About John

John Mattson is an architectural engineer, adventure writer, and photographer who has spent most of his life enjoying the great outdoor adventures that our incredible planet provides. He is an expert kayaker, skier, climber, and a defender of Mother Earth. He has recently self-published a thrilling and colorfully photographed book of 26 diverse and extreme adventure stories. It is entitled "Dancing on the Edge of an Endangered Planet." danceonedge.com. This book took first place in the 2010 CIPA book awards for the legacy category.

Quarantine day 21

I wake up at dawn again after a great night’s sleep. I feel like my body is almost back to normal and I’m imagining a big day in the mountains, but the new reality of the world suddenly brings me back to my senses as I search the internet desperately from some positive news. But there is none to be had, so I sit back with my coffee and thank my lucky stars that I have a safe place to eat and sleep and some very pleasant hikes in my backyard. 

The hike is very pleasant, and I linger near my favorite tree and ponder the grand James peak that I wish I was on top of. The short hike is invigorating, but a bit too familiar and short, and It is not intense enough to make me forget about the current reality, so I come back bored and longing for a real adventure. 

The book I am reading is quite good, but I’m getting bored with this activity as well, and opt for a lazy siesta in the spring sunshine. This activity is quite enjoyable, but the effect is not so good, cuz I wake even more groggy. 

I’ve told myself so many times, that I need to find a purpose if I wish to survive, but this purpose seems more and more elusive, so I quietly drink my ration of wine and read and surf facebook till dinner. I am still succeeding at cooking good and interesting meals, and this one consists of leftover game hen and potatoes with frozen veggies, a bit of wine and ice cream for desert. I sit alone at my kitchen table admiring the almost full moon and the great view and imagining that I am on one of my great former adventures in a friendly cafe in a strange land.

23. Yesterday was full of adventure. The anticipation of venturing out of my safe abode gave me a new reason to awaken, and I proceeded to take my first shower in quite some time. This got my energy going and I proceeded with a careful trimming of my somewhat rustic beard. I had carefully coordinated my activities to include a few tasks and decided to reward myself with a pizza from one of the direly suffering local merchants. A careful mathematical calculation arrived at the assumption that a 16 in diameter was the most cost effective. This would provide about 5 small meals and would be a pleasant change from my current diet. I called Back Country Pizza at 11 AM but there was no answer.  I was not surprised to find that the usual Nederland punctuality had not changed because of this dilemma, so I waited a few minutes and tried again. At 11:15 the phone was finally answered, and my order for a Large Mediterranean was finally taken. I was told that it would be ready in 20 minutes, so I dressed in my finest clothes and prepared to venture into the ghost village. 

The Boulder County road maintenance dept. had not taken advantage of the lull in traffic to fix the road, so I dodged and bounced through the many pot holes, as my mind wondered and prepared itself for the expected shock.  The library was closed as expected, and I wondered past the locked door to the return book deposit in back. The empty parking lot was my first reminder of the pandemic that had so suddenly stricken our quant little village. 

The B & F lot was also almost vacant and I wondered up to the locked door of Back Country Pizza. It was almost noon and on any normal day it would have been crowded, but I could only see one human and a dog as I peered through the window and knocked. The lone inhabitant suddenly moved and emerged from another guarded door with my prize. Her beautiful, but obviously stressed out features conveyed the problems that we were all facing as she thanked me from a safe distance and suddenly retreated to her empty restaurant.

The next task was shopping for a few necessary items, so I put on my gloves and donned my very old and dirty carpenters mask.  I felt like I was entering the scene of an old Stephen King Saga, as I carefully grabbed a cart and proceeded in the familiar, but suddenly strange surroundings of the local market. The store was nearly empty, and most of the shoppers were wearing masks, so I moved cautiously through the ghostly isles. The experience was obviously less than nirvana, so I threw in quite a few extra cans and stables that would allow me to hide in my mountain shelter for couple of weeks. I recognized another masked shopper, and would have normally stopped to chat, but we both just exchanged glances and rushed away. 

The large stack of groceries was carefully bagged into paper bags that could be burned, but I couldn’t help but notice a young very nonchalant gal without a mask who was paying with cash. She reminded me of a backcountry skier who had no knowledge of avalanches and was about to jump into a very dangerous slope, but without the risk of endangering everyone around her.

The next stop was the post office where I needed to send a registered letter, and I waited carefully in line while the stressed out teller strove to preform her duties in this crazy new environment. With a big sigh of relief I drove back up the mountain to my hopefully sterile paradise and unpacked the spoils from the hunt.

Climbing in the Aspen Fast Lane

Aspen has been a popular party town for the rich and famous for quite some time, and the early 80’s were not an exception. The intense hedonists that were becoming a strong influence in this valley were looking for anything that gave them pleasure and price was not much of an object. Cocaine was a rich man’s drug, and it became very popular. This is the same time period when Cocaine use was featured on the front cover of Time magazine.  It was very fashionable among the rich and successful business folks, and the city of Aspen reduced criminality to a misdemeanor that was rarely enforced for possessing less than 3 grams. It quickly became some what of a status symbol, and the flagrant users would carry fancy silver 3 gram automatic dispensers that could be used on chairlifts and in restaurant bathrooms. The old hippy days of passing joints was considered low life to these decadent connoisseurs! 

I have lots of found memories of living in this awe inspiring valley, and I must admit that this is one place where trickle down economics actually seems to work.

The cocaine also trickled down and I was introduced to this evil drug while working as a trim carpenter on a local restaurant remodel. The owners were extremely anxious to finish by the lucrative Christmas season and bribed us with lines of coke in the walk in cooler. It was my first experience with this so called magic powder, and the initial response was like an extreme caffeine high with happiness and lots of energy. The artificially induced energy allowed us to work 10-14 hour days and the project was finished on time. 

The drug didn’t seem to be extremely addictive, but I did enjoy the high, and started purchasing small amounts for special occasions. But, like most mind altering substances, the highs seemed always harder to achieve, and the use gradually  increased. Coke is also a perfect party drug because it keeps you alert into the late night hours and allows for ridiculous amounts of alcohol consumption. The combined ingredients offer a great high, but the morning penalties can be severe.

My construction company was just getting started and I was building a small addition for a friend in Snowmass Village with my old climbing partner, who had come to visit. Gringo Negro is the source of many legends, and he did like to party, so he quickly adapted. 

It was a good party for a couple of weeks, but the thrill gradually waned, and we started to question our new life style.  

“This is really stupid!” I exclaimed to Dave, in the middle of a late night party. It was about 2 AM and we were both enjoying a good buzz, but I was very discontent. “We really need to change this habit and get back on track. Let’s go climb something good tomorrow. It’s what we really need.”

The “Bell Cord” between North and South Maroon peaks is a classic, somewhat steep snow climb that Dave had never done and I was itching to repeat. I had done it the fall before with blue ice conditions, and it had been one of my all time favorite ascents.  The current conditions offered exceptional snow climbing on an awesome peak, and it seemed like the perfect route for a long summer day.  A quick survey of our available food supply revealed 4 ounces of dried beef and 1 avocado, but we still had a gram of the magic powder, so we quickly grabbed some gear and drove to the Maroon Bells parking lot where we passed out on the tar next to the car. The sun was warm and bright and the tourists were starting to arrive and were almost stepping on us, when we groggily awoke and started to rally. 

Dave was a desert boy who had learned to climb on the chossy desert rock of Camelback Mountain in Phoenix with a clothesline for a rope. He had never climbed ice or snow, but he was a solid 5.11 rock climber, so I trusted his ability, and the conditions were perfect. His Scott ski boots seemed like the best available option, and I had a spare set of crampons and some extra ice axes, so we quickly packed and scurried away.  Our stamina hadn’t suffered too badly during the recent break in activities, so we snorted a couple of lines and ran down the trail past Crater Lake. It’s been a few decades, but I vaguely recollect that Dave was running in his flip flop sandals, which were his shoe of choice at that time. 

We quickly arrived at the base of the snow and found a group of out of towners who were carefully setting a belay and climbing with a large array of technical gear including glacier stakes and ropes. They didn’t seem quite ready to start and they were obviously much slower than us, so they politely let us pass.

The Bell chord is steep, but not extreme, and is a fun solo for a competent climber. It does involve about 1800 feet of mostly 45 but up to 50 degree snow or ice, so it is still a serious adventure and falling would be extremely dangerous. But, the biggest hazard in this gulley is rock fall, so a swift confident solo climber takes much less risk than a slow party using ropes and exposed belays. 

We thanked the group for letting us pass, snorted some long lines, and jammed for the summit, as I coached my rookie friend.

“OK Dave!

This is it. It’s kinda like rock climbing, but you can get a hold whenever you want with your ice aces and crampons. So, just stay focused, stay balanced, and only move one appendage at a time. The conditions are perfect, but still be aware of ice, thin spots, and rock fall, and DON’T FALL!  Rock fall is a definite hazard, and just stay low and don’t panic. The worst case scenario is to fall because of panicking. I barely dodged a rock here on a late fall ascent lat year, but I had enough time to secure my axes and duck when it arrived. It was a baseball size rock that bounced off the walls of the coular and flew by about 10 feet from my head. So, the faster we go, the safer we will be.  

“Oh wow! This is pretty easy and kinda fun too. Maybe I’ll try ice climbing next year.”

The climb definitely kept our attention, and the high mountain air was thin, but we sustained a steady pace and jammed up to about the middle of the route.

“Wow! This is really fun, but I’m getting kind of tired. Is there any more of that magic powder left?” 

“Yup! but it’s too dangerous to stop right here. It looks like a small nook and ledge that will be somewhat safe from rock fall about 50 feet ahead, so let’s stop there.”

We didn’t have one of those fancy silver devices, but the flat surface of the largest ice axe provided an adequate surface and we spread out 2 very generous lines. 

“Yaaa! I feel much better now!” exclaimed Dave as we gained a new sense of energy, and jammed up to the comfortable saddle between the two bells. An exposed, but enjoyable scramble through the hazardous loose blocks of rock brought us to the friendly summit of North Maroon Peak. 

The day was still quite young, the weather was fine, and the mountain was empty, so we enjoyed a brief break and savored the spectacular view and the nirvana of finishing a great route. The summit was hard to leave, but we were starting to get a bit hungry and the descent route was easy, so we rushed back to the luxurious mountain town and enjoyed a gourmet dinner with fine wine at the Chart House. 

We awoke refreshed with a great new attitude, and I never did Coke again.   

Navajo Peak

Navajo Peak in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado.
Stream from the Isabelle glacier,
Snow field pitch.
Summit view to the East.
Remnants of a tragic plane wreck.
Isabelle Lake

I awake way before dawn after a somewhat restless night, and start to prepare for the new days event.  The plan is very exciting, but I am also a bit apprehensive about this somewhat serious adventure.

I don’t always climb alone, but the challenge of finding a compatible partner who is willing to awake before dawn can be somewhat challenging, and a bad partner is much worse than being alone.  I thoroughly enjoy just being in the mountains and the solitude invigorates a meditative state that can approach nirvana. I am obviously much more cautious when I am alone, but this forethought elevates my mental attitude, and I become very in touch with the mountain environment that I truly love.

The route that I am hoping to climb is my favorite in the local area. The West Chimney of Navajo Peak involves a fairly long approach, some moderate snow climbing, and a somewhat challenging class 3+ chimney on a fairly remote mountain face. 

I’ve climbed this route twice before, so I know what I’m getting into, but I’ve aged a bit since the last attempt, and know that it deserves respect.

I had made a feeble attempt about a week ago, but a sixth sense and less than perfect weather caused me to turn back early. The alternative was finding shelter from the harsh wind, and spending a lazy morning in an awesome and very secluded high alpine meadow. The meadow was above the extremely popular Isabelle Lake and offered complete solitude and a comfortable bed of soft grass. The wild flowers were in full bloom, and their sweet scent along with the gentle sound of a small raging stream lulled me to sleep in the warm sun. 

I awoke refreshed and enjoyed a casual lunch while enjoying the vista of a now windy and cloudy summit. “I’m really glad that I’m not up there right now.” I thought to my self, as I finished basking in the warm sun.

But, today feels very different, and I’m anxious to finish the challenge. The weather looks perfect, and so are my energy and spirits, as I park my van at the trailhead. A note stating,  “Climbing west Chimney of Navajo. Back by mid afternoon.” is left in a conspicuous location on my dash, and I’m on my way.

The dawn of the new day is starting to brighten the sky as I saunter briskly along the well worn trail to Isabelle lake. The path is lined with some gigantic Fir and Spruce trees that are much older than me and I stop to hug one of the more ancient ones. A pair of does and a young buck are grazing in an adjacent meadow, and a few birds are greeting the dawn, but they are not alarmed to see me.

The first rays of the early morning sun light up the high peaks as Navajo and Apache come into view, and my soul is suddenly invigorated.

A couple of early morning photographers and a young moose great me as I reach the stunning vista of Isabelle lake. But here the main trail ends, as I leave the soon to be busy valley and wander alone into the high alpine zone. The trail has suddenly disappeared, but a maze of grassy ledges and tiny valleys provide for a fairly easy scramble. 

My awareness suddenly kicks in to my extreme mode, because I am aware that even a short stumble could result in a minor injury that could be fatal in this remote place.

I am carrying reasonable survival gear and a loud whistle, but the chance of being found rapidly on this remote mountain face are still slim, so I must be extra cautious. This caution forces a mental attitude that is totally focused and very enjoyable.  All the cares of the world suddenly disappear as I wander upwards concentrating on the task at hand. 

The air is a bit brisk, but the sun is warm, and the views are brilliant. The soft tundra is bursting with tiny plants that only have a few months to live, and they are fully utilizing every moment with great pleasure. The high peaks are still adorned with the remnants of the winter snow and it glistens brightly in the morning sun. But the snow is rapidly melting in the summer sun and has created dozens of clear sparkling streams. The tiny rivers cascade off of the cliffs of the steep walled valley, and the lush banks are adorned with dozens of colorful wild plants and flowers. The combination of the aroma, sound, and view of this pristine paradise awakens my inner senses and my old mind approaches nirvana.

The quickly receding old glacier has left about a hundred new yards of manky scree that involves a frustrating mixture of scrambling and sliding backwards, but I manage to find a reasonable route to the snow, and arrive a bit out of breath. But, my energy quickly recovers, as I stop for a quick snack and attach my crampons.

The next 500 feet or so of the climb involves kicking steps in some fairly firm and somewhat steep (40-45 degree) snow. This is actually about the easiest way to climb a mountain if you have the right skills and equipment, and I do. I have come prepared with one medium length ice axe, a “Whipit” (ski pole with a small ice axe), and crampons. 

The steep snow allows for a rapid ascent, that is much more pleasant than the loose scree.  But, kicking steps in the hard snow is quite strenuous, so I stop a few times to catch my breathe and ponder this awesome paradise. The rhythm of setting a fast pace seems to be more efficient, so I divide the slope into about 5 segments of sprint and rest, and each phase brings me ever closer to the summit.

The cool air feels fresh in my lungs and the blood rushing through my brain clears my mind as the last sprint brings me to the top of the snow. Here, the means of travel will change again and I stop on a comfortable rock to remove my crampons and pack away the ice axes. 

The rest spot is warm and sunny, but the climate suddenly changes as I wander upward onto the shady west face. A brisk breeze is howling through the steep saddle between Navajo and Dicker’s Peck and the usually easy route has been coated with a bit of graupel  from the last thunderstorm. These conditions are not quite what I had expected, but I know the route, the weather is good and don’t wish to turn back now. 


I am now extremely aware of my remoteness and the harsh penalties of any mistakes. The normally 3rd class route is partially covered with a thin layer of frozen rain so I proceed with the utmost caution, and my focus becomes even more intense.  A tiny mistake here, could result in a miserable night or the end of my life.

The foot holds are a bit slippery, but the hand holds are solid and I revert to the old climbing rule of always having 3 appendages attached while you carefully move the 4th. The approach to the chimney is extremely exposed and I shudder at the thought of being injured and dying slowly on this remote face. But I know that I am capable of not falling, and mind control is one of the reasons that I’m so fascinated with this intense sport. A few deep breathes help to calm my nerves and the moves are quickly conquered. The next obstacle is about 200 feet of a wide and low angle chimney that resembles a short stairway to heaven. This section gets very little sun, and the holds are cold and icy, but I’m starting to catch a rhythm and enjoy a temporary state of pure bliss as I climb the awesome steps. 

The stairway ends way too soon, and once again I am faced with a slippery traverse. But the moves are easy, the summit is near, and a sunny ledge is beckoning.

This pleasant alcove marks the intersection with the easier “Airplane Gulley” route, and I feel that the climb is almost in the bag, so I drop my pack and take a short break. The nook is warm and comfy, but the summit is beckoning, so I leave my pack, and scramble upward. The route finding here is a bit challenging, and I probably didn’t pick the easiest way, but I manage to arrive on an empty and somewhat breezy summit. This is my favorite Indian Peak, and the views are incredible, but the wind is brisk, and I won’t be able to truly relax till I get back to my pack, so I savor the views for only a few brief moments. I manage to find an easier route on the return voyage and make it safely back to the comfortable ledge.

This tiny and comfortable alcove is out of the wind, the sun is warm, and the quest is all but finished, so I take a long break and thoroughly enjoy the serenity and pristine views.

I have chosen the “Airplane Gulley” for my descent, because it is much easier, and going down is usually more difficult and dangerous than climbing. The summit of most mountains is really only about one half of the journey, and not quite time to relax. The lower part of this route involves unexposed scrambling and sliding on the loose talus and scree, which is much friendlier for descent than climbing. The added vista of the remains of a tragic plane crash add historical value to the otherwise boring route.  The steep scree is quickly descended, and I stop to take one more break in a flowery meadow before descending into the tourist mayhem of Isabelle Lake. My body is tired, but my spirits are high, as I relax in the warm sun and ponder the lofty peak.


Letter to an Old Trump supporting Friend

I was very happy to receive your letter, because I consider you to be a good friend, but I must admit that I was extremely disappointed in you for supporting that fucking orange con artist in the last election. He and the whole Republican party that supports him are one of the most evil organizations in the history of this modern world and I cannot condone the friendship of anyone who still supports them. He is nothing but a  worthless con man, and only claims to be a Christian because the so called Christians vote for him. I don’t believe most of the Bible, but if there really is an anti-Christ, it is definitely DT.  Separation of Church and State is written into our constitution, and the Republican party is not much different than the radical Taliban. There are some very good Christians and they have a right to their beliefs, but I despise the way the Republican Christians are trying to force their values on everyone. Freedom of religion means exactly what it sez, and it does not mean being forced to only pursue the fascist Christian dictatorship.  If you are paying any attention at all, you will see that they don’t give a flying fuck about anyone except their rich friends, and they are destroying this once great country. Who in the hell needs a billion dollars? And why should they not pay taxes? Greed is a disease that is destroying this planet and causing so much suffering to so many people. 

 I think there might be many Gods, but if they have any control over what is happening right now, they are extremely cruel, and don’t have my support. I also do not believe that any just God would send innocent children to hell just because some bozo white christian didn’t manage to make it to their remote village. I believe that this so called Bible is mostly the manufacture of the religious governments and has been used to scare its hapless readers into submission.  The tithe is one of the most obvious examples. Do you really think that Jesus would charge his believers a tax? And what about Noah’s Ark?  Anyone with any sense at all would immediately dismiss this ridiculous fairy tale! Do you have any imagination as to how long it would take for that amount of water to evaporate? (But I guess that the world must have been flat then and it ran off the edges). I have been to 43 countries and many of them numerous times and I’ve read hundreds of books. Every culture that I know of on this planet believes in a God, so why are the Christians so sure that theirs is the only true one?  This continent was Heaven to the Native Americans, and it is being turned into hell in the name of the Christian God.  I find it impossible to believe that any just God would reward a bunch of bozo humans with a new Heaven after they had so greedily destroyed the one that they were given.

Our generation has been extremely fortunate to live in a window of opportunity that may never be repeated. Our grand parents got free land that had been stolen from a native culture who also had Gods. And we had the opportunity to live in a beautiful and peaceful land.

But just imagine being born in a slum in NY, or many of the other equally despicable places in this country, and the world.  There are so many desperate people in this country! No more free land, poison water, horrible minimum wage jobs, expensive rent, and a bunch of greedy billionaires who only care about themselves, and stealing even more money.

The current situation is extremely dire, and I don’t really think that our world will ever be the same. But what we were doing was destroying the planet, so it could have a silver lining. The transition is going to be extremely difficult for lots of people. I feel utterly fortunate to live in a remote paradise, but it’s really hard to be content when so many innocent people are suffering so much. I actually thought that something like this was going to happen a long time ago, and that was my excuse for dropping out of college and going skiing. The current news is all bad, and it’s really easy to become depressed, but my strategy is to embrace nature and try to be a positive force. That is about all we can do, and millions of positive forces can really change the world, and the skiing up here is really good right now. I believe that you have a good heart and your humor is a positive force, but you ain’t going to heaven if you keep supporting Trump and his evil party.