Friday, May 25, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Ten Years Ago in Telluride

Mountaineering and canyoneering and climbing are all very nice, but the best part of adventures in the mountains is sharing them with someone you love.  Tomorrow marks ten years of marriage to the best climbing partner I could ever ask for: my husband Robert.

Robert and I on the Eggersteig route in the Austrian Alps
We first met in graduate school, when his PhD advisor came over from Australia to do a year-long sabbatical working with my own advisor at the University of Colorado, and had Robert come over to the US to spend a few months working here.  As a climber & mountain biker, Robert was quite eager to explore Colorado mountains; when he asked, everyone pointed him my way ("You want to climb?  Go ask Courtney, she's all about the mountains.").  I met him on my birthday - best birthday present ever!  We climbed a bunch of peaks that summer, and discovered we not only shared a love of the mountains, but of science fiction/fantasy movies and novels, gothic/industrial and classical choral music, and all manner of other interests.  We fell in love...but then he had to go back to Australia to finish his PhD.

Robert and I in Orderville Canyon, in Zion National Park
  We weren't sure what the future would bring, but we didn't want to just give up on the connection we'd made - so for a year and a half, we did the long-distance relationship thing, emailing every day, calling twice a week (how I wish we'd had Skype back then!).  Far from waning with time, our relationship got stronger.  I left grad school after getting my M.S. to work in industry; when he finished his PhD, my former advisor offered him a post-doc position in Boulder, and at last we were able to be together again.

Robert and I backpacking near Snowmass Peak, in the Elk Range of  central Colorado
A few more years of hiking and climbing together, and he proposed to me: again on my birthday, on the summit of a local rock formation with a stunning view of Boulder.  We decided to have a small "destination" wedding in Telluride, one of our favorite places to hike and ski in Colorado.  We invited people to come down a few days early and hike with us; we had a wonderful time hanging out with our friends, and showing Robert's Australian relatives the beauty of Colorado.

Hiking together in Telluride the day before our wedding
The wedding itself was tons of fun - we had the ceremony in a beautiful little church in town, then walked with all our guests to the ski gondola and rode that over the mountain to a reception in the upper ski village.      

Dancing on Telluride's main street on our wedding day

With our wedding guests at the reception

Exiting the church
Ten years of wonderful adventures together, and I'm looking forward to many more!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Attempt on Thatchtop (Sometimes The Mountains Kick Your Ass)

Sometimes all the stars align for a peak climb and you skip up the mountain with nary a loose stone to trouble you.

And sometimes the mountains kick your ass.

Like last weekend.  After being chained to my computer working on The Tainted City for months, I was dying to get out into the "real" mountains (as opposed to the Flatirons beside Boulder).  I lined up a hiking partner and settled on a destination: Thatchtop Mountain (12,668 ft), in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Not a hard peak, just a nice little class 2 off-trail ascent, reached by taking the heavily traveled Black Lake trail up Glacier Gorge past Mills and Jewel Lakes, then ducking off into the forest and scrambling up off-trail past a few lakes to the broad summit.  You can even turn it into a loop hike by crossing over Thatchtop's broad summit and then descending an S-gully to meet the Loch Vale trail.

It never even occurred to me to check the trail conditions.  Yeah, it was early season - so we brought ice axes and warm clothes and microspikes, figuring we'd have to ascend/descend snowfields once we got off-trail.  But the trail up Glacier Gorge is one of the most well-trodden in RMNP; heck, I've seen grandmothers and five year olds waltzing along that sucker.  And no wonder, since the views are so lovely:

Glacier Gorge (Longs Peak and the Keyboard of the Winds visible on the far ridgeline)

Yeah, well.  It turns out last November there was a windstorm in RMNP that resulted in a "microburst" wind event in Glacier Gorge.  Hurricane-force winds knocked down nearly the entire pine forest within the gorge's upper reaches.  Our first warning of this was upon passing Mills Lake, when we started seeing unusual numbers of downed trees.  But someone had been through with a chainsaw; we laughed over how in a National Park, the trails are always in such good shape.

Then we passed the turn-off to a backcountry campground midway up the gorge, and found the entire forest knocked over and no more helpfully chainsawed path through the trees.
The "trail" at the start of the blowdown
Trail?  What trail?
Not realizing the extent of the damage, we forged on.  But downed pine trees in Colorado are vicious to crawl through; they have spiky stabby branches radiating out whole damn way down the trunk.  If it'd been winter, we could have tromped up the gulch of the creek and been spared the worst of it.  But the creek was free-flowing (and deep, and icy cold); no joy that way.  We tried moving higher on the slopes, and were stymied by unconsolidated snowbanks that had us sinking waist-deep.  After two hours in which we'd made all of a quarter mile of progress (while cursing like sailors and bleeding from innumerable branch-stabs), we turned around.

I've gotta say, that's the first time I've ever had my ass kicked by nothing more than downed trees.  But that's part of the fun of the mountains: they can always surprise you.  Given how popular Glacier Gorge is as a snowshoe/winter camping destination, I keep wondering if anyone might've been in the canyon when the windstorm happened.  Because...whoa.  That must've been one hell of a night, with the entire forest crashing down around you.  Maybe I'll have to work that into a story sometime.

Even though we didn't make Thatchtop, it still felt awesome to get a day in the mountains again.  Hopefully only the first of many this summer!
Me beside Mills Lake, after escaping the blowdown

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Book Rec: The Drowning City (Amanda Downum)

So last week I went on a business trip to Ohio.  Not a very exciting destination, you might think - but these days, I rejoice in my rare opportunities for business travel.  Not only do I get to sleep in a nice quiet hotel room without an energetic toddler demanding I jump out of bed at 6am, but I get scads of uninterrupted reading time while in airports and on planes.  As always, before the trip I loaded up my Kindle with a whole stack of new books to read.  But much as I love my e-reader for travel, there's that annoying 15 minutes on take-off and landing where you're not allowed to use it.  Which means I always take along a paperback book, too - wouldn't want to waste 15 minutes of reading time!  (I can read a good few chapters in 15 minutes.)

This time I grabbed a paperback off the unread stack of freebie books I got at the World Fantasy Convention last October, and the book I happened to choose was Amanda Downum's The Drowning City.  It's the first book in her Necromancer Chronicles, a series I'd heard some recommendations for but had not yet gotten around to trying, mostly because the blurb hadn't particularly captured my attention.  When I boarded my flight to Ohio, I figured I'd read a few chapters while waiting out the "no electronic devices" purgatory and then dive back into the current book on my Kindle (a book I was thoroughly enjoying).

Well, when the flight attendant came on to say electronic devices were a-okay again, I couldn't bring myself to put The Drowning City down, not even to return to the Kindle book I'd wanted so badly to finish.  I ended up reading The Drowning City straight through during the flight before returning to the Kindle.  (And then re-reading some bits I'd particularly liked when I had to shut the Kindle off for landing.)  I even downloaded the next book in the series (The Bone Palace) the minute I had internet access again.

So what hooked me so deeply?  Well, I harbor a deep love for spy novels, and The Drowning City is a spy novel in a fantasy setting.  Not the big flashy explosions and cool tech sort of spy novel, but the quieter, more realistic sort, where fallible characters with conflicting goals struggle to navigate a confusing, messy tangle of loyalties and information.  Not to say that the book doesn't have interesting magic and some nice action scenes, because it does - but to me, the real strength was in Downum's weaving of the viewpoints from various characters (some jaded spies, some not so) to create a coherent tale.  I also appreciated the plethora of female characters (a nice change from many fantasies), and I loved Downum's descriptions of the city, which felt both real and pleasantly different than the usual quasi-european fantasy setting.

Fair warning: you need a fairly high tolerance for confusion at the start of the book; this is something I don't have a problem with as a reader, but I know some people dislike having lots of unfamiliar terms and political factions thrown at them.  (I like to figure things out as I go, and when in doubt I just trust things will come clear later; a trust that Downum rewards, I think.  For me, nothing was so confusing it got in the way of the story; others may vary.)  So long as you don't mind that, I definitely recommend the book - I know I'm quite eager to read the next two in the series (just started The Bone Palace, in fact.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Book Rec: And Blue Skies From Pain (Stina Leicht)

I guess this one's a "Tuesday Book Rec" instead of a "Monday Book Rec"...meant to write it yesterday, but was too busy getting ready for a business trip for ye olde day job.  (I am in fact writing this while sitting in an airport.  Used to be any chance I got I'd be frantically pecking away at my manuscript, snatching the opportunity to squeeze out a few more I can mess around on the internet and write blog posts, wheee!) Anyway, this week's rec is for And Blue Skies From Pain, the sequel to Stina Leicht's excellent debut novel Of Blood And Honey.  Or really, it's a rec for both novels, because if you haven't read the first one, you really should.  Dark and gut-wrenching and beautifully written, both books are urban fantasy the way I like it: no sparkly vampires or sassy tattooed chicks stuck in love triangles; instead Leicht tackles the grim realities of life in 1970s Ireland, and does a spectacular job delving deep into the pyschological effects of trauma on her main character, Liam Kelly.  Liam is half-puca (shapeshifter); and his struggle to understand and accept his Sidhe heritage provides a nice counterpoint to all the divided loyalties and moral quandaries inherent in the real-world problems he faces.  And lest that all sound too thoughtful and literary, be assured the books include some stellar action scenes as well (Leicht's writing particularly shines in the car chases, thanks to her hands-on research into rally driving!).

While in the first book the supernatural element was more of an undercurrent throughout the novel, in And Blue Skies From Pain the three-way war between the Church, the Fallen, and the Sidhe plays a much larger role (as Liam and his priest friend Father Murray attempt to broker a fragile peace between the Sidhe and the Church).   But again, the real heart of the book lies in Liam's struggle to overcome the terrible events of his past.  I have to admit that in the first half of And Blue Skies From Pain, I spent a lot of the time wanting to smack Liam upside the head - but that is not a critcism of the book, because I think his self-destructive impulses and angry outbursts are dead on target for a realistic portrayal of someone who's endured as much abuse as he has.   Real pain isn't all pretty angst, and I appreciate a book that can give an unflinching look at it and show a realistic journey of character growth.   And even as I wanted to shake Liam, I kept right on reading, dying to know what would happen next.  Leicht brings the book to a nice conclusion, though with plenty of room for more books to follow in the series (something I hope will happen one day!).

So if you like your fantasy dark, realistic, and full of flawed yet fascinating characters, you owe it to yourself: read these books! 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The TBR Pile

One of the best parts about finishing my draft of The Tainted City is that I can now READ again.  Books!  That are not mine! I cannot tell you how excited I am about this.  I didn't give up reading entirely during the last few months - that would have been like trying to give up breathing - but I restricted myself to nonfiction and/or books I'd already read; those are easy for me to read in tiny little bits and put down without getting sucked in and losing hours of writing time.

But that was like taking little sips of an energy goo drink while slogging up a mountain, when your body's screaming for a real meal.  And at last I can gorge myself on all those lovely books I've been salivating over these last few months.  In the last 5 days I've read a book a night, and it's been *wonderful*.  Sadly, my reading pace will now have to slow down a touch - it's time to dive back into The Tainted City and start working on my own list of enhancements/cuts/revisions.  But this time I don't intend to stop reading new books entirely.  So I appeal to you - what books should I make sure to catch up on?  Here's what I've got so far....

Since finishing, I've already read:

The Serpent Sea (Martha Wells)
Black Heart (Holly Black)
The Alchemist of Souls (Anne Lyle)
Songs of the Earth (Elsepth Cooper)
The Salt Road (Jane Johnson)

The TBR list, in no particular order:

And Blue Skies From Pain (Stina Leicht)
The Straits of Galahesh (Bradley Beaulieu)
Range of Ghosts (Elizabeth Bear)
Throne of the Crescent Moon (Saladin Ahmed)
Control Point (Myke Cole)
Scourge of the Betrayer (Jeff Salyards)
The Black Opera (Mary Gentle)
Faith (John Love)
When We Were Executioners (J.M. McDermott)
Bitter Seeds (Ian Tregillis)
Servant of the Underworld (Aliette de Bodard)
Osiris (E.J. Swift)
The Killing Moon (N.K. Jemisin)
The Desert of Souls (Howard A. Jones)

Next week I plan to start up my Monday book rec feature again, to highlight those books I particularly enjoyed.  So again...what other interesting books have I missed these last months?  If you know one, tell me.