Month: February 2014

Valentines Day for the Spouse of a Mountaineer

Valentines Day is that special time of year when we give little gifts or cards or chocolate to our loved ones. It’s also a great time to say “I thank you” for all that we put them through. Mountaineers put their spouses through a special kind of torment. We might be held in captivity by mercenaries in a foreign land. We might be gravely injured or ill and unable to be evacuated. We might be stuck in a deadly storm in a cave 125′ beneath the surface of the glacial ice. I’ve caused my poor spouse to suffer under the stress of all of those and more on my mountaineering adventures. She persists in giving me the inspiration I need to continue to pursue my dream.

Updated – New Offer BELOW

My Valentines Day Girl: ascending to the ice climbing routes near Provo Utah
My Valentines Day Girl: in the ascent gully to Stairway to Heaven

In fact, the woman I commemorate this Valentines Day was the one who helped me to define my dream. As a couple we both traveled and shared our love of foreign cultures and peoples. As we grew in our relationship we found our own dreams. She loved figure skating and competing. I loved mountains and climbing. We set our goals around our own goals and the goals of the other. I started skating, something I hadn’t done since I was a kid growing up in the Great White North. She took up climbing with me on plastic, rock and ice.

My wife winning her category for Figure Skating

She is a good friend to fellow Elbrus Race 2014 team mate Jen Hamilton. Her figure skating coach is Todd Gilles, my padowan and climbing buddy. Jen’s husband Ryan, of is my Utah climbing buddy from way back. We’ve all climbed and hiked together in various combinations. On this Valentines Day I’d like to also thank them for the support and suggestions and the opportunity I’ve had to serve them with support of my own. Relationships are important when you engage in a sport in which you stare death in the eyes every time out.

Valentines Day reflection: Hoosier Pass for Angie and Jen
Valentines Day reflection: Hoosier Pass for Angie and Jen

Valentines Day for the Spouse of a Mountaineer

We support each other’s dreams. We endure hardship and separation while she’s away competing or training and I’m away in some foreign jungle or glacial desert. We love deeply and with passion, each other, and our dreams and goals and aspirations. I hope that this Valentines Day finds you thanking those that support you in your endeavors and that you never forget that without them, you could not accomplish half of what you wish for.

Update Jan 3, 2015

New Year, New You. Amazing Bling Deal CLICK HERE NOW

Give your loved ones a  Valentine's Day reward, or reward yourself for a job well done and get a FREE PAPERBACK
Give your loved ones a Valentine’s Day reward, or reward yourself for a job well done and get a FREE PAPERBACK

I am totally thrilled that my spouse has been such a great support to me over these years of adventure and achievement, and I am happy to share that joy with you all here.

Please go to my Origami Owl Custom Jewelry page HERE and order $75 or more in gifts from a USA address, and I’ll send you a free autographed copy of one of my paperback books. Choose from one of these:

  • Carstensz, Stone Age to Iron Age
  • Elbrus Race 2013
  • Summit Success: Training for Hiking, Mountaineering, and Peak Bagging
  • My Sweet Infected
  • Finding Time to Train

It’s a great offer and I know you’ll enjoy sharing your love, and getting your own free autographed copy of one of my paperback books. To celebrate Valentine’s Day this year. Stay tuned for upcoming special edition Valentine’s Day 2015 lockets and charms.

Offer expires January 15, 2015 and limited to stock on hand for paperbacks. Get yours now before I run out.

Valentine's Day Heart Locket with meaningful charms
Valentine’s Day Heart Locket with meaningful charms

Winter Hiking for the First Time

I took my 13 year old son out winter hiking for the first time on a Colorado 14er. I selected Quandary for a few reasons.

  • I’ve been to the top in every month, in almost every condition and know the routes well.
  • I’ve helped several other people do their first 14er on Quandary.
  • He’s been up it twice in the summer and knew what to expect.
  • Winter access to Quandary is the same as in summer, so no long approaches.

Winter hiking for the first time can be daunting, but he has seen me preparing for my winter outings. I trail run, snowshoe run, ice climb, and climb lots of mountains all year round. I knew how to prepare and properly outfit him for the adventure. The weather called for temperatures into the mid 20’s with possible winds to 20 mph. He’s a bit smaller than I am, and younger. He hasn’t adapted to winter activities like I have.

Winter hiking for the first time, my son got to meet Alan Arnette
Winter hiking for the first time, my son got to meet Alan Arnette

My son has a few favorite clothes items so I based his outfit around those to make it easier for him. I suggest that if you are considering winter hiking for the first time you do the same. It’s a lot easier. He wore base layers, insulated snow pants like for sledding, a mid-weight fleece jacket, and a mid-weight down jacket. On his extremities he wore a thick knit cap, ski gloves, and on his feet, wool ski socks and some Sorel boots. We brought along a couple pair of snowshoes but I really didn’t want to wear them unless we had to. He didn’t have enough experience with them that I thought it might slow us down some.

At the trailhead we discovered that there was some mountain club group hike going on, the lot was full and the road was almost completely parked up. We parked way down by Hwy 9 and decided with that many people ahead of us snowshoes were definitely not needed. We started out dressed light, with his puffy (nickname for down jacket) in his backpack. Along the trail we bumped into Alan Arnette, whose Everest Blog is quite popular CLICK HERE. We passed through a few deep spots with a bit of wading. I expected these, since they’re always in about the same spots every year. In my opinion it’s worth slowing down a bit to break trail in hip deep snow for a couple hundred feet in return for going a bit faster and lighter the rest of the trail.

Winter hiking for the first time, my son got pretty hot in the sun but below the wind
Winter hiking for the first time, my son got pretty hot in the sun but below the wind

When we got up in the wind I had him put on his jacket and have some food and water. At about 12,500 – 13,500 feet a lot of people run out of gas. Add in slick snow surfaces and cold and wind and it’s very difficult sometimes to convince the newbie to keep moving. We finally hit the summit about a half hour behind my initial target for him, but we did take a few more breaks and 3-1/2 hours is still a respectable time in the winter. We hung around at the top with about 100 members of whatever the group was, eating and drinking and taking pics.

We then headed down the trail, which was a little bit more slippery. I didn’t have any spikes to fit his Sorel boots, so I didn’t wear any either. It went okay though and in about 2-1/2 hours we got to the car. One funny thing was that having parked at the mouth of the turnoff to Hwy 9 we could see our car almost the entire way down. That was a great incentive to keep moving. His adventure with winter hiking for the first time was a great success and on the drive home he asked me about ways to improve his time and beat it the next time out. That makes a dad proud.

Video of my son winter hiking for the first time

Suggestions if you want to try winter hiking:

Winter hiking can be dangerous. I am very experienced and knew the route well. I knew the local weather patterns and what to expect. I’ve also had several sessions of outdoor training. I’ve been up Quandary with a handful of friends, some having never done a 14er before, some having never been hiking in the winter. I recommend that if you are going to try winter hiking for the first time that you find a mentor to help you.

I suggest that you also have snowshoes and/or microspikes. I’m used to running on winter trails in running shoes, spiked running shoes, and running shoes with Kahtoola Microspikes. In general you want to be safe and prepared. Snowshoes are a bit clunky to haul around, but microspikes are pretty light and great insurance. They would have been handy on the way down.

I recommend trekking poles. They will help you stay up when the going is slippery. They’ll help you stay in balance on the way down. They can help you transfer some of the work to your arms on the way up and down, taking a load off your legs.

I can’t stress enough the importance of going with someone experienced, so I’ll say it again. An experienced friend can monitor you for signs of exhaustion and cold injury. An experienced friend can help you remember to eat and drink and adjust your layers for your body’s thermal state – too hot or too cold. An experienced friend can keep you from being lost. I’ve had to help people find their way down Quandary a few times now. For some reason there are a couple of spots on the way down where people make wrong turns on a regular basis.

If you need any more information about winter hiking for the first time let me know in the comments. I want your first experience to be a good one.

Elbrus Logistics Explained

Elbrus Logistics can be a nightmare to those not experienced in Third World travel. Not to say that it’s in an undeveloped nation, but it has many of the same adventure travel perils to consider.

Elbrus Logistics can include a tour of the Wool Market and a visit with a Baksan Local
Elbrus Logistics can include a tour of the Wool Market and a visit with a beautiful Baksan Local

Elbrus Logistics Question:

Recently on my Facebook Page, someone asked this question about Elbrus Logistics.

Did you use Pilgrim Tours? I have heard some really good info about them. Also, did you go with a group or use the Pilgrim “Lite” tour? Thanks. — MP

To answer the question, yes, I have used Pilgrim Tours twice. Once I used their full 8 day package, and the second time I used the “Lite” package.

There are three local guide services I would recommend for Elbrus Logistics.

I’ve also used Top Sport Travel, with their Elbrus Race Itinerary. I have a great friend in Nikolai from Top Sport. I have a climbing friend who has done the traverse of Elbrus with 7 Summits Club and he was quite happy with his unique experience.

In the van with Elbrus Logistics provider Nikolai from Top Sport Travel
In the van with Elbrus Logistics provider Nikolai from Top Sport Travel

Elbrus Logistics Loopholes and Gotcha’s

First of all, Russia is on the opposite side of the world from us, and the internet can be iffy. Some of your contact people might be actively taking groups on tours or climbs. You might go a few days without hearing back and because the email is from Russia, it’s likely to be in your Spam Folder. Even then there will be some communication issues, and you should use the most simple English possible to communicate.

Next, you will need to deal with Russian Visa issues. Unless something changes soon, expect to do the mail-in Visa Application and for the process to take at least six weeks from the time you get your Invitation and Voucher. You are recommended to use the official site ILS-USA CLICK HERE. I am told by the staff there and at the Consulate that this is the only acceptable processing center, and that all the others must go through this office. Save time and money and use this office.

The Elbrus Logistics provider will insist on some deposit being wired into a bank in Eastern Europe. This is normal, do not be alarmed. The three providers listed are all reputable. Sometimes you have to wire the whole amount. Other times you must bring Euro (preferred right now) or USD for the balance. If you fly through Amsterdam or Frankfurt you can get some Euro at the airport while you wait for your transfer.

Layover in Amsterdam (AMS) with Miffy on the way to Russia
Layover in Amsterdam (AMS) with Miffy on the way to Russia

Once you get your deposit in, your provider will then send you a PDF scan of the documents you need for your Russian Visa. This could also take as long as a week. If you add all of this up, you’ll see that the least expensive route to get your Visa could take 8 weeks or longer. Plan accordingly. In a pinch, you can get one in less than 10 days, but it’s not very easy or inexpensive to do and I highly recommend against it.

Elbrus Logistics Options:

The “Lite” packages basically are customized, pay for some up front, pay for the rest as you go. You decide ahead of time how many days you’ll need to stay in a hotel, and how many at the Barrels Huts. When in the hotels you’ll be fed breakfast and dinner. At the Barrels you’ll be on your own unless you also hire a cook. On the “Lite” package you’ll need to figure out your own climbing itinerary and route finding. By the time you hire both a guide and a cook you’ll have put together an Elbrus logistics package that costs more than the standard 8 day group itinerary.

You’ll also need some cash for the Tram/Gondola fares, any meals you buy outside the standard hotel fare, taxi between the hotel and the Tram/Gondola Stations, and some few other things that might pop up.

In the standard 8 day itinerary you’ll get almost all of your meals taken care of (aside from some alcohol) and you’ll get the guide and cook as part of the group. You’ll just march along with them and they have a relatively high success rate. If you are nervous about weather at all, get the 11 day package which allows for a couple extra weather days that the 8 day cannot.

With the standard group package there might be additional fees if your group decides to use a Snowcat to transport luggage or for the trip to Pastukhov Rocks on Summit Day. These are generally not options on the “Lite” package unless you have passable Russian skills and can talk your way into them. You might also tip your guide and cook if you choose.

Todd Gilles and myself acclimatizing for Elbrus Race 2013
Todd Gilles and myself acclimatizing for Elbrus Race 2013

I have two books available about two of my trips to Russia.

Elbrus, My Waterloo – available only on Amazon Kindle right now. This book is about a trip I did on the Pilgrim “Lite” package CLICK HERE

Elbrus Race 2013 – available on Amazon Kindle and paperback, B&N Nook, and Google Play. This book is about a trip with Top Sport Travel for the Elbrus Race Skyrunning event. CLICK HERE

Both describe some of my own experiences out of my travel journals while in Russia and have a wealth of information on the area and how to get around. If you have any other questions just comment below.

Elbrus Race 2013 Wrap-up

As I prepared for the Elbrus Race 2013 with my team mate Todd Gilles, I worked hard to increase my fitness for the vertical ascent of the Classic, from the Barrels Huts to the summit of Elbrus at approximately 18,500′. Normally you do that a couple days after the Qualifier, about half of the distance and elevation gain of the Classic.

Myself, Kilian Jornet, and Todd Gilles at the opening ceremony for Elbrus Race 2013
Myself, Kilian Jornet, and Todd Gilles at the opening ceremony for Elbrus Race 2013

At the same time my friend and climbing partner Todd Gilles said he’d like to
join me on Elbrus. I gave him a training program to follow to help him adjust his
current fitness levels more toward fast vertical travel. I’ve known him for a
couple years now and just last December we started climbing together. I went
with him on several Winter Colorado Fourteener climbs and attempts, as well as
several ice and rock climbing trips. He refers to me as his “Mountain Mentor”
and that makes me feel really good. As a former competing champion in
figure skating he was in really good physical condition and not afraid of hard
work. We were going to have a blast. — From the Preface to Elbrus Race 2013

We had the usual hassles with the Russian Visa process, and the generally slow responses of the Russian Logistics companies. Finally there, we ended up staying in the Barrels with Kilian Jornet and his crew. They were there to do a video on Kilian’s attempt at a base-summit-base speed record on Elbrus. Sadly, the weather was not cooperative on either the Qualifier or the two days of the Race. The Qualifier was cut short, the first Race day it was cancelled after the Extreme (base to summit) Race had already started, and when the Race was finally run, they brought the finish line of both the Extreme and Classic routes down to a bit below 17,000′.

The Qualifier in whiteout conditions for Elbrus Race 2013
The Qualifier in whiteout conditions for Elbrus Race 2013

Elbrus Race 2013 – the book

When we returned from the Elbrus Race 2013, I compiled my notes into a book, and published it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and then on Google Play and Google Books. We were quite successful, though we did not reach the top. My 5th place, and Todd’s 3rd place finish were momentous occasions as the best US results in nearly 20 years. For a press release from Elbrus Race 2013 CLICK HERE.

A lot of people didn’t qualify, qualified but dropped out before the Race, or dropped out and turned back in the storm. It was pretty tough conditions and I was thrilled that Todd and I stuck it out. He placed, and I finished and we’ve been an inspiration to others to join us for Elbrus Race 2014 STORY.

Elbrus Race 2013 Classic 3rd Place Trophy for Todd Gilles
Elbrus Race 2013 Classic 3rd Place Trophy for Todd Gilles

If you’re interested in mountaineering, skyrunning, adventure travel, the Seven Summits, or even a great story, Elbrus Race 2013 is the book for you. For more information CLICK HERE for the rest of the story.

Having never read about or experienced mountaineering and extreme incline races before, I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s firsthand recount of his and Todd’s experience in Elbrus Race 2013. I am in awe of their accomplishments, and have an even greater respect for their quest and dedication to their dreams. I can’t wait to hear more! — 5-star review on Amazon