Winter in the Mountains

Beehive Basin D.O.G.

Beehive Basin D.O.G.

Hey everybody! I’ve been getting emails from readers over the past few weeks, asking if I’m ok since I haven’t posted in awhile. Thanks for the concern. I’m just fine. In fact, I’m fantastic! Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I’ve been busying living this crazy life, paddling madly through a swirling maelstrom of opportunities. For a few weeks, I thought I had a sweet ranch-sitting gig lined up in southwest Montana, but it fell through. Then, right as the barn door closed, a window opened onto Big Sky, Montana.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Big Sky, Lone Peak

I’ve historically spent summers in the mountains and winters in the desert, but it seems this is the year to experience the mountains in winter. I’ve been wanting to dedicate a season to learning how to travel in the mountains when they’re covered in snow. I’ve loved skiing since childhood, but I’ve never been able to go more than a few times a season. It’s clear to me that the right time and place for me to get passionate about skiing is now, here at Big Sky, under the wing of an old friend who is proving a tremendous partner in the mountains.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Winter Wonderland

To be honest, I’m not sure how much posting I’ll be doing this winter. I think this blog could really use some serious reorganizing to make the 500+ articles I’ve already written more accessible, whether you’re looking for information about a certain place or inspiration on how to hit the road. I’ve written so many words in the last five years, it’s time to herd them into some semblance of order. That’s where my creative time and energy is going these days: towards a collection of stories – ultimately a book… a few books – about this swirling, whirling, wonderful life. Thanks for reading, everybody! I feel so blessed to have so many people out there rooting for me. :)

Next adventure!

Onto the next adventure!

P.S. I did get to take one last final victory lap through southern Utah, before storing the Teardrop for the winter. Check out my photos from backpacking across Zion National Park. Here’s a sweet Zion-area tip for you: check out the Eagle Crags!

Flying up and over the Eagle Crags, looking towards Zion

After flying up and over the Eagle Crags, looking towards Zion

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 13 Comments

Black Friday: You Save Even More When You Don’t Buy Anything At All…

Home sweet home, overlooking the Pacific

In honor of Black Friday, here’s my aconsumerism post Conquering IKEA. Enjoy! And remember kids, you save even more when you don’t buy anything at all!

My college apartment was amazing. Over the course of my three years there I furnished and decorated the whole place, floor to ceiling, with stuff from IKEA. I had couches, tables, chairs, curtains, bookshelves, framed art. The works. I have no idea how much money I spent at IKEA, but it must have been a lot. I remember giving myself a $100 budget every time I went to IKEA and I went often.

Then when I graduated, I gave it all away. I was hitting the road west, to Oregon, and every single thing I owned that wouldn’t fit in my 2-door VW had to go. I could have sold it. I could have stored it all in the big red barn at my parents’ house, but I didn’t. I gave it all to friends, friends of friends and total strangers. To this day, when I go back to Pennsylvania I’m forever asking people, much to my delight, “aren’t those my plates/ curtains/ chairs?”

Last summer, hanging around the Bay Area, I paid my first visit to IKEA in many years. I didn’t set myself a $100 budget, but I did intend to buy something, something cute and useful to go in the Teardrop, for old time’s sake. I spent all afternoon walking around that store and didn’t find a single thing.

When you live in a 5X10 foot trailer, whole sections of consumer culture no longer apply. Furniture? Nah. My bed and table are built-in and I have a nice folding camp chair with two cup holders. Kitchen supplies? I have everything I need, except for a grapefruit spoon, which IKEA didn’t have. Lighting? LED lights are built into the Teardrop. Carpet? I already have a carpet, which velcros in and out for easy cleaning. No vacuum necessary. Bedding? I sleep in my sleeping bag. Framed art? I make my own art.

On and on. I walked around and around, looking at everything, in full nostaligia-mode, finding many things I used to own. But I didn’t find anything I needed. Moreover, I didn’t find anything I wanted. I have no place in my life for any of that stuff. I spent $3.50 on a hot dog and soda for my date and an ice cream cone for myself and walked out of IKEA empty handed. After over 20,000 miles on the open road in the Teardrop, I’ve never felt so free.

Camping with my brother and sister in Redwood Country, California

Posted in Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Washington Cascades: Mount Saint Helens by Moonlight

Sunrise on Mount Saint Helens

Sunrise on Mount Saint Helens

When I was a kid, my Uncle Frank gave me a jar of ash from the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helens. I wasn’t born yet when the mountain blew its top, but that jar of fine grey powder – scooped off a car hood in Oregon, hundreds of miles away from the mountain – kickstarted my lifelong fascination with volcanoes. That jar still sits on a shelf at my parents’ house and Mount Saint Helens has long been on my wish list of mountains to climb.

Looking up towards the summit through the endless class-3 boulder field

Looking up towards the summit through the endless class-3 boulder field

I tried several times this summer to get a permit to climb Helens, but the park service only gives out permits online (not in person) and they tend to sell out months ahead of the summer climbing season. This kind of system really annoys me. I feel like if you show up at a mountain, ready to climb, you should be able to get a permit. You can also buy permits from people who are backing out of their climb through purmit.com, but you have to go meet them in person to pick up a piece of paper before heading to the mountain. Those logistics are ridiculous.

Yeah, yeah we got 'em

Yeah, yeah we got ‘em

Another annoyance about the Mount Saint Helens permit system: you can only pick up your permit the day before your climb. This means that my friend Joe, whom I met earlier this summer on the way up South Sister in Oregon, couldn’t hike the 3-day, 28-mile Loowit trail around the mountain and then summit it. He would have to do the Loowit trail, drive into town, pick up his permit and then return to the mountain to climb it. Again, ridiculous!

My permit on my backpack at the summit

My permit on my backpack on the summit.

Joe’s solution was to hike the Loowit trail, have me pick up his permit in Cougar, Washington and meet him at the trailhead the night before our climb. Fortunately, the permit limits are only for the busy summer months and after October 1st, you still need a permit, but they don’t sell out so I didn’t have a problem getting two. On the way to the mountain, I noted a full moon was due that night and I wondered if Joe would be up for moonlit summit. Sure enough, he was wondering the same thing about me. The best place to meet real fellow mountain people is in the mountains.

First light

First light over Mount Adams

Our alarms went off at 3:30am and we were on the trail by 4. Joe said he thought he heard another group get out before us and sure enough, we caught a few glimpses of headlamps higher up on the mountain. With the full moon, our flashlights weren’t all that necessary, but the going was rough – a class 3 boulder scramble – and the extra light helped a lot in finding the most efficient route up the mountain.

Good Morning!

Good Morning! Sunbeam across the Shoestring Glacier.

Climbing a mountain in the dark reduces the task to a more manageable size. You can’t see the route above you; you can only focus on your next few steps. Helens has a reputation for being a tedious slog, but in the dark the seemingly endless boulder field felt delightfully gymnastic. We climbed fast and caught the group ahead of us on the final approach to the crater rim, just as the sun rose over Mount Adams to the east.

Sunrise over Mount Adams from the flank of Mount Saint Helens

Sunrise over Mount Adams from the flank of Mount Saint Helens

The final thousand feet of elevation were up loose, ashy rock – here was the slog we’d heard about – but then we topped out on the crater rim to an incredible sight. We were on the south side of the crater, looking across to the north wall, or what used to be the north wall, now known as “The Breach”. The entire side of the mountain was gone, blasted away, the debris field scattered downslope into Spirit Lake, the murky waters still choked with downed trees. Smoke rose from the dome of loose rock on the crater floor and the smell of sulfur was strong. This was no inanimate pile of rock we were climbing; this was a living, fire-breathing volcano!

It's Alive!

It’s Alive! Looking north through the Breach towards Spirit Lake and Mount Rainier.

We tightroped to the west along the narrow catwalk of the crater rim, the loose rock dropping off vertiginously on either side; this is where people get into trouble on Helens. The path dipped down then climbed a few hundred feet back up to the summit, marked by a pile of rocks. There we rested, the entire crater to ourselves. Joe told me all about his three-day trek around the mountain, stumbling through the blast zone, still fresh with loose, barely weathered rock; thirty-four years is not long in geologic time. What a feat to circle a mountain and then climb it! I’ll have to put that on my to do list.

Joe approaching the summit

Joe approaching the summit on the rim

Joe on the Crater Rim

Joe on the Crater Rim

Sitting there on the rim, I felt a faint rumble. Did you hear that?! – Joe and I asked each other, wide-eyed. Sure enough, the mountain was muttering, murmuring, reinventing itself right under our feet. Never in all my summits have I heard a mountain make noise like that! At 8,366 feet, Mount Saint Helens isn’t all that tall, but it’s a living, breathing beast of a mountain.

Self portrait at Mount Saint Helens

Self portrait at Mount Saint Helens

When I was home in September, I saw that jar on the shelf and I thought about bringing it out west with me, taking it up the mountain and returning the ash to the crater. Now I’m glad I left that magic bottled on the shelf. I wonder if I uncork the jar and hold it up to my ear, if I’ll hear those mountain mutterings, like hearing the sea in a seashell…

Happy Hiker

Happy Helens Hiker

Skiing down the loose scree slope

Skiing down the loose scree slope

A seismic station on the south flank of Helens

A seismic station on the south flank of Helens

One of the trail markers up Helens. The way was a little hard to follow in the dark but we stayed mostly on track.

One of the trail markers up Helens. The route was a little hard to follow in the dark but we stayed mostly on track.

The way up

The way up, on our way down

My summer of mountains is wrapping up, and now I’m heading back to the desert! Stay tuned for a few dispatches from Utah! Check out my other Cascades posts here: South Sister, Mount Thielsen, Mount Adams, Smith Rock.

Posted in Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 10 Comments

Ask the Blonde Coyote: What do I need to hit the road?

On the road to Mount Adams in Washington

On the road to Mount Adams in Washington

I’ve been getting so many lovely, thoughtful, inquisitive emails from people and I’m sorry to say it’s become impossible for me to answer all of them. Most of you want to hit the road – for a long weekend, for a few weeks or months and some of you want to go full nomad. I’d love to help each and every one of you set yourselves free, but if I spent that much time at the keyboard answering emails, I wouldn’t be living the kind of life I want to be living. Selfish, yes, but therein lies part of the secret to my free living success. My solution to this ridiculously flattering conundrum is to start answering some of these queries on the Blonde Coyote.

Self portrait in post-fore woods

Self portrait in post-fire woods

Hi, My name is Kody and I’m putting things in motion to live on the road. I currently live in a house that I turned into a little Urban Homestead. I recently gave just about everything I owned to my friend and his wife when they bought their organic farm. I’m trying to sell my house and find a trailer at the same time. Once I get my trailer I was start building what I think I need to survive on the road. Once all is built I’m going to do a test and live out of it with my dogs on my brothers property. Figured that would be smart before driving out to the west coast.

I am reaching out to you because I’m wondering if there is anything you think I should get and/or install in my trailer? Something that you didn’t realize you needed but learned that you did once you were on the road? I’m hoping to find the trailer I want within the next two weeks and start adding modifications to it so any input would be greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance for taking the time to read this. Safe travels!

Antone, WA: My kind of town.

Anatone, WA: My kind of town.

Thanks for the email, Kody and congrats! After I bought my trailer the first big investment I made was in a solar panel and a battery. In my first month on the road in the trailer, I spent around $250 at RV parks and coffee shops, seeking power for my laptop so I could work. It made a lot of financial sense for me to invest in my own source of power.

With the help of solar mastermind Lawrence Jenkins at Front Range Renewable Energy in Frederick, Colorado I had a 135-watt, 28-pound  Kyocera panel, mounted to the roof with two aluminum brackets. The wires run down through the sunroof to a 10-amp charge controller and then to a 55 amp-hour sealed battery. A 400-watt inverter then converts the DC power to AC, giving me more than enough power to run my laptop, charge my phone and camera and run the Teardrop’s interior LED lights. The whole system, including installation cost me around $1,100 (in 2012). You can read more about the installation in my original post: The Power of the Sun In My Teardrop!

My rig in Utah, showing the solar panel and the awning.

My rig in Utah, showing the solar panel and the awning. The climbing crash pad is my couch.

The big change I’ve made this year is the addition of a fridge. I always hated dealing with a cooler and buying ice so when a friend offered to lend me his portable fridge, I was really grateful – they’re very expensive. The model I have is similar to this one. Right now it lives in the trunk of the Rover and runs off the engine while the car is running (I have an inverter that plugs into the cigarette outlet), but I’d love to invest in a separate battery system for it so it can stay cooler while I’m parked. That might be my big upgrade next spring.

Rural Washington ruins

Rural Washington ruins

It’s a good idea to camp out for a little while at your brother’s place while you get organized, but the best way to figure out what you need to live on the road is to live on the road. Being mobile comes with its own quirks and requirements and you’ll find that what you need to be comfortable and self-sufficient while you’re stationary will change when you start moving. You also don’t need to have everything before you leave home. They sell stuff everywhere. Better to start rolling and figure out what you need along the way rather than delay your departure buying a bunch of potentially extraneous stuff.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

I’d say stay at your brother’s for a few weeks and then hit the road for a trial run. Maybe you’ll circle back around to your brother’s or maybe you’ll head for the next big town where you’ll have access to hardware stores, etc where you can make repairs, upgrades and pick up a few things. The sooner you start rolling, the better!

Visiting my friend Camilla, a writer who lives in an Airstream with two big dogs.

Visiting my friend Camilla, a writer who lives in a stationary Airstream with two big dogs.

Feel free to contact me if you have any more questions and best of luck hitting the road! Got a query for the Blonde Coyote? Email me at theblondecoyote@gmail.com. Check out some of my past Ask the Blonde Coyote posts on: traveling with dogs, boondocking bathrooms, food and safety.

Posted in Road tripping!, Science Writing, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Vagabonding 101 | 2 Comments

Wonderful Life: Hike to the Burgess Shale!

Trilobite Fossil at the Burgess Shale

Hey everybody, today is National Fossil Day! In celebration, here’s a repost of one of my favorite stories, Wonderful Life, about my hike to the Burgess Shale fossil beds in British Columbia. Enjoy! 

When I was young, my dad took me on a trek through the mountains of his childhood: a range of unnamed summits above the tiny town of White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia. We parked on the side of the road and went straight up the mountain, following deer trails and my dad’s childhood memories of mountaintop seashells.

Earlier that summer, searching for salamanders in a West Virginian stream, I had overturned a large rock and was astonished to find it covered with seashells. I knew something about fossils then and had a vague understanding about the age of the Earth, but finding a 350 million year old slice of an ancient ocean floor on a mountaintop forever changed the way I thought about the world.

Self Portrait at the Burgess Shale Quarry, looking towards Mount Wapta

Eons ago, those shelled creatures had lived in masses, died in piles and were buried, the sediment sheltering their resting place from both the inexorable wastes of time and violent uplift of the seafloor into the once mighty, now majestic, Appalachian Mountains.

At some point, my rock was broken from its stratum and displaced by water and gravity to that one serendipitous spot where, across all space and time and what I thought fantastic chance – I happened to find it. I was a slight eleven year old and that rock must have weighed half as much as I did, but it was my treasure and I lugged it home, grateful that I lived downhill.

Treasure: A golden trilobite! Pyrite preservation. So cool.

When I showed my dad my fossil rock, it brought back memories from his youth, of finding seashells high in the mountains. A few weeks later, up we went. The climb was grueling, as hard as anything I’d done in my young active life, but I loved it. My muscles ached and my lungs burned and I felt alive and free.

My dad’s memory served him well and we found many rocks full of fossils that day. I filled my backpack and dad carried down several large slabs for me. I remember returning to our car at sunset, feeling like I had discovered one of the Earth’s great secrets: Time is infinite and we are here by fantastic chance. The best we can do, as tiny sparks in the vast vacuum of geologic time, is burn bright and illuminate the world around us.

Dad searching for treasure at the Burgess Shale

My love of fossils – and mountains – was not fleeting. I went back many times to West Virginia, to that unnamed place my family came to call Mary’s Mountain and many of the fossil rocks I found there now line the walkways of my mother’s gardens. In college, I studied geology and biology as a self designed Evolution major. When I was 20, I got a Darwin fish tattooed on my wrist. Now 30, every time I look at “Charlie”, I smile.

Charlie & Mount Stephen’s Trilobites

Last week, my dad and I climbed another mountain on a quest to another ancient seafloor: the Burgess Shale. Paleontologists are a contentious bunch, but most would agree that the Burgess Shale is the single most important fossil quarry in the world. It also happens to lie in one of the most beautiful places on Earth: on a ridge at nearly 8,000 feet, between Mount Wapta and Mount Field in Canada’s Yoho National Park.

The setting of the Burgess Shale, located in the middle of the ridge, to the right of the cloud, between Mount Wapta (center) and Mount Field (right).

To visit the Burgess Shale, you must go with a guide and promise not to take any fossils. We hiked up to the quarry with Hugh, a geologist with the Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation and eight other fossil enthusiasts, three of them children, ages 6,7 and 8. The kids were so familiar with the Burgess fossils that when Hugh asked us to go around and introduce ourselves and name our favorite fossil, they each had one in mind: Anomalocaris, Opabina and Marrella. My favorite? Wiwaxia!

Hugh identifying fossils with three future paleontologists

The Burgess Shale owes much of its popular fame to a book called Wonderful Life by the eminently eloquent evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould. Published in 1989, the book was a best seller. The title is a reference to the scene in the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, where Jimmy Stewart’s guardian angel replays the tape of life without him, to drastic effect.

Gould argues that if the tape of life on Earth was rewound to the time of the Burgess Shale and played again, the history of the world would unfold completely differently. Catastrophic extinctions, like the meteor impact that took out the dinosaurs and opened the door to the rise of mammals – and eventually us – often come down to pure chance. The moral of the story: we are all here by fantastic fortune.

Dad on the hike to the Burgess Shale, Emerald Lake and the Presidential Range in the background

Even without the famous fossils, the Burgess Shale hike would be a contender for one of my top ten hikes of all time. After a few steep kilometers of switchbacks, the trail passes bright blue Yoho Lake and then emerges on the flank of Mount Wapta, in view of the dramatically glaciated Presidential Range and the jade au lait waters of Emerald Lake, far below.

Snow in late July!

The hike up to the quarry is a bit more strenuous than Gould’s description of a “pleasant stroll” in Wonderful Life. In fact, by the time Gould hiked the 11 uphill kilometers up to the quarry, he was so exhausted, he insisted his guides hail him a helicopter home. This juicy tidbit was imparted to me by Gee, my guide up Mount Stephen’s, a Burgess-era trilobite bed on a neighboring peak. Gould conveniently left his helicopter descent out of his book.

The hike to the Burgess Shale is a challenge, but for a fossil enthusiast, it’s worth every step. Overturn just a few slabs of shale and you’ll find treasure. Since the quarry’s discovery in 1909, tens of thousands of fossils have been removed from the site, the vast majority stored in drawers at the Smithsonian, and yet there are many more.

Trilobites! Everybody’s favorite fossil.

The Burgess fossils are small but exquisite, preserving vanishingly fine details of body structure and even last meals: tiny trilobites frozen in stone, deep in the visible guts of larger worm-like predators. As a rule, fossil records are dominated by hard parts: shells, teeth and bones. But the soft-bodied Burgess fossils reveal everything, giving us a unique look into the anatomy and physiology of some of our most ancient ancestors.

Marrella. By far the most common fossil found at the Burgess Shale – more than 15,000 specimens have been collected – the now extinct Marrella is not found fossilized anywhere else on Earth.

The Burgess quarry is famous not just for the sheer number of fossils or their rare and lovely preservation, but also for the window it opens to our past. Multicellular life evolved around 570 million years ago, about 65 million years before the Burgess assemblage, with a bang known as the Cambrian Explosion. Within a short geologic time span of a few million years, the ancestors of virtually all major groups of modern animals appeared on the scene.

A replica of Anomalocaris, the largest fossil ever recovered from the Burgess Shale

The Burgess fossils date to around 505 million years ago, at a time when a vast selection of life forms produced by the Cambrian Explosion were swimming through the ancient seas. And what forms they were! The Burgess animals are bizarre. Despite the fine details preserved in the fossils, in many cases paleontologists are still at a loss to tell tops from bottoms and heads from rear ends. One especially head scratchingly-weird specimen was even formerly named Hallucigenia.

Articulated jaws of Anomalocaris, the most fearsome predator of the Cambrian seas!

I could have spent days at the quarry. The fossils were prolific, beautiful and fascinating, and every time I looked up from the rocks, I was dazzled anew by the view. But all good things must come to an end and Hugh eventually herded us down the mountain. On the descent, the kids, coming down from their fossil high, turned tired and cranky. At some point, my dad snuck past our guide and disappeared ahead of the group down the trail.

Leaving the Burgess Shale, grinning like a kid!

A few switchbacks later, my patience with the kids wearing thin, I asked Hugh if I could run ahead and catch up with my dad. “If he beats me off this mountain, I’ll never hear the end of it,” I said. With a smile, he let me go. I ran down the trail, feeling light as a child, delighted to be alone for a few minutes on the mountain.

Downhill is one of my specialties. On the steepest, loosest slopes, I fly, trusting in my mountain legs to catch me. I didn’t want to beat my old man off the mountain; I wanted to walk with him. I caught him near the bottom and we returned to the tiny town of Field together, matching stride for stride, no fossils in hand but as triumphant as we had been at the base of Mary’s Mountain.

Descending from the Burgess Shale. I wish I could have bottled the smell of all those flowers. Magnificent!

Stay tuned for an upcoming Travels in Geology feature in EARTH magazine on the Burgess Shale! Also check out my more recent post on Fossil Butte, Wyoming.

Posted in Beyond the USA, Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 10 Comments

Climb On Smith Rock, Part 2: Monkey Face!

Monkey Men on Monkey Face

Monkey Men on Monkey Face

In 2006, I was living in Oregon, working four days a week on an organic farm. The other three days I’d go exploring, taking trips to the coast, the river valleys, the Cascades, the eastern desert, enjoying the incredible diversity that Oregon has to offer anybody who’s in love with the great outdoors.

On one of these trips, I drove over McKenzie Pass and kept going east to Smith Rock, on the edge of the Oregon desert. Bowie and hiked up and over Misery Ridge and when we topped out on the summit, the rock formation nicknamed the Monkey Face captured me for the rest of the day.

A team making their way up the Monkey's neck into the mouth

A team making their way up the Monkey’s neck into the mouth

Monkey Face is a 350 foot high pillar that resembles a monkey’s face when seen from the south: four sheer walls make the neck, a sloping cave is the mouth, a boulder for the nose and a round dome summit for the head. It’s a distinctive and impressive formation but what really caught my attention that day were the two people climbing it.

The Monkey's Shadow

The Monkey’s Shadow

Watching them scale that rock, I could hardly believe it possible. That anybody could climb the Monkey Face – that anybody would want to – was beyond my comprehension as a non-climber. I sat there for hours while those two intrepid monkey men made their way up the neck, in one side of the mouth, out the other side, over the nose, to the summit, totally enthralled. I thought they must be insane.

Summiting the Monkey Face

Summiting the Monkey Face

Eight years later, I returned to Smith Rock, with several years of climbing experience tucked in my harness, and when a trusty climbing partner asked me if I wanted to do Monkey Face, I said hells yes! You might think this means I’ve gone crazy, and while it’s true that rock climbing makes you think about the world in a totally different dimension, I would argue a successful summit of the Monkey Face requires the opposite of insanity: mentally, you’ve got to be solid as a rock.

Making my way up the bolt ladder. That's a real smile. I was having a blast!

Making my way up the bolt ladder. That’s a real smile. I was having a blast! Photo by Danimal.

The easiest route up Monkey Face is a 5.7 A0, a moderately easy climb, well within my physical abilities. The real challenge is the exposure; spending all day dangling over an abyss can paralyze even seasoned climbers.

The climb is four pitches, or four rope lengths, from base to summit. My climbing partner Dan is far more experienced than I – he’s been living out of a van all summer, hitting all the classic climbing crags in North America – so he led the entire climb, placing pieces of gear in cracks on the way up to catch him, if he fell. He didn’t fall, but I did, repeatedly, not twenty feet off the ground.

Dan leading the first pitch up Monkey Face. He's working the hand jam move that briefly stumped me.

Dan leading the first pitch up Monkey Face. He’s working the hand jam move that briefly stumped me.

Dan was above me, out of sight, belaying me from the anchor at the top of the first pitch and I was glad he couldn’t see me struggle. But he could surely feel me falling on the rope, failing to make any upward progress. This start did not bode well. I couldn’t muscle myself up and over a hanging slab of rock; there were no good footholds and the one decent handhold was slick from a combination of rat piss and sweaty desperate human hands.

After several minutes of wearing myself out, banging myself up against the rock, wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into, I took a few deep breaths, dangled quietly in my harness and looked at the problem. This is one of the things I really love about rock climbing: the problem solving. If a move seems really hard, there’s probably a better, more balanced way to do it. Few climbing problems are solved with sheer muscle; more often they’re a matter of finesse.

And then I saw it: the problem called for a hand jam! I put my whole hand into the crack and made a fist. Like a kid with her hand stuck in a cookie jar, as long as I kept my hand balled up in a fist, it wasn’t coming out of the crack. And with that solid handhold, I hauled myself up and over the boulder and cruised right up the rest of the first pitch.

At the top of the first pitch with Danimal

At the top of the first pitch with Danimal. Eagle-eyed readers will notice that we’re both wearing bird shirts. What a coupla dorks.

The second pitch went much smoother; the crux was a narrow finger crack that was painful but doable. And then we found ourselves standing at the base of the Monkey’s neck, looking up at the third pitch: the notorious bolt ladder. The Monkey’s neck is sheer rock on all four sides with only the slightest bumps for hand and foot holds. Some of the routes up the neck rank among the hardest climbs in the world, including North America’s first 5.14c route up the east face.

Looking up the bolt ladder. Dan is sitting in the corner of the Monkey's mouth

Looking up the bolt ladder. Dan is sitting in the corner of the Monkey’s mouth. Notice how smooth the rock is here. Climbing this route free – without using the bolt ladder – is a 5.13 rating.

Mortals climb the Monkey’s neck via the bolt ladder: a 30-foot section with metal rings bolted into the rock every three to four feet. People who are into aid climbing have ladders made of webbing for this kind of stunt, but we just had makeshift ladders crafted out of ten foot lengths of knotted cordelette and daisy chains of webbing tied into our harnesses. Dan led the pitch by clipping his cordelette ladder into first bolt, stepping up into his ladder and reaching high to clip the next bolt up with his daisy chain. Then he pulled himself up, taking the ladder up with him to the next bolt. Clip, step, repeat.

My turn on the bolt ladder. Aid climbing is fun!

My turn on the bolt ladder. Aid climbing is fun! The dark green is my daisy chain and the light green knotted rope in my hand is my ladder. The other green rope is the safety rope, which runs up to Dan in the Monkey’s mouth. He has me on belay so even if I came unclipped from the bolts, I’d be fine.

Then it was my turn. I got the routine down pretty quickly, but a few of the bolts were too far spaced for me to reach even standing on the top rung of my ladder. Remembering my lesson on the first pitch, I told myself, don’t flail, think. What tools can I use? I ended up using a set of quick draws – a short length of webbing with a clip on either end – to extend the lengths of my rope ladder and daisy chain. Many pull ups and a few well timed lunges later, I belly flopped into the corner of the Monkey’s mouth, as exhausted and elated as I’ve ever been.

Chillin in the Monkey's mouth. Photo by Danimal.

Chillin in the Monkey’s mouth. Photo by Danimal.

The view from the Monkey's mouth

The view from the Monkey’s mouth

We took a short break in the Monkey’s mouth while Dan called his friend Thomas down below to check his progress. Bad news: Thomas and his climbing partner Beth had bailed on the first pitch and they weren’t coming up. According to the beta we had for the climb, two ropes were needed on the descent to rappel off the top of the Monkey’s head. Dan and I only had one rope.

Dan feeling the breeze on the edge of the mouth.

Dan feeling the breeze on the edge of the mouth.

“Ok, before we go any higher, are you sure we can get down with only one rope?” I asked. Dan thought for a moment and said, “Yes, it will be a little hairy, but we can do it.” I’d met this guy in a laundromat and only been climbing with him a few days, but my trust in him as a climbing partner was absolute. If he said he could get us down, I believed him. Onward and upward!

Dan scoping out the super scary move out of the mouth, called Panic Point. Notice he's smiling.

Dan scoping out the super scary move out of the mouth, called Panic Point. Notice he’s smiling.

Getting out of the Monkey’s mouth may be the hardest move of the whole climb. Nicknamed “Panic Point” our guidebook called it “the most exposed 5.7 in North America.” They weren’t kidding. You step out of the Monkey’s mouth into air. There’s a couple of good handholds, but no foot holds so you’re smearing your feet against little bumps with hundreds of feet of air under your soles. Dan led Panic Point like a pro and as soon as he gave me the all clear that I was on belay, I went for it. I knew if I sat there for even a moment, I might chicken out.

Thomas leading Panic Point with Dan belaying from the mouth.

Thomas leading Panic Point with Dan belaying from the mouth.

A few breathless, terrifying moves and I was standing on the nose. And then a bit of easy scrambling and I was standing on the summit. A handful of spectators watching us from the same spot where I had watched those monkey men cheered and clapped, as incredulous as I had been all those years ago. Even standing on top, I couldn’t quite believe it. Evolutionary progress be damned; I am proud to have evolved from a wide-eyed spectator of monkey men into a full blooded monkey woman.

Self portrait on the summit of Monkey Face

Self portrait on the summit of Monkey Face

We sat on the summit for awhile, enjoying the late evening light on the Cascades. I pointed out the volcanoes I’ve climbed this summer – South Sister, Tumalo Mountain, Mount Thielsen, and Mount Adams – and the ones still on my to do list. But as with all triumphant summits, at some point, you have to admit you’re only halfway home. As we started to pack up to leave, Dan yelled to the spectators, “How do we get down from here?!” Funny guy.

Ahhhh the Cascades!

Ahhhh the Cascades!

The only way down off a spire like the Monkey Face (other than BASE jumping, which some people do) is to rappel. And because the Monkey Face is a bulbous overhanging head, it’s a free hanging rappel, where you dangle on the rope with nothing under your feet. Most people bring up two long ropes so they can rappel in one go from the summit all the way down to the ground. But since we only had one rope, we would have to do multiple rappels, moving lower from one anchor to the next until we reached the ground.

Dan had me set up the rappel through my ATC device and an autoblock prussick first so he could check my system. I’ve rappelled plenty of times before and I got it right the first time, but I was glad for the double-check. And then I waited while he went first, leaving me standing on top of the Monkey Face by myself.

Dan rappelling off the summit

Dan rappelling off the summit with Smith Rock in all its sunset glory as the backdrop.

Here’s the hairy part of rappelling Monkey Face with only one rope: you have to somehow get back into the Monkey’s mouth. Dan had to lower himself level with the mouth, then push off the rock and gain enough swinging momentum that he could swing back into the cave. The floor is sloping and there’s nothing much to grab on to, so it’s quite a feat. I couldn’t see him down below, but judging from his Tarzan yells and the horrified looks on the spectators’ faces, I gathered he was putting on quite the show. After a few minutes, Dan called up that he had made it.

Dan pulling me into the Monkey's mouth

Dan pulling me into the Monkey’s mouth

I lowered myself over the edge, placing all my trust in the rope, a bit of metal and my harness, and let my feet dangle over the void. I did not look down. I slowly let the rope run through my rappel device until I was level with the Monkey’s mouth and then Dan pulled me in by the ends of the rope – a move called a fireman’s rappel. Even with his help, getting back into the cave was terrifying. At no point was I in danger of falling, but the idea of sliding across the floor and swinging out over the abyss by the rope horrified me. By the time I got myself securely clipped into a bolt my hands were shaking.

Sunset Rappel

Sunset Rappel out of the Monkey’s mouth

As Dan set up the next rappel, the sun slipped below the horizon. Now we were racing daylight. While I waited, I allowed myself a few moments to freak out. I didn’t yell or cry or do anything that anybody might have recognized as freaking out. I simply sat quietly and allowed all the nervous energy to quiver its way through my body to my fingertips. Then I placed my hands on the rock, took a few deep breaths and let it all go.

By the time Dan called up for me to begin my second rappel, I was rock steady. Thank goodness. Because the next rappel was even worse. As I lowered myself below the cave, I started slowly spinning on the rope. With hundreds of feet of air under me, I kept my eyes on the horizon, aware that a part of me – the spectator girl  – was petrified, completely paralyzed. And yet, the climber in me kept it together and rappelled like a pro.

Me rappelling out of the Monkey's mouth, spinning on the rope. Photo by Danimal.

Me rappelling out of the Monkey’s mouth, spinning on the rope. Photo by Danimal.

As I lowered myself down to Dan’s perch, I saw my next problem: I was dangling in mid-air between two rock faces. In order to get down to the anchor, I would have to stretch myself out horizontally, push off the one rock face with my feet and grab for a hold on the opposite face with one hand, while controlling the rappel device with the other. The scared spectator girl said, “I don’t want to!” The climber girl, said “well you have to”. So I took a deep breath, leaned back into my harness, stretched farther from toe to fingertip than I thought possible, and found purchase on the rock. I hauled myself over to Dan along a crack, aware that a slip would send me Tarzaning out into space. But by the time I got over to him, he was grinning at me like a monkey, and I found myself grinning back.

Dan and I on Monkey Face, taken by a fellow climber

Dan and me on Monkey Face, taken by a fellow climber

The last rappel was much smoother and we touched down on Terra firma right at dark. We hiked around the Monkey Face, retrieved our packs that we had stashed 7 hours earlier and started the three mile hike back to camp by the light of a bright half moon. We had headlamps, but we didn’t use them. After the Monkey Face, everything was illuminated.

With Danimal and T-Dawg at the base of Monkey Face

With Danimal and T-Dawg at the base of Monkey Face

Two days later, I went back to the Monkey Face to watch Dan and Thomas climb it. As I hiked over the summit and the spire came into view, I nearly burst into tears. Even after sitting next to it for several hours, photographing the guys as they did headstands on the summit, I was total awe. Not just of the rock and the route, but also of myself. Where on Earth will I go in the next eight years? Onward and upward!

Maybe in 8 years, I'll be able to do a handstand

Maybe in 8 years, I’ll be able to do a headstand.

My first post on Smith Rock is here. Also check out Thomas’ blog about traveling in his van: Travelin in Bertha. Thanks to Danimal and T-Dawg for an awesome week at Smith Rock! Our climb up Monkey Face will always be one of the highlights of my life. :)

Posted in Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Vagabonding 101 | Tagged , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Climb On Smith Rock: Part 1

Pretty Postcard, Smith Rock

Pretty Postcard, Smith Rock

Back in Jackson, Wyoming in July, I met a couple of guys at the laundromat who were living out of a VW van, hitting all the classic climbing spots from Kentucky to Alaska. They had just come down off the Grand Teton and were heading to Vedauwoo, Wyoming, one of my favorite places. We kept in touch and last week, the three of us met up again at Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon for six days of climbing at this famous crag.

Smith Rock is made up of volcanic tuff, an usually well-cemented type of volcanic ash that makes for fantastic climbing. Smith Rock is famous among rock climbers as the birthplace of modern sport climbing, where climbers follow bolted routes up challenging rock faces. Smith boasts some of the hardest sport routes in the world, including the first 5.14 climb ever completed in the US. I’m a good, competent climber, but no expert so I stuck to the moderate routes but Dan and Thomas have been pushing their climbing limits all summer and I had a great time watching them work some killer lines.

Hiking to the Morning Glory Wall

Hiking along the Crooked River to the Morning Glory Wall

Morning Glory

The Morning Glory Wall. The large pockets are called Huecos.

Huecos & Multipitch

Huecos & Multipitch

Multi-pitch Men. They'll keep going up from here.

Multi-pitch Men. They’ll keep going up from here.

Danimal Leading on the Morning Glory Wall

Danimal Leading on the Morning Glory Wall. The white marks are chalk around the holds used to ascend this route.

Climbing Partners

Climbing Partners: Dan & Thomas

Crag Dogs

Crag Dogs hiding out from the Sun

T-Dawg climbing barefoot

T-Dawg climbing barefoot

Yours truly on the same route

Yours truly on the same route

Stretch! Dan on a burly 11.d route

Stretch! Thomas on a burly 11.d route

Thomas belaying Dan, off the ground, giving him some advice

Thomas belaying Dan.

Crag Men,. Thomas and Dan met on Mountainproject.com and have been traveling in a VW van all summer, hitting all the famous climbing crags in North America.

Crag Men. Thomas and Dan met on Mountainproject.com and have been traveling in a VW van all summer, hitting all the famous climbing crags in North America. I so enjoyed basking in the trust between these two.

Highliner. He is wearing a safety leash. You can just barely see it clipped to the highline behind his heels. I watched him cross back and forth twice and he never fell.

Highliner. He is wearing a safety leash. You can just barely see it clipped to the highline behind his heels. I watched him cross back and forth twice and he never fell.

BB's highline. She's balancing on the top rail of the fence. I think Danimal's impressed.

BB’s highline. She’s balancing on the top rail of the fence. I think Danimal’s impressed.

In my element.

In my element.

Rain incoming over Grey Butte

Rain incoming over Grey Butte

Thomas and BB descending Misery Ridge

Thomas and BB descending Misery Ridge

Smith Rock D.O.G.

Smith Rock D.O.G.

Eagle Watching. There are two golden eagle nests in the cliff wall under the spire on the right. The eagle's aren't here this time of year though, only in the spring and early summer.

Eagle Watching. There are two golden eagle nests in the cliff wall under the spire on the left.

My Office

My Smith Rock Office. Write in the morning, climb in the afternoon!

Stay tuned for an adventure up the Monkey Face! This climb was one of the highlights of my life!!!

Monkey Men on Monkey Face. I didn't sit this one out...

Monkey Men on Monkey Face. You best believe I didn’t sit this one out…

Check out Thomas’ blog about traveling in his van: Travelin in Bertha. The bearded one was honorably discharged from the Army in April after 7 years of service, including two tours in the Middle East and he’s now living the dream on the road.

The Army Man turned Mountain Man. He's not going to shave or cut his hair for a year. 7 months to go...

The Army Man turned Mountain Man. He’s not going to shave or cut his hair for a year. 7 months to go…

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Vagabonding 101 | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Hiking In Hunting Season

My black bears in Maine, all decked out for hunting season

Fall is my favorite hiking season, with one major drawback: it’s also hunting season. I don’t have a problem sharing the woods with sportsmen, as long as they hunt responsibly, but being around flying bullets does tend to put me on edge, especially with two dogs who look a lot like black bears.

My dogs in turkey mode.

Hunting season doesn’t mean you have to stay home, but it is important to take some precautions before you hit the trail.

First, check the rules for your area. Generally, archery season starts in early October and gun season starts in mid-November and runs through January, but seasons varies from state to state and location to location.

Confusing, right? To be on the safe side, I consider hunting season to run from October through January.

Modeling my blaze orange fall jacket on the way up Ragged Mountain in Maine. The dogs are wearing orange scarves, though they don’t quite show up at this angle. Vests would be better.

The single most important precaution you can take during hunting season is to make sure you are visible by wearing bright, blaze orange. Your orange should be visible 360° around your body, from all angles. I have a blaze orange jacket and a bright orange backpack specifically for fall hiking. You can buy cheap blaze orange vests at any store that sells hiking gear or sporting goods. Target has them for $5. Blaze orange hats are good too. Around Halloween, a lot of places sell bright orange trash bags that you can use as pack covers. Also try to avoid wearing white gloves or socks that might be mistaken for the flash of a deer’s tail.

Dogs should be outfitted with a blaze orange collar, scarf or vest. If your dog runs around off trail or chases game, keep it on a leash. In fact, you should both stay on the trail; hunting season is not the time for bushwhacking. Most trails are considered safe corridors and hunters are supposed to refrain from shooting on or near established footpaths.

Hunting isn't allowed on the AT in Virginia, though it is in other states. Here we're crossing the James River Foot Bridge.

Hunting isn’t allowed on the AT in Virginia, though it is in other states. Here we’re crossing the James River Foot Bridge.

I’ve heard a few horror stories about hikers being bullied by hunters. I was once told quite rudely that I had no business being in the woods if I wasn’t carrying a license and a gun. That’s bullshit, but I don’t argue with people who are armed. If you run into a jerk, remove yourself from the situation as quickly and neutrally as possible. Conversely, it’s also illegal to harass hunters or interfere with their quarries. Public lands are for everybody and we all need to get along out there. Be smart, be safe, be visible, and be nice.

Bowie in Shenandoah

Bowie in Shenandoah National Park

Still nervous? You can always hike in a place that doesn’t allow hunting at all. Most National Parks are hunt-free (always check before you go), many state parks have limited hunts and 11 states – Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia – ban hunting on Sundays.

Blaze Orange Bowie at Ocean Ledges, Camden, Maine

For more information on hunting in your area, visit your state’s Fish & Game department website. Some additional hiking safety resources: the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and Appalachian Mountain Club. Curious about my feelings on guns? Check out my previous post Into the Ojito Wilderness.

Posted in Appalachian Trail, Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 5 Comments

Washington Cascades: Mount Adams!

On the summit of Mount Adams with Mount Saint Helens in the background

Auction Day: On the summit of Mount Adams with Mount Saint Helens in the background

I must admit an error. When I reposted the “Special Auction” post the other day, I was working on my phone, from a free campsite on the flank of Mount Adams and I neglected to remove the paragraph about this being my 24th auction. I didn’t make it home for the auction this year. I was back east for the first two weeks of September, traveling from Maine to West Virginia, visiting friends and family. But I couldn’t leave my dogs with friends in Seattle long enough to stay for the auction and so I missed it; only the second auction I’ve ever missed. On auction day I didn’t want to be sitting around, pining for whoopie pies so I made some pretty epic plans: I climbed Mount Adams!

At 12,280 feet, Mount Adams is the second highest point in Washington, after Mount Rainier. The route is 13 miles round trip, gaining over 7,000 feet of elevation. Above 9,000 feet there is no trail; you must pick your way up vast snowfields and endless scree slopes to the false summit at Piker’s Peak and then slog up another 1,200 feet of switchbacks to the top. The effort requires an ice axe, crampons and constant route finding. It’s not really a mountain I’d want to tackle solo.

Driving up to Mount Adams through the aftermath of the September 2012 Cascade Fire, started by a lightning strike.

Driving up to Mount Adams through the aftermath of the September 2012 Cascade Fire, started by a lightning strike.

Lucky for me on this trip I had partners: the Silagy Brothers! I met Mitchell and Ryan on the summit of Mount Thielsen a few weeks ago and after I beat them both up to the summit and almost beat them back to the parking lot, they invited me to join them on Adams. “You set a pretty fast pace,” Mitchell told me. “We always pass everybody and we never caught up to you!”

The Silagy Brothers & Me on top of Mount Adams

The Silagy Brothers & me on top of Mount Adams. Twins!  I could only tell them apart by their boots!

Mitchell and Ryan just caught the mountain bug this summer. Both avid rock climbers and competitive boulderers, they hoofed it up Mount Saint Helens this spring and then summited Mount Hood and have spent all their summer weekends since tagging high points in the Cascades. They climbed Adams in July, but wanted to take a training run up the mountain before tackling Mount Rainier.

I met the brothers at a free campsite the night before. We set our alarms for 4am and carpooled up to the trailhead in their Jeep with AC/DC blasting Highway to Hell. We got on the trail by 4:45, still full dark. I found my pace behind Ryan and ahead of Mitchell and switched off my headlamp, my good night vision making due with the ambient light from the brothers’ lamps.

First light, Sliver Moon

First Light, Sliver Moon

We reached Lunch Counter, a shoulder with many semi-circular rock shelters where most Adams climbers spend the night on the way up, just after dawn. Most of the tents we passed were still occupied. So much for their Alpine starts! The Silagy Brothers really do pass everybody, even the people who sleep on the mountain!

The Lunch Counter

The Lunch Counter

Here we split up: Ryan, who didn’t have snow spikes, headed up a shoulder of loose rock to bypass the snow while Mitchell and I strapped on our crampons and wielded our ice axes and started up the first of two long, steep snowfields.

Crampons are fierce-looking spikes that lend some traction on icy snow fields.

Crampons are fierce-looking spikes that give traction on icy snow fields. Dio has his own built-in crampons and he didn’t have any trouble on the snow.

Crossing this scalloped snowfield was totally exhausting.

Crossing this scalloped snowfield was totally exhausting.

By the time I made it across the second snow field, I was beat. Ryan was waiting for us at the edge of the rock and Mitchell assured me I was over the icy crux of the climb: the rest of the way up was on rock. Rock sounded better than ice, but then it turned out to be loose scree: for every step up, I slid half a step down. I took to hopping from one boulder to the next, trying to pick rocks big enough that they wouldn’t roll underfoot. I thought a bit about quitting but every few minutes, Mitchell and Ryan would holler encouragement to me, waving their ice axes like wild mountain men. By the time I reached the false summit Piker’s Peak, I had caught a third wind.

Ryan and Mitchell waiting for me at Piker's Peak, pointing out the final summit push.

Ryan pointing out the final summit push from Piker’s Peak.

This rock was struck by lightning on August 21, 1923.

This rock was struck by lightning on August 21, 1923.

You're a Piker if you stop on this summit!

You are a Piker if you stop on this summit! Don’t crab. The mountain was here first. Arthur Jones, August 1923. Carving on the false summit of Piker’s Peak.

Crossing the final snowfield

Crossing the final snowfield

Dio tanking up at the edge of the summit glacier.

Dio tanking up at the edge of the summit glacier.

The summit of Adams is marked by an old mining shack. Apparently they used to bring mules up here?! The crazy things people will do for shiny rocks.

The summit of Adams is marked by an old mining shack. Apparently they used to bring mules up here?! The crazy things people will do for shiny rocks. Notice Mount Hood in the background.

Summit! We climbed up on to the roof of the shack.

Summit! Yep, we climbed up on to the roof of the shack.

The Silagy Brothers on Mount Adams

The Silagy Brothers on the roof of Mount Adams

Looking west towards Mount Saint Helens

Looking west towards Mount Saint Helens

And north towards Mount Rainier.

And north towards Mount Rainier.

Mount Adams D.O.G. with Rainier. Dio did just fine up and down Adams- he's been higher (up to 14,440) but I wouldn't recommend the route for most dogs. All that ice and rock is tough on their feet. Dio was a little footsore, but fine by the next day.

Mount Adams D.O.G. with Rainier. Dio did just fine up and down Adams- he’s been higher (up to 14,440) but I wouldn’t recommend the route for most dogs. All that ice and rock is tough on their feet. Dio was a little footsore, but fine by the next day.

We looped around the summit crater past the Adams Glacier and then headed back down

We looped around the summit crater past the Adams Glacier. That’s the shack at upper right.

Overlooking the Adams Glacier, the second largest glacier in the lower 48.

Overlooking the Adams Glacier, the second largest glacier in the lower 48.

Dirty snow just below the summit. The dirt is from wind blown dust and air pollution. Yuck!

Dirty snow just below the summit. The dirt is from wind blown dust and air pollution. Yuck!

At the summit, the bad news is that you’re only halfway home. The good news is that it’s all downhill from there. Between skiing down the scree slope on our boot heels and then sliding down the snowfields on our butts, we had a blast on the descent! Adams is famous for its glissade: a snowy chute over a mile long! You slide down on your butt, using your boot heels and ice axe as a brake.

Why hike down a mountain when you can slide? Ice axe and boot heels are the brake.

Why hike down a mountain when you can glissade?

P9209497

Mitchell glissading down Adams. This chute was over a mile long! Wheeee!

We got back down to the Lunch Counter by 2 and back down the trailhead by 3, making for a 10 hour day on the mountain. If only I had a whoopie pie waiting for me at the bottom!

I do enjoy the challenge of keeping up with mountain men. Read about my January climb up Santa Fe Baldy and my very first mountaineering epic The Suffer Fest.

*Update- Mitchell and Ryan climbed Mount Rainier the Monday after our hike up Adams! They figured they were acclimatized to the altitude so they might as well take a crack at it. They summited via the Disappointment Cleaver route. Congrats!

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

The Impossible Sight of a Ship

First Flight by Sarah McRae Morton

First Flight by Sarah McRae Morton. 6 ft by 9 ft! My favorite from this show.

Apologies for the lack of posts lately. I stashed my dogs and my rig with friends in Seattle and flew east for two weeks. First I flew landed in Maine to attend the opening night of my sister’s show “The Impossible Sight of a Ship” at the Dowling-Walsh Gallery in Rockland, Maine. Sarah has been making her living as a painter for over a decade now and her paintings never cease to enthrall me. I’ll let Sarah’s words and paintings speak for themselves. Here is her artist’s statement:

A family tie brought me to Maine. I have returned, following windy curiosity to see whereseafarers fed my favorite painters, find the “Grim and Wild Maine” described by Thoreau, follow water veins he coursed with Penobscot guides, and hear the wrath of the ocean on the fortress walls of Monhegan.

“Wilding on November 1st, the Worth of a Pig (after ‘Fog Warning’ by Winslow Homer).

“Wilding on November 1st, the Worth of a Pig (after ‘Fog Warning’ by Winslow Homer).

The subjects in “The Impossible Sight of a Ship” are the people from whom I am descended, by blood or by the “marrow of artistic tradition”, all of whom led me to a place and time in Maine. The present, as a culmination of chances, is one lock of a braided theme joining pieces in this suite of work. The other two lineages of the binding braid are the history of a family, and that of a string of artists. From each I have inherited substance to make paintings.

These paintings are maps of retraced steps, records of the roads taken to try to capture images of people long gone. They are invented portraits of the shells of tenacious spirits who have survived because their stories are transmitted around campfires, between rocking chairs, and under moth eaten black skies. They had memorable lives or unforgettable brushes with death and left enough legacy, artifacts or genetic residue to retell their stories. What they all have in common is me, a common descendant.

As there is an optimal viewing distance for every painting, it seems true of history too – perspective clarifies some facts and can obscure what we wish not to see. It’s a metaphor I elude to by rendering some detail finely while blurring other passages within the same frame.

"Wills of Morton and Bonnie – the night he wrote the letter that would be lost for 100 years.”

“Wills of Morton and Bonnie – the night he wrote the letter that would be lost for 100 years.”

My paintings mimic American academic construction. The compositions draw from a canon of western paintings where a common goal was to deceive the viewer- to build a believable window view to an invented scene by an alchemic process using dirt, stone oil, sap, gems and flax. The style of the pieces varies according to the prevalent style of art during each character’s lifetime, displaying facets of aesthetic traditions, or challenges to convention that made American art history.

The process of learning to see gave me the title of the show, “The Impossible Sight of a Ship.” It has been theorized that when European vessels first appeared on the horizon of the Americas, native people could not “see” the ships. Having never laid eyes on such objects before, they were not primed to recognize the shapes of the bow, hull and sails…or see the apparition as portent of a storm.

The concept that it is an acquired ability to recognize objects, illusions, constructions, pictures is a useful analogy for my process of painting. My work is a continuation of the endeavors of others. The ship is impossible for me to see without the ghosts of earlier images on my retinas. I relied on the work of the Wyeths, Homer, Peal, Sully, Eakins to compose these pictures.

The Last Word Before the Joints of the Chair Creaked

The Last Word Before the Joints of the Chair Creaked

My other favorite: Eve of the Blue Grass

My other favorite: Eve of the Blue Grass

These five sold as a set.

These five sold as a set.

"The Ark of the North Country Girl and the Cape of Curiosity"

“The Ark of the North Country Girl and the Cape of Curiosity”

Detail from the Ark of the North Country Girl and the Cape of Curiosity,

Detail from the Ark of the North Country Girl and the Cape of Curiosity. I overheard Sarah telling somebody that the chickens in her paintings represent the ideas that she can’t quite grasp firmly enough to set down on canvas.

Sarah in the gallery among her 38 paintings, representing a year's work.

Sarah in the gallery among her 38 paintings, representing a year’s work.

Sarah’s show is getting rave reviews and she’s selling out! Read more about her show in the Portland Press Herald and visit the gallery’s website here. Her website is mcraemorton.com.

Posted in Sustainable Living, Vagabonding 101 | 12 Comments