Sunday, April 27, 2014

Traveling thru water without holding your breath

The day began as a cold clear and quiet moment. The loud neighbors do last night had finally fallen victim of their revelries. I was tempted to get out my saucepan and bang it as I matched through the camp singing Yankee Doodle, but I mastered the urge and instead I grabbed my camera and went for a pre-dawn walk.

The air was still and the trees were laden with the bulk of last night's snow. The sky was ethereal and it wasn't possible to tell whether it was blue or gray. If it was gray, it wasn't dropping water anymore. Mist began to rise from the valley floor as the air began to separate and spin from convection and the sun's stirring the atmosphere above the valley.

As I walked it became more and more obvious that today was a brilliant and bright day of clarity. As the sun began to hit the tops of the trees the snow began to melt. Most of the rest of the day the water and snow dripped and dropped. 

We made a quick breakfast and set out through the trees to the Happy Isles trailhead. Perhaps we'd find the energy and fortitude to climb the trail to the top and cross the bridge over Nevada Falls. The sun warmed the trunks of the trees creating most that was rising through the snow and water drops that wee falling through it. It was an incredible sight as the sun backlight the whole interplay of the waters above and the waters below.

As we climbed the trail the background roar of rushing water became more pronounced. The water in the river from the falls above still had plenty of bounce and verve as it careened from boulder to boulder in a cascade of white rushing foam.

The falls were spectacular and the mist from them created beautiful rainbows as it blew past us and down into the valley below. 

The higher we climbed the deeper the snow became. While we only had about an inch or so overnight on the valley floor, the trail near the top was covered with and eight inch blanket of fresh whiteness. The trees were bent over with the weight of the heavy water-laden snow. We crossed beneath them with some trepidation as at any moment an alvanche of snow would break lose from the branches far above and it would trigger further disruption below and soon the whole tree would be enveloped in a white cloud of ice crystals. You would experience an instant freeze If you happened to be underneath it at the time.

The views above below and all around were stunning and overwhelmed your eyes with too many intensely beautiful sights in a row. It was a visual overload that made it hard to quantify and categorize them into a coherent set of images for later recall. My camera kept coming out for another picture as soon as I had put it away from the previous one.

We had an early lunch at the top. Sitting on dry and almost warm rocks in the warm and brilliant sunshine. As we sat there it became clear that we weren't the only ones who thought today was a good day for a hike. People came by at a non stop rate. 

The breeze began to pickup and clouds gathering in the west made it obvious that it was time to head back down the trail. We decided to loop back down the JMT rather than the trail we took to the top. We spent the first half of the trip down slipping and sliding down the slushy trail. Every now and again we'd be surprised by a cold puddle just under the seemingly solid snow. 

By the time we made it back to the valley we were pretty tired so we hung out in the Camp Curry lodge and took a nap. 

We weren't the only people who needed a nap...

After our nap we took the shuttle bus to the Ahwahnee Hotel and sat by the gigantic fire place and warmed our feet. 

Late in the afternoon we rode the shuttle over to Lower Yosemite Falls and did the touristy hike up to the overlook. Well, it's not really and overlook because you are actually looking up at the falls. 

After that is was dinner time. Back on the shuttle we got and back to Camp Curry we went. We ate at the Pavilion Cafeteria. It was a little pricey but less pricey than the Ahwahnee Hotel and better than having to cook our own. 

It's now late after a long and busy day. It's almost dark and almost 7:30 pm. It's a little earlier than my usual 8:00 pm but it was a busy day. Yosemite is a place where the spectacular happens every day!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A soggy ride to Yosemite


Yosemite Valley is wet! That's not surprising given the forecast. We drove from home to Groveland in the non-stop rain. The sky was a somber gray blanket without even a hint of blue. The soggy skies dumped water on us but was stayed warm and cozy inside the cockpit of the Tiffany Blue Mini. The music's playing was all but drowned by the noise of the rain on the windshield.

Last time I went through Groveland, I went through it, I didn't stop. This time we did. We were hungry. It was late morning and we hadn't eaten anything since the night before. We stopped in the middle of town where an older gentleman in a red hat was standing in the rain and said we were hoping for breakfast. He pointed across the street and said they have the best breakfast in town. They did have a good breakfast. I had Black Bart's Breakfast because it sounded good on the menu and it was kinda fun to ask for it. When it came I are it as fast as I could hoping I would finish before Black Bart showed up to gun me down.

After brunch we headed on to the entrance of Yosemite Park arriving there around lunch time. The ranger in the kiosk asked me if I had snow chains. "Uh, no", I stammered. "Chains are required to enter the park," she said. "What about if we drive around the the highway 140 entrance?" I asked. "Oh, no there are no chains required there." 

So she was telling a half truth. Apparently a group of five cars decided to do some square dancing in the snow so even if you had chains you had to wait until they unhooked all the pieces of twisted metal. We opted for the scenic bypass and headed back down the road we just came up.

It was a little disappointing to be looking at the same scenery from the opposite direction. But we were moving and we were on an adventure. You are supposed to have obstacles on adventures, that's what makes them adventures. 

We finally arrived at the park in the middle of the afternoon. It had been raining the whole time. In fact it's still raining as I write this before I turn out the lights. The temperature has been dropping all afternoon and we decided that rather than walking in the rain, which was our original plan, we'd drive around to the village. After the big breakfast we had eaten neither of us were hungry so we wandered through the store looking at shirt that said, "I made it to the top!" But you can buy them in the valley. If you ever see someone with one of those shirts, they're probably lying, they spent the day shopping for teeshirts, not climbing Half Dome.

We went into the theater where they show a movie about Yosemite every thirty minutes. 

We arrived in the middle of the movie. It was warm, and dark... We both had a very comfortable forty five minute nap. The only the I remember from the movie was something about the spirit of Yosemite.

We made trail brownies back at our housekeeping campsite before tucking ourselves snugly into goose down while the heavy rain pounds harshly on the heavy canvas roof of our shelter. We have a site right next to the river. 

So many people canceled we basically got one of the choice spots in the camp.

The rain seems to be quieting down. I would venture a guess the it's turning to snow. We are looking forward to tomorrow hopefully the storm will have gotten tired of dumping water since it's been doing in now nonstop for over twelve hours. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Yosemite Weekend - Part 1

The weather has gotten colder overnight. We were hoping to be able to drive to Yosemite without having to drive in snow. That is looking more and more like wishful thinking. The high's during the day are also going to be colder than the lows we've been having here at home at night.

They are saying that there could be as much as eight inches of snow on the ground by the time the storm finishes on Saturday. There are two ways to look at it. You could say, that sounds cold and wet and project from there that you are going to be miserable and cold and it won't be any fun. Or... you could say, that sounds like there may not be as many people as are normally there and the views with the snow on the trees and cliffs ought to be spectacular! 

I am bringing my camera and we should be able to go to many places in the park without encountering mobs of people or long lines. It'll be colder than we are used to but if we prepare as if we are going to the snow it shouldn't be that cold. The coldest part will be at night. It'll give me a chance to test my 40 degree sleeping bag. It seems to me that this will be a pretty good test.

When I hike the JMT this summer I am planning on bringing a ZPacks 40 degree sleeping bag. I am going to combine that with a Cocoon Silk mummy liner. One of the things that I have always found to be very uncomfortable with nylon sleeping bags was trying to sleeping with my skin touching nylon. It feels slimy and sticky, especially if you are less than clean. I hate waking up with my face laying on nylon fabric. I normally sleep in a Smartwool micro-weight base layer so most of my body is isolated from the nylon.

I discovered Cocoon's silk mummy liner's and have greatly increased my comfort in sleeping. Silk, being a natural fiber, is strong, warm, and durable. It adds warmth to my sleep system. Not only that it keeps my body separated from my bag, reducing my need to wash my sleeping bag, while washing the mummy liner is easy and it dries very fast.

Smartwool mirco-weight merino wool is another natural fiber, as a natural fiber it also doesn't absorb odors and is extremely durable. It is as comfortable a cotton, but unlike cotton, it keeps you warm when it gets wet. Not that I want to get wet when I am sleeping. I like the base layer combo so much that I have two sets. One for sleeping in, and the other for wearing during the day.

It will be interesting to see if a 40 degree bag combined with a silk mummy liner and my Smartwool base layer will keep me warm enough. Fortunately, since we a car camping I have a number of fall-back options the best one being that I can cuddle with Kelli. We'll be on the road in a few hours. Right now, though, I am going to Starbucks to get a mocha; one of the benefits of living in civilization.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Yosemite Weekend - Introduction

I've been planning a weekend getaway with my best friend. We leave tomorrow and the weather is promising anything but spring conditions. I was hoping to introduce my best friend to Eric, but he and his family decided not to go to Yosemite this spring, for the first time in fifteen years.

Kelli and I are still going and we will be in for an adventure. I'm calling this an ultra-light car camping trip, we are only bringing gear that will fit inside a Mini Cooper. This should be an interesting trip.

Perhaps we won't make it there; perhaps we'll get diverted to somewhere else. There is supposed to be snow and we don't have tire chains. Perhaps we'll make it there and get snowed-in. There are all kinds of unknowns but I am excited that we are going.

Life is too short to always do things with predictable results. I'll try to keep this blog updated over the weekend. Let the snow begin...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Celebrate Life

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 ESV

Celebration of life - the new term for funeral. Death is now considered normal. If we call the recognition of the event something new, perhaps it isn't so ugly.

Our souls long for eternity. The American culture worships youth, the coming of age, the discovery and exhilaration of sex. We seek to satisfy the deep longing for something eternal and everlasting. In 1965  Mick Jagger and Keith Richards captured this empty quest for something more in the Rolling Stones hit "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction". Life is unsatisfying because, in the end, just like the end of a Shakespearean tragedy, everybody dies.

The ancient cultures from which we all come worshiped that which was outside of their control and in worshiping hoped to control their own fate. For some of us our ancestors worshiped nature; the sun, the moon, animals, and the trees. For others it was our ancestors, or gods made in the image and likeness of human form with all of the foibles and failings that plague human existence.

Miraculously, into this milieu of human religiosity, the concept of an eternal, transcendent, being entered into the human mind and consciousness. We have the Jews to thank for that. In the polytheistic pagan region where they draw their roots, a single man, Abraham, set out on a journey to discover the transcendent, and the world was forever changed.

The conception of God as considered by the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims has essentially become the universal understanding of the entire human race. It is this God that the atheists are so sincere and religious in disbelieving in. It is before this God, if he exists, that we all will one day give an accounting. Unchanging, Undefiled, Uncompromising, Undying, He rules, if He rules at all, in splendor, sovereignty, supremacy, and beauty beyond anything that we human beings can fathom or comprehend. The source of all light, and life, He claims to be the One, the only, the eternity we all live longing for.

What makes Christianity unique is that it proposes that this all seeing, all knowing, holy, and righteous being condescended to come to us. To visit us on our little, insignificant, nondescript ball spinning round and round an indistinguishable light in a vast, mostly empty, and sterile universe. Christianity makes the startling claim that Jesus Christ was the incarnation of the holy and righteous, the One, the "I am who I am" who revealed himself to Moses and gave him the Law we are all so fond of ignoring.

One of the things that rings true to me about Christianity is the idea of the 'good' being crushed, bruised, and murdered by human 'authority'. It seems to be embedded into our DNA to destroy and corrupt the beautiful, the pristine, the sacred. If God condescended himself to become like us, there is no doubt in my mind that we would murder Him if we could.

The beauty of Easter is that despite of our fallen condition, despite our misplaced worship, despite our attempt to humiliate and murder God, He conquered death and did it in a way that opens the door for us to receive the satisfaction for which we are all longing. We have learned that death is not normal. The deep longing for eternal life is that for which we were made. All Christian hope is placed in this singular event; the resurrection of Jesus Christ. "He is risen, He has reason indeed!"

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” - C.S. Lewis

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Vacuum Insanity

My VacMaster 112
What happens when you give a geek a VacMaster 112? Well, in my case, experiments in the vacuum sealing of backpacking food. Whenever I am talking with someone and I mention that I am planning a two-week jaunt on the John Muir Trail one of the first questions they ask is, "So, what do you eat; freeze-dried food?" I bought the food vacuum in an attempt to expand my options in what I eat. In order to do that I need to determine what works and what doesn't. So I ordered a whole bunch of vacuum-sealing bags and begin my experiments. I have thoroughly enjoyed myself, and the geeky, number-cruncher in me is loving the calculating of the number of M&Ms in one ounce (twenty seven) and other such trivia.
Yum... dinners

It is a generally true rule of my experience that when you open freeze-dried foods, as well as other foods, they become stale the longer they are exposed to air. So my big idea is that if I seal them back up in appropriate portions I can have decent food that isn't stale even after re-packaging it, having it sit around for a month or so, shipping it in a box to a post office along the trail, and hiking with it in my pack for a few days. If I'm right, I'll be able to have stuff still taste good even if it's been a while since I prepped it. Thus, I am experimenting. This year's John Muir Trail hike is an opportunity to try out some of my theories and ideas.

I started with some Mountain House freeze dried dinners. They come in two-serving pouches but I find I can only tolerate one of those servings in one meal. I would rather split it into two separately wrapped meals and then add other courses to my dinner. Idahoan brand mashed potatoes are an awesome second course. They come in a four serving pouch. If I split them into four separate servings then I don't have a partially opened bag of potato flakes flopping around and spreading potato goodness all about.

What about re-packaging dehydrated fruit?
I did that too... and Cytomax, pretzels, banana chips, tortillas, pita-pocket bread, Oreo cookies, Almonds, M&Ms, Pistachios, Granola with powdered milk and freeze-dried blueberries, graham crackers, a home-made mocha using Nestle's Quik, Starbucks Via, and Milkman powdered milk.

When will the madness end? I feel like I have past a threshold of sanity. No air in a bag of food is a good thing... isn't it?

Perhaps some of this food would be better left in it's original container... but I never been able to achieve anything close to a vacuum before now.

The VacMaster 112 chamber sucks the air out of the bag before sealing it. All I have to do is put the food in the bag, put the bag in the chamber and push the button.