Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Talisman on Bear Creek Spire

The morning air flooded heavily with sticky dew. My foot space in my quilt, which hung out from the rear of my truck bed, clung with cold condensation. I imagined Andrew's situation, huddled between my truck and the buckbrush on the outside ground, was wetter, damper. I flipped open my camper shell plexi-glass and stood out in the burly, wet pre-dawn air. The stars sparkled resplendently in the broad sky, shimmering as if from some loved one's eye. I spotted Orion and Canis Majoris, especially Sirius. I spoke softy to myself so as Andrew would not hear me. I needed him not to know that I believed in ghosts. I spoke with earnest, with a pleading provacation to the sky-gods above. I needed help, some kind of guidance.

My head and stomach hurt. I was still massively hungover from the night before. Throughout the night I had recurring moments from my blurred night, however, they were not as much fun as I had actually had. And now Orion overshadowed my persistent demons from burrowing their way into my head.

On the Vagabond Loop, the constellations proved to be my most talisman. I dreamed constantly envisioning the future and hopes; I dreamed...a fantasy. Yet what drove me on was the present moment I had been in stargazing up in the high night sky.

The last month on trail, during the thick monsoon season, the clouds covered my dreams in a grey veil of condensed vapor. And now as we headed up the broad granite valley of Rock Creek, the stars twinkled in tantamount glory of an incoming splendid day. I tried to act as if I was fine. I truly wanted to impress Andrew. I admire him, I am envious of his stable rock-sided personality. And here I was trying to play everything off as if I was fine, and only about 18 hours earlier I awoke in a fatalistic head space with a mean, throbbing headache.

I looked up at Cassiopeia, the 'W' shaped constellation of the supposedly prettiest woman ever mythologized in the sky, in the early morning light. Her far left star faintly twinkled in a shimmering evanescence, fading ever into a fantasy. I shook it off, as I have always done with that constellation, always knowing it is never complete, never trustworthy. Andrew pointed up towards the high, craggy and sawtooth peaks of the surrounding granite ridgelines. The emerging light started off in a faint fashion, glowing a bleak orange. After a few minutes of trekking alongside some crystal blue lakes, Andrew signalled up towards the polished bowls and walls of granite, this time a flourescent orange and refulgent pink glittered off the rock. The morning grew into a lasting day and we sauntered on.

The Bear Creek Spire was no easy feat. After a 3.5 mile push through trail we cross-countryed through glacial moraines and eventually up a northeast perspective towards a sharp and cragged ridgeline. We rested at a saddle in a grooved nook of cold rock, leeward from the up-valley wind. Glassy tarns flagged a cold water down below from where spring water flowed from beneath the talus slopes. Turquoise and aqua of water and sky contrasted the bleak philosophy of white and silver granite rock of the Eastern Sierra. The scene was spectacular yet drab, filled with an empty void.

I squinted my eyes from the bright sky and stretched my right hand out to finger the torn holes in the mesh pocket of my Kumo backpack. Enveloped by an empty feeling, I came back to reality from the backpack. The Kumo has been stalwart throughout my whole summer, no matter what challenges we faced.

I led the first section, clambering over awkwardly strewn boulders. Andrew soon caught me and led the more technical section up. Soon the rock sprouted in a north-south direction (up-and-down) and the climbing became laborious and thought provoking. The holds became scarcer and smaller, microscopic even. Andrew, being the world-class climber he is, scampered up the craggy ridge as if he was a spider. I moved slowly, trying to be methodical. I came to my first major challenge, at least a 5.6 class move. Andrew coached me up and I felt my endorphines kick in. I stayed focus and we carried on.

The up and down rock shot straight up and out over me, looming beneath a crystalline sky. I looked up and thought nothing. Andrew looked eager and resilient, calm. We stayed on the ridgeline where the climbing was tougher but more rewarding. I tried not to think about being nervous while being on a perch more often than not not a place being well suited to me. I dug my trailrunners into the quartzed knobs layered among the granite shelves, the shoes not suited for the climbing. My toes scrunched and curled within the bulky foot-box. I winced frequently and we kept on. Soon, we hit a very technical section. Andrew scurried quickly up it and I began and became ensnared in a crux between 2 large granite slabs. On the other side of the slab to the right of me plummeted the east face butress and its threatening polished wall. A chokestone was throttled in between the 2 slabs but it was too high up in the wedge and the walls too narrow for me to hop up on. As much as I knew I was in an awkward spot, I felt confident. Andrew looked at me from a high perspective and I could tell he knew I was in a tough spot. I could hear it in his voice, his tentativeness in my actions. I grabbed my right hand between a sharp crack, grasping my fingers over a full edge. I pulled myself up and with my right foot I found a knob to which I could get some 'pullage'. I found an even smaller rounded out hold for my left foot and then reached out with my left arm for an uncertain grab. I began trying to move to fast, yet I was a good 5ft from solid ground and balance. The ridge was lined with steep slopes and depths of heights gulping to the heart and eyes.

I had to get up. Then, I was suddenly stuck in a precarious place where I had no place to go. After a couple of minutes I told Andrew that I was beginning to freak out. I looked frantically all over the granite slab for a hold. I constantly shifted weight on each foot, and seconds turned to minutes. My muscles in my arms and legs quivered, and I breathed loudly but controlled. I looked up in the sky, for no reason at all, by-passing Andrew's intent glare. I saw, at that instant, an airplane trailing contrails from its rear. I stared entranced at those contrails watching the shape of the long, bacilli-spiral shaped icy cloud mass morph, or evaporate, into nothing. But I felt suddenly powerful, as if something was infusing me with energy. An infinite amount of moments flooded my mind's eye from the Vagabond Loop, where I had so many moments of being utterly alone and then I would whimsically glance up and spot a contrail, my only sign of human existence. Now, I am not one to rely on human interaction for motivation, but seeing those contrails made me feel not alone.

I bore down on the rock. I saw the quartz spotted in minute intricacy in the granite. I felt the burly cold of the night before sunk in on the rock, I felt the void of rock through my vision. Andrew reached his arm over and I followed it with my right arm to a notch I could grab along the chasm that was adjacent to where I was clung. I moved quickly and enveloped the rock around me with my whole body. I slithered over with the rest of my body, the abyss below me vanishing from sight, and I reached with my long legs and frame to the chokestone below. I stood between 2 slabs of granite, a small chasm, and panted in a controlled, yet loud fashion. Images flashed in my head, moments I forgot yet a dream manifested: the Somalian coin found in the New Mexican Desert, the creaky windmill at Beehive Well, and Orion and the Big Dipper above in the night sky. Not once in this quick yet infinite moment did I rely on anybody, despite Andrew being present right there. (Andrew felt more like my conscience than actually being present at that moment in time). It was just me and my talismans forging me forward and up wedging myself through the chasm using the slabs as a chimney chute.

Once through the problem, I felt free. We continued climbing up more technical rock jumbles and slabs. The route up the ridge was not obvious, so Andrew would scout ahead while I continued progressing up towards him. From our vantage point, then, we were near the bulky shoulder of the spire. The block summit was in sight. All we needed to do was to go straight up. But then another problem emerged. Thin striations steeply angled up a north-south slab. The climb up this problem was a good 30ft. Andrew clung to the top after quickly maneuvering his agile body through thin slabs of rock. He tried to coach me. I internalized my focus and drowned out everything around me relying only on myself, like I did on the Hayduke Trail. I stared at a tiny spot in the granite slab, zeroing in on each and every crystal and grain within the granite. I felt to be analyzing a dream. My mind zoomed back to critical moments on the Hayduke Trail when I was confronted with an extreme physical challenge. I felt all my problems with Whitney (no longer known as Gila) drift away. There were many times, I admit, she was my talisman, but I also must confess that there were other many times where she was not, contrary to the sugar coating I emoted on previous blog entries. And I had to clear all the clutter in my head at that time to focus and attain a challenge, like down climbing a super exposed chimney chute. Andrew yelled down in a swift yell yet I perceived his voice as a slow groan. I zeroed in on my fear: no one was going to get me up that rock but me.

I quickly made a maneuver that surprised Andrew. I heard him 'ooh' as I continued upward quickly. Each hold felt crisp and clean, each vivid thought I contained within me felt lucid and clear. I felt I was trekking the VL in that tiny moment. I felt the muscles in my arm contract and fill with adrenaline. I pulled and scaled and erupted up on the slab. In no time, I met Andrew at eye level. He looked at me astonishingly and I told him: 'Let's keep at it.' I mumbled aloud right after: 'I've got to keep getting better.'

On the razorback ridge we scaled over large boulders heaped up upon a layered confusion of granite. Each boulder was a challenge it itself. Scaling up and around or over each slab, moving quickly within the alpine confines of rock. I moved more confidently than ever, yet began to tire. Andrew scampered quickly looking as comfortable as anything I have ever seen on rock. On the pinnacled ridge the eye-popping heights began to drill a certain vertigo into my head. My legs got wobbly and my fingers crimped in a grasping position. I narrowed my focus to the task at hand while trying to avoid the vast empty space below me. I could feel it getting to me. I staggered with each step and tried stubbornly to keep my balance. Andrew soon scampered out of sight, as he moved over the slabs excitedly. We both knew the block summit was near. I kept at it too while harnessing all the energy of the summer on the VL, my guaranteed-never-to-leave-me talisman.

Suddenly, Andrew came into view on top of the block summit. The pyramidal boulder shot directly into the sky beneath a blazing sun. I squinted my eyes and said unto myself: 'Holy shit.' I huffed and puffed my way zig-zagging around other piles of massive boulders. I plopped on a small granite bench beneath the summit still reeling from the dizzying heights. I felt victorious, even though I sat 6ft beneath where Andrew sat astride the block top. He motioned me up and I stood on a tiny ledge and reached for the spired edge of the top. I patted the top and looked over the block to the white summits of multiple craggy peaks to the south.

We spent about 15 minutes under the summit, really just soaking up the scene. Andrew then picked a line to climb down on. I tentatively resisted his route, as I am not a good down climber. In fact, it is down-right dreadfully scary to me. But I trusted Andrew and I knew he could judge my limits. I respected his wishes and did not want to let him down. Down a wedge where 2 slabs abutted next to each other to form a nice crack to descend on, I moved slowly yet controlled. I was scared shitless! I gulped, yet breathed calmly. All those nights alone sleeping deeply yet dreaming of a planned future, all those long days alone fretting over dumb girlfriend drama, all those dry and hot places I saw and felt that blurred through the heat waves of the desert sun--- were they all real or just a mirage? I took a step down the chuted crack and found a small ledge. Then moved my hand down, with my cheek rubbed up against the cold slab of rock. That fear was real, not a mirage. Yet I had to keep down climbing, just like I kept walking during those fraught moments in the desert that flooded my head. I drowned out my fear with action and physical manifestation of inner dread with my strength.

I could hear Andrew's voice though I couldn't make out what he was saying. I followed a path on a wall he had scaled down, more or less. I listened to him despite grasping what he really was saying. Another drop off ensued, and my fear was still present. I heard the creaky windmill of Beehive Well squeak in my head. I absorbed the shrill noise echoing in my cavernous body. I stepped down on a ledge, then pressed my hand between a crack crossing my thumb under my palm to form a sturdy wedge. I, then, pushed my back against a wall and sat hung up in space. Everything went utterly silent. I scanned the alpine basin below me and felt a soothing peace blanket my soul and spirit. I lowered my other leg to a wide ledge, removed my wedged hand from the crack, and jumped down the last 4ft to a broad ledge. My fear was gone.

Scampering down the steep slopes of large talus I looked back from whence I came. I had a hard time believing I had just down climbed that gnarly mess. We met at a saddle where the alpine basin to the west suddenly plunged down a precariously steep gully to the east littered with loose talus and sandy gravel. We rock-skiied our way down spilling rock debris hundreds of feet down a worn chute. Further down we found ourselves picking our way across a glacial moraine, and it was here I began to reflect aloud with Andrew about the Whitney situation, about how I felt and how it was while on the VL, both the good and the bad. On the way up I kept everything to myself, like I had been doing for the passed 5 months. Never had I had a friend to converse with in person; I had had to deal with all that crap alone in a vast, empty world. The miles flew by as we sullied our way over rock and alpine grass.

As we neared the trail head, I took a gander back up the valley to the headwall of Bear Creek Spire, a passed dream in the far distance reflecting in the afternoon sun. But my thought process shifted from a dream to reality. I HAD just did that! We sat on boulders protruding from the cold waters of Rock Creek drinking a couple of pale ales. The rush of the small creek made for soothing background noise. The rock I sat on held a warmth from the alpine sun and my feet floated in the creek. Through the current a reflection of the summer came into perspective. The VL is not just a good luck talisman to me, it is a part of me, a part of a bigger dream within me manifested by me and no one else. I could have sat in that creek soaking up the sun and drinking a beer forever. I could have kept walking on the Vagabond Loop forever. It is all one and the same within me, this talisman.

Since the Bear Creek Spire climb life seems to be melting away at an exhaustingly slow pace; I've lost a bit of my rhythm. I struggle to grasp what is happening right in front of my eyes, as if nothing in this world exists except me. And, then, why would I create or imagine such humdrum? Autumn is setting in, a cool chill settles in each and every morning. Time moves on as the season changes. On trail, I use anything I can to help me stay motivated and focused, including fantasy especially with a loved one. I am an opportunist, of sorts, however, I must find other ways to forge ahead that I can absolutely rely upon. I have my talisman now, and though it seems like it was all just a dream, I know it was pure truth. The leaves are changing color, the cars zip right on by in front of me, strangers walk aimlessly down the sidewalk, time sinks, and all I envision is the Vagabond Loop, or, in actuality, all I envision is the essence of the Vagabond Loop. If one can envision an essence it is personified through emotion and feeling. My skin stands on end, prickled by such a feeling. And what I come up with is a feeling of growth, an exploration that I must continue to wander and aim for. I must keep going farther away, towards my dreams, with what I have inside me from my defined and accomplished actions.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Vagabond Loop Cartoon Map

Vagabond Loop Cartoon Map:

For the readers who prefer a visual representation of the Vagabond Loop I decided to try my hands at being artistically creative, as I am technologically illiterate. I couldn't quite get the photos out clearly but I think you can get the perspective of the distance I hiked with the outline of the Four Corners drawn out.

Here's some numbers:

*AZT Mileage: 795m
*HDT Mileage: 822m
*GET Mileage: 731.5m
*Moab to ABQ Mileage: 643m
*CT Mileage: 484.5m

*Vagabond Loop Total Mileage: 2991.5m

*Total Hiking Distance from 4/4-8/27: 3476m

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Sysytem Check: Gear Review

System Check: Gear Review

I stuck pretty well to the Gear List that I started out with, with a few minor adjustments. I feel very fortunate to have had such wonderful sponsors who provided me with outstanding gear. Here's my thoughts (and I might as well throw in some photos from my recent trailrunning excursion with Raven Rests Hostel owner Lucky and his dog Chitto!):

Clothing Worn and Clothing in Backpack:

+Shoes: Although I never wore the Pendulum on trail, I stuck with Vasque, in particular the Mindbenders. I frequently attained 600-650 miles on a pair. On the last half of the VL I began to pronate severely. The Mindbenders withstood the rigors of my gait, and especially withstood the rigors of desert and mountain terrain. I will be using them for my hiking next year.

+Heel Cups: My buddy Larry custom-crafted my heel cups. The gave my heels wiggle room as well as provided me with arch support. I would think in disbelief at how I had no heel pain. On the PCT and CDT my heels were my biggest discomfort. On the VL I had no foot pain and I attribute it to the heel cups, along with the Mindbenders that suited my feet well.

+GoLite Kensing Short Sleeve: Bomb-proof! From the metal snaps, which helped me hike in a cooler state, to the durability and dry-ability of the fabric, I rocked the Kenting with confidence that it would up-hold its integrity in a gritty hike.

+MontBell Dynamo Wind Parka: I wore this item consistently. It provided me with warmth, comfort, and some precipation protection. A great piece of gear that replaces a long sleeve shirt for desert hiking.

+MontBell UL Down Jacket: This is my luxury item. One of my favorites that I had to carry. It warmed up the degrees in my sleeping bag and kept me warm in a pinch when things got chilly.

+Arcteryx Incendo Running Tights: Multiple usage, comfortable and versatile. I used the tights especially in the beginning of the VL while sleeping to increase blood flow to my legs that were getting used to hiking daily. I also used them to keep warm on chilly mornings and during heavy rain pours. The material kept me warm in cold and wet weather.

Sleeping System:

+YAMA Mountain Gear Cirriform Tarp: It is tough to decide between the Kumo Superlight or the Cirrform as my favorite piece of gear. The first half of the VL I hardly set up the tarp at all and slept under the big, giant sky. During the monsoon season, the Cirriform was my place of refuge where I felt safe from the elements. Many nights the heavy sky would open up in torrential downpours and soak everything around me but me. The Cirriform is easy to pitch, dries within minutes, can be pitched low to avoid wind, and at 6'5" has ample space for me to sit straight up. I even dug the cuben fiber's color as it enhanced the morning's sun rays as it climbed up the eastern horizon. At 7.5oz it is probably the most important gear I had in regards to weight-to-usage-to-durability-to-comfortablility ratio.

+Marmot Plasma Sleeping Bag: Once I got this on trail, my nights of uncomfortable sleep were over. With the vertical baffles it kept the down where it is supposed to be which in turn kept me snuggled and warm. The mummy hood kept my mind at ease, providing some protection from bugs. The bag also seemed to keep dry during heavy condensation nights. I recall hardly ever taking it out to dry while on trail. I should also note the weight of the Plasma. Being an ultra-lighter and having a base weight of roughly 7lbs, the Plasma is light enough while providing comfort and warmth without sacrificing mental stability, so much so, I didn't feel the need to 'downsize.' I thought the weight of a zippered sleeping bag would affect me mentally but the weight is negligible. They've hit the nail on the head with this product.

+Gossamer Gear ThinLite Insultion Pad: The pad is thin for some hikers but with my minimal comfort hiking style it suited me perfectly. At 3/16 in. I modified the pad to a 3/4 body length. The pad doubled as the backing for my Kumo which fit snugly into an outer mesh sleeve. I could whip it out and use the pad as a cushioned seat. Even though it is really thin it kept the cold from the ground out and kept me comfortable even in the most knobby ground.

+GG Polycryo Ground Cloth: I went through 2 of these in 3500m of hiking. Now, I believe one should diligently take great care in their gear, I was surprised at how durable the Polycryo was in the environments I hiked in. Minor tears would occur over time but the integrity of the plastic sheet was never compromised.

Food, Hydration, and Backpack System:

+GG Kumo Superlight: This pack is as solid as a turtle shell, though despite at first glance one would suspect something less of its flimsy stature. I put this backpack through the wringer. It endured tangles of bushwhacks with sharp and spiky needles grabbing and tugging at it. The Kumo endured the coarse rigidity of salt which could loosen sticthing. Other than a few minor tears in the outer mesh pocket the Kumo is in just as good a shape now as when I started hiking the VL. I have the utmost confidence in this backpack. It is the one I choose to use.

+YAMA Stuff Sacks: Gen at YAMA is producing products that are reliable, durable, and functional. His stitching is upper class. And the stuff sacks proved it. I've seen other cuber fiber stuff sacks from other companies thread out within a short period of time of heavy usage. I still have the same 3 stuff sacks I started out with in the beginning of the VL. 3500m of rugged hiking and Gen's stitching is holding up! Very impressive.

+Aquamira: This chemical water treatment works just fine and is a lightweight option. However, I switched to bleach which proved to be a water purifier just as much as anything else. I used a 1 oz. water dropper for approximately 3000m while drinking probably the most putrid, shitty, tainted water you can think of.

Other Gear:

+LRI Photon Freedom Micro Light: I ditched my handheld Fenix and stuck with only the Photon. It hung around my neck and never left its perch. I only had to change the battery out once in all of the VL and I used it on a regular basis. Although I didn't do much night-hiking, it managed to illuminate the trail and surroundings when I did. For the size of it you would be surprised at how bright the mini-light is. In fact, I would put it up against other larger, bulkier lights that others use on trail. Great little piece of gear!