Top American alpinist perishes in the Himalaya

Joe Puryear, one of America’s top mountaineers, fell to his death last week while climbing in the Himalaya. He was just 37 years old, but had earned himself a reputation as one of world’s elite climbers, having put up routes in all of the planet’s major mountain ranges, including the Andes, the Himalaya, and the Alps. Joe had reached the summit of more than 30 mountains in the Alaskan Range alone and made more than 80 successful climbs up Mt. Rainier in the state of Washington, where he was a mountain ranger.

Puryear was attempting to make just the second ascent of the remote Labuche Kang, located in Tibet. The 24,170 foot (7367 meter) tall mountain remains largely unexplored even in this day and age, which made it all the more alluring to Joe and his climbing partner David Gottlieb. In the midst of that challenging climb, Puryear fell through a cornice and plummeted hundreds of feet to his death, bringing a premature end to his adventurous life.

Joe is survived by his wife Michelle, who shared his passion for adventure and climbing. She posted her final goodbye to her husband on the expedition’s blog.

The video below comes to us courtesy of the Today Show and offers more insights into Joe’s life.

[Photo credit: Joe Puryear]

12-year old climbs highest point in all 50 states in record time

12-year old Matt Moniz of Boulder, Colorado will have quite a tale to share with his friends when he returns to school this fall. While most kids his age spend the summer relaxing and doing as little work as possible, Matt, along with his father Mike, launched their 50 in 50 in 50 expedition. The plan was to reach the highest point in all 50 states, in 50 days or less, and on July 16th, they completed their quest, reaching the summit of the 13,796-foot tall Mauna Kea in Hawaii, setting a new record for completing the high points in the process. The previous record for the fastest time to reach the highest point in all 50 states was 45 day, 19 hours, and 2 minutes, set by climber Mike Haugen back in 2008. Matt and his dad completed that same feat in just 43 days, 2 hours, and 8 minutes.

America’s high points vary greatly in altitude, with some being quite easy to reach, while others involving true mountaineering skills. The lowest of the high points is Britton Hill, which is located in Florida and stands just 345 feet above sea level. The highest is of course Mt. McKinley, also known as Denali, which is found in Alaska and stands 20,320 feet in height. Other peaks of note include Mt. Whitney, which is the highest point in California at 14,494 feet and Mt. Rainier, which stands at 14,411 feet and is the tallest mountain in the state of Washington.

Matt’s climbing resume is quickly becoming a very impressive one. Not only has he now completed the 50 high points, he has also climbed Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, and Elbrus, the highest peaks in Africa, South America, and Europe respectively. He has also made the trek to Everest Base Camp as well, and with the completion of Denali, he now has four of the Seven Summits under his belt. Not bad for a young man who hasn’t even entered junior high yet.

[Photo credit: Matt Moniz]

Vintage trains across the U.S. pair autumn days with history

A few hours trip on a vintage train in the fall is a chance to experience American history surrounded by color brilliance. As trains pass along the edges of small towns and waterways, under canopies of leafy branches and across mountainsides, passengers are treated to stories of commerce, adventure and natural history.

With the push west, railroads connected one part of the U.S. with another as people chased after a better life. As the railroad network spread, bustling cities and towns developed in their wake.

Then Americans fell in love with car travel. Once the Interstate highway system developed and the trucking industry expanded, train use dwindled and many tracks were abandoned.

Fortunately, historic passenger trains have remained a passion and portions of historic routes have become hot spots for tourists.

Here are 10 vintage train trips in 10 different states to put on your list of things to do at least once in your life. Each train promises fall foliage and a chance to experience a unique aspect of history. Climb on, sit back and enjoy trees ablaze in their finest. The variety of the train offerings are as varied as the foliage they pass.

Starting from east to west, these vintage trains pass through portions of the varied lanscape of the United States offering glimpses of American history, each with a unique story to tell. Frankly, in this category, how does one pick 10 out of the bounty? Most are in scenic places that I’ve driven through and remember quite fondly. Others I have added to my own ever growing list of a must have experience.

1. Berkshire Scenic Railway–Lenox to Lee or Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Like many vintage train operations, this railway is run by volunteers who are passionate about trains and their history. The Berkshire mountains offers activities that range from the arts to the outdoors. The Norman Rockwell Museum is in Stockbridge, so pair your vintage train trip with the artwork of an American painter whose life embodied a love of the landscape of the human heart. Here’s the link to the train schedule.

2. Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad–Meredith and Weirs Beach, New Hampshire. A ride on this train takes travelers along the shorelines of Winnipesaukee Lake to Lakeport with views of Belknap Mountain and islands in Paugus Bay. Add to the experience by having dinner on a weekend evening supper train.

3.Catskill Scenic Railroad–Mt. Pleasant and Phoenicia, New York. This train ride along Esopus Creek is a chance for birdwatching and deer spotting. Look for bald eagles, great blue herons and hawks. Ask the conductor to stop at Sleepy Hollow made famous by Washington Irving’s tale of Ichabod Crane’s dash to a bridge with the headless horseman in heart-pounding pursuit.

4. Stourbridge Line Rail Excursions–Honesdale, Pennsylvania. What better place to experience a vintage train ride then where rail travel began? Honesdale is the birthplace of the American railroad. Back in 1829, the first commercial locomotive started down the tracks towards Seelyville three miles away and came back. The Fall Foliage round trip excursion travels through the Poconos to Lackawaxen. Here is another post on Poconos fall foliage viewing.

5. Western Maryland Scenic Railroad–Cumberland, Maryland. On this 32-mile round trip excursion between Cumberland and Frostburg you’ll pass through the stunning vistas of the Alleghenies. It’s possible to connect a train trip with a bike trip on the Great Allegheny Passage trail that connects to the C&O Canal Towpath Trail.

6. Tennessee Valley RailroadChattanooga, Tennessee. How can you not want to get on a train in Chattanooga that heads to a town in Georgia called Chickamauga? This train has a layover at the Chickamauga Military Park, the Civil War battlefield. This railroad has run autumn leaf specials for 42 years.

7. Arkansas and Missouri Railroad–Springdale, Arkansas. Travel through the foothills of the Boston Mountains on a train that refuses to accept “pack mules” and “pet chickens.” The Boston Mountains are an extension of the Ozarks. This company’s trains pass over 100 ft. high tressels and through a 1,702 ft. tunnel.

8.Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway–Antonito, Colorado and Chama, New Mexico. Constructed in 1880, this railroad, touted as “America’s Longest and Highest Narrow Gauge Railroad” is an historic gem. Fall events also happen through the third weekend of October. The railway’s Web site’s history page has maps that show landmarks you’ll pass by.

9. Mt. Hood Railroad–Hood River, Oregon. Ever since 1906, trains have passed through the Columbia Gorge in the Hood River Valley. This railway also offers special events and reservations are recommended. In October, the Pumpkin Patch Express is the fall related event, although there are several other options as well. Here’s the October schedule.

10. Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad–Mineral, Washington. The longest continuously operating steam train in the Pacific Northwest, this train passes through Mt. Rainier’s foothills on a two-hour round trip journey. Pair fall foliage with time at Mount Rainier National Park. Like other scenic railroads, this one offers special events through the month.

To find more fall foliage train options, check out Fall Foliage Train Rides at