Category Archives: New Experiences

Climbing for Air …. American Lung Association

For a number of years now (10 to be exact) the American Lung Association has organized and event called Climb for Air. I’ve heard about it for a couple of years and thought it was cool that they would be able to use one of the taller buildings in downtown Minneapolis for it. This is a fundraising event ending with each person climbing stairs for 31 stories. When I first heard that I questioned if I would be able to accomplish such a feat.

Climb for Air event in Minneapolis

On Friday I heard of this event happening this year again and began to ponder if I should attempt climbing stairs for 31 floors to reach the top of one of the skyscrapers in Minneapolis. I’ve not been working on getting into trail condition as much as I should be so physically I’m not as prepared. Researching further 31 stories equates to about 680 steps. Once I saw that then there was little doubt if I could do this or not. There have been caves explored where I’ve climbed half that many stairs so I should be able to do this although this is just climbing up, up, up with limited breaks like a cave would have. After going back and forth I decided it would be a good new life experience for me as well as a worthwhile organization to support in honor of an uncle I lost due to lung cancer and signed up.

Over half way done

The next day I arrived at US Bank Plaza to begin my climb. Average climb times are listed as 10-15 minutes so I figured I should be able to do it 20 minutes taking my time as needed. They attached tracking tags to one of your shoes to keep track of how long it takes to climb and off I went stair after stair. I remember reaching the second floor and then the third. Before I realized it I was at the 16th floor – over half way. I stopped for a quick water break on the next floor and then there was the 19th floor. My legs were beginning to feel it a little but more so I was breathing pretty hard by this time.

From the top

Reaching the 22nd floor I tried to slow down a little for the next flight, took a few seconds to stretch tightening muscles a few times until reaching the 29th floor and decided a strong finish was how I wanted to end the climb. During this time I was thinking back to last summer’s climb of Long’s Peak and wondering how many steps I climbed for that. A few more than this I’m sure. Once getting to the top floor I was a little shocked it was done and kept walking back and forth on that floor to cool down while grabbing more water. After a few minutes I realized it took just over 6 minutes to climb 31 stories. Wow was it really that quick? It was an enjoyable experience and one I felt good doing. Marathons and bike races aren’t of much interest to me but this fits in well for me.

After completing the climb

The U. S. National Anthem

Every time I hear the United States National Anthem, there is a deeper meaning after visiting the place it was written – Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. One of the first things you can see upon nearing the fort is the tall flagpole carrying a huge American flag which author Francis Scott Keys was looking for during the bombing of the fort by British soldiers.

Canons protecting the fort

Once inside the fort, you can see where the canons that defended this fort during the attack were placed. This brings the attack to life imagining soldiers maneuvering cannons and loading them to fire back at British ships in Chesapeake Bay outside of the fort while taking cover as these ships fired back.

Looking out into Chesapeak Bay where the National Anthem was first written

Walking along the top of the fort walls, Chesapeake Bay is clearly visible shining in the bright blue, sunlit sky. After seeing the fort and many of its canons you begin to visualize British ships in the water firing almost causing you to quickly duck back behind the brick walls for protections.

Watching the flag flying in the wind high over Fort McHenry

It’s very humbling to think of this large icon of America, its flag, flying in the wind while soldiers engaged in heavy battle firing at each other through a smoke filled sky created from canon fire. To imagine what this must have looked like to Francis Scott Keys and the impact it had on him during these days. His surprise, joy, and pride to see Fort McHenry and the United States flag continuing to exist in all their glory once the battle ceased. On this Independence Day I have further respect for those who have given much to give us our freedom and continue to defend it yet today!

A huge American flag flying in the courtyard

 

Snow Storm Timelapse

During a recent snowstorm in Minnesota I set up a camera and took a timelapse of it and fortunately caught some interesting photos. Put together you have this video of just over 4 minutes. After you watch it through one time there are some interesting things to watch out for. In the first couple of seconds you can see Saturn trailing across the sky. The video is added to show in real time what the snow fall was like. As your watching the snow accumulate, pay attention to the street sign. In the beginning it is easily visable but eventually gets blocked by snow. Also, around 3:20 you can see the snow settling and melting in the bottom, center of the screen. This is surprising as the actual air temperature was only a few degrees above zero fahrenheit. It is due to the reflection off of the building and shows just how powerful the sun can be this time of year even in Minnesota. For those that want to know some of the technical aspects of this video:

-there are over 20,000 images used

-each second of video represents 6 minutes of time as this is compiled at 60 frames a second with photos being taken every 6 seconds.

   

The Seashore of Olympic National Park

The Coast

Often a national park will have multiple ecosystems to explore allowing for a more diverse experience. Olympic National Park definitely fits into this concept with three different systems – mountains, forests, and a coastal ecosystem. It’s always interesting to find freshwater environments near the coast so you can contrast and compare them. A small distance apart can make a tremendous difference in the wildlife that visit each and in some cases both types of water. Gulls, eagles, and bears will visit both freshwater and saltwater in search of food while salmon will only enter freshwater during spawning season and ducks and deer remain near the freshwater. Pelicans will primarily stay near saltwater along with so many other sea creatures (urchins, sea stars, ect…).

Sandy Beach Littered with Logs

Those of us that don’t live near saltwater are not use to seeing the diversity of both these ecosystems and how similar they are as well as how different they are. After visiting the interior of the Olympic Peninsula for a couple of days it was time to venture to the coast and enjoy another environment. Two things on our list of things to see here were the sea stacks which are basically large boulder or small islands of rock out in the ocean not far from land and tide pools containing urchins, anemones, and other sea creatures caught during low tide.

Dungeness Crab

We started out at Beach 1 near the Kalaloch Lodge to start our coastal adventure. After a short hike down to the beach you notice it is full of logs piled everywhere and Dungeness Crabs laying all over the beach being picked at by gulls. Being there in late August may provide a different encounter with the crabs as I’m sure they don’t litter the beach here year around. Working to get over the logs you land on the soft sand often desired with a beautiful beach. Unfortunately, there where no sea stacks and no tide pools to peer into. After a little more exploring, it was time to find our next meal and another vantage point to explore the ocean coast.

The View from the Lodge

Since we were near the Kalaloch Lodge, and there aren’t a lot of dining options in this area, we opted to eat there and enjoy a great view of Kalaloch Creek entering the ocean. We enjoyed our meal and then a quick hike down to the ocean for another touch of the soft sand before venturing off towards Ruby Beach. This beach was recommended as the best location to see the sea stacks closest to us. There are better beaches for this which also offer nice tide pools but they were several hours away and our day was dwindling as it was.

Rocky Shores of Ruby Beach

Getting out of the car at Ruby Beach you can’t see the ocean but there is definitely a strange sound. Another short hike to get to the water and now this sound makes more sense. There is no sand here, just small, smooth, flat rocks making a unique sound as the water washes onto them. Finally a view of sea stacks. I’m sure they are more impressive on sunny evenings as the sun wanes behind them but this day was cloudy with heavy mist all around us. Still they were fun to see. Due to our timing, the tide pools would not be visible as it was near high tide. That was a little disappointing as pictures we’ve looked at provide a lot of colorful creatures. To see a post by Lee Rentz displaying some beautiful photos of the tide pools click here.

Sea Stacks

After enjoying this stone beach for awhile, rain moved in making the decision to call it a day and head back to the hotel pretty easy. Three days of exploring this national park left me exhausted so an early night at the hotel was just right in order to recoup before returning to Seattle for another long day’s adventure.

Another Form of Sea Stacks

Dinner at the Space Needle

Downtown Seattle

One of the most popular attractions when visiting Seattle is the famous Space Needle.  So when planning for a trip to Seattle the first stop was Spaceneedle.com. We knew we wanted to view Seattle from the Needle but didn’t realize the different options available to experience this unique structure. Eating at the Skycity restaurant was very appealing until viewing the menus and seeing the prices. For a family of four to eat there it was going to be over $200. Not sure that was in the budget.

How about some time on the observation deck? That was still a little pricey but how often did we plan on visiting Seattle? Probably this one time so better take advantage of being there and go to the top of this famous attraction. The next question – do we go during the day, the night, or both since all of these options are offered? After figuring out that the observation deck was included with a meal, the cost of eating in the Skycity restaurant was not as bad. Especially if we decided that the day and night was what we wanted to do. How about eating around sunset and then going up to the observation deck before dinner to see Seattle in the waning hours of the sunlight.

Everyone in our group decided dinner around sunset would be a good idea, that is of course, if the sky was relatively clear to see the sun. Let’s take the chance and make reservations! Next, finding out the sunset time of Seattle in late August. For that we used timeanddate.com and then made our reservations around that time. Here’s hoping! It was off to Seattle.

A Cloudy and Foggy Morning

Our day began in the Olympic Mountains with plenty of clouds and fog. A sunset didn’t look very promising giving way to a little disappointment setting in. There was most of the day left for the sky to clear but the forecast didn’t indicate a good chance of it. For a different view of Seattle we took the ferry from the Olympic Mountains to northern Seattle. Driving on a boat was a unique and fun experience for those of us that don’t really get the opportunity to do so. I’m sure it’s old news to those who get to do it on a regular basis. Once we exited the ferry it was off to downtown to explore the fish market, the underground, and eventually end up at the Needle.

Location of the Popular Fish Market

As the day continued, and our Seattle adventure taught us about the city, we noticed the sky beginning to clear a little. There is hope! Our reservation time was ticking closer so off to the hotel to clean up, change, and get ready for dinner. We arrived at the Space Needle taking in the uniqueness of this structure that we had seen several times from a far. Where is the entrance? It’s not like there is a definite front to this building. Walking around it we found entrance doors and slipped inside. A huge gift shop is what greats you. How do you check in? Walking around on the inside a reservation desk appeared so we walked up to it and let them know we had arrived for our reservation. Pretty easy once you gain your bearings in this circular building.

The Space Needle

We were directed towards a line for restaurant guests to take a specific elevator near your reservation time. After waiting a short time it was into the elevator and quickly up the Needle. The elevator ride itself is fun as they are on the outside of the building and have large windows to view the city as you climb to the top. It was such a smooth ride and went to fast for us as we enjoyed peering out at our surrounding while the elevator climbing higher and higher making the ground look smaller and smaller. Next stop, the observation deck. Going out onto the deck gave a wonderful view of Seattle, the Olympic Mountains, and Mt. Rainier.  Unfortunately, this view is impeded by cables taking away from the magnificence of it. Still a nice view. After about 15 minutes we were called for dinner and made our way down one level to the restaurant.

Seattle From the Observation Deck

We were quickly seated on this revolving floor and had an even better view of the area because of the complete windowed view giving a panoramic look at Seattle and the nearby mountains without the cables. Everyone in the group had been warned of the prices to be expected for dinner so the shock had was taken care of.  I couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat because I was spending most of my time watching the setting sun. Success! Most of the clouds had dissipated leaving a gorgeous sunset over the Olympic Mountains. This plan could not have worked better. What a blessing.

A Beautiful Sunset

Dinner came and the sun left leaving us with great food to enjoy while Seattle was lit up underneath us. One of the kids dishes comes with noodles in the shape of the Space Needle itself. How fun is that?! And for dessert, how about a smoking bowl of ice cream?

        Noodles in the Shape of the Space Needle         Smoking Ice Cream

For those who may be questioning whether to eat at the restaurant or just visit the observation deck, I highly recommend taking the opportunity to eat at the Space Needle at least once if nothing else for the unique experience of it. I will certainly do it again if the opportunity presents itself.

Night Time From the Needle

For those unable to get to Seattle, here is a live webcam from the Space Needle.

The Space Needle at Night

Entrance Sign to Yosemite a Disappointment

One of the Entrance Signs to Yosemite

The Second Yosemite Entrance Sign

The only entrance we used was the south entrance where there are two different signs announcing the arrival into Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately neither of these signs are indicative of the park you are about to see. This is one of the most visited parks in the United States and I expected the entrance to reflect that. As we passed through the entrance for the first time I thought that these couldn’t possibly the official signs. Every other park we have visited so far had a unique but uniform look fitting of a national park and those parks accommodate fewer visitors each  year.

A More Fitting Entrance Sign to a Large National Park

Yosemite is such a large and incredible park, shouldn’t the entrance reflect that? I’m not expecting anything exceptionally extravagant but something that announces your arrival into such a magnificent park like the above photo shows for the Grand Canyon. There is not even a National Park Service logo on the first entrance sign to Yosemite above. The second sign does include this logo although it is quiet small. In the defense of Yosemite personnel, while looking through photos of other national parks I discovered similar disappointments with the entrance sign. The photo below is of the first entrance sign we encountered at Grand Canyon National Park. Even this one is more significant than either of the signs to Yosemite.

First Entrance Sign to the Grand Canyon

While exploring the visitor center in Yosemite Village we inquired about the entrance signs and were told at least one of the other entrances had a better sign. Unfortunately time constraints and the distance we would have to drive to get pictures of this sign prevented us from seeing it. Experiencing more of the natural features in Yosemite was a higher priority than taking a picture by a better sign. We were also told that there are plans to improve the South Entrance Sign in the future. To see what the other entrance signs looked liked I searched and found this photo below courtesy of ezeiza on flickr. A much nicer sign but still not as significant as might be expected at a park like Yosemite

Yosemite Entrance Sign by ezeiza on flickr

Backpacking Tips Continued….

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-Take a moment to realize how little you actually need to live while you’re hiking and surviving on only the things you can carry on your back. There are so many distractions in life that we begin to believe are necessary filling houses with so much stuff to occupy our time. It’s nice to live in a simple manner if only for a few days. These few days of simple living can also serve as reminder to appreciate the comforts of home.

-One aspect of taking a backpacking trip that no one mentioned to me ahead of time was training for it. Adding a 40 pound backpack to your weight instantly puts a lot of stress on your body especially while walking up and down hills, over rocks and trees, and any other obstacles on the trail. Some methods of training include putting on the pack and running, using a Stairmaster while wearing the pack, or just go hiking on local trails with your pack on. You make think this is not necessary or be a little concerned about what people are thinking as they see you training with a backpack but it will make a huge difference on how much you enjoy your backpacking experience. After completing the first hiking trip I entered a conversation with more experience backpackers on what they do to get ready for the physical endurance required. Two of these included ex Marines that agreed backpacking is tougher than the training in the military regarding carry packs. In the military training may include running with a 40 pound pack for 10 miles but these miles are on flat, smooth surfaces. The trail is very rarely flat and smooth!

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-Take a few moments and just be. What does this mean? Sit or stand still and close your eyes to listen to all the activity that is going on around you. The breeze moving leaves, critters rustling around, birds fluttering, a deer off in the distance. After a few minutes open your eyes to the amazing vista you came to visit. Just listen and feel yourself breathing: your heart pumping, lungs inhaling and exhaling the fresh air, your muscles aching reminding you of the feats your accomplishing. Realize how few people actually get to experience this solitude of the wilderness. People call these the simple pleasures in life. I believe these are reminders of the great and necessary things in life.

I hope these tips help you understand what is involved in a backpacking trip so that you are better prepared and most of all enjoy your first experience.

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To read more about my first experience check out these articles:

An Easy National Parks Trip?

Isle Royale Preparations Update

A Night on Isle Royale…or Three