An occasional journal of the Life of Reilly

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Layover by the Lake


Between Carson City and Reno there is a body of water named Washoe Lake. It is a natural lake, once a gathering place for the Washoe Indians, and and now a Nevada State Park. We have camped here in past trips, once in the middle of winter with several inches of snow on the ground. It is a convenient and varied place.

Located only 20 miles from Reno gave us an opportunity to spend Tuesday doing laundry and shopping at the Sierra Trading Post Outlet and Trader Joe’s (our kind of shopping). As with all Nevada State Parks, this campground has clean and warm showers. There were only a few RV’s parked around us, and we were the only tent.

Another great feature of the campground is an unsecured wireless network, which allowed us to access the Internet while tucked in our sleeping bags. The curious thing is that there were no houses within range that could send the signal. The only thing we could conclude was the Park office near the entrance was providing us with this connection. We were so jazzed about it we decided to stay an extra day!

Thunderstorms were building during our entire day in Reno – big black clouds and lightning brought rain to our drive back. It rained heavily during the evening and into the night. Wednesday morning was spectacular – just a few puffy clouds, and it warmed up nicely during the day to dry the tent and provide brightness for our solar panel to recharge the computer batteries depleted by all that surfing.

The setting provides panoramic views of the Sierras to the west, which are capped with snow. On the south side of the lake is a constructed wetlands area. Before the extension of Highway 395 between Carson City and Reno, there were numerous natural wetlands. The current wetlands were constructed as mitigation for the wetlands eliminated by the highway. There is a wildlife viewing area with a boardwalk and raised platform that gives a great vantage point for observing birds.

We have only casually tried to identify birds in the past, but here were all kinds of new birds we have never seen. Thanks to a fellow traveler with birding experience, we learned the names of many – Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Bufflehead, White-faced Ibis, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Marsh Wren, Northern Pintail, Yellow-headed Blackbird, among others.

What a great place to rest, discover, and explore.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Heavenly Flu




For the first time in my decade with John, I skied without him. For some reason he contracted an intestinal bug and I didn’t. We stayed with our friend Dave and his partner Nancy in South Lake Tahoe for four nights. The plan was to ski at Heavenly for three days and Sierra at Tahoe for one day. Dave is a volunteer patroller and provided us lift tickets and a warm place to roost. Day One -- John makes it to the top of the tram, but it was quickly evident that toilets were not located densely enough on mountain for his condition. Two days of rest and bland food had him fit for a day, but a relapse had him down for the count again on Day Four.

So I skied by myself. I accompanied Dave on his rounds for portions of the days. I also had the opportunity to make small talk with my fellow passengers on the lift. These conversations tend to be short – 3 to 5 minutes at the most. In that time you can learn the essential facts about someone – where they live, what they do for a living, how many days a year they ski. Most people are very upbeat and friendly – they are on vacation, after all. Many of the visitors in Lake Tahoe are from the San Francisco and Sacramento areas. One was a private investigator, following a guy on a snowboard trying to get video of him doing things a guy making a workman’s compensation claim couldn’t do. The investigator said he goes all over the State on these types of missions, pursuing people on motorbikes and other athletic forms of propulsion trying to catch people in the act of fraud – kind of a James Bond type of existence.

This was the last weekend of the season at Heavenly. Day Three turned out to be a powder day, and the best day of the stretch. Somehow it revived John enough to get out and make the most of it – I spent most of the day trying to keep up with him, glimpsing him threading through the trees. It snowed all day. Simply amazing. The snow is not dry, however, and it was slush and rain near the base of the mountain. It is spring, after all.

Yesterday was closing day at Sierra at Tahoe – it was Customer Appreciation Day, and lift tickets were only $15. We could not resist the bargain or the opportunity to ski an area we have never been before. John made an obligatory one run before heading back to the car for the rest of the day. Poor dear – I will take care of you and feed you rice cakes and applesauce until you are well again.

The pictures of the day are from Sierra at Tahoe. The first is the view from the top of Huckleberry Mountain looking north to Lake Tahoe. The bonus picture is an unseasonal winter scene in April.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Pumice Among Us


Following five days of skiing and the comfort of the ski patrol housing, we were ready for a rest day and the pleasure of sleeping under an early spring sky. We ventured to a spot we had camped before off of Highway 120 on the road to Benton, California. Our previous visits to this spot were in a Toyota Corolla, so we never ventured far off the paved road due to bogging down in the soft pumice. This time, with the knobby tires on the truck, we were able to travel a bit further. We arrived early enough to put the solar panel out to charge the battery which powers our fridge and lights, and to cook dinner by the setting sun.

The view from our campsite was much like what is shown in the photo. The substrate was a fine gravel of volcanic tuff, spewed from the nearby Mono Craters. Growing in this seemingly infertile soil were stands of trees showing evidence of fire in recent years. This soil is clean and dustless, and produces a satisfying crunch when walked across.

The morning brought crystalline blue skies with not a breath of wind, and the sun provided warmth after a chilly night. Above us, flocks of seagulls were squawking loudly as they migrated south, shimmering like sequins in the morning light. The nearby Mono Craters were blanketed from the snow on Sunday night. John suggested a couple of the slopes might even make for good skiing…a prospect that may have been acted upon had we not told our legs that this was a well-deserved rest day.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Slide Into Retirement


This is the inaugural entry for Go See Do. Thanks for stopping by...your comments to this and future posts are appreciated! –DR

Sixteen days have passed since we left our friends and colleagues at our jobs and started this adventure of semi-retirement. We managed to pack our possessions into boxes and moved them to Hemet for summer storage in a 10’ x 15’ storage unit. Each box is numbered and inventoried – a total of 99 boxes in all. We tried to downsize significantly, getting rid of extra things as much as possible – really, do we need two toilet brushes?

The truck is packed with ski and camping gear for our initial month-long trip of skiing in the Eastern Sierra. After a few days staying with my parents in Hemet, we hit the road on April 13th to head up to June Mtn for the closing weekend of the ski area. This is our fourth year working as volunteer ski patrollers at June Mtn. We arrived just in time for another of the frequent storms the area has experienced this spring. Friday we skied Mammoth in a storm that yielded wet, heavy snow. Our ski patrol days on Saturday and Sunday had unsettled weather, too – Saturday was windy but the sun appeared in the afternoon. Sunday was windy and snowing all day and into the night.

We helped during the weekend with the duties of removing ropes and lift tower pads to close the area for the season. In our past working life we would leave the area late Sunday afternoon for the 6+ hours drive back to Orange County. But Monday was the June Mtn Employee Party, where management opens the ski are to only the employees for skiing and a bar-b-que. Monday was clear and sunny, with a foot of fresh snow. We joined the patrol for some first runs – me trying to keep up with men of much better skill and strength. Despite a few tumbles in the powder, I did manage to follow John’s example and placed some exceptional tracks before the mountain was opened to everyone else.

We helped with some work on the mountain, but Eric (our patrol director) said go ahead and ski the mountain and help anyone that might get hurt. We had one of our most glorious powder skiing days in years, skiing run after run of untracked snow. There were probably less than 50 employees, and most on snowboards unwilling to traverse through the new snow to the far runs, leaving those lines for us.

We called it quits at about 3:00 PM, and stopped in the patrol room. At that point we learned that Mammoth Mtn ski area reported a large avalanche within the ski area in an area that was open to skiers. One of the patrollers went to the top of June Mtn and looked with binoculars, and said he could see a fracture from Dave’s Run to Climax, a huge area. The conditions were ripe for this type of event – a hard surface from the wet snow of Friday followed by over a foot of new snow on Sunday. There was a general call for people willing to help with the search for possible victims. We collected our gear and headed for Mammoth.

Our first full view of Mammoth from Hwy 395 showed the crown stretching across the mountain. As we drove closer, we could see dark lines like caterpillars staggered across the debris slope – these were the lines of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder probing for buried victims as they moved up the slope. With our patrol vests identifying us as June Mtn patrollers, we were quickly shuttled up to the top of the mountain on the gondola. There we joined the rest of the June patrol. We were outfitted with probes, and one-by-one we were skied over the cornice, across the fracture, along the slide surface, and down to the debris slope where we were to begin probing. It was a surreal view looking down from the top, seeing the apron of snow that let loose below, and the groups and lines of volunteers, many employees and local citizens who joined in for the search.

Our team of 14 probed a swath halfway down the slope on the eastern portion of the slide. We learned that a few people were caught in the slide, but were rescued with minor injuries. A coarse search had already been done, and we were helping with a finer search to make sure nothing was missed. Avalanche dogs and their handlers criss-crossed the area, too. We skied back down to the mid-mountain lodge to wait for further instructions. Apparently all missing persons were accounted for, and after a final sweep with the dogs, the operation ended as light faded.

We were very impressed with the scale and the tight organization of the search effort – we train for these types of events, but to see it put into practice so professionally is a rare opportunity. We were thanked many times by the organizers moving amongst the volunteers. The management opened the restaurant and offered food to all the volunteers – water was handed out wherever you went, candy bars were strewn on the tables, and boxes of hamburgers and chips were stacked and ready for consumption. Obviously they were anticipating a long search into the night – with the size of the slide in an open run, it is amazing that no one was killed in an already difficult year for the ski area.

We skied Mammoth on Tuesday, the day after the slide. The top of the mountain was closed all day – the photo shown here was taken from the top of Chair 3 looking at the slide. At the end of the day we saw patrollers at the top of the mountain releasing hand charges trying to get the remaining slopes to slide so they could assure the mountain was safe for skiing from the top the next day.

Mammoth is a big mountain that we ski with great respect.

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