Thursday, March 1, 2018

Crepuscular Digest #3

This poster got Wes Wilson a stern talking to from Bill Graham. More on Wes later

01/05/79: The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA
A surprisingly nice audience recording from the Spectrum. A tough room to tape in

When I got into the Disco Biscuits, they were billed to me as a Philly band. Phish was a Vermont band and the Grateful Dead were a San Fransisco band. Each band had their ancestral homeland. Philly then became sort of a Mecca or mythical place of power as I became a fanatical Biscuits fan. It seemed funkier and more fun than the Manhattan I had grown up knowing as a suburban Long Island kid. There always seemed to be music, art or history around the next corner. It was certainly cheaper than NYC, which was nice. My first time visiting Philadelphia to see the Disco Biscuits was their 2002 New Years run at the Electric Factory. A carload of close friends from SUNY Albany  crammed into a hotel within walking distance  of the E-factory and had the adventure of a lifetime seeing the band give a command performance over three nights.There's a lot more to the story I'll get to eventually.

At the Original E-Factory in 1969
Once the Dead obsession crept into my life, it came as no surprise to me  that the Grateful Dead played consistently well in Philadelphia. It's the holy land of Bisco (not to mention a cultural and musical epicenter in its own right). It was cool to learn that the Dead played the original Electric Factory in 1968 and 1969. The Electric Factory promoters (this book by one of the E Factory founders looks to be pretty cool) also booked the Spectrum, the big hockey arena in town.  Once the Dead were big enough, they moved over there in 1972. According to this well researched and compelling overview of the Grateful Dead's performances in Philly, they played the Spectrum a whooping 53 times. Bruce Springsteen only played there 42 times and Philly was a second home for him.

First show at the Spectrum in 1972
I love the beefy Sugaree to start but the recording takes a couple tunes to get right so its a rough listen. The sound gets much better by mid-first set. By mid-second set it sounds wonderful. Especially for an 18,000 person room in 1979. The Estimated Prophet second set is where things really take off. Its segues ferociously into Eyes of the World. I'm typically pretty skeptical of any Eyes after 1974. Its so hit or miss for me. This is one of the better post hiatus Eyes I've listened to. They lock into a wonderful groove and tempo that makes me wish it would never end. Drums>Space is great. Space>Truckin'>Nobody's Fault but mine jam>Black Peter is really the heart of this show though. A masterful suite of music with great warmth, sadness, moments of quiet, and moments of great fury. Around and around is even really hot. The room ambiance of the recording makes it a really immersive listening experience and while listening my mind wandered to some incredible nights of music in Philadelphia through the years.

A Nice New York Times eulogy for The Spectrum

 08/31/83: Silva Hall, Hult Center, Eugene, OR
 Gorgeous Sennheiser 421 mic audience recording from Da Weez

The connection between Ken Kesey and the Grateful Dead is a really engrossing sub-story in both of their arcs. Kesey of course spent some time in California, but very early on in his adult life, settled in his ancestral Oregon. When the Grateful Dead were in town, Kesey was around more often then not. Or the primary reason they were in Oregon at all. The Hult Center itself is a fascinating venue. The room the dead played in this performing arts center was the 2,448 seat Silva Hall. The interior is designed to look like a woven basket. It's heavily shot through with the University of Oregon's colors, green and yellow. It looks like a really trippy place to see a really trippy band. 

This show at the Hult center starts with Ken Kesey tells a few jokes while the band gets it together. It's noted that he was jamming behind the drums on harmonica during space but its not really audible on the recording. I'm sure if he was participating, he was influencing. Aside from the already neato Kesey stuff, this is an excellent show. 83-84 is my favorite era for Dupree's Diamond Blues honestly. I'm sure that's sacrilege to hardcore primal Dead fans but there's something about the sound they get with Brent and the quality of storytelling from Garcia. He had a real feel for the story. The closing sequence of set one is great. A driving West L.A. Fade Away is followed by a really nice Althea that gets pretty deep. It's a lovely pairing to have Althea followed by Cassidy. They segue into a hot Don't Ease me In to wrap up a hot first set.

Having not read ahead in the setlist, I was surprised and delighted to have the second set start with Cold, Rain and Snow as a wet and heavy late winter snow fell over Albany. Love those moments where the music and the universe sync up. After this, the entire rest of the second set is one fluid piece. Playing in the Band gets very deep into its jam and segues unexpectedly into a shimmering China Doll. More unorthodox than this pairing is the post Doll jam that at times touches on the Playing in the Band feel without fully returning to it. It's an extended piece of improv that shape-shifts into drums. The space is very uptempo and unusual (the drummers stay on) so I could see Kesey influencing it. The segue into Truckin' is phenomenal and well worth the price of admission. Stella Blue is as poignant as ever while the Good Lovin' has terrific energy to end the set.

10/12/68 The Avalon Ballroom, San Fransisco, CA 
Charlie Miller transfer of this intimate soundboard recording

First off, The poster for this run of shows at the Avalon Ballroom is by psychedelic poster pioneer Wes Wilson. For a time, San Francisco was the hippest music scene in the world. It's still really hip. The artists creating posters for the events spawned an art movement themselves which endures to this day. Here's a great article which goes into the "big five" posters artists as well as many of the other folks who helped create and define this vibrant 20th century art scene. I'll share some of Wes' stuff throughout this section of the post. More on the San Fran ballroom poster scene here and here.

The poster for this run at the Avalon
This show may or may not start with an absolute blazing Morning Dew. This copy at least omits it. The first one I heard has it. After the Dew (or whatever actually precedes this), Jerry encourages the audience: "Please let go of your bodies everybody" after saying it would be unhip of him to tell them to "dance or else". Dark Star is an excellent choice for letting go of your body. Every member of the band can be heard clearly in this gift of a recording. This is a time period where Bobby and Pigpen get kicked out (more on the "firing" here) for not being on the same page as far as where the music was going and how hard it should be worked on. The kick out doesn't stick and Bobby plays on this tape, while Pigpen does not. Though I love keys in improvisational music, here's a great example of what having a simplified melodic profile can do for directed improvisation. Tow guitars and a bass is lithe and aggressive. Explosive at times.

Wes Wilson created his poster for an anti-war demonstration.
 Jerry's tone is lovely. He starts stretching the Dark Star out with Phil working the intensity bellows. The first jam is nearly five minutes of directed bliss before a strong run through the first verse. Jerry is phenomenal form vocally on this night. Powerful and emotive.The second jam drifts like snow on a windy mountainside, going much further out than the first jam. Jerry weaves a gorgeous melody starting just before seven minutes. It brings in a fuller expression of the percussion section before peaking the dark star theme with a controlled squeal. Intensity continues building until a collective band deep breath just before the ten minute mark. Garcia is unrelenting and lets the jam stay in the base of the valley only a moment before guiding the band up the next peak. Here we dip up and down for a couple short jaunts of intensity flow before the final reestablishment of the dark star theme, then the final verse.

"Ohm" is on of Wes Wilson's most famous posters. Van Morrison1967
The segue into Saint Stephen is playfully sparse and absolutely delicately brilliant. The band all jump in to the structure with tangible glee. The vocals are recorded beautifully with every voice ringing clearly. Bobby's vocals against Jerry's sound wonderful. After delivering the "One man gathers what another man spills" line, Bobby mumbles "funniest thing I ever heard" nonchalantly to the roaring approval of the audience. They segue out of Stephen like a river suddenly un-dammed. Like a flame suddenly greeted by a great rush of oxygen. They slip into the Eleven theme effortlessly, instrumentalists at the top of their game. They play through the pre-vocal section with many small, lovely embellishments and great intensity. They hit the vocals on the Eleven with the typical vigor and precision found in this performance.

2/24/67 at the Fillmore is a trademark Wilson piece
They hit peak after peak post vocals, maintaining a completely improbable pace of soundscape creation and destruction. The tempo taffy pulls down to a slow blues shuffle. Death Don't Have No Mercy. The emotion in Jerry's vocal and instrumental performance on this track is captivating. Becoming a Grateful Dead enthusiast after Garcia had passed offers me an opportunity to avoid some of the hang ups of being a Dead Head. I was able to separate myself a bit from the deification of Jerry Garcia. It was clear studying the history as an outsider how toxic it became to him. Listening to this performance however, its clear there was no chance a person who emitted music like this could ever be treated as a mortal. The first big Jerry solo at 3:30 is so much about the notes not played. The control and tastefulness of what he did choose to lay down.Verse two and the control, the delicacy is even more tightly dialed in. At 7:00 we hear maybe the most powerful vocal delivery of Jerry Garcia's career (in my humble and currently held opinion. Subject to change). Nuanced and dynamic, the whole weight of the human experience is pondered then shed as unnecessary to bear any more. The show goes on for an as equally big and beautiful segment of music I'll leave you to explore on your own. Many treasures await.
Still a much sought after poster artist. Moonalice 2013
Legend puts Jimi Hendrix in town for a run of shows and quite possibly in attendance at this show. Its an even more compelling wrinkle to this already engrossing aural tale. Dig into that bit of Dead mythology here. More on 10/12/68  here and here too. This show deserves all the attention its gotten through the years.

Steve Kimock Band 2/22/02  The Gothic, Bellevue, CO
"The tape that got him the job"

 Steve Kimock's credentials are some of the most impeccable in improvisational rock. He's been playing with members of the Grateful Dead as well as many incredibly talented musicians outside the core Dead thing since the 70's. His tone and style are very unique and yet blend really well with the wide variety of musicians he plays with. My first time seeing him live was at the Capitol Theatre with Bob Weir's campfire band (more on that show including audio and pictures here). His latest album Satellite City is phenomenal. On the anniversary of this show, this recording  by Charlie Miller and Arielle Phares circulated online and piqued my interest. I don't venture out much from the Grateful Dead and Disco Biscuits as far as jam music and was hugely rewarded for this particular jaunt.

Kimock in 2002
After listening to about five minutes of the first tune Ice Cream, I found myself looking up the rest of the line up for this band. Everyone sounded super talented. By the third song, Tangled Hangers,  my jaw was on the floor at the quality of playing. So emotive as well, which I find more rare in bands without vocals. (This Will Destroy You is one of the few that comes to mind)  Wanting to know more about the musicians took me down some surprising paths again outside my usual taste. Drummer Rodney Holmes fell in love with art and music in high school on. He wound up playing in Santana's band in two separate phases of that band among many other things. He's been able to balance a strong rock and strong jazz foundation to great success while displaying his interest in electronic/ dance music. The electronic influence from this performance is clear even though he plays a completely live/ acoustic kit. Bassist Alfonso Johnson played with Santana as well, Weather Report, Genesis, Bobby and the Midnites and Jazz is Dead. His playing caught my ear the most. Incredible bass player. The second guitarist Mitch "Moose" Stein had an early improv background and wound up getting way into the jazz scene. He compliments Kimock's lead parts in a way that can't help but make you think of how Bobby related to Jerry. The nimble interplay of two guitars and a bass (without Keys to round out a standard rock line up) is something that really caught my ear about that Avalon Ballroom '68 show. It also makes this show really compelling.

Alfonso Johnson in Rochester in 1977
Charlie Miller on 2/22/02

For those of us who spend countless hours listening to Grateful Dead recordings, no one is more responsible for our quality of life in 2018 than Charlie Miller. He's been steadily remastering, upgrading and circulating hulking portions of the Grateful Dead's performance history. He does this as a service to the community, seeking no compensation for his intensive efforts.  He started taping the Grateful Dead in 1983 and has been capturing beautiful recordings ever since, most recently,  these lovely recordings of  the entire 13 show Baker's Dozen MSG run by that Vermont band.

He mentioned on social media that this Kimock recording recording was the tape that landed him the job. That little bit of information is what got me so interested in this recording. It was a tremendously rewarding listening experience and super fun getting to learn about some great musicians.  I was so grateful for the experience Charlie's tape provided me, I decided to bother him about it. Here's the conversation we had:

Crepuscular Rays: I saw you said that making the recording got you the job. Would you mind elaborating on that?
Charlie Miller: The band released my recordings as Live in Colorado which got me the job with the band. I've been working for Kimock for 17 years, but not so much lately.

CR: Thanks! I can see why it was released. Incredible music! Did you run boards/ mix for them or focus on recording the performances?
CM: I was Kimock's recording engineer, sound man, driver, road manager, stage crew and most importantly, his friend.

CR: That's one hell of a position. Had you been working in that capacity before?
CM: I've been recording since 1983. I had experience with all those things just not at the same level. When you're with a band for so long you end up doing everything at some point.

Rodney Holmes 2016
CR: At the show did you know it was a special performance? Like did it stand apart from others of that era? Seems like it from the audience.
CM: Yeah we all knew... and the next night was the cigarette after sex 😃

CR: Nice! Any other Kimock recordings I should check out? I'll definitely check out 2/23/02 now.
CM: I put 98% of the year up on the archive. It's all killer. Really.

CR: Awesome! I really appreciate you taking some time to chat with me about this legendary show. Anything else you'd like to add?
CM: Play it loud.

To learn more about Charlie Miller's legacy, take a ride in the wayback machine to check this interview from the now defunct Dar Star palace blog. It's a really thorough piece with great pictures.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Crepuscular Digest #2

Jerry Garcia Band SUNY Stony Brook Gymnasium, 2/24/80 

When I'm looking through concert recordings, if I see a show played somewhere I know (especially in New York State), I tend to select it over others from far off places. When I saw that Jerry Garcia Band played SUNY Stony Brook several times in their career, I started working through those performances. I grew up in the nearby town of Mount Sinai. I came of age when Rollerblade's became popular. First they were a roller rink/ tool around the neighborhood thing. Then it was all about roller hockey for years. It started off as a casual neighborhood game then became a serious 3-5 day a week neighborhood game. We played in a cul-de-sac at the other end of the neighborhood from me. One of the homeowner's in the cul-de-sac, Mr Balafas, owned a welding company. He enjoyed watching the game and offered to build us goals. Even offered to store them in his driveway. A significant portion of the kids in the neighborhood game got so serious we started playing in a local league in Miller Place, the next town over. As I got more into my early teens, skate and snowboard culture started to get more mainstream exposure and the kids in the neighborhood starting getting in to that. People started modifying Rollerblade's to do some of the same tricks (grinds and airs) as skateboards and off we went getting in to the burgeoning sport of aggressive rollerblading. It was a short trend compared to something more enduring like skateboarding, but we had a blast and were constantly looking for places with sets of stairs and ledges. Finding SUNY Stony Brook was like heaven. We had a lot of adventures including running from the University police once it got pretty popular to skate there. That was especially fun for us, we got to know the tunnels below campus and would be able to disappear in one place and pop out in another. Until one day we popped out of a building and were surrounded by campus squad cars and bike officers. Brian Needles (my main skate partner/ partner in crime) and I got taken into the station and had our parents called. That ended our sessions at SUNY SB.

Well that was quite a digression to explain my sentimental attachment to this venue. I knew the Gym very well from skating there and from my sister's track meets. This show was just a few days before the famous Kean College shows released officially as After Midnight. It has the same super minimal line up as that recording: John Kahn on bass, Ozzie Ahlers on keys, and Johnny De Fonseca on drums. His story with the band is fascinating yet tragically short. Thanks to the Hooterollin blog for their beautiful work telling De Fonseca's story. With how hot the Kean college recordings are its perhaps not surprising they play a very hot show in Stony Brook as well. It's weird for me to hear JGB tunes without female vocalists but the deft and hard driving playing throughout make up for it. 'Sitting here in Limbo' is totally a vocal duet song to me but he does a phenomenal job carrying this one on his own. 'That's all right, Mama' is killer, as is 'Masterpiece' and 'I'll Take a melody'.  The audience recording is crystal clear and very high quality taboot. I  recommend you give it a listen.

Grateful Dead Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA, 4/19/86
Pristine Charlie Miller/ David Gans soundboard recording

First off, I found this great fan account of the run. always love hearing about people's experiences at shows. I tend to prefer listening to audience recordings from the early to mid-80's but got it in my head I wanted to hear the boards for this run. Taper and mastering genius Charlie Miller did his usual magic on this tape. It's a stellar mix and recording right out the gate for the 'Feel Like a Stranger'. Everyone is present and balanced in the mix which is great considering how tight and interactive this 'Stranger' is. 'Stagger Lee' and 'Friend of the Devil' also have some lovely moments, especially from Brent. The whole first set is fun and well played. They stretch the 'Cassidy' out nicely and rock through 'Big Railroad' and 'Saturday Night'.

The backstage pass for this show is a bit of a piece of fascination to me. When I first saw it I immediately thought about the Challenger tragedy and figured it was very close to the date. Turns out it had happened just three months previously, on 1/28/86. My first thought upon discovering that fact was, wow GDP, maybe in poor taste? I then figured the pass designs were probably already done when the accident had occurred. I was in Elementary school at the time and the launch was a huge deal. The first teacher to go into space Christa McAuliffe captured the nation's attention. Looking at it this way it's no surprise the dead chose this design. Plus, its got  a cool psychedelic art meets the 80's graphic design thing. The second set is very well played and goes way out there. The drums>space>the Other One>China Doll segment is my favorite part of the show and gets very heavy and intense. The Crazy Fingers>Playing also gets very spacey. The whole second set is very improv heavy but with a mellow feel. Grateful dead in space! Lately the east coast vs west coast feel for shows has come up a lot in discussion. I 'm a firm believer in 'different but both great' for the two coasts. These shows (like the Marin 84 run I talked about here) are a great example of how a mellow and laid back show or run can still be engaging, masterfully played and thoroughly terrific.

Grateful Dead Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY, 10/22/83
Incredible Dusborne Matrix  Recording

Jerry kicks on that effect, you know the one, and the crowd oohs in anticipation. 'Shakedown' is about to happen. I listened to all of 1984 last year and came to the conclusion that the spring and early summer were my favorite parts. I backtracked to fall 83 and loved that just as much. I determined the sweet spot for what I like appears to be fall 83-spring 84. The quality of audience recording from this time period is just phenomenal. Its right at the apex of what analog could get to before primitive digital takes over and isn't so hot for a few years.

 Back on to chasing shows from the old home land. I consider anything along the Erie Canal to be especially important (my work has gotten me pretty deep into NYS Canal history) so Utica, Syracuse and Rochester shows always take precedence. I'll also accept Binghamton shows since its connected to the Erie with the lateral Chenango Canal hahaha. Interesting side note I'm researching: Notice Albany isn't in the mix at all? Weird huh? Major city in that same corridor right? Might as well tack it on. Well there's a canceled show in 1970 and then 20 years without a show within city limits. Shows in the market, sure, but none in the city. I suspect a vast conspiracy.

The mix achieved on this matrix recording is tasty. Live and warm, but still crisp. The full hit of Phil's bass and the lower end Brent synth parts sounds amazing on my headphones. The groove is dark and always heading towards new ideas. Jammy without being too aimless or noodley. 'Wang Dang Doodle' scorches. This is a particularly hard hitting version of this tune. 'Candyman' has plenty of mustard on it despite it often being a tune the band can use to catch their breath. The second set starts off with a  'China>Rider' sequence that is tight and inspired and gets really hot by the segue. 'Terrapin Station' is chill-inducing from note one. The response from the crowdto its first notes speaks volumes. Jerry's voice is still very strong, and sincere as always. Phil is very active. The improv leading into the final verse of the 'Lady with a Fan' section completely deconstructs the themes and then surges forward with great power. Terrapin itself is triumphant and powerful. Jerry stays on with the drummers and rocks out for a bit before the drums section. Its labeled on this recording as the Hofman's Snappy jam lol. For those from outside upstate New York,  white Hots are a popular cased meat treat in the Rochester/ Syracuse area. They are made with pork, beef and veal and are uncured, hence their white color. Hofman is a famous maker of the white hot. Drums>Space is top notch and who doesn't love a Space>The Wheel? This is a great time for that particular segue and this version does not disappoint. Hints of a Spanish Jam. The Set 2B and encore are rock solid as well.

The Vince era

Part of my complete fall for the Grateful Dead was my discovery of Brent Mydland. I LOVED his key playing, especially the Hammond B3 organ. I loved his voice and how he inspired Garcia's playing. His songs were dark and brooding, as was his musical energy at times. It more honestly rounded out the Grateful Dead's interpretation of humanity in their performances. Just a little darkness. Just a little light. So I adored the Brent era and especially fell in love with the famous spring 1990 tour. The playing was dynamic and exciting, building in quality and popularity continuously from after Garcia's coma in 1986. Brent's musical presence and increasing portion of the spotlight were a major driving force in why it was such a good tour. Summer tour kept up the heat consistently until it ended in late July. A week after tour ended, Brent Mydland passed away tragically. Learning this information, as I was falling in love with the man's music was heartbreaking.
Vince's first show: Richmond Coliseum 9/7/90
 I purposely avoided the Vince Welnick era. I didn't want to hear Jerry's heartbreak, the decline. I didn't want to hear all the cliched complaints about the era: Jerry's constantly bungled lyrics, uninspired playing, Vince's cheesy synth tones and Bruce Horsnby's popular guest appearances overs-shadowing Vince's playing. Then I listened to about 800 Grateful Dead shows, a bunch of Jerry band shows and lots of post Jerry member projects like Ratdog, Furthur and Dead and Company.The Vince era represented a big block of Grateful Dead shows I hadn't yet dug in to. If I could listen to and enjoy what a lot of people would consider a meh Ratdog show, I could give Vince a chance. At first I cherry picked The best of the Vince era shows with a heavy bias towards selecting Bruce Hornsby nights. I did enjoy a lot of them, but would always default to other eras as what I enjoyed pursing.

3/29/93 @ the Kinckerbocker Arena
It took a few more years but I decided I wanted to go right up to the line. Vince's first shows with the band. No Hornsby to keep things moving and the wound of Brent's passing still fresh on everybody's hearts. What I found from two Richmond shows then the three night run in Philadelphia in Spetember of 1990 was an inspired band still rolling from the momentum of several great years. There is an audible dose of enthusiasm from the new musical relationship. There's a new energy on stage and they're still all feeling each other out. I found all five of these recordings to be highly enjoyable end to end, a phenomenon I rarely experience listening to five consecutive nights from any era really.  I was shocked frankly. I had previously listened to the MSG run proceeding this and while there are lots of really hot points, I didn't love it. I love these shows. I'm not saying I'm going to enjoy listening to all of the terminal Dead period but it was pretty cool to have such a shock so deep into my GD journey. A real divergence from what I expected of this run. I expected it to be a mess and for that to be the reason why they asked Bruce to help out for a while. What if he never had? What if they had a bit more faith in Vince and worked with him to get it where they wanted it? Things might've turned out a bit different. Who am I though, to blow against the wind? Vince was a big part of this band. A great player, a human, equally worth of our respect as his predecessors. His death no less tragic then the rest of the occupants of the Grateful Dead's hot seat. Plus, dude-man looks exactly like Jorah Mormont so he's got that going for him.

Check out these shows! You might just be surprised yourself. The spectrum shows are Dusborne Matrix mixes of especially good quality.
9/7/90 Richmond Coliseum
9/8/90 Richmond Coliseum
9/10/90 The Spectrum
9/11/90 The Spectrum
9/12/90 The Spectrum

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Billy Strings and Greensky Bluegrass 1/24/18

Went to see music at the Egg last night.
It's a really neat building.
Met really great friends. Ran into a bunch more really great friends
Billy Strings was very impressive. Charismatic young virtuoso flat picker. Hot band.
Greensky came on. My first time seeing them.
They were unassuming and sincere. My favorite kind of musician. . The songwriting and  playing was masterful and soulful.
Their jams get as deep, interesting and grooving as any of the best traditional jamband line ups. All on strings alone.
Even though I'm an old and had to sit down at times during second set, I was so happy to be in this special place.
There were egg puns. It was casual Wednesday.
I hope there are more Greensky egg puns next year. Wouldn't complain about another casual Wednesday either.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


This morning it was snowing. I walked Koda then shoveled. Hunter's daycare had a delayed opening so we let him sleep in. He woke up after J had left for work. We cuddled and watched Lion Guard, his current favorite cartoon. After I dropped Hunter off at daycare I went home and picked up Koda.

We went to the municipal golf course. You can go there in the winter with your dog off leash. I strapped on my snowshoes and we started mucking around. I haven't had snowshoes on in a year and it felt so good. I trotted, then ran. Relishing the feeling of moving so effortlessly over the snow. We took an aimless course through a patch of woods. We scared up a pileated woodpecker who scolded us thoroughly for the indignity. I saw junco's too. I don't ever see them just a mile away at our house.

I went home and slapped some paint on a funky spot in the closet of Rider's room. If the god's will it, he'll join us in early March. We're almost done getting his room together and can't wait to meet him. I showered then headed out. I ate lunch at Capital Q Smokehouse. I used to live around the corner and a few houses down and remembered those days while staring at the mural on the old plumbing building.

From there I headed downtown to stop at Cheesecake Machismo. When I came to Albany, Lark Street seemed like the most cosmopolitan and hip place I could imagine. Bomber's, Ben and Jerry's, Head shops, cool bars, Lark Tattoo and Cheesecake Machismo. The inside is decorated with vintage toys, Albany Punk and skate ephemera. The tables are plastered with comic book scenes. New flavor's every day until they're gone. Everything is beyond delicious and there's sure to be something far out and funky.  I got a few pieces for the three of us to share tonight.

From there I dipped under Empire Plaza and crossed the river to Troy. I got to really thoroughly shop the River Street Beat Shop. I found some great records and really enjoyed talking with the owner about music. He ended up giving me a great deal on the albums I found. All day I had been listening to  the Grateful Dead's performance on 1/17/68 at the Carousel Ball in San Fransisco. A great specimen of the primal dead period. As that show wrapped up I put on the Disco Biscuits performance at Revolution Hall in Troy, New York on 4/10/03 and enjoyed a deep and funky Mullberry's Dream as I drove back into Albany.

After another round of snow removal I'm digging on my music, writing this post and thinking how good life is. My family is happy, healthy and growing. Last night I had some pangs of desire for bigger adventures. On my birthday in the past I often slid down a mountain or climbed up one. Before that I partied. When I started my today it dawned on my how satisfied I am. I spent so many years dedicated to a life well lived. Having superlative experiences in the forests and cities of this amazing place we get to inhabit. Never wanting for adventure or gratification. The satisfaction I've found in service now is somehow deeper and fuller than what I had found simply having fun. Serving the mountains that have given me so much, serving my family.  Making sure these boys we brought here have the same chances I did to engage this world fully and shake out from their experiences what moves them. There's a joy in maintaining this property and committing my time and energy to the creatures that live here. I still managed to treat myself pretty well today despite my commitment to service hahaha.

Today was an incredible day. Today was my birthday. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Iroquois 1/20/14: He's fallen on the ice, it cracks Will he plunge in and join me here?

I finally feel ready to revisit a hike that didn't go well. One where I made several good decisions, a few bad decisions, and one very bad decision. I learned a lot that day and it was one of several times in my hiking career I had to come face to face with just how serious and unforgiving this kind of hiking is.

In the weeks leading up to the hike I'd been carefully tracking the weather and following trip reports on the high peaks forum for conditions updates. Soon before my planned hike there was a not uncommon early January thaw, with rain and temperatures well above freezing in the high peaks. I even made a thread in the trip planning section of the forum inquiring about the thaw and its effects on the ice of Flowed Lands. A user informed me the channel of the Opalescent River, after the Lake Colden Dam, was especially susceptible to opening up after a thaw like that. The ice goes out after a heavy flow of rain and melted snow builds tremendous force down the steep and tight gorge of the  Opalescent River. A deceptively thin layer of fresh ice makes it appear more solid than it is.  It seems like I'm doing really diligent research  right? Which is a good thing. Here's the problem... I was really geeking out about conditions because I was hellbent on crossing Flowed lands.

Crossing Flowed Lands on the way to Cliff March 2014
During my wife and I's 46, I fell completely in love with Flowed lands and the hike in from Upper Works. The history of the iron works, the associated tragedy and the unbelievable beauty of the base camp there make for a rich and dramatic experience. If Marcy Dam was the front yard of the High Peaks, Flowed Lands was the back. A bit more overgrown and wild, a little less crowded since it was harder to get to. The drive up 28N from North Creek and it's associated history also contributed to my love for this route. Also, the Warrensburg Stewart's.

Koda's first camping trip 4/27-28/14
As much as I love Flowed Lands, the trail around its northwestern corner of Flowed lands is something I don't love. It's rugged and muddy with a lot of little ups and downs. When  first learned that you could skip this tiring section and even shorten your hike a bit by crossing the frozen Flow in the winter, I knew I really wanted to do it. Despite knowing there was decent potential for bad ice, I committed to the idea of crossing. The morning broke cold and snowy, with a starting temperature of 0 F and a high of around 11. Koda and I's hike in was uneventful and soon I was passing the Calamity lean to and looking out from the frozen shore of Flowed Lands. There was a faint track crossing out onto The flow which I followed out across the section that is a pond in the summer.

The track I was following petered out. Now that I've crossed it several times I'm pretty familiar with the two tracks that form: the one heading to Herbert Brook lean to for hikers approaching Marshall and the track that crosses the channel and heads towards the east side of Lake Colden and the trail up the Opalescent River. On that day with my lack of experience I floundered around in high brush and loose snow attempting a trajectory towards the Herbert Brook Lean to. As I approached the Opalescent Channel, it was clear that at least some of the ice had gone out. The shore of the channel was piled with sidewalk section sized chunks of ice refrozen into an unruly jumble. There still a appeared to be snow covered ice across the channel though. I kept scanning up and down for where to go next. In hindsight I had ended up way too far northwest. I should've been on more of a northeast headed track. I was not too far off from the trail around Flowed Lands. This section of the trail was offset from the shore because of some short cliff bands that fell directly into the water.

I couldn't cut back to the trail or find a way northeast and back on bearing without crossing the clearly thin Opalescent Channel. Climbing onto the broken up peanut brittle ice I knew I was doing something dumb. My pulse was up and I was worried. I started breaking through air pockets in the jumble of thinly refrozen ice. I kept pushing forward despite the danger about a meter or so from the shore broke through the ice completely and found myself mid-thigh in the Opalescent River in 10 degree weather in January. I was able to calm myself and focus on not making my situation worse with flailing. Koda had not fallen in. He was still on the shore giving me a look that seemed to say "dude, what are doing in the water? That is really stupid." The rounded cliffs bordering Flowed Lands here made finding a place to  pull up and out more challenging. My snowshoes had sunken a bit into the sandy river gravel that makes up the river bed there. The current pulling through the Flow was a strong but not completely overwhelming feeling of dread caressing my ankles. My first attempts met with more ice breaking around me. I was eventually able to use a pine sapling and Koda's leash to pull up onto the shore.

Why in water Chris? Ur dumb. Koda on 1/20/14
Now a bit of panic set in. I knew I had to get the wet clothes off fast. I was much closer to Herbert Brook lean to and the Lake Colden interior outpost but knew there was no safe way from where I was so I backtracked quickly across Flowed lands to the Calamity Lean to cursing my stupidity all the while. I've been talking about and writing about Calamity Brook, Calamity Mountain and Calamity lean to for so long that it wasn't until my friend Sathi pointed it out, pretty effing funny that I retreated to Calamity lean to after my calamity.

Here's where I did a few right things in preparation. From all the researching I'd done about gear I had a pretty good amount of equipment ready to go for just such an event. In a dry sack I had my heaviest polypropylene long Johns, several pairs of heavy socks, spare gloves and a stash of super market bags. I was wearing my midweight Airblaster ninja suit  as my base layer. I stripped down completely, filling one of my plastic bags with my wet base layer, socks and polypro hoodie I had under my shell jacket. I pulled on the blessedly warm and dry heavy duty base layers and socks and immediately felt better. I know I was cold but don't remember it being too crazy feeling at the time. I took stock of the rest of my gear. My jacket was damp but not soaked and was pretty much freezing so didn't really feel wet. My shell pants (the now defunct Go-lite brand's version of the Marmot Minimalist Pant) seemed to be drying pretty rapidly. They started as rain pants and ended up as winter hiking pants as well for their ability to not only not get wet most of the time but if they did, dry out quickly.

All in all, things seemed not too bad for having been standing in a river 20 minutes earlier. Then I checked out my boots. Not surprisingly my  Asolo TPS 520 (still to this day the finest hiking boot I've ever owned which are still in rotation) hiking boots were completely waterlogged. I had read winter trip reports where folks had broken through ice and wrapped a plastic bag around fresh dry socks to be able to continue their hike. That's why I carried supermarket bags with me in my pack at all times. I also use them to pick up and carry out garbage. So I decided to try this technique and continue on with my hike. Here's where the real bad decision making starts. The two reports that I had read where this technique was used were radically different then my situation. In both of these cases the hiker had only dipped a single foot in. In my situation both feet were in and completely soaked. This ups the danger level significantly. I'd be losing a lot more heat. Also, both of those other incidents involved a person who was part of a group. The decision to continue on was made with a group of very experienced hikers and these people all had full packs with their own stashes of emergency gear. I made the decision alone and now all of my survival gear was in play. If something else went wrong, I wouldn't be able to stay warm. Or help out someone else in need. I warped the narrative to support what I wanted to do though.

Looking back there's no way I should've kept hiking. I was a strong hiker at the time and had had many hikes go well. I was a card carrying 46er and felt pretty tough. I got pretty into the thrill of the chase or summit fever. I battled with my inner meathead as I liked to describe it as far as wanting to go on and challenge myself. It's not necessarily the worst drive, to want to push your body and will, but it can become a problem when you make bad decisions that put you or your hiking companions into unpleasant or dangerous situations. This natural tendency of humans is why I believe Grace Hudowalski developed her "the mountains will wait" philosophy that I think is so critical to becoming a responsible hiker. Here's a very graceful way to deal with the disappointment of having to turn back. I couldn't hear that logic on this day though. My inner meathead won.

You should always listen to Amazing Grace
Ego contributed to poor decision making here as well. Jeanette had gotten me a Spot Device for Christmas that year. I had started hiking solo in winter in 2013 which worried her. This was a compromise. I could text her, hit the big red button that calls the cavalry if I gt in trouble, and she could watch my track as well. I'm part of a Facebook message group that most of my Albany friends are in. It started as a way to plan our weekly Survivor TV night (don't judge, you watch bad TV too) but evolved into a a place where people could just sort of chat when they were in the mood. On my way out the door that morning I had shared my Spot tracking website so folks could follow along with my hike. It certainly factored in to my decision making that my friends were watching and I didn't want them to see me turn around without reaching my goal. Grace would've let me have it on that being a factor. It's also really dumb that I let something that should've actually made my hike safer, negatively impact my decision making. 

I put on the lighter of the two pairs of socks I had, stashing the heavier ones in case my Hannaford bags wrapped around my feet solution proved to be a less than perfect waterproof barrier. Koda and I started hiking around Flowed Lands on the trail I had managed to walk into a river to avoid. Which turned out to be fine of course and boy did I feel stupid. Here's another place where I did something right after my big stupid: I had already planned on checking in with the Lake Colden Interior Outpost Caretaker. The trail up from Lake Colden to the Col between Algonquin Peak and Boundary peak is not used all that often in the winter so I wanted someone to know I had gone up that way. It was reassuring to see another human after what I had just gone through. I told him my itinerary and was soon climbing one of the steepest trails in the high peaks.

The intensity of my situation sank in as I started climbing through a few inches of loose, unbroken powder along the frozen brook. Snow had been falling gently but steadily the entire day and windswept views of Mount Colden kept reinforcing just how alone I was. Sorry Koda, you're a great hiking buddy but the thought of you sitting alertly on my frozen body halfway up a mountain waiting for my help to arrive  is cold comfort to say the least. About a mile up the two mile trail, my socks had started to soak through and I knew if I wanted a shot at Iroquois I'd have to change them. I was exerting quite a bit to climb the steep trail so stopping and taking off my socks really shocked my system.

Ascending the McIntyre Range 1/20/14
I was shivering and frustrated. The snow kept getting deeper as we got into the higher elevations. At this point in hindsight I think that I was possibly suffering from mild to moderate hypothermia. Its a very challenging trail but my heart rate and breathing were even more out of control than would be expected. I was also definitely  experiencing some muddied and confused thinking. My brain was sluggish. Will and stupidity kept one snowshoe going in front of the other. I knew I should've been heading down but I kept thinking a little farther, I could just tag the summit and hike down to safety. Meathead logic.

Once I reached the intersection at the col, I was in bad shape. Drained, cold and disoriented. Conditions were typical of the range in winter. Very windy, low visibility and deeply drifted snow. I kept pushing and stumbling through the drifts on my bearing to the summit. At times on the herd path to Iroquois and at times floundering off of it and burning even more energy. Each bump or ledge became harder to surmount. I started muttering out loud "this is f$%king stupid" over and over again. But not stopping. I reached a waist high rock ledge and just couldn't bear to push up it. I quit. I knew I was really close to the top but also felt very close to being in a truly dangerous situation. Which I truly had been in for over an hour. My last pair of dry socks were soaked through and the temperature was hovering around 11 F.

Close to the summit. Likely experiencing Hypothermia. Still taking pictures. 1/20/14
A great wave of relief swept over me. I had finally made the right decision. I had ignored common sense, background research and my gut all day for the thrill of the chase and had almost paid dearly for it. I wasn't out of the woods yet though (man, if there's ever been a better time to use this idiom, I can't imagine it). With the trail somewhat broken and momentum carrying me down, I made quick time off the summit ridge. I wanted to try and get my body temperature up and get out of the most dangerous terrain as quickly as possible but also really wanted to make sure I didn't injure myself or get wet again.

I was afraid. For the second time ever in the woods, I was truly afraid. It led me to decide I didn't want to die alone in the woods and would do whatever I had to, both on this day and in the future, to make sure that never happened. Reaching the Interior outpost was a phenomenal landmark for my piece of mind. When I checked back in with the caretaker he suggested I cut across Lake Colden to save time. I hadn't told him I'd broken through the ice (I didn't want him to dissuade me from climbing) so I'm sure he couldn't figure out why I needed to be so thoroughly reassured the crossing was solid hahaha. I crossed over but still lapped around Flowed Lands for obvious reasons. As I made my way down to the Calamity Brook trail, the sun came out for the first time that day. The woods I had found so stark and unforgiving all day softened and showed the face that made me love it so deeply.

The sun comes out over Calamity Brook. 1/20/14
I was beyond grateful to reach my car. I had some spare stuff to change into and got the heat blasting. I also tried to eat, not having the appetite for most of the day. Despite the heat at full blast I shivered the entire way to Warrenburg and didn't feel truly ok until I had a hot lunch and coffee at Stewart's. God bless Stewart's. I cursed my own stupidity and pigheadedness over the course of that drive and vowed never to take a risk like that again. A vow I've kept and committed even more deeply too as a father now. At the time I was deeply embarrassed by my mistakes. I had read enough and hiked enough to know better. I didn't want to tell J because I knew she worried so much already. I didn't want to admit on the hiking forum what I had done. I wrote a trip report that is very carefully worded to omit key details hahahaha. I did tell my hiking crew soon after. I really wanted outside perspective to help me process it and Sathi and Emily are really great at providing real insight with a sense of humor. They told me I should share my experience immediately because they thought others could learn from it but I just wasn't ready to face it all.

Within a week or so I decided I couldn't count it for my round. I knew I was really close to the true summit but the way I had hiked it was unbecoming of an aspiring winter 46er and I wanted to do it right. To honor Grace and all the other patron saints of our beloved mountains. The next winter I hiked Algonquin and Iroquois with an incredible crew. Denise McQuade who I had met from the high peaks forum let me tag along with her group of hiking friends. Denise, Helena Nevarez, Terje Kuusk, Jackie Cordell and I had an beautiful day in the woods. Despite the white out conditions, it was one of my absolute favorite hikes of my winter round. We enjoyed each others company (and of course the safety net it provides) and had an absolute blast traversing the second highest mountain in New York. On the way over to Iroquois, navigation and trail-finding was absolutely a team effort and we even merged with another group so we could all support each other. If Grace had frowned down upon my egotistical flounderings the previous year, I'd like to think she smiled on how I had made it right. A funny thing happened towards the end of the walk over to Iroquois. I reached the ledge I had previously turned around at. It had been etched in my mind for the past 386 days. It was the summit. I had stopped just a few feet short of the summit. I think there's a lesson in there somewhere though I'm still trying to process it.

Great company climbing Algonquin 2/11/15
Climbing into Heaven 2/11/15
A snow and ice encrusted cairn on Algonquin 2/11/15
The title of this trip report is a taken from the lyrics of the Phish song It's Ice. It's part of a longer concept album called Rift that deserves a post all its own but I figured a quick analysis of the lyrics would really nicely wrap up the report here. The song, to me, is about the very thin line between good and evil or our choices to do right or wrong. How easy it is to fall in large or small ways. There is a fascinating darker layer to Tom Marshall's lyrics implying that the evil version of you is right on the other side of that thin line, ready to switch places if you fall. If you break through the ice. Who's really steering the ship though? Who's in control? An unsettling thought for sure.

David Welker "Approaching a Rift" 2015

 I press on the elastic sheet, I'm breathing through a slice
'Are they worms or are the serpents?' bubbles through the ice
The source was quite invisible, the ever-present voice
While skating, both legs tracing different shapes, I made my choice

I'm mimicking the image in whose radiance I bask
I'm tied to him, or him to me, depending who you ask
None the less reluctantly reflections tumble in
I slide with all the other on the wrong side of the skin

He's fallen on the ice, it cracks
Will he plunge in and join me here?
He meets my eyes, to my surprise
He laughs in full light of my frown
My double wants to pull me down

Slipping on the friction slide, my skin peels to the bone
The flesh I leave behind, is something that is not my own
I beg my mirror image for a moment with my soul
He's leaning back, time to attack, it's me who's in control

And every move I make he's got a hand up just in time
He's throwing several punches, and he's blocking most of mine
Defeated now I sulk and squirm above the frozen heights
Waiting, calculating till he ventures onto the ice.