July 23, 2011
Pete called to report that a habituated fox made off with his SPOT device near Paxson, AK. According to a local’s gps unit , the device appears to be about 10 miles away, based on its last known coordinates. Pretty much a goner at this point. Apparently a fellow camper captured a grainy photo showing the fox in camp and taking something. The trickster at work in the shade of evening.
Pete also lost his display on his laptop, so he is getting back to nature without as much technology. He said don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from him real soon. Likely there will be an internet cafe along the way. Somewhere out in the grand Yukon.
Pete is feeling good and looking forward to the road. He sounds great and is handling his technology deficit well.
He says “hi” to everyone.
- the journey is the prize…
July 5, 2011
Here today, posting a much delayed update from Talkeetna, Alaska. Pedaling up from Anchorage this time, my wheels lazily made the return to the Denali base camp town, but with a distinct difference, this time without the stress of the climb. Looking at the huge mountain from afar and knowing I don’t have to go back out there again to haul heavy loads up the cold mountain is a pleasant thought. Last night during the 4th of July festivities in town, a flurry of smelly climbers returned from their almost month long Denali trip, (they were stuck one the ice the last few days due to poor flying weather) and I had a chance to talk to the group (still unshowered, faces greased with weeks of sun screen) between their ravenous chomps of delicious pub food, beer, and soda. I knew exactly how they felt.
Gratefully, all of the complicated logistics of this expedition are now over. A slew of mountain climbing equipment has been sold, helping fund the next leg of the trip, and now it’s just a loaded bike, my camera, and the long open road of ahead. I have retained some of my cold weather gear, knowing that it could start snowing again in six weeks. I left Anchorage about 10 days ago, but I did not make it far when bad luck struck. One morning while stealth (hidden) camping at a public fishing site on the Knik River, I awoke to find that my bicycle pannier full of food, cooking gear, and other bear attractant items that I set away from the tent for the night was stolen. With one of my four gray panniers gone, I lost the capacity to carry a weeks worth of food, a critical component for the next 1500 miles ahead, with a chosen route heading through the remote and lightly resourced highways of Alaska and Canada. My first run in with theft on a bicycle tour, I didn’t realize the repercussions until I spent five nights camped in a large field behind the Wasilla Super Walmart, waiting for two packages to arrive and replace the stolen goods. Like clockwork, every morning at 7:30am in the field buzzing with cottonwood tree flak that sparked impressive sinus allergies, a man would walk through with his two dogs, of which providing with me the routine I called the Wasilla alarm clock. Not in the form of beeping, but rather growling and barking, I was woken up. By the end of the week I was used to it; everyday the man with his dogs carried on, and so I felt was time for for me as well. 350 dollars and two packages later, I was out of Palin-ville and back on the road, weaving my way through snarled holiday traffic to Talkeetna. I was so eager leave Wasilla that at 15 miles out of town, I realized I forgot to get groceries on the way out, the last major grocery store for the next several hundred miles.
A BIG thank you to for the donations that helped lighten the burden on replacing my lost equipment!
Tomorrow I will be wheels up again, heading North along the George Parks Highway towards Fairbanks. I am headed for the oxygen-rich lower elevations of Denali National Park, with aspirations to hike, photograph the country side, and visit a couple of friends. My western most destination of the trip is not too far off, Wonder Lake, is 90 miles down a dirt road within the Park. I have been told to bring two mosquito head nets, just in case a Grizzly bear eats the first one. And rain gear. I am still over a hundred miles south of the start of this dirt covered Denali Park road. After the visit, I will head back south for a short distance, and make an Eastward turn on the famed Denali Highway, where I will get to chance to rattle my bones a little more on the 140 mile segment of dirt highway, where I have been told the views are worldly. Another couple hundred miles past the Denali Highway, the route ventures into the Yukon Territory, using the less traveled and historic Klondike Highway, I will make my way SE towards the famous towns of Dawson and Whitehorse, and then South into British Columbia down the quiet Stewart/Cassiar Highway.
My creative writing has not been flowing lately, but hoping to muster a couple of pieces, namely the Denali experience, to share here. Though I am realizing, much of my experience transitioned into writing (which comes slow to my ADD brainwaves), will have to wait once the trip is over with.
And lastly, from Wonder Lake to the Mackinac Bridge of Michigan, I will be riding for Big City Mountaineers, in an effort to complete or surpass my fund raising goal of 3,000 dollars. Thanks again to all who have donated so far. The link below is still attached for those wanting to throw in a little.
And for those who want to take a guess, how many miles (minimum) my route will cover from Anchorage, AK to the Mackinaw Bridge of Michigan, crossing Canada most all of the way. The closest guess will receive a photograph of the bridge that I will re-shoot under an Autumn sky.
June 13, 2011
June 13, 2011
Scott and I were gratefully reacquainted with the comforts of Talkeetna town site yesterday, after stepping off our vintage Dehavilland Beaver airplane that delivered us back from the Alaska Range. We nearly missed the flight. Potato chips still in hand, we fell asleep next to the lower runway as the morning sun poked over the mountains, exhausted after a full night’s worth of traveling down from 14k camp in one swoop. It wasn’t sheep that were jumping over our melodic snores alongside the snow covered air strip, but images of hamburgers, French fries, pizza, coca-cola, beer, hot showers, clean utensils and other good civilities that our minds craved.
After seventeen days of beautiful winter camping, we returned with all fingers and toes, injury free. It was an excellent experience, and our expedition was a success with Scott reaching the 20,320ft summit during the early afternoon of Friday June 10th, feeling strong on a perfect bluebird day. The stars did not align for myself. Feeling zapped after a run to 16,500ft a few days earlier, my body never regained full strength from the strenuous week of shuttling heavy loads up the mountain. The extended time at altitude did not seem to bode well for me. Instead I chose to play a base camp manager roll in support of my friend, with some day skiing on the side.
I have many pictures and stories to tell, but it will take some time to muster all of my notes and pictures into a story. As suspected, updates could not be delivered via cell phone from anywhere on the mountain. It was concluded that reports of cell service above 14k camp were possible during the days of analog cell service. Disappointingly, the new digital networks do not work.
A big THANK YOU to those who generously contributed money to the Big City Mountaineers organization. Though we did not hit goal, it is not too late to donate to this good cause, with the excellent results from our expedition. To do this, you can click on the link at the bottom of the page. More information can be read from an earlier post below.
Look for more later, now it is time to sort through and dry a huge pile of smelly gear, readying it for sale. And prepare my mosquito head net for the next leg of the journey.
May 25, 2011
Most importantly of all, I finally announce a call for help towards a stellar non-profit organization based in Denver, Colorado. Big City Mountaineers strives to expand and better the lives of under-resourced urban teenagers, giving them access and opportunity to guided wilderness trips in powerful pristine settings. I have seen the positive affects discovering nature can have on a person, and I believe everyone should be given the chance to stumble into the outdoors on a multi-day trip. Who knows where the experience may lead a newly inspired teen.
To help cover needed equipment inventory, food, and transportation costs for BCM, Scott Becker and I pledge to raise 3,000 dollars from now until the time time we return to Talkeetna. If you feel inspired by any of the stories here, please forward these good feeling to this important cause. The way I see it, if 300 people donate nominal 10 dollars, the goal will quickly be met. If the pledge amount is met and goes over, this is even better!
A safe and secure donation link can be clicked on the very bottom of this page, next to my sponsors and SPOT device link, or by copying this link to a web browser. Sorry for my poor blog link skills, but either should work. Thanks to Darin and Gillian from Big City Mountaineers for helping me with this, and a HUGE thanks to all who donate and/or pass this along!
May 24, 2011
Some photos from Kamloops, BC to Prince Rupert, BC.
May 24, 2011
Over the past week, warning shots were fired across the bow of every climbing party that will attempt Mt. McKinley (Denali) this season. It came in the form of news from the 19,000ft foot level of the West Buttress route, along a steep feature known as Denali Pass, where separate falls resulted in the deaths of two fellow climbers, just days apart. The first death, which occurred on the perfectly calm bluebird day I arrived in Anchorage, while I stared in awe at the massive gleaming mountain from one hundred miles away, was of a Swiss climber on a six-man team. Led by two Alaskan guides, the descending rope-team fell, leaving one guide with broken ribs, a fractured leg for an Irish climber, and somewhere during their high altitude struggle, symptoms of frostbite set in on a number of the team members. Though attempts were made, they were not able to self rescue and were all evacuated by high altitude helicopters and flown to Anchorage for further treatment. The second death involved a 67 year old Italian man, un-roped while down climbing after his summit bid.
I write about this not to scare, but try to find the positive in these unfortunate circumstances. Even though the West Buttress route (our route) is non-technical in nature, and some say even easy, there are certainly areas of the route where falling is not an option. These stories send a clear reminder to not underestimate any of the forces at play, wherever we are on the icy glaciated slopes of the mountain. There is no room for complacency on Denali, and my climbing partner and I understand this.
Scott Becker, an expert rock and mountaineering guide based out of Mt. Shasta, California, and myself come well prepared for the mountain. Though our party of two isn’t the ideal number for a glacier travel team, it does have its advantages in the areas of speed, and lessening the chance for equipment failure, human errors, and sickness compared to a larger team. Favorable group dynamics are increased, knowing that we have already done several climbing trips together, and have never strangled each other in a storm bound tent. We share the same view that the summit is NOT the only beautiful place on the mountain. Having said that, we are not adverse to teaming up, or shadowing another competent team that we make friends with on the glacier, especially while traveling through the more dangerous crevasse sections between 11,000 and 14,000ft on the mountain. After all, hundreds of other climbers will be present on the route during our three week stay. We are far from alone. The climbing season on Denali this time of year reveals more of an international circus show than a wilderness experience full of solitude, and I welcome this. One of the highlights of the trip should be meeting and mingling with all the other climbers that have traveled around the world to experience The High One.
This Friday the 27th, we are scheduled to fly out of the Talkeetna town site via a small glacier landing aircraft. This is something I am looking forward to, despite my heavy, irrational fear of flying. This special and more personal experience appeals to me, seemingly different than being stuffed into a larger, safer mind you, commercial jet aircraft tube. But this is another story. The short flight will deposit the two of us and all of our provisions and expensive junk for three weeks on the Kahiltna Glacier at 7,000ft. While spending much of my time at sea level this past month, I anticipate a good headache for the day, but hopefully nothing worse as our bodies start the critical acclimatization process. My personal history with altitude is good, with positive experience at 18,500ft while climbing Mexico’s Pico de Orizaba in 2006. Though Denali’s summit sits at 20,320 feet, its atmospheric elevation is more like 22,000 feet or more, when compared to a mountain near the equator. Due to the location at this high latitude, the barometric pressure is less than at the equator; a good thing to keep in mind. Having said this, we know it is paramount to monitor each other for symptoms of any illness during our stay on the mountain, and to make decisions accordingly and early. Scott and I are both skilled in higher-end wilderness medicine, and know the red flags.
In our general plan of travel, equipped with skis, heavy packs, and even heavier towed sleds for the first half of the route, we will proceed up the mildly ramped but lengthy Kahiltna Glacier. Our first objective is to move food, fuel, and other supplies ahead of the route, burying caches in the snow for later use and returning to our lower, already set-up tent camp. When things are in place, and everything looks good, we will move camp higher up the route accordingly. Positioned at 14,200ft is largest of the series of camps, a Hotel Hilton of base camps if you will, and will reveal a city of colorful tents if we get there. Park Service climbing rangers operate a medical tent here, and this is where we will establish our summit bidding spot. There is 17,000ft camp, which puts climbers in closure contention for the summit, but we have chosen not to use it in fear of being trapped for days in a storm at this harsh altitude, and also to lessen supply logistics. Better to be trapped for days in a storm at the Hilton. The disadvantage here is that we will need a larger weather window to summit and return from 14k, and will be a grueling push with 6,000ft of ascent. Here is a picture of our route, highlighted in red.
Scott will climb as a general mountaineer with boots and crampons, leaving his skis behind at the 11,000ft camp. I will use a heavier, slightly slower climbing style of climbing, always having my skis present and using them for fast descents, a method I am more comfortable and experienced with in the mountains. For an example scenario, if I develop any serious signs of altitude sickness, I may choose to put my skis on and make a quick decent to lower elevation. If my partner starts to feel crummy, I will be by his side, skis on or off, all the way back to down to camp. Though we intend to stick together for all of it, we know that separation above 14,000ft is possible. We are OK with this. If I choose to not proceed past 14k, Scott is free to climb on, and vice versa. Ideally our goal is to reach the summit at similar times, and Scott’s slower descent will give me plenty of opportunity to use my cameras as we leap frog each other on the way back down.
Having said all of this, I can assure everyone that neither of us are willing to risk our lives for Summit, as is sometimes the case with climbing stories of the past from around the World. The main overlaying goal is to return to the snow covered air strip, where our snow-buried beer and potato chip stash will taste delicious no matter how far we get up the mountain. If there is anything we don’t like along the way, we know that there is always standing option of returning another day.
For communications, as normal I will sending pings from my SPOT device, which can be checked with the link at the bottom of this page. I hope to send OK messages with greater frequency than the bicycle portion, but due to topography I may not always be able to hit a satellite. We will not have a satellite phone. In place we will each have a two-way radios, where we will be able to receive daily weather reports, communicate with each other, other climbing parties, and rangers if needed. Cell phone service will be available at the 14k camp and higher, and from here I will be able to contact family, and a friend in Whitefish who will relay our short frozen messages to this blog from time to time. After landing, it may take several days or more to get to the 14k camp. Returning to the 7,000ft base camp from the higher elevations of the mountain should take about two days given good weather. Our scheduled fly-out date is June 19th, but we may return before or after this date. Planes can not always fly in Alaska’s foreboding weather. For whatever it is worth, our registered Park Service team name in Jangus Khan, and Scott is the team leader.
I want to take a little time out, to thank everyone that has helped me get where I am today. This daydream adventure has been in the works for several years now, and it would not be possible if not for the ideas, generosity, motivation, inspiration, and love from others that went deeply into this. The employees and friends of the White Room ski shop and Great Northern Cycles, in Whitefish, Montana, who have never said no to whatever my habits and needs have been, I thank you. To my orthopedic surgeon Dr. Ira Zaltz who fixed my trash right hip little more than a year ago, and to my physical therapists Ralph Simpson, Jennifer Alexander, and Joel Shehan for guiding me out of my seemingly dire predicament. To the Hawxhurst, Brewer, and Barinowski families for the all around help, and greatly needed free storage of all the things I leave behind in Montana. To Dave Boye and Black Diamond Mortgage of Whitefish, for greatly supporting and helping keep this adventure afloat. To Joel Attaway at 40 Below, Seattle, WA, for hooking me up all the proper arctic gear to save my fingers and toes. To Squirt Lube of South Africa, for the free bottles of chain lube that worked excellent, keeping my bicycle drive-line running smooth and clean over the 1,100 miles I have so far pedaled. To Zana Faulkner, for being a paramount all-around pillar when I have my doubts. To all my friends who have diligently and loyally cheered me on well before I started pedaling north, you know who you are. To all the generous families, friends, and strangers who have given me a food, bed, and warm place to stay along the way. And to my family, who have been rightfully concerned since day one, and who have supported me while going forth with my untied pursuit and passion for outdoor adventure over the years. And to all the supporters, known and unknown, following my travel blog, I THANK YOU!
Upon return I will post trip reports and photographs, and some helmet cam video edits further along.
Warmth and wellness to all, I go forth with a dream.
May 17, 2011
May 17, 2011
A view from the Anchorage Coastal Trail.
May 16, 2011
The eagle has landed! Taking almost two months to do what a 747 can swiftly do in five hours, another milestone destination has been reached, and I send this message from the comforts of Anchorage, Alaska. So far the speed bumps have been ridden out, and it feels good to arrive with all ten fingers and toes. I am staying at a relatives house, who are generously putting up with me and my preparations for the climb for an extra week due to my early arrival. Thank you Haywards!
The Dramamine I purchased in Juneau gratefully went unused during the cross-the-gulf Kennicott ferry run. According to ship personel, the ride was as smooth as it gets, and my equilibrium had no qualms about the minor constant rocking of the ship. Its like the old adage goes, about bringing your rain jacket on an outing; it’s not going to rain, which was fine with me. The 45 hour ride across was rich in sights. Monstrous coastal mountains covered in snow and glaciers were slowly passed in awe. Whales, porpoises, and other interesting unidentified sea life was viewed from the ship at regular intervals, as everyone’s rubber necks would signal. The ships hull and sunsets provided for fun camera work at all hours of the now, very long day.
The day light is incredible at this latitude and time of year. The time zones I have crossed and the ever changing day light interfere with my sleep schedule, and sometimes my ability to keep track of time. Yesterday around 5pm I loaded up my bike with one pannier stocked with camera gear, snacks, bike lock, rain jacket, wallet, and my Ipod loaded with fresh music from my favorite radio show from NYC, and set out for a training ride into the unknown. Totally losing track of time, I would return under daylight just before midnight. Exploring the amazingly vast network of friendly bike lanes and paved paths around the Anchorage vicinity, I found myself cautiously zipping through budding trees and mine fields of grazing moose, which inhabit the city like deer do in many other towns around the States. On one memorable descent, whizzing around a corner, a huge cow moose suddenly appeared behind a thicket of alder, no more than fifteen feet from handlebars. Many other times I found myself stopped cold on the paved trails, mingling with locals who were also stopped and waiting for the giraffe-like creatures to move on, just a little. The moose here I have been told, are more tolerant and conditioned to humans than your average wild moose, but are still just as dangerous if that invisible safety line is crossed. Continuing along the delightful coastal trail to downtown, the welcomed buzz of assorted aircraft of all species made their rounds in and out of Ted Stephens International Airport, a major hub for passengers and cargo around the world. Boeing 747′s are a dime a dozen it seems here, and I stare in amazement as the fly ever close to my cycling route, and even overhead. Grabbing a late bite in downtown, I headed back to my favorite airplane viewing site, filmed a huge Russian Antonov cargo plane land, was the satisfied with the day, looked wide-eyed my watch and then headed for home. I decided against the longer moose minefield route to get back, realizing that I was the only person still out riding a bike. I turned on my lights, guessed a different route home, got lost for half an hour, but eventually found the way.
I will also report about some recent bad news on Denali, and how my climbing partner and I’s preparation and strategy are geared toward a conservative approach to the mountain, and the main goal of not becoming another Park Service statistic.
Enough for now. Here are some photos of the Alaskan adventure so far…