Tag Archives: hiking

Exclusive Reservations at the High Sierra’s Hidden Honeymoon Suite

So…  I’ve been married 8 times.  You’re thinking that I must be crazy, right?  Probably.

Don’t worry, though.  All of them were to the same chick :).  I suppose that 7 of them have been “vow renewals,” but those don’t sound like they’re as much fun.  Today is the day we celebrate our anniversary.  Due to “tyranny of distance,” we won’t get a chance to be together for a 9th wedding this year, but we’ll make it happen somehow.  In the meantime, reminisce with us and read about our 7th wedding in Yosemite.  Love ya babe 😉


PS:  Happy 100th to our NPS!

My wife, Erica has always been up for an adventure. Sometimes, I’ve had trouble keeping up with her. At some point, maybe around 2010, her tireless energy began to wane. Though she always exuded an attitude that was positive and social, she felt lazy and lethargic. Stagnant. We lived on the sub-tropical island of Okinawa at the time. It was easy to pass off lethargy as living the beach-bum life. She noticed a lump in her neck around that time, but didn’t find it to be much of an issue. When we returned to the US, her energy did not seem to return with us. But, the lump seemed to grow.

That lump turned out to be the issue. Thyroid cancer. Those cancerous cells were robbing her body of its ability to regulate a whole host of functions. Soon after the diagnosis, Erica underwent a complete thyroidectomy. The surgeon also removed 30 cancerous lymph nodes from the left side of her neck (and sliced a gory, ‘J’ shaped incision from her trachea to her ear in the process). Following that, she was required to swallow a radioactive iodine pill to try and target any remaining thyroid cells. You should have seen the steel canister that the physician transported that little pill in. It was something out of a crappy sci-fi flick.

“Whaddya think your new superpowers will be after you eat that thing?” I asked Erica as the physician pulled a slender glass vial from the beefy steel cylinder.

“Idunno, it’d be cool to fly, I guess,” she said, “Or maybe drain the ocean to see what’s down there.” She grabbed the vial, threw her head back, and gulped the pill down like a shot of Wild Turkey.

Following the treatments, Erica was recovering well to her usual ornery self. With her health improving, we were free to plan our 2014 vow renewal (we ‘get married’ every year). In conjunction with a Wilderness First Responder class I was required to attend, we planned a vacation to the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. We took in some beautiful Lake Tahoe vistas, and then decided to travel south and spend some time in Yosemite National Park.20140830-IMG_9251

The park is enormous, and offers some world-class backpacking opportunities. I Jedi-mind-tricked Erica into believing that taking an overnight backpacking trip would be awesome. So, while exploring Yosemite’s crowded valley, we stopped in the Wilderness Center to research trails and apply for a Wilderness Use Permit. We perused some local maps, and considered a few recommendations in the booklets provided. I was most intrigued with a specific area on the east side of the park called Tuolomne Meadows (pronounced, ‘too-all-oh-me,’ by those in-the-know). It was far from the tourist hub of the valley, and I had it on good authority that it was one of the most unique areas of the park. I showed the ranger behind the desk which route we were thinking of following. Her eyes lit up.

“Oh, yeah! That’s gotta be one of my favorite areas of the park,” she exclaimed. She dragged her finger along the route and stopped when it arrived at the Sunrise Lakes. “You should really try to make it here to camp. On the back side of this lake right here,” she tapped her nail on a tiny blue blotch, “there are some sweet rock shelves that are nice and flat, and you should have some awesome views. You’ll need a bear canister for the backcountry, though.”

The canister she spoke of looked like a small, hard plastic Donkey Kong barrel, and had specially designed, ‘bear-proof’ latches on one end.

“If it goes in your mouth or on your skin, keep it in the canister,” the ranger advised. She was pretty relaxed about most things, it seemed, but was quite stern about that bear canister.

The Donkey Kong barrel was large, heavy, and awkward to pack, but I figured that it was much better than waking up in the middle of the night to a pilfering bear. Erica was excited about the planned trek. Though, I’m not sure if she had a full idea of what hiking 12 miles in the mountains with a pack meant. I, somewhat selfishly, downplayed the difficulty of the trek, and attempted to bolster her confidence. We spent the rest of the day soaking in the beauty of the valley, and camped at a built-up site called Housekeeping Camp.

We rose early on the morning of our anniversary, quickly broke camp, and drove across the park to the trailhead. Other hikers were arriving and getting their gear together. There was an air of seriousness. Almost everyone was decked out like a pro in a North Face ad. I think this is the first time that Erica realized what she had signed up for.

“You look kinda nervous, babe. You all right?” I asked. Her eyes were wider than they should be at such an early hour. She kept fumbling with her pack, and double checking the car for forgotten items. Erica’s furrowed brow relaxed when I called her out. She giggled.

“Do I? I guess reality just now set in.” She glanced at a pair of especially over-equipped hikers. “I’m not sure I can do this.”

“Don’t worry about Team REI over there. You got this. We’ll just take it as slow as we need to. What’s the worst that could happen? We have everything we need on our backs, right?” I said. Erica half lifted her pack, and realized how heavy it was.

20140829-IMG_8370We started off at a quick pace. Too quick. The trail shot directly up the hill to our south. Both of us were soon struggling to pull enough oxygen from the thin alpine air. Another group of hikers caught up with us, and became great pace setters. We walked with them at a relaxed pace for a while, and took breaks when they did. We had all day, after all. The terrain was surreal and ever changing. We traversed up hill, and broke through the tall pine forest into a rocky, high sierra environment. Ancient, granite spires jutted up behind the hearty foliage forming peaks with accurate monikers like Cathedral, and Echo. We entered a vast meadow that was home to a small pond, and a man on a horse in a cowboy hat led a team of mules down the trail. The feeling was timeless. We were experiencing the same untouched environments as people like Ansel Adams, and John Muir.

20140829-IMG_8388That afternoon, after about seven miles on the trail, we arrived at a High Sierra camp called Sunrise. This is where the mule team was coming from. There were some large outfitter’s tents, a bathroom, and a community area where they cooked and served dinner for guests who had reserved a spot. We took some time to refill water, and massage our aching feet. Though the camp was a nice surprise, the caretaker was somewhat rude in answering our questions. He shooed us off to the edge of the camp with the rest of the folks without prior reservations. It turns out that the guests were somewhat snooty as well. But, both of us were tired, and there were some tempting campsites in the designated area.

“I think we should keep going,” Erica said. She was decisive, and  began putting her socks back on. “We didn’t come all the way out here to hang out with these ‘glampers,’ anyways.”

I laughed, and agreed. If we continued now, though, there would be no returning. We had to make it all the way to the lake. It was another two miles or so up the trail. The others hikers set up tents and prepared dinner. We laced our boots, fastened our packs, and pressed on.

Trail markings were poor around the camp, and smaller paths crisscrossed throughout the area. It was difficult to determine where the turnoff to Sunrise Lakes was, so I pulled out my compass and took a general heading. That brought us to a trail that was pointing in the right direction. It must be the right one, I thought, there’s nothing else around here. Our rest break had rejuvenated us. Despite cramping legs and sore shoulders, we were again moving at a quick pace en route to our ideal campsite. The falling sun rushed us even more.

But something wasn’t right. I could feel it. We were on the trail, but my compass no longer seemed to point the way it was supposed to. I decided to stop and get our definitive location. I matched the GPS to the map, the map to the terrain, and the terrain to the compass. Then, I did it again. It couldn’t be correct. We couldn’t afford to mess up. I had already pushed Erica farther than I probably should have. But the GPS, map, and compass did not lie. We had somehow missed the trail that wound up over the pass that led to the lakes. Not just barely, though. We had traveled almost an hour past the intersection. I tried to appear calm, and assured Erica that we weren’t lost- we were just on the wrong trail.

In my head, I was anything but calm. We were stuck on the wrong side of a mountain with no level campsites nearby, and our light was quickly fading. If we backtracked all the way to the intersection, there would be no chance of making it to the lakes before dark, or even back to Sunrise Camp for that matter. I pored over the map for a solution.   It seemed that if we headed directly uphill, through the closest drainage, we could cross over the ridgeline and link back up with the correct trail. It was a gamble, but it might just work.

Erica was not keen on the idea of walking off into the forest, especially uphill, but she was a bit more willing when she learned the definition of ‘bushwhacking.’ The drainage was steep, and full of loose rocks and tree slash. I began to wonder if it would take even longer than backtracking. When we finally crested the steep ridgeline, there was still no sight of the trail to the Sunrise Lakes. The sun was nearly behind the trees. Soon, it would drop behind the horizon, and we would be forced to set up camp where we stood.

“What if we just camp around here?” I said to Erica as I spun slowly in a circle, eyeing a few potential campsites.

Erica braced her hands on her knees, looked around, and, between deep breaths said, “But it’s not the lake.” I paused for a long moment, in thought.

“Yeah, I know,” I said.   “I’m just worried about making it to a good site before it gets too dark. How tired are ya?”

Without hesitation, but still between deep breaths, she said, “If you think we can make it, I got it in me.”

I was somewhat certain that our trail was just across the shallow depression ahead of us, but was a bit wary, given my recent navigational mishap. I decided to drop my pack where we stood, and run down the other side to try and find the trail. That would give Erica a chance to rest for a minute, and I could move faster on my recce mission without the weight. Sure enough, it was there. I raced back up to Erica’s position. We pressed on.

20140829-IMG_2662Getting back onto something that resembled a trail was comforting. We easily crossed over the small pass and began descending. Through gaps in the tall stands of trees, we were able to catch glimpses of the setting sun glinting off a mirror-like surface. The sight put a spring back into our steps. This first lake was tucked into the shadow of the surrounding mountain. The air was already feeling cool and moist. It would be a poor place to camp. We pressed on. As we rounded the corner, though, a few final rays of sunlight bathed our faces and the rocky hillside. The air was warmer and less damp. To our north, and downhill from the trail, we could see the middle Sunset Lake. That was it! We might have just enough light to find our perfect site. We picked our way through the rocks to the south edge of the lake. The surface of the lake was glass. One large lump of granite rose from the center of the lake like a small island. On it, a single, gnarled pine fought for life, against all odds. Across the lake I could see the rock shelves that the ranger spoke of. They were still basking in late afternoon light. I was drawn to the other side, and encouraged Erica to dig for a little bit more strength. We saw another group of campers near the north side of the pond. They invited us to stay near them. Still, I was drawn upwards. I found a reserve of energy, and bounded up the boulders above the lake. There it was- a perfectly flat shelf overlooking the lake. No, wait. I hopped up one more shelf, and gazed west. I could see down the entire valley. It was filled with an evening haze. Long beams of the setting sun were shining perfectly on the giant granite batholith known as Half Dome.20140829-IMG_2670

“Here it is, babe!” I shouted down the rocks to Erica, “Your honeymoon suite awaits, Madame.” She climbed as fast as she could up to our site, and dropped her pack.

“Oh, wow! This is so awesome,” she said. She was breathing heavily and bent over looking south towards the lake. I put my arm around her and pointed down the valley.

“No, no. Look that way,” I said. Erica’s jaw dropped. She turned and gave me a big kiss.

We should have set up camp right away and fed our dizzy, dehydrated brains.   We were both mystified by the front row seat for the once in a lifetime Yosemite sunset, though. I scrambled to get my camera set up. We left our packs in a pile, and ran in circles for a few minutes trying to find the best view. There was a perfect overlook a few paces from our campsite. Erica and I sat against a fallen log and shared a few sips from our flask of fancy whisky (not Wild Turkey). Inevitably, we set up camp in the dark that night, but it was worth it. Erica heated water for our delicious, freeze-dried dinner, and I built a small fire to fight off the chilled night breeze.20140829-IMG_9209

How To Kill Your Dad in 28,164 Short Steps

Today we celebrate dads. We celebrate for a lot of reasons, but today I celebrate my dad for his tenacity (AKA hardheadedness).  In 2011 my dad endured a double knee replacement…  Followed by a near deadly staph infection.  His recovery was arduous, but allowed him to be more active than he had been in decades.  He decided he would strive to squeeze even more out of his life experience.

“Justin, I think you’d better come home,” my stepmom said over the phone from a few states away. Her tone was calm, but I could sense that there was something very wrong. It was fall of 2013, and my dad, Jude, had been admitted to the ICU with failing kidneys caused by an enlarged prostate. The doctor was making no guarantees about his potential recovery. It was bad.  Really bad. Is this my fault? I thought.

Supermoon rising east of Leadville, CO.
Supermoon rising east of Leadville, CO.

Continue reading How To Kill Your Dad in 28,164 Short Steps

Resilience via Mountain Therapy

Phew!  We’ve been all over the place lately leaving little time to post meaningful content, but are proud to welcome you to Phase 3 of the “101 Days From Now Challenge!”  We’re over a week into the phase, and I hope you have reviewed your phase goals and are on your way to living the life you deserve.  

If you haven’t started the challenge, why not check out our previous posts.  You can join in now, or start when you are ready.  Don’t forget to subscribe so you can keep up with all of our new articles!

Today, we’d like to share our experience welcoming Phase 3 at the top of Arkansas.  Enjoy!

jaw_20131013-IMG_0549Service members are no stranger to stress and demanding schedules.  Uncle Sam refers to their ability to thrive in the face of stress resilience (or resiliency).  Specifically defined, it “is the ability to withstand, recover and or/grow in the face of stressors and changing demands.”  -DCoE for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

One important way to build resilience is through an outlet.  It allows you to escape from everyday stresses.  It recharges your mind and body.  For me, that outlet is active and is most always outside.  My focus, stamina, strength, and overall attitude are directly proportionate to the amount of outside time I get.  In fact, exercise (especially when it happens outside) seems to be one of the best ways to build resilience.  Continue reading Resilience via Mountain Therapy

101 DFN… Weekend Adventure to the Top of Arkansas

We’re reaching “The First Ridge,” and closing in on the beginning of Phase 3!  If you have been with us from the beginning, or even if you are just getting started–  We’re stoked to have you.  Nice work!

To celebrate our achievement of Phase 2 and to get a jump start on Phase 3, a few of us plan to find the top of Arkansas this weekend.  It’s called Signal Hill or Mount Magazine and it sits at an elevation of 2,753 feet above Mean Sea Level.  This trek is fairly moderate in difficulty, and offers some of the best backpacking in the region.  Fall colors should be beginning to show, and the views should prove to be outstanding. Continue reading 101 DFN… Weekend Adventure to the Top of Arkansas

富士山 (Fuji San) in Pure Form

Fuji-san is a big deal.  It’s the highest point on all of Japan’s islands.  It’s on the ¥1000 note.  It’s the subject of countless photos, paintings, woodblock prints, poems… blog posts.

Katsushika, Hokusai, 1760-1849, artist | Teahouse at Koishikawa the morning after a snowfall
Between 1890 and 1940. Source: Library of Congress

富士山 may well be the world’s most climbed mountain- 250-300k people climb it every year.  The vast majority of these attempt it during the “official climbing season” of July and August.  At times, especially during Obon week, people have to wait in queues just to get to the next station. Continue reading 富士山 (Fuji San) in Pure Form

10 Tips to Help Your Camera Kit Thrive Where You Do

Near Thorong La, Nepal | 2011

In 2011 I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in Nepal.  I traveled with a Canon Powershot G10 which is an amazing little monster, and great for travelers.  There were times, however, when I just didn’t have the focal range that I craved.  Some shots were  burned only to my mind because of the inherent limitations of a point-and-shoot camera.  (Check out the gallery at Rogue Images.)

This year, when I learned that I would make the journey one more time, I immediately began searching for a new toy.  Mirrorless system cameras like the Sony NEX or Olympus Pen lines really caught my eye due to their large, high quality sensors and compact body size.  For my money though, the technology is not quite there.  I wanted interchangeable lenses, great video capability, and most importantly, the ability to perform anywhere I perform. Continue reading 10 Tips to Help Your Camera Kit Thrive Where You Do

10 Things to Wipe Your Butt With in the Woods

UPDATE:  MARCH 2020…  In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve begun to see how misinformation and media hype can cause unnecessary panic…  e.g. Stores are completely sold out of toilet paper!

tp empty shelves
Photo credit: Sam Finney. From krcw.com

So, to ensure we don’t take ourselves too seriously, please consider the following 10 options if you missed out on the initial “Hamsterkauf” of paper products.

And then, to ensure you are taking this pandemic seriously enough, please take a look at this well-written article on Medium that helped me understand what we were up against and why it matters- even to young, healthy people.

Stay sanitary and keep your distance, my friends


This post spawned from a lively discussion during a weekend climbing trip to the Katsu-dake crags in Okinawa, Japan.  I must say that I have had many similar conversations, but this discussion, in particular, was quite in-depth.  A special thanks to the Okinawan climbing community for the inspiration!  I’m sure you are proud.

Disclaimer:  Some of the items listed are not necessarily “Eco-friendly.”  You are not a child.  If you use an unorthodox wiping material, then pack it out in a ziplock or poop-tube in accordance with local procedures.  No one wants to come across a nasty old sock with remnants of you all over it.

Photo by Justin Watters

Toilet paper, and my personal camping favorite- the baby wipe, are like the comfort food of sanitary products.  We get so used to using them in our day-to-day life that it is nearly impossible to imagine what to do without them. Here are the facts:  1) You have to eat food to keep your energy level up.  2) Your body processes that food, and must dispose of the waste.  3) It is not healthy or comfortable to “hold it” until you find some porcelain.  4) If you hang out in nature long enough you will eventually find yourself unprepared and without the standard-issue material to clean up afterward.

So…  Just what should you do?  What can you use to wipe your butt in the woods?  The most important thing to remember is not to panic.  Take a breath, turn your “woods-eyes” on, and you will probably find something that will work just as well, if not better than the real thing.  The second most important thing is to think of this before you settle into that  perfect little tree-well, not during.  Here’s 10 solid alternatives, listed in no discernible order: Continue reading 10 Things to Wipe Your Butt With in the Woods

So, you want to be John Rambo? Part II

Welcome to our first THRIVEtech post!  I left you hangin’ with So, You Want to be John Rambo?  Part I back in May.  Sorry for the wait; The paradox of having a blog like this is that you have to be outside to create the tales, but inside to turn them into electrons for you to enjoy.  If you haven’t checked out Part I yet, now is a perfect time!  It will “set the stage.”  –Queue eery foggy fade in…

Where I left off, my crew is at the Jungle Environment Survival Training camp near Subic Bay, Philippines being shown some jungle-ninja skills by one of the best around.  That night, we eagerly make plans to meet in the foggy morning light to make the trek into camp a cool one.  We gather at the front gate of the JEST compound and begin shifting gear around, tightening boots, and making wagers on the first deadly creature encounter… Continue reading So, you want to be John Rambo? Part II

The core: They never miss a beat…

There are a select few.  You know who you are.  The core that never has to “catch up” not matter how long it has been since they were in the same hemisphere.  Small talk is shelved.  True progress is achieved.  It’s not that we don’t care what the others have been doing.  It’s that we seem to be more interested in what we are doing.

Such was the case recently as Lady Luck dropped Chuck Wagon and I on the same geo-coords for one hot minute in Wyoming.  Grandiose plans of a multi-day adventure in the Wind River Range dwindled to a single morning hike by the time everything shook out.  Still, even the simplest idea can surprise you in the end. Continue reading The core: They never miss a beat…