Monday, March 31, 2008

The Top

I'm one of those guys who has to get to the top, if I possibly can.

But I really respect those who don't.

I'm going to get to an Ireland story, but first ...

The Pines

My cousins and I have a favorite camping spot near Silver Glance Lake just below the ridge that separates American Fork Canyon from Cottonwood Canyon in Northern Utah. I am pretty sure a group led by a cousin has been up there a couple of times a year for going on 15 years. And I'm pretty sure that every trip has included a hike to top of one of the Twin Peaks.

It's a beautiful view from there. You can see the three Silver lakes, Utah Lake, the Great Salt Lake, another AF lake and two Cottonwood lakes from that spot. You can see dozens of peaks, including Timpanogos, the other Twin and Mount Superior along with the fabulous views of two gorgeous canyons. (More than one lucky group of tourists has gotten a great view of a three- or four-moon salute from the top of Snowbird's summer tram, but that's another story.)

Those trips to the Pines, as we call that spot, are some of the best we've ever had. Grandpa Joe showed us the place, of course, and someone could weave a fantastic tale on its tapestry, featuring the lives of all the varied characters who've showed up there since.

The Stag Years

As we grew older and began making the trip without the stabilizing influence of Grandpa, the trips got a little wilder. The nights got later, the dips in Silver Glance got colder and the trundling got more thunderous. During these heady years, even the latest night was followed by a cleansing splash in Silver Glance and a trip to the top -- always right to the top -- of the Twin Peak.

One incident to characterize those trips: We all stayed up late, but one guy outdid us all. We were awakened occasionally by a shout or a splash (a tiny creek runs through the camp) all night, but we never paid much attention until he said, "Come on. Let's go. It's already nine o'clock." Well, it wasn't 9, it was 6:30. But by the time we'd figured that out, the water was already boiling for breakfast. So off we went, even Dave, who hadn't slept a wink.

It was an amazing display. Dave, laboring up the mountain, would land his foot on a loose boulder, lurch backward and fall -- straight as a board -- about 120 degrees backward. In that moment, his body seemed completely at rest. There was no attempt to break the fall or protect the vital organs or shield the head. But that was the only break he got. As soon as he landed he would fight for his feet, let out a stream of curses, and struggle on.

Still, after a 35-degree dose of Silver Glance, Dave regained a bit of his balance and punished himself all the way to the top of the Twin Peak, where he let out the most harrowing victory cry of his long and storied peak-bagging career, took a nap, and descended.

A New Element

A few years passed and we entered the next stage. This involved the introduction of estrogen -- with its strange mix of sense and insensibility -- into the camp. The first girl never made it -- she just shouted at her companion from the middle of the rockpile approach (the farthest she would go) until he said goodbye to us and headed for home.

But she and others eventually made it to the camp, to the lake and to the top, and on the way they reminded us - me at least - that it did get better than watching a sofa-sized boulder crash endlessly, mindlessly down a debris field.

The hike to the Pines is a short, steep, hop over lots of big boulders. The hike to Silver Glance is a battle with scrubby brush. The hike to the ridge is a very steep scree field. The ridge to the top is a knife-edge scramble. And what I never noticed until Des hiked up there with us that day was:

The view from the saddle, where you first hit the ridge, is virtually identical to the one from the peak, and it can be had without the last knee-buckling moves.

The View, Fellas, The View

That day, Des outhiked us all the way to the ridge. She's fit, strong, agile and she just motored past us to the top. Well, almost the top. When she hit the ridge -- first, I might add -- she stopped. When Aaron caught up, he couldn't believe it.

"You made it all the way up here and you're not going to THE TOP?"
"No. I don't want to hike along that ridge, and I like the view from here."

It was simple, and she would not be moved. So she sat there in that spot, looked at eight lakes, a bunch of peaks, two canyons -- some of the most beautiful scenery on earth -- while we struggled to the top, shouted at the top of our lungs, saluted the tourists, rolled a rock or two and hustled back down.

Slieve Elva, The Burren, 2008

All that said, this is me, at what I thought was the top, as seen by Bettie, who'd already had enough. She's thinking, "Can I go down now?" And I'm thinking, "How do I tell her, through this whipping wind and rain, that this isn't the top and I CANNOT turn around now?"

Slieve Elva, 1,139 feet, is the Burren's highest, well, not peak, not point ... maybe roll. The Burren, Ireland's rocky west-coast peninsula, is known for its bleak, exposed limestone seashore, endless stone fences and high sea-cliffs (see a previous post). We went looking for a nice walk with a constant view of the ocean. And it brought is within a half-mile or so of Slieve Elva, which is not rocky, not bleak, not exposed, not steep, not high. But it's the highest spot in this little corner of Ireland.

So I looked at the map, stopped where the trail got me nearest and pointed them at this altar that I was sure marked the top. Bettie looked at the map, too, and drew my attention to the word "Bog" typed several times all around Slieve Elva's dot.

Look at that picture again. I looked at that scene, pointed it out to Bettie. Piece of cake. Rolling, grassy hills. Even a few dry tufts of grass. No bog. Bettie came with me anyway.

Let me tell you about bogs, now that I know what a bog is. They look like that. But even the highest points hold water. Even relatively steep hills. There are thick mats of vegetation clumped on top of the water. But slip off the clumps -- or step squarely on one of the false ones -- and you drop a foot-and-a-half and fill your shoe with water.

That's where Bettie stopped. I said, "Maybe on top of that ridge there's a better way down." She said, "Well, you let me know."

I marched off. At the top, there was obviously no better way down. But it was obviously not the top. The hill nudged upwards almost imperceptibly to another vague hump on the horizon. The wind was too loud to discuss, but finally Bettie belted out: "Well, is there a better way down?" "No." She turned around, picking her way toward the trail.

I turned around and headed for the horizon. Now, I'm running, dunking a foot on every third step and the horizon is unfolding in front of me. I'm moving toward it, although the incline is so gradual it's difficult to tell the quickest way to the highest visible spot. It keeps inching left, then right and I'm stumbling onward. Finally, I hit a strange ridge. Almost like an ancient berm, raised to divide fiefdoms or something. That was a little easier going, so I got out my level, decided which way was up, and climbed.

Soon I came to a concrete pillar that nothing, not even my own two eyes, could convince me did not mark Slieve Elva, one of the lowest, shallowest peaks even in Ireland. A little plaque had been removed from the top of the pillar. And though the hill looked like it might have continued to slope upward in as many as 110 degrees to the south and west, I decided that marked Slieve Elva and not an ancient legendary battle (which did take place near there) and turned around.

Not wanting to keep Bettie waiting, I kicked it up another notch and made it down very quickly, wet up to each calf and shoes filled with water.

She was relatively dry, had no twisted ankles and was humming a Simon and Garfunkel tune in the soft Irish rain.

I am pretty sure I found the top.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wish you were here, girls

On our way to Carlow, where my great great etc grandparents met and were married in the early 1840s, we saw this on the side of the road and had to stop.

It was Sunday afternoon so lots of families were there. There are ruins like this all over, but this was a fun one. Called the Rock of Dunamase. There were no entrance fees and, this is rare, no barriers keeping you off the highest walls.

I missed my two little climbers. Eva and Isobel would have dragged me into there. Or to the top of this.

Bonus pic of the view. The church at the bottom there is still in use.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Keeping your feet clean

Isobel, Eva, Devin and I took a trip to the Sandia man-cave near Albuquerque today. Despite the name, girls - even princesses - are welcome. The trail was a little muddy, with islands of rock and ice. Isobel hopped from island to island, then said this:

"The rocks make your shoes clean, and the snow makes your shoes shiny. When you're a Royal, you have to walk on the rocks and snow."

Isobel is my kind of princess.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Santa Claus is dead

"Is that Jesus' tomb?"

"No, but they say Santa Claus is buried near there."

"Santa Claus DIED?"


Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Burren - Ireland part I

Back from Ireland.

Our first stop was the Burren is a rocky, cliffy part of Ireland's west coast.

These fences wind everywhere. They gotta put the rocks somewhere, I guess.

The nice thing about them is that it makes it easy to herd the cows. Our second day in the area, we took a hike along an ancient road that is still used by farmers. We had to pause occasionally to wait for the traffic to clear.

The most popular spot in the Burren is the Cliffs of Moher. It's crowded, but beautiful.

Here's Bettie and the view south from the main tourist view from the cliffs.

Look behind her. That's the way to escape the crowds. Choose a windy day, then hike five miles beyond the large, wordy signs that basically say, Don't Do It. The first half was just scary. I was crawling. My advice, Don't Do It.

But Bettie liked it. This is her foot and a 230-meter drop to the ocean. Maybe not 230 meters, that's the highest point and it's further north. We'll go conservative and say 500 feet.

Look a few feet to her left and you'll see me, clinging to the rock walls that keep the cows out of the ocean. The last half of the hike, pictured below, wasn't quite as bad. The wind mellowed a little and I got to enjoy some of it.

At the tower in the distance, we headed inland and walked along country roads to the car. That's what kept me moving, knowing it was a one-way trip.

Hey Bryce. Look behind you.