The Bivouac of the World’s Worst Mountaineers

Huddled inside plastic tubes, three novice climbers spent a miserable September night on a rainy wooded slope in Washington’s Olympic Mountains. Each of them remembered his nice, warm bed where he’d expected to be by that time. Thoughts of hypothermia flashed by. Sleep came and went with thoughts of worried families back home.
I was one novice climber who thought I’d never have to bivouac in the mountains. That was only for ace mountaineers on the big climbs, but here I was actually forced to spend the night on a relatively easy mountain. All each of us had for protection against the elements was a survival kit containing a plastic tube, sugar cubes, a whistle, a candle, and matches. Without those kits the night would have been much more miserable, and the possibility of hypothermia would have been greatly increased.
It began when my friends, Dave and Jorg, and I decided to climb a mountain that would be challenging but could be climbed in a day. We picked Mount Washington, which gets its name from its resemblance to George Washington’s profile (if he was lying on his back). The night before the trip we got our gear ready and agreed to leave at 5:00 in the morning, weather permitting.
At five o’clock the weather was permitting, but Jorg’s alarm clock wasn’t, so we ended up leaving at 6:00. Then after driving for a half mile we headed back to Jorg’s to pick up a flashlight, because he forgot his, and I didn’t bring one, figuring it wouldn’t be needed on a day climb.
A two-hour drive brought us to the starting trail, which led us fairly easily through woods. Then we came out of the woods and went through a meadow where blueberries grew, the best I’ve ever had. They were ripe and huge and a great distraction from our goal of reaching the summit that day.
Then we left the trail to follow the ridge that led to the summit. Here the directions in our guide-book seemed ambiguous, and we took a lot of time trying to decide where the route went. One of the directions said something about “passing the gendarmes on the right.” This presented two problems to us. First, we didn’t see any French policemen, and second, were they supposed to be on the right, or were we?

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See any gendarmes?

Somehow we managed to get back on track and the route became easier to follow. The problem now was that it was starting to rain, and we were behind schedule. In our mountaineering class, we had learned it was good policy to turn back at 2:00, but at that time we were climbing a wet rock chute. We figured it would be easier to continue on to the summit and find an easier way down than to descend the chute.
We made it to the top of the chute at 4:00 and were on George’s nose. The summit is his chin, not too far away, but with a sharp drop off in between. We lost more time here trying to find out how to get over to the chin. Thinking a rappel would be needed to get off the nose, Dave volunteered to go first. Of course that would leave Jorg and me to fight it out to go second with the last one stuck up on the nose forever. We looked around a bit more and found a fairly easy way, but didn’t get to the summit until 5:00. We only had time for each of us to eat a sandwich and for Jorg to take some pictures. Then we started down another way.
Heading down a deceptively easy-looking slope, we headed for a large snow-filled cirque. To our right was an arm of the snow that stuck up from the cirque and appeared to block our way, but we were able to head down its left side until we found a hole in the snow which we could climb through.
From there we could have climbed down the right side of the cirque on easy rocks, but we thought it would be easier on the snow. We roped up, and with Jorg leading the way, followed by Dave and then me, we went onto the snow, which we soon found to be ice. At one point Dave slipped, and began sliding down, but I jammed my ice axe into the ice, and because we were roped together, his descent was halted.
Having wasted an hour on the ice, we decided to return to the rocks and soon made it to the bottom of the cirque. At this point we realized it probably would have been better to let Dave (and all of us) slide all the way down. It really wasn’t that far and probably not really that dangerous. But we were novices, and had learned much in our mountaineering class, all of which was great information, although some of it probably made us overly-cautious, which is definitely better than being stupidly over-confident.
It was now 8:00 p.m. The lights of Seattle and Tacoma were shining at us across Puget Sound. I was impressed with the unexpected sight.
We began talking over the possibility of finding a good place to sleep, but we still thought maybe we could find our way back to the car. However, the going was slow because of the darkness growing about us.
We came to a saddle which we remembered from our way up. On one side of it was the way we had come up, that part of the route we’d had so much trouble finding. On the other side was a valley that we figured we could descend into and follow out to the road. By that time fatigue was taking its toll on our figuring.
Down we went into the valley, making our way slowly over rocks and through extremely wet brush. After what seemed hours, we reluctantly decided to look for a place to make camp.
The only reasonable place we could find on this wet, dark slope was where a log was lying horizontally and could keep us from sliding down the hill. We tried to light a fire, but everything was too wet. We had to break open our survival kits. They’re kind of like insurance. You bring them along, but you hope you never have to use them.
We ended up using the tube tarps. They took the place of sleeping bags and a tent. We climbed in our tubes and hoped we could sleep. We were all cold and wet. I hoped our families back home wouldn’t panic because we weren’t back.
I kept sliding down the hill under the log and got stuck under it. It was impossible to get comfortable. I slept awhile and woke up. It was 11:00. Then again at 12:00, 2:00, and 4:30.
Finally it was light enough to move out. Returning the way we’d come down in the night, we reached the saddle within a half-hour. We blew our whistles occasionally in case any mountain rescuers were looking for us, but we got no answers.
From the saddle we pushed our way through wet brush until we finally made it back to the trail. We almost got carried away and passed the trail, but Jorg spotted a small orange trail marker on a tree.
When we made it back to the car we were thoroughly wet. We couldn’t wait to get in and get the heat turned on. We stripped off our wet clothes down to our shorts and headed for home.
We were convinced we’d be the laughing stock of the local mountaineering community. We envisioned radio announcements back home telling of the three novice climbers who were missing on 6000 foot Mt. Washington.
Because of our concern that our parents would be worried about us, we looked for a place to call them. Back in those days, nobody had cell phones. We pulled over at a motel where the manager came out to the car to see what we wanted. We asked if he had a phone we could use. Looking into the car at us and apparently not liking what he saw, he said, “No.”
At home we found our parents had called one of the mountain rescuers, but he told them not to worry, because we knew how to take care of ourselves in the mountains. I guess he was right, but little did he know that this was the beginning of an elite club called the World’s Worst Mountaineers, usually known as the WWM.

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Leaving the summit of Mt. Washington many years later.

The Evolution of My Writing Process

IMG_1294 I existed in a time before computers, at least before they were in common, everyday use as they are now. We live in a time when it would be hard to imagine a life without them.

Now I do all my writing with them. Pictured here is the first page of my notebook, which is what I used to write my first book. This must be my second draft, because it is dated July, 1995, and I know I began writing the story before that.

That pointy thing on the left side of the page is called a pen. That was my preferred instrument for writing. I held it in my right hand and made marks on the pages of my notebook that not many people besides me would ever be able to read.

I took this notebook and a pen wherever I went. I remember sitting at my kids’ swimming lessons at the YMCA, writing in this notebook.

I finished this part of the process with two and a half thick notebooks. You might think I then put it into the computer. No, I still didn’t have one, and if I had, I wouldn’t have known how to use it. The next step was to begin transcribing and re-writing, not with a computer, but a typewriter. I wanted to include a picture of one of those, so you could get an idea of what they looked like, but alas, I think I threw it a way in a mad day of house cleaning.

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The Evolution of Fly Like a Penguin. Has it reached its final stage? Time will tell.

I remember getting my first typewriter, when I entered the working world and could afford one. It was a state of the art Smith Corona, which had cartridges with either ink or white-out on them. When I made one of my at-least-once-every-sentence mistakes, I just had to take out the ink cartridge, backspace to my mistake, pop in the correction cartridge, re-type my mistake, take out that cartridge, put the other one back in, and type what I intended in the first place.

Believe it or not, that was a great improvement over what came before.

When I began hearing about word processors though, I began to be very impatient with my typewriter. I wanted a word processor. But eventually we got a computer, and I learned how to use it and Microsoft Word.

All those notebooks and my typewritten sheets  had to be transcribed into the computer, which took quite a while. Once that was done, I began the long process of re-writing with the hope of getting published, which is another story in the whole evolution of my books.

Since then, my writing has been done with the computer. Now I find it very hard to use that pointy thing with ink in it.

61

What comes to mind when you see or hear the number “61”? Or how about “62”?

I hesitate to admit my answers here, because it has to do with my continued denial of the reality of the passage of time. Said passage of time has been said to speed up as one gets older, and while I hate to admit that, I can verify it, not that I’m old or anything.

It doesn’t seem that much time has passed, but 53 years ago, Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961. Yes, I remember that well. I was nine years old, and I was a great baseball fan, so much so that I wanted to be a major league player when I grew up. That dream folded in high school when I found out I couldn’t hit curve balls, and I didn’t have much of an arm. But we were talking about “61” and Roger Maris. Even though I didn’t particularly like the Yankees, his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s record, with Mickey Mantle sticking with him most of the season, made for an interesting year. My team was the Pittsburgh Pirates, who the preceding year won what to me is still the most memorable World Series, one of the very few times when my favorite team in any sport won the championship.

So that is perhaps what comes to mind for a lot of you when you think of “61”, but the majority of you probably didn’t even know or care about that, and you may be going on to something else on the web, because of the realization of how old I am. Yes, I remember being in my twenties and thirties and thinking someone who is over 40 is old, and not someone I could relate to. Thirty years from now, you’ll be wondering where the time went all of a sudden, and you’ll be in denial of how old you are.

Yes, I am 61, and almost 62. And doing a creditable job of denying it.
Sixty-two is potentially retirement age, but won’t likely be for me. I will never really retire, even if I stop having a regular job. There’s too much to do. I will continue to write, unless my brain gets addled. I’ll always have projects to work on around the house, until I’m not able to do them anymore. I suppose that time could creep up on me more suddenly that I expect. My kids will be hauling me out of this house, saying I need to move to a retirement or assisted living place, and I won’t believe that I’m old enough to go to one of those places.

I suspect the denial will never die until I do.

Giving Hope to the Helpless

I’m glad to be a part of Gospel for Asia’s Blog for Asia program, where once or twice a month I’ll write about something that really matters. There are  many needs in the world, but I’ll be focusing on some of those who have been trapped in a cycle of poverty for generations.

In southern Asia, a group of people known as the Dalits are considered “Untouchables” by those who are considered to be of the higher classes. Some people don’t even consider them to be human. They aren’t able to get decent jobs or even an education, and their children can be sold into slavery of different kinds. They often look through the garbage just to find something to eat or something to sell.

Gospel for Asia has a program called Bridge of Hope that gives these children the opportunity to get an education, and they also are fed, clothed, and given medical care. They are also introduced to Jesus and the love he has for them.  Please consider watching this video (www.gfa.ca/sponsorachild/rescue) and see if you would like to help change the life of one of these children.

You can sponsor a child for $35.00 a month.

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The Penguin in Puget Sound

I’ve written about this in other places, but I thought I’d tell about it again for those of you who haven’t seen it.
When I was a teenager, I saw a penguin floating on a log in Puget Sound. If you who aren’t familiar with that body of water, it’s the inlet from the Pacific Ocean that gives the state of Washington its great shape. Seattle is on the eastern side of the sound, and my hometown, Bremerton, is on the west.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our house was on the waterfront with a porch along the whole front side, where you could stand outside, even on one of those rare rainy Washington days, and look aimlessly out at the water. The usual sights were seagulls, boats, including the ferry that went hourly to and from Seattle, other birds, seagulls, occasional jumping fish, seagulls, and boats, including canoes, rowboats, ski-boats, and yachts. Sometimes something more exciting might swim by, like a seal, or even more rarely some whales.

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A Seagull, not a Penguin

But one day a penguin floated by. Penguins don’t live in Puget Sound or anywhere near that far north. The most northerly penguins are the Galapagos Penguins on the equator off the coast of Ecuador. I really don’t remember my reaction to seeing a penguin there. It must have been whatever a typical teen reaction might have been. I didn’t think about it much after that until many years later when I had my own kids. One day, the thought came into my mind, “Hey, what was that penguin doing there?”
From that question came the years-long quest to answer it. Indeed, it took nearly 20 years for the completion of the story, in which is answered not only that first question, but also where did that penguin come from, and where was it going? Originally publishing it as Fly Like a Penguin in 2004, later on I found there was more to the story. The first book was revised (improved) in 2012, and the name changed to The Long Way Home, being Volume 1 of the Fly Like a Penguin series. Volume 2, The Smell of Evil, was published later that year. Volume 3, which I’m planning to call The Last Wave, is still being written. That will probably complete the series, although I have some ideas for some spinoff stories.

Weeds Don’t Like Me

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Is this Dandelion about to meet its doom?

Some things, I don’t say many things, I can do well. Some things I can do okay. And there are some that I never get right.
Everybody, at least everybody in the Midwest who has a lawn, knows how to deal with weeds. They know when to use weed and feed and how to apply it, using the correct setting on the spreader in order to end up with the right amount of product on the grass and weeds. They have confidence that they will get it right, without hurting nearby flowers, and the result will be a beautiful, green weed-free lawn surrounded by wonderful, healthy tulips and daffodils.
Maybe it’s because I’m not a native Midwesterner (and the weeds know that), or perhaps I didn’t grow up with an innate hatred of weeds, or the need to have a perfect lawn. Maybe I’m just a failure at life.
Whatever the reason, every year I get it wrong. Either I put it on at the wrong time, I put on too much, or not enough. Every year the dandelions win, and I lose. We don’t have a yard totally overrun by weeds, but they’re still there. Sometimes the weeds put on a show of wilting for a little while, so I begin to think I won, but then they recover. I can see them smirking at me.
If I get up early to put it on when the dew is still there, the sun comes up a little quicker than usual and dries out the grass so the stuff won’t stick to the weeds like it’s supposed to. Sometimes I’ve hosed down the lawn beforehand, but that didn’t help. Other times it rained right after and washed it all away. Some years as I kept watching the weather in order to do it when rain wasn’t imminent, that day never came, and weeds ended up unscathed. And they laughed at me.

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The Bare Spot with a Big Weed in it

A bare spot that has always been in our yard is alleged to have developed because I spilled weed and feed there, which is possible. I remember that spot being a pitcher’s mound (not really a mound, but the place the pitcher stood) when teaching my boys baseball. I think we’ve tried to plant grass there. Our dog used to like lying there, too. Now it’s a place for weeds to grow.
This morning I got up early to apply the weed and feed while the dew was on the grass. It seemed to go all right, but I doubt if it did. I guess we’ll see if the grass is still green tomorrow or if the weeds are starting to wilt. Not likely. Well, they might wilt a little bit, but they’ll be back. If I actually killed the weeds, the grass will probably be dead too. I wouldn’t put it past the weeds to be willing to make that sacrifice.

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Evil Invasive Weed with lots of Weed’n’Feed clinging to its Impudent Little Body

The Taking of Seattle

This is a continuation of my last story, A Night in a Canoe, although a different adventure:

Later that summer we had a new canoe trip, this time with Dave and another Bob, Bob M. Between Bremerton and Seattle is Blake Island which is a state park and is only accessible by boat. Our plan was to spend a night there, continue on to Seattle, head back to the west, spend the second night on Bainbridge Island at Fay Bainbridge State Park, and then go all the way around the north end of Bainbridge Island and back home to Bremerton.

After a late start we headed for Echo Passage, which is actually a part of Rich Passage. We passed the lighthouse at the entrance to the passage and Namu’s inlet. This is the point that a ferry from Bremerton to Seattle disappears from sight from someone viewing from my home in Bremerton.

We arrived at Blake Island as the light was beginning to fade. Landing on the northeastern side of the island, we set up camp. It appeared that we were the only ones there so we proceeded to joke around and make lots of noise. Finally we climbed into our sleeping bags and fell asleep.

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Blake Island with Mount Rainier behind it

The next morning we woke up at the crack of dawn and prepared for our departure on the next stage of our journey. As we looked around us we wondered how all those other people got there. Then we loaded up our canoe and snuck away.

Seattle didn’t look very far away as we slowly paddled in its direction. But it took a long time before it actually looked closer. We gradually crept up on Point Defiance Park on the southern shores of Elliot Bay, which is the harbor of Seattle. Landing on the sandy beach, we got out, stretched, and surveyed the territory. Downtown Seattle was still a pretty long canoe ride away, and going there would make it hard to complete our planned two day adventure.

We opted to cross directly from where we were to the north side of Elliot Bay and from there continue to Bainbridge Island. This was probably the second stupidest thing we ever did. Out in the middle of the Bay we were 3 dummies in a canoe in the territory of tug boats with big waves, ocean liners with big waves and ferry boats with big waves. And all of them were a lot bigger than canoes. But we were intrepid adventurers. We were terrified.

 

A few hours later we landed on the north shore of the bay which seemed to be a neglected part of the city. There were a few shacks on the beach that looked like they could fall apart, but I think people lived in them. We disembarked briefly to give our buns a rest and stretch our legs, but then it was straight across Puget Sound to Fay Bainbridge State Park. This was another grueling ride that took longer than it looked like it should.

The water was beginning to get a little rough and night was upon us as we approached the park. We took on some water as we landed, and some of our sleeping bags got wet. We got a fire going to cook a meal and to dry out the bags. Dave’s bag got too close to the fire and got a little burned. At this point I believe we may have been getting tired of our adventure, although great adventurers hate to admit to such a thing, and especially that they might want to sleep in their comfortable beds at home. Whatever the reasoning, we got back in the canoe and headed north along the eastern shore of Bainbridge Island. I think it was about 10:00 pm.

I don’t think we realized how far it was around the northern end of the island. If we had, we probably would have slept in our wet sleeping bags. This turned out to be the stupidest thing we ever did.

At the northern end of the island, we paddled along in a fairly narrow passage with calm water. If we shined a flashlight into the water, little fish would jump against the boat. This was the last enjoyable part of the trip.

As we rounded the last point to where we could see our side of Puget Sound (which should have been a very welcome sight) the water became rough. It wasn’t just mildly rough. It was very rough, the kind of rough a small boat shouldn’t be in, especially a canoe. We felt we had no choice but to continue toward home and our warm beds.

I was the in the stern of the ship as the steersman, Dave was in the bow as the scout, and Bob sat on a box in the middle of the boat. Our plan was for me to steer us directly across to the other side, but the storm wouldn’t let me go that way. The waves carried us along more in the direction of home, so we ended up angling our way to the other side. We wanted to take the shortest route to get to safety on the opposite shore, but we ended up being carried more in the direction we needed to go towards home.
The ordeal of crossing Elliot Bay doesn’t compare with this one of being carried by huge waves in the dark of night, well past our bed time, in a narrow canoe with three 18 year old guys, great adventurers who wanted to go home. We wondered if we would get a chance to see home again. Panic tried to set in, but didn’t get a chance. We were too busy fighting the waves.

Probably a half hour or hour later we reached the other side and continued paddling with the current toward home, passing Illahee State Park, and then all the familiar landmarks closer to my house.
We were plenty sore and tired as we reached the end of our adventure at about 4 a.m. Dave said as we pulled the canoe out of the water, “The next time we decide to do something like this, let’s just torture ourselves instead.”

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