One Journey Ends and Another Begins

WHATS NEXT YOU ASK?

Or maybe you don't ask...but if you do, here ya go.

As most of you reoccurring readers know, I'm off of the Pacific Crest Trail for the remainder of the year. If you're new to the blog, well, now ya know. When I made the decision to get off of the PCT, it wasn't easy. I was making a decision that was going to impact the rest of my year, and who knows what else. After I left Portland and flew home back to Ohio, I was immediately welcomed back by all of my friends and family. The first day back in Ohio I was lucky enough to attend one of my best friends' wedding reception. It was a beautiful night as everyone laughed and hung out into the evening. After three days at my parents house in Canton, OH, I meandered on down to Cincinnati to do some work for a friend of mine. He needed some photos of a few houses taken as well as some appliances moved and general labor help. I needed some quick cash, so my buddy Danny and I went down for a couple of days. Cincinnati is a pretty rad city, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that I almost stayed in Ohio because of the opportunities in Cincinnati. Although my decision could have been easy, I decided to stick with my original plan. 

Orignial Plan?

Surprisingly enough, while I was in Lassen National Park eating breakfast at JJ's Cafe, I was on the phone with the same good friend mentioned above, Danny. I'm talking to Danny on the phone outside of the cafe and all of the sudden a man walks behind me as I'm mentioning something about Denver, CO. He interrupts briefly to inform me that him and his wife own a gardening service in Denver. "Come over and talk to us after you're off the phone, man!" he belts out as he strolls away. I did just that.

After about 20 minutes of conversation about the trail, what I'm doing, and what I'll be doing after the trail, both Chris and Amy, the two owners, offer me a seasonal gardening gig in Denver whenever I get off trail. Now, to be honest, I really didn't give it much thought at that very moment. To be completely open, at that point I hadn't give anything much thought other than how I was going to finish the PCT. Although I had obviously thought about what I would do, and when, after I got off trail, I wasn't sure what that would be. I knew I had 100 days, I guess I was just obvious to the fact that the time was finally there. Ducky and I strolled off into the National Park and the moment passed. 

Fast forward to the last day on trail before I headed to Portland. 

I was debating on exactly what I wanted to do as we all sat in the hotel room. I knew it was decision time, but I just wasn't sure what I had in store for me. As you may know, I had a few options. One of those said options was taking the seasonal gig in Denver for the rest of the year and figuring the rest out once I got there. I mulled over it for the rest of the day, and when the time finally came to head to Portland with Scooter, my mind was made up. Now, it wasn't just an 'easy' decision, as some would probably like to assume. I really could have gone, and still could, go back to corporate if I every so choose. I could stay in Canton, and pay $200 less per month just for rent alone, not even calculating in other expenses that are higher in Denver and other cities. I could have gone back to Columbus, only to fall rightly so back into my routines. I could have stayed and been comfortable. 

I asked myself, "Would I regret this? Would I take a risk?" 

I answered yes to both questions.

I would go to Denver after a week at home, work for Amy and Chris, and figure the rest out. My main motivations weren't for the money, because after all, gardening doesn't pay too much, but more for the location. After working in corporate sales for the majority of the last three years in between thru hikes, I knew that I didn't want to immediately go back into an office, but I definitely needed to work. Although gardening isn't the most lucrative job, I'm at the point where I'll gladly sacrifice some pay for a less stressful, more enjoyable gig that doesn't drive me up a wall into insanity. 

I drive a 2009 Nissan Versa. I bought it after I got home from the CDT. Funny enough, I sold my Honda Element before I started the CDT. It's white, has a slight rattle in the exhaust, is manual, and is the very base model they made. No power anything. No cruise. No AC. Neemor, Scooter and I took it 7,000 miles across the country and back with no problems. Well, next to no problems. I trusted it to get me to Colorado once more, so the 1,100 mile journey began out of Cincinnati. I said my goodbyes to Danny, Jiries, and Jay and got ready to here the hum of a car for the next 24 hours. I don't mind driving for long distances, just like I don't mind walking for long distances, I suppose. I got some quick snacks at the gas station, filled up my Nalgene and hit it. Indiana and Illinois flew by, and then Missouri felt like it dragged on forever. Not until I got to Kansas did I realize how much I truly hate 70West. It's one road. Forever. 

I slept for 6 hours from 11-5 and woke up in a daze. I tried to drive for another hour and a half before I ended up pulling off on a country dirt road and zonking for another 2 hours. I was exhausted, but with only 7 hours left, it would be over before I knew it. I pulled into my good friend Justin's apartment as my eyes began to get heavy again. Turns out, Justin's roommate is traveling for work and never even moved into the place. His open room is going to be vacant for the foreseeable couple of months. I wasn't planning on getting a place due to the cost of the rent here in Denver, but the opportunity was too good to not take it. Although the apartment isn't in Denver Proper, it's not far. Just a short 20 mile drive outside the city is the Centennial / Aurora area. Only about 40 minutes from Boulder and almost equal distance to Colorado Springs, it's a damn good location. I was planning on living out of my car and spending most of my time at the coffee shop, in the mountains, or at the climbing gym, but life always has a different plan. I brought in the two boxes of clothes and gear that I brought with me an that was it.

I'm now living in Denver. 

Sonic ascending Bierstadt last June

Sonic ascending Bierstadt last June

I have a few goals while I'm out here, and they all revolve around photography and the mountains. I'm in the process of putting a list together of the 14'ers I'd like to summit before the season is up, and my hopeful and maybe ambitious goal is around 20 of them. I only have Saturday and Sunday each weekend, but I'm going to make the most of each day. During the week I'll be going to work, just as most of us do, from 8-4, then either writing, editing, or filming. Somewhere in the time after work I'll be fitting in some training runs at the local state park near me to work on sprints, hills, and tempo runs. I want to be in shape to where I can link together a dew 14'ers in one go, meaning I need to keep the shape I'm currently in.

As far as the photography portion of the reason I moved to Denver; I'm going to immerse myself in the outdoor industry here and really try and start working more with brands, small companies, and people who have an awesome product or idea. I want to film for companies. I want to take photos for brands who represent the values and ideas that I value and hold close as well. I want to shoot rad climbers sending insane routes. I want to hop out on the trails and shoot Ultras and work with people who have a vision. Not only that, but with the real estate market as good as it is here, I want to capitalize on some additional work in that market. Although real estate photography would never be my first option as a profession, it is something I'm relatively decent at and enjoy. Some of the houses I've shot are quite pretty and have some intricate architecture to them. Really, when I look at it from a broad perspective, Denver is a place I think I can really thrive at. I think there's enough of what I love here to make it worth while for me to pursue something here.

Red Bass climbing the ridge towards the summit of Parkview on the CDT

Red Bass climbing the ridge towards the summit of Parkview on the CDT

After all, I moved here voluntarily with the initial intention of living out of my car.  

Be on the look out for a Trip Report from every 14'er I summit this year. My next project is based here in Colorado, and I'm incredibly excited to share it with you.

Zion National Park: A Brush with Fear on Angels Landing

After our time in Yosemite came to an end, we had our sights set on Zion National Park, one of the more known National Parks located in Utah, just a quick 14 hour jaunt from Yosemite. We packed up our tripods and cameras after watching one of the more surreal sunsets I've ever seen during the infamous 'Firefall' that occurs in Yosemite every year and started our next leg of the trip. With 14 hours ahead of us, we passed the time with editing photos and videos, talking about gear, and more. As night fell, we found ourselves in a Walmart parking lot; again. We had become accustomed to sleeping in the parking lots along the way, so this was nothing new. We awoke with a fire in our eyes to get to Zion, and so we did.

We decided against paying for camping in the Park itself, so we found a bit of BLM land outside of the boundaries and pitched our tents for the night. We cooked up a delicious dinner of rice and bean burritos; our staple of the trip thus far. The flurries of snow began to fall from the sky, but with nothing more than just a flurry, we weren't expecting any amount of real precipitation. Alas, we woke up with roughly 2-3" of dense, heavy, icy, wet, snow. It wasn't like the normal fluffy powder that you see out West, but more of a wet snowpack that stems from a warm front; reminiscent of the AT early on in North Carolina.

We had plans to attempt the hike known as Angels Landing; a strenuous, arduous, quite sketchy hike that leads it's travelers along an extremely narrow, cliffed out, panic inducing cliff face to the top of the Landing; a plateau if you will. When we awoke however; our thoughts immediately shifted towards believing that that we didn't stand a chance to get to the top of the Landing that day. Quite frankly, we bailed on the hike before we even got to into the Park. With that much ice and snow, there was no possible way it was an option, or so we thought. 

We began our drive into the Park along a highway that offers more than enough views for the average tourist, but as we approached the entrance to the park, I could tell that I was going to be blown away by what was within the Park. On the way in, I got a text message from a friend I met on the CDT who just so happens to be a wilderness guide near the area during his time off trail. He mentioned he would be in the park as well that day, and as the time came closer, I was enthralled at the idea of hanging out with Merlin again. The last time I had seen him was in Winter Park, Colorado back in late September during my attempt at a thru hike of the CDT.

How long ago that seems.

We split ways when I decided to bail on the remainder of the CDT and head North to tackle the Long Trail in Vermont. Merlin and I had become close friends, and our last couple days on trail together resulted in seeing Fleet Foxes at Red Rocks with my other good pal, Pokey, who I had met on the AT the year prior. 

With our eyes set on getting some awesome footage and photos, we parked our car at the visitor center, hopped on the first trail we saw and took a little walk. As the reds of the rock contrasted with the white snow falling and sticking to the rock, I snapped photo after photo. We even came upon a few deer who just so happened to be used to humans, resulting in a friendly encounter with a young buck.

Buck

Buck

He was curious to see what we would do, but showed no signs of aggression or apprehension towards us. I couldn't believe how beautiful Zion actually was. I had seen countless photos of the Park, but upon arriving and taking our first few steps along a trail, I was hooked into the Canyon Life. We filmed a little bit for Neemor's channel, as he was working on a video talking about synthetic jackets, continued to hike a bit, and eventually made our way back towards the Grotto when I got a call from Merlin saying that he was actually at the Grotto with a friend of his. A few minutes later we strolled up towards the Grotto anticipating a welcoming sight.

Merlin and I embraced a reunion, caught up briefly, and as our small talk wore down, we all looked at each other and decided that Angels Landing was a go. Sure there was still a little bit of snow, and ice, but what the hell, why not? The sun was beginning to warm not only the air and rock around us, but also the snow that lay on the trail, and the longer we waited, the more confident we felt. There's always a risk when inclement weather is introduced to the scenario, but as all of us had plenty of experience, we figured we'd be okay. 

Let me preface the next few paragraphs with the fact that although Angels Landing is a popular day hike, that doesn't take away from the fact that many people have been seriously injured or killed while hiking this trail. As I mentioned, it's an arduous, sketchy hike even in the summer, but with the added technical aspects due to the elements, it added a whole other level of focus needed. I was nervous to say the least.

Switchbacks

Switchbacks

The hike begins with relatively forgiving switchbacks that snake along the side of the rock face, buried deep within the side of the mountain. With a wide path, a relatively easy grade, and not many obstacles, plenty of people make it through the first mile or so of the hike, only to be turned away later on. However; as the switchbacks snake a long the mountainside, hikers are presented with sweeping, contrasty canyon views that nearly take your breath away. As your own breath becomes labored due to the elevation and incline, the gasping begins to protrude from the mouths of every day hiker around you. Folks stop to enjoy the view, rest their tired, weary lungs, and to continue to question their reasoning for attempting such a hike. The forgiving switchbacks eventually straighten out into a path that leads the hiker deeper into the canyon, filling each crack with a deep green hue that only a conifer tree can replicate. Although the trail presents the illusion of being done with switchbacks, it eventually takes a sharp right, leading you back up a steeper, less forgiving, switchbacked path from hell. Sure, during the summer, it's most likely quite easy getting to the treacherous part of the hike, but as our trail runners lacked any micros pikes or traction, I slipped on nearly every piece of snow or ice. A very, very reassuring foreshadowing of what was to come. 

Looking back into the Canyon

Looking back into the Canyon

The switchbacks quickly took us to the first plateau, which is the portion of the hike where the real danger presents itself with a side of anxiety. Not only do you get the first look at the approaching and impending anxiety attack that labels itself as a 'hike', but you also get to read the informative sign that presents the fact that multiple people have died since 2004 on the hike itself. In fact, my good buddy John recently was in Zion on the Angels Landing hike, and while he was there, someone indeed fell to their death approximately 1,800' down to the canyon floor. Not only did that happen, but John had to walk by the body on his way down. He told me this story not long before we decided on Zion for the hike. Needless to say, that was in the back of my mind the entire time we were hiking. 

As we took photos and watched a few people descend the narrow shelf laden with cables to assist the hikers, I pondered on my own abilities. Was I actually going to trust my footing, my hands, and my mind to keep me aware while trekking up the path? Of course I was. I had done quite a bit of scrambling and sketchy hiking on the CDT this past year, so I figured what the hell, why question my ability now? 

Looking ahead. If you look close you can see people making their way along the trail up towards the top.

Looking ahead. If you look close you can see people making their way along the trail up towards the top.

All five of us eventually made our way towards the cables and embraced the hike ahead. My first impression of the treacherous section, was that yes indeed, it was as panic inducing as I had imagined. Within the first few hundred feet, I questioned myself once again. I'm not sure what was inducing the anxiety more, the fact that there's a drop off on each side of the trail or the fact that we watched a girl slip under the cables as she was descending, only to grab them at the last second as she stood up on her own. If she hadn't grabbed said cables, she would have been another statistic. Happy that we didn't have to witness a grueling moment, we continued on, cautious with each step as the trail became covered with layers of snow and ice. As the cables appear and disappear on the ascent, so did my fear. At points, I was extremely confident in each step, making perfectly calculated steps to make the most of every minute on the trail. Fast forward to the following step, and my legs would be quivering as the cliff face stretched further out towards the edge. This was exactly how my mind worked the entire hike. I would be fine for a few minutes, then realize that if I happened to slip at a certain moment, that would be the last time my feet would be on solid ground. It was a grueling game my mind was playing, and it didn't make it any easier for me. 

Top of Angels Landing

Top of Angels Landing

Eventually, the blood pumping through my swollen veins subsided as we reached the end point of the hike. The destination was upon us as I stepped up on the last bit of rock. The view both in front of and behind us was incredible. With massive, expansive views of the canyon and the rock formations in front of my eyes, I was taken back. I couldn't believe that I had never been to Zion before. I couldn't believe that I had just hiked up one of the most infamous hikes in the U.S to get to this point. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. The snow flurries kicked up again, resulting in a show more beautiful than almost any I've ever seen. The rocks became consumed with clouds as another front rolled in and began to overtake any color in the park. We enjoyed the view for some time, talking about how grand of a place we were in and nothing more. Strictly taking in the view for what it was, enjoying every moment, and making damn sure to take plenty of photos. As the wind gusted and the cold breeze brushed against our faces, we decided that after filming a short video for my channel, we would head back down the way we came, hopefully with more confidence this time. 

Merlin getting the shot.

Merlin getting the shot.

We wrapped up the filming, and began our descent down. For some reason, I was much more comfortable descending than I was going up. For me, it was partially the ability to use my arms more on the descent, but also because we had just gone up this way. As the trail twisted down the mountain side, every so often I would look over the edge and get a sense of nausea in my stomach. As the nausea and anxiety passed, my confidence became heightened. At times I felt like I was more comfortable on this part of trail than any other. My steps felt solid, and my shoes seemed to be gripping perfectly. Without any major problems or incidents, we got back to the first plateau where I was originally questioning my sanity. All was well this time, and we casually made our way down the switchbacks. If you remember, I mentioned that these switchbacks were covered in ice and snow, and it was only fitting that we made use of these natural ice slides on our way down. Switchback after switchback we dropped to our bottoms, and slide down the declines, sliding into the rock walls, the gravel and more. The descent was clearly much more riveting and exciting than the ascent. Not only that, but much quicker as well. 

Zion Blog Photos-9.jpg

The last of the switchbacks disappeared into the canyon floor, and as we took our last few steps to the bottom, I still couldn't believe that we went up Angels Landing in the snow and ice. I still couldn't fully process some of the fear that spiraled through my body as we ascended. I'm not sure I've ever been that nervous, anxious, and excited all at the same time during a hike. Even Knapsack Col, which was definitely the most exposed and enthralling part of the CDT for me, didn't induce that much fear into my veins. Then again, at that point I had hiked about 1,100 miles resulting in a much more confident step and foot placement. But really, why was I as terrified as I was? I had never felt that way, so I was perplexed to say the least. 

Zion Blog Photos-10.jpg

Nonetheless, we ended our afternoon with a nice cup of coffee at the local diner in the town just outside of the park, something we all had been looking forward to following our hike. It was really a welcoming event to not only hang out with Merlin, but get to hike Angels Landing with him, as well as film a little interview for YouTube with him. It's funny how the trail brings people together outside of the physical trail itself. Our paths quite possibly would have never crossed had we not met on the CDT, or if they would have, we wouldn't have ever bothered to realize. 

I've come to appreciate the friendships I've been fortunate enough to make through long distance hiking more and more as time goes on and as I meet more people. The truly unbelievable amount of good hearted, driven, like minded people I've met is mind blowing. I wouldn't trade the relationships I've built through the trail for anything. 

As our coffee ran low and our hunger grew, we debated on where to head that night. We could either camp outside of the park on some BLM land with Merlin and Rachel or we could get a head start on our next stop; Arches National Park. As we always do, we opted to hang out for the night, so we jetted over to the grocery, picked up some beers and food, and found ourselves at the nearest plot of good car camping land right outside of town. Merlin and Rachel as well as some of their other wilderness guide buddies camp there some nights when they're not in the field, so we knew it was a good spot. We ended our evening with talks about adventures around the fire, well, actually it was a dying pocket rocket that hardly could boil our water, but you get the point. A good day was once again turning into night, and as sleep beckoned, we called it a night and crawled into the car.