Thursday, September 27, 2012

TR: Mt. Rainier, round 2

Last summer (2011), I successfully summitted Mt. Rainier on what I would come to look back on as one of the most pivotal and important climbs in my journey to becoming a mountaineer. A trip report for that climb can be found here, and looking back, it makes me smile to see how much I've gained in fitness and skill in just one year's time.

On Labor Day Weekend of this year, I headed back to what might be my favorite volcano in one of my favorite places on earth (the Cascades in general). Though there was no summit this time around, this climb was still a very valuable experience -- and taught me an important lesson. I originally messaged my partner, Jon, in early August via summitpost when I sought to sate my craving for being on a glaciated peak. For me, mountaineering and climbing is a fundamental need ... it speaks to my spirit louder than almost anything else on this planet (except maybe snowboarding).

Jon had posted that he was looking for partners to climb Rainier in early August, but it was too last minute when I contacted him, so we settled on Labor Day Weekend. He said that he didn't really have much experience, but he had done some snow climbing, so I said I'd prefer to go with a team of 3 in that case. He contacted a third person (who, in retrospect, may or may not even be real -- the lies people tell via the Internet) who had supposedly summitted Rainier a couple times before. We met for a prep-hike up Trapper Peak two weekends before, and Jon seemed like a nice guy and a solid hiker.
  From the summit of Trapper Peak

Hindsight is always 20/20. Trapper Peak was little more than a class 1/class 2 hike with about 3500' of elevation gain. In no way does it translate to mountaineering competence. Secondly, when we were going over gear logistics, I told him to get two snow pickets with slings and two carabiners each, along with locking 'biners for his prussiks (which I helped him tie, but that's another story). He had one picket and said something to the effect of: "well I've read that it's best to use a snow picket and a deadman because the force on the rope going through a two-picket anchor will pull the pickets out of the snow..."
Really? Really? I'm so glad you read Freedom of the Hills, because that's a great substitute for actual mountaineering experience. If you want to explain precisely how you're going to put a deadman in while holding your partner in the arrest position, I'm all ears.

Jon called me on the Tuesday right before Labor Day weekend and said that she had to bail on the climb because of work or something. So he suggested we go with just two people. I wasn't sure how I felt about it, but I kind of felt bad for him so I went along with it. Horrible decision, in retrospect, but I'll get back to that later. I haven't climbed with many people who truly make me go "WTF," but this guy is one of them. I suppose I could list all the "WTF moments," but there wouldn't be much point, other than to satisfy my need to rant about this. He was a strong hiker, no doubt about that, but he knew virtually nothing about climbing. 

The bottom line? If he wanted to climb Rainier that badly, he should have been on a guided trip. I am not a guide -- I'm just someone who climbs. I can hold my own on the mountain, and I expect my partners to be able to do the same. It's not that I mind teaching other people, but if I'm going to do that, it's going to be on my terms -- which don't include risking my life in late season conditions for a weekend warrior who read Into Thin Air and wants to feel like a mountaineer. People get paid to take inexperienced people up Rainier -- no reason for me to do it for free.
 Sunset from the Muir Snowfield

Either way, we ended up at Camp Muir around 20:00 on Friday night, and pretty much ate dinner and went to sleep. I had sort of been trying a 50g carb/day experiment, and I was determined to continue this on the Rainier trip. My dinner consisted of a couple boneless pork ribs that I'd cooked the night before and a stick of string cheese. Yes, string cheese is absolutely not paleo, but it kept the carbs low, so I'll take it. 
Afternoon at the John Muir Shelter

Saturday was mostly spent doing absolutely nothing. I'd never, ever spend that much time on DC again, but it's whatever. A little after noon, Jon asked me if we were going to practice roped travel at all -- one of the many things that indicated he really wanted/needed a guide rather than a partner. The only time I've ever "practiced rope travel" was when I was learning how to do it, back in 2009. It's such a basic and fundamental skill that competent climbers shouldn't really have to practice it together. We didn't go out on the glacier at all, but I did show him how to tie in to the rope and how to put his prussiks on -- one of the "WTF moments" of the weekend.
Porkchops for dinner!

Dinner consisted of some porkchops (also cooked before the trip), and more string cheese. The one positive aspect of this trip is that I felt infinitely better and had way more energy than my first time on Rainier -- something I attribute to having spent a year eating about 85% paleo and vastly improved cardiovascular fitness (which I also attribute at least in part -- though indirectly -- to eating paleo).

We started around 01:15 or so. Disappointment Cleaver is a really straightforward route -- north from Camp Muir, past Ingraham Flats, up the Cleaver, then onto Ingraham Glacier. Despite hardly eating at all (go paleo!), I felt (physically) great. I wasn't tired, despite only having a couple hours of sleep, and I wasn't low on energy at all. Mentally -- well, different story. Here I was, on one of my favorite mountains, doing one of my two favorite things ever, and at that moment, as the sky over the black mountains to the east was beginning to fade from deep blue to brilliant pink and orange, I really didn't want to be there. The glacier was pretty icy (to be expected by the first weekend of September), and I was pretty sure that if Jon slipped or fell, there was no fucking way I'd be able to arrest his 220lb ass (plus however much his pack weighs), much less haul him out of a crevasse if, god forbid, that happened. That, and I felt almost exploited by this kid -- his intent might not have been malicious, but he really did want someone to teach him how to climb, not a climbing partner. It might have been a different story if this mysterious third individual had actually showed up, but that wasn't the case.
 Late season conditions on the Ingraham Glacier

At the top of the Cleaver, around 06:30 or so, we turned around. It's amazing how much one's mental state affects a climb -- it's hard to will yourself to go on when you really don't want to, even when you have the energy, the strength, and acceptable conditions (late season, yes, but it's not like we were climbing in a snowstorm). I don't know what was going on in Jon's head. Maybe he thought he really was experienced enough to do Rainier without a guide, but he said a few things about wanting to climb with people who had previous experience on the mountain that made me think he knew he wasn't. I didn't care about summitting; I wanted a good training climb. And I got it. If he was upset about not summitting, it's his fault for banking on some random person off summitpost being willing to play "mountain guide."

The obligatory "alpine sunrise" picture

Because I should probably end this post on a good note, at least, I will say that eating paleo has absolutely helped my mountaineering fitness, and that it's absolutely possible to eat very low carb (less than 50g a day) on a climb. I probably wouldn't do it on a high altitude climb, since eating high-fat makes me feel like shit above 15k' or so, but for anything in the contiguous US, it's fine. Also, if the temperatures are moderate to cool, the easiest thing is to just pre-cook a bunch of meat and bring it; it will keep for at least 2-3 days, easily. This makes planning and preparing meals much more convenient.
The hike from Paradise to Camp Muir, which in 2011 took 6 hours, took only 4 this time -- and I didn't have to stop once to eat food for energy. Despite being relatively sleep deprived, I wasn't low on energy or lethargic on summit day. It might be tricky -- especially for expedition climbing -- but as far as I'm concerned, paleo is the way to go for all things athletic, including climbing.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Test. Pictures from Thailand.

Wat Pho

Fire Show on Koh Tao

Coral and fish on Koh Tao

More coral and fish on Koh Tao

Koh Tao Panorama

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Middle Eastern Apricot Salad

Ingredients for one salad:
3-4 leaves of your preferred lettuce, torn into bits
1 oz pistachios (about 12-15 nuts), shelled
Half an avocado
1 fresh medium apricot (or a few pieces of dried apricot, which is what I used)
1-2 tbsp Spiced Coconut Dressing

For the Spiced Coconut Dressing:
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tsp cardamom
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Vegetable Curry

1 zucchini
5-6 small sweet peppers or one medium-sized bell pepper
Half a white or yellow onion
6-7 oz canned tomatoes
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala 
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (you can add more or less depending on how much of a kick you want)
1 bay leaf 

1. Chop up the onion, zucchini, and bell pepper.

2. Heat the coconut oil in a skillet over medium heat.
3. Add onion and zucchini, stir until coated.
4. Add cinnamon, turmeric, garam masala, salt, and cayenne pepper, stir well and cook for about 2-3 minutes.
5. When the veggies begin to soften just a bit, add the peppers. Cook for another 2 minutes or so, then add the tomatoes and bay leaf.
6. Simmer on low heat for like 8 minutes, stirring occasionally so it kind of flavors through.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My go-to workout

If you ask five mountaineers what their secret to mountaineering fitness is, you'll get five different answers. A lot of them will say running. Going for long, boring runs that make people like me want to dropkick a baby dolphin off the Diamond. A select few who see the light through the haze of carbs-and-cardio fanatics that seem to make up much of the population of climbers swear by CrossFit, but these folks are rare.
So, in addition to the Manitou Incline, deadlifting and squatting religiously, my go-to workout to get in mountaineering shape quickly is:

4 rounds for time of:

30 walking overhead lunges (20lbs or more)

50 bodyweight squats (full squats! None of this half-assed parallel-or-higher bullshit)

10 knees-to-elbows (or toes-to-bar if I'm feeling especially dextrous or energetic)

This usually takes about 15 or 20 minutes, by the end of which, your legs should feel it. If they're not, add more weight to your lunges or do goblet squats or something. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mexican Meatloaf Supreme

Meatloaf. A staple in any good paleo kitchen. Ground beef and vegetables, quick and easy, and not too hard on the budget (organic or not, ground beef is one of the cheapest sources of good protein). I usually get 90-95% lean, but lots of people who want more fat go for 85% or even 80%. The more fat, the cheaper it is. You'll be adding fat to this in the form of delicious bacon, so lean beef is appropriate here.

So. Meatloaf.

This isn't your grandma's meatloaf with breadcrumbs and shit like that. This is Mexican Meatloaf Supreme. Prepare to light your tastebuds on fire (or not).

1lb ground beef, however lean you want it
2-4 strips of bacon, depending how much you like bacon. I used 4.
1 serrano pepper
2-4 jalapeno peppers*
1-2 Anaheim or Numex peppers (I don't really know the difference)
1/3 C chopped onion
8oz canned tomatoes or 1 fresh tomato
4oz (~113g) Mexican style (queso?) cheese. I used "Casero," and I don't know what the hell that is, but it tasted good.
1 tsp salt

1. Roast the peppers in an oven (or over a fire if you're a badass like that). If you don't know how to do this, refer to this post, or just google it because if you're intelligent enough to eat paleo, you can probably figure out how to roast a pepper.

2. Chop the bacon up into small pieces. I cut each strip in half lengthwise and then chopped them into like ~1cm pieces.  

3. Remove skin and seeds from peppers (if you didn't do this already), then chop them into small pieces as well. Also chop the tomato if you're using a fresh one. 

4. Mix beef, tomato, onion, salt, peppers, and bacon together in a large mixing bowl.

5. Put some of the beef mixture into a loaf pan - enough to coat the bottom, probably about 2cm thick.

6. Cut up the cheese into pieces that you can assemble into a log-shape. Arrange them in the middle of the loaf pan.

7. Pile the rest of the beef mixture around the cheese so that it's completely covered.

8. Bake at 350F (175C) for about 50-55 minutes.

Note: This will have lots of grease on it from the bacon and the beef, so I won't judge you if you drain some of it off. If you're a talented mofo like I am, you can do this by holding the loaf in the pan with a big spatula while tipping the pan to drain the grease.

*If you're one of those WEIRD people like my sister who doesn't like jalapenos, just substitute them with a pepper of your choice that has similar heat content. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

TR: Mt. Siyeh

Peak: Mt. Siyeh
Location: Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
Elevation: 10,014 ft (3052m)
Route: South Slopes (Class 2-3 scrambling)
Distance/Elevation Gain: ~11 miles (RT) / 4200'

My mom and sister were in town for a week, and since there's fuck-all to do here, we took a 3-day trip over to Glacier National Park in northern Montana. I'd been wanting to visit Glacier ever since reading The Journey Home, and this seemed like as good an opportunity as any.

At around 07:15 on Thursday, August 16, I started up the Piegan Pass trail from Siyeh (pronounced "sigh-YE") Bend, just off Going-to-the-Sun Road. As a side-note, I'm not sure how much the bear danger in Glacier is over-hyped, considering it attracts tourists all across the spectrum of backcountry-savvyness and rangers (understandably) would likely err on the side of caution when giving people information about bear activity. I'd seen bear scat in two or three different places on the short hike up to the Mt. Brown Lookout the previous day, so I brought my pistol along and periodically made noise just in case I stumbled upon one.

The trail is initially very mellow as it meanders through the forest up towards the first trail junction. Frost coated the bushes and grass, and silence filled the cool, still air as I strolled through the trees and meadows. About a mile up the trail, there's a junction for the trail that leads to Piegan Pass and Preston Park and one that leads back to Going-to-the-Sun road. Shortly after this junction (maybe about 1/4 mile more), I got the first and biggest adrenaline rush of the day when I heard a noise that sounded like a rather large animal.
"Hello?" I yelled.
No response. I drew my pistol and chambered a round, not sure how far away whatever it was was.
A second noise -- this one considerably more human -- echoed from somewhere further up the trail.
"Are you human?" I yelled.
"Cool, man. Sorry," I laughed. "I'm a little paranoid about bears."
I put my gun away and continued up the trail, greeting my fellow hiker when I caught up to him in a couple minutes. We both had a good laugh about the whole thing, and he complimented my noise-making efforts and claimed responsibility for the fake growl that had kept me on my toes there for a moment.

Continuing up the trail, I reached the second junction, where the left trail leads up to Piegan Pass and the right trail leads to Preston Park and Siyeh Pass. Taking the right trail (towards Preston Park/Siyeh Pass), I hiked for about another half-mile before leaving the trail and heading towards the talus fields at the base of Mt. Siyeh. 

 Looking back across Preston Park after reaching the talus field.

After a hundred yards or so of bushwacking, I reached the talus and continued on up towards the gullies that lead to the upper slopes. 

 Looking up at the gullies. The "route" is a little to climber's left, where the arrow is pointing.

There are a few cairns, but they're sparse enough that they don't spoil the routefinding fun. The climbing can easily be kept at difficult class 2/easy class 3, but there are plenty of spots for more difficult moves on terrain that isn't terribly exposed. Looking back from a little way up the slope, one can identify an obvious landslide deposit directly below the gully that could be useful for making sure you're in the "right" place, but the climb is pretty straightforward.

The obvious landslide deposit below the south slopes.

The rock in the gully is mostly limestone and shale, and there's a fair amount of loose scree, though it's nothing like the Maroon Bells. I saw two other parties on the mountain, and I was the only one with a helmet. Possibly over-prepared, but it's not like 4oz of extra weight was that much of a burden. Overall, the scrambling is pretty fun, and easier options usually exist when faced with a more difficult move.

A fun class 4 option in a corner...

...or a class 2 option to the right (east). 

 Easy scrambling in the gully

 More easy scrambling on fractured limestone

Further up the gully, there's an obvious sill of black diorite that offers some more fun scrambling. I scrambled up the sill to the upper contact with a white/tan limestone unit, where I traversed a little to climber's right to continue up the gully toward the exit to the upper slopes.

The route leading around to climber's right at the diorite/limestone contact.

Later, on my descent, I noticed some cairns leading around the top of this gully to climber's right, but I exited the gully on the left, which put me on the scree field anyway. It's pretty much a "choose-your-own-adventure" kind of thing.

The exit from the gully onto the scree field
A little ways up the scree field, there's a semi-permanent snowfield just below the ridge to the summit. Initially, I tried going around this to climber's right, essentially making a beeline for the top. While the scrambling over there isn't difficult, the scree is pretty loose, and it's much easier to go around the snowfield to climber's left and gain the ridge immediately after the snowfield.

The ridge to the summit

From here, it's an easy walk up to the summit. There's a trail through the rock bands just below the top. In a few places, there was some verglas on the rocks, a sign of how short-lived summer is in the high country, especially this far north.

 Verglas on the rocks near the summit

Nearing the summit, I was greeted with a 3000' drop-off on the north side of the peak -- quite a contrast from the gentle slopes that I'd just ascended. Looking down the vertical wall, one can see beautiful Cracker Lake -- a small tarn given it's milky turquoise color from glacial sediment.

 Looking out over Cracker Lake and the 3000' of exposure from the summit

I chilled out on the summit and enjoyed the views for 15 minutes or so, before heading back down. I took my time descending, and was back at the trailhead by 15:30. I sat in Siyeh Creek -- a glacially-fed stream is as good an option as any for icing one's muscles after a long hike.

Also, I didn't see any bears -- black or grizzly -- at all, nor even any sign (scat, digging, etc) of them. Other tourists said that they'd heard most of the bears were over in the Many Glacier area, though they're often seen around Preston Park in late July. There weren't any berry bushes up there (that I saw), so that's probably why they weren't around.