Saturday, December 25, 2010

First stab at snow camping, Dec 9 - 10

On a completely random night in November I was able to snag the Marmot Thor 3-person, 4-season tent for 42% off from Sierra Trading Post. Although likely a lot of tent for one person, it was too great of a deal to pass up! :-D

Ever since that day, I've been eager to put the tent to use. I soon discovered the opportunity to take a Friday off of work, so I meticulously prepped a last minute snow camping trip up in the Arizona high country. Ignoring the ways of the minimalist, I took everything I could have possibly needed, including a (stretchable) 2-3 days worth of food. My pack weight without water came in at over 63 pounds, weighed the night before -- most of that weight was the tent of course. In the future, I think I may try and rig a pulk to pull behind me and throw the heavy supplies into. For this trip, however, there was definitely not enough snow to cover the many downed trees on the forest floor, which would have limited the functionality of the sled.

My complete route (including off-trail exploration) during the 26 hour trip.
. . .

Snowshoeing backcountry to the peaks, Nov 26th

Arggghhh, it's been awhile since I've had a chance to update this.

Updates, updates, updates...

Well, for one, I am fully recovered from my Oct/Nov bout with mononucle-lameness. I lost almost ten pounds and about three good weeks of marathon training. Getting back into the swing of things has been nothing short of painful. In spite of all the set backs I set a new personal best a couple weeks back, running 12.6+ continuous miles. That's over two hours of continuous, repetitive, painful beating on my calves, knees, and IT band... without stopping or slowing in pace, mind you. Arrrgghhh! My right IT band has been the bane of my marathon existence. Every week, at least one of my runs is met with an immediate triggering of that sensitive strip of not-so-stretchy uselessness. During Thanksgiving week I was only able to complete six miles for the week. So I deemed it necessary to take a vacation...

Mt. Humphreys (12,633') among the San Fransisco Peaks, nestled in the Kachina Wilderness..

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"What is it that's calling you?"

"How are you going to get there?"

While perusing my forums on lunch at work today, I stumbled across an amazing video of Jonathan Copp and some fellas that really pulled at that desire within me to get out and to experience. This narrated piece is a great account of the journey of an expedition as a whole, when you finally take that leap and go for a dream. All the planning this side of the moon is often out the window once you immerse yourself -- And that's okay. You'll hear it time and time again, "it's all about the experience". Whether it's on the mountain itself or during the remote trek in lieu of the approach, boarding the plane for that first departure or even just finally deciding to try out a membership at the local climbing gym; it's all about the experience. And you're better for it.

"Perceived failures are often the greatest adventures"*

Krystal, the wonderful woman I have been dating for the past year and a half, has really helped me to realize the potential in life out there; to seek the unsought; to ponder the possibility. And above all, to try. Since meeting her, I have taken up some 'weird' hobbies, tried some new foreign cuisines where most comfortable Americans wouldn't dare tread, picked activities that we normally wouldn't care to try as our Friday night dates, and the list goes on. To sum it up, she and I actually have a bucket list where we started throwing random ideas, curiosities and goals onto... that reminds me, I need to update it ;-).

Looking over now, we have both contributed items ranging from attending an improv show together to going rogue on a "guided segway tour" through a busy city. We even have the big goals on there such as taking a cruise together and backpacking through Europe. Whether we get to them all is part of the fun, but they're still there, large or small. Often times, it's the little dreams that inspire the larger dreams that seem to naturally follow. I guess the long and the short of this post is just to get out there. Whatever your craft is, pursue it harder than you ever thought you could. Whatever your craft is, try something completely different for a change. Whatever your craft is, enjoy the journey and take a step back every so often to see how it has shaped you as an individual. We've each been equipped with some uniquely awesome God-given gifts. Let's put 'em through the ringer; long live the pursuit!

[*All quotes above from Johnny Copp]

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ah Memories... (Now with 80% more pictures!)

I promised / foreshadowed / presupposed earlier that I would post an entry with the story behind the background image. The shot is a nice perspective of the slope on the Flying Dutchman avalanche path on the west side of the San Fransisco Peaks, here in Flagstaff, AZ. Yes, you heard correct, there are in fact avalanches in the peaks that nestle the AZ Snowbowl ski resort -- I know, weird for Arizona, right? In the photo, I'm looking up towards my Honeywell cubemate Jon. I couldn't have asked for a better engineering cubemate by the way; the fella practically eats and breathes the outdoors. After a few tosses of the idea of climbing Humphreys in the snow, he finally decided to bite and we set off for the northern AZ country.

Mt. Humphreys sat image - Dutchman Glade route

Now if I were to ask anyone what time of year this trip was taken, I doubt any answers would be May. Indeed, what a wonderful wet winter we had! Snowbowl was open for skiing far beyond the typical spring break cramming of final runs on the withering slopes. This past winter we had winter storms through April and the Peaks received record amounts of snow. When the ski lifts finally closed for the season, Jon and I waxed poetic on the fact that there was still so much snow and ice sitting up there... unused. Well, I knew better -- there's actually a small sect of backcountry folk that get their jollies strictly out of bounds in the thick woods and avalanche clearings up in the Kachina Wilderness. At some point, our jealousy boiled over from reading enough about all the latest runs down the various avi paths, skinning up the ridges, split-boarding down the upper bowl, that we decided to head up on our own.

Friday night, May 7, Jon and I meet on a parking garage roof at the university around midnight (a place where I had elected would be a better spot to catch some z's for a couple hours since my new roommate at the time was being himself: half-naked, tearing through the house, slurring random phrases with two bottles of Hennessy in his hands -- another story for another time... maybe). Even though downtown Tempe is a lil' quieter than the house, with all the police sirens and all, I still don't sleep a wink. Jon finally calls at midnight-ish and is ready to go (I don't think he slept at all either). Once he arrives, we make a shady exchange of gear from my trunk to his. Now before we can speed off, [sure enough] an unmarked homeland security agent rolls up in his black crown vic with black tint and inquires about our "dealings". We explain to him that we're not drug dealers, but instead we are going to hike in the snow up north. We show him our ice axes and snow shoes and he rolls his eyes at our strange story, half confused. With a good luck from him we set off on our drive into the dark of night...
. . .

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Test-driving gear with a weekend camping trip!

Well, it had to happen at some point... I'm sick as a dog. I've been eagerly trying to push this lil' bug out of me for the past two weeks and it feels as though it has its own timetable. There goes marathon training; there goes my mileage for the week; hopefully I still have somewhat of a decent base to get back into it. I've felt pretty crummy since last week, and I think the weekend up in the chilly pine trees was enough to set me back. Boohoo, right? Hehe, anyways, that allows me some time to get back to this work-in-progress.

On the gear front, I've been holding steady to grabbing some good deals on new and slightly-used gear. Since I first started a couple years back, I have kept track of every little purchase from REI, ebay, or the likes to track my effective savings percentage. It helps that I've been patient enough to wait for the big seasonal clearance sales to snatch up some decently-priced items. Up to date, I have managed to save 30.29% on average across the board... which leaves me some extra WAM (walking-around money) to take out my sweet lady now and then. I'm sure she appreciates that! ;-)

Sierra Trading Post
Oregon Mountain Community
and most importantly:
REI and REI-Outlet

I can't even begin to recount the number of rei deal-of-the-days I've jumped in on. They're usually pretty solid if you're looking to snatch up random items to complete your arsenal. And if sizing, style, function doesn't work out, they ALWAYS take it back -- such a wonderful policy. For me, this new adventure is pegged on acquiring reliable, safe, quality gear for my arsenal. I'm not only looking to acquire the essentials to ensure a successful Rainier climb, but to get some good use out of the stuff, locally in our 12,000' Arizona mountains and maybe Colorado, if we (the sweet lady and I) ever happen to end up there. It's been really nice, not having to rush any purchases and hold out for only the best deals.
On a side note, I now have two pairs, yes two pairs, of crampons... so anyone who is willing to try a few Humphreys ascents with me this winter is good to go! Anyone?... Anyone?... :::crickets:::: Bueler?... Speaking of Humphreys, they received their first dumping of snow for the season, which is likely to melt off before I can finish this sentence, but hey, at least it's finally starting to become that time of year! Man, do I love winter!... says the Phoenician who has never shoveled snow in his life or spent an hour trying to defrost the car in the morning for work. Yeah, Yeah :-D
Recently, we took a fun trip with some friends up to the Mogollon Rim up in the high-country. It's a nice 2.5 hr drive from the bowels of sunny Phoenix to reach the crisp mountain air. Leading up to the trip, we were all concerned with how the weather was going to play out, with estimates of heavy rain, thunderstorms and well-below averages in temps. I, on the other hand, was kind of excited, since I had just received my new allotment of shell clothing -- this would be the perfect time to actually test drive the goods in the high-30's, low-40's range. I was able to test the Mountain Hardware soft shell, which worked perfect. I was able to sweat in it while chopping firewood without any resulting chills when I was hanging out afterward. I even slept in it one night while in my +20 degree bag, which also performed well -- unfortunately, I'll be needing something a lil' warmer for Camp Muir and especially the night on the glacier itself, but I can honestly recommend the REI down bags.

Prior to leaving town, I also scored another good deal on an insulated, inflatable sleeping pad. I had some serious doubts in their claims, but apparently the insulation R-value is 6... which is nuts for airpads (to put into perspective, most of the other inflatable pads are in the 2-3 range). The Exped SynMat 9 collapses down to small coffee-can size, isn't too heavy, and at 80 bucks I had to jump on that (well, softly, as not to puncture it). My lady liked it enough that I went ahead and reserved one for her too -- they sold out pretty quickly thereafter.

Here are a few snaps from our weekend away...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Some perspective on Mt. Rainier...

Here are a few routes along the eastern face...

I will be climbing via the Muir Route, a 3-day climb with 2 nights on the mountain, essentially passing through Camp Muir at around 10,000 ft. To get to Camp Muir from the Paradise Trailhead at the south, we'll likely be ascending the Skyline Trail (in green) until it intersects with Pebble Creek. Once we hit the snow field, there is no 'established trail' and the route becomes more dynamic. We'll head straight up the Muir Snowfield for about 3,000 ft until reaching the rock out-cropping known as Camp Muir; this is merely day one. The next day, we'll set out across Cowlitz Glacier until reaching the next major dividing landmark known as Cathedral Gap. Night two will consist of tents placed somewhere in the vicinity of Ingraham Flats, a relatively 'flat' spot on the Ingraham Glacier. Camp will of course be set up only after a methodical inspection for hidden crevasses has been conducted - this usually consists of a roped-in member probing the snow with his ice axe and then marking the safe territory. Finally summit day starts bright and early at midnight-ish, with another 5-6 hours of steady climbing over to Disappointment Cleaver and up the remaining terrain of the Ingraham Glacier to the Columbia Crest via the Ingraham Headwall or DC variation. Finally, after traversing the crater to the high point at 14,411 ft, we'll make the slow but high-spirited descent in reverse, back through high camp to tear down, then to Camp Muir and finally down the snowfield to Paradise.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Settled on Climb Date & Expedition Group!

I have been considering a few different guide groups to climb Rainier with including Rainier Mountaineering Inc (RMI), Alpine Ascents International (AAI), and International Mountain Guides (IMG), to name a few. I believe I have narrowed my final choice down to Alpine Ascents. I spoke with one of their reps yesterday over the phone and had an awesome conversation. One of the biggest sellers about their group is that on the second day, they go beyond the usual camping spot of Camp Muir and pitch tents higher up at Ingraham Flats (a flatter section before the last 5-hour ascent up Ingraham Glacier. This means that on summit day, even though the start time is just past midnight, they start about 2 hours in front of the other groups, essentially ensuring the first shot at the summit at sunrise.

In the mean time, I have been keeping track of some data for next summer regarding sun and moon phases. For anyone who can't nerd out for a few minutes, I implore you to skip over this lil' entry. Without really knowing how to best narrow down my choices for the climb date, I reached inside my inner-geek self and got down to the minutes, start and end times of the moon and sun patterns for next year. Behold, my plot of sun and moon patterns for Paradise, WA, Summer 2011:

Sun and Moon Patterns - Summer 2011
Now in selecting a date, I figured I would want to climb mid-season when there is still a good amount of snow and the days are longer. Next, I factored in the phase of the moon. Since the final summit day begins at midnight, I am looking for a date when the moon is near full. Now I'm sure we'll still use headlamps, but hiking in full-moonlight is something to be treasured -- In my past endeavors, I've usually gotten by with only the bright moonlight illuminating the trail and the experience is nothing short of awesome! Now comes the trade off. Being out on the south-east side of the mountain, shielded from the major cities, how awesome would it be to have a pitch-black sky so that all the painted clusters of stars can be seen in their complex beauty? That narrows it down to selecting a date that has a waning moon, so that it rises later in the night, allowing for some stargazing just after sunset (which would likely only be possible on the first night, since the sun sets at about 9pm. Now I'm looking for a waning gibbous moon that rises at about 11pm... May 18, June 17, and July 19. Of those dates, June 17 actually occurs on Friday, which works out perfect for a weekend trip that minimizes the deep cut into my two weeks of allotted vacation time for work (ugh).

With that, I think I'm all set to shoot for a June 17-19th climb date. I submitted my paperwork last night to AAI and hopefully I hear back soon :-).


Oct 4, 2010 Update: 
 Yep! Just got my approval packet via email! I shall officially be climbing with Alpine Ascents next June. Hooray :-D. I know I'm foolish in even trying but... any takers?? ::::crickets::::... Didn't think so. I'll have to go bug my cubemate at work ;-) Cheers!

Friday, October 1, 2010

A few words...

An excerpt from AA's Rainier packet...

"Here are some facts about Mount Rainier. Its height is 14,410 feet, making it the fourth highest mountain in the continental United States. Its glaciers hold more snow and ice than the twelve other Cascade volcanoes combined. About two million people visit the mountain every year. In that same year, ten thousand attempt to climb it and a little more than half succeed.
Those are the facts. They don’t begin to tell the story.

Mount Rainier occupies a unique place in the culture and lore of the Pacific Northwest. People here develop a personal relationship with the mountain. They call it “my mountain” and when it shrugs off its misty shroud they say “the mountain is out.” People who have lived in the Northwest all their lives still stop and stare when Rainier reveals itself. The moment crackles with the thrill of nature being caught unaware, like seeing an eagle snatch a sockeye from Puget Sound. Mount Rainier is at once the most public symbol of the Pacific Northwest and its most sacred private icon. We look at Rainier and feel love for a mountain. It inspires in us a feeling akin to spiritual awe: reverence, adoration, humility."
- Bruce Barcott

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Settled on Boots, marthon training, and Causes to Support

Well, it's been awhile since I've had time to post anything. So much has happened in the last few weeks... where to begin...

These Boots were made for... long approaches and steep ice travel
I finally locked down on my boot selection. I purchased the Scarpa Mont Blanc's online and was crushed to find that their European size 45 was just too small to tolerate. Unless I were to go barefoot, there just was not enough 'breathing' room in them puppies. Rather than go through the lengthy exchange process, I opted to buy another pair in a half-size up and compare side-by-side. This proved quite effective! I brought them home last night and walked around in one of each paired on opposite feet and what a difference a European half-size makes. I've settled on a good sock setup too, going with a standard REI liner sock and choice between the Smartwool Mountaineering socks and the Merino Comfort Hikers from Wigwam. Either way I slice it, these babies feel amazing!... like walking on several wool sweaters. Best of all, they fit snugly and comfortably within my boots. 

For my next acquisition, I am looking at gloves. I stopped in at REI to size some of their gloves, even though I couldn't find any thing heavy duty enough for cold weather. According to the recommended gear list, I am looking at a three layer option: synthetic liner glove, and a hardshell glove with an additional insulated, removable liner. In early spring, temperatures at Camp Muir (10,100') can range from sub-zero to 30+ degrees, so versatility is a must. From there it only gets colder higher up in the glaciers -- there's still 4,300' of elevation to ascend to the summit crest. Right now, my biggest decision is to choose between mitts or gloves. The biggest differentiator is far more warmth at the expense of limited mobility, and in this case walking with an ice axe and an ascender doesn't require too much dexterity.

Next up... the marathon
In addition to training for Rainier, I have finally caved to the pressure of running the local marathon in January. My folks have been avid runners for a number of years and I could only assume my time was up after my brother decided to join their ranks. Though I'd say he and I are cut from different cloth, he being a phenomenal musician and I retaining much of the math smarts, he and I are competitive when our interests align. Once decided, he set off in his rigorous training ways, much in the similar fashion to when he was marching in drum corps and [currently] the way he inflicts discipline and athleticism into the squirly lil' kids he molds into fine musicians at one of the local high schools he teaches at. That being said, I really had no choice but to follow suit. Oye.

So far, I have one week of marathon training under my belt -- 16 miles and some change. Not bad, considering I never used to run anything over 2 miles at a time. Given a rough calculation, I have roughly 16 weeks to prepare for the full 26.2 miles of torture. Tonight I racked up 6+ miles before the treadmill I was on decided that 60 minutes was long enough to run for. I can already feel how painful this is going to be -- my knees ache every time I slow down from my pace, but I can finally say that my asthma is noticeably subsiding. Who would have thought that all I needed to do to remedy my weezing and constricted breathing was to simply build good old fashioned cardiovascular endurance??? I still wont concede that that makes any sense, but it feels great. I have started to understand why marathon runners that I've noticed over the years get emotional throughout the race. Running at a pace for longer than 60 minutes really does take a toll on one's mental state. I think it's going to be a long, hard road ahead, but ultimately I think this is going to pay off for my summer climbing preparations. Plus, I'll officially be apart of that group of people who have taken up their running shoes in the dawn hours and put sheer work and perseverance into the pavement. Wish me luck :-)

Causes that Need Support
Over the past few weeks, since I first decided that it was time to pursue my dream of climbing Rainier, something about the trip has weighed on my heart. Stepping back for a second from this personal desire to climb a mountain, I have felt conviction that there might be something that I can do to help to give back. Even though this may not directly count as service or giving, I have been considering maybe using this opportunity to help raise money and support for a cause. Last week, Krystal (my beautiful and amazing girlfriend) and I watched a documentary on the impact of the Sierra Leone conflict during the its 11 year run. Unfortunately this conflict was not unique in our world and there are many, many corrupt and savage people taking advantage of people and their livelihood for the sake of money and power. However, what caught my eye and ultimately tugged my heart strings, was this footage of a group of optimistic and positive refugee people, banding together and expressing their angst, frustrations and sadness through song and dance. The group is now known as the Sierra Leone Allstar Refugees, thanks to the work and backing of some empathetic film directors who followed them around in their daily lives in both the refugee camps of Guinea and Freetown, Sierra Leone. It was remarkably inspiring, even though difficult to watch at times. This is was really the final tug that cemented my desire to find a way to turn this climbing experience into a way to raise support for those in need. 

Now, I am faced with the [welcome] dilemma of finding which organization or cause to raise money for. After viewing the documentary, it is hard to look past the abundant and ceaseless need of those across the pond... And here, across the pond could refer to the Atlantic and Pacific. There are unfortunately endless opportunities for need in southeast Asia as well as Africa. At the same time, I'm also worried about people launching the incessant remark asking why send money to other parts of the world, when it is needed here locally. To that, I can agree -- the needs of our local less-fortunate is ever abundant. I think we should always be looking for ways to address needs in our community, especially through good old fashioned community service. Time, when multiplied across a large network of willing people can do amazing things -- just look at Habitat for Humanity or even Andre House and Paz de Cristo, two of our largest food kitchens for the homeless. I am open to suggestions from here on, but I would like to have a group in mind before the end of the year. Whether I can help to raise a hundred bucks or a thousand, I think it would be awesome to try. I already have what I need for my accommodations and gear set aside so anything raised will simply be going straight to a worthy charity or cause :-). This actually makes me even more excited to do the climb! Who knows, I will probably be more apt to not back out, given a cause larger than just a personal goal propelling me forward. With that, I implore everyone to donate a lil' fraction of your time (or more if your awesome!) to giving back to others -- It transcends religion or politics or what-have-you. Until next time... adios


Thursday, September 9, 2010

New gear, new gear!

Sigh... I feel borderline obsessed right now. For the past three days, I have feverishly been logging into to check the status of my latest shipment -- another piece to the ever-humongous mountaineering gear puzzle.

The latest piece, you ask? This time 'round, I finally pulled the trigger on trying a new warmer boot, now with full crampon compatibility! Behold, the Scarpa Mont Blanc:

Fully Gortex insulated and waterproof, with an treated suede outer. Both heel and toe bails for step-in crampons and thick, meaty vibram soles that absorb a ton of shock. Suitable for vertical pitch ice climbing by some accounts and more than suitable for my glacier ascent up Ingrahm Glacier and Dissapointment Cleaver.

I have been devoting the past month to sizing as many different boots as I can find. I feel bad for even devoting some of our recent San Diego vacation to checking out the local REI's. I love my girlfriend! And especially her very supportive encouragement :-). I think I was able to best size up my foot per the European metrics with all my prior fittings, so I finally opted to order online. As much as I would like to support the smaller chains in AZ that get a decent cut off these boots, I settled with REI in order to best ensure alternative strategies in case they don't work out... and also to get a cut of the end-of-the-year dividend. It's not much, but it helps! ;-). Now, onto finding some wicked step-in crampons! Too bad I just purchased some strap-on Grievel crampons last month -- I assumed I would be using my backpacking boots on my winter routes up Humphreys this upcoming season. Oh well... two pairs means I can hopefully rope in someone else to join me! Speaking of Humphreys, I'll have to post the snaps from my first trip up Arizona's high point in the snow this past spring (in fact, the current background image is my shot of my buddy ascending the Dutchman Glade with me). What a slow slog; but the glissading down the side of the peak was worth it!

Alright, time to go check my tracking status to see if anything has moved... Cheers!

A quick solo night hike into the lush Sonoran desert...

Today was a wonderful weather day, here in the Valley of the Sun -- the kind that painfully calls for a "sick day" from work. The climate took the week off from the typical barrage of high 100's and intense heat index and us Phoenicians have had the pleasure of getting an early glimpse at the beautiful weather that fall usually brings with it. I finished my desk job at around 6:30 and I was met in the parking lot by the gorgeous sunset that found it fitting to toss a palette of watercolors across the evening sky. I raced home to refill a canteen and grab my headlamp before jetting to the Holbert trailhead in the South Mountain regional park. Lucky for me the trail is only three miles from my pad, so I was able to save precious sunlight for my 2.5 mile ascent up to the lookout point. In actuality, within 15 minutes of starting, the night sky was already prevailing and I decided to don the headlamp for the remainder of the trip.

I reached the vista in just under 30 minutes and settled into the crowded lookout atop the mountain -- I was the only soul who had ventured up via the trail; the rest of the visitors opted for the paved road up the mountain to catch the sunset -- meh, too easy. With a couple swigs of my canteen and a short breath, I jogged back down, trying carefully to pick the landings for each step -- The shadows can play awful tricks! My pace was solid until I sailed down [almost] upon a rattler quickly crossing the trail down the side of the mountain. He quickly slithered into the bushes and coiled, attempting to best resonate his warning shaker and alert me that he had the right of way. "It's all yours, compadre." Phew! From then on, I took each corner and downstep a little slower and with more care, ensuring I didn't spook any of his buddies further down the trail. Boiled down, I completed the 5 mile roundtrip in just under 60 minutes. Even in its harshness, I can really appreciate the beauty of the desert and it's native dwellers. It was a nice solo trip this time 'round. Cheers!

Up next, I'm still trying to decide on which mountain to hike this Saturday. It's getting cool enough that a hike into the Supes wouldn't be out of the question. Yet again, the northern parts of the high-country are calling to be utilized while the remaining days of summer are quickly dwindling. Perhaps Matzatzal Peak or even Browns Peak (4 Peaks!)? We shall see...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

New beginnings...

What the heck do I title this thing? Rather than dwell too long on semantics, I'll just opt to get into the meat of this new "blog chapter of my life". I'll try to get through the obligatory cliches as fast possible and settle right into the sole purpose of this posting and more importantly, this "blog" -- actually, from here on, let us just refer to this collection of postings and anecdotes as my "writings" (I still haven't quite caught up with, much less accepted, all the tech lingo out there these days).

I have long been an explorer -- and I use the term explorer with my own connotation in mind. In actuality, there's not much left of this beautiful earth to stumble upon as the first pair of eyes. But in localizing this definition to my experiences, I'd say there's vasts amounts of cool riverbeds, warm canyons, and gorgeous glacial formations left uncharted.

For many years I have held a love for the outdoors -- the kind of love that makes my Madre worry and my Pops chuckle. It's a crazed passion to experience, to live amidst, and to blend into the natural, often chaotic order of the wilderness. I was certainly not raised in this way, since most of our family vacations were directed at experiencing modern cultures in the forms of cities and townships, museums and exhibit tours. While I do not for one second regret the breadth of experiences I have been fortunate enough to collect throughout my childhood, in the recent years I started to develop a strong calling to explore the wilderness.

Over the time I have slowly shed the uncertainty and timidness towards nature and its elements that once defined my years as a lil' fella. Bugs don't really bug me anymore. Instead, I wish for encounters with wildlife. I hope to run across new, unique plant species. I long to get up close and personal with some of the amazing geological features that our loving Fella upstairs decided to carve out and shape in His hands. There's a definite closeness that I feel with our Creator, when I'm out in the backcountry, surrounded by the abundance of life; everything existing in micro and macro cycles, interconnected and fully aware of its place and fitting within the clockwork of the ecosystem.

I am an engineer by day, faced daily with the task of creating ideas, integrating systems, streamlining efficiency and minimizing waste. I believe my passion for seeing and understanding systems at work derives from the curiosity born in childhood for most, when we're all grasping for knowledge and awareness of our environment. Unfortunately, it seems as though many people lose the creative curiosity that lies deep in their core, as we become more "integrated with society". Believe me, I could run long into diatribes about our modern culture and how I believe there is more emphasis on teaching what to think (as obedient minds) instead of teaching how to think (as creative minds). To me, this push in society to bombard everyone with mind-numbing, cold data at blazing speeds takes away from the elegant details of the actual, concerned ideas. This is the double-edged side to the concept of streamlining and creating efficient systems -- what do we lose in the process? What about historical milestones, traditions, cultures? What is the significance of a particular piece of information?

Perhaps this social emphasis is what has driven me to explore the surrounding environment. I want to understand historical significance. I want to see progression and understand impacts of man's decisions and challenges. In my heart, the wilderness is the most boiled-down answer to who I am as a man. Upon shedding the stress of daily routines, disregarding desensitizing media, and dimming the focus on monetary needs and desires, does one begin to find clues directed at one's true essence. In this pursuit, I gladly flee to the wilderness!

In the recent weeks, I have decided that I am going to climb Mount Rainier in Washington. This has long been a dream that was always reserved off to the side with a special reverence, almost assuming I would eventually decide to pursue other interests in life. However, that lil' curiosity that I referenced earlier slowly molded what used to be an improbable hope into full desire. With the amount of experience, knowledge and the skill set I have acquired over the past three years, I truly believe I am now comfortable in pursuing this dream with confidence. This endeavor will nonetheless be met with extensive training and focus over the next ten months. These writings shall document this experience.