I came across this book while browsing the stacks in the Yosemite Research Library. I’ve wanted to learn more about the early mountaineers in the Sierra Nevada and this biography Clarence King offered just that. I read it cover to cover over three days and generally liked it.
As with all of our heroes, they are ultimately human beings, and thus imperfect.
In “The Explorer King”, Robert Wilson examines the life of Clarence King—the scientist, adventurer, romantic, first superintendent of the United States Geological Survey, and failed business man of the 1800s Gilded Age. And in the process the author learns that King, while brilliant, was not the incorruptible icon people wanted him to be.
“The Explorer King” covers the first half of Clarence King’s life, which was his most productive in terms of science and adventure. However, the author gives only a chapter of the book to the second half of King’s life—the period when he coasted on his earlier accomplishments and suffered failure after failure in mining speculations.
Concerning Clarence King’s mountaineering accomplishments, the book does an excellent job of retelling the stories and picking apart what really happened from the romantic zeal found in King’s popular writings like his book Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada. We’ve all had our doubts about some of the early mountaineers in the Sierra, with the back of our minds quietly asking, Did he really do that? For me, that little voice has often spoken up when reading an account of John Muir’s or looking up at one of Mendenhall’s ascents (for example, the Death Couloir on California’s Mt. Morrison).
I enjoyed the retelling of King’s and Gardner’s first ascent of Yosemite’ Mount Clark. The book also includes accounts of the first ascents of Mount Gardiner, Mount Brewer, and Mount Tyndall.
The book briefly investigates King’s secret second life. He was married to a black woman who had been the maid at one of his friend’s homes. The two were married for 15 years until King’s death and had a family together. The marriage was only revealed after his death. I wanted more details of this relationship and its aftermath, but the author only gives superficial coverage to this part of King’s life.
Overall, it is a good book, though for the mountaineer who is a reader, there will be some slow parts.
The Mountain Hardwear Lamina 0° F is a good, durable, and versatile bag, but don’t be fooled by the 0° F rating because it shouldn’t be used in those temperatures. If using this bag, stick to the shoulder seasons or mild winter nights.
I’ve been using my Mountain Hardwear Lamina 0° F for about six years in all conditions and environments. Here are my impressions:
Fit and Comfort
While I am lean guy, I am tall and broad. I like to have plenty of room inside of a bag because I don’t like feeling like a mummy. The regular Lamina 0° F gives me this comfort. It also has a large toe box—big enough that I often store my pants in it.
The nylon is very comfortable and rarely sticky.
The neck baffle is critical feature of any sleeping bag and I won’t buy a sleeping bag that doesn’t have one. Fortunately the Lamina 0° F has a neck baffle!
0° F? Really? I don’t think so.
At 0° F in the Lamina 0°, I didn’t die, but I didn’t get any sleep either. Yup, I’ve had plenty of shiver bivies in the Lamina.
Durability and Portability
Sometimes I really miss my 0° F Army surplus canvas down sleeping bag. I once slept on a bed of coals in that thing. But I’m pretty sure it was possessed.
When you consider the weight and the compressed size, the Lamina 0° is in the middle of the road. It’s too heavy and bulky for the ultralight go fast hikers and climbers. It’s too much sleeping bag for the “once a year in the summer” hikers.
Having said all of that, it is a workhorse. After years of use, the bag shows no signs of serious wear and tear aside from a small area of minor abrasion shown in one of the photos.
The zipper is durable and has never derailed or separated from the stitching. But, like many zippers, the wind baffle or other loose fabric from the sleeping bag tends to get caught in it, which is really annoying. So you have to zip carefully, with tension, and often holding the baffle out of the way.
How quick does it dry and does it keep you warm when wet?
The synthetic Lamina dries quickly if you can get it out of the wet or damp conditions.
The Lamina has kept me warm on plenty of chilly, wet nights. I like to sleep under the stars, and not under a sheet of rip-stop. This means that I often wake up with dew or frost on my sleeping bag. That small amount of moisture has never caused me a problem in the Lamina.
Weight and Size
Here are the specs for the bag:
Weight 3 lb. 10 oz.
Bag Stuff Size: 9 X 16.5
Bag Compression Sack Size: 9 X 13.5
It’s been a good bag. But I’m ready to upgrade and downgrade. For winter conditions, I want a bag that keeps me warm at 0° F, not alive. And a down 20° F bag will work for the rest of the year.
I am using the Salewa Pro Vertical as my ice climbing and Lower 48 (Continental USA) technical winter mountaineering boot. I need to put in many more mile before I can come to a definitive opinion about the boot. But with the winter upon us, I decided to post some preliminary findings based on a few ice climbing forays into the Sierra.
First, on their website, Salewa has this to say about the boot:
Lightweight pro boot for winter mountaineering and icefalls. A SuperFabric Perwanger suede leather upper with a 360° rubber rand offers reliable protection against rain and cold weather. The boot also features a tough Vibram sole with maximum grip and the ability to stiffen the sole when needed – perfect for use with crampons. A waterproof, breathable Gore-Tex membrane, together with an added aluminium layer, ensures that feet stay dry and warm. Includes a 3D lacing system for individual, three-section lacing and the 3F System for optimum ankle and heel support. The ‘wide’ version features a wider fit around the front of the foot.
Sizing and Fit
I cruxed out on this one. Salewa has two different lasts for this boot: medium and wide. The wide is harder to come by, but if you are like me and need a wide toe box, you will be extremely thankful for this last.
Side note: if you are also looking at the Salewa Pro Guide, as I was, then you will be happy to know that they are built on the same last. I talked to someone at Salewa and he informed me of this fact. So, if you are an 11 wide in the Pro Guide, then you will be an 11 wide in the Pro Vertical. Thank you for making it easy Salewa.
The sizing seems to run standard. I am an 11 in the Pro Vertical and an 11 in my Five Ten Guide Tennies.
All of Salewa’s footwear comes with a blister-free guarantee—if you get a blister in one of their shoes, you can return it to them for a refund. Pretty cool.
Fit for Warmth
I fit my boots with a single mid-weight Smart Wool ski sock. For those of us mentored by climbers of a certain older generation, or climbers of that older generation, the axiom was: two layers of thick socks crammed into a boot equals warmth. Well, as it turns out, you can wear a single sock inside of a comfortable boot (i.e. the boot does not cut off your circulation and you can easily wiggle your toes) and have warm toes. This translates to better footwork on those technical routes.
My feet tend to run cold. The other morning, before I started breaking trail up the talus toward the ice at Lee Vining, the thermometer on my car read -3° F at one point. Hmm, why am I out here? Anyway, I failed to pre-warm my boots before the hike in. Even with the vigorous hike, my toes started on the downward cycle of getting colder and colder. Then, while scrambling on some easy but low-quality ice and rock, my right toes went completely numb. After much stomping and shaking, the warmth flooded back into my toes (Oh, the pain!) and stayed there the rest of the day. The moral is, no matter what boots I had on, my toes were going to get cold, but once they rewarmed the Pro Vertical kept the warmth inside.
Is it a gimmick? Or is it for real? It’s for real and it works (with one caveat)!
Do you want to walk? Or do you want to climb? Do you like walking in a full-shank boot? Do you like climbing in 3/4-shank boot?
Salewa’s answer: Why not do all the above in one boot!
The Pro Vertical and the Pro Guide come with a small hex wrench that allows you to quickly retract or extend the boot shank. This means you can have a 3/4-shank boot for walking and a full-shank boot for climbing with rigid crampons.
It is a great idea and works very well. Except that the bolt is made of a soft metal and easily strips if you over-torque the hex wrench or if ice is packed into bolt and you torque on a shallowly placed hex. That said, I am willing to deal with it in return for the extra comfort when walking. A key piece of beta: bring a small point stick, like a tooth-pick, or a paper-clip with you to dig ice out of the bolt so that you can adjust the shank. Also, don’t lose the hex key!
This is the most innovative feature of the boot and the feature that needs the most improvement. Can Salewa create a design that doesn’t need a hex key? And why doesn’t Salewa use a stronger, strip-proof metal?
The Pro Vertical and the Pro Guide have Salewa’s 3D lacing system. Essentially, one set of eyelets has a camming device built into them, allowing you to create different tensions in the laces at the toes versus the laces mid foot and at the ankle. They work.
The burly bright yellow laces on the boots are easy to tie and untie with gloved hands. They are also very long.
Featuring big, fat grippy lugs! The Pro Vertical has excellent grip on compacted snow, granite covered in snow, and all of those other wonderful forms of frozen water.
The Snow Cuff
At the top of the boot is a cuff of fabric with an adjustable drawstring. If you pull the drawstring tight, the cuff snaps to your shin, giving you an extra layer of protection against that cold, white fluffy stuff getting inside your boot and melting. My impression after going gaiter-less for a day of thigh-high post-holing: sweet, it works.
So far I really like what Salewa is producing. They recognize that not every foot fits conveniently into a one-model-fits-all approach. Yet, they also recognize that no one these days is having boots custom built to their feet (Imagine that!). So Salewa has found a middle ground—two lasts for the same boot. Further, they are actually trying to innovate. Albeit, they are sort of copy and pasting from AT boots, which have a “walk” and “ski” mode. But why haven’t the climbing boot manufacturers (especially La Sportiva, who makes AT boots) gone down this path? Hmm …
So far I like the boot and I recommend it.
I’ve had the Garment Vetta Mnt GTX for over a year. In that time I have used them to climb an easy technical winter first ascent in the Sierra, to patrol Yosemite’s wilderness, and to do all-day and all-night pushes in the mountains.
Garment has this to say about the Vetta Mnt GTX on their website:
An extremely light and versatile boot for hikers and climbers that is at home in multiple conditions. Suitable for light mountaineering, low-grade climbing and via ferrata.
Overall, it is a great boot and I have no regret over the purchase. After putting 200+ miles on the boots, here is what I have found:
When I first tried on the Vetta Mnt GTX at the Gear Exchange in Bishop, California, the toe box felt too narrow for my wide feet. But with a leather upper that resembles a traditional lace-up rock climbing shoe, I took the risk of buying the boot, knowing that the upper might stretch a bit and better conform to my foot. Additionally, with the laces extending all the way to the toe box, I knew that I could lace the boots to give my toes more room.
After a year of moderate use, the Vetta Mnt GTX has become my go to everyday hiking shoe and my mountaineering boot for adventures of low technical difficulty.
The biggest drawback for the fit of the Vetta Mnt GTX is the thick stock insoles. These thick insoles are common to Garmont shoes—indeed, the Sticky Lizard approach shoe has the same insoles. For a boot of this weight and intended use (backpacking and light mountaineering), the insoles are way to thick. For me, the added height causes the boot to feel unstable and reduces my ability to feel the ground underneath my feet. Further, the thick insoles make the boot feel too tight.
BUT there is a simple solution! Remove the insole. Hidden below this monstrous insole is a beautiful, lined footbed with smooth stitching (i.e. no blisters). The result is an excellent fit and a boot that doesn’t throw me off-balance every time I step on a bump in the trail.
The Vetta Mnt GTX is a well-built boot. The rand, which wraps almost to the heel of the boot, is still firmly attached to the leather with no signs of separation (I wish my Five Ten Moccasyms could do that).
The suede leather is tough. Other than some stains, it shows no signs of damage.
The Vibram sole is sticky enough for easy technical scrambles, but still durable enough to last one year and counting in the mountains. The inside front edge of the sole has a specific flat rock climbing design for edging (similar to what you will find on good approach shoes). And the lugs are big and blocky, the way lugs should be, which means good grip on snow, gravel, and other slippery surfaces.
The Vetta Mnt GTX features a heal-lock loop that wraps behind the foot, just above the heal. The loop is made of a simple nylon strap. The ends are sewn into eyelets and the laces pass through these eyelets, creating the heal-lock. So far, these straps have held up. HOWEVER, the same straps on my Garmont Stick Lizard approach shoes broke, rendering the laces practically useless, and thus the shoe too.
I wear a US size 12 in the Vetta Mnt GTX. Normally, I wear shoes in the US 11 – 11.5 range. For example, my Salewa Pro Vertical heavy mountaineering boot is a US size 11. But my Garment Stick Lizard approach shoe is a US 11.5. So the Garmont lasts seem to run small.
The Vetta Mnt GTX is lined with Gore-Tex, hence the GTX designation in the name. Gore-Tex—it works. That said, you should still apply some Nik Wax to the suede uppers.
It’s a good, solid boot. What more could you want?
The sky has cleared but another storm is coming—hurry! Get on the wall! Climb fast and take falls. The Captain is here today; the Captain will be here tomorrow. But you and I, our time here is short before we discover eternal flight with the ravens. Mount Broderick, Washington Column, Half Dome, Leaning Tower, El Capitan … our temporal sanctuaries from the noise below. But what kind of sanctuary is this—our hands are broken, our ankles are sprained, and our backs are busted. We throw ourselves against the wall again and again and again, for in pain there is … salvation? redemption? LIBERATION! We are artists, poets, philosophers, teachers, rangers, loners, models, wannabe surfers, bums, laborers, guides, wanderers, nurses, unemployed (and unemployable), doctors, photographers, and lumberjacks. But none of this matters because we are just monkeys yearning for the jungle paradise hidden in this vertical playground of granite where we don’t have to ask permission to swing and jump and climb and eat bananas all day long and then finally pass out in a stinky pile of bodies on a ledge thousands of feet above the ground, safe from all the dangers below.
In fire there is life.
In fear I find comfort. In pain I find pleasure. In death I find rebirth. And when I have finally lost myself in this great wilderness, I will find everything.
I embrace these opposites. I let the light lead to darkness, and the darkness back to light. Show me your joy and I will show you my scars. Open your wounds and I will make you laugh.
In places the land is sterile. In others life springs forth. Autumn comes and leaves fall, winter storms bring water to feed spring meadows, and summer flames renew it all.
I trust in the earth and it takes from me. I trust in the earth and it gives to me. Today I have a body and tomorrow I may not. This is life. And so I sit in the aspen grove and breathe.
Keeping the wilderness wild and protecting the place I love as I wander through untrammeled canyons and forests. “What tree is this?” “Why it’s the dapper Douglas fir!” “Can I camp here?” “No. But over there is an excellent campsite that doesn’t involve killing the meadow.” Friendly education for friendly visitors who want to reignite the primitive being inside their soul. But quick referral to the law for those to good to respect this wilderness that belongs to all—past, present, and future. Merced Lake, here I come, a bit overdue, but here nonetheless… and so happy to be here on your shore, not too far from the source of life herself. Fighting a fire and picking up litter—it’s all in a day’s work. Hmm—yet another radio dead spot. A few feet to the left and… “Copy that Yosemite. Lat and Lon are…” Now that wasn’t too painful. And now for a quick ranger respite in this healing pool of wild and scenic Fletcher Creek—away from it all, just water and mountain and air… John Muir is out here somewhere… I think I saw his silhouette up on Mt Clark—Galen Clark, I’ve got a few questions for you. And to the mosquitoes of Rafferty Creek: ours is a love-hate relationship. You love me. I hate you. But I love that you love me with such passion! And you hate that I hate you with so many swats. What’s that smell?! Smells like Bolivia. It’s a PCT hiker! Oh the memories and textures of that smell! A smile crosses my bug bitten face. And finally back to Tuolumne Meadows. Tuolumne! Where the commissioned rangers cruise main and the thru-hikers flock to the grill like moths to a bug zapper. “Wilderness Three Five out of service.”
Catching thermals with the birds, it’s 98.6 degrees and rising—rising and rising and rising up this sculpted granite column—a staircase to … where we don’t know, but with our heads held high we keep pushing downward to move upward, upward and upward into the blue sky—an oasis of never ending vistas and hanging belays—floating islands of nylon and steel where we genuflect with knees pressed hard against stone while staring into these quartz crystals that tell of the beginning of time itself. And it is here that we find ourselves cast free from the chain of time to dance and create and breathe in a space with no seconds nor minutes nor hours nor days for here everything is one. Then with the snap of a carabiner, dark clouds travel over the horizon and fill the sky—and still we push upward—always upward on the razor’s edge—a panorama of stormy seas above our heads, but all is well for we are sailors and storms our delight! This ship of rock is home and muse for we are poets and artists and philosophers looking for the inspiration that we know lives in the depths of these cracks and on the edges of these ledges—oh! these ledges if only I could live here forever, a sentinel gargoyle perched over this kingdom of castles and cathedrals, my eyes ever watchful and my body hard as the stone where I sit and my chiseled face battered by storm and sun and my shoulders roost to the ravens whose ebony eyes contain the secrets of the universe but their language is foreign to all. But I cannot stay here for I have yet to metamorphose and we are out of water and the hallucinations have begun.
Three days, about 8,000 feet of vertical, bears, friends, Clouds Rest, more bears, Half Dome, peregrines, 60 lbs of gloves removed from Half Dome, more friends, hundreds of visitors educated, waterfalls and back to the Valley.
Pushing through the day and into the night, climbing to lonely summits with the world and the stars swirling all around, speaking with ghosts who flitter in the wind, learning from the wrinkles of sage trees that burst from the fragrant soil that now lives under my fingernails and with fingers pressed to nostrils I inhale forgotten memories, rubbing the gritty soot of fires past between my hands, savoring water that trickles through moss and rock and teems with small moving things, calves strain high on exposed granite slabs glittering with life and radiating warmth, lost and bleeding in a maze of manzanita and thorns that fills the horizon, feet ache while eyes find eden in moonlit meadows, lungs spasming while wading through another freezing creek and bare feet find slippery cobbles below, Venus rises and birds sing under the stars and to what I do not know but the owl gave me a ticket to the symphony and the night crawlers ushered me down the isle to a decomposing seat, a bed of grass under my body and how I came to this spot I do not know but somewhere out here is the center of everything and so I stride deeper into this wilderness.
In the Spirit of John Muir, we scramble up mossy gullies, stumble into hanging valleys that we have known only from the banks of the Merced, plunge into pristine pools carved by the masterful hand of nature, wander up never ending slabs of granite, stuff our unharnessed bodies into chimneys and cracks, wade through manzanita, are rewarded with glorious view after glorious view until we risk saturating our eyes and souls and becoming accustomed to having our breath taken away, run in solitude through miles of pines and ferns and wildflowers, and hitch a ride from a Swiss who can’t help but stare at El Cap rather than the road.
AltaRunning makes running shoes that have zero heal lift and wide toe boxes. Their goal is to create a shoe that better complements the natural anatomical position of our feet, and thus prevent injuries. They make a range of shoes, from light trail shoes like the Superior (not quite minimalist) to maximalist shoes like the Olympus.
The basic idea behind Altra emerged from the back of a family running shop where they started melting off outsoles and removing the heel lift to cure the injuries of runners who were coming into the shop.
Pros: Lightweight; protection for those who don’t want to go minimalist, but want to get close; good uphill traction; stable; comfortable, especially for people with bunions.
Cons: Durability is not the best; downhill traction could be better; the outsole platform on the back sometimes kicks up debris.
The Superior out of the box doesn’t offer tons of padding or protection. Which is why I bought it. But for the trails where you do need extra protection from sharp rocks, the Superior ships with a second set of insoles that are made of rigid plastic. I like this modular approach because I don’t always want or need the extra protection (and decreased sensitivity) that a rock plate offers, but I have the option to use it if the need arrises.
The rubber toe guard on the front of the left shoe started to peel with less than 100 miles on it. I think Altra needs to use a stronger glue.
The toe box has a thin membrane of water and grit resistant material that offers some added protection from moisture and fine grit. But the result is a hotter toe box.
The upper is thin, yet abrasion resistant.
The uphill traction is really good on the Superior. The downhill traction definitely leaves something to be desired, but it is pretty good.
I was surprised with the stickiness of the rubber. It is almost like wearing a pair of approach shoes. For anyone who is trail running in the mountains or over terrain that involves boulder hopping, this is a big plus.
The aggressive and sticky tread also does well on snow.
Stability and comfort—this is where the Superior really shines.
The tight, narrow toe boxes of so many shoes throws of my balance when moving over uneven terrain. The wide toe box of the Superior allows my toes to spread out, which allows the feet to do their natural thing. Whenever I switch from the Superiors to another shoe with a more “standard” toe box, I can feel the instability that other shoe causes by compressing my toes—and as a result my knees suffer.
I believe that this—and comfort—is the big selling point of Altra shoes and the Superior in particular.
The Superior also has a chunk of outsole that extends from the heel. I believe the purpose of this is to add stability during descents, which I think it does, but maybe that is a placebo effect. Sometimes this extra piece grabs sand and rocks and tosses them up and into the shoe. I think Altra calls this a Trail Rudder.
A stable shoe is a comfortable shoe. Three things make the Superior very comfortable for me:
- The zero lift heel. This means the heal and toe are at the same height. Which is as it should be. When we are barefoot, the heel and toe are even with each other. Our shoes need to be this way too.
- The wide toe box, which I talked about above.
- The near minimalist sole. I bought the Superior because I wanted a shoe that felt like the moccasins that I made, but offered a bit more protection for trail runs and hikes.
At 8.7 oz, the Superior is really light. Unfortunately, the weight savings means that the Superior is not a durable or protective as a heavier shoe. But going lighter always means sacrificing a bit of comfort and security—that’s the name of the game.
The Superior is a very sensitive shoe. Not as sensitive as my Five Fingers, but more sensitive than my Brooks Cascadias.
Overall, the craftsmanship seems pretty good. However, on the inside, the lining is pulling away from the seam in a couple of places. Also, the rubber toe guard started to peel just a little with less than 100 miles on the shoe. Having said that, it is a lightweight shoe, not a mountaineering boot, we have to expect and accept some durability issues.
Altra is making shoes that offer a lot of obvious anatomically correct features that are difficult to find in other brands. They aren’t trying to force our feet into their notion of what is anatomically “correct.” For minimalists on the trail (whether hiking or running), the Superior 2.0 is a great shoe.
But with a shoe that is this different, users should expect an adjustment period. You will need to adjust to the feel and you will probably need to adjust your stride (unless you are already using minimalist shoes).
I definitely recommend trying on a pair of Altras.
Indian Paintbrush on the trail to Tungsten Peak outside Bishop, California.
A few years ago I travelled to Slovenia to trace my family’s heritage. This search—to find more information about my family’s origins and to locate distant family members—took me to the province of Prekmurje in Northeastern Slovenia and the small towns of Sotina and Rogašovci, which are in the hilly Goričko region of Prekmurje, both of which are a stone’s throw from the Austrian border and a short drive from Hungary.
I’m writing this post as a brief introduction for anyone traveling to Prekmurje and Goričko. Think of it as a step up from a Lonely Planet guide. If I’m missing anything (which of course I am) or if I have something wrong in the descriptions of the geography and history of the area (probably), then please let me know in the comments (or contact me privately) and I will update the post to keep it relevant. Read More
The winter was very short here in California’s Sierra Nevada—too short, and too dry. But before the snow disappears for the season, we headed into the Palisades area for what might be our last winter excursion into the mountains for the season.
Camping at the second lake provided excellent views of Temple Crag and the tops of the Palisades. The lake was still frozen and we heard booms and cracks through the night. I love to hear the sounds that ice makes as it contracts and expands, and the lake put on a gentle concert for us to fall asleep to.
In the Eastern Sierra, the trail that starts in Rock Creek presents some amazing views. Here, you can see Bear Creek Spire in the background (it is the peak on the right).
Hot springs renew and mountains inspire. This wild hot spring in Long Valley, California has a view that is almost too good to be true.
The Eureka Dunes are located in Eureka Valley, which is inside the boundaries of Death Valley National Park. Here are some interesting facts:
- The tallest of the dunes rises about 700 feet above the valley floor. Which is highest in California and among the highest in North America.
- The Eureka Dune Grass, the Eureka Evening Primrose, and the Shining Locoweed grow only in the Eureka Dunes.
- Two species of beetles are found only in the Eureka Dunes.
- Some of the flora and fauna here are endangered, so tread carefully.
- The Eureka Dunes are booming dunes. When a sheet of sand avalanches down the side of a dune, it causes a low booming noise, similar to the sound of a distant airplane propeller. If the avalanche is big enough, vibrations can be felt throughout the slope.
- Sand snowboarding, sledding, and driving on the dunes are not permitted. It is a hiking only area, which is good because the landscape is extremely fragile.
- Walking on the dunes barefoot feels good.
To get to the Eureka Dunes, if coming from Big Pine, you have to drive over a gravel road with bad washboards for about 10 miles. They are jolting to say the least. But the beauty of the dunes and the surrounding valley and mountains make the drive worth it.
What happens when the object of our dreams becomes reality? No longer a part of our imagination, the dream breaks free from the chains of the subconscious ego and enters our consciousness to become a part of us. The North Ridge of Mt Tom, an island in the sky.
Learning to live again—it is a day by day process. And with each day there are challenges and opportunities. Grateful for this day and where it led us—deeper into the freedom of the hills. East Chute of Basin Mountain.