Saturday, December 31, 2011

Twenty Eleven Revisited

I'm sitting here at home sipping my morning roast, french in flavor, and precisely pressed to perfection. It's a morning ritual to many, for all a different time block of one's day, but for me, today, on this last day of the calendar year, I reflect on all the events in the last twelve months that have kept me alive. My deeper thought into the word alive is how I relate it with the spirit of adventure and recreation. I climb, ride, or hike to satisfy a compulsion to be active, near obsession (biking) levels at times. Where am I going with this, I'm really not that sure other than I feel pretty fortunate to be able to enjoy the things I do, as there are folks near and far who have many life hurdles and challenges.

So I share a few moments of life adventure in the last 364 days.

Winter Expedition into Baxter State Park, Jan 2011
Summer Expedition to the North Maine Woods- here at the Allagash Lake Waterway Gate

June vacation to Bar Harbor- Cadillac Mountain sunset

Fall mountain bike trip to the Magical West- Joe's Ridge, Fruita, CO

Steph at Warner Lake, Moab UT - Mid Whole Enchilada Epic ride

Rocky Mountain High
That's a nutshell look back to 2011 for you. 
Be good to yourselves, be good to others. Peace and Prosperity to all in Twenty Twelve.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful Everyday

Greetings,

I am thankful for good health and being able to live life to the fullest, everyday.


  Todd Ringelberg climbs the lower reaches of Odell Gully, Huntington Ravine, Mount Washington

To see, smell and hear.

The Majestic St. John river from Blanchete-Maibec Bridge

Stump pond, Baxter State Park

This Amazing Woman.

Steph, skiing out on Foley Pond, Mount Aggie.

Steph, Moore Fun trail, Fruita, CO.


The Lovely Stephanie & Louise Jacques

Incredible Journeys.

Sovereign Trail, Moab, Utah.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

2011 Mount Washington Hill Climb Race Report

Hi Family, Friends and fellow blog readers,

I figured I better get on this report while the pain is still fresh and memories are flowing like the prettiest little stream in the wilderness.

Sunrise!
Photo credit courtesy of Stephanie Schoff Jacques

Firstly, I must say a very warm thanks to everyone who donated to the cause. Together, for just our fundraising campaign, we raised $995 dollars, every penny goes directly to the Tin Mountain Conservation Center. I have no idea what the total funds raised for all who participated is yet, as you're still able to receive donations until September 1, but surely they will release that information after the fundraiser ends. If you're interested to know what the Tin Mountain Conservation Center does, check them out on the web here. The Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb is the largest single fundraiser that benefits the TMCC. If you wanted to donate and haven't yet, well there is still time! Here is a link to my fundraising page.

Secondly, many of you sent well wishes and good luck messages as well, so thanks for that. It's nice to get a word of encouragement or some good energy vibes while preparing for, and attempting a climb like this.

What a climb it was...
Shaking off the pre-race butterflies!
Photo credit courtesy of Stephanie Schoff Jacques

I started the day feeling great, legs good, mind strong and ready for the vertical challenge ahead of me. For having the opportunity given to me to race this climb again just a month ago, I'd worked hard to feel as good as I did this morning. To me, it's quite a testament to putting your mind and body to work to accomplish such a beastly climb. Many of you know I've climbed all over Mount Washington, in the gullies of the ravines, on hiking trails approaching from the north, south, east and west. I've the reached summit over 47 times and climbed in some vicious weather and also climbed and hiked in some of the most beautiful weather with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. I've used ropes, crampons & ice axes, and rock climbed on some of the most incredible alpine climbing routes in Northern New England. More recently, I even made the summit on skis with a life-long best friend of mine Roland Fortin, what an amazing day that was! Of all the outdoor/recreational things I personally enjoy doing, I'm most passionate about riding my bicycle, whether it's a mountain or road bike, nothing compares to riding bikes for me. To feel like a kid, free spirited and happy.
Race ready!
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Schoff Jacques

The last time I climbed Washington on my bike, (2009) it was a spiritual journey for me. We had just lost a friend in an avalanche on the mountain the year before. Avoiding detail to some degree, but having (and seeing) one of your best friends pulled off a mountain in a body bag, so close to me, so close to Erik, Luke, Tommy and Roland, all of us who climbed together as friends from the start, so close to his wife and family, parents, uncles and aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews. The emotional trauma, the terrible visions and many sleepless hours was tough to deal with for a very long time, and may be for a long time in lots of ways. Quietly, yet deep in my mind, on that first time up the hill on my bike, I was climbing for Pete, personally climbing in memory of him. Not one single adventure can compare to throwing yourself deep into a zone of hurt and sense of accomplishment than riding that road on my bicycle. It's a way for me to get a dig at the mountain, it's the safest way I can find to assault it, make it feel my pain, make me feel the pain, giving me strength to deal with various aspects of life on so many levels.

If this is way too corny for some of you, well, you could just stop reading here, but I suggest you grab a tissue and read on....

It's 6:45 am, up since 3 am, on the road for 4 am, we're at the venue and I'm now registered and checked in, my stomach is a pit of nerves. I'm anxious! I'm excited! I'm confident! I'm focused! I ride my bike up and down route 16 to warm up, I climb from the Auto Road toward Pinkham Notch to get a view of Huntington Ravine, say a prayer in my mind, and continue on my warm up ride.

Mount Washington 8/20/11, what weather for a bike race up the hill.

Now it's race time, the cannon blasts, I'm off and suddenly I leave the comfort zone of the parking area and the road points up-hill, quickly, steeply, and everything slows but my heart. It's pounding, racing, breathing is fast and furious, my pedals tick over like a dancer's feet across the floor, spinning in perfect circles. Mile one sign in eight minutes, miles two sign eight minutes later, but I haven't been able to control my heart rate, yet I am spinning comfortably, legs just powering me upward. The first three miles I was sort of delirious, the air temp was really hot, my arms felt really sore and heavy, yet numb and light. I remember thinking that it felt like I was having a bad acid trip, (had a couple of those in high school) I was seeing things, I felt really dizzy, but I just kept pedaling and working hard. I had my "What the F*%! am I doing" moment around mile three, I quickly shut down the negative thought and kept up my momentum. I was on pace for my goal, as much as it hurt, it was working for me. Ten minute miles is what I was after.

Nearly the same time I hit tree line, my heart rate started to come down to a more controlled level, where I felt like I could put out a bit more power. Up and around the Horn, I took in a quick view of the surrounding mountains, but this isn't a leisurely stroll, no time for views, no time for scenic vistas. As I hit the dirt road section, I looked up ahead of me to see the line of riders mashing the gears, the road reaches up to 18% gradient in this stretch, and it is pretty sustained. It grinds on for about two miles. This is where I started to slip back away from my goal, at times my speed dropped to 3-4 mph and I needed to maintain 5.84 mph the entire ride. Topping out on the dirt, near cragway turn, there's a "flat spot" for about one hundred yards where I was able to get some higher gearing and pick up a little speed before the road turns sharply uphill again. I wouldn't have necessarily called it a flat spot, but here were two spectators with signs and one read "It's a FLAT spot". This is also the section where, if you know what to look for, you can see the southern gullies of Huntington Ravine, Odell Gully specifically, and so I take from that view, digging deep in my soul for the inner strength needed to get me through the remaining effort. A little further up the road a Raven flies overhead, as I look up he appears to be looking down on me, he swirls through the air and lets out a quick call and then disappears from my line of sight. Good vibes!

When I hit mile six, I was about 61 minutes on course, leaving me only seventeen minutes to get the final 1.6 miles to the finish. I had put in an amazing effort to this point, but I was dropping in average speed, I would surge ahead, legs, mind and body working incredibly hard to keep pace, but I could only go so fast at this point, I was losing ground and time. The pain from the exertion was really working on me.

Just past mile six there were two spectators I could see ahead, one dawning a full on superman suit and cape, I thought at first it was my buddy Todd, who had gone up in the car with Steph, but it was just some dude who was yelling as I rode by with a big smile. His buddy was handing out those red swedish fish, he yelled, asking if I wanted some and I let out a couple of expletives, confirming that I did indeed want some with an "oh f**! yeah" and so I put out my right hand and he poured out a big mound of them. I just stuffed them in my mouth and took in the quick sugars, but I had so many in my mouth that I couldn't breathe! I chewed a few and had to spit the rest out.

Gracing me at mile seven was my support staff for the day and where I hit my finish line goal of 1:18, if only mile seven was the finish line! I'd had it in my head from the start that I was handing off my phone to Steph, which I had in my jersey pocket the whole ride up, in hopes that she had a nice cold bottle of water waiting for me that I could pour over my head to cool off and wash some of the sweat away. It couldn't have worked more perfectly, as I appeared in their view, I motioned for a bottle and I saw Steph scurrying through her back pack to ready for the hand off. There it was, I handed the phone off to Todd, threw my empty water bottle on the ground, and grabbed the full bottle, proceeding immediately to pour it over my head and take a big ole' mouth full. Wow, that was rewarding! As I continued riding, I was shadowed by Todd, running along side me, yelling at me, even though I can't remember everything you said, it helped me immensely. I do remember you saying "you are in the zone" and I was! Feeling so incredibly high, feeling so freaking good about the ride I had put in to that point. I remember standing up to pedal and hearing you let out a huge scream, that was awesome, Thanks, Bro!
The Hand off.
Photo credit courtesy of Stephanie Schoff Jacques


It's hard to believe the last .6 miles took me five minutes, but it did. This part of the road kicks up a bit, and levels off a little bit too, I kicked down a few gears sped it up. I could see the summit building, I could see the finish line stretch, suddenly all along the road there were hundreds of people congratulating me, yelling at me. Then you turn the final corner to see a huge crowd and you're in the final 75 yards of the race, the nasty 22% grade. The road is rough and full of pock marks from the snowcat going up in the winter. I zipped up my jersey and just stood up on the pedals giving every last bit of energy, I had to finish strong! As I crossed the line I heard the announcer, local cycling industry colleague, Chris Zigmont call out my name, also calling out my shop sponsor, Papa Wheelies. As a racer, you want to hear this stuff, and you want others to hear the shop name too. Crossing the line I had about four Hill Climb volunteers grab me to make sure I wouldn't fall over and they yell at you, "unclip, unclip from your pedals" which seems like the most daunting task. Once you've unclipped they drape a super soft and warm fleece blanket over you and hang a finisher's medal around your neck. I just sat on my bike, head on my handlebars trying to catch my breath and bring my heart rate down. I quickly envision the whole ride, every little bit, emotions are flowing and I think of my brother man, Pete Roux, visions go through my head and I shed a few tears of both happiness and sadness. In the end, I am at peace, I accomplished this climb again.

Even though I didn't finish top notch or hit the 1:18:08 time goal, I took a huge chunk of time off my previous ride. Seven minutes and thirty-six seconds. The bar has been set, I will chase this goal until I get it. I learned exactly what I need to do next time and I will do this. That I guarantee you, my supporters, and myself. It was an amazing experience, an amazing journey! Today, I'm reflecting on the ride, I'm sore and tired, but I feel absolutely great.

To my incredible and lovely wife Steph, sister in-law Heidi, great friend Brian and one of my best mates Todd, thanks so much for all your support yesterday, you all made the day so awesome for me.

Finally, thanks again to all of you who supported me, generously donated your hard earned money to the cause, and had time to think about or maybe learn about my reasons for doing this climb.

Live life to the fullest potential every day!

Thanks for reading.

Steve



It's surely is a huge mountain, forever connected.
Photo credit courtesy of Heidi Schoff Spiller
My time was 1:23:06. I placed 122 overall out of 488, and 18th out of 47 in my age group.
Full Results

The GPS file of my ride up the hill


Friday, March 11, 2011

Reflections from the Brotherhood of the Rope

The rope, the rope, the rope!  How thankful I am for the rope. It's quite a connection! The safe, confidence inspiring feeling you get when "tied in" makes climbing in the Alpine Zone or any "zone" for that matter, so relaxing.  I'm just back from an amazing day on Mount Washington.  As we've done so many times this season, Todd and I roped up, our intent this day on getting up Damnation Gully, his first ascent on this one and the fourth time I've climbed it.  We had initially planned on making Pinnacle Gully the climb for the day, but a bit of a late start, other climbers hiking through and heading that way, opened up Damnation as our option, especially when Todd said he'd never been up Damnation Gully.  First attempted by Robert Underhill and Lincoln O'Brien in late winter 1929, the first complete ascent of Damnation did not happen until January 31, 1943, when William L. Putnam & Andrew J. Kaufman made it to the rim of the ravine.  Damnation is the longest gully in Huntington Ravine.
 Photo above and left is of Todd starting our first roped pitch.


Huntington Ravine 3/9/11

The weather was absolutely stellar for us, blue skies, no wind and warm, by Mount Washington standards. Together, we climbed Odells Gully on November 28, 2010 in quite opposite conditions and we had made other attempts to get back into the ravine, but either weather or higher than acceptable avalanche danger turned us back to go off and enjoy excellent days of climbing in Crawford Notch. 

We followed the boot pack of a skier who climbed to just below the first ice pitch in Damnation. We found him anxiously awaiting our arrival to a safe zone, which allowed him to ski down through.  Todd and I moved to climber's right below a large rock and told him to "send it".
Solar gain was working to his advantage, but a very thick layer of rain crust was still a factor in his descent.  He seemed to be a very controlled and experienced skier as he jump turned past us, exclaiming how good it was to be up here on this day! Watching his turns down the lower gully and into the fan, he nailed the whole run in fine style.  Pictured in the photo above is the skier we followed into Damnation.

Speaking of "sending it"  Following Todd's most excellent lead on the first pitch, I took the sharp end on the second pitch. One bomber screw, a very well placed nut, followed by a long 150 foot run out on super stable, but steep snow and I was at the second belay stance, happy, calm, confident and thinking only good thoughts.



Todd climbing up the steep, stable, snow slope on the second pitch

My sweet rock pro belay anchor at the top of the second pitch.


Quote of the day "I love placing rock pro when ice climbing, it makes me feel so happy"  Aside from making me feel so good, it definitely is needed with conditions such as we had.  Little in the way of available or good quality ice to place screws, yet ample cracks and crannies for placing rock gear.  A long fall on this steep terrain with the slick crusty coating could spell disaster.


On that note, and to my point of the bond and brotherhood of the rope, what a difference a day makes! Yesterday, 3/10/11 at 10:30 AM, a solo climber triggered an avalanche in Pinnacle Gully (photo left) just above the first pitch, which swept him over the first ice pitch (about 180 feet) and he then proceeded to fall in total 1300 feet to the floor of the ravine.  Details are still emerging, but this climber is most certainly feeling lucky to be alive!  He is reportedly recovering in the hospital with a broken femur and other injuries.  I'm not willing to Monday morning quarterback his climb, but I wish him well in his recovery.


I am barely visible in the photo above on the crux pitch through the rock band.
Photo -Todd Ringelberg
The third pitch of the day climbed more low angled snow to the crux of the climb. Arriving at his belay anchor I took Todd's advice to climb straight up through the rock band, keeping to the right of the gully. I found some spicy moves on thin ice covered rock and good mixed moves finishing up a steep snow slope to a meager belay stance with marginal (at best) protection placed at the anchor.  I hunkered down, belaying while sitting, with feet firmly placed in the event of a fall from Todd, I would have to hold his weight while belaying from my waist, in true mountaineer style.  As expected, he did not fall and quickly joined me at the anchor, where we exchanged pleasantries about the pitch I had just lead, then he moved on through to the final pitch.  I was relieved to have him place a solid nut, followed by an ice screw just above that, which allowed me to worry less about my anchor having to hold us in the event of a mishap. Then he disappeared, as I quickly fed out rope in meters.  Knowing he had arrived at the top of the ravine, I began to dismantle my sketchy anchor and quickly started to climb after getting "the signal" (energy through the rope) that I was on belay. The exit moves up the final snow slope were just amazing and I finished up the gully seeing Todd, sitting in the snow, all bundled up belaying me safely through the finish.  I looked left and the sun was shimmering through approaching thin clouds showing the summit cone just full of snow and gleaming from the shiny crust covering the entire mountain. 



Another Great Day on the Hill!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Eagle Eye Vision


Just spent a great day fishing with friends on Lower Range Pond.  Well, they fished, I just hung out in the sun.  I took the above photo, which I dedicate to David, Luisa and Bobby Jo.  Left to right, a peace sign, a read between the lines, and a sarcastic thumbs up.  After a long year away, Myself, Brothers Roy and Pop Roy reunited together again with nothing to stop future gatherings. 

The Boys were busy chasing flags. After a slow season, I'd like to think it was merely my energy and presence that brought them such good luck.  Jim was first, pulling out a large Bass, then J-Roy with a Brown trout. A few stolen bait later, it was Pops turn. A nice Rainbow Trout which was the only fish not tossed back into the respective holes. 

We had seen one of the resident Eagles who graced us with a fly by earlier in the morning, then again in the afternoon, flying directly over our base camp with nothing but a pure ulterior motive, taking stock of the Rainbow Trout being chilled in the snow. With little thought a few minutes later, Jason grabbed the trout and started walking a hundred feet or so on the ice away from base camp, he tossed out the fish for the Eagles.  Little did we know, but another Eagle had seen him grab the fish and before he was able to get half way back to us the Eagle was hovering over J-Roy's head, as if to thank him in some way, then he swooped down, grabbed it and flew back toward the nest. What a beautiful gift to witness such nature in action!

The hover!

The Swoop!

Thanks for the great day guys!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Katahdin Calling

Since the last time I stood on top of Mount Katahdin in winter, I've wanted to return and this past week I did. My good friend Todd and I made the journey, his fifth, my second foray into Baxter's Winter Wonderland. Despite not having made it to the summit this time around, for me, it was simply amazing! It's something that not a lot of people see, even in the other seasons of a year, or even in a lifetime.

Fortunately, I've been on the top of that peak many times and surely would have been again if things had gone according to our plan, but part of the mystery surrounding this mountain is not knowing what will happen until you get right up in there.  It's easy to sit on the couch, plan a trip, talk with your climbing partner about the ice climbs you aspire to do, plan the itinerary, but the Mountain has plans for you and it's not what you planned. In the picture above is the "plum line" of The Cilley Barber route, an incredible ice and snow climb that we had hoped to get up, but another party on route one day, followed by a huge snow dump the next, kept us from achieving that goal. As I often tell myself, that climb will always be there and someday I'll return and quite possibly it will go into my log book. 

The logistics of getting yourself in and out of such remote Maine wilderness are not as simple as some might think. Firstly, one must ski or hike sixteen miles (one way) to Chimney Pond, while pulling a sled or carrying on your back (least desirable method) all of your food, camping and climbing gear that you'll need for the length of your stay.  For most, with the exception of the very hardy, this is a two day minimum approach. The first day is a thirteen mile ski to Roaring Brook campground, where you take shelter in the wood heated bunkhouse.  After ten hours on the trail and all those miles, you're damn happy you paid a few bucks more for the bunkhouse and didn't choose to just sleep in a frigid Lean-to. 

The monkey that was attached to my hips, I estimate 90 pounds! Silly, just silly.

Day two is a nice "stroll" up the Chimney Pond trail 3.3 miles.  The weight of our sleds really hit home (for me anyway) and the hike was tough, at least for the first mile and a half.  You see, Todd befriended Ranger Mike who was grooming the snowmobile trail up and down the mountain, so on his way out he was coming down with a few propane tanks.  He said to Todd, "Do you think we can get both of those sleds in this one"? Of course Todd was exceptionally quick to say "We'll make em' fit"!  So Ranger Mike went down to the pond, turned around and came back up to us, we loaded our gear in his sled and he cruised them nearly right up to the bunkhouse for us. We pretty much flew up the final mile and a half in forty minutes, which was significantly faster than the first 1.5 miles. Plus the steepest part of the trail was right after he took our sleds up, so that was a nice treat. I did not feel an ounce of guilt weighing me down either!

Todd hiking across the Basin Pond with the North Basin and Taber Wall in the background.

Sled Free!

Part of the reason we hauled so much weight was because we wanted to eat well.  Talk about a menu!  Day one breakfast, a healthy dose of greasy spoon in Millinocket, ME. Appropriately at The Appalachian Trail Cafe!  Eggs and home fries, pancakes, a BIG breakfast which undoubtedly was burned off a few miles down the trail.  For lunches everyday, we planned "trail foods" which for me, consists of Powerbar Gels, Cliff Bars, Poptarts and a healthy granola mix along with plenty of chocolate.  So on to dinner! Todd brewed up beforehand at home, then froze, a killer Tortellini Soup.  Lots of veggies, a tomato/veggie broth base, and some spicy Italian sausage.  After ten hours on the trail, with your heals ripped and torn with blisters, this was quite comforting!  Day two breakfast, coffee, eggs and pancakes, with a nice side of yogurt (partially frozen) and blueberries, yup, you read that right!  Day two dinner was Clam Chowder, Bountiful Bread and Crab Cakes.  What a meal! That was damn good and could very well be one of the best meals I've ever had in the back country. Tuesday's breaky, including coffee, was plain old oatmeal dressed up with fresh blueberries and almonds, quite good!  Dinner, a fancy Asian stir fry with plenty of traditional stir fry veggies and chicken added for protein. Wednesday's breakfast, yup oatmeal again (yum!). Dinner was another classic, Steak Fajitas with cheese, slices of avocado and a side of salsa. Thursday, you know the drill, breakfast, eggs and pancakes and dinner another round of stir fry.  For me, upon reflection, suffering all those miles with all that weight was worth it.  We ate like kings!

Todd's Tortellini Soup hit the spot! Photo - Todd Ringelberg

Since we were some what "grounded" due to the big snow storm on Wednesday, we went for a short but sweet hike to the base of the First Cathedral, a couple of miles round trip.  We started up the snow slope hoping to get to the top, but part of the trail is avalanche prone and so we played it safe and didn't climb too high. Arriving back at the Cabin, we decided to put party a bit and put the finishing touches on the stairs we dug to go down to the wood shed. It was basically just a snowy ramp so we tried to give back to our fellow humanoids making their access easier. We also stacked wood in the cabin for the next set of campers and split a bunch of pieces too! 

We were set to climb down low on the Pamola Ice Cliffs on Thursday, but when we got out and had a look at the climb we planned, even that had some pretty good avalanche potential at the top. Although it would have been small in size, anything that would have come off certainly could have spelled disaster for the leader or second.  So we played it safe and hit the trail down to the Roaring Brook Bunkhouse so that our trip out on Friday would be that much shorter. 

 Todd at the base of the first Catherdal.

A few photos from the rest of our trip, one I plan on doing again next year and maybe then we'll get that plum line on Cilley Barber?  We made the ski out from Roaring Brook to my car in 7 hours, much faster than the ski in since it was mostly down hill and our sleds were slightly lighter. I think I can speak for Todd as well as myself here and say, we learned a lot on this trip, we made good, safe, self informed decisions and this can only help us in the future while playing in the Mountains.

 The Armadillo from the basin snow slopes, quite a view of this rock feature.

Todd at the base of Waterfall Gully, post first pitch climb.

Storm God Pamola showed up at The Katahdin Lake Trailhead on our ski out.  He was big!

Climbing skins on for the ski up Windy Pitch on the Roaring Brook rd.

Parting shot, The classic view of Katahdin from the Roaring Brook rd.

Thanks for reading! Cheers! 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In Memory of a great friend 11/10/68 - 1/18/08

Pete Roux on the approach trail to Huntington Ravine, March 18, 2003

The objective dangers in the winter mountains are many, which are contrasted by their extraordinary beauty, and the rejuvenation and peacefulness they can bring us. These factors together create the challenges that give us the intense fulfillment as human beings and keep us coming back time and time again. We must be ever on the lookout for all the hazards we face while pursuing our mountain passions. The mountains will be here another day.
Written January 20th, 2008 by ~ Chris Joosen
USFS Snow Ranger on Mt. Washington