Thursday, March 18, 2021

Re-thinking the Personal Locator Beacon

 

I'm no Luddite, but I must admit some misgivings about the ubiquity of technology in 21st-century life. When friends check their phones while we're hanging out, off in electronic la-la land, it bothers me. I'm not completely comfortable with the degree to which large tech companies can reconstruct our lives simply by snooping on our browsing habits, location data, and more. And, having just begun a job, bought a car, and signed a lease, I'm struck anew by how necessary - yes, necessary - it is to have an email address and access to electronic communication in the modern age.

Backcountry adventuring is not insulated from this broader societal trend. It's not a coincidence that the venerable Halfmile PCT maps are no more, "replaced" by an unjustifiably expensive set of Trails Illustrated maps. In reality, they've been replaced not by the TI maps, but by the Guthook PCT app, as well as the digital versions of those TI maps on Gaia GPS. Hikers who are increasingly steeped in a digital culture increasingly turn to digital resources to meet their navigational needs. We can rail against it all we want (and if you catch me in a offline/non-diplomatic moment, you may hear that screed), but like it or not, the tendency toward an all-digital navigational approach seems inexorable.

Navigation isn't the only area of the modern outdoor experience that's been digitized. In recent years, I've had more than few hikers tell me that it's dangerous - irresponsible, even - to not carry a personal Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or similar satellite communicator in the backcountry. On one memorable occasion, a fellow CDT hiker chided me for not carrying a PLB. He told me that a PLB was required equipment, but a paper map was not. If his Guthook app failed, he could simply push his SPOT device and wait for rescue. This line of thinking is obviously terrible and a "special kind of stupid" - but unfortunately all too frequent.

I've owned a Personal Locator Beacon for 6 or 7 years now - long enough that I've had to renew its NOAA registration and really should have replaced the battery already. But in all that time, I've always treated it with a barely-restrained degree of contempt. I've regarded it as an intrusion on my life - an electronic "leash", as my friend Paul would say. I bring it only when there aren't any other options for rescue in case of injury - namely, when I'm hiking both (1) alone, and (2) off-trail. And the whole time, I grit my teeth and resent the fact that it's sitting in my hipbelt pocket, tying me to the outside world with invisible cords. I bring it mostly for my family's sake, and complain bitterly to myself about it.

The only non-gory bear attack photo I've got. This was shirt #2. It was soon soaked with blood as well. The wince says it all.

But I think my (admitted bad) attitude is starting to change. Two incidents in the course of the past year have impacted my thinking:

1) In 2020, I was attacked by a grizzly bear. I was able to bandage up my wounds and hike out, but had things happened just slightly different, I would have needed SAR to rescue me. If the bear had slashed my leg instead of my chest, I wouldn't have been able to walk. If I hadn't been able to control the bleeding, I would have needed medical attention immediately in order to survive. I didn't need my PLB, but in any other scenario, I probably would have.

2) In 2021, I took a fall while hiking in a desert canyon and shattered a bone in my heel. Thankfully, it happened within a couple hundred yards of a paved highway, and I was able to crawl up to the road where a good Samaritan picked me up. Had the fall occurred anywhere else, I would have required rescue, as I couldn't walk at all. In this desert environment, an inability to move coupled with a lack of water sources could have led to a grim outcome.

I don't consider myself particularly accident-prone. I generally make fairly conservative decisions when it comes to risk in the outdoors. Put simply, I try to do everything within my power to ensure that I never have a medical emergency in the backcountry. And yet, accidents happen - twice in a year, in my case. Without a PLB, either of the scenarios could have proved fatal, had circumstances played out a bit differently.

Crawling up this rockpile/slope on hands and knees: not fun.

What then, of the PLB? I'm beginning to appreciate it, rather than despise it. I turned 30 this year. The youthful illusion of invincibility is starting to wear off. And after my brushes with injury in the past year, it's tough to claim with a straight face that it "won't happen to me". And if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. It doesn't even need to be an injury - take a simple case of food poisoning in the backcountry. In deep wilderness, an inability to move can quickly become an inability to survive. 

I've made my peace with the personal locator beacon. I may not love it, but I certainly don't hate it anymore. As part of my re-thinking of the PLB, here are a few key considerations I've dwelt on:

1. The Right Device

Not all emergency-use satellite communicators are created equal. I won't try to create a full buyer's guide here, but just sketch out some general categories. From simplest to most complex:

  • A "true" Personal Locator Beacon. A classic example is the ACR ResQLink. The only thing it can do is send out an SOS signal and transmit a location. On the other hand, the signal on a true PLB is far stronger than that of more feature-rich devices, and it's paired with the most robust satellite network. It's free to register your beacon with NOAA, and if you ever need to actually activate your beacon, the manufacturer will generally replace it for free afterward.
  • A Satellite Messenger. A multifarious category, encompassing a wide range of features and options. Canonical examples include the SPOT devices or the Delorme inReach. Some of these messengers allow users to send a handful of different pre-set messages, from "daily check-in", to "please send help", to full-blown "SOS". Others, particularly newer models, allow for free-form text messaging and two-way communication. These devices usually require a monthly service plan or charge on a per-message basis. Some models have their own keyboards and screens, while others are designed to serve as an accessory to the smartphones that most people already carry. 
  • A Satellite Phone. It's exactly what it sounds like. One well-respected brand is Iridium. Not too many backpackers find themselves in need of a sat phone, though exceptions apply for commercial guiding operations, or long stretches in extremely remote areas of the globe (say, the polar regions). Sat phones are expensive, and so are the service plans.

Which is the right device for you? Tough to say, as it depends on how many features you want, and whether you're willing to pay for them. I've carried a barebones PLB for years, as I wanted to be unable to communicate with the outside world except in dire emergencies - that is, I wanted my electronic leash to be as long as possible. But my experiences in the past year have taught me that there's quite a bit of gray area when it comes to urgent medical needs. Though I was in little danger of dying in the aftermath of either of my recent incidents, it would have been enormously helpful to be able to contact medical help without them assuming that I was in need of a full-blown chopper rescue. When I broke my foot, being able to contact the county sheriff and have a couple folks help me limp out would have saved me a truly excruciating hour of crawling on bloody hands and knees over boulders and up steep slopes - and it might have made the difference in preventing further injury.

On the other hand, I'd hate to shoulder an expectation that I'll contact friends or family (or work - shudder!) while I'm in the backcountry. Part of the reason we head into the wilderness is to put our ordinary daily concerns on the back burner. Would having a more advanced device - capable of check-ins or 2-way messaging - compromise the reason I was out there in the first place? To some extent, yes. But I'm starting to wonder if the compromise might be worth it. I'm not there yet, but I think my attitude might be changing.

2. The Right Mindset

All that said, it's possible that carrying a PLB doesn't actually make for a safer trip. Consider again the fellow who told me he was carrying a PLB instead of paper maps . Instead of learning the navigational skills needed to survive and thrive on the often-poorly-marked CDT, he was using the PLB as a crutch. The presence of a PLB was almost certainly making his trip less safe. If safety equipment (be it a PLB, avalanche airbag, climbing helmet, etc) emboldens us to take risks that we wouldn't ordinarily take, then that safety equipment is useless at best and counterproductive at worst.

The best safety equipment we have is our brains. It's not exactly a profundity to say that it's far better to avoid a dangerous situation than to be bailed out of it by our safety gear. I try not to let the presence - or absence - of a PLB impact my decision-making. If I'd be more comfortable navigating that sketchy arete in the rain with a PLB, that's my brain's way of telling me that I'm making a bad decision.

3. The Right Message

So, how do we convince skeptics (like me) to bring a PLB? So often, our arguments in favor of PLB's revolve around guilt and shame: "you're irresponsible for not bringing one", or "what will your family say?" To me, that's the wrong approach. These arguments only put someone on the defensive and further entrench an anti-PLB mindset.

To me, the best way to encourage the use of PLBs is instead a message of liberation: "A PLB increases your odds of a good outcome, if something bad happens to you". A PLB is relatively lightweight, relatively compact, and can be stashed in a hipbelt pocket (for easy access!) and forgotten about unless it's needed.

Folks who don't carry a PLB aren't generally irresponsible. They simply have a different assessment of the costs versus benefits of carrying one. I've got a lot of sympathy for that argument. I used to agree. But after having experienced a couple of backcountry accidents and seeing the the costs first-hand, I'm starting to re-think my cost/benefit analysis when it comes to PLBs. And hopefully my recent experiences will help others do the same.

All photos in this post taken near the scenes of the crimes. Unpleasant things happen in pretty places!

Saturday, December 26, 2020

2020 - In Review


Well, that was a trainwreck.

Strictly speaking, 2020 wasn't "the worst year ever", or even "unprecedented". Such proclamations are most-often voiced by pundits with a poor grasp of history and a flair for the overly dramatic. There's no denying this was a miserable year, but it probably doesn't stack up to 541 (devastating famine across Europe and Asia after an Icelandic volcano threw a bunch of ash into the atmosphere; the Plague of Justinian) any of the years in the late 1340s (a third of Europe and a quarter of Asia killed by the Plague, Version 2.0), 1918 (a way deadlier pandemic, plus a brutal World War), or 1945 (wrap-up to the deadliest war in history and the deadliest genocide in history, the US nuking Japan, and the beginning of the Cold War)

But most of us weren't alive in 541, 1348, 1918, or even 1945. And as a matter of lived-experience, 2020 sure has been rotten. So before we wish it a hearty good riddance farewell, here's a brief review, as it pertains to backpacking adventures.

Gear:

  • Pairs of shoes:5
  • Zippers split:2
  • Zippers repaired: 2
  • Amount of Cuben tape used: way too much
  • Tents used:2
  • Tents found to be leaky: 1 
  • Tents used, in spite of being leaky: 1
  • Pairs of microspikes lost: 1 (it's the bear's fault)
  • Compasses lost: 2 (not the bear's fault)
Trips:
  • Long-distance hikes: 2 (Florida Trail; Greater Yellowstone Loop)
  • Medium-length backpacking trips: 1 (Ouachita Trail) 
  • Short backpacking trips:7
  • Miles hiked: 2,800+
  • States visited:9
  • National Parks visited:2
  • National Forests visited: 16
  • Wilderness Areas/WSA's visited: 19
Highest/Lowest/Fastest/Slowest:
  • Highest elevation: 13,448' (Gilbert Peak, Uintas)
  • Lowest elevation: sea level (Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida Trail)
  • Highest point (metaphorical): Walking on the spine of the Tetons themselves
  • Lowest point (metaphorical): Oh crap, that's a grizzly
  • Longest full day, in miles: 27 miles (Florida Trail)
  • Shortest full day, in miles: 14 (trudging through the swamp on the Florida Trail)
  • Most consecutive days without seeing a human: 6 (Greater Yellowstone Loop)
  • Lightest packweight: 8 lbs (Florida Trail)
  • Heaviest packweight: 40 lbs (Greater Yellowstone Loop)
  Animal Encounters:
  • Gators seen: hundreds
  • Gators bellowing uncomfortably close to my tent during the night: 1
  • Gator problems: 0
  • Venomous snakes: 0
  • Dog problems: many
  • Jumped into the bed of a passing pickup truck to avoid a confrontation with a pack of unleashed and aggressive dogs: 2
  • Bears:11
  • Bears that didn't attack me: 10
  • Confirmed grizzly bears: 4
  • Confirmed black bears: 1
  • Mystery bears: 6 (too far away to tell)
  • Foxes that tried to sneak up on me: 1
  • Foxes that got pelted with rocks by a very ticked-off LarryBoy: 1
Human Encounters:
  • Shown overwhelming generosity by strangers: too many to count
  • Offered money by strangers who thought I was homeless:1
  • Given "trail magic": 2 
  • Given "trail magic" in a uniquely Florida style, by people who were proud of their regional and ethnic cultures and wanted me to feel welcome: 2
  • Hiker gatherings attended: 1 (pre-covid)
  • Randomly encountered friends in the middle of nowhere: 2
Camping:
  • Bag nights: 150+
  • Bathrooms slept in:1
  • Churches slept at: 2
  • AT-style shelters slept at: 4
  • Favorite campsite: stunning unnamed lake in the Beartooths
  • Least favorite campsite: mosquito-infested dystopian wasteland in the Bechler River area of SE Yellowstone
  • Cowboy camped: 0 (for the first time in many years!)

Previous years in review: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2014

In January, just after New Years, my good pal Blue Moon dropped me off at the the southern terminus of the Florida Trail. South Florida featured a full-blown swamp walk, beautiful oak and palm hammocks, and the occasional death-defying roadwalk.


Around the beginning of February, I reached north Florida and took a left turn, now heading west toward Pensacola. Highlights included the incredible Suwanee and Aucilla rivers. The weather took a turn for the worse, with regular drenching rainstorms rolling through every three days or so.


I finished up the Florida Trail during the first few days of March, ending with a beautiful walk along the beach to a historic US Army fort on the Gulf of Mexico. 

After finishing the Florida Trail, I got on a plane and headed to Arkansas to hike the Ouachita Trail. There was a minor buzz going on - an emerging virus was apparently making its way from China to the rest of the world, and some experts were saying that it was a concern. 

A week later, when I emerged from the woods in Mena, AR, the world had gone crazy. Hand sanitizer and toilet paper were nowhere to be found. Most states still had single-digit case counts, but it was clear that this coronavirus was going to be a bit of a problem. I hurriedly jumped on a train to Phoenix, to start the Grand Enchantment Trail. I figured being in the woods was for the best right now.


Things were changing fast. After just four days on the GET, I realized that continuing a long-distance hike was not a good idea right now - hitchhiking, passing through rural, vulnerable communities, and arranging transportation before/after a hike just wasn't responsible. Before things got any worse, I hopped on a plane and headed back to Michigan, where I could stay for a while.


In April, I took a quick hike on the North Country Trail in Michigan's Manistee National Forest, not too far from home.

In late May, I came to grips with the fact that my planned PCT hike wasn't going to happen. Covid-19 wasn't going away any time soon. Rather than rotting indoors however, I planned a long-distance hike that would be Covid-responsible - no transportation, no hitchhiking, no towns. I would drive to the trailhead, walk in a circle, and cache my food beforehand.

I headed west, doing a few warm-up hikes. First up was an exploratory jaunt on Boulder Mountain, scouting a re-route for the Deseret Hiking Route.

In June, I did a quick trip through the Tushars of south-central Utah, summiting all of the 12,000-foot peaks in the range.


Later that month, I did a pair of trips in the Uintas - one in the western part of the range...


 ...and one right along the spine of the range, the main Uinta crest.

All the while, I was living that #crappybeatupsubarulife, avoiding towns and sticking to wild places.

On the first of July, I began a Greater Yellowstone Loop near West Yellowstone, MT. I trudged through plenty of snow in the Tetons, but the views made it all worth it.


The Snake River and Wyoming ranges were slightly less spectacular, but still filled with beautiful alpine flowers. 

I had picture-perfect weather in the Gros Ventres, ideal for for walking the crest and recently-glaciated shelves.

The Absarokas, true to form, were wild, rugged, and full of grizzlies, one of whom objected to my presence.

The fine hospital staff in Cody, Wyoming stitched me up and sent me on my way. It took a few weeks before I was healed up enough to continue the route.

In August, I resumed the route, passing through the Beartooths, still one of my favorite ranges of all time.

I sashayed through the northernmost Absarokas, and later passed through the Gallatin Range, choked in thick smoke by wildfires burning on the West Coast. 


The trek concluded with a jaunt through the Madisons. I completed the loop near West Yellowstone on the last day of the month, just as the season's first snowflakes began to fall. 

In September, I did a short jaunt into the northern reaches of the Wind River Range...

...and celebrated my thirtieth trip around the sun with a quick overnighter in the Wasatch.

Spot the moose!

I didn't get out too much for the rest of the year - car trouble and the practical realities of re-establishing myself after a couple of years on the road played a role - but I anticipate getting out a lot more in 2021, particularly if and when coronavirus dies down due to vaccination.

A Year of Failure - Kind Of...

I originally intended to do four long hikes in 2020 - the Florida Trail, Ouachita Trail, Grand Enchantment Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail. Of the four, I only successfully completed one. I completed the Florida Trail, and quit the Ouachita a couple days early because the weather, and the upcoming forecast, combined to make it a bit miserable. I don't regret quitting it.

The Grand Enchantment and Pacific Crest trails are a different story. I quit the GET after 4 days due to the worsening Covid-19 situation, and my PCT hike was entirely a no-go. While I acknowledge that "having to skip a vacation with a fancy title" is pretty far down the list of coronavirus-related hardships, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bummed about not being able to do those hikes.

Still though, I managed to see plenty of beautiful things, and I am happy with how quickly I changed gears to pull off a Greater Yellowstone Loop, which is probably the most beautiful hike I've ever done.

What's Next

The end of the year marks a significant shift in lifestyle for me. Since spring of 2018, I've been on the move constantly, never spending more than two months in a single place. I've probably walked 10,000 miles in that time, road-tripped across the country several times, and generally enjoyed adventuring full-time.

But living out the the back of a car or a backpack does get a little bit old. And as much as I enjoy adventure, it's not the only iron I have in the fire. Lord willing, I plan to return to full-time employment in 2021. I will have an apartment, rather than a Subaru and a storage unit. My outdoor trips will be measured in days, not months. And you can be sure that I'll document those trips on this blog as irregularly as I always do!

It's been a rough year, in some way, for just about everybody. But our hope isn't merely in the turning of the calendar to 2021, the promise of a Covid vaccine on the horizon, or the end of the malignant Trump administration. Our confidence is that whether it's the year 20, 202, or 2020, that the same God is in control and we can depend on his goodness... even when there's a bad-tempered bear heading our way.

Happy New Year.




Saturday, December 19, 2020

From Whence Did the Grinch Steal Christmas?


Like many children, I grew up reading Dr. Seuss's holiday classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Seuss (also known by his birth name,Ted Geisel) spins the heartwarming yarn of an irascible hillside hermit who tries to steal Christmas from the neighboring town of Who-ville. But his heart "grows three sizes" upon learning the true meaning of Christmas, and he abandons his Grinchy ways, even sharing in the town's celebration himself.

When I got older and developed a quasi-obsession with mountains and wild places, I noticed that there really aren't that many places - anywhere on this planet - that fit Who-ville's locale as described in the book. I began to wonder - where exactly is Who-ville?

TL;DR: With a reasonably high degree of confidence, I believe that Glacier View, Alaska is the only plausible match for the fictional town of Who-ville.

Background

A crash course on the Grinch, in case your childhood was sad and stunted:

The Grinch, a grumpy green recluse, lives in a cave in the mountains north of a village called Who-ville. The Grinch's general misanthropy is manifest most overtly in his abhorrence of the Whos' annual Christmas celebration. Having putting up with their singing, feasting, and general merrymaking for "fifty-three years now", the Grinch decides, one Christmas Eve, to steal their holiday accoutrements while they're all sound asleep. 

After dressing up as Santa Claus and disguising his dog Max as a reindeer, the Grinch rides a sleigh down into town and, sliding down each chimney, systematically burglarizes the Whos' houses, stealing their gifts, foodstuffs, decorations, and Christmas trees. He's spotted only once - by a two-year-old, Cindy-Lou Hoo, who believes he's Santa Claus. The Grinch prevaricates, telling the child that he's taking the tree back to his workshop for repairs. He then dispatches her back to bed. 

The Grinch shoves the Christmas trappings up the Whos' chimneys and loads it all onto his now-overflowing sleigh. With much protestation, Max pulls the sleigh thousands of feet up to the peak of nearby Mt. Crumpit, where the Grinch plans to dump the cargo over the side of a cliff. Before completing his crime though, the Grinch pauses to observe the reaction of the townspeople, who are just now waking up and realizing that their Christmas has been stolen. But to the Grinch's horror, he hears not weeping, but singing! Despite their lack of gifts, decorations, or food, the Whos are celebrating Christmas all the same. The Grinch concludes that Christmas must mean "a little bit more" (though exactly what is not specified). His heart changed, the Grinch rides back down the mountain into town, bringing back everything he had stolen. The Whos magnanimously accept him, even granting him the honor of carving the rare roast beast.

Sources and Canonicity

Unsurprisingly, Hollywood has done several re-treads of the original Grinch story. Not all of them should be considered "canon", though. For example, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (2000), starring Jim Carrey, contains an elaborate backstory for the Grinch's malfeasence featuring childhood bullying and unrequited love. None of this is even alluded to in the original. For the purposes of this analysis, we will take two sources as canon:

I see these two resources - and only these two - as canon because they're the only productions to which Geisel actually contributed. All other adaptations and remakes may be entertaining, but they're not authoritative.

Link to book text

Link to movie 

Observations

1. Who-ville is located in an anglophone country. We know this from Cindy-Lou's name, as well as the fact that the Grinch speaks English in rhymes and anapestic tetrameter - something that would be highly unlikely if Geisel were translating from another language. 

Source for illustrations

2. There are mountains to the north of Who-ville. The book states explicitly that the Grinch in a cave above and north of Who-ville. From the movie, we can see that the cave is located in the mountains.

3. At least 42 people live in Who-ville. Forty-two figures are visible, joined hand-in-hand, during the song that stirs the Grinch's cold heart.

4. Mt. Crumpit is located to the south of Who-ville. This is admittedly an inference, however it seems to follow naturally from the way that animated features are typically shot. We know from #2 that the Grinch lives north of town and we see him whizzing down to Who-ville (before he steals Christmas) going from left-to-right across the page/screen. This means that the camera is pointing east as he journeys south through the frame.

Source for movie stills
 

After stealing Christmas and begins climbing up to Mt. Crumpit, he continues to move left-to-right across the frame - presumably using the same camera angle. And upon his repentance and his return to town, he now moves from right to left across the screen - now going northbound. It seems that in all of the "travel" scenes, the camera is pointing east.


5. Mt. Crumpit towers over Who-ville by at least ten thousand feet. The book says that the Grinch climbed three thousand feet up the side of Mt. Crumpit, however the movie says ten thousand feet. It's certainly not wrong to say that you climbed three if you climbed ten, but it is wrong to say you climbed ten if you climbed three. Therefore, we defer to the movie on this point - ten thousand feet it is!

6. Mt. Crumpit lies within ~30 miles of Who-ville. The book says that it was a "quarter past dawn" when the Grinch finally made his getaway. The movie slightly contradicts this - a "quarter of dawn", meaning a quarter before dawn. In either case, the Grinch certainly couldn't get too far - perhaps a couple hours - before the Whos woke up and discovered that their Christmas had been stolen. 

So, with Max pulling the sleigh, how far could they have gotten? The answer, of course, is "almost nowhere" - ten thousand vertical feet in two hours is pretty much unthinkable for any wingless animal. However, to be charitable, we'll use typical dogsled speeds - 10-14 mph - and assume that the Grinch could have made it at most 30 miles. Sure, Max wouldn't be equal to an entire team of sled dogs, especially with his gigantic load. However, he certainly did have adequate motivation, in the form of the Grinch's cracking whip.

7. Who-ville has snow on the ground, in town, at Christmastime. This is shown in both the book and the movie. Using the Principle of Mediocrity,a sort of probabilistic argument used in speculative cosmology and philosophy, it makes most sense to assume that this is an ordinary year and that Who-ville generally experiences a white Christmas.

 

Analysis

Almost immediately, we notice that the story must be set in either the United States or Canada. There are plenty of places that speak English, but most of them don't have mountains high enough (i.e the UK) or Christmas snowfall at elevations where people live (i.e. Australia). We could consider nations like Pakistan, which certainly has mountain/climate factors working for it, but while English has official-language status and is widely spoken as a second language, virtually nobody speaks it as a first language - muttering to themselves as the Grinch does.

We therefore narrow our search to the US and Canada. A number of places look initially promising, but turn out to be duds. For example, Lone Pine, CA is out - though Mt Whitney towers more than 10,000 feet above town, it's rare that snow falls in the town itself. Farther north, wintertime snowfall continues to be a problem. Greenwater, WA lies within the requisite distance of Mt. Rainier, but once again, it doesn't typically see snow in the winter. Put simply, there are very limited number of towns where you can climb 10,000 feet in thirty miles and get wintertime snowfall at all elevations. For that, you have to go north - very far north.

Farther north though, towns become a lot more infrequent. The majority of the high peaks in the Canadian Rockies lie within vast areas of National Park land or de fact wilderness. The coast ranges of British Columbia are even more desolate - there are a few towns, but in all cases, the towns are a little too far away from the peaks, or are in the wrong direction. The ranges here run in a generally NNW-SSE direction, which means that the high peaks are either east or west of the towns, not south of them.

That brings us to Alaska. The land of the midnight sun is sparsely populated, but does have a few hardy hamlets worth discussing. Helpfully, many of the ranges in southern Alaska run east-west, which means that towns are north or south of the peaks. One of those ranges is the famous Chugach Range. It's one of the snowiest ranges in the world, and tops out at more than 13,000 feet.

Paralleling the Chugach to the north is the Talkeetna Range. In between the two ranges flows the Matanuska River, paralleled by the Glenn Highway.  There's a tiny town along this stretch of highway - Glacier View, Alaska.

All maps via Caltopo

Glacier View lies at the foot of the huge Matanuska Glacier, at an elevation of about 2,400 feet. Its economy is based around the tourism industry - local businesses include a pizza parlor, zipline facility, and several lodges. The population was 234 as of the 2010 Census, though that number undoubtedly includes some people who live miles away from town, but are nonetheless classified as part of Glacier View for census purposes. Glacier View is 26 miles NNE of Mt. Marcus Baker, the best candidate for Mt. Crumpit. The town isn't a tightly-clustered idyllic village like Who-ville is - but hey, we're applying critical analysis to a Dr. Seuss book. You can't have it all.

Glacier View is furthermore the only eligible town anywhere in the US or Canada that I've been able to find, despite hours upon hours of pouring over maps. If anyone has an alternate candidate that fits the evidence, please let me know!

via Google Earth

There are two candidates for Mt. Crumpit in the Chugach:

1. Mt. Marcus Baker. Marcus Baker is the highpoint of the Chugach, at a staggering 13,176' above sea level, and 10,700' above Glacier View. By Alaska mountaineering standards, Marcus Baker is looks like a benign climb via the NNW approach - from Who-ville - and features a sheer drop-off on its south side. 

2. Mt. Thor. Thor has a cooler name than Marcus Baker, but that's about all it has going for it. Thor tops out at 12,251 feet above sea level, or about 10,100' above Glacier View. But in contrast to Marcus Baker, Thor's north (Who-ville) side is guarded by some seriously nasty-looking cliffs. Even with the strength of ten Grinches plus two, Thor would have been a grueling mountaineering objective - too much for the Grinch and Max, weighed down with many tons of Christmas trinkets. Mt. Thor is also another two miles farther from Glacier View than Mt. Marcus Baker is. For these reasons, I believe we can safely discard Mt. Thor in favor of Mt. Marcus Baker.

As a bonus, Marcus Baker has a more gradual north slope and a sheer drop-off on its south face, matching the description in the book and movie.


Conclusion

I was surprised at just how few Who-ville candidates there were. Peaks reaching ten thousand feet above sea level aren't exactly uncommon - but peaks that reach more than ten thousand feet above their surrounding terrain sure are. And as we get farther north, those immensely-tall peaks become less common, as glaciation erodes them quickly. And even if they do exist, there's probably not a town nearby.I guess that Glacier View is just special. If I were part of Glacier View's tourism council, I'd certainly promote my town as the Real Who-ville!

Thanks for joining me on this silly, fun excursion. It's been a difficult year for many people, and in such a year, it's particularly important to stop and celebrate our traditions, our families, and most importantly, the birth of Christ our savior.

Welcome Christmas, bring your cheer to all Whos, far and near. Christmas day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp. Welcome Christmas, while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand.

Merry Christmas.



Monday, October 19, 2020

Signs From Above

What exactly are these vaguely foreboding "management activities", and how can I know what kind of caution to use?

Spend enough time on long-distance hiking trails, and you're bound to see a few interesting signs. Here are a few favorites from over the years. Most of them are found on roadwalks in urbanized areas, though the backcountry has its fair share too.

Some signs are meant to encourage hikers...

A pep talk from a byzantine bureaucracy. Only on the Appalachian Trail!

...and some just do it by accident.

Undoubtedly originally intended to help Aunt Betty find her way to the family reunion.

Other signs aren't quite so welcoming. These signs are rather, uh, strident...

Yeah. We get it. 


..and others are downright homicidal.




Not all dangers involve firearms though. Danger lurks everywhere in the backcountry. Let us count the ways!


BRAIN-EATING AMOEBAS DUDE

In truth, the Hundred Mile Wilderness is probably the easiest stretch of the AT in Maine. Also, there's a hostel in the middle.

 Heck, it can even be dangerous to pump your own fuel, at least if you live in Oregon.


Deer crossings signs are just so passé these days...

 ...except when that deer is named Rudolph.

Found in Florida, no less!

 Sometimes signs try and rope us into to their political squabbles...


You gotta fight! For your right! To parrrrrrrrr-tay! This strike shut down most of the town for over a year.

 ...and sometimes, we get a taste of good-old-fashioned evil.

In next week's Tournament of  Terrible, 2-seed Overt Racism looks to fend off a tough challenge from 15-seed Ambulance Chasers!

Sometimes, signs are just plain confusing...

Contradictory arrows. Maybe they want me to do the hokey-pokey.

I have a feeling the bus won't be on-time today. Or ever.

 ..and sometimes they've been install by Captain Obvious.

Yep, it's a street. Not to be confused with a road, a lane, a highway, a highway, or a boulevard.

Finally, a few random fun signs:

The offerings to the Chicken Corners Deity have gotten more elaborate over the years. Top is 2019, bottom is 2015.

Choices, choices: stale beer at the Backstreet Bar or lukewarm beer at the Chetco Brewing Co.

Let's conclude with my favorite trail sign of all time.