Day-Hiking Mount Whitney

On an early morning this past June some friends and I set off for an epic day-hike to the highest point in the lower 48 states – Mt. Whitney. Along the way I was able to field test some of my favorite Terramar Gear. Because Whitney tops out at about 14,500 feet we needed to be prepared for all kinds of weather. Like other mountains in the Sierra Range, Mt. Whitney is prone to cold and fast-changing weather, so being well informed and fully prepared was essential for a successful climb and it was important to have enough layers to stay warm, dry, and comfortable for the 18-hour hike.

The sun rising over the Eastern Sierra

The sun rising over the Eastern Sierra (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

At about 2:30 AM we start our hike in the dark on very little sleep but with a lot of excitement. At 22 miles long and gaining over 6,000 feet in elevation, the trip from the trailhead is no walk in the park. But I had done a lot of research and some training, and as fate would have it we did our climb on the summer solstice. In more ways than one it was the longest day of the year!

For the entirety of the climb I wore my trusty neon-green Helix Crew. As I’ve written about before this dry-wicking shirt is really comfortable. It performed well as a foundation of my layering system, along with my comfortable and flexible Terramar boxer briefs. I won’t get into too many details about the boxer-briefs but I’ll say they are breathable, stay in place and don’t cause any chafing issues.

A view of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental US. (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

A view of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental US. (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

Hours went by and the sun slowly hinted at its arrival. In the blue-gray, early-morning light we started to see the immensity of the stone walls to our left and right. The size and scale of the shear faces was incredible. It’s enough to make you stop and wonder. It’s enough to make you feel tiny.

At a few of the stream crossings, we took a break to filter the flowing water into our camelbaks. We snacked and snapped a few photos. It wasn’t long before the sun peeked over the White Mountains to the East and we’re basking in daylight. Above 10,000 feet the wind and sun can be draining, but we made sure to keep layered up, hydrated and covered in sunscreen.

Keeping warm in the quiet early-morning air (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

Keeping warm in the quiet early-morning air (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

To keep warm and to protect myself from the sun I wore my orange Microcool Long Sleeve Crew. This shirt is flexible, soft, and light. It also fits my long torso and wicks away moisture. When every ounce counts, this shirt was a great asset in keeping me dry and comfortable during the climb.

Soon after a sunrise we got our first view of the summit. Glowing amber in the early-morning light the sawtooth peak to the west looked more like a painting than a tangible goal. Seeing the top was simultaneously daunting and motivating: While it was hard to register distance and scale, I thought to myself, “It doesn’t look easy, but at least the end is in sight.”

Green grass and slow melt along the 22-mile trail (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

Green grass and slow melt along the 22-mile trail (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

Along the trail we saw spots of snow, bristlecone pines and wildflowers. We passed creeks, alpine lakes, cascading waterfalls and some of the greenest grass I’ve ever seen. With a steady pace, we continued to climb at a rate of about 2 miles per hour, and before we knew it we had covered 6-miles to an area known as Trail Camp. Stopping for a break, we enjoyed the warm sunshine while leaning against boulders. We ate our breakfast at the edge of a small alpine lake with several tents pitched near-by. The bright orange and yellow nylon contrasted against the desaturated stone above the treeline. The lake is the last water source before the summit, so we filtered enough for the climb and descent back to Trail Camp, which was a good thing because I was drinking as much as I could all morning to stay hydrated and combat any potential effects of altitude. So with four liters of water in my pack for the next 10 miles, we continued on to the top.

As we gained elevation I relied on my trusty Terramar black half-zip. Rated a 2 out of 3 on Terramar’s insulation scale, this medium weight long-sleeve is clutch when the wind picks up or the temperature drops. The collar keeps your neck warm, and the zipper helps regulate heat when steep inclines raise your core temp. This is one of my favorite and most used base Layers, and I can’t recommend enough.

Keeping warm in my Terramar 1/2 Zip base layer

Keeping warm in my Terramar 1/2 Zip base layer

The last two miles to the summit offered unparalleled views in almost every direction. As we skirted along the edge of the mountain face, I was impressed by the sheer-vertical drops to our east and the millions of scattered boulders to our west. The trail became more challenging here as we navigated over large jagged stones. The wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped, and our lungs reminded us of the reduced of oxygen in the air. We put on the rest of our layers, hats and gloves, and slowly made progress step by step.

Twhtney orange shirt

The last 2 miles to the summit are very steep and rugged (Photo Courtesy Nick Flohr)

The summit was a joyous atmosphere. About 40 fellow hikers were relaxing, taking photos, eating lunch and enjoying conversation. Others found a quiet corner to take a nap. Under a clear blue sky we could see for miles and miles in every directions. It also happened to be Father’s Day and we saw sons with their dads, arms in arms, celebrating together. There was even a guy wearing nothing but a fanny-pack doing yo-yo tricks while a friend took video with his phone. Only in California!  

From the summit we could see for miles and miles

From the summit we could see for miles and miles

It took us about as long to get back down to the bottom as it did to reach the top. The descent was a long haul and we certainly felt the distance on our legs, knees, and feet. But just as the sun began to set we made it to the camp store minutes before they closed. A few minutes later, sitting together barefooted at picnic table full of junk food, we cheers bottles of cold beer to a mission accomplished. Despite the aches, blisters and sweat, we couldn’t help but smile as we recalled the events of the day. With the goal of climbing Whitney now checked off our list, there are two more goals I couldn’t  wait to achieve —  a nice, hot shower and a good night’s sleep.

Randomizing the Routine

My left calf is spasming at random. My spine feels misaligned. My muscles ache and my throat, nose and voice are still raw. It’s the day morning after a surreal few days, and I wonder to myself, “is this what my body will feel like when I’m 80 years old?”

And yet these are the symptoms I bring upon myself. Many of us do. The triathletes rash, the crossfitters blister, the joggers sprained ankle. Through use and abuse we push our bodies beyond the comfort zone to prove that goals are worth achieving and challenges are more meaningful when they’re difficult. When you focus on that, then the pain, exhaustion and discomfort become secondary. This a few weeks ago my goal was to participate in the Southern California Ragnar Relay, and trust me, there was plenty of pain, exhaustion and discomfort along the way.

Van 1 at the start #socalragnar #terramartribe #thighlightreel

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Ragnar Relays are a series of events in which teams of 12 people run a designated route in a series of individual legs. Once the race starts, one member from each team runs to a checkpoint where the second team member is awaiting a handoff, and the running continues so forth. I participated in the 2015 Southern California race between Huntington Beach and San Diego. Much like the increasingly popular Tough Mudder and Color Runs, Ragnar Relays appeal to active people seeking a novel experience, a physical challenge and camaraderie with teammates. Our team was split into two groups of six, each occupying a rented Chevy Tahoe.

My group crammed into our SUV with runners and gear and food and supplies in stow, and darted from checkpoint to checkpoint. We each of took a turn running as a cool Friday morning warmed up into the a hot afternoon. My first leg took me down a suburban bike path and along some industrial buildings, eventually crossing through some neighborhoods and ending at a local school. Along the way I got a some cheers of encouragement from a few strangers and a few high-fives from some random kids.

After handing off the snap bracelet (which acts as a baton), I caught my breath and headed back to the SUV. From there we drove to the next exchange, where the next runner was handed the baton. It continued like this for much of the day until all six of us had finished and the other SUV of six people took over for a few hours.

During this break, time seemed to slow down. After we had cooled off and changed clothes, the day seemed pass much more slowly. We stopped at a local burger place for lunch and drove to the start of the next round at a beachfront parking lot in Oceanside. A jukebox played random music as we enjoyed some fries, a few beers and a few rounds of darts at a local bar. Then the sun went down some of us went to the beach to lay down and relax.

Laying flat on the cold sand, hearing the waves crash and trying to stay warm, we chatted and watched planes cross the sky high above. I wasn’t able to get any sleep, but it was nice to be able to take a few moments and be still, quiet, and to experience something so unusual. We talked about the importance of keeping life interesting. We agreed that it’s good to find ways to break the routine and surprise yourself every once in a while.

Flash forward a few hours later I’m running down the sidewalk of a seemingly endless hill in the middle of some residential neighborhood near Vista, CA. I’m wearing my race-mandated reflective vest, my trusty Terramar Helix Tee and equipped with a headlamp and blinking taillight. It’s probably close to midnight as I pass the houses filled with sleeping families before climbing a very challenging hill, and ending at next exchange and my team.

It’s about 2am by the time the six of us are done with our second shift, and at this point we’re all very exhausted. After we parked at the headquarters of Taylormade Golf in Carlsbad, I grab a sleeping bag in hopes of getting a few hours sleep. I was directed to the “Designated Sleeping Area” by volunteers, located in the middle of a driving range across the street. The grass is wet with dew but I find a quiet spot, take off my shoes and start to relax.

PSSSSSSSTTTT Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick! Suddenly I’m jarred awake by a sound I don’t recognise, at first I think a neighbor’s air mattress has punctured. Then somebody yells “RUN!”, something you never want to hear when you’re sleeping or in a crowd for that matter. The sprinkler system had turned on and suddenly a oscillating jet of water was drenching everything in its path. Fortunately I was able to gather my things and scramble out of range, but some other people weren’t as lucky.

After the adrenaline of being jarred awake had passed, I set up in a new location, and moments later the entire scene repeated when different sprinklers kicked-on nearby. Grumpy and dead-tired I gathered my things and walk back to the parking lot on essentially zero sleep. I spent the rest of the night sitting on a curb and in line for hot chocolate, waiting for sunrise.

At about 5am our SUV’s group begins running again, commencing our final shift. At about 7 o’clock I was handed the bracelet and I ran into the early morning light. The air was cool, but clear, and it was a perfect morning for a jog. I ran due west and ended at the beach just north of Torrey Pines.

I think there’s something inside all of us that instinctively knows when the ocean is near. Maybe it’s the salt in the air or the flatness of the horizon, but when the hills became flat and grass turned into marsh, knowing that the ocean was around the corner was a huge motivation for the final push. I totalled about 14 miles during my the three runs in 19 hours, our team completing the 182 miles over 29 hours (197th place out of 732 teams).

Next morning, as I struggled to walk straight, I’m comforted by the memory of a crazy weekend. I have some photos, a finisher’s medal and a tee shirt, and the pride that comes with accomplishing something mentally and physically challenging. I’m not a rich man but what I do have is a treasure trove of life experiences. It’s times like these that add to my vault of memories, evidence of my unyielding desire to expand the resume of my life.

It seems I’m fueled by random. I see virtue in experiences that are strange, unexpected or challenging. Because when I’m 80 years old, my body slows and it’s my time to check out, I don’t want to regret a single missed opportunity. So as much as it sucks being awoken by a sprinkler in the middle of a golf course at 3 in the morning, I realize it could be worse – I could be at home in a warm bed like every other night that week.

LA’s Backyard

Established over a hundred years ago and covering over 700,000 acres, the Angeles National Forest is a massive undeveloped area on the northern edge of LA’s sprawl. The forest contains the San Gabriel Mountains, several campgrounds and hiking areas. The numerous peaks and valleys, chaparral vegetation, quiet dessert-like climate and lack of development make you feel like you’re out in the wild, despite being less than an hour drive from downtown (depending on traffic of course!).

Looking West from Chilao Campground

Looking West from Chilao Campground

It’s a sharp contrast to the strip-malls and freeways, and also to the glitz and sparkle of the LA’s beach life. If the western-facing beaches are LA’s front yard, the quiet eastern peaks of the Angeles National Forest acts as it’s backyard.

And like the backyards of our youth, the forest is great for reconnecting with nature. Recently some friends and I spent a night camping at the Manzanita Loop of the Chilao Campground. We pitched our tents on soft sand on the leeward side of some rocks, protecting us from the occasional wind. We stoked a fire and enjoyed cold beers and watched the sun slowly paint the sky as it descended far across the valley and below the distant horizon. At an elevation of 5,300′ the temperatures dropped significantly as the night progressed, but my Terramar Climasense Ecolator layers kept me warm and dry, especially the 1/4 zip fleece and full zip hoodie.

Terramar's 1/4 zip fleece with

Terramar’s 1/4 zip fleece with dual surface knitting system (high loft grid channels for enhanced breatability and effective layering for cold weather)

Terramar Full Zip hoodie with heavyweight thermoregulation comfort technology kept me warm as the temps dropped

Terramar Full Zip hoodie with heavyweight thermoregulation comfort technology kept me warm as the temps dropped

The morning day we continued up Route 2 and did some hiking along the Islip Saddle, logging some (snowy) miles on the Pacific Crest Trail and stopping for lunch at the Little Jimmy Campground.

Who needs a bed when you've got views like these

Who needs a bed when you’ve got views like these

Although I’ve only visited a few times, I highly recommend visiting the Angeles National Forest for a scenic drive, a day hike, a backpacking trip or just to get out of the city. It’s a great resource for residents of Southern California and visitors alike alike, and serves the purpose of any great backyard – a place to go and play outside.

A visit to Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park, located a few hours north east of Los Angeles, is a part of the country I’ve always wanted to visit. It’s a massive national park that encompasses many natural wonders, including the lowest elevation point in North America (282 feet below sea level). It’s a place with the hottest recorded temperature (134 F), and given it’s remoteness and lack of development, it sorta feels like another planet.

I recently spent the day exploring the park and doing a few short hikes.  Because it was January, the cooler weather allowed me to test out some Terramar Sports base layers in the field.

Death Valley National Park

The valley floor is about 5,000 feet below

After driving for about 2 hours from the Las Vegas strip, I entered the park from the east on Route 190. Our first stop was Dante’s View, a viewpoint atop a series of switchbacks. Looking down at Death Valley and the surrounding mountains, it’s hard to get a sense of scale, but easy to get a sense of the park: vast, quiet, dry and still.

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Looking northwest from Dante’s View in my Climasense Ecolator 1/4 Zip

I was happy to have an extra layer at Dante’s view because the wind was blowing strong and steady, and my blue Terramar 1/4 zip worked out great. After a short hike and some photos, we continued to the valley floor, some 5,000 feet below.

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Looking north at Badwater Basin

After a brief stop at Furnace Creek ranch, we continued south to Badwater Basin – the lowest point in North America and the site of vast salt-flats.

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Salt and mineral deposits in Badwater Basin

Here the wind was gone, the sun beat down, and I could only imagine the unrelenting heat that one must feel during the summer. We walked around and took photos, and my green Terramar dry-fit Helix Tee kept me cool and comfortable (and visible!).

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Wondering around and keeping cool at Badwater Basin in my Terramar Helix Tee

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Fun fact: salt flats taste salty!

A highlight of the trip was a detour along Artists Drive, a 9-mile loop through multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary hills.

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View along Artist’s Drive

“This is a place that hints of secrets, that tucks its beauty deep inside narrow canyons, buries its treasures beneath tones of earth, hoards its water beneath the soil. And continues to attract a never-ending stream of humans intent upon wresting those secrets from their hiding places. In the process, they venture far into dark, secluded canyons. They dig deep into the earth. They explore holes in the ground. And as some seek riches, others search for the mysterious. The unknown. The Mythical.” – John Soennichsen

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Death Valley National Park

Near the center of the park we visited Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, a beautiful and picturesque collection of dunes and brush, the highest one is about a hundred feet tall.

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Dunes in central Death Valley near Stovepipe Wells

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Exploring the dunes in my Terramar Ecolator 1/4 Zip

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Our final stop was a trailhead down a long, unpaved road on the western edge of the park. Racing the sunset we started a short, flat hike up a canyon to a creek bed. The dry earth slowly became a trickle of water, then a small stream, and eventually a series of pools and small cascades. Hoping between rocks and scrambling over a few boulders, we ended our hike at a waterfall called Darwin Falls. The water was flowing, and it was a nice quiet place to sit for a few minutes before leaving the park. On our way back to the park we even saw a bat circling some water, no doubt searching for a sunset snack.

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I recommend visiting the park to anyone who cherishes the outdoors in one of it’s purist forms, however I’d recommend spending at least one night in the park because it’s so large.  For those interested in learning more about the ecology, history and inhabitants of Death Valley I highly recommend Live! From Death Valley by John Soennichsen

Panorama Trail

And here I sit in the sun on a wide, smooth, sloping rock.

 

Before me flows the river. Clear and cold, home to fish and smooth stones, inviting sweaty hikers to dip their dusty feet and welcoming me for a quick dip to cool down and clean off.

 

Straight ahead is the forest. Thick and full, green with moss and leaves, trees, grey and brown and red, others dead and bleached paled by the sun.

 

To the left a scramble of stones, piled upon each other and scattered, slowing the water into pools and trickles, the sound is soothing enough for me to nap in the sun for a few minutes.

 

Squirrels creep about in search of food, tiny lizards and frogs enjoy the rocks near the waters edge. Blue feathered birds bounce from tree to tree.

 

To the right beyond the sandy shallows is a small foot bridge, another of the thousands of photo opportunities, It acts as the final gateway for this tranquil water before gravity leads to a violent drop, Nevada Falls. Even in September, during this historic 2014 drought, the water flows.

 

Beyond the falls lay the Yosemite Valley. Hard to absorb in scale and mass, its walls and trees and river and cliffs simply astound those lucky enough to visit.

 

Behind me Liberty Cap blocks my view of Half Dome, other worldly these granite monuments stand, grey and green against the deep blue above.

 

This place, this rock, this experience is special. I hope to return to this rock again one day. And to continue to be astonished by the natural world and it’s beauty.
Alex and Andrea are awake now, so it’s time to hike down the winding granite steps to the shuttle then the car then to campsite 144 for cold beer, a refreshing swim in the river, hearty dinner and wine by the fire.

Book Review – Life Is A Wheel

“What is distance, after all, but experience?”

Life is a Wheel

I recently finished “Life Is A Wheel” by Bruce Weber. It’s is a fairly simple book about a man’s journey as he rides his (very expensive) bike across the United States.

The book chronicles the trip from Oregon to New York with intermittent advice about distance cycling, personal anecdotes, logistical notes and observations of middle America.

I found it to be quick and easy to read, in fact at some points it was hard to put down, however I also found it to be devoid of any deep, compelling sense of adventure or drama. (An exception to this was his recollection of a solo ride in Vietnam.)

Reading about Bruce, his life and his motivations, it’s easy to root for the the author and I wish him well. To me this book seems more like a series of travel blog posts than a compelling adventure story. In that sense, some portions felt like filler. I think “Life Is A Wheel” would most appeal to people in similar situations to Weber. People who are ready to take stock in their own life accomplishments, people unsure about aging and what the future holds.

I do appreciate the honest and open writing style of the book, and at some points it seemed like Weber was using the writing process (and bike riding) as therapy.

“Even when you’re far from home, exhausted, coughing, missing your girlfriend, and grinding uphill in the rain, where you are is where you belong. Never wish away time”

My biggest take away from this book is that it inspires me to ride my bike and to write, which is a good thing.