The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Adventure

Law and Order at 17,500 Feet

For the entirety of its existence, Base Camp on Mount Everest has been self-policed. No more. After last year’s brawl on the Lhotse Face, in which European alpinists Ueli Steck, Simone Moro, and Jonathan Griffith clashed with a group of Sherpas fixing ropes, Nepal’s tourism ministry has decided to step in. Come April, a nine-member armed security contingent made up of Nepali soldiers and police will keep order in the temporary city, which swells to nearly 1,000 people during peak climbing season.

“By the time the first expedition team arrives in Base Camp, our group will be in place,” says Maddhu Sudan Burlakoti, a joint secretary of the tourism ministry. “The team will ensure security of the climbers and also get involved in rescue operations. We’ll also make sure that, in the case of such an incident, the accused doesn’t get away.” 

Will this sort of warning, and the presence of a police force, have any tangible effect? It seems unlikely. Most of the action on Everest takes place higher up on the mountain. Last year’s brawl occurred at Camp II, nearly 4,000 vertical feet above Base Camp. 

“Unless the soldiers or police officers are trained as climbers, they won’t be on the mountain,” says RMI guide Dave Hahn. “That fight was a sorry little episode, but this won’t do anything to prevent another one above Base Camp.”

So what’s the point? Many Everest vets consider the force to be little more than a publicity stunt engineered to stave off negative media attention. Everest expeditions, after all, add roughly $15 million annually, from permit fees and general spending, to Nepal’s struggling economy.

“Everest gets headlines every year,” says Hahn, “but I worry that this is just another layer of bureaucracy from a country having a hard time keeping the lights on in Kathmandu.”

“It will be business as usual,” says Russell Brice, founder of Himalayan Experience. “Everyone will work around the new rules, and very little will change.”

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The Border or Bust: A U.S.-Mexico Road Trip With Steve Inskeep

I've always been impressed by the power of radio to transport me to places I've never been, to weave travel stories in a way that holds me rapt. National Public Radio does a particularly good job of it, and their current series, Borderland, which began airing on March 18, is no exception. The program, which features NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, explores the U.S.-Mexico border while traveling east from El Paso, Texas, to Tijuana, Mexico, dipping across the international line, chatting with locals on both sides, and recording plenty of great stories.

The road trip spanned some 2,428 miles and involved 22 crossings. Along the way the team of radio personalities were harassed by border patrol, attended pop-music concerts, sat in on a "grito" (shouting) contest, and sipped margaritas in a city best known for intense drug violence.

In a rare opportunity to turn the microphones on one of America's best-known and most capable radio interviewers, I caught up with Inskeep on his way home to Washington, D.C., to ask him a few questions about the adventure. You can listen to the full interview here. Highlights below:

On the origins of the project
I've always been interested in [this area]. The thing that really drove the trip, though, was a book that I was reading that divided the U.S. into 11 areas… It had this region on the map called El Norté, and this book argued that both sides of the border were very culturally similar and had a lot more in common with each other than with the countries on either side. And that made me want to go there.

On surprises during the reporting
What we tried to do, rather than big pieces about issues, was small, personal stories. You begin the subject thinking you know the big issues: immigration, the drug problem, trade, and then you hear the details of someone's story and you realize that you don't know it all.

On the porosity of the border
There's intense security, particularly on the U.S. side. You are always aware that people are watching. There are border patrol vehicles everywhere. The border patrol itself has nearly doubled in size in the last decade. You see them in filling stations. You see them in restaurants. You see them parked along the border. You pass them on the highway. You see these aerostats, blimps attached to cables. It is a heavily policed area.

But is it porous? We were in the Tohono O'odham Indian reservation, in Arizona, which goes down to the border. Last year the border patrol seized 476,000 pounds of marijuana on that Indian nation. If that's what being seized, you know a lot more is being sent or they'd stop sending it that way.

On tensions he encountered along the border
We visited one section of the border wall, this big concrete slab. You can stand on the south side of the wall, but there's a little distance between it and the Rio Grande. People trying to sneak into the United States would come and try to scale the wall. While were there something like 14 people got arrested right in front of us—this whole collection of men, women, and children. There are also people who live on the U.S. side who stopped crossing the border for fear of crime and drug-related violence.

However, when we crossed, it seemed quite relaxed. The people were very friendly and open. Statistically speaking the violence in northern Mexico is much better than it used to be. There's still crime, but less violent crime.

On visiting Juarez, Mexico
In 2010 there were more than 3,000 murders in Juarez. There's a new documentay, that was mostly shot in 2010, called Narco Cultura, and it is just unbelievable what was happening back then. But since then, the murder rate has gone down dramatically. I think there were 500 murders last year. It doesn't feel like a city at war anymore. We were able to run freely. I've been to a few interesting places. I've been to Syria, I've been to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. You learn to sense how dangerous it is and how scared you should feel, and it just never felt particularly terrifying in Juarez.

On parts of border that were really enjoyable
There were some stunningly beautiful places. In El Paso, there was a former state park ranger who said, "I gotta show you this." And he takes us up this tram to the top of a mountain. Were more than a mile high looking down on Juarez and El Paso, in the sunshine. It looks like a map, we're so high.

Driving into Columbus, the landscape is just amazing. You can see the town from like 15 miles away, with mountains studding the desert. The Tohono-O'odham Nation is incredible, with its cacti and mountains and these sweeping valleys. I would even mention that there's this Lawrence of Arabia moment near Yuma, in California, where there are these waves of pure sand. It completely looks like Saudi Arabia—or what I'd imagine Saudi Arabia to look like since I haven't been there.

On beverages
We did have margaritas! There's a place called the Kentucky Club in Juarez, which claims to have invented the margarita. I think that claim is disputed but it's a good margarita. And the second was better than the first.

There's another drink down there called a Michelada. It's different in different parts of Mexico, but in Matamoros, where I first had it, it's tomato juice and Worcester sauce and lime, and you pour a beer into the mix. That was interesting to say the least.

On how Mexicans view border issues
I think there's a little bit of resentment. There is historical resentment of the United States. And there's resentment toward the massive security that is in place on the U.S. side. But it was not overt when we were there. To the extent that you saw demonstrations, they were about the drug gangs or the past violence. They were about losing people in Juarez. One area of contention, of course, is with the border patrol. There have been a number of shootings of unarmed people, who were reported to have only rocks—they were throwing rocks. There is even a lawsuit going on involving shooting someone from U.S. soil while they are still standing in Mexico… But even all that said, the rawness of feeling toward the U.S. isn't the same as what you would find in Syria, Afghanistan, or Iraq.

For many people in the U.S., Mexico is an abstraction. And I bet if you went to Mexico City, for many Mexicans the U.S. would be an abstraction. But along the border, each country is a reality to the other. 

On getting out of the studio and doing first-hand reporting in the field
Oh my gosh, it's the most valuable thing that I do. And it's the only thing that makes it possible for me to come back into the studio and know what I'm talking about, or at least know the right questions to ask… You just get completely different stories. On road trips like this, you meet people you never would otherwise. You turn your focus on a region and you learn about people you otherwise never would have met. We met writers, musicians, so many different kinds of people, and you see them in the context in which they live. The very act of traveling forces you to think about the region that you're traveling through, and to realize the complexity of it.

On advice he'd give to other travelers
The more I travel the less I pack, so I don't have any great gear suggestions. But here is some mental gear, if you will: Be willing to go and travel somewhere that strikes you as a little bit scary. There are so many places in the world, and northern Mexico is one of them, that people are terrified of because of events that have happened in the past. I don't mean don't be cautious, but you can go to places like that and look at them and give them some thought, and you realize that most people are really very nice and will actually take care of you if you're an outsider. It's worth having a margarita at the Kentucky Club in Juarez. It's worth seeing the central square in Matamoros. A lot more of the world is open to you than you might think at first glance.

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The Extreme Sport of Solo Parenting

For the past ten days, I have been on a solo expedition, a rigorous mission that demands both mental and physical stamina, getting up before first light, and carrying heavy loads. 

I've been at home, taking care of the kids. 

When two adventurers marry and produce offspring together, the opportunity for solos automatically doubles. Your partner's going to want to leave town, or you will, and somebody has to mind the babies. It's good to be positive about this. Just as solo adventuring makes us stronger athletes, solo parenting makes us better mothers and fathers.

Steve's been going backcountry skiing in British Columbia almost every winter for the past five years. In the past, my strategy for solo parenting usually entailed avoiding it. I'd call in grandparent reinforcements or decamp with Pippa and Maisy to my mother's in Connecticut. But now that our daughters are three and five and act less like little wild wolverines and more like semi-rational human beings, they've become easier to manage by myself. So this year, I decided, we'd stay put on home turf.

The key to soloing, I've learned, is to keep expectations low. When Steve's away, I clear my schedule and simplify. This is not the time for planning dinner parties (not that I ever do) or redecorating the house (ditto) or booking non-essential doctor's appointments or getting cavities filled or taking the recycling out or doing anything above and beyond daily survival. The only real goal is that everyone lives. You'd be surprised how easy it is to let go of trivial concerns when your partner is deep in the backcountry skiing unstable snowpack above tree line every day. When you're worrying about avalanches sweeping away your true love and father of your children, you can become very Zen about daily life on the homefront.

Still, the minute Steve left, I knew I'd have to bring my A game. The last words he said to me at 6 a.m. before he left for the airport were, "Sorry to tell you this, but Pete had diarrhea all over his crate."

As I lay there in the dark bedroom, my mind raced to make a plan. Ten long days of soloing stretched before me. I needed a strategy, but there were so many unknowns, it would be impossible to map them all out. Then I remembered a exercise I'd done in a Native American-inspired dawn ceremony at a resort in Sedona a few years ago. There, in a dimly-lit crystal grotto, we silently declared our intentions for the day, giving thanks in advance that they would come true. It had felt contrived and New Agey to me at the time, but it had worked that day and maybe it would again. "Please let us have a nice, calm family day," I vowed to myself. "And let me accept help if it's offered." Then I got up to face the day, and the week.

Outside in the first rays of morning, I cleaned the poop and one very filthy, remorseful puppy while Pippa coached me through the window. It wasn't as bad as I'd expected. When you have no choice but to hose down the dog before dawn and no partner to pawn it off on, you hose down the dog before dawn. That's the beauty of soloing: It requires you to do what is in front of you when it is front of you. There's no time for idle internet surfing or various other forms of goofing off when dinner needs to be made. You have ravenous children about to go out of their minds if they're not fed, so boiling noodles is your exact, only option. Vigilance like this is kind of liberating.

Thus was born my two-part strategy for the week. Before I got out of bed each morning, I tried to remember to set my intentions for the day—let me get my writing done with ease and efficiency; let me be more patient with the girls; let me not try to cram too much in. Once I was clear on how I hoped the day would go, then I could focus on running a tight ship. I got them to school on time, wrote while they were away, made dinner and fed them early, before they went crazy, and put them to bed by 7:30. I did the dishes while they were in the bath, made their lunches for the next day after they were asleep, and fed the dog before going to bed. Hyper organization, never my strong suit, became my system, my religion.

Meanwhile, Steve was crushing it in his own way. He and a group of friends and friends-of-friends had helicoptered into the Hilda Hut, a luxe, privately-run wilderness cabin at 6,300 feet in the Valhalla Range in the Selkirk Mountains, where they were skinning and skiing fresh lines all day everyday for a week. With an abundance of fresh snow following a warm spell, the snow pack was sketchy, like almost everywhere in the northern Rockies. "You can find the weak layer down there if you look for it," Steve emailed me the day they arrived. "Don't find it," I responded.

When it comes to outdoor adventures, I can worry about almost anything. I'm particularly skilled at conjuring up images of horrific avalanches ripping off the tops of entire mountains, a season's worth of snow burying everything and everyone in sight. But once I began to focus on what was in front of me, a funny thing happened. I stopped worrying so much about Steve. As the days went on, I no longer obsessively checked the clock every afternoon, wondering if he was back safely at the hut. Part of this was simple logistics. Because the Hilda Hut has wireless internet, unlike others run by the Canadian Alpine Club where they'd stayed in years past, I could follow his progress on Facebook. I knew he'd survived another day when I saw his friends' photos pop up on my newsfeed. But part of this was practice, too. The more present I became to mothering my girls alone, the less gripped by worst-case scenarios I became.

Since we first met, Steve and I have always gone off on our own trips. We share a love for rivers, trails, mountains, and snow, but sometimes our priorities diverge, and we've learned to give each other time and space to do what we love. This is healthy. I want to mountain bike the White Rim trail. He flies to Hawaii to play in an Ultimate tournament. I spend a week whitewater kayaking in northern California and riding in the Sawtooths. He goes climbing in Red Rocks. Divide and conquer. It makes homecoming, and the adventures we plan together—trekking Nepal, skiing in Austria, and paddling rivers, and climbing peaks throughout the Southwest—even sweeter.

But once we had kids, I had to re-learn how to be gracious about Steve's leaving. Even though I get to go on my own adventures nearly as often, I've been known to grouse before he leaves and guilt him for going after he gets back. That's like hitting the delete button and wiping out all the fun he had in one fell swoop. Totally pointless. If he's going to go, he might as well have the best possible time ever, and come home happy and recharged and stay that way for as long as possible. Everyone wins. 

While Steve was skiing freshies and hot-tubbing and sauna-ing high in the Selkirks, back at home one of us after another fell victim to the stomach bug. First Pete. Then Pippa, who woke moaning once, twice, three times a night. Then me. We were sleep deprived and sick, but we still managed to carry on with our usual weekly roster of work and fun school, skiing, playing, writing. What choice did we have? Single parents know this intuitively, but even under less than ideal circumstances, soloing isn't so hard if you get organized, come up with a system, and try your best to stick with it.

By the time the helicopter flew into the Hilda Hut to retrieve Steve and his friends, I'd barely eaten in four days. I'd forgotten to fill the bird feeders and take out the trash, but the pets were fed and the girls were alive, and even in my depleted state, I was full of something else: pride in myself, and the girls, all of us, for keeping it together. We'd done more than that. Rather than rush through my days in the usual blur, I'd felt myself sink in and slow down—a rare gift. I was more exhausted than I'd been the morning Steve left, but calmer, too.

You'd think that coming back together would be easier than saying goodbye, but this isn't always the case with soloing. One person has been out in the wild, the other deep in the routine of home, and it always takes Steve and me a day or two to readjust to life as a team again. We share the details, but it's almost impossible to get or give the full download; regular life sweeps over us, and the best we can do is replay the highlight reel and carry on.

Maybe it's better this way. You experience something singular that sticks with you, and changes you for good, in different ways each time. This is why it's so important to go, and to stay behind. You feel empathy for the other, and a hunger to go. Either way, it's your turn next.

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Learning A New Language Comes Easy to Kids Living Abroad

"Like my cat?" our three-year-old, Molly, asked the pre-school kids around her, holding up her drawing (a cryptic jumble of lines).

They looked at her blankly.

"Do you like my cat?" she repeated, louder.

Still the blank looks.

"DO YOU LIKE MY CAT?" she yelled.

They started to look dismayed, puzzled.

You always hear kids are sponges for language, but at three Molly just didn't get the concept—that there are more than one—and that getting louder and louder in English when everyone around you speaks Spanish, won't get you anywhere. You have to match the key to the door or you can't get in, at least not all the way. But gradually, unconsciously, it dawned on her, and she gained an understanding of language she'd have for life.

We'd enrolled Molly in Arco Iris, a preschool down the street from our rented rooftop apartment in the the ancient-Phoenician, walled town of Cadiz in Andalusia in southern Spain. I was on sabbatical from the Drama/Dance Department at the University of Montana, and our second child,  Skyler, was just five weeks old. We'd chosen Cadiz for its historic charm—its valentine-heart-colored houses, eighteenth-century stone cathedral, overflowing fish and flower markets set on a blustery spit jutting into the Atlantic—and because it wasn't too expensive and had no major diseases.

At noon each day, my husband, Peter, would pick Molly up from school and they'd cross the street to a neighborhood bar for lunch. Molly would order her favorite, tomato stew with snails, and Peter would knock back a shot of sherry—a popular local pick-me-up from Jerez, just across the bay.

In the meantime, I carted tiny Skyler, tucked into a sling, down the cobblestone street to the community center, where I'd rented a second-floor studio to choreograph. On the way, I'd stop at the flower market. I'd rest for a moment at an outdoor table amid buckets of gladiolas and roses and shore myself up with a demitasse of dense coffee. Inevitably, stern old women would tell me my baby was going to have a deformed back if I kept carrying him around in that hammock-sling thing, and to take my germ-infested pinky finger out of his mouth.

"Use a pacifier if he cries," they'd say in Spanish I barely understood, but their disapproval was unmistakable.

I had squeezed in only a couple months of Spanish tutoring before we left, thinking I was pretty good at languages and that I'd pick up more when we arrived. I was wrong. It's one thing to be traveling, figuring out how to order food and get on a bus. It's another to be living somewhere, with two highly dependent children and need to communicate complicated things with their doctors, their teachers, or the parents of their friends.

I had figured surely a few people would speak English; this was Europe after all. They didn't. When we arrived, I had just enough language to irritate the cashiers at the grocery and initiate a conversation I had no hope of understanding, though I'd desperately nod and smile as though I did.

The solo I ended up choreographing was called "First Position." There are five positions for the feet in ballet, and in those days I felt as if I couldn't even make it to first. In the mornings, I struggled to persuade Molly to get dressed. The twos had been fine, but the threes, the terrible threes. Was it so hard because of the advent of a baby brother, or because of living abroad? Was she venting her frustration at being unable to communicate at home, where she could, rather than at school where she couldn't?

I finally gave up and let her choose her own clothes, clashing reds and purples, and let her do her own hair. Who says there's anything wrong with five sprouting pigtails? The Spanish, that's who. The perfectly coiffed children with their perfectly coiffed mothers—in their neat but somehow so sexy business suits, with their matching, mother-daughter tucked ponytails clipped with starched bows—looked at us appraisingly, or so I imagined, as I raced up to the school door each morning, dragging my crazily pigtailed child and carrying my about-to-be-deformed baby. Here we are, the Americans, a disheveled heap.

Those months in Andalusia went by in a sleep-deprived blur. But it was worth it. While I, at age 40, continued to struggle to read the labels at the grocery, Molly zoomed past us in Spanish. Those months of playing color tag in the plazas and telephone at school taught her to spit out perfect Andalusian th's and order lollipops at the ubiquitous candy shops using mysterious local slang.

In that astonishing way that kids can subconsciously absorb and sort out language, Molly would now have, for life, an ear for accents and the confidence that she could always communicate, first with that "you, me—let's play" sign language and then gradually, magically, in a whole new verbal vocabulary. She'd found the key and unlocked the door just by osmosis; slipping in and bypassing all those torturous years of masculine/feminine nouns, single and plural agreements, past participles, conditionals, pluperfects, and subjunctives.

Last year, after graduating from high school, she decided to take a gap year to travel, by herself at 18 this time. Between working on an organic farm in Portugal and volunteering in a village school in Nepal, she decided to pay a visit to Cadiz.

"Mom and Dad, you won't believe who I found!" she emailed us, her excitement palpable in the exclamation points. There was a photo attached. It was of herself and Ana, her preschool teacher at Arco Iris, standing next to a photo of Molly's three-year-old self still hanging on the wall.

"We just cried and hugged and cried," she reported. They were using that other language; the one that transcends words.

Meanwhile, Skyler became a great travel baby, happily carted onto buses to visit picturesque Spanish hill towns, onto boats to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, into oven-hot cars to trek into the dunes of the Sahara, and onto the string of planes to return home five months later. Who knows what his brain made of the wash of languages, but I think it can only have made his mind more supple. His turn to slip into a new language would come when he would be dropped into a local school in Brazil and, in the same miraculous way, pop out the other side, Portuguese verb conjugations and all.

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10 Hotels in the West for Big Dogs

Big dogs need space. Space to run, eat, and sleep, of course, but also space to drool, shed, and poop. Because canines are not always the most hygenic house guests, they're often not allowed in hotels, which can make traveling tough—for owners and pets alike. But thankfully, some lodges are making exceptions, by not only allowing furry visitors, but also by offering amenities such as dog beds, food bowls, and special treats. 

These ten hotels not only welcome labs, St. Bernards, and dogs of all sizes with open arms, they're also perched in places that are primed for adventure. From Moab's red arches to boundless miles of Washington coastline, here are our favorite places to bring our four-legged pals—to let them (and us) unleash.

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