Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 December 30 - Royal Gorge

Wind swept tree and rocks at Point Moriah - looking over the Royal Gorge of the American River.

Devil's Peak from the trail on the way to Point Moriah. Between here and there is Palisade Lake - a private block of land with summer houses.

White Mountain and the Gorge. Very inticing, but a long ski away. Maybe someday we'll get all the way over there.

Who is buried under here?

Ice Rime on the trees.

Friday, December 26, 2008

2008 December 26 - Mt. Lincoln Storm Results

We skied at Sugarbowl on the 26th, the day after a cold heavy storm blew itself out. There was still a strong wind over the passes, but you can see from the trees how wet the storm must have been. The skiing was fantastic, light snow, all filled in.

At last some of the gullies are filing in and the mountain is finally skiable.
Fresh tracks all day.

Wind still carrying snow over the ridges.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

2008 December 24 Blizzard approaching Castle Peak

We've been having steady snowfall since my last post. There is over 4' accumulated on the ground protected by the wind. Where it has drifted the accumulations are much deeper. Between patrolling at Sugarbowl, patrolling at Royal Gorge, and backcountry skiing with Diane I've not had a day off until today - and even then, we got a 2 hour ski in to Andesite Ridge. I was breaking trail all the way up, but barely had to do anything but slide on the way down.

The trees are getting shorter, and here protected from the wind, the drifts come up smoothly to the boughs making a smooth transition from ground to sky.

For a breif moment the flurries lightened and I got off this shot of Diane.

It's Christmas Eve and we've already opened our best present...a full winter ahead.

Monday, December 15, 2008

2008_12_15 First Storm of the season 24" at the house

24" of fresh snow in the last 24 hours. I leave at first light for Vancouver. I hate to be driving away, when there is so much fresh powder, but there are still rocks and trees to cover up. I struggle off the summit in the midst of a blizzard and drive north along with the weather to gather up Maya from Vancouver.

It took 20 minutes to excavate the car before I could drive away. Luckily the road plow and driveway plow service both came by just before I came out. Once the car was uncovered, I just pulled out and headed downhill.

Friday, December 12, 2008

2008 December 12 - OEC Class complete

Here is everyone in the class. The two instructors are Bill Person (far left side front row), and David Stepner hiding in red hat in the back row second from left next to me. This is the barren mountain base at Donner Ski ranch where we spent most of our days...

However, this is what we were all imagining as we suffered through the dusty eyes, splinters, and pebbles in knees working on our scenario training.

Early morning light looking east over Donner Lake from Old Route 40 near Donner Summit. We've had two solid weeks of bluebird days, temps in the mid-50's with nights below freezing. Some mornings the whole valley below is concealed in a bank of fog, while the summit is bright sunshine.

View from our bedroom deck - late afternoon light - alpenglow on the south face of snowless Castle Peak.

Another view of Donner lake showing the historic arch bridge and the scenic old highway winding down the steep slope to the hamlet of Truckee - gateway to the Lake Tahoe ski resorts.

It’s been a hectic, exhausting, and very educational two weeks. I've been enrolled in an intensive Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC) class- the rite of passage for everyone wishing to break into the world of ski patrolling. All that reading for the last 6 weeks and book learning is behind me and this two week all-day, everyday class is all about hands-on muscle memory learning. Last Sunday was the mid-term practical exam, then a few hours off (for the first time in 7 days) and then a celebratory party at another cabin where a group of the other students are staying. Things are pretty common sense, but there are many protocols and procedures to practice, and commit to memory involving lots of quick synthesis of limited information to determine the most appropriate course of treatment and “extraction” of injured or sick skiers.

As you can imagine there are a myriad of circumstances contributing to a skier becoming a “patient”, some involving basic ski accidents, up to collisions of several different types and complications from a wide range of medical conditions. We are learning an assessment technique to rapidly narrow down symptoms to select a combination of available emergency treatments, followed by a range of “packaging” techniques to move disabled skiers off the mountain and on to definitive care.

This system is very well thought out, but requires lots of thinking along the way. Patients do not always sufficiently self-diagnose, and one injury or medical condition can often mask other, possibly more life threatening conditions. There is a whole radio protocol, and then second responder roles to play when following up the first responder’s original assessment.

Many procedures require team work to perform, like back boarding (more common than you might imagine) and certain complicated extractions, splints and bandages. We’re learning to administer oxygen – in and of itself not complicated, but made much more so by the conditions under which you need to keep a slippery patient connected to a slippery toboggan connected to a slippery oxygen tank and associated rescuers all in a logical configuration on the cold and slippery side of a mountain.

As well as individually learning the flow, diagnostic, and treatment procedures, we are learning to work in close teams to complete complicated maneuvers in short time frames. There is a speed element to everything we are learning as reducing the time from injury to delivering the patient to more definitive care makes a huge difference to the eventual outcome in many circumstances.

Yesterday, with only one last class day left before the final we integrated all of skills into speed drills – sort of a blend between tag, wind sprints, charades, and demonstration of newly learned unit and team skills into a smooth flow on different patient scenarios scattered around the base of the mountain.

When they called this two week class the “intensive 2-week OEC class” they were not kidding. I’ve been living, eating, breathing and thinking outdoor emergency care for almost two weeks straight now. I cannot think of a better way to drill this information into my brain.

Now, all we need is some snow, and ski resorts to open so I can put all this to good use.

Friday: at last, the blue sky has been pushed aside and a curtain of gray cloud cover has concealed the stars and planets. A three day snow storm is in the forecast and I feel like I'm ready. Tomorrow is my first day of real patrolling - although I suspect we'll be hiking more than skiing as the snow cover is sketchy at best and there are lots of lift towers to pad, and hazards to mark.

It has taken me these two weeks to adjust my body's metabolism to the higher elevations (7,200 feet) and the chilly temperatures. The house seems very quiet and empty, as I am here in the mountains alone, awaiting Diane - who will join me in a week. My schedule is closely matched to that of the daylight and the needs of the woodstove - the sole source of heat keeping us from freezing up at night. The house gets a big solar lift on the sunny days, and I am looking forward to the insulating layer of snow which is bound to bury the bottom 1/3 of the house within a month.

Here on the summit, it is not uncommon to get over 800 inches of snowfall in a season. This all accumulates between late December and March - and conceals the soil well into May before most of the piles have melted. So far, there is only a pile on the north side of the house which slid off the roof over three weeks ago and has still not melted despite the warm days since then.

Monday, November 17, 2008

2008 November 16 Yosemite with Caspar & Nadine

We had a remarkable weekend at Yosemite. Very unusual for late November, we had dry, bluebird 70 degree days, and cool nights with a full moon. All the campsites were closed except for Camp 4 (the climbers camp) and Upper Pines. It was quiet, and peaceful. Upper pines has lots of sites, no hook-ups, but is nestled in a old grove of redwood trees. We stayed in the 200 loop - furthest from the road, and from Curry Village, but closest to the trail head for Vernal and Nevada Falls - with hopes of seeing roaming wildlife.

The summer crowds long gone, the open top tour buses parked for the winter. Park concessions buttoned down for the long cold, but with basic services still operational. There was no snow in the Valley, even though above 7,000 feet the Sierras has received its first snowfall of the season. Bears were all about, and from Curry Village, the nightly fire crackers sounded to scare aware the curious ursines looking for an easy meal.

Once away from the Valley, the hiking trails were mostly deserted, except for the occasional intrepid explorers seeking the perspective of higher elevation. The clink of hardware on stone, the faint call and response from climbers high above the Valley floor and the rushing water sounds of the Merced river far below filled my ears with a subtle mix of autumn sounds.

Sounds: Water falling down over the edge of mountains, scattering as much to the wind as to the sparkling pool beneath the lip, the far away throaty cluck of the raven, the chip and chatter of the squirrels gathering nuts and the wind, making its own symphony of whistles as it blew across and down this magical valley.

(You can click on any picture to see a bigger version, then just click the BACK button to return to the blog)

Bottom of Bridalveil falls - late afternoon light

Crossing stream on foot bridge at base of the falls. The autumn flow is just a fraction of what it is at other times of the year. Boulders exposed now are on the river bottom when the spring snow melt cascades madly down the same channel.

The bear cub was 40' up in an Oak tree foraging for acorns. The amazing thing was that the tree was hanging over the edge of a steep cliff. We sat and watched as the cub nimbly reached out to even the littlest of branches to find acorns. The mother bear was at the base of the tree making sure the cub did not come down until all the acorns were consumed.

Yosemite falls - 5th highest falls in the world.

Nevada Falls - a surprise awaited us at the top...

We pick out a sunny protected spot above the falls and rest our weary backs against the warm rocks by the river.

After lunch, atop Nevada Falls. watching the ravens fly and listening to the surging water over the edge of the falls, nestled in the protection of some willows by the bank, Caspar pulled out a ring and proposed to Nadine. Ahhhhhh! How romantic.

What did you say?

Walking up the mist trail

Yosemite Falls as we approach the top. (Caspar ran ahead and beat us all to the top. We stopped short of the top, once he returned and said the view was terrible...) Phew, saved us all a lot of extra work.

The base of the upper falls, making a double rainbow.

Autumn Oak leaves

Sunday, November 2, 2008

2008 October 31 - Pinnacles National Monument

Pinnacles presents a variety of eroded composite rock formations, studded with embedded rocks of different ages, and pockmarked with hollows holding nests for a variety of birds - most notably, the California Condor - whose 9 foot wingspan makes it the biggest of the buzzard family. This weekend a captive bred bird was scheduled for release, but the gusty winds and forecast thunderstorms had the ranger's keeping him in the pen - awaiting smoother sailing.

The trails meander along and in between the rocks - this part on the Condor Gulch trail follows the river bed up a canyon, even though the river goes underground and beneath truck sized boulders which have fallen from above and lodged in the tight canyon walls forming a roof.

Here Diane is coming up behind me as we seek the daylight after traveling underground. In the really hot weather these caves are a great relief. In rainy weather like we were having, we were concerned about flooding and did not dally as we we made our way through the subterranean passages.

The thirsty landscape awaits the winter rains.

Little did we know that September and October is tarantula mating season. There were plenty of these guys crossing the trail - undisturbed by our passing - -even approaching our feet as the vibrations intrigued them to investigate.

The trail comes out on this glorious view of the "balconies" - where on a good day condors can be seen soaring above looking for a meal. We saw no birds flying all weekend.

A break in the storm clouds.

The rain obscures this view of the high peaks - but we were transfixed non-the-less by the view from the meadow below.

This is an acorn woodpecker, getting a drink. These birds live in fairly big colonies, and use a well pecked tree as acorn storage for the winter. These large trees are called grainery trees so after the birds peck nice round holes looking for bugs, they proceed to fill the holes with acorns from the California oak trees which they'll eat over the winter.

Acorn woodpecker looking for bugs...

Farm on Route 25 south of Hollister.

Magpie in flight.


Acorn woodpecker filling a hole with an acorn.

Grainery tree with woodpecker holes filled with acorns.