Climbing Big Walls

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

Little Yosemite Valley and the Meadow Fire

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.

On Patrol in Yosemite

Yosemite's High Country

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.”

On Washington Column in Yosemite Valley

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.

On Patrol in Yosemite

Sunset over Tenaya Canyon

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.

Lonely Summits

Night in the Illilouette 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.

Yosemite Swimming Holes

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.

Altra Superior-1

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.

Price: $110

Foot Protection

The removable rock guard on the left and the insole on the right.

The removable rock guard on the left and the insole on the right.

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.


Yes, the tread has a cool foot-like pattern. It is also really good going uphill. Note the recessed areas where outsole has been removed to expose the foam.

Yes, the tread has a cool foot-like pattern. It is also really good going uphill. Note the recessed areas where outsole has been removed to expose the foam—the result is more flexibility but less protection.

The aggressive tread of the Altra Superior sticks pretty well on snow.

The aggressive tread of the Altra Superior sticks pretty well on snow.

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.


The toe box is pretty wide—wider than most running shoes. But it could be wider.

The toe box is pretty wide—wider than most running shoes. But it could be wider.

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.


The thin, but padded sole has good flexibility.

The thin, but padded sole has good flexibility.

A stable shoe is a comfortable shoe. Three things make the Superior very comfortable for me:

  1. 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.
  2. The wide toe box, which I talked about above.
  3. 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.


Note that the Altra does not use metal grommets. Instead, the eyeholes for the laces are sewn.

Note that the Altra does not use metal grommets. Instead, the eyeholes for the laces are sewn.

Altra Superior Inside

The inside without the insole. There are no burrs, so the Superior can be worn without the insole. However, the lining is tearing away from the seam in places.

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

Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush on the trail to Tungsten Peak outside Bishop, California.

View of Ljubljana from Grajski Grič (Castle Hill). Ljubljana Castle sits at the top of Grajski Grič.

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 Palisades of the Sierra Nevada.

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.

Rock Creek Trail and Bear Creek Spire

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).

Ahh, the Hot Spring

Eastern Sierra Hot Springs.

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.

Eureka Dunes

Eureka Dunes.

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.

North Ridge Mt Tom

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.

East Chute of Basin Mountain

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.


Obsidian at Panum Crater

Obsidian at Panum Crater near the shore of Mono Lake on the Eastern Side of California’s Sierra Nevada.

East Face of Basin Mountain

Into this magical maze I climbed. Alone, on an uncharted route, fear and joy raged within me. The mountain pulled me into its depths, through a gauntlet of loose rock bands and steep alpine ice—moves to scary to reverse. I was committed to the ascent. I came to a gateway no wider than my arms reach with granite walls towering hundreds of feet above me. The mountain allowed me to pass and on the other side I found a hidden paradise where countless possibilities stretched beyond the horizon. Somewhere on the East Face of Basin Mountain.

East Couloir of Basin Mountain.

I have always valued physical endurance. The human body has the capacity to accomplish a stunning array of feats under its own power. But endurance is not a right waiting for us to call it into action like the Fifth Amendment. We have to work for endurance. It is something that we earn after years and thousands of hours of movement. Read More



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