Archive | June 2013

Favorite Gear: Black Diamond Trail Shock Trekking Poles


When it came to running Cross Country in high school, I was a scrub…a bottom of the barrel B-teamer…the guy who spent a decent amount of each practice and race walking instead of running.  And I was totally fine with that.  Several of my friends were really good runners, and our team competed for Conference championships each year.  While I had absolutely no part in the contending for or winning of those championships I still ended up in the team pictures adorned with the words “Conference Champions,” looking every bit the part of a major contributor to success.  My scrubness was so blatant that at one practice during my Senior year, our coach bypassed giving me and 2 other guys the time requirements for our 3 mile run, and instead turned to us and said, “Just finish the 3 miles.”  Needless to say, “Just finish” became our rallying cry for the remainder of the season.

You see, my entire goal for running Cross Country was to get in shape for basketball season.  I knew that the occasional open gym, and the once a week conditioning sessions hosted by the coaches wouldn’t be enough to prepare me for basketball tryouts and the ensuing season.  What Cross Country offered wasn’t an opportunity to excel and compete for All-Conference honors, but instead it was a chance to build the conditioning necessary to finish the 408 down and back, full-court sprints that would happen in basketball tryouts without keeling over.  What it also provided was a chance to develop tendinitis in both of my knees.

While I’ve never been limited by pain in my knees as a result of the pounding they took in my short-lived “distance” running career, my increasing love of hiking and backpacking would often raise an awareness of the fact that my knees (and ankles for that matter) are much less than superhuman.  Some days would end with a bit of tightness that stretching or a few ibuprofen would alleviate, but in each case there was also that creeping realization that with increasing age comes these increasing aches and pains.  After a backpacking trip a few years ago, I realized that the time had come to be proactive about the health of my knees and ankles.  In my case, being proactive meant investigating these things called trekking poles.

One of the first times I saw someone hiking with trekking poles I remember asking myself, “Why are they using ski poles during the summer time?”  My impression of trekking poles was that they were for older hikers, or those that like to have all kinds of shiny gear with them for appearance sake–they were an expensive alternative to just finding a big stick laying on the ground in the woods.  The need for them, and their purpose in general, was completely lost on me.  It goes without saying then that I didn’t have the slightest clue that good trekking poles are built around shock absorbing springs that can take a pretty serious amount of strain off of your hips, knees and ankles.  When my investigation of trekking poles revealed this fact, it was a game changer.

Simply put:  my trekking poles have been one of the best purchases I’ve made for backpacking.  Since I’m able to absorb the pounding of walking downhill with a heavy pack while also alleviating the strain of pulling the extra weight uphill by redistributing some of that energy and effort to the poles and my upper body, I’ve found that I can carry heavier loads for further distances with far less tightness or pain.  Additionally, their ability to provide stability on unstable ground, serve as tent poles in a pinch, be the stabilizing portion of a splint in a worst case scenario, help in creek crossings, and even be a holder of copious amounts of duct tape make them a very useful tool to have in the back-country.  The main thing they’ve provided for me however, is a confidence that my knees, ankles, and hips are much more likely to hold up in the midst of any ascent or descent–a confidence that came in handy last summer when Becky and I hiked the Northern Loop Trail at Mt. Rainier.

The Northern Loop is a horseshoe shaped trail that connects with a portion of the 93 mile long Wonderland Trail, forming a 35 mile loop that begins and ends at the Sunrise Visitor Center.  Hiking this trail to celebrate our 1st wedding anniversary won out over a couple of other options because of its close proximity to Seattle (which meant it would fit nicely into a small window of time), we knew it would offer incredible scenery, and the reviews of it on-line told us that it would probably be the most demanding trail we had ever done.  What we failed to notice in our research is that you climb somewhere between 9,000 and 9,500 feet over the course of those 36 miles–which means that you also drop somewhere between 9,000 and 9,500 feet as well.  When you combine those two numbers you end up with 36 miles of steep climbs and steep descents, and very little flat or moderate grade sections in between.  In fact, over the entire 36 miles there were only 4 sections of trail that were flat for more than a few feet:  one was when we cut through a small corner of an area called Grand Park–an expansive field that was at least 3-4 football fields wide and probably 8-10 football fields long (it literally looked like the entire top of a mountain had been sliced cleanly off); one was a wild flower meadow that stared directly at Mt. Rainier; one was the top of an absolutely beautiful mountain pass that required an absolutely brutal climb to reach; the final one was the walk through the parking lot.  The rest of the trail alternated between a calf, lung, and thigh burning 1,500-2,000 foot ascent or descent.

But while our research failed to reveal the continual steepness of the trail, it also understated the sheer beauty of what we would find there.  Over the 36 miles we waded through waist deep wildflowers, refreshed our legs and feet in snowmelt creeks and lakes, passed through pristine forests of towering old-growth trees, camped on a ridge above a massive glacier and fell asleep to the sound of the ice cracking and moving, and spent an entire morning following in the fresh tracks of a mountain goat.  At the end of every steep climb we were rewarded with some kind of an astounding view:  blown open views of Mt. Rainier, sheer rock cliffs that exploded with color in the last rays of the evening sun, or mountain lakes sitting at the top of remote mountain passes whose waters were as blue as the sky.

The beauty contained in those 5 days of hiking couldn’t be crammed into a year’s worth of blog post words, so I’m going to stop my meager attempts.  Instead, I’m going to let pictures that we took during the trip do the talking.  Usually these “Favorite Gear” posts contain a story of one event that happened while using whatever piece of gear is being highlighted.  That isn’t possible this time.  The one event that I will forever associate with these trekking poles is this 5 day trip spent celebrating a year of marriage, but also celebrating the very essence of beauty that can be found in Creation.


Sunday Jazz — June 16th

What do you call a drummer with half a brain?  Gifted.

How do you get a drummer off of your front porch?  Pay him for the pizza.

What’s the difference between a drummer and a savings bond?  One will mature and make money.

Apparently the list of jokes about drummers is fairly lengthy, and all of them arrive at a similar place:  drummers aren’t the most intelligent, skilled, famous, or even important parts of a band.  There are definitely exceptions to that rule:  there’s Travis Barker, the drummer and perhaps most recognizable member of Blink-182; Rick Allen, Def Leppard’s drummer who only had one arm; Tommy Lee from Motley Crue; Lars Ulrich from Metallica, who went nuts over people downloading songs for free on Napster; Ringo Starr from the Beatles; and of course, Animal from the Muppets.  Wait, what?  You wouldn’t have known the names of most of those drummers if they walked up to you on the street?  Me either.  I actually had to look up a list of drummers to remember enough names beyond Ringo and Animal to make a list.

One realm where jokes about a drummer’s lack of importance holds very little, or no water at all is in jazz.  Sure, guys like Miles and Duke Ellington and Count Basie dominate discussions about the best jazz artists of all time, and granted none of them were drummers.  But what is lost in those conversations is the fact that without guys like Art Blakey, Gene Kruppa, Chick Webb, and Philly Joe Jones, the innovations and explorations that the great names of jazz brought to the table probably wouldn’t have been as successful, and perhaps wouldn’t have been possible at all.  These guys had to take the changes in musical structure that were being explored and hold the tunes together with their rhythms–in essence, they had to rewrite how the drums were played in order to hang with the constant changes happening around them.

Which brings us to the video for today.  While he might not have been the most important drummer in Jazz history, Max Roach could more than hold his own.  This was evident by the fact that he played on a lot of the great albums of the bop era.  I remember being mesmerized by a video of Max Roach playing solo on a VHS tape of a Dizzy Gillespie show in my early teens.  We’ll get to a video of that performance in a second, but first, a more standard drum solo video from Max Roach….

Not too shabby, right?  Similar to a guitar player holding down both the rhythm and the tune simultaneously.  But what if he didn’t have the luxury of a full drum set?  What would he be able to do if he was left with only one element of a full set, and what if that one element wasn’t the obvious choice of the snare?  What if all he was left with was the hi-hat?  Well, it just so happens there’s a video of that, and it’s the video that left me mesmerized as a teenager and still does today.  Enjoy.

The Art in Clouds

Clouds have always interested me.  That fascination hasn’t been in the learn all of their names and the weather patterns associated with them realm, but instead in the more simple watch and examine their shape, layers, and textures realm.  Whether that meant making shapes out of them as a kid, watching the dark clouds of a thunderstorm roll across the mountain from my dorm room window in college, or seeing all the ways light can filter and bounce off of and through them in sunrises and sunsets, clouds always give you something new and different to look at if you take a moment to stop and look up.

This fascination has carried over into a lot of my photography as well.  No matter what type of photo I’m attempting to take, I often find myself trying to incorporate the clouds above the scene into the shot as well.  In some instances I’ve stopped shooting the sunset or mountain scene almost entirely to focus on the clouds that are around them, making them the subject of the picture instead.  Perhaps that stems from looking through a lot of Ansel Adams photographs, who often shifted the horizon lower into the frame than normal in order to allow more room for the clouds to become part of the image.  Or perhaps it comes from a lifetime of being intrigued by clouds–their shape, texture, and depth of color.

As I was digging through some old pictures tonight, I stumbled upon a lot of old pictures of clouds.  From there I spent roughly an hour digging through all of my pictures looking for images that show movement, texture, or depth.  In some of the pictures, the clouds serve as a backdrop to the actual subject of the picture.  In others, they become the subject themselves.  Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

“Doc of the Drakes”

Since today is the first day of June and the weather for the next week looks like it’ll back up that fact, I think I am well within range to start letting my mind wander to the insect hatches that produce Summer dry fly fishing.  Whenever my mind starts to wander to that topic, I inevitably think about a video that was shown at the 2012 Fly Fishing Film Tour entitled “Doc of the Drakes.”  In it, a film crew follows Pete Wood, a guide with Silver Creek Outfitters in Idaho, and Dr. Robert Franklin as they fish the brown drake hatch on Silver Creek.  This hatch is so plentiful that even the biggest fish in the river rise to the surface to get their fill–even though the diet of these brutes usually consist of smaller fish.

Any normal video that follows a guide and a client fishing this hatch would turn up some amazing footage, complete with several hero shots of the client holding up enormous fish.  But this video is different.  See, Dr. Franklin is a retired doctor in his 80’s and suffers from fairly severe shaking brought on by his battle with Parkinson’s.  These shakes, plus the added pressure of a camera crew hoping to document your success and the knowledge that the hatch only lasts for 2-3 days maximum results in missed fish, after missed fish, after missed fish.  At one point in the full version of this film, the filmmaker begins to question whether or not he jinxed Dr. Franklin out of his once-a-year chance to enjoy the success of this epic hatch.

At that moment, a realization hits.  While the Doc does manage to stick an absolute beast of a fish at the end (a moment that made an entire theater of fly fishermen gasp because of the size of the fish), it’s apparent that this video really has very little to do with the fish.  The video, just like fly fishing itself, is about something more.  It’s about the patience shown by the guide, Pete.  It’s about the friendship that exists between these two anglers from completely different walks of life.  It’s about a resolve to never give up, no matter the circumstances.  It’s about treasuring every moment you’re able to spend on the water–the ones that end up fish-less, and the ones that end with the fish of a lifetime in the net.

Enjoy the video.  Even though it’s only a 5 minute version of the original, I think the point can still be readily felt.