Archive for 2015 December

PCT section C: I-10 to Big Bear

Haven’t had a chance to discuss or portray my experience in the San Gorgonio Wilderness just (amazingly) about three weeks ago now. Was one of the harshest and ugliest and yes, most beautiful stretches of the trail in SoCal.

Blazingly hot on a Tuesday in the desert (80+ degrees). Cold and snowy three days later in the mountains (25). That’s California for you, I guess.

Began in a mostly barren little desert town incongruously named Whitewater, near the Morongo casino on the I-10 west of Palm Springs. Here’s where the trail officially begins.



Camped a little over an hour later, at sunset about 5:00, after this:

December 8, 2015

December 8, 2015


One of those pictures you have to see to believe. This was the camp.

packing up after a night under a thorn tree

packing up after a night under a thorn tree

Pretty harsh, but I was clearly not the only one to camp there…that evening, about an hour after nightfall, I saw bright lights on the trail, and pretty soon five guys on mountains bikes with powerful lights rode by. One apologized for getting in the way. Thought they were pretty cool, actually.

About eight miles north the trail crosses the Whitewater River, which, a couple of hiking locals told me, actually looks like a wild and scenic river at times during the spring. Believe it or don’t.

Whitewater River

Whitewater River

.Trail featured some pretty great markers, erected I was told by the Friends of the Desert Mountains.



Trail passed over a ridge or two and then came down into the Mission Creek streambed, and picked up some fall colors — for about the next twenty miles. Incongruous but appealing.



The desert can distort your sense of beauty: what you thought you knew was beautiful (and it is) — visable life, trees, greenery — becomes an idiosyncratic personal value in an environment that values starkness, simplicity, and hanging on.

Mission Creek is not the biggest or most awesome of watercoursees, but it runs like an artery through the San Gorgonio wilderness, and the trail hugs it close, crossing back and forth, unwilling to let it go.


Enjoyed camping in the leafy colors, despite the coldness and the emptiness, but next day the trail turned away from the creek and headed up the ridge towards the mountains — 5000+ in a day — into an increasingly barren landscape, interrupted occasionally by shrubbery. Left the San Gorgonio Wilderness reluctantly. True wilderness in my experience usually has a kind of wholeness, where BLM or Forest Service land may not.



As the trail steepened, occasionally ran into trees, but then the trees were overwhelmed by burn. Ouch.

1-DSC05497 1-DSC05514

As the wind picked up and the daylight began to fade, had to camp on at a place also called Mission Creek, but at about 8000 feet — in a devastated forest, evidently burned not long before. Call it the Black Tree Camp.


This may have been the grimmest campsite I’ve experienced along the trail. This did have spring water (which I drank, and haven’t gotten sick yet!) but nothing but ash, silt, and enormous black trees. Wind and snow howling in the wind above the mountains.

Onward over the ridge the next day, and, eventually, into the snow — a cleansing experience.


This turned all too soon into a full-on snow storm mode, but I was ready. Only got lost once.


And the snow has its compensations.


Happy New Year, everyone. Onward northward in 2016.

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Ken Burns on Yosemite

A couple of years ago Ken Burns gave a talk in San Gabriel about one of his favorite subjects, Yosemite, and said I thought many wise things, most especially:

“This couldn’t have happened any place else. It is the Declaration of Independence applied to the landscape; the full expression of the democratic experience,” Burns said.

“Up until the Yosemite Grant, all lands were owned by nobleman, kings and the very, very wealthy. Now, suddenly, land was owned in common by everyone in the country,” he explained.

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desert sunsets are the best (well, sometimes)

From the U.S. Department of the Interior, via sharetheexperience, via Instagram:

Microsoft-Edge-Web-Notes-U.S.-Depa719120171 (1)

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Solimar fire near Ventura: oilco closes access

On Christmas night in the hills north of Ventura a fire broke out and burned about 1200 acres, closing the 101 freeway below for much of the day. Fortunately none of the approximately 600 firefighters putting down the blaze were hurt. A great deal of concern remains about slide dangers this winter and spring, given that the hills — already sparsely vegetated — now look as barren as the moon:

Solimar Fire













But what stands out to me is the interesting fact that even though this fire started on an oilfield, apparently caused by a power pole going down in high winds, nonetheless the California Resources Corporation (a spin-off from Occidental Petroleum) would not allow fire officials and media access to the site in the aftermath.

I wonder why?

According to the Ventura County Star:

The burned oil field area is operated by California Resources Corp. [Ventura County Fire Captain Mike] Lindbery and another incident spokesman, Firefighter Andy Van Sciver, were leading a quartet of local newspaper and television personnel to ground zero of the area Sunday, but a company official asked the group to leave.

Amy Fonzo, a spokeswoman for CRC, said in an email Sunday evening the group had been escorted off the private property for safety reasons.

“Any and all personnel who come onto the leases must go through a safety orientation, have personal protective equipment and have an escort from the company,” Fonzo wrote, adding it is unlikely that future tours of the burn areas will occur.

Translation: F*ck off media. This is typical of the way the CRC operates, at least in Ventura County — refer all inquiries to headquarters, and then refuse all comment. May I say I speak from experience.

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Bound for Glory: Haskell Wexler

Haskell Wexler died yesterday, cinematographer for countless great movies, including the under-appreciated Bound for Glory, not to mention other lefty faves including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, as well as Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, to me arguably his best work, although Wexler went uncredited.

Roger Ebert appreciated him in his time, as in this discussion of Bound for Glory:

The film opens in a gas station in Woody’s home town; he sits around with a few friends and the sun beats down and the flies buzz and we can almost smell the dust. A stranger drives up and buys a nickel Coke, and we can taste it. The whole movie’s seen that well, especially in its most spectacular moments.

There are two in particular: One is an awesome shot showing a dust storm approaching the little town, and another is a shot on top of a freight train, held for minutes without a cut, while Woody and a fellow hobo exchange philosophies while the train moves past the endless fields, disappears into the darkness of a tunnel, emerges, seems ready to run forever. Shots like those have rarely, if ever, been handled so well.


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PCT haiku from section C




semi-circle of
pine bark
half-mooned on the trail
to be crunched

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Climate demonstrations: 2005 and 2015

Ten years ago world leaders and world powers gathered in Montreal in ostensible hopes of hammering out an agreement to reduce emissions and reduce the harms of global warming.

Little or nothing came out of the meetings, in part because of the adamant refusal to deal with the issue on the part of the Bush/Cheney administration. That same administration aggressively promoted fracking with the “Halliburton Exemption,” which specifically exempted fracking from any regulation connected with the federal Clean Water Act..

Young people have the most to lose in a warming world, and young people at the meeting in Montreal in 2005 tried to demonstrate, John and Yoko style. singing a song with the refrain of

Give Youth A Chance

Though I think we all wanted to believe this would have a galvanizing effect, just as it did with Lennon, such did not appear to be the case, according to my version of accounts available at the time.

Believe it or not, earlier this week there were quite a few signs of hope from the United Nations-sponsored climate change conference in Montreal, despite U.S. foot-dragging. One of the most encouraging signs was a group of young people who came and camped out and demonstrated at the conference, promising a generational commitment towards a solution to the problem.

Re-awakening the call of a dreamer: if John Lennon were still here, he’d be here in Montreal.

So write Michelle Petrisor and Rosa Kouri, blogging for itsgettinghotinhere, a website built for the climate change conference in Montreal. On the date of his assassination, December 8th, they wrote that:

In his memory, youth at the United Nations Climate Negotiations staged a “bed-in” for the climate. Two blocks away from the original site of John’s protest, we briefly recreated the message of peace and compassion. Surrounded by flashing cameras, recorders, and reporters, flanked by escalators and men and women in business suits, we begin to sing John’s simple words. Youth two dozen strong, we laid white blankets and pillows on the floor. Delegates passing by began to sing along to “Give youth a chance” and “Imagine”…

That’s from 2005. From today, a completely different style of demonstration, including striking art works (TK) and impressively choreographed mass demonstrations (TK).

Even a friendly face showing a clever little sign to encourage faith in a sustainable tomorrow.


“1.5 to stay alive”

Yes, time for a new kind of demonstration.

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If climate talks fail, blame GOP: Krugman

If they fail, Paul Krugman says, we will know who to blame: the GOP.

Future historians — if there are any future historians — will almost surely say that the most important thing happening in the world during December 2015 was the climate talks in Paris. True, nothing agreed to in Paris will be enough, by itself, to solve the problem of global warming. But the talks could mark a turning point, the beginning of the kind of international action needed to avert catastrophe.

Then again, they might not; we may be doomed. And if we are, you know who will be responsible: the Republican Party.

Krugman is a partisan, but given that less than 3% of Republican representatives in Congress accept the reality of global warming, and many — including all the leading candidates for President — vociferously mock the idea, it’s hard to disagree with his political judgement.

So here’s a weird fact: at least 97% of climate scientists accept the consensus view that global warming is anthropogenic (NASA) . And 97% of GOP representatives in Congress reject that consensus (Polifact).


Why would any political party explicitly choose a climate policy of risking doom? Seriously. What’s the upside?

Oh. That.

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The Lost Brother — Latterly strikes again

To encourage interest and subscription, Latterly magazine, an on-line journal of stories from around the world,  run by the wizardly editor Ben Wolford, released as a “single” a marvelously rich and well-written, well-edited, and well-composed story about life north of the Arctic Circle, on an island off the coast of Iceland. It’s called The Lost Brother. It’s free, and it’s a journey into another world.

Grímsey had built a reputation as an oasis of the north — an island with endless supplies of fish in nearby waters, pleasant weather and peace (to date, there has been no recorded crime on Grímsey, nor has there ever been a local police force).




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Climate warriors in Vogue: Hindou Oumaro Ibrahim

A feature in Vogue focuses on thirteen “climate warriors” at the Paris climate conference (#COP21) from around the world. It’s beautiful — and the words of these women hit home.


Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is from the Sahel region of Chad, where devastating droughts and floods are now the norm. As cochair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, Ibrahim works to contain the humanitarian and ecological fallout from the vanishing of Lake Chad, a lifeline for an estimated 30 million people in Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Niger.

“If women come together, they can have more impact than any agreement, than any negotiations,” says Ibrahim. “Because we know that the future—it’s coming from us.”

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