Vacations, Part Four: A Theme?
Once I had become competent and comfortable in the mountain environment, many of my vacations involved some sort of hiking, skiing and/or climbing. Rather than going into all the boring details, I’ll try to summarize and highlight the best of my mountain trips and the lessons learned.
When my oldest sister, Jane, moved to Colorado with her family, I was in graduate school living on a tight budget. I drove one of two moving trucks out from Massachusetts. It was the largest Jartran they rented, towing Jane’s station wagon with about four of brother-in-law Peter’s kayaks on the roof rack. We collected boats as we traveled across the country. It felt empowering to be so high above the traffic in such a big rig! I had thought I would go hiking with my driving partner, but Crash was one of Peter’s boating friends, so he went white water kayaking on the Animas River which was not an option for me. I had a choice of staying in their suburban home or going off by myself, so I rented a car for my next adventure and stopped along my way to buy a cheap three-sided “tent”. After a night at Rocky Mountain National Park, I drove down to Durango where I managed to get a ticket for the narrow gage railroad train that runs up to Silverton. There are two places they stop to let backpackers get on and off the train, so I was able to make a loop hike from one to the other over the course of four days. What a gorgeous section of the San Juan Mountains I was in! The first night I went a lot farther than I planned because I kept wanting to see what was around the next corner. There was an amazing array of frozen mountain lakes, cliffs and valleys, carpets of grass and wildflowers. It was glorious! The next morning I could only find one of my contact lenses. After an hour searching through my pack and all my belongings, I gave up and started hiking with ‘semi-vision’. That evening, when I unpacked my tarp and sleeping bag, I heard a small pinging noise as the dried-up lens landed on my tarp! Thank goodness! Visions of driving back to Denver without it and the flack I would receive for not having back-up glasses or lenses were highly unpleasant. Besides which, it was really nice to have somewhat normal vision for the hike.
Another grad school excursion and excellent vacation happened when a college friend called to ask if I’d like to go to Lake Tahoe to ski with her and a bunch of her friends. They were renting a condo so it would be pretty economical. Good as it sounded, I had to say no because I had neither the time nor the money. After we were off the phone, I called to see what a flight would cost and within the hour I was calling her back to see if I could still go. Naturally, I never regretted that decision!
For over a decade, I lead trips for the New Hampshire Chapter Appalachian Mountain Club. For a while after my divorce, the trip leaders became my second family. One of my friends, Keith Sullivan, started a climbing group he called “Summit Sensations” and I had the honor of participating in the first two trips: Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier in Washington state. Keith liked to stay on the mountain for several days, giving us flexibility for making the summit, allowing time to practice mountaineering skills, and necessitating carrying huge loads to our base camp. My new friend and tent-mate Diana and I got some curious looks as we carried our packs through the pool area at the hotel to weigh them. Ugh. Over seventy pounds. Eventually I did a third Summit Sensations trip with my friend, Leon, climbing Mt. Whitney via the Mountaineer’s Route.
Our Wednesday Group has been running since the late 1990s and used to make annual trips West. I accompanied them to the Tetons, Glacier (Montana), and Bryce and Zion in Utah. On our Tetons trip, four of us who had already climbed the Grand Teton enjoyed a new adventure climbing Mt. Teewinot. I thought I would stand on the summit, but when I saw how small and pointy it was and the couple thousand foot drop between it and the Grand, I opted to sit instead (see photo above)! Good choice.
Other friends opened opportunities for me including my first ascent of Mt. Whitney (thank you, Helen!), a ski trip to Aspen, hiking in Colorado (including Long’s Peak), and exploring Zion National Park. For my first trip to Whitney, I had carefully packed all my gear and was merrily anticipating the climb, oblivious to the fact that the luggage handler had mixed up the tags and sent my pack to Chicago. Some poor old man who needed a walker got my backpack and I his walker! Oh, no! Fortunately, my friends knew someone in Las Vegas (our jumping off point) and I was able to borrow a pack and a few essentials. Unfortunately, it was a very old frame pack that did not fit me and made bruises on my back side.
Silver Nugget #1: Grab opportunities, even if you sometimes don’t think you can afford to. If it’s a good trip, it will be tough to regret and you can live it over again in your memory indefinitely!
Silver Nugget #2: When you travel, watch the baggage person and make sure the right tags are attached to your luggage. If you’re climbing Mt. Whitney, you probably don’t need a walker just yet.
Silver Nugget #3: Sometimes it’s better to settle for sitting rather than risking death to show off, even if it would be nice to stand on the summit.
Next week, I’m taking a break to publish a different type of post before I try to finish up the Vacation Series with river trips and other Peter-inspired travels. I hope to encourage some smiles with “Now for Something Completely Different”.