Friday, January 29, 2010

Using an Avalanche Beacon to Locate another Beacon

Avalanche Tranceivers and their use.

As I do some research I'm noticing that specific details on avalanche rescue are a little scarce. That may be deliberate as you really need to take a class, and practice practice, practice. I'm going to focus specifically on exactly what I learned and am going to leave a lot of the other detail out.

Tome of basics are listed here:

I think it really needs diagrams but I don't know when I'm going to have time to do them.

The basic gist is that when out on a trip everyone has their tranceiver in transmit mode. If someone is buried then everyone else puts their transceivers in search mode so they can locate the other person.

The methodology in how this happens is really important (such as there needs to be a leader coordinating the whole search.)

The search steps are Primary search for a signal, Secondary search one you find a signal, pinpoint search to locate the victim and dig them out.

The parts we spend the most time on were the secondary search and the pinpoint search. The secondary search happens when you get a signal and you bend down and lower the receiver down to the snow level and start following the arrows on the receiver. Because of the way the radio waves emanate, the approach will naturally be in an arc.

When you're close the numbers (distance away is in meters) will start dropping and the receiver starts beeping more. When you're numbers start to go up again you need to stop and do a pinpoint search. Tell your leader about this - yell!- you will need help with shoveling if that's necessary. For practice searches that are only 1/2 a meter down, it's pretty easy to get numbers down to 0.5 or 0.6, but people buried for real may be buried much further down.

At this point you stop looking at the directional arrows and just look at the numbers. Some people cover them up but I didn't need to.
Now you need to concentrate and focus and that is surprisingly difficult with the ensuing chaos - people often mess this part up, but it's my favorite.
- Note and mark the lowest number that when things were the lowest (say 0.6m)
- Note the place where you noticed the numbers going up and mark that place (say 1.0m - a ski pole is good marker
- back up to past the lowest number and back off to the same amount in the other direction and mark that
- then back to the center and mark the same amount left and right (in this example mark where it hits 1.0 both on the left and right)
- You should now have a search box.

If the number in the marked center is less than a meter then dig with your hands
If more than a meter then the beacon and whatever it is attached to (person, pack or whatever) needs further locating. Assemble your probe and probe the center and work out from the center in a spiral until you get a "strike:" (ouch - the probes are pointed.)
- IMPORTANT, when you have located something, leave the probe in place
- back up about a stride and a half and start digging.
- short strokes are best, stay low and work as fast as you can.
- if it's a person, uncover their face as quick as you can (bummer if the first thing you find is a boot - you can't yank them out as they are likely injured. Keep digging - try not to make it worse but if they live they will likely forgive you for shovel whacks.
- if they are conscious try and have a conversation with them to see if there are other victims (the likelihood of them being at all communicative is not great even if they are alive. Get them medical attention as apparently there's nothing quite like being buried in snow and this is according to first hand reports we were lucky enough to have. One video I saw describe it as like being in concrete.

This all needs to happen with it 15 minutes. The locators on the beacons are so good that when you know what you are doing, you usually can find another beacon with in 3-4 minutes which is good because it takes a while to dig out that much snow if they're 4 feet down (average), which can easily be a ton of snow. This is why calling for help is actually secondary. It's important if they're hurt, but if they are going to live you have to be the one to find them and get them an airway. Such a grim and fascinating topic.

My entire goal of the class was avalanche avoidance, but I must say I liked the search part. It's geocaching with consequences.

The Weirdness of Minor Emotional Trauma

I'm in a position I've never been in before, and it's pretty strange for me.

Because the blog entries are individually searchable some redundant information first:

I attended an avalanche class where to get to certain places I needed to ski on terrain that was beyond my skiing ability.
I was basically in the position of having to either snowplow or side-slip down to where I needed to be and I also had to traverse some very steep terrain that would have been no problem if I was on foot or on snowshoes, but with skis one made it completely different and the snow was too deep to just take the skis off and go on foot (I tried). I was sometimes in tears from the anxiety and frustration, but I never feared for my life and only a little for my safety. The situation was intensely anxiety producing, but on paper wasn't that bad in the grand scheme of possibilities.

But now days later I still have these odd things happening to me. I'll have these moments where I have to just go cry for a few minutes, and not just weeping, but serious crying jags. I have trouble sleeping sometimes and I rarely have sleep issues. Last night a bad dream (a man who I don't know came at me with intent to do harm) woke me up suddenly and keep me up for a couple of hours.

Bodies are funny. I recognize that my body is healing from what it considers an emotional trauma, what's weird is I've never been in this position from something as minor as getting dragged into something that I would not of chosen under normal circumstances. I have experience with emotional trauma, but more in the realm of real trauma (depression, breakups, sickness, death: the more usual kind of emotional trauma that takes months/years to really heal from), but this is different as I never could have anticipated it. For one I usually don't let other people push me into situations that are over my head. I push myself, but I, of course, respect my own limits. I have been in groups where the skill level was beyond me, but I always had the option to drop out. I've never been in the military or other groups where you have to keep up. This situation has made me swear off groups/tours if the potential for this exists.

What's also strange is how it manifests. After seeing how well snowboards could cope with the steep terrain and knowing that the reputation of snowboarding is that it's initially difficult, but you can get good at it in a much shorter time period, I've decided to take the step of starting learn it. This gives me no anxiety. I think because starting to learn snowboarding means spending a day or more on the bunny slope and right at this moment I'm all for bunny slopes.

There's also another very positive experience about this whole thing. The trip was there and back in two different chainsor 4wd only storms. While I do have 4wd envy I was very pleased with how the car did in the storm and how well I fared putting on the chains twice. I did it one with tighteners and once without and I didn't notice a difference. The manuf. says don't use them and everyone else says do. I split the difference.

The cool think about traveling in a storm on 80 is that at least going back the speed limit is 30mph and there were no accidents. I like it. Very slow going but not that stressful.

And I have finally pulled it together to make the beacon location entry.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Snow Grieving

Still reeling from my avalanche class. I loved it but was put on terrain that was above my skill level and that seems to have messed me up some (though the class itself was great and I still need to write more about it in time.)

Given how much trouble I had with skiing on difficult terrain and how I'm not willing to move to the mountains since my life is here and I like it and I pretty much emotionally need to be near the ocean as its nearness has always been a part of my life, I've decided to learn snowboarding. Snowboarding has a very steep learning curve BUT unlike skiing, if you stick with it you can get proficient in a much much shorter time period. I had avoided snowboarding since its use was limited in the backcountry, but that's changing with the invention of things like the Split Board (A snowboard cut in half and used like skis to climb and put together like a snowboard to go down.) i'm excited about this decision, but with this resolve to learn it comes an inertia about everything else.


I'm still grieving about how skiing went during the avy class. I feel as it I've lost something dear to me. I feel as though what I've been working towards is not attainable (being an expert skier while being a part time skier - and it's true - this might not be attainable) and it was just torn away, but that really doesn't cover it. I was placed in a position over my head and forced to cope and unlike common "wisdom," it didn't make me grow. Instead I've gotten worse and my confidence has been shook down deep. I don't want to even plan a trip at all as I'll just fail anyway (never mind that I learned a lot - that doesn't seem sink in). Fortunately, I don't think I'll fail at snowboarding (it is easier and eventually attainable even part time) though some part of me fears even that.

I was planning a Shasta trip. I don't want to.
I was going to apply to Whitney. I don't want to.
I was thinking about Yosemite trip. Not any more.
I was thinking maybe just Lassen, but not even that appeals.

I want to bail on the Sierra At Tahoe women's ski camp, but I'm going to make myself go. They say that it's run at whatever level you are at.

It's funny how this grieving (weird that that's exactly what it is) comes in cycles. Most of the time I'm fine and then suddenly I'm not.

Of course the dogs don't want me to go anywhere without them and it's tempting to just give into that.

Terri read this and mention that I'm letting my fears run away with things. She's right but I feel I have to let it run its course and not make any serious decisions right yet.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Avalanch Course Pt I: Basic Overview

I really do need to stop bemoaning my lack of skiing skills and start writing down what I actually learned which had nothing to do with skiing.

The class held by the most fabulous Babes in the Backcountry (

The instructor was actually one of the Avalanche Forecasters at Squaw which was quite the coup.

It was about

Why do we need to learn about avalanches?

In what terrain do avalanches occur?

What are the parts of an avalanche so we can talk about them and study them?

What are the classes of avalanches?
(The relative size or R scale)

How do we measure the destruction that an avalanche causes?
(The D scale)

What conditions make avalanches likely?

Weather and how it contributes

Snow types and how that contributes

Field work

Gather data from websites, and other sources.

Rescue equipment and how to use it
(transceiver, probe, shovel)

Rescue methodology (very important, and this is where the class become vital)

Terrain observation and applying what data we gathered beforehand

Explained some of Squaw's weather station instruments

Ran a lot of rescue scenarios and analysis and debrief.

Fri Kings Beach area near the cabin we were staying at.

Sat Squaw (

Here's an annotated mountain map:

Top of East Broadway lift and Shirley Lake area

Then back to Snow study area near High Camp and introl to snow pit digging

Sun KT lift (oh my freakin' god)
Avalanche rescue demo at Squaw complete with one of the avalanche rescue dogs.

Solitude a difficult blue run very steep and soft at the top very frustrating for me to get around on. (I think I'm taking up snowboarding.)
More involved scenarios
More extensive snow pit which was really cool

I could be writing for days and I'd rather not recreate an acredited course, but the basics of this information is in the book Snow Sense: A Guide to Evaluating Snow Avalanche Hazard by Jill A. Fredston, and Doug Fesler


Instead I'm just going to focus on the fun stuff. More later.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Avalanche Class - Some Sketchy Details

I took a 4 day avalanche class in Tahoe and I'm still a bit reeling from it.

the vague details are:

I attended a 4 day avalanche course put on by Babes in the Backcountry ( where the instructor is one of the Avalanche Forecasters at Squaw Ski resort. this is actually multiple blog entries but in short.
Drove to Tahoe in a storm (with chains)
Spent part lecture time in a sweet Kings Beach house (on the edge of Lake Tahoe) learning about what causes avalanches.
Learned how to use avalanche beacons (think geocaching, but you HAVE to locate it in 15 minutes or the person buried is likely dead - yikes).
Watched a Squaw rescue exercise complete with 7-8 crew members and an avalanche dog.
Got dragged onto ski slopes way above my ski skill level (they had one person showing me the easier ways - but still scary).
Dug a snow pit in a light storm at the top of Squaw and took a lot of readings and measurements. Yes this is total snow geek city.
Same day, drove back in a different chains-only storm with snow dumping around Blue Canyon.
Fell into bed after an 18 hour day.

Hopefully much more to follow when I get my head together.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Skiing: The Varying Shades of Blue

Ski resorts use a colored system to grade their runs

Easiest is a green circle
Intermediate is a blue square
Advanced is a black diamond
Expert is a double black diamond

I am an intermediate skier and I'm finding that there are many varying difficulties of blue. In fact I've often seen described "easy blues" and "harder blues." and the real trouble is that the degree of difficulty can vary on the run and the only way you have to learn about it is to try it or have a trusted person who knows your ability tell you about it. The net effect of this is that you find yourself on a run beyond your ability and you feel like a cat in a tree. Fortunately I know how to slide sideways down too steep sections but it's still very disconcerting.

Last friday when leaving Sugarbowl I had a great view of Mt Disney (Jerome Hill where I usually hang out wasn't as clearly visible) and spotted one such blue run that I've been stuck on more than once. I haven't worked up the courage to try it this season but probably will.

Here is a photo with the run on it (click on it to see the annotation). The really troublesome thing about this run is that you've been blissing out on a very nice gentle run and then you get dumped off a cliff. Allegedly there's an easier way down, but I haven't found it yet.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Trader Joe's Quest

I went by Trader Joes on a mission. We have some Trader Joes gift cards and Terri wanted to know if there was something special we could get. Do you know how much fun it is to walk in looking for something expensive?

So right now
$11 gets you 2 Dungeness crabs
$13 gets you a large hunk of uncured ham (she's on her own there, but I dutifully reported it)
$11-12+ gets you a significant quantity of Alaskan Smoked Salmon
$13 gets you a foot tall container of free trade coffee
$23 gets you an even taller supply of protein powder (she passed on this :)
$8 gets you what appears to be a lifetime supply of Castle Soap
$7 gets you an enormous amount of olive oil

I now realize there were probably some great cheese wheels, but I must have overlooked it in self defense.

Dungeness crab immediately won - yum.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Callanish Stones follow-up - the Quest for Callanish V

This is a follow up to my blog entry about the famous Callanish Stones

I mentioned that while the main attraction was amazing, it's a total blast to locate some of the more obscure standing stones in the area that are associated with the main one ("Callanish I"). There are over 10 and the quest for Callanish V had us having a grand time tromping all around a very large cow pasture.

Inspired, I scanned in the photos of our quest for Callanish V. there is a lot of mucking about for which there are no photos as well it was just mucking about (though just trying to follow the printed instructions is a challenge - this is pre-GPS).

First you find the marker stone. Given how burired it is in peat, I'm really surprised we found it. Some kind person or group partially dug it out.

The marker stone points out the row of stones that is up on the top of the rise.

Looking in the other direction:

We were looking and looking here. It actually isn't in this frame (if I remember correctly they were hiding just behind my left shoulder and further over - no doubt laughing at me), but gives the proper needle in a haystack feeling, and I spend a long time looking at this view.

One or more of these stones is not like the others...

This was around a 3 hour adventure I believe. Oh and note the crowds. It's basically you and history having a very personal chat.

It's Twenty Ten!

2010 is Twenty Ten, not Two Thousand Ten. (Someone alert They Might be Giants as we need a song like "Istanbul, not Constantinople") I don't know who decreed that (Emily Post Inc.?), but it's caught on and, if you think about it, it makes sense as it's how we always refer to dates in the past.

How do you say 1972? Nineteen Seventy Two.
When was the Norman Conquest? In One thousand Sixty Six? I think not. Ten-Sixty-Six is way catcher.
When was the War of Eighteen-Twelve? Sorry couldn't resist.

It's the Oughts (someone correct that spelling for me) that threw us off and the workaround in the past has been to use the handy, but ungrammatical "Oh." 1906 is Nineteen Oh Six.

I think the thing that make it not so obvious is that "Two thousand" and "Twenty" aren't that much different to say if you're used to saying "Two Thousand." "Twenty Oh Six" just never caught on, but it likely will in the future as the century moves forward (you heard it here probably not for the first time, but just the nth time.)

Happy Twenty Ten.

Inedible Bounty (of Oranges)

In Sept, I was agonizing about what to do with my thriving orange tree that produces some seriously sour oranges:

I haven't done anything with the tree as it's honestly not high enough of a priority, but when it calls attention to itself by having a huge crop of oranges that not even the squirrels will eat (I found one on the thrown on the ground with one squirrel bite out of it), it does grate.

If I leave the oranges on the tree for a year, then they get to a state where I can eat a some if I leave them out in the sun for a few days, but that experience has lost its novelty. I've decided that my conclusion at the end of the first blog entry is probably correct, the original graft died and I'm left with bitter root stock that is really annoyingly thriving.

While this is a bummer, I must remind myself, it's not entirely bad news, The root stock part is very healthy so if I wanted to learn how to regraft a tree successfully (I've tried once with some cuttings from my family's grove trees and that failed), then I have an excellent candidate for a base.

So for now, I'll just cut it back to a manageable size and stop worrying about getting the oranges edible - they're not. Coming to that conclusion is very freeing. I can always take it out entirely if I feel it's a lost cause but as I was writing in the first entry, I do admire its tenacity and love for life even it I don't like what it produces. I wish there was a magic shot I could give it to make it start producing sweet oranges. Could I order that over the internet maybe? I'm sure I could. With guaranteed results too.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

DIY Home Improvement Means Not Having Someone Else to Blame

Like a lot of people, I and my partner at the time wanted to buy a house, but the ones we could afford were not in areas that we liked, so we took the time honored route of buying a fixer, and trading sweat equity in order to get into a nicer area

That paid off handsomely, which was actually not the reason for this house purchase. It's one of those emotional decisions that, for once, worked in my favor. My area is rich in history and has no shortage of historic houses in nice areas that need love and attention. I just wanted to lavish love (and attention and money and time and money and anguish and money ... ) on a house that needed it. It's one area where you can really make a difference as a nicer house improves the neighborhood which helps everyone. (Well unless you're involved in gentrification, but we'll steer clear of that hot topic.)

The trouble is that when on a limited budget (that means just about everyone to some extent) there are always long lists of things to do and only one or two of you to do the work. So you save your pennies for the projects that you want someone else's expertise in - most recently for me is seismic reinforcements. After learning all about it I decided that I wanted someone else's help (and information about it changes so fast I'm glad I sought help.)

For the rest that you can conceivably do, you have a list of doable projects that you (ok, I) think about and think about and think some more about. Then I finally get tired of it and start on one until I hit a stopping point which leads to too many unfinished projects. Usually the reason is that you've discovered that some essential thing has to happen before you can proceed - I call this: going backwards in a project. Recently I decided that I really needed to finish a project, not just start one.

This particular project - a deadbolt - had actually taken some thought as I wanted to put said deadbolt on a door that had a window. I wanted to get around the problem of someone just breaking the window and undoing the deadbolt, so I found one that had a key on each side ("double cylinder" I think) and when we're home I leave a key in it on the inside (for fast exit in case of fire) and when we're gone on vacation I remove the inner key.

So first I did the easy part and replaced the same keyed door knob (didn't have to drill any new holes for that), then it sat for a couple of weeks until the above "I need to finish a house project" bug attacked and putting in the deadbolt was a natural target since I already had most of the hardware.

The thing about doing it yourself is that you have to accept that it's going to take you 4+ times as long as a professional who does this every day. I'm a computer professional and from time to time I'll help a friend out with a computer problem and I find that they've spent days on something that I can fix it 30 seconds. The reason is that I've already spent all those hours learning about the various ins and outs.

The other thing about fixer houses is that you had better really like tools

This job "required" a drill, a key hole drill bit, a spade drill bit, a 1/8 " drill bit, a wood chisel, a hammer, and a screwdriver. (Plus the usual: measuring tape, small T square level, and pencil) Simple huh?

The job actually took a drill, a different template kit from Home Depot which made lining things up easier, a key hole saw from the kit, a spade bit different from the one in the kit because the kit one wasn't lined up quite right. a 1/8" drill bit, the kit's nice wood chisel, a mallet (don't screw up your chisel with a hammer!), a utility knife (works better to use it to draw the outline to chisel out the mortise.

But nothing ever goes as planned and this is the problem with DIY. WHEN you mess it up there's no one else to blame (stupid locksmit - oh that would be me), you just have to be prepared for it.
So add to the above: small dowels and glue to help fill mis-aligned holes
a smaller spade bit for the dead bolt part that goes into the door jamb because they neglected to tell you that the one to put the dead bolt in the door is really too large for the other side of the jamb.
A Dremel to help make micro adjustments
A Die grinder for those not so micro adjustments.
A patient, but easily amused spouse or partner who is willing to help.
A headlamp because you don't have enough hands to hold a flash light.
Eye protection
Lipstick - this is not a joke. Lipstick put on the end of the dealbolt shows where it's striking the jamb. Rumor has it even the manly locksmith guys carry it, so feel free to look for it when they are working for you, so you can tease them about it.

Things that helped:
- patience - especially when chiseling the motises (those insets you have to make for the striker plates)
- sculpture experience for same motises - this helps you to avoid whacking your hands with the mallet
- upper arm endurance - you are drilling a very large hole in a door and the drill can catch so you need to be able to hold on tight.
- a good sense of touch as it requires putting in bolts where you can't see the screw hole
- a good eye for when things are mostly level - it's not precision work, but the closer you are the less rework you have to do.
- a sense of humor
- the knowledge (hopefully not misinformed) that you are not making things worse
- health insurance (not used this time but always good to have) - note the upper arm endurance section - drills that catch on things try to turn the body of the drill - often into you.

2 sessions later, I now have a working deadbolt and all my fingers, toes, eyes and dogs and sanity and marriage, and a sense of accomplishment. Besides it's fun to actually get something done with all of your toys.

When I first published this I typoed DIY as DYI. I wonder if that stands for Do Yourself In.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Treadmill Experiments

Happy New Year

Spent a couple of hours at the gym and surprisingly I recognized at lot of of the people there. Guess it's going to take a little while for the New Year's Resolution Crowd to get here.

I've been ill for the past few days so it was really nice to get out and moving. First did my favorite: RPM which is a stationary bike class and is an invitation to try to kill yourself while cool music plays and a super nice, super fit instructor encourages you in this pursuit. It is in RPM where I have hit my Maximum Heart Rate twice (this is hard to do - once), and one time I went past what I thought was my MHR which made me dubious enough that I replaced the heart rate monitor as it was acting slightly erratically. Fortunately since I'm coming off of a cold I just cruised. Rediscovering my actual MHR will be for another day.

After class I was pretty revved so I jumped on a treadmill and wasn't winding down at all so I just kept going and wound up staying on the treadmill an hour, so I took the time to verify something that I'd been suspecting.

At a rate of 3mph
At an incline of 5.0 (5 degrees maybe?), the calorie burn rate is 383/hr
At an incline of 10.0 the calorie burn rate leaps up to 529/hr!

This means that going uphill is just as calorically effective as jogging! Maybe not as fun when you're on a treadmill, but nice to have that alternative.