Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Getting my steps in

On Tuesday morning I checked the race tracker and saw that Beat's team was just about to the top of a narrow pass called Fenêtre d'Arpette. After that, I remembered, was a long technical section requiring helmets and crampons — obviously featuring a whole lot of nope. But if you avoid the scary route and instead turn left toward the bucolic Swiss village of Champex Lac, you can make a nice loop following the super-easy UTMB course over a 2,500-foot bump called Bovine mountain. It was one of the few segments of UTMB I haven't seen, and Fenêtre d'Arpette looked spectacular. I thought the loop would take me eight hours, which is all I can afford on a Tuesday before 12 hours of working through the night on Alaska time.

It was already becoming hot when I left Trient around 9 a.m. — 27C according to the car thermometer. I'd only packed two liters of water, and was feeling severe drag in my legs as I trudged up a lovely trail along a turquoise glacier stream. This would be day four of steep hiking, logging at least a vertical mile of climbing every day. "I should do this every day I'm in Chamonix," I thought. "Vertical mile." The 5,280 feet of a mile sounded hard, so I rounded the number down to 5,000 feet. Like people who get their 10,000 steps in every day, I would strive for 5,000 vertical feet, every day for nine days. The challenge was on. 

Trient Glacier and its impressive moraine. Sunlight was glaring in the late morning, and I had to squint through my sunglasses. Even with washed-out light, the scenery was spectacular. 

The final 2,000 feet to the pass jut upward on on a talus and boulder slope with a faint trail that sometimes approached 50-percent grades. My legs finally began to perk up and I relished the grind. This is exactly my kind of thing ... steep, only mildly technical, not dangerous. I passed a few PTL teams who appeared surprisingly cheerful given the circumstances — after all, they'd been working hard, really hard, for more than 24 hours. The most bubbly were three Japanese women who I was thrilled to see. Mixed teams are becoming more common in PTL, but all-women teams are still exceedingly rare.

Looking down the other side of "the window of Arpette." It had taken me four hours to cover six miles, and I had to decide whether I could manage 12 more miles that included an equally difficult descent and another robust climb in the same amount of time. I decided to go for it.

Unfortunately I lost the route and burned up many minutes crab-walking and crawling through a large boulder field. I've learned that I have poor ankle stability ... yes, I realize that I can work on strengthening my ankles. But even then, I'll never be a graceful gazelle dancing through the boulder fields. No, I imagine that my skewed proprioception will always require three- and four- and five-point contact until I resemble a slug oozing over the rocks.

Looking toward Aiguille d'Arpette. This was the scary route PTL was supposed to take, somewhere up in those cliffs. I later learned that the whole field had been rerouted around the high glacier traverse, apparently because the PTL organization had a change of heart and decided it was genuinely too dangerous for 250-plus sleep-deprived participants with widely varying skill levels. I was shocked.

Predictably, I ran out of water while making my way down the valley. There were cows everywhere, and I felt uneasy about collecting water from a stream and putting chlorine tablets in it. "I'll be able to get water in Champex," I thought. But then the route skirted through the forest above town, and I didn't come across any fountains or even streams until I reached a small restaurant at the base of Bovine. There was an outdoor bar, where I pointed to a cold case with 1.5-liter bottles of water inside. "Can I buy one of those water bottles?" I asked. Although the bartender appeared to understand English, my request was foreign to her. She tried to serve me a tiny glass of sparkling water with no ice for 3.20 Swiss francs. I insisted that I needed "more water," pulled the bladder out of my pack, pointed to the sink and asked if I could buy tap water, and finally succeeded in purchasing a bottle of sparkling water for 8 Swiss francs. The whole exchange was so perturbing that I almost walked away, but was glad I didn't, as it was over 90 degrees and there were no streams at all most of the way up Bovine. I'm pretty much a fish when it comes to drinking water, and it flabbergasts me how Europeans get by with their 25 centiliters of lukewarm bottled water, here and there. This is always one thing I miss most about the U.S. — free and abundant water everywhere.

Anyway, I wrapped up that hike in closer to nine hours ... and 7,300 feet of climbing. I worked through the night until 6:30 a.m., and just after I'd finally succumbed to blissful sleep, I got a call from Daniel. Some family issues had come up that forced him to drop out of the race, while Beat and Pieter went on as a two-man team. He rescheduled his flight out of Geneva to the following morning. After a couple of hours of logistics-wrangling with him, I figured I had about four hours to spare before I needed to pick Daniel up in downtown Chamonix. Could I squeeze in 5,000 feet? Sure I could try!

I picked what I think of as the Skyline route between Flégère and Planpraz stations. I've hiked this route before in the other direction, and had largely forgotten how hard it is. After scrambling directly up a talus slope to avoid construction vehicles on the cat-track road to l'Index, experiencing a big scare from tumbling rocks thrown by a trail crew on a switchback above me near Glière Chapel, and climbing a whole lot more than I expected to Col de la Glière, my time buffer had unravelled completely.

Follow the yellow dots. Just a touch of exposure, but I'd already burned up my adrenaline ten minutes earlier, when I was startled by loud, falling rocks that sounded like they were directly above my skull. I was so frightened that I screamed from below at the trail crew, who just laughed and said "is okay! is okay!" Dudes, just because you can see me doesn't me I can see you or know what you're doing. It's not okay.

At Col Cornu, I could see the storm moving in over Mont Blanc. The hot, sunny weather was predicted to deteriorate into three days of rain, wind, and snow down to 2,000 meters or lower.

These sheep were exceedingly cute. As they approached, the lead one let out a polite "ba-a-a," so I stepped off the trail. They continued on the trail, and the last one also ba-a-a'ed as she passed. "Tell me you don't have a mean dog with you," I said. (I have been aggressively confronted by Alpine sheep dogs in the past.) But they were alone, just out for a Wednesday stroll through the rocks.

After Daniel left Wednesday morning, I drove through the Mont Blanc tunnel to catch up with Beat in Morgex, Italy. Morgex is about the halfway point of the route, with dinner served in an old chapel, and sleep on wrestling mats (no blankets) in a gym. It had rained through the night, and they arrived here wet and cold. The sun came out ever-so-briefly while they were resting, only to have to skies open up with more rain just after they left.

Even still, they looked good, despite the sleep deprivation. The previous evening they were caught in a thunderstorm on a high ridge, with lightning and thunder booms following within three seconds. This was only the beginning of the epic weather for them.

It was after 4 p.m. by the time Beat and Pieter left Morgex, and skies did not look as friendly as they had earlier in the afternoon. I still decided to go for my 5,000 feet on the trail to Testa Licony, where there apparently is a vertical 2K race (meaning 2,000 meters of climbing.) I didn't know about this race beforehand, but began to see markers designating every 100 meters of gain (D+100, D+200, etc.) Hundred-meter markers are somewhat demoralizing, because it takes three times as long to climb 100 meters as it does 100 feet, and yet tired minds process the numbers in the same way. Soon, though, the signs surpassed four digits, and I rose above tree line to see that I really had gained some height.

On grassy slopes the trail became more faint, and at one point I merged onto a goat trail. By the time I realized my mistake, I looked at my GPS to see I'd already gained 300 feet since leaving the trail, and a paralleling switchback was 700 feet higher. The route itself veered way off to the left — for good reason, I later realized. Instead of backtracking I made the always-questionable choice to crawl directly up the slope, which of course became steeper as I climbed. Steep grassy slopes are slippery, and a fall could easily send a person careening downhill the way they would on snow. To top things off, it was sprinkling rain again, which made the grass even more greasy.

The slope tilted nearly vertical, and I found myself death-gripping clumps of grass and regretting every decision I'd ever made. I definitely didn't want to go down the way I'd came, but the higher terrain just continued to become worse. GPS showed only 200 or so feet remaining, and I started to see rocky outcroppings blocking my path. I continued gripping grass strands and side-stepping diagonally until I reached a rib of rocks that looked climbable. It was a narrow spine, and steeper than the slope. But there I found real handholds, which I appreciated. I was so, so ecstatic when I put my hands on the trail and hoisted myself onto solid ground. Never again. You'd think I was trying to mimic the PTL experience or something.

Behind me, a darker storm approached. A winter-like wind blasted down from the ridge. Its chill was distressing, and invigorating at the same time. I'd given myself an absolute turnaround time to get back to treeline and safer trail before sunset, but I was so buzzed after surviving the grass scramble that I continued marching upward long after the deadline passed. Still, I really didn't want to be caught up here on steep grassy slopes and faint trails when it was both dark and pouring rain.

So I settled for a saddle, about 150 meters below Testa Licony, with shrouded views into the Villair valley. I was feeling a bit woozy from not eating or drinking in several hours, and also from the 5,600 feet of climbing I had on my legs just today. But the highest priority was skedaddling downhill to the trees before dark came.

I made it just in time, strapped on my headlamp, took a several big sips of water, ate a Snickers Bar, and accelerated to a knee-thrusting jog. Hard rain needled through the tree canopy, causing me to slip and skid as I reminded myself to lean forward. The forested part of the trail was even steeper than the alpine zone, and now the trail was rippled with roots and carpeted in wet pine needles. I fell on my butt, jamming my pinky finger painfully, but quickly bounced up and ran faster.

I wasn't really in a hurry; it was already dark, and I knew I'd end up back in Chamonix to cook myself a dinner of pasta with red sauce and tuna sometime around midnight. I'd only slept about four hours in the past 60, after days of jet lag and insomnia before that, and the edges around my vision were beginning to blur. My adrenaline was spent, my legs were wobbly, and I had no business running down a muddy 30-percent grade. But I felt joyful. Positively joyful. Why? Perhaps because of all of that. The sharp edge of life is where we live most vividly, where joy and fear ebb and flow with increasingly intensity, and where memories retain their luminosity four, ten, possibly even 20 or 40 years later. More frequently than I care to admit, I think about PTL. I hated PTL. But it stuck with me.

I thought about Beat marching into this rain and wind toward another high pass, again feeling both nervous and envious. What would stop me from marching through the night? The image of my pale white fingers clinging to strands of grass on the near-vertical slope returned, and I shuddered with fear. I suppose I really did want to leave this mountain behind.

"Knees high, pick up your feet," I chanted. The lower-altitude forest grew thick and high, blocking out all light beyond a pale yellow circle thrown by the headlamp. Here the world was small, and yet just as slippery and difficult as it had ever been. Still, the smallness made it more manageable somehow, and there was a steady cadence to every uneven step. My mind settled into the rhythm and slipped into a fantasy where I wasn't afraid of the mountain anymore, and just flowed with it, as naturally as water. 
Monday, September 04, 2017

PTL, again

Well, I managed to distract myself sufficiently for a week-plus in Chamonix to avoid writing a blog post. I have so many photos I want to archive, so I suppose I'll start. We returned to the European Capital of Extreme Sports for Beat's sixth and what he promised would be his last Petite Trotte à Léon.

The PTL is a lot of things, but I think it's best described as "290 kilometers of nonsense." It's a high-mountain loop around Mont Blanc on a route that changes every year, following paths that are always steep, routinely rough, and not infrequently nonexistent. The route includes a rather boggling 27 kilometers of vertical gain (so 87,000 feet in 180 miles), but I'm of the opinion the numbers don't mean much. Climbing can be relaxingly easy on a steep dirt path gaining 1,500 feet per mile (which I enjoyed many times during the week.) In PTL, technical features, exposure and route-finding dominate the challenge, and often necessitate a pace amounting to less than two kilometers an hour. So 152 hours to finish this race is actually not a lot of time (and the cutoff was 136 hours in 2013 when I attempted it and timed out, which I emphasize because damn it, those 16 extra hours really would have helped.)

In short, PTL is treacherous and often dangerous terrain combined with sleep deprivation and relentless forward motion regardless of weather or conditions. It's utter nonsense, but some people thrive on nonsense. I can certainly relate.

For years after 2013 I begged Beat not to return to PTL, but by 2016 my defenses had worn down, and by this year I felt the hint, just the tiniest little hint, of FOMO. It's misplaced. Beat's proven himself capable while I continue to fall on my face and roll my ankle on relatively buffed out Colorado trails (which of course are still rocky and steep.) It's difficult to discern why I prioritize my wanderings in places where I so frequently falter. I'm like that kid at the piano recital, the one who's been practicing for years and still stabs at the keys while out-of-sync staccato notes echo through the room. "Shame, she just doesn't have an ear for music," people say about that kid. I'm that kid, with mountain running. I think about this often and wish I'd stuck with piano.

Anyway, Beat was preparing for another PTL and I was both jealous and relieved that it wasn't me. My plan as usual was to loosely follow the race, offer the minimal support where allowed, work occasionally, maybe see a friend or two during the always hugely well-attended UTMB week, and fill the rest of the time with overwhelmingly beautiful hiking. Eating and sleeping, bah ... there's always time for that later.

For our first full day in Chamonix, Beat and one of his PTL partners, Pieter, insisted on joining me for a climb to the junction of two glaciers, Bossons and Taconnaz. We rented a small chalet that was literally underneath the top of a ski jump platform, and the trailhead began 0.10 miles from the front door. It shoots immediately upward and gains 6,000 feet in five miles, which is not a small feat less than two days before a race like PTL. Clearly I am not the only one suffering from ridiculous FOMO. But it is almost impossible to pass up these views:

Looking toward Aiguille du Midi over Bossons glacier.

The Taconnaz glacier. At the tip you can see the remnants of a massive calving event that we witnessed. It sounded like a loud thunder clap, and recently arriving from Colorado, I immediately looked up at the sky. Far below the fluffy clouds, a building-sized chunk of ice peeled off the tongue of the glacier and tumbled down the rocks like an avalanche.

"You're not scrambling underneath these glaciers during PTL this year, are you?" I asked Beat.

"I don't think so," he answered, sounding uncertain.

On Sunday I made a quick trip from the chalet to Brevent, another place where you can knock out a cool vertical mile in five horizontal ones, and if you don't feel like walking down, you just buy a ticket for the cable car.

Views of Bossons and Taconnaz glaciers from the opposite side of the valley. La Jonction is the top of the round ridge in the center. Brevent stands at a similar altitude in the Aiguilles Rouges (Red Mountains.)

I still can't travel anywhere in these vast mountains without looking into a distance and reliving moments from my 2013 PTL experience. I've written about the experience in this blog, but only in fairly superficial detail. The intensity of it still haunts me, in mostly not good ways. Still, there were intensely good moments too — walking under those cliffs when they were bathed in silver moonlight, gazing up at sheer walls and wondering what possible path could lead beyond them. As it turned out, there usually was no possible path — only steep couloirs choked with boulders, and sheer astonishment that a race organization as professional as UTMB would admit participants with no provable mountain experience and send them up an indiscernible mess of rubble that was clearly going to end in a death tumble. Well.

Monday morning was the start of the 2017 edition of PTL. This year Beat started with his original teammate and Colorado friend, Daniel, and Pieter, a Belgian who he met at Tor des Geants in 2014, and has raced PTL with every year since.

Daniel grew up climbing Colorado 14'ers and is a gazelle in boulder fields, and Pieter has mountaineering experience and youthful enthusiasm, so they were a good team. Beat was an experienced trail runner but more or less a mountain novice when he started PTL in 2012. Now he's such an entrenched veteran that the mountain guides who design the PTL greet him with hugs and cheers. He tells me that he, too, used to be bothered by exposed terrain, but now he's tired and doesn't care much anymore.

After the racers jogged briefly through the streets of Chamonix and launched directly up a ski lift slope that's dubbed "the vertical kilometer," I headed out to the base of a mountain they expected to hit later in the day, Mont Buet.

Mont Buet is a 3,096-meter peak (10,100 feet) in the Red Mountains. While researching a route from the valley, I learned it's commonly referred to as "Mont Blanc for the Ladies" ... clearly by chauvinistic French men. I was a bit happy to see this characterization, though. That means Mont Buet is easy, right? I mean, it's 6,000 feet of climbing in six miles, but easy, right?

It was pretty easy — just one long boulder field to negotiate midway through the route. I was scrambling through the boulders when rain began to pelt my face, which made me grumpy. Usually I don't mind rain, but I do when there is unknown and potentially difficult (i.e. slippery) terrain ahead. It turned out to be no big deal, but spiked my stress levels enough to keep me on edge for the rest of the day.

On the way to the summit, I leap-frogged with a nice Italian couple who were fast but made frequent stops, while I trundled along at my steady turtle pace. Occasionally a hole in the clouds would let through sunlight, and the man would point and say, "look, it is sunny!"

"Na, that's just a sucker hole," I'd reply.

"What is sucker hole?"

"Oh, it's, well, a small opening in clouds that tricks you into believing it will stop raining."

"But it will still rain," the man replied knowingly.

Despite the rain and the long approach, there were still eight or nine people on the summit. Except for me and one other, they were not ladies, and Mont Buet was decidedly more gray and gravelly than Mont Blanc. But it was still a beautiful place to be. One guy offered to take my photo. I like that he didn't zoom in at all, so I'm just a drab little person in a big mountain backdrop.

I thought I might see the first PTL teams on my way down, but I didn't having a working GPS track for this section, and didn't have a clue where they'd come from. It could be from anywhere. Literally anywhere. PTL could require a tightrope walk across a ravine, and I wouldn't be surprised.

I made a short detour to climb above Col de Salenton because I was sure they'd walk through here, but nope. They came in from behind this mountain, somehow. So I saw no one. I trundled the long, long descent to the village of Buet and still didn't encounter any PTL teams. In the village, I lingered for a while at the Skiroc chalet, where PTL participants would be served their one daily meal that I later learned was a soup of half-cooked onions in broth. It had been more than nine hours and this was barely mile 26. Nine hours is an almost unfathomable time for the fastest team in a marathon, but PTL is not a normal race. Really, it's a sadomasochistic ritual with fleeting moments of euphoria and drawn-out hours of fear and pain. Still, I suppose I can understand why Beat claims he's not going to return every year, and goes back anyway.
Thursday, August 24, 2017


 Sunday was my birthday. Even though the number puts me unequivocally well into my late 30s, I looked forward to the turnover. 37 was not my best year. Autumn and winter brought a descent into increasingly poor health and fitness as I desperately tried to train for the most daunting adventure I had ever planned to attempt, the Iditarod Trial Southern Route to Nome. The harder I pushed, the worse I felt ... but the sensation was something more insidious than fatigue or burnout. It felt as though I was being smothered from the inside out. Desperation kept me (relatively) quiet about my deteriorating stoke, but I genuinely hated how I felt during some of these training efforts, and hated that I was starting to hate adventure.

In February, I was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune thyroid disease that forced me to withdraw from the race, which I considered walking away from a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In March, while snowshoeing in Juneau, I was caught in an avalanche (which I gratefully walked away from.) Spring brought the physical rollercoaster and an understanding that, no matter what, things are never going to be quite the same. In June, feeling wildly optimistic, I DNF'd the only ultra I attempted this year, the Bryce 100. Such failures always hit the ego hard, and I spent most of July believing I'd always be (relatively) enfeebled.

In August, my outlook noticeably improved — independent of anything happening in my life and despite the timing. August is usually my least favorite month. This one was cool and green and full of wildflowers. I felt jazzed about the tiniest moments, like viewing the soft morning light over Eldorado Mountain when I had to take out the trash on Thursday morning. As I told my sister, it feels as though this dreary fog had slowly enveloped me over the past two years, and now it's beginning to fade. The gray pall cast over my thoughts and emotions is brightening. If I could stay on this mental upswing, I'd embrace whatever physical limitations had to follow. Happily, my physical health is back on the right track as well.

 If I could choose anything in the world to do on my birthday, high on that list would be "climb Lone Peak with my dad." Lone Peak is a 11,253-foot summit in the Wasatch Mountains. I consider it my "home" mountain. I grew up in its morning shadow; the peak is less than five miles due east from my childhood home — and 7,000 feet higher. As a hike, it's considered by many to be the most difficult standard route to a summit in the Wasatch, rising 6,000 feet in six miles along a chunder-filled gully of a trail called Jacob's Ladder, followed by boulder-hopping in a granite cirque, and finally a class-3 to low-4 scramble up a narrow ridge of vertically-stacked monzonite slabs.

I don't quite remember the first time my dad guided me to this peak. I believe it was the summer after I graduated from high school, 20 years ago. My early memories of Lone Peak's difficulty all surround the steep slog of Jacob's Ladder. There are fewer memories of the slabs that bother me today ... probably because I have 20 years of physical conditioning behind me now, and also two decades of risk and personal ability assessment, which have made me much more wary of exposed scrambling. Much sharper than memories of difficulty are memories of amazement and joy — the quiet Alpine forest mere miles from my crowded suburban neighborhood, the sheer granite walls above the cirque, and standing on top of a peak barely as wide as I am tall, overlooking the entire Salt Lake Valley.

My unplanned trip to Utah for my aunt's funeral just happened to put me in position for a 20th anniversary/38th birthday visit to what is still my favorite mountain. Dad was available, and we also were joined by his friend Tom. Dad had Sunday afternoon obligations so we left at the crack of dawn, enjoying clear skies and temperatures just below 70 degrees. My legs retained a dull soreness from Friday's 14er adventure, but for the most part I felt fantastic. We made quick work of Jacob's Ladder and practically bounded through the wildflower-filled cirque. Dad is in incredible shape and I couldn't quite keep up with him, but I came as close as I could hope to. There was so much oxygen up there, at 10,000 feet.

When we reached the base of the peak, Tom decided to stop and take a nap in wildflower-filled meadow. Dad and I scrambled up a steep and tricky gully — boulders covered in sand — and continued onto the ridge. This photo that my dad took gives an idea of what the summit ridge is like. It's difficult to depict the scale, but the peak is only about 15 square feet. The tilted slab leading to the peak is about five feet long, and not nearly as wide as I'd like. A tumble from this ridge might bounce you on a couple of earlier boulders, but you'd probably land in the cirque, nearly a thousand feet below.

I pulled out my camera to take a photo dad scrambling up one of the first short class-4 maneuvers, and caught an rush of vertigo. It was similar to the sensation that I battled after rolling my ankle and tumbling onto my head on Grizzly Peak on Friday — the sensation that just wouldn't go away and effectively frightened me off the mountain ridge after I summited Grays. Again I felt dizzy, then began to teeter, panicked, and dropped the camera. It bounced once on the edge of a narrow precipice and disappeared into a seemingly bottomless crevasse. My dad and I both wedged ourselves into cracks underneath car-sized boulders, scanning dark hollows for signs of a small, black object. It was nowhere to be seen. Gone. I don't know what made me more sad — that I'd lost my $500 camera (which was several years old and very well used), or that I'd lost all of my images from Lone Peak. It had been such a gorgeous morning.

My camera was gone but the vertigo persisted. Watching an object bounce and rocks and disappear did not help the sensation that gravity was yanking me in every impossible direction. If Dad hadn't been there, I would have undoubtedly lost my nerve. He patiently coached me through the monzonite puzzle, pointing out the best handholds, warning me about slippery sandy sections, and even pulling me up by the arm up a ten-foot slab when my shoulders went weak while gripping a tiny handhold. Finally we were on the peak, perched next to thousand-foot drops in three directions, nibbling on Nutella-slathered pita bread. I was happy, but still ill with unsteadiness.

Looking back on the perhaps half-dozen times I've sat on the kitchen-table-sized summit, I remembered that I pretty much always feel this way on Lone Peak — like the cirque is rushing toward me, and if I stand up, I might collapse. I probably felt this way the first time, even when my 18-year-old ignorance of innate clumsiness was there to protect me. Vertigo is not exactly an enjoyable sensation, and yet I've loved Lone Peak ever since. I used to joke with friends that I was never going to get married, but if I did, it would be on top of Lone Peak (Technically I still haven't broken that promise.) I suppose dizziness and stomach butterflies and exhilaration are exactly the sensations of love. Twenty years and countless mountains later, Lone is still my favorite.

 I had birthday dinner with my parents and sister's family. It was just like old times — grilled salmon and vegetables with corn on the cob from the same local farmer, and mom baked a German chocolate cake for dessert. It was a great birthday ... hopefully that means it's going to be a great year.

On Monday I needed to drive back to Colorado. Although I wanted to beat all the of the eclipse traffic heading south from Idaho and Wyoming, it was too much of a temptation to stay in Utah through the early afternoon and view the partial eclipse from a mountain top. I'm one of those who wasn't that interested in the eclipse until recently ... I even had an invite from friends to go camping in Wyoming during the total eclipse, and shrugged it off. (I thought I'd be too busy wrapping up some deadlines before leaving for Europe this week. At the time I didn't have plans to be in Utah.) But then I fell victim to the hype, and decided to join dad on another tough hike to a 10,000-foot mountain called Gobbler's Knob.

 My legs were definitely aching as we ascended 3,000 feet in 2.5 miles. Dad didn't seem any worse for the wear. We arrived at the summit 50 minutes before the eclipse at its fullest — I believe around 92 percent. I don't think I've ever spent more than an hour sitting on a mountain top, and really enjoyed the relaxed lounging, watching a strange early twilight descend over the surrounding mountains and valleys, and occasionally donning the eclipse glasses to watch the moon take increasingly larger bites out of the sun.

No doubt the total eclipse would have been incredible. But this was special as well — looking up at the crescent sun, feeling a chill descend and putting on a jacket, watching birds bounce nervously across tree branches, and absorbing a silence that seemed to deepen as the sun nearly disappeared.

We descended the mountain quickly, as I was still hoping to beat I-15 traffic. I thought about the ways I appreciate getting older, because each day lived adds to a wealth of experiences and memories, and a deepening of perspective. I envied Dad's limber movements down the steep trail, and hoped that one day I can be 64 the way he's 64. He's had some rough patches in life, and emerged stronger, possibly as strong as he's been. For now I'm 38 the way I can be 38, seeking strength where I can find it, and excited about the year in front of me.