Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Life After Denali

I was noticing that it’s been a while since I've updated people on what I have been doing. . .

After we (Jay and I) made it to the top of North America's highest point (Denali, also known as Mt. McKinley) and back, we wanted to test our acclimatization – how well we were acclimated to the reduced oxygen content in the air at higher altitudes – so after returning to Oregon in June, we climbed Mt. Hood, again, going for speed.  While it’s nothing for Jay to be able to get to the top in 3 hours, for me, getting to the top in 4 hours was a first that made me very happy, as you might be able to tell in this summit picture (with flat-topped Mt. St. Helens in the distance on the left, and Mt. Adams in the distance on the right):

One more shot from that climb:

This is of Jay, carefully traversing some of the steep terrain, with one broken crampon (right foot) [our crampons are sharp steel points jutting out of a bed of steel that we strap to the bottoms of our boots].  It made the trip more “exciting” than it needed to be, since we went through icy terrain, which makes the crampons necessary for not losing one’s footing.  This pictured bit was actually the safer part, since it was easier to make flat surfaces for foot placement.  We got down the rest of the way quite safely.

After this test of speed, we got invited to join a climb of Unicorn in the Tatoosh Range, which is south of Mt. Rainier, and in Mount Rainier National Park.  We decided to do that climb one day, and climb 3 other mountains the next day.  Here’s a shot of us at the top of Unicorn, with Mt. Rainier in the background:
It was pretty darned breezy, even though it was fairly warm.  Jay’s tougher than I am – I had to hide in my jacket.  This particular climb is a nice mix of snow and rock.  We did a rappel down from the summit block, which is what Jay is doing in this shot:

The following day, we again enjoyed wonderful views of Mt. Rainier:
See that smallish peak off the right shoulder of Mt. Rainier?  It’s almost as high (just a hundred feet lower) than Mt. Hood, but it’s absolutely dwarfed by Mt. Rainier!

Look at the top of this rock:
That is Jay up there – he went up to see if he could find an easy walk up route to the top, and he could, so he came back down and we both went up the easy route that he found, and then I took this picture:
looking back toward where we’d climbed the previous day.  The summit of the previous day’s Unicorn climb is the top of that weird block on the top left side of the left of the 2 mountains backlit by the sky.  (Hence the name “Unicorn” – that’s the “horn”.)  And that is the block that Jay was rappelling down in that rappel picture. 

After these climbs, we heard from my Mom that my Dad's health had deteriorated and we weren't sure he'd make it.  Jay hadn't met my immediate family, so we decided that we should go to Michigan and have him meet everyone and see what we could do about my Dad's health.  But before going, just one more climb. . .

This time, we were taking a friend up Mt. Hood who’d had the worst luck in getting to the top – every single climb (about 7 or more!) ended up having to turn around for one reason or another, and I’d told her that that was because she was doing it with the wrong people, she had to do it with *us*, so we all went, together.  I absolutely love the smile on her face in this morning photo of her, with the shadow of the whole of Mt. Hood behind her:

She was smiling that broadly because she knew that today was the day that she would get to the top – we still had about 600 ft to go, and we were doing a slightly more difficult route than all of the folks pictured in the background, but we were *there*, and this was going to happen!

I *love* it when we can make a climb happen for someone else.  We were successful – the mountain was so beautiful, I took a couple of pictures on the way down:
This is a shot in almost the same place as the second photo from the top, of just Jay, where it looks all steep – for some reason, the angle looks really tame in this photo.  Jay is turned around, having gotten to a pretty safe place, to check on how Lynne is doing.  We’d gone to the left of the big rock pictured in the top center of the photo.  Remember that rock, because it’s in this next shot:

Do you see that rock in the top right of this photo?  We’re all standing on the ridge of snow called “the Hogsback”, and that leads to that Bergschrund (a huge crack in the snow and ice).  You may be able to see our trail from that rock down to the right of the Bergschrund. 

With this nice little success, we flew to Michigan for what we thought was about a week and a half.  A couple days after getting there, my Dad ended up having open heart surgery.  His recovery was going really well, until about 4 days into the recovery when he had a cardiac arrest.  He was revived, but it really slowed down his recovery, and we realized that he needed to get a pacemaker/defibrillator.  Jay and I cancelled what plans we did have to stay for as long as we needed to be there.  And then my Mom had a stroke and *she* landed in the same hospital.  Fortunately, she made a dramatic recovery (with no miracle drugs), and was out even before my Dad was. 

While I had to cancel a planned trip to Italy, and duck out of a climb that I was supposed to lead, I was sooooooo thankful that I was retired and didn’t have to worry about my job at the same time that I was worrying about my folks.  We stayed until my parents had recovered sufficiently to fend for themselves, and then we returned to Portland long enough for Jay to replace the roof on his house and make other needed repairs and then we headed back to Michigan. This time, we decided to drive. 

After climbing Denali, Jay casually mentioned that we’d done the most difficult of the 50 states’ highest points, so maybe we should try the rest?  In Jay’s working years, he’d met someone who had successfully been to each state’s highest point after he’d retired.  Jay thought that that was a neat idea, and so that is our plan, now, as well.  Since we were driving to Michigan, I thought that this would be a great time to hit a bunch of the high points and show Jay some of the pretty parts of Michigan (and prove that there really *are* pretty parts of Michigan).   

The following is a collage of all of the high points we’ve been able to get to so far.  My parents even got to join us for a few of the high points when we went down to visit my Dad’s brother and family in Virginia:

The trip to Michigan was in October, which turned out to be perfect for the changing colors in the tree foliage.  Here’s a picture that shows a little of the brilliance that we experienced along the way, complete with an old lighthouse that is on Grand Island (Grand Island National Recreation Area, just north of Munising in the upper peninsula of Michigan):

Much of the time that we were there, the winds were blowing, and Lake Superior looked like an ocean:

We took a boat out to see the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore so that we could see this:
And this:
I don’t know if you can see the tree roots that extend back from the tree that dominates that one rock outcropping to the rest of the trees?  Pretty impressive.

And we saw a lot of what looked like paint spilled all over the cliff sides:
all natural and due to different minerals and metals in the rock.

While my immediate family was gathered in Virginia, my aunt was kind enough to take a picture:
Standing (left to right): Sherri (my brother’s wife), Leslie (my brother), me, Jay, and then sitting: my Mom and Dad.

Now, we’re back in Oregon for a month or two, trying to get back into tiptop shape for the winter climbing season, which we're expecting to punctuate by a few more state high points (California’s Mt. Whitney, and Nevada’s Boundary Peak) on a trip to Death Valley in March.  We’re also looking at going to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico in April, courtesy of a friend, and one of those places that it seems everyone but me has been to. . .  During the summer, we’re hoping to knock off the rest of the tall state high points (like Utah, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana), and since Illinois’ high point is on private property, and they only open it up in the summer, we’ll have to do that, and since we’ll be there, we might as well visit everyone in Michigan, before taking off for Australia in September/October time frame.  So, we're looking at another packed year, and if we can include you in it, we shall.  Give a shout out if we'll be heading your way!

May your 2015 be packed with good health and fine experiences,