Saturday, January 04, 2020

2019 in photos

Another year, another set of photos depicting my favorite theme, "This Big Big World (and sometimes the small people in it.)" I couldn't spend a lot of time with this Year in Photos if I intend to finish a White Mountains trip report at some point, but I did comb through what I could and picked a favorite from each month.

The top photo is my favorite of the year, because at first a viewer might not even notice the tiny Beat standing on the spine of a knife-edged glacier moraine. Above him is Glacier de Moming and the pinnacle of the Zinal Rothorn, during a hike near Zinal in September. Switzerland's mountains deserve every glowing superlative that's ever been uttered about them. I don't have any more to add, but my dream is to accompany my Dad to Valais, so he too can experience this mountain wonderland.

January: Homestake

Toward the end of the month, Beat and I headed out for an overnight trip near Vail, dragging sleds ten miles up an untracked road to Homestake Reservoir. We expected warm temperatures, as the forecast low for Leadville was 24, and were too casual about our approach. We both worked up a solid sweat while breaking trail through the deep snow, and were shocked when we finally stopped at the edge of the frozen reservoir and realized temperatures had plummeted to 11 below. We hurried to set up our tent, but starting a long night like when one is already damp, then using somewhat light gear to try to warm up, is rough ... to say the least. Even Beat suffered, and he has many more hours of winter camping in the bank than I do. I think we were both a little shell-shocked by morning. We set out super early to beat I-70 traffic (which of course we didn't), and mostly sleep-walked back to the highway. Through it all, it was still a gorgeous morning.

February: Rodeo Beach

Beat had a work trip in the Bay Area, and I tagged along for a weekend to run the Golden Gate 50K in the Marin Headlands. These regular weekend trail races are something I miss most about living in that region, and was excited to return to one of my favorite places. Unfortunately I placed high expectations on the race and fell short, which caused some angst. We did have to battle challenging weather with heavy rain, temperatures in the 30s, high winds and slick mud. Before all of that, though, we were able to enjoy a lovely morning on the California coast, listening to the effervescent sound of gentle waves on sand.

 March: Breakup on the Bering Sea

Nome, Alaska, was experiencing its warmest March on record, by a large margin. On March 10, hundreds of people gathered along a snow bank for the Nome-Golovin snowmachine race, which launched from the shelf ice a few hundred yards off shore. Fewer than five hours later, there was a mad dash of activity as people raced to move all manner of structures and supplies from the ice. By early evening, the ice was gone. All of it. The solid-seeming staging area for the race became blue open water. This extremely early breakup happened so quickly that many things couldn't be saved; individuals lost tens of thousands of dollars worth of crab pots, fishing supplies and mining equipment. Three men had to be rescued after becoming trapped on an ice floe that started drifting out to sea. Watching all of this ice disappear in real time is one of the stranger events I've witnessed. As the sun set that evening, I stepped outside to take this photo and noticed at least a dozen people walking out of homes along Front Street and lining the snow berm to watch. The reflection of warm colors on rippling water was a beautiful yet disquieting sight.

 April: Audubon gale

Beat and I returned from Alaska and expected instantaneous spring, which didn't quite pan out. April and May 2019 seemed colder and snowier than my past three springs in Colorado. So instead of basking in sunshine we enjoyed "late winter" adventures. This photo is one of the more harrowing days on Mount Audubon (although aren't all days harrowing on Audubon? I froze up there in mid-August.) But we had to contend with subfreezing temperatures, strong gales and blowing snow. After a while it was clear that we were just done with this nonsense — especially Beat, who had absorbed his share of hurricane-force wind in the Salomon Blowhole on his way to Nome. And yet ... those dramatic skies and sharp cornices did make for pretty scenery.

 May: Bryce 100

The Bryce 100 was a cold, muddy, and extremely tough-for-me race, but damn ... it was lovely. The first morning, with its clear skies, snow-capped redrock and skiff of new snow on ground and trees almost made the pain and weeks of injury worth it ... almost.

June: Summer on Niwot Ridge

More than a month after the Bryce 100, I was still grappling with a torn MCL that destabilized my knee and made it difficult to walk. A hike was ill-advised, but the forecast called for heavy snow on the Summer Solstice, at least above 10,000 feet. As a winter enthusiast I am all about experiencing a good dose of summer snow, but I'd have to propel myself somewhere high enough to see it. So I tightened my knee brace and soft-stepped my way to 12,000 feet on Niwot Ridge. The Front Range didn't receive a lot of snow in that storm (it mostly fell on Steamboat Springs, as seen in the movie about Lael Wilcox's 2019 Tour Divide, "I Just Want to Ride.") Still, walking among the hardy tundra flowers amid a dusting of snow was a worthwhile outing. I was so stoked just to be hiking again.

 July: Hayden Pass

My favorite photo from July 2018 was taken in nearly the same spot, but what can I say? I love Hayden Pass. Beat was again racing the Ouray 100 and I was again crewing for him and stealing hikes on the side. I was still limping on my injured knee, but I was slightly stronger than I had been a month earlier. The views from Hayden Pass encompass the best of the San Juans — the verdant hillsides and iron-infused red mountains rising above carved gray rock and deep, narrow valleys.

 August: Crow overlooking Vallorcine

Beat was again racing PTL from Chamonix and I was again embarking on all the steep Alpine hikes I could stomach. I've turned this annual tradition into my own race, trying to outdo my past self and log as much vert as possible. It's gotten to the point where I need to climb more than 50,000 feet in a week to beat my own record, and that is not an easy thing to do when one isn't racing 20-plus hours a day. Still, this silly game does take me to some incredible places. On this day I was climbing one of the trickier passes on the PTL course, spanning the border of France and Switzerland. I was nervous about the steep climb on loose scree, and seeing this crow perched next to a cross overlooking dramatic mountains seemed foreboding. But I needed my vert, so I still went for it.

 September: Dad and the Grand Canyon

How many years has the Grand Canyon made it into my list? You can't take a bad photo here! High winds overnight lifted a layer of dust into the air, creating gorgeous filtering for the rising sun. Also, Dad was gracious enough to wear a florescent orange T-shirt, so he really pops in the foreground. Despite the winds and an earlier-than-normal September departure, we had perfect whether for our 13th rim-to-rim hike together.

 October: Autumn on Timpanogos

On my way home from the Grand Canyon outing, I stole a long-awaited hike on what I consider my first mountain love, Timpanogos in Utah's Wasatch Mountains. I fought fairly terrible weather here, with high winds and temperatures in the low teens near the summit. But for a while, before I raced past everything to keep from becoming lost in the fog and freezing, I was able to enjoy nice fall colors beside Timp's iconic cliffs.

November: Snow squall over the White Rim

One day before my friend Erika and I set out on a planned four-day bike tour through Lockhart Basin and the White Rim, I hiked into the White Rim from Canyonlands' Island in the Sky to place a 3.5-gallon water cache. Heavy and overambitious, that load ... hoisting it down the sheer dropoff from Murphy Point proved tenuous. By the time I climbed out, a cold storm moved in over the Green River. I looked down at the isolated road crossing the plateau, which was being pummeled by rain and snow. Whelp. I thought this spelled disaster-by-death-mud for our bike trip, but we caught a perfect weather window. That could be another theme for my photo collage: "It was the best of weather, it was the worst of weather."

December: 50 below

Speaking of the worst of weather ... our five-day hike into Alaska's White Mountains between Christmas and New Years was quite the challenge with unbelievably slow trail conditions, deep subzero temperatures, and wind. Of course, one experience that I absolutely loved was the coldest day, day two. We awoke in a cabin on a frosty knoll above Beaver Creek to temperatures in the minus 40s. We knew we needed to gather a ton of firewood for the following night, but we still headed out for a loaded eight-mile hike toward the mountains surrounding Fossil Creek. The world, even a somewhat familiar world, is so different at 40 and 50 below (the lowest temperature we'd see was -49.8F.) It's so quiet you can hear microscopic particles of ice tingling in the air, and the snow no longer crunches or even squeaks as you walk ... even that sound resembles the chime of tiny bells. The air was completely still and my body stayed warm in not many more clothing layers than I wear at -10 or even 0F. Still, one instinctively senses the paper-thin margin, and the danger lurking just beyond.

Anyway, no doubt I'll have far more to say about 50 below and truly cold (windchill!) conditions when I finally get around to writing a trip report. Until then, thanks for reading, and Happy New Year.

Photo posts from years past: 
2010 part one, part two


  1. I think my favorite photo of these is the one of your Dad overlooking the GC. Beautiful light! The photo with the crow is also grand!

    1. I agree the GC is my fav....add your quote to the photo of him "exploring the bright edge" and I would surely buy a HD print of it!! :) I'm serious!

      Jeff C

  2. A fabulous collection and anecdotes. The ice break up of the Bering Sea must have been frightening. I do hope you get to take your Father hiking in Switzerland.


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