Sunday, September 27, 2009

Not all who wander are lost

Last week I joined the Cochrane Search and Rescue team. For the next 2 months I go through a rigorous training and certification process. I'm excited to learn some new skills and use what skills I've acquired from years of bush work.
This weekend was rope and knot skills taught by the high-angle rescue team. Many new skills and techniques for me and many new knots to practice. As many of these skills were ones I was prepared to pay to learn in a climbing school, volunteering my future time will be an equitable trade.
My previous rants about poorly equiped people wandering into the middle of nowhere will likely come to an end now that I will soon be looking for them!

The Bow Valley became barbecue flavoured this week due to a rich smoke that wafted in. Weather conditions cooperated enough for the continuation of the Mt. Nestor prescribed burn (Mt Nestor is seen in my header banner.) The intent is to create a firebreak for our community as well as pine beetle control. It will also mimic the natural forest cycles that fire fighting has stalled. New mountain sheep habitat will be created. Berries will proliferate here drawing bear activity away from the populated Bow Valley.
My only disappointment was that I didn't get a chance to see it before it burned. Mt Nestor was on my list of climbs this fall but hip flexor tenderness has forced me to eliminate a few trips and this one got the axe. The view from the summit will be reduced but as I've often cautioned, environmentalism is often confused with anthro-centric aesthetics.

Smoke fills the Bow Valley as seen from Mt Yamnuska

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Obama v Khadafi: If you see a difference, You lost the battle of the hypocrites.

Obama spoke to the UN yesterday calling for a 'new era of engagement.' Like all Obama speeches, it sounds good but means little. Here's what the 'New Era' has meant in America, the country he has the power to change.

-excused CIA operatives from prosecution for violations of the torture conventions signed by the US. Went even further by offering the torturers legal support in case of international prosecution.
-refused to prosecute those higher up the chain of command for drafting illegal interrogation methods.
-refused to prosecute or even investigate constitutional violations such as illegal wiretapping, falsification of evidence and obstruction of justice in Department of Justice or CIA
-continues to violate habeus corpus, holding prisoners without charges.
-continued illegal Iraq war
-escalated Afghan War
-when Pakistan refused US troops movements, Obama authorizes illegal predator drone attacks within Pakistan. Since Jan 2009, 152 civilians in Pakistan have been killed. Western press remains mute.
-funnels hundreds of millions of dollars to Honduran coup while State Department claims to have suspended minor funding. American pattern of supporting non-left coups in Latin American continues while it uses democracy as a justification for invading other countries.

Obama may not speak like the condescending retard George Bush, but actions speak louder than words. Claiming you want to "look forward not backwards" as Obama says, is a sugar coated way of consenting to injustice. George Bush acted as though the application of law was discretionary. It appears that Obama is of the same mind. So much for the New Era.

In a classic case of 'feel fair and talk foul' and 'talk fair and feel fouler' as Tolkein wrote, I actually found it interesting comparing the speeches of Obama and Khadafi. Khadafi was universally ridiculed in the press for his rambling 90 minute oration. Laughing at him though, made it easier not to answer some of his angry questions. Why if the UN is always talking of democracy, is the UN itself not a democracy? He refers of course to the only limb of the UN with power, the security council which excludes 185 of the 192 member nations! He also questioned Western characterization of Islam as being anti semitic when it was Western Europe that tried to exterminate the Jews. When Europe was cleansing itself of Jews, Arab nations were providing them with refuge. Khadafi went on to champion the causes of the developing world.
This may seem hypocritical considering Khadafi was responsible for state sponsored terror. I just don't see a difference between the Lybian version and the American version. Compared to his own actions, Obama's speech was just as hypocritical.

"Handsome is as handsome does" says the Gaffer.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Greyhound Monopoly; do not pass 'GO,' do not collect 15M

Re: Greyhound Cutbacks

Greyhound this week issued an ultimatum that it would need 15 million dollars to continue servicing unprofitable routes. The company enjoys this position of demanding money for being unprofitable by virtue of its inside deal. In exchange for a government protected monopoly, Greyhound services small communities mandated by the government.

For those of you who have always wondered why public transportation is so expensive look no further. Government protected monopolies created a deficit of transit competition that makes private transportation one of the cheapest options to the chagrin of environmentalists. Curiously, there is a direct correlation to cost per distance of a given mode of transportation, and whether or not its users bear the entire cost. In the US, the cheapest mode of transportation (apart from walking or bicycling) is the airplane at 13 cents per passenger mile followed by the automobile at 23 cents per mile, Amtrak is 56 cents per mile and lastly transit at 70 cents per mile. Of special note is that users pay all the costs of flying while transit at the bottom is heavily subsidized and monopolized. While it stings to have to pay the many airport service fees, at least the costs of air travel are borne by the users allowing efficiency to best evolve the network.

Ending the monopoly inefficiencies would go a long way towards a public transportation system that could be cheaper and more attractive to single occupancy drivers. As with many parts of our economy the problem is not the market. It's that there is no market.

Randal O'Toole has a good article that touches on this at the Cato Institute. The summary and first page appear dry and a little boring but it's a pretty interesting article. Non-libertarians (I include myself here) may need to park the odd sacred cow at the door to let him complete his argument but it's worth doing.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Not so Lonely Mountain II

I usually enjoy planning hikes and climbs. The maps get spread across the floor, the dog-eared books litter the table and a path is worn between google earth and the coffee pot. However, when a friend comes out hiking, I always feel a little pressure to find the perfect trip to suit their expectations. So it was when Captain Orange confirmed that he would have a day in August to throw himself at whatever the mountains might offer. Knowing him as I do made the job of planning pretty easy. Something difficult with just a hint of the unknown thrown in. When I discovered that getting to Bow Peak involved a sketchy fording of the Bow River which might actually be too strong for safe passage, I realized this was the place for us.

From the Google Earth screen capture, I've drawn our route which begins on the icefields parkway, skirts some marshland then crosses Bow lake as it falls into the raging Bow River. If the river had been too strong, our backup plan was to cross the highway and climb Cirque Peak but the fates approved and allowed us to pass.

In the picture Mike makes the crossing which was about knee deep but with a pretty strong current that required one to take the task serious least you be carried down the rapids. The route then meanders up a drainage that contained a magical mixture of flowers, gentle waterfalls, glades and grass. For the better part of forty minutes we barely made any progress as we constantly stopped and admired it all while we made futile attempts to capture it with photographs.

We finally climbed above the treeline where Mike found some good granite to do some scrambling. Much of the rock in the Rockies is weather beaten limestone which tends to confine technical rock climbing to small areas of 'good rock.' In the picture here, this outcrop was an unusual granite that proved to be a good warm-up along the way.

After gaining the saddle between Bow Peak and Crowfoot Mt. we enjoyed the view of the valley as we surveyed our best route up . The funny thing about the mountains is that things look differently from different angles and different altitudes. From the saddle, what appeared to be gravel sized rock turned out to be a jumbled mass of rock sized between a living room and a rubics cube! An unfortunate characteristic of these boulders was that none of them seemed to be stable. Every foot placement and handhold caused each rock to wobble and slide a bit. It gave one the impression that you were about to slide down the pitch with several thousand tonnes of rock grinding you up like a canary in a cement mixer. In the picture above, I can't hide my displeasure with the sensation in spite of my rational understanding that these were not actually going to tumble down the pitch.
From the video you can get a sense of the endless boulders. But with determination and many brief rests, we won the ridge, a precarious knifeblade of decaying rock and massive stacked blocks.

While I chose a line that had a drop merely on only one side, Mike tip-toed across the blade of the knife interrupting his puffing with the occasional awed-imbued laugh. Of course you only need one side to fall down so I'm not sure why I felt safer but the mind is a funny thing. It did allow me to get some good shots of Mike on the ridge line. This picture comes close to expressing the sensation of space that being on a thin rope of land at the top of the earth creates. The ridge finally ended at the summit (9401ft) where we wrote our names in the summit register and drank in the view. As great as summits are, I often feel compelled to leave them. I have an acute sensation of how much effort I am from being safely on the ground. Lingering on a summit feel as bit like a game of chicken to me though it was a tough sell to convince Mike that we should probably make our way down.

By the time we made it off the steepest section and back to where we could hike out, the conversation had tapered off through tiredness. Though when it came time to cross the lake, a lively debate ensued as to whether the sun had melted the glaciers enough over the day to raise the level of the water and make our crossing more difficult. Examining our pictures from the morning we comically realized we crossed in a different spot. I prefer to imagine that the Fates opened a gate for us in our morning crossing and were now trying to close that gate by raising the water level. The rain that began to fall as soon as we closed the car doors certainly amplified the sense of Fortuna's blessing.

It was a great day with so many awe filled spectacles that each new one drove the next one out of my memory: torrential rivers, delicate flowers, stark valleys, pristine lakes, distant glaciers, accomplishment, adrenaline. Lung-burning serenity is one of many fleeting sensations in the mountains. Experiencing such fleeting moments with a good friend I think helps them endure.

more pics