Waffling on Elbrus Race 2014

Elbrus Race 2014 is being held the week of September 6-13, according to the itinerary posted below and HERE.

IX international (2014) Elbrus Race program :

Date Days Day’s program
06.09.2014 day 01 Flight arrival to Min Vody. Transfer to Baksan Valley, Azau station. Accommodation in the Hotel Elba.
07.09.2014 day 02 Acclimatization walking nearby. Accommodation in the Hotel Elba.
08.09.2014 day 03 Transfer to Azau lift station. The opening of the competition. Going up to refuge “Barrels” ~3710m. Night at refuge “Barrels”
09.09.2014 day04 Qualifying speed climb from Barrels hut to the Pastukov rocks, 4800 m.
10.09.2014 day 05
(full moon at 15:00 pm)
Relax day. Night at the refuge “Barrels”
11.09.2014 day 06 Speed Climb of Mt. Elbrus West 5642 m. “Classic” from hut Barrels (3710) & “Extreme” from Azau 2400m Descent from Barrels to the Valley
12.09.2014 day 07 spare day for the Race or Awards Ceremony at the morning & The farewell party at the evening
13.09.2014 day 08 Transfer to airport. Flight from Min Vody..

I was forming a team of 3 to go DETAILS but over the past year since the 2013 Race a lot of water has passed under the bridge. Some of us were really sick for quite some time. Some of us had endured injuries. Some of us had endured financial hardship. I myself was involved in legal finagling to extricate myself from a series of business partnerships and investments. That took up a great deal of stress and in spite of any other factors contributed greatly to a deficit in training hours.

In other words, I wasn’t able to train the way I had for the 2013 Race, in which I took 5th place. Sadly though, since it wasn’t all the way to the summit due to weather I wasn’t able to achieve my Seven Summits Quest goal with Elbrus, the highest mountain and highest volcano in Europe. After a lot of deliberation I sent an email to my friend in Russia asking if there were a trip in August that I could attach myself to so that I could share expenses at the Barrels (cook/food) and he sent an itinerary for me that seemed to fit in with my own plans so I agreed and sent the deposit. I received the Invitation and Voucher and not coincidentally I happened to be in Seattle where I could go in person to the Visa Center.

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 Center I was informed that a technicality in the requirements for available Visa Pages in my Passport prevented my application from being processed. Thankfully it was not rejected, which would unnecessarily complicate future applications. I needed to get additional pages inserted into my Passport, which isn’t a very complicated process, but can take up to 6 weeks plus additional time for shipping back and forth both ways. They recommended Overnight mail, but in this county there really isn’t such a thing. Long complicated story. USPS won’t even deliver to most of the resort units even to full time residents.

STP - 13 year old rode with Puget Sound Mini 200 + miles
STP – 13 year old rode with Puget Sound Mini 200 + miles

In the middle of that process of course, I spent a week traveling to Utah and Seattle to drop off my 13 year old who would be riding in the Seattle to Portland 200+ mile cycling ride with his uncle. Immediately after returning home to Colorado I spent a week at the Boy Scout camp near Castle Rock Colorado as the Assistant Scoutmaster for my Frisco CO Boy Scouts. It rained a lot, and I was really happy that my son and I had done a lot of camping in a variety of conditions so that at least one of the boys had good morale during the week. Seriously though, it was great fun to help the boys earn a slew of merit badges, including the Wilderness Survival, which required them to spend a night out in a low impact shelter built on the spot.

BSA camp activity - dueling on the ropes near Castle Rock CO
BSA camp activity – dueling on the ropes near Castle Rock CO

To make things even more fun I had a house listed in Utah and it expired without being sold so am in the middle of dealing with the legal implications and handling the repairs necessary to list it again in a different price bracket so that we can appeal to a different market. That’s going to require several trips to Utah over the next month added to the other fun things I need to do. Full plate!

Of course, all of this wasn’t enough time for the whole 6+ weeks to pass. Once I do have my passport in hand it takes a minimum of 30 days to process a Visa Application to Russia by mail (for those centers that accept mail). Going in person is an option that cuts the time down to a week to 10 days depending on the Visa you’re applying for. In any case, as it is, I am getting close to the deadline necessary to go to the 2014 Race. The 30 day window closes in a few days. The 10 day window closes in a couple weeks. I am hoping that my Passport arrives quickly and that all goes well. In the past couple months of training I’ve achieved quite a few PR (PB) and top-3 personal records for some of the Strava segments I’ve run on. I even got a Male KOM (ascent speed best) for a segment on Rainier up to Pebble Creek. And I was “walking” it with a heart rate of 100. That inspired me that maybe I could go back to Elbrus Race and make a decent attempt. On the other hand, going up with the Photographers to the summit to await the champions (possibly with another attempt by Kilian) sounds enticing as well. Not sure yet. Still have to get that Passport back in enough time for the rest of the process.

I’m not telling you all of this so that you can pity me, or so that I can excuse myself. Rather I tell you all of this so that you can understand that I am working hard to overcome all the difficulties that the world is tossing at me seemingly to prevent my success. I fully believe that you are able to overcome your own difficulties even when it seems there is no way to do so.

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

I really want to go to Russia this year and get this one done!

Ultralight Hiking Article Rebuttal

Ultralight Hiking – what does that even mean?

In a [social] Group there was a link to an article about Ultralight Hiking [link removed] and after attempting to read it, I was dumbfounded. I need to step aside here for the next few comments, then I’ll get back on the topic of ultralight hiking in response to this article.

Ultralight Hiking Pack recommendations from the article
Ultralight Hiking Pack recommendations from the article

Ultralight Hiking Backpack Weight Recommendations

This is the type of information we get in this article. I’m contemplating a total newbie first time ever hiker at 180 pounds loping along the trail with a 36 pound backpack. On a day hike. And imagine the expert toting along a 65 pound backpack. Wow. As the spinner generated text so aptly states “The mind really boggles when you start researching the topic.” Here’s a real quote though, and one that addresses the whole ultralight hiking mentality.

“it is easy to get into the trap of opting to save a pound or two in weight”

And that sums it up nicely. If you’re intelligently boggling your mind by researching the topic of ultralight hiking, you’ll start tossing weight right and left until you’re trimmed down to your own minimum weight. That is what it’s all about.

When working on my Couch to Colorado 14er Training Program I recommended a maximum weight of 12 or so pounds for a day hike on one of these huge and popular mountains. That’s not even ultralight hiking weight either. That allows for a lot of extras that you could easily do without. It’s just that as a “couch to…” book it’s designed for newbies, who don’t know what is most important for their own hiking needs. Once you’ve been hiking for a long time you get a pretty good idea on what is essential or not.

Ultralight Hiking action shot
Ultralight Hiking action shot

What’s in my ultralight hiking pack?

When I do a hike up Quandary, a Colorado 14er near Breckenridge, I used to carry a lot more. Now I’m down to this simple 3 pound pack setup.

  • Ultimate Direction SJ Pack: 8.2 oz
  • Snacks and TP: 5.2 oz
  • Gloves, Hat, Bandanna: 3.7 oz
  • TNF Flashdry Vest: 6.5 oz
  • TNF BTN Hoodie: 5.3 oz
  • 3/4 Full Water Bottle: 19.4 oz
  • Total: 48.3 oz or 3.02 lb
Ultralight Hiking Daypack with gear spread out
Ultralight Hiking Daypack with gear spread out

Even my winter hikes here are with a very similar pack. I might carry a hooded down jacket instead of the vest, and I might carry two water bottles, but add in the two of those together and I’m only up to 5 pounds.  Going that light I don’t have a lot of margin for error, so if something goes wrong I’ll have to be prepared to suffer a little bit. I’m intimately familiar with the trails so I don’t have to worry about route finding or being lost. This kit is good for me in a temperature range from about 15-50 F. I can’t make a general recommendation as to whether this would work for you or not. If you feel inclined to try your hand at ultralight hiking then please experiment gently on known familiar terrain and work your way down slowly.

Read about Ultra Running Gear Requirements HERE

Ultralight Hiking Pack Video:

Here’s a video I made showing the above items packed in my pack as I pull them out so you can see how they all fit. Keep in mind that this is actually what I do take on my Colorado 14er hikes, even those of 10 or more miles, like Grays from Bakersville or the Grizzly Gulch Fork.

Obviously this is a minimum to carry and I don’t recommend it to anyone of any level of sanity or lack thereof. Remember that Ultralight Hiking can be quite dangerous and you MUST start off slow and take proper precautions for safety and any emergency equipment or gear. Do not rely on cellphone service and rescue crews. You are always on your own.

Ice Climbing Lincoln Falls Part 2

Todd Gilles and I had a great time Ice Climbing on Lincoln Falls, an area at about 12,000′ elevation on Mount Lincoln, a Colorado 14er. The approach and walk-off are part of a hiking route to the summit of Mount Lincoln called “The Amphitheater”. I don’t think there are too many ascents of that route in a given year, according to the reports on 14ers.com HERE.

I posted a photo gallery of some of the photos I took while climbing the route most often called “Scottish Gully” HERE and now I can share some of the photos taken by Todd Gilles [FACEBOOK PAGE]. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Ice Climbing Lincoln Falls – 5 Apr 2014

Carstensz Gear Guide to Boots

I explored clothing for traveling, trekking, and climbing on Carstensz Pyramid in my LAST ARTICLE so now we’ll look at the Carstensz Gear Guide to Boots. As stated in the previous article, you’ll most likely spend

  • a day or two in Bali
  • a day or two in Timika or some similar sized town
  • several days on the trek
  • a day climbing to the summit of Puncak Jaya and rappelling down

Each of these has some diverse need for footwear.

Carstensz Gear Guide – Bali Footwear

In Bali you can wear sandals most of the time and never need anything heavier. The climate is warm and the beaches are inviting. I really recommend that you leave your sandals in Bali if you plan on returning. You’ll really appreciate having a clean pair after all the mud and muck of the rest of the trip.

Carstensz Gear Guide Recommended sandals in the tide at Bali beach resort
Recommended sandals in the tide at Bali beach resort

Carstensz Gear Guide – Timika Footwear

Keep in mind that many trips will not be returning to Timika or whatever jumping-off point you’ll be starting from. With that in mind anything you take to Timika will be used on the rest of the trip. The porters carry your bags once you arrive at the trail head so it’s not really too complicated to add in an extra pair of something. Most of my group wore those high density foam sandals and their hiking boots while in Timika. Whatever you do though it would be a good idea to use the same socks here as on the rest of the trip. I’ll recommend them shortly.

I climbed Orizaba in my Salomon trail running shoes
I climbed Orizaba in my Salomon trail running shoes

I had chosen to wear my Salomon 3D Ultra shoes as my primary footwear in Timika. They were just a bit warm in the day but the Goretex waterproof outer was great during the frequent rain. If you have the extra room and weight in your gear, a pair of trail running shoes is a great alternative shoe to take with.

Carstensz Gear Guide – Trekking Footwear

There aren’t too many alternatives to the trek to Base Camp on Carstensz. Almost every Carstensz gear guide published by the guide companies and previous climbers will suggest Wellingtons like these Baffin Men’s Express PT Rain Boot. I wholeheartedly agree. You will most likely be walking up to 10 miles a day for 6 or so days. They should be reasonably comfortable but don’t spend a lot of money. I ended up giving my boots away to the porters afterward. They smelled so bad from being soaked the entire trek that I couldn’t bear to put them in the duffle to return home with.

Carstensz Gear Guide Suggestion: Wellies - you'll live in them for days in rugged slippery terrain
Carstensz Gear Guide Suggestion: Wellies – you’ll live in them for days in rugged slippery terrain

If you choose to put insoles in, they should be closed cell foam. Any open cell foam will absorb water and lead to blisters or trench foot or worse. They will not dry out. Closed cell foam will not absorb water. Socks need to be at least semi-synthetic and a pile or loop construction. Ragg wool will not dry. In fact, most wool and cotton will not dry no matter what you do. The synthetic socks, like Thorlo will dry out fairly well in your sleeping bag. Try them in the boots on the treadmill at the steepest inclination (like 15%) that your treadmill will do at about 1.0 MPH. You probably will never walk faster than that on the trek. Make sure it works before you go.

You will be walking in knee-deep mud, stepping on slippery roots, crossing wet lashed log bridges. You do not want to fall. Believe me. I did and tore up some rib cartilage that took me several months to heal from. The simple cheap square lug soles seemed to be the best for this terrain.

In camp at night you’ll want to immediately set to work drying your socks. Take an alternate pair and hang one to dry from your daypack while you hike and wear the other pair for the trek. You could also stuff them down your shirt and let your body heat dry them like on a mountaineering trip. You should switch to an alternate pair of shoes in camp then while you try to dry out your Wellies. Most of those on my group wore their trendy foam sandals but I wore my trail running shoes. I don’t think I would have been happy in the holey foam shoes, since most camps had slimy wet mud and a few had standing water. It’s up to you though. Keep your socks dry whatever you do.

Carstensz Gear Guide – Summit Footwear

Most of the guide companies recommend in the Carstensz gear guide they publish that you bring an alpine style climbing boot like the Scarpa Charmoz. I had waffled several times while training. Part of me just wanted to take my Salomon trail running shoes, since they’d worked for just about everything I’d done previously. I could even climb 5.8 in them and practiced that for a few weeks to see how they worked out. Whatever shoes or boots you take for the summit, I do recommend that you seal them up with an extra pair of socks in a silicone or otherwise waterproof kayak style bag and don’t touch them until you get dressed for the summit. A dry pair of socks and boots will really cheer you up.

Rope Solo 5.7 in Salomon Trail Running Shoes - Training for Carstensz Pyramid
Rope Solo 5.7 in Salomon Trail Running Shoes – Training for Carstensz Pyramid

I finally settled on the classic Scarpa Charmoz. Most everyone else on the trip had various light hikers, like the HiTec boots. Between the two I think that the Scarpa did better for climbing. Despite being Goretex they filled with water on the rappels down in the torrents of rain running down the limestone grooves. Because they were Goretex the water also stayed inside the boots. My toes got quite cold and very wrinkly wet. It was the next morning before they looked even close to normal.

Descending in Freezing Rain with very wet feet
Descending in Freezing Rain with very wet feet

I’m not sure what would have worked better, if anything. I probably could have been just as comfortable in the Salomons. It would have been easier to get them on and off to drain them. Being much lighter they would have dried out faster too. Something to consider would be one of the approach style shoes like the LaSportiva B5 which I think is available in a new version with high top Goretex. If by some miracle I ever go back to Carstensz Pyramid I might do that.

Wrapping Up

You’ll be reversing the order of the trip then, trekking back to an airport, flying to civilization, hanging out on the beach and going home. Trust me when I say that almost everything you take on the trek should be considered expendable. I ended up throwing almost everything away when I got to civilization. Some of it I was able to donate to the porters. Keep that in mind when you’re making your gear decisions.

If you have any questions, post them here or on my Facebook page and I’ll be happy to answer the simple ones as best I can.

Carstensz Gear List Focus on Clothing

If you’ve dreamed of climbing the highest peak on the continent of Oceania, you’ve undoubtedly had a look at a Carstensz Gear List. If you go to the different guide companies they will put up their list for you to read and prepare. My own biggest gripe about the average Carstensz Gear List is that they seem pretty copy/paste and don’t consider the serious and extreme conditions that you will endure on this trek and climb.

Descending in Freezing Rain - your Carstensz gear list should have rainwear
Descending in Freezing Rain – your Carstensz gear list should have rainwear

Carstensz Gear List: Bali Tourism

Many of the guides and outfitters that service this area will include a day or two before and/or after your trek and climb in Bali or another beach resort area.

Bali Clothing:

  • 1 – Swimsuit – fast drying works best
  • 1 – Thin airy travel pants
  • 2 – Thin airy travel shirt
  • 2 – Thin airy undies

That should be all you need in the way of clothing for your beach resort phase of your expedition.

Does your Carstensz Gear List consider your beach days in Bali?
Does your Carstensz Gear List consider your beach days in Bali?

Carstensz Gear List: Papua Clothing

You might be in the West Island area, maybe Timika, for a few days waiting on weather for your flight. It might be a bit cooler at times, and insects and rain could also affect your comfort level. You will be leaving a bag in Bali most likely, and some outfitters do not return to Timika to get a bag left there. That means that everything you have in Timika will be going on the trek with you. Do not bring your Bali clothing on the trek. You will want some relatively clean and decent smelling clothes to put on when you return to Bali. So when you leave Bali, wear the following.

Timika Clothing:

  • 1 – very thin, very light weather resistant trekking pants
  • 1 – thin and light base layer shirt
  • 1 – thin and light undies
  • 1 – thin light water-resistant windbreaker
  • 1 – tech (running) baseball cap

Remember, these are your trekking clothes. You should be fine in Timika with those items on.

The Local Airport in Timika
The Local Airport in Timika

Carstensz Gear List: Trekking Clothing

The trek might be the worst part of the trip. It can be long, miserable, wet, muddy, and get colder each day you’re out. Then on the return trek it will get warmer each day. While most outfitters will give an estimated time for the trek do not get locked into that. Allow a few extra days for roadblocks, weather and emergencies. The less you have with you the better, overall. If you’re already experienced in expeditions, such as having climbed Kili, you know. Otherwise, get used to having to wear the same set of clothing for a couple of weeks. You already have some of these trekking items in your Timika list so add in the following.

Trekking List

  • 1 – pair of quick drying shorts
  • 1 – set of alternative or backup undies
  • 1 – tech fabric t-shirt
  • 1 – thin waterproof/breathable parka with zipper vents
  • 1 – thin waterproof/breathable pants with zipper vents
  • 1 – thin tech (helmet liner) beanie
  • 1 – fleece jacket with hood
  • 2 – pair fleece gloves with rubber pads, one pair weather resistant
Decked out in trekking clothes from my Carstensz gear list
Decked out in trekking clothes from my Carstensz gear list

Carstensz Gear List: Climbing Clothing

For climbing day on Carstensz you’ll be on jagged limestone cliffs using fixed ropes. I recommend that you keep this second set of clothes zipped up tight in a waterproof cargo bag and do not touch it until you get dressed to head for the summit in the middle of the night. You can use your windbreaker and waterproof/breathable jacket and pants if you have been able to keep them dry. If you have any doubts, add in the extra set to this list.

Summit Day Clothing

  • 1 – pair rugged thin softshell climbing pants
  • 1 – pair undies reserved for summit day
  • 1 – base layer set (pants/shirt)
  • 1 – fleece/hybrid/softshell jacket
  • 1 – medium weight synthetic puffy
  • 2 – pair treated leather gloves
  • 1 – synthetic buff (neck tube)

Climbing Carstensz might be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Do not go cheap and do not risk having the wrong clothing.

On the summit of Carstensz Pyramid, Puncak Jaya on 30 April 2013
On the summit of Carstensz Pyramid, Puncak Jaya on 30 April 2013

Carstensz Gear List Consulting

If you are in need of further information about the Carstensz gear list, based on my own successful experiences, then please, buy the book I wrote about my climb Carstensz, Stone Age to Iron Age.

If you need some question answered that isn’t covered here or in my book, I do offer Google Helpouts consultations at a great rate, and they’re well worth the money and time. I have consulted with dozens of people about their own concerns for a Carstensz trip, and so far several have already had successful climbs. If you take a chance on Carstensz, you should definitely increase the odds in your favor.

Ice Climbing in Ouray

Todd Gilles and I haven’t had a chance to climb for a few months, so at the prompting of my wife we arranged an ice climbing trip to Ouray Colorado. Todd, if you might remember, was the star athlete I coached to a 3rd place finish at Elbrus Race 2013 [Book of the same name]. We arrived late on Thursday night. Actually very early Friday morning. We stayed at one of my favorite hotels, the Twin Peaks Lodge [CLICK HERE]. If you book online you can get a huge discount. The breakfast is decent and the pool and spa are good. It’s also right at the base of the trail up the canyon.

Ice Climbing in Ouray Colorado with beautiful sunrise
Ice Climbing in Ouray Colorado with beautiful sunrise

We set the alarm for 7:30 to try and get at least a little shuteye before heading out on our ice climbing adventure. The breakfast was decent and we enjoyed watching the little tourism video playing, noting that the skiers were the only sportsmen portrayed as proficient. We packed up for a day of ice climbing. I took the rope and Todd took the bag of pro. We took off up the canyon trail. The little ice rink by the fee building was buried in snow. I was wanting to climb in the Five Fingers area, but parts of it were roped off and closed. The park was almost empty.

Todd tossing the rope down our ice climbing route in South Park
Todd tossing the rope down our ice climbing route in South Park

As we passed the Scottish Gullies we saw a few ropes and heard a few climbers. We weren’t alone after all. We walked around to the road to see the Fingers, but it looked really beat up. We decided to head up to the School Room to see what it looked like. We put on our crampons at the base of the Kids Wall. We didn’t really need them though. The path was pretty solid. The ladder down into the bottom of the School Room was closed. We saw some groups ice climbing and a few of the routes were free. Todd wanted to take me to the South Park area where he’d climbed with friends the week before.

We kept going past New Funtier, where there were a lot of people ice climbing. We got to the South Park area of the Ouray Ice Park. There had been several inches of snow the last couple of days and we were happy to see someone had dug out the bolted anchors for the route Todd wanted to do. I set up a couple of long 6-mm and 8-mm static cords and equalized them. I’ve gotten a lot faster at that over the last couple of years. Todd flaked out the rope and found the middle. I clipped that into the twin opposed lockers and Todd tossed the rope. I let him have the privilege of rappelling down first. That way I could watch the anchor and make sure it was equalized. In ice climbing you might wander a bit more than in a rock climb, since you don’t have to follow the line of the available holds. You make your own.

Todd rappelling in to our ice climbing area at South Park
Todd rappelling in to our ice climbing area at South Park

We climbed for several hours, pacing ourselves pretty evenly. With only two climbers it’s possible to climb too hard too fast without enough rest. We alternated turns and took an extra ten minutes to eat and drink between each set of laps. That allowed us sufficient recovery time so that we didn’t burn out on ice climbing. We walked down the canyon (North) and found another route we wanted to try with a lot of variety. I climbed out with my pack then belayed Todd out with my Petzl REVERSO set in Auto-Lock mode. It was a bit of a struggle as the bolts were on the ground so I tied in a little below the anchor so that I stood with the Reverso at about knee height.

South Park wasn’t too busy that day so we were able to get on one of the ice climbing routes we’d found from the bottom. I did a backed-up anchor on a tree with 8-mm cord and a 13-mm sling. Todd stacked the rope, then tossed it down and rappelled in while I watched. I don’t like tree anchors so much. That’s why I back them up, probably more than I need to. We had a blast climbing. Todd has only been ice climbing a little over a year, but he’s gotten really good in that time. Probably because he pays attention to good climbing and tries to emulate it.

Ice Climbing Video: Todd Gilles Tops Out in South Park

I saved for last a short stretch of slightly overhanging ice at the beginning of the route, where a curtain formed over a large rock. I climbed it in my pack on the way out. This time I belayed Todd from the tree with a Petzl Grigri, which is a lot easier to do one-handed or no-handed. I took that short video of Todd topping out once I could see him where he transitioned off the vertical ice into the narrow chute at the top between the ice-making nozzles. I love the happy look on his face.

We hiked out then after a great day of ice climbing and talked about dinner on the walk down. We decided to go to Buen Tiempo for Mexican, then head to the motel hot springs. On the way into the parking lot we saw some deer that were walking in the little dog park in the middle of the motel courtyard. That was pretty neat. Since we arrived in the middle of the night we had to go to the motel desk to recode our keys. Just to make sure it’s me I suppose. After hanging out for a few minutes we walked the few blocks to town.

Apres Ice Climbing Activities in Ouray

Deer in the middle of Ouray Colorado is a common site
Deer in the middle of Ouray Colorado is a common site

Buen Tiempo was closed for another half hour so we walked to Ouray Mountain Sports to see if there were any ice climbing toys that we didn’t own yet. Nope. You can dream though, right? We walked back to the restaurant and they were open. After, we went to Mouse’s for hot chocolate and a chocolate treat for a midnight snack. It was getting late and we were pretty tired. The hot spring pool was very hot and felt great after our day of ice climbing. We soaked for about a half hour. Just long enough to feel really cooked. We went back to the room and crashed.

Rainy morning in Ouray Colorado
Rainy morning in Ouray Colorado

The next day we woke to rain. We drove through the park and saw that School Room had only one rope set up in it. I’ve never seen it that empty. The routes in the Fingers area had fresh snow on them from overnight. I imagine they’ll be gone soon. In the Gullies there were horizontal cracks. The season is wrapping in the Ice Park. I think a couple weeks more at the most, depending on the weather. A few cold days should prolong it. But for me it’s over now. I won’t be going back to Ouray for ice climbing until January 2015 most likely. I will miss it until then.

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 ClimbingReport.com 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.