Archive for the ‘UNPUBLISHED OUTDOOR WRITING’ Category


November 25, 2019


I had noted the temperature was actually getting warmer as I did the weekly hike up Spencer Butte with the Club.  No, it wasn’t just that I was working hard, but it was cold at the bottom, and it wasn’t nearly as cold a thousand feet higher.  We hike up to the top from the city, 3.2 miles gaining 1400 feet of elevation.  Slower hikers leave earlier; sometimes, I decide to leave early if I am rehabbing part of me, and other times I leave early so I can hike alone.  Often, I have a line of people behind my, liking my pace, but making me feel like the Pied Piper.  I don’t like such a situation, for I tend to walk faster, when I am already at cruising mode, and I get tired sooner.  Once I stopped suddenly on a hike to take a picture and got run into by the guy behind me.  I learned that backpacking through Alaska willows and other brush. Don’t crowd the person in front. They may have to suddenly stop, and they have sharp hiking poles. That can slip. Anyway, the summit of the Butte is finally reached after a series of rock steps, about 130 altogether, not counting the occasional smaller ones, and I looked down on a foggy, cold valley from the land of blue skies and sunshine.

Off to my northeast, the mill in Springfield had a plume of smoke rising in the sky then flattening out and spreading along an invisible barrier like a river.  I could see about fifteen miles of the smoke river, coming first towards me then moving away to the northwest.  

Wow, I thought, a classic inversion.  Warm air normally rises, and it normally keeps rising as the atmosphere usually gets colder with height. Valleys during winter collect heavier cold air as it sinks, and set up an inversion, where warm air rises through the cold air until it reaches the warm air above—not below—and stops rising. I first noted it in southeastern Arizona, back when I was commuting from Tucson to Las Cruces for graduate school.  Once, on a bike, I went through a thick fog bank going up to Mt. Lemmon, breaking out at about 4000 feet into bright sunshine and a dew point temperature, where water will condense into clouds, 30 degrees fewer than just a few hundred feet below.  Those who turned around in the fog missed a sunny day, which was about five minutes’ ride further up the mountain.  

My wife and I hiked through an inversion in the Grand Canyon in February 1989, when the whole canyon was full of clouds and bright sunshine up at Yaki Point.  We hiked down the South Kaibab, entered clouds, then broke out below into overcast conditions.  It was remarkable.  

Jan at Yaki Point, South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon. February 1989. Microspikes are on the toes of the boots.
Coconino Sandstone (the largest vertical layer visible), viewed from South Kaibab Trail

Back on Spencer Butte, I waited for others to come up and googled the University of Wyoming’s weather sounding page.  The closest weather balloon released was from Salem, about an hour north, and indeed showed a change in temperature of 0 C (32 F) at ground level and 10 C  (50 F) at 1500 m or 5000 feet.  Classic inversion, I noted, staring at the river. I told a few people about what we were seeing, but nobody seemed interested.  

Back then, I was still posting on Facebook, and I later posted the picture and the weather sounding as a textbook example of an inversion.  Here is another example, with a link to the actual weather at that hour.

Salem, Oregon sounding from 4 am 23 Nov 19. Notice the temperature C, third column from the left, gets warmer as one ascends, from roughly 33 to 46 degrees at 923 m or roughly 3000′ above sea level. Then the “normal” cooling with elevation gain begins. The 98% humidity at ground level suggests fog was occurring. The actual weather was indeed foggy.

Facebook is not the land of people’s liking textbook examples explaining physical phenomena.  I got exactly one comment, a nerd icon, which I didn’t even know such existed. It wasn’t the reason I left the platform, but it was one of the accelerants.  I haven’t missed the sniping, arguing, or ignorance since I left it.  Nope. I try to walk in beauty the way the Navajo Prayer says.

A decade prior, I had been hiking on the South Rim Trail in Big Bend National Park up to the overlook over the Chihuahua Desert.  I was alone, and as I hiked on the rim, I saw an area that looked like smoke, then steam, a quarter mile ahead of me.  I arrived at the area and saw water vapor condensing to form a cloud, right in front of me.  I was on top of a cliff, and the humid southerly wind from deep down in Mexico, had slammed against the cliff, forcing the air upward, where it cooled, since in summer the inversions are usually shallow and break.  Cool air condensed once it reached the dew point, which is higher in summer, and a cloud formed right in front of me.  This is orographic lift, and I was absolutely enthralled at the example I was seeing. 

Condensing water vapor, Big Bend NP, June 2007.

I was naive enough to think that The Weather Channel might be interested in a picture, so I sent one to them.  I didn’t hear anything, not surprisingly, but I was disappointed.

I get great pleasure out of seeing things in nature that are not only beautiful but enhanced because I’ve been fortunate enough to be brought up curious about the world.  A total solar eclipse is beautiful not only because of the color of the chromosphere or the thin strands of the corona, but because it is the resonance of three separate lunar cycles—the synodic, the anomalistic, and the draconic—which every 18 years and 10 1/3 days are almost exactly the same, so that the eclipses repeat every 18 years and change plus 1/3 of the way west around the world. I find that fact fascinating.  

On the Libyan cruise to the 2006 eclipse, an editor of Astronomy magazine discussed eclipses to the audience.  He didn’t mention the cycles, and I suggested afterward that perhaps people might like to know that.  “Nah,” he saiid, “that’s too nerdy.”  

That came from an astronomer.  

Just after the eclipse, Libyan desert 29 March 2006. The next eclipse in this family will occur in Mexico-US-Canada 8 April 2024

Normally, I don’t write about this sort of stuff, because most people aren’t interested.  I would simply say that 

In beauty I walk…

In beauty all day long may I walk.

Through the returning seasons, may I walk.

On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.

With dew about my feet, may I walk.

With beauty before me may I walk.

With beauty behind me may I walk.

With beauty below me may I walk.

With beauty above me may I walk.

With beauty all around me may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.

My words will be beautiful…

Rim of Four in One Cone, near McKenzie Pass, 6400′ elevation. There were many views of the major northern Oregon Cascade peaks that day, but the rim of snow all along the cone was my biggest memory. In photography, especially in relationships, and likely in life, the little things are often the big things.


November 1, 2019

The chain saw was wedged in the bottom of the 40 inch diameter log.  DAMN!  This had to have been the fourth or fifth time we had to deal with a wedged saw today, and it was now late afternoon.  

Our crew of three—the fourth had to leave early to get back to town by 5—looked at the log, which was mostly cut through, but obviously not completely. I hadn’t been impressed by the top bind, but the sawyer thought there was some.  If the top part of a fallen log is compressed, such as being in the middle of two parts that are supported, so there is a slight sag, the wood on top will tend to compress and grab or bind a saw, keeping it from moving.  If the saw is deep enough in the log, we can pound a plastic wedge into the cut or kerf, allowing the saw more freedom to move. If the log is under tension, a cut will tend to open and release the tension. When the kerf was opening up earlier in the cutting, a rather than narrowing, it suggested bottom bind, not a top one, but I didn’t say anything. I wish I had, for I might have been able to prevent a wedged saw.

I’m relatively new out there, now past the “Stay (the &%$) out of the way!!” instructions, so I tend to be quiet.  That is a mistake in the woods, just as it is in the cockpit or an operating room.  People don’t like criticism or comments.  The culture isn’t what it ought to be.

The sawyer, I later learned, had an on button but no off button.  She was a dynamo, one of those I learned who would be happy to still be out here at 8 pm cutting. I didn’t feel the same way.  In addition to my pack, I was carrying a Pulaski, my hand saw, gloves, a pair of loppers, plastic blue diamonds to place on trees for markers of winter trails, nails, and a hammer.  I was tired, and it made me more cranky and prone to mistakes.  We were cutting out a mile or two of trail, not a lot, but we had several hundred yards to go to the road and then a 2 mile walk back to the vehicles. Then we had to drive another 90 miles home.  I doubt the other two in the crew had made that calculation.  I had been refining it the whole day. It is useful to me to know where I am time wise  and trail wise in the wilderness. It is not considered a virtue by most of the people whom I am around, but I tend to arrive at where I want to be about when I expect to, without surprises, and I like that.

I was the only crew member who had been previously been on this trail, both in winter snowshoeing and in summer trying to place diamond markers.  I had been so upset about  missing markers in winter that I said someone ought to be out here putting therm in, and “someone” turned out to be me.

In June, I walked the trail.  That is not easy, since winter trails do not need to be cleared the way all year trails do.  A couple of feet of snow will cover a lot of plants and many downed logs, so only the big logs or logs over the trail have to be taken out.  The trail does have to be wide enough to be seen in winter, and that was a big problem with Nickerson Loop. I had been stopped on another person’s snowshoe trip at a brushy field with no clear path. In June, there was still no clear path, just a lot more brush to walk through, but I worked my way through it from both ends and placed a few diamonds.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was better.

With the chain saw crew, I had a chance to get the trail open for people to travel the loop.  We had cleared some brush and cut out about a half dozen logs earlier, the saw’s being stuck several other times.  I was later told the sawyer was relatively new, and I realized the bar of her saw, the metal semi-elliptical protrusion on it, was not long enough for the logs we would be cutting;  I knew beforehand and had mentioned that we would have at least a 36 inch diameter log to cut out. 

Anyway, the saw was stuck, and without another chain saw to free it up, we had a problem.  The so-called “walk of shame” is when a sawyer leaves the bar in the log, removes the motor and comes back later with another bar and chain to cut the first bar out.  I had some wedges used to keep the kerf open, and I put one below the saw and tried to pound it in, hoping I could move something enough to free the saw.  No luck.  We started with a hand saw in the cut to try to open it a little.  No luck.

The sawyer then took a handsaw and began sawing the log for a second cut.  This log was 40 inches in diameter—a meter—and handsaws are good up to 6 inches, 8 on a good day. I told her that wasn’t going to work.  She had a Katana 650 one person hand saw back at the car (650 mm), and the other crew member asked me how far it was.  I figured two miles, and then to myself multiplied that by 2 (round trip) and divided by 3 (walking speed, maybe) to get the round trip time in hours, and realized he might not be back here until 4:30 or 5.  He stayed.

So for lack of anything better to do, I took my hand saw to the kerf above the bound saw and started cutting.  The wood was obviously hard, but I went at it for a few minutes, trying to make sawdust while ignoring how much wood was below the saw, and then heard a noise—a slight crack.  


I cut a little more vigorously and heard a louder crack.  The log was talking to us.  I gave the saw to another crew member, since he was stronger and I was tired, and within thirty seconds of his sawing, there was a large crack, the log started to fall, and the chain saw was free.  

Dodged that bullet.

We still had a couple more logs I knew about, because I had scouted the trail ahead of us, and after losing it, and cussing the people who didn’t replace diamonds (that would be me in part), found it again, and led the group to the next cut.  In addition to diamonds, I was using strips of pink ribbon that I could tie to plants.  Pink or orange ribbon has helped me find trails many times.

There was a pair of logs to be cut out that the other two dealt with while I put diamonds on both sides of a tree.  Then there were some logs that would be cut on a regular hiking trail, but I leave alone since snow will cover them, at least if we get a normal snow year.  They were cut anyway.  More time on trail.  I had said several times to the crew who was opening up the trail that this was a winter trail.  The bottom didn’t have to be perfect; people just needed room to pass through it.

I got home well after 6 and considered myself lucky.

I respect people with no off buttons, but I am not one of them, and I don’t think that is a particularly healthy lifestyle.  I could be wrong.  But I am correct when I say it is not good for me.  That kind of behavior reminds me of medicine, some of my mentors and partners, who appeared to be able to work without sleeping, eating, and perhaps even toilets for all I knew.  I just knew I couldn’t do that.  It was a reason I first left my group and then left medicine.  I’m hoping I don’t have to leave trail work for the same reason.  This isn’t trying to fix people, it is keeping trails open and is a volunteer duty.

The author (left) cutting out a log at Potato Hill Sno-Park, near Santiam Pass, Oregon.
Trimming branches at Little Nash Sno-Park,


October 27, 2019

We saw the vehicle with hazard lights on, just before we arrived at Box Canyon, at about 3700 feet, where we were going to log out part of McBee Trail in the Waldo Lake Wilderness as part of crosscut saw training.  It was raining something that looked white. Good hypothermia weather, although sawing logs might keep us warm.  

Nobody at the car flagged us down, and we didn’t see anything, so we pulled into the parking lot, got into all our rain gear and personal protective equipment—hard hats, gloves, safety glasses– had our day packs on and were ready to go to work.  Five of us were getting some training, and while I had been in the woods crosscutting with the crew 19 different times, I figured I could learn some more.  It was my first time working with a saw since I broke my hand backpacking around Mt. Hood two months earlier.

We crossed Highway 19, the Aufderheide, a scenic but not often traveled 60 mile road between Highway 126 from Eugene to Santiam Pass and Highway 58 between Eugene and Willamette Pass.  Box Canyon was equidistant from each side.

While crossing the road, the truck that had had its hazard lights on stopped and asked if we could help. 

“There’s a car over the edge with a guy pinned in there.”

We had completely missed seeing the car.  Anybody could have.  The details weren’t completely clear, but the car was apparently driving west from Oakridge and heading towards Terwilliger Hot Springs the night before.  The hot springs are closed at night, but that didn’t stop people from using them. There were three in the car; the driver and one passenger were hurt but were able to leave and apparently flagged a car down and had called emergency.  An ambulance was heading up from the McKenzie River side, the north, but it was probably 40 miles, and the last 30 on the Aufderheide were narrow and bumpy.  They would be at least an hour and a half, maybe longer.

We walked towards the accident scene, about two hundred yards. My leg was bothering me, so I lagged behind.  We brought our tools, because we weren’t going to be doing any logging for a while until we understood the situation.  

A small, red car had collided with a fir and left a 7-8 inch gash in the bark, but not too deep.  The car had somehow turned and faced perpendicular to the road, engine compartment smashed in on the right, the windshield ready to give way, and the car was on some sort of stump, suspended, so it remained horizontal with the rear wheels several feet above the sloping forest floor under it. 

The other passengers or the hunters had put blankets on the victim, who was conscious but in a lot of pain from what appeared to be a fracture of the femur.  There was little we could do: one of the others in our group, who knew I was a physician, looked at me like I was supposed to do something.  We did not want to touch the car, and everything appeared relatively stable, so we waited for the emergency personnel to arrive.

About an hour after we knew about the accident, an ambulance arrived, a crew of first responders, someone from Eugene Mountain Rescue, and an Oregon State Police officer soon after.  They stabilized the car, started removing the passenger side front door, and got a backboard ready. They wanted to take the patient directly up the bank, which had a lot of brush.  

“Do you guys have loppers to cut out this brush?”

“Does the Pope have a Bible?” I thought.  We are a bunch of wilderness trail workers.  We had five loppers among us and cleared the bank in as minutes.  Then there was another issue.

“We encountered two logs coming in on the road.  We winched one out of the way, but the other needs to be removed.  Can you do it?”

Why yes, we can, but unfortunately, we aren’t the chain saw group. Still, we had bodies and we had a 5 foot, 2-man crosscut.  Four of us left and drove north down the Aufderheide about 6 miles, where we found a 75 foot western Hemlock down, the top covering about three-quarters of the road. This would be a big part of the training, cutting the tree out.

Of the four, one was an experienced crosscut sawyer, two were beginners., and I knew enough to be helpful. I was able to work with the two new people; we had to make two separate cuts because the log had such a top bind, or compression, we couldn’t get plastic wedges in to the kerf, or cut, to open it. We had to “chunk” the log by cutting and then using a Pulaski to remove wood. Eventually, we got through the log and with 4 of us pushing with our legs, moved it off the road, opening about 80% of the road there.

We then got back in the car and drove back towards the accident site.  Not five minutes later, a small group of cars, including one ambulance, came the other way.  

We had lunch standing up, by the trailhead in the rain, and then hiked into McBee trail, clearing about a mile of it.  When we came out and drove back to Oakridge, we came upon the tow truck with a red car, crushed front end, but no longer with a person in it.

Upper McKenzie Fire District first responder at the vehicle. The brush we would remove is in the upper right corner.
Log cut out. We didn’t cut from the road edge, because it was a lot thicker there and there was some time pressure to get the road open. The cut section is at the top.


March 30, 2019

As soon as I took a step towards the other side of the trail, right behind a crew member starting his chain saw, I knew it was a bad move. Oh well, I jumped quickly to the brush on the other side of the trail just I heard the chain saw roar behind me.  That was stupid, I thought, and I won’t do that again. I was carrying an axe and a hard plastic wedge, and my job was helping the sawyer by being ready to pound the wedge into the top cut to keep it open and keep the saw from binding.  But I should have waited before going to the other side.  

For the second straight week, we were clearing trail out by the Middle Fork Ranger Station near Oakridge.  The Wren Trail was normally a short, easy walk, but scores of large old growth and other trees had been brought down by the winter storm that shut down the county for a week, and the prior week the smaller chain saws used were limited in what could be cleared.

Today, we had cleared a couple of dozen big trees, 2+ feet in diameter, 200+ year-old Western hemlocks with a few Douglas firs and Western red cedars as well.  The trail was open for use again, and we were finishing a spur trail to a nearby road, making several cuts in a downed Douglas fir. It had been a good day, and the eight of us felt good about what we had done.  Nobody got hurt, although one man with whom I was working had a log brush his knee brace.

Before, during, and after. Each area that is cleaned needs to be planned, each log has to have its cut planned, and we need to be better at planning how we will get the logs off the trail. Near Middle Fork Ranger District office, Westfir, Oregon.

Shortly before we drove home, we gathered for a “tailgate session.”  I had been out more than thirty times with this group, and while we did morning tailgate safety sessions, this was the first afternoon one I had encountered. 

One of the two leaders, an experienced man in his 70s, who had spent decades cutting, looked around at all of us.  He looked at me, and then again at others, and I knew what was coming.  He finally looked at me again:

“You,” he said, pointing his finger at me, but not menacingly, “went around the saw as it was being started.  That is the worst possible time to do it.” The sawyer next to him with whom I had been working the whole day nodded agreement.

I don’t know who was looking at me, but I’m sure everyone else was.  I hadn’t been dressed down in public in a long, long time, and it stung.

“As soon as I went, I knew it was wrong,” I stammered.  And I heard again that saws starting up are most unstable.  That I didn’t know.  But I knew I was wrong.

The group discussed a few other things about safety, at least not involving me, but not involving any one individual.  I wasn’t going to say anything more, a decent approach, but I decided I would anyway.

“We need to stop and think before pushing logs off the trail that have just been cut,” I said.  This has been an issue on many of the outings I have been on, and it bothered me.  “I want to help, but if I’m not sure what the plan is, I am not going to hurt myself moving something until I get into position.”

Nobody said much. I’d seen far too many people in the woods push, lift, pull, or otherwise move logs without proper lifting care.  We were all old; sooner or later, bad technique causes problems.  Even good technique can.  I hurt my knee last summer by pushing in a way I thought was appropriate, but with which my knee disagreed.  I said probably the most important thing of all, although I didn’t appreciate it until later, and the others may not have even noticed: “we need to pay as much attention to moving the downed logs as we do to cutting therm.”

The worst thing that happened?  Being called “You.” He didn’t even know my name. I have worked with this man at least a dozen different days in the woods.  I’ve ridden in his vehicle three times 2 hours to a place and 2 hours back.  I talked to him at a benefit for the Crew at a bar because he was standing by himself and I didn’t see anybody else familiar.  OK, some people are bad at names, and I am one, so I wrote my name on the back of my hardhat.  He didn’t take the effort to know whom he was criticizing.

He should have taken me aside right then in the woods and told me why I did what I did was wrong.  That’s how you learn. Then, he could mention it at the tailgate briefing as something he has seen. I would have known it was about me, but I would not have been shamed. Instead, I felt “I’m once again at the bottom of the experience ladder and everybody else knows I’m a screwup and I shouldn’t come out here any more with the group and I just want to go home.”

If nothing else, he could have at least asked my name.

He didn’t.  He dressed me down in public, which my father and the military both taught me you never, ever do.  On board my ship, I heard a lot of yelling behind closed doors, and I saw chastened people afterwards, looking like they had been through a verbal wringer, but they at least had the dignity—yes, the dignity—of knowing that nobody else saw the scene.

Medical training was full of public dressing downs.  Woe to the physician, who, after having been up all or most of the night, didn’t have all the lab tests or a complete differential diagnosis on a patient right at his (usually his) fingertips.  It stings.  It can bring tears.

I saw a public dressing down of one of my classmates at New Mexico State when I was in grad school, and as one not involved in the issue, I felt so uncomfortable that I wanted to be somewhere else—anywhere else—at that time.  It was really ugly, and until this issue in the woods, I had repressed that day some twenty years ago.

When there is a dressing down, here are the reactions:

1. Try to become perfect, even if it is impossible, because perfection avoids mistakes, and mistakes are bad, bad, bad.  Rational? Of course not. But this is not a rational matter; it’s a deeply emotional one.

2.  Defend by attacking.  This same person who didn’t know my name was cutting a log a few weeks ago and not wearing a hard hat.  I deleted the picture I took of him. We don’t want to show that stuff.  We had too many people working in too small of a space today. That was unsafe, and nobody spoke up. We don’t lift properly, as I mentioned earlier. I did at least try to speak up, but it went nowhere. But none of that absolves me from my error, and bringing up examples of other errors is distracting and wrong.

3.  Stick to yourself, stay quiet, stay out of the way.

4.  Hide the error if possible.  A lot of doctors hide errors, because the ultimate dressing down in public—malpractice trial, which I have gone through—is intellectual rape

I’ll still work trails.  I know with whom I will try to work, however, and with whom I will try not to.  I’m a volunteer, after all, and while I’m not experienced at trail work, I’m not a beginner any longer or even a novice.  I go out to be in the woods, try to make current trails accessible again, and do good. I can go alone if I wish.

I’m a natural teacher.  Today, when the young woman at the drug store couldn’t make change properly, and I had to patiently explain the transaction to her two different ways, I did not berate her.  She felt badly enough and apologized for her lack of math.  I told her quietly not to worry about it.  If she’s good, she will worry about it, and she will get better,  but at least it was between me and her.  Nobody else.


January 31, 2015

I was surprised meteorologists apologized for a “blown forecast” for New York City’s snowstorm.  Here was one forecast:

January 25: The New York City area is forecast to see a foot or more of heavy snow. Blizzard conditions are possible.  Parts of eastern and southern New England, including Boston, Providence, Rhode Island, and Portland, Maine have the potential to see up to 2 feet of snow. Locally more than 2 feet of snow may fall, particularly in eastern Massachusetts. The snow will be accompanied by blizzard or near-blizzard conditions.  Forecast to see a foot or more of heavy snow.  Blizzard conditions are possible.  They did not say “probable”.

Another headline said “NYC bracing for up to 3 feet of snow.”  Later in the story, there was a comment that the amount predicted was more in the 20-30 inch range.  That is a lot less. Most of the city got less than a foot, but NYC received snowfall.  New England received what was predicted.  This is not a blown forecast.  It is taking the upper estimate, overhyping it, then complaining when it isn’t exactly right.  As a physician, the famous 44,000 to 98,000 deaths caused by medical errors every year (very out of date data, now) was rounded to 100,000, and that figure was used almost exclusively.  If one allows 100,000, one must equally allow 44,000.  Neither is good, but the example is important.

I watched The Weather Channel the night of the storm, where one of the weather models predicted that NYC would get 3-5 inches.  While that model was discounted, a model did predict the storm correctly.  

A significant weather event was forecasted and it occurred.  I think the problem is how uncertainty is handled in both the scientific and lay communities.  Uncertainty to a scientist allows for a range of possibilities, since weather cannot be predicted completely accurately, and one of those possibilities affected a lot of people.  Uncertainty to the general public too often means, “They don’t have any idea what they are talking about.”

Worse, the so-called “blown forecast” had comments from those who feel climate is not changing.  After all, the headline postulated, if you can’t predict a snowstorm 2 days in advance, why should we believe you about 100 year forecasts?  More on this later.

Years ago, a leading weatherman on the Tucson news suddenly changed his forecasts from 5 days to 7.  He had used 5 day forecasts, because he felt there was too much uncertainty out 7 days.  I wrote him to ask why he had changed.  He replied that he had been to a conference of TV Weathermen and learned that the general public wanted 7 day forecasts.

So?  Why should we accede to their wishes by giving them a lot of potentially wrong information?

There are many weather models; some are better than others for certain conditions or in certain years.  “The GFS has been trending wetter than reality this year,” is not an uncommon statement.  The other issue is with a weather system, a shift in the track of 50 miles makes a huge difference, as we have learned with hurricanes…..and low pressure systems.  Had Katrina come ashore 50 miles further east, it is likely that the surge of water from Lake Pontchartrain would not have flooded the city.  Had the current low pressure system been 50 miles closer to NYC, nobody would be complaining about the forecast, only the outcome.

There is a big problem in America about understanding probability, and it doesn’t help to have “I’m not a scientist” mentality in Congress and “math is nerdy” mentality in the country.  Weather forecast apps give exact temperature and probability of rain per hour, which to me is ludicrous.  They give exact temperatures for 10 days in the future, which is nonsense.  People believe these forecasts, because the idea of a range of temperatures is foreign to them (“can’t you be exact?”) and the fact that weather models may miss initial conditions that lead to major changes, especially when they are trying to model the ocean.

I have studied weather models 16 days in the future model rainfall in Oregon.  During that time, I have seen waffling of the models, putting high pressure anywhere from the Great Basin to the Eastern Pacific.  The storm expected next weekend, as I write, was on and off the models for several days, before the last 5 days, when it has consistently been present, but the expected severity of rainfall is not consistent.  Still, I see forecast rainfalls to the nearest hundredth of an inch over a wide swath of Oregon and Washington.  This is senseless.  Five days before the forecast discussions, I have been predicting a major weather pattern change for Oregon next weekend.  Only when the models were in agreement about 8 days out, did the local weather discussions start to mention the pattern change as a possibility.  Today, the discussion said the models were in surprising agreement about the rain event, but not exactly where it will be maximal.

Climate is very different, for all the weather changes over decades are smoothed out, and one can become quite confident what the overall picture looks like. It’s like tossing a coin.  You know that 50% of the time it will come up heads, but you could be 50% wrong on the first toss.  Do it 10 times, and the probability of exactly 5 heads actually decreases, but the probability of 4,5,and 6, are about 65%.  Already, the probability is trending towards 50%.  The probability of 0 heads is less than 0.1%.

Indeed, as you increase the number of tosses, the percentages trend closer and closer to 50%,  as to be insignificantly different.  Climate models work this way, too.  No, we can’t predict the number of snowstorms NYC will have in 2100.  We can predict, however, the range of temperature rise on the Earth and the range of rise in the oceans.  We can also predict the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  These ranges have very high confidence, a statistical term meaning the likelihood of an unknown value, such as increase in global temperature in the year 2100, could be in a range of values, none of which is zero or negative, if we are 95% confident.   I have never seen a confidence interval (CI) quoted by someone who denies global warming is occurring.  The IPCC’s confidence has been known for years.  CIs are a scientist’s way of saying, “I might be wrong.”

Next hurricane season, look at the cone of uncertainty for hurricane motion. So many models are used that they are called “spaghetti plots.”  One could go back to the days of prayer and magical thinking, or one could look at the GFS, ECMWF, or NOGAPS, to name three. With a great deal of ease, one can have an idea of what the weather may be like several days in advance.  It’s worth learning about uncertainty; after all, it is the basis of our existence.


Below:  GFS Model showing precipitation (purple), heavier (blue and green) along with the 1000-500 mb thickness (one measurement of high and low pressure).  This is 6 days out, at 12 Z 6 February, or 4 a.m. Friday.  It shows that the Pacific Northwest is going to be wet, and northern California may get a strong shot of rain.  Notice the rain in the southeast and off the east coast.  The GFS has a panel of 10 days, with 1/2 day intervals.  The GFS has been showing this for several days, but the focus of the heavy rain has not been consistent.

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 8.04.52 PM


January 26, 2015

OK, I’ll admit it, I am a little competitive about hiking.  But only a little.  I don’t trail run.  I tried to do a fast trail walk once, and it was a killer.  Like many things I do, I am good but not great.  I don’t do anything really well except maybe work with numbers.  That and a couple of bucks will get me coffee.

When I joined the Obsidian hiking group, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but on the first hike to Rooster Rock, climbing 2300 feet in a few miles, I stayed with the lead group.  When the other group rejoined, we had a 20-30% grade the rest of the way.  One guy led, and I just stayed behind him.  I let him go first, but I talked all the way up.  I sort of did that on purpose.  It was a nice way to say I was not in the “red zone,” that I could talk and hike up a steep hill at the same time.  I did that once on a bike, too, and I had it done a lot to me.  It’s a bit demoralizing to be completely breathless and have a guy or gal come by you talking away as if they were out for a stroll.

Obsidians at Rooster Rock. I am sitting, front row.

Later in the summer, at Black Crater, just east of McKenzie Pass,  one of the guys came up behind me, when I was leading, and I stepped aside, so he could go up.  He has been known to run up the trail, although this one was steep enough that after he opened a 100 meter gap on me, it stayed there.  I was fine with it. I liked my pace, and I enjoyed the hike up.  I really don’t need to lead, but if I am last, I want to be the “sweep,” the guy who takes care of any problems in the rest of the group.

View from atop Black Crater. Smoke from wildfires.

View of Sisters from Black Crater. Smoke from wildfires.

When it comes to my hiking portfolio, however, I wanted last summer to build my Oregon one quickly.  Still, there are trails that have yet to see my feet.  On that Rooster Rock hike, another hiker told me about some loop hike I needed to do in the summer.  He said it was fantastic, but I couldn’t remember the name.

One week, I did 4 hikes in 5 days, a lot, even by my standards.  I was a bit tired on Monday and Tuesday and took the days off.  I was going to hike Thursday to either Middle Pyramid or Browder Ridge, a couple of good, reasonable tough hikes. The following Sunday, I was going to lead an Obsidian Loop Hike, my first time as a hike leader.  As I was checking on how many had signed up for my hike, I saw the name, and it clicked:  Opie Dilldock, 14 miles, 2800 feet elevation gain, high in the Cascades.  Opie Dilldock is a high pass on the Pacific Crest Trail.

That was the hike I needed to do, except it was on the Monday after my Obsidian Loop Hike, and I was busy.  I can’t hike all the time.

I knew the hike needed a permit, however, so I checked to see if anything was available on the previous Friday or Thursday.  No.  But there were 12 permits available on Wednesday, a lot, considering there are only 30 allotted each day.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, but I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind.   I could scout the Obsidian Loop Hike I was going to lead and see Collier Cone.  Wow, what a loop.  Wildflowers would be out, and I didn’t know when I would get another chance.

I couldn’t really go on Wednesday.  It was too soon after all my hiking the previous week.  At 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 10 permits were available.  No problem, I thought, let me wait.  At 6:30, three permits were available.  I signed up online.  This is crazy, but a hiking portfolio is a portfolio, and I was going to hear later how great the hike was and wish I had done it.  My wife was out of town, the errands I had to do Wednesday could wait until Thursday, and I was going.

By 9:10 the next morning, I was on the Obsidian Loop Trail, expecting 16 miles, not 14.  I walked steadily and did the 3 mile wooded part to the volcanic region in 50 minutes.  So far, so good.  I found the trail after that, which had been under snow a month prior, and continued uphill to Obsidian Falls, 1700 feet above where I started.  I was about  6 miles in and had plenty of time.  Ten miles to go.

Obsidian Falls

Obsidian Falls

Or so I thought.

The trail dropped about 100 meters, which was a little discouraging, because I knew I would have to climb it and more.  On the other hand, I was seeing alpine lakes that in July were just beginning to thaw.  The place where I climbed in snow was somewhere, but it sure wasn’t on the trail I was on.  I hadn’t seen any of this trail back in early July.

I left the Obsidian Loop portion and headed down more and then upwards, toward Collier Cone.  I was in volcanic area now, soil like rocky ball bearings, slippery, as I started some serious switchbacking up.  It reminded me of the Grand Canyon.  Snow was to my right, and after a long climb, I saw what looked like the top of a ridge. I crested the ridge, and—wowwww— there was Collier Cone, a lake, two glaciers calving ice bergs into it.  I was 10 miles into the hike, had lunch, and figured not only would this hike be more than 14 miles, it would be more than 16.  A lot more.  I still had to get to Four in One Cone, 4 1/2 miles from the road, which led back to the original trailhead.

Collier Cone, 7200 feet (2200 m.). It is 2400 feet above the starting point, and there is a lot of downhill, so the total elevation gain is more than 3000 feet (900 m)

Collier Cone, 7200 feet (2200 m.). It is 2400 feet above the starting point, and there is a lot of downhill, so the total elevation gain is more than 3000 feet (900 m)

Mt. Jefferson

Smoke clearly visible.

Pacific Crest Trail north of Opie Dilldock pass, looking north.

Pacific Crest Trail north of Opie Dilldock pass, looking north.

Time to get moving.  I was soon on the Pacific Crest Trail, a hiker about 1/2 mile behind me and three ahead of me.  I caught up with the latter at the Scott Trail, my route back to the road.  The PCT hikers had “the look”.  It is hard to describe, but it is the stare of somebody who has been on his or her own for a while, seen things the rest of us won’t, has had a rough time out in the wilderness, but wouldn’t have it any other way, and is doing the hike for a reason, usually private.  I know this, because I have section-hiked the Appalachian Trail, and I’ve had “the look,” too.  I had seen things others never would, been hot, cold, wet, dry, exhausted, exhilarated, happy to see people, happier to be alone, hurting, not hurting, and caring only for my body and my gear, in that order.

Time to get back to the car.  I walked past Four and One Cone, where I had been 4 days earlier, back on familiar trail, found a shortcut to the car, and finished in under 6 hours.  I didn’t care about my speed.  I saw a lot.  It was a tough hike but a good hike.  I would get some junk food on the drive home.

Opie Dilldock is now part of my portfolio.  Really, really good hike.

All nineteen miles of it.


December 18, 2014

“Well,” the woman commented in an moderately annoyed voice, “that wasn’t much of a lunch.”

We were at the eastern end of the Cummins Creek Wilderness trail, an east-west out and back of about six and a quarter miles.  I led the trip with six others, all of us members of the Obsidians, a local hiking group.  There is a similar group in Salem and one in Portland.  Non-members are welcome; they pay $5; members pay $1.  We carpool; the driver gets 9 cents a mile from each rider.  I like to drive; many don’t and sleep on the way back from the trail.

After three hikes as a non-member, one may become a member.  One of the more active members, seven years my senior, pushed for me to become a leader of a hike. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do it, but I did about 35 hikes on my own, learning the country, and led my first one 4 months ago into the Obsidian Loop, a beautiful Cascade hike.

I solo hiked the Cummins Creek Wilderness last June and saw nobody on the 12.5 mile out and back trip.  It climbs 1300 feet net, and another 400 feet of descent during the hike has to be re-climbed, so it ranks as a “moderate” hike by Obsidian standards.

It was the holiday season, so I didn’t expect many to sign up, especially since this was a hike without views of either the mountains or the coast.  Still, there were seven of us who were on the trail by 9:45, on the central Oregon Coast, just below 1000 feet elevation.

The group split up quickly.  There was only one minor trail junction, so I stopped to make sure everybody went the right direction.  I gave people “free rein,” to go at their own pace.  It soon became obvious that we were strung out over about a mile of the trail. I wasn’t too concerned, other than the fact some would wait at the turn around point, and others might have less of a break, since days are short in Oregon in December, and we wanted to drive back while still light.

The weather was cooler than expected, with a brisk east wind.  We all carry day packs with the “10 essentials”.  None of us expect to camp out, but bad things can happen.

I got to the turnaround point just before noon.  I had waited on the way about 10 minutes to see the next person behind me.  I was third to arrive; the other two had been waiting for about 10 minutes.  I knew lunch would be brief for the last pair; since we had to hike back it would be at least 2 hours’ walk.  I told the two there and the next arrival to start eating lunch if they wished.  Ten minutes later, everybody had arrived, and we started eating lunch.


Cummins Creek Wilderness in June 2014

Cummins Creek Wilderness in June 2014


Old forest service road that is being allowed to grow back. Cummins Creek Wilderness; June 2014.


Five minutes later, the person who arrived first announced that he was going to “start back.” This was fine; we are pretty informal, and I am a new leader, leading my fifth hike.  Four others, becoming cold, since the low sun had disappeared into a cloud bank, decided they would start back as well.  It was then I got the comment about the short lunch.  Reluctantly, the commenter got up and began hiking.  I waited, looked around for anything left behind, and started back.  I don’t have to be last on a hike.  If I know a person is experienced, knows the trail, I have no problem leaving them.  On this hike, however, I wanted to be “the sweep,” so if somebody had trouble, I would be available.  My GPS had read 3.2 mph underway on the way out, and I was looking to arrive at the cars about 2:30 or even 3, depending upon the person in front of me, who was disappointed about the lunch time.

Obsidian hiker, Cummins Creek Wilderness, December 2014

Obsidian hiker, Cummins Creek Wilderness, December 2014


Field of Sword Ferns, looking down from the spine of the ridge


View of the Oregon Coast from Cummins Ridge Wilderness, near the transition zone from Sitka Spruce to Douglas Firs.


Quickly, I started closing the gap.  Nearing her, I stopped, took some pictures, since I neither wanted to pass nor hike at her pace.  She disappeared from sight, but I closed the gap again, and did the same.  On a previous hike near this area last week, she had stayed with the group.  I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I wasn’t going to say anything, either.  Why was she going so slowly?

I remained silent, often sitting for 3 minutes by the clock, allowing her to get further ahead.  As I sat, I discovered that while there were no “views,” I noticed more, a a huge field of sword ferns, Oregon Ash and a few Western Cedars at 2000 foot elevation.   I continued hiking, stopping again, until we got to the half way point back.  As I stopped, I started noticing the subtle change in the forest, as we approached the coast.  There was a remarkably sharp transition zone into water loving, wind tolerant Sitka Spruce and sun loving Douglas Firs. Both were huge, but clearly there were all Sitkas at one end of the trail and all “Dougs” at the other end.  An hour into the return, I looked at my GPS.

She was making 2.9 mph good.  She wasn’t at all slow.  She wasn’t holding anybody up.  The others were walking a lot faster.  I said aloud, “I’m with a bunch of rabbits.”  Indeed, my underway speed was 3.4 mph.  This translated to a 30-plus minute difference in finishing, and the person who left early not only was ahead on that basis, he was walking fast.

I had thought for an hour that the woman was slow.  I was wrong. Facts proved me wrong.  Two miles from the end, I passed her, knowing now it was safe.  Ten minutes later, I encountered others on the hike, reaching the car 2 hours after leaving the east trailhead.  The fastest person was sitting in his vehicle.  By 2:45, we were on the road back to Eugene.  We had a partly sunny day on the coast; in Eugene, the fog never did clear.

I saw a lot more of the forest than I expected to, each time I sat down for a few minutes and let the woman go ahead.  I was alone among the trees and the wind, in one of the special areas in this country—wilderness.  I also learned something:  just because somebody lags behind doesn’t mean they are slow.  The woman had 30 more minutes in the wilderness than the man who walked back fast and sat in the car.  Hopefully, both were happy with the outcome.  Perhaps the man thought the hike was too slow; the woman felt the lunch break was too short.

What I do know is that I showed six others a part of Oregon they hadn’t seen, which I now have seen twice.  How they viewed it was their business.  How I viewed it taught me something about the Cummins Creek Wilderness, speed, and not being too quick to judge somebody who appears to be too slow.  Maybe the others are excessively fast.

It’s all about relativity.  And getting the facts.


December 2, 2014

Sometimes on social media, one writes something and gets slammed.  Last week, I was both slammer and slamme.  When a woman likened the riots in Ferguson as having to do with liberals.  I took offense, replying that as a liberal, I believed in the rule of law.  If one does not like a law, one must work to change it.  I said the freeway near her house was paid by our taxes, a liberal concept that we need government to pay for things too big for individuals to handle themselves.  I suspected I paid more taxes than she.  I threw in my being a veteran as well, since some think that liberals don’t serve in the military.  Dick Cheney didn’t.

I didn’t know all the facts.  Sadly, her husband had been laid off.  While trying to hunt deer for meat, since they needed food, people drove by shooting off guns to scare deer away.  I don’t like hunting, but most hunters are conservationists, and we share a deep love of the land.  Subsistence hunting is different from trophy hunting.  Hunters must buy Duck Stamps, which every environmentalist should, too.  The woman apologized, and I accepted it.  She’s having a rough time, and I hope she gets back on her feet soon.  I did not levy any more cheap shots; I didn’t comment that unemployment insurance was a liberal idea.  I don’t kick people who are down.

This week, I got slammed on My Stealthy Freedom page, for a comment I thought fairly innocuous.  It bummed me out for a couple of days, and I was puzzled by the behavior of the commenter.  I eventually let it go, but I will comment far less; I don’t like being slammed.

I never, however, expected to get slammed by my older brother, who occasionally writes me, usually on my birthday.  But he weighed in the other day, when I posted that it happened to be the 140th anniversary of the birth of Sir Winston Churchill, who is my hero.

I know full well that Sir Winston was an imperfect man.  All of us are.  I am imperfect as hell, and frankly, so is my brother.  Sir Winston drank, had a streak of nastiness in him, but was one of the great writers and orators of the 20th century, and an absolute master of the English language.

I begin with my favorite quotation, because it shows both sarcasm and nastiness, two of my major flaws:

“Sir Winston, if you were my husband, I’d give you poison.”

“Lady Astor, if you were my wife, I’d drink it.”

But let’s get serious:  Churchill was prescient.  He knew war was coming, well before others, and when things went south in a hurry, he came forth with leadership, knowledge, speeches evoking the stunning beauty of the English language, and predicted closely what would happen.  “Wars are not won by evacuations,” called attention to the luck and leadership that kept Dunkirk from becoming a major disaster.  Many of his words, his incredible words, still ring in my head today.  The forward, “Their Finest Hour,” the second of six volumes about the war:  “How the English people held on, alone, until those who had hitherto been half blind, were half ready.”  If there has been a better use of the word “hitherto” in the English language, I have yet to see it.  “So if the British Empire lasts for a thousand years, men will still say ‘This….was their finest hour.’ “

On the invasion of North Africa:  “This is not the end.  This is not the beginning of the end.  It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”  The Italian campaign in 1943:  “The fate of this part of the world is being decided by some things called LSTs.”  I, too, was a Navy man.  Absolutely spot on.  Churchill pushed for invasion of southern Europe, which had it been done, would likely have kept much of Eastern Europe out of the Soviet sphere of influence.  It would have been a different world.

To be fair, I need to quote my brother directly:

Serious? Sure, he was a great leader in WWII, but he needed that war as much as it needed him. One definitely gets the idea that if there had been no war, he would have tried to start one, just so he could earn personal glory. That was basically what happened in Gallipoli in WWI.   My point was that Churchill would have been a historical nobody had he died before he was 65.  He lived past 65, however, when history gave him an opportunity to take the leading role on the world’s stage.

I have little doubt he would have dropped the bomb had he been in Truman’s shoes.   I never knew that my brother felt that way about the Bomb (My sarcasm comes forth here; it is “Bomb,” not “bomb.”).  I would have dropped the Bomb, too.  I’ve seen Pearl Harbor, the tunnels at Corregidor, Bataan, Kwajalein, Kagoshima, where the attack on Pearl Harbor was planned, the Memorial Cemetery at Manila, the jail there where American prisoners drowned at hide tide, the guns facing the wrong way in Singapore, and Eniwetok.  The fire bombing of Tokyo in May, 1944, killed far more people than Hiroshima, horribly so, through burning.   Estimates of casualties on the American side, had we invaded the Japanese Home Islands, would have been a million.  I respect those who disagree with me.  But my shoes have walked upon hallowed ground abroad.

He just happened to be in the right place at the right time, when his belligerent nature could be put to good use.  Exactly, dear brother.  He was in the right place at the right time; he knew what to do and how to do it.  Some of us in our lives may be fortunate enough to inhabit those two dimensions simultaneously, but we don’t achieve greatness.  Churchill was absolutely the right man for the job.   It wasn’t happenstance that he said, “We are waiting for the invasion.  So are the fishes.” That is one of the few perfect uses of the -es plural for “fish” outside of the Bible.

Churchill remains my hero, because he led through words, spoken and written, as well as deeds.  His ability to perfectly command the English language makes me proud to be part of the English speaking peoples (his wrote another four volume set, “The History of the English Speaking Peoples”).  He became great when he was older than 65.  He was imperfect and nasty, but made correct predictions far ahead of his time.  Those last three traits are part of my personality.  I am imperfect, often nasty, but have been far ahead of my time in medicine.  I am no Churchill; I can neither write nor speak English as well:  “If Hitler invaded hell, I would at least make a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.”

Churchill made exact predictions after the war, too. His final volume, “Triumph and Tragedy” had its forward: “How the great Democracies triumphed, and in doing so were able to resume the practices that so nearly cost them their existence.”

I may have been slightly inaccurate in my quotations, for I deliberately chose not to look them up.  They are burned into my mind.


September 20, 2014

Maxwell Butte is a 5 mile hike into the Jefferson Wilderness, climbing 2500 vertical feet to the top, just over 6200 feet.  From the Butte, one can see the high Cascades from Mt. Hood to Broken Top.  On a clear day, one might see Diamond Peak, too.  It is a steady climb, and good trail work by the Obsidian Hiking Club, of which I am a member, has made the big gouge in much of the trail a resting place for downed trees, in an effort to stem erosion.

The best part of the hike came when I least expected it.  That usually happens.  It did not come when I reached the top, nor did it come when I had a great view of Three-fingered Jack right in front of me.  It wasn’t the fact that I was alone, but that was getting close.  It had been windy all the way up, but as I came down, the wind subsided.  Completely.



Outside the wilderness, in deep forest, Douglas firs dominant, with a few Silver Firs,  I was still alone.  But, I now, I appreciated something that I had not yet experienced on this hike.



There wasn’t any wind, no sound from a bird, a squirrel, a car, another person, or a plane overhead.  There was NO SOUND.  My ears rang, it was so quiet.

I know my hearing is gradually worsening.  But the silence was not due to my hearing problems.  There was no sound, and in America today, that is a rarity.  True, one can be in a sound-proofed room or wear sound canceling headphones, but silence in the wilderness is special, for there usually is some noise in the woods.  I’ve experienced total silence in the Grand Canyon, the Boundary Waters, and the Brooks Range.  Usually, the lack of sound has come at night, but on the Maxwell Butte trail, it was in daylight.

I sat there and listened….TO NOTHING…and thought, because without sound one starts to think…..about the Silver Fir near me, the name of which I learned only the prior week on Lowder Mountain.  I thought about the soil beneath me, the beauty of the trees, hundreds of years old, the fact that I was here, had trod these woods, and nobody was near me.  I reveled in my good fortune: SILENCE, NO NOISE.

I didn’t think of the dropped cup in the coffee shop earlier that week, where the acoustics made the noise hurt.  Or how somebody moved a cart by me as if they wanted to make as much noise as possible, as often seems the case today.

I enjoy music, but there are times I don’t want to hear it.  I don’t want to hear ANYTHING, not a beep with more information that often clutters my life.  To be outdoors in silence, away from people, is special beyond words. I believe, albeit without proof, that people need this sort of silence, yet we have countered with a barrage of sound, believing constant information is what everybody needs.  It isn’t. Multi-tasking is overload.  Many of our schedules are overloaded.  I believe there is harm from the constant beeping of messages, many unimportant, programmed voices in a car, sports announcers that feel they have to keep talking, or 24 hour a day television, where “dead air” is something to  be avoided and filled with comments, whether valuable or garbage.  Why can’t we shut up for a few minutes?

A man was once separated from a tour  group in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.  He was found 36 hours later, alive and relieved.  In the cave, there is not one lumen of light.  If the cave is dry, there is no noise at all.  The man said what bothered him the most was the silence.  He cracked rocks together to make noise.  Darkness was a problem, but silence was difficult.   I don’t know if I would feel the same way, but I do label wilderness, total silence, and totally dark skies the “outdoor triad.”  We live less fulfilling lives, I believe, because many people never experience one of these three, let alone all of them together.

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Light pollution has been a problem for years, affecting nature and man in nature, too.  We have lost our night sky heritage; the National Parks are trying to deal with light pollution.  Sound pollution is more insidious.  Europe doesn’t have places like the Olympic Peninsula, where the One Square Inch Project is occurring.  Excessive sound damages our hearing.  This is a fact.  It hurts other animals.  That is a fact, too.  It isn’t good for us, and the damage it does to our thinking, the believed necessity to process more information, which I don’t think healthy, is poorly recognized and the consequences not completely understood.

Eventually, a high flying jet broke the spell that I was in.  Jet engines at any altitude can be heard on the ground.

I will eventually live in a silent world, should I remove the hearing aids I will some day need to wear.  What I want now is to periodically spend time in places where there is silence, where no sound is transmitted to my cochleae.

I don’t know why at that particular moment I decided to sit on the log.  Perhaps silence ironically called me.


View from the log.  SILENT

View from the log. SILENT


September 8, 2014

The Wulik Peaks area of Alaska is separate and west from the Brooks Range  and lower, not rising much above 3600 feet (1100 meters), compared to twice that in the central Brooks and nearly thrice at the highest peak.  I hadn’t even heard of the Wuliks before this year, but when one Alaska trip to the Refuge (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) didn’t pan out, I discovered this trip, a part of the Brooks I had never seen, and one that immediately intrigued me.   Wilderness I haven’t seen intrigues me.

The advantage of living in Oregon meant that I could get there in a day, arriving in the evening, and leave on the trip the following morning, which I hadn’t been able to do on my five previous trips to the Brooks.  I did so, met the 5 other people who would be along, representing England, Germany, and the states of New Jersey and Alaska, as well as mine.  Our guide was finishing a trip in the Wuliks, and we would fly in to meet him the next day.

I had dinner with the Englishman that night, and the next morning, we all flew into the Wuliks in two planes.  It was a smooth trip, over the Noatak Delta, inland, and landing on a slight uphill rocky strip.  The planes left, and it was quiet.  There are not a lot of birds in the Brooks, especially in mid-August, and it is a very quiet place.

Noatak Delta in the morning.

Noatak Delta in the morning.


Landing spot.

Landing spot.

The guide gave us instructions on bear spray and dealing with bears, and we hiked as a group.  We covered about 5 miles the first day, typical for Alaska, camping where two creeks joined.  We would stay there two nights, doing a day hike the next day.  Hiking up here was much easier than I had been used to: we were often on caribou trails, and while caribou go places I don’t want to tread, their trails are a very useful highway.  The grass was low, dry, and the creeks and streams, all having a good amount of flowing water, were not difficult to ford.  I stayed dry, and I would have dry feet the whole time we were out there, which I never would have expected in the Brooks; it had never happened in the 50+ days I had hiked in five different parts.

The second day, we climbed in fog to the top of a mountain nearby, gaining about 1100 feet (340 meters) and having lunch in the shelter of a rocky area.  We returned to camp and then crossed the river and climbed up into another area, not as high, but with a view back to the north.  The nights were cool but not cold; heavy cloud cover limited radiational cooling, but the high humidity plus any wind made one cold.

Bear, from 800 meters. He was the only one we would see.

Bear, from 800 meters. He was the only one we would see.

People reaching summit of unnamed mountain.

People reaching summit of unnamed mountain.



The third day was the only day we saw sun, as we headed up to a divide between two streams, climbing about 700 feet (210 meters) and descending almost as much.  We set up camp on a bluff a little above a stream and then day hiked into the mountains, doing a loop that at one point reached a narrow edge with a scree slope with large rocks at a 45 degree angle.  I did not want to go on, but I allowed myself to be talked into it, crossing without incident.  That was my only regret on the trip: we had “group think,” and had I turned around, somebody would have gone with me.  The fact I could negotiate the area without incident did not make it safe, something I refer to as “Challenger thinking,”  after the 1986 disaster, which had plenty of prior warnings, but since nothing bad had happened, the warnings were not heeded.



Author on a plateau at 1800 feet (550 m)

Author on a plateau at 1800 feet (550 m)

The vastness of the Alaska mountains above the Arctic Circle

The vastness of the Alaska mountains above the Arctic Circle


We then hiked downstream to where the West Fork of the Wulik River widened and camped, climbing another 1000 foot peak nearby, without the issues of the prior day.  The fifth day, we went up another stream, through the fog, across many side channels, where there was a steep drop on uneven ground to the stream bed, followed by an equally steep climb out.  After crossing a divide between two watersheds, we camped in what was later called “rain camp,” for the moisture appeared to funnel through the mountains and turn into rain here, but not in adjacent valleys.  Indeed, as I would later learn, there was moisture funneling into the Wuliks, but the surrounding area outside the mountains was relatively dry.

West fork of Wulik River.

West fork of Wulik River.


View from unnamed mountain.

View from unnamed mountain.

Water slowly moving down a stream bed.

Water slowly moving down a stream bed.

It was a short walk from rain camp to where we were to be picked up.  We could see the stream beds, previously dry, start to flow, the water moving downstream about 1 meter a minute, slowly, but steadily.  Whether the water, and the few fish present, would reach the main river, was not clear.  With more rain, the water would make it, and the fish survive; if not, they would die.

We camped our final night in a foggy valley, where we could clearly see the moisture funneling into the area from which we had come.  We were mostly dry.  I had hoped that on the flight back, we would fly over the coast and see the musk ox, that were clearly there.  That didn’t happen, but when we landed, I spoke to the pilot, who agreed to take me and one of the people on the trip out off Cape Kreusenstern where we could see them.

And so a high point of the trip came, not in the mountains, but at sea level.  I asked for what I really wanted, and the answer was yes.


Flying over a herd of musk ox.

Flying over a herd of musk ox.

Pair of musk oxen

Pair of musk oxen


Head on from 400 meters.

Head on from 400 meters.


Much larger than I had anticipated.

Much larger than I had anticipated.