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Copper Hollow Spring

Spring Break Backpacking

PART 1 – An outing without the kids

Seems the last several years it has been very difficult trying to plan an outdoor adventure here in the midwest over Spring Break – mainly due to the weather. Last year for 600-miles in all directions the weather was calling for cold snowy and icy weather. We thought we had a small window of opportunity south of St. Louis to squeeze in a few days of camping at Johnson Shuts-In before the front moved through – we were wrong. The front showed up a few days early and after surviving a night in 25 degree temps, the family decided a quick trip up to my parents in St. Louis and an Imo’s Pizza sounded pretty good. Fortunately we did squeeze in a short hike at Johnson Shut-In’s and Silver Mines before we had to leave.

This year I pulled together three separate plans in an effort to get ahead of mother nature, which included Estes Park, Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma and our priority – backpacking in southeast Missouri. One week out and the weather looked promising for us to go ahead with taking our boys on their first backpacking trip!

Whispering Pines Trail

…a tale of two VERY different days.

Caroline and I opted to do this trail by ourselves and leave the kiddos with the grandparents. A little time away from the kids sounded pretty good and it would give us a chance to have two days of uninterrupted conversation as well as dust off our backpacking skills so we don’t look like complete idiots to our kids.

By all accounts this trail is one of Missouri’s most scenic with many clear streams diverse forest and great views. Located within Hawn State Park, and a short hour and half south of St. Louis, it did not disappoint.

Whispering Pines Trail Map

We arrived at the Park around 11:00 after driving down from St. Louis. The Wilderness Trail parking lot was already full but the adjacent lot for the Pickle Creek Trail still had several several spots available.  This area of the park was well maintained with a playground situated among tall pine trees as well as a nice picnic shelter.

We loaded up our packs and were on the trail by 11:30.  We chose to do the trail in a counter clock-wise direction as suggested in Steve Henry’s book “St. Louis: 60 Hikes within 60-miles” – this turned out to be a blessing and a curse as our pace was much slower than anticipated because of all the scenic spots along Pickle Creek to stop and take in this beautiful scenery. The first 1/2-mile you spend climbing above Pickle Creek to several great scenic overlooks before descending back down to the creek.

Caroline Crossing Pickle Creek on Whispering Pines Trail

Caroline Crossing Pickle Creek on Whispering Pines Trail.

The trail then follows Pickle Creek for the next mile and half at which point the trail turns east and wanders through an amazing Pine forest. I can only imagine this section is what gave the trail it’s name. After about a mile the trail turns south again and climbs another 100-feet to the high point of the trail. We were rewarded with a great view of the adjacent hill tops and valleys. A large stack of sandstone blocks made for a great spot to sit and grab a bite to eat. We ran into the campground host who was hiking the trail with his wife and friends. He was a great source of information and was adamant that we stop and camp at Backpack Camp 2 – we were hoping to make it to Camp 3 but it was not meant to be given the slow pace for the day. And based on the campground hosts description we would soon be rewarded with a campsite set among tall pine trees situated next to a small creek – that sounded perfect!.

Pickle Creek crossing

Caroline about to cross Pickle Creek.

After a short hike down from the high point we came to the start of the southern loop of the trail. At this point you can choose to stay on the 6-mile Red Loop and return to the trailhead or continue on with the southern blue loop. As planned we continued on the southern loop and made it to Backpack Camp 2 at about 4:00. We really didn’t cover much ground but it was one of the most enjoyable days of hiking I have had in a long time. Caroline and I had a chance to brainstorm several business ideas and generate ideas for our next adventures. It wasn’t long before we arrived at our campsite. We crossed the narrow stream and walked maybe 20 yards to the campsite and made quick work of setting up our tent.

Shooting some video of the waterfall.

Me shooting some video of the waterfall.

Before making dinner we decided to hike back down the trail to take a closer peek at a small waterfall and pool of water we saw on the way in. It was a beautiful setting and we spent plenty of time taking pictures and appreciating the wonderful day we just had.

Back at camp we dined on Backpacker’s Pantry freeze-dried Vegetable Stew with Beef and herb mashed potatoes.  We both agreed the Stew sucked and was waaay to watery. Thankfully the potatoes were pretty good and really saved the dinner.  After dinner we retreated to the tent to read a bit and discuss the weather situation for tomorrow. Thankfully we had a cell signal and were able to pull up a weather report – it didn’t look good. It would appear tomorrow would be the exact opposite of what we experienced today.

The Weather Forecast

The Weather Forecast

The hourly forecast showed that starting at midnight the temps would start falling as would the rain. We decided our best window of opportunity was to get up at 4:45 AM while the temps were still above freezing, eat a quick breakfast, tear down the tent and hike out in an attempt to get back to the car before the sleet/snow started and the temps dropped below freezing. With that decided we both grabbed our books for a little reading before getting some sleep. But WAIT my headlamp doesn’t work – not only can I not read my book but my hike out tomorrow is going to be pretty interesting in the dark.  Then it hit me – I have my “10 Essentials” bag with me and low and behold it contained an extra “working” headlamp. Problem solved – unfortunately for Caroline my 10 Essentials didn’t contain another book as she just realized the book she brought is one she has already read. Oh well, we both needed to get to bed early since we have an an early wake-up call.

The 4:45 alarm came WAY to soon – it was pitch black and we could hear a steady rain on the tent. I volunteered to head out to get the bear bag down while Caroline started to heat some water for coffee. After splitting a bagel w/ cream cheese and finishing our coffee we packed up our bags, tore down the tent and headed down the trail. Thankfully the trail is well worn with white blazes on trees marking the way as it was still very dark outside. We opted to backtrack from where we came and catch the WC3 connector back to the trailhead as this would be the shortest route out and would be familiar territory.

The connector appeared to be an old dirt road and passes Backpack Camp 1 – which on this morning contained at least eight tents from a Boy Scout troop. Caroline wanted to make zombie noises as we passed but I convinced her that we should just talk quietly so that they knew the walking sounds they heard outside their tent belonged to humans and not some other animal invading their campsite. It was at about this point in the hike that we were able to turn off the headlamps as a diffused light started to glow behind the grey clouds. After an 1-1/2 hours we made it back to the trailhead. We still had to drive back to St. Louis but not before rewarding ourselves with a stop at the Sunny Street Cafe in Arnold, MO. It was at this point that the snow started to come down and we both smiled as we sipped hot coffee and ate our breakfast knowing that getting up early was the right choice.

We will definitely be going back to do this trail with our boys in the fall.  And for those that live in St. Louis I would highly recommend this park as a great day trip.

Whispering Pines Trailhead

Early morning at the Whispering Pines Trailhead.


Gotcha Day

Seven years ago I awoke to my first day of being a father. The day before Caroline and I survived our day in Russian court to adopt our first son Alex. He was just 10-months old and here he was in a small hotel room in Kaliningrad, Russia with two strangers. While being thousands of miles away from our home, Caroline and I were in a perfect place…a family of three with no distractions – just three people getting to know one another and no doubt each of our minds racing with the thoughts of what the future will hold.  Since that time we have been on many great adventures and enjoyed many, many movie nights together.

I am no doubt a better person today because of the seven years I have spent being a father to Alex. He is an amazing boy with a very caring heart. (While at times his younger brother might disagree).

So hear are the 10 things you should know about Alex…

  1. He is a very picky eater ( I know, what 7-year old boy isn’t)
  2. He got the nickname “Frog Whisperer” at summer camp, due to is ability to track and catch frogs
  3. He is drawn to women with long hair, so much so that he has requested that his mom grow her hair longer
  4. He loves to be outside!
  5. He’s not very competitive, but hates to loose  – if that makes sense
  6. He’s a pretty good dancer – just stop by some night when “So you Think you can Dance” is on.
  7. He already has all the answers
  8. He already knows who he is going to marry
  9. He has a great memory, except when it comes to locating his coat in the morning
  10. He is a lot like his mom in sooooo many ways


Red Rock Point

Randy ascending fixed line

My commute

Yet another last minute run to Arkansas for a few days of shooting. I just happened to be talking to Jeremy on a Monday morning when in passing he says “Hey I’m going to Arkansas to climb tomorrow, wanna come” to which I reply “who’s going” to which he replys “I hate when people ask that – why does it matter”. While a good point, I still like to ask it just to annoy him. In the end he offered up that Corbin Brady and Jim Lasseter would be going as well…two great guys that would no doubt be great to hang with.

Now the thought of getting up at 4:00 am and driving 5-hours didn’t seem all that appealing but Jer dangled the possibility of heading to Red Rock Point for a day of climbing – which certainly made it more appealing. By reputation this place is touted as some of the best/tallest climbing in Arkansas. However, access is somewhat in question as it requires passing through private property to get to the cliffs. Thankfully Jeremy is plugged into the local scene and served as our ambassador.

We made it to the “secret” parking spot and unloaded our gear…now being that we are on private property extreme disgression is in order – so me sounding the alarm on the Sequoia when I stuffed my keys in my pack was not one of my better moves.  I fully expected a pack of dogs to jump out of all the rusted out cars and chase up the nearby trees. Fortunatly this did not happen and we quickly started the approach up to the base of the cliffs.

The approach proved to be a nice warmup and it quickly became obvious that we would be bushwacking through the downed trees from a recent ice storm.  After lots of scrambling up slick leafy slopes we were at the base of the cliff.  The sun was out and the skys were blue.  Jer then proceeded to lead us to the most impressive wall of sandstaone I have ever seen in Arkansas.

I won’t bore you with the details of my first time jugging a line, but suffice it to say it was not pretty and resulted and a few bloody knuckles.  The first day ended with some great shots of Corbin leading “Batso’s Revenge” (5.9).  We all decided we wanted to come back the next day so we stashed out gear under some rocks and made it back to the car by sundown and made our way to the Eagles Nest Cafe in Mt. Judea for some good ol’ homestyle food.

The next day we woke to cloudy cold skies and were regretting having left our gear back at RRP. Magically as we finished our approach to the base of the cliffs the clouds burned off and we were rewarded with another glorious day – which again ended on a high note with Jer sending “Skysaw” (5.12b).

A few images from the trip:  Red Rock Point Climbing Images

Corbin Brady taking a break

Cold Ramen

…with a side of cold oatmeal

I can’t believe it has been over a year since I last posted to this Blog.  Surely I have been on an Adventure since last year…

Well if I haven’t, this little quicky trip with Jesse sure help me make up for lost time. The alarm erupted at 3:00 AM Friday morning – hit the snooze one time then it was up and out the door to meet Jesse for our 4-hour drive south to Sam’s Throne, Arkansas – but not before stopping at QT for a large coffee and glazed donut. Halfway there we were finally greeted by a warm sunrise, leaving behind what would be a cold rainy day in KC.

We arrived just as some other local KC climbers were about to leave camp and head off for a day of climbing.  Jesse and I quickly grabbed our gear and headed off.  The plan for today was to hit some of the classic moderates and enjoy the day to it’s fullest. Jesse announced that my goal for the day was 10-routes – a lofty goal I thought since I hadn’t climbed since May of this year. In the end I think I did something like 8 routes, but not without alot of grunting and groaning.

To my surprise, there was still alot of color in the trees and the early morning light was igniting the color even more. This was too good to pass up so I pulled out the camera and spent the next hour shooting the gang.

After that the rest of the crew headed over to HCR to finish out their weekend. Jesse and I now had Sam’s Throne to ourselves and he proceded to take me to six climbs I had never done before. We ended the day with the forever classic “Poison Ivy”, then headed back to set-up camp just as the sun was leaving the sky.

We succeeded in making the most of the day!

Hungry and tired we quickly pulled out our food and my stove.  (It is important to note that prior to thre trip we agreed I would be the one to bring the stove to share.)  I was going to dine on Ramen Noodles and tuna and Jesse would be consuming some sort of Indian dish.  I was just 3 short minutes from boiling water and a hot meal.  However it was at this point I realized that while I had matches I didn’t have anything to strike them on.  HMMM…we proceeded to “Macgyver” our way through possible solutions which included stones and various metal objects, a battery and some foil – just anything that would give us enough spark to ignite the stove. In the end I surrendered and opted to soak the ramen in cold water for a while and call it good.  Funny thing when you are hungry and outside camping, just about anything taste good.

It was just after 7:oo and we each retreated to our tents. Just as I zipped the sleeping bag I heard the pitter patter of rain drops on the tent – PERFECT timing!

I woke up Saturday morning around 7:00 having gotten a good 11-hours of sleep.  I peered out the tent – the rain had stopped, however it was cold and the clouds still hung low in the sky.  Not to worry as I will soon be eating COLD oatmeal for breakfast and will have to forego my much needed coffee in the morning.

We quickly broke camp and headed down the road to a climbing area that Jesse had been telling me about for awhile called Stack Rock.  We arrived at the bluffs by 9:30 and had 4-hours to knock out what we could before heading back to KC.  Stack Rock did not disappoint and Jesse once agian did a stellar job of showing me some of the classic climbs. We were on the road by 2:30 and by 8:30 I was at a friends house enjoying a steak, a glass of wine and the company of good friends.

Can’t wait to do it again – now I’m off to put a LIGHTER with my cook stove.


Tour of Missouri – teaser

Spent the day running around photographing the the final stage of the Tour of Missouri in Kansas City today.  I think I must have walked seven miles and am pretty wiped out.  But I thought I would at least post up a pic of the start.

I should have the rest ready to post in a few days.

 Stay tuned…


Time to get away

Caroline and I recently had the opportunity to get away for a 6-day vacation to Lake Tahoe.  This all came about when my mom declared “I will be watching my grandsons for a week – whether you and Caroline go somewhere or not”  combine this with two free round-trip tickets burning a hole in my pocket and PRESTO you have the beginnings of a great vacation.









Tahoe was an easy choice since neither of had been there before and would offer a variety of textures and flavors to make it memorable.  The plan was to camp 4-nights and spend the last night in a B&B.

Without going into the boring details as to why, we had to spend a night in a private campground on our first night.  While the campgrounds were clean with nice scenery – it was located across the street from a marina and appeared to be the campground of choice for those who spend their days on the water drinking beer…lots of beer.  So needless to say the campground was a little raucous come sundown.  But thankfully the campground supervisor cruised the grounds at 11:00 barking from his bull horn “IT”S QUIET TIME”. The next morning we made our way over to Sugar Pine Point State Park and set up our tent for the second time in two days.  However, this time we were surrounded by towering pines with some distance between us and our neighbors.

While we had grand plans to mountain bike, climb and basically attempt to see ALL and do ALL that Lake Tahoe has to offer we ended up just relaxing, hiking, spending time catching up with each other and enjoying the fact that we could actually carry on a conversation for more than 10-minutes without interruption.  We also discovered we have now become those people that take great JOY in the silence we experienced as we drove down the road – no kids arguing in the back seat, no Fisher- Price music pouring into our ears and no radio - just the enjoyment of holding hands and taking in the beautiful scenery.

I imagine this is the point were a few of my friends (you know who you are) are disappointed that I haven’t described some epic hike to the tallest point in Lake Tahoe or some other over the top adventure.  Sorry for that, but this was a VACATION not a “guys trip” ;-)

We did however enjoy waking up each morning, brewing coffee in our JetBoil french-press and sitting in the shade enjoying our oatmeal, reading books and asking ourselves what do feel like doing today.  Our typical itinerary included a hike, reading in a shady spot by the lake, dinner and photography on the lake at sun down.

We took full advantage of being near so many great restaurants – the dinner of choice for this trip was Sushi and white wine.  This was definitely a first to be eating sushi and camping at the same time.  I highly recommend it! For those that know Caroline, you know she loves her sweets and she was tormented for several evenings as we drove by this ice cream shop that always had a line of people waiting to get in.  The cones we saw walking out the door were enormous! My resistance was for not and we ended up stopping one night to check it out. OMFG! We ordered a single scoop and this thing was as big as Caroline’s head.  I think it took us almost an hour to eat it all.  After that we headed back to camp for our final campfire before packing up the next morning and heading to our B&B.

Our final night  in Tahoe was perfect.  We went to the local market, picked up some cheese, crackers and salami along with a bottle of wine - headed back to the B&B and played Yahtzee on the Patio of the main lodge.

The next morning we packed up and made our way to Reno for our flight home.  We did miss our connection in Lost Wages but luckily we were able to catch a later flight into KC.

I was great seeing the boys again and hearing all about the time they spent with Grandma & Grandpa.

It is important to note that within two days of us being home, both boys had new bikes.  Do you think guilt played a roll in that decision ;-)

Here are some pics from the trip.


Boats of Lake

Sunset on Lake

Abstract Shoreline

Tahoe Teaser Pic

Probably not what you were expecting…

I was experimenting with a modified technique and am very pleased with the outcome.  I have several from this particular part of shore line.

I’ll post a report and more pictures (including “pretty” ones) in a couple of days.


365 days ago

Exactly one year ago today I woke up in a Russian hotel, put on my suit and tie and nervously made my way into a Russian courtroom to convince a judge that Caroline & I would be good parents for Christopher.  For a blow by blow description check out the post from last year – It’s Official.

Little did I know that this little boy, who didn’t want to have anything to do with me the first time he saw me, who rarely said a word when we visited him, would turn into the most outgoing and chatty member of our family - with a larger than life personality.

 So here are ten things you should know about Chris.

1.  He LOVES, LOVES, LOVES cars and trucks.

2.  He is a grazer when he eats,  he will walk away from his plate several times during a meal but always returns and will eventually clean his plate

3.  He is usually the first one up in the morning.

4.  He HATES fire on his food…aka Birthday Candles and S’mores

5.  He is super tough and has the bumps & bruises to prove it -most inflicted by older brother and resident Husky

6.  He LOVES his mommy

7.  He LOVES, LOVES, LOVES cars and trucks (worth stating twice)

8.  His favorite stuffed animal is a Polar Bear

9.  When he sings rain rain go away – the rain actually goes away! Creepy

10.  He is now the most interesting member of our family – important fact to know if you are ever at a party with us and want to know who to hang out with.

So today we will not only celebrate our countries independence – we will also be celebrating the addition of Christoper Sergei Braley to our family.

Happy 4th of July!

Life’s Firsts

It amazes me the memory people have of their “Firsts”.  Ask anyone to describe their first kiss or first time drunk and they can recite back to you in vivid detail an event that most likely took place a long, long time ago.  These are events we covet, in many cases they serve as a Rite of Passage during key times in our life.

One of these notable first for many is riding a bike without training wheels.  Well I’m pleased to announce as a father, my son Alex rode his bike for the first time without training wheels this past weekend.

I had taken the training wheels off several weeks back, but the weather really hadn’t been cooperating.  So on Mother’s Day weekend we were just sitting around the house and I whispered into Alex’s ear “hey dude, wanna go try and ride your bike without training wheels?”  His eyes just about popped out of his skull and landed in his bowl of chips.  So off we went…not far behind were grandpa, grandma and mom – cameras in hand – ready to document the occasion.

I grabbed all the appropriate safety gear – helmet, knee pads & elbow pads – and prepared him to do battle with the laws of physics.  Mentally I was preparing for the worse!  To my surprise after a little push he was heading down the sidewalk on his own. The pride I felt was amazing!  I knew this would be an experience he would remember for a long long time!  The first 15-minutes were marked with the usual starts, stops and the occasional falling to the side.  Then it happened – an age old occurrence – over confidence followed by a slight loss of focus and WHAM! Or first major crash, an abrupt turn of the handle bars, body thrust forward by momentum, chest slamming into end of handle bars.  I thought to myself, “he won’t want to get back on his bike for years.”  Thankfully a quick hug from mom and dad followed by enthusiastic words of encouragement was followed by “Hey can I try that again?”

That’s my boy! Now he can tell the story of when he first rode his bike without training wheels, stared danger in the eye and said “Hey can I try that again!”