Going up top

It took the three tries for the legendary, prolific mountaineer Apa Sherpa to summit Mount Everest. Only after hooking up with Peter Hillary, the son of Sir Edmund, and a group of Kiwis was ol’ Apa able to reach the rooftop of the world.

But since that first successful ascent up Everest, a lot has changed for Apa. Raised in the foothills of the mountain in Nepal in 1960 or 1962 – the Nepalese don’t keep track of such trite things such as one’s birth year – Apa moved his family from the highlands of the Himalayas to the Rockies of Utah, because, as he once told an interviewer, “the schools are better.”

He also summated Everest 17 more times since that maiden effort with Sir Ed’s boy. That’s more than anyone in the history of mountaineering.

Like Apa Sherpa, I moved from the Philadelphia suburbs to Lancaster, Pa., because “the schools are better.” At least that’s what I tell people from Philadelphia. This morning on the shuttle bound from the car rental joint to the main terminal of Denver International, I told some Texans I was passing the time with that “Philadelphia is the ugly step-brother of New York, Washington and every other major Northeast city.”

But as my man DMac says, “Philadelphia will do…”

At least for the time being.

Anyway, unlike Apa, I reached the summit of the first peak I aimed for. I also did it without any technical gear other than a pair of Brooks Radius shoes and blue and red-trimmed Brooks running shorts. Yessir, I ran to the top of Twin Sisters Peak, which is located to the east of the more famous Longs Peak in the Rocky Mountain National Park. I ran to the top of Twin Sisters in 67 minutes, took a short drink, checked out the view where I saw the town of Estes Park, some clouds, what I think was the city of Boulder, and a whole bunch of lakes. I stood there with the view and felt the stiff wind through my flimsy clothes and looked down at the tree line a few hundred feet below the edge of the peak as one of those dreaded altitude headaches began pounding against my temples.

That was my cue to get down.

With that, I headed down the same route from which I climbed. Fifty-four minutes later I was at the trailhead where my rented car was parked.

Yes, 67 minutes up and 54 minutes down for the slowest nine miles I ever clocked.

And yes, unlike Apa Sherpa, I ran up my first mountain on the first attempt…

Of course Twin Sisters Peak (pictured above from the back porch) isn’t quite Everest. My run started at 9,000 feet of altitude and rose to a little more than 11,400. Though it’s quite a bit of climbing packed into those four-plus miles of trails, Apa’s mountain is three-times higher than mine. For a sea level dude like me, the daily runs in Colorado from 7,500-feet up and over 8,100-feet are pretty substantial. Going up to 11,400-plus takes some effort.

Apa, of course, probably looks at something like Twin Sisters as a walk in the park. In fact, a walk in the park might have been the best way to describe my pace as the trail became rockier and the wind a little more fierce as I pushed on past the tree line. If I can run up over the tree line with relative ease, Apa probably would have skipped up while juggling flaming torches.

Hey, I’m not exactly Jon Krakauer here… or even CSN’s Lance Crawford, who once did a technical climb up the famed diamond of Long’s Peak. Lance, our resident Apa, took mountaineering classes in Estes Park, practiced on some smaller climbs, and then took down one of the most famous “14ers” in the Rocky Mountain chain.

Legend has it that Lance performed a series of one-armed, fingertip pushups at the summit of Longs.

I believe the legend.

And while I was in Colorado running up a mountain and visiting such places as Boulder, Black Hawk and the exquisite Sundance Lodge [1]in Nederland, I also was privy to a few more tales that could be called legends, stories and, better yet, rumors. The fact is stories and rumors are the currency of ball writers everywhere and this is no different in Colorado. In fact, folks I talked to told me that the Colorado Rockies are debating whether or not to trade away All-Star outfielder and 2007 MVP runner-up, Matt Holliday. Because the Rockies were/are beset with injuries all season and Holliday’s contract status doesn’t exactly give a ballclub much wiggle room when contemplating a move toward rebuilding, the so-called conventional wisdom looks at Holliday’s days as a Rockie as numbered.

The Phillies, they say, are a team that could package a deal for a player like Holliday.

I’m not so sure. After cornering the market for overweight, right-handed and underachieving Opening Day starters in the acquisition of Joe Blanton, the Phillies cleaned out the cupboards and sent the top-notch minor-league prospects to Billy Beane in Oakland. Therefore, to get a star like Holliday, the Phillies would have to pick up all of the remaining years on his contract and throw in some big leaguers like Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and whomever else the Rockies fancy.

Meanwhile, after being told the Holliday tales, I countered with the idea that the Phillies had long been interested in side-wheeling left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes. The Phillies have just one lefty in their solid corps of relievers and Fuentes has always given them fits. But when I broached the idea of Fuentes being dealt from the Rockies to the Phillies, I was told, “Take him. You can have him.”

From the outside Fuentes seems like a good fit for the Phillies’ bullpen. After all, he strikes out more than a hitter per inning, has a respectable 3.23 ERA and has saved 16 games in 20 chances. Plus, Fuentes has not allowed a run since June 30 and is hell against the Phillies. In 16 career appearances (including three playoff games), the lefty has never allowed a run when facing the Phillies.

But Fuentes has whetted his peak in the closer pond and likes it. In fact, he told the Denver Post in last Sunday’s edition that if he gets traded, he would like to go somewhere to be the closer. A free agent at the end of this season, Fuentes said he would seek out a gig as a closer during free agency.

That kind of eliminates the Phillies right there. Brad Lidge is going to be the closer until at least 2011.

So that leaves us with a lot of unfinished stories with plots left to twist. The non-waivers trading deadline is just nine days away and even though the Phillies already made a move for Husky Joe, it doesn’t seem as if Trader Pat Gillick is finished with the wheelin’ and dealin’.

At least it doesn’t seem that way if ol’ Pat wants to go out standing on top of the mountain.

[1] If you ever find yourself in Nederland or on the Peak-to-Peak Highway an hour west of Boulder and Denver, you owe it to yourself to have a meal at the Sundance. The first time I ever heard Ted Leo’s song “La Costa Brava” I immediately thought of the little spot just off the road near Nederland. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Sundance; have an ever-changing menu with tons of choices and some of the best fresh-brewed iced tea ever tasted. Plus, the view can’t be beat. It’s always hard not to stare at snow-capped mountains through large picture windows (or on a sun/windswept deck). My wife and I snuck away for a quiet dinner last Thursday where she had homemade chicken marsala and I had tofu steaks with a citrusy teriyaki that came with grilled veggies and fantastic mashed potatoes. Man, what a place.

Taking the act on the road

Hey folks –
Posts around here will be a bit sporadic and/or delayed during the next few days. It’s vacation time for the family and since my wife and two boys got a head start on me earlier this week, I have to batten down the hatches here in The Lanc before heading out.

Nevertheless, I’ll check in tonight/tomorrow with a few items pertaining to the Phillies, fun-time travel tidbits and maybe even a little something on 41-year-old Olympic swimmer, Dara Torres.

After that, everything else will come direct from Estes Park, Colorado where the big plan is run up a mountain (not hike, run). Other than the big run, I plan on sitting around with some coffee, and a book for some decoration so it looks like I’m doing something while I stare out into the middle distance for a week or so.

Check out the picture from the backyard

Anyway, I’ll be sure to write all about the adventures and goofiness I get tangled up in over the next week(s)… stay tuned.

Who turned on the heat?

Big Elk @ StanleyESTES PARK, Colo. – So I’m sitting at the tables closest to the door in Kind Coffee – my favorite coffee shop ever – with a view of the burbling Big Thompson River and the bundled up locals traipsing up Elkhorn Avenue for the October sidewalk sale with all sorts of thoughts running wild:

“Is the baseball season really over?”

“Man, I can’t believe I made that drive from Denver at 1 a.m.”

“This coffee is so #$&*@% good!”

“I can’t believe I’m in Estes Park in October and it’s 35 degrees… it’s 90 degrees in Lancaster and Philly.”

“It’s hard to believe that Colorado is on the same planet as Philadelphia.”

“Hey! Look… elk!

“That guy is wearing a funny hat. I wonder where he got it?”

You get the idea. It goes on and on and on like this – sometimes for days.

Anyway, if I had to guess, I’d say that I slept for seven hours since waking up on Saturday morning to go to the airport in Philadelphia. That part stinks because sleep is vital. If one gets the proper amount of sleep (and a little bit extra just for fun), there is no need to inject silliness like HGH into one’s bloodstream.

Be that as it may, I’ve been infused with a steady stream of coffee since arriving out here at noon (local time) on Saturday. From the airport I went to the ballpark and watched the Phillies’ season come to an end. When that ended and I turned the ignition on my car at 1:01 a.m., I drove to Estes Park.

On the way to Estes, I saw exactly four cars on the final 36 miles of the drive after exiting I-25. I was convinced an elk or coyote was going to jump out of the thick, inky blackness of the night and into the path of my car.

Instead it was just cold and windy.

Get this: when I left Philadelphia it was 90 degrees and foggy, but when I woke up on Sunday morning it was 35 degrees and windy with a few snow flurries dancing about. By 1 p.m. it was 55 degrees with a gentle breeze and the sunniest and bluest skies anyone will ever see.

ANYWAY, one of my goals in Estes Park was to spend the morning at Kind Coffee, which is where I started writing this, as well as Sunday’s (or Monday’s… I lost track) reprisal of the Phillies’ season. Check it out by clicking here.

Another goal was to see if there were more elk meandering about town than during the summertime.

Here’s how it worked out:

As far as the coffee joint went, I made it to Kind Coffee three times in less than 16 hours of which four were spent sleeping. As mentioned above, I started writing this post from the table nearest the door with a full view of the Big Thompson River flowing within spitting distance. To the table to my right sat a bearded, 27-year old seasonal employee of the National Park Service, who was discussing his existential crisis with an attentive and patient young lady. I know all of this because I heard the conversation as if I had snapped on the TV and was just listening to it as background noise. As I tap-tap-tapped away, waxing on about Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Jamie Moyer, the young man described how he was ready to retire and was sick of seasonal jobs, though he was not at all interested in working in an office where he might have to sit in a cubicle all day under set, rigid hours.

He also didn’t want to have to spend the rest of his life working only to retire and find out that he didn’t make enough money or invest properly.

Join the club, buddy. And save as much of your fire watching money as possible now – sell that top-of-the-line iMac on eBay… better yet, stay away from anything that has a small letter in front of a capital letter. That type of [stuff] is expensive. Better yet, start buying Folgers at the Safeway up the hill. Buying that Kind Coffee every day adds up.

Trust me.

Famous last words, huh?

The StanleyAs far as the elk meandering about goes, I thought there would be more, though there were a bunch just chillaxing near the Lake Estes trail as well as a big ol’ buck and his brood hanging out behind the Stanley Hotel.

Oh yeah, I also bought a weird hat that no one else likes. In fact, my sister doesn’t even like it and she’s a bit odd (eccentric?).

To shorten this up a bit, the trip was too short. All of it. Time in Colorado is always much too short, and the Phillies’ run in the playoffs was almost criminally short. I realized this as I drove past Coors Field on Sunday night and saw that it was all dark. I said out loud: “Hey, this would be about the time the first pitch would be thrown.”

I’m going to dig into the off-season this afternoon, where I’ll attempt to offer what we could expect from the club this winter. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, here’s what I was writing for this site when Jeff Baker singled off J.C. Romero with two outs in the eighth inning on Saturday night at Coors:

Game 3 of the NLDS has really heated up and, yes, we mean that metaphorically. Heading into the eighth, the Rockies have turned it over to funky lefty Brian Fuentes, who whiffed Jimmy Rollins, got Chase Utley to fly out harmlessly to left, and then struck out Pat Burrell to end the inning.

To punctuate the feat, Fuentes gave a strong fist pump with his left hand and a little leg kick.

But Burrell nearly had Fuentes hanging his head. His long, loud foul ball started its flight looking like it was going to land in the seats for a homer, but instead turned out just to be strike two.

The Rockies sent the meat of their order up against Tom Gordon in the eighth. Gordon started his second inning against Matt Holliday, Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins up.

I’m betting that J.C. Romero will face Helton…

And here comes Charlie with his lineup card to pull off a double-switch. Romeo to face Helton, Jayson Werth to left to replace Burrell. I imagine Charlie will use Brett Myers to face the righty Garrett Atkins even if Romero doesn’t retire Helton.

Uh… oops.

Do or die in Denver

Clint HurdleThe Coloradoans are having fun. As a brief diversion from the Broncos for a couple of hours, the folks in Colorado are chirping about how great their Rockies are. The entire state of Colorado pretty much shuts down whenever the Broncos play, and they are known to take hardcore sports participation to a degree that Philadelphians… well, don’t. But that’s just the way it is when the county due north of Denver is home to more than 60 people who were in the last Olympics.

And yes, they are chirping. They’re chirping like crickets near the lake on a hot summer night. In making some arrangements to pay some visits in Estes Park over the next couple of days, I informed folks that as long as the series was in full throttle I would be busy in Denver.

“So you will be around Saturday night and all day Sunday, huh?”

Yep, they’re really confident about the Rockies chances. Actually, so are the Rockies.

“We believe we’re going to win every game,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’ve been playing in the loser’s bracket for a month.”

There is some hope for the Phillies fans, though. For instance, the Phillies are 8-2 in their last 10 road games and the Rockies are just 11-7 in games at Coors Field when the wind blows harder than 10 mph. According to the weather forecast,

Still, the Rockies have won 16 of their last 17 games and are 8-3 in the last 11 at Coors. A “front,” as they like to say out there, is moving in and that means temperatures are going to drop 30 degrees as quickly as it takes for a room to get dark after flipping a switch. Saturday night’s game should be breezy, though OK for a ballgame. But if there is a Game 4 on Sunday night it’s likely that the temperatures will be a touch warmer than freezing. There’s even a chance for a few snow flurries, too.

But that happens out there all year round. In fact, I remember a time a few years ago when it was a comfortable and sunny August day with temperatures in Estes in the mid-80s. But after a short drive up Trail Ridge Road we had to pull over because it was snowing and hailing too hard to negotiate those tricky mountain roads.

That was August.

This was July in the relative low altitude of Denver:

So if you’re going to Denver and can’t get tickets for the game (it’s sold out), go check out the El Chapultepec, a bar a block or two away from Coors on 1962 Market Street. It’s one of those holdovers from the pre-gentrification Denver where Kerouac and Cassady along with Sinatra and Bono have been seen having a few while eating authentic Mexican food from paper plates and listening to jazz from the stage. The music is what that really drives folks in, they say.

El Chapultepec is a little trendier than it used to be, but it doesn’t look like it from the outside.

See how close it is to Coors:

map to El Chapultepec

Other than that, my wife has stopped in the Chop House for a pre-Coors lunch. She still talks about the salad she ate there two years ago.

For those looking for the old Denver of the Beats, there are tours to take.

Or, if you want to really see the mountains, drive the 60 miles up to Estes to the Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a Swiss-inspired little town where the elk out-number the people. Plus, Stephen King stayed at the stately Stanley Hotel for inspiration for The Shining.

Speaking of horror stories, did everyone see all those bugs swarm onto Joboa Chamberlain in last night’s Indians-Yankees game? Wow. That was almost like something out of Hunter Thompson, only in his case he was fighting off low-flying bats.

There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge.

Oh yeah, Ian is ALIVE!

I’m on the way to Denver and will make posts here during the game just like in Philly… I’ll check back from Coors.