Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tunnels Behind Waterfalls & Windy Mountains

Summer's arrived here in the Pacific Northwest. The weather's idyllic so I've been spending a lot of time outside. About a month ago Ann and I went hiking in the Columbia Gorge. The gorge is full of waterfalls and rivers feeding into the big Columbia River. Ann and I hiked several miles into Eagle Creek, one of the rivers feeding the Columbia. The last mile was the most interesting. A trail carved into a cliff side painted green with vegetation snaked through a man made tunnel behind the aptly named Tunnel Falls. Apparently it was a Great Depression era public works project. Pretty cool. The photo at the top is Ann approaching Tunnel Falls. Other Eagle Creek photos are here.

Over the July 4th weekend I climbed Mt. Hood with the NavUnit, the SecurityChief, the Chief's son, and another father with his two sons. I guess you could call Hood our home mountain. Between the NavUnit, the SecurityChief, and I we've probably made a few dozen attempts. It's a popular mountain, with over a dozen routes on it. There's everything from the South Side route, which is mostly a long hike on snow, to the infamous Yocum Ridge, a near suicidal route which is rarely climbed.

Climbing Hood has often seemed to me like visiting another planet. For starters there's all the snow in the middle of summer. On the lower slopes the ski lifts are open year round. The strangely shaped snow formations on the crater wall (Hood is a dormant volcano) lend the appearance of a long lost city. Fumaroles vent from a couple of spots at the bottom of the crater where the snow is conspicuously absent. Crevasses, giant cracks in the glacier ice with eerily blue walls of ice, are the closest thing I've seen to a bottomless pit.

The weirdest part is the weather. Half the time we've attempted a climb on Hood we've end up turning around due to bad weather. The worst weather I've ever experienced (including hurricanes growing up in Texas) has been on Hood. The coldest I've ever felt (I couldn't feel my arms all the way to my shoulders, despite wearing every warm piece of clothing I owned) was on Hood. The last time I was on Hood my ice axe became completely encased in a clear, thick layer of ice, which I later realized had also formed on my clothing. The NavUnit and the SecurityChief tell the story of their tent collapsing during a storm on Hood. The next day on their way down they noticed that the ski lift towers had also collapsed.

This climb turned out to have it's own bit of strange weather. We ascended as two parties. The NavUnit and I headed out for an alternate route, equipped with extra gear while everyone else went up the South Side route. It was very windy. Later on the way down a fellow told us it'd been gusting to 70 MPH at the ski lodge. The wind would whip up in a second or two and then just as abruptly die down to nothing. On several occasions when the wind suddenly gusted I had to quickly throw my axe into the snow and get down on all fours to keep from being blown away. We put our crampons (metal spikes for our boots) on earlier than usual because the wind was blowing us across an ice patch. Worse than the wind were the tiny ice crystals that the wind picked up. I now know what it must feel like to be sandblasted.

After meandering up the mountain and giving ourselves a good scare on a glacier headwall the NavUnit and I arrived at the bottom of the summit wall. The last thousand feet of the climb lay in front of us. Dawn was breaking (we'd started at 2:00 AM). Our view was filled with the summit wall and thin, wispy clouds moving chaotically at impossible speeds over the wall. The morning glow gave the clouds a pinkish / purplish hue. It was a strange sight. It seemed like an odd dance, beautiful and mesmerizing. The wind was still gusting strongly. I imagined what the summit must be like. Standing behind a jet engine at full throttle came to mind. The NavUnit thought we were seeing the formation of a lenticular cloud, which indicates that bad weather is coming. We never really decided to keep going or not, we just started walking in the direction of the summit and kept moving. We reached the top to find the best weather of the entire ascent. There was hardly any wind. The clouds we'd feared from below felt like a warm fog. Every now and then the clouds would break and we'd feel the morning sun's warmth. The mountain had played a joke on us, and we'd almost fallen for it. Just as we were about to start down the second party showed up. We stayed for a bit longer chitchatting, taking photos, and admiring the scenery.

Eventually we started down. Some of the folks in the second party hadn't climbed much so we roped up and placed all the protection we were carrying on the descent. At the time we thought maybe it was overkill, but a couple of days later a climber fell and broke his leg while descending from the summit. It turned into a nice, sunny summer day. Memories of the ascent seemed like a bad dream, but every now and then a wind gust and a blast of ice crystals reminded me that it had been no dream. A layer of clouds hid the lowlands below us. We dropped down through the cloud layer like a diver disappearing below the water's surface. The wife of one of the guys greeted us at the parking lot with a cooler full of beers and cigars. It had been their first time up Hood. We were back on Earth. Photos from the Hood trip are here. Unfortunately I didn't get any good shots of the colored clouds streaming over the summit.

It's looking more likely that I'll be doing the adventure race I mentioned in the last post. My efforts to convince the boys to do something else seem to be falling short. The NavUnit acquired a two person kayak. I've been running and biking a lot. My longest run so far is 7.5 hours. I've convinced myself that there's an outside chance I might actually finish. Still, we haven't paid the entry fee yet so perhaps there's some hope yet.

The software start-up is going well. At least, the installed base has maintained a consistent growth rate. The first revenue generating version just became publicly available and the business has officially made it's first dollar. If it generates a sufficiently strong revenue stream I'll likely hire some people to help out. It's been a lot of work, I'm the bottleneck in the whole affair, and the users are demanding more features.

The bakery had strong sales in June, but we're going into what's typically been a long seasonal slow down. Nina and the crew are finishing a huge cake shaped like a church. The cake is for the dedication ceremony of a new church, the same one we attended when I was growing up. It's sized to serve over a thousand people.

Hope you're having a nice summer wherever you are.

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