Thursday, June 28, 2012

Wetterhorn Peak - Challenging the Mental and Physical

The first summer I started hiking Colorado’s 14ers I aimed to attempt Wetterhorn as my first class three. A class three mountain basically means there’s some exposure and both hands and feet are necessary for the climb. A fall could end badly. We drove down to Gunnison that September but alas it had already started to snow…so we went rock climbing instead.
Hartman Rocks, Gunnison Colorado
 Any mountaineer should be familiar with rock climbing, I think it goes hand in hand with climbing class three and up peaks if you understand hand and foot holds. Then last summer Chad and I were going to attempt Long’s peak as our first class three. He messed up his leg someway, somehow I don’t quite remember but needless to say I was not able to put to use my baby blue climbing helmet my dad had bought me that year. Summer came and went and again no class three mountain.

This summer would be the summer. And whatever the universe put in my way to hold me back those years before, it was probably a good thing. I don’t think I was mentally prepared to hike a class three mountain before this summer. But after 22 14ers I felt it was time, as Chad said, to step it up. I put out feelers to see who wanted to join us for the hike but no one else could go besides Chad and my friend Robyn. Robyn has hiked several of the 14ers already and she seemed unfazed by the classification of the mountain. She later told me she was actually really excited when I said we would need helmets.

We left Friday for Lake City which is about a five hour drive from Denver. Lake City is an hour past Gunnison and is a charming little town that thrives on tourism in the summer. It’s mostly a snowmobile town in the winter as it gets so covered in snow that the locals can’t get around otherwise. Like so many of these towns that host 14ers, this one was (and I believe still is) a mining town. Born of volcanic fire, but shaped primarily by glacial ice, the San Juans (the mountain range that we were hiking) make up the largest mountain range in Colorado. They encompass an area comparable in size to Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts combined, covering about 12,000 square miles of Colorado's awe-inspiring "southwest." Rich in veins of ore that have greatly influenced the history of this place, the northeastern San Juans – including Hinsdale County and Lake City – also boast the geologically significant Slumgullion Earthflow that produced Lake San Cristobal (the second largest natural lake in Colorado), dramatic waterfalls, rugged peaks, valleys, and gulches. We got a late start leaving Denver so we didn’t arrive to Lake City and set up camp until around 11:30pm. We drove up the Wetterhorn trail head, pulled off when we found a good spot and set up the tent and went to bed. The road is pretty rugged although with good clearance a 2wd vehicle can make it a good distance. If you have to hike from the start of the road it will dramatically increase your round trip hiking time.

We awoke at 6am and were on the trail by 7 after packing up the car. There were only a few other cars in the parking lot and two people that we could see beginning in front of us. It was about 45degrees out but we warmed up quickly as we hiked. The beauty of doing a 7mile round trip hike on a mountain that’s 14,015 feet is that the elevation gain was only 3,300. We moved up the mountain quickly, hiking through the valley and then arriving at the saddle. A note of caution when hiking, when you are in the valley you will reach a fork in the trail with a sign that says “Wetterhorn” and points to the left and “stock trail” or something of that nature to the right. Take the right and stay high. We saw the people that left before us up on a trail above us as we continued through the valley and I knew we were on the wrong path. So we had to bushwack up to the upper trail. When in doubt, as Chad says, always head up.

I knew, from reading the trip report that the real climb didn’t begin until we reached the yellow dirt. The friends we say hiking before us (Molly and John as it turned out to be) were relaxing on the saddle when we got there. We ended up following them up the mountain from here on out because John had hiked Wetterhorn before. Here is where the route finding got tricky and it was nice having both John and Chad to scout out where we should go. The thing is, on a mountain like this, there isn’t really a path after a certain point, there’s just, “which way would be easier and less dangerous?”
A look at the remainder of the route from the saddle

past the easy, helmets on now

onward and upward

We made our way up to the Ship’s prow where we had another small break before continuing through the V-notch. Here is where I read, is where the exposure, the real exposure would begin. There was already plenty of exposure but it wasn’t too steep yet. I looked up at John who had climbed the notch to a slab of rock and said, “is it scary?!” and he said, “Oh yes.” I admit I was a little afraid when I climbed up that slab of rock and stepped down to the other side. There was just a ledge about half the size of a sidewalk and from there 100 vertical feet of rock. There was nowhere to go but up. I put my fear out of my mind and set off for the task at hand. One of the three basic rules of mountaineering: it’s always tougher than it looks.
ships prow

this is the first notch, only good for taking pics- bypass to second notch to continue up

up the notch towards the final summit push

We stayed close on the way up and chad went first since he (not smartly) did not have a helmet. It’s easier to avoid rockfall if you are close behind someone rather than far away where a rock can pick up speed and take you out. We stopped to rest about halfway up and enjoy the view and then continued onward and upward. Before I knew it chad was yelling, “I’m at the top! You’re almost there.” And then…I was.

I have never been more happy to reach a summit before after all the hard work I put into it. Truthfully I was nervous for the hike down although John assured me that the hike down would be easier than the way up.

a look at Uncompaghre

Robyn and I chose the crabwalk method using four points of contact at all times. My backpack would get hung up every now and then on a rock which was a little disconcerting but before I knew it we were through the notch and back at the ships prow. Route finding our way back was a lot easier than on the way up we just tried to stay in the middle of the mountain, not too high or low. As we came down the vertical wall there were a few strong gusts of wind and a very very light dusting of snow flurries which went as quickly as it came. That is not a mountain I’d want to do if it were wet or covered in snow.
getting up is optional, getting down is mandatory

Before we knew it we were back to the car, about 6 hours after we started. We would have stayed in Lake City that night but Chad’s dad was in town in Gunnison for father’s day so we drove to his brother’s house. Instead of sleeping inside we set up our tent in the back yard and relaxed and grilled out and filled everyone in on our hiking adventure. We were all pretty spent and I must say my lats were sore from all the arm pull ups climbing.

lake san cristobal, the second largest lake in colorado

I would recommend Wetterhorn to anyone who is thinking about getting into class three climbing. The rock is solid and although the route finding is tricky, it’s a quick climb. The most time was spent on the class three sections so study the trip reports, keep the trail map with you and test every hand and foot hold before committing. As Chad says, class three is fun because at a certain point there are various routes you can take which tests you mentally.

And as Robert Frost said in the Road Not Taken:
“And both that morning equally lay
 In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.       
 I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference”


Sunday, June 10, 2012

22 down, 32 to go

If I've known you for more than 10 minutes you probably know that I like to hike 14ers. For those of you who don't know what a 14er is, it's a mountain over 14,000 feet and Colorado is home to 54 official ones. My love for hiking these mountains began about 2 years ago when I decided to make it my goal to hike at least one. 22 peaks and 2 years later I am determined to finish the list. As a flight attendant I do quite a lot of flights to the mountains and back and so I knew conditions were looking good to begin hiking even earlier this season. I do not have the gear for snow climbing so I have to pick a window of time when I can hike with minimal ice and snow to contend with. Memorial Day weekend was looking like the perfect opportunity to begin my hiking season. I began a group on facebook called the 14er hike club for friends like myself that enjoy hiking so I put it out there that the Sunday of the holiday weekend I wanted to hike Belford and Oxford. My friend Kate replied that she was interested in going and she ended up bringing a friend along as well who had never climbed a 14er before. I knew Belford and Oxford wouldn't be easy for someone's first summit but when it's your first hike you don't really know what to expect so I figured anything might be a challenge.Luckily all parties involved were up for the adventure. So per our usual summer routine, we packed up the car and headed out after my noon yoga class.

Belford and Oxford are located in the Sawatch Range and stand approximately 14,197 feet and 14,153 respectively. I had gotten a glimpse of Belford before when Stephanie and I hiked Missouri mountain last year which was, ironically, my season closer. I just ran out of time last year before the snow hit. What drew me to these mountains was the opportunity to hike two in one day as well as the fact I knew the trailhead and camping area well. Kate and her friend Dennis were driving separately so we needed an easy trailhead for them to get to. Hiking both meant an 11 mile roundtrip journey with 5,800 feet in elevation gain. No easy feat but unfortunately I have checked most of the shorter easier climbs off my list already!

We camped at the same spot Stephanie and I camped at last year prior to hiking Missouri Mtn. The water levels were extremely low and as we drove through Buena Vista the winds started to pick up. It was looking like we wouldn't be able to have a campfire with the high winds so it was lucky we brought our propane camping stove to cook dinner. Lesson learned last year when camping out before Shavano, always bring a propane stove in case of wind or fire bans because you can't always have a camp fire in Colorado. Kate and Dennis arrived after we had set up camp and we all hung out until it started to get dark in which point we headed to bed to prepare for our early morning. I was not smart and forgot my phone charger so my phone was dead and I had to rely on my watch to wake us up. Well the alarm never went off so it was fortunate my internal clock was working. Another lesson: buy a battery operated alarm clock for camping.

We started out at about 5:30 am. I always set my alarm for a little earlier than necessary accounting for the fact we have to break down camp and pack the car before the hike. We forgot head lamps (another oops on this trip - I swear first trip of the season and I was so scattered) but Kate had brought hers which we ended up not needing. The sun started to peak out a little past 5:30 and the temps began to warm up just slightly allowing for layers to be shed as we began our hike.

Everyone was doing great except for Chad as we started out. He just didn't feel well from the get go. Usually he is in front of me on the mountain and he ended up holding up the back of the line. The wind never really let up and temps never really got that high so we didn't do a lot of stopping to enjoy on this trip. I was annoyed my camera battery was dead as well (ugh what was with me seriously?!) So I relied on Dennis to document the trip. There was no snow on the trail and the approach to Belford was straight forward. We ended up summiting around 10:30. There were very few people on the trail and due to the wind and cold a few trail runners that past us wearing shorts ended up turning around and calling it quits. Missouri mountain trail is the exact same until it splits above treeline so I knew what to expect until then. Missouri trail further in the valley was covered in snow and I would imagine that would have made for an even more difficult climb than we had the previous year.

Chad decided he did not want to hike to Oxford and I was having my doubts as well. The view from the trail at Belford made it look so far away and the wind was starting to pick up. Dennis and Kate were down to hike with me though and I knew it was the right decision because I was not going to hike this mountain again just so I could hit up Oxford and knock it off my list. So Chad headed down to the car with Bebe and we headed on over to the other mountain. The down climb over looked worse than it actually was but it is a little steep coming off Belford. There were some muddy patches from snow melt which made this section of the hike a little tricky but Kate and Dennis managed even in tennis shoes. Somewhere along the ridge Dennis decided he had rolled his ankle one too many times so he said he'd wait for us below Oxford. Kate and I were now the only ones left and we pushed all the way through to the summit. The views are much the same of course but it is fantastic to see Belford from Oxford. We didn't spend too long on the summit and before we knew it were were headed back up Belford. Like Shavano and Tabeguash we unfortunately had to retrace our steps back up and over Belford before heading back down. We basically summitted 3 peaks in one day :)

Our total trip time took us around 10 hours which is about what I expected. It usually takes me an hour less than the total mileage give or take on either end. The wind really slowed us down at points and there was a period where I was a little afraid of being blown off the mountain when we re-summited Belford. The top of a mountain is no place to be when the winds pick up and that day was no exception! We were just lucky to have no rain or snow. We made it back to the car to find Chad sleeping in the back and then enjoyed a celebratory beer before heading to Tommy Knockers. I am such a fan of eating while hiking but not much stopping and resting occurred on this trip so Tommy Knockers was a well deserved meal. At the end of the day it was a wonderful hike despite the winds and I am so glad I was able to bring new friends up the mountain with me. It's always a joy to find other people who love to hike as much as I do and can handle the journey. It's only the second week of June and I already have two more hikes this month planned. I hope to be finishing these 14ers soon but, like a good book I am savoring each one. Knowing that it's not about finishing a list but about the journey and memories each one creates for me.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Being the Best Version of yourself

When I started my yoga teacher training, my mentor told me that our goal should be to inspire at least one person a day to work out. I've made this my mission ever since whether personally in a yoga or spin class or via social media such as facebook. I actually had a conversation with a friend the other day and she told me that I inspire her to lead a healthier lifestyle. This friend is younger and I don't see her often and I had no idea that in the limited time I did get to see her that I inspired her to want to be healthier. To be fair, I've had a head start on a lot of you out there. I began my fitness journey 3 years ago as a way to get in shape before my wedding. Before then I was on and off when it came to working out. I'd go in waves, as I'm sure everyone does. I was a Miller Lite girl for almost three years and I can tell you even being in those skimpy outfits did not inspire me to be healthier. They inspired me to be skinny but I cared not for muscle. Being from the south I think the mentality is to look good but don't be seen breaking a sweat. I'd take step classes at the YMCA in air conditioned rooms. People would come in and out of the classes and no one, that I ever saw, was working HARD. I'm talking, sweat pouring out of every part of your body, feel like you might faint or die, biggest loser style work out. I never saw it. Ever.

To be fair, it wasn't until I actually started teaching yoga, spin, kettlebells, and barre that I began making changes in my own diet. As a flight attendant I was accustomed to being on the go and eating whatever I could whenever I could. I would fly 4 day trips and being gone for that long away from home meant being at the mercy of hotel mini fridges, a small lunch bag and, if I was lucky, a microwave. Not exactly conducive for healthy eating habits. When I came home from my trips I would sometimes cook, but usually my husband was tired of eating in from cooking for himself every night so we would eat out. It's not like I always ate terrible but I wasn't exactly a stranger to sugar and carbs. So when my weekends started filling up with teaching classes something had to give. You can't possibly teach two-three classes a day then do your own workouts and expect to have energy to survive the rest of the day if you aren't taking in what your body needs. Being at the gym more meant being around other teachers who had much healthier eating habits than I did so I started to learn tips from them. Snacks I could eat, simple meals I could make. My mom got me a subscription to Whole Living and it blew my mind. Simple recipes I could make for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I started with their new year whole living action plan detox smoothies and loved them. I would go to sunflower market and buy bulk raw almonds and trail mix that I could keep with me during the day when I needed an energizing snack. Every time I went to the store I bought bananas or apples and used them in my smoothies or ate them for a quick snack.

Like anything else in life, change doesn't happen overnight. I honestly don't know when my body shifted from thin to toned then to muscular and strong. 2 years I set a goal for myself to be able to hold a handstand in the middle of the room- and now this:
The yoga teacher's retreat in Costa Rica also gave me a good perspective on healthy eating. The resort controlled our breakfast, lunch and dinner and they cooked only what was fresh or what they grew in the garden. An example of breakfast:

Usually fruit, coffee and sometimes yogurt and granola


As you can see it's mostly veggies with a little protein.

So I started trying to replicate these meals at home for myself. Here's an example of my lunch one day:

It's a turkey and cheese sandwich that I pressed with my panini maker and then watermelon with pepper and strawberries. I was making these almost every day that I was home. This was a step up from the grilled cheeses that I would usually make for myself. When I fly I eat anything from soup to chicken salad, tunafish or these: 

These are perfect for me when I am flying or running around town. At $4 they are a little pricey but I find they fill me up and the contents aren't perishable so I can stick them in my suitcase whether I am flying for work or fun.

Other examples of snacks I have throughout the day are these:

I find that the seaweed chips are a great substitute for chips and seaweed has lots of good stuff in it for you. The freeze dried fruit reminds me of space ice cream and I take them hiking with me or flying when I can't bring fruit (certain fruits aren't allowed in canada) and they are just plain amazing. I'm hopelessly addicted to Homemade Harvey although it's a bit of a search to find it at the store (I found Vitamin Cottage and Safeway are carrying it now) and the hope hummus is made locally in boulder and after tasting it at Vitamin Cottage and hearing the story about how it came to be I couldn't resist. Great company, honest ingredients.

I cook more at home as well. Here's an example of a dinner I made the other day:
Chicken with purple asparagus that had truffle oil on them and brussel sprouts. Brussel sprouts are my new favorite to make. Cut them in half, brush with olive oil and put them in the oven on broil setting until they get crispy, turning them over once.

This was another simple meal I made. Frozen fish filets (any kind that you like) cooked in the oven with pineapple and then a salad with beet dressing. I wasn't crazy about this beet dressing but I combined a beet in the blender with lemon juice and apple cider vinegar and a little water. I'm still searching for the perfect beet based dressing. Steamed beets have been another favorite of mine to cook with - I just love the color and sprinkled with a little goat cheese they are amazing.

Let me just say I'm not crazy about cooking. Some days I just buy a rotisserie chicken and pull it apart and put it on some lettuce leaves and call that dinner. But I have made significant changes into how I look at food. I see it as fuel now not an enemy. I don't drink soft drinks anymore only water or un-sweetened tea. And I work out. A Lot. But my workouts are my social time and my mental saving grace. I have found exercises that work for me and that I like. What works for me may not work for someone else. And you aren't going to gain muscle or change your body with just one workout a week. It has to be a commitment and the workout goes with the eating and it hopefully all just comes together. I'm putting this out there for everyone who struggles with where to begin or the how can I take this to the next level. I never thought I could change my body as much as I have. I never knew it was possible. And I guess that's the thing you never know where you can take your body until you try and until you stick with it. Each and every day. And yes you'll have days you don't want to go to the gym but if you want your body to change then you have to make changes.

An hour workout is only 4% of your day and if you don't fill that time working out, the time will pass anyway.

Celebrating 31 Years Lived in Mexico

I cannot believe the month of May is already over. I am sure it went by quickly due to the fact that I was out of the country the last part of April and then leaving the country again two weeks later. May is, naturally, one of my favorite months because it’s my birthday. Not only is it my birthday but the weather starts changing as the days become longer and the sun hotter. Per tradition, Chad and I took an international vacation for my birthday. I was worried he wouldn’t want to go anywhere seeing as I just got back from Costa Rica, but as I suspected he wanted to take a vacation as well. Since they are short handed at work he couldn’t get the whole week off which affected our choice in travel plans. Originally we wanted to go to Iceland, then Columbia, Panama, Guatemala…all those exotic locals. We were basically wanting some place warm with a beach and since we didn’t have a lot of time and wanted a direct flight in and out we picked Mexico.

Oh Mexico. It’s been years since I visited. You hear a lot of negative press about Mexico which makes one not want to go on a vacation there. Tourists being kidnapped and beheaded. Drug Cartels, random shootings. You could visit and never come home. So we decided to go to Puerta Vallarta knowing that it was a tourist town that was safe and over half the population relies on tourism and catering to such. Chad ended up getting a sweet deal on a hotel via hotwire so we stayed at the Sheraton which met my main requirements – on a beach and with a swim up bar.
I had never visited the Pacific Side of Mexico so I was unaware the beaches were not really the best. Where we stayed the sand was filled with rocks and so we spent most of our time poolside. However, when we walked down to the old town or “romantic zone” we saw the beaches were much better. The farther away you stay from the marina the better the beach but we were perfectly happy where we ended up. We could walk to shops and restaurants and were a short cab or bus ride to the marina.
Seeing as we only had a couple of days there we had to make the most of our time. I was unaware that Puerta Vallarta had some amazing night life (without all the crowds). On our first day we stayed at the hotel until close to dinner where we wandered around until we found a restaurant where we could enjoy our meal with a sunset over the ocean. Along the walk through town we found various attractions on the beach as well as shops where people were selling everything from flip flops to tequila. This is the low season for Mexico so everyone was looking to give us a deal to have us dine at their restaurant or buy their goods.

There were lots of clubs along the main strip on the beach that were also looking to get us in their doors. One bar was completely empty and they lured us in with free drinks then a two for one deal. The DJ took all our requests and we kept the shot girls who walked around occupied. At the end of the night our tab was $25 and it felt like highway robbery for how much we consumed. Here was the realization that yes, indeed, we had picked the right vacation destination.
We opted not to do our hotels “all inclusive” food and beverage package so drinking at the hotel swim up bar got a little pricey. We countered this by wandering around town and eating on the cheap. There was a grocery store nearby that had delicious pastries that we consumed for breakfast. For my actual birthday we went parasailing and were able to book the tour with one of the guys selling stuff on the beach. They had a rope up around the property and the vendors were not supposed to cross the rope but all these men would be out there selling bracelets, sarongs, hair braiding etc. and one was selling these tours. He was proud to say he wasn’t affiliated with any time shares which are a big deal down there. Most all the people selling tours also sell timeshares and they will try to get you to sign up to do a time share tour in exchange for a free excursion. In fact, when you leave the airport walk right past every single person trying to talk to you and head outside and find your own taxi. This will save you from paying too much for a cab and falling into the time share talk trap. The parasailing along the beach in front of the hotel was only one person so we ended up taking a cab to the marina for our tour where they could do two people at a time. It was nice to get out on the boat and over the water and to see a different part of the town. We ended up taking a bus back to our hotel which cost less than $2 for two people whereas the cab ride over charged us $10.

At the recommendation of a guest at the hotel we went to TheHappy Lobster for my birthday dinner. I would say this was one of the highlights of the trip. The restaurant is off the beaten path, if you will, and we had a coupon from the hotel front desk for 2 for one margs. The margaritas did not disappoint and neither did the seafood platter which we shared for around $60. The guacamole was fabulous (as it was every place we ate at down there as a matter of fact) as was the strolling mariachi band. Chad told the staff it was my birthday and the band came over and played for me and the waiter gave me a shot of tequila and a piece of flan cake. You can’t beat a birthday in Mexico!
By the last full day at the hotel we had wised up to buy a cooler and fill it with beer and keep it with us by the pool. The hotel staff did not appreciate this but we coerced them into letting us keep the booze on the beach where we would retrieve our beers as necessary. There were plenty of other people by the pool with coolers we pointed out so they couldn’t argue much with us after that. We basically found that whatever we did, and wherever we went, we were treated very well. The service was impeccable at each restaurant and there were deals to be had everywhere. If you stayed away from the time share selling guys you could pretty much guarantee a wonderful vacation in paradise. Our hotel also had a fantastic champagne brunch on Sunday (they have it every Sunday) which would have been well worth the $30 for all the food and mimosas had we not been feeling less than stellar after our night out on the town.

I would highly recommend Puerta Vallarta to anyone considering a vacation but especially if you don’t have a lot of time to enjoy paradise. The people were friendly, almost everyone speaks English, the food is amazing and you can drink like a fish and dance all night if you choose. We walked around at night and never had any issues with anyone bothering us at all. I would say to bring lots of cash with you as the ATM’s there charged me high fees for withdrawing money and cash is the currency of bargaining. Most every restaurant took visa/mastercard but if you are interested in booking tours or buying from the locals you will need cash. The rooms had safes to store everything in and going through customs in Mexico is a breeze. Visit one of the many tequila stores and bring home plenty for your friends as a souvenir and haggle with the locals for jewelry. 
Turning 31 in Puerta Vallarta was a memorable birthday and I am so thankful for my husband for arranging 
this amazing vacation for us. Usually I do all the planning, but finding a hotel was so easy for him he took charge! It was one place I can definitely say we will be returning too sooner rather than later!