Friday, May 30, 2008

Falling Leaf Canyon

May 29, 2008
Fun Canyon, Miserable and Epic 'Shwhacking

Trip Stats:
Roundtrip Distance: About 2.5 miles
Start/End: Glendora Ridge Road near Baldy Village
Gain/Loss: 1200ft / 360m
Time: 11 hours (for us)
Difficulties: 6 rappels, some downclimbing, poison oak, one terrible exit
Other Information: Chris Brennen's Writeup

Southern California canyons are always hit-and-miss, especially those that are not 'classic' or 'trade' canyons. Falling Leaf Canyon, though beautiful and interesting as a canyon, certainly demonstrated the shortcomings of a less-traveled route.

Canyon Description:

The canyon started off with the expected bang: a 150' rappel (45m) which we did as a single shot with the 400' of rope we carried. I wore a wetsuit (nice, but not needed) and Jen didn't.

We essentially followed Chris Brennen's description down the whole canyon, although the description usually stayed in our pocket and we solved problems or rappels as they came up. We read it every so often only to confirm we were in the right canyon. In the canyon we differed from the writeup in the following ways:
  • One of the shorter rappels we used a hand line on, and so we appreciated having about 15' of webbing available for quick use.
  • Many of the downclimbs in Chris's report were still useable, but some were so washed out that it was simply easier to rappel.
  • We downclimbed the "awkward series of small waterfalls in a slot with a blind corner" that Chris avoided, it was perhaps the most fun part of the canyon
After downclimbing that slot-like section, we ended with a 60' rappel off a tree positioned awkwardly on the right slope:

Then we had some late lunch, sent an OK message from my SPOT messenger to see how well it works in a wooded tight canyon (the message arrived just fine), and continued down into Cow Canyon for the exit.

Exit Description:

Cow Canyon itself was open, beautiful, and fun. Here we are drying out in the sun and trying to figure out where we are in relation to the exit point Chris describes:

After hiking up Cow Canyon for an hour and a half, we felt like we were getting close to the described exit point. We'd been ahead of Chris's time estimates all day, and all of a sudden the canyon made a sudden left turn - time to start looking for the exit.

We paused to consider: We saw a 'steep chute', and followed it to a 'earthen slope' on the left. So far so good! We continued up what we thought was Chris's advertised exit, with a canyon off to our right (probably the 'dry falls' we were supposed to be climbing around) and boy, it sure was steep. We thought we were in the right place.

Four hours later, it was dark, Jen was free soloing fifth class chossy shite rock, and we were exhausted, scratched, bloody, and totally ready to not be bushwhacking any more. (Bushwhacking being a grand understatement.)

Luckily Jen is one of the most awesome climbing partners in the world, and we helped each other in amazing ways. Eventually, we made it to the road, out of sheer luck and wild determination (the chutes and ridges to the right and left of our ridge cliffed out).

If we were to do this canyon again (probably not, given this experience) we would follow Cow Canyon all the way up to the road. Flat, open, and the exit is easily scoutable from the road itself.

After climbing (and belaying) Chris's 'shortcut' out of Little Santa Anita up 5.4 mud a few years back, I should know better than to think we can guess what he's talking about in his descriptions for 'tricky navigational challenges'.

I think the description for Falling Leaf Canyon exit was especially and badly non-descript, however: A "tree across the canyon near some big boulders where the river turns left" as the turnoff point? Really.

But, our own fault for not using our heads and making better decisions than the writeup. C'est la vie.

The Scuba Diving Butterfly:

One of the cooler things we saw in the canyon was a butterfly alive underwater! We called it the scuba diving butterfly. Here is a video of the butterfly underwater and me giving it a little poke to make it walk:

Crazy. Does anyone know how that butterfly can live under there, or why it would have swum underwater in the first place?

Thanks for reading. You can also view the rest of my photos if you like.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Emergency Kit

Thoughts and Experiences Concerning the Least-Used Portion of My Pack

When I was working for UCLA, at one of our outdoor program meetings the question came up: "What part of the program first aid kits do you use most often?"

The surprisingly correct answer came back: "The zipper!" (To open the kit, of course.)

The outdoor program kits were 3-pound bricks. Some of the students in the program carried naught but tape and Tylenol when on personal trips, others built their own kits based on the bricks they used through work. And a small but impressive few had experiences outside of work to guide them toward good choices in what they brought.

I carry a 'ten essentials' kit on my own trips like most folks do. Good for first aid, gear repair, and unexpected nights out, I've tuned this kit down to what I consider a minimum unless I want to accept a LOT more risk or discomfort. I have used all of it at one time or another (or, in the single case of the Epi Pen, very desperately wanted it before adding it to the kit). In addition, I've actually used the kit for a number of big nights and incidents, so I have a pretty good amount of faith in it, although no setup is perfect.

One thing I wished for at UCLA was the time to describe my own emergency kit and the motivations behind each item. But, there were so many things to teach, and so little time. And after all, the program 'bricks' were always with them. So hopefully, this will go some of the way toward completing that wish.

Here are the contents in no particular order, totaling 22 oz, with my comments after each item:

  • 1 Roll Cloth Athletic Tape
    (For protecting blisters, securing bandages and dressings, securing splints, repairing gear temporarily, and a hundred other uses.)
  • 1 Lightweight Stuff Sack
  • (For carrying everything)
  • 20 Sheets Paper and 2 Pencils
    (For writing notes and documentation, or for starting fires for warmth, or for writing notes or playing games when bored and/or stressed on a bivy...)
  • 1 Pair EMT ShearsTape
    (Cuts through clothing, rope, boots, and foam pads to shape for padding, splints, or insulation)
  • 25' Thin Cord
    (For gear repair, hanging the space blanket as shelter, or securing well-padded branches, poles, or pads as bone splints)
  • 2 Pairs Mini Hand Warmers
    (As much as these are quite heavy, I can't seem to give them up from this kit. They are so nice on an unexpected night out, as well as for a sick person who can't maintain their temperature comfortably. I'd definitely bring these over the 400 calories of food that the equivalent weight would allow.)
  • 1 Pair Uncle Bills Tweezers
    (Strangely, I have rarely had to use these. They work okay.)
  • 2 pairs nitrile gloves
    (One pair always breaks with an hour or so of use. And, as much as I used to believe that I would just 'jump in and do what needs doing' without gloves if I needed to, I've discovered that there are a lot of gross things in this world and that gloves are pretty darn nice sometimes.)
  • 5 3x3" Gauze Pads
    (For small/medium wound covering.
    Anything bigger and I use a T-shirt, preferably a boiled t-shirt or bandana. I also prefer non-stick gauze pads.)
  • 3 Large Patch Band-Aids
    (These keep dirt and water out better than a taped-on gauze pad)
  • 8 Butterfly Bandages
    (For closing deep cuts - used with caution. I often pack cuts I'm worried about open and evac rather than trapping my bad backcountry cleaning job under a few layers of tightly-pressed-together skin)
  • 10 Band-Aids, various sizes/shapes
    (Small cuts are all fun and games until you drip blood in the group food)
  • 2 Lighters
    (Fire is the most blessed thing I can create during a forced night out or emergency.)
  • 1 bottle Iodine tablets (enough for about 24 liters)
    (Someone with me always uses this when unexpectedly needing water, and sometimes that person is me. I can't explain it, but it gets used a LOT.)
  • 20 500mg Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
    (Great for fevers, headaches, etc)
  • 20 200mg Ibuprofen (Advil)
    (Helpful in larger quantities to reduce inflammation somewhat, also good as an alternative to Tylenol and other painkillers)
  • 20 220mg Naproxen Sodium
    (On longer trips with lots of people, sometimes different pains need a variety of solutions.)
  • 10 25mg Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
    (For allergic reactions, also great as a sleeping aid)
  • 1 Epi Pen, two dose
    (I poo-pooed allergic reactions until about a swarm of bees almost killed me. Thanks to quick work from my friends, I lived even without an Epi Pen handy, but now I carry one, and not just for myself.)
  • 4 Benadryl-brand 25mg Quick-Dissolve Strips
    (Rumored to someday obsolesce the Epi-Pen. I'll believe it when I see it. However, these do work well as I used them on a fellow with a nasty case of hives and wheezing.)
  • 4 Pepto Bismol tablets
    (Diarrhea = dehydration. Better, IMHO, than carrying rehydration salts which lead to vomiting since they're gross.)
  • 6 Tylenol C4 (500mg Acetaminophen, 5mg Hydrocodone)
    (For pain management. The only thing more stressful than dealing with a trauma-based emergency is having your broken friend screaming incessantly throughout the whole ordeal.)
  • 4 packets Antibiotic Ointment
    (For multi-day wound disinfectant, when used with lots of irrigation. Also useful to moisturize a dry nose that repeatedly cracks and bleeds, on blisters under band-aids, and can be used in lieu of chapstick when desperate.)
  • 5 Alcohol Swabs
    (Nothing works better for initial small infections on road rash, though these hurt a lot when used.)
  • 2 Safety Pins
    (Useful for pinning slings, or a T-shirt to improvise a sling, etc, etc.)
  • 1 Lightweight compass
    (I am always surprised how many people I go out with forget a compass and end up wanting one later. And sometimes that person is me...)
  • 1 Fox 40 Pea-less Whistle
    (The orange one - it's LOUD!)
  • 1 Adventure Medical Heat Reflecting 2-person Blanket
    (Hands down the best 'space blanket' made. It doesn't delaminate when stored for a long time, it is somewhat less crinkly than other brands, it doesn't melt catastrophically when blown embers from a bivy fire land on it, it's orange on one side and silver on the other and thus very visible, and repacks relatively small for the hike out or re-use. And it does its job pretty well. I've used them on everything from bivies to ad-hoc rain gear to folks with hypothermia, etc.)
Of course, I also always carry a headlamp so I can work and move in the dark. I suppose it belongs on the official list above, but the times are rare where it's not part of my pack anyway.

You'll also notice that a few common things are missing, so I'll talk about those too.

ACE Bandage - I go back and forth between carrying an elastic bandage (an ACE-type bandage) - but it is heavy and bulky and the elastic decomposes over time, rendering it less useful. Between tape and spiral-cutting a t-shirt, most things which might be best solved with an ACE can at least be patched up with alternatives.

Gauze Roll - The same goes for sterile gauze rolls. However, I debate them as well because they are great for easy pressure bandages - and a pressure bandage situation is one where 'easy' can be really, really nice.

No SAM Splint - the few times I've used one on a real broken bone I've sometimes actually wished I just cut up my foam pad instead and used it with my pack stays. And a single SAM splint doesn't splint legs. And there's just no comfortable way to splint broken foot phalanges with one. In other words, I found lots of limitations, and stopped carrying one.

No Duct Tape - too many people are allergic to the tape glue on their skin. Athletic tape does a great job, even if it's not quite as slippery for great blister patching.

Although this is what I carry for personal trips, my experience with San Bernardino County Search and Rescue also introduced me to the concept of a 24-hour pack, which is more designed for heavy outdoor work, and a more comfortable night out. It's a great list if you're really into survival out there - including plastic bags to evaporate water from tree branches in the desert.

For that type of stuff, or when I'm working outdoors rather than on a personal trip, I also add an ACE, sterile gauze roll, a SAM splint, a CPR face shield, a second set of shears, another set of gloves, and honey packets (to bump up blood sugar fast).

In the winter, or in a cold or wet canyon, I will also carry Esbit tablets and a titanium mug or another type of really small compact stove and pot set.

And there you have it. All of that is my opinion and nothing but.

Of course, having some sense and a clear head is better than any materials that might be lying around. I often find myself using more from outside of my kit than inside - pieces of my foam pad, my trekking poles, my sleeping bag, heck, even liner socks make great pressure bandages (over sterile materials) for arms and fingers.

So I hope this helps you make your choices without having to go through all of my mistakes or experiences. Be safe out there...

Preparing for Solo Backpacking

So the date is fast approaching for my planned 6-day solo in the Sierra, and I am both excited and nervous.

There are many reasons I desire to solo hike, including (but not limited to):

  • No distractions from really listening to myself
  • Going at my own pace
  • Cleaning my mind out
  • Challenging myself
  • And of course the solitude.
Solo hiking is drastically more challenging than group hiking I think, if only because you are the only motivator, the only set of helping hands, and the only one you can blame if things go south.

With that said, before a longer personal trip, I'm an obsessive planner. So, I'm writing up my gear list so I can comment on how well it worked later.

Here's the list in order of descending weight. You'll note that a lot of it isn't really backpacking's more like climbing gear that I'm bringing backpacking. But, it's the gear I have, and just a product of what my life has been so far:

___ Cilogear 60L Pack (68 oz)
___ Black Diamond HiLight Tent (50 oz)
___ REI Kilo Plus Sleeping Bag
and Outdoor Research Dry Stuff Sack (48 oz)

___ Garcia Machine Bear Canister (44 oz)
___ Emergency Kit (first aid kit, repair, survival) (22 oz)
___ MSR Reactor and lexan spoon (21 oz)
___ Wild Things EP Jacket (18 oz)
___ Insul-Mat (Pacific Outdoor) SL Mountain foam pad (14 oz)
___ Isis Whisper Down Jacket (14 oz)
___ Bear MACE and holster
(apparently good for more than bears) (13 oz)

___ Golite Gamut Jacket (13 oz)
___ Red Ledge Full Zip Rain Pants (10 oz)
___ Moonstone Cirrus Vest (9 oz)
___ Patagonia Capilene 4 Hoodie (8 oz)
___ SPOT Messenger
(You can join my Spot fan club if you want) (8 oz)
___ Camera and dry case (8 oz)
___ Nalgene bottle (also for hot drinks) (7 oz)
___ Princeton Tec EOS (4 oz)
___ Journal and Pencil (4 oz)
___ Warm Hat (3 oz)
___ Sunscreen (3 oz)
___ Bug Repellent (3 oz)
___ Platypus 1L flexible bottle (2 oz)
___ Liner Gloves (2 oz)
___ Custom Map (2 oz)

Food and Fuel:
1.5 lbs per day x 6 days = 9 lbs (144 oz)
Two 4 oz isobutane canisters (8 oz)
Average of 1.5 liters of water carried (48 oz)

Grand Total: 591 oz or about 37 lbs (Ouch!)

Carried on Person: Pants, T-shirt, Sunhat, Sunglasses, Compass, Knife, Whistle, Socks, Boots, Trekking Poles with Whippet

There is a chance that I'll also have to bring snow gear, as it's snowing in the Sierra right now (yeah, global warming weirdness, right?), and the main pass on my planned trail is over 11,000' elevation. (That's 3300 meters, as I'm trying to learn to think in meters too.) In which case, add another pound and a half for aluminum crampons.

As for food, the breakdown goes something like this: To bring a total of 2400 calories per day for a weight-cost of 24 oz of weight, I do the following:
  1. Choose foods greater than 100 calories per ounce
  2. Pack 24 oz of whatever foods I want from that list
  3. I round down for everything (ex: a 120 calorie granola bar gets counted as 100 calories for easier math), so I end up with more like 2600 calories per day.
2600/day is still light on actual calories, but we did 2200/day for 14 days up in Washington a few years ago, and we were...okay. Which brings me to the following day breakdown (calories are approx):

___ 200 cal Breakfast
(Ex: Cream of Wheat, Hot Chocolate, Instant Miso Soup)
___ 100 cal drink mix
___ 200 cal dried fruit
___ 400 cal Probar (mmmm....fiber)
___ 300 cal 2 x Other Bars
(like Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Bar, yum)
___ 200 cal Clif Shot Bloks (they misspell everything, hee hee)
___ 300 cal Cheese
___ 200 cal Nuts
___ 100 cal Jerkey
___ 400 cal Dinner
(Ex: Instant mashed potatos w/dried veggies, ramen, etc)

And voila! Perhaps a little boring and uncreative, but compact, spread well for evenly distributed meal consumption through the day, and reasonably light.

I'm not sure why digging through stats about gear seems so comforting before a trip. Maybe it gives me some appearance of control. Or maybe I just like numbers (though I can never remember them accurately, for the life of me....)

Whatever the reason, wish me luck! One week and counting....

Monday, May 19, 2008

Jepson via Northeast Chute

Southern California's Hidden Treasure
May 17, 2008

Trip Stats:
Roundtrip Distance: About 18 miles
Gain: 4500'
Time: 12 hours roundtrip
Starting Trailhead: South Fork, San Gorgonio
Difficulties: 30-35 degree snow, off-trail bushwhacking, a long day
Highlights: Snow climbing in Southern California

To get ourselves 12 hours of sunlight, we departed from LA at around 4am. After arriving at South Fork, we proceeded up the long trail to Dry Lake. No snow to be found on the trail - summer was here.

After Dry Lake, we continued along the trail paralleling the draw before Trail Camp. We met a fellow who had turned around because of the snow after Mineshaft saddle. After exchanging plesantries, we continued on trail until the trail started to turn East, at which point we left the trail to approach Jepson Peak.

Given that we needed to teach one of our crew how to self arrest and kick steps and the like, we chose the NE area of Jepson next to the west flanks of San Gorgonio. The bowl provides a number of good teaching slopes, and a variety of chutes to then climb, as you can see in the photo above.

Snow school was kept brief, and we kicked our way up one of the more easterly chutes of Jepson's flanks. Here is Roy cresting the top:

Once above the snow gully, we continued on the ridge to Jepson proper.

Surface snow conditions continued to worsen throughout the day. Early on (10am) foot penetration was negligible, but later after our glissade (2:30pm) we were sinking in knee-deep. Here is Wags next to some late-season snow formations:

But we eventually escaped the slush to trek back downhill, dreaming of burritos. All in all, a great trip. You can also view the rest of my photos from the excursion.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Skiing at Mount Baldy

Two Years at the Best and Weirdest Southern California Resort

Let's face it, I have lived in Los Angeles for pretty much all of my life. Like other Los Angelinians, my quest to find close, decent skiing is no small task. For this quest, many people head to more well-known resorts like Snow Summit or Mountain High. Which, after driving 3 hours (or more, when stacked behind lines of people driving with winter tire chains for the first time) each way (!) to reach said resorts makes one seriously consider other options.

This was what first motivated me to ski at Mount Baldy. And after two years of experiencing Baldy, I feel I should say a few words about it before I move away from LA. After all, I tried to do my research on Baldy before purchasing my first ticket. What was the terrain like? How was the snow? How popular and crowded was the resort as a whole? And despite the seeming validity of the questions, all I could figure out was that lift tickets were $45 and the rest was a badly-encoded image and a mystery.

I think many people in Los Angeles seem to pick weekends to ski by finding weekends that they are free and then going skiing. It seems that everywhere else in the country, people actually wait until the snow is good, and then they find the time to make skiing happen. Los Angelinians should take note and learn from this: waiting until the snow is good in Southern California is exceptionally more important here than in a place like Colorado where most times, you really can't go wrong.

In that way, I feel like Mount Baldy is terribly misunderstood. Baldy is like really dark beer: if it's the right time, and you're in the right mood, it can be the best thing ever. If not, well....

First off, Baldy is hands-down the weirdest place I've ever skied. First of all, the decor: The old unpadded wooden chairs that they probably purchased at the ski resort equivalent of a garage sale, the outdated paint-peeling cross-iron girded lift towers (marked with only orange flagging tape at their bases), the fact that after a storm you can count all the vehicles around the resort (on the runs) that they forgot to move before the dump and are now buried in place, and the list goes on.

Then, the culture. I can't possibly think of a more terrifying resort to ski as a beginner: their one beginner run is in a valley: icy until mid-morning and then almost instantaneously slush, and full of jumps, rails, and advanced skiers racing back down to Chair 3. They only have two beers on tap and serve soup in tiny Styrofoam bowls. They've had the same 'Pending Expansion!' billboard proudly displayed (now peeling) on the side of the lodge since 1996, with no expansion to show for it. You might notice that some maps show runs as blue squares, and some show the same runs as black diamonds. Or that, quite commonly, grooming only extends halfway up the runs...perhaps they got bored and stopped?

At this point, you're probably thinking: "This sounds terrible, why would I ever ski there?" Well, simple. Because on a good snow day (or even a decent snow day, actually), Baldy is hands-down the most awesome ski resort down here.

Imagine: a Southern California resort that doesn't groom its powder. Or its corn. Or anything, for that matter: You get what the chef cooks you. The laissez-faire attitude of the mountain basically makes the resort into lift-served backcountry.

And the fact is - it works. The old wooden chairs work. The towers hold you up just fine. Who needs a backside expansion when the run conditions are new every time you ski? (Or who needs grooming for that matter - I've seen moguls the size of short minivans form on the lower slopes of Thunder Mountain.)

This means that when the other resorts get chopped out and groomed into submission before midday, Baldy keeps ticking. I've found powder in the trees on Thunder Mountain a week after a dump. Beautiful, soft, techy, steep. Nowhere else in Los Angeles can give you that.

There are many reasons why I thoroughly enjoy Baldy. Not the least of which is that they have an awesome Club Card - a not-quite-a-season-pass card where you can get tickets for $15 all season and $20 tickets for any/all of your friends. I paid $100 for the card early season, which means that if you and one friend ski three powder days (c'mon, even LA gets more than three days) then you come out ahead.

But I think the biggest reason why I like Baldy comes from its terrain. No other mountain can kick my butt so thoroughly in 2000 vertical feet. The quick transitions from ice to moguls to powder. Trees, cliffs, tall bushes, even irrigation pipes add spicy-yet-manageable 'flair' to every run. And the snow, ahh, the snow. If there is a face shot to be found in Southern California, it will be found at Baldy. I definitely find myself going back to other, 'easier' resorts when I need a mental break and just want to cruise, but somehow...I always came back.

Am I alone in these perceptions? Am I revealing myself as the lone twisted soul in Los Angeles who loves and hates and is terrified of Baldy all at the same time? Maybe, but I don't think so.
I've seen the ski patrol at work more often on Baldy than any other resort I've been to, and they know their stuff - they have to. A license plate frame on an old beat-up Subaru in the parking lot proclaimed "Ski Baldy....If you can!" I've often been the only telemark skier at many of the other So Cal resorts, but on a powder day at Baldy, folks come out of the woodwork and rip it hard. Impressively hard. They know it too: there's something irresistibly tantalizing and adventurous in never quite knowing what you're going to get. And, unlike its beer selection, Baldy serves adventure up in spades.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Thank You!

On Creating

(Note that this originally appeared on the main site, reposted here on May 13th)

Well, my website has only been up and running for fewer than 6 months, and it appears that things are going well. My site as a whole sees nearly 3,000 hits a month, my Google Avalanche Advisory Gadget (GAAG) sees nearly 700 uses/reloads a week, and I've gotten lots of positive feedback on my Palm Pilot and GPS work.

And all I have to say is: "Wow, thanks!"

I really started this site mostly for myself, so I never actually expected to get this big at all, much less before the end of half a year. I know these numbers aren't much compared to other sites, but I'll take it.

And so, to make things easier on everyone, I've added this new section (my Journal) to keep my personal life separate from other world snow news. (I know there are people who read this site to keep tabs on me personally, but I'm pretty darn sure it's not 3,000 people a month.) Also, I've re-designed the structure so that my journal appears on Blogger so you can subscribe to it as a full-content feed, leave comments, etc.

As always, I love feedback of any sort. You can visit the About Me section of the site for my contact information. After all, I write the main site by hand in a basic Linux text editor (yes, CSS, RSS, scripts, and all) so even catching things like typos is appreciated.