This road has been safari, but now I am headed up a mountain

This road has been safari, but now I am headed up a mountain

We woke early and made sure our bags were completely packed. Kimambo always outdoing himself, we ate breakfast and packed up sack lunches. We needed an early start from Lake Natron to return to Arusha and to the Airport Planet Lodge so Melissa could make her flight home. We actually made it in plenty of time. The washed out, pit holed, rough roads were no match for Daudi’s skilled hands at the wheel. We said our goodbyes and were left at the lodge for showers before our transfers.

I cannot say enough about how awesome Dorobo Safaris was in planning this trip. This company was recommended to Melissa and I by our professor, Dr. Rudnick, who used them during her own field work in Tanzania. We are ever grateful for that recommendation. Mike was a wealth of knowledge and insight. We did not work with the other brothers, but I suspect they are all cut from the same quality cloth. He helped plan a flawless trip to combine geology, anthropology, and tourism. His wife, Lisa, was the coordinator behind our meals. She has great taste! Kimambo was a superstar as our chef and camp staff. He kept a tight ship and was so friendly. I was glad we bonded over elephants being both our favorite animals. I showed him all the photos I had taken during our game drive. Daniel, our Lake Natron guide, was awesome. He had an endless supply of patience and encouragement, and was keen on experiencing our geological explorations with us. And lastly, but not least, our guide, driver, companion, and animal encyclopedia, Daudi. He was a phenomenal guide. This trip would not have been as rich without him. He worked hard to make us happy and help us accomplish our every desire. We only have the best thoughts and sentiments toward Dorobo Safaris. We highly recommend them for anyone planning an excursion to Tanzania. They were stupendous and pivotal to the success of this trip. I hope I have the opportunity to work with them in the future.

Their reputation and long list of top clientele speaks volumes of its own. But I confidently would like to promote them as well.
Dorobo Safaris:

Like a whirlwind, our trip was over. Melissa headed to the airport, and I was picked up by a driver from Kessy Brothers Tours Ltd. and taken to Moshi. Cheating a little, I will talk about this company now, using hindsight, since I was already on a plug for Dorobo.

I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro using the Kessy Brothers Tours company. They were recommended to me through friends of my sister. Contacts she made in Guinea during Peace Corps. I will admit further encouragement was that this company’s prices are easily well below most other companies. Internet searches suggested the risk with cheap companies is that you miss out on quality food and the expertise of other companies. But that is just not the case here. I had an exceptional guide, Penieli Samuel Urio. He has summited Uhuru over 100 times and counting. He knows everything to expect and is very diligent to safety and acclimation. I also had a great cook, Betos. He served me three massive meals a day, always striving to cater to my tastes. He checked in with me frequently to make sure I was happy. I also think he was possibly worried that I was not well, since I found myself completely unable to finish any of the three three-course meals he prepared for me all six days. His skills over a camp stove are impressive, but I just cannot fit that much food into my body. Maybe if he only fed me cookies… I then had a personal attendant, Joshua. He served me all my meals and setup my eating blanket in my tent. He always had a smile and tried to teach me fun sayings in Swahili. My favorite was a response to mambo, how are you? It went poa kachizi kama ndizi ndani ya fridge, crazy cool like a banana in the fridge. And then there were three other porters, Godiliza, Daniel, and Jofray. All distinct in looks and personality, they brought their own bonus to our crew.

From observing various companies while on my hike, I will say the main difference is that we were probably more minimalist. I ate in my tent, rather than have a separate food tent with chair and table. I used the camp pit toilets rather than have a dedicated porter responsible for carrying around and cleaning one for me. And let’s be honest, I would not have been able to handle such unnecessary extravagance. Otherwise, I was safely brought up the mountain, and summited Uhuru Peak. I highly recommend Kessy Brothers Tours for any Kilimanjaro hike. I suspect the logistics change slightly when dealing with additional hikers, the number of guides and porters definitely increases.

Kessy Brothers Tours:

After arriving to their office in Moshi, we settled all the logistics for the next day. They provided me with the gear I was missing and introduced me to my guide. And then I was whisked away to Sal Salnero Hotel to repack, shower, rest, and prepared for my Mt Kilimanjaro trek.



Oldonyo Lengai in 1.5 ascents and an outdoors safety announcement

Oldonyo Lengai in 1.5 ascents and an outdoors safety announcement

I thought a long time about what I wanted to say here. I have a plethora of notes and thoughts and feelings from this day. But I think it is important to start with a safety announcement. As an avid outdoors woman, I sometimes take for granted the skills and comfort levels of my outdoor companions. I often go outdoors alone, so when I meet people out on the same adventures, we just happen to all be on the same page. This is not always true when planning an excursion in advance with companions. We all have our own abilities, fears, goals, and dislikes. So I want to talk about it.

When climbing mountains, there is one very important rule: the summit is always optional, but your safety is not. I repeat, no matter how much you want to push to the top of a mountain, it will always be there for another day. But if you become injured, or worse, die, you may never have another mountain in your future. This rule remains true whether you are out on a day hike, undergoing a grand expedition, paid $70,000 for the opportunity, or whatever other circumstances you can argue. If your safety is in danger, the peak is always optional. This might seem obvious if the situation is a threat of lightening, blizzard, any high altitude illness, or other confronting risk. But it becomes more nuanced at the nitty gritty side. What is the balance between pushing yourself and not exceeding your personal abilities? Only you can answer that question. The important thing is to remain true to your feelings, AND to practice excellent communication.

Please, I repeat, please, anytime you are going outdoors with other people, always take the time to discuss each person’s abilities, goals, and limitations. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about these things with the people you go outdoors with, whether from intimidation, pride, or whatever, step off your high horse right now. Going outside is a fun, challenging, and rewarding privilege. But it also has risks, real risks, life threatening risks. You would not go backcountry skiing without digging a pit to check snowpack. You would not rope up to trad climb with someone who cannot set anchors. You would not skydive without checking your parachute. I can go on, but the point is that we have safety checks for high danger sports, but it is also important to make safety checks for less obviously dangerous sports. I myself am often guilty of jumping in before asking questions and thinking about risks. But if you really do not feel comfortable doing an activity, whatever your reason(s) may be (physical ability, fear of heights, an emotional block to certain activities, lack of equipment, uncertainty, disinterest, etc), find an environment where you can work through those uncertainties on a safe playing field. Join organized expeditions (REI, NOLS, local outdoor stores), find classes (REI, local recreation centers, local universities, certification outfitters), and try to meet people who are willing to teach you (Meet Up groups, online support forums, friends, etc). Seriously, I know a lot of people who say they have always wanted to do X, Y, or Z, but never knew how to get started. My solution is always that you will find a way if you are truly passionate. Start small, do not be afraid of failure, know that you may have to do something several times before you know if you actually enjoy it. When deciding to thru hike for the first time, I planned a three day, very easy hike. Everything went wrong. I forgot my water treatment, I had never practiced setting up my tent before and it rained that night, I didn’t know where to begin with proper foot care and happiness. But I accepted defeat, went home early, and learned a lot. I tapped the knowledge base of friends and tried again. Now distance hiking is one of my all time favorite activities.

When you go outdoors and are surprised by a limitation of a team member, it is both your responsibilities to have talked it out before the adventure began. That is all I have to say. It is lazy and irresponsible to not take the time to have these discussions when preparing for an adventure. And remember, the summit is always option, but your safety is not.

As a brief recap of the day. We had a very short night’s rest. I honestly think I got maybe two hours of sleep. We left for the base at 11pm and were climbing by 11:30pm. I forgot to record this climb. It was still relatively warm outside, and the moon was shining brilliantly among a million twinkling stars. It was perfect out. We drove up the escarpment toward a saddle between Lengai and the ridge. The climb started as a gentle sloping flank before steadily steepening. We made it several miles up the side of Oldonyo Lengai before having to turn back. Melissa had even less sleep last night, she was sick to her stomach. When I thought that was it, I knew she could be ok if we went slowly and kept her fed and hydrated. But here is where my negligence comes in, I had never sat her down for that all important talk about goals and limitations. Melissa is afraid of heights, and has not climbed a mountain before, so did not know how that limitation would manifest with both feet securely on the ground. Knowing her to be a rock climber, I didn’t even think to ask. We made it a good ways up the mountain before Melissa shared the state she was in, stubborn to the point that she kept going even while thinking one false step would ruin her. As a blindly confident person, I have never faced a fear like she did this morning. That determined, we turned back. The summit so near, but Melissa’s safety more important. Once at the bottom I curled up and slept the last hour before sunrise. Then we walked another mile or two down the road to the lone tree to wait for Daudi in the meager scraps of shade as the day’s heat set in. We returned to camp, ate breakfast, and made a plan. I would go back with Daniel that afternoon and Melissa would explore Lake Natron and some cinder cones located there.

I went back to bed, in my sun-sweltering tent, to catch another three hours sleep before waking for lunch and summit attempt number two. Daniel and I set out at 3PM, in the stifling afternoon heat. We regained this morning’s ground quickly. I should clarify that there is not actually a trail up Oldonyo Lengai. We were literally retracing weathered steps up lava flow channels. When the mountain steepened, we were often picking steps from entrained boulder to entrained boulder, since the lava was slickly smooth or eroding rubble. And it was straight up, no switch backs, no protected coves, nothing. As real an effort at climbing up a raw, loosely vegetated mountain as it can get. I did record this second attempt, so you can watch how my pace lagged tremendously toward the top, the lack of sleep and heat-induced exhaustion setting in, my legs cramping like I have never felt before. Daniel, of course, not even breaking a sweat. That man is patience reincarnated.

We arrived at the summit just in time for sunset and to catch the last light across the valley. It was beautiful! And very interesting to see how the crater had changed from all the photos I have seen online. Since the 2007 to 2008 activity, there are now two hornitoes building up in the bottom of a deep, but filling crater. The south crater wall, which I think was attached prior to 2007, is now a separate abandoned rim wall. There is a crack about 1-3 feet across and 10+ feet deep running all the way around the current crater. And I observed at least five separate gas vents, seeping hot sulfurous volatiles.

As quickly as we arrived, we headed back down to take advantage of the last rays of light. Which was nice, because heading down those shear faces was much easier with daylight. I quickly realized that we would not have the same bright moon as this morning and my headlight batteries were running low. Thankfully Daniel led the way and I only needed to watch him mostly. The winds picked up from our backside, stirring up as the dust we disturbed with our steps. As the second in line, I received the powdery, blinding dust from both our dust clouds. We watched Daudi arrive as we sped down the mountain, his headlights seeming far away. But before I knew it we were back at the vehicle and headed to camp. A delicious meal from Kimambo awaiting me. I ate, showered, and went straight to bed. An exhausting but deserving day.



The Departure

The Departure

Today sort of snuck up on me. Since returning from winter break I felt like I had spent every waking moment in the lab. Barely sleeping, barely going home to change clothes. Then across a few short days my mass spectrometer analyses were finished and a new week began. That was this week, and it brought its own sense of hurry as I scurried to organize and pack for a long departure. And just like that, Melissa and I are sitting on a plane, shooting through the sky toward Tanzania.

Sleeping on Mauna Loa, the largest mountain in the world!

Sleeping on Mauna Loa, the largest mountain on Earth!

We again woke early before sunrise. And it was definitely a better sunrise than sunset! To beat the heat for the climbs back out, and head off to our Mauna Loa summit, we set off quickly. Made great timing! Unfortunately I forgot my battery cable so wasn’t able to map the hike profile, but should be about 9.5 mile hike in yesterday and a 9.5 mile hike outthink morning. We arrived back to the lookout by 11 AM.

The local man watching the valley entrance was impressed we came out so early. Though we also had comments that our packs were really small. I am sporting my new Mountain Laurel Designs 38L Burn pack in the wasabi color, and my sister is sorting my old MLD 45L Exodus pack in the gray color. I haven’t really used my new pack extensively since it arrived in the mail, so I am excited to give it a variety of outings on this trip!

We hit the road and drove toward the island interior, to the high saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. The trailhead required a drive up this eerie single lane road to the Mauna Loa Observatory. Saw three adult mountain goats shedding their coats and one tiny baby black goat. It felt like we were leaving Earth on the winding and climbing road impossibly built into the a’a lava fields. The road climbs to just above 11,000 feet and we drove right up into a cloud. It was so calm and quiet with no one around. We were the lone vehicle in the parking area and the Observatory looked empty, despite it being just before 3 PM.

My sister and I set out on our hike up to Mauna Loa at 3pm. Later than we wanted, so we went straight to the Mauna Loa Cabin. Which is right on the crater rim opposite the mountain’s high point. Took longer than we thought. Lava rock hiking is no small feat, especially at 13,000 feet.

This hike was a geology wonderland! I felt instantly transported to Mars. A lifeless, desolate terrain devoid of motion except for the volcanic signature. Not even wind was overly effective at modifying the landscape. Some terms:

a’a = stony rough lava, burn, blaze. This is a rough, or rubble lava surface composed of broken lava blocks called clinker. The clinkers surface actually covers a dense massive core where the flow is active.

pahoehoe = smooth unbroken lava. This is a smooth, billowy, or ropy surface from the flow of very fluid lava under the congealing surface crust.

lava tube = Forms when lava cools at the surface, forming an insulating crust, allowing the more fluid lava to flow underneath. Over time the flow forms a tunnel-like conduit which eventually drains, leaving the empty and open tunnel behind.

crater = A circular depression in the ground formed by the subsidence of volcanic material as gases vent out and magma chambers empty.

Our hike up a mostly a’a trail was 5.9 miles up 2,100 feet to above 13,000 feet. Considering we started our day hiking out 9.5 miles from Waimanu Valley at sea level, we were kicking ass!

We made it to the cabin with some sunlight to spare. Mauna Loa Summit Cabin is a great cabin! I did not know what to expect. There were 12 bunks, a composting toilet, and rainwater catchment. We had phenomenal views over the main crater, Mukuaweoweo Caldero. In the fading light we could see a tiny lone release of gas from the rift zone cutting across the crater. No lava action today, but the rift zone is created from magma pushing up from below and pulling the rift apart.

What a great sunset! We are definitely on Mars. The air became instantly freezing once sun left horizon. The wind began to blow. But the rocks continued to radiate heat from the sun’s rays. The stars seems particularly bright and beautiful, but the bright full moon quickly diminished their twinkle. We met two other hikers at the cabin who came up from the Red Hill cabin the previous night on the Mauna Loa Trail.

Despite hiking up out of a cloud at the parking lot, the sky that night was particularly clear and crisp. We had stunning views of the Milky Way. I tried to find the Scorpio constellation that night. In Hawaiian culture it is known as Maui’s fishhook, called Ka Maka. We couldn’t see it. Nonetheless I began singing Moana songs in my head the rest of the night. “…Open yours eyes, let’s begin. Yes, it’s really me, it’s Maui, breathe it in. I know it’s a lot: the hair, the bod, when you are staring at a demi-god.” I really want to re-watch that movie now.


Check out more photos and videos on Instagram @schemesinmotion

Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Hybrid mouflon sheep. See the baby hiding behind the front mouflon?
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Sister selfie!
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Trekking up a volcano! #sistervacation
Mauna Loa Summit Cabin. Sitting above the clouds.
Cooking in the dark inside Mauna Loa Summit Cabin
Collapsed a’a lava tube
Mauna Loa crater filled with super smooth, glassy lava.
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Lua Manu pit crater.

Mount Massive (14,421′) peaks! Shot-gun peak bagging.

Mount Massive is officially a single 14er, but it is truly a massive mountain, made up of multiple peaks all above fourteen thousand feet. It is the 2nd highest peak in Colorado (behind Mount Elbert (14,433′) – summited yesterday) and 3rd highest peak in the contiguous 48 states (behind Mount Whitney (14,505′), summit during PCT 2015 – day 37). This is truly a beast.

Mount Massive (14,421′)
Massive Green (14,300′)
North Massive (14,340′)
South Massive (14,132′)

  • Sawatch Range
  • 11.5 miles
  • 5,500 feet elevation gain
  • North Halfmoon Creek TH – Southwest Slopes Route and traverse across
  • Class 2, Exposure 2 (and higher on traverse sections)


Yesterday I realized I was doubly fortunate to have my friend Blake join me for some hiking. Not to mention a side note about how badass he is. I found out Mount Elbert was his first major hike since a bad car wreck when he was hit by a drunk driver. In all his generosity he drove me out to the North Halfmoon Trailhead last night to camp so I could hike up a shorter route for an out-and-back traverse of the summits. And wow was that a good thing after finishing today!

I hit the trailhead at 4am and quickly made it to the trail junction where Mount Massive lies straight up in steep, boulder field switch-backs, and the N. Halfmoon Lakes continue on a gradual trail up the booming river. Almost right after heading up, I was startled by a jack rabbit who kept running up the trail in front of me, then I would catch up, then it would run up, and then I would catch it. It does’t sound as funny now, but I really felt like that rabbit probably thought I was chasing it down or something, like I could predict its getaway path.

As I noted earlier in the week, I am not really in peak physical condition, and I really felt that by the end of today. It felt like I took forever to make the saddle. And when I reached the top, somehow already filled with a group of young children wearing climbing helmets and having a reflection talk with their group leaders, I realized that was actually just a false summit. I quickly made it to the true summit but could still hear them chatting away, so I continued forward along the ridge line. My goal today was to traverse across all the peaks. There was a nice and easy down trail and climb back up Massive Green (14,300′). I was feeling good and made it across so quickly that I decided to continue all the way and then work my way back more slowly, enjoying the peaks as I returned. Leaving Massive Green, however, I realized I was going across a tricky, maybe class 3, ridge scramble. I think the traverse would have been super easy on the north side, it appeared to be nice easy scree, except it was still snow covered with a super slick hard shell of alpine ice. Instead I worked my way along the south face, which wasn’t super difficult, but was definitely dicey in a few places. Plus, here is where I felt my energy flagging from the week of hiking, of course. It was slow progress, but I eventually made it to North Massive (14,340′). I didn’t realize this until later, but I had meant to continue all the way to the “Far Northwest Massive,” but some confusion on my end with counting peaks leaves me one peak shy. I guess I will just have to summit Massive again someday to claim that final knob!

Anyway, that wasn’t the end of my efforts, you see. I then had to traverse back. The ridge the second time was a bit faster, but then all those easy downslope sections were steep straight up jaunts on the return. I should have eaten more snacks or something, but altitude really suppresses my hunger, so I ate some fruit snacks, sucked down water, and continued ahead. I did catch some great views back at Mount Massive along the ridge line from North Massive.

When I made it back to Mount Massive (14,421′), I was privy to the company of a marmot, posing for me on the highest rock at the peak. It so nicely stood its ground, preventing me from investigating the highest rocks as I began to search for the USGS marker. After literally 15-20 minutes of searching, I couldn’t find it. As a geologist, I feel like finding the markers is really important, but I searched everywhere. I crawled around the edges, tried flipping over a couple rocks. Nowhere! Giving up, I headed back to the false summit to prep for my last trek to South Massive. While eating a snack, two guys came up at the same time, both Coloradans. One had apparently been on Mount Elbert yesterday also. The other, a guy in his mid-to-late fifties, was summiting Massive for the ninth time, and was on his way over to Elbert for a second hike up. He has summited over 30 fourteeners for over 350 total 14er summits! Woah! I thought this guy was amazing! He claimed 14ers were nothing compared to me hiking the CT and PCT. We agreed to disagree. Since he had been up before, I instantly questioned his knowledge of the USGS marker. He claimed to know where it is, so I followed him back up to the peak. After an additional 10 minutes of chatting and searching, we both gave up, defeated. I guess it’s ok since I will have to come back some day for the missed peak to the farthest northwest.

Officially heading down to the south saddle to go up South Massive, I met a bunch of people finally on their ways up. At the lower saddle, I met these three Minnesotan guys out climbing 14ers for vacation. I chatted awhile and then set off. They continued up toward the main peak. I quickly reached what I decided was the highest spot on South Massive (14,132′). It felt like the easiest part of the whole hike so far. And then I headed back down the to lower saddle where I had met the Minnesotans. On my way up I eye-balled that saddle as a possible side trail to reconnect to the Southwest Slopes route to avoid climbing back up the ridge below the main peak. Unfortunately, in an effort to be a good trail visitor, I saw a sign that said that route was closed for restoration. Now I had been blazing my own trail the whole day pretty much, sticking to the main ridge line as much as possible, but I am also astutely conscious of the fact that this is a fragile alpine tundra. I always try to stay on the rocks as much as possible to prevent crushing of the thin vegetation that can take decades to recover. But when an active sign says not to go, I feel an overwhelming urge to obey the rules. So I climbed back up the ridge to the upper saddle. And to my surprise, I ran into the three Minnesotans. They were as surprised to see me as I was to see them. They had watched me head up the other peak, and I felt like I was moving so painfully slow, but I guess I was still moving pretty well. I passed them and made it to my trail connection, promised not to pass them again (they were feeling pretty sad about their pace to be beaten to the top twice, haha), and finally was on the route back down.

The route down was better than moving up, but it was still a tough trail. This mountain doesn’t have the jagged ridges of some of Colorado’s other peaks, but this beast still demands respect. I count myself as a fortunate person to have seen the views from the top. And I am pretty sure these views were actually better than the views from Elbert. Not to mention that the valley down to Halfmoon Creek might be one of the most beautiful approach trails I have ever had for a 14er. Granted these mountains aren’t necessarily known for beauty as they are for challenge. I think many would argue that there are a lot nicer hikes on 13ers than many of the 14ers. But I was awed by the views from Mount Massive.

This was my final day for adventures. I really wanted to pack my time in CO with non-stop excitement, and it has been one challenging week. My legs still feel good, and I am exhausted, filthy, and smelly. I feel so rejuvenated! I needed a little time in the mountains to recoup and refresh my brain. And now I am ready to spend the rest of the weekend celebrating the Ellerbluth wedding in Grand Lake! #LuthOrDare

Mount Elbert (14,433′) and South Elbert (14,134′) and Mount Cosgriff (13,588′). Colorado’s highest peak.

Today feels like a bigger success because I not only added two more 14er summits to my list, I also get Colorado’s highest peak. As you may remember, I am not only striding for all of Colorado’s 14ers (link here), including the unofficial peaks, but also the 50 US high Points (link here). And wow, was this worth the trek up! The views are incredible!


Summary of Mount Elbert, South Elbert, and Mt. Cosgriff:

  • 14,433 feet Mount Elbert – 14,134 feet South Elbert – 13,588 feet Mount Cosgriff
  • 10.5 miles
  • 4,300 ft elevation gain
  • Sawatch Range
  • Loop from Mt Elbert TH – up old mine road and down East Ridge route
  • Class 2, Exposure 1


This was my target hike during my trip to Colorado. I really want to finish the CO 14ers so I can start on the CO 13ers. But as I am in California the next three years, I also want to start looking in my own neighborhood for great places to trek about. So I need to be deliberate about the hikes I make time for.

But first, a recap of yesterday. I woke up at 3am to thunder and rain. I checked the weather forecast and it said rain until 5am. So I went back to sleep. At 5am I checked the forecast again, it said no more rain or lightening until 10am. I thought maybe I should go for it. I contemplated hiking La Plata, the shortest of the remaining three on my agenda. But then it started raining lightly again, so I stalled. I spent a solid hour looking up all the forecast websites I could think of. They all said the same thing. I felt really ready to get up and go, but I also felt really ready to fall back to sleep. So I did what any self-respecting 28 year old would do when faced with risking life or sleeping in, I called my mom. I think subconsciously I knew she would agree I shouldn’t try a summit, but I needed to know that I wasn’t only being a lazy ass. She suggested I could start up one knowing I would turn back after an hour or two. That sounded like a tease of a summit, so instead I headed into Leadville for the day.

I went to City on a Hill Coffee and Espresso. This place was bomb! I ate a Southwest Burrito with spicy salsa and a hot drink. Amazing! Especially since my tent, the least water resistant tent still in use in the modern era, soaked through to almost everything roughing the floor. This is to say my jackets nicely stowed in a duffle by my bed to prevent dew collection, resulted in lighted wetted fabrics, and the foot of my bed had completed soaked through the blanket, first 3″ thick sleeping bag, and the outer fabric on the second 3″ sleeping bag. Considering this tent probably hasn’t been used since I last went to Girl Scout camp in middle school, I can’t really complain. I also don’t know if I can justify buying my parents a new tent when it would likely be an object sitting around for the next time I am too cheap to buy a checked bag.

Anyhow, I spent a good chunk of the morning working and finishing up a few things that had immediate deadlines, and just enjoyed the relaxation. When I felt like it was time to stop fiddling around on my computer, about 3pm, I walked over to High Mountain Pies and ate a good portion of a 12″ San Juan pizza. I drank a First Cast IPA, brewed by Elevation Beer Co. out of Poncha Springs, CO. Oh how I miss the abundance of IPA beer from Colorado microbreweries!! And then my friend, Blake, drove out with his dog, Jolene, to join me for the next day. This brings me back to today.

We woke up early but got a bit of a late start, 5am, because Blake has a fancy 4runner which we drove up the trailhead road to cut off 4 miles. This was a great choice, and really fun to take on a rough road knowing we could pretty much cross anything. This included a fast-moving river that crossed the road, which would have been much trickier to cross on foot. Once we reached the trailhead, we walked down the Continental Divide Trail to connect with an old mining road that switch-backed up the front of Mount Cosgriff. We weren’t quite up the first peak when the sun first peak above the horizon, but we definitely had a phenomenal view. Once at the mine, we picked our own trail up the rest of the slope to the top of Cosgriff. I recently decided to add Colorado’s 13ers to my ambitions, so I am going to start documenting those lesser known summits.

We topped Cosgriff, then pushed on for South Elbert peak. This is one of those unofficial 14ers, but it was really important to me to reach its summit. It was great to have Blake and Jolene join this hike. Jolene, a large Bloodhound mix, kept things interesting. I absolutely love dogs, and hope my sister or brother have a pet dog some day so I can be the best aunt to it. Anyway, on the far side of South Elbert we crossed paths with a group of camp counselors on their way up. We had finally made it to the main trail, and the final slog to the top. We hadn’t really seen people or heard them until reaching that saddle. But at the top of Mount Elbert, there were huge crowds of people. I am discovering more and more that I really don’t appreciate crowds that much, I also don’t enjoy the summits as much as I enjoy the challenges of getting there. So in many ways this was a moment of deep patience for me, as I tried my hardest to ignore everyone and pretend that I might have been up there alone. It didn’t really work, but I enjoyed the views anyway. Being Colorado’s highest peak, Elbert has some stunning views. I particularly enjoyed staring across the valley at Mount Massive, my mission for tomorrow!

After a while we headed down the East Ridge back to the Mt Elbert Trailhead. The trail was so nice I was able to temporarily feel like I had my hiker legs and charged down without much effort. I realize that I really need to put regular hiking and running back into my daily life. It is hard to be a desk jockey in grad school…

Final recap: great company with Blake and Jolene, stunning scenery, perfect weather, and beautiful sunrise shots. Today was a fantastic day!

Pikes Peak! The iconic 14er experience.

Pikes Peak receives a lot of mixed feelings I would say. At least from my experience. You see, Colorado is famous for its multitude of mountain peaks above 14,000 feet. I too am a follower of the idea that Colorado, and all the Rockies states, are superior to the other states because they have such magnificent mountains. So naturally they are a checklist item for tourists to partake in the Colorado experience. The problem is that climbing a 14er is a pretty big deal. And if you have no experience with altitude, it could literally be life-threatening. To circumvent that, two of the 53 official fourteeners can be driven to the top. Mount Evans and Pikes Peak. I climbed Evans back in 2013 as training for the Colorado Trail. I remember not realizing there would be a road to the top. I was the first person in the Bierstadt parking lot one cold 4AM morning. I remember crossing the Sawtooth Ridge and suddenly feeling no longer alone but unable to see any other people around. And then I approached Mount Evans, and was suddenly slapped in the face with all this noise and movement and commotion. People were driving to the top and not even hiking that last little mound to the true summit. It was surreal. I was overwhelmed and felt cheated of my solitude. And since then, when I mention that I have been to the top of Mount Evans, there is always an unknown asterisk involved where I feel obligated to say that yes, I actually hiked it. So I thought about all of this as I decided I needed to take advantage of my visit with Elise and Phil to finally bag this peak. And since Pike’s Peak is smack at the edge of the Front Range, the tourist factor is doubled. But I have a goal to climb them all, so why not now? The difference is that the road up Pikes Peak parallels the trail in the last couple miles. Psychologically that fact can really drain your energy in those final stret

Summary of Pikes Peak:

  • Summit: 14,110 feet
  • Front Range
  • 14.4 miles
  • 4,436 feet of elevation gain
  • Crags Campground TH – Northwest Slopes route
  • Class 2, exposure 1

I decided that since I was in the Springs anyways, I should take advantage of finally checking Pikes Peak off my list. I think a lot of people hit the Front Range peaks early as they are so close, but I definitely preferred to drive into the mountains more while I lived in Colorado. I like the solidarity.

Last night I experienced true insomnia for the first time. I was not restless (no more than usual at least), I was tired, I was cozy in the back seat, but I could not fall asleep. The moon was super bright and I laid awake most of the night. I finally fell asleep in the wee hours, so I gave myself an extra 15 minutes of snooze time before getting up.

I was on trail by 4am. I moved pretty slow at first because I brilliantly forgot to change my light batteries, so occasionally had to shine my phone battery to decide a route and blinded myself each time in the process. When I finally hit the tree-line, there was enough light from the sunrise that I missed while dilly-dallying on the west side of the saddle, to easily move ahead. However, that is also when the trail is basically straight up. I felt like I was moving incredibly slow. But I reached the summit of Pikes Peak at 7:30am. I saw a guy returning to the parking lot right as I started, but I never saw him again, so I can only imagine he was camped out and leaving before sunrise for some reason. Besides him, I never saw another human on my way up. I was the first human at the summit, but I was beat there by a herd of 12 bighorn sheep. I wandered around the top for about 25 minutes because there is a lot to see up there. I didn’t know what to expect the cog railroad to look like, but there is a viewing platform, a large summit sign, and enormous building that I checked out. I also snapped a few shots of the sheep, who scared the breath out of me as I rounded the main building and sent a few bolting. They were all up there nosing around in the back of the garbage truck. As I was preparing to leave, a ranger drove up. She was very nice and saved my summit photo by showing me where the USGS marker was hidden. I had walked right by because it wasn’t really the highest area to my mind’s eye, plus those bighorn sheep distracted me.

Anyway, I headed back down just before 8am and reached my vehicle just after 10am. At just over 6 hours, and 5.5 hours of “moving” time, I feel pretty good about my effort.

I crammed my face full of snacks and hit the road for Twin Lakes. That last drop down from the front range looking across at the Sawatch is such a beautiful view! As I drove in I saw a CT hiker walking the road, I picked her up and took her to Twin Lakes. There I found a whole slew of CT’ers. I barely saw any CT hikers when I hiked it back in 2013, so I didn’t think they could all be in one place like that! Anyway, I had been hoping to find CT and CDT hikers. I had cold soda and a variety of candy to deal out. I gave another hiker a ride and then sat at a spot where the CT crosses a dirt road at the far end of the lake. None of those hikers had stopped in town and were so delighted for a cold drink. It feels really good to mingle with hikers, even if I am not actually on trail with them. And it feels great to provide some magic!

I set up camp at Lakeview Campground and have a stunning view down on the lakes shadowed by the Collegiate Peaks. Plus the CT runs about ten feet below, so I am hoping to provide more treats the next couple days. Also, I am in a ridiculous camp setup. Since I flew in, I borrowed a vehicle and all their 1980 gear. So I have a 7-foot tall tent that isn’t waterproof, two big beefy sleeping bags that roll up to the size of pony kegs, and so much space I set up a chair next to my bed inside the tent. I literally had to hang a towel across the ceiling because the afternoon rains were dripping through while I was lounging and working on my computer. My final glamorous asset is a cooler. Boom! I will likely drive into Leadville each evening to work on my computer, but I am going super cheap for breaky, lunch, and snacks. And I will have the luxury of instant ‘cold’ food! It doesn’t get any more luxurious than the plush life of car camping!

Upcoming Colorado adventures in July!

I will be heading to Kansas in early July to celebrate my father’s retirement. One week later I will be in Colorado to celebrate the wedding of my two friends, Becca and Evan. I am so excited to be present for both of these events. And the timing was perfect to afford me some extra time in Colorado to play in the mountains!

I have an ambitious plan for about five days that need to be split between adventures and research. Yes, that pesky PhD degree does still need my devotion. So my tentative agenda, weather permitting, is as follows:

  1. Visit my good friends Elise and Phil in Colorado Springs. Then climb the Incline the next day with Elise as an easy acclimation hike. Let my body adjust to the time change and early wake up.
  2. Camp at the base of Pikes Peak for an early summit of that fourteener the next morning. Hoping that despite the summer season, my week day hikes will remain relatively quiet!
  3. Post up camping in the greater Leadville area. Summit Mount Elbert and South Elbert. Then take on Mount Massive, South Massive, Massive Green, and North Massive. And hit La Plata Peak on the last day.
  4. Drive over to Grand Lake for the wedding celebration of the amazing Becca and Evan. Gather with good people, eat food, relax in the beautiful mountain town, and celebrate.
  5. A final night in Boulder with Andrew and Emma, before flying back to California.

It will be an action-packed, whirlwind of a trip. But I am so excited for celebrations, catching up with friends, and getting outside!


If you are around and want to meet up, let me know! I won’t have a lot of free time, but am always down to have adventure partners to meet up with!

Clothing in Antarctica


While preparing for this trip to Antarctica, I was completely lost for what clothes to bring. Normally a few hours filing through the bowels of the internet produces more information than I desired. Antarctica was different. And I didn’t really understand why until having been through the whole experience. The majority of people who come through the U.S. station stay at McMurdo. That means they are in a small village, with heated buildings, unlimited hand and toe warmers, warm and cooked meals three times a day, access to drinking water of a variety of temperatures, access to motorized transportation, and within a very short time from a SAR team.

I was not preparing for that type of experience. I was preparing to spend weeks in the middle of nowhere living in a tent. The activities involving skidoo travel and hiking around. My support team a party of two plus me. There are people going out like we did, but apparently none of them (or few enough that I could not find their blogs) are writing about the clothing situation. So as a service to future field people going to Antarctica, I want to add my thoughts to the internet searching.

The CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) in Christchurch issues a bunch of clothing called the Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear. Briefly, the ECW issued to me included:
1x Big Red – the giant red down parka;
1x Little Red – a small wind jacket;
1x polar fleece jacket;
1x coveralls;
1x polar fleece pants;
1x Bunny Boots – insulated rubber boots
1x fleece balaclava
2x fleece neck gaiters
1x polar fleece cap
1x insulated leather work gloves
1x waterproof mittens
1x leather mittens
2x polypropylene gloves
1x Bear Claws – “fur”-backed gloves
1x goggles
2x duffle bags

Everyone receives slightly different allocations depending on where they are going and their expected weather conditions. The items I brought myself are explained further below:

Per John’s advice, I specifically bought boots for this trip since I needed warmth and the ability to hike in them. I bought La Sportiva Spantiks. And I loved them! They were recommended to me as the boot of choice for Denali climbers. I wore really thin silk sock liners under thick expedition-style wool socks. That combo was perfect. My feet were never cold as long as my feet were not cold already prior to going into the boot or the boot was wet. This was most noticeable on the skidoo rides, when I didn’t have the ability to pump blood back into my feet. Even with the thick socks, one size larger than I would wear without socks in the Spantiks was perfect. While hiking, especially after my socks had been worn awhile, they almost felt loose. But I liked these boots best because the heel is snug, so my feet didn’t move around a lot. It is a double boot, and both boots use a single hand threading system to eliminate the need for tying knots. Occasionally my outer strings would come loose, but I could put them on and tie them up without taking off my gloves. And the inner boot never untied because the strings end at a Velcro attachment so the boot itself didn’t come loose. The Spantiks are considered the warmest boot of their style, especially considering how light they are for an expedition boot. I normally hike in running shoes, so it took me a bit to figure out the difference in balance and foot size, but overall I was extremely happy. I used both the Smartwool and REI brand expedition socks. They are the only thick wool socks of their kind. I didn’t notice a difference in warmth or odor blocking. I do think the REI socks maintained shape better after repeated wears without washings. The downside to both brands is the expense. But as I already alluded to, I wore the same few pairs of socks instead of having an abundance of spares. The silk liners, in fact, did not block odor and I definitely wanted to change them more than I ever felt the need to change the wool socks.

I wore Patagonia wool unders beneath Smartwool midweight thermal pants under waterproof ski pants. The ECW coveralls were more comfortable, but I liked the ski pants better for toilet use (bonus toilet section at end of this post). Plus my coverall straps were not actually long enough and I didn’t like dealing with them. The issues pants would have been sufficient, it was a personal choice to favor the pants. If hanging out at camp in the tent, I would prefer the coveralls because the legs completely unzip, making them a lot faster to slip on for a quick run to the toilet tent, like we had set up at our Gabbro Hills camp. Our Miller Range camp toilet was outside unprotected, so I preferred regular pants for lower skin exposure. The coveralls would have been nicer for skidoo travel because I frequently caught drafts up my back that only windproof layers could protect for. I don’t have a lot to say here. My legs don’t typically become cold, so pants were not an issue for me. I do really love Patagonia’s Barely Bikini wool underwear. It is soft, odor resistant, and durable. I have been a few generations and they are a quality item. I honestly think they are the only wool underwear I would recommend. Most brands have unflattering styles are uncomfortable cuts, in my opinion. Not even Smartwool makes the cut. Their underwear seams break easily and quickly unravel. They aren’t very flexible around the leg holes either, I often chafe in Smartwool unders.

I wore an Athleta Full Focus sport bra beneath a midweight long sleeve top covered with a Patagonia zip up fleece jacket. ECW includes a fleece jacket but I found it too bulky for comfort with all the other layers. Then I would wear a combination of outer layer jackets depending on the weather and activity. For skidoo travel, I liked Big Red best. My biggest issue was pockets. I never had enough pockets. Even with a pack on, I needed quick access to my field journal, Sharpee markers, GPS, and camera. And technically I had a satellite phone on my person too. Sometimes I would then add a hammer and/or chisels. So pickets were my problem. Yes, I could have stored all of that in my pack, constantly taking it off and putting it on. But when you are in -30 degree Farenheit weather before accounting for the wind, the goal every time is efficiency. Rummaging around in a pack is not efficient. I liked tops with thumb holes best. Sometimes I had so many layers on that a lost sleeve meant frozen fingers if I de-gloved to fish it out or a cold arm if I did not. Thumb holes also usually means longer sleeves in general, which I personally really like. I find that REI has really jumped onboard with adding quality thumb holes in their winter tops. Patagonia also does a fine job. I had one top with a slim hood. I do not normally find hoods useful as a hat is always warmer, but I really liked the added neck cover without the bulk of a balaclava. My last advice would be to always tuck in your shirt. As mentioned already, the back draft was wretched. Sometimes the skidoo ride would be so bumpy that I needed my hands to hold on and if my coat came up, a tucked in shirt was my only line of defense from freezing winds cutting through the fleece layers.

I am obviously of the crowd who favor layering over fewer bulkier items. The worst thing was to sweat because literally the moment you stop walking, your damp clothes become cold. This was frustrating when balancing skidoo travel with short hikes up outcrops. It was a constant change between producing no heat and too much heat. Hence my love of Big Red. I could put on a huge jacket for the skidoo ride and then quickly shed a bunch of heat as we started walking. I liked putting Little Red over my own wind shell jacket. Both had a few pockets and Little Red was quite large, so they fit nicely together will stopping the wind without over-insulating me while hiking.

This is where I struggled most. ECW includes so many gloves, I didn’t really think about needing to prepare here as much as I should have. I brought one pair of two-layer waterproof down gloves. I wore these a lot for skidoo travel. They were too warm when driving because the skidoos have heated handlebars, but they were perfect as passenger. I rarely wore liners with these gloves, they are designed to not need additional liners. I ended up wearing the polypropylene gloves as my liners for the leather work gloves. That wasn’t quite warm enough, especially once my leather gloves gained holes. Part of the problem was not having gloves that fit well. The leather gloves either had too slim of fingers to fit liners under or the fingers were way too long. I needed to be able to go from the padded protection and dexterity of a work glove for hammering rocks to extra dexterity for taking field notes and pushing GPS buttons. I do not think that I accomplished an appropriate glove setup, so I will stop here. I also had a weird numb hand problem that compounded that problem.

I mostly wore fleece-lined knit hat of my own. While on the skidoo, I would put on another hat that has ear flaps. When sleeping I wore a thin wool Ice Breakers beanie. The ECW included two fleece neck gaiters, but I found them coarse and for some reason they would frost over really quickly. I bought a silky to the touch fleece gaiter in McMurdo. I liked it best. I wish it had been longer though, so I could have pulled it up over my nose without exposing the bottom of my neck. That said, I still preference it over the issued ones which were longer. I brought wool gaiters with me that I normally like for skiing, but I never wore them. I think they would have frosted too quickly.

It isn’t much, but maybe someone will get some tips from this. The last section is mostly on female toilet advice.

I am told females are normally issued pee funnels and given a run down on female hygiene. This was not done for me or even mentioned, so my advice is my own and likely does not reflect the habits of other females in Antarctica. I have a device called the P-Style. It looks like a scoop spoon. Most female pee aids are funnels, but I am not a fan for several reasons. The biggest reason is that when I am cold and need to pee, the last thing I want to do after stuffing a frozen plastic funnel against my lady parts is have to hold back the force with which my bladder wants to evacuate. It is also unsatisfying to not just let it all out. I find funnels limiting in this regard because they can only drain at a maximum rate. An open sided device like mine, however, will simply flow faster since the fluid is only restricted on three sides. This in fact leads to the second selling point for me, I only have to worry about positioning the device far enough back, rather than pay attention to both the backward and forward positions. Maybe other females don’t find that to be a problem, but I often started peeing without feeling 100% confident that the device was in the correct place. The reason you want a simplified design, in my opinion, is because it was bloody cold. Every task, no matter how basic, it a challenge when it requires the exposure of skin at -40 degrees Fahrenheit. This is one reason I preferences pants over coveralls. I could pull down the pants just far enough to gain access to my thermals and then shove the P-Style in place and the solid plastic kept the waist band pushed out of the way. All I had to do was sort of dip my hips down forward so the device could drain down. One brilliant gear item in Antarctica is a pee bottle. It is a white Nalgene with blue lid and big yellow sticker. As long as I was peeing into a bottle, I could expose the least amount of skin while peeing. I even mastered peeing into the bottle while kneeling in my sleeping bag. A big challenge for funnels is that you not only need to keep the whole top flush with your skin to prevent gaps, you also have to allow for the angle of the funnel spout at the bottom. The only design change I would make is either slightly taller side walls or maybe a tiny ridge around the top. With gloves on I didn’t have much leverage to hold the device without having at least one finger pressing down the top to keep my grip. I very nearly pressed that finger down into the pee flow on more than a few occasions. Other than that, it is brilliant. And very easy to clean since it’s a single shape with no connecting points. And there is the option for a little canvas pouch to store it in. Mine has octopuses on it.

Safe passage


With many activities that I partake in, there is a certain challenge in describing my motivations. For me the answer can always be summed up by “Why not?” Many people require more of something to wrap their head around such logic. Coming to Antarctica, however, I feel like few people asked that question. Maybe I have finally broken through the need for explanation on why I choose the things I do? I actually think it is something different. I have seen it in people’s faces at McMurdo too. We are in Antarctica. This is truly one of the last places on the planet that cannot be freely traveled by anyone with the ambition. And even those who do make it down, I suspect most are restricted by how that access was gained. Though there are those rare expeditions and Vinson Massif summit teams, few people get to really experience the sights of Antarctica. One group of people may have found a way. They are the flight teams from Kenn Borek Air, the U.S. Air Force, and the Royal New Zealand Air Force. And I owe a lot of gratitude to many of these people for my safe transport around the continent. Thank you!

To give a brief glimpse into my flight experiences, and maybe spread a thought of support for these incredible people, I want to tell my flight experiences and show the different aircraft I was privileged to be a passenger in while in Antarctica.

My flight from Christchurch to McMurdo was on a Boeing 757-200 flown by the Royal New Zealand Air Force No. 40 Squadron. Maybe it is becoming more common for these large commercial aircraft to land on the continent, but I felt like I was experiencing a rare opportunity. It was a luxury flight compared to standard flights to Antarctica. We had cushioned seats, windows, the quiet interior of a commercial plane, and they packed us a sack lunch. It was fantastic!

RNZAF Boeing 757
RNZAF Boeing 757

My flight into the Miller Range was on a Basler BT-67 (Turbine DC-3) aircraft. There were three crew members. They have a payload limit of 8,500 pounds (including fuel weight), so are the primary cargo hauler for field teams and fuel drops. It was a beautiful day and the crew were all incredibly nice. Kenn Borek Air is based out of Canada, so the pilots are all Canadian bush pilots. My personal experience is that they are all wonderful and interesting people.

KBA Basler BT-67 (Turbine DC-3)
KBA Basler BT-67 (Turbine DC-3)

Shuttles from Miller Range to Shackleton Camp, Shackleton Camp to Gabbro Hills, and Gabbro Hills to Shackleton Camp where all through the efforts of the crews flying Twin Otters (DHC6). These are smaller planes (3,500 lb payload) on skis. They are the nimble flyers for Antarctic missions. They provide a lot of support for science teams because they have the ability to land and takeoff on a wide range of unprepared landing surfaces on sea ice and glaciers and seawater.

Twin Otters (DHC6)
Twin Otters (DHC6)

Returning from Shackleton to McMurdo, we flew with our cargo on an LC-130, a ski-equipped version of the U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules operated by the New York Air National Guard (recent article here). This is a monster of a plane. It was designed for combat transport and has a hinged loading ramp at the rear of the fuselage to dump out cargo by the pallet load.

U.S. Air Force LC-130
U.S. Air Force LC-130