30 June 2016

How To: Sun Protection in the Snow

This is my friend Casey. She's a rockstar, and summitted Mt. Baker via the Squak Glacier last weekend in a single day. We spent 13 hours on our feet going from the top to the bottom, with 7-8 of those hours under direct sunlight.

Casey stoked to be on the summit of Mt. Baker!

As you can tell from the photo, Casey is of the pale-skin variety. Prone to burning, Casey put on sunscreen no fewer than 6 times that I personally witnessed, and probably more. Some might call that overkill, but not this fair lady! She knows the secret to staying young and avoiding the dreaded "leather face" is to take care of yourself.

Even though she was highly diligent, she missed a few spots and ended up with second-degree burns in her nose. Yes.... in her nose. It's actually more common than you might think. As you travel over snow,  UV rays from the sun are reflected off of the snow and back onto every available surface, often infiltrating places you didn't think to put sunscreen. This can happen in the sun or under cloud cover, so you still need sunscreen even when it's cloudy. I've seen backcountry travelers with bad sunburns on the roof of their mouths, back of their knee, under their arms, and I have personally experienced my fair share of lip-sunburns.

The dreaded lip sunburn (not to mention the notable racoon eyes) results in big white blisters on your lips in addition to some uncomfortable swelling. Avoid this at all costs.

When you want to get outside and staying out of the sun isn't an option, use these five items to protect your beautiful skin from sun damage:
  • Sunscreen: You want something that goes on and stays on, and doesn't run as you start to sweat. Apply liberally every two-ish hours (or more frequently if you are like Casey), and be sure to get it in those sunburn-prone areas, especially up your nose and on the underside of your arms and chin. The nose can be especially tricky, as it gets snotty in cold weather, so you'll be wiping it a lot thus removing the sunscreen. For sunscreen, I really like this soothe mineral sunscreen or the REVERSE broad spectrum coverage that Casey just got me hooked on (full disclosure: Casey works for Rodan and Fields, which is how I learned of these products, but she's keen to get everyone a discount so shoot her an email if you're interested). 
  • Sunscreen chapstick: This may seem redundant, but you'll need sunscreen for your lips in the form of chapstick. Put this on when you put on sunscreen. You can also use the chapstick on your nose, which does the trick for me to prevent sunburns. I've had a few kinds, but recently discovered this and really like it, and Casey recommends this one.
  • Eye Protection: Eyes can sunburn just like anything else. Snow blindness is a real danger in the backcountry. To protect yourself, buy sunnies that wrap around your face to prevent any sunlight from burning your eyes. A lot of my friends wear Julbo's, and I like Tifosi myself, but the brand doesn't matter as long as you have good face coverage. I also like photochromic lenses, meaning the lenses change tint depending on ambient light, which is a nice feature for extra protection against the late-day sun (and bugs, which like to fly into your eyeballs). Bonus: Do not bring goggles with the intention of climbing in them, they should be used almost exclusively for descent. They do not breathe well, and if you wear them while you're sweating they're sure to fog up.
  • Hat: Hats come in all shapes and sizes, and you should grab one that works for you. Try to get something with some mesh built in, and a brim big enough to cover your face when the sun is directly overhead. You can go classic ballcap or even-more-classic Gramma-gardener hat. The important thing is that you are comfortable wearing and carrying it.
  • Buff: I have a hard time wearing buffs unless I'm in terrible wind because I have this weird face claustrophobia thing, but as David is demonstrating in the photo below, wearing a buff is an extremely effective way to keep the sun out. This will protect your neck and chin from burning, and can be pulled up to cover your lips and nose as well. You can buy these basically anywhere, but something like this might be very appropriate given the upcoming holiday ('Murica). 
Summit crew displaying proper sun protection.

For those of you with four-legged pals, remember they are prone to these same sun dangers, so be sure to pick up a pair of doggles to protect your pooch's eyes! Happy Adventuring!

23 June 2016

The Reading Rainbow of My Heart

I'm reading a pretty terrible book right now. Normally when I don't like a book, I give myself permission to quit after 100 pages or 1/3 of the book, whichever is sooner. I keep reading this particular story because it was written by a celebrity and I'm a bit of a voyeur (or so it would seem).

As someone who writes a lot for work and in my personal life, I'm picky about writing styles. I tend to like varied sentence structure. I'm a sucker for good grammar and vocabulary. I notice a clever turn of phrase and am especially amorous for an awesome alliteration. For all of the things I love about reading, I can think of two things I find really irritating:

  • Ellipses as periods....they are not.....write a proper sentence you jackass....
  • Excessive exclamation points!!!!!!
The book I'm reading right now has both. But I keep reading, and I will until all the other library books I have requested magically become available.

To distract me from this current book crisis, and to honor my childhood as a fan of Reading Rainbow (which I just learned was the #1 most downloaded app in the first 36-hours of launch in 2012), here are my favorite books of all time (or at least dating back to 2011, when I started keeping track of books I read for pleasure and not things I had to read for school (some of which I also really enjoyed)):

The Book Thief
Runner(s) Up: Lamb, All The Light We Cannot See

In my mind I am solely a reading of non-fiction, but when I think back on all of my very favorite books, they tend to be historical fiction where I can really lose myself in the story. Each one of these books is absolutely fantastic. The Book Thief is set in Germany during WWII, and follows the life of a young girl who steals books the Nazi party intends to destroy. Each book becomes a symbol of the time in her life when she's reading it. I couldn't put this book down, and if you like the writing of Zusak, I highly recommend his other novel I Am Messenger.

Lamb is the story of young Jesus as told by his best friend Biff. If you're familiar with the story of the Bible and can take a good joke, this is a must-read. Moore has written a number of novels, but this is by far the best.

All the Light is another story set in WWII (as is a theme with many of the books I really like) and tells two parallel stories - one of a young blind girl caught in the crossfires of war, and another of a young man recruited to the Nazi party. It's compelling and heartbreaking and reads like a love story, yet is really about two lives tragically interwoven by the perils of war.

Fiction (but so realistic it might as well be non-fiction)
The Martian
Runner(s) Up: A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Earlier this year I wanted to do some reading, but was struggling to find new books. I did the only rational thing a person would do in my situation: I asked Facebook. The responses blew me away, and a number of people recommended The Martian. Far outside of my normal comfort zone, I gave it a chance based on the glowing reviews from friends, family, AND colleagues. I'm here to tell you, they were right. This book is fantastic and you can't put it down. Plus, it was written by a non-author who works for NASA and all of the science is sound. I haven't seen the movie yet, but it's on my list now too. The book felt so realistic it might as well be non-fiction.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is absolutely wrenching and everyone should read it. See also: The Kite Runner.

I'm a sucker for a local book. Set in Seattle, Hotel tells the story of a young Chinese boy in the 1940's, and what happens to his best friend - a Japanese girl - during the internment. The story alternates between between present-day (1980's) Henry and young-child (1940's) Henry, and it's well written, delicately told, and happy and sad in all the ways you want it to be.

The Boys in the Boat
Runner(s) Up: Wild, Minus 148-degrees, Bossy Pants, Sixty Meters to Anywhere

Non-fiction books are my favorite. My colleague Jeff summed it up recently when he said, "Why would I want to read something fake when real stories are so much more interesting?" 

If you are the 1% that hasn't read The Boys in the Boat, go get it right now. Seriously, why are you still reading this blog? It's one of the best books I've ever read, and I know nothing/do not care at all about rowing. The storytelling is so well done, so vividly portrayed, that you feel like you're sitting in the boat with the oarsmen. Plus it's a true story with a tablespoon of national pride. Did I mention it's set in Seattle AND Nazi Germany? Yes, buy it now.

Moving on: when I got laid off in 2013, I made a point to have a list of things I wanted to accomplish while out of work. The first day I reorganized my kitchen. The second day I read Wild. I know there's a lot of hype around this book, but I really enjoyed it. Cheryl Strayed has such an incredibly relatable tone in her writing. She's very open and vulnerable, and I feel like I learned a lot from her about myself. She's also the author of the Dear Sugar column, and I'd recommend her collection of column excerpts in Tiny Little Things as well.

If you liked Into Thin Air or Touching the Void, or even if you didn't, you'll enjoy Minus 148*. It chronicles the journey of the first winter descent of Denali, and the harrowing efforts to get off the mountain alive. Davidson writes for the layperson (meaning nothing too technical) and the story of resilience and tenacity is one for the ages.

I love Tina Fay. I loved Mean Girls and own every episode of 30 Rock. I think she's incredibly talented and I enjoyed the story of her life. It's nothing overly personal or groundbreaking, but when you're a fan-girl sometimes you have to indulge.

Speaking of fan-girl, I'm a total fangirl for Brendan Leonard. I discovered his blog shortly after he started writing it in 2012, and his writing style and commitment-to-weekly-publishing has really inspired my own blog. He's written funny, adventure-based irreverend blogs like Dude, it's okay to hug your bro and Obsessive Campfire Adjustment Syndrome and has evolved to write more introspective blogs on big picture issues like How Gratitude Makes You Happier and the importance of Loving what you do, even if you don't do what you love. On his blog he writes, "I think we all need to spend more time doing things we love, going to places that make us feel small, remembering to laugh at ourselves, and getting a little cold, tired, and scared every once in awhile." His book Sixty Meters is really, really great, and tells his personal story of a life changed by addiction and climbing.  

Johnathan Livingston Seagull
Runner Up: The Prophet

Both of these books are short, and both were given to me by people who knew I needed to read the book at that time in my life. You can read each book in just a few hours, but the lessons you gain from them can be studied and applied for a lifetime. 

16 June 2016

Snow Spelunk - Cave Explorations on Mount Hood

One of my very favorite parts of my job at The Mountaineers is when I get to write articles for our Mountaineer magazine. In November, I was privileged to write an article about my friends Erik, Dave, and Tyler, who had gone on an exploration of the glacier ice caves on Mt. Hood.

Their story is inspirational - it's just a group of friends making time to explore together - and the photos are incredible. To see the photography, including the center-spread, check out the archived version of the magazine online here (and please ignore the typos....my bad).

Erik Chelstad. Cover boy.

Here's the typo free version (and you can also find it on The Mountaineers blog here):

As he stood at the mouth of Pure Imagination, a newly discovered ice cave on Mt. Hood’s Sandy Glacier, Tyler Jursain felt apprehension. “I don’t even know if we’re welcome here,” he thought, glancing to his partners Dave Perez and Erik Chelstad. They had been planning this trip for months, and now he stood feet from the final destination.
Countless decisions had been made to get here. Just one more lay ahead. With a deep breath, Tyler cocked his head to the side, pointed his ear toward the back of the cave, and listened for monsters. He heard nothing. He took his first step. 


Only fully discovered in 2011, the Sandy Glacier Caves are the largest and most extensive glacier cave system in the lower 48. The caves are caused by erosion of the rapidly retreating glacier, creating caverns where ice meets rock. A combined 7,000 linear feet make up these caverns, which are comprised of three main caves: Snow Dragon, Pure Imagination, and Frozen Minotaur. Snow Dragon, the largest and most explored of the caves, collapsed one month before their trip.
The idea for the exploration came from Erik. His friend, skiing near the cave, had posted a few alluring photographs online. Erik was immediately stoked and wanted to see it for himself. He did some research and learned these caves had only been reported in early 2000 and painstakingly mapped by a team of experts in 2011. He knew he had to go.
Erik sent an email to his adventure buddies Dave and Tyler. Initially, their excitement  was underwhelming. So, like any calculating Mountaineer, Erik tactically dropped reminders every few weeks via email. Just as the last photograph was fizzling from memory, he strategically chose another little "nugget" to deliver to their inboxes. He found maps and pictures and articles and videos, sharing relentlessly until everyone mirrored his stoke. They picked a date. 
Dave about to enter the cave.


Dave, Erik, and Tyler are all members of The Mountaineers and intermediate climbing students. Originally from the East Coast, Dave spent a few years in British Columbia before moving to Olympia in February 2012. He didn't know anyone and wanted to explore his new home with people who loved the outdoors. Dave discovered The Mountaineers by searching for people who meet in the mountains on Google. It was too late for him to get into a basic climbing class in Olympia, so he enrolled in the intense scrambling course in Seattle. 
Much like Dave’s Google search, Erik was looking up a good place to go snowshoeing in the moonlight and found The Mountaineers. "It looked like a cool crew and a good community, so I signed up,” he said. He enrolled in the intense scrambling course too, meeting Dave and kicking off an adventure bromance.
Tyler lives on the Washington coast in an isolated community. "I needed an outlet," he said. Tyler's Uncle Mark — who had taken Basic Climbing with us a few years prior — handed Tyler his old course book and told him to go for it. “It seemed like a fun thing to do," Tyler said. He enrolled in Olympia’s Basic course in early 2013, where Dave was also a student.  
The three finally met in the Tatoosh. Unbeknownst to one another,  Dave was there with some friends, Tyler was on a Mountaineers trip, and Erik was climbing Unicorn on a separate Mountaineers trip. They met randomly in the campground, and the rest, as you say, is history.


The Cave Boys planned their trip for the first weekend in April. To access the vast cave system, you drive NE-1828 to the Top Spur Trailhead on the northern side of Hood via the Zig Zag Ranger Station. NE-1828 is not maintained in the winter, requiring an additional 7.8 mile approach from Muddy Fork Road. The road is normally snow-covered and impassable in April, but the particularly dry season made conditions drive-able to the trailhead. After a "really comfortable hike" on the trail, they reached McNeil Point Shelter.
From there, a long, exposed off-trail traverse was required to reach the mouth of the caves. Clouds rolled in as they reached the shelter, obscuring their view. They could no longer see their destination. With no tracks to follow – they were officially off the grid. 
Using the navigation skills learned in The Mountaineers, the cave boys did their best to pick a safe spot for camp while considering the recent snowfall and potential avalanche danger/run off zone. While pitching their tent at sun set, the clouds broke. For a fleeting moment the caves were visible. "It was like a beacon of hope, being able to see that we are so close. It totally rejuvenated us," said Dave.
The morning brought hours of slogging through fresh snow to reach the mouth of the cave (snowshoes having been hastily abandoned at the trailhead). Nearing the bottom of the energy reserve, Pure Imagination revealed itself right in front of them.
Prior to the trip, Erik had searched far and wide for beta about the caves. He found an organization of spelunkers with some great info, but relatively speaking this area is still pretty unexplored. This was both exciting and unnerving. “We knew that we had several different sources of information, but conditions are always changing,” Erik said. “Openings close, structures collapse, and for days we had been fighting whiteout conditions. Every little adventure like this is a series of trust exercises, where you stop and evaluate what's going on - using the people around you to help make the right decisions." 
One of the email nuggets Erik had found online was really crucial: “approach the mouth of the glacier cave, peer in, cock your head, and orient your ear towards the back of the cave. If you hear ‘monsters’, do NOT go in.”
What are ‘monsters’ exactly? Rolling boulders or chunks of falling ice. A roaring river so loud you can’t hear anything else. Sounds of instability.
They listened and heard nothing.


 “It’s definitely scary as you take your first steps inside,” said Dave. “But once you're in there and you're doing it, it's incredible. The magnitude was just grand and epic. It makes you feel so small.”
Tyler had a similar experience. “It was humbling. I felt nervous going in but was in absolute awe once I got inside. We get to walk on all these glaciers but we never get to see the underbelly,” he said. 
Once inside, they encountered super-thin ice frozen onto the rock. They rappelled down the steep sections, the ice too sheen for crampons to be effective. While exploring a few feet from each other, the rushing water echoed throughout the chamber making communication impossible. To stay safe, they relied on lessons from The Mountaineers. "We really got to use everything we learned in The Mountaineers on this trip.” Erik said. “We got to do all of it: navigation, trip planning, decision making, snow camping, glacier travel and identifying instabilities in snow, building an anchor and rappelling off of it. We didn't place pro, but we basically used everything we learned.” 
In total, they spent little time in the cave compared to getting there – much like climbing to the summit of a mountain. Yet their memories will last a lifetime. “I'm 35 years old and I've been playing in the mountains since I was 15. I've never seen anything like this," said Dave 


Like Mountaineers from 100 years ago, these cave boys sought to go off the beaten path. This trip wasn’t an epic into uncharted territory, but covered new ground for each of them and offered a chance to explore for the sake of exploration. The cave boys live in different towns but took time to meet in the mountains. We all have busy lives and busy schedules, but  putting “adventure” on your calendar is always worth it.
I think that's what's cool about this trip, and frankly what’s cool about The Mountaineers: the trip wasn't an 'epic', but that doesn't matter. It was an adventure with friends. Friends made through The Mountaineers. 
Dave first joined The Mountaineers looking to find people to get outside. "I succeeded in my goal with The Mountaineers,” he said. “After meeting Erik, we hit it off with two other people in our scrambling course and together had a full summer of adventure. We get together pretty frequently, and when you add in Tyler, I have my go-to people when I want to go outside."
I asked if any of them would have considered the Sandy Glacier Caves without The Mountaineers. They all said no. Without our Mountaineers community, Dave, Erik, and Tyler wouldn't know each other. They wouldn't think it was a good idea to go camping in a hillside in the middle winter. They wouldn't launch a cave exploration trip. They couldn't be the "cave boys".
When I asked if they would recommend this expedition, I heard a resounding yes. But they made sure to emphasize caution. Be educated in the approach. Don't go when there's summertime snow conditions, which could be any time of year with recent weather patterns. Learn safe off-trail and glacier travel skills. Go with a buddy and, most of all, listen for the monsters.

09 June 2016

Turns All Year: Month 55


To kickoff my birthday month, and celebrate my 55th consecutive month of skiing, I hopped on a helicopter and took a trip into the mountains of the great white north! I'd never ridden on a helicopter (it was incredible), I'd never done a 7-day backcountry ski trip (it was hard), and I'd never spent so much time on the snow in the sweltering heat (it was hot). While staying at the palatial Kokanee Lodge, I enjoyed excellent company and views and got to experience 8-days of being truly unplugged. If you get a chance, I highly recommend a trip there!

Here are some of my favorite pics, which I think paint a pretty good "picture" of our week there:

Tony Paquette captured this beaut. VERY dramatic.

Team Tutu is coming for you! Great photo by Chris Haley.

The extra-large beauty of this place was mesmerizing. Photo by George Smilov.

We had some stars. Photo by George Smilov.

Drinking Coors near the Kokanee Glacier. I'm sure this is punishable by some Canadian Law. Photo by George Smilov.

Hans and I showing off our golden locks. Photo by George Smilov.

Don't mind me. Just following Chris and Theresa to the promised land.

One night we went up for a sunset ski. It was spectacular. Photo by George Smilov.

Our evenings were eventful as the shotski often made an appearance. I broke out the unicorn onesie too! Photo by Chris Haley.

The best picture I took all week.

We went coulior hunting on the hottest day of the trip. It was suboptimal, but here is a shot of Anthony getting after it anyway.

Don't worry, Rosy the Riveter came too.

We celebrated our last night in style!

The "cabin". Not too shabby!

When we arrived the parting group had erected a snowman in our honor. When we flew out, this sad nub was all that was left of him. Global warming is real. Also - really mature guys.

02 June 2016

How To Paint A Mountain Mural

Over the weekend I painted a mountain mural on my bedroom wall. I shared it on Facebook, and was surprised and delighted by the responses. My best friend gave me the ultimate compliment when she said, "You PAINTED that? I thought you bought it at IKEA!" She thought my "artwork" could be sold at IKEA. My life is complete!

The finished product! Next up - IKEA!

I originally got this idea when a girl posted her own mountain mural in the Washington Hikers & Climbers group on Facebook. I saved the photo for a long time before it dawned on me that I can do this myself! 

When I set out to paint a mountain mural in my new house, I couldn't find the same picture again, but did find a few resources online (namely this post and this photo). None of the resources were definitive or seemingly possible for a mortal, so I just relied on luck and assumed I'd figure it out. I feel like it turned out pretty okay.

10 Steps to Paint Your Own Mountain Mural (more photos below): 

  1. Grow up doing paint by numbers as a child because your parents think you are a little “high strung” and need something to 'focus' your attention. Use this time to master the paint stroke and secretly scheme about how someday you will be an adult and own your own home and then you can DO WHATEVER YOU WANT. Buy a house. Rue the day you thought home ownership was the answer to all of life’s questions. 
  2. Locate an empty wall (you should probably own this wall, because you can’t take wall murals with you). The wall should be of reasonable size. Paint it white. 
  3. Use a pencil and measuring tape to figure out where you furniture will be located in front of your masterpiece. Draw that location on the wall in pencil. It will help you decide where to put your mountains/layers. 
  4. Convince your friend Lisa – who is good at colors – to go with you to the paint store. Spend an hour putting different colors in cascading order until you have the right mix for your masterpiece. I recommend 7-9 colors. 
    Lisa Picking colors
  5.  Bring the paint home and open wine. Try not to drink too much because you have to paint now and painting is hard. 
  6. Use the pencil to draw the layers on your wall. Go very light with the top layers (#1-2) as the paint may not cover the lines. Take your time with this step; you want to get it right. But don’t be TOO particular. You just want a general design for where the layers will go – don’t get too lost in the detail work. 
  7. Paint the top layer (#1). Use a big brush to give yourself a general outline and to fill in the area. You will come back later and use a small hand-brush to add in the details at the top of each layer. 
  8. Paint the bottom – or darkest – layer (in my case #9) next. This will need two coats, so might as well get started, plus it will give #1 time to dry. After painting the top layer, I skipped a layer to paint the next one down (#3). This allowed #1 to dry. Then I could paint #2 and so forth. 
  9. With the boarder mostly set between #1 and #2, I grabbed paint #2 to add the details between layers. I did this before painting additional layers to get the feel for the process. You’ll likely need to go over the detailed borders twice. Meaning you add in the detail using paint #2 over the already dried paint of paint #1 first, but it won't quite be dark enough so after it dries you'll do it again.
  10. Continue down as you see fit. BOOM! You’re done! 

General Tips:

  • I’m going to assume you don’t know anything about paint, so here’s a quick lesson: paint comes in different ‘sheens’. In general, the higher the sheen the more shiny it is, and the more durable it will be. Flat paint has no shine, followed by eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and high-gloss. I got an eggshell, but wish I had gone with a flat paint, even on a textured wall. Get flat paint.  
    This is not flat paint. Do not make that mistake.
  • You’ll need a few paintbrushes – spend money on good brushes. A big one for edging and general application, a medium one for touch up work, and a very small brush for the detail work. I started drawing lines that were very parallel and sweeping – it’s natural to make a perfect mound with a paintbrush. This is fine to start, but once you fill in the colors will look like Dr. Seuss took a mountain-shaped poo on your wall. Take a small brush and create smaller bumps and mounds and sharp edges. Imperfections are good. They make it look real. 
  • Set aside a few days to get this done. I already had the room taped/prepped because I had been painting. This step takes more time than you think it will, so plan ahead. Overall this took about 16 hours
  • Remember this is an investment in your new home. The paint – plus painters tape, plastic, and brushes – will run you about $200. This ain’t your kids paint-by-number. 


How To Paint a Mountain Mural in Photos:

Steps 2-3: First paint on the wall. You can see the light pencil outline.

Steps 6-7: Top layer done, putting bottom layer while it dries. You can see I was trying too hard with layer #7 initially.

Lisa painting layer 2.

Painting #5 while #2 dries.

Wine Break!

It's good to have a friend who likes to fill in where the paint wasn't thick enough the first round.

Filling in more "holes". This shows you the general sweeping lines of the first layers (with the grey on the pink at top left). Before adding the details it really did look like Dr. Seuss!

My paint colors.

Getting closer! One more layer to go, with the top four layers of detail complete.

A close up look at the detail work. Avoid symmetry, as it doesn't occur naturally, and try not to overthink it.

I like the left side better. Here's one last look.


If you paint your own mountain mural, please email me! I'd love to see your work, and I hope this inspires other adventurers to bring the outdoors in!