Klondike Treasure

I really like Whitehorse, really, I do. But the hustle and bustle of even a cool town can wear me down. I’m not much for seeing the usual tourist sites of a given local, generally getting on with my business, and then heading for the hills. I had numerous things to attend to, however. The 11 litter MSR bladder I had lovingly carried through many thousands of miles, had sprung a leak. Besides, previously having traveled with a trailer made it possible to simply strap the apparatus to the top of the trailer and carry on; but traveling with panniers is another thing altogether, and the bladder concept wasn’t as useful now. So I needed water bottles. I needed to purchase a phone card, do laundry, buy food, convert U.S. dollars into Canadian fun tickets, make phone calls, buy a reading book, and get my load straightened out. Without much fanfare, I accomplished these tasks and skinned out by 1:00 pm.  In all honesty, Yukon hospitality has been hit or miss for me in the past and now as well. It seems 2/3 ‘rds of the folks I meet are friendly and open. And all of the first nations peoples I talk with are open to conversation, it’s always been this way. There seems to be that reserved crowd who just don’t dig folks on bicycles around. For example: at the Braeburn Lodge, the proprietor, an enormous bellied, white bearded dude, who could have passed as Santa Clauses’ cousin, sporting a Harley Davidson T-shirt, simply grunted when I spoke, and barely gave me the time of day. He sure took my money for the regionally famous Braeburn Cinnamon Bun that I purchased though. Paradoxically, when speaking to a First Nation’s man in Carmacks, we chatted and chuckled, and he wanted to know why I didn’t have a fishing pole with me, as some mighty fine suppers’ could be had ahead. Why don’t I have a fishing pole I contemplated?

A ways past Braeburn, the terrain opened up to an unexpected valley of agriculture. Soon though, the North Klondike Highway turned upward once again, and we rose into the Spruce, and my favorite forests, revealing rivers and meadows. I take a short 2 track leading into said forest, and it dead ends into a splendid old cabin, long since forgotten. It looks to have been built during the Klondike gold rush years at the turn of the century, but it could have been a tad bit more recent, I don’t really know. Rusted tin cans, old miner’s boots, fragments of tools, and a caved in sod roof, rounded out this historic and peaceful camp. I walk down the hill, after setting up camp, and a spectacular site unfolds before me.. Fox Creek, teeming with Grayling, and surrounded by meadows and high mountains to the west are a treat to my eyes and senses. What a place to have lived at one time.

After a bit, the mighty Yukon River herself appears, and after following her course at river level for a short while, the road climbs upward, diagonally across the ancient alluvial plane, and settles down upon the flat bottomed benches overlooking the great river. Sprouting from this bench, are great forests of Spruce as big as any I have ever seen.

Onward, a car pulls over and two fellows I had met previously, from Juneau, inform me that there is a big Grizzly just up the road. I say farewell and cautiously pedal on. Not much further, I spot the large brown mass, way further off than I expected. The creature is perhaps 800 meters away, on a hillside, digging for rodents; it looks to be a big one too.. perhaps 800 lbs. I say farewell again, and off I go. The North Klondike Highway, from Whitehorse to Dawson City, largely follows the relative path of the Dawson Overland route taken by gold seekers of the great Klondike Goldrush of 1898. The treasure I seek on this passage is not gold, but animals. Today I spotted a large rabbit; like none I have seen before, with large furry white feet and belly, brown back, and shorter ears than I am accustomed to seeing. This was no cottontail or jackrabbit. I mention this to locals and they say it is an Arctic Hare.

The daytime temperatures are nearing the mid 80’s.. This seems astronomical for this time of year to me, and the locals tell me that the ice breakup was literally last week! It went from winter to summer almost overnight, skipping spring altogether. Wacky.. This part of the Yukon is definitely drier than other parts of The North, it reminds me bit of central and western Colorado at around the 6,000′ to 8,000′ elevations, although here, the mean elevation is nearer to 2,000′. Today, as I passed through the areas north of McGregor Creek, I spot the Klondike Treasure I have been so anxious to see.. In addition to the big Grizzly spotted the other day, today I spy another Arctic Hare, two separate Black Bears, And another creature that has been so elusive to my eyes until now. I was pedaling along on a flat straightaway, ipod cranking out the Allman Brother’s “An Evening With The Allman Brothers”, and I see up ahead, maybe 300 meters off, a dark shape, clearly cruising the tree-lined corridor of the Klondike Highway. I thought it was a bear at first, perhaps even two bears considering the movement I was witnessing. I stop way early in order to change the lens on my camera from a 10mm wide angle to a 24-105mm telephoto zoom. I put the camera around my neck and pedal on, cautiously. Getting to within around 75 meters or so, it dawns on me: It is a Wolf.

At first, the wolf does not see or hear me, (one of the real advantages of bicycling The North) and I am able to fire off a couple shots of the camera. Then it looks up, we lock eyes for a solid 5 or 6 seconds, then the Wolf turns and gallops into the brush. I cautiously pedal a bit more, as I wish to continue on, just as  as the Wolf. It re appears from the thicket and we stare at each other for a bit, and then it is gone. What an exhilarating experience seeing this magnificent creature.. It was mostly black, with bits of grey streaking, and a long, long, bushy tail that too was black and grey. It’s face was grey around the eyes and it’s snout was as black as a northern winter’s night. I pedal on, and after 65 miles of hammering, I am exhausted and in need of a place to call home. I spot another Blackie, and just passed there is a small two track leading into the woods. Not spectacular camping tonight, but it will do. After supper, I go looking around and spot both Grizz and Blackie prints. I am truly where I want to be!  The next morning, en route to Dawson, I catch the views of three more Hares, a fat, wallowing, Porcupine, and another elusive creature, the Black Marten.

I met a couple of guys from Dawson City, Jordan and Cafrey, who were hitchhiking back after a visit with friends in Carmacks. They mention for me to stop by “The Pit” for a round of drinks when I get to town. Anyhow, I’ll  be in Dawson by tomorrow night. Dawson is the farthest north town in the Yukon accessible by car, so I guess you could call it the hub of the northern Yukon. It has much the same appearance as I’m sure it did 100 years ago. It’s streets are dirt, sidewalks wood, and false fronts galore. Many of the old, original buildings are sinking or leaninginto the melting permafrost.  I grab a couple of beers and head to the outskirts to camp.

The Dempster is now weighing heavily on my mind. The plan is to go to Dawson for a day or so, then head back out and up the Dempster, hike into the Tombstone Mountains for 2 or 3 days for a peak bag and some photography, then continue for a pedal up to Inuvik, above the Arctic Circle, in the Northwest Territories near the Arctic Ocean, over 500 miles from Dawson, then, turn around and pedal back. Am I biting off more than I can chew?

Only time will tell…

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Into the Yukon

Finally off the boat in the late afternoon, Skagway seems to be a serious tourist trap so I catch a Foster’s oil can, and head for the hills. White Pass (3296′) climbs all of it’s elevation gain in about 9 or 10 miles. Fresh off the boat from sea level, I am catapult into a hill climb like no other. My legs are not strong yet, but my spirit is high and I climb, slowly and methodically, towards the pass. About a mile from the true summit, with most of the climbing done, I choose to camp; a mediocre roadside pullout, but with 4 feet of snow everywhere, it will have to do. In the AM I wake, pack, and get on to the top via it’s last mile of climbing and sail down the other side and into B.C. Coming into view to the east is a peak of sizable proportions bearing a jagged glacier, exposing it’s innards in the form if giant seracs and expansive crevasse fields. A few miles later  comes the Canadian Customs office, where they grill me hard. Back in the 80’s, when I was going to the Canadian Rockies a lot, I would get waved through into Canada, but upon returning to the U.S., I would be searched and treated like an axe murderer. Now it seems, the tides have turned. Glad to be allowed in, I continue pedaling on and into the great Yukon.  I wander on, taking in this place, smelling it with my heart, seeing it with my mind. I roll into the tiny village of Carcross, and a First Nation’s woman tells me of a cow Moose and her two sow’s, down by the water. They have taken refuge here near town, an escape from the chasing and harassment from the Bears and the Wolve’s she says.

That nigh I set up an early camp in the Carcross Desert, an area of unfitting sand dunes in the North. Not a desert though, it is the remains of an ancient glacial Tarn. That night I hear Wolve’s and I now feel more at home than ever.

Later the next morning I roll by a little lodge roadside and decide to stop in for some breakfast. While sipping coffee and consuming an extraordinarily delicious omelet, I chat with the owner, Richard Tran. He and his father, Henry Tran, bought the place some time back and now have a good thing going. Called the Spirit Lake Wilderness Lodge, they have a great little restaurant, camping, fishing, and Yukon hospitality that cannot be beat.  Richard tells me that the Spirit Lake Lodge has been popular among the bicycle touring crowd since they opened. If you are passing through, give ’em a check out.  Later, I pass abook on the side of the road, discarded or forgotten, it is a Mandolin player’s guide to classic rock songs. How fitting. On I pedal and it begins to rain; then it begins to snow, but lightly. It feels good nonetheless, and I am thrilled to be traveling such splendid country once again.

Early afternoon, I roll into Whitehorse; last time I was here, I fell in love with Whitehorse. I wish I could live here, but it is difficult for American’s to get work here, I imagine. The last time I was here, the Yukon River was a flowing, mighty beast. Now, 6 weeks earlier in the year, it is a frozen, semi flowing beast.

In the morning the sun shines brightly and not a cloud to be seen, I can tell right away that this is going to be an extraordinary way to get started on the North Klondike Highway, enroute next to Dawson City…  Onward.

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Breaching Gray Whale
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Skagway

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A Favorable Landscape

After nearly 30 hours aboard the Marine Vessel Columbia, I feel as though I am finally entering a place of magic; one that has little visible damage from the throes of humanity; a landscape that has all the smells and sounds that are favorable to me.   My tent has been pitched on the upper deck of the vessel’s stern, not under the shelter of the cabin deck’s overhang, but flat up against the railings of the utterly exposed rearward partition of the boat’s Solarium deck.  The last time I sailed, on the M/V Kennicott, the entire Solarium was located inside, away from the elements.  This vessel seems to be a bit more modern, but seemingly lacks some of the fundamental niceties of the Kennicott.  There is less space to merely hang out, but more room for paying cabin guests, it seems.  This boat is 418′ long, is powered by two 6000 horsepower diesel engines, and can travel at speeds up to around 18 knots.The campers are crammed outside on the Solarium, under it’s overhangs, perched on foldout lawn chairs, sleeping bags lining the deck, one after the other.  If one wants relative security for belongings and a wee bit of privacy, a tent is in order; and if a tent is in order, then you are out in the elements.  So be it.  That is where I am headed anyway and that is where I desire to be…  It is where I belong.  However, after 2 hours of wandering the ship, I head back to camp to find I have chosen perhaps the worst spot on the vessel to erect a dwelling.  It is situated to the far starboard side of the vessel, beyond the relative shelter of the hull body, fully encapsulated to the southbound wind created by the ships’ steady forward motion.  Hastily, I break camp and scurry to the more sheltered, and quieter, deck below.  I feel as though this bivouac is better suited to my needs and walk away smiling.

Finally aboard, I am relaxed and can reflect on the months prior; hell, the 24 hours prior…  Pat and his buddy Jason take Dennis and I out for a fine day of Cod fishing in the Pacific waters around the eastern San Juan Islands.  We catch the daily limit of Ling Cod and head back to Bellingham for an evening of swill and fabulous fish tacos.  The Cod is delicate, nutritious, and tasty.   The next morning I am up and packing; preparing for a journey I have envisioned since the last time I departed this favored landscape.  After parking my truck at Pat’s mom’s house (Thank You, Claudia!), I head to the ferry terminal and get situated.   Now, on the ship, I am bearing witness to the great northern country I love so intrinsically.  There will be stops along it’s journey to Skagway, Alaska, at Ketchikan, Wrangel, Petersburg, Juneau, and Haines, finally sailing to port in Skagway, and the beginning, so to speak of my own personal journey northward further yet.

British Columbia’s wilderness west coast is the stuff dreams are made of.   The water is deep turquoise in color, it’s beaches scattered with driftwood, deep, intense forest abounds it’s shores, and Eagles, Bears and Wolves scavenge it’s edge ward advance into the mighty North Pacific.   After sailing furlong through narrow straits and passages, with land close at hand, we begin to enter a thoroughfare of more openly water, while quite beautiful, it’s expanses become slightly monotonous. Suddenly the mindset is broken to reveal two Orca’s surfacing 200 meters westward, in the deep water’s of the channel.  On the far side of the vessel, through the clouds and mist, I see the lower bits of B.C.’s daunting Coast Range, home to Mt. Waddington and some of British Columbia’s largest glacial ice sheets.

We pass by the Bella Bella entrance; gateway to the pristine Bella Coola Valley, where friends Greg and Allison live on their farm, also home to more Grizzly Bears than anywhere in B.C.  That Afternoon, sliding up the narrow channels just south of Prince Rupert, in the Princess Royal Channel, the watery boulevard turns magically into an avenue of waterfalls.  Dozens of them, ranging from 200′ to over 1000′ in length, some multi tiered.  There are immense granite walls abounding the area, nearly always dumping themselves into the deep channel of the sea.   Later, we pass through the  expansive Dixon Entrance and sail smoothly into Alaska’s lower water’s, passing by the village of Wrangel, situated at the mouth of the mighty Stikine River, one of North America’s great, wide, Salmon rivers, of which I witnessed first hand previously while pedaling the fantastical esoteric Cassiar Highway back in 2011.

In The morning, at 5:30, I gaze out over the bow and spy the overblown cruise ships sitting fat in the water and it dawns on me where we are; we arrive, at 7:00 am, in Ketchikan.    I remember that there is an excellent grocery store mere yards from the port, and, in need of food that is not over processed and over priced, I embark on an Alaskan shopping shindig.

North of Ketchikan, the passage begins to widen slightly, revealing splendid beaches abounding with driftwood and wildlife, signifying a channel that is considerably shallower than had been previously.  The Inside Passage, as it is known, is a whimsical place of seemingly endless forest.  Amongst it’s channels, islands, bay’s, inlets, and stretches of open sea, the northwest coast of this continent presents literally thousands of miles of coastline.  Nearly all of it is wilderness, and beckoning my higher self to a simpler time of fishing and foraging.  Even though I am aboard a diesel powered vessel, I have come home.  In my opinion, unless one is embarked on a life journey of living wholly within the simple, yet often rigorous and uncomfortable means of hunting and gathering through the unlimited boundaries of nature, one is merely a product of a destructive economy. A tourist.  Most of us are, and I am no exception.  And when I say unlimited boundaries, I mean only within the said practices of a proper, aboriginal human, not on the whims of an industrialized, separated, and economy based, modern human. This, I believe has very finite limits that are now nearly reached. The Grizzly’s, Salmon, Wolve’s, Eagle’s, Polar Bear’s, Musk Ox, and Walrus, all see this.  I, as most, have spent the greater part of a lifetime taking from our planet, our mother ship.  I wish to somehow do better.  Obviously, a portion of humanity has pondered this virtuous dilemma since the beginning of the Industrial Age, and even longer I suspect.  To doubt and to question the status quo and it’s “happening-right-now” destructiveness toward all that is greater is something that appears to be scornful thought amongst the vast majority of our peers.  It is required, however.  This, I believe, is how evolution ultimately occurs, at least at this stage of human domination.

After being in this splendid landscape for more than a few hours, I have noticed something peculiar. With living in the city, I have nearly always needed to express myself on a much more intense level; it was easy to look around and feel the need to set forth some ideas about a positive change in the way the human race looks at itself and equally importantly, the world around it. In other words, living in the city, surrounded by crime, pollution, derangement, and the obvious notion that the greater portion of the human race has removed itself from nature, rendering itself out of balance, it has been easy for me to feel the need to write about it’s woes and faults, to express my displeasure with a world gone totally mad and devouring itself.

The peculiarity I feel, is that, now, being here, I remember these notions, but no longer feel them, because I am now bearing witness to a greater-than-human faction, a world that evolves out of pure and simple balance. The world of the forest , the Sea Otter, the Wolf, the Bear, the Eagle.  And sometimes the occasional human.  There are still those who wish to travel to these places to merely see it from the comforts of their artificial homes and RV’s. It seems to me that these creatures are looking to the natural world to see how the other half lives. Sort of like rich kids going for a drive trough the ghetto to catch a glimpse of something they have no desire to be a part of.  I do not feel this way…  I am more akin to be heading in the opposite direction and am attempting to become more apart of the natural world that humanity as a whole has left behind millennia ago.  Being in these places makes my heart sing and my mind settle.  Being here, now, in these landscapes, with these wild neighbors, once again makes me realize that the human world has become insanely complex, and in serious need of rebuttal from “the other half”.

Sailing northward, we cast ourselves into the confines of the Wrangel Narrows; a channel so skinny, even a river of equal size would not be considered large. We are very close to each shore, 200 feet maybe. Just south of Petersburg, I spy tiny homes built upon the beach head, with fishing boats parked out front and an array of solar panels of to one side, as to face the midday sun. These dwellings, this place, this… situation, is how I want to live again.  We pass by immense Sitka Spruce, some of which have Bald Eagles perched atop. Petersburg is a stunningly gorgeous place. I have seen it in print more than once of it being called “Little Norway”.  I see this.  Earlier, we were delayed by the passing of a tugboat pulling a monstrous load, and as such, we fell behind schedule; as a result, the planned hour layover has been reduced to a half hour.  I decline to go ashore and decide to stay and write. Twenty air miles west of here is the B.C. border, and sports the northern Coast Ranges’ biggest peaks, including the fabled Devil’s Thumb, a fantastic spire of granite, with no easy route to it’s summit, sticking from the Baird Icecap.  If it were not for the impending storm, a glimpse of it may be had just north of here, but it is not to be, as is often the case in The North.  Instead, the following morning, cold and clear, the Mendenhall Glacier at Juneau appears, a stoic reminder that all water, frozen or otherwise will always flow toward the sea. Further north, the jagged spires of the peaks jutting from the Juneau Icefield satisfy my need to see ice. The snow line is very low, and it occurs to me that I am arriving in the early season. Yesterday, it snowed in Whitehorse; pedaling over White Pass may be challenging and bitter. Moving northward yet further, massive peaks appear bearing vertical expanses of granite with hanging glaciers flanking their sides. This is the start of the Lynn Canal and the back side of the Glacier Bay area. Across the bow, miles ahead, a valley glacier reveals itself, flowing from massive peaks. This one’s a keeper; it looks to be a few miles wide and many miles long. This latitude and proximity to the North Pacific make for some of the largest glaciers in the Northern Western Hemisphere. Only the mighty St Elias has larger; yet, ultimately, these peaks before me now, are actually connected to the St Elias, and are merely a few miles away. With every turn of the ship, I am blown away by another massive set of peaks, and more rivers of glaciated ice. I am in awe…

In a couple of hours we will be in Haines, a town that I could live in I think.  We will then sail to port in Skagway, hopefully by mid afternoon.  I believe I have all that I need, minus beer, so spending time in Skagway will have to be of some other journey, as I think I might just pedal off this ship, heading North, and not look back.

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San Juan Island

After spending the morning in Anacortes at a coffee shop, writing and sorting photos, I managed to catch the 2:40 pm ferry to San Juan Island.

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Friday Harbor

Friday Harbor is a small community situated on the east side of the island, and reminds me a little of Homer, AK. It is part fishing village, part tourist destination, part normal town, yet seems to have a for-real alternative feel to it, and that pleases me.

I’m here to visit my old friend Ben, whom I knew from Utah over the years.  Ben works as a local carpenter and lives a simplistic lifestyle, in the woods, and off the grid. His current living situation involves a wall tent erected on a framed, wooden platform with his solar panels mounted to the tent’s roof; primarily for lights and refrigeration.

I call Ben after getting off the ferry, and in minutes he whips around the corner in his pickup and we head to his workplace to look at some re-claimable lumber. The next morning, Ben convinces me to accompany him to the yoga class he frequents in town.  It has been a long while since my body has experienced this type of movement and it was difficult for me, yet enjoyable. My Angela (Aote) also teaches and guides, among other things, yoga as well, and going to this class in Friday Harbor reminds me of, and makes me yearn for Angela’s instruction. I am certain she would like it here on “the Island”.

Later, after breakfast, we go back to Ben’s workplace and load his flatbed trailer with said re-claimed lumber.  Then it starts to rain, Washington style, and he shows me around a bit.  Later, at his place, we sip tea and discuss topics ranging from solar energy to bike trips in Alaska. Back in the 90’s, Ben rode his bicycle from Moab to Fairbanks and back. It was a journey of over 6000 miles

Monday morning, Ben heads to his work and I to mine.. I head up north to Roche Harbor and then down the spectacular west coast of the island, for excellent views of Vancouver Island and Haro Strait.  Today I will catch the ferry back to the mainland and catch up with Dennis and Pat to do some fishing and get ready for Alaska..

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The Massive Mt Baker
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This is Ben!
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The awesome camp in Anacortes

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Eldorado Peak

The day has finally come; obligations, chores, work and goodbyes taken care of, I head out of town and on to Martinez to fetch my friend Dennis. Hook up onto Highway 101 and wind up the coast to Crescent City and up a beauty of a road to Grant’s Pass. Up I-5 through Seattle and on to Bellingham to re group at Pat’s house. A couple of beers and an Avocado Tostada, put Dennis and I back on the road that night to the Eldorado Peak trailhead.

A crack of 8 start, an obligatory log crossing to get started, puts us on the undeveloped climber’s trail leading directly upward and into the bowels of the North Cascades. The route we have chosen, the East Ridge of Eldorado Peak, rises 6800 feet from the road. We are heading to the ridge separating the 2 lower basins beneath the Eldorado Glacier. This ridge is situated at about 6,000′, which makes our approach 4000′ in about a mile. That’s damn steep.

The approach was steep indeed; an undeveloped climber’s trail without switch backs, heading nearly straight up for 2000′, ending at the dreaded “Boulder Field”. Luckily for us, it was mostly melted out at the start, but higher, a post holing episode of monstrous proportions ensued. We post hole in deep snow for hours.

That evening at our bivy, the sky is clear as a bell, and the magnificent alpenglow become the stuff of fantasy. A 360 degree view of all the high peaks of the North Cascades are a dizzying notion to my mind. I want to climb them all. To me, there is nothing finer than being  in big, alpine, glaciated peaks.

A 5:00 am start see’s us descending slightly to the level of the Eldorado Glacier, then up said mass to it’s junction with the Inspiration Glacier, to form the largest continuous ice sheet not on a volcano in the lower 48. These peaks are fault block, glaciated, and made of Granite. This combo makes for my favorite kind of mountains.

Eventually, we climb up the last bit of it’s knife edged ridge, and on to Eldorado’s Icy summit; at just under 8,900′, we are just about as high as Carson Pass in California, but here, in the Cascades, this elevation and latitude and close proximity to the ocean, create an alpine environment that is unparalleled. The glaciers here are sizable indeed.

We descend the 6800 feet in a few short hours, that, over the last bit, had taken us 13 hours to ascend. Back at the truck by 5:00 pm, we head off to Pat’s for the evening. In the spirit of keeping the adventure alive, we experience a tire blowout on the drive out. A quick roadside fix and we are at Pat’s in Bellingham by 6:30.

Tomorrow I head out to San Juan Island to visit with my old friend Ben; then off to catch the ferry to Skagway and start pedaling to the Arctic…  Onward.

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Mt Johannesburg
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Eldorado Peak

Tomorrow I head out to San Juan Island to visit with my old friend Ben; then off to catch the ferry to Skagway and start pedaling to the Arctic…  Onward.IMG_8412 IMG_8414 IMG_8418 IMG_8421 copy IMG_8422 IMG_8424 IMG_8427 IMG_8433 IMG_8442 IMG_8456 IMG_8463 IMG_8471 IMG_8476 IMG_8488 IMG_8489 IMG_8501 IMG_8521 IMG_8522 IMG_8532 IMG_8537 IMG_8565 IMG_8570 IMG_8578 IMG_8582 IMG_8584

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A Great Appreciation

In 5 short days, I will be headed north to Washington state, where, with my old friend Dennis, we will do some mountaineering in the North Cascades to the east of Bellingham. Afterwards, a visit to another old friend on San Juan Island to catch up, and then off to board a Marine Vessel to the Great White North. Good times abound..

All of these upcoming Adventures are the result of hard work and perseverance over these past many months; it’s payoff time.

However, there is another factor that needs to be recognized in the throes of the months of preparation for said adventures, and that is the one of gratitude of the generosity and helpfulness of those around me who have been ever enduringly supportive of my serious need for stomping around in the wilderness. Life is always an exchange of give and take; this is no exception. I have given my hand, my family and friends have given theirs. And for this I thank you all. Listing all the names seems pointless as all those around me have been so supportive, some more than others, and you all know who you are. Thank You all very much!

Eldorado Peak
Eldorado Peak