Slip Sliding Away! by Jason Leach

It was a precursor to today. I had been wanting to check out St. Mary's Glacier for some time. A few weeks ago our group got stymied by the now infamously named "nope slope". I figured now was a great time to do some ice axe and crampon work.I will name it up front - General consensus in the climbing world is that the pick side of the axe should be facing the other direction (towards the body). This makes it easier to get into "self-arrest position" particularly by a climber surprised by a slip.  In the photos, the axe is being held in what is known as "self-belay grip" which in the event of a fall would require the user to change the head around in order to self-arrest. Self-belay is its own technique (where you drive the shaft of the axe into the snow to stop from sliding at all). Ultimately it comes down to comfort, which was the goal of today. 

Kicking Steps and getting comfortable in crampons

Kicking Steps and getting comfortable in crampons

We left Denver around 6am and drove the 1.5hrs to St. Mary's Glacier. Technically speaking St. Mary's is now a perennial snow field (year round) more than a glacier but it is a beautiful area any time of year. We parked, paid the parking fee (the lot has a ton of spaces but being such a popular place it was almost 3/4 full when we arrived by 7:30am. Also it is private property and the money from the fee allows the owners to maintain the lot and keep it open, so please pay the fee), and geared up.

The trek from the parking lot to the trailhead takes you a short jaunt up the road and then veers left into the woods. It is a rocky well worn ascent to the foot of the glacier with plenty of signage and people to follow (less than 1 mile). Once you reach the foot you are likely to find plenty of folks camping and a snow melt fed pond. The trail takes you to the right of the pond and ends at the glacier itself. From there snow walking is pretty much your only option for ascent. You will likely find folks trying to scramble up the rocks to the right but that will only get you so far before it terminates at the snowfield itself or gets too steep to climb. 

At the base Rachel and I took a seat and strapped on our crampons and pulled out our mountaineering axes. I recommended that she walk around a bit on the flat snow just to get a feel for wearing the crampons. Loving the hiking pants (if you are a tall woman, she highly recommends these) she had on, I mentioned to be mindful of stepping wider to avoid any tears.

More step kicking here

More step kicking here

Once settled we made our way up the snowfield. I reasoned with Rachel that with the right gear she could get comfortable in steep snow, luckily she was having a blast!

Halfway up we saw a steeper section and decided it was the best place to work on self-arrests (the rest of the slope was too shallow and the snow was soft enough to not really need a self-arrest to stop yourself). A few planned "slides" later and we were moving up that steep section and cutting across the face of the glacier, comfortable and in control.

Going up!

Going up!

As we ascended I could not help but recall a "near miss" incident I had hiking with a friend in the White Mountains (48 in 1 Winter - different friend, same great mountains). It was my first time hiking in the shoulder season. We had left on a Friday evening and drove to the Ammonoosouc Ravine Trail with the goal of climbing Mt. Washington and maybe some of the subsidiary peaks near it (Monroe and Clay). We spent the night in his car and woke the next morning to some blowing snow and frigid temperatures. As we made our ascent we started to encounter ice along the trail. Most of it was easy to get around but eventually we came to a point where the trail cut across some solid rock. Sticking close to the edge of the trail (in order to grab a tree for support) my buddy took one step, slipped, grabbed a tree branch and.....SNAP.

It was like time froze. I reached for him attempting to be mindful of my own footing and missed him by a mile. I watched him slide and then slide more. He kept sliding until I watched him disappear over a cliff face and then nothing. My mind started planning all the boxes I needed to check to call for a rescue. A minute more passed and I finally yelled out "are you okay?" as I slowly made my way back down the trail. About half-way down the trail I heard my friends shaken voice "I am fine...I think."

We met up where he had landed. It was about a 6ft drop down into a ravine. Luckily he had managed to spin from his stomach onto his back in an attempt to land feet first. His large backpack took the brunt of the fall and was tall enough to protect his head on the way down. I thought I had watched my friend die in the mountains, a near miss.

After he settled his nerves he pulled out ice spikes (these were new to me at the time) and cracked a half-hearted joke, "I was just thinking we should put these on." It was then and there that I resolved heavily - despite the expense of gear, it is way cheaper than your life and comfort is the key to enjoying yourself in the mountains.

Summiting the Steeps on St. Mary's

Summiting the Steeps on St. Mary's

As we summited St. Mary's Glacier, Rachel and I moved onto a half thawed tundra (watch your ankles!) with James Peak (13er) looming in the distance. Feeling good we decided to head for the base of James and make a summit call once we got there. The half-thawed tundra had other plans for us. As we made our approach we were met with solid snowpack followed by deep post-holing and more often than not into deep puddles. We could see folks ascending James but the post-holing took it's toll and about 3/4 of the way there we decided to call it. Neither one of us were enjoying ourselves and James was never the goal.

We crossed back over the tundra and began our descent back down the glacier. The afternoon sun had brought even softer snow and more people, many post-holing up in shorts and tennis shoes. Some riders even built a ramp and were launching off of it with a Shamu whale pool toy offering rides to anyone who stopped by. 

James Peak in the distance

James Peak in the distance

Being in crampons and carrying axes we certainly got some looks on the way down but we met out goal, comfort and no torn pants, even if it was a bit overkill on the way down.


Practice Makes Performed

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect.

The "Nope Slope" - Managing Fear in the Mountains by Jason Leach


(This is cross posted from a post I did at The Outbound Collective)

Perfect weather, the perfect day, and sometimes you still need to bail

"I just do not know how to not be afraid of that," Rachel said as we made the drive back towards Denver. She was referring to the now infamously named "nope slope" that she and two other members of our group had coined when they opted to not go any further, sitting just below 13,000 feet. 

We hit the Bakerville exit right around 6:45am. Blue skies, no wind, and a slight chill in the air had the day looking promising for a summit attempt of Gray's & Torrey's. Considered some of the "easier" fourteeners to summit, our group had set out sights on an attempt despite the forecast calling for wind gusts of over 30 mph. The weather was working out better than the forecast. 

As we loaded up into the Subaru and made our way slowly up the 3 mile entrance road we finally reached an impassable point and decided to park and hoof it the rest of the way to the official trailhead. We added a good 2 miles but luckily it was a relatively easy incline and still frozen. 

5_14 Grays & Torreys Attempt 1_DSC8674.jpg
5_14 Grays & Torreys Attempt 1_DSC8694.jpg

As we meandered our way past the official trailhead and up a long snowfield we couldn't help but continue to be awestruck by the amazing views we were taking in. Moving steadily we eventually rounded a corner and were treated to the wonderful view of Gray's & Torrey's. I opted not to point out the tiny moving dots of climbers ascending Gray's, figuring the group had plenty of time to realize how much further we had to go. 

Another hour or so and we were veering left towards the base of Gray's and steadily increasing the steepness of our climb. Throughout our approach we had seen a few folks descending, most commenting about the beauty of the weather that day. One skier informed us of his ten year realization that instead of walking down mountains he could ski them instead. I believe in the process he called anyone who walked down mountains stupid but perhaps that was the altitude speaking. 

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As we continued to climb, the trail continued to narrow. The width of the trail in summer is a good 2 feet across, on this day due to the snow it was perhaps half that size, and cut at a sharp 45 degree angle dropping off sharply to the right. A misplaced foot and you might have a decent slide ahead of you. Thankfully the pre-worn path was not terribly slippery (we had spikes and crampons in case). Having seen many folks descending in lesser footwear than our group had, I was feeling confident that we could press on. 

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Single file, slowly we meandered up this slope. About halfway up there was an opportunity to climb directly to the nearest ridge and potentially onto wider terrain. Turning around to check in with the group I was immediately aware that something was wrong. 

There is a field of learning called Experiential Education. In it, one of the founding theories is about comfort zones. If you are not familiar, comfort zones state that each person has 3 levels of comfort. The green zone is very comfortable, so much so that you likely do not learn much when you are in that zone. The yellow zone is your "stretch zone," you are pushing yourself, likely are a bit uncomfortable but you optimally learn in this zone. The final red zone is your panic zone, no learning happens, you body has given over to flight, fight, or freeze and is physically unable to learn. The expression from three folks in our group was highlighting plainly that they were beyond stretching and fully into panic. 

While we had crampons and micro spikes available to us, it was apparent that the only answer was to remove the cause of the panic. John and I shared a quick glance and I opted to crest the nearest ridge just to assess the rest of the trip. Topping out around 13,000ft I was feeling strong given a nagging knee injury I have been nursing. It flattened out and looked steep but wide the rest of the way up. Returning to the group, they had already decided it was time to call it. They gave John and I the option to continue and they would meet us back at that car. We chose to stick with the group.

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It was frustrating to bail on such a perfect day, particularly as others descended in lesser footwear and less gear than our group had on, but as we made our slow meandering way down the now named "nope slope" the panic felt by some of the group was causing them some unsteadiness on the snow. With some hand holding, an ice axe, trekking poles and slow moving we finally reached flat ground and took a long restful break to let the everyone's nerves calm down a bit. 

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5_14 Grays & Torreys Attempt 1_DSC8819.jpg

A half hour later we made the slow haggard trek back through the previous frozen snowfield and out towards the trailhead. We collapsed at the bridge. The entire trek back involved post-holing through sun-softened snow. It was exhausting and John and I were thankful that we did not continue on towards the summit, knowing fully that what frozen snow we had stayed on top of likely would have been a slushy mess later in the afternoon. "Perhaps that skier was on to something" was my parting thought as we worked our way to the car. 

5_14 Grays & Torreys Attempt 1_DSC8813.jpg

My response to Rachel as we stopped for coffee on the ride home: "Let's check out St. Mary's Glacier with crampons and an ice axe and get comfortable with self-arrests and just standing on steep sloping snow." She thought it over and then gave an open-to-the-idea nod, she was mentally stepping back into her stretch zone.

Lesson's Learned:

1) Being outside is about being connected to nature and those you are with, listen to the group and don't get caught up in "summit fever." Sometimes saving the relationship is more important.

2) Even on perfect weather days, sometimes you need to bail and that is okay, it is the experience that matters.

3) Recognize when you are pushing yourself or others, a little is good for growth but too much and people panic. Avoid the panic zone. Equally, avoid always staying comfortable. 

"Seattle was built out on pilings over the sea, and at high tide the whole city seemed to come afloat like a ship lifting free from a mud berth and swaying in its chains." ~ Jonathan Raban by Jason Leach

7/7 Photo: Yeah, Seattle is a beautiful Skyline, Mt. Rainer in the background (bucket list to climb that peak)

7/8 Photo: Space Needle. Fun fact it is not the highest point in Seattle in which to get a view, but it certainly is expensive!

7/9 Photo: Congratulations to Mike and Nhien on their marriage! Of the only dates I had on my calendar this wedding was it.

7/10 Photo: After being stuck in standstill traffic for 2 hours 50 miles outside of Seattle I was rewarded with a great sunset as I was driving through Oregon.

"Obstacles, of course, are developmentally necessary: they teach kids strategy, patience, critical thinking, resilience and resourcefulness." ~Naomi Wolf by Jason Leach

For spending tons of time on the road is has been nice to get off the road for a a few days. I am here in Boise staying with my brother which has been a welcome reprieve! It was not without issue though as my car decided it needs a new control valve (luckily I have been paying for the extended warranty for the past 5 year which covers the $2K cost of the repair), unfortunately I have to wait since the part is backordered! 

On the flip side I was recently offered and accepted a job with the University of Colorado Denver and will be starting July 18th which is exciting! I also completed the work for my second to last course in the MBA program this morning and get a much needed break until my final course in October (phew, but in reality I do not know what to do with myself now lol). 

I am super excited to be moving to Colorado, particularly because it means that my partner and I are finally living together (and both employed)! I cannot wait to show the pictures from the places we visit there!

My brother and I are off to check out some of the Sawtooth Wilderness and Sawtooth Mountains for the weekend and then I head to Portland, OR on the 5th. Apologies that some of the photos are from different dates, I had a lot going on over the past week (job offer, final for class due, car issues) that taking photos took a back seat for two days. BUT I am back on track!



6/27: So I goofed and missed a day travelling to Boise and having car issues, so this is from Canyonlands National Park on a boulder about 2,000 ft above the ground floor. They call this place Grandview- I can understand why.

6/28: Okay so apparently I missed two days...oops. This is a shot from a small state park in New Mexico. They have a campground inside a canyon here.

6/29: Boise Whitewater River Park, super cool feature right in downtown! This boater is throwing what is known as a "loop," essentially a forward flip while in a boat, he is mid loop.

"To Travel is to take a Journey into Yourself" - Danny Kanye by Jason Leach

Welp, that time flew by! Sorry for the lack of posting photos, it has been a whirlwind of travel and then finding WiFi spots (strong ones anyways) is a challenge. That being said a quick update and then on to the photos!

So I left Maryland and headed to Johnson City TN, I highly recommend you check this place out! AND if you do get a nitro brewed coffee in town, amazing! Did some hiking in the area, spent time with old friends, checked out Asheville NC (cool town!) and then hit the road again. I took a straight shot over 1,000 miles on I-40. Let's just say my car and I are a lot closer now. Stopped in Oklahoma City, then through Texas, and into New Mexico. I stopped at El Malpais Chalderon National Monument (they had caves and a volcano to check out, no longer active), as well as El Morro National Monument. Cool spots in the middle of lot's of open space. 

From there I headed to Arizona and on to The Grand Canyon. Truthfully, you wont find a photo in here from that because it is really difficult to capture the sheer size and beauty of the place in a picture (that is my challenge to you all to go see it yourself!). From there I headed to Glen Canyon Dam, then to Zion National Park (AMAZING, see photo below). From Zion I went to Bryce Canyon National Park and the last night on to Moab where I am currently sitting outside a Gelato and local coffee roasters shop (they have good WiFi!). I checked out Canyonlands National Park this morning and am looking to do some night shots at Arches tonight. Then it is off to Boise ID for about a week or so with my brother! Talk soon!


6/19 Photo: On top of Max Patch with a dear friend! Tennessee is known for its tall mountains called "balds." They are basically devoid of trees but open grassland at 6,000 feet. They only occur in certain places (TN being the main one).

6/20 Photo: This was the drive to the top of Tennessee's tallest mountain, Clingman's Dome in Smokies National Park. It is a 13 mile drive with a 0.5 mile walk, it was clouded in at the summit but there is a cool ramp structure you can climb to get above the tress. 

6/21 Photo: MAD DRIVING DONE OVER THE PAST DAY!!! I drove through TN, OK, and into TX where I took this night shot. PS that is my car that I am rocking across this great land. I plan to do a post of the sweet car camping setup I have been rocking (truthfully it is a bunch of duffles stacked, but I can sleep fully spread out in the backseat through to the trunk, making for easy naps!).

6/22 Photo: BOOM New Mexico! Petrified Forest National Park is really cool! I was not expecting it to be so big (25 miles of road to drive with offshoots). The petrified wood is really colorful but I thought this composition looked better in black and white (I have a thing for BW photo's).

6/23 Photo: Looking out over the Grand Canyon

6/24 Photo: The Narrows at Zion. NEVER have I been to such a cool place with such an different (aka: awesome) experience! For 16 miles (I barely did 3) you can walk the river down a sweet slot canyon (check the flash flood warnings at the visitor center first). This experience solidified for me Zion being my favorite park so far!

"Here are some who like to run. They run for fun in the hot, hot sun."- Dr. Suess by Jason Leach

6/17 Photo: Thanks for the guest shot from my buddy Kellen. A little trail running down Horsetooth Mountain. I could get used to hiking/trail running/biking in CO.

Life update, I was invited to interview at the University of Colorado Denver this past week, so I got a chance to meet up with some friends and check out what Fort Collins has to offer, suffice to say it was almost surreal. Having planned to live there for so long (and having never been previously) I was not quite sure what to make of it. Until going for a hike, that was all I needed to realize that this place is a great playground and fit. If you have not gone, I highly recommend it.

I am currently back in Maryland and getting ready to head to Tennessee tomorrow. Exciting news, Rachel and I settled on moving to Broomfield CO, and are apartment hunting currently. No worries we will be getting a two bedroom place so you all can visit! She has a great job opportunity and we feel Broomfield sets me up to have options of places to work as it provides easy access to Boulder, Denver, and a variety of smaller areas.  This is pretty exciting given we have spent the past months talking about this move and it is finally here. Suffice to say we are already making wishlists of places to travel and things to do while when we move there and get settled (anyone want to join Manitou Incline Trail?)!

Off to Johnson City TN!

"There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open" by Jason Leach

6-14 Photo: Overlooking Horsetooth Reservoir, Fort Collins CO

6-15 Photo: Looking back towards Fort Collins, at little night long exposure

Apologies, missed posting the photo from 6/14, so you get two today! 

It has been interesting trying to find a photo to take each day. On some level it should be easy but then the mind sets in and wants to do more, to take a better photo. At times it might feel like settling to myself but I remind myself that the goal is to take more photos and document a bit of my travels. Not every photo is epic, but no reason to not try for it to be. 

Keep your eyes open, a ruined scene still has potential if you keep looking (the 6/15 shot was meant to be a starry night one but the moon was too bright, so I looked back to the road for light trails from cars instead).