Hestaby's Realm, Shasta, Failure

This past weekend, Memorial Day weekend '08, a couple friends and I set out to climb Mount Shasta; we did not succeed. Mount Shasta is the second highest of the Cascade Mountains, the fifth highest mountain in California and the fiftieth highest in North America. Shasta is noteworthy for being by itself; Shasta pops out of otherwise mostly flat land, making it a rather imposing sight. Driving down I-5 on the Seattle to San Francisco leg of my move from Greater Boston to the Bay Area, I passed Shasta and was absolutely blown away by the sight of such a massive mountain popping up out of nowhere.

Myself, Hippo and John, set out from the bay area Friday evening. Stopping at Chipotle en route, we got to Finlandia! Motel in Mount Shasta City, California sometime around 1 or 2AM. Repacking lightly and getting to sleep, we woke up rather early so that we could pick up our rental gear and meet up to take a basic mountaineering course with Shasta Mountain Guides. The rest of Saturday was spent at low elevations of Shasta learning how to mountaineer, including climbing steep snow/ice, self-arresting with an ice axe, etc. Personal, I felt the course was really informative, leaving me both glad to have the knowledge for the climb and glad to have the knowledge going forward. Saturday night, we dined in Shasta City, which, I might add, is an incredibly pleasant little town with very friendly people.

Sunday morning, we woke up bright and early at 7AM, getting to the trailhead at Bunny Flats by about 9AM. Bunny Flats is at an elevation of 6,800', already more than 500' higher than the highest thing I'd ever climbed previously, Mount Washington. From Bunny Flats, we obtained the necessary permits and set out. We reached, the first notable waypoint, Horse Camp at 7,800'. When making a two day trip of climbing Shasta, one usually makes camp at Horse Camp or Lake Helen; our initial plan was to camp at Lake Helen but the weather combined with the advice of the Horse Camp caretaker convinced us to camp at Horse Camp. Horse Camp also provided the benefits of outhouses (climbers are otherwise required to bag and carry out feces from Shasta) and a flowing spring. The spring water available at Horse Camp is reputed to be the best water on Earth and, having tried it myself, I must admit that I have not encountered better water to date. We took a short hike further up Sunday afternoon, leaving all of our gear behind, turning back when it started to snow heavily. Sunday night we cooked various dinner stuffs, repacked our bags with essentials and went to sleep around 7 or 8PM.

Monday, we woke up at 1AM, got ready and began climbing by head-lamp light around 2:15AM. The climb up from Horse Camp, is slow and rather arduous. The climbing was mostly up big, steep snow fields, which had nice fresh snow from the heavy snow that caused us to cut short our hike of Sunday. Thankfully for us, there were two guided tours that left around 1:30AM and had blazed the trail for us, making things a little easier. By around 5:15AM, we had reached Lake Helen at 10,400'. Although, Lake Helen is 2,600' above Horse Camp, it's only about ¾ of a mile laterally, in case you wanted a sense of the difficulty. By Lake Helen, I was starting to feel a little off, getting exhausted and losing my appetite, at the time unidentified early signs of altitude sickness or, if you prefer, acute mountain sickness. The sun started to rise while we were at Lake Helen and we set off for points higher. After Lake Helen is one of the steeper portions of the entire mountain and it's really steep. From Lake Helen up is when the altitude sickness really kicked in.

Altitude sickness is when the lower pressure of the air prevents your body from getting as much oxygen as it normally needs, which poses rather substantial problems for your brain and body. Subjectively, for me, it felt as though my brain was falling asleep. I wasn't tired, my body and muscles felt like they were in fine shape to continue but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was so exhausted that I was going to collapse. It's somewhat like the sensation of being on the edge of passing out after you've been awake for a couple days, minus the being tired part. Altitude sickness, being altitude driven, gets worse pretty much every step up you take, which made continuing progressively harder and harder. We were following a hike one hour, rest a little, hike one hour, rest schedule and when we next rested, my GPS, which we were using as an altimeter read 11,242'. As we rested, I drank water and tried to eat but the altitude sickness was in pretty full swing. I was so worn down that chewing a granola bar took most of the effort that I was able to muster from myself. Imagine, if you will, the level of incapacitation that goes along with a very high fever but without the fun of delirium or the security of being in bed. Noting that I was in pretty poor shape and felt on the verge of passing out, it was decided that turning back was the best option. Another thing about altitude sickness being altitude driven is that as soon as you get back below your ceiling--mine is apparently about 10,000' right now--you tend to start feeling better. By the time we got back down to Lake Helen, it was as though someone had lifted a great weight off of my brain.

It was a little frustrating to be at Lake Helen and feel mostly fine to go on but know that the altitude would make it too difficult. From Lake Helen down, it was mostly wading/jogging/trudging/hopping through a few inches to a few feet of snow, of which enough was powder to make me really wish that I had skis. Very soon after we started downward, it started to snow rather heavily with whiteout levels of visibility. The rapid drop in weather quality made it almost fortunate that my altitude sickness had forced us to turn around when it did as contending with whiteout conditions at higher elevations and greater exhaustion would have been rather hazardous. The weather events of the weekend seem to have prevented most, if not all, people from summiting Shasta over this memorial day weekend, so we may not have really missed out on too much. We got back down to Horse Camp by about 11AM, the bizarre result of starting at 2:15AM and all decided to take a nap. Unfortunately, when we got up from our naps to pack and leave, it was raining. It took us rather a while to accept the rain, get up and pack everything. From there, it was a couple hours hike out down the slow path from Horse Camp and we were done.

Ultimately, it was a grueling, sometimes unpleasant endeavor and I'm immensely pleased that I did it. I would very much like to try Shasta again sometime; perhaps I'll try to do some altitude training or get a doctor to give me some Acetazolamide. Shasta aside, methinks that this whole mountaineering thing is a thing that I should be doing more of.

P.S. For those of you who are not Shadowrun geeks, Mount Shasta is the home of the great dragon Hestaby. For those that are, while I was hiking beyond Lake Helen and feeling the effects of altitude sickness, I got myself to keep going by telling myself to roll willpower.

District B13

In today's edition of George brings you obscure movies that you should have heard of, District B13. This 2004, French film, produced by the great Luc Besson, stars David Belle, founder of Parkour and involves acrobatics and ass-kicking that easily match the better things coming out of Asia recently. Take one part post-apocalyptic action film, add a dash of drug lords, some neutron bombs, two parts crazy martial arts, a liberal sprinkling of really good French traceurs, bake for an hour and a half and you get, well, a pretty phenomenally awesome movie. No wires or special effects necessary.

Ubuntu is the paint-by-numbers of Linux

I was talking with my brother, who is not a computer geek, and discussing variations on Linux when he came up with an amazing analogy that was so brilliant I had to share it with the rest of you. He said, "I guess it would be more like a blank piece of paper versus a color by numbers thing". It's exactly spot on, Ubuntu is the paint-by-numbers of Linux; it's really easy to do the stuff it's aimed at doing but going outside the lines doesn't look as good as if you'd used a more general option. Of course, while you Ubuntu users are all kindergartners, I'm busy ricing out my machines with Gentoo; I don't actually know which is a worse thing to be analogized to.

The World of Ralph Bakshi

Wizards poster

Ralph Bakshi is a particularly interesting American maker of animated films. I expect relatively few of you have ever heard of Ralph Bakshi and almost as few have seen any of his works, which is why it is necessary that I bring Ralph and his works to your attention.

My first encounter with Ralph Bakshi came when, at a young age, I saw the box for his 1977 film Wizards at my local video rental location, Video Revolution, and thought that it looked phenomenally cool (same image as the poster image to the right). For reasons I do not recall, I didn't manage to actually watch Wizards until I was in high school and, let me tell you, it's a pretty fantastic movie. Wizards is set in the far, far, post-post-apocalyptic future and tells the story of a war between two wizard brothers, Avatar and Blackwolf of the land of good and evil respectively. If I recall correctly, the war is precipitated by Blackwolf's discovery of ancient Nazi war propaganda. The film does a fantastic job of alternating between light, dark and flat out surreal; I highly recommend it.

It wasn't until just recently that, in deciding to hunt down a copy of Wizards, I learned the identity of Ralph Bakshi. Being the obsessive consumer of media that I am, I decided to see what else Ralph has done and, lo and behold, Ralph Bakshi was responsible for Cool World. Cool World was a rather odd mix of cartoons and live action that I am rather fond of in spite of the rather poor critical acclaim that it garnered in its time; I must be a member of the cult for which it is a cult hit. Upon realizing that Ralph was responsible for Wizards and Cool World, it became necessary for me to track down his other works and what should turn out to be his seminal work? None other than the film version of Fritz the Cat. Fritz the Cat is noteworthy both as the first independent animated film to gross more than $100 million in the box office and as the first X-rated animated feature film. R. Crumb did not like Bakshi's take on Fritz the Cat and killed off the comic character in retaliation but, by most accounts, R. Crumb is a whack-job and the film was great; I have obtained the film but have not yet had the chance to watch it so I must withhold my personal views for now.

Ralph Bakshi is one of the behemoths of mid-20th century animation, responsible for many things beyond the few that I have mentioned, and I would be doing you a disservice if I didn't bring him to your attention. Having done so, the disservice of not watching Bakshi's works is now yours to remedy.

The video game Gods are pleased

The video game Gods demand much in the forms of financial penance and prayer time but they do much to reward their supplicants. I have just now obtained for myself a copy of GTA4 (I know that I'm slow but I've been traveling for the past week). While I was at the merchant of the damned, GameStop, obtaining the aforementioned game, I happened to notice a sign proclaiming the impending arrival of Ninja Gaiden II (NG2), sequel to what I consider the finest video game yet produced. Seriously, forget Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Sonic the Hedgehog, Myst, Quake, everything; Ninja Gaiden (Xbox remake) was where it's at and now it's sequel time. Not only is Ninja Gaiden II coming, but Soul Calibur 4 (SC4), next in the finest fighting game series of all time, comes out in two months. It certainly is a summer of video game sequels but, man oh man, is it going to be a good summer of sequels.

Between GTA4, NG2 and SC4, I will, unquestionably, be devoting rather a fair amount of time to video games over the next few months. It certainly won't help much that my enjoyment and commitment to Rock Band has not abated. I guess that's really a matter of perspective; I am, after all, committing my time to video games because they do provide me with a great deal of enjoyment.

Thank you video game Gods for this bounty, which you are bestowing upon me over the next few months.

Fishes and Internet Friends

Back in late 2002, there was a great Internet phenomenon known to many as the Star Wars kid. As some of you may recall, I was one of the first people on the Internet to find the Star Wars kid video; I decided to host the video on my web server, ozone-beast at that time--God rest that wonderful ozone spewing hulk of a computronium--and sent an e-mail out to random-hall-talk announcing its presences. Within a few days, ozone beast was being deluged with hits from all over the world. I also happened to receive an IM correspondence from a girl in Bakersfield, CA. Being a sophomore at the time and having way too much free time, I struck up a correspondence. McKenzie and I have since maintained an Internet friendship without ever having met in person.

After moving to the Bay Area, I had been planning to drive down California a bunch, meet Kenzie, visit people in LA and do the whole SoCal thing but then, as you may recall, I ceased to have a car. This week, however, Kenzie was in Monterey with her boyfriend, who had business; Monterey being reasonably close by California standards, I grabbed a Zipcar, ditched out of work early and drove down to say hi. We went to the Monterey Aquarium, which is fantastic by the way, hung out for a few hours and had a generally good time.

It's a rather interesting thing to meet in person someone that you've gotten to know through other means. The meeting and the hang out were surprisingly not awkward, though I've always felt that the best way to avoid awkwardness is to just not act awkward. Sure it was a lot of driving but it was very nice driving, the Monterey Aquarium really is great and it is really great to finally meet someone that you've known for over five years.

R.I.P. Albert Hofmann

Rest in peace, Albert Hofmann. 102 years is quite a good streak; too bad your work was hijacked and vilified in your lifetime. The world was not ready for your discoveries but, hopefully, one day it will be. Goodbye.

Yuri's Night

Last night, I attended the Bay Area Yuri's Night celebration, which was a big celebration of Yuri Gagarin. Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space and the celebration was at NASA Ames, with a couple great big hangers full of art, science and/or engineering exhibitions, constant musical performances and some other wonderful stuff. It was an amazing celebration, my favorite parts included, but were certainly not limited to, the Amon Tobin set, the aerobatic show, Spore and, quite frankly, my roommate Gene's dynamic fractal exhibition piece. It was an amazing event, made better by how many people I knew that were present but it was, at the same time, a sad reminder of how under-appreciated NASA is by our country, our government and our people.

Hell is The Hustle in your Head

Once, long past, Hell was Dinosaurs in my Head, but now there is a far more insidious Hell in my head. The Hell from which I suffer is the popular Van McCoy song known as The Hustle. As you might be guessing at this point, what makes The Hustle a Hell in my head is that I have the song stuck in my head. Sure, you might be saying, The Hustle isn't a particularly great song and having it stuck in your head might be annoying but that alone should not constitute a Hell and you would be right. Unfortunately, my Hell is not that The Hustle is stuck in my head, it's that it has been stuck in my head; by my estimates, The Hustle has been stuck in my head, on and off, for over a year now. I'm sure that I've been mentioning The Hustle being stuck in my head to people for quite some time so there ought to be someone out there that can back me up on this. I can't say that I'm getting used to The Hustle being stuck in my head or that I'm starting to like it but I have been learning to live with it. Really, at this point, it's kind of like Old Kentucky Shark; it's been there. I can't imagine why it got stuck there in the first place or what prevents it from fading like every other song that I've ever had stuck in my head, perhaps it is because I am of the same people as Fry and it is, thusly, the native dance of my people.

Do the Hustle!

Neapolitan Cake

I did make a three-layered (vanilla/strawberry/chocolate) cake but that's not really what I want to talk about; I'm only referencing it in the title and beginning of this post to spite Hippo, who condescendingly suggested I blog about my cake. I'd far rather talk about the party I threw Sunday in honor of my recent birthday.

I can say, without reservation, that this was one of the best birthday parties that I can remember and it was all thanks to the people. The turn out was spectacular, including college friends, high school friends I haven't seen in years, co-worker friends and friends-of-friends (some of whom I had not previously met). The party was set to kick off at 3pm, with snacks, beers and eventual barbecuing but people didn't start showing up until nearly 4pm. For a short while, the turnout seemed like it might be a bit low but then we must have hit the fashionably late turning point and it turned into quite the social gathering, peaking at around 20-25 people. People were still showing up well into the evening and it didn't start to dwindle much until about 10pm or 11pm. I can't quite say that it went off without a hitch as there were certainly some issues but everything went well in the end.

It was a great party, everything that I had hoped, and my thanks go out to everyone who showed up.