Thursday, November 10, 2011

North Carolina Transportation Museum

After visiting the Amtrak 40th Anniversary exhibit it seems fitting to write about another rail experience. This time is was on the other side of the country at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, NC.

I was impressed by the well preserved Spencer Shop Roundhouse and the locomotives that were housed in its bays. Of special interest to our family was a mail car. Back in the day the mail would be sorted in these cars while the train moved towards its destination. This was the occupation of my great uncle Wyman, so it was meaningful too see a workplace similar to his.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Amtrak 40th Anniversary

I like to travel by train. Much of it stems from exploring Europe well developed network of rails. There is something very comfortable, intimate and relaxing about letting someone else take control and just enjoying the ride. So when Amtrak's 40th Anniversary exhibit rolled into town I made sure to check it out.

I knew my friend Richard would be the perfect person to invite along for the ride. He is a big fan of Amtrak and appreciates the romance of rail travel. My housemate Karl joined me as well.

The exhibit train consists of two locomotives, a sleeper car, three display cars and a store car. Inside there were a variety of photos, advertisements, uniforms, equipment and dining china that spanned the 40 year history of Amtrak. Also of interest were the booths set up in Union Station from local groups that are involved with trains and rail travel in Oregon.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dolomites Roller Coaster Afternote: Spain

With the completion of my trek through the Dolomites I caught a series of buses and trains, arriving in Milan late at night. After a good nights rest I boarded a bus that took me to the airport. It was time to say ciao to Italy and hola to Spain. Here I spent three days with my sister and her family. I was touched to learn that one of my nephews made sure that my room was neat and tidy for my arrival, going as far to write a sign telling his younger brother not to mess up the bed.

After eight days of demanding hiking it was nice to rest, play in the neighborhood pool and goof off with my nephews. Tanya and I also took the commuter rail into downtown Madrid and visited the the Museo Sorolla. This was the home of the painter Joaquin Sorolla and housing many of his paintings. I was impressed by how well he incorporated light in his landscape and beach paintings. The museum did a nice job showing the different phases of his paintings and had a wonderful garden outside.

Tanya also introduced me to the Parque Europa. This is a park across the street from her home that has replicas of many famous European landmarks. In one afternoon I was able to crane my neck looking up the Eiffel Tower, pass through the Brandenburg Gate and cross London's Tower Bridge.

For my final full day in Spain we had a road trip, braving the heat we checked out the ruins of a castle at Zorita de Canes. Before storming the castle I helped my nephews find crawdads at the picnic area. It is very refreshing to see two young boys so excited about the birds and animals in the natural world.

The plunder from storming the castle was cupcakes, mostly to celebrate the birthday of my nephew. The chance to be present so close to his birthday was a gift to me, rarely do I have that chance.

After the cupcakes were digested and the gifts were opened it was time to rest. For the next morning I returned to the airport, checked in my backpack and started back home.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dolomites Roller Coaster

Having successfully made it to Ortisei I was ready to begin my journey into the Dolomites. I boarded a two stage cable car that whisked me up to the Secada at an elevation of 2500 meters. From here I headed East.

One of the major draws of hiking in this area was the propsect of spending the nights in high alpine huts, known as rifugios in Italian. Here one could enjoy a beer after a day of hiking, eat a delicious and filling meal and then spend the night without having to leave the alpine environment. All of this was possible without having to carry a sleeping bag, cooking gear and a tent. Before I left I had called ahead and made reservations as I was hiking on the tail end of the high season. Having spent the night in six huts I discovered that each one its own flavor.

I spent my first night in Rufugio Puez. Situated in a tiny little gulley Puez offered good views of the Stella group to the South. The word that best described this hut in my mind is compact. Able to accommodate 94 people, the bunks were three levels high. The low ceilings and archways in the dining area gave the interior a cozy feeling. I spent the afternoon and evening hanging out with a nice couple of Bonn playing cards.

I did not spend my second night at a Rifugio, rather my path dropped down into the resort town of La Villa. Here I spent the night in a pension with a room big enough to dance. Knowing that I had a long day ahead of me I cleaned up and rested. From my porch I had a picturesque view of green pastures and the high peaks.

My next destination was Rifugio Lavarella. Here I was glad that I had made a reservation as this hut was full and turning people away. Located in a flat basin near a pleasant green lake, this hut was modern and positively luxurious. Like uez dinner was ala carte, but unlike my last rifugio I was assigned to a table by myself for dinner.

Located in a unforgettable lunar environment the Rifugio Biella had a more remote, undeveloped feeling. From my bunk room I had an incredible view of the alpine scenery. Downstairs in the dining area I was seated at a table with others. This, along with the smaller dining area, felt more interactive to me which made the evening very pleasant. Biella is located at the base of mountain Croda del Becco, which was well worth the effort to ascend.

After day five I rested my head at Rifugio Vallandro. This hut is at the Southeast end of the wide meadows of Prato Piazza. This hut had a nice wood paneled dining area, comfortable bunks and a little history. It is situated right next to the ruins of an Austrian fort from World War One. From this hut we got up with sunrise and were treated to vivid red colors on the face of the Croda Rossa.

The travel itinerary that I was following suggested spending the next night at Hotel Tre Cime, but we pushed on further to Rifugio Locatelli. What this hut lacked in ambiance it made up in location. It offers an amazming vantage point to appreciate the Tri Cime Lavredo, three distintive peaks that used to be on the border between Italy and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. I had a delightful dinner here, especially since a couple of Corvallis, Oregon were seated right next to me.

Little did I know that the best rifugio would be saved for last. I spent my final night at the Rifugio Pian di Cengia. Located near the impressive Croda dei Toni peak, this tiny little hut is the highest hut in the Tre Cime Natural Park. After eating my Weiner Schnitzel in the intimate dining area I climbed up a ladder and through a trapdoor to access the 15 bunk dorm.

From here I descended for the last time ending up at Hotel Dolomitenhof. There I only had to wait 3 minutes before I boarded the bus that would take me to Sesto. From there a series of trains would take me to Milano for the beginning of the final chapter of my journey.

You can find more of my photos here.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dolomites Rollercoaster Prequel: Munich and Bolzano

It was 10:00 pm when I finally arrived at my hotel room. Today's journey started by stepping outside the door of the Pian de Cengian mountain hut at an elevation of 2528 meters and ended a couple of blocks from the Milan Central Train station. I had teetered on the brink of utter exhaustion yet felt the satisfaction of fulfilling my dream of hiking from hut to hut in the Italian Dolomite mountains.

The seeds of this dream were planted decades ago when our family went hiking the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We spent the nights in an alpine environment, but left our tents and stoves at home thanks tot he lodges operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Years later I was at a Mazama slide show when I learned that I could the same thing in the network of Rufugios in the Dolomites of Northern Italy.

I believe life is too short to put off the things that really matter. Having just hit a milestone in my life, I knew the time had come to book my flights and pack my bags. Melissa Jaffee brought to my attention a route that ran from West to East in the Northern half of the mountain range. It was called the Dolomite Rollercoaster, so hold on tight.

It seemed fitting that I would start this trek in Munchen as every time I have crossed the Atlantic I have ended up here. I was disappointed to discover that the Lenbacher Haus was closed and its Blauer Ritter collection was on a world tour. I did find deep satisfaction going to the English Garden, dipping my toes in the Schwabing Bach and enjoying the sunny weather.

After watching the surfers Hang Ten in the English Garden I caught a late afternoon train to Italy. When I arrived in Bolzano it was overcast with occasional drizzle. My plan was to spend two nights here, rest and get situated before starting my trek into the Dolomites. My stay here was almost extended due to a bus strike protesting proposed government cut. Luckly I caught a bus got out of town just 30 mintues before the strike started. The skies were still over cast, but I could tell the clouds were slowly lifting.

Next thing I knew I was Ortisei at the Seceda Ski Lift, ready to embark on my trek......

Saturday, August 27, 2011

East Zigzag Mountain

Saturday my friend Edgar ventured to Mount Hood National Forest for a hike. He brought his 7 month old puppy along. It has been some time since I have hiked with a dog and I was reminded of many of the pleasures of doing so. I'm certain she covered twice the mileage that Edgar and I did, plus tested out the water in all of the various stream that we crossed.

It was a brilliant day to be in the outdoors. We started by hiking up to Burnt Lake and then ventured higher to the summit of East Zigzag Mountain. From this one time fire lookout site we were treated to views of Mt Hood, Mt Adams, Mount Rainier and Mt St Helens. It was cloudy south of us so Mt Jefferson was hidden.

The highlight of the outing was a dip in Burnt Lake. The water refreshing, perfect for such a hot day. It certain made the early rise from bed worth the effort.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Expeditors PDX Company Picnic

I remember as a kid going to one of my dad's office picnic. We all know the routine, there is food and then games. The kids run around while the adults talk amongst themselves while trying to keep an eye on the kids. Not quite an American tradition, but pretty close. Well today my office had a company picnic at Montavilla Park in Northeast Portland. With exception of a bike flat tire on the way home, it was a good time...

The powers that be did a great job of organizing games for the kids, which included water balloons, a scavenger hunt, and searching for money in a bale of hay.

The shaved ice really hit the spot on a day that was in the upper 80s. Ironically there was a city pool right next to us, but it was closed for the weekend.

The highlight for me was catching a pop up fly during kickball. I have limited experience in team sports, so be able to catch the ball was big for me.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dani and Tanya visit Portland

My nephew Dani took the train down from Seattle to visit me. He was nice enough to bring my sister along as well. We covered a lot of ground during the weekend. I introduced him to Voodoo Doughnuts, eating out at a food cart pod, Mt. Tabor Park and my neighbor's horse Hal.

Even thought the weather was not hot Dani had a blast running in and out of the Salmon Street Fountain. We even had a 'Keep Portland Weird' event when a large group of men and women wearing red dresses ran thought the area, some which barreled through the fountain.

This visit was more than seeing the sights. I enjoyed seeing Dani's enthusiasm for Mini Coopers (especially the convertibles), fire hydrants and spiders. I also appreciated the opportunity to catch up with Tanya.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mt Olympus: Return to the Blue Glacier

Four years ago some Scouting friends and I attempted to climb Mt. Olympus. It was a stellar experience which introduced me to the monarch of the Olympic Mountains. I was impressed by all of the gems that were found along the route. Starting with the awe inspiring old growth along the Hoh River Valley, followed with an incredible crossing over the Hoh River, and then the beautiful Blue Glacier and it's incredible ice-fall, this climb offered so much.

I knew that I wanted to return, so I scheduled a Mazama climb starting the first weekend in August. Having already visited this area, I knew it would be demanding. It is a 18 mile backpack to the Blue Glacier. While Olympus is just 7969 feet tall, the trailhead is at 573 feet, making the elevation gain significant. Along the way our team was constantly helping each other heft our heavy backpacks to our backs.

Just short of the Glacier Meadows campsite we had to carefully descend down a rope ladder into a gulley that has been plagued by avalanches.

At Glacier Meadows we awoke early from our slumber and made our way up to the crest of the lateral moraine of the Blue Glacier. Even though I had been here before the sight of the glacier and the Snow Dome took my breath away. The glacier was in excellent condition from crossing, with most of the crevasses still sealed away by a thick layer of snow.

Despite this we still were roped up as we ascended the Snow Dome, passed through Crystal Pass, and went up and over the False Summit.

When I was here earlier I had not liked the look of the 4th class scramble across the east side of the West Peak, so I had lugged the rock climbing gear to climb up the low 5th class Crows Nest on the east side of the summit block. The pitch was short but it gave me a good challenge. Soon I was at the summit. I was able place my trusty Pink Tricam and build a good anchor for the rope that the others would use to protect their ascent.

We were blessed with outstanding weather and surrounded by the snow capped peaks of the Olympic Range. In the distance we could see Mount Rainier and the low clouds that covered the Pacific Ocean and the river valleys. We carefully rappelled down the same route that climbed and prepared for the long march home. Our summit day was a long one, but we were back at base camp before headlamps were necessary.

I had planned for a two day hike out so we could savor this wonderful landscape. On our final night we camped out on the Hoh River gravel bar and enjoyed a campfire.

During much of my journey here I thought about those who accomplied me here during my first trip here. So to Scott, Kristine, Anton and Anne I am grateful to you for helping me make this a successful climb.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mt Stuart: Cascadian Couloir

Most of the major peaks in the Pacific Northwest are volcanoes. However, in Washington's Central Cascades you can find one notable exception: Mount Stuart. At 9415 feet Mount Stuart is the second highest non-volcanic peak in Washington State. It has been pronounced the largest mass of exposed granite in the United States and it features are variety of routes of varying difficulty.

We approached Stuart from the South Side, which lacks the glaciers and technical difficulty of the North side. However, as you can see from the photo above, there are numerous gulleys that can confuse the unprepared. Our route, the Cascadian Couloir, is considered the descent route for other routes but should not be underestimated.

Due to lingering snow we had the luxury of ascending the couloir via moderate angled snow slopes. Normally climbing parties cut underneath the false summit and scramble to the true summit.

We were able to ascending all the way to the false summit and then traverse across delightful granite most of the way to the summit.

As we approached the summit we could appreciate the shear drop off to the north down into the Enchantments.

From the summit the glory of the North Cascades unfurled below us. We could see as far as Mt Adams to the south and I am certain that Canada was within our gaze. The surrounding area was studded with snow covered mountain peaks.

During our descent a couple of snowflakes fell upon us momentarily. Perhaps it was the mountains reminding us of the influence they have upon the weather.

I had scheduled a day after our summit push to hike out over Longs Pass and to the trailhead. In retrospect I was glad to do so. Our basecamp was on the edge of a pleasant meadow that many of us took the time to enjoy and contemplate.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Pedalpalooza: Hott Sock Ride

Unfortunately my Mt Deception climb suffered the same fate as Mt Ellinor and Mt Shasta. Canceled due to weather. So this evening I hoped on my bike and joined the Hot Socks ride.

The ride started on the (recently re-opened) Eastside Esplanade and had a color assortment of socks. Any guesses which ones that I was wearing? Hint, it was not the Bimbo socks....

This pair was the cat's meow...

and check out the skulls on these socks...

Here is a pair that is quite fitting for a bike ride.

But we were not just spinning our wheels. The first stop was at the store Sock Dreams in Southeast Portland for refreshments, a raffle, and some fun relay races.

Then we traveled to the Central Eastside Industrial District to the distribution center for Sock it to Me for another round of refreshments and relay games. Your truly did quite well with the marsh-mellow toss. And it was a hoot to watch others attempt to put on 25 socks.