Archive for July, 2019


July 26, 2019

I reached the junction of Deer Butte Trail with Hand Lake Trail, turned left on the latter and started ascending.  I was 3 miles into a 17 mile hike in the Mount Washington Wilderness that would reach Scott Mountain and then loop back to where I had just turned.  At least, that was the plan.

I took a break, which I try to do every hour or three to four miles, so I don’t get behind on fluids or food.  I took off my day pack and took out a sport drink with no calories but electrolytes.  It tastes good and I will drink it,  But something was funny about the pack.  Something too light funny.  Something missing.  Where was my second water bottle? 

Oh, it must be down further in the pack, I thought, but a quick check did not show it, as I re-shouldered the pack and started hiking uphill.  I felt fine, not sweating much, and I just took a couple of sips of fluid. Plenty was left.  But my mind was replaying what happened to the second bottle.  Was it in the car?  It seemed unlikely, since I had taken everything I needed from the car.  

The day was warm, a thermal trough laying over the Cascades, which would make it quite warm today. Still, the forest I had been in was cool, and I hoped I could get to the next junction, about three and a half miles away, in a little more than an hour.  Maybe I could deal with the fluid problem, although I had my concerns.

The hike entered a recent burn and the footing became more difficult  The soil is disturbed in a burn, and while the trail had been cleared last year, the blowdowns removed, there were many new trees down already, typical after a burn.  I was chronicling the number, size, and location of each for the High Cascade Forest Volunteers to log out, which could easily involve me, and the tree branches were frequently sharp, penalties for carelessness falling, which I did once, sharp points waiting on the ground.

I had done the 23.5 mile Duffy Lake Loop three years earlier through the B and B burn, hiking several miles in a moonscape and nearly half the whole hike in a burned area. 

Jorn Lake, Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, B and B fire aftermath, August 2016

There were hundreds of blowdowns, and I almost turned around eight miles in.  I should have.  Carrying two liters of water, I was bone dry when I came out after nearly eight hours.  Fortunately, I had kept some water in the car.

Mt. Washington through the burn area, Hand Lake Trail

Trail with Douglas fir blowdown blocking it

I finally reached the junction, had more water and started to hike towards Scott Mountain, but I didn’t like my pace going uphill, and I had another thousand feet of climbing to go. 

I stopped.

I’m turning around, I said to myself. I will have lunch, look at the maps, take stock of things and do this hike differently. Most of the time when I say stop, I quit.  Only on Duffy Loop did I keep going, and as mentioned, it wasn’t a great idea.

I had never forgotten water on a hike here before, and I was annoyed with myself, but I quickly put the annoyance aside to deal with the fact I had limited water and the maps showed the best way back was the way I came.  There was no sense in worrying now about what I did wrong.  I felt fine at the moment, but I needed to put in some serious miles. There were two lakes near the trail on the way back if worse came to worse.

I got up and started walking, but something didn’t feel right.  I was descending.  I took out my GPS and it showed me making new trail, rather than retracing my route.  I was going the wrong way.  I went back to the 3-way junction and still turned the wrong way.  Well, there was only  one other route, and that one was correct.  My shadow was ahead of me, so I was going north, which was what I wanted to do. It bothered me that I went the wrong way on the trail after lunch. I noted that maybe I was more tired than I should be, maybe dry, maybe not, but I was making mistakes I shouldn’t and needed to leave.  I made a similar mistake 20 years prion in Tennessee on the Appalachian Trail. I sat down to take a break and got up to walk.  When I saw a road that wasn’t supposed to be there, I realized it was a road I had crossed earlier.  At the same time, I saw some familiar brush where I had encountered a snake on the way up.  I quickly turned around and almost ran up the trail, as if running would remove my embarrassment at having messed up.  I was tired then, too. This day, I was again reminded that I can get off trail and make significant mistakes.  Fortunately, it was a gentle reminder. I had a short climb to a ridge, descent another 2 miles in the burn, get into the woods, and finally reach the trailhead.

Not having the second bottle of water turned out to be a good thing.  I think with two, I would have tried to do the whole 17 miles, and in my condition I wasn’t going to do well.  I was tired enough when I finished after fourteen.  I saw the two lakes on the route that I might have missed otherwise, because they required a walk in from the trail.  I remembered, when I got to the car, that my wife had put several liters of water in the trunk in case of an earthquake’s hitting if I were away from home.  And I realized that while I had properly placed my Steri-Pen in the pack, I needed the thicker plastic water bottle, not the thin sports drink bottle, to safely use it.   The next day I added chlorous acid pills to the pac for another means of purification.  

Another reason I forgot things is because I deal with two different packs each week, my work pack, which has gloves, my hand saw, loppers, ear and eye protection, and most of my first aid kit, and my day pack for hiking, which has more clothes.  I needed to have a checklist for both of them, rather than depend upon my memory.   I now have three different ways to deal with water on the trail, two first aid kits, sterilizers, and leave two water bottles on the hood of the car the afternoon before hiking or working trail. Spare running shoes go in the trunk so I can change footgear after a hike.  

Tomorrow and Sunday I day hike and work. This will be a good opportunity to see if I have fixed the system.

Kuitan Lake, inside the Mt. Washington Wilderness

Robinson Lake, just outside the Mt. Washington Wilderness


July 20, 2019

We picked up our saws and started hiking steeply uphill on Waldo Trail west of Waldo Mountain.  I figured we had at least 600 feet of elevation gain ahead, so I looked at my altimeter and estimated a bit more, 200 meters. It’s difficult for me to hike an unknown trail without knowing where I am regarding elevation and distance.  Many would say I am too focused on those things.  True, but I don’t ask how far it is, how much climbing there is, and what time we will get there. I know.

I was with two others, the crew leader with our volunteer trail group, the Scorpions, and a well-known sawyer from a nearby town, who not only uses saws but is the central Oregon expert in sharpening them.  

I hadn’t done trail work in 25 years when I first started doing it in Oregon. The trail work I did in Minnesota was a very different kind where we cleaned campsites, dug latrines. checked peoples permits and instructed them how to canoe safely and care for the wilderness.

I tend to try new fields, learn new vocabulary, new skills, starting at the bottom and working my way up.  I gain competence that suits me, then I move on, not giving up what I have learned but seeking another new adventure.  I have done this with medicine, statistics, astronomy, meteorology, canoe tripping, German, leading hikes, and even writing.  I don’t leave these fields: I tutor statistics, I still observe the sky, the weather, watch German TV, write, lead hikes and canoe trip. I just don’t do as much of them.  My latest interest is trail work.

I had little experience using a 2-man crosscut saw, no experience repairing trails, and constantly needing correction and instruction. Few knew me, and I wasn’t considered much of an asset.  I did a two night trip in the wilderness last summer, helped cut a lot of logs out, hurt my knee, and stayed away from work for about three months. In the winter, a lot of low elevation trail work nearby made it easier for me to go out again for a few hours, and I started doing more.

We had a rough winter, with a lot of trees down on the nearby trails, and I was a swamper, the person who helps the chain saw cutter remove the logs and cleans up the smaller debris.  I didn’t miss a chance to go out, making about two dozen consecutive trips into the woods with the group.  People at least knew me, knew I was out there, but I still wasn’t considered too valuable, at lease in my eyes.  

Two days prior, I had worked in the Diamond Peak Wilderness clearing logs, two of which were north of 25 inches in diameter.  One had serious binding, meaning there was compression of part of the log which made the saw bind or stop cutting.  It took our threesome 3 hours to cut the log out.  We had to keep plastic wedges in the first cut to keep it open and prevent the second cut from binding as well.  I learned a lot from that day, but my arms were dead tired and I was expecting to leave early on the next outing in the Waldo Lake Wilderness.

We started with a 24-inch diameter log that could be pushed downhill, except there was not a lot of room for it on that side.  I made the counterintuitive suggestion that we push it the other way, even slightly uphill a few feet, because we wouldn’t have to push it far to get it off the trail. My way worked well, and the crew leader was pleased.  He hadn’t thought of pushing it the other way.

I worked with the sawyer, also named Mike, on the first 15 incher.  He was experienced, and I expected a lot of criticism. The log was dry, my arms were not as sore as I expected, and I was careful to sight along the saw so that it was straight and not bent.  Bends make it difficult to do a straight cut.  We cut through it smoothly, made a second cut, and pushed the cut log off the trail. No corrections made. The day was going better.

About a half mile up the trail, we had another issue where the log was above the trail and we had top bind, where the top wood was under compression and the lower under tension.  I suggested we cut underneath, since tension leads to a tendency for the cut to open rather than to close.  This would be an “under buck,” and I thought of it because I had encountered this same type of problem two days prior.  We put the saw into position below the log, cut upward, and I just let the saw cut with a trace of upward pressure. It seemed right, and I could hear the saw sing, a sound that meant we were doing it right. We cut through the bottom part of the log, and it dropped, the saw remaining away from the ground, which is important to avoid damage to it.

On the next cut, the sawyer said that despite my being new to this, I was cutting well.

I was stunned,  This was the first compliment I had had ever about my sawing or trail work.  I have been out with the group forty-seven different times, over four hundred volunteer hours, into four wilderness areas, three national forests, and I had never once heard “Good job” applied to me as an individual.

I thanked him, and we moved on and under bucked a second log.  We were making good progress along the trail.  I had stopped counting how many logs I had cut out, but it was a lot.  We were finally descending, after climbing about a thousand feet, far more than the six hundred I expected.  My arms felt good; nothing was difficult.  I was careful how I cut, trying not to force the saw, and I felt confident.

On the next log, when I suggested an under buck, Mike looked up at me and the crew leader, held up a hand with three fingers, and said, “I can think of only three people I will do an under buck with.  You are doing a great job with it.”

Wow, I was not walking on the trail any more.  I was floating.  

Later on, Mike showed me how to get part of a log off the ground using wedges and a small log. On one log, I asked him where he wanted to start, and he said, “You tell me.”  I did, thrilled that my reasoning was good and I had read the log correctly. 

We finished our part of the trail, hooked up with another crew that did a nearby trail, and walked three miles out of the woods to the cars.  Sure, I was tired, I had a long drive ahead home on a lot of dirt roads, and I would be leading a 12 mile hike the next day.  But I’d do fine.  I knew the area. 

I also knew a good teacher, one who could both instruct and positively reinforce a student. Both matter a great deal.  I had long wondered whether I would ever fit in to the trail crew.  This was the day I realized my skills and work mattered.

The two Mikes under bucking a log. Author in orange hard hat. Waldo Lake Wilderness.

Two of the crew taking some pulls at a 26 inch Western hemlock. The wedges in the top of the log are keeping the cut open. Diamond Peak Wilderness.


July 12, 2019

Ten minutes before totality, and I finally realized that my planned way of viewing the solar eclipse from the air wasn’t going to work. Not at all. I needed to change all my plans, and I didn’t have a lot of time to do it.  I was dead tired from two consecutive nights of overnight flights, as we lifted off from Easter Island to view the solar eclipse at its maximum point of totality, then fly along the path to gain several more minutes of totality than possible on the ground.  This was a crazy trip, and I wondered why I still kept viewing eclipses.  But I have said those words at some point on each of the 27 eclipse trips I have taken.  Eclipse chasers are a crazy lot, going to the ends of the Earth to gain the special currency measured in seconds of totality, seconds under the umbral shadow of the Moon.

I arrived in Santiago, Chile, a day late because of weather and plane issues on the way to Dallas.  When I arrived, the person who was supposed to pick me up wasn’t there, and I paid way too much a cab, which took me to the wrong hotel (PanAmericano does not equal PanAmericana.)  I was joining a group, and I figured I would know somebody—I always do on eclipse trips—but maybe nobody I could visually recognize.

After arriving at the right hotel, I took a long walk in the city, had lunch, then took another long walk.  That helped.  We held a pre-eclipse meeting that afternoon, and nobody recognized me, but I did recognize one Japanese woman from the 2010 eclipse and four others from eclipses 15 and 20 years ago. 

We left the hotel at 10 pm, taking off at 3 am for Easter Island, arriving at 6:30.  At least I slept most of the flight, although I needed more.  I was awakened for breakfast, and I couldn’t decide if that was good or bad.  I did need the sleep, but it was getting difficult to find food, too. I ate, then fell back asleep. It was like being on call in medicine, and I couldn’t figure out how I did that for so many years.

We flew to the eclipse path, circling to let the eclipse come to us.  I had sat quietly away from the others a half hour earlier, meditating, relaxing, and telling myself I was here to see the eclipse any way I could, and I was very fortunate to be here. It helped.  I had difficulty taking pictures of the crescent Sun, because it was high above the horizon and I could barely view it through the window. I wouldn’t be able to get a picture, a video, or even my neck to let me look where I needed to.  Time was passing, totality was coming, and I finally realized I wasn’t going to take any videos, any photos of the shadow, or even use the small binoculars I brought.

Five minutes before totality, I made all the required mental changes. Because we were traveling at a quarter of the Moon’s speed, we would be in contact with the shadow twice as long as on ground—8 1/2 minutes—and for once, I would have as much time as I could want to look at an eclipse, the way I have told hundreds of first timers: “Just look and soak it up. You may never get another chance.”

I lay on my back, sprawled across 23 A, B, and C, used my foam pillow, looked up with my head extended only slightly, and I could see the crescent Sun—and, whoa, Venus too!—calling it out loud.  I take it as a point of pride if I see Venus early.  The Sun was to my left and Venus to the right, but directions made no sense, because I was upside down and below the equator as well.  Maybe everything was right side up. 

Eight minutes passed like eight seconds

The Sun became such a thin crescent that I could no longer see it through a filter.  This is the best way perhaps of looking, no binoculars, and when nothing more was visible through the filter, I removed it and saw the diamond ring, the last bit of sunlight around the now covered Sun, in the dark sky above me. It was fabulous.  The diamond ring slowly faded into totality, and I saw the black disk of the Moon with bright Venus to the right.  We were at 41,000 feet, and this was a really dark eclipse.

I looked for what I thought was 15 seconds, but it was probably two minutes, burning the image of the black disk and Venus into my mind.  Then I reached for the camera, which was right where my hand landed. I used the telephoto to look at the solar disk and the corona in more detail, then put the camera down to look some more.

I got up, as planned, crossed the plane to the starboard side and viewed the shadow stretching to the west before it became light from where the eclipse had ended far west of us.  I got pictures with the plane’s wing present, providing perspective.  I came back to my seat which someone from the press pool had invaded.  He quickly left, and the person in front of me had his reading light go on, which along with flashes from cameras, is a monstrous no-no in eclipses.  He ended up taping it over with a candy bar wrapper, because figuring out how to turn off an aircraft reading light takes a lot longer than taking tape and a wrapper and smashing the two together over the light.

Taped reading light over Row 22

I took a quick look at my watch and then flipped back over on row 23 again, knowing I had two minutes, and knowing I was done with photographs.  I saw the remarkably bright chromosphere and its lavender-orange color that I swear isn’t found anywhere else on Earth, marveled at its extent about a third of the way around the Sun, and realized we were about to see 3rd contact, the second diamond ring.  And there it was, kind of a small bubble, until WOW, the large blob of light that is exposed sunlight, became visible. Three of us commented loudly on the double Diamond Ring.  I looked way too long, 5, 10, maybe 15 seconds after the appearance, not ideal for my eyes, but ideal to remember.  Totality was over, and it was time to return to Easter Island.  

Earlier, one of the flight attendants asked what I did in real life, and I told her in Spanish. She apparently knew one of the journalists, an Argentine, a former neurologist and now a journalist, and introduced us earlier.  After totality, he came by with cameraman in tow, asking to interview me for Argentine television.  

“I am very fortunate,” I began in English, answering a few questions about how I got interested in eclipses.  He asked my why I traveled to see them.  The quick answer is that they are beautiful.  They are—they are one of the top 3 things I’ve seen in nature.  

But there is a second kind of beauty, and that is in the understanding of the resonance of the three lunar cycles: synodic, anomalistic, and draconic, how they come into line every 18 years and 10 or 11 days, 1/3 of the way west around the world.  I had last seen this family of eclipses, Saros 127, north of Lusaka, Zambia, on 21 June 2001.  

I looked at the journalist and said there was a third reason: seeing eclipses ties me to humanity and to those before me going back tens, hundreds, thousands, and yes, tens of thousands of years who have viewed the same stars, the same planets, the same Moon and Sun which occasionally come into conjunction for a spectacular show that can be as frightening as it is beautiful. 

Eclipses can charge a person up to see the next one.  I came down to Chile suspecting that this was my last international eclipse trip.  The trip down certainly didn’t dissuade me from quitting.  But I think my meditation and changing my mental focus were good things.  I looked, not for the perfect picture or video, but at viewing something I’ve seen before in a very different situation and coming away just as awestruck as ever.

787 that flew the eclipse

Sunset from Easter Island
Totality from my back over my head.