110 km, 32deg Celsius, 6 days, 1 pair of running shorts
Here is a little story I put together from my winter trip in search of sunny running: Trail Huntin’
You are feeling strong. You get to the top of the hill. You look out across the vast expanse of teals, blues, and greens of the Caribbean waters. You can see the sun peaking out across the horizon kissing the … Continue reading
Most recently I spent an extended period of time on Mt. Rainier. When you are walking along guided by the bubble of light from your headlamp and the moons reflection off the snow slope, there is a lot of time … Continue reading
Mt. Si, this peak overlooks the town of North Bend, a short drive from the hustle and bustle of Seattle and a perfect place to run…UP. 4 miles is a seemingly non-threatening distance…until you are staring at 3700+ feet of … Continue reading
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Bucking broncos, lasso’s, bull-riders, chaps and Huckleberry ice cream. No weekend would be complete without a little giddy-up.
There is something about going somewhere on your own two feet; the challenge is more about going further than going faster. With each new mile you can justify the last 5, or 10, or 20 and then oddly enough justify … Continue reading
Although I was born and raised “up the holler*” I was told once that I will never truly be a West Virginian. This honorable status cannot be bestowed until your parents, and their parents are both buried in the hills somewhere.
We had our little spot on top of a hill, shaded by the lush green wooded acres surrounding the house I spent most of my childhood helping my dad build, help being the operative word. I played in the dirt, ran around without shoes, and fell asleep half way up a ladder.
We lived off the grid, powered by solar and generator, spring water, an outhouse, and a massive garden. Living was the adventure, my brothers and I built rock and tree forts in the woods, climbed the rocks (known to the outdoor community as bouldering), ate most of our meals right out of the garden, and made our way around in the evenings by candlelight. **
I must admit I wasn’t the easiest on either of my parents, stubborn and picky. Nor did I truly appreciate my upbringing until the last few years. Those adventures have made me strong and fairly confident that I can survive just about any environment.
I went back last week and sat out on the porch, listening to the whippoorwills, the owls, the hummingbirds, the wind breaking through the trees, the peace.
It will always be my home.
*: noun. Version of the word “hollow” in the southern dialect. A term meaning a small vee-shaped riverine type of valley
**there is now city electricity…and indoor plumbing.
Do you want to go to Pakistan?”
“are you sure?”
“ok, don’t tell your mom”
That was how the conversation transpired. There was no evaluation, no contemplation, no hesitation, just yes. It is not often that people allow their lives to be changed in an instant. We base life decisions around the arbitrary plan we decided on when we were filling in dots on an interest exam at the age of 13. What adult takes life advice from a pimple faced tween?
The media has us imagining a world with people rioting through the streets, buildings exploding, and rampant gun fire. Islamabad for the most part was a sleepy city, there were tent villages that had popped up along the streets, there were abandoned construction projects, there were bricks piled up high along the roadside; but there were also colorful balloon stands along the highway, elaborately decorated trucks, families of 6 piled onto the back of a motorbike driving along, women walking around in tank tops, children playing, men working…life.
Most westerners make their way to the Marriott compound: a barricaded concrete fortress with walls 20 feet tall, and 5 feet wide, enclosing the complex; swarming with guards, and a metal detector at the door. Our temporary residence was on a side street under the valiant protection of a man asleep on the porch with his AK-47, and a bug zapper.
We exist in a culture of demands. Everyone wants something, and they want it yesterday. The three musketeers were voted off the island with their “all for one and one for all” mentality. We are a team of “I’s”, “me’s”, and “NOWs.” We are creatures of convenience. Which is one thing that perhaps may not exist in Pakistan.
Imagine a highway, strip way the multiple lanes, mile markers, guard rails, paint, asphalt; throw in a few nondescript rocks hugging the edge giving the driver enough time to realize they are going over the edge and no time to prevent it. You look up to the left a steep climb of loose barren rock; down on the right a steep drop into the deadly hydro force of the Indus River. There I was trying to hold down my breakfast as we wound along the Karakorum Highway; the original trade route connecting Pakistan to China (googlewikibing it if you want to know more)
We left the highway at Chilas packed in, on, and around a slightly modified or rather “vintage distressed” jeeps carrying us deep into the mountain valley. What lay ahead? 4 days of hiking into Nanga Parbat base camp passing through the most remote villages, off the grid was an understatement.
Trees are in short supply in the region; rocks were the building supply with no shortage in sight. We journeyed through a rock hut system that the community in this valley would transition through at different times of the year. In the winter they would escape from the cold and snow to the lower elevations and in the summer head up to the mountain breeze blowing through the valley.
We look down on these remote cultures as uncivilized and uneducated. If a bridge is out, all the men must report to repair it. When it comes time to move up or down the valley at the change of the seasons, no one is left behind, the young transport the elders. They are resourceful, things happen when they need to, not when we want them to. If our money driven society collapsed, they probably wouldn’t notice.
I can appreciate getting back to nature, living resourcefully, and confident that I could survive in any environment; but after pooping in a hole for months, there is something remarkable about a good ol’ American toilet seat.
Would I go back?
Definition of CAIRN
: a heap of stones piled up as a memorial or as a landmark
Who needs GPS navigation, a compass, or a map, when you can simply follow the little piles of rocks indentifying the “path?” There is an art to cairn building, unfortunately not all have mastered the technique and too many have tried. The phrase “not all who wander are lost might actually have a literal translation of stumbling through a rock moraine looking for the next seemingly strategically placed piles.”
It was 5:30 in the morning at 16500ft when Ram and I departed from our secluded base camp armed with excessive amounts battery powered electronics, a radio, and a couple of snickers bars.
Destination: North Side Base Camp of Makalu, Nepal
Directions: Head up the valley and turn right at the corner of the mountain, walk up hill until you see the tent city. Easy.
Our base camp was nestled on the opposite side a gushing glacial run-off, treachery at early hours when the sun has yet to bake-off the ice buildup on the rocks. Ram slipped through soaking one shoe: a tortuous feeling to be not only cold, but to face the next hours of hiking with only one sloppy sock. We continued on until realizing that we had following the wrong trail leading up the left side of the valley. I headed, leaving Ram to check out another trail and go back to camp, believing that I was only an hour or 2 from my destination.
Gaining elevation with a loaded pack is not the easiest of endeavors when you have a 100% guarantee that the next rock you step on may or may not be stable. After 4 hours of hiking I was rewarded with the first sign of camp life, prayer flags flapping away in the mountain breeze. 2 hours of stumbling later I made it to the North Side ABC in time for lunch.
A quick wander around camp, exchanging of pleasantries and a well earned view of Everest in the distance, I headed home knowing the sun would be swallowed by the peaks surrounding me before getting back to camp.
In the world of elevation gain, going down is always easier…or not. Using what I thought were those beautiful cairns left by all the thoughtful Hansel and Gretel’s led me through a labyrinth of grey glacial stone. I looked up to the right and saw a nice little stack 50 ft up hill, I looked to my left and saw another stack 50 ft downhill, straight ahead another little stack. Wonderful, which one is the real trail? I zigzagged for hours trying to figure out which was the right path.
I took the road less traveled, or rather the non-road that looked like it might take me to the opening in the valley where the peaks met. In retrospect I think I overshot the trail turn by about 400ft. As I was straddling boulder on a thin rib glaring at the massif that was above me and the eminent slide below me I remember thinking the most obviously thing possible “I don’t think this was the right way.”
The 3 year old in me wanted to have a temper tantrum, and the 16 year old was “like, WTF,” and the 25 year old was thinking “well, you got yourself here, better figure something out.” Several icy traverses later I was back on track racing the final hours of daylight back to camp.
Check the batteries in your headlamp before heading out on any adventure, another fail. I heard the water from the river and thought I was close…”hoped” might be the better term. I followed the water’s edge knowing that at some point I would see the light beaming off the side of the mountain signaling our camp. Ram meet up with me about 45 minute out of camp with a flashlight, getting us back to our last obstacle, the river that had claimed his right shoe earlier that day. This time it got us both.
9:30 PM: We arrived back in camp.
Lesson 1: Don’t leave home without a working headlamp.
Lesson 2: If you have ever “wandered” too far, find water and follow it down stream until you hit the road or in my case a camp. Well at least that is what my dad said.
Lesson 3: Don’t tell your mother about the stupid thing you did until you are home or maybe never depending on your mom.
And Finally: DON’T BELIEVE THE CAIRNS!