Campground Claimants and Curmudgeons

Once again our annual rafting trip on the Rogue River was fun and memorable. With days spent floating down the river (with the occasional rough water to keep things exciting) and nights spent relaxing around the campsite, playing games and enjoying each other’s company, the stresses of the world melted away.

We enjoyed our usual flotilla consisting of an assortment of nautical vessels. We had two “Cadillacs of the River,” the large, self-bailing rafts with fixed oars; one 6-person powered paddle raft (the four wheel drive SUV of the river); and finally four single-person kayaks and pontoons (the sports cars of the river).

Our flotilla heading down the river…

Our two days on the river consisted of the usual pre-float safety brief to ensure everyone was prepared for the day ahead. The only challenge here is getting everyone into the same space at the same time listening to the same message. Once the perfunctory reminders about life jackets, overboard procedures, and boat ramp logistics was completed, it was time to get on the river.

Both days couldn’t have been better… the weather was perfect and the water refreshing. In the calm waters, some took the opportunity to slip in the cool river, engage in water cannon battles, or jump off rocks, while others simply soaked in the sun. We even had a brief glimpse of Superman, who must have been taking a day off to enjoy a flight over the river…

At camp is where the real drama occurred. This was our first year at a full-service campsite with trailer hookups, and restroom and shower facilities. For the tent campers among our group, the convenience of clean restrooms and warm showers was a well-appreciated bonus. For the trailer/camper group, it was nice to have a level pad with full water, sewer, and power hookups.

The perfect setup, right?… Well unfortunately the peace and serenity of the shared campground was upset by a few curmudgeonly neighbors. These are the type of people who don’t seem to understand that when they are on vacation the “normal” standards of property rights don’t apply to a rented campsite.

As it was, our direct neighbor approached us literally as we were backing the camper onto the pad. What was seemingly a friendly welcome to the campsite, was instead a subtle “marking of territory.” It seems we were camping next to a group who reserved the same campsite year after year and wanted to ensure that the newbies (us) were aware of how the campsite “worked.” Needless to say, we didn’t appreciate the unsolicited advice when they told us where we could and could not set-up our tents and other assorted camp gear.

What started as a minor annoyance evolved into nighttime entertainment, when part of the same group of tightly-wound campers decided to pack up and leave in the dark while the rest of the camp was relaxing in their various sites enjoying the evening. So, what would drive someone to leave prematurely?… Well apparently all it took was a couple of campers “trespassing” onto the outer edges of their campsite. Without the benefit of official survey marks, it was difficult to ascertain where the boundaries of the paid pad ended and the public right-of-way began.

These “violations of personal space” were apparently too much to take for one camp group, so they decided to pack up and leave. In their haste to make a quick departure, they invariably took some shortcuts packing their gear and preparing their trailer hookup. The shortcuts and darkness resulted in over an hour of repeated attempts to get the trailer hitch properly seated. As we watched over the next hour from our chairs around the campfire, we were finally relieved (for them) that they were on their way back to what we all hoped would be a less stressful place.

Despite the drama (and in some ways because of it) this was another memorable weekend. Onward to the next adventure.

Rafting Video Links:



Grueling Climb… Summit Success!

After a long and challenging climb, Ron, Karen, Alan and I stepped onto the 14,179′ summit of Mt. Shasta, and were able to enjoy some well deserved rest and spectacular views of the surrounding landscape far below us. To start this post, here are some stats from the climb:

  • Over 7,200 feet of vertical climb from the Bunny Flat trail head to the summit
  • Total time on Mt. Shasta (including 1 hr at the summit): 15 hrs and 5 mins
  • 9 hrs 40 mins to ascend… Began climb at 12:50 am and summited at 10:30 am
  • 4 hrs and 15 mins to descend… Started descent at 11:30 am and finished at 4:15 pm

Needless to say we were all exhausted, looking forward to a hot shower, good meal and some well deserved sleep, but first we had a 2 hr drive to get home…  so let’s rewind to the start.

There are many factors to consider when climbing a mountain like Shasta; the route you will take, the gear needed for the forecast conditions, food and water, etc. But the most important thing is safety, and since this is such a steep mountain there is one particular skill that is important to learn… the ability to self-arrest with an ice axe. Put simply, self-arrest is a technique to quickly gain control and stop if you slip and begin an uncontrolled slide down the mountain. Since none of us are technical climbers we had to figure out how to do this, so we went to the source of all instruction, YouTube! After viewing a couple videos we felt confident in the technique and would do a little practice on the mountain before the slopes got too steep. Another useful video covered the technique to glissade… essentially sliding feet first down the mountain in a sitting position. Fortunately we did not have to self-arrest for real… if we had, the title of this blog entry would have been “YouTube Saves Lives!”

As mentioned earlier, this climb was a grueling physical challenge. Mt. Shasta is the third most prominent peak in the continental United States after Mt. Rainier (the highest mountain in the Cascade Range) and Mt. Whitney (the highest mountain in the continental U.S.). Prominence is a measure of how high the summit of a mountain rises above its surroundings; and in the case of Mt. Shasta, 9,772 ft of its total height is exposed above the surrounding landscape.

We began our climb in the dark, which in retrospect was a very good thing for three very important reasons. First, the cooler temperatures ensure that the snow pack is firm which allows good traction with crampons without sinking into the snow. Second, it allowed us to complete the long climb in one push and make the steep descent during the daylight hours when the snow was softer and more suitable for glissading. Finally, and most importantly, the darkness ensured that we couldn’t see how long and steep the climb was until we were over half-way to the summit! Believe me, when the sun finally did come up and we were able to see how far we still had to go, I think we all began to think “why again am I doing this!

By the time the sky began to lighten and we could begin to make out the route above us, we were already above Helen Lake, a small flat area at 10,433 ft where the climbers who do this peak in 2 days, camp for the night. Still above us, emerging from the shadows, was the prominent red rock wall of the Red Banks at just under 13,000 ft. Above us, still unseen, was the final push to the summit up the appropriately named Misery Hill.

The Red Banks creates a natural dividing line between the lower slopes, from which you can’t see the summit, and the upper part to the mountain where Misery Hill lurks between 13,000 and 14,000 feet, and the last final climb to the summit rock. Pushing ourselves through the thin air and up the steep slopes took will and fortitude. We found ourselves setting small goals all the way up the slope… take 50 or 100 steps, then stop to rest… then repeat. This got us to the bottom of the Red Banks where we then had to navigate up a narrow, steep, and slippery slope. Digging in with our crampons and using our ice axes, we successfully made it to the base of Misery Hill.

Fortunately the weather couldn’t have been better with clear skies, comfortable temperatures, and little wind as we finally emerged onto the upper reaches of the mountain. What remained was the last and most daunting obstacle between us and the summit, Misery Hill an aptly named particularly steep section that begins at 13,000 feet. With our energy reserves depleted, we pushed ourselves forward on will power and the desire to stand on top of this beautiful mountain.

After nearly 10 hours of continuous climbing we stepped onto the summit and were able to enjoy some rest, a few snacks, some camaraderie with our fellow climbers, and a bit of official paperwork. You may ask, “how could there be paperwork at the top of a mountain?” It just so happens that shortly after we arrived one of the park rangers, acting in his official capacity as he reached to top, asked each of us to show our permits.  Additionally, there is a logbook at the summit where climbers can sign their name or write a short reflection.

After an hour on the summit, it was time to descend and put this adventure behind us. None of us was looking forward to the thought of several more jarring hours of downhill hiking which is uncomfortable and physically demanding. So we were pleasantly surprised that the snow conditions, which were firm during our climb, had softened to the perfect conditions to glissade. Using the proper technique (thanks YouTube!), we were able to slide several thousand feet down the mountain, cutting hours off of our descent time, and saving us from additional wear on our tired bodies.

Glissading down the mountain… fast and fun!

Ultimately, this experience was rewarding and memorable. Although physically challenging, we will only remember the joy of standing on the summit and the shared experience of doing this together.

Mt. Shasta Video Links:


Mystics and the Mountain

Mt. Shasta awaits and our climbing team has assembled in Klamath Falls, OR for our summit attempt that will begin at midnight tonight. Yesterday, Alan, Ron and I converged in Denver and enjoyed an uneventful flight into Medford where the summer fire season has apparently just begun. Descending into the airport we sensed the faint odor and visible pall of smoke sitting in the Rogue Valley. From there we headed over the cascade range to Klamath Falls to meet up with Karen to complete our ragtag climbing team.

During the flight, I happened to be sitting next to a pleasant gentleman from Ashland, Oregon who just so happened to be a spiritualist/healer/guru that was just returning from teaching a healing retreat in Roanoke, VA. We struck up a conversation in which I was “enlightened” on various aspects of meditation, and the holistic healing power of your own bodies energy systems. But, I also learned that Mt. Shasta is a destination for mystics, gurus and sages from all over the world, many of which call Ashland their home.

Summoning the source of mystical energy in Ashland…

Some say Mt. Shasta is one of the seven main energy centers (called chakras) in the world. My seat mate described it as the seventh chakra, also known as the “crown,” but my research indicated it was the first chakra, or “root.” A wide discrepancy that may only be resolved with my own close encounter with the mountain!… I remain a skeptic…

Since our climb begins tonight, I think my mental preparation will have to rely on more traditional preparations like map and route study, weather reports, and practice with crampons and an ice axe. The weather report for tonight couldn’t be better, with temps in the low 30’s at the summit and light winds. So, for now the only unknown is the physical effort it will take to climb 7000 vertical feet at elevations between 7000 and 14000 feet.

The rest of today will be spent resting, hydrating and renting some essential gear from The Ledge, a local outfitter, before making the 2 hour drive to the trailhead sometime this evening. Stay tuned for the main event…

Planning and Prep for Shasta Summit

While growing up in southern Oregon, Mt. Shasta (located in Northern California, near the Oregon border) loomed large and prominently in the distance south of my hometown. But curiously, the thought never entered my mind that people regularly climbed this towering presence until my sister, Karen, trained, then successfully reached it’s 14,179′ summit in July of 2014.

Karen rehydrating on the summit of Mt. Shasta.

Ever since she shared the experience of her adventure, I’ve had a desire to climb this mountain that’s been a backdrop to my teenage years. So… during my annual summer trip to Oregon to visit family, friends, and enjoy some rafting on the Rouge River, I will also carve out some time to make my own summit attempt. I won’t be attempting this alone, though, since Karen, my brother Ron (who successfully summited in 2015), and my other brother, Alan, will be joining me on the adventure!

This is no easy feat, so to increase the odds for an enjoyable (and what I hope is an ultimately successful summit bid), I am doing what I can to prepare myself both physically and mentally for the challenge ahead. The physical part is pretty routine, essentially comprised of regular workouts at the gym, to include one of the most important exercises, the stair-climber machine. Additionally, I plan to incorporate several long hikes in and around Shenandoah National Park that feature strenuous climbs. This routine prepared me well for the Everest Base Camp trip in April 2018, so I am confident it will suffice for Mt. Shasta.

The other preparation comes in studying and planning so I have no surprises when it comes to the main event. The route I plan to climb is Avalanche Gulch, which does not require technical mountaineering skills and generally offers enough snowpack well into July to avoid having to navigate steep sections on loose scree or volcanic ash.

Since much of the climb is expected to be on snowpack, we will need to rent some essential gear from a local outfitter (crampons, ice axe, helmet), and pay close attention to the weather, snow, and avalanche conditions on the mountain to determine the optimum and safest day to make our attempt.

I look forward to sharing this adventure with my 8 followers!


Pink Jeeps and Balloons… A Barbie Birthday?

The final two days of our trip to Sedona have been packed with a wide variety of fun, adventure, insight, and first time experiences. Yesterday was Janet’s birthday, so she got to plan the activities, and the first thing she wanted to do was feed the ducks along Oak Creek, a bucolic stream that runs through the resort. Of course she wanted to share the experience with her twin, Joanie, who was actually hoping to sleep in for the first time this entire week. But, Janet wasn’t going to let that happen, so they both went down to the creek and were soundly shunned by the clearly uninterested ducks. Undeterred, they returned to the room to enjoy birthday agenda item #2, mimosas on the balcony. The resort had graciously given both girls a bottle of champagne for their respective birthdays, so the mimosas were flowing freely.

The birthday girls next to Oak Creek.

While all that was going on, I was on a solo 7 mile hike in the hills above Sedona. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore some of the superb trails that provided an up close and personal experience with the red rock mesas and buttes that surround Sedona. I thoroughly enjoyed the quiet and solitude as I hiked the Brins Mesa/Soldier Pass/Jordan Trail circuit.

View from the Brins Mesa Trail.
“Devil’s Kitchen,” The largest sinkhole in Sedona.

Upon my return, we were all ready for a delicious birthday lunch followed by our afternoon event, the Red Rock Range tour with Pink Jeep Adventures. We paired up with our fantastic guide and driver, Chip, who shared his wealth of knowledge on the history, landscape, wildlife and geology of this beautiful part of Arizona. He also gave us some great pointers on places to shop and other nearby towns to visit.

The backcountry courtesy of Pink Jeep Adventures.

We ended the day enjoying a crackling mesquite wood fire on the terrace above Oak Creek as the sun set on another great day. Then it was an early bedtime for yet another pre-dawn wake-up.

Our final day began with a 4:45 am wake-up for our second attempt at a balloon ride. Fortunately, today’s event went off without a hitch. The weather was perfect, and even the pre-dawn temperature was a comfortable 50 degrees. After we were picked up, we signed all of the requisite waiver forms and headed to the launch site. Once there we got to watch the entire process of getting the balloon ready for flight. This was a well-oiled procedure executed by our experienced ground crew and pilot from Red Rock Balloons. The entire process from unloading the balloon and basket to full inflation took about 30 minutes. Then it was time for one of the biggest highlights of this trip… the four of us quickly climbed into the balloon, along with 12 other passengers and our pilot, Mark. After some quick safety and landing procedure instructions, Mark squeezed the control lever for the propane burners and we gently lifted off the ground.

Getting ready to launch with Red Rock Balloons!

The gentle ascent and quiet gliding of the balloon through the air are an experience I would encourage for everyone. Over the next hour, we ascended over 1000 ft, and descended to skim the tree tops. We rose up the side of a mesa then skimmed right across its top, offering a very different perspective of the rugged terrain we had been admiring all week. We even got to see a coyote ranging through a dry river bed, and a very large jack rabbit zigging and zagging in the brush below thinking it was about to become breakfast for a very large bird!

Then it was time to land. Throughout the flight, Mark the pilot, was in constant contact with the ground crew who were chasing us on the roads below. They coordinated a landing spot, we crouched in the landing position, and Mark expertly and gently touched down! This was an experience none of us will soon forget. Now we got to witness the reverse process of deflating the balloon and getting it repacked before we headed off for a post flight brunch with passengers and crew.

Finally our vacation was ending so we prepared for our return to Phoenix for our early morning flights home. On the trip from Sedona to Phoenix, we enjoyed lunch and shopping in the historic copper mining town of Jerome, AZ. This small town, nestled a mile above sea level, is literally perched on the side of a mountain that had in the past been one of the single largest copper mines in the world, producing over a billion dollars of mined copper.

Our final stop was the Montezuma Castle National Monument, one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America. This 900 year old dwelling, nestled into a towering limestone cliff, is a 50 room pueblo ruin located in a virtual oasis of lush green plants and towering sycamore trees next to Beaver Creek. Although abandoned over 600 years ago, it offers a fascinating glimpses into the lives of the Sinagua people who once inhabited this interconnected structure, and lived off the fertile land even though surrounded by unforgiving desert.

Cliff dwelling at Montezuma Castle National Monument.

We had finally checked off the last item of our busy but fun itinerary, and we will all take away fond and lasting memories of our “Sedona Sojourn.”


Vortex, Schmortex!

Today is Joanie’s birthday and we had planned a scenic balloon ride at dawn. Although we got in late last night, we were prepared for a 4:45 wake-up to make our designated 5:30 am pickup time. 

Unfortunately, we were notified that the flight was canceled due to unfavorable wind speeds and direction. Although the day couldn’t have been more perfect, the winds were apparently too fast and were forecasted to increase at our planned sunrise launch time, which would take the balloon to unsafe areas and make the landing treacherous. 

So, although disappointed, we rescheduled our balloon ride for Friday and worked on a contingency plan for the day. Since we had spent a lot of time in the car the past two days, we decided to remain in the Sedona area and take in some of the local sites.

Our first stop was the The Chapel of the Holy Cross, a unique Catholic chapel built directly into the side of one of the many red rock buttes in Sedona. The chapel features a beautiful crucifix inspired by the tree of life. The visit was the perfect way to begin the day. Interestingly, on our way back to our car, we even got a brief glimpse of a road runner skittering across the road, but still no sightings of Wile E. Coyote.

Now let me take a moment to comment on the title of this blog entry… as mentioned yesterday, there is a local phenomenon called the “Sedona Vortex.” According to local lore, there are several areas of concentrated energy rising from the earth near Sedona where visitors may experience palpable physical sensations, or heightened spiritual and metaphysical clarity. Admittedly our group of four included three skeptics, so in the interest of scientific curiosity we sought out one of these vortexes… the not-so-cleverly-named “Airport Mesa Vortex.”

To get there, we drove to a parking area near the Sedona Airport that served as the trailhead of a short hike to a rocky outcropping, paid the requisite $3 parking fee, and commenced our hike. Based on the number of people already there, we were clearly in the vicinity of this mystical vortex. After a 0.6 mile hike on the rocky trail at 4,700 ft above sea level, we reached our destination and were immediately aware of a physical sensation emanating from deep in our bodies… but alas, it was only the slightly elevated beating of our own hearts, having just completed the climb to the top of this rocky outcropping. 

Sedona at Dusk
Standing atop the “Airport Mesa Vortex”

In the end, our conclusion was mixed… our one believer remained convinced that the vortex exists, but it’s energy must have been dissipated by the 50 people who were there. As for the other three, our conclusion was a resounding, “Vortex, Schmortex!”



Time Dimensions & Eons of Erosion

Today started bright and early since we had to leave our hotel at 6:30 am for the 2 hour drive to Page, AZ for our 9:15 am tour of the Lower Antelope Canyon on the lands of the Navajo Nation. Along the way we were suddenly confronted with a perplexing dilemma… although we departed with plenty of time to make our planned 9 am arrival, our navigation system indicated we would arrive an hour later than planned. So what was happening?… Were we in some sort ripple in the fabric of time and space, or was there a simpler explanation?

We were all certain it had something to do with the mysterious “Sedona Vortex” which is described as areas of concentrated energy rising from the earth. But, alas the real reason was that the lands of the Navajo Nation, which encompass parts of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, do not adhere to Daylight Savings Time, so they were in fact using a different time standard.

Upon arrival, we began our guided walk down a steep metal stairway to the sandy floor of the Lower Antelope Canyon. We were immediately transfixed by the beauty of the sandstone walls, especially as the light and shadow played across the surface of the canyon walls to reveal the vast array of shapes and textures in the smooth sandstone.

After a tasty lunch at the Ranch House Grille in Page, we headed a few miles out of town to the Horseshoe Bend Overlook at Glen Canyon, where the Colorado River has created an “entrenched meander” resulting in a spectacular 1000 ft deep canyon where the river turns a full 270 degrees. We learned that the orange rock all around us is the Navajo Sandstone, the single largest sandstone layer in the United States stretching from Northern Arizona to Wyoming and formed of compressed sandstone layers up to 2000 ft thick.

Horseshoe Bend in the Colorado River at Glen Canyon.

Then it was back in the car for another 2 1/2 hour drive to the South a rim of the Grand Canyon. Although a bit tired from all the driving, we pushed on in anticipation of the inspiring views that awaited us in the hours ahead. Along the way we were treated to grand vistas of sage, sand, and rock that seemed to go on forever. At last we arrived and were treated to a clearing sky and the simply breathtaking views from the south rim of the canyon. From where we stood, the canyon was over 10 miles wide and 5000 ft deep, a true wonder of the world and witness to the power of the elements that created it over millions of years.



Southwest Sojourn

Today is the beginning of a packed week of fun and relaxation… with a bit of quality time in the car between all the sights we intend to see. Joanie and I started our day getting to witness a beautiful sunrise reflecting off of the iconic Washington D.C. skyline, while Janet and Jeff had an equally inspiring view of the gulf coast as our separate journeys began before rendezvousing in Phoenix.

After a quick pit stop to pick up our rental car, we headed 2 1/2 hours north to Flagstaff, where we will spend the night. On the way we opted to get off the interstate and travel along the Red Rock Scenic Byway, a beautiful drive through the towering, iron infused landscape of rugged sandstone buttes.

Jeff, Janet, Joanie, and Don on the Red Rock Scenic Byway at Courthouse Butte

Since none of us had eaten since early in the morning, we stopped at a local cantina just outside of Sedona, where the pace was decidedly unhurried, to enjoy some refreshing happy hour drinks and nachos… just enough to recharge our rapidly dwindling batteries from a full day of travel.

Then it was the final push to Flagstaff which will serve as our launch point for visits to the Lower Antelope Canyon and the Grand Canyon. Although the day was long, we are happy to be together, sharing this experience.


Celebrating in Sedona

A new adventure awaits in the coming days… in the first week of April, Joanie and her twin sister Janet have booked a trip to the beautiful and tranquil town of Sedona, Arizona to celebrate the 21st anniversary of their 39th birthday (a.k.a. their 60th birthday!). They have graciously invited me, and Janet’s husband, Jeff along for the adventure, no doubt to cater to their every need and write about the experience so they will remember it in their advanced age (…kidding of course!)

Allow me a moment to explain the disparity in how birthdays are celebrated in this family. For me, and perhaps most others reading this blog, there is one day each year where we are celebrated for surviving another year of existence on this planet. This isn’t quite the case for Joanie… over the course of 31 years of marriage, I have discovered that there is no longer anything that even closely resembles a birthday. Instead, there is a seemingly endless series of events to celebrate her birth month!

Now, let me be clear here, this is entirely okay, because let’s face the underlying fact that creates the need for this disparity… Joanie simply has a lot more friends than I do! With many friends comes many opportunities to go to lunch, grab a coffee, share an experience, or simply spend time together… all under the general theme of celebrating her birthday. So in that same spirit, we will set off for Arizona to properly celebrate Joanie and Janet’s 60th birth month.

Tune in to read about our experiences!…


Old Rag Redux

Today, my son John and I enjoyed an invigorating hike up Old Rag, a very popular day-hike near Shenandoah National Park  (SNP) in Virginia. Interestingly, it is also the most dangerous hike in SNP.  The reason this trail is so popular, and at the same time dangerous, is that it features a long rock-scramble section near the top that requires hikers to climb, squeeze, jump, contort, or otherwise manipulate their bodies to navigate through massive granite boulders and rock formations that form the top of this ancient mountain.

The last time I attempted this hike was back in December 2017 with my brother Ron as part of our preparation for our Everest Base Camp trek…  Unfortunately, but in the interest of safety, we had to turn-around near the beginning of the rock-scramble since every boulder was glazed over with a thin sheet of ice, making what is normally challenging and fun, extremely risky and dangerous.

Don and John at the top of Old Rag

So… fast forwarding 8 months to a balmy 75-80 degree day with the typical Virginia summertime humidity, the experience was entirely different. John and I set out at 9 a.m. from a parking lot that was already near capacity, so from the outset we knew we would be encountering a lot of other hikers on the trail. The hike itself is roughly 9 miles long, with a 3.5 mile ascent up the Old Rag Trail, thru the rock-scramble section to the top, followed by a 5.2 mile hike down the backside along a combination of trail and fire road.

Along the way we met a couple who was preparing for an August trip to Tanzania to trek to the summit of Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The training for that trek is similar to what we did for Everest Base Camp, so I shared my experience, answered their questions, and offered some suggestions before we parted ways.

Also along the trail, another group was asking if anyone had duct tape, which is something I actually carry in my pack ever since I had one of my boots fall apart on a previous hike. Well, it turned out that a fellow hiker was in the middle of her own double boot tread failure, so John and I stopped to triage the situation and conduct a emergency double tread adhesion procedure. I am happy to report the “patient” survived and was immediately able to resume her hiking activities!

While we were making the repair, John struck up a conversation with the group who turned out to be teachers from Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties in Maryland. This was an interesting coincidence since John will be starting his own teaching career with the city of Baltimore next month. John got some great advice and encouraging words from this friendly group.

Then we were off on our quest to conquer Old Rag and simply enjoy catching up with each other. For those interested in seeing what some of the rock section looks like in real-time, take a look at this video link: