Turn Left at San Cassiano

Castel Roncolo.
Castel Roncolo. Photo courtesy Topcastles, Creative Commons license.

The first indication of any cultural rift in South Tyrol came when Andrea and I headed out on foot from the lovely Park Hotel Laurin in Bolzano and went north along the Talvera River to see Castel Roncolo. The 13th century castle is known for a long and convoluted history and whole rooms devoted to frescoes, called the greatest cycle of medieval frescoes still preserved.

At one point, when Google Maps showed that we were very near the place, but not quite there, the voice of Google Maps, GPS Girl, cheerily and confidently announced, “Arrived!”

We were standing on the sidewalk of a narrow and steeply sloped street with no castle in view. We were probably an interesting sight for locals, two lost tourists wondering what went wrong with our trusted navigation guide. A woman riding a bicycle came along. She wore an ankle length dress, her hair was steel grey, and her bicycle was older and single speed—no fancy gearing for her.

“Excuse me, can you tell me where is Castel Roncolo?” I pointed out the picture of the castle and its name in a guide book.

She peered at the page in the book, shook her head and gave me a puzzled look. “Oh, nien. No Roncolo. Schloss Runkelstein!” She pointed down the street to our left then made a counter clockwise motion with her right hand. “Gehe hinunter, und links, und…” She paused looking for the right word.

“So down there,” I said in English and making the same semi-circle with my hand that she had and then pointed up another street.

“Ja, ja,” she said smiling that I seemed to understand, but then her face became very grave and serious. She gesticulated sharply with an index finger. “No Roncolo! It is Schloss Runkelstein!” Not exactly angry but quite strident, she left no doubt about that other name. And she took off on her bike.

Castel Roncolo, AKA Schloss Runkelstein
Castel Roncolo, AKA Schloss Runkelstein. Photo courtesy Missusdoubleyou, Creative Commons license.
One of the many frescoes in Runkelstein castle.
One of the many frescoes in Runkelstein castle.

And it turns out that the castle was indeed Schloss Runkelstein for centuries and for those who speak Italian it became Roncolo much later. And the city of Bozen became Bolzano. The resort town St. Ulrich became Ortistei. A confusing part of the world here in the north of Italy where close to 75% of the population speaks German and every city, town and valley has two names, or sometimes three.

This is South Tyrol.

Some days later, a few miles past San Cassiano, we turned left at Capanna Alpina and headed up a mountain trail toward the Refugio Lagazuoi where we would spend the night. It was not until we were close to the top, near the mountain hut, that we could see the remnants of the Great War, the war that resulted in part of Austria—at that time Austria-Hungary—being annexed by Italy, and nearly 60 years of turmoil, that, while seemingly quiet and peaceful today, still roils in some Tyrolean hearts.

Lagazuoi hut.
Lagazuoi hut.
Austrian fortifications from WWI.
WWI munitions found on or around Mt. Lagazuoi.
WWI munitions found on or around Mt. Lagazuoi.
Trenches and Italian flag at sunset, near Mt. Lagazuoi.
Trenches and Italian flag at sunset, near Mt. Lagazuoi.

Trenches dot the hillside today, and tunnels, and balustrades all built by the Austrians to prevent the Italians from taking these mountains. Soldiers fought for years here, largely to stalemate, the Austrians trying and failing to beat back the advance of Italian troops, and Italian soldiers failing to take the defensive positions high on the mountain. The mountainsides are so steep here, the winters so harsh, that hundreds of men on both sides of the conflict were killed, not in battle but in avalanches.

Caves and tunnels, dug into the hard carbonate rock—composed of the mineral dolomite from which these mountains get their name—sheltered the Austrians and undermined Italian positions.

In our school days we learned that the Great War began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914. But with a further reading of history it becomes apparent that the reasons ran much deeper and that the prospects for war were in place far earlier. One historian has even stated that by late July, 1914, the assassination of the Archduke was hardly more than a side note.

And Italy, though officially part of the Triple Alliance—Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy—declared itself neutral. Prime Minister Antonio Salandro stated that the treaty was for defensive purposes and that because Austria-Hungary was the aggressor, the treaty did not stand. Historians might quibble on that point as Serbia was clearly a violent aggressor as well.

Germany tried to get Italy on its side, to no avail. But in a secret meeting in London, on April 26, 1915, Italy was promised a great deal of territory, including southern Austria, if it would join the Triple Entente of Russia, France, and Great Britain—assuming an Allied victory. It was an offer the Italian Foreign Minister, Sidney Sonnino, did not refuse.

And so, in 1918, at the end of the war, South Tyrol became a part of Italy. During the 1920s there was intense Italianization of the area with names changed from German to Italian. For a time, under Mussolini, the German language was even outlawed.

Decades of unrest followed. Progress toward the present status of the region was slow, but in 1972 South Tyrol became a semi-autonomous area within Italy’s borders, able to make largely independent decisions, including the decision to pay only about 10% of normal taxes to Italy’s central government in Rome. Today, South Tyrol is the most prosperous region in Italy, and one of the most prosperous in all of Europe.

Still there are people, like the steel haired lady on the bicycle in Bolzano—she would say Bozen– who are unhappy.

Polling data is varied and perhaps less than trustworthy. But depending on exact locale, as many as 61% of the people of South Tyrol would favor either secession from Italy or reunification with Austria.

Eva Klotz, a political leader in Bolzano and founder of the separatist party Sud Tiroler Freiheit (South Tyrolean Freedom), states, “My dream is to reunite with Austria. I’m an Italian Citizen but don’t belong to the Italian culture.”

South Tyrol though is held up as an example of how these cultural differences can be approached. Many parents in the region do the “linguistic slalom,” sending their children to a German middle school then switching to an Italian high school. Young people seem comfortable being with friends who speak either language.

To an outsider, a casual tourist, the system seems to be working wonderfully well. But the rise of nationalism may threaten. The arguments that have been used to define nationhood are many and contradictory. George Orwell decried nationalism in his 1945 essay, “Notes on Nationalism,” yet seemed to especially regard all forms of extremism as problematic. The author, Yoram Hazony, in an essay in the Wall Street Journal, states, “National cohesion is the secret ingredient that allows free institutions to exist, the bedrock on which a functioning democracy is built.”

Despite what appears to be a clash of cultures, South Tyrol does thrive and I suspect will continue to do so.

Meadows and mountains: The Dolomites.
Meadows and mountains: The Dolomites.
Left: Hiking in the Dolomites. Right: Lake Sorapis, near Cortina, Italy.
Left: Hiking in the Dolomites. Right: Lake Sorapis, near Cortina, Italy.

After one night at the Refugio Lagazuoi (bunk beds, a rickety ladder, and a very tiny room) Andrea and I hiked down the other side of the mountain toward Cortina. When close, we caught a cab for a ride into the city. The driver spoke good English as well as German, Italian, and his own mother tongue, Ladin, an ancient language spoken by about 4% of the people in Tyrol. I tried to get a local’s take.

“I’ve heard that taxation here is fairer than in the rest of Italy. That you pay only about 10% of normal taxes to Rome.”

“We pay plenty of taxes!” Obviously, a sore subject.

“Polls say many people here would like reunification with Austria, or secession.”

“Oh, yes. Very true.”

“Still, some say that South Tyrol is doing so well, perhaps it should stay as it is. Polls seem to indicate a lot of people are happy to leave things as they are.”

“Nah. Government in Italy very bad. They might drag us down.”

That interview over, we switched to discussing cars. He was happy to talk about cars. His “cab” is a late model Mercedes. “Seems nobody here drives an old car, or a car in need of body work, or even a dirty car. Everywhere I go I see new Mercedes, BMWs, or Audis,” I told him.

“Of course,” he said. “Why would anybody drive an old car?” His tone seemed to say, Naturally. Obviously. I did wonder though, what happens to all the older cars in Tyrol? Maybe shipped off to Rome?

Despite some indications of disillusionment, the model of a semi-autonomous region within a country has garnered praise. It is held up as a possible model for the separatists in Catalonia who would favor breaking free from the rest of Spain. It has been suggested as a solution for the Basques.

Recently, the Dali Lama visited South Tyrol to meet with local officials and investigate how this model of autonomy was achieved and to carry that idea forward in Tibet—to perhaps loosen the grip of China on that conquered territory.

Meanwhile, is our taxi driver correct in fearing the possible role of a flawed Italian government in lives of those in South Tyrol? He seems to echo warnings you can also hear from Eva Klotz. Italy’s weakness could carry over into South Tyrol. “South Tyrol is not Italy,” she says.

Yet if friends ask where we’ve been lately, we say, “Northern Italy.” It seems like a true and simple statement.

William and Andrea Halligan, somewhere in the Dolomites.

 

Practice or Business Growth—the transition or what the path becomes

Dr. Halligan
Dr. Halligan

“I used to resent obstacles along the path thinking, ‘If only this hadn’t happened life would be so good.’ Then I suddenly realized, life IS obstacles. There is no underlying path. Our role here is to get better at navigating those obstacles.” ~ Janna Levin

I knew at least two years ago that my niche dental practice—I focus on TMJ related problems and sleep disordered breathing only—was becoming too big, too busy, for me to handle by myself.

At the same time, our financial adviser pointed out that increased income might not be a game worth playing since a good percentage of any additional gain would go to taxes. “You’ve reached your Atlas Shrugged moment,” she said.

Although it might seem that I was faced with a number of choices, such as deliberately slowing the growth or even simply quitting, I never considered any option beyond allowing for continued growth of the practice.

Three words in that sentence are quite deliberate: Those words are Allow and The Practice.

Allow, because the practice seems to be growing without a specific marketing effort. Slowing the growth would require a deliberate effort. Slowing the growth would require not accepting many new patients and referring them elsewhere. Honestly, we have had to do that at times.

And the Practice but not necessarily my own income. I know, that seems counter-intuitive, but let me explain. In meeting with a transition consultant it became clear that continued practice growth would require additional practitioners unless I wanted to be there a lot more hours. But paying those people well might mean that I would take a reduction in my own income, at least for awhile.

And perhaps that pay cut would be substantial. Was I willing to do that if it meant that the practice itself would be better and stronger for the long term?

The answer was Yes.

And so with the help of that consultant the vision began to take shape and the path seemed to be clear before us.

“If you must play, decide on three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time.” Chinese proverb.

Let’s define the game: It is transitioning from a Mom and Pop small but thriving practice into something bigger, yet retaining the same very personalized and thoughtful interaction and caring with each person who comes into the practice.

Did I start the game not knowing the rules, the stakes, or the quitting time? Correct. That’s exactly what I did.

I started the game, if you’ll allow me to use that term, a little over a year ago. Did I know the rules? Even with the help of the consultant I did not—hell, I’m still learning them.

Did I know the stakes? Yes, I believe I did. What I didn’t know were the odds. Maybe I still don’t. I should recruit some of the odds-makers in Las Vegas, who must be some of the smartest people on the planet, to help with that.

Stakes? If the practice couldn’t continue to grow even with the help of additional practitioners who could add days and hours to my already demanding schedule, the whole thing could collapse. Or at best return to modest Mom and Pop status until I simply walked away. High stakes indeed.

And quitting time? I have a date in mind, and though I won’t make it public here, my consultant reminds me that with enough help I could own this practice until I’m 80 or beyond—I’m 71 now.

As smart as I think that Chinese proverb is, I also think it’s totally unrealistic. It’s a Ready, Fire, Aim world according to Peter Drucker, and so be it.

In these pages, I want to share the trials and tribulations of moving a business or practice to a new and higher plateau, not for the entertainment value but for any lessons that you might find valuable.

If your business is a start-up or is in a stage of early development, this may not be for you. If you are just getting your feet wet in dental or other health care arena, this may not be a fit. But if you have a developed and successful business and wonder whether you should look at the path toward a new level of development, this might just prove valuable.

I’ll be as honest as I can about what works and what doesn’t, even at the risk of hurt feelings or making myself look like an idiot occasionally.

When the practice added one more practitioner about a year ago, I thought the path before me looked clear, simple and easy to tread. This part of the transition required months longer to implement than I thought necessary. I learned a lot of lessons along the way, but the primary one is that the path will change its character in unexpected ways.

Also, I think you’ll learn things about yourself that take you by surprise.

When a junior associate joined the practice, I never would have thought of myself as a control freak. And yet I found that I’m exactly that—for the good and the bad of taking control.

I also thought that teaching what I knew about this kind of practice would take, oh, a week or two. I was completely wrong. This isn’t meant to disparage the new doctor in the least—she is very knowledgeable and caring—but my own ability as a teacher, coach or consultant.

I am still in the process of recruiting yet another person and perhaps next time I can be more effective.

There are many consultants in dentistry who believe that having associates in a practice is a bad idea and that it never works. The truth is that it seldom works. But never is a big word and I keep believing we can find a way.

Some of the difficulties that have arisen so far are probably common and I’ll discuss them briefly now and then in more depth as the solutions are found—or not.

First, our front desk person, certainly a key person in the practice, liked the old Mom and Pop model just fine and would just as soon go back to it. Not that she sabotages the change, but I do find her guilty of dragging her feet significantly in helping foster the new vision. Dr. Laissez-faire (me) has to be much more managerial than I’d like in this regard. This may require some unpleasant confrontational interchanges.

Transferring trust to the new doctor, while occurring, is coming slowly and that should have been foreseen, but is also partly my own fault.

On a recent Monday, I took the day off and let my associate run the show at the office. I was on the phone with a colleague and casually mentioned that I was home, taking a day for myself.

“Oh, how do you like that?” he asked.

“Honestly, I feel like a dad who’s just given the car keys to his daughter and let her take that family car out on her own.” Then I paused a second and said, “Actually, I don’t own an airplane, but I could imagine how it would feel to own a nice light twin—a twin engine airplane—and giving my daughter the keys to that. Kinda scary, you know?”

“I bet your associate would not like to be compared to a young girl taking out the family car. Little control freak aspect, maybe? Got to let go of that one eventually.”

Sure. I had to agree.

Yesterday I was walking an established hiking trail in the eastern Sierra with Andrea when we came across this:

Yes that’s actually the trail. There had been a decent winter snow storm a few weeks before, and then, right around Christmas, a warm spell had melted tons of snow and the resulting melt had flooded hundreds of yards of trail. And then last week it got very cold again and the once easy path turned into one big slanted skating rink.

We stopped and just stared at it.

“Reminds me of the practice,” I said.

“Exactly!” Andrea said. We’d just been discussing the difficulties of the practice transition when we came to the ice. “It’s a perfect analogy. Now we’ve got to decide what to do.”

I’m telling you, dear reader, your path, so carefully laid out, so carefully planned, is also going to turn to ice at times. You can stop and turn around—I think a lot of people do just that. You can find your way around, or you can say ‘screw it!’ and just head out on the ice.

Andrea and I did both. She took to the woods. I couldn’t see her but I could hear the snapping of twigs and tree branches and occasional mumbled curses as she found a way forward but off the path.

Me? I strapped some grippers to my boots and headed straight out onto the ice:

Both approaches worked to make our way upward and onward on the mountain without falling on our asses. But how will it work back in the practice?

To be continued…

 

The Great Halloween Candy S’mores Taste Test

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The idea germinated during a combined family camping trip in the local mountains over the summer. After all, what do you do on a campout? Roast marshmallows over a campfire, slap the softened, browned or charred result on a graham cracker, add half a Hershey bar, let the chocolate melt a bit, enjoy. Repeat.

There are thirty published variations on this theme, and perhaps hundreds unpublished.

My first foray into the variations involved Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in place of the Hershey’s. That baby still makes my top 3 list, with or without the banana slice.

I don’t remember who came up with the idea first, but whether I did or whether it was my neighbor Dennis, we hit upon the plan of a marathon S’mores taste test involving dozens if not hundreds of combinations. This would be done over at least two nights, perhaps even stretch into a couple of weekends.

And the perfect time for such a test? Halloween of course. What other time of year would there be so much candy in our houses and of such variety?

So on a summer night all those months ago, the plans were laid. The five of us, Andrea and I and our neighbors Dennis, Tracey and eight-year-old Justin headed to our respective tents in adjacent campsites, the campfire still flickering, the taste of Hershey’s still on our tongues, the goo of melted marshmallow barely wiped from our fingers.

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Our October taste test carries some risk of course: Tooth decay, indigestion, diabetes, sugar high followed by the crash, sugar addiction. And so I offer the following as a public service so that you won’t have to repeat this at home.

Read moreThe Great Halloween Candy S’mores Taste Test

Understated Kiwis

andrea-bridge-360After she reached the Travers River Bridge, Andrea took one horrified look up at the featureless rocky bowl that towered above–no real trail, just orange poles every few hundred yards to mark the way–and asked our Kiwi guide, Gary, “Just what are my options at this point?”

“Well, you could walk back down to the van, but it’s about five hours away, and there’s nobody there. I could give you the keys, but you’d be on your own for the best part of two days. So I think you’d better marshal on. It’s not that far to the Angelus Hut. It’s just over that ridge.” He pointed to a lip of rock that looked like it was a few thousand feet above.

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“I really was exhausted at this point. Couldn’t turn around. Couldn’t look down. Where the heck is the trail? I was afraid for my life. Now I am pleased with the accomplishment and wonder how I did it.”
~ Andrea Halligan

 

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Photo courtesy Steven Fishman.
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Photo courtesy Gary Roberts.

So, given her options she indeed marshaled on. There were a few tears, a few words you wouldn’t hear in church, but she did make it to the hut in time for dinner and we staked out a place on the thin mattresses in one of the sleeping halls.

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Angelus Hut. Photo courtesy Steven Fishman.

Like many mountain huts from the Italian Alps to here on the South Island, the Angelus is a plain and rustic hut with 14 of your new closest friends sleeping shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip in one large room. I slept better than I’d hoped.

The next day was to take us back down to Lake Rotoiti. I say “down” reservedly. Gary gathered our little Canadian and American group outside the hut in the morning and pointed up into the mist above us. “You’re heading down today, but first you’ll climb that ridge up there. Actually a couple of ridges. Oh well, maybe three or four. And there are a few little rocky bits along the way. But then mostly easy down to the lake maybe seven miles away.”

Read moreUnderstated Kiwis

And the Southern Cross

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January 2016, at a sheep station on New Zealand’s South Island.

I pitched our tent yesterday on a grassy hilltop just yards from the shoreline of Lake Pukaki; we had a marvelous view of snow covered Mt. Cook a few miles north. Rain was forecast last night, but though the cloud cover was heavy and the weather cold, there was no rain. We slept warm in the peace of our very private space.

Andrea and I, along with a New Zealand based tour group, took a drive to the base of Mt. Cook this morning and we walked to a glacier-fed lake where icebergs floated. Then a cold rain started and we put on our coats. We were out most of the day. Back at the lodge a few hours later we toured the Mt. Cook museum and warmed ourselves with flat whites in the café before heading around Pukaki to the campsite. The dirt and gravel road beside the lake was slick with mud, but when we got to our tent site we found that the rain had stopped.

We had dinner and some fine New Zealand red wine at the sheep ranch then headed up the hill. We walked through tall wet grass and went to sleep in the best accommodation for miles around, our own tent with air mattresses and warm down bags.

Sometime after midnight I awoke and went outside, barefoot and shirtless. The weather had turned mild; a gentle breeze blew off the lake and the sky was clearing. Without ambient light the sky was very dark and the stars came out. And I saw the Southern Cross for the first time.

Andrea was asleep in the tent and I considered waking her, but decided to let her go on sleeping.

The Southern Cross is not a large or even particularly bright constellation. Mark Twain when first seeing it was clearly not impressed. And yet standing in the tall grass on that little hilltop in the perfect quiet beneath the Southern Cross, I was touched as if there were some magic there in four stars describing a lopsided cross pointing the way to the South Pole.

Read moreAnd the Southern Cross

Life and Teaching: Searching for the Mystic in the High Sierras

Andrea and William Halligan in the High Sierras.
Andrea and William Halligan in the High Sierras.

I pulled our dirty gray Subaru into the Mosquito Flat parking lot at about 3:00 in the afternoon. We’d driven up from San Diego, and the plan was a quick backpack trip of just three or four days. Our packs were stashed in the back of the Subaru; mine held the tent and rain-fly, down quilt, Thermarest sleeping pad, stove, fuel, and a bear canister jammed tight with enough food for both of us for a few days.

There was also the book. Many people of my generation had read it years ago as it was part of the new age-y compendium back then. It snuggled cozily on 1960s and ’70s bookshelves alongside Thus Spake Zarathustra, Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, and The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test. Somehow I’d missed it, but I owned the boxed collection of all five volumes and they had been gathering dust untouched for some time. For this trip I brought the first two volumes along: Life and Teaching of the Masters of the Far East. The thin paperbacks tucked neatly into a side pouch of my pack.

Read moreLife and Teaching: Searching for the Mystic in the High Sierras

Wild!

Wild-movie

Is this the face that launched a thousand hiker’s boots?

Spoiler alert: I might spoil the ending of the book and movie Wild here. If you don’t want to know about the endings, I suggest you skip this. Last year I bought the Kindle version of Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild. Much as I admired her rather fine writing, it didn’t take me long to decide that she was doltish and inane, her hike ill-considered, her past–though perhaps titillating to some–injudicious at best. In short, I didn’t find her someone I wanted to hang out with through all the pages of the book. I put it down. My wife though, stuck it out, through blisters and blackened toe-nails and days of rain. In the end she was disappointed. “It just didn’t come to enough,” she told me. Eventually I picked it up again and slogged my way through. In the end, Ms. Strayed seems to know that 1100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail may have taught her something–she can feel some inkling of it inside, but she can’t articulate it. There is a lesson, but it is like, she says, a fish glimpsed briefly in the water of a sunlit pool, but when trying to reach into the pond to grasp it, it slips away.

Read moreWild!

Lines written a few miles above Walter’s Wiggles

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Zion Canyon. The West Rim is on the right; Angel’s Landing is lower right.

There’s no accounting for the passage of time. Clocks and calendars while seeming to measure the flow of moments or years or lifetimes, aren’t really up to the task. How can 600 pages torn from faded calendars explain why some fifty year-old memories seem as fresh to me as last week’s? How can a canyon take 250 million years to form? How can re-visiting a favorite old backcountry climb here in Utah cause such a burst of emotion, though it’s been many years since I’ve been here? The very passage of time seems less than real.

I’m on a hike with my wife, Andrea, to the west rim of Zion Canyon and while here, I seem to step into Wordsworth’s famous poem about his walking tour above Tintern Abbey. Even though he wrote of a time and place 216 years in the past and thousands of miles from here, the lines of the poem ring true for me.

The hills above the Abbey held special meaning for Wordsworth, but he had not climbed in that country for five years. He wrote that the place had not been unseen in all that time however; often when the crush of the city strife became too much for him, he would revisit these vistas in his mind and find that it calmed him.

He remembered that when five years younger he could bound over the mountainsides like a deer—not quite the case when he sat writing the most

Read moreLines written a few miles above Walter’s Wiggles

The Pacific Crest Trail in a Dry Year

Stellar's Jay in Idyllwild.
Stellar’s Jay in Idyllwild, California. Photo courtesy SD Dirk under a Creative Commons license.

A boy of about twenty, with a substantial pack and good hiking boots, long pants and dusty T-shirt stood at the Cienega Junction on the PCT. He was studying a small map with far too few details; his face looked drawn and was as gray and dusty as his clothes.

Andrea and I had been over much of this country in two days, from the town of Idyllwild up the Devil’s Slide trail and PCT past Wellman’s Divide to Round Valley where we had to melt snow for cooking and drinking because the spring-fed spigot in camp was dry. And there was very little snow left for melting. We’d been to the top of San Jacinto Peak and now we were headed back to town. The boy was standing in the middle of the trail.

“Where are you going?”

“North,” the boy said.

I understood. That’s the answer they all give when they’re attempting the whole of the PCT, from the Mexican border close to Lake Morena all the way to Canada some 2700 miles. North.

He held his map high in front of his face in the afternoon sun. “Is this where I turn?”

“Yes.”

Read moreThe Pacific Crest Trail in a Dry Year

Sherpa Stew and Yak Butter Apple Pie

Horse with the setting sun in Kyanjin Village, Nepal.
Horse with the setting sun in Kyanjin Village, Nepal.

The mountain came into view at dawn, a beautiful alpenglow pink against a still dark but clearing sky. Lang Tang, 23,711 feet tall, is not even in the top ten of Himalayan peaks, but its magnificent shape captured me. We were at the first of several tea houses on our way up the Lang Tang Valley to Kyanjin—and all the way the mountain would tower above us.

I suppose I knew what to expect—you can Google anything these days. Our first tea house, the glass windows of the dining room a collage of stickers advertising everything from helicopter service “anywhere in Nepal, including Everest Base Camp,” to various trekking and climbing guides, was about a day’s walk below the small village of Lang Tang and the Lang Tang Monastery. The stickers on the window were in a world of languages from English, German, and French to Japanese.

This first lodging place had its own mini hydro-electric generator and there was power to charge cameras and iPads, but only for a few hours each evening. The toilet facility was an outhouse a dozen yards down a small slope. When you flushed, by pouring water from a big blue plastic bucket, the effluence was carried by a pipe straight into the Lang Tang River. The river runs so clear and clean-looking, a seemingly pristine Himalayan stream. But you don’t want to drink from it.

Read moreSherpa Stew and Yak Butter Apple Pie