Wednesday, December 2, 2009


so mount shasta has always been my favoritest mountain in the whole wide world. i've never totally understood it - i've been blessed to spend a lot of time in the mountains and there are many others that have a special place in my heart. but if there is one mountain that i would be happy to spend the rest of my days on, nothing even comes close to shasta. and in light of things that have happened in my life recently, i'm starting to understand the connection i have to shasta a lot better.

ry guy, dad, and i climbed shasta for the first time in 1998. it was the first mountain ryan and i had ever climbed, and from that day forward were were climbing partners. sure, i wanted to throw him off the mountain most of the time (especially in the early days), but no one matched my pace, determination, and humor in the face of hardship like ryan did. and in the later years, he really understood my connection to the mountains and the reverence and respect i hold for them. i started solo climbing shasta last year mainly because ry guy had gotten so busy with work and his family that he didn't have much time to climb anymore, and i didn't really want to climb with anyone else. we climbed on rainier together several times, but both of us had a connection to shasta that overshadowed any plans to stand atop other peaks. it wasn't coincidence that he settled in northern california, only 4 hours from shasta, and although he didn't get to do a ton of climbing in the last few years, he did find another way to enjoy shasta's brilliant slopes: snowboarding. shasta has a little tiny ski resort (three whole chairlifts) that has managed to keep the essence of resorts from yesteryear. you won't see anyone wearing fur but you'll see a lot of people that obviously fell in love with skiing waaaaaay back in the day and never left the slopes. it's the least pretentious resort i've ever been to and i absolutely love it. and you don't have to be independently wealthy to buy a season pass! last new years ry guy invited me to come snowboarding for a week with him and tess and a few of their friends. every new years ryan rented the only suite in this cool, old school motel for a week and spent every day shredding the nar. i fell down a couple of weeks before new years and sprained my ankle badly - it ended up taking months to heal. although i could barely walk, i decided to go snowboarding anyway. and the funniest thing is that as soon as i strapped into my bindings, my ankle was almost healed. i couldn't walk but i could board just fine. and i got to spend the week partying like a rock star and snowboarding with my bro. he is an incredible snowboarder - the passion, strength, and fearless nature that characterized his life was evident in the way he boarded. it was beautiful to watch. he's a huge guy and he took the mountain by force. i have a connection to snowboarding that runs as deep as my passion for climbing and one day i hope to be half as good as ryan. it was amazing just to board behind him and watch him make every slope, bump, rail, and mound of snow his own personal playground. and the fact that we were on shasta, seeing the snow glitter magically on the slopes and the sunsets calling out to us from the lifts, made everything so much more powerful. and now, less than a year later, that trip means so much more than i ever would have imagined. what if i had been a bit less obstinate and decided that a busted up ankle really shouldn't be taken snowboarding?? or that life was awfully busy during the holidays and i just didn't have a week to travel hundreds of miles just to go snowboarding? more importantly what if dad, years and years ago, decided to abandon his dream of standing on top of shata one more time, and ryan and i hadn't gone on that first climb??? so much of our lives have revolved around that one epic trip and if dad wouldn't have kept pushing and pushing, it never would have happened. oh i remember it like it was just yesterday....

mid 90's. dad had climbed shasta in his 20's and had been trying to find (in his words) someone stupid enough to climb it with him since then. none of his friends were taking the bait, so after years of searching for a suitable fool, he moved on to his kids. he started with me in high school. i was, as some of you may remember, not the greatest kid in high school and i was having none of it. ry guy is 4 years younger than me, so as soon as he got into high school dad started working on him. we thought he was nuts. but eventually his persuasion worked on us, and we decided to give it a try. the summer of 1998, ryan and dad and i rented plastic boots, ice axes, and crampons, and headed north to shasta. i was 20 and ry guy was 16. we had absolutely no clue what we were doing, but we were stoked to be heading to the mountains! we parked at the trailhead, grabbed our packs, and headed out. all was well for the first 15 minutes or so, and then ryan started driving me nuts. hey, he was my little brother and he was 16 - what do you expect?? we eventually got to base camp just fine and settled in. every part of the experience was new - first time i'd worn plastic boots, camped in the snow at altitude, used a pit dug in the snow for a bathroom, prepared to get up in the middle of the night for an alpine start. don't think any of us slept that night but we were up and ready to go before dawn the next morning. what an amazing combination of excitement, fear, exhaustion, nervousness, and achievement!! there's just nothing in the world quite like putting on plastic boots and crampons in the light of your headlamp....everything is crisp, sound travels for miles, and the stars gleam like beacons lighting our way to the heavens. we set out. it's not very steep leaving helen lake but as you head up avalanche gulch, it gets steeper and steeper. the sun came up, revealing everything that we had to climb up. it was intimidating!!! at this point, i was literally about to throw ryan off the mountain. he was being SO 16 years old - bragging about how easy the climb was and that he was going to bring his snowboard next time so he could snowboard down from the summit and blah, blah, blah. wouldn't listen to anyone else and thought he was the coolest thing since sliced bread. the climb had gotten pretty damn steep by this point and my nerves were a bit raw. and he kept driving us nuts....until the rock fall, that is. ryan was to my right by about 10 feet. we heard weird swishing noises and heard someone yelling "rock" from above. we looked up, only to see several rocks bearing down on us, all of them airborne because of the steepness of the slope. there was no time to do anything and of course none of us were wearing helmets. most of the rocks cleared us by a mile, but the biggest one - the size of a basketball - fell right between me and ry guy. and all of the sudden, we realized that we were mere mortals on a very powerful mountain, and we were scared shitless. ryan got super spooked - that was the last we heard of snowboarding down from the very summit. i turned my fear inwards, swallowed it down, calmed ryan down, and kept climbing. the rest of the trip up was steep, icy, and intimidating. i would look a couple of thousand feet down the gulch (where i would end up if i fell and couldn't stop myself) and realize that it was too steep for me to be able to climb down. i'd heard that people sat down and slid down the gulch on the descent, but there was no way i was going to be able to handle that. but i figured we'd deal with it when the time came and kept climbing. breaks were hard because it was so steep we had to cut away places to sit down and it made my head swim..... we eventually got to the red banks and climbed through. not far off was misery hill. we'd seen it on the map but didn't realize until we got there that it's very well named - it sucks. it's a big pile of crumbly shale and every step up you take, takes you two steps back. after what seemed like hours, we got to the top of misery hill and kept working our way up. one thing i didn't realize was the number of false summits you see before you get to the top of the mountain. i kept seeing the summit and we'd climb higher and another summit would appear and we climb to that one, and another one would appear. it was torture. finally, we got to the summit plateau. there's a big flat spot at the top of shasta about the size of a football field. you have to cross it to get to the final mound of pink rocks that make up the actual summit. we knew once we got to the summit plateau, we would make it to the summit, but that didn't make it any easier. we rested as soon as we got to the plateau and when we decided to get up and keep moving, ry guy announced that he was done. he just didn't have enough energy to keep going and since he could see the summit, he figured he'd gotten close enough and would wait for dad and i to summit and return. we were totally bummed out, but didn't have enough energy ourselves to try to convince him to continue. we'd take 7 steps and would have to rest on our ice axes to catch our breath - and it was almost flat there!! dad and i got about halfway across the plateau and i turned around to check on ryan - just in time to see him running to us! not just walking, but running!! at 14,000 feet!! i knew he just needed a good rest and would keep climbing!! he got to dad and i and the three of us climbed to the summit together. it's a beautiful place. the rock glows pink and you can see everywhere, in all directions. the colors up there are unreal - the sky is the deepest blue you've ever seen and all of the other colors of the rainbow are bigger than life. i was more tired than i've ever been in my whole life, and was the happiest person in the whole world. ryan and i almost strangled each other numerous times on the trip up, but we formed a bond on that summit that changed our relationship forever. we weren't just brother and sister, from that day on, we were climbing partners. the three of us took a few pictures, signed the register, and headed down. it was a pretty uneventful descent until we dropped between the glacier and the rock face to head down around the red banks. the glacier had pulled away, leaving a five foot gap between it and the rock. we were able to climb down and walk along the rock face, checking out the glacier. there were all these holes about the size of my head and when you looked in them, you could see them open up into huge ice caves inside the glacier. they glowed blue from within. we dropped from there onto the face of avalanche gulch and started traversing over to where the main glissade trail started. we were traversing the steepest part of the gulch and had removed our crampons because the snow had gotten so soft. one second i was walking and the next, i was sliding. i don't remember falling at all, but suddenly found myself sliding feet first on my back - and i had dropped my ice axe. fortunately, i had tied it to my wrist with this lovely piece of purple webbing. as i slid, i grabbed around my right hand again and again, trying to catch the webbing. i could see that there was nothing to stop my fall other than a big pile of rocks a couple of thousand feet down the mountain and i was falling faster by the second. finally, i caught hold of the webbing (will remember how it felt in my hand for the rest of my life) and yanked my ice axe to me. it was facing the wrong way. so i switched it in my hands, flipped myself over on my side, and self arrested beautifully. 10+ years later, and that is still my finest self arrest, hands down. good thing we'd asked someone to show us how to do it earlier in the trip!! i got up, brushed myself off, and climbed up to meet dad and ry guy. dad looked a lot calmer than he felt, but says he could see that i wasn't ever panicked and was pretty much in control the entire time. we managed to get over to the main glissade trail without any more falls, and began the next leg of our trip. i was really nervous. the gulch is really steep and you really notice it when you're trying to walk down it. sitting down and sliding really fast down the face is a bit daunting at first! but we stuck our ice axes in the snow like we'd seen other people do, and shoved off. and began the greatest descent in the history of climbing. this was late in the season so there had been a lot of people using the same path. it was deep enough that you could lay back and not really see where you were going, and it twisted and turned so was more like a water slide than anything else! it took ryan and i about ten seconds to figure out that this was the greatest thing in the whole world!! it took us like 8 hours to get to the top and maybe a couple of hours to get down - we flew!!! we were laughing so hard the entire time we could barely breathe. one of us would stop and the others would go plowing into the back of them - it was a miracle that we got back unscathed! after glissading all the way down the 3000 foot face, we ran the final hundred yards to camp - we'd made it! we packed up camp and headed back to the car, finishing up what would be one of the most influential adventures of our lives.

ryan and i never really recovered from that first climb. there would be many more in the next decade. dad was keen to climb rainier and a few other northwest peaks, and we spent several summers climbing in oregon and washington. but ryan and i just never connected with any mountain like we did with shasta. every climb i've ever done on shasta has ended up perfect. everything just always works out there. ryan had many epics on the mountain - he moved closer to shasta after high school so he was able to spend several summers exploring other routes on the mountain. we were always going to climb casaval ridge together, but never seemed to find the time. funny how things work out that way. but no matter what plans we had and what we did and didn't get to do on the mountain, one thing remains. ryan and i have that mountain running through our veins. something happened on that first trip and it just clicked for both of us. shasta made us so much more than just brother and sister, even more than climbing partners. it made us understand each other and understand that we were so much more alike than we ever could have realized.

years later, that connection remains. ry guy has gone to a higher peak in the sky and we're not going to be able to climb casaval ridge after all. and yet we are. i know that all i have to do is step foot on shasta, and ryan will be there with me. he won't be on the other end of my rope anymore, but at the same time he will be. he'll be the ravens flying overhead checking up on us. he'll be the butterflies that cover the summit for no good reason several times a year. he'll be the alpenglow that warms my face in the morning, the glittering snow setting my world sparkling all day, and the moonlight that lights my way at night. when i snowboard on the mountain, he'll be there pushing me to go faster and harder. and next winter when i teach his daughter how to snowboard on shasta in his place, he'll be there to see us. and many years from now, when maddie is ready to climb shasta, he'll be our guide. i can't call ry guy on the phone or drink a beer with him on the tailgate of his 4-runner anymore, but shasta has given me a link to him that runs as deep as my soul. to think that all of this started with my dad wanting someone to climb a mountain with him is truly beautiful. it shows me that one simple decision, one seemingly insignificant trip, can be enough to change a lifetime.

thank you dad. we should all be so lucky.

Friday, November 27, 2009

technical difficulties....

alrighty. every time i think i've adjusted to the fact that most things don't work or are missing down here (and have almost started to enjoy....some of it), something else happens and i realize i'm full of crap and haven't adjusted whatsoever! right now it's the internet. it wasn't working so someone came in to fix it, but he broke it even worse, and now both the hostel and the base camp wireless signals aren't transmitting magical internet wavelengths (or whatever it is they do), and so poot (my little netbook computer, or in chilean spanish, computadita) can't get online anymore. and that's what i'm using for photos and my blog and all that goodness. so stand by. i'm working on being more patient and one way or another things will get a week....or maybe two....hahaha! :) coke

Sunday, November 15, 2009

hola! comosta, cachai?

so my spanish is finally starting to progress.... one month into this trip and i'm finally starting to understand people, at least a little bit. also, it helps if i'm listening to the gringos speak spanish because they talk slower and have the same accent i do. i definitely don't understand most of the words but i'm starting to recognize the ones i hear a lot and once i figure out what they mean, i can slowly figure out the gist of what people are saying. helps if they use their hands a lot when they talk too..... as far as speaking spanish goes, i still totally suck. the cool thing is that i'm able to remember words a lot better. i had to mail a letter to the states so i looked up how to say 'i need to mail a letter' in spanish. the verb 'to mail' is enviar. and although i only used it once, i can still remember it! which may not sound like a big deal to all of you out there that can speak more than one language, but i have a hard enough time with english so it's pretty cool to see that i'm actually remembering some of the stuff i'm learning! paul told me about a website, you can set it up so it gives you spanish words and you have to select what they mean. every right answer you get, they donate 10 grains of rice to hungry people. so you can learn new words and help people at the same time! rad! hoping that in another month, i'll actually be able to say some spanish or at least get over the fear of not being able to understand anything. it's really easy to say 'i don't understand' and then realize that i wasn't even trying to catch any of the words they're saying. every day i get a little bit better.....

one of the funniest things i'm figuring out is how abbreviated all the spanish is. i was shocked when i got down here and couldn't understand anything, because i really did study before i left and i thought i knew at least some basic vocabulary and sayings. what i've come to realize is that no one here speaks the same spanish i was learning. so a great example is 'como estas'. for those of you non-spanish speaking folks, that means 'how are you'. but here they don't say 'como estas'. they say 'comosta'. all of the words run together so you can't tell that there's more than one word spoken and they really don't like s here so any word that ends in s is abbreviated. sometimes they just say 'como' and somehow you're supposed to know that they're actually saying 'como estas'. and that's just one example..... they also like to throw in random words. all of the girls say cachai. it's slang that sorta translates into 'you know' and it pretty much takes the place of 'like' if you're a valley girl. so if you walk behind a group of girls you'll hear blah blah cachai blah blah blah cachai blah cachai blah blah blah cachai. guys use a slightly more interesting one. they like to end their sentences with 'huevon'. now, anyone that's ever had huevos rancheros (yum!!!) knows that huevo is spanish for egg. here, huevo also refers to a part of the male anatomy that closely resembles an egg. huevon can mean a lot of things - if you call your friend a huevon, you're calling him your buddy. if you call your enemy a huevon, you're calling him a really dirty word. and if you throw the word huevon onto the end of all of your sentences, you're just using the male version of the word cachai. as you can tell, i have yet to learn any spanish that actually means anything, but i'm totally learning all of my chilean slang, cachai?

i could go on and on - there's all sorts of interesting things i'm picking up. but it's late and tomorrow is my friday and then i've got two days off, woop woop! so till then, chao (they don't ever say adios here - only chao). or as a lot of people like to say, chao chao because really why would you only want to say goodbye once? so chao chao my friends - see you on the flipside! :)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Torres del Paine part dos.....

ok so apparently moving to south america has done nothing to change the fact that i lag on writing blog entries. and here i thought i'd arrive here and all of my bad habits would disappear.... oh well! so anyway, we arrived at Los Cuernos and spent the night there. we were super bummed that we'd brought our own food for dinner there - they were cooking fish that they'd caught at 3am that morning in one of the lakes (or so the story went) and it smelled AMAZING. the next morning we got up and had breakfast in one of the most amazing breakfast spots i've ever seen. it's the photo down below. nice picnic table with Cuerno Este towering over us (can't see it in the photo) and the French Valley beckoning in the distance. combine that with the greatest oatmeal ever - instant oatmeal with tons of sugar and powdered milk, plus a cup of whole milk heated up and poured over the top (they sell milk in the juice-box thingies here and yup, i carried 6 of them on the trip. might as well have been carrying rocks but oh my heavens it made for the most incredible breakfasts ever and was totally worth the extra 15 pounds in my pack....). and then we took a bag of jam (jam is sold in bags, not jars here. so we took a bag of it, cut off a small corner, and stored it in a ziplock baggie so it didn't get sticky all over everything) and drizzled jam all over everything. and if that wasn't fancy enough, rustyn had made his unbelievable coffee concentrate - he takes a bag of ground coffee and adds a few cups of cold water to it. 24 hours later he strains all the liquid out which makes the most wonderful coffee concentrate. since it's cold brewed, it removes all of the acidity from the coffee and when you add it to hot water, sugar, and fresh milk.....oh so tasty. so we had the world's most amazing breakfast in the worlds most amazing breakfast location - life is good!! sarah, it really doesn't compare to cereal bars and no hot drink, but it's a close second, ha ha ha! after we ate, i rolled myself back to my tent, packed up, and hit the trail. this is our long day - 12 miles from camp to camp. but it's super cruisy and was a really enjoyable hike. after a bit we crested a hill, which was the last time we'd have a view of the french valley. i took a few pictures and said farewell (for now) to one of the most amazing places i've ever been to. and in response, the French Glacier let loose a massive avalanche down the face. sweetest farewell ever! on we went, enjoying the lowland scenery in front of us. i was bummed to be leaving the glaciated peaks but was stoked to check out the towers that Torres del Paine is named for (torres means towers in Spanish and paine means blue in Mapuche which is the language that the native people of Patagonia spoke). we discovered the shortcut that cut an hour or two off our time (yay) and laughed at all of the people wandering through the brush because they'd missed the shortcut and decided to make their own. eventually we got to Refugio Chileno where we were spending the night. ordinarily we'd push on and camp at Campamento Torres, one more hour up the trail, but we were a bit limited due to the tour and needed to stay at the refugios. really nice place and the people working there were awesome. i've worked in "wilderness" accommodation before and it can be really challenging and already some of the staff in the refugios were struggling to keep smiles on their faces. i think it's going to be a loooooooong season for them! but everyone working at Chileno was fabulous and we had a great night chatting with the other trekkers and sipping on instant asparagus soup. yum! the next morning our goal was to get up early and get to the base of Torres del Paine in order to hopefully see the towers turn red when the rising sun hits them. only problem is that the sun rises at 6am. and we were two hours from the base of the towers (which is why people try to camp at Campamento Torres - it's an hour closer to the towers but there isn't a refugio there). but hey i'm no stranger to alpine starts, so i was up at 3:30 packing up all of my gear and getting ready to hike up the trail! we fired our headlamps up only to find that annette's headlamp was almost out of batteries and she didn't have any replacements. but no hay problema, i just lit up the trail for both of us and off we went! it was a pitch black trail through a forest i couldn't see but the temperature was perfect and we spent the next hour and a half thoroughly enjoying ourselves. we could see the horizon getting lighter so we knew we had to hurry in order to catch the towers before sunrise. the last half hour of the trail to the base of the towers was really challenging. it's all big huge rocks and finding the trail was pretty interesting. but eventually we crested the top of the ridge and finally saw what we had hiked two hours at the asscrack of dawn to see......or at least we saw where the towers should have been, because in their place was a beautiful wall of fluffy white clouds! total whiteout up there! snow was blowing in and the wind was picking up and we decided to make ourselves cozy just in case the towers decided to peek through the clouds. we had brought our sleeping pads (exped synmat is just the thing for 6am tower visits, fyi) and bags so we climbed in and fired up our stove to make some hot tea. we were nicely sheltered from the wind and had an incredible mini-breakfast of cookes, chocolate, and tea. suddenly the rocks to our right went from dark to bright red - sunrise! amazing how quickly the sun hit everything and although the towers never appeared, we did get to see the red color that they would have turned. and the sunrise was unreal - the red color through the clouds below made the entire sky look like it was on fire. took some of the coolest sunrise photos ever! after a bit the snow was picking up and we knew it was time to go. we packed up and headed down into a snowstorm. made going down pretty sketchy in some places because the snow was so slippery. but oh my goodness, descending the trail through the forest blanketed by a couple of inches of snow - one of the most beautiful sections of trail i've ever seen and definitely an experience i'll remember for the rest of my life. there's just nothing like the muted sound of the forest in a gentle snowstorm..... we got back to camp and had another fantastic oatmeal breakfast. i managed to spill half of mine on the ground, but the birds were oh so stoked that i was sharing with them! it was still snowing so we packed up and headed out. 15 minutes down the trail we dropped below the storm into gorgeous sunshine and traded out all of our warm snow clothes for t-shirts....still can't get over how quickly the weather can change in patagonia! we continued down to Hosteria Las Torres, which is the 4 star hotel in the park. it's 4 stars because there aren't any other hotels in the area to compare it to, but it's pretty darn fancy especially when you're standing there in muddy clothes after not showering for 5 days.... they have horses running wild through the area (ok so they're not wild horses and i'm sure there are fences somewhere so they're not really running wild but it looks cool) and we enjoyed chilling in the sunshine for a couple of hours before boarding the shuttle which would take us back to the park entrance. even this was an adventure! right before the shuttle gets to the entrance, it crosses a small bridge. this bridge is really dodgy (let me quote the sign that's posted there: Attention to all vehicles. Bad condition bridge, please let all passengers get out of the car, before crossing the bridge") so the shuttle stops to let all of the people out so we can walk over it before the shuttle goes across. then the shuttle takes 15 minutes to cross it - the shuttle has literally one inch clearance on either side and they go REALLY slow so that they don't nick the side and send the whole thing collapsing into the river below. no one will replace the bridge because this area of the park is on private land and the park wants the land owners to pay for a new bridge and they want the park to pay for it, so no one pays for it and eventually someone will be going for an unpleasant swim. but hey, it's exciting. after that we loaded up on our bus and had a lovely, though smelly, ride home. and that dear friends was the 'W' in Torres del Paine! one of the greatest treks i've had the privilege to do and one that i will be getting back on as soon as possible. rain, snow, sun, and wind every day (and often every hour)! it's pretty odd camping at the refugios because it's not really camping (or at least not really your typical backpacking camping) but you can do the whole thing at free camps which lack the hostels, flush toilets, cold beer, and crowds, which is a little bit more my style (ok so the cold beer is totally my style know what i mean). my next goal is to the the entire circuit - it's a big 60-90 mile (depending on your route) circle around the park that incorporates the 'w' in the bottom of the circle. the top part of the circuit is incredibly remote and provides a nice contrast to the more heavily traveled 'w'. i'd love to solo the trek; i really feel like i need a week to go out and challenge myself and sort the happenings of the last month out in my head....nothing like a trip into the wilderness to do just that. don't worry mom, it's totally safe! hope you all enjoyed the story and pictures - more to come! and the trail stays in brilliant shape through april so if any of you feel like coming down, i know of someone who would love to trek it again with you! hope everyone is well - till next time, enjoy life no matter what it brings and i'll see ya on the flipside! :) coke

Thursday, November 5, 2009

i'm back!

ahhhh.....torres del paine! what an amazing place. we woke up last monday to a full on snow storm in natales. no hay problema, the weather in the park has nothing to do with the weather in town (we're 2 1/2 hours from the park). at 7:30am the bus pulled up and i got on. we stopped to pick up annette, who was on the erratic rock tour, from erratic rock II (our sister hostel in town). it kept snowing. i had a lovely nap on the bus, stopped for a cup of coffee at the tourist trap halfway to the park, napped a bit more, and finally we arrived at the park entrance! still snowing. drat. we paid our entrance fee ($30 US ouch! but at least it supports the rest of the national parks in chile) and got back on the bus for another half hour until we reached Pudeto. still snowing. but gorgeous! the snow had blanketed everything and although we couldn't see much of the mountains around us, it was amazing nonetheless. after an hour, the catamaran arrived to pick us up. just before it arrived, it stopped snowing! the clouds were flying across the sky and in less than ten minutes, we had blue sky shining through. a few minutes after that we took off and headed across Lago Pehoe to Paine Grande. The sky kept clearing and in no time at all we were chilling out on the top of the boat, enjoying the perfect sunshine, and throwing snowballs off of the boat. the mountains were coming out of the clouds and it was stunning. the color of the lake is so turquoise, you'd think you were in a tropical paradise. only surrounded by snow covered hills! after a half hour on the boat, we arrived at Paine Grande. it's one of the refugios in the park (they are sorta like a hostel in the park - they look like fancy ski lodges and you can stay in dorm rooms and eat their tasty food....if you have like a million dollars to spend and aren't there to commune with nature). as soon as we got off, two condors flew right overhead! they have a wingspan of 9-10 feet - not small birds! we took advantage of their public shelter (it's a yurt with windows) to make some tasty lunch - crackers and avocados and cheese and capers! then we grabbed our stuff and headed towards Lago Grey. this is the lake that Glaciar Grey ends in. about two hours into the trek we finally got a glimpse of the lake. unreal!! the glacier is enormous - 28 km long - and is the southern terminus of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. where it meets up with the lake, it drops icebergs the size of houses into the lake. these float all the way down the lake until they wash up on shore (they're a lot smaller by that point). the lake is well named; it has so much sediment from the glacier suspended in it that you can't see more than a couple of inches down. another two hours and we were at camp. we stayed at Refugio Grey which is another of the ski lodge looking places (they have campgrounds next to them so you can camp in style if you want). what an amazing place to camp! we were right next to the lake and all these mini icebergs were washing up on shore. some were white and chunky looking and some were crystal clear and looked like blown glass. they looked good enough to eat, so i did! it was cold as all getout but that didn't stop me from grabbing a really beautiful one and snacking on it! thousand year old ice tastes soooooo good! we had a lovely night drinking wine (they sell it in the refugio) and sitting by the stove in the refugio and then i retired to my tent. a teeny bit cold right before sunrise, but altogether not bad. woke up in the morning and we decided to take a morning side trip further up the trail to Campamento Los Guardas. it's at a higher elevation so you can see out over the glacier - you can really get a feel for how massive it is. and if Glaciar Grey was the size of a matchstick, the Southern Patagonian Ice Field would be twice the size of your arm - it's unreal! we took heaps of photos of the glacier and the crevasses and then we headed back to camp, packed up, and headed back to Paine Grande. at this point, we realized that Mauricio (the guide working for erratic rock) had injured his ankle and couldn't go on. so i turned into the guide! we spent the night at Paine Grande - the mountain hovers over the area, making you feel incredibly insignificant. it's sharp and jagged and the clouds linger on the very top of it and it's almost like you're in lord of the rings! the next morning we got up and moved into the Valle del Frances. which is officially maybe the most beautiful spot on the planet. at the mouth of the valley is the backside of Paine Grande, which holds the Glaciar del Frances. it's unreal. it's a massive hanging glacier that spreads out over the entire side of the mountain. sections of it collapse pretty frequently, which triggers massive avalanches down the face. there was a lot of clouds obscuring the glacier so we couldn't see everything very clearly but we headed up the valley to see what else was there. after a few hours we arrived at Campamento Britanico, which is a camp for climbers attempting routes on the mountains surrounding us. they're beautiful - they're light granite on the bottom and dark sedimentary rock on the top. the sedimentary rock erodes much faster than the granite, leaving these hulking masses of granite topped by dark crowns. they're called the Cuernos del Paine - cuernos means horns, which is what the peaks end up looking like. as soon as we got up there, the clouds began to clear and we had the most impressive views of the mountains surrounding us. we headed back down the French Valley to see if the clouds over the French Glacier had cleared...and they had! got some impressive photos before the clouds came back in. we grabbed our gear and headed to Refugio Los Cuernos which sits on the shore of Lago Nordenskjold (i'll leave that one for you to try pronouncing), right under one of the most amazing mountains i've ever seen - Cuerno Este - and within sight of the mouth of the French Valley. and here friends, i leave you - it's way past my bedtime and i can't type anymore..... i'll try to get the rest of the tale written up tomorrow!!! till then, take care of you and i'll see ya on the flipside! :) coke

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

random blogfest...

so first and foremost, huge props to my mom for joining my blog AND for figuring out how to add a picture!!! and a fantastic one at that! i haven't even figured out how to do that!!

so i get to go to the park on monday!! woop woop!! i'm going to jump onto a 5 day, two person guided trip that's going in. the guide is a chilean and knows everything about the park so that will be rad. weird to think about going on a guided backpacking trip but it'll be cool because i may be able to do some guiding later on this season (yay) so it'll be nice to see what exactly the guides do... mom, i'll get you a detailed itinerary so you'll know where i am the whole time, ha ha ha!

speaking of weird, that is the oddest word. what ever happened to the i-before-e-except-after-c rule?? highly ironic that weird ended up with such a weird spelling. apparently whoever wrote the dictionary had a sense of humor....

work is going swell. it's pretty slow but we definitely have the chilean approach to things. if i feel like taking a break, i just take off. if i'm the only one here, i just put a note on the door. if it's cold, i can hang out in the hostel next door where it's nice and toasty, and people just come find me over there if they need help. i'm slowly getting used to the long nights (during the busy season i'll be working until 11pm some nights!), it helps that everything here happens late so this is the norm rather than the exception to the rule! that's why they have the siesta - everyone stays out super late and then gets up at 8am and then takes a nap for lunch. it'll get busy any time now so things should pick up soon. until then i'm filling my days listening to fantastic music really loud and playing with the tents and trekking poles and other gear. it's a gear whore's dream here....which is really funny since up to last year, this building was a whore house! no joke! the madam was in here yesterday to pick something up.... so ha ha ha it's a fitting place for a self proclaimed gear whore....

it's really starting to feel like home around here. great people in the hostel! a few people have stuck around for several days helping out in exchange for free room and board. it's amazing to sit and talk to people and hear their stories. i'm really surprised at the number of people that have been travelling for over a year. how do they do it?? it's a bit rude to ask people if they're independently wealthy, but i can't think of any other way to travel for that long. well, when i win the lotto, i guess i know what i'm doing with the winnings! most of the people are from europe, the united states, australia, and new zealand. everyone has been rediculously cool. this hostel is by far the most comfortable one i've ever stayed at, and i've stayed at quite a few. people come in and just relax - there's such a wonderful mellow family feel to the place. and breakfast totally rocks - we have a breadmaker and the guys make fresh bread every day (it smells sooooooo good). i've got my own room for now; that may change when we get interns (ie travelers who are willing to help out for at least a month in exchange for room and board) later on in the season. but for now it's just me! we had a sweet cat, BC (mom, how weird is that - another BC cat!), up until today but he got the boot. he had a habit of going to the bathroom where he wasn't supposed to which really doesn't work in a hostel so he now lives at our friend scott's house just outside of town. so i'm bummed, he was a cool cat and slept on my bed last night and everything, but we'll be getting another one in a few days. if there is one thing there is no shortage of here, it's animals that need a home....

nights continue to be a bit rough. haven't really written much about that (hey i'm trying to make this a happy blog that people actually want to read). it's so strange to be away from everyone because it's really easy to convince myself that ry guy isn't really gone - i just haven't seen him in a while. and i haven't seen morph or my folks for a while either so it's not like i'm around everyone except for him.... but then i'll see a photo or hear a song and poof - a part of me is suddenly gone again and i'm feeling all broken. days are easier - i don't know anyone here all that well and would prefer if they didn't think of me as that crazy yank that walks around crying all day - but nights are something different altogether. some are ok, but some sure aren't. dad made a photo thing with a picture of ry guy from each of his 28 years and i still haven't been able to watch it. i've never been one to talk about tough things so now i'm trying this writing thing instead. and that's surprisingly easier than talking about things. but still therapeutic so thanks for listening, my captive audience.... i'll try to keep things cotton candy and fluffy bunnies but there are some days that i gotta get some things out and today has just been one of those days. but the nice thing about days like this is the knowledge that tomorrow will be better. i guess there's going to be days like this for a long time but every day we're all healing a little bit more and eight months from now we'll all be together - one big happy family again. and that's rad.

so one final story before i head home from work (this whole working next door to where i live is awesome - best commute of my life!!!). the weather continues to amaze me here. i lived in new zealand, where they have songs about "4 seasons in 1 day". well, dear kiwis, you guys have got nothin' on natales! so i was lying in bed the other morning listening to the breakfast talk (my room is right next to the kitchen so i don't even need an alarm clock - i just wait 'till everyone else gets up and then i do!). and i heard someone talking about it snowing outside. no way i thought! so i got up to investigate, and sure enough, it was snowing! not too hard but before too long is was really coming down! it wasn't sticking on the ground but there were some big snowflakes! so i jumped in the shower and ran into my room and got dressed so i could go to the market before work. threw on all of my warm wet weather gear - wool shirt, down jacket, gore-tex jacket, gloves, fuzzy hat....the works. came out of my room and walked outside to find.....stunning sunshine. blue sky and everything. seriously, it had been less than a half hour and it was sunny and not warm, but totally pleasant. hmmm..... so i went back inside and put my gloves and gore-tex back and put on my sunglasses instead. walked a few blocks to the market and had all sorts of fun on my first grocery shopping trip (more about that one another day). came out of the store maybe 30 minutes later....and it was snowing. no blue sky whatsoever. so then i walked a block to the fruit market and got a few things and walked back outside...... and it was sunny again. stayed sunny for most of the day and had to be at least in the high 50's (sorry i haven't switched over to celsius yet). so new zealand may have 4 seasons in 1 day, but we've got 4 seasons in 1 hour here!! the nice thing though is that if the weather is crappy, as long as the wind is blowing (which is pretty much all the time), you can bet that it won't be crappy for long! but man oh man, it's REALLY hard to get laundry done! how are you supposed to put all of your laundry out on the line to dry when there's a good chance on any given day that it'll rain or maybe even snow sometime??? so when y'all come down to visit me, don't be surprised if i'm wearing dirty clothes... really it's not me, it's the weather!!

until later friends, thanks for being there. be kind to yourselves and each other and i'll see ya on the flipside, coke :)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

natales night life

went to a fashion show last night. two things i've picked up on really quickly here - time means very little, and things at night start really late. the fashion show was a fundraiser for a local charity and was held in one of the bars. it was supposed to start at 10.30pm. since everyone takes a siesta from noon until 2 or 2.30 or 3 or whenever they feel like going back to work that day, they also all work until pretty late. so people don't eat dinner until 8 or 9pm. and if people are going out after dinner, they usually don't head out until 10 or 11 and oftentimes well after midnight. so the show last night was supposed to start at 10.30. when we were still at the hostel at a quarter to 11, i figured we'd be pretty late. we finally headed over a bit after 11 and that's when i figured out that time means very little. we were 45 minutes late and were the first people at the bar. (i've also figured out that if someone says they'll be there at 2, they won't be. they may show up around 3 or 4, and no one really cares. people show up when they feel like showing up and it's all good. and if someone says they'll be stopping by later, they actually won't be stopping by at all.....) so we got a drink and tried not to get too overwhelmed by the cigarette smoke - it's been a looooooooong time since i've been in a bar that still let people smoke in it and everyone here seems to smoke. after a few drinks, peole finally started showing up (most of them seemed to be my grandma's age) and the fashion show finally got under way. by this time, it was after 1am and i really started to understand that things at night start really late! it can be a lot of fun to look at things here through gringo eyes. the people setting up the show made a walkway with tealight candles and all i could think about was the fire hazard and which wall or person was going to go up first...... but there were no fires and the night progressed without any trouble. there were several teenagers modeling pretty modern outfits. towards the end, they started wearing more traditional outfits and the last guy to come out was wearing nothing but tight white boxer briefs and some sort of small sheepskin thrown over his shoulders. yes, it was my favorite outfit. then he and one of the girls each grabbed a napkin and did some sort of traditional dance around the bar (sorry, i don't know what it was....). every once in a while i remember how different life was just a week ago and this was one of those moments. it's 2am, i'm in a bar full of smoking grandmas, and there is a young man dancing around with napkins in his hand wearing nothing but boxers and fur. so there you go. fashion show natales style. this morning came awfully early (now i understand the siesta - everyone has to take a nap after staying out drinking until 5am) and now i'm at work watching the rain and wishing we closed for the siesta too......
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