Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Kerry and I went to see I Am My Own Wife at Portland Center Stage last night. It was a excellent performance and Wade McCollum was simply amazing. I'd highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys theater...

Monday, December 04, 2006

I'm finally out of the Train Station and completely moved into the Shack! What a relief to have everything back in one place again - no more trips back and forth across town. This past weekend I rented a truck and moved the rest of my furniture over from the Train Station. Now I just have to unpack and find a place to put everything. I've decided I'm going to keep the Train Station as an investment property and rent it out.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Had another awesome day up on Hood today! A couple friends and I skinned from Timberline up to the top of the Palmer then skied down to Government Camp. From the parking lot to Silcox was perfect - fresh powder with a single track up the hill. From Silcox to the top of the Palmer the snow was still good but the wind picked up and the clouds lowered to create whiteout conditions. Skiing down was a little difficult until I got use to the 46 pound pack I had on. From Timberline down to Government Camp was perfect foot deep powder that we just floated through. Amazing!

No photos to share. I took a bunch but evidently my camera froze as everything came out all black. I really need to get a reliable camera before Denali. I'm beginning to think digital is NOT the way to go - too many problems. Anyway, I'm off to a Denali planning meeting now...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I had an AWESOME start to my ski season last night. A couple friends and I made fresh tracks in knee deep, dry powder at Mount Hood Skibowl. We were on the 5th or 6th chair to reach the top of the upper bowl when the lifts opened at 3pm and we skied almost non-stop until 8:30pm. The conditions are AMAZING! Some of the best snow I've ever seen on Hood. This could easily be February skiing and it's only November.

We are having some unusually cold weather in the Portland area which has resulted in dry snow up on Hood and the resorts are getting dumped on. It even snowed in Portland this morning. Again it's only November. I was really beginning to worry about the ski season since this is suppose to be another warm, wet El NiƱo year. Hopefully this snow will stick around and we'll have a great snow year. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Right now I can't wait for the road to Mount Hood Meadows to open. The latest word is ODOT will have it repaired by December 15th.

Tomorrow we're thinking about skinning up the south side of Hood if the conditions are stable enough. Maybe even tag the summit if we can...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

This afternoon I went climbing with a couple of friends at PRG. I started off by leading a 5.8 route with no warm ups. It was a very easy 5.8 but my first real lead in about 10 months. I was definitely nervous but it felt great to get past the psychological barrier I had developed about lead climbing. After the single lead I went on to top rope a 5.9, a 5.10-, and tried a 5.11-. I didn't complete the 5.11- but spent enough time at the crux that I'm pretty sure I can get past it the next time. This is very exciting since it was about 14 months ago that my climbing peaked when I tried (unsuccessfully) another 5.11- route and then started having finger problems. My finger problems still persist but the fact that I can almost climb what I did before means I'm adapting to the whole situation.

Anyway, I'm definitely looking forward to going back to PRG after the holiday weekend to lead some 5.9's and try to complete my first 5.11- route. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It's been a week since my last post. Not much going on adventure wise but I've been keeping myself busy going to the rock gym and trial running. Last Friday Kerry and I went to the 113th Annual Mazama Banquet. The new "cocktail hour" format was good, the guest speaker very interesting and I really enjoyed catching up with friends I hadn't seen in a while. Over the weekend we ran the Maple-Wildwood loop in Forest Park again. We've averaged 1 hour 17 minutes the four times we have run it so far. It's a tough run and going to the New Old Lompoc afterwards pretty much finishes the day off.

The other thing I've been doing is working with the Mazamas to determine their IT needs in their new building. I've spent a couple of afternoons in the office inventorying the existing equipment and coming up with an upgrade plan. So far it is an interesting project and gives me some ideas for a future business.

That's about it. We're still in between summer and winter seasons and I'm eagerly waiting for the snow. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the road to Mount Hood Meadows opens up soon. It was completely washed out by floods earlier this month and I have a season pass to ski there.

Oh yeah, I finally uploaded the photos from my stroll across the Golden Gate a few weeks ago in San Francisco.

Monday, November 13, 2006

I spent the afternoon at PRG with Leisure Life Larry today. Even though I haven't climbed in about 3 weeks I was able to get right back on the wall and crank out 8 routes including a couple of 5.9's and a 5.10-. The new ratings at PRG are definitely stiffer than they were last year. That is good because now they seem to be more in line with what Smith ratings are. I've decided it's time to invest in a new pair of climbing shoes. I'm sure that will please those of you I've been climbing with after listening to me whine all summer about my toes sticking out of the end of my shoe.

This past weekend Kerry and I did a couple of long trail runs in the rain. On Saturday we ran my new favorite loop in Forest Park - the 7.7 mile Maple-Wildwood loop. On Sunday we did the shorter 3 mile "hill fest" loop in Hoyt Arboretum. Even though it's only 3 miles and takes about 30 minutes, you end up working for every inch of it.

This week I'm continuing on the consolidation plan of moving everything from the Train Station to the Shack and getting rid of a bunch of duplicate stuff. This weekend is the annual Mazama banquet at the Oregon Zoo. I'm keeping my fingers crossed it's not a snooze fest like last year. They changed the format so it should be more interesting.

That's all for now. Not much exciting going on with LLC until ski season starts...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I've been in San Francisco with Kerry this week and heading home later this afternoon. While Kerry has been at her conference I've been wandering around my old stomping grounds. On Tuesday I rode CalTrain down to Palo Alto to meet with my old group at EMC for lunch at the Peking Duck. It was the usual 2.5 hour team lunch I had when I traveled here for work. It was good to see everyone again and catch up on all the EMC gossip. They were a great group of people to work with and made corporate life at EMC tolerable. I miss them but know we'll all stay in contact.

Wednesday I decided I'd take a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge since it was something I never did while I lived here. I added my own twist by starting from our hotel on 5th and Market near Union Square. The weather forecast was for sunny skies so at 9:30am I headed down Market Street to the Embarcadero going by Noah's Bagel to grab a bagel and coffee. I walked along the Embarcadero stopping to eat my bagel and drink my coffee on one of the piers open to the public. I passed the uber touristy Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf area and continued on to the Maritime Museum and Fort Mason which I didn't even know existed. It sits bluff overlooking the bay between the Fisherman's Wharf and the Marina. It looks like it would be an interesting place to explore further.

After Fort Mason I continued along the waterfront through the Marina District and to the Presidio. The Presidio is a huge place and was always one of my favorite destinations in San Francisco. I discovered a new trail I didn't know about and followed it along the waterfront. The trail ends at Fort Point under the Golden Gate where I turned uphill to reach the sidewalk that goes across the bridge. The bridge itself is a mile and half long and 220 feet above the water in the middle. The views of the bay were incredible! Having forgot my camera (again) I bought a disposable camera and will post my photos once I get it developed.

I took a short break at the viewpoint on the north side of the bridge before turning around. I stopped for lunch at a cafe in the Fort Point Visitors Center where I had an interesting sandwich of sliced apples, a bri-like cheese and honey on whole wheat bread with nuts. It was very tasty and I might try it as a climbing lunch. After lunch I walked back through the Presidio, the Marina, Fort Mason, Fisherman's Wharf to Pier 39. There I braved the crowds of tourists to get a caramel apple from a shop that was a frequent weekend destination when I use to live here. After eating my snack surrounded by a flock of hungry pigeons I turned down Stockton street and headed back to the hotel arriving around 4:30pm. All told it ended up being a 7 hour day hike on a beautiful day in San Francisco.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Since I'm feeling a little better after being sick for nearly 2 weeks I decided it was time to head back to "work" today. So I picked up my buddy Ryan D McCoy aka Microwave and drove out to the Columbia Gorge to do a hike up to Indian Point. It was a short 4 hour, 8 mile hike with about 2600 feet elevation gain - nothing too strenuous for my first day back "on the job". What made it interesting was the cold weather and rain. Fall has definitely arrived full force in Portland. We even had the hiking trail equivalent of black ice for the last 1000 feet of elevation gain. The ice covered trees were cool to see and the forest was alive with ice laden branches crashing down all around us. I even missed getting hit by a huge limb by about 20 feet. On the way down from Indian Point we came to a clearing along that gave us a good view of the Gorge all socked in with gray rain clouds and few hillsides poking out. Unfortunately I didn't bring my camera thinking there would be nothing but rain to take a picture of. Lesson learned - never leave home without it.

Anyway, cold and wet we made our way back to the trailhead and stopped by the Salmon Row Pub in Cascade Locks for a late lunch before heading home. All in all a good first day back at the "office".

Monday, October 30, 2006

It's been 10 days since my last post. Not much new to report. I've been sick with a horrible cold and mostly staying around the Shack. I have managed to go on a few short, slow runs despite my constant hacking and coughing. The good news is my cold seems to finally be subsiding. Hopefully I will be completely recovered before this weekend when I'm suppose to be up on Mount Hood training with my Denali team...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

After 3 weeks at the Train Station I've decided I want to move back to the Shack. I'm finding I no longer like the downtown condo lifestyle. The trains wake me up at 3am every morning and the perpetual construction begins at 6am and goes until 4pm. About the only time it is quiet here is from 9pm until 3am which means very little sleep. In fact the lack of sleep over the past few weeks has resulted in me catching another cold and missing out on a fun weekend of ice climbing with friends on the Elliot Glacier up on Mount Hood.

My summer at the Shack was the first time I had lived in a house since I was in high school. Since then I've always lived in dorms, a frat house, apartments or condos. I forgot what it was like to have your own space, privacy and quiet. I am now finding it very difficult to give that up. In addition the Pearl is not what it was when I moved here in 2000. It has become extremely homogeneous with nothing but high-end, over-priced restaurants. The Bridgeport was the last holdout and they recently Pearlized it with a renovation. I miss the affordable, casual, laid back atmosphere of NE Portland. I find myself heading back over there more often than not to spend the day or to get take-out to bring back downtown.

Maintaining two residences is also a lot of work and something is always at the other place. I have too much gear to store it all at the Train Station so most of it is at the Shack. Living in a high rise condo is not conducive to outdoor activities either. It takes multiple trips to haul everything up and down the elevator and I have no place to clean my gear after a trip. Kerry and I have decided it is time to consolidate, so the plan is to move permanently into the Shack now and sell the Train Station probably sometime after January 1st. This works out perfectly since we have been engaged for about a month and are planning to get married early next year. Most of you already know this, but for those who don't I asked Kerry to marry me last month while we were in Washington DC having an "especially nice dinner".

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

After spending all day Monday recovering my laptop from a near disaster here are the photos from my Beacon Rock climb last week...

I spent the past weekend trail running and climbing at PRG. On Saturday Kerry and I tried out a new 7.7 mile loop in Forest park. It was the Mable-Wildwood loop describe in the "Red Sullivan Guide" on page 20. It is described as a hike but makes a great trail run with only 500 feet elevation gain. The loop is far enough north to avoid the weekend crowds on Leif Erikson. We ran it counter clockwise as described in the book, but next time I'll going to try it counter-clockwise. The descent is a little steep to run down. On Sunday we did the short loop around waterfront and then went climbing at PRG for a couple of hours.

The last couple of days I've been spending most of my non-adventure time working on various Mazamas related projects. I am trying to finish up an article I'm writing for the Mazamas Annual on my trip to climb Pico de Orizaba in Mexico. I've also been helping plan another Mazamas Expedition Committee slideshow (Beth Rodden & Tommy Caldwell) and putting together a presentation on what the Expedition Committee does for the upcoming Mazamas Discovery Night.

Tonight Kerry and I have tickets to see the West Side Story at Portland Center Stage. It's the first show of the season and I'm looking forward to checking out the new Gerding Theater...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I just got back from Beacon Rock. I had another perfect day of weekday climbing. I seemed to be getting some of my climbing mojo back and was able to lead a couple of the easier pitches on the SE Face. Dragan, thank you for encouraging me to get back in the saddle. What a great day!!! Stay tuned for some pictures...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I had a perfect day out at French's Dome near Mount Hood. It was warm enough for t-shirts but shaded enough to not be too hot while climbing. Preston "Rope Gun" Corless put up all the routes. I cleanly top roped Tin Tangle (5.8), Do It Again (5.9), Alpha Centauri (5.8), and Straw Man (5.8) . I had to do some serious hang dogging but I completely enjoyed grunting my way through Silver Streak (5.10B). The routes are all very ledgey and worked well for my fingers. Tomorrow I'm heading back to Beacon Rock to do a variation of the SE Face.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Today I went to the doctor (actually a dentist) for the first time since I quit my job back in June. As part of the routine checkup they took my blood pressure and pulse. When I saw the results I thought for sure the machine was broken as they were significantly lower than the last time I had them checked. My pulse was a mere 53 beats per minute. Then I realized I've been on the LLC plan for the last 3 months. My physical fitness and activity levels haven't changed much in that time. What has changed is the lack of corporate BS to put up with. I guess the stresses of work really can be hazardous to your health. Something to consider when I decide to start looking for a job...
My first week back at the Train Station has been good. It took a couple of days to get everything moved over from the Shack, but we are all settled in for the winter season. Mornings typically begin with a 6am run around the waterfront - a short 4 mile loop that begins right from the front door. A few hours of puttering on the computer, drinking coffee and eating my breakfast then I'm ready to head outside...

Lately I have been spending more time climbing at Portland Rock Gym - usually 3-4 times per week. About a year ago my rock climbing peaked at 5.10. After trying a couple of 5.11 routes I started having chronic finger pain. Originally I thought I had injured myself and took a break from climbing at PRG. After a few months I was still having problems and saw a couple of specialists. By then the problem was becoming more systemic (all my fingers) and I was told possibly related to arthritis. I tried a couple of finger exercises and taping techniques with little success. The jury is still out on what the problem really is and the pain is still there. However I have been able to adapt enough to resume climbing at PRG. I'm taking glucosamine daily and icing my hands after each visit to the gym. The good news is that after almost of year of off and on again climbing, I'm able to climb most 5.9 routes and even a couple of 5.10 routes. I'm not sure when or if I'll get back into lead climbing again, but we'll see.

Besides climbing, I have also been running more consistently - about 4-5 times per week. On Saturday Kerry and I did a 8.25 mile loop from the Train Station to the Pittock Mansion via the Rose Gardens and down through Macleay Park. The run took about 90 minutes and had some serious hills to tackle. Sunday I was so sore all I could do was limp my way around the waterfront loop and climb with Kerry for a couple of hours at PRG. Next year I hope to run the Mount Ashland Hillclimb Run which is a half marathon, all uphill with a total elevation gain of 5600 feet. I also plan to run Hood to Coast for the first time.

As I've mentioned before, the summer climbing season is pretty much over and ski season doesn't start for another couple of months. I keep thinking I should look for a job one of these days, but the weather in Portland is still very nice and there is so much to enjoy outside. I just don't seem to find the time to update my resume. My latest adventure idea and research project is to go to Ecuador for 2 weeks in January to climb Chimborazo. Right now I'm trying to convince Leisure Life Larry he needs to go with me...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tonight I was cleaning up some old files and found a copy of Dancing 2005 I had saved on my computer. It is a video of this guy who quit his job as a computer game programmer and went on a 6 month trip through 39 countries on all 7 continents. He filmed himself doing some silly dance in each location and created a video collage when he got home. When I first watched his video last year it helped inspire my own adventure. Originally called Freedom 35 (i.e. freedom from the man at 35) it is now called Leisure Life Chuck and has been underway for over 3 months. Out of curiosity I went back to Matt's website - Where the Hell is Matt? - to see what he was up to. It turns out he has a new video - Dancing 2006 - which he produced with sponsorship from a chewing gum company. Lucky guy!!! Maybe if I get more creative with my LLC Reports and website I can find myself a sponsor too...

Monday, October 02, 2006

I've been asked by several people what LLC is and what I do when I'm not off on one of my adventures. LLC stands for Leisure Life Chuck and here is a glimpse at a typical LLC day...

I wake up around 7am to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. After laying in bed until I completely wake up I wander upstairs to check the weather, read my email and scan the news headlines on my computer. After an hour of futzing around and drinking coffee I am ready to have my breakfast - two eggs and a bagel. While I eat my breakfast I flip through the latest issue of Time, the Willamette Weekly or some other magazine. After breakfast I go back to the computer to work on my photos, update my blog or do some mindless web surfing. Around 10am I'm ready to head outside. This is my favorite time of the day to go running and Hoyt Arboretum is my favorite place to run. Several times a week I drive up to the visitor center for a hour long hill run on one of the many loops I've created using the excellent trail system there. After my run and some stretching in the park I stop by the Train Station (my condo) to make sure it hasn't burnt down and pick up my mail. Sometimes I'll make a detour to REI or Powells to look around or go to Rocco's for a slice of pizza.

Around 1pm I head back to the Shack (Kerry's house) to fire up the BBQ for a burger and beer on the deck. After lunch I take a short siesta in the hammock watching the birds and squirrels that frequent the backyard. Afternoons are mostly spent lounging around the backyard, reading and working on my computer, listening to music on my iPod, doing various projects around the Shack, climbing at PRG with other happily unemployed friends or frequenting the numerous Portland outdoor shops in search of some more climbing gear to add to my collection. After a hard day of LLC I get take-out from one of the many restaurants in Beaumont Village then spend the evenings relaxing on the deck with the lady of the house, often reading a magazine, playing a game of Scrabble or talking the night away over a bottle of wine.

With the change in seasons comes a change of location and different activities for LLC. I've been living in NE Portland at the Shack aka the Summer Palace since May. This weekend will probably be the last nice weekend before we move downtown to the Train Station aka the Winter Palace. The Train Station derives its name from its proximity to Union Station and the freight trains which roll by at 3am most nights. Fortunately another building is under construction which when completed will help quiet things down. Winter time LLC activities will include plays at the new Portland Center Stage theater, checking out new restaurants in the Pearl, skiing at Mount Hood Meadows and Big Mountain (Montana), 2 weeks in Spain and training for my Denali climb next spring.

Monday, September 25, 2006

This past weekend I finished off my summer climbing season with back-to-back climbs of Three Fingered Jack and Mount Washington in central Oregon. It was my third ascent of Three Fingered Jack and my first of Mount Washington which gives me 12 of the Mazamas 16 Northwest Peaks Award. We had clear and sunny skies but the wind was fierce almost knocking us over at times. Both peaks have a long scree slog approach with a low 5th class finish on rotten rock and some serious exposure. Three Fingered Jack went as planned. On Washington we got off route and ended up on a sketchy traverse around the corner from the standard route. It was definitely an interesting challenge, but safe and enjoyable. My photos from the weekend can viewed here although apparently I was too focused on Washington to take more than a few pictures.

After 3 months of LLC I'm finding myself a little restless for a job. Ski season is several months off so I'm thinking about a part time or short term contract job to fill the time. With all my adventure plans for 2007 I see no point in looking for a full time job as I would need 2 months of vacation to start with. I guess it's time to dust off the old resume and bring it up to date...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I just got back last night from a long weekend trip to Washington DC. Kerry and I visited the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, the National Art Gallery, viewed our countries founding documents at the National Archives and wandered around the various memorials located on the National Mall. The recently completed WWII Memorial is a nice addition that I hadn't seen before.

Saturday night we had an especially nice dinner at the Bombay Club - by far the best Indian food I've ever had and probably one of the top 5 restaurants I've been to. Sunday we walked along embassy row (Massachusetts Ave) and wandered around the Dupont Circle area. Monday while Kerry was at her conference I went to the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum.

I last visited DC about 7 or 8 years ago. It was interesting to see how much it had changed post 9/11. More areas are closed down to the public, there are more barricades on the streets, security patrols everywhere and restrictions on common things like backpacks inside the various attractions. In a way it reminded me of what I experienced a few weeks ago in Red Square.

I understand the need for national security in uncertain times like these but if we continue to allow our government to use fear as an excuse to strip us of our rights, ban carrying common necessities on our person and generally make it difficult to move about our own country we're going to end up looking more like the former Soviet Union than the United States of America. Fortunately I think things will improve dramatically in 2008 no matter who wins the election. Just my personal opinion...

Anyway, it was a fun trip back to DC and my photos can be viewed here. I always enjoy going to the Smithsonian Museums and can easily spend an entire day in any one of them. Just a FYI, the Museum of American History (my favorite) is closed until summer 2008 for renovation. The National Mall and Dupont Circle are great places to people watch. There's always something going on. I was also amazed by the diversity of restaurants in DC. Since every country in the world is represented in DC by an embassy or a consulate, you can find just about any type of ethnic food you want.

Next up a back-to-back climb of Three Finger Jack and Mount Washington...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Drum roll please... After 3 days of sorting thru 532 photos and writing almost 12 pages of narration here is the long anticipated and very long winded LLC Report for my recent 3 week trip to Russia. If you don't have time to read the full report you can skip directly to my summary at the bottom or click here to view my photo album.

Thursday, August 17th

After 17 hours of flying Jim and I arrived in Moscow around 10am. The flight was long, but uneventful and we had no problem going through immigration or customs. Once outside of customs we had to fend of some pushy cab drivers, collect our luggage and make our way to the “official” taxi counter for a ride to our hotel. The ride to the hotel gave us a glimpse at the layout of the city. Moscow is a huge city with 20 million people, but more than one-third of the surface area is still green space – supposedly the highest ratio in the world. This is achieved by cramming everyone into massive 30-40 story apartment complexes clustered around Metro stations (the subway system). In between these complexes are vast forests comparable to Forest Park here in Portland. There is very little suburban sprawl like we have in the US and almost no single family, detached homes. They do have a highway system but the majority of the traffic seems to be commercial or public transport - trucks, buses, taxis, etc.

After about 45 minutes we arrived at Hotel Cosmos, which is a gigantic hotel (1700+ rooms) that looks like it belongs more in Las Vegas than Russia – bright neon signs, casinos, slot machines, bars, gift shops, etc. Upon check-in we were given the news that we only had reservations for one night instead of two and that the hotel was booked full for Friday night. We received no explanation as to why but were told we could come back at 10am Friday morning and see if something opened up. Frustrated and tired, Jim and I went to our rooms and took a brief power nap.

Later that afternoon we explored the All-Russian Exposition Center across the street from the hotel. It is the Russian version of Washington Mall in DC and was built as a tribute to the Soviet economic system. It's about 2 km long by 1 km wide and has dozens of ornate fountains and massive Soviet inspired buildings. Ironically with the fall of the Soviet union the grounds are now in state of disrepair and contain a myriad of street vendors selling everything from Made-in-China souvenirs to cheap TVs, cameras and other consumer electronics.

After spending several hours roaming around the exposition, we returned to the hotel and attempted to order our first meal in Russia. We decided to play it safe and ordered sandwiches. What we got wasn't quite what we expected. My sandwich was editable but small – only a slice or bread folded over with something which looked like ham in the middle. Jim's was nothing but a piece of bread. After trying to explain to the waitress what he ordered, Jim ended up with a new sandwich, this time containing a hunk of raw fish. Too exhausted to care we paid our bill, went back up to our room, ate some of our climbing food and went to sleep, hoping this was just first day culture shock and not a sign of what was to come.

Friday, August 18th

Traveling half way around the world definitely presents a problem with jet lag. We were 11 hours of of sync with Portland - night was day and day was night. Having gone to bed around 6pm the night before we both woke up around 2-3am wide awake and unable to sleep. We went back downstairs to the lobby and found it bustling with activity. With 1700+ rooms in the hotel, tour groups arrive around the clock and the casino, bars and restaurants are all open 24 hours. We parked ourselves at table with a view in Cafe Sacvoyage and ate dinner around 4am in the morning. Jim had a bowl of split pea soup and I had a very tasty pork roast. This more than made up for the sandwiches the day before. We washed it down with a beer then went back upstairs to try to sleep a few more hours.

After several attempts to secure a room before 10am the hotel finally let us keep our rooms and after having our passports processed again (every night in Russia needs to be registered) we headed off on the Metro towards Red Square.

Moscow's Metro, like St Petersburg's, is modeled on the same color-coded, single-price model that Washington DC, Mexico City and several other major cities have. It's an excellent system that doesn't require you to speak the language to get around. The various lines all have different colors and once in the system you can ride it all day until you exit. Each platform has two directions - you only need to recognize station names to decide which direction to go, then count stops to get to where you want to go or to transfer to another line. Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet so recognizing station names was a bit more of a challenge but still manageable. What is unique about Moscow's (and St Petersburg's) Metro system is that over 9 million people ride it daily and it looks like you are in a museum or some sort of palace. Above ground the stations are grand structures with huge columns. Below ground the walls and floors are marble and the place is lit with enormous chandeliers.

Red Square is a large public plaza and not red. The west side is bordered by the Kremlin and Lenin's Tomb. The north side has the State History Museum and the south has St Basil's Cathedral. The east side is bordered by the GUM or State Department Store. During the Soviet era is was where one went to wait in line to get your loaf of bread or one size fits all shoes. Now it is a high-end mall rivaling anything we have in the US., carrying brands like Gucci and Prada. The square itself seems like a fashion show for what is sold in the GUM. All the women are wearing 3 inch heels, carrying Prada bags, Paris Hilton sun glasses and designer clothes. Strangely the guys just wear jeans, t-shirts, and these long pointed dress shoes that look like something you'd see on Santa's elves. We were the only ones in shorts even though it was in the mid-90s.

We spent the day in and around Red Square. We visited the inside of St Basil's Cathedral, walked the perimeter of the Kremlin, saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, walked through the GUM and ate lunch at this amazing restaurant called One Red Square inside the State History Museum. This place had the best Borsch Soup and Beef Stroganoff I've ever tasted and specialized in recreating dishes from years gone by. Originally we had planned to go into the Kremlin, but decided to wait to go with the rest of the group after we came back from St Petersburg on our way to/from Elbrus. We finished the afternoon in Red Square and I took some of my typical panorama shots.

That night we slept slightly better but still made midnight trip to Cafe Sacvoyage before waking up to head to the airport for our flight to St Petersburg.

Saturday, August 19th

Saturday morning I woke up with the beginnings of a cold, just in time to fly to St Petersburg. I knew from experience traveling in other countries that everything - band-aids, aspirin, toothpaste and so on is a "controlled substance" that requires going to a pharmacy. As such I started guzzling the OJ at breakfast and taking my Airborne – the only thing I had with me.

Moscow has 3 airports – Domodedovo and Sheremetevo 1 & 2. On Thursday we flew into Sheremetevo 2 which was the international half of the dual terminals. To go to St Petersburg we flew out of the domestic half - Sheremetevo 1. Neither of these terminals are very big considering the size of Moscow and the domestic terminal appeared especially rundown. Trying to figure our way around was difficult as we had to go through a couple of checkpoints just to get to the ticket counter. Once inside we meet a group of post-doctorates from the US who were attending a conference and on the same flight to St Petersburg. One of them was fluent in Russian and helped deal with the Aeroflot ticket agent. Contrary to what most people asked before I left, Russian airplanes are not that bad. The planes are a little dated, but the service isn't any worse or better than our airlines. The flight itself was short and uneventful.

Having left the bulk of our luggage (climbing gear) in Moscow, we opted to take the bus to the nearest Metro station and then ride the Metro to our hotel. As was the case in Moscow, St Petersburg's Metro was easy to navigate and we arrived at Hotel Moscow without any problems. Check-in was smooth, although we failed to notice 3 days instead of 4 on our hotel badge. Our hotel in St Petersburg was about the same size as the one in Moscow, but arranged differently. It only had 6 floors (instead of 25) and was one long building. We estimate the hallway to be about 1000 feet long and our room was all the way at the end of it. Worse yet only 3 of the 6 elevators were working so going from the lobby to our room was a half mile walk.

After dropping off our luggage in our room we decided to hop back on the subway, get something to eat and then head to Peter and Paul Fortress. We ate lunch at a cafe called Troitsky Most which specializes in vegetarian dishes. Russians mostly eat meat-and-potato type dishes but the mushroom lasagna here was delicious. After lunch we wander over to the fortress which is the oldest structure in St Petersburg, built to defend against the Swedes but never used in that capacity. It was instead mostly used as prison for revolutionaries, free thinkers, etc and where Peter the Great torture his own son the death.

We walked along the outside wall along the Neva River with views of the Hermitage and wandered the ground inside before buying a ticket to see the Peter and Paul Cathedral in the center of the fortress. This cathedral is where all the czars are buried including the remains of Nicholas II and family, recently added in a post Soviet-era controversy. The cathedral itself is the highest structure in St Petersburg and currently undergoing renovation (something they they fail to mention when we purchased tickets). We had also hoped to go the Commandant's House which is now a museum on the history of St Petersburg, but it closed early (something else not mentioned when we purchased our tickets).

Since everything was closing up we headed back to the hotel and along the way stopped for burger at Propaganda an interesting restaurant with a industrial-goth theme to it. We finished it off with a walk along Nevsky Pr. This huge street is the main shopping area for St Petersburg and could be compared to the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago except that all the buildings date from the 1700s with imperialistic architecture. It was interesting to see McDonald's sitting in a 300 year old building.

Back at the hotel, we finally started to adjust to the time difference and went to sleep a little after midnight and a couple of beers.

Sunday, August 20th

Sunday morning we joined up with 4 more of our group at breakfast and decided to head to the Hermitage. Former Winter Palace of the czars, it is now one of the world's largest art museums. We had heard from another American couple we met in Red Square that it was good to get there early since it's THE attraction to see and very crowded. Fortunately Sunday seemed like the day to go. I speculate it has something to do with most Russians being very Orthodox Christians and in church instead on in line. The entrance was still crowded and we had to practically fight our way to the ticket counter but once inside it wasn't too bad. Nothing I've seen elsewhere prepared me for the scale of this place. It has over 500 rooms, most big enough I can put my entire condo inside each room. The artwork covered everything imaginable – Christian-Baroque paintings, Egyptian artifacts, massive sculptures of Greek and Roman gods, and entire rooms restored and furnished to how they looked when the czars lived there.

We spent most of the day in the Hermitage then took a stroll on the side streets back toward Nevsky Pr, stopping at a Caucasian restaurant called Kavkaz for some excellent Georgian food. Back at the hotel we meet up with 4 more (10 total) of our group. As I was going to sleep it dawned on me that our checkout date was on Tuesday and not Wednesday as we expected (3 nights instead of 4).

Monday, August 21st

Monday morning at breakfast we discussed the reservation problem. Gary had already checked with the front desk and we got the same story as at Hotel Cosmos - all the rooms were full and there was nothing we could do except check in the morning to see if anything was available. They did offer to help us find something else nearby if we wanted.

Realizing as before there was nothing we could do, Jim and I acted as tour guides, showing the group how to use the Metro on our way back to Peter and Paul Fortress. Jim was able to sneak into the Commandant's House with his expired ticket from Saturday while everyone else went briefly into under renovation Peter and Paul Cathedral and later joined him at the Commandant's House. Having a full blown cold and feeling a little ripped off from my first visit I opted to sit outside and watch the people go by. People watching in Russia was an entertaining way to pass time. Western fashions (especially on women) seem to have really caught on in Russia – uncomfortable looking high heels, Paris Hilton sunglasses, even those ridiculous lapdogs. What's odd is hairstyle – it looks like something from the early 80s with those Joan Jet, flat, bowl cuts. I even saw a few women with mullets. Interesting to say the least.

After everyone finished going through the Commandant's House we decided we'd walk across the bridge over the Neva River and try to find the travel agency we needed to get our train tickets back to Moscow from. After some route finding issues we finally found the agent, got our tickets and had lunch at a Russian-European restaurant called Da Vinci. Supposedly at night it has a real mix of random entertainment from live jazz and classical music to strippers and disco tech. Lunch proved to be more mellow than the travel book had advertised and we ate a delicious meal.

After our mid-afternoon lunch we made attempt to visit St Isaac's Cathedral but got trapped in a torrential downpour before heading back to the hotel.

Tuesday, August 22nd

Tuesday was a catch up day. First we had to take care of the hotel problem. I put on my humblest look and practiced my Russian lines. When I was ready I picked the friendliest looking person at the front desk and made my move. It worked out perfectly. At first they would only let me keep my room, but eventually we ended keeping all 5 rooms. I was beginning to think being kicked out of your room was just part of the experience.

After that we headed back downtown to St Isaac's Cathedral and visited the colonnade at the top of the dome. The staircase up contained 262 steps in a most impressive carved stone spiral staircase. From the top we had a 360 view of St Petersburg.

After St Isaac's Cathedral we split into groups. Jim and I wanted to try a nearby Indian restaurant called Tandoor for lunch. Afterwards we wandered back along Nevsky Pr, stopping in a few bookstores to look for Russian phrase books.

Wednesday, August 23rd

Wednesday morning we checked out of our rooms and locked our luggage in storage. We booked an organized tour for the afternoon to Peterhof, the summer palace, and then broke into a couple of groups for the morning. I went with a group to the Russian Museum which is near the Hermitage but houses a smaller art collection that is entirely Russian in origin. It was an amazing collection and you really need a whole day to see it.

Around noon we're hurried back to the hotel to meet the rest of the group for the tour to Peterhof. Being an organized tour we had a van with an English speaking guide who showed us many sites on the way out to Peterhof. We learned a lot about the restoration of St Petersburg after WWII and how it wasn't until Putin came to office that it started to receive any funds to help restore the old buildings. It took us 90 minutes to drive out to Peterhof and like Moscow, most residents of St Petersburg live in these massive apartment high rises with the Metro as their primary mode of transportation.

Nothing can prepare you for the scale of Peterhof, the czars summer palace. What's even more amazing is that it was built just to entertain guests. The czars never lived there, preferring to live in other nearby palaces. Peterhof was built by Peter the Great after he visited Versailles in France. The main palace itself is beautiful with grand ball rooms, gold leaf everywhere and intricate wood floors and paneling. Even more astounding are the grounds. Fountains are everywhere and the entire system is gravity feed – no pumps. We made a quick tour of the palace which is only half restored from the Nazi invasion then spent most of our time outside.

After returning to the hotel we went back downtown to do some last minute gift shopping and have dinner at Tinkoff – the Russian version of a microbrewery. After dinner we returned to the hotel to get our luggage and headed off to the train station to take the overnight Red Arrow back to Moscow.

Russian trains (at least in first class) are impressive. It's like something out of the movies. Each car has an attendant and the are constantly stopping by with food and drinks. The individual compartments are for 2 people, but could easily seat 6. The beds fold out with fresh sheets and pillows. There's even an LCD TV and radio with individual headsets. I've been on Amtrak a couple of times and it's doesn't even come close.

A bunch of us stayed up late taste testing some Russian Vodka we had purchased earlier in the day. 4 hours and one and half bottles later we finally went to sleep. I'm not a big Vodka fan, but it did make my cold feel better.

Thursday, August 24th

We arrived in Moscow around 8am in the morning. Those of us who had enjoyed the Vodka the night before were suffering an extreme hangover. This was cured with a quick, rough trip through the Metro system back to Hotel Cosmos. After waiting a couple of hours to check-in Jim and I went to our room and took a power nap until lunch time. We then headed back down to Red Square to look for the rest of the group. Unsuccessful, we ate lunch at One Red Square again, then wandered around the square some more before heading back to the hotel.

Friday, August 25th

Friday morning we checked out and packed all our gear to Moscow's third airport - Domodedovo. This is by far the newest and nicest of Moscow's airports and looks much like the airports we have in the US. This time we were flying on Siberian Airlines which imposes a strict weight limit of 20 kilos (about 44 lbs), including carry-ons. Hauling all our climbing gear everyone was hit with overweight fees and looks of disapproval from the ticket agents. Fortunately the fees were minor and we proceeded to our gate without much problem.

As was the case with the flight from Moscow to St Petersburg it was an older TU-154. One of these had crashed earlier in the week and their maintenance was being questioned. Needless to say we made it to Mineralyne Vody without crashing. The airport there was little more than an shed and while we waiting for our baggage we meet a group from Malaysia who was also on there way to climb Elbrus. Our guide Johnny (real name Eugune) met us outside the airport for the four hour ride to the Baksan Valley below Elbrus.

The ride itself was on par for my experience with taxis & shuttles in foreign countries – fast and death defying with no seat belts. Once out of the city of Mineralyne Vody we sped through numerous small villages, their inhabitants quick to get out of the way. Cattle were roaming all over the place often walking down the middle of the road. The road into the mountains was very curvy as it followed a river clogged with silt and no side rails to stop us from going in. On several occasions it felt like the van was going to tip over as the driver accelerated into the turns. After about four hours we arrived at the end of the road and our hotel at the base of Elbrus. That night we ate dinner at the hotel and met a group from Holland along with the Malaysians we saw at the airport.

Saturday, August 26th

After breakfast on Saturday we did a “hike” up nearby Cheget Mountain. The “hike” involved about on hour walk downhill to the next village to ride a couple of chairlifts up the mountain. We did hike another hour beyond the top of the lift to a nice viewpoint at around 11,000 feet. Having been in Moscow at sea-level less than 24 hours prior I can understand not pushing it on our first hike, but this seemed a little too easy. I started probing our guide to see what his experience was and what type of clients he typically had. Johnny is a young, fast climber with more than hundred “technical climbs”. He's just finished college and living his own version of LLC by guiding in the summer, skiing and ice climbing in the winter and relaxing in between. According to him half the clients he takes up Elbrus are not climbing and know nothing about climbing. That explains the chairlifts.

After the hike and back at the hotel Johnny informed us he was pushing our first summit attempt back a day and that if we wanted a 2nd or 3rd guide we'd need to pay extra for it. When we inquired as to why we were paying more but getting less than the standard package advertised on their website, Johnny would merely shrug his shoulders and say we needed to talk with his “chiefs”. After dinner we sent our leader (Gary) and lawyer (Keith) down to argue with Johnny's “chiefs” about what we paid for and were not receiving. An later they returned defeated – Pilgrim Tour 1 Mazamas 0 – and we were paying for a 2nd guide.

Sunday, August 27th

Sunday morning we packed up our gear, moved out of the hotel and took 2 cable cars plus a chairlift up to the Elbrus base camp at 3900 meters (12,795 feet). The base camp is a collection of barrel huts around a cement staging area with a cook house and pit toilet. Once everyone and their gear made it up there we waited around for about an hour to be assigned our huts and informed when lunch would be. After lunch we headed out on the glacier for a short hike to the higher Diesel Huts.

The glaciers on the lower part of the mountain are in a sad state of cleanliness. There is garbage everywhere and the runoff smells of human waste. Our boiled water supply was came from the glacier, but I'm not sure where from nor do I think I want to know. The higher huts and bivy sites have several large trash heaps just sitting on the side of the glacier. It was sad to see such all the trash and it made me very thankful for how clean places like the Cascades and Olympics are.

Our hike was relatively short, just a couple hours up to 4400 meters (14,435 feet). By the time we're heading down the late afternoon sun had created a maze of creeks running over the ice and small crevasses to navigate around the way back to base camp. Interestingly our guide all but disappeared, leaving us to slog back through the slush by ourselves.

Despite the trash problem, the views from base camp are staggering! The Caucasus Mountains are as jagged as the North Cascades but are 2- to 3-times higher. Even with the all the runoff coming off Elbrus, the glaciers are still enormous and the ice hundreds of meters thick. I was shocked to find that in the southern most part of Russia we're only as far south at Oregon. The entire time I was there I starred in awe at Ushba – supposedly the most difficult mountain in the Caucasus.

After dinner we retired to our huts and attempted to sleep. Almost as soon as we turned out the lights we started to hear mice scurrying about in the walls and on the floor. At some point in the middle of the night I awoke to find one crawling on my arm and the next morning had to dump one out of my pack. We later found food – cookies, crackers, even a whole loaf of bread, under most of our beds. However, even after cleaning this up I did battle with the mice the next four nights, getting virtually no sleep and eventually losing my CamelBak, MP3 player case and a stuff sack to the rodents.

Monday, August 28th

Monday we basically repeated our hike from Sunday but went higher to 5000 meters (16,404 feet). Having only had 2 days to acclimate from sea level and still battling my cold, I was starting to feel the effects of being so high up. If I tried to move fast I ran out of breath and when we finally hit the turn around point I had a splitting headache, slight nausea and feeling totally out of it. I kept quiet but I was worried about AMS and glad we were heading down. Fortunately our guide was setting a slow pace and that seemed to be the turning point for my cold.

Tuesday, August 29th

Originally Tuesday was going to be our first of three summit days until Johnny changed it. Instead we used it as a rest day and to further acclimate. We slept in until 9am and after breakfast I went back to bed for a while since the mice seemed to be active mostly at night.

Elbrus is big enough to generate it's own weather system, but it seems to have a pattern. Very high winds and whiteout conditions most of the time on the summit with sunny skies lower on the mountain. There seems to be a brief window late in the morning when the summit exposes itself before the clouds and afternoon storms come back. By evening there's lightening and hail all over the place. Not good climbing weather.

Regardless, the other group from Malaysia and Holland stuck with the original plan and had left around 4am to head to the summit. We joked about Pilgrim Tours being like RMI, slave drivers taking their clients up the mountain regardless of the conditions just to make a buck. In the morning we were able to watch the group on the traverse above 5000 meters until they disappeared into the lenticular cloud on the summit. Four hours later we finally saw them emerge from the clouds, making there way back to base camp. Later that day we got the whole story from them, 12 hours round trip, one meter visibility, brutal winds. 4 of 10 on the summit. The guide had turned most of the group back 10 minutes from the summit.

Our turn was next so we ate dinner and went to bed early. The plan was to wake up at 2am and head for the summit at 3am. As we went to sleep the lightening filled the sky.

Wednesday, August 30th

Needless to say I didn't sleep much. Between the mice, the lightening and the usual pre-climb jitters I tossed and turned until 2am. While we ate breakfast the lightening was still striking the summit of Elbrus so Johnny postponed our start time to 4am. We returned to our huts to try to sleep for another hour. I spent my time gathering extra water bottles and trying to figure out how I'd keep them from freezing, having had my CamelBak destroyed by the mice sometime in the night. At 4am we could see stars overhead, the lightening had stopped, and although the summit was still in a cloud we decided to give it a shot. We gathered to take the Snow Cat up to 4400 meters.

At first I had serious hesitation about using a Snow Cat. Is hitching a ride (actually paying yet another fee) part way up a mountain really climbing? It would be like riding the chairlifts up the Palmer to climb Hood and I'd never do that. However after I did the math it was fine by me - without the Snow Cat Elbrus is a 6000 foot summit day starting at 12,795 feet. No other high altitude climb does something like that on summit day. Even with the Snow Cat we'd still be facing a 4000 foot climb and a 6000 foot decent.

After riding the Snow Cat for 45 minutes we arrived at 4400 meters. The visibility was bad, the temperature had dropped significantly and as the Snow Cat turned the full force of the wind hit us. It took about 2 minutes for us to decide it wasn't going to happen. We'd have to spend hours walking head on into the wind and then we'd probably have to turn around anyway. We also knew this was suppose to be the last trip for the Snow Cat. The lack of snow and condition of the glacier was making it too dangerous for the Snow Cat. Already one Snow Cat was sitting broken with it's tread off. Even though we had serious doubts about a 2nd attempt tomorrow we head back down the mountain.

After returning to the huts and sleeping in again, we gathered for a pow-wow about the next day. Most of us we're so tired of the extra fees Pilgrim was hitting us with we didn't care. Johnny managed to get us another Snow Cat for the next day (for another fee). Some of us inquired about going back to the hotel but that would have required more fees both for the ride down and to stay in the hotel instead of at the huts. After waiting hours for Johnny to get a weather report, find out about the Snow Cat and whether our ride that morning was considered a climb, he gave us 5 minutes to decide if/who was going to climb the next morning. Most of us were sitting on the fence or leaning towards throwing in the towel. I have to hand it to Jim, the only person who definitely wanted to go to rally everyone else for a second attempt.

This time the plan was breakfast at 1am and leave at 2am since we needed to be back at base camp at 3pm or walk another 6000 feet down to the hotel at the base of the lifts.

Thursday, August 31st

As before I slept maybe half an hour before my alarm went off at 12:45am. However, this time I could see the stars and there hadn't been any lightening all night. Even the summit was clear and was silhouetted against the night sky. We quickly ate breakfast, loaded into the Snow Cat and rode it up the mountain. By 2:45am we were unloading at 44000 meters heading up the mountain. Several hours of French Technique going straight up the slope brought us to the traverse and sunrise. If there was any doubt it was gone now. We climbed on as the shadow of Elbrus spread across the Black Sea. Just like on Pico de Orizaba watching sunrise from that high up is a moving experience. It's just so beautiful that I get teary eyed for no reason. Maybe it is having gone so far and being so close to my goal.

We rounded the traverse and took a short break in the saddle between the two summits. At 17,500 feet you can definitely feel the lower atmospheric pressure so we slowed our pace and reached the summit around 9am in perfect weather with deep blue skies and almost no wind. We spent about 30 minutes on the summit taking pictures, admiring the view and enjoying the usual summit traditions.

The 6000 foot descent back top base camp was long but uneventful. We had plenty of time so we weren't in any hurry to get back before the chairlifts closed at 3pm. By the time I trudged into to base camp and off the slushy glacier I was completely beat. We only stayed in base camp long enough to gather our belongings, receive some congratulations from the cooks and then took the lifts back down to the hotel.

A quick shower at the hotel and we were off to lunch at 3pm. There was a celebration dinner/party and picture show at 7pm that night but I crashed at 4pm and slept until almost 8am the next day in the mice-free hotel room. My first solid night of sleep in 5 days.

Friday, September 1st

Friday morning we had breakfast, did some last minute gift shopping then loaded up in the van for the 4 hour ride back to Mineralyne Vody and our flight back to Moscow. Once back in Moscow we arrived to a city packed with visitors for it's 859th birthday celebration the next day. Our 45 minute ride to the hotel turned out to be almost 2 hours of being stuck in traffic. We finally arrived at the hotel around 9pm, checked in and ate dinner back at Cafe Sacvoyage.

Saturday, September 2nd

Saturday we decided to check out the Arbat shopping district on our quest for some final souvenir shopping. This area is a long street several blocks long which has been turned into a pedestrian way. The shops all contain the usual gifts, but more interesting was the activity in the street. Being Moscow's birthday we saw a Russian military band playing music and several other sideshows. Unfortunately I left my camera back at the hotel so I have no photos of any of this to share.

After making a loop through the Arbat district, we decided to brave high security and estimate 3 million people a go see what was going on in Red Square. Several checkpoints later we we're walking down streets which had been closed off to vehicles and were now filled with people. The streets were lines with hundreds of police and soldiers standing about 10 feet apart watching the crowd. The intersections we're blocked with cement barricades and heavy trucks limiting access. Closer to Red Square we saw truckloads of soldiers waiting to react to some threat. We slowly made our way through the maze to Red Square only to find it completely shut down. It seems odd that on the city's birthday the largest public plaza was closed. Perhaps it was for some security reason, we never did find out.

After trying to sneak a few photos of the empty square and all the security we wandered around looking for something to eat and eventually headed back to the hotel for our last night in Russia.

Sunday, September 3rd

Sunday morning, after almost 3 weeks in Russia, we were all very eager to be going home. Each of us was on a different flight and as such we left for the airport at different times. Jim and I were in the last group to leave the hotel at 9am. We had to go through 5 security checkpoints at the airport before boarding onto Delta #47 for the flight home. The first leg of the flight to Atlanta was 11 hours and went by quickly. The second leg from Atlanta to Portland was 5 hours but seemed like forever. Whenever I come home to Portland I always feel a sense of relief and happiness to be back. However after being so far away for so long on this trip I was especially happy to be home. I almost wanted to go out and kiss the tarmac. I resisted the urge and instead kissed and hugged my girlfriend Kerry who waiting for me at the last security checkpoint I had to go through.


I would recommend a visit to Russia for anyone who has an interest in going. However be warned it is a country in transition from communism to capitalism and that brings with it its share of problems. Currently Moscow is the most expensive city in the world. Everything costs a lot more than you'd expect. Cheap hotel rooms are $100-$200 per night. Lunch is $50. A cab ride is $50. Also, with a few exceptions it is not very tourist friendly. Hotel reservations disappear without explanation. Prices change overnight. Lines are chaotic pushing matches at best. Trying to speak a little Russian seems to help warm things up when interacting with others, but I still observed the same lack of service at restaurants, hotels, ticket counters, etc. regardless of the language being spoken.

Despite these minor issues I did have a good trip to Russia. The country has a very interesting history and like the rest of Europe a lot of its past is being restored and preserved for future generations to experience. I especially enjoyed my visit to St Petersburg - the Hermitage and Peterhof being my favorite attractions. I'd probably go back to that city again if I had the opportunity. Climbing Mount Elbrus was a real challenge, more in dealing with our guide service Pilgrim Tours than the mountain itself. Despite the weather, lack of cleanliness at base camp and never ending difficulties with Pilgrim, we did have a perfect summit day and all made it home safely.

Overall the trip taught me to appreciate what we have here in the US. There are many things we take for granted that other countries simply don't have. Russia itself is a beautiful country with a lot to share with the world. I imagine it will learn how to deal with its transitional pains and in time will become a far friendlier and easier place to visit.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I'm back home in Portland, sorting through 532 photos and working on the LLC Report for my trip to Russia. I had a good trip but I'm very glad to be back home. My recent trips to Mexico, Costa Rica and Russia have shown me many things we take for granted here in the US that other countries do not have.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Just a quick update... Back in Moscow from a successful climb of Mount Elbrus. Full story with photos next week. I'm heading home tomorrow (Sunday). Russia is an interesting country and I'm really glad I was able to visit, but I'm ready to come home. I'm craving a Communication Breakdown burger, a few pints of Portland microbrews and my view of Mount Hood. See you all soon!

Friday, August 25, 2006

A quick update while I drink a coffee and wait for my plane...

We are back in Moscow on our way to Minerlyne Vody to climb Elbrus. St Petersburg was an amazing place. The city is 300 years old and the buildings very beautiful. We visited the Hermitage, a couple musuems, Peter's summer palace (can't spell the name right now), and spent a lot of time just wandering around downtown. The city is huge but very walkable. The metro is like the one in DC - color coded and very easy to use. It's quite different than Moscow. I'd definitely like to come back again some day.

We've lucked out with good weather so far. Hopefully it'll hold up for the climbing part of our trip. Anyway, got to go. Stay tuned for the full length LLC report when I get back home and have an English keyboard to type on...

Friday, August 18, 2006

zdrastvuytye from Moscow.

After 17 hours of flying and some minor problems with our hotel Jim and I enjoyed the day roaming around Red Square. We had some amazing Russian cuisine today for lunch/dinner at the State History Museum. The Red Square was fun. We didn't go into the Kremlin yet and will do that with the rest of the group when we come back to Moscow after our climb. We walked all the way around the Kremlin and took a lot of photos which I'll have to post when I get home. It's a pretty amazing structure. Across the Red Square from the Kremlin is a huge shopping mall that used to be an old Soviet store for common goods, etc. Now it's totally decked out like something on 5th Ave in NYC. Lot's of designer fashion stores, etc. Very ironic considering it's beginnings.

Moscow is a very interesting city. There are lots of Soviet area buildings - big, plain, efficient - definitely a style of its own. Everyone seems to live in these 30-40 story apartment complexes clustered on islands of cement in a sea of green. Supposedly more the one third of Moscow is green space - parks, forests, gardens, etc. It was incredible to see it when landing - no suburbs with big box stores. There are a lot of really old buildings in Moscow too - stuff from the 1600's. Moscow had it's 850th birthday in 1997. I didn't realize it was that old. Then there's all the capitalism and conspicuous consumption that's shown up in the last decade. There are billboards and stores selling Western brand names everywhere. The women all seem to dress fashionable - with 3 inch heels with big leather purses. Strangely the guys usually just have jeans and a t-shirt on but wear these funky shoes that are super long and pointed. It's fun people watching.

Sushi and fusion food seems to be the big rave here although we're focusing on Russian food since I can get plenty of sushi in Portland. We had Borsch, Beef Stronganof and a type of Pork Stew today - very tasty. We've also tried a couple of Russian beers which were very good. Still haven't tried any Vodka, but that's on the list. It's warm and super muggy here, like being in the mid-west or south during the summer. We leave tomorrow to meet the rest of the group in St Petersburg so hopefully it'll be cooler and less humid up north.

Anyway, that's it for now. Internet access at the hotel is roughly $16 per hour, so check back in a few days...

Monday, August 14, 2006

It's been 6 months for Kerry and I so we celebrated with a weekend at Hotel Pinnacle, dinner at Jake's Grill, a Saturday afternoon at the Bite of Oregon and Sunday brunch at the Alameda Cafe. At the Bite of Oregon we tried dishes from local restaurants, tasted wines from several Oregon wineries and found another one we really liked - Hill Crest Vineyards located near Roseburg, OR. What a fun weekend!

Anyway, in less the 48 hours I'll be on my way to Russia. So much to do yet and so little time! I've always wanted to go to Russia ever since I took Russian history in 9th grade. I'm very excited to be going and especially looking forward to St Petersburg. If I find an Internet Cafe while I'm in Russia I will try to make brief updates. If not, stay tuned for the next LLC Report sometime after I get back on September 3rd...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

I finally finished uploading my photos for Sahale Peak so here's the link to my album.

The trip started Sunday afternoon with a 5 hour drive up to Marblemount, Washington. The group rented cabins at the Skagit River Resort. It's a small collection of cabins with a good restaurant and lots of rabbits. The menu in the restaurant has the whole story, but it has something to do with a couple of pet rabbits turning into somewhere around 100 wild rabbits. It's interesting that rabbit isn't on the menu.

Anyway, Monday morning we ate breakfast, drove to the Cascade Pass trailhead and started the approach hike around 10am. The first couple of miles are up to Cascades Pass on a well maintained trail with 30-something switchbacks. We took a short break at Cascade Pass then hiked up to Sahale Arm and on into camp at 7600 feet. From there we had spectacular views of the North Cascades and an amazing sunset. As the sun set we had a full moon rising and I made my first attempts at some night time photography.

Tuesday morning we roped up and headed up the Sahale Glacier. About an hour or so later we reached the summit block which is described at 4th class with a couple of 5th class moves. A couple of us fixed ropes to the top and setup a rap station so we could get the group moving in a circuit. The view from the top was awesome and I was able to spend several hours up there while I helped everyone get setup for the rappel down. For the first time ever I filled up the memory card on my camera, mostly due to all the multi-photo panorama shots I was taking.

After everyone summitted we headed back down to camp, arriving around 3:30pm. A quick powwow and the decision was to hike out that evening due to an increasing chance of rain. The descent from camp was just as beautiful as the approach the day before and we got back to the cars around 9pm. I was eager to get home so I headed out ASAP getting back to Portland around 3am.

The Sahale Peak, Sahale Glacier route is a great climb for those who want to experience all the different aspects of alpine climbing. It has a beautiful, steep approach hike to the highest established campsite in the North Cascades. For those with some climbing experience you can continue on across the Sahale Glacier to the summit block and climb the easy 5th class rock to the summit.

Next up... 6 days until Russia which just became much harder to pack for because of the recent airport security crackdown.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A quick update, more to come later... I got home around 3am this morning from my climb on Sahale Peak (standard return time from a North Cascades climb). The climb was awesome and I have many pictures to share. I'll post them along with the whole story as soon as I'm finished building the photo album.

Last week I finally found a pair of plastic boots at Oregon Mountain Community. I went with the Koflach Degre's with the upgrade Intuition thermofit liner. I had a chance to try them on Sahale and they worked great. I have a couple of tweaks to make to the thermofit liner, but other than that I'm very happy with them.

Before I left for Sahale, Kerry and I did a day hike up Larch Mountain. We started from the Wahkeena Springs trailhead which has recently been paved all the way up to the viewpoint. This used to be a good trail to avoid the masses at Multanomah Falls. We'll have to see what the new pavement brings to this previously quiet route. Anyway, it was a perfect day for a hike our photos can be viewed here.

Anyway, stay tuned for the Sahale story...

Monday, July 31, 2006

I just got back yesterday from a beautiful 5 day climbing trip with the Mazamas to Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park.

The trip started on Tuesday night when we drove up to Kalaloch Lodge on the Olympic coast. Several of us camped at a nearby campsite, but the lodge has cabins for rent and a great restaurant. It looks like it would be a nice place for a weekend on the coast. Wednesday morning the rest of group gathered at the Hoh River visitor Center and at 10am we started our journey.

The approach is a 17.5 mile hike which is mostly flat for the first 12.5 miles then launches up 4000 feet in the last 5 miles. Except for a couple of very bad slides in the last mile, the trail is one of the best maintained trails I've seen and wanders along next to the Hoh River in a dense forest of old growth trees, moss and ferns.

Wednesday night we camped about 9 miles in at the Olympus Guard Station (OGS) campground. We had a perfect site next to the Hoh River. The afternoon was warm so we headed into the river to soak and enjoy the sun. Thursday we knocked off the second half off the approach hike and camped at Glacier Meadows campground about a mile below the Blue Glacier. Along the way we stopped to swim in Elk Lake which was almost as warm as bath water.

Friday morning we woke at 1am and started the climb at 2am. By 3am we were roped up and on the Blue Glacier. The bottom half of the glacier is heavily crevassed and mostly water ice (hence the name Blue Glacier). We crossed most the bad sections in the dark with just our headlamps which made it especially "interesting". Unfortunately none of my night time photos turned out. As we approached the steeper slopes below the snow dome the sun was rising and provided us with some pretty spectacular views. Once on top of the snow dome we traversed a snow field over to Crystal Pass and climbed a short steep pitch of 60 degree snow. A little more snow and some easy scrambling and we arrived below the summit block around 9am.

The summit block proved to be a real bottleneck with two different climbing clubs already on it. One group was off route and a significant rock fall had cut their lead rope. The other group helped the lead climber get to a safe anchor then continued on to the summit. We waited for a couple of hours and after nothing seemed to be happening skirted by the stuck group and finished fixing ropes to the summit. The correct route is low 5th class, maybe even 4th and I'd like to lead it myself when I climb Olympus again.

After helping the rest of the stuck group to the summit and back down, our group finally arrived on the summit around noon. After the obligatory summit photos we downclimbed/repelled the summit block and started the descent back to camp. Along the way we had more beautiful views including a birds eye view of the heavily crevassed glacier we had crossed earlier in the dark. We finally arrived back in camp around 6pm Friday night, after 16 hours on the climb.

The weather up until this point had been warm and sunny with clear blue skies. By the time we reached camp the skies had clouded over, it was colder and there were reports of a 30% change of rain the next two days. We had some discussion about trying to exit in one day instead of two but decided to play it by ear and see how the next day went.

Saturday morning we woke up, broke camp and headed out around 8am. About an hour after leaving camp one of our team fell on the difficult part of the trail and severely sprained their ankle, still 17 miles in and with 4 miles of steep, downhill trail ahead of us. Fortunately our team included 3 Wilderness First Responders, a nurse, a physical therapist, a chiropractor and several Mountaineering First Aid graduates. We almost had too many people rushing in to help. After assessing the situation and doing what first aid we could, we decided to send a couple people ahead to inform the ranger at OGS and inquire about exit options while the rest of us continued on down the trail.

Once we reached the flats at 12.5 miles the trail become much easier and we made good time, arriving at OGS around 4pm. The ranger there had contacted a horse train that was in the area and asked if they could help. They were already booked and the soonest they could help us would be sometime Sunday afternoon so we decided to we'd see how the sprain was in the morning and attempt to head out at easy pace. Shortly after dinner it started to rain so we made a quick plan for the next day and retired to our tents.

On Sunday we woke at 4am, broke camp and left at 5am. Even though it continued to rain all morning, the rest of the trail was basically flat so we made good time and arrive back at the trailhead around 11am. On our way home we stopped by the Kalaloch Lodge for the usual post-climb burger and beer feast.

Except for the mishap on our exit and a little rain on Sunday, it was a perfect climb. The weather was perfect, we had a great team and the views were amazing! The hike in to Glacier Meadows is very peaceful and would make a great 4 day backpacking trip even without the climb. It was my 4th or 5th trip to Olympic National Park and it continues to be my favorite.

My complete photo album can be view here.

Next up... a 3 day climb of Sahale Peak in the North Cascades and getting ready for my trip to Russia to climb Mount Elbrus which is only two weeks away.

Monday, July 24, 2006

It's been a week since my last post so I figure I should give a quick update on what I've been up to...

I spent the first part of last week taking care of various errands around Portland and shopping for plastic boots for my Denali climb. I hit every outdoor shop in Portland and it seems nobody has a good selection of plastic double boots anymore. There are a few odd sizes here and there but when I inquire about the next shipment most shops are not restocking their plastic boots. It seems like most places are leaning more towards rock climbing instead of alpine climbing these days. I find this strange considering Portland's proximity to some of the best mountain climbing in the country. Anyway, I did get a chance to talk with the "boot gurus" at each shop and learned a lot more about plastic boots. It looks like I'll either have to make a trip to Seattle or special order my boots online.

On Thursday Kerry and I headed down to the Willamette Valley wine country and spent the night at Hotel Oregon in McMinnville. On the way there we stopped by a couple of wineries then had a delicious 5 course dinner at Nick's Italian Cafe. Friday we reversed course and had a leisurely drive back to Portland stopping at more small, off the beaten path wineries. Going mid-week was a great way to escape the weekend crowds and I'd highly recommend checking out the smaller wineries away from highway 99. We found several places we really liked along North Valley Road, including Aramenta Cellars and Adelsheim Vineyards.

Over the weekend we did our best to survive the record high temperatures. Both days we went for early morning trail runs. On Sunday we tried a new route from the Trail Running Oregon book - the Marquam Nature Park Loop. This loop is rated the same difficulty as the similar loops in Hoyt Arboretum and Forest Park, but it seemed so much harder! The 4.2 loop starts at the Marquam Nature Park shelter then winds around on a steep and rough trail system through the hills behind OHSU to Terwilliger Blvd before looping back on a paved path. It was probably one of the more difficult runs I've been on - possibly something to do with the 100+ degree weather we've been having. I definitely want to try it again in cooler weather.

Next up - a day 5 trip to Olympic National Park to climb Mount Olympus.

Monday, July 17, 2006

This past weekend I had an interesting attempt on Rainier via the Kautz Glacier route. We drove up Thursday night and car camped just inside the park. Friday morning the team gathered at the visitor's center and started up the mountain around 8:30am. The weather was ideal for climbing - scattered clouds while we were low to keep us cool and clearer skies as we moved higher. The glacier was in great condition with only a few crevasses open and we could see most of the route ahead of us. We figured the climb was pretty much a green light.

However, as we approached our high camp around 11,000 feet the winds started to pick up. By the time we reached high camp the gusts were strong enough to make you lose your balance. We selected our camp sites and started building rock walls to protect our tents. After about 2 hours we had our tents pitched and guyed out as best as we could. We estimated the gusts were approaching 50 mph. Here's a short video of what it looked like.

As the evening went on, the gusts became stronger and more sustained. Melting snow for water was difficult as our stoves kept blowing out regardless of how well we protected them from the wind. Cooking in our tents wasn't a good option either because the gusts would nearly flatten them at times. After about 2 more hours we managed to melt enough snow to cook a little food and give us each about 1 liter of water. At that point we decided reaching the summit the next day would be impossible in such winds. We didn't have enough water and the crux of the climb - 2 pitches of up to 60 degree snow and ice - was still ahead of us.

We took shelter in our tents around 9pm with plans to see what the wind was like at 2am. Nobody really slept much. You could hear the wind coming like a jet engine in the distance then 20-30 seconds later the tents would buckle and twist. Some tents we're literally floating on the wind only being held in place by the guylines. By 2am the wind hadn't changed at all so we decided to wait until 6am and either make an attempt at the summit or bag it altogether. At 6am the winds were still giving us a beating so we emerged from our tents, broke camp and headed back down the mountain.

Even though we failed to summit, it was a learning experience. 5 of us on the climb are going to Denali next spring. The winds there can be brutal. Everything takes more effort in high winds and we have to take that into consideration. Clearly canister stoves do not work well at elevation and in strong winds. Tents need to be guyed out to the max. My 3 season REI Half Dome took a beating but emerged unscathed because I went overboard with guylines. Another group was also up there with 3 "bombshelter" Mountain Hardware tents which didn't fare so well because they weren't guyed out properly. One would have been blown off the mountain if our group hadn't stopped it.

Anyway it was a long, tiring two days on Rainier but the Kautz Glacier route looks amazing. I definitely plan to go back next year, perhaps earlier in the season with skis. With the right conditions you could ski from high camp at 11,000 all the way down to the visitors center at 5,400.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I just got back from two days at Smith. On Monday we climbed Sky Chimney a multi-pitch 5.7 route to the top of Smith Rock. It's rated as a two-star but relative to other climbs at Smith I would give it a one-star. The views are awesome, but the climbing is full body. The first pitch is described as grunting up an unpleasant chimney which is an understatement. The second and third pitches were more enjoyable but exposed. After topping out we walked off the backside and hydrated after 4 hours without water in 90 degree weather. Before calling it a day we did a quick run up Five Gallon Bucks (5.8) to regain some climbing mojo. I love that route! It's so easy with big bucket holds you could almost sleep in.

Tuesday we trekked over to Koala Rock to find some shade. We warmed up on Round River, an easy 5.4 multi-pitch route to the top, then rapped down the backside to The Knob (5.10a) and Hero of the Day (5.7). We finished the day with Round There (5.6) and Crazies (5.7) before heading home.

Unfortunately rock climbing is becoming a challenge for me with my finger problems. I find my finger joints are stiff and painful after the first day of climbing and I have no confidence in my grip strength. Top roping things I once led is frustrating. Climbing is still fun on top rope, but not being able to lead limits the thrill. Hopefully I'll find a way to deal with my fingers that will allow me to climb at the best of my abilities again. I'm itching to try some harder, longer routes.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

This is my first post to my blog. I've decided to start one as a way to chronicle my year long adventure. For years I've dreamed of taking some time off from my hi-tech job to climb, travel and enjoy life. On June 30th it finally happened. After 10 years in the hi-tech industry I flew down to the bay area on June 28th for a series of farewell lunches, exit interviews and to turn in my badge. When I first tendered my resignation a month ago I was apprehensive about what I would do after the 30th. As I got closer to my final day that apprehension was replace with excitement for the adventures I was starting to plan. By Friday I was floating around the office on a natural high saying good bye to my co-workers. Ironically my flight home to Portland was first class, the only time I've flown first class for work.

My first week of "retirement" has been busy. It started with a 4 day "weekend" of parties celebrating a dual purpose Independence Day. It culminated with a huge 4th of July BBQ party at the Shack with about 30 of my friends. We're still eating the food and beer left over from the party.

On Wednesday (July 5th) my first day of not going to work, I headed to the Columbia Gorge to climb Beacon Rock with Preston who is also happily unemployed. Beacon Rock was a fun half-day climb and my pictures can be viewed here. We climbed the SE Face, which was the original route with about 6 pitches of easy 5th class. The crux was a nice 5.7 friction slab. The weather was perfect, we had great views and the place to ourselves.

Thursday (July 6th) Preston and I had planned to go climbing at French's Dome near Mount Hood, but rain diverted us to Broughton Bluff instead. After an interesting trad lead by Preston on Edges and Ledges (5.8) we spent the afternoon top roping some 5.9 and 5.10 routes at the Red Wall.

This past weekend was mostly spent painting my office and attending a friend's wedding. In all a perfect start to my "retirement". Next up, a couple days at Smith followed by a Rainier climb...