México Olvidado 

Three weeks in the state of Chiapas, a place of lush jungles, little known rivers, and drastic mountains. A land known as ‘Forgotten Mexico’ due to a history of government neglect and outright abuses of the prominently indigenous populations throughout the region. It took years of social unrest and the Zapatista uprising to finally draw attention to the area, and only recently has the government begun to invest in basic infrastructure and health services for the people of Chiapas.  

The name seemed fitting on a personal level as well, as it’s been several years now since I was able to travel for any significant amount of time. This was my first extended trip (relative to life as I now know it) since I switched my world all around. It was certainly nice to sink into something different for a while. 

The basics were broken up into two parts: a river trip down the Rio Jataté, part one; and a bunch of traveling around, part two.  

The whole idea for Chiapas started back in the summer. I knew I wanted to do an extended river expedition somewhere in the world in the December time frame. I didn’t really have any strong opinions as to where, just how long and when. I knew I wanted to run some whitewater and sleep in a tent for a while. And I wanted to do something with Sierra Rios, an outfitter with the potential to operate in various spots across the globe. The owner is a guy named Rocky Contos, and Rocky runs trips, organizes trips, and outfits trips. The company also works to raise awareness of river issues around the world, though it seems like a lot of times it’s often running rivers for the last few times before they die behind inevitable dams. I started talking to Rocky in August, checking out the website calendar, and viewing the potentially available trips. In the end, the Jataté, which I’d never heard of, seemed the best option. And I think it certainly was.  

The Jataté (pronounced something like hah-tah-te) is a guides’ river and an expedition style trip. Most of the folks that sign up for these trips are small groups of guides or kayakers, and Rocky puts them together with one or two of his guides that know the stretch. The company provides requested gear, and organizes all logistics of food, transportation, and safety (which became a major issue in the 90s due to civil unrest in both Chiapas and Guatemala).

When committing to the trip Rocky asked me to try and promote the trip. I told him it was unlikely I would find any interested individuals, but in the end my awesome friend Emilie E., who I met on the Kongakut River a couple years ago, decided to fly down from Fairbanks and join. Her presence is what made the trip super special, and it probably wouldn’t have been nearly as fun without her around. In the end it was she and I, a group of three Hungarian kayakers, two guides from Mexico, and another kayaker from the States that’s working on guiding for Sierra Rios seasonally. Emilie, myself, and German rowed gear boats while the other five kayaked. 

Nothing but good energy from both these dudes. Roberto and Bivi. Photo: Bivi.

The trip was everything I wanted it to be. It was eight days total, though lots of travel and sitting around for a couple of those days on either end. After a slow relaxing start, the canyon and rapids began on day four, and the whitewater continued until the morning of the last day. And there was a lot of whitewater. The run was mostly Class IV, but there were a few more difficult rapids, two of which we portaged—an arduous time-consuming process, but part of what makes the trip an expedition. What also makes the trip an expedition is that things are probably going to go wrong, requiring boaters to use skills they may have only trained with in the past. Things certainly got hairy in several places. Rope skills, mechanical advantage systems, quick thinking, and teamwork were critical in a couple of those situations.

Most of the rapids in the first canyon are very technical, with a lot of precision moves leading into sizeable drops. One right after the next. On day five we were seriously running and scouting rapids for seven hours. It was amazing. At the end of the first canyon things opened up and the confluence with another river significantly increased the flow, changing the nature of the rapids to big water runs with huge waves and holes to crush or avoid at all costs. The run was at the extremes of what Emilie had done previously, but even though she was anxious throughout (we later determined she got five years of experience in five days) she killed it with a smile. As for me, I wrapped a boat (for the first time in my life) in the second rapid; I got an unexpected vicious tube suck in another rapid, was ejected from the boat, and broke a fiberglass oar in half with my ribs (still not healed) on my way out—my first swim in years; I also got surfed hard in a sticky hole above a nasty strainer… But the only really bad line I had everything turned out to be just fine.  

The following blocks of photos courtesy of Attila ‘Bivi’ Hubik. Thanks Bivi!

Emilie!!!
Making moves.

The day after the trip Emilie and I hung out in Palenque all day. Ate a mellow breakfast, drank local coffee, went and visited the famous ruins, which were under construction somehow, walked around in the jungle with the amazing Pablo, an 11-year-old self-proclaimed guide, and finished it off with a feast of traditional Chiapan food. The following day we said ‘for sure a next time’ and went our separate ways. Emilie flew to Colorado and I spent the day busing it over to the capital of Tuxtla Guitierrez.  

Pablo convinced me to hire him to guide us through the jungle. Best decision of the whole trip.

Part two of the trip was meeting up with a girl from Globe, renting a car, staying in nice hotels, eating a lot of wonderful food, and freewheeling it around the western side of the state for a week. Started the run with a boat ride into Cañón del Sumidero, spent a night in the cool little pueblo of Chiapa de Corzo, headed over to San Cristóbal for a couple days where we walked and biked, climbed down a couple hundred stairs to El Aguacero waterfall and then back up, spent several days on the beach of Puerto Artista, took a boat into some mangroves, took a boat over to Boca del Cielo for dinner, made the journey to the Zoque ruin site of Iglesia Vieja and had the place completely to ourselves for the afternoon (actually after leaving San Cristóbal we were often the only people around), swam in the Pacific, strolled in the sand, rode a 4-wheeler miles down the beach, spent a night in Tuxtla and danced to live marimba music in the park.

Chiapa de Corzo
Iglesia de Guadalupe, San Cristóbal
El Aguacero
Otro cumpleaños en una playa mexicana. Puerto Artista.

We finished the trip with a day and night in Mexico City where I met up with Isaac, an online Spanish tutor that I’ve been talking to a couple times a month. He showed us some of the sights and then we ate a memorable lunch up on the rooftop patio of Hotel Zócalo Central. This is probably one of the best times to be in the big city as the weather is nice, everything is lit up and decorated for Christmas, there’s live music in the plaza, and happy people everywhere.

El Zócalo

Once Isaac went home, we headed over to the Templo Mayor ruin site and museum, listened to mariachi music in Plaza Garabaldi, walked through the huge park adjacent the Bellas Artes building, browsed Chinatown, and called it a night. The next morning we admired the sun rising through the smog while we ate breakfast on the same rooftop, took a cab through empty Sunday streets to the airport, and flew back to Tucson. There it was a goodbye hug in the economy lot and back to disparate realities. Asi es la vida…

Back when human sacrifice was fun!
Isaac and Bellas Artes
Sunday morning sunrise.

And that was it. Forgotten Mexico and remembering what the authentic self feels like at its best.

Solo bueno.

¡Feliz Año Nuevo 2023!

And that’s a wrap! Photo: Bivi. Culprit: Me.

Roam Around

Short on words, once again. Past couple months been visits with family, camping with friends, little bit of roaming around. Headed down south tomorrow. Mexico way. Hoping to find a bit of that way things once were. Ojalá que sí.

Ft. Bowie, Chiricahuas, Mt. Graham, Boyce Thompson, Arizona Trail, City of Globe

Mt. Graham. Photo: G. Jett
Chiricahua lunch rock

Oracle, Arizona Trail, Aravaipa Canyon

Vineyard Trail, Picketpost, Gila Box, Arizona Skies

Arizona voters to all election denier candidates!!!
Que trabajo tan duro! Gila River. Photo: G. Jett

Hasta la próxima

Time Lapse Living

It’s been some time now and no time now. There is but vague recall of weeks long gone. Hazy recollections of months spent living in heat induced fugue. A compilation of obscure frames replayed in fast-forward—compressed memories of life condensed.

I don’t have much to say at the moment. Not a lot to report. It’s been hot. It’s still hot. Life has been a lot of time at work for lack of anything more inspired to do, regular siestas in the scorching afternoons, occasional attempts at being active. There were some day hikes, a couple river trips, a month plus of monsoons, lots of flowers, weeks of historically low water followed by a 100 year flood, numerous sunsets… There was a week in Sacramento for work, an oppressively hot weekend in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, local wanderings…

I don’t know if cooler temperatures will change the format, but I’m certainly hoping to find out soon. Thought I’d go ahead and post a few of those stop motion shots in the meantime.

100° Day Trips

4-Peaks

Critters

Sonoran Desert Tortoise
Canyon Tree Frog

Around Town

Fry Mesa
The evening skies in Arizona always amaze

World in Bloom

Arizona Fishhook

‘Till Next Time

*I’ll be spending some weeks in Mexico come November/December. Contact me if any interest in running a river or two down that way.

Desert Adaptations

Big changes for certain. One extreme to the next. Back in the desert after several years away. AK to AZ. 49th state to 48th. Deep negatives to upcoming triple digits. Not sure how I’ll handle that.

What’s good? New job. Lots of time outside. Sunshine. The chance to contribute to the protection and conservation of public lands. A position with autonomy and plenty of opportunities to hike and paddle both. Wild places. Wildlife.

Everything else? Same same but different. Starting over once again.

Was -30 most of the week before I flew out of Fairbanks on the last day of January. Got in a few final ski outings, saw a couple last light shows, said goodbye to a few good friends. Not easy. It will always be hard to not be in Alaska. Stayed a night in Anchorage as I didn’t want to leave the state all at once.

Flew into Texas on February 1st just in time for a solid snow storm. Was in Arizona a week later and already over 80° in early February. Hit 90°+ when I was in Phoenix that week and I was about to meltdown physically and mentally. Thankfully, things have cooled off since then. Been off and on, a little warmer each week. Wind and heat, wind and cold. Chilly nights, hair dryer days. Mountains all around. Sky islands with crazy names: Chiricahuas, Huachucas, Gilas, Dragoons, Peloncillos, Pinaleños, Dos Cabezas… Have been out and about for certain. Dirt road driving, wilderness hiking, desert camping, shallow water boating, small town visiting, border crossing, solo missioning…

Bighorn Sheep at Orange Cliffs
Gila Monster!
Coronado National Monument
Inspiration Point, Chiricahua National Monument. Photo: R. Poginy

Reach out and tell me what’s good wit’ ya.

Sun on the Horizon

Having made it a goal to create one post each month in 2021, and seeing as how it’s the last day of the last month, I guess I better get on with it. And boy, what a month it’s been, though really more of a continuation of the couple before it. For many weeks now, Alaska has been keeping things interesting, firing from multiple barrels. The barrage continues to keep me pinned down, spending way too much time inside a little cabin where only a few hours of daylight filter in this time of year.

Climate madness is in full effect up this way. All sorts of records being broken on the daily, from warmest to wettest, but plenty of cold in the mix to add to the experiment. All the craziness has made it tough to spend much time in the elements, and impossible to know what trails or terrain might look like when heading out. The basics entail rapid fluctuations from one extreme to the next. Days of deep negatives, followed by quick warming and moisture. Last Friday, Christmas Eve, it was -27 when I went to work. On Christmas day the temperatures started to climb and the flakes began to fall in earnest. The next day, we saw temps in the 40s and heavy snow turned to icy misty drizzle, which showered steadily for 12 hours. By the end of the rain, everything was covered in several inches of ice. Ice that most likely won’t melt until April. Then the wind came and down went a bunch of trees. Power outages, collapsing roofs, etc. Without pause, an even stronger storm blew in, dumping almost two feet of snow on top of all the ice. A day later, we’re headed right back into a week of -30 and below.

It’s all a kind of metaphor for the last couple of years I guess, and probably all the years before those ones. There is no back to normal. No untroubled days ahead. There is only this. The what’s happening now. There is opportunity to find solace in acceptance. To appreciate the in-between moments, the work outs, good meals, companionship, spots of sunshine, an afternoon spent gliding along a well-groomed trail. A few hours to revel in a freshly cleared driveway.

I suppose the biggest adventure of the month was taking my turn with ‘the covid,’ as my mom refers to it. Not to be trifled with, but part of life and our world all the same. Honestly, I’m actually happy to have had the experience, to finally get it over with (at least for the first time… though the virus lingered for weeks and may be lurking still). No more fear of missing out on that critical piece of current affairs for me.

But the best day, by far, in December was the only one where I spent all day outside, which was the Winter Solstice. The sun barely rises this far north in December, and this year on the 21st it sat low between a thick blanket of clouds and the horizon for but a few hours. Hours of punishing beauty. It truly is almost too much to take in at times. The layer cake sky, profound unearthly hues that hurt the heart to look at. Weight pressing deep into the chest, a sigh you can’t get out. To fully exist inside of that world, which IS a fragment of the world we live in, even if only for a few hours, is privilege. The privilege of being alive. The ephemeral nature of existence raw and exposed. Cold wind whipping across the frozen landscape. Unnecessary excuse for the tears in your eyes.

Anyways, the end of an additional calendar year is upon us. Another circumnavigation of the sun. The only certainty for 2022 is assuredly more change. Deeper sorrows? Greater awareness? Increased frustration? Projected enlightenment? Change and more change.

Speaking of, this will probably be my last post for quite some time. Changing things up a bit. All the best to you and yours. Happy New Year.

Photo: MB

November in the Negatives

-26° as I type, and lower on the way later this week. But it may not be only the temps that are down this month. A lack of snowfall has certainly induced a lack of motivation, though I try my best to stay out of the negatives myself. Unfortunately, however, it’s the outdoors I’ve been staying out of, quite possibly spending more days inside over the past weeks than any other month in my adulthood. There’s been a lot of gym time, book time, and guitar time, but with only a couple exceptions there has been very little fresh air and frolicking. Unfavorable conditions for skiing did provide the opportunity for a couple of interesting hikes, and with Birch Hill being the only decent place to get out for some snow sliding—it’s important to be thankful to have that option. I am.

Gunnysack Creek

Sean and I drove down south a ways to check out Gunnysack Creek. I’d never heard of the place, but thanks to Sean’s penchant for dreaming up out of the way, and often ambitious itineraries, I got to go see something new. Early in November things were actually eerily warm, so the creek wasn’t nearly as frozen up as it might have been. We decided to do a little adventuring anyway, and spent a pleasant afternoon post-holing along the creek bank, and hopping back-and-forth across questionably stable ice bridges. Was a beautiful little canyon, and quite unlike anything else in that area. Finished the evening with a quick stop at the Delta Brewery. A successful day and a good scouting mission for future forays into the area.

Tolovana Hot Springs

I had been hoping to visit Tolovana for a lot of years. Not sure when I first heard about the place, but by the time I arrived in Fairbanks a couple years back, getting to the hot springs was already etched in my mind. I almost committed two years ago, but this is one trip that didn’t seem like a good solo mission in the middle of February, or any other time for that matter. The trailhead is a couple desolate hours from Fairbanks on what is for all purposes a trucker’s ice road in the winter time. While the Elliot is one of Alaska’s main highways, it’s difficult to keep it clear of drifts, and impossible to do anything about the ice. The trailhead itself is alongside a remote ridgeline that is notorious for high winds and extreme temperatures. Perhaps the most fearsome part of the trip is knowing that you have to leave a car there for a day or two, and that if it doesn’t start when you get back you may be in serious trouble. It’s imperative to prepare for the worst contingencies imaginable, and to bring along all the winter gear you may need to shelter in place, along with a jumper kit and portable stove to warm the engine.

And so it begins…

Thankfully, Melissa and I didn’t have to worry about any of that on this trip. We considered ourselves quite ‘lucky’ to have a steady -5° the whole time we were out there, and only a mild breeze along ‘Windy Gap’ and the top of the dome. The route itself is a TOUGH 10-miles or so. Lots of elevation gain and loss, plus carrying a backpack, wearing all your winter gear, and walking in the snow. Along with all this you have to try and keep some water usable so you might have a little sip now and again, but only when you stop and dig it out of your pack, because otherwise the bottle will be frozen shut along with half its contents. You will overheat regularly while on the move, and instantly feel the shivers coming on if you stop for more than two minutes. On the way in, you immediately drop almost 1000’, then climb it all back plus some, then drop right back down again. On the way back, it’s climb, descend, and climb, and climb, then scream profanities to the birches, maybe weep, and then climb some more. The last mile might have been one of the more demoralizing (but funny, if you can laugh at your own weakness) experiences I’ve had in recent years.

It would have been really nice to spend two nights out there in order to have a day of rest between the hikes, but then it also wouldn’t have been as brutal, so probably not as much fun. I did drag an empty sled attached to my pack, which we took turns riding along the way. Some exciting, but sketchy descents. On the way out, Melissa managed to get an uninterrupted entire mile of riding coming down from Windy Gap. Having already had my share of sticks to the eyes, and a sore tailbone from the landing part of airborne experiences, I was happy to walk behind admiring the sled tracks in support.

The destination itself is comprised of three cabins (the reserving of which is the most difficult part of making this trip happen), and three hot springs. The springs are really incredible, and spread out along a small creek. Somehow, most likely due to the nonsensical reservation process, we were the only ones out there. We arrived with plenty of time to stoke a fire, warm up the cabin, do some exploring, and then soak in the upper springs, which has an impressive view of the valley below. After, was an evening of bagged wine, card games, curry, and deep sleep. In the morning it was breakfast followed by a dip in the middle springs, and then the long walk back. A truly awesome trip.

Birch Hill Gratitude

Limbo

‘Sitting here in limbo, like a bird without a song…’

How does one go about effecting change? Initially, as in goal setting, the intentions must be clearly identified, as well as attainable. It’s all about figuring out where desires align with possibilities. Since signing on to my current position here two years ago, I’ve been living in that first stanza of the Serenity Prayer—that is, searching for the ‘wisdom to know the difference’ between the malleable and the fixed. Making attempts to alter aspects of individualized reality, but also practicing patience and acceptance, and waiting for opportunity. A balance of proactive behavior combined with tolerant resignation.

Acceptance has also been part of the new abnormal with regards to climate everywhere. The first snow of the year here was on the 24th of September. This was shadowed by a big storm a week later, which dumped over a foot of powder across the Interior. Immediately after, however, a warming trend brought rain and melting, and it’s been nothing but weirdness ever since. Today, Halloween, we started the morning at almost 45°. Thus, ‘sitting here in limbo, waiting for some snow to fall…’ Not a lot going on as far as getting out there. Gray skies combined with nothing but ice and mud make for gloomy conditions.

This past month was a hike in to Nugget Cabin with Emilie after the first snow fall, a bit of ‘skiing’ around after the second go round, taking some folks out to the Reindeer Ranch, too much indoor time, and a trip back to Texas to visit family and soak up a bit of sunshine.

Swear this thing was purring.
Lake Meredith, TX
Palo Duro Canyon, TX
Home again. Home again. Jiggity-Jig.

Rotisserie Blues

‘But momentum propels you over the crest. Imperceptibly, you start down. When do the days start to blur and then, breaking your heart, the seasons?’ – Annie Dillard, ‘Aces and Eights’

Spit-roasting through the galaxy. Round and round that hot old sun in a sizzling self-marinade. Days and thoughts on repeat. Rising and falling. Held in place by forces of gravity; hurtling through empty space thanks to the same. Time crumples in the created cosmos of memory and experience.

Light snow yesterday. Equinox tomorrow. More dark than light the next—and many to follow. Fall to winter. Seems like the one before last just got started.

Granite Tors

A visit from my old friend Peter, and a big loop up and amongst the Granite Tors.

Triple Lakes Trail, Denali NP

Rainbow Ridge and Canwell Glacier

Denali Highway (135 mile stretch of dirt road on south side of Alaska Range)

Yi doing what she loves.
Above three photos courtesy of Yi Wang

Angel Rocks to Chena Hot Springs (after this season’s Munson Creek fire)

Denali Park Road

Last weekend and gettin’ to winter, but that snow’s from August!
‘The world was made to be free in…’ Photo: Melissa B.

Ready or Not

Beginning to feel as if I might have run out of words for this project. Cat’s got my keyboard, or something like that. Have also been feeling detached from reality at times (assuming there is one), like I’m floating around filming someone else working their way from one day to the next. But wanted to do a little something for the month, and suppose the location shots that person’s been wandering through have been interesting enough.

The beginning of August saw depressingly high temperatures breaking records across the state. Soon after, however, a return to something more akin to ‘normal’ occurred, and it’s been clouds and rain ever since. And yes, the impending return to dark and frozen. Ready or not.

I’m going with not quite, and hoping for some likeness of fall, though that semblance has already been creeping in for while now. Cooling temps, changing leaves, the inevitable setting of the sun. And it is all as beautiful as ever—the reds and golds replacing the greens—just feels a little early this time around.

Since the last time it’s been a week down in Denali guiding a few commercial trips on the Nenana, a hike up and over Mt. Healy, an overnight trip on the Chena River, a couple days over to the east (Tok and Delta Junction) trying to get out of the rain, and some hiking/camping/canoeing in the Maclaren Valley off the Denali Highway. There it was an upstream jet boat ride to ‘glam camp,’ a long hike to the Maclaren Glacier, a float out the next morning, and a stroll along the summit trail. It was also an amusing Alaskan souvenir brought to life when a moose swam across the river in front of us directly underneath a perched bald eagle with a glacier in the background. The T-shirts are real!

Denali NP

Mt. Healy and ridge walking for miles.

Chena River

Couple miles from the house as the raven flies, but feels pretty far from everything when you’re out there.

Tok, Delta Junction, Quartz Lake

Mukluk Land. Monument to the epic quantity of junk weathering away in the Great North.
Little Tok River

Maclaren Glacier, River, Camp, Summit Trail…

Outhouse with a view.
Sunset of nothing but blues.

North of the Line

In early July, I graciously accepted an opportunity to accompany some folks to a couple national parks in the arctic. Got briefed on the planning, packed the food and gear last week, and flew into the native village of Kotzebue on the Chukchi Sea, where I met the clients. From there, we took a ride in a bush plane and landed on a swath of sand dunes just south of the Kobuk River. Camped two days and nights in Kobuk Valley NP, followed by a scenic shuttle to the Upper Ambler, where we spent another couple of days in Gates of the Arctic NP.

These awesome people were hoping to get in some walking, and walk we did, making the most of every minute out there. A great group, and a solid mix of Alaskan experience: intense mosquito moments, varied weather, bushwhacks, ridge walks, river crossings, a short period of being ‘turned around,’ and a close encounter with a big black bear (mostly comical). Appreciation in abundance for all aspects of the week.

Kotzebue

Great Kobuk Sand Dunes

Gates of the Arctic