Thursday, September 15, 2005

Cascade Summit—Finally!

Hyrum and I have had something of a vendetta against Cascade Mountain for a while. He tried it in early June and didn't summit. I tried it with him the next week and we didn't summit. We were going to attempt it in August but couldn't find the trail, so we didn't summit. We tried it again on Labor Day—and this time we summitted!

Cascade is one of the less-known mountains in Utah's Wasatch range. It sits just south of Mt. Timpanogos across Provo Canyon. The trek to the 10,908-ft. summit is a long one, but it provides great views of Utah Valley, the Wasatch range, and Heber Valley. Our round-trip stats were:
  • Between 14 and 16 miles
  • About 4000 ft. of elevation gain
  • 12.5 hours
We hiked from the Rock Canyon trailhead in the valley in June, since we weren't sure if we could make it up Squaw Peak Road to Rock Canyon Campground, which is the usual starting point. This time, however, we knew the road was passable (having driven up it on our "couldn't find the trail" attempt), so we started from the campground, knocking off three miles and a couple thousand feet in the process.

The hike can be broken into three general sections: walking up the valley to the base of the mountain, hiking up the side of the mountain to the ridge, and traversing the ridge west and then north to the summit.

We hit the trail at 7:30 a.m. and enjoyed a beautiful dawn over Utah Valley. We followed our previous route to the base of the mountain, but the scenery was a little different this time: the avalanche that we walked over before had melted to reveal a green mountain valley.

We decided to follow the trail this time instead of walking straight up the terraced mountain, which turned out to be an excellent decision. The trail was fairly well maintained and easy to follow until we reached the ridge, at which point things became decidedly less clear. I was glad to have Hyrum with me, since he seems to have a certain knack for finding invisible trails.

The traverse was slow going because of the poor (or non-existent) trail quality. In fact, I'm still not sure if there even is a trail on the ridge. We'd find little pieces of what might be a trail for a few hundred feet, then lose it and route find for a while. The route finding pointedly reminded me how tired my feet were the first time we tried Cascade. Walking for miles on a 30 degree slope doesn't do great things for my feet.

On the bright side, though, the snow we saw in June had melted to make the north side of the ridge passable. We crossed back and forth for a while until we came to some sheer cliffs. At the cliffs we knocked a rock loose and could hear it tumbling down for well over 30 seconds. Deciding that we didn't want to share the same fate, we crossed back to the south side and followed it the rest of the way.

The ridge heads west and then curves to the north. We broke for lunch a little while after we rounded the corner. After a nice break (and some good grub) we headed toward the summit, enjoying some great panoramas of Utah Valley. It was again slow going, but at least we were getting closer.

At 2:00 we reached summitted! Months after our initial attempt and 6.5 hours after we began that morning, we achieved our goal. We spent a full hour up there resting, enjoying the views, taking pictures, and procrastinating the long trip down.

At 3:00 we hit the trail again. We bushwhacked most of the way down; in the process I amassed a vast collection of burs, needles, thorns, pebbles, and dirt in my boots. I think I emptied them four or five times. My socks still haven't recovered.

We enjoyed some beautiful sunset silhouettes and saw three deer during our descent, arriving back at car by 8:00. The trip was well worth it, but I think that after doing Whitney, Lone Peak, and Cascade in succession, my next trip is going to be a nice, easy one!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Getting a Digital Camera

I've been planning for quite a while to purchase a digital camera. I finally bought one this week. My only camera for a long time has been a $25 point-and-shoot Olympus film camera. It doesn't take very good pictures, it has no zoom, and it's a little expensive and a bit of a hassle to develop pictures.

I wanted a new camera to take pictures of two things: my friends and the beautiful views I see when I'm hiking. These two situations are quite different, photographically. Hiking pictures are non-action shots with lots of available light, where a wide angle lens, high detail, and correct color balance are important. In contrast, pictures of my friends are often indoors with less available light and more action, so it's important to have a fast camera with good light sensitivity.

A few weeks ago I started researching digital cameras online and quickly realized that there are a huge number to choose from. After a lot of reading and talking to people who have digital cameras, I decided that I wanted a camera with the following features:
  • Good picture quality. This is a combination of three things: good optics, high resolution, and good image processing. The optics are the most important, because without a good lens, even with very high resolution, all you get are very high-resolution bad pictures.
  • Small enough to take everywhere. What good is a camera if I don't have it with me?
  • Low shutter lag (the time it takes after you press the button for the camera to actually take the picture). This is important for taking pictures of things that move, like kids.
  • Low frame-to-frame delay. Some cameras make you wait five or more seconds after taking a picture before you can take another one. I'm not that patient.
  • Manual exposure controls, because the camera doesn't always know best.
  • A big LCD screen so that I can easily show pictures to other people.
  • A good movie mode. I don't have a video camera, so I'd like to be able to record video at at least 640x480 at 30 frames per second for as long as I have memory space to fill.
  • A good flash, since I'll be taking lots of pictures indoors.
  • Good battery life.
  • Quick and easy uploading of images to my computer.
I did most of my searching online. The sites that I found most helpful were Digital Photography Review, Steve's Digicam Reviews, Digital Camera Resource Page, and PC World's digital camera reviews. My parents have a subscription to Consumer Reports Online, but I didn't find it very helpful.

After a lot of searching, I came to the conclusion that the camera I want doesn't exist. The ones that seemed to come closest were the Nikon Coolpix 5900, the Olympus Stylus 500, the Casio Exilim Z-55, and the Fujifilm FinePix F10. I ultimately decided on the F10 instead of the Coolpix (too slow), Stylus (mediocre image quality), and Exilim (poor indoor photography).

The Fujifilm Finepix F10 is a pretty small 6.3 megapixel camera with excellent image quality, very fast response time, an incredible 500-shot battery life, and most of the other things I was looking for. One especially nice feature is that it can shoot with ISO 800- and ISO 1600-equivalent light sensitivity. This means that it needs to use the flash less often when shooting indoors (or out) and that the flash is much more effective when it is used.

There are a few downsides to the F10:
  • It doesn't have manual exposure controls. While I was home during the past couple of weeks I played with my dad's Nikon Coolpix 8800. Its manual controls are excellent and can be used to achieve some interesting effects. I'd love for my camera to have similar capabilities.
  • The F10's on-screen menus are poorly designed.
  • It's necessary to plug the camera into a terminal adapter box to be able to charge it, download pictures, or output video.
  • It uses xD memory cards, which work well, but are more expensive than the more-popular SecureDigital cards. Only Fuji and Olympus use xD.
I decided that I could live with these tradeoffs and decided to buy one, but I wanted to look at one in person first. I went to the mall one night and checked four or five stores, but none had an F10. In fact, I discovered that few stores carry Fuijfilm cameras at all. A couple days later I called almost every camera and electronics store in Portland (which is not exactly a small city), including the nationally-renowned CameraWorld, but no one except Fry's Electronics had an F10. Unfortunately, they're a 45-minute drive, their price wasn't very good, and their service is horrible.

I decided to buy the camera (along with a 1GB memory card) sight unseen from Amazon. I happily discovered that there's also a $30 rebate from Fuji if you buy the camera before 1 September, and that Amazon offers $20 in free prints from Shutterfly. It arrived on Tuesday. I'll write more about it after I've had a chance to play with it.

Marion Lake

While I was home in Oregon I went camping with my dad and 10-year-old brother Brian. We hiked into Marion Lake in the Jefferson Wilderness Area southwest of Portland on Thursday, 18 August and camped there for the night. The next morning we climbed nearby Marion Mountain and hiked back to the trailhead.

It was at least a two-hour drive from Portland to the trailhead, with a stop on the way to clog our arteries at McDonalds. We took I-5 south to state highway 22, which heads east past Detroit Lake. A little over ten miles after we left Detroit, we passed Forest Service road 11 (NDF 11) on our right. After crossing a bridge over Downing Creen, and about 0.8 miles after passing NDF 11, we turned left onto Forest Service road 2261. The trailhead is about five miles down the road.

A Northwest Forest Pass is necessary to park at the trailhead. It costs $5 per calendar day (so you'll need to pay for two days if you're going to stay overnight) or $15 per year. You can purchase a pass a few hundred feet before the trailhead by filling out a form and leaving money in a drop box. No permits are necessary for the wilderness area itself other than a free self-issued permit at the trailhead.

When we arrived there were three or four cars already parked at the trailhead. As we filled out our permit, we saw a poster warning about blue-green algae. It said that the algae produce a toxin that can cause headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, and other lovely effects, but that they're present only at certain times of the year. We had brought only two liters of water for the three of us, since we had planned to refill our containers with our water filter in the lake or from a stream, so we hoped that there wouldn't be any algae in the lake.

The hike into the lake is about three miles on a slightly uphill trail. After spending most of this year in Utah, I had forgotten how beautiful Oregon is, with its large Douglas Firs, dirt (instead of rocks), berries, and flowers. We crossed a few small streams on our way in, but they were trickling just enough to keep the trail wet. The trail is mostly shaded, with the exception of a few places where it crosses some rock falls. The trail passes Lake Ann, whose outlet flows under a rock fall that we crossed. Brian thought it was pretty cool that we were walking on top of an underground river. He was also excited to find salmon berries, Oregon grapes, and "wild raspberries" to eat along the way, all of which he washed down with one of our liters of water.

We made it to Marion Lake in about 1.5 hours. We were a little slow because Brian was getting tired. My dad and I were both carring 35-pound packs, and he had his little school backpack with about 5 pounds of food in it, but he still complained, so we moved most of the food to our packs.

We set up camp at the northwest corner of the lake just before dark, apparently the only ones at the lake that night. After putting up our tent, we went down to the lakeside for my dad to take some pictures. It was dusk, and we had a great view of Three-Fingered Jack across the lake to the south, illuminated with the colors of the sunset.

While we were down at the lake we saw that there was quite a bit of blue-green algae along the shore, so our we had to ration our remaining liter of water.

Although conditions were excellent (about 65 degrees with hardly any bugs) I didn't sleep very well on Thursday night. We did get some nice pictures at dusk, though.

The next morning we set out to climb nearby Marion Mountain. We followed trail 3495 south on the west side of the lake, then trail 3443 west, and finally trail 3435, which curves up the mountain. Brian complained and decided that he wanted to go home about 45 minutes into the hike. We told him that we were going to climb the mountain, and that he could sit on a log and wait while we did. He caught up to us 15 minutes later with a much-improved attitude.

The hike up to the mountain was beautiful. Most of it was through thick Douglas Firs, which provided lots of shade. However, parts of the trail crossed through areas that were burned in the B & B fire of 2003. It wasn't as pretty there, and it was a lot hotter because the burned trees didn't have any foliage on them. The trail passed through the burned area for only a short time, soon returning to the thick fir trees.

When we reached the base of the mountain I decided to rush up as quickly as I could, because I wanted to reach the top, but we were running out of time. I ran and made it in about 15 minutes. Of course, that's not much of an acomplishment, since the mountain stands at only 5351 feet.

The summit (if you can call it that) affords an excellent panoramic view. To the south, we could see Three-Fingered Jack and the tip of another mountain, perhaps one of the Sisters or Mt. Bachelor. To the north, we saw Mt. Jefferson's glaciers. Mt. Hood was poking its head up above the horizon. Sitting right below us was Marion Lake.

Our trip back to the car was pretty uneventful, with the exception of trying to get some water. We decided to pump water from a very small stream that we crossed. However, the filter quit pumping after a few seconds. Twenty minutes later we still hadn't fixed it, so we just headed back.

Our round-trip distance, including the trip to the mountain, was an estimated 12 miles. It took about two hours to climb from the lake to the mountain, and about one-and-a-half hours to return to the car.

I enjoyed our trip. Things went well, with the exception of the water shortage, and I got to spend some good time with my dad and brother. I'm looking forward to when my other brother will be back home and we'll all be able to go together.