Sunday, November 29, 2009

Yosemite Death March - Part Three

Sorry for the long intermission, but I was intensely involved in a special project for work. Essentially I was making a year-end report for our home department as a five-minute music video - yes, it's a long story. And yes, it's my first attempt, so you can imagine the compressed learning curve. Regardless, it is 98% complete and well before the Thursday deadline, so I can relax a bit and get to blogging again. But what would a serial be without intermission, eh?

When last seen, we were at the top of Nevada Fall preparing to head down to Vernal Fall. The trial was steep and strenuous, but I was still lively enough to stop for pictures (I have not scanned those slides yet, but will sometime soon). I also was not feeling the effects of dehydration yet. We stopped at the top of Vernal Fall and rested. Then we proceeded down the Mist Trail.

The start of the trail from the top of Vernal is a bit nerve-racking for someone like me who has a touch of acrophobia. While I'm not particularly nervous about heights, I do get twitchy when I feel precarious and unsteady at a height. I like to feel secure underfoot. That's why it took me several years to learn to ride a bicycle and why I never learned to skateboard or ice skate. I barely could roller skate. The first several hundred meters or so down the trail is against a rock wall. The narrow, deep steps are carved out of the rock and there is an iron handhold that is not very secure keeping you from toppling over into the abyss. If you think I exaggerate, the shot above (from a different trip) was taken at a more secure part of the trail as it wended its way down the gorge. I kept expecting to see llamas in Incas along the way. Yes, that part was an exaggeration, but not by much.

As I intimated, the composition of the bulk of the Mist Trail was stone steps. Many were natural, but some were shaped into platforms. They were irregular in width, depth and length. Going up is arduous; going down is treacherous - and very, very tiring for someone not used to working those muscle groups involved in the act of stepping down between 18 to 24 inches average at a time for over a mile. Add to that the heavy mist of the fall, which was quite plentiful this trip, and you can see how slow the going was for me. Don't forget, I was carrying 50+ pounds of camera gear in a not so secure pack (that would come in a later trip). The fear of a shifting load throwing me off balance and causing me to fall was ever-present on my mind.

By the time I hit the bottom of the Mist Trail, I was spent. The shot below, taken on an earlier trip (same day as the photo above), shows Vernal Fall from near the foot bridge as it crosses the Merced. If you look to the right of the fall, you can see the rock face that comprises the last part of the trail. Unlike this photo, it was dusk when we got down there. We still had about a half mile to go to get to the shuttle bus stop a Happy Isle.

There is the old movie cliche' of the wounded soldier saying to his comrades, "Leave me, save yourselves!" I literally said that to Tina, Roy and Aida. My legs felt like quivering tubes of Jello and I could barely stand. We were out of water (ironic, since we were next to a river - but again, we were warned of parasitic amoebas) and night was falling fast. The landscape beyond the foot bridge was covered in a thick layer of pulverized granite from the Glacier Point slide and looked like the very picture of devastation.

Roy and Aida threatened to drag me down the trail by my feet, so I rose after an all-to-brief respite and staggered on. But you'll have to wait for the next installment to hear the remaining story. That's why it's called a "serial." :-)

For those who are interested in learning more about the Mist Trail, here's a link to the Yosemite website on the subject, with photos:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Yosemite Death March - Part Deux

Continuing our saga, we visited Yosemite for a few days just about a week after the huge scaling (slide) event off Glacier Point that nearly took out Camp Curry and closed the Happy Isles area in July of 1996. We were more fit in those days than we are now, so we were up for an adventure. Roy and Aida were with us and we conceive of a hike that would take us from Glacier Point down to Illilouette Fall, back up over a ridge then down to Nevada Fall, down the North side of the Merced River to Vernal Fall, then following the Mist Trail back to Happy Isles, Camp Curry and on to the housekeeping camp area where we were staying.

Part of the reason we wanted to do this was to see what the damage was from the scaling, in which 78,000 cubic yards of granite face fell off from an area between Washburn Point and Glacier Point. The Mist Trail heading up to Vernal Fall was closed in that direction, but oddly, hikers going the other way were not restricted. That, in part, decided our route.

We figured it would be about 10.4 miles from the Glacier Point trailhead to the Happy Isle bus stop. We started relatively early in the morning (it is about an hour's drive from the valley floor). Roy and I were carrying about 50-60 lbs each in camera gear, plus water. Tina and Aida carried packs of food, jackets and water. We had plenty...or so we thought. More on that later.

The first part of the trip was uneventful. It's mostly downhill to Illilouette Fall from Glacier Point and the trail was moderate to good. We lunched at Illilouette and then began the trek to Nevada.

I don't do well going uphill...I never have. When I did all those long hikes in the local mountains and in the Sierras as a boy scout, you could hear me puffing up a hill from miles away. I usually always made it, but on my own schedule and pace.

The slog up from Illilouette was no different. What was troublesome was the trail was in the sun and we began using a lot of water. By the time we crested the ridge we were getting low.

We could also begin to see the damage. A huge swath of pulverized granite dust coated the valley floor near Happy Isle and up the canyon towards Vernal Fall. It looked like the color of the moon.

That part of the trip was still hours ahead of us. For now we made the downhill march to Nevada Fall, where we stopped. There was a water fountain at the top of the fall where we hoped to fill our canteens/water bottles. Alas, the piping must have been damage by the granite fall because it was shut off when we got there. Due to the concern of parasitic amoeba in the water, we were stuck with what we had, which wasn't much. And that's when things started to go south in a hurry.

The story will continue in a later post. In the meantime, I took this shot from the top of Nevada Fall looking towards what I believe is Liberty Cap. This is the same peak that can be seen in the last post, but now we are on the other side of the Merced. I like the mirroring of Liberty Cap in the small boulder in the foreground. But so much for now, stay tuned for Part Three: same Bat time, same Bat channel.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Yosemite Death March - part 1

These next few posts will be like the old fashioned "Perils of Pauline" serial, mainly because I've been so busy at work doing the department year-end video (my first) that nearly all blogging has come to a screeching halt. Nevertheless, this is a cautionary tale, in line with the last entry's reference to "suffering for one's art."

I truly do use the phrase with some jest. As I mentioned, some people feel the need to "experience" life (read "suffer") in order to gain an appreciation of it for their artistic expression. I do agree that experience is invaluable, and unfortunately a lot of experience comes with some pain. But I don't see the need to actively seek it out purely on the excuse that it'll necessarily make you a better writer/painter/musician/artist. There is enough real suffering out there through wars, accidents, crime, disease and the other social/political/economic travails inherent in life to make actively seeking such experience seem naive at best and foolish at worst.

Indeed, my experience has taught me that pain and hardship are ready companions at the slightest whim and arrive when least expected. So it was on the Yosemite back-country trail Tina and I half-kiddingly refer to as "the great Death March." The photo above, of Nevada Fall, was part of that hike, and a subject to be continued on the next post.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Suffering for Art

There is this idea that you have to "suffer" for your art. I once had a girl friend who adamantly believed in that philosophy. As a result she left home as soon as she was 18, rented a room in somebody's finished garage and proceeded to do some really reckless things that could have lead to bad things happening to her. All this in pursuit of "life" and life's experiences.

The whole exercise was kind of lost on me. while I do appreciate the value of experiences, I think imagination and the ability to place yourself in the shoes of others is equally valuable.

Yet, there are indeed times when one must suffer for ones art. The above photo was taken knee-deep in the Merced River several years ago. While it was technically summer, the water was snowmelt, so cold was an understatement. Much like the Tioga Pass photo, I spent nearly an hour in that frigid river shooting Half Dome photos into the twilight.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Black Talons - Holloman AFB

As I mentioned in an earlier post, The Northrop, now Northrop Grumman, T-38 Talon celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first flight earlier this year. Not only is it still in operational service training future fighter pilots for the U.S. Air Force, it is revisiting an old role of playing "Red Air."

The initial Navy Adversary and Air Force Aggressor units flew T-38s in Soviet-style tactics to give our pilots simulated air combat training, hence the appellation Red Air. Complimented by, then later replaced with Northrop F-5E Tiger II's and Douglas A-4 Skyhawks, the Talon performed well enough, but returned to it primary mission when it became clear more capable jets were needed to play the role.

However, with the F-22A Raptor replacing the F-117 Nighthawk at Holloman AFB, the T-38 has once again returned to the combat training aggressor role. This is mainly due to the fact that Aggressor units are stretched too thin and Holloman is a bit remote from the major Red Air operating sites (Nellis AFB foremost among them).

Usually, ACC (Air Combat Command) T-38s have the same paint scheme as their parent squadron. In other words, the T-38 companion trainers for the 509th Bomb Wing, which flies B-2s, are painted B-2 grey. The T-38s at Holloman were painted black to match the F-117s. They decided to leave them black when they took on the Red Air role against the F-22s because black was harder to detect in the air, or so our host told us when we visited the 7th CTS (Combat Training Squadron) during Phancon this year.

Incidentally, the tail band now has little F-22 silhouettes. When they were the companion trainers to the Nighthawk they had little F-117s.

One last note, the 7th CTS was called the Screamin' Demons when the F-117 was there. I assume they are still called that, but lately they have taken on a new, unofficial nickname. It is a play on the HO tail code on the jets. Believe it or not, they are affectionaly called the "Black HOs."

Politically correct it ain't. But it is descriptive and literally accurate.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Extreme Catnapping

Sleeping cats and babies must be the most limber beings on earth. Cats especially are positively boneless when it suits them. I stumbled upon this scene last Saturday. Nicky, our part-Russian Blue, part Siamese, decided the chair in the living room was the perfect, sun-drenched spot to stretch out and nap. Except somewhere in the doing he got folded up like a jack-knife. Did it bother comrade Nikolai that he was bent over like an old, discarded soda straw? Not a bit. He sleep soundly even as I crept up and snapped a few blackmail pictures of his twisted body. Ah, youth; ah, wild, haphazard, misspent youth!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Phantom Phollies, part 3

"Then God's countenance shone upon the phace of the Phantom, and Lo, it was good." Well...okay, a bit overly dramatic, but there is something magical about the brilliant shafts of sunlight that burst through the openings in clouds. Called appropriately enough "God-rays," these beams give a punch to an otherwise drab image.

In this instance, one of the sucker holes happened to be positioned just right and these three F-4s parked off the main ramp were the beneficiaries of this special effect. The dilemma was whether to get closer and isolate the aircraft from bothersome distractions (e.g. telephone wires) and wait for a stronger, more direct God-ray or get images of the other aircraft on the ramp before our time was up. I chose the latter. But there were a couple of other shooters who did try to wait it out for a more dramatic picture. Hopefully we'll see their results sometime in the near future on the Society's webpage (

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Phantom Phollies, part 2

Sucker holes do occasionally pay off, albeit for a brief period of time. As I mentioned yesterday, the window we got lasted about 20 minutes - enough to capture about ten Phantoms. Then the sun went away for pretty much the rest of the day...or at least it was gone when we were on the ramp. It did pop out for a time while we were inside a hangar inspecting the F-22 sans cameras. Yes, it was laughing at us.

This F-4E (serial 71-1075) looked very pretty with its orange wingtips and tail and shark mouth markings.