Friday, December 30, 2011

Blanket Bog

(1) A wet sleeping bag. If this happens because of a hole or faulty seam in your tent, or because so much rain fell that some crept in from below, fine. But if this is because of something you did in your sleep, then we don't want to share, especially not your tent. We'll carry our own, thanks.

(2) An extensive, often peat-rich bogginess covering large areas of gently undulating uplands in cool yet seriously wet climates. Moisture from rain is so prevalent, and due to the cool climate so persistent, that it collects in high hollows and even on the gently sloping hillsides, and remains in place long enough to nurture the types of plants that flock to bogs for excitement and even extended stays.

Stays so extended that the plants live out their lives, die, fall over, and after many years of being dead become peat. Layers of peat. Layers of peat that cover the landscape like an enormous blanket going on for miles and miles over hill and dale yet never relinquishing its fundamentally sodden and depressing nature.

(3) In addition to "fen", "blanket mire" is another term. It's a British phrase, and they know about such things.

Another alternate name, in case you can't stick with what you've got already, is "mire".

Mire is a nice word. It can't be mistaken for anything else. And there's only the one syllable to remember as you sink into it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hiking With The ATDOT

Pacemakers for the rest of us.

Backpacking is getting more popular all the time.

With the rising cost of living on top of a crashed economy and widespread job loss, more annoying people than ever are taking to the trails. And most are even more ignorant than the average backpacker.

This is easy to see on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, for decades one of the most heavily traveled trails in the country. And it's getting worse.

The AT as it's called is 2181 miles (3510 km) long, and passes through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, North Virginia, Northwest Virginia, North-northwest Virginia, Far North Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and several Yankee states.

"So what?" you say. "I done that there a few years back. Let's have some more ribs and beer."

Sure, you can say that.

You think, maybe, this summer, you'll go on out there and do a tad bit more a that there trompin', iffn' you has the itch.

Maybe not, Scooter. Pretty soon you will need a license.

All those new people? Causing problems.

Problems beyond even the normal stray garbage, flies, human droppings, random gunfire, and mentally defective animals attracted by armpit smell.

There's new stuff now. Congestion. Weekend and holiday pileups are common.

Rush-hours, pranged trekking poles, dented backpacks, scuffed Gore-Tex, trail rage. Now it's all yokels, all over, all the time, and they're killing the trail.

Managers have a multi-year plan for improvements, beginning soon, with an end to construction in 2020.

Old timers, especially the slow ones, will say the trail is good enough. Wide enough. Smooth enough for two people to walk side by side while having a friendly chat.

Nope. Not any more. That will soon be illegal.

The old single dirt track will soon be four lanes, two north, two south, separated by a median, paved and striped. Professionals and competitive hikers with commercial sponsors will be free to use the inside (fast) lanes. Average, unlicensed, unpaid amateurs and wandering Sunday strollers will have to stick to the slow lanes or get ticketed, maybe jailed for obstruction.

Soon you'll see multi-level trails with ramps, passing lanes, and 24-hour rest areas.

But until then, starting in June, watch for uniformed "Pace Patrols" marching two abreast, directing traffic, answering questions, and writing the occasional warning citation.

Enjoy the experience of rolling speed harmonization as you follow the Pace Patrols' bright flashing lights and flow along with them at a steady 2.5 mph (4 kph), no more, no less. Right away you'll notice improved safety, smoother traffic, and fewer fistfights, especially around parks and beer kegs.

They kinda do it in Colorado...CDOT Tests I-70 Pace Cars With Ski Traffic Sunday.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Me and Poly Down by the Beach

Can a weird loner guy have fun in the dark with a piece of plastic?

Me and Poly Down by the Beach

Smaller is lighter. Lighter is usually better.

It was a dark and stormy night. There I was on the ground in the dark, under a transparent sheet of plastic, wrapped in a home-made backpacking quilt, all alone at Christmas, in a hail storm.

Perfect. I am nuts and this is my story.

I used to visit the beaches of Olympic National Park at Thanksgiving, when I had four days free of work, when it was just the tides, the storms, the birds and me. And maybe some dead things on the beach.

X is for Xmas.

One year I tried Christmas instead, and pushed the limits a little by taking my first shot at tarp camping. Ray Jardine's "Beyond Backpacking" (now out of print) covered the subject pretty well, but he had a newer book available, just about tarps, and I bought it. It inspired wild thoughts.

I pitched an 8 X 10 foot (244 by 305 cm) piece of 3-mil (0.076 mm) transparent polyethylene, with another 40-inch by 7-foot (102 by 213 cm) sheet to go under me as a combination floor and ground sheet. Cost: about $3.50. And though crazy I'm not stupid, at least not in public if I can avoid it, so I took another shelter as a backup.

This tarp setup was a bit heavy at 25 ounces (709 g), but much lighter than even my single-lonely-guy's lightweight tent, and nearly as light as my Hennessy Adventure-Racer hammock. What was missing was netting to keep out teeny creeping critters or biting flying nighttime nippers, and any ability to zip it shut and make the world go away.

Howdy, world.

What I gained was a full-sky view of the world through a transparent roof, and 360-degree ventilation.

First-night's impressions: Drafty. The temperature was barely above freezing, the walls ended a hand's width above the ground, and the air was unsettled all night, changing direction frequently and finding all my unprotected spots.

Take two.

I lowered the sides to the ground for night two and stuffed my open umbrella into the drafty end. There was only a lick of condensation right above my blow hole. How about rain? Yes, it rained. And sleeted. And hailed, for hours on end. Lightning and thunder too.

Second-night's impression: Not too bad. Because of the weather it was a whole lot like sleeping inside a snare drum during a parade, but the tarp held.

No wet, no splashing, plenty of room to move around. Lots of room to wave my arms and swear, to curse various things, and wonder if I'd ever make it home again. But camped back in the forest as I was, away from the open beach, there was no wind, only a steady gentle draft that kept condensation at bay.

Teeth and claws.

Critters? Everything with wings and blood lust was already dead for the season, so mosquito netting was irrelevant.

I had a bigger worry though -- what if one of the larger, more clever locals felt like having a midnight snack, felt like moseying on over to eat my face, for example?

My first two backpacking nights in 1980 had been inside a plastic tube tent where I kept panicking all night, dreaming I'd wake to find my scalp full of teeth and my face full of claws, hearing a distressing munching sound. Ray Jardine insisted that was safe to sleep wide open. So, I figured, it must be, and went for it.

But I had an idea. As a test I tried leaving three peanuts on the ground near my head before saying my prayers.

The next morning in their place was half a cheese doodle with tooth marks on it. Hmmm.

Second night: I left a couple of raisins and a pretzel. Got back half a stick of chewing gum and six sesame seeds.

So, OK.

Then, third night, I laid out a broken wristwatch and a $10 bill. On the final morning I got the watch back, in perfect working order, 43 cents in change and a receipt from Mikey's Fixit Shop saying that it was a pleasure doing business with me, signed with a minuscule paw print.

Hey. I'm cool. You?

So, no complaints on this score, either. All mellow.

Now let's review. The plastic tarp was heavier and noisier than a silnylon one would have been, but much lighter than a tent, and is an easy way to try this way of camping. Hey, anything is noisy in hail. Besides, I could see the stars through my roof, and make a decision about the new day as morning approached without having to leave my nest.

Pitched low, the tarp was a awkward to enter and leave from the narrow end, but cleaning the floor was easy -- just sweep things off the ground sheet. I stowed my footwear inside without making a mess, because my shoes were out on the ground, but still protected from rain.

Ventilation? Great. I guessed that this setup would be much more comfortable in warm weather though. But in warm weather there would be bugs, so I couldn't complain.

Easy to set up and easy to repack. Cheap. Lo-tech. I was sold on the experiment. Pretty soon I ordered a bunch of fabric and designed a smaller, lighter and much more expensive tarp that ultimately worked out pretty well.

So this trip was fun for me, but I'm kinda weird anyway, so use your own judgment. Mikey was sure nice, though. Gotta say that. I'd like to meet him some day.

The Ray-Way Tarp Book Essential, by Ray Jardine

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Not Sleeping In The Air, 4

Morning. Warm. Calm. Bright

This was way back in June already. I haven't done much at all this year, but it was fun, if not the sleeping on the ground part. I missed my hammock.

Castle Peak up north. A bit colder.

But it was dandy getting up to sunshine. The first day had been dense with fog. The second, still gray. And there was snow all over. Didn't like that much, not at the end of June.

I don't know if these were cut before or after the eruption.

There are lots of stumps in some areas, lots of dead standing trees in others, and downed trees everywhere. Most are getting soft and crumbly 30 years after the eruption.

Divide between two canyons. More photos below.

So there I was, having wanted to descend west into Castle Lake but meeting deep snow, turning back and then wondering. Might as well trudge up the side of the mountain to where the shoulder meets the cinder cone.

Same area later, looking a little cheerier.

I'll probably never get back here, so this was a good time to go see it. I headed for the divide between two canyons.

Heading off, still early, to visit the mountain.

From below it looked easy. A short stroll up a shallow slope. Go there, touch the side of the mountain, and turn left, and hit the trail out. Right?

Melted-out elk tracks.

Maybe not. The 20 to 30 minute hop up the mountain took well over an hour. Surprise! It's hard walking uphill. Steeper than it looks. Lumpier. Unreasonable even.

Cheery little blossom people hiding out.

Snow here. Snow there. Small ravines. Logs. Elk poo. And always uphill, with no break, in the soft, sandy soil.

High up the divide, looking into the south-side chasm.

Eventually I got to within a couple hundred meters of the actual mountain, and then...and then all my short hairs began standing up, getting ready to run for their lives. Things got scary.

Same place, showing both slopes.

Because, right up near the top, where it looks really interesting, it is. Too interesting. Interesting on the right, and interesting on the left, in a dropoff, sudden death sort of way. Left, to the north, it would be a nasty tumble into the ravine, but right, to the south, it would be a sliding tumble followed by a screaming drop followed by more screaming and falling, followed by an unfortunately and all too sudden stop on the rocks far below. Maybe 500 feet (150 m). Not fun. Not at all.

Panorama from the divide's high point, looking west.

Sure, it's all soft and pliable, and you could (maybe) continue up a goodly distance. But maybe not. The land on this mountain has a way of deciding on its own to relocate, for no particular reason. So I stopped short. And turned around, and played with the camera, getting a pretty decent panorama that unfortunately makes it all look flat. But there were some odd clouds there too.

Clouds with tails hanging down. Hard to photograph but maybe you can get a sense of them.

Clouds with hanging tails.

And then, looking north, there is the immense Rainier peeking over the ridge, offhandedly, slightly amuse, watching the way it does.

Looking north toward Mt Rainier.

Hike out here, at this season, and though there is snow everywhere, there is no flowing water until late in the day.

Alder blossoms, I think.

The native plants know how to get down to what they need, but for us up on the surface it's surprisingly dry. Water gurgles all night in little streams and then by morning it's all gone away again. Still, it's nice to see fresh young greens here and there.


And another thing. Even though there wasn't much water available most of the day, the soil was decently moist. This makes a huge difference.

Castle Creek, Studebaker Creek flats.

The reason is that there is no soil in the normal sense. It's all sand and dust and assorted knobby stones. Later in the year parts of the landscape almost explode when gravity overcomes friction. I've seen enough of it to be wary, which is why I didn't get as high up the mountain as I wanted. Too unpredictable.

South-side "trail" above Castle Creek.

There is a broad, flat valley between the drainages of Studebaker Creek and Castle Creek. There is what looks like a trail going up the southern side, but it's an illusion. Even ten years ago the trails here were good, but now they have either been washed away or have withered into faint traces. Which is a bunch of fun when you are halfway up a slope and there is no footing, only a steep drop into a world of pain.

Closeup. The "trail" is only hypothetical.

But, having experienced this place for over 15 years, I've figured out when not to hike, where not to, and how to bypass most of the rest.

Heading north. More clouds with tails.

Back farther north things level out somewhat. There is a nice but short stretch of rolling hills at the northwest shoulder of the mountain before the trail declines back to the confused mess of the sandy pumice plain under the mountain's mouth.

A few lingering flattened trees.

There are long-dead trees here, showing without a doubt which way the wind blew that day 30 years ago.

Across the pumice plain NE to Spirit Lake.

And then there is the long vista over the flats to Spirit Lake.

The trail that goes there.

This always looks nice, but the reality of covering the distance is other than a stroll. The whole landscape is a series of ravines and gullies that are in the process of growing up to be canyons and death traps.

Trail detail.

But hey. If you grew up in open country you kind of feel at home.

A bit of green in the barren sand.

Everything here is loose, and on a windy day, which can be a hugely windy day, it's all dust, all the time.

Pattern in a boulder's side along the way.

And then, every so often, you see a bit of green, or a field of flowers at the right time of year, or you're crossing a seep and see frogs. Or the ravens are out, doing barrel rolls and croaking. It's a place.

Along the trail, looking toward the waterfalls...

There used to be a trail on the pumice plain, and cairns, and somehow some of that remains but mostly you have to go over it a few times and learn which major landmarks to aim for and forget about trails and markers. Because mostly there aren't any. Anymore.

...which are pretty gnarly. This is hundreds of vertical feet.

But in a way the area right below the drooling mouth of the mountain gets more interesting. Places where a stream crossing used to be a matter of a couple steps down, a couple of steps across, and a couple of steps up are now more like short courses in mountain climbing. Sometimes there is an easy way down into a stream's course, but then you can't find a way out the other side.

Much later, higher up, evening, looking south.

Partly it's the depth, partly the sand, but you just keep going. At least, as on trips like this, there is the higher country on the way out, where a person can gain a bit of altitude again, turn, and have a good look at it all.

A peek into the pit.

I've got a few views here of parts of the mountain that are normally not too visible.

Panoramic, only partly worked out. (enlarge)

That's the good news. The bad news is that I've never before tried panoramas using a long focal length. These two photos didn't turn out quite right, but since they let a person get right up into the crater, I decided to include them.

Panoramic, only partly worked out. (enlarge)

If you look closely you can see some huge crevasses in the crater. On the last panorama I also notice two bright specks toward the lower left, visible on maximum enlargement. They look like geophysical stations. You see these here and there. Self-contained, solar powered, bristling with wires and antennas. And now I think I've seen two in the crater itself.

The final morning, on the way out.

And then the last night, camped, let us say, less than legally, I spent a quiet night, though damp, with the earth's exhalations that seem to come forth only at night.

Downstream watercourses in morning light.

But the final morning was fine. A bit of early fog blew through far below, ruffling the landscape, and the sun was fresh but not too bright, and no one was on the trails yet.

Loowit Creek well downstream from the crater.

So the result is that you get more views into the watercourses flowing out from the mountain, places which look fine and smooth from a distance, so fine and smooth and clean that you ache to go there, but which are, if they get you to come in, to fall for the trap, the worst hell holes imaginable, with vertical sides, landslides, clouds of dust, and ground so uneven and choked with stones that walking is nearly impossible. And I always want to go back.

The mountain from the air, as seen at Garrett Murray's Maniacal Rage.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wheedle Music

Dear Tifany:

I hope this helps clear things up. I mean now that I got acquitted and all. The judge was really a pretty nice guy and all, but he scared me. I got scared a lot while all this was going on. You get scared in court. I never been to court before. It aint like the TV shows. I didn't know. I guess you know that, since you was there too some a the time.

I really miss you. I hope we can talk sometime. After a while. I won't come around no more, for a while, I guess. I better not. I mean just so you know. Sure, there's that restraining order you got and all, I know that, I aint that dumb no matter what people say, and I respect you. You need your space. You always did, but I still want to come by some time. After this all settles down, maybe, and you take down the electrical fence.

I guess I'm lucky I know Chris. He's a pretty good lawyer for around here. I guess it pays to keep your high school friends after high school and all, and he aint chargin much. I'm gonna fix his car and do some carpentry and stuff, and we'll see. Which is pretty good for a verdict of Not Guilty Of Burglary, which I truly believe, I know you think otherwise.

I just got excited is all, comin back from my trip. I wish you'd a been there like the old days but I guess that it may be some things don't always work out the way you want. Even without the police keeping a eye on me so I stay away from your place I spose you wouldn't go backpacking with a guy who got drunk and wrecked his car so much but you know all about that I guess.

Without the car and all it makes it hard to go out backpacking, which is funny when you think of it, havin to walk to the trail, and then go backpacking, and then when that's over, you have to walk back to town from the trail and all, but I wanted to surprise you, because that's how I found the mink, walking home. He was kind of flat from the log truck and all but in real good shape overall, with some shampoo and a little water and some care is all it needed, it would of made a nice fur for you, though I thought it was a marten I guess I was wrong there, huh?

I know how you like your furs.

So sure I knew we wernt together anymore but I got excited, I forgot, and the papers your lawyer filed and all that stuff, I forgot that too, I was just excited, I didn't mean no harm when I come over to your place with the mink. Though I thought it was a marten, which would of been a real prize, as you know. I know you got one already, now you'd have another even if I did find it out on 101 in the rain, it was still lookin pretty good despite all that and just a couple of tread marks which you could a smoothed out pretty easy I think.

And there was this guy at your place. I just wanted to drop off the mink or marten and you know how to skin it and all, I know, and I thought you'd take it the right way and I would go back home and everything would be fine, but there was this strange guy at your place, see? I didn't break in or nothin I just asked if you was home and this guy gets all gnarly on me, he started it, asks me what the hell I'm doing there, and with a dead weasel besides.

Boy, what a dope, you can do better Tifany, I have to say, I know I aint the right one for you though, probly, but if you'd reconsider I think we could do better next time if we give it another try. That guy though, I don't know. Some thing wrong with him, for sure.

Gets all in my face right away. Weasel this, weasel that, I thought I had a high class marten and I wanted you to have it and he's in my face wavin his arms, and why are you carrying a weasel, dope? He says this. To me. And I'm just tryin to calm the waters and do you a favor, bring you a present and I guess I lost it about then, sure may be I was jealous, you know me, but I aint that bad. Not like him.

I just kinda tossed the mink. I didn't hit him, not with my fists, hardly, he coulda took it like a man anyway, you would think.

Guys like that, dumb as a block of wood but mean, they don't feel much of any thing, and I hope you have moved on since then, but as you know I am unaware of how you are living your life on account of this other court order and all, and to tell the truth I'm just glad I'm not in jail, and it wasn't no burglary I just got a little upset seeing that Derek guy there gettin all disrespectful so I tossed him the mink (which I thought was a marten, as noted) and meanwhile kind of hung on to the tail while doing that, and so it was the mink that hit him not me. Twice, if I counted right.

But I guess that's all over now. I just wanted you to know.

I really miss you and I will always love you, your the only one for me, Tifany and I hope some day, sooner rather than later we can get back together again even if you don't think so now.

I'll be down at the lunchette most every noon for the special and as soon as I get another car I'll be doing some more real backpacking again, may be some down by Oregon, and will quit drinking if at all possible and may go into taxidermy or something that pays good because I need to get things in my life worked out once and for all, as you are aware, but I'm working at it, so here's all my love though I know you don't want it too much, but at least all this weasel business is behind us now.

Love As Always, Jobie J.


Jury acquitts Hoquiam man.

Weasel Assault