New York City. Inspiration?

You’d think that being in New York City (my first visit to the enlarged gall bladder of our great country), that I would be inspired, a la Alfred Stieglitz,  Garry Winogrand, Joel Meyerowitz, Diane Arbus, Elliott Erwitt, Mary Ellen Mark, Bruce Gilden, and Martha Cooper, et al.

The street photography…the architecture…the art…the history…the vibrancy and energy…the fashion…the financial testosterone…the show biz…the color…the smell…the craziness…

For some reason, though, the inspiration has yet to hit. Perhaps the switch from tranquil alpine meadows and high mountain peaks to shouting streets and looming steel skyscrapers has been a bit too jolting. Perhaps in a few days I will manage to come up with a theme, a project, that will guide me back onto the creative subway rails…

For now, this is about all I have:

Building, #1, New York City, 2015
Building, #1. New York City, 2015


Building, #2. New York City, 2015
Building, #2. New York City, 2015


Escalator into the Darkness. New York City, 2015
Escalator into the Darkness. New York City, 2015


Building, #3 (WTC Site). New York City, 2015
Building, #3 (WTC Site). New York City, 2015


Building, #4. New York City, 2015
Building, #4. New York City, 2015


Building, #5. New York City, 2015
Building, #5. New York City, 2015


Zebra Gestures. MMofA, New York City, 2015
Zebra Gestures. MMofA, New York City, 2015

14er Report #28: Pyramid Peak (Summer, Northeast Ridge)

Half Moon and Sunset Over the Maroon Bells. Near Aspen, Colorado, 2015
Half Moon and Sunset Over the Maroon Bells. Near Aspen, Colorado, 2015


The Deadly Bells


The beautiful Maroon Bells, and their neighbor, Pyramid Peak, have claimed many lives in the past few years. They are not extremely technical climbs, but they are unbelievably deceptive. The rock is downsloping, rotten, loose, and unstable. It kills quickly and without warning. The snowfields are treacherous, poorly consolidated, and no place for a novice climber. The gullies are death traps. Expert climbers who did not know the proper routes have died on these peaks. Don’t repeat their mistakes, for only rarely have these mountains given a second chance.

–U.S. Forest Service sign near Maroon Lake, Colorado


That is pretty dramatic prose for a government agency. Well done, Barry Ocracy.

Ah, yes, the crumbling, steep, peaks of the “murderous” Elk Range! I had ventured up Castle and Conundrum on a previous adventure, but the slopes of the harder Elks summits were still an unknown to me. Pyramid seemed like an appropriate introduction to this type of scary scrambling on scrappy-crappy scree–and it was.

Given the more difficult nature of Pyramid, I changed up my usual 14er tactics a bit. One, I decided to lighten my photo gear load by some eight pounds and, two, I decided to forgo my usual M.O. of summiting as close to sunrise as possible. The latter change would also make it much easier to meet up with fellow 14er climbers who would leave the trailhead on a more typical alpine schedule–an important safety consideration for Pyramid Peak. (Details in the full report below.)

And what a spectacular climb it was! Yes, this somewhat arbitrary and bogus “14er list quest” is really just an artificial framework for the pursuit of wild beauty and high mountain adventure.

Click here for the complete report and a couple of dozen WONDERFUL images of this epic adventure!

14ers: Staying Safe, and Training the Mind and Body for Exposed Class 3 and Class 4 (Part 2)

First Five Flatirons and Moon. Boulder, Colorado, 2015
First Five Flatirons and Moon. Boulder, Colorado, 2015


In this Part 2, I thought I’d cover some of the scrambling opportunities you might find around Boulder, Colorado, in the Flatirons and elsewhere. As training climbs, these can serve as partial “inoculations” against the heebee geebies when scrambling Class 3 and 4 rock up high on a 14er. (If you missed Part 1, CLICK HERE.)

I won’t address some of the harder and more committing routes people often do unroped–the East Faces of the First and Third Flatirons, or the Wind Ridge in Eldo, or even WAY harder, crazy-in-the-head (or Zen?) stuff like Eldo’s Naked Edge. Instead, I’ll keep my focus on truly 4th class routes anyone with adequate motivation and physical conditioning might climb, although the exposure can be titillating in some cases.

Take care with your training as a fall from any of these “scrambles” at the wrong spot can be fatal. Even on easy terrain, a hand or foothold that crumbles and tumbles into the abyss could end your day (or days, plural), so check the rock and your holds. Keep three good points of contact as best you can, start low on the rock and on the easiest terrain, don’t climb up what you can’t climb down, and work your way up to harder and higher as your skills and confidence grow.

For specific approach and route info, consult one of the several excellent rock climbing guidebooks for the region or the Mountain Project website.

Here, I’ll just add my two drachmas (δύο δραχμές) for those who might be interested in rock scrambling as training for the “difficult” (Class 3, 4, and low Class 5) high peaks and traverses–although these local climbs are quite enjoyable and plenty o’ fun in the sun just by themselves.

[NOTE: This post will be constantly “under development” as I gather photos and first-hand information. All images from my iPhone, the 16mp Fuji X100s, or the 20mp Sony RX100iv.] Click here for the route info, my illuminating commentary, and some images.

14ers: Staying Safe, and Training the Mind and Body for Exposed Class 3 and Class 4 (Part 1)

Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak. From Humboldt Peak, Colorado, 2015
Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak. From Humboldt Peak, Colorado, 2015


There seems to be a general consensus that the following 14ers are the most difficult and potentially dangerous: Mt. Wilson, Crestone Needle, Capitol Peak, Little Bear Peak, Pyramid Peak, North Maroon Peak. Some might also add Sunlight Peak, Longs Peak, Snowmass Mountain, Kit Carson Peak, and Maroon Peak. Just mentioning one of these names to a 14er neophyte will often set their stomach to achurnin’.

The reasons for this rating? They vary, but usually include some combination of: distance of the approach, crappy nature of the rock, challenging route-finding, technical difficulty of actually climbing the rock, rockfall hazard, and exposure.

To minimize the stomach gurgling, here are 10 Safety Guidelines I have come up with to help reduce these “threats”:

[Note: This all assumes you are already in good enough physical shape to deal with the basics: the altitude, the mileage, and the vertical relief. It also assumes you have appropriate equipment and clothing.]

1) Start with the easy 14ers and work up to Class 2, then Class 3, and finally the Class 4 summits. Gradually build experience with weather, altitude, and route finding. Don’t head straight to Longs Peak on your first outing!

2) Pay close attention to weather forecasts. Don’t go during unstable weather conditions, during frontal passages, or when T-storms are predicted to be at 50/60% chance or greater–especially if forecast to move in early in the day. Typically, T-storms happen during the afternoon hours, but they can continue throughout the night and into the morning as well. Lightning is NOT your friend.

3) Assuming good weather, get a very early start to avoid the T-storms. Fact: In summer, 7:30a.m. is not early. On Longs Peak, for example, it is not unusual to see folks leaving the trailhead at 2a.m., or even midnight. Obviously, if route finding is an issue, you’ll need to balance this with the need for something more than a Costco headlamp for the difficult sections (a fat full moon, or sunlight).

4) Don’t climb a peak when it is not in appropriate condition. For example, don’t plan on doing Little Bear via the Hourglass in early summer (slushy snow and wet, icy rocks). It is best done in late spring with consolidated snow in the gully (assuming competence at snow climbing), or late summer/early fall when the snow and ice have completely melted out and it is dry. Don’t plan to climb an “easy” peak in winter via an avalanche-prone route.

5) The rockfall hazard on many routes is significant. To reduce the risk, don’t climb in big groups, or directly beneath another group, don’t bring a dog on routes with loose rock, and wear a helmet. All this will help you avoid–but not eliminate–the danger.

6) Simply don’t do the more committing and scarier traverses–the Bells, or Little Bear to Blanca, for example. Maybe I shouldn’t say “don’t”, because some of these routes are considered classics. But, if you decide to go for it, just be very aware of what you are getting into in terms of rock quality, route finding, difficulty, time required, and weather. Generally, you’ll expose yourself to less danger if you first do these peaks one at a time via their “standard” routes. Seriously consider saving the traverses for when you finish the 14ers as you will then be more experienced, and you will already be familiar with the peaks that “tent pole” either end of the traverse route. Having previous experience with the planned descent route of of a traverse can be a literal life saver.

7) Have as much beta as possible about the route. Kit Carson, Crestone Needle, et al can force you off-route into dangerous terrain rather quickly. For beta, xerox the relevant pages of Roach’s book, print out the same from 14ers dot com, read all the trip reports you can and study the photos, and watch any available YouTube videos (although those wide-angled GoPro cameras tend to make the exposure and difficulty look worse), and download a GPS track if necessary.

8) Go with a partner or two and carry some sort of emergency signaling device like a SPOT Gen 3 or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). Carry your cell phone, too, as sometimes you may actually have reception, especially higher up on the mountain (when not in use, keep it in Airplane Mode to conserve the battery).

9) Carry the Ten Essentials or something very akin. If you twist an ankle, can you survive a night out at 13,000′? Or higher?

10) Finally, there is one more thing you can do (also a fun diversion with its own rewards) to up your chances of climbing these more difficult peaks without having a total freakout about the exposure and steepness of the rock on the crux sections: start rock climbing at your local crag. Either find a very experienced, competent, and patient, friend to “teach you the ropes” or take classes from a reputable organization or certified guide service. One great option: Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) – Boulder (or in other cities) offers classes in Basic Rock Climbing, Trad Leading, Top-roping, Anchor Building, and so on.

Regularly climbing Class 5 rock will go a long way in preparing you mentally and physically to climb Class 3 and 4, unroped and exposed, high up on a 14er when the wind is blowing and a storm is threatening. I don’t mean gym climbing either (although that can be good strength and technique training, and a great social outing). I mean “trad climbing” on real rock. On the Hourglass, you won’t find the holds conveniently marked with blue tape–you’ll have to find and use them yourself, so get used to it on real rock that could be crumbly, loose, or wet. (Not familiar with the Hourglass? Check out this YouTube video of a typical ascent of this rotten chute.)

[In Part 2, I cover another activity, related to #10 above, that will help tremendously with your mental and physical health when confronted with more difficult rock moves on exposed terrain: unroped Class 3 and Class 4 scrambling on good rock.  To that end, I review some popular local scrambling routes in the local Boulder, Colorado area that I have found to be fun and great training.]


Over the Continental Divide at Flight Level 350. Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado, 2014
Over the Continental Divide at Flight Level 350. Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado, 2014 (Yep, it’s a chem trail, alright.)


Contrails are really chem trails sprayed down on us by the government for sinister reasons…

The Feds are planning a takeover of Texas and are using Walmarts as secret troop concentration areas…

The Twin Towers were blown up by the CIA…

Osama Bin Laden is still alive…

Lizard people run the governments of the world…

Fluoride in the tap water is an evil government plot, as are vaccination programs…

Barack Obama is the Anti-Christ…

The Apollo moon landings were faked…

The Earth was created 6,000 years ago in six 24-hour days…

And, yes, among other idiot-tudes, I would even include: anthropomorphic global warming is a lie, the JFK assassin was not Lee Harvey Oswald, the Confederate battle flag has nothing to do with white supremacy and racism, and all illegal immigrants are criminals and rapists.

And it goes on and on and on and on, this descent into idiocracy.

There are plenty of topics on which there are legitimate grey areas…plenty of smarter ways in which we all might debate and discuss political issues, natural phenomena, history, etc. Why do some insist on believing things that have been completely debunked?

Apparently what we need to be teaching in schools is how to fact check and how to use basic logic. We should teach and explain things like confirmation bias, the anecdotal fallacy, begging the question, straw man arguments, circular reasoning, the incomplete comparison, the red herring, proof by assertion, the nature of a scientific “theory”, the cumulative effect of peer-reviewed science, helpful and explanatory statistics versus manipulated statistics, etc., etc, etc. (For a more complete list of a potential curriculum, see THIS Wiki entry.)

I’m not sure any of that would do any good, though. It seems that some people just WANT to believe utterly ridiculous things and it is impossible to convince them otherwise.

Oh, well. I guess I’ll just head out to Area 51 and see if I can get myself kidnapped and anal-probed by extraterrestrials.

Neo Topographic Essay Continues and a Quote o’ the Day

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”

Edward Abbey, 1927-1989


Heatherhill, #15. Longmont, Colorado, 2015
Heatherhill, #15. Longmont, Colorado, 2015

14er Report #27: 58 Summits and a New Fastest Known Time (FKT)

Longs Peak, First Light. MLW, Colorado, 2015
Longs Peak, First Light. MLW, Colorado, 2015


Yep, I am now officially a major league wimp. Why? Well, it will eventually take me close to three years to finally summit all the beautiful peaks on my 14er list, but one guy has just done it in under 10 days! (My wife wants me to do something similar so she only has to worry for, say, three weeks rather than for three years.)

Under 10 days! That’s insane! Obviously, he had a lot of support getting him to the trailheads and there was an immense amount of planning that went into the project, but still. His last summit was Longs Peak and he climbed it in the fog and dark with snow and ice plastered all over the steep, scary parts of the Keyhole Route. Very impressive.

I’ll leave all the philosophical and psychological discussions of the motivations, rewards, whys, and wherefores of such an athletic feat to you and your close friends.

To read about Andrew Hamilton’s adventure, try these links…

The 14ers dot com forum thread (nearly 2,000 entries long and still growing)

A news report from the Denver Post

Andrew’s website/blog

And just in case you didn’t get enough, Brett Maune is currently trying the same thing as I write. Andrew has set the bar pretty high, though, so Brett has a serious, sleep-deprived, challenge ahead of him. To follow his progress over the coming days…

The 14ers dot com website with forum thread

His GPS track with latest location

Brett’s website/blog

Pushing out of the comfort zone

A few weeks back, my wife and I received a request from a daughter, Sol, who is working on starting up a business in Barcelona–a healthy, but fast-er food, restaurant to be named Almmendra. She wanted us to think about doing some photography for her–specifically, she wanted images of the food, the ingredients, and the behind-the-scenes process of putting together each dish.

“Aaaack!”, was my instinctive response. Neither of us do that kind of photography…just like we don’t do weddings!

But, being a daughter, you can’t say no, right? So, we agreed to try–with the caveat that she should not hesitate to fire us and look for someone more competent if she didn’t like our work.

Below, then, are some initial practice attempts based on some basic instructions from Sol on what she wanted. My wife did the food selection and the plate arrangements while I concentrated on the photography and post-processing. There is a good chance we may use some sort of subtle filter effect with future images–say, Topaz Impression’s “Painterly” at 50%, or some such thing (as in the last example).

We still have a lot to learn about lighting, food selection, and color balance…just a few areas in which we are pushing on the frazzled fringes of our comfort zone.

Plate 1 - Realism
Plate 1 – Realism


Plate 1 - Realism, #2
Plate 1 – Realism, #2


Almendras - Realism
Almendras – Realism


Plate 2 - Realism
Plate 2 – Realism


Perejil - Realism
Perejil – Realism


Hongo - Realism
Hongo – Realism


Pimiento - Glamour
Pimiento – Glamour


Plate 3 - Realism
Plate 3 – Realism


And one possible filter effect we might end up using with these kinds of images…

Plate 1 - Painterly I at 100%
Plate 1 – Painterly I at 100%