Monday, September 23, 2013

Colorado Flood Volunteering...

Spent a portion of the day getting a greater sense of the level of destruction to homes caused by the flooding here in Boulder County. Any small creek seemed to have jumped its banks, something that is likely ephemeral or a trickle, rose so high as to flood fields and in this case inundate a garden level basement with mud to fill it nearly to its 8-foot high ceiling.

I volunteered with an old friend, Matt Samet, and we helped a dozen or more natty dressed volunteers in spiffy hazmat style suits to slog bins of mud and water mixed with drywall, carpet, molding, wine cellar components back into the light to be re-purposed or hauled away as trash. It helped give me some perspective as to the level of destruction suffered by nearly 20,000 homes in the region. Matt had damage to his home as well, the damage far exceeding his insurance deductible. I was impressed to see him out helping others as well while still dealing with his own serious homeowner headaches.

On the ridge in Lafeyette my place merely had our water shut off for five days because of a damaged pumphouse but no flooding. An incredibly minor inconvenience given the scope I had witnessed in Longmont yesterday. And that was minor on the scale of intensity suffered by so many throughout the region. Many had no flood insurance and claims to FEMA will be a challenge for some for sure.

We volunteered for a four hour shift with Convoy of Hope, an international non-profit that is faith based. But there are many groups/orgs helping out. I hope to jump in with another group soon as my work schedule allows. I encourage anyone who has a half a day to grab a friend or three and do the same. There is an incredible amount of work out there to do still... Go to this website for more info and to sign up to volunteer...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Fourteeners...

Trailheads are often a nexus for invigorating chance meetings. If you are willing to take a moment to stop and acknowledge, ask a question - it is generally a guarantee that you will discern some special gem of serendipitous awareness. Tigiwon trailhead proved this and the trail to the Mount of the Holy Cross even more so.

First it was the old man exiting the mini van - excited to be in the hills again at 10,000 feet and even more excited to engage hikers heading out. He was 93. Still walked sturdily and steady, strong voice. He fought in Okinawa in WWII. He had prospected in the hills above Minturn with his brother and lived in Vail when it was nothing more than a ranch with a creek running through it. His eyes still glowed sharing stories from a world long passed and we were keen to listen. He was itching to walk to the Notch Mountain shelter as he had done some 70 years before. "We could go all the way," he told his daughter, "But there is no food out there." He said to us that it would be to rough for them without a restaurant. He then asked his son-in-law for his cane. "I will be alright until a girl walks in front of me and then I will fall over."

Alpine start to access the shadowed North Ridge ©Bennett Barthelemy

Then there was the hiker we passed with his short-legged dog who had made the climb to the summit with him in a day. "She did great but she is going to retire for the season now. She hates wearing her booties and it will get too cold." He had taken the dog all the way to Guatemala where he worked with a non-profit teaching kids. I asked him if he felt safe there. "No, I was kidnapped four times. I finally told my parents to only put $100 a week in my account because they always took me to the ATM and made me drain my account. The kidnappers were always really nice to me though - they just wanted the money..."

Then there was the zealot. A true diehard Fourteener hiker. He had done 51 of the 58 in Colorado over the last decade. We shared bluebird skies at the summit - first day without cloud all summer. He was naming off all the peaks and ranges - excitement level at 11. He caught up to us while hiking out and introduced himself again. He was a technician, a planner and with a serious regiment he followed to meet his goal of hiking all the Fourteeners. Had sewn his own bags, assembled his own first aid kit, eschewed much of REIs stuff in favor of the army surplus. He showed us the 10 commandments of climbing the Fourteeners by Jerry Roach - Never pass up a chance to pee and never get separated from your lunch sounded pretty wise... He had a laminated card with his sisters number, the pet sitters info, his lawyer with his will info... He had hiked nearly all of them alone. He then apologized and said, "I am talking too much but I just love it out here. Oh, and the most important commandment is "Never forget why you started." He stopped abruptly on the trail and gazed longingly at a meadow with a small lake surrounded by pine and overshadowed by Huron. "This is it. This is why..."

A view of the North ridge leading to the summit ©Bennett Barthelemy
After stopping at a patch of ripe raspberries on our first day we headed down the trail and crossed paths with Junaid Dawud who had just summited. Junaid gave us peak conditions. Others on the trail told us it had rained 13 hours straight and only finished early that morning.  It had snowed up high and I had questions. It came out that he and his partner were just three summits away from hiking all the Fourteeners - in just three months time and walking between all of them. The first time he reckoned that it had ever been attempted. "The tough part is avoiding all the private land because we don't want to trespass. I could only imagine the summit fever they must have after completing 56 summits. He was aware that Longs was currently off limits, with a fine and even jail time imposed because of the recent flooding and I am sure was praying for divine providence that the mountain gods would allow it to open soon so they could complete their quest. Junaid said, "If it works out there should be a good crew of supporters on the summit of Longs when we arrive." That will be a party I hope not to miss...

The website they have gives Spot device locations to follow their route, incredible photos and updates well worth checking out and going back to to see the progress as they near the finish line at 14, 259 and some 13,000 miles later...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Boulder Flooding...

 These shots were taken September 12, 11:45 AM. I imagine it is a lot higher now...

Monday, September 9, 2013

Latest Ojai Quarterly Feature

 My latest feature outdoor column in Ojai Quarterly has been published! Writing about a beautiful area in the backyard of my hometown... Managed to help build the infamy quotient for Maureen, my brother and Lucinha - thanks for being such great and patient models! And thanks to Robert Evans who was gracious enough to let me profile him and for his continued inspiration to continue exploring "the backyard"! The whole issue should be up at Flipsnack soon...

Rain and Rocky Mountain Goats

A storm over the Indian Peaks at sunset, Colorado ©Bennett Barthelemy

I dream of rain
I dream of gardens in the desert sand
I wake in vain
I dream of love as time runs through my hand - Sting
Rain falls over the slopes of Mt. Evans, Colorado ©Bennett Barthelemy
 Raindrops spatter upon the porch flagstones and works to keeps the ranch dust in check. The view of the Front Range and the Rockies is again blotted out by coal colored afternoon clouds that bubble greyish white at the edges. Streaks of virga fall like deftly painted watercolor smears.

Rocky Mountain Goats, Mt. Evans Colorado ©Bennett Barthelemy
Godrays split a rainbow into fingered sections. A bolt of lightning miles long hits the summit of Mt. Evans. Flashes from jagged bolts hit sub-peaks to the south from the passed through squall. The sky rumbles and low clouds overhead crackle, sending sound arcing from west to east.

Rocky Mountain Goats, Mt. Evans Colorado ©Bennett Barthelemy
 All eyes on us. Two young goats surrounded by a dozen adults. They move closer down the mountain, forcing us back to the trailhead. Pressured by lightning and the determined goats we slowly back our way towards the car.

Rocky Mountain Goats, Mt. Evans Colorado ©Bennett Barthelemy

 Subalpine again. Amazed at the survivability. Most months per year blasted by freezing rain, snow, wind. Pointing boughs east in tandem with the prevailing winds. Dozens of miles north, Longs Peak is cradled between needle and clouded sky. Nostrils filled with the smell of wet asphalt - to the end of the road - home.

A tree showing the effects of a life at altitude ©Bennett Barthelemy

Monday, September 2, 2013

Profile: Craig H. Dobkin and Play For Peace

The journalist in me is ever-alert for interesting characters. I am forever trying to pitch feature profiles to share facets of individuals that are at once unique, creative, uber-dedicated and crazy fascinating. Colorado is full of them. Boulder in particular has quite a cadre of cyborgs -a genetic super race of otherworldly beings that sprint by you, smiling and fresh, when you are panting and sweating bullets at 10,000 feet on a rough trail. They might be moms with a toddler on their back, or a mere flash of neon running shorts and shoes along the Keyhole Route on Longs Peak.

Craig Dobkin was one of these. He looked 45 but it turns out was 63. Much of his life had been spent among massive mountains of the world - the Andes, Denali, Himalaya - in good company to be sure. When I joined Craig for coffee it became clear that he was another of these larger than life characters, following his passions - unswayingly, despite incredible obstacles that had found him.

Portrait of Craig H. Dobkin ©Bennett Barthelemy

Craig however was not monochromatic like some individuals pursuing dreams. He had moved firmly into a realm of what might be seen as a more selfless mentor as both outdoor/experiential educator and then founder of non-profits. Craig had taken his first steps on this path in his early twenties working with some of the most challenging populations of troubled individuals one might encounter. He still maintains a firm footing in these worlds today some four decades later.

The more I talked with Craig the more curious the twists of fate became - and stranger were the turns into the seemingly surreal - until it become clear just how he arrived at where he was today. In high school social studies he sat next to Benjamin Netenyahu, and then in his early twenties he worked for the Peace Corp and the United Nations simultaneously while in New Guinea with the goal of identifying future teachers. A few decades later he was detained in war-torn Bosnia and told by the authority that, "We don't play and we don't believe in Peace."

While supine in a full body cast for some months Craig had the realization that his purpose was to be a peacemaker and that he wanted to create an international non-profit. Less than 20 years later it is making an impact in over 20 countries strategically placed in "communities in conflict." Play For Peace uses an experiential curriculum of play to help these challenged communities. Simply said, kids come to play and through laughter and compassion they begin to realize the goal of ultimately bringing these diverse and fragmented communities (West Bank, India, Guatemala etc) together. In Isreal, where suicide bombs had detonated, play workshops have been held to honor those who had died there. Learn more about the org here at

Craig asked that I would share a link to his personal page for Play For Peace... Whether or not you choose to donate - I think Play For Peace it is definitely worth a look, and inspiring on many levels...