Friday, December 26, 2008

Pictures from the Aconcagua climb

Wim put captions on about 50 pictures, in case you're interested. I've not had a chance to sort through all of our pictures, yet, to pick out my highlights. . . I do still plan on doing that.

Here's the link to his captioned photos:


The return home

Returning home was quite the adventure. Aaron was able to fly from Mendoza to Santiago on the same day as the rest of his trip home, and except for a delay or two, and getting in a tad later than expected, seems to have had a fairly uneventful trip home. Wim and I had to fly into Santiago the day before the rest of our flights, since there wasn't an early enough flight from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile, before the first leg of the rest of our flights, headed to Sao Paulo, Brazil. So, we had to actually look for a place to stay in Santiago when we got there. And, because the US apparently charges Chilean residents to enter the US, Chile has a nice little "reciprocity fee" that they charge US citizens upon entering Chile. $131.00 US dollars. It's good until your passport expires. The last time I went to Chile, I had a different passport, so I got to pay the reciprocity fee, again. Wim, a Dutch citizen, didn't have to pay this fee.

We took a taxi to a place that Wim remembered some hotels located that he discovered when he was browsing the web for places to stay, earlier. It was around 9pm, so we just took the first hotel we saw and then went in search of some street food, which we found - sopapillas! Sopapillas were round little (about 4.5" in diameter) deep-fried breads. A salsa, mustard, ketchup, and hotsauce were provided to put on top of the bread. I put the salsa, mustard (which was a tad sweet), and hot sauce on mine. They were so good that I kept going back and getting another. I think that I went back about 5 times. Wim found some meat on a stick, and also tried some mini-pizzas. I was still hungry, so we continued to search for more street food, but all of the vendors had already packed up and were clearing the streets. We found a low-end restaurant that was still open, and we shared a salad. I got to have Pisco Sour, and Wim had beer. The next morning the in-hotel breakfast was better than the Argentinian Tang + Croissant by having REAL orange juice, yogurt, and some sort of corn flakes cereal in addition to toast and jam. We checked out of the hotel and went in search of a bus to take us to the airport, but we managed to walk by the place where the airport bus left, and, running short of time, we took a taxi to the airport. We'd left all of the luggage that had our gear in it at the airport, so we picked that up and checked in. Wim and I had the same flight to Sao Paulo, but from then on, we had different flights, with me expecting to arrive in Portland around 1pm Christmas Eve, and he expecting to arrive around 8pm Christmas Eve. We'd heard that Portland airport had been closed, and other airports had had lots of cancellations, but we'd also heard that the weather was improving, so we were hoping to bypass all of the pain and agony of canceled flights, and closed airports.

I called Wim's wife while at Denver (my route was Santiago->Sao Paulo-> Toronto-> Denver-> Portland) and it turned out that Wim had been able to get a direct flight to Portland from Chicago, expecting to arrive roughly when I was to arrive. Anna Maria didn't know about the state of the Portland roads, yet, so didn't know if she'd be able to pick us up, but, whatever, Wim and I both needed to go to his place (it's where I'd left my car), so it was good news that he was expected to arrive at the same time. My flight to Portland was delayed some, but not too much, and when I went to pick up my bags, I was greeted by Anna Maria! It turned out that the roads were fine from their place to the airport, so she was able to show up to pick us up. We went down to collect my bags so that we could load up her car, but my bags didn't show up. When we reported the bags missing, they told us that they were on the carousel in Denver. Oops. . .

Anna Maria and I went up to wait for Wim. He arrived, but since his bags hadn't been rerouted, he didn't have any luggage to pick up, either - they'd arrive that night, likely. We went to Wim's. His street wasn't plowed, and in Oregon, salt isn't used, so my first test was to see if I could drive my car out of their neighborhood (there was a huge hill). After several false starts, and several incidents of getting stuck, I zoomed up the hill and out of there! I hoped that I was home free. I wasn't. The 40 minute drive from Wim's to my place took over 3 hours. While the highways were mostly ok, most cars were going fairly slowly, since there were still lots of chunks of ice, or ice/snow separating lanes, and generally, people seemed to be gun-shy after several days of treacherous conditions. The conditions got worse the closer I got to home - and by the time I got to Banks, some 10 miles from my home, I had to put on chains, as there was a sign requiring them, and the road was covered with snow, so it wouldn't have been safe without them. My chains aren't easy to put on, so I spent 15 to 30 minutes futzing with them, and finally headed toward home. One of the chains loosened about a mile later, so I stopped and corrected the situation. Then about 1 mile from my place a big pickup truck in front of me had stopped and was in the middle of the road. I pulled over and stopped, and noticed that the problem was a tree had come down over the highway. It was arched over the highway, so we all got out of the cars and started breaking off the smaller branches, hoping to create a tunnel to drive through. We got such a tunnel, that was good enough for my car, but not yet good enough for the truck, but I told them that I was taking off - I didn't mention that it was because I'd been traveling for over 24 hours with no more than 2 to 3 hours of sleep. . . The last part of the drive to my house is about 1 mile on a private road. This road hadn't been plowed at all, and the closer that I got to my place, the less traveled the road was. I started slipping and a-sliding, but was still able to make progress, all the way to the mouth of my driveway, and then the snow was just too deep, and my car couldn't plow it's way in any further, so I walked down my driveway, and entered my cold house. The power was out. The temperature outside was hovering around 32F/0C, and the temperature inside was 41F/5C. It was late, and I was tired - I called my neighbor who was watching my cat and house for me to let her know that I was back, and learned that the power had been out since Sunday, so this was now the 4th day. I got out a sleeping bag and went to sleep.

The next day I got out a camping stove and heated some water for breakfast. It was feeling a little like being on the mountain. I have a wood stove, but the stove pipe leading from the stove to the chimney is rusting out, leaving big holes through which sparks could fly, so I didn't want to start that up. I finally realized that I had to get the house warmed up, so I wrapped the stovepipe with some aluminum, and got the wood stove going. Since I have a well for water, no power means that there is no water, either. I started melting snow (there is over 2 feet of it, outside) for water to use to flush the toilets. I already had lots of bottles of water to use for drinking. I was REALLY feeling as though I were still on the mountain. The wood stove got hot enough for me to use that for cooking. I took everything out of the freezer and dumped it into the snow outside my dining room door. A lot of it was still frozen, which was very encouraging. I started cooking everything that had started to thaw. The living room and upstairs of the house warmed up to a nice and toasty 53F/12C. My neighbors got reports that the power wouldn't be restored for possibly another 4 or 5 days, so I figured that this would continue to be the life. The good news was that I finally had time to read. This was definitely a difference from the mountain - there, I hardly ever had a chance to read - there was always too much to do - either getting ready (sorting gear and food) for a carry, or having to melt snow/cook, or putting up or taking down the tent - there was always something. Here, the "tent" was my home, and there were no carries to plan, so getting wood, melting snow, and cooking were the big tasks, none of which take too much time, so I got my chance to read. (Jim Wittaker's "Life on the Edge" - memoir of the first American to climb Mt. Everest - in case you're interested. . . A very good read.) Wim called to tell me that he'd picked up my bags, and informed me that one of his bags had, for some reason, been sent back to San Francisco. . .

Today, I thought that I might start the arduous process of getting my car into my garage, but with 1/10th of a mile of driveway, it's a huge task to do by hand, but I started it, anyway. I removed the first 20 feet or so of snow. It's VERY heavy (the over two feet of snow has now consolidated, greatly, and is packed in to about 1.5 feet with a couple of layers of crusty ice). . . I returned to the house and had just stoked up the fire so that I could cook some more when the power came on!!!! Yippee! We'll see how long that lasts - so much snow is on trees that they are still falling due to all the weight of the snow. For now, though, I think that this mountain journey is now over. (Well, will be when I pick up my bags from Wim!)

Stay warm and healthy! And Happy Holidays!


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Aaron and Wim summitted, I did not. We´re off the mountain, now.

Hi, all - The last several days have been a bit of a whirlwind. We had some great weather when we needed it, and a few snowy, windy days that gave us an excuse for a rest day - actually of the 15 days that we were on the mountain, we only had 2 rest days that I can remember (I´ll have to double-check that, later). The 2nd rest day was sort of pre-determined for us: I was just asking over from "my" tent to "Arron and Wim´s" tent (for most the trip, I stayed in Aaron´s 2 person tent, and Wim and Aaron stayed in my 3 person tent) whether they wanted to "rest or carry", today. They told me to go to their tent so that we could discuss. Just when I got into the tent, we heard someone outside. I looked out, and saw a guy sort of collapsed (on his knees) outside our tent. I quickly re-put my boots back on, and ran over to him. He couldn´t feel his fingers, anymore, and wanted a drink of water. I ran back to my tent, got a bottle of water, which I then had to "serve" to him, since he couldn´t use his hands. I then ran back to the tent, got out my high altitude mitts and we took off his wet mittens and put mine on him. Wim suggested that he go into the tent. We got him into Wim and Aaron´s, and then Wim and I got the stoves going to get more water (we spent hours each day melting snow, turning it into water, boiling water for our breakfasts and dinner). We fed him breakfast (I happened to have an extra, as I hadn´t finished the previous night´s dinner, so ate that for my breakfast). Aaron sat there talking to our guest all morning long. By mid-day, he was feeling fine, having recovered feeling in his fingers and toes, and took off. For us, the day was pretty shot, so we declared it a rest day. The unfortunate thing for us, though, is that we were really getting antsie - Aaron was even thinking that if we had to have another rest day, he´d rather go down than try to go up. However, we´d already done a carry to Berlin - our highest expected camp, so we had stuff up there that we didn´t want to leave.

The following day, we moved to Berlin. We asked all the guides that we came into contact with what they´d heard about the weather. We were hearing that the following day was supposed to be good weather, with diminishing weather the following days. This was great for us, as the following day was our summit day.

Summit day: we had some hiccups - Wim completely overdressed and had to change - I needed to change out my pants, but couldn´t do it where Wim made his clothes change as it was too steep and in the middle of the trail. So, we wasted a lot of time at the beginning of the summit bid. Aaron mentioned something about the timing - until then, we´d not established a turnaround time, and I´d just assumed that we´d get there whenever we got there. Aaron and Wim pointed out that every afternoon bad weather came in, and I mean EVERY Day, so they wanted to be coming down before then. I got slower and slower as we got higher and higher. We had about 1000 meters/3280ft to get to the top. Wim had been having a lot of issues with the altitude the previous days, and was assuming that he´d have them on summit day. I told them to go on past me. After they continued up, I continued for a while, but had to keep stopping. I couldn´t seem to find ANY pace that I could sustain for more than about 10 paces. I remembered my friend, Monty, telling me that he would step once, and then take 3 breaths, and then take another step. I tried that, but couldn´t even maintain that. I assumed that I would just go as far as I could, and meet Aaron and Wim while they were coming down, and who knows, get there, myself (as I had always assumed that I would), but at some point, all I wanted to do was sleep (we´d gotten up at 2 am that day). I looked for a rock to lie on, and tried to take a snooze. I knew that I would regret not going up any further, but I just couldn´t get any motivation from anywhere inside myself to keep going up (and where else would the motivition come from?). I saw that there were people who were moving extremely slowing that at least kept trying to go up, and I wanted to be one of those people, but, again, couldn´t muster the motivation to move myself. I asked many of the people who were descending whether they summited (in Spanish and English), and they hadn´t because of a variety of reasons.

Finally, someone coming down had summited, and to me, it just meant that Aaron and Wim would be down in a couple of hours, rather than that I should even try. It finally occurred to me to at least mark the spot that I´d gotten to, got out my GPS, and found out that I was at roughly 6593 meters (21,630ft) (the summit is at about 6960 meters/22840ft). To myself, I was thinking that that should have been motivation to at least go another 7 meters up to make it a nice 6600 meters, but, again, I just couldn´t find the motivation. I looked down and saw a rock near the path in the snow that I thought would make a good place to sleep and headed for that. I did spend a lot of time looking around at all of the peaks that used to tower above us when we were down below, and now were below me - the sight was just phenominal! Glacier clad mountains - just wonderful! Later, thinking about it, I think that lack of oxygen was definitely at the heart of my inability to move, think, and get motivated. Wim and Aaron showed up, fairly wiped out, themselves, having succeeded getting to the summit 10 minutes shy of the turnaround time. Clouds had indeed moved in, and they told me that visibility by the time that they´d summited was so poor that I don´t even think that they had a good southern view. I told them that that was ok, since I´d already seen the view! One of the summiters was so happy and proud of himself that when he stopped to chat with me on his way down, he showed me the pictures that he´d taken using his digital camera (does anyone have any other type of camera, these days?).

Anyway, re-united with Aaron and Wim, we made it back down to our Berlin camp. That night, when I would wake up for my hourly pee/drink, I noticed that I would sometimes have to make a choice: take a drink, or breathe. If I drank, I would then have to sort of gasp in order to get enough oxygen. If I didn´t drink, I knew that I would get a headache (if I didn´t already have it). This was definitely not a nice part of the whole high-altitude experience. The views, the mountain, itself, up high, were all fantastic, but the headaches, constantly having to drink, and consequently, having to pee, were just not very happy-making. I looked forward to being down and not having to drink/pee so regularly.

The following day, after the normal several hours of melting snow (and this time, having to boil all of it, as we´d just run out of the iodine tablets that we´d been using to purify all unboiled water as, although they´ve instituted a policy where all trash, and all solid human waste must be carried off of the mountain, there is still a ton of human excrement, everywhere), we packed up camp, and headed down. We´d "cached" food and clothing at each of the lower camps, and now had to pick them up on the way down. First, everything we had at Berlin, then the cache at Nido de Condores, and then the cache at Camp Canada. When we got to base camp at Plaza del Mulas, I had us weigh each of our loads, using the fish scale that Inka Expediciones uses for weighing the loads for putting on mules. It turned out that I was carrying about 68 to 72 pounds (about 31 to 33 kilograms), and Aaron and Wim were carrying well over 38 kilograms, each (over 84pounds!) (They had a hard time lifting the load with the fish scale in order to accurately weigh them!).

When we set up camp, again, for the night at Plaza del Mulas, we felt as though we´d already arrived in civilization: sit down toilets (never mind that they were boxes over a barrel), water out of a spigot (water captured on the nearby river and piped down to a holding tank, from whence a spigot allowed the water to flow), air that we could breathe (ok, so it was still very high altitude, but to us, who´d spent about the last week up higher, we weren´t having to make the choice between breathing and drinking). And our Inka Exdediciones hosts were gratious and welcomed us back with drinks (Tang) and some slices of bread, olives, and meat.

The following day, yesterday, we packed up most of our equipment and left over food for the mules to carry out, gave away our left over fuel and olive oil, and headed out for the 35 kilometer (22mile) hike out. Aaron and I both are suffering from blisters on the bottoms of our feet. We all have sunburns on our faces - Aaron and Wim from summit day, and me from the last day - we usually re-applied sunscreen at LEAST every 2 hours - the rays are fierce up high, but apparently we were either lax, or the rays even fiercer than we expected, or we didn´t apply the sunscreen very well . . .

After getting to the park entrance, we told the guy from Inka who picked us up that we were hoping to make the bus back to Mendoza *that* evening - and it was supposed to leave in only 20 minutes. The guy was wonderful, and radio´d the Inka person in Penitentes, told him that we wanted to make the bus, and by the time we got to Penitentes, all of our bags (that the mules had carried out) were waiting for us - they loaded them up in the pickup that we´d been picked up in, and our driver drove us to where the bus was supposed to pick us up. Unfortunately, the bus driver didn´t want to pull up to where we were waiting and mostly Wim and Aaron got all of the very heavy bags to the bus. But, we made the bus, and went back to our friendly little hotel at midnight, and fortunately, they had "our" rooms still available. . .

So, this was my first opportunity at an internet. It was very nice to sleep through the whole night and not have to pee. . .

We´ll see if we can change our flights. It´s unlikely, as so many segments are involved and we´re using frequent flier miles for many of the segments, but we´ll be trying, anyway.

Pictures will have to await our return. . .

Saturday, December 06, 2008

5th day on the mountain and everything is fine!

We´ve been to Confluencia, on to Plaza del Mulas, and done 2 carries (1 carry more than expected) up to Camp Canada, and will move there, tomorrow.

Getting to Plaza Del Mulas was definitely an experience - 29km and a nice steep ending to get to this place. However, the snow that we endured during that 29km hike was well worth it - the place is absolutely SPECTACULAR!!!! (and this was supposed to be the ugly route!) We were all very winded when we got here, and on the second day, the same thing. Walking across the camp completely winded us. After the 1st carry, however, walking around here is a piece of cake!

This is extremely expensive, so I´m cutting it short. (and there won´t be more facilities like this higher on the mountain, I´m very sure!)


Monday, December 01, 2008

Update - All of the bags have finally arrived!

Although the bags arrived 2 days late, we expect to be only 1 day behind on the schedule, as we´ve already packed some of the bags for the mules with the gear that did arrive. Wim and Aaron went to the airport just in time to see Aaron´s bags arrive (we had called the airlines multiple times during the day, with not hopeful info coming to us. . .), and were able to pick them up. This likely saved us several hours.

We´ll be re-packing them in mule-weight bags, tonight, and leaving early tomorrow morning, hoping to get to Confluencia only 1 day late.

Hope that everyone is doing well (there are fewer people on the mountain than expected, and many have canceled their expeditions due to the economic situation, which is affecting everyone all over the world).


Sunday, November 30, 2008

What´s an expedition without something going wrong?

Well, only 3 of our 6 checked bags arrived with us. My one bag arrived the next day, but we´re still waiting for Aaron´s two bags. This means that our schedule is delayed by at least one day. We should still be ok, schedule-wise, but it just adds a little "excitement" to the trip!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Before the Climb

As many of you know, I'm about to depart (this Friday!) to attempt Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of Asia at 6960meters/22,840feet. We'll see how I feel afterwards, but right now, I'm thinking that some of the hardest part of the climb has been done/is being done, now, before the climb even begins. Or, I suppose, the other way of looking at it is that the climb has already begun, and started way back in May.

For me, the first time I ever heard of Aconcagua was in 2000, when one of my running buddies, Monty, headed out to climb it. He'd climbed all over the Northwest, but was about to do this big mountain. I went to his slideshow about it when he returned, and the climb, itself, gave plenty of stories for many runs to come. At the time, I liked the idea of it, because it was a mountain, but it didn't look particularly pretty to me, and, well, I just wasn't ready for doing such a climb. By then, I'd climbed Mt. Hood, once. I knew that I enjoyed climbing, and I remembering feeling jealous that someone was about to do this sort of climb, but other than that, there were no thoughts in my mind of doing the climb, myself.

Now, with probably over 70 attempts and 52 successful climbs of Cascade peaks, I have a different viewpoint. And now that I've actually been to Mendoza, and hiked in the hills very near where we'll be, I see that there is beauty there, in the many colors of the mountains, if not in the snow covered peaks that are part of the Andes. I *am* interested and ready, psychologically, to do the climb. We'll see if I'm ready, in other ways, if I successfully summit and return, safely!

So, back in May, a couple of guys asked me if I were interested in joining them on Aconcagua. As I prepare to go next Friday, those 2 guys are NOT going this year, so I'll be going with 2 other guys, Wim and Aaron. Just agreeing on WHEN to climb turned out to be a multi-month discussion, honed when Wim joined the team and was limited in timeframe by his work, and finalized only when Aaron joined the team, and was limited by when he could get flights using his frequent flier miles. If he couldn't change his itinerary from his previously planned Vietnam trip using frequent flier miles to this itinerary, he wouldn't be able to go. So Wim and I waited for him to get his flights, and then we got our flights to match, fortunately, also using frequent flier miles, saving somewhere between $1200 and $2000 dollars, each, in airfare (airfare was soaring due to the soaring price of fuel at the time). Our flights were booked by mid-August.

With tickets to get to South America bought, the climb started to become a reality. We spent some time trying to decide what route we should do, since route would change logistics, and potentially the equipment list. Neither Aaron nor I have climbed higher than 14,400 ft (~4400meters), before (the height of Mt. Rainier in Washington state), so for us, going to 22,840ft should be a challenge in and of itself. Base camp for Aconcagua is similar to being on top of Mt. Rainier. Cold and wind are expected to be our other major challenges. I've never done an expedition, before. Doing one of the "walk up" routes definitely sounded like a good plan, as it would reduce the weight we needed to get up and down the mountain, enormously, if we didn't have to worry about ropes, harnesses, and all of the other gear associated with doing a technical climb. Having decided on a walkup route, we then had to decide WHICH of the walk-up routes we'd do. One is longer and less traveled, which was immediately appealing to us, but that also meant that we had to plan more time to get up the mountain, and, since we are going early on in the season, might mean that river-crossings would be challenging due to snow-melt. We finally elected to do it the absolutely easiest way, by taking the Normal Route, and stick to merely the cold, wind, and altitude challenges.

Having chosen the route, we moved on to the other planning. We talked to a whole bunch of people who have done the climb, before - in-depth discussions about logistics, experiences, trials, pitfalls, and highlights. We created a "to do" list, as well as equipment, food, schedule, and "conditioning" lists. We talked to more people. We obtained other people's lists. Wim and I attended Monty's latest slideshow on his Everest attempt. We went out and bought the same gloves that Monty used. We bought new boots - everything that I was reading was saying that I should be using plastic boots, but my new last-boots-I-will-ever-have-to-buy mountaineering boots that I bought earlier this year, were not plastic. Wim bought a new backpack. We lucked into a huge discount on a specific brand of gear, so I bought my second expedition tent, this one for 3 people (my other expedition tent is a 2 person tent), and a 40 degree below sleeping bag (-40 is the same in both Celsius and Fahrenheit temperature systems!) that actually fits into my backpack! We went on conditioning hikes to test out our new backpacks and boots, and to get our backs used to carrying large loads (although each hike, we've successively *reduced* our loads - not the normal training), as well as for trying out various snack foods. Since getting enough calories in high altitude is an issue, we were trying out various granola bars/candies to find out which were absolutely delicious. If they aren't delicious at sea level, they won't be palatable at altitude.

The conditioning hikes proved to ourselves that we have a good team as far as talking goes - we chatter at each other constantly, which makes the miles melt away. And our climbing philosophy as far as climbing this mountain goes, is the same, which is VERY important. Tensions can soar if one person thinks that the climb should be done in a week, while others want to take more time, for example.

Wim and I have climbed some difficult routes, together, multiple times, and Aaron and Wim have climbed difficult routes, together, multiple times. The three of us, however, have only gone ice-climbing together, and not really as a team - Aaron and Wim were climbing together, and I was sort of wandering around from one team to another. So, the conditioning hikes were important to get us all synced, discussing climbing philosophies, in general, and for Aconcagua, in particular, and finding out how we three got along together, as a team. Do we watch out for each other? Do we even *like* each other? 20 days straight on a mountain can be a really, really long time, so it's best if we all get along with each other!

I went on my previously planned 3-1/2 week trip to Argentina. I was lucky - my fellow travelers were also interested in Mendoza (the starting place of the expedition, where the climbing permits have to be obtained), hence, we went there, and I was able to contact a company that organizes muleteers and mules to carry equipment to base camp, and find out about how to get fuel for the stoves (since we can't take that onto the airplane!). I got experience with the bus system and even got to see one of the trailheads for one of the routes up Aconcagua. I reserved a couple of hotel rooms in the same hotel in which Ed, Rebecca and I stayed. I learned where the permit office is, the best way to get money and where the ATMs were located, and where Carrefour (the big supermarket) is located, should we need to make any last minute food purchases once we are down there.

Meanwhile, Wim and Aaron dealt with the drugs. They visited a doctor who is quite knowledgeable about high altitude climbing (being a doctor, a climber, and interested in high altitude climbing, himself), and got us perscriptions to deal with the various maladies we hope that we will never get, and were taught about the symptoms and what is actually going on, and what the drugs actually do to the body. They talked to more people, and set up a private slideshow for when I returned to the US, with another climber who successfully climbed Aconcagua starting with a 3 person team. That slideshow turned up other topics of discussion (When is it ok to leave someone from the team alone on the mountain? What should we take for reading material, if anything?).

We've created a schedule that is extremely generous with acclimatization, and still leaves time to wait out storms, and wait for a good weather window to summit, yet only spend the 20 days maximum allowed by the park service. We hope that through this extremely generous acclimatization schedule (3 to 4 days at each camp!), that there will be no need to dip into the drug supply. . .

I've spent hours making up ziplock bags of dinner and breakfast foods. Lunches, in general, are expected to be cold snacks, so I have set those aside, too. The ramen-type noodles that my friends from Taiwan have been religiously supplying to me whenever they come to the US is a staple in my dinners. I love the taste of these noodles, and the flavor packets are strong enough that I can add bulgar wheat, rice, or couscous to the soup, some soy protein, and still think that the whole thing is yummy! Since drinking 4 to 5 liters a day is difficult, but necessary in the dry high altitude air, I've also brought along a lot of soup mixes, and drink mixes. My problem is that I have too much food set aside, (I'm at about 2.5 pounds per day, whereas I think that 2 pounds should be the max, and Wim is even thinking 1.5 pounds per day should be plenty) and will have to get rid of some stuff before we head out. Not sure, yet, what will be removed. . .

Tomorrow, we'll be meeting at Wim's to actually pack everything - make sure that we have proper bags for balancing loads for the mules, and also for getting everything onto the airplane. And, to double check everything against our equipment lists. We're expecting this to be an almost 1 day activity.

And, maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to get in another climb before heading out, early Friday!

(I'm enclosing our schedule, in case it is of interest to people. . .)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Hi, all - I'm back from 3-1/2 weeks (Oct. 17 through November 10th) of traveling in Argentina, with the final two days spent in Uruguay. Iguazu Falls, in Argentina, was the first place that we headed.

Rebecca (wife of a high school buddy), Ed (high school era and travel buddy), and I met at the airport in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas:
and then flew down to Buenos Aires, got a taxi from the international airport to the domestic airport and got on the first plane out to Iguazu Falls. These falls are absolutely spectacular. I've had people send me power point slides of these falls, and I've seen websites of friends who'd gone before me, so I already knew that I'd be in for a treat, but being there just makes it all so much more real, and, well, so much more spectacular. We'd reserved two days to actually visit the falls, and I'm glad that we did, as one day would just not have been enough for us.

The falls:

The first day we wanted to get a little exercise, so we chose to start out with a hike to one of the smaller falls. The hike turned out to be longer than expected (3km just isn't that far, but it sure felt as it if were!), but we amused ourselves with the plants, birds, and butterflies (many, many) that we saw along the way. Here is a montage of some of the many different types of butterflies that we saw:
We then took a little park train and went to what was supposed to be the most spectacular part of the falls, and therefore suggested to be saved for the last. The book warned us that we should expect to get soaked. This being spring, down there, it was actually quite warm, so getting wet wouldn't be a problem, and we decided to go see that fall, next. The train let off at a path that was at least 1/2 mile from the platforms looking over the falls. The path was mostly an elevated walkway with a metal grating that allowed one to look down at the wide, wide river running below the walkway. We saw, first an anteater, and then hawks and cormorants on the way.

This picture is to give you just some idea of the walkway to the falls - we're already almost there, having gone at least 2/3rds of the way, already, all the way walking over smooth, shallow, river. You can just make out the tops of some of the falls in the distance, and the mist from others:

When we got to the overlook platform, there were tons of people. We joined the crowd. We got soaked as the spray from the falls was whipped back up and around us by the wind. We looked into "the Devil's Throat" and were absolutely entranced by the amount of water, the speed of the water, the roar of the water, the long drop of water, and, the spray. This was a very Niagra-looking/feeling waterfall. And like Niagra, where another country is on the other side of the river, here, Brazil was on the other side. We kept watching the waterfalls, and eventually, would be the only people around! The next trainload would come, and for a while, we'd be surrounded by many others, until they moved on, and then would once again, be some of the few standing around. We stayed for hours, partly because we tried to get in a "your magazine was at Iguazu Falls" picture with a local newspaper near Ed's place. We never succeeded in getting that picture - the winds were just too unpredictable, causing drenching actions very often. We took a ton of photos, none of which can possibly capture the feeling, the sound, the experience. We saw swallows diving under some of the waterfalls into their nests behind the waterfalls! This was a very, very, very captivating sight, indeed.

Here is one that attempts to show what I think of as the mouth of the falls (The Mouth of the Devil's Throat, if you will. . .):
The above was just off to my right on the big platform. Moving the camera farther to the left, I could see all of these falls raining down from Brazil:
And then looking off to my left, at the other falls falling down from the Argentinian side of the river, there were these - see if you can see the birds just about to dive into the waterfalls to get to their nests:
The falls produced so much spray that it was rarely possible to see down to the river, below, since the water was coming from all sides and just pouring into this narrow little canyon. The roar was intense!

When we'd finally decided to depart the falls, leaving the rainbows, roar, and wet, behind, we were absolutely drenched. The sun came out to warm us, and by the time we got back to the train, we were dry!

We'd had a pretty full day so decided to just head back. While others were in the rest room, I was looking out at the green grass, and noticed some animals scurrying about. We asked and were told that they were guinea pigs. Some were almost a foot long, so they seemed a little different than the ones that we have in the US:
We had our tickets stamped on the way out so that the following day, we could get in at 1/2 price.

The following day, as we packed to get ready for our second and final day at the park, we reviewed the material for the falls and determined that it would be a "dry" day. That is, the part of the falls that we were going to visit wouldn't be sending mist all over us, and the wind wouldn't be whipping it against us - we were going to be just too far away from this other set of falls. We returned to the park (the bus ride in from the town was about 1/2 hour) and bought our 1/2 price tickets. Right after getting in, Ed noticed a park ranger standing around, and decided to go and talk to her, telling her that he, too, worked for the park service, but in the US. She told him that he didn't have to pay, then - Argentina extends a "professional courtesy" to park employees from other countries to enter their parks, free. However, he had paid. She brought us back out of the park to go into an office where there were some other park officials, and introduced Ed and Rebecca and me to the others there. I thought that we were just having a chat, but what was really going on was that she was trying to make up for Ed having paid for two days. They asked us if we'd taken the boat, yet. We hadn't. They told us that we should first go to the interpretive center, and then meet someone at 10am at a specific location. We went to the interpretive center, and there the people gave Ed a whole bunch of brochures and a couple posters (which he then left with them for safe keeping while we toured the park), and then went to the appointed spot. The ranger, Nancy, had arranged that the 3 of us should get a courtesy tour of the jungle by truck and the falls by boat by the vendor! Ed was in shock. In the US, not only do his friends who visit him have to pay to visit the National Historic Site where he works, but he has to pay to visit any other national park. And here, a park employee was able to get a park employee of another country, and his two friends, a free tour by a vendor working in the park!!!

On the jungle tour, the tour guide kept asking if anyone had questions. We realized that this was our opportunity to get all the questions we'd been accumulating from the previous day, answered. Even though there are plenty of animals in the jungle, we saw none of them on this particular tour. The next step was the boat ride. We were given life vests and drybags to place our shoes and anything that we were carrying, including cameras. They told us that we'd be able to take pictures until a certain time, and then they'd tell us to put it into the drybag and close it up. Oh, so we might get some spray. Maybe it wouldn't be such a dry day, after all. . . We sped up the river from down river of all of the falls. The river itself was fast-flowing, and we had a rapid or two to negotiate - the standing waves were high, so it gave some of the crew quite a thrill (and we rafters got a thrill, too, since they were impressive waves!). They drove us to some picturesque sight, gave us some time to take pictures, and then told us to put cameras into the dry bags. They then took us to the base of some of the falls so that we could experience the force of the falls. We experienced it, alright! We got mostly drenched. They then took us to the base of another fall. It appeared as though we were going to go right under the actual fall, but really, they only took us near to it, yet the spray was so intense that it thoroughly soaked us. Everyone on the boat was excited about the experience and called for them to do it one more time, so the guy turned around and dove back for the falls. We know that they do this multiple times a day, but it sure feels as though one time, they might just get it a little wrong, and the boat would be capsized in a moment. However, nothing untoward happened to us, but I definitely hung on for dear life, and was THOROUGHLY soaked by the time we'd done it, again, if not before. . . Looking at other boats doing the same thing, I saw them disappear in the mist at the base of the falls.

This was the view:
The mist at the base of the left-most falls is where the boat would disappear into, and then come racing back out.

Here is a more distant view of the above waterfalls, plus more of the surrounding falls:
The big white fall upper center of the picture are the falls that we went under in the boat. The falls to the far left of the picture are the falls coming down off the Brazilian side of the river in the place that we were, the previous day (fifth picture from the top of this article).

Some birds (2nd is a Turkey Vulture):

And more wildlife:

I hope that this gives you some sense of the enormity of the whole thing. It was truly, truly impressive. And in addition to the falls, we didn't see such a variety of butterflies anywhere else, and this was the only place that we saw the anteater and the fairly large reptile pictured above, whose name I've forgotten.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Birthday Calendar gaps

(Updated, 9/1/2011 with the fewer dates that I need. . .)

One of my life's goals is to fill out my birthday calendar, completely. However, I'm not very good at asking people what their birthday's are, so this is a difficult goal, but it is my goal, none the less. So, I thought that maybe I could do it a different way - advertise what entries I still have left to fill, and, have you tell me if you can help me fill it. I have some rules about this. I don't want to fill it with random names. I want it to be filled with names of people *I* know.

Of 365 possible days, I've filled 280 entries, and, therefore, "only" have 85 left to fill. . .

Here's my current list of unfilled dates:
January 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29
February 5, 6, 7, 10, 21, 22, 25, 27
March 6, 15, 17, 28, 31
April 8, 11, 12, 14, 15, 20, 21, 24, 27
May 1, 4, 15, 17, 20, 23
June 8, 12, 17, 20, 22
July 1, 2, 6, 7, 12, 15, 17, 19, 23
August 4, 6, 25
September 9, 12, 13, 14, 24, 27
October 1, 8, 14, 19, 21, 23, 25, 26, 28
November 5, 17, 20, 22, 26, 30
December 13, 14, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29

Let me know if you can help me out! (I will revise this as I fill out the dates.)


Friday, October 10, 2008

Heather Canyon

We've had a big fire on Mt. Hood that has closed a campground on the north side. This has been troublesome as the north side is where Eliot Glacier is, where we typically do our ice climbing class field sessions, and the campground provides us easy access to that glacier. I decided to look for an alternate route to the Eliot, since even if we had to walk a long way, it was better, in my view, than the alternative, which was a long drive out to Mt. Adams followed by a long hike out to camp, and then a long hike from there to the Adams Glacier where we could do our ice climbing.

I knew that there was a Canyon on the west side of Mt. Hood, and I thought that maybe I could walk up that canyon, meet the "around the mountain" trail, and from there, get to the glacier. I knew that this canyon existed, since I'd skied (poorly) in it during the winter, and lost my crampons somewhere during that day of skiing. This meant that I could look for the crampons (a long shot), and see if a route to the Eliot were feasible, with one trip.

On my way to the mountain, I saw an almost space-ship looking lenticular cloud over Mt. Hood:

I pressed on to Heather Canyon and discovered that the parking lot was closed. The ramifications of Heather Canyon being a part of the Meadows ski resort were starting to sink in. Ok, so no parking lot - I parked on the road and walked to the start of what I assumed would be a trail:

You can see the wide swath of no trees - in the winter, people can ski all the way down to the parking lot, where I stood to take this picture. I assumed that in the summer, there would be a trail. However, I discovered that, well, no, there really isn't a trail. There are places where others (deer and maybe even people) have walked before, but no real trail. The implications of being part of a ski resort sunk in, further. . . No, there wasn't going to be a walking trail, since no one would be here in the summer. There were a lot of cut bushes and trees, to make the wide swath, but I found that that meant that I would trip over the stumps and cut branches. This wasn't looking good as an alternate route to get to the Eliot. I still had to give it a shot to look for my crampons, though, so I pressed on.

Presently, I found myself at a very steep drop-off at the side of a river. I had to cross the river to continue up the canyon. There were some fallen trees, so I found it easy to walk on the trees to the other side of the river. The upstream river snaked along in some thickets, and the place where people skied in the winter was now just a field of boulders:

This was slow going, indeed. I'd figured on about 2 hours up the canyon, and 1 to get back down. With no trail, and these boulders, I knew that it would take longer. . . I found that I had to cross the river several times, and sometimes that wasn't so easy. More than once, I was rock hopping to get over to the other side of the river, and decided to turn back and look for another route when I wasn't sure that I could really make it across without slipping or falling in.

In the following picture (the timer mode worked!), I am in the canyon, next to the river, with the upper part of the canyon beyond me (including a waterfall, which you'll see, later), and the top of Mt. Hood in the distance (sort of looks like flat-topped Mt. St. Helens from this angle, doesn't it?):

And, here, I've gotten nearer to that waterfall:
I remembered what it all looked like when snow covered this region and I was "ski-falling" down the canyon (can't call it skiing, exactly, when one is constantly falling down every 30 ft or so. . .). Where the waterfall is, was supposedly the last difficult section before it would be an "easy" ski out. Unfortunately, with my cross country skis, and being very tired by then, that turned out not being so true for me. . .

One last picture of the waterfall, before I climbed up the left bank quite a ways:

After climbing up that bank maybe 500ft or so, I turned to look back at the canyon and all of the ground that I'd covered, today, and took this picture (the waterfall is not in this picture, as it was down by the river and to the left):

The parking lot, outside of which my car is parked, is visible - if you follow the river as far as you can see it, and keep going straight - beyond a bunch of trees is another gray patch (top center of the picture) - this is the parking lot. It'd taken me a little over 3 hours to get here from there. . . I still wanted to get to the top of the ridge, where my partner at the time of the crampon loss and I sat down and had lunch, so I pushed on. I had a rock wall to negotiate:
This is a pretty big boulder at the bottom center of the picture, and my route was straight up, such that at the top of the wall, I came out just next to what looks like a tall, perfectly shaped, Christmas tree. From there, I continued up the ridge.

The wind started blowing, and it started to rain. I got to the top of the ridge, looked at the former lunch location, and continued on up as high as we'd gone when we were skiing. I took one last picture of the top of the canyon looking toward the mountain:

I'm about 1000ft or so higher than the waterfall, which is much further downstream (and not in this picture). The land looks sort of barren, doesn't it? Without snow, it's a different mountain. . .

It'd taken me 4 hours to get here - admittedly, I'd stopped many times to take pictures, and, yes, look for my crampons, and reminisce about what it all looked like with snow on it and with skiers skiing down it, so I didn't exactly push myself, but still, it was twice as long as I'd originally thought that it would take me, so I needed to get a move-on so that I would make it back to my car before dark. I took a slightly different way down to the rock wall, because I was seeing some shiny things here and there, and therefore went to check them out, but they always turned out to be metal signs that were left in various places, and not my crampons. After climbing down the rock wall, I noticed that the area looked like a garden:

Don't those look like stepping stones? Doesn't this look like someone planted it, and I'm taking a picture in someone's backyard?

After I got down to the river level, and in one of my attempts to avoid a river crossing, I ran across a trail - a real trail. I thought that this would likely lead down Heather Canyon, just on the side, and avoid all of the river crossings. I wasn't exactly correct. It took me into the heart of the ski resort, and I wound up having to bushwhack down the mountainside to get back to the canyon. This took way more time than I would have hoped. I was getting soaked, and it was getting dark. I started to worry a little that I wouldn't notice the path through the trees to the parking lot. I started to think about what I had in the way of bivy (overnight sleeping) gear - which was nothing - so, I really needed to get out of there. I was having to spend a lot of time looking for good river crossings, and I finally realized that I was actually thoroughly wet, now. I mean, I was completely wet, so it didn't really matter if I crossed OVER the river, or went THROUGH the river. I started going through it. I used my trekking poles as stabilizers, and walked directly in the river. This made the crossings much faster and simpler. Eventually, I saw the swath through the trees, and headed for that. I became disoriented when I thought that I was seeing a lake - I hadn't remembered there being any lake. I finally realized that it was just the parking lot, wet from the rain, that I was seeing. And when I got to the parking lot, I could see my white car, a safety beacon, in the distance:

I've circled my car. . . Everything in the foreground was what looked like the lake to me, but, in fact, was the parking lot.

When I got to the car, I stripped completely (no one was anywhere around). I wrung out every piece of clothing, and wrung at least a cup of water out of every piece. Fortunately, I had a change of clothes, which was quite welcome. My 3 hour hike finished 7 hours later. I didn't find my crampons, and didn't find an alternate way to get to the Eliot Glacier, but at least I had my *try* at finding my crampons, and got to see what the Canyon looked like without all of the snow. It was also good to walk someplace like that where there was no trail, and think about what it must have been like for the explorers, years ago. With mountain climbing, we frequently don't have trails, but there is a difference not having trails high on the mountain, and not having trails where there are trees and bushes and undergrowth. It was a good day.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rafting with the ghosts. . .

Several months ago, a couple of my former team members in Taiwan let me know that they would be in town. Two years ago, when these two (Cedric and Sam) were in town for an extended stay, I took them up South Sister - a 10,000 ft (~3000meters) peak in Oregon (a REAL mountain with glaciers!), and into the Gorge, and to the coast. So, they wanted to do something different with the 1 day that they had available for touring this time. We decided on whitewater rafting down the Deschutes River.

It turned out that 5 members of the team would be here - 3 members (Sam, Cedric, and York) who had been on the team when I was there, and 2 new members (Shuwen and Jack). With me, we made the perfect number to fill my friend, Bob's, paddle raft, with him as the captain. He's rafted this particular river at least 50 times, so he has some clue about it and the rapids on it, and has done it in all sorts of conditions. We were lucky - we had hot weather (felt like in the 90's on the Fahrenheit scale - mid 30s on the Centigrade scale), so that getting wet in the 65F/18C water was a blessing and enjoyable, rather than an annoyance or uncomfortable. Everyone was excited to have this new experience.

As we traveled to the river, I was informed that it is Ghost month. Ooops. During Ghost month, when the ghosts are let out of Hell and roam the earth, one shouldn't go camping or go near the water. Was the team ok to do so, anyway? Yes. Shuwen mentioned that as long as she didn't tell her mother, she thought she'd be fine. . . The team was more interested in rafting than worrying about the ghosts.

So rafting we went! Bob gave the safety and "how to paddle" talk at the beginning. Safety: If you get thrown out of the boat, keep feet in front of you, hold on to your paddle, and hold on to your life-jacket; and how to pull someone into the raft should they get thrown out of the boat for some reason. How to paddle: together - both sides watch each other and paddle all at the same time. We didn't expect any problems, but just in case, we give this talk at the beginning of any rafting trip. And then, we were off! Right away, we had a nice rapid, where the boat went down into a swell and the waves came splashing over! It felt great, and was fun. Bob told us that "the black hole" is next - this is one where it looks as though it's no big deal - and then, when you're there, the boat drops down about 3 or 4 feet into a "hole" - it's like one of those carnival rides! Sure enough, it looked like it was no big deal. Everyone began to doubt Bob's warning, until we saw the boat in front of us disappear! By then, it was too late, we were headed for the hole (as planned), and came down just next to, and maybe a tad on top of the boat that seemed to be stuck there in that hole. The force of our boat pushed him out, and we, too, came out. One doesn't like to come down on top of other people's boats, normally - sort of considered rude, but fortunately, it turned out ok. The other boat was an oar raft, and he was trying to prevent his oars from popping out, and so sort of got stuck in the hole, since he wasn't able to push the paddles to get the boat out. Our little nudge moved him, and he was fine with it, thankfully!

Bob provided us with a couple of super-duper water guns. These are tubes (I think that they used to have other parts, but the working mechanism is just a tube), where you can put the end in the water, and pull on an inner tube, filling the outer tube with water. When we got hot, we'd shoot water at each other. It passed the time, playfully, in the time between the rapids. We noticed that some of the quietest, most gentle people could turn into amazing "fighting machines" when this tube was placed in their possession! Jack, who hardly ever said a word, shot water at his team-mates almost with a growl!!!! We all laughed at his brief change in character.

It's hard to get pictures of the rafting, because, well, we're in the water, and water isn't very compatible with our electronic cameras. Enterprising photographers are quite aware of this, and therefore set up some shade for themselves and sit at each of the big rapids to take pictures of everyone that goes by. At the end of the day, we were able to go to a store, find our pictures, and get a CD of all of the pictures for a fee. We did this. I found the next sequence fascinating, and thought that I should share it. When we were in the boat and it was folding up, none of us were particularly aware of it - just the experience that we were having at the time - not understanding what was happening to everyone else.

This rapid, we hit absolutely perfectly - look at the sequence:

(I asked Shuwen, later, if she were aware of my hair in her face - nope!)
Bob told everyone to hang on - so everyone leans toward the center of the boat and grabs one of the red straps that Bob put in the boat:

Look at how much the raft is folded up!

And how high the front of the boat is out of the water!

And here, I had no clue that Bob was getting drenched in the back - Cedric and I had been out of the water for what seemed like eons at this point:

Here, we made it out of the rapid, but not quite - the water coming from the side managed to push us into a nearby eddy (a current of water that takes us upstream, in a little circular pool), and this picture was taken just as we were going into the eddy. We wound up going round and round a couple of times, before we all were able to paddle together and strong enough to get us back into the rapid and downstream. Note the smiles on everyone's faces - this was FUN!!!!

We splashed through the rest of the rapids without incident, and just had a great time. We got to the end, and Bob suggested that we do the last third, again, since that has a lot of fun rapids, and is only 3 miles down the road. We were all in favor. All 7 of us piled into my Saturn station wagon and with the raft strapped onto the roof, went the 3 miles up river to just before the rapid at which all of the photos, above, were taken. There were two sides to this rapid - a left and a right side. We'd gone in the right side. We discussed - should we do the right side (more exciting) or the left side (less exciting) this time? Shuwen figured that Cedric, who gravitates to exciting things, would surely want to do the right side, again. Cedric surprised us all by saying, "let's do the left side." Ok!

York and I spent some time dealing with the car shuttle (getting his car that was at the original put-in, driving both back to the take-out, leaving my car there, and driving his back to this new put-in), and finally we were ready. First thing was to get back into the boat. A couple of us got in, and then Shuwen tried to get in. Something happened, and she fell in between the bank and the boat. She was fine, just couldn't get into the boat, so we hauled her in using the technique that Bob had taught us at the beginning. We were off, again! We went splish, splashing through a tiny, tiny little rapid, and the next thing I knew, *I* was in the water. Someone hauled me into the boat before Bob even knew that I'd ever left it!

Next, was the left side of the Oak Springs Rapid. Everyone was prepared - after all, we'd done this rapid, only on the right side, and this one was going to be just a piece of cake. The camera suggests what happened next:

Yup, this was just before the raft flipped completely over. Cedric and I were pretty entwined, so I spent part of the time under water trying to separate from him, and then I felt myself being pulled down - not the way I wanted to go! I wondered about this, and realized that for some reason, the paddle that I was clinging to (never let go of your paddle!), was actually dragging me down. I decided that I preferred going up more than I preferred to hold on to the paddle, so I let go of the paddle, and immediately began shooting up. I thought that I was about to break out to the air, and was thinking great - I need to breathe, but it turned out that I wasn't there, yet. I wondered if I could hold my breath any longer - yes! I could, and finally I popped out! Yippee! I saw Bob's water bottle, a paddle, and one of the water guns in front of me as I continued to travel through the rapids. I struggled to get them and keep my feet in front of me, since there were rocks in these rapids. I managed to get all three things in my possession, and started to worry that I wouldn't be able to get out of the current, so I switched everything to my left arm and hand, and started swimming as well as I could with my right arm to the left bank. I finally hit shallow water running over rocks and just stayed put. This was the first time that I was able to look around to see how everyone else had faired. I saw Cedric with a couple of paddles sitting in the middle of the river with current on both sides of him. He seemed fine. I yelled to ask if he knew that everyone else was ok, but couldn't hear the response (and, it turns out, he couldn't hear the question). I saw Bob's boat a little further downstream, and over on the right bank, out of the current. I started to wonder how I was going to get to the boat when another raft made it through the rapid, and decided to rescue me. They pulled over a little downstream, and I got up and got into their boat, and then we all paddled as hard as we could to get to the other side of the river as close as possible to Bob's boat. We were fairly far downstream, so after thanking that raft team profusely for the rescue, I had to climb up the bank to the road, and go down the road a bit to where the others all were. Fortunately, everyone was there, including Cedric, with their own story to tell. Sam and Jack had each lost a shoe - one lost the right one and the other the left, so when we were all done, Jack got both of their shoes to make one pair, and I happened to have another pair in the car that Sam was able to wear. Jack, the only one who hadn't strapped his glasses to his head, had lost them, and he was pretty much blind without. Sam gave him an extra pair of glasses so that Jack would be able to have SOME vision. . . York told me that when he popped up, he saw a shoe and a paddle, and grabbed the paddle, but couldn't get the shoe. Shuwen popped up next to Sam, and grabbed his life jacket, and he, in turn grabbed the boat. Cedric popped up under the boat, found a little place to take a breath, and then went back under in order to get out from underneath the boat. He was sorry that he'd been told to keep ahold of his paddle, since it made it more difficult for him to get to a safe place. However, after getting to that safe place, he judged that he could make it to the bank of the river after studying his position for a while. The team had to help flip the raft back so that it was right side up, and had already done so by the time I got there. We stood there a while, letting the adrenaline rush pass by, and finally got in the boat. We went through several fairly benign rapids when Cedric gave me a look that said "what is happening?" and he fell out of the boat! After hauling him back in, we ran the rest of the river without incident.

We went to visit a nearby waterfall, where the Native Americans are allowed to fish with nets (they aren't fishing at this time, since the fish aren't running in big enough numbers), and took our rafting team shot with the falls raging behind us:

In the back, left to right: Bob, York, Cedric, Sam, and in the front, left to right: Jack, Leora, Shuwen.
(You can't see Jack's mismatched shoe!)

So, my conclusion after all of this? Never underestimate the ghosts! I'll never forget the confused look on Cedric's face just before falling into the water when just he fell in - he was wondering what he did wrong - but it didn't appear that he did anything wrong - just plucked into the water. . .

I'll go climb a mountain, instead. . . (oooo, but we'll be camping - shouldn't be doing that, either - I'll have to be extra careful!)


Monday, August 11, 2008

Adams Glacier, Mt. Adams, August 9th, 2008

All photos should be clickable to get the high-quality version of the photo.

(This was written for our Ice Climbing class - this was the easiest place for me to put up pictures and commentary that they would have access to. Sorry that it's not readily consumable by all. . .)

This is Adams glacier taken from Divide Camp trail (we didn’t go to the actual “Divide Camp” camping ground, by the way – we, instead, camped near Adams River). On the glacier, there is plenty of water streaming, so no need to bring a lot of water. . .

This next picture is taken from our camping place, just at sunrise, looking at Adams Glacier:

This next picture shows the base of the glacier in the distance, as we were approaching. Note that it’s very broad, and the snow ramp up into the glacier comes from the far left, so, of course, we went up the middle of the right hand side – easy ice walking.

This next one I took because there was an optical illusion, when I was approaching the stream from the bottom, it looked as though it were flowing uphill, because it appeared that I were walking downhill. This picture is taken from the uphill side, looking downhill, and it had the same optical illusion from this direction, where it appeared as though the water should be running toward me, rather than away from me, but it was, in fact, running away from me, since that, in reality, was downhill. . . (doesn't it look as though the top of the picture is uphill?)

The clouds were finally lifting. After the initial easy glacier walk, we moved to the snow ramp that is just right of dead center of the photo:

The glacier really started to look spectacular at this point, so even though we were in the middle of a bunch of boulders, which would suggest that they might come tumbling down from above, I stopped to take some pictures – this one looking up as much as possible to the snow ramp we were about to ascend:
and this one looking northward:
Ok, at this point, we rejected the snow ramp to the north east, and headed up and to the right, thinking that there was also a snow ramp, there, too. After crossing a crevasse and moving to the right, we saw ice to the right (you’ll see it, better, in the next picture), and the rest of this beautiful stuff (sorry about the sunshine in the lens):
Here’s the ice wall that we climbed, thinking that on top would be a snow ramp, but instead, were greeted by ice, but at a much, much tamer angle:

Yeah, I know that this picture is crappy, but it gives some perspective – we were at the top of the ice ramp – just another hundred crevasses left to cross (ok, ok, it wasn’t a hundred, but it was QUITE a few after I thought that we were “almost there!”). You can see the start of the glacier (from a climbing perspective) in this photo:

And for this one I swung the camera more north-northeast – on the far, far right of the photo, I think that you can maybe make out the north cleaver, beyond the red ridge that is close to us:
And, I continued to swing the camera to the east – should be almost due east – looking up –that bump above the yellow – I think that that was the top of this ridge. Backtracking, and looking at the map, I’m thinking that I took this picture from 10200ft, and that the top of the ridge was at 11800ft, so a lot more crevasses and ice climbing left to go:

This is pretty much the same picture, but with the perspective of the rock cliff that we were at, just before climbing the rest. . . we followed the edge of the shade up:

I took no more pictures on the way up - just tried to get my butt up there. . .

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Third time's a charm

Every weekend after the 4th of July (US Independence Day) for the last 3 years, I've joined my friend Jae and 4 or 5 others to climb the Kautz Glacier route on Mt. Rainier. The first two years, something happened to thwart our being totally successful (although both times, we were able to say that we'd done the crux of the climb!). This year, we were finally successful mounting this 14,410ft giant via this route depicted here:
Green is the route, and pink are the camp sites.

We started up slow and easy - crossing the lower Nisqually Glacier the first day, and camping at something like 9600ft. I made some comment to Jae that we were lucky - no wind. He said something to indicate that by saying this, I was inviting the wind. I agreed, out loud, and thought "silly Jae" to myself. . . Here is the team at our first camp:

(Left to right: Tom, David, Dan, Jae, Steve)

The second day we broke camp, planning to ascend a mere 2000ft, but didn't even do that! We found a nice campsite just about 1200ft up, water was abundant, and those who were carrying the heavier packs voted to ditch all of the heavy gear, here, and do the rest of the climbing on the summit day, with our lighter summit packs (because we would leave all non-essentials at the camp).

On our summit day, which was just later in this same day, from our high camp at 10,800ft, to make absolutely certain that we made it, we started up early - a little before 9pm, expecting to lose hours getting everyone up the crux of the climb (an ice climb) and then allowing plenty of time to negotiate the crevasses on the way to the summit, expecting to arrive around 10am the following day (beat that by about 3 hours). Coming down would take fewer hours, and we hoped to be back at camp at least by 2pm, avoiding the snow getting too soft underneath us, so that it would be less likely that we'd fall into a crevasse, or that the Kautz Glacier would calve off, burying us in avalanche debris. (The previous weekend, a fellow had to be rescued off of this route because he fell into a crevasse, injurying himself, and a couple days after we went through, a piece of the glacier did calve off, and sent tons of ice and snow careening over some of our route.)

The climb was pretty much 5 phases:

1. walk up a couple of hundred of feet to a rappel station; (at most 1/2 hour)
2. rappell 20 feet or so; ( a couple of minutes for each person )
3. traverse to the base of the ice climb; ( at most 1/2 hour)
4. climb the ice; ( a couple of hours to get everyone up )
5. cross the glacier to the summit. (hours)

We tried to make all of the technical parts as efficient as possible. I headed up and set up the rappel station. Jae and Dan rapped down, first, so that they could set up for the ice climb as soon as they got to the base of the ice climb. Unfortunately, not thinking ahead, I did a standard two rope rappel - where the middle of the rope is at the anchor. However, the rap was just about 20 ft, so when I was done, and had to pull the rope, I had to pull 30 meters (roughly 90 feet) of rope through the device holding the rope at the anchor. Given that my upper body strength is not the best, and we cleverly strengthened the rappel by having the rope go through two biners, not just one, it took me ages to get the rope pulled through. The guys called to me just as I'd finished dumping the rope into my pack, wondering where in the heck I was. . . Jae and Dan moved on to the base of the ice, David and Steve waited for Tom and me to catch up, since there was a little bit of crevasse negotiating that had to be done, where they were waiting, and so they wanted to make sure that we managed it without incident. Then we all high-tailed it to the base of the ice, by which time, Jae and Dan were already set with belay anchor in place. This is the wait and freeze part of the climb, while the lead goes up and puts in protection, mostly to protect himself, until he gets to a "belay station" when he puts in an anchor. Here we are, enjoying this part of the climb:

Jae's at the anchor belaying Dan, above (and out of sight of this picture). Steve (in blue) and David (in orange) are getting everything ready for the next part. Everyone has their parkas on because it is so cold, and we're pretty much just standing around. As soon as they started up to climb, they dumped the parkas into their packs.

After getting through this part, we started the long slog across the top to the crater rim. There were seracs and crevasses, and we were moving in the dark. For some reason, Jae didn't want to lose any of us, so he was constantly making sure that the snow under our feet was solid. We didn't have previous tracks to follow - tends to make the climbs a LOT faster if you can blindly follow someone else's tracks - but what's the fun in THAT? After an hour or so, the wind picked up, and we all donned our parkas, again. I had to stop our rope team, once, to pee. This is the one time, while climbing, that I envy the guys. My harness has a little thing that allows me to stay in the harness, and just make it so that I can drop my pants, but I had some 4 layers of pants on - shorts, tights, long underwear, and windpants. That's a lot of clothing to strip down, do my thing, and then get pulled up, and, oh, yeah, it's cold and the wind is blowing. . . I think that my ropemates (Dan and David) asked me if I were ready twice before I was. . . After all, it doesn't take THEM that long. . .

At sunrise, we walked next to a beautiful serac, across a narrow bridge between a couple of crevasses, with a sort of bowl on one side. I didn't think that the picture would come out, given the light, and we were trying to press to get to the summit, so I didn't stop to take a picture, unfortunately.

Finally, at around 6:45 am, we were at the summit! The wind was unbelievable. The rope between us didn't lie on the ground - it was picked up by the wind and floated in the air.My camera decided to stop working (too cold, I'm sure), so the only picture is from Dan's camera. It's hard to tell that the wind is blowing as hard as I know that it was:

This one has (left to right) Tom, Steve, Jae, me, and David. We joke about all summit pictures looking the same - Is that REALLY David? He is completely covered from head to toe - it could be ANYONE. . .

We stayed just under the summit (out of the wind) for a little over one hour, getting a little bit of needed rest before heading down, and then were back at our camp around 2 or 2:30 in the afternoon. The wind had been just as intense down there - my tent had moved over a couple of inches, and everything inside was all jumbled about. We were told that the nice skiers that we'd seen, earlier, had retied down David's tent, or else he might have lost it, completely. I'd left my stove out, and while it and the pot were still there, the aluminum wind screen that had been around it was gone. We settled down for the night with calmer winds. The calmer winds didn't last very long, however. I went around and re-secured the tent, putting in heavier rocks, and went inside to try to sleep. The flapping of the tent was incessant. Jae can sleep with ear plugs, and so slept through it all. He slept all the way up until the wind picked up the tent, AND me, and threw me into him. That woke him up. After one more bodyslam into Jae, I braved the wind, determined to fix the tent. One of the tiedowns was severed, and the other two were very loose, the rocks not being a match for the wind. I took some of the rope that we use for creating anchors (cordelette), and tied the tent down with that. THAT worked. No more body slams after that. Still lots of tent flapping, but the tent stayed put. The wind, obviously, was someone's revenge for my thinking "silly Jae," earlier. . .

In the morning I went out to see if I could spot my stove windscreen, get water, and go for a pee, wanting to get out of sight of everyone, for a change. . . I was wandering around on some snow and rocks when my foot slipped, and I fell, crashing my lower back onto a rock. I rolled up into a little ball while the pain washed over me, and then spent some time evaluating - one scraped hand (of no consequence), one very sore back. Ooo - this could make things unpleasant. Everything seemed to function, though, so I was sure that I could get down just fine. Walking back to camp made me wonder, slightly, as lifting my legs turned out to be not so easy. Moving downward and walking on flat ground seemed to be ok, so again, I was pretty sure I'd be ok. I told Jae of my plight and he made the normal "so we don't have to call in a helicopter" joke. Eegads - being injured is bad enough - to have to be rescued - that would be incredibly embarrassing!

We'd planned on heading down around 10am in the morning, but Jae noticed that a lenticular cloud:
that was around the summit was widening its reach, and Jae didn't want to be in it. He wanted me to break down camp, quickly, which isn't my strong suit. . . Getting everything to fit in the backpack takes time, and it's nice if one can spread out all of the gear, and place it into the pack in exactly the right order. Then, it all fits. But with the wind, this type of packing wasn't possible. I had to make it fit, even though everything would be in the wrong order. I wore my harness so that I wouldn't have to pack it.

We headed down, and I found that pretty much every step hurt, but quite bearable. At one point, we had to jump from a rock over a mote to the snow. Jae, in a supreme moment of compassion, waited for me to help me over. He and David each took one of my hands (as if helping a lady out of a car) and I braced for the pain that would accompany my landing on the snow. I was ecstatic to experience no pain at all. I remembered that moment every time I crossed a crevasse with no help and the pain would cause me to utter "ouch". I was glad that everyone was far away so that they wouldn't hear that constant utterance.

We all made it down just fine, but, annoyingly, the back injury has already kept me off 2 planned climbs. I find that I can run and walk, but straightening up after bending down is, well, a pain in the back. . .

Ok - now for some mountain humor. We use something called a "blue bag" to carry out our excrement (the stuff doesn't disappear in the alpine environment, so for years, now, bagging it up and carrying it out has been standard procedure). The bag looks like this (unfilled):

When I pulled the following out of my backpack, Jae thought that he was looking at the biggest filled blue bag he'd ever seen, and was especially surprised because this was the first day of the trip:
But no - it was just my nice blue parka that I'd elected to shove into a plastic bag, since I didn't have enough stuff sacks!

Here's hoping that you're healthy, warm, and UNINJURED. . .