The Peaks of Otter

Peaks of Otter

Finding a little respite in a Blue Mountain Lodge

By Katie Souris

When I was a little girl, I had good parents. On family vacations, more often than not, we’d go camping in North Georgia or stay in a little one room cabin at a State Park and I would tromp around hunting for salamanders and playing on a freshwater sand bank.

One year we decided to take a big trip. We loaded up the Pontiac with hiking boots, maps, a camera, a basket and tarp for rugged picnics, and a cooler full of yoo-hoo’s and deli meats. We were headed on a Southeastern road trip up the Parkway from North Georgia into Virginia.

I still love the Blue Ridge Parkway and dream of the times we had back when I was seven years old. One place we stopped to rest was Mt. Pisgah, another was Doughton Park. Both of these hiking hubs are marked by iconic lodges (or were, in the case of sold Bluffs Lodge) where travelers could stay a night or two, get a gourmet meal, and have the chance to get lost in the scene of the Blue Ridge without pitching a tent.

We didn’t make it to Peaks of Otter on that trip, although my mother wanted to. She loved Doughton Park because of the herds of deer and the quite misty mornings. She loved Mt. Pisgah for the skunks that visited the grass in front of the rooms in the night (my mother loves atypical things, which is a blessing). So this year, on her 69th birthday, we made it up to Virginia once again via interstate for most of the way and then weaved back South on the Parkway 80 miles from Charlottesville to the lodge nestled between two peaks in the valley of Otter Creek.

The main building contains a dining room, gift-shop, and the ‘Bear Claw Lounge’, which sells coffee and confections. There are three units that house guests, each two-storied and every room with an uninterrupted view of the expansive Abbott Lake that captures Sharp Top Mountain’s reflection, this time in brilliant autumn golds. In the rooms there are water saving tips and socially conscious reminders, like the program Peaks of Otter participates in by collecting leftover soap to be recycled, made new, and sent to communities in need around the world. In the shower, a waterproof stop-watch challenges guests to use less than the average 12 gallons of water per shower. I hit 11 gallons before realizing I’d been clean for at least the last 4.

Although typically guests book rooms for two evenings, we called and were able to stay for just Saturday. The winding expanse of hiking trails that leave directly from the lodge and lead to old settlements like Johnson Farm and geographic wonders like Balance Rock, made us wish we had more time. We did a short 1.8 mile loop trail Sunday morning, passing under a stone bridge and climbing gently across a soft green meadow and into a golden forest of flaming Hickory, Tulip Poplar, and Maple trees. At Johnson Farm the trail was marked with a few wooden placards that explained the history of what was once a thriving community nestled into the rugged mountains, and had a view of the lake and peaks below that made me long to stay awhile.

At the dining room the night before we had watched out the window as the day turned to dusk and the sun played its sharp rays of light off the mountains. The colors dimmed into muted orange and purple while we feasted on pecan encrusted trout and prime rib. Ducks bobbed up and down in the chilly water, searching for dinner. Walking back to our room that evening, a streak of tan caught my eye as one deer led the charge, joined by six or seven others: grazing and watching, grazing and watching, on the other side of a wooden plank fence.

Many lodges and bed and breakfasts close during the off-season, but Peaks of Otter will stay open on weekends during the winter and will serve a Thanksgiving Day buffet. Whether you stop by for a night’s rest, a meal, or a reverent walk around Abbott Lake, Peaks of Otter is a place to, “Come to unplug,” as guests are encouraged to do, and enjoy the panoramic accommodations of planet Earth.

Check out what the Blue Ridge Parkway Association has to say about Peaks of Otter by clicking here or visit the website directly:

Mountain Passages: Putting An Old Trail Running Partner On The SPOT

Dear Dan:

I can see and hear you as you open this SPOT unit.

“Jane! Bear sent me a SPOT unit,” you yell from the den.
“That’s nice.”
“You think he’s nuts?”
“Could be a message Dan.”

There are a number of reasons for the gift including age, friendship, and laughter.

I don’t know about you, but I’m always surprised and frightened when I walk into the John first thing in the morning and catch the image of this greyhair in the mirror.

“Geesus, who’s the geezer?”
“You,” says Blue Eyes and giggles.

SPOT unit
Let’s face a fact that neither one of us is forty anymore. I quit doing the trail runs to the sky some years ago and stay closer to town on my routes today. No more leaving at eight in the morning and straggling back at dinner time looking like I’d been sorting wildcats. No more showing up at a friend’s house after a long run with him and then having his wife call us “junkies.”

So, brother, when you were training for ultra’s and out there alone along the Front Range and up into Rocky Mountain National Park, I’d worry a little about you and then trot out the old cliché about dying doing something you love. It’s a lame condolence, but to those of us who love the backcountry, it’s good enough.

But when I got the call that you’d busted your ankle on the Appalachian Trail last May and had to be carried out I really started thinking that maybe it was time for you to have a modicum of protection in the mountains.

I’m not a gadget person. I find the 5-watt handheld radios we carry on backcountry ski patrol semi-annoying, because we can often throw them farther than we can communicate with them. But when the Forest Service issued us SPOT units, this sort of Wylie Coyote balloon went up over my head and I thought, “What a good idea. If we actually got into the deep and brown at treeline with a snowboarder with multiple injuries, we could get help with a SPOT unit.”

This thing has a bunch of functions. Have Jane read you the instructions…slowly. Try not to move your lips while she is reading to you. But if you are really injured in the backcountry, the most important thing to remember is to punch the SOS button. The SPOT unit will transmit your lat/long coordinates to GEOS, the International Emergency Response Coordination Center in Houston, and they will in turn call the Boulder Sheriff, who will most likely send Rocky Mountain Rescue to haul you out at no cost unless you have done something really stupid.

So we’ve known each other for a while or certainly since we both had brown hair and sold textbooks. Do you remember the Trip That Ate Durango? I’m not exactly sure that much work got done on that trip, but man we ate well on our expense accounts and got some runs done, and maybe even a climb. But it is less about the work and more the really dumb stuff that happened to us over the years and the ensuing laughter that has made the bond between us.

You were leading something easy on Flagstaff. I think it was just a one-pitch crack and you had dropped in pro about every fifteen feet. I scrambled up cleaning the pro when I stopped for a moment and saw that you had dropped a nut right in the middle of a patch of poison ivy growing out of the crack.

“What are you doing?
“I’m clipping out around this poison ivy.”
“Don’t leave the pro.”
“I’m not reaching in that shit to get your hex nut.”
“Yank it out by the runner.”
“I’m not doing that either.”
“It’s my favorite piece of pro.”
“Geesus. what a baby.”

Back east where I grew up I used to get full-body poison ivy where I essentially turned into a giant blister for about ten days. But I’d come to Colorado in my mid-20s and never had a problem with poison ivy out here. Ten years later I figured I’d outgrown the allergy.


I pulled out the pro, racked it and finished the climb. Three hours later my right arm looked like Popeye’s forearm. It was huge and oozing and itched like crazy.

Your fault.

Or, how about the time in Boulder Canyon where I was working a dihedral and I got stuck reaching around the corner looking for a handhold? You were belaying from above and could see I was in trouble. Then I got sewing machine legs. I calmed myself. Sucked it up and made the move again. I missed and barely caught myself. Now I was really gripped. I looked up and could see you staring down at me.

“Dead is bad,” you said.

And then there was the Leadville 100. I was crewing for you from Winfield to Twin Lakes. You were bitching all the way up Hope Pass about your right toe. At the aid station on top I took off your shoe and saw this huge swollen big toe. I had a Swiss Army knife in a small fanny pack. I pulled it out and went to work on your shoe.

“No, Buddy you can’t do that.”
“I’m just cutting a hole above that toe.”
“Buddy, I love those shoes.”

You were wearing a half size smaller shoes than I was. I only had six or seven more miles to go and you had forty some. We switched shoes. We were running downhill and you were doing your typical down hill dawdle and talking at the same time.

“Real ultra runners can run and pee at the same time.”
“Damnit, those are my shoes.”
“Too late.”

So, the SPOT is a way of saying thanks for the friendship and laughter but it is also a bit self-serving on my part. It’s fine to die out there, most of us sort of acknowledge that it could happen. But if this little piece of gear saves you, it simply means that we’ll get more time and laughter together.

Alan Stark is a backcounty ski patroller in the Roosevelt National Forest and lives in Boulder with this Blue Eyed person and her dog.

Enlightenment on the Edge

Enlightenment on the Edge

Stuck in the fear zone in the midst of a fall-and-die climb, a  free soloist learns how to truly practice yoga

By Mark-Francis Mullen 

Photos by John Lloyd

I learned yoga on the side of a cliff. Oh, I knew all about “yoga” before that. I’d gone to countless classes and read countless books. Yet I truly learned it, lived it, and became it when I was solo climbing.  Good thing, too, I think

There I was, halfway up a serious route on a canyon near Boulder. I was frozen. Above me, the route looked difficult, extending to the sky. Instead of the minimum three points of contact climbers normally like to have, I had only two. Beneath me, everything fell away into a sea of sandstone. It was hundreds of feet to the miniature-looking trees at the bottom. Above me, the rock face extended into the sky, the top unseen. The holds? I didn’t see them. Maybe that indentation there…is that a microscopic horn above it? Would any of it hold my weight?

Too scared to go up, too scared to go down, I clung like a fly on the wall. The two holds I was on were rapidly diminishing into just one, at which point I would surely, eventually peel off.

I could taste it. I was far above safety, in the zone where a fall would mean death. My rope? It sat safely in my pack, waiting for the rappel off the summit. All that was between me and this looming death was a rubber toe lodged tentatively in a small crack and the friction of my two palms against the smooth cliff face. I had to move—soon—or I was going to become another statistic in Accidents in North American Mountaineering.

On cue, the sun disappeared and the wind picked up, making the situation even more dire. I felt the strength going from my leg. Do or… die. My options were extremely limited; staying put was not one of them. I could feel the sick sweat of fear. I could almost see it all happening: Calling out “stuck” to my partner, who was ascending above me, I explained there were no holds. His soft, confident Southern accent carried down to me. “Aw, Mull, it’s riddled with holds up here… just go the left a bit, grab onto that horn, just above the bulge.”

Great. It was a hard move, across an outward-bulging wave of rock. It would be even more difficult thanks to the sketchy two-point stance in which I was stuck. It seemed… impossible. Still, I did not want to die, and I struggled to summon my strength and determination for the move. I’d have to dyne—put all my power into an explosive, vulnerable grab upwards. I would get just one try.

I took a deep, slow breath… and the the yoga began. I focused my concentration on the present moment, that square foot of rock above me. Breathe. Deep. Nothing else. Just me, the moment, the rock. All the rest simply fell away. I became focused and calm. B  reath swept through me like a broom, driving out fear and worries, and the rest of the universe.

That’s where my yoga began.

It wasn’t theoretical out here. It wasn’t in some studio with no real consequences. It was essential to my life.  Focus, breathe, let go. This wasn’t just the recipe for inner peace, it was the recipe for survival, for continued life. I gathered myself.

The rest of the climb was not without moments, but nothing close to that crux. After a few more scary and adrenaline-filled moments, we were on the summit, laughing about it, exhilarated to be alive, on top a pinnacle in the Colorado Rockies.

Still, as I looked down, I knew how close it had been. Without the practice of continually getting hold of myself in difficult or uncomfortable situations, I’d have never been able to pull off that move. Half-dehydrated, a couple hundred calories in the red, no longer a youthful, fearless climber in my prime, that move was almost impossible.

No, let me be clear; that move was impossible…for me, without yoga.

R_gtwzgoVfPoWRbuzW-gFLIdJiiGsugoHsPVAarAQNUSo there it is, yoga saved my life. No blue-colored, many-armed Hindu goddesses appeared above me and carried me to safety. No magic powers. I didn’t need to get my body in any special contortion for yoga to be there. In that one saving moment, I was yoga. I was the breath. I was the rock and the sky and the void below me. I was the wind blowing and the sun. Yoga helped me gather all these elements into one harvest. The harvest was not the dyno, the move itself. It was the letting go, the allowing the possibility for that move to exist and manifest in my life right in that moment.

Kelly Magelky’s Quest to Produce Both Award Winning Films and Race For Gold

It’s 1:30 pm on September 5, 2014 — one day before Kelly Magelky defends his title at the Winter Park Epic 50 Mile Marathon Mountain Bike race – when I enter the 34-year-old’s office in Golden, Colorado. He’s so engrossed in his work he barely notices me.

The Epic 50 – located 60 miles west of here in Fraser Valley – is a single-track 25-mile loop with four aid stations three to six miles apart. Solo category is two 25-mile times around the course.

It’s Magelky’s last race until the Solo 24 Hour World Championships at Fort William, Scotland in a month on October 10-11 and his chance to take gold from the favorite Jason English.

Photo by John Lloyd
Photo by John Lloyd

Magelky and his wife Rachel Sturtz live in Denver but he commutes to Golden for quick access to the mountains. His office is tucked up against an alleyway adjacent to a Mexican restaurant. Low indie music is playing in the background. Production cameras and computers with oversized double monitors are lined up along a series of narrow desks. Magelky’s brown, wavy hair sticks out from behind a 36” screen in the far back corner of the office.

Even though most days Magelky rides for two to three hours, he spends six to eight hours editing film. “You have to pretend that there is a gun against your head [when you’re editing]” he says. He not only wants to be the ultra mountain bike world champion, he wants to make award-winning films. Even he admits it’s a hard balance.

He’s planning the short-release of his upcoming Country feature-film with the working title ‘They Called Us Outlaws’ with legendary stars such as Kris Kristopherson, Willie Nelson – three one and a half hour films –in two weeks at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Also while in Austin he’ll shoot an interview with country star Marcia Ball. Then it’s back to the editing board.

“It will be a feature film trilogy (3 – 1.5-hour films). I’m a producing partner on it. Our director, Eric Geadelmann, is here this week while we knock out a short version – mainly as a creative exercise for us to explore the feel/pacing of the film. The ultimate deadline is June 2015,” he said.

Four or five transcribed books lay open on his desk; he’s mid-edit on film clips and finishes up a few tasks and steps away from the screens.

Magelky runs Filament Productions, which opened its doors in 2003. Today the company works with a contractor group consisting of editor Ben “Franchise” Turner and two shooters, David Grauberger and Luke Askelson. They specialize in short format programming and feature-length films. In the last 11 years Filament has filmed in India, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Spain, Jamaica, Israel, Colombia, and the US and worked with brands such as Trek Bikes, Sony, and Universal, and with musicians Fray and Big Head Todd & The Monsters. The Feature-length documentary Magelky co-produced and edited called ‘Dave’ was Official Selection and Winner at 18 film festivals.

The War Room

We cross the house and sit down on two cotton couches, in the “war room,” as he calls it. One couch is black, the other white. The walls are all white too, except for a lime green wall where he has a clear dry erase board.

“It’s my favorite thing in this whole place,” he says. “It’s for throwing out ideas, coming up with plans. Being creative. It’s funny, you can see all of the movies in our trilogy all lined up.” He takes a sip of mint tea from his favorite mug.

He’s in slim dark blue jeans, black cotton shirt and zipped open hooded sweatshirt. I comment on his well-worn mahogany wingtips. “I’m a total shoe guy, actually,” he says, laughing. “These are my favorite shoes. I’ve probably had these seven to eight years.”

I ask if he’s concerned about the balance – after all, his world championship race is in a month, and he’s deep in video deadline-land. He repositions himself in his seat. “It’s hard to be a pro mountain biker and a pro filmmaker. They don’t scream security,” he says.

He tells me how he’s so wrapped up in projects that when Rachel offers to show him a two-minute YouTube video he declines. “It’s a big enough distraction to slow me up,” he says. [I] wake up in the morning thinking I have this and this and this to do and I just want to get right into it. “

His mind floods with questions. “Will I get sick? Will I get up early enough and have the energy to work all day? And vice versa with the work. I’m training so hard. To be so tired — will I be able to be a good filmmaker, you know, and not just push buttons?”

Two Days After the Epic 50

Kelly checks in over email and fills me in on the results of the Epic 50. Despite mental fatigue, which he credited to his previous races, he had a strong lead for most of the race. But, after two hard crashes and damaging his hands in the process, he ended up losing to Carter Shaver by two seconds. One of his hands is still hurting and he’s hoping he doesn’t have a fracture. Otherwise he’s in good spirits and feels prepared for the win in Scotland.

Early Career

A week after graduating high school at 18, Kelly moved from Dickinson, in southwest North Dakota, to Keystone, Colorado to become a ski bum. In 1999 he enrolled at Red Rocks Community College, then spent a year studying engineering before changing direction. In 2001 he enrolled in CU Denver/Colorado Film School.

Kelly and the author riding in Golden, CO. Photo: John Lloyd
Kelly and the author riding in Golden, CO.
Photo: John Lloyd

He got his first taste of filmmaking during his junior year in high school as a skate rat in North Dakota when he and close friend David Ebeltoft “decided to throw a video together using two VCRs and a CD player,” he said. He credits David with giving him confidence and motivation to pursue film as a career. “He talked me into pursuing something I love, filmmaking. I still owe him for that. He’s also still one of the best people I know.”

In the movies, he and four friends perform slide outs and heel flips down a flight of stairs. They made their video during the middle of winter and had to wear oil field work gloves to protect their hands from the cold.

After skating he turned to car racing. His stepfather, Gary, provided Kelly and his three year older brother, Tracey, an opportunity to build and race a stock car. “It was an amazing experience and one that I draw from to this day,” he said. At 16 he and Tracey, with whom he was fiercely competitive, built a car together and traded weekends racing it. “Eric went on to become a great champion. In fact, two weeks ago he won another season championship up in Mandan, ND.” Tracey will be supporting him in Scotland.

Then came skiing and finally biking.

Once in Thornton, Colorado, friend Micah Pelton turned him onto mountain biking by taking him out to a steep technical area at Apex. “I live for technical climbing now, but back then I had no idea what I was doing. I also felt like my lungs were going to explode — I didn’t know how steep it got because I ended up vomiting 20 minutes into the ride. I was so defeated.”

Dry heaving by the side of the trail he watched someone fly by him while on the downhill. It was then he knew he had to make it to the top. Undeterred, he got his first suspension mountain bike, a second-hand, purple, Specialized Rock Hopper for $200.

From then on, “I was soaking up everything. I kept driving out here [to ride] and that’s what made me fall in love with Golden,” he says. “I met Olympians, champions, pros – and most of them just went out of their way to help me and [they] took me under their wings.”

Magelky began competing in 2003, went pro in 2006, and joined the Trek/ Volkswagen team in 2008.

“I just don’t want to stop working. I love what I do but it can get stressful. I worked until 2 am last night.”

Twice Magelky finished second in the national championships in 2009, 2010. And second in the world championships in 2007. He’s over being Mr. Second.

His Pit Crew

Magelky’s race support consists of his direct and indirect family members from North Dakota including his parents, brother Tracy, aunt, uncle, and “my main man Nick [Howe], who runs the show.” Nick funded his first world championship and was Magelky’s only pit crewmember. And George Mullen – “the ‘Mayor of Cycling Town, I call him – has been the same way for me.”

Magelky competed in several 24-hour races, and once duked it out with ‘legend,’ Tinker Juarez for 22 hours – just the two of them up in front — earning him second place by a mere two seconds. He’s confident to win because experience and his physical therapy is on his side, he says.

Ruptured Disk

Kelly pauses, leans forward and tells me about an injury he received two years ago to his back caused from prolonged periods of sitting while editing film.

His understanding is that he has a ruptured disk and a tear in the other. “The disk material went into my sciatic nerve from sitting and it cut off movement to my left leg,” he said.

The injury occurred in 2012 when he was training for the world championships. When he couldn’t walk for more than five minutes or stand for 10 he saw the doctor. Once there, Magelky showed the doctor how he couldn’t lift his body up on his left toes which indicated severe nerve damage. The doctor told him he may not be able to race professionally again, and would likely need surgery. Magelky was forced to cancel his seat in the race.

To avoid surgery he tried a new technique called dry needling.

Dry needling, or intramuscular stimulation performed with hollow steel needles, triggered the nerves in his back and dramatically helped with the healing process. Before receiving that treatment the backs of his calves were numb. “I came back swinging,” he says.

“I’m better now,” he says, except for random cramping in the back of his legs, or “shadow cramping,” as he calls them, which may go away or may not.

Physical therapy has been incredibly core intensive, and has given him extra strength and confidence.

Why He Thinks He’ll Win

He recently blogged about racing the Badlands in North Dakota winning the 100-mile race just shy of nine hours at 8:56.

Leaving the 3rd aid station, I let the idea of a sub-9 hour day enter in my head. I started calculating the time it would take and it looked like it would be close. I told myself to limit bathroom breaks (if I could!) and to start taking some more risks. This is where I started to feel the fatigue. I started riding a little harder and I had a couple small crashes (one in front of the photographer). That’s when I had ‘the talk’ with myself. I wanted nothing more than to have a straightforward finish to the race. I’d been out for nearly 9 hours and didn’t want to suffer and stress all the way to the line.

“I feel really great. That’s the other thing in my court. I can’t say that I think I’m going to win, but I’ve set my self to do it. It’s racing, so you never know. When you add pro in front of mountain biker it gives you an excuse to ride every day. I love it.”

Hand to Hand Combat with a Bear

It’s a game of mortal combat when a canoeist runs into one of nature’s most efficient killing machines in the wilds of the Churchill River.

By Jonathan Klein

August 3, 2012: I had a new experience today. I fought for my life.

I got to Portage Chute, shortly after noon.  It had been a splendid morning with plenty of current to speed me along.  This stretch of the Churchill is wide, shallow, fast and studded with gardens of large, dark, looming rock.  I maneuvered amidst these monoliths all morning, playing and dodging and showing off to myself, pretending I had nitroglycerin on board which would explode with the slightest jar, and seeing how close I could pass by or over an obstacle without hitting it.  I was enjoying myself.

Pewter SunMy GPS didn’t think I was quite to Portage Chute.  It’s still 1.11 miles downstream, it was telling me but I knew better.  This was Portage Chute, beyond all doubt.  Narrow defile?  Check.  Increased grade and velocity?  Check.  Check.  Flecks of foam popping up downstream?  Sure ‘nuff.  Deafening roar?  That’s a big 10-4.  I was there.

I took out on river left where the Churchill broadens into a small bight, beached the canoe and headed downriver to scout.  There were boulders scattered all over, like a toddler’s toys.  Portaging would be hell.  Two hundred yards in, I came to a major obstacle, a scarp, only eight feet high, but sheer.  Getting the canoe and gear up and over it would take some doing, the kind of doing I didn’t want to do.  I scaled the wall and emerged onto a broad bench, blanketed with low shrubs and clumped with slips of cottonwood.

I recognized some of the shrubs as buffalo berry, adorned with clusters of small red fruits.  Across the bench, fifty feet away, the Churchill pounded through Portage Chute and I headed over to check it out, hoping it wouldn’t look as bad as it sounded.  A rim of pale red rock stood twenty feet above the river and lined it up and down, giving me a great view of the rapid.

I had already pretty much made up my mind to run it, even before scouting, because the portage was going to be a Bitch (note capital ‘B’), but there wasn’t a great line.  Getting through without swimming would be iffy because of several large breaking waves strewn pell-mell across the river that could swamp or roll the boat.  There was no way to miss them alI.  And there were rocks aplenty too, which I’d have to miss, but I took comfort in seeing that the river below deepened and slowed, providing a reasonably good recovery area, so, in the event of a water landing, all the flotsam, including the canoe, any unsecured gear, and I could be reunited in calmer water and, after some sputtering, bailing and sponging, returned to a fully upright and undamaged state.  I studied the rapid a bit more, picked a line, ran it a couple of times in my mind’s eye, and started back.

I was crossing the bench through the buffalo berry and almost to the lip of the scarp when I noticed movement in my periphery.  The bear that almost ate meSomething big and black and blurry.  I turned to look and was incredulous to see a large black bear, only forty feet away, approaching with obvious ill intent. It was moving with deliberation, mouth open, head low, black eyes unwavering—locked on mine.

I had been dreaming of a true wilderness experience and here it was: Mother Nature, telling me, So you want real wilderness? Here you go, sonny. For what could be more real or more wild than an animal coming to eat you?  I was prey, calories, for a large omnivore that was sick and tired of grass and berries and roots. My shotgun and bear spray were in the canoe, 200 yards away.  I would have to stand and fight with the only weapons I had, my bare hands.

There was no time to be afraid.  The bear was closing in.  Only seconds remained.  Some long dormant survival instinct took over and I transformed from mild mannered Nature Boy into Conan the Barbarian in a nanosecond (ok, exaggeration). A klaxon blared in my brain. Every cell in my body scrambled to battle stations.  I was not aware of wind or cold.  The crash of water through the nearby rapid drew silent.  Every fiber of my being was focused on the bear.

It approached with a dispassionate malevolence, as if to say, Hey. This isn’t personal, just business. Some things are killed and eaten so that other things can live to kill and eat another day. But predators don’t always get their prey.  Sometimes, the prey gets away.  Sometimes the predator gets hurt.  We quarry are not completely helpless. We can kick, maybe break a jaw, butt, gouge and bite, put a hurtin on ya, even inflict mortal wounds, so the prudent predator will approach cautiously, especially with unfamiliar, larger prey, to assess the risks, prior to going in for the kill.

That’s exactly what my bear was doing, coming on slowly to take my measure, ponder the risks verses rewards, and then decide whether to attack or withdraw.  I doubt this animal had ever seen a human before. We were in the most remote portion of the Churchill, no roads or villages anywhere close, no trails, fish camps or cabins, and inaccessible to motorboats and float planes because of all the rocks and shallows. The bear could not know, what exactly was I, and just how dangerous might I be?

My only hope lay in exploiting this uncertainty, make the bear  think I was some psycho in search of a rug. I couldn’t run.  He’d shag me down in a heartbeat, swat me to the ground, rake and bite me while I screamed, shake me like a rag doll while I whimpered, and then begin to tug and tear off chunks of flesh while I quietly moaned.  If I played dead, I’d last only slightly longer than if I ran, and it wouldn’t be quality time.  My only play was to be aggressive, fool the bear into thinking that I was biggest badass this side of Fidler Lake.

“Get away you Mother Fucker!”,  I screamed, but there was no discernible reaction.  Nothing.  On it came, walking, watching, not making a sound.  Only twenty feet away now.  I charged it with arms held high, trying to look bigger, and snarling invective through barred teeth.  “COCKSUCKER!” I yelled.  “MOTHER FUCKER!”

No change in attitude.

The bear was right next to me now, close enough to touch. It began to circle, close in, from right to left.  I began to hit it, punching it in the head and face with neoprene gloved hands.  “Good God!” I thought, “I just hit a bear.  Is this really happening?”

It was.  I was really fighting a bear.  As it turned, I turned with it to keep its head to my front, constantly throwing punches.  My left jabs were weak, ineffectual, glancing blows, but I landed a couple of hard rights to the side of its enormous head which caused a momentary pause before the circling resumed.  Near the end of its circumnavigation, I hauled off and kicked it in the ribs just behind the left leg.  I was only wearing soft rubber boating booties, hardly more than slippers, but I kicked as hard as I could.

This seemed to surprise the bear and it stopped circling and rose up, apparently indignant over such boorish behavior.  I’m 6’4” and 185 pounds.  The bear was half a head taller, but on the lean side.  I doubt it weighed more than 250 pounds, but skinny meant hungry and hungry meant dangerous.  Its paws were held high, claws outstretched and I expected to be cuffed at any moment, but the bear just stood there, as if newly uncrated from the taxidermist.

We stood, facing each other like dancers, unsure, waiting for the music to start. Then it suddenly dawned on me.  I had a knife.  Holy shit!  It hung inverted from a sheath affixed to my life jacket.  I’d forgotten all about it. It was only a four inch blade and the only thing it had ever cut was cheese, but I drew it forth with a flourish and brandished it at the bear.

“I have a knife!” I bellowed, to myself in surprise, to the bear in warning. The tables had turned, whatever that means.  Still, the thought of stabbing this creature with the little blade was cold comfort. I did not want to hurt it, or aggravate it, and feared that once the stabbing started, this fight was going to get ugly for real.  So there we stood, two statues cast in enmity, knife out, claws up, a Mexican standoff if ever there was one. I ended it, taking several quick steps backwards to the lip of the ledge, then whirled and bounded down the wall with the speed of a mountain goat, but not the agility.

Halfway down I slipped and had to jump the final four feet to the basin below. I landed hard, tried to catch myself with lunging steps, but fell, sprawled out on hands and knees.  My right hand, still gripping the knife, lit almost directly upon a fist sized hunk of rock, smooth, near round, granite. A gift. I transferred the knife to my left hand, snatched up rock in my right, and sprang to my feet with improbable dexterity for someone of my age and decrepitude, then I spun around to see if the bear had given chase.

There it was, just ten feet away. The motherfucking thing had followed me down the wall.  It stopped when I turned, looked at me, not directly this time, but obliquely and with menace. I faced it, edgewise, like a fencer, knife extended, and the rock, locked and loaded behind.  This was it.  The moment of truth.

“Look bear” I implored, “I don’t want to stab you with this knife or hit you with this rock, but you have to leave right now.”  The words were barely out of my mouth when the bear made up his mind, and it wasn’t to leave.  The big head swung up and he came at me.  I let him have it, heaving the rock with all my might.

Funny. Ever since dislocating my right shoulder in a kayaking  mishap twenty years ago, I haven’t been able to put any umph into an overhand throw.  Before the injury I could hurl hard, be it baseball, football or rock, but, ever since, I throw like a girl, all arm and no shoulder.  Not this time.  Adrenaline is a miracle drug and with a surfeit of it coursing through my veins, I unloosed the rock.  It sailed, trailing flame, and smacked into the bear’s skull right between the ears. It landed with a loud crunch, rock scraping bone, an awful noise normally but sweet music under the circumstances.

The bear vanished in a blur, hunger pangs replaced by headache.  I ran in the opposite direction, hotfooting it to the canoe, where I quickly hoisted the shotgun in one hand and bear spray in the other.

“Hey asshole!” I bellowed.  “You want a piece of me?  Well come on you chicken shit and I’ll spray you right in the kisser.”  I heard nothing but the hiss of wind and water, and blood pounding in my ears.  Then I started laughing like a lunatic.

Once I returned to a semblance of normal, I decided not to tempt the fates further by running Portage Chute.  I figured all my lucky charms were cashed in for the day.  What if I dumped and ended up on the left side of the river?  The bear’s side.  I had no desire for round two with the bruin so I pushed off and clawed my way upstream a couple of hundred yards, far enough up so I wouldn’t be swept down into the rapid, and ferried to the right shore.  There was no channel on this side, just a jumble of huge rocks through which the river poured over, around or through.  I dragged  the canoe past the obstacles, abusing it in myriad ways, but I got down. Then I returned to the canoe for lunch, my favorite, peanut butter on rye crisp with turkey jerky.  As I smacked down these delectables, thinking about my  improbable victory and narrow escape from the literal jaws of death, I glanced across the river and saw a hairy hump moving through the vegetation opposite.

“Hey bear!” I shouted and the hump stopped, turned, and the bear emerged onto the rim where I had scouted the rapid a lifetime ago.  It peered across at me with a puzzled expression, then turned and walked out of sight. “Good luck to you bear” I called after it, and meant it.

Hanging in the wildsLater at camp, I poured myself a big 151 rum and sipped it thoughtfully.  I was in a contemplative mood, totally drained, and numbed, but euphoric.  I marveled at the days events.  I fought a bear and I won.  I knew it was mostly luck, that I was lucky to be alive.  I have always been lucky.  Lucky in my parents, my friends, health, choices.  Lucky in love.

I have learned to trust in luck, but this was more luck than anyone deserved.  I was lucky the bear wasn’t bigger.  Lucky he wasn’t more confident.  Lucky he didn’t swat or bite me.  Lucky, I walked away without a scratch save for a small scrape on my knee sustained when I crash-landed below the ledge. But that was lucky too, because if I hadn’t fallen I would not have found that rock. It was the rock that saved me.

Strange, but there are almost no loose rocks along this portion of the Churchill River.  I wasn’t even looking for a rock, it just materialized, found me.  Now, I am not in any way suggesting divine intervention.  As far as I’m concerned Jesus would have been more inclined to send the bear than provide the rock.  Luck gave me the rock and luck guided the throw that nailed the bear right where I needed to bean him.  A shot to the shoulder wouldn’t have done it.  And it was luck that the bear didn’t think, “Ouch, my head hurts, but fuck it, I’m going to eat him anyway.”

So I drank my rum and thought about the day, August 3, 2012, the day I had to fight a bear.  I kicked its ass and lived.  I love living.

–This is an excerpt from Jonathan Klein’s upcoming book on wilderness.  Klein worked as a wilderness ranger and manager in Montana’s Lee Metcalf Wilderness for 27 years before retiring in 2012.  Three days after leaving the Forest Service, he departed on a 700-mile solo canoe trip on Canada’s Churchill River, seeking a purer strain of wilderness than can be found in the lower 48—where the furthest one can get from a Micky D’s is 104 miles and the farthest from a road, a mere 30.  Klein lives in Ennis, Mont., where he spends his time pedaling, paddling, and planning his next adventure to wild places.  

Assault on El Cap

Jeff Vargen’s film Assault on El Capitan tells the story of the second ascent of Wings of Steel

By Cameron M. Burns

As a kid growing up in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, I was a decent surfer. Indeed, I remember at age 10 some older kids at the beach where I regularly went asked me when I was going to go pro. They ridiculed my board, but said I could get a better one if I was planning to turn pro. It was all easy talk. Nothing rough. And, as usual, I was clueless. What the heck was “pro”?

Fast forward 15 years. I was living in LA and working in the film industry. I surfed in Malibu a few times, but hadn’t really surfed since 1978 in Australia. On one ride, another surfer literally tackled me from behind (as we both went down the same wave), later screaming at me that I’d dropped in on him (which I had, accidentally) and telling me I couldn’t surf there because I wasn’t a local. Oh yeah? Sure, I was 15 years out from my glory days as a kid but wasn’t surfing about having fun?

WTF was this? I’m not even sure the guy who tackled me was a “local,” (he had a full wetsuit on and most of the surfers I saw during my attempted Malibu rebirth were dressed like me), but clearly, this was a territory issue.

Any climber who’s spent even a little bit of time in Yosemite knows the story of Wings of Steel, a hard aid climb on El Cap. In 1982, 23-year-old Richard Jensen and 20-year-old Mark Smith arrived in Yosemite Valley with the goal of climbing a new route on the Capitan, one of the most coveted pieces of stone on the planet.

Thirty-nine days later they topped out on the big stone but it hadn’t been without its problems. Yosemite locals—taken aback that two outsiders were on their rock—had harassed them and made death threats. Three locals, whom to this day remain anonymous, went even further. One night while Jensen and Smith were on the ground, these three ascended several ropes Jensen and Smith had fixed, chopped all the bolts and rivets Jensen and Smith had laboriously drilled and placed by hand (and that’s noteworthy because by the early 90s, everything was being Bosched into place on El Cap), and rappelled off. They pulled Jensen and Smith’s ropes, heaped them into a pile, then defecated on them.

Yosemite-based climbers considered the route unworthy of its location on El Cap, although reports circulated that Jensen and Smith’s climb was pretty darn hard. Indeed, a few brave souls who tried the first few pitches (if memory serves, including Rob Slater) came back with stories of tenuous gear and long falls.

Twenty-nine years after the first ascent of Wings, Yosemite hardman and character Ammon McNeely—the veteran of more than 75 ascents of El Cap—decides he should do the second ascent. And, he brings in his girlfriend, Kait Barber, as his partner.

In 2011, filmmaker Jeff Vargen was on vacation on the East Coast and got a text from McNeely that he and Barber were going up on the big stone.

“I asked which route,” Vargen noted in an email to this writer. “He [Ammon] texted WOS. I laughed. No one does WOS and no one would do that slab in mid-summer, but that’s him—do things quietly and under the radar. Word got around that he was doing it and the Supertopo trolls followed his progress as Kait’s mom posted from the wall.”

When McNeely and Barber got down, Vargen went to look at the pictures and video clips that McNeely and Barber had recorded. Vargen was impressed. “One thing led to another and I called a few people I knew and they said they would be happy to talk on camera about WOS,” Vargen noted. “And then it kept going from there.” [WOS is an explosive topic on Supertopo.]

This film starts with a lot of historical discussion about climbing in general, climbing walls, and finally Wings of Steel specifically, including interviews about territory and locals versus outsiders with (Chris McNamara (Supertopo creator), Peter Haan (first Salathé solo), and Eric Kohl (general El Cap bad-ass) are interviewed, along with Hans Florine and Ron Kauk.

Steve Grossman is given the tough cop role, discussing how Jensen and Smith weren’t “forthright” about what they were doing up on the big stone while locals below heard about endless bolting. Grossman makes valid points, which are more or less later left unaddressed as a result of the difficulty of this particular climb and the respect the first ascensionists got from the second ascensionists.

Still, it’s all honest. Vargen told me via email: “Richard and Mark were kind enough to come to be interviewed. I never told them what kind of film I was making and they had no idea how they would be portrayed in the film. They trusted me that it would be fair but I told them it will fall as it falls. They agreed to tell their story and see what happened. they are brave souls. Steve Grossman was the same way. He came and said his peace, wondered how it would come out, but he answered everything I asked in an honest way. We did not chop him up to manipulate the tone. It was said as you see and hear it.”

In general, Assault doesn’t offer a whole lot of explanation for a lay viewer about what hooking is all about (it is scary, BTW), or aid, or wall climbing in general, but that doesn’t matter. The viewer gets the point. This climb is a balls-to-the-walls wall, and the first ascensionists got treated unfairly. And, yeah, the territory thing is always there—in climbing as in surfing.

All that spewed, what’s nice to report is that this is a wonderful wonderful (yeah, that’s two wonderfuls (sorry, three now)) film about McNeely and Barber. It gives us access into the world of a guy many of us have heard about for years (McNeely) and his whole, entirely low-key approach to life. It shows us how he deals with day-in day-out issues, and gives us the firmly backgrounded life that have made him one of Yosemite’s best contemporary wall climbers. The interviews with his brother Gabe are fabulous.

On the Great Slab that is, essentially, Wings of Steel, McNeely took six falls each day. Indeed, he fell more than half the height of the 900-foot Great Slab in the first nine days.

The falls shredded Barber’s nerves and there are several initial scenes in which Barber wants to go down. She hangs in and eventually gets up the wall (I would like to know what Ammon owes her at this point). But Barber and McNeely’s humility and honesty make this film much more than a documentary about Wings of Steel’s second ascent. The issues surrounding Wings of Steel aren’t resolved by the creation of this film, but it is a touching, thoughtful, and exciting film about doing a big wall, regardless of location. (McNeely’s videotaped yanking off flakes with his Talon hooks several times and tumbling yards at a time.)

The ways it’s edited also works well. The Wings debacle comes across as a serious turf war in the beginning, and it’s hard to watch some of the discussion knowing that this is just bickering among climbers. But, Vargen does a great job zooming out to a greater picture of climbing, location, personalities, and other issues, and then turning the film toward personal issues—fear, injuries, pain, and just getting up a damn climb.

In the end, this film is really about communications. In 1982, the communications between Smith and Jensen and the Valley locals weren’t there, clearly. Today, with so much being shared every minute of every day, and with people like Vargen compiling it carefully, communications have improved dramatically. All of the people in this film share the same values and love the same chunk of the earth’s crust. That they got a little sideways with each other is too bad. Hopefully, we’ll never see a repeat of something like Wings.

Starring and with footage by Ammon McNeely and Kait Barber. Also starring Mark Jensen, Richard Smith, Eric Kohl, Ron Kauk, Chris McNamara, Hans Florine, Peter Haan, Gabe McNeely, and Steve Grossman.  More information about the film can be found at

Cam Burns’s most recent contribution to the world of literature was in To Nepal with Love and Adventure at High Risk.

Postcard: Lakeside serenity

There’s a trail about 15 miles from where I live that traces the shoreline of Dillon Reservoir. I don’t ride it more than once or twice a year, but it has a way of making me forget where I am, which is healthy, I think. Last week, after a fall storm left our higher trails blanketed by snow, a friend and I drove to the lakeside trail and spent the afternoon alternately pedaling, lounging on sand, staring up at Peak 1 and Tenmile Peak, all the while lost in thought. It felt like a vacation. (Click image to enlarge)

Poems For Fall

Welcome to the October issue of Mountain Gazette, with a new look and feel.

The poems in this edition cover a wide range of topics, from war to the imperfections of memory, to declarations of peace, love, and slow decay. I suppose if there is one thread that ties them all together, it’s this: like the season of fall, these poems show us that while life is fleeting and ephemeral, some things will last. Some of us will cling to the one true thing we know, however difficult that might be.

I hope you enjoy the poems. I also encourage you to read them aloud, and to share them with friends.



—Vicki Mandell-King

A penny for your thoughts, he says. But he
doesn’t really want to know.

For fifty years, two stylized ears of wheat
on the reverse of Lincoln’s commemorative.

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes.
From a child’s ear, the magician takes a quarter.

A penny would be dangerous,
too small, getting stuck.

During the War, made from salvaged gun
cartridge cases. Once made of bronze,

mostly copper, some zinc and tin.
Bet that cost a pretty penny.

During the War, my father gave my mother
a watch of rose gold—

copper blushing the glint and shine.
The nick of time.

Another father and his little boy once put
pennies on the railroad tracks

that ran by their dusty small Texas town.
And when the train came hurtling by,

it smashed the coins flat, thin and wide.
Defacing government property.

Inflated worth.
A penny saved is a penny earned.

See a penny, pick it up.
All day long you’ll have good luck.

Toss them in a spouting fountain.
So many wishes—youth and riches,

the end to war,
a man who can make sense of things.

Water droplets catch the light,
glisten on a woman’s rouged cheeks.

The sky is raining
pennies from heaven.




—Seth Brady Tucker

It is the first day with real summer heat,
mired in our own personal inferno, this Delta
flight frozen on the tarmac, has my back
sweating and cramped while I support Olivia’s
head to provide comfort—her face pressed
to my damp chest, her cell blinking blue, rings
What a Wonderful World it is, and three people
turn to stare at us, confident their own cells
are turned off according to regulations, and they
are lined up like dominoes, and the airplane
engines idle down sadly to nothing, and the air
conditioning whispers to off. The sharp ticket
juts into my cheek, but I am five drinks into it
already, uncaring, a big bloody gin butterfly
taking flight in my heated tissue, a soft liquored
fluttering of drunk and bright blue butterfly
wings in my head, and I don’t care at all for
the hard flexing of this bottom-of-the-deck dealt
world, nor for the poignant meaningless of it all:
all of us travelers, lolling like the olive
in the bottom of my martini, sticky with hot
sweat and bad intentions, our hands rising to ring
for the smiling attendants. We are burning
up on this runway, ready to barter or sell
our way onto any cool escape, onto any
other flight, onto any ascending white airplane
that takes us from this sweaty, business-class
lifestyle. At this point, I would take a bus ticket
to any cold arctic nowhere. Our air is breathed
over and over and back, so I bitterly take up
another spit martini from the stewardess,
and I know I am more slug than bright butterfly,
and I know I am as fractured as the dried
and fetid soil of the low tide Mississippi Delta,
but I also know how to excuse myself, to stop
while ahead, to quaff back the olive drab olive
that I have already personified to compare
to our sad condition on the jet-way, and soaring
from my drink, I escape to the john. I am
out of control angry, and the toilet is a hot cell;
the air is soiled with traveler butt and businessman
urine, this boiling and humid ding-dong airplane
just an envelope of choleric or malarial disease,
or worse, something non-lethal. My air plans
are ruined, and I have made the attendant hate
me by sending back my hot martini. I take out
a cigarette insolently and light it. The smoke
alarm rings and I flap my arms like a butterfly,
still smoking and cursing and trying to force
the smoke down the crap hole, but the Delta
crew is on to me already, and I realize I have
truly fucked up, and I know that Olivia
will be reading from her assortment of literary
magazines when she hears the alarm ring,
and because of me, she will be flying solo
and hating me, and I will be handcuffed in a cell
somewhere in the bowels of the Atlanta airport.
They will take my personal items, break my cell
phone, smoke my cigarettes, and they will taxi
Olivia away, our flight joining brethren airplanes
in the line burned on the skyway, and my empty
seat will be filled by a lonely and ticketless
traveler, some failed salesman who makes
his awkward move on Olivia, on my butterfly,
like some rotten alleyway pigeon. In my airport
prison, I will belatedly lament choosing Delta
over United (I am fully aware of the meaning
now!) and if I know her like I think I do, Olivia
is looking at his soft hands, his ring finger circled
by a white band where his wedding ring
should be. She will notice that he has a nervous
habit of twisting the imaginary wedding ring
when he speaks. He is getting nowhere, but
she is angry with me, so she provides him a cell
number not her own, and makes a promise
to meet him at baggage claim. Off the airplane,
she will head straight for the exit. He will call
her for drinks, only to get Chinese take-out
in Tallahassee. He will imagine what it would
have felt like to kiss her, to unbutton the fly
of Olivia’s jeans, to kiss her like he should kiss
his wife. In the morning, he will fly Delta
again, thinking he is as misunderstood as
anyone on earth. He will look her up, but Olivia
will have provided the wrong name and number,
because she is no dummy, my Olivia,
and when he returns to Ohio, to his wife and children,
he will lie on his bed twisting his ring
on his finger as he stares at his ceiling, unable
to sleep. I will be in Atlanta, in a holding cell,
feet in paper sandals and body wrapped in coveralls,
and on the floor, a metal plate with plain
bagels and runny eggs and cold bacon. I will
bang the bars, demanding my cigarettes, taken
from me by the cops. Olivia will reach Paris;
she will sit in a café decorated with butterfly
figurines. In two weeks, she will trade
in my unused ticket, fly to Prague via Delta.
In Georgia, after three days, I will rub the hot
rings of my wrists after they remove the cold
metal handcuffs, my Delta captors will smile
as blankly as the windows of airplanes as they
hand me my ticket and my broken cell phone,
which I will futilely use to call Olivia home to me.




—Chris ‘Chez’ Chesak

My hand aches because
My hand is empty.
My hand misses the feel,
The weight,
The finality.

My hand misses the ominous grip,
Designed by thoughtful engineers,
Allowing the quick reach of a finger
Onto the trigger,
The steadying sister hand wrapped around the fore-grip,
My cheek welded to the stock,
My eyes searching
Through the site posts
For a target,
For center mass.

My hand is hungry.
Hungry to touch again the steel
The aluminum
The plastics
The power—and the glory.

My hand is hungry,
Hungry for the pull of its fingertip on the trigger that leads to the hammer that
Releases the bolt that drives the pin into the primer that leads to the explosion of
Powder in the chamber;
The 556 round flying, a ripping six-grove, right-handed spin, exploding from the
Barrel upon a wave of fiery gas…
That leads to the chest erupting.
That leads to the ruptured, cavernous exit wound.
That leads to the skull coming apart
In chunks.

My hand misses its weapon.
That weapon pressed into it
By drill sergeants and NCO’s.
The weapon locked to it
By training and exercises,
By repetition
By muscle memory.
My hand misses its weapon,
The one welded into it
Every day for a long, hot, dangerous year,
The weapon
Branded into it,
Branded into the flesh of my hand,
And the grooves of memory,
For life.

My aching hand has me
Clearing my living room
Hunting at bars
Sizing up distances and windage
On the lone figure in the distance,
Looking for a kill shot.




—Vicki Mandell-King

The robber approaches her teller window,
says he’s got a gun,
gestures to his waistband.

At his demand, she empties
her drawer of 20’s, 50’s and 100 dollar bills.
After he leaves and the police arrive,

she gives a detailed description—
heavyset, scruffy,
gray hair in a ponytail

and blue eyes.
At trial, when asked if she sees
the man who robbed her, she points

to Sam, seated at the defense table.
In answering his lawyer’s questions,
she emphasizes those eyes –

she’d looked into them,
they were cold, hard,
and she was afraid.

Casually, counsel shows her
the surveillance photos.
Throughout the robbery, the man

had worn very dark sunglasses.
She doesn’t remember that, she says,
but she insists,
 she knows

that man is the one.
I’d know him anywhere.
The jury believes her.




—Seth Brady Tucker

for Olivia

In order to impress upon you
how wretched the world would
be without your love, I have to imagine
a life without you, where time spins

its tires in the mud of despondency,
where joy pushes the yoke of a mill
in terrible circles, where love punches
a clock in the bowels of a mailroom,

where life itself stumbles and falls
in the bathtub, too far from a telephone,
too weak to call for help. In this new
world, we eat sand and wood chips

for every meal, forever filling bellies
that will never know satisfaction; we breathe
soot, we walk on the bones of our kneecaps,
we mutely sing with shadows signed on walls,

we recite poems of love with our heads submerged
in barrels of thick oil. In this world, without
your love, we lack the energy to lick
our wounds, and we lie naked in the snow

in winter, and bare our bodies to the hot
tarmac in summer. Our energies are devoted
to the search for pain, because if we
know pain in every intimate, perfect detail,

we will also know the touch of the devil,
and that will be enough to fill the empty
void of eternity, until you call me back
and breathe your sweet breath upon my neck.





Chris ‘Chez’ Chesak is an Iraqi war veteran and avid climber, skier, backpacker, and writer, having published fiction in several literary quarterlies and non-fiction in national publications. He lives with his wife Sally and daughters Lillian and Sylvia in Cincinnati, Ohio. Read more of his work at

Vicki Mandell-King has been writing poetry for what seems an entire lifetime, even during her career as a public defender. Her poems have been published in many journals, including Calyx, Illya’s Honey, Main Street Rag, Pinyon, Slant, Tribeca and others. Her first book is entitled Tenacity of Lace, and she and her husband live in an old, constantly remodeled Victorian in Old Town Louisville, Colorado.

Seth Brady Tucker is originally from Wyoming, and served as an Army 82nd Airborne paratrooper in the Persian Gulf.  His first book, Mormon Boy, won the 2011 Elixir Press Editor’s Poetry Prize, and was a finalist for the 2013 Colorado book Award. His second collection, We Deserve the God We Ask For, won the Gival Press Poetry Prize. His poetry is forthcoming or has appeared in the Iowa Review, Verse Daily, Pleiades, Poetry Northwest, Connecticut Review, Chautauqua, River Styx, Asheville Poetry Review, storySouth, Crab Orchard Review, and elsewhere.






Postcard: Great Sand Dunes National Park

The great dilemma for those who prioritize leisure interests has always been whether to choose the mountains or the beach. Finding both in one place is hard, but it does exist, in some form at least. On a road trip through the San Luis and Wet Mountain valleys last week in southern Colorado, we lucked out with a sunny day on the dunes then got a few wishy-washy ones around Crestone and Westcliffe. No matter. The Sangre de Cristo range held glowing aspen groves and empty campsites, and by the third day we had removed (nearly) all the sand from our pores and crannies. (Click image to enlarge)

Photo by Larissa O'Neil
Photo by Larissa O’Neil