summer vs winter

Summer finally got started a couple of weeks ago in early August. The insane 16/17 snowpack left much of the High Sierras covered in snow all the way through July and the melting snow created happy breeding grounds for mosquitoes. When not sliding on hardpack snow you were getting eaten alive by bugs: party time.

But no matter: I could still go for a run, ride my bike, climb a rock, and drive off road. These things and many like them are laughable pursuits mid-winter. There’s a lot to be said for just hopping in your car and driving away, without thinking about warming it up, scraping ice, timing the snow plows, and digging. The digging never stops.


Super cool part of living in Mammoth: “going out for a walk” looks like this.

But just like that, the thermostat space heater in my office clicked on the other morning. Instead of having our bedroom window wide open at nights it’s been slowly closing more and more until last night when (with three blankets) I woke up cold and shut it completely. Pellet prices go up in a month. There’s less than 90 days until Mammoth opens for skiing/boarding. In short: #WinterIsComing.

And winter is a pain in the ass, don’t get me wrong. Everything is harder. Your hands are in gloves nearly all the time so doing any kind of detailed work outside (automotive, construction, etc) is brought to a halt. Travel schedules get blown out, and portions of your home (like a deck or yard) become effectively off limits.

But with that comes simplicity as well. Armed with a season pass, a board, and some insulated clothes I can spend copious amounts of free time shredding. With my new splitboard this year and snowmobiles (cool kids call them sleds) for sar I need to qualify on, there is a lot to do. The days are shorter and the activity options reduced so “lazy summer days” are a thing of the past. It’s time to hustle either to stay alive (pellets, shoveling, driving and not dying) or time to hustle to enjoy life.


Winter. One night did this.

When you walk out and see your truck sitting there looking like the above, and you have a list of a few things that need to get done that day, things get very straight forward.

I had a friend who told me that people who live in far northern (and far southern) climates tend to be harder working and more industrious than our more equatorial and horse-latitude dwelling brethren. The idea being that in areas with harsher seasons you have to figure out your winter plans and equip yourself during the summer or you simply won’t live to see spring. Conversely in a more mild climate you can get still go out mid winter and find some food, plus you won’t freeze to death.

Obviously modern society has negated this a bit and not a lot of folks are dropping dead in our mountain town of malnourishment. The Donner Party excluded, the rest of us can find something to eat at Vons.

I’ve been reluctant to write about the 16/17 winter because of how powerful it was and like a victim of abuse every cloud still makes me jumpy imagining three feet of snow is about to drop. Not knowing what’s in store for next winter is part of the fun: will it be another snowpocalypse, fueled by some new twist of climate change? Or will we get barely any snow and my cool snowgear will just collect dust as I lament the snow-less terrain.

Stay tuned.

i don’t like heights, just to be honest with you

There’s an inherent problem with fear-of-heights (acrophobia) and mountain rescue. Like a lifeguard who’s afraid of water, there exists a constant and underlying carrier signal that ranges from slight anxiety to full fledged terror. Interestingly enough I’ve met a lot of climbers who only got into vertical pursuits because they were afraid of heights.

Exposure therapy can be done in a clinical setting under the guidance of a skilled practitioner or you can just DIY the goddamn thing. Like home surgery it may not work out well all the time but you can’t knock the sense of accomplishment when you pull it off successfully. Chalk it up to the many cases of things that work out well for you but that you may not advise others to do themselves.


A view from my harness as I dangle on the edge of a cliff.

So when I got tapped in rescue training the other day for “edge”, I had the dueling voices in my head:

  • Voice A, my helpful voice, the angel on my shoulder: “This is great, you’re around expert climbers and riggers, you know all your system components yourself, and you’re going to get exposure and show yourself that you know how to do it.”
  • Voice B, my other-than-helpful-voice, the coward on my shoulder: “HOLY SHIT NO YOU’RE GOING TO DIE WTF ARE YOU THINKING!?!?!?!?!”

I nodded at my instructor, “Got it, edge.” For those not in the know, “edge” basically means you hang out near, on, and sort-of-but-not-really-over the cliff edge. Rarely are “edges” a clear delineating 90 degrees, hence the vagueness. People up higher who aren’t in the “hot” or “death” zone as it’s affectionately called can be unroped, but “edge” needs to be properly able to move around, securely, while ensuring a nice, happy, and safe environment in the aforementioned “death” or “hot” zone. Terms clearly used to remind you that a single careless act will, not could, result in your untimely expiration.

These days, I’ve found it best to not think about the scary stuff. The old expression of “don’t look down” is well intentioned but unrealistic. Better for me is “look at the task at hand and things you need to pay attention to.” That gives me a focal point and objectives so I keep my mind occupied in a constructive capacity.

Like telling someone to think of anything other than an elephant, instantly they think of an elephant. I’ve needed to scrape the whole concept of “down” out of my mind and fill it with anchors, edge protection, patient comfort and safety, and kilonewtons. Randomly tapping on my carabiner gates to ensure that yes, just like thirty seconds ago, they’re still locked.


Yeah, I really didn’t like doing this either. Solo skydiving is no longer an activity I voluntarily participate in.

I’m still a scaredy cat around heights and have very little desire to intentionally place myself in harm’s way. Gravity never sleeps and the minute you screw up Newtonian physics is there to turn you into a mushy pile of goo at the bottom of whatever you’re on top of. Ladders, roofs, mountains, ski lifts: we should all do these wide eyed, knowing that better people have died doing the same.


Shoveling the roof, thirty feet in the air, on top of snow and ice. Mid winter, 2016/2017.

But I’ve tried to replace that fear with more helpful things. The other day I tied some bowlines in an old 8mm rope and had some fun. Secure one end to a big rock and the other to my truck’s 8,000lb winch, I had a go at it. Then I did the same with a dynamic load by having it tied off to my truck’s rear bumper as I drove away. Faster and faster until eventually it broke. It might sound dumb, but now I know my properly-tied-tail-inside-double-bowline on 8mm from GM climbing will hold me. There’s more parts to the system to verify (anchors, harness, etc), but piece by piece we can build confidence.

In rescue world, we have dedicated safety officers who are inspecting all the equipment that you can’t see yourself, monitoring for loosening, chafe, and the such. Once you get to know the system, you can start drilling into the component parts a bit more. Coupling all that knowledge with the mental discipline to never even think of the “down” word, one can at least occupy their mind with other things. Things that are productive, helpful, and genuinely reduce the risk of you turning into a human pancake hundreds of feet below.

And then when on flat and wonderful ground again you can shake your head at all these stupid vertical objects on our world and go sit on the couch, where god intended us to be all along.


two trucks in two days

The entire social media presence of Mammoth Lakes is on the “buy sell trade“. Someone stole your fishing pole? Need a place to rent? Heard a weird noise? It all goes there.

So I’m sitting on the couch doing my EMT+W homework and Charlotte hands me her phone and says, “You see this?”


Yep, that’s stuck.

So some realities start to collide:

a) I’m on a search and rescue team, with the sole desire to help people who are in various shades of screwed.

b) I’m literally sitting there studying how to help people (medically, but the point stands).

c) I have a gassed up off road rig with a big winch on the front and a bunch of recovery gear sitting in the driveway, backed in.

So I call the dude up. We make plans to meet in 15 minutes and I text another buddy of mine from Mono SAR who’s got a likewise dope 4×4 set up.

Mind you, Friday morning there was another guy posting about he got stuck out at Lake Crowley which I handled myself before work with just a simple tow strap. But for this big ass Ford Expedition it required nearly 25,000 pounds of pull power.


Off course it had to be getting dark, full of mosquitoes, thick mud, and cold water. Of course.

Two winches, two snatch blocks, me revving my engine to keep the electricity going, and the stuck Ford with street tires in 4L. We popped the guy out, told him we hoped he had a better time in the Sierras, and to hit us up anytime he’s got problems.

Honestly it’s really nice to be a position to help people. I feel like not only do you get a chance to come to someone’s aid when they’re in a tough spot, but doing it for free with a cheerful attitude can really spread some positivity in this world.

It’s fairly well known that our country is quite polarized politically and ideologically these days. Half the people in that shot above probably voted for Trump, the other half hate his guts. There are ties that bind us only if we form and tighten those accords. Lincoln famously said, “We must not be enemies, but friends.” Not only do we need to keep from loathing one another, but we must also purposefully reach out and be kind.

So I’d ask of you the same thing I’d ask of myself: try to help folks out in whatever way you can. Not for money or notoriety but from the simple truth that living in a world where we are kind and helpful to each other is the only kind of world we want to live in.

the 2017 spring melt

It’s our first year living in Mammoth, and we’ve had one hell of a winter. Over fifty feet of snow fell, and I literally shoveled that entire amount from my driveway and probably a third from my roof (the rest melted / or shed by itself). I still don’t want to write about the 16/17 winter because I’m always looking over my shoulder that it’s not done. In fact there’s ~6″ of snow forecast for this weekend, in May. Just a few days ago I got high centered in snow, again. Rumors persist that the mountain will stay open for ski and snowboard operations all year, and Tioga Pass may not open at all.

Above are shots from roughly the same vantage point of Mammoth Creek Park. On the left is late April, on the right is 1.5 weeks later in early May. So while winter may not be done yet the melt is certainly happening. Barring rain or some freakish event, when snow falls December-February it’s basically not going anywhere unless you physically remove it. By about the third week in April though the sun is high enough in the sky that it starts cooking the snow off fast enough that you can safely put the shovels away. Well, maybe leave one out for the steps.


The remnants of our no-kidding igloo from December. 

The animals are also going bonkers. In winter, you have two main issues: snow and ice. The bugs, bears, plants, and all other forms of life vanish and you get winter all up in your grill.

Just last night I was in my truck when the neighborhood asshole big fat black bear rolled down the street like a stoner text messaging, not paying a damn bit of attention to what was ahead of him. In this case: me. About two car lengths away I spotted him, he spotted me, and we both darted in opposite directions. I came back armed with bear spray and bravado but the 8,000 calorie a day consumer had vanished.

There’s a bird trying to peck a hole into my house this morning. I put some more siding over there, and now he/she has moved to another target. I throw wood chips at it.

Funny enough though there hasn’t been much mud: just look at how bone-dry that park picture is above with the amount of snow that melted into it so quickly. The soil seems to accept water really well and flat meadows are the exception not the rule up here in the Eastern Sierras. So the water is either flowing like crazy somewhere or filling something up. You’re either flooded or dry, as most likely you’re on an incline of some sort.

I would definitely caution any would-be homeowners to look seriously at localized flooding. If you can’t clearly see how the water would drain, it probably won’t. And I mean a lot of water. Like thousands of gallons a day sort of water.

Another would-be homeowner tip: ensure the front of your house faces south. Seriously. The sun is god’s show shovel and it never gets tendinitis or a sore back.


If you can see asphalt anywhere, it’s spring. Lyra is standing on our “yard”, down there somewhere.

And with that, all eyes are on for summer. Sure, there are snowflakes that will still fall this year but instead of looking at a massive wall of snow outside my window, all that’s between me and nature is the window screen, with the sounds and smells of the Eastern Sierra coming through.

It really is a privilege to live here and even with the bears, ice, woodpeckers, voluminous amounts of snow, and soon-to-be forest fires of the summer, I’m happy to live here.

welcome to mammoth, how do you pay your bills?

Perhaps before anyone cares to know your name one of the first questions you will face as a resident of Mammoth Lakes goes something like this:

What do you do for a job?

It’s not the friendly version that you get in a normal place. Generally I’ll wait to lug out the “what’s your job” question until after I know someone. I’m genuinely more interested in your attitude, poise, and demeanor than I am how you pay for your groceries.


My “office”, Mammoth Lakes. I’ve carefully redacted all identifying marks.

In case of point the expression in Mexico, loosely translated, looks more like this:

What do you dedicate your life to?

In Mexico (which only has a 17% edge over the United States for college graduates per capita despite having only 1/3 the per capita income), it’s pretty normal to have a degree in a particular field but end up working a different job to make ends meet. Take me, as an example: I work in financial services. But is that what I dedicate my life to? Certainly not. It’s my profession and I take it very seriously, but I dedicate my life to my family and experiencing as much of this world as I can while my heart is still beating.

I knew a quite capable fellow who managed a bar in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Mexico. He paid his bills working as a bar manager but had advanced degrees in marine biology and kept quite current in the field. So is he a bar manager or a marine biologist? Well that of course depends on the question you ask and whether or not you are genuinely interested in him as a person or simply in how money shows up in his direct deposit.


Outside my window. One of these sons of bitches chewed through a powerline and took out my Internet connection for 5 hours. Hope you enjoyed the electrons, bro.

The reason for the “how do you make your money” question is two fold.

  1. General skepticism that anyone can move up here. Because it was a hurculean task for them to arrive, it was obviously a fluke that you did, and you’ll probably be leaving soon. Good riddance.
  2. You’re a trust-a-farian (a.k.a. you have money that you didn’t earn). This also sits well because it shows that you don’t really deserve to be here. Again, it’s just a fluke.

It’s actually quite refreshing to be up here but yet have zero professional connections. Sure, I don’t really have any professional friends within a couple of hundred miles, but on the flip side I can walk around fairly confident in knowing that the small-town-everyone-is-everyone’s-business aspect doesn’t leak into my job.

Of the two of the friends I’ve met in town, one is in law enforcement and the other is a teacher: not only are you in a town the size of a postage stamp, but you are up in everyone’s shit on a daily basis. I feel bad for these folks. I enjoy being civil and trying to be pleasant in nearly every encounter, but it certainly helps being able to pick the majority of those encounters and not have them thrust upon me.

So if you move up here be prepared to just say “Hello, my name is Sam. I work at the [xyz], nice to meet you.” You’ll save all the inquisitive people who want to know about your personal finances a ton of time.

living in a jumping off point

One thing I loved about being down in Banderas Bay, Mexico, was that it was a nexus of adventurers. A stopping point for the Baja HaHa, it was also the biggest starting point for those ready to cross the Pacific. You were surrounded by people who were excited. People who had the nerves and luck to make it this far, and the will go even farther. Offshore sailors really make for a diverse, fun, and capable set of neighbors.


Soccer on the beach, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. 

In Mammoth it’s pretty much the same feeling. Everywhere you go there are people that are stoked to be here. They drove for hours. They saved up money. They took time off work. They got all their gear organized. They’ve been planning this for weeks, months, or maybe even years.

And now, they’re sitting in front of you as you’re buying a loaf of bread.


Today in Vons, bread isle, Mammoth Lakes.

And that type of energy is hard to underscore. It’s a reminder every day of the options at your disposal. It’s bright shiny people who in a few hours will be airborne flying off a snowy ridge, or looking down from the top of a mountain they just summitted.

More importantly, it’s a reminder every day of the things you’re not doing. Seeing people achieve and accomplish things chisels away at the long list of reasons that you tell yourself you can’t pull things off. You see people younger than you. Older than you. With more kids. With less money.

And there you are, buying your load of bread, having to answer the question (if you dare to ask it) about why you’re not the one with grocery cart full of supplies for a week in the backcountry.

So thanks to you, Mr. Climbing Rope in the Bread Isle Man on a Wednesday.  Thanks for reminding me to take advantage of every second that this life will offer me.

Leaving San Diego

My family moved to San Diego when I was in 5th grade. I finished up elementary school here, then went through middle school and high school. I went back to the east coast for college and military service, and then came back to San Diego in 2000. In total, I’ve lived in San Diego for 24 of my 38 years.


I lived and worked near downtown until I left, and have lived in Carlsbad and Encinitas. I have friends all over the county, and have worked in Sorrento Valley, San Marcos, Oceanside, Hillcrest, Point Loma, Del Mar, and Poway that I can remember. I’ve had girlfriends in San Diego, I got married here, and have two little kids, one of which is in local school.

But it’s time to move, and here’s why.

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