Gear I Haven’t Used – A Closet of Dreams?

image

All of us have those Purchases that seemed very logical to buy at the time. And perhaps they were, but life happens and the intended event for which said Purchase would have been just perfect never occurs. And now the Purchases sit there in a closet or a duffel or a garage as homage to lost hopes and dreams.

Granted, a bit melodramatic. But my climbing/hiking storage space is full of such items.

The rope. We carefully ordered on line the exact specifications identified in the gear list for our July 2015 trip to Ecuador. Our local hiking/climbing store didn’t carry the precise dimensions and we were sure those few millimeters would make the difference between success and failure. Alas, it turned out the rope wasn’t going to be necessary unless we actually climbed Chimborazo, and once there, we made the wiser choice of allowing our summit of Cotopaxi to be our crowning glory.  Shifting Winds Lead to Cotopaxi Summit.  The rope lies curled in waiting. One day.

The stove. This was to accompany us on our multi day backpacking trip along the Muliwai trail in the Big Island in Hawaii In 2013. Those plans were kaboshed when J came down with the flu and was told by the doctor he’d have to be helicoptered out if he tried it. I did the first couple of hours in my own, but there was hardly a need for a stove. Ah well, the alternative we found – the Mauna Kea hike – was pretty spectacular. Journey to Another Planet – Mauna Kea

The tent.  See The Stove.

Odd square pieces of aluminum foil, carefully folded. I think they relate to the stove. Highly unclear what they were for or why I saved them.

Long and skinny gaiters. These were on sale at some point and were apparently so cheap because no one else could figure out what they were for either. They haven’t really gone to waste because I used them to wrap my crampons in. Actually that didn’t work very well and they too are now relegated to the pile of great unuse.

Those are just the gear items that come to mind. I’m only now putting everything away from our January Orizaba trip, in preparation for getting a lot of it out again for our Scottish Highlands hike, which starts 60 days from today.

There’s still room to realize all the dreams of the unused gear.

 

Advertisements

Books for High Places – What to Read at 18,000 Feet

The
The “Old” Library

When most people think of climbing gear, they have in mind ice axes, crampons, helmets, and the other accoutrement needed to maintain life and limb at high altitude. But to me, an equally vital piece of equipment is whatever book I’ve selected to accompany me in whatever arduous spot I find myself in.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of opportunities to read while climbing high mountains. You’re typically going to bed as early as 7, especially if you are aiming for a midnight or 1 am departure for the summit. And that’s just summit day. On a lot of acclimatization days you find yourself collapsed in a hut or hacienda by mid afternoon following your first few forays over 14,000 feet. And, if you’re like me, you can’t sleep unless you’ve first consumed at least a few pages of a novel.

Now books for such trips must meet certain requirements, at least in my mind. First and foremost, they have to be available on a Kindle.  When every ounce you carry can make a difference, lugging paper around doesn’t seem like a particularly wise choice. They have to be of sufficient length to engage you. I love short stories but somehow they seem more suited for an evening jaunt in the neighborhood – not a multi-day expedition. And they have to be engaging. If your goal is to blot out an altitude headache, to forget how cold you are each time a part of you inadvertently slips out of the sleeping bag, and to screen out the assorted snores and noise of your fellow hut dwellers, you need something that transports you into some alternate world. The odd thing is that life on a mountain can be so surreal that the imaginary world of some novels can seem a more likely reality than the one you’re in.

The
The “New” Library

So, what are some of my top choices for high places?

Our first trek, in 2011, to Kilimanjaro, was accompanied by Abraham Verghese’s Cutting For Stone. The story of a doctor and his twin brother it globe trots from Africa to New York, and kept me enthralled at Crater Camp on the Western Breach, where we camped at 18,000 feet. It’s 690 pages long. Of course, I would have been in no shape to write a scholarly analysis of it at that altitude, but it was a good read.

On this summer’s trip to Ecuador I relied on the fantastic creatures and characters of Clive Barker’s Weaveworld to get me up the steep slopes of Cotopaxi. Yes, I do like science fiction and some fantasy, and the alternate reality of Weaveworld and its 768 pages (now you see why a Kindle is essential) fit the bill. Years ago, on a much tamer trip to California I read Barker’s Imagica, and I think it would be a equally suitable high altitude choice.

Some others? Consider:

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini – a story of a family in Afghanistan and elsewhere, covering multiple generations and places.

The Dust series by Hugh Howey – a post apocalyptic world – or is it? Be prepared.

The Flamethrowers: A Novel by Rachel Kushner – I will never forget the opening description of speed racing on the Bonneville salt flats.

These are only a few. What do you take with you on your travels? Let’s share.

West Orange Trail – Starting from the Other End

Pedestrian Bridge Over Apopka's Main Street
Pedestrian Bridge Over Apopka’s Main Street

Saturday presented with a solid drizzle of rain from dawn to dusk and thereafter. What better occasion than to try out some new gear to check how waterproof it really was.

Husband J and I decided a few more  miles on the West Orange Trail would be an appropriate testing ground. But this time, instead of starting in charming Winter Garden, we decided to begin our hike 22 miles away at the other end of the trail, just outside of Apopka. We have a goal of ultimately walking the whole thing in one fell swoop, but before we do so we thought we should have walked all its pieces.

The trailhead on the eastern end is nothing short of unimpressive. Literally nothing but a small sign marks the trail, which runs along a busy commuter road, and it’s hard to tell where the regular sidewalk ends and the trail begins. It’s equally mysterious why that particular point was selected – there’s certainly no distinguishing characteristic. There are a couple of strip malls, populated by places like “Beef O’Brady’s,” Pizza Hut, a grocery store and the inevitable 7-11. And no parking – except for the strip malls.

IMG_1703

After a couple of miles of cars whizzing past, we were glad to turn down a side street where the trail finally diverged from the roads. It wound back behind several schools in a wide concrete band, at one point on a well-built boardwalk that meanders past a deep gully, unusual for Florida. There were some houses tucked behind it and I couldn’t help but wonder what the bear population was. For those of you not from Florida, black bears have developed their own suburbs in all of Orlando’s outlying areas. As the boardwalk ended, we passed a huge Seventh Day Adventist church and several expanses of open land. It was not clear if they are parks, grounds of commercial establishments, or simply placeholders waiting for development. And there is some topography- there is at least one real hill and by the end of he trail, my Map Your Walk said we’d gained a whopping 65 feet.

The trail finally reaches the town of Apopka itself. A pedestrian bridge, shown in the top photo, crosses Main Street. There’s a restaurant called the Catfish House right by the bridge – which looks as though it would be an appropriate place for celebration when we finally do the entire trail. And it looks a lot more interesting than the Duncan Donuts, which appears to be the other food choice.

Next West Orange Trail hike – well, we still have about 12 or so miles before we’ve walked all of its bits and pieces. I’m hoping for a little less 4 wheeled traffic on the next part. As for the gear – it worked admirably. Patagonia Alpine climbing guide pants repelled water just as advertised and my new hiking boots – yes, after five years I have a new pair of Renegades by Lowa – continue to get broken in. And just as well – because the weather reports for Iceland – where I will report from next week – indicate snow every day!

Summits – The To Do List

Part of the broken trekking pole
Part of the broken trekking pole

We have reached that point of every major travel adventure where the to do list seems as daunting and insurmountable as we fear the summits of Cotopaxi and Chimborazo themselves might be. So on Saturday I suggested to husband J, as he struggled with a new computer which seemingly has no spam filter, that perhaps he would feel more organized if he made a list. He didn’t follow this sage advice, and for that matter, neither did I. But I did think about what I would jot down in one of the many notebooks I have left over from the daughters’ school days that I use for such purposes (I can’t bear to throw away unused paper), if I were so inclined.

1. Go to Iceland. Now that may not be first on most people’s list of mountain climbing preparation, but it is a fact that we will be spending five days in Iceland in the beginning of March. And that upcoming adventure has created other subset of to do lists that I won’t even begin to address here.

2. The gear check. This is an inevitable part of any expedition and one that I both anticipate and dread at the same time. Certainly we are in much better shape than we were back on 2011 when we climbed Kilimanjaro but now we have broken gear to deal with and new and unusual gear to get. We are in good shape for crampons, but have never before had to buy any rope. Since the guide company supplies rope I’m still not sure why we have to have our own as well – an emergency supply in case we fall into a crevasse on the way to an outhouse? The possibilities are not reassuring. We have to call Travel Country to see if the balaclava/face mask I ordered has arrived and if climbing helmets in a smaller size are in stock yet. And we have to replace the trekking poles that somehow daughter #1 managed to break on Mt. Washington. I still don’t know how she hiked the last 5 miles not realizing that one pole was 12 inches shorter than the other. And this is just a fraction of the gear issues.

3. Order zinc for lips. As those of you who followed our climb up Mt. Elbrus know, it never occurred to me that my allergies to regular sunscreen meant that I couldn’t use Chapstick with any sort of sun protection. In fact, this didn’t occur to me until I was on the side of the glacier on summit day, realizing that I looked and felt like I had kissed a hot burner on a stove. Never again.

4. Write to do lists for work, training, family and trip. Yes, this is a circular blog post. But I can’t think of any other way to try to have some certainty about what remains to do for the next few months. Should it be one giant list, or multiple lists for each area? I’m trying to make some order out of chaos – but I’m afraid that if I overthink it I’ll be doing the reverse. Wish me luck.

My Bags Are Packed and . . .

Except they’re not! Instead I’m lying in bed writing this blog while the bed in the guest bedroom remains covered in all the gear for the trip. My most recent interaction with said gear has been taking guests to look at it, as if they were being introduced to some elderly, crotchety relative who lives in a back bedroom, or to view an important but obscure work of art. We gaze upon the equipment reverently, with appropriate looks of awe, and I secretly wish I had less reverence and more knowledge about all of it.

Same As It Ever Was
Same As It Ever Was

In any event, the daunting task of packing, together with other last minute activities, remains. It’s been a harried week, with work and a week long visit from our daughters who are briefly in town (but who have shown little interest in helping their aged parents pack). I can no longer use this blog as my vehicle for procrastination today.

I hope to have decent internet access here and there. Please excuse any typos in posts from the road as they may well be written on my phone. To Russia, With Love!

Gear Check #2 or How to Break Your Equipment Before You Start

The Gear
The Gear

It is a well known fact that men like gear. Trigger alert – this post may disturb some of you gentlemen so continue to read at your own peril.

My husband is no exception. He has studied the meaning of “soft shell guide pants,” weighed the respective benefits of Black Diamond vs. other brands of crampons (that dilemma was easily resolved when the Black Diamonds wouldn’t fit his boots), and by now has a vast knowledge of the respective merits of multiple types of plastic boots.  The number of emails he receives from  Moosejaw is by now probably equivalent to those he receives from the president or other political luminaries.

I realized gear was a large part of the male enjoyment of the Great Outdoors many years ago on a one night camping trip in the Adirondacks with the husband and several of his male buddies. We arrived in the small town outside the state park about noon, and then proceeded to spend the entire afternoon buying equipment for what was probably no more than a six mile hike the next day.  We got to the camp site just in time to drop off all the new gear before heading back to town to have dinner at a restaurant.

The wind up for this trip has been no different. The husband’s latest mail order has been the much wondered about soft shell guide pants made out of some special fabric apparently guaranteed to turn the most inexperienced climber into something worthy of Everest. But in all fairness, I have to admit I have not been immune from the gear bug. At Travel Country’s last sale (by now they recognize us and devote an entire cash register to us as soon as they see us coming in) – I found unbelievably expensive hard shell pants at half price. Water proof, breathable – clearly if my body fails, these pants will surely walk me up the mountain by themselves.

But yesterday we decided to practice putting our crampons on, zipping and unzipping pants over our plastic boots, etc. Unfortunately, I forgot that my highly exotic full side zippered pants zip both up and down. After I couldn’t figure them out, I resorted to my husband’s clearly superior gear skills to solve the problem by yanking on the *#%@ zipper. Following a fair amount of cursing and blame and tugging – now the zipper doesn’t work at all! The pants are now off at a tailor in the hopes they can be fixed, labels still pristine.

All I can say is, despite all my maligning of my husband’s obsession with his equipment, all his stuff still works. At least so far.

The Gear Check

The packing/gear list for these trips always seems to occupy at least 3 single spaced pages and to contain various incomprehensible descriptions such as “soft shell guide pants.” And there is a dreaded moment of truth when you set everything you have for the trip on the bed in your guest bedroom. My stuff on one side of the bed; husband’s on the other. Shared equipment in the middle (such as the multi pack of carabiners – the use of which we only have the vaguest idea).

That’s the moment where (a) somehow despite hours of shopping you seem not to have certain pieces of what could be essential equipment and (b) even if you have it, you don’t have the faintest idea how to use it.

This is what happened on Mt. Hood in June 2012. This was to be our first climb that involved anything as complicated as a climbing harness and a rope – all of which, fortunately, were supplied by the guiding company that operates Mt. Hood climbs. When we got off the snow cat with our guide at 1 a.m. or thereabouts – having taken off or not put on all of our equipment – we were met with over 40 mile an hour winds that rapidly increased to plus 60 mile per hour gusts. This is what I learned:
Cheap dark ski goggles do not provide night vision.
Goggles cannot be pulled over helmets.
It is impossible to pull up a zipper without a long tie when you are wearing thick gloves.
Gaiters outside your pants will let in snow.
There is apparently no such thing as a water proof glove.
Oh, and if you don’t really know how to attach your ice axe to your back pack in a high wind at night said ice axe will definitely be lost. (Husband and I managed to lose both of ours.)

So, lessons learned. And despite the 80 plus degree heat in Florida I plan to spend quite a bit of time rehearsing how to use all my winter climbing gear for Mt. Elbrus. Now, if I can just remember again how to attach my brand new crampons to my boots.