Upcoming – Mt Baker Awaits

This is going to be short. And no photos. I’m afraid I’ve given FromSwampToSummit short shrift recently. A and N’s wedding presented its own summit; followed by adventures in Vermont (think that old Bob Newhart show), and on mountains and around race tracks in Saratoga Springs. So much content to come!

But in the meantime – we leave for Mt Baker next Wednesday. The hike in starts Friday; Saturday is skill training (which we need since it’s been 4 years since we donned our crampons), and we should leave about 2 or 3 am Sunday morning for the summit. Hike out on Monday.

At 10,880 feet Baker is the third higheat mountain in Washington State and extremely glaciated. While it is way lower than many mountains we’ve climbed it’s the most elevation gain in one day – 4500 feet.

So, now the typical pre mountain jitters are surrounding me. Did I train enough? Will I be able to get my crampons on? (Pointy side down as my brother says.) What if there’s a crevasse and I can’t get across it? What about some of the creeks to ford on day 1? What if I’m so slow on day 1 they say I can’t go up the summit? And, God forbid, what if I step on the rope as we are going up the summit? (Those of you have climbed understand the shame that brings.)

Anyway, I’ve done this enough to know that fear is a healthy thing – as long as it doesn’t become overwhelming. So here’s to staying in the present, one step at a time, and a good balance of being a tortoise most of the time and a hare when necessary.

And I promise more to come – and photos.

Ordinary Time for Extraordinary Days

Unless you are an Episcopalian or otherwise have a fascination with the liturgical calendar, you may never have heard of “ordinary time.” It’s that seemingly neverending period that starts right after Trinity Sunday (which is the Sunday after Pentecost) and lasts until Advent, with a few saints days thrown in for good measure. The color is green. As a child I remember thinking those endless Sundays (the “xxth Sunday after Pentecost”) would never end – the same way the long days of summer stretched out like an endless road back then.

Lest you wonder what in the world ordinary time has to do with the adventures of FromSwampToSummit – suffice it to say that I think we all need a little more of it. For example, I wrote this post while climbing on the stepmill at the Y. Is that really the best way to do it? Don’t we all need to slow down a few minutes and experience the boredom that allows our minds to roam free without the constant interruptions of stimulus?

I’m particularly sensitive to those needs right now because I’m about to enter a phase of extraordinary time. A and N get married in just over two weeks in New Bedford, MA. We will be seeing family and friends we haven’t seen for years, some due to Covid and others the vagaries of time. And all in one fell swoop.

Of course, all of this will be capped off by our trip to Mt. Baker in Washington, with S of Stok Kangri and Elbrus fame. Hence the step mill.

S, J, and me in Ladakh, India

But despite all the excitement, I think we could still all use a little ordinary time. I’m going to try to keep my eye on that clock over the next few weeks.

Danger Lurks in the Garden- A Cautionary Tale from Durham, NC

I was halfway through writing a very pleasant blog post about my latest trip to New Bedford, Massachusetts, home of daughter A and her soon to be husband N, when I was (purposefully) interrupted by a trip to my hometown of Durham, NC to visit my parents. It was a beautiful weekend, the temperature was cool, and I was actually able to do one of the best training runs for Mt. Baker that I’ve done in a while. Turns out running in 70 degrees and no humidity is a lot easier than running in mid 80s when the clouds are about to burst open.

I was so inspired by the spring weather that I felt compelled to start weeding in my parents’ front yard. That was Saturday. My father announced toward the end of my session he thought there was a lot of poison ivy there. I hadn’t seen any and shrugged it off (the fact I was using an old bag that had been filled with lime to store my weeds explained the burning sensation in my hands – or so I thought). (I have subsequently determined that poison sumac looks a heckuva lot like the vines I was pulling.)

The next day my flight left in early afternoon, but what better way to spend an hour than pulling a few more weeds, this time from the back yard. Oh, I haven’t mentioned I rarely wear gloves; they diminish the sensation of the good solid pull you get from bare handed gardening.

I was fine on the flight back to Orlando on Sunday, although I started to notice some itchy sensations. Fast forward to Thursday. I’ve lost several days of training. I’m covered with bumps, red blotches, watery blisters, and pretty much any time I think about any part of my body it starts to itch.

The good news is I discovered Teladoc. For five dollars and setting up an account they found my benefits information and I was on a video call with a “Florida board certified ER physician,” within 30 minutes. She took one look at my red face and almost swollen shut left eye and called in a prescription for what is apparently known as a “prednisone blister pack.” I’ve now taken 4 tablets with 2 left to go for the day. Wondering if this is supposed to make me Uber aggressive and I should be arguing with opposing counsel.

But seriously, a totally fabulous and efficient health care experience. But I suggest you avoid it by wearing gloves while gardening.

Never Say Never – Mt. Baker

S looked at me bemusedly. “Really? You swore you were never again going multi day backpacking where you carry your own stuff after the slog up Long’s Peak.” His words resonated as I found myself buying my fifth or so back pack – this time a 70 liter one. It towers over me.

All it took was a late afternoon chat with SB, of Elbrus and Stok Kangri fame. Steps on the Summit The Trek to Base Camp, Stok Kangri, Ladakh, India As we commiserated about our lack of adventure and travel over the pandemic, SB noted that Mt Baker in the northern cascades had always been on his bucket list. A few internet searches later we were all signed up for a Mountain Madness four day trip up Mt Baker’s Easton Glacier route in August.

In deference to our advancing age we are taking the slow route (relaxed, they call it, I guess like a fit of pants) and there are others who haul up the tents, cooking equipment etc. You “only” have to carry 30 or 35 pounds, but it’s too much bulk for my 53 liter pack.

So, it’s back to training for us. I did stairs twice last week and am forcing myself to run when I can stand it. J’s various Achilles issues seem to have resolved and he’s back to basketball.

But we are really hoping to get more outdoor hiking in….and yesterday was a good start with a beautiful walk in the Lake Proctor wilderness near Geneva, Florida with S and M. It’s a generally shady trail with Florida scrub on one side and views of a small lake on the other. The weather was spectacular- blue skies and in the 70s and we took our time and relished just being outdoors. There was even enough standing water to wade through and around to make S happy. Should all training hikes be so pleasant!

Our Mt Elbrus guide described Baker as a mini Elbrus so I guess it’s appropriate we are doing it with SB. Hopefully I’ve learned some things over the last 9 years and this time will make sure I have sun screen lip balm, not chapstick in my pocket.

Yes, that’s zinc sunscreen but none on my lips.

Florida by Rooftop Tent – The Many Uses of a Little Black Dress

They don’t say a little black dress can be worn anywhere for nothing. A case in point.

The other week I was invited to speak to the Florida Young Lawyers division about mental toughness (which I call resilience) and my mountain climbing adventures. Having rejected the urge to show up in full battle gear – crampons, helmet, boots and the like – I decided my REI black travel dress would convey the necessary formality (these young lawyers were much more dressed up than we older lawyers tend to be) while still demonstrating that mountain “savoir faire.”

The event was in Tampa, and our plan for afterwards was to drive southeast toward the heart of Florida to a Hipcamp named Camp Catfish. It advertises itself as one of the top Hipcamps in Florida for 2021. It was a primitive site – no water, portapotties or any amenities (if you consider a port a potty an amenity). Just four leveled off pull in sites on a piece of property bordering the Peace River.

The drive to Camp Catfish took us along two lane county roads wending their way through fields of crops and citrus groves. I know Florida’s citrus industry is on the wane, but you wouldn’t know it when you’re in the midst of acres of orange trees.

Finally our GPS – yes, we had no address, only GPS coordinates- took us to a dirt road. Nestled along side were a few small farms and dwelling places – one was a “peace bus”. Truly looked like a spot for those living off the so-called grid.

We reached the end of the road and pulled into the campsite, marked by a Camp Catfish sign. Each site was large, with plenty of privacy. J and I immediately set to work – even though we’ve gotten a lot faster there’s still a lot of set up to do, and J insists on setting up an awning even for a one night stay. Hopefully some time we can go for two nights and enjoy the fruit of our labors.

Now what I haven’t mentioned is that I saw absolutely no point in changing clothes – hence I found my self erecting a privacy tent and making up the roofnest in a black dress! Well, I did change into tennis shoes. Like I said, those little black dresses go anywhere.

I did find something else to wear for a lovely short hike to the Peace River on the Hipcamp property the next morning. The river is home to many fossils – sharks teeth, armadillo plates, and the like – and the other campers were taking full advantage. They floated sieves in the river, dug up portions of the muddy riverbed and strained it through. They also had the biggest tent I’ve ever seen and I wondered if they were actually professional fossil hunters. After all, it was only $10 per night!

The hike itself took us through hobbit land. Covered in emerald green ferns, gentle rises and falls, and a canopy of old oaks.

I left the best for last. The night was moonless. There were no clouds or light pollution of any sort and the sky was embroidered with a thick weave of brilliant stars. Peace River. A wishful hope in these times.

Rooftop Tent or Five Star Hotel?

Miami

I’m at my first in-person partners meeting in two years, staying at what I’m sure is a five star hotel. Who knows how far into the three digits it’s charging.

But this is life after the pandemic – or at least after we’ve gotten used to the pandemic – and much has changed in the hospitality industry. Or perhaps what I’m really demonstrating is that I’ve simply lost touch with the modern world of hotels over the last two years.

It started when I left my law firm’s dinner at a reasonable hour, returning to a really lovely room in a hotel that shall not be named. I was looking forward to enjoying a super expensive package of nuts from the minibar – which in my naïveté I just assumed was still a “thing.” But when I realized my keycard wouldn’t unlock said minibar I dialed 0 – at least that usually still works – to inquire about the issue. I was informed that Covid somehow had required the emptying of all minibars (despite the fact that minibars, whose ingredients are individually packaged and as pristine as a first snowfall, would hardly appear to be spreaders of Covid).

So giving up on that, I thought I could at least make a cup of decaf coffee in the fancy Illy coffee maker that was on top of the empty locked minibar. But Illy coffee machines should be banned as apparently no one, hotel staff included, knows how to use them.

With all the high falutin’ technology in this room – there was an imbedded TV screen in the bathroom mirror (what??) you would think you could at least turn the lights off with the help of one switch. But no, the switches were multiple and varied and at the end of the evening I found myself looking for manual off and on switches on each light fixture as the only way to power down. At least they still have switches. By the way, that omits the earlier hunt for the bathroom light switch, which turned out not to be close to the door but required a venture into a dark bathroom to find it somewhere in the center of the room over the middle of the vanity.

As I re-read this it certainly sounds like a rant of first world problems. But I’d never have thought that climbing up a ladder to my comfortable queen size mattress in my rooftop tent, illuminated by a little string of built in, battery pack operated LED lights, would be easier than staying in a swank hotel!

Winding Down 2021 – Adventures in a Rooftop Tent

This blog post was supposed to be about our first actual out of the driveway camping experience in our rooftop tent (called a RTT by those in the know). But with 2021 rolling out in as haphazard a manner as it rolled in, this post is similarly going to have to careen across many topics. Think of the ball in a pinball machine going this way and that – perhaps a good analogy for the year.

To go back a few weeks – we did indeed get to adventure for one night at a Hipcamp site on the north shore of Lake Apopka. It was a fairly short drive from Orlando – light industrial areas morphed into light agricultural areas, anchored by what I learned is one of the largest blueberry processing facilities in the country. Who knew.

This particular campsite is notable for its whimsical decorations – LED dinosaur lights adorned our spot, and odd remnants of old vehicles and other objects (like a swan boat!) dotted the landscape.

The RTT experience itself was great. There’s a sense of security in sleeping ten feet above the ground, and the views are magnificent. The campfire was great and dinner would have been also had we remembered any utensils. I found myself googling “how to eat baked beans without silverware.” After rejecting the idea of whittling a fork (we didn’t have a knife either!) we resorted to using the tops of our water bottles as scoops.

The next morning was misty and grey. There was a hiking trail just across the street. Huge elephant ear plants around our tent and gone to the wild citrus made us feel we’d entered a world far from 21st century Florida.

But despite our plans for further adventure in 2021, the world of work kicked in and the next RTT inhabitants were Daughter A and fiancé N – in the driveway! Their sojourn – one night only – was occasioned by a Covid/omicrom outbreak among yours truly, J and daughter S (who we suspect imported this strain from a brief trip to San Francisco). And yes, all of us are fully vaccinated and boosted. We did, however, ultimately manage to cordon off the house so A and N were able to sleep indoors.

Fortunately we have a large porch and the contaminated ones were able to sit at the bottom part while still socializing with the others who held court on the top part. Our kn95 masks were de rigeur. Thank God the weather in Florida was compatible with outdoor living, and thus far we’ve limited the outbreak to the original three. But I must say I have rarely spent this much time outside – even on a camping trip. We spent a lot of time watching TikTok videos of other families in similar straits.

Note the “uppers” and the “downers”

So, J and I will shortly see off the last of our holiday houseguests and plan to spend NYE in our covid imposed bubble instead of at the fancy dinner we’d planned at a local restaurant with M and S.

2021 had its moments – A and N’s engagement, Long’s Peak and Colorado, a family Thanksgiving extravaganza, and some great visits with my parents, among them. And let’s not forget the vaccines! I have a very definite feeling that without them I would be facing something very different than a head cold and fatigue.

Here’s to 2022! And to adventure, whether in a rooftop tent in the driveway or beyond.

Florida by Rooftop Tent

I haven’t mentioned it before on this blog but as of a couple of months ago J and I became the proud parents of a RTT – also known as a rooftop tent. This little dwelling place sits snugly atop our Ford Explorer and provides a safe and comfortable place to sleep with views to boot.

Installation is a bear. Step one involved procuring the proper crossbars – an item I’d never even been aware existed before. But J persevered and after only four trips to Ace Hardware he had the necessary tools to attach said crossbars to the top of the vehicle.

Step two involved the tent itself. Day one of step 2 involved unpacking and ground assembling. The thing arrived in a gigantic box on a solidly constructed pallet (that has turned into an excellent platform for my orchids). With the help of friend S we unpacked it and attached various bits and bobs such that we could get it to pop up on the garage floor. Whew – quite a stench. The smell of new fabric.

Day two of Step 2 involved assembling a crew of four strong friends in addition to assembling the tent. J and I had tried to lift the thing and dead lifting from the ground to above a Ford Explorer was not in the cards. Turned out with the assistance of some of our stronger friends – all fueled by coffee with chicory I bribed them with – the “lift” was quite doable. It was up!!

A little detail. The tent has a hard top and folds down to a thin 4 or so inches. The car still fits in all parking garages even with the tent riding on top. It has screened entrances/windows on each side and on the front. You access whichever entrance you’ve chosen via a telescoping ladder that hooks onto the side. There are various bags you can hang on the outside for storing shoes so you don’t track anything in.

Inside it’s tall enough for me to stand up at the highest point. There’s a four plus inch built in memory foam queen size mattress, with lots of pockets on the sides and ceiling for storage. And, most cool, you can plug a battery pack in and a string of LED lights illuminates the interior.

When you want to put it up, you simply undo the latches and push. Beyond that it’s just a matter of pushing out the awning that shades the entrance on the front. Storing it is a little trickier – one person pulls down, you have to make sure all the fabric is folded in all around, and then you secure the latches. Compared to putting up a ground tent, it’s instantaneous.

Camping trip number one was in the relative safety of our driveway – to the great interest of our neighbors. Based on accounts in all the rooftop tent camping groups I immediately joined on Facebook, apparently that is a time honored tradition.

Camping in the front yard is one thing but camping in the woods another. We just finished our first one, so there’s another story on the horizon. This Thanksgiving giving thanks for the many adventures with friends and family that are yet to come.

And After A While….Back to Colorado

Life happens. And hence this blog sometimes falls into serious disrepair and stories get stopped almost near the end…ah well, if we were sitting around the campfire and were charged by a herd of buffalo the telling of tales would be interrupted. Construe my recent silence in a similar fashion.

But to return to Colorado. We managed to survive our night at the Stanley Hotel without any ghostly encounters, bid a fond farewell to M and S, and headed off the next day to meet up with daughter A and fiance N, and daughter S, at the Golden home of old friends D & D. That doesn’t stand for dungeons and dragons. But the place they live certainly has a netherworld quality to it. Their house is located on a large expanse once owned by a Colorado beer magnate and is surrounded by hiking trails and cattle and stunning views.

Our first full day there we went off for a short stroll that turned into a six mile uphill rocky hike. Despite the fact we were woefully unprepared in terms of water supplies, and daughter S extremely jet lagged, the beautiful wildflowers everywhere made up for the lack of hydration. Orange Indian paintbrish, yarrow, pink wild roses, pink geraniums. The only part I didn’t like was tromping through the burr ridden sheep grass to reach the trail. Weeks later I was still picking small harpoons out of my socks.

Sound of music?

Following a few more Golden adventures – such as a hair raising ride in D’s new Corvette and a trip to a local food hall with drinks served from spigots in what looked like giant washing machines – the Colorado Springs portion of the trip was on.

We started at Red Rocks, the world famous natural red rock amphitheater. Although I’d heard of it, I didn’t realize what a destination it was, even without a concert. Thanks for the tip, D&D!Massive orange rocks form the sides of the theater. Many many steps run from the stage to the top, with a few dedicated souls running up and down them, presumably for training purposes. There’s a very interesting museum at the top, filled with photos and film clips of the luminaries who’ve played there since the late 1800s. The Beatles played at Red Rocks in 1964.

We had lunch at the half way point to Colorado Springs in Castle Rock. A cute downtown, quite old. Another food hall (where I had a horrible choking and coughing fit caused by an Altoid), and a nice independent book shop.

We arrived at Colorado Springs mid afternoon and checked into our AirBnB. Very cute with a nice back yard and deck. A, S, and I went to Safeway to pick up food and then decided to check out the Garden of the Gods. We managed to cover much of the loop drive, largely due to the fact we had no cell service and basically got lost.

Lost in Colorado

The following day was our one full day in the area. A day of contrasts. AFter breakfast, we took off for the very close by Garden of the Gods, this time entering via the correct entrance. It’s a long, winding loop road, dotted with massive orange rock formations. Its owners gave it to the city on the condition it remain free to the public. We did a short hike and then made our way to the very large Visitors Center/ museum.

Balancing Rock

A had selected our next destination – the Painted Mines, which was a couple of hours east of Colorado Springs. After stopping for lunch at a Greek restaurant in the old town area, we drove further – now over very high plateau – green ranchlands. Very agricultural, but dense housing developments extended far outside the city. In the meantime, N. had noticed that the El Paso County Fair was in session….

We finally turned off onto a dirt road and reached the Painted Mines. Other than a few signs, a restroom, and trails, there was nothing official. At first it seemed quite anticlimactic and hardly worth the drive. But once we passed the white sandstone outcroppings, we turned a corner and walked up a hill where we could see white smooth caverns and passages, with orange, pink, lavender spires above. Remarkable. If you weren’t impressed by the scenery, just learning the word “hoodoo” – a fanciful stone outcropping – was enough.

We speant quite a bit of time there, and then ventured into the El Paso County Fair, just a couple of miles away. It was now 4 pm and there was quite a line of people arriving for the weird car races (little tiny modified cars with spoilers on the top?) and fireworks. At first we were concerned there was nothing more than carnival rides – but then we found the livestock section, populated by FFA and 4H groups. We had fun inspecting the pigs, llamas, chickens, sheep, and every sort of goat you could imagine. A and I were just disappointed we were too late for the uilting and cooking demonstrations.

The pigs sort of matched the Painted Mines

We drove back through the sprawling outer reaches of Colorado Springs to our AirBnB just in time to relax a bit before our dinner reservation at 4 By Brother Luck. A had seen it mentioned the New York Times in 2020 and it truly lived up to its reputation. A fixed price four course menu, including among other things, elk carpaccio, scallop ceviche, seared duck breast, langoustine, and panne cotta. Even the really bad movie we watched afterwards at the AirBnB couldn’t’ undermine the day.

Apparently I forgot to photograph the food

Next day was Sunday, and time to return the (very expensive) rental car and disperse back to our various homes. The real world was about to raise its daunting head again.