All about People and Their Limits

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 30, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Monday morning, following a long Cascade Crest weekend filled with 100-mile runners and 36 hours of ham radio operation, Homey just didn’t get it.

“What’s the point?  A hundred and some people try to run 100 miles over dirt, rocks, downed trees and gravel roads.  And you and 40 of your radio buddies try to keep track of them from place to place while a hundred other people provide food and first aid at those places up there around Easton.  What’s in it for you?  What’s the point?  It’s crazy.  I don’t get it.”

Still lagging a bit from a weekend of all night and day radio work, I struggled for a moment with his consternation.  How do you explain the privilege of supporting men and women who are testing the boundaries of their spirits and their bodies?  How do you explain the determination of a runner who has made almost 74 miles and just can’t continue through the pain of feet and muscles, but does…or the joy of someone who has completed that 73.9 miles for the first time and smiles his or her way up and over the hill to the finish?  Finally, I turned to him with his own history lesson.

“How many times have you told me about you and your boy spending two days getting a big elk out of the bottom of that deep draw in the L.T. Murray?  Six or eight?  And how does your story always end?  You say something like, ‘Boy, that day we learned what we could accomplish if we stuck to it…’  Well, I think that all of us, at some point, need to know the limits of what we can accomplish.  There are countless ways we seek and find those limits, and runs like the Cascade Crest 100 provide one of them.  As to why we go play radio while the runners push their limits, it’s pretty simple for me; ham radio is fun, of course, but it’s the same sense I had when I was teaching at Central—it is an honor to support people who are figuring out why they came to the planet.”

This was a great year for the run through some of the most beautiful scenery in Paradise.  155 people started the race.  117 of them finished it.  This was the largest field of runners in the 15 years of the endurance run, and the percentage of finishers has only been matched once.  New race coordinator Rich White and his crew of race officials and aid station personnel, working in concert with the ham operators controlling the net from the Easton Fire Station and all the hams out in the hills did a great job of keeping runners safe and counted.  It takes a lot of people to manage an event like this and it came off without a troublesome glitch.  We got lucky.

Diane and I worked the Mineral Creek Aid Station (milepost 73.9—one of 15 stations along the 100 miles), as we have each year since 2007.  Aside from the wild berries, the runners and the camaraderie of the aid station crew, there is something about spending a crisp late August night in the Cascades that draws us back.  Then, too, there are the individual stories.

The story I share most often goes back to our first year working the race.  A woman, likely in her early 40s, jogged up to our food table, grabbed a handful of candy, a piece of fruit, poured down a half cup of warm potato soup and took a sip of Coke.  At that point she stepped back, looked at our sign saying she was at 73.9 miles, half-smiled and said, “Cool… only a marathon left.”

Every runner has a story of course, but two of this years’ are iconic, I think.

Hans-Deiter Weisshaar, is a German runner who has competed for years in the Cascade Crest Ultramarathon.  More than that, he has completed over a hundred of these 100-mile races.  He finished this year’s race in around 31 hours, 109th of the 117 finishers.  Oh, yeah.  Hans is 73.

Runner number 44 arrived at Mineral Creek a few hours before daylight.  He could hardly move.  His feet were blistered and raw, he hurt, and he was cold, cold.  There seemed little likelihood that he could go on, but we left him to make that call.  He would wait for daylight, he insisted.  The aid crew wrapped him in blanket after blanket, gave him warm sustenance and handed him several hand warmers.  He leaned to one side in the folding chair, eyes closed and still in his cocoon of covers, for an hour, and another—and another.  At some point, as daylight filled our draw, he stirred.  He looked around and said something about needing to work on his feet.  I turned to handle a radio call, and when that task was finished, I heard “Runner 44, out,” meaning he was leaving the aid station.

We watched him head up the hill, looked at each other, and knew he would make it.  He had been on that chair for three hours and 31 minutes.  Several hours later, back at Easton, at the start and finishing point of the race, we watched #44 Allan Dushan, of White Salmon, cross the finish line.  He was the 90th runner to do so.

It is an honor to share time with people fully experiencing their lives, outdoors.

 

All about Today’s Bigfoot Interest

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 23, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Homey was nosing into our sockeye trip to Lake Wenatchee.  “So, that’s where your brother Brad saw those ‘Bigfoot’ guys years ago, right?  And that’s your interest, right?  And you guys were at the head of the lake, near the White River, so didn’t you really go to look around?  So…  Did you see any tracks?  You went to look, right?  When are you going to write about them—the Yakamas’ ‘stone throwers,’ huh?”

I so badly wanted to tell him of some secret mission up our sleeves, and crank up his blood pressure a bit.  I hated to disabuse him of the notion that Brandon and I were chasing Bigfoot, but I just didn’t have the time to properly exploit his interest.  “Sorry,” I finally said.  “We were just fishing.”

Still, I certainly have an abiding interest in Bigfoot and the rapidly growing body of both serious and silly research surrounding its existence.  The TV series, published research and dozens of YouTube videos about the critter surround us. I grabbed my current files.

If you have thought about this stuff at all, you probably know about Jeff Meldrum, an anatomy and anthropology professor at Idaho State University.  His Pocatello lab arguably holds North America’s biggest collection of footprint casts, hair samples and other associated evidence.  He often says that the Bigfoot work came to him—he was not looking for it.  His lab did extensive animal testing for species identification, so maybe it was inevitable at some level.

His interest in the Bigfoot mystery was triggered by an apparent hoax involving footprints near Walla Walla at the end of the last century.  He returned on his own to the tracks in question and made casts of other nearby sets of prints.  With the eye of an anatomy pro, he found unique marks on his plaster casts which suggested the tracks were not part of a hoax.

Then Jimmy Chilcutt, a crime scene investigator from Conroe, Texas, heard the story of Meldrum’s foot casts, and came to look for himself.  Chilcutt was a prints guy, with an expertise in fingerprints developed over an 18 year career.  He had, for several years, been studying foot prints of humans and primates in hopes of developing new tools for distinguishing individual footprint patterns.  After Meldrum turned him loose in the foot cast collection and left, Chilcutt quickly decided that the prints were indeed from some actual primate—not faked.

Meldrum, with a bit of trepidation, started down a serious Bigfoot research path, with Jimmy Chilcutt as a strong and expert ally.  Thus, Meldrum’s very thorough collection of footprint casts and hair samples, as well as some body fluids collected from various sightings and interactions.

In late June, Meldrum was in Portland, raising money for The Falcon Project.  This project involves outfitting an unmanned and highly maneuverable helium-filled airship with a platform of thermal-imaging and high resolution wireless video gear.  The project will feature a sleek, quiet Aurora Mk II airship, able to approach and observe critters with minimal disturbance of their natural behavior.  It can survey in dense forest with a vertical look, and can move quickly enough to keep up with a subject.  The gyro-stabilized camera mounts and remote operation equipment are specifically designed for such tasks.  Given the nocturnal, reclusive and wary nature of the species, Meldrum has high hopes for this novel high-tech approach.

Meldrum has been at his task for nearly two decades.  His book “Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science,” was published in 2006 by Forge Books, with a paperback in 2007 from St. Martin’s Press.  He’s published numerous papers and now edits an online journal, The Relict Hominoid Inquiry (at www.isu.edu/rhi).  He is fully committed to the research.

Others are serious, too.  Professor Bryan Sykes, a human geneticist from Oxford is conducting a critical DNA study of hair samples said to be from Sasquatch as part of the Oxford-Luassane Collateral Hominid Project.

You may recall that, in January of this year, veterinarian Melba S. Ketchum reported on her team’s five-year study of more than 100 DNA samples that she believes are from the elusive hairy beast.  At DNA Diagnostics, Inc., in Nacogdoches, Texas, they tested mostly hair, but also blood, urine and saliva samples.  She is a believer.  Based on the DNA testing, her team concluded that Bigfoot may be the result of a cross between Homo sapiens and some unknown primate—a cross that happened some 15,000 years ago.  The research is now said to be under the scrutiny of independent researchers.  Time will tell.

Robert Michael Pyle speaks seriously of his experience.  A Denver friend tells her Sasquatch story with elaborate detail.

Brother Brad is the coolest person I have ever seen under pressure.  He has been credited with saving lives on mountains and ice that were about to collapse.  He saw Bigfoot crossing the White River decades ago.  I would take it to the bank.

The interest will keep growing, I think.  Check the web.  Happy late summer.

National Parks–Here and over There

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 18, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Homey was explaining about his upcoming drive.  “We are going to spend some time in Yellowstone… Do some National Park things and see some wild stuff.”  “Cool,” I said, “Just stay on the roads.”

I love Yellowstone.  I still savor the times my now-grownups and I camped, fished, hiked and looked there.  That brief conversation, however, got me thinking about the last national park I was in—it was Pribaikalsky National Park.

Pribaikalsky National Park is in Siberia.  It was founded in 1986 with the intention of preserving and protecting Lake Baikal’s western shoreline, including storied Olkhon Island.  That national park designation pairs with the region’s 1996 designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As Diane and I and friend/colleague Elaine Glenn planned schedule detail after schedule detail of our train trip across Russia, Mongolia and a piece of Northeast China, we set aside enough time in Irkutsk to make an overnight trek to Lake Baikal and Olkhon Island.  What geographer would miss that chance?

Lake Baikal is the oldest (about 25 million years) and deepest (nearly 6000 feet) lake in the world.  It is also, by volume, the largest lake in the world, holding about 20% of the fresh liquid water on the planet.  It is deep, is amazingly clear and is cold, cold.

Olkhon is the biggest island in Lake Baikal and, actually, the biggest “lake” island in the world. It is about 45 miles long and nine miles wide.  There is not a paved road on the island—most of them are what we might call jeep trails—especially after a rain.  It has no landline phones, but reasonable cell service and fairly reliable electricity.  There are five villages on the island and a year-round population of about 1,500, swelling to thousands during the peak of tourist season (we were a bit early for that).  We would overnight in Khuzir, the largest village, and explore the island’s steppe and boreal forest (taiga) landscapes, bays, capes, cliffs and sandy beaches from there.

There is a good variety of wildlife in the region, including elk and white-tailed deer, bears and unique critters like the nerpa—the Lake Baikal fresh water seal.  Several couple dozen fish species are found in the lake, including lenok and taimen—large Asian trout/salmon species—and grayling, pike and sturgeon.  We were most interested in the iconic food fish of the region—the Baikal omul, a type of whitefish—and did enjoy a rolled and filled omul filet in Irkutsk.

Long story short, we booked a couple days with an English-speaking guide and his Toyota Land Cruiser.  There are dozens of B & B options in Khuzir, and we picked Olkhonskaya Terema Guest House.  Once off the Trans-Siberian and settled into our hotel in Irkutsk, we piled into Ivan’s Land Cruiser and headed north.  250 km later, we were queued up for the hour or so wait for our ferry ride to the island.

Olkhon Island is an ancient shamanistic land of the Buryat People.  There are certain rituals associated with a safe and happy journey there.  Thus, we stopped at a hilltop shrine, made an offering, tipped a sip of a Buriatia balsamic liqueur, and headed to Khuzir.  At our B & B, we ate fresh bread, cereals, vegetables and grayling cakes—simple and tasty meals.

Our 20-mile trip to the northern tip of the island was a great adventure.  We picked up our entry permit for the journey (it was Pribaikalsky National Park after all).  As we left Khuzir, we passed a large colorful sign similar to what I might expect at the entrance to a national forest or park in the US.  It included, among others, a picture of a vehicle with a red line through it.  A hundred yards later was a propped open gate.  We, and several other touring SUVs, went on.

It had been raining for a couple days, and whether we were crossing the broad steppe grasslands or churning through the taiga forests, we were seriously four-wheeling.  On the grasslands, we might slip and slither our way down a slope, cross the creek and tear up the other side on one or another of ten recently cut tracks up the hill.  In the forest, it the road became too rutted or muddy, Ivan simply found another way through the trees.  Amidst my inner conflict about the road business, we stood in fog atop amazing cliffs, hiked steep rocky trails, looked across the biggest lake in the world and had a great cookout at the extreme end of the island.

I hoped to see wildlife.  We saw two ground squirrels, a large number of free-ranging Buryat cattle and a couple dozen Mongolian horses.  We saw a few birds and fishermen with omul.  Ivan said there were elk on the island, but the closest we got was a five point shed leaning up against an old house at one of the Soviet Era prison camps we drove through.  We talked about humans and their use of such beautiful country.

As we drove out past that sign, I turned to Ivan.  “You know, Ivan, in the US that symbol of a car with the line through it means ‘no vehicles’ and they would shoot us for tearing up the trails and making new ones.”  “Yeah, same here,” he smiled, “that’s why we pay for the ‘entry permits.’  And the gate is what they close if the parks guys need more money—then we have to pay again to get out.  We are doing better now but it is still Russia, you know.”

That’s what I know about Russian national parks.

Of Sockeye and Brandon; Of Yakamas and Salmon

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 9, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

During last Saturday’s classes of ’58 through ’62 Eastmont High reunion picnic on Lake Chelan—in the middle of a reverie on dozens of such picnics as a kid—Brandon Rogers called.

“Jim,” he said, “I’m fishing sockeye on Lake Wenatchee, and could stand some company tomorrow morning.  Wanna come fishing?”  Brandon is a sockeye nut.  He had just shifted his focus from chasing the sockeye returning to Baker Lake to the just opened fishery at Lake Wenatchee.  One of the things about sockeye fishing, of course, is that wherever you pursue them, the scenery is spectacular—and there are fish.  Arm twisted, I said, “Sure.”

By 5:08 Sunday morning, we were heading up the lake.  Within minutes, we had a nice salmon in the net.  Soon after that, we managed the first double of the times we’ve fished sockeye on Lake Wenatchee.  By 5:50, we were finished fishing for the day.  We cleaned our fish and settled the boat down, then drove down to the Squirrel Tree Restaurant to wait for the opening bell.

I’ve known Brandon, and wife Margo, since they were geography students at Central.  They were always (probably still are) about one breath away from bolting for a stream or a lake or the hills.  If they weren’t hitting books, they were studying afield; that put them in my “heroes” category.

Margo has developed a career helping scientists solve problems by understanding the spatial relationships of the issues which vex them.  Brandon is a fisheries guy, managing salmon habitat projects for the Yakama Nation.

Over breakfast, we caught up a bit on family, old professors, careers and retirement, and then returned to our long-standing conversation about fishing, salmon and the role of the Yakamas.

30 years ago, Chinook in the Yakima were gone.  In response to diminishing returns, the four tribes which carried out subsistence fishing in the Columbia System—led by the Yakamas—had already voluntarily quit fishing the spring and summer Chinook runs.  At the insistence of the tribes, commercial Columbia River fishing for springers and summer kings ended.  Biologists mostly agreed that heavy commercial fishing, poor irrigation water management in spawning areas, and the last of the Columbia Basin dams had pretty much wiped out the salmon stocks.

Around 1980, many biologists spoke out for shutting down all salmon fisheries to rebuild stocks, but large-scale ocean fishing and non-Indian fishing continued well into the ‘80s, as did year-round seasons for anadromous species on the Columbia.  The weight of the threatened runs overrode the political value of keeping the seasons, and changes were made.

During 1980, the state sued the Yakamas to stop all subsistence fishing not already voluntarily stopped.  The state used “conservation concerns” to support its case, and remaining tribal ceremonial and subsistence fishing was shut down for two years.

Then, the Klickitat irrigation district announced plans to essentially drain the river for its needs, thus wiping out another “usual and accustomed” Yakama fishery.  This time, the Yakamas used the “conservation concerns” argument to sue and stop the complete removal of the water.

During the same time period, Cle Elum dam was shut down to preserve irrigation water.  That closure virtually destroyed the redds (salmon spawning “nests”) in the Yakima, and killed any smolts (salmon young) which were trying to move down river.  Watching this was Bob Tuck, a Central grad and fisheries biologist for the Yakama Nation.  He argued for keeping the Cle Elum open to protect the redds and smolts, and closing off other dams which did not hover over critical salmon habitat.  In response, the state and feds refused to release water and withheld salmon eggs—future salmon—from the Indians.  The Yakamas put their treaty rights on the line.

Those treaty rights were upheld by the courts, all the way up.  Appropriate flows were kept in the streams and salmon eggs were shared.  The Indians committed to “gravel to gravel” management, protecting salmon through their complete life cycle.  Better management of impounded irrigation water proved more than sufficient.  Our salmon story changed.

The Yakamas= Cle Elum hatchery facility has returned spring Chinook salmon.  The Coho which were gone from the Yakima and extinct in the Snake River system are returning, along with populations in the Clearwater of Idaho.  The Yakama, Umatilla and Nez Perce work closely with state and feds and each other.

Sockeye salmon are coming home.  The offspring of the fish released in Lake Cle Elum in 2009 returned this summer, after four years in the ocean, to make more sockeye.  Other lakes will see them, too.

Together, irrigators, power districts, sport fishers and Indians are restoring this missing piece of the life web to our river basins.  There are still those who don=t like splitting the salmon harvest between Indians and sport fishers, but the bottom line is this: if the Yakamas hadn’t put their treaty rights on the line, we would have no anadromous fish in the Columbia Basin to share.

Scenery, sockeye and good conversation over breakfast in the hills; it was a great morning.

The Chukar Run and the Future of Public Access

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 2, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

The Chukar Run, Kittitas County Field and Stream Club’s annual celebration and fundraising banquet, happens a week from tomorrow.  If you have any interest whatsoever in accessing your (public) ground in the county, be there.

The Kittitas County Field and Stream Club (KCF&SC) is the oldest outdoor-oriented club in the state.  Since 1919, the outdoor lives and traditions of most families in the county have been touched by one club activity or another.  Through almost a hundred years, thousands of outdoor-minded men and women have actively supported the clubs motto: “Working today for tomorrow’s wildlife!”

Supporting that motto has taken dozens of forms, and has evolved into work to protect the public’s ability to enjoy wildlife and nature on its own land.  It is ever more important.

The club sends hundreds of kids to camp, and supports outdoor training in camping, fishing and hunting.

Life members of the club offer a college scholarship ($1,500) to high school graduates in the county who are taking up an outdoor related field.

The club has been the biggest supporter (financial and otherwise) of the Kittitas County Big Game Management Roundtable.  The Roundtable found solutions to ongoing game damage problems in the valley—solutions which continue improving relationships with ag producers.

Kittitas Field and Stream has long sponsored the Eyes in the Woods program—to better look after lands and critters.  Trained volunteers have had an impact on curbing illegal and unethical activities.

Annually, club members pick up tons of yahoo trash on Durr Road.

The Field and Stream Club pioneered hunter education classes more than 50 years ago.  That training in safe hunting and firearm handling is a big deal—and it saves lives.  More than 4,000 youngsters have graduated from club-sponsored classes.

From L.T. Murray development to creation of the Naneum State Forest, the club and its members have been deep in virtually every public land discussion and decision.  That involvement is more critical than ever, and club officers, directors and members are swarming the plate.

Access to public ground—our ground—has fallen under greater threat over the last couple years than at any time in the past century.  KCFSC is not putting up with it.

In the 1980s, the Club worked with the state agencies, business, and the outdoor community on an agreement to close roughly half the roads on public ground around Paradise.  Part of that agreement was that no additional closures would occur in the future.  Fast forward to 2013; proposed and actual closures are popping up all over ground we own—at the hands of those hired to manage our land.

A “temporary” winter closure has become a de facto semi-permanent (and planned permanent) closure—even though promised regular “public involvement” meetings never happened.  Two widely used roads in the Quilomene—Stray and Takison—were proposed for closure.  KCF&SC officers thought they were negotiating to keep them open during the first few months of this year.  In April, a member of the club noticed from his airplane that the roads had been closed with large boulders and a bulldozer.  As it turns out, the recently released Road Management Area Map for the Whiskey Dick/Quilomene—which was updated in January—showed the roads closed.  Now, I hear murmuring about how those closed roads are hindering fighting the big Colockum Tarps wildfire on this critical winter habitat.

Those issues are just the beginning.  Homeys often spoke of playing “Whack-A-Mole” with sudden and unexpected road and access closures on their public land.  It reached the point that Club officers, directors and members began mobilizing the community.

The community responded.  In days, more than 550 homeys signed a petition opposing the closures.  The Ellensburg City Council, Chamber of Commerce and County Commissioners prepared and sent letters.  Our legislative delegation worked to garner support statewide and successfully moved a budget proviso with closure controls through the governor’s signature.  It’s a start.

Field and Stream has stood the outdoor user’s ground in Paradise for nearly a hundred years.  It still stands that ground.  Today, the issue is access—continuing access to your ground.

The struggle for access, and the public’s right to have a voice in decisions about it, will continue. And so will the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club’s work.  This is really for our kids and grandkids and their outdoor heritage.

If you spend time on your land around the valley, this is your struggle, too.  The Club needs your help and support.

The banquet and auction celebration is a week from tomorrow.  You will never make a better investment than the $25 each to get you and your cohort into a terrific meal and an important evening.  Get tickets from board members, Arnold’s Ranch & Home, Sure Shot Guns and Archery, Old Mill Country Store, Shaw’s Furniture and Appliance or get them online at www.kittitasfieldandstream.org/.  Come to the banquet.

It’s for now and for tomorrow—for wildlife, for open land, and for your ability to access them.