Hear more about the release of my 40-day outdoor devotional and how this project came together.
I’m excited to share more about my outdoor devotional, Called to the Wild, which I recently published through Sea Harp Press.
The subtitle is: “Biblical reflections on faith, perseverance and surrender from one adventurer to another” and you can now purchase it on Amazon as well as other retailers.
You may be wondering, how did this all come together? I’d love to share more about this project and more about the inspiration to write it.
How this came together
This project has been in the works for several years. The short story is that I love Jesus, I love outdoor adventure and I like to write. So putting this together was a pretty natural outflow of that.
I share the full story in the book’s introduction, but briefly, when I was a river guide in college, a friend gave me the devotional, “In Quietness and Confidence” by David Roper. This book motivated me to study the Bible and connected with my passion for outdoor adventure. Roper offered some words of recommendation for my book…which was an unexpected surprise 🙂
I wondered if someday I might write something similar to Roper’s book, though more in my voice and also with stories about rock climbing and whitewater kayaking.
I started writing some devotionals about nine years ago (this project probably took longer than it should have), and then I wrote the bulk of them while going through cancer in 2016 and 2017.
The writing process proved surprising for me. My writing strength has always been as a journalist, and so I had to give God time to develop my devotional writing—which is a much different form, and challenging to say the least. It’s almost like writing mini sermons.
After finishing the manuscript (and reaching remission), my goal was to try to find a publisher to produce it. However, after reaching out to a handful of publishers, and hearing “no” or the dreaded no response, the project stalled.
A “chance” meeting
Then, after moving back to Colorado Springs, I rejoined a local climbing gym and ran into a ministry friend, named Eugene, who works for the publisher, Sea Harp Press.
We talked about ministry and Hope Has Arrived and eventually about writing. The subject of writing a devotional came up, and I mentioned Called to the Wild. He asked me to send it to him and the rest is history.
My goal with this project has not been to make money, but just expand the reach of my ministry. Note that 100% of the profit from this (and I’ve been told it will be modest) will go to my cancer nonprofit, Hope Has Arrived.
More about Sea Harp Press
This quote pretty much sums up the purpose of Sea Harp Press: “To be much occupied with Jesus.”
Sea Harp is a division of Nori Media, which houses several different publishers including Destiny Image and Sound Wisdom.
Besides newer authors like me, they also publish classic authors, including A.W. Tozer, Andrew Murray, Charles Spurgeon and G.K. Chesterton. It’s a little humbling and frankly kind of ridiculous to be listed in the same sentence as these legendary Christian writers and thinkers, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to be one of Sea Harp’s newer authors.
My Sea Harp friend, Eugene, is not just a passionate about books, but he also loves outdoor adventure, especially rock climbing.
It was important to me to work with a publisher who understands outdoor adventure…that many people don’t see sports like rock climbing or backcountry skiing as “extreme” or risky, but more so a passion and a way of life—a blessing that God gives us.
More about the launch
You can buy the book on Amazon, and it will also be the featured book on Sea Harp during the month of May.
If you want to read some sample chapters ahead of time, you can also do so on Sea Harp’s website:
If you pick one up, I’d really appreciate it if you wrote a review on Amazon. That’s a big part of Sea Harp is offering it so cheap—to get some reviews.
As a previously unpublished author, getting some positive reviews will really help me get the word out there. For any help you offer, I would be sincerely grateful.
Whether you are a friend or future friend who might read Called to the Wild, I hope you enjoy the stories and that some make you smile or stick in your memory. I especially hope that the book inspires you to get outside, love of God’s Word and especially love the Guide Himself.
How to store and keep your backcountry skins ready to ski another season.
While the skiing season is far from over—at least in Colorado—it’s also a good time of year to begin thinking about how to store your backcountry skins properly.
Thus begins that exciting but awkward time of year when you feel pulled between a variety of outdoor sports: should I climb, mountain bike…or should I still ski? The answer is YES.
Damaged backcountry skins
Taking care of your backcountry skins might not seem like a priority in the late spring or summer, but in a few short months, it certainly will be.
When the snow begins to fly again, it can be a real bummer when you unfurl your skins and realize they are toast—they won’t stick or the glue has rotted and leaves sticky residue on your skis, like honey. Kind of like the anti-wax. Been there done that (see the above example).
Backcountry skins wear out over time, but exactly how long should they last?
How long will skins last?
This can be a tough question to answer, but manufacturers, like Dynafit, say their skins, made by Pomoca, will last up to 150,000 vertical meters, which equals nearly 500,000 vertical feet. That’s a lot of vertical gain!
Let’s break this down a bit, because math is hard. If you ski 5,000 vertical feet every time you go out, you would get about 100 days out of your skins. Or, if you do more like 3,000, then you would get at least 150 days.
However, if you don’t store your skins correctly, you will certainly get less!
For me, I measure the longevity more so in years. Typically, mine last about five seasons.
Storing your backcountry skins correctly
That’s why proper storage is key.
Here’s my top tips on how to store them:
Store your backcountry skins in a cool, dry place. In other words, don’t use your garage or storage shed. Once it is heats up, your garage will get blazing hot, and the fragile glue on your skins will quickly age. Definitely don’t leave them in the back of your truck, for similar reasons.
Dry them out thoroughly before storing. This might be obvious, but you want to make sure they are plenty dry before tucking them away for a summer hibernation.
Use a skin protector. It’s important to put the skins on skin protectors, or plastic sheets so they can get some air but also have contact with the edges of the skins. Here’s a video that explains more.
Store them away from dirt, pet hair or other debris. The more debris that collects on the adhesive of the backcountry skin, the less sticky they will be.
Consider storing them in the freezer. Not everyone has this option. In my house, we quickly run out of space. But when you put them in the freezer, the temperatures never fluctuate. It’s like your backcountry skins forever live in Narnia…they will last a long time because it’s forever winter. One can only dream of such things…
A trip to a remote 10th mountain hut included great powder skiing and brotherhood.
The Goodwin Greene Hut near Aspen holds the reputation for being one of the most remote and difficult huts to find.
I quickly understood why as my friends and I struggled to find it as darkness descended on a cold evening this past February.
In total, the route ascends 2,800 vertical feet over 6.5 miles, which can be challenging with a loaded pack and hauling sleds.
For this trip—now my third in a 10th Mountain Division Hut (technically part of the Alfred Braun Hut System)—it seemed fitting that I went there with a crew of mostly veterans: Airforce. Living in Colorado Springs, eventually you will meet some good people from the stars and stripes.
This trip served up excellent powder turns, brotherhood and also some thoughts about legacy.
Dusk and desperation
Our group of eight left the trailhead at about 11 a.m., which seemed a reasonable start.
But after six hours of slogging with two sleds, which were proving more of a hindrance than a help, the hut was no where in sight. Soon the temperatures plummeted and the winds swirled forebodingly.
One of the guys, an accomplished combat medic, seemed to sense the urgency.
“We gotta find this hut,” he said. “Now!”
His words jolted us awake like a cup of stiff cappuccino. Indeed, we needed to find our shelter. Temps already dropping into the single digits!
A buddy, nicknamed “Q,” and I cruised ahead to scout, while the other six wrestled the cumbersome sleds.
After skirting a large peak, we followed some trail marker wands that started descending, which didn’t seem right—especially when you know you may have to ascend the same vertical again.
We continued down the drainage toward a clump of trees.
I wasn’t sure if were on route, but then we saw it: a small blinking light near the trees.
Someone had installed a solar light on a wand, which signaled the hut was nearby.
Past the trees, we found it.
About 30 minutes later, we were all sitting inside with the stove blazing and hot tea flowing.
More about our group
Like a lot of trips, our group was a hodgepodge of friends, and friends of friends. But in this case, most were Airforce. Something unique about this trip was that this core of friends sought to honor a fellow cadet who passed away unexpectedly in 2009 named Luc Gruenther.
I did not meet Luc, but from hearing about him, I saw a good picture. As a young husband and father, he served as an F-16 pilot and was a standout in nearly everything he did. As an outdoor athlete he quickly mastered rock climbing, pushing grades of 5-13. One of his sayings that his friends still quote is: “Whatever you do, don’t suck at it.”
And from what they tell me, he lived those words. I’m thankful for his service and sacrifice for our country, along with my other friends who serve.
Speaking of remembering people, the Goodwin Greene hut is named after two Colorado skiiers who died in a climbing accident: Peter Goodwin and Carl Greene.
Today, the hut that bears their names serves as an amazing launching point for powder seekers.
The next morning, we set out around 9:30 or 10 a.m. and quickly found some.
We skied several north facing shots that led down to the Bruin Creek drainage. Although somewhat short, the powder proved in excellent condition, with a fresh six inches from a few days ago.
In total, we skied roughly four laps over five miles and at least 2,000 feet of elevation gain, which was a great first day.
The second day was even better.
“The goods” at Goodwin Greene Hut
This time, we explored some north/northeast shots just north of Gold Hill.
One clarification, Gold Hill is much more than just a “hill.” With a summit of 12,359 feet, this craggy peak (see above) sports an incredibly steep north and northeast face that is quite avalanche prone. In the spring, I’m sure it skies phenomenally. But this time of year, it would be what surfers call, “death on a stick.”
After a long tour up to a small lake, we hit a short line, and then farmed, or skied repeatedly, one particular area with sub 30-degree terrain.
That was a good start, but soon Travis, who has a six sense for finding good snow and lines, discovered some even better shots east of us that we named Couloir A, B and C.
These proved the best runs by far. Each hovered around 30 degrees, with much more consistent steepness.
Our woops and shouts echoed in the drainage as we skied a few laps on these couloirs.
On one lap, the guys paid homage to Luc by spreading a few of his ashes—a fitting tribute, and something they have done on other trips, too.
Which got me thinking.
I was inspired by how my companions continued to honor and remember their friend, even 14 years later.
This brings up a question of legacy: if I were to pass away suddenly, beyond my family, how would my friends—my brothers—remember me? I think those in the military often do this better than the average person, but still there are lessons to be learned.
Legacy isn’t always just theoretical. We all will leave one—some sooner than others. Everyone’s life is fragile—far more than we ever would like to admit.
Seven years ago I could have died young when I faced stage IV cancer. However, through prayer and God’s intervention, I miraculously recovered and lived to ski another day. For more about my story, read The Fear of Losing It All.
We would like to think that our tomorrows are guaranteed, but even the best of us don’t always live as long as we hope.
For those still here, all we can do is try to live these days the best we can. Sometimes that might involve some course corrections in marriage, parenting, friendships and our spiritual life.
For me, I seek to live a life that honors God first and foremost, and let the good of that relationship trickle into every other relationship. As Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all of these things will be added unto you.”
Following these words is the best way I know how to be the kind of friend, husband, father, coworker, and brother worth remembering.
On the fourth day, we packed up and left the Goodwin Greene hut—tired but rewarded.
This year’s 10th mountain division hut trip were once again epic. The skiing and camaraderie proved top notch, as were some of the lessons beyond skiing.
I can’t wait for the next hut trip, even if includes a tedious approach.
A last-minute trip to Margy’s Hut dished up plenty of late-season powder and hyjinks.
A couple of weekends ago, a few friends and I embarked on a last-minute trip to Margy’s Hut, near Aspen. The outing dished up surprisingly good late-season powder skiing along with plenty of movie-quote hijinks.
About a week prior, I received the following text: “Hey guys, I’ve got a crazy proposition for you. A bunch of huts are coming available at the end of this month…is anybody game/available?”
Surprisingly, I was…thanks to an open weekend and my gracious wife 🙂
Meaning behind the title
I like to refer to that weekend as the Hut Du Jour, or the hut of the day, for a few reasons:
1. Booking last minute huts requires flexibility and you as you probably won’t know which hut you are heading to, until you actually are. Margy’s literally became our “hut du jour,” while we almost nearly ended up at the Sangre Hut. I like to joke that my friend, Travis, moonlights as a hut day trader.
2. My friends and I like to quote the movie Dumb and Dumber. And considering the hut’s relative proximity to Aspen, it proved inevitable.
“I’m talking about a little place called Aspen…where the beer flows like wine, where the women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano…”
Here is dialogue that inspired the title of this post:
Lloyd (Jim Carrey): Excuse me Flo…What’s the soup du jour?” Flo, waitress: “It’s the soup of the day.”
Lloyd: “That sounds good, I’ll have some.”
What’s especially hilarious isn’t the words themselves, but the laughter (see video below).
However, maybe the best Dumb and Dumber reference came in an unexpected text from a buddy who originally said he was out:
“I’m cleared. You got room for one more on that hog if I still wanna go to Aspen?”
We were pretty stoked he could come. And now suddenly there were four of us going to Margy’s Hut.
Background on Margy’s
A bit more about Margy’s, this 16-person hut, located about 10 miles northeast of Aspen, Colorado, hails as one of the first 10th Mountain Division Huts built.
The 10th Mountain Division Huts were built in the 1980s in Colorado and were named to honor the division of the United States Army that specialized in mountain and winter warfare during World War II. After the war, many of these veterans settled in Colorado and became influential in developing skiing here.
In total, roughly 30 of these huts dot the Colorado high country.
My hut resume
My 10th Mountain Division hut resume is quite short—Margy’s Hut was only my second, while I have spent time at other huts in Colorado and Utah.
There is something special about these huts: the history, the layout, which always seem to feature epic mountain views, a large wood-burning stove and other surprising amenities, like photovoltaic lights and lots of good cookware that you don’t have to schlepp in.
The touches of luxury are welcome, considering most huts sit deep in the backcountry.
But before you can enjoy one of these huts, first you have to get there.
Margy’s Hut has one of the longer approaches, clocking in at six miles and 2,600 feet of elevation gain (though Strava listed the mileage as more like seven miles). What can make the approach challenging depends on how much you are willing to carry, aka food and gear choices.
After a 4:30 a.m. meetup in Colorado Springs, we drove to Aspen and started on the trail at about 11 a.m.
The skin proved mostly uneventful but long: a gradual uphill slog weighed down by a hot sun and sagging packs from chicken fajitas, guacamole and elk steaks. Forget the freeze dried meals…we wanted to eat well.
At points, continual glopping, snow sticking to our skins, wearied the soul, as did the hot spots in my boots, but we made it nonetheless.
One motivation that kept us forging ahead was six inches of fresh snow on the ground. Even though temperatures heated up, we figured conditions would still be good on the higher elevated north faces. And we were right.
Everything is better in a hut
Finally we arrived at the hut, for a night of card playing, tea drinking and oversize elk steaks. As my friend so eloquently put it “Everything is better in a hut.” Which is true of so many things.
With only four of us in a 16-person hut, it kind of felt like we were staying at a camp during the offseason.
The next day, we went powder seeking at a relatively sane hour of 10:00 a.m.
Quickly we found some, north facing shots about one mile from the hut. These relatively short slopes were mostly low angled terrain of 30 degrees or less, but the powder stayed below freezing and skiied marvelously.
We spent the good part of that day farming the same area. Though there was really no need: with so much wide open real estate in such a remote setting, there was plenty left to ski—and no one would probably be here for several more days.
We returned the same area the last morning for a few more laps. It began snowing and the freshly falling snowflakes, floating down like white confetti, amped our ski stoke and left us wanting more.
All in all, it was a great trip. There were plenty of good conversation and more Dumb and Dumber quotes—we pretty much recycled all possible.
I’m looking forward to more hut adventures with this crew—ones planned well in advance or I’ll gladly take another Hut Du Jour.
Yesterday, I hiked the Manitou Incline as part of Opt Outside, and I’m grateful I did.
Most people reading this probably know about the Incline and Opt Outside, but just in case:
The Incline is a short and punchy hike in Manitou Springs that ascends 2,000 feet of elevation gain in less than a mile up railroad ties. I previously blogged about it in this post a few years ago.
Speaking of Opt Outside, REI launched it in 2015 to motivate people to get outside on Black Friday instead of fighting crowds indoors to buy stuff.
This day has really taken off, since at least 16 million people have posted to Instagram using #optoutside. Pretty crazy.
I have participated each of the years since it started, whether hiking, biking or climbing. Of course, I don’t need a campaign to motivate me to get outside, but I’ll take the excuse 🙂 And for me, the day has even deeper significance than celebrating the outdoors.
The day falls after Thanksgiving—a time when I’m already primed with gratitude.
Thankful to Opt Outside
When I head outside on Black Friday, I’m stoked to enjoy fresh air, nature and beautiful landscapes of open spaces or parks. But I’m not just grateful in an abstract sense. I’m thankful to God because he created these spaces and wild places, knowing that they would provide refreshment, relaxation and a much needed “reset.”
He knew that our modern society would force us indoors more and more that breathing all of the manufactured air and living a sedentary lifestyle would kill us slowly.
Case in point: much of my work these days involves writing, content creation and managing websites. After a long workday on the screen, (or sometimes in the middle of it) I don’t just want to get outside; I need to get outside and move.
And so I am grateful that God provided such outlets. Psalms 107:21 seems to sum it up: “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”
My Incline adventure
So, with thankfulness in my heart, on Friday morning I showed up to the Incline about 7:30 a.m.
While hardly a wilderness experience, this short hike gives lot of bang for your buck, offering beautiful views while easily giving you as much cardio as a hard run. It usually takes less than 1:30 car to car, depending how you descend, which helps me return early enough so my wife and kids could enjoy the day, too.
Opting outside is a family necessity, too.
Pandemic changes on the Incline
This year’s hike on the Incline would be a little different, considering the pandemic. Because of Covid-19 guidelines, hiking the Incline now requires registering for a free permit in advance, so they can limit the number of people who hike it. In fact, I noticed probably as few as 1/10 of the normal crowds.
Another difference is that by city ordinance, hikers must wear a face mask in Manitou Springs, even outside.
I noticed that most people ascended maskless, which I later discovered is ok. But I still put mine on whenever I passed anyone, as a courtesy. However, I will say wearing the mask made it super difficult to breathe (surprise!) as the altitude already pushed me toward the redline anyway.
Keeping a fairly casual pace, I reached the top in a decent time. Though, considering I currently live in the Flatlands, it’s hard to feel very strong on this hike.
That wasn’t always the case. In the first couple years of our marriage, my wife and I lived in Colorado Springs and made the Incline a regular thing. Maybe someday we could be locals again?
Once I reached the top, I enjoyed views of the early morning Colorado crystalline blue over the valley. I love the Centennial State.
Descending with gratitude
No longer so hampered my need for oxygen, I pondered some more things I’m grateful for on the 3-mile descent of Barr Trail.
Rounding out this year’s list includes my family and extended family and also health—some of them weathered Covid-19). I’m also thankful for our friends, and that the non profit I started, Hope Has Arrived, continues to grow, which might be one of the few blessings of the pandemic.
I’m also grateful for how the people of Manitou Springs have adapted with rules that help keep people safe on the Incline, instead of just shutting it down. It’s great to see many cities and states that continue to preserve and protect public lands.
I look forward to opting outside again next year. And in the meantime, I still have another 364 days to get out there as well.
After a few hours of skinning, we stood on top of the ridge, eyeing the steep lines we hoped to ski. After checking conditions, we pulled skins and dropped in, one at a time, the backcountry powder feeling deeper and creamier than expected.
And thus kicked off my Salt Lake City Reunion Tour.
Our plane had only landed a few hours ago, sadly a day late due to a cancellation. Once on the ground in SLC, we threw our gear together, piled in a buddy’s truck and met at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, which accesses the heart of the Wasatch Mountain range. I’m quite familiar with these mountains, though this was the first time I’ve returned since moving away in 2012.
Wow, almost 7 years! Has it really been that long?
I remember the first week I moved to Salt Lake, in early 2009. I knew there was good skiing—but I had no idea.
I drove my Subaru through the canyon on I-80 through swirling snow showers. The next day, even with my stuff still unpacked, I went skiing at Solitude, where a foot of fresh powder awaited me and few of my new coworkers. This proved the ultimate, “welcome to the neighborhood,” so to speak.
While as epic as the inbounds skiing was, what I really wanted was to venture into the backcountry. Previously, I logged a few days touring in Montana and Colorado, but nothing consistent. Now, a backcountry buffet awaited me a mere 30 minutes from where I lived.
Besides adjusting to a new job and new city, my concern was accessing the goods ASAP. I didn’t know many locals yet—especially backcountry skiiers—so I was little befuddled on where to start. Of course, finding a skilled partner with a similar risk tolerance and fitness level is important. You literally trust your life to them if things go sideways.
As silly as it may sound, I prayed that God would help provide me someone to ski with—and soon.
Not long after, an old friend from Montana texted me.
“I was thinking about coming to Salt Lake to do some touring in a few days,” wrote my friend Brandon whose wife worked for the airlines and could get standby tickets. “You want to meet up?”
That was easy: “Yes.”
Ironically, Brandon was one of the top competitive ski mountaineering racers in the country, and though he didn’t live in Salt Lake, he knew the area well.
The few days of touring which included a boot pack up a steep chute for 3,000 feet called the Y-Couloir were invigorating and challenging. Check out the throwback photo. What an epic few days!
Back to my present day tour, we ventured in Day’s Fork, which is a few miles down canyon from Solitude Mountain Resort. All told, back in the day, I’ve probably done at least 10 tours from this trailhead.
After skiing the first lap, we decided to put our skins back on for more. Though our local friends had low expectations, considering it hadn’t snowed a lot in the past few days, we still easily found a great powder stash. This year, the Wasatch has been hammered by 450 inches of snow, with Alta Resort reporting 456 inches as of March 9. In fact, locals say this might be the best year in 10 years.
As we started ascending the wooded hillside, a few snow flurries quickly changed to penny-sized flakes and then graupel (which looks like white Dippin’ Dots). Soon we heard thunder, which convinced us to settle for a shorter lap. We still racked up about 3,000-3,500 vertical total and some great turns. Not bad for a travel snafu and a late start!
I will follow this post up with another from the SLC trip trip soon. More coming…
I could hear the crunch crunch of my footsteps in the dry, desert gravel as I passed several Saguaro cacti, some up to 20 feet tall, with spiny arms curving upward—like a southwestern salute. With zero wind and clear cerulean sky overhead, the temperatures hovered at a pleasant 65 degrees.
Not too shabby for middle of winter.
In early January, we escaped the cold and ventured to the Phoenix-area with family. Neither Elizabeth or I had explored Arizona much, except for a quick trip to the Grand Canyon when we were first married.
Doing my homework ahead of time, the rock climbing and hiking seemed the best soup de jour. The mountain biking intrigued me, but renting seemed overly complicated and cost prohibitive. So, we schlepped our hiking and climbing gear via bulging backpack on the plane as a “personal item,” no doubt stretching that definition to the limit.
Here’s a few adventure highlights from our trip.
The Crowds of Camelback
On our second day, we headed to Camelback Mountain, a popular hike in the middle of Scottsdale that seemed like Phoenix’s version of the Manitou Incline near Colorado Springs, or Mount Sanitas in Boulder (see my chart at the end of this article).
It’s probably a fair comparison, though more crowded and more urban than the Colorado counterparts. Indeed, the website warned, “Parking is a challenge, please plan accordingly.”
What an understatement. On a Thursday afternoon, scarcity forced us to park a mile away from Cholla Trailhead—practically in a different zip code. There is also another trailhead on the Echo side, but I heard getting a spot there is even worse.
Such is the plight of the urban outdoorsman.
On the approach and once on the trail, we dodged people like we were waiting in line for a funnel cake at the state fair—steady lines for at least the first third of the hike. It took about 40-45 minutes to ascend the 1.42 miles + bonus mile to the summit (which we shared with about 60 people) and about the same to get down.
Despite the crowds, Camelback proved enjoyable, both aerobically and scenically. If I lived locally, I would partake often. Though, I don’t think I could handle the hot months, considering the city averages 107 days above 100 degrees Fahrenheit! That sounds like living on Mars.
Climbing Iffy Rock
A few days later, we decided to sample the local rock climbing, ironically ending up on the other side of Camelback. This time, trying to find a parking spot at the Echo Trailhead proved impossible. So we caught a Lyft from an uncomfortably “happy” driver (420 perhaps?) at a grocery store a few miles away.
The rock climbing at Camelback is also popular, considering it is the closest to the city and features mostly sport. Though, I quickly found while these walls looked good from far away, they were concerning up close. The Mountain Project description of the area seemed fitting: “Sort of a desert conglomeration that has been described as ‘petrified mud.’”
Indeed, the 200-foot climb I had on my list included this sober warning “The holds are fairly stable but climb softly anyways.”
Um…so how is rock “fairly stable”? And how does one “climb softly”? That phrase threw me. I’m guessing the author probably meant to “pull down not out,” like the familiar climbing adage. But climbing “softly” almost seems to imply you reduce your body weight—which is impossible apart from levitation.
I decided to climb anyway, while vowing to be cautious. Yet, in rock climbing I’ve often found the fun factor directly varies proportionally to the rock quality. The less bomber, the less fun. The more bomber rock, the more fun. I’ve learned this truth the hard way—from crumbly Utah sandstone to chossy Colorado climbs.
I suppose the downside of currently living in a place with limited rock climbing, is when I visit places I’m often overly motivated—even if it pushes common sense a bit.
And, so I started ascending a route with a big water streak called, Donamatrix (I couldn’t find much about the name origin). After I had clipped into some shiny bolts, I felt a bit better. I was especially thankful we were wearing helmets.
The rock type was strange—kind of a combo between river rock and sharp rocks with some kind of concrete layer—the “petrified mud” I assumed. As I climbed about 30 feet off the deck, it was easy to fixate on the loose pieces and gaping holes where rocks used to be.
Fortunately, no rocks came off the first pitch, but I am thankful it was no harder than 5-8+. I think anything more difficult would have been zero fun. I’d rather be challenged by my ability to hang on to the holds, then the integrity of the holds themselves being the adventure.
The second pitch was a little more solid, and on top, we saw great views of the rest of Camelback and Scottsdale, especially with twilight approaching. Soon we rapped and we were happy to reach the ground in one piece, while not bringing any bowling balls or baseball-sized chunks on top of us.
While I was thankful we did the route, I probably wouldn’t return to Camelback—unless hiking. While I’ve enjoyed climbing on softer rock in epic locations, like in Fisher Towers or Garden of the Gods, Camelback lacked such charm.
No disrespect to climbers who like this place, but for me, just because “it’s there,” doesn’t mean I’m that stoked to climb it again.
A Real Live Western
One of my favorite outings in the area, was hiking a 3.5-mile loop in Lost Dutchman State Park. We did this more as a family adventure, with our daughter and my mom along, too.
This park sits in the thick of the Superstition Mountains, which besides the extremely rad name, feature a collection of steep walls and mesas, with huge saguaros and other cacti as the foreground—very southwestern in feel.
These mountains look and feel rugged—they are known for sharp drop offs, deep canyons, extreme changes in weather, harsh winds and dangerous wildlife. Today, they comprise more than 242 square miles of wilderness. They were named by the Pima Indians, who passed on stories of strange sounds, mysterious disappearances and deaths related to the mountains.
Indeed, legend lives on today as there have been plenty of hikers who have disappeared in them throughout the years.
Before coming to Phoenix, I had read that the “Supes” contain some of the best rock climbing in the state, other than Sedona or Flagstaff area. I wish we would have had more time to explore such places as Queen Canyon. Next time.
Solid Rock, Solid Day
A little closer to our base camp, we climbed at an area called Tom’s Thumb, in the nearby McDowell Mountains. This time the rock would be supremely solid—desert granite. No more mud.
We set out to climb a wall called Hanging Gardens, which was surprisingly tall, with routes up to three pitches (350 feet), and almost all of them traditional, the kind where you have to place your own gear using cracks and trees, and other features. The route we had had sought to climb received four stars—the highest rating on mountain project.
The approach was a few miles uphill, which kind of squeezed our daylight window considering we didn’t start until around noon.
When we arrived at the wall, I was surprised to find out how wet the rock was. It had rained a few days ago, but after 24 hours of drying, I figured it would be good to go in such a dry place. But this wall was north facing (a key fact which Mountain Project failed to mention) and so it would have been slippery and cold.
So, we moved on to a sun-facing route on the Thumb, which I had hoped to climb after the Garden Wall.
The West Corner started on a grassy shelf of sorts. We linked the two pitches together, climbing fast. After ascending a corner with a few trees, and then a chimney, I bypassed a small roof, and stood on top. Looking to the north and east, I could see deep into the Superstition Mountains. This felt much more like wilderness, compared to our urban adventures.
Sitting on top of the Thumb in the sun, soaking in the last hour of vitamin D, I couldn’t help thinking of how it might be awhile before I adventure in temperatures like this again.
Sure enough, as I write this from my northern locale, it was a balmy -9 degrees Fahrenheit that “feels like -24.”
At this point, I must thank our sponsors—my parents. They invited us to join them on this trip and they watched our daughter on several of the days so we could get a few adventures in—which was a win for us, and also for our daughter who loves spending time with them.
Anyone with kids knows it’s nice just to be able to get out at all, as adventures are often a side benefit on such trips. So, with that in mind, we were pretty content with what we were able to do.
I also discovered I am enamored with cactuses—especially the saguaros. I read that the big ones with curving arms could be at least 100 years old—that it takes at least 25-50 years before they can even grow a curve. So, that means a lot of these old cacti were probably around when Wyatt Earp and other old West characters passed through the area.
At any rate, I’d like to return to Arizona for some more adventures—especially climbing in Sedona, or the Grand Canyon again. That’s more of a wish than something we have actual plans for at this point.
Oh, and here is my Comparison Chart of the three hikes I mentioned:
Mount Sanitas in Boulder, Colorado: 3.1 miles, 1,343 feet of elevation gain
The Incline in Manitou Springs, Colorado: 3.5 miles (descending Barr Trail), 2,000 feet + elevation gain
Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona:
Echo Trailhead: 1.45 miles (2.9 miles out and back), 1,264 feet elevation gain
Cholla Trailhead: 1.5 miles (3 miles out and back), 1,200 feet
As I shuffled my skis uphill through more than a foot of fresh powder in the northern Colorado backcountry, I couldn’t help thinking, man, I have missed this! Soon we would enjoy the reward: descending the lines we ascended. Such is backcountry skiing—significant investment, significant reward.
In mid December, I ventured on an unexpected yurt trip in northern Colorado. After a great early season across the state, it was an easy trip to say yes to when I got the invite.
When I say yurt trip, I mean where one skis into a round felt-covered shelter in the wilderness, carrying gear and food in backpacks and sleds. This would be my third of such trips to this area, though this year we would technically be staying in a “hut”—the Nokhu Hut—more like small cabin. Plush with rustic charm, yurts and huts are typically heated by a wood burning stove, furnished with bunk beds, and a tiny kitchen.
For me, this trip was much needed. After a grueling fall of building a website (hopehasarrived.com), I was ready for a break. I became justifiably stoked about the prospect of backcountry skiing—especially since it had been a few years.
While I have skied a fair amount the past couple years, it was mostly in bounds and some skinning at the small ski area, near where I currently live, sans beacon. I had not ventured into the backcountry since early 2016, before my health trial began. I’m much better place now, but lack of mountain proximity and fitness have delayed this from happening. Until now.
So, that’s how I found myself skinning through the Never Summer Mountains with a sled filled with gear and food. The name comes from Arapaho Indian name, Ni-chebe-chii, which translates to Never No Summer, and when you venture through them in winter, it’s easy to appreciate why.
Indeed, Cameron Pass had well over 40 inches on the ground and even more higher up. More was coming, too—slanting streams of white flakes buffeted our faces as we ascended the trail. The approach to the hut was —only about 1.1 miles—though mostly uphill. After an hour or so, we reached the turn off.
When we reached the hut, not surprisingly the little shelter and woodshed were blanketed by a two-foot pillows on top and piles of white on the sides. We soon went inside and lit a well-deserved fire.
After a short rest, we explored the area east of the cabin and found a small glade worthy of a few ski turns. It was a great warm up, but tomorrow we hoped we find something a little more substantial.
That night, it kept snowing and snowing.
Meanwhile, inside our hut, we underestimated the heating capacity of the wood-burning stove and especially the insulation. Unlike the yurts, keeping the fire going overnight was completely unnecessary. I sat in the top bunk sweating like a beach goer in southern Florida in August. After an hour of no sleep, I crept out of my bed, opened the door and sat there cooling in the wind and snow. I quickly learned I wasn’t the only one overheating. One by one, everybody else got up and did the same thing. Maybe we should change the name to Never Sleep Hut or Forever Sweaty?
The next day, we woke up to the Colorado bluebird special: more than a foot of fresh powder, zero wind and a clear sky overhead. We then noticed what we couldn’t see when it was snowing—the prominent spires overshadowing our hut called the Nokhu Crags, which means Eagle’s Nest and is a stunning feature to say the least.
Soon we set off to explore the Lake Agnes area. With the fresh snow, the jaunt turned out to be calorie-zapping affair, as breaking trail often requires double the effort of just following someone else’s tracks.
When we reached the lake, the peaks surrounding the lake were majestic but foreboding. Though they promised a buffet of steep ski line delicacies, we were wise to look but not taste. Colorado boasts one of the most dangerous snowpacks in the U.S. and I anticipate the Never Summer snowpack was “considerable” danger based on my observations and recent snowfall. Generally in Colorado it is smart to stick to low angle terrain until the snowpack settles in the spring—even late spring. That’s essentially the message you will hear in any avalanche course you take in the Centennial State.
Unfortunately, we found it difficult to access the terrain we wanted from the lake, so we descended the way we came, and then another buddy and I ascended a different run of trees. Here we found the goods, the area most people referenced in the journals in the hut, though they never quite spelled out how to get to. The work was well worth the pay off. Not exactly your steep black diamond run—more like a green or easy blue—but with deep untouched snow. Maybe even two feet deep. Wow.
Later that night, we scarfed an epic meal of quinoa spinach and turkey—thanks Adam and Nate. We also played cards and enjoyed the typical high jinx and stories of good friends who know each other well. Indeed, this was the best part of the whole experience.
Besides the social part, I was just stoked to be in the backcountry again. Not only did this blog finally get some fresh content related to the original subject, but I felt a part of me come alive that has been dormant. I also had more strength and energy than I was expecting, especially coming from low altitude. As my health continues to improve, so does my energy. A month or so ago, upon a doctor’s advice I stopped taking a medication that affects aerobic output. For the first time in a few years, it felt like they took the governor off and I was back to normal, or at least close.
The last morning, I got up at 6 a.m. to ski one last lap. I couldn’t rouse any companions so it was just me and God and the mountains. On the low angle slope, the sun rose over the peaks and the silent snow. I wanted to sit there for a long time, but the cold and the reality of a plane to catch forced me to keep it brief. But I was thankful to God for such a great morning and the hope of more adventures soon.
Indeed, now that I have returned to the backcountry, I’m ready for more.
Soon. Very soon.
This is part of the low-angle glade we skiied. Much better than the photo looks!
To celebrate our five years of marriage, we felt it was time to do something big—not go to Africa big (though we hope to do that someday), but more than just the usual celebration. So, a week or so ago, we visited a couple of Utah’s Big Five national parks and a famous wilderness area for five days, sans kiddo (thanks Mom!).
This trip was a much-needed adventure binge, exploring new places together in 60-degree weather. Even more than the adventures, we wanted the trip to be about things that last. And it certainly was that. I continue to be amazed at just how much God cares about marriage—that he wants the way we love each other to reflect how Christ loves people.
Here’s a few highlights:
Climbing sandstone on a sunny afternoon in Saint George. The rock type felt very similar to Red Rocks in Nevada, which is one of my favorite all time places to climb. The routes were so fun we couldn’t help shouting with delight with each sequence of moves
Eating In-N-Out Burger two different times!
Descending two very different canyoneering routes. One was a stunningly beautiful corridor of orange-hued heucos and chambers, while the second one was much more of a remote wilderness challenge that also included us getting our rope stuck on a rappel. It felt like an experiential learning activity at a marriage retreat, except with very real consequences. In the end, it proved a great experience we will remember!
Exploring two national parks: Zion and Bryce Canyon. I had been to Zion briefly, but we saw much more of it. Bryce, with its hoodoo wonders, was awe inspiring. Wish we had more time here!
Staying in a remote corner of the Escalante Wilderness and getting to hike a slot canyon there. The scariest part was driving the long 4WD road to get there, through lots of loose sand and big hills. Shhhh! Don’t tell the rental car company.
All in all, this was a very amazing trip. And, God willing, we hope to journey to Africa for our 10-year anniversary to see the real Big Five (again). Here’s to many more years together.
For the record, I do really like fall. A lot. Maybe a close second to summer. This autumn has been a great one for Elizabeth and I which is probably why I haven’t written in a while. Consider this a catch-up post!
In late September/early October, we celebrated my birthday the way I’ve loved to in the past—by going climbing. This year we headed to the Needles in the Black Hills. The trip was quick, less than three days with travel, but we did manage to climb three spires, including Spire Two and Moonlight Rib. I think the Needles are my new favorite climbing area. As a bonus, on the way home we also hiked in Badlands National Park. What a great birthday getaway with my love.
Naming it Remission
They included another story about me in the annual report for Avera, the center where I was treated at, called “Climbing the Spire of Hope,” which came out this fall. I loved the following line: “With his cancer in remission, the family is currently living life to the fullest.” You can see the full article here. While we have been calling my dramatic health reversal “remission” for quite some time—more than a half year now—it was nice to see the word in print, and have the status confirmed by one of my doctors.
New Ventures in Sioux Falls
My hometown has definitely changed a lot since I grew up here. Now a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities both national and international, the Sioux Falls area offers opportunities to help refugees living locally. Starting last spring, Elizabeth and I have made some new refugee friends and are enjoying getting to know them, attending their church and learning about their culture. We look forward to more ventures soon. And wow, the homemade bread from this people group melts in your mouth like freshly baked donuts.
A Friend’s 40th Birthday
At this stage in my life, a few friends have hit the BIG 4-0. I’m still a little shy of that number, but it encroaches on me like a bulbous NFL defensive lineman with bad breath. In late October, we (myself and 8 other dudes) celebrated my buddy Adam’s big day by rafting Westwater Canyon, an 18-mile stretch of class III and IV whitewater near the Colorado/Utah border.
With highs in the 60s and sunny, the trip was as pleasant as you can imagine. The best part, other than the stellar group of guys who attended, was how a big mistake made a good trip epic. Here’s the story.
I apparently remembered the name of our campsite incorrectly. So when we arrived there only to see a sign calling it something else, we decided to press on and run the rapids, rather than risk poaching a site not our own. I wondered if we had made a terrible mistake, but soon we saw the bright side of our predicament: we could run Westwater twice. Which is a big deal because the permits are not always easy to get.
So that’s exactly what we did. We ran all 18 miles both days—getting to see the canyon and rapids not once, but twice. This was my fifth and sixth trip down Westwater respectively, but I will never forget this trip!
Oh, and if you go, make sure you lock in your campsite with laser precision.
Home Improvement Ventures
This fall we have tried to make headway on some house projects. We painted our bathroom and finished part of our bedroom. A buddy also helped me custom make an egress window cover (he actually did it all while I just watched). But the project I’m most proud of is revamping our fireplace. We yanked out the ugly insert and replaced it with a gas log, thanks to some assistance from a local expert to re-install a damper in our chimney. Viola! The magical ambience of a 1940s house that was hiding from our living room. Bring on the gray days…it will always be warm and cheery in the Lawrence house.
Next project: revamping the green house.
All in all, it’s been a great fall. So, make some more cider and maybe carve that leftover pumpkin. But don’t expect me to rake any more leaves. I’m done 🙂