Mt Whitney

Our group passing through Trail Camp at 12,000 feet

Sharp, knife-like ridge lines have surrounded us. Under the faint light of our headlamps, we’ve been climbing and crossing countless boulder fields the past few hours. Ahead we can see it, endless drop offs that’ll make us feel like we’re on top of the world. Yet we’re barely halfway there. Look down and it’s a long way down. Look up and there are still hours and miles to go. And it’s only 6 AM. The sun is just coming up and today the morning light tastes better than a hot cup of coffee against my chilled lips. Rising in front of us, the notorious 100 switchbacks. We take a few minutes to try and consume some calories. At 12,000 feet elevation, the head and stomach are starting to complain. The hardest part isn’t going to be the summit. The next 1,500 feet and 100 switchbacks are the real test. The steepest section of the route stands directly in our path. The switchbacks relish in their task: grind you down for the next 2 hours and send you whimpering back down the mountain with your tail tucked between your legs.

Last year, we had a permit to climb Mt Whitney on October 22, 2020. But the California fire season shut down Mt Whitney and the surrounding trails in early October. There was never a fire on the mountain or even very close. But California has now taken the approach of when in doubt, shut it down. So we struck out in 2020. Again, I applied for day permit for 2021. In 2019, you had about a 34% chance of obtaining a permit. I’m sure the odds are now even lower with more people heading outdoors. However, Lady Luck smiled down on me again and I received an email notifying me I had been granted a permit for Friday, August 27th. The climb was on for 2021.

It had been 12 years since I had climbed Mt Whitney. The last time, Dylan was not even 2 years old. This time, Dylan would be joining me on the climb. 12 years earlier Jody and I had summitted together with a few other friends. This time, Jody, MJ, Dan, Shane and Shane’s friend Nick would all be part of the group. It’s doable to complete the 22 mile roundtrip hike in a day but it can be a long day. The plan was to start at 2 AM, reach the summit no later than noon and make it back to the trailhead by 6 PM. Weather forecast promised blue skies and a gentle breeze. No threat of thunderstorms so we couldn’t have asked for better weather.

Dylan left school at noon yet I couldn’t escape work until 3 PM. We were on the road for 20 minutes when we realized we left all our CLIF BLOKS back home. So we made a U-turn and headed back home to see what else we might have forgotten. The Caldor fire near South Lake Tahoe closed Highway 50. This meant an additional 45 minutes of driving as we had to drive around the north shore of Lake Tahoe where we’d connect to Highway 395 in Carson City. We had at least 6 1/2 hours of driving ahead of us. Sure enough, about 7 hours later around 10 PM, we pulled into the Whitney Portal campsite and parked next to Dan’s car. We brought our 2-person tent but since we would be getting up in just a couple hours, decided to put the seats down and sleep in the back of the Jeep. I don’t think I got more than 30 minutes of sleep. Some of the other campsites started buzzing around midnight and some hikers were opting for a midnight start. Just like we drew it up, at 1 AM the alarm sounded. We got our gear ready, drove the 5 minutes up the road to the trailhead and were on the trail at 2:13 AM.

Entering the Whitney Zone

For me, hiking in the dark between midnight and sunrise usually borders on the surreal. I do plenty of running with a headlamp in the dark alone, but hiking up a mountain with 7 friends at 2 AM under the stars feels more like an expedition, better yet a journey or even an unforgettable life experience. But before we could actually start, we had to weigh in. A scale hangs next to the start of the trail and it’s customary to weigh your pack. Who didn’t pack enough? Who packed too much? The scale will reveal all. I think our group ranged in weight from 10 lbs to 28 lbs. Unfortunately for me, I took first place with the 28 lbs for the most weight (4 liters of water and 2 Gatorades for both Dylan and me, snacks and too much technology). If someone needed their battery charged, a second camera, backup headlamp, satellite communicator, I was prepared. The 30 lbs I had been able to lose in the previous 8 months, now were stuffed in my backpack and on my shoulders. My knees would not be thanking me by the end of the day.

The early hours passed quickly. We hiked in the dark the first 4 hours. At one point, we missed a turn, lost the trail and scrambled down to what looked like the trail. A few minutes later, someone’s GPS confirmed indeed we were back on the trail. We continued on but noticed we seemed to be descending instead of ascending. No worries someone said, this part heads down to the lake. A few minutes more passed and I realized the section looked awfully familiar. Sure enough we had just climbed this same section 15 minutes earlier. Lost in the dark, we were heading back down the trail we had just climbed. We were on the right trail just heading in the wrong direction! Luckily we corrected our mistake and made a quick U-Turn.

Dylan taking a breather

Those first 4 – 5 miles can be scenic as you make your way up. There are still pine trees and a couple of lakes. But all of that was wasted on us as we couldn’t see a thing in the dark. Yet we seemed to be making really good time. It wasn’t until daybreak that we could begin to appreciate the views. The morning light would bounce off Eastern facing rock walls. For a few minutes, the mountains in front of us looked to be glowing as the sun started to come up behind us.

After 4 hours and 6 miles of climbing, we reached Trail Camp which is at an elevation of 12,000 feet. The energy was dipping and we still had the most difficult section coming up next: the 100 switchbacks. I don’t think there are actually 100 – more like 97 according to some. But I wasn’t counting. I just know there are a lot. A small lake sat just below this section and marked our last water source until we would return to this spot some 10 miles later. Going up, mentally this was the hardest part for Dylan. He started to develop a headache and was probably having some issues with the altitude. I’m sure it was impacting everyone. Jody had just had surgery on his jaw a few days earlier and was experiencing some pain at this point too. Advil to the rescue.

Dylan making his way up the switchbacks

One of my favorite views of the climb is not necessarily from the summit but from the top of the switchbacks. The trail slips through a crack in the ridge at around 13,500 feet and follows the western side of the ridgeline. When you pass through the crack, you are standing thousands of feet above a vast valley below of wilderness, alpine lakes and the first section of the John Muir trail. It’s a breathtaking reward for overcoming the switchbacks. From here, we could probably spot our steps last summer when we backpacked the Rae Lakes Loop.

The view after the switchbacks looking towards the John Muir Trail

From the top of the switchbacks, there are still another 2 miles to go. You’d think it would be just around the corner but they didn’t want to make it that easy. There was very little climbing over the next mile as the trail follows the ridge line north. The group seemed to split and we fell into a couple smaller groups. Dylan and I hiked with Jody and MJ. Shane would join us every few minutes. Dan and Nick both seemed to be comfortable on their own. Eventually, the summit comes into view and you can spot some people on top and the small rock hut sitting just below the summit. I took my time the last few hundred yards while Dylan raced ahead. It felt like that last half mile would never end. But it did and suddenly we were standing on the summit of Mt Whitney at 14,505 feet a little after 10 AM. Although based on our signs at the summit there seemed to be a debate as to the official elevation.

While on the summit, we huddled inside the stone hut. Ate some snacks. Took some pictures from the summit and just closed our eyes and let the sun warm our faces. As I took a few minutes to nap on a large rock, I could hear some people were making phone calls. I pulled out my phone and sure enough I had 5G coverage. So I called Nicole and let her know we had made it and were doing fine. She said she knew because Dylan had just called her! Taking our time, finally just after 11 AM, we gathered our packs, took a few more parting pictures and began to make our way down. By 6 PM, we were back where we started at the trailhead. 22 miles but felt like more (and harder than I remembered) but so glad to have done it again.

Dylan and I standing on the summit

Here’s the data from my Garmin watch: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/7382915831?share_unique_id=8

Some more pictures are available here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/ve3J86jX3TXC7rvr8

And here’s a short highlight video of the day:

The Enchantments

Colchuck Lake with Aasgard Pass and Dragontail in the distance

During the 2020 quarantine, we added two more destinations to our bucket list: Leavenworth, WA and The Enchantments. They both happened to be in Central Washington and, as luck would have it, they were just minutes apart. But visiting them meant at least a 13 hour drive each way from our home in Granite Bay, CA. The Enchantments is a very popular hiking area and nearly impossible to score an overnight camping permit. We decided to attempt the entire trail in a day, which is possible just not necessarily advisable. The official distance listed on the Washington Trails Association website (https://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/enchantment-lakes) has the point-to-point hike at 18 miles. Most reports from other hikers using GPS show 20-22 miles. I thought both sounded too far and estimated a more manageable 17 miles.

So we used the July 4th holiday to make a family trip up through Oregon and into Washington. On Thursday, I stopped working around 3 PM and we loaded the Jeep and hit the road for Bend. A number of forest fires were burning along I-5 near Mt. Shasta and the fastest route to Bend, along Highway 97 was closed. The firefighting planes were literally dropping fire retardant on I-5 to prevent the fire from jumping the interstate. What should have been about a 7 hour drive from our house to the first stop, ended up being more like 9.5 hours. We drove in the dark from Medford to Bend, but would love to make the trip again in the daylight as it looked very mountainous with dense forests as we zipped along the Rogue River.

The next day we cruised the downtown streets along the older section of Bend and also made a quick trip to REI for last minute supplies. Then we continued our drive north to Leavenworth. The drive along this part of Oregon, taking Highway 97 north, is pretty spectacular. 8 months ago, we had never been to Central Oregon. But we’ve now made 3 different trips there all in the last 8 months. And each time we like the area more and more. Driving north, the snowcap peaks of Mt Bachelor, The Sisters, Mt. Washington, Mt Hood and Mount Adams all sit off in the distance to the west. As we drove, it’s a remarkable sight as we made our way along the high desert but saw the peaks on the horizon reaching up to 12,280′ and still covered in snow in July.

Mount Adams in Washington

We stopped for lunch along the Columbia River and reached Leavenworth by late afternoon. The town really does resemble a small Switzerland, Austrian or German village nestled against the mountains. We walked the streets and had dinner outside. There was even a Starbucks in town but you would never know as it was styled like all the other small Bavarian shops and restaurants. Visiting this place during Christmas with snow covered streets must be magical. By early evening, we were back in the Jeep and made the 20 minute drive east to Wenatchee, where we had booked a room for the night.

Leavenworth, Washington

The alarm clock sounded at 4 AM and we were up in a matter of minutes. We opted to take the “easier” hiking route, starting from the Stuart Lake trailhead and finishing at the Snow Lakes Trailhead. Easier? Primarily because all the hard, uphill climbing is done in the first half and we could mainly descend the second half of the day. It’s a point-to-point hike and requires a shuttle. Nicole would drop us off at the Stuart Lake Trailhead, about 40 minutes from Leavenworth and up a rough, back wrenching, dirt road. Then she would meet us about 20 miles later at the Snow Lake Trailhead, only 20 minutes outside of Leavenworth. We scheduled a 4 PM rendezvous. Well, that was the plan anyway.

From our hotel in Wenatchee, it took about 1 hour to reach the drop off point. There were probably 30 cars parked at the trailhead and no more empty spaces when we pulled into the parking lot at 6 AM. We covered ourselves in bug spray and sunscreen, issued ourselves a day use permit, said our goodbyes to Nicole and were heading towards Colchuck Lake a few minutes later.  Would have loved to take Obi with us but, first dogs are not permitted in The Enchantments and some of the boulder scrambling would have been a challenge for him.

The first couple hours hiking to Colchuck Lake we followed the well marked trail through the mosquito infested forest. Mosquitos were everywhere! But the sounds of flowing water to our right from Mountaineer’s Creek kept us relaxed. Occasionally there would be an opening in the trees and we could catch a glimpse of the valley walls surrounding us. You have to ascend 2,280 feet to reach the lake so most of the time you are climbing. We passed some other hikers on their way up to the lake and were passed by a few others doing the entire route like us. It seemed to be farther than the advertised 4 miles but we eventually reached the lake. In my 50 years on this earth, I don’t think I’ve seen a more magical alpine lake setting than standing on the edge of Colchuck in the morning and looking across the azure waters and up at Aasgard Pass and Dragontail. We took a few minutes to soak in the masterpiece before us, but knew the biggest climb of the day was up next.

The trail followed the edge of the lake while we made our way to the far end. It was easy to lose the trail as the trail entered the bottom of Colchuck Glacier and we jumped from boulder to boulder, every now and then spotting a cairn (rocks piled on top of each other to mark the trail). The path around the lake provided us with so many incredible views. Even if you don’t have the desire to hike the entire Enchantments, just seeing Colchuck Lake is worth the price of 4 miles up and 4 miles down.

But we knew it was going to cost us a little more in order to reach the upper Enchantments and that required a pretty hard climb up Aasgard Pass. Everything we had read warned us to stay left, especially if there is snow and ice as you could be climbing right on top of a waterfall. But there was very little snow and there were enough other hikers ahead of us that we could spot a few of them as they made their way up.

The boulder scramble up to Aasgard Pass

And it was during this climb that we spotted our first mountain goat, standing just a couple dozen feet away from us. Like us, the mountain goat stood atop a boulder admiring the view. I abandoned the trekking poles and was using my hands more often than not to grab a boulder. Dylan preferred to climb with his trekking poles. To each his own. It took a couple thousand feet to climb to Colchuck Lake and then another couple thousand feet more to climb Aasgard Pass. Remarkable to gaze back and consider it was only a few hours ago that Nicole dropped us deep in valley that we could barely now see.

Looking down at Colchuck Lake

We took a short break at the summit (7,800 feet) and were greeted by another mountain goat and her baby as they strolled by us.

Baby mountain goat keeping an eye on us

We had reached the Upper Enchantments. In many ways, it reminded me of Desolation Wilderness near Lake Aloha. It resembles a moonscape: barren fields covered only in rocks and scree dotted with ice filled azure lakes. At the top of the pass, other hikers basked in the sun and a few rock climbers made their way to Dragontail. Every few minutes, we would pass a couple mountain goats feeding on small patches of grass on the edge of the water.

This section was enjoyable on many levels. Water flowed everywhere, connecting many of the lakes. There was still a lot of snow and the views were in every direction. Seeing this with our own eyes and seeing it together was worth the effort. At this point, our water bottles were dry so we used our water filter to refill from one of the lakes.

Pass through the Upper Enchantments

Always the eternal optimist, I entertained the thought at this point we were about halfway done. Not even close! But there was no complaining. The scenery was too spectacular not to enjoy as we strolled from lake to lake. I can’t put a name to all the lakes we passed but they were all crystal clear and many with waterfalls flowing into or out of the lake. If we lived near these mountains, I envision spending a lot of summer days exploring.

For the next few hours, we hiked mainly by ourselves. We crossed paths with what appeared to be another father/son duo (with the son in his early 20’s) and one other couple. We were all heading in the same direction and enjoying our own journeys. With no cell coverage, I sent Nicole a message using the Garmin InReach Mini letting her know we were probably a couple hours behind our 4 PM predicted finish. The InReach Mini is a small device that I now carry with me whenever I’m in the backcountry. With just a couple button presses on my watch, I can send/receive messages using the Iridium satellite network. I can be just about anywhere in the world and send her a message that includes my location. In case of an emergency, we could also use the SOS feature to summon emergency help. Probably overkill for most of our adventures but a nice safety device.

One of my favorite sections in the Lower Enchantments was hiking along the shore of Leprechaun Lake. There were some snow bridge crossings, some more scrambling, some glisading, some moments where we just stopped and tried to take in the view and moment. Eventually, we reached a vista point near the far end of Lake Viviane.

A few minutes later, we were surprised to see a ranger that was checking for permits. We could see the Upper Snow Lake way down below us. When I asked the ranger how much farther to the Snow Lakes Trailhead, he hesitated. Not quite sure, he estimated about 1.5 more miles to Upper Snow Lake, then between 5 and 10 miles to the trailhead. “Hey Dylan, only 6 1/2 more miles!”

Upper Snow Lake sits way down below

It was a pretty tough and rugged descent down to the Upper Snow Lake. We lost the trail a few times and did more sliding than hiking. It was steep and sometimes it was too steep to go down along a sheer granite wall so we traversed side to side. Eventually we reached the first valley floor as the trail slipped under the shady protection of a thick forest along the edge of Upper Snow Lake. Our pace quickened as the trail was either level or descending slightly. More than once, Dylan wished he could bring his mountain bike and ride the trail through the lush landscape floating over the twisted tree roots snaking along the floor.

The last few miles were a combination of endless switchbacks and a view of the parked cars waiting in the parking lot below us. We could see we were close but it seemed to take forever to cover those last few miles. Long past our 4 PM anticipated finish, we finally crossed over the Wenatchee River bridge and arrived at Snow Lake Trailhead around 6:30 PM where Nicole was waiting.

Wenatchee River at Snow Lakes Trailhead

Our bodies done for the day, we climbed into the Jeep and Nicole drove us into Leavenworth for a well deserved round of milk shakes at Heidleburger Drive In. Then it was off for a couple nights in Seattle and then driving home along the Oregon Coast.

It Takes A Village To Push These Products Out The Door

I’ve been fortunate to work on some pretty exciting and rewarding projects. For the past few years, I’ve developed and worked on software that was used by millions of people these past few weeks. If you worked at a Polling Place/Voter Center in one of these California counties: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Bernardino, Nevada and a few others, you may have used “Panorama” to check/register voters. I prefer my products to have code names, usually after mountain peaks. So I called it “Panorama” and it stuck. “Panorama”, the highest point in flat Nebraska, was something I developed and it first launched in Nevada County, CA in the 2018 election. It now belongs to another company but I learned it was used in the 2020 General Election in a number of California counties. The other product is something I’ve been working on the past 2 years. It takes a village to get these products out the door. If you live in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Kansas, Nebraska you would use it to check your registration and/or ballot status online. I didn’t have the opportunity to name this one so it goes by the name VoterView. You can search for it online and it’s usually on your Secretary of State’s website. There’s other projects but these have been my favorite so far. It’s been a crazy few years. 5 years ago I took a chance and walked away from a successful career. I wanted to pivot. Learn something new. I could have stayed on the sidelines. But I find it’s better to still be in the game. Make no mistake, most days we’re hustling. My life is never a straight line from Point A to Point B. But every now and then, it’s good to look back and see how many twists and turns you took and eventually, miraculously, you made it. Once at Point B, you discover Point C is around the next bend. Now onto the next thing.

Rae Lakes Loop

Jody and Dylan Descending Glen Pass

Whenever I backpack, I’m always reminded how much I enjoy hiking in the wilderness. If nothing else, it keeps me in the moment. There’s no breaking news, no politics, no COVID, no economic disaster on the horizon. It’s about getting from here to there, keeping each other motivated, sharing stories with each other along the way, enjoying the scenery, food and water and finding a good place to sleep. The Rae Lakes Loop is a 41.4 mile hike deep in the Kings Canyon National Park a couple hours east of Fresno. From start to finish it offers some of the most scenic views I’ve come across in California. Earlier in the year, I scored a permit for a group of 4 going clockwise on the loop August 21-23. The ranger advised against trying to cover the entire loop in just 3 days. With work demands and using the weekend, I could only take Friday off and that would give us 3 solid days of hiking. Jody, Dan, Dylan and I were excited to cover this area as none of us had been on this trail before. A year ealier, I had never even heard of Rae Lakes. I was familar with the area and the John Muir Trail but somehow this route had never crossed my radar. After reading some posts about it, suddenly it shot to the top of my bucketlist for 2020.

We left home Thursday evening around 5:30 PM and camped at the Princess Campground maybe some 30 miles from the trailhead. Princess Campground was literally around the corner from Hume Lake which was a camp I visited a few times in high school. So driving up from Fresno brough back some memories but it had been a long time since I had been in the area.

August equals wildfire season in California and much of state was buried under a thick haze of smoke. Leaving home, I think our visibility was about 1-2 miles and it didn’t improve much the entire drive through the Central Valley. I was a little concerned about hiking in the smoke and being in this incredible scenic setting yet not being able to see a thing. Jody was already at the campsite by the time we arrived and slept in his car while Dan put up his tent and Dylan and I slept in our tent. Up at sunrise the next morning, we had a quick breakfast and packed the gear. After a car ride further into the canyons, we eventually reached the end of the road, appropriately named: Road’s End. Here we found a parking spot and would begin our journey. By 9 AM, the cars were locked and we were on the trail.

Myself, Dylan, Dan and Jody At The Trailhead

The first 1.8 miles is on a wide crushed granite/sandy trail passing thru a meadow. In so many ways, the area looks like Yosemite. The Woods Creek trail begins at a junction and makes a left turn climbing along the left side of the canyon, just above the flowing waters of Woods Creek. We ran into a few hikers but for the most part the trail was empty. We were stopped by a ranger coming down from the other direction. He checked our permit and warned us he had spotted a some rattlesnakes on the trail and that bears were active.

The Trail Along Woods Creek

Even though the name of this section, Woods Creek, refers to it as a creek, it’s really more like a river or fast moving stream with pools and rock waterfalls. For most of the first day, we followed Woods Creek, heading upstream with the sound of rushing water to our right. Just the sound of rushing water within earshot kept me cool. A couple miles in, just about at the base of Mist Falls, we had our first encounter with a black bear. Dan was maybe 100′ ahead while Jody, Dylan and I were walking together and trailing behind. All of the sudden, a mama bear stepped onto the trail coming up from cooling off in the water. She had two cubs next to her and looked at us. Then she turned her head and looked at Dan. Eventually she and the cubs scrambled into the woods and watched as we passed. She was much closer to Dan but it was pretty awesome to see her with her cubs. I’ve encountered a bear while running but seeing a black bear with cubs was pretty special.

Dan, Dylan and Jody Making Their Way Up The Woods Creek Section

Originally we planned on covering 11 miles on the first day, then 10 miles day 2, then trying to finish the last day with 20 miles. But Dan had a better idea of splitting it up into 3 even sections, each between 13 and 15 miles a day. It was a better plan and we decided on 15 miles the first day, then 13.5 miles, then 13 miles. The section from Rae Lakes up to Glen Pass was going to be the toughest stretch and it made sense to try and get that done on day 2 instead of trying to hike 20 miles on day 3 while also trying to climb Glen Pass on the same day.

Some sections left us exposed in sun and heat. During lunch, we took a dip in one of the pools and lasted less than a minute in the ice cold water. Constantly hiking next to a watersource gave us endless opportunities to refill our waterbottles. The South Fork Kings River bridge is still washed out so we had to cross jumping from rock to rock. Jody was the only one not carrying treking poles and this was one of the spots they came in handy. But he managed to make it across and keep his feet dry.

The Woods Creek Bridge Was Out

It was nearly another 6 miles until Woods Creek Crossing and where we planned to camp for the night. In these canyons, peaks towered above us in all directions. I kept being amazed at how big the mountains looked. Some seemed to be around 13,000′ feet. When hiking around Lake Tahoe, most of the mountains reach 10,000′ but nothing comes close to 12,000′ or 13,000′. It’s just a completely different perspective when looking up bigger mountains with their jagged ridges and peaks.

15 miles in the bag and 4,000 feet of elevation gain behind us, our shoulders sore, feet tired, backs drenched in sweat, we finally pulled into the campsite around 6 PM after crossing the Woods Creek Suspension Bridge.

Dylan Crossing The Woods Creek Suspension Bridge

One of the campsites had a bear locker but we grabbed a site next to the creek and hid our bear canisters in some rocks. Jody was in his tent before we knew it. Dylan lit a small fire while we ate dinner. But we were more than happy to find our own tents and climb into our sleeping bags. It was a long 1st day but covering 15+ miles was a great start.

Backpacks were loaded and ready by 8 AM the next morning. We continued our journey expecting Saturday to be the most picturesque day since we would reach the Rae Lakes area. But day 2 would also mean the most difficult day as we needed to climb up and over Glen Pass at 11,926 feet.

In the cool morning temperature, it felt great to be back on the trail. We were now on the John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail (JMT and PCT) and would be on it for most of the day. Throughout the morning, the trail gradually climbed but nothing too severe. Yet again, all throughout the morning, I was blown away but the mountains and cliffs towering above us on both side.

It seemed to take longer than expected to reach the first lake, Dollar Lake. Maybe a mile before, we encountered a solo hiker, Ryan, moving in our same direction at a slightly faster pace. He had started on the PCT at the Oregon border and was averaging 30 miles a day. Ryan travelled super light. We peppered him with questions about choices of gear, etc. He took time to chat with us and advised to take a good lunch break before trying to conquer Glen Pass. He was dealing with an achilles heel issue and wasn’t sure he was going to be able to continue towards Whitney. The only exit point would be where we parked, about another 20 miles of hiking. We thought we had a lot of ground to cover that day but he had twice the amount of miles. He disappered on the trail ahead and we never saw him again. I suspect he successfully finished his journey.

Dollar Lake

Shortly after Dollar Lake, we reached a large meadow with a stream running through the middle. Off in the distance up ahead, we could spot Fin Dome which meant we were getting close to Rae Lakes. We took the opportunity to fill up our water bottles again and take a short break. On the other side of the valley, it looked like the backside of Mt. Whitney. I was convinced we had Fin Dome on the right side and Mt. Whitney on the left. Spectacular. But I quickly learned Mt. Whitney was still a ways away and out of view. Nonetheless, the setting as we hiked proved nothing but amazing. We’d been gradually climbing and were now at around 10,000′.

We found a nice spot for lunch at the first of the Rae Lakes where a water snaked emerged from the shore and greeted us. It felt good to unload our packs and, other than one tent across the lake, we had the lake to ourselves. We swam. We ate. We relaxed for a bit and enjoyed the setting, knowing the hardest part of the day was just ahead.

After lunch we continued south on the JMT, passing a couple of the other Rae Lakes. The last one, right before the climb to Glen Pass, probably was my favorite. Surrounded by immense cliffs the lake had some islands sitting in the middle. Something to explore next time. Again, we took time to refill our water bottles knowing that this was likely the last water source for some miles.

Climbing up to Glen Pass was a beautiful but hard effort. About halfway up, a plateu revealed a couple of small alpine lakes carved out of the rocks. A few hikers were descending and coming down from the other direction as we were climbing up. Every now and then, you had to turn around and appreciate just how high we had been climbing.

Jody On The Summit of Glen Pass With Rae Lakes In The Background

By late afternoon we reached the summit. We still had another 3 miles if we wanted to camp at Charlotte Lake or 4 miles to Vidette Meadows. Charlotte Lake would mean camping and water but also meant a detour of .7 miles off the trail. We opted for Vidette Meadows.

Dan, Dylan and I Descending Towards Charlotte Lake

The next 3 miles were a quick descent down from the ridge. Pretty soon, we spotted Charlotte Lake off in the distance. We continued on and didn’t take trail to Charlotte Lake. A mile or so past the Charlotte Lake junction we found a nice quiet camping spot on the edge of a meadow next to Bubbs Creek. 13.5 miles done and another 4,000′ of elevation to wrap up day 2. Again, Dylan built a fire for us and we enjoyed dinner around the fire. Tired would be an understatement as I seemed to sleep much better the 2nd night. I thought for sure we would have some large furry visitors during the night as the setting was perfect. But either we slept through the commotion or the bears left us alone.

We slept in an extra 30 minutes and were not on the trail until 8:30 AM. Thunderstorms were in the forecast for the last day but the skies were clear as we set out. Only 13 miles to go and mostly all downhill!

Dylan and Me On The Last Morning

Similar to the first day of following Woods Creek and hearing the sound of rushing water as we hiked, the last day paralled Bubbs Creek and we again hiked all day to the sound of rushing water. In many ways, it reminded me of hiking in the Alps.

A couple hours in, again Dan was out front on his own. Suddenly, a big bush moved a few feet above Dan and out popped a large black bear. Jody yelled “Don’t move!” and Dan asked, “Is it a bear?” The bear took a look at Dan and slowly turned away, walking up the hill but in no apparent rush. That was close! We gave the bear a few minutes and then made our way down the trail. Heart rates spiked, the next hour passed in just a few minutes. Until Dan stopped and yelled “Rattlesnake!”

Jody had been ahead and must have stepped right over a rather long rattlesnake making its way across the trail. Dan was just behind Jody and almost stepped right on top of it. I think after the bear, we were on the lookout for bears and not snakes. Dylan and I were a few feet behind Dan. The snake was not in a hurry to let us pass. Dan took one of his treking poles and kept hitting the ground to encourage the snake to move along. Eventually the snake slithered into some the bushes and we made our way down the trail again. Again, heart rates spiked.

Rattlesnake Along Bubbs Creek

Now with our senses on high alert, we picked up our pace. Just after lunch, the skies darkened and we heard the sound of thunder overhead. Raindrops dotted the trail and soon the skies opened and we were hiking in downpour. It lasted maybe 20-30 minutes and by the time we were back at the Woods Creek Junction, the skies were clear but the bugs were out.

Dylan and Me Just After The Rainstorm

The last couple of miles seemed to take the longest but we eventually made it back to the cars. There’s not a bad section the entire loop but after 40 miles, you just want to be done. I think we were on the road by 3:30 PM. This is an incredible loop and probably deserves 3 nights instead of 2. I enjoyed the clockwise direction. Plenty of water sources and camping options and very few people. We crossed paths with a couple runners. I’d love to be able to cover it in one day as another option but that would be one long, tough day.

I’ve enjoyed watching Dylan progress over the summer. From hikes like Castle Peak and Pryamid Peak, to Mt Shasta, Grand Canyon and now Rae Lakes. It seems each one is a stepping stone to the next and he has embraced each one.

Grand Canyon – The Not Recommended Way

Looking Back Down The South Kaibab Trail

Jody, my adventurous longtime friend, invited us to join him in his Grand Canyon weekend of rest and relaxation. In 3 days, Dan, Dylan and I drove 1665 miles, passed Mt Whitney, made it thru the heart of Death Valley (118 degrees), hit the Las Vegas Strip, met the group in Tusayan, hiked 10 miles down the Bright Angel Trail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, swam in the freezing Colorado River (42 degrees), had our food eaten by squirrels and ring-tailed cats, got a couple hours of sweat induced sleep (temps in the canyon were well above 100 degrees), up at 3 AM next morning, hiked 7 miles back up the nearly 5,000 feet via the South Kaibab trail (no water sources going up). The shuttle bus waiting for us at top promised by Jody, never arrived due to COVID. So we had to hide our backpacks behind some trees and slowly jog 5 miles back to our cars. Drove back to the trail to collect our gear and the rest of the group. Left the Grand Canyon at noon on Sunday and made it back home at 1 AM. Jody has a wicked sense of humor.

If you do this, it’s recommended to go in the opposite direction: descend the South Kaibab trail since it has no water sources and climb out on the Bright Angel Trail where there usually is a water source every couple miles. In our case, Jody led us in the more challenging/picturesque direction.

Mt Shasta – Turn Up The Fun Meter

The alarm clock sounded at 1 AM but the alarm proved unnecessary. By the time it started beeping, we were already awake and ready to start the day. The clanging of footsteps walking over scattered rocks and scree right outside our tent was the only sound in the air at this hour. In fact, the entire side of the mountain we were perched on was nothing more than a pile of rocks known as Avalanche Gulch. I stuck my head outside the tent. Dan’s tent glowed 50 feet away. In the moonlight I could see the valley below. We were sitting at 9,500 feet and even in July, the air temperature was in the low 30s. Far below us, we could see the lights of the tiny town of Shasta flickering a dozen or so miles away. But I didn’t spot a single headlamp from any other climbers making their way up along our route. It looked like we would be leading the way up for the first section. Turning my head around, the mountain loomed above us in the dark with white patches of snow leading up the sides. The clusters of snow eventually disappeared under a group of clouds collecting a few thousand feet above us. No headlamps above us either. Somewhere beyond the dark ridges and above the clouds, the summit waited for us. At 14,179′ our goal for the morning was the summit of Mt Shasta. The mind is eager to get going but the body would do anything for a few more hours in the sleeping bag. Within minutes, Dan, Dylan, our guide Matthew and I gathered around a boiling pot of water so we could fill ourselves with breakfast and coffee before starting our push for the summit. 

Dan Burri, Dylan and I have been hiking and mountain biking together for about a year. Last summer, Dan hiked the entire beautiful, yet grueling, 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail. Together we have climbed some of the highest peaks around the Lake Tahoe area. But this summer, we decided to put Mount Shasta on the calendar. I had climbed it once before and was looking forward to getting back and reaching the summit with Dylan and Dan. Mount Shasta stands at 14,179 feet and requires some conditioning and determination. There’s usually snow and ice along the route so proper equipment is critical. You need crampons for climbing as some sections are very steep: 30-35 degrees and covered with ice. As you climb, an ice axe is always in your hand just in case you lose your footing and need to self-arrest. The life you save may be yours. A slip on the ice in some sections could mean a potential fatal fall of a couple thousand feet. Once the sun comes out and the ice starts to melt, another danger emerges: falling rock. Small boulders that are frozen into the sides of the mountain can come loose and tumble down the side of the mountain. Other than that, it’s just a 5.5 mile climb up 7,000 feet, snap a picture at the summit, and then turn around and enjoy the ride back down.

Day 1 started on July 2 at 3 AM as we had to be on the road by 3:30 AM so we could meet our guide, Matthew Morse, in the town of Shasta at 8 AM. We met Matthew at the SWS Mountain Guides headquarters. After introductions, he went through the gear we had stuffed into our backpacks. Making sure we carried only what was absolutely necessary, he had us discard extra socks, clothes, batteries, stuff sacks. We were cutting weight left and right! Then we had to add some weight back in. Boots, crampons, helmets, tents and some cooking gear. After a couple hours, we were on our way to the Bunny Flat trailhead just 30 minutes out of town.

Some people break the climb into 3 days, some into 2 days and some do it in a single day (sometimes starting around 11 PM the night before). We decided to break it into 2 days. We also opted to hire a professional guide, mainly to help keep Dylan safe and to help manage the pace. I have a tendency to put my head down and charge up the mountain so I wanted to maintain a more sustainable pace instead of trying to race to the summit. For Dan, this was the highest peak he has ever attempted. For Dylan, at 12 1/2 years old, this was going to be the hardest climb he’s attempted. So 2 days meant we could climb to 9,500 feet on the first day and that would leave us with a little under 5,000 feet of climbing on day 2. But day 2 would still be a really long day without much sleep on either day. After summiting, we have to turn around and descend the roughly 5,000 feet we just climbed, get back down to the tents, pack everything up, descend a few more miles to the trailhead, then finally make the drive home. Could we make it to the top and still make it back home before midnight? The few minutes of glory on the mountaintop are often sandwiched between days and hours of grinding away.

The Bunny Flat Trailhead, at 6,950 feet, is a pretty common starting point for climbing Shasta. You can park your car here, issue yourself a permit for the summit and follow the dirt trail to Horse Camp.

Bunny Flat Trailhead

I was surprised at how much weight we each carried for just 2 days of hiking. I would estimate we each had about 35 pounds of weight in our packs with Dylan carrying a little less weight. A few weeks earlier, Dan, Dylan and I had driven up to this same spot for a day hike up to Helen Lake at 10,000 feet to get a feel for the mountain and test our legs.

Hiking with Matthew definitely lowered the anxiety level as I could focus more on the enjoyment of the climb and not worry about the details. Early on, Matthew taught us about the different levels of fun (or the fun scale by Kelly Cordes). Type 1 Fun is enjoyable while it’s happening. Think water balloon fight. Birthday parties. You’re having a blast in the moment. Type II Fun is miserable while it’s happening but fun in retrospect. Running a marathon. Maybe a long hike. You get the picture. In the moment you are asking “Why?! Never again!” But a couple days past and you look and think “That was awesome!” Type III Fun is no fun at all. Not even in retrospect. It started as a good idea but something goes terribly wrong. For Shasta, we were hoping for Type I Fun but would settle for Type II Fun. At all costs, we wanted to avoid Type III Fun!

Dan making his way up Avalanche Gulch from Horse Camp

Even in summer, you have to prepare for any condition in the mountains. Just 3 weeks earlier, we were climbing up this same trail with snow falling and the mountain hidden under heavy clouds. Here’s a picture of Dan climbing the same section of trail 3 weeks earlier.

Dan Climbing Avalanche Gulch near 50/50 on June 13, 2020

But this time, we had ordered and were served perfect weather. With clear skies, from the parking lot we could see straight up Avalanche Gulch all the way up to the Red Banks. From the Bunny Flat Trailhead, it’s a nice hike along a dirt trail for about 2 miles to Horse Camp. This portion is mostly protected from the sun by pine trees along the trail. Matthew did a fantastic job keeping a nice and easy pace. It felt almost too easy and I kept thinking we should be pushing a little harder. But I quickly realized his pace was sustainable and would be more consistent as the trail steepened and we were carrying a lot of weight on our shoulders. We stopped at Horse Camp for lunch and topped off our water bottles. After Horse Camp, you follow the causeway which is a long series of stone steps through the loose scree at the bottom of Avalanche Gulch. Eventually the stepping stones end and you begin to climb.

Making our way up Avalanche Gulch

And that pretty much describes the next couple of hours. You climb and traverse through the giant rock fields. Most 2 day climbers hike up to 50/50 at 9,400′ or Helen Lake at 10,443′ and camp. Our plan was to camp at 50/50 which would be a little quieter than Helen Lake.

Matthew, Dan and Dylan making their way up Avalanche Gulch to 50/50 on July 2, 2020

Around 3PM, we arrived at 50/50 and picked out some spots for our tents. Dan and Matthew each had their own tents and Dylan and I shared one. Once our tents were pitched and packs unloaded, Matthew spent about an hour going over proper usage of the ice axe and crampons. This gave us a chance to practice self-arrest and glisading/braking in some snow near the tents. Then it was dinner time. From atop a large boulder near our tent, my cell phone could pick up a single bar. But unfortunately no luck on having DoorDash deliver dinner. Instead, we feasted on some tasty dehydrated packaged meals. Just add hot water and let sit for 10 minutes. Each package has 2 servings and each serving is about 200 calories. It’s pretty easy to eat the entire package (2 servings) as your dinner. When you’re really hungry, just about anything tastes good. Dan had been singing the praises of these Mountain House brand meals, and Dylan and I were both pleasantly surprised with how well they tasted. A solid meal before the push for the summit.

We retreated to our tents as the sun was still setting. Dylan fell asleep in a few minutes in his sleeping bag next to me but I don’t think I went into any sort of deep sleep for more than 10 minutes at a time. I was tired yet so much was going through my mind about the upcoming day that it was hard to relax and fall asleep. By 1 AM, I was already awake when the alarm on my watch sounded. I could hear Matthew emerging from his tent and walking around. Within minutes, he had some water boiling for everybody. Most of our gear was already packed so it was just a matter of getting up and moving and getting some warm food in our stomachs for breakfast.

By 2:30 AM, we were moving along and on the trail. I thought we would be starting with some other climbers, but the beauty of starting on a Friday is there wouldn’t be very many other climbers. We didn’t see a single light ahead or behind us. There’s something surreal hiking under the stars hours before the sun comes up. You have a headlamp that shines just a few feet ahead of you. You’re in this beautiful setting but so focused on just the path ahead. These are often the hardest hours mentally as the body is usually sleeping at this time. The sun is still hours away and, when you stop, it’s so cold your body starts shivering. Best to keep moving.

Pretty soon we arrived at Helen Lake and took a short break. Usually Helen Lake is a popular camping spot and there can be 20-30 tents dug into the snow field. It’s a spot where climbers can acclimate to the elevation. It’s also a spot where some people end their climb and turn around. This morning, there were only a few tents. A woman emerged from one and asked if we had an extra AAA battery. Given that we had only about 2 hours of darkness left and plenty of juice left in our headlamps, I offered her one of my batteries from my pack. We put on our crampons and pulled out our ice axes at this point since they would be put to good use over the next few hours. The soft snow during the day had frozen overnight. Crampons would be necessary from this point as the climb was about to get real steep. In 10 minutes, we were walking over ice and making our way up to the Red Banks. Again, we couldn’t spot any lights above us which meant we would continue to lead the way.

Our first “Check Engine” light flashed around 4:30 AM. We had been climbing for about 2 hours and Dylan’s energy level suddenly dropped noticeably. We were heading up but his energy made a U-turn and went the opposite direction. He had been chatting away since we started when Matthew began to notice his feet were starting to drag. Given the hour, it wasn’t surprising. In my experience, the hour or two before daybreak are mentally the toughest. Matthew stopped us in our tracks. “Dylan, how you feeling? Looks like you are at redline!” Dylan said he was OK but a little tired. Matthew took the opportunity to give us the talk. It’s not only about getting to the summit but we also need to have some energy in reserves for the descent. Calories. We need to consume calories every hour in order to make it up AND DOWN. So we started pumping Clif Bars into our mouths and did so every hour. Dylan would also chew on a couple Clif Bloks every 45-60 minutes. Within minutes, Dylan’s energy level spiked and he was back to swapping stories as we climbed. One of the headlamps from another climber coming up tagged along behind us while we climbed up the Avalanche Gulch towards the Red Banks. He was a lone climber and stayed with us for awhile. Eventually, a few more climbers passed just us as the morning light started to appear.

Our climbing party making their way up Avalanche Gulch

Nearing the Red Banks is an awesome experience. When the skies are clear, you can see forever behind you. The town of Shasta is far below you, Mt Eddy with a sliver of snow running along the top stands on the other side of the town, and then you can see the Trinity Alps off in the distance. Not to mention your eyes can follow the route you have been climbing. About halfway up, Matthew roped us together. We climbed together like this as a single unit. Ice axe in the upper hand and one pole in the other, zig zagging up the side. As we climbed, the sun was rising which cast a giant shadow of the mountain below us. We had to take a few minutes to admire the sight.

Closer to the top, a boot pack formed in the ice, sort of like a rough staircase made by all the boots digging into the snow from the climbers. We followed this boot pack the rest of the way to the base of Red Banks. My hiking boots needed to be re-laced as I felt a blister developing on my heel with each step. So we found a rock and carefully made our way over so I could pull out my feet and stick a bandaid on each heel. Crisis averted and we were heading back up a few minutes later.

There are a couple of options at the base of Red Banks. You can go right and around the Red Banks towards what is called the Thumb or Thumb Rock. You can also find a chute and make your way through the rock walls, going right through the Red Banks. At this point, you are close to 13,000′ and it’s one of the steepest sections of the climb. This is also another spot where a lot of people decide to turn around. You’ve been climbing and, from below, it looked like the Red Banks was the summit. But when you get here and realize there’s still a good amount of climbing left, tired and discouraged, it’s all too easy to call it a day.

Dan making his way through the Red Banks

Matthew opted to lead us through the Red Banks. I think the group may have let out a cheer as we pushed our way up and into the Red Banks. We stayed roped together through this section as it seemed the steepest while still covered with a sheet of ice. It wasn’t too long before the steepness started to lessen and we were done with one of my favorite sections. Now, with the hardest section behind us, we stood together staring up at Misery Hill.

The wind picked up noticeably at this point. We took some protection behind a rock wall and removed the loads from our backs. Our guide, Matthew, sprawled out on the ground as flat as possible, covered his face and tried to take a quick nap. We were sitting right above Konwakiton Glacier and it looked like we were on top of the world. We sat here for a few minutes and gathered our strength for the last section. Dan looked good and was ready to go ahead. However, Dylan looked spent. We still weren’t to the top and I was running out of energy bars. I was giving Dylan as many energy bars as he could consume. He was eating all of mine and his. After a few minutes, it was time to get moving. We were huddled against the rocks getting ready to tackle Misery Hill and Dylan looked up at me. “Do you think I can do this?” he whispered. I wasn’t sure if he was asking me or posing the question to himself. The fight’s there but doubt’s desperately trying to take hold. We were so close. Just an hour or two more. As any father would, I looked deep into his eyes and said, “I know you can do this. We just have to finish it.”

The trail up Misery Hill (another Mt Shasta false summit) looked clear of snow so we removed our crampons and went with just trekking poles. Dan led the climb and before we knew it, he disappeared over the top of Misery Hill. He had a burst of energy now that we were so close to the summit. Behind us, or rather below us, the peaks and ridges that seemed so tall the day before, now were thousands of feet below. It’s hard not to keep stopping and basking in the views. Although this portion can be miserable, the views are well worth the effort.

It wasn’t long before we crested Misery Hill and spotted the summit. We had a snow field to cross ahead of us and Shastina sat below us to our left. Now we could see and smell the summit. Dan was up ahead and we could see him beginning the final section right below the summit. From here, there was almost no wind. And we could also see some climbers making their way up from the Clear Creek route. Matthew’s experience really came into play here as there was no rushing, just a nice steady pace.

The final section above the snow field is a short but steep 15-20 minute push to the summit. No crampons needed as most of the snow had been driven from the summit by the wind. Dan was already waiting for us on the summit when we arrived. He had signed our names in the summit book while he had been waiting for us. Felt special to share the summit with Dan, Matthew and Dylan as I was extremely proud for everyone making it to the summit. We couldn’t have had better weather. Absolutely no wind as we sat, soaking in the sun and taking in the views. Redding and Mt Lassen were visible off in the distance. We could see Oregon to the north and Nevada to the east. A few clouds lingered below us but they only added to the breathtaking scene. I was out of Clif Bars with caffeine so Dan gave Dylan his last pack of Clif Bloks for the descent. We spent a total of 30 minutes on the summit, snapping some pictures, videos and eating whatever food we had.

Dan Burri on the summit of Mt Shasta
Dan, Dylan and I on the summit
Dan, Matthew, Dylan and I

Soon we were making our way down. I had a minute or two by myself on the summit as I trailed the group. Extremely thankful to have shared the climb with this group and really grateful to Matthew for his guidance. Without a question, it’s a challenging yet rewarding climb. It’s easy to find yourself tired, discouraged, hungry and suffering from the effects of altitude. But everybody did a good job of taking it one step at a time. We lucked out with the weather and very minimal climbing traffic.

Going down seemed to take no time at all. In less than 2 hours, we were back at the Red Banks. And from the Red Banks we were able to glissade a couple thousand feet to just above Helen Lake. What took hours to climb in the morning took just a few minutes sliding down in the snow.

Dan sliding down to Helen Lake

Back at 50/50, we had been up for over 14 hours and still had more to do. We had to pack our tents and the rest of our stuff and hike down another few miles back to the cars. I’m not sure how, but it felt like we were leaving with more than what we came with. Like a vacation, you end up not being able to stuff everything into your suitcase on the return trip. But with some finagling, we managed to squeeze it all in and found our way back to the parking lot a little after 6 PM. Back at the starting point, we counted our fingers and toes and were relieved to learn nobody had lost any. Overall success! Tired and hungry, we still had 4 hours of driving ahead of us to get home. But first we had to eat and eat something other than energy bars! The Black Bear Diner in Shasta had our names written all over it. We pulled our dusty and tired bodies into the booth and ordered the biggest hamburgers on the menu. When the food arrived, we were too hungry to even pull out a phone for a quick picture. So you’ll just have to trust us: food never looked or tasted so good.

If you have the desire for some adventure, I highly recommend this climb. It takes some planning and preparation, but it’s guaranteed to be fun. What type of fun, that is up to you.

Clouds Rest

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Dylan on top of Clouds Rest (9,925 feet elevation)

I still have a few hikes/climbs left on my bucket list and Clouds Rest in Yosemite has been on my list for awhile. Running from Lake Tenaya, up and over Clouds Rest, past Half Dome and then down to the Valley floor has been a route that I’ve wanted to do, but arranging a ride back at the end complicates that course. So, instead Dylan and I decided to conquer the trail as an out and back. I had a few days off around the 4th of July and baseball for Dylan just ended which meant our days off were free. With a couple free days on the calendar, we picked Monday, July 2nd for our adventure and left the house at 4 AM. I had contemplated leaving Sunday afternoon and setting up camp outside the park, but decided we could attempt the drive and hike in a single, albeit long, day. No dogs are permitted on the dirt trails in Yosemite so we had to leave Obi at home. The weather smiled on us as we had been dealing with 100 degrees temps at home in the days before but on July 2nd temps in the upper 70’s and low 80’s throughout the day. Also, fires had pushed a lot of smoke into the Central Valley as we drove from the Sacramento area but the air was pretty clear in Yosemite on this day as the smoke was sitting just on the other side of the mountain range.

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Lake Tenaya at the trailhead (8,150 feet elevation)

Clouds Rest is about a 6 1/2 – 7 mile (each way) hike from Lake Tenaya. The Sunrise Lakes Trail trailhead sits on the west side of Lake Tenaya off the Tioga Pass road. Take note: this is only a trip you can take when the road is open and clear of snow. The night before, I downloaded the route to my watch so I could make sure we followed the right trail. We just needed to stay on the Sunrise Lakes Trail which would take us all the way to Clouds Rest, but since I hadn’t been in the area before, having the route on my watch would keep us pointed in the right direction. I hadn’t even thought about mosquitos which meant I didn’t pack any bug spray. This could have proven a fatal mistake as we were nearly eaten alive the first mile passing through the meadows as our path paralleled the Tenaya Creek. Thankfully we ran into a couple that offered us some bug spray from their pack. With the fresh smell of insect repellent emanating from our bodies, we pushed forward.

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Crossing Tenaya Creek

Around the 1 1/2 mile point, we encountered the first big climb. A moderate climb for about a mile might cause you to question if the hike will be worth the effort. Don’t turn around here as it will get easier. Unfortunately, we passed a couple that was already turning around and giving up their quest for another day. The trail is a little thin in a couple spots however as long as you keep heading up you’ll find it again. Even the views at this point are postcard worthy as the rising sun lit up the granite mountain ranges behind us. And at some openings, we could spot Lake Tenaya off in the distance as a reminder of how far we had already climbed.

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Eventually we reach the summit of the first climb at about 9,100 feet. A group of hikers had gathered at the summit and were sitting in the shade at a trail junction. We passed through and went straight ahead and were soon heading down. We dropped a few hundred feet in the next 1/2 mile and I reminded Dylan that climbing out of this on the way back was going to be tough. At one point, we passed another hiker sleeping in the shade but for the most part we had long stretches of walking and talking by ourselves.

Another mile or so later, we were passed by a young guy running and asking if we knew where Henry Lake was. We said we didn’t. He thought we might have passed it but neither of us had seen any markings or lakes. Dylan and I had a little ray of hope that we might be able to jump into a lake and cool off. We hadn’t encountered any water sources since leaving Lake Tenaya and were only climbing higher so it didn’t look promising. However, in 20 minutes or so, we rounded a corner and came up a small lake/pond. It was pretty shallow so neither of us were tempted to jump in.

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Passing Henry Lake – At least we think as it was not marked

At about the 5 mile point, the trail noticeably started to go up and the trees began to thin. We had glimpses of little Yosemite and some incredible peaks to the east. One of those was Mt. Florence that stood proud and tall above the others around it. I don’t know if Mt Florence can be climbed but it looked incredible from our vantage point.

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Mt Florence off in the distance on the left

About 2/3 of the way up the last climb, we stopped and decided to have lunch. It was around 12:30 and we were both hungry. We found a log under some shade, pulled out our sandwiches and took about 20 minutes to fuel up for the last part of the climb. The last 1/3 of the climb offered more amazing views in all directions. We could even spot Lake Tenaya way, way off in the distance. It looked so small that it was hard to believe it was the same lake we started from earlier that morning.

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Looking back at our route. Lake Tenaya and our car is somewhere out there.

And before we knew it, we were climbing up to the ridge of Clouds Rest. We were rewarded with some jaw-dropping 360 degree views as we scrambled up the last 100 feet to the very top of the ridge. Both sides had drops of over 1000 feet and we could see Half Dome and El Capitan and the rest of Yosemite all around us.

At the top, we claimed an empty rock, sat next to each other and tried to appreciate what was before us. There were probably 30-50 people at the top. On a weekend, I could see this being a very busy spot so I’d recommend a weekday attempt if possible.

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The hike from Lake Tenaya to the Clouds Rest is a moderate hike and Dylan did great as a 10 year old. This was his longest hike and I think the highest altitude he has reached by foot. It’s well worth the effort and even though there are some awesome views along the way, nothing can compare to the views atop Clouds Rest.

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As we started down, I pulled out my GoPro to snap a quick video of Dylan walking along the ridge. It’s hard to tell scale from a video but I wouldn’t want to be up here on a really windy day.

On the way back, we connected with a couple visiting from Tasmania. The two of them were travelling around the western states for a couple months, backpacking and sightseeing. Chatting with them made the next couple miles click off before we knew it. We parted ways near the bottom of the climb and followed the path back to the car. After we said goodbye, Dylan said, “They spoke English with just a little accent. What language do you think they speak in Tasmania?” That explanation took the next 30 minutes.

Dylan had a headache so we took our time and took some breaks in the shade. We were back in the car around 5:30 PM and them home by 10:30 PM. Couldn’t have ordered a better day.

Here’s a link to the hike on Strava if you want to see details or download the course:

https://www.strava.com/activities/1677387122

“It’s 90% Mental And The Other Half Is Physical”

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I love the game of baseball because baseball is a metaphor for life. We don’t play to prepare for a chance in the major leagues. We play to prepare for life. There’s so much to learn. Practice. Preparation. Hustle. Being part of a team. Taking advantage of your opportunities. Keeping your eye on the ball. Taking calculated risks to put yourself in scoring position. Swinging for the fences. The frustration of crushing the ball only to get robbed. Playing hard. Striking out. Stretching a single into a double. Missing a sign. Dealing with a bad call. Making an error. Getting dirty. Suffering an injury. Battling and staying alive. Getting yourself out of a pickle. Keeping your head in the game. Having someone pick you up. Playing when it hurts. Making it home and knowing you’re safe. Winning with grace and losing with dignity. It’s all there in a single game in one afternoon. I love watching my son and all the kids play. Some days he’s on fire and some days he’s watching that 3rd strike go right by. I’m not going to lie, I’m pulling my hair out half the time. I’m no perfect father having my share of strike outs. 80% of the time I come up short. The other 20% I completely miss the mark. Honestly, I’m a work in progress. I know it and my family really knows it. Nothing exposes my faults more than being a husband/father. Yet, the best part of being a dad is just being there, front row with Nicole as our son plays his games while we’re cheering for him to do his best. For the most part, we are hoping nobody gets hurt and everybody has a good time. If only that was our aim in life: nobody gets hurt and everybody has a good time. Every now and then I try to celebrate the wins. So looking back, that’s what I’ll do: celebrate a few wins this past season. Our All-American All-Star baseball player brings so much joy (and a little gray hair) to my life, how lucky am I to have him call me dad. Super proud of his efforts in the classroom and on the field.

Remember what Yogi Bera said about baseball (life), “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.”

Let’s go out today, enjoy the game and cheer our loved ones on.

Join Us On Some Summer Hikes

Each summer I look forward to spending time hiking in the mountains with Dylan. As the snow begins to melt, I start itching to explore some of our familiar trails and discover some new ones. The Sierra Nevada mountains offer so much variety, from short afternoon hikes to weekend backpacking trips. We have endless possibilities with the long summer days. Often we decide to go at that last minute so we haven’t always coordinated the hikes as a group event. This summer, I wanted to open up these hikes to friends that might be interested in joining us on one or more occasions. Our pace is relaxed and we stop for pictures and take time to appreciate the views. These are not races and are open to all abilities. I’ve listed tentative dates below. These may change but we’ll try to keep them close to what’s shown below. If people are interested, I’ll work on confirming the dates as they get closer and keeping you updated. We’ll start with some of the shorter distances first and work our way up to some longer ones. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll keep you posted.

Date Description
June 16th or 17th Castle Peak – Distance 6-7 miles
July 1st Sugar Bowl to Tinkers Knob to Squaw Valley – Distance 15 Miles
July 21st to 22nd Penner Lake Overnight Backpacking – Distance 7-8 Miles
Early August Flume Trail Bike Ride – Distance 14 Miles
Late August Desolation Wilderness – Distance 20 Miles

Castle Peak – Distance 6-7 miles (June 16 or 17th Father’s Day Weekend)
This is located just off Highway 80 across from Boreal Ski Resort. It’s about a 6 mile hike, 3 miles there and 3 miles back.

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The trail meanders through a meadow at the start and connects with the Pacific Crest Trail. The early section is shady in late spring and in the beginning of summer will have a few streams. There should also be lots of flowers blooming. If we are lucky, we may cross paths with a backpacker attempting to cover the entire 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. If we are really lucky, we may spot a bear. After a couple miles, the trail begins to climb and the last section is steep but manageable.

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Nearing the summit

This last section is short and can be slow going. We’ll take our time as the top is just ahead of us. There may be some snow patches left over from winter so look out for the kids throwing snow balls. As we hike this section, we can turn around and look behind us to see just how high we have climbed. At the top, we can take time to enjoy the views and our lunch.

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Top of Castle Peak looking toward Northstar and Lake Tahoe

We can also extend the hike by another mile by following the ridge over to Basin Peak and returning along the Pacific Crest Trail. This section is a spectacular spot as we follow the ridge from one peak to the other.

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The top of Castle Peak looking north toward Basin Peak

This is an enjoyable hike and we’ll cross paths with other hikers of all ages. Just make sure to bring water, snacks, camera and a positive attitude and we’ll have a memorable experience.

Total distance is between 6-7 miles. Best to start early in the day to avoid any late afternoon thunderstorms. The ridges are exposed and we don’t want to be at or near the top during any lightning strikes.

GPS Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/1121234331

PCT – Sugar Bowl to Tinkers Knob to Squaw Valley – Distance 15 Miles (July 1st)

This is one of my favorite trails. There are two options with this one. We can either turn around at Tinkers Knob (about the halfway point) and do an out-and-back, or continue the rest of the way to Squaw Valley. If we want to go all the way to Squaw Valley, it just means we need a way to get back to the original trailhead. So either a car is left at Squaw Valley or someone performs shuttle duty and meets us at the finish. Either way, the hike offers amazing views pretty much the entire route. And if we decide to go to Squaw, we can jump on the Squaw Tram at High Camp and ride it down (no charge).

The hike begins right next to Sugar Bowl as the Pacific Crest Trail crosses on Donner Pass Road. The first 1/2 mile is a rocky climb along some switchbacks above Lake Mary but then it levels out to a gradual incline as we cut across some of the Sugar Bowl ski runs. Pretty soon we’ll reach the summit near Mt. Lincoln at Sugar Bowl as we follow the ridge with Donner Lake down below on the left and Northstar and Tinkers Knob ahead in the distance.

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If you love mountains and high altitude, you’ll love this section. It will be like this for the next few miles as we’ll dip off the ridges and then the trail will traverse one mountaintop to the next. This is one of the best hikes and it’s right in our backyard. We’ll pass some impressive rock formations and cliffs. There’s nothing technical about the route but a lot of it is exposed to sun and wind.

Look Out For Falling Rocks!

Look Out For Falling Rocks!

After about 7 1/2 miles, we’ll reach Tinkers Knob. This is a good spot to pick out a boulder, take a seat and have a bite to eat. The views are unmatched as you can see Lake Tahoe and all the surrounding areas. This is the halfway point where you can turn around or push on ahead towards Squaw Valley. Either way, the distance is about the same.

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Tinkers Knob Just Ahead

The next part on the way to Squaw Valley has some variety with some valleys and dense bushes and some views of the Sierras some never get to see. You won’t be disappointed with the scenery.

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From Tinkers Knob to Squaw, there may be some small streams running but don’t count on any water sources. In fact don’t count on any water sources the entire route. Carry plenty of water and calories. The trail is easy to follow and will eventually lead into Granite Chief Wilderness as we start to pass some of the ski lifts at Squaw Valley. Eventually, we’ll spot High Camp and the tram where we can follow a gravel road to the High Camp resort. There we can take a break, give ourselves a pat on the back, make sure we aren’t missing anybody, then jump on the tram and take it down to the parking lot.

Total distance is between 14-15 miles. Best to start early in the day to avoid any late afternoon thunderstorms. The ridges are exposed and we do not want to be at or near the top during any lightning strikes. There are no options to hitch a ride back to the parking area during the hike so we’ll give ourselves plenty of time (7 hours or more). It’s an incredible hike and well worth the effort.

GPS Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/1572827887

Penner Lake Overnight Backpacking – 8 miles (Late July)

We discovered this last year and promised we would be back. Behind Spaulding Lake, there’s a chain of alpine lakes (Carr Lake, Feely Lake, Island Lake, Crooked Lake, Penner Lake, and more). Island Lake is a popular camping spot and more crowded. But there’s a gem of a lake called Penner Lake. Penner Lake is deeper in the forest and has fewer campers. It’s a perfect destination for an overnight backpacking trip as it’s only about 3 1/2 miles from the parking lot.

Probably the hardest part is finding the trailhead. It’s about a 30 minute drive down a rough dirt logging road behind Spaulding Lake. The trail begins under some shade as we’ll hike along Carr Lake then Feely Lake. This section is a relatively flat with a couple short climbs to each lake.

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Feely Lake

Pretty soon we’ll arrive at picturesque Island Lake with its granite rocks surrounding the lake and mountains rising as a backdrop. You might be tempted to pitch your tent here but we’ll keep going as this is a much more crowded lake.

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Island Lake

We’ll continue on along the Crooked Lake trail and take in the views along the way. In many ways, this area reminds me of Desolation Wilderness.

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After 3 1/2 miles, we’ll arrive a Penner Lake and find a spot to pitch the tents. You can fish and swim, explore or just relax by the water.

 

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Penner Lake

 

Total distance is about 8 miles. It’s a fairly easy hike and a good chance to camp under the stars and do a little backpacking and use some of that REI gear. We can start in the early afternoon on the first day and be home in the afternoon on the next day.

GPS Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/1189337624

Flume Trail Bike Ride – 14 Miles (Early August)

If you have never been on the Flume Trail, then this is a must do. Even if you can’t do it in August, try to do it sometime this summer. I promise you will treasure every step/pedal along the way.

We did this last year; Dylan rode and I ran. We may do something similar or we may both ride. If someone wants to run it, let me know. This one also takes some logistics as it’s a point-to-point: Spooner Lake to Incline Village. We can park at Incline Village and take a shuttle with our bikes. I think the shuttle has a small fee or is free if you rent a MTB bike from them. Here’s more info: https://flumetrailtahoe.com

The shuttle drops us off at Spooner Lake and we take the trail up to Marlette Lake. This is by far the least favorite part as it’s a climb and the last 1-2 miles to Marlette Lake is a grind and can turn into a slow march in the heat. You may be tempted to turn around and call it a day. But don’t! At Marlette Lake, we’ll find a good spot to take our shoes off and jump in the lake to cool off.

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Marlette Lake

We’ll follow the trail on the west side of the lake for a mile or so before connecting with the Flume Trail just on the other side of a little the dam.

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This is where the trail earns its reputation as one of the best trails in Tahoe. We’ll traverse the edge of the mountain along a trail a few feet wide at about 1,000′ above Lake Tahoe. We’ll follow the trail as it floats above the lake for the next few miles. It’s nothing short of an amazing experience as we’ll want to keep looking out at the vistas but need to keep our eyes on where we’re going.

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There are plenty of spots to stop and sit on a boulder and just take in the views. There’s no reason to rush this section. Eventually, the trail will head inland again and connect with a fire road and all we’ll have to do is coast into Incline Village for the last couple of miles.

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We’ll finish where we picked up the shuttle and you’ll be talking about this one for a while.

Total distance is about 14 miles.

GPS Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/1066508305

Desolation Wilderness – 20 Miles (Late August)

I hope to cap the summer off with a 1 or 2 night backpacking trip through Desolation Wilderness. Starting off at Echo Lake and taking the Pacific Crest Trail to Lake Aloha which is about 7 miles.

In The Heart of Desolation Wilderness

In The Heart of Desolation Wilderness

That might be a good place to stop or we can continue on up over Dicks Peak and camp at Half Moon Lake or Dicks Lake.

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Heather Lake – A Perfect Spot for a swim

The next day we can continue towards Eagle Lake and eventually drop into the Emerald Bay area. Desolation Wilderness has lots of options as there are numerous lakes along the way.

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The view from Dicks Peak

I did this hike in 6th grade and I’ve been back on my own but not with Dylan. So I’m very excited to introduce him to this part of the Tahoe area.

Total distance is about 20 miles with climbing to Lake Aloha and then again up and over Dicks Peak. Should be challenging but very rewarding. Desolation Wilderness does require a permit just to enter the area for hiking/camping so we’ll have to plan accordingly. And if we make it a point-to-point from Echo Lake to Emerald Bay, we need to drop a car or two off at Emerald Bay or arrange a shuttle.

GPS Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/1572838260

What The Heck Happened in 2016

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” – CS Lewis

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Family ride at Folsom Lake

Back in January I panicked. I’d wake up, drive the morning carpool to school and then maybe go for a run or ride. Then I’d sit around and waste too much time doing nothing. I was bored. Dylan was back in school and Nicole was busy preparing for her spring season. I’d wait for the weekends when we could hit the trails or Dylan and I could take our bikes down to Folsom Lake. Gone were the days of interacting with customers or digging through code while stressing over some obscure problem. I missed having something to build. I longed for a problem to solve. There are only so many days I can attempt to clean out the garage and the lawns didn’t need mowing every day.

Writing gives me an opportunity to be honest with myself as well as reflect, determine what worked, and what needs to change. I’m often slow to change. Once I set my mind on something, I can be tenacious and then my attitude is “Full Steam Ahead!” However, making that initial decision can often prove elusive to me. I’ll second guess, waver, doubt and spend too much time worrying about making the wrong choice. I didn’t write at all in 2016 and now that I’ve waited there’s too much to say.

I thought our time in Spain last year would give me time to plan and decide what I would do. But we were so busy enjoying the country that I never had the time to fully consider what I should do next. Part of the problem was too many choices. Checking out career sites provided too many choices. And when there were too many choices, I found myself in analysis paralysis. Should I do something not related to technology? Or should I try something with hardware or mobile? Maybe we should move and experience a new city? I would then start clicking through houses on Zillow and another day would be gone…

So in January I realized I needed some goals in order to move forward. I kept things simple and identified 3 new career goals:

  1. The technology needed to be web/cloud based software or at least transitioning to that model.
  2. The type of business had to be something new for me. Something different than medical/pharmacy software so I would have to learn a new type of business.
  3. I wanted to contribute to a team environment and be sitting amongst the team a couple days a week with the ability to work from home. The office had to be close enough so I could commute on my bike.

That was it. I didn’t really have a dollar amount and was excited to see if something was out there that would be a good fit.

Because it had been nearly 20 years since I’d been on the other side of the interview table, I needed some practice. I’d been in plenty of interviews over the years, but always on the interviewer side. Having a compelling story and being able to weave my job experience into a tale that could be translated into any business needed practice. I enjoy the writing process but don’t revel in talking about myself. So I started posting and sending out my resume. Almost immediately, I received a call from a consulting company that had a client that wanted to bring me in for an interview. I spent about 20 minutes talking with the recruiter. He told me the company was Election System & Software (ES&S) and it would be a good technology fit. Though it would be a step down from what I was making before, he was one of the only recruiters that left me with a positive impression. So we scheduled an interview “so I could practice” before other opportunities surfaced.

The day of the interview, I had lunch with Kayden Kelly and his developers at Blast and we talked about their products and their vision. I then had about an hour until my interview so I reviewed my notes on the company at a coffee shop around the corner from the ES&S offices. I packed up my notes and headed down the street so I would be a few minutes early to the interview. Except as I looked at the building numbers, there was no 299 Douglas Blvd. I circled back and thought I must have missed it. Nope, 10 minutes driving around and there was no 299 Douglas Blvd. Now I started to panic. Only 10 minutes to go and I can’t even find the building, let alone parking. I called the recruiter to confirm the address. I had written down 299 instead of 2999. I was on the wrong side of the city and 20 minutes away from an interview that was starting in 10 minutes. Well, there goes this interview.

I placed a quick call explaining my mistake and letting them know I’d be about 10 minutes late. Luckily they sounded understanding but I knew I had already lost the job.

Eventually I arrived and walked into a conference room 10 minutes late. Between 8 and 10 other men, mostly my age and older, sitting around a table had been waiting for me. The sheer number caught me by surprise as I was expecting maybe 1 to 3 people during the interview. I did my best to apologize and then spent the next 75 minutes sharing my story and listening to theirs. My story is relatively simple yet nearly impossible to fully describe. Driving home, I couldn’t help but compare my meeting earlier in the day with the younger, ambitious developers at Blast to the large group of more seasoned developers in the interview. I had no job offers, but two roads seem to be approaching in front of me: familiar or unfamiliar. As is too often the case, I drifteded towards the familiar even though I had every opportunity to use this time to embrace the unknown.

It wasn’t long before my phone rang and I had an offer to work on voter registration software during an election year. Rightfully so, Nicole couldn’t believe I would even entertain the offer as I had intended this exercise to be just for practice. I went back to my checklist and with the offer I realized I could check 2 of the 3 items: new type of business and team environment and I could bike commute on some days. We went back and forth on my hourly rate. It was all happening too fast. I needed to sleep on it. I went back and forth some more and reasoned that this would be a good fit for a few months. Contracting would provide flexibility and not commit me to anything permanent. So I waited a couple more days to be sure, then decided to enter the world of contracting.

Why? Why would I do this?

There is high demand for software developers. If you watch your pennies, coding can provide a good living. To be sitting around when so many opportunities exist is hard to justify. Early in the year I had lunch with our financial advisor and his son. His son had recently graduated from college and was looking for ways to get his foot into the technology sector. He asked about my experience and if I could recommend any advice. If he was serious, my advice was to consider a coding school/boot camp. Invest a few months of your life learning, because some of these schools already have companies looking to hire graduates. At this point, acquiring experience is the most important step. Most companies value experience over education so keep your expectations realistic: intern, tester, anything to get a foot in the door. Spend a couple years problem solving, creating and building. Save as much as you can and then reevaluate in a few years. You will have gained skills you can use for the rest of your life. After a few years, you may decide to do something entirely different, but the money you make and invest in those earlier years can open up tons of possibilities down the road. Developers, they are the gold miners, the prospectors of our era.

The stock market had been kind to us the last few years. We’d been making more on our investments each year than I could earn working. We have no debt. Why subject myself to the grind? It goes back to my checklist: the desire to contribute, to learn, to build and create.

Before I knew it, I had a little cubicle in the corner of a big office building. The adjustment going into an office 5 days a week wasn’t easy. The first adjustment was when they issued me a laptop. The handed me a 5 pound laptop complete with a DVD drive and every imaginable port and connection. They handed me a monster. Actually, the handed me a dinosaur. The behemoth “laptop” was so big, I could not squeeze it into my backpack. So commuting to work on my bike was going to be a challenge if I needed to tow my work home. I settled in and did my best to help. It’s difficult coming into a situation with tight deadlines because there’s so much product knowledge you need to gather but you don’t want to steal valuable time away from the existing developers.

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Corner office

A few weeks after starting, I was sitting in a morning meeting and received a frantic call from Nicole as she was driving to the emergency room in Roseville. Dylan had crashed on his bike and it looked like his arm might be broken. I was only 15 minutes away from the hospital, so I quickly headed over and met them in ER. Walking into a hospital in search of a loved one is never a good feeling. We spent the next 5 hours in the ER, active spectators to Dylan having his arm reset. The pain of helplessly watching your child look at you with tears and pain in their eyes and knowing more pain is right around the corner, left me sick to my stomach. Not fun times but fortunately the bone lined up nicely after the reset and no was surgery required.

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Preparing to set the bone

That was in February so the rest of ski/snowboarding season was shot. Baseball season was next. Dylan tried to play Little League with a cast, but the first half of the season was limited to swinging with just his right hand. The team ended the season with a few strong wins and we lost in the playoffs, one win away from playing in the championship game. Swim team also started before the bone was fully healed and Dylan had to deal with the frustration of swimming one armed for a bit. Needless to say, there were some tears when all you want to do is run but the only thing your body can handle is walking. Time passed, and by the middle of May his bone was strong enough for his doctor to give him the green light.

Nicole’s schedule also turned busy as winter gave way to spring and there was a pent up demand since she had been “closed” for business the 2nd half of last year while we were in Spain. On days of her shoots, it meant having Dylan enrolled in an after school program for a couple hours. Not ideal, so I started to work at home twice a week so between our schedules, one of us could always be home. We were busier than expected and juggling multiple schedules and priorities was challenging.

I had been contracting for a few months and wasn’t sure how much longer the job or I would last. The beauty of contracting was the implication of no commitment. Yet suddenly, I was faced with a decision: the company offered me a salaried position to convert from a contractor to an employee. Instead of the future being clear, at that point things started to get a little fuzzy. Grateful and appreciative of the offer, I asked for some time to think it over. A couple weeks passed and I still couldn’t come to a decision.

As the days became longer and warmer and Dylan’s arm strengthened, we could start riding our bikes on the trails during the weekends. For me, the times on a trail or in the mountains with Dylan are the times I store in a special place in my memory. Those times become a part of my soul and later, I might be sitting at my desk and I’ll suddenly stumble across one of those memories. I’ll linger with it for a few minutes and it brings me such joy. My hope is he will seek his own treasures and discover an enthusiasm for exploring long meandering trails in the mountains. Sometimes I’ll ask and it’s a push and pull to get him to head out with me. But the days when he perks ups and says “Yeah, let’s go!” – well those days are unforgettable. They’re not as often as I’d like, but I’ll take them when I can.

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Dylan heading up to Lake Clementine on his bike.

Last year, we had made promises of bringing home a puppy. It seemed like once a week, Dylan kept asking if I had found a Ridgeback. Toward the end of April, I connected with a breeder in Wisconsin that had a litter and some of the puppies would be available and shipped to Sebastopol, CA at the end of May. I sent a deposit for one of the male puppies. She had one male puppy in particular that was not going to be show quality due to a little crook in his tail and would be $500 less. Since we had no intention of showing the dog, I thought he might work out just fine.

Back when I was in my junior year at Colorado State University, I drove down to the dog track in Colorado Springs one Saturday to look at adopting a retired greyhound. There was a kennel next to the race track that housed between 30-50 dogs. I walked in and played with a few of the greyhounds. They were all recently retired racing dogs. There was one that kept following me around the yard and giving me hugs with his 2 front paws. He was a 4 year old fawn colored greyhound and he was known as James Gang on the race track. I took him home, named him Harlem and we were constant companions over the next few years. He’d squeeze into the back of my 260Z and wait for me outside of classes. He loved to run, especially in the fresh snow. He could catch just about anything, but if you kept running once he hit the first mile marker he was done. His specialty was sprinting. He just didn’t know how to pace himself. So years later when I started to look for another dog, I stumbled across the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed. From Rhodesia, they were bred to hunt lions (among other things). But you would never know as they are the calmest and most relaxed dog I’ve seen. They are known for the hair on the ridge of their back that runs the opposite direction. A loyal family dog, intelligent, quiet but strong (both in will and body) they have incredible endurance (as in they can run at the pace of the horse for about 30 miles). So as I read about the Ridgebacks and then met a few, as someone who can spend hours running on mountain trails, I knew this was the only dog for me.

After a swim meet on a Saturday, we made the 2 hour drive over to Calico Ridge Kennels in Sebastopol. They had 5 puppies and we spent about half an hour playing with them. We liked the puppy with a crook in his tail but one puppy kept climbing into Dylan’s lap. His nose and mouth area were colored black which gave him a more distinguished look. He was show quality which meant full price but as I spent a few minutes with him, he picked us as much as we picked him. Nicole preferred a female as they would be smaller but I couldn’t resist the little puppy with wrinkles in his forehead and big paws, all curled up in Dylan’s lap.

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At the Ridgeback Kennel, one kept cozying right up to Dylan

An hour later, we had our Ridgeback and named him Obi Juan. Although now that we’ve had him a while, Leo may have been the more appropriate name. We stopped in Santa Rosa to visit some friends and family then made our way back home. It took a few nights, but eventually little Obi was sleeping through the night in his crate. He would let us know when he had to go outside and quickly became comfortable going up and down stairs. We weren’t prepared for having a 8 week old puppy at home. I envisioned walks on the trails and Nicole and Dylan spending summer days at the lake. Well the first couple months we had him we were pretty much quarantined to the house since he couldn’t get his shots until 3 months old. No parks. No trails. No lakes. Even walks around the neighborhood were forbidden. Not very much fun. And since I was still working, Nicole took much of the brunt during the weekdays of watching him. Because he still had a lot of growing before he could start running, he wouldn’t be joining me on any runs in 2016.

 

Looking back, the summer was a blur. I was back to working more than I had anticipated. I found myself spending hours in the evenings and weekends running down work issues. When I could, I would commute to work on my bike but there were two problems that made commuting difficult. The first was the monstrous work computer that I was bringing home each night. It was too big to fit into my backpack. The second was just timing. Often Nicole had a session in the afternoon so it was a rush to make it home. So although the goal of bike commuting to work was noble, it just didn’t materialize.

Little League and swim team filled our evenings and weekends in the early part of summer. Once Dylan’s armed healed, his swing came around and his stroke smoothed itself out. When he first picked up a baseball and bat years ago, I only allowed him to swing from the left side of the plate. So although he is right handed, he has always hit from the left side. And only being able to swing with one hand for the first part of the season helped strengthen his bottom hand. He continued to improve in swimming which is the one sport I think he enjoys practicing above all others. It was a good year for him in the pool and he earned the honor of swimmer of the year on his team. In the summer evening, we enjoyed winding down the day by watching the swim events at the Rio Olympics. I think I finally understood and could appreciate the different strokes.

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Dylan working hard in the Butterfly

Also during the summer, we spent some afternoons and picked different sections of the Pacific Crest Trail in our area to hike. And each time, we seemed to encounter a pass-thru hiker doing the entire trail from Canada to Mexico (all 2,650 miles). Some of my favorite places to run are the areas surrounding the Pacific Crest Trail near Donner Summit. In the summer, we took time to hike those trails a few times. In fact, we made it to the top of Castle Peak, did an overnight backpack trip to Loch Leven Lakes, hiked portions of the trail between Sugar Bowl and Squaw Valley, tackled the Sierra Buttes Lookout tower and went south to Horsetail Falls near Echo Lake.

Loch Leven was a test to try out the backpacking gear and see how we would do camping. It was about a 3 1/2 mile hike up to the lakes from the trailhead. We had done a test run a couple weeks before and hiked portions to see how Obi would do with the climbing and altitude.

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Dylan and Obi doing a test run near Loch Leven Lakes trail

The trailhead sits off Highway 40, next to the South Yuba River between Cisco Grove and Kingvale. The first few miles are mainly up and there are portions where you find your own path as you scramble over giant granite boulders. Dylan was spent after the climb and thought the first lake was good enough to call home for the night. The first lake already had a couple campers so we kept moving to the second lake and found a nice spot next to the shoreline. We pitched our tent and watched the stars come out and then woke up to an amazing Sierra Nevada sunrise.

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Dylan and Obi ready for some breakfast

We loved the experience and it’s close enough that we can easily do it again during the summer. Although our next backpacking adventures should take us through Desolation Wilderness this coming summer. The hardest part of Loch Leven is the climb getting to the lakes. It’s manageable; just take your time and talk about Minecraft to keep things moving.

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Our camping spot at Loch Leven Lakes

This trip gave me a chance to try out some equipment and I realized we needed a lighter and smaller tent. Dylan carried his own bag but I was left carrying a heavy 3 person tent along with my own gear which did wonders for my back. My backpack for a mere 7 mile hike had probably more junk stuffed into it than those PCT hikers covering the entire trail from Mexico to Canada.

In July and August, our house was busier than normal. I had planned to work just the first 6 months of the year but now was thinking I should stay through the election. Nicole’s dad and fiancé were visiting from the Czech Republic and stayed with us for a few weeks. We also had my dad sleeping on the downstairs couch for a few nights as he was passing through while moving from Anchorage to Phoenix. Plus our little puppy kept doubling in size every couple of days. Nicole handled it all with patience and understanding. Some days, it seemed like we were just in survival mode, just trying to manage through the day.

I talked Nicole into joining us on the Sierra Buttes Lookout hike. Again, this was on a portion of the PCT and near the general store in Sierra City we ran into a hiker heading south to Mexico. He was almost halfway through his hike having started at the Canadian border. This hike surprised me on how beautiful and different the Sierra Buttes were compared to the mountains near Donner. Jagged and almost red, it was a stark contrast to the smooth granite I’m used to hiking. Just getting to the trailhead is quite the drive from Auburn but the views were spectacular most of the hike.

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Midway through the hike and looking east towards Sardine Lake

At the top of the hike, there’s a staircase you can climb that will lead to the lookout house used to spot wildfires. From this spot, on a clear day you can spot Mt. Lassen to the north and Castle Peak to the south. We took a few minutes at the top and pointed towards some of the different parts of the PCT we had already hiked over the summer.

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Sierra Buttes Lookout

Near the end of September and before the snow started to arrive, I wanted to hike one more portion of the PCT. Nicole was quite busy during this time with lots of shoots and speaking at the occasional conference so Dylan and I had time to hike and explore. One of my favorite trails, if I could only pick one, would have to be the section between Sugar Bowl and Squaw Valley. I hope to explore some of the John Muir portions between Yosemite and Mt. Whitney in the coming years. But until then, if I had just one more run left in me, this is where I would head out. So before any snow covered this portion of the PCT for the winter, Dylan and I headed south from Sugar Bowl shouting “Vamonos a Mexico!”. The wind howled along the summits, nearly blowing us over. We hiked a few miles until the sun started to set and then we turned around and headed home. I don’t know how much of an impact these hikes make on Dylan. All I can do is try to plant the seeds and keep sprinkling some water on them whenever I have the chance…

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In October, it was time for the annual Sky Ridge Jog-A-Thon. Robin and Troy Soares put the event on each year and it’s exciting to see the young kids with their cheeks flushed red trying to run as many laps as they can. So I squeezed into the pickle costume again and dressed as Mr. Pickle, with the duty of chasing 3rd graders around the field for a few miles. Their goal was to run as many laps as they could in about 30 minutes. My goal was to not pass out and keep the Pickle moving. I’ve done this before and it’s always a blast, although running in that outfit is like running in a sauna.

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Keeping pace with the 3rd graders

This year, my luck ran out. About halfway through, I tripped and landed awkwardly on my left foot. It felt like I rolled my ankle so I picked myself up off the ground, dusted myself off and carried on. Every step with my left foot was met with some pain but I figured I could run it off. As Mr. Pickle, the DNF was not an option. Another mile or so later, I chased the last few runners across the finish line, dragging my worthless left foot behind me. That was on a Friday and all weekend I could barely walk. The foot was swollen so much I thought my skin was going to tear. Between going up and down all the stairs in our house and taking the dog on his walks, I was in more pain than I was willing to admit. Nicole kept urging me to go to the doctor but I would reply “I’ll be fine in a couple days.” Finally, 3 days later with the foot black and blue and about ready to pop, I gave in. X-Rays confirmed a fifth metatarsal fracture both at the neck and near the top bone. The orthopedist felt no screw and no surgery was required and crutches with a walking cast/boot would do the job.

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I was sent on my way with another appointment in 6 weeks to evaluate. It’s hard to describe the loss of running for a lengthy period would take on me. Especially during the Fall when the evenings are cool and the leaves soften the trails. It’s my favorite time of year to be outside even though every season has its own reasons that draw me out. Within a few days I was able to start hobbling around with the walking cast so my spirits lifted. I rationalized that 6 weeks might actually heal all the nagging aches and pains I’ve ignored over the past few years. Could I finally rid myself of my plantar fasciitis? Maybe this break would be just what I needed.

Soon I could endure longer walks and short hikes. We had planned a trip to China and Thailand for late November but cancelled those plans due to the foot. I couldn’t let Fall slip away without any more time in the mountains, so Dylan and I headed south and hiked to Horsetail Falls just off Highway 50 near Echo Lake. I struggled to keep up with Dylan and Obi but we managed to make it into Desolation Wilderness and had lunch, sitting on the side of the cliff overlooking the waterfall. Even though I was crippled, it ended up being one of our better hikes.

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Hiking Horsetail Falls

In November, Nicole attended a conference in Palm Springs so Dylan and I planned a camping trip to the Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree National Park. The plan was for Nicole to fly down on Wednesday, then Dylan and I would drive down the next day and camp in Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree for a few nights. We’d pick Nicole up in Palm Springs and drive back home together on Sunday afternoon. I was still in my walking cast, reinforced with a couple layers of duct tape so I was pretty much unhindered. The drive down took forever but we passed the time by listening to the book “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio (a book Dylan and I thoroughly enjoyed). We finally exited Highway 40 around 7 PM then had to drive another 20 miles along a narrow road under a black sky to the Hole-In-The-Wall campsite. Along this section, an occasional rabbit would dart out into the headlights and hop across the road. There were countless car vs. rabbit near misses as we headed deeper into the desert. Finally we spotted a few lights and pulled into the campsite. We set up camp, enjoyed the stars and talked until we fell asleep.

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Hiking near a campsite at Hole-In-The-Wall

The next morning, we hiked around a bit, did some rock climbing and removed countless cactus needles from Obi’s paws. By late morning, we were packed up again and on our way to Joshua Tree. I didn’t want to arrive in Joshua Tree too late in the afternoon as the campsites are on a first come first serve basis. But I figured camping in November wouldn’t be all that popular. I couldn’t have been more wrong. At the ranger station in Twentynine Palms, we were told all campgrounds were full and nothing would open up over the weekend. I had read online that the rangers often say there are no more campsites when some may still be available, so we drove through the park just in case. But sure enough, everything was packed. Our only option was pitching our tent on a spot in the Bureau of Land Management space on the edge of the park. Not ideal, but Dylan’s main objective was having a campfire so as long as we had a fire we were set.

Next morning we rose early, drove through the park and miraculously found a freshly vacated campsite at the Ryan campground. We quickly claimed the spot and spent the night in Joshua Tree.

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Our campsite in Joshua Tree National Park

At an elevation of 4,300′, once the sun went down we had to bundle up to stay warm. Obi kept shivering in the tent and tried crawling into our sleeping bags and snuggled with us on our pillows. At around 5 AM, the sounds of a howling pack of coyotes woke us up. They sounded fairly close the tent and Obi bolted straight up, looking around nervously. The howls faded and we fell back asleep.

I was surprised at how incredible the scenery is once you are inside the park. I’d passed by (both by car and bike) numerous times but never took the time to drive into the park. It’s amazing.

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With the weekend over, we picked up Nicole from her convention in Palm Springs and then made the long drive home.

November also meant a return to the orthopedist to check on my foot. My foot was feeling much better but there was a slight burning sensation if I put pressure on the outside of my foot. But overall, the foot was feeling great and I was feeling optimistic.

When I went in for my X-Ray, I asked the technician if I could take a peek. When she showed me the slide, I thought I was looking at the one from 6 weeks ago. There must be some mistake. The bone was still split with a large visible gap in the neck. It looked as though nothing had changed. My appointment was a couple days off and I had a rough time sleeping, worrying I had encountered another setback.

It wasn’t long after until I was back in the examining room at the orthopedist. They took one look at my boot and said they had never seen a boot so completely worn as the one duct taped to my left foot. There was some good news. The orthopedist confirmed the new X-Rays did indeed show healing and said things looked great but the bone still needed more time. His comforting words were: “If you were 18, it would have healed by now. But at your age, things take a little longer.” My prescription refilled: another 6 weeks of no running. It was settled, there would be no more running in 2016.

We closed our year relaxing at home and spending time with friends. Lisa and Steve came over and Steve took Dylan and I fishing to Collins Lake where they landed 2 decent sized trout. I lack the patience fishing requires so I did my best to stay out of their way. I would occasionally pester Steve with questions to give the appearance I thought I knew what I was talking about: Hey Steve, what weight fishing line are you using? PowerBait or worms? But what I really wanted to ask was: How do I tell the difference between a trout and bass? We had a great time and enjoyed 2 home cooked meals from the catch.

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Dylan and Steve reeling in the first of two at Collins Lake

The pivot of 2016 resembled more of a stumble through 2017 as I’ve floundered in my direction. I’ll soon find out if my foot has healed enough to start running again. I have absolutely no idea what’s in store for 2017. We could end the year on the other side of the planet or end up exactly where we are now and possibly somewhere in between. Eight years is the longest we’ve ever lived in the same house and now that we’ve been here that long it’s hard to uproot ourselves. No matter where this year takes us and where on earth we end up, we know the best journeys are the ones we share together.

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