Lawyers, Guns and Money

I heard violin scales in my house for the first time in 3 weeks yesterday and breathed a sigh of relief. It’s been a rough couple of weeks – but I think we’re in the clear. The low point was trying the doors at Children’s Shriner Fracture Clinic on Martin Luther King Jr. day and finding them locked and the clinic closed. I made overnight oats the night before and the whole family got up early, got dressed and ate quietly, then shuffled into the car and made the drive across town to pill hill.

As we have been doing for the past few weeks on Friday afternoons, me and my daughters have been packing up our ski gear, making breakfast burritos (for dinner) and making the drive to Mt. Hood Meadows to ski for a few hours. Friday the 13th was our 6th ski day of the season. We were starting to rip the black diamonds more comfortably and having a great time just being together – no distractions, quality ski lift time. Our ski days are all business – we charge for 3 or 4 hours and then either truck camp at White River or I drive home while they fall asleep.

I’m not superstitious, but I certainly listen to my intuition. I don’t think you can spend a lot of time in the mountains and *not* have a strong intuition. I recall those days of hiking all my climbing gear up to the base of climbs at Seneca Rocks, WV and just not feeling it – and hiking back out to Seneca Shadows campground to lay in the sun and stare up at the spires. “He who down climbs and runs away lives to climb another day.”

I can’t tell the story without touching on all the times when I should have pulled the plug on the outing. It was Friday the 13th… the weather conditions were marginal (it was raining and above freezing in the parking lot), my daughter forgot her shell so was wearing 2 puffies instead. And the biggest miss – before we even left Portland I was checking the weather and started to text my wife that I thought we should bail because of the rain, but thought about how much my girls love to ski and didn’t want to cancel. So we went.

On the last run of the night coming down North Canyon my older daughter had skied ahead, I dropped off of a short steep area and stopped to wait for my youngest who was right behind me. I watched her ski down toward me. On my periphery I could see a snowboarder on his heel edge turning right with his back toward her. They collided at high speed and both fell. I don’t really want to write anymore about this part. I considered briefly beating the snowboarder to death with my skis, but my daughter was screaming in pain – and he left. Her aluminum ski pole was completely bent from the impact.

Distal clavicle fracture was the diagnosis after x-rays at the clinic on the mountain. I had to call my wife in Portland and tell her what happened. It’s not a call I ever want to make again. The scariest and most unnerving detail from the doc was to make sure to make an appointment to see an orthopedic surgeon as soon as possible based on the type of fracture. The weekend was somber as we tried to make appointments and get a better idea of what the prognosis. Our primary care doc recommended the Shriner’s clinic – but didn’t realize it would be closed for the holiday. We ended up going to the fracture clinic at Adventist in NE Portland and were hugely relieved when the doc recommended immobilization in a sling and rest. Surgery is only done if bone is penetrating the skin or if there is nerve damage.

A couple points about the entire episode. I started skiing when I was a kid at Jiminy Peak outside of Pittsfield, Massachusetts where I was born. Years later I started snowboarding and rode at Breckenridge and Purgatory in CO. I switched back to skiing when I started alpine touring in Albuquerque, skinning up Sandia Peak in the spring with my dogs after the hill had closed. I never had a desire to go back to a snowboard and was oblivious to the rise in splitboarding and backcountry snowboarding.

There is a reason that Alta, Deer Valley and Mad River Glen ban snowboards from their resorts. Unlike skiers, as snowboarders descend the fall line, they have a blind spot. As a snowboarder makes a turn from their heel edge, they can’t see what’s behind them. My deep dive into snowboarding / skier collisions found too many instances to count of serious injuries resulting from a snowboarders limited field of vision leading to collisions – and sometimes fatal accidents.

Over the past weeks I’ve thought about this problem and have come to a few conclusions. I’ve been incredibly lucky in my time playing in the mountains. I never had a trad lead climbing fall, I’ve always stayed within my limits constantly assessing risk and adjusting. Staying in the pocket. I read a long time ago – maybe Mark Twight said it – you have to make sure your bag of experience is filled up before your bag of luck runs out. Over the past 10 years I’ve always strived to be “competent” and “safe”. Just practicing the fundamentals. I used to have “epics”. I recall mountain biking in the Shenandoah and falling high side over rocks off a singletrack trail and getting up to check my arms and only finding a broken brake lever on my bike. After kids I settled on a philosophy of “no epics”. Unless the conditions are near perfect – I don’t go out. I totally ignored that on this ski trip. It’s so easy to second guess decisions after the fact.

The last point I’ll make is the distinction between personal risk and being in a situation where others can put you at risk. In solo mountain sports it’s less common to be in a situation where others could impact your safety. An example I’ve run into in the past are large groups of novices climbing the local volcanoes – I have always tried to stay away from them. Skiing at a resort is another example.

Most ski areas have a code of conduct. But how is it enforced? How many people are cited or kicked out of ski resorts for breaking the rules? How many accidents occur because ski areas don’t police people who are being a danger to others? I was talking to a friend yesterday who also skis with his kids at Meadows and he told be about a skier who was blitzed out of this mind – high or drunk – and could barely make it on to the lift. The lift operator gave him a fist bump. What is the liability of the resort operator if that skier (or boarder) causes an accident that results in the injury of another “guest”.

It’s in the ski resort operators financial interest not to disclose these incidents to the public. Most large ski resorts advertise as being family-friendly, provide beginner lessons, child care (Mt Hood Meadows). They need to attract new “guests”. If they had to disclose how many people they kicked out, or how many accidents were caused by someone who was impaired or was breaking the code of conduct – their potential audience could make a more informed decision about whether the resort was a place they wanted to frequent. If the information were public and the resort operator had to respond to the increased transparency, they would have to spend money to increase patrollers, be more strict about kicking people out and pulling passes. And this is the point. Meadows refunded my daughters season pass. Why risk a lawsuit?

I could go on about this – the fact that these ski areas are operating under special use permits from the federal government. We requested accident statistics through a FOIA from the US Forest Service – but I’m uncertain if the Forest service even records that data. I will say that the ski patroller (thank you!) that assisted us would not give me a copy of the accident report. Somewhere there is a file that has all of the accidents that occur at Meadows – and it remains hidden from the public.

My daughters collarbone will heal. She’ll be back on her skis in the spring. Since then my older daughter and I have been out ski touring, away from people, just enjoying the mountains and snow. As we were skinning up through Summit ski area on our way to Timberline there was a snowboarder sitting in the skin track. I stayed in the track and approached, reminding him he was in the uphill travel track – could he please move? He did. I’m not sure I’ll be so courteous the next time.


Some opinions based on the current zeitgeist.

  1. Glass Onion was funny. You don’t have to understand the tech industry jokes to laugh at the malapropisms. In fact, the current joke in our family is to just, “pause and inbreathiate this moment”. We ended up watching the first Knives Out movie again and noticed that Marta was from Ecuador, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Uraguay depending on which family member was disparaging her. Which leads me to 2.
  2. As I said when watching both movies … these people are awful. And some people are just awful. No need to give them a second of your time.
  3. There’s a discussion on social media right now about reading a book per week and here is my list (list owner to remain nameless). People who want to “download the knowledge” by reading “smart books” at a clip of one per week are the same set who would download the information directly to their brain if possible. The point doesn’t seem to read the book, but to gain the knowledge… but that’s not how knowledge works. And really, won’t one book change how you think about another book and maybe you wouldn’t want to read one of the books in the list after reading another book. Which leads me to 4.
  4. People who work in tech (and are really really into “the internet” are really really boring). There are a lot of these people moving to Mastodon right now. I read a post about someone who spent the holidays building a ChatGPT detector and I thought… how boring. I mean – whatever piques your interest and gets you fired up. Sitting at a computer when I don’t have to seems like a wasted opportunity to do something else.
  5. As I said, these are a like.. my opinions… man. I think [perhaps] I’ll be more opinionated in 2023.

So how did I spend the holiday break? Puzzles… lots of puzzles. Ski days – 4 in so far this season. Off to a great start. Running in the snow and sledding at Mt. Hood. Designing the camper in Shapr3D and researching fabrication methods. I’m settling on a thin plywood skin over plywood (I think) frame, then fiberglass + epoxy. Foam panels glued to the inside for insulation. I think this will result in the lightest shell I can build. It’s the same way boats are made. Undecided on the pop up mechanism, it will either be a hinged pop up (like a vanagon), a full roof lift with soft sides (Do I really want to sew this?), or hard-sided origami hinged walls (maybe too much weight).

Don’t forget to pause and inbreathiate the moment.

Diesel Heater Build

I started this project last year and was delayed into the spring waiting for a 5L fuel tank to ship from China. The tank arrived in the spring and I didn’t need heat in the truck for warm season truck camping trips.

I just had a few remaining thing to complete, including solving how to connect the fuel line to the tank so that I could remove the fuel tank to fill it. I’ve never been able to cleanly fill any fuel tank without spilling some gas or diesel on the sides of the tank. The newer (required) spouts make it difficult because you have to depress the spout lock and pour at the same time. As the heater is portable and would go into the back of the truck, I didn’t want to to get any spilled fuel in the box – plus the exhaust is contained within the box – another reason not to have any fuel anywhere hear that hot exhaust that could potentially combust.

I ended up using a hole saw and opening up the fuel cap on the tank, then putting the stand pipe (and fuel line) through a small hole in a plastic disc from an old water jug. It’s the same configuration on any larger water jug with a spout, there is an inner seal and the outer ring that threads to the top of the container.

Set up this way, I can unscrew the lid and remove it, pull out the stand pipe, pull the 5L fuel tank out of the box, fill it up and put it back in. After the first use – I realized I should have a spare fuel tank (with an intact lid) that I can keep as spare and if I need any more fuel while using the heater, I can just swap out the tank and put the sealed cap on the empty tank.

So some numbers first. I’m using a Jackery 500 to power the heater. When the glow plug is primed and fuel is combusting in the chamber, the heater is using about 14 watts of power. It takes less than 2 minutes for the heater to ignite and start blowing warm air. Running the heater for about 12 hours, I used about 4 1/2 Liters of fuel. I’m not using the thermostat on the controller to set a temperature, but controlling the fuel pump using the hertz settings, so that I can reduce the fuel (and therefore the heat output). I’m also not recycling the inside air back through the heater, but I’m pulling cold air from outside. This probably reduces the efficiency somewhat. If it were used in an enclosed van for example, the air would be recycled and the heater would operate more efficiently. Using it with the truck, that would be yet another duct to a system that I would prefer be as simple as possible.

The particular case I’m trying to solve for is to sleep 3 people inside the truck. 1 adult and 2 kids, with heat for winter ski trips. An adult and kid can sleep moderately comfortable in the back – impossible to sleep 2 adults, or to sleep 3. I’ll write up my cab bed solution in a future post, but I was comfortable all night with a 73” platform “loft” over the passenger side of the front + rear seat. Both kids were comfortable in the bed on the sleeping platform, with heat. There was still plenty of room for skis, boots and poles in the roof box, and any duffles and clothes in the cab or in the back of the truck in cubbies or on the side shelf.

I wanted to keep a heat shield between any plastic and heated components of the build, so I built a mount for the heater within the box. The base is a piece of sheet metal and the threaded rod allowed me to raise or lower the height of the heater in the box. When mounted, I maximized the space below (the intake and exhaust ports) and raised the body of the heater to the point where latching the lid puts slight pressure to keep everything snug within the box. The aluminum angle is also bolted to the back of the box. The 5L fuel tank sits inside the box with a sheet metal heat shield around it that I fabricated with some flashing and pop rivets. The exhaust line is wrapped in motorcycle exhaust wrap attached to a double walled marine port. The heater itself is a Chinese copy of a Webasto, but I upgraded the exhaust line with a better Webasto (better materials, slightly thicker).

The hot air duct outlet is split and I have one hose running to the side sliding window of the SmartCap, the other is running to a port through the rear passenger window. Both have 1 1/2 holes to fit the detachable controller wires. I cut and re-soldered all the controller wires so that I can unplug the 6? pin connector from the box and store it separately.

So how does it work!?

It got down to 17 degrees and we were all snug and warm. I should note that I have carbon monoxide detectors in both the truck bed and cab. I woke up around 4am worried that we were going to run out of fuel and I was going to burn out the motor if the pump was running and it wasn’t getting any fuel. I have no idea if the heater has a fuel sensor that will shut off if it runs out of fuel. When turning the heater off, there is about a 3 minute cool down period. This cool down first warms up the combustion chamber to burn out any remaining residue and then spins up the fan with no combustion to cool things off before final shut off. If the heater were to lose power, I think bad things would happen – residue wouldn’t burn out, and it would just turn off hot – possibly damaging components. Running out of fuel is probably better than running out of power.

Test setup at home. I used metal ducting adhesive tape to attached the dual exhaust port. This was sufficient over a hose clamp.
Heating both the cap and the cab. Power is going into the cab (where I have the controller).
20 degrees and making a pancake breakfast.

Happy to answer any questions about the setup. This is my solution to winter trips until I can build a proper camper. I think the ideal solution is to be able to stand up, and change in out of ski clothes, and to cook meals inside a warm space.

I’m in the design stages of building a slide in pop-up for the spring. Design is to scale in Shapr3D. Design inspiration is coming SuperTramp and Enduro and Hiatus Campers. In future I see the advantages of mounting the heater in an interior space with the fuel tank on the exterior for easy filling. Until then.

What Happens out West?

We were recently in Boise, ID for the NXR Northwest Regionals cross country meet. Really good race, good course, teams from all over the mountain west. My daughter’s team did well and she ran a great race. We spent about 24 hours in and around Boise driving over from Portland on Friday, then returned home on Saturday night after the race. I haven’t had a good road trip in a while and it’s always a treat driving along the Snake River and through Pendleton, La Grande and Baker City, Oregon. It’s easy to forget how big and open Eastern Oregon is – I definitely want to get out backpacking in the Blue Mountains.

The thing that struck me though is how car dependent these intermountain cities are: Boise, Salt Lake, Albuquerque … (Phoenix is a different beast altogether). Some things I noticed:

  • Construction is booming! strip malls, “town centers”, single family homes in subdivisions, duplexes closer to downtown. There was construction going on everywhere – radically different than what we’re seeing in Portland.
  • Every chain retailer and restaurant has a box in Boise. We were near the “towne square”, streets were busy with cars, parking lots were full. Which leads me to the big one.
  • There were bike lanes, but I didn’t see any bikes. Sidewalks were typically abandoned and crossed major 4-lane intersections. I saw ONE Tesla. Lots of big trucks. There were city buses, but I didn’t see many or many people on the ones I saw.

How are these cities going to transition to EV’s, I just don’t see how it’s possible. The distances are too great between cities… the development is too spread out. One really strange thing I noticed was that one of the first/anchor stores in some of the nascent town centers was a NAPA auto store. Super weird. I don’t think these places are thinking much about the what happens after the ICE. Which is the biggest issue I see in the near future (when California stops selling ICE vehicles)… there isn’t enough power in the electrical grid to power an EV (or 2) per household. Where is that energy going to come from? If it can be generated, where will it be stored? I’m hopeful, but there are real technical problems that I never hear being addressed.

Relevant article I came across this week – the Infrastructure to support electric vehicles (specifically freight/semis) is massive.

And specifically related to Boise and much of the arid west – we’re running out of water.

October Snow

There were a couple of ski tracks leaving Cloud Cap and heading up the trail toward Cooper Spur. Someone got the early goods on Mt. Hood. Probably a little bony skiing back out.

We went up to Cloud Cap for the day to play in the snow, try out the new sled, and get the tarp set up to measure where the stove jack will be sewn in. We’ve used this tarp in the past on winter snowshoe trips as a mobile warming hut – this winter I’ll get the stove inside and hopefully make a few winter overnighters more fun!

Calm winds with sunshine through breaking clouds today –– and no people! I thought for sure the trailhead would be crowded with cars and dogs. We enjoyed our ramen in silence, except for the wind coming through the trees.

This is most likely the last weekend the road to Cloud Cap will be open, nearing the top there was deep snow over ruts and the truck was skimming the snow from the center of the road.

Endless Summer

Short overnighter to take advantage of the summer weather. As a result of climate change, the temperatures in mid-October have been closer to what we would see in late August / mid-September.

This was the quietest place I’ve ever slept. I’m not sure if it’s because the lake is in a valley, or if the wind was calm (probably both). Usually I can hear running water, or birds or other animals at night and sleep with ear plugs in. There was an absence of any sound. It was mildly unnerving – but allowed me to get a solid night of sleep.

We left Friday afternoon and hiked the 4 miles to the lake passing 5 people and 2 dogs on their way out. We had the lake to ourselves and only saw one other family when we were collecting water for dinner. When we packed up to hike out to the car on Saturday morning, we counted 68 people and 9 dogs on the trail to the lake.

It’s a testament to the experience everyone wants to have in the backcountry. Unplugging and just resting in nature – but the most popular places are overrun with crowds. A friend who works in the Forest Service told me that a permit proposal in review to limit the number of people who can climb over 9k feet on Mt. Hood. I fully support it. A crowded backcountry trail is quite different then trying to negotiate to pass someone on a 45 degree slope in crampons. The link to provide feedback if interested.

We’re planning to keep backpacking through the winter, this is probably one of the last for this season.

Granola & Biscuit

Some of my backcountry lessons include taking a trail name (like thru-hikers do), making sure to check the stars if you get up in the middle of the night, and taking every opportunity to put your bare feet in a cold stream on a hot day.

Like many parents, I’m horrified by the devices and the screens and how addictive staring at a screen can be – and worry that kid’s brains are being rewired by the dopamine hits of the endless scroll and the abyss of consumerism. I worry that kids won’t know what to do if they’re dropped into the backcountry, but I’m here to report dear reader – it’s not true. In the absence of the iPad and the Switch and all other external stimulation devices kids – will find a way – they’ll revert to their feral selves and bask in the bugs and sunshine and streams and huckleberries.

We spent the past few days in the backcountry around Mt Hood. I deliberately kept the mileage low and the exploring and down time high. It was a good combination of backpacking time, day hikes and no schedule. And lots of snacks.

There’s a phrase in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Sierra book that I’m reading in which he describes an early member of the Sierra Club who “pursued life intensely”. I really like that… Onward.