Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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3/13/2015

The view from Mt Hollywood

Filed under: — stan @ 11:10 pm

A couple days ago, I ran across this article:

la.curbed.com/archives/2015/03/spotlights_los_angeles_marathon_route.php

The plan was to put up 27 powerful searchlights along the Los Angeles Marathon route from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica, and have them turned on for about 90 minutes on Friday night. Of course, in their artist’s conception, it looked pretty cool. While it remained to be seen how good it would look in person, I was curious.

I figured that any suitably high overlook would be mobbed with people trying to see, so I thought that hiking up Mt. Hollywood in Griffith Park might be a good alternative. There’s usually a small crowd up there on any normal night, but regardless, I figured the fact of having to hike several miles to get there would ‘thin the herd’ a bit. So in the end, I went there with Karina, Morgan, and Jason from my office, and we hiked up the back side of the mountain.

This was my first time hiking this mountain since 2011. We went by way of the ‘anklebreaker trail’. I don’t know why they call it that, since it’s not a bad trail by any means. In any event, it was a fine way to get up the mountain, and we were at the top in just about one hour. At the top, there were a lot of people. More than on a regular evening, but still nothing like the crowds that had to be down below at the observatory. Looking down, I could see the road up to the observatory, and it was packed solid with cars, and nobody was moving. So I was glad not to be there.

We broke out some snacks while we were waiting for the 8:40 to come around. I put my camera on the tripod and took some test photos of the city lights, just to get a feel for how different exposure times would come out. I started at 1/30 and went up to a full second, and I figured that the longer exposure would give the best results. Fortunately, between the tripod and the remote shutter release, I was able to keep the camera very still for the shots.

When they turned on the searchlights, it wasn’t as spectacular as the artist’s conception. If there had been more haze, it would have been better. But I started taking pictures, and with some more experimenting, I found that by pushing the exposure time up to 6-8 seconds, I could get the lights to show up pretty nicely. So I took several photos looking toward the marathon start near downtown, and several more looking toward Santa Monica.

We looked at the lights for a little while before we had to head back down so we could be out of the park before the closed the gates at 10:30. On the way down, I stopped and took one more picture of the lights, this time with the mountain blocking the city lights. For that shot, I put the exposure up to 15 seconds, since I didn’t have to worry about city lights being overexposed.

On the way down, we took the fire roads most of the way. It was a little longer, but very easy to follow in the dark. And I got to try out the uber-powerful little flashlight I got last November, after Karina and I got caught in the dark on the way back from Cucamonga Peak. It worked quite well, so I was happy. This was a pretty fun little adventure.

3/7/2015

Mt Lowe

Filed under: — stan @ 4:17 pm

I’ve been wanting to hike to the actual summit of Mt. Lowe for some time. I did it once, back in about 1985 or so, but that time, we started at Eaton Saddle, over by Mt. Wilson, so it was a very easy hike. This time, we were going to do it the harder way, starting at Lake Ave in Pasadena. Still, it turned out to be quite a bit harder than I’d anticipated.

The hike up to Echo Mountain was pretty easy. We’ve done that plenty of times before, and there’s not much to it. From there, we headed up the Castle Canyon trail to Inspiration Point. I’ve only done that once before, so I didn’t remember much about it. I didn’t remember that the hike from Echo Mountain to Inspiration Point is actually a bit harder than the hike to Echo Mountain. And it’s really quite steep at the end. But we made it just fine, and spent a few minutes looking at the view from up there before continuing on to Mt Lowe.

According to the map, it’s about 1 3/4 miles from Inspiration Point to the top of Mt Lowe. And as it turned out, it was reasonably steep, too. The trail wraps around the north side of the mountain, and there was even some snow on the trail there. But when we got to the top, there was a bench to sit on, and a very nice view in all directions. Looking down into the valley, I could see the Caltech campus, so the net time I’m stair-climbing at Millikan Library, I’ll have to take a minute to look up and see which peak is Mt Lowe.

On the way down, I fell once. It was the usual thing of slipping on some sand on a steep part of the trail. But this time, after slipping just about a foot, my foot caught on a rock, and I ended up rolling forwards. For a brief moment, I thought I might end up rolling down the hill, but I was able to stop the roll and avoid going over the edge of the steep slope. Still, my hat came off and rolled down the slope, where it ended up impaled on a yucca plant. I had to walk down to the next switchback, which was below the yucca plant, and then I was able to climb up on a tree and rescue my hat by knocking it loose with one of the hiking poles. Sheesh. But I figured that Indiana Jones never left his hat behind, either.

When we got back down, we had 12 1/2 miles, and I know I’m going to be sore from this. Here’s the route map and the elevation profile.

1134.ddns.net/routemap.php?xmlfile=MtLowe

2/28/2015

The St Francis Dam Disaster

Filed under: — stan @ 5:32 pm

Back in 1978, I rode in the Bouquet Canyon Road Race, which was a bicycle race that went up Francisquito Canyon, across through Green Valley, and back down Bouquet Canyon. And at the time, I remember us riding up the canyon, and then, where the road went through a narrow spot, I saw great chunks of concrete next to the road. It was obviously the rubble from some great structure that had met an untimely end. So, years later, I looked it up and read about the St Francis dam and its collapse in 1928. And today, the Obscura Society was doing a tour of the site.

We met up at the fire station that is below the dam site, and next to DWP Power Plant #2. They had a small exhibit with photos of the dam both before and after the collapse. Our guide for the tour was Ann Stansell, who has studied the disaster, and who wrote her thesis about it. After looking at the photos and at the power plant, we all headed up the road to just above the dam site.

The old road through the canyon that I remembered riding on had been washed away in about 2005, and a new road was built around the washed-out section. So we met up at the top of the abandoned section of the road, and then we walked back down the canyon to the actual dam site. Along the way, we saw the foundations of a small hotel that had stood in the canyon before being flooded out when they started filling the reservoir.

When we got to the dam site, we could see the big piles of concrete rubble that I’d seen in 1978. It was all more overgrown now, but still an impressive pile of rubble. While we were standing there, I had a look at the west wall of the canyon. That was the rock that was implicated in the collapse, as it is a soft rock that I was able to break apart with my hands. In the final report on the collapse, it was described as “a reddish conglomerate which, even when dry, was of decidedly inferior strength and which, when wet, became so soft that most of it lost almost all rock characteristics.”

The group was going to climb up to the remains of the wing dike on the hillside above the west wall of the canyon, but before doing that, I followed Sandi down into the rubble field to see the big chunks of concrete.

After looking at the rubble close-up, I headed up the hillside to catch up with the group. They’d said that it was steep, and kind of a hard climb. But I figured it couldn’t be much worse than climbing skyscraper stairs, and I was able to catch up with them. And at the top, we got to see the remains of the wing dike. We walked out to the end of it, and from there, we could look across the canyon and visualize what the dam looked like when it was still standing. It was really pretty large. Ann also pointed out that the trees growing in the part of the canyon that used to be the reservoir are much greener and thicker than the ones below the dam site. She said that during the few years that there was a reservoir there silt collected on the bottom, and apparently the trees like that.

Leaving the dam site, we headed downstream a few miles to see the Ruiz family cemetery. A large number of the Ruiz family members were killed in the flood, and they were all buried there. The cemetery itself is on a small hill, so it was just above the level of the flood waters.

2/23/2015

The Garden of Water and Fragrance – Heh…

Filed under: — stan @ 4:37 pm

Last March, we had a chance to take a tour of the Hyperion sewage treatment plant. When we were there, they mentioned that there is another plant in Van Nuys that treats some tens of millions of gallons of wastewater every day, and it’s the reason why the Los Angeles River has water in it year-round now. And this week, the Obscura Society people set up a tour of it. The Tillman plant is quite a bit smaller than Hyperion, but it has the distinction of having a nice artificial lake and a Japanese garden outside, and the main building was used as the exterior shot of Starfleet Academy in several episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.

When we got there, they put us in hard hats for the tour of the plant. Just as at Hyperion, the headworks building was pretty smelly. From there, the water went to the aeration tanks, which had big brown frothy mats of bacteria floating on top. Yick. We were all a bit horrified by the life preserver rings they had next to each tank. But I guess the only thing worse than falling into a tank of sewage would be to fall into a tank of sewage and drown. That would be worse than being a drummer for Spinal Tap. After that, the water went to skimmers that skimmed off the floating material and whatever settled to the bottom. And finally, the relatively clear water was chlorinated to kill bacteria, and then de-chlorinated before being released into the lake, to Lake Balboa across the street, and into the L.A. River.

After the plant tour, a second docent took us on the tour of the Japanese Garden. And yes, he said that the choice of the garden’s name as “The Garden of Water and Fragrance” was deliberate. He took us around, pointing out the various birds, and the rocks and plants, with some attention to the aesthetic goals of how things were set up there. Along the way, we stopped in at the Tea House, which was used for filming a scene from “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery“. Apparently, the garden gets filmed a fair bit. Finally, we walked around the outside of the lake and over the zig-zag bridge.

It was an interesting and entertaining tour. And hey! Starfleet!

2/16/2015

Jones Peak

Filed under: — stan @ 3:53 pm

Since it’s a government holiday, we have the day off, so I went hiking with Karina and Erin from my office. Our destination was Jones Peak, which is just a little mountain in the front range of the San Gabriels, just above Sierra Madre. The trail is not very long, but it is reputed to be much harder than it seems like it should be.

Like the trail up Mount Lukens, this trail didn’t fool around. It was steep from the start. There was just a short walk up into Bailey Canyon before it turned and started switchbacking up the side of the canyon, before coming out at the top of the ridge connecting Jones Peak and the main mass of Mount Wilson. From there, it was just a short, but very steep climb up to the actual top of the mountain. There wasn’t anything much on top, but the view was very nice.

On the way down, we took a look down a little side trail. It went to the ruins of a small cabin. Since it’s in Bailey Canyon, someone had taken the trouble to make a up a plaque proclaiming that the cabin had belonged to George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

A bit farther down the trail, we stopped at a scenic overlook with a couple of benches. One of the benches was very tall, and our feet didn’t reach the ground below it. That was when I noticed the small plaque on the bench saying that it “…meets or exceeds All NBA standards”. Heh. It was a nice hike.

1/10/2015

The Marine Mammal Care Center

Filed under: — stan @ 2:58 pm

Today’s adventure was yet another tour arranged by the Obscura Society. This time, it was a visit to the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro. This is sort of a companion to our visit to the Marine Mammal Center near San Francisco last summer.

The Marine Mammal Care Center is the place to go for treatment and rehabilitation of rescued seals and sea lions in Los Angeles. It’s a relatively small place, with just a handful of pens with small pools for the animals. There’s also an office/lab/classroom building there, where the director of the center told us about the place, and about the animals they treat. He passed around a sea lion skull for us to look at. Apparently, the takeaway from all this is that sea lions have sharp teeth. That, and that harbor seals may look cute, but they also bite. So don’t get too near them.

After the talk inside, we went outside to see the animals. There were mostly sea lions there. He had said that they get a lot of malnourished and dehydrated animals there, and he described the procedure for tube-feeding sick animals. And when we were outside, we got to see three people wrestling a small sea lion to hold it down for tube-feeding. Afterward, the little pup looked like he’d just endured an alien abduction.

There was another pen that had several sea lions in it. They said that they were all nearly healthy enough to be released back into the ocean. They were being fed, but they were feeling good enough that they were playing with the fish. Which was fine with the very large bird sitting and watching them. Whenever they would toss a fish out of the water, the bird would come down and steal it.

It was an interesting morning. And since were were already in San Pedro, we took a short side trip to see the Korean Friendship Bell in the park down the street. Then we went home by way of Dim Sum in Chinatown. All together, that made a for a fun time.

11/29/2014

Sightseeing downtown San Diego

Filed under: — stan @ 9:17 pm

On Friday and Saturday this week, Lucinda and I went to San Diego to visit my father. He was sick for a while recently, and it’s only in the last month that he’s been feeling better. Since it’s a holiday weekend, the only Residence Inn that had suites available was the one in downtown San Diego. So we stayed there on Friday night, and on Saturday morning, I went out for a little sightseeing walk.

I’d seen the Star of India there before, but I hadn’t realized that it’s part of a larger maritime museum, and that they have both a Russian and a U.S. submarine on display there. All that, and an exhibit about sailors and tattoos. I think we will have to go there the next time we go.

A little farther down, I passed the Midway Museum. We went to see that some years ago. Next to that was the “Unconditional Surrender” statue. I’d heard about this, but not been to see it before.

Heading back to the hotel, I went through part of downtown to see the buildings I’ve climbed in past stair races. The One America Plaza building is the tallest in San Diego, and we all climbed it last March. The 550 Corporate Center building is only 20 stories, but it was the location for the 2014 Towerthon. I climbed that building 20 times in two hours that day.

I walked through the San Diego Trolley station, where I saw the Orange and Green Line trains. Again, I think that San Diego MTS is channeling Magritte. The trains say Orange and Green on them, but they are clearly Red.

The last building I looked at was Columbia Center. This was the setting for the 2012 and 2013 Towerthon. Both times, I climbed the building 17 times in two hours.

Back at the hotel, I got Lucinda up for breakfast, and afterward, we took a walk through Little Italy. They had a big farmer’s market going there. We got some fresh juices, looked around, and we were both a bit disturbed by the fresh sea urchins. Still, it was a fun time. And afterward, we went to visit with Grandpa.

11/22/2014

Cucamonga Peak

Filed under: — stan @ 10:38 pm

Last month, when we climbed Mt Baldy, Karina had mentioned that she thought that the hike up Cucamonga Peak was actually a bit harder than the Baldy hike. Given how hard Baldy is, I was a bit skeptical. Still, I’d always wanted to try Cucamonga Peak, since it’s one of the highest mountains in the front part of the San Gabriels.

We started up the trail at 9:23 in the morning. It was promising to be a nice day, although we thought that there might be a bit of snow up high, since it had rained a tiny bit a couple nights ago. Starting out up Ice House Canyon, we passed by several cabins, and several more ruins of former cabins. Judging by the size of the boulders in the canyon that had pretty obviously fallen from high up, it was not surprising to see that some of the cabins had been destroyed. As we got a little higher up the canyon, we could see that there was a thin layer of snow on the south wall of the canyon. The north wall was in sunlight, and the snow there had melted. There were just some small patches in the shade of trees or rocks.

At that point, the trail got steep, and we went up a series of big switchbacks to climb up out of the canyon. And then we came out in Ice house Saddle. At that point, there were trails going off in different directions to climb various nearby peaks. It was here that I realized how cold it really was, and I put on my sweatshirt and sweatpants.

The trail to Cucamonga Peak goes around the side of Bighorn Peak, and the first part of the trail is across the north side of the mountain. There was quite a bit of snow there. The side of the mountain there is very steep, and the trail is just a narrow path carved into the steep slope. With snow on it, it was really kind of scary. I got out both my poles to use for balance and stability.

As we came around to the saddle between Bighorn Peak and Cucamonga Peak, the snow went away, although the trail was still crossing some intimidatingly-steep slopes. When we got to the saddle, we stopped and had lunch. From the sounds we were hearing, it sounded like the wind was blowing pretty hard higher up, so we figured that it was probably better to stop in the relatively-sheltered saddle for lunch. While we were there, another group of three hikers passed us. We had passed them on the way up Ice House Canyon, so I said we should make it our goal to catch them before the summit.

Leaving the saddle, the trail started up some more steep switchbacks, including a couple of crossings across a big scree slope that kind of gave me the willies. Fortunately, it was on the west side of the peak, so there was no snow there. There was more snow farther up the trail, but the north-facing slopes there had a fair number of big trees on them, so it didn’t feel so exposed. We caught up with the other group just a short distance below the summit.

At the top, I made a point to climb up and stand on top of the highest rock, just, you know, because. We had a look at the view down into Cajon Pass, where we’d been on the office field trip last week. I was particularly impressed by how steep and rugged the south face of Etiwanda Peak was. After a few minutes, the other group came up to the summit, and we got them to take our souvenir picture with the view. I also gave them some of my water, since I wasn’t going to use all that I’d brought along.

When we started back down, we made much better time than on the way up. It first, I thought we’d make it back before sundown, but we really missed that extra hour of sunlight that we had for Baldy last month. And sunset came when we were still about a mile from the end. At that point, i was glad that I’d thought to put a flashlight in my pack. It wasn’t a particularly bright one, but it helped. And we made it back to the end. On the way home, we wondered what had become of the group we’d seen at the top, since we didn’t see them at all on the way down, so they must have come down much later than us. Anyway, it was a fun hike, and yes, I agree now that it’s harder than Mt Baldy. I also think that a hike this long was perhaps a bit over-ambitious for this time of year. We really didn’t like walking that last mile in the dark. Still, it was a good time.

11/12/2014

Field Trip!

Filed under: — stan @ 8:50 pm

A few weeks ago, Sue Hough sent an email out to the office to see who would be interested in a field trip to tour the San Andreas Fault in the Antelope Valley, a bit north of Los Angeles. The sights would be taken from her book, Finding Fault in California. As it turned out, there was quite a bit of interest. In the end, it was enough interest that we rented a 24-passenger bus and driver for the day so we could take the trip.

We met at the office early Wednesday morning, and then we headed out. We went past JPL, which is located right on the trace of the Sierra Madre Fault, and has a very nice, steep scarp right behind it. Our first real stop was the small fault scarp next to the McDonald’s at 1955 Glenoaks Blvd in San Fernando. This scarp was formed in the 1971 San Fernando Earthquake. I took the bike club there to see the scarp last June.

Continuing on up the freeway, we went through the 5/14 freeway interchange. This interchange fell down in the 1971 earthquake. It was rebuilt, and then fell down again in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. Then we went up the 14 freeway, through the mountains, coming out in Palmdale. We went one exit farther up the freeway than we needed to, since that let us go through a somewhat-famous road cut on the freeway. It’s where the freeway crosses the trace of the San Andreas Fault, and in that cut, the rock layers look particularly jumbled and twisted from the motion of the fault.

Heading east out of Palmdale, we went along the northern edge of the San Gabriel Mountains. We stopped for a photo-op at a place where some people put up signs on the road to mark the trace of the fault. Makes it really easy to find, when there’s a big sign pointing it out. This site was very near where Kerry Sieh did his first trenching studies on the fault, back in the ’70s.

A little while later, the road started to climb into the mountains, still following the trace of the fault. We stopped at another road cut where the cut went right through the fault gouge. The side of the cut was basically packed sand and pulverized rock. Digging into it with our hands, there were some solid pieces of rock buried in there, but as Sue showed us, those solid pieces were actually shattered, and we could crumble them to sand in our hands. We also saw a tree there that was kind of bent at the top. There has been some research done on trees in that area that grow along the fault line. There are trees that show signs of having been broken off in past earthquakes.

In Wrightwood, we took one small side trip to look at some recent debris flows, and how the town has attempted to guide future debris flows to minimize damage to the town.

Coming down the east side of the mountain from Wrightwood, we ended up coming out by the 15 freeway in Cajon Pass. We took one more side trip to see Lost Lake, which is a small sag pond on the fault there.

This made for an interesting day of sightseeing. Have I mentioned lately that I really like my job?

11/3/2014

Chicago 2014

Filed under: — stan @ 11:08 pm

This weekend was our yearly trip to Chicago to visit, play tourist, and to climb the stairs up the Sears Willis Tower. After the ordeal we had last year on this trip, we were hoping that things would go smoother this time. Last time, our trip out was delayed a day by the shootings at LAX, so the odds seemed to be in our favor this time. We got to the airport at about 9:45 for our 11:05 flight, and everything seemed all right. But almost immediately, they said that the flight was delayed to 12:15. And a little while later, that was pushed back to 1:20. So we had some lunch and waited some more.

The next time I checked, our flight was listed as ‘Canceled’. It was about this time that we started to hear talk of bad weather in Chicago, and that air traffic bound there from all over the country was being delayed. I went to one of the check-in kiosks to see what I could find out. It told me that we’d been rescheduled for a new flight at 3:41. So that didn’t seem too bad. It was about this time that I finished reading the book I’d brought along. And since we weren’t going anywhere any time soon, I went looking for something else to read. I picked up a copy of The Martian and started reading it.

When it came time to get on the airplane, as soon as we were all aboard, they said that we were going to be delayed another hour, and that if we wanted to, we could get off and walk around some. But soon after that, they announced that we were going to push back from the gate. We weren’t leaving. But they needed the gate for another flight coming in. So we got to sit in the airplane for about an our, parked out on the taxiway. I was glad that I’d found an entertaining book to read, otherwise the waiting would have been even worse.

We finally got under way at about 5:30. The flight was pretty uneventful, and we got to Chicago at about 11:45 Friday night. By now, it was far too late to go for dinner, and almost everything in the airport was closed. So we walked over to the Airport Hilton, where they had a bar and restaurant still open. We stayed there for a short time, and then rode the train to our hotel.

Saturday morning, we went downstairs and got breakfast. Then we rode the train downtown to pick up our race packets at the Sears Willis Tower. And after that, we had to immediately head over to the Weird Chicago tour we’d signed up for. It was three hours on a bus, traveling around the city, visiting sites significant to the city’s Mob history. It made a nice companion piece to the time we went to the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. After the tour, we got on the train and headed over to the West Loop neighborhood to meet up with all our stair climbing friends for dinner.

On Sunday morning, we got up bright and early and headed downtown. We got to the building at about 8:15, and I got right in line to climb. There was kind of a lot of traffic in the stairwell. On several occasions, I had to push through groups of people. There were a few people who were climbing who were obviously handicapped, using canes and such. For them, I went around the outside. But they were going slow enough that going around wasn’t a big problem. For everyone else, I just pushed through, up the inside railing.

I managed to maintain my target pace of five floors per minute up to about 65 or so. Then I started to slow down a bit. In the end, I made it to the top in 23:10. Not blazing fast, but not bad, either. That works out to something like 4.6 floors per minutes average. It was pretty close. I was originally planning on going back down and walking up with Kathleen, but my knee was not feeling good, so I just sent her a message that I’d just stay at the top until she got there. I took a guess at when she’d get there, and I made a point to go over near the door then. And when she came out, she started crying. It was a hard climb. The stairs there are steeper than most normal office building stairs, and psychologically, that’s hard. But she perked up pretty fast. We went around and looked at the view, and we got our picture taken on the south side of the building, where the sun came in. That way, we could get a picture of us with the view, but without us being just silhouettes against the window. Most of the time, when people try and take those pictures, it ends up looking like Witness Protection climbed the tower.

After the climb, we went back to our hotel and got cleaned up. After that, we went back downtown to meet up with my old friend Laura. She’s in the restaurant business and recently moved to Chicago to oversee the setup and opening of the restaurants in the soon-to-be-opened Virgin Hotel there. We had a nice lunch, and after that, we went to Union Station to get the train to Libertyville to visit Kathleen’s aunt and uncle there. We spent the night at their house, and we all went to the Chicago Botanic Garden the next day. And after that, they dropped us off at O’Hare for our flight home.

Our flight home was not delayed like Friday’s flight out. In fact, the delay coming back was only about an hour or so. Still delayed, but nowhere near as much as on Friday. So all told, it was a fun trip, aside from the actual traveling part. And yes, I liked The Martian. It’s not that often I chew through a 350+ page book in under 24 hours.

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