throw extra gear into the car so I have options at the Timberline Lodge parking lot. I like options.

And, I guess that is it. Going to go try and take a nap for an hour or so, and then wake up to pack, eat a bit, pour some manner of caffeinated liquid down my throat, and head to the mountain. Let's hope we get down in time for the Timberline Lodge breakfast buffet. Ohhhh, yeah...


The Connections 30 April 2018

Sarah Jeong posted an insightful article on The Verge today titled "I tried leaving Facebook. I couldn’t" and I think it really encapsulates the reality of Facebook for many people, including most of my friends.

I deleted my Facebook account about a month ago after I discovered that somehow they had acquired my credit card number, which allowed me to easily submit money to donation forms that were embedded in a friend's status. An understandably useful feature but a step too far for me.

I have always been mindful of my Facebook account and what I shared on it. Not too much personal information, never my phone number, a distinct email address only used for that account, and even a separate browser with a Facebook container extension to protect their tracking of me around the web. Paranoid? Maybe, but their entire business is built around tracking my entire digital life and selling insights about who I am to advertisers. My trust in them to protect that information was non-existent, even before the most reason scandal

When I discovered that they had my credit card number without me having explicitly given it to them, I shook my head and said that was enough. We have all gotten comfortable with a little invasiveness and tracking on the web in order to use free features, but there are lines that should not be crossed. I found one for me and it was a clear, solid line with an unwillingness to compromise. I debated for a day and then axed it.

This is not the first time I have deleted a Facebook account either. In early 2014, there was a rather emotionally charged discussion with a former partner that made me decide I should try to live without. Lasted about a year before the constant missing of things brought me back. Sarah gets it entirely right, Facebook has lifted an immense amount of social labor of our shoulders. With Facebook, it is so darn easy to keep track of people, check-in, checkout, create groups, read the news, plan events, play games, share cool videos, etc., etc. And when nearly everyone uses it for those purposes, not being part of it means you get left behind and a bit lost.

And there is no alternative. Everyone, including Senators and Representatives, keep on trying to find parallels to get a handle on Facebook. There is none like it in the world today. Facebook is not a car company, it is not a financial company, it is not a company with tangible items or simply just data in a database. It is all about the connections.

And creating all the connections and their social history for billions of people is a damn hard and complicated thing to accomplish. Facebook may very well be irreplaceable.


Bring Coffee 25 April 2018

I am having one of those days where I am feeling a bit slow and lazy, where one feels like they are not accomplishing anything or achieving things fast enough.

Sure, sure. I donated a pint of blood today, and I also just came off two hours of bouldering yesterday, 30 miles of biking up into the West Hills on Monday, crevasse training for eight hours on Sunday, and 14 downhill ski runs before lunch on Saturday–so, a rest day was definitely planned.

Still, that bouldering session did not feel particularly productive as my two v5 projects continue to stonewall me. The bike ride's climb up Newberry felt particularly hard, especially for a climb that a couple years ago I did repeats on after doing laps around Sauvie Island. And, I still get jelly legs significantly faster than Tina when skiing and my turns on double blacks are just barely above middling.

Further, while work is going well, it recently took me an extra few days to finish a large task, which felt like a tiresome delay, and–let's be honest–it's not like I am building or maintaining a framework or CMS for thousands of developers. I'm a contractor working on someone else's software.

It is also Spring and April 23rd was my trailversary. Five years ago I started the Pacific Crest Trail and was burdened with glorious purpose; to spend five months walking 2600 miles across three states with everything on my back. My current day to day grind of work with short forays into the out of doors, whenever I can schedule them, does not really compare. There are paltry few accolades for being domesticated.

That dirtbag, low stability life does get old. And it is definitely not the best for long term plans. You want a nice home to come back to? You need to work hard, save up for it, and then pay it off. Even if it is not the glamorous outdoor life you see on Instagram, that does require steady employment and financial discipline.

And yet. And yet. I still want to say "fuck it" and run off. Sure, why not go spend an entire summer playing again? You Only Live Once! Think how much fun you will have! Climbing! Backpacking! Biking! YESSSSSS!! Dirt in your nails, blisters on your feet, sore muscles, and the utter bliss of a shower after a hard struggle! That is what life should be! That's Living!

And them come back just as broke as you were last time. With no home, no savings, and back to those daily life annoyances that make you grumble.

Good lord. I feel like I am in a feast and famine cycle. 

(and now the author will go drown his sorrows in fresh, warm berry crumble...because he's fat too...)


A Case of Mistaken Wax 26 February 2018

I have many crafty friends. They can do everything from making their own clothes to building a pizza oven in their backyard. While I dabble in baking and have on occasion made my own Halloween costume, I would not consider myself endowed with an artistic or maker soul. And yet, I have spent most of my career architecting and building digital creations, so there does seem to be a hint of aptitude. It feels a bit wrong to have the capability to be a thing, be strongly interested in becoming that thing, and never striving to become it.

Given my proclivity towards outdoor pursuits and the need to modify or maintain gear, it seemed about time for me to stop being lazy and force myself to start developing the necessary skills and experience to do it myself instead of spending money to let someone else perform the work. One thing that grabbed my interest recently was waxing my own skies. We do enough backcountry and resort skiing around here that multiple waxes a season are called for to keep us gliding nicely down the slopes. Further, an older pair of climbing skins had recently left sticky bits of glue on the bottom of my backcountry skis and another trip was rapidly approaching, so last week I decided to clean my skis and give them a good waxing all by myself.

I started by cleaning the bottom of my skis with Goo Gone. The citric acid based cleaner I had was ineffective against the glue residue so something with a bit more oomph was required. The Goo Gone effectively removed the glue but it also took most of my existing base of wax with it. I rinsed them heavily in the shower and let them dry for an hour.

Now for the waxing. Tina had a friend who moved away and left her a ziplock bag containing a sanding block and two tubes of wax. Now, when I first saw these a couple months ago, Tina recalls me mentioning that they were cross country ski waxes. Oh, if only I had been so astute last week as I was two months ago.

I hunted around for that ziplock bag and plucked it out of one of our gear containers. Looking at the tubes of wax, I chose the one that seemed to have the correct temperature rating for our current mountain conditions. Amazon has a nice image of the SWIX Blue Wax I decided upon. If you're an older school cross country skier, you may already know where this is going. In a haze of Goo Gone fumes, it did not even enter my mind that it may be the wrong kind of wax for downhill skiing.

After covering my desk with paper to protect it from dripping wax, I flipped my skis over and braced them on top. I took a recently purchased cheap iron and turned it on to warm up. Even before I started melting, a niggling thought had entered my mind: "That's not very much wax for two skis." I knew it was supposed to be a thin layer of wax, so I told myself I was meant to be efficient and pushed the thought away. The wax was also quite sticky at room temperature. But, it was obviously meant for winter temperatures and not a 65 degree living room. Another thought pushed away.

I slowly pressed the wax against the iron and it melted down onto the ski. It was an exciting new experience dribbling little droplets of wax back and forth between the edges of my ski. After a foot though, I needed to pause and pull down the edge of metal that was wrapped around the tube of wax. It was a royal pain to do and I actually had to get a pair of tweezer to help pull it away. Another odd thing as it did not seem quite right that one would have to continually pull away a metal wrapper while waxing one's skis. Still, I reckoned this was yet another case of me being inexperienced. Obviously I should have pulled off the entire metal wrapper before starting.

Once I had droplets up and down the entire ski, I moved the iron back and forth to slowly remelt the drops and create a thin layer of wax across the ski’s entire surface. That part went smoothly. There was a small amount of overflow that spilled over my edges, but I knew I would simply be scraping that away after the wax cooled.

The first ski took me about 25 minutes to completely wax because of the metal peeling but the second one took less than 10 minutes since I had learned how quickly I could melt and spread the wax. Upon finishing, I put the skis in the bathroom to cool for an hour. While they cooled, I biked over to a nearby outdoor store and purchased both a scraper and nylon brush. Neither was in the bag Tina’s friend had given her, which seemed odd, but maybe her friend wanted to keep those items for himself. 

At this point I would like to point out the number of times I thought something was wrong but simply pushed the thought away and blamed it on my complete inexperience with waxing skis. Hm. Hmmmmmm.

I came back from the store and took the first ski out of the bathroom. What struck me first was that the wax was definitely still pretty tacky. Maybe it was not cool enough? Put it on the balcony for another 20 minutes. Made a cup of tea and read an article online about how to scrape and brush your skis after waxing.

Brought the ski in from outside, braced it, and tried to scrape the wax away. Huh. The wax was not really coming off the ski so much as becoming a tough, sticky residue against the scraper. I paused and looked at the wax on the bottom of my ski. Something was wrong. I tried again. The wax was solidly sticking to the ski and the scraper, not coming off at all. Something was definitely not right here.

I headed to the internet and did a few searches. What causes gooey, non-scrapeable ski wax? Was it my usage of Goo Off? Temperature? Does wax go bad? I am embarrassed to say, it took me a solid 15 minutes before I thought to look up the wax on the SWIX website. The tube I was using was not under Alpine or Alpine Touring. And then I found it. Kick wax. Holy hell.

If you do not know, Kick Wax is also know as Grip Wax and is used with waxable Cross Country Skis. It is put on the middle part of your ski underneath the binding and is there to give you the grip you need to push off and move when you push down. It is most definitely not meant for alpine skis and is the exact opposite of glide wax.

The last time I had done anything with Kick Wax was way back at Reed some 20 years ago. It is somewhat uncommon now thanks to waxless cross country skis. Nowhere on the wax tube did it indicate it was Kick Wax but I obviously had realized what it was two months ago. In my haste to try something new and get my skis waxed for a trip the next day, I never paused to consider if I was using the wrong wax. Oops.

By the way. Kick Wax is also a royal pain to remove. Exhausted by the hours of now completely useless work, I put the skis away and moped the rest of the evening away.

–––

I ended up snowshoeing for my trip the next day, which was a really good call as we were pulling a friend’s 11 month old in a sled with fresh snow and having that maneuverability came in extremely handy.  A few days later with another ski trip planned, I stopped by the outdoor shop, purchased Glide Wax, and decided to give waxing another shot.

First, I used the iron on a low temperature to slowly heat up the Kick Wax and then wiped as much of it away as possible. I then used Goo Gone multiple times in the shower to remove the remainder. Took about an hour. Not a very fun hour either.

I set up my table with protection again and braced my skis. The Glide Wax melted thin and quickly. I had the bottom of both skis coated in a nice thin layer of wax in under 15 minutes. It was night and day compared to the first time. Given their harsh cleaning, I let the wax sit on them for the rest of the afternoon while I went out for a few hours.

That night I used my scraper and scraped off the wax. It came off in delightfully light, creamy shavings. Ahhhh, this was how it was supposed to go! You cannot scrape off too much apparently, so I gave it a number of goes. Next, I used my nylon brush and cleaned off more wax before polishing it with some felt.  By the end the bottom of my skis had a clean, polished look that felt right. The truth would come the next day.

Downhill skiing on Saturday at Mt. Hood Meadows was epic as they were in the midst of a storm that would bring in more than two feet of fresh powder. And the skis worked great. I could tell they were just a bit cleaner and slippier than before.

So, yeah, lessons learned, experience accumulated, merit badge unlocked. It was a bit exhausting to fail so completely and then have to fix my mistake and start over, but it got done and I am richer for the experience. Still feel a boneheaded, but therein lies the truth of learning: you’re usually slightly foolish at the start.


Open Letter to Americans 18 February 2018

Look, I try not to be an ass. Here’s the thing though. Most of you assholes are not trying hard enough to make the world a better place. I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!  But, you know, calmly and quietly. That’s why I am writing this on a blog that maybe a total of five people read.

We have a bunch of problems. Climate Change is fucking real and we should have started addressing it in the 90s. There is an incompetent, egotistical, racist in the White House who has appointed similar cretins to his cabinet. The GOP is so morally bankrupt that universal healthcare is tyranny and dead schoolchildren are the price of freedom; where people living in tents and dying from third world illnesses is less important than corporate tax cuts. As a society we are in a shit ton of debt–a mind boggling amount of debt. $1.48 trillion in student loan debt that is a yoke around an entire two generations and a nation that is over $20 trillion in debt itself.

Those are just the big bullet points that first come to mind. So many other things need to be addressed. We are in real danger of slipping both out of democracy and out of first-world status. And yet, we have such arrogance that we are the ONLY source of truth, justice, and greatness in the world. I am trying to think of an apt metaphor, but in simple turns we need to grow up and deal with our problems.

I keep on racking my mind trying to find out what more I can do, personally. I vote in every election. I contact my Representatives. I try to be informed and inform others. I donate over $300/month to nonprofits and give a number of single-time large donations throughout the year as well. I am TRYING.

The fact remains that without removing the bad actors who maintain power and influence through money and deceit, these problems are not going to be addressed. The NRA needs to go. Money as speech and the power of corporations in politics needs to be limited. And the only way that will happen is by improving our representation. The GOP quite simply needs to go. The entire party should be thrown out of office and representatives that value immigrants, science, and improving the lives of every citizen needed to be voted in.

The Midterm Elections are key. Vote. Convince everyone you know to become informed and vote too. This is a battle for the very soul of our government. If they will not serve us, the people, then they are NO representatives of ours. I also strongly advocate for donating every single dollar you can to nonprofits you believe in. Choose your cause and help them fight tooth and nail for it.


The Continuing Climbing Saga 21 January 2018

At the end of November, The Circuit had a Black Friday sale where annual memberships were 20% off. Given I had been going consistently 2-3 times a week since early September, a membership seemed inevitable and an annual membership was going to save me about a $1000 a year. So, I took the plunge, bought a membership, and have committed to making climbing a serious pursuit in 2018.

I have always been a dabbler in climbing. When I first tried it back in Ohio in 1997, it was a single wall within an outdoor store a 20 minute drive away. Reed College gave me a couple chances to visit the Portland Rock Gym and a single outing to Smith Rock, but lacking a car and funds for gear really kept me from doing anything more. During the fifteen years post-Reed, I only climbed a total of three days outside and a handful of visits to PRG. It was not until I attended Portland State, where they had an easily accessible climbing wall in the gym, did I do any manner of regular practice. Then the knee injury happened and I did not touch another hold for six years.

Primarily, it was priorities. Soccer and running completely absorbed my attention for the better part of my 20s. And then I tried mountaineering in my late-20s and found another activity where my natural ability to push myself for hours on end worked wonders. Skiing and rock climbing always seemed like fun when I did them, but neither clicked as a passion until recently. Wish I had clicked into them 10 years ago when my joints were in better shape but oh well.

But I am putting in the effort now. Last Thursday at the gym, I was working on the latter half a v6 and a friend pointed out that the move I was attempting would not have been possible over a month ago. I simply would not have had the finger strength or technique. That was the same session where I did my first v4 on-sight. And to top it off, I have now completed seven v5s. According to the Portland Boulder Rally website, this categorizes me as an intermediate climber. Woot!

There are certain kinds of boulder problems that consistently give me trouble; mostly because of my low finger strength to body weight ratio. Or in other words, I am pretty darn heavy for how strong my fingers are. Crimping is not my favorite thing and the term “climber fat” has been thrown about on more than one occasion.

On the flip side, there are certain problems and holds that come more naturally to me. Being tall and having a decent amount of upper body strength does come in handy. More than a few climbs have been sent thanks to dogged, muscly determinedness.

And then last weekend, during the annual friend trip to Sunriver, we spent both Saturday and Sunday climbing at Smith Rock. The first day was sunny and warm enough to belay in t-shirt, while the second day was foggy and chilly to the point where we had hand warmers in our chalk bags to keep our fingers from completely losing sensation. Pulled off a 5.8, two 5.9s, 5.10a, 5.10b, and a 5.10c. The latter was NOT pretty and by the end my hands were trembling from exhaustion, but it gave me an inkling of what I could achieve with more hard work.

So, yeah, with the annual membership to the Circuit and enough friends interested in continuing to climb both indoors and outdoors, I am considering working this year on becoming a stronger climber and increasing my skills. Sure would be nice to pull off a number of v7s in the gym while also doing mixed alpine climbs in the Cascades. I am going to make a joke here, and I hope you will excuse the pun, but I have high hopes.


Adulting So Damn Hard 10 January 2018

A combination of factors towards the end of last year convinced me that it was time to take care of a few matters that I had long neglected or simply put off because I felt it was not quite time to focus on them. First, after starting a new and extremely well paying remote job in September, I was able to quickly pay off my debt from my 5 month work-free sabbatical and within a couple months I had a sizable chunk of savings in my bank account. Then, in early November, my 20 year old Subaru developed an odd noise that led me to discovering it needed over $3K of work done in order to keep in drivable for the foreseeable future. And finally, on a whim I decided to sign up for Mint.com and bring all of my financial data into one location so I could get an overview of both my assets and debt.

That last one triggered a whole slew of thinking about my financial future and goals. Compared to where I was when I turned 29, my rapidly approaching 39th birthday had my savings and investments taking a pretty significant step backwards. Given my incredible earning potential and generally practical nature, it is a bit embarrassing to see how poorly I have planned financially for the future.

Most of that step backward is because I worked part-time for many years after EllisLab, took a couple pricey courses for things like mountaineering and Wilderness EMT, went back to school, had the knee injury, hiked the PCT for five months, and also a few summer sabbaticals sprinkled in. Skipping income for learning and adventures is fun but terrible for the savings. Known, expected, and accepted…still a bit cringe worthy when you see how it has drained most of your assets though.

Anyhow. Mint.com put everything into one single place and I was able to see it clearly all on one page. And damn if it did not make me think I need to stop fooling around and start putting money away again.

So. In December I opened my very first Roth IRA and maxed out my 2017 contribution. I sold my old car and spent a month figuring out the best option for replacing it. I researched the various options for an outdoorsy car (new/old, MPG, AWD, trunk size, etc.) and finally decided on a 2018 Subaru Outback. After a couple days of shopping around and having dealers around Portland compete for my business, I purchased it for an amazing price and with a 0% interest loan. So far, I really really like it.

I have also decided that a really large trip like Denali is not in the cards for 2018. While it still calls to me, the company I am contracting with wants me to stick around and they allow me immense flexibility with my work schedule. This means the ability to take off skiing during the week and also doing billable work on nights + weekends. And, by giving them a reasonable bit of notice, I can take multiple 5-10 day trips throughout the year. Seems like a nice balance that will allow me to still make money, keep doing trips than will not fit into a long weekend, and stay employed. 

A rough plan for this year is to pick up and expand existing outdoors skills while rebuilding up my finances. For example, this weekend is four days in Central Oregon and two weekends from now is an AIARE Level 1 course on Mt. Hood. On the financial front, filling up the Roth IRA for 2018 is an easy win and then making a few additional investments in funds that meet certain environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria. I already have a list! 2018 might also be the year that I pay off the last of my student loans from Portland State as–despite their small payments–the interest rates are too high. And as a stretch goal, and greatly depending on how the midterms go, starting a fund for a down deposit on a bit of property. It is well beyond time to have a home base in a lovely location.


Technical Skills vs Will Power 12 November 2017

It really gnaws at me when I cannot get a bouldering problem well within my abilities. Unlike running, biking, thru-hiking, backcountry skiing, and a significant amount of mountaineering there is no way to will myself through a blocker in climbing. Digging deep only gets you so far. You need the skills, the technique, the core strength, and the ability to move your body in precisely the right way to get up the wall. And you only get so many shots at a problem before a necessary part of your anatomy (muscles, tendons, skin) is worn out or used up; forcing you to walk away.

Having focused so long on activities where endurance and willpower are key to succeeding, it is quite frustrating to simply be incapable of pushing through a problem. Probably good for me to have an activity where slow, incremental development of technique and strength is the key to improving. Still. I almost punched the wall after the 20th time of not being able to get past a certain point on a v4 today.


Shit, Am I a Climber? 9 November 2017

Last night while bouldering at the Circuit, I banged out two new v4s. The previous session I did the same thing and redid my third v5 with a cleaner start.

I started bouldering on a regular basis at the beginning of September when my pulled calf muscle made it likely that I was not going to run my 100 mile ultra. In just over two months I have gone up two grades in the gym. There are still v3s that rebuff me but I am starting to find v4s consistently within my abilities. And now there are v5s that are doable. Last night I started a v6 and got four moves in before I dropped off.

As I sit here typing, the tips of my fingers are a bit sensitive and I can feel the soreness in my forearms. A sign of a challenging two hour climbing session the night before. What's different is that opposed to even a couple weeks ago, I think it was worth it for what I achieved. Look! I'm no longer a completely rubbish climber! Woo!