Monthly Archives: June 2009

Landscape: From Road and Sky

Big MillIt’s good to be back in motion. Last week, I spent two days driving from Vail, Colorado to Louisville, Kentucky, where I visited my folks, stashed my car, and packed two bags full of summer gear. Then, hopped on a plane from Louisville to Philly to Frankfurt to Geneva. A shuttle to Chamonix, France and here I am, base-camping in a little studio apartment until mid-September.

I find the process of getting somewhere to be incredibly inspiring, and perhaps the best sights along the way to my destination were the wind generators I spotted in Kansas. I hadn’t driven along I-70 through Kansas in a few years, and these have cropped up sometime between then and now near Topeka. I think they look like monolithic flowers with petals swaying in the wind:

windmills on road

I pulled over on the road to watch them in the evening light…loving the way that they’re turning all out of sync and making a low gurgling-wooshing sound as they turn.

sunset and mills

Later the next eve, I had a serendipitous encounter with one of my best friends who lives in Michigan. I called her from the road, and as it turned out, she was about 20 minutes away from me, also on the road, on the way to visit her parents who live in Henderson, Kentucky. We met up in Henderson for a downtown jazz festival, some carnival food, and a beautiful evening on the banks of the Ohio River before I continued on to Louisville.

henderson ky sunset

After a few days of catching up with Louisville family and friends, I boarded the plane for an epic flight to Geneva:

plane window

All went well until my arrival in Frankfurt, Germany. The security people there happened to think that the climbing gear in my carry-on baggage could be used to maim or kill, so they tried to make me check it, and I missed my flight. No worries, though…I was able to catch the next one and arrived in Chamonix later that night.

Literature: Twain’s Tramp Abroad

“We rose at two in the morning and dressed by candle-light. It was a dismal and chilly business. A few stars were shining, but the general heavens were overcast, and the great shaft of the Matterhorn was draped in a cable pall of clouds.” -Mark Twain, in A Tramp Abroad

Title: A Tramp Abroad // Author: Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) // Year: 1880 // 414 p.

On top of Earnslaw
I leave the U.S. later this week for a summer in the French Alps, so I’ve been reading and re-reading the books and poems inspired by this area. Most Americans are required to read Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in high school, and even in university literature courses, I wasn’t required to read much of Twain beyond that. A few bits here and there. Most people wouldn’t even know that Twain was an adventurous traveler, and that he is probably one of the original American travel writers, sending dispatches to American newspapers during two lengthy forays abroad. His Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress was published in 1869, and it chronicles Twain’s journey on a ship to Europe and the Holy Land with a group of religious pilgrims. In A Tramp Abroad, Twain returns to Europe with grand plans to tour the continent on foot with his sidekick “Mr. Harris.” Knowing Mark Twain, readers won’t be surprised to find out that Twain and his travel buddy break their rules from the get-go…hopping on trains, carts, and anything else they can hitch a ride on to avoid traveling on foot. Granted—there are a few moments in which they actually do go somewhere on foot, such as when they attempt a summit of Switzerland’s Riffelberg…while wearing evening dress. Twain wildly exaggerates his tale at this point, telling how he hired 17 guides, 15 barkeepers, 7 cows, 2 milkers, and a Latinist to join him (among many, many others also part of the entourage). Being a mountain-lover and climber, I couldn’t resist loving his chapter titled “The Fiendish Fun of Alp-climbing.” I was cracking up while reading Twain’s descriptions of mountaineers and guides, of gear and climbing practices. He tells his own version of the Whymper Matterhorn tragedy. Overall, I highly recommend Twain’s A Tramp Abroad to other Alps-lovers. And I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to replace tired images of Huck Finn with more hilarious, grown-up adventures such as the ones Twain recounts in A Tramp Abroad.

Life: Climbing Pike’s Peak

Pikes PeakI hesitated to title this post “climbing” Pike’s Peak, as one would normally think of simply “hiking” it. However, it doesn’t seem like summer yet here in sunny Colorado, and when my sister and I went out for a summit attempt last weekend, we found ourselves in some pretty deep snow above tree line. Hiking Pike’s Peak via Barr Trail from Manitou Springs is an endurance feat more than anything else. The trail is 12.6 miles one-way, and the total elevation gain from trailhead to summit is 7,510 feet.

We started out at 5 a.m. and made it to Barr Camp—about halfway at 10,200 feet—a few hours later. All was going well at this point…we were on schedule, and we stopped for some sandwiches and a little stretch.

Barr Camp

It wasn’t until above tree line that the going got rough. The winds picked up, and the trail became covered with snow. We were punching through the crust into knee-deep hollows, which sort of slows things down. Here’s Shawna resting against one of the many boulders we navigated around:

Nearing the Top

Above 13,000 feet, I start feeling the altitude, and by that time, we were picking our own route through the snow. Hikers refer to this area of the trail as the 16 Golden Stairs…it’s normally a series of sixteen steep switchbacks that include high-stepping on and over a bunch of large boulders. This was all snow-covered. So instead of going that way, we post-holed straight up on solid snow and then cut towards the summit across this scenic ridge:

Shawna on Ridge

Then there it was in front of us…the final summit push. We could hear the cog railway whistle as it came into the station, and just as we were stepping up the final steep slope, we saw the tourists unloading.


Pike’s Peak is a funny summit…since there’s a road that goes all the way to the top and a cog railway that chugs up there several times a day, the summit atmosphere has somewhat of a carnival feel. People are walking around light-headed in the gift shop, eating potato wedges and pizza slices.

Summit Sisters

Of course, we too took the requisite summit photo…still smiling at 14,110 feet! Although we had originally planned to hike all the way back down to Manitou, we opted to hop on the cog railway and avoid a deep snow descent.

Landscape: Sunrise on Pike’s Peak

Seeing a sunrise like this is one of the benefits of getting out on the trail by five o’clock in the morning:

Pikes Peak Sunrise 1

My NYC sister flew out to meet me for a hike up Colorado’s Pike’s Peak this weekend, and when we started up the trailhead in Manitou Springs, we were barely able to see one foot in front of the other. But an hour into the switchbacks, the sun splashed some pretty spectacular color across the Colorado Springs skies:

Pike Sunrise 2

Pike’s Peak is one of Colorado’s most well-known fourteeners. Its summit is at an elevation of 14,110 feet, and hikers can plod up the frontside trail while cars race up a windy dirt road on its backside. The Pike’s Peak marathon is one of the most famous distance running events, and a cog railway chugs tourists to a rest stop on the summit during the summer months.

Pike Far Away

For all of these reasons, my sister was psyched to make the thirteen-mile trek to the summit as part of her Mount Rainier training regime. But as soon as the sun lit the scene, we realized how far away thirteen miles to a summit looks when it’s also 7,510 feet higher than the trailhead…and covered in snow.

Literature: Sullivan’s Triple Cross

triple crossTitle: Triple Cross // Author: Mark T. Sullivan // Publisher: // St. Martin’s Press // 390 p.

I recently read Mark T. Sullivan’s new thriller, Triple Cross, and even though I’m not massively into thrillers, I really liked this book. I felt personally drawn into the story, as the action takes place at a private ski resort in Montana called the Jefferson Club. Living in a ski resort myself, I couldn’t help but laugh at Sullivan’s descriptions of the Jefferson Club’s super-rich guests floundering around on the slopes, flailing in deep powder.

In Triple Cross, the Jefferson Club comes under attack on New Years Eve when a terrorist organization called the Third Position Army takes hostage the seven wealthiest men in the world. Each of the hostages gets “tried” live on the Internet for his crimes against humanity, and viewers are invited to submit their votes to determine the fate of the defendants. It’s a disturbing but plausible scenario. Tension mounts as the Jefferson Club’s security chief tries to rescue his children who remain hiding inside the club after other guests have been released. Sullivan does a great job turning the mountain landscape into the place for this book’s action. The snowstorms, helicopter drop-offs, snow-colored camouflage, and ski scenes all add to this book’s adventure appeal, and mountain-lovers will delight in these things.

To read my more formal-type review of Mark T. Sullivan’s Triple Cross on NewWest, click here.

Landscape: Summer, Summertime

campsiteI’ve been doing a bit of camping here in my West Vail backyard, which means that it must finally be summer. Okay, so temperatures got down to 36 degrees Fahrenheit last night, but the grass is growing, and the trees actually have leaves. I forgot what it feels like to have my feet in ski boots, and my hiking boots are crusted in mud. I plopped down my tent in this nice meadow, up high above the North Trail. And on the hike in, I delighted in seeing the color green:

leafy trees

That’s the Gore Range way back there between the trees, and although there’s still some snow in the runnels, the mountains aren’t blanketed in white as they are in the winter. In the winter, everything is either white or brown, so seeing purple flowers at this time of the year is a treat:

purple flowers

This morning, as I was inside my tent and shuffling things into my backpack, I caught sight of a fox loping by just outside. It came within about two feet of my tent as it crossed the meadow.


I crept outside and watched it prance into the aspens and out of sight. The fox couldn’t have been at all bothered that I was there, but I was awed by it…the most beautiful thing I’ve seen since waking up to six inches of snow on my deck.

Life: Reunited..and it feels so good.

Traci J. Macnamara driving the Old LadyAs many of you out there know, I have been slowly fixing up the 1970 VW van that I bought in the summer of 2003. Well, I’m not much of a mechanic, so much of the real fixing up has been done by the fantastic mechanics I’ve met along the way (Layne of West Side VW in Los Angeles, Verner of Verner’s VW in Boulder, etc…). But I will take the credit for the girlie jobs I’ve done such as reupholstering the seats, cleaning and sealing the interior cabinets, sanding then repainting bumpers and rims.

Unfortunately, the Old Lady (as I like to call her) doesn’t do so well in the extreme cold, so I parked her for the winter on a friend’s property in Leadville. See the love:

VW van love

Every few weeks, I’d make the drive up there to shovel her out and get the engine going. After the ski lifts shut down mid-April, I went to retrieve her and have been happily humming around town in the van for about six weeks now. I smell like exhaust whenever I arrive at my destination, with wind-blown hair and a big grin on my face. I don’t know exactly what it is about driving this thing that makes me feel so good, but I love it when people wave as I chug by, and I love the fact that I can just lay down inside of it whenever I need to take a nap. She goes in rain, sleet, and snow:

She drives in rain, sleet, and snow

This reunion will be short, however. Since I’m going to France for the summer, I have asked a family to take care of the Old Lady in my absence. I’m (slightly) jealous that they’ll be getting all of the van love while I’m away. I’ll have to look forward to another happy reunion when I return in the fall.