Thursday, July 27, 2006

Seven Devils Backpacking

This past weekend, Doug, Lanette, Karyn and I backpacked into the Seven Devils Mountains in West Central Idaho. The seven Devils mountains form the Idaho side of Hell's Canyon. They consist of seven peaks with various devil names, hence the name of the mountain range. I believe the official peak names are She Devil, He Devil, Tower of Babal, The Ogre, The Goblin, Mt Belial, and Devils Throne. There is also Devil's Tooth and the Twin Imps identified on the map.

The trailhead starts out quite high at a place called Windy Saddle, 7600 feet above sea level. We start by heading downhill! The hike from the trailhead to our camping destination was 8 miles. The trail passes through a few drainages, essential gaining and losing 2600 feet to arrive at our camp at Gem lake, 7800 feet above sea level. In the picture at left you can see Karyn following Lanette around a switchback. She Devil is the rounded peak in the background, He Devil is just right of it hidden behind the dead tree. It was an interesting hike, providing beautiful vistas of the Seven Devils mountains and the Wallowa mountains far in the distance (the other side of Hell's Canyon). We found a dead pack Lama that had been in the heat for about a week (not a highlight). Not sure how it died. On a more positive side, we found a live Spruce Grouse with three chicks.
About 6 miles into the hike we climbed up onto a high ridge. The ridge provided some unique geology. High flat meadows (shown at the left) with a shallow lilypad lake. Getting a little tired from the hike, at about 7 miles we stopped at Basin Lake to get some fresh water. Continuing past Shelf lake to our destination, Gem Lake. We found a great campsite near the outlet of the lake. There was one group of campers at the lake already. That night it stayed very warm. Daytime tempuratures at this elevation were near 90 degrees (over 100 down in the valley). The low tempurature might have gotten down into the 60s, but not very far. On Saturday, Doug and I headed off to climb She Devil. The book said it would be an easy ascent, so we didn't bother to read the details nor bring the route instructions. If there was an easy route up, how hard could it be to find? We first hiked up and over the saddle to Sheep Lake. This was an even more beautiful lake than the others, but did have more bugs and two other camps.
We picked a route to head straight up a loose scree field. Not my favorite. About a third of the way up, I suggested that we move over to the hard rock face of the mountain. This route provided firm hand and foot holds that I much preferred. We did worry about the descent as this was steep enough it would be very slow going on the way down. We made good progress and reached the top in about an hour and a half from Sheep Lake. The lake you see in the photo on the right is Gem Lake, where we were camped. The ridge in the lower right sits between Gem and Sheep Lake.
The picture on the left is of He Devil mountain from the top of She Devil. Due to a very large number of flying ants at the top of the mountain, we didn't stay long. What they were doing there, I have no idea. We chose the quicker route down the scree field for the descent. The top of the field consisted of very small gravel that made for quick and easy sliding. The gravel slowly increased in size, slowing our progress. We reached Sheep lake in about an hour. Up and over the saddle and back to camp in another 45 minutes. It was an excellent hike, but I was tired and sore. Spent the rest of the day eating, drinking, laying around, and enjoying the outdoors. On Sunday we hiked out. Enjoying the lighter pack, we made great time. In one old burn area we found a Hairy Woodpecker, some Northern Flickers, and what we think were Lazuli Buntings or Indigo Buntings (still researching). The drive down from the trailhead was depressing as we entered the 107 degree heat. We decided to go jump in the Salmon River before stopping for dinner. There was a moose in a small inlet off the river right next to the parking area. Keeping an eye on him, we jumped in the cool water. An excellent trip.

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Idaho Quarter Design Includes Peregrine Falcon

The new Idaho Quarter design was released this week.

For those of you who might live outside of the US, we in the US enstated a program a few years ago where we would have a design from each state of the union for our quarter dollar coin. Each year, 5-7 new state designs are minted by our treasury. The states involved started in the east and have slowly moved west. In 1997 the quarter dollar coin representing Idaho will be minted.

This week the design of the 1997 Idaho coin was introduced. As you can see from the picture, the Peregrine Falcon was chosen for the face of the coin. This is in recognition of the Peregrine Fund, founded in Boise Idaho, and its role in bringing the Peregrine Falcon back from the brink of extinction. It is also in recognition of the Peregrine Falcon being the official state raptor. As a bird enthusiast, I think this is an excellent choice.

The choice has been less popular with the population at large. Some online polls have indicated up to 70% of respondents being against the design. The top complaint is that the design should include more of a wilderness theme.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Non-scientific Global Warming Observations

Spending time in central Idaho this year, I witnessed what I conclude non-scientifically to be the direct result of global warming. Since we were married in the area of Stanley Idaho, we travel there each year over the 4th of July. We have been doing this for 13 years now. Over this period we have often found that some of the higher trails are unaccessible due to snow. This has not been the case for the last 5 or 6 years.

The central Idaho snowpack this winter was 125% of normal. This was a welcome change to the 40% of normal that we received last year. This is also higher than it has been for any of the years that we have been traveling there. With this in mind we were sure that we would have to stay at low elevations due to the snow. Once we got there we found out we were wrong. The high trails were accessible, the snow was gone.

Here is an identical picture of Goat Lake, the first taken in 1997, and the second this year. Both taken on the July 4th weekend. There was obviously much less snow this year and the lake has thawed.

I have searched for the specific snowpack for 1997 in this basin, but I haven't been able to find the data. I do know that this year's snowpack was higher based on all of the reports through the spring. I did find one chart from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service showing this year in the Salmon River basin compared with average and 1993 (near average).

You can see here that the Salmon River basin was 25% above normal this year, yet all of the snow melted 1-2 weeks earlier than normal. While we might have had an exceptionally warm spring this year, it does appear to be a trend in this area over the past few years. This is the first time I have had specific photo evidence.

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I and the Bird #28 online

The 28th edition of the blog carnival "I and the Bird" is now online at BogBumper

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

New green travel blog

Mike, over at 10,000 Birds, introduced me via his blog to a new blog about trying to be green while you work in the travel industry. The blog is called - Hummingbird Blog. I recommend this site, although you will have to deal with the authors fascination with soap!

The topic of this site is of particular interest to me as I spend a fair amount of time traveling for my company. While I purchase carbon offsets for my vehicles and green power for my house, it bugs me that my work results in the largest impact of all. I realize that quiting my job would be one way to address this issue, but for fairly obvious reasons, I would rather work to try to decrease my impact when I travel.

A couple of articles on the Hummingbord blog got me thinking. In the first article, We're Off and Running, Charlie presents a formula (from Simon) for calculating the amount of fuel consumed by weight on an airplane - "weight requires 4% of it's own weight in fuel every hour during flight". In another article, Hummingbird's First Flight, Charlie discusses the waste created by those little bars of soap that are partially used in hotel rooms. I posted a comment suggesting that you carry your own soap to decrease the waste. Of course, this would increase the fuel consumption on the airplane. To offset this, the travel should lose the equivelent amount of weight from either themselves or their luggage.

After suggesting this I continued to think about it. I think we would all agree that most travelers, on average, could afford to lose a few pounds. Thus, if we got every traveler to lose one pound, from themselves or from their luggage, what would we save. Using Simon's formula referenced above, and the assumption that any point in time there are 65,000 people in the air over the US, and that airlines over the US fly 18 hours a day, we result in this formula: 65,000 (travelers)* 18 (hours)* 0.04 (fuel weight) = 46,800 pounds of jet fuel per day savings in the US alone. Annualized this is 17.1 million pounds of fuel saved per year. At 6.84 pounds per gallon, this results in 2.5 million gallons of jet fuel saved. Since each gallon of jet fuel burned produces 21.095 lbs of the green house gas CO2, each traveler losing one pound of weight would result in a reduction of 52.7 million pounds of CO2. Small steps can make a difference! I will clearly be carrying less weight on my next flight!

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Boise May in Motion

The totals are in for the May in Motion alternative transportation program. Each May the various transportation agencies promote alternative transportation. They have partnered with business organization to promote the program and hopefully convince more people to use alternative transportation year round. A couple of points from this years program:

  • The number of riders using intercounty bus service in May was 7,236, a 83.7 percent increase over May 2005.
  • The number of riders using Nampa/Caldwell
    system was 6,876, a 67.5 percent increase compared to May 2005
  • The number of riders using Boise/Garden City services was 95,004, a 15.5 percent increase from May 2005.

  • The intercounty and the Nampa/Caldwell number are probably due to a large service expansion in Octover of last year. The Boise/Garden City increase is based on similar service the previous year so can be considered true progress in encouraging greater use of the transit system. Although, the bus service was free in May this year. Not sure if that was responsible for the growth or not. Personally I have found that once people do ride the bus, they are more likely to ride it again. In my case it works better than I thought it would before I tried it.

    There are other statistics located at the Valley Ride Site, but most are less concrete as they required individual reporting.

    I submitted my report which included 2 weeks of vacation, 4 bus riding days, 4 bike riding days, 1 driving day, and 2 out of town travel days. I'll have to work on reducing these last two!.

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    Sunday, July 09, 2006

    Anniversary Week

    (click on photos to enlarge)
    July brings Karyn and I's 12th wedding anniversary. As we usually do, we headed off with family and friends to central Idaho, the place where we were married 12 years ago. This year we reserved the Elk Creek Campground near Stanley Idaho for the 4th of July weekend, planning to move somewhere else mid-week. The week primarily consisted of hiking and mountain biking, with bird watching, eating, guitar playing, card playing, etc mixed in. Since I returned from a business trip the night before our departure, a day late and with a nasty case of food poisoning, we got a slow start to the weekend. The first day was consumed with relaxation in the great outdoors, interrupted regularly with the swatting of mosquitoes. Good thing we bought a bug tent!

    The first active day of the vacation included Karyn hiking with Bonnie up the Boundary creek trail where we took this beautiful photo of the Sawtooth Mountains and Redfish Lake. I chose the mountain bike option and accompanied Doug and Lanette on the Valley Creek/Knapp Creek loop. The next day, I re-rode the Valley Creek/Knapp Creek loop on the tandem with Karyn, while Doug, Lanette, and Bonnie chose a road ride up to Galena pass. On day three Karyn and I and Doug and Lanette hiked up the Iron Creek trail to Goat Lake.

    As you can see from the photos this lake has recently thawed. And just to show that we do occasionally take pictures of people, here is the token people picture (from left: Rob (me), Karyn, Lanette, Doug).

    One evening we hiked up along a nearby meadow searching out a Great Grey Owl. A book we have reported that there was a nest there 10 years ago. We couldn't find any evidence. Too bad as I have never seen a Great Grey Owl. This brought us to the end of the weekend and half of our party headed for home. Karyn's parents joined us as we moved campsites down to the Salmon River. This brought much fewer mosquitoes and many more birds. It was an excellent move. Many birds frequented our campsite and Ospreys flew by regularly.

    For one of our mountain bike rides, we drove up to the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River and rode the West Fork of the Yankee Fork. This was a new trail for us and we didn't know if it was ridable. It was a great trail and a gorgeous ride. Unfortunately about 7 miles in I cut the sidewall of my front tire on some sharp shale. Using some patches, some used packing tape from our backpack, and a energy bar wrapper, we fixed it up the best we could. It was enough to get me out of there without hiking.

    This area is an old mining area. On the drive out we discovered this Osprey nest high on an old crane.

    In between other activities we continued our bird watching. A couple of weeks ago we discovered two Sandhill Crane chicks with their parents. We went to check on them to see how they were progressing.

    From these pictures you can see that they are doing just fine. I couldn't believe how big they were. Two weeks ago you could barely see their heads in the grass. We saw many other pairs of cranes on our rides, but didn't see any other chicks. It might still be early for most of them.

    One night Karyn awoke to the sound of a mouse in our van. She sent me down to search for him to get him out. Unsuccessful, and too tired to expend too much effort, I returned to bed. The scurrying continued. Karyn then got up to continue the search. Not able to find the mouse, she banged on the counters and cupboards, trying to scare the mouse out of the van. She opened our slidding cupboards and then slammed them shut. I convinced her to come back to bed. There was a little more scurrying and then silence. Maybe the mouse was scared away? The next day, I open the back doors of the van and see a mouse arm and a leg sticking out of the end of the slidding cupboards. Dead. Apparently the mouse was squeezing into the cupboard at the exact second that Karyn slammed it shut. Murderer! Needless to say the mouse did leave the van and did not come back!

    Another great find was this Warbling-Vireo. Her nest was in a bush at the edge of our campsite.

    It was as usual a successful week of playing and enjoying the great outdoors. I feel very relaxed and tired from it all.

    Birds noted for the week (new life birds in bold): Canada Goose, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Red-naped Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Belted Kingfisher, Common Nighthawk, Sandhill Crane, Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Warbling-Vireo, Grey Jay, American Crow, American Robin, Tree Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Cassin's Finch, Evening Grosbeak, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Western Tanager, Red-winged Blackbird, Brewer's Blackbird. We heard a Great Horned Owl and maybe a Western Screech Owl.

    Animals noted for the week: Deer, Elk, Coyote, Bighorn Sheep, Marmot, and many types of rodents.

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    I and the Bird #27 online

    The first anniversary edition of "I and the Bird" (#27) is on line at its founder's blog at 10,000 Birds. This edition includes the assignment from the host to answer one or more of the following: why you blog, why you bird, and why you blog about birds. My story below on the topic was included.

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