in eternal pursuit of an elusive Snow Leopard (Matthiessen)

Bounding into the “inner worlds” in the Valle de la Muerte in the Atacama Desert near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, 08.2012.

“As the hand held before the eye conceals the greatest mountain, so the little earthly life hides from the glance the enormous lights and mysteries of which the world is full, and he who can draw it away from before his eyes, as one draws away a hand, beholds the great shining of the inner worlds.”

-Nachman of Breslov, a Jewish theologian of the eighteenth century, remembered for his meditations on hitbodedut, or the value inherent in “self-seclusion” for the purposes of personal edification and enlightenment; cited as an epigraph in Peter Matthiessen’s hauntingly beautiful The Snow Leopard.

sacred sounds revisited

Holy, Holy,” Wye Oak

Holy, holy, holy
There is no other story
Holy, holy, holy,
Is kindly seeking mastery

Holy, holy, holy
Would you like to know me?
A tongue without a mouth to feed
And lonely, seeking as I kneel

For the joys and secrets I have stored
Here I lay awaiting my reward
A tension for the blessed—follow, count
That tries to hold your mind and not give out

No patience can contain this
All human joy is precious
And I, of all, should know this
And everyone should notice

Holy, holy, holy
There is no other story
Is kindly seeking mastery
We’ll be who we ought to be

For the joys and secrets I have stored
Here I lay awaiting my reward
A tension for the blessed, finding out
The ties that hold your mind will not give out.

part 1: “i believe in the future / i may live in my car,” an ode to the North American summer

**A quick apology to those of you who may have received an erroneous notification from WordPress yesterday about a new Going Glacial post. Technology briefly got the best of me.

With the turning of leaves from vivid green to fiery shades of red, yellow, and orange, and the first dustings of white gracing our highest peaks in the West, I am suddenly made aware of the imminent change in seasons (and thus, of the pressing need to at last emerge from blogging hibernation). The summer of 2012 in the Salt Lake Valley proved to be a scorcher, with record-high temperatures and raging wildfires prompting steady use of air-conditioning, ample ice cream consumption, escapes on-foot and on-bike into the high-alpine enclaves of the Wasatch, and, quite often, more dramatic excursions to mountains, lakes, sea, and even to overseas snow for those changes in scenery so integral to satisfying the daily leaps and bounds of my imagination. The mountains climbed, food (as well as snow and dirt) tasted, conversation and company experienced, and languages spoken during these toasty few months have all done their part to contribute to a fulfilling and high-adrenaline, if not eclectic, summer, and to a compel a new period of hibernation for early autumn writing, picture-making, and editing…perhaps even before those fiery leaves fall to the ground and our beloved mountains welcome the graceful falling of snowflakes and make way for the delightful cold of winter.

-AK, Alta, Utah, 09.2012

**

Red rock reconnaissance on the flanks of Pikes Peak after a day of bouldering and climbing in the Pike National Forest. Near Manitou Springs, Colorado, 04.2012.
May in Half Moon Bay. Seeking opportunities for exfoliation and exploration on the Northern California coast, 05.2012.
Record “low” snowfall during the 2011-2012 ski season (a meager 400 inches), alongside rapid melting from ample spring sunshine, made way for an early show of Little Cottonwood Canyon’s riotous wildflowers in mid-July. Snowbird, 07.2012.
On an innocent Thursday night in early July, I sat with a good friend in a popular Mediterranean restaurant in Salt Lake City, devouring hummus with piping hot pita, sipping potent Armenian beer, and, inevitably, travel-plotting. Early the next morning, we hit the road, mountain bikes, comparatively uninteresting Utah beer, and a puny, single-wall tent in tow, en route to Jackson, Wyoming, and Grand Teton National Park. While we initially fancied ourselves clever for dodging a grim Salt Lake City forecast, we soon found ourselves in the midst of classic, but nonetheless epic, Teton summer thunderstorms, strong enough to frighten even the bison that linger near the shores of Jackson Lake. The clouds parted for a few photogenic moments as we hit the trail with plans to complete an epic loop linking Paintbrush and Cascade Canyons. While menacing clouds ultimately turned us around near the lush shores of Holly Lake, decorated with rampant wildflowers, our quick bolt back to Jackson and a subsequent feast on bison sausage-adorned, hand spun pizza and full-strength Wyoming beer were satiating enough. Grand Teton National Park, 07.2012.
Pink petals and a burbling mountain brook lined the rigorous switchbacks up Paintbrush Canyon, providing a natural distraction from the ominous thunderheads. 07.2012.
Back in Utah, I welcomed my family for on-trail delights in the Wasatch, July 4th revelry, and a sunset trip to Jordanelle Reservoir for an evening of waterskiing with convivial conversation, retro wetsuits, and, par for the course, evening thunderstorms. Once the thunderheads had passed, I plunged into the water, skis, wetsuit, and all, ready to reinitiate a long-held tradition of summer slalom waterskiing. I lasted all of five impressive seconds before some serious muscle spasm in my hip took me down in the middle of Jordanelle, cause unknown (although weeks of mountain biking without sufficient stretching followed by a random waterskiing session seem plausible culprits). While I certainly took pleasure in watching my family glide over glassy waters as the clouds moved east and as the sun hung low over the verdant hills, I focused my reserves of energy on looking forward to a certain Johnnie Walker Red to help ease my age-inappropriate hip pain. Jordanelle Reservoir near Park City, Utah, 07.2012.
Slalom shenanigans.
You can’t claim true familiarity with the state of Utah without knowledge of Pioneer Day, an ode to the state’s Mormon heritage, an institution in the state’s cultural mythology, and a “follow-up” holiday of sorts that actually seems to eclipse our celebration of nation on July 4th. Rather than hang around a town for what local ski bums have affectionately (or perhaps offensively) dubbed “Pie and Beer Day,” a friend and I took to the road on the Friday preceding the long weekend, mountain bikes perched on the back of the car and trunk stuffed with sleeping bags, tents, helmets, and an oversized cooler bursting with exuberant quantities of hummus, avocados, salami, cheddar cheese, and Clif products of various shapes and sizes. 700 miles, several shrimp burritos, and a few too many car games later, we found ourselves in the outdoor enclave of Bend, Oregon, at the unholy hour of 3:00 a.m. After catching a few hours of much-needed shut eye in an RV parked haphazardly in a friend’s driveway there, we initiated an action-packed weekend of mountain biking, beer drinking, dirtbag camping, and spectating a rowdy criterion (a genre of road bike race). Rather than opt for a day of rest after a character-building mountain bike ride of 27 miles among the lava fields and lush vegetation that line the banks of the McKenzie River, we convinced ourselves to drive further west–both to glimpse the famous Oregon coast in the town of Newport and to feast on fish and fresh brew at the Rogue Brewery, an ode to Oregon beer heritage and the purveyor of a certain Hazelnut Nectar Brown Ale. Suffice it to say that the nectar flowing at Rogue provided ample distraction from our hefty task set for the Pioneer Day holiday–making the ~900-mile trek back to Salt Lake City in time to go to work, to seek out pie leftovers from local “pioneers,” and to place our treasured trove of fresh Oregon brew on ice. “Good to Sea,” Newport, Oregon, 07.2012.
Backyard bluebird. Despite my persistent state-hopping and travel-plotting, I reserved plenty of summer afternoons for two-wheel playtime among the craggy limestone peaks, riotous wildflowers, and high-alpine lakes of my own Little Cottonwood backyard. Alta, Utah, 07.2012.
On a whirlwind research trip to Washington, D.C., at the end of July, I explored the concrete, albeit humbling, environs of the National Mall, indeed protected and preserved by the National Park Service. I escaped the windowless confines of my research room at the Library of Congress for an early-morning stroll with all-too-potent coffee and a strange amalgam of American history tidbits and the lyrics to “Wagon Wheel” swirling in my tired head. Washington, D.C., 07.2012.
Wildflower welcome. Despite my persistent travel-plotting and state-hopping, I made haste back to Alta to catch a glimpse of Little Cottonwood’s yearly explosion of riotous wildflowers. Albion Basin in the majestic presence of Mount Superior, Alta, Utah, 07.2012.
Back in the Salt Lake City vicinity after a wild odyssey through the mountains and desert of Chile (which surely merits its own distinct post on the wonders of summer turned to South American winter), I explored some singletrack only minutes away from and a few hundred feet above the swelter and bustle of the Valley. On the Bonneville Shoreline Trail en route to the famous, adrenaline-inducing Bobsled descent, Salt Lake City, 09.2012.
A visit to the dwindling waters of Red Pine Lake, perched high among the steep walls of Little Cottonwood Canyon and patiently awaiting rehydration by imminent snowfall. 09.2012.
View from on high, from the summit of the Pfeifferhorn at 11,326 feet. Little Cottonwood Canyon, 09.2012.

Until the next…go on, get out there!

**

hipsters, hoh, and hearty helpings of freeze-dried feed

A wise, rather famous Brit once advised his countrymen that, “brevity is the soul of wit.”

**

August 2011

Seattle, WA–A 10-mile mountain/trail run, which a guidebook assured us would result in severe exhaustion; a 35-mile huff through the Hoh Rain Forest, which Olympic National Park Rangers would surely–and perhaps correctly–discourage; exploration of Olympic coastal areas, including an afternoon of stunning solitude on nondescript “Beach 1”; and crash-course immersion in Seattle culture. Grungy motels, soggy tents, trusty Pacific Northwest mist, and ample freeze-dried feed along the way…

“Food.” With undefined plans and a track record of spontaneity, we figured we should prepare for our Olympic adventure by amassing a significant stash of non-perishable food, which, of course, featured an array of Clif products.
After meeting up with a friend in Seattle who served as a superstar guide for the city’s best coffee and vegan food (the jury is still out on that, and I expect that to remain the case), we boarded a twilight ferry across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island, from where we would continue driving west en route to the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park. We spent the night in a motel in the curious town of Poulsbo, and set out early the next morning for a trail run that promised stunning views of the Olympics and beyond.
Thirty miles of winding–and mercilessly dusty– forest service roads originating in the tiny town of Quilcene on the Peninsula brought us to the trailhead for Mount Townsend, 6,280′, considered a frightfully daunting challenge with its 27 switchbacks to the summit ridge. The old-growth forest was, nonetheless, quite welcoming…
Alaska-quality landscapes and scenery abounded: deep green, virgin forests, patch upon patch of juicy berries that would please any hungry bear, and pristinely blue skies.
Pausing for a moment–and a Clif Bar–before starting the downhill jog.
Back in the parking lot for the Townsend trailhead, we experienced a ravenous hunger, and sped back towards the main roads as we devoured bagels and packets of peanut butter. En route to the Hoh Rain Forest on the western side of Olympic National Park, accessible only by circling the majority of the park on U.S. Route 101, we started driving north and then west to Port Angeles, the Peninsula’s largest town and the home of the National Park’s principal visitor center. After chatting with a few rangers (to whom we certainly didn’t divulge our plans for an August installment of our summer ultra-hiking series), we hopped back in the car to complete the drive to tiny Forks, Washington, the only town on the western edge of the Peninsula and the town that purportedly inspired the Twilight movement…whatever that means.
After declining some all-too-enticing solicitation to join a Twilight tour in downtown Forks (again, whatever that means…), we checked into a motel, and set up what would clearly classify as an illegal cooking setup for a motel room. Oops. We declared the set-up perfectly safe and viable, and thus fired up some freeze-dried mac and cheese as calorie-generous feed for our planned 35-mile, out-and-back ultra-hike in the Hoh Rain Forest to the base of stunningly glaciated Mount Olympus.

A 3:30 a.m. reveille in Forks and an hour-long drive to the south in the dark of night led us to the sleeping Hoh River Trail parking lot and trailhead.
With all-too-acidic bananas bubbling in our confused stomachs, an epic battle ensued. 4:30 a.m.: SK vs. Clif Double Shot Espresso Gel. Breakfast!
5:00 a.m.: SK vs. LARGE tree. For something of a point of reference, SK is about 6’3″. Not so tall, apparently. During our road-trip on the Olympic Peninsula, we spotted numerous signs posted by the Park Service directing travelers to “large” trees: Turn left and drive three miles to view the “large pine tree”; Large sequoia tree ahead on your right. Not a joke.
We awoke the forest with our pounding footprints and periodic crinkling of various Clif wrappers. The Hoh Rain Forest remains enshrouded by low cloud cover for much of the day.
For our final crossing of the Hoh River before the ~4,000 vertical foot ascent to Glacier Meadows and the base of Mount Olympus, we found ourselves on a wooden bridge perched high enough to to make our hearts thumpthumpthump more than a few times.
Out of the clouds and into the sky. Elk Lake around mile 15.
The glaciated crown of Mount Olympus towered and thick forest (with some certain avalanche damage) awaited us as we neared Glacier Meadows at the base of Mount Olympus, and thus, the halfway marker of our “day” hike.
I caught up to a very hungry hiking partner around mile 17 at the top of a precipitous drop, only navegable by use of a wooden/rope ladder contraption clinging to the slippery mountainside. Sam was unperturbed by the change in terrain, and instead, focused his energies on devouring a bag of beef jerky, a bagel smothered in peanut butter, and the all-too-familiar smorgasboard of Clif delights.
Tackling the “easiest” segment of the Hoh River Trail to Glacier Meadows. After crossing the pictured snowfield, we made a quick visit to Glacier Meadows to complete our 17.5-mile in-hike and to purify some water for the 17.5 miles back out. We experienced a few moments of regret that we hadn’t planned in advance to spend a night under the stars in the company of Mount Olympus, but quickly benched these misgivings. They certainly didn’t have a place in the current proceedings. It was time to retrace our footsteps for the 17.5 mile return to the trailhead past ample backpackers who did little to conceal their confusion about (and perhaps disapproval of) our tiny daypacks, flimsy-looking Salomon trail-running shoes, rabid expressions, and frantic gulps of fluid from our tired Camelbaks.
12 hours and 35 miles later, I arrived back at the trailhead without a single blister to speak of. My toenails, however, were–and are–a different story.
Battling tired and delirious uncertainty, we pitched our tents in the company of towering trees in a National Park campsite adjacent to the Hoh River Trail parking lot. As we tossed soiled hiking gear and refuse cooking material into the trunk of our car, we noticed two older women–definitely pushing 70–stoking an impressive campfire and nonchalantly perusing the newspaper across the way. We entertained different possibilities about their sleeping arrangements–not-yet-pitched tents? under the stars? back home in comfortable beds? Our questions abated when they confidently spread their sleeping bags in the front and passenger seats of the car. I got a good chuckle the next morning when I overheard their banter in the campsite bathroom: “Rosemary, oh my goodness, I locked the keys in the car.” Her exclamation was, thankfully, erroneous–as Rosemary pointed to the keys dangling out of her friend’s purse.
Tending to some sore legs and unfortunate chafing, we continued driving south on 101 to explore the Peninsula’s unspoiled coastal areas. Pictured here: Ruby Beach.
Bouldering in bright blue.
We escaped the crowds of Ruby Beach by continuing south to a coastal area labeled on the map as “Beach 1.”
After our morning exploration, we opted for some afternoon horizontal time, and were immediately lulled to sleep by the crashing of ice-cold waves, the gentle seaside breeze, and the chirping of birds.
From one summit to the next: donning our tourist hats atop the Space Needle, which, despite its painfully commercial and tacky vibes, offers remarkable views (especially on a clear day, when Rainier towers high and mighty on the horizon) and serves up some of Seattle’s best food.

 With the sun reliably out from east to west, it’s time to let inspiration–or insanity–take over.

lessons learned

This is an old tale that doubles as the “About” page for going glacial. Since it’s rather hidden away on the site, I thought that I would share…and reiterate, for the umpteenth time, my overdue promise to finish reporting on some of last summer’s escapades in words and photos. So, I hereby promise to have done so by this year’s summer solstice on June 20th. For now, best wishes for a happy and healthy spring–wherever you might find yourself during this predictably unpredictable turn in the seasons. Here’s to Mother Nature and her finest show of sun, rain, sleet, and hail.

**

My parents long ago devised a system of “governance” for our family activities, joining an acute awareness of physical and mental health with a passionate embrace of the great outdoors. During my adolescent years, I deemed myself a “victim” of this worldview, committed to protesting their preferences in favor of an appreciation for the “great indoors.” I considered myself steadfast and advanced in the art of opposition: at a remote trailhead, I cunningly revealed that I had left my hiking boots in our motel room; in 95-degree New Hampshire heat, I adamantly refused to replenish myself with Gatorade or smashed peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches; and nearing many a summit, I vociferously declined to conquer my fears of heights, narrow rock “chimneys,” or mountaintop “fire towers” that offered stunning New England vistas.

This past summer I discovered that I had finally made the quantum leap from “group sweep”—a euphemism for the most sluggish team member—to on-trail leader. I had unconsciously “grown up” in the backcountry of New England, and was primed to take another forward step in my transformation. Compelled by the prospect of liberation from my “backcountry blues,” I assumed the role of leader over 93 miles of craggy mountain peaks in the northern Dolomites. On a simple level, the experience of providing leadership to my family answered some of my earlier uncertainties about the rationale of spending so much time in the midst of remote, glacier-fed lakes, serene Maine moose, and the solitude of snowy pine forests.

But perhaps more significantly, in this process of growth and reinterpretation, I finally understood my parents’ “call to the wild.” The tears and force-fed sandwiches had facilitated this natural maturing process; with a fundamental appreciation for the beauty and mystique of the great outdoors, I could now realize self-expression and self-reliance in forthcoming expeditionsI had morphed into an on-trail chameleon: early riser, stoic leader, blister technician, and linguistic enthusiast.

Encountering white on Italy’s Alta Via 1 in the Dolomites. Photo: AK, 06.2009.

In this latest installment in the ongoing series of Kramer family outdoor excursions, I finally closed the childhood chapter of “dragging my feet” and recurrent “umbles.” On a snowy ridgeline, I chased after two hikers, stoking my command of spoken and written Italian, waving a topographical map in the air, and pleading for a firsthand description of the treacherous trail ahead. At an uncertain halfway point, I found myself yelping into our satellite phone as I conducted my first, full phone conversation in Italian with the proprietor of a nearby mountain hut, gripping the phone with sweaty hands in helpless defense at the absence of body language. And in the final leg of our journey, I mustered my powers of empathy from the depths of my own depleted stores to pull my older brother from his tired, grumpy reverie, a condition scarcely mollified by an emergency Snickers bar.

During a water break on our third day on the trail, I pulled my dad aside and confided that I was suddenly recognizing the stresses, concerns, and fulfillment of earning a backcountry leadership position. He simply smiled and nodded, leaving me to relish the fruits of this personal zenith, and to stumble upon new challenges that would allow me to synthesize my eclectic tongues and talents in unforeseen ways.

Annie Kramer, Alta, UT, 12.2009.

eleven

At long last, a few glimpses of 2011…and perhaps a word or two.

Shades of gray towards Mount Timpanogos, Alta, Utah, 01.2011.
The famous Alta precipice during a graybird May, 05.2011.
The clouds finally parted after upwards of 724 inches of fluffy powder had descended from the heavens. Faceshots were certainly in generous supply during the '10-'11 ski season in Alta, Utah, 05.2011.
A multisport May vista: gazing towards the still-snowy Wasatch Front from the salty environs of Antelope Island, north of Salt Lake City, 05.2011.
After a shotgun trip to Corsica in June (which I promise to soon report on, albeit almost a year too late), I returned to the cozy contours of Little Cottonwood Canyon in mid-July to find snow lingering at the base of Alta. Before finally stashing my skis for my trail-running shoes, I made the foolhardy decision to make my first-ever summer ski descent...solo. Needless to say, summer snowpack isn't quite like the fluffy stuff of the gods that falls from the sky during the winter months proper. I snapped this shot of stunning Mount Superior and the pristine bluebird after descending Main Chute from the summit of Mount Baldy at ~11,068 feet. There's a first time for everything. 07.2011.
By September, the snow had, indeed, melted. Soon thereafter I found myself longing for this familiar landscape to once again be shrouded in white. 09.2011.
The snow may have overstayed its welcome last spring/summer (if there is such a thing), but it certainly hydrated the Little Cottonwood landscape for a riotous show of wildflowers come summer...in early-September. 09.2011.
Just as I was starting to grow wary of graybird May, SK (ever my partner-in-crime) was forced to return to the States after the precipitous imposition of martial law in Guatemala. Rather than opt for a peaceful week of rest in snowy Alta, we rallied for a road trip down south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, complete with bottomless bagels, spreadable cheese, sausage rounds, warm beer...and scarcely sane plans to attempt an overnight assault into the steamy wilds of the Canyon from the North Rim to the Colorado River and back again (~32 miles). I would call this one a success. 05.2011.
Reveling in red rock, Zion National Park. 09.2011.
After the stunning, but crowded environs of Zion, we escaped and drove through the Dixie National Forest to Cedar Breaks National Monument, a landscape richly detailed by the beautiful juxtaposition of red rock amphitheatre, craggy hoodoos, and thousand-year-old bristlecone pine trees. The silence imposed by the ampitheatre served as a fitting bookend for a summer (and year) of high-adrenaline activity. 09.2011.
When life gives you lemons, go to Slovenia...and plunge into the Adriatic. Although SK and I were raring to hit the trail in the remote Valle di Natisone upon arriving in Trieste, Italy, last June, our exuberance was quickly deflected by the Italian Alpine Club (CAI)...and its rather eclectic conception of administrative efficiency. After all-too-proudly producing our completed applications for summer membership to CAI (which would earn us discounts at high-mountain huts in the Alps), we learned that we would be "forced" to spend an extra day in limbo as we awaited the return of the CAI official responsible for stamping our paperwork from holiday (seriously). By the time I finished moping, SK had already made plans to cross from West to East. 06.2011.
Deflected travel plans soon turned to delight as we reveled in Piran's pastels...and Slovenia's signature Radler beverage, a refreshing concoction of grapefruit and tasty brew. 06.2011.
Life on-trail in the Alps is hardly rough around the edges. I had foolishly neglected to pre-load all of the necessary GPS data onto our device (thus rendered useless), so we found ourselves crisscrossing the Italy-Slovenia border on-foot during the full extent of an all-too-humid day. 25 miles and 7,200 vertical feet later, it was time for piping hot gnocchi and a cold brew...or two. 06.2011.
With the dollar dwindling (ours and the U.S. currency, more generally), we hopped on a cruise ship-worthy ferry across the Mediterranean to the posh--and craggy--island of Corsica, where we found ourselves to be among approximately 10 Americans who visit the island each summer. Something akin to "why are you here?" became our welcome refrain. The Mediterranean was certainly alluring in its sparkling shades of deep blue, but we immediately headed into the warm (110 degrees of dry heat warm) embrace of the Parc Naturel Regional de Corse. 06.2011.
I will reserve the tale(s) of our ~130-mile-long ultra-hike across Corsica--and how it became a mad dash to compete with a troop of middle-aged, spandex-clad French ultra-runners--for a subsequent post. This vista bid SK and me goodnight as made the final preparations for a 32-mile-long, 8000 vertical feet day en route to Conca, the southern terminus of the ultra-competition. Nervous (and masochistic) laughter abounded. 06.2011.
Looking towards to the Centre George Pompidou on a blissful Parisian evening from our budget hotel room. Not too shabby. 06.2011.
It's almost always a perfect moment for an ice-cold, tasty brew. Trieste, Italy, 06.2011.
When our plans for an overnight ascent of Half Dome went awry (the September freeze hardly foreshadowed a frosty winter in the high-mountain West), we opted for a daytime stroll--and naptime--on the John Muir Trail. 10.2011.
Just a little sur. In awe at Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur, California. 10.2011.
Hiding in the hills in Portola Valley, California. 11.2011.

There’s always more.