Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Surprises, Bragging Rights, and What's Next?

I don't think that I've ever had such a delightful birthday, before.

This is the second time in my life that I've had any sort of surprise for my birthday. The first time was about a quarter century ago, when my dear friend at work got a whole bunch of my co-workers to go into my office (we had offices with doors!), while I was in a next door office meeting with another co-worker. I started seeing a stream of people out of the corner of my eye, and I told my colleague to wait a minute - I wanted to find out what was going on! I went next door to my office - the door was closing behind someone, and I rushed to open it, and said, "hey - what's going on here - is there a party that I don't know about?" which was my standard line every time a group of people formed, anywhere, at any time, but this time I was greeted with "SURPRISE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" I was REALLY shocked and surprised because, well, it wasn't my birthday!!! At least, I was pretty sure that it was in a week or so. I said so, but Gerri, the instigator, looked back at me in surprise, and said "I thought that it was March 25th?!?!" And I said "Yes! But that's next week!" Well, double-surprise for me - the 25th was THAT DAY, not a week later! The days flitted by, quickly, even back then!

This year, a different instigator was at work: a running buddy, Chris. She got another running buddy, Mary, to create an excuse to get together ("I'll be in Beaverton for a meeting on Tues. - how about we get together, then, or will you be around for the Thurs. run?" - my birthday was on Wednesday). I opted for the Tues. dinner, as I was also expecting to be in Beaverton on Tuesday. She later came up with a dinner place in Portland, which was odd, given that she and I would both be in Beaverton, but, hey, I didn't think much about that aspect. I did suspect that she was brewing a surprise birthday party for me, though.

On the appointed day, Tuesday, traffic was light, so I wound up getting into the area of the restaurant, early, so I parked the car, and waited - I didn't want to spoil the surprise, if there were to be one, and I thought that maybe I could catch sight of people going into the restaurant. Except that I wasn't actually parked where I could see the entrance, and I was preoccupied with the news, and so if there were people going in, I didn't notice. I finally got around to going to the restaurant about 15 minutes early, and when I walked in, I looked around, and saw just a few random people in the restaurant - no group, no Mary. Hmmmmm, maybe there would be no surprise, after all, and it would simply be Mary and me for dinner, just as she'd indicated? That would be great, too! I figured that I should wait outside for her. I turned to go out, and as I did so, I caught sight of a woman with a sort of guilty look on her face, which made me give her a second glance. She was hugging someone, looking over his shoulder, and looking at me. Wait a minute - I KNOW that woman?!?! Why is she here? Chris?????!!!!! Oh my gosh, it IS a surprise party, after all!!!! And then I realized that the guy that she was hugging was Hoa (you've heard of him from many of my previous adventures) and next to him, his wife, Phuong, both of whom I must have followed into the restaurant! And, oh, those other random people - why they were Bob (captain of the infamous raft that overturned in the river during ghost month, with some of my Taiwan friends in it), and his wife, Sharon! Mary did, eventually, show up, with several other friends and running buddies, and we had a great dinner (at least, *I* had a great dinner!).

I was struck by how I could completely not see people that I know, and know quite well, because I was looking for someone else, and how I could be completely surprised, even though I actually exPECTed a surprise! I didn't have to "act" surprised, because I WAS surprised!

On my actual birthday, I received that really sweet email from my brother, which I sent around to my email list, and received ever so many delightful and sweet responses from so many people. That evening, Deb, with whom I went to high school (in Michigan!), but who now lives in Oregon, made a yummy dinner for me, her family, another friend and her family, helping me to make those first, hesitant steps into the second half century of my life. I hardly noticed the transition. . . However, now, I have bragging rights! I've joined the 1/2 century club! If I want to, I can now join AARP (I assume that it stands for: American Association of Retired People - but, it's funny, because no where in their literature do they actually say what AARP stands for!)! This is truly FUN!!!! I now understand the desire that many of my friends, who are already in the highly esteemed 1/2 century club, have to commemorate this with some sort of meaningful event (run a 50-mile ultra-marathon, or go for a 50-mile backpack, or eat 50 bars of chocolate (I'm working on that one!)). I think that if I had the time, I'd try for climbing 50 mountains this year, but, well, that's the other thing - I don't expect to have that sort of time -my year's leave of absence ends April 30th. In one respect, I feel as though I've had the biggest birthday present, ever - a year off! And, if Intel management accepts me back (they have no requirement to do so), then I won't have time for such a lofty goal as 50 climbs. . . If they don't accept me back, well, then, I guess I'd better start planning those 50 climbs!!!!


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

When boiling water isn't so hot. . .

One of the interesting things about going to high altitudes is the effect on the boiling point of water. While on Aconcagua, at our highest camp, which was at 19,520ft/5950m, I had boiled some water for dinner. I was about to pour it into one of the liter Nalgene bottles that we used for storing and drinking water. Just as I started to pour the water, it became clear that I was going to spill it over my left hand that was holding the bottle, and Aaron sarted saying "WATCH OUT!". Too late! I poured it over my hand, anyway. And kept pouring. I barely noticed! Down at sea level, I would have burned myself for sure! Aaron was surprised. We were in a low pressure weather system, in addition to being at the high altitude, and together, I suspect that the water was boiling at somewhere around 180F/82C, which I would have thought would have been enough to burn, since the "Instahot" faucets, at 190F seem enough to scald. It may also be that since the weather was so chilly (at most, 30F/-1C), that it also helped cool the water as I poured it, bringing the water temperature down even further before it splashed over my hand.

The other aspect of the lowered boiling temperature (and cold weather), was that we couldn't get our freeze-dried food to rehydrate very well. I would have ramen noodles mixed with bulgar wheat, coucous, or pressed rice (all of which do hydrate well, even in cold water!) plus some freeze-dried corn and peas. I'd pour the boiling water into my container that had all of the food in it, cover it (I used a Glad "disposable" food storage container), and let it sit for many, many minutes. The noodles and grain would hydrate and soften, but the peas and corn would always seem crunchy, no matter how long I had them soak. . . Similarly, Wim and Aaron noticed that the higher we got, their pre-packaged freeze-dried meals would become less and less "cooked". . .

This all makes me want to experiment with a microwave - would it work as well at altitude as it does at sea level? Would we be able to superheat water up high, as we can at sea level? Would super-heated water make it so that we could rehydrate all of those freeze-dried foods?

Given the hardware that we were already seeing at basecamp: internet, satellite phones, I suspect that microwaves will start appearing soon, and then all these pressing questions could be answered!

Sunday, February 01, 2009


For the last week and a half, I've been in Colorado, and last week, I was in Ouray, Colorado, ice climbing. I did this a couple of years ago, when I first started ice climbing. Fortunately, I've improved since then, and, improved in this last week of ice climbing. I find it sort of ironic that I have to have others tell me the same thing that I tell others when they are ice climbing. What I looked forward to in this last week of climbing was improving on vertical ice. After someone told me that I wasn't actually depending upon my feet as I should be, I did a lot better, and my arms became a lot less tired when climbing, and I then fell less frequently on vertical ice (before, as long as it wasn't vertical, I would do the right thing, but when it became vertical, I'd apparently panic. . .).

On my third day there, a friend had a camera and took some photos.

In this picture, I'm already about a third of the way up the route. My belayer (person protecting me from falling), is at the top of the route, out of sight, and the rope is going from his belay device down to my harness. He lowered me down the route, and then I started climbing up it. If I were to fall, then I would fall at most a foot or so due to the stretch in the rope (so, it's pretty darned safe!). I'm wearing a yellow jacket and orange helmet. Unfortunately, you can see neither the top nor the bottom of this route in this picture:
(For those who are familiar with the routes, this was called "The Plunger" in the "Shithouse Wall" section - according to the map, it was a WI4.)

In the below picture, I am looking at a vertical section, wondering how in the heck I'm going to get up it:

And in this next picture, I've succeeded climbing that vertical section, and just have a few more verticals to go before topping out. Right about this time, my hands started killing me, they were so cold, so just a few feet up from where I am in this picture, I found a good place to stand and warmed up my hands, as it was a bitterly cold day - I think that it was around 16F (-9C):

In the above 3 pictures, you can see the ropes that others have strung up for some of the other routes in this area. Fortunately, no one was climbing near me, so I didn't have to worry too much about ice from them falling on me, or ice that I knocked down, falling on someone else. Unfortunately, my belayer didn't have the same luck when he climbed the same route right after me, as there was someone practicing lead climbing (this means that the person doesn't have as much protection as someone who is top-roped, as I was, so if they get hit with ice, and it causes them to fall, they could be gravely injured) next to him, so he had to be extra careful not to knock down ice, lest it fall on that person. Since we have to kick at the ice to get footholds, and whack at the ice with our ice tools for handholds, not having ice fall down is pretty difficult. . .

In this next picture, I've topped out, quite happy at the success, with my belayer, in the lower right of the picture, sharing the happiness:

The three of us only did this one route that particular day. I did many more with others over the course of the week, but. . . no pictures!

On my last day, during the afternoon, I wound up being by myself, so I practiced a technique that we use to get multiple people up a rope that is fixed at the top of a route (prussik on a rope) which most of the other climbers (including the guides) in the area hadn't considered, so they were curious as to what I was doing. This made for some interesting exchanges of various techniques, making a nice end to a week full of practice and learning. . .

Stay warm (but not hot!)!!!