Tag Archives: mountains

Gratitude. part dos

27 Jan

Last week when I wrote about making a list of what I am grateful for in this past year, a few folks asked about that list.  So — here is a portion of that list, in no particular order (the numbers are there just because I like lists, not because of priority).

38 things I am grateful for:

1.  My mom and dad for encouraging me and supporting me to follow my dreams, accepting that my path is not as straight as others.  Though it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, I am ever so thankful for their inspiration, acceptance and support.

2.  Katherine – my buddy in adventures.  We have skied the Chic Chocs, bed down in the whites, climbed some pretty high mountains and have hiked countless number of miles together.  I feel lucky to have a friend who will go on such adventures with me – and cannot wait to plan the next one!

katherine and I on top of mt. whitney

katherine and I on top of mt. whitney

3.  My job.  I do work that I care about, work that I believe makes the world a better place.  Work that makes me think and pushes me to be my best self.

4.  My mentors.  I am lucky to have some pretty great mentors, people who are looking out for me, who have given me guidance along the way and have inspired me in my work.  Thanks Steve, Julie H., Sue, Lily and Meg (among others).

5.  India – for reminding me of the goodness of people and the beauty of humanity and that, ultimately, the world is a good place full of good people.

Couldn't speak any common language, but we could understand enough

Couldn’t speak any common language, but we could understand enough

6.  Hope.  Ultimately, I am full of hope, even when I try to hide that hope.  Hope makes us vulnerable.  It makes us trust.  It opens us up.  Sometimes all that is scary – but as much as it scares me, I cannot deny that is who I am.

7.  Climbing, trekking, skiing, backpacking, hiking, walking – being outside and active (and not hurt – unlike right now…..  which I hate.  I hate being hurt.  oh, wait – wrong list).

8.  Mountains – for keeping me dreaming.

one of the many, many mountains i dream of climbing

one of the many, many mountains i dream of climbing

9.  My brother.  We’re just under two years apart, went to the same school — all the way to college – together.  Now we live on different sides of the country, but every time we get together we laugh and have fun.  But, can’t leave out my other brother who is much younger, but is well on his way to leading an interesting life himself.

10. My bestest girlfriends.  I am beyond lucky that I have an amazing group of girl friends.  Yogatara, Jessica, heather, susan, cynthia, tracy, smak, cara, meggy, jessica.  These women make me laugh, feed my soul, listen to me complain, let me cry on their shoulders and tell me to shut up when I need to hear that.

weekend in the berkshires

weekend in the berkshires – look how much we love hanging out with each other!

11.  Bucket lists.  Biking around the world?  Climbing a mountain over 20,000 feet?  Living in another country?  Becoming fluent in spanish?  Being in Thailand for a sky lantern festival?  Trekking in remote Nepal?  Yes, don’t mind if I do.

12.  Laughter.  The world keeps me endlessly amused.  I like to laugh – often and loud.  In fact, one of my students use to make fun of my laugh because it was so loud.  awesome.  keep it coming.

13.  Books.  Fiction, specifically.  And lots of it.

14.  Patagonia – for make me yearn for wild places.  Patagonia – will you marry me?

i am in love….

15.  Peru – for offering me lessons when I needed them.  For its beautiful people, its passion, its landscape, its rich history.  I might cheat on patagonia for peru.

16.  The universe – what a grand, amazing world this is conspiring each and every day to remind me how great it is.

17.  My journey.  As unpredictable as it has been, as winding, and messy and twisty it is, what a great journey it has been.

18.  Surprises and magic.  Last year when I was traveling – each thing that happened, that seemed wrong and bad — ultimately it would all turn out to be ok, even great.

yahoooooo

19.  Open heart.  See #6.  Open heart and hope and vulnerability — all tied up.  And I am ever thankful that I am on this journey to keep my heart open (with varying success along the way).

20.  Wisdom.  As I get older, the more wisdom I get.  I have a long way to go, but it is one thing about getting older that I love.

There’s more.  Another 18 on the list (whoa, that makes me feel old), but you get the idea…..

Thanks world.

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What I miss….

7 Jun

I have been back in the states for a little over a month now.  In some ways, my life has slowed down a lot.  I go to the same place for work every day, I see my old friends.  I just got my car back.  I do ‘normal’ life things — like get my car inspected.  But at the same time, I am still in flux.  Still very much in transition – sleeping on an air mattress with my sleeping bag as a blanket.  Still unsure of where I will go beyond July 27th.  Still unsure of what I want.

But one thing is clear to me…  I know what I miss.  So, I thought I would put together a little list of what I miss….

sunset in southern india

I miss:

  • the taxis everywhere honking at me (except when i need them) – all I can think is – don’t you think that I would wave you down if I needed you?
  • freshly squeezed juice
  • buses with someone yelling out of them telling you where they are going
  • busy markets
  • street food – pork, tucanos and salteñas with hot sauce, empanadas

street food!

  • the ability to buy any movie on the street
  • markets that you can buy just about anything at (fresh veggies, fresh fruit, meat)
  • strangers wishing me ‘provecho‘ in restaurants
  • south american couples – young and old – holding hands, kissing in plazas
  • meeting strangers and within hours or days, feeling that they were old friends
  • being called mamie or mamacita in the markets where i bought my daily avocados and mangos
  • women walking down the street breastfeeding (ok, that was just SA)
  • the vivid colors of saris

girls on a field trip in southern india

  • everyone around me having dark hair and dark eyes
  • staying out until 4 in the morning, dancing at a club
  • meeting strangers
  • the mix of spices unfolding in my mouth
  • the smell of India
  • riding the trains, buses, rickshaws, motos
  • being on a train and hearing ‘chai, chai, chai’
  • mountains, sunsets, beaches, high altitude landscapes
  • the constant awareness of history and religion and spirituality

the eyes of buddha

  • fresh air and being outside every day
  • hearing a foreign language and trying to guess at context
  • learning to speak another language and get my needs met
  • walking everywhere
  • trekking
  • the Andes, Patagonia, Himalayas

mountains near Huaraz

and then there is the other stuff..   the stuff that is harder to find, harder to name.

I miss writing and reading every day.  I miss having the time to think and reflect and write.  I miss having the freedom to come and go as it suits me.  I miss people watching.  I miss what it feels like to wake up and think… huh, I wonder what I will do today? I miss not having a schedule.  I miss adventure.  I miss being by myself – but the prospect of not being by myself every day.  I miss the possibilities of saying ‘yes’.  I miss trusting that everything will work  out.  I miss freedom.  And choice.  And travel.

I miss feeling like I am exactly where I am suppose to be.

No…. I don’t wanna leave….

18 Apr

Quick update on my plans in my remaining 12 days…..  (EEK!  how did this happen?  why did this happen?!  no……)

I am in Huaraz, the climbing and trekking capital of Peru (think Touching the Void mountains…..).  I spent the day yesterday getting organized for a trek.  Opted tonot do the Huayhuash circuit (mountains of Touching the Void) because it would be a little rushed and expensive and long to do solo – and the season is not right (it is on the bucket list…high on the bucket list – like kind of kills me to not be doing it now… ).

I am going to do two shorter treks in the Cordillera Blana after consulting with a local guide who gave me all sorts of beta and recommendations.  I spent the day collecting food and gas, etc. for my first 4 day trek but it rained ALL day.  It was actually quite miserable.  So, I decided to spend another day in Huaraz before trekking — let the snow up on the high pass settle.  Of course I woke this morning to amazing blue skies….  but he guide promised to show me some great stuff close to town.

So, hoping tomorrow is good weather when I leave for another solo trek (go me!).

Ausangate Circuit

8 Apr

ausangate masstif

In the book description of this trek, it reads that you get pretty much everything on this trek – from seeing indigenous villages, alpaca herds, snowy mountain ranges, vicuňas (wild alpaca-llama ancestors), hot springs, and hiking 80km at 3500m or higher.  They did not lie.  This was one of the better treks that I have been on (and, as my faithful readers know, I have been on some good treks this year).

have i ever mentioned how much i love mountains?

one of many small alpine lakes along the way

The Ausangate massif is a large chunk of mountain – with 4 or 5 summits, some huge glaciers and lots of snow and rock.  Over the past 5 days Joseph (a recent college grad who has spent the year in South America who I met through a post I put on the lonely planet forum looking for a hiking partner) and I hiked around it all.

early morning mountains

Though the weather was not perfect – we had everything from snow to hail to sleet to rain to sun – we got some great views of glaciers, alpine lakes and mountain tops. Our highest pass was 5100m, but the other two were 4700m and 5000m. We did see several vicuňas– strange sounding animals that are in the camel family.  We saw herds and herds of alpacas (funny looking animals that they are).  We spent time in two thermal hot spring baths.  We saw locals living their lives – tending to their alpacas or sheep.

little man we met on the trail

llamas up on the pass (they are carrying people’s gear)

Our third night, we meant to stay by a lake that was below our last past.  Earlier that day we had climbed up to our highest pass of 5100m and then down through a beautiful green valley.  On our way to the lake (that the book said had an excellent campsite), we had to climb back up.  As we continued to climb, we slowly realized we were approaching the last pass and somehow had missed the lake.  However, when we reached the pass, we found a tiny stream that would suffice for our water needs and decided to camp at 5000m – knowing that if the clouds cleared we would have some great views.  Though this made for a chilly night, we did have some great views in the morning and a beautiful walk down through the valley below.

sunrise over campo pass (5000m)

This trek can definitely be done in less than 5 days (the book even recommends backpackers to take 6 days!) – as we ended up having lots of tent time.  We only saw three other groups out there – one on horseback and the other two with horse teams (carrying their gear).  They all looked amazed that we were without guide and without horse support, but really, it was not all that hard of a trek.  The hardest part was the route finding – which accounted for about 25-40% of our time on the ‘trail’.

high alpine cactus

The mountains here are definitely amazing and I know that I need to come back (ideally during the dry season to maybe do some climbing!).  In the mean time, I have a ticket to Machu Picchu for Thursday and hope to do a trek to get out that way for three days in the Lares Valley – which is suppose to be beautiful.  Then I will hightail it (as quickly as one can go in the buses here) up to Lima and then Huaraz for one final last hurrah in the mountains!  Hard to believe that it is coming to an end….

hot springs, peru style

Traveling solo

31 Mar

I knew something was wrong when walking up 10 stairs winded me and left me sweating and needing a break.  The  young Peruvian woman carrying a a full load of goods to sell up high, who passed me, asked if I was ok, assuming it was the altitude.  No, no, I responded.  Only a week or two ago, I was at 6,000m.  She looked at me dubiously, but passed on.

ruins in pisac

I pushed thoughts of sickness out of my head – not now, please not now.  I am visiting the sacred valley for just two days and then a trek, I thought to myself.  I racked my brain for what I could have eaten in the past few days that would make me sick.  I tried to think of others around me who were sick. Nothing came to my, no reason why I should be feeling this way.  I hadn’t even been eating street food (well, not that much!).

As I reached the top of the hill, I collapsed onto a rock (yeah, it was probably sacred, but I really needed a place to sit at that moment), coated in sweat  and shaking slightly.  What was wrong?  What was wrong?!   not now, please….

more pisac ruins

After taking a few pictures (to remind myself I had been there), I made my way down and caught a bus to Ollanta, the town where I planned to spend the night.

the ruins at pisac

After two bus rides and a conversation with a man on the bus (who told me that my spanish was good — whoa, he must not be used to gringas speaking spanish!) — I clumsily made my way to a hostal.  At that point, I was ready to collapse….

Fortunately, the first hostal had  a room at a good price (though I might have paid anything!).  Shivering, I crawled into bed with all my clothes on and prayed for sleep.  It was 3:30 in the afternoon.

17 hours later, following shivers, sick dreams and worries that I was really sick, I decided I had to get out of bed — at least to make it back to Cusco.  I tried a light breakfast, I did see the ruins in Ollanta and I did make it back to Cusco (though I skipped the ruins in Chincero in favor of more rest).

impressive ruins of Ollanta

But during those 17 hours, in between worries that I had the flu or worse, giardia,  I realized that no one knew where I was at that moment.  There I was, sweating it out in Ollanta, feeling like hell, and no one who loved and cared about me knew where I was at that moment.  No one was going to come in with chicken noodle soup (which I desperately wanted).

the view down into the impressive village of Ollanta (which has not changed much in 700 years!)

I have lived on my own for a number of years.  I have traveled, I have been independent (fiercely so at times), I have taken care of myself.  But, for the most part, people have known where I am.  People can get in touch with me.  I can get in touch with people.  I might live alone, but I am not alone.

Traveling solo, I have had a few moments like this — when I am acutely aware of how alone I am.    I love traveling solo.  I love the freedom of choosing where I want to go, when I want to go, how I want to go.  Traveling solo has given me the freedom to talk to strangers, to meet people and share dinner.  And also the time to spend with myself, to get a sense of what I want and where I am going (more on that in a week or so….).

But, there have also been these other moments, when I am sick or tired or scared….  when I feel utterly and totally alone.  When I cannot (due to lack of connectivity or sickness or distance) reach out to others around me.  Those are the tough moments.  Fortunately, there have only been a few of those.  But after I recover (which I seem to have now — fever and pain free!), I am always so happy to connect with friends and family — I have new appreciation for those connections.

old rocks, new flowers

I have not always made people my thing, opting for skiing or climbing, hiking or travel — by myself if need be, in order to get out and go!  But, one of the big lessons on this journey for me, has been to start making people my thing.  To start opening my world to those around me and, maybe not less to the things I want to do, but more sharing in the things I want to do.  Being in that room, 17 hours of utterly-alone-time, I know that I do not want that. 

So, here’s to Inca ruins and traveling solo and making people my thing!

and special thanks to C.P. for reminding me of that!

Trip Report

18 Feb

We choose to go in the Vacas Valley Route as this is less populated and would allow us to get a full view of the mountain as we would essential come in from the south, travel up the west side and then down the NE side (which is the normal route).  About 75% of the people go up the normal route, so we expected it to be less crowded.  Another difference between th Vacas Valley and the Horcones Valley (normal route) is that the approach is longer on the Vacas Valley side — it takes 3 days to get to base camp (versus two).

Vacas valley

The walk in was up the valley, through the grasslands along a stream/river.  It was quite hot during the day, but much cooler at night and at times we got a sense of how fierce the winds would be and we learned early to stake down our tents well.

Each day, we would pack up our two duffles (each weighing about 30 kilos) with food and some hard gear (double plastic boots, ice axes, crampons) and leave them for the muleteer, who would then strap them to the mules and take off.  The muleteers camped where we did, so we could count on getting into our food bags each day.

Eventually, we reached base camp.  Now….  imagine the pictures you have seen of mountain base camps – yep, looks the same.  Some structures that are there all season long and then all the hopeful climbers and their tents.  Base camp seems exciting — but really it is boring as hell.  You are sitting around waiting to climb.  We got there fairly early on the 3rd day (keeping true to my desire to hike early in the morning before it gets too hot!), had a rest day the next day, then a carry day and then a rest day.  So – we got there on the 3rd day and we would not be leaving again, really, until 8th day.  Yep, that’s a long time.

our first view of the mountain

There are 4 types of days in mountaineering.  Here are my definitions:

  1.  Carry days — you take as much stuff as you can – that you don’t need – and bring it up to your next camp.  You have to be strategic though in case someone gets hurt or sick or weather comes in.  For instance, you cannot bring up your tent, as you still need it down low.  These days can be tough as you are still acclimating to the new elevation.  But they also involved staying up the new elevation for a few hours (which for me, almost always involved a nap up high in the sun).
  2. Move days — the days you take all the rest of your stuff up to the next camp.  These are usually permanent moves, such as from base camp to camp 1.  Usually pretty exciting and usually faster than the carry day.
  3. Rest days — these are the most boring days in the world.  you do….. literally…. nothing.  I napped a whole lot on this expedition — like almost every day.  But rest days, I pretty much spend the entire day in the tent, trying to nap, trying to stay out of the sun but getting way too hot in the tent.  They would have been great days for a book….  if i had brought one….
  4. Summit days — these are the days you get up at some ungodly hour, like 2 in the morning, freezing, trying to boil water and keep yourself warm and then start walking slowly uphill for something like 7 hours.  All for a summit.  And then come back downhill for a few hours before passing out.

In any case, basecamp for us was a mix of rest days and carrys.  It was good to get our systems figured out and eat, drink and acclimate.  Here was where it was clear the difference between the classes.  There were some people like us – going independently, without a guide.  we were the ones with the big duffles, with bags that always looked full and did not have the most amazing meals on the mountain (tuna in a box, anyone?).

And then there were the guided groups.  They were the ones who had people cook for them, went into the tents for dinner, had hot water delivered to their tents, and did not have to carry quite as much stuff up the mountain.

In any case, eventually it was time to move up to camp one.  We were all mostly feeling well (Mike had some digestive stuff going on — though the tuna in the box seemed to be the culprit — it was pretty gross), so up we went from 4200m up to 5000m.  All along, the weather was gorgeous — blue, clear skies every day.  Not a cloud in sight and barely any wind.

on the way up to camp 1

Camp 1 definitely had a different feel — no services, people in transit or resting, no more real differences between people (unless your guide brought you hot water in the tent in the morning — but we tried to ignore that!  :).  Things just felt a bit more exciting.

After arriving at camp 1 – we had a carry day and then a move day.  Camp 2 wasn’t too far — just another 450m (though of course 5450m is about 18,000 feet).  Both our carry and moves went well – and we had amazing views of the mountain along the way.  We also started our traverse from the west side of the mountain across to the north side where we would join up with the normal route.  We also had some amazing views of the Polish Glacier which is suppose to be a pretty gnarly route up the mountain.

camp 1

So – there we were at camp 2.  We meet a guy, Grey, who was the only American in a group of Swiss.  We spoke a bunch (we think he was lonely for english speakers!) and he let us borrow his sat phone (which I used to call Cody).  We also asked him for weather information – as we figured the beautiful weather was not there to stay for long.

We carried up to camp 3, our high camp at 6000m (~20,000 feet) which went well for the most part.  I was climbing really strong — made it from 5450 to 6000 in under 2.5 hours.  Beth and Michael who had never been to such high elevations were struggling a bit more – plus Beth was coming down with a cold.

And then….  decision time.  Basically, several groups decided to head up a day early (on the 12th) to try and summit on the 13th (even though the original plan was for the 14th like us).  It was rumored that the weather on the 13th was going to be the best for awhile — clear skies and low winds.  Our team discussed this and at first decided to go for it (which would mean missing a rest day at camp 2 and moving straight up to camp 3 the day after our carry day), but eventually it was decided that a rest day would be important to help Beth and Michael acclimate a bit better – so we stayed (along with just one other group).

winds starting to come in

The day everyone (else) moved up was cold, windy, and snowy.  A few groups carried up to camp 2 and one solo person moved up to our camp – so now there were 3 parties in camp 2.  That night, while we were cooking dinner — the 3rd solo party came over to ask for help with his stove which he could not get going.  We let him use our stove that night and then next morning and we got to hear his story.

Turns out that Alberto (aka ‘the machine’) had come up to camp 2 from base camp.  He is an Italian mountain guide — works in the Dolomites and Chamonix primarily.  But, we called him the machine because four days after arriving in Argentina he was in camp 2 and on the 5th day he moved up to camp 3.  Yep — that is pretty much no time for acclimating.  In any case, Alberto pretty much adopted us and was with us for the rest of his time in Argentina.

But — back to the weather and camp 2.  As I mentioned, we decided not to head up on the 12th to take advantage of the weather on the 13th.  We had heard one report that said that the 14th would be clear (though all the other reports we heard said it would be windy).  Unfortunately, the morning of the 13th, when we woke, it was clear with very low winds — which would have made for a great summit day.

Andes

In fact, when we arrived at the high camp later that day – we saw two Germans who had started the same day we had (but moved up their summit day to take advantage of the weather).  They had just returned from the summit and gave us glowing reports of low winds and amazing views.  We hoped our chance was next…..

On the evening of the 13th, we heard weather reports of clear mornings but high winds.  But — it seemed to be our only chance.  We could tell that our bodies were not doing well the longer we stayed at the high elevations (it is reported that the human body starts to deteriorate above 5000m).  For instance, the 2 hours and 20 minutes it took me to climb the 450m up to high camp?  The second time we did it for the move — it took me 3 hours and 20 minutes.  The goal was to get faster, not slower…..

But — it was go time.

Beth and I woke up at 3 (Mike had opted not to join us as he was still struggling with the elevation) and we got dressed.  Mike, amazingly, woke and helped us get hot water so we could hydrate and have something warm to drink.  The icy winds were rattling the tent every couple of minutes and I was already shivering.  We spent quite a bit of time looking for others who were awake (where the winds too high?  we weren’t sure — but eventually we saw other headlamps).

Finally, just before 5, Beth and I started up the mountain.  Alberto joined us for a bit – but not surprising, the elevation  was affecting him and he had to head down.  We were climbing strong and quickly caught up with a group in front of us.  Within two hours we had climbed about 300m (your goal is to be traveling at least 80-100m per hour — so we were doing really well).  But the winds….  the winds were fierce and biting and sometimes almost knocked us off our feet.  Our faces were at risk of freezing.  My toes and fingers were cold (and I was wearing 6 layers on top – but had my big puffy in my bag as a backup).  At times, we could see the wind heading our way (as it picked up snow) and we would lower our heads, prepared for the onslaught, but still almost got knocked over.  It was rough.

Beth and I just below 6400m when we turned around (notice frost on jackets)

Though we were the first to turn around, many others came down later that morning. though the sun was coming up, we knew that the winds were suppose to get even worse later in the day.  It took us about an hour or so in our bags to warm up.  The rest of the day was spent in tents, staying warm and eating food.  Alberto decided to try for the next day (he was ultimately successful) but at that point we had been above 5000 for about 5 or 6 days — our bodies were tired.

And so, on day 14 of being on the mountain (on Feb. 15th) we headed down the mountain.  It was a long scree field — but with plastic boots on I could make it down in about 3 hours.  We went from 6000m down to base camp at 4300m.  It was strange to head down to so many people (on the normal route — which I would never recommend) but our trip was over.  The following day, we hiked the 7 hours (16 miles) out to the road and then caught a bus back to Mendoza.

our team with the machine

i heart mountains

9 Jan

I dream of mountains the way some people dream of new shoes. I covet them. I know their names, the ranges that span countries. I watch movies about them. Read of climbers. I want to know them intimately. Walk in their valleys, cross high passes, summit mountain tops.

For as long as I can remember, the himalayas and the Andes, and more specifically, patagonia, have been etched into my dreams. whispering:  I want, I want, I want….

My core, my soul, ached to see these mountains. I remember moments while trekking in Nepal almost giggling, giddy because I was finally there. I was doing it. I was fulfilling the dream.

And so, here I am, in southern Patagonia about to head out for a trek. And then some climbing and then more treks. In the Andes. Where I have dreamed of being.

And I’ve discovered that realizing the dream does not necessarily mean that I have fulfilled the dream. The Himalayas beckon. They call out to me still – in some ways louder than before. I imagine it will be the same here. I can’t wait to find out!