Thursday, July 3, 2008

Enjoying the Northwest

It's been a bit over a month since I returned to Corvallis. The weather, especially lately, is the kind of weather that reminds the natives of why they live here.

I've mostly stayed in Corvallis since I returned. In fact, the Buffalo's still on the same tank of gas that I originally arrived on. I've been running and biking a lot, pretty much every day. I've also been doing a lot of cooking. Ann and I have had home cooked dinners every day. Other than that I've been putting time into the bakery.

I decided to move ahead with the purchase of a commercial property for the bakery. I waffled a bit on whether to go ahead and purchase the property or wait and see how the sales went. What finally convinced me was a quote request we got from a corporate customer in early June. We didn't get the order in the end, but had we gotten it it would have been worth a couple tens of thousands of dollars. I don't know how we could have actually filled it baking out of my sister's house. We bid on it anyway, thinking we'd figure it out later. In any case, I took it as a sign to get ready for larger orders. The contract for the property has been signed and we're scheduled to take possession on August 1. Preliminary sales figures for June look like they dropped relative to May, but we got a lot of orders during June for July and August delivery.

My other big project has been an upgrade to the bakery's web site. I've been trying to do all of it myself. It's required a lot of learning, especially since I decided to use Flash technology for the product image gallery. It's been a real challenge, but the programming part is mostly done. I'm slowly realizing that the most challenging part (graphic design) may still be ahead of me. I've never been much of an artist, and it seems like this phase could use some artistic skills. I'll see how it goes. I'd like to have it all up and running by the end of July.

I guess the other big news is that I decided to return to HP when my leave ends at the end of July. I really didn't think I was going to return. A big part of the reason I am returning is that HP is allowing me to return as a part time employee. I was surprised that HP would allow me to return part time, given that head count at the Corvallis site is being reduced. I think it was agreed to in part because it involves a reduction in my pay scale. I'll be dropping down to the pay scale that I was on seven years ago, when I was a specialist engineer. It doesn't really matter to me. I was prepared to live on very little income prior to deciding to return, so it all seems like a boon. What I mainly wanted out of the deal was more free time than a full time position would give me. Admittedly, I'd prefer not being tied down to a geographic location, but there are some nice side benefits to being in Corvallis.

I have taken a couple of excursions with my climbing buddies since I returned. Earlier in June the Nav Unit (Chris), El Chino (Al), and I took a two day trip to Smith Rock. Smith is the best known rock climbing area in the Northwest. I've been there many times, but my last trip was probably a few years ago. It's a beautiful place that's popular with both climbers and hikers. The first day we top roped a couple of routes that were at or above our abilities. The Nav Unit managed to get up both of them. El Chino and I spent a lot of time working the crux moves. I eventually wore myself out trying to figure out how to get up a rock rib. Climbing such routes really exposes the puzzle-like aspects of climbing. The route is a jigsaw puzzle that you have to put together. Attempting a certain move onto a certain spot is the equivalent of seeing if two pieces will fit. Falling off means the pieces didn't fit. On easier routes you can afford to be sloppy. There are many pieces that fit with each other, so you don't have to think too hard. On these routes, at least for me, the pieces had to go together just right.

The next day we lead some rock routes. I got to practice my trad leading again. Trad leading has some game-like aspects as well. First place is the equivalent of getting to the top without falling or hanging on the rope. If you win, the gear and rope were actually a useless, expensive hindrance. The rock has, in a sense, played a joke on you. It fooled you into thinking that you needed a bunch of gear when you actually needed none of it. You think you've won, but were you actually suckered? This realization is, to me, part of the appeal of solo climbing (climbing with no gear at all). Last place is, of course, falling and getting killed. Like all games, there are a variety of strategies that you can follow. At one end of the spectrum is "fast and lazy." The premise behind this strategy is that hauling and placing gear is hard work and takes time. All of the energy you spend messing with the gear is energy that doesn't go into the climbing itself. Better to place minimal gear so you can put all your effort into actual climbing. Soloing is just fast and lazy taken to it's logical conclusion. At the other of the spectrum is "slow and secure." Here, the premise is that you can easily kill or severely injure yourself while climbing. Best to haul and place a lot of gear. Yes, it takes time, but isn't your life worth it? As I progress with my trad leading I'm finding out where I fall on this spectrum. It won't surprise many of you that, relative to the Nav Unit, I'm on the lazy end of things. It's also worth mentioning that the Nav Unit has never had a broken bone and I've had several.

Besides Smith, my other, more recent excursion was a trip I took with Matt to climb Mt Baker. Mt Baker is situated in the northwestern corner of the continental US. It's 30 miles from the Pacific coast and 15 miles from the Canadian border. Baker has the distinction of being the "snowiest" (known) place on Earth. It holds the world record for cumulative snowfall in a single season. 95 ft in the 1998-1999 season. Certainly, there is a lot of snow on Mt Baker. To me, Mt Baker looked like a head of rock struggling to keep above a sheet of glacier ice. The ice extended over the top of Mt Baker in the form of an ice cap. Only on the front part of the head, where the face is located, could you see some rock. Nature was busy here, turning the ice into rivers which fed the valleys below. The sketchiest part of the whole trip was the approach hike, which involved crossing raging torrents of ice water. Matt found a wonderful camp site at 7200 ft on a high ridge. It had spectacular views in all directions and we had it to ourselves. The nicest places are found in spots that no road leads to. While mining ice for subsequent processing into water Matt discovered a patch of ice worms. These critters spend their entire lives (3-5 years) in glaciers. After a big dinner we tried to sleep. At 1:30 AM we started preparing for our summit bid.

We had originally hoped to climb the North Ridge of Baker, but decided against it due to the warm temperatures and possibility of thunderstorms. Instead we climbed the Coleman - Deming route. This route mostly runs on glaciers. It's pretty straight forward and never too steep. Snow conditions were sloshy, but improved a bit halfway up. We saw some mean looking thunder clouds once it got light, and it rained a bit higher up, but the weather held out and got better later in the day. Matt's training for his 100 mile run paid off and we made fast progress up. We reached the summit around 6:30 AM, apparently the first party to summit that day. Shortly after our arrival we saw the sun for the first time. After taking photos we headed back down. We passed about a dozen climbers heading up as we descended. Judging by all the tracks we saw this route is quite popular. On the way down we saw crevasses and hanging glaciers we'd missed during the night. The hanging glaciers were pretty impressive. They looked to be 400 or 500 ft thick. Below them were house sized chunks of ice which had calved off from the glacier higher up. Yep, it snows a lot here.

After resting at our camp for a bit we decided to head back down. We had considered tooling around inside of a crevasse, but there was still a lot of snow and we figured we'd have better opportunities in August. I was back at my house by 9:00 PM. Technically I wasn't supposed to take possession of my house for another three hours but I decided to sleep there anyway. The renters had clearly left.

That's where things are for the moment. I expect it will take another few days to get fully situated in my house. After that I'll be back to work on the web site. Ann and I will probably take a weekend trip somewhere and another Cascades climb is in the works. Sometime in August I'll likely go ice climbing as well. The Buffalo's been getting a nice long rest. On the way out from Matt's house it overheated. Yesterday I found a cooling system leak up front. I tightened a clamp ring and the leak stopped. Hopefully that was the cause.

It's a little odd being back in the house. My first thought on seeing the inside is that it's a waste of space. When I removed the false wall in the garage where my stuff is stored I wondered why I had so many things. Clearly I didn't need them all. The only thing I wished I hadn't left were my snowshoes. I'll probably end up getting rid of some more things.

Photos from Baker are here. I didn't have a camera for the Smith trip. The photo at the top is from the summit of Mt Baker. The thunderclouds were moving north (left in the photo). Matt and I sat back and admired the view while we waited for the sun to come out from behind the clouds and warm us up.

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