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These days, well-lived

Part I: Airplane Mode

[listen: Morning, Tom Rosenthal]

In the trickling down of glacial rivers you can hear secrets of a life well-lived:
an afternoon spent eavesdropping on hummingbirds, leaning against the trunk of a whitebark pine.

Last night we watched the sun go down for hours — stood in silence to watch a coming tide of sun-seared clouds roll, tuck under, twist, and scatter as they hurled themselves upon the stonewall of our volcano fortress for the night; slept under the shadow of a boulder cracked in two that falls closer to earth inch by inch, year by year.

[Photos from an overnight on the Timberline Trail, with an epic campsite in Paradise Park]

jenandcalamityrunningupmtnsmtnbeyondmtnsbrianmthoodjeramiezoenayahoodalpenglowsunsetgroupcoffeeandsunrisehildenbrandcrossingteamhikeoutPart II: Weird, Wild, Why Not

Lonely lights on the slopes of Mt. Hood before dawn

“Well, now that we’re not going to summit, and it’s 5am, and we’re awake, do you want to go climb something?” he asks after my boots have turned my feet excruciatingly numb and left us to bail on Hood. “Let’s find something really dumb,” he says, pulling out the guide book. “Like, chossy and just stupid.

I take another sip of coffee, contemplating my level of tiredness after only an hour of sleep. “I’m in.” We settle on a chimney system leading to a top out on a curious sounding pillar: The Alpenjæger, 5.4 R

Alex decides my stoke factor may be in jeopardy of waning due to lack of rest; he puts on Beyonce’s Sorry, and I am instantly buoyed into jubilance again. We get breakfast burritos, pick up some gear from his house, and head for the Gorge.
alex chossbelayledge1chockstoneHalf the holds are grass hummocks and loose blocks that wiggle in our hands, but once we enter the chimney we realize it’s as deep as a slot canyon. Everything is dirty and we’re breathing in moss, and half the pitons are rusted but they’re there — and it’s the most ridiculous and fun adventure climbing maybe either of us have ever done.

As I follow the final pitch straight up through the runout shoulder off-width to a grassy “slab” of basalt fractures waiting to be pulled like loose teeth, I am singing and giggling to myself while I stem across the gap. Rocks and grass fall between my legs into the chasm, I clean gear, and laugh when I look up to see Alex belaying me off a tall shrub.slotcanyonchimney stemI have to traverse left around a bulge of grass-clod basalt bombs to make it to our improvised shrubbery belay. It appears we may be one of the few parties to climb this route in decades, given the lichen-covered tat hanging forlornly at a few pitons along the way, and primarily signaled by the sheer lack of anchoring gear, features to sling, and other mentioned descent routes at the top of the Alpenjæger pillar. Hence, our shrub station.

How the hell are we going to get down now? Maybe we will just stay up here. At least the grass is soft.

Before arranging a rappel off a cordalette anchor that we donate to the cause of anyone else crazy enough to go up there, we lie down in the wildflowers and grass atop the pillar. Alex pulls out our snack rewards: “I’ve got crushed Oreos, a packet of almond butter, and three shotblocs.” We pass them back and forth, a fitting picnic for an adventure mountaineering epic.

Snacks and sweet sideburns.

After counting snake holes and cutting away more old slings, we rapped the south side and bushwhacked down a ravine strewn with the decaying remains of old cars and shopping carts, muddy runoff, and groves of stinging nettles.

Upon finally reaching the train tracks below, we ate handfuls of the first wild blackberries of summer, our rack of gear tinkling and clanging as we walked out. What could have been a bummer of a day was instead one of fantastic, mutually fueled stoke, and for me, pure happiness. Thanks Alex!

Obligatory team selfie after one of the most insane, fun, and dirty chossfest epics I’ve ever enjoyed.
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In which you think you have time

I’m feeling all kinds of immense gratitude right now for the people in my life. This year started out rocky, and with a lot of loss in terms of wonderful human beings that left us before we got to do and say everything we intended with them—and of course, when do we ever reach that point, of it being enough? We don’t. We continue to re-learn the lesson, all of us, in that very awful hard way, that even though we think we have time, we so often don’t. Continue reading In which you think you have time

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Five courses, forty feet

A Friendsgiving adventure from Pickett Butte Lookout in the Umpqua National Forest

We woke up early and threw bags of clothes, sleeping bags, and food into Sara’s jeep, and rolled over to the local coffeeshop to wake up a little bit more. Four hours of driving later, we reached Tiller, a don’t-blink town at the edge of the South Umpqua River and the national forest that bears the same name. From the lonely highway that curls inward toward the Cascade range, we could see where the forecasted snow had settled, a couple thousand feet higher. We checked the gas gauge, filled up our water jugs, and headed into the forest.

After miles of pine-needle-covered washboard ruts that rattled every bolt of the jeep, we laid eyes on The Tower.

A_snow clouds B_tower

The snow had melted on the road, but blanketed everything else in the ethereal gauze of winter. What luck, we thought, taking in huge lungfuls of cold, clean mountain air and raising our faces to afternoon sunlight. After unpacking the gear, and hauling it up with the surprisingly strong milk-crate-on-a-pulley rigged up on the catwalk, we settled into our 12×12 hideaway. We had a simple agenda: cook, eat, explore, reflect.

C_snowy road D_pulley system E_on the catwalk F_leaves n sunladies cookin But lest you believe that feasting in a secluded, off-grid cabin must be limited to simple one-pot meals, let me set you straight. With a little bit of propane (thanks NPS!), adventurous ingenuity, and friends who appreciate both a culinary throwdown and the beauty of Second and Third Dinner, there really are no limits. Behold, the menu:

First course: mussels in creme fraiche and hard cider with rosemary, served with Fremont sourdough 

Second course: pearl onions in balsamic and white wine glaze 

~ Intermission: running around in the snow with thermoses of Glühwein, to ‘make room’ for more. ~

ladies on the catwalk intermission intermission2 silohuette

Third course: agave caramelized candy beets, pomegranate, and greens in balsamic dressing &

sweet potato salad with fried green onions, raspberries, and goat cheese,

Entree: roasted duck with poached pears, roasted red turnips, and Glühwein glaze

Dessert: pear ginger pie with streusel topping 

All paired with: a seemingly endless supply of Bulleit-spiked mulled cider

Pomegranite onions F_mussels G_Duck dirty bird

Needless to say, we rolled into our sleeping bags later that night like tired puppies with full bellies, already daydreaming about plans to outdo this adventure next year. We’d found a Mancala board in the cupboard, so we passed around the last of the whiskey while attempting to outwit each other. Eventually, we fell asleep laughing about the strange and occasionally debaucherous entries written in the Visitor’s Log by previous guests (and thankfully, saw no signs of the infamous ‘Deer-Man’ whose legend was referenced on several pages).


In the morning, we awoke inside a cloud. What had been forecast as a blizzard came only as a delicate dusting of powdered sugar over the evergreens beneath our airy perch. I reluctantly drug myself out of the warm cocoon I’d made on the floor next to the heater, and went out to the catwalk to stare into the Void.

The only sound punctuating the silent stillness was that of frozen water transforming back into liquid, descending from the branches and railings back down to the earth. Deep breaths. Stretch.

I walked back inside to the morning greetings of my fellow adventurers. Water was already heating on the stove to be made into coffee as the clouds ebbed back toward the higher ridgelines. I rewarmed my toes, and then we cooked breakfast from the misfits of the night before: roasted lamb chops and leftover pie. The sun came out. 

I_wake up

morning ligh

This is what I remember, this is what I long for, from those childhood winters that were still free from the harsher noises of adult life. This is what pushes me forward in cultivating a lifestyle centered on reconnection with the instincts of an uninhibited youth—back when things were wild and free.

J_The End