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.

The nature of things

I remember backpacking in the Carter Range in New Hampshire – it’s one valley over from the Presidentials in the White Mountains, and there were trails there that were so rocky, and the footing so unstable, it was such difficult hiking – I was tired, my pack felt heavy, the light was fading – and I got so angry at the trail. Why would anyone make a trail here? This trail is just boulders, why does this trail exist?

It was years later I realized I had some expectation of what a trail should be like – that it should be easier, smoother, it should have better footing. There shouldn’t be so many boulders and river rocks. It’s good to question our assumptions and expectations of how we think “it should be”. The trail just existed, someone chose to walk that way and set the trail. It’s a waste of energy to be angry when things don’t match your expectation. Maybe a better way is to ask why your assumption is thus and why you think your expectation of something is correct. Our expectations are a manifestation of our preconceived biases. Question your biases.

The Top is Halfway

The amount of snow on Mt. St. Helens is closer to what we normally see mid-winter. Chatting with a Mt. St. Helens Institute ambassador(?) at the summit, he said there is about 60 feet of snow on the Swift Glacier (at about 7,000 feet). Fun fact I learned from the very same guy: The glacier in the crater is the only glacier in the US that is growing. Wind blown snow and collapsing cornices accumulate in the shaded north facing crater. Super cool.

T and I left Marble Mount Sno Park around 4:45 and got to Chocolate Falls just before 6. We stayed on the rocks of Worm Flows route and picked our way up. Apparently after the last snow the first person to climb set a boot pack far left of the normal route. Everyone then followed that boot pack and that’s the current spring route. It’s far climber’s left of the regular route. If someone were to go skiers right from the summit, you would be in very sketch terrain (cornices and wet slides) and be 2 drainages over from the Chocolate Falls drainage. It was a long day but we had warm temps, sunshine, soft snow and very little wind. Perfect Sunday dad/daughter outing. Her request after we got back to the car was for a large Dairy Queen Blizzard. Done and done 🙂

Aloha Nui Loa

Spent last week visiting my family in Maui. My brother sailed solo overnight from Oahu and anchored in Lahaina. My family flew from Portland and set up base camp in Kihei where my mom lives. I’m grateful that I could see my mom, brother and niece and tour around the island with my wife and children and have these experiences with them – we often get so caught up in our day to day lives that it becomes difficult to step out of the flow and just pause to experience this beautiful world.

I was quarantined with Covid the week before we left and then masked up for the journey. The sunshine and salt water was probably the best medicine for beginning to feel better. I had about 48 hours of miserable body aches, then minor congestion, then no symptoms.

We said goodbye to everyone yesterday, my brother will spend the next 2 weeks sailing back to Oahu around Molokai with his daughters, my mom leaves for the Azores for a month to work on her novel.

We returned to rain and 50 degree temperatures in Portland – the wettest spring in 11 years. Fingers crossed the wet spring will delay or mitigate the summer fire season.

There were so many highlights and everyone hustled to tour around from sunrise to sunset, but spending the day with family, snorkeling at Maluaka Beach with my daughters and brother and eating fish tacos from the food truck on the side of the road was one of the simple highlights of the trip. Maui is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.