News from July 2009

Dad Visits

Occurred July 03, 2009 (Permalink)
Peter Iredale and Dad
Peter Iredale and Dad

Back in June, I went on a bike ride date with Katie to the Cirque du Cycling, a local bike parade, exhibition, and festival. Because I misread the flyer, we got there a couple of hours earlier than the parade, so we went into the nearest home improvement store (The Rebuilding Center) for a quick stroll around. Lo and behold, I discovered an exact replica of the broken oven in my grandmother's kitchen for $30. We had been looking for a replacement for years, so I bought the oven. How's that for a date? :P

Concrete Chute
Concrete Chute

To truck this oven down to grandma's house in Oakland, my dad flew up to Portland a week before the Fourth of July. I took him to the usual sights (Rose Garden, railroad museum, etc.) before we went on a driving tour over the coastal mountains to the Tillamook cheese factory, the wreck of the Peter Iredale, Astoria, the Astoria Column, and back home. Then we rented a SUV and hauled the oven down to California.

Once back in California, Dad and I decided to pull out a map of Laundry Farm Canyon near Grandma's house and go poking around to see what we could find. Laundry Farm Canyon was a quarry (seventy years ago) in the Oakland Hills behind Grandma's house. Being an old abandoned mine, there are some features that still exist--a huge concrete tube that sticks up out of the ground on both ends. We suspect that the tube used to go further up into the hills and further down into a valley where the railroad used to run. Quite probably they used it to ferry sand and slurry out of the mountaintop and out to gravel cars. We also hiked around looking for old railroad ties and a 400 year old redwood tree, though we failed to find the ties and the 400 year old tree probably survived because it's not all that obvious how one gets to it. The rocky dangerous looking creek did not take us to the tree.

Full album posted here.

New Fonts!

Occurred July 11, 2009 (Permalink)

With the release of Firefox 3.5, the big three web browsers allow web page designers to embed TrueType/OpenType font files in the CSS files of web pages. This allows a webmaster to enhance the browsing experience because page viewers can see the web page with whichever fonts the designer intended, instead of needing the browser to extrapolate font selections to whatever is installed on the system. With that in mind, I scoured the Internet looking for free fonts that allow embedding, and came up with Delicious (offsite) for body text and UI elements, AUdimat (offsite) for heading and navigation links, and Anonymous Pro (offsite) for fixed-width text. The authors of all three web sites graciously permit font embedding, so if you have a supported browser (Firefox 3.5+, IE 6+, and Safari 3.1+) you can view the pages as I intend. Chrome and Opera don't work correctly for whatever reasons.

I like Anonymous Pro; it looks nice. Will have to download and install that on my computer(s).

Half of a Mt. Hood Summit

Occurred July 18, 2009 (Permalink)

Decided to go for a quick hike to the top of the Palmer snow field on Mt. Hood. The high end of the ski lift system is about 8500', or a little less than half of an ascent.

Four Extremes: Lake Sabrina

Occurred July 27, 2009 (Permalink)

This is the first of a series of blog posts about my trip in July 2009. In short, I flew to Southern California, saw some of my old college friends, and then embarked on an ambitious journey with my friend Derrick to climb Mt. Whitney, to visit the lowest point in the lower 48, and generally tour around Death Valley. We had a lot of fun and saw quite a bit of stuff. The four extremes that we encountered will be journalled here.

On the first day's trek we visited the Manzanar WWII Relocation Camp along the side of US-395. Not much to say about it. Lake Sabrina in the Eastern Sierras is a mosquito haven. Do not go there. Instead, enjoy my photo album and save yourself the itching. But it did make for a decent high altitude training hike for Mt. Whitney.

Four Extremes: Bristlecone Forest

Occurred July 27, 2009 (Permalink)
Extreme #1: Driving at 10104'
Extreme #1: Driving at 10104'

Being Monday (our climb permits were for Tuesday-Thursday), we had a lot of extra time to kill. Our maps indicated that there is a large bristlecone pine tree forest way up in the mountains, so we decided to drive up there and have a look. The desert floor is at about 4,000 feet, and the road to the forest curved far up into the hills to drop us off at the forest at 10,000 feet. I had never been in a car at that altitude, so that's the first extreme.

Forests at that high of an elevation do not grow quickly. Down in the flatland, rows and rows of teeny trees means that you're driving through a Christmas tree field; up here, it means that you're walking among millennia-old trees (img_4512). Storms are bad up there, which gives the trees a certain gnarled appearance--grow a millimeter this year, watch the last decade's worth of growth get bent around in the next windstorm. Some of the trees make it to be nearly 100 feet tall after a few thousand years, which was just an incredible sight. It's rather breathtaking to stand next to a living organism that was around in the age of the Romans.

Thunderstorm?
Thunderstorm?

Heading back down the mountain, there were a few turnouts along the (mostly empty) road where one could get out to have a look around at the faraway mountains and the bone dry Owens valley stretching out below you. This is very strange country--you're 200 miles inland, it's 90F outside, and yet you can see thunderstorms blowing over the mountains, and the plaques that State left for the tourists talks about the luscious green Owens Valley before Los Angeles stole all the water.

We checked into the hotel after that. I discovered Ubuntu Linux running on the little kiosk PCs in the lobby, and Derrick took some pictures of the sunset. We had to retire early that night, because the next day marked the start of our long trek to the top of the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.

Four Extremes: Outpost Camp, Mt. Whitney

Occurred July 28, 2009 (Permalink)
To Outpost Camp from Trailhead
To Outpost Camp from Trailhead

Bright and early on the morning of July 28th, we shoved our backpacks full of (1) a bear canister full of dried fruit, noodle cups, nuts, raisins, and jerky; (2) sleeping bag and tent; (3) various layers of clothing; (4) the Ten Essentials; (5) camera equipment; and (6) various lighting equipment. The scales at the trailhead indicated that both of our packs weight 50 pounds apiece! This was already looking like a hard slog up the mountain, even if it was only 7am. However, we weren't going to get up the mountain ourselves, so we strapped on the boots with double-layer socks, and off we went!

We passed some beautiful scenery along the way. That low on the mountain (8,500 to 10,400 feet), the climate and the mountain are still conducive to plant growth, so you can look at trees and the shrubs and the babbling brooks and marvel at how these plants can survive in such extreme altitudes. Since the trail takes hikers up a creek canyon, there are the requisite huge boulders that slid off the rock faces centuries ago, and the ocasional pond for looking at. Every now and then we could turn around to look out the canyon at the Owens Valley beyond. Makes you appreciate the marvel that is California.

Outpost Camp
Outpost Camp

Fifty pounds is a lot of weight for two computer engineers. According to our original plan, we were going to hike the first 3.8 miles from the trailhead up to Outpost Camp where we'd have lunch. After that, we'd leave the trees and the greenery behind and head up to Trail Camp where we'd pitch our tents (at 12,000 feet no less) for the night and summit in the morning. Alas, that didn't quite happen. After lunch, we got lazy and decided that it would be a much better idea to camp down low in a beautiful place with a bunch of trees, and set out with a day's worth of equipment in smaller backpacks, because we could go considerably faster without carrying all our stuff with us like turtles. With that in mind, we set up camp at Outpost Camp and spent the evening getting ready for our 2am alpine start.

Four Extremes: Climbing Mt. Whitney

Occurred July 29, 2009 (Permalink)
Milky Way
Milky Way

At 11,000 feet, it's quite amazing to look upward at our galaxy. The view of all the little stars and the denser cluster in the middle of the band is simply spectacular. Stripped of all but about the 15 pounds of water, food, and clothes that we figured we'd need for the ascent, we clambered up the rocky trail like madmen, stopping occasionally to look down the canyon at all the little stars we were leaving behind. I was sure that there was plenty that we were missing, but at 3 in the morning you can't really see much beyond your headlamp. We passed Trail Camp (12,000') some time around 6am, about in the middle of the pack of climbers in that camp had decided to wake up and head up.

After Trail Camp, the summit trail heads into a maddening series of switchbacks. Though called the 99 switchbacks, the Park Rangers and the guidebooks told us that there were more like 130 or so. When we were about midway up the switchbacks, the darkness began fading into streaks of bright yellow light on the horizon, indicating that sunrise was approaching quickly. The story quickly becomes boring at this point--one foot in front of the other, stop every few switchbacks to let your lungs catch up, and keep going for what seems like forever. Mountain climbing is indeed a haven for people who enjoy punishment. It's also pretty cool to be just high enough on a mountain to watch the sun come up illuminating the mountains on the other side of the valley from the mountain that you're standing on, and to watch the sun rays slowly creeping into the cool valley in the morning. That can be fun from the valley too, but it's something else to experience that from up top.

Down the Canyon
Down the Canyon

Shortly after sunrise, we reached the junction of the Mt. Whitney trail with the John Muir trail. This vertex, known as the Trail Crest, sits at about 13,600 feet and probably ought to be regarded as a major turning point in the climb, for once were above here I noticed a strange little problem--shortness of breath! Before this trip, the highest I'd ever hiked was about 8,500 feet; now I was a vertically a mile up from that point! The air gets thin, and you have to force your lungs to work harder in order to keep up with your muscles' marching patterns. I struggled to keep up with Derrick at this point, so eventually I shed even the backpack, and some time later I started ramming air into my arteries by inhaling, closing my windpipe, and pressing on my lungs with my diaphragm. This helped considerably, and by 9am we were on the final sprint through rock fields up to the summit! Inhale, lock, compress, exhale, inhale, lock, compress, exhale!

Four Extremes: Mt. Whitney Summit!

Occurred July 29, 2009 (Permalink)
Extreme #2: Mt. Whitney Summit
Extreme #2: Mt. Whitney Summit

Derrick and I made it to the top of the mountain about 9:20am. At 14,494 feet above sea level, this makes it the highest peak in the lower 48 United States. At the top there's a small stone shack that was built in the 1960s to provide toilet facilities at the top; now guests are required to blue bag it, and the hut merely holds the guest register. The view from the top is of course spectacular; you can see the mountain ranges extending out for miles in every direction, and what would be high altitude clouds from the ground are now low clouds that seem like they're so close that you can touch them! By the time we plodded to the top there were plenty of other climbers, mostly from other parts of California. We stayed at the top for nearly an hour, just basking in the glow of the sun and watching the critters running around trying to get a meal.

Descending the mountain sucked. The sunny weather stuck around until about noon, at which time the afternoon thunderstorms blew over the crest of the mountain and started raining on us. Drenched and cold, the winds then picked up, making us a couple of cranky drowned rats. When we got back to base camp we discovered that the wind had blown our tents upside down, so we just shoved everything into the packs and went back to the car. We reached the trailhead around 6:30pm, a full 16 hours after we'd set out. Not counting the hour at the top, fifteen hours of hiking is a lot, though after a while one really doesn't notice. After another while that same person stops caring and enters mule mode. We rented a room in a sketchy motel for the night. The lock was broken and the door had a huge crack down the middle from someone busting in during the middle of the night.

Four Extremes: Alabama Hills

Occurred July 30, 2009 (Permalink)
Huge Boulders
Huge Boulders

The Alabama Hills are a collection of large, bulbous rocks out in the dry parts of the Owens Valley just east of the road that leads up to the Mt. Whitney trailhead. This site is particularly popular among directors of Western movies, so we of course stopped there the morning after we got off the mountain. From way down in the valley we could see all the way up the mountain valley that we had climbed the previous day to the tip of Mt. Whitney. One thing about these rocks that struck me as a little odd is that they seem to be rather round, as if a lot of water had once worn their jagged surfaces flat. I didn't see any obvious source of water, though I suppose it's possible that we could have been standing on prehistoric seabed.

Four Extremes: Bodie, CA

Occurred July 30, 2009 (Permalink)
Bodie
Bodie

The last place we went was Bodie, California. Bodie is an abandoned mining town at 8,400 feet that is now a state park. Due to its high altitude, Bodie tends to record very very low temperatures at night. I also have a thing for visiting unrestored ghost towns, because it's fun to peer through the broken window panes on the twisted old buildings that are slowly collapsing all over. This town was a gold town starting in the 1860s, and it shows. It looks a lot like a set from a Western, only in this town there's an odd mix between dilapidated old buildings and the ones that have been fixed up--they look strong, straight and sturdy, unlike the one in the photo to the right. Anyhow, we found a rusty old inline 6 truck engine, a schoolhouse with old maps and things strewn everywhere inside, old fire trucks (it is a wood-frame town, after all) and a slanty Protestant church. Unfortunately we didn't have much time to wander around Bodie, because they kick everyone out promptly at 6pm. The panoramas in this album do a much better job of showing the town than the individual shots.

After that we drove to Tonopah, Nevada by way of Hawthorne, Nevada. One odd thing that we noticed--a lot of German tourists driving up and down US-395 in California, and a bunch of French tourists on US-95 in Nevada. Other than that there wasn't really much interesting going on in these sleepy highway towns in the Nevada desert.

Four Extremes: Tufa Grove at Mono Lake

Occurred July 30, 2009 (Permalink)
Tufa, Mono Lake
Tufa, Mono Lake

Late in the day on Thursday we had driven far enough northward to see the tufa grove at Mono Lake. The lake sits at the end of the mountain watershed system, which means that it's a big salty lake with no fish. Due to the LA DWP draining the Owens river of its water, Mono Lake suffered greatly in the past few decades, with the lake depth declining far enough to expose land bridges and the stalagmites that used to be underwater! Because the whole area around the lake is geologically active, lava near the surface will heat water to the boiling point, causing them to carry minerals off the lake bed and towards the surface. When the minerals settle on each other, they form tufa, which are basically big hard hollow fumaroles. In addition to the fumaroles, there are also a lot of flies. So many in fact that the lake beach seems to be dark brown in color... but when you walk up to the brown it flies away, exposing grey sand underneath. Gross. But it was pretty cool to see stalagmites growing up out of a lake.

Four Extremes: Scotty's Castle

Occurred July 31, 2009 (Permalink)
Outside the Castle
Outside the Castle

Friday, we decided to seek out some more extremes for our trip in Death Valley. The first stop was at Scotty's Castle, which is just a few miles west of the eastern edge of Death Valley National Park. In the 1920s, a Chicago insurance company executive (Albert Johnson) was taken in by a Death Valley shyster (Walter Scott) who had claimed that he had a gold mine in a secret location in the desert. Of course, none of that was true, so the executive took a train out to the desert, witnessed a botched attempt by Scotty to scare him away, and decided to build a hot dry summer house a few miles away from one of the warmest places on the planet. The result? Scotty's Castle.

Great Hall Furniture
Great Hall Furniture

Scotty's Castle looks like a Spanish style villa stuck out in the middle of the desert. It's not a castle (no moat, dry swimming pool), and Scotty didn't even live there. He hated sleeping in the place, so he would drive up with his mule team in the evening to tell tall tales to whomever happened to be staying there at the time. The kitchen staff would hide in the basement, banging pots and pans together loudly to simulate mining operations under a house. People must have been much more naive in the 1930s; nobody builds a stately villa atop a mine! But hey, it was a rich man's vacation home, so that's secondary. They pretended that the furnishings and the exposed were fancy carved pieces from Spain, though they were actually made in Southern California. For a while the Johnsons operated the house as a (costly) place for random travellers to stay.

The house is quite spectacular. There's a big clock tower sitting out by itself, several turrets, and a large courtyard between the two wings of the house. Grapevine Creek flows through the house to provide water and at one point the electricity for the house was provided by a Pelton wheel generator. However, I suspect that the electric organ and the mechanical musical instruments (the Johnsons loved live music but couldn't play anything) have much higher energy requirements than a simple creek could provide. All in all a very spectacular house to stay in, but things are not quite what they seem.

Four Extremes: Badwater

Occurred July 31, 2009 (Permalink)
Extreme #3: The Badwater Basin
Extreme #3: The Badwater Basin

The lowest point in the Lower 48 States is about 60 miles east of Mt. Whitney in a place called Badwater. There's no town there, just a low road, a sign, and a boardwalk. Every summer the Badwater Marathon starts here and ends at the trail head on Mt. Whitney for people who are simply nuts. It shouldn't be surprising that Badwater is at the bottom of Death Valley; due to the high surrounding mountains, the air around here tends to get trapped and spends the day getting hotter and hotter. The day we were there, it was about 123F (according to Derrick's car) and the elevation was -282'. Oddly, since it is the lowest point in Death Valley, all the water drains underground towards this spot, and one can find saltwater by digging an inch or two under the ground surface.

It is very hot here. One first notices this when the A/C is on full blast in the car, yet it is still in the mid-80s because that's about as well as any A/C unit can perform. That's still 40 degrees cooler than what's outside. A quick glance 300 feet up the canyon wall reveals the sea level marker and momentary confusion as you wonder "Gee, isn't sea level usually downwards ... and blue?" There is water all around, but it's salty and therefore unpotable. By the time I finished snapping the first set of pictures my camera strap had gotten hot enough from the sun's rays to burn the back of my neck. There was a lightly dressed French gal wandering around the boardwalk with her family; she looked hot despite being dressed in a bathing suit and a sheet. I was roasting. But it was fun to go from standing atop the world to banging around at the bottom of it. For sure, your average Everest climber does not get to summit one day and then visit the Dead Sea shore in the same trip.

Extreme #4: Furnace Creek
Extreme #4: Furnace Creek

On our way out of the park, we passed Furnace Creek, which has the weather station where all the high temperature records are made. Today it was 126F when we passed it. On our way out of the park we passed some beautiful sights like Zabriskie Point (5220-5229), where you really could see the different layers of rock from Death Valley's geological history sitting on each other. We also drove out to Dante's View, which consists of a parking lot about 5,500' above the Badwater Basin below. There are some really breathtaking views of Death Valley from this viewpoint; for one thing, the basin nature of Badwater really become apparent from the streaks that stretch across Death Valley.

Charlie the Chip at Fry's
Charlie the Chip at Fry's

It was late in the day when we emerged from Death Valley. Not that it was any cooler; the nearest town of interest to us was Las Vegas, so we went there and it was still 109F at 10pm. Derrick and I had Chinese food at FJ Kitchen (third time for me!) before we retired to the Bellagio for the night, only to go out drinking all night after that. Las Vegas has convenient open beverage laws (if you're walking on the strip) so we wandered around in the midnight heat sipping beers and marvelling at all the insanity that Vegas has to offer. Oh, and we watch the Bellagio water show from our hotel. The next day we had a very late brunch and headed back to Southern California, thus ending the trip. I had quite an awesome time in the California desert.

Copyright ©1996-2018, Darrick Wong. All Rights Reserved. Send feedback.