Saturday, March 25, 2017

Writing Music


I just reached the 20,000-word mark of my work in progress, which is a straightforward horror novel, set in my home state of Arkansas. For now, that’s all I’ll reveal about it. I’m just a little superstitious, and it seems that if I ever get too excited about a work and start speaking or writing about it, said work will retaliate by dying on the proverbial vine.

I’m here to don my music critic hat and talk about some music I’ve re-discovered while working on this book.

I can write in silence, just as I’ve been known to write in noisy waiting rooms, car lots, and classrooms. But when the setting is 100% to my liking, I prefer to have some writing music emanating from my portable Bose speaker. I have no clear definition of writing music. It varies, depending on my mood. Sometimes it’s a playlist of quiet, somber songs; sometimes it’s folk; sometimes it’s a Radiohead album or a collection of bizarre non-music (such as Tool’s most abstract, Area 51-inspired noise tracks).

Lately, though, my go-to writing music has been what I feel is three straight releases of under-appreciated material by the Swedish progressive death metal band Opeth.


Yes, I do listen to a Swedish progressive death metal band when I need to think: except it’s not death metal. Progressive, yes. Death, no. After Opeth’s 2008 album Watershed, the band abandoned the “death” part of their style entirely (and their progressive death albums are excellent as well, if you’re into that sort of thing). Since Watershed, they’ve released three albums—Heritage (2011), Pale Communion (2014), and Sorceress (2016)—that could be loosely described as simply “prog rock.”  Except this material can't be properly categorized with one label. It’s prog; it's also folk, hard rock, experimental, and yes, a little bit metal; or it's at least influenced by metal. It’s also very fine thinking music.


Heritage is the most challenging of the three efforts. The album begins with its title track, a somber two-minute piano number, then launches into one of the most aggressive tunes of the entire three-album stretch, “The Devil’s Orchard.” This aggressive track hits you head-on and charges furiously towards the short-lived but memorable guitar solo that wraps it up. From here, Heritage crawls and gallops its way through an unpredictable landscape that’s at one moment explosive and the very next quiet and atmospheric. This apparent disjointedness is not entirely a bad thing. Given its unpredictability and complexity, Heritage offers something new with every listen, and the more you listen to it, the more you start to think, “Maybe disjointed isn’t the right word. Maybe this is simply a complex album that takes time to get.”


Pale Communion is a tighter album than Heritage, with a much stronger folk influence than either Heritage or Sorceress. The album opens with a complex, prog-inspired track “Eternal Rains Will Come,” passes through the closest thing this band will come to mainstream rock territory with “Cusp of Eternity,” and then launches straight into the opposite of “mainstream rock” with the eleven-minute prog-folk-metal tune “Moon Above, Sun Below.” This track is complex and unpredictable without meandering; quiet, moody, softly-strummed passages explode into epic guitar solos, which seamlessly retreat into folk territory. "Moon Above, Sun Below" is arguably a microcosm of the entire album. Calmer waters persist through the middle of the album, until we arrive at the three-track closing set: the folk-inspired epic “The River,” the latter-Led Zeppelin-esq. “Voice of Treason,” and the beautifully flowing “Faith In Others,” which sounds exactly like its title.


Sorceress is the most modern-rock influenced of these three albums. It does not contain the heavy-quiet-heavy-quiet unpredictability of Heritage, but it does not—to me—come across as cohesive as Pale Communion; with any other artist, the latter would be a bad thing. But this album, lately, has been my favorite of the three, cohesive or not. There are three tracks here that are straightforward rock/hard rock: the down-tuned and heavy title track, the charging “Chrysalis,” and the (dare I say it?) optimistic-sounding “Era.”  Between these rockers is the complex, bizarre “The Wilde Flowers” (which has grown on me and become a favorite); the largely-instrumental and Middle Eastern-tinged “The Seventh Sojourn”; and the nine-minute Opethian concoction “Strange Brew.” But Sorceress is not without its soft side: “Sorceress 2” is a slightly-ominous, quiet number, and “Will O the Wisp” is a folk-inspired song that soars just enough to take you away.

I’ll summarize with this: if you are open-minded about music and give these three albums a chance, I almost guarantee they’ll take you away, especially if you’ll partake of them with a good set of headphones.

And if you’re a writer who wants some complex, diverse thinking music to entrance you while you work… Well, that’s what brought me here. They work for that, too.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Grave Plots

I’ve seen several Plotters on Twitter recently.  I’m referring to the writers who, before actually writing their novels, draft lengthy outlines or diagrams; sometimes they’re seen covering their walls in sticky notes or going all Albert Einstein on a chalk or dry-erase board.

I’m not a fan of any of this, but whatever helps them write, right?  I’m sure many pieces of fine literature have been born out of exhausting outlines or plot diagrams.

Maybe.  But plotting a novel out before writing it is simply not how I work.  As a young writer, it never occurred to me to draft an outline or diagram my story.  Nowadays, the notion does occasionally occur to me, as I look at some writers’ tweets and ponder their methods… but I still choose to avoid all that dreadful planning.  We’ve all got our own methods, right?

Sure.  I do feel, however, that there are legitimate reasons to avoid such intricate planning.  So allow me, Plotters, to discuss them in an effort to convince you:

Creation.  Stephen King states in On Writing: “I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.”  If the story you’re writing is a true labor of love, not just an effort to make a buck or meet a deadline, then the story itself will almost always guide you—the writer—along, usually through the choices of its characters.  And when you let the story do the work, you’ll stumble upon those magical twists and turns that surprise even the creator.  Even the most ardent of plotters, at least the ones I’ve encountered, admit that their stories sometimes veer from their outlines, requiring them to revise their outlines, usually numerous times.

So, why outline?  Why risk stifling your story even the slightest bit by placing it all out there before it’s even created?

The most common answer to this question, that I’ve seen, is security (this alone says all that needs to be said, but still): When you know where you’re going, the Plotters say, you’re less likely to steer your narrative straight into a wall or off a cliff; you’re less likely to inflict upon yourself frustration-induced writer’s block.  To this, I say: Stop! You aren’t supposed to steer anything anywhere.  Your story, as I mentioned earlier, should steer itself.  Listen to the story and you’ll eventually wind up at a logical conclusion.  Any loose ends or meanderings can be tightened up or omitted in revisions, but the story will lead you somewhere.  If it doesn’t, maybe it shouldn’t exist.  Artificially forcing it somewhere with a convenient plot device certainly isn’t your answer.  If you mess too much with those, you’ll get the other dreaded “p” word: predictability.

Time.  I mentioned earlier that even the most ardent Plotters end up somewhere unexpected; thus, they spend time adjusting their outlines accordingly.  So why spend days or weeks or (dear God) months planning something that you know can’t accurately be planned?  All that time spent drafting and revising and re-revising an outline or a diagram is time that could have been spent writing or revising a story that honest-to-God guided itself.  Either way, the time spent will likely be about the same—there is nothing easy about outlining or taming a wild beast—so why not go with the most exciting, unpredictable, least-artificial route, the route most likely to surprise both reader and author?

Reality.  This isn’t the English Renaissance.  I assume most of us aren’t time travelers who are writing five-act plays to be performed before King James.  We’re writing novels.  And writing novels should be a passion and at least a little bit fun.  Otherwise, why do it?  To heck with inciting incidents and rising actions and climaxes and blah blah blah.  Leave all that where it belongs: in the classroom.  Most stories will naturally have some logical order: a beginning, a middle, and an end.  That’s all you need.  Take off and run and have some fun.  Finish what you start and clean up the inevitable messes during revisions.  You’re going to do all of that revising and editing stuff, anyway, unless you’re a hack or have no idea how much first drafts suck.  If your story turns into a beast that’s difficult to handle, by all means, take some notes for the sake of reference and organization, jot down key info about your huge cast of characters, important dates, etc.

But let the story work itself out.  It’ll be more fun for you, and for your readers.  I truly believe it.

Peace, Plotters.

Sincerely,

A Pantser

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

When the Setting Does Not Fit

My work in progress is a straightforward horror novel, and for approximately one month and twenty or so thousand words, it took place in Colorado.  Specifically, it took place in a fictional community called Ellingwood, which was a blend of the real-life towns of Leadville and Salida, two towns in the heart of the Rockies that I love and have visited frequently.

Colorado just made sense.  The terrain was familiar, and a Rocky Mountain winter would provide the dark, cold, isolated atmosphere the novel seemed to demand.

Somewhere around the ten thousand-word point, however, the story began to show signs that it was not comfortable in its Colorado surroundings.  The scenery, while beautiful and a pleasure to write about, felt wrong, and this wrongness was bringing the story down with it: no moving part moved on its own.  I either forced the story along, or it went nowhere.

But I persisted, telling myself I was simply facing the doubts that tend to come with first drafts.  My thought process was something like this: Why are you thinking about changing the setting?  Colorado is fine!  At some point, the narrative will start roaring along again and the setting will become integral to the story, like Denali did in your last novel.

Ten thousand hard-fought words later, I accepted that my story had not settled into its Colorado locale, and it never would.  The story wanted to be set in the wooded hills of my home state of Arkansas, terrain even more familiar to me than the Rockies.

Sometimes, it’s good to get away from home.  Writing novels should be (for the most part) fun and liberating.  I don’t hesitate to leave the comfortable confines of Arkansas with my stories; I travel all the time, and places frequently inspire me.  When that happens, the story tends to slip naturally into its setting; the two intertwine, and one feeds off the other.

But Colorado did not inspire my new novel.  Those snow-blanketed Rockies were not integral to my novel, and the snow was spinning my story's tires.  The book wanted to come home, so I brought it home.

It’s much more comfortable now.  The Ozarks, when you look at them in a certain way, are a gray, ominous sight in the winter months.  The trees are skeletons, and the sleet clicks against them.

Setting is important.  If the setting is not somehow integral to the story, the setting—or the narrative itself—might be wrong.

Listen.  The story will explain.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

All the Wisdom I've Ignored

Last I counted, which was about three days ago, there were approximately 6.4 million books, articles, and blog posts in existence that cover the craft of fiction writing.  By now, that number’s probably swelled to seven or so million, and sure, I’ve contributed to the pile.

I come to this topic, writing on the craft of writing, with experience and confidence.  As of this writing, I’ve been a novelist of some sort for approximately twenty years, if you count the messes I made while I was in high school and college.  Over this period, I’ve consumed many, many materials about writing, from the time-proven, religious texts of the field like The Elements of Style through other helpful books like Stephen King’s On Writing and Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing, to random articles in volumes like The Writer’s Market and The Horror Writers' Handbook, to, on down the line, obscure internet blog posts (hello, reflection).

Throughout it all are several common refrains: nuggets of wisdom repeated so much you might start to think they’re some sort of gospel Truth.

And I’m sure they’re true enough.  But I guess it’s still okay to ignore them, right?  I hope?

Here are several Truths I’ve waved off:

Keep A Notebook.  This Truth comes in various forms.  In some versions, you’re advised to keep a journal or diary due to the benefits of self reflection.  In other versions, the notebook should be a little pocket-sized thing you keep in your shirt pocket or purse, with a pencil stub stuffed down in the spirals; this notebook, or something like it, should be your constant companion in case you happen to be in Walmart and a bolt of inspiration, so powerful it must be jotted down immediately, hits you while you’re pondering motor oil or bottled water.

I do frequently carry a notebook. But when I do, it’s because I’m working on a novel and my ongoing handwritten first draft is inside it.  I do not journal or carry an idea notebook.  I’ve nothing against journaling; I just don’t do it.  Idea notebooks?  I think they’re silly.  Surely no idea is so incredibly important it must be jotted down immediately in all its raw, original glory.  And even if such an idea does come along, it will be there next time you’re writing, and it might even be improved, having developed some inside your head!  One thing it won’t do, if it’s so incredibly brilliant, is disappear.

For what it’s worth, I recall a fellow named Stephen King also laughs at the idea of an idea notebook and has offered a similar argument.

Write What You Know.  This is an idea abstract enough that I could probably argue just as well that it’s sound advice.  But on its face it contradicts everything writing fiction is all about.  Write what you know?  What about research, inventing, traveling, and exploring the unexplored?  I’m probably being too much of a literalist.  Even still, I don’t want to abide at all by this rule, for the same reason I don’t want to write a series or commit myself to a returning character: I want every story to be an exciting leap into the unknown.  Instead of Write what you know, how about Have fun, and maybe you’ll learn something?

Keep To A Schedule.  Am I just bitter about this one, because I'm not disciplined enough to get up early every morning and delve into my creativity with only a pot of coffee and my cats as company?  Maybe.  Or maybe I shouldn’t worry, because I’m capable of writing in just about any environment, so I don’t need the solitude of the pre-dawn hours, or any other scheduled writing time?  I don’t know.  What I know is, I write regularly, and I write a lot.  I average at least a novel a year, and that yearly novel is typically accompanied by numerous short stories, poems, essays, and blog posts.  Maybe I’m onto something here?  Maybe some of us relish the chaos of writing in kitchens, coffee shops, classrooms, and vehicles, while others excel within the confines of a schedule?  Maybe.

For The Love Of All That Is Good, Finish It.  I’m including this one only because I’ve discarded a lot of works in progress.  No doubt, I've discarded more stories than I've finished.  I agree that it’s important to fight through the periods of doubt that will inevitably arise (numerous times) while writing a novel.  Novels take a while, right?  Of course, during such an extensive process, you’re going to have doubts. Fight through them!  Bad novel, good novel, there will be no novel at all if you don’t finish!  Many, many times, this is exactly what you should do.  But if the novel is truly going nowhere, despite endless head-pounding efforts to revive it or figure it out, then move on.  Don’t delete the file or burn the notebook (it might turn into something later!), but don’t let the constant finish it! refrain we've all seen a thousand times keep you handcuffed to a project that ain’t gonna happen when you could be working on something that will.

It’s key, of course, to be able to identify what’s truly dead and what is simply giving you those perfectly normal writerly self-doubts.

Only years of reading and writing will sharpen that sense.

Now, there’s a refrain that’s true 100% of the time: if you want to write, and write well, you have to write.  And write.  And write.



Disclaimer: I know I'm not the first to argue against these Truths, and many of the arguments I state here I've no doubt seen elsewhere.  Thanks to all the brilliant minds who write better writing wisdom than I do.  And thanks so much, reader, for reading!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Stand-Alone v. Series

Petitioners in this action are independent (“indie”) novelists who write “stand-alone” novels.  Respondents are various indie publishers and indie novelists who write or have written series.  Petitioners have come before this court requesting an injunction against writers and publishers of series, seeking to enjoin them from writing or publishing further series.

I. PETITIONERS’ ARGUMENTS

Petitioners state, first of all, that series have become detrimental to the quality of modern fiction, particularly that of indie fiction.  Petitioners argue: “It is a sad time in American literature when novels must be qualified with the term ‘stand-alone,’ as if suddenly the majority of stories cannot be contained in single volumes.”  The series, Petitioners proceed to say, has become the “Absolute Truth” in the indie market.

Petitioners argue that the sole cause of this new “Absolute Truth” is money, nothing more.  “Indie writers are savvy,” Petitioners say, “and are using one book to sell a half dozen more.”  Petitioners claim there are “essentially no” reasons related to the craft of writing for the recent explosion of series publications: “A series should exist because the writer’s idea is too expansive for one book: too many characters, too massive a world, too many possibilities.  A series should not exist because a writer inflates his or her story just to increase book count.  How many ideas are truly too expansive for a full-length novel?”

Petitioners provide as proof of their claims numerous  examples of series by independent authors, most of which are published on Amazon.com, that they say are “blatantly derivative, unnecessary, and sloppy.”  Petitioners claim that only an injunction, and ultimately a legalized ban on series publishing, will save the “indie publishing world” from “imminent self-inflicted devastation.”  Petitioners quote the famous rule of quality writing “omit needless words” and conclude by saying: “Due to the embarrassing fact that seemingly every indie book available on Amazon is ‘Book X’ in some series, the indie market has unfortunately reached a point in which it must OMIT NEEDLESS BOOKS or it will indeed fall in on itself.”

II. RESPONDENTS’ ARGUMENTS

Respondents begin by acknowledging that, “as with any other given market of the arts,” the indie publishing scene is, yes, "occasionally abused," and it is "littered with series that simply do not need to exist and represent forced attempts to sell books.”  Respondents claim, however, that a ban on the publishing of series would be a ridiculous and unconstitutional stifling of the freedom of creative writing, both as an art and business.

Respondents say: “Novelists should write what they want and write what comes naturally to them.  A work of fiction should be an honest labor of love for its creator.”  Thus, Respondents continue, a novelist who wishes to write a series should be allowed to write and publish a series.  Respondents conclude by scoffing at the idea that any one series could be used as evidence that series generally should be banned from publication:

"How does the saying go?  ‘One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure’?  Petitioners' arguments are nothing more than opinions.  If Petitioners don’t like the series they cite as ‘proof,’ Petitioners are free to log into Amazon’s website and review the series negatively and fairly.  Who are Petitioners to determine, for the rest of us, what is good, bad, or worthy of the light of day?"

III. OPINION

First of all, a confession: I agree with Petitioners on just about everything.  I agree that the series has become the “Absolute Truth” to many indie writers.  I agree that, since the series is the default mode for so many writers, we are indeed seeing that the quality of many indie works is not as strong as it should be.  It is true, I think, that less is more, and unless you are composing the next voyage to Mordor or the Dark Tower, or unless you are following, say, a certain student through his years at a particular school, your work will likely be better off undergoing some legitimate editing and being confined to the space of a stand-alone novel.

I can hear Respondents now: “This is a business, Judge.  How much money have you made with your artistically-honest stand-alone?”  Point taken, Respondents, and to an extent, I agree.  But allow me, for a few more sentences, to continue playing the role of a fiction critic: If you’re in the business of a creative endeavor like fiction writing, you should love what you do, or you should go find another business.  And we should not bastardize what we love.  You should not artificially inflate stories, just as you should not ignore stories with which the muse blesses you just because they don’t lend themselves to the series format.  Put simply, Respondents, even in commercial fiction, integrity matters.  If authors forget their artistic integrity on a mass scale, then I predict Petitioners will be proven right, and the industry will suffer and perhaps even collapse under the weight of its own excess.

Having said all that, it is not my role as a judge to force trends in the arts in one direction or another, and it is not appropriate for me to tell authors and publishers what they can or cannot write and publish.

Petition for injunction denied.

Sebourn, M., Judge.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Benefits of Longhand


I wrote my last novel, Toklat's Daughter, in two Moleskine notebooks using a pencil.  I've always enjoyed handwriting stories, but Toklat's Daughter was the first full-length novel I've written entirely by hand.  Now, I am approximately 20k-words into my next novel, and it too is being written by hand, with a pencil, in a Moleskine notebook. 
First drafts, I've decided, should be handwritten.  I truly believe this.  I’m aware that no two writers approach the process of writing a story the same way (this post is written with fiction writers in mind, but I think the ideas involved in the longhand versus typing issue apply to all writers), and some writers would abandon the craft entirely before they’d agree to handwrite an entire novel.

Their loss, I say.

First of all, one of the most common arguments I’ve seen for typing a first draft—It’s so much faster!—is the exact reason why longhand is the superior medium: longhand slows you down.  I think differently when I write longhand.  I feel like I’m closer to the language, probably because I’m not buzzing through my story at a hundred words per minute; or maybe it’s simply because I’m dealing with paper and pencil (or pen) and not slow-burning my eyes with a laptop screen.  It’s true that the whole point of a first draft is getting the story out, which some argue implies speed, but shouldn’t a writer be as close to his or her language as possible during the actual writing process?  We get better at things when we slow down and reflect on them, and getting the story out needn’t necessarily coincide with breakneck writing speeds. 

Too, longhand leaves more artifacts.  No legal pad or Moleskine notebook is equipped with a delete or backspace key.  When writing in longhand, we work with the language and our actual documents in ways frequently skipped or glossed over when options like copy/paste, delete, and find/replace are available.  Sure, handwriting can be crossed out or erased, but those tasks leave artifacts.  There is a certain kind of beauty, I think, to a notebook full of crossed out words, lines and paragraphs; circles; arrows; scribbles in margins; sticky notes; eraser smudges; etc. and etc.  Sure, any rough draft, whether handwritten or typed, is going to eventually look like a gutted animal (or it should), but frequently, typed rough drafts, by the time they’re printed, are a more polished shell of what they once were, whereas those written in longhand are almost entirely still there, original sins and errors and all, in some form or fashion.  These are those previously mentioned artifacts, and frequently, there are lessons to be learned from them. 

Finally, I appreciate both the lack of distractions and the portability that come with longhand.  Pencils and notebooks require no power supply.  They have no internet connection.  As a teacher and a lawyer, I am on the go frequently, and I find it nearly impossible to write novels on cell phones or tablets (even with the existence of fine mobile apps like Pages and Scrivener).  My laptop, while very portable, is not always a feasible companion.  My notebook, however, is.  In On Writing, Stephen King discusses the importance of learning to read in small doses; ideally, readers should not require perfect conditions and huge blocks of free time in order to enjoy reading.  I agree with this, and I think the concept should be applied to writing, too.  My novels get written not only at my house, but in my classroom, in coffee shops, in waiting rooms; they’re written before the school day starts and in the last few minutes of my lunch break.  Some days, I knock out a thousand or more words, but more often than not, maybe half of that.  But they do get written, and I don’t know if that would always be true if I were at the mercy of a computer. 

So, fellow writers, give longhand a shot if you haven’t already.  Let us all get closer to our language and bask in the beautiful sights of ugly, marked-up first drafts that go with us everywhere we go.  Because, regarding first drafts, the soft scraping sound of pencil on paper is more preferable than the steady hum of a keyboard. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hiking in Colorado's Front Range

My dad and I left Arkansas at 3:30 on a Friday morning in late June and arrived in Dillon, Colorado in time for a beverage and a quick meal.  I’ll skip delving into the hotel drama involving the Dillon Super 8 (stay far, far away).  There were too many great hikes on our trip to focus on that wretched establishment.  Our goal this year was to bag a few of the popular peaks located along or near I-70.  For years we’d driven right past them on our way down into the Sawatch.  This year, it was time to check off some of the most famous fourteeners in the Front Range: Grays, Torreys, and Bierstadt.

But first, we claimed Mount Sniktau, a 13er located near the Loveland Pass.


Mount Sniktau

Sniktau is a short and very beautiful hike with a clear trail all the way to the top of the mountain.  The trailhead is easy to access, as it’s located at the crest of the Loveland Pass, right off the side of the highway.  The first mile of Sniktau’s trail is a steep, uphill trudge to the top of the ridge.  Beyond that, the hike levels off and becomes a pleasant ridge stroll (pleasant, despite the occasionally intense wind) until you reach a false summit, the ascent of which is nothing compared to the trudge of that first mile.  The trail does steepen again with the final push to the summit— but the trail remains clear, and the views from the top are well worth it.

We couldn’t have asked for a better “warmup” hike to prepare us for the fourteeners we’d soon be tackling.  I use “warmup” with caution— Sniktau should not be taken lightly.  Short route or not, this is still a Rocky Mountain summit, and much of the trek is on a high, open ridge.  

Looking down at Loveland Pass

Sniktau's summit



Grays and Torreys

The (incredibly) miserable road
We are fans of early starts.  As in, extremely early—3 AM early.  My dad is always the first to note that he’s a flatlander in his mid sixties, who didn’t discover fourteener hiking till he was 59.  He’s not going to be the fastest hiker on the mountain—and neither am I, for that matter.  Also, hiking for a couple of hours under a clearly visible band of the Milky Way is an underrated experience clearly not enjoyed by enough people; we are always hiking alone during those first hours.

So yes, we took the Tundra up the miserable road to the trailhead in the dark, small hours of the morning and started our hike up Grays Peak at 3 am.  We were hiking alongside the small ridge leading to Grays’ east slopes when the sun began to break above the mountains behind us.  Ever-looming Torreys painted in dawn’s orange was truly a remarkable sight.
We kept on, sometimes wondering when we’d begin the final switchbacks up to the summit.
But we made it

A family of mountain goats ascended the snow below the saddle.  The morning brightened.

And then we turned that sharp corner right below the saddle and completed the last of the switchbacks.  We had Grays' summit to ourselves (!!!!) for a few moments— until we were joined by a few hikers who'd oh so nearly caught up to us.  

I took a closer look at the route over to Torreys.  The ridge and ascent to Torreys' summit looked at once not so bad and yet much, much more difficult and rugged than described by any guidebook or website.  No way we weren’t going over there, we knew, and so we began the descent down to the saddle between the peaks.

My initial impression of the ridge between the two summits was entirely accurate.

It is not a bad hike.  At all.  To say it’s "easy" to claim these two summits in a day is entirely accurate.  Standing atop Grays and looking over at Torreys is nothing like, say, being atop Harvard and gazing out at Columbia.  (Been there, didn’t do that).  But it’s also fair to say that no pictures or route descriptions do these two mountains justice.  They’re both enormous, and the final ascent up Torreys’ slopes is very fun and pretty darned steep.  

And as usual with Colorado and its fourteeners, the scenery is Grade-A beautiful.


Sunrise on the trail to Grays
Dawn on Torreys
Resting

Grays' summit
Gazing across the saddle to Torreys
The ascent to Torreys with Grays in the background

Torreys' summit

A look back at Grays and Torreys


Bierstadt

Again, an early start.  The alarm went off at 1:45, and by 3 we were setting out into the marshy willows that consume the trail's first mile.  

Sawtooth & Bierstadt, early
I greatly appreciated that there were wooden walkways across the marshiest areas, but as it turned out... you might get your feet wet, anyway.  There is a creek at the end of the first mile, and on this morning, it was extremely high... and moving.  There was no clear way to cross it without risking wet shoes and socks— unless we dared the frigid waters barefooted, which is what we did.  

I had an old floppy hat in my backpack that we used to dry our feet off.  And thank God for wool socks.  I could feel my toes again by the time we were switchbacking up Bierstadt’s lower slopes.  

We stopped atop a shoulder below the mountain's summit ridge for a makeshift breakfast of granola, sunflower seeds, and crackers.

The sun took its time breaking over Evans and the Sawtooth.

We didn’t have sunlight beaming down on us until we were picking our way up the class two boulders just below the summit.

Bierstadt was probably the easiest fourteener I’ve done, and it’s also one of my favorites.

I will say: the ridge over to the Sawtooth looked like a ton of fun.

But that’s for another day.



Looking back at the trailhead

Sunlight near the summit push

Bierstadt's summit

A look back at the Sawtooth and Bierstadt