Stories

Nighttime

The night before Summit Day…..

Climbers in Alaska
The Climb

The night was long and restless. He was cold inside his sleeping bag even though the three of them had worked so hard to make things cozy. And then, there was the wind. It blasted the tent relentlessly, and he was worried about getting blown off the ridge. What would that be like, he tried to imagine? There was no actual sleep. But there was a sort of vigilant grogginess. While his body was mostly still, his mind actively raced in a frenzy of hyperactive speculation. He was uncomfortable, and the situation was damn near depressing. But thankfully, he wasn’t outside climbing toward the summit- yet. That would happen soon enough.

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Visualization

 

The American West

            It started out as a simple and straightforward thing to do. Lou took off, leading our group of British mountain bikers back to camp. Just seconds after beginning the ride, he rounded a corner and rode up on a four-foot Rattlesnake stretched out across the trail. Instinctively, he hit his brakes extra hard, which caused him to crash. When the dust settled, he was lying on the side of the trail, penned between a cactus and the rattler. The Brits had quickly stopped and looked on in horror as their guide and the viper were suddenly face to face, and only a couple of feet apart.

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Clearing in the West- A Poem

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Clearing in the West

It’s clearing in the west.

Without a doubt,
It’s brighter over in the west,
Beyond
The far ridge.

The storm is moving on.
The wind has dropped,
The clouds persist.
And snow is everywhere.

For now,
Zip up the door
And settle
Back into your bag.

Because it’s clearing in the west.

So,
Grab the stove,
Clear off a spot.
Find the pot,
Wipe it out.

Set it up,
Make it stable,
Fire the burner,
Add some water,

Ready your cup,
Break out the snacks,
Wait for steam,
It’s time for tea.

Adjust your seat,
Take off a fleece,
Stretch your legs,
But mind your feet.

It’s getting warmer,
Crack the door,
Forget the gloves,
Pull off the cap.

Ready your drink,
What will it be?
Spiced cider, hot chocolate,
Coffee or tea?

Finally, it boils.
Turn off the stove.
Add the mix.
Pour in the water.
Sip the hot drink.
Unzip the door.
Look out and note,

It’s clearing in the west.

 

Camp at the end of a bushwhack
A Mountain Campsite

Boquillas Canyon Revisited

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Headed Into Boquillas Canyon

The last time I canoed the Rio Grande through Boquillas Canyon was in 1979. After 40 years, it became time for me to remind myself of some of the lessons that 33 mile stretch of river taught me way back then. And so, I floated it.

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The Crevasse Rescue

Scott Fair Rescue
The Actual Rescue

      There are three well-known peaks in the Alaska Range—Denali, Foraker, and Hunter. At 14,195 feet, Hunter is the smallest of the three but is considered one of the most technically difficult 14er’s (14,000-foot mountains) to climb in the world. And reaching its summit was our goal for the particular trip this story is about, at least until lousy weather got in our way. We were a group of 13, which included me and several other Outpost Wilderness Adventure leaders along with two other non-OWA guides.

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Backpacking in the Winds

A group of OWA vets return to the Wind River Range for a backpacking trip.

 

Groupl at Popo Agie Wilderness Boundary
The Group at the Popo Agie Wilderness Boundary

The seven of us met up in Lander, Wyoming on Sunday, Sept 22, 2019, for a backpacking trip into the Wind River Range. For many years, the town had served as the base of operations for a multitude of Outpost Wilderness Adventure trips in the area, so we all felt like we knew it well. It was the logical choice for our meet-up spot, and so that’s how we used it. At some point in the past, each of us had been involved with Outpost (or OWA). Now, some years later and as OWA veterans, this was our third return into the wild outdoors. The group consisted of David and Brian Barrow, Chris Brown, David Guillory, Barry Hunt, Patrick Cone, and David Appleton. The ages ranged from Brian’s early ’30s to Barrow and Appleton’s mid-’60s. Most everyone had ventured into the “Winds” previously, but none in the past 15 years. While some change had crept into the town, once we got on the trail the following day, it was nice to see that the backcountry was as wild and spectacular as ever.

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The Broken Handlebar

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Riding Downhill

It was a long downhill and flowed well. The section of the Colorado Trail we were riding drops slowly and steadily for miles as it winds its way down the Craig Creek drainage. It’s a fast, fun, and mostly effortless ride. Sure, there are plenty of obstacles along the way, such as unfortunately positioned rocks, encroaching Potentilla bushes, and washed-out ruts. But the only tricky spots occur where small creeks, thick with willows, come in from the sides. While you can successfully ride most of the trail by using a combination of vigilance and good riding technique, the creek crossings generally require something a little more. And with all of their mud, roots, and big rocks, those parts often end up being walked. Despite the downsides, it’s mountain biking in the wilds of Colorado at its best.

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Mine Riding

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Porfirio Diaz Tunnel

The entrance to a horizontal mine shaft that we could ride our mountain bikes into was music to our eyes. The stone opening to the Porfirio Diaz Tunnel sat solemnly on a hillside in the middle of a barrio in Batopilas, Mexico. Sure, it’d been abandoned for 70 or 80 years. But that was of no consequence to us at the time. The entrance was circular and at about 12 feet in diameter, a little bigger than we’d each envisioned it to be previously. A flat dirt surface/pathway- perfect for mountain bikes– led into the darkness. Even though the place had the ominous appearance of almost being eaten by the solid rock, its beckoning call was persistent and ultimately won us over.

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Guaymas, 1971

Adventure lurks………

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Unexpected Suspension Bridge

It was Christmas break of my sophomore year in high school when Jake and I took off from Denton. We were geared up and driving his parent’s VW Camper-van (with their permission) bound for Mexico with a stop in Douglas, Arizona en route. The plan was to meet up in Douglas with an older/more mature person, whom I knew from the summer camp where I had worked the previous summer. The three of us would travel from there on down to Guaymas, Mexico, where we’d camp, have some quality beach time, and experience a bunch of “neat adventure stuff.” (Note- years later, and as a father, I’m not sure how we got our parents to agree to the plan. Although I do remember it being a good thing that we were going to be under the supervision of someone older). In the van, there was scuba gear packed away under one of the seats in cardboard boxes, places to sleep, and we must have had some food.

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The Search

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The Tarryall Mountains

It was a Fall Sunday during what was normally the slow part of the year. Autumn in Colorado’s Tarryall Mountains is spectacular with Aspen trees turning gold and warm sunny days interrupted only by the occasional and temporary arrival of winter. Most years, late September is an ideal time to be there, with long pleasant days that are almost perfect for mountain biking, hiking, and climbing area peaks. But this particular year, my days were occupied with the aftermath of the burning down of the OWA base camp lodge rather than recreation. Instead of the comforts of my private lodge bedroom and bath, I was sharing an old one-room log cabin with an 18-year-old intern, and not doing much besides clean-up and prep for the new construction. On the day in question, I was piddling around the job site doing various chores. Since it was something of an off day, Lee (the intern) asked if he could go on a leisurely and straightforward hike toward Bison Peak. I considered the fact that he’d been on several backcountry trips with my outdoor program in the past. And since there was no work planned for him that afternoon, it seemed reasonable. And so, I gave him my blessing.

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