Flirting with Joshua Tree National Park

Growing up on the rivers and lakes of the Midwest, I naturally fell in love with water. But recently, I’ve been flirting with deserts.

I think it’s something about extremes. I have always enjoyed the solitude of nature just as much as crowds at a concert. Compared to my normal weekends in the middle of the country, an extreme for me is a place like Joshua Tree National Park in California.

It was there, on a trip this March with my wife to Joshua Tree, I fell in love with the desert.

Joshua Tree and JoLee

Before I visited the deserts of the Southwest, I thought of it as a barren, expansive waste land. It sounded interesting, but not the kind of place I would bring my wife on vacation. This couldn’t be further from the truth — everything about the park is magical.

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Nice to meet you, altitude

When I first decided to climb a mountain in Peru in July of 2014, I found myself distracted from the climb itself by the long solo journey I would have to take just to get to the mountain. After a couple of layovers and 11 hours in the air, I made it to Lima by about midnight. My ride to the bus station wasn’t due to arrive until 8 a.m., so I found a quiet place and spent the night there in the terminal. After a sorry excuse for a night’s sleep, I took a wild, one-hour cab ride, followed by a 10-hour bus ride north up the coast then west up into the Cordillera Blanca, a range in the Andes. Nestled in the shadows of Peru’s highest peaks is the beautiful town of Huaraz. I spent a few days acclimating there and a couple of days at base camp before my group made its way toward the summit of Chopicalqui. At 20,846 feet, the summit of Chopicalqui is over 6,000 feet higher than anything I have ever climbed. Below is the journey in words and pictures.

Peru slideshow

At Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, where the journey began.

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Bailing Without Failing

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Mount Shasta is the second highest mountain in the Cascade Range. The Karuk tribe, the indigenous people of Northern California call it Úytaahkoo or “White Mountain.” In April 2014, my plan was to climb White Mountain, not by means of the standard route (Avalanche Gulch) but by a long, sharp spine called the Casaval Ridge. With over 7,000 feet of elevation gain, and a mix of snow and rock, the snow pack must be perfect for this route to be climbed. When I arrived to my hotel night before the climb, the conditions were perfect.

Early the next morning, I picked up a local guide and we made the 30-minute drive from the town of  Mt. Shasta, California, to the trailhead. The guide told me he had climbed the mountain more times than he could count and knew it like the back of his hand. But even with so much experience on Shasta, he had never before summited the mountain via the Casaval Ridge. He had made 10 attempts on this route in the past, but always had to turn around because of the conditions on the ridge not being right — either bad weather or an insufficient climbing partner.

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Paddling Past St. Louis

Ever since I have been a serious paddler, I have wanted to see St. Louis and especially the Gateway Arch from a canoe. On a freezing November morning, I finally got my chance. From what I have heard the waters around St. Louis are some of the most dangerous along the Mississippi River, although I have floated hundreds of miles of the Missouri River, this was an entirely different experience. Luckily I was with the Quapaw Canoe Company, some of the finest big river guides I have encountered. They were putting the finishing touches on the Rivergator, a paddlers guide to the Middle and Lower Mississippi River, and I had the privilege to tag along.

Click here to read their log of the trip.

5 things I learned paddling the Middle Mississippi

1. There is always a new way to look at your hometown. No matter how well you know a place, you can always rediscover it.

Day 1 03 Paddling the Arch

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Missouri’s finest backcountry

Our Top Ten Backcountry Locations in Missouri

10. Hawn State Park

Hawn

The first trail we ever backpacked is a 9.75-mile figure-eight called Whispering Pine Trail — the gem of Hawn State Park.  A rugged trail littered with small boulders and bedrock follows Pickle Creek, creating shut-ins and cascades. The trail also features scenic overlooks, pine forest and small glades. Hawn State Park is only about an hour from St. Louis, making it one of our favorites for a quick over-nighter.

9. Sam A. Baker State Park

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Imagine waking up in a three-walled, open air shelter with two burning fireplaces, snow falling outside as you make coffee, looking down at Big Creek. When you have cabin fever but don’t have the gear and or energy to battle cold weather, check out Sam A. Baker State Park. Scattered roughly one to two miles from the trailhead, this state park offers three, free backcountry shelters, all on the Mudlick Mountain Trail. Take some time to hike away from your shelter to the top of Mudlick Mountain, where there is a fire tower with great views of some Ozark hills.

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Historical Lens on Ghana

Although I have never been overseas, I have no fear of traveling to new or exotic places, so when I saw an announcement encouraging Washington University employees to apply for a program that would send us to Africa, I didn’t hesitate.  A few months later I got the news that I would be part of my first real global experience, and it was amazing.

Ghana is a place that I knew very little about, making it the perfect place to expand my knowledge of global diversity. When traveling someplace new, history has always been something I use to help understand the people and culture. The evidence of Ghana’s unique and fascinating history can be seen everywhere, from the castles that were used during the slave trade, to the vibrant colors that define African culture. Continue reading “Historical Lens on Ghana”

Bittersweet Summit


DSC_0138 Hello, my name is Mark, and I’ll be posting some things about my travels and my obsession with quality recreational gear. Today, I’ll be sharing a recent story about my summit of Mount Rainier- one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, located 54 miles southeast of Seattle, Washington.

June 28, 2013 was an abnormally warm day at the White River campground and trailhead at the base of the mountain. We were sweating as we packed down coats, ice axes and crampons into our packs. Now wearing only T-shirts and our lightest hiking pants, we trekked up the mountain towards the Emmoms Glacier. Our team was comprised of seven mountaineers including myself and two local experts who would be guiding us along the way. Continue reading “Bittersweet Summit”