Saturday, June 30, 2012

I'm Speechless

And they say there's no God...

Today's climb was one of the most ridiculously named peaks in the Wasatch: The Pfeifferhorn. I wish there was a fun story about why it's named that, but it's just because some Mr. Pfeiffer, many years ago, liked to climb a mountain that vaguely resembled the Matterhorn. It's also the biggest mountain I've climbed to date; it weighs in at 11,300 feet, give or take a few.

Speaking of giving a few, I finally brought enough water, thanks to my Dad, who mailed me an extra Camelback that he wasn't using. Of course, I managed to screw that up, as I didn't really need 4+ liters of water. Instead, I ended up toting 10 pounds of water all over the mountain for 7 hours. I needed way less than I thought because I got up early (thanks to the old people who live next door and blare their TV with the windows open at 6:30AM) and was on the mountain before 8:00. On the way up, I was shaded for the first half of the hike. The temperatures were very pleasant; I got just a tad chilly at the summit, which we reached around noon.
We? Yes, we. I started by myself and hiked three miles before reaching Red Pine Lake (which is in itself a spectacle). There I ran into a group of BYU students and we climbed from there to the top together. Their company was very pleasant and, just as importantly, they drank part of the reservoir I was lugging around. 

Before Red Pine Lake, the climb was fairly easy. Apparently the older guy who blew past me thought so too; I've never seen anyone on the far side of 60 hike THAT FAST. Grandpa Start, you'd would be proud. Once I got to Red Pine Lake however, it very quickly got difficult. First was a massive boulder field with a steep grade. After leveling out for a bit (although still across boulders), the trail went up a steep slope with subpar footing up to a ridge. The views from the ridge are fantastic. The ridge very quickly turns into an extremely rugged, exposed knife's edge. Afterwards, the final climb up to the summit is at about a 60 degree angle for around 500 vertical feet. By that time, the altitude was really getting to me, so my progress was not exactly rapid. 

This brings me to the Utterly Impractical Hiking Item Of The Week: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made between two halves a baguette. Sounds delicious, until you consider that the thing had turned into a gooey, runny mess inside this guy's black backpack. As he was eating it, more red and brown slime was falling out of the sandwich onto his lap than was making it into his mouth. I tried to surreptitiously snap a picture of the debacle, but shot without looking at the camera (or him) and completely by accident got this beautiful photo:

The lakes from above:

We made snow angels!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

One if by land, two if by air, three if by space

Sorry about the butchered Longfellow reference. The upshot of this weekend was transportation. I didn't do any hiking, (thankfully, because it hit triple digits on Saturday) but did manage to still see a lot.

Part 1: Planes.

The Hill Aerospace Museum features a lot of planes that were based in the neighboring USAF base, among other places. Highlights included quite a few first-generation experimental jet fighters. They've always looked like sharks to me, with the gaping hole just in front of the cockpit. They also had F-15s, F-16s, F/A-18s, and F-22s. But the coolest thing, I thought, was an SR-71 Blackbird. A crash course for those of you who didn't notice the glaring error two sentences ago: the Blackbird was a spy-plane developed by the US during the 60s as a high-altitude, high-speed plane that could laugh at anti-aircraft missile batteries as it raced past at Mach 3. It still holds the record for fastest airplane ever. It flew from New York to London in under 2 hours.

Part 2: Trains.

Sadly, I had less than 45 minutes to see stuff there (thank goodness for free admission!) before I had to take off for Promontory Summit. One of the really annoying historical inaccuracies is the myth that the first transcontinental rail line was completed at Promontory Point. Actually, Promontory Point is the tip of a peninsula that sticks out into the Great Salt Lake-- hardly the place to build a railroad. Promontory summit, located 20 miles to the north, is where the line was completed. The Golden Spike National Historic Site (good grief, what a long name) marks the place. Unfortunately, the railroad no longer runs across Promontory, and hasn't for about 100 years. The line featured torturous grades and sharp curves. Instead, the Southern Pacific Railroad built a causeway all the way across the Great Salt Lake. And that line ran through the aforementioned Promontory Point.
There is still a segment of track left up at Promontory Summit, where they run re-enactments of the joining of the line on May 10, 1969. The replica locomotives were the coolest part; they're fully functioning just like the originals (which were scrapped out in the early 1900s), and are within a quarter inch of all specifications.
The Jupiter was the Central Pacific's locomotive, the 119 was the Union Pacific's.

The rest of it was alright, but not particularly in-depth; I didn't really learn anything of substance. Nonetheless, it was cool and significant and I'm glad I saw it. And while I was in the area...

Part 3: Rockets!

Less than two miles down the road from Promontory was ATK (formerly Thiokol), which is a principal producer of rockets, especially rocket engines. They had a nice little display of their products out front, which included Minutemen missiles and Polaris missiles,both of which were ballistic nuclear missiles. The Polaris missiles were actually made to be launched from submarines. Your homework is to figure out which missile is which (and yes, you can figure it out just from looking at the picture without any outside knowledge). They're the two prominent ones standing upright.

In the back, you can see the Space Shuttle booster. They're re-usable; after every launch the boosters are shipped back to this facility to be refurbished for the next launch. 

Part 4: More trains! 

I headed back to Ogden, UT to visit the Utah State Railroad Museum, located in the old Ogden Union Station. After the completion of the transcontinental line in Promontory, the Union Pacific and the Central (later Southern) Pacific moved their interchange point to the nearest hospitable city, Ogden. The museum was intensely interesting; along with the usual pedantic superficial gloss, there were some pretty good exhibits on the Big Boys, the largest steam locomotives ever made. There was also an interesting model railroad depiction of the line from Sacramento to Ogden. But the coolest part was undoubtedly the collection of equipment. I saw the longest, most powerful diesel locomotive ever made, the DD40AX

World's most powerful diesel not enough for you? How about the world's most powerful locomotive of any type, a gas-electric turbine. This locomotive could haul a 6.5 mile train, fully loaded, by itself. Locomotives of this type were known as "big blows" and banned from operating in southern California because they sounded like jet engines, and were just as loud.

And finally, a pretty steamer. This is the sister of a different locomotive that has been run continuously since the 1940s. It could haul 8-10 passenger cars at 120 miles per hour.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

In which I drink the hemlock

Ok so I'm being a little dramatic. But climbing a peak named Mt Olympus today did make me feel like an ancient Greek philosopher, and liquid (in this case, the lack thereof) did just about kill me at points. The real moral you should all take away from this is that I am Socrates, clearly.

Ok fine, I'm only Socrates insofar as I'm quite short, impudent and not especially good-looking. But getting back to the point, I climbed Mt Olympus today. It's noteworthy because it's right on the Wasatch Front, which means it's the most visible mountain to most of the Salt Lake Valley and it dominates the SLC skyline. It's only 9000 feet and change, but it rises steeply from the valley more than 4000 feet below. The trail is apparently only a tad over 3 miles long. But 3 miles is a long way when you're gaining more than 1300 feet each mile. Further complicating matters was the fact that I was under-equipped in terms of water; 2 liters is NOT ENOUGH!

Did you get that? If you're hiking in Utah in June, it's super-arid. And when you're sweating buckets, 2 liters is NOT ENOUGH! If you're still unclear on this point, I suggest you re-read this paragraph. Lather, rinse, repeat as necessary.

Turns out that I did have enough water, not because I brought enough but because I budgeted it well; I drank almost 3/4 of it on the way up, when I was working hard. That's a good rule of thumb to remember for next time. In related news, there are few things better than Minute Made lemonade. I'd buy it in spades. I started drinking it as soon as I paid. I'd totally make it my trade.

So the elevation profile looks like a set of stairs roughly. It starts out with a section of doom, then levels off for a bit. Just when it has you feeling confident, it throws a few switchbacks with poor footing at you: more doom. It levels off just enough where you think you've conquered the worst of it. If I need to tell you that more doom is in order for the next section, you're not a very perceptive reader. It's an unrelenting grade for over a mile (with the poor footing, of course), and it is HOT. It's hard to get Kevin uncomfortably warm, but today did the trick.

Above: not-doom. Below: Yep, that's the trail. Good luck.

But then I hit the saddle point, a gap between two peaks. It's basically completely level there and some people use it as a camping spot. I'd say that at least half of hikers don't actually summit; they go to the saddle point and stop there. That's because the doom I had experienced so far was child's play compared to the journey from the saddle to the top. I'll save you the histrionics: it was hand-over-hand climbing and scrambling. It wasn't super-long (maybe a few tenths of a mile), but it took a while. If you're ever on the mountain and you make it to the saddle, just look for the most forbidding rock face imaginable, and you'll have a rough idea of where the "trail" goes up. It was probably a 70 degree angle upward for most of the climb. And it was FUN. I ditched my pack once the scrambling started (I didn't have enough water anyway, and this would remove the temptation to drink it all at once). It was a good thing I did.

Utahans must be terrible at telling time or something. People kept telling me "15 more minutes" before I would reach the top for a solid hour before there were actually 15 more minutes. Granted, you go faster downhill than up, but I don't care how fast you hike, you can't do in 15 minutes downhill what I do uphill in an hour 15. Well, I suppose you can, but your descent might not be exactly controlled or graceful. But once I was at the top, I found the views to be totally worth the strenuous effort; Olympus looks out over the whole Salt Valley. I had good views of the city, the Great Salt Lake, and the Kennecott copper mine, which, locals can tell you, can be seen from space. Nothing like being proud of a polluting, ugly strip mine. Unfortunately, it was kind of hazy so my pictures turned out rather nondescript, but I suppose that if they were too great you'd never have reason to hike it yourself. Confront the doom!

Above: The view from the top. We see Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake is in the background. In the middle of the lake is Antelope Island, upper left. 

This brings me to the Utterly Impractical Hiking Item Of The Week: Before I say it, I should mention that last week's winner was a watermelon that some guys lugged up the trail to Lake Blanche. Delicious? Absolutely. Braindead? Without a doubt. The problem is it weighs 10 pounds, most of the weight is rind, and it provides little hiking nutritional value. Anyways, this week's item is a folding chair! Except it gets worse: it's not that these bozos scrambled up the trail with a folding chair on their backs.Instead, they took the contraption on their backs while rock climbing! They rock-climbed up a sheer rock face with a folding chair on their backs and then hiked down the trail. On a scale of one to ten, that's one of the stupidest items ever to carry on a hike. To be fair, I did the first section (very short) with my landlady (who's absolutely wonderful, as an aside), one of her friends, and the friend's granddaughter. So we had things along like coloring books and crayons. They only went a little ways before deciding the first doom section was too much for them and turning around.

Someone had left a blue bag chair at the top with a note: "You're welcome to sit here, but BRING YOUR OWN NEXT TIME". Yeah... ok. As long as I don't bring a metal folding chair...

Oh and by the way, people look at you strange when you carry a loaf of French bread sticking out of your backpack.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Back at it...

So, the grandparents have requested I blog about Utah. So here's a post about Utah. Welcome back to the most useless blog since Breitbart! The usual disclaimers apply: I reserve the right to completely forget about this and never update it again until some arbitrary date wherein in remember that I'm doing this and suddenly post pictures of three different things. With that said, I actually did something fun this weekend so at least you all get at least one meaningful post.

What was this marvelous occurrence? Why, I'm glad you asked. I hiked up to a little place called Lake Blanche, in Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch range east of Salt Lake City. It's only about 20 minutes away, but it's worth driving hours for. Along with Lake Blanche, there are two other alpine lakes: Lake Florence and Lake Lillian. Blanche flows into Florence (via a nice stretch of white water), which flows into Lillian, which flows as a whitewater brook down a valley into the canyon. The lakes appear to be natural, but have been preserved with earthen dams, ostensibly to raise the water level. There's still some snow left in higher elevations, especially on north-facing slopes, so the creeks are running really high right now, and there's waterfalls absolutely everywhere

The forests consist of birch at lower levels, which gradually give way to evergreens, including some bristle-cone pines at higher elevations. The trail itself was around 3 miles each way, with about 2800 feet of elevation change. The lakes themselves were at about 9000 feet, so the altitude did bother me a bit since I'm not particularly acclimated yet. I was really huffing and puffing on the way up, although I was still passing people left and right (the trail was entirely too busy for my taste) so I guess I'm not a complete duffer.

And now for some pictures of the lakes themselves, starting with Lake Blanche:

Lake Florence (with the connecting waterfall from Lake Blanche in the background):

Lake Lillian:

Lakes Florence (foreground) and Lillian (background):

Short sleeves and tan arms with a... snowball?

Welcome to Switzerland!

All in all, one of the best hikes I've ever done.