River Memory


[dropcap]I[/dropcap]have written about this little stretch of river before, (see Sand, Stars and The E-Myth) but the Colorado River is a treasury of memory. Standing at the upper boat dock just last week brought some of them streaming back to me. My dad introduced me to this place decades ago. His smiling face, big hands, constant humor, and ultimate skill with a rod and reel fill a lot of those memories.

Dad was a man of big dreams abandoned or unrealized and I suppose that makes him pretty much like the rest of us. In his younger days he was a standout high school baseball player and even played some minor league ball in the old Illinois-Indiana-Iowa league.

Even though the phrase comfortable in his own skin fit Dad more than anyone else I’ve ever known, he could also have been the inspiration for Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days. He never forgot his glory days. Even in his 50s, he kept his high school yearbooks around and he’d occasionally read aloud from them—especially the paragraphs that glowingly described this kid who might have been the best schoolboy baseball player in the state.

The New York Yankees had a strong interest in him. He probably thought he was the next Ty Cobb or Ted Williams. He batted an astounding .500 in the minors. But a wild kid driving a stolen ’42 Buick 90 miles an hour on a country blacktop road

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Chipotle Women on Mt. Whitney

William and Andrea Halligan on Mt. Whitney.
William and Andrea Halligan on Mt. Whitney.
William and Andrea Halligan on Mt. Whitney. Photo courtesy Lisa Crooke.

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne night after we’d returned home, I woke up from a dream with some words echoing in my head and I scribbled them down. In the morning I didn’t remember writing them and in fact—since they were written in the dark—could hardly make them out: “If you see a distinction between the genders, it does not make you sexist.” I don’t know who said it; I’m certain I didn’t just grab it from the ether, but there you have it.

That was after.

My wife and I signed up for the REI Labor Day hike on the Western Trail to Mt. Whitney months ahead of time. As you probably know, Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states, at 14, 505 feet—give or take, and depending on who’s measuring. And on the Sunday before the holiday we were to meet our group close to the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead. So we were there. We were on time and in the right place and looking for them.

We did see a group of women all gathered together with gear neatly stacked on an old grey canvas tarp at the pack station and there were horses and mules and a couple of cowboys hoisting duffel bags and heavy aluminum boxes. “Can’t be our group,” I said to Andrea. “Looks like some kind of women’s outing.”

A tall, young guy, lean and built like a rock climber—powerful forearms and sinewy legs—walked up to us. I noticed that his shoes were untied. “Do you guys need some help?”

“Sure. We’re looking for the REI group.”

“You found it. They’re all getting their stuff ready down by that big tarp.”

Was it too late to cancel? “Oh man; it’s a chick trip.”

Andrea stood silently for a moment and then her grey-green eyes went the color of a forest when a misty fog descends on it. She turned away.

I took her arm and faced her. “What is it?”

She nodded toward the group just below us. “No guys for you to hang with? I’m afraid you’re just going to hate this.”

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Mt. Whitney Warm-Up

Dr. Halligan at New Army Pass.
Dr. Halligan at New Army Pass.
Dr. Halligan at New Army Pass.

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]he had driven her Ford Ranger pick-up, painted the forest green of the National Park Service, from Lone Pine up the narrow switch-back road to Horseshoe Meadows. Her khaki shorts and shirt clung to her young, thin form and showed off strong runner’s legs. I happened to be in the parking lot, retrieving some gear from our car when she pulled up.

Her name tag read, “Cassandra.” I wondered for a half second whether her parents were fans of Greek mythology or just thought it was a nice name. Did they really want to name her for the prophetess who was not believed?
What really caught my attention was her belt buckle. It was rather outsized, measuring a good 5 or 6 inches across with a silver high wing single engine retractable aircraft against a dark blue background pictured in the metal frame.

“A 210 Cessna?” I pointed at her belt.

“Oh, the belt buckle–yes,” she said. “But the only thing I’ve ever flown is a 150.” She was referring to a popular Cessna trainer. “I’m working to get my commercial rating so I can fly for the Forest Service.”

We talked airplanes and flying for a few minutes and then I mentioned our plans. My wife, Andrea, and I were doing some hiking as a tune up for Mt. Whitney. “But, we’re going to go the long way–from here to Guitar Lake and up the back side of the mountain. We’ll backpack and take 3 days to do it.”

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High Sierra Springtime, 2013

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] spent a few days over the Memorial Day holiday hiking in California’s eastern Sierra and recalled some of the things I’ve read about mountain and woodland walks. So here are a few photos and quotations the places brought to mind.


“The mountains are calling and I must go.”

~ John Muir


b300-Eastern-20Sierra-202013-20007“In some mysterious way woods have never seemed to me to be static things. In physical terms, I move through them; yet in metaphysical ones, they seem to move through me.”

~ John Fowles

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Penguins and People — Almost Antarctica

View from our hotel window. A rainy Gray Lake, Gray Glacier and icebergs.
View from our hotel window. A rainy Gray Lake, Gray Glacier and icebergs.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is Part 2 of my Fierce Winds at the Edge of the World post, where Andrea and I travelled recently to Paine National Park in the Magallanes region of Chile.

The southern tip of South America is rough country. Early attempts by the Spanish to establish colonies here in the 16th century were dismal failures. Some historians blame lack of support from the Spanish government, but the fact is Europeans trying to live in a country of bitter cold, constant terrible wind and little food simply could not survive. In two of these attempted settlements, almost all of the colonists died of starvation or cold. Europeans didn’t succeed in colonizing this far end of the continent until nearly 300 years later.

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Fierce Winds at the Edge of the World

Cuernos del Paine in Torres del Paine National Park. Photo courtesy Miguel Vieira under a Creative Commons license.
Cuernos del Paine in Torres del Paine National Park. Photo courtesy Miguel Vieira under a Creative Commons license.

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ailors who ply the southern oceans call these latitudes the Roaring Forties and the Furious Fifties. We were not sailing, but the fierce winds between 50 and 60 degrees south batter the land as well as the sea.

Andrea and I travelled with Recreational Equipment Inc. (R.E.I.) recently to Paine National Park (in Spanish Parque Nacianal Torres del Paine) in the Magallanes region of Chile. Paine (pronounced Pine-A) has been called the most beautiful place on earth—but with the world’s worst weather. A typical week in summer might have 2 stormless days if you’re lucky. And I guess we’re lucky. We camped 2 nights at a national park campground in sight of the three towers (Torres) of Paine and spent another 2 nights in a tent on the shores of Lago Pehoe without a drop of rain.

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Fitz Roy—The Cloud Hidden Mountain

Mt. Fitz Roy
Mt. Fitz Roy

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he first time I saw a photo of Mt. Fitz Roy, I knew I’d be here someday, if only to see close-up this historic and beautifully rugged place. How many would undertake an extreme journey because of a photograph? Perhaps some are drawn to the Eiffel Tower or the canals of Venice because of a picture in a magazine or even a scene in a movie like Casino Royale. For me it’s the sheer granite vertical walls of one of the world’s iconic mountains.

Climbers' hut near the base of Mt. Fitz Roy.
Climbers’ hut near the base of Mt. Fitz Roy.
Fitz Roy hidden in the clouds.
Fitz Roy hidden in the clouds.
Here I am at the foot of Fitz Roy.
Here I am at the foot of Fitz Roy.

It’s late December, 2012, and I sit at the base of the majestic peak close by the shores of Lago de los Tres. Although I have done some climbing in the Andes, and have photos and the memory of a dislocated right shoulder to remind me, I am not thinking of even setting foot on this mountain or on nearby Cerro Torre. These are ranked as the among the hardest climbs in the world, and I won’t even pretend. No; I’m just content to be here–just to see them up close.

We had hiked a few hours through beech forest along the Rio Electrico starting perhaps seven miles north and east of El Chalten, then along the Rio Blanco. A sharp right turn led us up a steep, rocky, somewhat exposed climb to reach the lake in the shadow of the majestic mountain. There’s only one problem. I can’t see the mountain at all. It is shrouded in a white-out of misty cloud and fog from its 11,290 foot peak all the way to the glacier-blue lake at its base.

“We’ll just wait here a bit,” says our local mountain guide, Guido. “The clouds may lift soon.” I pull a ham and cheese sandwich out of my daypack and watch the weather.

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Christmas On Ice: The Great Patagonian Ice Field

A breathtaking view of the Perito Moreno Glacier

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]anta Claus arrived at the mall in San Diego’s Mission Valley in a virtual tie with the Great Pumpkin last year, and for me maybe that was the proverbial last straw. Or perhaps it was my 1750th family gathering, give or take—and if you count Easter, Thanksgiving and of course Christmas for a few decades, that’s really not all that many. The really early ones, I mean up until I was about 8 years old, were joyful, happy times, even if nobody in the family seemed to get along with my aunt Marion. The later ones though all started to feel like Holly Hunter’s Home for the Holidays.

In any case, while driving in heavy rain on the 405 freeway a few years ago I said to my wife, “There must be something more interesting we could do for the holidays than watching college bowl games and drinking eggnog and rum with Uncle George. How about doing Christmas every four years? Sorta like the Olympics.”

I wondered what she would say. She turned to me with a smile, lighted by headlights from traffic in the northbound lanes and said, “I could go for that. It’s a great idea.”

So the something more interesting this year turned out to be spending some time exploring ice: the great Patagonian Ice Field—the third largest on earth after Antarctica and Greenland.

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The Lost Troop of Dragon Peak

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e heard the helicopter long before we saw it. We were climbing a rough path in the eastern Sierra that qualified as something between a hiking trail and a rock climb. It was tough, rocky, strewn with slippery slabs of granite and loose gravel. My wife, Andrea, swore she could stand upright and reach out and touch the slope in front of her. Maybe a bit of an exaggeration; still this mountain trail was a tough one, ranking right up with the Bloody Canyon trail out of Walker Lake.

The helicopter came into view then, sweeping its way up valley from the town of Independence thousands of feet below us.


We were headed for Golden Trout Lake, out of Onion Valley. We’d climbed to Kearsarge Pass two days before, and then to Matlock Lakes. On that hike we’d met up with a forest ranger and chatting with him, Andrea mentioned our plans. “We’re going to Golden Trout Lake tomorrow and then on to Dragon Peak.”

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