Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Solstice!

A Haiku:

Light early, dark late
Glorious summertime days
It's downhill from here


We missed the naked bike ride, but got to see most of the Fremont Solstice parade. I love hippies.

From solstice

From solstice

I don't understand either.
From solstice

Trying to see
From solstice

A bowl...
From solstice

...of spaghetti.
From solstice

Friday, June 19, 2009

Seven Lakes Basin, Olympic National Park

After landing in Seattle, I had two days of freedom before working a few shifts. We decided to hit up the Olympic Mountains. Olympic National Park is pretty diverse. It is a huge place with rain forests, a wild shoreline, snowy mountain vistas, and areas of thick ferned-n-mossed, rain-fed growth under a canopy of pines. Having seen the coast and rainforest, we wanted to head to the higher hills on this trip. It didn't end up to be all that we had hoped. The weather turned rainy, with clouds blocking any views, and the patchy snow and terrain made for not-so-great skiing conditions. So the days were spent hiking with a heavy pack and skis (for Andrew) and awkwardly slipping and post-holing (for me). Andrew did get in about 6 turns, and we made it back to Sol Duc hot springs about an hour before closing to soak in the sulfurous not a total loss.

Andrew looking over the Olympics to the North.
From Olympic National Park

Fun with shutter speeds
From Olympic National Park

Light at the end of the day
From Olympic National Park

Wishing the skis were on...
From Olympic National Park

Seven lakes basin
From Olympic National Park

Friday, June 5, 2009

"Skiing" the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Overcoat Peak

Interstate 90 starts in Seattle and buries itself deep into the Snoqualmie valley, climbing with its south fork before crossing a low divide, hooking to the south and following the Yakima River. So the South Fork of the Snoqualmie, despite being rugged country, is easily-accessed and well-traveled. But the Snoqualmie's other tributary, the Middle Fork, is an enigma. Although is just as close as the crow flies to urban Seattle, and despite having a "road" along its bank for quite a ways of its length, it is as lightly-trodden as it is rugged. The "road" has gone from being unmaintained and halfway-abandoned to the automatic-weapons aficionados to outright closed in recent years. This adds a 13-mile road hike or bike to the itinerary if one wants to access the Middle Fork.

Yet the South Fork is just over the divide from the Middle Fork, which got me to thinking about how I might be able to hop the divide and save myself a bit of hiking. A thorough review of the maps showed that the Cooper Creek Road, off I-90 and outside Cle Elum got you within striking distance to the east side of Overcoat. So Chris A. and I gave that a try.

We set off at 6AM in sneakers from the Cooper Lake TH. We hit patches of snow almost immediately, but nothing long enough to bother putting on the skis and boots. In any case, the trail to Pete Lake is cursed with gaining only 300 feet in 5 miles, so even with continuous snow, snow is a dubious advantage.

We hit Pete Lake at 8:15. This was taking longer than I thought. At least now we were on the map, though. Another 3 hours of following the trail as it joined the PCT, then leaving the trail as it began switchbacking its way east and following the bank of the tributary creek of the Cooper for a half mile through big timber, then open slopes finally got us to where it was clear we had snow for the rest of the way up.

Pete Lake in the morning

Basin below the Summit Chief-Chimney Divide hammered by avalanche

We skinned through piles of avalanche debris full of rocks and trees, all the while looking back to the south at the ominous clouds building. The key to getting to the Chimney-Overcoat Col from the Cooper drainage were two broad couloirs that provide a gentle way through otherwise cliffy terrain. I was worried even these could be melted out to slab by all the heat we were getting. Luckily my worries proved to be unfounded. We made it to the head of the valley, and turned nearly 180 degrees southwest and ascended the first couloir/ramp. 500 feet of skinning took us to the unnamed glacier below the east face of Chimney. We turned 90 degrees north and found the next ramp. It had some waterfalls and cliff bands showing on its east side, and looked steeper. This being Chris's first time on skins, it seemed wise to switch to boots for more security, and to take a more direct line away from Chimney's face, which had dropped some rocks onto the snowfield.

One thousand feet later we had arrived on the Overcoat Glacier. It was already 2 PM, but fortunately the thunderheads to the south had retreated. After taking another break to admire the scenery, we skinned our way across the broad plateau, almost an icecap, and went around the corner to Overcoat's north side. The couloir was fat. We kicked steps up to a wide col at the top of the couloir, which lay between rocky battlements of the summit ridge. My altimeter was claiming we needed another 300 feet for the summit of Overcoat, but I didn't want to to believe it and scrambled a little ways up a promising-looking tower, until I finally caught a view of the true summit of Overcoat. It towered several hundred feet above me and looked decidedly fifth class from that side. So I deemed the skier's summit "good enough." It had a cool window you could scramble through and catch a view to the south, anyway.

Booting up the second ramp

Panorama of Chimney from the Overcoat icecap

View from Overcoat's col. Wish we could have made a camp here.

Chris skiing the apron below Overcoat

The top of the run was the steepest, but the snow was good, albeit a little overcooked. They seemed like some of the steeper turns I've linked in a while. Chris did an excellent job for not having skied for the past two years.

The rest of the run was all downhill from there, however. Even at 6600 feet, over 1000 feet above treeline, the snow was fouled with pollen. We skated our way downhill across the glacier, only to endure a 2000 foot run of sticky, grabby snow. I was able to straightline 20-25 degree slopes and hardly exceed a running pace. This transitioned into rock-strewn avalanche debris lower down, which actually skied faster than the rest of the tar, since the chunks meant less snow contacted the ski.

We changed back to boots at 6PM and prepared for the long hike out. We made it back to Pete Lake around 8, and I was still feeling pretty good. However, by the time sunset rolled around, I was starting to bonk. We arrived at the car at 11, hallucinating a little by headlamp: snakes in the bushes, snakes in the trees.

Pollen sticks

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A coin, a coin, my kingdom for a coin

As travelers, we were reliant on ATMs for currency, and the ATMs gave us big ol' bills. It was a constant struggle to break these bills and keep enough small stuff for day-to-day purchases. This was an artifact of the fact that we "importing" all of our cash, so never had any local currency flowing into our wallets.

Argentina had a strange mutation of this theme. It was not a big deal to break the equivalent of a $20 on a couple dollar purchase, but as soon as you need a coin to make change, it was a disaster. Argentina had bills as small as AR$2 pesos (about 50 cents), as well as AR$5 bills. So the real game stopper was trying to make either one peso or three pesos of change, since every other value is can be made from combination of AR$2 or AR$5 bills.

Every cashier in Argentina is well aware of this fact, even if they might not be able to state it this precisely. Resultantly, until we figured out the allowable change values, we often had cashiers politely ask to see our bills, and count out an additional AR$5 or AR$2 in order to avoid changing us AR$3 or AR$1. And if you want to feel some genuine love, give a cashier a coin to make exact change. They will smile warmly and tell you, "Perfecto!"

Contrast the Argentine daily struggle for coins to Chile. Its integral currency (pesos with no centimos), and the size of its bills (CL$1000 is the smallest bill) insure than you always have a heavy pocket full of coins. In even the smallest market, the cashier has no problem breaking a large bill and giving you as many CL$100 coins as you could ever want.

So the question is: "Why can't the central bank of Argentina print some more coins."
The New Yorker has its theories involving hording. I'm not so sure. I never had any indication of anyone hording coins. It seemed like no one had any.

The article does discuss one phenomena that I always imagined must take place. The buses, which only take coins in Buenos Aires, are a huge sink for metal money. The bus companies than turn around and sell their coins at a mark-up to businesses that need coins to make change. Ingenious and evil.