Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Adopting the Mid-Altitude Mindset

It's raining again, and we might continue to have alternating rain and snow for quite a while. Considering the fact I've been a life-long reader and admirer of Thoreau, it's a bit embarrassing when I catch myself complaining about the weather - ANY weather. As the wise man said, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just good clothes." Quincy, nestled in a mountain valley at 3,500 feet elevation, is in the "in-between" zone. That is, any given storm blowing in from the Pacific or down from the Arctic, might bring snow or rain. The temperature line between the two may fluctuate between 2,000' and 4,500' during this time of year, not only from storm to storm but within the duration of a given storm. When I remember to don the right clothing and footwear, I can go out and enjoy the drama. It's only when I wish for a sunny day and dress according to my wishes that I get angry when Mother Nature doesn't cooperate. Impersonal Mother Nature! I usually always keep my camera in the car. Why not keep an umbrella, too? Storms, not just wildflowers and bugs, present good photo ops. Most people can relate to the pleasure of huddling around a wood stove or fireplace when the weather outside is cold, windy, and snowing or raining. With the proper gear, the same cozy feeling can be achieved outside during a storm. I'm sure the folks doing research in Antarctica are not cold all the time. Also, I have fond memories of being "caught" on a mountain top during violent storms. When I was prepared, it was a lot of fun. For instance, on top of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, part of the thrill of being there was its fame as the place that recorded the fastest wind velocity on the surface of the planet - some 230 m.p.h. When My brother and I climbed Mt. Washington a number of times in high school, we were prepared for harsh weather most of the time. We'd sometimes depart from the base camp in 90-degree, sunny weather only to confront hail or sleet and be totally fogged in when we ventured above the treeline which was only around 4,500 feet. Once we were surprised by hail when we arrived above treeline wearing only shorts and T-shirts? What to do? It could be life-threatening to venture onward under such conditions. It was exciting to read the signs at treeline telling us so. It's really a no-brained. just descend immediately and quickly. As long as we weren't face-climbing, it was quite easy to return to our vehicle or tent along safe trails in a fairly short time. On one occasion, when the temperature seemed safely above freezing, but the summit was enveloped in dense fog, we decided to push onward, even thought visibility was probably less than 20 feet. We were able to move forward along the trail from cairn to cairn, always remaining in voice contact. The cairns at that altitude were usually less than 20 feet apart - a product of experience! As we made our way through the fog, dreaming of the hot dogs and hamburgers available at the old wooden hotel at the summit, we were startled to hear a very loud train whistle. Even though we knew of the famous cog railway, it was quite disconcerting to hear the whistle get closer and closer but not be able to see the train at all. Logic told us that so long as we were not standing in the tracks, we could not get hit. We sat still and waited. The sound of the engine and whistle became deafening. If we didn't know better, we would have feared getting run over. Then, as we enjoyed the slight Doppler effect of the train passing by and heading toward the summit, we resumed our hike. We discovered we had been waiting only around 20 feet from the track!
Other "bad" weather adventures include a lightening storm at the top of Lassen Peak which actually made our hair stand up, and the threat of same while climbing 14,000+foot Long's Peak in Colorado. I also remember taking my family on a boat ride in my little 14', 15 h.p. motorboat on Eagle Lake and getting caught in a violent rainstorm while we were on the side of the lake opposite the launch ramp and our car. Perhaps should have camped out on the shore and waited out the storm, but, instead, decided to slowly motor our way back, hugging the shore, thinking that if we capsized we'd be able to make it to shore. We did have life jackets on. Still, thinking back on that one, we probably should have gone to shore immediately and waited it out.
Compared to these adventures, just driving or walking to the Post Office during "bad" weather, is actually a pretty mild experience and should be enjoyed if at all possible.

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