Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Failed Summit

Of all the great Wasatch peaks, Cascade Mountain is certainly the most ignored. It is so dwarfed (not by size – only by popularity) by nearby Mount Timpanogos, that many long-time residents of Utah County don't even know its name. This is the mountain I mean:

Since I had never hiked it before, I organized a trip to conquer this elusive precipice. Four of us made the attempt: Camber, me, Jason H., and a friend of his named Jackie.

The difficulty in climbing this mountain is that, as you can perhaps tell by looking at the photograph, there is no good way to get to the top (note the cliffs on the north side, nearer the actual summit). There is no trail to the very top, and the nearest trail takes you to a saddle (Lightning Ridge) so far south that it isn't even shown in this picture.

Despite its distance, we decided to take that trail anyway. Once we reached the ridge, which didn't take too long, the summit actually looked close – close enough that Jason naively stated that it would take "90 minutes" to reach the top.

A view of the summit from Lightning Ridge. The summit is the LAST peak you can see on the right. Shrouded in clouds is a large peak (not the summit) that we would have to hike over to get to our destination. Quite a distance.

After two hours of hiking along a very difficult ridge-line with no trail, we hardly seemed any closer to reaching our destination. We were all worn out by the hiking, and extremely tired of such difficult hiking with no trail. We sat down for lunch (always a bad idea) to assess our options, and finally decided to give up on it and go home.

To understand what we did next, you have to know that I have never, to my knowledge, had a failed summit before. Every hike I have ever attempted has ended with my standing triumphantly on top of a mountain. And so I suggested, so long as we were already turning around, that we have a little adventure and bushwhack our way down the backside of the mountain into Big Springs area – an area I'm very familiar with.

The backside of the mountain. Beginning where this picture was taken, we bushwhacked to where you see the black arrow pointing:

For better or for worse, we decided to bushwhack our way down. This time it was my turn to exhibit naivete and hubris, stating that it would take us about 3 hours: it took 5. After hiking through thick foliage for hours we eventually found a real trail, and I literally wanted to kiss the dirt (I didn't). It was heaven just to be out of the scratchy trees and scrub oak.

I hate to say it, but I was beaten by Cascade Mountain. I now know why there is no trail to the top: it is miserable hiking. I'm sure that I'll conquer it someday, but for now I have failed, and it remains to be seen when I will beat back the mountain.

A few more pictures:

Jason, Camber, and Jackie, just after we left the trail for hours of ridge hiking. Doesn't it look just like the Alps?

Jackie and Camber (just her legs, actually), coming down a slope along the ridge. This gives you a feel of what it was like to hike along this steep ridge with no trail.

Jason H. bushwhacking it down.

Jackie and Camber, bushwhacking it down.

Jason and Jackie taking a rest in a meadow. We still had hours to push through the thick trees.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Thoughts on journal-writing

Perhaps I've been watching too many action movies, but I really want to be able to control my final messages to those I love. I've had fantasies about getting a safety deposit box in a bank somewhere, hiding that fact from my wife, and then leaving inside of it notes for her to read after my death. I smile to think of her finding the key to it in my drawer, or being given the key by my lawyer (ha! like I'll have my own lawyer), shrouded in mystery. She would go to the bank intensely curious – probably slightly worried that I was involved in some international money laundering scheme – and instead would find my final communications to her.

These wouldn't contain anything shocking – no final confessions, no unresolved missives – I simply want a way to control the last communication she receives from me. Since any life could end at any minute, I shudder to think that our final conversation might involve how to better arrange the house chores, or whether we can afford to buy some new item. And not because those topics would lead us into a fight (we don't fight), but because they are so boring. Who wants their final message, echoing from the grave, to consist of: "I'd be happy to do the dishes on Tuesdays and Thursdays"?

As I was contemplating in which bank I should store my letters, a thought occurred to me: instead of going through all this drama, why not just keep a journal? Surely whatever journal I keep, Camber will read it if I die. And there, inside those pages of daily record keeping, will lie my autobiography. There is my final chance to capture, day after day, my feelings about life, and about her.

I had never thought about journals in this way, but over the past few months I have done my best to keep my journal in that spirit. Every night, before I go to bed, I try to record in it the day's events, and my feelings about them. And those feelings inevitably turn to Camber, giving me an opportunity to make my journal what it ought to be: my never-ending final love letter to her.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Accidental Summit

Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona, from a distance.

A few weeks ago Camber and I found ourselves, quite unintentionally, standing on top of Arizona.

How, you may ask, does one accidentally climb to the top of a 12,637-foot high mountain? I shall tell you.

It's true that we went down to Flagstaff, Arizona (Camber's home town) for the express purpose of climbing this mountain. This would have been my highest peak yet (I know, I know, it's humiliating that I've never broken 14,000 feat), so we were very excited. Sadly, on the morning of our hike, the peaks were covered in lightning storms, meaning it would have been too dangerous to climb to the top.

So instead Camber and I settled on a day-hike, on a trail someone recommended to us. It was the most beautiful aspen forest I have ever seen:

Me standing stupidly amongst beautiful aspens.

Camber in the aspens

The weather did turn foul briefly (it hailed on us for about 10 minutes; we took cover under pine trees), but began to clear up, so we just kept hiking. At one point we saw a sign that said we had 4 miles to the saddle. We were feeling good, and figured we could make it there. And we were rewarded:

A view from the saddle

Once we reached the saddle, we went ahead and hiked to the next saddle. Once we reached that, we took a trail to the next saddle. And at that point we figured, "Well, we may as well hike to the top!"

So we kept on going, not unlike our good friend the Energizer Bunny, until we reached the summit. It was a beautiful view, and there was even a nice Canadian man there to take our picture:

Camber and I at the top

So that's how it happened that a 4-hour morning hike turned into a 10-hour all-day hike. It was beautiful and worth it. If you've never been to Flagstaff, you really ought to go. Its beauty will stun you.

Here are a few more pictures:

Aspen trees. Good shot, eh?

Me standing in an aspen grove

A lichen-covered rock field

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

An open letter to France

Dear France,france-flag

I am tired of your green beans.

Before you get overly excited - before you barricade L'Avenue des Champs-Élysées and set tires on fire - you need to know how much I have been afflicted by your green beans. What seems like years ago my wife, in a moment of excited weakness, decided to buy enough cans of your beans to feed the Mongol hoard. I have suffered through your insufferable cut of bean for so long that I now bemoan their existence, and yours as well.

Forgive me, France, but why - why - must you do everything your own way? Was the original, natural, normal cut of green bean not good enough for dear Mother France? That regular cut, so straight and smooth it could have been sliced via Madam l'Guillotine, feels so natural and clean in one's mouth; while your cut, that abomination of this green garden vegee, feels stringy and strange to my tongue! You've turned something so yummy into something so . . . French.

This seems to me to be the symptom of a greater problem, a complex of France. Is it that you resent your faded glory? Do you long for those Napoleonic days, when you ruled (oh, so briefly) most of Europe?

Move on, France. Move on. And please stop making your green beans.

Warm regards,

Isaac Hess

P.S. I have a weakness for your fries.