Friday, February 29, 2008

O'Neil Expedition Banner

Tonight the Mazamas put on an appreciation dinner for their Hike Leaders at the Mazama Mountaineering Center.  Of particular interest to me was the contents of the display case in the back of the auditorium.  The Mazamas Museum has a rotating display, currently there are some items from the Oregon Alpine Club.  Included was a banner from the O'Neil Expedition, which played a major role in the exploration of the Olympic Mountains.  Those of you who are familiar with the history of the exploration of the Olympics Mountains know that the O'Neil Expedition was organized by the US Army and the Oregon Alpine Club.  Here is where my experiences with Camp Parsons and the Mazamas merge.  It was the Parsons High Adventure Backpacking trips that started my love affair with the Olympic Mountains.  As a Camp Parsons staffer my appreciation of these mountains grew deeper.  After camp staff I have continued to explore the peaks and valleys with both fellow Parsons staffers and Mazamas friends.  To see a piece of history of the Olympic Mountain exploration in the home of an organization that I am active in was very meaningful to me.  
So what is the connection between the Mazamas and the Oregon Alpine Club?  Before there was the Mazamas, there was the Oregon Alpine Club.  The club faded in part because they shifted their focus from mountaineering to promoting tourism.  In July 1894 the mountaineers from the Oregon Alpine Club gathered on the summit of Mt. Hood and founded the Mazamas.  To make sure that it remained a climbing organization, they mandated that to become a member, one must climb a mountain with a living glacier.  That is still a requirement today. 

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cape Perpetua Weekend

Last February when I led a group of Adventurous Young Mazmas to the Oregon Coast, it was raining hard when we arrived at the trailhead.  This year I am pleased to report the sky was blue as we assembled.  Our trip started out at Baker Beach with a short hike through the woods and then onto the beach with its crashing surf.  Then we drove north, past Sea Lion Caves, to a point with views of Heceta Head Lighthouse.  
I know that I had been in this area as a boy.  I remember taking the elevator into the caverns of Sea Lion Caves.  What I am uncertain about is which area beaches I have visited in the past.  We parked the cars at Carl Washbourne State Park and hiked inland through the groves of Stika Spruce.  Then our trail climbed up the north side of Heceta Head, giving us great views of the beach down below.  We lingered at the Lighthouse and marveled at our fortune to have such good weather at a prime location.  Then we retraced our steps over the head to take the Hobbit trail through the dense Stika Spruce groves and onto the Hobbit Beach.  Several in our group thought the walk along this beach to be the highlight of the trip.
With the hiking for the day behind us we we retired to the Yurts.  We followed the usual tradition of having a potluck dinner.  I had been expecting rainy weather, so I had kept it simple and left my Dutch Over behind.  We spent the rest of the evening playing board games, full from the potluck and the wonderful experiences of the day.
The next morning there was light rainfall.  When I asked the Camp Hostess for the tide tables, she thanked us for not making a racket last night.  We parked the cars at Cooks Chasm and explored the tidepools, keeping a close eye on the incoming tide.  Then we hiked up to the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center.  The plan was to hike the Saint Perpetua trail to the stone shelter at the top of the cape.  Before crossing Cape Creek I saw Skunk Cabbage, which reminded me of last year's hike around Lake Marie at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park.  As we made our way up the switchbacks the weather was improving, people were starting to shed their raingear.  When we made it to the top the blue sky had returned.  We ate our lunches soaking in not rain, but the views of the beach and Heceta Head to the south.

We managed to return to the Cooks Chasm just before high tide.  This was well timed because we got to witness the Spouting Horn, which is a ocean geyser that put on a great show.  We lingered at this point for some time, watching the surf pound the rocks and then cascade back into the ocean.
Our final destination was the Seal Rock Wayside, just north of Waldport.  Here we had a mellow walk along the beach.  It was a fitting way to end this fine weekend.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Dark Side of the Moon

In the lunchroom today I heard one of our managers complain that he would be missing the lunar eclipse because he had to go to a motivational seminar.   Well his loss was my gain.  This evening I dragged a lawnchair and my dinner outside and watched the moon transform into a hazy orange globe.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Winter Daphne

The Winter Daphne next to my front door is starting to bloom.  It is a gift to smell its fragrance after a rough day at work.  The aroma is enough to send a shiver down my spine.  Oh the joy.

A friend of mine gave me a garbage can full of bark in exchange for a six pack of beer.  So today I will be working on my house and garden.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

An Avalanche of Information

I just returned from two days at an Avalanche Safety Course.  After last weekend's spin on Highway 26 I was quite careful with the driving.  The first day took place in Parkdale, Oregon on the east side of Mount Hood.  It was difficult to be inside on this amazing clear day with a great view of Mt. Hood.
Glen Klesser of MountainSavvy and his able assistants led the class.  He used a variety of videos to instill a healthy respect of the power of avalanches.  He also had some low tech tricks up his sleeve.  At one point he was standing on a block of styrafoam, held up on a table by a layer of strafoam cups.  When he jumped up on the block of styrafoam, the styrafoam cups underneath collasped.  This effectivily illustrated how an avalanches is caused when a trigger causes a weak layer of snow to lose its bond with the layer above.  We spent Saturday learning about how terrain, snow stability, mountain snowpack, and weather contribute to avalanche conditions.  As a prospective climb leader I was quite interested in the material on assessing avalanche danger.  As the weekend progressed, I learned there is not a silver bullet in sniffing out an avalanche.  It is more of process of collecting information from a variety of sources.  It was also valuable discussing the decision making and human factors to consider.  I also found the discussions on choosing the best routes useful.

After Saturday's session we carefully drove up to Mazama Lodge.  After chaining up the car for the next day, we retired for the day.  For the first time I set my sleeping bag outside on the porch for a quite night's sleep.

On Sunday we drove up to Timberline Lodge and the class reassembled.  We spent the morning practicing with Avalanche Beacons.  The weather was windy and wet, so we ate lunch in the day lodge.  Then we went back outside to more on stability
 evaluation.  This was done by digging a snowpit and performing a variety of test.  The final one involved getting on a column of snow and seeing if it would collapse from the weight.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Climb Night

Yesterday I went to the Mazamas Climb Night at Club Sport, a high end gym in Tigard, Oregon that has a massive rock climbing wall.  After multiple trips up to the slopes of Mt. Hood during the past month, it was time to go to a dry climbing related activity.  It has been a long time since I set foot in a rock gym, perhaps the long drive south is a major reason.  Anyway, after a sluggish day at work, I pushed myself to go and hang out with the rock jocks.  After a couple of climbs, I was hanging by the end of that rope and resting, because my arms were tired. 
There are times when on that rock wall that the fear kicks in, when I consider the gravity of what I'm doing.  Then I remember that time when climbing up Sahalee Peak in the North Cascades.  A fellow climber had observed how my hesitation when repelling down the summit block had complicated my descent.  He told me that I had to learn to trust the system.  It has been timeless advice.  At the end of the climb, when I lean back and let my climbing partner lower me to the ground, the knot in my harness holds.  Perhaps trust allows one to focus on the things that really matter, like the next foothold.  

Saturday, February 2, 2008

360 Degrees of Crevasse Rescue

The day of my second Climb Leader Development teaching evaluation started out with a very early meeting at the Gateway Transit Center.  From here I carpooled up to Mt. Hood's White River West SnoPark with two other Mazamas.  After passing through Sandy, Oregon we were traveling on snow when the car hit an ice patch.  The Subaru Outback crossed into the other lane of traffic and started to rotate counter-clockwise.  Our driver managed to position the car so that only the right end of the front bumper bounced off the guardrail.  After completing a 360 degree turn we returned to our lane of traffic.  We were fortunate that there was not any traffic in the other lane at this early hour.  At this point our decision to leave a little earlier seemed like the right call, as we slowly made our way to the meeting place.  After surviving this I have a greater respect for the dynamics of driving on snow.

Today the focus was on Crevasse Rescue.  The sky was overcast, in the 20s, and snow was falling.  I found out that the Climb Leader that was supposed to evaluate me had called in sick.  All of the other Climb Leaders were evaluating other Leadership Development canidates, so I was put on standby.  I was eventually paired with some of the students that were running late.  One of the coordinators for the class  would complete an evaluation of me.

The morning went by quickly as our group practiced the basics of various hauling systems.  I was working on my own with two students.  In the afternoon we practiced a couple of more elaborate systems.  Generally students were in three person rope teams.  One would simulate falling by putting weight on the rope, giving the other two students a feel for working with a loaded rope.  As this took place an instructor would watch as the other two climbers set up their pulley hauling systems.  Since I was the lone instructor in our group and there were only two students, I had a bit of logistical challenge.  However, we did fine with the cards that we were dealt.  A couple of times we collaborated with another group, which was helpful.

The drive back to the Gateway Transit Center was uneventful.  When I returned home I found snow on my front lawn.