Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Yosemite Adventures

Prologue: Boy Scout Troop 259 in Sacramento, CA goes out camping or backpacking usually once a month to give our Scouts an opportunity to experience the great outdoors. California has a wealth of natural beauty within a few hours of almost any place in the state. This month, a small group made a trip to Yosemite National Park. The following account documents the trip for the record and to help inform the Troop's planning for future such trips. For the Half Dome portion, here is a link to an informative video to help prepare for the hike: .

August 20, 2010: We got a late start departing Sacramento at 1:30 in two groups---one group of nine campers bound for Crane Flat campground in Yosemite Valley and the second group of four backpackers bound for Half Dome. The two groups would be separated by several miles between our camps save for a brief encounter along the trail en route Vernal Falls on August 21.

The backpacker group arrived in Yosemite Valley too late to pick up our wilderness permit and tickets for Little Yosemite Valley (LYV) camping and climbing Half Dome. We found our overnight spot in North Pines backpacker campground and set up camp for a short stay---sack dinners followed by turning in early and sleeping under the stars to save time breaking down camp the next morning. Notably, at about 8:30 that evening, park rangers made their appointed rounds to alert all the campers to the possibility of bear visits, usually between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m.

At 4,000 feet, the night was not cold (low 50s) but cool enough that my fleece bag was not quite sufficient for a deep sleep. The boys slept well in their down bags. But tossing and turning was my lot until 4:00 a.m. when a 400 pound black bear wandered into camp as if on schedule, to snack on food in an unclosed bear box and bear cannister left unsecured in another part of the camp. The bear stayed 15-20 minutes before leaving camp, despite the clanging pots and shouts from several campers. Not much chance for sleep after that.

August 21, 2010: We were up for good by 5:30 a.m. for story swapping about the bear and a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate/coffee. I walked one mile to the Yosemite Wilderness Center to pick up our wilderness permit. The four of us in the backpacker party finally got underway by 10:30 a.m. after tying up loose ends and a few false starts. By the time we headed up the three-mile trail from Happy Isles toward Vernal Fall (5,044 feet), there was already a crowd on the trail. Most were day hikers with no more than fanny packs and water bottles and an occasional day pack. The true backpackers on the trail were easily identifiable.

Each of us carried two-to-three full liters of water. And between us we had three water filters to pump water along the trail if needed. It was a steady uphill, 1.3 mile climb between Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall. Our 40-pound packs made for slow going, particularly on the long series of steps leading up to Vernal Falls and steep trail up to Nevada Fall (5,907 feet). The "up" was relentless and brief "catch your breath" stops were essential. After a 15-minute layover at Nevada Fall to rest legs and check for hot spots and blisters, we continued toward LYV, pulling off the trail one time along the way to pump water from the Merced River, which was running serenely this time of year.

It was an uphill 1.4 mile hike from Nevada Fall to LYV. But the broad trail made it manageable despite the loose sand in places. Walking sticks were definitely helpful on the steep trails. Once at LYV (6,100 feet), we dropped our gear and set up camp by 3:30 p.m. in anticipation of a late afternoon climb up Half Dome (8,836 feet). After leaving Nevada Fall, the crowds on the trail had thinned out, although there were plenty of day hikers who continued to Half Dome. However, most of those on the trail by mid-afternoon was returning from their Half Dome climb earlier in the day and were on the way down to camp or homeward bound. Only the backpackers were overnighting at LYV.

Despite our fatigue and the lateness of the day, we decided to press on toward Half Dome the same day rather than wait until the next morning. In retrospect, that decision was a good one. Our group felt we might not have it in us to complete the 3.2 mile hike and climb up Half Dome the next morning, then hike all the way back to the valley floor. However, by way of lessons learned, we should have pumped water at the river before leaving LYV for Half Dome. Yes, we still had water from our earlier filtering stop. Just not enough.

Knowing it would be a late return to camp for the night, we packed our day packs with jackets, gloves, flashlights, first aid kit, snacks, water and our dinner supplies (stove, fuel, matches, dehydrated meals). We knew we would likely have to cook dinner on the way down to replace the calories we had used on the trail.

Almost immediately after finding the trail out of camp toward Half Dome, the level terrain around the LYV backpacker campsite once again changed to steady uphill. We proceeded northerly for 1.2 miles. Even without our heavy backpacks, the trail was not easy---perhaps a measure of the fatigue in our legs at that point.

As we switched to a westwardly direction for the final two miles, a quick assessment of our available water supplies illuminated our failure to account for the demands of the 6.5 mile round trip late in the day. Fortunately, and totally unexpectedly, we encountered a very small muddy patch of ground on the side of the trail. To us thirsty hikers, that wet spot looked really good. It turned out to be a surface pop-out of a small underground stream or the exit of a tiny spring.

Although at first the water appeared not much more than a mud hole, we detected a definite flow to the water and clean sand which had collected in the bottom of a four-inch depression. That small water source became cause for celebration as we filtered enough to refill several bottles for the rest of the hike. Admittedly, we got some odd stares from hikers as we tapped our dubious water supply.

It took us three hours to hike the steep trail from LYV to the sub-dome, get up and over the sub-dome and reach the bottom of the cables. By that time all of us were experiencing mixed emotions as we stood depleted at the base of the granite mass above us. Did our legs have one more steep climb in them? Could we push ahead into the 40 mph cross winds, chilling us through our sweat-soaked shirts and jackets? Did we have time to make the ascent, then get off the rock before night fall? We had one hour on the clock to make it to the top, spend a few minutes getting our eyes full, then make it back down. Were we to take longer than that, we knew we would no longer be able to see where our foot strikes would land.

Silently, we voted with our feet and started the ascent, reluctantly at first, then with determination. Each of us had brought ropes and carabiners to thether ourselves to the half-inch steel cables if necessary. That's how it started. Moving step by step on the steep granite face, we pulled ourselves up the cables with gloved hands, clipping and unclipping the carabiners until we no longer felt the need.

Leaning into the wind, progress was slow between the parallel pairs of heavy cable supports placed about 15 feet apart up the rock wall. At last, we reached the top, where we allowed ourselves a "Yes!" moment before contemplating how we were going to get back down. I must admit, a helicopter rescue did cross my mind more than once as we watched the sun setting beyond the distant horizon.

Indeed we did just make it back down at dusk. Darkness overtook us as we arrived at the tree line below the granite subdome base. All four of us were famished and totally spent. Without hesitation, we broke out our dinner supplies and ate our fill by flashlight before our two-hour return hike in the dark to LYV. At 10:30 p.m. we were down for the count until morning.

August 22, 2010: We slept in until 6:00 a.m. (the boys until 8:00) and took our time breaking camp, anticipating an easy five-mile downhill return hike to Happy Isles and our drive home. Indeed, the return hike was easier and we were happy to take an alternate route along a portion of the John Muir Trail out of Nevada Fall. However, by the time we had hit the flats at Happy Isles, we were glad even the downhills were over. Our quads were trashed from steadily putting on the brakes for nearly five miles. After a four-hour ride home, including a stop at In-and-Out Burger, we pulled into the Elks Lodge parking lot at 5:30 p.m. A good time was had by all.

Epilogue: After climbing up Half Dome, I know why I'm not a rock climber. There's something about holding on for dear life that I would just as soon leave to others. Granted, fatigue was clearly a factor in the feelings of being on the edge of my physical capabilities. Nonetheless, making it all the way up and back down was a thrill and I'm glad I did it. At the very least, I can say it's off my bucket list.

And though I suppose it could happen, I'd wait a few days before asking me if I'll be going back to Half Dome....

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Technology Bites... I Mean Bytes

Using new technology must be something like tying your shoes. You might understand the concept and even be able to follow the steps in words or as demonstrated. But there is one fundamental moment---a bridge, as it were---in which understanding spans the gap between concept and reality. Until that bridge is in place, true learning won't occur.

Depending on which shoe tying process you were taught, the magic bridge is most likely the part where either the two loops are miraculously joined or where the one string circles around the first loop and finds the "portal" where the second loop is pulled through. After that point, all the rest (size of the loops, tighness of the knot, single versus double knot, etc.) is basically calibration and perfection.

Well, I got the shoe tying part down a few years back, despite the arrival of loafers and slip-ons. And there have been a few other break-throughs along the way as well, such as rebuilding my 1969 VW Bug's engine, installing a new pool filter with new plumbing and building a basic code-based website. But I must say, my learning about how to use most of the new electronic communication technology, has pretty much stalled, awaiting some form of the afore-mentioned bridge to arrive.

I'm OK on e-mail and can manage the basics on Facebook and a few other networking sites. But truth be known, I missed the firing of the starting gun when the whole digital imagery race began. I don't like digital cameras, can't get digital images off my phone (assuming they are still in there), can't deal with transporting stills or video files and I haven't figured out the magic step to make video book trailers, to mention just a few of my technoflaws. And I'm quite embarrassed to say that an uncooperative scanner has blocked even that rudimentary skill.

Perhaps I'll eventually pick up enough technology survival skills to make do amidst the relentless press of the electronic generation. But I must admit a fear that I may have finally reached my electronic end point. Either I will slowly languish in my TV chair, holding my broken remote while waiting for small tidbits of electronic news and imagery from anyone. Or I will have to spend my children's inheritance paying for a teenager to keep me connected.

Then, again, just the other day and even if only by happenstance, I may have inadvertently extended my digital life by untold nano-seconds, firmly securing my position on the up ramp to the slow lane of the electronic freeway of life. Somehow, I managed to get our SKYPE connection working out of the blue---I mean both the video AND the audio. Of course, I don't know exactly how it happened, although plugging in both the camera and the microphone seems to have helped....

The exhileration boggles the mind! Time to break out the bubbly!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Rhyming Tips and Traps Teaser

I've written about rhyme from time to time on this blog, as it is my primary form of children's writing. However, as blogging goes, once a topic is off the main list of blog posts visible on a site, it is literally out of sight and out of mind. Herewith a brief revisit of the topic.

If you have ever tried to write something in rhyme, you may have hit a wall on the road to rhyming self-discovery. Let's face it, being a rhymer is not easy. Rhyme can be relatively unforgiving in its structural requirements.

To do rhyme well, the rhyming sets have to be right on the mark. If you find yourself stretching just to make two words rhyme for no reason, you'll get a thumbs down from most editors. And "near rhymes" can be just as bad. It may work in song writing but in children's rhyme in particular, near rhymes come across as being too casual and inattentive to detail. Many editors won't give rhyme the time of day because they may have seen more than their share of bad rhyme and simply don't have the time to see if a particular submission, no matter how good it may be, in fact has potential.

As for the rhythm thing, failure to establish a clear cadence can be a rhyme killer. For example, whichever rhythmic pattern (the beats and cadence) you choose, needs to be consistent and engaging to capture and hold a reader's attention. Generally, if the beat is off (unless deliberately done for emphasis), your rhyming ship may be sunk before ever weighing anchor.

So let's pick a rhyme apart for a moment to give you an idea of what you are getting yourself into. What comes next may seem a bit cheesy. But to take the next step, bear with me. You'll need to go to my website at and click on the link in the center of the page that says: "Rhyming Resource Center" then follow it via the "Rhyming Tips and Traps" link to the rest of this story.

I know. I know. Website pandering is shameless. But I hope your visit to will be helpful to you and not simply seem a lame effort to increase my site visit count. However it strikes you, I'd like to hear from you pro or con whether the rhyming tips on my site were helpful. Just e-mail me at . Either way, best of luck on your jaunty journey in rhyme.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Recalling The National Scout Jamboree---Got GORP?

Below is a short rhyme in honor of Scouting and an often used energy source on our many campouts and backpack treks. But first a brief recap of our recent Jamboree experience in the company of about 45,000 other Scouts and Scout leaders at Fort A.P. Hill near Fredericksburg, VA.

After three years of planning, nearly two years of monthly meetings, two preparatory campouts and hours of gateway construction, patch sewing and packing, Jamboree Troop 640 of the Golden Empire Council left for the 2010 National Scout Jamboree on July 22 and put it in the history books on August 4.

Our departure from Sacramento on July 22 went smoothly after meeting at the Sacramento International Airport at 0430 hours for a 0600 departure. We began our four days of almost non-stop touring of the Washington DC area virtually as soon as we picked up our 40 matching black duffel bags at Washington's Reagan Airport. There were memorials and monuments galore along the full length of the 1.9 mile Capitol Mall, followed by a tour of the Capitol, the National Archives, several Smithsonian museums.

At Arlington Cemetery we watched the changing of the guard and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We couldn't leave the capital without a stop at the National Boy Scout Memorial where a baby bald eagle also stopped by as if to acknowledge our current and future Eagle Scouts. Rounding out three full days of touring in the capital was a special viewing of the evening parade at the Marine Barracks at 8th and I Streets, presented by the "President's Own" band and Drum and Buggle Corps.

Capping our pre-Jamboree touring was a morning stop a Jamestown, an action packed afternoon and evening at Busch Gardens and a tour of Williamsburg before our leaving for Fort A.P. Hill. We arrived at the Jamboree site amidst tight security and set up our home away from home for the next ten days. Reveille at 0530 hours daily and Taps at 2200 hours set the official boundaries of waking and sleeping, although the sleeping part seemed to last much shorter than the clock would indicate. Days were filled with patch trading, meeting Scouts from all over the U.S. and several visiting country delegations, outstanding arena shows, meals at camp and an occasional shower to counteract the products of heat, humidity and dust.

Even the last night did not disappoint as a lightning storm blew in just after 0300 hours to give us a good soaking as we slept under the stars on our last night in camp. Seemingly working in concert, a sister storm in the Chicago area delayed all flights, including our flight out of Reagan National Airport and our connecting flight out of Chicago. Nonetheless, after visiting the Marine Corps Museum at Quantico and the First President's Mount Vernon home, we arrived back home, minus our duffels at midnight August 4th. Despite the no doubt quickly fermenting laundry in our baggage, the misrouted duffels remained in luggage limbo for two more days. From what we could tell, the delivery agent simply dropped the bags at each house, rang the doorbell and ran.

All in all, the 2010 National Scout Jamboree was a memorable celebration of the first century of Scouting in the U.S. and the final National Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill, VA. The next National Jamboree will will held in 2013 at the Boy Scouts of America's new Jamboree location at the Bechtel Summit in West Virginia. Planning is already underway for the next Jamboree and the next century of Scouting.

By Bill Kirk

Some Good Old-fashioned Raisins
And Peanuts—that’s for me.
When hiking in the mountains,
It boosts my energy.

Yes, GORP is what they call it—
A strange, odd-sounding name.
But who cares what it sounds like?
I’d eat it just the same.

I’d munch GORP in the morning
In oatmeal, with a spoon,
And later, by the hand full,
I’d nibble some at noon.

I’d scarf it from a baggie—
Or snag it from a sack.
It’s chewy and it’s crunchy;
Just perfect for a snack.

So, when your “let’s get going”
Has gotten up and gone,
Your energy is flagging—
There’s no more forging on;

Forget about your manners
If consciousness goes warp!
Quick! Guzzle down some fluids
And grub a little GORP.