Thursday, January 31, 2008

The White Forest

Winter slammed Central Oregon as hard as any day this winter. Right up front here I'll apologize for being on the weather theme for another day, however, it was only late in the afternoon as I was working on a book project for Diane when I made the effort to get out of the house and out into the the thick of it. Snow, unlike rain in Sacramento that disappears down a storm drain, is simply beautiful. It stays around and dresses the trees in fluffy gowns and, when the wind is benign, a magical calm occurs in the forest. Highway 20 west of Sisters was closed for avalanches on Santiam Pass and the only traffic heading toward the roadblock was the locals going home to Black Butte Ranch or Camp Sherman. Hello February, the quiet month.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Getting out, white-out.

This winter has not disappointed those in the area who love the snow. Since my trip last week up Gobbler Knob the sun hasn't been seen much. It's continued to be cold and snowy. Today was rougher than days past. Trucks were stopped just outside town taking off tire chains after making it over Santiam Pass as the snow and wind turned the scene into a white-out within a few minutes. Just an hour before I was in a cycling spin class at the Sisters Athletic Club looking out the window and there wasn't any snow falling. The Cascades have a major effect on storms and once over the crest of the range the full fury is unleashed. It's ironic that I now describe weather events in the area when I detested the amount of newsprint and manpower that my former employer used on a daily basis to report the same thing. I chuckle to myself but keep shooting knowing that I can't photograph scenics or weather exclusively (many photogs around here do). I am working on a project that involves people, however, it's not appropriate to post them yet. For now then, the winter scenes are beautiful and I photograph with my inner purpose of documenting whatever happens as I move on in my life.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gobbler's Knob

Temperature, -2ยบ. No wind, so being out actually is not uncomfortable as Brent McGregor and I tromp through the hard crusty snow up a small hill known to some locals as " Gobbler's Knob." I can't tell from being there why it's callled that. Suffice to say that it's the best view of the mountains within 30 minutes of my front door. Our purpose for going out was to watch the full moon set over the Cascades but a low cloud bank scuttled that. To the east, however, was a magnificent sunrise and to the south of the clouds Mt. Washington glowed in the early alpenglow. I've slept late many mornings this winter, so getting out at 6:30am, seeing a new place in the neighborhood, and being back in the comfort of a warm living room by 8:30am is a great start to the day.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A small adventure

With a series of winter storms passed, sunny days have pervaded over central Oregon. Although temperatures aren't much more than low 40's, yesterday was a day to get out of the house and overcome that creeping sensation of cabin fever. My friend, Brent McGregor, invited me to go out on his snowmobile in the late afternoon to photograph the sunset from Big Lake located on the crest of the Cascades. The lake is frozen solid and provides access and views impossible in other seasons unless you're sitting in a boat. The adventure was on. Some background on Brent and his snowmobile: Brent is an fantastic woodworker (juniper is his specialty), seasoned mountaineer, and exquisite landscape photographer. On a recent trip to Canada he was offered a 30-year-old snowmobile for $200. He gladly bought it thinking he could use it to get to places in the winter, normally inaccessible or, at best, extremely time consuming to photograph the wondrous Cascades. I know nothing about snowmobiles and I was intrigued by going out to Big Lake. I'd never get there in winter on my own. The lake is about 2+ miles from a parking area near the summit of Santiam Pass, one of the major routes over the Cascades. We packed a sled behind the snowmobile with our photo gear and headed off. It was immediately apparent that snowmobile technology has evolved tremendously as newer and faster machines with much wider ski base passed us with ease on the groomed trail to the lake. Our ride was meandering and at one point where the track was slightly angled we made a slow-motion rollover, losing nothing but a small bit of pride. Once out onto the lake we got what we came for. Magnificent views of Mt. Washington and Three-Fingered Jack. The unexpected bonus was a layer of mist on the lake from an inversion layer that acted as a diffusion filter. The alpenglow light on Three-Fingered Jack was mesmerizing. We repacked the sled and headed back across the lake and then the rest of the adventure began. A footnote: my definition of adventure is a "well-planned trip gone bad." Brent and I have each experienced that more than once. As soon as the snowmobile made it to the edge of the lake, the engine sputtered, smoked and quit. No amount of coaxing or minor repairs could get the engine running. Our good fortune, however, was the appearance of two other men on their machines from the youth bible camp on the other side of the lake who were out for a twilight run. They offered their mechanical knowledge to no avail and watched the final indignity when Brent pulled the starter rope and it snapped off in his hand. There is an unwritten pact among snowmobilers, so we're told, that you help out anyone in need. And they did. Brent took the nylon cord used to lash the gear to the sled and made a tow rope. One of our rescuers towed Brent and the sled and I rode on the second machine back to the cars in the darkness. On the way back to Sisters we could laugh about the experience. You can do that when everything turns out o.k. The situation could have been far more unpleasant. Although we had snowshoes, the trek out on foot would have been tortuous for me on my feeble knees. We are grateful to the two guys who saved our butts.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary, 1919-2008

Sir Edmund Hillary, the man who made the first ascent of Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world, died today. He was 88. I never met him and yet he still he had a major influence on the course of my life. Certainly he had had that effect on countless numbers of people, many who more vastly benefited by his accomplishments as a mountaineer and humanitarian. When he and Tenzing Norgay, his Nepalese Sherpa, became the first to climb Mt. Everest in 1953 the face of mountaineering changed forever. No summit anywhere was impossible. The feat was celebrated throughout the world and I learned of it through radio and National Geographic magazine. My parents, fenced in by their Protestant and dutiful lives of post World War II, did not notice the achievement, however, they did subscribe to to the NGS magazine. I know that my mother, who always yearned to see more than north Denver, mandated the magazine's monthly arrival in our mailbox. When the issue describing Hillary and Norgay's ascent of Everest arrived, I read it over and over began to look at maps of Nepal and the Himalayas. I memorized the heights of the 10 highest peaks in the range and dreamed of the day I would set foot in Nepal and see for myself the biggest mountain range on Earth. In the ensuing years I developed a deep love of geography and wild places. My father took me fishing with him on our family vacations in western Colorado, and no pun intended, I was hooked. I was a student in the first Outward Bound School course in North America in 1962 and then an instructor in 1971 after my Peace Corps tour of duty.

Yes, I did get to Nepal. In 1970 I trekked up the Kali Gandaki valley through Jomsom and Muktinath and back to Pokhara. The views of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri were mesmerizing. I never got on a Himalayan expedition and quite frankly my mountaineering career was unremarkable. I continued to climb in Colorado and Wyoming with my old climbing partner, George Bracksieck in the 70's. When I moved to Louisvlle, KY my climbing went dormant. There was a brief resurgence in 1989 through 1991 when I had opportunities during my book project to climb on El Cap and Lost Arrow Spire in Yosemite. I will always remember those nights in my Denver home reading with awe about Hillary and Norgay on Everest. I was even more entranced with the accounts of the American Everest Expedition in 1963, especially the astounding West Ridge ascent by Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein. Geography, adventure, exploring the world through photojournalism, for me, all began with Sir Edmund Hillary. Thank you, thank you, Sir.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Winter absolutely

The holidays are done. Some of our neighbors have packed their mobile homes and headed south. The "year-rounders" remain and most are excited with the prospect of more snow. "Bring it on," deeper is better" they say. This is a mind-set I'm not used to hearing coming from a place where the worst winter weather flowed out through storm drains. Yea, I grew up in Colorado, spent years in the Ohio valley where cold clammy winters weren't unusual so I'm still getting used to the concept that people here are invigorated by the forecast of big snowfall. January doldrums? Not here. Central Oregon was spared the wrath of the recent storms that pummeled California. Tonight may be a different story. Snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing discussions are overheard in the grocery store checkout lines. There may be ominous skies overhead but there is optimism in the air.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


New Year's resolutions are, for the most part, ephemeral. Like a hickory wind they blow in with hope tinged with an underlying truth that not much will change. Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and Bowflex dangle personality carrots to entice their potential customers. The regular list of resolutions always include better relationships with family and friends, financial gain, and a more diligent pursuit of health and happiness. For those of you who know me, including a few skeptics, the issue that has dominated my personal and professional quality of life, is my arthritic knees. In the past five years the contest has been between the gradual deterioration to the total absence of knee cartilage and my efforts to minimize the discomfort and pain with meds and exercise. Cycling has saved my knees thus far yet the eventual outcome was always going to be total knee joint replacements; it was simply a matter of when I felt that surgical risks would be worth a greatly improved life style. That decision occurred rather nonchalantly at a New Year's Eve dinner party with friends as we talked about the special things we want to do, rafting through the Grand Canyon being at the top of our lists. I want to fully enjoy that experience and two good knees are as imperative as a good boatman. I realized that I'm tired of talking about the pros and cons of waiting another two or three years. Today I scheduled the surgeries for both knees this year, June and October. My New Year's resolution is to become bionic. How often does one get to do that?