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Friday, October 25, 2013

Red Mountain, Scapegoat Wilderness: Tallest Peak in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex

On the way up.
Gaining the ridge: the southern ridge to Red. The summit is just behind the peak in the upper-right.
We've had a good long stretch of gorgeous chilly/sunny late October weather here in southwest Montana. I took one of those days - pre-injury - to bag a peak that's been on my list for a while: Red Mountain in the Scapegoat Wilderness. Red Mountain is the tallest peak in the Bob Marshal Wilderness Complex, which includes the Bob, the Scapegoat, and the Great Bear, stretching from Highway 200 in the south to the southern boundary of Glacier Park in the north.
Rocky Mountain Front and Scapegoat Peaks on the way up.
I've been anxious to get in some more high country time, but the cold and snow we had in early October resulted in most of the high country in southwest Montana being snow choked. So I sent a  message to peak bagging guru and Geology Prof Steve Sheriff asking if he knew of some peaks with south facing ridges on which he thought I could still get up on top of something. He mentioned Red (as well as some others), so I went for it.
View west from the summit.
If you take the route to Red's summit that I did -- drive as far as you can up Copper Creek Road, which leaves Highway 200 heading northeast about 10-15 minutes north of Lincoln, then gain Red's south ridge and walk it to the summit -- it's very doable from Missoula in a day. It's an easy 1 and 3/4 hour drive and then the hike is about a 10 mile round trip. I left at 8.30 am and was home by 4.30 pm.
Looking south from the summit, back the way we'd come.
Looking north, deeper into the Scapegoat and Bob Marshall.

Book Review: Teach us To Sit Still: A Sceptic's Search For Health And Healing

It took me a while to get through this book. Nonetheless, it had an impact on me, so I recommend it if you relate to the subject matter.

The book is about the quest of the author, Tim Parks, for health and well-being, as unexplained physical ailments (in his case lower abdominal pain) plague him, and he seeks a cure. The author is a well known novelist, so the writing is great, and he's also a sceptic, as the title suggests, so it's not an advertisement for a certain path to health. Rather it's a driven man's circuitous journey from physical pain caused by stress to wellness.

I related to the book on several fronts. First, I've recently suffered from the same ailments as the author describes - it's why I bought the book - and for the same reason: too much tension in mid-life. I also related to the author's choice of Vipassana meditation in the end. In my 20's I had a relatively serious Vipassana (a form of Buddhist meditation) practice. For several years I meditated every day and then as grad school, children, and work eventually overwhelmed me, my practice petered out, and finally went into hibernation when I moved to Missoula in 2003. Ever since, I have tried to pick it back up several times, but it would never take. However, in reading this book, I've gotten my practice back pretty consistent for about month now, which makes me happy, and my own abdominal pains have also gone away. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Livin' and Crashin'

broken again

My 40th year on the planet has been one of livin' and crashin'.

I've had some bad mojo this cycling season: a bad crash and collarbone break in May; a crunched cross frame, after driving into a garage with my bike on the roof, when I had finally recovered in August; and finally a crash and rebreak of my collarbone at Rolling Thunder (cyclocross race) yesterday, following hot on the tail of a competitor who went down in front of me and took me with him.

This string of incidents does make me wonder what the heck I'm doing. Whether or not at my age I should be competing in a young man's sport, pushing myself to my own edge on a regular basis. On the other hand, I'm good at bike racing, and it brings me joy. And I was competing against other 40+ racers, so I'm not the only nut-job out there.

But if I keep breaking bones, the suffering certainly outweighs the joy. So I'm left wondering what the correct balance is between caution and doing what I love, between not-crashin' and livin', given that there's plenty else to love in the world.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Steamboat Mountain, Rocky Mountain Front

During one of the last weekends of September, we headed up for some camping at our property on the Dearborn River. It was Jen's dad's 60th birthday. On Saturday, I made the drive out from our land and up to the southern end of the Rocky Mountain Front, where the upper-Dearborn leaves the Scapegoat Wilderness. 
Steamboat Mountain reefs. The summit is behind the cliffs out of sight.
My goal was to bag Steamboat Mountain, which is the large massif you see on the last miles of the drive in (picture above) and is just across the Dearborn River from the trailhead. About one mile from the car, after passing several cabins, you'll cross the Dearborn, and a mile later you'll come to a sign on the trail that says, Lewis and Clark National Forest. A quarter-mile or less after this, you'll see a cairn on the right marking the hiker trail up to Steamboat. The trail isn't maintained and will peter out in several places along the way, but you'll get there simply by following your nose. On top are large open meadows, and the summit sits in the middle, not all that close to the edge of the reef that you see from the valley (see the below pic). It's a very rocky and desolate summit. The trip up is definitely worthwhile and is not terribly long. Views from the top are spectacular, especially of awesome Scapegoat Mountain (on my bucket list) to the northwest.

Steamboat is in the background. The peak is to the right of reef/cliff (photo taken from outtherewithtom.blogspot).

Another outtherewithtom.blogspot photo. This one of Scapegoat Mtn, long on my bucket list. 

Book Review: Young Men and Fire, by Norman MacLean

I love this book, and not because it's an easy and relaxing read (it's not) but because in my opinion, MacLean achieves greatness in writing it. Like any great book, it's about many things.

First, there's the story of the tragedy of the Mann Gulch fire, which killed 13 elite smoke jumpers in 1949. When MacLean began his research, there was much that was unknown (or lost) about the incident and even evidence that some details had been swept under the rug in order to protect the Forest Service during the lawsuits brought on by family of the deceased following the fire.

Really though, the book is equally about MacLean himself as he searches for the truth of what happened. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the story is as much about MacLean and his search as it is about the Mann Gulch fire itself. The dead firefighters remain ghosts as characters in the story. It is only MacLean and those who enter the story as aids in his quest that come alive as characters on the page.

And on an even deeper level, the book is the story of a spiritual quest of an old man nearing the end of his life. I believe that it is a meditation on death. On the first page is the following quote of MacLean:

"As I get considerably beyond the biblical allotment of three score years and ten, I feel with increasing intensity that I can express my gratitude for still being around on the oxygen-side of the earth's crust only by NOT standing pat on what I have hitherto known and loved. While oxygen lasts, there are still new things to love, especially if compassion is a form of love."

So, at the tail end of his life he takes up the new hard work of writing. And what wonderful works he creates. For his last book (published after he died), he tells the story of the tragic deaths of the Mann Gulch smoke jumpers, not only to tell their story, but to face death: his own death as well as those of his loved ones who've gone before. The book ends with the following paragraph:

"I, an old man, have written this fire report. Among other things, it was important to me, as an exercise for old age, to enlarge my knowledge and spirit so I could accompany young men whose lives I might have lived on their way to death. I have climbed where they climbed, and in my time I have fought fire and inquired into its nature. In addition, I have lived to get a better understanding of myself and those close to me, many of them now dead. Perhaps it is not odd, at the end of this tragedy, where nothing much was left of the elite who came from the sky, but courage struggling for oxygen, that I have often found myself thinking of my wife on her brave and lonely way to death."

This is a great, moving book.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Fall, a Season for Cycling

On the way to Three Larch
This is probably my favorite time of year for biking in Missoula. The temps are a bit cool, but the leaves are changing, and even more spectacular in my opinion is the turning and falling of the larch tree needles. 
larch trees in Pattee Canyon
Last week, a research colleague and friend of mine, Jim Nagy, from Atlanta and Emory University came to talk math and mountain bike. We were successful on both fronts. I took Jim on the Dear Creek Sneak, then down through the Cox Property and the Zig Zag trail to town. The next day we did Three Larch from town. Jim mountain bikes a lot in Georgia and is a tough rider.
Georgian, mathematician, and mountain biker, Jim Nagy getting a taste of Missoula trails.
Cyclocross season is also now in full swing. We race Wednesday nights and it's great fun. I'm not in top shape, having had missed the summer cycling season, but I'm getting better each week.
I'm in there. The only one with teal in my jersey, three rows or so back. Tom Robertson photo I believe.