Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Callanish Standing Stones

I have a thing for rocks, and I've been happy to discover that there are a lot of people throughout history who have also had a thing for rocks. And having a thing for rocks and art done with stone leads one on all sorts of fun adventures.

But it's not just rocks really. It's the people behind them. I love stone circles and other monuments and I love the things I learn along the way simply by following the stones.

I have been all around Scotland twice just looking at stones. It was fabulous because it took me to some fantastic places. I've been to Lewis Island in the Outer Herbrides. Which is so off the beaten patch but the (pictured) Callanish Stones (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callanish_Stones) are there and I saw one photo of them and knew I had to see them in person

Journeying out to see them really brought home that it's so much more about the journey than the destination, but wow what a destination. Smaller that Stonehenge. Just as powerful and no big fences and far fewer crowds (who go away regularly). nothing like a few hour ferry ride to put a dent in the wandering tourists. We did run into some Americans but they were the nicest Americans you could wish for.

And the fantastic thing about Callanish is that Callanish I is only the beginning. On the wiki page skip down to "Other nearby sites" and you have the ultimate geocaching adventure listed. I was tromping about in a cow pasture, looking for one of the obscure marker stones, trying to parse out sort of vague instructions, and I realized that I was having a most excellent, outside the box, adventure. These days I have no doubt that all the sites have GPS coordinates, but I had no such thing and even if I did I would still have a fabulous time.

The bummer is that you can't do this on a tour bus. You need a car and one of you needs to know how to drive on the right side of the street (a pretty empowering skill I must say). A tour bus will take you to Callanish I and pause briefly at the very nearby Callanish II and III, but they are not about to drop you off by the side of the road with a basic map and say here's where you climb the fence (a "stile") and say go for it. I really must find and scan in some of that material as it left me with a thing for rocks and I'm a geocaching fan too, but I must say geo caching is nothing compared to this adventure.

Some googling on the other sites has shown me that others share this passion.
Here is Callanish IV standing appropriately in the middle of a sheep pasture.
You have to love getting your feet wet (sometimes more than just feet) and your pants muddy.

And I tromped all around the place to locate Callanish V:

This obsession has inspired other trip such as driving all over Scotland looking at Pictish Stones and Castles and then a trip to Orkny to see Viking and Victorian graffiti (different sites) and Neolithic home furnishings in Skara Brae (seriously - do you have a bureau? I sure don't and they did. See here.), but this is all a different post(s) sometime.

I may have a climbing obsession, but when asked about my travels I talk about rocks and their breathern, and the human side of archaeology (e.g. the need to graffiti, and make a home). I need to keep this in mind.

My Name is Jump the Gun

I don't know about other people, but when I start working out possible plans I totally jump in with too many feet way too early before I've had a chance to really think about it. Then reality hits and those feet get cold. This is annoying as it makes me look like a flake though I usually make myself follow through unless I have a really good reason. This time I signed up for an avalanche evaluation course that has some serious skiing in it - it's not cheap either. Fortunately when I signed up they didn't have their visa system set up so I don't owe them any money but I feel bad for backing out as I really like the organization that's doing it and I want to do it in 2011. Instead I'm trying to get into a women's ski camp which will be much more at my level. The bummer is that I haven't heard from them and I can't get a confirmation either way.

Now I've discovered a 3 day glacier class on Mt. Baker in Washington.

The nice thing is that it does not include a climb which should be a bummer, but I get left behind by groups especially on snow. What I can do is schedule a 1 day private climb right after the class. Then I can go at my pace AND Mt. Baker while heavily glaciated and skill demanding is not a tall mountain but is 10,781 feet (another source says 10,778' - maybe they're subtracting the snow) and well within my ability.

So I want to sign up right now. Wait a minute. That's 6 months away and it's not like it's an Everest or a popular Rainier climb (backed out of one of those too). I'm going back to Whitney in late July or any time August and I need to schedule around that and I'm going to Shasta a couple of times (late May and mid June). Whitney is the difficult one as I need to be flexible in my dates. I suppose I could not do Whitney and just aim for Baker which might be just fine. Baker would be an adventure. Whitney is just a bleepin' obsession. Oh and I wanted to check out Mt Ritter later in the year.

I also hate the idea of not having my car with me, but instead having for a rental car to just sit around and do nothing while I'm on the mountain. So I've talked myself into the 12-13 hour drive up to Seattle which will be an adventure all in itself. Then I can drop in on my parents to say hello briefly before making the 1.5 hour trip up to Bellingham where the class meets.

What I love about classes is that I learn something and I'm not struggling to keep up with a faster group. The class is not that much money so hiring a guide for one more day is doable. The only thing is that it's with the same group as before and classes are a great way to test out other organizations, but the last class I took with these guys I was under the weather and I wasn't that successful at it, and I want to show that I can do it well. It's really tempting to take their 7 day course again but I fear being completely miserable in paradise (again!) and it's quite a bit more money. Enough money that I could almost go to another country and have a fabulous time.

I had written out an inquiry about how far in advance I need to reserve the spot, but I made myself save it as a Draft (Daft?). Slow down a second. Yeesh.

I'm working on a separate blog entry about me questioning why I have this stupid obsession anyway.

[follow up and reality check]
I was watching some you tube videos of Mt Baker climbs and it shows them climbing roped, and it all came back to me. I really hate traveling over glaciated terrain where you have to be roped and spaced out at significant intervals. This is so that the others on the rope can catch you if you fall into a crevasse by throwing themselves on the snow and digging in their ice axes (this is not a joke). what I hate about is is how intrinsically lonely it is. Half the fun of climbing mountains is standing right beside someone that I'm climbing with and saying wow look over there is that cool? In glaciated terrain that has to wait until you're in a safe spot, so a lot of the spontaneity (and hence some of the experience) is lost.

If you try and do it all in a day it's a huge outing: 7000' of elevation gain as evidenced by this pretty amusing video:


The AAI course ascends to 5600'-6000' and has class from there and if you were going to do a summit climb you would start from there which is easier, but it's still nearly 5000' climb which is no easy climb, and more than I've ever done.

Of course I could just do the class and not the climb, but much as I love hanging off the side of a crevasse, I'm questioning whether it's something I really want to relearn right now esp since I'm not doing much of this kind of climbing. I love all the snow skills I've learned beforehand as they are skills that I use (you use self arrest techniques to stop yourself when glissading, but crevasse rescue is not something you ever want to have to use, so I'll put this on hold and if I want more technical climbing practice I should work it out on rock.

In the meantime, I think I'll stick to non-glaciated terrain which is way more fun and less stressful - going to focus on longer climbs with a day pack with hopefully ski mountaineering in the future which brings me right back to that avalanche hazard evaluation class.

So cooler heads have prevailed this time and I've deleted the email inquiry that started this all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How Not to Catch a Chicken

If you watched the most recent season of Survivor (I love the scenery and I love fantasizing about being one of their puzzle/game designers which means I get hooked into the drama and I've stopped worrying about any psychological damage that that might create. :)

ANYWAY, if you were watching this time you likely remember that a chicken escaped and there was much comedy of them trying to catch it until it flew up into a tree and they stood there slightly dumbfounded that a chicken could actually fly. (Please. They do. Only under the duress of a mad Survivor chasing them, but they do - if their wings aren't clipped.)

Well I, and no doubt a whole lot of other people, spent a lot of time pointlessly yelling at the TV.

I've never owned chickens, I've only taken care of my neighbors chickens when I was growing up, but even I know that CHICKENS SEE POORLY AT NIGHT.

You want to catch a chicken? Wait till dark - this is not rocket science - I could even pet the chickens after dark which as a kid is all I ever wanted to do anyway - other people on the internet say that if predators break into the hen house it's pretty much easy pickings.

Oh you've chased the chicken way up a tree? Well bummer for you (d'oh). What amazed me is that you'd think that with that many people, one would know this about chicken. And, of course, the one scary redneck guy who was guaranteed to know that was in the other tribe. So instead they let the chicken wander around until one of them couldn't take it anymore and devised a net which actually worked, but it would have been so much simpler to just wait.

One interesting tidbit is that Russell tried to let the chickens out one night to create chaos, but the story line ended there. I think we can fill in the rest. He opened the door and the chickens just stared blankly in his general direction. They couldn't really see what he was doing - so no drama resulted and it just turned into a teaser to put in a commercial and that's as far as it went.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Loma Linda a Blue Zone? More like a Smog Zone

There's a book out talking about the "Blue Zones" which are areas where the population stays active and often lives to be 100 years old.

Places like Okinawa, Japan and Sardinia, Italy are not surprising and they have been previously noted, but also mentioned is Loma Linda, California.

Really? I never could have predicted that.
Loma Linda is located here:

I've been there, it's not terribly notable except for being right beside the larger city of San Bernadino. In San Berdu and any city backed up to the San Bernadino Mountains the air is so thick and smoggy that it's oppressive esp. in summer. The air rams right against the mountains and settles down for a nice nap.

I guess air quality doesn't affect aging that much which I find completely remarkable. When I'm in smog I can tell that I'm doing my body some harm - not severe but it's not like fresh mountain or ocean air.


Mt Hood - One Man's Heroic Effort to Save His Friends

The thing that drives me nuts about accidents where everyone involved dies is that there's a huge story that is doomed not to be told except by conjecture.

There are enough clues in what we know so far about the most recent Mt. Hood tragedy to imply something dramatic happened. On Friday Katie Nolan, Luke Gullberg, and Anthony Vietti set off on a winter climb of Mt Hood in perfect conditions at 1am. When they didn't return that day at the expected 2pm, people began to worry. The next day Gullberg's body was discovered.

Halfway down this article: http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/12/15/oregon.mssing.hikers/
you get the intrigue - the one glove. Gullberg had ONE glove and it wasn't his - it was Nolan's, and it implies all sorts of drama and a very heroic effort to save his friend.

Current conjector is that Nolan was in an accident and lost a glove. Gullberg with minor injuries (or not - they may have happened later) decided to try get help and gave his gloves and pack to Nolan and took her one glove for some warmth. It appears he was then caught in an avalanche and later perished from hypothermia. But what a guy. He was doing everything he could to save his friend. This implies that Nolan was alive when he left her. He was found at 9100' so she is probably higher up, perhaps in a rudimentary snow cave (they have ice axes, but no shovel.)

We currently have no info about Vietti.

I do wish that Gullberg had taken photos after the accident, but that's the last thing you think about even though it's something that we all hang to. We know they were all smiles just beforehand so what happened happened quickly.

There is a publication called Accidents in North American mountaineering that comes out every year and is a litany of cautionary tales and some very well thought out scenarios. Their study of what might have happened to Karen McNeil and Sue Nott on Mt. Foraker is first rate.


Next year's issue should be interesting and we'll have to see if anything turned up in the following weeks. Meanwhile I'm leaving my Google Alert on the topic turned on.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Locator Devices - Maybe it's Time for a Mandate on Mt. Hood

[This is the second entry on this subject]

So a friend and I were discussing devices to locate someone. I was pointing out the limitations of Avalanche Transceivers, and she was suggesting the SPOT personal locator beacon (PLB) that uses GPS technology (http://findmespot.com others listed at:http://www.rei.com/category/40002203). to be fair it's a lot more than just a PLB and you pay for that fact as it's a great, but very pricey service.

Avalanche Transceivers have a range of less than a football field. PLBs have a world wide range, but don't work under cover - meaning inside buildings, caves, thick woods, and most relevantly under a huge pile of snow that's just dropped on you. It occurred to me this morning (but before doing the research below) that the well dressed mountaineer would have to carry both(!). The GPS to get your rescuers to the avalanche area and the transceiver to help recover the body. This is not a joke. If you get buried in snow you usually have 30 minutes max. There are devices to help you get more air such as the Avalung (and here is an account of a very brave person testing it: http://outside.away.com/outside/features/200506/buried-alive.html) but that doesn't stop your core body temperature from dropping or CO2 poisoning from starting to set in.

HOWEVER! Mt Hood has designed a device to address all of these issues. It has the innocuous name of Mountain Locator Unit and more info on it is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Locator_Unit.

MLUs are radio wave based, and have a line of sight range of 20 miles which covers Mt. Hood quite nicely and it goes through snow AND they can be rented for $5 from the outdoor shops or from the Mt Hood Inn at Government Camp which is open 24 hours a day. It transmits at 168.54 MHz and rescuers have to use their own sensors to find them. You could point out that the weather was so bad that this would not have saved the currently missing climbers, but the device was invented after the horrible May 1986 incident when seven students and two faculty of the Oregon Episcopal School froze to death during an annual school climb (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Hood_climbing_accidents) where rescuers walked right by their snow cave. For whatever reason (I am not speculating publicly on this one), Mt Hood likes to kill Christians as this is the 3rd well documented time.

So this availability is why the local Oregon public is particularly angry and I must say they do have a point. An MLU is not likely to save your life, but it would give your loved ones some peace. (If you are interested in saving your own butt your party will still need to carry your own Avalanche Transceivers unless they start making the MLU Receivers available to other people besides rescuers.) Unlike Mt Foraker where Sue Nott and Karen McNeil were lost, Mt. Hood is a popular, well trodden mountain, if the batteries lasted long enough, someone would find you ... eventually.

The mountaineering community opposes mandatory use of MLUs as it would increase the chances that someone might take. I'm not sure that's entirely valid though there are examples of people with Personal Locator Beacons doing dumb things (don't have a ready reference sorry). But you don't usually see people testing out their car's airbags just for fun, so I think it's certainly time to try a MLU mandate on Mt Hood, as the voluntary way just isn't working as well as we want it to. More info here: http://blog.oregonlive.com/breakingnews/2008/01/the_technology_mountain_locato.html

Here is a video that describes how the MLU was used to rescue a climber in Oct 2007. It does a great job of showing just how ridiculous conditions can get on that mountain: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJSN2IgKiJg and it also illustrates how zeroing in on it requires two teams of rescuers using triangulation (look it up) and some expertise. I'm hoping that new technology will help redesign it to include GPS as that would save time, and maybe something that members of the climbing party can also carry instead of having to rely on rescuers.

Maybe the well dressed climber needs to carry all three? Talk about a burden. Ok, maybe not. If I had to choose one, on Mt Hood it's obviously the MLU. When not on Mt Hood who knows probably a PLB and if they wanted to find my body in the football field of snow they narrowed it down to, they can then bring a dog and metal detectors.

So what am I going to do? Stick to popular areas during good weather. I am a fair weather climber and I still manage to have some pretty cool adventures. My first time on Mt. Hood I'll use a guide (it may be a short mountain - lower that the elevation of Mt Whitney's Trail Camp, but it is obviously treacherous.). I've been on Mt. Shasta, so many times that I'm knowledgeable about the lower elevations on the South routes (to the point I could guide them and do for friends) and I wouldn't go higher without a GPS and map/compass anyway.

Anyway it's going to be interesting to see what the future brings us in Locator Devices.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Avalanche Locator Beacons - Not a Perfect Solution

Currently there are 2 climbers missing on Mt. Hood. Now Mt. Hood is like Mt. Whitney in that it's near civilization and attracts all sort of people and thus is a major amateur hour. But there's a difference here - these are experienced climbers who chose to climb in winter and the conditions when they left at 1am were nearly perfect and they could have easily returned in the 13 hours they'd planned. But an accident has happened and one climber is dead and two others are missing and conditions do not look good for their rescue (Google: mt hood climbers - there are at least 100 matches right now). But they chose not to carry avalanche locator beacons/transceivers and again the debate of whether we should require climbers to carry them has sprung up again.

On paper it all sounds great. Require climbers to carry a locator beacon (aka transceiver) and in this case, there's a very (very!) remote chance it would have helped, but there are some major problems. Beacons are (1) expensive and (2) you have to activate them (but as I read more - you should activate them when you leave on your trip anyway) and (3) most important - they have a very limited range. The debate is raging here: http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2009/12/mount_hood_another_tragedy_ano.html#postComment

I contend that the beacon prices need to come down for them to be more readily used - even rentals are pricey unless someone has started subsidizing them (need to check on that - yes, they have see next blog entry). You need one per person which drives the cost up. However that said, the frequency has been standardized (457kHz) so even random rescuers could find you if they were within range (BIG if - I give ranges below). REI has a great article on them here: http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/avalanche+transceiver.html

The climbers were also carrying a cell phone and rumor has it that there is cell service on the mountain (I haven't climbed Hood yet but will - ahem, during the spring climbing season - not winter.) If there is cell service and we haven't heard from them this has some very grim implications. The phone is either lost or they are not able to use it. While I very much hope they are holed up in a snow cave (which is a fantastic if slightly chilly shelter), the possibility of this is fading if it ever was a possibility at all.

It's likely that the accident that resulted in one of the climbers dying from hypothermia (the climber had a "long, slow fall" but did not die from it) happened before the weather turned bad. If they were up high when a fall happened (he was at 9100 feet on an 11,200 mountain - a great diagram is here: http://media.oregonlive.com/news_impact/photo/hoodgrfcjpg-fe5b745a63b3f0ed.jpg) they could have ended up most anywhere though an aerial search hasn't turned up anything. This implies that they are under snow either of their choosing or not.

Some transceivers from REI
Ortovox Patroller - range "up to" 70 meters (analog then digital when closer) - price $289 -
the cheapest

Backcountry Access - range up to 40 meters - price $289.50

Pieps - range 60 meters - price $450

Mammut - range up to 60 meters - price $450

Othovox S1 - 60 meters - price $499

What does more money buy you? Speed of searching, depth measurement, more graphics, and ability to mark a spot and continue on searching for other victims. It does not buy you more range. What you want is to be buried with the cheap Orthovox Patroller with the rudimentary locator tools and have the unburied person have the snazzy "look they're right here" version. Easy right?

So if you're off with other people and you get buried in an avalanche and they don't (which is one reason people traveling in a avalanche area are spread out - a surprisingly lonely feeling for me at least) then having transceivers, shovels and probes is a Very Good Idea. However as a general tool that Search and Rescue could use, it's not really all that useful unless they have a good idea of where you are, which is so not the case right now on Mt. Hood. To sum up, beacons are a great tool within a climbing party and not much use beyond that.

But just to avoid ridicule by an uneducated public, you probably should carry them anyway just so people can say you had them. Think of it as something you do for your loved ones left behind so they don't have to put up with the stupid implications that people always leap to. Such as filing a flight plan which is totally not required for most small plane trips, but is always the first things reporters ask about. Think of it as reputation insurance.


My friend Holly and I have been having a conversation about an intriguing alternate that has recently become available. It's called a SPOT tracker. (http://findmespot.com), and it uses GPS technology to locate a beacon that you carry. There are even options where someone could track you online. It's not a cheap service at all $100-$200/year, plus the cost of the unit ($50-$150). This is not something the average poor mountaineer is going to be willing to pay for (mountaineers with money use guide services anyway), but you know right about now their families sure wish they had it.

Now if you have taken a GPS backpacking you know that there are limitations. In particular they work poorly in the woods, but even if a tree fell on you in the woods, rescuers could go to the last place that it was able to check in and that would be a heck of a lot closer than nothing.

About the only place it wouldn't work is with spelunking/caving (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caving), something that can be quite fun and really dangerous. They would be of questionable use in slot canyons which can be even more dangerous than caves (but are stunningly beautiful in places - stunningly beautiful as they have been recently carved by really violent water that may just be right around the corner.) A satellite has a better chance than anything of getting a signal in though usually you need multiple sats for triangulation and that may be hard to come by, but slot canyons and caves are limited in size so it comes back to telling someone in grand a glorious detail (on a map!) about where you are going.

I kind of wish the forest service in the more hazardous locations could have some SPOTs that people could rent. Wonder if there's a way to subsidize such a thing. That might make it more palatable since Hood is usually a very short hike (1-3 days tops), but unlike Shasta, there are many places to get lost there. Though as I type that I realize that you can get lost on Shasta but it's a lot harder and deaths on Shasta happen from falls not cold or crevasse cave-ins. Though even Shasta has major searches (I had a helicopter land near by last year looking for someone - my purist guide was totally offended, but I found it pretty fascinating), but usually they are found down at tree line walking in the wrong direction. SPOT would actually have helped locate those errant hikers and would have saved money as those lost (and poorly prepared) hikers actually walked out on their own unaware of all of the commotion they caused by one stupid "we're lost" 911 phone call.

AND In the next entry I discover that Mt. Hood has developed their own solution.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Rethinking: I Can't

More than a decade ago I had carpal tunnel release surgery on my left wrist. My wrists were sore enough that I was concerned that I might have to change jobs (till I realized that *everyone* types to some degree or another these days, and that I need to figure out how to heal them).

With lots of rest and time they healed, but to make sure I recovered as best I could, I made some choices as to how much I could use my hands, and ease up on the more wrist-stressful activities.

Things I stuck with were: computer work (it's my job and writing is a hobby). working around the house, painting, and working with the dogs. The activity that hurt the most to ease back on was music. In particular, I stopped playing guitar, and shelved the idea of doing more drumming.

I didn't have my parents piano at the time (that piano is another blog entry unto itself), so I was essential not playing an instrument at all and continued my musical education by working on singing and doing a lot of unstructured ear training by really learning how to listen to a song and pick out the individual elements - which has turned out to be enormously helpful.

But I find I do miss playing and taking part. Terri now uses my guitar and it gets the attention it deserves and it gets on-stage time even which is something it never got before. It's been long enough and I know a lot more about building of strength that I'm starting to wonder if I could start playing.

The trouble is that music just makes you want to keep playing and the risk of overdoing it is sky-high. The other trouble is that I get bored with the standard open chords (C-D-G-A-Em etc), and am fond of those slightly fancier higher up the neck bar chords, but it's those and wide chords that span 4 frets that just kill my hands. I'm toying with learning more lead guitar though that looks like it could hurt too and I'm thinking of buying an electric guitar again (I had sold my older electric) because electrics are usually easier to play. In fact I have an unpublished blog entry of all my electric guitar agonizing. Unpublished probably because I'm not quite so willing to tell the world how obsessed I can get. :) Though I did admit it to my Facebook friends.

But I need to start slowly with basic chords again and stop after a specified period of time. I guess to keep it interesting I should try to learn some new songs by ear. The cool thing about that is that it really works your brain and you stop a lot which is good for your hands. I noticed the other day that one of the Grammy award nominations is just done with open chords, so that might be worth starting with. If only I could remember what song it was. Guess that's project number one....

But before stopping I need to wrap back around to my original point (and I did have one at least then). This is difficult to summarize and even to put into words and it's likely to sound completely incoherent, but I was taught all about "I can't" at a young age. Now that's not entirely fair as I was given the opportunity to learn all sorts of things and the only reason I notice the "I can't" sneaking into there is that I was mostly taught "I can." The glaring exception to this is with respect to physical training and injury. Physical rehabilitation was not as well known nearly as much as it is now (Remember "Walk it off"? Oh please.) Most everything I've learned about physical therapy and healing from injury, I've learned as an adult. Now that I think about it: pointing out injury and minor disability and war wounds was prevalent all through my growing up particularly with respect to school athletics. "I can't" always got more attention than "I can." It set you apart in a really weird, unhelpful way (in my view) - I'm not talking about serious disability here, more the minor injury things.

So not playing guitar has become my "I can't" and now I'm not so sure I need to keep carrying it around (In fact I'm actually quite sure I don't need to). At the risk of sounding like an Obama campaign: the point is that I can. Probably in a limited way, but it's not all-or-nothing. I can, dammit, I can, and I need to stop being defeated by this. I am not my wrists.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Using Visualization to Oversolve a Problem

... and the resulting hazards.

We often hear that if you want to remember something that one technique is to visualize a picture of what you want to remember. The more absurd the better. Sounds innocent enough right?

In April of this year (8 months ago) I was just about to go in the store and needed/wanted three unusual items that I was going to have a hard time remembering (usually remembering three things is no problem so I'm not sure why I resorted to this). I wanted to pickup some goldfish crackers, the triangular "Reach" dental flossers, and some papertowels. I didn't have a piece of paper to make a list so I instead, for fun, made up this image:

And yes that's not a goldfish, but it doesn't matter for me to remember it right? The more absurd the better. And that is the problem. I only drew that picture a couple of days ago just for the purposes of this blog entry. In other words it's been in my head this entire time. This is a freakin' grocery list! I've made bunches of grocery lists since then and do I remember them? NO! Should I remember them? NO! Should I remember a list from April? I should think not. So I can personally say that using too large, too effective of a hammer to solve a problem has its hazards - until the time comes when I need goldfish, flossers and papertowels.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Klamath Falls - Not Exactly (Part II)

The Search for Klamath "Falls" - continued

So coming into town I figured I'd see giant signs telling me about how to go see the falls. I'm not seeing them and things are looking suspiciously flat - the geography is just not right. There are hills, but not near the river. The following bad photos that I actually dug out of the trash shows about how confused I was

Now i will ask for directions when I need to, but something's just not right. I pull over and ask the GPS to tell me about points of interest that are "falls." It cheerfully provides a list and the closest one is a hundred miles away. It even tells me about Bridalveil in Yosemite which is a long, long way away. This is not looking good. Now I have a puzzle and I can't resist most puzzles. And I sense a clever trap: "Oh look we got another one looking for "the falls."

I drive further up the lake looking for tourist info and I pull off at Hagelstein Park and look at a map on a board. It's a very helpful map and Klamath Falls is on it and I see they have tourist info back there and there is a symbol by the name. Looking at the legend I see that Klamath Falls has 3 museums, and nothing about any falls. I'm pretty sure I have my answer. If there was a falls, it went bye bye.

I finally got enough of a brain to realize that this big river-fed (as opposed to spring-fed) lake I'm beside is created by a barrier at the end of the lake (either natural or human-made) and any falls would be after that barrier and given that the water is flowing towards Klamath Falls then my driving further up the lake, albeit very pretty, is not going to help my quest.

I turn around, and I stop to gas the car up for the drive back.
As I pull up to the pump, I stop the car, open my door some to release the latch to the gas cap and while still looking down I see a pair of boots four feet away from me. I nearly jump out of my own shoes, but before crying out; aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh, I have the presence of mind to look up and see that the boots are attached to an attendant. Remember those? Those were the people whose job it was to put the gas in your car before much of the world figured out you were bloody well capable of doing it yourself. Completely taken aback I ask: You are full service?" "Yes" he says in a friendly tone. As he's getting the pump going I work up the courage to tentatively ask "So are there any falls in Klamath Falls?" He says "Well there used to be, but it's a dam now." I then wander into the store, and when I have a bit of information I can't resist asking other people in the know about it as well to get their take on things. (Admittedly, this drove my ex crazy.) The woman behind the counter tells me that the falls went away a very long time ago, and it's a very common question. (See, I knew it was a trap.)

I then drive into town but don't readily find the tourist info until I come across a sign telling me the address, but I decide that I have my answer, the afternoon shadows are starting to get long, I need to drive back to California possibly through a storm, and that I'll do some reading on the internet about it.

What I saw was a common story though with some unique angles. I was looking at a depressed working class town that is past its heyday and is struggling to re-identify itself. The city's web site states that fact as the very first line of their web site (http://www.ci.klamath-falls.or.us/)

Welcome to the City of Klamath Falls. We are a City in transition and as such, we are welcoming many new businesses, homes and people into our community.

This cool train engine is in a park right at the water's edge. Reading at http://www.ci.klamath-falls.or.us/visitors/history tells me that when Southern Pacific Railroad came in 1909, the town was a boom town until the great Depression crashed down in 1929 and the lumber boom died.

But I still don't have any mention of a "falls." Do you know how had it is to find mention of something that everyone wants to pretend doesn't exist? Careful reading of the Wiki page for Klamath Falls (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klamath_Falls,_Oregon - Donate to Wikipedia while you're there.) says that the city (then named "Linkville") was basically dropped on top of the falls, and then completely shoved said falls out of the way when one of several dams were built circa 1907 by the "Klamath Reclamation Project" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klamath_Reclamation_Project). Note the naming style and the date. My how things have changed. In 1907 "reclamation" was about draining marshes for farmland, now it more means restoring the wetlands to maintain bio-diversity. And thus we have tripped over the major political football of the area. Water rights (Go back to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klamath_Falls,_Oregon and page down, and we also have the completely biased Bucket Brigade: http://www.klamathbucketbrigade.org/), which boils down to the common theme of: farmer vs. wildlife preservation that comes up all over the place.

What I can't figure out is if the huge bucket in front of city hall has anything to do with the Bucket Brigade "we want our water" protests. It's labeled Bucket Brigade but it's more considered public art and is listed here: http://www.oregonartscommission.org/pdf/kfallspublicart.pdf

I take some more photos of the downtown area and then head back for Redding where my Mother-in-Law lives. Didn't get rained on too much. I didn't realize that Redding was so close to Klamath Falls, Oregon (about 2.5 hours on 97 and I5). All in all a fun adventure all inspired by a misconception. I think such places are inherent cautionary tales as its heyday lasted just 20 years. A lesson in non-sustainability that they are working on learning, they have beauty on their side, but the adaptation is clearly painful and hopefully they'll come out the other side wiser, despite the efforts of the Bucket Brigade. Oh and sorry: No falls. That was bulldozed by progress. Oops.

Downtown Klamath Falls.

Clouds over Butte Valley, CA on return.