Tuesday, December 29, 2009

4000 Miles

1000 Miles

Its actually only a 1000 miles, but this is my fourth year achieving the goal. The "rules", such as they are (I made them up) are to go 1000 miles under your own steam. No biking allowed, though paddling a canoe is ok. Most often for me its running or hiking. Here are some thoughts about what this means to me.

  • Every year this goal consistently challenges me and I wonder as I near the end of each year if I'll make it
  • The goal is not about the miles per se, for me its about :
    • a way to have a daily target in front of me : 2.74 miles
    • a way to motivate me to get outdoors and explore my surroundings, this is more about destination rather than distance and most often that destination is the mountains.
    • a way to get in better shape and yet after a 1000 miles for four consecutive years :
      • I haven't really lost that much weight and I still have a little pot belly. Granted I am a lot less chunky than I was four years ago and I am in much better shape, but I am not in fantastic superman shape. But I am in better shape than most folks I'd guess.
      • I still have double chin which irks me; I still eat too many calories
      • I am still not "fast"; its a matter of time and endurance not speed. The second to the last day I did 24 miles in 6 hours. I ran the first 16 and walked the last 8. Anyone can do a 1000 miles if they have enough time. Once in shape you can walk a mile in 15 minutes. By only walking 40 minutes each day you'll do a 1000 miles in a year.
      • I still usually carry a camera with me no matter where I am going, hiking or running. I am a runner that takes photos and a photographer that runs. Sometimes I'll see folks running down the trail carrying a water bottle, me I've got a camera in my hand. (I carry water on my back)
    • Granted often towards the end of the year if I am behind it is about the miles and not the destination. At this point it is about achieving the goal itself not matter if its a long long run on a very flat boring trail. I do find here that books on tapes help, I listened to two on the last week.
  • Things I've learned along the way :
    • Gear matters. Good shoes, the right warm stuff when its cold, like head bands vs. hats (you over heat in a hat but a head band keeps your ears warm while venting out the top of your head)
    • Pacing is important; over exerting or over doing it causes more hurt than benefit
    • Consistency is key, the goal is accomplished a day at a time; every great thing is made up of many many small intermediate steps
    • Having a large goal that can be measured on a daily basis is important to achieving that goal; its a great motivator to "just do it" on a daily basis, not that I always run or hike every day but for sure every week
    • Having companionship along the way makes the journey more enjoyable and much easier to achieve. Its much easier to motivate yourself to go when there are others to go with. (457 miles with others)
    • Having said that you will never be able to achieve your goal by soley relying on others, in the end it will come down to you alone, out there by yourself getting it done. (542 miles solo)
    • I can run! I used to hate running and swore (even after becoming active) that I'd never run. My neighbor convinced me to try trail running that it was "the same as hiking but just faster" and now I even run on the road a couple of times a week at work during lunch.
    • If you build up to it your body has an amazing capacity for endurance, you can do what seem like "amazing" things such as hiking through the Enchantments (19 miles) in a single day. My capacity for endurance and recovery over the years has increased and reduced. I can do 19 miles in a day and still walk the next and go for a 5 mile run the day after. Four years ago this would have put me out for almost a week. Your capacity for recovery grows over time.
    • Exercise really does make you feel better and you really do have more energy rather than less after exercising. I firmly believed for many years that exerting energy could only make you feel more tired and that "pain" could only make you hurt not feel better. Endorphins are a real and amazing thing, not to mention the overall feeling of healthiness
    • Exercise (at least for me) increases my immune system; I have only gotten sick a couple of times in the past four years and those have been very minor colds. (I have gotten quite sick twice but those were both self induced because I "drank the water", once in the mountains and once in Mexico)
    • I don't mind getting up early. In fact getting up early (stupid early) is one of the only ways for me to accomplish this goal, with job, family and church something has to give so for me its sleep. I'll sleep when I'm dead. I don't mind starting in the dark but I like ending when its light. Getting up early is often a barrier to others joining me as I have found very few people are willing to get up at O:Dawn Thirty.
    • When those expeditions (Rainier) or adventures (The Tooth) do come along I am in shape and ready

And so a new year is set to begin and I reset the counter and look forward to a new journey along another 1000 miles. May you find your own journey, your own cause, your own measure of consistency that requires discipline and pays dividends.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Griffith 2009 Christmas Letter

Merry Christmas
The passing of another wonderful year since last years letter. This year feels slightly skewed for some reason, as if its passed by too quickly, full of too much and yet its passed and all but gone. Time to reflect and look back on the way the year went. The summary hasn't changed much from last year : family, outdoors, church and work, but this year with a dose of marriage. (There are 275 hyperlinks in this letter, I dare you click on 10)

Family Review


Soak up the SunWhere I RunRaging Snoqualmie FallsThe UsualSushi Chef
Last December we had a true white Christmas as snow fell, even in the lowlands of Seattle, the mountains were full of snow. In January we had a pineapple express blow through which brought tons of warm rain which melted all the snow and caused lots of flooding throughout the area and we had chance to help clean up. (Don't miss raging Snoqualmie Falls) Mark and Stac met Tom and Celest in Everett to see world reknowned mountain climber Carlos Buhler speak, he was very interesting and inspiring. Mark bribed Miles and Sofi with Pho if they go on a hike over Squak Mountain. Mark made another trip to Japan where the food was fantastic, especially the Anonymous Ramen. Favorite highlights of Japan were the tiny hotel and the Tsukiji Fish Market and sushi for breakfast.


With a scream of GleeYour No Where ManRuby BeachFog : Brought to you by the letter NCave Boy
In February the cold crisp mornings made for beautiful Dawn Patrols. Fog blanketed the area which made for cool photos and running. Somehow we ended up with yet another cat bringing the total to 2. For mid-winter break the family drove out to the Olympic Peninsula where we had fantastic weather. The girls did the Twlight tour in Forks. Despite being winter it was warm enough at 2nd Beach Miles stripped down to his underwear. The sunset at Ruby Beach was one of the most amazing we've seen. More hiking with the kids, and Mark and Miles went on the annual winter snow campout with the young men up to Snoqualmie Pass.


Dawn PatrolFocusRattlesnake LedgeThe Wicked Witch of the WestSnow Bombs
March brought a ton more snow, even in the lowlands. Miles went with Dad to the Doctor for a check up, Dad took his camera of course. Cold weather meant lots of eating Pho, and if you don't know what that is your missing out, video showing how Pho is made. Mark got a new pair of glasses. Sofi and Dad went for a nice run on Cougar Mountain. The family drove to Yakima to watch Kiah preform in State competition for Drill and Pom. Of course more hiking with kids on Cougar. On the last day of March Seth and Mark camped up at Commonwealth Basin and got dumped on with a foot of snow.


Mystic BeachPlaying on the BeachJump over the SunLove of My LifeKing of the Dawn Patrol
Kiah turned 17, whew! (we are getting old) and its Spring Break time. The family headed for the big island of Vancouver. We had a fantastic time, we backpacked to Mystic Beach where we camped on the beach for two days with beautiful sunshine weather (see the video) and spent a day in Victoria. Mark and Miles joined the young men camping at Ancient Lakes in Eastern Washington where they built huge fires and hiked and even swam. Great clear weather in March made for some beautiful Dawn Patrols, and Mark went on a cool hike with the Young Men up to the Tiger Mountain Caves.


HelleborePineapple PassMiles and CooperJoy of DivingJack Hansen
May started out with an International Dawn Patrol with some work mates visiting from Tokyo. Spring came in force to the local foothills where we live. Somehow our pet count grew by 2 with some little guinea pigs. Seth took Mark on his first real alpine climb up to The Tooth in Snoqualmie Pass. Mark's Grandmother Smith passed away and the family drove to Idaho to commemorate her passing where we saw lots of family and relatives from long long ago. On our way back we stopped by Wyoming to visit Seth and Amy. At work Mark and crew started the official run and plunge where during lunch they run down to Lake Washington, jump in and then run back to work. And Miles and Mark when on their 5th annual Father and Sons outing at Ensign Ranch.


Mr and Mrs. Adam HassellThe LagoonHappy Anniversary 1The ToothBe-smirked
The summer started heating up in terms of activities. The wedding theme begins with Mark and Sofi flying back to Idaho to attend cousin Alyse's wedding to Adam Hassel. A week later the wedding themed continued as Mark and Stacey flew to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. (See told you we were getting old) They drove a 1000 miles and saw four different ruins. (Check out the video). Unfortunately on Stac's 41st birthday at their last ruins on the last 3 steps Stac twisted her ankle and tore ligaments. That evening after Stac's birthday dinner Mark spent some time laying on the floor of the bathroom hugging the toilet as Montezuma got his revenge for eating that salad. Mark and Stac convalesced on the beach until they flew home. Back home Mark climbed The Tooth again with Adrian from work. To close out the month Miles and Mark went canoe camping up at Cooper Lake where they met George and Cherry.


The Firey TaleBellevue South Trek 2009Pulling the HandcartsAgainst the WindOn Top of the World

We celebrated the 4th of July at the Self's eating good food and shooting off a lot of fireworks. Stac continued to have major pain from her ankle and found out she'd have to have surgery to repair things in August. While she spent most of the month in bed : Mark left with Kiah and the youth in our church to go on Trek, a reenactment of Mormon pioneers pulling handcarts in Eastern Washington. Mark went as the Trek photographer, where he took over 4000 photos; he spent days after his return making the 1100 photos available, creating a slide show and eventually four videos (1, 2, 3, 4 ). The day Trek ended, Sofi, Mark and Kiah drove to The Gorge to see Coldplay in concert (what a venue, what a concert!). Three days later Mark departed with Seth and Dean to climb Mt. Rainier, 14,410 feet is a long way up. At the end of July Stac went in for surgery on her ankle, things went well but the pain continued after surgery for a bit.


Twas in another lifetimeHappy Birthday SofiThe Big SlidePie Eating FunSea of Grass

Summer in full force, the prime hiking weather Mark hiked 60 miles, 16 of those with Miles. Miles and Mark took a canoe camping trip with the scouts in early August. In a single week (before work or on early morning Saturday's) Mark hiked to the summit of 4 local peaks (Red Mountain, McClellan's Butte, Kaleetan and Kendall Peak). With all the sun the berries ripened and the family harvested a huge bunch of blackberries and made fresh blackberry jam. Miles joined Dave Young to take the Beraiult kids fishing at Alice Lake, Miles and Dad got skunked but had a great time canoeing about. The end of August brought about the annual Dr's visits and shots, Dad of course brought his camera. Sofi turned 10 years old and had a great party with her friends. We attended the Bellevue South Stake summer picnic, great games and good food, the pie eating contest was good times. The second to the last day of August Stac got her cast off (the leg hair was gross!) and she badly wanted to salvage the last gasp of summer. On a whim right after church she wanted to go camping, so we threw everything the car, put the canoe up on top and drove up to Tucquala Lake. We had a grand time, (video).


First Day of SchoolHumpback MountainThe Finest PancakeFall has ArrivedGranite Sunrise

Summer ended and School began, Miles entered kindergarde, Sofi entered the 5th grade and Kiah a Senior in High School. We celebrated Labor Day by a wet rainy hike and ribs and harvest dinner. Fall continued the berry season we drove up to our favorite huckleberry patch for our annual berry picking and we got a ton of berries; the huckleberry pancakes were particularly delicious. Miles and Mark went on a campout up to Lake Melakwa where they got rained on a tad bit, though they did get in the last swim of the season in a mountain lake. The first official day of fall was still warm enough to swim at work during lunch runs. Mark couldn't stand the fabulous weather and took a day off work at the end of September to day hike to Mt. Daniel, despite forgetting a pack (he made one from a tent bag and a shoe string) the weather was fantastic.


The ExplorerHere Come the PiratesWay of the DragonMy FavoriteHappy Halloween

Mark went with Sofi's class on a marine science field trip in the sound, they dredged for plankton and explored live samples from the seabed. Salmon Days in Issaquah started off again with a great parade where Kiah preformed with the Drill Team. That weekend Mark went with his boss on a 19 mile day hike through the Enchantments in the Cascades of Washington. A light dusting of snow made for beautiful scenery with the yellow larch trees. Mark took Kiah's senior photos this year and she was happy with how they turned out. The end of October brought again the time for the annual trip to the pumpkin patch, good to see friends, ride in the wagon and pick pumpkins. The family gathered for our annual pumpkin carving and the pumpkin photo. The trunk or treat party at the church had some great costumes this year and of course the kids gathered pounds and pounds of candy. This year Mark refrained from confiscating (stealing) any of his kids candy.


Happy 6 MilesB. L. M. C.Waiting...The Grit of the GameHappy Faces in the Foggy Forest

Miles turned 6, he's four years behind Sofi and only 4 inches shorter. He had a great birthday party at Kidz Bounce, he loved his Wall-E cake. In early November Jay Wiser was in town visiting family and joined Mark on a snowy hike up to Snow Lake. At the end of the month Mark turned 42 and did the annual hike up to Mailbox Peak (4000 vertical feet in 2.5 miles), three started and only one made it to the top (it was the old guy). Mark spent the rest of his birthday at the elementary school photographing Miles Thanksgiving Party and Sofi's classroom. We spent Thanksgiving at home in Washington, which meant we got to play in the greatest muddiest Turkey Bowl ever. Doug and Julie joined us for Thanksgiving, Sara was supposed to join us with her family but let a little thing like getting her gallbladder removed stop her.


And the Winner Is ...Hold Em HighContemplationMerry ChristmasMarian Renee Schill

For Christmas Mark bought himself a new camera and a set of off-camera lights. This was all in preparation for the annual church Christmas Party and the Santa photos. We had unusually cold weather and that froze everything in the mountains solid and made for some great hiking weather. Kiah and the Drill Team took first place in the Hazen competition. A week before Christmas the family drove down to Sacramento to attend Megan Scott's wedding (Stac's brother's Craig's eldest daughter). Mark had a tooth ache days before and they arrived in California after driving all day just in time for him to get a root canal. Megan had a beautiful classy wedding, her dress was gorgeous and we are glad we got to close out the year on the wedding theme. The family drove back home to get ready for the holiday season. We started what is maybe a new tradition this year riding a ferry out to see the boats on Christmas parade on Lake Union. Christmas was a wonderful day, though we missed Stac's folks this year. Mark used his new camera and lights to take some new born baby photos of the new Schill baby and we closed out the year with a great night out in Bellevue, enjoying food, shopping and ice skating before a New Years Party at the Chamberlains.


Paddling ManOn Top of the WorldHowdy PartnerThe New SpectaclesA Cold Morning
(Here it goes in third person again, its a tradition after all) Mark started off thinking he'd run to work once a week which lasted around 3 weeks till his knees started hurting and he cut back on that. He did however manage to still complete another 1000 miles under his own steam, though he fell behind a bit and the last day was 24 miles. Along the way he saw so many beautiful places and he took a couple of photos (he posted 4260 on Flickr, though he selected a 116 favorites). Mark continues to enjoy reading and seeing movies, though he seems to have less time for those activities with all the hiking and his serving in the church. Mark enjoyed all the time he and his family spent camping this year. The personal highlight was celebrating 20 years with Stac. The highlight of Mark's outdoor was first climbing The Tooth with Seth, and then climbing of Rainier with Seth and Dean. Definitely one of the hardest thing's he's ever done but what a great sense of accomplishment. Mark bought yet another new camera for Christmas this year, the Nikon D300S and has started working harder on improving his photography skills and confidence. Mark continues to enjoy shooting and editing videos with his cameras. Work continues to go well at Amazon, where he still works on the Fulfillment By Amazon program. He looks forward to next years adventures with friends and most of all family.


She's got pretty eyesLove of My LifeNoodlersHappy Anniversary 3Hanging at the Beach
2009 has had it's ups and downs for me and to be honest I'm very glad to say goodbye to it. I'm grateful for this past year for many reasons though. First that Mark continues to have a job that he loves and supports the family so that I can be home with the kids. Secondly (despite some injuries) we are all healthy within our family and our extended family. Thirdly, we continue to have peace and happiness in our home, though life itself can be chaotic. There are a few highlights and lows that taught me many things this year.

1. I continue to read and learn and in a year that has been a bit tough, it has kept my brain from turning to mush.

2. I loved our backpacking trip to Mystic Beach on Vancouver Island. There are moments in the day (though it was 9 months ago) that I still think of some part of that trip. It was difficult for me and I survived it, maybe that's why it keeps popping up in my mind. I had bronchitis and it was a steep hike down to the beach,which meant a steep hike back out. Doing that while not being able to breathe very well and not being in the best of shape was not easy. It was one of the funnest camping trips for the family and for me. It's a beautiful beach and we pretty much had the whole beach to ourselves. We played games, ate yummy food (yes you can eat yummy food while backpacking) and soaked up the sun that we hadn't seen all winter. It was a beautiful trip with kids. The last couple of days we spent in Victoria, BC and we had a lot of fun.

3. Mark and I celebrated our 20th anniversary in Cancun, Mexico. It was beautiful and such an adventure. We rented a car and drove all over. We saw 4 different ancient ruins. It was fun to drive around with no kids yet feeling like kids ourselves exploring many cool places. Two highlights for me from that trip was our anniversary day and the Hacienda we stayed at that Mark had booked for us. He had a dinner set up for us on our Veranda and it was romantic and beautiful. Seeing the ruins in Uxmal was amazing. For me they were the coolest ruins; I loved the feel and the layout. The worst two parts of that trip were me falling off a normal step (after climbing steep steps at the ruins) and doing serious damage to my foot and ankle (on my birthday) and Mark getting food poisoning (also on my birthday). I spent the last two days on my behind at one of the nicest beaches we'd seen the whole trip and Mark spending it with no energy after being sick all night long. It was the worst ending to the best trip.

4. I was in a boot/cast/boot from June to September. Not a highlight but it taught me many things. I read a lot, watched way too much tv, cried more than I have in a long time and the experience made me a bit more patient (just a bit:)). It also made me very grateful and realize that my foot and having surgery on it was minor, life could be much, much worse. It also taught me to rely more on others and that my family is there for me no matter what, and no matter how much I complained. I'm very grateful for them and love each one very, very much.

5. The new school year brought big changes. Kiah started her senior year at IHS (don't get me started with the tears), Sofia is in her last year in Elementary school and Miles started Kindergarten. Though I get a bit sad at times thinking of all the changes they are making, I can't help but be excited for each one and the adventures that lay ahead for them. This means changes and adventures for me as well. I've been looking forward for some time now to go back to school and finish my degree. I haven't taken classes since 1992. Wow, that's scary. I'm ready though and I get excited just thinking about it.

" The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul".
G. K. Chesterton


17My eldest OneMy FavoritePeak A-BooCousins
Kiah turned 17 this year and is a senior in High School. She's active in school serving on the student body planning assemblies and school dances, she's also on the drill team again this year. They took first place at their Hazen competition this fall and look forward to going to State competitions in the spring. Kiah totalled her little VW Bug this year by running into a curb and ripping off the fender, ruining the axle and tearing a hole in the radiator. She inherited her Dad's 2001 Honda (and he got himself a "new" used Forrester). Kiah continues to do well in school and seminary and has applied to five different universities for next year, she's been accepted to all of them and is leaning towards BYU-Idaho even though her parents tried to convince her to go to USU. She's looking forward to graduating and going away this fall to school.


The Golden GlowMy Youngest GirlWalk CarefullyGo FishWhy I now "own" Guinea Pigs
Sofi is 10 this year and continues to be a bright joy around the house. She does continue her stubborn streak and if she gets in a funk, oh boy watch out. She is doing very well in school and has really taken to reading this year. She loves her teacher Mr. Arthur and is enjoying being top dog in 5th grade at Elementary school. Sofi is active in her gymnastics class, she moved up level this year and is now practicing on the bars, her coach works them hard at practice. Sofi continues to be the artist of the family she loves to create, whether its drawing or crafts or cooking. Sofi convinced her Dad to get guinea pigs this year, though the thrill quickly wore off and they are now with another family. She also really really really wanted a puppy for Christmas but Santa didn't deliver, though she's convinced that when Kiah leaves for college she gets one. We'll see....


Hoot HootMe and My CupMe and My ToothMiles and the KittyMy Son
Miles is 6 this year and started kindergarden (he has a late November birthday). After one day at school he decided he didn't like it and Miles spent a couple of days running away from Stac when she tried to drop him off and a day sitting in the hallway at school with Dad. Eventually class grew on him and now he gets ready two hours early. He is growing like a weed, he'll soon pass Sofi in height. His love of Transformers, Ben 10 Alien Force, and Star Wars, Legos and Bionicles, Spiderman and Batman continue. He did tell me this year that he thinks Batman isnt' real though. He continues to make Iron Man costumes and forts out of boxes and blankets. Miles continued going on hikes and camping trips with his Dad, he even did a 14 mile hike this summer with Dad, though he zonked when they got to the lake for 45 minutes.

We had a great 2009 and look forward to 2010! You can find us on the Internets... Mark on Facebook and Mark on Flickr. Stac on Facebook and her blog

Happy Holidays!


Saturday, July 25, 2009

One of the first things you notice when visiting Seattle is "The Mountain"; at first you feel funny calling Mt. Rainier "The Mountain", but then you notice that no matter where you travel in the greater Seattle area when The Mountain is out (free from cloud cover) its visible from everywhere. Rainier Avenue in Seattle is aptly named as it appears as if your going to drive straight down the road and onto The Mountain. From downtown, from Lake Washington, from Lake Sammamish, from every mountain trail you ever hike, Rainier looms above them all. Almost as soon as I began traipsing around the hills I looked longingly at the white slopes of Rainier and thought of climbing it. As you get a bit more experience with the area and learn a bit more about Rainier there are two slightly contradictory discussions that emerge. First there are a lot of people in the greater Seattle area that have either attempted or climbed Rainier, its powerful presence works its magic on many people. Within this group you get a lot of stories about how easy climbing Rainier is, "Yeah my brother and his friends climbed it last year and they said it was just like a really long hike". I suspect many of these are doing the standard route from the Muir side with guides. The second side of the discussion is that Rainier is big, long, hard and dangerous, not to be tackled by the naive or unprepared, guide or not. I think much of the recounting depends on weather, and that regardless I favor the harder rather than the easier categorization.

I've planned at least twice to climb Rainier and I'm glad that I waited until the second to make a go as I was able to be much more experienced than otherwise. My first baby steps into mountaineering came with a purchase of an ice ax and some self arrests up on Guye Peak near Alpental. My first real mountaineering experience was climbing Mt. Olympus with Summit for Someone in 2007, this gave me a lot of the basic mountaineering gear : ice ax, crampons, harness, climbing helmet etc. Additionally since it was a guided trip I was able to grow my experience with the cushion of mules to carry my gear the first 15 miles and the wisdom of the guides. (Craig had climbed Rainier 355 times and Olympus 26). I loved the experience of High Camp, climbing in the dark, experiencing the joy of sunrise from on high and the accomplishment of the summit. This year I set my sights on Rainier. I planned to go without a guide, with two friends who had been with me on almost every step of my mountaineering journey : Seth Neilson and Dean Matthews.

Gear for RainierI had a very very busy couple of weeks leading up to Rainier. It began with the 4th of July celebration. I ended up cooking up 15 racks of ribs for myself and members of our local congregation (my own choosing), then it was a frantic couple of days packing and getting ready for Trek : Mormon pioneer handcart reenactment. I'd been asked to go as the main photographer. Trek went from Wednesday July 8th through Saturday July 11th, over the course of those 4 days and the 21 miles we traveled I took over 4000 photos and many gigs of video. Immediately after Trek ended I drove to Ellensburg with my two daughters and some of their friends to shower at a truck stop and then we drove out to The Gorge to watch Coldplay preform. We got home around 1:30 am and I ended up going to bed at 2:30. Then Sunday was all day at church and immediately upon getting home I started editing the 4000 photos. I was to leave for Rainier Wednesday night and had to have a slideshow of 400 with music ready by Tuesday. I ended up staying up all night Monday working on the video, grabbed a few hours of sleep from 5:30 am to 9:30 am and then stumbled into work. After work on Tuesday I kept going on the video and finally delivered a working DVD to the audio visual guy in charge. Finally some sleep, go to work Wednesday, and then a BBQ with Dean and Seth's family Wednesday evening. Wednesday at 9pm, Seth and Dean and myself loaded up the car and we made one last stop at REI and headed for the White River campground in Rainier National Park.

The Would be HerosWe arrived around 11pm, found an open campsite and threw down our pads and jumped in our bags. Thankfully there were no mosquitoes around. We were right by a creek, and the noise quickly had us all sleeping, finally after a busy busy two weeks I could relax. The next morning we woke around 6 am and made our way down to the ranger station at the Sunrise entrance to wait in line for climbing passes and camping permits. We didn't have reservations and they reserve 12 spots for a first come first serve basis. There were three options to camp at : Camp Curtis, which sits on a rocky ridge atop the Inter Glacier around 9000 feet, Camp Schurman which has a bathroom (!!!!) around 9460 feet and Emmons Flats which sits above Camp Schurman around 9600 feet but like Curtis has no bathroom. By 7:15 when the ranger showed up to tell us she'd be helping us in a few minutes, there were 25 people waiting in line. We were able to get a reservation for Camp Schurman and we quickly drove back up to the White River Campground where we put on our bags and posed for that "before the trip group photo". By 8:25 am we were on the trail.

Glacier BasinThe trail up from White River was destroyed the last couple of winter and spring seasons by rain, much of the trail that used to wander along the high bank has been washed out and the trail meanders threw strewn rock fields of gravel, boulders and logs. In three miles the maintained trail ends at Glacier Basin, a gorgeous valley with a large meadow full of wild flowers and a small pond. A boot path leads from here up the valley along the river on the high ridge of the lateral moraine of an ancient glacier that has long rescinded. The trail along the moraine was covered in wild flowers, lupine and paintbrush of every hue of red. The smell of the flowers was palpable and it was like walking through the mostly beautifully planned garden estate. At the top of the moraine and the back of the valley, you reach the toe of the Inter Glacier which winds left or westerly up the slopes of Rainier. We stopped and took a break for about an hour, refilling our water and grabbing a bite to eat. My peanut butter and honey sandwich from the night before tasted heavenly. The 3000 foot Inter Glacier has fewer crevasses than the Emmons, and they open much later in the season. We made the decision to not rope up, though we put on harnesses and got out our ice axes.

Glacier GardenThe snow was soft from the summer heat but not so slushy you were wallowing in it. I think there are three important keys ascended those 3000 feet. First is pacing. Mountaineering should not be a race, its a marathon. You'll be spending a long time going up, its important to not break into a sweat or over-exert yourself, using the rest step is a great way to enforce this and conserve energy. The rest step is done as you raise your foot and plant, you lock that leg with the knee back, then step up with the other foot, which you plant, lock and repeat. Thus each step has a small rest built in, even if you do this fast it allows your legs to last longer. When your more tired or feeling the effects of altitude the rests become longer and they allow an easy pause without having to burn energy holding you legs actively against the slope. Second hydration. Drink lots and lots of water. Frankly I've never pee'd so much in my life and yet despite that there was no yellow snow : all was clear. Finally : I-pod. When the danger is low (i.e. no crevasse or rock fall) and communication with your climbing mates is not critical, music helps to lift your spirits and motivate you along the way.

Up the InterStep, plant, rest. Step, plan, rest. Thousands of steps later we came to the rocky ridge part way up the slope where Camp Curtis sits. There are two approaches to Camp Schurman, the first is to cross the lower ridge through Camp Curtis and then drop down onto the Emmons Glacier and up to Camp Schurman. The second is to continue up the Inter Glacier to the higher ridge and climb up and over Steamboat Prow and drop to Camp Schurman. I highly recommend the first heading over Camp Curtis. First because you don't have to keep climbing up and up the Inter Glacier, second Steamboat Prow is a choss heap of loose rock, the "trail" is steep and with heavy packs heading down would be challenging.

View from CurtisAt Camp Curtis we roped up, clipped into our harnesses and put on our helmets, Dean lead out across the rocky slope, which steeply makes its way to where you can drop off the rock onto the Emmons Glacier. The Emmons is much broader and wider than the Inter Glacier and has many more crevasses. The ascent up the glacier is not too long or too steep before Steamboat Prow comes into view and the ridge below it where the Rangers Hut and Camp Schurman sits. There are several large crevasses just outside the camp that you make your way over before getting safely onto the rock. We arrived at 5pm and there were around a dozen tents set up amid the rocks, we chose a nice spot in the middle and setup Seth's 3-man, 4 season tent. Relaxing at High Camp The ranger wandered over to tell us about the bathroom (the very best and worst [stinks to high heaven] feature of the camp), blue bag drops and pointed out a nice seep under one of the crevasses where we could collect water. We got dinner brewing, my Mountainhouse Beef Stroganoff tasted wonderful as did the Tim's Cascde Salt and Vinegar chips.

Endless RidgesWe sat around in the evening chatting with fellow folks in the camp and watched an amazing sunset unfold beyond the Curtis Ridge and the hills north beyond Steamboat Prow. A fire in the area added some amazing depth the layer and layer of mountains were well defined all the way to Mt. Baker on the horizon. While Seth and I were busy snapping away Dean tired to lay down in the tent and relax. As the light faded, the sunlit hit the right angle and the entire Puget Sound and Lake Washington light up with sunset glow. As the light faded even further you could even see the lights on the Tacoma Docks blinking off in the distance. As we turned in I set my alarm early for the next day, in hopes of catching some alpenglow the next morning.

Sunset besideMy alarm was supposed to go off at 4:30, I woke at 5:15 of my own accord. By then, any pink alpenglow (if there ever was any) was all gone, and it was just the silhouette of Steamboat against the dark sky and waiting for the sun to crack the horizon. No one else was awake and I carefully tip toed through the rocks with my crocs on, trying to not make any noise. Climbers the night before departing in the dark had been loud and noisy, its kind of hard to walk quietly across rocks in your crampons. I walked up on the snow a little bit and watched the sun peek above the line and the camp and mountain were bathed in that warm early morning light. I headed back to camp and relaxed for a while in the tent reading and catching a few shut eye. We woke as the rest of camp stirred and boiled some water for a breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate.

Anchor ManWe had no real plans other than to acclimate, rest and recuperate. Dean brought a mini-deck of cards and we sat around on the helipad on our cushions playing a long game of spades. Dean won by a narrow margin with Seth loosing soundly. Around 11 we put on a shell, our harnesses and roped up and headed out on the Emmons to practice crevasse rescue. We ran through the process if someone falls into a crevasse (typically this is the lead individual, but not necessarily) : The other two memebers of the team go into self arrest, lying flat on the snow with their ice axes dug in. Once the furthermost team member has verified that the other team member can hold the weight, s/he gets off his ice ax and using two pickets (long metal devices) sets and anchor. Then s/he attaches a prussik (rope with a special knot around the rope that allows the rope to slide through but under tensions holds fast) and applies the weight to the anchors. A secondary prussik is set and then two pulleys are applied. At this point the nearer individual who's been holding the position in self arrest, clips into the anchor and manages the prussik, the other individual begins (assuming the "victim" in the crevasse can't get themselves out) pulling on the rope to raise the fallen climber.

Staring into the MawAfter the pulley rescue practice we all clipped in and were on belay and scooted out to the edge of the crevasse to peer down into the maw and take a few pictures. Afterward we made our way back up to camp and prepared for climbing that evening. We got our summit packs all put together, the harness, crampons and ice axes all laid out for the early morning start. We cooked some dinner and forced a bunch of food and water down. By 6pm we were in our tents and trying to get some sleep. I pulled out my i-pod and put the Jon Hopkins Light Through The Veins song on repeat. The music helped drone out the background noise of the camp as they fixed dinner and we got some shut eye. Its 9 minutes and 18 second long and I listened to it over and over; sometimes with some semblance of consciousness but mostly dead to the world.

The Morning BeginsThe original plan was to wake at 11:45 and be up and gone by 12:30. Seth set his alarm, but because of his Wyoming timezone we woke at 10:45 pm. We decided rather than try to lay back down we'd just take it easy getting ready and leave when we were ready. We boiled some hot water for oatmeal and hot chocolate. By midnight we were dressed in layers for the journey and in our crampons, harnesses and roped up and heading up towards Emmons Flats and the summit beyond.

Dark FigureClimbing in the dark is necessary as the snow is hard, the surface features firm and safe. There are other advantages as well : you can't see how much further you have to go. You enter into a zone of silence where all you focus on is the cone of light ahead of you and the partner on the rope above you. Al you can see the next footstep as you plod your way, seemingly eternally, up and up and up. On this journey an i-pod is not available, all your sense must be tuned to the rope ahead, your climbing partner above you and any communication of any sort. This climbing can require a great deal of mental fortitude to keep pushing upwards on and on.

Rainier DawnNone of us felt any altitude sickness, though as we'd climb higher we felt the effects of the altitude on our stamina and strength. Another aspect of climbing in the dark is coming upon features unaware. As we made our way up a steep slope we angled to the right paralleling the slope, a narrow ledge two boots wide cut across and suddenly the downward slope to right dropped off rather steeply, in the dark it was not clear how far down. And on left left around waist high was a knife edge of snow that I could rest my hand on. Over the this knife edge was an open crevasse. It was when I was in the middle of this ledge with the steep drop off below me and a crevasse on the other that the rope stopped moving ahead of me. When the rope stops you stop. By this time the wind had really started to blow and I had to hold onto the precarious snow ridge to keep from being blown off balance. There was no use yelling ahead to query Seth as he wouldn't be able to hear. In a few moments the roped moved ahead and I followed down and around the ledge to where I was adjacent to the crevasse and a snow bridge crossed. Here Seth had stopped to gain his bearings and to prepare to step across, always an pause worthy endeavor.

Stop to Watch SunSlowly every so slowly as kept climbing upwards the sky began to have the tiniest bit of light. One of the most special things about climbing mountains is that you get to see the dawn from on high. Being able to see the sun come up with the world below you is a special thing few get to experience. The sunrise from Rainier was stunning, we paused for a brief moment to watch the fantastic sky and the sun break over the horizon. Then we turned and put our heads down and kept on climbing.

Against the WindEventually we approached 13000 feet and the ridge line appeared above us with open sky. In mountaineering and especially with Rainier typically no matter what you see and want to believe the ridge line above you is not the top, and when you arrive there is more mountain left to climb. Atop the ridge line was the Winthrop saddle, a large flat area between the Liberty Cap and the cinder cone with the caldera and Columbia Crest where the true summit lies. From here you have over a 1000 feet still to go and I was completely whupped. About 45 minutes earlier my water bladder had frozen and I was out of water. Dehydrated and feeling the effects of the elevation I very very slowly made my way up the saddle.

Step SlowlyHere we dropped our rope and debated which route to the summit. We could ascend directly up the steep snow slope or we could make our way to the right and the southern slope of the code which was bare of snow and steeply lined with scree. There were several other groups making their way down the rocks and so we choose the later route. We slowly made our way to the rocks and sat down to take a break. . The temperature was around 28 degrees and the wind was blowing around 35-45 mpg. Luckily there was a fumarole which was venting hot steam and I quickly unthwawed my water, hydrated and we ate a bit of food.

The SummitRocky SummitOn Top of the WorldHeel Clicking on Top of Rainier

The last 800 feet up the scree was slow and tiring. Two steps forward one step back. At the top of the ridge we looked across to see the final dome of snow and ice that comprised the summit. We made our way over and walked the last few feet to the top where the wind whipped and howled. I was grateful for my Patagonia DAS parka and a balaclava to keep my face warm. Strangely from the snow dome an adjacent rocky ridge looked higher so we plodded over there to just be sure and posed there for photos as well. Then we dropped down over the ridge into the caldera to sit for a bit and take a break. It felt good to rest, but honestly your so tired from the climb and the altitude and you know in the back of your head you've got to start down soon before the snow gets too soft that you really can't enjoy the summit for too long. I remember feeling a genuine sense of wonder at the accomplishment of what we'd done. A year in the planning, training and anticipating and now we'd done it. 8 hours after starting we'd finally reached the highest point.

Around the BendWe made our way back around the ridge to the scree slope. Sliding down on our boot heels was so much more enjoyable than are ascent. We picked our gear back up and roped up and headed back over the Winthrop Saddle and down the slope. Going down isn't as hard as going up, but its by no means easy. The soft snow gives way at every step, sliding and slushing you slip down the mountain trying to not fall over. This is hard on the leg muscles. You wish you could glissade but sliding into a crevasse is not necessarily a faster way down the mountain. We quickly came upon the narrow ridge, crevasse and snow bridge we'd crossed early in the dark. In the light of day it wasn't nearly as spooky. We placed a picket at the top in a running belay to offer a bit of protection as we made our way across and around and down.

ZonkedFinally around noon we stumble into camp and drop our packs, harnesses and ropes on the rocks. Kicking off our harnesses we all grabbed a pad and lay down for a quick nap. Within seconds I was sound asleep on my pad out in the sun on the heli-pad. We dozed for around 45 minutes until I woke with a snort. I filled water bottles and we spent the next 2 hours breaking down camp and stuffing everything back in our packs. While packing we overheard a gentleman talking about his scramble up on Steamboat Prow. We'd seen a ranger depart the day before up over the ridge. We decided to take this route up and over to the Inter Glacier so that we didn't have to put the rope and harness back on and downclimb across the Emmons Glacier.

Atop the ProwWe departed at 3pm, wearing our helmets and ball caps to ward off the sun and any rock fall. We made our way past the bathroom and each waited in turn for the other to ascend the gully. The climb up out over the prow was the most freaked I was on the entire climb. Steamboat Prow is a choss heap, an amalgam of dirt, gravel and crumbling lava-esque rock. The holds were all solid and it wouldn't normally have concerned me in the slightest but I had a 50 lb pack on and with my helmet and a baseball hat I had a hard time as I scrambled up being able to tilt my neck back far enough to see the route ahead. Eventually I made it to the top and stopped to hang on and relax. Dean made his way last up the slope. He was none to happy with the sketchy nature of the climb.

The Best 3000 FeetBut as we topped out over the Prow though the Inter Glacier stretched out before us the promise of a 3000 ft glissade quickly made us forget. Dean made Seth go first to make up for going up over rock pile. I followed him and was able to get 2800 feet in a single track! We then had to walk over 50 feet or so and jump on an old track to make our way down to the very bottom. What had taken 3 hours 2 days before to go up took less than 10 minutes to go down. That has to be the best glissade in the entire state of Washington.

The Returning VictorsWe dropped our glacier gear and reloaded the packs and set off down the moraine through Glacier Basin and down the trail adjacent to the White River. It was 5pm and we were tired and hungry. We wanted some real food and so we set a killer pace down the trail. We passed everyone we saw motoring our way down the trail. My feet were killing me from the pounding and as Dean said those last 3 miles felt like 20. Finally after falling once in the creek from a slip on the rock we reached the car. Dropping our packs we posed for one last final "after photo" and then I grabbed a fresh change of clothes and made my way to the camp faucet near the bathroom to "shower" and change.

We hopped in the car, cranked the tunes on the I-pod and made our way to that fresh smelling corner of the cow pie Enumclaw where we stopped at the Rainer Bar and Grill for a steak and potato feed. Piling back in the car I fought sleep as I dropped of first Dean and then Seth. I rolled into my driveway around 10:30, 24 hours after I'd woken the night before and miles and miles. But when my head hit the pillow, I was satisfied, and I slept like a log.

Flickr Photos

Set on www.flickr.com


Climbing Rainier from mbgriffi on Vimeo.

(Route route : http://tinyurl.com/schurman)

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Early Bird gets The Tooth

Our lives are made up of the path we forge from the opportunities presented to us in our own set of circumstances. Had we never moved to Washington, I doubt whether I'd ever taken up mountaineering or with this weekend dabbled with alpine climbing (be it ever so small). A short 40 minute drive from my house is Snoqualmie Pass and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of the Mount Baker Snoqualmie Forest. Beautiful trails and lakes are surrounding by majestic granite peaks of the cascade mountain range, the great secret of Seattle. Was there not this opportunistic field of possibilities, my development in the outdoors would have been much slower and required greater effort.

Pineapple BasinTucked away up a small narrow valley is Alpental, a ski resort in the winter and a magnificent trail head in the spring, summer and fall. Guye Peak, Snoqualmie Mountain and Snow Lake are all within a few short miles of the parking lot. At the upper end of this valley below the ridge line sits Source Lake, the beginning of mighty South Fork of the Snoqualmie River which carved the canyon that I-90 follows. Above Source Lake is Chair Peak and a beautiful ridge line of peaks that circles back down to Denny Mountain above Alpental itself. In the middle of these is The Tooth which sits above Pineapple Basin. The Tooth is probably many folks in Washington's first alpine climb as it was mine. Proximity to Seattle with an easy approach and a short climb (4 pitches) with great views of the surrounding area make it extremely popular.

Upwards, OnwardsSeth and I started out early. We met at the Safeway in North Bend at 5 am and were at the upper parking lot in Alpental and on the trail by 5:45 am. We followed the trodden trail up the middle of the valley staying to the left of the creek. The week prior J.K. had climbed the Tooth with the WAC and we were thankful for the foot path. The snow was firm in good condition and we made good time to the end of the valley and the "big hill" where we turned south-westerly and waded up through the deep snow. Purchase was hard to come by as each step sunk and fell out from underneath me in the snow. Finally frustrated I stepped in the glissade paths of the previous days and made good progress to the top.

The Early Bird Gets the ToothAt the top of the ridge line is Pineapple Basin which is framed by Chair, Bryant and Hemlock Peaks. At the far end of the Basin is the Tooth and the pointy fang of a gendarme that guards Pineapple Pass. We made good time up the basin, watching our shadows grow as the sun crept over the ridge behind us and to our left. Midway up the basin a cornice broke off atop Bryant and slid down over the rock and came crashing down into the basin below us. Watching in awe I caught it on video, as I just happened to have my camera out. Even had we been lower in the basin the slide petered out well before the climbers path. After the snow settled Seth and I both turned back around and looked at the ridgelines above us scouring for cornices. None to be seen we carried onward and upward. As we approached the final steep slope before Pineapple Pass we looked behind us to see small figures of climbers moving just into the Basin behind us. The early bird gets the Tooth I thought and we hurried up the steep snow over Pineapple Pass where we traversed north around behind the base of the gendarme to the base of the southwest face of The Tooth.

Pineapple PassWe stashed our snowshoes and Seth's pack and got out my brand new rope ("pretty" was how another team described the bright orange color) and we put on our harnesses and tied in. I carried my pack, stuffing my camera in side with Seth's bag of food. As we were getting ready the first of the party we'd seen down below arrived. They were with the WAC and had a group of 8 students they were taking up. On belay I fed out the rope while Seth led. As he reached the belay position and after taking up rope, yelled down "On Belay" and I yelled up "climbing" and up I went until I reached his position. Where again I belayed and he led. I am sure my form wasn't pretty, that I used my knees in a place or two but I got myself up without Seth having to pull. I had a bit of difficulty removing the anchors Seth had placed in a couple of spots. The second pitch had a particularly stretching move just below the belay where I had to wedge my left foot on a small ledge and reach my right arm up into a large crack to pull myself up. The last pitch with its airy catwalk ledge took some nerve to step across the break in the ledge, but firm cracks for handholds above and the rope assuaged the fear and beating heart.

Atop the ToothIn a short 60 minutes were were on top the Tooth. Alone on the summit with amazing blue sky, high clouds and stellar views for 360 degrees from Denny Mountain, to Mt Adams, Rainier, Granite Mountain, Glacier Peak, Stuart, Lundin, Red, Thompson, Snoqualmie, Guye and on and on. We unroped and sat on the bare rocks and took in the scenery while eating some food and drink. We spent another 20 minutes taking photos, including the requisite summit shot.

Chair PeakBefore anyone else arrived we roped back up and prepared to rappel down. First Seth and then I would follow. This was an interesting process of navigating among those who were coming up. In a few places at belay stations Seth or I waited on climbers ascending so we could freely rappel down. Along the way I met Carlos a friend of Ingunn and JK's. I also met Nadia Hakki a friend of Geroge and Cherry's from their days in the WAC. A small world even up in the mountains.

Shadows and Tall TreesAfter reaching the bottom we gathered, stored and loaded all the gear and made our way back to the top of Pineapple Pass. A few short glissades later we were in the flat section of the Pineapple Basin and in the middle of a group of Mountaineers who'd been practicing self arrest on the hillside above. Everyone was swimming in snow with postholes often up to your mid thigh. Seth and I threw on the snowshoes and we stayed on top of the snow and made excellent time, passing all the Mountaineers and beating them back to the top of the ridge above Source Lake. We glissaded down to the valley floor and then stumbled, slipped, fell and postholed our way back to the car. We arrived at 1:45 pm 8 hours after our start. Seth jumped on a con-call and we headed down the pass to the North Bend car swap rendezvous.


Some thoughts about the experience looking back. I'm amazed that such an experience is to be had in such a short distance from my home. I'm grateful to Seth for taking me up, for bringing the rack and leading the climb. He's either introduced me to or been with me along most every step of my mountaineering and alpine experience. Its a pleasure being in the mountains with such competent and friendly hands.

As I sat in a belay position below and watched Seth lead the climb, over the past day or so I've had had some thoughts about the process. While by no means is the climbing on The Tooth extremely difficult or long I was still struck by the lessons to be had in climbing. In the context of this story of The Tooth I share them, with apologies for my naivete in terminology and description.

Lead vs. Follow

When rock climbing, the goal is to make your way up a rock face while ensuring you and your partners safety. One leads the climb while the other belays, both wear harness which encircles the legs and the waist. The person in the position of belay has three points of contact. First his/her harness is anchored to a immovable station, Second his/her harness is tied into one end of the rope, and third a belay device is attached to the harness via a locking carabiner. The lead climber also has three points of contacts. First his harness is also tied into the opposite end of the rope. Secondly his rope adjacent to his end is fed through the belay device attached to the partners harness. As the lead climber begins climbing, the belaying partner plays out the rope, but holding it in a locking position. The lead climber's last point of contact is as he climbs he periodically places anchors (protection) into the rock and clips his rope through them. Thus should the lead climber fall, he will not free fall because of his partners belay on the rope and he will only fall as far as he has climbed above the point of his last anchor.

Having said this its important to understand the distinction between the climber that leads and the climber that follows. He who leads truly leads. He begins ascent without protection at all. Confidence and care are required because until that first anchor is placed, a fall is a fall all the way to where he began and there is no safety from the one on belay below. Immediately after placing the anchor (usually just above or level with him) the lead climber stands safe as he is immediately adjacent the anchor and his rope is clipped in. Should he fall at this point he will fall no distance, as the rope is taught between his harness and the anchor point above him. However from this position again the climber must lead out above the anchor point. The further he climbs before placing an anchor the farther he will fall. And while the rope and belay offer protection, the fall will still hurt and each lead out requires an act of will of pushing up and beyond the safety point in search of the next anchor.

I never led on this climb. I only followed. Following is done after the lead climber reaches a belay point, which must be found prior to the length of the rope being reached. From here the lead climber anchors himself via the harness, and pulls up the rope till slack is consumed, then feeds the rope through his own belay device and clips into the carabiner. The climber below begins climbing up and as he does the rope slack is taken up. The climbing follower is never in any real danger of a fall, should he slip the rope is always there to catch him. As he makes his way up the route he removes the anchors placed by the lead clipping them to his harness as he goes. While both climb, one leads and the other follows. And like many of the paths in life, either metaphorical or real, the roles should not be misunderstood, taken for granted or confused. One leads; the other follows.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Memories of Miles

I got this idea from a lot of the meme's that have been making their rounds on Facebook recently. Things like 25 random things. I thought I'd start keeping track of little stories about my kids, anecdotes of life. Here are some of Miles, I'll keep updating this blog as new ones come along.

  • Age 5 : Miles said to me the other day : "Dad I'm starting to think that Batman isn't real". This is at the stage of Miles life where his favorite toys are : Transformers, Legos, Bionicles, Batman, Lincoln Logs and Ben 10 Alien Force. He's a boys boy. He had a cute worried tone to his voice. I told him : "Your right Miles, Batman isn't real, but he's still cool and I like him and his movies"

  • Age 5 : Sometimes its too easy to give into Miles request for another toy from Target because they keep him entertained for so long. He can really go off into his land of imagination and play and play. We've been trying to teach him the "cost" of these and have been making him earn money before he buys a new toy. We've been giving him chores around the house to make money. He has also been collecting all the change that I put on my night stand or he finds in the dryer. Tonight as he took some change to put in his money box he shut the door and said. "Dad give me one second". Then immediately after he shut it he said : "Actually give me two seconds". I knew something was up. So I gave him 5 seconds and then peeked in the door. He was madly stuffing bills into his money box. I went in and we talked.... I found $69 in bills in his box. He'd taken 2 twenties and 3 fives from my wallet. (He had legitimately earned 14 dollars in chores). He immediately started crying and ran and hid in the closet. We talked about how he can't take any bills from anyone else but change is ok. I pocketed 55 dollars and left him with the rest. Little stinker. :)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Anonymous Ramen

After eating soba for lunch on a wild hair we decided to try the other famous soba shot just around the corner. Unfortunately they were closed for some construction so we headed off for the subway. Along the way Sano asked us if we wanted to try a really good ramen place near Shibuya which was right by the office. Already in the second noodle mood we agreed.

The Anonymous Ramen ShopOutside the Shibuya station along a main road we came to a sign for 24 hour ramen and stairway descending into the dark. A quick turn to the right brought us a vending machine where you purchase the basic ramen ticket 720 yen. From there there is a very short 12 foot wide hallway/entrance where people lined up with a turn at one end. The immediate wall had a bunch of paper slips were you can specify additional customizations to your ramen : garlic, hot spice etc. This 12 foot entrance is divided into three equal sections. The middle section has a split door that is closed, behind this is the kitchen area. On the top side of the split door is a white sign with 21 square electric buttons in two lines, 10 on one side and 11 on the other. They represent the left and right narrow hallways on either side of the kitchen that house 10 on one side and 11 booths on the other. Occasionally a square will light up blue and a person will emerge from the hallway and the next person in line will enter.

Anonymous Ramen BoothPatiently you wait in line as one by one the squares light up and the rotation occurs, one full happy ramen customer emerges and another hungry intiate enters with their ticket and paper specifics in hand. Regardless of whether you come alone or in a larger party, only one person enters at a time and when you do your isolated from everything else but your ramen confessional booth. Each booth is literally just that, a small space maybe 3 feet across with a dividing wall separating you and the next booth. In front of this space is a red stool that you sit upon. Directly in front of you is a red cloth and a small 9 inch space where you see the mid sections of people scurry back and forth. Hands appear, place some chopsticks and a small glass on the counter; take your ticket and paper and you wait. A short while later a steaming bowl of ramen is pushed through the open space and a mat is dropped down closing the space and your in solitary ramen confinement. No neighbors. No talking. Just steaming ramen and you. Your primary purpose to eat.

After finishing you stand, a sensor in the stool turns on the blue light outside and the cycle continues. It was a strangely surreal eating experience, one that I enjoyed immensely as the ramen was not only tasty but the delivery was an odd social experience as well.

Full set of photos on Flickr

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Griffith 2008 Christmas Letter

Hard to believe another year has passed since the last one. For some reason I feel slightly melancholy for not sending cards this year, even though I've been sending the electronic version for several years now. Regardless as we wait on Christmas Eve for the turkey to cook and I've had my afternoon nap, I pause to compose the years review. For me the four word summary is : family, outdoors, church and work. More details below, here is the video version of our holiday photo.


Eating SnowSay hello to RosieJump!Morning DiscussionsA moment
In early January Mark started off the new year with a replacement camera for the one stolen last Christmas eve, just in time to travel to Beijing for work. January is a cold cold time to visit Beijing, the food however was fantastic and the highlight was a a trip to the Forbidden City. Back home we also got a new pet a snake! (Though in December while climbing around outside her cage she disappeared in a hole in the built in shelf's and we haven't seen her for two weeks!)

FadingPonce De LeonDeception Pass SunriseFamily @ RosarioThe Water Way
If February the mountains continued to get dumped on with snow and we got a snow storm or two in our lowland hills. Mark went on a fun hike with the kids up over Cougar Mountain, he didn't tell them how far it was shhhh. The family took a long weekend and visited Anacortes and Whidbey Island, our favorite part was visiting the fabulously beautiful Deception Pass where the kids piled rocks on Mark while he took a nap in the sun.

Dawn PatroljoyChurning SnowI stopped to pause in aweFirst Date
In March the mountains kept getting dumped with snow (we had record snow falls). Mark kept hiking with the kids, they had a very Calvin and Hobbes moment at Rattlesnake Ridge. On the first day of Spring Mark went on a still very winter expedition to Mt. Daniel in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, it was 10 degrees at night and it snowed the entire time. At the end of the month 3 days early, Kiah went on her first date with Christian Rennie to girls choice. Over 40 kids got together for pictures and went to the dance together.

Red Rock Family ~ 1Angels LandingNavajo SwitchbacksWarm Sunshine FamilyBryce, 9000 feet and Snow
In April Kiah turned sweet 16. Scary! They grow up way too fast. For Spring Break the family headed for Southern Utah. We love the lush all year green of the Pacific Northwest but longed for the dry red rock of the southwest. We visited Zions where Mark took an early morning hike up to Angels Landing and the family went on several great hikes together. We then headed to Bryce where it snowed on us, we then spent a magical afternoon at Goblin Valley. We then drove up to Cache Valley to see Stac's Mom who wasn't feeling well and Mark very cold hike up the Wellsville Mountains. Before we returned home we saw Linda and Doug in Salt Lake, as well as Shari.

Swan Swan HummingbirdBarefoot on BanderaLeaping over HoodLeki PoseThe Last Day of May
In May spring started around the lowlands in Seattle and Mark went diving in the sound where he saw a huge Moray Eel. Mark kept on hiking, sunrise with the Markiewicz's and barefoot on Bandera Mountain. The family had fun celebrating Memorial Day. At the end of May Mark headed out (again) with a bunch of friends try to get to the top of Mt. Adams, they had a great time but didn't make it to the top due to almost getting struck by lightening!

UmpfhhhhTop of the Mountaining ling ing lingGolden GlowLine of Blue
June was a busy month! Things started out with Miles and Mark attending a late rendition of our annual Father and Son's trip out to Ocean Shores. Things were a bit windy, but we still got to some great jumps in. Mark and Stac marked the their 19th anniversary with a nice dinner (more celebrating later). Mark got up stupid early to hike to the top of Snoqualmie Mountain. Stac turned 40(!!!) and Mark threw her a big party with smoked ribs and pork shoulder. Mark had a recruiting event in San Francisco so the family got a wild hair to see old haunts and friends and decided to drive down. Over the weekend we saw Rona and Holli (and little L), the Barentsen's and Mark went to lunch with some old workmates in the city. Mark of course managed to sneak in a run over the dry hills of the East Bay. On the drive home we stopped to visit Stac's good friend Alison. At the end of June (told you it was busy) Mark got a chance to meet up with one of his Flickr heroes : TellyTom and they went on a hike with Miles up Denny Creek, the best part was the sliding down in the snow (video!!!).

Sparklers19 YearsOn the GapBeefcake in the MountainsCresting
In July, Jessie Smith, a good friend from church got married. The family had a grand time celebrating the 4th of July with fireworks and the big swing! And then the vomiting and diarrhea began in earnest for Mark. After two weeks it turns out he had giardia (don't drink the water unfiltered from streams!). Mark finally got some medicine the night before Stac and he headed out to the San Juans to celebrate their 19th anniversary. They had a wonderful relaxing time without the kids (Thanks Megan), and Mark started feeling better in 24 hours as the medicine kicked in. Summer began in earnest with jumping and swimming. At the end of July Mark took a 4 day trek with his brother and good friends through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Most of this was off trail. They had quite an adventure (and no we didn't almost die!). You can see the best photos from the trip or read the 3 blogs, though the greatest moment had to be bathing in a tarn.

Tucquala LakeHi From Bear LakeSummer SunPaddling GirlHello from Kachess
August the snow continued to hang on in the mountains with force. Mark hiked in the middle of the night to watch the Perseid Meteor shower with the Hancocks. We finally got the boat out on the lake. After Kiah's girl's camp the family set out for their summer vacation trip to Utah, where they had a busy time : Went to dinner with Faye and Sharon. Took a trip to Bear Lake. Mark and the kids went on a one night backpacking trip to White Pines Lake with Uncle Doug and Aunt Julie and Lauren and Garret. We went on many hikes. Mark and the kids went canoeing on the Little Bear River. Mark hiked the entire length of the Wellsville Mountains (16 miles and a skunk) from north to south. And finally the family went to Mitchel Zollinger's wedding. On the drive home we reached the brink of insanity and Stac got her sweet revenge. Sofi turned 9 years old! To close out the summer the family went boat camping at Lake Kachess. Mark brought the tent cabin, but left the poles at home! Luckily he was able to rig the tent before it got too dark to see with rope from the boat. Sofi declared the roast corn and the tinfoil dinner the best she'd ever had.

Dayglo Green and FogHall of Prayer for Good HarvestsXiHaiThe GirlsAs Good as it Gets
September started out with a labor day hike up over Denny Creek to Alpental. And of course the return of the first day of school. Mark had to travel to Beijing again for a project launch. So Stac and Mark took the opportunity to travel to Beijing together for 12 days with no kids! (Our good friend Amy watched them back home). Mark and Stac lived in Taiwan twice during their first couple of years of marriage and it was fun returning to Asia together. While Mark worked the first half, Stac traveled all over the city with Beth (wife of a workmate). After the project launched Mark took a few days and Stac and he went sightseeing to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. The food was fantastic though they must have gained 10 lbs. Mark too over 200+ photos but you can see the shorter version in 25 best. Kiah made the Drill Team at school and we started going to football games with regularity. Mark kept hiking (imagine that) and saw a bear eating berries at Granite Mountain. Kiah went to homecoming dance (ahh memories). The family went once again up to Snoqualmie Pass to pick huckleberries. As September faded the Pacific Northwest enjoyed beautiful weather and Mark went for a gorgeous hike up to Maple Pass with his Flickr buddy Greg.

I am BatmanThe Mountain and UsThe Spark that FliesHappy HalloweenPeice of Flare
As October came the first snow in the mountains seemed to foretell an early winter, but that was the last snow we'd see until the end of December. Mark took a day off work and he and Stac and Miles spent a day in Paradise on Mt. Rainier. The family had a great time on our annual trip to the Pumpkin Patch with the Bratsmans and Sundelins (sans Tore who had to work). Miles and Dad hiked up to see the sunset and the Harvest Moon rise. We continued to enjoy a beautiful fall, we enjoyed more football and Miles and Dad went camping with the Scouts up at Commonwealth Basin. The family had their annual pumpkin carving and photo night. Mark enjoyed the most beautiful sunrise on Snoqualmie Mountain with JK (video). Halloween was great fun and the kids got great hauls of candy.

The City by the SoundMailbox PeakThrough the GrassThanksgiving 2008Big Sky Country
November the girls went down to Vancouver Wa to host a baby shower for Alison and Miles and Dad did whatever Miles wanted for the day. Miles wanted to go ride a ferry so we rode out to Bremerton. Miles turned 5 on the 6th! Kiah had her first drill performance at Lake Washington High School where they took 3rd. Mark went on a 20 mile hike with the scouts up and over all of the 3 mountains in Issaquah : Cougar, Squak and Tiger. Mark turned 41 (oh joy!) and celebrated by hiking to the top of Mailbox Peak (again). (Don't miss Mark and Kyle singing Happy Birthday to Mark). For Thanksgiving the family traveled to Idaho to Doug and Julies house, we had a great time visiting with them and Danny, Aunt Marcia and Uncle Wayne, Sara and her family and Josh.

Santa and IUp and Up and UpRoy and EmilieMerry ChristmasLast Line of Light
In December Kiah had three Drill performances, first at Issaquah High Schools State Championship in Tacoma, at the Shorewood High School and Liberty High School. The best part was when Mark got the times mixed up and they arrived 2 hours early to one. The Santa photos at the Church Christmas Party were fun, you always get at least one screamer. Finally in the middle of December the snow started in the mountains and Mark went snowshoeing with the Markiewicz's back up at Commonwealth Basin. The snow didn't stop falling and we had a record 14 inches of snow in the lowlands that stuck around for 9 days! (That's about 13 inches and 8 days longer than normal). School was canceled early for the holidays and Seattle and the area pretty much shut down for a week. We got a new kitty to replace Oreo who went missing. (Probably Cougar or Coyote :( ) Mark went snowshoeing again in waist deep powder. Stac's parents made the trip up from Utah. Christmas Eve morning Mark and the kids made potato donuts, that evening we had nice dinner with Stac's folks and Mariana and Dashiel. We had a white Christmas as the snow fell all day long. Mark spent 4 hours putting together Miles 693 piece Bionicle and everyone enjoyed naps and a peaceful day. Finally the rain returned and washed away the snow in the lowlands. News Years Eve we spent the morning making dumplings with the Currits and that evening we spent at the Browns with the Ellis's.


Back in the SaddleNew GlassesSerious Hiker in First LightRiding Along(Un)Dawn Patrol
(Here it goes in third person) Mark had a great year. He completed another 1000 miles under his own steam. Along the way he saw so many beautiful places and he took a couple of photos (he posted 3250 on Flickr, though he selected a few favorites). Mark continues to enjoy reading and seeing movies, though he seems to have less time for those activities with all the hiking and his serving in the church. The highlight was the High Alpine Traverse he did with friends. Mark got a new camera right before going to Beijing, the Nikon D90 and he's loved its video feature. He's enjoyed shooting and learning how to edit together movies. Work continues to go well at Amazon, where he still works on the Fulfillment By Amazon program. He got to travel to Beijing twice with work and loved being able to reconnect with China. (He graduated in modern Chinese history). Mark ended the year with not only 1000 miles completed but an amazing record 11 work days of eating Pho in a row. He looks forward to next years adventures with friends and most of all family. Mark is looking forward celebrating his 20th wedding anniversary with Stac in Mexico this June (don't you love frequent flier miles) and is threatening spring break somewhere outdoors (though the family wants Disneyland).


My One True LovePunch you in the Eye (2)Snow ElfUp to the WallThe Way is Steep
This is Stacey(I'm going to speak in the first person, none of this 3rd person stuff). I discovered blogging this year! Mark has been trying to get me to blog for a few years now. His wish came true. I've already written 41 entries in 2008. I've connected with many friends on Facebook that I haven't spoken to in over 20 years. I love Facebook for that reason. There have been many highlights for me this year. Mark has already written about a few of them so I will just list mine(maybe repeats) and why.
  1. Going to Southern Utah. I loved the weather and all the beauty that is in the dessert. Going on hikes with the kids was a lot of fun. They are so adventurous.

  2. I turned 40 and Mark put on a great party at the church. A lot of friends came, we had good food, two yummy cakes and dancing to 80's music.

  3. Going to Orcas Island for our 19th anniversary. Mark had giardia which wasn't great for him. It was a nice relaxing mini trip though and the Ferry ride was amazing. We had perfect weather, a cute little cabin to stay in and no plans whatsoever. We read and lounged. It was great.

  4. Going to Utah in the Summer to see family. We stayed overnight at Bear Lake, played in the water, had raspberry shakes and tots with fry sauce. Going to Mitchell's wedding was another highlight from the Utah trip. Watching Mitchell and Becca dance to the theme of "Twin Peaks" for their first dance together, was great. They are a very cute couple.

  5. Going to China with Mark might have to be the top highlight for me. Being back in Asia with him was so much fun. The two weeks away from the kids was hard at times but I knew they were fine. Seeing the Forbidden City and the Great Wall are two things I will never forget. I will never forget the way I felt while there. Unbelievable is all I can say."

  6. Watching the kids learn and grow is a highlight that's right up there with going to China. They amaze me and make me laugh. When I have time with each one individually, like if we go out to a movie or shopping, is such a treasured moment for me. I don't want to brag but I'm going to. I have a wonderful husband who supports me, 3 kids whom I love and who love me, we have a roof over our heads and Mark has a job. I can't complain about anything. Life is good. I'm excited for this new year and I pray that you and yours have a wonderful 2009, that you are safe and well. Happy New Year!


Eating SnowHmmm what's this?Happy Birthday To YouI'm Camping and I am 16Zonked
Ahh Sweet Sixteen and in her Junior year at Issaquah High school. This year Kiah tried out and made the high school drill team. This has kept her very busy, going to practice and memorizing her routines. She's often seen in the house paused in front of the fridge going through a drill move. She's enjoyed the aspects of competition and looks forward to going to State competition in 2009. This was a year of firsts for her : first job, first date and since her parents got tired of shuffling her between drill practice, work, school and early morning seminary she got her first car (spoiled!). Kiah does well in school and is such a beautiful mature young woman. She manages her time and life so well, we never have to bug her about doing her homework or getting up at 4:30 am to go to early morning seminary (though Dad does have to wake her up) and she's such a well balanced teen, especially given the way Stac and I rebelled. She's looking forward to turning 17 and summer time already.


Sofi and the Red WallSnake HeadFrom the DeepHuckleberry KillerFern Head
Sofi is 9 and boy has she got a strong little personality. Mark has a tradition of stealing the kids Halloween candy and taking it to work. He let Sofi pick her 20 favorite pieces and then put the rest in a bag in his pack. The next day when he got to work and went to take out the candy he pulled out a green towel. Sofi had done a switchero in the middle of the night. :) For her birthday party she had a Camp Rock themed party, where she had a pinata and a sleepover with 5 girls. She loves the Jonas brothers and has their poster on her wall. She is our artist in residence, she loves to create and has an amazing imagination. She'll draw for hours and can make an art project out of anything. Sofi is also quite the little cook, she is always ready and willing to help Dad in the kitchen and can make a mean risotto.


Finger Lickin GoodMiles Preschool PhotoLittle Red ManMy SonHappy to be 5
Miles has finally outgrown his love of Thomas the Train, though he can't yet bear to part with them. Now its full on Transformers, Ben 10 Alien Force, and Star Wars, Legos and Bionicles, Spiderman and Batman. His favorite though is Batman and he enjoys dressing up as Batman, though he also has also been known to make Iron Man costumes as well. Miles has a late birthday in November when he turned 5 though many kids cried at the games Mom and Dad picked, (pop the balloons : too loud! and musical chairs : everyone hates getting out). Miles started pre-school at St. Lukes Lutheran church. The teachers were determined that he would participate in art, though Miles just liked playing with the Legos and trucks. Funnily enough Miles came home now thoroughly convinced due to this education that food that falls on the floor is dirty and has germs. Miles still enjoys going on hikes and camping trips with his Dad. Dad still carries Miles on some parts of their hikes, though they've made an agreement that now that he's 5 he has to travel on his own two feet. We'll see how long that lasts.

We had a great 2008 and look forward to 2009! You can find us on the Internets... Mark on Facebook and Mark on Flickr. Stac on Facebook and her blog

Happy Holidays!