Adventure Time In Argentina

(We now return to our regularly scheduled broadcast)

“No, we have the rip that off, it’s not going to get any better.”

“Wait, no really – can’t we just wrap it with band aid and then…” I pleaded.

“Nope, on three look at the view,” he said. (He being, Juan, my guide, double certified by the IFMGA (International Federation Mountain Guide Association).

“1, 2, 3…” I looked away as he tore off what was left of my big toe nail along with the chunks of skin falling off my heels. On the bright side, the view was amazing; we were sitting in the middle of a glacier in Argentina, Patagonia, and though my feet had seen far better days, I’d say it was well worth it! It was just Juan and I, and my restrained scream echoed on and then dissipated quickly into the cold, sporadic wind. The disinfectant spray brought on another yelp, to which Juan replied, “Well I was wondering when you were going to start saying something.” He mostly joked. “I don’t know why you are so strong…” It was either a statement or a question but I took that as a compliment coming from a 20 year, all-things-mountain veteran who had once seen three of his fingers cut off with a small saw after getting caught in a terrible storm while ice climbing a less explored side of Aconcagua, one of the Seven tallest summits in the world.

Brittany Taped Toe And Heel

He expertly taped everything up (clearly this was a part of his norm) and I slid my socks back over my cold, bloody feet and squeezed them back into my ski boots that were one size too small. We still had at least an hour of skiing left before the warming hut and at least half a dozen more crevasses for me to try and not fall into. Encouraging. Far less encouraging was the fact that I hadn’t skied in 10 years. I felt a wash of doubt and that “oh sh-t” feeling set in as I looked down the 45 degree glacier we had just spent hours climbing up; the skins were off and I was no longer connected to the snow through the science of friction. I would now be reintroduced to physics, after all, what goes up, must come down. I wasn’t leaving my guide in the dark though, he knew I hadn’t skied in ten years as well. “Esta Bien?” He asked, his eyes… concerned. “Todo Bien!” I was lying to myself but I didn’t have a choice, it all needed to be OK. My eyes got big and I threw two thumbs up and put a reassuring smile on my face as I turned my skis down the mountain.

Brittany Skiing

A few minutes later my childhood ski school lessons were coming back to me. My pie turns were just as awkward as when I was 8 years old but at least I was stronger and the relief I saw on my guides face was reassuring as he realized that he wasn’t going to have to carry me down the mountain.

“Good! Now, you are going to have to turn more because there is a crevasse there and… you don’t want to fall into that.”

To which I replied, “Well that’s one way to learn how to ski again, learn to turn or… die.”

The higher you go, the thinner the air, the greater the danger, the more important it that you try your absolute hardest not to fuck up. It’s a fantastic way to learn.

He carefully schooled me down the mountain, creating wide and sweeping turns for me to follow and used himself as a barrier for my mental as well as my physical stability when our paths came too close to cliffs and crevasses. I felt like a little kid again, arms wide and forward, skis tuned out like a pie, but the thought of what I probably looked like gave me enough of a sense of humor to find the situation more comical than scary, and humbling, so incredibly humbling.

I saw the hut getting closer, he kept reassuring me we were almost there and that I was doing great, and I believed him. When we finally reached our destination I collapsed in the snow, letting my twitching muscles and swollen feet rest in the cold. I laughed and I smiled and for the first time in a long time, I was really proud of myself. Juan looked at me and said, “So now you fall?!” He was giving me a hard time. We still had the other half of the mountain to go down the next morning and I knew that, but I had confidence in myself that I would get through it; that I would learn how; that he would help, and I felt nothing but incredible relief and pure joy as I let the sun wash over my wind blown face and fully alive body.

Warming-Hut

By that point, I had lost a toe nail, most of the skin on my heels and my right and more dominant leg was cramping and burning. On the other hand, the snow was softening and making it easier to turn and stop, my heart beat was slowing, the giant cloud we were coming down from was clearing and the majestic and beautiful Andes were glowing in the mid-morning sun, with gentle clouds dancing above them like long hair drifting in the ocean. Needless to say, a giant smile was now permanently slapped on my red and sweaty face.

The Giant Cloud

It’s a feeling that keeps bringing me back to the mountains, that feeling of being alive; of being scared sometimes but pushing through and conquering mental doubt and physical strain. It’s not necessarily the feeling of reaching the summit, it’s everything you go through to get there. The journey. You must be strong, humble, steadfast, willing to accept change and also have a pretty good sense of humor! You must be open to being a kid again and to learn and trust those whom are willing to support and help you. It’s the recipe most of us need for life and the mountains seem to have all the right ingredients.

Andes Mountains 2

So, now that winter is in full force in the Pacific Northwest, get out there and try something new, be prepared to fail, to succeed, to have a great time, and to gain a little confidence and happiness along the way. Chao!

Thumbs-Up

A Week With The American Alpine Institute: Part 1

How many times in your adult life have you said to yourself, “I want to do ___but I don’t know how.” Or “I wish I would have ____ when I was younger so that I could be good at that now.” You’ve probably said that at least a couple times in the past few years or even weeks. For me, I always wish I had started singing when I was a kid so I could blow people away at Karaoke, or at least be able to hold a note. I wish I had picked up a camera sooner so I could take breathtaking photos with an actual camera that isn’t also a phone, personal computer and life database. The truth is, as adults, we tend to think we can’t learn new things anymore and therefore embrace the adage that – “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” We are so inundated with work and responsibilities that the idea of taking time to be outside our comfort zone and become a student again seems far-fetched if not downright scary. After spending 6 days with the incredible guides at the American Alpine Institute (AAI) I realized how long it had been since I felt like a student and how many excuses I made for myself as to reason why I couldn’t continue to be one. The course took me outside my comfort zones in the outdoors, of what I though I knew about mountains and it sometimes made me feel like I was back in math class again, using a technical part of my brain that seems to be a little bit rusty.

Over the past few years my need to be outside has grown exponentially. My journey to reach for higher peaks came from my love of hiking, summit views, and the feeling you get when you stand on a vista and look out over the world through my own eyes. Since I did my first alpine climb two years ago on Mt. St Helens during an early and healthy snow year, I became hooked on that feeling. The exhilaration of working so hard to get to somewhere, the general camaraderie you feel with your fellow climbers, and the mental process you go through to get there. I loved it and I wanted more. As I sought higher and more involved summits I realized that a lack of any technical abilities was keeping me from them. Mt. St Helens, Mt. Adams, South Sister and other hikes similar are considered “non-technical.” There aren’t glaciers, the routes are fairly straight forward and generally besides crampons, poles and an ice axe, they don’t require too much gear to climb. However, Mt. Hood, Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier and even Middle Sister can all be technical climbs that require a knowledge of ropes, knots, bends, glacial terrain, safety and rescue procedures, proper climbing communication etc… That knowledge and lack thereof was impeding my goals, but my need to summit those mountains aims to change that.

The intrinsic desire to seek out new terrain is what brought me to AAI. I decided that I wanted to take a course on how to do all of the things. I wanted to learn how to rock climb and mountaineer. I didn’t want some guide service just to take me up a mountain; I wanted to learn HOW – Teach me how to fish and feed me for a lifetime, you know? After researching many different alpine schools, I decided that AAI was the best choice for me. They offered the most comprehensive beginners course and had the most offered dates.

The American Alpine Institute Intro to Alpinism class is a 6 day course that covers:

– Snow travel
– Proper crampon use – Pied a Plat
– Pied en Canard
– Pied Marche (lessons in French remember?)
– Rope team travel
– Crevasse safety and rescue
– Orienteering lessons with compass and map
– Intro to Ice climbing (if terrain permits)
– Class five-rock climbing- belaying
– rappelling and tying to anchors
– Learning the nuances and technical aspects of mountaineering which is everything from how to pack your bag to coiling rope, tying properly dressed knots and bends (bends are different than knots …that’s important.)
– How to safely travel across glacial terrain ie: probing for crevasses and testing snow bridges
– How to place protection and anchors General history of mountaineering – teaching us about it’s French and European origin and making sure we knew the derivative of where terms and words came from. Leave no trace ethics
– And lastly but certainly not least-how to poop in a bag on the side of a mountain about 6ft away from your new best friends.
… Yes, that had to (from a nature calls during a 10 hour summit climb way) happen and you get over it.

I’m probably forgetting a few things but I think you get the reason why it’s called an Institute. This course is for learning and for thinking. It develops the skills that allow you to start and continue your mountaineering career. They want to test you but also encourage you. Think of them as though they are like your favorite teacher back in college or high school – understanding your limits but still somehow pushing you past them in a way that makes you feel safe and encouraged. I actually can’t say enough positive things about my instructors. Their extensive knowledge seemed unlimited, constantly wanting to teach you and help you. Their passion and love for the sport was infectious and their climbing and mountaineering backgrounds were anything but short of impressive.

Over the 6 days that I spent with AAI and my five other fellow student climbers I learned more new things than I have since I started my career in Film Production. I felt excited, nervous, sometimes overwhelmed, and generally in awe of how much there was to know and how many different ways our instructors knew how to teach so each individual could understand. Now, I have no rock climbing background, which is generally a sport that leads a lot of people into mountaineering. I’ve always been terrible at tying knots and have a hard time handing rope, which is what I remember from the few times I sport climbed in college. I knew that part would be a challenge for me and it was. But, by the end of the 6 days and constant repetition, reminders and use, everything started to get easier and I could put systems and ropes together on my own. I was by no means ahead of the curve but knowing how I learn and understand things I was impressed by the knowledge and abilities I came away with.

En route to Mt. Baker summit

On Summit day the lack of snow and warm weather made it so our climb offered our team unique learning situations. We had a little bit of everything as far as terrain is concerned, ice, soft snow, hard snow, giant open crevasses we had to navigate around, snow bridges that we had to learn to walk across, our guide even had to place vertical protection on a particularly spicy part coming up what is known as The Roman wall. 1000 vertical feet of exposed glacier you have to traverse before you reach the flat snowfield to the summit. Because of this terrain I think everyone felt a need to “man up”, so to speak. There was a strong feeling of unity as we crossed ice and uneven terrain through the night making our way up to the summit. I felt, and I think everyone else did as well, that unless our guides told us to turn around due to unsafe terrain, we were all going to get outside our comfort zones and make the climb happen, not just for ourselves but also for our team. Our guide’s confidence in us was encouraging as was the trust that I had in them and their leadership capabilities.

Final Mt. Baker Summit approach

As we traversed up the steepest pitch of the route through a narrow, windingpathway and on a degree grade I had yet to climb just after sunrise and 5 hours into our adventure, I knew that what I thought my limits were had now been broken. Less than a mile away from the summit, my heart beating and my mind and eyes constantly focused on the rope in front of me and the feet underneath me I knew that this is what I had came for. I made that exhilarating and terrifying step outside what I thought I could do and now those limitations don’t serve me anymore. I had found the exact encouragement and education I needed to push me forward in what I loved doing. There is no price for that.

I wish I could find a way to sum of my experience with AAI, the other people wanting to learn from them, and my Instructors – Andrew Yasso and Jenny Merrian, but all I have is this. If I did nothing else with my summer, like it was complete shit and I never got to go outside and all I did was work – those 6 days could come close to making up for it.

If you have ever told yourself you want to learn to do anything like this, or have toldyourself you can’t for so many reasons – stop getting in the way of yourself and go. You won’t regret it.

Mt. Baker Summit Photo

Note: Part 2 will feature a more technical aspect with info on gear and other insights.

Silver Star Mountain Musings by Brittany Kelly

You know those places you go just because you have to? We all have them, I’m sure. The places that for some unexplained reason, you are just drawn to them. Sometimes I wake up (usually early) on a Saturday and simply because of a hectic work week, I just haven’t had the time to seek out somewhere new to roam and sometimes it just isn’t in the cards to take off the whole weekend and travel up to the North Cascades, a place that is magical and always worth the effort. Anyway, when I have one of those weekends there are a couple of hikes within two hours of Portland that are always on the top of my list. Silver Star Mountain in SW Washington is one of them.

This particular weekend I knew it was going to be hot so I wanted to get up into the mountains where the higher elevations would call for cooler temperatures. I had a couple friends who wanted to join me as well (a welcome change of pace). I am more of a solo hiker, for the most part it’s just me, my thoughts and my dog for miles at a time, so having some friends to break up the internal conversation was welcomed.

We took off around 9:30am and it was already 80 degrees outside. My fourth floor apartment was bound to become an inferno so I couldn’t wait to be on top of Silver Star, sitting at roughly 4,400 feet and 6 miles RT. It’s certainly not the highest point you could reach in a day, but where it sits between Washington and Oregon provides you a 360 degree view of some of the most prominent peaks from Mt. Adams to Mt. Jefferson on any given clear day – which this was.

We set out from Grouse Vista Trail, which is a bit longer than taking off from Ed’s Trail, but the road to get there is better. Grouse Vista is still a few miles of driving on gravel roads deep within old logging roads but Ed’s trail leads you through some pretty gnarly unmarked foresting and hunting roads that I wouldn’t recommend attempting without a 4 wheel drive car that has good clearance. The beginning of the trail begins with steady elevation gain and starts on the opposite side of the parking lot. For the first quarter mile you are just heading up a rocky and stump laden path with trees on both sides. However, you will reach a point where everything opens up and you are greeted with gorgeous and expansive views of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and if it’s the right time of year – dozens of wildflowers line the trail like particles of a rainbow.

Silver Star Mountain Path

Silver Star Mountain Flowers

For the most part, the trail looks like this (above photos) as it winds up to the summit, which doesn’t suck. Even on a hot Saturday morning, where most of Portland is looking to get out of town, we only saw a dozen or so people on the trail and summit. Making it so, at times, it was just the mountains, our dogs, the wildflowers, and our conversation, which really doesn’t suck. To deal with the heat I took a small 18L backpack, 2 1L water bottles, some snacks and wore a comfortable pair of shorts, a sweat wicking tank and low profile hiking shoes. Since this hike has so much uneven terrain I would definitely recommend some sort of hiking shoe or hiking boot over road running shoes or regular tennis shoes.

After about 2.5 miles there is one last pitch and a right hand turn up the summit trail (PRO TIP: there is an undesignated camping spot just past this summit tail and the sunrise from Silver Star would be INCREDIBLE) and then you are greeted with the expansive 360 views, usually a nice breeze and a bit (or a lot) of sweat trickling down your forehead.

Silver Star Mountain

Silver Star Mountain View

Looking to the right you see Ms. Hood, in all of her glory, just past that you can see Mt. Jefferson, scanning left you can see Mt. Adams, Mt Rainer, Mt St. Helens, the lower and usually snow covered Goat Rocks (more about that area later – TEASER ALERTAHMAZING) I have one particular rock below the right hand summit that I like to go sit on. If it’s a crowded day that rock always seems to be free and fits my dog and I perfectly for some serious mountain top lounging time. I won’t tell you anymore because it’s my secret rock.

We visited both the left and right summit areas. Both sides offer incredible deep green valley and snow covered cascade mountain views. Because the view is completely exposed there is nothing to obscure the 360-degree view of the expansive mid cascade region all the way down past Mt. Jefferson, there really is nothing like it. Since the summit has so much exposure there is always a chance of wind or snow depending on the season. Make sure to come prepared with a light wind jacket no matter what time of year, sunscreen in the summer and boots with traction in snow from late fall to early spring. After about an hour, some food and a few hundred photos we started heading back down. When it’s just me, I usually hang at the summit for a while – there’s no better way to clear your mind AND get a tan than on a quiet mountain a few thousand feet above sea level.

When heading back, go back the way you came down, which is a lovely second chance to take in the views and wildflowers while working the “downhill” muscles. There are some loose rock so if you have weak knees or ankles, a pair of hiking or trekking poles could be needed. An hour of so had past and we were back down and in the parking lot ready to head back for some social scenery, fully pleased with the much-needed re-charge and outdoor goodness barely two hours outside of Portland.

Here are some stats below for more travel and gear info.

Portland –Trail Head: 1 hour 30 min

Car-Summit: 3 miles/ 2040 ft. (info taken for Portland Hikers Field Guide)

Car- Car: 6 Miles / 3 -3.5 hours

Gear:

Small Day Pack – 18L

2L Hydration Pack or 2 32oz water bottles

My trusty and well used Montrail Mountain Masochist hiking shoes. I didn’t bring hiking poles but they could be used.

Sunglasses/Sunscreen

And most importantly: Good Vibes Only

Happy hiking!