Category Archives: Meta

Subscription move

As stated in the previous post, all new content is going to, though I will keep this site to avoid causing dead links elsewhere. If you subscribed via email to this site, you should now be subscribed to the new site. If you subscribed via WordPress (i.e. the “follow” button), I have not figured out how to transfer your subscription. If you want to follow the new site, please go to and subscribe via email, or add the site in your RSS reader (yes, I’m old).


Moving, new site features

Though hosting has been reliable and cheap for the past few years, it allows very little customization. Because I want to add some new features, I am moving the site to a shared hosting provider. The first new feature is an interactive map of trip reports, which should be much better than the state categories for browsing trip reports geographically. Click on a marker to bring up a link to the associated trip report.

In the interest of not breaking old links to, I will keep the old site up as long as it is free, but new content will only appear on the new site. Links to should work as before, though there will doubtless be some bugs in the migration. I have not yet migrated subscriptions, but will do so before abandoning the old blog, so there is no need to re-subscribe.

Please let me know if anything breaks, and feel free to offer suggestions for how to make the site more entertaining and useful.


While the growing pile of information on the Web makes most magazines obsolete, I still subscribe to the New Yorker because it has well-written articles about subjects outside my normal, narrow interests. Though most of a recent article about Berlin’s (mostly sex) clubs was alien to me, I identified with one passage:

[Techno] is, fundamentally, Gebrauchsmusik — “utility music”… The utility, in this case, is mostly that of providing succor and pleasure, a sense of direction and purpose, to addled bodies and minds.

I am usually alone in the backcountry, and usually listening to something. Over the years, I have developed strong preferences about what to play in various circumstances, to encourage or complement some mental state. While I listen to much non-techno and non-music, it is all Gebrauchsklang — “utility sound”. I listen not to appreciate the thing itself, like I would a Bach fugue, but to modulate the boredom, fatigue, and pain inherent in time spent in the mountains.

For physically and mentally undemanding activities such as trail “commutes,” there are various spoken podcasts: news, information, short stories. For periods of peak intensity such as grinding up talus piles, there is metal and other high-energy music: Ministry, The Prodigy. And for sustained periods of physical and/or mental exhaustion such as headlamp time and trail running, there is of course techno (or EDM) providing succor to the addled body and mind.

2013 in review

When our memories outweigh our dreams, we have grown old.
— Bill Clinton

With a hand probably months from full function, and a shin requiring ice and rest, my season is undeniably over. For unimportant reasons, it has been neither the season I expected nor one I wanted — call it regression toward the mean, toward life’s natural mediocrity.

I doubt I will spend as much time in familiar places next year. Hiking around the Sierra and Tetons this summer, I have been surrounded by the ghosts of better climbs and better years. If I return to either place next season, it will be on short trips aimed at specific objectives. I have ideas for both places, but they depend on developing sufficient fitness, skill, and motivation over the winter.

If I do anything interesting, I will write about it here, but as usual, winter posting will be sporadic. If you have enjoyed following along this year, I encourage you to subscribe in some manner, so you will know when the quiet period ends.

Better California maps

I have never been too happy with Sport Distance Calculator for map generation, but it was “good enough” when I found it last year. Jen recently clued me in to a much nicer alternative for California: CalTopo. It allows you to draw routes on USGS 7.5′ topos, gives pretty good distance and elevation numbers if you take the time to use enough line segments, and generates great PDFs. I have updated my backpacking overview posts (High Route, Kaweah loop) to use CalTopo’s maps and stats, including multi-page, detailed PDFs.

Campin’ time

I don’t normally backpack, but what else can a slow, middle-aged homeless guy with 9 working metacarpals do in the mountains? Let’s see what happens in 7-10 days with about 30,000 calories:

  • 1 box mashed potato powder (1500 cal)
  • 1 box minute rice (1500 cal)
  • 1 small cylinder oats (1500 cal)
  • 1 dozen tortillas (1500 cal)
  • 1 bottle olive oil (4000 cal)
  • 7 cups dried imitation chicken (2800 cal)
  • 2 cans spam (1200 cal)
  • 8 servings protein powder (1300 cal)
  • 2 packages cookies (2500 cal?)
  • peanuts and chocolate chips (10,000+ cal)
  • 3 apples (300 cal)
  • 4 peanut butter sandwiches (1200 cal)

Playing one-handed

Photo on 8-20-13 at 8.51 AM
Dr. Dirtbag is dealing with a fractured left 5th metacarpal. This makes both typing and peak-bagging difficult, so blogging will be limited for the next month or so. The fracture looks simple, so hopefully keeping it in a brace will allow it to heal with full function. I am immensely grateful to Jonathan for arranging an x-ray, some consultation, and a splint, and to Sierra for setting and splinting the bone (with anaesthesia, even!). Their generosity allowed me to avoid a costly encounter with the health care industry.


Rainier from Eldorado

Rainier from Eldorado

Having made a turd salad of my time in the Cascades, I did not do as much as I had planned, and very little of what I did was “Dr. Dirtbag caliber.” I may write some of it up later; in the meantime, here are some photos.

North Peak, Bridge Mountain

The bridge

The bridge

Another winter passes, and another season begins. With less downtime and an earlier start than last year, I will likely have a longer period of in-season fitness, and will hopefully find enough interesting objectives to put it to good use. It is still a bit early to talk about “projects” like last year’s California 14er record, but I have some ideas. I’ll just say that in addition to revisiting some familiar areas (Tetons, Winds, Eastern Sierra), I plan to spend quality time in unexplored territory. The mountain west is vast and varied.

I decided to ease into the season, and break up a long drive, with a couple of easy peaks near Las Vegas. Bridge is a fun little slickrock scramble where the easiest route crosses a natural bridge. North is an utter nothing-burger, but it does have a nice view of Bridge. Pulling off onto the Lovell Valley road around 1:00 AM, I found the first decent-looking pullout and crashed. I passed the Red Rock Summit road on the way out, but easily found it when doubling back, and drove it for perhaps a mile or so until it crossed the ravine a bit too steeply and roughly.

Though I could probably have driven over the ravine, the road turns truly gnarly after that. I saw tire tracks all the way up — perhaps from a quad or a lifted Jeep — but I also saw plenty of scrapes on the rocks, and a couple of car parts. From the saddle, a clear trail takes off to the east, branching at the ridge to go to either North or Bridge. After quickly tagging North, I took the roundabout trail down to the slickrock isthmus leading to Bridge’s summit.

Route-following on slickrock can be tricky, but not here: in addition to plentiful ducks, someone had “helpfully” painted black arrows and equals signs all along the route. I found no fewer than five arrows in one spot, all within maybe 10 feet of each other. It was breezy on the approach, and the wind on the summit was strong enough to knock me around a bit. I huddled in a corner next to the long-suffering summit tree to have a snack and sign the register, then got out of there as fast as I could. Feeling surprisingly good for so early in the season, I even jogged some of the road back to the car, arriving in time for “lunch.”

2012 in review

Out of shoes

Though there are still over two months left in the year, I am a summer athlete, so my season is nearly over. 2012 has been a good year, with a few “notable” outings: the easily-understood California 14er speed record, the less well-understood but perhaps equally difficult Kaweah traverse, and an FKT for the Evolution “loop”. I also finished the Colorado 14ers, had several good days in the Tetons, Wind Rivers, San Juans, and Sierra, and found good partners to improve my trad climbing skills.

The 14er record generated a small amount of publicity, brought the weblog significant short-term traffic, and hopefully attracted a few new regular readers. While it is understandable that it would get more attention than my other outings, I hope readers will also discover the other “big” days, some nearly as hard and at least as interesting, and the many more approachable days in between. To that end, here is a list of the season’s highlights, split into categories based on the skills and activities involved.

“Type II fun”

This category includes outings requiring a wide variety of skills, including trail running, cross-country travel, and scrambling up to low 5th class. Though I have been trying to broaden my interests, this remains my strength, and the core of what I do in the mountains. While the natural trend is toward longer, steeper routes (hence “type II fun”) not all of the outings in this category are suffer-fests. To enjoy these outings (or maximize your type I fun), you should be comfortable with 12+-hour days, trail running, efficient cross-country route-finding, and solo climbing up to about 5.4 without rock shoes.

  • 14er record, first leg (Sierra)
  • The first leg, from South Lake to Red Lake, is worth doing on its own, with some excellent scrambling as well as travel through the rarely-visited terrain southwest of the Palisades.

  • Arrow, Vestal, Trinity (San Juans)
  • Vestal Basin is the most spectacular area of the San Juans that I have visited, and both less crowded and easier to reach than Chicago Basin. Though easy for its 5.4 rating, Wham Ridge is an excellent line.

  • Hanging Canyon loop (Tetons)
  • This climb traverses the many small peaks around Hanging Canyon, from St. Johns to Symmetry Spire. It is possible to bail from many points along the ridge, so you can quit whenever you get tired.

  • Thor to Moran (Tetons)
  • This loop takes you to a rarely-visited part of the Tetons. While the approach involves a heinous bushwack around Leigh Lake, and there is some risk of grizzly encounters, I think it’s worth it.

Solo climbing

This includes climbs for which I wore rock shoes, usually with moderate approaches. To enjoy these, you should be a solid 5.6 soloist.

  • Pingora, Wolf’s Head (Wind Rivers)
  • These are two classic peaks in the Cirque of the Towers, and Wolf’s Head’s east ridge is an amazing line. Though it is often climbed roped, it is long and not sustained enough to make this much fun.

  • Matthes Crest, Cathedral (Sierra)
  • Like Wolf’s Head, Matthes Crest is a long climb best done unroped. Cathedral is no more difficult, and is easy to pick up along the way.

  • Buck (N face W couloir) (Tetons)
  • This is a snow or ice climb with a few moves of 5.6 (?) rock near the top. The easiest approach is to take the standard Death Canyon approach as for the east face, then drop over the east ridge into Avalanche Canyon.

Trail running

Trail running is just another means of moving quickly in the mountains. While I rarely race ultras, I often climb peaks with long trail approaches. To enjoy these, you should be a trail ultra runner (50k+) who can scramble 3rd class.

  • Eolus, Windom, Sunlight (San Juans)
  • More trail runners should be doing this, since the approach from Purgatory is a beautiful run and saves the $100 train ride. Except for Sunlight’s summit blocks, the climbing is all mellow.

  • Whaleback and/or Glacier Ridge (Sierra)
  • The Sugarloaf Creek trail is sandy and unpleasant, but the valleys on either side of Glacier Ridge are amazingly scenic and, properly done, the scrambling is no harder than 3rd class.

  • Tower (Sierra)
  • Though also somewhat sandy, the Walker River trail covers miles of gently-rolling, wooded terrain between Leavitt and Upper Piute Meadows. It is a boring hike, but more interesting to a dedicated trail-runner.

Trad climbing

I don’t do much trad climbing, nor do I climb very hard, but I have done enough of it this season to have at least a couple of recommendations. To enjoy these, you should be leading around 5.8 in rock shoes.

  • Twilight Pillar (Sierra)
  • It’s an obvious and striking line on an impressive peak, fairly sustained, and doable as a reasonable day. You can skip the first pitch to save some time.

  • Irene’s Arete (Tetons)
  • Irene’s Arete was well worth repeating this year, with great position and fun, varied climbing. Be careful of the early-season snow on the approach.

  • Charlotte Dome (Sierra)
  • Though it has a long approach, it is a sustained, varied route on an amazing-looking feature.

  • Not Symmetry Spire (Tetons)
  • This might be worth doing as a 5.7 solo, but with a long approach and not much sustained climbing, it’s not worth bringing gear.