Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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11/4/2013

Time to play tourist, finally

Filed under: — stan @ 10:25 pm

Since we missed playing tourist in Chicago on Saturday, Monday was the day. We went to the Field Museum to see the exhibit about the 1893 World’s Fair. Since I’d been reading about that last year when we were here, it all fit together nicely.

We saw Sue the T-Rex in the main hall of the museum. Then we went to see the World’s Fair exhibit. It was interesting to see how the attitude of the fair seemed quite foreign to us. It seems that back then, nature, animals, and the world itself were all regarded as things to be used, rather than things to be studied or understood just for themselves. After that, Kathleen wanted to go see the Hall of Gems. And along the way there, we stopped in to see an exhibit about fracking for oil in the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, followed by an exhibit of Nazi Propaganda. It was interesting, although it was a bit far afield from ‘Natural History’. But it did make a nice companion piece to the exhibit we went to see a few years ago about Nazi medicine. And parts of it were uncomfortably close to things we’re hearing and reading about today.

After all that, we went to the airport for the trip home. Despite the unpleasant beginning, this turned out to be a pretty good, if short, trip.

11/3/2013

Time to climb

Filed under: — stan @ 12:08 pm

Sunday morning came much too early. I was supposed to be downtown for a 7:30AM start up the building. We got up and headed over to the train station. There were puffed-up pigeons roosting in there, just trying to stay out of the cold wind. And on the train downtown, I noticed that there were many, many people on there way there for the Hot Chocolate 5k run. I couldn’t help but notice that they were all smiling and laughing like they were going to have a grand time, while I felt a bit like a lamb being led to slaughter.

Once we got downtown, we walked over to the building. Because we’d gotten in late, I had not been able to get my packet yesterday, so I found out I had to go talk to the people and get a new number assigned so I could run. By the time all that was done, it was almost 8:30 when I got in line. I started out at the same time as Michael from the WCL team, so we stood for a green-screen picture at the bottom. Then it was time to go. As has been the case all year, I just couldn’t face trying to go fast, so I just went up at a modest pace. 4 1/2 floors per minute. It’s fast enough that I pass about 90% or the people there, but not so fast that it’s seriously painful. Still, I got stuck in traffic in the stairwell. There were people with prosthetic legs and crutches climbing the building. While I admire their courage, do they really need an entire entourage around them, blocking the whole stairway for everyone else?

Anyway, I made it up in reasonable style. Felt pretty good at the top. No collapsing like a sack of potatoes this time. I spent a little time looking at the view and socializing, and then I headed back down. At the bottom, I rounded up some paper, a pen, a piece of cardboard and Jane and Steve to climb with me. The three of us got back in line and went up a second time. I took notes along the way so that I can fix up the chart that I made last year from PJ’s GoPro video.

After the second climb, I headed back down and we went back to the hotel to get cleaned up and ready to go to Kathleen’s aunt and uncle’s house.

11/2/2013

Off we go

Filed under: — stan @ 10:10 pm

On Saturday morning, we headed down to LAX again in hopes of actually getting to Chicago today. And despite the chaos yesterday, it seemed normal today, aside from the fact that Terminal 3 was still closed, and there was a solid like of police cars parked in front of it. Everything else was normal, and we got out on time.

Arriving in Chicago, we got our bags and took the train to our hotel. Then we rode the train into the city to have dinner at the Blue Line Lounge. That was supposed to be our activity for Friday night, but that didn’t work out. Still, I got to have the tarragon chicken pot pie. And after that, we headed back to go to bed, although I did take a minute to look at the Sears Willis Tower from the train platform.

11/1/2013

Never a good sign

Filed under: — stan @ 6:58 pm

Today was the day for our trip out to Chicago for the Sears Willis Tower stair climb. We headed down to LAX, arriving at the parking lot at about 9:30. As we were arriving there, was heard some sirens and saw a couple of fire trucks headed into the airport. We didn’t think too much about this, since that’s not more than what we’d see if there was a car accident of something like that. But then we noticed five or so news helicopters hovering stationary over the airport terminal area.

Hovering news helicopters are the buzzards of the modern world. Seeing them is never a good sign. When the shuttle bus arrived, the driver told us she had orders not to bring anyone in to the airport, and that they were closing down all operations there for an indefinite time. We waited around for an hour or so to see if the situation would be resolved, but it quickly became clear that it was going to be a long time. So I called United, and they transferred us to the same flight on Saturday, and we went home. Fortunately, since we were out in the long-term parking lot, we were able to leave, unlike the people who were locked down in the terminals.

So we went home. I made a turkey pot pie for dinner, and we went to a movie. And that was that.

10/16/2013

Mount Wilson

Filed under: — stan @ 3:43 pm

Last week, when Karina, Gary, and I were on the hike to the Bridge to Nowhere, we talked about doing Mount Wilson this week. Our original plan was to go up the trail that starts at Chantry Flat. Karina said that one is more scenic and not as difficult as the trail from Sierra Madre. But on the way home from Sunday’s bike ride, I’d gone by the bottom of the Chantry Flat road and found that it, too, was closed due to the government shutdown. So Sierra Madre it was.

I met Karina at the trailhead at 7AM. It was barely past sunrise when we started up the trail. The sign at the bottom said that the trail had been built in 1864 by Don Benito Wilson, and that it was originally intended for mule trains and horses. Which explains why the trail builders didn’t seem to care all that much about taking the most efficient path up the mountain. There were several places on the way up where the trail dropped into narrow canyons, only to climb back up and out of them on the other side. I hate it when that happens.

A good bit of the lower part of the trail is through actual forest. That’s nice, since forests are kind of rare in southern California. We came across a couple of deer on the trail at one point. They ran away when they saw us coming.

Karina woke up with a cold this morning, so she was sort of dragging. She said that if she could make it to the trail junction at the top of Manzanita Ridge, she thought she’d make it to the summit. When we got to the top of the ridge, we stopped for a few minutes, and then continued on to the junction with the old Mt. Wilson Toll Road. At that point, Karina said ‘uncle’ and decided to turn back. I kept going, since we were almost at the top, and I’d never done that trail before.

The rest of the walk to the top took about 1/2 hour. I stopped briefly at the top to refill my water bottles. Then I headed down. I wanted to see if I could catch up with Karina before she made it back to the bottom. I stopped to take some pictures on the way down, including the steps on the foundation of Orchard Camp. I figured that was the closest I’d be coming to stairs today. I managed to average almost 3 miles per hour on the way down. I reset my GPS at the top, and when I got to the bottom, it said it was just a bit over 7 miles, and it took me 2 1/2 hours to do. Karina’s car was gone, but I later heard from her that she’d only gotten to the bottom about 40 minutes before I did.

In the end, it was a fun hike. It was pretty hard. Probably harder than Mt. Baldy was, even though that’s a much higher mountain. Still, I didn’t feel too wiped out. And I started thinking about maybe doing downtown for stair practice in the evening. I thought that doing that might be a good capstone of insanity for the day.

14 miles, 4,700 feet of climbing

10/14/2013

Monday furlough-cation

Filed under: — stan @ 9:54 pm

It’s Monday, and the government shutdown continues. But today would have been a holiday if we weren’t shut down. And Kathleen had the day off, too. So we made plans to ride the train to the science museum to go see the space shuttle on display there. I’d taken the Sunday morning bike club to see it being moved last year, so now we could see it in its new, albeit temporary, display hall. And then, since we were going to be near downtown, we planned on stopping off at the Wilshire-Figueroa building for some stair-climbing on the way home.

The train ride down was easy. It’s just so convenient. I can hardly remember what it was like when we had to drive everywhere. And since it’s a minor holiday, the museum wasn’t terribly crowded, and we didn’t have to reserve tickets to see the shuttle.

The exhibit is in two parts. The first has some background information about space flight and the shuttle, including the tires it landed on on its last flight, and the control center from Rocketdyne where they monitored the performance of the main engines during every launch. Then there was a short film about how the moved the shuttle from LAX to the museum. And then we went out to the building where it’s housed. There was a display around the outside of the room with a summary of each of the 135 shuttle flights. The two flights that ended badly had plaques with a black background. It’s interesting to note that in his addendum to the report on the Challenger disaster, Feynman estimates the overall probability of failure of the space shuttle:

“If a reasonable launch schedule is to be maintained, engineering often cannot be done fast enough to keep up with the expectations of originally conservative certification criteria designed to guarantee a very safe vehicle. In these situations, subtly, and often with apparently logical arguments, the criteria are altered so that flights may still be certified in time. They therefore fly in a relatively unsafe condition, with a chance of failure of the order of a percent (it is difficult to be more accurate).”

And he concludes as any good physicist would:

“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

In any event, looking back now at two failures in 135 launches, it seems Feynman was pretty much right on target.

Still, we don’t want to dwell on failure. The shuttle is still an amazing machine, and that it worked as well as it did is still pretty remarkable.

After leaving the museum, we took the train back to the 7th St Metro station and headed over to the building. We got changed and ready to climb. My plan was to go up several times, and I was going to try and do the first two in close to 10 minutes each time. Kathleen headed into the stairs just behind me. I caught up with her near the top on my second ascent. My times were all right, but not great. After that, I went up one more time, just because it was there. And then we went home.

It was a fun little adventure.

More government shutdown fun

Filed under: — stan @ 12:04 pm

I’ve been out of a job for the last two weeks due to the shutdown of the federal government, but today I got to enjoy a rare treat because of it. Turns out that the road up to Chantry Flat is closed to cars because of the shutdown, and so it’s become a 4-mile hike and bike trail for the last two weeks. So this morning, I went out to ride it.

I’ve ridden up this road many times before, but it’s rare to get to do it with no cars. And it was a perfect day for riding, so it was a winner all around.

16 miles.

10/11/2013

The Bridge to Nowhere

Filed under: — stan @ 6:34 pm

For many years, I’ve wanted to do the hike up the East Fork of the San Gabriel River to see the Bridge to Nowhere. So today was a good day. I went with Gary and Karina from my office, since we’re all on furlough-cation.

We headed out and got on the trail at about 9. I’d brought along some hiking poles, since the guidebook mentioned having to cross the river several times along the way, and I thought they would help for balance while rock-hopping.

The trail pretty much follows what’s left of the former road. There are a few places where there’s still enough pavement that it almost looks like a road, but for the most part, it’s all gone. In many places, I looked at the canyon and wondered what they were thinking back then to think they could even build a road through there.

We saw the foundations of a couple of bridges across the river along the way. There were places where the trail was hard to follow. Then two women and a dog passed us. They had a definite air of we-know-where-we’re-going, so we followed them for a bit. When they stopped to take a break, I talked with them and got some hints about the rest of the trail. At that point, we were almost at the Bridge.

The last part of the trail is pretty high up on the side of the canyon, and it’s easy to follow. Then it came around a bend, and there was the Bridge. The river is going through a narrow gorge at that point, so the bridge is high, and it’s anchored in the rock walls of the gorge, which I guess is why it didn’t get washed away when all the rest of the road did. We stopped for a bit at the bridge and had lunch. Then Gary and I went on, following the trail for about another 1/4 mile of climbing around the bend in the gorge, and then down to the river. There is a camp there, and it’s really a nice setting.

The way back was better, since we had a much better idea what we were doing. It turned out that we’d crossed the river more times than we needed to on the way out. Coming back, we only crossed it about four times.

In the end, we did about 10 miles. The total climb was about 1,000 feet. It wasn’t a hard hike, but it was interesting and fun.

10/10/2013

Rubio Canyon

Filed under: — stan @ 4:34 pm

It rained all day Wednesday, and I’m still a bit sore from the hike up Baldy on Tuesday, so today was a day to do something easy. I rode my bike up to Rubio Canyon and walked up the trail to the site of the old Rubio Pavilion. I’d been up there before, but that was back in 1996. That time, I got a nice picture of one of the waterfalls up there. But since then, the waterfalls were buried by a rockslide in 1998, and subsequently uncovered by a flash flood in 2004. So I was curious to see what the place looked like now.

The ride up to the trailhead was up some steep hills. Oddly enough, when we’re looking down on that neighborhood from up on Echo Mountain, it looks pretty flat. But it’s all on a pretty steep slope. When I got to the trail, I found a post and locked my bike up. Then I headed up the canyon.

The walk up the canyon is pretty easy. It’s only about a mile or so to the foundations of the old pavilion at the base of the former funicular up to Echo Mountain. Not a lot remains. Continuing up the canyon, I climbed over the rocks that had come down a few years ago until I saw the waterfall that I’d photographed back in 1996. There was no water today, even though it rained all day yesterday.

This was a nice little walk, and now I’m ready for the hike to the Bridge to Nowhere tomorrow.

10/8/2013

On top of Old Baldy

Filed under: — stan @ 8:22 pm

Well, I’m still on furlough-cation this week. I’ve recovered from last Thursday’s hike, so it’s time for another. I wanted to go and climb Mt San Antonio, colloquially known as Baldy, since I haven’t been up there since 1996. I’d only been up there three times ever, so I figured it was time. So I made plans to do this with Karina from my office.

We got an early start, and hit the trail from Manker Flat up to San Antonio Falls at 8AM. After a short walk up the fire road, we turned off onto the trail up the Bowl on the south slope of Baldy. The sign at the bottom mentioned that there were Jeffrey Pines in the forest above, and those are the ones with the bark that smells like vanilla. So I had to stop and smell the trees on the way up. We stopped for a break at the Sierra Club Ski Hut.

From the hut, the trail turned and went across the slope for a bit before it started a very steep climb up to the top of the ridge that comes off the summit on the south side. When we got to the top of the ridge, we had to take a rest. I checked my GPS, and it said we were close to 9,000 feet, so that meant the summit wasn’t too far away.

The final climb up to the summit was hard. It was steep, and there wasn’t enough air to breathe. When the GPS said 9,800 feet, I knew it wasn’t far, and that and the magnificent scenery were the only things between me and the crushing wave of “What the HELL are you trying to prove here?!?” that I always get while doing stair-climbing races. So this wasn’t so bad. And of course, we made it to the summit all right.

We had lunch on the summit, while trying to get away from all the bees. (Why are there bees living on top of a 10,000 foot mountain, anyway?) Then we headed down by way of the Devil’s Backbone Trail. This trail is famous for the section where it’s on a knife-edge ridge, with steep drops on both sides of the trail. And yes, that kind of gave me the willies. But we made it down all right, walking down into the ski area, and then down the very long fire road from the ski area back to where we started. That fire road was a long walk, but at least it was something where we could pretty much walk normally, rather than having to climb over boulders or anything like that. So it was pleasant enough. In the end, we made it back to the start in just a bit more than 8 hours. Not bad for 11 miles and about 4,000 feet of climbing. So yes, this was a fun day.


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