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.