Film Review: Banff Mtn. Film Festival’s Radical Reels

WARNING: May cause extreme inspiration with bouts of rethinking your bucket list.

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If watching other people risk their lives free climbing vertical rock faces, skiing nearly vertical slopes and jumping off mountains with little more than a large, nylon handkerchief between them and eternity, all while being exquisitely beautifully filmed sounds like your cup of Red Bull, then you will absolutely love Banff Mountain Film Festival’s Radical Reels.

These eight short films chosen from the World Tour Film Festival, are geared specifically for the high-adrenaline sports junkie..and those who like to watch. They are high-speed, high-risk, big adventure athletes taking their sports to the outer known limits. Be prepared for two hours of your mouth alternately gaping open in disbelief and smiling like a goon.

You are drawn in immediately with a 7-minute mountain biking film called Not2Bad. Filmed in Spain, the ‘California of Europe’, this is a bite-sized gem of shredding flowy single-track at wicked speeds, and carving up gravel flying off back wheels in super slow-mo–with a few crazy aerial stunts. I was happy to see several women riders featured in this one. As a person who has watched more than her share of mountain biking videos, I can say that soundtracks are often incongruous and weird. Not so with this one..the music is exciting and makes you want to get out there and shred the gnar–although the riding these guys do versus the kind I do is like comparing Gordon Ramsay with chef Boyardee.

In La Liste, French skiiers make a list of 15 faces to ski steeper than 50 degrees.

In Give Me Five, The ‘Flying Frenchies’ attempt an aerial stunt in wing-suits they may not get another chance at.

In Locked In, four professional kayakers achieve a first descent of the nearly impassable Beriman Gorge in Papua, New Guinea.

In Sonnie Trotter Vs. The Totem Pole, a free climber scales a 213 foot vertical rock rising up from crashing waves below.

The Trail to Kazbegi takes four mountain bikers 10 days to cross the Caucasus Mountains.

Tight, Loose features extreme skiing in Alaska.

In The Fledglings, professional climbers Cedar Wright and Matt Segal hilariously try their hands at paragliding.

Whether you are an adrenaline junkie or not, I can’t imagine anyone with a pulse not enjoying these exciting, action-packed films. I strongly recommend! It will inspire you to get out there and take your own adventures to the next level.

There are two more showings in California: Encinitas Sept. 29&30 and San Diego Oct. 1&2. For an awesome 6 minute trailer and more show info please see the link above.

 

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Devil’s Slide Trail to Saddle Junction (Tahquitz Peak)

The name Tahquitz comes from a Native American legend of a mad man who became an evil spirit and was banished from his tribe to a cave near the peak. He would take murderous vengeance on those who had ostracized him when they wandered too close to his mountain.

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Perhaps the demon has moved on because we found nothing devilish about Devil’s Slide Trail. In fact, it is one of the most heavenly trails I have walked. It’s so gorgeous, you almost can’t believe it’s real. It’s like Disney’s Imagineers came out there and did nature.

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Located off the descriptively named Palms to Pines Scenic Highway (AKA Highway 243) through the community of Idyllwild, we spent this first stunning weekend of Fall exploring this new trail. The weather was crisp, cool and perfect. The trail is a steady uphill climb but not too steep. It is well maintained–nicely groomed dirt interspersed with a series of stone stairways, both natural and man-made. It’s about 90% shaded and actually got chilly at times. We only wandered off trail one time, up a steep gravelly hill on which I slipped and fell on my left hip . We quickly realized we were off trail and backtracked to the turn we had missed.  Tons of butterflies kept us company, but they are hard to photograph. D.  got a lucky shot of one on a rock.

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We stopped at Saddle Junction for lunch and came back down. On the way home, we stopped for a scoop of ice cream in the very cute little village of Idyllwild. I had never been there before. Not sure why I thought Idyllwild was a desert community–the downtown part kind of reminded me of an older Mammoth. I would like to take a whole day and go explore this town. Can’t wait till D. retires–this whole working thing is getting in the way of all the fun stuff there is to do!

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Momyer Creek Trail to Alger Creek Trail

If you are ever looking for a good gluteal work-out, try the Momyer Creek Trail to Alger Creek Trail Camp, about 7 miles round trip. Your gluteus will be totally maximus after this hike. D. seriously broke 3 fingers smacking me on my buns of steel. I warned him.

Momyer Creek is about a mile and a half west of Vivian Creek but it is built on the same pattern- with a few differences. You still have to start out crossing the boulder-strewn Mill Creek to a trail that starts on the north shore. Mill Creek surprisingly had quite a lot of water in it down this far. You know, those deceptively cool-looking pools that invite you to put your feet in but immediately freeze your legs solid and you have to be hoisted out by your armpits. Yeah, those ones. And, just like Vivian, after the creek is where your climb starts. Only, unlike Vivian whose ridiculous climb quits after a mile, this one just keeps going. It is roughly equivalent to 4 million squats.

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I couldn’t believe it was only 2 and a half miles to the Alger Creek junction sign. I thought for sure my GPS was malfunctioning (I call her Lola). I kept thinking it’s GOT to be 2 miles by now! I checked my tracker…1.44. What?! Shut up! This stupid thing is broken. It may have been a combination of factors (1) the trail is super steep for sure, (2) the day turned out to be warmer than I expected, (3) I was way over-dressed for the aforementioned warm day and (4) I’m a wimp. Finally, though I did hear Lola’s robotic voice “Distance: 2 miles, total time: 4 weeks 3 days, split speed: turtle miles per hour.” Or something like that.

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After the junction, the trail turns right (I’m going to say east but don’t quote me on that–I get lost at the mall) and becomes hiking heaven. Nice smooth, undulating trails under plenty of shade. We got as far as the eponymously named campsite near Alger Creek and had lunch. Astoundingly, it had taken us nearly 3 hours to hike 3.5 miles and burned 2,200 calories.  We inhaled those yummy chicken salad sandwiches D. packed for us.

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This is a great little hike: challenging, beautiful and near the house. We’ll definitely be doing it again–maybe even with an overnight at the campsite. Notes to self for next time: wear shorts and a t-shirt, get an earlier start, drink more coffee, get warning label for buns–I wouldn’t want anyone else to get hurt.

How Do You Like Your State Seasoned?

My brother who lives near Portland, Oregon likes to say that his region has two types of weather… ‘raining’ and ‘about to rain.’ He’s joking of course (kind of), but it got me to thinking about the myth you sometimes hear about Southern California not having seasons. It will often go like this, “we’re moving to _______ because we want to live somewhere that has seasons.” (Read: “we really like being wet and/or cold 75% of the year and poaching in the humidity the other 25!”) Of course SoCal has seasons. We know this because four times a year the calendar tells us a new season has started. Oh. It’s Spring. Cool. I will admit the changes are subtle you have to be paying attention. It’s true we don’t usually get the wild temperature drops, snow in the lower elevations or a profusion of trees turning orange (although some do). But there are other, unique markers just as beautiful in their own way. So here is a brief tutorial on SoCal seasons:

Pumpkin Spice Season.

The season formerly known as Fall. This is when the Pumpkin Spice fairy flies over the whole land sprinkling her magic PS dust on all the good boys and girls.  Sbux started it a few years ago with their divine PSL’s but the levee broke and spilled pumpkin spice on everything edible and non-edible. Somebody noticed the success of coffee houses, realized you could mix this flavor into really anything that would stand still long enough, and got liberally jiggy with it. Grocery stores push to the front everything in this flavor..ice-cream, popcorn, muffins, baby food, cookies, almonds, tea, coffee creamer and chewing gum. Pretty sure I saw some toothpaste once, but I may have blacked it out.  Even hand lotion, scented candles and room spray are not safe. Every year they get more creative. Somebody is going to get a strongly-worded email though when I see pumpkin spice scented tampons!

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Sweater Weather Season

Elsewhere called Winter. This is when SoCalians start shaking dust out of cardigans and digging boots out from the back of the closet that have been buried under a pile of flip-flops for ten months. We start saying things like, “Gawd, its FREEZING in here! Can’t we turn up the heat?!” And rushing into buildings hugging ourselves and shivering going, “Man, I am so glad my Beemer has those seat warmers! Brrr!”  It will be about 60 degrees outside when this happens.

Time Change Season

You may know this one as Spring. Daylight Savings time and its attendant ‘symptoms’ become a main topic of conversation for many, many weeks.  People will be heard complaining how tired they are because the loss of one hour of sleep three weeks previously ‘really messed them up.’ The time change will be blamed for everything:

Person 1: “I’ve been so tired for the last month.”

Person 2: “Me too. It’s the time change.”

P1:  “My cat has been throwing up a lot of hairballs lately.”

P2: “Mmhm. I’ve heard the time change can do that.”

P1: “Did you hear about the car chase on the freeway last night?”

P2: “Yeah, this time change really freaks people out!”

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Fire Season

AKA Summer. Yep, we actually use this term fire season. Some places have a monsoon season, we have a fire season. Like clockwork, the heat brings out the crazies and the pyros to help along the already naturally occurring wildfires. Last year was particularly bad and a man was arrested in connection with 17 of the fires. If you like looking at the hazy blood orange sun through a thick soup of smoke while also baking under triple digit heat, then this is the place for you. Ashes on your car complete the ambiance.

So yeah, its true we’ll never shovel snow or be in possession of thermal underwear.  We have to go ice-skating at an indoor rink and drive an hour to see trees changing. But if you are visiting from another state and hear somebody say “Dude, you should totally try this pumpkin spice balsamic vinegar!”– don’t be alarmed.  You’ll know its just that one season….

PCT from Cajon Pass to Swarthout Canyon Rd.

One of the tings I love about the PTC is that she is always showing you different sides of her personality. It is never the same trail twice. Every section has its own unique beauty. From the juniper and pinon pines of the Big Bear area, to the low-growing creosote and sagebrush of the high desert. It is one of these desert sections we explored this weekend–the 5 and some change miles from Cajon Pass. And yes, it was hot. I read somewhere that the resting temperature of testicles is 35 Celsius, so I guess you could say it was literally hot as balls out there.

This is the section that is closest to our house, but we have never explored it. We got kind of a late start. We arrived at the famous McDonald’s (its even on the official PCT trail marker!) off the 15 freeway just before 11 to supply ourselves with spicy chicken sandwiches and McNuggets for the hike. This is the first McD’s I have seen with the new touch screen ordering menu. A 16 year old kid was showing people how to use his replacement. Not sure why that made me feel angry and heart broken at the same time.

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The trailhead is at the bottom of a dead end road called Wagon Train Rd. and turns immediately to go under the freeway. Approaching the entrance to this cave-like underpass gave me a little pause. It looks like the kind of place I would expect to smell like urine and be lined with wall to wall shopping carts. Fortunately, it was neither. I took a picture of it, but it is so unprepossessing that is difficult to tell what I was taking a picture of–a freeway overpass? some electrical towers? a white SUV? You probably wouldn’t immediately notice the black rectangle to the center/right of the shot. The tunnel is about 100 yards long, cool and dark, floored with sediment deposited by the water that has clearly flowed through it. It is the perfect place for an ambush. So my antennae perked up when another person came walking through from the opposite side. The guy completely ignored me, no worries. My tactic in situations like that is to avoid questionable people, not draw attention to myself, and get past the potential danger as soon as possible. D’s tactic is to engage them in coversation.  D: “they’re still human beings.”  Me: “yes, Charles Manson is a human being too–you don’t say ‘hi, how you doing today’ to him though.”

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Emerging from the other side, the trail gets a little mushy–literally and figuratively.  The sand is deep enough to be reminiscent of walking on the beach. Although the trail is gratuitously well sign-posted, you still need to keep your eyes open. It crosses and merges with other trails and fireroads in several places. The changes are not always instinctive, and if you’re not paying attention, you may find yourself wandering down a fireroad because you didn’t see the sign on the other side indicating that the trail crossed and started on the other side of the road. Not that this happened to me of course!!

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My first thought was that this was the least picturesque part of the PCT we had seen yet–then I realized I actually was taking a ton of pictures. After that first sandy bit, the trail turns into a nice red, hard-packed singletrack. I love trails like this because you can focus on the scenery and just walk without scrambling over rocks and stubbing your toes. After about the first mile, the amazing wind-sculpted Mormon Rocks come into view and stay with you the whole way from different angles. My little phone camera doesn’t really do them justice. My question is–how do they know these rocks are Mormon and who knew rocks could even have a religion?! Weird.

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One of the unique things about this section is that you never leave sight of ‘civilization.’ You can turn around at any point and see the 15 freeway. 4 miles in, we could still see the green roof of the McD’s. Overhead were crackling electrical towers and wires. The Santa Fe Railway snakes through the pass and we saw several slow-moving trains that seemed to stretch for a mile. At one point you actually have to cross over the railroad tracks. Although there was no train in sight, I scrambled to get over quickly going ohmygodohmygodohmygod. Clearly, whoever cut this trail never saw Stand By Me.

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But don’t let that discourage you. Nature steals the show here too. Across the freeway, you can see the PCT snaking through the hills on the other side toward Silverwood. To the west is the peak of Mt. Baldy. At one point you are walking along the ridge of the San Andreas fault and looking into the dizzying Lone Pine Canyon.

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After coming off the trail, we ran into a guy named “Navigator” who has a you tube channel about hiking the PCT (Hiking with Navigator). He did a little interview with D. and I wanted to link it here, but as of this writing it hasn’t appeared yet. Will get that up as soon as possible.

Like humanity, the PCT’s beauty lies in its diversity. Can’t wait to see more!

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Through a Mountain Biker’s Eyes: 5 Things I Learned About Road Biking

“It’s just like riding a bike!” That old saw assumes two things, (1) that riding a bike is so easy, you couldn’t possibly forget how and (2) that all bikes are the same. The first, I have no basic problem with. Unless you’ve been conked on the head and lost all your motor skills, it is virtually impossible to forget how to ride a bike. Not so much on the second. Clearly, different bikes are made for different purposes.

Back in the mists of cycling evolution, they did have a common ancestor: the velocipede (weird how that actually does sound like some ancient critter huh?). Somewhere the family tree branched. Some became light, stiff and sleek, built for speed. Others became more muscular, bouncier, made for rough terrain.

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Coming from a 5 year mountain biking background, the differences in road cycling were a little surprising and took some getting used to when I began about 6 months ago. How different could it be? The wheels on the bike go ’round and ’round…right? Well, yes, in some ways it is similar. In others, I had an education coming. The first thing that surprised me was…

1. All the verbalizing.

Road bikers are constantly communicating. On my first ride, I was surprised to hear the continual shouting out of warnings and directions:

“Car right/left!”

“Stopping!”

“Slowing!”

“Clear!”

“Rolling!”

“Riders back!”

“Mechanical!”

In addition, there are non-verbal gestures that keep the group flowing.

A closed fist behind the back (stopping).

An open hand behind the back (slowing).

A point to the right or left (a turn in that direction coming up).

A point to the road or a low, flat hand (debris in the road).

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Mountain bikers rarely do this. Occasionally, the leader of a group will call out some especially dangerous feature that could cause real problems if not seen in time and hit at speed like “low branch.” “Riders up” means someone is coming the opposite way on the trail and to make way for him/her. I have heard people indicate ‘mechanical’ if they threw a chain or needed to fix a flat. But these things are very once-in-a-while, not constantly.

Maybe that’s because hazards are a normal and accepted part of mountain biking. We don’t expect to be warned about every rock, root, mud puddle, water crossing and sand pit. We just decide whether we’re going over it, around it, or through it when we get there! In any case, we’re usually far enough apart that we wouldn’t hear each other yelling clearly anyway. Which brings me to number two…

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2. How close together they ride.

Bunching together too tightly on the trail is a big no-no. MTBers give each other plenty of space for obvious reasons. Presumably, these dangers could happen just as easily on a road bike. If one person falls, there is going to be a giant tangle of bikes and bodies flying everywhere. Still, roadies ride right in each other’s back pockets. This took a little getting used to, but it feels more comfortable now.

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3. No suspension hurts

On a mountain bike you roll over everything like a tank without a second thought, and your suspension absorbs most of the shock. My first few times on a road bike, I found every bump, hole, and piece of debris in the street–and it was my arms and spine that took the pounding. I wasn’t being careful about that stuff because I’d never had to before. I adapted quickly. After my first teeth-chattering crossing of a railroad track, I learned to remember to think like a roadie.

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4. Roadies are nicer than I expected.

This is a clear instance of not judging a book by its’ cover. When I would see cyclists out riding around town in their impressive pacelines and matching kits, like a flock of rainbow colored geese, I assumed this was some exclusive cadre of elite athletes who would never accept a dork like me. I figured they could never be like mountain bikers who are seriously, in my experience, the coolest, awesomest, most encouraging, laid back people on the planet. Once I got my courage up to join a group road ride, I have found that everyone I’ve met has been unfailingly friendly, helpful and fun (I’m looking at you Claremont Cycling and BOBies!!).

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5. Roadies aren’t obsessed with their bikes.

Again, this is my own personal experience. I was really surprised by this one because I thought it would be the opposite. MTBers will talk chainstays, headtube slackness, fork travel, Fox 32/34/36 vs. Pike, internally geared drivetrains, tubesets and droppers till their heads explode. I haven’t come across the roadie equivalent of this. I’m sure they must exist, I just haven’t met any.

Yes, there are differences in these two sports but they have one important thing in common.  These 2-wheeled contraptions have brought so many amazing friends and mentors into my life–people who make me want to be a better person–and have taken me to so many beautiful places that I probably would not otherwise have gone. I am grateful and blessed to be able to do both.

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Woman on Top: Summiting Mt. San Gorgonio

Alltrails.com ranks the Vivian Creek Trail to Mt. San Gorgonio as ‘hard.’  Another prominent trail guide grades it as ‘very strenuous.’  They ain’t joking. Trail is as advertised.

Saturday 0500. Up before the sun for a breakfast of waffles and coffee. Carbed and caffed, we arrived at the trail head around 0630 ready for some hiking nirvana. Hiking is the closest thing I get to meditation and I was looking forward to usual levels of solitude and listening to my own thoughts. So I was very disappointed to find several large groups, couples and singles already there and gearing up. Then I realized. Oh, right. Labor Day weekend. Of course. I hoped most of them were day hikers. I didn’t want too much competition for camping spaces.

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Vivian doesn’t cut you any breaks. She comes out swinging with an ankle-twisting traverse across the dry Mill Creek riverbed. This leads immediately to the to first mile of steep, rocky switchbacks. Still fortified with vitamin coffee, I hit it at a (for me) pretty good pace. It is mostly shaded but I was already warm, even though the sun would still be hidden behind the mountain for several hours. Near the top of that first grind, I was starting to get irritated about all the 20-somethings zooming past me. My inner grumpy old lady emerged, Why is everybody so young? Aren’t there any old people that hike? I’m not really old, only 46. But recently I have started to feel like I’m getting there. I thought I had some pretty good hiking chops but apparently they’ve slowed down considerably. At least I had a good opportunity to examine backpacks and suss out the day hikers from the campers. With all these people racing past me, I was afraid we might not get a campsite.

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After that first difficult uphill pull, the trail mellows out quite a bit. The next 2 and some change miles to Halfway Camp (halfway to what? It’s only one-third of the way to the summit) are the most pleasant of the whole package. Ferns and wildflowers cluster near the trail under the shade of Ponderosa pines and incense-cedars. The gurgle of the small stream keeps you company. There are several sections where you can just walk unhindered by rocks and boulders. On this trail, that is a gift.

 

Beyond Halfway, the trail turns into a relentless boulder-slog for the next 3 miles. Not gonna lie. There is a least one section where you completely lose the trail and are literally scrambling over slabs of rock. That being said, the views across the canyon to jagged Yucaipa Ridge are magnificent. By the time we reached High Creek Camp at about 9,000 feet, my pep talk mantra was running. Just get it done. Almost there. You can do this. How you gonna blog about climbing Gorgonio if you don’t climb Gorgonio? We arrived at our home for the evening about 1040 and somehow managed to snag the sweetest camping spot–the one just steps from the stream with it’s own little hidden path to the water. We were starved and needed some energy for the final push to the summit. I threw together a hobo-style tuna casserole made from instant mac ‘n cheese with some tuna stirred in. It was actually pretty good and gave me an idea for something to make at home. Stay tuned for my future book: 101 Hobo-Inspired Recipes To Make at Home!

 

I have heard these last 3 miles to the summit described as a ‘death march’ and ‘steep as hell.’  I would describe it more like….well…remember that scene from Return of the King where Sam and Frodo are on the slopes of Mt. Doom exhausted, desperate, at the end of their pitiful ropes? Yeah, kinda like that. The altitude really started getting me around mile 7.5. My trudge quickly turned to a plod, to a shuffle, to a near-stagger at the top. I began to get the nausea and headache that would stay with me until the next day. I seriously started to think about turning back. I assumed the fetal position and told D., “Go on without me! I’ll only slow you down! You can’t save me but you can save yourself! Tell the kids I love them! Don’t forget to water my plants!” D. assured me no man would be left behind and encouraged me up. At least Sam and Frodo had those damn eagles. The last mile is a barren, gravelly, exposed schlepp to a barren, gravelly, exposed summit. About this time another hiker called back to us from higher up on the trail, “Only two-tenths of a mile to go!” Hallelujah.

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This is supposed to be the part where it was all worth it. I was expecting to be met by the heavens opening and angels singing on the top of Gorgonio. I was expecting the view to be a wonder and a revelation. An eye-opening epiphany of my place in the universe and all that. Instead it was actually kind of disappointing. You can see Grinnell mountain to the north, Galena peak to the south, far off to the east is San Jacinto, (none impressively close or high, and far enough away to be hazy) and stretching to the west is the Inland Valley..my house is down there somewhere. To be honest, the views on the way up are much better. But hey..we did it! We hung out for a few minutes, took a few pictures, wrote our names in the trail book (I added ‘Gooood morning, Mordor!) and headed down.

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Back at camp, all I wanted to do was take my boots off and soak my feet in that cool stream. One toe went in and I realized immediately the water was like hypothermia cold so I danced around for two seconds and jumped out. Dinner was beans and rice with the rest of the tuna and a chocolate/peanut butter Pop Tart with decaf for dessert. We had burned nearly 4,000 calories that day. After dark, the wind really starting whipping. Tired as I was, I figured I would sleep like the dead anyway. I was wrong. Only the weight of our bodies kept the tent from being picked up and deposited in Munchkinland with a dead witch sticking out from under it. I kept listening for trees snapping overhead. The constant noise and movement kept me dozing off and on all night. Apparently it was pretty legendary because people we met on the trail on the way down in the morning who had stayed at lower campsites kept saying things like “wow, heard you guys had some serious wind up there last night,” and “we camped at Vivian but a girl I know who stayed at Halfway said she could hear the wind howling from there.” Great.

So this is the epic tale of our journey up Mt. San Gorgonio. It was difficult but satisfying. We learned a few things about lightening our loads, what worked, and what we might do differently next time. I’m not sure I would do the summit again but I wouldn’t discourage anyone else from trying it. I’ll probably just stay at camp and work on my cookbook.