News from July 2007

Climbing Mt. St. Helens

Occurred July 04, 2007 (Permalink)

		Looking Northeast from the Summit at Rainier and Adams
Looking Northeast from the Summit at Rainier and Adams

Months ago, Cheryl and Eliza bought climbing passes for Mt. St. Helens on the fourth of July, and told the rest of us that they were planning a little climbing party. Several more people followed suit, and the result was a six-person climbing party for the fourth! After a month's worth of training hikes in the Gorge (Dog Mountain, Ruckel Ridge, Devil's Rest, and not Mt. Defiance) and some crash courses in map reading, compass use, and GPS operation, we were more or less ready to go! The weather report said that the day we picked was a good one, and the climb reports from the previous weekend indicated that there would be no serious problems posed by the mountain, aside from the mountain itself.

We packed ourselves up into cars on the third and headed up to the mountain after work. As usual, I underpacked food (left the sausage at Eliza's) and overpacked equipment (climbing harness, fleece, shell, etc), but we got to the Climber's Bivouac (3800') around 8pm. Dave and Sarah had taken off out of Portland a bit earlier than we had, giving them ample time to stake out a campground and pitch a tent. The other four of us put up our stuff and sat around the campfire chatting and making noise until the late hour of 10pm. Then it was off to bed in anticipation of the long day ahead.

		South towards Portland
South towards Portland

Now, we don't do alpine starts. Local legend has it that we set out around seven in the morning, hiking briskly through the trees up to the timberline on St. Helens (4800'). Immediately, we encountered an ice field and giant boulder ridges as far as the eye could see. The Ptmarmigan Trail was marked with blue diamonds attached to wooden posts; by this time, Dave and Sarah had fallen seriously far behind, and so the other four of us (Cheryl, Eliza, CJ and I) took the somewhat dangerous action of setting out by ourselves.... We scrambled up the huge boulder field to an altitude of maybe 6200'. This was one of my favorite parts, as climbing up rocks is a lot like rock climbing, but substantially less steep. I also like the fact that I can engage mountain goat mode and get up fairly efficiently. There were some pockets of scree that annoyed me from time to time, but it wasn't too bad. The snow fields, incidentally, were perfectly hikeable, but I didn't pack any crampons and ascending in the slushy snow didn't seem like it would be enjoyable.

		Summit of Mt. St. Helens
Summit of Mt. St. Helens

The boulder field began to thin out around 6800' and turn into gravel. Not too terrible, I thought, since gravel can support boots decently well. At 7000' the trail markers stop, though at that point it's really easy to see where the route is about to take you. However, it seemed prudent to stop for a few minutes to acclimate to the altitude, so we sat on a boulder to catch our breath, drink some water (I bought a camelback for the trip) and take in the scenery. What a fabulous view! One awesome thing that I noticed: When we'd first climbed above the timberline, we could see across the valley to the south of St. Helens and not much else. As we got higher and higher that morning, the plains sloped downward (from my perspective) at a sharper and sharper angle until I could see the run of the land laid out in a cool 3D perspective! Sort of like what Google Earth will show you, but in real life! While we could see the nearby peaks of Adams, Hood and Jefferson, it was still too hazy to see Portland. Funny, since I could probably have seen the mountain from my house. A ranger passed by on her way down the mountain and warned us to prepare for wind at the top.

The four of us trodded on. I was, however, noticing that the period between rest stops was shortening and it was getting more difficult to keep my legs going. A climber in another party remarked "It's like I have a forest fire in my legs!"--an excellent choice of words. Gradually the gravel became finer and finer, until at about 7600' it turns entirely to sandy scree stuff. This is nasty, because it's just like walking uphill at the beach--two steps forward and you've slipped a foot through no fault of your own. Luckily, the summit was very very close, so we kept going. The people who'd reached the top before us were getting larger and larger...


...until we ran into a large mound of sand. This was the final battle of the first half of the climb, and we charged up it with a renewed sense of energy and adrenaline. Huzzah! We'd summited Mt. St. Helens. I pressed Eliza and Cheryl to get to the actual top, at 8365', so we did. We looked out over the cornice into the crater at the steaming dome that the volcano has been building up since 1980 (and particularly since 2004). Quite a fantastic view! Two weeks earlier I'd been standing at the Johnson observatory across the northern valley from the volcano, thinking it was cool from 2-3 miles away; now I was less than a mile from a hotbed of volcanic activity; it was awesome. Not quite as interactive as, say, the lava I'd seen oozing out of Mt. Etna 8 years prior, but still quite cool. The 2004 fin was surprisingly small looking compared to the giant cap it sits upon. I set up the camera and began snapping photos from the top to celebrate.

		View of the Top While Glissading
View of the Top While Glissading

After relaxing at the top for nearly an hour, we decided to descend. Since I'd brought my ice axe and some plastic pants, I decided to glissade down the snow field and save the strain on my knees. What can I say about the experience to convey the feeling that I felt, other than "WOW!" There's nothing like zooming down a snow field at seemingly insane speeds, with only the axe and the friction of your clothing and boots to stop you! I took a few minutes to strap on all the rest of my protective gear while the other three got a head start; soon I'd zoomed past both them going down as well as Dave and Sarah on their way up. In maybe about 5 minutes I'd dropped 2000' down the mountain.

That's where the trouble began. I should have glissaded as far to the left as possible, in order to stay in sight of my three travelling companions and also to make sure that I was going the right way. Regrettably, I missed a turn and by the time I figured that out and stopped myself, I was three canyons over. Fortunately, I did have a topographic map and a compass, so it was quite easy to determine where I was and where I had to be. I scrambled over three ridges of rocks and scree and ran into Cheryl and Eliza on their way down. Total time saved: 0. Total fun had: 1,000,000,000....

We got back to camp around 16:30 and made it back to Portland a quarter after 18:00. Other people may have watched fireworks; I was perfectly content to see the neighborhood's illegal fireworks just so long as I didn't have to move and could go to bed early to rest. This expedition was awesome!

Exploring the Ice Cave

Occurred July 07, 2007 (Permalink)

Jeff and I went spelunking in the Ice Cave on Saturday. He'd wanted to climb Adams, but the rapidly melting snow on the mountain nixed the idea for him. Lucky for me, as it freed him up to go spelunking in the Ice Cave north of Hood River! The ice formations in it were particularly successful this year, as it was early July yet there were quite a few pillars of ice reaching from ceiling to floor--something I hadn't seen in my past visits. Regrettably, neither of us brought working cameras, so we have no pictures, but it looks about as cool as the photo set that I took last time.

However, we decided to check out the whole thing this time, no matter what it took. Most of the cave is very easy to get to, as it's a lava tube and therefore buried quite shallowly and having several pits that opened up to the aboveground world. I find it totally rad that there's a cave into which cold air sinks during the winter, thus allowing one to go down into there in August to look at blocks of ice! Most of the ice seemed to have grooves in the exterior surface, or cracks, or some sort of imperfection, which meant that the few crystals of ice that we found were extra special!

We also tried to get into the mysterious third chamber at the back of the cave. I'd never gone in there, as the cave aperture is quite small, and I'd never had anyone who knew how to spelunk come along with me to the Ice Cave. In any case, the two of us twisted, turned, and wormed our way through the gaping maw of the rock and into the inner chambers. These are quite large rooms--I could stand up in them---though up here in the upper part of the cave there was nearly no water to form ice crystals like in the other parts. So we twisted our way through the crack and into the third and westernmost chamber, and sat there for a while enjoying our quiet existence. I'm not quite sure where the lava tube came from, but I think it was probably an old conduit for draining lava from St. Helens. While we were in there, some teenagers came along outside and, finding no obvious way in, yelled "Hey, there's nothing here, let's go, it's boring." Suckers!

Various Updates (and Dog Mountain)

Occurred July 16, 2007 (Permalink)

		Summit of Dog Mountain
Summit of Dog Mountain

Way back in April, I hiked up Dog Mountain as training hike to get myself up Mt. St. Helens. I took a bunch of photographs of the Gorge (and even went back 3 weeks later with my friends) but hadn't gotten around to posting pictures until now, due to the high panorama content. Regrettably I've still not gotten the vignetting problems under control yet, probably because the new camera is more sensitive to conditions and I haven't really bothered to learn about light/aperture/exposure settings yet. One of these days... probably before Jason and I go to the Steens Mountains in September.

submarine got upgraded a few days ago, and this lead to the complete and utter breakage of the build scripts for this web site. Since the last redesign in 2003, a bunch of ant scripts (Java and XML, oh my!) have been gluing the pages together ... slowly. Well, the newer versions of ant sealed off the semi-secret knobs I was twisting to make the page compilation work and so I couldn't build pages. Plus, the old ant set up did not allow for concurrent processing of files _and_ the ongoing retrofit of slideshow mode into the old albums had come to a standstill. Enter make! xsltproc has gotten much better since 2003, to the point that I can actually use it now. So I converted everything into a recursive Makefile--the sort that builds a gigantic OBJ list in the main Makefile and can thus scale up to ridiculously high levels of concurrency if given the chance. Also, my goal to reduce the per-directory Makefiles to be as small as possible gave me the free benefit that all galleries now have slideshow mode instead of dumping you into the raw image. Downside: builds take longer even after ditching Java. Also, I changed the "Oregon" gallery to "Pacific Northwest" because I've been dumping pictures from Washington State in there.

BBQ at Kristen's

Occurred July 28, 2007 (Permalink)

Kristen invited a bunch of Linux hackers over to her farm for a barbeque this weekend. Since I had just bought a new lens for my XTi (28-135mm with image stabilizer, same as Jason's) I figured this would be a great opportunity to try out the new lens on the animals apt to be wandering around her farm. Last year she had a few chickens; since then, she had acquired geese, turkeys and ducks. The geese mostly just wandered around, but come dusk I saw an amazing thing--the turkeys gathered around a garbage can next to an apple tree. One by one, the turkeys would jump first on to the garbage can and then into the tree. Apparently turkeys like to sleep in trees. Only one fell out. The party went late, so I borrowed a tripod and took a few poorly focused pictures of the night sky and light pollution.

Stub Stewart State Park

Occurred July 29, 2007 (Permalink)

Jonathon and I decided to check out Stub Stewart State Park, which is the newest park in Oregon. Funded by proceeds from the Oregon lottery, this new park has cabins, ample campgrounds, trails and hitching places for horses, and mountain biking paths. The thing known as "Linear Park", aka 20' of land that used to be a railroad and is now a paved bike path, also cuts through the middle of this park. Unfortunately, the park is not terribly large and is a rather skinny one at that, so there's not much exciting for hikers types. But, it wouldn't be a bad place for the horse-bound.

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