McCabe Lake and Sheep Peak from Tuolumne Meadows

Tom at the summit of Sheep Peak with Mt. Conness in the background
Tom at the summit of Sheep Peakwith Mt. Conness in the background
What do you see if you walk the 6-ish miles into Glen Aulin, and then instead of taking the popular trail down toward Water Wheel and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, you turn right along the PCT and walk in that direction for a while? The Yosemite scenery is beautiful, but it’s the lure of exploration and new places that draws me in. Tom was also excited about the peaks at the far end.

About 13 miles along the PCT, passing Glen Aulin along the way, we turned right and headed up to McCabe Lakes and hiked to the top of Sheep Peak, a mostly indescript, not quite 12K ft peak (11842 ft.), that nevertheless was a grand adventure, with a spectacular view. We took many pictures with Mt Conness in the background, and tried some panoramas with our small point and shoot. It’s hard to capture sweeping 360 views in a single frame.

Read More

Goal Games

Getting things started
Getting things started

It’s harder to blow off your goals when you have something serious on the line. Tom has heard of some people who advocate giving a substantial check to a friend to deposit to a cause you hate, or sending a trusted friend a really embarrassing picture to publish should you fail in your goals. It’s the same strategy as runners who sign up for a race because, come race day, if they haven’t trained, they figure they will suffer. Personally, I like a little reward with my punishment, so we struck a bit of a balance.

Read More

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle boils down to a book about a boy and his dogs. Edgar is born mute, to a family of passionate dog breeders, dedicated to breeding the perfect companions – selecting dogs for certain elusive qualities that make them soulmates – or something else that is just beyond defining. Trouble starts when Edgar’s uncle, Claude, returns to town. Edgar’s father, Gar, dies mysteriously, and then Claude starts to manuver into his place, capturing his mother’s (Trudy) affections. Edgar is forced to run away into the Chequamagon with 3 of his dogs – learning to survive in the woods on his own.

It’s a good read, not the kind of book that I can’t put down at night, but it moved along quickly and easily for a volume or its size. I finished the book tonight, was surprised by the ending, and am still trying to make sense of it. It will be a good book to discuss at our book club, whenever we get around to officially reading that one.

Spoiler Alert: if you don’t care

Read More

Sentinel Dome Evening – Grouse Creek Fire

Sentinel Dome at Sunset
Sentinel Dome at Sunset
I said there would be pictures. Shauna and I returned to Sentinel Dome on Monday night to have some dinner, check out the moon and the fires. I was running late, and Shauna packed up the most amazing dinner with pasta, wine, and CHOCOLATE CAKE! We outlasted the ranger-led moonlight hike on the top of Sentinel Dome, and I enjoyed the food, the conversation and the scenery.

It’s no wonder that there are so many stories about being outdoors under a full moon. Everything about it screams magic. And then, when the food was eaten, we hiked down and checked out the Grouse Creek Fire.

Full Moon rising over the Clark Range
Full Moon rising over the Clark Range
It’s not nearly as impressive as it had been Sunday night, and a fire-fighter that we met at one of the pull-outs said that even Sunday paled in comparison to Saturday night when he and his hotshot crew had first lit the hillside – “a little lightin’ and fightin'” was how he put it when the wind had changed direction unexpectedly. He was so proud of what they had done, and called out one of his buddies to show us a short video of the fire. He was right to be proud. We can go ahead and put that on the list of jobs that I really could never do.

Original Firecrackers - I loved the flames that were coming out of the top of the standing tree.
Original Firecrackers - I loved the flames that were coming out of the top of the standing tree.
Although I brought a light-weight tripod with me, I didn’t end up setting it up for the pictures of the fire. Too lazy – although I sort of regret it now. Plus, it was difficult to tighten the mount enough and the camera kept drooping anyway, so it seemed like kind of a hassle. This is enough to get a feel for what we saw, but what I really wish is that we’d gotten some pictures earlier during the fire. Oh well – this is Yosemite. There will be other fires.

We didn’t pull back into the neighborhood until just before midnight. Good thing, because Tom was almost ready to go looking for me. I was bubbling with excitement from our little adventure, and all Tom wanted to do was go to bed. Poor guy. I sure am lucky.

Light in the darkness
Light in the darkness

Ostrander Backpacking Trip

Tom among the wildflowers
Tom among the wildflowers
We took a somewhat abbreviated backpacking trip out past Ostrander Lake June 25-27 to try out some of our new gear. The short version? We love it, and we had a great time. I also learned and re-learned a lot of stuff about backpacking. For a first trip, it was just right.

We left Thursday night around 9pm after getting off work and cooking up a yummy dinner the comfort of our own home, and hiked out to Horizon Ridge before setting up camp. In some ways I like hiking in the dark – it’s usually very quiet and peaceful. Plus, this was an out and back trip, so we got to see the scenery, and the flowers that we walked past in the dark on our way out.

The Double Rainbow Tarptent on Horizon Ridge
The Double Rainbow Tarptent on Horizon Ridge
In the morning we finished our somewhat circuitous route to Ostrander Lake, and circled around to walk along Horse Ridge. It was a lazy day, filled with many stops and a bit of napping. We had plenty of water so we camped high with a bit of a breeze and fewer mosquitoes, filling up when we hiked down in the morning.

For more random notes about our trip, in no particular order

Read More

Fire Scenery

Although Tom and I spent today pretty much hunkered down with house work, we did manage to take advantage of the evening hours for a quick run and some spectacular scenery. We waited until after the heat of the day passed, around 5:30, packed up quickly, picked up our neighbor and headed out for a evening trail run that took us through lush meadows filled with wildflowers, and along the rim of Yosemite Valley.

The Grouse Creek fire is burning pretty amazing right now. The plumes of smoke hang heavy over the valley, and I’ve seen some people talking online about making their trip elsewhere. Not that I blame them, but in the evening light – fires are amazing.

First, during sunset, the sun set was almost blue and purple from being filtered through the smoke. It was SO much cooler than your average sunny day sunset in the Sierra. And then, after our run – on the drive back down Glacier Point we had to pull over multiple times because the flicker of flames in the forest next to the road was absolutely breath-taking. Towers of orange embers, leaping flames in the darkness, an orange glow putting the foreground trees into silhouettes. Magic, I tell you.

Have I mentioned that the moon is almost full, too? Tuesday, I think.

And we got to see a pair of Peregrin Falcons, the young one screaming out for a food exchange.

If you’re coming to see the ‘classic views’, for sure the smoke gets in the way. But, if you keep your eyes open, there’s a special kind of beauty during burns. No pictures, because we were out for a run, but we’re going back up again tomorrow. Dinner on Sentinel Dome. Pictures.

Great images.

I get an occasional tip here and there on how to use Photoshop from the amazing and creative in-house graphic designer in our office, but just in case I get to thinking that I know how to do a thing or two… there are images like these which are in a completely different league.

It’s not that I can’t start to figure out now, how someone would start to put an image like that together, but coming up with the ideas, planning the shot out, taking different images and figuring out how to put them together. Truly cool.

And while you’re there, check out some cool wildlife pics. I’m not sure some of them aren’t also examples of very clever Photoshop-ery, but they are neat anway.

Thinking about bears

Yosemite's Bears
Yosemite’s Bears

JeffreyTrust.com is a great read – and not just because I know him. One of the articles that particularly caught my mind was Jeffrey’s musings about what a solution for managing bears would be. He talks about some of the things that they’ve tried – things that haven’t worked, like trying to condition bears to avoid human food, or putting up yet another bloody sign next to the ones that are already up, and things that have worked (to a degree), like improved food storage and ‘hazing’ bears with rubber bullets and loud noisemakers. It’s helping – but it’s hard to see and count the number of bears that remain wild that wouldn’t have otherwise, while dealing with the one bear that becomes dangerous, who has run out of other solutions, is a heart-breaker. Bringing us back to the questions: What else can we do? What is the solution?

Just as it’s in a bear’s nature to get the most calories for the least effort, it’s in a person’s nature to keep their food where it is convenient (not necessarily in a properly shut bear box) and to be lazy about walking the trash to the dumpster.

Idea 1. Make the lazy option OK. People may already be investigating different mechanisms that automatically lock and close without any additional effort from the people using them. Trouble is, bears seem to be shockingly good at figuring out how to open things, so this automated mechanism has to be complicated enough to foil clever bears, who have years to figure it out, but not so complicated as to confuse non-clever people who drove in late and just want to get to bed. Hm – now that I think of it, those could be overlapping sets. Tough problem.

Idea 2. Make the consequences more severe. The one solution/non-solution, that Jeffrey promises (I hope) to return to at some later date, is the option of issuing more/bigger citations for improper food storage. I hope he does, because his perspective would be interesting. I’m sure increasing the consequences for improper food storage isn’t a new idea for Jeffrey, or the others who have been working for years with Yosemite’s bears, but here are my thoughts anyway, since I’m thinking them.

It seems that the way to make that effective, is to do it in a way that makes it remarkable. Make the consequences for getting caught severe. Get a few headlines: “Yosemite NPS is cracking down on illegal food storage. $5000 fine for a forgotten sandwich…” Recruit travel writers like Tom Stienstra or Marek Warszawski to write articles. Issue a Press Release. Make the new policy big enough to make NEWS.

Not that you could EVER do this, but if we hazed people for leaving food out the same way we haze bears for getting close, people would take notice and start telling their friends. Nothing like a little hostile fire to encourage me to get that food into the locked bear box – pronto. Plus, it would be cathartic for rangers to open up with paintball guns on repeat offenders, wouldn’t it? (Joking! …kind of)

I don’t know. If there was an easy solution someone would have done it already, wouldn’t they? I’m sure there is no magic bullet. So, we creep up on a solution, one tracking collar, rubber bullet, sign, citation and heartbreaking bear story at a time. Thanks for the writing, Jeffrey. I hope we can figure it out.

[PS. Thanks to Loyd over at YosemiteBlog for pointing Jeffrey’s new site out to me.]

Optical Illusions: Seeing isn’t believing

Optical Illusion from Kitaoka
Optical Illusion from Kitaoka
It’s often amazing to me the kinds of shortcuts that our minds take when interpreting the world around us. For the lazy, who won’t click through to the wonderful article in Discover Magazine, the greenish spirals are actually the same color as the bluish spirals. What changes is the color that surrounds it. You can see other illusions like it on Kitaoka’s page.

We see different colors when they are exactly the same, less food on a large plate than on a small plate even though it’s exactly the same amount, and feel full based on what we’ve seen rather than what we’ve eaten (from Mindless Eating). We have confirmation bias – the tendency to see and attend to things that confirm our pre-existing theories. Sometimes it’s amazing how well we get around in our world.

Guilty Bear Jam Pleasure

Mama bear and cub
Mama bear and cub
If I see a bear by the side of the road, find a legal pull-out, get out of my car and watch, and then a Bear Jam forms, is that my fault?

Usually, the way bear jams or deer jams form, is that one person notices the animals. Drawn by their attention, a group begins to gather. Motorists slow down to see what they are looking at. When that something is a bear – or in this case, a momma bear and two absolutely adorable cubs – crowds form, traffic slows, and before you know it – Bear Jam.

Brother Bears
Brother Bears
I have proven over and over, that I am EXACTLY the sort of person that stops in the middle of the road in order to get a better look at some cool animal. Tom and I came to a full halt in the middle of the road in Australia to watch an Echidna uncurl and then complete it’s wobbling deliberate journey across the road. I’ve stopped mid-drive for bear, coyotes, even a couple of road-side flowers. Sometimes, you just have to stop.

However, I do at least try to be reasonably considerate about it. I am more than aware that not everyone on the road has the same inclination to come to a complete mesmerized halt at the very same moment that I do. After all, most of the time the person that isn’t interested in the thing by the road, or actually has someplace to be, is me. Besides, coming to a complete stop in the middle of the road just around a blind corner is freaking dangerous.

Bear Family
Bear Family
Most recently, Tom and I were caravanning two cars back to our house when I looked over and spotted a bear. Tom had seen her too, and we pulled over in the nearest pull-out, grabbed our camera and binoculars and walked back up the street. It wasn’t long before a giant crowd formed. Some people just stopped in the road. Others, with more consideration tried, unsuccessfully, to pull mostly off the street before jumping out to take pictures.

Before long, a resigned-looking ranger appeared, trying to clear the traffic, keep half an eye on people creeping down into the meadow to take a closer look, and get the illegally parked cars off the road. I didn’t envy him his job at that moment.

The bears had probably been in the meadow for quite some time. If we hadn’t stopped, maybe no one would have noticed. Maybe the Bear Jam wouldn’t have formed at all. Although I feel a little guilty about that, we did get some nice pictures – and a chance to watch some really beautiful bears doing wild bear things.