Wednesday, August 7, 2013

On The Navajo Nation, Southern Colorado, and Utah, by Thumb

Man, how I wish I'd kept up with Turquoise Sun during this last year. Just thinking back on some of the epics we had...block break five was borrowing Shelby's Jeep and laying waste to the national parks of Utah, camping waaay out in the Grand Staircase in the frigid February desert air under the bright Milky Way. There was the day Vail reopened, block break seven, after being closed for a week and being continuously dumped on, floating on about three feet of freshies. Hucking cliffs became a leap and a bounce as the powder just caught us so perfectly. There were days spent climbing at Shelf Road, Garden of the Gods, and afternoon outings to Red Rocks Canyon. There was Feed the Rocks, an amazing show put on at Red Rocks Amphitheater featuring Shpongle, RJD2, and The Disco Biscuits. And I remember May 11th, skipping class to go ski A-Basin with a friend and finding ourselves thigh-deep in fresh powder on the East Wall, an area of hike-to terrain that they open just about every other year, and only for a week or so at that!

A pensive Hank Weaver
For all these adventures, spring break takes the cake. My cousin Ari (see my posts from Israel) came to visit as the tail end of his break and the start of mine aligned. Climbing it was. We did some multi-pitch sport climbing in Clear Creek Canyon outside of Golden, and spent a day at Shelf. Weekend rolls through, Ari hits the road, and I meet up with my trusty pal, Hank Weaver (see right).

The plan is as such: we have a group of friends mob-camping at Zion National Park in Utah and have a ride back to CC should we get out there. Then there was the matter of getting out there. The easy way would be to hitch down I-70, probably find a ride clean through if we got lucky, and get there in no time. But like screw that, we wanted to have fun.

We began thumbing it at the same place as last time, and even got a ride from one of the same people, this bartender who lived way out in Florissant, Colorado, a bit west of Divide. The first day we were hoping to make it to Buena Vista area, but we cleared that in no time and made it all the way to Alamosa. A great start! Some of our more interesting rides that day: three goth girls who dropped us off in the middle of a sandstorm in the San Luis Valley, pot farmers from Crestone who sold us a half-zip for $30, a bunch of foreign ski employees who worked at Taos, NM, an avid disc golfer, and a gun-toting, ATV-riding, Christian who gave us our initial lift out of the Springs. We spent the night in some rinky-dink motel in Alamosa, smoking a bit, taking a bath, and just reveling in the freedom that came with the road.

Caught in a dust storm a few miles outside Moffat, Colorado. Sangre de Cristos in the background
Getting a ride out of Alamosa in the morning proved to be a bit more difficult than expected. A true Japhy Ryder, Hank was a great asset to catching rides. The kid would be off dancing, bending over backwards for cars and I'd be doing handstands, and sure enough, a man driving a Subaru picked us up and off we went, up into the San Juans, out of that horrid valley. We got let off in the beautiful South Fork, Colorado, nestled at the eastern slope of the San Juans. Man, what a beautiful moment. A cop passed us a few times and then pulled over to chat with us. We told her we were going to Utah and she wished us luck. After a bit, a man named Wes from Durango gave us a lift clear across Wolf Creek Pass, the snowiest part of the state. Now Wes was one of those truly great characters that gave us a lot of hope, truly a homie. He runs a massive grow-op and was coming back from dropping 20lbs of nuggets off in Aspen. When we arrived to Durango, he bought us some beer and we drank a few by the River Animas, the River of Souls.

It was about noon at this point and we were making incredible time. We caught a few more rides west on US-160, through Cortez, all the way out to the Four Corners Monument, which closed about 15 minutes before we got there...unfortunate. And there we were, looking around at the bleak Southwestern desert, surrounded on all sides by various Indian Reservations (Ute, Southern Ute, and Navajo), with not a car on the road. Figured we might be here a while...

Sunshine daydream at the Four Corners Monument
It's never the tourists who gave us rides. Not once. Usually we rode in the back of pickup trucks, sometimes an SUV, and only once in a sedan. The man who picked us up from Four Corners never said a word to us, we just got in the back of his pickup, and off we went. Enter the Navajo Nation, arguably the last true stronghold of native life. Imaginably so, they don't really take kindly to white folk, so we a bit on edge the whole time. He let us off at a trading post, written on it: Mexican Water, Arizona. I went inside and was met with stares. Riiight. So we walked a bit down the highway, and it was getting dark at this point, so we ducked a barbed-wire fence and made into the desert night. We stealth camped among these incredible rock formations, perfectly hidden from everything. Although I was a little afraid of waking up without a scalp on, we managed through the night.
Shiprock formations outside Kayenta, Arizona
 Morning came, day three on the road, and it was more of the same: back of pickup trucks, no words spoken. From Mexican Hat to Red Mesa to Kayenta to the junction with Route 98 and from there to a trading post outside Inscription House, most of the way to Utah. It was truly inspiring watching the Painted Desert pass by our eyes from truck beds, feeling the dry, chilled air wrap around us like a chrysalis. We hung out at the trading post for a bit, some kid gave us free cupcakes even. Then the coolest shit went down. This man, call him Leheigh (that's his name, yeah), picked us up and started driving north towards Kaibito, realized we weren't from around there, and decided to show us his family's land (totally cool with us). After establishing some trust, he took us down a series of dirt roads near Inscription House and soon we were staring at his family's ancestral canyon, about half the size of the Grand Canyon and lined with beautiful sandstone cliffs. The canyon weaved north all the way to Lake Powell. And we could say, with confidence, that very, very few white people have ever seen this canyon. It has always been on Navajo land and was hidden enough that nobody would find it without knowing it was there.

Leheigh's ancestral canyon near Inscription House, Arizona
We smoked a doobie with him and talked about spirituality and what it means to be a Navajo. He told us all sorts of things, mostly forgotten at this point, but one that stuck with me was, as we passed by this truly magnificent desert spire, he began talking about the Skinwalkers. Skinwalkers are, according to Navajo lore, people who possess the ability to transform into animals. He told us there were skinwalkers in that canyon (points) and that we would be best to not bother exploring on foot really anything in the Navajo nation. Seriously, check this out if you have time...pretty crazy ( He then told us about the great balance that exists in nature, and that for someone to be truly good, there has to be someone who is truly evil. After a pretty mind-blowing car ride, Leheigh dropped us off in Kaibito, where we caught a ride with this lady and her two kids all the way to Page in her sedan. That was the only "awkward" ride where we felt a bit out of place. But a ride's a ride, and air conditioning was great. She let us off on the far side of the bridge over the Colorado River, and man, what a place! Arizona was in the books, Utah loomed ahead of us. We quickly got a ride from a man going exactly where we were going. His name was Bob and he was an architect in Kanab, Utah—quite the life he's living, eh? He was coming back from the airport in Page after visiting his girlfriend or something. He gave us a lift an extra 15 minutes to Mount Carmel Junction, where we had planned to meet up with our friends. And that was that for hitchhiking across the southwest.
There was writing all over this guard rail from previous hitchhikers, some dating back to the sixties
 That evening, our friends came from Zion NP, picked us up, and off we went towards Bryce Canyon and the Grand Staircase National Monument. I knew of the greatest campsite from my previous block break and convinced the crew to base-camp there for a few days. There were nine of us, adventurous young lads in the desert. There was a dog and a shotgun and a lot of booze and even more pot. It was truly one of the greatest moments of my life. We found a grove with a lot of dead trees, towed them using manpower, and lit a fire that must have been visible for miiiles. And the kicker is there was no one else to see it; we were truly out there in the Monument!
Shotgun safari out the window, rabbit down, skinned, and grilled
We spent the next few days frolicking around at Bryce Canyon, climbing and tromping around hoodoos, seeing God, and really, really enjoying ourselves. We spent a day bouldering and slot canyoneering near Escalante, Utah. That was pretty rad.
Peek-a-boo slot canyon
The time finally came to head back to CC, and off we went. Mission accomplished. Truly, I'm in love with the deserts of the Southwest, and I'm overjoyed with the possibilities that having a car this year bring. I'll definitely be back to the Staircase.

Myself perched amongst the snowy hoodoos at Bryce

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On Travels, Condensed and On Pictures, Few Words

Too lazy to document all my travels from first semester, so here's a large slew of pictures that more-or-less covers it all:

Sunrise hike of Pike's. I got altitude sickness and couldn't summit. Pic via Nick Roman

My Peruvian guinea, Appa. Got her for free, gave her away for free...a day in the life of a Craigslist pig.

Block Break #2 — Colorado College Climbing Club Creek Crash at Indian Creek, near Moab, Utah

My "substance-free" single in Loomis

Climbing away the days at Shelf Road

Mountain biking trip to Lake Pueblo State Park

Slacklining — the official pastime of CC

Emily and Mackenzie in Cheyenne Canyon, a 15 minute drive away from campus
November seshing the woods off a trail at Keystone

Hank gets goofy for the camera whilst exploring his proximidads

On Block Break One, to Aspen and Back by Thumb

Hank surveying his domain
I guess I should preface this by explaining first what a block break is. My school is a bit different from the traditional semester schedule; we study according to what is known as the block plan, which has us taking only one class at a time for some three and a half weeks, meeting every morning from nine til noon. After this period of time, we have five or so days of grandeur, adventure, and folly, known as a block break. Block breaks are what CC (Colorado College) student's live for and are nothing short of epic. This post will detail my first block break, our "Welcome to the Rockies", and how we barely escaped with our hides (metaphorically speaking).

Cock-slapped in the face by the beauty of aspens in bloom
The idea for this trip began when we realized the sad truth that none of us had a car. What do? Well, I've hitchhiked in Israel a bit (albeit to my program's chagrin), so we figured we'd just hitchhike out of town. Initially the plan was set so that anyone could come, and we'd all hitch across the state independently or in groups and meet up in the Sawatch mountains, hike some badass peak, and revel in our glory. Game day came around and it's just Hank and I with packs on our backs and our thumbs pointed west towards the mountains. Oh well, two's a much easier number for this sort of operation. We began going west out of town and have no trouble at all catching rides all the way down US Route 24, over Ute Pass, behind Pike's Peak, and into the mountains. Our last ride of the day gave us a lift a clear hour out of his way to drop us off at a remarkable beautiful campsite on the upper portion of the Arkansas River, a little north of Buena Vista.

Star Peak looms over Independence Pass
Day two, moving a bit slower, we worked our way out of the Arkansas Valley and ascended the breathtaking Independence Pass—quite possibly the most beautiful drive in the world. Our ride dropped us off a little over 12,000 ft on the continental divide, as we ran into a group of kids from our school who were biking from Colorado Springs to Aspen. We got a lift into town with them, shot the shit for a bit, and then caught a bus to Snowmass. From there we caught a lift a few miles down a jeep road into the White River National Forest, to the trailhead for Snowmass Peak. Our initial plan was to hike in to a basecamp that night, summit the 14,000ft peak in the morning, and be out of there Saturday night. What actually happened was a bit different. Psilocybin hit us real hard, and within half an hour of taking off on our afternoon hike, I was convinced we were going to get eaten by grizzlies and Hank became a cocoon inside his sleeping bag, and that was that for the hike. Thank god I managed to rig up the tent...

Mt. Daly in the White River National Forest
In the morning (felt like eternity), we packed out, caught a ride back to Aspen, and then caught a lift clear through to Red Rocks Amphitheater to hike the hills for Big Gigantic and set up a tent in our ride's yard. Next morning, we met up with some friends coming back from Boulder, and caught our final ride home to the beautiful Colorado College. I learned a lot that trip. Never before had I experienced something as truly terrifying as being bear fodder, and never before had I felt as free as I did working our way through the Rocky Mountains, one ride at a time.

On A Year Of Discovery

Hello internet. It goes without saying that it's been way too long since I've posted anything on here. It'd be so much easier for me to say nothing has happened and not type anything, but there's so, so much that's happened, and I've been procrastinating restarting my blog for way too long. So where to start...

Sunny afternoons after class spent idly in Colorado. Truly, nothing exciting happens.
My last post was at the conclusion of my year abroad in Israel, and what a time that was. In the time in between then and now, I've been continuously exploring my environment and consciousness, and truly seizing every moment I've had. I'm currently in between my first and second years as a student at Colorado College, undoubtedly the greatest place for me to spend the next few years of my life. I'm overjoyed to return, although it's been a summer to remember. So I guess this will be a brief post, just to say I'm back, and I'll follow this up with a few posts detailing some of my travels in our time apart, oh dear reader. The true rational for restarting my blog is the fact that I've been the recipient of a Venture Grant from my school, on the grounds that I go into the wilderness of Canada for a few days, meditate on true isolation, and come back to write a bitchin' post on here. So expect that in the days to come.