On backpacking trips longer than about three days, especially on solo trips, I like to bring a book along. I hardly ever get bored just relaxing and soaking in the views, but still it’s nice to have some extra brain food.
Because of the demands of backpacking, any good backcountry book needs to meet certain physical criteria. It must be compact and lightweight – so it must be a paperback, ideally with small condensed print. I had a brilliant idea once of publishing little “backpacker” editions of books, on thin Bible paper with really small print and perhaps a little companion dry bag. But for now, regular thin paperbacks will do.
Subject matter is also important to consider. Novels can be a poor choice because of the danger of ripping through the story too fast. You don’t want to haul around a book for five days if you’ll only get to enjoy it for one or two. Some novels can also seem like a petty distraction compared to the magnificence of nature around you. If I wanted petty distractions, I’d stay at home and browse YouTube.
I also try to avoid bringing books that have a singular disturbing topic; Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer is good example of this. Interesting book for sure, but the last thing I want to do for five days in the mountains is immerse myself in the world of fundamentalist Mormonism.
In my opinion, the best backpacking books are non-fiction, in particular philosophy or spirituality related books. The subject matter can be every bit as profound as your surroundings, perhaps even leading to a deeper connection with the surrounding landscapes. Philosophical books demand closer concentration and slower, more deliberate reading than novels. One chapter can often provide enough food-for-thought to digest all day long, and being out in the wilderness provides the time and focus to do so. These books can also withstand multiple reads; sometimes you can even get more out of it the second time through.
I am pleased to have been invited as one of the featured artists for this year’s Arts Beat in Ouray, on May 30th. A number of new large format prints will be on display in the Skol Gallery, which is also where I had a show last year.
I also was asked to design the poster for this year’s event, so naturally I chose a San Juan mountain photo theme!
If you can’t tell from all my recent posts, I’m in the midst of a bad case of spring skiing fever, or more accurately, spring snowboarding fever. This time of year more than ever I have the acute feeling of “so much to do, so little time.” I can’t stop thinking of all those high couloirs and snowfields being naturally groomed by the warm sunny days and cold high-altitude nights – waiting for me to get up there and carve them before they melt away.
So, I was elated tonight to discover a treasure trove of awesome backcountry ski reports from Sky Sjue at SkiSickness.com. Sky and his friends have skied many incredible big mountain lines in the Cascades, and Sky has amassed an inspiring collection of photos and trip reports that help stoke the fever.
On Sunday we skied/rode a great line in the Ragged Mountains of Colorado. This line provided a healthy 4,000+ vertical feet of skiing/snowboarding, from the summit to the road. Many of these photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.
Hiking to the summit, which a big Elk Range backdrop.
In 2006 – 2007, within the span of one year, Aspen skiier Chris Davenport skied down ALL of Colorado’s 54 fourteeners (mountains over 14,000 feet). You can read all about this epic project on Chris’s website: SkiThe14ers.com.
Chris had a bunch of filmers and photographers join him for many of the climbs and descents, and they made a 42 minute movie about the quest. Unfortunately the US Forest Service won’t let him release the movie because of some technicalities about filming permits.
So, I was super excited last week to hear that Chris published a coffee table book about the project, and I bought it soon thereafter. I knew this book would not only get me pumped on the spring riding season which is pretty much upon us; but it would also provide me with some inspiration for ski photography. Indeed, the book is full of amazing ski photography by Christian Pondella and Ted Mahon, among others. It’s also got a good amount of text to read about Chris’s experiences on each mountain.
This weekend I met up with Ann Driggers and Seth Anderson, some new ski buddies I met through SummitPost.org, to ski some lines in the La Sal Mountains in Utah. The La Sals rise 8,700 vertical feet above the city of Moab and all the surrounding canyonlands. I was excited not only to check out a new mountain range, but to snowboard down some of these lofty desert peaks that I’ve gazed up at so many times from the canyonlands far below.
The La Sals were also a good choice for this time of year because the snow there has already settled into a solid springtime snowpack, unlike the snowpack here in the San Juans, which is still transitioning from winter.
DAY ONE: TUKLEAR REACTION
Our first objective was Mount Tukuhnikivatz, or “Tuk” for short. This pyramid-shaped peak is one of the most notable mountains in the La Sals, easily visible for hundreds of miles from the south side of the range.
With crampons on our feet and skis/board strapped on our backs, we hiked on the solidly frozen snow pretty much straight up one of the ridgelines for 3200 vertical feet or so to the summit. It felt so strange to peer down at vast red rock canyonlands while we were hiking on snow. The mountain is so much higher than the surrounding deserts that you almost feel like you’re looking out from an airplane.
Who said it was spring? Winter has come back with a vengeance in April. Just like last season, March and April have switched places… March was dry, April has brought the snow. Today it felt like mid winter, with 16ºF temperatures, deep powder, and mayhem on the pass. Here’s some pictures from our morning line.
When I first stumbled across Kevin Thurner’s website, I was completely amazed and inspired by his collection of photos from the North Cascades and beyond. I recently emailed Kevin some questions to learn more about his photography.
You have an extensive portfolio of photos from the Washington Cascades. What is it about these mountains that draw you so?
This goes right to the point I suppose, but is tougher to answer than you might expect. I’ve sometimes thought of my time in these mountains as a kind of relationship. It’s been a progression of sorts as most things are.
Not being a native of the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t know much about the Cascades for quite some time. I gradually became aware of their alpine reputation in a very general way, mostly through news accounts of the Himalayan feats of various Northwest climbers. I remember at one point coming across a few small photos of the North Cascades in an outdoor magazine that tantalized me, but offered little more to go on. They remained in the back of my mind as a kind of mysteriously veiled mountain kingdom.
In the early 80’s I hitchhiked through parts of Washington State more than once and glimpsed Mt Rainier for the first time. Then a few years later, I saw a copy of the Beckey Guides in a climbing store in Boulder, Colorado. The pictures in those books confirmed to me that these were mountains of an altogether different character than the ranges I’d explored. They even intimidated me a little and I began to think of them as mountains of a different caliber.
My first year in the North Cascades was punctuated by many memorable mountain sojourns, but none as remarkable as the four days I spent over Labor Day weekend approaching and climbing Luna Pk. It was my first view of the Picket Range, and man was I hooked. It became clear to me on that trip that these awesome mountains were within my grasp. What I lacked in technical ability I could make up for with stamina, good route-finding and perseverance. These mountains exuded a different kind of wildness, and their northern, alpine character appealed to me immensely.
My time in the North Cascades has often been tremendously satisfying; and now I have been around them long enough to have built up a rather strong affection. It is still very much a Mountain Kingdom to me.