On the Flanks of Mt. Rainier

Tammy and I have had a busy schedule these past couple of months! Turns out, our kids have been busy too! They’ve managed to deliver us four Grand babies in six weeks! Most of our kids live in Texas and we get to see the Grandies often but we have one rebel child and his wife living in California so Tammy and I just had to head West to see our newest grandson, Sloan. What a charmer he is. We had alot of fun with his older brother Evan too. We spent several days enjoying our kids and grandkids and detoured back to Texas via Seattle.

We arrived in Seattle the day before Independence Day; my luggage however, arrived on Independence evening! Thankfully, Tammy’s luggage made it to Seattle; mine took a trip to Aspen – Airport code (ASE) versus Seattle’s (SEA). After a quick trip to the mall, we spent the 4th in downtown Seattle at all the typical must-sees – Pike’s Place Fish Market and REI!

REI was not in the plan but an error on my part (leaving our trekking poles at home) meant we took advantage of REI’s rental department and for around $20 rented two pair of poles. Our knees would say probably the best $20 spent!

The next day we decided to head to Crystal Lakes, on the NE flank of Mount Rainer. It’s a 6 mile round trip with 2600 feet of elevation gain! It was definitely a hill for these climbers. I think we have been eating too much cake lately. The trail is well used and easy to follow and after three miles uphill you can set a spell and take it the mountain beauty. We rested awhile at Lower Crystal Lake where there are only two campsites and a bent over bear pole.

On the way up the trail, you get some spectacular views of Mt. Rainier. For those of you who, like me, are geologically inclined, the USGS calls Mt. Rainier  one of our Nation’s most dangerous volcanoes. It’s an active volcano at rest, having last erupted in 1895. Capped by snow and having 25 glaciers that would melt during an eruption, it would produce torrents of meltwater that would pick up boulders and mud in a soupy slurry called “lahars” that can flow at over 20 mph and have known to be almost 500 feet deep! How cool is that! Geologically speaking that is. Beautiful and dangerous – God is quite the craftsman.

Mt. Rainer
Gorgeous view of Mt. Rainer


We continued on to Crystal Lake marching ever upwards on switchbacks carved through the cool shade of the tall pines. What a respite from the heat and humidity of Houston. We soaked in the beautiful weather, the smells of summer cedar and pine and the quietness of the dark forest.

It ended up being a respectful hike for a couple of let’s say, “experienced” hikers. We chilled at the lake and devoured a Picky bar, taking in the scenery and as we kissed on the shores of Crystal Lake, I felt young and alive and thankful.

Crystal Lake
Lower Crystal Lake Mt. Rainier National Park, WA

What a day! Our knees thanked us when we got back down to the little log bridge at the start of the trail. We have been blessed to be able to spend time in the outdoors, challenging ourselves and hopefully staying young enough to keep up with all these grandies!

As Chief Seattle said, “This we know. The Earth does not belong to us; we belong to the Earth. All things are connected, like the blood that unites one family. Whatever befalls the Earth, befalls the children of the Earth. We do not weave the web of life; we are only a strand of it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”  That’s something  we think about when we hold these precious little creatures in our arms!

Tammy at the trailhead
Tammy at the Trailhead

The Osprey Goes for a Swim!

Ah, springtime in Texas! Tiny little shoots of green push themselves through the warming brown dirt. Soon the blue bonnets will dance across the Texas Hill country, luring thousands to dress the children in their favorite Easter attire and sit them among the swaths of blue for this year’s photo. It really is a great time to be outdoors in Texas.

Tammy and I headed to Austin to celebrate her birthday and get some outside time hiking. After a Friday night spent Ubering (is that a word?) from one honky-tonk to another in search of some good dancing music, we were ready to shed some calories enjoying a Saturday outside. We planned to hike along Barton Creek to Twin Falls and then on to Sculpture Falls, an easy 6 mile round trip from the Barton Creek 360 Trail access.

Twin Falls
Twin Falls along Barton Creek Austin, Texas

This was also a great opportunity to test out my new Osprey Stratos 36 pack. I’ve had a few packs in my life and I still have them. After today, I’m afraid most of them are destined to reside in my gear closest all year! The Osprey is a beast! Awesome suspension system with an Airspeed mesh back panel that gives you circulation space between your back and the pack – a key feature for those hot Texas days! A seamless hipbelt which wraps you in comfort and is sturdy enough to take on a 30 lb. overnight load. All sorts of cool features like an integrated raincover, internal hydration reservoir sleeve, zippered pockets on the hipbelts which are actually big enough to hold a cell phone and it just looks cool in black with lime green accents!

Osprey Stratos 36
Day hiking Beast!

Turns out the Osprey’s not afraid of a little water either. On the way back down the trail, I thought I’d jump across the rocks and make my way to the other side of the creek. Sure the limestone was well worn and a thin coating of algae. No match for my cat-like reflexes, right? Well, I did make it across and then I proceeded to proudly announce, “Easy, come on babe.”  Stepping back in Tammy’s direction on a rock with a slight angle and down I went! Of course, this is not one of those hiking trails where it’s all peace and solitude. No, there were plenty of people and dogs just sitting around taking in the scenery and listening to the water rush over the gray limestone. Plenty of heads to turn my way just as I fell on my back and the Osprey dove underwater. Springing up quickly so that perhaps only a dozen people saw me, I gathered myself, pulled my cellphone out of my pocket and fished out my sunglasses before attempting to cross back over to my waiting bride. Lickity-split, there I was back in the water for a second time! Crawling back to safety, I assessed the damage and determined only my ego had been bruised. We headed back to the car, the squishing sound of water in my Oboz boots reminding me with every step that shit happens! You pick yourself up and hike on!

Map of Barton Creek Trail
Barton Creek Trail from 360 entrance to Sculpture Falls

If you go: Austin has lots of places to lose yourself in the woods inside a city. The Barton Creek Greenbelt is a great place to start. You won’t be lonely though, Austin people, their dogs and their mountain bikes spend a lot of time on these trails. You won’t see too many people in the water in March though! Hike on!

Gear Reviews Go Better with Wine

I drink a fair amount of wine. I am drinking wine now. It’s a nice, inexpensive  California Cab, Lesse-Fitch. I buy it for around $8 at World Market when they have 30% off a half case sale. I’m not a wine aficionado; rather I am a wine drinking aficionado. I’d score myself around a 4.5; a pretty good wine drinker.

I’ve noticed that wine goes good with gear reviews or almost anything else you are doing, except working out. So tonight we are going to review some European gear. It seems fitting as I have just returned from a business trip to London. Over the years I’ve had to buy quite a few wine glasses. While I am a good wine drinker, I kinda suck at holding a wine glass without breaking it. I decided to seek out a wine glass that could hold a significant amount of red wine, felt great in my hand and, if it ever should leave my hand, had the best chance of survival!

Behold  the German-made Schott Zweisel Tristan Crystal Stemware collection! Leese Fitch sold separately! James Laube from Wine Spectator calls this the perfect wine glass. Elegant weight, attractively thin glass with a sturdy stem, this glassware has withstood Daly use without any casualties in six months!

Good Glass and Wine
Schott Zweisel and Leese-Fitch – A Great Pairing

So, the next time you are in the market for some new wine gear, consider this completely lead-free  crystal glass, manufactured using the most environmentally sensitive technology available. Schott Zwiesel crystal glass is the leading choice among wine connoisseurs the world over.

Schott Zwiesel crystal glass has added titanium for strength and added zirconium for crystal clarity, making it dishwasher safe for years of enjoyment.

For gear reviews or any occasion, Schott Zwiesel crystal glass is sure to impress.


Product Review : Live Out There Chamonix Down Jacket

I haven’t owned a down puffy since before the term “puffy” came into vogue but since I was planning a short hiking vacation to Santa Fe, NM in December, I thought I’d do a bit of gear research and buy some new down.  I scoured all my traditional haunts like Patagonia, Marmot and Mountain Hardware, which based on the lack of space in my closet, have all been good to me over the years. Then I happened upon a short story on Gearjunkie about a company named Live Out There and decided to give their line a look.

Live Out There’s Mission is “Get The World Outside.” CEO Jamie Clark, has been a successful “brick and mortar” retailer from Calgary, Alberta Canada for years and he has come to believe that the main obstacle keeping people from going outside is the high cost of the gear. He wants to make great gear at fair prices so people can pursue their outdoor passion wearing quality gear while having a few bucks left over to actually use getting outside! In order to do that, he’s leading a retail revolution, cutting out the middle man and selling directly to his customers online.

He is also giving customers data to make an informed purchase, which I find quite refreshing. “Transparency is Power” and I applaud Jamie’s approach. So a few days before flying off to Santa Fe, NM, I received my Chamonix Down Jacket.

PhilTammy Santa Fe Plaza Dec 2017
Wintry shopping day on the Plaza in Santa Fe, NM

My wife is a Patagonia fan and she certainly rocks her Patagonia down sweater but I’m sporting a puffy that I think competes head to head and is cheaper by about the price of a really nice meal at il piatto , an Italian farmhouse kitchen off the square in downtown Santa Fe! In addition to the pricing, I also like the product comparison tables on the Live Out There website. Check it out; it’s an education in supply chain economics.

Filled with 800 Fill power, 100% Traceable Goose Down insulation with a water-resistant shell that conveniently stuffs into its own inner stash pocket, I have been impressed with the jacket.  I appreciate the attention to details like hem shock cord adjusters which cinch up the bottom of the jacket on those windy days and a zipper garage that keeps the cold metal zipper off your skin when you zip up the collar.

I’d encourage you to check out when you’re considering making your next gear purchase. Get some great gear and save a few bucks. See you Outside!

P.S. While in Santa Fe, Tammy and I stopped by and visited with the nice folks at Outside magazine. Thanks Will!






We take on the Kalalau Trail!

Tammy and I on the magnificent Na Pali Coast

Named by Outside Magazine as one of the 20 most dangerous trails in the world, the Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali coast on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, seemed like one for the bucket list. My son and daughter-in-law had backpacked the entire 22 miles shortly after their honeymoon and told us it was a tough trail. Surely, Tammy and I could tackle the first two miles to Hanakapiai beach!

Kauai, Hawaii is one of the most beautiful and wettest places in the world. Receiving 450 inches of rain a year, this tropical paradise is home to exotic flora and fauna and lots of red mud! No hill for a couple of climbers though! We laced up our Oboz hiking boots and threw our Paria Outdoor Products trekking poles in the backpack and headed out. Much to our dismay, when we arrived at Haena State Park, the trail was closed due to wildfires burning on the ridge above the trail. Who would have thought anything could catch on fire in this rainforest. Although it hadn’t reached the trail, park officials closed the Kalalau as a precautionary measure. Disappointed, we hoped that it would reopen over the next week. A couple of days later the trail did reopen and we threw the gear into the Jeep and headed for the Na Pali coast.

Because the trail had been closed for several days, it seemed like a lot a hikers were milling around when we pulled into the parking lot on Friday morning. Undaunted by the numbers, we figured it was a quick four miles and we would zip past the crowds and be back to the Jeep in time for an early lunch. That turned out to be wrong.
Our first clue should have been the string of hikers coming down the trail who looked like they had taken a mud bath! Our next clue came about 50 yards up the trail when a young lady covered in mud looked over at her husband with disgust after seeing our trekking poles and said, “Why don’t we have some of those?”

Oboz on the Kalaula
Tools of the Trail

The trail winds up and down along the coast transected by a number of small streams cutting through jungle and then rises up to spectacular coastline views only to send you back down into the jungle before reaching Hanakapiai stream, which is large enough to make you think twice about boulder hopping across. I hopped across the rocks while some nice man acted as a human handrail for Tammy to step across the rocks.
Hanakapiai beach is a lovely tropical gem, half covered in smoothed black volcanic rock reaching out to clean khaki-colored sand. It’s an awesome place for lunch; unless you left yours in the Jeep! Turns out that we had spent 2.5 hours slipping and sliding along the trail and given the warm temperatures had almost exhausted two 32 oz. Hydroflasks. The Boy Scout motto was ringing in my head and we watched those more prepared enjoy lunch!
With a bit of rest, we gathered up our gear and I opted to wade across the stream providing some reassurance and a helping hand to Tammy as she cautiously navigated her way between the rocks. Occasional bursts of hot sun were drying up some of the trail and our mouths but we endured and thanks in large part to our trekking poles, managed to do the round trip without falling on our butts once! Throwing our wet gear and clothes in the Jeep, we devoured our turkey sandwiches, changed into swimsuits and spent the afternoon snorkeling at Ke’e beach.
If you go, wear hiking shoes and carry trekking poles and more water than we did! We saw lots of flip-flop casualties. Take a lunch and your time in one of the most beautiful spots on this earth!


Toes in the Sand

Have you ever dreamed of walking on a deserted stretch of beach with your significant other? Tick that incredible box for me! My wife and I just returned from our first trip to Hawaii and I’m still in beach heaven. If you get a chance to visit Kauai, get yourself a Jeep and make your way to Polihale beach on Kauai’s southwest side. Stroll to your hearts content along this 7 mile stretch, and on most days, you won’t say hello to anyone!

IMG_8467Polihale is the site of ancient Hawaiian temple ruins, originally constructed at a point over the ocean where Hawaiians believed the souls of the dead departed for Po, the underworld. It was otherworldly for us, far from the pace of our everyday life. It’s also otherworldly in the sense that it’s unlike much of Kauai, which is one of the rainiest spots on this earth, Polihale is hot and dry and seems like a place on the edge of the Sahara.


This is a place for long walks along the shore where dipping your toes in is more advisable than a full body immersion. Strong currents and big waves make for a tough swim but I could sit for hours watching the surfers ply their trade atop magnificent, rolling mountains of sea. Spend a few hours here and you will come away different. Walking on the edge of this underworld certainly made our world right again.


Solitude in the Snow

My wife and I decided to take a road trip to Arkansas over Spring Break. I had always wanted to stand atop Whittaker Point (unofficially called Hawksbill Crag). Located in Northwest Arkansas in the Ozark National Forest near Ponca, AR, it’s a fairly easy 3 mile round trip hike, even for people on the gray side of life!

Our first stop was Hot Springs, Arkansas to partake in the healing waters of the now quite commercialized bathhouses. We opted for a private couples bath at Quapaw Baths & Spa. Very enjoyable!

Six miles of red dirt up Cave Mountain Road was no problem for Tammy’s Tahoe and we pulled out the Paria Outdoor Products trekking poles and starting down the trail which drops about 200 feet in elevation over 1.5 miles. We had a wonderful wintry walk complete with a light snow shower.

If you go, tread carefully on the crag; it’s a 150 foot fall and it happens! Soak in the healing waters of the springs and the healing power of a wintry day’s solitude in the beautiful Ozarks.


Review: Paria Outdoor Products Trekking Poles

Sometimes it just feels like Christmas. Not because it’s snowing outside or it’s December but because you feel like you’ve received a great gift under the tree. I had a recent “Christmas in July” moment when I opened the Amazon package from Paria Outdoor Products and had a first look my bright, shiny new trekking poles.

I’ve spent a lifetime hiking trails all around the U.S. I started in the days of canvas external frame packs and iodine water purifying tablets. For the first twenty years of my adult life, I never even carried a sleeping pad. Surely, I would never need a hiking stick, let alone trekking poles. Alas, time has a way of softening your body and your mind and I found myself warming up to the idea that my knees might appreciate a little help.

I knew I wanted something lightweight and collapsible and while I am not averse to paying good money for quality gear, I am very okay with a good deal. I found both with Paria Outdoor Products Tri-Fold Carbon Cork Trekking Poles! Priced considerably less  than some other more popular brands, I have to admit that I was somewhat cautious about making this purchase  After having put them to the test in the Canadian Rockies, I can say I am very impressed! I bought two pair and enlisted the help of my two lovely assistants to test them out.

Plains of Six Glaciers Trail, Banff National Park

At just 18 ounces per pair, these lightweight little beauties proved strong, easy to assemble and easily adjustable. They come complete with a snow basket, rubber cap and storage bag and I found the cork handle very comfortable. Breakdown and setup was a breeze and took just a few seconds. The length is easily adjustable with a quick release mechanism allowing for fast adjustment as you transition from going uphill to downhill. Made with a carbon fiber shaft and 7075 aluminum connectors, this is a strong pole that’s going to last for many adventures. At around $58/ a pair, I am sure you will be as pleased as I was to get a little trail help for the knees. Trek on my friends!

Afternoon Tea in the Canadian Rockies

Afternoon tea seems like such a civilized thing and after hearing about a tea house stuck up high on a mountain pass above a glacier filled lake in western Canada, I thought, “Now that’s a place I want to go!” I’m never quite sure what I love more – going places or the days filled with pulling everything together to get there. I think I actually love both. To love the first is invariably short-lived. To love the second, is a life-long quest! The weeks leading up to this trip were spent getting in better shape, organizing packs, fixing old gear and researching new gear.

I had extended a business trip to Edmonton for just enough days to make the drive from Jasper to Banff and squeeze in a hike and a half-day raft trip. Fortunately, IMG_1444my wife and daughter were able to come along and after they spent two days in North America’s largest mall in Edmonton, Alberta while I worked, they were ready to be outdoors. Before we left home we’d spent the dividend check at REI and each outfitted ourselves with a new pair of Oboz. A good hike starts with good boots. I’ve had alot of them over the years and I’m very pleased with my Bridgers!

The Plains0107565a79966f2ddf008e13799b7b7497e4067437 of Six Glaciers trail is located in Banff National Park near the tiny town of Lake Louise. Considered a moderately difficult trail, I expected to see just a few hikers but upon arriving at the parking lot, I could see hundreds of people. Armed with selfie sticks and tour bus tickets they wandered along the shore of Lake Louise in front of the Fairmont Chateau enjoying incredible views of the emerald lake and the distant mountains.The trail starts out as a civilized walk on an asphalt path around one side of the lake. The crowd thins considerably however once you reach the upper end of the lake and start the climb into the mountains towards Victoria glacier.

The Plains014e75ab720d141dba5ca1e391b31035fb7da1eb87 of Six Glaciers tea house was built in 1926 by Swiss guides working for the Canadian Pacific Railway as a stopover for alpine climbers on the way to Mount Victoria. Peter and Joy Kimball bought the teahouse in 1959 and Joy ran it for 45 years. Her family still runs it. Just 5.5 kilometers and almost 400 meters of elevation gain brings you to this quaint rustic gem where they serve delicious vegetable soup and and amazing chocolate cake. If you go there don’t bring your American Express, bring cash. Only Canadian or American dollars are accepted. After a working up an appetite taking in the magnificent scenery, have a spot of tea and cake. Cheers!