Bierstadt – A Tale of Two More Attempts

For those of you who have been reading over the past few years, you may recall my previous attempts of Mount Bierstadt. As I have introduced the mountain and it’s wintry route before, I’ll move on.

As in my last post, this is a recap of two trips to Colorado to train on some snowy 14ers. These two attempts of Mount Bierstadt occurred the following days of the attempts of Quandary Peak.

The outcomes of my Bierstadt attempts are identical to the outcomes of my Quandary attempts:

Attempt 1: Windy as all hell. Turned around just above the tree line.

Attempt 2: Summit!

As there is not much distance below the trees on Bierstadt, I’ll just show you how nucking futs the wind was.


Bierstadt is directly ahead in case you were wondering.


A slightly less windy picture of the road

Once again, fast forward three weeks.
An early start from the Bierstadt winter trailhead for me as always. This time, there were four cars in the parking lot, so I was very excited and hopeful that I wouldn’t be breaking trail.


Bierstadt dead center with a beautiful snowshoe path to follow!

My prayers were answered!


A couple of back lit trees. One of my favorites photos from the trip!

I followed the freshly paved showshoe path and caught up with a group of four bros making their first winter 14er ascent. They were in good spirits and admittedly had underestimated the challenge that an ‘easy’ winter 14er really is. Regardless, they all made the summit. A solid 6 hour ascent for me.


Colorado bros up ahead. Summit in view.

As is a common courtesy among simultaneous summitters, we took photos for the other group. They had brought this sign along and let me hold it in my picture as well. Nice dudes for sure.


I booked it down as fast as I could. There were clouds rolling in and they didn’t look friendly. In my haste, I took a shortcut. This shortcut turned out to be a wrong turn and added an hour and half to my day. Oh yeah, and it was snowing pretty good by this point, so I was very much regretting my shortcut.


Summit view looking down the opposite side I came up.

After a full 10 hour day, I was back to the car. I drove back to Denver where Sarah, one of my former Bierstadt climbing partners, let me crash for the weekend. After two very long days back to back, I crashed. Hard.

Back to back winter ascents! Exhausting. Rewarding. Ibuprofen.

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Quandary Peak – A Tale of Two Attempts

I had planned some trips to Colorado this winter to train my legs and try out some new gear. Two of these trips are now complete. Twice this February I attempted Quandary Peak, one of Coloado’s famous “14ers.” It stands 14,265′ high and is considered one of the easiest 14ers to summit in the summer time.

It is also considered one of the easiest 14ers to summit in winter time. The summer time trail is 6.75 miles round trip and climbs 3,450′. In winter, the main road to the trailhead is closed, but there is an overflow parking lot a tenth of a mile away that is plowed!


A gorgeous day! At least so it seemed….

I strapped on my snowshoes and headed up the trail. As is always the case in winter, there is a chance that the trail is not obvious. Luckily, the path through the trees was recently traveled and well packed. I climbed up above the treeline and proceeded up the ridge for a bit. A group of skiers blew past me up the trail as the wind was starting to howl.


This bird joined me for a snack

“Howl” is an understatement. That shit was crazy. With my pack on, I was being blow off balance. Glancing around at the surrounding peaks, it was clear this wind was everywhere and intense. I made the call to retreat for the day.


Skiers up ahead. The wind starting to blow. About time to GTFO.

Fast forward tree weeks.

I’m back in Colorado. It’s cold (in the teens) and overcast. My confidence level was low that the weather would allow me safe passage up the mountain. Nevertheless, I strapped on the snowshoes and took off.


Very cloudy

The trail through the trees was obvious once again and I made good time getting to the tree line. From there, there was no trail. The snow was fairly firm, but my snowshoes were still sinking in about six inches every step. It doesn’t sound like much, but it makes life a bit harder and slower for sure.


Almost to the summit. Looking back down the ridge at my footsteps.

The sun peaked out of the clouds a few times as I made my way up the ridge.


It gets pretty steep

After five hours, the summit!


ye ol summit selfie

Blessed with very little wind, I followed my tracks back down.


My third Colorado 14er, and second in winter!

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Take Them A Meal

A friend of mine in New Orleans was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma a few months ago. Since day one, she’s had tremendous support from her family and friends. They even set up a dinner schedule on so that people could make her family’s life easier by providing dinner during her treatments.

I signed up with the intent of cooking them a delicious, home-made Paleo meal. I thought I would be sly by not telling them it was Paleo.

I picked out some new and old recipes and constructed this menu:

Appetizer: Cream of Zucchini Soup

Entree’: Pork Rind Baked Chicken with Rosemary Sweet Potatoes

Dessert: Pumpkin Spiced Ice Cream with Pecans and Pure Maple Syrup


My soup and entre. The pictures of my dessert were crappy, but there’s great picture on the recipe link!

A quick review of these recipes in case you were wondering.

The soup is absolutely amazing! It’s packed with flavor and has a smooth texture making it impossible to quit sipping on.

The pork rind chicken is one of my all time favorites and go-to chicken recipes. It’s chicken coated with pork. ‘Nuff said.

The sweet potatoes were the weak point of this meal, mostly due to my execution. The recipe itself is sound. Definitely recommend!

The ice cream is decadent! It’s a banana/pumpkin base with pumpkin spices. If you are a fan of the pumpkin spice, I’d add a bit more than that recipe calls for.

Ok, back to the story.

So I delivered the meal and dropped the bomb a few days later that the meal was Paleo. The response was, “I figured it would be.” Lol. So much for the surprise…

And my friend with cancer, she’s doing well!

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I’ve never been much of a runner. I used to run a 3 mile loop in college every now and then. Then I ran a 10k race and told myself I’m done running. Then, as you may have read, I ran a half marathon almost two years ago. I was done running after that too.

Well, after a year and a half of no considerable running, I signed up for a marathon with a friend of mine, who is also not a runner. We gave ourselves nine weeks to train. When looking around for training tips, we found many training schedule many months longer than what we were attempting. Naively, we set off on our training program.

An aggressive ramp up of running led me to some gnarly knee pain, and my friend, Kenny, having ankle pain forcing him to stop training completely for a few weeks. As the training progressed, the pain dulled slightly and race day came.


In case you were wondering, the pink belt is unisex

Kenny’s ankle issues cleared up, but he had missed too much training to attempt the full marathon. He ran the half in a most righteous 2:12:38. I finished the marathon in 4:20:47, a 9:57/mile average.

A couple days later and the pain was gone!

Never again…

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Thai Red Curry Chicken with Cauliflower Rice

I got the hankering for some Thai curry chow today.  I really enjoy that light creamy sauce that has just the right amount of chili heat to warm (or burn) your soul.  Beyond that, I love sopping up that last bit of sauce with a sticky bowl of white rice.

This dish has a few elements to it, but anybody can pull this off and look like you have Kung Fu kitchen skills!


½ head of cauliflower
1 tbsp lime juice
1-2 tbsp red curry paste
12oz can of coconut milk
1 large chicken breast
2 cups of your favorite veggies
Coconut oil
Chili sauce (to taste)

Let’s start with the “rice.”  Take half of a head of cauliflower and put it in to a food processor.  Pulse until the cauliflower is rice-sized pieces.  Put the riced cauliflower into a sauce pan with about 12 ounces of water, a pinch of salt, and a tablespoon of lime juice.  Simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.  Drain the extra water and set aside.

Next we need some red curry sauce.  You can pick up red curry paste at your grocery store or Asian food market.  Check the ingredients!  Bring the coconut milk and curry paste to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

In coconut oil, sautee your chicken and veggies.  I used bean sprouts, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and red bell pepper.

Combine your meat/veggies and red curry sauce and allow them to get to know each other over low heat for a few minutes.

Serve hot with the cauli-rice.  Add as much chili sauce as you’re willing to endure and chow down!

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Horchata is a traditional Latin American drink. It is a lovely spiced and sweet milky drink. It is also a traditional American drink, but we call it “the milk leftover after eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch.” Whatever your ethnic roots name this drink, it is delicious!


Horchata is typically a rice based drink. And clearly that isn’t going to fly in the Paleo world. The interesting thing about horchata is that it looks and tastes like it’s made from milk. So a standard paleo milk substitution does the trick!

8oz. Coconut milk (or almond milk)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp honey

You can try and mix this up with a spoon if you are in absolutely no rush, but I recommend the blender.

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Denali 2014 – Part 3

Day 11

Our guide, Larry, wasn’t feeling so well today, but Dusty was still game to take a team up the fixed lines and make the cache.  Per some AMS and park service rules, Dusty could only take 4 of the 6 of us.  The first 3 were the short straw drawers from the day before – Frank, Kali, and Uwe.  I volunteered to join them and took along Kyle’s cache and some shovels in addition to my own load.


A look from 14 camp at some teams (look closely) moving up towards the ridge (16,200′)

There was moderate snowfall the previous night erasing the trail from the day before.  About two hours of climbing and we reached the base of the fixed lines.  There was one team ahead of us ascending the lines.  Dusty, Frank, and myself had gotten our ascenders on the fixed lines when a heavy sloughing of snow came loose.  This was the snowfall from the night before being set loose by the team above us on the fixed lines.  It was not the fault of the team ahead of us; it’s just something that can happen.

More and more snow kept coming at us.  Frank and I were just shy of waist deep in snow.  Kali was more than waist deep (mostly because of her waist being significantly lower).  Uwe was in the back having a good laugh.  He was just below a crevasse that was consuming the entire sloughage.

Dusty made the call to turn around.  It wasn’t worth fighting up the fixed lines and then descending in those conditions.  We quickly dug a cache near wear Uwe was enjoying our misfortune and headed back to camp.

Day 12

We took a rest day today.  My legs were feeling quite fresh in the morning and I was a bit bummed that we weren’t going to try and make a move to high camp.  Dusty and another AMS guide did make a run to grab our cache and bump it up to the top of the fixed lines.  I wasn’t going to argue with this.  It was going to make our next move a little bit easier.

Day 13

Time to move to high camp!  Larry was feeling much better and we broke down camp and roped up.  The trail up to the fixed lines was well packed making that section a little easier than before.  The trail up the fixed lines was also well traveled and had “bomber” (as Dusty said) footsteps kicked into it.

Travel up the fixed lines is slow.  The team has to constantly stop and go as each team member passes from rope to rope, unclipping our ascender and “cow tail” (a caribiner on a line attached to ourselves) at each transition.  The slow pace was welcome.  The fixed line section was incredibly steep and I was feeling drained already.  One thing helping me up the fixed lines was the ascender.  This allows you to use your arms to help pull you up.  The guides told us ‘not to do pull-ups’ all the way up the fixed lines, but my legs needed all the help they could get.


A view from the ridgeline

At the top of the fixed lines we took a right hand turn to travel along the ridge.  The views were beautiful!  I would love to have enjoyed them more, but we had to keep moving.  A short ways along the ridge and we stopped to pick up our cache.  At this point I was running on empty.  I was extremely exhausted and we still had a ways to go.


A view of the second section of fixed lines leading up to the prominent Washburn’s Thumb

Along the ridge we reached Washburn’s Thumb.  There was a very short section of fixed lines to ascend here.  I was digging down for any bit of energy I could find just to keep up with our extremely slow pace.

We rolled into camp after 7 hours 45 minutes of travel.  I got my ass handed to me on a silver platter on this move.  Actually, that’s way understated…


The most lovely 17 camp

With ass in hand, we built camp.  The team of 8 was now in two 4-man tents.  A very cramped situation, but better than carrying another tent.  I guess.

Day 14

The weather was no bueno today.  The winds higher up the mountain were too high to make a summit attempt.  I was very cool with the decision to sit after the butt kicking I received on the way to high camp.


Denali Pass (18,200′) taken from 17 camp

Day 15

Bad weather.  Continue to wait.

Day 16

Bad weather.  Continue to wait.

Day 17

Bad weather.  Continue to wait.

Day 18

The weather up the mountain was still too windy to summit.  On the other hand, it was just good enough to descend, so we broke down camp and headed back down the ridge.  There was some traffic ascending the narrow ridge as we were coming down.  This made travel slower and more dangerous as it was harder to get the rope team clipped into the running protection on the more exposed sections.

At the top of the fixed lines the winds got intense.  If we had these winds in the morning, we wouldn’t have broken down camp to move.  At this point we were committed to continue the descent.

Descending the fixed lines is also slow for the same reasons that going up is slow, except we do not use the ascender.  Half way down the fixed lines, we were out of the wind and life started getting way better.  It took four hours to make the move back to 14 camp.  Here we dug up our cache and borrowed a cook tent to eat dinner.


Looking towards Windy Corner from 14 camp at sunset

The team decided to keep pushing down the mountain.  At 10pm we rolled out of 14 camp.  We traveled around Windy Corner and as we were crossing the Polo Fields the view was the best of the entire trip in my opinion.  The sun was low, lighting up the scattered grey clouds in red and yellow.  The wind was brisk and a light visible snow was wisping across the Polo Fields in dim light.  As we traveled leisurely through this section I was trying to soak up as much of this view as I could.  I wish I had a picture of this for you!

We made it to 11 camp right at midnight.  We stopped long enough to dig up our cache and switch from crampons to snowshoes.

Day 19

We continued our night travel and made it back to the base of Ski Hill (7,800) around 4:30 am.  This was the first time we had traveled at night.  No need for head lamps.  It was an amazing experience!


An icy selfie

Here we rolled out our sleeping bags and slept out in the open for about 3.5 hours.  We packed up quickly and started out on the last leg of the descent.

We moved well across the mostly flat section and took a break at the base of Heartbreak Hill.  We descended the hill to start our climb 17 days before and now we were finally going to understand where it got its name.


Taking a rest after rolling into base camp

Heartbreak Hill is a very low grade hill.  On paper it’s extremely mellow and shouldn’t be heartbreaking.  On any other day of the trip, it wouldn’t have been.  We spent a very long hour grinding up the 400-500 feet of gain.  The heartbreak was over when we rolled into base camp and took the packs off!


Parker celebrating with style

We prepared our gear to load into the air taxi to go back to Talkeetna.  Unfortunately, the weather prevented planes from coming in so we pitched our tents and hoped a clear flying window would present itself the next day.

Day 20

Early in the morning and we got the word our plane was in the air on the way to base camp.  Everyone was pumped and ready to go back.  We broke down camp way faster than any other day!

The taxi arrived and we rushed to load up.  The flight out was awesome!  As we cleared the mountains we saw trees!

A lovely lunch with the team and guides in Talkeetna and we all went our separate ways to go home.  We had already forgotten about the dispair of sitting at high camp for 5 nights and there was lots of talk about trying again next year.  Myself included!

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Denali 2014 – Part 2

Day 2

I would say we started the day at first light, but that wouldn’t really be accurate.  This time of year, there’s no darkness.

We grubbed and broke down camp.  For an expedition of this nature, it requires more gear and food than can be stored in just a backpack.  Our team of 8 started out with just shy of 1000 pounds of gear.  To carry all that gear, we each dragged a loaded sled behind us.


Roped up and lookin’ good

From base camp (7,200′) we descended “Heartbreak Hill” to about 6,800′ and climbed gradually to our next camp at the base of Ski Hill (7,800).  Just as we started setting up tents and digging our kitchen area, the clouds descended and engulfed the camp in a snowy, low visibility embrace.


Uwe helping dig the kitchen

Day 3

The embrace of stormy weather continued and we decided to sit tight for the day.  Even though we weren’t moving, the camp required continual shoveling to keep tents and gear in good order.


Larry, Parker, Uwe, and Frank hanging out in the kitchen

Day 4

The weather didn’t get any better, but we made our next move.  We loaded up extra gear and food in our packs and sleds and headed up Ski Hill to make a cache in between our camp and the next camp at 11,200′.


Cache digging

The whiteout conditions and fresh snowfall made the climb interesting as we had to break trail though foot deep powder.  Even with the snowshoes, there was quite a bit of postholing.  This is exhausting work!

We dug our cache (~9,900′) and buried our extra supplies to be recovered later.  The way back to our camp was much quicker as we were now heading down hill with empty packs.

Day 5

Our whiteout continued.  Undeterred, we packed up camp and set off to move to the next camp at 11,200′.  Again, we were breaking trail most of the way as the snow had not let up and the previous day’s trail was completely gone except for some well placed wands from the day before.


We saw a number of dead birds at 7,800′ camp and up to 11 camp. Small birds get blown of course and die in this harsh terrain. This group was getting tossed around by the high winds. A similar fate for these birds if they stick around too long.

Even though we had cached a fair amount of supplies the previous day, the gear load was not light.  Our team pushed hard for 7.5 hours to make the 3,400′ climb to ’11 camp,’ passing our cache along the way.


11 camp in the not so lovely weather we were enjoying

Exhausted from a long day of climbing, it was time to set up camp again.  We found a previously camped spot and did some shoveling to spruce it up a bit.  It was getting late, so we put off digging a formal kitchen until the next day.  The guides cooked up dinner in the tent vestibule and we ate in our tents that night.  This was a taste of what life is like at high camp.  (You like that pun?)

Day 6

We slept in until mid-morning to fully rest from the late finish the day before.  As we were all now accustomed to the bad weather, it was just expected that morning activities included shoveling the snow from the night before.  The team then got together to dig our kitchen and raise the kitchen tent.

Again, we decided to rope up and move in the less than ideal conditions.  The task for today was to descend approximately 1300’ to retrieve our cache we deposited on day 4.  The trip down to the cache was very quick.  It was nice to move downhill with nothing in our packs.

Once at the cache, we dug it up and loaded our gear and headed back up the hill.  It was only a few minutes from enjoying the stroll down the hill to slowly grinding our way back up.  About 30 minutes outside of camp and we got caught behind a slow moving team.  While the slow pace was easy to maintain, it was difficult to stay warm in the windy/snowy conditions.

Day 7

We finally saw the sun today!  Along with that were some gorgeous views we had all come to see.


A view up Motorcycle Hill from 11 camp

Even though the weather was better, the wind further up the mountain did not make the next cache day look like an appetizing endeavor.  We would have been looking to move gear up around Windy Corner at about 13,700’.

A lovely casual day for the team!

Day 8

Another clear day and the wind appeared to have died down so we got ready to cache some gear.  The path was not very long in distance, but a climb of about 2,500’ up steeper trail still dragging our sleds let everyone know that today was not a gimmie.

The route:
Climb Motorcycle Hill
Veer to the right up Squirrel Hill
Cross the Polo Fields
Go around Windy Corner


Looking at Windy Corner from the edge of the Polo Fields

The guides had been telling us about keeping a manageable pace and making sure you don’t burn yourself out.  While I had listened to the words, I didn’t follow their advice.  The pace up Squirrel Hill had taken its toll on my and I was struggling to keep pace across the fairly flat Polo Fields.  We took a break here (which I was absolutely dying for).  The next leg was to climb up and around Windy Corner.  This section is notorious for rock fall, so it’s important to minimize your exposure and move quickly.  It was a difficult section for me as I was digging down to find the legs I needed to keep up.


Just in case you were wondering. This is what our bathroom looked like. Pee hole with the infamous CMC beside it. CMC stands for clean mountain can. Ironic.

We all got around the corner in one piece and dug the cache.  The next leg was to retrace our steps back to 11 camp.  Even though I was worn out, the downhill move with no pack weight was quite easy and even a good recovery activity from the climb.

Day 9

Keeping in mind the wake-up call I got the day before, we packed up and got ready to move.  The route was the same, but we would continue on past our cache along a mellow rise into 14 camp (14,200’).


Kyle putting on his jacket during a break. Awesome view behind him!

This day went very well for me compared to the day before.  I was actually feeling good enough to want to pick up the cache gear as we went by.  We did not do this and by the time we reached 14 camp I was pretty tired and thankful we had not.

At 14 camp we found a large walled in campsite that had been abandoned with a lovely walled in bathroom (aka – pee hole).  A little bit of shoveling to spruce up the site and we pitched our tents.  Another team effort to dig a kitchen and we were sitting pretty at 14,200’!


View of Mt. Foraker from 14 camp

From here we had gorgeous views of Mt. Hunter and Mt. Foraker.  We also had a view of what lay ahead when it was time to move up the mountain.

Day 10

A quick (18 minute) stroll down the mountain and we were back at the cache set on day 8.  We loaded up and leisurely made our way back to camp.  It was a quick and easy back carry.  The team looked great, especially considering the difficult move the day before.


Kinda artsy, ain’t it?

That night at dinner we talked about the go forward plan.  The next move would be to carry gear to the top of the fixed lines for a cache.  Since there was only group gear for four people to carry, we drew straws to see who had to carry it.  I drew a long straw.  No group gear for me!


Straw drawing

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Denali 2014 – Part 1

As you are now very well aware, I have been on a mission to climb the highest point in all 50 states. With 49 in the bag, I headed to Alaska to try and complete the set. The obstacle in my way was the 20,320′ giant, Denali.

While climbing Denali involves many footsteps in Denali National Park, it is by no means a walk in the park. It requires an organized and well trained team to achieve a safe ascent. Beyond that, it requires the cooperation of the mountain weather. As you will read and see, the weather makes the journey a bit… interesting…

Day 1
I met up with the team (2 guides and 5 other climbers) at the Alaska Mountaineering School (AMS) headquarters in Talkeetna, Alaska, and had a thorough gear check to make sure nothing extra was included and nothing necessary was left behind. A mistake in gear check can be an expedition ending move!


Larry, Uwe, Parker, Me, Dusty, Kyle, Frank, Kali

The team:
Me – you know me
Frank – Globe-trotting cyclist
Kali – One tough Air Force girl
Kyle – One tough former Army dude
Parker – Fellow Houstonian
Uwe – German/Californian surfer

“Scary” Larry Holmgren
“Dirty” Dusty Eroh

After a lovely lunch, we headed to the airport to catch a ride to base camp. Once I set foot on the glacier the ‘I have arrived’ feeling hit me. This is the climb I’ve had in my sights for so long!


Unloading the plane at base camp

I had to shake that overwhelming feeling of awe quickly. The team was already unloading the plane and I jumped in to do my part. This mountain requires your game face!

We set up camp, enjoyed a gourmet salmon burger dinner and discussed our next moves.

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Stuffed Acorn Squash

Ingredients (per each stuffed squash):
1 acorn squash
1/3 lb ground beef
1/2 cup chopped zucchini, red bell pepper and onion (total)
1 clove of garlic
chili powder


Take the top inch or so off your acorn squash. Scoop out all the seeds to create a bowl. Also chop off a little bit of the bottom so the squash can sit upright. Brown your ground beef with the seasonings. Add your veggies to the pan for just a few minutes so they get to know the beef. Stuff the meat and veggies into your squash. Put the squash top on the squash. Bake at 400 for one hour.

Just a note here: The more veggies you put in this recipe will directly effect the amount of meat you can stuff in the squash. I choose to err on the side of more meat, obviously.

Give your squash a couple minutes to cool and go at it with a spoon. It’ll be zesty and squashy! Enjoy!

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