Scott on Life

Ramblings and Other Blathering Ons
An Interesting and Fun Boggle Variation: Three Word Boggle

Boggle is a fun and fast-paced word game that consists of 16 letters arranged in a 4x4 grid, with players competing to find the most unique words. For a three minute period, players hunt for as many words they can find by starting with one letter and forming a word with adjacent letters. At the end of the three minute period, players read off their solutions and cross off any solutions found by others. After this, players are awarded different points per remaining solution based on how many letters it contains, with the winner being the player with the highest total.

Boggle’s default rules encourage players to speedily write down as many words as they can find, which forces everyone to focus on short and easy three and four letter solutions rather than more interesting, longer solutions. Over Christmas this year, my family invented a Boggle variation that is quite interesting, a variation we call three word Boggle.

The game play is the same as regular Boggle, with the following changes to the rules:

  • Each player may write down at most three solutions,
  • Once a player starts writing a solution they cannot cross out the solution or change any part of what they have written down, and
  • The player that completes his three solutions first is awarded an additional point, so long as all of the solutions she’s written down are valid solutions (this presumes you have a dictionary or Boggle solving program to dictate what solutions are valid at game’s end).
  • Play continues until one player’s cumulative score crosses a certain agreed upon threshold, like 50 points.

That’s it!

This variation is interesting for a couple of reasons.

  • For starters, it encourages the players to take their time and examine the lay of the board and focus on long and unique words that are unlikely to be found by others. Since you only get three solutions, if another player has the same solution it can be quite damaging. (My family plays with a house rule that prohibits three-letter solutions – this greatly reduces the pool of available solutions and increases the likelihood that there will be shared solutions among the players.)
  • Another fun aspect is the bonus point for whomever finishes first. It makes players balance going with a number of quick, short solutions versus spending time studying the board.
  • Not allowing cross offs or alterations to a solution that has been written forces players to examine the board and think carefully before writing anything down. It also leads to scenarios where a player accidentally writes down a word that is not there (maybe they thought two letters were connected but they weren’t) – even if they catch the error after writing the solution, but with time remaining, they are out of luck!
  • Because there are a maximum of three solutions per player per round, every point counts. Having a word that is shared by others can be disastrous because it reduces your score for that round by 1/3, on average. So if there’s, say, a single six letter word on the board and you think it’s quite easy to find, you are wracked with the decision whether to write it down or to go with a more obscure four- or five-letter word, in the hopes that two or more players will write it down.

This variation works best with more players. We played with four players each time, but I think five or six would have been even better.

Goodnight Moon and Self-Referential Children's Books

Goodnight Moon is a classic American children's book written by Margaret Wise Brown. The book begins by identifying several objects in the child's room:

In the great green room
There was a telephone
and a red balloon.
And a picture of a cow jumping over the moon...

After identifying various objects, the remainder of the book has the child saying good night to these (and other) objects, the first goodnights going to the moon and the cow jumping over the moon. After each page, the room gets darker, the fire dims, the lights come on in the toy house, and the various inhabitants (cats, mice, etc.) get ready for bed. The prose reads like a lullaby. Probably one of the best children's book for kids under 5.

What's interesting about the illustrations is the many self-referential themes scattered throughout the book. I've found three such symbols:

  • The one I first noticed is that one picture in the room, which is not mentioned in the opening, depicts a scene from another one of Margaret Wise Brown's children's books, The Runaway Bunny. There's also a copy of this book on the bookshelf.
  • On the child's nightstand is a copy of the book Goodnight Moon. (And supposedly that book has a page showing the same room and in the room on that page there's a nightstand with a copy of Goodnight Moon on it.)
  • The two pictures in the room that are identified are "the cow jumping over the moon" and "three little bears sitting on chairs." Look closely at the bears picture. In the room where they're sitting there's a picture on the wall... of a cow jumping over the moon.
Interesting.
Posted: Dec 27 2009, 06:40 AM by Scott Mitchell
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The Curious Case Of Dr. Farklebends And His Search For The Largest Number

I was digging through some old files the other day and unearthed this short story I wrote back in 2001 and (after cleaning it up a bit) thought I'd share it here. If you like reading absurd short story fiction with a mathematical slant, read on. If you have any comments or constructive criticism feel free to leave a comment.

My dear reader, have I ever told you of Dr. Farklebends? If I had, you would have certainly remembered, as he had the most peculiar belief that the set of natural numbers had a finite cardinality! It was Hobbes, my classmate and pal at university, who had informed me of this particular professor's odd conviction. "Hobbes," I had asked, "how could a learned man hold such a silly belief?"

Hobbes had responded to my query in very hushed tones. "Dr. Farklebends," he had started, "puts a great deal of faith in empirical data. His contention, you see, is that since infinity cannot be empirically conceptualized, it does not exist." Hobbes leaned in closer and spoke in an even quieter voice. "The implications of this assertion are illogical - Dr. Farklebends adamantly believes that there is an upper bound to the set of natural numbers!"

"An upper bound!?" I had exclaimed in disbelief. As an avid student of mathematics, such a preposterous notion was beyond my comprehension. Here was Hobbes, my bestest friend in all of school, telling me the seemingly impossible - that one of the professors at our renowned college firmly believed that there was some "greatest" integer, some integer for after which no greater integer existed. The concept of such a number was most amusing to me, and to Hobbes as well, for he had a coy smile on his usually stolid face. "Pray tell, dear Hobbs, what number does Dr. Farklebends believe to be this 'upper bound?'"

"You give Dr. Farklebends too little credit, my dear friend. If our respected professor were to name a number as the upper bound then he could instantly be disproven by someone who took the time to add one to that upper bound. No, our esteemed Dr. Farklebends is much wiser than that, much wiser. He is the first to admits that he does not know the upper bound of the set of natural numbers." It was at this point that Hobbes, with that coy smile still lingering on his cherub face, leaned back in his chair and paused, waiting for my comment.

I responded thusly: "Does he not see the absurdity of his claim? By his own words, he cannot name an upper bound because he knows that someone can name a number greater. How, then, can there be an upper bound?"

Of course, Hobbes agreed with my conclusion and over the course of the next several days we gaily joked about this odd professor and his illogical beliefs. Admittedly, I was a trifle embarrassed for both my beloved college and poor Dr. Farklebends. I ask you this, dear reader, what could be worse for a professor than for a couple of youthful students to speak of him and his work in such jovial and irreverent terms? After some time our interest toward the matter subsided and I had forgot about Dr. Farklebends.

And this would be the end of my story, dear reader, if it weren't for a most unexpected incident that occurred several weeks later. It was the middle of the week, bright and sunny outside, and I, your apt pupil, was strolling through the college commons on my way to an afternoon lecture when I happened to stumble upon a rather gaunt man standing alone while nervously scribbling down notes on a small pad of paper in hand. This man appeared to be quite frail. His suit, which would hardly fit most healthy men, looked to be two sizes too big for his sickly frame. His disheveled hair was balding and gray, his glasses were smudged and nearly falling from the tip of his bony nose. The only part of this ghastly fellow that seemed well were his eyes. They were large and bright, paying great attention to those notes he was furiously recording.

Having left a few minutes early for my afternoon class, I decided to stop and observe this interesting specimen before my eyes. The notebook held firmly in his hands seemed to be far too small for all practical purposes. This creature filled the pages at an amazing rate, flipping to the next one every few moments. With each new page this possessed man continued his scribblings with the same frantic pace. After a few minutes of observation I decided that I must find out what, exactly, this tortured soul was so furiously recording. I approached the specimen slowly, cautiously, so as not to startle him.

"Excuse me," I said slowly and evenly. The man did not immediately look up. Instead, his scribbling slowed, just a bit at first, and then more so. And soon, he stopped altogether and then, at that point, raised his head, his bright eyes full of passion and life meeting mine, which, I must admit, must have looked pretty timid and confused.

"Yes?" There was a bit of contempt in that voice that seemed to say, "Who are you, lad, and why have you interrupted my work?"

"Yes," I said, regaining my composure. "Sir, I couldn't help but notice you so intently writing in your notebook there that I just had to take a moment to ask, with all due respect, Sir, what it is that you are recording."

"Oh?" asked the man, his voice alive and without any of the bite it had possessed upon our first exchange. And his eyes! Already full of vitalizing energy, they seemed to glow even brighter at my inquiry. "Yes, that, my work! I am working on a very important mathematics problem, a most acutely interesting one with unforeseeable applications and consequences!"

Before I could offer thanks for his response and excuse myself so as not to be late for lecture, the man continued. "Yes, yes, it is quite an important little problem. Are you familiar with mathematics?" I nodded. "Let me ask you this, then. Pray tell, what is the greatest number that exists?"

It was at this exact moment, my dear reader, that I realized that this squirrel of a man was no one other than the infamous Dr. Farklebends! This revelation had stunned me into abrupt silence, and I failed to answer the doctor's question with anything more than an agape mouth.

"I take your lack of a response is because you don't think that there is any sort of upper bound?" Still a bit startled I did not attempt to respond verbally, as I feared my tongue would fail me. Again, I nodded. "Ah, but why? Why do you think there is no such 'greatest number' out there, one that has no number great than it? You are a student of mathematics, explain your reasoning."

I swallowed hard and decided to respond as graciously, yet as accurately, as possible. "Dear Sir," I began, "it can be shown by a proof of contradiction that there is no greatest number." I paused to give the doctor an opportunity to interject; Dr. Farklebends' intense eyes widened, encouraging me to continue. "For instance, assume that there is some greatest number, call it x. But if x is the greatest number than x + 1 must be less than x, which is illogical. Hence, there can be no x such that it is greater than all other numbers."

A great smile that matched the intensity his bright eyes appeared on the doctor's face. "Ah, yes, that is what everyone concludes, my son, but who is to say it is true? Where are the hard facts, the empirical data to support it?"

Forgetting that I was speaking to a professor, I responded, perhaps a bit too curtly, "And where is your empirical data, Sir? Can you give some number that is, indeed, greater than all other numbers?"

Dr. Farklebends' smile widened, his eyes grew brighter. "Ah, yes," he said slowly, "that is a very good point. And that, my son, is what I am working on here!" At this point he held up his dog-eared notebook. "You see, I am working to find that 'greatest number,' and working very hard, indeed!"

"Working to find the greatest number? How, what formulae are you using? What mathematical techniques?" I asked breathlessly.

Dr. Farklebends continued his incessant grinning. When I had first observed him scratching down notes his face, save for his eyes, had appeared downtrodden and most sickly. But now, my dear reader, his face was alive as if my questioning and rejuvenated his ailing body. "I am using the most basic mathematical techniques. The most simple and fundamental formulae." With this, an elated and proud Dr. Farklebends handed me his prized possession - his worn notebook. I took it from his frail hands timidly and with great care, as if it were a religious relic or ancient artifact that might crumble at my touch. For you see, dear reader, I could sense that to this scrawny man these tattered pages were his most valuable possession.

I turned my attention to the notebook, opening it to the first page. To my great astonishment I saw the following markings:

0
0+1 = 1
1+1 = 2
2+1 = 3
3+1 = 4

In disbelief, I flipped the worn page, and quickly scanned the next.

5+1 = 6
6+1 = 7
7+1 = 8
8+1 = 9
9+1 = 10

I looked up at the doctor in bewilderment. In telling you this tale now, how I wish I had a mirror that afternoon, for I am certain the look on my face must have been most amusing, an absurd mix of utter shock and confusion. Yet Dr. Farklebends only widened his already unnaturally wide smile. His eyes only grew brighter and more intense. I had to look back down at the notebook to avoid those eyes and that smile. I started blindly flipping through the pages.

3243246+1 = 3243247
3243247+1 = 3243248
3243248+1 = 3243249
3243249+1 = 3243250
3243250+1 = 3243251

I turned to another random page, further in the notebook:

2346234384+1 = 2346234385
2346234385+1 = 2346234386
2346234386+1 = 2346234387
2346234387+1 = 2346234388
2346234388+1 = 2346234389

I looked back up at the doctor in disbelief. He inquired softly, "Do you see now?" I just stared back at the doctor, unable to even grunt. "I am going to find the greatest number, my son, through empirical means! Yes? When I reach that illustrious number to which I cannot add one to anymore, then, young man, THEN I will have found that obscure number!"

I quietly handed the professor back his worn notebook. Dr. Farklebends' smile did not diminish as he took the book back from my hands, nor did his eyes lose any of their fiery energy as I turned and continued to my afternoon lecture (which, I'll have you know, I was most embarrassed to have arrived five minutes late). As I made my way across the commons, my body limp and my eyes tired from this most perplexing encounter, I turned back for one last look at the tortured Dr. Farklebends. There he stood where I had left him, his notebook back open, his eyes electric, his hand furiously continuing its interrupted work.

My Most Viewed Picture on Flickr

Despite several hundred very scenic pictures from the High Sierras and along the John Muir Trail, despite more than 100 pictures from Switzerland and Finland, and despite dozens of pictures of perhaps the cutest dog on Earth, this picture taken of me at the NASA Johnson Space Center posing in a silly touristy photo thingie is the most popular picture of mine on Flickr, with nearly twice as many views as the second most popular picture.

High-Speed Racing at NASA!!

I am at a complete loss as to why this is the case.

Posted: Dec 03 2008, 04:08 AM by Scott Mitchell | with 1 comment(s)
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On Bob Dylan and Glenn Gould

Cooper introduced me to Bob Dylan, lending me his copy of his Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits CD. At the time I didn't know who Bob Dylan was other than that he was a folk singer back in my parent's time. But then when I put in the CD I heard songs and lyrics I had heard time and time again, sung by different groups in different genres and in different generations. A few seconds after every song started I'd have that flicker of recognition and would turn to Cooper in disbelief. "Bob Dylan wrote this song, too?" It was amazing to learn that all these different songs performed by a variety of groups had all been written by a single, nasally-sounding folk singer who hailed from a small town in Minnesota. By the end of the semester I had borrowed all of Cooper's Bob Dylan CDs. He said he was going to introduce me to Miles Davis after Winter Break, but sadly that never happened - Cooper's grades that first semester at school were pretty anemic and I think he knew that he wasn't meant to be an engineer. The last time I saw him was a few days before leaving for Winter Break, and I only heard of his decision to drop out from another floormate in my dormatory.

Bob Dylan remains one of my favorite modern musicians and, despite his less than stellar singing voice, I prefer to hear him sing his own songs. Yes, Jimi did a more powerful All Along the Watchtower, Peter, Paul, and Mary did the quintessential rendition of Blowin' in the Wind, and I was partial to Guns 'n' Roses version of Knocking on Heaven's Door, but if I could only listen to one version of any of Bob's songs I'd like to hear him sing it. My favorite Bob Dylan song is Don't Think Twice, It's All Right.

I had another musical "discovery" about a year ago, this time thanks to the Internet. I've long enjoyed classical music, especially classical piano, but had always focused more on the composers rather than the performers. After all, I reasoned, it was Mozart or Beethoven or Rachmaninoff who wrote the music, and while a performer could add his or her own personal touch, a piece of music would similar regardless of who played it (assuming capable skill level among the performers). But then I found a link on Digg.com, if I'm remembering correctly, to this short video of pianist Glenn Gould playing a Bach Partita. This clip is from the documentary The Art of Piano.

His style of play intrigued me. He was obviously very skilled and clearly very eccentric, from the poor posture at the piano to humming along as he played to getting up, looking out the window, and singing the music aloud, as if his brain had worked too fast and he lost track of what to play and had to "catch back up" by rehashing the notes to himself. I especially liked that he was so enthused at performing that he would "sing along" with the notes, something I find myself doing when listening to particularly enjoyable classical pieces. Moreover, most pianists play a piece the "way it was intended" by the composer, adding their own style and touches here and there, but remaining true to the instructions and markings made by the composer. Gould, however, was not afraid to play a piece the way he saw fit. Through Gould I learned that the performer can have a great impact on the way a particular piece is heard.

Take Mozart's Piano Sonata in A Major, K 333, for example. Here is Gould himself explaining his interpretation of the piece:

 

And here is Gould's interpretation followed by the "standard" way of playing this piece. See what version you prefer.

Posted: Nov 30 2008, 09:02 AM by Scott Mitchell
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And Then There Were Three

Women, eh?

On September 1st, my wife gave birth to our daughter Alice (our first child). Alice's arrival was a little earlier than expected - Mom's due date was September 13th - but she popped out healthy and happy after a delivery that involved nearly 60 hours between our admittance to the hospital and the culmination of her travels down the birth canal. But all's well that ends well, that's what I say. In fact, if I may brag just a little, she appears to be exceptionally healthy. Her heart rate was perfect throughout the entire 60 hours, she is full of energy and is much stronger in the arms and legs than I would have expected a newborn to be. Plus she's so darn cute.

It's amazing how human babies are so utterly helpless and dependent on their caretakers. Right now, Alice is a master at four things:
  • Sleeping. This is really her core strength. It's amazing how many hours she spends per day in sweet slumber. What impresses me is that she can sleep through just about anything: noises from outside, the alarm clock, conversation, the radio, and so on. I am a complete opposite. If the neighbor's cat sneezes, I hear it and wake up. Granted, my sleeping has become much deeper as of late, but I think that is due more to lack of sleep and total exhaustion.
  • Eliminating. Newborns void and stool (fancy terms doctors use) anywhere from 8 to 12 times per day. Per day! To put it in more vernacular terms, they are peeing and pooping machines. Better yet, they seem to delight in showing off their elimination skills. For example, twice now I've been changing Alice's diaper after a bowel movement when she's decided it would be neat to show me her defecating abilities as I scurry to get yet another diaper.
  • Eating. You'd think a newborn's eating skills would be on the top of the list, but I've found our daughter to be a more efficient at sleeping and eliminating. Don't get me wrong, she eats plenty, but she's still getting the hang of breastfeeding, a skill she had some trouble learning when first entering the world.
  • Being adorable. It's amazing how cute and precious babies are, even while they're defecating as you're holding the butt up in mid-air, desperate looking for something to catch the falling excrement.

Aside from the abilities listed above, Alice is pretty much helpless. And the thing is, they stay that way for a long time - years! Can you imagine how likely a zebra or gazelle or lion would survive on the plains in Africa if it took a newborn over a year before they could walk on their own?

Alice in a carseat. 

It's still a mental trip when someone refers to me as, "Dad." It's hard to believe that I'm a father. And that my brother is an uncle, and my parents are grandparents. It makes me feel so old and responsible. Not that I'm complaining. I always assumed I'd be a father at some point in my life, and I looked forward to that day. I think that one of the ways life has meaning and purpose is by doing things that leave the world a better place when we're gone, and one of the best activities is to raise the next generation in a loving and supportive family. Now, I just have to make sure I don't screw up! Smile

Tomorrow Alice turns nine days old. They grow up so fast.

We did it!

Creating a Chopsticks Placeholder

Many fast food and mid-level Asian restaurants offer their patrons disposable wooden chopsticks. (Higher end restaurants usually use ceramic or metal chopsticks.)

When you receive disposable chopsticks you can very easily create a placeholder for the chopsticks from the paper wrapping so that when you set the chopsticks down they do not touch the table. It's a fun and quick thing to construct and serves as a neat little dinner conversation piece the first time you show someone. It's dinner time origami! This blog entry provides step-by-step instructions on how to build such a placeholder.

(STEP 1) Start by removing the chopsticks from the paper wrapper.


(STEP 2) Fold the paper wrapper at the midpoint so that the top half is perpendicular to the bottom half.

 

(STEP 3) Flip the wrapper over by taking the bottom left corner and flipping it up so that it's the upper right corner. (Flip the wrapper, don't rotate it. The downward facing side from Step 2 should be upward facing at the end of this step.)

 

(STEP 4) Fold down the portion of the wrapper extending to the right so that is parallel with the portion already pointing down. At the end of this step you should have what looks like a tall house with a pointed roof.

 

(STEP 5) Flip the wrapper like you did in Step 3 - by taking the lower left corner and flipping it over so that it is now the upper right corner.

 

(STEP 6) At this point your wrapper looks like a tilted tall house. Take the top strip (the right side of the house) and fold it back to the left in a fashion similar to the folds performed in Steps 2 and 4. Finally, tuck this strip you just folded so that it's underneath the bottom strip (the left side of the house).

If you did everything right, your wrapper should now look like the following:

 

It should lay flat against the table. If it's springing up or unfolding on you, chances are you did not tuck the fold from Step 6 underneath the other strip.

Congratulations! At this point you have a placeholder for your chopsticks. You can now set them down on the table without dirtying the part you put in your mouth. This is the simplest of the chopstick wrapper folds. There are more intricate ones that involve more folds but product more interesting designs. The one outlined above is a great pattern to get started on. If you're interested in more intricate patterns, there are a few chopstick origami videos on YouTube.

A quick personal aside...... There was a time in my life when I could not use chopsticks. I knew how I was supposed to hold them and use them, but I just never had enough practice or experience to be any good. This ignorance was due in part to the fact that you don't need to be a chopsticks aficionado to enjoy a meal at an Asian restaurant in the US. Most restaurants bring you a fork by default and do not give you chopsticks unless you're Asian or you ask for them explicitly. Yes, it was a little embarrassing at times when, at a restaurant, all other dinner guests asked for chopsticks and I had to stick with the fork, but that was infinitely less embarrassing than trying to pick up a General Tsao chicken piece with chopsticks and accidentally flinging it across the table. There was no impetus to learn how to use chopsticks until I met my wife, whose parents emigrated from Korea - I didn't want to be the only person at a family dinner or party using a fork. It took a while to get the hang of it, but I think it's safe to say that today I am quite adept at using chopsticks for a white guy from the Midwest. Smile

Posted: Jul 02 2008, 09:42 AM by Scott Mitchell
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Our Grand Canyon Hike

South Kaibab Trail Head down to Phantom Ranch and back up to Bright Angel Trail Head [Pictures]
Distance: 19 Miles
Elevation Changes: 7,260 - 2,480 - 6,860

After our hike up to Yosemite's Half Dome in October, my wife and I tackled one more hike for the year in November 2007: a trip to the floor of the Grand Canyon and back up. The Grand Canyon was our first stop during our summer road trip, but because we had Sam (our faithful Terrier) along with us we could not descend below the rim. We had talked about hiking down to the floor of the Grand Canyon and back up for some time, and decided that November was as good as a time as any.

Our plan was to:

  • Drive from San Diego to the south rim of the Grand Canyon on a Friday,
  • Camp in the Mather campground Friday night
  • Start our hike from the South Kaibab trail head around 6:30 AM
  • Reach Phantom Ranch at the floor of the canyon around 12:00 PM
  • Return to the south rim via the Bright Angel Trail around 6:00 PM
  • Camp Saturday night in the Mather campground
  • Drive back to San Diego on Sunday

We arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park around 5:00 PM, close to sunset. We secured our campsite, pitched our tent, and were in bed by 8:00 PM with the alarm set for 5:00 AM. We ended up making good time after waking up and, after catching the shuttle to the South Kaibab trail head, started hiking a tad before 6:00 AM. It was still dark out and we had to use our headlamps for the first 45 minutes, or so.

 

The National Park Service strongly discourages hiking from the rim to the canyon floor and back up again in one day, especially during the summer months. Around 250 people per year require rescuing when hiking these trails because of dehydration or overexertion. There is very little shade throughout the trail, few water sources, and in the summer temperatures can easily eclipse 110 degrees. Plus, many people underestimate the difficulty and time needed to hike from the canyon floor up to the rim. A good rule of thumb is to budget twice the time to go down as you expect to go up. The signs posted near the rim trail heads express it eloquently: "Going down is optional; coming up is mandatory."

The temperature for us, however, was never an issue due to the fact that we struck out on this trail in November and most of the afternoon was overcast. The temperature ranged from near freezing at the rim to a shade below 80 degrees at the bottom around noontime. Except for the early morning and high afternoon, the temperature fluctuated between 60 and 70 degrees.

The South Kaibab Trail is much steeper than the Bright Angel Trail, which is how we returned to the canyon rim. The Kaibob trail descends roughly 4,900 ft. in 8 miles, whereas the Bright Angel Trail rises 4,600 feet in 11 miles. This was our motivation behind descending from Kaibab and ascending on Bright Angel. Also, Bright Angel has more plentiful water sources, making it a safer trail during the summer months. Of course, going down is not a walk in the park. It's hard on the knees and back. But it requires far less physical exertion than going up.

Here is a picture of some of the many, many switchbacks on the Kaibab Trail.


We reached the canyon floor around 10:00 AM, ahead of schedule, and crossed the Colorado River via Black Bridge.

The South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails both terminate at the Bright Angel River delta, which is a lush stretch of land formed by the Bright Angel River, one of the many tributaries of the Colorado River. This delta is home to many trees, deer, and bugs, and offers a stark contrast to the otherwise barren and dusty wasteland that we had experienced up until this point. The delta is home to a rather large camping area; it is also the home of Phantom Ranch, a ranch/resort and a popular destination (and starting point) for mule tours.

 

After a stop by Phantom Ranch for an ice-cold glass of lemonade, we were ready for our ascent to the south rim via the Bright Angel Trail. We started by returning to the south side of the Colorado River via Silver Bridge. Here is a striking view of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. This picture was taken looking east from Silver Bridge; Black Bridge is visible in the distance.


After many miles and many thousands of vertical feet, we neared the top. Looking back you can see a portion of the Bright Angel Trail far below.


The best view of the switchbacks of the Bright Angel Trail, however, is shown below. This picture was taken back in May when we visited the Grand Canyon on our road trip, and was taken while hiking along the South Rim with Sam. As with any picture of the Grand Canyon, it's hard to grasp the immensity of scale. To give you a sense of the scale, the thin ribbon of trail below compromises nearly 4.5 miles and 3,000 vertical feet! 


We made it back to the South Rim a little after 4:00 PM, tired and sore. We rode the shuttle back to our campsite, took a shower, and ate at one of the restaurants in the park before falling asleep around 9:00 PM. We hit the road the next day around 7:00 AM and drove back to San Diego.
 
All in all, it was a fun and very tiring trip. I did not enjoy the scenery nearly as much as the High Sierra scenery, but the Grand Canyon is an amazing piece of natural art and is a natural wonder everyone should experience. Standing at the rim and peering out into the vast space that is the canyon is amazing and awe inspiring. Walking down into that void offers a more intimate and detailed sense of the Grand Canyon's enormity and the raw power of nature.

 

Variations on Pachelbel's Canon (Great Holiday Music)
Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel is probably most known for his Canon in D. A Canon is a piece of music that starts with an introductory melody and then repeats it ad infinitum with various variations. Pachelbel's Canon has an eight chord melody: D, A, B, F#, G, D, G, A. This melody has appeared as the harmony in a number of pop songs over the years, including Vitamin C's Graduation and Blue's Traveler's song Hook. It has also been used in many other classical pieces. And even in stand up comedy.

Many composers have created their own variations on this timeless theme. My favorite one is George Winston's Variations on the Kanon by Pachelbel. In that piece, Geroge plays the Canon in C Major (instead of D Major), which subtlety changes the tone of the song, but does make it easier to play. I'm also a big fan of the numerous Canon improvisations played by Kyle Landry.

Back in September I stumbled across Lorenzo Gonzalez's web page titled, Teach Yourself Pachelbel's Canon on Piano, which promised easy, step-by-step instructions on learning Pachelbel's Canon (in C Major), complete with short scores and audio and video examples. I took piano lessons back when I was in elementary school for a couple of years before giving up on it. I took it back up, informally, in high school and enjoy playing to this day. I've had very little formal training and even less natural talent, and you'd know that if you saw me playing. But it's a fun hobby and stress reliever.

In any event, after finding Lorenzo's web page, I decided I'd try my best to follow along and practice, practice, practice. And practice I did. I've been trying to play this song at least three times a day since I first found the page, and have been pretty constant. Once you get the left hand part down and can do that without thinking, the piece is a lot of fun because you can experiment with the right hand and try different things and see if it sounds good or not.

In any event, after working through Lorenzo's lessons, after spending countless hours practicing and listening to George Winston's variations and trying to mimic them, and after finding other Pachelbel sheet music arranged by Jim Paterson, I decided to put down the arrangement I've come to like playing on paper. It's not nearly as complex or textured or dynamic as Kyle Landry or George Winston's music, but it's an interpretation I can play and that I like playing. Maybe you'll like playing it, too.

Posted: Dec 20 2007, 05:20 AM by Scott Mitchell | with 2 comment(s)
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Our Hike to Half Dome

Happy Isles Trail Head to Half Dome Summit and Back [Pictures]
Distance: 16.4 Miles
Elevation Changes: 4,035 - 8,836 - 4,035

Half Dome is perhaps Yosemite National Park's most famous landmark. It is a granite dome that rises a shy under 5,000 feet from the valley floor. Half Dome appears as a complete dome that has been cut in half, but it is technically a whole dome; the half that is "missing" is just a steeper side that was, in part, made even steeper by glacial activity. Here is a picture of Half Dome from Little Yosemite Valley, which is about four miles and 2,000 feet up from floor of the Yosemite Valley. This is a view of the south face, which is less steep than the north face.

Half Dome is a favorite climbing site in Yosemite and has an assortment of routes that range in difficulty and duration - most routes take two to three days and involve camping while en route! Thankfully the summit is accessible to day hikers. A series of poles and steel cables have been installed for about a quarter mile up the least steep slope. You can see the route day hikers take in the picture above. We come in from the right side of the picture, moving left, first up the granite slope on the far right, then down into that notch, and finally up the final slope to the top.

We were slated to summit Half Dome during our 2007 bid of the John Muir Trail. Our plan was to hike from the Happy Isles trail head (the start of the JMT) to our Day 1 campsite (about 2.5 miles from the Half Dome summit), setup camp, and then meander up to the top of Half Dome and back. However, by the time we reached our campsite we were so pooped. It was hot out and, this being our first day on the trail, we were not in trail shape. Therefore, we passed on going up to Half Dome, and I'm glad we did because the last mile to the summit of Half Dome is steep and difficult and we would have likely been too tired to make the top anyhow.

In any event, having missed out on Half Dome during our JMT attempt, we were itching to summit the famous Yosemite landmark. In mid-October we learned that the cables were scheduled to come down for the season on October 15th, so we thought it might be fun to drive up to Yosemite and knock out Half Dome while we still had the chance this season. We left on Saturday morning and stayed overnight in the tent cabins at Curry Village. While Half Dome is a popular destination for tourists at Yosemite, it is not an easy destination to reach. From the Valley floor it's 8.2 miles and 4,700 feet up to the top. Needless to say, you need to start early in order to make it up to the top and back down before it gets too late. We started our hike at 5:30 AM and were back in the parking lot by 4:30 PM.

Here's another view of Half Dome that clearly shows both its north and south faces. At this point we've come about 7.5 miles and have maneuvered around to the east side of the dome; the north face is on the right, the south face on the left. All that remains is the hardest half mile of the day: the half mile up the granite slope and then the ascent via the steel cables.

 

When reading or talking to people about Half Dome, everyone mentions the steel cables. And, sure, that part is hard and can be a bit scary, but you never hear mention of the granite staircase that precedes the cables. And you should, because it is long, steep, and hard. In the picture above, the granite staircase is what leads you up about 80% of the way to the top. The stairs feel (and look) like the go up forever.

Then, as you near the top, you get your first glimpse of the cables and the ant-like figures inching up the side of the dome.


As the following picture shows, the climb is up a pretty steep cliff. Thankfully there are wooden planks to stop and rest at every 10-20 vertical feet, or so.

 

Going up is tiring, but other than that, it's not so bad. The cliff face is about three feet in front of your nose and it's easy to get good footing on the wooden planks. Of course, that confidence can quickly be lost if you turn around and look back down.

 

After about 30 minutes of trudging up the side of Half Dome, we reached the summit, which is broad and boasts spectacular views of the valley and other High Sierra scenery.


After spending a little over an hour at the top, we climbed back down, hiked back to our car, and drove back home. Mission accomplished! Hiking to the summit of Half Dome made for a long, hard day, but the scenery atop Half Dome is definitely worth the effort. Plus, it was late enough in the season that the weather was perfect - not too hot, not too cold, although it was a tad chilly in the early morning hours).

If you plan on hiking Half Dome in one day, I would recommend starting early, no later than, say 7:00 AM. This will save you from the hottest parts of the day and will ensure that you return to civilization before sunset. On the way up and back from Half Dome you pass a lot of day hikers - the Half Dome trail is a popular route. On our way up we passed or were passed by hikers who clearly knew what they were doing. They were in good shape and were carrying good equipment and water and food supplies. Later in the day, on our way down, there were still plenty of day hikers heading up, but they were clearly less experienced and more out of shape, and I doubt many made it up to Half Dome, let alone made it back to the trail head before dark. 

A Wrapup of Our 2007 John Muir Trail Attempt

As I blogged about over several previous blog entires (enumerated below), in August of 2007 my in-laws, a family friend, my wife, and I all tackled the John Muir Trail, a ~220 mile trail stretching from the Happy Isles trail head in Yosemite and to the summit of Mt. Whitney, which, at 14,505 ft., is the highest point in the contiguous United States. We tackled the trail from north to south, starting at Yosemite. Unfortunately, we did not complete the entire length of the JMT; we bailed out about half way through the journey due to some severe blister problems.

Our initial plan was to hike the distance in 23 days, with 21 of those days being hiking days and two of them being rest days (one at Reds Meadow, the other at Vermilion Valley Resort. We ended up spending 14 total days in the wilderness, with 13 hiking days and one rest day (at Reds). We departed from the JMT shortly after Muir Trail Ranch (the half-way point), winding up Piute Creek and exiting at the North Lake trail head.

Even though we didn't meet our goal of completing the JMT, I am glad we made an attempt. Hiking the JMT requires a lot of planning and effort up front, from securing the appropriate permits to determining the necessary supplies and mailing or physically dropping them off at resupply points. Any sort of backpacking trip is physically trying since it involves carrying anywhere from 25-50 pounds on your back, and the trails in the Sierra Nevada are not without a degree of difficulty. The JMT starts at a mere 4,000 ft., but quickly elevates to 9,000 feet and then only drops to 8,000 ft. at a few spots (Reds Meadow, Lake Edison / VVR, and Muir Trail Ranch). 95% of the trail is between 9,000 and 12,000 ft., and three stretches in the southern half of the JMT exceed 13,000 ft. There's a lot of up and down each day, and terrain ranging from soft, yielding dirt to steep granite steps that are hard on the knees.

The hardest part of backpacking, though, is not the physical exhaustion, but just being removed from the creature comforts that we take for granted each day. Going to the bathroom means digging a hole and squatting over it. Dinner means dehydrated meals or trail mix or beef jerky. A shower means a quick dip in a mountain stream or lake sans shampoo or soap where the water temperature is in the 50s. What's surprising to those who've not done a lengthy backpacking trip is the amount of damage your hands receive. They are out in the sun and dirt all day long. They dry out, and crack, causing small nicks and cuts to form, and those sores can quickly develop into infections if you don't take care of them. What I've found works best is to wear lightweight glove liners day-round. You'll still get injuries, because there will be times the glove liners are off and you need to do something with your hands, but they help. When a cut forms, put some antiseptic on it and bandage it up; alternatively, you can encase any developing wounds with climber's tape, which will stay in place and protect against further damage for days.

Despite these hardships, backpacking is a lot of fun and definitely an activity I would encourage all to try. It's nice to get out into the true wilderness, where the nearest road or cell phone or computer or microwave is literally 25 miles or more away. Nothing clears the mind like hard, unceasing physical effort. After a day or two in the wilderness, thoughts about work or stresses from the everyday life are no longer a concern. They have been pushed cleanly from your mind, leaving one's consciousness unpolluted and in a meditative-like state. At night, the stars dance in the sky, and in the day the mountains and trees and meadows and lakes and streams provide an unspoiled scenery too few today get to enjoy.

If you'd care to learn more about our 2007 JMT attempt, you can read about the planning and the various days of our joinery at the following posts:

I'll close with some interesting statistics and links.

  • Pictures from all 14 days
  • Estimated Total Mileage: 140 miles
  • Estimated Total Vertical Ascent: 26,600 ft.
  • Estimated Total Vertical Descent: 21,300 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 11,423 ft. - Day 14 (Piute Pass)
  • Lowest Elevation: 4,040 ft. - Day 1 (Happy Isles trail head)
  • My Starting Weight: 165 lbs.
  • My Finishing Weight: 158 lbs.

Since our JMT bid we have yet to take on any new backpacking trips, although we'll likely pick back up in Spring of 2008. We have, however, done two interesting day hikes. In October we drove up to Yosemite and hiked from Happy Isles to the top of Half Dome. Then, in November, we drove to the Grand Canyon and hiked down to the floor of the canyon and back. I'll blog about those trips in future posts...

Our 2007 John Muir Trail Attempt (Day 13 and 14)

 Day 12 examined our jaunt from Marie Lake to Muir Trail Ranch.

Day 13: Muir Trail Ranch to A Bit Past Hutchinson Meadow [Pictures]
Distance: 11 Miles
Elevation Changes: 8,000 - 11,000

Today was our last day on the official John Muir Trail, a trail we had traveled for over 120 total miles,  more than 23,000 total feet of vertical ascent, and over 19,500 feet of total vertical descent. Yet we were still two days from civilization, although the remainder of our trip was trail we had traveled last year in our week-long backpacking trip on the Classic High Sierra Loop. The path we were on today and the next would take us from the depths of Muir Trail Ranch (about 8,000 feet) over Piute Pass, at 11,400 feet, and down to North Lake, at 9,350 ft. Needless to say, these last two days were going to be hard.

The first part of the first day was the most exhausting because here the trail follows a sheer ridge line up Piute Creek, with a lot of steep up and down over rocky terrain. The following picture depicts this rocky path. You can see the Piute Creek below, and the rocky, steep ridge we are on. The trail follows along this ridge for about 4.5 miles, some points several hundred feet above the river, and at other times at the river's edge. 

 

Although the trail was tough, it marked a return to the scenery I enjoy best - open skies, surrounded by mountains and rocks.

 

Today's portion eased up a bit once we reached Hutchinson Meadow. Hutchinson Meadow is a stretch of forest and streams along this trail that are a popular camping site. During normal conditions, the meadow is a haven for mosquitoes. Last year when we hiked through this area the cloud of bugs was so thick that we donned mosquito nets and long sleeves and long pants to reduce the number of bug bites. This year being so dry, however, there wasn't a bug to be seen. Many of the streams that criss-cross the meadow were only crossable with water shoes last year. This year, though, they were either completely dried up, or shallow enough to just walk through leaving our boots on. Here is a view of one such stream in Hutchinson Meadow this year. Note that there's just a trickle of water in the stream bed.


And here's the same stream from last year's trip. 

 

From Hutchinson Meadow, the ascent to Piute Pass is long, but gradual. We knocked out a few more miles, rising above the tree line, before calling it a day.

 

Day 14: A Bit Past Hutchinson Meadow to North Lake [Pictures]
Distance: 8 Miles
Elevation Changes: 11,000 - 11,400 - 9,350

The last day is usually the easiest. Yes, your body is tired and your feet sore, but your brain knows that soon (soon!) you will be standing in a hot shower, getting cleaned up and ready to go eat high-calorie food at a restaurant. This enables your brain to dampen the soreness and provides sufficient motivation to push at a fast clip than usual.

We woke up and got out of camp around 6:15 AM and made it to Piute Pass by 8:30 AM. After a short break for breakfast, we started our four mile, 2,000 ft. descent to the North Lake trail head. This trail winds down past Piute Lake, the Loch Leven, along the Piute Crags, and down to North Lake. All but the last mile are above the tree line and offer nice views of steep mountainsides and pristine lakes.

 

As we continued on our way, it became clearer and clearer that we were nearing civilization. We saw a number of day hikers and those doing one or two-nighters. People with dogs, people carrying chairs, people who had clearly shaved and showered recently, who didn't smell. And most of these people we met were blown away when we told them we had started from Yosemite. That we had been thus far walked 138 miles and had just two miles left to our final destination.

We made it down to the North Lake trail head a little after noon, and immediately found a hiker who was heading out of North Lake and was kind enough to drop us off at South Lake to pick up the car. By early afternoon we were all back in Bishop, checked into a hotel, and scrubbing the dirt and grime and sweat that had accumulated over the past 14 days.

UPDATE: Read the hike wrapup.

Our 2007 John Muir Trail Attempt (Day 12)

Day 11 examined our travels from Quail Meadow to Marie Lake.

Day 12: Marie Lake to Muir Trail Ranch [Pictures]
Distance: 8.8 Miles
Elevation Changes: 10,550 - 10,900 - 8,000

Like the Day 10's hike over Silver Pass and down to Quail Meadow, today's hike started with a short uphill to Seldon Pass, and then a long descent to Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). From MTR, we planned on heading up the JMT through Evolution Valley (Day 13), over Muir Pass (Day 14), and to LeConte Canyon (Day 15), at which point my in-laws and the family friend would depart over Bishop Pass and head down to South Lake, where our car was waiting. The plan was for my wife and I to continue another seven days to the summit of Mt. Whitney, the terminus of the John Muir Trail.

That was the plan, at least.

Over the past several days, my wife's blisters had become exceedingly worse, to the point where there were prominent blisters on virtually every toe and on the sides and bottoms of both feet. She was spending more than an hour each night re-bandaging her blisters and was clearly pained with each step of the way, especially in the morning when starting out, or whenever we'd resume from a break. We had talked previously about whether it would make sense to throw in the towel. The trail from MTR to Mt. Whitney is the toughest portion of the JMT, with three passes exceeding 13,000 feet and many days involving a 2,500+ ft. ascent in the morning followed by a 2,500+ ft. descent in the afternoon. The average elevation exceeds 10,000 feet, whereas our average elevation thus far was probably closer to 9,000 ft. And the last third of the trail is the most distant from civilization, requiring two or three full days to of hiking to get to the nearest road. And if that wasn't enough, according to our schedule the last seven days called for an average of near 12 miles per day. Granted, we had knocked out more than 12 miles on Day 6 and Day 8 and lived to tell about it, but the past few days we had put in around 9 miles today and were feeling utterly exhausted.

So we needed to make a decision - bail out of the trail after MTR or try to push on to Whitney? And if we decided to bail out, where would we do that? From MTR it's 4.5 miles west to Florence Lake, which has a resort and road access, but that's on the east side of the Sierra Nevadas and nearly a full day of driving from our car (even though our car was about 25 miles away, as the crow flies). Another option would be to push on to South Lake, as originally planned. Alternatively, we could shortcut to North Lake. North Lake is a lake about 15 miles from South Lake, but the two are connected by road and both are popular hiking and fishing spots, meaning there's often people coming and going in the summer months. While the two lakes are not far by car, they are about six or seven days apart hiking due to a few mountain chains that are in the way. (In fact, we spent a week hiking from North Lake to South Lake in the summer of 2006.) From MTR, one can stay on the JMT for two to three days and then spend another day hiking to South Lake, or they can hike in a slightly different direction for two days and reach North Lake.

Needless to day, we had some big decisions facing us as we started off on our trek this day. As we started, my wife and I discussed our options and decided it would be smart to bail out. This was a hard decision for my wife to come by. She is a very hard working, determined person who likes to finish what she sets her mind to. She spent countless hours over the past year planning and preparing for this trek. But she came to the right decision. How enjoyable can hiking be when you're in constant pain? And at what cost does one incur to finish the JMT? And what if her blisters became so bad that she couldn't continue once we were in the deepest parts of the wilderness, days from the nearest resupply point?

Long story short, we decided to call off our JMT bid and to exit at the North Lake trail head. That didn't impact today's schedule - we still were going over Seldon Pass and down to MTR - but it meant that tomorrow we would depart from the JMT and hike the 20 miles from MTR, over Piute Pass, and down to North Lake.

We had been debating this decision for the past several days, so once the decision was made a weight was lifted from our shoulders. Instead of having another 100 miles to go, we had less than 30. The end was in sight, which raised our spirits. It also meant we could start reflecting on the experience thus far rather than worrying and thinking about what was ahead.

This decision was made as we packed up our campsite and trekked up to Seldon Pass. This stretch, and the first few miles down the other side, provided the best scenery for the day - mountain peaks, lakes, and blue skies. Here is a picture of us approaching Seldon Pass. That's Marie Lake in the background.

 

A couple of miles south of Seldon Pass is Sally Keyes Lake, where we stopped for breakfast.

 

After Sally Keyes Lake, the trail starts its steep descent, first through a thick forest and then down the side of a ridge. The views from both stretches were rather nondescript. By late afternoon we reached the bottom of the valley and made our way to Muir Trail Ranch (MTR), which is about a mile off the trail. MTR is a ranch that provides pack animal services and has accommodations and ranch-related activities for guests. Guests usually arrive on horseback from Florence Lake, which is 4.5 miles west of MTR. MTR also serves as a very common resupply point for JMT hikers. MTR is the half-way point of the JMT. For hikers going south to north, it is the first resupply point that is accessible with only a short detour off the trail. For north to south hikers, it is the last easily accessible resupply point.

While MTR is a great place to mail and then pickup your resupply packages, that's pretty much all it's good for. They don't offer any services to non-guests - no trash service, no bathrooms, no food. There is ice cold spring water you can drink, and they have a very simple store with common hiking items, but that's it. However, many hikers send far too much stuff to MTR, and end up leaving a lot of items. Or, they may be carrying too much stuff and drop off excess in an attempt to shed weight. So it's a great place to replace some of your "regular" food with something new.

Speaking of sending too much stuff to MTR, we had shipped 10 days of supplies since we were expecting to continue all the way to Whitney, but now with our exit a mere two days away, we had grossly oversupplied ourselves. We had actually mailed two resupply cannisters to MTR. We ended up mailing one of them back and then took what we needed from the second one and then donated the rest. The following picture shows a couple of JMT hikers pecking through their excess supplies and the available donations.


After getting our supplies in order, we left MTR and headed back to the JMT trail, where we set up camp for the night.

On Day 13 we departed the JMT and started on our premature exit to North Lake. It took us two-days to go the 20 miles from MTR to North Lake. I'll cover these last two days in a future post. Until then...

UPDATE [2007-11-17]: Read about Days 13 and 14.

Our 2007 John Muir Trail Attempt (Day 11)

 Day 10 examined our travels from Squaw Lake to Quail Meadow.

Day 11: Quail Meadow to Marie Lake [Pictures]
Distance: 12.5 Miles
Elevation Changes: 7,870 - 9,920 - 8,960 - 10,550

Today's hike started with a 2.5 mile, 2,100 foot climb up Bear Ridge. The trail starts with a gradual ascent through some of the lushest forest regions on the JMT, with many birch trees and lots of cool shade. This was definitely the coolest and wettest portion of the JMT trail we had seen to date. Unfortunately, many of the birch trees have been defaced by hikers who have carved their names into the trunks. There is literally several dozen birch trees along a short stretch that all have very large engravings.


The gradual ascent gives way to a series of long and unrelenting switchbacks. This stretch of trail is under the cover of trees, which helps with the temperature, but obscures the view. Eventually, we crest Bear Ridge and stop for a snack around 9:00 AM. The trail then follows the ridge line for a bit longer before descending nearly 1,000 feet into a valley.

The descent was not easy. It was under the sun during late morning and much of it was on hard rocks, which can be hard on the knees. Thankfully we were rewarded with nice views of the surrounding mountains.

 

After reaching the floor of the valley, the remainder of the day was a fairly gradual incline of 1,600 feet to 10,550 ft.

Tomorrow's goal was another near 11,000 ft. pass (Seldon Pass) and then a sharp descent to 7,600 ft. to Muir Trail Ranch, a popular resupply point on the JMT. Initially, we had planned on hiking only to Rosemarie Meadow, which is 2.9 miles before Seldon Pass and sits below 10,000 feet. However, upon reaching Rosemarie Meadow we felt energized enough to push on to Marie Lake, another 1.5 miles closer to the pass and 600 feet high (at 10,550). In retrospect, I'm glad we pushed on, as it made Day 12 a tad easier, but I think we all overestimated our energy, as the final climb to Marie Lake from Rosemarie Meadow was very tiring.

When hiking over high elevation passes in the High Sierras, it is important to be over the pass by early afternoon at the latest. The High Sierras frequently get rain and lightning storms in the early afternoon (although we did not experience a single drop of rain our entire JMT trip). Clouds usually start forming around noon, and by 1:00 or 2:00 or 3:00 there's rain and lightning. By late afternoon, everything has (usually) cleared out. These storms can appear quickly and if you attempt to tackle a pass during the early afternoon you may get caught in a potentially dangerous situation. Consequently, in our planning we always tried to end our hikes near a pass so that we could knock them out in the early morning. Not only did this alleviate lightning concerns, but it also made the hike easier, as in the morning it's cooler and you have more energy.

Upon reaching Rosemarie Lake, we pitched our tents, ate dinner, and crashed hard. The scenery was beautiful, but we were all too tired to enjoy it for long. Seldon Pass was visible from our campsite (although it is not shown in the picture below).

 

Tomorrow's hike took us from Marie Lake, over Seldon Pass, and down, down, down to Muir Trail Ranch. I'll cover that leg of our journey in a future post. Until then!

UPDATE [2007-11-15]: Read about Day 12.

Our 2007 John Muir Trail Attempt (Day 10)

Day 9 examined our trek from the Duck Lake junction to Squaw Lake.

Day 10: Squaw Lake to Quail Meadows [Pictures]
Distance: 8.3 Miles
Elevation Changes: 10,200 - 10,895 - 7,870

Today's hike was easier than most, seeing as the sole ascent was a mere 700 feet and would occur first thing in the morning. We "slept in" today, delaying our exit from camp until about 7:00 AM. Prior to starting the JMT, we had planned on ending today's leg at Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR). In fact, we were schedule to take a rest day here, much like we did at Reds Meadow on Day 7. VVR is a popular rest spot and resupply point along the JMT. It has a restaurant and cabins for rent (as well as locations for tents).

What makes VVR unique is the mode by which JMT hikers reach it. VVR is at the west end of Edison Lake, while the JMT runs about a mile east of the east end of the lake. While there is a trail from the JMT circumnavigating Edison Lake, the lake is several miles long. Consequently, the VVR staff operates a ferry from the east end of the lake to the west end, which runs twice a day at 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM.

While we had initially planned on stopping at VVR and enjoying a rest day there, we decided to skip VVR in its entirety for a couple of reasons. First, we were hiking with my in-laws and a family friend, and the family friend needed to be off trail by a certain date that was fast approaching. Second, due to the dry conditions the lake was not as deep as usual, meaning that the ferry could not arrive at its usual location. Usually JMT hikers have to hike one mile off trail to reach the ferry pickup, but now that was extended to two miles. So, for the above reasons, we decided to instead lay up at Quail Meadow, a campsite at the junction of the JMT and the trail to the VVR ferry pickup point.

The first stretch of the day's hike - from Squaw Lake up to Silver Pass - was rather easy and uneventful and offered some great scenery. The picture below shows the view looking westward from our ascent to Silver Pass. The mountains in the distance are the backsides of Mt. Ritter and Mt. Banner, which we passed in front of back in Day 5.

 

After climbing to Silver Pass, the remainder of the day was a 3,000 foot descent to Quail Meadow. Here is a picture of yours truly atop Silver Pass, surveying the upcoming descent.

 

The descent to Quail Meadow is more challenging that we initially expected. Granted, going downhill is far easier than going uphill, but a steep downhill can be challenging in its own way. And this was a steep downhill in many places. What makes it challenging is that it is hard to go down a rather steep incline at a controlled speed when you are tired and you are carrying 45 pounds on your back. Thankfully, the majority of the descent provided exceptional mountain scenery, and the vistas helped erase some of the physical pain.

 

We reached Quail Meadow in the early afternoon and considered pushing on. However, the next leg of the trail is up Bear Ridge, which climbs close to 2,000 feet in a few short miles. Tired from today's incessant descent, we decided to call it a night and utilized the extra time to bathe and do laundry. We also ran into some other JMT hikers who we had leapfrogged a number of times in the past 10 days, including one hiker who used to live in San Diego and was a regular at Cowles Mountain (more of a small hill than a mountain, really; my wife hikes up and down Cowles once or twice a month). In any event, these guys were headed to VVR.

My wife asked if it would be uncouth to ask them to take our trash and dispose of it at VVR. I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask, so I did, and they kindly accepted; the gentleman from San Diego was, in fact, so kind as to share with me a snifter of the top shelf whiskey he had brought along. That is one thing that I really enjoy about backpackers - almost every single backpacker is outgoing and kind and willing to help. If you're resting and say hi to just about any person in the back country (who is obviously there on a long haul), chances are they'll stop and strike up a conversation, sharing with you their trail experiences so far, interesting things they saw or experienced on trail, and a bit about their lives off trail. Compare that attitude to the attitude you usually find amongst day hikers. With day hikers, half of them won't even make eye contact, but the other half will smile and say hi and stop and chat (I like to think this latter half of day hikers are also backpackers).

In any event, after bathing and laundering, we ate dinner and went to bed early, anticipating our tough climb over Bear Ridge tomorrow. I'll detail the trip up Bear Ridge in a future posting. Until then... 

UPDATE [2007-11-13]: Read about Day 11.

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