• Your life and health are your own responsibility.
• Your decisions to act (or not act) based on information or advice anyone provides you—including me—are your own responsibility.


AHS 2012, Recommended Reading, and The Ascent And Descent Of Mountains In Winter

For those who haven’t already seen the list of presenters, I will be speaking at the 2012 Ancestral Health Symposium in Cambridge, MA. My presentation is titled “What Is Hunger, And Why Are We Hungry?”, and I look forward to sharing it with you in August. As I wrote in the abstract, “People aren’t obese because they enjoy being obese, and diets don’t fail because people dislike being slim and healthy. Diets fail because hunger overrides our other motivations.”

There is, however, one unfortunate side effect. My ongoing research on the subject has been devoted to my presentation, so I won’t be continuing my article series "Why Are We Hungry?" until after the AHS. The good news is that my presentation will contain plenty of new information and insight, in addition to summarizing what I’ve already written.

(Note that everyone had a wonderful time last year, and tickets sold out well in advance—so if you’re thinking about attending, it’s best not to put off the purchase. I hope to meet some of you there!)

The Launch Of The “Recommended Reading” Page

Good information is not only difficult to find: it takes a long time to separate it from the ocean of misleading bunk on which it floats. I do my best to keep gnolls.org an information-dense resource for my readers, and I’ve been receiving many requests for additional reading—so I’ve begun a list of books that have held my interest, influenced my thinking, and/or made me laugh.

Rather than dump an entire shelf on my readers at once, I’ve started with two books that receive my highest recommendation. Click here for my new “Recommended Reading” page.

The Ascent And Descent Of Mountains In Winter

Up until last weekend, 2011-2012 had been one of the driest winters in recent memory. We were still riding mountain bikes in the high country in January, and the off-piste and backcountry has been almost entirely off-limits all year.

In other words, this winter season wasn’t just below-average—it was a total bust.

That finally changed last week: a storm moved in on Friday and dropped over four feet of snow on the Sierra Crest before it left. So instead of working on yet another in-depth paleonutrition article for this week, I went skiing for four days straight.

I hope my readers will understand. The Sierra backcountry is a special place, and maintaining the health and vitality to explore it—in all seasons and all weather—is perhaps my strongest motivator to keep learning and writing.

Day 3: Storm Day

Emerging from the trees on the skintrack.

Emerging from the trees on the skintrack

Look closely and you can see a couple black pixels that are people. The top of this pitch is about a third of the way up. It’s a big mountain.

Destination: somewhere in the clouds

The best view we had all day. Soon after this, the weather moved back in.

The best view we had all day

Snow was falling at perhaps an inch an hour by the time we reached the top of the ridge.

At the top of the Mt. Tallac ridge

And we disappeared into it…

Descending Mt. Tallac

…seeking the perfect balance between velocity and gravity…

Ridiculous powder on Mt. Tallac

…as we float on air suspended within crystalline water…

More backcountry powder on Mt. Tallac

…and, lacking gills, try not to inhale too much of it.

Inhaling powder on Mt. Tallac

(Some photos were taken by my friend Jeff.)

Day 4: Blue Skies

Winding our way through the trees. Yes, sunny Tahoe skies are that color of blue.

Skintrack through the pines

Goal sighted! Backcountry skiing isn’t so much about skiing: you spend 99% of your time going uphill. It’s about being here, now, outdoors, in the mountains, on a crisp winter morning.

Goal sighted!

About halfway there. The views only improve as you ascend.

About halfway there

After you’ve been skinning uphill for long enough, the motion is nearly automatic. But eventually you run out of mountain.


The Desolation Wilderness. Pyramid Peak is visible on the left.

Desolation Wilderness, as seen from Flagpole Peak

Sure, it’s perhaps 1% of the time, but it’s 100% of the action! Sometimes you go deep…

More powder on Flagpole Peak

…and sometimes you bounce your turns right out of the snow, like a porpoise, just because you can.


Either way, the trajectory of your descent is visible behind you…

Digging trenches on Flagpole

Now I’m back in the evolutionarily discordant world of bills, and deadlines, and laws, and authority, and problems that cannot be solved with strength, endurance, skill, dexterity, or cleverness. Yet my mind remains in the mountains.

Lake Tahoe from Flagpole Peak

I hope this inspires some of you to use your own hard-won strength, skill, and vitality to explore the Earth in your own way.

Live in freedom, live in beauty.



Permalink: AHS 2012, Recommended Reading, and The Ascent And Descent Of Mountains In Winter
  • LeonRover

    As Loius IV did (not) say:

    Apres deluge (de neige), le ski.

    (I know! groan, groan; but I did not get to Austria this Winter.)

  • valerie

    Wow, nice looking turns! That looks kinda like powder, I didn’t think it snowed powder on the pacific crest! I am glad to see you got some long awaited snow. Our winter here in Crested Butte is a total bust, the snow surfaces are alread sun cupped! The corn ski season started already and is going to be oh so short. At least I can start working on my tan now that sun is returning.

  • Fantastic pictures! My mind is always in the hills, too … face lashed with wind and turned into drizzle. Love it!

  • Jeff G

    Thanks for bringing me back to the weekend John for a few minutes I was back on the mountain and not sitting in a cube right now.

    Good times……

  • Jenny

    Fantastic – sure they bring back memories on a par with my windsurfing pictures.

  • Sean

    Of course Tahoe would finally get snow a month after I moved to Denver. It’s great to see pictures of home, especially Desolation (by far one of my favorite places on the planet). Thanks for posting!

  • Asclepius

    I didn’t manage to hit the slopes this year and these photos aren’t helping me come to terms with it! 😉

  • Birgit

    “So instead of working on yet another in-depth paleonutrition article for this week, I went skiing for four days straight.”

    Good to see you got your priorities right. I’d be terribly disappointed if you were working instead of skiing!

    But sorry to hear that it took until now for you to get some decent snow.
    I live in Austria these days, and we had one of the best winters in a long time, enabling us to do ascents that are ony possible once in a blue moon.
    I’ve been out three to four days a week on average since late December. (’cause you gotta get your priorities right, right?)

    Well, I hope you get a few more opportunities to put off work for a visit to the backcountry before that winter is over.

  • LeonRover:

    You can probably still go in the spring or the summer: apparently the Alps are having a huge snow year.


    The end of the storm was very cold by Sierra standards.  It was a perfect snowpack: started as rain, gradually got colder, finished with some 5% fluff.

    Unfortunately, I think Alaska got all the snow this year.  They'd probably rather have sent some of it down here, given the pictures I've seen of entire towns buried!


    It's evolutionarily discordant to not be able to use our strength, skill, and smarts to survive and thrive.  That's why wild places are so important.


    It's ironic that the worst winter in years produced the single best storm in years.  Unfortunately it's quite literally 52 degrees right now and everything is melting fast.  Plan on grabbing some corn this weekend, because it'll all melt out soon.


    It's one of my passions, and probably my strongest.


    I'm glad you enjoyed the pictures!  Have you ever been on top of Flagpole?


    I have the advantage that they're just outside town.  Sacrifices were made to live here, but they're worth it.


    Sounds like last winter, for us: instead of starting in March, it started before Thanksgiving.  You're absolutely right to take advantage of the conditions while they last.  Feel free to share any of your mountaineering exploits!


  • Sean

    I actually have been on top of Flagpole, but only in the summer. That class 3 slab leading up to the summit is one of my favorite parts of Desolation. Are the various undergarments still attached to the pole?

  • Jeff G

    Hey Sean

    I get up to the pole a few times each year, it evolves each time I’m up there and older ones degrade and blow away and are replaced my new things most often undergarments.

    You can usually skin right up to the pole in winter when there is enough snow, when we went we perceived the avy danger to be to high to climb that last wind loaded pitch, but there were definitely lots of things tied to the pole.

    Oddest thing I’ve ever seen up there was an ornate brass container that I though might be a summit log until I opened it and found it full of somebody’s ash’s!

  • Uncephalized

    Gods, those views are breathtaking. And having spent some time at similar elevations, I know the photos are nothing compared to the real thing.

  • Jeff:

    Let's hope the snow holds on long enough into a corn cycle to tag Hollywood.


    Absolutely.  I have to choose, frame, crop, and process my photos carefully.  Some of the most spectacular vistas don't look like anything special in a photograph.


  • eddie watts

    largely due to your page i am going to get the Dawkins book(s) on evolution.
    also i had a very interesting conversation about his books just this weekend with someone who i totally did not expect to be reading his work.
    (although she is reading the god delusion but still)

  • eddie:

    He's written many books — but the two I recommend are the most important, because they contain his groundbreaking theoretical work. His other books on evolution are generally popularizations and explanations of more basic Darwinian principles — not that there's anything wrong with that.


  • Mike T Nelson

    Awesome that you will be AHS and AMAZING pictures there!

    Whooo ha! Skiing (and in my case snowboarding, don’t hate the knuckle dragger) in deep powder is sooooooo awesome. Oh ya!!

    Glad you got out to enjoy it! Amazing pics

    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

  • Mike T:

    I know a few splitboarders…anyone who ascends the mountain under their own power has my respect!

    I hope your doctorate is proceeding apace!  Though my presentation will be on hunger and reward, met flex will make a brief appearance.


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