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Posts Tagged ‘National Park Service’

Mac (red) -- Mt. Hood Peak At 11,239 Feet

The names have changed, but once again experienced mountain climbers get into trouble on Mt. Hood.

Something went wrong for climbers Luke Gullberg, Katie Nolan and Antony Vietti. This past Saturday, rescuers found Gullberg’s body and retrieved a digital camera that recorded the group at 10,000 feet on the Reid Headwall, the steep rocky face that rises above Reid Glacier.  This part of the mountain is complex and best climbed in May-June under cold conditions.  Rescuers are continuing to search for the other climbers.

It was just three years ago, almost to the day that we learned about rescue efforts to find 3 other missing climbers (Kelly James, Brian Hall and Jerry “Nikko” Cooke), on Mt. Hood.

All this made me reflect on the one-and-only time I climbed the mountain. Of course it wasn’t in the middle of December, but none-the-less it was a challenging adventure for someone with no mountaineering background.

It wasn’t until I was 3 hours into the mountain climb with the crunch of crampons on ice and a heavy fog filled the predawn air that I fully appreciated the skills, hurdles and human conditioning required to do this every other weekend. Let alone execute a rescue like Portland Mt. Rescue in poor weather conditions, with extremely high avalanche hazards and with hurricane force winds.  Here are my summit stats:

Mazama – Summit Certificate
Ascended MT. Hood (South side) on May 16, 1978
Leader: Dick Sawyer w/ assistant Steve Rearder

Mt. Hood is one of several volcanoes on the west coast of the U.S. It is located about fifty miles east of Portland, Oregon in the Mt. Hood National Forest near Hood River. It is very easy to reach the trailhead since it starts at the parking lot of Timberline Lodge at an elevation of 6,000 feet, which is the base for the ski runs located on Hood’s southern slopes. It is common to see skiers high up on Hood. In fact, last year/season the ski area Meadow’s broke the all-time skier/boarder attendance record with 1.83 million visits.

But the mountain can also be very dangerous as noted by the deaths in May 2002 of climbers falling into a crevasse and a helicopter rescue gone bad. The nine climbers were swept into a 50-foot wide and 20-foot deep crevasse, known as the Bergschrund, early in the morning. Three of the climbers were killed and four more were critically injured.

And despite being the site of one of the worst climbing disasters in the U.S. in 1986 and that in the past 100 years, there have been more than 130 deaths on Mount Hood, it is very popular for various skill levels and some 40,000 people fill out permits to climb it every year.

But I’ve moved off topic.  I summited Mt. Hood in May 1978 (yeah, I know that was before Al Goreinvented” the internet!) with two college buddies along with a number of other climbers who we never met before. We used the standard route named the “Hogsback“. It is a very long, but straightforward day. We climbed independently most of the time, but roped up near the summit since the final ridge is exposed, slippery and can be windy.

The previous day we met up at Timberline Lodge to get final information and register with our guides from Mazama and the Park Service. We got the paperwork filled out and proceeded to an orientation as we spread all our gear on the floor for a final check and a quick refresher course on the “rest-step”, crevasse rescue and harness/rope travel. My friends and I looked at each other…”refresher”…we didn’t know about crevasses, or ropes, but we all thought the ice axe was cool. After the “lesson”, we killed a few hours in the lodge giving Heidi some love (a St. Bernard dog who has since past away) who was the lodge’s goodwill ambassador. Bruno has since replace Heidi and is doing a fine job continuing the role. We over nighted in the Chalet Rooms. These are European-style bunk rooms with shared access to a public bathroom with showers centrally located in the hallway. We had a 3am wake up call and everyone knew it would be difficult to sleep. The “snorer’s” seem to be asleep in seconds and kept most of us from any quality shut eye in the bunks.

We started the climb at 4:00am after a big bowl of oatmeal from the cafe. The route was clearly marked (by our flashlights) with a big sign stating “Climber’s Route” as well as discs on tall poles. This route takes climbers along the east side of the ski runs. The starting elevation is about 6,000 feet. The steady slope rises two miles to the top of the ski runs (oh how we wished for a chair ride on Palmer!) at a 30 degree grade. You are cold for the first 30 minutes then the steady grade gets the blood flowing in the legs and you begin to peel off layers.

MC (L) -- Mt. Hood Peak At 11,239 Feet

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I was surprised to see so many other people climbing on this foggy morning. There was no wind, but the heavy fog made it cold anytime you took a rest.

As the sun came up we were treated to the burn off of fog and the shadow of Hood off to the west. I was a little slower than my friends, but I plodded along…step-rest-step-rest. We took a longer rest at the base of the Hogsback about 10,000′. I remember the strong smell of rotten “eggs”…sulfur…I expect from the out-gassing of the mountain. Looking up at the ridge, it was clear as we needed to rope up for safety otherwise it would be a quick slide down the mountain!  So, on with the harnesses as I latched onto the rope.

I plodded along near the end of the rope for the short climb up the ridge. I remember someone shouted “FALLing” so, we all fell onto the snow with ice axes to prevent an accident. The person only slide 10-20 feet. We were all down to short sleeve shirts by this time as the sun was in full force. At Bergshund we split the ridge about halfway to the twin rock towers called the “Pearly Gates.” We took a path to the left to reach a narrow gap in the Bergshund. Once across, we continued our climbing to the Gates. Waiting for a number of people already on the way down and everyone else to arrive, I enjoyed the views of the “Kitchen” and surrounding pinnacles and ridges. And that sulfur smell continued on… We disconnected from our rope and quickly headed for the summit saddle. About 200′ at an aggressive angle and then we were…

On top! It was about 11:00am and it had taken seven hours to climb the 5400′. Everyone enjoyed the views and took pictures as well as made a quick climb to the true summit about a hundred feet away and maybe 50′ vertical.

On the downclimb, we roped up again until we were at the bottom of the Hogsback. From there it was a simple matter of tracing our steps back to the parking lot. With the steep slopes, we enjoyed some glissading in the black trash bags we packed and that sped things up quite a bit. It took us about 3 hours to return.

I think Mt. Hood is more challenging than advertised, especially if the weather is poor. The route is straightforward as long as you use Crater Rock as a guiding landmark. The crevasses are grouped off the primary route but climbers have been known to “find” them during whiteouts or storms.

As I reflect I remember it was a quiet May afternoon and my body was absorbing the warmth from the midday sun. In fact, it was too much sun.  As we down climbed Hogsback a lot of people coming up were covered in Zinc Oxide?  Later, as I unbuckled my harness in the parking lot and felt the stiffness in my body…in particular my sunburnt face.

I’ve never forget this positive experience with good friends.  I hope only the best for the 2 remaining climbers.

UPDATE:  December 21, 2009 — sadly the Mt. Hood rescue/search was called off last week.  The remaining two climbers (Nolan and Vietti) presumably dead were left behind to be found another day.  Speculation of what happen was pieced together from clues found on Gullberg’s body.  Cell phone photos seem to indicate there was an accident along the way and that Nolan may have been injured.  Vietti stayed behind with Nolan and Gullberg elected to climb down the mountain, but fell on his descent suffering some minor injuries, but then died of exposure.

These deaths, like the many before them spawned another debate about people risking their lives climbing the mountain in the middle of winter.  There has been a barrage of comments on the climbing “boards” about the use of transponders and an ‘entitlement’ factor that such devices might provoke.  It’s a complex issue.  I know that many if not all the rescuers who are involved in this line of “work” get no pay and have to buy their own equipment as well as supply their own food and transportation.  They are hero’s in my book!  To the climbers who perished… may you rest in peace and let’s keep the families of the climbers in our thoughts.

UPDATE: August 28, 2010 — Anthony Vietti and his climbing companion, Katie Nolan were found and recovered yesterday. The bodies were found at the 9,700-level of Reid Headwall and it appeared that the two climbers had fallen down a steep slope.  Climbers at the scene yesterday said the two were still roped together and located only about two feet apart.

Map photo courtesy of Steve Cowden/The Oregonian.

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St. Mary Lake - Glacier

St. Mary Lake - Glacier

If you’ve never driven a motorcycle on the Going-to-the-Sun road it’s clearly one of the top 10 national park experiences you should have.

We rolled out early on the “Sun Road,” as it’s known, and were treated to views that exceeded the Canadian Rockies.  Largely because the cloud coverage made way for some spectacular open air views in the various pull outs.  There is significantly less traffic (shuttle buses and tourists) when traversing the park East to West.   We didn’t have to contend with crowds at any of the prime view pullouts.

H-D on the "Sun Road" - Glacier

H-D on the "Sun Road" - Glacier

From pockets of thick, forest lining the many lakes to Logan Pass to the mountain-goat-crowded alpine high country and then back down to West Glacier on the park’s western border…  the road offers a visual assortment of outdoor views that anyone will enjoy.  The “Sun Road,” which initially was called the “Transmountain Highway,” rolls through the Crown of the Continent and offers up some road entertainment.   It’s narrow, precipitous in places, and in a constant state of repair due to the annual freeze-thaw cycle.

Glacier Mountain Flowers

Glacier Mountain Flowers

It wasn’t always clear that the “Sun Road” would follow its current path. There were debates over the best routing of a cross-park road. Some wanted it to run all the way to Waterton Lakes in British Columbia, and others were arguing for it to go by Gunsight Pass.  In the end the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads (the precursor to today’s Federal Highway Administration) decided the current route made the most sense. Once that decision was made, National Park Service landscape architects worked with Bureau of Public Roads engineers to, as much as possible, blend the road into the mountain environment.  The road is truly an engineering marvel and is a National Historic Landmark.  It spans about 50 miles through the parks interior and winds around mountainsides and cliffs.  Planners insisted that the bridges, retaining walls, and guardrails be made of native materials and to this day that mind-set prevails.

Logan Pass - Glacier National Park

Logan Pass - Glacier National Park

We pulled off at the Logan Pass visitor center.  This area is pinched tightly between Clements Mountain and the southern tip of the Garden Wall, and offers up terrific views that carries the Continental Divide through the park’s interior. Farther north are the bulk of the park’s glaciers and you soon realize that it would take a lifetime to really know everything that the park has to offer.  Many of the park visitors motor up the pass aboard a Red Jammer, one of Glacier’s renowned fire engine-red, open-air touring buses that debuted in 1937.  Supposedly they gained their nickname for the way drivers “jammed” their way through the gears.

The Red Jammer

The Red Jammer

We made our way down to West Glacier where it looks like time has stood still in this remote corner of Montana.  The log buildings haven’t changed much since they were built in 1938.  Any “inappropriate development” has been curtailed and the village has maintain its historic character.  There was a lunch break in Kalispell and we had a great drive along Flathead Lake and rolling farmlands.  The weather was comfortable as scattered clouds floated along the mountain range.  We were making good time for a layover in Missoula.

Flathead Lake

Flathead Lake

Just after St. Ignatius we connected with Hwy 200 and about 20 miles prior to I-90 we hit major road construction.  It was as if the contractor won every bid to re-surface the road, rebuild water culverts and widen bridges.  It was massive and to be candid riding a weighted down motorcycle on very loose and deep gravel was intense.  The “Motorcycles Use Extreme Caution” was an understatement!

We finally arrived in Missoula and met up with the other half of the posse from when we split paths in Canada.  Dinner and refreshments at MacKenzie River Pizza Company was a great break as we compared riding route and construction stories.

The next morning all I could think of was — No forest fires here!

Road Construction

Road Construction

This is usually the season for hot, dust-dry and smokey air in Western Montana.  Maybe an occasional thunder shower with little rain, but lots of fire-starting lightening.  However, our Missoula departure was met with flash-flood pouring rain.  We’re talking a wet-to-the-bone soaker!  Even with a full-face helmet it was miserable as we experienced 167 miles of heavy rain on I-90.  It didn’t stop until we exited in Coeur D’ Alene and was a half-hour into eating our lunch at a Denny’s!  I experienced for the first time rain gear seepage and damp jeans.  WTF?!  Sure that amount of rain qualifies as a season-ending event to the wildfires, but it was so intense and broad across the state that even I was looking for a culprit… maybe that hydrocarbon use is REALLY to blame for the glacier shortening and sea level rise which in turn effected the rings around the sun and the atmospheric motorcycle riding conditions in Montana?  A quick iPhone WeatherBug scan indicated that Spokane was at the edge of any possible rain and we decided it was time to head as directly as possible to sunnier sky’s.  By the time we hit Ritzville then south on Hwy395 toward the tri-cities it was re-hydration time and the layers started to peel off.  After several more wind surfing riding hours through the gorge we made it home.

Posse Pizza Dinner

Posse Pizza Dinner

A couple of closing thoughts on this great 8-day, ~2000 mile ride. The internet is for sharing.  It’s where we go to reveal our thoughts and describe experiences.  When going on a motorcycle road trip you encounter an array of fascinating landscapes, people and structures.  This trip brought with it some weather challenges for which we were mostly prepared and we adjusted to them.  There was also a lot of terrific riding, fun and now a historical travelogue.  At the end of the day, when you get home, it’s about having a few moments away from the daily routine and being able to share those memories with friends and family.  Thanks to the posse for a great time!

The 107 to 47 Journey — Part One HERE; Part Two HERE; Part Three HERE

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posse_rushmoreWhy does the Federal government discriminate against motorcycles?  National Parks are the biggest offenders. 

A recent example is from a trip to Sturgis to visit the granite monolith of Presidents at Mount Rushmore.  You pull up to the facility entrance and you’ll notice signs of a $10 (Cars, Motorcycles, and RV’s) fee.  Clear thinking people will immediately notice that the price applies to a family of eight touring the Black Hills of SD in a rusted out RV or two-up on a motorcycle.  Huh?  Talk about a rip off!

So, I sent an email to the U.S. Department of the Interior to get the discrimination scoop:

Dear Mr. Interior,

As a motorcyclist I feel discriminated against when visiting your fine monument.  I arrived over the summer to witness long lines of motorcycles, automobiles, vans, and RV’s packed with people eager to park and take photos of the stone Presidents.  To my shock I was required to pay a $10 fee just like all the other vehicles.  Yet, when my lovely “model” passenger informed the heavy soda drinking Park Ranger that we could not fit six people on the prize winning custom Black Harley-Davidson he just sneered and gave us $10 change from the Andrew Jackson…no sir not fair, not very fair at all…is it?

The attached photo (above) is of the posse who spent $80 to enter your facility on motorcycles.

Signed – Mac (Feeling ripped by the Department of the Interior)

The reply from the Interior’s head dude:

Dear Mr. Mac Rant,

Thank you for submitting an email on November 5, 2008, concerning your visit to Mount Rushmore National Memorial over the summer. The legislation that established Mount Rushmore National Memorial prohibits charging an entrance fee at the Memorial. No fees have been charged at the Memorial prior to the summer of 1997 when a parking fee was established.

This fee you reference is charged to pay for the cost of the construction and operation of the parking facility only. The new facility was necessary to accommodate the increased length of stay due to the new facilities now available at the Memorial. We determined after much effort that a federal appropriation to build the facility was not possible. Therefore, the National Park Service issued a concession contract for the design, construction and operation of a parking facility.

The concessionaire is allowed to collect a fee that will pay these costs. The concessionaire has set a standard rate of $10 for all personal vehicles. The concessionaire does not make special accommodations for various sizes of personal vehicles. In this method, we hope to keep our policies fair for everyone who visits the memorial. The parking concessionaire is also a non-profit organization, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Society. Any income above expenses that might arise from the parking revenues is returned to assist the memorial with operations and maintenance.

We do appreciate your interest in Mount Rushmore National Memorial and you taking the time and initiative to learn more about the management of the memorial.

Signed – Park Ranger Bob

Bummer.  The ‘ol form letter from the government.  How ironic that I’ve been “stone-walled!”  What is it with these government types?  Let’s peel back some of the political layers here.  The DOI is the nation’s principal conservation agency.  It has over 80K employees at over 2400 locations across the U.S.  It has a $15.8B annual budget of which $12.9B are revenues collected from energy, mineral, land sales and recreational management.

rushmore_parkSo, what we have here is an aggressive commercialization situation by parking thugs concessionaire’s and us motorcyclist provide financial assistance way above all others who have a similar desire to visit the park.  This goes way beyond any reasonable common sense test!  Yet we continue to pay and provide the most generous contributions.  Clearly the Park Management knows this is the case.  I’m sure they have attendance reports that show half of the parking fee revenue is generated from motorcycles yet we don’t consume the equivalent parking space.  In 2007, over 2M visitors came to the monument.  I’ve solicited a report via the freedom of information act (FOIA) which will provide detailed information on the revenue break out and I’ll provide an update on the findings.

Given that budgets have grown tighter and the reality of federal appropriations for parks, it would be a good bet that this parking policy will never change.   So, on your next trip might I suggest as a sign of “cage” protest that we use one full parking space per motorcycle and send a message that we’re tired of the rip-off!

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