A couple weeks ago some friends and I planned a trip out to Smith Rock. My friend Jon wrote a detailed email outlining exactly what everyone needed to bring. Check and done. Things were still forgotten. I neglected to bring Stephanie one of my spare sleeping pads, Jon brought his tiny Snowpeak backpacking pot which made cooking dinner for five people suck. I almost through an extra pot in my bag, but decided not too at the last minute. We took these minor blunders in stride and had an awesome trip.
The detailed planning reminded me of another trip I did a few years back with a bunch of my old high school crew. We were up late, heavily inebriated, and within a couple of minutes made the decision to go backpacking the next day in the mountains behind Santa Barbara. The seat-of-our-pants trip planning was awesome. In the morning as we shook off the hangover, Chris shouted: “What?! We’re going backpacking!?” We scrambled and within the hour everyone was packed and we were on the road.
There’s really only two ways of going on a trip. One way is where everything is planned out. Some people even weigh out everything to the ounce. The other option is the “oh shit, let’s go somewhere!” option. I don’t prefer one way over the other. I will say that the level of stoke when a trip is rapidly thought up and executed is a bit extra high. So there’s that.
This past week was a blast! I headed out from Portland to Smith Rock for the Craggin’ Classic hosted by the American Alpine Club. Festivities started at the Redpoint Climbers Supply shop in Terrebonne where we picked up our steel pints, drank some pints, and watched an awesome slideshow by the legendary Alan Watts. We also heard from Meg Kahnle about her Live Your Dream grant to climb Monkey Face.
She’s doing a collaborative art project about Smith Rocks. Tag your instagram shots of Smith with #ConnectWithSmithRock to submit your photos or head over to Connect With Meg.
The next day we rolled into Smith Rocks from the Skull Hollow campground and met with our clinic leaders. I signed up for the Self Rescue clinic to brush up on some essential rope work skills. I didn’t bring my camera with me, so there’s not too many photos from that day. With the day winding down and the hangover finally gone, we hit up the festivities at the Terrebonne Depot. Lots of fun brands were out to support and give away great free swag. Highlights were the rock ring tug of war contest by Rab, push up contest by Outdoor Research, and the infamous headstand contest by Goal Zero. We capped the day with a back to back screening of Sufferfest I & II.
The next day we decided to skip climbing and instead do volunteer trailwork. This was actually a lot of fun. We repaired spots where the trail was eroding out and turned a social trail to the river into a proper trail with stairs. Putting in the stairs actually went rather quickly and it’ll help stem back erosion from people cutting down to the river.
Anyway, here’s some photos from the weekend!
And now I’m motivated to get back in climbing shape
Once one of my non-geologist friends uttered the words “trippy” while staring at a geologic map of North America that was up in the hallway. I agree. To the uninitiated a geologic map probably looks like a fairly random assortment of off-colors, blobs, blebs, sharp lines, and generally strange shapes. As geologists we are trained to take the seemingly random slapping together of colors and lines, and pull from it a history, a piece of the story of our planet. Some engineers at Google challenged a deep learning network with a series of images which produced some “trippy” results. Wouldn’t it be fun to apply their code to some geologic maps?
Basically the program takes an image and attempts to match a some known object (birds, dogs, etc.) in it. Do this for a few iterations and the object becomes more pronounced. For instance they fed it a picture of clouds:
Within lies madness:
Pretty cool, but let’s give it some geologic maps.
When the Trippy filter is applied to the Crooked River map there’s some interesting results. The corners are largely untouched by the dream. Perhaps the machine needs something to ground it to reality?
If your interested, someone turned the deep dream code into a webapp so you can easily upload and make your own dream paintings. If you want to do a bit more digging, the source code is available on GitHub. All of the geologic maps were downloaded or captured from USGS MapView.
I got our car stuck in the snow. My girlfriend, Jess, our Boston Terrier, Oliver, and I had just finished a short sunset hike through the snow in Colorado’s Eldorado Canyon. It had been a fun stop on our winter road trip through the four corner states. Oliver didn’t mind the snow too much, especially after he figured out that he could eat it. Infact, he ate so much snow that he threw up over and over on the hike. He wouldn’t even break stride.
We were pretty hungry and planned on stopping in Boulder for some dinner before crashing at our friend’s house in Erie. Darkness fell as I drove my girlfriend’s Subaru Forester out on the narrow road. Another car was driving up the road and without really thinking, I politely steered to give them more room. The snow masked a small drainage dish on the cliffside of the road and the Foreseter slid into it. Crap.
I tried backing out, rolling forward and out, everytime we just slid back in. Stuck. I jumped out on my hands and knees and started digging out powder. The driver of the car coming up the road ran up and offered some assistance, he had an avalanche shovel in his truck. Good on you, Colorado. Now with a proper digging tool I got as much snow as I could out from the tires.
Back in the driver’s seat, panting, and sweating with wet gloves, I gave it another go. No dice, slid right back in. We dug some more, talked and decided to try backing out, following the path that I slid in. Now with three people pushing on the hood of the subie, I gunned the engine in reverse. For a split second it seemed like we might make it, but gravity and snow slid me back into the ditch. After a couple more back and forth goes at it, I was still stuck. Did we need a truck with a winch? We have all wheel drive, what’s wrong?
Then out of night stepped a man at least twenty years senior on everyone. We were huffing and puffing from the strain of digging, pushing, and slipping. He calming introduced himself and said, “What you’re doing will probably work eventually. But, let’s try something different.”
We all nodded. He continued: “Your car is facing downslope. Let’s use that. Get in the driver’s seat and point the tires almost straight, just barely turning left. Let the car roll downhill. Gently give it some gas. The rest of us will push from the side.”
With everyone in our places I started the car downhill. A gentle push from everyone on the side and the car climbed out of the ditch like it had never been stuck.
I thanked everyone profusely. Sure I was embarrassed that I’d gotten our car stuck, but I was so happy people were there to help.
Before leaving the man turned to us and said, “Sometimes tender loving care is all it takes. Also, next time. Stay on the fucking road.”
That was the first time I’d gotten a car stuck, but it immediately hit me that I’d forgotten and neglected my favorite lesson from learning to trad climb in Squamish just a few months before. It turns out that when you’re learning the ropes of trad climbing, you place a lot of trad gear. You also clean a lot of trad gear. Inevitably, a stubborn cam or nut will get stuck. Our little group of climbers developed a mantra for dealing with stuck gear. TLC. Tender. Loving. Care.
Somewhere a couple pitches up Angel’s Crest, Ryan and I caught up to two climbers ahead of us. As the follower climbed and cleaned the route he got stuck at a nut that liked the rock a bit too much. He yanked, pulled, twisted, hammered, and swore with his nut tool, but it would not budge. With a curse he unclipped from the nut and climbed on. We shouted that we would try to get it for him.
It was my pitch to lead and Ryan told me he would grab the nut when he followed. Yeah okay, but I wanted it. Something about recovering abandoned gear just feels awesome.
So I led up the pitch and found myself at that tiny, stuck nut. I looked at the crack it was in, and with a tender touch it released itself from the crack. Tender Loving Care, baby. Then I looked down to my last piece of pro and thought, “Man, I should really place a piece.” I looked back to the crack where I had just freed the nut, laughed to myself, and placed my own tiny nut in the exact spot that I had just removed the stuck nut. I whispered a little prayer for it to not get stuck.
When I set the anchor, the other climbers where having lunch in a little forested spot. I cheerfully handed the nut back with the words, “Tender Loving Care”.
Sometimes things get stuck. Like tires in the snow. Or a cam that walked itself into a crack. Hammering, blasting, pounding, torquing, gunning, and slamming harder works… sometimes. But, I think it’s good to step back from the situation. Think about the physics of the matter because maybe all it takes is a little TLC.
I’ve always been fascinated by the night sky. I must have learned all the constellations as a kid. Now I can only remember a handful, but I do remember my first night in the High Sierras, looking at the clearest sky I’ve ever seen. It would be years later before I had my own camera that would be capable of capturing the light sent out from the stars, and then a few more years before I bought a tripod actually point my camera at the sky.
Before Jess and I embarked on our Winter four corners road trip, I read up as much as I could on astrophotography camera settings. I was figuratively chomping at the bit to take star photos. Our first stop where I got to give it a try was City of Rocks State Park, NM. I spent hours after dark in the cold cold wind taking exposure after exposure, testing settings, hiking to different locations. Oliver, our boston terrier, wanted to be with me, but was not stoked on standing around in the cold, dark night. I brought him back to the tent and got an idea.
Jess was still awake, so I hung my lantern in our tent, and went back outside. I framed the shot and let the camera work. It took a few exposures before I realized that the lantern in the tent was too bright. I turned it down and stepped back out.
I had fun walking around amungst the rocks taking different shots. Our campsite neighbors had a very cool little camper that I illuminated for a one second of a long exposure.
Pointing my camera at polaris was fun too. I just took a guess and sat in the dark and cold while I let a ten minute esposure
I was able to do some light editing of the photos on my phone and post them to my instagram account while we traveled through the desert, but I really wouldn’t know how they turned out until I got home.
There are a few things I would change now that I’ve gone through the photos. On my camera’s LCD it appeared that I was capturing lots of detail. This is alright, but I could have grabbed more.
Up the ISO
I thought I was capturing lots of detail even with ISO 1600. I was getting okay, detail. The benefit is that the images are less noisy, but required me to up the exposure during post-processing. This brought up the noise considerably. If I had gone with a higher ISO such as 3200 or even maxing my camera at 6400, yes there would be more noise, but I can always reduce that in post.
I did a little better when I was in Bend, Oregon in January. Still a lot of noise in the photos. I think I could up the ISO a bit more and do more reduction in post. I can’t wait to get back out away from noise pollution to shoot more stars.
Thanks for reading. Please leave any tips about astrophotography in the comments.
I was pleasantly surprised this morning to check the notifications on my instagram and have the American Alpine Club feature my photo of Ryan Cerf cranking on Crime of the Century (5.11c) in Squamish.
Taking this photo was a lot of fun. Matt Macatee and I climbed up Penny Lane and then made our way over to where we could rap to the Crime of the Century Anchors. He continued down to the ground and I stayed on the ledge, set an anchor and safetyed in. I pulled up and coiled my rope so that it would be out of the photo. Ryan led up the pitch, cranking away while I fired off tons of photos. I was using my Nikon D-7000 and Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens. Settings: 16mm, f/13, 1/2000 sec. exposure, ISO 1600. It was a bright day.
Matt Macatee attempted the route after Ryan and didn’t make it in one go. He got to the top with one fall and a nemesis to return to. I rappelled down and Sabrina and I both tried Crime of the Century on toprope. It’s thin, and pumpy, and we weren’t placing gear!
We pulled up to the farmyard and stopped at the fence causing the cloud of dust to catch up and swirl past the gate towards the house. We got out, research permit from the Namibian Geologic Survey in hand, walked to the fence and waited. After a couple minutes passed a white farmer with a shaven head and sporty sunglasses stepped out of the house and approached us. We explained we were geologists from McGill University in Canada and asked permission to hike to the tufa, pointing across the graded dirt road which acted as Namibia’s highway system. I don’t remember the farmer saying much, if anything. He nodded, and went back into the farm house.
Recently, I started the gargantuan task of reorganizing and backing up all of my photos. This led me to dig through some archives and to revisit photos that I have not shared with many people. When we visited this tufa I had not yet been introduced to the sport of rock climbing. Looking at these tufa photos now, I see lines, unclimbed, begging for someone to clean and send. We didn’t climb the tufa, we hiked around. Here are some photos from that hike.
After stopping at the farmhouse we pulled off the highway. Christie, my advisor, insisted that she needed a nap and waved us towards the tufffa while reclining the driver’s seat. We crossed the wire fence and made our way into the waist high grass. That two hundred meter walk through the grass was one of the most stressful moments of my life. There are snakes in Namibia. Pofadders, Cape Cobra, Black Cobra, and Black Mambas frequent my field area. At least when we’re out on the hill slopes there is less grass and we can see where we are stepping. Tanya, Ben, and I were all nervous and let out big sighs when we exited the high grass.
The tufa was gorgeous, huge, and loomed overhead. Yellow-green slim covered wet rock where water dripped down. A little waterfall ran sprinkled and slid over the tufa, collected in a pond, and trickled away in a stream that disappeared into the desert.
We stepped to hike around and up the tufa where we got a special treat. Diamictite. B-E-A-utifully deformed diamictite. Diamictite is a rock that is a mix of rock clasts in a muddy matrix. These diamictites had since been deformed, shown by the elongate stretched, clasts.
We turned and continued upward, following black plastic pipes that ran from some unseen spring above us.
The hiking was steep, but not strenuous. Before we knew it the incline shoaled and we began topping out over the tufa. The top was like a geologist’s dream. A folded cap-carbonate could be seen on the mountainside framing the valley before us.
We paused to look back towards the car, where our professor lazily dosed, probably dreaming of pseudotachylyte and fault gouge.
Our tufa foray wasn’t over yet, we followed the stream that had built this tufa up. It takes time to build a deposit like this. Calcium carbonate precipitates from the water. We saw breccias too. Head-sized, angular clasts of limestone that had once been shot down the stream, maybe during a rainstorm, only to now be cemented in the tufa.
Outside of the stream we spotted more folded limestone.
The breccias become the tuffa, cemented in the streambed. Other rocks, with the power of water pushing them forward, polish and erode the surface of the cement. Ponds between trickling streams form. Desert life revolves around water. Where it is abundant so is life and green.
Big tadpoles swam in the ponds we passed. I saw something unexpected in the desert: a bullfrog, quietly crouched near submerged rocks.
What other treasures would we find hidden in the hills? The only thing to do was follow the water.
Finally we reached a point where the stream cut into rocks. To continue following it we had to leave it for higher ground. Unfortunately we hadn’t come prepared for canyoneering on this hike. Ahead and below us we caught glimpses of caves and pools hidden in tufa slot canyons.
We ended the hike at this crystal blue pool. The water looked amazing, but strange yellow algae covered the surface of every rock below the water. Swarms of black water bugs oscillated in the turquoises liquid. We tossed a small rock in and watched as they scattered to the edges of the pool, then swam back into pulsing mosh pit.
The pools were gorgeous, but so were the rocks. I’ve always been fascinated by structures in rocks, whether tectonic or diagenetic in origin. The limestone structures influenced their surficial weathering and thus the growth of lichen.
Time to head back. Christie had sent us up here to check out the tuffa and examine the diamictite, but we’d all become mesmerized by the pools and the life around them.
I don’t remember which way we came down from the tufa. Nor do I recall if we trod through the waist-high grass or followed the stream to the road. I think at that point I was overwhelmed by the beauty of a little desert treasure.
The above photo is taken from a field trip in 2010 to Death Valley and surrounding mountains / desert. This stop was Monarch Canyon. We (the students) are standing at a cliff edge, looking across a gorge at the opposing cliff wall. That’s the best scale I can give you for this. It’s huge, it’s awesome.