Waterfalls and Unicorns

More waterfalls than you can handle!

July 27th has become the traditional day to explore a trackless valley near well-known trails.  This year’s edition was the Storm Lake drainage lying between Jasper Peak and Jasper Lake.  I’ve been past Jasper Lake many times and up the Peak twice, but the valley in between always seemed intriguing.

My conditioning is poor this year, so I didn’t aim for anything terribly ambitious.  Plus the weather was ominous with a moderately-high chance of lightning.  I made slow time up to Jasper Lake before heading up some faint trails around the southeast shore. Continue reading

Posted in exploration, running, solo | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Back(packing) to Normal

After two days of camping, we were all a bit wacky.

Our friends Dave and Erin booked a backcountry campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park and asked if we wanted to come with them. Sure, why not? We’ve been thinking of expanding our growing camping chops with some easy backpacking of a couple miles.

Oh, it’s 4.5 miles and a significant bit of uphill to get there. Gulp!

Approaching Odessa Lake.

It went really well. I made a dramatic U-turn from trying to go as light as possible to Bringing All the Things. Amy and I have decent light-weight, low-bulk backpacking gear, but the kids don’t. Even with the largest packs available, packing was a challenge. Following the rule that you should carry no more than 1/4th to 1/3rd your body weight, Ellie’s pack topped out at 7 pounds, Joe at 15, Amy at a tad over 30 (a reasonable adult load, really), and me… well, something north of 50 pounds.

Continue reading

Posted in backpacking, family | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Project Overnight

Why stop now?

Last year I had what passes for an epiphany. I was exploring a really fantastic alpine valley on the far side of the Continental Divide, off-trail, in a place where probably fewer than a dozen people visit all year (if that). There were lots of interesting spots to explore, but I was ten miles and 2000 vertical feet of climbing from the car and worried about getting back over the Divide before afternoon lightning storms threatened. Plus, the area I was in was really gorgeous and it would be really nice to be able to sit for a few hours and contemplate this peaceful, awesome place rather than just keep running with occasional five-minute breaks for snacks.

The epiphany was this: if I could find a way to spend the night on my runs, I’d be able to thoroughly explore these amazing, remote places. How much gear would I need to bring to overnight in something like this? Continue reading

Posted in backpacking, exploration | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Case of the Dog that Didn’t Bark in the Night

The occultation path, global scale. Shadow moves from east to west at 24 km/sec.

Last month I was part of a big observing campaign to catch an occultation of 2014MU69. It was an adventure on many different levels and the whole process was fascinating (not always fun, but certainly fascinating). Detailed calculations were carried out to predict where the shadow of this tiny chunk of ice would sweep across the earth. Dozens of telescopes in those regions watched carefully for a faint star in Sagittarius to blink out for a second or two and then reappear. This was enormously challenging on many levels from technical to logistical to personal, but that is a story I’ve already told.

Continue reading

Posted in astronomy, exploration, sedentary | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

See the world on less than three hours of sleep a day!

Big planes. The novelty wore off surprisingly quickly.

In a shocking turn of events, I found myself driving on the wrong side of the road past fields full of ostriches and citrus trees with warning signs that say “Baboons!”. Less than two months ago, I got a call asking “Would you be willing to come to some place in the southern hemisphere to help us out with an occultation observation?” This put a bit of a kink in my summer plans, in particular a big race I’d been training for, but when this opportunity strikes, grab your bags and hit the road. Adventure is where you find it and there was certainly plenty of adventure to found, as long as you don’t insist on much sleep.

Even in the best of circumstances, I don’t sleep much when I travel. Usually I’m busy with work stuff (whatever that may be) and fill up non-working time exploring. Even if it’s a pretty “uninteresting” location, I’ll get up early and go for a quick reconnaissance run or something. I know this and have accepted it about myself; sleep comes as a third priority. But in order to be functional on an intensive ten-day observing trip to the opposite hemisphere, fraught with all kinds of logistical challenges, managing my sleep schedule would be crucial.

Continue reading

Posted in abroad, astronomy, exploration, peak, running, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It worked?!

It worked!

I don’t want anyone to die of suspense after last week’s cliff-hanger, so here is a quick resolution to the South Africa Occultation story (see here for part 1 and part 2).  Team 13 (myself and Simon along with Alistair the documentary maker) ended up having decent (though not great) weather on our event night.  Recall that concern for bad weather is what sent half our team driving across the Karoo in the night at the last minute.  Clouds were in the sky periodically for us, but never covered the actual field.  A less-than-steady mounting situation and less-than-perfect seeing gave us slightly degraded image quality, but we did what we could  The teams who drove east apparently had great seeing as well (and some amazing you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up stories from their adventures and misadventures).

Continue reading

Posted in abroad, astronomy, exploration, night | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The things we do for science

Equipment checkout in Capetown.

A few weeks ago I posted an article about our occultation-chasing trip to the Southern Hemisphere and some of the science behind what we’re doing. Three weeks ago, I didn’t even know which continent I would be visiting. Since then, a lot has happened and most of it is very different than I’d imagined (except for irregular sleep schedules part). For instance, I didn’t expect that my original blog article would be so popular and get picked up by so many places. Nor did I expect that I’d be updating you all on the eve of the main even while sitting on the verandah of the strangest “hotel room” I’ve ever had the pleasure of utilizing, staring out over a lovely bend in the Oliphants River north of Clanwilliam, South Africa. I’ve got a “backie” (aka, large pickup truck) parked with a about five thousand dollars worth of telescope gear buckled, literally into the back seat with a sheet of plastic thrown over it and I had a crash course in driving said backie with a finicky manual transmission on the other side of the road in the middle of the night. Also, I’m having my morning coffee at 1 pm because that’s how we astronomers roll. Continue reading

Posted in abroad, astronomy, exploration, sedentary | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments