Saturday, April 1, 2017

Winter Adventures, Part 2: Ice Climbing

In Part 1 of this series, I chronicled my adventure of backcountry skiing, which wound up to be more adventure than I could handle.  I wasn't very good at it at all!  A couple of weeks after that trip, Brennan and I signed up for ice climbing at the Boy Scout camp.  The wall was mostly artificially created, but it was over an immense vertical rock face, so it looked natural.  It was a cold day in the mountains, not quite up to freezing even with the sun high in the sky.  We strapped on a climbing harness and some crampons, grabbed a couple of ice axes, and away we went.  The first ascent was on a slope.  Brennan went first and made it look easy, getting to the top in about five minutes.  It was much rougher for me.  I got less than halfway up, and my fingers were completely numb and I was completely worn out.  I didn't think I was going to be able to make it, but I pressed on and finally reached the top after what seemed like an eternity!

You can almost see me at the top.
When I got back down, the climbing instructor explained that if I gripped the ice axe for dear life, I was actually squeezing the blood out of my fingers, creating the numbness.  If I just relaxed and held on to the axe with as little pressure as necessary, both swinging and climbing, that it would be much less work and my hands wouldn't get so cold.  Sure enough, we both thought the next run was much easier, and my hands stayed warm!  We were really amazed at how well the ice axes held in the ice -- even if the axe went less than an inch into the ice!

For our last climb, we wanted to try the completely vertical face.  The instructor explained that even though it looked harder than the others, it really wasn't because of the way the ice formed with plenty of places for footholds and ice axe holds.  Sure enough, that held true.  Brennan and I both thought the climb was pretty easy until we got about 2/3 of the way up.  At that point, there were plenty of footholds, but they were really more like holes in the ice wall.  We put the ice axes in the holes, and they did okay, but were not as secure as creating your own hold.  At one point, one of my axes came loose, and the other started to slip.  Using my crampons and digging the one axe in, I was able to prevent a fall, secure myself again, and finish the ascent.

You can see the holes in the ice in this picture.

If you ever have the opportunity to try ice climbing, I highly recommend it.  There are some absolutely beautiful places in this country to do it.  But do it on a warmer day!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Winter Adventures, Part 1: Backcountry Skiing

Brennan and I had the opportunity over the last couple of months to try out a few new adventures, including backcountry skiing and ice climbing.  Then, just a few weeks later, we went on a hut trip -- an overnight trip that involves hiking up to a remote cabin not accessible by road in wintertime.  All three turned out to be quite the adventure!  I'll post about each of those in a 3-part Winter Adventures series with this post covering the backcountry skiing trip.

In preparation for the hut trip, Brennan and I went backcountry skiing with a friend.  We had never been before and were intrigued when he said he preferred backcountry skiing to snowshoeing because you could go all the same places you could on snowshoes only faster.  Faster is always better, right?  Backcountry skiing is similar to cross-country skiing except you use high-performance skis that are designed for all-terrain use:  uphill climbs, rolling terrain, and standard downhill (on groomed or natural slopes).  We met up at Monarch Pass, put our skis and skins on (skins are a rough material that attach to your skis to give you traction going uphill), and set out along a trail that skirted the outer limit of the Monarch Ski Area.  It was overcast that day, so the picture below doesn't do it justice, but from our perspective at the top of the world, it was absolutely beautiful out there!

We stopped for a picture on the Continental Divide at 12,000 feet.  Wow, it was windy!

Our initial plan was to loop around a couple of mountains and wind up back down where we started, but our options appeared limited at the pass.  Once we got up there and looked at it, the terrain showed too many avalanche indicators, so we decided to ski down the hill we had just climbed up and spend some time exploring the valley below.  That hill turned out to be more than I bargained for, though:  It was steep and had lots of powder that I wasn't used to skiing in.  Let's just say it took me a while to get down.  Unfortunately, by the time I made it down into the valley, I was beat.  Brennan climbed up another hill and skied another run, but he was tired by that time, too.  As we traveled home, we decided that, whether we weren't cut out for backcountry skiing or just needed more practice at this expensive sport, it was more adventure than we expected!  We decided that we would just snowshoe on the hut trip!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Skiing: A Bucket List Completion

Okay, I know that skiing isn't a unique adventure that is going to draw the masses to my blog like a siren song.  I mean, no one has ever been to Colorado skiing, right?  But, it does cross yet another item off a Bucket List aimed at experiencing as many different adventures and as much of God's beautiful scenery as possible.  And I got to enjoy a day with my kids.

Addison decided on Monarch in south-central Colorado because a friend gave her a BOGO coupon, and I could get a great military rate.  Monarch is a great resort for first-time skiers or families.  The Green runs are challenging for novices and fun for those that just enjoy skiing recreationally, and the Blue runs are respectable. 

The weather was supposed to be horrible!  The forecast called for a high of 15 with winds 30-50 mph all day long.  I think it scared most people off because it really wasn't crowded (and it was a week day).  It was cold that day, but we stayed warm in our layers, and the promised wind wound up being relatively calm with the exception of the occasional large gust.  It turned out to be a great day!

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 Adventure Year in Review: A Bucket List Update

2016 was a bit of a stressful year -- nothing major, but a lot of little stuff that added up along the way:  medical issues, a job position I didn't really like, uncertainty about my future, a daughter going off to college...Oh, and that whole election season.  Yes, I'm looking forward to leaving 2016 behind.  On the up side, though, 2016 was a great year for the Bucket List!  This year, I visited 20 NPS sites and knocked 5 additional items off my Bucket List!  Wow!  I'd say that's a lot of adventure!  Look back with me over 2016 to see my favorite adventure photos from this year.

Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, CO
Capulin Volcano National Monument, NM
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, CO.  Redwoods in Colorado!
Colorado Springs Sky Sox Baseball Game
Cristi and I conquering the Incline -- A Morning of Pure Torture.  We're thinking about going again.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, CO
The Paint Mines, CO
Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, AL
Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, AL
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, FL
Fort Matanzas National Monument, FL
Fort Caroline National Memorial, FL
Kingsley Plantation at Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, FL
Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, GA/TN
Stones River National Battlefield, TN
Brown v Board of Education National Historic Site, KS
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, TX
Fort Larned National Historic Site, KS
Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, CO
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO (Again)
US Olympic Training Center
Palo Duro Canyon State Park, TX
Air Force Academy Football Game
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, CA
Fort Point National Historic Site, CA
Golden Gate National Recreation Area -- Alcatraz, CA
The NPS Map at the end of the year.
So what's next year?  Here's a breakdown of Bucket List items I'd like to hit for next year.

- Skiing -- Right after New Years 

- Camping in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area.  I didn't get here last year, so I'd like to make it this year.

- I'm hoping to finally get up to the Black Hills, where I can knock out the following sites:
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Badlands National Park
  • Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
  • Wind Cave National Park
  • Jewel Cave National Monument
  • Scotts Bluff National Monument
  • Carhenge (think Stonehenge...but with cars -- one of those Weird America things)
  • Fort Laramie National Historic Site (possibly)

- With our now-periodic trips to Oklahoma, I'd like to hit at least one of the two remaining sites there:  Washita Battlefield National Historic Site or Chickasaw National Recreation Area

- Backpacking trip on the Colorado Trail and/or Continental Divide Trail (they run concurrent for a section in Colorado)

- Climb a Fourteener

I'm sure like this year, not all my desires will plan out, but I'm equally sure that other targets of opportunity will pop up.  Even if next year only hits half as many sites, that will still be a full year of adventure!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Golden Gate NRA -- Alcatraz Edition

Golden Gate NRA encompasses about 20 different sites around the Golden Gate area, providing activities from military history to camping to nature viewing. During my short stay in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to visit four of those sites.  I decided to walk from San Francisco Maritime NHP downtown to Fort Point NHS, what I thought was only about a 2-mile trip.  It turned out to be a 3.5-mile trek (7 miles round trip), but if you're up to it, I highly recommend it. I walked up the steep rise to the upper green of Fort Mason, then down the stairs into the heart of the historic Army post. From there, a little farther down Marina Ave on my way to Fort Point, I traversed Crissy Field, an expansive open space for beautiful beach views or just relaxing.

Besides taking in spectacular views of its namesake, however, the most popular attraction within Golden Gate NRA is Alcatraz.  I have always had a bit of a fascination with the place -- a prison we sent the most hardened criminals to and one that was said to be unbreakable, despite many inmates' best efforts.

The Cell House from halfway up from the dock.  The Cell House sits about 300 feet above the water.
Scale model of what Alcatraz looked like when operational
I recall, as a kid, watching several Alcatraz movies and thinking how cool it would be to visit. By far my favorite Alcatraz movie was Alcatraz:  The Whole Shocking Story.  It told the story of an 18-year-old kid, named Clarence Carnes, who was sent to prison for murder -- the youngest person ever sent to Alcatraz. While in Alcatraz, he took part in two organized escape attempts, including the 1962 escape attempt, where three inmates made it off the island but were never heard from again (they're presumed drowned).  Though Carnes took part in both escape attempts, he himself did not attempt to escape.  As it turned out, the audio tour of the site highlighted both of those escape attempts!  I was fulfilling my dream as I walked the cell block and recalled the names of those convicts and how the story unfolded!  The below pictures give a bit of a glimpse into what life was like on The Rock and how those two escape attempts unfolded.

My tour began the same place it did for those prisoners.  Those are showers in this picture.  New arrivals were ordered to strip down and shower then make the long walk in their birthday suit down the first cell block to the hoots and hollers from those they passed.
The hallway between Cell Blocks B and C
D Block.  This is where those that couldn't play by the rules were sent.  Those that still refused to adjust were sent to solitary confinement cells for a period of time:  those with the solid doors in the lower right corner.  There were no lights in there.
Every prisoner had a job.  Some worked in the kitchen preparing the food.  Notice the silhouettes in the knife cabinet.  This made it easy to tell at a glance if one was missing.
The Control Room.  There were no closed-circuit cameras or radios to each officer here -- just a few phones scattered throughout that called here and the ability to dispatch other officers to locations around the compound as necessary.
That barred-in area above is the Gun Gallery -- the only place in Alcatraz that had armed officers.  In the 1946 escape attempt, Bernie Coy created a bar spreader using a bolt and a piece of pipe from the Machine Shop.  He starved himself to make himself as skinny as possible and greased himself up to slip between the spread bars in the Gun Gallery, where he surprised the officer on duty there, who had stepped away for a few minutes.  Coy and his cohorts later took several officers hostage in the cells near where the people are standing in this picture.  One of the officers ultimately prevented the escape by hiding the key on his person even though it was against regulations for the officers to keep cell keys on them.
In the 1962 escape attempt, three prisoners pulled off the most sophisticated escape attempt ever tried at Alcatraz.  The short version is they used spoons from the kitchen to dig out around the vents in their cells, patching it up every night with paper, cardboard, and paint (notice the dug-out vent hole in the cell).  They also created dummy heads with a modified papier-mache and glued hair to them (notice the recreation in the picture).  The cells pictured above belonged to the Anglin brothers, two of the escapees.  The discovery of their ease in digging through the cement walls led to the shutdown of Alcatraz the next year.
Not a great picture, but this is the utility corridor that the three escapees climbed into from their cells the night they escaped.  The corridor is open up to the roof, so they climbed the pipes up the three stories and out onto the roof, down a pipe and down to the water where they got in a raft made of raincoats.  They weren't discovered until the morning, and they were never heard from again. 
Some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge are from Alcatraz.
Fort Point can clearly be seen sitting under the Golden Gate Bridge and dwarfed by the immense structure.
Sadly, Alcatraz is falling apart.  In fact, that is exactly what allowed Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers to escape in 1962.  Thankfully, the Park Service continues to do restoration (at great cost) to preserve such a well-known and unique landmark for tourism.

Outside of Alcatraz and the other areas I saw, there are still a few areas of Golden Gate NRA that I would like to explore.  While researching this site, I saw a picture of a tent at Marin Headlands, near the water, just a stone's throw from the Golden Gate Bridge. How cool of a camping spot would that be!?  The views from Lands End on the western edge of the southern peninsula look stunning as well.  Finally, it would be hard to pass up a little history lesson at a Nike Missile Site that protected the west coast from Soviet bombers or the turn-of-the-century Fort Baker Army post, tucked in a beautiful spot beside the Golden Gate Bridge.  Then, of course, there are so many other sites in San Francisco to see.  I think on my next trip, I should plan to stay a while!