Friday, May 31, 2013

Mailbox Peak Climb

I've been anxious to get out for a hike ever since I got back from my last patrol, but have been pretty busy with other things.  Now that those things have settled down, I was able to get out on the trail with my friend Rob yesterday.  He wanted to conquer this thing called Mailbox Peak.  I was game to give it a try and test my limits, but my body is pretty angry with me today.

I was aware of the steepness of a hike being a significant factor in a hike's difficulty.  Hiking books and websites like the Washington Trails Association consider anything over 1,000 feet per mile a "difficult" uphill slope.  Because of that, I have been keeping a Hiking Log spreadsheet that tracks the mileage, elevation gain, and slope (in feet per mile) of each hike I've done.  I use it to evaluate new places I want to hike by comparing it to previous hikes I've done, both with and without kids in tow.

I've done two hikes in the past that crossed that 1,000 feet per mile threshold of difficulty, both in Hawaii about two years ago - Koko Head and Olomana.  The longest hike I've done was the Elk Mountain hike last summer at 7.2 miles, and I've been wanting to try more, longer hikes like that.

So reading the description of the Mailbox Peak hike, I figured 6 miles and > 1,000 feet per mile would be a good test of my endurance - not quite as long as my longest hike, but balanced out with the steeper slope.

Yeah, that wasn't very smart of me.

Aside:  Have you ever heard that comedian Bill Engvall?  He does a routine called "Here's Your Sign," where he describes how stupid people should be required to wear signs.

Engvall's "Here's Your Sign" routine is pretty darn funny, but after yesterday's climb, I have to say I should be wearing one of those signs.

Here are a couple of facts I neglected to mentally digest before embarking on this hike climb:
1) While I was able to do two previous hikes > 1,000 feet per mile, they were 1.6 and 3.2 miles long.  This was twice as long.
2)  The WTA description warns that the first part is flat, so when you take into account the length of the hike that is actually climbing in elevation, it's really over 1,500 feet per mile.

If I plot the Koko Head and Olomana profiles on top of the profile from the Mailbox Peak climb, you can see that Mailbox Peak puts the previous two to shame:

Of note, at the Mailbox Peak trailhead, you will find this warning sign...


For those of you considering going on this adventure, here's a closeup of the trail map:

This genuine smile provided at the beginning of the trail.

The trail was mostly gravel, hard pack dirt, and tree roots.  Near the top of the tree-line there were some sections of snow.

The WTA description about this being a trail of heartbreak could use a little more elaboration.  You see, after you've climbed... and climbed... and climbed... and you're exhausted and out of breath, and you THINK you've reached the top...
...then you turn a corner and see there's no endpoint in sight.  Just another near-vertical slope to climb through steep switchbacks.  Then, after you've climbed... and climbed... and climbed some more, and you think you've reached the top...  You turn another corner and see that AGAIN you aren't even close. 

The trail is well-marked with these white-diamond trail markers on the trees.  Someone was kind enough to take a sharpie marker and write motivational phrases like this on the ones facing uphill.

When you come out onto a ledge overlooking I-90 below and you see this view looking up, THAT is the last stretch to the top.  Rob is in much better shape than me, and he pushed on ahead to the top.  I followed him up slowly.  The top was actually in the clouds up there.

Wait... what is that?

Could it be?


It took me just shy of 4 hours to reach the top.  I suspect the view would be stellar if the peak weren't buried in clouds.  What the picture above doesn't show is that it was 39 degrees, winds blowing about 15 knots, and snowing sideways.  My hands were so numb from the cold, I couldn't feel the camera buttons.  I'm surprised I got this picture.  Rob was originally going to make a pot of coffee here at the top, but it was too cold, windy, and snowing, so we headed back down to the overlook above I-90.

Coming back down out of the clouds, there was a nice view of the Snoqualmie Valley.  Semi-trucks on I-90 looked like ants.

There's Rob down there making his coffee.

Rob took this picture looking back up toward me near the top.

There weren't many flowers to see on this hike.  This was the first time I've seen a pink trillium, but the few that I saw weren't in very good shape.

After eating lunch, we started back down the trail.  It rained most of the way, making the trail fairly muddy.

It was pretty tough going back down.  I was glad to have two hiking sticks with me.  Several times one of my feet slipped out from under me, but I was able to catch myself with my hiking sticks.  My legs felt like jello when I got to the bottom, and they're pretty darn sore today.

In the end, I'm glad I did it.  I learned an important lesson in self-assessing my own abilities and evaluating the difficulty a potential future hike.  I'm thankful for a few answered prayers I said on the way up for the strength, energy, and endurance to make it to the top, and for a few answered prayers I said on the way down that I made it without slipping and without my legs giving out on me from exhaustion.  I'm also thankful for my friend Rob inviting me to go with him and for being gracious in waiting for slow-poke me to catch up with him along the way.

Trip Stats:

  • Date: 30 May 2013
  • Time of Departure: Left Bremerton at 8:15 a.m. and drove around via the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, made one pit-stop along the way and arrived at the trailhead at 10 a.m.  We geared up and headed out on the trail at 10:13
  • Reached the Peak:  2:03 p.m.
  • Time of Return: We stopped at the overlook to eat lunch before heading back down.  We departed the overlook at 2:44 p.m. and arrived back at the car at 5:07 p.m.  
  • Elapsed:  6 hours 54 minutes
  • Moving Time (GPS):  3 hours 51 minutes 
  • Stopped Time (GPS):  3 hour 3 minutes 
  • Mileage (GPS): 6.14 miles
  • Avg Speed (GPS):  1.6 mph
  • Elevation Gain:  4,722 feet
  • Max Elevation:  4,841 feet
  • Weather:   Mostly cloudy, intermittent light showers, snowing at the peak.
  • Winds:  Calm in the trees, approx 15 knots at the peak.
  • Air Temp: 55F at the trailhead, dropping down to 39F at the peak.
  • Trail:  Well-defined hard-pack dirt or gravel trail, lots of tree roots.  
  • Crowds?  Not crowded, but not alone.  There were about four cars parked at the trail head.  On our way up, we passed about 4 people headed down.  On our way down, we passed about 10 people headed up.
  • Hazards?  Some steep dropoffs.  No sources of water.
  • Kit: Long sleeve T-shirt, cargo pants, L.L. Bean rain jacket, Merrell Moab Gortex hiking boots, ballcap, two walking sticks. 
  • Facilities:  There was a privy near the trailhead.  There are no sources of water along this trail.
  • Wildlife:  Didn't see any.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I'm a convert

To be totally honest, I was NOT a fan of the new Navy Working Uniform (a.k.a. "NWUs," a.a.k.a. "aquaflage," a.a.a.k.a. "n-dubs") when they first came out.  I especially didn't like monetary expense (cue cash-register sound effect: cha-ching! cha-ching!) and the hassle of getting to the Navy Annex uniform shop to get my initial fitting out of NWUs.  I'm especially not fond of the expense considering I wore this uniform for one tour, and now I will probably never wear them again.

However, they grew on me.  I actually like them a lot.  They're comfortable and they have lots of pockets for storage.  I especially liked the big side pockets on the thighs.  My shipmates will attest to the fact that I carried a bunch of different colored dry erase markers in one pocket to be able to give training-on-the-fly at the Trident Training Facility (TTF) or on the boat. 

Here are a few other odds and ends of NWU observations and advice:


On my previous post about NWUs, Oz gave some good advice in the comments section:  Get the pants longer than you think you need.  If they're too long, that's fine because you're just going to blouse them anyway.  The first pair of NWU pants I bought were the size recommended by the tailor lady at the Navy Annex uniform shop, but I found they weren't long enough to blouse and keep the top of my boot covered.  Eventually I broke down and bought another, longer pair so they would blouse right and cover my boot laces.  When you try them on, I recommend blousing them over a boot then sitting down in a chair.  Try crossing your legs.  That was usually when I found mine pulled up onto my calves. 


Note, just like the uniform regs don't say, "Thou shalt buy Bates shoes because that's what they sell at the Navy Exchange," they ALSO don't say, "Thou shalt buy the nasty, scratchy, uncomfortable blue NWU t-shirts because that's what they sell at the Navy Exchange." 

Article 3603.3 of the Navy Uniform Regs only specifies, "Navy blue, cotton, quarter-length sleeve, with an elliptical (crew-neck) collar."  So just like the shoes, I encourage you to branch out and find something comfortable

I tried a few different brands of t-shirts including the standard ones sold at the uniform shop, plus the Hanes, L.L. Bean, and Old Navy.  I didn't like the L.L. Bean because the tag was in the seam on the left side and kept poking and scratching me.  The Hanes and the Old Navy were both comfortable.  The Hanes were more affordable, but I think the Old Navy will last longer.  The one I liked the most and bought a bunch of were the Old Navy.  I bought some in short-sleeve and some in long-sleeve.  I've worn them almost every day for the past 26 months - both with my coveralls underway and with my NWUs in port, and they've shown no sign of physical degradation in that time.  I have other plain white Hanes t-shirts and underwear, and while they're comfortable, they would NOT have lasted this long.

Okay, yep, you got me.  I'm putting myself on report for NOT following the uniform regs because I had LONG sleeve shirts when the uniform regs specify short sleeves.  However, I found them very useful in the winter both in-port here in the Pacific Northwest and underway on a submarine, and nobody can tell the difference from your neckline of whether you have a short or long-sleeve shirt on underneath.


If I was given the authority to change just one thing in the uniform regs, then I would bring back the standard command ballcaps.  It would be fine if we were limited to wearing the ballcaps on-base and had to wear the standard NWU 8-point cover if we leave the base.  Here's why:

  • The 8-point cover acts like a sail and is easily carried away in the wind.  Speaking from experience, it's very frustrating climbing the ladder out of the submarine and as soon as your head breaks the plane of the main deck, the wind blows your cover off into the water.  Doh.  Now you look like a fool walking around base with no cover on and people looking at you funny.  The ballcaps present less surface area and are more rounded to your head and don't get blown off so easily.
  • After it's been blown off into the drink, it is decidedly INconvenient to replace the 8-point NWU cover.  They aren't adjustable, so you have to buy your specific size.  On small ships and submarines without a dedicated ship's store, it doesn't make economic sense to manage an inventory of NWU covers in every possible size.  Since they don't sell them in the ship's store, you have to go up to the uniform shop to buy a replacement.  Oh, and you have to buy the rank insignia to be sewn on.  Then you either have to take it home and sew it yourself, or you have to turn it into the tailor shop to have them sew it on.
  • The 8-point cover and rank insignia are more expensive than the command ballcap.
  • The command ballcap, if worn by all personnel, provides uniformity, looks sharp, and can boost Sailors' pride in their command.

In a nutshell, the 8-point cover is easier to lose and both more expensive and inconvenient to replace.  The command ballcap is harder to lose, costs less, and is much easier to replace from the ship's store, and it can boost the crew's pride in their ship.

All that being said, two points of advice for those of you wearing NWUs under the current rules:

1.  Buy TWO NWU covers so you have a spare ready - correct size, rank insignia sewn on, etc.

2.  When you first climb up that ladder or step out onto the weatherdecks, hold onto your hat!

Well, NWUs, it's been fun.  I'm headed back to the National Capital Region, so I guess I better go try on my khakis again.  Hmmm... I wonder if I can return the NWUs to the Navy Annex uniform shop?  Let's see... where did I put that receipt?  They won't find it suspicious that the receipt was dated 2 years ago will they?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Until we meet again...

I've delayed writing this post because I'm not sure how much kleenex I'll use in trying to write it.  I've known this day was coming for a long time, but that didn't make it any easier to say goodbye to my hero, my Grandpa.

I'm very thankful that I was able to take my family to San Diego for a weekend trip.  I was able to go visit my Grandpa in the hospital twice.  It was heartbreaking to see such a great man so weak and frail in a hospital bed.

Much of who I am – my values, my personal likes and dislikes, and my character can be traced to my Grandpa.

When I was little, Grandpa used to read me stories all the time.  When we weren't together, he would read stories onto cassette tapes that I would listen to every night when I went to bed.  At one point, I had listened to him read me the Hobbit so many times that I think I had it memorized.

Grandpa with what we called his "mad scientist" hairdo, holding me.

After earning a PhD in Chemistry from University of Chicago, Grandpa was recruited by the Department of Defense to work on a top secret project at an undisclosed location.  As a result, my mom grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where Grandpa was one of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project.  After the war, he worked with Willard Libby who shared his 1960 Nobel Prize for Chemistry with Grandpa for their work developing radiocarbon dating.  When Grandpa retired from Los Alamos Laboratories, he and my grandma moved to Grand Junction, Colorado.

I spent many summers with him in Colorado - hiking, launching rockets, building models, playing chess, going to theater performances, shooting, playing the Japanese strategy game Go, going to amusement parks, going to National Parks, panning for gold (no we never found any, but it was fun anyway).
Grandpa made this tree house at his home and another one at our house in San Diego when I was 6 years old.  The tree house in San Diego was one of my favorite places to be until we moved out of that house when I was 15.

I have at least 10 things around my house that were made by my Grandpa, including this chess table.

Grandpa was an experienced mountain climber, photographer, and master of woodworking.  He taught me an appreciation of nature, the great outdoors, National Parks, classical music, theater, history, foreign cultures, languages, and foods, and he planted the seed that would grow into my passion for traveling the world and gaining new experiences.

After living so long in New Mexico, Grandpa loved bolo ties.  Outside of New Mexico, if he went out to a fancy restaurant for dinner wearing his nicest bolo tie, the maitre d' was in for an earful if he tried telling Grandpa that he needed a tie to dine there.

After my grandma passed away during my sophomore year in college, I helped Grandpa moved to San Diego to live with my mom.  While I was a student at University of San Diego, I used to take Grandpa sailing on San Diego Bay with a picnic lunch.  Grandpa taught me to appreciate things like brie & apples and Camembert cheese.  My favorite things to eat are some quirky acquired tastes, like sushi or mole poblano, but I liked them because my Grandpa liked them and I wanted to be like my Grandpa.

Grandpa standing on the wall in the front yard so it wouldn't look like he was shorter than me. (~1993 when I was a college student at University of San Diego)

While he and my parents instilled in me a deep respect and value for education, Grandpa was very humble and unpretentious.  He never liked for anyone to call him “Dr. Anderson.”  He was simply, Ernie.

When I was 11 years old and upset because the doctor had just told me I had to have surgery on my hip again, it was Grandpa I wanted to call for comfort.  Back then it cost an arm and a leg making a long distance call from a pay phone, but my mom let me.  I can still feel the cold plastic against my ear and sterile smell of that pay phone in the hospital as I cried into the phone, and I can still hear Grandpa's reassuring and soothing voice in my head.  He would come to be at my bedside while I was in the hospital, reading to me and keeping me company.

Twenty-nine years later, sitting by Grandpa's hospital bed, I read to him one of our favorites, The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry.  Grandpa also loved Gilbert and Sullivan, so I sang him a couple of songs from HMS Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance.

It has made me very sad over the last many years to see Grandpa's slow decline.  It was like a sock in the gut to me when he wouldn't play Go or chess with me anymore because he couldn't remember his last move and I always won.  It was another sad day when Grandpa stopped using his table saw.  His hands weren't steady enough to do woodworking anymore.  His hearing was so poor you had to shout for him to hear you, so it was very hard to have a conversation with him.  At that point, the only thing he liked to do was sit in his favorite chair and read.  Then at some point he couldn't even do that.  The words on the page no longer made sense to him, and all he wanted to do was sleep.  He lived a long and productive life, and I'm glad he's no longer suffering and trapped in his physically weak body.  The song "Homesick" by MercyMe keeps playing in my head.

I am so thankful for being blessed with such a wonderful role model and mentor.  I will always remember him as the smiling, adventurous, happy, vigorous, wickedly smart, loving Grandpa with the mad scientist hair-do, the bolo tie, and the pocket protector full of pens.

I miss you, Grandpa.

Ernie Anderson
August 23rd, 1920 - May 20th, 2013