Friday, August 15, 2014

(Almost) Wild Horses

“That’s only 47, there are three missing,” said Anna. We were riding around in the cool shadow of the rising sun, counting horses at the 7D Ranch in Wyoming. We’d just finished a patrol of the area surrounding the gate of a mountainside pasture, where the majority of the 50-horse herd grazed, nuzzled each other, swatted their tails, and watched us lazily.
We’d given ourselves 2 hours to wrangle the horses back to the ranch before breakfast. Anna, a 7D Ranch hand, knew immediately which three were missing, and that they are part of their own social group, so we knew if we found one, the other two would be close by. We chose a direction and headed off for the ultimate game of hide-and-seek.
I was fortunate enough to grow up riding horses. The ones I knew had lives very different from that of a ranch herd. At English style horse farms in Ohio, each animal has a stall that they live most of their lives in, with maybe an hour on pasture per day being social and an hour being pampered and ridden. Our attention was on grooming, stall cleaning, feed and supplement decisions, and horse show schedules. Sixteen year old me would have been appalled that ranch horses would be left out overnight, every night with hazards like mountain scree slopes, fast moving rivers, and even grizzly bears, and that they’d be moved as herds, with the potential to step in badger holes or hurt each other as they make their way from pasture to ranch every morning, and from ranch to pasture every night.
Now, as an almost-middle-aged ranch guest on a vacation with the in-laws, I guess I see things differently. Growing up, I was one of those straight-A students who would do anything to please anyone. I am earnest and introverted by nature, which makes it hard to know what ‘fun’ is even supposed to be or how to have it. Fast-forward a few decades and it’s still the same old me, craving to be different while needing to be the same. I tried sneaking out of the house and smoking cigarettes and piercing my body. Then it was about going climbing and avoiding a career and any other responsibilities. Now, as I settle into a real job, a house and marriage, we spend far more time working, training, cooking, cleaning and hosting than I care to admit. I sometimes feel too scarily like those horses in stalls; hygienic, regimented, predictable and comfortable.
The balance I now think I crave is to do work I feel good about, yet still take risks and be impulsive, even as my frontal lobe matures and tells me not to. So I’ve promised to forgive myself when the garden gets weedy, when a friendship goes untended, when a niece or nephew’s birthday party is missed or when a career opportunity gets lost, because I know that my instincts have me tending to each of these things most of the time. I have to actually work much harder these days to challenge my own nature and to more often be the missing herd animal, off with my friends finding the best grass and forgetting everything else.

As Anna and I continued our hunt that morning, transitioning out of the shadow and into the soft, warm morning light, we saw, way off in the distance, in a field of the freshest, greenest grass, within the fence line of the neighbor’s property, three horses. Anna noticed that the gate was open: they were our three missing ones, grazing where they weren’t supposed to be. We laughed as we trotted down to them, and pretend-scolded them as we wrangled them back towards the main herd.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Days You Remember - Passion

Mountain Hardwear has a great new series of one-minute inspirational videos. Each has a theme around the hashtag #daysyouremember. Well imagine my surprise when the most recent one!

Days You Remember | Passion from Mountain Hardwear on Vimeo.

It's not every day that documentation of a 'failed' trip becomes a movie about passion.

Many thanks to Freddie (who shot all of that footage included here) and Liv and all our friends down there for a a fun and unfruitful (in terms of summits at least!) holiday season in the Argentine Patagonia.

View the others, like 'Movement', 'Adventure', and 'Horizons' on the Mountain Hardwear blog or vimeo channel or Facebook page.

Friday, February 21, 2014

You Can't Always Get What You Want: A Patagonia Photo Journal

I returned a few weeks ago from a climbing trip to Argentina with Liv Sansoz and
Freddie Wilkinson. This photo journal below is cross posted from Mountain Hardwear. Liv also wrote a great report about our trip here and Mountain Hardwear compiled some of our team Instagrams here
In El Chalten, Argentina, life for climbers revolves around the meteogram, or weather forecast. The first topic of conversation at any time of day is the weather. Climbers download the chart to their phones daily and decipher it with the thought and care of a neurosurgeon. Will there be a window for climbing? When? For how long?
[Mate. Required when waiting for a weather window. PHOTO: Freddie Wilkinson]
This was my third trip climbing in the Argentine Patagonia. In the first two visits, over a combined time of about 11 weeks I’d climbed for about 8 days, picking off several of the sub-peaks of Fitzroy. From afar they create a breathtaking skyline, and up close, those sub-peaks exist in a shadow beneath Fitzroy’s greatness. Climbing those other peaks, I realized, felt like some kind of flirtatious dance, like I kept seeing her, locking steps with her, but could never really touch her. And when I thought of it that way I became obsessed. I wanted to climb Fitzroy and only Fitzroy. The obsession became so engrained in my psyche that all my internet passwords included some form of her name by the time we left for this trip.
[The one and only Fitz Roy Massif. PHOTO: Freddie Wilkinson]
I tell everyone I go to Patagonia for the amazing splitter granite, and it’s true, it is unmatched. This year we arrived just in time for Summer Solstice, trading photos over Instagram with our friends up North who were praising the return of light and lamenting the long darkness and cold, while we snapped shots of lupine in bloom and green, green grass. I think those long, energizing days account for as much of the reasoning that draws me back again and again. Sure, the place has changed since my first trip in 2005. There are infinitely more climbers and trekkers around, the roads are paved and there’s a bus station, (uber slow) wireless internet has arrived and established its attention-sucking influence, and there are even landscaping services and nannies! But that splitter rock and the capacity to ‘find summer’ in a plane flight remain, and will likely make it only more popular as an alpine rock climbing destination over time.
[El Chalten rest days. PHOTO: Freddie Wilkinson]
As nice as long days were for our psychological wellbeing, the weather this year just did not cooperate. We’d wake up and look up the forecast with hope, and then our shoulders would slump and our moods would sour as we saw more of the same: cold, wind and precipitation, day after day after day. Eventually the ‘meteo’ just became relative, and the best of the bad started looking good. So we’d pack our gear and head up and try to climb.
[Weather slogging. PHOTO: Freddie Wilkinson]
At one point we even deployed our own new tactic: Tortuga Style. With conditions so cold and snow so deep and cracks so icey and wind so maddening, we thought that if we intentionally brought extra clothes and food and an especially posh bivy set up (read: a two-man tent and two sleeping bags for the three of us, plus extra fuel for the stove), and if we purposely paced ourselves more slowly, it might increase our chances of getting a big summit despite the bad conditions. It seemed brilliant and fool proof – perhaps in the same way that a somewhat less terrible forecast seemed manageable while looking at a meteogram on a computer screen from the comfort of our cabana.
[Janet Wilkinson and Liv Sansoz climb Tortuga style. PHOTO: Freddie Wilkinson]
So, in the end, although we got a couple good attempts on her flanks, we didn’t get to climb Fitzroy. We did soak up plenty of summer sunshine, logged hundreds of miles of walking and some nice pitches of climbing too, enjoyed some intoxicatingly beautiful bivy spots, and had lots of laughs with each other and with friends old and new. Although I realize that I now should probably change my Internet passwords, the obsession remains.
To be continued…
[One of the many beautiful bivies. PHOTO: Freddie Wilkinson]