Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Snow, as ordered. . .

When I booked my trip to Michigan in December, I was actually hoping that there would be snow, but I guess that I was hoping that it would already be there. Instead, there was snow when I landed, but just a dusting, and that’s about how much there was until, of course, I was supposed to leave. Saturday night, the weather first got warm (a few degrees above freezing – it’d been in the 20’s and teens Fahrenheit (about -5 to -12C) all week) and it rained, and then later, with the quote “be careful what you wish for” ringing in my ears, I saw some 3 inches of snow pile up outside, ensuring a nice icy layer under a nice blanket of snow. United Airlines rang the house at something like 4am to say that my 7pm flight was cancelled, so they put me on one early in the morning. My Mom woke me up at 5:30am thinking that maybe would could make the flight if we got up and out within the hour. I felt that it was already too late to make such a flight, even if we left at that moment, which none of us were prepared to do. I logged in to see if I could find out the scoop, online, and when I tried to check in for the new flight, it wouldn’t let me do it “until 24 hours ahead of time”. That’s when I realized that it was scheduled for the next morning. I went back to bed to deal with it in the morning. On Sunday, it just snowed and snowed and snowed – we got about 6 inches or so, with high winds that drifted the snow so that there were places where the snow was much deeper. The early morning flight wasn’t going to work for a number of reasons, including the storm not being over by the time we would have to leave my folks house, so I rescheduled the flight for later on Monday.

This allowed me time to go for run in the drifted snow and wind (that was a workout!), and shovel us out, and for that, I used the yooper scooper. I’m not sure how “yooper” is actually spelled, but I spell it that way so that people pronounce it, correctly. A “Yooper” is someone from the U.P. (Upper Pennisula) of Michigan. We pronounce the letters, when we talk about the U.P., and so the people who live up there become the U.P.ers, or, more fondly, the yoopers, because they tend to be of Scandinavian descent, and therefore have that long drawn out accent. Anyway, I believe that the Scandinavians brought with them a type of “shovel” that they used back in Scandanavia. It looks like this:

Since the only place that we know of people using it is in the U.P., we, naturally, call it a yooper scooper. Note, in the above picture, what you can do is scoop up the snow, and then slide it up and over other snow, and then tip it up to dump it. This snow was very heavy, and I was able to move an amazing amount by using this technique. It was still hard work, but I don’t even think that I could have shoveled the whole driveway with a regular snow shovel without getting an extremely sore back.

Monday brought nice sunshine, showing us all of the beautiful snow:

We made it to the airport without an accident, which was quite a miracle given the many spinouts, and my parents were able to make it back home without an accident, although there was a little slipping and sliding that occurred. . . (Michigan doesn’t allow studded tires or chains).

And I thought that everything was hunky dory for leaving, until just before they boarded my plane – the agent called me up and asked for my paper ticket. I handed him my boarding pass that I’d received from the Continental ticket agent. He said, no, no – he needed a ticket – the boarding pass said that there should be a paper ticket. United had put me on that Continental flight, but it seems that they’re not quite one company, yet, and somehow the agent that put me onto that flight made a mistake and didn’t make the ticket electronic. The guy said that I would likely miss the flight since I needed a United agent to reissue the ticket as an electronic ticket, but no United agents were there – he sent me off to two different United gates, but no one was at either one. When I returned to his counter, I asked them if it were possible for them to actually call United, since at this point, going back to the ticket counter (outside of security, which is what they were suggesting) would ensure that I wouldn’t make the flight. An agent did so, and everything got fixed in time for me to get on the plane (the last person, but I got on!).

As a parting shot – here is a cardinal eating seeds embedded in suet during the snowstorm:

May your winter be what you want it to be, and may you be healthy and safe.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Planning for Denali

About a year ago, while running with a friend, Candi, during lunchtime, she mentioned that she was interested in climbing Denali in 2011. That sounded great to me – I was definitely interested in climbing Denali, but I wasn’t interested in doing it in 2010. 2011 sounded perfect. Candi wanted to have 6 people on the team – 3 for each rope team, and 2 teams in case someone fell into a crevasse. A team self-rescue would be much easier with 6 people, total. Neither of us wanted more than that – too many personalities to deal with! I immediately thought of 2 of my regular climbing partners, who I was sure would want to join us, David and Tom. David was an immediate “yes!” We started putting feelers out for who would be interested in such an endeavor in 2011 (Denali climbs typically happen sometime in May through July). Several people started to express interest.

Candi, David, and I took the local mountaineering organization’s Expedition Class in January-March of this year. My primary purpose in taking the class was to learn how to deal with sleds, which are primarily used in Alaska. It was also good to get refreshers on the high altitude medicines and to get tips from others on their expeditions.

The three of us started planning climbs together to get some experience climbing with each other. Denali is quite the commitment – likely 3 weeks, and potentially 4 weeks, mostly on a glacier, together, constantly working together, either climbing, digging/sawing/building camp, melting snow, cooking/eating, taking care of each other in case of illness, or discussing the weather, next day’s plans, etc. Good/compatible team selection is frequently cited as the number 1 criterion for a successful expedition. Our three-some climbs didn’t work out due to weather and our crazy schedules, but we all did get some climbing in during the summer, just not necessarily with each other. . .

We finally decided that we needed to start meeting, regularly, to make sure that we were making progress toward our goal. Candi, David, and I started regular once a month meetings in June. David got some preliminary info on logistics (flights, shuttles, climbing fees), Candi talked to folks who have guided on Denali, and I created spreadsheets. . . We met with a member of a previous successful Denali climb, made some basic decisions, such as what route we’d take, and we came up with a schedule for when we would get together to climb/practice. We decided to do the practices, also on a once a month basis starting in October. We met for our first practice session this last weekend, and for this month’s meeting, I came up with the preliminary Denali climb schedule. At the meeting, looking at the schedule, it was starting to become real. And then we looked around the table and noticed that we had 6 people - and that these 6 were also the same 6 who showed up at the training session (I’d invited more). It’s starting to feel as though we have a team!

Before showing a couple of pictures, I’d like to explain that Candi has a friend, Mason, who has Juvenile Myositis (JM). She found out that there are many promising theories or avenues for research for curing this disease, but that the research is underfunded. She asked if we’d mind using our climb for helping to raise funds for JM research purposes. Of course, we all said that we didn’t mind and would help out, and one of our monthly meetings dealt with fundraising for curing JM. With that in mind, Candi and Mason’s Dad had a couple of banners made, and Candi and I have been taking photos with the banner ever since, as we climb and also prepare for the Denali climb.

Here is a shot of us working on the basics of a crevasse rescue system. Oleg is in back having “arrested” the fallen climber (me) and sled (my weight and that of the sled are on the rope that is clipped to his harness, out of sight – he’s using the rock to brace himself while I weight the rope, as if I were in a crevasse), and Candi is working on creating a Z system (something that makes it easier to haul out a climber rather than just trying to pull on the rope by one’s self), using the handy rock as the anchor. Tom is helping by holding the other end of the banner. . .:

And here we all are during a break for lunch after everyone practiced setting up a Z system:
Left to right we’re: Tom, Leora, Denis, Candi, David, Oleg.

The following picture shows Denis in the foreground, and you can just see David in the sun in the background. Both are practicing climbing out of a crevasse by “climbing the rope”, and having to deal with getting around the sled. We did all of this practice on a sunshiny day, without the snow, to make sure that we all had the concepts down. Later, we’ll do these things in the snow. Most, if not all, of us have practiced this, before, but practicing them, together, is important to see how we all work with each other and to make sure that we have a team understanding of what is expected:
I’ve climbed with every one of my teammates at least once, but they have not all climbed with each other. We’ll have to fix that! We have sooooo much more to do before we go on the climb, but it’s rather exciting to see it take shape, a year after Candi and I first discussed it. . .

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

update time

The last thing that I sent out was a plea for folks to do some web voting to help a friend’s grandson. He didn’t get the $5,000 prize we were looking for, but a relative came through with the money to help ensure that Joshua got the care that he needed. In spite of that, and the constant and consistent love, attention, and care of his parents, Joshua recently slipped away. Thanks to those of you who voted, and those who followed Joshua’s journey (documented at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/joshuatruini/journal).

For an update on me, I continue to enjoy the job I moved to in November at the end of 2009. After almost doubling the size of the team, the hardware that the majority of the team was working on went through some project redefinitions, and, as a result, added some angst about the future. However, much of my team is working on the software for the new direction of the hardware, and the rest of my team gets to work on some new projects. It puts the team in turmoil and stress, but I’m hoping that as part of the management team, I can help to reduce the amount of turmoil that they see, and get them happily situated in projects suited to them!

My parents and I went on a cruise around New Zealand in the beginning of April, which will be the subject of the next “leoralore,” if I can get it completed! And I’ve continued to do some teaching of mountaineering skills as friends ask for help. This year, the avalanche danger was quite high during most of the weekends in which I was able to climb, so while I may have gone out a few of those times, if I did, I turned around. So other than a climb in mid-April, I was “summitless” until the beginning of July, when a couple of friends and I spent Independence Day weekend in Mt. Rainier National Park, far from any fireworks, enjoying the spectacular stars at night, and the fierce wind the last 1000 feet or so of the Mountain. I finally worked out that the left side of my face and lips suffered windburn, from which I’ve now recovered. After that, I climbed Mt. Hood several times, once on a south side route, and a couple of times on the fantastic north side. This photo is of me by one of my wonderful climbing partners, as I was front pointing the last bit of where the Sunshine route meets the Queen’s Chair:

And here’s one the previous week, of me, just a little higher up than the previous picture, looking down onto our camp, circled in yellow:

That’s most of the happy stuff. . .

One of the biggest blows to my emotional stability has been the loss of one of my close friends, whom I’ve mentioned a couple of times over the years in these stories: Monty. When his wife left a message on my answering machine, I knew that something was wrong. I was sure that he was either critically or fatally injured. I wasn’t prepared for the truth – he joined the growing number of middle-aged men who have committed suicide. Since Monty was hugely popular, and a prominent member of various volunteer and other organizations, I was sure that there would be a write up on the web, somewhere, to which I could refer, but nothing showed up, anywhere, for a couple of days, and since I’d spared his wife from giving me any details since I knew she’d been calling folks all day long, I was able to completely deny reality. Intellectually, I knew that it had to be true, but I couldn’t bring my emotional self in line with the intellectual. When, finally, someone called me to discuss it, the emotional self caught up and severe grief set in. I was pretty useless at work for almost 2 weeks, although the work gave me something other than my grief to focus on, so I continued to try my best at it.

Many of my friends want to make something worthwhile come out of this. I know that I should do so, too, but I’ve not found a way for me to do so in any way that is meaningful to me, and in any way that mitigates the tragedy for me. I sure hope that he’s in a better place. . .

So, on the tails of this, and now, functioning pretty normally, emotionally, I took my pre-planned vacation in North Carolina, visiting my high school and college buddy, Jeannie, and her family, as well as meeting a high school friend whom I’ve not seen since within a few years of high school graduation (thanks go to Facebook, where we hooked up), and attended another friend’s family reunion as a guest. Sort of weird, when one considers that I’ve missed at least one of my own family reunions, but I used it as an opportunity to put a date on actually visiting Jeannie, since it had been over 6 years since my last visit (as with many things, when one can do something “any time,” one never does them, at all. . . ).

A note to those who do family reunions: this friend’s (Tracey’s) family does reunions in a pretty impressive way – where people representing different branches of the family stand up and give significant updates on their branch of the family to the whole gathering, and there is even a note-taker!!! Does anyone else do this? I liked the concept and might try to get our family to do at least the update thing at one of our family reunions. . .

May this find you all well.