Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's all about me and my athletic activities (or - why they didn't let me into jail)

As some of you are aware, one of my friends is in the "Federal Corrections Institute," also known as a federal prison, also know as jail, in Sheridan, Oregon. It's about a one and a half hour drive. I've been visiting him about once every 6 months or so for the last several years, and now that I'm full time in the US, I was trying to maybe to see him just a little more often than that (not during the summer, of course, as there was climbing to be done during visiting hours!), so I arranged to see him this Saturday. His wife, Lisa, and I would carpool from a place that is about 1/2 hour from my house.

I've been through the drill several times, so I know not to wear anything that is grey or green khaki or tan khaki in color. No shorts. No metal. No guns or explosives (I wonder why? They are sooooooo picky about some things). No cell phones, computers, electronic devices of any sort. No drugs, although if one has a prescription drug, that may be brought in - although it definitely has to be declared. No paper, pens, pencils. Basically, nothing except the visitor, the visitor's clothes, drivers license, and money. The money is for the food vending machines inside. One isn't allowed to bring in any food; but, a visit on the weekend might be from about 9am (by the time one actually gets in to visit the prisoner), and can go to as late as around 3pm, so there is some acknowledgement that food might be welcome. The vending machines sell highly nutritious things like candy and cookies and chips (ok, so I'm being facetious about the "highly nutrious" part). The last time, I had prepared a nice little ziplock bag, full of money, and managed to forget it. This time, I made sure to have that nice little ziplock bag, and shove my drivers license in there, since one can't get in without the license. I also looked at the potential apparel, and chose nice dark blue nylon pants, a blue polyester shirt, black fleece, and a blue sweater on top of that, paying attention to the colors so that I wouldn't be turned back. I tend to get cold in there, and so I also was choosing warm fabrics, almost as if I were going on a climb. . .

Lisa and I met at the appointed spot, and I hauled my stuff into her car, including a treat of California clemintines for the kids and us. Upon arrival, I looked for my nice little ziplock bag, and it was nowhere to be seen. I didn't happen to have my passport, so the family went in without me, and I took off in Lisa's car to see if I've left it in my car. We'd arrived at 8:30am, and the next time anyone would be allowed in is at 10:30 - an hour to the car, and an hour back - (assuming my little bag is in my car), and I'd be back just in time for them to let me in, again. If the worst happens, I knew that I could also drive back to my house, in case the bag were still there, and still get back by 11:30, and have at least a 3 hour visit. Lisa told me that if for some reason, they don't let me in, to have them send a message to her in the visiting area, so that I don't wind up sitting out there. forever. I assure her that that is unlikely to happen, and besides, I have my laptop with me, so I'll be able to work. . . But surely, once I find my license, all will be well.

I took off in Lisa's car, and when I arrived at mine, I could see the little bag on the little arm rest between the 2 front seats. Happy, I grabbed it and got back in time to line up for the 10:30am entry. There's a place where one must stop and pick up a phone. It calls some security place, and an officer asks random questions like "have you been here, before?" It's so mechanical for the guards, that they say things very quickly, which is hard for me to hear what they are asking. This time they asked "are you aware of our contraband policy" to which I answered "yes", and then they asked the trick question "are you in compliance with our contraband policy." I was amused that the second question was asked. They must be used to literal interpretations. . . When I got to the lobby of the building, there were many people waiting. I went and fillled out the little form that wants my name and address. Lisa helpfully wrote down what her car, year, color, and model were, and her husband's prisoner number, so I used that, and paper-clipped my driver's license to the form. There's a little procedure where they call the number of the prisoner somewhere, and the visitor's name. That allows them to check on the visitor (one has to have filled out some security paperwork in order to be allowed to visit, ever), and to bring the prisoner from where-ever they are kept, into the vistors room.

While I was standing there, one of the guards yelled a name out the crowd of awaiting people, and asked "you have a perscription drug?" The woman discreetly came forward and said quietly, "yes". He asked, in a loud voice, "what is it?" She replied, again, in a quiet voice. He then repeated it, again in a loud voice. I felt so bad for her, and went over to her and said " so much for confidentiality." She said "yeah, they do what they do." When they are ready to take a bunch of people back to where we get to visit with the prisoners, we have to put our shoes, jacket, and money/key container (my little ziplock bag) into a machine just like the airport xray machines. We get to walk around and walk through a metal-detector, which must not beep, or we're not allowed in. Any belts, hairpins, jewelry, watches, money must be taken out and put on the desk. Women wearing underwire bras get the pleasure of dashing into the bathroom to take off the bra, or tear out the wires. Meanwhile, anything that goes through the x-ray machine is then meticulously examined, by hand, even if nothing suspicious shows on the monitor. I'd already walked through the metal detector, and signed the visitor's log when the guy going through my jacket found that I had gloves in my pockets. "I'm afraid that you can't take these in there" he told me, but he would let me run and put them into "my" car. Great. I went backwards through the metal detector to get my shoes (they usually pass them to us after examing them) and hurriedly put them and tied them up, grabbed Lisa's keys, and ran out to the car, threw them in,and ran back. I asked the officer if he wanted me to put my shoes through, again, and he said "hold on." Another officer came over and had me follow him to the table with the forms, and he showed and read to me a highlighted paragraph that mentioned that no "jogging" attire should be worn. He concluded, gesturing towards my pants, with "and clearly you are wearing jogging pants, so I can't let you in." I am? This was news to me. They were nylon, yes. They did have a little Nike brand indicator on them. I said, "you're kidding?!?" "No, Ma'am." This whole process had taken about 40 minutes, so after 3 and 1/2 hours of being in a car, and making it through the little metal detector, and waiting, waiting, waiting, they weren't going to let me in. I started thinking that maybe I could turn my jacket into pants. Might there be an extra pair in the car? No. Well, then, plan B. Have them notify Lisa. I said, "well, then, can you please notify his wife, Lisa, as we drove in, together?" "I can notify the visiting area desk," was his non-commital reply. Fine. I gathered the bag of money, my driver's license, and my jacket, and sat in the lobby, and then realized that that would be an utter waste of time, and went back to the car, got out my laptop, and my cell phone (all of that contraband equipment), and started making use of them.

If you guessed that they never notified Lisa, you would be correct. She, however, somehow saw the car (I never noticed that one could see some of the parking lot from the visiting room), and when people kept showing up and I never appeared, she got suspicious and went up to the guard in the visiting room, and asked about me. Oh! Yes, they had been notified, so sorry. . .

One is only allowed to leave the visiting area to go home at certain times, so she told him that she wanted to leave at the next available time. Later, we joked that they were worried that I was "the other woman" and that that was why they were afraid to say anything, as one time when I showed up, as planned, a couple hours after Lisa and the kids had been there, they called ahead, called Mike up to the desk, and whispered to him that there was "some other woman" who had arrived to visit him. He said "oh, yeah, Leora - we were expecting her" and went back to talk to Lisa. It was then that they realized that the guards thought that he had someone else on the side. It seems that it's not quite unusual for the prisoners to have a wife and a girlfriend at the same time. . .

For this trip, we tried to salvage the day for me by stopping and eating lunch at a restaurant. And when I arrived home, I changed into what *I* wear for running, and went for a run. . . While running, I was thinking about all of the things that I COULD have said to the guard like "Uh, I take it you don't run much?" or, "I suppose, that just like the pants you're wearing, one could consider these jogging pants" or "do you consider anything made of nylon jogging attire?" None of this would have helped, I'm sure, since it's all about control. This particular guard is not particularly well respected by anyone, including the other guards, I'm told. I'm sure that he had it in for me after he saw me commiserating with the poor woman whose drug he broadcast to all of the other visitors. And then I remembered back to the last time I'd visited Mike. Mike and Lisa and I were talking about when Mike would be getting out - a little over a year from that visit. I said "oh, shoot," and Lisa, who knows how I think, suggested that I was thinking about Mike helping out for next year's Hood to Coast running relay race. Yes, that was EXACTLY what I was thinking - the relay is in August, and he wouldn't be out until November (with luck). We laughed that she could read my mind so well, and then she said "yes, it's all about you and your athletic activities!" Ever since then, I keep hearing her say that as I arrange or try to arrange climbs, hikes, runs, and my newest pursuit, windsurfing. And, then, I realized, that even with this not being allowed to visit Mike, it was because the guy thought I had on "jogging pants." It's just as she said - it's all about me and my athletic activities!

Stay warm and healthy!


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Fawn Video from July of 2006


First, you see the mom walking, and then, about 1/4 the way through this, you can see the fawn zip around the mom, and then she turns her head to look at something, but not the fawn. Then the fawn reappears and starts jumping up and down. This was happening in my backyard, and I was taking the picture from my bedroom door/window, so unfortunately, a bit of the wood got in the way. It was that zipping around of the fawn that caught my eye, and made me realize that they were out there. . . (it's 9 megabytes, so it takes a little while to download. . .)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Ice climbing

I took the local climbing club's ice climbing class last (in 2006) August and September where we practiced climbing ice in the crevasses of some glaciers on Mt. Hood, and then, in January of this year, went to Ouray, Colorado for a week of waterfall ice climbing for which I just received the pictures that were collected from various cameras.

One little aside picture from the class was this aureole around our shadows. We were on a ridge, with our shadows in the valley, and the sun, behind us. Now, I understand where all of those religious images come from! I have now seen this, twice, with the second time being when I was on Mt. Baker - also on a mountain ridge, early morning, sun beaming down into the mist-filled valley.

During our Ice-climbing week in Ouray, Colorado, we experienced mostly crisp, clear, sunny, but still COLD days - this is, after all, *ice* climbing. . . The ice of the waterfalls was really nice to climb. For one thing, most of the time, they weren't just straight up, ninety degree slopes, and had nice resting places, so that more than just the front points of my crampons could be in the ice. (Click on picture to get full sized version.)See? Not STRAIGHT up. . .

This climb started out ok:
But at the dry spot above where my head is now, it was a tad difficult. In this next one, you can also get just a glimpse of my belayer (person who is on the other end of the rope, taking it up as I climb), above me:

In the following picture, I was looking for a place to put my tool. This is called "dry tooling" and as I recall, now, it wasn't a particularly "comfortable" feeling. I felt a lot better putting the tools in ice, rather than in rock.
It was the pillar to the left of the dry spot that was the most difficult for me. And I complained that the picture taker (a luxury, really - after all, *I* hadn't brought a camera with me, and so I was lucky that anyone took pictures of me, at all!) didn't take a picture while I was climbing up the pillar, but he was too busy giving me advice that was failing me (put your left foot there - yeah - there - WHOOPS! (as the chunk of ice breaks and there is no foothold at all) - I guess that didn't work, huh?). I'll tell you, it didn't look as hard to me when the other guys were doing it! They made it look easy!

I think that that was one of the last climbs we did that day. With all of the snow just pummelling down, we decided to pack it up and go back to the hotel. Here are some of the folks that I climbed with that day as we're packing up all of the gear (L-R, Jae, Aaron, Me, Terry with arms outstretched). We'd already taken off our crampons, but still had our helmets (mine is bright orange, under my hat) and harnesses on:

This one seems to be of me being lowered down, after climbing, as my ice tools are not up and over my head (I'm the one on the left):

In my opinion, it all looks easier than it is, although I think that I found this (artifically created) waterfall ice climbing easier than ice climbing on the super compacted ice in the crevasses of the glaciers.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Kayaking the Rogue River

This last weekend (plus several days) I spent going down the Rogue River, a beautiful river in the south east of Oregon. It is usually (at least it how I did it 3 times, previously) done in 3 days, either camping, or staying in river-side lodges during the night. This time, Mary, our organizer and permit obtainer, suggested that we put in on Thursday, and take out on Monday, giving us 3 full days on the river, and 4 nights for camping. Our team of 11 readily agreed.

After an early start (left our carpooler's house at 5:30am), we were on the river sometime in the afternoon.

The previous times I'd rafted this river, I did it in paddle rafts - rafts that had about 4 "paddlers" and one captain, who was responsible for steering the boat and telling the paddlers what to do to get into position for a rapid. This time, I took my inflatable kayak that could fit either one or two people. I'd rafted a much easier river in it both this and last year's Memorial Day weekends. I was looking forward to taking it through the rapids on this river, as it has many class II and III rapids, and at least one class IV rapid.

Quick education from the leaflet I got at the ranger's station - the ratings of interest to this story are:
Class I: Moving water with few obstructions (for beginners)
Class II: Small waves and turbulence (intermediate skills required)
Class III: Medium size waves, strong hydraulics (experience necessary)
Class IV: Large powerful waves, powerful turbulence and hydraulics (considerable skill needed)
The first day, Sara joined me in my kayak. I was in the back, and she, in the front. We always headed for the "white" in the rapids and enjoyed the waves spashing over us on the hot day. Then, we hit a class III rapid - I don't think that I fully realized it, and I definitely don't remember what, exactly, happened, but both of us were thrown out of the boat - and it felt as though I went down, down, down - I remember wondering when I'd be going back up, or IF I'd be going back up, again. . . I did pop up, and my boat was nearby, so I grabbed that, and looked around for Sara - we both assured each other that we were ok, and then I asked if she still had her paddle - she did. We tried to swim over to the side - to an eddy, where we could regroup and get back into the boat. Sara had breathed in some water, so she wasn't feeling so well. I was a bit shaken, but considered it an anomally - it was the first time I'd ever flipped. Sara decided that going in one of the rafts with oars (we had 4 of them) might be a better option for a while.

The next day started with another class III (the Fish Ladder, for you Roguers) to go down, but this was more of a class III because of the obstacles rather than big waves - I scouted it (i.e., went down and checked it out from the edge of the river to see what I needed to do) in the evening. In the morning, I shot down it, by myself - it was great! I then walked back up on the side of the river to help the rafts get down, and convinced another guy, Mike, to take a shot at it in the other kayak.

Later on, another party member, Eli, joined me in the kayak in the front. Again - I would head for the whitest of the white water. I enjoyed seeing the kayak fly into a "hole" and watch the wave practically engulf Eli on the way out of the hole. Eli suggested that we switch seats so that I would have the pleasure of getting soaked in one of those waves. We switched, but we just didn't seem to accomplish our goal even though our last rapid before camp was a class III (due to big waves and hydraulics). This camp was great, as it was at Horseshoe Bend, and, as such, we were able to fairly easily carry the kayak over land and go through the rapids, again. I made the most of this opportunity, getting a different person to go with me each time. When Mary went with me, we did a perfect run where I headed for a big boulder just under the water in order to go through the most intense part of the wave. We went flying over the boulder and crashing into the wave. Our buddies on shore enjoyed the show as much as we enjoyed going through it!

There were some teenagers staying at the same place that night, and we offered them an opportunity to go with me. One of them, Paul, took me up on it. We tried to repeat what I did with Mary, but missed the mark by a long shot, but still had a good run, went right by a rock with a Great Blue Heron (a big bird) sitting on it, but didn't go through the wildest part. Paul wanted to go, again, so we did. He was steering, and as we went down, we got turned around and started to go backwards through the most violent part of the rapids, and next thing we knew, we were tossed out of the kayak. I started to worry about him, since I felt responsible for him - he's just 13! Fortunately, he came up and shouted that he was fine. (This time, the Heron flew away when we went near it.) Both of us held onto our paddles and he or I had the boat and were able to bring it into shore. He told me that when he went under, that all of the (bad) stories his father ever told him about rafting went through his head. He told me that it gave a "new meaning to a class III rapid," since, before this, he'd just been through it on one of the big rafts with someone rowing it. Those rafts are still fun, but not quite as "immediate" nor as close to the water as one is when in a kayak.

Eli decided that he wanted another crack at the rapid, so he and I went for one last run. He was steering. We tried to redo the "Mary" run, but went too far to the left of the underwater boulder, causing us to hit a virtual wall of a wave at an angle. This sent me flying as the kayak flipped. On resurfacing, I saw the kayak, upside down in front of me and grabbed it, but was worried as I saw red underneath the kayak, which is grey and blue - I knew that it meant that Eli was underneath it and wondered what I should do about this, as the water was pushing me downriver - could I flip the boat? But what if he were just popping up, and I flipped it onto him? Fortunately, Eli resurfaced just a little later. After we both established that we were both ok, I asked the next question, "do you have your paddle?" This time, the answer was "no!" The current was taking him downriver, and I headed for the opposite side, for an eddy. People on shore were yelling at me that the paddle was coming down that side of the river. Someone threw a rope out to Eli so that he didn't have to work so hard to get out of the current - he'd lost his hat, glasses, and, I later learned, his shoes on that dunking.

I couldn't find the paddle. Don, the owner of the other kayak, came over to get me, and help me with the kayak, since I was pretty exhausted fighting the current, hanging onto the boat with one hand, and the paddle with the other. He also spent a lot of time looking for the paddle. No success. We started telling other rafters to look for it, and put it on the side of the river on the rocks if they saw it. I was imagining the trip, constantly searching the eddies for the paddle. I knew that it would be a downer for the trip. One of the guys offered to join me in the kayak the next day, and have me do all of the paddling. . . (yes, we had a lot of jokers on the trip. . .)

After dinner, I noticed that I could check out the worst part of the rapid from a high point on the side we were camped on. I was thankful that Eli didn't actually get hurt by the rocks, and wanted to see how it was that he'd actually avoided that. I saw the huge wall on the left that we nearly ran into, the big wave, and just a ton of rocks right in front of that. How in the heck did Eli NOT get hurt? And, then, I saw something else - a huge eddy behind the big wave. And in that eddy, something flashing. It looked straight, but it was too far away for me to see clearly, but I hoped against hope that it was my paddle. I went running over to the others to get binoculars, and ran back to take a look. YES!!!! It was my paddle!!!! Mary helped me paddle over to the other side, and she kept the kayak in place while I climbed the rocks up and down to get to the eddy and rescue my paddle. I recovered the paddle and Mary and I happily paddled back to camp. This recovery of the paddle really lightened things up, for me, at least.

The following day was a short day on the river, with nothing bigger than a class II. We reached camp early and decided to hike upriver to Zane Grey's cabin (the place where Mr. Grey wrote at least one of his books), and then did a (fast!) float back down to camp on the river in our life-jackets.

The next day was Sunday, and the day of the really enjoyable (from my past trip memories) Mule Creek Canyon followed by the class IV rapid at Blossom Bar. I was alone in the kayak this day, and really looking forward to the rapids in the canyon. Alas, I hit a rapid just before the entrance to the canyon incorrectly, and it flipped me over. I tried desperately to make it to an eddy in order to right the boat, and get back in, but it just wasn't possible - the current just sucked me into the rapids in the Canyon. If I didn't have a paddle in one hand, and the kayak in the other, I could have enjoyed the rapids, even while floating through them, but with those, it was just a constant chatter to myself not to get slammed against the rocks, and to try to take breaths between waves crashing over my head, and not drink too much water. . . One of our rafts, with Bob at the oars, and Sara as an extra, waited in an eddy for me. Sara threw a rope out to me, pulled me to the raft, and then grabbed my life jacket and hauled me into the raft as if I were a rag doll (which is what I felt like!). We decided to carry my kayak on the raft, determining to let it go downriver if needed, as the canyon was quite narrow, so it wasn't clear that the raft with the kayak on it's bow would actually fit, but it did, as we slid handily by the Coffee Pot (a sucking swirling rapid), after which I got back into my kayak to do the rest of the canyon, although there were no more rapids. Lunch was next, which gave a needed recovery period, since soon after was the class IV, and I didn't want to screw that one up!

We scouted the Blossom Bar rapid. I couldn't remember it at all - it'd been 7 years since the last time I'd gone through it. This time, it was crucial that I know exactly what to do. Some of the others did remember it, and what to do, and patiently explained it to me and the other kayaker, Mike. And then we were blessed by a 2 person kayak team, who didn't bother to scout, but just went on and did the rapid. They did exactly what we'd described to each other. Flawless execution. Mike and I started to breath easier, after seeing that, and as we weren't seeing the big standing waves that had certainly caused me problems in the past, and just make it more hairy. We let one of the rafts go first, and then I went down. It was nerve-racking, but I just kept repeating our plan in my head, and then did as we'd decided - go down the tongue, then paddle hard to the right, go down between the rocks, and you're home free - the rest is easy (so everyone said, and I dutifully believed). When I did the paddling hard to the right, I got a little worried that I would touch the close side of a rock, and get spun around, but I avoided that, and it all went according to plan, until, of course, I got to "the easy part" - but even that wasn't bad. I saw that I was headed to a rock, but it wasn't suuuuuch a big rock - I prepared to go flying over it, but as I went over, I got stuck on the top. Later, we laughed about it, as I must have spent at least 2, if not 5 minutes on top of that rock, trying to rock myself forward off of it while another group, with kayakers, was scouting the rapid at just that time - we were thinking that I gave them a good picture of what NOT to do. . . I finally did get off of my little throne, there, and went through the rest of the rapids without further incident.

We camped our last night at Brushy Bar. Just below it, were some rapids. They looked tame, with an easy walk back along the rocks to the side of the river. A couple of people suggested floating through them for fun. A bunch of folks wanted to do it, and then started to chicken out. When the last person started faltering, I said, sure - I'd do it. We floated down, and it was a blast - I mentioned that it wasn't a heck of a lot different from what I'd been doing all day long, except that this time, I didn't have to worry about paddles and my boat! I went down for another 3 runs, gathering more folks along the way. The next morning, I decided to make the kayak take the harder route through it, and wouldn't you know, it flipped me! I decided that I was either doing something wrong, or not doing something right. . .

It makes me want to go and do the river, again, right away, so that I can try out what I think that I've learned, and see if I can stay in the boat the whole way, and, especially, to enjoy the rapids from the boat, through the Mule Creek Canyon, but, alas, I will likely have to wait a year or more before getting that opportunity. . .

Besides the rapids, and the trees, and generally beautiful scenary, we also were treated to seeing a bear, some deer (one with her little, spotted fawn), great blue herons, osprey, a bald eagle, tons of turkey vultures, a bunch of turtles, and one otter or weasel. Definitely, a great, fun time.

Stay on top of the waves!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

helping another attain a life's goal

Some think that we climb to eat - after all, when one is on one's feet for hours on end, one can usually eat whatever one wants, and either maintain, or possibly still even lose weight. So, surely, climbing is to eat, right?

Some think that we climb for the exercise. This is sort of similar to climbing to eat. But, yes, there's nothing like a climb up (and down) on a mountain for some good, wholesome, exercise. Feels great, and I've no problem sleeping, afterwards. . .

Some think that we climb to die. After all, that's what many see on the news. 3 climbers climbed Mount Hood last December, and one was found dead on the summit, and the others are still up there, somewhere. And years ago, many, all over the world, saw the helicopter do a nose dive and fall into pieces, rolling down that same Mt. Hood, when trying to lift off a severely injured climber from a climbing accident that left 3 dead and several wounded. So, surely, climbing is to die, right?

Many of my friends are definitely puzzled about why I climb. There are so many reasons - it's just plain FUN. It's exercise. It's about being outside. It's about being in nature. It's about challenge, sometimes. It's about the sheer joy of being on the summit of a mountain and looking down and around at all of the other mountains, seeing everything from a different perspective, seeing things that most people never get a chance to see - the crevasses, the glaciers, the wildflowers, the rime ice covering the rocks, the boulders/rocks/rock spires, and it's about sharing all of that with others.

Having the ability to climb, and being at least moderately good at it, allows me to share this opportunity with others. I've taken several people up South Sister, a 10,000ft peak in Central Oregon, just so that they, too, can have "climbed" a mountain, see a glacier up close, and experience the joy of being up so high and looking down. I've also taken people up Mt. Hood. My second climb this year was up the south side of Hood, and specifically to help two guys, David and John, meet one of their life's goal of climbing that mountain.

In Oregon, climbing Mt. Hood tends to be a fairly popular life goal, since the mountain is there, every day (whether or not you can actually see it, since it's usually cloudy, here!), looking bold and beautiful, the tallest thing in the Oregon sky. It beckons to people. And it's not just the walk-up that South Sister is, although one CAN frequently "just walk up" the south side. One should have a few skills before going up, and, there is what we call "exposure" - it gets steep at the top, and if one slips, one can go many hundreds of feet, before coming to a rest, unaided. Hence, it's good to have some skills before going up. David and John did have some of the basic skills, and we'd all done Mt. St. Helens the previous weekend, with another experienced climber, Duane, so this shorter, but more technical climb, was just a next step.

The lower part of the climb was no problem for anyone, just a matter of placing one foot after the other. There weren't so many people on the mountain, which was rather surprising as this was the beginning of May, where there is usually a stream of climbers going up. Above the Palmer ski snowfield, the climb gets markedly steeper, and crampons are usually in order, as they were this early morning (I think that we left at midnight). The next 1500 ft are fairly easy, especially if someone has already kicked steps, which someone had - so that we were able to put our feet flat on each step. Then, there's the walk around Crater Rock - a huge rock coming out of the center of the crater that is the whole top of the mountain. While going around this huge rock, the terrain is very steep, and on our right we could look down and see the steaming "Devil's Kitchen," a place where Mt. Hood vents - one can smell the sulphur that is exuded from those vents. This is the first place that it gets really steep. I usually stop to eat just before this, as it's inconvenient to stop while on this part (too steep). A climber in front of me heard me telling the others that I was going to grab a bite to eat and turned around and said "the Hogsback is just over there!" Yes, I know. The Hogsback is a flat ridge of snow where everyone rests before the final summit push. This is where everyone ropes up, if they're going to, or unropes if they're coming down. And it takes a while to get there from the just below Crater Rock, and I see no reason to go without food to reach it (after all, climbing IS about eating!). Anyway, we ate a bite and then trucked on up to the Hogsback. At this point, we could look down onto the side with the Hot Rocks, where the helicopter mentioned earlier, had rolled down, or, on the side we were on, down into Devil's kitchen, or up to "the Pearly Gates." Steep in all directions. It was here that one of the guys said "I can't do it." He'd gotten dizzy just going around Crater Rock. He looked up, saw the steepness, saw the exposure, and decided that this was a good stopping spot for him. I remembered my own similar experience years ago when I'd begged my friend, Peter, to take me up a mountain, and he dutifully tried, but when I got to a place over a cliff - I couldn't go any farther. It didn't help to have Peter tell me that, look, I'm not going to go very far, even if I were to fall - I'd stop before I got to that cliff. Nope. I'd just heard about a fatal accident on Mt. Hood in gory detail from a friend whose husband was involved, and that had translated into paralyzing fear in this particular instance. I couldn't go further, and we had to turn around. I'm sure that I wouldn't even notice that "exposure," now. So, it was very undersandable, hearing this same sort of thing from my friend, now. There would be another time, and I'm sure that he'll be able to do it. Meanwhile, David was still itching to get up there. We looked at the conditions, and they were good. The bergschrund (crevasse in a specific place) was only slightly open, with a good snow bridge over it, and the snow was good - we should be able to self-arrest if one of us should slip. We were three of us, David, Duane, and I, and we elected not to rope up. We walked in the footsteps of the people before us, to a flat place where we either had to go right through the Pearly Gates, or left through what one guide had told me was called "the Chute." I'd heard reports from others who'd gone up previous weeks, and turned left, heading up the chute. It was quite steep, and just one person wide. I went through, then David, and then Duane. David stopped to take this picture at the top of the Chute (still another hundred or so feet to go to get to the summit) - the camera didn't work so well without full light when looking down onto Duane, so it's a bit blurry, but it gives you a good idea of the situation, I think:
We summitted, and David was thrilled! And I was thrilled to have helped him get there! We still had half the trip, yet, to go - getting up is great, but most of the accidents happen on the way down. We downclimbed through the Chute, to the flat spot. I looked up, saw a huge chunk of ice, just being hit by the morning sun, and dallied no longer, heading down. I didn't hear footsteps behind me, so turned around and saw Duane and David standing there on the flat spot. I yelled to them about my concern about the ice above them - they looked up, and immediately made their way down. David had stopped on the way up in this same spot to take this shot:

That line of snow in the middle of the photo is the famed Hogsback running right into Crater Rock, with one of the 3 dots along the Hogsback being John, waiting for us. Further down on the left of the photo, you should be able to make out the straight line of the Palmer ski lift. That lift heads down to Timberline lodge, and the Day lodge. We'd a ways to go before we could call the whole thing, successful. And down we went, and successful we were. I was very happy to have been a part of allowing David to meet one of his life's goals. It made me happy to be competent enough at climbing to do such a thing for another.

the first of 10 climbs. . .

(you can click on the above picture to get the bigger size)

Hi, all - it's been a while since I've written anything, and it's been a pretty good climb season, with a good mix of routes and mountains. I've done the South Side, Leuthold, and Sunshine routes up Mt. Hood, "winter route" climb up Mt. St. Helens, a good attempt on a southern route up Mt. Jefferson, a couple of south side climbs up Mt. Adams, part way up the Kautz Glacier up Rainier (again - one day, I'll get up there. . .), Mt. Baker, and an epic climb up Mt. Shuksan (see Blog and Photo gallery for a good writeup on this one by one of our team-mates). I thought I'd mention a few highlights of some of these climbs in various "lore" writings, as well as include a couple of pictures from some of the folks who brought cameras along. I leave the picture taking to these guys/gals who have these cute little digital cameras that they can whip out at a moment's notice. . .

So, the first climb (April 28th, 2007): A friend wanted to do Mt. St. Helens, so we set a date and planned around that - he invited people, I invited people, and then he couldn't join us, but the die was cast. . . One of my friends at work wanted to use it as a "conditioning hike" for our Mt. Hood climb scheduled for the following week. So I brought a rope for him to carry, and pickets and a harness. He was a wimp, however, (ok, not really, but the story sounds better if I say so), and one of the other guys gladly took the rope for the rest of the climb. Mt. St. Helens doesn't require any of this stuff to climb - crampons and an ice axe, in this early spring season are plenty. But since we'd taken all of this, and observed a large cornice with a nice fault line some 10 to 20 feet from the rim when we got up there, we decided to use our equipment to safely peer into the crater. The weather cooperated, although it was socked in when we first got up there, by the time we started checking out the crater, it started to clear up, and so we had great views of the growing dome, and of Rainier, in the distance (with 3 lenticular clouds over it!). After we'd taken our looks and were getting ready to head down, a couple casually walked over to where we'd been peering, without any protection whatsoever. We called over to them, telling them that it wasn't a particularly smart move, given the cornice, and they retorted that "well, someone ELSE was here!" Good candidates for the Darwin Lemming awards, in my book. Do something stupid, because you think that someone else did it. We did inform them that, yeah, that someone had been us, with anchors set and use of a rope in case the cornice decided to give way. . .

Alas, the cameras of my co-climbers were safely in their owners' backpacks when we were all peering into the crater, so I only have this one to prove that we were there, with a shot of Adams in the background. . . You can also see that there *is* a cornice. And yes, there were lots of people up there - something like 127 people had applied for permits for that day - the 100 permits/day hadn't yet gone into affect.

A good start to the season!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Adventure in my backyard

I figure that if my uncle can have an adventure in his kitchen (furniture tumbling down upon him), and my cousin can have one in his garage (ever try to shoot a rodent in an enclosed space and have the bullet ricochet? Seems to be a common thing on the farm - only happens once per farm, though), then I can have an adventure in my backyard (my backyard consisting of miles of a mixture of private and state forest land).

My adventure started when I was re-reading my mountaineering book in order to prepare for helping a friend teach a basic moutianeering class. "Navigation is easy," it says. It even goes further to say "Navigation is fun." As I read these words, and subsequent pages outlining how to find out where you are and where you're going, I decided that today was the day. This was the day that I would find my way from my house to the logging road in back of it, with no difficulties, no getting lost (as I have the numerous other times I've tried it, dragging along friends and dogs along the way), just pure and simple, walk up the hill, make the appropriate turns, and Voila! The road would be before me. Then, I did what I've never done before, but what the book suggests that one do. I prepared. Prepare!!! Eek! It occurred to me to look at just how far I should have to walk before making various turns, and, it turned out that everything was really quite close. It shouldn't take hours, it should take minutes. I set out, I constantly checked my time, my altitude (how high above sea level - I have an altimeter that does that for me), my direction, and the map. And, rather than heading for the road, which juts out just a short distance, I headed for the much longer, and "can't miss" landmark of the power lines that the road crosses. And, Voila! I did, indeed, make it! It took me about 50 minutes. I'm thinking that it should take about 30 minutes if I were to do the same thing, again, without checking the map every 5 minutes. . .

At this point, I could head back on the road, and get back in about 10 to 15 minutes, or, I could head back, through the woods, and see if I could repeat the success in the other direction. I decided to repeat my success, except that I knew my way, now, and so didn't need to look at the map, and I decided that I'd stay on the top of the ridge, where it was easier to walk. It was looking as though I'd be back at my house in about 30 minutes, except, that all of a sudden, nothing looked familiar, well, actually, it did look familiar - I saw the clear-cut area, I'd seen years ago, when Hoa and I had this same adventure, and he threatened to buy me a GPS. But this time, I was not going to cut through the properties, as we did back then, I was going to find my way back, so out came the map, and compass, and I saw that I managed to swing too far west, so I did my course correction, which meant going over a couple of ridges (reminiscent of my St. Helens climb many years ago, only there, they were MUCH bigger ridges), and soon I was on MY ridge, and heading down into my backyard. My error was that while I was on the top of the ridge, I didn’t notice my "branching off" ridge. Dang, 50 minutes to return, too. However, the 50 minutes each way still seemed tons better than my previous attempts. I finally conquered my back yard! (I'll be even happier when I can repeat it in about 30 minutes, each way, without deviations. . ., but I'll settle for having done it, according to the map, for now.)

P.s. I still don't have the last Turkey write-up on my blog (pictures take so long to upload over dialup. . .). As soon as I get a picture from my week of ice-climbing in Ouray, Colorado, I should be posting that. That was FUN!
I do have 2 pictures from my parent's 50th Wedding Anniversary party this January that I should show you (click to get large image):
Our family + Leslie's (my brother's) girlfriend, Sherri

And a cute one of my folks:

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Transportation in Turkey

I thought that I'd focus on the transportation, as we experienced it, in Turkey, with all the associated stories. After all, it sort of felt that a lot of what we did in Turkey was get transported from one place to another, in spite of doing our best to try concentrate on the eastern part of Turkey.

Turkey is about 1000 miles west to east and about 300 miles north to south. It's slightly bigger than the US state of Texas.

We (Ed, my high school era buddy and fantastic traveling partner, and I) flew from our respective abodes to Washington Dulles airport, met there, and continued on to Frankfurt, Germany, and then on to Istanbul, Turkey. There, we high-tailed it to the domestic terminal to book a flight to Trabzon. Unfortunately, most of the flights during the day were already booked, so we wound up having to get a flight in the early evening, thus, pretty much wiping out a potential day for exploration in our destination. And, the flight was late. They told us about it in Turkish and English. But, arrive we did, into Trabzon, a big town in the eastern part of Turkey, up on the Black Sea. We flew in the dark, and could see the city lights dotting the coastline, with evidence of mountains behind, and the Black Sea on our left. We wondered where they could put an airport in such terrain, but eventually, a wide area next to the sea opened up, and the long runway appeared.

When we got out into the airport, all we saw were about 4 car rental agencies, and crowds of people. Eegads - no "information"? We were counting on this to find a hotel!!! We had already decided which one we wanted to stay in, by using the Lonely Planet guide that was our other constant traveling companion, we just wanted help in calling them. Ed had the brilliant idea of talking to one of the rental car people "does someone here speak English?" (We knew that knowing how to count or to say "hello" were not enough at this point to even pretend to try Turkish.) Immediately, someone held up a finger or hand and told us to wait a moment, and went running away. We weren't quite sure what was happening, but, eventually, a guy came and started speaking English to us - they'd found the one guy that everyone knew spoke English to help us! We told him our troubles, and he agreed to phone the hotel. But, he said that he couldn't get through. I asked why would that be, and he said that, well, it was raining, so maybe the power or phone lines were down "it's far away," he said. So, I was wondering, again, oh dear, what do we do? Ed said, "Well, we need a hotel, what do YOU suggest?" He was perfectly willing to go to this guy's cousin's hotel or whatever, since we needed a place. It'd been something like a day and a half since we'd last slept, and so getting squared away SOMEwhere seemed the most important thing. The guy thought a while, and then suggested something - "and it must be ok, because English people and German people - they've stayed there" and it was in our price range. I can't remember if he called them or not, I think not, because he was so sure that they would have a spot. Then he took us outside to tell the taxi coordinator where we needed to go. So, this was a guy that was supposed to be attending to his own car rental business, helping us this whole time. We were very grateful. The hotel wasn't very far away, and it turned out to be fine, except, of course, for the smoke that seemed to drift everywhere. . .

We slept until we heard the Esam, the call to prayer, at the mosque right next door to the hotel, at something like 4:30am.

We wanted to see a castle ruin that was supposed to be fairly nearby, went in search of a bus to get there, and finally gave up and went into a posh-looking hotel to find out where the bus station was. We told the woman where we wanted to go, and she asked us to please follow this man, whom she'd been talking to - it was her father. He would take us there. He told us that we'd have to go to another town, Goreme, and then back to the town that we really wanted to go to, to see the ruin. (This part was done with pen and paper, as he didn't speak English.) We followed him the quarter mile or so to the bus station. We were impressed that he took us so far, to get us where we wanted to go. He told the bus driver where we were headed and they rounded us up into a van-type vehicle, called a Dolmush. We rode this all the way to Goreme, some 60 kms or so, at a fairly slow speed, stopping and dropping off and picking up people all along the way. We couldn’t quite tell how they knew where to pick people up, since sometimes it appeared to us to be in the middle of nowhere.

In Goreme, we started to ask about our true destination. We were told that it was near Trabzon, the place we'd just left! This town did not seem to have any hotels (that was the first thing that I asked for, since I wanted to use a bathroom, and hotels tend to be handy for that). But, no, no hotel. Did we speak German? Only a bit. Were we Italian? No. American. Ah, Americans. Smiles all around. Big crowd all around us. We asked for Turkish coffee for Ed, since we'd heard all about that, before coming here. "Ok, ok," they motioned us to sit down, the crowd was still there, and then, finally, a young man came up to us and started speaking in English. He translated for us, and for the crowd. We established that yes, the place that we wanted to go was really near Trabzon, and that meant another bus ride back. Meanwhile, he took us to a bathroom. And then Ed wanted to go up into the tower of a mosque, and so the young man took us to his mosque. We had to wait for the keys to the tower, and while we waited I bought a scarf to put over my head for mosque visits, having not brought any with me. We saw the tower, and the mosque, and then we were invited to have tea across the street. So far, the only thing we paid for was the scarf. The young man was quite pleased that he was getting this opportunity to practice his English, and we plied him with all of the questions that we had come up with, so far. Eventually, he put us into a dolmush going back toward Trabzon. The sun was setting at 4:30pm around here (early November), and so we decided that we just wanted to get back to the hotel as it was just too dark.

On the Dolmush, there was typically a bench seat in front, and 2 3-seater benches, and one higher-set 4 seater bench in the back. And maybe another individual seat on the side. When there were more people than could fit in the seats, no problem, they would pull out a stool, and someone would sit on that, in the aisle. Oh - too many for even that? Ok, just stand here, next to the door. At one point in our ride, all of the floor space was taken, and there were 3 young men squeezed together standing, bent over, right next to the door. No discounts for them. . . But the 60 km ride was only about 3 US dollars, and their ride, even less, as they didn't go as far. When we got fairly near to Trabzon, an older man started to talk to us. We asked him how he would suggest that we get to our hotel, and he knew just the right little dolmush to take us there - less than 1 dollar (we'd assumed that we'd take a taxi, which would have been more than 10 dollars). He walked out of the dolmush with us, and flagged down another, told the man where we wanted to go, and went on his way. Such hospitality!!!

The next day we wanted to move on. We had our idea of what we'd do, and then we went down to discuss it with the hotel proprietor. He asked us a whole bunch of questions, and finally told us that he suggested a different plan - that we should go to a town called Ayder, and hire a guide and go for a hike, there.  He told us how to get a bus, there. First, take a small bus to the station, and from the station, take a big bus. We took another inexpensive dolmush - telling them where we were headed, and when they dropped us off on the street, they motioned to where we should go. We weren't quite clear, and asked some people at a nearby bus-stop, and they motioned to the same place. We went down to the place they'd motioned to, and realized that it was the building that housed the ticket offices of many bus companies. We kept stating our destination, and people steered us to one bus company. We went on a medium-sized bus (click on pictures to see the enlarged size):

This took us to a town that was still 17km away from our destination. The bus driver indicated that we should get out, take out all of our stuff, and wait. We were left at the edge of town. After about 5 minutes or so, he came back, came running out to us, and gave us part of the money we'd given him for the whole trip, and motioned that someone else would come to whom we should give the money. We trusted that someone would come and take us the rest of the way. Meanwhile, we took pictures of our surroundings. This is our "street corner" with all our stuff, and a sign that indicates the way to our destination, Ayder:

And this is what we had to look at:

Eventually, someone came running over to us, and indicated that we should get into another dolmush, with a load of hay on the top and a whole bunch of schoolgirls piled in, and a couple of older adults. We went on our way, and dropped schoolgirls off all along the way, in the mountains. The houses were similar to this, the roads, one lane, and carved into the steep mountain terrain (this was our dolmush, by the way - just looks like a van):

By this time, all the school girls were gone, and the driver helped another man remove all the hay from the roof. The Dolmush seemed to be the central life-blood of the surrounding mountains - ferrying school children, adults, and their stuff. The ride took us almost the entire day, but ended at the doorstep of our hotel.

Getting out 2 days later, we took the same Dolmush, with the same driver. When he went to pick up all the school children, in a circuit in the mountains, they dropped us, and other adults, off at a building and motioned us to stay, but not to take our bags off of the dolmush, returning, later, minus the school children, and picked us up, again. When we got near the exit of the canyon, the driver called out "my friend!" and the name of one of the towns. We wanted to go in the other direction, but had assumed that we'd have to go back to the big town a bit in the wrong direction, but we yelled out the name of our destination. This enlivened the driver, he pulled out in the direction of the big city, but then stopped on the side of the road, and indicated that we should get out. We were puzzled - here? In the middle of nowhere? And he came running around to the side, and pointed across the 2 lane highway - a medium-sized bus!!!! Headed into the direction we wanted to go! The Dolmush driver repeated the name of an intermediate town, and then our destination. So few words. Such a lot of meaning. . . We went to another bus station, and to another bus.

Later in the trip, leaving the city of Van, in the very east of Turkey, we went on our first big bus. These buses were the size of a USA Greyhound bus, but without any toilets on them. We were given seat numbers. Getting out of Van - there were only 2 seats left, and they didn't offer them to us until we kept asking if there was ANY way to get on the 9am bus out of Van, and after I'd gone to all of the other bus companies in the area. The 2 seats left were not together, which is why it took so long for anyone to offer them to us. When they did, we took them without hesitation! They knew the sex of the passengers - and told me that I would be sitting next to a woman. This didn't strike me as odd until writing this. . .

There were 2 stewards who "managed" the passengers. They would provide water, tea, or, sometimes, a carbonated beverage during the trip, and little refreshments, like a little cake, or some cookies. After eating the refreshment, and at other times, the stewards would come around dousing everyone's hands (if they wished) with some "refreshing" liquid - this was sometimes a cologne (which I did not like at all, and was extremely difficult to wash off) and sometimes a pleasant-smelling lemon water. People would rub it all over their hands, and sometimes all over their face, neck, and hair.

The stewards would make sure that no one used their cell phones, as cell phone usage was forbidden on the bus (except for the bus driver - just like smoking - forbidden to the passengers, but most bus drivers smoked while driving, much to our dismay). The stewards would reprimand the passenger, and would also take the phone and speak to the caller. The one guy always did so with a smile on his face, and would cause discussion among the passengers.

Another job of the stewards was to make sure that the passengers stayed seated. We discovered this when I went back to talk to Ed, and was therefore standing in the aisle. We were surprised at how strict they were on these big buses.

The big buses didn't stop as often as the little buses. They would stop at least once an hour at some place where we could run out and go to a bathroom (it would typically cost a little less than 1/2 dollar to use the facilities). And every several hours we would stop at a place where we could eat a hot meal. These places were incredibly efficient. They were cafeteria style, but would invariably have someone running over to our table to give us the requisite (free) bread, if it wasn't already included as part of the walk through the line. Our fellow passengers would tell us how long we had to eat. The following is a picture of one of these buses parked outside one of the buildings in which we ate:

And every time the bus would stop, everyone would pour off the bus in order to have a cigarette. Going from Van to Malatya, they had plenty of extra opportunities, as we were stopped some 5 times for paper checks by soldiers. Ed and I would have to give our passports, and others would have to give their national IDs, EXCEPT for one gentleman and I believe it was his wife. For some reason, they would ask the man for his document, and he would say something to them, and they would move on. The soldiers would take away our documents, and, after we got going, again, the stewards would return all the documents to the passengers. A couple of times the soldiers would check some of the luggage, and once the soldiers checked everything that was on board the bus. I have no idea what they were looking for. The bus schedules seemed to take these checkpoints into consideration, since where-ever we went, they seemed to leave on time.

When we arrived in Malatya, it appeared that we were dropped in middle of the street, which Ed didn't care for, and, as I was exitting the bus, I managed to fall, striking my shin on the curb as I went down. This discombobulated me. A guy was asking if we needed a taxi. I was thinking that we were a mere 300 ft from our destination, which I judged to be in one direction. But everyone was pointing in the other direction. Something was wrong (besides my hurting shin). Finally, I actually listened to the people - they were trying to be helpful - if we didn't want to take their taxi, it was ok, but they could tell that we had no clue where we were. I think that we finally asked if there was a dolmush into the center of town. They pointed across the street (many lanes) - and look - there it was! They made sure that it didn't leave until we got on. I think that Ed and I were talking to each other in English saying something like "now, we just need to figure out when to get off." A young man turned around, told us that he could speak English, and asked us which hotel we were going to. We told him, and he offered to take us there - it was pretty much on the way for him. He told us when to get off, and then we started walking to our destination. It was dark, and some of the roads were narrow and fairly deserted. The young man told us he was an electrical engineer going to the University, there. He winded his way until, behold, there was our hotel. However, he didn't just walk away, he went in to make sure that we had a room. It turned out that there were no rooms available (a first on our entire trip!), so he discussed with the person, and asked us if it was ok to go to another hotel down the street. Yes, of course. He took us there, made sure that they had room, and only then left. Soooooooo very helpful! I don't know how we could have found our hotel with out this young man's help.

Frequently, we would have to change buses - either from a big bus to another bus or dolmush before we attained our destination. Whenever that would happen, the person would repeat our destination, and then motion us to wait, and then would usher us onto the next vehicle. They seemed to take so much care to make sure that we reached our destination. They would use passengers to translate if there were any who could speak English. We always made our destination (excepting that first day to Goreme, which we are sure was just a mistake).

One time, we entered a bus station, and asked for our destination, I think it was Bolu, and the guy got excited and had us run after him out to where all of the buses were, and then had us follow him into the parking lot - Ed kept asking me "does this seem right to you?" and I just countered with "everyone has gotten us to our destination, before, right?" (forgetting about our first day). Finally, though, I noticed that there was a big bus parked on the highway - the man was flagging down that bus for us, saving us hours of waiting for the next bus.

A final comment: I can't remember where, but there was one place where the bus terminal looked just like an airport. It was abosolutely enormous! Unfortunately, they only stayed there a moment, so I couldn't go outside to take a picture, so you have to look through the bus window to get an inkling of just how enormous this place was: