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Unbeknownst to many American mountaineers, the highest point of elevation east of the Rocky Mountains is not in New Hampshire. That title belongs to Harney Peak in South Dakota, a 7,242-foot stone-topped summit that towers over the pine and granite of the Black Elk Wilderness area west of Rapid City.

 

Indeed, you have to cross the Atlantic Ocean to find a taller peak, as Harney is the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and the French Pyrenees. The summit is accessed via a 3- to 4-mile hike, and an abandoned fire lookout tower built by the CCC is on the summit.

 

 

 

 

Last weekend, I hiked Harney with my friend, the photographer TC Worley. It was early May, though the mountain didn’t seem to realize the season: Just two days before we arrived parts of the Black Hills got dumped on with up to four feet of new snow.

 

Our hike—in waterproof trail runners, though sans gaiters—was a post-holing extravaganza, with miles of plodding on a footprint-less path. We hiked from Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, leaving the parking lot at about 1p.m. Within an hour, we were lost, searching for blazes or trail markers, attempting to decipher minute detail on a 1:50,000 scale topo map in an area spiked with granite spires and scarred with deep valleys and reentrants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABOVE: 

TC Worley in view of the Cathedral Spires.

 

But after 20 minutes or so of searching TC and I regained the trail. The rest of the hike went better, and three-fourths of the way up—at a trail junction—we found footprints to lead us to the top.

 

The summit—an exposed granite ridge equipped with one of the coolest mountaintop fire hunts ever made—is a jaw-dropping place, with the Black Hills rolling away to all points of the compass. You can see three or four states from the perch and the inklings of the Badlands to the east.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABOVE: 

Summit ridge.

 

In the summer, when millions of people head to the area to see Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Monument, and other tourist attractions of the Black Hills, Harney can be a zoo. TC and I, by contrast, saw no other soul on the hike up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABOVE: 

A ways to go. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABOVE: 

Regenold at about 6,500 feet on the hike.

 

 

 

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Just got back from Mato Tipila. Or Bear's Lodge. Or, most commonly, Devils Tower.

 

The 1,000-foot-high thumb of rock in northeastern Wyoming goes by a few names. But all refer to this geologic masterpiece, a monolith of pillars and cracks and six-sided columns. As I wrote in the blog last week, Devils Tower was a waypoint for wagon trains heading west in the 1800s. It's a sacred place to Native Americans. In pop culture the Tower has long been associated with the strange and the otherworldly, its vestige forever burned into the American consciousness via Steven Spielberg's classic 1977 movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For me, stretching back to the days when I edited Vertical Jones magazine (www.verticaljones.com) this has always been my favorite climbing area, with finger and fist cracks streaming hundreds of feet from the talus. I have climbed a dozen routes, up to 5.10 in difficulty. Once I took a 40-foot whipper here -- my longest climbing fall so far (and hopefully ever).

 

This past weekend, I retuned to the Tower with photographer TC Worley (www.studiobluempls.com) for one day. We climbed just one route, as we were on a time crunch and had another assignment in the Black Hills. But "El Cracko Diablo" -- as the climb is called -- was a good line to get me to jump back into the saddle.

 

The climb, which goes at 5.8, involves an approach pitch, two long fist-crack pitches, then a couple hundred feet of fourth class to the top. The main climbing involves sink-your-hands-in-and-pull cracks, just gorgeous and safe expressway routes into the sky.

 

 

 

 

Stephen Regenold topping out pitch No. 2 on "El Cracko Diablo." photo by TC Worley.

 

 

 

 

We climbed with Frank Sanders, owner of Devils Tower Lodge (www.devilstowerlodge.com) and head guide of his eponymous business. I am rusty right now in the climbing department, so Frank led the two meaty pitches on El Cracko. He led with just two or three placements of gear on each pitch. Basically, he'd climb 40 to 50 feet between cam placements, solid and calm. (He's free-soloed the route several times.)

 

We climbed on Monday evening, leaving the trail around 5:30 p.m. It was a sunset cruise, and night fell right as we made the top. We watched the last rays from the "island in the sky" summit and then rappelled off in the dark, a halo of LED glow our only illumination on the moonless night.

 

Here are a few pics of the ascent as well as a couple close-ups of the Tower. Watch for gear reviews on the equipment employed during the climb in the coming weeks as well as a full narrative on the ascent later this year. . .

 

 

 

 

"El Cracko Diablo," a 600-foot route

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen Regenold interviewing Frank Sanders on pitch No. 1 of "El Cracko Diablo"; photo by TC Worley.

 

 

 

 

See the spec?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank and TC on the summit at sunset.

 

 

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As America’s first National Monument—and a top destination for American climbers—the sheer-sided, 1,000-foot-high monolith of Devils Tower in northeastern Wyoming is among the most stunning geologic displays in the West. It was a waypoint for wagon trains heading west in the 1800s. It’s a sacred place to Native Americans. In pop culture the Tower has long been associated with the strange and the otherworldly, its vestige forever burned into the American consciousness via Steven Spielberg’s classic 1977 movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

 

For climbers, Devils Tower stands among the most unique summits on the continent. The formation, which is the hard basalt core of an eons-old volcano, attracts thousands of rock climbers each year to shimmy up its skyscraper-proportion routes. All sides of the tower are sheer, making the summit unobtainable by hikers. But climbing routes as moderate as 5.6 (intermediate level) provide passage to the top.

 

The summit—a unique “island in the sky”—is an acre-size chunk of desert, flat with scrub brush and some wildlife, though rung with dizzying vertical drops hundreds of feet down all around its sequestered circumference.

 

This weekend I’m heading west to climb the Tower. A photographer and I will climb with local guide Frank Sanders, a veteran who has ascended the Tower hundreds of times.

 

Our climb will start late in the day in the parking lot, hiking in, roping up, then climbing cracks and corners, reaching and pulling on the ancient and strange rock for hours as we ascend into the sky. We plan to summit at sunset and rap off in the dark.

 

 

 

 

If all goes well, this will be my 10th time up the Tower. But it’s been several years since my last visit, and my forearms are not what they were.

 

I’ll be testing a full arsenal of new climbing equipment, including cams from Black Diamond, Scarpa shoes, a rope from Metolius, and an Arc’teryx harness—among several other pieces of equipment.

 

Watch for the full trip report—and gear dissection—upon my return late next week.

 

 

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The Jimi Wallet

Posted by Stephen Regenold May 1, 2008

 

After riding a self-proclaimed “Frankenbike” around the streets of

San Francisco for several years, Mike O’Neill designed a new take on

the stodgy old “Costanza” wallet. His plastic wallet—called the Jimi—is

one that you can throw in your bike jersey, or your pants, as it’s slim

and unobtrusive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And if you get a bit frisky and sweat through your shirt, your cash will not get soggy.

 

O’Neill says to think of the Jimi as a more robust, stylish and

greener version of the ubiquitous snack-sized Ziploc bag. Good to stash

a license, credit cards, and a little cash, just the essentials and

nothing more.

 

 

Indeed, the company slogan is “The Wallet for

People Who Hate Wallets.” It’s about 9/16 of an inch thick and a smidge

taller than a credit card. There’s an integrated money clip, which is

removable for times when you only want to bring cash.

 

 

Bonus: The Jimi wallet is also a recycled/recyclable product that’s made in the USA and sold in bike stores around the country.

 

 

Cost is $14.95.

 

 

See more at Mr. Smith Inc., http://www.thejimi.com/wallet/demo.php

 

 

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"My bike has no brakes and just one gear. But I'm pedaling with all I've got, tucked and spinning, breathing hard. Hands clenched on drop bars. Wheels humming. Thighs screaming. Knuckles literally white."

 

 

 

 

 

Thus starts my story on the NSC Velodrom, a 250-meter wood bike track where banks provide a medium for riders to pedal laps at the natural lean of a bike, eliminating skidding and defying gravity in the process. This is my story about trust, inertia, speed, centrifugal force and faith in physics the first time I rolled onto the track. . .

 

 

 

 

 

http://thegearjunkie.com/nascar-with-pedals

 

 

 

 

View from a handlebar-mounted camera. Photo credit: Jeff Wheeler.

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Lux Eco Lodges

Posted by Stephen Regenold Apr 24, 2008

 

My story on eco lodges is up at ForbesTraveler.com (MSNBC.com and the Today Show’s website

also picked up the story). This article focuses on high-end resorts

with an eco angle, from environmental conservation to light-on-the-land

building techniques to the embracing of local culture.

 

 

Going green is not a new concept in the world of travel. For decades,

resorts like Maho Bay in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Turtle Island in

Fiji have demonstrated that eco-awareness and sustainability can

coexist with tourism. But in the past five years, the “eco” buzz has

been amplified within the travel industry—and throughout popular

culture as well.

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re going to spend the cash for a lux getaway, you might as

well do it with some conscious. This Top 10 list includes resorts with

thatch-roofed huts on a beach to cabins afloat on raft foundations in

fjords. Their structures are influenced by sources as diverse as

Robinson Caruso and Renzo Piano.

 

Go here for the full story: ForbesTraveler.com

 

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A death on a high peak -- plus personal failures in

performance at altitude -- prompted Mike Farris, a 52-year-old college

professor, to write a book, "The Altitude Experience," due in May

from Globe Pequot Press. This is my profile on Farris' life in the mountains

and a peek at the 80,000 words he wrote to answer some of his own hardest

questions on performance, sanity and risk in high-altitude mountaineering.

 

 

 

Go here for the full story. . .

 

http://thegearjunkie.com/life-death-and-altitude

 

 

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Zen Action Vagabond

Posted by Stephen Regenold Apr 8, 2008

 

Jason Magness is a “legend in the small underground of adventure sports.” At least that’s according to the Wall Street Journal,

which this weekend profiled Magness, a climber/adventure

racer/yogi/slack-liner buddy of mine from North Dakota famous for—among

a few things—snowkiting across North Dakota two months ago in the name

of renewable wind power energy (see my story on the trip here: http://thegearjunkie.com/sailing-across-the-prairie)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But a “legend”? Well, I’ll have to get his opinion on that. The Wall Street Journal story (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120735228186491329.html?mod=hpp_us_leisure) is called “Into the Wild With Yoga,”

and reporter Alexandra Alter focuses on Magness’ pursuit of yoga on a

slackline (“yogaslacking”) as well as his free-spirited “itinerant

adventure addict” lifestyle.

 

 

As Zen vagabond types go, Magness

is the real deal. He lives out of a van and sleeps on couches around

the country, traveling to race, climb and teach yoga and slacking. He

is 32 years old and has a background in physics, once working as a

rocket-systems engineer for Raytheon in Tucson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I met Magness at Primal Quest Utah, a 10-day adventure race we both

did (on separate teams) in 2006. We shared a crazy moment in the middle

of the night, lost in the desert, on about the fourth day of the event,

both sleep deprived and delirious.

 

 

In the WSJ story, Alter

cites Magness as the personification of “the latest generation of

American drifters who live to scale cliffs, ski or surf” and earn

“four-figure annual incomes.” To provide some context, the writer

quotes Chuck “Chongo” Tucker, a 56-year-old climber who’s lived summers

outdoors for nearly four decades in Yosemite Valley. “People dream of

doing what we’re doing,” Chongo says.

 

 

Magness gets quoted

saying things like “Exploring that edge of human potential is really

fascinating to me.” But the funny thing is, from Magness, this sentence

I believe does not contain a drop of B.S.: He pushes life and the

current moment to its max, whether that’s in the Virabhadrasana pose

while balanced on webbing or six days deep into a race, head swimming,

blisters bleeding on his heels.

 

 

Alter captures some of that in the story, readable in full here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120735228186491329.html?mod=hpp_us_leisure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Roller Ski Clothing

Posted by Stephen Regenold Apr 2, 2008

 

Warning: Snark alert. I don't do this very often. But a press release

just came over the wire too difficult to resist: Behold! The I-gliti

apparel line, the first clothing and accessories collection designed

exclusively for, um, roller skiers . . .

 

 

 

 

 

In the category of lost-in-translation, today’s winner goes

to Italian roller ski company I-gliti, which has announced “The

Brightest Splash of Colour in the Roller Ski World.”

 

 

Specifically, the company is referring to its new clothing collection for roller

skiers. (Do you need special clothing to do that?)

 

 

 

 

The company’s sportswear—which “combines technical features and

glamour to satisfy the demands of skiers at all levels”—includes

lightweight, body-hugging and breathable t-shirts and shorts that are

comfy to wear and “have been studied so as to allow full freedom and

not restrict movements.”

 

 

Good, good. . .

 

 

Further, I-gliti apparel “pays the greatest attention to its selection of

materials” with a collection comprised of “dazzling white for the more

feminine version and dark assertiveness for the men.”

 

 

Dark assertiveness, eh? (I’m confused.)

 

 

To boot, both the girls and boys get clothing with “fuchsia inserts caressing the hips.” Gotta love that.

 

 

 

 

In addition to a fabulous press release, the company’s web site (http://www.i-gliti.com/eng/index.html) doesn’t seem to work very well.

 

 

Regardless. . . I-gliti, “from equipment to clothing, the smartest choice in the roller ski world.”

 

 

Roller Ski On, brothers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Earlier this month ski guide Martin Volken -- a Swiss expat now living in the Seattle area -- lead the way with two Norwegian guides on a ski-touring trip I jumped in on in the Romsdal Alps. (See my trip report here.) Volken, owner of Pro Guiding Service in North Bend, Wash., gave me pointers on how to most efficiently skin uphill, kick turn, and cut a path up steep faces on mountains with names like Kirketaket and Smorbottentin.

 

But it was only later that I learned  Volken is the man of the moment in backcountry ski and ski-touring information.

 

Indeed, earlier this month Mountaineers Books published  Volken is co-author, along with Scott Schell and Margaret Wheeler.

 

 

 

 

The 344-page textbook to all things backcountry and skiing covers topics from avalanche safety and navigation to gear, fitness information and nutrition for the high peaks. There's a tutorial on how to employ advanced ski mountaineering techniques as well as the basics for beginners just getting the guts to head out of bounds.

 

But don't just take my word. Here's what backcountry ski guru Lou Dawson has to say:

 

"http://community.active.com/blogs/gear/2008/03/29/book-review-backcountry-skiing-/This book is indeed a magnum opus. Not only is this one of the most current backcountry skiing how-tos I've ever seen, but it covers an amazing gamut of information, including Chapter 2, "Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain,"; and Chapter 4, "Uphill Movement," which gets incredibly detailed. If you're new to the game, I'd say this chapter alone makes the book worth the price. Highly recommended."

 

See the details on "Backcountry Skiing: Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering" here: www.mountaineersbooks.org

 

 

 

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iPod/iPhone Trail Maps

Posted by Stephen Regenold Mar 26, 2008

 

I think this is a cool idea. Have not tested it. Saw it on GoBlog this morning. Podpro.ca now offers download-able trail maps for your iPod or iPhone.

 



The reach is limited to a couple dozen ski resorts in the
U.S. and Canada. But many major resorts—Snowbird, Aspen, Alta, Mammoth,
Squaw Valley, Whistler Blackcomb—are in the mix.





The advantage? You can click and scroll on the chairlift to pick your route
of descent from a tiny backlit screen (instead of an unfolded map
flapping in your face).


You can also get an RSS feed for each resort’s weather sent to your iPhone.

 

For the iPod, Podpro.ca offers “quick, informative videos

that give the guest the desired information or directions at the touch

of a button.” The videos are designed and formatted to operate on iPods

as well as BlackBerrys and some cell phones.

 

 

Head here for the full dope: Podpro.ca

 

 

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Water Bottle Cartoon

Posted by Stephen Regenold Mar 21, 2008

 

'Nuf said. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(This is the final post in a three-part report on my trip to Norway's Romsdal Alps in early March.)

 

Day 3 and 4 on the Norway trip included ski touring to peaks like Smorbottentin and Kvitfjellet, the latter an amazing 1,381-meter mountain/plateau perched between a fjord and a massive inland lake. We skied about 10 kilometers that day, skinning up the mountain, trudging a couple KMs across the plateau, then dropping off a steep south face into the valley 800 vertical meters below. Here are some photos from the adventures. . .

Shannon Ryan, Didrick Ose and Tom Bie cresting the final ridge on Kvitfjellet.

Dan Nordstrom in perfect tele form on the descent from Kvitfjellet.

Skins off, ready to ski on the summit of Kvitfjellet.

Dropping into the 800 meter oblivion of Kvitfjellet's south face.

Dan Nordstrom on top of Smorbottentin.

Unidentified tele skier carving long turns halfway down Smorbottentin.

Guide Didrick Ose of DID Adventure (Molde, Norway).

Martin Volken near the summit of Smorbottentin.

Todd Walton on top of Smorbottentin.

 

Check out part 1 and part 2 of this series of articles.

 

 

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(This is the second post in a three-part report on my trip to Norway's Romsdal Alps in early March.)

 

While ski touring the Romsdal Alps was the primary objective in Norway last week, a big part of the adventure for me was also found on the water, where my group traveled the fjords of central Norway via the Anne Margrethe, a restored sailing vessel built in 1880. The 70-foot "jakt" (yacht) was captained by Bjarne Krekvik, a 55-year-old sailor from a small village north of the town of Molde, our home base.

We "sailed" (powered by a 250hp Volvo diesel) to ports like Andalsnes and Eresfjord over four days, and we slept onboard in the boat's cabins. A cozy galley was the social center, and each night involved rich meals and long conversation at the big table below deck, where we'd study maps and plan the next day's adventure.

The mountains drop thousands of feet, from sky to slate-blue water, in the area. The fjords plunge to icy depths. Cruising on the Anne Margrethe -- motor humming, Capt. Bjarne at the wheel, Norse scenery floating by -- was a gorgeous time.

On the first night I snuck up top long after dark as the ship cut south toward Andalsnes. Mountains were black hulks drifting by, featureless silhouettes rising abruptly, blocking out an inky sky dotted with stars.

Breakfast was below deck each morning, coffee, eggs, and jam on bread. We made sandwiches for the day's ski, then climbed the ladder into the sun. Put skins on skis up top. Double checked the packs. Jumped off the ship and onto land, a quick drive most mornings to a trailhead where we'd start our ski.

 

 

Equipment check up top at port in Andalsnes.

 

 

 

 

The galley; post-dinner one evening.

 

 

 

 

Capt. Bjarne Krekvik

 

 

 

 

Skins on, ready to ski!

 

 

 

 

View from the crow's nest, 70 feet above the water!

 

 

 

 

Motoring west to Eresfjord on day No. 3; view from a window in the wheelhouse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eleven U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold's work.)

 

 

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I'm back from Valhalla, jet lagged and mind swimming (and legs aching) from a week of adventures in the high peaks of central Norway. This is my first trip report, a hash out on a mountain climb and ski tour my group did last Saturday in the Romsdal Alps, thousands of meters high over yonder fjords on a peak called Kirketaket.

 

[http://thegearjunkie.com/dailydose]

 

Kirketaket, a 1,439-meter summit outside the town of Andalsnes, Norway, is a famous peak in the Romsdal Alps of central Norway. My adventure up the mountain last week started with a drive from sea level to the trailhead, where the group put skins on skis and headed uphill. The climb -- about 1,300 meters -- would take around four hours to reach the ski-jump-shape mountain's summit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our guides for the day were Halvor Hagen of Andalsnes and Didrick Ose from Molde-based DID Adventure (www.didadventure.no). Easy skinning on cross-country-like trails led to a forest and a steep climb an hour into the journey. (Our route in GREEN on the image below.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(image courtesy of www.kirketaket.com)

 

For gear, I tromped along in Black Diamond Kilowatt skis, Fritschi Diamir Freeride Plus bindings and SCARPA Spirit 4 boots -- an alpine touring setup made for serious steep and deep terrain. The Black Diamond Covert 32 AvaLung was my pack of choice. My apparel was a mix of Outdoor Research outerwear, new prototype wool base layers from Duofold, Defeet socks, and a buff hat.

 

 

We ascended Steinberget, a ridge before the peak, breaking for lunch  at a snow-wall camp. White peaks and slate-blue fjords stretched into the distance. The summit ridge of the Troll Wall, a 2,000-meter cliff outside of Andalsnes, poked spires against a pale sky.

 

I had a Clif bar and some Norwegian chocolate. Then it was back to business, poling and striding in zigzag fashion on the face of the mountain.

The wind kicked up, sending spindrift over a ridge, sandblasting the line of skiers. Near the summit, the snow became a polished face, icy and glinting in the sun, skins slipping as I pounded edges in for grip.

 

 

On top my hands were frozen and stiff. Face exfoliated from the violent spindrift. I hid behind a cairn to get out of the wind, the Romsdal Alps dropping to all points of the compass from the perch.

 

 

Time to descend. The icing on the cake of a ski tour. I peeled skins off skis, stuffed them away in my pack, and clicked my bindings down. Edges cut into the mountain, slicing turns, losing vertical fast for a thousand feet, fjords and endless snow in the distance. We'd ski another half-hour, cutting turns on the steep upper mountain, then cruising gentle terrain back to the trailhead, from the mountain summit back to sea level and icy fjords, one Norway adventure down, many more for the week still to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eleven U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold's work.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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