Happy Holidays

Total Eclipse from the Red Desert of Central Wyoming

Sunrise from Caribou

The new year started with the normal revelry of great music, too much food and wine, and the company of good friends. Our little mountain village has become a haven for nature lovers, musicians and other free thinkers who are trying to make some sense out of this crazy world, and their company is very enjoyable. The unusually warm winter started quite late, but it finally hit with a fury, and resulted in one of my best ski seasons ever. Our local ski area is only 15 minutes away, and sometimes I can ski from my house, so I ski almost every day and managed to log 118 days on the slopes. I can’t quite remember my previous record, but I think it was only about 110, and I was 23 and living in Aspen then.
Skiing is like dancing on snow, and the gentle rhythm of perfectly carved turns allows me to escape “if only for a few moments” from the turmoil of this crazy world. The occasional huge storms provide waist deep powder which is the closest thing to nirvana that I have ever experienced.
The county where I live varies in elevation from 4,718 to 13,502 feet, and this offers a great variety of weather conditions. The day time temperatures on the plains can vary from below zero to 70 degrees in January, and if the skiing is bad, the south facing crags are usually warm and cozy and great for rock-climbing, which is my second favorite sport. The melting snow feeds the wild rivers, but I can’t hold my breathe as long as I used to, so the fear of drowning has turned me into a land lubber. But, I managed one run on our local river, and the thrill of whitewater still feeds my spirit. I used to ski every month of the year, but I’ve discovered that August and September really aren’t worth the effort, so I’ve narrowed it down to 10. The nearby mountains of Loveland and Arapahoe Basin offer incredible high altitude terrain and lift assisted skiing from October till June. I’ve skied waist deep powder at A-basin in May, but my favorite type of skiing is to climb a big mountain and ski back down. My favorite mountain to ski is Mt. Toll in the nearby Indian Peaks wilderness area. It involves about ten miles of skiing into a remote basin with frozen lakes and stunning peaks.
The last three miles of the road was not yet open, but it had been plowed, so I started just before dawn and rode my bicycle up the steep paved road with my skis on my backpack. The sun was just starting to show it’s face as I stashed the bike in the woods and started to ski up the gentle valley. The calm air was a bit brisk, but the sky was clear and the Alpenglow on the high peaks was stunning. I had the whole valley to myself, and proceeded up past Lake Mitchell and onward to Blue Lake as the sun gradually warmed the morning air and the snow glistened under its rays.

The path steepened as I proceeded up the east face, and I stopped a few times to catch my breath and gaze in wonder at this empty paradise.
I arrived on the perfectly calm summit at 10 AM and spent a very pleasant half hour eating lunch and resting against a comfortable rock in the warm sunshine. Mountain summits are magical places, and I thoroughly enjoyed the grand vista of the surrounding peaks and lakes while I contemplated my descent. It had been a really wet winter and spring, so I was able to start skiing from the top. The snow was still a bit frozen, so I skied carefully and felt my senses suddenly become enlightened by the pure joy of carving rhythmic turns on this great mountain. The mid day sun was starting to melt the snow, and the thin layer of perfect corn provided excellent conditions as I danced down the majestic peak.
Mt Toll is challenging, but I do not consider it dangerous. The easiest route involves less than 35 degree slopes (with some optional 45+) that start on a spectacular somewhat exposed ridge. This ridge ends at a giant north-east facing bowl, which soon curves again to face the north as it drops into the scenic gorge of the South St. Vrain river. Here the gradient eases, but the skiing is still really fun as I ride the gentle force of gravity all the way back to my bicycle.
When the snow finally melts on the high peaks, the meadows come alive with a myriad of colorful flowers and plants, and the soft tundra is very pleasant for hiking. My favorite local mountain is the pointed one in the middle of the lower right photo. Mt. Navajo is a stunning peak with a moderate route that involves a little bit of steep frozen snow, a bit of scrambling in a secure chimney, a usually empty summit, and an easy descent route. It’s about a 14 mile round trip, but every inch of the way offers great views, and the tranquility of a mountain paradise.
It seems kinda foolish to drive anywhere when I live in paradise, but I did manage to take a couple of road trips including Wild Wonderful Wyoming. This pristine state is still very sparsely populated, and the empty roads are a pleasant change from what is happening in Colorado. A group of friends decided to mix a climbing trip with the eclipse, so I headed north a bit early and joined them at a place called Ten Sleep Canyon in the Bighorn Mountains. This ancient gorge was once submerged by the sea, and consists of some of the best limestone crags on the planet. Everything that I’ve learned about geology, has been because of rock climbing, and limestone is one of my favorite rocks. The crags are usually steep, but filled with lots of hand and footholds that provide very exciting routes. The lush campground next to the river offered shade from the mid day sun, and a roaring river that lulled us to sleep. A few days on the steep rocks managed to wear out my old arms and Ten Sleep was not in the direct eclipse path, so I took an old dirt road that meandered south through a remote valley of the Red Desert. A few irrigated fields provided a stark contrast from the desert walls, and dozens of gallant horses browsed in the lush meadows.
I found an empty hill top, and settled back in a comfortable chair to observe the big event. The grand desert sky gradually darkened and I watched in awe as the sun disappeared. The temperature dropped dramatically, and the few birds and antelope that occupied the hillside seemed to be quite startled as the mid day suddenly turned to dusk. Some very friendly local strangers had come to join me, and we all shared an incredible sense of awe as we watched the sun return.
As I left the remote hillside, it suddenly appeared that half the population of Colorado had journeyed north for the big event, so the traffic was quite unforgettable as well. But, I wasn’t in a big hurry to get home, so I found a sheltered gully full of sweet smelling sage, and enjoyed a peaceful afternoon of reading and writing, while the memory of the big event still lingered in my brain.
The next day I wandered south to a hot spring, and then stopped to climb a gentle mountain of quartzite rocks that resemble marble. It’s called Medicine Bow Peak and the trail meanders through an ancient glacial basin with about a dozen pristine lakes, a diverse variety of high altitude plants, and giant chunks of the marble like rock. It’s actually quite a spectacular peak, and the summit was filled with a mature group of astronomy professors who had gathered at the University of Wyoming for the big event. They were very interesting folks who shared a passion for eclipses, and had traveled the world to observe most of them, and had already made plans for some more.
Meanwhile back at home, the local rocks and trails were still beckoning, and I enjoyed many days of climbing and hiking in the back yard. Nature is my strongest passion, but I also still work a little bit, and I’ve become very involved with a local toastmasters club. It’s a really fun and interesting group of people that share the same goal of public speaking. Our group is very talented, and the support and exposure to each others skills helps everyone improve. I’m still hoping to turn this into a career to inspire mature adults like myself to stay active mentally and physically and improve their lives.
I can’t help but admit that I’m striving to find something to be cheerful for as I watch my country being destroyed and millions of people suffer because of the greed of just a few. Greed is a disease and it is causing so much pain and destroying the planet that I love so much, but once again, I have managed to survive another year by hiding in the mountains and meditating with the Gods of nature.
I feel extremely fortunate to be enjoying good health and to live in this mountain paradise, and because of this good luck I feel obligated to use my health to continue to explore this “Garden of Eden”, before it is destroyed. I continue to hope for peace and prosperity for everyone and truly hope that 2018 will be a better year. Please check out www.danceonedge.com for more stories. John Mattson

An Adventurous Shortcut to my Favorite Restaurant in Lima

“Speak English to me!” Exclaimed the beautiful Peruvian woman somewhat frankly from the balcony of her mansion.

A fairly extreme scramble had left me in her backyard, and I did not wish to retrace my steps.

She had thought that the cliff below her was unclimbable, and wanted to know what in tarnation this gringo was doing in her back yard. Dozens of maids and other workers rushed out onto their balconies, and every dog in the neighborhood was barking.

I had just returned to Lima from a great adventure of skiing on the highest volcano in Peru and had left a day of buffer on my schedule to spend in Lima. This grand city that was once called the pearl city of the universe is a bit less than that now, but it still offers brilliant coastal views, great museums, and some of the best restaurants in the world. My favorite restaurant, El Rustica sits right on the ocean in the upscale neighborhood of Baranco. The cebiche is fabulous and the open air dining let’s you enjoy the smell, sound and sometimes wetness of the crashing waves.

I was staying in the nearby tourist friendly “Mira Flores,” which is a couple of miles up the coast, but the general area is fairly elite, and relatively safe for gingos.

There is a pleasant and safe path that follows the coast and affords spectacular vistas, but it crosses one fairly deep canyon, and the bridge is quite a ways inland. I had taken the long path on a couple of occasions and had also explored a trail that went directly through the canyon. It involved about 200 vertical feet of scrambling and crossing a semi-busy hi way, but it was substantially shorter. I had taken this route the day before and felt safe on it, but this time I decided to follow the hi-way down the coast. This would avoid climbing and descending the big hill, and I knew that the restaurant was near.

The hi way started out with a wide walkway, and it was obvious that others had taken it, so I proceeded anxiously, and could almost smell the fresh fish, as I wandered onward. ! The road that I was following quickly joined the Pan American hi way, and the traffic became extremely dense. The restaurant was now very close, but the path got even narrower, and crossing the hi way did not look like a good option.

I was about ready to turn back or cross the road, when I approached a large mesh fence. The fence had been erected to contain the small avalanches of rocks that were constantly sliding down the steep embankment, but there was a faint trail between the fence and the manky cliff. It looked a lot safer than the road, and El Rustica and the pedestrian bridge that crossed the hi way were now in sight.

But my hopes were suddenly dashed when I encountered an old rock avalanche that had closed the path. The old slide had become infested with dense brush, and the trail suddenly stopped. I tried to bushwack my way through the dense brush and loose debris, but it seemed futile, and I really didn’t wish to retrace my steps.

So, I contemplated my fate for a few seconds. I was reluctantly ready to turn back when I noticed a trace of a trail heading up the steep and manky headwall. The trail quickly vanished, but by now my alpine climbing instincts had kicked in, and I wandered upward. The route, which was probably a first ascent, involved up to 5.7 vine assisted mank and the crux move was a mantle off the remnants of an old retaining wall. It was an adrenaline filled solo, but I finally arrived at a friendly plateau.

I was hoping to find a public trail or road at the top of the cliff, but instead it was the backyard of a luxurious condo building. A 12 foot tall concrete wall protected most of the building from intruders, but a few of the condos had taken advantage of the terrain and had sculpted luxurious backyards that enjoyed the constantly changing vistas of the Pacific Ocean.

Suddenly, one of the dogs started to bark and a few curious servants appeared on the balconies.

“I am a gringo and I am lost,” I tried to convey in my broken Spanish.

The 12 foot wall looked unsurmountable, but I spotted a reasonable route to one of the yards. It involved a 5.3 vine scramble, but I survived and didn’t get shot.  Everyone within earshot was now out on the balconies, and the caretaker of the property suddenly arrived on the scene.

My Spanish was good enough to convince him that I wasn’t a danger, but he told me to stay right where I was as he summoned the owner.

After more than a few minutes of waiting, the beautiful woman finally appeared. She told me that what I was doing was very dangerous, and I think she thought I was a bit crazy.

I apologized for trespassing and tried to tell her that I was an experienced climber and Peru was one of my favorite countries, but she quickly instructed her manager to guide me back to the street and retreated back to her mansion.!  The path through the luxurious condo was a great adventure and the brief chat with the manager on the way out was very amusing. I left a card with my website for the owners, but I don’t think they bought my book. ! The exit dropped me on a friendly street in Baranco, and a short stroll brought me to my favorite restaurant. It was the best adrenaline buzz of the whole trip, but a great pisco sour calmed my nerves, and the cebiche was worth the adventure.

Happy Holidays “It’s an exciting time to be alive”!

Happy Holidays!
The New Year started in it’s usual manor with some really good live local music shared with friends and some great food and wine. It proceeded onto my 65th birthday, which I celebrated with my best friends at a remote hut in the high rockies. We used our own power and backcountry ski equipment to travel 10 miles and 3,000 vertical feet into the Eiseman hut near Vail, and spent a joyous weekend indulging in untracked powder, an awesome wilderness setting, and lots of food and fine wine. Having 3 holidays in a row nearly wore me out, but it was snowing in Steam Boat Springs, so I proceeded north. My season pass included 6 days there, a huge storm was predicted, and one of my best adventure buddies calls it home, so it was impossible to resist.
My old body keeps hanging in there, so I feel obligated to use it, and skiing is still my biggest passion. The snow Gods cooperated and I enjoyed another incredible winter and tallied 97 days of skiing bliss. But the winter ended all too soon and springtime at 9,000 feet can be a bit wintry, so I packed my van and headed west. Part of my family was planning a reunion in Yosemite in late June, so I headed out a month early.
I love Colorado! but California has the best geography in the US and maybe the world. It is filled with mystical ancient forests, pristine deserts, the best rivers on the planet, the magnificent high Sierras, and they also have a beach. I had spent a lot of time kayaking there in the 90‘s and I was anxious to return to this remarkable paradise.
It’s a bit of a drive, so I decided to stop at a remote climbing area in central Utah, which I had read about in one of my climbing magazines. “Maple Canyon” is smack dab in the middle of Utah and offers a world famous climbing mecca in the middle of no where. The primitive local sheep herders are amazed at the visitors that have come to this barren land to test their skills on the steep rocks, but they don’t seem to mind and the remote canyon offers solitude and some intriguing routes. I was traveling alone, but lots of other climbers do too, so it’s usually quite easy to team up, and I’ve met a few of my best friends that way. I lucked out again, and managed to instantly mingle with some awesome strangers and spent a very enjoyable week in this remote paradise. “Birds of a feather flock together” and the adventure world is really small. Most people laugh when I say this, but I really believe that climbing is the safest way for an old geezer to get an adrenaline buzz, and I am a confessed adrenaline junkie. Adrenaline is a natural drug that was genetically intended to help us survive, and I truly believe that it is one of the secrets to staying youthful. You obviously have to be cautious and know what you’re doing, but unlike kayaking, the moves can be carefully contemplated, and the rope offers a safety net.
My next stop was Bishop California in the eastern Sierra Madres, where I discovered the “Hostel California!” This friendly oasis is a melting point for adventurers of all sorts including a bunch of backpackers who were hiking from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail, and had stopped to relax and wait for the snow to melt on the high passes. It was also a hanging spot for climbers, so I made new friends, and enjoyed some great routes in the Owen River Gorge and a few other nearby Crags. The hiking in the Sierras is also fantastic, and I savored about a dozen blissful days in the ancient forests, with vistas of high alpine lakes and lofty peaks.
This area also boasts numerous free hot springs that spew out of the ground from a tiny version of Yellowstone park. The nearby resort of Mammoth Mountain offers world class skiing and it was still open with excellent conditions and spring discounts, so that’s were I tallied day 96 & 97. Yosemite Park was extremely crowded, but It was great to see LuAnn, Bob, Tiff, Julie, and Tim and we spent two very pleasant days conversing, hiking and enjoying the scenery of this stunning paradise. The gigantic waterfalls were raging, and filled the valley with a fine mist, and the giant walls brought back some fond memories of climbing there in the 70’s.
I’m officially semi-retired, but I still enjoy challenging projects and I was approached with the opportunity to build a pair of tiny houses. Designing and building two 8 x 15 foot cabins was a fun challenge, and the finished project turned out to be quite livable.
Kayaking, unlike climbing, is a very dynamic sport and the water is very powerful, so I’ve decided to cherish my old memories and paddle very little. But, I do still love the rivers, so I joined an expedition with old friends on the Colorado river through Cataract Canyon, and enjoyed 5 remarkable days of rafting and hiking in this remote paradise. Most of the participants had worked as raft guides on the Zambezi river in Africa, so it was a fun reunion of very interesting adventurers.
I’m still pursuing a retirement career of inspirational speaking and writing, which has been very interesting. Oprah still hasn’t called, but it’s turning into a great hobby, and I’ve really enjoyed membership in our local toastmasters club. The key to staying young is to have a good attitude, and to keep moving both mentally and physically, and I think that a bit of adrenaline really helps. I feel very fortunate to live in the paradise of the rocky mountains and I enjoyed another invigorating summer of climbing on the local peaks. Our fall weather was incredibly warm, but winter has finally arrived, and the change of seasons offers new energy. Skiing is like dancing on snow, and it always brings a smile to my face. Nature is my religion, and the only thing that keeps me sane in this crazy world. I must admit that I am somewhat shattered at the current events in our country, but I continue to hope for peace and prosperity for everyone on this incredible planet and I plan to spend most of the next four years hiding in nature. I never worry about the world when I’m hanging by my fingertips on a great mountain. Please check out www.danceonedge.com if you want to read some more stories. Happy Holidays John Mattson