Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Archive for August, 2007

Airstream Camper Tips

posted: August 31st, 2007 | by:Bert

Airstream, home much of the year

Airstream camper, home much of the year

©Bert Gildart: I’ve been trying to shift gears, still reveling in my experiences from climbing Mount Rainier. This morning I received just what I needed, an e-mail note asking for advice about Airstream travel trailers, boon-docking, photography–and any other Airstream Camper Tips I might have. The note was what I needed, for these are, of course, some of my favorite subjects as those who follow this blog realize. With the help of the man’s note, I was able to leap the bridge from the beauty of Rainier to what we’ve come to take for granted as our home away from home. Obviously, that’s a compliment to the reliability of our Airstream.

The note came from Bob Mariano, a coach with the SF Giants, and I was flattered that his questions were generated as a result of a story of mine that appeared in this last issue of Airstream Life—and from my blog. The story pertained to Airstreaming through the Sonoran Desert, and Bob’s questions made me realize just how much we’ve enjoyed our trailer and how we’ve made this lifestyle work for us over periods that have spanned as much as nine full months. The thoughts that follow are essentially in response to the questions posed by this Minor League Hitting Coordinator.

First, this is the second Airstream we’ve owned, so obviously we like the brand. Our first model was a 25-foot Safari, which we traded in several years later for a 2005 28-foot Safari—with slideout. Unfortunately, Airstream no longer makes this combination. Because of our extended trips, we enjoy the extra room provided by the slideout. Today, we’d have to go to the Classic 30-foot trailer, with slideout. That wouldn’t be a bad option, though it would be a much more expensive option.

Other than the abandonment of the Safari 28 with slideout, my only other complaint is that front panels are susceptible to rock dings, something we learned on Airstream number 1. To prevent dings on Airstream number 2, we installed on our hitch a Rock Solid Rock Guard. The guard consists of a series of segmented rubber flaps that span the distance between the two rear tires and that almost touch the ground. Installing the guard seemed to eliminate our problem for last year, we drove from Montana to Nova Scotia, to the Florida Everglades, to New Orleans, to the Sonoran Desert, and then home—with many stop, of course, in between. In those nine months, we logged more than 20,000 miles and during that entire time, sustained but one tiny ding just above the left front panel. One day we’ll have that covered with a rivet.

We pull our trailer with a Dodge 2500 equipped with the Cummins Diesel engine. When not towing, we sometimes average close to 18 mpg; when towing, and with kayaks mounted on the roof of our pickup, our average drops to about 14.5 mpg. We drive conservatively, and we think that if you are environmentally conscientious, this setup works well. In fact, a case could be made for Airstreams as being the most environmentally friendly of all RVs, because it has such a low coefficient of drag. However, the case is well made by any RVer whose lifestyle is such that they base themselves for long periods of time, relying for entertainment on bikes, kayaks, canoes and time spent fishing (this for Bob) along rivers and streams.

The Sonoran Desert is a wonderful place to make use of solar panels, and our Airstream has two. With them, we can fully recharge our batteries, even if we watched TV off our batteries the previous night. Solar panels don’t work as well when we camp, for instance, in Glacier, as we’re often in heavily forested areas. During such times, we augment our energy needs with our Honda 2000 generator (very quiet), which provides enough power to operate a microwave, but not enough to operate an air conditioner.

Last summer, for a brief period in Theodore Roosevelt National Park—when temperatures exceeded 100°—we wished for a second Honda generator to hook in series with first. Honda makes a special kit that sells for about $200 and that enables such a combination. With that combination, we could have operated our air. Instead, we sought out a commercial campground, something that went against our grain as we so thoroughly enjoy “boon docking.” With our setup, generally we can camp free of commercial settings for as long as we want. All we need is access to water and a dump. We re-supply water ever 3-4 days, and empty grey and black water about once a week, using our “Blue-boy.”

One of the coach’s final questions concerned my camera preference. I have always used Nikons, first in the film format, but now in the digital format. Currently, I own a D-200 and use a complement of lenses acquired over 30 years ranging from an 18mm wide angle to a 600mm telephoto for wildlife. Today, all my images are edited using PhotoShop CS2 and then stored on external hard dives, which we carry with us as we travel. In this way, I can sell images as we travel, something we did often last year as we traveled, extracting in some cases from images taken years ago. My files now number over 100,000.

So there you have it: That’s how we travel and how we work as we travel. The lifestyle is not for everyone, but we thoroughly enjoy what we do and meeting so many interesting people along the way. Perhaps we’ll meet our new reader, and we’d be flattered if he’d then spend a bit of time telling us about his work as a Hitting Coordinator for the SF Giants.

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Mount Rainier Climbing Synopsis

posted: August 22nd, 2007 | by:Bert

Camp Muir

Camp Muir 10,000'

©Bert Gildart: What follows is a short synopsis of my climb up 14,411 foot-high Mount Rainier this past week. As well, I’m including a few thoughts of what I believe you might expect of a guide.

Our trip of two guides and four clients began at Paradise, elevation about 5,000’, at approximately 10 a.m. Most of us were a bit older, which our guides completely understood. At 67, I was the oldest.

Our first destination was Camp Muir, a distance of about four miles and as we climbed we moved along steadily. About half way up we passed Pebble Creek, last place from which guides said were we could obtain fresh running water. Shortly thereafter we hit the Muir Snow field and then, several hours later, we reached Camp Muir, the historic old camp that had been named for John Muir. Muir, of course, was a wilderness proponent and the founder of the Sierra Club.

Ingrahm Glacier Camp

Camp Ingrahm

At that point our elevation was about 10,000 feet, and we all seemed to handle the thin air well. The camp consists of a stone hut where independent climbers were overnighting. International Mountain Guides had established a nearby tent camp and though the outside air was comfortable, we all enjoyed a break from the elements and a warm meal.

Because Paul Baugher, one of the owners of IMG, had arranged a private outing, we had to camp away from the Camp Muir, which we did, hiking first about a mile across Cowlitz Glacier toward Cathedral Rocks. There we used shovels and our ice axes to carve back the ice and create a platform for our tents. Later, we enjoyed another warm meal cooked by Aaron Mainer. Our camp was gorgeous and it was backdropped by Adams, Mount Hood and by Mount St. Helens.

The next day we continued a short distance, ascending Cathedral Rocks which then leveled out onto Ingraham Glacier. Once again IMG had established a seasonal intermediate camp, though this one about two- thousand feet higher, meaning we had ascended to an elevation of about 12,000 feet. Because some of the ice had shifted, we had to reposition one of the tents, requiring the construction of another ice platform.

Essentially, the remainder of the day was one of relaxation, and that evening after another hearty meal, we retired at 5 p.m. Though it is doubtful any of us slept, all seemed to rest, and that was fortunate, for we were about to embark on the most difficult part of our ascent.

At 11 p.m., Paul awakened us all and we enjoyed yet another meal. Then, to avoid the warming influence of sun on snow and the avalanches and rock falls warmed snow might trigger, we struck out at 1 a.m., and did so at what was a very brisk pace. Before we had gone an hour, one in the party had to drop out because of the flare up of a reoccurring injury. Aaron took him back to our Ingrahm Glacier Camp.

Emmons Glacier Route to Summit

Emmons Glacier Route to Summit

As we continued, we remaining four passed around Disappointment Cleaver and crossed over an ice bridge that peered down into a deep crevasse. Rangers had installed a balance rope and in addition, Paul inserted an anchor and belayed us over the bridge so providing yet extra security. Shortly thereafter we passed at least one group that surely was half my age. The wind had picked up and Paul felt we should press on. At this point we had crossed onto Emmons Glacier, largest outside of Alaska. This would be our conduit to the top.

From this point, the ascent became particularly steep, and I do not think it an exaggeration to say that the steepness of the ascent approached 45 degrees. Training that IMG had provided really paid off, for it was the “rest step” grilled into us over and over and now repeated thousands of times that eventually helped us ascend the last 1,500 feet. Still, it was a struggle.

As we neared the top the wind began gusting and because it knocked both Knox and me flat onto our rears, we concluded it was blowing close to 70 miles per hour. The air here was thin, and perhaps that, too, had robbed us of the strength we needed to stay erect, for on several more occasions it again knocked me flat.

At 7 a.m. we finally reached the top, but it was a virtual whiteout. A wan sun tried to break through the swirling clouds but without success. Still, we knew we were in a huge cinder cone, created by a huge volcanic that is still active. Nevertheless, I pulled out my camera, took photos of the group, and then we began our return.

Several days after returning, I poked around on other web sites and discovered that most climbers had more difficulty with the return trip than with any other portion, for climbers must now descend almost 10,000 feet—and generally all in the remainder of that day. But some, I discovered, returned to Camp Muir, slept, and then descended, adding yet another day to their outing. Others (and these were apparently much younger groups) simply took an hour or two longer, returning to Paradise at 8 or 9 in the evening rather than 6, as did we. One group I read about didn’t return until after midnight.

The Summit 14,000'

The Summit 14,000' plus

I would have preferred a slower pace. As it was we reached Paradise about 5:30, descending through clouds backdropped once again by Mount Adams. An hour later I was back at our Airstream Trailer, and, my, but did it look good! Janie was waiting (and, yes, she looked good too!!) and Knox gave her a thumbs up. She smiled and I actually thought she was glad to see me back safe and sound. Then, she wanted to know everything about our climb, and that’s something I’m still evaluating.

Bottom line, I made it and doubt I would have succeeded on a first attempt without such excellent guidance. Nevertheless, I’m providing a few thoughts about the understanding you and your guide should have.

In summary, if you’re joining a guided trip, ask your guide in advance what kind of latitude you might have.

If you want take photos, will you have time?

If you are slow, but believe you ultimately have the stamina to reach the top, will you be forced into a pace that is totally exhausting? If you’re older but in good shape, recuperative powers still kick in, though sometimes it takes a few more minutes. If you’re not in shape, it doesn’t make any difference how young you are, and you will probably fall into that 50% of climbers who don’t summit.

By and large our guides were cognizant of our concerns and these suggestions are simply intended to help you shape questions that you might want to ask your guide prior to signing on.

Clouds Below and Mount Adams

Clouds Below 10,000' and Mount Adams

Would I do it again? You bet, and am, in fact, contemplating a three score and 10 climb. Because that’s the time supposedly allotted to us here on this Good Earth that will be my Biblical climb.

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Faces From Mount Rainier

posted: August 16th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Representatives of the various guide services that help individuals ascend Mount Rainier say that to successfully complete the climb , you must be in the best shape of your life. The National Park Service adds yet another thought, saying that those climbers attempting an ascent stand the best chance of success if accompanied by a guide.

The past week, as those of you know who follow the blog Janie and I have maintained this past year recall, I ascended and descended Mountain Rainier. All totaled, the adventure required three days, and though I’m not sure I was in the best shape of my life, I was close to it. Nevertheless, the ascent was exceedingly difficult. I can also say that getting to the top was the result of a team effort and the help of several very good guides.

What follows in this posting is a series of photos of individuals in our group with a few comments about each. I suspect our group was somewhat typical, though perhaps on average, a bit older than most. I also suspect that we had our share of disappointments and achievements.

Paul Baugher

Paul Baugher

Heading the list is Paul Baugher, one of the owners of International Mountain Guides. With legs shaped like those of an elephant, the man is built for Rainier, and judging from the manner in which he was greeted by other guides along the trail, one of the best known. If I were in a bind on Mount Rainier, I’d feel comforted knowing Paul was leading the rescue party.

Aaron Mainer

Aaron Mainer

Aaron Mainer, another International Mountain guide, has worked for several years for this relatively new Rainier guide service. Though my experience with mountain guides is limited, Aaron, seems destined to become one of the most sought after guides. Personable, yet firm when times demanded, we hope Aaron’s former life here in the Flathead as a guide in Glacier National Park will require his return—and that he will take time to look us up. On our climb, he was the chief cook. As well, he was our mountaineer instructor on the day prior to our August 10 departure. From him we learned the “Rest Step,” some basic rope skills, and the techniques for self-arrest using our ice axes.

Jennifer Fogle

Jennifer Fogle

As a friend of the International Mountain Guides, Jennifer Fogle was a last minute add-on. Despite her gender, she was the one person none doubted would have any difficulty. In previous years, she has summited several times. When not climbing mountains, she works locally as an electrician. Once, when I was concerned that some of my muscles might give out, she encouraged me to continue, saying “we were a team,” and that she would “not be disappointed” if we did not reach the top.

David Bristol

David Bristol

My only disappointment was that my good friend David Bristol (a veterinarian) was unable to make it to the top. About two hours into the last day (We started at 1 a.m. to avoid avalanche danger), a nagging injury to his hamstring cropped back up and he had to return to our second-day base camp. Last year David reached the top of one of the Grand Tetons, so he is perfectly capable of ascending Rainier. The flare up was just bad luck! Contractually, a guide must accompany clients, so Aaron also had to return to base camp with David leaving Paul to lead those that remained.

Knox Williams, Aaron Mainer

Knox Williams, Aaron Mainer

Also in our group was Knox Williams, retired now from his work as an avalanche expert in Colorado. In years past, Knox, David and I have backpacked together in different parts of Glacier National Park. On this climb, Knox seemed tireless, despite his inauguration as a “grey beard,” albeit a young one. Aaron is to the right of Knox, and both are backdropped by Mount Adams and Mount Hood. We could also see Mount St. Helens.

Last, of course, is yours truly, pictured with my wife Janie on the window to the right. As the photographer in the group, I forgot to turn the camera my direction. Though my experiences in the mountains are certainly not the equal of some of the above-mentioned professionals, I am not a complete novitiate either. Highlighting my outdoor resume is a month-long unassisted backpack trip through the Arctic Refuge with Janie. Poke around this blog a bit and you’ll see the resume could also include work as a backcountry ranger, kayaking, and some river rafting. Obviously I have more than a casual interest in the outdoors, and generally feel I can take care of myself.

In several days, I’ll be posting a blog about our actual climb.

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Mount Rainer—By the Grace of God & a Damn Good Guide

posted: August 13th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Though thousands of people climb Mount Rainier each year, I suppose completing the feat is something deserving of a few minutes of fame, for as we returned from a breakfast out this morning, Craig Geyer, the owner of the Mounthaven Resort, was moving his arms up in down in an expression of praise. Somehow—and I’m not sure how—he was aware of my accomplishment.

Mount Rainier, 14,410'

Mount Rainier 14,410'

Yesterday, in fact, I did successfully climb the 14,410-foot mountain, but I must acknowledge that I made it only through the grace of God, Paul Baugher—a damn good guide—and lots of well wishes from both family and friends.The climb took three days, and yesterday morning, from our base camp of 12,000 feet, we started at 1 a.m. and completed our ascent at 7:30. Then, we turned around and descended almost 10,000 feet to our cars, contributing, I’m sure to the foot-full of blisters and the big toenail that I’m sure to loose. For me the descent was more demanding than the actually climb.

And now, because of complete and total exhaustion, I will have to save details for the next several blog postings. At those times I will be posting photos of the climb (and these may be some of the most dramatic of my 30-year career as a photojournalist) and of the magnificent country that unfolds in a way no other place in the world can offer than Mount Rainier.

I feel privileged to have made the climb—and blessed that I was able to accomplish my goal.

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Mount Rainier—A Place of Some Tragedy But Offset By Many Triumphs

posted: August 7th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Shortly after ascending from the Columbia River Gorge along Interstate 90 the highway then climbs a series of low-lying hills and that’s where Janie and I enjoyed our first glimpse of 14, 410’ Rainier. This sighting was particularly significant, for although I’ve seen it before, this time I hope to climb it.

Our next significant glimpse occurred several hours later, when we descended White Pass, along Route 12, and it was there, the mountain almost strikes you in the face. Because the day was so clear, we could see the typical cloud cap of lenticular clouds beginning to encircle the dome. As well, we could see the various glaciers radiating down the slopes.

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier

Outside of Alaska, Rainier is the most glaciated of all mountains. Like the other major mountains of the area to include Adams, Hood, and Mount St. Helen’s, Rainier is of volcanic origin, and though its slopes are steep, its peak has been somewhat flattened by repeated explosions.

From our perspective, the mountain appeared foreboding, and I had to remind myself once again, that I had willingly agreed with two other fellows to join Paul Barger of International Mountain Guides and that we would ascend as far as our abilities would allow. Obviously we hope to make it to the top, and, yes, I will be disappointed if I can’t make it, but I’m realistic, too. Rainier has turned back many people younger and more experienced than I.

If we make it, we certainly won’t be accomplishing anything unique for thousands have preceded us, beginning in 1870. In fact, in recent years, somewhat in the neighborhood of 4,000 climbers successfully ascend Rainier each summer. Many more attempt but statistics reveal that only about 50 percent make it, and that the odds improve dramatically if you’re accompanied by a guide. Mostly, unexpected shifts in the weather turn back climbers, but Rainier has claimed its share of victims, beginning shortly after the first successful ascent.

The first fatality occurred in 1897 and resulted from a fall from a rock. Since that time there have been at least 94 other deaths, one of which occurred this summer, when a fellow lost his way on a day outing to Camp Muir, located at about the half way point.

According to Dee Molenaar in his classic book The Challenge of Rainier, most of the tragedies resulted from “human error.” Tragedies in order of priority have occurred “as a result of falls from rock cliffs, and on steep snow and ice terrain, followed by falls into crevasses, being lost in storms and perishing from exposure (hypothermia) snow avalanches, being struck by falling rock, uncontrolled glissades, high altitude pulmonary edema, and ice avalanches. Accidents also occur by scrambling on the lower peaks within the Park, and that’s the manner in which the one this summer occurred.

The worst fatal statistics resulted in June of 1981, when 11 people lost their lives. The disaster resulted essentially when a large serac toppled and fell, breaking into ice blocks that then precipitated a large avalanche of ice and snow. The group attempted to outrun the slide, but they were unsuccessful. The summer in the Northwest had been one of unusually high snow fall and the tragedy on Rainier occurred on the exact same day as did the death of five climbers on Mount Hood.

Despite tragedies, there are far more successes than failures. In fact, there are some rather notable success stories. Until two years ago, the oldest person to climb was a man Janie knew well, and that was 81-year-old Jack Borgenicht. Borgenicht lived in Long Valley, New Jersey, where Janie once lived, and was part of a research program on geriatrics from the college of William and Mary. This summer, however, an 84 year old man climbed Rainier and did so for the fourth consecutive summer.

Five-foot tall 77 year old Bronka Sundstrom of Ashford (where our Airstream Trailer is now parked) is the oldest woman to have climbed the mountain, and did so August 31, 2002. In September of 1981, Craig Van Hoy, a guide, made one of the fastest climbs, hiking roundtrip in slightly less than 7 hours. Interestingly, for me, is that Don Scharf of Rocky Mountain Outfitters in Kalispell, Montana, almost duplicated Hoy’s efforts, completing the climb in about 8 hours. Typically, climbers in good shape require two days, more if you really want to enjoy the experience.

The mountain has also attracted its share of the prominent. In August 1999, Vice President Al Gore and his 15 year old son, Albert, ascended Rainier. They were led by a Seattle attorney who was also president of the American Alpine Club. While climbing, the weather turned harsh discouraging other members of the party, including some of Gore’s Secret Service men, who returned to the base camp.

There have been some incredible survival stories such as occurred in July 1976 when man wearing smooth-soled down booties for camp wear, slipped and then began a slide that only accelerated. Without an ice ax he slid 2000 feet then fell over a 75-foot ice cliff. Guides rescued him and though the climber, a doctor, incurred internal injuries and a punctured lung, he survived to climb again.

One of the most unusual “climbers” was a black bear, observed in the 1990s by a party on one side of the mountain—and then later in the day by another group on the opposite side. Climbers have also enjoyed rare sightings of golden mantled ground squirrels, white-footed mice and, once, a porcupine.

And so the legends of the mountain continue to grow, but not from anything we’ll do. We simply hope to climb the mountain, enjoy sunrise and sunset, and then after three days, return with memories and photographs of vistas that only Rainier can provide.

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Forest Fires and Smoke Envelope Montana’s Flathead Valley

posted: August 1st, 2007 | by:Bert

Smoke-filled skies create beautiful sunsets

Smoke-filled skies create beautiful sunsets

©Bert Gildart: Huge billows of smoke were funneling from various mountain ranges last night as I returned from a bicycle ride. Though the skies were generally clear at the time, as dusk fell the high pressure system moving in began to hold the smoke in Montana’s Flathead Valley. The result was an atmosphere full of smoke, and about the only good thing that might be said is that it was creating some of the most incredible sunsets Janie and I have seen in a long time.

The smoke resulted from the six separate forest fires blazing last night throughout the Northwest. This morning, two more were reported, now bringing the total to eight. One, the Skyland Fire, is burning close to Glacier National Park and is causing residents just outside the park to evacuate their homes. Currently the cost to fight these various conflagrations now running over about 63,000 acres is approaching the $10M figure.

Forest fires, of course, are nothing new to the Flathead and Janie and I have reported on them in our book Explore! Glacier and Montana’s Flathead Valley. On a small scale, fires exert much good, creating new browse for deer and elk and generally burning off much of the fuel that tends to build up over time. Current fires, however, are partially the result of the unparalleled hot and dry summers we’ve been experiencing in the valley this past decade. With many days well over 100 degrees in July, this summer may yet break all previous records.

If the past provides any clue to what may be in store, we can turn to the summer of 2002 with its historic forest fires. At the time, smoke was so thick Glacier Park Naturalist Doug Follett joked with visitors who asked how to find Lake McDonald. “Go 100 yards north,” he’d typically respond, “and when you get your feet wet, you’ll know you’ve found the lake.”

With August, typically the Valley’s hottest month, just starting, one can only wonder if Follett’s advice may soon again be relevant.

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