Thursday, September 17, 2015

Larry's Excellent Adventure: Torreys Peak via Kelso Ridge

So you may remember that near the end of my Kickstarter for The Labyrinth of Flame, I ran a raffle here on the blog to upgrade one backer's reward to the "Ultimate Fan" level, which includes all kinds of goodies - like the choice of a climbing lesson, figure skating lesson, or guided peak ascent. Larry Tipperreiter was the lucky winner of the raffle, and I was delighted to find he was eager to take me up on the climbing! He had plenty of experience hiking, but none with technical rock climbing or peaks above a few thousand feet. I suggested that if he wanted to combine a little climbing with a peak ascent, we could try an old favorite of mine: 14,267-ft Torreys Peak via Kelso Ridge.

By the standard trail, both Torreys and its close neighbor Grays Peak are an excellent, easy introduction to 14er hiking. (You can hike both peaks in a couple hours.)  Scrambling up Kelso Ridge instead of tromping up the standard trail makes the ascent a little more exciting.  Kelso is designated Class 3, which means it requires no rope or technical climbing gear to ascend, but several sections are comparable to climbing a high ladder: handholds and footholds are plentiful, but you really don't want to fall. I thought Kelso could give a fit hiker like Larry a little taste of the more adventurous side of peak climbing, without the need for worrying over ropes and technical gear. 

We chose a "weather window," Larry came out to Colorado and did a few acclimatization hikes to help his lungs adjust to the altitude, and then at dawn on a Sunday morning at the end of August, Larry and I and my hiking partner Dustin Putnam started out from the Stevens Gulch trailhead.

Dawn's light 

Larry ready to tackle Torreys Peak (in background)
14er climbing is not exactly a solitary pursuit; we had plenty of other people with us on the trail, though the crowds thinned a bit once we left the main trail to head for Kelso Ridge.
Heading off the main trail toward Kelso Ridge (a spur trail climbs to the low point on the saddle)
Helmets on! (A lot of climbers don't bother with helmets on Class 3 routes like Kelso, but on a busy weekend with lots of other parties on the route, it's easy for rocks to get knocked loose onto lower climbers. Always better to be safe than sorry. That said, I only had 2 helmets, so Larry and Dustin got the protection while I just used a hat.)
Larry tackles the first short Class 3 section (Dustin at top)
Larry and Dustin enjoying a snack break
Nothing like a beautiful day in the mountains
Larry and I working our way up the ridge. 
Some sections of Kelso are fairly easy (if steep) walking, some are fun scrambling, and some are steep, slanted, slippery/slidy dirt (not so fun). There's usually a little routefinding and backtracking, too - it's easy to get off track, especially with all the "climber trails" where people have tried to bypass various obstacles on the ridge. If the difficulty starts getting to the point where a rope would be a good idea, that means you're off route, and the safest thing to do is backtrack and look for another option.

Traversing along the ridge
Larry did great, handling both rock and steep dirt with aplomb, and patiently obeying my directions when we needed to backtrack. As we got above 12,000 feet, the altitude started to kick in; most people find themselves gasping for air even on a trail, let alone climbing steep rock, and some suffer headaches and nausea. But Larry had taken care to do a few hikes up to 10,000 in the days before the ascent, which always helps a lot. We took it slow and steady and he never got sick.

Moving up the ridge
View of Grays Peak from the ridge (regular trail visible switchbacking up the peak)
Getting higher
The last major obstacle before the summit is a section known as the "Knife Edge" - a very short knife edge compared to the far more exciting one on Capitol Peak, but still, a fun little scramble. Best way across for a newbie is to straddle the rock and inch your way along the knife edge - and if you're afraid of heights, don't look down at the thousand foot drop on the left!

Climbers on the knife edge
Higher view of the knife edge (the gray section of rock behind the lumpy white block)
Larry had said that the Knife Edge was the one part of the route he was a little nervous about, but once again, he did awesome! He scrambled right across with no trouble at all.
Crossing the Knife Edge
Straddle that ridge! (A climber who crossed right after us said, "I feel like I've just made sweet, sweet love to the mountain.")
Larry climbs around the white block that finishes the Knife Edge
We did it! Larry at the summit.
Hooray for Larry! It takes a real badass to tackle a Class 3 route on his first ascent of a 14er (especially given that he comes from a flatland state!). Not only did he succeed, he still had enough energy left to trek over to 14,278-ft Grays Peak and bag a second summit. We really lucked out with the weather - though it took us 5 hours to do Kelso Ridge, no thunderstorms were in sight when we topped out. So we had plenty of time left in the day to mosey on over to Grays, enjoying the views all the way.

View from Torreys' summit
Grays Peak, as seen from Torreys summit. It's close, but you still have to trek down to the saddle and then pant your way back up another 600 feet or so. 
View of the valley we hiked up from - if only we had a hang glider or a zipline!

Second summit of the day! On top of Grays Peak
Then comes the long hike down...but it doesn't feel so long when you've got great company on the way! Had a great discussion about books, and conventions, and all kinds of things. (Downhill is social time in the mountains. It's a lot easier to hold a conversation when nobody is panting for breath.)
Looking back at Torreys - Kelso Ridge is the long ridge forming the right side of the peak
Already a hint of fall color in the valley
Made it! End of the trail.
A terrific day in the mountains! I hope Larry enjoyed his introduction to 14er climbing as much I did giving it. I'm looking forward to taking another backer up Uncompahgre in the San Juan Mountains in the near future - cross your fingers for good weather, and hopefully I can bring back a bunch more beautiful pics.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Last call for Labyrinth of Flame pre-orders (the book is in copy edits!)

So yesterday I sent The Labyrinth of Flame to the copy editor, after spending the last few weeks entering all the line edit fixes and rewriting some scenes. (Which I did in between day job deadlines, a family trip to Moab, presenting a workshop at the RMFW Colorado Gold writing conference, and taking the winner of my Ultimate Fan reward raffle up two 14K peaks. That ascent was awesome, by the way. I'll be sharing tons of pics this Thursday.)

Going to copy edits means The Labyrinth of Flame is almost done. ALMOST. Hopefully just typos and other small errors left to fix. (Oh, how I hope!) I can't quite believe the story is really all there on the page. I've been working on this book for so long it's hard to imagine not working on it! But that day is coming soon. As is the day when all you lovely patient people will at last have the chance to read it. (The closer that day comes, the more my excitement grows...and yes, so do my nerves! I love this book so much. I know it's statistically impossible for everyone to love it. But I hope a whole lot of you do.)

I've been letting people who missed the Kickstarter do "late pledges" for either ebooks or signed trade paperbacks, but now the book is so close to production, I'm going to have to cut those off. Deadline for pre-orders/late pledges is this Friday, September 18th. After that point, anyone who'd like the book will have to wait for the general release at online retailers, which will happen after I ship all the Kickstarter rewards.

And now, I'm going to collapse. (Sleep has not been a priority the last month or so. Or actually, the last six years.)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Worldcon (Sasquan) in Pictures

I know everyone else is busy talking about the Great Hugo Drama, but for me, that's not what Worldcon was about. For me, Worldcon means the chance to hang out with friends and meet interesting new people and hear my favorite authors read from books I can't wait to see released. So I am not kidding at all when I say I had an absolute blast in Spokane last weekend.

Originally I was going to do this lovingly detailed post discussing everything I did at the con and everyone I met. But I've got line edits in hand for Labyrinth of Flame, and I'm pushing hard to get all the prose-level fixes done so I can hand off the book to the copy editor. That doesn't leave me time to write long blog posts. But I can share pictures that capture a few of my con highlights:

I got to meet veteran fantasy author Kate Elliott! I read her recently-released YA novel Court of Fives on the plane to Spokane and loved it. I wanted to steal her Black Wolves ARC - that's her latest adult epic fantasy, coming out this fall. But she only had one ARC with her, so I restrained myself (with difficulty). 
Meeting Kate Elliott was extra-special because she (along with the also-awesome Alison Croggon) helped motivate me to keep plowing through Labyrinth of Flame's first draft, at a time when I was struggling to balance writing and work and life and feeling like I was failing on all fronts. I can't thank her and Alison enough, and it was lovely to meet Kate in person at last. (One day I hope to thank Alison in person, too!) 

The r/Fantasy fan table! Awesome mod Melissa is on the left, while Kate Elliott (right) types away for her AMA.
Another highlight was hanging out with folks from r/Fantasy, both at the fan table and the excellent Drinks With Authors party. Huge thanks to moderator Melissa Shumake and author Megan O'Keefe, who did a fantastic job of organizing on short notice! 

Giveaway table at the Drinks With Authors party
One of the best moments at the party was running into a friend from Caltech I hadn't seen in twenty years - Divya is a fellow mole from Blacker Hovse, and she's also an SF writer, how cool is that! We had no idea we were both authors. Can't wait to check out her work.

Moles reunited after 20 years! Me and S.B. Divya

Similarly, I was delighted to meet up with a friend I first met years ago when we were both skating at the U.S. Adult National Championships. Sharon's not only a figure skater and SF fan, but a mountaineer/climber - we joke that we were separated at birth. I hadn't seen Sharon in ages, so it was great to catch up.

Figure skaters for the win: Sharon Reynolds and me
I also got to see a former member of my critique group: Catherine Montrose (who writes as Catherine Cooke) moved from Denver to Seattle a while ago, and we still miss her lots! 

Without Catherine's insightful critique, the Shattered Sigil books wouldn't be half as good
Lots more awesome folks I didn't get pictures of (like Karen Bovenmyer, and Joel Pearson, and Luke Matthews, and Lyndsey Zusi!) Amid all the socializing, I did go to some actual programming at the con.

Martha Wells reading from the 2nd of her upcoming new Raksura duology. Cannot wait for these books!

Jo Walton, Jack Campbell, Chip Hitchcock, and Ann Leckie discuss the work of C.J. Cherryh (my all-time favorite science fiction writer)
Plus I did a signing, and a pop AMA ("Ask Me Anything") on r/Fantasy, and hung out with my book reviewer brother Matt Hilliard and his girlfriend Rachel. Oh yes, and managed two separate trips to the local climbing gym! Once to take Labyrinth of Flame Kickstarter backer Melissa climbing, and once with anyone I could drag away from the con.  

Climbing with Joey Hewitt and Alex Ristea
Alex posted a few more pics of our climbing fun on twitter:

My one comment on the Hugos is that I did go to as many WSFS business meetings as possible, so I could support the E Pluribus Hugo proposal for changing the method of tallying nominations to a system that will be better representative of fandom's broad range of tastes. 

I was disappointed my flight left too early on Sunday for me to participate in the final vote on the proposal (though I convinced a friend to go and vote for EPH, so at least the proposal didn't lose a vote!). At the airport I was glued to my smartphone, hitting refresh on Rachael Acks's liveblog of the business meeting, hoping to see if EPH passed. Which it did, hooray! The proposal still has to be ratified at next year's Worldcon in Kansas City before it can take effect, but I hope that by 2017, the new (and better) system will be in place. 

Even before then, this next year I encourage everyone - regardless of political persuasion or taste in SFF - to nominate whatever 2015 books you've read and loved. I think a lot of Worldcon members are scared to nominate because they feel they haven't read widely enough in the field, or if they are voracious readers, it's too hard to winnow their list down to only a few choices. (I've certainly been guilty of that last.) Heck with that! Get out there and nominate, even if you have to throw a dart to choose between your favorites. The more people participate, the more likely it is the Hugos will have a shortlist of great reads from all over the SFF spectrum.

And now, back to line edits...

Thursday, August 6, 2015

WorldCon Plans

Can't believe in less than 2 weeks I head to Spokane for the WorldCon (a.k.a. Sasquan)! It'll be my 4th time attending a WorldCon, and despite all the acrimony over this year's Hugo awards, I'm hoping to have just as good a time as I did in years prior. Since I mostly go to cons to hang out with friends and talk about books and enjoy a little break from parenting & day job responsibilities, I'm fairly certain that's exactly what'll happen.

I will say that after the nonstop Hugo discussion (and freakouts) over the last months, I'm interested to see what happens at the ceremony. I may even for the first time ever attend the business meetings, as I think the E Pluribus Hugo proposal to adopt a system of nomination that will produce a result more representative of the variety of the electorate and resistant to slate voting is an excellent idea, and I'd like to vote for it. (I hope people won't be scared off by the seeming complexity of the proposed system. I can imagine it's a little intimidating if you're not used to mathematical analysis, but as voting systems go, SDV-LPE is actually not that complex, and it's been thoroughly tested.)

I got skunked on panels this year - no surprise when I don't currently have a contract with a major publisher - but I do have an autographing slot, so if you're at the con, come say hi!

Autographing: Thurs, Aug 20 from 1-1:45pm in CC Hall B. 

Other than that, I'll be wandering the halls and attending panels and hanging out in the bar and the local rock gym and thoroughly enjoying myself. Hope to see some of you there!

Monday, August 3, 2015

How to get The Labyrinth of Flame if you missed the Kickstarter

A quickie post today since I've got a super busy week ahead! Since the Labyrinth of Flame Kickstarter ended, I've gotten a steady trickle of emails from folks who missed the Kickstarter but are eager to get the book. I've decided I'll continue taking "late pledges" for ebooks and trade paperbacks until September 18th, 2015. The process is simple:

$8 USD gets you a DRM-free copy of the ebook plus high-res images of maps

$26 USD gets you a signed trade paperback plus DRM-free ebook and map images. (US shipping included, add $15 for shipping to Canada, $20 for the rest of the world). 

You can use Paypal or (if you live in the US) send me a check. Email me at courtney (at) courtneyschafer (dot) com to let me know which you prefer, and I'll send you back my Paypal account name or mailing address. Once I get the money, I'll add you to my backer spreadsheets, and you'll receive your book(s) at the same time as regular Kickstarter backers. 

Alternatively, you can wait for me to do a general release of the book through online retailers. That'll happen after I send out all the Kickstarter rewards - so likely this winter. I'll announce the general release here and to my mailing list (email me at courtney (at) courtneyschafer (dot) com to join).

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The return of the Thursday Adventure! Andrews Glacier/Flattop Mtn Loop

The best part about handing off The Labyrinth of Flame to the line editor is that I have time for mountain adventures again! Having finally recovered from my awful cold, I accompanied a coworker last weekend to Rocky Mountain National Park for a lovely loop hike with some snow climbing and plenty of spectacular scenery.

RMNP is a bit of a zoo in the summer. Arriving at 7:20am, the trailhead lots on Bear Lake road were already full, so we had to park at the visitor center and take a shuttle bus to the Glacier Gorge trailhead. We headed up the pretty and very popular Loch Vale trail:

Stream in the Loch vale
But despite the crowds in the vale, once past the junction for the rough, steep trail to Andrews Glacier, we soon found ourselves in solitude. The views of Sharkstooth are terrific - I wished we had ropes and climbing gear to ascend the 5.6 route to the summit.

Sharkstooth and the Andrews valley
The trail climbs through talus toward the headwall below Andrews Tarn:

My hiking partner Dustin on the way to Andrews Tarn

Alpine meadow with Sharkstooth still looming on the ridge
Andrews Tarn is a beautiful little blue-green lake, surrounded by wildflowers and backed by the Andrews Glacier - which is really more of a permanent snowfield, but I guess RMNP decided "glacier" sounds more impressive. The snowfield does develop dangerous crevasses in the late summer, and people have died descending when conditions are icy.

Andrews Tarn and Andrews Glacier

Edge of the glacier
We came prepared with ice axes and microspikes, and the snow was in great condition: soft enough to kick steps in, but firm enough to prevent any postholing. 

Dustin on the glacier

On my way up
I'd been worried about my fitness level, or lack thereof, after months spent at the keyboard instead of on the trails. Thankfully, my genetic gift of altitude adaptation did not fail me. Most hikers slow waaaaay down once you get over 11,000-12,000 ft, whereas to me, that feels no different than sea level. I wasn't exactly blazing up the glacier, but I had no trouble keeping a steady pace.  Let's hear it for extra red blood cells! (And golden mega-stuff oreos. They help a lot, too.)

A distant Dustin nears the top of the glacier

Woo hoo! Nothing like a beautiful day in the mountains.
At the top of the glacier is Andrews Pass and the continental divide, which in this area of the park is an open expanse of tundra. 

View from Andrews Pass
I love the tiny wildflowers that cover the tundra in summer. So delicate, so beautiful, and so hard to capture with an ordinary camera! But here's a shot of my favorite little blue flowers:

Tundra wildflowers
From Andrews Pass, it's possible to reach a whole host of mountain summits. If you start early enough, you can even do five peaks in a day. But since we could see clouds building, we headed straight for Flattop Mountain and our descent trail. On the way, we passed Tyndall Glacier, which is far steeper than Andrews:

Tyndall Glacier and Hallett Peak
We met some friendly young marmots on the way:

And enjoyed some impressive views of Longs Peak:

Backside of Longs Peak
The clouds were growing ever darker, so we hurried down the Flattop Mountain trail, not wanting to get caught by a thunderstorm above timberline:

The storms are coming!
Thankfully, the thunder held off until we'd reached the trees. Along the way to Bear Lake, we had a nice view down into the gorge that holds Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake. (Dream Lake is where I filmed my Kickstarter video!)

Looking down at Emerald Lake
My endurance and conditioning hold up well even after a long time without hiking, but my little feet do not. They were quite sore by the time we reached the Bear Lake parking lot and the shuttle back to our car. But every ounce of soreness was worth it (and they'll soon toughen up properly). A day in the mountains is like a drink of cool water to my soul. There's no better way to refresh creativity - and now Labyrinth of Flame is nearing publication, I look forward to many more mountains days to come!