Friday, September 30, 2011

The Friday Wrap: Highpointing 2011 and UP

It's been a wonderful month!

The girls and I had a blast traveling throughout Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. We bagged highpoints number 38 and 39 (Texas' Guadalupe Peak and Arizona's Humphreys Peak). Next year, we'll shoot for numbers 40-42 (New Mexico's Wheeler Peak, Colorado's Mt. Elbert, and either Utah's Kings Peak or Nevada's Boundary Peak).

Two days ago, we had lunch in Manhattan with Sydny Miner, our wonderful editor at Broadway Books/Crown Publishing Group, Sydny's assistant, Anna Thompson, and one of our publicists, Elizabeth Hayes. After lunch, the girls and I went back to Sydny's office and met the rest of our entire publishing team. Later, our agent, Laurie Bernstein, took us to High Tea at The Pierre. It was an incredible day; our heads are still spinning from all the excitement! UP is in great hands.

Life is good.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Highpoint: Arizona. Humphreys Peak (12,637 ft). September 18, 2011

Humphreys Peak Trail. 9.5 miles roundtrip, about 3500 feet of elevation gain.

Our first high altitude hike!

Though both my girls are strong and adventurous, we approached this summit with kid gloves. Altitude sickness is no joke -- it can quickly lead to nasty things like High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). Since I wanted to keep Alex and Sage healthy and happy, I insisted on a slow and careful acclimatization process. We proceeded as follows:

Day One: Drove to Humphreys Peak trailhead (9300 feet), hiked a couple tenths of a mile to 9500 feet, sat down and read for six hours. Descended and slept at about 7500 feet.

Day Two: Hiked Humphreys Peak trail to 10,200 feet, sat down, read for four hours. Girls moved all earthworms off our section of the trail and played in the dirt for two hours. Descended and slept at about 7500 feet.

Day Three: We wanted to hike to 11,400 feet and read/move earthworms, but a mile into our hike, the familiar trail disappeared underneath a zillion fallen trees. To me, it looked like a microburst occurred sometime between the time we left the area the day before and the time we arrived this morning. Massive fallen and twisted trunks and branches buried the trail. We climbed through what we could while I kept an eye on our surroundings above -- the trees had not yet finished falling. Quite a few leaned precariously over the trail, their root systems bobbing up and down in the newly loosened soil. We turned back without making much headway. The damage seemed to go on and on, the wind was high, and I worried we'd get smushed by an unstable tree. I drove to the nearby administrative offices of the neighboring ski area and reported the damage to the rangers. I was later told a tornado had actually touched down. Their web site calls it a "wind event." Whatever it was, it happened not long after we descended the day before.

EDIT -- It WAS a tornado!

Day Four: Hugh arrived the previous evening. We took him to see the damage, then we rode the ski lift up neighboring Agassiz Peak and hung out at 11,500 for a few hours. Sage started coughing -- sounded like a cold, there were no other symptoms.

Day Five: We rode up the ski lift again. I asked the medics up top about Sage's cough, they watched her run around and said it probably wasn't altitude related. They told me not to worry unless she exhibited other symptoms. We hiked up to 11,800 feet, read, ran around, and played all day.

Day Six: Summit Day!

We hit the trail not long after sunrise.

View from the meadow on the very first part of the trail...

The rangers had put up a sign warning hikers of the mess ahead.

We hiked cautiously through this section, which thankfully lasted a mere one or two tenths of a mile.

It was nice to find clear trail again.

Up up up...

Breaking out of the trees, one can see neighboring Agassiz and the top of the ski lift...

We reached 11,400 feet without any problems. Sage's cough was there, but infrequent. No one had a headache or felt dizzy -- we were all systems go.


Views from the saddle, about 11,800 feet...

We ate, we drank, we moved on...

There are three Evil False Summits on this hike. We knew this ahead of time and mentally prepared ourselves. Here, Sage contemplates the first.

Looking back after conquering two of the three.

Rounding the third and looking at the real summit of Humphreys Peak.

Approaching the summit!

Sage reached it first.

Alex caught up and the girls posed.

Hugh was next.

Views from the top of Arizona!

We hung out for about half an hour before beginning our descent. We took it slowly -- both girls were complaining of slight headaches.

The beautiful side of Agassiz...

We returned to our car safely; the headaches went away with the decrease in altitude. Both girls were happy and proud of themselves, and we ribbed Hugh about having been outdone by his six-year-old daughter (Hugh's first high altitude hike was Canada's 11,620 ft. Mt. Temple when he was eight -- Sage beat him by a thousand feet and a year and a half).

This was an enjoyable hike. The slow acclimatization process helped tremendously -- we'll do the same for future high altitude ascents.

Both girls want to continue this game, so we'll head west again next year and hopefully pick up New Mexico, Colorado, and perhaps Utah or Nevada. We had planned on trying New Mexico's Wheeler Peak this year, but Sage's cough turned into a full-blown, nasty cold and she was in no shape to hike the weekend we had planned on ascending Wheeler. Alex now has the same cold, so we're spending the last few days of our trip holed up in a low altitude hotel watching movies and drinking NyQuil.

Before we return to New Hampshire, we will stop by New York City and have lunch with Sydny Miner, our editor at Broadway Books/Crown, and my agent, Laurie Bernstein. We look forward to finally meeting them both!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Very limited internet access -- and tornado (?) hits Humphreys Peak Trail

We are in a fairly remote location and internet access is limited. I'm able to post quick messages on Facebook easier than I can broadcast blog updates, so follow us on Facebook for daily news about our highpointing progress. When we return to New Hampshire at the end of September, I'll resume posting daily messages -- and I'll have exciting news to share about our forthcoming book, UP (Broadway Books, April 2012).

We're now in the process of acclimatizing for Arizona's highpoint, Humphreys Peak -- however, we've hit what might be a major snag. We were on the main trail yesterday hanging out at a certain elevation. We planned to go higher today, but when we tried to ascend this morning we found that the trail is now rendered impassable by a plethora of broken and fallen trees. The destruction was a sight to behold -- massive, giant pines snapped, twisted, and strewn everywhere. We descended and I reported the mess to the rangers. Later today, I was told the rangers think an actual tornado might have hit that section of trail yesterday late afternoon or evening (perhaps a mere four hours after we descended for the day).

We will continue the acclimatization process using other methods of ascent to higher elevations, but at this point I'm not sure if the main trail up Humphreys Peak will be open anytime soon. We're talking catastrophic damage -- I'm kicking myself for forgetting my camera this morning. I will try to get up there early tomorrow morning before the rangers section off the trail (if they haven't already); I'd like to take some pictures. Unbelievable scene. I'm glad the girls got to see it firsthand.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday Trip Report: Highpoint: Texas. Guadalupe Peak (8751 ft). September 10, 2011

Guadalupe Peak Trail. 8.4 miles roundtrip, 3000 feet of elevation gain.

Pictured below: El Capitan and Guadalupe Peak.

The girls and I were able to stay at the beautiful Hotel El Capitan before and after climbing Guadalupe Peak. If you're in the area, we highly recommend spending a night or two here. It's a lovely establishment.

We arrived at the trailhead just after sunrise. It was a cool morning; clouds covered the sun during most of our ascent.

Guadalupe Peak is located within the Chihuahuan Desert, so the conditions are normally dry, fairly hot, and..well..desert-like.

The first section of the trail is the steepest. A series of switchbacks leads the hiker up up up; views of the surrounding desert are phenomenal. The lack of tall vegetation also allows one to continually see the parking lot until the trail crests this section and enters a small forest.

There are two very short portions of the Guadalupe Peak Trail that require walking next to a steep drop-off. One of these portions is pictured below:

The trail eventually leads the hiker into the trees.

Here's the other portion of the trail with a steep drop-off....

The only bridge on the trail, which crosses a chasm. We're now less than a mile from the summit.

Ascending the summit cone...

The girls with the top of El Capitan behind them...

Almost there...

On the top of Texas!

Close-up of El Capitan (picture taken by Sage).

Close-up of the roads below (picture taken by Alex).

Views from the top of Texas...

The girls being goofy...

We lounged about for 45 minutes, appreciating the views. We chatted with other hikers and enjoyed a conversation with a volunteer ranger who had passed us on the trail. The weather was perfect, it was perhaps 80 degrees on the summit.

Eventually, we decided to descend.

We saw quite a few of these today...

Back at the trailhead!

The girls checked out the nearby Visitor's Center after the hike.

Comments and observations:

We made it up in 3.5 hours with Sage setting the pace. We passed a large group and, with the exception of the ranger, were the first to arrive on the summit. We weren't trying to rush, as there were no thunderstorms in the forecast. The girls continue to naturally get faster and stronger, and I REALLY need to get in shape or they will leave me in the dust within a year or two.

Water -- this is a dry peak. I took my large pack and filled it with jugs of water. We ended up with far more than we needed and I was able to give some to hikers who arrived on the summit with barely any liquids left for their descent. I highly recommend bringing more water than you think you'll need for this peak. There are no water crossings and this is a desert environment.

Mountain lions -- they are in Guadalupe Peak National Park, but the volunteer ranger said he has never seen one on this particular trail. Still, I hiked with a hunting knife, kept the girls close, and kept looking behind me all the way up and down the trail. I'm not sure that knife would have done any good if a mountain lion had actually showed up, but it made me feel better nonetheless.

Rattlesnakes and tarantulas -- a hiker is likely to see one of these, so be careful where you step and sit. Unfortunately, we didn't see any specimens of either species, much to our simultaneous relief and disappointment.

Next stop: Arizona.