If death were near what would you do?

It’s been a year since I wrote this story, but I figured it would be good to see it here.

Getting a spec agreement from the Outdoor Sports Guide for 750 words about Team Tumor running the 2010 Ragnar Wasatch Back Relay I headed to Logan to hang with the team.While following them on the vibrant back of the Wasatch, I became overwhelmed by the heavy presence of cancer in not only the team member’s lives, but in mine as well.

The course winds its way through the rural backside of the Watch mountains.

Nancy, breast cancer survivor. Sherri, breast cancer survivor. Anna, skin cancer survivor. Suzanne, colon cancer. Jaimee, brain cancer. Dov, colon cancer.

Their supporters; Breck, Matt, Paul, Cathryn, Gustavo, Megan, NiCole and Kameron.

Some of the moments I recall

Interviewing Dov over the phone. I wrote in my notes that he is a force. I can only hope that I would be as strong if in the same situation. Just before the race his prognosis went from possible remission to terminal.

Dov Soporin, co-founder of Team Tumor, is not subtle.

Watching Jaimee finish her final leg. Her doctor advised against doing the race, but she had to do it for herself. She was undergoing iron infusions at the time. A process that is extremely painful.

Seeing how Nancy’s life has been opened up to great people like Paul who is not only an amazing runner, was like a brother to the whole team.

Paul Fulton comes in for a hug as Nancy Hiedman finishes her leg.

Being blown away by everyone on the team.

I can only hope that I  would rise to the ocassion, full of courage and will power if it came to it.

It was an amazing thing to witness and 750 words doesn’t even come close to telling the story.

This year they did it again as Team BICan.

The transition near Wanship at 5 am Saturday.

Through doubt, fear and several set backs, fourteen cancer patients, survivors and supporters came together as Team Tumor for two June days in order to inspire people living with cancer and raise funds for the Huntsman Foundation.  The team participated in the Wasatch Back Relay proving to themselves and the rest of the world that, “Cancer can’t stop us!”

Gustavo Flores models the team T-shirt.

It was uncertain that the team would actually participate when within a week of the start two runners pulled out due to injury and then team captain and co-founder, Suzanne Harsha-Arevalo (colon cancer patient), had to pull out due to the death of her father.  Co-captain, Anna Marie Forest (skin cancer survivor), shifted into to over-drive and with the help of the other teammates found replacement runners, coordinated the rental vehicles and gathered last minute supplies.  Miraculously, Team Tumor was at the starting line of the 2010 Wasatch Back Relay.

The team comes together at the Oakley Rodeo Grounds.

The Wasatch Back Relay consists of regular teams of twelve runners, each having three legs totaling 36.  As one person runs the other team members leap frog two vehicles to an exchange while cheering the runners along the way.  The legs range from three to eight miles and have various amounts of elevation change while the course snakes its way along the east side of the Wasatch Mountains from Logan to Park City, Utah.

Megan Ovary and NiCole Batten look on during the 2010 race.
Jaimee prepares for her final leg.

Riding with Jaimee and Sherri in van #1 were team veteran Nancy Heidman(breast cancer surviror), and first time Ragnar’s NiCole Batten, Paul Fulton, Gustavo Flores and Meghan O’Vary.

Megan Ovary, 16, the youngest member of Team, blazes up the course.

In Van #2 Anna and Dov were with Cathryn Smith, Breck Byington, Matt Bartley and Kam Nordfors.

Jaimee Alkinani and Sherri Nielsen embrace after their final leg.

In van #2 Dov felt the pain.  From his first leg to his last, he suffered.  From past experiences he knew that if you have to walk or even crawl you can make it through and on more than one occasion during this race he was on his knees.  So when Suzanne Harsha- Arevalo was able to join Dov for the finale of the race it added support, purpose and meaning to the whole journey.

In response to his own question before the race, Dov said, “I worry about what I am teaching my kids…  It does matter… Pushing on no matter what, we still make every moment count.  That’s important.”

Gustavo selling Team Tumor shirts with the proceeds going to the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Team Tumor pushed on with the generous support and participation from healthy runners willing to give their best, they drew inspiration from their cancer survivors and found abundant life in the members that are standing on life’s edge.  33 hours after beginning the race Team Tumor crossed the finish line, proving that indeed, cancer can’t stop them.

The team on their way to the finish.

For more information on the team and the Huntsman Foundation visit

http://www.huntsmancancerfoundation.org/netcommunity/teamtumor

How do you share your love?

Fynn

Parenting terrifies me.

Josie and Fynn
Josie and Fynn in front of the Bear Claw yurt. Photo by Louis C Arevalo

Past one AM the third Monday of April the smell of burning pine hangs in the air.  The woodstove does well to heat the yurt, but it lets escape a small amount of smoke.  When I open it and stir the coals a white cloud rolls from its belly.   Rising it dissipates to a haze that lingers near the domed lid as it seeps through the vent.  We might get a few more hours heat from the remnants of the logs.

At the window I gaze out onto the snow covered land of the north slope of the Uintah Mountains.  The sky is a blanket of moonlit clouds giving the scene a quiet, ghostly feel.  Aspens appear frozen in dance, chaperoned by shadowy evergreens, which stand on indifferent.

A few weeks back I came up with the idea of skiing into a yurt with the family over spring break.  Never mind the kids have never cross-country skied or backpacked, I thought it would be great.  Then as time grew close I began to doubt myself.  What if they didn’t like it?  What if it didn’t work out?  Some unknown crisis could have us going home early.   I imagined a scene where we were driving back to Salt Lake, the kids sitting in the backseat, happy as clams now that we were going, Jacki driving and shooting sideway glances at me which said, “told you so,” and me, sulking in my seat, feeling like a complete failure.

Now on our second night at the yurt I wince at the thought of the past couple days.  Recalling my pathetic behavior I breathe deep and when I exhale tears come to my eyes.  Why am I so up tight?

Fynn
Fynn leaves the Lily Lake trailhead.

From the trailhead, once Fynn and Josie got onto skis and loaded with packs, I put distance between us.  Certain that at any moment they would decide this wasn’t for them, I hurried up the trail.  Expecting complaints and opposition I was stopped suddenly by laughter.  Not light giggling, but full body laughter.  As the two of them were getting used to maneuvering on their skinny skis, invariably one would tumble.  The standing child would reach down and help the other up only to then fall over.   Jacki was laughing too.  She was near, but was allowing them to figure it out.  In shame I turned south and saw the large peaks that lay beyond.  Clouds swirled and painted the sky.  My paced slowed while Fynn and Josie joined me taking turns shuffling and tumbling and eventually I couldn’t help, but to laugh too.

 

Jacki
Jacki watching Fynn and Josie learn how to manage on skinny skis. Photo by Louis C Arevalo

The next morning sleet fell from the sky and clouds erased the peaks that were seen yesterday.  Again my doubts grew and I was certain the kids would not want to go out, but soon enough we put the yurt behind us and like the day before I pulled away.  They caught up at the lake.  Fynn and Josie were soaked, it was cold and I was sure they were hungry.  It could have been ugly, but it wasn’t.  We crowded under a large pine, taking shelter from the snow, and ate our lunch.  Smiles on their faces and laughter coming out of their mouths confirmed it.  The kids were having a ball.

 

Fynn
Fynn taking shelter from the snow. Photo by Louis C Arevalo

That morning, before our ski to the lake, Fynn and I sat at the table with the map.  We oriented the map, compass and then ourselves.  From there Fynn marked our path from the car to the yurt and then our path to the lake.  While skiing to the lake he referred to the map to verify we were on route.  After our lunch under the pine, Fynn pulled out the map and suggested we go on a bit and pointed to a spot on the map.  And so we did.Fynn

Fynn reading in the yurt. Photo by Louis C Arevalo

 

In the early hours of Monday, in a yurt on the north slope of the Uintah’s, I listen to the sleepy breathing of Josie, Fynn and Jacki.  My thoughts are of camping as a child, sometimes as part of a church function, other times with the scouts and on the rare occasion, with my family.  Then they are of my passion for the mountains.  Running around the Wasatch, the Uintah’s the Teton’s.  Then my thoughts float to parenting.  What are my beliefs?  What do I hold deep?  What can go by the way side?  My entire life I have found comfort in the hills.  Sharing the peace I find in wild places matters tremendously.   I love it and want Fynn and Josie to love it too.  Terrified a negative experience would ruin it for them, the past few days I have been wallowing, waiting for the worst.

A coyote’s high pitched howl breaks my thoughts.  It sounds only yards from the yurt.  I wait for a response, but one never comes.

Will Fynn and Josie find a similar love to mine?  Maybe, but first I have to get over myself and out of their way.

The first night after we settled into the yurt, Josie and I skied up to a knoll and watched the sun set.  Robins whistled and jumped from tree to tree while the faint drone of snow machines faded.  The two of us sat in the snow and watched the light dance through the mounting clouds.  We talked about nothing.  Josie mounded up snow into a volcano and I relaxed enough to just be.

 

Josie
Josie watching the sunset. Photo by Louis C Arevalo

“Louie, do you think we can come back here every year?”

Pan Amasado. What things bring back the memories?

chile2011.2 123 In the village of Baños Morales, southeast of Santiago de Chile, there is a woman who runs a store. The simple tienda in the center of town has a variety of fruits and vegetables on its wood shelves, flour and rice in bags against the soiled whitewashed walls and drinks, kept cool in buckets of water, on the tiled floor. It was from the counter in back that she sold me hand-kneaded bread that reminded me of my mother.

Jacki and I arrived by bus Monday morning. After hours of stop-and-go traffic through Santiago, followed by miles of jarring dirt road, we tumbled out into Baños Morales and stood awkwardly squinting in the sunlight. The driver unloaded our luggage then announced a return to the city at six pm. We would not take the bus back to Santiago.chile2011.2 091

The village is a handful of small structures, most of which seemed looked after. The colorful cafes, tiendas, refugios, cabanas and residenciales are located at the confluence of thermal springs and streams of the Morado National Reserve where they spill into the Volcán River. Water is gathered from the streams, there is no pavement on the road and if there is electricity, it comes from generators. Compared to downtown Santiago it felt and looked like nothing.

We meekly entered a storehouse unsure if it was open. Below the glassless windows sat two men chatting over a liter of beer while an older woman presided. With a smile she came to us. I asked if she had any bread then she leaned to me with her left ear close and I repeated myself.

“? TIENE PAN?”

Still not hearing, she turned her pale eyes to me and shrugged. The men sitting with the beer both yelled.

“Ah!  Pan… Si.”

At the counter she opened a box to reveal rounds of bread, bundled in a towel, each with a heart engraved upon its chest. We bought two for each day we would camp. chile2011.2 167

When I was young and my mother worked part time, she used to bake bread at home. It seemed that every week or so the kitchen was devoted to grinding wheat then mixing flour, water and yeast. In the afternoon the dough would rise and that evening the house would fill with the smell of baking bread. The pan amasado (hand-kneaded bread) we purchased was similar in texture, density and richness, and every bit as good as my mother’s, only it was different.

The following morning we shouldered our packs and walked up the deep valley toward the San Jose Volcano. Not far from town a man was slaughtering a goat. His wife encouraged us to watch, so we did. The throat had been slit and the blood had been drained. The man inserted and removed a long pin from the hind leg. He pressed his lips to the hole and filled the goat with air. As he paused to catch his breath he slapped the belly. Puff, puff, puff. Whack, whack, whack. He repeated this a few times while he explained the process to a boy and girl who assisted by holding the legs. Then with the touch of a knife, he peeled the goat open from throat to anus.

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We returned to his wife, who sold queso cabra (goat cheese) from a shack next to the road. She showed me a loaf. It looked delicious. She had several stored in the shack, all unrefrigerated. The temptation was great, but the thought of what might happen if it went bad on the trail forced me not to buy the cheese.

That afternoon we sat on boulders and ate lunch, pan amasado. When my mother was alive and still baking bread I would day dream of wandering off. I dreamt of stepping off the pavement and wandering through the hills. The Uintah’s, the Wasatch, any open land along the highway. It could have been anywhere. I wanted to see all of it. I made lists of things I would need to carry. Clothing and gear were easy. Food was harder. At that age I assumed that I would cook over an open fire and boiling water seemed unlikely. What to bring for breakfast and dinner? Eggs and bacon wouldn’t travel well, nor would steak and potatoes. Lunch was much easier. My mother’s bread was always part of the daily ration.chile2011.2 113chile2011.2 262

The geology of the Cajon Del Maipo is dramatic. Multi-colored layers of the sedimentary rock have been pushed and folded vertically leading up to the peaks. Valleys, free of trees, have been sculpted wide by glaciers up high, deep and severe by rivers down low. It took time to comprehend the scale. A ridge that we guessed to be no more than an hour away, according to our experience in the States, would be hours away instead. Just how tall the mountains were became apparent when we hit our high point of 12,000 feet. The summit we stood on was only a foothill compared to those that loomed above us.chile2011.2 298

At first I was only impressed by the size of the peaks, glaciers and valleys, but after four days, the place grew on me. The sun was with us everyday and felt warm on our faces, but the constant breeze was cool and kept us in sweaters. Mornings, after our oatmeal breakfast, we would walk leaving foot prints in the grainy soil, then after our pan amasado; we would read and drink sweet tea. We spoke continuously at times and then for hours we would be silent. We encountered few people. By the time we returned to the refugio we were enchanted by the lonely beauty of the canyon.

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Saturday morning Baños Morales buzzed with ranchers, hostel owners, cafe employees, miners and weekend tourists from the city. All the residenciales, cafes and tiendas churned with business. What was a lazy town Monday was a loud scene Saturday. Having just come from the mountains it was draining, but we knew what we wanted. The woman was in front of her store laughing with customers as we approached. I asked for more bread, but instead of taking me inside she apologized.

“She’s all out.” One of the regulars responded and pointed us to another store.

In the spring of 1999 my mother succumbed to cancer. Since then I have wandered many miles from the pavement, but had forgotten about having her bread for my lunches. It wasn’t until I entered the store in a small Chilean town where a woman, hard of hearing, sells hand kneaded bread, that I remembered. What we ate was different from my mother’s, but eating the pan amasado in the Cajon Del Maipo helped me recall my mother’s spirit and love.

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Copyright Louis C Arevalo 2010-2011

Virgin Climb. What keeps you from running away?

Sunday 6:40 AM Santiago, Chile

I have over slept, but judging by the limited light in the room there’s still time to make it to the summit. Downstairs I shake Juan Pablo awake and he buzzes the door to let me out. The air is cooler than the previous evening, but still warm. I run to beat the sun.

The bumping music and crowds from last night are gone, but I can still hear the rattling of the metro below and the occasional buzz of a car. The stray dogs of all breeds are everywhere. As I count my strides I notice where they have stained the concrete with their urine and reek. One, two, three… chile2011.3 070

The first people of the day are a cohort of street boys loitering along the fence that encloses Cerro Santa Lucia. I perceive no threat, but when they start making kissing noises and leering, I reconsider. Their clothes are not quite clean, their eyes are dark and the way they are hanging on each other alert me. Thirteen of them are strung out on the side walk and they all see my camera. I tighten my grip and focus on the sound of my feet touching the ground. Tah, tah, tah…

We arrived in Santiago yesterday. At first glance it was a city just like any other, but after letting your eyes adjust we could make out the things that indicated we were not in the States. Most of the structures are the color of industry with the exception of the occasional crayon colored dwelling. Modern offices tower over simpler residential structures and then you have the junk that is piled on the banks of the rivers and the roaming dogs.

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Once downtown we visited churches, museums and markets. We walked streets that have been trampled by millions, touched walls that have been greased by thousands and saw people from all over the world. The novelty of a large city and the history on display was entertaining.

Dazed from the bustle we retreated to the roof of our hostel in order to get a grip on the place. Below us the city rolled out with no end. Being able to see a few hills through the buildings I attempted to burn the points of the compass on my brain, but once back at street level it was difficult to retain. To the north we had seen a hill with a white statue on top. The view from there would tell a better story. chile2011.3 091

Too focused on preserving my camera I make a wrong turn. After running half a mile in the wrong direction I am lost (estoy perdido). Across the street is the Universida de Chile. According to the map my current path will lead far from where I intended to go. Retracing steps past a library, hotels and a museum, brings me back to Cerro Santa Lucia. Luckily, the boys are gone. Making the correct turn I take a bridge over the river. Discos and bars are still blaring music, but have no one in them. The smell of dog is now joined by the aroma of stale beer and liquor. I consider turning around, but see the entrance to Cerro San Cristobal, my destination, and continue. Four, five, six…

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Evening in the plaza was different. First, there was a strange dance between a man and woman. Originally I thought it might be a traditional dance of the indigenous Mapuche people, but after watching the way the two interacted with their saucy looks and sultry swagger, I doubted it. Eventually, we were drawn to the largest crowd which had surrounded a clown. He was busy making balloon animals for the children until he saw me and in one moment Jacki and I were both part of his routine.

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Last year we were wed in an intimate ceremony in Salt Lake City, now in front of hundreds of strangers, we were married by a man with a squeaky voice and a painted face in the Plaza de Armas.chile2011.2 048

 

Running up a nature trail labeled “Subida de Virgen” I find some comfort with the trees, bushes and dirt. About fifty strides up, I hear rustling off the trail. Curious to know what animal would be here, in the middle of the city, I stop and look closer. I see toilet paper first, then soiled clothing and general rubbish which remind me of the boys from earlier. The comfort that I was feeling is gone. I no longer want to know what’s in the bushes. Tah, tah, tah…

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We visited the Catedral de Santiago yesterday. While some gave confession, we took snap shots. As we gawked at the stained glass, people humbled themselves in the pews. Instead of stillness and peace I felt foolish and awkward.

On the summit this morning I stare at the Virgin and attempt to give her love and respect. I bow my head and take a moment to quiet myself. It’s easier to be relaxed here.

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I look out over the greater Santiago area. She is alluring. The city coming out of the shadow of the Andes and I can see her terrain and know why she has grown so large.  She has a few skyscrapers which dot the horizon, but she is mostly low-lying buildings. They spread out north, west and south in a rash of rectangular bumps. Tasting the smog in the air and hearing her rumble awake makes me sad.  It’s too much. I can see similarities to my hometown. Without careful consideration for the future, Salt Lake City, USA will become Santiago de Chile.

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Down the cerro, I leave the trees, bushes and dirt behind. City workers are busy sweeping the streets with palm leaves. There are people walking everywhere and cars, trucks and buses are plentiful and constant. I feel the city breathing and with each inward breath can feel her body press against me. It makes me nervous. She exhales and loneliness sets in. My paranoia has increased.

I want to continue running, only to stop where there is crisp water and clean air, but for one more night I’m trapped with six or seven million people in this over-developed place.

Running across the bridge I remember that I have left Jacki back at the Hostel.  She has no idea where I am.  I lengthen my stride and take comfort knowing that I am not here alone, but at the next intersection I take another wrong turn. Seven, eight, nine…

Copyright 2010-2011 Louis C Arevalo

What makes you want to run away and what keeps you from doing it?

Where can you see the ones you have lost?

Thirteen years ago my dad passed away only days before I married Suzanne.  It was around this time that I asked her father, Mike, to teach me to fish. 

The lessons began slow. Evenings were tying knots and afternoons were hours of casting. Both were done while he explained fly patterns and hatches. He would tell me about different rivers and eventually he took me to them.

Fishing started on the lower Provo River and after what seemed like forever, I began to hold my own. Mike must have thought I was okay because he continued inviting me. On the way to the rivers we’d discuss flies, books, life and politics, but once at the water we were silent. We would stagger in, adjust our balance, then cast and be with our thoughts. It was through this ritual that we became friends and he became a father figure to me.middle provo 2001

One summer day Mike and I fished on the Big Wood River south of Ketchum. The spot where we started had someone fishing every twenty feet or so, but Mike didn’t care. He just snuggled right in and began casting. He preferred to be around people when fishing. Before his first heart attack he might have chosen to be more secluded, but after it he felt safer with a crowd. I, on the other hand, didn’t enjoy being so close.

After an hour I’d seen no trout. I had no nibble, no nose, nothing. Mike had caught one earlier with a dry fly, but now he was nymphing (wet fly fishing). This meant the fishing wasn’t good. I dipped my hat in the water and sat on the bank. Mike swapped nymphs and worked his way up and down. Another hour passed before he joined me.

“It’s too hot… It might improve later when things cool down.” He offered almost as an apology. When we fished new places together he felt a responsibility to make sure I caught something. Sensing his concern I suggested we try a spot down the road which had a short hike through the brush. Mike didn’t like hikes. It was the safety thing.

He shrugged. “Alright, but I think we might be coming back here.”

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“FUCK!”

It was a roaring scream from the bushes behind me. Mike never used that word. He had snagged his rod in a thicket and snapped it right above the joint where the two pieces slide together. I was mortified. I‘d insisted that we hike out here, he had followed reluctantly and now this.

“What do you want to do?” I asked sheepishly. “Do you want to use this rod? I can just hang out… Take some photos.” It was actually his rod. Pretty much all of the gear I used was his, but he wouldn’t have any of it.

“No, no. Let’s see… I can just use what I have. It’ll be alright.”

At the water I gave Mike space and began nymphing using an unbroken rod. Within one or two casts I had a fish on. The fight was short lived as he threw back the hook, but it was a good sign. After spooking all the fish out of the hole I looked upstream. Mike, standing beneath a cluster of cottonwoods, was casting a dry fly. He was using the top half of his broken rod and a bunch of line stuffed in his vest that he worked with his left hand. He was smiling. The casts seemed tight and the trailing fly wobbled, but he managed the landing, presenting the fly softly where he wanted it to go. That afternoon I got skunked while he pulled in fish after fish.

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The following day we drove south, out of the mountains and into the plains. The subdivisions were replaced by fields of alfalfa and potato. The novelty shops and restaurants were gone leaving cattle and sheep ranches. I was dubious when we pulled off the highway, but as we crossed the bridge I saw the sage brush fall into the marsh, in its place stands of cattails appeared along with a slow moving creek filled with watercress. The scene was idyllic.

 

silvercreek 002While suiting up we talked to a few guys who were wrapping up their day. When asked what seemed to be working for them they were vague. I took it the fishing was tough. Mike agreed with a knowing glance. As we carried on, one of the guys produced a cutting board filled with cheese, salami and crackers.

“Please, have some.” He offered. Mike declined, saying something about not needing to add anything to his robust gut.

“Ah, you’re not even close to being fat.” He held the board closer.

With a grin Mike responded, “You know people get sent to prison for lying that bad.

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There is something about how the water presses against you when you wade in. It holds you firm, but gently. When you finally climb out you have the tendency to fall forward from leaning against the current for so long. The slow movement of the creek was comforting. I was in up to my stomach for most of it, trying to look small to the fish upstream, but they could see me and my line and weren’t fooled. I saw fish swaying in my wake so close that if they wouldn’t have darted off when I reached down I could have touched them. I dipped my hat several times, not only because I was hot, but in order to absorb the place. We quietly stood in the water while the air cooled and the shadows grew tall. We both caught nothing. That was the best day fishing I’ve ever had.

After the divorce I expected to lose Mike as a friend, but life doesn’t work that way. At first our encounters were awkward, then cordial and eventually friendly again. We continued to exchange books, talk politics and I still sought his advice.

Last June the man who taught me how to fly fish died. Suzanne found his body lying in the backyard. John Michael Harsha did not survive his fourth heart attack. I don’t want to think of that. silvercreek 009

 

It’s better not to dwell on our disagreements, disappointments and heartache. Instead it’s better for me to think about the peaceful moments, the laughter and shared love. To remember competing with the Ospreys for trout on the Madison or going way out on the Lamar with bison our only company, that’s what I want. Feeling the spring sun on the waters of the Green and the cold days of winter along the Provo will help me recall his energy. Summer nights can find him wading in the magic of Silver Creek and on fall days, when the trees are brilliant, I will see Mike casting quietly, peacefully, on the Blacksmith Fork.

 

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copyright 2010-2011 Louis C Arevalo

You’re up.  Tell me where you see them.

Time for something new. How do you know when the season has changed?

It’s early morning in October and the heat of summer is a memory.  I’m snuggled in my sleeping bag waiting for the sun.  For the moment the coming day is only a slight glow.  As light creeps down the canyon cold air is receding, pooling and hiding in the lowest possible placesWhen direct light from the sun arrives everything will warm and I will leave the tent in comfort, but right now it’s freezing.  It’s always coldest just before dawn.

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I can almost hear the surrounding moisture freeze while it clings to the fading leaves.  I inhale deeply, tasting the crisp air.  I am excited to see the yellow leaves of the cottonwood trees surrounding my tent light up in the morning sunI know that it will be brilliant, but I will have to wait.

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By now there is enough light to read a chapter from my book.  My fingertips are chilly and I am forced to hold the book with one hand out of the sleeping bag and every few minutes I switch just before they go from cold to numb.

 After reading I stretch.  At first I reach tall and touch both ends of the tent, scratching the frost on the walls.  Next, I stretch my ankles and wrists, clockwise and counter.  Then it’s time for the stomach, butt, legs, back, and finally, my arms and neck.  After this ritual I dress slowly, taking time to enjoy the chill against my naked skin.0000_031

Birds are chirping outside my tent.  The sun is near.  I lie on top of my sleeping bag and enjoy this moment.  I breathe steadily.  My tent lights up as the sun pours warm rays upon it.  Frost crystals on the walls contract then make a clinking sound as they fall.  I sit up, lean over to unzip the tent  and smile.  All of this indicates the season is upon me.  This is autumn. 

 

Copyright 2010 Louis C Arevalo

 

Free… Free… Freezing! Why would you want to do that?

ranger peak2010 089“It’s cold!” Charlie states through a clenched face while dropping his pack on the summit.

Lower down the ridge we had noticed the temperature fall drastically.  Now, on the summit of this dome shaped peak above 11000 feet, the temperature is, at best, in the low single digits.  I have on every scrap of clothing possible, but can still feel the chill touching me with its deadly fingers.  I look to the sun for comfort, but it is hidden by a blanket of grey clouds.  Behind us lies the canyon from which we came and now two other canyons fall dramatically below as I stare into the frozen wilderness of the northern Teton’s.

Only a day into our self imposed adventure, to explore and bag as many peaks as possible for three days in the middle of February, uncertainty is weighing on me.  On one hand, I want to be here, but on the other, I’m having a hard time convincing myself that it is worth it.  Pull the plug and go running home.

I conceal my discomfort and mutinous thoughts with the reply, “At least there’s no wind.”  I chastise myself.  You are NOT pulling the plug!  What are you?  Some kind of princess!

Two years ago Charlie, our friend Anna and I tried to pull off another escapade in the same area of the park.  The plan then was to load up sleds, drag them across the lake and ski up to and climb some frozen waterfalls.  From the get go we were doomed.

ranger peak2010 014 We arrived late to our launching point then wasted more time rigging the sleds before crossing the lake to set up camp during an unusually warm day.  In the canyon, sunny skies that felt soothing during the lake crossing turned oppressive.  While we were sweating the snow on the surface was melting and adding weight to the snow beneath.  Soon we began to see wet avalanches on the south-facing walls.  We stopped to reevaluate our plan when we arrived at a point in the terrain that would take us directly through a steep slope which had cliffs above and below.

I was not enthusiastic about continuing.  The slides we had seen so far were small, but were still large enough to take one of us for a ride. Charlie and Anna were more optimistic so I stayed back and spotted for them in an area well out of harms way.

Anna began up first and then after about 50 yards Charlie followed.  While I twiddled my thumbs and tried to stay positive I saw snow pour off the cliff above Anna.  When it crashed into the slope it triggered a slide.  I yelled, Charlie froze and Anna screamed for direction.

The slide was not fast, but there was no time for Anna to retreat.  Instead, she did her best to point her skis down.  The slide fanned out, gained momentum and scooped her up in the direction of Charlie.  She fought to stay on her feet, but the heavy wave she was riding forced her back and when it stopped, only yards from Charlie, her legs and right arm were cemented in the debris.

Useless, I stayed put while Charlie helped extract Anna.  They rejoined me and together we retreated down canyon to stop and watch nature at work.  That afternoon we counted over twenty separate slides before returning to camp.

Back on the summit, the clouds have thinned allowing more light to cast a warming color about.  It has transformed the cirque of the canyon into a beautiful wonder.  I gaze south and begin to see the possibility of traveling from this summit and tagging several others before ending on a peak Charlie and I had tried to ski up two years ago.  We discuss traversing the cirque then decide that for today we have gone far enough.

ranger peak2010 090 I watch Charlie skiing effortlessly.  Few people have sat on this summit and fewer, possibly none, have done this traverse in winter.  I consider the opportunity I have and then the regret that would follow if I allow myself to cave in.

I follow Charlie’s tracks.  Fast, re-crystallized snow feathers my legs as I let my skis carry me gently down the slope.  I feel myself floating from turn to turn.  I imagine what we must look like from the summit; two small beings, calmly swooshing deeper into an astounding canyon underneath a glowing evening sky.  Smiling, skiing, making their way back to camp.

The night after Anna’s close call was miserable.  We were jolted awake at four by the inversion creeping up from the lake bed.  Its subzero claws surrounded the tent and grasped us in its frozen grip.  The thermometer on the watch screamed negative fifteen degrees Fahrenheit.  We tossed and turned praying for the sun to release us from the chill, but being entrenched in pines there was no direct sunlight after dawn.  Eventually, we sprinted out of the tent, strapped on our skis and raced up a ridge into warmth.  200 feet of elevation made a thirty degree difference.

During our retreat the afternoon before we had devised a plan “B”.  Skin up a ridge to a worthy looking summit and ski its 3500 foot east face.  After we allowed our bodies and equipment to thaw we stomped our way toward it.  Just like the day before we ran into a dead end.  A technical rock step that led to a knife-edge ridge with extremely steep snow fields on both sides.  In our rush to get warm we had left our climbing gear at camp.  Even if we had brought the gear the razor-sharp edge would have been a huge undertaking.  Before skiing back to camp we agreed that the peak was something we would return for.

ranger peak2010 099 Seven AM.  Charlie unseals the tent.  The frost that is caked to the interior sprinkles onto my face as the sun breaks on a clear horizon.  Direct light falls rapidly around and illuminates us.  Glowing blue skies, stark fields of snow and definite warmth from the sun shed hope on our plan.  The night wasn’t that bad.  I might be ready for more.

ranger peak2010 158 Back on the crest we can see into the Snake River Basin, north into Yellowstone Park, east to the continental divide, and south to the major peaks of the Teton’s.  Uninterrupted wilderness in every direction.  Openness so large it makes me feel trivial.  I have the desire to cast out even further.  Why stop here?  Why not continue on?  Turn away from the ridiculous daily grind.  Embrace more of the beautiful silence in this place… Because you are weak and scared.  Out there is the unknown!

We rapidly reel in a handful of peaks while heading south toward our plan “B” peak of two years ago.  At the third summit of the traverse we discern a possible weakness to that peak, a short couloir on its southwest side.

ranger peak2010 195 To avoid the dangerous north facing slopes of the ridge we keep to the south.  Here, the snow is only a few inches deep, too thin for skis so we leave them behind.  What was simple terrain to cross on skis becomes tediously uncertain in ski boots.  Each step is a wobble and we fight for solid ground in the loose talus below the snow.

My thoughts float from the task at hand to the questions.  Why would someone spend three nights out here?  Why suffer, feel cold and continue?  Why not be home in a warm bed?  Why am I doing this?…  Listen Princess!  Stop asking so many questions!

I struggle with answers.  When my wife asked I told her it’s because I had to.  I told Charlie it’s comforting to see and know there are still places that are empty of development.  I know the truth.  I have no answers.

At the entrance to the couloir I find a pillow of wind deposited snow, 50 feet wide, 200 feet long and a couple of feet deep sitting around 40 degrees.  Turn around. I consider going below and stomping up its far side, where the snow looks thinner, but if it slid I would have the whole thing on top of me.  I decide to ascend, hugging the large rocks on this side of the couloir.  I cross the slab of snow near its top where it is only 20 feet wide, hoping that if it does slide it will only go below me.  I kick my way slowly in the firm snow.  Half way my heart jumps.  The snow cracks.  This is it! I flex all the muscles in my body in anticipation of the whole thing moving.  I have a vision of being swept down with the snow.  It’s a gentle ride at first, but when I reach the end of the snow slab I tumble through the jagged talus.  Not death, but tears and bruises.  I watch the crack shoot from me to the edge of the slab.   I blink, but nothing else happens.  I peer down in the crack.  I can see rocks.  Go back!

ranger peak2010 207 “Heads up Charlie.”  I take another step and then another.  I am across with my heart in my throat.  Charlie dances across with no hesitation.

“Did you see the crack?”  “What crack?”  “In the slab we just crossed.”  “No, didn’t see anything.”

As we pick our way to the summit my legs wobble while I suck in air.  That was terrifying!  I pushed too far.  I could have tumbled down.  I could have torn my clothes…  Do I have to be such a drama queen… eerr princess?

On top of our peak I manage to gather myself from the far reaches of the park and realize that we had made the traverse without any real hitch.  Satisfaction replaces my doubt.  See, it wasn’t that bad.  All that worrying and here you are.  Glad to see you finally sacked up.

ranger peak2010 209 I gaze east to see our high point from two years ago and I hear my wife’s voice, “Silly boys.”  Not only is there a technical ridge from where we turned around leading to a summit east of us, but an even longer, more difficult ridge from there to the one we are on.  I am relieved with the simplicity of our present course, but this other route has me intrigued.  Maybe next year or in the summer we could give it a go.  Yeah right.  Keep talking.

ranger peak2010 224 Returning to our skis Charlie passes me while I rest.  It’s icy, the lighting has worsened and for the first time I’m relaxed.  I’m no longer worried.  I eat a piece of chocolate and breathe in the cool air and wonder.  Who else has been here?  Who else has shivered here from the sweat on their backs? Who has spent nights, seen the sun and the moon rise, watching the light reflect off the untarnished finish?

In a rush to get to the last peak we had passed below a less pronounced point which was now only 100 feet above me.  Giddy up, Princess. I trudge up to the final summit of the trip.

ranger peak2010 233 ranger peak2010 243 Sticking to north facing slopes and keeping the angle low, we find the skiing is better than the previous day.  We make turns toward a line we had eye-balled from camp.  Lost in the canyons of the park we find our exit.  1200 feet of knee deep consolidated powder.  A cherry to finish off the traverse and our day.

ranger peak2010 121ranger peak2010 258The coldest and windiest night went barley noticed.  Charlie was snoring by seven and I woke only once, so hot that I was sweating.  By sunrise we are heading back up for one final run.  I let Charlie go ahead.  I look across the cirque trying to see our tracks from the previous days.  Searching for proof that we had danced our way around this corner of the world.  Some of them have survived the wind while others are latent images in my head.  Tomorrow there will be no sign that we were ever here.

ranger peak2010 249I was never too cold.  I was never too tired and my only regret is that I am leaving too soon. Why did I do this? I tell myself I did this because I needed to find myself.  To recall that feeling of being small and insignificant.  I came to find a place so quiet that I am forced to listen to myself.  I did this to see the world as it truly is; a wonder beyond explanation.  I came here to explore and be reborn.  I did this because I can.

Copyright 2010 Louis C Arevalo

To see more photos from the story check out the Waterfalls Canyon Gallery in the Photos page.

Why do you get out?  Let me have it.

Fallen Arches: Is it possible to balance obsession with life?

greena2010 067

October 10th, Little Cottonwood Canyon:  I had spent the morning having fun climbing with friends and was feeling good.  So good I thought would try my mettle on Fallen Arches, a stout crack climb in the canyon.  I managed to get about fifteen feet up the crack with my fingers locked in place and my rope secured, but that was where the fun stopped.  I couldn’t seem to climb past that point.  The only movement I mustered was down.  I twisted my face.  I paddled my left foot and grunted.  I squeezed every muscle in my body.  I  hoped it might help, but…  NO! My body drooped, I fell onto the rope and looked to my belayer for some direction.  She had nothing.  I rested briefly and repeated this again and again.  Grimace, paddle, grunt and fall.  I was dead weight.  By the time it was over I had stunk it up so much my belayer’s nose was crinkled by the reek.  How could I have been so foolish?  I had set a goal of free climbing Fallen Arches this fall, but after my performance I had serious doubts.

That night I had to decide if I was willing to take the time and expend the energy necessary to learn how to climb it.  Was I willing to sacrifice time with the family?  How many soccer games and sour-jack breakfasts would be lost?  I was willing to give up a few hours a day from the family, but not much more.  Also, could I pass up beer and get up early?  Sure, but I might get a little grumpy.  If I got grumpy I would be able to keep it checked and not unload on the family?  Maybe.  Having only weekends free, less one for a trip to the Adirondacks, that left two in October and maybe one in November before the snow.  Three weekends if I was lucky. Was that enough time?  I didn’t know.  Another question I had to ask was could I keep my obsession in check with these limits or would I blow it by staying out longer, getting irritated and thinking of no one other than me?

fallenarches 002October 16th, Little Cottonwood Canyon:  Earlier that week I had sent emails and left pathetic phone messages to several people.  The responses were either they had some rare infection or had to stay home to wash their cat.  By Thursday I was ready to throw in towel when I bumped into Andrew.  My timing was perfect.  He had just run the St. George Marathon and was now content to focus on things other than running.  Having a wife and two kids Andrew was sympathetic to my schedule and immediately agreed to join in my obsession.  We met in the morning and warmed up by climbing some easier routes in the dark.  We swapped stories and laughed at each other as the sun rose in the canyon.  Leaves that were green last week had now given way to shades of yellow, orange and red.  Andrew repeated a few of his favorite routes and I set up some top ropes on some he had never done.  Despite his focus on running he seemed to be climbing better than ever.  He worked out a few of the cruxes and then told me it was time to get to work.

I had envisioned a possible sequence to get through my crux and now put it to the test.  I climbed up near the section and rested on the rope.   I studied the crack and chose a place where my last piece of protection would go before I committed to my sequence.  Andrew gave out slack as I pulled my reluctant body back to the rock.  I grabbed a cam from my harness and placed it high.  Slowly, as if I were actually going in reverse, I clipped the rope.  My heart raced while my body moved, sloth-like, up the crack.  I was certain every finger I placed in the crack was going to slip out, but with every centimeter gained I was still hanging on.  In what must have seemed like eternity to Andrew, I finally made my way past the high point from the previous week and was staring at Salvation, an actual hold that would allow me to stop and put in a cam.  I wound up, squeezed with all my might and stabbed my left arm upward.  My finger tips grazed Salvation while I let out a high pitched scream.  I dangled, once again, from the rope.  Soon I was back on and stuck the move to Salvation and fell once higher up.  I had gained new ground and built up some much needed confidence.  We returned to the parking lot before 1pm leaving us plenty of time to take care of the stuff that guys take care of when they are home.  Mow the lawn, fart, scratch, lift things and put in valuable face time with the family.

fallenarches 015October 17, Little Cottonwood Canyon:  Another early morning and this time I have some how convinced my wife to right off sleep in exchange for belay duty.  In spite of my purely selfish motives, Jacki managed to lead her hardest climb in Little.  Seeing her float gracefully up the rock I am inspired.  I moved slightly faster than Saturday, but only slightly.  I placed the cam in its new high spot and committed to the new sequence.  Without really knowing how I got there my next move was to Salvation.  I squeezed and stabbed only to fall onto the rope.  There must be something else.  After resting and getting encouragement from Jacki I am at it again.  I concentrated on my body and added a touch of my left hand on its way to Salvation.  It almost felt easy.  This time I worked on the upper difficulties.    I felt confidant that I would soon be victorious.  I added a beer to that list of stuff guys do when they get home.

October 19, Little Cottonwood Canyon:  Late in the afternoon Tuesday, Jacki and I have returned.  We were flying out of town Friday and we both wanted me to finish this so that I wouldn’t obsess the entire trip.  Jacki was certain it was the day.  I put on my best face, but deep inside I worried that it wasn’t.  I moved smoothly up to the crux.  I felt solid locking my fingers in the crack.  I was staring at Salvation and was actually thinking, “this is it.  I’m going to do it”.  I set up and my mind raced ahead.  I imagined how good that victory bottle of wine would taste.  I licked my lips and with that… I fell.  There was not enough light left in the day for me to try again.  I did my best not to obsess in New York.

October 30 & November 1:  6am Saturday Andrew had decided to join me once again despite my lack of progress.  It was overcast and cool.  We climbed more routes in the dark and joked about scratching and farting.  Today it was Andrew’s turn to be certain that I was going to do it.  I smiled as best I could, but it had been over a week since my last visit and I was worried that I may have lost something.  I slipped in the first ten feet.  I tried again but failed to get to my crux before I grabbed a cam.  Andrew gave me the “keep at it” speech after my botched third attempt.  I felt the doubt well inside.  Once again we wrapped it up by midday.  I didn’t add beer to the list.

broadsfork 080Monday morning I pulled out all the stops.  If I was going to succeed I needed something special.  I had a really big bowl of cheerios and then I meditated.  I envisioned myself naked.  I saw myself naked, weightless and floating in space.  Then I was naked, weightless and floating up to and past the crux, eventually reaching the anchor.  That was something special.  At ten I joined Chye for what I hoped would be my final attempt.  He told me that he normally wouldn’t climb in Little, but today he was there for me.  I spent twenty more minutes meditating at the base of the climb.  This time I wasn’t naked.  I tried to clear my mind but thoughts of Jacki, Andrew, Chye and others kept forcing their way into my head.  It was good that I wasn’t naked.  All of these people believed that I was going to succeed.  How did that happen?  How could they all be so sure of my ability.  My ability to persist to the point of obsession?  My ability to focus so much on myself?  I was astounded.  All of them had given me hours of their time in hopes that I would succeed.  What had I given them?  The pressure was too much.  I waffled, stuttered and grunted my way off the climb.  I could smell that familiar scent in the air.  Me stinking up the whole place.  I managed to relax some on my third attempt and fell only once at the lower crux.   I took care on the upper section, nailing it.  It was progress, but pathetically slow.  That afternoon I could practically hear the clock ticking.  Time was running out.  I needed something else.  I knew that my problem was in my head, but what could I do?

greena2010 071 November 6th, Little Cottonwood Canyon:  Earlier in the week I received news that a dear friend’s mother had suddenly passed away.  Instead of obsessing about climbing I spent time sending energy her way and energy to other people in my life.  It felt refreshing to be focused on something other than me.  I did not meditate on the climb.  Saturday I had no expectations.  It was another perfect day in the canyon.  Mike was my partner and we warmed up slowly.  When it was his time to get on route he had been eyeing he tried to convince me that he was just here to belay me and that he really wasn’t feeling up to it.  I countered that I had hoped we could share the day and not just focus on me.  He shrugged.  Having not climbed in Little for a while he was a bit shaky.   He ended up hanging a few times, but he did all the moves.  While he rested we chatted about an old friend who had died the previous spring.  The stories we shared reminded me of his energy.  Mike tried again and this time he turned on the flow.  His movements were deliberate and precise.  Nothing looked forced as he glided through the crux.  With only a few heavy breaths,  Mike had his hardest send in Little!

There was no naked floating that day.  I fell on my first try above my crux, but I wasn’t concerned.  I thought about all the people in my life, living and beyond.  I joked with Mike and I took in the fresh air and saw the beauty surrounding us.  I thought of my friend who’s mother had just past.  I thought of Jacki, Andrew and Chye.  I recalled all of their warm energy.  I felt no pressure from them.  I only felt them.  When I succeeded I talked to Mike continuously.  I talked to him while I passed my crux, I talked while setting up for the upper crux and I gave him the play by play before I arrived at the anchors.  That day there was no doubt.  It was just the two of us having fun while climbing in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

November 13, North Salt Lake:  I sat in the bleachers at Ultimate Indoor and watched Fynn score four goals in his soccer game.  Josie sat on my lap and Jacki was beside us.  That morning I had woke up with all of them and made sour-jacks for breakfast.  That afternoon we would spend more time together while I did some of that stuff that guys do which included a beer or two.