Quilt Gallery

Friday, August 10, 2018

A Grand Adventure

Several months ago I mentioned in a post that a friend of mine, Julia, and I were going to try to climb to the top of the Grand Teton this summer. For new readers, the Grand, at 13775 feet, is the tallest peak in the Teton Range, and the second highest peak in Wyoming.

The only time that fit into both my friend's and my schedule was early July, still early season in Jackson Hole, when significant amounts of snow are likely to remain at higher elevations. To prepare for our climb we took a one day snow safety course,

in addition to the usual two days of climbing instruction. Here is Julia practicing on the route called "Open Book."

We climbed with Exum Mountain Guides, the oldest and one of the most respected climbing guide services in the country. I climbed Cube Point, a much smaller peak, with them over a decade ago, and my younger daughter climbed the Grand with them last year, so they were the natural choice for me.

Once our preparation was complete, Julia and I and another climber, Ryan, along with our two guides, Jed Porter and Kai Girard, made our way to Lupine Meadows trailhead on July 4 to start the 7 mile (and 4900 foot of elevation gain) hike to the Lower Saddle, from where we would begin our climb on the 5th. We zig zagged up slopes filled with wildflowers,

then turned off into Garnet Canyon, which was still mostly filled with snow. This section was under tens of feet of snow from an avalanche last winter and didn't look anything like its name "The Meadows" would suggest it should. Still, the view up the canyon to the Middle Teton with its prominent black dike was stunning.

Finally we reached the base of the Lower Saddle. Normally climbers use a fixed rope to walk up the steep slope to the top, but it was still under snow on the 4th, so we pulled out our ice axes and roped ourselves together in what is called "Kiwi coils," and carefully made our way up.

You can see the path we and other climbers took up the snow in this photo, taken from the valley floor a couple days later. It is the faint grey line in the snow in the upper center of the image.

Once on the saddle we were on bare, windswept ground.

As the sun set on this clear evening we watched the shadow of the entire range grow longer and longer in the Jackson Hole valley to the east.

With incredible views both east and west,

and ravenously hungry after our hike, we sat on rocks outside of the Exum hut to enjoy our hot dinners (Julia and I had mashed potatoes and sweet corn pie, in case you are wondering).

We looked out at this view of our destination as we discussed our plan for the morning.

What aspirations did each of us have for the climb? Would snow and ice slow us down? Would the Owen Spalding route be a better option for us than the Exum Ridge? What impact might the weather have? Though each of us was keen to reach the summit, we were even more keen not to prevent anyone else from doing so. In the end, we didn't settle on a route in the evening, but instead agreed on fixed decision points in the morning when we could assess our progress and how each of us was feeling.

By 9:30 p.m. I was tucked into my sleeping bag, though neither the comfort of extra sleep mats nor fatigue were enough to overcome my jitters, and sleep was a long time coming. The night dragged on and on. As though to make up for the slowness of time before our 3:30 a.m. wakeup call, once I was out of my sleeping bag the clock seemed to run at double time. Suddenly it was 4:30 a.m., time to switch on our headlamps to light our way up the saddle. We were able to switch them off again when we reached the black dike, the point where hiking turns to scrambling and eventually to climbing. Here is Julia in the early stages of the climb.

Shortly after this we reached a key decision point where we chose to split into two groups with Julia and Jed going to the Enclosure, a subsidiary peak of the Grand (at 13,280 feet it is the second highest point in the Teton range) and Ryan, Kai and myself taking the Owen Spalding route to the top.

I was so focused on climbing that I didn't mange to take many photos, but here is one of early morning light shining on Idaho. Great views are certainly one of the benefits of climbing!

And here is one of Julia and Jed nearing the summit of the Enclosure. They summited well before we did and then spent a couple of hours watching us climb. The Enclosure, by the way, is so named because of a circular man-made structure at its top that was discovered by the first non-native climbers to reach that point. Imagine their surprise!

Kai showed us how to traverse the "Belly Crawl," a well-known section of the Owen Spalding route, without crawling. It was certainly the less awkward and more dignified way to go.

To put this in perspective, here is an image of the same scene taken by Jed from the Enclosure. I've circled our location - I'm the dot in the middle with the light blue fleece and orange helmet. I'm glad it never occurred to me to look down while I was on that face!

The climbing itself was a thrill, especially where I had to find alternate holds and maneuvers to those Kai and Ryan used. I just don't have the reach that they do, and had to work out different moves. The waiting between pitches of climbing was not so thrilling. For most of the climb I was the last one up, which meant a fair amount of sitting by myself crammed onto a small cold shelf (always clipped into something, of course) until they were ready to belay me up. Agony! Without other people to distract me, my fears came to the fore. I had to remind myself that I was not really alone since I was just at the other end of the rope from Ryan and Kai.

We were slowed considerably by snow and ice and didn't reach the summit until relatively late, 9:50 a.m. Being at the top was both exhilarating and a relief. I savored my few minutes there, re-applied sunscreen, ate a cookie, took the obligatory selfie

and a few shots of Wyoming and Idaho, and at the last moment snapped a picture of the USGS benchmark. 13,775 feet!

Photos were the last thing on my mind on this climb and I was glad not to have hauled my big Canon camera with me. I'll leave the mountaineering photos to Jimmy Chin!

The fact that it took us nearly five and a half hours to get from the Exum hut to the top of the Grand, but only three hours to get back down might make you think that getting down is the easy part. My photo taking pattern suggests otherwise. I took twenty photos on the way up, and two on the way down! Clearly the number of photos I took was inversely related to how nervous I was. First, I find it scarier to climb down than up because it is harder to see where the holds are located. Second, we had a 200 foot rappel on the way down. The rappel itself wasn't scary, but getting into position for it, and having the guide disappear down the cliff ahead of me was scary!

Back at the hut, we ate a quick lunch and gathered up our belongings for the hike to Lupine Meadows trailhead. But there were still challenges ahead, the most daunting of which was to get back down the snow slope just below the saddle, which now looked much more daunting than it did on the way up. Since we had two guides and one was planning to stay at the hut for another night, they decided to fix a hold into the snow and lower us down one by one rather than have us walk down. This was one ride that beats anything Disney has to offer! Here goes Ryan!

 Here is looking down the slope. Those dots at the bottom are Jed and Ryan.

This was my view as I was being lowered down.

For me, the greatest challenge of this climb was mental, not physical. My regular routine of running and weight training were sufficient preparation for the physical requirements, and three days of Exum training were enough to assure me and the guides that I was capable of the climbing itself. Why was I so nervous? I am susceptible to performance jitters, even when my rational self knows that there are no serious consequences to making a mistake. Public speaking and piano recitals are always a real trial for me and I spend a lot of time preparing myself. The difference here, of course, was that the consequences of a mistake could have been fatal. There is a lot of exposure on this mountain. Yes, I had an experienced guide. Yes, I was always roped in or clipped in. But people make mistakes, and accidents happen. So, I will concede that in this case, being nervous was completely rational, and perhaps even helpful since it kept me totally focused on what I was doing. Julia summed it up well when she said that this trip reminded her why she had loved mountaineering so much...and why she had given it up a decade ago.

I offer my thanks to Julia, Ryan, Kai, and Jed for climbing with me, for their steadiness and attention to the task at hand, for their unfailing kindness, and for being a great climbing team. I offer special thanks to Julia for being such a good friend, without whom I would not have completed this great adventure.

Since this blog usually focuses on things having to do with string of one sort or another, I will leave you with this one last image of a big pile of string: the stack of rope near the top of the Lower Saddle, being readied by Kai to lower me down the slope.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat

No visit to Muscat is complete without a stop at the magnificent Grand Mosque. I was fortunate to be able to visit twice, which was a good thing because it is so enormous that I couldn't really take it all the first time. Completed in 2001, the buildings are made from over 300,000 tons of a pale Indian sandstone,

much of which is covered with intricate carved decorations.

In spite of all the detailed designs, the monochrome exterior gives an overall effect of great calm and simplicity.

The square prayer hall (reserved for men - women have a smaller, simpler prayer hall) dominates the complex.

It is elaborately decorated from floor to ceiling.

On the floor is a magnificent handmade carpet, one of the world's largest. I was puzzled about how it was made and installed, as it went around the massive columns with no visible seams. I leaned, from a book I found in the mosque library, that it was made in pieces and then carefully hand stitched together once inside the mosque by specially chosen weavers.

The most dramatic part of the prayer hall is the highly decorated dome in which hangs a chandelier made from 600,000 crystals and over one thousand bulbs.

Surrounding the prayer hall are acres of polished marble pavements in a wide variety of designs.

These in turn are surrounded by four minarets and two sets of arcades on the long sides of the complex.

The insides of these arcades are decorated with beautiful mosaics based on Islamic art and design, from tribal weavings to tile work and painting.

 I particularly like the graphic design and bright clear blues on this one.

This one reminds me of peacock feathers.

 And this one reminds me of native American designs. Certainly lots of inspiration for quilts here!

Speaking of quilts, here is my most recent finish. I actually pieced part of it en route to Oman, so it is fitting to include it here.

Since so many of the squares include leaves, I quilted the white sections with a leaf design.

And to add a little spark, I used pink and purple stripes and dots from Tula Pink for the border.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Scrappy Modern Quilt Top

Over the last six months or so, mostly on flights to various places, I have been stitching together two and one half inch squares of scraps. I finally got this bunch completed and set into a quilt top.

I alternated solids with prints. Though many of the prints are from vintage fabrics, I think the top as a whole has a modern feel to it.

In looking through some of my recent travel photos I came across this image of ceiling detail from the Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman. The solid, unpainted stone between the panels of decorated stone really highlights the patterns. Maybe I had this in the back of my mind when I chose the big white panels between the strips of scraps.

I'll leave you with this photo of the outside of the Grand Mosque -- and a promise to be back soon with more images from that beautiful complex.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Road Trip!

When my daughter invited me to drive with her from Ithaca, New York, to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I jumped at the chance. It gave me a rare opportunity to spend time with her, and a chance to enjoy a quintessential American experience: the road trip.

We covered over 2,200 miles in three and a half days so she would arrive in time to start her summer job with the National Park Service. It made for a tight schedule, but we still fit in visits to two friends and a couple of sightseeing stops along the way.

Our longest stop was at Badlands National Park, just a few miles south of Interstate 90 in the southwestern part of South Dakota. Eager to stretch our legs after hours in the car, we jumped out at the first parking lot and hiked the Door Trail into the beautiful, but forbidding landscape.

Having only visited the Badlands once before, briefly and on a grey morning, I was surprised at how colorful it is, and how lushly green the surrounding plains are.

We were delighted to see quite a few big horn sheep, none of which seemed bothered by gawking people or cars rolling past.

Since it was so late in the day we drove the Badlands Loop Road, then headed back to I-90 and Wall Drug for dinner.

Wall Drug is an unabashedly touristy spot, but the only option for many miles around, and worth a visit for the sheer spectacle of it. If you want a momento of your travels, you can certainly find one here. 

On our last day we crossed Wyoming, watching the prairies give way to mountains.

Our final stop before reaching Jackson Hole was in the tiny but colorful town of Dubois. The barista at Perch Coffee House kindly pointed us down the street to the local yarn shop, Wyoming Wookworks. I knew it existed because I had seen a lovely blog post about it, and it is definitely worth a visit. Anita Thatcher, the proprietor, gave us a complete tour.

It is crammed full of all kinds of wool and crafty items. You can buy yarn, much of it locally sourced,

and all kinds of finished items, from handmade saddle blankets

to small gifts.

And then it was over the Togwotee Pass to Jackson Hole and the really big mountains! I've flown in to Jackson Hole many times, but I have to say that there is something special about driving in and watching the landscape slowly unfold in front of you.

One other important benefit of a road trip in which you share the driving with someone else: time for knitting! On my flight from Austin to New York I cast on a new sweater, the cropped cardigan from Vogue Knitting's early fall 2014 issue. I have already finished the back and am halfway through both front pieces.

Wishing everyone safe travels on their summer adventures!