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Archive for the ‘Hiking’ Category

Annual Test Lab Hike–North Olympic Peninsula Beaches

Posted by joeabbott on September 17, 2017

I look forward to one hike all year: our annual Test Lab Hike. It’s an odd name, but a group of four of us then young-ish engineers who worked for Boeing in their Test Labs and started taking strolls in the great outdoors, enjoying what the wilds of Washington state would afford us. Now, twenty-four years later, we still get out for that stroll.Olympic Peninsula

The plan was for a five-day, four-night outing with travel to and from Seattle on the first and last days. While we’d move our camp each of the days, the tides dictated that we’d have to leave relatively early in the day and arrive at our next camp well before noon; a somewhat odd situation. Additionally, the weather was forecast to be mild with one day seeing potential drizzle and another at 20% chance of rain … which is a pretty decent prediction when heading to a rain forest for a camping trip!

In the above map, the four named locations are the places we pitched our tents. While I’ll try to be brief, this is me … and it may get long-ish.

Thursday – drive to the peninsula, camp at the trailhead

No matter how you look at things, getting to the coast is little more than driving from Seattle. We met up around 7AM at Tim’s house, he made us breakfast, we packed the SUV we’d be taking, and started the 5-hour drive. Rush hour traffic and road construction got the best of us, but we likely only lost a half hour or so to that. We headed south to Tacoma and then west, following the northern coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

At Port Angeles we stopped at the Olympic National Park Ranger Station for current weather, tide, and camp site information; they informed us that Seafield Creek and Yellow Banks were “dry”, meaning they had no running water. Bummer. Also, due mainly to raccoon troubles, we were required to carry the provided “bear-proof food canisters”. These are hard plastic caches roughly 18” high and 10” in diameter and can only be considered to hold a lot of food if you ram your food in pretty tightly.

But, after getting some gas and snacks, we continued on to Lake Ozette where we got one of three final camp sites, ate our freeze-dried dinners, pitched our tent, and got in an evening game of Hearts before the mist started falling. By the time we’d made our final bedtime accommodations, the mist was pretty thick. And sometime late that evening, it was unequivocally raining.

Friday – get onto the beach, camp at Seafield Creek

DSCF1186We arose around 6AM and had stricken camp, did our final packing, moved the car, and were on the trail before 8AM. Not bad for a bunch of codgers looking for the loo, needing hot breakfasts, and wondering just how the heck one packed a bear-proof food canisters into an already-full pack. And then it was walking … I chose to not wear my rain slicker, in spite of the heavy mist, because it was warm enough that I’d be sweating furiously if I did. Wet is wet, and rain feels cleaner than sweat.DSCF1187_stitch

The trail from Lake Ozette to the coast has two paths: a northerly route to Cape Alava, and a southerly one to Sand Point. We took the northern leg and marched the three miles at a modest clip, making it to the beach around 9:30AM. By that time, the mist had slackened and we all became silent as the crashing surf aroused our senses. On top of the distinct sounds of the ocean, dozens and dozens of sea lion voices could be heard barking from some far-off rocky isle. The tide was heading out and we had a camp some seven miles to the north; and so we turned our attention that way and continued our march.

DSCF1506DSCF1191Somewhere just before the Ozette River, Tim lost his footing and took a tumble, painfully damaging his side; as if in commiseration, I shortly thereafter took my own slide. I fell forward and unfortunately had my hand pinned between the rock and my trekking pole … getting a cheese-grater greeting by the myriad sharp barnacles. Upon inspection I saw a bloodless wound and attempted to rip off the hanging flesh with my teeth. I had a faint sickening sensation as the tug was substantial and wasn’t sufficient to part the skin from the thumb: that was a deep wound. I cupped my hand to my chest and made my way bank-side on the Ozette in order to shed my pack and bandage my hand. By the time I had a wrap on it, the blood was profuse. I worried a lot about infection as we all crossed the river and took a small break.

DSCF1210

Tim rested his side, Ron and I headed upstream into the Ozette River to filter water for camp, hoping low tide and a plentiful current would provide salt-free water. Unfortunately, the water was still brackish and only really good for use as cooking water or with heavily flavored powders. But, we brought what we could with us and, after our short rest, continued marching the two and a half miles north to Seafield Creek.

We setup camp and Tim realized he had forgotten his sandals back at the Ozette River just after the crossing. Without truly hoping we could get them (the tide was now coming in) … and without a lot of worry if we didn’t … we headed south and while we were unable to make it past the final headwall safely (the tide had risen beyond a safe height to pass), returned to camp happy for a chance to stretch our legs without a pack and enjoying good company.DSCF1201_stitch

DSCF1249A short time later Ron showed interest in heading north toward Shi Shi and, game for most any stroll, I joined him much to the same result as my walk with Tim: we got a couple miles in but were ultimately stopped by impassible terrain and so we walked back.

I figure I added roughly 10 miles to my day but enjoyed the beach walk and company. And, I had slept somewhat poorly the prior night and looked forward to fatigue doing what it does best: providing me a deep and excellent night’s sleep.

Our camp was set about 15’ up a bluffy wall, accessible via two trails: one with a hand-line strung down it, and the other a scampery little path that took one over a jumble of driftwood logs. The platforms were generous and Dan opted to setup his own tent a short distance away. In spite of the fact that we carry a 6-man tent on these trips (we all like our space and room for gear), Dan continues to carry his own 2-man tent for the evening’s sleep. He’ll socialize, play cards, and whatnot, but when it’s time for lights-out, he heads to his own little suite.

The clouds had long-since parted and as we settled into dinner (and, later, Hearts), we hoped the “20% chance of rain” that had been forecast for the next day had happened and was over. And, yes, I slept well.

Saturday – head back south, camp at Cape Alava

DSCF1253We awoke to a fairly good rain coming down. It sounded worse from inside the tent than it felt when one was outside, but it was coming down steadily. I was in a cross mood. I’d have rather waited out the rain but we were low on enjoyable water, had a camp site 7-miles to the south that night, and needed to cross the Ozette River at low tide … which would happen at around 10:30AM. To get there on time, we needed to break camp around 8AM. It was 6AM and I wanted to roll over.

But, I got up (grudgingly) and got going.

Breakfast for me is a Costco muffin … these little darlings are around 700 calories and it’s hard to have what is essentially cake for breakfast and still be annoyed. I managed, but only because the rain was continuing to come down. As we cleared our gear, packed our pack, and made the tent ready, I asked Tim if he wanted to put the tent body (his share for this leg), into a bag. He declined, later stating that he thought the rain would break soon, and so when we got to camp (and it was still raining), we had a fairly soaked sleeping quarters.

I’m getting ahead of myself, but not by much.

The trip south was quick, as are most hikes on the beach, as the sand just above the wave-line tends to be firmly packed and gives you a dead flat, cushioned trail each step. Tim’s sandals were where we thought they’d be, the headwalls were passed over without incident, and we soon arrived at Cape Alava … I believe it was about 10:30AM.DSCF1272

I was still grumpy and after we setup the tent, I tossed a small emergency blanket (it’s a tarp with a reflective surface) inside the tent, dumped my stuff on it, and took a nap for a few hours.

Upon waking up, the world was a nicer place. My mood had dissipated, the rain had ceased, and we had a clean supply of water to refill our bottles. I strung a couple of lines between trees and we quickly filled them with wet gear, hoping to catch the last of the westering sun. As with the other days, we ate our separate dinners together and then got in a game of Hearts to finish the day. DSCF1286_stitch

Unfortunately, I celebrated the clean water a bit more than I should have, and had to arise a couple of times in the evening to relieve myself. Upon exiting the tent around 3AM, I started what I imagine was a large crane. Ron later reported hearing it and he chuckled a bit … I absolutely was not chuckling. That bird has a terrifying scream and to hear it in the dark when one scarcely has his senses … well, it certainly had my attention.

DSCF1322Sunday – continue south, camp at Yellow Banks

Sunday was the sort of day one comes to the beach to enjoy; it was marvelous. As Ron would say: blue skies, sunshine. And it had both of those in spades.

The march to camp would be about 7 miles this day, following the beach from Cape Alava, past Sandy Point, and on around a few headwalls to Yellow Banks. We bumped into a few people but far fewer than you would think you’d see given the phenomenal sights and beautiful crashing surf.DSCF1319

DSCF1344While the seaweed beds were thickly piled on these beaches, and the sand fleas particularly plentiful, the rhythmic crash of waves, the lapping water, and that gently yielding, dead flat “trail” to hike on made the miles zip by. Upon several beaches we crossed rich troves of rocks of a myriad color and patterns. They were so beautiful, upon the return trip, I filled one of my water bottles full of agates, jasper, jet black and pure white stones. A wonder of beauty.

But, as with the other days, our day started early to accommodate the tides and before noon we arrived at the eponymous Yellow Banks. Vegetation has overgrown much of the bluff but it was a very fine sight and we were excited to be there as the tide rose and we were the only ones on the beach. While it wouldn’t hold, we had the entire expanse to ourselves for the afternoon.

DSCF1367After looking over most of the sites, we returned to the camp at the head of the beach and called that home. The camp was pretty cool: another 15’ climb up a bluffy face, but at the top were two balconies made from various drift woods (one balcony complete with a hammock!), and room for our tent amongst the trees to the rear. If we could have spent another night, that would have been the place.

But, rather than setup shop right away, we all spread out our gear in the sun and set it to drying. And while it was doing that, Ron found a few floats lost from various ships and set us all onto a game of bocce ball. In this game, the leader (typically the person who won the last round) would toss a smaller float out several yards; thereafter, all participants would take turns tossing their floats after it. The person closest to the small float won a point … unless his toss ended up touching the small float, and then he would get two points. No one in our games would ever win the two points.DSCF1412

It was a very fun event and I’m pretty happy Ron suggested it and found the floats\bocce balls. At one time I gave my ball toss a bit too much arc and the float cracked upon landing. After a few more tosses it broke in two. No problems, says Ron … and off he ran past the high tide mark and returned a short time later with another whole float. “They’re all over here,” he reported. Amazing.

After dinner we returned to the beach for another game and then our nightly ritual of Hearts. As we played, several other groups entered the beach, taking advantage of the lowering tide. No matters … we had the best camp on the beach.DSCF1439_stitch

DSCF1373Monday – pack up and head home

While our day was driven by the tide, we had great grips to go, needing to drive the many hours back to Seattle this day. And again, arise, eat breakfast, pull down the tent, and pack up. Our practiced routine was made efficient by the now, our fifth packing this trip, and the dry weather helped. I’d taken a small “cave” (a man-made opening in the wall that allowed one to avoid crossing on seaweed-slickened rocks) on the way into the Banks and did so again on the way out, and then trudged north across the wonderfully pebbled beaches to the south part of Sand Point.

Here we stopped, snapped a few final shots, enjoyed a light lunch of whatever we each had left, and then marched along the boardwalk to Lake Ozette. The three miles went quickly and, as usual, I was glad to see the car and enjoy the dry, clean clothing. This was the end of our twenty-fourth Test Lab Hike, and it was a beauty.

Thanks for reading all this. As usual, it got long and reminiscing as I typed this made it longer. May your trails be under blue skies and full of sunshine.

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Lotta planning, little hike

Posted by joeabbott on September 4, 2017

2017-08-18_100846Over the course of the summer I’ve been itching to hike from Steven’s Pass to Snoqualmie Pass. The original plan was to use the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) the entire way but when we calculated the time and distance for some old bones like ours to make the trip, we agreed to use the Trail 1060 cut-off, allowing us to still hike Pass to Pass, but cut off about 8.5 miles from the route … exchanging that for about 2000’ of elevation gain!

The image to the right shows a couple of early trail options we considered … one for Trail 1061 cut off a bit less distance but commensurately started us 1000’ higher. Ultimately we chose Trail 1060, the Surprise Lake trail and were happy for the savings in distance, which we deemed to be our worst enemy.

The “we” in the prior sentence were two of my hiking buddies from the summer; the three of us are desk jockeys and going five-days of 12-15 mile days would be a challenge. We convinced ourselves of the lie that elevation would be challenging, but at a slow pace we could make it happen without too much problem. I say “lie” because the elevation was going to hurt a bunch, but it comes with hiking this part of the PCT so we would just have to find a way.

In preparation for the trip we reviewed books, web resources, and chatted with friends and coworkers who’d been on this part of the trail. We watched the weather, picked up gear that would be lightweight, and mentally (and physically) prepared for the outing. While more time would always be helpful, I felt ready.

While I note we prepared lightweight packs, we clearly don’t know how to do it very well. In spite of all of us prepping our 5-day packs (with emergency sixth day rations) independently, we all showed up at the trailhead with roughly the same weight packs: about 40#. Which is a startlingly heavy pack to carry for 70 miles. I carried a few items I wouldn’t consider “required” but would very much miss over 5 days without … including reading materials and some down\fleece gear that would be sorely wanted if the weather turned for the worse.

In all, my gear weight was just over half the overall weight and included the items in the following list.

imageKnowing what I do now about the weather and the trail conditions, I could have saved probably 5# in weight or more … I would have left home glasses and reading, fleece and my puffy jacket, tarp and knife. It would feel foolish to start paring back my first aid kit more but I could. Same with leaving home the map … but it was less for finding our way and more for knowing what it was that was around us. Admittedly, it was duplicative of the GPS. Still, weather in the Pacific Northwest turns quickly so having the right emergency gear is both smart and will keep you alive.

Other “luxuries” include my “camp cotton”, which is an extra shirt and briefs I only wear in camp. It’s nice to get out of the sweaty clothing and for ten ounces, I’m OK with bringing it. Still, I acknowledge it as a luxury. Same with my second set of clothing … while I’d accepted I’d be stinky (and my “vital pack” included a packet of scent-free wet wipes for toweling off at the end of day), I could have gone uber-stinky and saved about a pound and a quarter by omitting the extra shirt, Lycra shorts, and liner\outer socks. But I can’t recall ever going 5 days without bathing, much less wearing the same clothing … and especially with as much sweating as we’d be doing. Calling this a luxury feels odd.

Finally, there are things like “shoes”, which were actually skelly\neoprene toe-shoes for fording rivers that were less luxuries than “smart gear”. Yes, I could ford barefooted, but it seems stupid given my tender little feets. And so, this is my list. While I was happy that it was about 20#, that was just the half of it.

The other half was the backpack itself (a bit over 3#), food (about 14#), water (about 4#) and group gear … not to mention the stray carabiner attached to the outside and whatnot. I’ve had friends comment surprisingly at my food weight, but at roughly 2.5# per day, I didn’t feel I was going overboard. I could start to shave weight here and, in future efforts might, but this was not a place I wanted to start with saving on the load. Additionally, each day I’d be losing a couple pounds and reasoned that by the start of the last day, my pack would be over 10# lighter! I liked the sound of that!

As I noted in the title, we’d put a lotta planning into this trip. I’d come home from work, busy myself at the computer to continue research, run to the garage where I was prepping gear to weigh out options, and swing into REI with Suzy after errands to consider one or two other options for gear. I eventually bought myself the lighter sleeping bag noted in the weights above (it saved about 2# in weight in my pack and was only about $70 … still a lot of money, but not bad for a sleeping bag), and some carbon-fiber poles. I’m embarrassed at the cost of those so I won’t share that here, but they saved about the same sort of weight as the sleeping bag … and considering I’d be carrying that weight, I called it an easy decision.

DSCF1129And then the trip itself … spoilers: we turned back after the first day, about 14 miles in.

As we headed out of the car, my pack was biting into the top of my butt. Not just an annoyance, but a deeply aching, brutal pressure that threatened to immobilize me by the end of the first day. It was mean. I’m not sure what adjustment I made to get it sorted out, but I was finding myself reaching back to lift and support the pack with my hands at some points. It was really painful and so, I was surprised to find that, at some point, it just worked itself out and I was moving a lot more comfortably, albeit slowly.

DSCF1180One of my friends, however, was just struggling from the get-go. At every stop we’d wait longer and longer for him to catch up, eventually waiting about 15 minutes by the time we hit the 4.5 mile mark, Surprise Lake. While we’d done over 2000’ of elevation gain, he showed up with shaking legs and a pained expression; it was clear he was hurting. We found a place to sit by the lake and after about 10 minutes he confided that his legs were shot, he’d vomited on the way in, and he just didn’t see a way for him to make it without jeopardizing the outing. He was turning back.

While we cajoled and talked about options and generally stalled another half hour, it was clear something wasn’t right when he went to the water’s edge to pump some water and, upon scampering the 8’ up to the rocks we were sitting on, showed his legs were quivering and he’d lost his breath. He was mad, frustrated, and contrite … shaking his head and asking aloud what could be going on. I’ve felt like he has in the past, and I’m not sure what causes it, but I hoped he’d struggle on to camp, rest it up, and have a better day two. He, however, was done.

So, I gave him my bivy so he could sleep out alone, and I took his place in the tent and we parted. It was hard but he felt it was the right call.

My other friend and I continued to the end of the day, making it to the camp we’d targeted and were happy with the distance we made. That said, upon arriving he noted that his foot was taking on an aching that suggested he had a serious problem and he wasn’t sure he should continue.

Earlier in the summer he was in a walking cast and felt he’d made a full recovery, but upon getting up the next morning, he didn’t believe going on was the right call. I didn’t cajole this time, as a serious physical problem isn’t something you should just ignore, and as we left camp, he headed back toward the trailhead we’d left from the day before.

It was an early and disappointing end to a long-planned outing, but it was the right call. Had I not handed off my solo-bivy , I wonder if I’d have continued south. I might, but I also think it could have caused my partner to continue on, and later doctors’ reports suggest turning back was ultimately the right call. The one thing that gets me through is a oft-repeated phrase that has always been true: there’ll be another time, another year.

Thanks for looking in and here’s hoping your outings have been more successful.

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Experimentation is the key

Posted by joeabbott on August 13, 2017

DSCF1114While I’ve complained about my SPOT device the past few weeks, I’ve also continued taking it on every hike; learning what works and what doesn’t. This past weekend, I learned in explicit terms what doesn’t work. My most recent attempt was to put the SPOT on a lanyard and wear it around my neck. Yup, it bounced against my sternum as I gasped breaths, the cord chafed at my neck in the heat and sweat of the day (although, there wasn’t that much heat), and it was a general nuisance, but to get better performance from my SPOT, I’d give anything a try.

imageAnd it failed. Big time.

Aspiring to the best qualities of Thomas Edison, I know what doesn’t work. And, I’ll keep trying to figure out what does, but to the left is my 17 mile hiking profile from my trip along Rattlesnake Ridge and back from Snoqualmie Point.

While you can’t see it from the picture, there are actually four points showing and, yes, the checkmark means those are the places I checked in. And, yes again, I did have the Track setting enabled. Which means that I didn’t capture a single location from the tracking software. Not a single one.

The way across the ridge is pretty straightforward on good trails with, admittedly, a bit of tree cover. However, across the entire back of the mountain we were on gravel roads walking through clear cuts. Not only weren’t we under trees, there were no trees!

And yet it’s very sad that the only times I was able to get a signal through was when we’d stop, position the SPOT to lay back down on the ground (face up to the sky) and let it sit like that for 10 minutes or so.

DSCF1019The antenna in the SPOT is located in the front, so that’s the desired positioning of it to give it the best chance at sending and receiving signals, but I was very surprised that not a single event was captured while worn as a necklace. Maybe it was the positional aspect or maybe the bouncing about, but it didn’t register a single location when worn as a necklace.

As I continue to find out what doesn’t work with this device, my next effort will be to find a way to position it on the top of my pack facing the sky. That should be my last, best chance to get this thing working reliably. And, I suppose, find hikes that are less tree-covered.

Here are a few pics from the trail:

DSCF1016DSCF1030

The trail is just over 10 miles from Snoqualmie Point to Rattlesnake Lake; we planned to stop at Rattlesnake Ledge and head back the way we came … making it about an 18 mile day. Heath’s GPS said we made it just under 17 miles as we stopped at an upper ledge\viewpoint and didn’t head to the Ledge proper. That was fine by me. As you can see in the final picture, the trail was under maintenance in one section so it was detoured to the back of the mountain … right through a clear cut. Not the sort of scenery you want when making a little hike.

We had full trail packs on as we are training for a stint along the Pacific Crest Trail, planning to travel roughly 75 miles from Steven’s Pass to Snoqualmie Pass. We’ll average 15 miles days and this was our trek to see how we felt after a single day with 35# packs. My feet were killing me! The trip will be a real test of endurance, strength and pain avoidance. Anyone out there interested in a similar challenge: don’t wait until you’re over 50 year old (like I am) before trying this!! It may not be “fun” but it will be rewarding.

Well, thanks for dropping in; may your trails be maintenance free and, if they aren’t, I hope you can avoid the clear cuts.

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Mt Teneriffe–a morning hike

Posted by joeabbott on July 29, 2017

I hiked Teneriffe today and that trail is a bear … I’d use stronger language, and feel like I should to convey just how challenging it is, but I think you get the picture. Rocky, steep, and winding straight up a ridgeline, it worked me hard and just didn’t let up. Let me tell you about it.

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The listing above notes 14 miles but that’s using some old logging roads; you can cut that down considerably if you use the old climbing trail and so we did; while I’m not a distance hiker, I can see the appeal of using the old roadbeds to get to the top.

We missed using the new parking lot by what appeared to be minutes. They just opened it to climbers’ parking but there was a maintenance vehicle at the gate (which was opened), so we headed to the old parking spot: a school bus turn-around. It’s marked for hiking, so the parking is legit, and it lends itself to heading up the old trail.

The first part of the trail appears maintained for hikers to get to Teneriffe Falls; what would be a spectacular cascade if water had been present. As of today, it’s a mere trickle that drips from moss and old lichen, pooling beneath the lower stones and running away nearly silently. We paused briefly here and, had we known it, we could have bade farewell to the best part of the trail. What followed was steep, nasty, and filled with ankle-breaking broken fist-sized rocks. A terrible hiking bed.

I’d guess we cut a couple miles off the hike by heading up that route, ultimately putting in something like 11 miles, as opposed to the posted 14 miles. I wouldn’t say it was worth it, but I did enjoy the challenge and the direct-line ascent. At the top you break tree line and can stop at a rocky outcrop, or continue another 100’ to the summit and get commanding views in 360° with Glacier Peak, Mount Baker, the North Bend valley, and Mount Rainier all playing prominent roles. It was stunning.

Here’s my friend Heath with a view to the south: Rainier on the horizon and Rattlesnake Lake in the mid-ground; North Bend and I-90 are mid-screen.

image

On the way down we took the logging roads and while it was longer and the roads aren’t anywhere near as nice as the early parts of the trail, they were serviceable. About 3/4 the way down we took an unmaintained trail between the logging roads and the climbing trail to get us more quickly to our car … and when we got to the climbers’ trail, I remembered immediately why I hated it.

Anyhow, it as a great day with good friends and a wonderful mountaintop … I just wish I didn’t have to tolerate those trails to get there. I will note that I had my SPOT on again, 100% of the time from leaving the car to getting back. How did it do? Well, here’s my map from about 6-hours of being on the trail:

image

I’ll just say … <sigh>.

But, thanks for dropping by and seeing where my boots have taken me this weekend. I hope you had a chance to get out yourself!

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I’ll let the SPOT track speak for itself

Posted by joeabbott on July 25, 2017

Here’s the latest track from a little hike up Mt. Pugh … a 5.5-mile (one-way), 5380’ gain peak in the middle Cascades:

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About 20 locations on a roughly 8-hour outing with well over half of the trail well-above tree line.

Regardless how the SPOT performed, it was a wonderful outing.

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SPOT apologies … sort of

Posted by joeabbott on July 16, 2017

Well, I got out on a hike yesterday with the SPOT using lithium batteries … and, yes, while installing them I saw the printed notice to use only lithium batteries in this unit. And, I think I got better results. First, here’s the map from my wanderings:

image

We started and ended at the far left … at Rattlesnake Lake or, more properly, Cedar Falls Trailhead. Our route took us east about 10 miles on our bikes to the McClellan Butte trail intersection (we cut off about a quarter- to half-mile of the trail by riding in) and then up the hill to the summit. Due to there being a Mountaineers climbing party on the trail, as well as about a half-dozen couples or small groups, we omitted the scramble to the true summit. I find the thrill of being on top of something is diminished by crowds and the danger added with over a dozen others up top just wasn’t worth the risk.

Anyhow, the SPOT did a lot better … it signaled nearly all of the “I’m OK” messages (the checkmarks) but was again pretty spotty (hehe … lame pun intended) on the parts of the trail with even modest tree cover. The ride in took about a leisurely hour and we only got a few tracks marked … interestingly, the coming and going signals were in the same locations (2 and 12, 3 and 11). The trail didn’t appear heavily treed but the route up McClellan’s Butte was … and, as you see, we only got signals out at the summit.

I continue to be hopeful and disappointed by the SPOT performance but the improvement I saw this week was heartening. As you can see, I’m an optimist in these sort of things. I’ll keep dragging it about in hopes of better tracking on my trails to come.

I’ll end with the view I got from the top … a picture-perfect Seattle day with rolling green hills, multiple ridgelines to the horizon and Mt. Rainier above it all. Hard to get much better than this.

WP_20170715_10_55_33_Pro

Thanks for dropping by and taking a look at my doings.

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Still exercising that demon: SPOT

Posted by joeabbott on July 3, 2017

I was sure I was done with complaining about the SPOT. Hard to feel like you’re rational when you carp about an inanimate object, but as I’ve said before, the promise of how great this device could be has me frustrated.

imageAs I was putting away my gear from last weekend, I noticed the SPOT was still on; earlier I’d reported that it had turned itself off or drained the batteries. So, I figured I had just missed the “on” light and decided to try it with the batteries it has. SPOILER: the machine just doesn’t appear to like alkaline batteries. On my outing yesterday, I saw the same behavior: the unit didn’t send many messages, it appeared off when I got done with the bike ride, but the batteries appear to have juice. My solution was to order lithium batteries from Amazon when I got home … they’ll be here before next weekend.

Also, I was worried that I hadn’t oriented the SPOT correctly. It has an antenna in the body and works best when it’s face is up, pointing toward the sky. I don’t intend on wearing it on the top of my bike helmet, so I have a cord around it that I lash to the haul strap of my pack, and I adjust the body under some lashing cords on the back of the pack to ensure it doesn’t turn and face into my pack. It seems like a good setup, but I’m still not getting good results.

imageIn prior years when I wore it on a arm band, the unit worked much better. Again, those were days when I was mountaineering more and my trails were all above tree line, but whether on my arm and facing to the side, or on my back facing behind me, I’d expect similar results.

What were the results? Well, yesterday’s bike ride was a bit over 40 miles on old railroad grade beds, with a lot of it under trees but I passed through several towns in open parks and along roadways. The tracks captured by SPOT are in the map to the right.

It did a bit better. I managed to get a dozen tracks laid in and a single OK response. That’s 12 blips over 20 miles (it only seemed to capture blips in one direction) and a couple hours. Not great.

From the map, it appears that all locations are sequential from Duvall to Snoqualmie … as we’d done a round trip, this says that I didn’t get a single blip on our northward leg (we left from Snoqualmie, hit Duvall, and returned). Odd. I didn’t send a lot of “I’m OK” blips but I probably launched 5 of them and I did those while off the bike in some part of open land.

The end result is pretty modest in terms of a reliable, emergency response device. I’ll continue to play around with how I orient it and will be using lithium batteries going forward but this is downright disappointing in terms of value for the dollars I spend on the service.

I know a SPOT has the challenge of pushing data to the satellites for my location; a GPS merely has to pull in the signal from the satellites and do a bit of math (well, the SPOT does this, too, but it has to register or signal the satellites with “I’m OK” and to capture my progress for real-time display). How much easier does this make the job for the GPS? Well, here is the track my GPS captured:

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Each tiny dot is a separate instance recorded where the GPS was talking to at least three satellites and the figuring out my exact location.

The elevation profile on the right has us starting in Snoqualmie at ~725’ in elevation, dropping to ~300’ at Duvall, and then returning on the same trail. News flash: it’s way harder to send information to satellites than read the data they’re transmitting.

So, while I look like Inspector Gadget as I head down the trail with my SPOT, my GPS, and often a dedicated camera attached to various straps, it appears I need (or desperately want) this sort of redundancy in functionality. Expect that I’ll continue to play with my SPOT to get the best results … the promise of it working well really is worth it … and I’ll keep my GPS so I will reliably know where I’ve been.

And thank you for finding your way to this site and the end of this post. I hope your trails are less ambiguous!

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SPOT–love it, hate it

Posted by joeabbott on June 30, 2017

I have a SPOT device that tracks my movement by relaying my locations to a satellite that then stores the data. When I’m on a long hike, I can setup a page for Suzy to view and track my progress. The SPOT has only a couple buttons: one to turn it on, another to start tracking regular movement, a third button will send an “I’m OK” message, and a final button can be configured to send a custom message … this could be anything from “come look for me but don’t send authorities” (sending in a search team can cost big dollars!), “drop food at the agreed on stash”, or “I’m getting close to our pick up spot … bring the car to get me!” Again, it could be anything but I’m only allowed a single custom message.

The SPOT also comes with a hotline straight to authorities that will trigger a search and rescue action, and it’s the main selling point of the system. I hike alone far less these days than I did in my youth, but I’ve agreed with Suzy to carry this most anytime I leave home.

When it’s working, I love it. A couple years back I was on a kayaking trip and at the end of the outing, I had a line of dots on the map that showed nearly my every paddle stroke. But when you get under even superficial tree cover or the unit isn’t positioned “correctly”, you get what I got during the ~10 hours I was out last Saturday: a few points the entire day. Here’s the map:

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While some of this trip was under trees … the start, as you can tell … most was only moderately covered and I should have picked up more than 8 points. And that includes both those initiated by me as “I’m OK” messages, as well as those that tracked my regular movement. Oh, and when I got back, the three brand new alkaline batteries (yes, I should be using lithium) were completely drained … or the system had turned itself off. And that might be a good feature: for the unit to realize it’s useless and to try saving a little battery or something!

It’s just darned disappointing because when it works, it’s a wonder.

I’ll keep trying to use it, as I have the service for another year, but I’m sure hoping something happens to make this a more reliable tool.

Sorry for the bummer post … believe me, I would have liked something a bit more upbeat!

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Carbon Glacier–a hiking classic

Posted by joeabbott on June 25, 2017

Today I feel drained. Well, that’s not the right word … there’s not less of me; perhaps sated is closer. It’s true I’m fatigued and my feet are tender, but we could have a conversation and I’d fill it with words: I would paint pictures of graphite-colored ice, of soaring blades of stone, of trails piercing the greenery of a new summer, and the massive bulk of Mt. Rainier over-watching it all.

P6240002But, I’ll try fewer words and a few more pictures than usual. if you find yourself around Mt. Rainer and have a strong trekking gait (or, better yet, a mountain bike), I recommend you retrace my steps. Yesterday’s was a beautiful outing.

P6240007Tim and I headed into the Mt. Rainier National Park via the Carbon River entrance. The road in has been washed out and allowed to remain closed to motor vehicle traffic, but that appears to increase the allure of those on foot and bike. We chose to bike in the first 5 miles to the end of the road; the Ipsut Creek Campground and Trailhead. From there we locked up the bikes and headed out on foot.P6240004

The road in is solid but one section was greatly reduced and eroded; we even had to walk our bikes over that section. And while the trail seemed reasonably flat, we were huffing and puffing to get in and up. I chalked it up to our eagerness to start the hike proper, but would later learn (as we coasted back to the cars at high speed) that the way in was deceptively steep.

At Ipsut Creek Campground we locked out bikes and helmets, grabbed a little something to eat, marveled at the number of people we’d already seen around, and headed out at a modestly respectable 8AM departure from the trailhead.

Ipsut Falls    P6240014

P6240016In less than a quarter mile you hit Ipsut Falls. A lovely cascade that I’d never spent much time appreciating. As we had nothing but time and an itinerary of our choosing, we paused for some snaps before heading on. After a short bit of uphill through some heavy forest, you break out into a washout area that is a spillway for the Carbon River when waters crest and flood a low valley section. We traversed this, stopping for a snack and pics.

After a few foot bridges, we crossed to the far forest and headed upslope toward the Carbon Glacier and points beyond!

The streams were high but nearly all bridges were easily passable. One bridge was under water but the park service had created another, identical bridge just upstream from it. Not sure why it didn’t make sense to salvage this one, but they hadn’t consulted me!

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Just before the Carbon Glacier there’s a turn-off that crosses a suspension bridge. Our initial plans hadn’t included trails on the far side, but Tim couldn’t pass up a chance to cross it and investigate. As we had all afternoon, I was game.

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We crossed, headed up the trail to the Carbon Creek Campground, and then sat by a small tributary and enjoyed a small break; the cool air coming off the glacial waters was heavenly on this hot day. Soon enough, it was time to get to the titular Carbon Glacier itself.

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I’d been by this glacier several times in the past and find it more than a little sad to see it so degraded. As with nearly all glaciers, it’s in decline with its icy snoot receding toward the mountain. But, since I’d last seen it, the terminus had collapsed and water no longer issued from the ice caves at the forefront, now they skirt the old glacier itself and stream from the sides. But, it was a very fine day and enjoyable to see one of the wonders of the Pacific Northwest: might Mt. Rainier lording benevolently over the Park on a simply gorgeous day.

With encouragement from Tim, we continued up the trail some 1500’ in elevation gain to near the saddle. While we weren’t able to get the singular views of Mt. Rainier that were constantly promised (but never delivered) after “just the next turn in the trail”, we got some needed training and enjoyed a final snack next to a stream coming off the higher basin.P6240050

And with that …foot sore and soaked in sweat, we tramped down the trail seeing every passerby on their way up looking far fresher than we had felt on the way in. Past the suspension bridge, past the valley of foot bridges and cairns, down past Ipsut Falls and into the campground. We paused momentarily before hopping aboard our bikes and nearly flying to the car. So ended a phenomenal day, a simple walk in the Park.

Thanks for looking in and I hope your weekends are as rewards.

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Where’d I go last weekend? Good question!

Posted by joeabbott on June 19, 2017

I headed up to Mt. Dickerman.

Mt. Dickerman is a moderate hike on moderately good trials that ends in excellent views in a phenomenal area. It’s about 85 miles from my front door, making it about 20 miles from the property we own up in Granite Falls. As a matter of fact, you’d be hard pressed not to go through Granite Falls to get to the trailhead! That’s where I found myself going with my buddies Tim and Heath, two guys who are training with me to do the Snoqualmie-to-Steven’s Pass hike later this summer.

The Mt. Dickerman trail runs about 4 miles … one sign indicated 4.3 miles … and gains some 4000’ in elevation. Due to its location, from the top, you are given commanding views of mountains in all directions: Forgotten, Pugh, Glacier, Sloan, Columbia, and Big Four to name a few … unfortunately for us, low clouds kept most of the more distant peaks from us but what we could see made the hike worth it.

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It took 2.5-3 hours to get to the summit, with about a third of the going through moderate snow. The more icy, hard-packed slopes had me wishing I’d brought a boot with a firmer sole, but my Keen hikers treated me well on the trail. The best part about the outing is that, after it was over, I was a little sore if my leg muscles were rubbed but, for the most part, didn’t have any problems with stiffness and could easily get up and down the stairs. While that’s a pretty low bar to be proud about, it’s showing good progress and giving me hope that I’ll be ready for the summer hiking when it starts in earnest!

Thanks for looking in!

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