Sunday, July 22, 2007

Up for Air

The human body is an amazing system of equilibrium. The lungs take in air, and pull it into increasingly small passages that terminate in tiny, bubble-shaped alveoli. Here equally tiny blood vessels adjacent to the alveoli transport oxygen-poor blood. At a molecular level oxygen diffuses through cell walls, from the higher concentration in alveoli to the lower concentration in the blood. Red blood cells gather up the oxygen, and take it to the other tissues and organs in the body that need it – to digest lunch, to concentrate on a crossword puzzle, to bike up a hill.

This process came to mind as we were climbing up an unnamed peak in the Sierra, somewhere near 12,000 feet above sea level. We were going up a steep slope of boulders and coarse scree -- not unlike a Stairmaster, but add loose rocks and gusts of wind. Sometimes my body would need an extra boost, and I would take a deep breath, or stop briefly to catch my breath. With this brief renewal, I could continue on.

I was thinking how, if the system is working properly, that just a deep breath is enough to keep things in equilibrium. How if the system is not working, many deep breaths may not be enough. I was thinking of my mother-in-law, lying in a hospital bed 300 miles south of the peak I was scaling, breathing at a rate twice what is normal, even with an oxygen mask. How just something as small as a fragment of a blood clot, loosened from its origin in her leg, could travel to those tiny passages in her lungs, and prevent air from reaching the delicate tissues where oxygen could be transferred to the blood of life.

We were rewarded with a panoramic view – we could see the rounded batholiths of Yosemite to the north, the forest fire haze in the Mono Basin to the east, the craggy peaks of Ritter and Banner to the south, and the rest of the Sierra wilderness to the west. We headed down to spend the night at a campsite along a creek, one of the most beautiful I can remember. And we slept soundly, tired from our exertion, but our bodies are healthy and we are renewed by morning.

But Mom will need time to dissolve the clots, and will need to take medications to keep her blood thin for the rest of her life. And we will continue to embrace our youth, keep our bodies healthy to keep the system working, so we can reach many more summits.

Top Photo: View from our campsite in the Marie Lakes Basin.

Bottom Photo: View looking east from an an unnamed peak, with Marie Lakes in the foreground, and Waugh Lake in the distance.

Video: Water leaving Upper Marie Lake.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Thunder, Lightning, Fire, Rain

I could only make out a few of the words of robotic voice coming from the weather radio. John was in the kitchen preparing breakfast, and as is his habit, listening to the day’s forecast. “Thunderstorms…lightning…afternoon…higher elevations…” An ominous prognostication, and what better to do on a day like this but to go for a hike?

Our destination was Cloud's Rest (9,926’), the highest peak in proximity to Yosemite Valley and east of Half Dome. The trailhead is just west of Tuolumne Meadows, a mere 45 minutes from our front door (we still can’t get over that). We were hiking by 8 am, with the thought we could beat the forecast. A moderate hike in elevation gain (approximately 2,000’ gain) and more moderate in distance (seven miles one-way). We made good time, prodded perhaps by the vigilant mosquitoes in the marshy areas. By 11 am we were at the top, picking out high points in the distance, taking pictures, chatting with our fellow summiteers. We could not help but notice the building clouds, since they made taking sunlit pictures of Half Dome difficult. We decided to eat our lunch in a less exposed place, and descended to the ridge below.

As we began the hike back, the clouds became grayer, and to the south they had a streaky, dripping look. We kept moving, and soon flashes were seen to the south. Counting the seconds from when we saw the flash to when we heard the thunder, we judged it to be 10 miles away. The flashes and rumbles continued, the time gap rapidly closing between the two. Soon one drop, then another, and we were soon running to the nearest tree with generous branches. The remainder of the hike was this hide-and-seek game of finding shelter during the downpours. But it is an exhilarating to be in the middle of weather – the sound of the thunder passing overhead, the lightning flashes, the wind as the cell passes, the fresh smell of rain on the dusty trail.

As we drive down Tioga Pass towards home, the clouds to the southeast looked peculiarly brown. We guessed a fire, but where? As we reached Highway 395, we could see towards June Lake, and there a plume rising from the sagebrush plain. A section of Highway 395 was closed, and all traffic was being detoured on the June Lake Scenic Loop. A lightning strike at June Lake Junction started a fire, and all motor homes, semis, and Harleys were being diverted through our little town, on the main drag just a few tens of feet from our front door. We could see the smoke rising from the kitchen window, just two miles from home. The wind shifted late in the evening, blowing up canyon towards town. We closed all the windows for the night to keep and traffic noise out. Luck was on the firefighter’s side – the clouds yielded rain early the next morning, and by late afternoon the highway was reopened.

We have since passed through the fire area, and burnt stands of trees and sagebrush straddle the highway. Fire trucks are still roaming the area, putting out the last embers. The blackened remnants of the trees will be around for many years to come, a reminder of a day of extreme weather. It can be a delight when you are safe, but the consequences may be less so somewhere else, where you are not.

Get New Posts By Email





All original text and photos are copyrighted Doris Reilly © 2006-2018. No part of the content or the blog may be reproduced without prior written permission.
Powered by Blogger.

Contact Form


Email *

Message *