And so it begins a letter to myself: EMT at Wyss Medical Campus Lander, Wyoming 2018

I’m sitting in “Yellow Right,” the name, if you will, of the cabin where you will be staying for the next month. You’ve been talking to William, the first person you met while, unloading your car, speaking about the anticipation of the course. You’re slowly starting to realize the vast amount of work ahead of you and the amount of energy it will take to do well here. I know you’re very worried about getting your anatomical definitions dialed in, as well as understanding and remembering basic medical terminology. I guess I could say don’t worry, but hell, I don’t know maybe you should! I want you to enjoy this month, I want you to push yourself to do as well as possible academically, and most of all to really focus on doing something you love.


When you’re done think about why you took this course. Think about what made you come up here. See if those reasons still hold true. Or over the course of your education, where you disillusioned to anything? What judgments had you made that turned out to be false surprised you? What things that you assumed turned out to be true?

The place is amazing, the red rock bluffs that surround the campus have captured your heart already, reminding you of southern Utah. The area itself is very much so like Flagstaff or Prescott, Arizona, high juniper desert environment. Junipers and red soil rule the landscape. The fresh snow on the campus stands in beautiful contrast to the bright blue of the skies, and the deep red of the rock.

So far you’ve met just about a quarter of the folks who will soon arrive. Get stoked James, the next 26 days are gonna be amazing. Maybe I’ll say hello again later tonight after you’ve had orientation and dinner. Mainly dinner. You’re hungry as shit. IMG_1147

Colorado River (Dewey Bridge to Moab Bridge) 7/2-7/4 Continued

Floating those first 45 minutes was spectacular to say the least. Our first impressions of the river were that of majesty, intensity, and total and complete stoke. There are very few things in this world that I would say I don’t get excited about, but somethings get me way more pumped than others. The river instantly looked different from the water than it did whilst we drove down the road, the sounds, the smell, the heat, all came together in  coalesced perfection. The water invited us in sooner than we expected ad with in 30 minutes of start our voyage we were swimming alongside our boat. Beers in hand smiles in place. Jonas you could say has an affinity for the water and instantly made that clear with the comfort and ease he displayed in the water.IMG_0638

We made our way down looking frequently up in awe at the canyon walls and examining larger boulders on the side of the river to try and decide whether or not they were worth climbing and jumping off of. It was pretty easy to decide to jump. If the water was deep enough we jumped. Simple as that. That being said more often than not the rocks were situated tight in to the side of the bank with the surrounding water to shallow to allow us the gratification of air time and submersion.

By the time night was descending on I was quite hungry, drunk and very sleepy. Cruising towards our first set of rapids we encountered a man on the side of the river in his own boat. He was with a larger group none of who were with him on the bank. Dave, as we soon learned he was called, (maybe it was John or something else entirely but for the sake of this story we will say Dave) warned us about the life jacket enforcement zone we were entering as well as the rougher waters ahead. Proceeding clade in our floatation devices and with the utmost enthusiasm about encountering an actual rapid, we floated on. But about twenty minutes floating over some mild white water we decided that Dave, or whatever his name was, was an overly cautious river guide exerting his authority over two green horns. And as it turns out, he was. We floated calmly down to a gravel filled and rock strewn beach that we quickly decided was good enough for camp one. f

Reaching out campsite Jonas jumps out of the boat ahead of me, grabbing the nose of the canoe he pulls us up onto a more stable landing. That being said, mud in which you sink up to your knees in can hardly be described as stable. Almost loosing our shoes, we quickly ported the canoe up the bank about 15ft out of reach of the clinging fingers of the river. Unpacking quickly with the fading day light Jonas focused on the tent and I on dinner. The idea was to quickly and effectively get everything done. And to be honest we did. We quickly crushed it out. Jonas had the tent up in no time and we were soon drinking our fifth beer of the day around the camp stove.

While the bugs were annoying and the occasional bite of a horse fly kept my use of four letter words in a moderate range, there was nothing really to complain about, beside the lack of time.

7/3 5:05am


Waking up to sunrise will always be one of my favorite things. Here it is no different, as the sun crested up and over the towers to the east and crept into our tent I slowly began to wake. With in a matter of moments the sun was so warm on my sleeping bag the I quickly climbed out and walked down to the river to splash water on my face. Turning around I noticed Jonas was still fast asleep. So I decided to get started on breaking down camp on my own. We had brought bagels for breakfast and I figured that we could just make those on the fly as we jumped in the boat for a downward float. As I began cleaning up from dinner, just reorganizing really, I also brought some water to a boil and made coffee before the heat of the day would render any extra warmth unbearable and coffee all but undrinkable.

With coffee made and the beginning of our day looking bright Jonas and I set out on the river once again eagerly anticipating whatever the river could throw at us. In minutes we began gushing about this and that, exclaiming for the beauty that was our and ours alone that morning on the river. As we carried down stream from out camp site we were still beyond baffled that no one else was yet up and at them. As the temperature rose we know it was beyond possibility that anyone still lay asleep in a tent or sleeping bag. (Unless they had portable AC)

Our first challenge that day came early, a very short yet powerful section of what must have been less than class one rapids. Situated under the shadowed base of a red cliff, these rapids did more for us than any cup of coffee. Despite all of our plans and efforts as we dropped into the current we knew very quickly that canoes are not meant for any kind of serious white water as solo crafts. While fast and powerful on flat water and ever rather dexterous in a current, in a rapid your better off in an inter-tube than a canoe. Our boat  quickly took on several inches of water. The weight bogged us down and with a few strong paddle strokes and the help of the current we made our way to the Western bank. Once there we quickly realized two things. First we should just empty the canoe and dump the water. Secondly, we had no bailing system. Jonas had my coffee mug and quickly realized that would be our best bet for quick and easy situations that did not require the full emptying and overturning of our MRC.

To be continued again.


Colorado River (Dewey Bridge to Moab Bridge) 7/2-7/4

7/1 10:30pm:

“Hey Jonas grab the front end. Ready lift!” Jonas and I tug up on the Mad River Canoe, green and beaten. “Alright walk back, around these two trees. You know I had a boss in Hawaii when I lived there who just loved to chastise you for bumping into stuff while moving things. It’s like come on man! I know I shouldn’t be hitting the wall its not like I did it intentionally. That guy was such a dick. Alright do you have straps or should I grab some out of my dads truck?” We placed the MRC on top of my Subaru Outback, the rough edges of the boat threatening our fingers with splinters. “I have some, but you should grab some of your dad’s straps as well. It will make life easier.” Our conversation ended with both of us heading to back our bags for the quick 36 excursion we had only planned for eight hours before.

7/2 12:55am:

Thinking to myself, “God damn. The words on the page are starting to look like a different language. Fuck. They are a different language. I need to go to bed. I guess I’ll just have to finish this in the car tomorrow. Well I guess it’s better than not doing it at all. Alright, I need sleep. But fuck I gotta pack. Alright…. ” Walking downstairs from the kitchen to my bedroom the light has been on in my room the whole night, my gear is all stashed and organized neatly in my closet in bins according to the activity/ time of year. “Alright chairs, table, cooking gear, stove. I should probably take the smaller propane bottles for this trip, no sense in hauling a months worth of propane down a river for three days.” The mental check list I go through is supplemented by years of packing and days of unneeded suffering from lack of preparedness. “Alright the spices are in there as well. Plates, pots pans, fork, spork. Where is my knife? Oh its on the bedside table by that fucking broken watch.” My favorite wrist watch had broken two days previous while climbing in Boulder canyon. The wrist band had caught on a piece of jagged granite and sheared the scratched time piece from my arm.  “I’ve gotta fix that. Water! six gallons for two people for three days, but only one full day? Should be fine.”

“Alright whats next clothes? I’ll need just a pair of water shorts, sun shirt, I’m gonna want a layer for those classic desert nights, but it is July… maybe just one medium weight layer. This will do.” I held up my medium weight marmot sweater. It’s black like all the other layers I own. “Alright shoes! I best be taking my flippy floppies! And the keens. This is why I got keens in the first place!  Might as well use ’em! God I need to sleep. Alright jam this all in the bag. Oh shit! What do I need to remember in the morning? Tooth brush/ toothpaste, glasses/ sunglasses, anything else? Add snacks to that list. No point in buying more snacks when I have a ton here. Alright I’m wrecked sleep, where are you? 1:15am.


The mellow tones of my alarm wake me up just as the front door shuts loudly just to the left of my window. My roommate and comrade in arms for this trip is heading to the Subaru with his personal bag. The car is locked. His attempts to open the locked door rouse me fully from my sleep to unlock the car and grab my own bag. “Okay where is that list of shit I needed? Toothbrush, toothpaste check. Snacks, check. Glasses on my face and in the pocket we are good to go! Oh wait! I have that new North Face bag. I should bring that as it will be more water proof than this backpack. Quickly switching gear from bag to bag I yell up to Jonas I will be right out.)

“Coffee?” Jonas looks over at me signaling his agreement with simple eye contact. We are both exhausted. Jonas is driving, he just jumped straight into the drivers seat and assumed the position for the drive to Moab. I have a lot of gratitude for that. We roll down and fill the gas tank at the corner of Broadway and Table Mesa, crossing over South Broadway to Cafe Sole immediately after to fuel up ourselves. The sleep is still falling from our eyes, and flaking off of our voices. Neither of us got more than 5 five hours and today is going to be a long day. “Quad shot mocha please.” Jonas orders a quad americano. “Alright lets hit it!” is the what escapes my lips as soon as the first sip of coffee hits me. Walking out to the car the energy is notably increased we are hitting the road and this spur of the moment adventure is just now starting to feel like reality. Time to crush!

The first few hours in the car fly by. The road is lost in conversation and the conversation flows fluidly from one topic to the next. Jonas and I have traveled together a few times, adventured together more than a few times and lived together for over three years. To say we are comfortable with each other would be an understatement. Jonas’s greatest strength in conversation is to pose questions. He keeps them coming in such a way that he is constantly making you reevaluate what you so easily took for granted or for matter of fact. The other brilliant thing about Jonas is his eye and mind for statistics. He keeps me straight and honest when consider numbers. for instance on our way home I quoted the overland speed of a North American Antelope at 77mph however Jonas, who knew the overland speed of the cheetah was quick to correct me. “The antelope can’t possible top out at 77.” He says through a half laugh. “I spent a fair amount of time reading about cheetahs as a kid, they were my favorite animal.”

Passing through Vail around 10:30am we decide that we should probably get breakfast soon. We stop off at a little diner in Glenwood Springs around 11am. The potatoes were fire. So was the coffee which I drank like water. Jumping back in the car we adjust the front strap thats holding the canoe in place. The red and black husky tie downs had been flapping just enough to bother us. Just under three hours left. Probably time I get back to my Spanish homework. It’s a unit final. Wanna help?” Jonas agrees to help, and for the remainder of our drive I work tirelessly to complete what should have been done a day before.  It takes me through lunch at Peace Tree in Moab to finish

7/2 4:00pm:

Groceries and a stop at the gear shop for a dry bag latter and its actually the moment we have both been waiting for. “Do you have service? Can you see how much further it is to Dewey or have we already passed it. I feel like it’s a long way out.” I pull up the map on my phone and respond, “It is ten miles out. We should be there in an hour.” I look confused. “Do you have it on walking?” Jonas looks over at me, “That gets me every time.” We pull up to Dewey Bridge 10 minutes later, hearts giddy with excitement. We are beyond stoked to get the boat in the water and start our voyage. Last minute gear prep is our quick change into swim wear, ditching unwanted items in the car and at long last packing the canoe itself. “Alright let me snap a picture of you next to the boat! You know for posterity sake!”IMG_0585 “Will you take one of me?”IMG_0588 “Lets put these damn phones away and leave them away for at least a little while.” “Alright, ready? Shall we shove off?”

7/2 4:45pm:

“Hey I think we are backwards. No, James I think your sitting in the back so boat is actually facing the wrong direction. Should we pull over and reorganize?” “Alright right there, yeah perfect.” We had loaded incorrectly and less than 25 feet into our 40mi voyage we had to stop and rearrange. “Alright looking good. Lets do this for real now.” Shoving off, the bank slipping away behind us, the smiles on our faces growing larger and larger. IMG_0597


I like hiking.

Photo courtesy of Tessa de Recat Sawtooth Mountain Trail

Well here I am back in a little coffee shop in Boulder, CO writing about the things I like. Surprise. Amazing how cathartic it is to vent to a website without really knowing who if anyone will ever read the things I write. So I guess it can be said that I really am writing this for myself. I’m my own audience, I just happen to post these thoughts in a place that is accessible to others eyes as well.  Not that it matters seeing as these blog posts are typically just me recounting something I enjoyed doing. This is one such blog post for a a fun lil’ 12mi day hike I took with a dear friend of mine Tessa.

Typically my mentality in the mountains is go hard or go home. I have very little chill. I like to be prepared and I like to go for hours and hours if not spend the night and really get dirty, so to speak. However, in the last several months I have had the brilliant opportunity to spend time with people who chill me the fuck out. Not that their persona calms me down or anything like that, more like I am more focused on spending time with my friend than conquering some aspect of myself in the mountains that day. Sounds weird I know but its something that I struggle with. I don’t go slow.

So Tess and I agreed to do this day hike together, leaving at 9 or 10am. (Again something I would probably never do.) Picking up Tess it became very clear to me that our day was more about enjoying ourselves than anything else. The conversation up the mountain was light hearted and filled with all the formalities of two friends who have not had a chance to catch up in way to long. The drive was about an hour heading up Boulder Canyon, through Ned, north on the Peak to Peak highway, and finally pulling into Camp Dick. It was a beautiful classic Colorado day. The kinda day when the blue from the sky is almost too blue and the temperature is damn near perfect. Never windy, but a breeze exactly when its desired. Warm and easy.


And with that easy came perhaps one of the easiest days I have ever had. Not in terms of hiking, but just simply in terms of being. It was fantastic to just walk, talk, enjoy the weather the views and good company. Cruising through the thick of the fir and spruce forests we moved fast catching up on the last year and half of our lives, going over ambitions and goals for the next year and half. Recognizing the chaos that is all too present at this point in our young lives.

Lunch by the river lead to a simple appreciation for spicy potato chips and a renewed love in peanut butter and jelly. (I’m actually enjoying one now as I write this.) A candy bar and some freshly purified water from the river and we were ready to keep trucking. Up through the sub-alpine fields that were covered in the purple and yellow of Colorado springtime wildflowers. Every now and then Tess would have to stop while I got a school boy sized grin on my face and scrambled up some new rock for a better view. Only once did I ever really convince her to join me at the top of one. I’d like to say she wasn’t disappointed but I honestly don’t really know.

Further along, the river crossed our path but its curves looked inviting and we investigated. bushwhacking down to the river bank and into the middle of the babbling brooke we went. One wet shoe later, some anxious sounds and we were back on the trail for another solid 45min of trail grinding. Through mud and water alike we trudged on albeit very light hearted trudging.

Finding our way back to the car lead to the consumption of a Twix bar and the general appreciation of a day well spent. And that is whats it’s really all about. Spending our days well. Smiling frequently and enjoying the company of excellent people. This is an abridged edition of events, obviously, but I’m at work and only had about 45 minutes to crank this out. I needed to write and so I wrote this. Tessa thanks for being you. Life thanks for being great.


Arapahoe Pass


It happens fairly often. I lose my god damn mind. The strange yet constant monotony of daily life. The wake up, work/ school, chores, groceries, food, and sleep. Whats funny is that the things that we do for ourselves to shake us out of the grind themselves become a player in this system of repetition. Soon we end up at the same bars, trivia nights, hiking trails, climbing gyms, restaurants, yoga studios, movie theaters, book clubs; you name it. But the thing is that the monotony of which I speak is decided self inflicted. Ask some one about their job who does like their job, same shit different day. Well it is almost a guarantee that someone who loves their job well say, “Yeah sure I do the same thing everyday but it’s never the same.” The interactions hold different significances the learning opportunities hold different value.  I have had to take a page from the book of those who love their jobs this week. But not just for my job but for my entire life. I have had to remind myself that everything I get to do is different every time for a thousand different reasons. And that the learning and interactions that I have with myself and those I work with will never be the same even if I am dealing with same problems or opportunities day in day out. IMG_0537.jpeg

In my personal life this was reflected in an overnight solo I did on June 27th-28th up the Arapahoe Pass Trail from the Fourth of July trail head west of Nederland, CO. I’ve done this trail countless times, but never have I spent the night alone. I’ve also slept alone in the back country more than most folk but for whatever reason never really in the mountains of Colorado. I always seem to have friends with me when sleep finds me there. But this time alone, by the side of the trail I had the rare and disconcerting opportunity to reflect on myself and the way I view myself and the life that I’m living. I got to notice a fair number of funny little details, like the way I twitched when I heard coyotes laughing in the growing darkness. The way the I slept for an hour and woke only to be disappointed that just an hour had passed. The way that when a dog barked, or maybe a coyote, at 4:30am, I was more annoyed that I was interrupted from sleep than I was twitchy or anxious about something that only hours early set my heart racing. Than at 5:45am waking to a sunrise that reminded me of why no moment, interactions, or breath of air, no matter how monotonous is every really the same.


It is so easy to get caught up in our minds and project and dwell on things, to make issues out of coyotes playing in the dark. The reality of it, the coyotes are playing in the dark. They don’t give a damn about me or what I’m thinking about them. I hope that every single one of you have a chance to jump full bore into your favorite monotonous activity and realize all the tiny little things that make it so much more than what it is perceived for.

IMG_0539 2

For now good bye. Enjoy the summer heat, I’ll be in the high country sleeping under stars, and in a bar making margaritas. Neither of which is every the same.


Expression at present is an interesting phenomena. For many people it comes in the form of clothing choices, others by what is posted to their multitude of social media accounts. Others find their mode in actions or choices taken on a day to day basis, whom they identify with, what they choose to study, how they choose to be represented. Many, like myself, find our solace in writing. We write experiences or ideas sometimes publicly sometimes privately with the ultimate goal of self expression. Needless to say there are always other consequences that derive from such simple action.  For instance if I were to post a photo to instagram with the hope of capturing a particular feeling I am experiencing at present in an act of self reflection I may also receive acknowledgement and validation from a peer group that agrees or disagrees with whatever I was trying to capture or at least they find the image aesthetically pleasing. To create music, write code, run, swim, skate, study walk, soak in sunlight all have their own significant, albeit, therapeutic effects on those partaking in such practices. As noted before writing seems to be what I enjoy the most. So I guess without much further ado I’ll writing some more.

There are very few things that can capture emotion, sensation, and imagery almost as perfectly as music can. However, I shall try to recreate the same emotional experience that I indulge in while listening to music by putting such things into writing.

About a year ago I lived in a 2005 Toyota Sienna minivan. In fact that was the very reason for the inception of this blog. Since then of course life has continued its oneward ebb and flow and now I find myself in a library far and away from the van and wild areas American Southwest that I called home for a brief time. However, I do find myself frequently popping back into those moments of solitude by listening to the music that captured my attention while I lived a life on the road. Perhaps one of the most significant moments I had the luxury of experiencing was one particularly rainy down outside of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Petrichor. Heavy mist. The dark green and brown of indistinguishable trees as they blurred together at a distance of no more than twenty feet. Gray sunlight unable to pierce the shroud of mist but capable enough of making the lichen on the granite boulders appear to be a self illuminating phosphorescent green. The brown red of the lodgepole pine  and the long languid needles of the ponderosa blurred all together.

Posted up, pinned between a cluster of tall skinny and dark pines as well as the silver gray of the van. Between the two I had strung my tarp. Anchored at 5 different points. Two on the van and two on the trees. In effect, creating a square of sequestered off sheltered space that allowed me to work outside while staying dry. The 5th point of contact was a line that was strung from the roof of the tarp up and over an outreaching tree branch that allowed me headspace enough to walk around under my shelter unimpeded.

Pulling out the silver and matte black folding table from the rear of the van, the stove and propane tank as well I set up a kitchen in my little forest shelter. The pitter patter of rain now becoming a constant in the quiet woods. On occasion the thunder would roll, breaking out in abnormal and grotesque ways from the pattern that my ears had grown so accustomed to. But the water I had put on the stove was starting to boil, the steam was clearly visible against the roof the green tarp.

The sticky smell of starch filled the air as rice was added and began to inflate as it simmered on the stove top. The sound of rain kept on, incessantly. Even when the sun cracked through the gray of the clouds and shown a white light down through the dark trees to the forest floor and my little encampment in the woods the rain kept on.

The rice and broccoli I was eating was a little too salty, but good nonetheless. The rain now was being ever so slightly drowned out by the music emanating from my speaker on the side of the van. I wish I could say I listened to something fitting for those mountainous conditions, something that did the lighting, the rain, and the fresh air justice but honestly I can’t even begin to remember what it was I was listening to that day. Nor can I really remember anymore details from those moments in the woods.

But I do remember the feeling. The feeling of calm, of excitement. The feeling of contentment and ambition. The gratitude for the rain and my situation. Paired with the smell of petrichor, those feelings were linked together to a place, a memory, that I will now go back to from time to time. And from time to time I’m lost in dark greens and grays, matte blacks, bright white light loud and breaking thunder, and salty broccoli.

“I have more memories than a thousand years.”

Charles Baudelaire


There are a number of different ways to live life. There is no arguing that. Simply walk out the front door and you’ll see hundreds of variations within a short while.

So I figured what should I do to make mine a little more interesting? Well I’ve decided to get out and go do something a little atypical for myself. January multi-day solo up in Indian Peaks. Providing I can access the trails that I want. I’m thinking around 25mi or so over three days.

I’ll be posting a complete itinerary here in the next week or so. This is to get me back on track.

Cold feet

When I was in high school I got a ton of shit for being a little eccentric. Like anyone else I’ve had the things that I nerd out over. When I was in elementry school I carried around a copy of the U.S. constitution. In middle school I was obsessed with musical theater, don’t tell anyone that was for a girl. In high school I fell madly in love with the outdoors. My love affair with the wild spaces of our planet started because of an almost disastrous trip to Indian Peaks and later was reaffirmed by my attendance on a 30 day long 126mi trek through Wyoming. This is the story of my first backpacking trip and the very cold morning that made me fall in love with wild places.

In 2006 and I was just barely 15 years old. I was an idiot in almost every imaginable way. I had no real grasp on the world and was altogether to opinionated for the amount of knowledge I possessed. I’d been a camper with a local summer camp called the Colorado Youth Program for the previous six years and loved my adventures with them, but by no means would I have considered myself an outdoor enthusiast at this point. I just enjoyed being outside like any other kid. Well through my connections at CYP I ended up hearing about this private school in Boulder, CO called Watershed. Watershed was an alternative high school and middle school with a focus on experiential learning. At the start of every new school year high school students ventured out into Boulder’s backyard, Indian Peaks Wilderness, for a 10 day backpacking and team building trip.

This was my very first backpacking trip and to say the least I really had no idea what I was doing, However, just like any 15 year old what I lack in know how and experience I made up for in over all enthusiasm and energy. Starting at Camp Dick off the Peak to Peak highway just outside of Colorado’s world famous Rocky Mountain National Park, our group of 10 high schoolers and two instructors/teachers  took to the trail. The first few days we took a mellow route because believe it or not or instructors had quite the task of moving 10 high schoolers even 3.5 miles. Our first day was rather uneventful minus the occasional blister. We all got to bust out the whisper-light stoves for the first time in a backcountry context and I’m pretty sure at least one person lost some part of their eyebrows. (Wade?)

By the third day our ragtag crew had made it to the summit of Buchanan Pass, which I must point out is only 7.5mi away from Camp Dick. So to say the least things were moving slowly. The weather was spectacular the day we summited the pass. The skies were the kind of blue that Colorado is famous for. The wind was light and fast with a touch of winter. In early September we could not have picked better conditions to be moving over a nearly 10,000 foot pass. The mountains of Colorado are infamous for fast changing weather, dramatic drops in temperature, and unseasonable snowstorms. But none of this was on our minds as we crushed passed old mining shacks, piles of debris and mine tailings towards the top of the pass. Once there, we were still all in such a way we decided to detour off to the south and summit Saw-tooth Peak.

Saw-tooth Stands at about 12,300 feet and is one of the most unique shaped peaks in the IPW. It’s distinctive southern face cut the sky and stand in sharp contrast to the mellow slope that leads to the saddle and Buchanan pass. Pushing on down the west side of the pass our route started to turn us south towards the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Moving around the cirque of peaks that comprises the Brainard basin our little troop headed even further south towards our end goal of the Fourth of July Trailhead.

With each passing day my level of competency rose and the skill set required be successful in the back country developed a little more. Towards day eight I was feeling pretty damn amazing. I’d meet and begun developing a lasting friendship with Axel Anderson, Devaki Douillard, and many more. Jason Kushner was our primary trip leader and his influence and enthusiasm about the outdoors remains one of the most impactful I’ve ever encountered.

So three days days before we are supposed to be picked up at the Fourth of July Trailhead our little band of school children heads up a steep west facing slope to what is known as Wheeler Basin. Wheeler Basin is a deep set glacially carved basin to the north west of Arapahoe Pass. This little slice of hell is always damp, always cold, and is where I really began to fall in love with wild places. Because it’s in Wheeler Basin that I did my first ever overnight solo. The very first time I spent a night alone in the woods. Now since that night I have spent probably over 100 nights alone in the woods, sometimes in a car other times just on the flat of my back. I’ve been out with motorcycles, with bikes, on foot but this is what started it all. The feeling you get when sleeping in solitude or rather the isolation of the woods is unlike any other. At times the feeling is oppressive as if the dark around you is pushing in on every single one of your senses. At other points it is beyond blissful in how calm it is. The experience is surreal.

But back to Wheeler Basin. Like I said, a little slice of hell. I woke up soaking wet. I’d picked a space underneath a boulder at the edge of a meadow but the soil there had been washed away by the swamp like conditions of the basin. During the night the moisture that accumulated on the outside of my bag was enough to be rung-out and collect .5L. Low lying area I’d selected was a cold sink and only increased the deep seated chill I was experiencing as I woke that morning. But from my perspective I was alive and well and I’d never felt that good waking up.

But waking up on the blue yet crisp morning was the starting point to a series of mistakes that per-usual lead to a place no one really wants to be. Upon waking up I packed my damp bag away per standard practice. I slipped on my boots, crammed my gear into my pack and headed towards the central camp location where we were all to meet up by 9am. We started cranking out breakfast and coffee which soon lead to packs back over our shoulders and the trail underfoot. We descended the nearly 1,000 foot just before 10:15 and on our way down the those blue skies turned gray.

By 11am the ground was being peppered with the white flakes of falling snow quickly turning the trail muddy and slick. The 4mi route we had planned to Caribou Lake that day took much longer than our anticipated time due to constant stopping to warm up fingers and toes or to patch blisters from wet feet. Our feet were very wet. In fact at one point near the end of our slog I slipt off a small foot bridge and was quickly ankle deep in freezing creek water. Anticipating camp within the next hour I was not terribly worried.

Within 15 minutes my opinion had changed. Even moving at a steady pace the cold began to profoundly change my attitude. I was experiencing the wonders of a non-freezing cold injury. Which help to facilitate my introduction with mild hypothermia. And by 5pm mild hypothermia was far from a stranger in our midst. I was one of three students dealing with at least one form of cold related issue. One student, Dan Silverman a dear friend and now high experienced outdoorsman, experienced the far more serious moderate hypothermia in which his core body temperature plummeted to around 95 degrees fahrenheit. This is not joke. These conditions are no laughing matter nor are the consequences if cold is not dealt with effectively. Since we were in no position to evacuate Dan, or myself for that matter, our instructors decided to warm Dan up in the field and keep an eye on me.

We pitched our tarps, set up our sleeping bags and built wind barriers out of our packs to block the gusts that were careening off of Arapahoe pass. The snow was flying and the dark that pressed in around the side of the tarp were complete. The only audible sound over that of the wind, was the sound of my breathing inside of my sleeping bag and the rustle of the trash bag that my sleeping bag was tucked into. Its was right around 8:30 or 9 when Jason and our other leader brought by cups of warm soup made on their stove. Everyone of the kids was tucked into sleeping bags, save for maybe Axel our rather hearty and experienced friend.

As pathetic as it sounds I remember spending a good part of that night wishing that we would be evacuated by helicopter, that someone would come and help us. But no one did come. Nor should they. We were fine realistically. What you don’t realize when you’re 15 is just how bad things actually can get. Because for most 15 year old kids, bad these days has been for the most part removed from traditional experience. It’s hard to be pushed to any form of an end. The way the world is constructed we are protected from anything. The cold, the hard, the wilderness. It is kept at bay by warm houses, bright screens, and fossil fuels. To pick up someone who has spent their entire life in the middle of the cozy world and plop them into the middle of a real blizzard with no real clue about what their doing, well that’s a recipe to push a 15 year old further than they have been before.

Dan was pushed pretty hard that night. Moderate hypothermia usually means prompt evacuation from the field and exhaustive measures to reheat the victim. To slip from moderate to severe hypothermia is a huge deal and usually requires the skill and the equipment that can only be found in hospitals. As the crew was less than a four mile hike out of the backcountry; he received new hot water bottle every couple of hours, he was monitored closely and given totally new and dry clothes. He wasn’t left alone that night.

I heated up pretty quickly once I made it into my bag and had a single bowl of soup. Falling asleep though was tough though. I kept rolling around on my bad under the tarp, wind howling through the blackness. Snow would occasionally blow through our tarp covering or bags in a light dry powder that was mostly harmless. My real lesson though was yet to come. You see, in my haste to get into a warm sleeping bag I stripped my wet clothes off and tossed them right next to my bag with no consideration of the circumstances. I didn’t think about where I left my boots or my coat. Nor did I even consider what to do with my only remaining pair of socks. So the reality I woke up to the next morning was not a pretty one.

From our location at Caribou Lake we had just over a 4.5mi hike out to the fourth of July Trailhead. And much like in the photo below, our route was totally covered in snow. The storm from the night before only left two or three inches. However,with the aid of previous storms and the wind wrecked landscape made for snow drifts that were just about 4ft deep on the trail up and over the pass. That morning I woke up to find my jacket frozen to the ground, my boots hardly malleable enough to move the laces, my socks so frozen that I could have snapped them. I had dry camp shoes, a pair of cotton socks, board shorts, a tee-shirt and a very frozen coat. First thing in the morning Axel put my coat on and started the process of thawing the arms. Better a wet coat than nothing in my current condition.
My boots and socks were so frozen I opted to hike out in my camp shoes, a pair of Vans, and cotton socks. I stuffed everything haphazardly into my pack knowing full well this was the last iteration of its packing for this trip. We headed for the pass watching the snow blown trail disappear in a myriad of switchbacks. Knee deep in loose and flaky powder we slogged up the pass. Once on the summit of Arapahoe Pass and knowing that there was only a 3 mile down hill to our vans there was an immediate feeling of relief. And that down hill flew by. By the time we made it to the parking lot it might have well been our first day on the trail. The level of enthusiasm about being picked up was tangible.
And that is it. We made it out. No one lost any toes. No one died. No one really needed to be evacuated. We made a ton of mistakes, but that’s the basis for greatness mistakes that you can learn from. Whether they are yours or the errors of friends, family, or stories from others pay attention. Because cold feet are hard to hike with.

Cause I need to be writing.

So I have finals and I’m stressed the hell out. So here is a story from my summer.

In early August of 2017 I was finishing a summer of working with the summer camp Avid4 Adventure and getting back to my usual grind behind the bar at Tahona Tequila Bistro. I was working about 65hr a week and doing very little for myself. In fact my self care was so poor it pretty much killed a relationship I was having. Having just taken 6 months off of work though I could not justify a slacking schedule. Having crushed through most of the summer I was close to my goal of dropping the summer camp job, dropping hours at Tahona, and getting back to school. I was beyond excited for school to start, it is my last year after all. The start to August was hot, but stunning. The fires that ravaged the West were yet to really cast a cloud of smoke south and east towards Boulder, and the front range was breathtaking.

I decided that I needed to get up into the mountains and get me some fresh air and stretch the ol’ legs! So I picked one of my favorite local spot, the Brainard Lake Recreation Area (BLRA). Being the ambitiously minded 26 year old that I was I woke up at 5:30am and drove up towards Ward, Colorado the small town just east of the entrance of BLRA. I gotta say I really enjoyed driving up the small pothole filled road in the early morning light following the twists and turns in my newly acquired subaru outback, (Thanks Rita) It’s always fun to drive a new car in the mountains.

Thinking I would just have a mellow day I decided to go hike to Blue Lake, a roughly 4mi hike on the western edge of the Brainard Lake area. Pulling into the parking lot that morning was fantastic! I was one of three cars in a lot that only a week before I hadn’t been able to find a space. Hardly anyone was out which meant I’d be having a blast. Grabbing my pack, and my poles, checking my water, and maybe even retying my laces I started up the dirt track next to the pit toilet.

Now if you’ve never been to the subalpine at 9-10,000ft above sea level you’re really missing out. The smell is probably my favorite part. If cold had a smell that would be what the subalpine would smell like. Not that it was all that cold this time of year at 6:15am, maybe just 45 degrees fahrenheit. I think it might just be the smell of freshly melting snow cascading through the soft topsoil on its way to join on of the many winding streams and into the Saint Vrain drainage. Combined with the soft piney smell of subalpine fir and spruce trees there is nothing else in the world that calms me down so much.

Crushing up the trail dirt and pine needles underfoot I was in very high spirits. The sky was just starting to lose the orange glow that screamed sunrise and was taking on a classic Colorado blue sky. The deep deep blue that I’ve only ever seen here in the summer. And it was only about halfway up the trail before I came upon the only folks I’d see that morning. The owners of the only other cars in the lot, a group of photographers wrapping up a sunrise shoot of the alpine cirque to the west of Blue Lake. Stopping to make small talk and make the required exclamations of not wanting to be anywhere else; two of the photographers asked me my plans for the day. The two fellas asking were older maybe 65 or 70 years old. When they found I only planned on heading to Blue Lake they suggested an alternate route. Above Blue Lake, maybe a 1/2 a mile there is Upper Blue Lake, and if you follow the draining up towards the base of the cirque, there should be a trail. That’s what they said, “should be” a trail. They mentioned it had been a few years since they’d been up to check it out, but that trail used to lead from Upper Blue Lake to the summit of Mount Audubon which is a 13,000ft peak that creates the northern crest of the cirque.

Having no real plans for the day and feeling very good I mentioned to the photographers that I might go check it out. With a quick smile and a nod I was off down the trail again quickly moving towards Blue Lake. The sun was moving higher in the sky as I crested the final little hill and the lake splayed out magnificently before me.

Blue Lake, Aug 2017

Upon reaching the lake with the sun still far behind me in the east and with the boost of energy that came from crushing an energy bar I decided to keep pushing up to the upper lake. Moving quickly along the outside edge of the lake, soaking in the sun I headed towards a rock shelf in the rear of the glacial cirque where I assumed that Upper Blue Lake would be hidden out of sight. Within about an hour I’d reached the steepest part of the shelf and started to scramble up the rocks on my hands and feet. Quickly breaching the crown of the shelf I looked expectantly for the next lake and saw nothing. Having just traveled off trail for an hour I was a little peeved about the lack of a lake. But I still had my bearing. Mt. Audubon was an obvious and hulking  guide for me. deciding to head towards the peak and look for a trail I began moving even further away from the trail and Blue Lake.

30 minutes of walking on rocks while dodging the hopelessly sensitive patches of alpine vegetation, I quickly meandered my way northward towards the massive scree slopes of Audubon. It was just about now when I realized how much larger the cirque was than I had thought. The time it took to cross was only increased by my hoping and skipping across the granite to avoid the sensitive flora. However, its when I made a misstep and my foot went through what I thought was a solid soil surface and into the stream below that I realized that I was walking on loose rocks covered by barrenground willow. This plant grows near water at high altitudes. My attention was then taken again as a very small lake appeared right in front of me as if out of nowhere. I’d found Upper Blue Lake.

Looking down on Upper Blue Lake. Blue Lake would be just out of frame in the center left of the frame. This view is from the south slope of Audubon.

Upon arriving at the upper lake I began to search for the trail that would lead me up to the summit of Audubon. It was getting later in the morning, right around 10am. The sky was starting to give up a few wispy clouds. Knowing the area is prone to afternoon showers and that the last place I wanted to be was below treeline on an exposed face when a storm rolled in I had a choice to make. Head up to the summit on a trail I was having a hard time finding. Or I could turn back and go down the same way I’d come up.

Common sense would dictate that I turn around and head back towards the car, but I was feeling particularly good this day and decided to push on. Giving up hope on a trail I began searching for a navigable way up the formidable boulder fields and cliff between me and the summit of Audubon. Finally just going forward I soon found myself at about 12,200ft, as according to the altimeter on my watch. The time was 11am and by this time clouds were actually starting to roll in. The dark gray in the west a familiar albeit a very unwelcome site for me at that point. With a few loose rocks tumbling down below me I made my summit bid. A quick 30 minute push up the final 800ft to the summit. But within about 15 min I’d made it to saddle I’d not been expecting. And here on this unexpected saddle I found a trail. A trail that dissipated into the rocky drop and boulder fields I’d just climbed out of.

Jogging along as best I could I pushed fast to summit. The air was obviously thinner and I had to slow my pace several times to catch my breath. The wind was picking up and making breathing even more difficult as it started pressing in on my mouth like a suffocating hand. Sun breaking through the cloud and wind whipping against my jacket strongly enough to support my body weight for a split second I rounded a bed to the last slight slope to the summit of Audubon.

So I’d found my way to the summit. Up a sketchy scree slope and even worse boulder field. Finishing the coffee in my thermos, which was still hot, I enjoyed another energy bar before turning for the trail that would lead me down the eastern slope of Audubon towards the Brainard Lake drainage.

I’d beat the storms. On my way down I passed about nine other folks on their way to the summit but when I was passing them the first drops of the afternoon storms were starting to pepper the brim of my hat. At this point I was booking it for treeline, not out of fear of a storm but more for the feeling of security that comes from being in a familiar place. The alpine is gorgeous. Above treeline the when the wildflowers are in full bloom, there are very few more beautiful places. But when the rocks start to match the color of the sky one begins to feel very exposed.

I made it down to my car before the rain really started, right around 1:15pm. The first clap of thunder reverberated loudly through the plastic panelings on my car door. My seat was reclined all the way back and I began to doze off to the sound of the pitter patter of rain on my windshield.

(I guess thanks for letting me share another story without much of a point. I guess it’s just fun to write sometimes. To go back to these memories helps to keep me calm while I’m dealing with the stress of finals. To put them out into there world, well I don’t really know how that’s gonna make me feel yet. I guess I’m finding out.)

Those moments before something happens.

Think back to the last time you had something stressful arise in your life. Paying a parking ticket? Breaking up with someone? What to cook for dinner? Not making enough money and the bills are stacking up? Life can sometimes feel like a series of stressful moments punctuated by brief moments of easy breathing. I know that is exactly how I’m feeling right now. I’m finishing the semester and I’ve never been this stressed. Today while working on a group project I had to take a few minutes for pushups and deep breathing while I was processing how hopelessly underprepared my group is. This project is due Thursday. Thursday will come whether we are ready or not. Life is like this, the build up to the critical threshold comes at an agonizingly slow pace and once it breaks it seems unbelievable that you were ever worried by “those mundane problems.”

These are my front country problems. But as I pointed out last night, it is the viewing of these moments as the adventure they are that will help lead to a more fulfilled life. Maybe, cause who actually knows.

The funny thing is in the backcountry when things go wrong it usually happens fast. There is not usually this slow buildup of stress that takes you to a breaking point. This slow dragging along of stress and burden seems to be something that is attributed just to the front country. Now in some ways it can exist in the backcountry as well. Let us say your diet consists of food that your find while foraging or hunting. If you struggle to find food this could be a source of stress that slowly builds. But it would also be constant and usually no breaking point, just meal here or there. But that would be your existence then. Subsistence living would probably take all the focus off other issues and require all of your attention on getting by. No longer a build up but a constant pressure for survival.

Now other issues that arise in the backcountry happen fast. Take for example an avalanche. One moment you and your friends are traversing a slope in the early morning sunlight. The wind is light and cold, the sun is filtered through a sky of light gray clouds.  Fresh snow covers the mountainside of an area you’ve skied before. Of an area that you know has the potential to slide. You’ve checked the snow. You’ve judged the layers, you’ve watched the weather reports for the last few days, know the freeze thaw cycles in the area, looked for other evidence of an unsteady base. You crest the top of the ridge and get ready to drop in. You test the drop, jumping turns for the first few yards. Trepidation dictating your every move. And just when you think it’s good and safe to drop; a slab right below the top of the ridgeline frees itself from the side of the mountain.

Any way that scene plays out the stressful moment is not in the future its in the moment. Its happening to you. There is no build up or elongation of stress. Just the pure and often unbridled fear and response that comes with disaster.

What the hell is the point of this post? Well to indicate that I’d way rather deal with an avalanche and the crazy moments in the wild places of the world the long slow build up of the academically induced stress I’m dealing with now. So adios for now as I’ve gotta go write a paper on the ability of the Boulder community to be resilient in times of disaster.