Aerial Geology: San Rafael Reef

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In geologic terms, the San Rafael Swell is an anticline: a fold in the Earth’s crust that looks like a dome in cross-section. The Swell formed between 60 and 40 million years ago, when the Rocky Mountains were rising to the east, both uplifted by the same forces deep in the Earth’s mantle. As the top and sides of the dome split and fractured, rainwater found its way into the cracks, eroding them deeper and forming a convoluted network of slot canyons that drain the Swell, some only a few feet wide but hundreds of feet deep.

The eastern side of the Swell, called the San Rafael Reef, is the most dramatically tilted and fractured part of the dome. Made up of steeply tilted layers of erosion-resistant white Navajo sandstone and red Wingate sandstone, these hard rocks have formed into upright fins, cliffs and deep canyons.

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I’ve visited the San Rafael Swell a few times and have wriggled through its slot canyons and tested my navigating skills by hiking cross-country into its labyrinth of folds, but I hadn’t yet seen it from on high. And you all know how I love learning about the landscape from altitude! So Dan and I set our sights high: a nine pitch climb to the top of the San Rafael Reef up a route called Death By Chocolate.

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Read more about the San Rafael Reef in my book Aerial Geology out now from Timber Press! I emerged from a few wifi-less days in the desert to great news: Aerial Geology is a #1 best seller on Amazon!

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Aerial Geology is Nationwide!

Introducing Aerial Geology to the Utah Desert

Hey everybody! I stopped in Back of Beyond Books today in Moab, Utah and lo and behold… I found a copy of Aerial Geology on their shelves! You should now be able to find a copy at Barnes & Noble, Target and independent booksellers nationwide. You can also order the book off Amazon. Once you’ve had a chance to read through it, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads. I’m celebrating my book release with a good old fashioned desert roadtrip. You can follow my travels in Instagram. Thanks everybody!

Aerial Geology on the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument

Front and center in the Geology section of Back of Beyond Books in Moab.

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Aerial Geology: The Dragon’s Back

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Northwest New Mexico is one of the driest places in the country – the region gets less than 12 inches of rain a year, most of it during the late summer monsoon season. But despite the aridity, this desert is shaped by water. During the Mesozoic Era, starting around 160 million years ago, what is now New Mexico was flooded by the Jurassic Ocean, a shallow inland sea that covered most of the Southwest United States. The Jurassic Ocean was very salty and rich in minerals that left behind extensive deposits of limestone and gypsum.

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These layers of gypsum, a white crumbly rock, have eroded away to sculpt a formation known as the “Dragon’s Back”, a 2.5 mile-long ridge with a bulbous head and a tapering tail that, from the air, has the appearance of a great white serpent, standing out starkly against the red and orange landscape. Look closely and you may see tiny mountain bike riders or hikers making their way along the spine of the Dragon’s Back. The trail is not for the faint of heart: gypsum is a water-soluble mineral and eons of rare rains have melted a few sinkholes into the top of the ridge, some big enough to swallow a bike whole.

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The top of the Dragon’s Back is wide enough to bike or hike across without much danger of falling off, but narrow enough in some sections to trigger vertigo. The east side of the ridge drops steeply down into a enormous bowl, carved out by erosion over the past 150 million years. This bowl is known in geologic terms as an anticline: a fold in the Earth’s crust that creates a convex dome. This anticline, however, is different. It’s no longer a dome – the middle layers have been scooped out by erosion – leaving behind a bowl with upswept sides. This feature is so unique that geology classes from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque journey here each year on field trips to see it in person.

Dragons back

The name the Dragon’s Back is fitting, and not just for the formation’s distinctively reptilian shape. During the Mesozoic, when the layers that form the Dragon’s Back were laid down, dinosaurs dominated the land and the sea. New Mexico is home to some of the most productive dinosaur bone yards in the country, including in the Ojito Wilderness, just 10 miles south of the Dragon’s Back, where one of the longest dinosaurs found to date – the 110-foot long Seismosaurus – was uncovered in 1985. The long-necked, long-tailed Seismosaurus was a species of Sauropod, related to the more famous Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus. Other fossils are common in the area, including whole petrified trees.

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Flight pattern: You may catch a glimpse of the Dragon’s Back flying into or out of Albuquerque, located 50 miles southeast of San Ysidro. From the air, the Dragon’s Back appears as a curving white ridge against a red background, just west of highway 550.

Read more about the Dragon’s Back and 99 other North American geologic wonders in Aerial Geology, out now! Order your signed author’s copy direct from me for $27 plus $5 shipping per book through 
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Also available through AmazonBarnes & Noble or Indie Bound. Or find it at your local bookseller starting in early October!

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Aerial Geology: Alaska’s Malaspina Glacier

A river of ice the size of Rhode Island, spread out like pancake batter on a hot griddle

Glaciers are essentially rivers of ice but they can take many shapes depending on the underlying topography. The almost perfectly round Malaspina Glacier in southern Alaska is the largest piedmont glacier in the world – larger than the state of Rhode Island. Piedmont glaciers take shape when one or more glaciers spill out onto a relatively flat plain, where they spread laterally, like pancake batter on a grill.

The Malaspina Glacier covers more than 1,500 square miles and is fed by several glaciers, including the central Seward Glacier and the Agassiz Glacier, which descend from the Saint Elias Mountains onto the coastal plain between Icy Bay and Yakutat Bay. The edge of the piedmont glacier comes within a few miles of the Gulf of Alaska but terminal moraines – large deposits of rocks carried to the end of the glacier by moving ice – keep the Malaspina from reaching the water.

Yikes Stripes! Medial moraines created by rock and debris riding on top of the many glaciers that make up the Malaspina. Aerial photo by Bruce Molnia/ USGS.

From the air, wavy, circular and zig zag patterns can be seen across the top of the glacier. The brown lines against the white ice are moraines – glacial debris including rocks, soil and dust that get scraped up by the glacier as it moves and deposited on top of the ice, usually along the sides of the glacier. When two glaciers come together, these lines of debris merge to form a medial moraine closer to the center of the ice.

Glaciers that flow at steady rates tend to have relative straight moraines, while those that periodically surge due to increased melt or steep changes in topography develop wavy moraines as a result of folding, shearing and compression of the ice. The patterns of curves, zigzags and loops on Malaspina are the result of such surges and of many glaciers combining into one mass of ice on the flat plain.

Read more about the Malaspina Glacier and 99 other North American geologic wonders in Aerial Geology, out now! Order your signed author’s copy direct from me for $27 plus $5 shipping per book through 
PayPal

Also available through AmazonBarnes & Noble or Indie Bound. Or find it at your local bookseller starting in early October!

Aerial Geology is here! Thousands of books with my name on the cover… wild! 🙂

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Aerial Geology: Quebec’s Pingualuit Crater

A NASA satellite image of the Pingualuit Crater among other lakes in northern Quebec

Northern Quebec is laced with over half a million lakes, formed by water pooling on top of the ubiquitous bedrock of the Canadian Shield, the geologic core of North America. One of these lakes, however, stands out from all the rest by being perfectly round. Located on the Ungava Peninsula in northern Quebec, this circular lake sits inside the Pingualuit Crater, a scar left in the Earth’s crust by a meteorite impact 1.4 million years ago.

Pingualuit translates from the Inuit language as “place where the land rises.” From the ground, the crater does appear as nothing more than a sharp rise, with the rim of the crater looming 500 feet taller than the surrounding landscape. When the meteorite hit the hard rock of the Canadian Shield, it exploded, melting thousands of tons of rock and incinerating itself in the process. Today, few traces of the meteor have been detected near the impact zone. The force of the impact shattered and shocked the rocks that now make up the crater rim, causing them to expand out and up, forming a raised ring in an otherwise flat landscape.

You will likely only fly over the Pingualuit Crater on a chartered flight. This isolated place is over 60 miles from the closest settlement and difficult to reach except by air. Image by NASA/ Jesse Allen.

The scar the impact left behind is over 2 miles in diameter and 1,300 feet deep, and filled nearly to the brim, making this one of the deepest lakes in the world. The lake has no inlets or outlets, though it does host a population of arctic char fish that have evolved to be genetically unique due to their isolation from other char populations. All the water that has accumulated in the lake comes from rain, snow and snowmelt, making for exceptionally clear freshwater. Viewed from the air, the water appears bright electric blue due to its depth and purity.

The Pingualuit Crater has been known by the Inuit for thousands of years and is considered a sacred place of healing. The crater was put on the map by pilots during World War II, who used its perfectly round shape to navigate across the often confusing lake-covered landscape of northern Quebec. Today the crater is protected within the boundaries of Pingualuit National Park

Read more about this distinctive landmark and 99 more in my newly published book Aerial Geology: A High-Altitude Tour of North America’s Spectacular Volcanoes, Canyons, Glaciers, Lakes, Craters and Peaks from Timber Press.

You can pre-order a signed author’s copy direct from me for $27, plus $5 shipping per book, through the Paypal link below. Or pre-order through Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Indie Bound or find it online or at your local bookseller in early October.


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A Total Eclipse in the Heart of the Winds

Team photo at Indian Pass 12,600 feet, a new high point for Paul, Becky and Vida!

Last week, I spent five days in the Wind River Range in Wyoming, one of the most remote and dramatic mountain ranges in North America and one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Add in a once-in-three-lifetimes-event – a total solar eclipse – and I’m absolutely sure, deep down in the granite bones of my soul, that we live on the best planet in the Universe.

My Brother in Otherworldly Titcomb Basin

Earth is the only planet in our solar system that experiences total solar eclipses: all the other planets either lack moons or have moons that are either too small or distant to block the sun or so large and close that they obscure it completely. In its current orbit, Earth’s Moon is in just the right place that it appears the same size as the Sun in the sky. When their ever-spinning celestial paths converge, as they did last week, the Moon is just the right size to cover the Sun, highlighting the Sun’s flaming white corona for a few minutes against the darkend sky. It hasn’t always been this way: it wasn’t until about 1 billion years ago that the Moon reached its right-size place in the sky. If you missed totality this time, you have time to make plans to catch the next event: the Moon will be in the right position for totality for another 600 million years, give or take a lifetime or three, before it will orbit outward too far from Earth to perfectly block the Sun.

At 99% percent totality… changing light, dropping temps

We witnessed the eclipse from Titcomb Basin: a granite wonderland deep in the Winds on the western side of the Continental Divide, some 15 miles from the nearest road. Even in this remote location, eclipse watchers were plentiful. It’s a testament to the sheer grandeur of Titcomb Basin that it never felt crowded. I, for once, didn’t mind the company. Some experiences should be shared and a total eclipse is definitely one of them. Losing the Sun, even for a few fleeting minutes, is terrifying. In those dark, cold moments, you realize how much the Sun does for us. It’s not just an orb in the sky, the Sun is god: the very source of life on Earth. Leading up to totality, the six of us gathered on a granite knoll, at nearly 11,000 feet of elevation, and as the Moon slid across the Sun, we found ourselves sliding closer to one another, huddling for warmth, seeking reassurance that the Sun god would not forsake as, that it would return, as promised, after two minutes and thirty seconds of darkness.

Stunned by Totality

Photographs will never do this event justice and in the moment, I snapped a few shots and then put down my camera and let totality burn into my brain. Those moments are among the most surreal of my life. In my mind’s eye, the black hole sun was huge, taking up my whole consciousness, inking out the whole sky save for a bright few stars and planets. We laughed, we screamed, we howled, we stood up and lay down, elated, dizzy, shaking with primal terror. And then the Sun god returned, the slightest sliver of light making all the difference. Then us six saw the eclipse through to the very end. Not until the last bite of Moon was gone did full warmth return to the granite bones of Titcomb Basin.

Angels and Animals, united by the Sun and Moon. I am honored to have shared this experience with these humans.

Dogs don’t care about eclipses

Home for three nights in Titcomb Basin

Vida loves backpacking!

Proper bear-bagging of food in treeless Titcomb Basin

The Wind River Range is featured in my upcoming book Aerial Geology: A High Altitude Tour of North America’s Spectacular Volcanoes, Canyons, Glaciers, Lakes, Craters and Peaks:

With its smooth, silvery grey texture and tendency to erode into soaring walls and dramatic pinnacles, granite is one of the most beautiful rocks on Earth. North America’s most famous granite is found in Yosemite National Park in California, but Wyoming’s remote and rugged Wind River Range gives Yosemite a run for its money, especially considering that the Winds are much farther off the crowded tourist track.

The Winds are located south and east of the Tetons, but the two ranges have very different geologic stories. Over one billion years ago, a massive volcanic intrusion formed deep underground, cooling slowly over time to form very hard, ver crystalline granite. This so-called granitic batholith remained buried for millions of years until around 66 million years ago, when uplift along the Continental Divide formed the Rocky Mountains Mountains and exposed the mass of granite at the surface.

The day before the eclipse. we paid a visit to the Continental Divide, by hiking up to Indian Pass, a 12,600-foot notch between Jackson Peak and Knife-Point Peak. On the way, Erika and Mitch peeled off to hike up Fremont Peak, at 13,743 the third highest point in Wyoming. Not only did they summit, the beat us back to camp in time to pull down the bear bags and start dinner! In five days, we hiked over 40 miles and barely scratched the surface of this incredible place.

The Moon eclipsed the Sun but the Winds eclipsed everything else. I’ll be back!

Erika sighting her line up Fremont Peak.

Dio and Vida crossing the Continental Divide below Jackson Peak

The view West from the Continental Divide

A little taste of the awesomely scenic hike into Titcomb Basin

Last day, reluctant to leave

Did you know, you can also follow the Blonde Coyote on Instagram?!

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Lone Peak Love Letter: My Favorite Christmas Tree Laccolith!

The first copy of my book! It’s so much bigger and heavier than I imagined! A proper coffee-table book!

Last September, the day the manuscript for my book was due to the publisher, I left my desk and hiked up my backyard peak, running over every memorized word on my way up the mountain. By 11,166 feet, I decided it was done and hit “send” on the summit. Almost a year later, when I got my hands on the very first physical copy, it felt right to hike it up Lone Peak.

The cover features an aerial shot of the Grand Canyon

I love the inside cover… a blue-scale rendering of an aerial photo of the Wave, on the Utah/ Arizona border.

The book features 100 geological wonders including this winter aerial shot of Lone Peak by local legend Ryan Turner.

Each entry offers aerial or satellite photos of a geological feature and explains the natural history of the site on a grand scale.

Lone Peak is featured in the book:

If you were to design the ideal mountain for a world-class ski resort, you might come up with something like Lone Peak, the centerpiece of Big Sky Resort in Big Sky, Montana. Big Sky’s oft-quoted tagline is “The Biggest Skiing in America” and even if that’s no longer strictly true in terms of acreage, the hair-raising double black diamond runs off Lone Peak’s 11,166 foot summit certainly set the bar in terms of sheer grandeur.

Lone Peak lies at the edge of the Madison Range and while it looks like a volcano, it’s actually a failed volcano. Lone Peak was formed by volcanism but it never erupted at the surface. Instead, the magma rose up through a vertical conduit but then then spread out sideways, running out between layers of sedimentary rock, forming lateral arms of dacite and andesite. This type of eruption produces what geologists call a Christmas tree laccolith: a central trunk with radiating lateral arms that intrude into existing sedimentary rock.

Yikes! Stripes! These older sedimentary rock layers were invaded by the younger volcanic intrusion that created Lone Peak. Shell fossils are found in similar sedimentary layers elsewhere on the mountain.

The same ridge – the A to Z Ridge – in winter, one of Lone Peak’s many radiating arms. The chutes down the arms make for some of the most extreme in-bounds skiing in North America. This mountain was made for skiing!

Everybody has a favorite geologic term. Mine has been “Christmas tree laccolith” for years, since I learned the term in college. My first summer in Big Sky, after the snow melted, I hiked to the top of Andesite Mountain, next to Lone Peak, and found a plaque on the summit that had been buried under snow all winter. The faded plaque told the geologic story of the area and informed me that “Lone Peak is a Christmas-tree Laccolith”. That’s when I knew I had found Home.

Aerial Geology will be available in print and ebook October 2017 from Timber Press. Get your signed author’s copy now for $27 plus $5 shipping per book through 
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Also available for pre-order through AmazonBarnes & Noble or Indie Bound.

*** Pre-ordered books from Amazon etc. will ship in early October. I have signed copies ready to ship now!

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Coming Soon… My First Book!!!

My preferred title “Geology For Astronauts” didn’t win out but I love the cover!

For all my long-time readers out there who have been wondering what I’ve been up to these past few years, I can finally let you in on my big secret! I wrote a book! My first book entitled Aerial Geology: A High Altitude Tour of North America’s Spectacular Volcanoes, Canyons, Glaciers, Lakes, Craters and Peaks will be published by Timber Press in October!

 

Land Lungs: A NASA satellite image of the Missisippi River Delta

Aerial Geology is a coffee-table style book that takes a bird’s eye view of 100 geologic features all over North America through NASA satellite photos, aerial photos from airplanes and my own shots and explains their geology on a grand scale. As many of you know, I’ve been making my living as a freelance science writer for the past ten years, while crisscrossing the continent by car and on foot. In many ways, this book is the culmination of a decade of studying the Earth, as a science journalist and an insatiable hiker, and I can’t wait to hold a copy of it in my hands.

Ink Stains on Earth: Lava flows at Idaho’s Craters of the Moon, also by NASA

My favorite thing about my job as a science writer is that I get to learn something new everyday. I’ve hiked in all 50 states and have visited 89 out of 100 locations covered in Aerial Geology (the remaining 11 are still on my to do list, including the Bugaboos in British Columbia and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico) and I learned A LOT about North America – the most geologically diverse continent on Earth – in writing this book.

 

Hells Canyon on the border between Oregon and Idaho is the deepest canyon in North America – deeper than the Grand! I’ve hiked along the edge of this canyon and rafted the Snake River through its deep, dark heart two summers ago. Photo by Malcolm Andrews/ Aerial Horizon.

From the introduction of Aerial Geology:

Geology and mountaineering go hand in hand. The higher you go, the more you see and the more you see, the more you learn. If mountaintops are fantastic classrooms, airplane window seats are even better. In many ways, geology is best understood from the air. Altitude lends a greater perspective of the land and lets you begin to visualize the extraordinary forces have shaped our planet over the last 4.45 billion years.

Follow me from the edge of Alaska, down the West Coast, to the desert Southwest, over the high Rockies, across the patchwork Great Plains, and up the ancient fossil-rich mountains of my childhood, to the edge of the East. This book is for everybody who ever wondered how seashells end up on mountain tops and for the high flyers who gaze out that tiny oval on every flight. I hope this book changes the way you see the world and inspires you to get out and explore more of it.

Seashells that lived in an ancient ocean make up the limestone ridge to the summit of Woodward Mountain (10,659 feet) in southwest Montana

Aerial Geology will be available in print October 2017 from Timber Press. You can pre-order a signed author’s copy direct from me for $27, plus $5 shipping per book, through the Paypal link below. Or pre-order through Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Indie Bound or find it online or at your local bookseller in early October.

Thank you, as always, for all the support! This community’s well-wishes and encouragement have sustained me on this ever winding, forever climbing path. I’ll be posting on here from time to time. You can also follow the Blonde Coyote on Instagram.


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 *** Pre-ordered books will ship in October.

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Vida’s First Roadtrip: Surfing & Sierras!

Vida’s Second Summit, Dio’s Thousandth (?)… Lucky Peak Reservoir, ID

Overlooking the Lucky Peak Reservoir. We were unexpected waylayed in Boise for 5 days by transmission trouble… always an adventure traveling in older rigs!

Our (somewhat) trusty steed “Jerry Odyssey Americano” a 1990 Toyota pickup camper (Don’t worry, I still have the teardrop! This is just better suited for two people.) Notice the funny rock formation behind Jerry… we climbed to the top of it!

Climbing up the third of three pitches to the top of the Santiam Pinnacle… our first multi-pitch climb of the season! Multipitching is where you and your climbing/ belay partner leave the ground behind and link multiple pitches (or rope lengths) up the rock, usually to the summit. It’s our favorite kind of climbing and you’ll see a lot of it on this trip!

Looking down at Jerry from the top of the Santiam Pinnacle! The dogs stay at “home” during multipitch hikes. We like to think they’re down there, watching us, thinking humans are pretty crazy creatures.

Our goal on this roadtrip was to alternate between climbing and skiing. Here we are skiing the Pacific Crest Trail from Santiam Pass in Oregon after a few days climbing at Smith Rock. Vida loves skiing!

A few thousand feet lower and we were in spring…

Feeling Lucky to be back in Oregon, the first state I fell in love with west of the Mississippi.

We hiked up Mary’s Peak in the Oregon Coast Range, one of my all-time favorite summits. This was the site of above photo with Bowie in 2005, my very first shoe self-portrait!

Vida on Mary’s Peak, 2017. I’m teaching her to do jump on command. She’s got ups!

Vida’s keeping Dio on his toes…they play like pups

In her more reflective moments, she has Bowie’s eyes

And his desire to be a lapdog, though she’s a much more practical size, about 30 pounds

And his sense of humor, always a clown.

Vida turned one year old on Cinco de Mayo and to celebrate we took her to meet the Pacific! She was STOKED.

Vida’s meets a Dungee

We rented a boat and some crab traps and caught a whole bucketful of dungees and rock crabs… more than we could eat in one sitting!

Jerry can hold a lot of surfboards

Dan coaxing Vida to try surfing

She’s up!

Good stance

Catching a wave…

Riding it out!

Vida didn’t love surfing. She’d much rather stay on solid ground where she can RUN!

Rock of Ages. Twisted Greenschist on the Oregon Coast

Beach Flower Bloom

Zen D.O.G. I love this picture of a totally content Dio so much. You’d never he was once terrified of brooms. He’s come along way.

Jerry makes friends easily. Seriously, this little rig gets a lot of compliments on the road. A V-6 manual Toyota with a killer rearview… what’s not to love?

Rain chased us south and inland, to the Redwoods, which are best experienced in the rain.

The next sunny day found us scaling the granite banks of the Yuba River. This was a hairy 2-pitch climb with a lot of exposure pulling out over that roof.

The roaring Yuba, full of record-setting snowmelt.

Time to go skiing… Castle Peak near Donner Pass… we went all the way up there!

Vida’s new to mountaineering but she has good instincts. Here’s she’s keeping to the rocks and off the sketchy snow to the corniced summit of Castle Peak.

Dognap on the summit. These two cuddle all the time and it melts my heart. We also bagged Basin peak in the background.

Did I mention, Vida LOVES skiing! She’s so fast!

Home sweet home for two nights at the Peter Grubb backcountry shelter

This hut was built in 1938 as a memorial to a wilderness lover who died young. It’s just off the PCT north of Donner Pass, where the Donner party spent a miserable winter in 1846-1847.

The sleeping loft sleeps 15 but we had the place to ourselves

The hut is actually two stories but bottom half is buried by about 15 feet of snow. To get into the first story you have to plunge down through this snow tunnel.

Happy Dogs, Happy M

Next stop: Lake Tahoe!

Vida’s swimming lessons. paying off!

After skiing, climbing at Lover’s Leap, a huge granite wall south of Lake Tahoe

After climbing, more skiing! This time riding the lifts at Squaw Peak! Long-time readers will remember I hiked all over this place in summer a few years ago. What a treat to come back and ski it!

The Mother Tree and the Mother Ship at Squaw (aka the KT-22 chairlift made famous by Shane McConkey)

In case you’re wondering how we fit four pairs of skis and mountaineering gear in a rig the size of a regular parking space… it all goes under the bed!

Traffic Jam on Highway 50, the Loneliest Road in America. Actually this photo was taken on 722, an even quieter scenic detour off highway 50, which is actually kind of a busy road these days.

Camping at Ibex in western Utah. Since we just went skiing, it’s time for climbing!

Looking down on the rig from the top of the Ibex wall. Can you spot Jerry down below?

The rest of the roadtrip we alternated between climbing and soaking. This is the view of Utah Lake near Provo from Rock Canyon. We soaked at 5th River Hot Springs before and Crystal in Honeyville after. Then headed to City of Rocks, Idaho and Durfree Hot Springs.

Me scaling the last pitch up Castle Rock in southern Idaho. I am getting more comfortable in the vertical world but it’s always a thrill for me!

A belay ledge with a view… of my tingling feet

One of the best campsites of the trip! City of Rocks National Preserve in Idaho. My kind of city!

At the end of our roadtrip, we met up with friends from Home

Dan teaching David about top-belaying for multi-pitch clinbing. The four of us climbed Steinfell’s Dome, the highest formation in the City of Rocks. My third time to the top in a year!

All my years traveling solo have made me treasure shared experiences all the more.

Our Kind of City

Back in Montana for a summer of hiking, climbing and backpacking in the Yellowstone ecosystem… the Last Best Place on Earth!

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Big Birthday, Big Couloir

Looking down the Big Couloir in High Summer

Last summer, on one of many hikes up my home mountain – Lone Peak – I crossed over the 11,000-foot summit, picked my way down the precipitous east face and paid my respects at the top of the Big Couloir. The Big, as it is affectionately and ominously known, is the most famous ski run off Lone Peak: a 1,200-foot 50 degree vertical drop that slices down the peak’s east face like a white lightning bolt. Sitting at the top of that impossible chute, I swore off ever skiing it. Too steep, too narrow, too cliffy, too foreboding. I should know better than to ever say never.

For most of my 20’s, I honored a tradition of climbing mountains on my birthday. For my 30th, I upended my usual quest and hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. What a fitting evolution to spend my 35th sliding down a mountain on one of the gnarliest ski runs in the West, loving every moment, every movement. I am, as always, exactly where I should be at this point in my life. I wonder where the next five years will find me…

Waiting my turn to drop into the Big. This photo was taken from the same spot as the one above. Amazing how a little snow can change terrain.

The End of the World- that’s actually the name of this part of the mountain.

As Big as it gets. Photo by my friend Leah Bothamley. I was too busy survival skiing to get my own shot.

Me skiing down the apron at the bottom of the Big with the Lone Peak trams overhead. Photo by Dan Whitaker, who was at the right place at the right time to cheer me on. 

Happy Birthday to me

Hiking the Headwaters ridge on Lone Peak. The Big Couloir is the chute over my left shoulder.

Watch a video of somebody skiing the Big Couloir here.

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