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 REI.com 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.