North Carolina Highpoint – Mount Mitchell

The North Carolina state highpoint, Mount Mitchell, is the highest point in the US that is East of the Mississippi River.

0703171135.jpg

Logistically it is simple to climb Mount Mitchell, as it boasts a convenient parking lot just 100′ from the summit and a paved path to reach it. However, my traveling companions and I wanted to get some exercise so we parked at the ranger station on highway 128 and hiked the couple of miles to the summit. This was a pleasant and shaded stroll with some minor steep sections to work up a sweat. It feels better to “earn” a summit even when there is a simpler option of driving.

0703171136b.jpg

 

 

Posted in Highpointing | Leave a comment

Tennessee Highpoint – Clingmans Dome

My visit to Clingmans Dome was part of a week-long road trip through Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky that featured a great deal of wonderful food and drink (bourbon). I hit Clingman’s Dome while driving from Nashville, TN, to Asheville, NC, thinking this somewhat remote peak would be a quick stop for a calming ~1 mile hike.

Although the hike was indeed that short, what blew my mind was the utter zoo of people who had the exact same idea that day. There were several hundred other people crowding the trail, and cars backed up so uch on the road it was easier to park a half mile away and walk to the trailhead.

Now that I’m re-reading it, the Sumitpost page does say it is the most visited highpoint. But why? The hike so short it doesn’t make sense to go through that hassle. It must be some combination of the holiday week (this was July 2, 2017), the proximity to Dollywood, and nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park that draws the crowds.

Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable jaunt to the top to see the flying saucer tower, sneak my first peak of the Appalachian Trail, and have my fourth highpoint in the books.

0702171705a

 

 

Posted in Highpointing | Leave a comment

Oregon Highpoint – Mount Hood

Preparing for Adventure

In March, 2015, I took an “Introduction to Mountaineering” class through Kaf Adventures. This was 8 hours of classroom time focused on learning the basics of glacier travel, avalanche danger, and route planning. That day jump-started what has since become a wonderful way to experience breathtaking views while pushing myself physically and mentally. It also introduced me to some great friends and climbing partners with whom I could go on all these adventures.

Gaining mountaineering skills also created the opportunity to summit some of the more challenging state highpoints, as there are around five that require significant technical climbing. After a solid first climbing season in 2015 (which included summits of Mt. Baker and Mt. Adams), I targeted Mount Hood for 2016 as an early season climb (due to high rockfall later in the year).

DSC_0473.JPG

Mt. Hood from near Timberline Lodge

Therefore, on July 2, 2016, my climbing partner and I drove down from Seattle to Oregon to attempt my third state highpoint, and the first that required an ice axe.

Alpine Start

Due to the high risk of rockfall on the route, we wanted to get an early start and decided to spend the night in the Timberline Lodge parking lot at 5,800′. They don’t allow tents there, so we simply slept (or tried to…) in the car from 8pm until midnight, when we woke up to start the climb.

Surviving the Ski Area

If you start the climb at 10am, you can just take the ski lift up nearly 3,000′; but then you would be facing rockfall for the rest of the day.

Instead we we walked up snowy but plowed roads by headlamp in the middle of the night. For whatever reason I didn’t expect that there would be so much activity on the mountain at that time. But the snow cats responsible for grooming the year-round skii slopes run throughout the night. Several times we had to hustle off the road when we saw bright lights or heard their rumble.

I think going up the plowed roads was simply a Hood-rookie mistake. Other climbers were walking up right underneath the ski lift line. This seemed like a much more straightforward and safe way to go, and is what I would do next time.

Sunrise

Above the ski area we witnessed a beautiful pink-hued sunrise with views of Jefferson and the Three Sisters to the south.

DSC_0499.JPG

Morning alpenglow of Jefferson and Sisters

There was a mix of snow and rock along the steady climb under clear skies up to Crater Rock at 10,000′ or so.

DSC_0503.JPG

Ascending in Mt. Hood’s pointy shadow

Routefinding

Our original plan was to climb the South Side (Hogsback) route, which is known to be the simplest and most popular. Once we got to Crater Rock, however, we talked with a few other groups and learned that the bergschrund on that route was too big to cross safely, so most parties were instead traversing and using the Old Chute Variation instead. That made sense to us, so we got out our map to review what was next.

DSC_0510.JPG

View of Devil’s Kitchen from near Crater Rock

That was when the clouds rolled in and we were completely thrown into white-out conditions. We sat down for a break and to see if we could wait it out. We didn’t want to continue up in those conditions because we weren’t familiar with that new route; I had read a lot and watched videos about Hogsback, but knew nothing about Old Chute.

After 15 minutes of waiting in the persistent clouds, we decided it was best to turn around and start back down the mountain. Disappointed, we stood up and put on our packs. And that’s when we had a lucky break, and the clouds blew away just as quickly as they arrived.

DSC_0514.JPG

Ascending up to Old Chute alongside one of the few roped-up groups

 

Clear Above

We of course knew the clouds could return at any moment, but we also knew we could again decide to turn back at that point. So we seized the opportunity and continued our ascent along Old Chute. Fortunately we had beautiful clear skies the rest of the day.

DSC_0520.JPG

View back down to Crater Rock from near Old Chute

Old Chute was steep and filled with gravelly ice that gave only partial purchase when I kicked my crampons in. The ice pellets would easily dislodge, causing hikers below to be pelted as they ascended. That being said, it was a lot of fun scrambling up that section and an utter surprise that it ended in the summit.

DSC_0522.JPG

Final climb/scramble up Old Chute (you can see someone at the top)

On Top of Oregon

The summit of Mt. Hood differs from other volcanoes I’ve been on (Adams, Baker) because it is not very big. I didn’t find the summit ridge nearly as scary as what I had pictured from my online research. From it we had beautiful views all around of Rainier, Adams, Jefferson, and more!

DSC_0556.JPG

On the summit of Mt. Hood

This video is my summit panorama, but be warned the volume is loud and it was moderately windy that day.

Reflecting

As I write this, two years have passed since climbing Mt. Hood and it still remains my most favorite climb. That final ascent through the Old Chute was a challenging blast, and how it emptied out onto the narrow summit ridge was a great climax to a roller coaster day. I’m definitely happy with the decision not to bring rope and harness. I made this climb in my mountaineering boots, but I would consider doing it in my La Sportiva Wildcat GTX trail runners (still with crampons of course). One thing I would definitely change: don’t try to drive all the way back to Seattle immediately afterwards. Take a nap somewhere!

DSC_0569.JPG

My climbing partner descending through Old Chute

Posted in Highpointing | Leave a comment

Homemade Amaro #1

Background

I decided to base my first amaro recipe after a couple others that I found online: Popular Mechanics and  Tickled Palate. I liked the double-infusion method to have more control over the ingredients. I also did some substitutions to use ingredients (such as dried cherries) that appealed more to me.

Recipe

I used a double-infusion method with the aim of yielding about 375ml of amaro. I used a pint canning jar for the infusions.

First Infusion

0512180908a

First infusion ingredients (before crushing).

The first infusion uses the following ingredients:

  • 375-ml bottle 100 proof vodka (I used Smirnoff)
  • 3 grams whole cloves
  • 1.5 grams cinnamon bark
  • 3 grams juniper berries
  • 3 grams gentian root
  • 3 grams cinchona bark

Lightly crush the cloves, cinnamon, and juniper berries with a mortar and pestle and then add to a pint jar with the vodka, gentian root, and cinchona bark.

Shake and taste every day until flavor seems pungent enough. When I did this recipe I left them in for a full 5 days, which ended up being too much for my tastes (see tasting notes below).

0512180916a

A day or so into the first infusion, where the color is still light.

0513181741

Near the end of the first infusion with much darker color.

Once this first infusion was complete I strained into a new pint jar and began the…

Second Infusion

This infusion includes the following ingredients:

  • 7.5 grams orange zest
  • 3 grams allspice
  • 3.2 grams cardamom
  • 5 grams orris root
  • 1/4 cu dried cherries (41.6g)
  • 3 grams fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 3 grams rhubarb root
  • 5 grams rosebuds
  • 2 grams calendula buds
  • 2.2 grams yarrow
0516181847.jpg

Ingredients for second infusion

Again, these were lightly ground with a mortar and pestle before adding to the pint jar.

0516181944.jpg

Second infusion ready to go

I let the second infusion proceed for 6 days total, shaking and tasting every day. The orange flavor came on strongly for the first 4 days, but by day 5 it had mellowed. None of the other ingredients really stood out, so that makes me think I should dial back the orange zest and let the second infusion go a little longer next time.

0518181936a

Second infusion underway

Once this infusion was complete I strained and filtered (with a Chemex coffee filter) the amaro.

0524182145

Straining the (unsweetened) amaro after the second infusion; look at that rich dark color!

I then sweetened it with a simple syrup made from boiling together:

  • 1/3 cu granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cu water

I bottled it in a leftover bourbon bottle and then began the tasting.

Tasting

What was first impressive about this beverage is that it actually smells like an amaro–something about that combination of herbs and bittering roots give it the right scent. Outside of that I can smell some cherry and cinnamon.

Upon first tasting I get a strong flavor of cinnamon and cloves, followed by bright orange but well-balanced sweetness. The bitterness hits me early, and lasts into a dry finish.

At 40% alcohol, the amaro is a bit hot and drinking it over ice helps cool it down.

0528182135a

The final product in a tasting glass with square ice cube.

Suggested Recipe Changes

Overall I’m incredibly happy with how my first amaro turned out. The overall strength and amount of sweetness is great. The flavor is great but there are aspects out of balance that I will change for my next batch:

  • The first infusion was too long as the bitterness, cinnamon, and cloves are too strong. I’d reduce this from five days to three and bump up the juniper to get more flavor from that.
  • From the second infusion all I can really taste is the orange. I shouldn’t have used zest for this; maybe just the peel instead. Or, I should have used maybe 20-30% of what I did (i.e. 2-3 grams). If I made that change, I may have left it longer in the second infusion to bring out more of the other flavors.

 

Posted in Homebrewing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Delaware Highpoint – Ebright Azimuth

The Delaware state highpoint, Ebright Azimuth, may not see impressive on the surface. It’s just a simple sign and park bench at an otherwise nondescript intersection near the Pennsylvania border; a “drive-up.” And it’s the second-lowest state highpoint at just 448 feet above sea level.

 

IMG_0574

But Ebright Azimuth is important to me because it was my first intentional highpoint. I wove it into a July, 2015, trip that included a visit to one of my favorite breweries, Dogfish Head. It is fascinating to me that this first state of the union, in such a central part of the Eastern coast, can feel so out of the way. Fun trivia fact: Delaware is the only U.S. state without a commercial airport.

So, you might say that on this warm summer day, traveling between Dover and Victory Brewing (Downingtown, PA), my quest for state highpoints truly began in earnest. It was an easy next step at an out-of-the way place; I literally just parked the car and walked across the street. But it felt special to be visiting an otherwise uninteresting spot in a residential neighborhood knowing that so many more were to follow.

IMG_3056

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Highpointing | Leave a comment

California Highpoint – Mount Whitney

Where the Journey Started

highpointing, n., the sport of ascending to the point with the highest elevation within some area (the “highpoint”), for example the highest points in each state.

I started highpointing in 2011, but I didn’t recognize it as such at the time. I was simply interested in summitting the highest peak in the continental U.S., Mount Whitney. Little did I know that it would evolve into a much longer journey across all 50 states.

The seeds of inspiration to climb Whitney were first planted within me when I was a teenager. My family was passing through Lone Pine, CA, on a trip from Death Valley. As this town is the gateway to Mt. Whitney, we went on a short family hike from that same trailhead. And even though we turned around far before getting anywhere close to the mountain, my interest was piqued in the trail beyond when my dad told me his Whitney story.

He his first summit attempt in the late 1950’s actually landed him in the hospital. He had failed to wear any sunscreen and received such severe sunburn that he needed medical attention. But the following year he tried again with his stepfather and made it. He gushed about the magnificent views from the top: how on a clear day you can see all the way to the lowest point in the U.S., Death Valley.

And, like so many times before, I was inspired to follow in my father’s footsteps. Except for the sunburn, of course.

Preparing for My Climb

At the start of 2011 I knew it would be a great year to attempt the climb. Mount Whitney is a popular one, and requires applying for permits months in advance. I decided to do it as a monster day hike (22 miles with 6,200 ft of elevation gain) rather than an overnight trip, as the backpacking permits are much more difficult to get. I applied by the February cut-off and by the late spring I had my permit confirmation in hand for an early August mid-week climb.

I knew the biggest challenge for me about Whitney would be the elevation, as I’d previously experienced altitude sickness above 10,000 ft. So over the early summer months I trained on tall mountains I could find near my home in San Diego: Mount San Jacinto (10,834 ft) and San Gorgonio (11,499 ft) in particular. I did each of these as long day hikes to simulate what I’d face on Whitney.

Lone Pine Logistics

I arrived in Lone Pine a few days in advance to get acclimatized as much as possible prior to climbing day. I stayed at the Lone Pine Campground (6,000 ft) rather than town so I could sleep under some oxygen deprivation. Two days prior to the climb I also did a short hike up to Lone Pine Lake (10,050′) to get my lungs ready.

One neat aspect of climbing Mount Whitney is that you can easily see it from the town of Lone Pine. But, to be honest, as a mountain profile it’s not that impressive. It’s merely the Northernmost and slightly tallest of a series of rocky spires towering above the town.

That being said, it’s still the tallest peak in the contiguous United States and it needed to be conquered.

IMG_6723.JPG

Mt. Whitney at sunset as seen from Lone Pine Campground

Climbing Day

The day hike climbing permit was good for the full 24 hours of my assigned climbing day. Given the afternoon heat in the summer, I wanted to get an early start on that day. I woke up at 2:00am, drove up to Whitney Portal, and was on the trail by 3:00am.

The first memorable part of the hike was how it was dark for so long. This was the first time I had hiked that far by headlamp, and I was above 11,000 ft elevation by the time the sun rose. It was such an incredible sight to see nearby rocky peaks colored rose by the rising sun.

IMG_6770.JPG

Sunrise among the rocky spires

A second memory was watching furry marmots frolic on rocks when I stopped for a break at Trail Camp, 12,000 ft. This was my first time seeing them in the wild.

IMG_6786.JPG

Marmot playing in a meadow near High Camp

IMG_6789.JPG

Lake at High Camp

The ridge walk between Trail Crest (13,777′) and the summit was stunning. To the West I looked down into crystalline High Sierra lakes, and to the East I saw glimpses of Lone Pine as I traveled amongst those granite spires. The precipitous drops on both sides triggered my fear of heights.

IMG_6804.JPG

View of lakes to the West from Trail Crest

IMG_6859.JPG

Precipitous trail section near Trail Crest

IMG_6826.JPG

The back side of rocky spires near the summit; the only snow field I had to cross

I reached the summit at 10:30am and was impressed by how massive it was. From the distant town below it seemed like a spindly peak, but there is actually a lot of space. Enough to build a cabin and have a summit party.

IMG_6834.JPG

Summit placard

IMG_6841.JPG

Me on the summit with Lone Pine in the distance

IMG_6849.JPG

View of lakes and peaks from the Mt. Whitney summit

The trip back down was a slog as I was suffering from sugar crash (too many energy gels) and lack of real food. As I descended below Trail Crest I counted every single one of the famed 99 switchbacks to track my progress and maintain focus.

IMG_6799.JPG

Looking up at Trail Crest from the 99 switchbacks section

I passed beautiful Mirror Lake with barely a nod, even though it had been dark when I ascended past it hours earlier. I was monomaniacal in my quest to return to the trailhead, which I completed at 3:45pm (total hiking time of 12.75 hours).

After driving back to town, checking into an actual motel, and taking a quick shower, I rewarded myself with dinner at the Mt. Whitney Restaurant. Walking in town after dinner, I watched the sun set on Whitney and felt simultaneously proud and amazed that just a few hours prior I had stood atop that nondescript rocky spike.

Epilogue

As I look back on my Mt. Whitney trip, I see how it introduced me to a couple realizations that have continued to resonate over the intervening six years.

For one, it showed me how rewarding an endeavor can be if it requires extreme mental fortitude. There was a moment on the way down at High Camp where I just wanted to curl up and sleep, but I pushed on. This has been vital as I’ve moved into other endurance and mountaineering adventures.

The second is my capability for epic adventure. Mt. Whitney continues to inspire in me the desire to travel somewhere for the sole purpose of doing an extreme physical adventure outdoors. Since that day in 2011 I’ve done multiple marathons, an ultra-marathon, and 12+hour mountaineering summit attempts. For each of those I can trace the thread back to an August day in Lone Pine, CA, where I learned that I have the strength within to do what I set my mind to.

Posted in Highpointing | Leave a comment

Recipe for Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream with Xylitol

Background

I switched to a low-carb (<50g per day) and high-fat diet at the beginning of this year in an effort to improve my running and long-term health. Some of the adjustments have been easy (e.g. eating hamburgers without the bun) but others have been challenging. Pizza, french fries, and baked breakfast delights continue to tempt me. Although I don’t crave sweets quite as much as I used to, I still enjoy dessert on some nights. When such a mood strikes I’ve been having one or two squares of dark chocolate since that fits into the diet at only 10-15g of carbs.

I’ve also been thinking about ice cream and wondering if I could do a sugar-free (or super-low-sugar) version that would fit with the diet. I can’t stand artificial sweetener as I’m highly sensitive to the taste. Then I read The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance which identified Xylitol as a potential alternate for sugar. I liked that it is a 1:1 replacement, made from natural ingredients, low glycemic index, cookable, and no aftertaste. I searched online for a good chocolate ice cream recipe made with Xylitol, but didn’t turn up any simple candidates. I decided to create my own based on my ice cream making experience and trusting that Xylitol can be used in cooking. The first batch turned out great so I’m sharing it online!

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 large eggs
  • 0.5 cu Xylitol (I used Xlear Xylosweet; this is for mild sweetness – use 0.75 or 1 cup if you want sweet)
  • 0.5 cu cocoa powder (preferably dutch-processed for richness; I used King Arthur Flour Double Dutch Dark Cocoa)
  • 1 cu half-and-half
  • 1.5 cu heavy cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp rum (or other hard alcohol – it helps keep the ice cream soft in the freezer)

Steps

  1. Beat eggs thoroughly in heat-proof mixing bowl
  2. Add Xylitol and cocoa powder to eggs and stir well to combine
  3. Heat half-and-half to 160 deg F in a saucepan
  4. Drizzle warmed half-and-half into egg mixture while mixing. This brings the egg mixture slowly up to temperature so it doesn’t curdle.
  5. Put egg mixture back into saucepan and heat slowly to 160F while stirring. Don’t heat too fast or boil or you might end up with scrambled eggs in your ice cream (only straining can save you then).
  6. Once egg mixture is at 160F then turn off heat and add remaining ingredients (heavy cream, vanilla, rum). Stir to combine.
  7. Refrigerate for a few hours or until it reaches fridge temp.
  8. Freeze according to ice cream maker instructions.
Chocolate Ice Cream w/ Xylitol

Chocolate Ice Cream made with Xylitol

Results

To me the ice cream is essentially indistinguishable from its sugar-based counterpart. The texture is creamy and the sweetness is just right for my low-carb-adjusted palate. I’d say that 0.5 cu of Xylitol is on the low end of sweetness – you could definitely use 2/3 or 3/4 cup of Xylitol if you wanted it to taste even more like standard ice cream.

This base method would definitely adapt well with other flavors, so I’m looking forward to some more ice cream creations in the near future!

Posted in Cooking | Tagged , | 1 Comment