Land in the Sky: Another Dummy Idea

My friend Dennis dropped by this afternoon to help me clean up a mess. I had gotten myself into some more tree trouble. These dying hemlocks just never fall the right way when I cut them down, especially when they’re near a power line or the house. I wish they didn’t do that. I wish they weren’t all dying.

This particular hemlock, when I managed to get it to fall, got all hung up in some nearby ash trees, which are also dying. There was nothing I could do about it. The hemlock just stood there like a shady Antaeus. Dennis said he’d come over and take care of it. When he pulled up in his truck, the collie barked in greeting. He barked and he barked and he barked. He barked in joy.

Dennis knew better than to let me “help” clean up this mess. He knew what he was doing. So I handed over the chainsaw and he said: “Okay, where’s this tree?” I showed him and he went to work. Dennis is a guy who “smokes with two hands” but wields a chainsaw with just one. He had that hemlock down quicker than it took me to get it all hung up in the first place. No structures were damaged in the operation. The collie continued to bark with joy.

As Dennis climbed into his truck to go home, I said thanks and it was good to see him. He said: “Now come up with a better dummy idea the next time you want to see an old bastard.” I told him that would be easy. Dennis drove off as the collie barked goodbye. I looked around at all the dying hemlocks and ashes still standing—trees I grew up with—for my next dummy idea.

Postcard: Long Beach, California

What do you notice in this photo? A cool tree, sure. Lots of hands in the air. Pretty blue sky. The Pacific. Me? I see the lady on the left side/pink mat not following the leader. What does that say about me? More broadly, what does it say about us, if I can be representative of our species? I think it says we notice the people who don’t fall in line. If that’s true, would you rather be the one people notice because you weren’t doing the same thing as everyone else? Or would you rather reach for the sky when all the others are too? Tough choice, eh? So it went last Sunday at Yoga in the Park in Long Beach.

Photo by Devon O’Neil

In Focus: Greg Von Doersten and the Big Picture of Adventure Photography

If you call yourself a pro adventure photographer and you call Jackson, Wyoming, your home, you had better be damn good. Take a look at Greg Von Doersten’s work and we think you will understand just how he has used his talented eye to make a name for himself in the proving ground of big mountain culture—and built a career as a successful commercial photographer.

Every erstwhile shutterbug with a taste for fun wants to live the dream and become a pro photographer in a mountain town. And every pro photographer wants to build on their work and succeed in the world of commercial photography. It’s tough to bridge those two worlds and hang on to your soul, but Jackson, Wyoming-based Greg Von Doersten is figuring it out. Born in California, but wandering off for school in Montana and adventure in Wyoming, Von Doersten looks to tell stories in his images and some of his best work takes a view far above the action, making it even more dramatic and engaging. Adventure photography has taken him across the planet, shooting on the Congo with pro kayaker Steve Fisher, to Tibet, to Antarctica, and to some of the wildest spots on the planet with pro athletes like Jeremy Jones and Chris Davenport. He also continues to build a name in the commercial world, shooting for outdoor brands including Helly Hansen and Zeal, and beyond the outdoor industry.  “I’m an outdoor/action sports/adventure photographer who is diving into the commercial world of work recently,” he says. “That brings up a lot of new challenges. LA and NYC are a far cry from the mountains, but I enjoy the problem solving and creative challenges of the commercial world as I dive head first into a new market for my photography.” We love to see talented artists get the credit (and cash) they deserve for their hard work…  and just take a look at these images.

2012-06-23-River-Surfing_edited“Occasionally, I like to take to the air for a unique perspective to make mankind look insignificant in nature. Here, a river surfer carves up Lunch Counter Wave on the Snake River in Alpine, Wyoming.”

RCUT-1324“The unstoppable Steph Davis, rock climber extraordinaire (and more recently moving into the BASE and Wingsuit flying realms) on “Johnny Cat,” a 511d classic in Indian Creek, Utah.”

20091610_MC_Tibet_A_093“The Potala palace in Lhasa, Tibet, taken during the evening, when the day light fades to blue and the palace is like a beacon reaching out to all of the Buddhists around the world.”


“Covering Helly Hansen apparel and Mountain Madness mountaineering guides for a a commercial shoot of the new launch of the companies techincal mountaineering line on in the North Cascades.”


“Enjoying the views of Jeremy Jones’ ‘Deeper’ team as they make their way to a first descent in the Fairweather Range in Alaska. I’ve worked with Jeremy since he was in his early 20s and saw him develop from a competition slalom rider into one of the world’s leading big mountain snowboarders.”

Red-Junk_1“Actor Steve Zahn and a friend enjoy the views from a Vietnamese junk on Halong Bay, North Vietnam. This was a previsualized shot for a feature article in Men’s Journal where I knew I would need a harness and good crew to get me up to the center of the main mast where I could take in the beauty of the bay and the surrounding floating fishing villages which the area is known for.”


SKANT_20101201_0089“Stian Hagen skis into the ink blue waters of the Antarctica Peninsula on an expedition with American ski mountaineer, Chris Davemport and Stian’s wife Andrea Binning. The team skied a number of peaks, notching a couple first descents, and attempted the first ski descent of Shackleton Peak (without success). Chris created a documentary for Red Bull media and I landed a feature with Outside magazine which ran in the 2011 adventure issue.”


“In Kinshasa the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with our security detail after the documenting the successful kayak descent of the Grand Inga Rapids with expedition leader, Steve Fisher and kayaking team members Ben Marr, Tyler Bradt and Rush Sturges. The Congo is the second largest river in the world but sets itself apart from the rest by having the largest rapids and hydraulics in the world.”

Postcard: The High Road

When people advise you to “take the high road,” most probably don’t realize their admonition serves two purposes. Yes, the moral high road is worthwhile every time. But so is the actual high road, in this case an old mining track on 13,684-foot Bald Mountain, just east of Breckenridge. My brother was in town and my chain broke a few minutes into our initial planned route, so we doubled back to Main Street, bought a new chain, and proceeded up Plan B: the high road.

Photo by Devon O’Neil

Postcard: Continental Divide Trail

As you probably know, the Continental Divide Trail, or CDT, does not follow the actual spine that delineates the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds the entire way from Canada to Mexico. But it stays close to that spine as it passes through the Rockies, often tracing the Divide itself. Where I live, the CDT veers a few miles west from the actual spine but does not lose any beauty. Ample bunches of Colorado’s state flower, the regal Columbine, still deem the CDT worthy of making it their home, and nothing says summer in the high country like freshly bloomed Columbines in a field of green set against a backdrop of 12,000- and 13,000-foot peaks.

Photo by Devon O’Neil

The Grand Teton with Heidegger and Hegel

When is a climb dependent on a priori reasoning? When you carry a backpack full of philosophy books and leave your warm shell at home.  By Cameron M. Burns

My first trip to the Grand Teton in May 1986 was a lesson in mountain preparedness.

Somehow we’d managed to score one of the American Alpine Club’s huts for a long weekend, and five of us zoomed up to Wyoming in two cars: the Bach brothers in their hot red MG, and Jeff O’Defey, Ethan Putterman, and I in Jeff’s sedan, a Sanford and Son–style Ford his dad had offered up, a vehicle with a ridiculous name like the Painful Yoga Position SL or some such (BTW: SL stands for “Short Legs” with all American-made sedans).

We unloaded into the bright and clean wooden cabin and immediately had a lively discussion about particulate matter and methane emissions—Ethan had had baked beans for breakfast.

The plan was to do an acclimatization hike the next day (a Saturday), then climb the regular route (an easy scramble) the following day. We fixed a gourmet-style dinner of Vienna sausages in hot dog rolls and corn chips and called it a night. In the morning, we loaded our packs and set off up the Garnet Canyon trail. After a couple of hours, we stopped for a break. Benny, Kirk, Jeff, and I pulled out water bottles and ate a snack.

Curiously, Ethan—whose 6-foot 4-inch frame earned him the nickname “The Big E” throughout our college careers—sat with his pack on his lap and took in no nutrients or moisture. We eyed him suspiciously.

After 20 minutes, we started up again, plodding methodically up the canyon, taking in the scenery and enjoying a new experience. Although we all lived in the ~5,000-foot high Pretend Left-wingers Ultra Conservative Republic (Boulder) at the time, we thought we needed to acclimatize.

We also wanted to travel across Wyoming to experience the kind of multi-culturalism that we couldn’t experience at home in Boulder—you know, black people, native Americans, Asians, etc. (As Benny, a denizen of Reno often points out, the gay cowboys building electric cars he’s met in Reno are way more Boulder than Boulder. Oops, sorry, Reno, for that slur.)

About two miles up the trail it started to rain and a cold wind blew in from the west. We were in minimalist clothing, but we had sweaters and rain jackets. We opened packs and pulled them out. The Big E just watched and shivered slightly.

“Ethan, aren’t you going to put something warmer on?” I asked.

“Uh, no,” he said.

“Why not?”


“Whatcha got in that pack then?” Jeff asked.

Jeff’s observation was spot on. Ethan looked at his overstuffed academically oriented and notably square backpack, gave us a weak smile, then unzipped the main compartment. He pulled out a book. It was Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time. He pulled out another book: Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract. Then Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right.

A floodgate, it seemed, had been opened.

Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. 

Phenomenology of Mind. 

Science of Logic.

Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men. 

The Principle of Reason. 

Identity and Difference. 

Discourse On Thinking. 

The Confessions. 

The German Constitution. 


A veritable library of philosophy books the rest of us had never heard of were pulled out and shared among Ethan’s small shivering audience.

“You don’t have a shell?” I asked.

“Um, no.”

Jeff and I looked in his pack, just to make sure. Besides additional philosophy books, there were some pens and a notebook. But certainly nothing that anyone in a Tetons snowstorm would consider useful unless you thought a bonfire built with classic intellectuals’ masterworks might keep you going.

We held a quick meeting.

It was June, and down on the plains it was already scorching hot. Up in the canyon, though, it was blizzarding.

images-1Jeff recently (e.g., nearly 30 years later) recalled via email: “So we sent him back to the cabin with instructions to put the beer in the river to get it cold. And at the end of the day, as we drove across the bridge and looked down, there was Ethan, reading on the bank, beer cans slowly floating away downstream….” (I’d forgotten about the kayaking beer cans. Thanks, Jeff.)

After another dinner choking down as many Vienna sausages as we could without raising bile, we played a nasty game where we threw the sausages as hard as we could at the window screens (I recommend everyone try this because it’s quite strange; huck a Vienna sausage as hard as you can at an insect screen and the sausage will—no kidding—go right through it. It might say a bit about the amount of fiber in Viennese cuisine).

We settled in for another night of the unexpected and delightful noises and smells and vibrations generated by five 20-year-old men while they slumber.

In the morning, Benny, Kirk, Jeff, and I left the Big E lying in bed with his very thoughtful, several-hundred-year-old male friends (“Wait, does The Social Contract really have a centerfold?”) and hoofed it up Garnet Canyon again.

We reached the Lower Saddle, where Benny, Kirk, and Jeff all got altitude sickness—or something along those lines. (Thoughts of sausages and insects, I suspect.)

I continued on by myself.


The standard route up the Grand is called the Owen-Spaulding. There’s a section on it called “The Belly Roll,” which is a straightforward traverse across a ledge with a bit of a drop to the Black Ice Couloir below. The Belly Roll, of course, was coated with ice, so I finger-jammed the inch-wide gap between the rock and the ice and shimmied across—and nearly lost my cookies.

Up on the summit I swore I wouldn’t downclimb that. Nope, I was going to wait for whoever was next up and beg a rappel from them.

Miraculously, a few minutes after I reached the “apex” of Wyoming (a curious term climbing-writers often use (like I just did) to prove their cleverness), there was a light clanking sound and two climbers, armed with enough gear to solo girdle traverse the Great Trango Tower and Everest simultaneously, panted their way to the top of the east ridge, where I was waiting for them.

We swapped loud yodels, as Wyoming climbers do, and agreed to swap my knowledge of the standard descent with use of their rope via a crack-cleaning Dulfer-Sitz.

We got down, shook hands, and I ran down the trail, thoughts of vulnerable sausages dancing through my head.

About 10 pm I met Benny and Jeff hiking up the trail to find me. They congratulated me and shepherded me down with their headlamps.

And, as is suggested in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, “there was much rejoicing.”

The funny thing about that trip is how much I learned about preparedness. Clearly, I wasn’t prepared for the weather, climbing conditions, and descent issues on the mountain, and the rest of the crew weren’t prepared for altitude sickness.

And, if Wikipedia is anything to go by, the Owen-Spaulding is, apparently, an aid route. I didn’t even know how to erect a portaledge at that tender age. (That’ll likely get changed 5 minutes after this article is posted.)

UnknownEthan, on the other hand, was ready all along. He had his books and his thoughts, and could’ve spent several years on the banks of Cottonwood Creek, reading and allowing dozens of cans of Mill-gag-me’s Beast to return to their natural habitat in the Yellowstone ecosystem.

Next time I go into the mountains, I’m going prepared—with an armload of books.

Ethan says he has a few I can borrow.

Although he is now in therapy because the above story is completely true, Cam Burns enjoyed every moment of that long (and lost) weekend.

Land in the Sky: Historic Home


The Robert Frost House Museum in Vermont used to be a poet’s house. A sign at the gate says: “Open”. So I walk through the gate and head up to the house. Another sign says: “Come In.” I go in through a door. A lady with officious blue eyes is sitting behind the information desk. She is busy providing information to a young family—a couple with two little girls—about the dangers of ticks in the area. “Don’t even sit on the park benches around here,” she warns the innocents. “The ticks have learned that people like to sit on benches. So the ticks hide there and wait for you! And they will bite! It’s best that you don’t even go outside. Stay inside, where it’s safe.” One of the little girls looks like she’s about to cry. The parents exchange a look. The woman behind the information desk continues her homily concerning the great outdoors. I wait my turn. When she is done with the young family, they thank her and flee to their car. Now it’s my turn.

I step up to the desk. “Welcome to the historic home of Robert Frost,” she says without spirit. “How much to get in?” I ask. “Six dollars,” she says. I hand it over. She hands me a one-page museum guide and points to a door. Over the door hangs a sign that says: “Start Here”. So I do. I walk through the door into something called “The Robert Frost Room.” The walls are lined with display panels full of informative words and pictures. The only piece of furniture in the room is an old couch that once belonged to Robert Frost. A sign on the couch says not to sit on it. So I don’t.

Instead, I start reading the writing on the walls. It’s all about Robert Frost and his time in here in Vermont. It turns out that Robert Frost had several historic homes in New England. A couple of them were in New Hampshire and two in Vermont. The other historic Robert Frost home in Vermont is only a couple miles from this one. I wonder where, exactly. I enjoy visiting historic homes of writers and would like to see that one too. The pamphlet does not say. On the wall is an old picture of Robert Frost. He’s in his middle years. He’s sitting in a wooden chair in front of a big tree and he’s wearing suspenders. He looks like a poet caught between writing poems. The wall explains that this photo was taken right outside in the yard. It says: “You used to be able to look out that nearby window and see that very tree but it’s gone now.” I look out the window to see for myself. Nothing but a tangle of shrubbery. I move on to the next room.

This one is called “The Stopping by Woods Room”. The pamphlet tells why: “This is the historic spot where Frost wrote one of his most famous poems, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.’” I take a solemn look around the room. The pamphlet continues: “The entire room is devoted to this poem—the story of how it was written, a facsimile of the handwritten manuscript, a controversial comma, a presentation of meter and rhyme, what the critics said about the poem, and what Frost said about it.” I learn that he wrote the poem at the dining room table on a hot June morning in 1922. That particular table is not here anymore. There is a facsimile of it, and it’s for sale. I can’t afford it. What would I write on it anyway? I skip the informational panels in this room. I already know everything I need to know about this famous poem by Robert Frost. I probably know too much. I wish I could leave it all here for somebody else.

I exit The Stopping by Woods Room through another door. I find myself back where I started. There’s the lady at the information desk. She’s working on a crossword puzzle and does not look up. I ask her where the other historic Robert Frost home around here is. She looks up from her crossword puzzle and shakes her head with gusto: “No! It’s private.” So I ask her if this historic Robert Frost home that we’re in right here right now is haunted. I always ask that of docents when I visit historic homes. She looks at me sternly and says, “No! Not that I’m aware of.” She goes back to her crossword puzzle. I don’t have any more questions.

I leave the historic home of Robert Frost by the same door I entered. Outside, lying against a stone wall, is some brand new signage, not yet installed on the grounds. I have to tilt my head to read it. It’s a health alert. Something to do with ticks.

Southwest Festival of the Written Word

Fayhee and Sojourner to Headline Written Word festival in New Mexico This Fall.

If you have been looking for a semi-literate excuse to visit New Mexico’s astounding Gila Country, here it is. Mountain Gazette alumni M. John Fayhee and Mary Sojourner will be presenters at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word at Western New Mexico University in Silver City this fall.
35081_1397627173412_2129881_nFayhee, author of, among many others, Smoke Signals, used to be MG’s
editor and was the man responsible for bringing the magazine back to life in the 1990s after it had long been out of print. He was also a contributing editor at Backpacker magazine for more than a decade. His presentation is titled “Outdoor Writing: Evolution, Ethics, Exposure and Extreme Exaggeration.” It will take place Friday, Oct. 3 from 3:30-4:40 p.m.
Mary-Sojourner-01-500pixSojourner, author of, among others, She Bets Her Life, will present a
seminar on editing 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on Saturday Oct. 3. In addition, Phillip Connors, author of the award-winning Fire Season, will conduct a seminar on memoir writing on Saturday Oct. 3 from 3-4 p.m.


All aspects of the SFWW are free and open to the publicFayhee says he will be available for beer consumption throughout the weekend, especially if you’re buying. Bring your hiking boots, mountain bike, appropriate hot-springs attire,
camera and venture on down to southwest New Mexico, where the weather will
be almost guaranteed perfect.

Photo: Fayhee ponders deep literary topics in New Mexico’s Gila Country, home to the Southwest Festival of the Written Word. (Courtesy M. John Fayhee)