Saturday, May 19, 2018

The News is the news

On Monday the venerable Salt Lake Tribune announced that it was laying off a third of its reporting staff, only a year after winning the Pulitzer Prize in journalism, and two years after it was purchased by Paul Huntsman (of the Huntsman family, who are well-known as the wealthiest folks in Utah), and a few months after patriarch Jon Huntsman Sr. passed away.  As someone who has read "the paper" (a paper copy) most mornings of my life starting with the Oregonian, the Oregon State University paper, the Boston Globe, the LA Times, and the Trib and - like everyone - am a moderately voracious consumer of news on the interwebs and NPR, I had some mixed feelings; enough so that I felt compelled to do a quick blawg post. 

It's no secret to anyone that newspaper industry has been struggling around the country for the last 10-15 years as it has struggled to find its place in the digital world.  And it's understandable; the concept of printing on paper that is driven around neighborhoods in cars by underpaid folks in the wee hours of the morning to convey information that is literally yesterday's news has gone from a given to simply being quaint at best.  Much of the paper's weight and bulk that is being driven around an ultimately thrown in the recycling bin is made up of ads, and when the ads seem to be comprised mostly of those for hearing aids, senior living communities, adult diapers, and valuable coins it's clear that the market is "mature" and quite literally dying.  And if a product's market is dying, should the product itself die off as well? 

Coincidental to the layoffs, on Sunday night we watched the newish movie "The Post" that stars Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep as the editor/publisher, respectively, of the Washington Post in the early 70's that was willing to "risk it all" to publish the now-infamous "Pentagon Papers" that clearly showed that the Vietnam war was perpetuated by the likes of LBJ, Nixon, Bobby Kennedy, Sec Def McNamara, and others for no other reason than they were unwilling to be the fall guys who would "lead" US meekly out of a conflict.  Like another recent great movie - "Spotlight" about the Boston Globe blowing the lid off the Catholic church priest abuse coverup - it was a great tale of triumph of the free press keeping enough tabs on the power brokers affecting everyday people's everyday lives.  "The Post" ends with Nixon on the phone yelling at an aide that the Post is no longer allowed into the White House, which of course is reminiscent of our current occupant attempting to deny credentials to the "fake" Post that is owned by a famous lib'ral, Jeff Bezos of Amazon (which - like Trump - is apparently smart enough to avoid paying its fair share of taxes).

I was shocked a couple of years ago when I went into a shop in the Portland airport and saw a little pamphlet that had the "Oregonian" banner on it.  It was dwarfed by the indie Willamette Week right next to it, and the new Oregonian reminded me of a high school paper.  I couldn't help but ask myself, "Is this the future of the Salt Lake Tribune?"  Clearly Paul Huntsman didn't want that, and he was willing to put a lot of his family's money on the line to avoid the loss of "Utah's Independent Voice".  But after 2 years - some of which was facilitated by Huntsman covering payrolls - it still isn't working.  Should it? 

On one hand, I love the Trib; the likes of Gerhke, Rolly, Pyle, Burr,  and Maffly are excellent writers whose contacts, insights, level heads, and objectivity in a fairly strange political and social environment is invaluable, Pat Bagley is simply the best political cartoonist ever, and I simply like knowing what's going on in my tighter community since it has much more affect on my life than the national stage.  But I also kinda feel it's getting what has been coming to it:  like a lot of papers it seems to be full of dinosaurs who have kept their heads down as the internet and social media juggernauts have overran it and keep pitifully hoping for change.  An interview of longtime business reporter Mike Gorrell on Radio West this week reiterated that attitude to me.  And while Huntsman promised a new life for the company and hired a new editor, the business model seems to have remained the same, complete with a really lame website (in the online version's search bar I type in "Gehrke" or "Rolly" and get....."0 results!"  Huh?"  By contrast, the Washington Post is thriving after being bought by a guy whose fortune was made on new media, and it's doing well almost as much as a tech company as a media outlet.  And in that Radio West piece a pundit says that - for example - the similar-sized Minneapolis Star Tribune's overall business is growing in the single digits/year. 

That's the rub:  yes, an independent media is vital, but independent media is a business, that - like any other business - needs cash flow and growth to survive.  It seems it is indeed possible to improve fortunes, but there needs to be an acknowledgement that "the paper" is simply not being read by virtually anyone under 50 years old, so as much as I hate to say it, folks who have been in the business for 30 or 40 years need to make room for more innovative minds  It was ironic that the day after the layoffs Robert Gehrke's column was about Ash's friend Chris Parker, a 30-something developer who is a darling of Salt Lake's leadership due to his bold and innovative ways of creating real affordable housing downtown that even uses solar power and electric car charging stations but keeps rent down to as little as $350/month.  It's the likes of Parker and Bezos who have the ability to take a fresh look at something as antiquated as a old school housing and newspapers and come up with something truly innovative. 

A friend asked me this week if I was going to cancel my subscription because "the firings were pretty ridiculous" and (sarcastically) "pretty classy management there."  Having been part of several layoffs - which aren't firings - at far more profitable and successful companies, I have seen that it's probably the worst possible part of management.  Firing is much easier since there's usually some legitimate personal reason for it.  Layoffs are "you are doing well and I want to keep you but the company isn't doing well enough to continue to pay for its people, which is a company's biggest expense, and even though it's terrible for you and bad for's gotta be done." 

So is canceling my subscription in protest the best thing to do?  Or recognize that this is a desperate clarion call for help by a vital part of our community and without continued or even additional support this integral part of our democracy will evaporate like the Oregonian did?   But if the layoffs of the dinosaurs and the subsequent savings are not invested in more innovative ways to deliver a product that a market needs, should they be allowed to live? 

I hope for my sake and that of Utah the Trib's leadership figures out a way to exist in the future without "depending" on adult diaper ads, but if it doesn't, perhaps it deserves to go the way of its dinosaurs and something else will rise out of the swamp to replace it. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Alaskan ski adventure part II

After flying out of the Alaska Range a bit prematurely the obvious question was:  what next?

first things first:
It's hard to get fresh hot decadent chocolate brownie topped with ice cream and whipped cream on the glacier!
And we were stoked to be in a "camp" that we didn't have to shovel:

Thanks again to Wendy and Jon for the use of their sweet camper sprinter; I gotta be careful with continuing to do this! 
The closest viable skiing to Talkeetna was Hatcher Pass, a favorite of Anchorage backcountry skiers. Armed with a bit of beta that Jon sent us, we drove south and naturally turned off the highway where the sign said "Hatcher Pass".  It took us about 45 minutes of driving to realize that we were on the "wrong" side of Hatcher Pass, and that all the good skiing was on the other side. But we were able to find some nice rolly polly hills that had gotten a snifter of the copious snow we had received on the glacier:
really low angle, but at this point we were just excited to be able to walk and make turns!  
And then we drove around to Hatcher Pass proper, where the real mountains loom
Again, because we felt like we had some pent up energy, we decided the best way to burn that off was to do the Bomber Traverse:  a 20 mile, 6000 foot (total vert) tour that visited the locales of 4 different huts that each had skiing nearby and is typically done in a few days to take advantage of each hut's terrain.  But we had a day's window of only mildly-stormy weather, no big packs, and wanted to bust it out in a day.

The first 8 miles was flat up a beautiful valley:
And as we neared the first hut we bumped into three guys who were on their way out.  They had seen the entire cirque above them avalanche the day prior, which was disconcerting because in order to do the traverse we needed to get up and out of the cirque up a 1500+ foot, 35 degree face in order to keep going.  But upward we went:
There was a crown from the avalanche about 2/3rds of the way up, and we knew that we'd be safe getting to that spot since the energy had already been released.  Once at the crown we had to decide:  was the top 3rd hangfire hanging in the balance, or had there been enough of a yank a day earlier with more opportunity to settle that we'd be spared?  It became more of a wide couloir, and on one side of the couloir was a vertical-walled cliff, and on the other side the cliffs were more angled so that they continuously sluffed snow onto the slope.  And our quick little pits indicated that; the vertical-walled side was skitchy, the sloped-cliff side was good.  But it was all the same slope.
doing a little dig, hoping it's still good
I sniveled as best I could up the "good" side, all the while telling myself "don't be stoopid just to 'do the traverse' and avoid going back 8 flat miles that we have just done" and asking myself if we were being good or lucky.  But generally I felt good about the decisions and indeed we made the top, which was the most exposed moves we'd make that day.

It being Alaska, we got socked in by flat light again, and for better or worse we used our phone-based gps with a downloaded track to help guide us; old schoolers probably frown on that aid....but wait a minute; we are old schoolers!  And we don't wanna get lost on a glacier 10 miles from a trailhead with minimal gear and food!  Old school be damned.

We made it over the next pass:
And then started down what had been described to us as a "quick" descent.  It may be quick in certain conditions, but in shin deep mank it was slow going.  We took turns leading in the flat light until something took us down:

do Alaskan skiers have X ray or infrared vision to see the unseeable in the snow?
and no AK adventure is complete without some good bushwacking
Back in "camp" after an 11 hour day (for 20 miles and 6k??!!?  what kind of skimo geeks are we?) we strategized for the next day,  which turned out to be another fog-fest;
Feel the Force, Luke!  
But we did get a chance to meet Hatcher Dan;
We asked Dan if he lived there and he said "yup, since 1940!"  wow.  I'm not that good at math, but that's a lotta years in a place like this:
Dan's place
This is Dan's next door neighbor's place, who clearly doesn't winter over and thus doesn't need to shovel. Dan is clearly a candidate for the World Shoveler's Association Hall of Fame. 
A super cool guy who was excited to be heading out soon for a bike tour in Pennsylvania.  We loved his enthusiasm at however old he is.

and speaking of enthusiasm, Hatcher is a popular spot for groomed nordic skiing, and this guy drove up, hopped out, grabbed his skate gear, and headed for the snow very decisively:
It clearly hadn't been groomed in weeks and the light was as flat as a pancake.  We took quick bets on how long he'd last; Chad went low at 5 minutes, but I was sure he'd at least give it a go after driving from Anchorage and would be out for 15 mins.  But Chad was within 3 seconds of being on the nose:
so it goes!  
another rough night of camping:
got us to a brilliant morning
And we finally got some decent, if again pretty noodly skiing
ski it Canadian style! 
and then back to our Anchorage base at Wendy and Jon's for a day and flew home, where the skiing is thin but warm!
brother Paul harvesting some corn on Baldy Shoulder at Alta. 
and thus goes another Alaskan adventure.  Overall it was much different than our expectations and the reality of a significant Alaskan storm is....pretty real, but having good pards and a good attitude went a long ways towards it being beyond tolerable to being sorta fun in a warped way, and we certainly learned a lot about that kind of trip (if we choose to apply that knowledge again to another trip).  Along those lines, Little Switzerland is indeed a big, beautiful place, but sharing the glacier with 20 other folks probably would have been a bit of a crimp  - had the conditions been good  -for 3 guys from the crowded Wasatch who yearn to find someplace awesome to ski sans competition, so maybe we'll look a bit further afield next time.

Thanks again to Chad and Eric for a bunch pics I used here, good yuks, not getting too grumpy, and for tolerating me in our white room.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Little Switzerland shovel fest

As the famously-anemic ski season in Utah both wound down (time-wise) and wound up (pretty good skiing in March!) thoughts of spring ski trips to chase snow in other lands started to come into play.  I had the good fortune of doing three great trips outside of Utah that all had worked out perfectly in terms of conditions, so why not push it and go for four?  Seemed like a good rationale at the time.....

A year ago I tried an ambitious adventure in the Uintas with two very capable lads:  Chad Bracklesberg and Eric Bunce, and while we didn't necessarily accomplish what we had set out to do due to sub-optimal conditions, we did have a fine time and I realized that they are worthy pards for any sort of dumb outing.  Inspired by friends Noah Howell, Andrew McLean, Truck Gloves' Brett Keyes,  and others who had done what Andrew called "One Drop Shopping" on some far remote place in deepest darkest Alaska in the spring (when it's actually not dark, and in fact there are 17 hour days!) we decided to head north.  I have often said that I have been way too smart to ever winter camp; why camp when you can hang out in fun, warm yurts, huts, or lodges and yuk it up with friends as your boot liners dry and salmon grills on barbies?  But sometimes smarts can give way to the lure of adventure (ala last year's attempt to ski the Aleutians' Shishaldin Peak) and the scars from that trip had long since healed, so northbound we went to ski in the heart of the Alaska Range.

The trip wasn't going to be quite "winter camping" per se.  If last year's Uinta-fest was minimal and inevitably subject to a bit of suffering, the Alaskan drop n shop is relatively decadent; in lieu of a featherweight bivvy sack for "shelter" we had two four season tents and a cook tent, and in lieu of freeze dried dinners and gorp we literally bought a hundred+ pounds of food at Costco. 
Plenty o' gear
Chad packing food into the shit cans?!!?   hey, they ain't shit cans yet!  

And instead of dragging ourselves and our gear 80 miles in a few days, we had to drag our gear far enough from the glacier landing strip so that we wouldn't get run over as the plane took off.

Everything started out very smoothly; we landed in Anchorage and hung out with former Utahn Wendy Wagner and her pard Jon Davis who were kind enough to loan us one of their phat sprinter vans for the journey up to Talkeetna, we bought plenty of food, had dinner with my Brooks Range Buddy Roman Dial, did a couple of the classic hikes around Anchorage, and were delayed on our flight for only a day by a storm that was providing a nice refresh to the snow that had been baking in the sun for a couple of weeks.  Arriving in Talkeetna there was no doubt we'd be able to fly in the next day with Talkeetna Air Taxi, one of the two companies that flies climbers in to the Denali base camp (not far from our destination). 
TAT's official plane watchcat
skids next to the wheels enable it to land on snow.  Maybe my skis should have wheels on them so I can go careening across the parking lots at traiheads?

I suppose I was supposed to understand the meaning of a skiing kangaroo image on an Alaskan mountain plane, but I didn't quite get it

Note sure why they have these sweet read OTG glasses for all their clients to borrow?  Must be to make their customers look as suave as we do in them.....
Richard  - like all pilots, it seems to me  -exuded a great quiet confidence as we put our own confidence in him

And sure enough, bluebird conditions enabled us to fly in, make camp, and still have enough time for a short outing with a few fun turns in one of the more spectacular mountain settings I've ever seen. 
big stuff

Denali, the biggest of the big
where we got plunked.  Note Eric is smart enough to wear protective headwear around a spinning propeller!


"Hey Eric, how about here?"  

Nice views.  Note the position of the tents relative to the snow surface.  It changed....
I was a little dubious about a megamid in the mountains since I've had them blow all over yonder in the desert, but it sure made for a comfy little kitchen

The next morning also started out nice enough for us to do a bit of recon of our surroundings and see what the potential was, and we even made a bid for a couple of couloirs,
the trolls
but a too-open bergshrund (where the glacier ends and likes to pull away from the adjacent rock) and a bit more avy danger than we preferred kept us mostly in the low angle terrain.
Eric probing and finding....too much air, not too far below the surface, and not enough snow to support us trudging upwards
And then it started to snow. 

We knew that snow was in the forecast both short term and long term, but either we are Alaskan newbies who don't really understand forecasts, or this was an anomalous event, but it basically snowed, and then snowed a lot, and then it snowed some more, and then it kept snowing, and then it didn't let up, and then it snowed again. 
at least it was blowing too
And also as Alaskan newbies, we perhaps didn't understand the depth of the fogged-in, snowed-in glacier white room:  going out of sight of camp  - which meant more than 40 feet away - put you into a vertigo-inducing zone that makes one barely be able to stand upright, tho the thigh deep snow helps keep you propped up.
We had to wand the route out to the toilet, or....
this would happen:
Chad is standing up. 
Basically, it snowed like none of us had ever seen or heard of before.  For basically five and a half days, it snowed probably an average of 2 inches/hour.  For the first coupla days we kept saying "just when you thought it couldn't snow harder, it does, and for hours on end!" 
yeah, "blizzard".  We got it.  
As a result, of course, we got into shoveling.

Shoveling our standard Sugarhouse driveway usually takes about 20 minutes; sometimes 45 on a big day and I'm feeling compelled to do the walkway to the porch that the mailman usually ignores anyway.  It has simply never occurred to me that there's a possibility to shovel for....hours and hours and hours each day (and night).  At the storm's peak (a very flat curve) we figured that we were shoveling for over 6 hours per day in order to keep from drowning in the snow, and I remember at least one point where I realized that by the time I'd made the latest lap around my tent I could have easily just done another lap of shoveling, since it was coming down so hard!  And we had the Black Diamond Megamid as our cook tent, and because that "tent" is not a tent and is not as robust as our other 4-season tents we had to make sure that was pretty clear and was indeed robust, while at the same time trying to keep the sides somewhat pinned down to avoid spindrift blowing in around the edges.  Eric and Chad made an effective second tier so that we wouldn't have to chuck the snow so high as the hole deepened:
yet another shovel fest
stoked to have one done

Anyone who has read any accounts of high alpine climbs has read of the tales of being tentbound for days on end.  It's easy to say, but for pretty motivated people who like to keep themselves in perpetual motion a week's worth of sitting around was pretty challenging.  But between some good books:

and a couple of fun pards who knew that there was nothing to do other than to exercise every ounce of zen-like patience, and we were able to keep each other laughing:

and we were effectively able to kill a solid half-day by coming up with a video to promote the exciting new sport of competitive shoveling!

Finally one afternoon we got a break in the weather, and we were able to shuffle out to see if we could make a few turns.  Given the amount of snow and wind that we had received and the fact that there were density changes within the copious new snowpack, we were very wary of high avalanche danger; we had heard avalanches periodically rumbling around the glacier, and were happy that Eric picked out a nice safe spot, especially when we found out that a couple from Alaska got buried in the middle of the night by the powder cloud of an avalanche that blasted down a couloir that snaked up the Troll Wall:
fairly arduous trail breaking
So we went to a nearby slope that was marginally skiable.  Eric and Chad valiantly made some turns for all of the 800 feet of vertical that we had, but I cracked myself up by just throwing down some spread-eagled 11's:

That brief evening window of clearing was barely worth mentioning to the pilots, and sure enough it socked back in shortly thereafter and began to snow again in earnest, driving us into our beloved nylon caves in the whiteness. 
heading into the Alaska range for a week of blizzarding is generally a bad time to discover that moths had eaten an irreparable hole in the wool liners of my sorels.....
Given the amount of snow and the consistency of the storm (storms?) we began to ask questions like: is it possible to get stuck in here for a LONG time?  How long can these storms really last? When do we start to consider food rationing?  The other groups on the glacier were either at or past their requested pickup time, and even though everyone knows to bring extra food and extra fuel (most folks use old school MSR Whisperlites in lieu of the butane stoves, since the white gas is more plentiful, works better in cold, and is more predictable, and because stoves=water=life, those aspects become really important) we knew that they were probably a bit more twitchy than we were.  And we knew that the pilots were keen to get flyin' as well, since they were undoubtedly accumulating more Denali climbers and other skiers by the day and having them just hover around.

We had some communication with the outside world via our inReach, and finally we saw that there might be a break in the weather.  Sure enough, Monday night the clouds started to break up, and we heard from the Talkeetna pilots that they were asking the National Park Service to waive their post-6pm flight closure for the next day to enable them to get folks out.  Indeed, the next morning dawned bluebird, and we sent a message to the pilots telling them that we were good to go and then went out to help stomp out the runway....only to find out that Talkeetna was totally fogged in!   The irony of our much-desired high pressure finally coming in and then pushing down fog into the important valley floor was not lost on anyone.  And as the afternoon wore on and we thought that the Talkeetna fog may burn off, the fog that had formed on the Kahiltna glacier below us marched up the valley and enveloped us!  But soon enough that too burned off.  Even though it had become a shoveling trip Chad and I decided to do a bit of cross training and go out for some skiing:

so stoked to be actually making turns!  
 and as we were ripping our skins we heard the not-all-that familiar buzz of a plane in the distance, and there it was!

We felt like we were prisoners being liberated by the Allies from our white prison (well, that's probably a bit of a stretch).  But we were glad to see the plane.  We weren't actually scheduled to fly out, but given the forecast and the too-deep snow, we were ready to go (as it turns out, they were able to fly the next day, but then faced another 5-day shutdown after that).  so we helped pack out the runway:

And thus we were whisked away via our winged lifeline:

along the way we saw some impressive evidence of some big avalanches:
Avalanches as an art form
and thus we were back in Talkeetna, ready for the next adventure! Which I'll yap about in a hopefully-soon to be followed second post.

I can't emphasize enough how nice it was to have a coupla great pards for what was a challenging trip.  It woulda been easy to get grumpy, but Eric and Chad were able to make a stuck-week go by really well.