Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mt. Rainier

When I first came upon Mt. Rainier, its snow covered shape seemed familiar. It was splendidly rugged and compelling. I studied the mountain from many angles and realized it reminded me of Mt. Everest.

A day later, I ran into two park rangers and we began to chat. I asked if they knew if there were climbers who trained on Mt. Rainier for a summit of Mt. Everest.

They seemed surprised by my question and both of them affirmed 'yes' at the same time. They explained that Mt. Rainier is the same technical-wise as Mt. Everest and that it makes a splendid training mountain for the greater Mt. Everest. Plus, just as Everest is, it is unpredictable weather-wise.

They then gave me more detailed information and added that the woman who has scaled Everest the most lives in the area and is a trainer on Mt. Rainier for those wishing to attempt Everest.

Note the block-like formation caused by layers of snow
Evidence of an avalanche
I smiled at the rangers and told them I was not surprised by what they said as I had done much reading about the historical summits of Mt. Everest and thought Mt. Rainier looked like Everest hence the reason for my inquiry.

Mt. Rainier is a massive, active stratovolcano and stands at 14,411 feet. It is considered one of the most dangerous in the world.

 Mt. Everest stands at 29,029 feet.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Geologically speaking

It is easy to forget while walking along a gray chalky path in Yellowstone National Park that you are walking on the mantle of an active volcano.

A volcano that, in geological time, is a recent explosion. It is truly just yesterday that this massive volcano exploded and I am the visitor who rushed to the scene.

The smell of sulfur gas is strong in the air as it escapes up through fissures in the ground and wafts through the air from mists of erupting geysers. The geysers are intensely hot, yet, when the mist lands on your skin it is warm from being cooled by the air.

The emerald blue pools of mineral water is likewise intensely hot and both speak of the power of the Earth just below the surface.

When sunset comes, the geysers are silhouetted against the sky and continue their eruptions day and night.

The shape of the misty water is clear against a twilight sky and steady and sure as the sun's coming and going.

But this serene calmness is an illusion and but a reprieve between explosions. Yellowstone periodically erupts every 800,000 years and it is due soon.

 And, in geological time, it is a frequently exploding volcano.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Steller Sea Lions

One day, I hiked to Cape Flattery, the northwestern most point in the contiguous United States.

Cape Flattery resides on the Makah Indian Reservation. The trail to the cape was once treacherous. The Makah obtained funding to improve the trail, which now includes overlooks along the way.

It's a lovely hike through a rain forest that's vibrant and green.

Cape Flattery
At the end of the trail, when you emerge from the forest, you are high up on a bluff overlooking Cape Flattery with a view deep into the Pacific. It seemed mysterious with the mist, the surf, the ocean, the island, the sky, the coming fog way out to sea, and the sounds. It was sublime, wild and uncut.

Tatoosh Island

Off the coast of Cape Flattery, about a half-mile from shore, is Totoosh Island that was once a working lighthouse. Because of its isolation it is now home to a diverse population of wildlife.

I stood at the edge of the bluff and leaned on the railing, the only thing keeping me from the gray swirling waters below. And, as we all do, when in situations of possible chance, I thought briefly about the railing breaking and me falling into the water below. 

It would be difficult to survive the power I saw down there.

After awhile of immersing myself in thought and Cape Flattery, I spotted something swimming. I was able to discern that it was a sea lion vigorously submerging and then emerging in the cold waters. 

I was not certain of the species but knew I'd identify her in time (it was a female I found out later). To my delight another appeared exhibiting the same behavior. It seemed they were feeding.

I continued to watch them as they made their swimming seem effortless in such powerful waters.

I could not help but think they were like aquatic dogs playing on a sunny day except, their realm, is the northwest Pacific.

I watched them as they swam further out into the Pacific and then disappeared.

Back home and with images in hand, I set out to identify them and I'm pretty confident I have. They are Steller Sea Lions, a near-threatened species that were once listed on the Endangered Species List.

Their numbers declined ominously with the highest losses caused by fishermen who shot them as competition for fish. They have rebounded, somewhat, but the Japanese still continue to shoot them.

I felt privileged to witness these beautiful animals in their natural habitat and observe their feeding behavior. It is my hope they re-populate to healthy numbers and, that those who shoot them, lay down their guns of violence.

I can hope. I can.