Archive for October 2010


October 15, 2010

Em's Launch

Chile Flashback: Parapente Date: August 30, 2009: Iquique is a mecca for parapente (paragliding). The conditions and geography make for primetime parapente conditions year round. Some of the most ideal and consistent parapente conditions in the world. The thermals funnel in off the Pacific up the couple thousand foot coastal escarpment that climbs from the ocean up into the Atacama Desert above Iquique, which is sandwiched between the ocean and the coastal mountains behind it. The takeoff zone is up on the edge of the otherwise bleak Iquique bedroom community of Alto Hospicio. Suburbia Atacama style. The takeoff looks down on the dune system of Cerro Dragon, which backs Iquique, and the city and beaches of Iquique. The Pacific stretches off into the horizon, a field of blue offsetting the Atacama brown. Landings are on the sandy beaches of Iquique or the dunes of Cerro Dragon. Our landing would be on Playa Brava, the closest beach to our house.


Kill Bill 3

Em was hesitant to fly at first. But after much deliberation, she decided to go for it. Earlier in the week, I signed Em and I up at Avitours on Baquedano. Avitours contracts out with parapente companies for flights. I signed us up for Sunday at 10:30 a.m. 30,000 Chilean pesos a piece. Our pilots would pick us up at our house. And they did. Our pilots, Jorge and Daniel (if my hazy memory serves me correct), showed up just after 10:30 a.m., and we climbed in their rattly car. They were a jovial pair:

Jorge: “Is this your first time to parapente?”

Us: “Yes.”

Jorge: “Me, too.”

Scoping the take off

My foot over Cerro Dragon

We rattled over to their shop and grabbed all the neccesary gear, as well as our shuttle driver. He would drop us off up in Alto Hospicio, get us launched, and meet us down at our landing spot on Playa Brava. The five of us squeezed in the small car and rattled up the switchbacking road to our Alto Hospicio launch spot. Being a Sunday, the launch spot was kicking with all kinds of parapente action. One of the first things we saw was a solo pilot take off and just as quickly plunge down out of sight towards the road below. Everyone ran to the edge to see if they could see his fate. Luckily, it did not end on the road on the front of a semi. He crash landed on the sloped desert above the road, and struggled his way back up the hill with his chute for another go round. Shaken but undettered, he would successfully take off a little later.


Up, up, and away

Vuelos en parapente

After that death defying excitement, we all got geared up. Em and Jorge would go first. Their running start put them airborne. They dropped a little towards the road, but soon found a thermal and circled up. Free from the ground, they were flying. Daniel and I took off 10 minutes later. I dangled in front of and a little below the pilot. I felt completely safe in his capable hands. We caught thermals and circled higher and higher. Alto Hospicio and the highway soon spread below. We circled and soared, over the dunes of Cerro Dragon, the streets of Iquique, and finally a soft landing on the sands of Playa Brava. We were airborne for just under 30 minutes. It was amazing. I can see why the diehards risk life and limb in their pursuit of flight. Soaring with the wind as your only propulsion is hard to beat. They offered to drive us home, but earthbound once again, our feet were up for some Iquique roaming. We said our goodbyes and strolled off down the beach, our heads still in the clouds.

Calles y Casas

Post flight celebration


Emigrant Peak

October 10, 2010

Head towards Dailey Lake

Hike Date: October 9, 2010: 38th birthday. My first in the Greater Yellowstone since my 29th in 2001. 2002-2004 in Moscow, Idaho, USA. 2005-2007 in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan. 2008 in Tomball, Texas, USA. 2009 in Putre, Chile. It is good to be home. Em and I spent the day hiking Emigrant Peak, looming over the Yellowstone River’s Paradise Valley. The top of Emigrant sits at 10,921 feet. The Yellowstone River around 5,200 feet. We started hiking at Gold Prize Creek at an elevation around 5,600 feet.



I first arose in Gardiner at 6 a.m. for a weather check. The previous night was rain. Some snow up high. At 6 am it was cloudy in Gardiner. I saw no stars. I went back to bed, going to check again at 7. The weather report called for a nice day: mostly sunny, 20 percent chance of rain. The day just need to mature as we slept. It did and we did. On my next check, things looked a little more promising. Clouds hung on Sepulcher and Electric but there were gaps. Let it stew for a while longer. Finally we arose at 8 am for the day. We finishing packing up and hit the road at 8:45am heading north along the Yellowstone.

Contemplating Em

Snow Descent

We turned the Accord off  89 onto East River Road, Dailey Lake Road, Six Mile Creek Road, and finally Gold Prize Creek, our trailhead. We started hiking at 10 am. The clouds that were clinging to Emigrant were starting to clear. They left a dusting of snow up high. It cleared beautifully as we climbed. And climbed. And climbed. We heard some folks off in the woods before tree line, but never saw them as we took different routes through the trees. They were going down. Real early risers that had already summitted. We would encounter their footprints in the snow above treeline up to the peak.

North Peak

Em on top

Our climb was slow. Often slow motion. But we finally made the top at 3:45 p.m. We communed with the peak cairn and headed down the snowy ridge. Some slips and slides kept us on our toes on the steep descent. Off the ridge we enjoyed sunset in the grass of the lower inclined meadows before regaining the last 3 miles of more moderately pitched trail. We finished with head lamps, the stars, planets and milky way booming above. We the hit the car at 7:45pm. Gathered firewood and headed to Dailey Lake to camp. Food, fire, and sleep. We awoke to howling wind, a Dailey Lake trademark, and snuggled deeper into sleeping bags before heading home to Gardiner. And work. Cumpleanos. Tanjoubi. Birthday. Finito.

Emigrant in July from Dailey Lake


October 7, 2010


Flashback Travel Dates: September 3-5, 2009: Our first month in Iquique was spent getting settled in to our homestay and work lives. We explored Iquique on foot, bus, and colectivo. The marriage of Mario and Kitxi (our host “parents”) was all encompasssing for a week as family and friends descended on the homestead. Lots of socializing and bbqing with the extended family. Em and I tried tandem parapente (paragliding), for which Iquique is a mecca. Someday, I will get to flashback blogs about these momentous events. I did not start Elven Space Helmet until two months into our four months in Chile. A lot went unblogged, but slowly I will try to remedy the Chilean gaps with flashback entries. This will be the first: our trip to the precordillera oasis town of Mamina.

Our ride to and from Mamina

In Iquique, the powers that be, blessed most of us English Open Doors volunteers with 3 day weekends. Our work week was Monday through Thursday, giving us Friday to Sunday to explore northern Chile. Our first several weekends in Iquique were chock full with in town doings (some mentioned above). Our first trip out of town into the wider Tarapaca was our previously blogged about trip to Pica. We were ready to get out of town again and consulted the Lonely Planet for options. We chose Mamina for our second trip out into wider Tarapaca. We judged the regional debate contest on the morning of Thursday (September 3), had some lunch and beers on Baquedano, and then headed downtown to the Mercado Centenario. Around the market is a cluster of transportation services to various locales via bus and colectivos. I had signed up with Taxis Tamarugal a few days prior for two seats to Mamina in their colectivo minibus pictured above. Our colectivo left just after 4 p.m., loaded down with goods and passengers. We were the only gringos. The other passengers, a young couple with a baby, a grandma, and a young girl, were all Aymara heading home to Mamina. It was a tight squeeze. Em ended up with the shotgun seat with me behind her looking towards the back of the colectivo. We climbed out of Iquique into the Atacama. We took a short break in Pozo Almonte before continuing our climb into the pre-cordillera. It was slow going with the loaded colectivo struggling up steep grades. The trip from Iquique to Mamina is only 125km, but it took about 3 hours. It is a long, slow climb in a loaded to the gills colectivo. Mamina sits  around 2,800 meters above sea level, where Iquique sits. We rolled into town in the dark.

Streets of Mamina in the daylight

Our first stop was in the center of town plaza. We were going to disembark here and hoof it to our lodgings at Cerro Morado. But the driver said it was a ways off and a little hard to find in the dark. He had to go that way anyways and would drop us off at the lodge. We were greeted by the proprietress and got settled in and soon headed over to the dining room for dinner. Most of the other residents at the Cerro Morado were miners working at the big copper mine close to Mamina. Buses of miners came to and fro from the mine covering the different shifts. A whole group arrived for dinner as we ate. After dinner, we shot some pool at the outdoor table and chatted with the ladies that ran the dining room before retiring to our room, which featured a TV and a hot spring fed bathtub. The bath left much to be desired (not hot enough!), but the mineral water was relaxing nonetheless. Mamina is famous for its pungent hot springs. One of them, Barros Chinos would be our post breakfast destination on the following morning.

Barros Chinos

Bucket of Mud

The cold night morphed into a warm sun baked day. We headed to Barros Chinos for a “restorative mud treatment”. This would be a first for both of us. With directions from our proprietress, we walked to the  springs at the back of town. We paid our entrance fee, and got tutored on the intricacies of our self applied mud treatment. We were given a bucket of stinky, sulfurous mud and plastered ourselves and each other with it head to toe. After our plastering, we lounged on slatted loungers and let the sun bake the mud hard on our skin. We lounged as the mud dried and cracked on our skin working its magic. This was followed by submersion in the pooled off spring. Impurities peeling off with the mud into the warm water. Relaxed and invigorated we made our way back to the Cerro Morado for lunch.


Mud on, Mud off

After lunch, we headed back into town to explore more on foot.  We wound our way around homes clinging to desert hills to the central plaza. At the center of town is Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Rosario. The church is a national historical monument that originally dates from 1632. It has been substantially remodeled over the years. Its unique feature is a twin bell tower, not usually seen in the churches of Andean Chile. Most Andean Chile churches have a single phallic bell tower that is detached from the church itself. We took in the details of the church from the plaza, wandering around it. Unfortunately, we could not get in to see what is inside. It seemed to only open on Sundays and religious holidays. We lounged in the shade of plaza trees before continuing our walkabout around town.

Downtown Mamina

Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Rosario

La pared y la puerta de iglesia

Our walkabout soon got a lot more interesting. We were hailed by a red headed PE teacher, nickname “Cobre”. He was interested in what we were doing in Mamina and anxious to share its attractions and history in rapid fire Spanish. We were catching a good bit of it, and missing a good bit. It was building to a confused crescendo of him finding us a guide, his friend Eric. He bid us to follow, and we did uncertain as to where this was going. We roamed through the narrow streets of the town following Cobre to a door off an alley. He pounded on the door and entered summoning his friend. Eric soon emerged and Cobre bid us a fond farewell, ecstatic that we now had a guide. When in Rome. We chatted with Eric in Spanish and decided on a walking route into a canyon on the edge of town to check out ancient petroglyphs. Eric led and we followed out of town into the desert. We soon headed off road into the desert canyon following a creek. We crisscrossed the creek and were soon staring at a wealth of petroglyphs etched into the rocks. Murky history shining a blurry light through the ages of etched animals and human figures baking in the high desert sun. Eric, a wealth of local knowledge, clued us into local history in patient Spanish. Much understood and much not. But all appreciated.

En el desierto



We continued our circuit, climbing out of the canyon past generations for sunset ridgetop views among the cactii. We scrambled up rocks and squeezed through cleaved fissures to the top of the ridge. Cactii lined the ridge looking down canyon on the sun soaked Atacama below. The sun dropped and the pinks and purples moved into dark. Our circuit continued up and over hills before dropping steeply back down to a creek crossing under star soaked skies. Eric led us back into town where our history tour continued on the streets of Mamina. We dropped in at the town market and stocked up on some snacks and beer to enjoy in our room. Eric walked us back to the Cerro Morado, and we tipped him for his excellent 3 hour tour. A tour that was totally unexpected. One of those unbelievable experiences that make the hassles of travel worth it. Personal connections spanning continents, oceans, and mountain ranges. We bid a fond farewell to Eric after exchanging contact info and learning that we are all big Faith No More fans. He was going to see them play in Santiago the next month. Twas the Real Thing. We retired to our room for a relaxing night cap and lukewarm spring fed bath. We were up early the next morning to catch our colectivo back to Iquique. A party was being held at our house to watch the Chile/Venezuela World Cup Qualifier, and we didn’t want to miss that cultural experience in soccer crazed Chile.

Canyon Roaming

Fissure Squeeze

La Noche en el desierto

Adios Mamina

Weekend to Weekend

October 3, 2010
Dailey Lake

Dailey Lake Rainbow

October 3, 2010: The summer season in Yellowstone is rolling towards its end. Locations close with each coming week: Roosevelt, Canyon, Lake Hotel to name a few. Mammoth is still going, until October 15. But we have started closing up the cabins and some of the employee dorms, which will not be used in the winter. For the final month (which we are half way through), my schedule got switched around in the scramble to cover for the loss of our night guy and some others. Until Mammoth closes for the season, I have Friday and Saturday off and two night shifts a week (Thursday and Sunday).  My week has just begun with my Sunday night shift. I am living weekend to weekend.

The weekend was spent kayaking and shooting disc golf. On Friday (October 1), I kayaked a 5 mile stretch of the Yellowstone River. I put in at the Cinnabar River Access just above the Corwin Springs bridge and took out at the Yankee Jim River Access. This was the first time I have taken my kayak out on the Yellowstone. It is a great stretch of river for a beginner like me, mostly mellow with some quicker stretches to keep you on your toes. I emerged successfully and pulled out just above Yankee Jim Canyon, stashed my kayak, and limbered up my thumb for the hitchhike back to Cinnabar. This was my fourth hitchhike of the year, and by far my most successful. This one will be hard to beat. As soon as I hit the road, a car was hurtling my way. A red 1966 Mustang. You don’t see many of these on the road, and I know of one in Gardiner. I assumed it was Carlos and stuck out my thumb enthusiastically. The Mustang blew on by. I turned around and waved my arms exuberantly at the retreating Mustang. Carlos clued in to who I was in his rearview and pulled over 50 yards down the road. I started hoofing it rapidly before he changed his mind. The passenger door opened in welcome as I approached. 30 seconds, 1 car, and a ride all the way back to Cinnabar. Thanks Carlos!

On Saturday (October 2), Em and I headed down to Old Faithful to put some stuff in storage for the coming OFSL winter and shoot disc golf. The annual Fall Classic Disc Golf Tournament was happening on Saturday and the disc golf faithful were converging along the Firehole. Jess set us up with a transient room in Larkspur. We hit the golf course around 4 pm, hooking up with Carlos, April, Charlie, Avril, and James for a party of seven. The last on the course. I had only shot the Wilderness Course at Old Faithful once before, in the winter about 10 years ago. Em had never shot it. So, we were in need of knowledgeable chaperones. We ended up having to skip two holes, one due to bison and one due to dark, but had a great time on a great course. On Sunday morning, I woke up early and headed up Craigs Pass to Scaup Lake for a morning paddle before gathering up Em and heading back to Gardiner and then my 2:30 p.m. night shift at Mammoth.

The previous weekend was also filled with some kayaking and disc golf. On Friday (September 24), I went out to Dailey Lake to kayak. Hidden in the reeds on the far end of the lake, I came upon a floating dock where I spent an hour and a half relaxing in the sun before completing my circumnavigation of the lake. After kayaking, I had a nice fire to bid farewell to the sun and greet the rising moon before heading back home to Gardiner. On Saturday (September 25) we headed up to Beartooth and Shari’s place outside of Clyde Park for the momentous occasion of Dale Fowler’s 60th birthday party. Generations of extended Yellowstone clan descended upon the homestead to celebrate and camp out. A ten hole disc golf course was set up on the 22 acres. The etiquette hole sat on top the highest point where a rotating bench takes in a wide swath of Montana: the Shields River Valley, the Crazies, the Bridgers, the Absarokas, the Little Belts. The weather was ideal for an outdoor shindig. Em and I were the last up around the fire, discussing Dune and Islamanauts with Keenan into the wee hours. Sunday dawned early, and work beckoned. We drove home thinking of next weekend. Now, that next weekend has already passed. I look ahead once again. Weekend to weekend to weekend.

Dailey Lake

Bring on the weekend