Sunday, November 25, 2018

More odd things I'm thankful for

Ok, I’ve got a few more kinda unlikely things that – after I thought about them a bit more – I’m pretty thankful for. 

Frank Church and the 1964 Wilderness Act
Frank Church was a US Senator from Idaho who served from 1957 to 1981 (he was elected when he was only 33; after serving in WWII he took advantage of the GI Bill to get a law degree from Stanford), and he was the Senate sponsor of the landmark bill that would ultimately preserve XXXXX acres of wild lands across the country.  According to Senator Church’s testimony:  “if it becomes law, this bill will have preserved for now and for generations unborn, areas of unspoiled wilderness…open to considerate use and enjoyment of all those who find in high and lonely places a refreshment of the spirit and life’s closest communion with God.”  Ironically, the wilderness area that would ultimately bear his name (the 2.3M acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness that encompasses the Salmon River area) would not get formally designated for 16 more years, but at least he was able to know about that before he got pancreatic cancer and died at only 59. 

Many of us have indeed have found considerable “refreshment of spirit” in America’s wilderness – the only such thing on the globe – and I am thankful that Frank Church was The Man on that. 

Martin Luther King, Harvey Milk, and Alice Paul
It’s no secret that these three Titans of Activism changed the world for minority activism.  I’ve fairly recently watched “Selma” (about King and the march to Selma), “Milk (Sean Penn’s portrayal of slain SF Mayor Harvey Milk, and “Iron Jawed Angels” (Hilary Swank portraying Alice Paul and her and her compatriots’ suffragette efforts in the early 1920’s) and have been stunned at the passion and fervor that these folks had to help provide a voice to their people.  It’s all the more amazing to know that only 50% of our fellow ‘Mericans voted in the recent midterms, yet the likes of King, Milk, Paul, Mandela, and many others literally were willing to die demanding equal representation.  As a privileged white male I have known nothing close to the discrimination that they were fighting for, but ultimately I feel – even as racial strife continues today – that I have benefitted from their sacrifices in terms of creating a more tolerant community (it may not seem like it at times, but seeing those movies is a reminder that we’ve come a long ways).  Thanks for making a better society for us all.

John Jacob Astor
Who?  It’s easy to say he’s the namesake of the famous Astoria hotel or the town on the Oregon coast, but recently I read the book “Astoria” and realized that John Jacob Astor was probably singlehandedly responsible for the development of the western US.  Pretty much as soon as Lewis and Clark returned from their trip Astor was setting up 2 major expeditions to establish a trading foothold on the West Coast (North American beaver furs for Asian spices, across the Pacific) before the Brits did (and it was close; there’s a reason they call it “British” Columbia).  He established one crew to sail down the length of South America, through the Drake Passage, and all the way back up to what is now Oregon, and also sent a Lewis and Clark-style overland expedition.  Both were sort of successful; they made it, but not without losing a lot of men in harrowing circumstances (the sea-expedition had a tyrannical captain who didn’t care much about scurvy and forced several of his crewman to row to their death in the Columbia Bar, and the overland trip dallied too long in Montana and hit southern Idaho in early December….).  

Though Astor’s ambitions were more mercenary than Lewis and Clark’s “voyage of discovery” I’m thankful that Astor had the ambition that in turn lit up the ambition of the rest of the country to originally colonize the West.  

Oregon Trail Immigrants
Brother Paul turned us onto yet another great book called “The Oregon Trail” (by Rinker Buck) that’s a fun story of a modern-day Eastern city guy who decides that he’s going to buy a covered wagon and three mules for he and his brother to drive from Independence, MO to Oregon, in turn bouncing along 160 year old wagon ruts and clip-clopping down I-80.  Once again I was blown away by the tales of hardship that those 1848-ish immigrants faced; if it wasn’t the weather or the increasingly-hostile natives it was having a kid get run over by a wagon or be feeling fine in the morning and be dead of cholera by evening.  Another example of incredible – and in many cases misguided – fortitude that resulted in the development of the West that we now comfortably live, work, travel, and gaily recreate in.   I’m thankful that they were willing to give that shit a go.

Interstate highway system
As I sit here in Ketchum, ID writing this 300 miles from home in Salt Lake where I came from for a 3.5 day visit, it is hard to imagine trying to make that happen on secondary roads.   Like zillions of Americans, we traveled mostly on a freeway, and though we take that for granted, it doesn’t take too much travel outside the US of A to know that our interstate freeway system is pretty incredible. 

An interstate freeway system was really the brainchild of President Eisenhower, who participated in the first Transcontinental Motor Convoy done by the US Army in 1919.  It took 2 months to get from the White House to San Francisco, and it became a bit of an obsession for him for both commerce and  -post WWII and in the early days of the Cold War – as an integral part of the defense program; it simply wouldn’t do to have an invasion (if the enemies made it across the oceans!) and not be able to get the army there in weeks (and it was a lot easier to justify taking some of the $25 billion needed from the dept of defense.  The funds were authorized in 1956, and in 10 years they built 41,000 miles of freeways, that today enable us to eat fruits and veggies out of season (the average meal travels 1500 miles to your plate), gallivant a long ways for our recreation, drive far for our jobs, and indeed easily connect with far-flung family and friends for Thanksgiving. 

Once again I got carried away, but I got a few more, so maybe – even though it’ll be well-past Thanksgiving, but I guess one can be thankful at other times than Thanksgiving? – I’ll do one more……

Friday, November 23, 2018

What I'm thankful for - part I

An eon or three ago Brother Paul and I spent Thanksgiving not eating turkey, but actually in Turkey (where they don’t have turkeys; at least, I don’t think so…).  At the time we were traveling with a couple of Norwegian women, and to celebrate we took them out to dinner and told them about our holiday:  the pilgrims, the harvest, blah blah.  To which they understandably asked:  “But the harvest typically ends well before your holiday, right?”   Well, yes, but….maybe pumpkins and decorative gourds still hang on, cranberries can be refrigerated, and stuffing seems to have an eternal life that’s akin to fruitcake.  We did tell our Norwegian friends about the importance of being together with family, and told them that we were going to try to call our parents the next morning; we knew that our folks would be at to our cousins’ house for dinner. 

We woke early and went to the post office and the call took longer to go through than we anticipated, and finally the worker there handed us the phone and we heard an English voice.  “Hello?  This is the US operator. I’m sorry, but the party you called rejected your call!”  Huh?  Rejected our call?!?!  WTF??!?   Apparently (we found out later) our parents had just left the party and my cousin got a bit flustered and told the operator that they weren’t there, and hung up.  And that was that.  We shuffled back to our hostel where the ladies were having breakfast and of course they asked if we’d had a nice time chatting with our parents, and we had to tell them that our extended family had rejected our call.  Somewhere in Norway are a coupla women who don’t think too much of American holidays.

However, I love Thanksgiving.  Since it’s 4 days it’s that much better than the 3-day Labor Day (which is….what?  Celebrating “labor?”) and Memorial Day, which – no offense to vets – seems to be sorta superfluous since there’s also Veterans Day.  If the 4th of July could be instead be “The first long weekend in July” that would make it better so it could never fall on a Wednesday, and while Christmas is nice and all the commercial frenzy surrounding it is a bit long and tiresome.  But Thanksgiving is long enough and really just focuses around socializing and indeed acts as a good reminder to give thanks for…whatever.  Which is almost always the Big Three:  Friends, Family, and Health.  And Ash and I are very fortunate in that we have a plethora of all.

But I also started thinking about the many other things that we all kind of have taken for granted that are pretty deserving of thankfulness.  Here’s a quick list of some random thoughts I had (scary!), in no particular order:

Trails:  Folks of our ilk spend a lot of time tromping around trails in the mountains, and most of those trails are OLD.  It’s my understanding that a huge chunk of the trails in our wilderness areas and national forest were created by young men working for the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program created during the FDR administration to employ people displaced by the Great Depression.  It paid $30/month and the workers had to send $25 of that back to their families.  Over 9 years it employed 3M people, and given the couple of memorable days I’ve had trail building, it was very much hard labor, and in those days was done in remote places with limited facilities. Thanks to the CCC for a gazillion miles of great trails!

National Parks  - “America’s Greatest Idea”  - Abraham Lincoln actually got the idea going with a thing called “The Yosemite Grant” that-  for the first time – set aside land for preservation and public use, and in 1872 Yellowstone was created, and with John Muir’s pressure Yosemite came next in 1890.  Today the national parks are somewhat notorious for overcrowding and I’ve often said that they are good sacrificial lambs that attract the hordes that otherwise would be spread across other beautiful areas, but the truth is that places like Yosemite, Crater Lake, Mount Rainier, Zion, Canyonlands, Arches, etc are not only some of the most insanely beautiful places on the planet, a  coupla miles from any trailhead usually offers up some of the nation’s best adventuring ever.  Thanks to the country for making national parks and monuments!

The GI Bill – huh?  Really?  The GI bill was another FDR deal that provided immediate rewards for all WW II veterans.  According to Wikipedia, it “included dedicated payments of tuition and living expenses to attend high school, college, or vocational schools, low cost mortgages, and one year of unemployment compensation.”  All tax free, of course, and it continued through the Korean and Vietnam wars.  My dad took full advantage of this, getting a free MBA at Harvard that put him in a good position to have a fine career afterwards, and because so many of my peers’ grandfathers who served were probably able to take advantage of this and success tends to beget success, it may have played a significant advantage for many of us.

Unfortunately, however, this was basically a program for white males; while formally it was not limited to whites, the way the system was executed into the Jim Crow era blacks basically did not get this huge societal leg up, and unfortunately solidified the racial wealth disparity that continues to this day. 

The United States’ distant “island” status – Brother Paul gave Ashley and me a book called “Prisoners of Geography:  Ten Maps That Changed the World” and the ridiculously smart author makes a strong argument that the US’s global domination is fundamentally based on the fact that we are protected by most of our previous and potential enemies by the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.  Germany was easily able to overrun France and England because they were right next door, but the Russians were able to overcome the Germans because the Baltic Plain that the German army had to cross was so long that the Russians had time to prepare for them and the German army was pretty worked by the time it actually made it to Russia.  But Russia itself has lots of borders with potential enemies and seems to always feel compelled to fight for them and gets itself spread thin across its vast distance, and its lack of a warm water port (Crimea) is a huge liability that it felt compelled to overcome. 

Likewise, Japan’s “relationship” with China and both of their “relationships” to both Koreas were intensified mostly due to the big cultural differences and the close proximity of them all.  But the US is so far from those formerly-bellicose nations that it could engage as it wanted, and while WWII and the Korean/Vietnam wars were bad for the US military they weren’t on our soil, so there weren’t civilian casualties and extensive bombing/devastation of US infrastructure the way most of EU and big chunks of Asia were.  Post-war those areas had to rebuild their country before they could rebuild their military, while the US just had to rebuild its military to…ahem…”make America great again.”  And the Middle East has been the battleground over the last few decades, again because of such radically different (and deeply-held) cultures with big discrepancies in resources that are virtually right next to each other. 

So while true patriots think that it’s simply been our country’s manifest destiny to be the most powerful country in the world, it may just be because we happen to be a long wet ways from history’s problem areas.  And I’m thankful for that. 

I’ve got a few more, but this is getting long enough for now….

Friday, November 16, 2018

More Grand Canyoneering

(greg pic)

Following last spring's successful Grand Canyon canyoneering soiree' our small posse decided to give the Big Ditch another go with a different loop, and one that stayed on one side of the river so we didn't have to bring pack rafts/gear this time.  Even though Utah has an incredible amount of great canyons that we essentially drove past to get to great canyons, the Grand Canyon offers a unique ability to be completely untethered from a car and civilization, and particularly given that we decided to go at the time of the election (we mailed in our ballots) a break from the frenzy was definitely anticipated.  So off we went.

In addition to my canyon-groveling cohorts Mike and Greg this time we had the pleasure of adding Kiwi Andy to our cadre.  Andy and I had done a lot of my initial canyon adventures back in the day before he left to go home, and a coupla years ago when I was visiting him we got a good introduction to New Zealand "canyoning" (which is always wet; the canyons are perpetually in the process of being formed) and he had never seen the Grand Canyon, much less probed its bowels, so he was keen for a good adventure.

From SLC the Grand Canyon is surprisingly accessible.  The north rim is only an hour+ from Kanab, Utah, which is in turn a reasonable 4.5 hour drive away (and has a great new pizza place and a killer bakery just as you enter town; great alternatives to the inevitable McDonalds, Subway, and steakhouse, and burger/fries/shake places there).  This time of year can be sketchy getting into the north rim zone due to higher elevation and they can/do sometimes close the highway out to the North Kaibab trailhead, but the other roads aren't controlled and they are lower elevation so they are less-affected by snow and far more likely to be open.  So off we went to the Indian Hollow trailhead, which looms high above the Deer Creek drainage that culminates in the dramatic 200 falls that is an iconic stop on river trips.

Our first destination was Fishtail canyon.  After dropping a thousand feet off the rim on a trail:
 we cut west cross country to the head of the canyon. 
In the GC "off trail" usually necessitates long pants, since everything alive - and inanimate - is scratchy.  

An old/new cairn
A nice difference between Grand Canyon and southern Utah canyons is that the latter's mesa terrain at canyon heads is almost invariably hammered by the thousands of cows that are grazed super-cheaply ($20-odd per head; adjusted for inflation over the last 30 years it should be more like $200/head; take that Cliven Bundy, you cheapass tax evader! but don't get me started) and the canyons' starts are subtle enough that many times it's a challenge to find the start to the canyons.  But generally it's no problem in the Grand Canyon; the sub-canyons are big and distinctive.

As much as we try, it seems impossibly difficult to remember the  names of the various layers of rock that are striated as you drop through the Grand Canyon.  But we've learned that there's one layer that really matters:  Redwall Limestone.

It's in this layer that most of the canyoneering happens, and it's a bit different than in Utah's canyons where it's always a function of what layer of sandstone you are traversing.  I realized I'm developing a penchant for the Redwall; the limestone seems to have a lot of sinuous texturing from both water passage and wind erosion, a wide array of colors, and even though it's ferociously sharp in its raw state (which provides great traction but is daunting in case of a fall) water-affected limestone is smooth enough to not destroy clothes and particularly drysuits, which we knew that we needed on this trip.

Soon enough we got into the goods, and it was indeed good.  Fishtail provided a great array of downclimbs, wades/swims, rappels, etc.
the wades started mellow

and then picked up a bit
a bit more

some nice walks between obstacles

Burly Guy striking a pose

The canyon was long enough that we didn't make it to the river in a day, but had a great patio camp:
The ability to camp in a canyon is a great aspect of Grand canyoneering
A morning scramble with some raps:

brought us to the river, still running brown from rains a week prior:

From the mouth of the canyon we hiked upstream along the bank for three miles to Deer Creek.  What we didn't know is that the dam(n) keepers had already started releasing what has become a near-annual high flow event to move the silt that tributaries like Paria River Little Colorado River had deposited into the main stem down the river for beach replenishment, but the water had not yet reached us 135 miles downstream. Since much of our hike was near/at the shore that was soon to be under water, our hike would have likely been much more challenging. 
As it was we got to the famous Deer Creek patio, where we had to be a little careful with our big packs to not bump them and get pitched into the narrows:

And camped at the Deer Creek site.
andy is stoked to be in the GC finally!
A classic river trip outing is to do the Tapeats Creek-Surprise Valley -Deer Creek hike, and we did half of that backwards and then veered toward the rim to climb a fair bit further before dropping down one of the three upper forks of Deer Creek.
Surprise Valley.  At the risk of being a bit cynical, I couldn't help but wonder if the moniker came from the Surprise that it was so bleak up there.  
On the way up we met solo hiker Margie from Flagstaff who has spent a lot of days in The Ditch:
It was also at this point that we unfortunately had to bid adieu to Andy.  It's hard to  get your body ready for a trip that involves 4-5000 foot climbs and descents over rough scrambly desert terrain with a heavy pack, and he got a classic over-use strain of his IT band (the big tendon that stretches from your hip to your knee).  I've had it as well and it's extraordinarily painful, with rest and massage being the best treatment, and it's rare that doctors prescribe yet-more big pack-carrying and huge boulder scrambling for multiple days as good therapy, so he limped a few miles back to the car, with the plan being that he'd come back and get us in a few days.

We easily found our next canyon

and headed down, but got to a big dropoff that the beta we had said could be bypassed
After a ton of scratchy bush-bashing we got back into the canyon, but not without Mike getting a nice deep cactus spike that required a bit of doctoring

the canyon got going with a bit of water here and there

To a lot of pretty full on swimming
Mike was a little wary of getting his toesies wet:

we had some beautiful scenes

Descending out of the spaceship
 A few more swims:

and we were out of the water, for a nice warm south facing "hike" down the remainder of the canyon:
still a couple of rappels to drop another thousand feet to the Deer Creek camp.  
The canyon was so good (one of the best, tho I don't know how many times I've said that!) that we were a little punchy at the end of the day:

lapping up Fritos, a great post-canyon snack! 

ooh yah, that was a good canyon!  
The Grand Canyon has a lot of natural features to keep adventurers busy, from the river itself to the side canyons to epic hikes.  But there's also an opportunity to go subterranean.

Hi tech Subterranean Exploration Vehicles (SEVs)
(greg pic)
And considering how arid it is, the water-oriented hikes are pretty incredible:

(greg pic)

(greg pic)
With the cottonwoods doing some changing:
(greg pic)

Mike was still finding himself "stuck" in the challenging flora:
And the repeated dusty hiking/rinsing gave my socks some good body:

We also saw the impressive 675 foot rappel sequence for a canyon that we had a little beta on:
not sure I'm willing to carry the ropes needed for that lark....
After almost a week of thrashing about in the Big Ditch we worked our way back up to the "Esplanade" (the big layer below the rim):
Where we had yet another beautiful campsite:
(greg pic)

a good breakfast nook
the raven appreciated it as well
And we had to do the gratuitous shadow dancing in the morning light
we did some others that weren't quite as family-friendly......
As we made our way back up to Monument Point to meet Andy (who had chilled/healed/toured about the Kanab area for a few days) we had a great view looking out over the complex of canyons and such that we'd explored:
Fishtail Mesa in the distance with Fishtail canyon near the base, and in between (to the right) are the three forks of Deer Creek 
Upon meeting Andy we we asked him a critical question that we had wanted -but not wanted - answered while we were in the depths:  did the Dems take the house?  And there was much rejoicing....

A few more ahtsy-type pics, getting our Colter/Fred inspiration on:
(greg pic)

(greg pic)

(greg pic)

Greg pondering desert greenery

the cacti in the canyon are amazing

the actual light at the end of the tunnel

Thanks again to Greg, Mike, and Andy for being again great pards on an excellent adventure, and especially to Andy for being a good sport and being willing to hang out for a few days to extract the rest of the team.