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The High Sierra Camps of Yosemite

Vicki, Marlow and I had the time of our lives hiking between five of Yosemite's High Sierra Camps week before last.

The National Park Service sums the camps up nicely:

DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite operates five High Sierra Camps, which are spaced 5.7 to 10 miles apart along a loop trail in Yosemite's beautiful high country.

We started at Tuolumne Meadows (it calls itself a lodge, but it is really a collection of canvas cabins) and walked what's know as the loop: Tuolumne to Glen Aulin (and easy 3.4 mils), May Lake, Sunrise, Merced Lake, Vogelsang and back to Tuolumne. The camps are breathtakingly different-literally, as most are above 8,000 feet, and the thin air makes it harder to catch your breath. In particular, we did a guided loop trip with ranger Jana Walker, as good a ranger as one could possibly hope for. Loop groups can be as large as 14; ours was 10, and shrunk to 8 when one couple had to drop out. When the literature says the trip is strenuous, strenuous, strenuous, it isn't just whistling Dixie. You definitely want to practice with a full pack as much as possible, especially hill climbing, and do a couple of three or four hours hikes. Our longest practice hike was two hours; during the loop you hike about eight hours a day, for a total of 60 miles during the week. We made it, but it was, well, strenuous. Before I get into our personal experiences, here's a few tips:

  • It is strenuous. Do a lot of hiking before you go. Be sure your shoes are broken in. If you are wearing wool socks, wear a sock liner. I personally endorse REI's hiking socks that are made of 10% Teflon; I had less foot trouble than Vicki or Marlow. Great shoes make the difference between an enjoyable experience and a truly painful one.
  • If you can get a second day at Tuolumne (8,000 feet), do so. If not, spend some time somewhere else as high as you can get.
  • Every ounce counts when you are carrying it up and down 4,000 feet. Weigh your pack (don't forget to fill your Camelback and both water bottles). If it is over 20 pounds, toss stuff out until it weighs less. Never has the concept of foot-pounds (a measurement of energy expended) been so vivid to me as on this hike. Once change of everything, no more. Buy the special quick-dry stuff they sell at Tilley, REI and such places. It is worth it. Pack everything they suggest (don't bring sheets; too heavy and too much space. Buy a sleep sack), and not a thing more, except:
    • Eye shades and earplugs
    • Immodium, Pepto Bismol, lots pain medication and something to help you sleep (Tylenol PM?). The beds are 1,000% more comfortable than the ground, but still hardly what most of us are used to. Of course, exhaustion is a real sleep aid, but sometimes it isn't enough, and you want all the sleep you can get.
    • It really is really cold up in the High Sierra. I almost didn't take their advice and bring my long johns. That would have been a big mistake.
    • A book (one thick or two thin. Paperback. Something you don't mind tossing before you climb UP to Vogelsang, at 11,000 feet). I brought four books, because it looked like there'd be a couple of hours to read every night and a day to read at Merced Lake. It doesn't work out that way. And you can't read at night unless you bring
    • A headset light. Much better than a flashlight because you can easily use it to read in bed.
    • Walking sticks, especially the nifty new high tech ones with springs in them. I considered buying them, then rejected the idea, and stumbled close to falling for the first two days, until the world's most sweet, empathetic, kind and wonderful ranger, Ranger Jana. I would never walk in the High Sierra without sticks again.

Frankly, the best way to prepare for this trip is to be between 18 and 25 and no more than 10 or 20 pounds overweight. However, for most of us, this is not an option. Personally, I'm 54 and 100 pounds overweight. I prepared. If I can do it (with what amounted to a 120 pound pack), you can do it. Just remember: it isn't a race. Take it easy, at your own pace. In our group of eight, I was between five and 15 minutes behind the group much of the time; I didn't mind, and neither did anyone else. I just walked, breathed, sipped on my water, and remembered that it wasn't about getting to the next camp at a certain hour, it was about enjoying the experience.

Expect to spend eight hours of every day hiking (average speed between 1-2 miles per hour, depending on terrain; don't count on 2). And for Heaven's Sake, go on a guided hike if you can afford it and can get into one. The peace of mind that comes from knowing you are on the correct trail is worth the premium price of hiring a ranger for your group. Plus, with a ranger along, you learn things and actually know what it is you are looking at. Plus, she knows great places to stop for rest and lunch.

As for my personal impressions: I probably spent more time in the moment during the seven days of this adventure than in most of the rest of my life. You have to be there (because if you're not you could get lost, hurt or both); you want to be there (because the High Sierra is one of the most beautiful places on earth). Thanks to Ranger Jana, I learned about trees, birds and granite (there's a lot of granite up there). I proved to myself that I could do something really difficult. I met interesting people, ate large quantities of pretty good food and lost six pounds. Life was stripped to its bare essentials: cocoa at 7, breakfast at 7:30, hiking at 8:30, break at 10:30, lunch at 1, into camp between 3 and 5, cocoa at 6, dinner at 6:30, sunset at 7:30, in bed no later than 9, to start the whole process over the next day.

You can find lots of details about the camps by Googling them. You have to enter a lottery to be allowed into the High Sierra camps(unless you are planning on backpacking--carrying your own tent and food). Why not enter? We're going to try for May Lake next year.

Baseball Scheduling

Scheduling classes and teachers at a middle school is a daunting task, which reminded me of one of the most difficult scheduling tasks ever described to me: major league baseball. If your opening day is at home this year, you must be away the next. If you play the Fourth and Labor Day away this year, you're at home next year. The Red Sox always have to be in Boston on Patriot's Day (and there are other such requirements). In two-league cities (San Francisco, New York, Chicago, LA), both teams should not be home at the same time. You should play all the teams in your division the same number of times. Road trips must be rational. The Yankees have to play the Sox, and the Dodgers have to play the Giants in the last two weeks (I am sure there are other mandatory rivalries of which I am not aware). And you have to break some of the rules every year just to make it work. Whew! It makes my head spin.

Back to School

I have completed my first three days in the classroom teaching 8th grade US History for this, my fourth year, and I am already a day behind (I took too long explaining my rules). New principal and new textbook this year, so you'd think my stress level would be up. Quite the contrary; I am more relaxed than I've ever been at this point in the year (obviously, subject to change at a moment's notice).

A couple of good signs; I slept like a baby the night before school started. That's a definite first; my first year, I was up at 4am and never got back to sleep. I am more confident in class. I am almost to the point where I enjoy the job and the students. Not quite yet--but as I said late last year, I continue to see light at the end of this particular tunnel.

We're Proud

You yearn to stay in the moment, to breathe properly to adjust the weight of your backpack, to enjoy the scenery, to stay hydrated--and still, sometimes, silly things pop into your head when you are hiking in the High Sierra. In my case, a parody of a song NBC developed ruing the early 1980s called Proud as a Peacock. I had worked for two NBC-TV affiliates and had friends at the network who slipped me a cassette copy (now, alas, long lost) featuring a parody, sung by the same singers who sang the original. You can see the parody lyrics here (I remember them slightly differently). So picture me singing to myself, "An 18 rating a 14 share, do you think we care? No! We're just proud to be NBC. We're Loud!" It sure seemed odd to me. I was tickled to find, upon my return that a) I remembered I had sung it to myself (as an effort at discipline and staying in the moment, I took no paper or pencil with me) and b) the whole scenario was laid out at Wikipedia.


by Craig Reynolds

This week:

Pluto not planet: aha! it turns out that the pro-Pluto-planethood lobby was vocal but in the end it was not persuasive. The IAU made the right choice and decreed that Pluto may be popular but it is not a planet: Pluto loses status as a planet (see this slide show: It's official--Pluto's out). If Pluto was in, surely dozens more "Pluto-oid" snowball objects would have eventually be discovered and given the exalted status of planet. Clyde Tombaugh had no comment: Pluto discoverer would understand demotion: widow.

Apple dumplings: first Apple to pay $100 mln to Creative in settlement then Apple recalls 1.8 million batteries. The real loser in the Dell and Apple battery recalls is the manufacturer: Sony.

$100 laptop: edges closer to reality: Negroponte: $100 laptop trials to kick off and Knocking Down the Barriers to the $100 Laptop.

Two new display technologies: Artificial muscles light up TVs and Cornell researchers test carbon fiber to make tiny, cheap video displays.

Technobits: Firm makes "ethical" embryo stem cells --- Perpetual Motion Claim Probed --- A Move to Secure Data by Scattering the Pieces --- Speedy silicon sets world record --- Dark Matter Proof Found, Scientists Say --- belatedly: SIGGRAPH panel on DRM Digital Rights, Digital Restrictions --- Need for speed sees computers writing the news --- this isn't why I bought mine, but its good to know: Hybrid cars will pay for themselves over time-study --- Wireless Binds Tibetan Exiles --- micro chain mail ("selective laser sintering") --- iPods at war --- Folding@Home on the PS3: the Cure@PS3 project --- The Robots Are Coming --- Steven Levy on Jaron Lanier: Poking a Stick Into The 'Hive Mind'.

Last week:

Redefining planets: once there where 8 "classical" planets.  Then came Pluto. And Charon. And Ceres. And the euphonious "2003 UB313." And maybe hundreds more out in the Kuiper belt. So how many planets in the solar system, 8? 9? 12? 53? 100s? This contentious issue is being thrashed out in Prague at the IAU meeting: Nine Planets Become 12 with Controversial New Definition. Part of the problem is that most obvious definitions would throw Pluto out of the planetary club. Crafting a definition that includes Pluto, but not hundreds of other outer snowball objects, has proved to be tricky. More: Q&A New planets proposal.

Dell/Sony battery recall: Dell to recall 4.1 million laptop batteries, Fire Hazard Prompts Gigantic Dell Laptop Battery Recall. Ah, but here the rub: Dell, Sony discussed battery problem 10 months ago.

Technobits: reverse engineering airline pricing: Casting Net For Better Airfares 95 Theses of Geek Activism --- the mathematician vanishes --- Time's 50 Coolest Websites --- steam powered RC controlled robots --- this sounds so "cyberpunk" to me, Gibson meets McGeiver: Homemade microscope using web cam and a CD-ROM lens --- NYC professor promotes urban fish farm --- last week I cited an item that an old pigment called cobalt green shows promise for room temperature spintronic devices, now an even older blue pigment is being considered as a breast cancer medicine: War paint plant 'tackles cancer' (From woad warriors to cancer-buster) --- when I saw High speed photography - water figures I was reminded of a Liquid Sculpture item from a year ago.

Katherine Harris: Beyond comment, Beneath Contempt; Election Fraud Not Just for U.S.

Don Davis and I agree, this is beyond comment and beneath contempt:

ORLANDO, Aug. 25 -- Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) said this week that God did not intend for the United States to be a "nation of secular laws" and that the separation of church and state is a "lie we have been told" to keep religious people out of politics.

"If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin," Harris told interviewers from the Florida Baptist Witness, the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention. She cited abortion and same-sex marriage as examples of that sin.


Preliminary results from the 9% recount ordered by the election tribunal validate the suspicions raised and charges made by the Mexican Press

  • In 3,074 precincts (29 percent of those recounted), 45,890 illegal votes, above the number of voters who cast ballots in each polling place, were found stuffed inside the ballot boxes (an average of 15 for each of these precincts, primarily in strongholds of the National Action Party, known as the PAN, of President Vicente Fox and his candidate, Felipe Calderón).
  • In 4,368 precincts (41 percent of those recounted), 80,392 ballots of citizens who did vote are missing (an average of 18 votes in each of these precincts).
  • Together, these 7,442 precincts contain about 70 percent of the ballots recounted. The total amount of ballots either stolen or forged adds up to 126,282 votes altered.



Health Humor

Dan Grobstein sent this:

It's a relief to know the truth after all the conflicting medical studies:

1. The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans.

2. The Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than

3. The Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks
than Americans.

4. The Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and suffer fewer heart
attacks than Americans.

5. The Germans drink a lot of beer and eat lots of sausage and suffer
fewer heart attacks than Americans.

Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you

Steve Coquet sent this:

Two patients limp into two different medical clinics with the same complaint. Both have trouble walking and appear to require a hip replacement.

The first patient is examined within the hour, is x-rayed the same day and has a time booked for surgery the following week. The second sees his family doctor after waiting a week for an appointment, then waits eight weeks to see a specialist, then gets an x-ray, which isn't reviewed for another week, and finally has his surgery scheduled for six weeks from then.

Why the different treatment for the two patients?

The first is a Golden Retriever. The second is a Senior Citizen.



3 stars

A lovely little low-budget film about gentrification of LA's Echo Park, made by a pair of gay filmmakers who say they drew much of the material from observation. It's ostensibly about a young girl's Quinceañera (15th birthday party), but it is really about fitting in, being squeezed out, truth, honor, teenage love, teenage sex, and the beauty hidden away in urban corners. The mood swings between joy, sorrow, rage and acceptance are handled well, and make this a lovely little entertainment.

Lasusa Links, Dan Grobstein File

Pluto not a planet? Sacrilege!

Tom Lasusa and friends surf the net so you don't have to: Food, Folks and Fuhrer! India's Hitler-themed restaurant draws fire. Owner says "This place is not about wars or crimes, but where people come to relax and enjoy a meal"...Six Feet Under fans -- The last five minutes of the series Finale. Bonus depression inducer -- spot which characters were 'born' around the same time you were and see when they 'die.' Sheesh, better put a deposit on a headstone.... Fishermen lost at sea nearly a year... iTunes -- how long can musicians holdout?... Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog (And check out his review of 'Serpentes on a Shippe')... A Dad With a Sense of Humor? Priceless...New from "GoldenBooks" -- Why Mommy is a Democrat...The A-Z of Rock and Roll Sex Scandals...Who else but the Japanese would envision a musical number set to rap music and based on the video game "The Legend of Zelda?"

Dan Grobstein File