Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snow in Portland

I am going through bike withdrawal.  Looking at I see there are those who have been biking through he streets of Stumptown, but that is beyond my comfort level.  So, my work commute has been a mixture of walking to work and taking the bus.  Actually, the one time I took the bus to work it broke down halfway there.  My supervisor was kind enough to drive out and rescue me.  Just about each day the last week one of my co-workers has asked me if I have rode my bike, as if they were checking to see if I had any common sense.

Finally we were spared the torture of the weather trying to decide whether to snow or rain.  The first photo was taken Saturday afternoon.  The second image was captured Sunday morning.  I had several events canceled or rescheduled this week, including the Sing Along Messiah, getting together with a friend for a beer, an AYM hike, and hosting some friends at my place after a Waltz dance lesson.  As disappointing as the the loss of those social opportunities, I was grateful for the cozy feeling of watching the snow flakes fall as I gazed out the window.  I keep reminding myself to count my blessings.

You may notice there is less snow on the roofs in the second photo, which is a sign of the winds that have been blowing here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Snow Ball

Well, I thought I would be helping out with the Mazamas ICS Avalanche Beacon Practice up at Timberline, so I thought I would kill two birds with one stone.  I would start by helping out for this climbing class field session and then spend the evening at Scandinavian Dancing with Norske Runddansere.  They were having their annual Snow Ball at Mazama Lodge.  Then I found out that the Avalanche Beacon Practice was taking place in town, so I settled for a weekend up at the Lodge.

It was fun to dress up once again in my traditional Swedish Folk Costume - the second time this month!  Before the dancing started I got in touch with my creative side and helped decorate the Lodge.  Grog was served, which brought back memories of drinking Gluewein during the holidays in Germany.  The folks at Norske Runddansere are a good group to dance with, I got lots of friendly help with the various dances.  I am especially encouraged with my progress with the Hambo.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Swedish Connection

My Swedish heritage got plenty to attention on this social whirlwind of a day.  It started when my parents arrived with my Swedish relatives Kurt and Anita.  I had visited them twice in Mora, Sweden - once in 1993 with my friend Eric and then in 1996.  It was great to host them here in Portland.  They were stopping for lunch while underway to visit some friends in Bend, Oregon.  We had a great time catching up and looking at the photos of my past visits to Sweden.

Then I drove to Northeast Portland for my Mazama friends Laura and Dan's housewarming party.  I had worn my Swedish Folk Costume because my next stop would be the ScanFair at Portland State University.  My costume turned out to be a great conversation starter and a great chance to share a part of my self with my friends.

My next stop was Portland State University for the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation's ScanFair Dance.  Here I got a chance to practice the Hambo, Waltz, and other dances.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thanksgiving in Puerto Rico

I knew it was going to be close, but in the end things fell into place nicely.  The last field field session that I had to attend for Climb Leader Development was the same day that I was to fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  I had reserved a seat on a plane that was going to leave Portland Saturday evening, but the airline rescheduled it for 3pm.  Thankfully I arranged it so I could help out with the Navigation Field Session in the morning, return home and grab my bags, and take Airport MAX to the airport.

While Puerto Rico seems like an odd place to celebrate Thanksgiving, it was ideal in several regards.  For the Spanish contingent of the family there was a direct from Madrid to San Juan.  As a Licensed Customs Broker, I knew that Puerto Rico was with the US Customs Territory, meaning that I would not have to go through Customs.  Throw in sunny and warm weather and this Free Associated State of the United States looks like a good place for Turkey Day.

Our home base was in Loiza, which is about 30 minutes east of San Juan by car.  Driving there the first time I passed by sand beaches and hoards of people lining up at wooden shacks.  Smoke from wood burning fireplaces left a distinct smell in the air.  Signs advertised deep fried cod and coconut milk.  The roads were narrow and twisty.  Locals sat outside of bars and watched the traffic pass by.  I was impressed by the amount of public art that I saw in the town center.

Once everyone had arrived and the local beach and pool had been explored, we set out to wander in Old San Juan.  At this I had been adapting  well to the erratic style of driving, so I was enjoying being behind the wheel.  Old San Juan was colorful, with old city walls and a couple of fortresses to explore.

I enjoyed walking along the waterfront and soaking up the panoramic view.  We were even entertained by pelicans dive bombing into the water for fish.  The highlight was exploring the oldest Spanish fortress in the new world - El Moro.

I was not content to spend my vacation in just an urban environment.  This was my first exposure to a tropic environment, so I wanted to head for the hills.  Thankfully Lozia was near El Yunque National Forest, located in the Luquillo Mountains.  We started by taking in the view from Yokahu Tower and checking out La Coca Falls.

Then we set up a car shuttle (thanks Tanya and Miguel) and hiked to La Miina Falls, where Scott and I took a dip under the shower of the falls.  Then we hiked back to the road via the Big Tree Trail.  Next we drove up the road to the next trailhead, where we would hike up to the Mt. Britton Lookout Tower, with another panoramic view of the lush green hills and blue ocean.  El Yunque Peak just seemed so close, so we ventured onward to this highpoint.  Unlike the other paths, this one was not paved.  I was a little concerned about getting out of the park before the gate closed at 6pm, but we made it out with time to spare.  I did not want to get stranded here, since I was due to play Jenga with my nephew in the evening.

It may seem ambitious to put together a traditional Thanksgiving dinner when away from home, but we pulled it off.  Credit goes to my parents from bringing a bag to cook the turkey in, a sharp knife for carving the bird, sage for the stuffing, and a potato smasher so my brother could cook mashed potatoes.  Mum and I had to make a last minute run for more yams at a local fruit stand, as we discovered that food goes bad faster in a warmer environment.

The day after Thanksgiving we headed West to the Karst region of Puerto Rico.  Here we visited the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, just south of Arecibo.  This is home of the Arecibo Observatory, the largest single-dish observatory in the world.  This 305 meter radio telescope is cleverly built in a limestone sinkhole.  If it looks familiar, you may have seen it one of your school textbooks or the films Contact and Goldeneye.  

Puerto Rico is home to three all season bioluminescent bays, so we signed up to take a Kayak tour of Laguna Grande, in the Northeast corner of the island.  It was a surreal experience to paddle up a narrow mangrove channel in the dark.  Along the way there were smells ranging from sweet jasmine to something that reminded me of sulfur.  The frogs were chanting 'coqui' deep in the underbrush.  The wake from the kayak glowed as we approached the bay.  As we paused I would dip my hand into the water and watch it blaze with color.  Amazing.

As my time in Puerto Rico came to an end I departed for Philadelphia, where I had a five hour layover.  I took advantage of the time and took the train into the Old Town.  It was a big adjustment to go from 80 degrees and sunny to 40 degrees and rainy.  Here I saw the Liberty Bell and toured Independence Hall.  I hurried back to the airport to find out that my flight had been delayed due to weather.  I was wondering if I would make it back to Portland in time to catch the last MAX train.  Luckily I was able to recover my luggage and dash onto the last train with the doors closing right behind me.

Wild Trees

As I was preparing to lead the Adventurous Young Mazamas to the Redwoods National Park,  I came across Richard Preston's book Wild Trees.  This book is about some of the folks who would climb very tall trees, such as the Coastal Redwoods, for scientific research.  It appealed to my appreciation of trees and climbing, so I checked it out from the library.

On the surface this book follows the ups and downs of the principle characters.  The first is Steve Sillet, who is currently a professor at Humbolt State University.  The second is Michael Taylor, who explores the thick Redwood forests in search of the tallest Redwood that still stands.  He eventually found  the 391.1 foot Hyperion, which stands in an undisclosed location in Redwoods National Park.

What I found fascinating was to learn about all of the life that is found up in the forest canopy.  It was not surprising to learn about salamanders and lichens that live up there. But to read about Sillet free climbing a redwood and eating huckleberries was amazing.  It seems that over the years drifting soil collects in the tall trees, making it possible for ferns, Salal, and other trees to take root and thrive .  I have visited Redwoods National Park twice. In the depth of my awe for these grand trees it never occurred to me that there was a diverse eco-system high above me.  I think that is one of the important points of this book, that people like Sillet and Taylor are showing us there are still places in our backyard that have yet to be discovered.   95% of the Coastal Redwoods have been lost to logging, I pray that we're not too late.

I had to cancel the Redwoods trip due to a grim weather forecast.  This book certainly increased my resolve to return, for I can appreciate the diversity of life up in the tree canopy more.  While I feel the author sensationalized some matters, he certainly conveyed the drive behind these people who find meaning up in the forest canopy. 

Saturday, November 22, 2008


It was that time again, time for the navigation portion of the Mazamas Intermediate Climbing School.  On Thursday there was a lecture on Map and Compass use plus a talk about using a Global Positioning System.  Then on Saturday we assembled once again at the Mazamas Mountaineering Center for practice using the map and compass.  For me it was a little more, because my participation was the final requirement in this level of Climb Leader Development for me.  With the blessing of the powers that be, the next step for me would to be lead lead three climbs as Provisional Climb Leader.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Makin' Lemonade at Mazama Lodge

The plan was to lead an Adventurous Young Mazamas weekend in Redwoods National Park.  My hope was visit for a third time and check out the Boy Scout Tree in addition to some other favorite spots.  Alas, as I monitored the weather report the past week, I knew that it was not in the cards this time.  I did not think it was worth driving six hours to be wet and cold, so I canceled the trip.

They say that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.  So four refugees from the Redwoods trip headed to the Mazama Lodge to help prepare for the winter.  I spent most of Saturday putting up the rope hand line that borders the trail from the road to the lodge.  Never again will I walk along this hand line without appreciating the effort that went into setting up it.

Sunday I was cutting and stacking wood.  As I swung the axe I was having flashbacks to that summer when our family cut 10 cords of wood.  I was also reliving my childhood as we stacked the wood that had been cut.  I also found myself pulling on a rope, guiding a dead tree as a arborist cut it down.

But is was not all work, as we paused for an Throwing Axe contest.  Who knew that a bunch of mountaineers would be throwing axes about?  During the first round all of my throws ended up in the dirt.  However I had a great second round, with all three throws hitting the target for 40 points.

This weekend had the same feeling that I get from the volunteer work parties at Camp Parsons.  Not only do you enjoy the fellowship, but you leave having invested a little bit yourself in a place that is dear to you.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Historic Day

In September 1993 my friend Eric and I were traveling in Europe.  We spent some time in Sweden with my relatives in Mora.  One day we visited my cousin's elementary school.  There we got up in front of the class and talked about life in the United States.  We even read from their English textbook with our best imitation of a New York accent.

During the question and answer portion of our presentation, the teacher asked us a question.  She asked who would the American people elect first as President, a woman or an African-American.  The question caught me off guard - to this date I do not remember how I answered that question.  Well tonight, 15 years later, I know the answer to that question.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween 2008

Halloween was a mixed bag this year.  At work I organized a potluck lunch that was a grand success.  I helped a friend tie a bow tie for his costume - it really looked good on him.  I also put together a costume for myself that I felt good about.

I had put forth the goal of doing something social this Halloween, since it fell on a Friday this year.  I had not heard of any Halloween parties from my circle of friends, so I did some looking on my own.  I found Trick-or-Vote, a project where people go door to door on Halloween, which is just days before Election Day, to encourage people to vote.  The thinking is that Halloween is the one day where people are expecting strangers to be knocking on their door.   With a party for the volunteers afterwards, it looked like an fitting activity.  The trick is that I would have to get there by 5:30pm.  Anyway, I had a rough day at work.  Despite the help I got from my co-workers, it was 5:30pm when I walked out the door.  It did not help that I chose to bike to work.  I was exhausted.  I am not Superman, I did not have the energy to bike across town.  There are time when I have left work angry, times when I have left discouraged.  Today I left work tired and sad. 

On a positive note, I was able to put my newly installed rain barrel to use today.  The shower that soaked me on the way to work filled at least 10 gallons in the barrel.  I was able to water the Winter Daphne, which is sheltered from rain, with that water.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Flower Power

It was a glorious day to be outside today.  Instead of hitting the trails I was at home, planting Daffodil and Tulip bulbs.   I am already looking forward to Spring.

Looking back it has been a good year for my flowers.  The Winter Daphne had me a little worried after transplanting it from a pot to a flowerbed.  However, it has come back like a champ.  I am craving the fragrant aroma that it will give out in the winter.  Here are some of the residents of my flower gardens this year...

Shasta Daisy

The Dahlias keep on blooming...

Purple Liatride and yellow Threadleft Coreopsis.  Go Huskies!


Roses, the new kid on the block...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Smith Rock AYM Weekend

I spent this sunny weekend in Central Oregon at Smith Rock State Park with the Adventurous Young Mazamas.  We drove up Friday evening and set up camp at Skull Hollow campground.  The sky was clear but it was windy, although not as windy as last year.

After a windy night we ate breakfast and gathered at the state park parking lot.  We split into two groups, one went for a hike to Soap Creek in the Sisters Wilderness, while I joined the group that went rock climbing.  We set up top rope anchors at Student Wall.  I have been getting to know this area quite well, as it was my third time here  in the past year.  The first couple of climbs the rock would numb our fingers, as the sun had not yet warmed the rock.  During my three climbs I got some good practice stemming up one route.  On the others I was attempting to working on climbing up cracks, but I having trouble jamming my toe into the crack because my ill fitting rock shoes.  I later found out one of toenails were crammed so much that it cut the adjacent toe.  That put an end to my climbing for the day.

We returned to the campground for a potluck dinner.  My Very Blueberry Berry Bread was well received.  Thankfully the wind had taken the night off.

For years I have been eyeing the trail up Misery Ridge.  The switchbacks just looked like a great challenge and undertaking.  On Sunday I finally got my chance.  This was at the end of a grand tour where we hiked up the Burma Road, along the ridge crest of the Monument, and then scrambled down to Crooked River Trail.  We followed this trail back to the footbridge and then started up the switchbacks to the summit of Misery Ridge.  From here we had a great view of the climbers working their way up Monkey Face.  We also could see cascade peaks from Mt. Hood to Mt. Bachelor.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Deep Survival

My cousin Eric recommended the book Deep Survival:  Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why to me.  I had heard good things of this book from Mazamas circles, so I checked it out from the library.  What I found was a compelling collection of stories, some of which l was familiar with.  As a mountain climber, it was helpful to read the author's analysis of the tragic 2002 Mt. Hood accident.

But there was something deeper here than  learning from someone's mistakes.  The author spent considerable time exploring the mindset of survivors.  I found this useful, but I found myself looking for the magic formula to avoid accidents in the first place.  Deep Survival points out that accidents will happen, just do not let them happen to you.  So, how does one do this?

Perhaps the beginning of the answer is a mix of humility and preparedness.  This book made me realize that I have had many outdoor experiences where things have not gone wrong.  It would be easy to conclude that it was my skill and savvy that got me safely home.  That could be a tragic error on my part.  To go out in the wilderness is to walk on a knife edge ridge between deep rewards and devistating disaster.  Survivors realize this and are humble travellers, ever mindful of what is going on around them.  They listen for the faint whisper of intitution and are flexible, willing to change their plans.

If you are looking to learn the rules of adventure, whether it is in the mountains or the dramas of life, this is a good place to start.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Blithe Spirit

This afternoon I returned to the University of Portland campus not for the soccer game, but to see a production of Noel Coward's play Blithe Spirit.  While I have heard of Coward, I was not familiar with his work, so I jumped at the chance to see this play.  

The play is about a socialite and his wife who invite a local clairvoyant to a dinner party for a seance.  Believing the her to be hoax, he hopes to get material for a novel that he plans on writing.  He gets more than he bargains for when the ghost of his first wife appears, which he loved greatly.  What follows is comical miscommunication, a love triangle, and attempts to rid the house of the ghosts of the past and present.

Apparently Coward decided to write a superficial comedy about a ghost after his apartment was destroyed by a German bombing run.  It is always tempting for me to try to squeeze the meaning of what I experience.  Is this a play about having an open mind?  Or is about the the deeply intrenched feelings of love?  Then again, I could look at this simply as a light hearted way to spend a drizzly afternoon.  

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Trail Tending

Today I rebelled against doing household chores and went out into the woods.  But I was not completely goofing off, as I was performing trail maintenance with the Mazamas.  In June I wrote about my appreciation for trail maintenance crews after going cross country on Hunchback Mountain.  It was time, I felt, to practice what I preached.

Today we were working on the Trapper Creek Trail in Southwest Washington.  It actually was not that strenuous.  Most of the work that I did was brush clearing and taking out plants that had the unfortunate luck of sprouting out in the middle of the trail.

I must say that I got more out of this than the feeling of satisfaction from volunteer work.  When hiking or climbing, it is easy to focus on the destination.  However, with trail maintenance one is often pausing to work on a particular section of the trail.  I found that I had ample opportunities to soak in the the beauty of the old growth forest that we were passing through.

Friday, September 26, 2008

St Johns Theater and Pub

I had a McMenamins Gift Certificate that was burning a hole in my wallet, so this evening I went to the St. Johns Theater and Pub in downtown Saint Johns.  This is one of the McMenamins where one can catch a second run movie.  While this theater pub does not have the atmosphere of the Baghdad Theater, it makes up by being very cozy.  The theater is under the dome of this building that was built for Portland's Lewis and Clark Exposition.  

This evening I saw the film Wall-E.  There is a scene in this movie where our robot hero is riding on the outside of a spaceship through our solar systems, spellbound by the views.   It reminded me of when the Voyager probes were approaching the planets of the outer solar system.  As I marveled at the photos of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus, I could not help to wonder what the view would have been like.

As I biked from my house to the pub I ran into a crowd of folks at the corner of Fessenden and Midway, all carrying signs.  It seems my neighbor activists were sick and tired of cars driving too fast through the area, so they were trying to do something about it.  Power to the people!!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Return to Horsethief

I spent Sunday in the sun at Horsethief Butte, just North of The Dalles.  I was helping out with the Mazamas Intermediate Climbing School (ICS) Anchors, Belaying, and Rappelling field session.  Not only was I there to help out, but I was being evaluated for Climb Leader Development.

It seemed fitting that Jay Chambers would write my final evaluation at this stage of progressing through Mazamas Climb Leader Development.  He was very honest with me last year when told me that he did not know me well enough to write a letter of recommendation for entrance into the program.  I had climbed with Jay on Sahale Peak and Middle Sister.  I could not think of another climb leader who I had climb with more.  For a moment I thought I had painted myself into a corner, since I had done most of my climb with another climb leader.  However, Jay said he would consider writing a letter after observing me lead a hike or assist for one of the climb class field sessions.  I was so impressed and grateful for his willingness to work with me.

One of the fun parts of the day was seeing familiar faces from my climbs this summer.  I saw that climbers from my Mt Adams and Middle Sisters climbers were enrolled in ICS.

Now, all I need to progress to the next stage is to attend the ICS Navigation Field Session in November.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

On Wisconsin

After regrouping from my backpack trip in the Wallowas, I boarded a Delta flight to Charlotte, North Carolina.  Having scored a window seat in an exit row, I was treated to views of the Oregon Cascades as far south as the Three Sisters.  But it was the view of the Wallowas that sent a shiver down my spine.  As the plane past north of this mountain range, I could see the area that I had been backpacking in just days before.  There were so many memories down there.

My visit to Charlotte was short, but long enough to enjoy dinner with Scott and his girlfriend Julie.  And Julie, if you're reading  this, thanks for the cookies and trail mix.

The next morning we departed for Madison, Wisconsin.  Our route took us through the Appalancan and Cumberland mountain ranges.  I also set foot on four states that I have not visited before:  Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana.  Furthermore,  Manus Hand would have been proud, because we visited the grave sites of three American Presidents.  Andrew Johnson in Greenville, TN, William Henry Harrison in North Bend, OH, and his grandson Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, IN.  Once in Madison we picked up my father, who had flown in from Seattle.

Please note, we were not converging on Madison on a whim.  My brother was going to take part in the Wisconsin Ironman.  This was not my first trip to Madison.  Ten years ago I was here to visit my friend Eric, who was then working on his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin.  Eric has since moved on to greener pastures, but his friend Dave provided local expertise.  Not only did he provide insights on the various hills surrounding Madison, but we had a wonderful dinner at his home.

Not only did I spend time with Scott and Dad on this trip, but I also had a lot of quality time with Scott's dog Winston.  Even though Winston is nearly seven years old, several people would come up to us and ask if they could pet the 'puppy'.  I could see why people would think that Winston was so young, because he was the one taking me for a walk down the streets of Madison.

With over two thousand participants and even more spectators, it was difficult to get a good view of the swimming portion of the race.  We had better luck with the 112 mile long bicycle portion.  The trick is to know the mileage at various viewpoints along the route.  We would go to a spot, wait for Scott, and then scramble to the next view point.  Dad would cheer and ring the cowbell, I would take photos, and Winston would wag his tail.

In the end, it was dark and we were in downtown Madison.  In the background was the lighted capitol dome.  It was an emotional scene.  Often children would join their parent for the last steps to the finish line.  And then Scott came around the corner.  My camera failed me at this critical moment, but a least I was there.  Way to go Scott!!!
The next day I found myself on the plane, going back home to Portland.  Dad would drive back with Scott.  Unfortunately, thunderstorms delayed my arrival to Atlanta.  We were diverted to Huntsville, Alabama to refuel.  By the time I arrived in Atlanta the last flight to Portland had left.  It had been three years since I had flown, now I remember why.  Delta gave me a slight discount at a hotel.  I caught the first flight to Portland.  Even though I had a middle seat, I could see Mts Rainier, St. Helens, and Adams as we approached the airport.  Despite the prospect of getting to work half a day late, I was happy to be home.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

No Shortcuts to the Top

I have just completed Ed Viesturs book No Shortcuts to the Summit.  Not only is the author a fellow University of Washington graduate, but he is the first American to climb the world's fourteen 8000 meter peaks without the aid of bottled oxygen.  While this is a noteworthy achievement, it is understanding his climbing philosophy that interested me.  This is a climber who still has all of his fingers and toes, has not suffered from pulmonary or cerebral edema, or lost a climbing partner while climbing.  Before you say that luck as the major explanation, consider that he has turned away from one of those 8000 meter peaks ten times.  Four of those were within 350 vertical feet of the summit.  I may not be interested high altitude climbing, but l sure like to know how he decides whether to continue climbing.

It seems the most important aspect of the author's outlook is an ability to hear and respect his instincts.  Easier to say than to do, this represents to me the opportunity of personal growth that climbing offers.  I also noticed how Viesturs credited years of guiding for Rainier Mountaineering Incorporated as instrumental in his climbing approach.  He learned from people who had been climbing longer than him.  More important than teaching him skills, they taught him to respect the mountains.  Guiding also taught him to constantly evaluate and prepare for conditions that could affect the safety of his clients.

My respect for the author's approach to climbing allows me, as a Husky, to forgive him for getting his doctorate in Veterinarian Science from Washington State University.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Wallowa Backpacking Weekend

I spent the Labor Day Weekend backpacking in the Wallowa Mountains, leading a group of Adventurous Young Mazamas.

We started at Two Pan Trailhead and followed the West Fork Lostine River.  At the Cooper Creek Trail junction we forded the river and ascended to high alpine meadows.  After reaching the highest point of the trip we descended down to Swamp Lake, were we spent the first night. 
A cold front was moving through the region, so it was not a surprise that we awoke to frost on our tents.  After drying off the tents we set out over a minor ridge and descended to Steamboat Lake.  From here it was a long descent into the North Minam River Valley.  We hiked through this pleasant valley, passing by the meandering river and tall green grass.  Then it was up a series of switchbacks to the Wilson Basin.  We found a covered campsite near the spur trail that goes to John Henry Lake.  We were expecting another cold night, so we built a quick campfire to lighten things up.  Any concerns about our  campfire spreading were extinguished when the snow started to fall en force.

The temperature in the tent was 36 degrees when I checked my watch the next morning.  We broke camp and then ascended to Wilson Pass.  From here the views were enhanced by the light dusting of snow on the distant mountains.  We said goodbye to the Wilson Valley and descended into Browine Basin.  From here the switchbacks lead us down to the Bowman/Francis Lake Trailhead.

The parking lot at Two Pan Trailhead was overfilled when we arrived.  Thankfully most of these people were headed to the Lakes Basin area up the East Fork Lostine River, so we were spared sharing our outdoor experience with the masses.  As the leader, I got a lot of experience balancing the needs of the experienced and novice members of the group. 
In my previous post I wrote about William Ashford's adventures in the same mountain range.  His first attempt to scramble up  Sacajawea Peak was aborted when a sleeping bag fell loose and tumbled down a gully.  I could not help to smile as I recalled this passage while helping one of my fellows readjust his sleeping bag on his pack.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Coming of Age in the Wallowas

This was a fitting book for me to read.  I have visited the Wallowas three times and it easy to see why the author was attracted to this mountain range.  Instead of your typical isolated Cascade volcano, this mountain range in Northeast Oregon offer dozens of peaks concentrated in area the size of Los Angeles.  Not only does this mountain range offer at least 31 peaks over 9000 feet, but you can find the highest non-volcanic point in the Pacific Northwest here.

As I read William Ashworth's book, I was transported back to places like Pete's Point, Cooper Creeek, Eagle Cap, and Sky Lake.  More than a climbing memoir, this book is a account of one person's spiritual development in the outdoors.  The author shares how his outlook on the outdoors shifts from adventure, to understanding, and then to peace.  As he explores the valleys and ridges of the Wallowas, the author struggles with lousy weather, setbacks, disappointments, and a restless longing.  He is repulsed by how civilization tarnishes the wilderness.  While dealing with all of these he notices his transformation from a visitor to a part of wilderness, familiar with it as the back of his hand.  Then he advocates for the preservation of the wilderness, pointing out we as a species need places where we can find ourselves.

Like the author I enjoy the challenge that hiking, climbing, and backpacking offers, but I have opening myself to developing deeper aspects.  Now I believe that one will miss something critical when focusing purely on the goals.  I have found appreciation for the moonlight on fresh untouched snow, the soft flutter of tree bows in the wind, and the felling of teamwork.  I find this more meaningful than the thrill of standing on the mountain summit, which sometimes can be anti-climatic.  As an achievement oriented individual, I need every reminder that I can get to be present when I'm on the trail.  Not only did this book serve that purpose, but it got me looking forward to my next excursion into the Wallowa Mountains. 

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mt Washington

During the Summer of 1979 my parents took us car camping at Big Lake, near Santiam Pass in the Central Oregon Cascades. To the south is Mt. Washington, the basalt plug of a shield volcano that glaciation has eroded over the years. I think back then I was more interested in catching tadpoles from the lake than the tall tower of lava to the south. My parents did remind me that we took a hike to Timberline with some family friends and watched some our party continue onward to scale that peak. Little did I realize that 19 years later I would choose to explore this imposing looking peak.

This time we were under the leadership of Eugene Lewins, rumored to be the most flexible of all the Mazamas Climb Leaders. I'll let you figure out if I mean that figuratively or literally. Anyway, it was hot when we left Stumptown, but as we drove east into the Cascades the temperature became more bearable. At one point we crested a high point to discover that we had a incredible full moon serving as our natural headlamp. Our team assembled at the trail access to the Pacific Crest Trail near Santiam Pass for a quick pre-climb meeting and to catch some sleep.If there was any theme to this climb, it would be teamwork. The weather forecast called for thunderstorms in the afternoon, so our team of nine climbers needed to move along efficiently. Adding to the complexity was that we were not the only ones climbing the North Ridge of Mt. Washington. There were at least three other parties on this route. To keep us moving, Eugene had a couple of ideas for belaying the group up more efficiently. Then while others were being belayed up the first pitch, he would go about setting the fixed lines for the next two pitches. It didn't work exactly as he had planned, but he allowed the rest of us to improvise and make it so it did work. The level of climbing experience of the participants on this climb allowed the climb leader to empower us to work out the details. While the first pitch was a bottleneck, it was not as slow as it could have been. It was truely a team effort.

One of the highlights of this climb for me was the rappel. I have been hearing about this airy rappel for years. After injuring my right knee during a rappel in April, it was encouraging for me to successfully make it down without swinging to slide, as I have struggled with in past rappels. We also excelled as a team on the descent down the scree field to the base of the mountain. Another group descended about the same time as us. The had chosen a route that had larger rocks and were going down in a haphazard way, knocking down several large boulders along the way. We just stopped and waited for them to be clear.

This was the most technical climb where I have been the Assistant Climb Leader. When I had planned out my summer, I set it up so that my climbs would build up to this one. To be part of this team truely was a pleasure.

There are more photos to view if you click here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

North Portland Street Ramble

On Wednesday I led a Evening Ramble for the Adventurous Young Mazamas. We met in downtown Saint Johns in North Portland and crossed over the Saint Johns bridge. From there we walked up the Ridge Trail into Forest Park.

I had attempted to lead this route in late May, but nobody showed up. That was not the case on Wednesday. I was very pleased that I had three hikers that had gone on this ramble with me in previous years!

It was a great day for a ramble. Not to hot with a little breeze. As we returned along the Saint Johns Bridge there was a pink glow from the sunset. In the distance we could see Mounts Adams, Rainier, Hood, and St Helens!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Natural Grace

Did you know that Alder fertilizes forest soils by taking nitrogen out of the air and then 'fixing' it into the soil?  That Sea Otters have half-million hairs per square inch of skin?  Mosquitoes are attracted to us by the carbon dioxide we exhale as well as skin oils, lactic & folic acids, body heat, and lotions.  Were you aware that the years biggest tides are always near the summer and winter solstice?

These are some of the many factoids that you can find in William Dietrich's book Natural Grace:  The Charm, Wonder, & Lessons of Pacific Northwest Animals and Plants.  The author presents a series of short reflections of the floral and fauna of our region.  Not only does he write about Northwest icons such as the Geoduck and Orca, but species that are taken for granted such as the Jellyfish are also given the limelight.

It would be tempting to look at this book just as series of articles, but I think in this case the sum is greater than the whole of its parts.  Dietrich is trying to illustrate that we could learn something from the animals that populate the region.  That by their existence in our backyard is telling us something.  We could find it encouraging that the Sea Otter's numbers are rebounding.  Then again, the decline of predators at the top of the food chain like the Orca could be a canary in our coal mine.  It is important to note that there are hundreds of species out there that work in concert.  If you remove one, it could have great repercussions on the ecosystem.  There are messages everywhere, we just need to pay attention.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Tremble with Fear

Yesterday I drove to Camp Parsons to attend the Friday Night Campfire.  While I avoided the traffic in Portland and Vancouver, I was held up by traffic in Shelton (?!?) and maintenance of the Duckabush River Bridge.  As usual, it was a treat to drive up and down Highway 101 along the Hood Canal.  When I arrived it hit me that with exception of the camp management, I did not know many of the staff members.  I did get the opportunity to get meet some of the new faces on the staff, some of whom came up to me and introduced themselves.  I also saw staff members walking around that were toddlers when I last saw them.

The skits and songs during the campfire were a nice mix of material that was old and new to me.  There was one skit, Falling Rock, that I had performed long ago and since forgotten.  During the evening shivers ran down my spine as familiar tunes and words triggered memories of times spent with staffers of my generation.  

Just as important as attending the campfire was catching up with those that I know.  The interesting dynamic is that I am a guest and they are on the job, so I appreciated the chance to spend some time with my fellows.  It was good to see that the Kramers (parents and kids) are having a great time at camp.  It is also refreshing to see the improvements the staff have made in the program since my time.  

One interesting side note, on the way home I stopped at the Janzen Beach Shopping Center to take care of an errand.  In the parking lot a troop of Boy Scouts from the Seattle area was debarking from a bus.  When I asked them where they were going, I found out they were from my home town of Kirkland, returning from a week at Camp Meriwether on the Oregon Coast.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Summer Read: In Defense of Food

There are times when I think I spend too much time in the kitchen.  When I moved to Portland ten years ago, I knew I had a couple of choices as far as feeding myself.  I could live on frozen food, fast food, or improve my cooking skills.  The first two did not seem economical or healthy to me, so over the years I have shifted from the frozen fish sticks to finding great recipes for beans and greens.  I think I have done a good job over the years, but it requires a healthy investment of time.

When a co-worker told me about Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food:  An Eater's Manifesto, it peaked my interest.  I have always been on the lookout to improve my eating habits, so this seemed like a natural choice.  Between the covers Mr. Pollan talked about the politics of daily recommended allowances, the folly of nutritionalism, and how there is widespread confusion on what we should eat.  The author argues that we are not eating food, but 'edible food like substances'.  That the more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we become.  And as a rallying cry against the Western Diet, food industry and nutritional science, he offers the following mantra:  Eat Food.  Not too Much.  Mostly Plants.  It seemed fitting that a book about food would offer a sound bite as a panacea.  But I thought the author could do more to provide substance to this simple jingle.

I think that this book gave me some good insights to improving my eating habits.  I believe I benefit in my efforts to prepare meals from scratch.  However, I'm not about to go foraging in the woods for edible greens.  Nor am I going to get a spare freezer so I can purchase a whole hog, cut it up into parts, and freeze it.  My freezer is already full of frozen blueberries and garbanzo beans.  I want to improve my eating habits, but not squander too much time and energy on one aspect of life.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mt Baker - Return to North Cascades

About a month ago I stood on the summit of Middle Sister and looked North to see the faint outline of Mt. Adams.  Two weeks later on the top of Mt. Adams I peered North again, this time to see Mt. Baker in the distance.  It seemed only right to drive north, just short of the Canadian border, to ascend up the slopes of Mt. Baker.  We assembled in Glacier, Washington with Mazamas climb leader Whit Fellers.  This was my first climb of the season where I was not the Assistant Climb Leader.  I was looking forward to being just a team member, even though I would have to take turns carrying the rope.  As a University of Washington alum I was pleased to see that the colors of our ropes were purple and yellow.

Mt. Baker is the second most glaciated peak in the lower 48 states, so once we left the trail we roped up.  Only when we arrived at our campsite at Black Buttes Ridge did we unclip from our rope.  While others went to nearby rock outcropping to fill up water bottles I dug out a eating area in the snow.  Later we assembled for dinner.  Above us was the summit, towering over the vast fields of broken ice.  With out stomachs full we reviewed crevasse rescue and then retired for the night.

Our slumber was interrupted by the crash of icefall in the distance.  We stepped out of tents  to clear skies and the moonlight shining off of the snow, which did not last for long.  As we gained elevation wisps of dark clouds started to encircle the summit.  A lenticular cloud was forming there.  These flying saucer like clouds are often a suggestion of precipitation within 48 hours.  They can form fast and I have heard that one does not want to be caught in one on a mountain summit.  We continued to ascend and monitor, placing extra wands to mark our trail.  These would help us navigate back to base camp should the mountain be shrouded in a whiteout.

When I first saw that cloud forming, I thought there was a good chance that we would not reach the summit, so I decided to observe how our leader assessed and handled the situation.  That would help shift my focus from the summit to learning from the experience.  It seems that the patron saint of mountain climbers was looking after us during this trip.  First the Forest Service had completed a new bridge across Grouse Creek just before we started.   Then hours before we arrived at our base camp they had installed two privies at our base camp.  Then the lenticular cloud broke up, so we continued upwards, past the crevasses and ice fall.  The toughest part was the slog up the Roman Wall.  Upon the crater the clouds cleared up and we could see the summit in the distance.  Soon we were on top and it was windy.  I was surrounded by memories of biking in the San Juan Islands, camping in British Columbia, and climbing in the North Cascades.

The snow was getting softer so it was time to descend.  As we returned to Black Buttes more climbers were arriving.  Not long after we took down our tents others were pitched in the same place.  I was really impressed when our climb leader asked us for feedback.  The chance to discuss how the climb went made it even more meaningful.

More photos can be found here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Full House on Mears Street

Recently I was blessed with the visit of my sister Tanya and nephew Oscar.  They took the train from Seattle to Portland, which was a thrill for Oscar.

Only hours later my cousin Eric and wife Karen and their daughters Julianna and Sophia pulled into my driveway.
It was great to spend time with everybody.  The big thrill for me was to watch Julianna and Oscar riding bikes and trikes in my backyard.  I knew there was a good reason to have a large concrete patio.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Summer Reading: The Sea Runners

I have completed reading Ivan Doig's novel The Sea Runners.  I must admit that part of my interest in this author is that he is fellow University of Washington graduate.  However, I was also drawn to this book because it is a tale of the Pacific Northwest.  Ever since reading Timothy Egan's The Good Rain I have been interested in how the land shapes us as individuals. 

Doig's novel is about four Swedish men who have signed up to be indentured servants at the Russian settlement in what is today's Stika, Alaska.  Their status is not much greater than slaves.  One of them organizes the theft of a canoe and they escape as the Russians are nursing hangovers from the Christmas celebration.  Their goal is to canoe south all of the way to the Astoria, Oregon.  Doing so they braved the wind, rain, ocean currents, starvation, natives and each other.

While the journey has its dangerous moments, it seemed that the greatest obstacle each had to overcome was the strenuous day to day living.  I think the author did a good job of creating four different men with different motivations and show how they coped with the day to day life.  As someone of Swedish descent, I also enjoyed getting insights into the people from my homeland at that period of time.