Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Notes on trekking from Squaw Dome to Iva Bell Hot Springs, June 2011

June 26, 2011

Balloon Dome

Summary: Here is a novel route to access Iva Bell Hot Springs in the John Muir Wilderness of the Sierra National Forest.  Most people reach Iva Bell from the north (via Red’s Meadow), or from the east (via the PCT).  However, in heavy snow years—such as this year, 2011—the north and east trailheads may be unaccessible early in the season. The route I describe here provides early-season access to the hot springs from the west, starting at the McCreary trailhead in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.  CAUTION: This route uses trails that are poorly maintained.  Navigation skills are required, especially to traverse the section from Heitz Meadow, around Pincushion Peak, and down the Silver Creek drainage.

Trip Statistics: Approximately 25 miles one way.  About 6000′ total gain one way.  McCreary trailhead is located at 6774′. Cassidy Bridge is the lowest point at 4400′.  The saddle north of Pincushion Peak is the highest point at 8622′.  Iva Bell hot springs are located at about 6450′.

Conditions in June 2011: Small snow patches lingered on the Minarets Road, but we were able to drive a sedan within one mile of McCreary trailhead.  We parked our car alongside the road, left a note in the window (and crossed our fingers).  The trail from McCreary to Cassidy Bridge was completely snow-free and easy to follow.  Further down, we encountered a dozen poison oak patches at the bottom of the San Joaquin river canyon.  The poison oak was difficult to avoid; pants and a long-sleeve shirt are highly recommended for this short section.  Past the poison oak, there are several excellent campsites on the canyon floor near Cassidy Bridge.

The switchbacks east of Cassidy Bridge were in great condition, and we easily found Rattlesnake Lake — which is mostly a marsh these days.  The ascent to Rattlesnake Lake offered several good places to pause and enjoy views of Balloon Dome.  Although Rattlesnake Lake lacks the majesty of high-elevation Sierra tarns, it nonetheless felt extremely wild and lost; it seemed like no human had visited this area in a very long time.  Beyond Rattlesnake Lake, we sometimes struggled to follow the trail to Heitz Meadow.  The cross-country walking was easy, fortunately, so we followed what clues we could find: sawed logs and occasional water bars.  We found Heitz Meadow with its collapsed cabin, destroyed outhouse, and broken horse corral.  It was apparent that no human has lived here in decades.

East of Heitz Meadow, the trail disappeared under fallen trees and forest litter.  Views were minimal, so we took a compass bearing and tried our best to stay on course.  The cross-country walking wasn’t bad, but there were endless downed trees to negotiate. We found hints of the trail several times, so that was reassuring.  We eventually lost sunlight, so we camped near a creek at snowline (~7500 feet).

The next day, we hiked on solid snow over the saddle north of Pincushion Peak, past String Meadows, and into the Silver Creek drainage.  We used the compass to hike directly to the saddle, but — if you get lost — you could just as well follow the counters around Pincushion Peak and find the saddle.  A map is 100% required for this section. We dropped to Silver Creek, and then checked our GPS; surprisingly, we were only 100 feet away from the trail.  This early in the season, Silver Creek was an unfordable white stallion, but we found a wide log spanning the creek nearby.  This log seems to be a permanent fixture, and it should be easy to find for anyone hiking through this area.  (Hint: the log sits in alder bushes on both shores).  From Silver Creek, the switchbacks down to Fox Meadow were easy to follow, but they were overgrown with manzanita and huckleberry oak; this is another section where long pants are recommended to protect your legs from sharp branches.  At Fox Meadow, we rejoined the well-maintained trail that connects Reds Meadow to Iva Bell, and we cruised to the hot springs in luxury.

Iva Bell hot springs are scattered across a grassy hillside; we found at least seven pools, but there may be others.  I strongly suspect we were the first people to soak in the springs this season.  The meadow pools were covered in algae, but we easily scooped away the mess and enjoyed soaking in clean hot water.  The pool in the open meadow by the boulder is probably the hottest and cleanest, but the pool under the trees by the campsite has seats and shirt hooks and other nice features.  The highest pools are perched on a shelf (about 200′) above the meadow, but unfortunately they were filled with hundreds of tiny leeches; I think these pools are unsoakable until the leech problem is solved.

We camped near the meadow pools for two nights; it was heavenly.  A duo of hikers briefly passed through — apparently they entered over Mammoth Pass — but they seemed rushed and quickly departed.  The shuttle to Red’s Meadow was not yet running during our trip, so I’m not surprised that Iva Bell was basically empty.  Over the next three days, we returned to McCreary trailhead using our original route.

A note about navigation: We carried topographic maps, a compass, and an iPhone with GPS.  We relied on the map and compass to navigate the cross-country northeast of Heitz Meadow, but we also used the iPhone a few times to validate our decisions.  The iPhone GPS, surprisingly, worked very well in the wilderness.

Map: view the route in Google Maps:

Video Postcards from the trip: 

William Sullivan slideshow

April 16, 2011

Jefferson Park, September 2009

Today I saw a captivating slideshow by William Sullivan, based on his book “Oregon Favorites”.  (Sullivan is best known for his “100 Hikes” series of trail guides, which are really excellent.)  Sullivan has a busy year-round lecture schedule.  Today’s slideshow featured one favorite place in Oregon for each month of the year, with an emphasis on places that are rarely visited.  Here is the list. . .

MarchThe Mulino Flour Mill is not a wilderness hike, but the water-powered flour mill still functions and is interesting the visit.

April – The Badlands loop, in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness near Bend, OR

May –  Cape Horn in the Columbia River Gorge

June – The Scout Camp Trail, near Crooked River Ranch, OR

July – Visit the Wallowa Mountains, near Joseph, OR.  Avoid the crowded trails, and visit McCully Basin.

August – Pinnacle Ridge on the NE side of Mount Hood.

September – Jefferson Park

October – Sisters Rocks, on the Oregon coast between Port Orford and Gold Beach

November – Eight Dollar Mountain along the Illinois River.

December – rent a fire lookout tower.  Sullivan recommends Warner Mountain.

January – visit Fort Hoskins Historic Park

February – ski around Broken Top, using the pass/notch near Iceberg Lake

EvoDevo IGERT Symposium, Day 1

November 14, 2009

[I'm at Indiana University, attending the 2009 IGERT symposium on evolution, development, and genomics.]

Tonight, we heard from Patrick Phillips and PZ Myers.

Patrick gave a broad overview of the past, present, and future of EvoDevo.  The central question of EvoDevo is: how do developmental systems evolve?  Conversely, we can ask: how does development shape the evolutionary process?  Although EvoDevo has witnessed big progress in the last decade, these central questions are unanswered.  Patrick consequently said, “[grad students], your future is secure!”

Patrick claims that EvoDevo lacks a central theory.  In other fields, there is a unit of study: chemistry examines atoms, biochemistry examines molecules, molecular biology examines DNA, population genetics examines DNA sequences, population biology examines individuals, and community ecology examines species.  For EvoDevo, Patrick asserts the unit of study should be (and is) the cell.

Finally, Patrick talked about experimental barriers for EvoDevo.  The most significant barrier is that the genotype-phenotype map is still not completely understood.  A large proportion of research is focused on simply finding genes, let alone understanding how they affect phenotype.  Patrick used Hopi Hoekstra’s work as an example of successful geneotype-phenotype mapping.  (Hopi’s lab revealed the genetic mechanisms controlling mouse coloration patterns).  Although Hopi’s work is seminal, but we still have a long ways to go towards understanding the genetic mechanisms that control complex phenotypes, such as behavior.

After Patrick’s introduction, PZ Myers gave a talk titled, “Repelled and Fascinated: Coping with the Public Response to Evolution.”  PZ Myers authors a famous (or infamous) blog about evolutionary biology, and has lately become a lightening rod for attacks from the creationist and intelligent design community.

PZ started by showing results from pew polls, suggesting that about 50% of the U.S. public does not believe in evolution.  Furthermore, about 16% of U.S. high school science teachers don’t believe in evolution [citation: Berkman et al, 2008, PLoS Bio].  Although these numbers are alarming, PZ thinks the public is only nominally creationist and confounded by the loud voices of creationists.

PZ next gave a “pocket guide to creationism” in which he explained the history of the creationist movement.  PZ traces creationism’s roots to Archbishop James Ussher, who calculated the age of the earth using dates from the bible.  Until the early 1900′s, most of U.S. public was willing to accept the bible as metaphor.  The *best* slide from PZ’s talk was a phylogeny expressing the history of creationism.  I include it here, but I’m sorry that it’s slightly blurry:

[Note to PZ: if you'd rather I don't share this photo, let me know]

PZ went on to discuss some significant events in the history of creationism: the Scopes trail in 1925, The Genesis Flood in 1961, Edwards vs. Aguillard in 1987, and Kitzmiller vs. Dover in 2005.  PZ claims that “scientific” creationism comes from Seventh Day Adventism, but is has been intellectually laundered to hide or sever it’s Seventh Day Adventist roots.  The most radical change in the creationist movement has been towards portraying evolutionary biologists as “evil.”

In response to the increasing fundamentalism of the creationist movement, PZ asserts that we (evolutionary biologists) should be more active with our outreach.  In particular, we should write blogs!

Burma VJ; I recommend.

August 12, 2009

Burma VJ is a documentary by Anders Østergaard about the 2007 popular uprising in Myanmar.  Although the Myanmar government strictly prohibits journalism, a group called the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) covertly captured and smuggled video to international news outlets including BBC and NBC.  This film uses DVB’s media to tell the story of the September 2007 revolt, in which 10,000+ monks protested in the streets.  This film makes it abundantly clear that international awareness of Myanmar’s situation relies on the brave actions of a few dozen (or less) reporters.

The film stitches together high-def video, low-def cellphone imagery, and audio recorded on any number of devices.  On several occasions, the footage comes from cameras hidden inside gym bags and purses: the scene opens with blurry images inside a purse, we hear a zipper, a flap opens, and then we see thousands of monks marching and chanting through the streets of Rangoon.

After watching this film, it’s not surprising to read today’s headline that Noble Peace Prize winner Aang Suu Kyi will be kept under house arrest.  It’s also not difficult to draw parallels between Myanmar’s 2007 uprising and Iran’s recent protests; in both cases, the military won.

notes on South Sister circumnavigation

August 9, 2009

This weekend, I circumnavigated the South Sister with L.L. and E.F.  You can view my Flickr media (click here).

Our route combined a mix of trails and cross-country travel, and roughly followed the path shown on the Traditional Mountaineering website.  In summary, we started at the Devil’s Lake trailhead and hiked across the Wikiup Plain to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  We traveled north on the PCT until Separation Creek; from here, we trekked cross-country upstream to the ridge connecting South Sister and Middle Sister.  We traversed over the moraines surrounding Chambers Lakes, and descended on a rough climbers trail to Camp Lake.  We bivvy-camped on a ridge above Camp Lake.  In the morning, we traversed cross-country along the east shoulders of South Sister and joined the trail north of Green Lakes.  After a short break at Green Lakes, we followed the trail to the Green Lakes trailhead and then walked along the road to return to our car  at the Devil’s Lake trailead.

Overall, the route was straightforward.  The cross-country section south of Camp Lake provided some (fun) navigational challenges, but I don’t think it was particularly dangerous.  Here is a map (linked from the Traditional Mountaineering website):

Trekking in the Evolution Range

June 29, 2009

I just returned from a short trek through the Evolution Range in the California Sierra Nevada.  It’s a ruggedly beautiful landscape, and all the peaks are named for famous evolutionary biologists (Lamarck, Darwin, Mendel, Haeckel).  You can view my Flickr media here.

I think “evolution” is the theme of my 2009 summer, given my recent participation at the Evolution conference, my upcoming participation at Burning Man (the 2009 theme is “evolution”), and this recent wilderness trek in the Evolution Range.

Obscure notes for the future:

  • This year, patchy snow remained as low as 11,000 feet.  The switchbacks above Upper Lamarck Lake were snow-free, but the terraced plateau to Lamarck Col was mostly buried.
  • In the midday sun, the snow over Lamarck Col was slushy and we did not need an ice axe.  I suspect a morning climb (when the snow is icy) would be dangerous without axe and crampons.
  • The cross-country route through Darwin’s Canyon is straightforward, but the boulder-climbing can be exhausting.
  • There exist many excellent campsites below Darwin’s Bench before Colby Meadow.
  • This year, the mosquitos were active in Evolution Meadow, but they weren’t insufferable.  Given the cold temperatures and auspicious lack of wilderflower blooms, I suspect we experienced an early mosquito hatching and later weeks will have bigger swarms.
  • My favorite campsite in McClure Meadow is beside the trail, west of the ranger station, near the outflow of the meadow.
  • The best place to ford Evolution Creek is in Evolution Meadow, not at the official PCT crossing.
  • An awesome campsite exists in Piute Canyon, on a southern-facing cliff about 2 miles downhill from Hutchinson Meadow.
  • Although most climbers approach Pilot Knob from the eastern saddle, you can also climb from the southeast face (and avoid climbing the saddle).  I suspect the southast face offers more sand and smaller boulders than the eastern ridge.

Volcanos, glaciers, and beaches

May 25, 2009

Yesterday we enjoyed a long tour around Oregon and Washington; we hiked to Spirit Lake beneath Mount Saint Helens, and then drove to Cannon Beach to watch sunset.

You can check-out my Flickr set here.

notes on Henline Falls

March 15, 2009

This weekend, I took a short trip to Henline Falls (hike #5 in William Sullivan’s “100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades”). The hike itself is super short (less than a mile); the real attractions are Henline Falls (over 100 feet tall) and the abandoned Henline mine. The mine is safe for exploration; we ventured inside about a 1/4 mile before turning around. You can view my Flickr media here.

Here are obscure notes for the future:

  • The driving directions in Sullivan’s book are slightly confusing.  After driving 15 miles on Little North Fork Road, you’ll see a spur road on the left (tip: it forms a T-intersection with Little North Fork Road).  DON’T TAKE THIS SPUR ROAD.  Instead, keep driving forward.  The junction for road 2209 is further ahead; it’s a well-marked Y-intersection.
  • Sullivan is correct when he says the entrance to the mine is “just to the right of the waterfall’s misty base.”  In fact, you can’t see the mine entrance until you’re practically next to the waterfall.
  • The mine seems to be safe for exploring, albeit a little spooky.  Headlamps are a necessity!

Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing 2009

January 13, 2009

The 2009 Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing ended last week; Apparently, it was awesome. I couldn’t attend this year. . . but next year?

Although the party is over, the media remains. Here are some compelling links:

The Official PSB 2009 webpage

The official PSB 2009 conference proceedings

The PSB FriendFeed room

Also, it looks like there was a cool workshop on open science.

Three recommendable S.F. establishments

August 31, 2008

1. Thinkers Cafe
. . . a small coffeeshop on the top of Potrero Hill. The menu is not-expensive (large coffee $1.50, bagel sandwich $2.79), and the WiFi is free. The short-order cook blasted Blonde Redhead on the house stereo; an Obama organizer posted fliers; the Barista shared an encyclopedic knowledge of analog synthesizers. This is a good place to get work done, or just shoot the breeze with neighbors. 1631 20th, St San Francisco, CA 94107

2. The Lone Palm
. . . a hole-in-the-wall bar in the Mission District. After watching sunset in Dolores Park, some neighborhood partygoers recommended this bar to us. The Lone Palm’s exterior screams, “come here if you like getting mugged!” Fortunately, the inside tells a different story. The crowd is classy; the music is loud and funky; the drinks are strong and not-expensive. 3394 22nd St, San Francisco, CA 94110, (415) 648-0109


3. Cafe Video
. . . a 24-hour coffeeshop/diner/video-rental store. At midnight on Saturday, we were hungry in the Richmond District and our options were limited. Fortunately, K.D. took us to Cafe Video, where “Happy Hour is all day”, breakfast is served 24/7, and videos can be rented anytime. Although Cafe Video’s late-night business model is slightly schizophrenic, the menu is comprehensive and the cafe’s interior is a welcome relief for late-night souls. Inside the cafe, several huge LCD screens project random DVDs (Pirates of the Caribbean, in our case), but the volume is turned-down so it’s not obnoxious. Small groups of washed-up party kids clustered in booths, eating waffles and drinking coffee. My comrades ordered eggs and toast (about $6); I ordered chocolate cake a la mode (about $5). The world needs more places like this. 5700 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121, (415) 387-3999


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