After this picture was taken, Narcisse had the misfortune of skiing into a crevasse-like chasm created by creep of the entire snowpack. He fell eight feet onto the wet grass at the bottom of the crevasse. He landed on the point of his shoulder, which separated, and had to be reduced on the spot by one of the guides, who, in his turn, had to churn uphill, sidestepping rapidly through the deep snow to reach him.
I, for my part, skied too close to a tree-well, collapsed the shoulder of the well, and tumbled out of sight and head first into the snow-free column of air next to the trunk, one ski below, with a twist in one ankle. With a teeth-clenched lunge I was able to reach one binding and release it, only to find myself hanging upside-down from the ski above me, dangling by an Arlberg strap and the full length of the front-throw cable, which had come free of its side-hitches.
I was able to pull myself upward slowly and carefully, hand over hand, until I could reach the ski itself. Then I hauled the other ski up from below, and began to build a platform using both skis, which might be able to support my full weight. I could hear the sounds of the second group skiing past, but realized that I would never be able to make myself heard through the thickness of the snowpack, even though I could hear them.
As I thrashed around with my skis, I was suddenly inundated by a cascade from above which threatened to choke off both air and light. At first I thought it must have been some sort of slide set off by passing skiers, but when it finally stopped, I could tell it was caused by one of those enormous, snow-burdened branches above me, unloading its full weight all at once. Coughing and spitting, I first knelt, then stood up on my shaky skis, and began to climb out of the hole.
I knew that the first group, of which I had been a member, was long-gone down the hill, and that the second group, although they had just been here, was also not waiting for anyone. If I could follow just the right set of tracks, at least I could hope to get to where the helicopter had been, even if it in fact was not still there.
It was there, alright, with everybody aboard except for a couple of the guides. I had been in the fast group, and then the slow group, and then the fast group again. Now they took me aside and told me that they had decided that, if I wanted to continue to ski the way that I skied, on the skis that I skied on, that I should get my own helicopter, and my own ski guide.
Not such a bad idea.
Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley.
“For what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tchya know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well, I just don’t understand it.”
— Marge Gunderson, “Fargo”
1) Got irony?
The Denver area has been scoring more than its share of Full-On WTFs lately, and while the two gentlemen who took a corpse out for a night on the town comprised our Best of Denver for 2011, we’re looking at a whole new year and, with it, infinite possibilities for Cartographic. The following happened in November, but because it’s for the January issue, we’re reclassifying it as 2012 material. Ergo: Patrick Sullivan, the former Sheriff of Arapahoe County and the stalwart person for whom the Patrick J. Sullivan Jr. Detention Center was named — ostensibly for the dearth of stupid things he had done — was busted Nov. 29 on charges of trying to trade methamphetamine for sex with a man. And, last we heard, he had taken residence in the chateau that bears his name. During his time as a cop, Sullivan was the 2001 National Sheriff’s Deputy of the Year and — only to add to the Full-On WTF classification here — was a member of a methamphetamine policy task force that made recommendations to the state legislature. No word yet if they’re renaming the jail, but we’re guessing Sullivan is having a pretty deep, dark winter.
2) We’re not all that sad, but not that happy either
We High Country dwellers often talk about our multitude of outlets for happiness, but according to a recent piece in Men’s Health that seemed to piss a few people off, we really aren’t that jolly. Using things like suicide rates, unemployment, percentage of households using antidepressants and the number of people who report feeling emotionally lousy all or most of the time, the magazine came up with St. Petersburg, Fla., as the saddest city in the U.S., with Honolulu as the happiest — or most blues-proof town. So there goes the sunshine factor. Anyway, none of our Mountain West locales made the top-10 list for happiness, falling well behind No. 3 Fargo (let us recall how happy Marge Gunderson was, and whose character rates a No. 75 in Empireonline’s 100 Greatest Movie Characters ) and No. 7 Sioux Falls. Out of 100 cities, Billings managed a 28th-happiest ranking and a C+, while Cheyenne (C+) was 30th. Seattle was 47th, rating a C-, and Denver rolled in with a D+ at No. 47. And our venerable Portland, which always gets raves for being so overwhelmingly pleasant, scored a lowly D at 69th place, three slots worse than Milwaukee, and just below No. 70 Albuquerque. Time to change up our prescriptions, don’tchya know?
3) Wearing whiskers for warmth
If the Deep, Dark Winter has you seeking new sources of warmth (with the possible exception of St. Petersburg), Portland appears to have the last word on facial hair and is the self-acclaimed Beardiest City in America. According to a 2009 issue of Portland Monthly, guys can feel at home with their warm, whiskery plumes in the lumberjack culture of the Pacific Northwest. If you want facial hair but can’t commit to a beard, a study by Quicken and the American Mustache Institute (americanmustacheinstitute.org) found that mustached men earn more money than those who have no mustaches or who have full beards. FYI: Chicago is rated as the most mustache-friendly city in the U.S., and if that ain’t enough — albeit unrelated — the AMI recently shaved its endorsement for presidential candidate Herman Cain.
4) Florida’s looking good
Every year we seem to come up with a new place that is The Most Ass-Biting-Cold Place in the United States, and every year we find slightly different rationale used for the awards. Like, how many frozen-off buttocks are found in the streets. Anyway, courtesy of The Weather Channel, we’re finding Gunnison, Colo., as the second-most-ABC Place in the U.S., with an average daily temperature of 37.3 degrees and a thoroughly enjoyable 60 days on average that go below zero. Jackson, Wyo., came in at a respectable fourth with an average temp of 39 degrees and a record low of -50 on Jan. 1, 1979. We’ve got International Falls, Minn., in third place, naturally, Caribou, Maine, in fifth and the esteemed Barrow, Alaska, leading the pack. With an average daily temp of 10.4 degrees, it plummets below zero a stinging 167 days a year. If you seriously want Deep, Dark Winter, this is your party town.
5) With snow comes shame
According to our research department, whose influence spans the globe, last year’s heavy snows in the U.K. forced snowed-in people into the ravages of adultery. Illicitenounters.co.uk reported 2,500 new members in a single week of last year’s extreme weather. Bringing that methodology to the Mountain West, we can conclude that Squaw Valley, for example, had some serious indiscretion going on with its all-time record snowfall of 810 inches reported as of June 6. Other shame-inducing record snowfalls: Snowbird, Utah, with 783 inches, and Vail at 511 on closing day.
6) Deep dark boredom
It’s the ultimate insult to be on Forbes Magazine’s Most Boring Cities list, which seems to have it out for Arizona — particularly Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert, which took the top three honors in 2009. That’s the latest data we found; figuring people got, well, bored with reading about boring places. Anyway, the list is based on the least amount of national news coverage, making these locales the ultimate places to chill back, or, depending how you see it, a couple notches above hell for a long winter. Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman seemed a bit chafed but came clean, calling his town a “hotbed of celibacy.” Elsewhere in the Mountain Gazette area: Henderson and North Las Vegas, Nev., and Aurora, Colo.
Tara Flanagan splits her time between Boulder and Breckenridge.
Thanks to the forbearance of our long-suffering editor, I’ve been given the opportunity to forego the pittance in recompense that passes for reward to our star-studded (and variously tatted) mountain bards — whose work avalanches into these pages with all the ragged energy of an out-of-control skier but with the compact wallop of a lyric two-by-four. Instead of issuing barely enough bar bucks to buy a good night’s drunk, we’ll be entering each poem accepted for MG’s pages into two annual $100 awards — the Way of the Mountain Prize (to be selected by yours truly for the year’s poem best representing Dolores LaChapelle’s “Way of the Mountain”) and a Karen Chamberlain Prize (for the year’s best poem as voted on by our readers). Send your nominations from any poems from 2011’s issues of MG to: email@example.com
And for those of you who live outside the distributed reach of our tireless bicycle pedalers, we’ll promise to toss you a hard copy of the issue with your piece in it. For official submission guidelines, click here.
— Art Goodtimes Cloud Acre
Parched and staggering,
I have swallowed sweet draughts
from trickling desert springs,
the liquid’s own journey
through cloud, stone, and sand.
Water, like smoke, like music,
moves between worlds.
There is no religion
like water in a dry land.
— Eric Walter Portland
Morning Sun Through Glass
Segmented glasses on the sill,
yellow, red, green, blue,
pouring coloured light to spill
and drip on things beyond my view.
Like this, my heart, be pieced together,
pooling colour where you will
shine through, shine through like this forever
— yellow, red, green, blue.
— Cally Conan-Davies Australian poet visiting U.S. Manitou Springs
The Buddha´s Life
He shoved off gently from
the river bank and glided
through the water soundlessly.
The fish would have been
hard-pressed to bear witness
to his passing.
In truth if it were not
for this poem it
never really happened.
— Larry Grieco Black Hawk
Hope you all had a good time.
I was babysitting a genius.
Stupid young people.
Despite the signal fires of love
& intelligence by you all,
this Age of Endarkenment keeps
lapping at my feet.
Arab Spring, Occupy, are
sweet reactive threads…
But still, G. Benn may have
had it right:
“to live in the dark,
to do in the dark
what we can.”
— Jack Mueller
Creator of Budada Log Hill Village
Head upside home fried
Champagne powder, I lip-smack
Fatback and ignore
Scores of dive judges above
Grinning from slack chair front row
“Path of Beauty: Photographic Adventures in the Grand Canyon,” by Christopher Brown
When you read a biography of a person, you hope that the writer has done his or her research enough to really know the subject of the book, the person he or she is telling you about. If you want to read the biography of a place, especially a monumental place like the Grand Canyon, you want someone like Chris Brown to write it: More than 30 years of hiking, rafting and guiding in the canyon, totaling 35 trips through the canyon on a boat, with a camera at his side all the time. His 115-page book is a love letter, filled with 75 photos and five essays on Encountering the Canyon, Adventure, Beauty and First Sight, Photography, and Reflection — my favorite of which is Adventure, about a mistake Brown made as a raft guide, requiring the rescue of everyone in his boat from a rock in the middle of a rapidly rising Colorado River, and his subsequent redemption. The photographs are stunning, and many of the scenes and colors will surprise anyone not intimately familiar with all the corners of the canyon. Brown is no slouch as an essayist and storyteller, and his passion for a very special place shows in his writing: “While it is always impressive, it is typically spectacular only for a few moments each day when the light is right and then it is sublime.”
“100 Years Up High: Colorado’s Mountains & Mountaineers,” by Janet Neuhoff Robertson, James E. Fell Jr., David Hite, Christopher J. Case and Walter R. Borneman
If you ever forget how much you love Colorado’s mountains, pick up a copy of this book. “100 Years Up High” is a photo-filled history of the Centennial State’s High Country, and the human involvement in it — from early exploration to later conservation, the fun of climbing and skiing and the hard work that resulted in our national parks and national monuments. Each of the bylined authors take on a topic or two in this six-chapter book: Creating a New Club and a New National Park, Reaching Higher, Climbing Harder, Borrowing from Our Children, Carving the Snow and Painting the Peaks. The book, partially funded by the Colorado Mountain Club and published on the CMC’s 100th anniversary, intertwines the story of the club with the history of Colorado’s mountains — a natural combination, given the club’s involvement in all aspects of Colorado’s outdoor legacy, including the 1915 establishment of Rocky Mountain National Park, and finding the original Arapaho names of many of the geographic features in and around the Park. The book’s 176 pages are filled with historic and scenic photos, making the reading very easy on the eyes.
“All That Glitters,” by Margo Talbot
Margo Talbot didn’t take a typical path to becoming a renowned ice climber and guide: childhood abuse, depression and drug addiction, drug smuggling and drug dealing, jail and finally sobriety and therapy. I’m a sucker for a good climbing story that’s more about life than it is about climbing, and Talbot tells her climbing and life stories with unflinching honesty in “All That Glitters.” Beginning with an emotionally abusive and traumatic childhood that led her into substance abuse, and following her into the Canadian Rockies, where she eventually discovered ice climbing, Talbot literally climbs out of the darkness of her depression over the course of several years. But not without a few bumps in the road — during her years of partying, then addiction, she found herself making bad choices, dabbling in drug smuggling and selling, until she finally hit rock bottom in a jail cell after one particularly serious mistake. Talbot eventually begins to find redemption through climbing and her friendship with climber Karen McNeill, whose 2006 death on Alaska’s Mount Foraker dealt a tremendous, traumatic blow to Talbot, but led to the writing of the material that formed the basis of “All That Glitters.” Her writing is without self-judgment, as she lets the reader interpret the events that form the arc of the story.
It’s hard not to think that every conflict the United States enters has as much to do with trying out all the toys as it does about furthering American harmonization around the world. The Army has miles of motor pools full of tanks, self-propelled artillery pieces and whatever other vehicles the Army has managed to stick a gun to. The Air Force has hangars full of rippin’-cool jet fighters and bomb droppers. The Navy has missile launchers and torpedo shooters docked in harbors. Assuming the other services are like the Army, all of that equipment sits, doing nothing except being maintained, and few things bore a military mind like maintenance.
Back in garrison, Monday is maintenance day. We all report to the motor pool, get our Forms 5988 and perform Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services on everything with an engine. Of course, none of the gear has started, stopped or been used at all since the previous Monday, but we are supposed do the checks as if it had just returned from a trip to combat and back. For the most part, though, everyone’s bored out of their minds and so long as nothing’s terribly amiss, the Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services is nothing more than a walk-around and a peek under the hood.
The weekly ritual does serve a real purpose. When you really need your military vehicle to start, you need it to start on the first try, but when all the soldiers do to their equipment is make sure there’s no leaking fluids and the lights work, they get disinterested, and the boredom of continual, pointless maintenance works its way up the chain of command until everyone wants to gas up, load the magazines and see what all the machinery will do. And that’s where a place like Afghanistan comes in.
Our Army is set up for fighting formidable opponents, or at least ones who will build up defensive fortifications, deploy infantry and tanks and then stand and fight. That’s what was so great about Desert Storm. The Iraqi military set itself up and then waited for the U.S. military to come and destroy it. We got to see all of our cool weapons in action, and one must admit they did seem to work just as the Grumman, Boeing and Lockheed salesmen said they would. Ever since, though, there’s not too many armies lining up to be destroyed, and so we must make the best of the opportunities that present themselves.
It’s got to be frustrating for a lot of military men to be stuck in Afghanistan where the enemy is so small and disorganized that the United States military finds itself hilariously undermatched. Generals have budget requests to defend. They want the newest cool weapons American salesmen are having the engineers cook up, and so the Army’s men — from general to private — have a knack for taking relatively trivial dangers and massaging them into existential threats.
My team has been sent to a Forward Operating Base, or FOB, in eastern Afghanistan. One night, there’s a threat of enemy action. My soldiers each get a part of the building to guard. They borrow some night-vision gear from one of the other units and get outside to take up their positions. Things are tense on the FOB, but nothing really happens. No soldier on the FOB fires a single shot, nor are any of them fired upon. After an hour or so, the threat is judged to have passed, and we gather for an after-action review.
“We really need our own night-vision goggles,” one of them tells me. Those things are mission-essential equipment, he insists.
“Yeah,” another chimes in. “I don’t want to get shot by some guy I can’t even see. You need to tell the company that they need to send us night-vision gear.”
They were playing up the “danger” in hopes of getting more toys. The automatic rifle with 800 rounds of ammo wasn’t enough. I was disappointed in them; junior enlisted men acting as if they were a crew of three-star generals testifying before a congressional committee.
“Here, ser’nt. Check out the stars,” one told me as he handed over the scope so I could judge for myself the vital role it would play in defending freedom. I put it to my eye and looked up.
“Wow,” I thought, “that is pretty cool.” The sky lit up with stars the way it does high in the mountains on a moonless night. I considered the argument I’d have to make for the commander.
“Sir,” I’d begin, “apart from the astounding, mind-expanding astronomical observations we’d be making with the night-vision gear, don’t forget that we are at war out here against a sneaky and deadly enemy who will stop at nothing to kill American soldiers. Our ability to see in the dark could make the difference between victory and defeat.”
He was unconvinced. May he be promoted many, many times.
Ex-Colorado High Country resident Sgt. Mike wishes the Army could settle on a less-hostile playground. Meanwhile, he’s eating lots of carrots.
In 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued Inter Caetera, a papal bull that divided the discovered world between Spain and Portugal. That left England, France and the Netherlands with no sea routes to Asia. The ban was much ignored but nonetheless triggered the quest for northern alternatives to voyages south around Africa.
The English, the master navigators of their day, were first to mount expeditions seeking sea passages in Arctic waters. In 1553, Hugh Willoughby went northeast with three ships, and, in 1576, Martin Frobisher went northwest with three barks. Thereafter, there were 40-some expeditions, divided about equally between those seeking the Northeast Passage and those seeking the Northwest Passage. Most were marginally successful. Some were disastrous, such as John Franklin’s Northwest Passage expedition of 1845 on which almost everything went wrong and 11 of the party died.
Finally, the passages were proven to exist, the Northeast in 1878-79 by the Nordenskiöld expedition, and the Northwest in 1903-1906 by Roald Amundsen. But proving that the passages were there didn’t lead to their immediate navigation. Held back by being blocked in the Arctic ice, the Nordenskiöld expedition had taken a year and Amundsen had taken three years, hardly viable voyage times for commercial shipping.
That was status quo for most of the 20th century. Everyone knew that the Arctic passages were there, but nobody knew how to cope with the ice in them. Some suggestions were put forth to avoid the ice by going under it in cargo-carrying submarines. In World War I, the German navy proved the basic concept of cargo submarines technically feasible, and during the Cold War, nuclear-powered American, British and Russian navy submarines had shown that it was possible to traverse the Arctic under the ice cap. But the submarine solution was found impractical and expensive for civilian applications. Apparently, nobody thought that global warming brought about by human activity would lead to melting the ice, but that now seems to be what is happening.
In the summer of 2008, satellites observed that the Northeast Passage, now known by the Russian name, Northern Sea Route (NSR), and the Northwest Passage both were open for the first time since satellite monitoring of the Arctic began in the 1970s. Records suggested that the event may have signaled a new regime, with the extent of summer sea ice declining year-by-year.
In August 2011, evidence of that trend came literally in a big way. The huge Vladimir Tikhonov tanker, owned by Sovcomflot of Russia, completed a one-week transit of the NSR. It wasn’t the first tanker to complete the passage. In 1997, the Uikku tanker of Finland had been the first. But the Vladimir Tikhonov was by far the biggest yet, at 160,000 deadweight tons, ten times the tonnage of the Uikku. It’s a “Suezmax” tanker, which means that it’s the largest size of vessel that can fit through the Suez Canal.
Some photos of the Vladimir Tikhonov supertanker show it sailing in calm, nearly ice-free waters, accompanied by an icebreaker. That reflects the remaining unknown aspects of polar sea ice. More needs to be known about the thickness as well as the extent of the sea ice, not only for Arctic navigation, but principally to understand how climate change is affecting vulnerable polar regions. In 1998, the European Space Agency (ESA) responded to that challenge by initiating the CryoSat program of satellites designed to measure the thickness of sea ice. In 2005, the first CryoSat satellite was launched, but was lost in a launch failure. Its replacement was launched in April 2010 and achieved its purpose admirably. At the Paris Air and Space Show in June 2011, ESA released the first-ever detailed maps of Arctic sea-ice thickness. In time, the maps will enable scientists to improve the understanding of how much and why Arctic sea ice is thinning due to changing climate.
The thinning of the ice is the most visible change, but other far-reaching changes are underway. Perhaps most significant, the warming of the Arctic also is affecting marine life, as cold-adapted species are moving north. Satellites have recently been used to study the extent of that migration. In August 2010, two bowhead whales, one from waters around Alaska and the other from West Greenland, entered the Northwest Passage from opposite directions and spent ten days in the same area in the Canadian High Arctic. Their movements were precisely known, as they had been tagged with satellite transmitters by the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources in Nuuk. As for ships, the opening of passages in Arctic waters may benefit bowheads. But it may be a disaster for walruses that need sea ice on which to breed. In turn, that will affect many Inuits for whom walrus hunting is a mainstay.
M. Michael Brady lives in a suburb of Oslo, where he works as a translator. A natural scientist by training, he takes his vacations in France. Dateline: Europe appears monthly in MG.
We’re in the market for decorative envelopes to help beautify our Letters pages. If you’ve got an artistic envelope bent, pull out your weapons-of-choice, decorate an envelope with our snail mail address on it, mail the resultant envelope to us, and, if we print it, we’ll give you a year’s subscription to the Mountain Gazette.
Thumbs up for “Pee”
Editor: I loved Jen Jackson’s piece on Moab (“When in Doubt, Pee on the Fire,” MG #183). It really captured the spark that makes living here great despite being inundated by goobs most of the year.
Bruce Dissel Moab, UT
Wait, don’t pee on our fire
John: After reading the fine article, “When in Doubt, Pee on the Fire,” by Jen Jackson, I had a few thoughts on that flame of eccentricity burning out in Durango that she was referring to. See, I just moved to Durango within the year, and felt the call to defend, or at least comment on, what I’ve seen here. (I should add Jen’s piece kept me happily occupied as I waited in line at the Durango post office one afternoon.)
I rolled into Durango after living in Gunnison-Crested Butte, Colorado, for over a decade. Like many a mountain town residents, the surroundings of an area are essential to my enjoyment of the place, as well as the culture of the people. In Crested Butte, they have both — great rocks, trails and mountains, as well as frequent townie takeovers (a naked one caused quite a stir this summer, I hear), costumed/themed sporting events nearly every weekend (chainless bike race down Kebler Pass, anyone?) and characters that just wouldn’t quite make it anywhere else besides a funky little mountain town.
With this ingrained in my soul, I wondered if I could love Durango in a similar way. I rolled into town waving my freak flag high, with my 220,000-mile spray-painted red, white and blue Freedom Mobile Mazda MX 6. Much to my delight, Durango seems to have more graffiti’d cars per capita than anywhere else I’ve been in Colorado. “Oh, I’ve seen this car around,” is always an icebreaker when I meet new people out and about. One guy I met from Durango out at Indian Creek described my car as immediate probable cause, but, well, that’s Utah, and, fortunately, Colorado honors freedom more than Utah. (Really, a state that tries to bust people for bringing beer across a border? It’s 2012, people.)
Where do we look for companionship and camaraderie in a new town? We look for those that share our interests. I look to the climbers. One couple I’ve met is incredibly resourceful, and maybe a bit eccentric. They grow plenty of their own food, and even resole their own climbing shoes. The guy fixes his own vehicles (he’s also the new Freedom Mobile mechanic), and the woman knits all sorts of things, most notably a breast-shaped pillow (really impressive … you have to see it to believe it) and a penis-shaped mini-hat, which sits on top of a mini-Christmas tree (year round).
There are others I haven’t met yet, only heard about, for example, a woman who goes on epic hikes on the Colorado Trail, foraging for food along the way. There’s the woman I see all around who always carries hula-hoops (must be for sale?). Then you have the “23 Feet” crew, who embarked from Durango to make a film about “people living simply in order to pursue their passion for the great outdoors.” Check that one out (there’s a review in the last issue of MG).
There are funky bikes and funky cars. This is a town filled with funk. On Halloween, the funk was confirmed, though I didn’t necessarily agree with the winners of the costume contest at Carver’s. Four men dressed as Mennonites beat out the two sexy robot girls (sexy girls should always win over creepy dudes). The best costume of the night, though, one I saw while cruising the streets of downtown, was a trio of guys dressed as the Jabbawockeez dance crew. Challenged to prove their skills, they did, with some dope break dancing.
Anywho, I gotta go now, with some deadlines to attend to. Just thought I’d represent my new ’hood.
Luke Mehall, Durango, CO
Following some sketchy tracks
Dear John: Just a quick note in the spirit of the week to say thank you for keeping it real. I have been a reader, nay, a worshiper, of the Mountain Gazette for as long as I can remember. I ran away from my home in Tennessee to come to Colorado as soon as I graduated high school, and have been living the dream you write about for 22 years. I’ve even tried to follow in your proverbial ski tracks so to speak. In fact, my girlfriend and I are even now living in Frisco. I’ve done stints in Steamboat Springs, Nederland and on the dreaded Front Range.
Regardless, I was inspired to write this morning after reading the current issue cover to cover, as is my practice, and stumbling upon the lamentations of the article entitled “Resurrection,” by B. Frank. “This place was once my hometown. It was one of the first destination ski resorts in North America, and like most last best towns betrayed by travel mags out to make a buck” … (the truth hurts) … “it suffers the afflictions common to other pick-your-poison elite retreat, real estate development zones that now dot the Mountain West. The streets are familiar but the stores are up-scale and mostly empty of shoppers, seasonal-worker safehouses I once hung out in are gingerbread restoration projects geared to flip on the next boom cycle, dogs are on leashes, and so are most of the people I meet. I’ve had about enough nostalgia for one walk and am heading back to my truck to get the hell out of town …”
The dogs are on leashes and so are most of the people I meet. Not that I’m all that bitter, just sometimes, but thankfully the Mountain Gazette still exists to remind me of how good it was, how good it can be, and that there are still some folks out there who get it. Take care, John, hope to see you out there some time.
Aaron Bible, Frisco CO
Choking on Chile
Most Precious Fayhee, oh man, just gotta say… you are a national treasure. serious. I can’t even believe how many years/decades you’ve been making me crack up from a very real, gut-deep, high-mountain-zeal-for-living place inside. your Smoke Signals — The Discovered — in your November, 2011 issue had me choking on my green chile burrito and wiping laughter-based tears by paragraph three. and here is the thing … i haven’t even read past paragraph ten cuz, like, it’s such a glittery jewel of writing so far, it’s like I’m compelled toward delaying self-gratification in case the next fourteen (yeah, i counted) paragraphs don’t meet the standard set by the first ten (it should be noted, however, that this is tendency of ilgs …like, for instance, the fact that i haven’t been back to Yosemite in over 20 years because, well, we used just drive our little sport pick-up with a camper shell on it, right up to the base of New Dimensions wall and camp … it’s like, the present can’t compete with my imprint of the past, so why ruin it?).
honestly, i don’t know how you sustain the health of your creativity (or your liver and lungs!) … even as a two-time cover athlete of that tragic mag, OUTSIDE, ilg just bows to you as low as my paltry padmasana allows for your loving perseverance and stalwart support of deep-fiber mountain journalism. feeble ilg cannot even imagine sharing this plane(t) without Fayhee somewhere on it (or hovering near it, at least). dat’s all. now that i’ve finished my 2,000’ vert of snowshoe hill repeats in La Plata Canyon’s fresh November pow? i’m feeling ready to take on those next fourteen paragraphs of yours. but first, i need to grab me a local brew …
coach steve ilg durango, CO
ps: LOVED the Bar Issue cover, ’cept that the Scarpa tele boots were too shiny and new … i coulda loaned you my beat up pair … just ask! ;-)
Uncle John’s Band
John, I read your write-up on your story about 9/11 (“North by Northwest,” Smoke Signals, MG #182). Well, tonight I wrote mine about my trip up the Grand Teton on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with Veterans Expeditions. I am not an English major, but here it is. I hope you read it. Edit the hell out of it and please share it with others. I will attach a picture of Uncle John.
For 30 years I had wondered what it would be like to stand on top of Grand Teton. As a little boy, I daydreamed of my father’s own experience as a young 20-something atop the mountain as he told his story time and time again. He told me one day I too could reach the summit and behold all of what Wyoming stood for the vast freedom of our land.
Thirty years later, I awoke early. Steve at my side, ever ready, shot out of our tent into darkness fully prepared for what lay ahead and disappeared into morning that was still night. I moved quickly. Did I have what I needed? Headlamp throwing shadows as I placed this and that into my bag and took this and that out of my bag.
Into the cool night air I arose. My stomach calling, I headed toward voices below. Water for coffee was heating as quiet chatter emerged. Tents stirred as more people entered for caffeine and food. I sat with my thoughts of what was to come. My father’s stories turning in my head no longer daydreams, but a reality to come.
We set out into night with headlamps exposing a maze of boulders heading for the saddle like giant stirrups occasionally misplacing feet. We talked. I sang. It was not pleasing, but when I asked what I could sing, the guide only replied, “Make it the blues.” GNR Welcome to the Jungle, Blues, misquoted, but satisfying to my anxiety and fear.
I told them I was feeling anxiety. You know how you tell the party you’re with where you’re at. Well I did. Erica America stated that we could rope up. Now not a bad idea, but I have kids and a wife back home. However, I should not have said no. Next thing I knew, our lead guide Scott says, “Nick! Aaron! You two follow me.” “Follow you where?” I thought. “It is fucking dark out here and why are we leaving the group?“ “We are going through the Key Hole. You guys are going to love this.” In the darkness, I could feel his grin.
My headlamp immediately noticed the ledge and watched as Scott left center stage and disappeared behind stage left. “Put your hand here,” a voice said. “It is a good hold. Just grab on and swing around.” I looked down, down and down some more until my light petered out into the darkness. “Hell, yeah,” I thought to myself. Dad would be proud. We continued this way along the ledge, unroped, and as a key entered Key Hole. My inner soul had been unlocked and my anxiety lifted. I was ready to climb.
After that, it was like time flew by. Twilight began to embrace us as the dawn signaled a new day. There across the valley floor, a shadow stretched out with the new day. It was grand and as I moved the shadow grew. I stood atop the mountain. Our summit time was 8:03 Mountain Time. Ten years earlier, a same time for flight 93. Here we all were. Seven Veterans from different time periods and different life experiences shared that day on the summit of the Grand Teton. It had been a long time since I had held an American flag as first call to colors rang out in my head. It had been a long time.
We all had our reasons to climb that day. I chose to climb for my Uncle John. He didn’t die in the Vietnam War or receive the bronze star. He was young like the rest of us when he joined the military — Steve the Army, Nick the Army, Stacy the Army, Chad the Army, Jared the Air Force, Dana the Navy and I the Navy. He changed like the rest of us when we come home. However, he became really sick with schizophrenia and coped by drinking. I remember driving for hours with my mom and dad out looking for him as he wandered the streets, another homeless vet. He never came home and we left to our new home in Wyoming without him.
Here on the Grand Teton, I took out his picture that I carried with me on so many of the trips leading up to this one. I took one last photo of my uncle with the shadow of the mountain behind him. The shadow he and I were no longer in.
I’m running through a high pasture north of Nederland and east of the Indian Peaks. There are thirty or forty brown cows up here for the summer. If I were of an agricultural bent, I could name this type of cow, but to be truthful, one cow is pretty much the same as another; they are simply ambulatory meat delivery systems to me. These aren’t exactly “show-quality” cows or even “companion-quality” cows. You know what I mean, like those insufferable light brown bovines in Switzerland with absolutely clean coats and brass bells hanging from their necks. These are just a bunch of scruffy, raggedy-looking cows.
This brute with a line of drool hanging out of his mouth is standing next to the trail. He stares directly at me and asks: “What you looking at?”
“Who’s asking?” I counter.
“That’s your name?”
“Yeah, what of it?” asked the cow.
“That can’t be your name. Fred Praeger was a self-proclaimed genius book publisher. Besides that, how did you learn to talk?”
“It is possible that you are simply imagining that I am talking,” suggested the cow.
It is at moments like this when I carefully review my mental and chemical state. There are a good number of benefits to trail running. In my case, sanity is one of those benefits. Should I not run for a week, I tend to get grouchy. A clear indication that I need to go for a trail run is when Blue Eyes moves my moccasins up close to the front door so that she doesn’t have to look around when she wants to toss them out into the front yard.
I’ve been running for an hour or so. I had a full charge of oatmeal with maple syrup and fruit for breakfast. I’m well-hydrated and most of my parts are painless. So I pass the mental checklist.
The chemical checklist is a tad bit more vague. Endorphins from running can do some fairly strange things to my chemical makeup. They tend to make me smile and act unreasonably cheerful. However, they don’t usually tend to allow me to hear a cow talking.
Full disclosure requires an admission of youthful experimentation with known controlled substances. There is the possibility that this talking cow is due to some level of flashback. And then again, this is a mountain cow, he could actually be talking to me. Stranger things have happened up here.
Not one to ignore the possibility of a new experience, I stop running and talk to the brute,
“I can’t believe you are the same Fred Praeger. He would have at least come back as a bull.”
“How about Ambrose Bierce?”
“No way, he had to come back as an eagle. You are just a steer.”
“Great, you don’t even know me and you’re making fun of my sexual orientation,” he says and starts to walk away.
“Wait, wait, wait,” I say, “So who are you really? And how did you end up as a steer?”
“Okay, so my real name is unimportant. I’m here because I invented the Master of Business Administration degree.”
“Wow, tell me more.”
“It’s not a pretty story.”
“So how did you come up with the idea?”
“There were these moderately smart kids at the university, not smart enough to be engineers or dentists, even though they thought they knew everything. We needed to do something with them to increase our enrollments in the business school.”
“Yeah, that sort of makes sense.”
“We knew that we had to put their arrogance to work, so we started telling them that they could become masters of the universe if they would apply a few simple principles to their work.”
“Yeah, let me guess what the principles were?”
“OK, give it a try.”
“You taught them that optimizing profit at any cost was their sole reason for existence.”
“Right, you are almost smart enough to have an MBA,” said the steer.
“You taught them that that lowering the quality of a product, demanding greater productivity from the workers and thinking only of short-term gain were all roads to success.”
“You got it,” said the steer.
“And you taught them to treat all their colleagues with sarcastic contempt, as if their ideas were useless.”
“You could have been a dentist.”
“Wow, that’s amazing. And for developing the MBA, God turned you into steer?
“Yup, she did.”
“What about all these other cows? They are just cows, aren’t they?”
“Nope,” he said looking around. “They were all professionals at one time or another.”
“Nope. See the cow over there with the really short legs?”
“Yeah, he’s a weird-looking cow.”
“That’s Steven Nordski from Seattle. He was the engineer for Boeing who invented the middle seat.”
“Wow, and who was that cow over there who looks like he has lost most of his hair?”
“Oh that’s Sam. God gave him a permanent lice infection.”
“What did he do?”
“I think he was the insurance executive who came up with preexisting conditions, but he might have been in charge of policy cancellations,” said the steer.
“What about the cow with particularly big ears and eyes?”
“That’s Darryl, who came up with playing three-minute ads in movie theaters. I could go on and on.”
“Okay, the cow over there with the really big tongue, he got here for his work on industrial tomatoes. The cow who looks like a pig and has really ratty looking ears used to be a Senator.”
“You’d better explain,” I say.
“Earmarks,” said the cow.
“And the cow who is sitting down and doing nothing?” I asked, “Let me guess.”
“Go for it.”
“Okay, I’d bet he had something to do with starting public employee unions.”
“Good” said the cow. “Take another guess. How about the cow who is moving his hooves all over his own body?”
“Easy,” I said, “he obviously invented TSA screeners.”
“And the cow who is on fire? What did he do?” the steer asked.
“Piece of cake, he invented suicide bombers.”
“More?” asked the steer.
“Yeah, who is cow up to his neck in a huge puddle of his own shit?”
“He was a partner at Goldman Sachs,” said the steer. “Any other questions?”
“No, I get the picture. What profession is most represented in this herd?”
“I was mistaken,” said the steer, “You’re not smart enough to be a dentist. Any fool would know that most of these cows were lawyers.”
“Oh, yeah, right. How could I forget that? What about women? This herd is all steers from what I can see.”
“God doesn’t turn professional women into cows,” said the steer.
“But there are a good number of professional women doing dumb stuff.”
“Professional courtesy,” said the steer, who then ambled off.
Senior correspondent Alan Stark is a principal of Boulder Bookworks. His blog, “Mountain Passages,” can be viewed on mountaingazette.com.
You won’t admit it, even though your bluegrass friends might be more understanding, but you are secretly amused by the emoto-schlock lyrics served up by classic country music. Country music vocalists are basically soul singers, but what is it that makes country lament in ways that are deeply rooted in the same stuff as the blues? Hardship … hard luck in life, love and unfulfilled expectations. Traditional country is a romance novel rolled into a reality show and set to music. Clever, vengeful, heartfelt and notoriously comical, the lyrics span content ranging from d-i-v-o-r-c-e and the habitually jilted to countrified patriotism and redneck validation. There are love songs about pickup trucks, philosophy for raising children, memorials for grandmothers and odes to dogs.
No other music genre does love songs, splitsville and misery better than country, except maybe Italian opera, where someone is always betrayed, lied to, murdered or foreclosed on, with spectacular flair. La Scala’s country cousin is in Nashville and called the Grand Ole Opry. Achy-Breaky as it is for diehards, the old genre morphed into mainstream Americana acoustic rock and the lyric writers of the three-minute joke became noticeably more poetic a decade or so ago.
Craig McManus, a knowledgeable country DJ of both camps, explains the transformation of the music. “What you’re not hearing anymore are the silly lyrics that country music was known for. It wasn’t catchy, it was just silly and contrived. Most of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson stuff was that way during that time. What it’s evolved into is from the real heart of soul.” Craig still sees two factions. “It’s almost split into one wing that’s God, country and family and the other has gone into actual human feelings that are more honest, more down to earth. What they used to call down to earth back then was a little lofty and not down to earth at all. In country, folk and rock today, some of the music is so similar, you can segue between all of those styles. The genres have blended so much that alternative root is alternative country, which is now a combo of folk country and acoustic rock.”
This month, you can witness the contrast of both modern and classic country up at the end of the road in Crested Butte. Although they’re calling it an inaugural event and even changed its name to the Crested Butte Songwriters Festival, the town hosted the wild hootenanny called Country in the Rockies for well over a decade. In 2008, during a remodel of the main accommodations for the performers, the hoedown was moved to the champagne snow slopes of Steamboat Springs and then to Nashville for 2009. However, by 2010, the clamoring arose to bring it back to CB with much of the hooting coming from the musicians themselves … perhaps it was all the local ladies unabashedly gyrating on the bar tops, coaxing donations into their collective cleavage to help the stars raise upwards of $50k in a single evening for the fundraising breast cancer research sponsor T.J. Martell. The newly renamed Crested Butte Songwriters Festival will stir up the sequins and glitter in a sea of cowboy hats, January 13 and 14, 2012, and build on the popularity of its former self without sacrificing the caliber of talent or fun, and still continue to raise big bucks for breast cancer research.
Country in the Rockies brought hundreds of visiting big spenders and jovial locals out to cruise the many different acts throughout the liver of Crested Butte. There were songwriting seminars with the stars, celebrity bartenders and concerts in the round for almost a full week. The stars got to shred the slopes alongside the town clan. The new event is starting out smaller for its first year, but will undoubtedly expand back into a party of extended workshops and concerts in the coming years as it gets rolling again.
The entourage starts at 8 p.m. on Friday the 13th at the rowdy Kochevar’s bar and moves to the Eldo Brewery at 10 p.m., with the admission a reasonable pay-what-you-can. If you prefer the less boisterous, Saturday night will feature a real concert ($50, crestedbuttearts.org). It’s just fine if you only have a few bucks to toss into Friday’s kitty because others will toss several thousand into the hat. So get on up and take an honest look at the real country music of dirt roads and hollow body guitars through its singers and songwriters. And the locals will even invite you up to dance on the bar.
Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer, traveler and musician living in Crested Butte. She can infamously shake it dancing on the bar. A feature writer for the Crested Butte News-Weekly, her musings and photography have been published in numerous mags and rags around the planet. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org