Friday, March 30, 2012

Like Never Having To Hit The Wall

Slithery, snaky, extensible, and without any slime.

Extension Collar: A piece of fabric at the top of a pack that allows a person to over-stuff the pack beyond its normal capacity. It looks something like the neck on a turtle neck sweater. Without the turtle. Or the sweater.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An Interview With Jerome

Sometimes it's more complicated than that.

Our guest today has been dead for 5300 years, but this has only enhanced his fame, if not his fortune. Even in our modern era of credit default swaps, toxic assets, identity theft, and hedge funds, banks still, for some reason, are skittish about dealing with the deceased.

For his sake, we can only hope this will change soon. Maybe by next week.

So, on to our guest.

Q: Sir, you are known to the world as both Ötzi the Iceman and Frozen Fritz. What do you prefer to be called?

A: Well, when I alive, my mother call me lots of name. I say "Anything you want meine Mutter, but not so much late for the dinner, ja?" Then she hit me with the stick once. But I always like the Jerome. Call me Jerome.

Q: All right then, Jerome it is then. Jerome the Iceman.

A: No. Name is Jerome. Jerome, or I kill you with rock. No joke on the name.

Q: Well Jerome, sir, from recent genetic studies of your mummified corpse, it appears that you may have had brown eyes and abundant facial hair.

A: Ja. This is true. My people have the hair.

Q: Scientists have also determined that you had type O blood. Is this true as well?

A: I don't know. When they find me in ice I am dry already. From blood I don't know, but whenever I kill the deer I have the drink. Blood. Good. Keep the body young, nicht wahr?

Q: Tell you what. I'll try it next time I bring down a deer.

A: Ja. You do that. Is good for the hair. Keep it from fall out.

Q: So, apart from you being lactose intolerant and having parents from Sardinia, what was the best part of living along the neolithic Austrian/Italian border that wouldn't even exist for another 5000 years or so?

A: Well, I think I say my backpack. I make it from the skin and the stick. We have plenty sticks then but your scientist people get all excited pretty much on that one somehow. Scientist never see stick before, maybe.

Like, I quote to you: "The picture that emerges from my analysis of Ötzi's possessions is of a mature, highly skilled hunter. His kit provided, with minimal weight, all the necessary tools for hunting, butchering and bringing back meat, skins, antlers or horn on his lightweight pack frame."

Pretty good for a dead guy, no? Meine Mutter is all the time calling me Dummkopf. She might be proud of me now maybe, if not also dead.

Q: Well, you may not know this, but these days we have a trend called "Ultralight Backpacking", based on a lot of the principles found in your gear. Have you heard about it and if so, what do you think?

A: Ja. I have the light pack. Is good. I carry moss around and some few rocks. That is all I have to eat. Once I have the elk liver but I eat it right away, so there is not so much to carry. Know what I'm saying? No shopping. No money. Nobody has the car, not even used one. We eat dirt sometimes, from the hunger.

Q: Sounds like life was tough, but with your light gear you must have been able to travel long distances in comfort. How was it?

A: Always hungry, me. I steal some tubers and a piece dried rabbit. Then they come after. Long chase. Way long, up the mountains. All over me for piece of stupid meat. Shoot me full of arrows, they. Then I die and the ice get me. Not fun. You are idiot. Go away or I kill you. I am Jerome. You are fool. Go away fool. Leave me dead.


Scientific American: Iceman's Genome Furnishes Clues to His Ailments and Ancestry

The Humanities Program: Ötzi the Iceman

Friday, March 23, 2012

Accidental Species

I'm sorry sir, but your genome is not registered here.

Accidental Species: One outside its normal range, appearing in an area only rarely.

Accidental Species: A squid who wanders into a formal dinner party.

Accidental Species: Mice in your tent, who came in through the back door, which they gnawed into being.

More: Accidental introductions

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

All Your Climate Change Are Mine

Pretend it isn't on the roof.

You hear all those political chuffers who make a living farting into microphones. All screaming, all the time. Number one topic: Climate Change Hoax.

Fine by me. Believe that if you want. I'm an Alaskan, and it's on my doorstep.

Right now me and my buddies are shoveling all that no-climate-change into big piles. So far Anchorage has almost 11 feet of it this year (3.28 m).

Still snowing.

If climate is weather averaged over 30 years, then Alaska has a bunch more digging to come. Next year. And the year after that. So on.

More snow, better skiing, sure, but who cares about that?

The downside is backpacking. Way different backpacking. It will go back to a pure adventure sport. No more leisurely strolls on clean smooth trails. Now it's moving toward life and death.

While the Appalachian, Continental Divide, and Pacific Crest trails are powder-dry and all aflame in waves of heat this summer, Alaska will be just starting to melt.

Those warm winters and evaporating lakes down south are sending the goods north. Up here the sky freezes solid and shakes out in deep piles that sit there and dare you to take a chance.

And you can see the changes. If you look. And you don't have to look hard.

Old lazy Puff the cat is getting a new look. Shaggier. Rangier. Longer in the tooth. A little desperate. Deadly-like. Muscular.

Li'l Cheeper the parakeet practically goes nuts whenever I fry up a slab of meat. He's already bent some of the cage bars trying to get at it. You should see him take on a steak.

Something out there got the neighbor's horse. In daylight. Carried it right off one day last week. Saw tracks in the snow, strange ones. Something huge dragging it off through the trees.

Bears are sure to be ornerier too. Sleep six months then get up and find that breakfast is delayed until August? I'd be pissed. It's going to be rugged. I already got a steel tent on order. Gonna need it if I'm supposed to get any backpacking done.

I guess the good news is I'm changing with the rest of it. Feet are getting bigger. Lots bigger. I don't need snowshoes anymore, just my hind feet, all furry and splayed out. So I can still cover the ground, even carrying a pack.

And I kind of like going out with the cat. Sometimes I bring down the meat, sometimes he does. We get along OK. Better than ever, really.

This might be fun.

See? Alaska's largest city eyes snow record

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tentatively Speaking

Tent Pad: A place about the size of a tent where soil and gravel are built up inside cribbing of log or stone to improve drainage.

Tent Pad: At some camping sites, tenting is restricted to built up earthen 'pads' or wooden 'platforms' to ease impact on the area.

Tent Pad: Wooden platforms or packed earth in single, double, or group tent sizes that minimize damage to fragile alpine or wetlands areas, and reduce impact on heavily used, erosion-prone campsites.

Tent Pad: Designated flat, dry spots where tents may be pitched. Several of these may cluster around a central fire pit and a pit toilet.

Location, location, location. (And supper.)

The term: Tent Pad, or Tent Platform, or Tent Site.

The ultimate meaning: Basically a place to keep you safe from tentacles. Look out for the tentacles.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Zip Is Not Just For Pants

For best results, keep both ends anchored.

Zipline: A rigging system with a taut, stationary wire rope highline strung between two tall supports. Used for moving loads over rivers, ravines, and the like on a movable pulley. Also used with hanging cars to move people, or for recreation.



Bolivian coca farmers fly across 650ft high valleys on zip lines. But you could have guessed this would happen.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Guns And Bearses

Leading an extraordinary life.

Barton C. Hubris seems ordinary.

So ordinary that you could walk right past him on any street anywhere and never notice him. He's that kind of ordinary.

Yet, Barton C. Hubris is not ordinary. He pokes bears for a living.

It started back home in Bupkis, Idaho, around his fourteenth birthday. His present that year, from his proud parents, was his first pencil, and he had no idea what to do with it.

But being a naturally clever boy, Barton quickly realized the pencil had a point on one end, so he tried it on the cat.

The results could have scarred a lesser boy for life, but not Barton. He was a Hubris after all. And had plenty of time in the hospital to recover.

Now 44, Barton Hubris calls himself the world's first and one and only Poky Man, and he's still using a pencil.

Technically, he's a statistical wildlife biologist. Even has a Ph.D. in counting critters. But after all that education, Dr. Barton Hubris still felt he had no mission in life. Until one fateful day.

He was doing some August backpacking in the Grunge Range, northeast of Seattle along the Canada border, and, out of habit as much as anything, was taking notes. Without warning he was attacked by a grizzly. Nobody had even seen a grizzly in these parts for decades, and suddenly a huge and angry one was all up in his face.

Although carrying a sidearm, a habit he'd picked up while living in a frat house, Dr. Hubris had no time to even reach for it. His only weapon, if you can call it that, was his pencil. He poked.

It worked.

The bear turned. And ran away, wheezing and whimpering.

Hubris was stunned, by the effectiveness of his pencil, and the bear breath. Mostly the breath. But he was alive.

Later, after sifting through forgotten research papers in obscure libraries, he found hints. Hints that bears are severely allergic to pencil lead. Even more so than bullet lead. In fact, grizzlies can eat bullets like popcorn, and munch the people who shoot them for dessert.

But wave a pencil around and ninety-nine times out of a hundred even the biggest and ugliest bear will just turn tail and scram.

Dr. Hubris and colleagues have analyzed 269 incidents of close-quarter bear-human conflict between 1883 and 2009. The findings are sobering. "Once a bear charges, the odds of a successful outcome is seven times less likely, regardless of whether or not you have a firearm," he said. "But if you have a pencil, and know how to use it, you're almost perfectly safe."

Dr. Hubris has plenty of field work to back him up.

Armed with a pencil and a few cans of sardines as bait, Dr. Hubris has so far personally prodded, poked, or wiggled his trusty 2B at well over two dozen charging bears, though he's found that an HB works just as well, and doesn't wear down so fast. Plus, once the bears run away you can eat the sardines yourself.

But, he added, "bears are not at all the same. Avoid them if possible. And sometimes the best defense is running away. But if you can't, if you are cornered, if there's nowhere to go, don't hesitate to whip out your note pad and start with the pencil. And if that doesn't scare off the bear, aim for the nose."

Good advice.

But don't try this on the cat.

More: Guns are not fail-safe protection against bears.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Definitions: Abney Level

A Little Abney, on the level. Srsly.

(1) The abney level or clinometer, invented in the 19th century, is named after Captain William Abney of the School of Engineering in Chatham, England.

It is a hand-held instrument used by trail builders for measuring the angle of inclination of trails.

It consists of a telescope, an adjustable tubular spirit level, and a vertical scale readable in degrees.

The Winnipeg Free Press of Saturday, July 27, 1946 reported that Frank Jaeger of 352 Montrose Avenue, East Kildonan, received instruction from Lieutenant G. Duncan, a cadet instructor, in the operation of an abney level to measure the height of trees.

In case you wanted to know.

(2) The angle sextant.

When the angle of the dangle is expectant in the sextant and the light of the moon is about to make you swoon, then grab yer Abney Level and take off like a devil, my good man, faster than a snail, and try avoiding hail.


(3) The Abner Level is an instrument similar to but cruder than the abney level.

The Abner Level is of course named after Al Capp's famous comic strip character Li'l Abner, who was known for both his naivete and virtue, i.e., uncomplicated operation and reliability, which is how the Abner Level is known.

It is sometimes even referred to as the "Honest Abner".

Much larger than the pocketable abney level, the Abner Level was nevertheless designed to be dead simple, so much so that any idiot at all could operate one.

It consists of a life-size model of Li'l Abner carved of rot-resistant wood, and is used to measure trail slope, the depth of holes and other obstructions, and as a measure of length, being exactly six feet (1.83 m) long from the soles of its boots to the top of its painted-on hair.

Its front-to-back thickness is precisely one "foo" (0.30 m), which makes it useful as a measure of both trail depth and wetness factors.

When the Abner Level is lying horizontally, then 0.12 abners or less of standing water is considered "wettish" to "mucky", 0.25 abners indicates an inconvenience, 0.50 abners defines "very messy" conditions, and 0.75 or more abners is rated as "glopulous" or even downright dangerous, depending on whether there is current and what could be living in the stuff.