High Points On My Horizon: Santa Fe Baldy

Me at 12,622 feet

Me at 12,622 feet

In 2008, on a mountaineering blitz in Ecuador, I discovered I have a gift for traveling at high altitude and since that trip, I have climbed many big mountains. I spent most of this past summer above treeline, hiking up 14′ers in southern Colorado. After one last effort up the highest mountain in the Rockies, I flew to Ireland and Scotland, where the mountains are beautiful and burly, but not very high. Topping out at 4,000 feet, I was drunk on oxygen.

Now back in New Mexico for the winter, I decided it was time to get back on the high altitude horse. When my friend Richard, whom I met in June on West Spanish Peak in Colorado, posted that he was heading up Santa Fe Baldy, the highest mountain in the Sangre de Cristo range above Santa Fe, I asked if I could tag along.

Good morning, Pecos. My alarm went off at 5am, I drove to the trailhead in the dark and started hiking at first light.

Good morning, Pecos. My alarm went off at 5am, I drove to the trailhead in the dark and started hiking at first light. That’s what we call an alpine start. Summit by 1pm, down by dark.

Richard and his climbing friend Steve are Mountain Men: Richard has climbed 48 of Colorado’s 58 14′ers (mountains above 14,000 feet) and he summited Mount Rainier this summer. His friend Steve has been running up and down mountains for months, training to climb Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America, in January.

Mountaineer Shadows, heading for Baldy on the left

Mountaineer Shadows, heading for Baldy on the left

Of course, I was a little worried about being able to keep up with those guys on snowshoes over 14 miles of deep snow up to 12,622 feet – I haven’t worn snowshoes in two years and I haven’t been at altitude since August – but I believe in my capabilities. My secret weapon, the one I’ve honed as sharply as my legs and lungs, is my heart: I love a good rare air suffer fest. The key to keeping up in the mountains is to convince yourself you really are having fun.

Accidental shot of me & Baldy

Accidental shot of me & Baldy. I’m cold and tired and in pain and I still have to go all the way up to that peak, but I’m still smiling. Nowhere I’d rather be!

Into the woods. The trail was hidden under several feet of snow so we had to blaze our own way through the woods up to the saddle.

Into the woods. The trail was hidden under several feet of snow so we had to blaze our own way through the woods up to the saddle.

Snowshoeing off-trail uphill in deep snow is hard work. Steve is training to climb Aconcagua in a month so we let him break trail. He also has about 50 pounds of water in his pack...

Snowshoeing off-trail uphill in deep snow is hard work. Steve is training to climb Aconcagua in a month so we let him break trail. He also has about 50 pounds of water in his pack…

Mountain Men & Santa Fe Baldy

Mountain Men & Santa Fe Baldy

We didn't have a trail to follow but we still ended up exactly where we needed to be. We're heading for the right hand bump on that ridge line. What's with the glove? I dunno.

We didn’t have a trail to follow but we still ended up exactly where we needed to be. We’re heading for the right hand bump on that ridge line. What’s with the glove on the sign? I dunno.

The start of the great snowshoes on/ snowshoes off debate. They left theirs on, I took mine off and we all made it up to the very top. To each their own in the mountains.

The start of the great snowshoes on/ snowshoes off debate. They left theirs on, I took mine off and we all made it up to the very top. To each their own in the mountains.

Richard on the summit ridge

Richard on the summit ridge. The high point is on the right.

Going for it!

Going for it!

Getting Steeeeeep! Getting Tiiiiiiiiired!

Getting Steeeeeep! Getting Tiiiiiiiiired!

Wind-blown Snow Sculptures on the summit ridge. Totally worth the frozen face!

Wind-blown Snow Sculptures on the summit ridge. Totally worth the frozen face!

Final push to the summit. Except for the biting wind, this was the easiest part of the ridge.

Final push to the summit. Except for the biting wind, this was the easiest part of the ridge.

Baldy's Crown

Baldy’s Crown

My Summit Shot. Thanks, Richard!

My Summit Shot. Thanks, Richard!

I can see my house from here. Not really, but I can see Baldy from my house.

I can see my house from here! Not really, but I can see Baldy from my house.

Departing the summit. Too cold to linger for long!

Departing the summit. Too cold to linger for long!

Descent.

The descent was steep enough to warrant microspikes and an ice axe. Wouldn’t want to go skidding down this slope!

Back down to treeline

Back down to treeline

Baldy was a beast, but I kept up with the mountain men all the way up to the summit and all the way back down again, despite a pissed off hip flexor that raged every time I lifted my left leg. Damn snowshoes. My water bottles and my camera lens froze, not to mention my face, fingers and toes. But it was all in good fun. On the way down, Richard asked me if I thought Baldy qualified as a “Suffer Fest” I said, nah, just a Tired Fest. What a strange idea of fun we mountaineers have!

The Way Back, On the Windsor Trail

The Way Back, On the Windsor Trail

Now I’ve checked off yet another high point on my horizon! I can see Baldy from my house and looking up at that cold, white mountain, I can’t quite believe I stood on top of it! Check out my previous High Points On My Horizons posts: Wheeler PeakCamel’s Hump, Arthur’s Seat, and Cabezon Peak. Next up: Tetilla Peak! 

Posted in Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | Tagged | 11 Comments

Desert Snow

Desert Dogs, Cerrillos Hills

Desert Dogs, Cerrillos Hills

Why winter in New Mexico? Because the hiking is epic, no matter the weather. We’ve had two significant snowstorms so far this year and all that white stuff adds such a stunning dimension to this desert.

When it snows, it’s not unusual to get to stuck out here for a few days until the road becomes passable. That’s one of the challenges to living down a very long, unpaved, private road: no snowplows! I don’t mind though. I always keep a supply of rice, beans, pasta, dog food and books on hand just in case. And when cabin fever strikes, I go for a good long snowy walk!

Six inches of snow on the old railroad bed. Notice the black coal under the snow.

Six inches of snow on the old railroad bed. Notice the black coal under the snow.

Desert Treasure: a 2-foot icicle!

Desert Treasure: a 2-foot icicle!

Icy Chuyo

Icy Chuyo

Yucca & Bird

Yucca & Bird

Crossing Paths: Bird & Kangaroo Rat

Crossing Paths: Bird & Kangaroo Rat

Snowy D.O.G.

Snowy D.O.G.

Snowy Bowie

Snowy Bowie

My Winter Digs

My Winter Digs: a toasty warm strawbale and mud plaster casita! Notice the Teardrop in the background.

Which also came with a yurt and a tipi!

This place also came with a yurt and a tipi!

Good Morning, Tipi

Good Morning, Tipi

Snowy Sandstone

Snowy Sandstone

Backyard Petroglyph

Backyard Petroglyph

Sandstone Lookout

Sandstone Lookout

Basalt Self-Portrait

Basalt Self-Portrait

Cerrillos Snow

Cerrillos Snow (Click to enlarge)

For more desert snow pictures, check out my previous posts: Bright Angel SnowstormUtah in Winter and Sand Dunes Snowstorm.

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 18 Comments

Where On Earth Is The Blonde Coyote?

Tumblin LIke A Weed...

Tumblin’ Like A Weed…

According to this just recently neglected blog, I’m still in Scotland. In real time, I’m in the next best place: ever-enchanting New Mexico! Of all the places I love, New Mexico hits closest to Home. This will be my fourth winter here; since 2008, I’ve spent more time in the Turquoise-rich backcountry between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, than anywhere else.

Ecstatic Desert Dogs, Snowy Cerrillos

Desert Dogs, Snowy Cerrillos Hills

The Rover, the Teardrop, the dogs and I rolled into town with no real plan, other than a free place to park for a few nights, but when you’re on the right path, everything works out as it should: within a day I had offers for two housesitting gigs, a sweet cheap off-grid strawbale casita, and half a dozen brunch/ lunch/ dinner invites from old friends.

Arroyo Self-Portrait

Arroyo Self-Portrait, Post-Flood

Now settled, I’ve been spending every spare daylight hour outside, tracing deep arroyos still damp from September floods, revisiting familiar spots and seeking new treasures. Damn, it’s good to be back in this desert!

Four Dog HIke

Four Dog Snow Day Hike

I’ll add some new posts, eventually. I’m still getting caught up on paying gigs. In the meantime, check out these classic Blonde Coyote dispatches from the Land of Enchantment: The Weight of Water, Wilding Horses, Into the Ojito Wilderness, Dog Memory and Galisteo Love Letter. Many more can be found in the A To Z Archives and under Greatest Hits. Enjoy! :) 

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

The Blonde Coyote in the Guardian

Zion Self Portrait

Zion Self Portrait

Hey everybody, sorry for the radio silence lately. It’s one of those weeks with half a dozen deadlines. In between writing about the geologic origins of gold, the glacial history of Norway and the future of the Chesapeake Bay, I cranked out a new top ten list for the Guardian: the Top Ten Parks in Utah. Click over to the Guardian to check out my favorite places in one of my favorite states!

Also check out my previous top ten lists for California, Nevada and Arizona. It’s a tough gig, but somebody’s gotta do it. ;)

The Crossing to Angels Landing

The Crossing to Angels Landing

Posted in Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Science Writing, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 9 Comments

Scotland: Through the Lairig Ghru

Dad & the Lairig Ghru, a massive glacially-carved canyon through the heart of the Cairngorm Mountains

Dad & the Lairig Ghru, a massive glacially-carved canyon through the heart of the Cairngorm Mountains

After peering down into the depths of the Lairig Ghru from Lurcher’s Crag, my dad and I decided to return the next day for a long trek through the glacially-carved canyon to the fabled Pools of Dee, the headwaters of the River Dee, one of Scotland’s famous whisky rivers.

In Nan Shepherd’s ode the Cairngorms The Living Mountain she says, “I can conceive of no good reason for trudging through the oppressive Lairig Ghru, except to see [the Pools of Dee].” But I loved the long, rough rocky trek through the deep, narrow valley, about 7 miles, one way, a good long day in these fantastic mountains!

This time we parked at the Sugarbowl parking lot, on the way up to the Cairngorms Ski Area.

This time we parked at the Sugarbowl parking lot, on the way up to the Cairngorms Ski Area.

Chalamain Gap

Chalamain Gap- the trail ran through this pit of unstable rocks, all coated with a thin film of ice. The rockyard was less than a quarter-mile long, but it took us over half an hour to negotiate it safely. Wearing gloves helped a lot on the rough, cold, icy rocks.

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Through the Gap, heading into the Lairig Ghru

Creek Crossing

Creek Crossing at the bottom of the Lairig Ghru

Remains of a memorial shack

All that remains of a memorial hut in the Lairig Ghru. The Cairngorms are notorious for wicked weather and many hardy souls have lost their lives in these mountains.

In the Lairig Ghru

In the Lairig Ghru, Lurcher’s Crag, where we were the day before, on the left

Rock Shelter

Rock Shelter Self Portrait

One of many cairns in the Lairig Ghru

One of many cairns in the Lairig Ghru

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About 7 miles in on a very rough, rocky  trail

To the Pools of Dee

Ahoy the Pools of Dee!

At the Pools of Dee, the headwaters of the Dee River

At the Pools of Dee, the headwaters of the River Dee. Amazing that a whole river flows from this point. 

Pools of Dee Self Portrait

Pools of Dee Self Portrait

Return through Chalamain Gap, now thawed out

Return through Chalamain Gap, now thawed out and slightly less dangerous.

Reindeer

Surreal Parting Shot. Ah, Scotland, this is Love. 

Posted in Beyond the USA, Hiking!, Photography, Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Scotland: The Cairngorm Mountains & Lurcher’s Crag

A rare photo of me in my happy place. Thanks, Dad!

A rare photo of me in my happy place. Thanks, Dad!

The photo I was taking: Icy Cairn & the Lairig Ghru

The photo I was taking: Icy Cairn & the Lairig Ghru

I’ve been gifted with a lot of beautiful days in the mountains in my life, but this day in the Cairngorms might go down as the most perfect mountain day I’ve ever seen. The Scottish Highlands are notorious for wicked weather – an ice storm two days prior had coated everything in a crunchy rime of white – but on this day, the air was calm and the sun was warm and we spent the whole day wandering around in light sweaters.

We parked at the Cairngorms Ski Area

We parked at the Cairngorms Ski Area

Following my Dad into the Cairngorms

Following my Dad into the Cairngorms. These paths have been used for centuries, hence the paving stones.

Little Loch

Little Loch. Nessie?

Me plotting a long, off-trail loop up to Lurcher's Crag

By this point we had realized that hiking cross-country across the heather was actually quite easy, not the soggy, ankle-turning mess we were anticipating. Here I’m plotting a long, off-trail loop up to Lurcher’s Crag. Love me a good map!

Creek Crossing

Creek Crossing

Heading Up, Towards the Snowline

Heading up, towards the Snowline

Snow & Ice

Snow & Ice

Summit Rock & Ice

Summit Rock & Ice. You can see how cold and windy it gets up here to make all this ice!

Dad & the Lairig Ghru, a massive glacially-carved canyon through the heart of the Cairngorm Mountains

Dad & the Lairig Ghru, a massive glacially-carved canyon through the heart of the Cairngorm Mountains

Quartz on the way up Lurcher's Craig

Quartz on the way up Lurcher’s Crag

Dad on Lurcher's Crag

Dad on Lurcher’s Crag

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Summit Shot

Me & the Lairig Ghru from Lurcher's Crag

Me & the Lairig Ghru from Lurcher’s Crag

Interested in the Cairngorms? Check out The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane and the Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd, two of my all-time favorite books, both of which feature Lurcher’s Crag and the Lairig Ghru. Up next: A hike down the Lairig Ghru to the Pools of Dee!

Posted in Hiking!, Photography, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 13 Comments

Scotland: A Stonehaven Castle

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Dunnottar Castle Self-Portrait

If this castle makes you think of Hamlet, you’re right: parts of the 1990 film starring Mel Gibson were filmed here, at Dunnottar Castle, just south of Stonehaven on Scotland’s northeast coast. And the Gibson connection doesn’t end there: in 1297 William Wallace, portrayed by crazy ol’ Mel in the bloody blockbuster Braveheart, recaptured the castle from the English during the wars for Scottish independence and after locking several hundred soldiers in the castle’s church, burned everybody inside alive. Dark history here, as with all castles, but the ruins are beautiful.

Entering Dunnottar

Entering Dunnottar. The castle is surrounded by cliffs on three sides, with the fourth guarded by a steep approach and a formidable entryway.

Inside the Compound

Inside the Compound

Nik at Dunnottar

Nik at Dunnottar

Ruins

Seaside Ruins

View from a Tower

View from a Tower

Blacksmith's Arch

Blacksmith’s Arch. Amazing it’s still standing!

The Church. Not the one burned by Wallace. That one is long gone.

The Church. Not the one burned by Wallace. That one is long gone.

Courtyard Well

Courtyard Well

Inscription in Granite

Inscription & Lichen

Castle Prison

Castle Prison

View from the Prison

View from the Prison

Walking the Headlands

Walking the Headlands

Dunnottar Panorama (click to enlarge)

Dunnottar Panorama (click to enlarge)

For more on Dunnottar’s long and dark history click here. Love castles? Me too! Check out my previous post from Germany: Castles in the Rain.

Posted in Beyond the USA, Hiking!, Photography, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Scotland: The Falkirk Wheel

The Falkirk Wheel

The Falkirk Wheel

Behold the Falkirk Wheel! This incredible contraption helps link a waterway that runs all the way across Scotland. When I first saw pictures of this space-age boat lift, I couldn’t figure out how it worked. But after seeing it turn in person, it all makes sense! Named for the nearby village of Falkirk, the wheel employs gears, hydraulics and Archimedes’ Principle to raise small boats 8 stories in the air in under 10 minutes, eliminating a series of 11 locks that used to take all day to navigate.

The day we visited, no boats were going through the lift, but an operator offered to run the thing for us and even asked which direction we’d like to see it spin. Each rotation only takes about 1.5 kilowatt-hours of power and the whole contraption costs only about $15 a day in electricity to run on a constant schedule. More info on the Wheel, including a video, can be found here.

Up Close Under the Falkirk Wheel

Up Close Under the Falkirk Wheel, in the upright position.

It spins!

It spins!

Sideways. Each caisson can hold a 70-foot 200 ton boat.

Sideways. Each caisson can hold a 70-foot 200 ton boat.

To the Highlands!

Posted in Beyond the USA, Photography, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

EARTH Magazine: Tiny traces reveal big secrets at LA’s Le Brea Tar Pits

Photo courtesy of the George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries.

Photo courtesy of the George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries.

As many of you know, I don’t just write for fun. This is also how I make my living! If you’re curious about my science writing, my latest story for EARTH magazine just went live. This is one of my favorite pieces I’ve written for EARTH lately. I usually cover the geophysics beat – think earthquakes, plate tectonics and volcanoes – but every now and then I get to revisit my first geo-love: paleontology.

The La Brea tar pits in the middle of Los Angeles are known for turning up spectacularly preserved specimens of dire wolves, saber-tooth cats and woolly mammoths. But how long it took for the animals to sink down into the sticky tar after they became trapped has long been a mystery. Now a new study looking at the traces left by hungry bone-eating insects is providing a minimum time span for burial, as well as confirming some long-held suspicions about when the tar pits were at their most lethal.

To read the rest, click over to EARTH’s website. I haven’t been to La Brea yet ( I have been to LA) but it’s now at the top of my must-see-next-time-I’m-in-southern-California list!

Stay tuned for more from Scotland!

Posted in Science Writing, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

High Points On My Horizon: Hiking Arthur’s Seat

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Hiking along the Salisbury Crags up to Arthur’s Seat, just visible through the mist.

Edinburgh has quickly become one of my all-time favorite cities on Earth, in large part because of its prominent volcano. Arthur’s Seat – named for the legend of King Arthur and thought to be one of the potential locations for Camelot – last erupted 325 million years ago and is now considered extinct. What remains today is impressive, but the 823-foot high summit is only a fraction of the original mount, which was carved down to size by retreating glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age.

My family and I set out to climb Arthur’s Seat via the Salisbury Crags on a rainy, misty, but still pleasantly warm morning. I would never trade these dark, moody pictures for sunny blue skies. These shots feel like Scotland!

My Sister & Edinburgh

Atop the Crags

My Sister & Edinburgh

My Sister & Edinburgh

Old Town Edinburgh

Old Town Edinburgh. The Castle is in the middle on another vent of the volcano.

Backside of the Crags

Backside of the Crags

The Summit!

To The Summit!

Summit Observatory

Summit Observatory

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We were heading to Stirling the next day.

Dad & Nik, Plotting

Dad & Nik, Plotting Our Course

Sarah & Dad on the summit

Sarah & Dad on the summit

Arthur's Crow

Arthur’s Crow, Overlooking Edinburgh

To the Highlands!

Posted in Beyond the USA, Hiking!, Photography, Science Writing, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments