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 July, 2007

Training For Mount Rainier In Glacier National Park Transforms Drudgery Into Pleasure

posted: July 30th, 2007 | by:Bert

Mount Jackson and moose

Mount Jackson and Moose

©Bert Gildart: Six days from now, Janie and I will be towing our Airstream to Mount Rainier National Park for my much anticipated climb of THE MOUNTAIN.

Our guides tell us that on the first day we will be climbing approximately 5,000 feet to Camp Muir, an intermediate camp located at 10,000 feet. On the second day we’ll pass through Disappointment Cleaver and make a high camp about 2,000 feet above Camp Muir for a final ascent on the third day of Rainier.

International Mountain Guide Paul Bauger, tells us we need to be in the “best shape of our lives.” I’ve taken Paul at his word, and hope that what I’ve been doing will be adequate. What we’re doing though challenging is not impossible for older people.

The oldest, in fact, to ascend Rainier was 83, and he accomplished the feat this year, doing so over a period of several days. On August 9, 2004, former climbing ranger Chad Kellogg went from Paradise trailhead at an elevation of 5,420 feet to the 14,410-foot summit and back IN FOUR HOURS AND 59 MINUTES—a trip that takes the average climber a good 2 days. We’re planning a three-day trip, but then I also want to take lots of pictures.

Though there may be more I could have done, I don’t know what that might have been. I’ve engaged in the drudgery of weight lifting, but on several occasions have transformed drudgery into pleasure with friends—and recently with family.

Two days ago, nephews Brian and Jeremy Rossman and I departed the trailhead for Jackson Glacier. The trip required a six-mile gradual climb to Gunsight Lake, certainly one of the most incredible lakes in Glacier. As we hiked along St. Mary River we saw mergansers basking at a curve in the river. At Mirror Pond we paused to photograph a near perfect reflection of Mount Jackson—and concentrated on that until a moose walked into the picture.

We stayed with the moose for about 30 minutes, then continued on to Gunsight, a lake at which I’ve camped. From there, the trail climbed steeply another 2.5 miles to trail’s end near Jackson Glacier. From there we bushwhacked another mile to near the summit of Jackson Mountain for a more intimate look of this much-reduced chunk of ice. Adjacent to it was Blackfoot Glacier, and in the not-too-distant past, the two glaciers were united as one.

Though glaciers dominated this setting as recently as 20 years ago, manifestations of their past presence are everywhere. First there were the huge boulders over which we walked, ground and pulverized by the power of glaciers. In themselves, the rocks were interesting. All were of sedimentary origin, but from several different time periods. Huge green and red boulders were all mixed together, representing the different eons during which inland seas deposited their colorful, telltale sediments.

jcakson glacier

Jackson Glacier

Later, these sediments bonded and solidified and then with the passage of many more millions of years were thrust upward through the process of orogeny.Brian and Jeremy and I discussed these immense passages of time and sat in awe for awhile, realizing that although there was a puzzle here, we could in fact, fit together some of the pieces. We could see lateral moraines. We could see the smooth sheet of rock on which the glacier had recently been ground smooth by weight and sliding action.

We sat for awhile longer and then realized that we did, in fact, have a long way to hike back before the day was over. All totaled we covered about 18 miles with packs and ascended much of Mount Jackson.

blackfoot glacier and virginia falls

Blackfoot Glacier & Virginia Falls

Now all I have to do is repeat in Rainier what I did in Glacier—and do it for three consecutive days. If I can’t do it this year, Rainier will still be there next year—and even the year after. I’m not out to break any records, simply to enjoy the beauty of the mountain—one of the most lofty places in the continental United States.

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What’s Causing Global Warming? In the Great Basin Pikas Provide More Clues

posted: July 24th, 2007 | by:Bert


Pika's are "Canary in a coal mine."

©Bert Gildart: In the West there’s a land high above timber line—a land occupied by goats and sheep and ptarmigan—that is also occupied by a diminutive creature known as the pika. You may have hiked this region found in the lofty expanses of such national parks as Glacier, Mount Rainier, and Rocky Mountain and sighted this charismatic little mammal.

More than likely, however, before you saw it you heard its distinctive chirp: K-yaak, k-yaak! If so, look among the boulder fields to further confirm the pika’s presence; look for small bundles of dried grass that biologists refer to a “hay piles.”

During the winter, pika use these piles to feed on, and unlike marmots of my last posting, they don’t hibernate, rather they remain active throughout the six long months of bitter cold.

Pikas are members of the rabbit family, but have short ears and virtually no tail, and more significant to this posting, they also live in the lofty wilderness regions of Great Basin to include Ruby Mountain, Arc Dome, Alta Toquina, Table Mountain, and the East Humboldts. Archaeological evidence says pika have inhabited these specific areas for the past 40,000 years and, in the 1940s, were catalogued here by a Dr. Hall in 25 distinct populations.

Fifty years later, in the 1990s, United States Geological Survey biologists Dr. Erik Beever visited these areas and discovered that these same 25 distinct populations were down to 19. Ten years later, Beever again returned but discovered that his earlier tally of 19 was now down to 17 and that the lower edge of these 17 had now moved up vertically by an average of 130 yards.

White-tailed ptarmingan

White-Tailed Ptarmigan shares alpine home with Pika

Dr. Beever considers the pika the equivalent of the canary in a cold mine, and he told me that it is not unreasonable to predict that this tiny creature may soon disappear from the Great Basin, for the habitat on which they depend will soon be gone. He says the arctic alpine regions in which pika live will soon be replaced by subalpine fir and other types of vegetation.

Global warming is very much on my mind, as I have been commissioned to write a story on the subject for a well respected conservation magazine. As a result, I have had the privilege of visiting on phone with some very well educated scientists. These are the same types of devoted people who as a group have helped map the human genome, eradicated polio, placed men on the moon…

So when they say global warming is real and that it is caused by the build up of green house gases, they certainly deserve my respectful attention, especially with all the information they have amassed. In part, they’ve been telling me that contemporaries have examined carbon in core samplings taken from the Antarctic that span 650,000 years. From these cores they also have studied the isotopes of oxygen that span the same number of years and used them to help plot the earth’s temperatures. (The intricacies of how this is performed are a little complex—but it’s not hocus pocus, and can be explained by many a good high school science teacher.)

Mountain goat

Mountain goat, another alpine denizen

Most significantly, scientists have then charted these substances on a graph and found that when the earth’s temperatures are highest, carbon is also highest. For me, what’s particularly compelling is that there’s a dramatic temperature spike in the chart of 650,000 years that coincides with high concentrations of carbon. The highest concentrations began with the Industrial Revolution, and that’s when the major spike is shown.

Though I have not heard other explanations for this spike, if there are additional interpretations any would care to offer, I would certainly lend a respectful ear to those voices.

Nevertheless, the evidence seems to be mounting, and now, Dr. Beever has added yet another piece of information to this complex subject.

Take this information and interpret it as you will. But if you are in one of these lofty regions inhabited by pika, also take time to enjoy the setting. Not only does the pika live here, but so do goats, sheep, marmots and the white-tailed ptarmigan.

So take a moment: sit down by one of the many quiet creeks and enjoy a snack. Then keep your eyes open and your ears tuned—and listen for the tell-tale: K-yaak, k-yaak!

If you hear it, it’s the pika exclaiming that—for the moment—all is OK in one of the West’s most spectacular regions.

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Global Warming and the View from Glacier’s Grinnell Glacier Overlook

posted: July 17th, 2007 | by:Bert

Marmot and Haven's Peak

Marmot and Heaven's Peak

©Bert Gildart: From the west side loop in Glacier National Park the trail to Grinnell Overlook is straight up. First you climb four miles to Granite Park Chalet, and then you hike about a mile to the spur trail that takes off from the Highline Trail. At the spur trail you climb about 500 more vertical feet—and then you’re there.

The view from the overlook is stunning. From the notch you peer down onto what used to be Grinnell Glacier, but because of global warming, the glacier has receded to the point where it is almost non-existent. Where the glacier once existed, it has been replaced in the last 10 years by Upper Grinnell Lake. Where once the glacier flowed down the valley toward Many Glacier, there is only rock, all of which unfolds from the notch and that you can clearly see about 1,000 feet below you.

For a while Matt Rigg, my hiking companion of the day, and I were alone, but soon we were joined by a young couple from Virginia. Their first comment was: “Wouldn’t it be great if George Bush were here!”

Meaning, of course, that the obvious retreat might convince him that global warming should be taken seriously.

View from Overlook of retreating glacier, below

View from Overlook of retreating glacier, below

Truly, this is a place where science and beauty overwhelm. In addition to the staggering beauty of glacier cirques, there is also the abundance of various life forms in and around the Overlook. One of the first wild creatures to greet us was the not-so-wild hoary marmot, and one of them posed about five feet from my camera, enabling me to use a wide-angle lens to include Heaven’s Peak in the background. Years ago I climbed the peak, reminding me that I have great hopes of attempting another climb in about three weeks just south of Seattle.

But back to the here and now. Matt, who is fascinated by all forms of science (as am I), could not help but notice the abundance of huge chunks of rocks nearby with ripple marks. The rocks tell us that, once, they were laid down by vast inland seas, and that these particular chunks with their extensive ripple marks formed the shores of that sea. Then, about 40 million years ago, forces beneath the earth began to thrust upward, lifting that sea shore to where Matt and I stood this past Sunday—about 7,000 feet above sea level.

As we sat there, listening to marmots whistle and eating lunch, we watched as what appeared to be a small bee landed on our hands. The bee, however, was not a bee rather it was a fly, something I learned years ago in an entomology class.

To better survive its many predators the fly has evolved to look like a bee. By so doing, it deceives possible predators, and they leave it alone. What a classroom Glacier can be…

Stromatolites, associated with ancient sea

Stromatolites, associated with ancient sea

Over the years (I once worked in Glacier as a ranger), I have been documenting the recession of Grinnell, and several years ago, as the glacier receded, I discovered that the rock exposed beneath the glacier was also exposing ancient stromatolites.

Stromatolites also existed in a marine environment, and that is the only place you’ll find similar creatures today. In fact they are an ancient form of algae, and several years ago I photographed them at the edge of what is now Upper Grinnell Lake. They too existed millions of years ago, but now, here they are, perhaps 6,000 feet above sea level.

Dr. Dan Fagre, showing dramatic recession

Dr. Dan Fagre, showing dramatic recession

Though I tend to confine myself these days to travel writing and photography I am fascinated by this phenomena of global warming, something that is difficult for me not to accept. All scientific journals publish stories on the subject and all are peer reviewed.

None of the scientists dispute the evidence, only the popular media questions it, but they are obligated to do so for the sake of balance. And that I believe undermines the urgency of the problem. It’s real, and any who question whether or not it is occurring only need to visit Glacier National Park and hike to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook.

And when you do, invite George Bush to accompany you.

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Fields and Fields of Canola—But is the Oil Healthy?

posted: July 8th, 2007 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: “Hey, Bert and Janie! Have you seen the deer all covered with yellow?”

That’s what our next door neighbors asked yesterday as we were returning from a bicycle ride to the small settlement of Creston, about four miles away. We hadn’t, but we’d sure like to, especially after the enthusiastic descriptions Larry and Dawn provided.

Where your Canola oil comes from

Where your Canola oil Comes from

“When they stepped out of the fields,” our neighbors continued, “some had wreaths of canola brush wrapped around their heads. It was really quite a sight.”

This is the first year in the 12 years we’ve been here (in this house) that farmers have planted so much canola, but it’s everywhere. Most conspicuously, we see it out our picture window, and the acres of fields create a gorgeous foreground, back dropped then by the Swan Range, which includes Strawberry Mountain, and Mount Aneas, the highest mountain we see from our picture window. We also see it all along our four-mile wild-rose flanked bike route–and in many other places as we drive throughout the Flathead Valley.

But why all the canola? We’re not entirely sure, and so I did a little searching on the internet and discovered that much controversy surrounds the crop.

wild roses, also going to seed

Wild roses also going to seed

According to proponents, Canola oil is widely recognized as the healthiest salad and cooking oil available to consumers. It was developed through hybridization of rapeseed. Rapeseed oil is toxic because it contains significant amounts of a poisonous substance called erucic acid. Canola oil contains only trace amounts of erucic acid and its unique fatty acid profile, rich in oleic acid and low in saturated fats, makes it particularly beneficial for the prevention of heart disease. They also say that if you take a spoonful a day, you will reduce the risk of having a heart attack.

Continuing, proponents say canola oil contains significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids; that the rapeseed blossom is a major source of nectar for honeybees; and, finally, that Canola oil is a promising source for manufacturing biodiesel, a renewable alternative to fossil fuels. If that’s the case, canola may be the boost some of our farmers now need.

On the other hand, detractors say that Canola oil is a poisonous substance, “an industrial oil that does not belong in the body.”

It contains, they say, the infamous chemical warfare agent mustard gas. Moreover, some say it causes mad cow disease, blindness, nervous disorders, clumping of blood cells and depression of the immune system.

Wow! That’s enough to make one conduct a little more research, which I’ll leave up to you, for the sources seem to be infinite. Here’s a source to get you started.

In the meantime, my interests are focused on the deer sporting those yellow wreaths, but if I get to photograph them, it’s going to have to be soon, as the plant (along with the wild roses in our yard and along our bike route) is now starting to loose its yellow sepals and petals and go to seed.

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A New Great Blue Heron Rookery

posted: July 7th, 2007 | by:Bert

Janie and Marie

Janie and Marie floating on the Flathead

©Bert Gildart: Just about this same time last summer, Janie and I took our friends Rich Luhr (owner/editor Airstream Life Magazine) and family in our boat up the Flathead River, searching in part for a huge rookery of Great Blue Herons. Though we searched and searched, we could not find a sign of this magnificent bird or the rookeries that once existed.

Last week, I am delighted to report that while repeating the explorations–but this time with our Ohio-based friends Brian Maughn and Marie Hertzler-Maughn–we discovered a brand new heron rookery. The rookery was huge, spread out over five to six large cottonwood trees all tightly grouped. In them were about 20 to 25 nests, and we could hear the ratcheting noise the group made over the sounds produced by our Yamaha engine. Quiet though our four-stroke may be, we were sitting next to it, so the croaking of the 40 to 50 herons had to be loud, because that’s what first drew our attention to them.

Over the years, I’ve written about the bird and here are a few paragraphs from previous magazines publications.

Great blue heron

Great Blue Heron

Almost every outdoorsman knows him—the great blue heron, one of the largest and most common of our wading birds. “Old Spearhead” is the one that startles you with a hoarse quock, as he heaves majestically out of the reeds, tucks back his dangling gear, and chugs away with slow and methodical wing beats.

In the hinterlands he is sometimes known as a “crane,” which he most certainly isn’t, and the difference is plain enough. A crane flies with neck extended, whereas, the heron loops his neck into a compact S and carries his head snugly back on his shoulders. The silhouette is unmistakable whether you see him half a mile above the business district or skimming down the Flathead River.

Generally gray-blue above, and streaked whitish and black on the breast, the bird has a conspicuous black-and chestnut crescent at the angle of the wing. The head is outlined by a drooping black crest with a topping of white. The bill is deep yellow and the legs and feet (which trail like a rudder in flight) are black.

Stilletto beeak

Stilletto beak great for catching dinner

By the time the great blue heron is about two years old and ready to breed for the first time, it is respectably plumed on the back and breast. However, it doesn’t match the elaborate finery of its southern relatives, the snowy and American egrets.

If you watch the great blue stalking with deliberate, time-lapse movements in the shallows, you don’t wonder for very long what he eats. Zeroing in on something in the water, the long neck unlimbers, the head flashes down, and up he comes with a squirming fish impaled on the tip of its beak.

Occasionally a heron will tackle something too large, then the bird is in trouble. Naturalist John James Audubon told of watching a heron that had struck a fish too big to handle. The heron was pulled several yards completely under water before it was able to extricate itself.

Countrywide, great blue herons nest in a variety of different sites, but nearly always in rookeries numbering a few to several dozen nests. The usual location of such rookeries is in the tops of tall trees in a swamp or bottomland.

Heron rookeries hold a fascination for many people and I am no exception. On several occasions I have spent the entire day in a blind photographing and watching the clamor of the young as an adult arrives with a gullet full of fish.

heron babies

Heron Young squablling

With a yacking and clattering the young shove one another aside in their attempts to be first at the bread line. In austere times, invariably one of the homely gray-and-white chicks dies—bested by its more competitive sibling.

In spite of the disappearance of big timber in swamps and lowlands, the great blue seems to be surviving fairly well. Irresponsible shooting is probably one of the biggest drains on its numbers. Natural enemies are not very important because the bird is hard to approach, and the efficiency of that up-front spear is not to be taken lightly by predators.

Although a strong flier, the heron is a transport type and can’t maneuver easily. Such small fry as red-wing black-birds and sparrow hawks can rattle a heron so thoroughly that it may go crashing onto the water. Though not well designed for it, the great blue can swim and take off from water.

In terms of the fish it takes, or any aspect of its feeding habits, the heron is not to be considered as either “beneficial” or “harmful.” People enjoy seeing this great wading bird. It belongs to our American waterscapes, and that is reason enough for his being…

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Preparing To Climb Mount Rainier

posted: July 1st, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: OK! It’s official and actually has been in the mill for some time. On August 10, 11, and 12, three aging men are going to attempt to climb Mount Rainier.

Mount Adams, as seen from Camp Muir, 10,000'

Mount Adams as seen from Camp Muir

Obviously I’m one, and the other two include David Bristol and Knox Williams. Though I’m just now acknowledging our climb, the three of us have been preparing for the hike for the last two months. David, a veterinarian, is now from Texas, while Knox, a retired weather researcher, is from Colorado.

David and Knox grew up together in Texas, and then moved to different parts of the country. David moved to Montana shortly after serving as a veterinarian in Vietnam taking care of German Shepherds in the Canine Corps, and he’s been one of my best friends for the past 35 years. Several years ago he moved back to Texas. I met Knox through David, and the three of us have backpacked in various parts of Glacier. Though we’re all in our sixties, I’m in my mid sixties, and am the oldest.

David and Knox have also climbed various mountains, to include the Grand Teton. I’ve also been active, and include in my outdoor resume a backpack trip with Janie through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

We want to climb Mount Rainier for a variety of reasons. From all along the route, the views are incredible, something I know from having climbed part way up years ago. That’s when I made these photographs, shooting a 2-1/4 Hasselblad.

But there’s more: First, we all look forward to the challenge and the joy of having the goal of really getting ourselves in shape, for the climb is rugged. At 14,410 feet Mount Rainier is the highest peak in the Cascade Range, and the elevation gain from Paradise is almost 9,000 feet. Though I’m not sure what David and Knox are doing, I’ve been riding my mountain bike vigorously covering distances of over 30 miles, trying each time out to cut down the time. I’ve also been lifting weights.

As well as the challenge of physical conditioning, I’m also fascinated by the mountaineering movement, and Mount Rainier is steeped in such history.

Though Janie will be joining me, she’ll be serving in a support role. We plan to tow our Airstream to Mount Rainier about a week prior to my climb to acclimate to the altitude. David will also arrive early and will join us and the two of us intend to take a course in the technical aspects of mountaineering.

Crevasses challenge climbers

Crevasses chalenge climbers

Mount Rainier is not a cake walk and we know that. Two weeks ago a relatively young man lost his way and perished. For that reason, we’ve searched for a guide and, finally, after several weeks of phone tag, all has fallen into place.

We’re now registered in a window permitting a three-day climb.

In years past, I’ve climbed to Camp Muir (10,000′), named for John Muir, a wilderness champion of his day. The camp is a stop over and from there some continue the ascent the very next day, starting at 2 a.m. to avoid avalanches. Generally, that’s the itinerary our guide has for us, but he’s allocated three days for us. In his itinerary we will climb on day one to Camp Muir and camp.

Next day we will proceed to an intermediate spot located at an elevation of about 12,000 feet, and then ascend the remaining 2,500 feet on the third day. After reaching the summit, we then turn around and return the same day to our vehicle, which in this case will be with Janie.

Only 50% of those who attempt to climb Mount Rainier make it and are stopped for a variety of reasons to include deteriorating weather. At my age, I also realize other factors could crop up, but as the old adage goes: Nothing ventured nothing gained. I hope to make it and will post periodic blogs throughout July about pre-conditioning—and more about the reasons for the climb.

My doctor has given me the green light, but if something unforeseen happens, such as a pulled Achilles tendon or weather, I tell myself I will not be disappointed. After all, there’s always next year.

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