Saturday, September 23, 2006

Well, it has snowed in the high country several nights in a row now. This morning, everything above 9,000 ft. was at least dusted with snow. Virtually everything above timberline has remained hidden in cloud cover all day. Autumn is definitely here.
Not wanting to get too soft, I went for my usual 8 mile training run today, up and back down the length of the Columbine Trail in North Cheyenne Cañon. I actually caught a fair amount of clear sunshine, in between periods of clouds. I started out in a windbreaker, but took it off after less than a mile and didn't put it back on.
I was only a few other people hiking on the trail, and one pair of cyclists. That's one advantage of the weather turning colder.
I was really slow. I took two and a half hours for a circuit which I have, on occasion, made in just under two hours. Still, it felt good to get in the distance. Surprisingly, my knees were a little sore by the time I got back, but the stiffness will work itself out. For now, I just want to stay in shape, while hoping for at least one weekend of decent weather in October for one more climb.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I have to take a break from the more pleasant topic of mountain climbing today. The U.S. Congress—specifically, the House of Representatives—took a major step yesterday toward finishing the process of depriving me of my right to vote. They passed a bill to impose a requirement on the States to force voters to produce foe-toe-eye-dees to be allowed to vote. I have no reason to doubt that this bill will also soon sail through the Senate and be signed into “law.”
Numerous states are already imposing such requirements on some or all of their voters. But a federal bill would eliminate the last discretion being exercised by any states still being somewhat lenient. Colorado is one of those states, and the vast majority of voters here have already given up and “gotten used to” (to use one of the fascists’ favorite phrases) handing over their foe-toe-eye-dees at the polling places.
So far, however, yours truly has managed to slip through the cracks in this system. By voting always by “absentee’’ ballot—that is, mail-in-ballot—I have avoided this requirement and continued to vote. However, I know from reading the instructions which come with my mail-in ballots (instructions which continually swell as more rules and restrictions are added with each election) that even some mail-in voters are not as fortunate.
Thus, it looks like this fall, 2006, will likely be the last election in America in which I will be allowed to vote. This, after being a registered voter, and voting in every general election, for thirty-four years, voting in the same county for thirty-two years, and voting in the very same precinct for twenty years. Thanks for less than nothing, “Republicans”!
A couple of things are worth noting (for those who still care for logic) about the apologia offered for this outrage by its supporters. First, they are quick to point out that they’ve already imposed similar requirements for a long list of other activities, including (most prominently) getting on a plane. In other words, their success in committing similar acts of aggression against us in the past makes this particular act of aggression (more) acceptable. Bunk. I, and six or seven other still-sane patriotic people, opposed all those other eye-dee requirements when they were first proposed, and the fact that our opposition was steamrollered by the fascists does not mean that we, or anybody else for that matter, are obliged to give our consent to this one.
Second, they have the nerve to assert that this power grab is both necessary and desirable to stop what they call “vote fraud,” by which they mean people who aren’t registered, or aren’t even eligible to be registered, to vote somehow casting ballots. Talk about a solution in search of a problem! If your memory is better than the “Republicans” and the mass media think it is, you might just remember that all the political impetus for “reform” in elections started with the deplorable situation in Florida in 2000. The problem was emphatically not that scurrilous unregistered people were somehow voting. It was exactly the opposite: Police and other government officials were illegally using both force and fraud to stop perfectly legitimate registered voters from voting! So what’s the “Republicans’” so-called solution? Why, make it even harder to vote, of course!
The plain fact is that there isn’t, and never was, any significant problem with non-legitimate voters sneaking in illegal ballots. (At least not since the Daley machine in Chicago was shut down and dead people had to stop “voting.”) There is, however, still a little “problem” with people voting against “Republican” candidates and policies.
Even though they now can, and do, jerry-rig the vote counting process to ensure “Republican” victories, they still don’t want it to be too hard or too obvious. This little stratagem works very well, thank you, both to keep pesky malcontents away from the polls, and to keep the conservative faithful whipped up with rage at all the non-existent “illegal immigrants” supposedly flooding the polling places. Great political strategy. For a fascist police state.
Finally, there’s something worth noting about the so-called “opposition” offered by the Democrats in Congress. As usual, they’ve proved themselves just about worthless as real opposition. True to form, the only thing most of them could find to say, even when trying to criticize this bill in strong terms, was that it would discriminate against “minorities and the poor.” Well, ya know what? I’m not a “minority,” and, at least depending on how you look at it, I’m not “poor” either. But this bill is aimed squarely at me, and it will very definitely disenfranchise me when it is implemented.
Am I mad about it? You bet. Is there anything (short of armed revolution) I can do about it? Nope—except try to survive until this “thousand-year Reich” comes to the same grisly end as the last one.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Well, it's Tuesday, and I'm finally finding enough time to write about last Friday and Saturday.
Trisha, Ted, and I headed up to the mountains yet again, this time to attend the annual fall gathering. Amber couldn't get the day off from work, so it was just the three of us.
The plan was to camp Friday night along the North Cottonwood Creek Trail, then climb Mt. Harvard (14,427 ft.) on Saturday morning, and possibly go on to climb the adjacent Mt. Columbia as well. Depending.
We got to the trailhead west of Buena Vista, just below 10,000 ft, good and late--just about astronomical sunset. We knew the weather forecast for the next day was sketchy at best, but we were determined to give it our best shot. We headed up the trail, and into the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness under promisingly clearing skies.
It was cold, but we had come prepared with plenty of layers of clothing. We had to climb about 2,000 ft. to where the communal campsite had been planned, and we figured that that would help to keep us warm. It did.
Still, we should have left earlier. We actually couldn't, but that didn't change the fact that we really should have. We didn't make it to anywhere near our evening destination before full darkness fell. As a result, we knew that the tents of the other campers would be harder to see, plus a good many of them (the ones with good sense) would probably already be asleep--or trying to get to sleep--by the time we arrived. Trisha and I put on our headlamps.
Still, we pressed on as fast as we could. The clarity of the skies was an unexpected plus. As the trees began to thin (the chosen campsite was very near timberline), we got steadily expanding views of the starry sky, uncontaminated by either moonlight or artificial light pollution. That part was absolutely fabulous!
Somewhere between two and two-and-a-half hours into our hike (I didn't have the sense to look at my watch for a more accurate figure!), we found the marker for which we had been looking: a weight suspended by a length of blue climbing rope on a tree branch, placed there by the person (Scott Patterson of Craig) responsible for scoping out the trail and alerting other hikers as they arrived.
Unfortunately, as we looked around, we saw no sign of any tents, or any other sign of humans, at all! The problem was, although we couldn't tell in the dark, that our headlamps couldn't quite illuminate enough to show us where we needed to go. The encampment was actually just a stone's throw away, but we wouldn't find this out until the following day. We decided, incorrectly, that the campsite must be "just a little farther" up the trail. So we kept hiking.
We hiked for at least another half hour, climbing something like 600 feet more. By that time 1) we were clearly seeing the very last of the trees, 2) we were tired, 3) we were getting cold, since none of us had been willing to stop and put on any more clothes, and 4) we were getting hungry! So we decided that enough was enough, we would abandon any further attempts to find the others, and to grab the first level ground we could find to set up the tent, and let answering all the questions wait until morning.
We hurriedly set up our 3-person tent in the breezy cold. Then, with fingers made clumsy by the cold, we got the stove going and started boiling water, first for some hot cocoa (which did a lot of good!), and then for our standard backpacking dinner: quick rice, canned chicken, and spices. It's peasant simple, but it's easy to prepare on a propane backpacking stove, and it's hot, tasty, and filling! When we finally got it ready--which took a real effort, as the primitive can opener on my old Swiss Army knife did not work very well--it really hit the spot.
It was nearly 11 pm when we were finally fed and ready to retreat into the tent and the warmth of our sleeping bags. And then the next bombshell hit: Trisha, the last one in, reported that clouds were rolling in and our clear skies were going away.
We were all warm enough, bundled up in our bags, but, sure enough, the gusty winds that assailed us during the night brought the unmistakable sound of snow hitting the tent's canopy.
Having climbed, successfully, in some snow the previous Saturday, we were certainly not prepared to abandon all hope just because of that. But we also knew that the forecast was calling for significant wind, too. That combination could make conditions too harsh. We had no choice but to settle in and defer any final decision until the morning.
Morning--meaning when we finally got partially out of our bags and opened the tent door enough to take a look outside--came well after 6 am, even though we had set our alarm for 5. We heard it, but we just couldn't face de-cocooning ourselves in the dark.
The view, when enough light finally showed up to make one possible, was bleak and discouraging. Rocks, bushes and trees still showed through the snow on the ground, but plenty had fallen during the night, and more was falling all the time. The wind was still blowing, too. I estimated it as a steady 20 mph with gusts to at least 40. Cold!
Before venturing out, we put on virtually all our remaining clothing. Ted bravely got the stove going again, and fixed us all morning coffee. He reported that the stove had to be broken loose from the ground when he was through, due to ice forming around its base.
With no clearing in sight, it only took a little discussion for us to decide that this was one climb better abandoned. We had seen two hikers heading up past us earlier, but still had no idea where the rest of the contingent was. We took turns in the tent packing up our packs, and then all pitched in to take down the tent and get it packed up in the wind. It's a good thing there were three of us, or it would have taken even longer and ended up even messier than it was. I took a series of panorama shots to document the conditions, and my camera eventually told me that the batteries were low--not because they were really low, but because the low temperature was preventing them from delivering enough power!
At about 8:30, a little disappointed, we finally started down the trail. And, bang--what do you know? Not fifteen minutes later, we met a party of seven coming up the trail, and it turned out to be the 14ers.comers we had missed the night before.
They had indeed been camped near the marker, just a little ways off through some trees. Now, they were determined to make an attempt on Harvard, including 4-year-old Kessler Patterson. We introduced ourselves and chatted briefly. One of them snapped a picture, which can be seen at:

Also, my picture album from the trip can be seen at:

I had to admire their determination, but I seriously wondered if any of them would actually reach the summit, which was still almost 2,600 feet above them, that day. We later learned that only three had done so. They reported 50 mph winds. It took them four hours from the time we left them. And then there was still the descent. Whew! That sort of stuff was just more than we were willing to tolerate that day. Harvard will still be there some day when the sun's out!
We wished them well, and continued down the trail. It took us less than two hours, in constantly increasing temperatures, decreasing snowfall, and clearing skies, to descend the section of trail which we had toiled up for nearly four hours the previous evening!
This was the first time any of us had been turned back from a peak this year. Well, it's going to happen how and then. Still, we had a wonderful shared adventure. We'll just have to see if some gentle fall weather settles in later and allows another last shot at peakbagging this year.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Starting in the middle...
Last Saturday, I climbed Mt. Princeton (14,205') with Amber. It was a repeat climb for me, but a new one for her. It was an important one for her because she had tried to climb it in May of '03, and been turned back by spring snow. So guess what...
This time we encountered fall snow! This time, however, we pushed on. The snow flurries eventually cleared. We reached the summit just before noon, and enjoyed warm sunshine at the end of the hike. With four previous fourteeners under her belt, Amber's confidence was high enough to succeed this time (with a bit of help).
At the same time, Trisha and Ted climbed nearby Mt Yale (14,204'). They had dropped us off at the Princeton trailhead, and picked us up later in the afternoon. They, too, had to brave snow squalls and slippery rocks. Not the conditions we would have liked, but a great day of accomplishment for all of us.
That makes five fourteeners each for the kids, and twenty-two for Trisha. (I'm still holding at 27.) Next, we will try Mt. Harvard on the 16th. The forecast is pretty marginal, but we're going to give a try all the same...