Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Currently: May

Currently living/working in: For the first time in a very long time, J & I have been apart. Just about 3,500 miles apart! I have been in Paonia, Colorado, doing a writer residency program this month and he has been climbing Denali in Alaska. 
Current mood: Anxious to see my hubby again and for this whole climb to be over!! 

Currently excited about: Taking our nephew to Alaska! Ryan is our oldest nephew (13) and he is graduating 8th grade, so as a gift, we are taking him to Alaska for 6 days. It all started when he was a toddler. He was pretty obsessed with trains and at the time, J was working up in Alaska riding the train everyday. He told Ryan, “someday, I will take you to Alaska.” Wouldn’t you know it that kid asked pretty much every time we saw him about going to Alaska! He is super stoked and we are equally as stoked to show him one of our favorite states. 
We surprised him with the trip via a FaceTime call last month. We sent him a book about the Alaska Railroad with his itinerary detailed throughout. He was speechless. 

Currently not excited about: Upcoming doctor appointments when we return from Alaska.

Currently worried about: Besides the whole, "my husband is on a deadly mountain," ... also worried about having to figure out what happens after June 16, when we return from Alaska. We’ve been putting off life decisions as usual! 

Currently thankful for: J’s safety on Denali (so far - need this to continue). He is in good hands with RMI, but I've had 1 or 25 sleepless nights while he's been climbing. 

Currently proud of: A very talented and successful friend interviewed us for his Podcast, “Inflection Point.” It was an honor to be his guests and we are glad to spread the message about living a life less ordinary. You can have a listen here, or find it on iTunes to download and listen later. 

Currently amazed by: Colorado. I’ve never been to Paonia or the surrounding area (it’s a darn big state) and I fell in love with my little mountain town of Paonia. I don’t think there is a place in CO that I’ve said, “meh, it’s alright.” Love it here! 
Current confession: I really want a new iPhone. Mine is falling to pieces, but I am not willing to spend the big bucks until I absolutely have to. What ever happened to free phone upgrades? 

Current guilty pleasure: I’ve been living a pretty simple life here in Paonia. I guess I would say my biggest “indulgence” has been my weekly yoga classes.

Currently reading: Finished 2 books this month.
Tracks” by Robyn Davidson. This is the story about a women who walked across the Australian outback in the 1970s solo (well, with camels). This book has been out for awhile (1980s) and was recently made into a movie. It has been on my radar for a long time. But, the book majorly disappointed me! Maybe the movie will be better?? 
"How to Tell a Story: The Secrets of Writing Captivating Tales" by Peter Rubie and Gary Provost. I didn't love it, but some parts were helpful! 

Currently watching on Netflix: Blessed by speedy, unlimited Internet at my residency, I thought there was no better way to celebrate a long day of writing than with watching Netflix every night. And without J around, I binged on chick flicks. Let me tell you, there are a lot of bad movies out there. The only gem I found was called “You’re Not You.” Hilary Swank did an incredible job playing a women diagnosed with ALS. It was a real tear jerker.  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Denali Update: Days 10-18

Justin and his RMI team have been facing some not-so-ideal weather up on Denali (65 MPH winds, -35 degree temps). So they are on day ELEVEN being stuck (but safe) at Camp 3 (14,200 feet). I know those conditions sound extremely harsh, but I did get to speak to Justin and he is in great spirits and feels completely safe (major relief for me - I was picturing frostbitten toes and fingers).

Denali has its own time and the waiting game is part of it. You just don't mess with Mother Nature. They will stretch their food provisions as long as they can and we shall see what happens for their last few days on the mountain.

This past week, they may have not moved up, but they definitely kept moving. Read below for a little insight into their daily routine.

Day 10 - Saturday, May 21
After a rest day at Camp 3 (14,200 feet) during a snowstorm on Friday, the goal for Saturday was to retrieve their supplies stashed below camp. Up above them, the winds were crashing against the West Buttress like waves and visibility remained poor, but below them at Windy Corner, the sun was shining and the winds were light. Perfect conditions. They made quick work of fetching their mountain of food to have at Camp 3, then took advantage of the good camp weather to practice some skills with ropes and ascenders.
All photos courtesy of RMI Expeditions
Day 11 - Sunday, May 22
The storm, now called "Daryl" continued to rage above Camp 3 (14,200 feet). The rangers issued a weather advisory with high winds and snow, advising everyone to not climb any higher. So J's team stayed put, taking advantage of another rest/acclimatization day.

Day 12 - Monday, May 23
"Daryl" the storm still raged above, but was relatively calm (but cold) at Camp 3 (14,200 feet). Instead of holing up in their tents all day, the team took a walk to the famed "Edge of the World," where they took in views of Kahiltna Glacier, 7,000 feet below (where they originally came from!), and 17,402-foot Mount Foraker. It's not "far" from camp, but I'm sure it's not a walk in the park! Good for them to get their blood flowing during the waiting game.

Day 13 - Tuesday, May 24
Brrr. The team is facing temps of NEGATIVE 35 degrees INSIDE the tent. The cold front was still upon them, but the visibility remained clear, so the team returned to their goal of caching their supplies on the upper slopes of the mountain. They traveled up the fixed lines to drop a stash of personal gear at 16,000 feet on the West Buttress. The winds picked up as they climbed higher, so they quickly scurried back down to safe conditions at Camp 3 (14,200 feet).
Day 14 - Wednesday, May 25
Today was another rest day as Denali storm "Evans" was upon them, blowing snow and reducing visibility. The guides sometimes get very poetic in their updates and they reported only being able to see the inside of a ping pong ball. So they lounged in the tents at Camp 3 (14,200 feet), only emerging when they had to fortify camp.

Day 15 - Thursday, May 26
"Evans" still unleashed on them at Camp 3 (14,200 feet) with apocalyptic 60 MPH winds, forcing the team to shovel out their tents every 45 minutes or so. Sounds grand, right?
Day 16 - Friday, May 27
Still at Camp 3 (14,200 feet), the high winds kept anyone from sleeping through the night, but the afternoon gave way to sunshine, so the team took the day to repair and fortify camp and catch some much needed ZZzzs.
Day 17 - Saturday, May 28
This was their 10th day being stuck at Camp 3 (14,200 feet). They watched helicopter rescues take place up higher on the mountain, so they were happy to remain safe and sound.
Day 18 - Sunday, May 29
What else is there to say? Day 11 at Camp 3 (14,200 feet), still waiting for a weather window ...

Stay tuned and send those sunshine and light wind vibes up to the rooftop of America!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Writer Residency: Elsewhere Studios

Well, being I won't have much of an update about Justin while they hunker down waiting out weather at Camp 3 (14,200 feet) this week, I thought it was time to let you know what I've been up to!

Since May 5, I have been "hunkered down" in Paonia, CO, where I have been living as an artist-in-residence at Elsewhere Studios.
What the heck is an artist-in-residence, you ask? Well, it is simply a dedicated place where artists (painters, sculptors, fashion designers, musicians, singers, etc) can live and work away from their usual environment and distractions. You have to apply and typically you are awarded a residency for a few weeks to months with a space to live and work.

At Elsewhere, there are living accommodations for 4 artists. This month, we have 3 female writers (including me!) and 1 visual artist (she's been here for 3 months).
Since Elsewhere Studios is a nonprofit residency program, we pay to live here, but it is an extremely discounted living rate with everything included. My living space is the smallest--it is a little cottage called the Gingerbread House (better known these days as a tiny house). I share the bathroom and kitchen in the main house, a few short steps away from my door. 
It has just what I need. A chair. A desk. A wood-burning stove. My bed is up in the loft area. And when I say, up, it is UP. Good thing I have rock climbing skillz because climbing up and down the 8-foot ladder is no easy feat.
Oh, Elsewhere also has a resident cat. Meet Tomatoes. He thinks he is a crucial part of everyone's art. Unfortunately, he is not the best typist, so he is not helping my book.

The whole Elsewhere property has a bit of flair to it. As you can see in the above picture of my bungalow, the windows are purposely crooked. Art is everywhere you turn on the property. And I'm pretty sure there is a whisper ma-phone somewhere in this house (reference from The Lorax).

The flair goes well with the town of Paonia. With a population of 1,500 people and names like Forest, Wind, Willow, Haven and Fox floating around town, you can probably guess that this is very much a hippie haven. And I don't say that offensively because I try to be part-hippie myself, so I feel very much at home. Everyone is so nice and welcoming here. I have discovered another small Colorado mountain town to love.

It's also quite beautiful. Shouldered by 11,400 ft Mount Lamborn and his buddies, Paonia is home to the largest concentration of orchards and organic fruit in Colorado. There is one main drag with cute shops and eateries up and down.

As for my book writing, this is the best thing I could have done for it. Having the time and space allows me to focus. I have made tremendous progress (I think). I'm coming upon 20,000 words (60 pages) written while here at Elsewhere. With what I accomplished since starting in January, I am at least halfway done with the whole thing.

Overall, this has also been a good practice in self compassion, though. You see, I have ALL DAY LONG to write. Do I do that? No, and that's okay. I have embraced my productive times as well as my procrastination times. I am living in a beautiful area and damn if I'm not going to get out and hike. Plus, I am not just working on my book, but other projects too. Sure the book is my main focus, but I work on what is calling me in the moment.
Lastly in the growth department, my Elsewhere residency has prompted me to step out of my comfort zone. I've done a few public readings, sharing my work with others. Being around other writers again has been so, so helpful. Though I am in the "write fast, edit later" phase, I am still drawing from their creativity and critique.
My residency has been an awesome experience and I almost wish I didn't have to leave this place in 6 days!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Denali Update: Days 3-9

I'm happy to report that Justin and his RMI team are plugging along up the mountain!! Weather has been really decent (in Denali terms) and they have made it up to Camp 3 (14,000 feet).  Read below to get a sense of the hard, back-breaking work they endure day after day on the mountain. I'm tired just sitting here from my comfy chair writing about it!!

Day 3 - Saturday, May 14
After moving 17 days worth of supplies up the mountain on Friday, they took a rest day at Camp 1 (7,600 feet). With clear weather, they could be outside a little bit, but mostly they stayed in their tents and took naps, watched downloaded movies, listened to music, read, etc. I'm going to bet Justin played several rounds of Hearts on his iPad until his battery died and he had to charge it.
Justin is twinning it with another teammate (in case you can't tell, J is on the right).
Photo courtesy of Bobby "Bolt"

Day 4 - Sunday, May 15
They moved from Camp 1 (7,600 feet) to Camp 2 (11,200 feet). This doesn't just mean walking on snowshoes with their heavy packs, but once they get to camp, they have to build platforms, walls and kitchen areas to protect them from the winds (think mini igloos). Lots of digging, lots of moving snow ... I simply can't fathom how tiring this all is! When I backpack long miles, it takes all I have to set up my tent and tent alone!
Photo courtesy of RMI Expeditions
Day 5 - Monday, May 16
The team traversed back down the mountain a bit to grab their cache of 17 days worth of supplies and hauled it back up to Camp 2 (11,200 feet). If you are wondering what a "cache" looks like, I've included a visual.
Close to 100 lbs of supplies for each person! That's unnatural! Isn't J's butt cute?
Photo courtesy of Bobby "Bolt"
Dig, dig, dig. If you think shoveling snow is fun, maybe you should take up mountaineering. 
Photo courtesy of RMI Expeditions

Day 6 - Tuesday, May 17
Facing heavy snowfall outside their tent windows, the team took another rest day at Camp 2 (11,200 feet).
Photo courtesy of RMI Expeditions

Day 7 - Wednesday, May 18
The team moved up the mountain to stash supplies at 13,500 feet and came back down to sleep at Camp 2 (11,200 feet).
Another picture of Justin's cute butt and heavy backpack load. No more sleds or snowshoes needed above 11,200 feet!! Just crampons!!!
Photo courtesy of RMI Expeditions
Day 8 - Thursday, May 19
Under blue skies and harsh winds at "Windy Corner", the team pushed up from Camp 2 (11,200 feet) to Camp 3 (14,200 feet), once again building a home fortified by snow.
Prime piece of tent real estate, huh? 
Photo courtesy of RMI Expeditions

Day 9 - Friday, May 20
It's a good thing they built a strong fortress at Camp 3 (14,200 feet) because the storm bore down on them hard, forcing them to stay put for a rest day in camp. 
"Tent city"
Photo courtesy of RMI Expeditions

They will remain at Camp 3 (14,200 feet) for at least three days, but that is all weather dependent. They will repeat the process and move supplies from Camp 3 up higher on the mountain. Eventually, they'll move to their highest camp at 17,200 feet to make their summit bid. It sounds like there is a weather system upon them now, but hopefully it will clear for a summit attempt later next week.
Also, Justin is now flying solo (with the rest of the team) as poor Bobby (Bolt) had to come off the mountain due to serious trauma to his back from pulling a sled. It is the sad but true reality of mountaineering ... your body takes an insane beating and will scream loudly. He is all smiles though and already scheming other adventures minus 50 lb sleds.
Bobby "Bolt" snagged one last photos with the guides before saying goodbye to Denali

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Denali Update: Days 1 and 2

After going through gear and National Park Service protocols, Justin, Bobby and his team flew from Talkeetna to Kahiltna Glacier with K2 Aviation on Thursday, May 12. It was a beautiful day for flying!
J is the 3rd from the left and Bobby is the 5th from the right. (Don't worry, they didn't try to fit all those people and all their packs into one tiny plane).
All photos courtesy of RMI Expeditions.
In any case, their destination for Thursday was base camp at 7,300 feet on Kahiltna Glacier. Because their flight was right on time and the weather was clear, they made their way up to Camp 1 on the glacier at 7,600 feet, where they stayed for the night. 
That first bit is not terribly technical travel, but they have their heaviest loads and it takes 6-8 hours (to only go a few miles with little elevation gain). J said he is carrying 27 pounds of food and about 80 pounds of clothing and supplies in his backpack and sled!
On Friday the 13th, still facing spectacular weather, the team moved 17 days of food and fuel via packs and sleds up Kahiltna Pass to their cache hole at 10,400 feet, before cruising back down to camp at Camp 1. 
If the weather remains stable today (Saturday), they'll move up to Camp 2 at 11,000 feet. Everyday will be a very slow process of picking up food caches, moving supplies up higher on the mountain, sleeping low, then moving up to a new camp, repeat--all weather permitting. 

Believe it or not, there are 100+ people on the mountain right now. Some are with guided groups, like J, and others are solo. A lot of people could use good weather vibes!!!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Denali Gear List

Fellow gear junkies, get excited. This post is all about gear!!! But first, a few other details. 

Justin and Bobby (Bolt) flew to Alaska today for the long-awaited attempt to climb Denali. 

The boys are climbing with RMI Expeditions. This is the same guiding service we used to climb Rainier and that Justin used to climb Shuksan. There are 9 clients and 3 guides. The lead guide is Pete Van Deventer, again the same guide we had for Rainier. Pete is a well-traveled and trusted guide, including 7 expeditions up Denali. As soon as we finished climbing Rainier, Justin said, "that's who I want to climb Denali with."

I am going to do my best to update the blog with any details I know about his climb. His guide service tries hard to update their blog regularly, and J will hit his Spot personal locator beacon everyday with a generic message showing his location (link here on the blog and tied to our Facebook account). So between those details, I hope to have updates at least every other day.

For this week, the rough schedule looks like this:

*Tuesday, May 10 - Meet with other climbers and guides in Anchorage and take a bus to Talkeetna
*Wednesday, May 11 - Orientation/Equipment Check in Talkeetna
*Thursday, May 12 - Weather permitting, fly from Talkeetna to Kahiltna Glacier for base camp setup at 7,300 feet.

And now, I'd like to present the MASSIVE gear list. FYI, if you need more of a visual of the individual pieces of gear, J put up a video on YouTube

Mountaineering Boots - La Sportiva Spantiks

Snowshoes - Atlas Peak Series Serrate 24
I am testing these snowshoes for Backpacker Magazine (not available for purchase yet)

Overboots  - Forty Below Purple Haze

Insoles - Superfeet Redhot

Socks - Cloudline Apparel (light and medium combination) and Lorpen Technical Expedition Socks


Long Underwear - Patagonia Capilene Midweight and Lightweight Bottoms

Shell Pants - Montane Spine Pant
I am testing these shell pants for Backpacker Magazine (not available for purchase yet)

Long Sleeve Mid Layers 

Arc'Teryx Proton LT Hoody
I am testing this jacket for Backpacker Magazine (not available for purchase yet)
Columbia OutDry Ex Diamond Snow Shell
I am testing this jacket for Columbia (not available for purchase yet)
First Ascent Accelerant Jacket


Mountain Hardwear Fleece Beanie
The North Face Boreas Wind Hat
Boco Gear Sun Hat
Gregory Trucker Hat

Glasses - Jublo Dolgan

Headlight - Princeton Tec Vizz

Sleeping Pads-

Sleeping Bag - Big Agnes Pomer Hoit UL 0 with an over bag of the Big Agnes Pitchpine UL45 or Big Agnes Crosho SL -20

 Our nephew Owen testing the -20 bag for Justin. 

Outdoor Research water bottle insulators (2)

Trekking poles - Helinox Ridgeline Lever Lock


Garmin Fenix (1st generation)
Solar chargers - I am testing the new Goal Zero Gregory Backpack for Gregory.  It is a Baltoro 75 but I took the Goal Zero lid off this pack and put it on the Denali 100.  (not available for purchase yet)  
iPad Mini2 (32GB) with LifeProof case

He also brought some food ... 

Stay tuned for more updates this week!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Training For Denali

Here's a blast from the past from J's first visit to Alaska in 2003. 
Many people have asked how J’s training for Denali is going. And now that he is leaving tomorrow, I am finally ready to answer. (I was really waiting to see the training start ... JK). 

I must preface by saying J is not big into “training.” His training for his first triathlon included going on a run twice, swimming once and biking a lot. 

But, Denali is a beast, so he forced himself to train. Plus, his climbing partner, Bobby (Bolt), had been sending him weekly updates of his own training (probably in the spirit of a little competition). I'm pretty sure Bobby will win this one. The man walked around an urban pathway in a sunny city everyday with a 100-lb sled attached to him!  

Here are a few ways J trained:

1) Acclimatization 
Most of us live less than 1,000 feet above sea level. With ample oxygen and higher atmospheric pressure at these levels, humans perform at their best. The content of oxygen in our blood starts to deteriorate at 7,000 feet, causing all sorts of problems. Some people (me!!) struggle at higher elevations. The highest J & I have been is 14,505 feet (Mt. Whitney in California). I felt like I was going to die 1,000 deaths, while J acted like he was at sea level. 

While we were working in New Mexico until Thursday, we lived at 8,000 feet. While this is no comparison to the summit of Denali at 20,310 feet, living at a higher altitude helped “train” J's red blood cells, especially compared to flatlanders (cough, Bobby, cough). Once in Alaska, J and his climbing team will continue acclimatizing over their 20+ days together, sleeping at base camp (7,300 feet), Camp 1 (7,800 feet), Camp 2 (9,600 feet), Camp 3 (11,200 feet), Camp 4 (14,200 feet) and Camp 5 (17,200 feet). 

2) Exercise
Part of our job in New Mexico involved taking the kiddos hiking and canoeing, so getting a daily dose of exercise was not been a problem. And our weekends were spent exploring and hiking. So J stayed in pretty good shape. 

Thankfully, we had a backyard mountain trail. As a roundtrip, it is 1.5 miles with an elevation gain of 500 feet. When J took the kids up the mountain, he took his 75-liter backpack. They loved it!  And, on top of all that, J forced himself to run up the mountain without kids a few times a week. Sometimes he went up and down once, sometimes twice. And sometimes with a backpack and heavy boots on. Depends on the day, but I would say this helped, not hurt. 

3) Eating
J has been trying to “bulk” up before his climb, considering he loses 10-20 lbs on every long-distance hike we take. Truth be told, this guy can't really "bulk up" (I hate him for it). But, he changed his eating habits to extremely healthy. He cut out all dairy a month ago, added protein to morning smoothies packed with fruits and veggies and stuck to smart snacks, like almond butter on graham crackers. 

4) Gear
All winter, J collected gear. I promise there will be an entire separate post about the gear he is bringing up the mountain, but the amount of gear we had to purchase/track down for this trip is unbelievable. Fortunately, we work with a lot of gear companies and test for Backpacker Magazine, so he didn't have to purchase as much as others. Mountaineering is just so different from backpacking, so while some of our current systems apply, there were adjustments to be made. On our winter adventures in Colorado, J tested out several systems—snowshoes, hardshell pants, jackets—and honestly, still hasn’t fully decided on some of the pieces that will make the final cut; it will be a game-time decision. 

The part he can't really plan for is the weather. Positive vibes appreciated as the current forecast looks a little like this ... actually, this is pretty good considering last week it said -75 degrees! 

T minus 4 days until he should be at base camp on Denali!!! Stay tuned for more Denali posts! 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Fenton Ranch Wrap Up

We have wrapped up our spring season at Fenton Ranch! Though we've only been here 6 weeks, it feels like much longer. Some of the days were unending--like the day we had a group of overnight 3rd graders leave at 11:30am, but the next group of 1st graders arrived early at 11am. Go, go, go. However, every day involved a wide variety of activities (lots of hiking!) with the kids, making the days go lightening fast.

I thought I'd walk you through some of our wonderful programs. But in order to do that, you need to meet Mr. and Mrs. Kiwi. Because in these parts, we went by our "nature names."
Fenton Ranch is an overnight "camp" property about 1.5 hours from Albuquerque. It is owned by Manzano Day School, a private school for grades PreK through 5th. For the spring semester, Manzano kids from grades K, 1st and 3rd come up for their special Fenton Ranch time (the other grades come in the fall). The kindergartners come for just the day, 1st graders for one night and 3rd graders for 2 nights. The Manzano kids (and teachers) are pretty awesome. They have it all together and it shows, making them fun and easy to work with.

The kindergartner program is all about getting them comfortable with Fenton Ranch. We take them on a scavenger hunt around the property. They build bark boats to send down our creek, plant seeds in our greenhouse, eat a marshmallow (unroasted) to get them excited for campfires and write in their Fenton Ranch journals for the first time. Kindergartners are probably my favorite age. They are just so darn innocent.

It says: "I think nature is important because it helps us breathe. It helps Earth." This kid gets an A+.

As their first overnighter, the 1st grade program is all about the importance of getting into different habits at Fenton Ranch (dish duty!! they love it!), educating about trees (did you know that aspen leaves can be used for toothaches??) and the decomposition process. J & I facilitate a Leave No Trace program called "What Doesn't Belong" to get the kids thinking about how long certain items take to decompose into the Earth (a glass bottle=1 million years!). First graders are cute, but we did notice a significant increase in the volume level and inability to sit still compared with the kindergartners ... guess they are just not the new kids on the block anymore and can test those boundaries!

It says: "Dear Mr. and Mrs. Kiwi, You are a great teacher." 

The 3rd grade program is all about birds. My two all-time favorite activities fall under the 3rd grade program. The first is dissecting owl pellets. You see, owls regurgitate certain items they can digest. So when they eat a mouse or another bird, its bones and fur come back up. It is super cool to try to put the bones together and figure out what the owls ate!! The second awesome activity is wading through our backyard stream. I never thought I'd have so much fun putting on rubber boots and letting them fill with freezing cold water.

We also had to make a lot of adjustments to the 3rd grade program because of weather. When winds were blowing 30mph, we had to cut canoeing a little short. When we woke up to 4 inches of snow one morning, we opted for some snow play! Even if 3rd graders don't care about keeping their shoes tied and eat more than I do, they did show their extreme flexibility.

Two to three shopping carts every week! (The Milanos were for me.)

And just for kicks, I thought I'd share pictures of the little cabin (on the left) where we lived. Quite cozy! And we had a TV to watch DVDs on the big screen instead of our tiny laptop.

This job was--of course--quite different from our lodge management gigs. And for J, it was a return to his outdoor recreation background. It was a very good choice to take the job, and like I said, we may go back in the fall. Not only do both of us enjoy very much teaching kids about environmental education, we seem to have a good knack for it ... even if both of us made at least one child cry when reprimanding them for whatever way they were disobeying.

Stay tuned for updates on J's Denali climb!!!