Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Talk To The Hand

Technical, shmecknical.

So I had this idea. Hey.

Everybody these days has some kind of pocket phone. Smart phones. Smartphones. Carry them everywhere. So, jeez, I think, what about backpackers?

You go just about anywhere on the web and you see still photos, you see video clips, you read about apps. People use phones for GPS maps, snapping photos, recording how they cook supper, besides calling home every now and then. Or calling for help sometimes.

They even write blog posts and upload them, like wherever they have enough juice left and can get a signal.

And then there's Siri. You've heard about Siri.

Sure, there will be other services like this all too soon, but it got me thinking. Siri isn't just a Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface. Not anymore. And not just a way to kill time when you're lonely and want to hear your phone talk.

Siri is more like a way of approaching reality.

So then, see, I figure, the next step is some kind of smartphone app that will let you talk to animals.

This could be really handy for hikers and backpackers. Way beyond the usual map, altimeter, and weather forecasting apps. Way beyond Siri even. Finding the next trail junction is great, but how many backpackers need only that?

So I got a copy of "How To Write an iPhone App in 14 Days", registered as a developer, learned Objective C, and got busy. Surprisingly, it all seemed pretty easy, though I went way over the two week limit.

So then, what about testing it? Well, what's the smartest animal on the planet?

Not my hamster. He's fun but, honestly, he'll never invent cold fusion.

Instead I headed to the University of Marine Science and Technical Wizardry, which (lucky for me), is practically right around the corner.

They have dolphins.

I went to see them, and took along some fish just in case.

And guess what? My app worked. I pre-recorded some basic phrases, and when I played them for the dolphins, the dolphins squeaked back into the phone.

So far so good. I was on a roll.

Then the phone told me what they said.

This was a real eye opener. Here I had spent a bunch of time, learned to program, bought a phone and all ($399.99 for a two-year plan), and these dolphins were laughing at me.

What they said was "You know how to whistle, don't you, clown? You just put your lips together and blow."

Technology meant nothing to them. Nothing. And they are probably the most advanced species on the planet without opposable thumbs.


I guess some things you have to do the old-fashioned way, so now I sit in my back yard and listen to the birds. Sometimes I tweet the wrong thing and they fly over and crap on me, but sometimes I get it right too.

And I'm on much better terms now with Ed, my hamster. He's teaching me snuffle-talk. No batteries needed.

And the cost? Just peanuts.


Device May Let Humans Communicate With Dolphins

Contacting An Animal From A Distance

Opossum Massage. Wrong!

Opossum Massage. Right! (video)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Adams East

Disappearing quietly.

Trail to the edge. (pano → click to embiggen)

Getting up early to reach the edge of Hellroaring Valley, I enjoyed calm, cool air and warm sun. No day hikers were around. I could hop off the edge, drop a couple of feet, and head down slope.

Top of Hellroaring Valley from near the edge. (pano → click to embiggen)

The book "Trekking Washington" was my guide. It said though this part of the route was on Yakima land, there were no permits needed. Just to be safe I wanted to get over the edge and vanish before anyone was around. Ten minutes into Hellroaring Valley I would be invisible and, if not, then uncatchable. As well as being out of earshot.

Hellroaring Valley from atop south wall. (pano → click to embiggen)

The slope is mostly dirt, but you can call it scree if you want. You descend rapidly, and can soon vanish into scattered trees. After that you need to figure out where you are and where you need to go.

Too far right, down valley, and you come to a cliff. Too far left, and you are too high and are on bare rock and I don't know whatall.

Somewhere in the middle you pass among groves of trees, skirt shrubs, and work down in just the right way, and then, at the bottom, there's a drop. Unless you go a little more left, and slither down a seasonal channel.

Hellroaring Valley from the north, inside. (pano → click to embiggen)

This is fun. The route across the valley floor (there is NO trail here) skirts the edge of heavy rubble on the upslope side and willows on the downslope side.

I say rubble because it is. Boulders. Sharp basaltic boulders. Even so, there are many berry vines and dropoffs where hidden creeks cross the route. The going is slow unless you want to snap off a leg. Which you can do, but if you are there alone that will be the end of your story.

Waterfalls feeding Hellroaring Creek.

There is a nice spot on the north side of the valley where I've stopped twice for breakfast. But nice is relative. Nice for me is flat enough to sit down under a tree just barely large enough to provide shade. Nice because no one else can possibly be there. Ever. And because it is morning and clear, and it is good to eat.

Southeast, Hellroaring Valley, halfway up. (pano → click to embiggen)

And then you try to get out.

This is harder.

The north wall of the valley is mixed. Dead, scratchy brush down low. Hard dirt and some grass higher up. Steep. A few shallow ravines. Boggy ground guarded by impenetrable willow thickets. I've had to crawl. And it's really hard to tell where you are or where you need to go, because you're inside it, and can't see up. Things get steeper toward the top - more bare ground, more real trees.

Finally, a peek at the beast.

You are now atop the Ridge of Wonders. So called. East is Little Mt Adams. It is windy. There is still a longer than reasonable trudge up, toward the mountain, toward the edge. The wind increases. You come to the edge and wonder. You wonder if this is the day you are going to die. You wonder because. There is no way down. Except. Straight down.

Then you understand. Why. It is called the Ridge of Wonders.

Little Mt Adams as seen from the Ridge of Wonders.

You could call it talus but it that is not what you see. What you see is boulders. Rough tetrahedrons, all sharp. A near-vertical boulder field. They range in size from cantaloupe to beach ball. They are loose. They are waiting to bite you and knock you down and then kill you. But this is where you want to be.

Big Muddy Valley. (pano → click to embiggen)

If you go slowly you may live. You hope to because there is so much more to see. You descend, one step. And then another. It takes at least a half hour to descend. The vertical distance is 200 meters, or more. Possibly 300 meters. It doesn't matter.

What matters is getting to the bottom before you die. Given enough luck, and willing yourself not to make a singe misstep, you do that, and it is glorious. You are now fully in the embrace of the mountain. You see its secrets. You cannot go back. There is water.

The east face of Adams over Big Muddy Valley.

The first stream is clear, smooth, and barely deep enough to scoop from. It has no name. Across the valley is Big Muddy. You can hear it. You know its name. You know it is there.

It knows you are here. It owns this valley. If you come too near it will kill you. It will kill you dead if it can, and it can. It is brown. It is brown the way no water can be brown but it is. It foams. Standing near it but not too near it you realize that you cannot go on.

Looking cross-valley toward the glacier waiting for you.

You realize that you cannot go on because standing there, on the edge of Big Muddy, but not too near, you hear it grinding. It could be grinding its teeth but it has none, so while it dreams of teeth, and of grinding you with them, it rolls together boulders and cracks them in its cheeks. Thunk. Crack. Chunk. You cannot go on or it will break you.

And while you cannot go on, you cannot go back. This is also fun. This is desperate living.

Brush guarding the danger edge of Ridge of Wonders. (pano → click to embiggen)

So you go up, skirting Big Muddy Creek. Looking for a way across. Because. Because if you go high enough, surely. Surely there will be a spot to cross. But there is not. Big Muddy Creek is smarter than you, and millions of times stronger, and older than your species.

So you go up, continuing to skirt Big Muddy Creek, and the first year, you find a boulder. It is split, and Big Muddy Creek, all of it, roars through the split. If you are careful. And lucky. And careful. You can drop to all fours, and reach your front legs across and shift your weight, and push off, and bring your hind legs across. If you are careful. And lucky. And do it just right. Then you will cross and not die.

The place where secret glaciers nest. (pano → click to embiggen)

And the second year that boulder is no longer there. Such a big thing. Now so absent.

The creek has killed it and eaten it and from it has made mud.

So you go higher, continuing to skirt Big Muddy Creek. Until. You come to the glacier. And still there is too much water. Clear, but cold with the cold of freezing cold, and too deep. And too fast.

It too will kill you. It will grab you and pull you in and freeze you hard and snap you into splinters and that will be the end of your story forever.

So you go up onto the glacier. And walk over its top, over the ice tunnels roaring with freezing death water, and that is how you get across Big Muddy Creek the second time.

You are lucky, and alive. It feels good to be alive, and to be lucky, and to be caught with no way out but to go on. But most of all, to be alive.

Ridge of Wonders from Battlement Ridge. (pano → click to embiggen)

Given that, you go on. Time to climb out of the valley, which is easy, but hard. Finding the far side of the glacier, which is exceedingly small, for a glacier, it is safe but awkward to gain altitude trudging along its northern edge, where ice meets its moraine. Now, in these late times, the moraine is much higher than its glacier, and all dust. That is the way out.

Big Muddy Valley from Battlement Ridge, evening. (pano → click to embiggen)

And that is about it for today. Battlement Ridge has trees for hammocking, and a few flats good enough for a tent or two. From there, from the top where you are safe, you can look back at the land you came through, and look north too, toward tomorrow's Rusk Creek and its valley.

And while there is no water on the ridge, it is not hard to carry up a night's supply, and it is not hard to have bathed before getting there, and it is good to be there and be alive, so you sleep.


Adams West

Adams South

Monday, May 21, 2012


Not as pleasant as beet soup.

(1) In ethology, "zugunruhe" is anxious behavior expressed by migratory animals (especially birds) that are prevented from migrating when they normally would. When these animals are enclosed they exhibit this behavior in seasons when they would normally migrate. It's that sudden desire that everybody gets from time to time — to be somewhere else.

Haven't gotten it yet? You will. If you're a bird, then somewhere else is another hemisphere. Maybe you're a wildebeest. Same story, but you don't have to flap anything or go so far, but you're itchy to move all the same.

If you're a human, and you have any sense at all, then somewhere else is on the trail. So go already. If you already are on the trail, then your urge resolves to seeing what's over that tantalizing horizon up ahead. (Don't worry about this, it's a totally healthy impulse and gives you a reason to get out of bag.)

(2) Cubicle fever. If you're unlucky enough to have a job, and they've put you in a carpeted box, and it's all frayed because you've been gnawing on it like crazy, out of terminal frustration...well, it's time for a change. If you don't have any vacation time left, and can't lie your way into an educational sabbatical, and are too poor to up and quit, then let your insanity blossom and shoot for a medical disability. Then go backpacking. With abandon. (You'll be welcome to hike with the rest of us.)

(3) Butt itch, either physical or spiritual. First try washing and applying soothing lotions, and then up your mileage until you reach the onset of permanent euphoria. But keep washing too, especially before you come over for a visit.

(4) SABR: Seasonal Affective Backpacking Rapture.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pocket Knife

Your pal in a pinch.

Pocket Knife: A knife with one or more folding blades, and small enough to carry in a pocket.

Pocket Knife: A tool that hikers can use to cut their way out of a giant's pocket, if a giant comes along and puts that hiker into its pocket, which is kind of rare. But you never know.

Pocket Knife: A kind of knife suited to whittling a new pocket if one of yours wears out while you are on the trail. These are also good for various general purpose things like cutting cord and putting points on marshmallow sticks, though for nose hairs you really need a good nose hair trimmer. (To avoid unfortunate accidents.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Man Encounters Cartoon

Fry me up a beeper, Fred.

Well, it was supposed to be just a stop on my trip, but it turned into a real adventure.

Now I'm being sued by Looney Tunes and I don't get it.

See, I'm a sport hunter. A real one. When I heard that Texas ruled Bigfoot was fair game for anyone with a gun, and no bag limit or possession limit or anything, hey, that was for me.

And I was already on vacation, so why not swing by there and give it a shot?

So I pull into this quiet, remote campground in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona, see, and I set up my tent and all, and it's all cool. No one else there, which is how I like it. Then, in the early evening just as the worst of the heat is draining away, things get weird.

First it's this "Beep-Beep" noise here and there.

Then I see this streak of dust going around and around in the sagebrush, zooming all over.


After a while it slows down, whatever it is, and there's this tall goofy cartoon bird standing there looking at me.

Then it goes "Beep-Beep" again and vanishes like it has a rocket up its butt. And there's that trail of dust. You know, like an airplane going across the sky - whatever you call those things. But this was dust. Down on the ground. Snaking all over hell and gone.

And then the next thing, the dog goes off. Growling and snarling and holy crap he's never done that before, and then I'm looking around and all of a sudden there's this other cartoon thing coming through the bushes on rocket powered roller skates or something. About seven feet tall. Just roars right by at around 800 miles an hour.

And then the bird comes back my way, doing that crazy "Beep-Beep" thing, and then right behind him is this goofy scary sort of a coyote thing but all cartoony if you know what I mean. And he's on these rocket-powered roller skates, and I see he's headed right for us.


So what could I do?

I had to do something so I pick up my skillet.

It was right there and all because I was just starting to make supper, so I pick up the skillet and take a swing at this giant cartoon coyote thing roaring right through my campsite and I nail him. Kill him dead.

But just to be sure I put a few rounds into his skull as well. Good thing I always carry a sidearm. It's the American Way, damn straight, and I needed it right then like nobody's business.

So that's when it all really breaks loose.

You wouldn't believe how fast I got swarmed by lawyers. It's like there was one behind every bush, and they all wanted a piece of my hide. I guess you can hunt Bigfoot in Texas but you can't kill a cartoon coyote in Arizona, not even in self defense.

I should have known when I laid eyes on him. There is only one Wile E. Coyote.

Or was.

I killed him. I'm not ashamed to say that. It was him or me.

My court date is next week. Looney Tunes is suing me for $178 million for assault, battery, contributory negligence, infliction of emotional distress, ultrahazardous activity, being a public nuisance, restraint of trade, and economic damages. Plus more, I'm sure.

And all I really wanted to do was plug me a Bigfoot in peace and go home again and hang the hide on the wall.


Texas Says It Is Legal To Kill Bigfoot: Go there.

Rabid mountain lion in attack mode no match for Chino Valley man and his frying pan: Go there.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hearts And Throbs

I have to sleep where?

Love Nest: A 2 person tent.

Love Nest: Two sleeping bags that can be zipped together. This creates a cozy arrangement for two who want to sleep together. It can also be used to help a hypothermic victim re-warm.

Love Nest: Two sleeping bags zipped together to make a cozy place for two, or used for re-warming hypothermia victims.

Love Nest: A cozy term referring to two sleeping bags with complementary zippers which allow mating. Like tandem bicycles, they take some getting used to, and should come with a warning tag that says "In case of disagreement, break zipper."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Trail Wussies Will Be Sorry

Strength training for strength.

"We've suspected this for years," says Dr. Kjell T. Tioga, strapping himself to a backpack the size of a Ford Taurus. "Suspected, but until now we had no proof. Now we do. And it's solid."

Staggering only slightly, Dr. Tioga then meanders around a circuitous route at his research lab's exercise center in northern California. He is demonstrating a technique that he assures will "Put the man back in manly and strengthen the back through backpacking."

Because, as Dr. Tioga and his associates say, the recent swing to lightweight and ultra-lightweight backpacking among enthusiasts may be damaging their health. Weight is actually good, and the more weight the better. It protects bones from developing real problems later in life.

"Osteoporosis actually seems to get its start by age 25 when bones start to lose tissue. So this study sends an important message to young men," Tioga says. "The more you move, the more bone you build. And carrying a heavy pack is essential to this process, and so, to health."

This of course contradicts the common sense notion that small light backpacks mean traveling in greater comfort and safety. As is well known by now, "common sense may be common but doesn't always make sense," adds Dr. Northon Face, another sports medicine researcher at the lab. "Evolution gave us muscles, and the bones to use them with. We have to do our part too."

Sports like basketball and volleyball have proven best at stressing and thereby strengthening bones, due to the jumping, the fast starts and the equally fast stops involved. Soccer and tennis are also good.

But there is a problem. "The problem with all these sports is that they don't get you anywhere. You're just bouncing up and down a court or on some damn field," says Dr. Gregoire Deuter, one of the highly respected female researchers at the lab. "Backpacking is special because, although you can't jump around while strapped onto the outside of a decent-sized pack, you do need lots of strength to keep from being crushed under it."

Previous studies suggested that load-bearing physical activity might shield men and women from bone loss, which occurs as part of the aging process. "But take me, for example," says Dr. Deuter. "Because of learning to backpack with correct equipment I can easily bench-press a horse. I make a lot of money at parties with suckers who bet I can't lift their cars. Sometimes I even toss cars on top of each other for fun. Shows them. And looking at me you'd never guess," she added, flexing her biceps and ripping her sleeves in the process. "Well, usually," she chuckles.

But is this for everyone? Isn't there a downside? Can't people get hurt by trying to carry too much weight? As the scientists form into a circle, begin growling, and then ripple massive muscles under their pelts, it appears that these are not valid scientific questions.

It's true, just read what the real Dr. Science says.

A short video showing proper technique.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Camera Traps

We catches the sneaky night creepers.

Wildlife biologists and other natural scientists are using state-of-the-art technology to resurvey well-known terrain - and are coming up with some startling finds.

No one would expect the lightly wooded farmlands of central Ohio to hold any surprises, but that's what new evidence shows. Using tiny cameras and other surveillance technology developed for the new family of bird-sized military drones, biologists may soon have to rewrite their textbooks.

These minuscule cameras, which can capture both video and still images, along with microphones barely larger than a grain of rice, can operate for weeks powered by equally tiny batteries while remaining affixed to trees, shrubs, fence posts, or even the fenders of rusting, abandoned 1947 Chevy pickup trucks.

And they produce results so amazing that scientists are still unsure exactly what they are seeing. "We've apparently found a new species of large, previously unknown mammal," said Dr. James Phelps, head of what he refers to as the "Mission Impossible" team.

"We now realize that we had no idea what was going on out here, even though this land has been settled and farmed intensively for close to 200 years. We all appear to have been clueless. Really clueless."

As proof of this, Dr. Phelps showed several recent images of what appear to be large spotted ungulates grazing the land at night, their sharp, curved horns clearly visible in the moonlight. True, many of the images are somewhat blurred or out of focus but the animals are obviously too large to have gone unnoticed for this long. Though somehow they did.

But not all the photos show such animals. Many images, captured unnervingly close to farm houses - and, chillingly, also close to suburban residences - picture much smaller, furry, long-legged, long-tailed creatures with sharp pointed teeth, which sit by night atop parked vehicles or even on doorsteps, yawning and from time to time emitting curious yowling or "meowing" calls, as Dr. Phelps describes them.

"We really have a lot more work to do," said Phelps. "No one was aware that such strange undiscovered animals were present in heavily inhabited areas, that they came so close to homes, or that they apparently have no fear of humans - we need to get to the bottom of this. Until then, we urge caution. Anyone hiking, or especially anyone camping overnight in the forest may be at great risk. We just don't know."

More: First wild images of rare mammals.