Hiking Report – Saddle Mountain

I’m really loving summer in the Pacific Northwest. Still in my first summer here, this past weekend (July 29th to be precise) I just went on my third hike.

This time, I brought my friend (and coworker), JB. I had been eyeing Silver Star Mountain in Washington for my next hike, but then out of the blue, he asked me if I wanted to hike Saddle Mountain. I hadn’t seen it when researching hikes and climbs, but lo and behold, it was fairly close to Portland, and happened to be similar in length and difficulty to my last couple hikes.

It didn’t take much convincing. It looked like a good hike, with some great views.

So, Sunday morning, JB picked me up from my home in downtown Portland, and we headed west on 26, through Beaverton and Hillsboro, past the western edges of the Portland metro, and out into the countryside. Unfortunately for us, plenty of other Portlanders were heading west as well, likely making their way to the coast to escape the heat. We slogged through 25 mph traffic (with 45 to 60 mph speed limits) until we finally made our turn just 15 miles or so from the coast – about two hours after we started.

Seven miles north along the narrow and winding Saddle Mountain State Park Road finally brought us to the parking lot at the trailhead. The lot was fairly crowded, but we managed to find a space at around 12:30 in the early afternoon. No permits or fees were required to park, either. There were a bunch of semi-drunk college bros making lots of noise in and around the lot, but they were fairly easy to ignore.

We set off pretty quickly. The path picks up from the trailhead, moving pretty straight through the woods – starting at an elevation of around 1700 feet above sea level. On either side of the trail are a handful of pre-made campsites. It starts off sloping fairly gently upward, gradually curving from a southeasterly direction to the first sharp switchbacks as it turns north toward the first of the two summits.


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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The forest is dense, with plenty of heavy foliage in the early going. The trail itself was fairly wide, albeit with some narrow spots.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

JB and I made pretty good time at the beginning. The high temperature that day was expected to hit the high 90s back in Portland, but at that point, in the shady forest, it wasn’t too bad.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

In the first half hour, the trail was never excessively steep, though we did gain altitude fairly quickly.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After a time, we were high enough on the flank of the south end of the mountain that we could get an impressive view of the valley as we hit clearings.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

With each switchback, the view only got better. The trail was surrounded by lush plant growth, albeit with occasional dead spots.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

JB and I continued our trek up the the path. The trail was mostly dirt, but plenty of rock was strewn about to help encourage twisted ankles.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

We kept up a fairly brisk pace without rushing.

There was a decent amount of traffic going up and down, but never enough to feel crowded.

Shortly after the one mile marker, the trail started getting steeper.

It also became more exposed, spending less time winding through the woods, and more time running alongside the cliff face.

We also observed something the Oregon Hikers page warned us about – that there was extensive chain link fencing embedded into the trail itself – specifically in the steeper and more exposed sections.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

This fencing was amazing in terms of providing traction in those steep areas. We would later observe that it was even better on the way back down. Areas that would have caused me to slip and slide on other hikes were easily traversed – often far faster than I otherwise would have managed. In fact, there were points where it almost felt like cheating.

However, the fencing was harsh for bare feet – which is why that Oregon Hikers page recommended that people avoid bringing their dogs up the mountain.

As JB and I made our way up the trail, we noted that the fencing seemed like it would be harsh on some dog’s paws.

And yet, plenty of people had dogs with them on this hike. Some dogs appeared to handle the fencing better than others – though it did come up as an issue later on.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As we came around the west end of the southern peak, we dipped into the woods a couple more times.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At one point, we came across a narrow wooden bridge stretching over a 30 foot or so gap.

As you can see in the photo, the bridge had partially warped over to one side. The wood itself was quite slick, and my hiking boots were absolutely zero help gripping the surface.

Naturally, both JB and I started sliding to the dipped edge of the bridge.

What arrested our descent was not some sort of thoughtful repair, but instead, a wooden plank nailed on one side. Our footwear caught the board, and allowed us to stagger across. It was not the most elegant solution to the problem, but we managed to handle it.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

We neared the summit of the lower peak (kinda), but ultimately edged around it, still a few hundred feet short of the top. We slipped back into the woods for one final jaunt, then came out into the open – and there was our goal – the north summit. And dammit, we had to drop back down a couple hundred feet, then back up… well, many hundreds of feet more. We were in the saddle part of Saddle Mountain.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

And there were some gorgeous views while we traversed the saddle.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

We started back up. And the pictures really don’t do justice to the scale. The final push was reeeeally steep. It wore us out as we slogged up the path.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

It was exposed and hot, with the sun blaring down on us.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

We ended up taking a few breaks on the final summit push. I had been pausing to take photos periodically, but at this point, every pause was just to catch my breath.

Of course, it may not have been all that strenuous to someone in better condition than myself. Like that little puffball Pomeranian that trotted up to the summit just behind us (yes, it had people walking it).

That final hump of the saddle probably took us only 15 or so minutes, but it felt significantly longer.

However, our patience and tenacity was rewarded with some stunning views from the top. To the west, we could just barely see a sliver of ocean, though it was partially blocked by haze. Summer fire season at work. To the north was another hazy view of the Columbia River, and Astoria.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Directly south of the summit (and about 50 feet down) was a short ridge with another trail. JB and I briefly discussed taking a detour and checking it out on our way back down, but neither of us were feeling that energetic at that point.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Just west of the observation area (enclosed by a metal railing) was another rocky chunk that a few intrepid hikers climbed around on. I declined to step too far out onto it, as it was quite exposed, with some pretty serious drops on three sides. But it looked pretty.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Here I am, very sweaty, and fairly tired. I didn’t look great, but I felt pretty satisfied.

Also, note that I brought a bit of my hometown with me on my shirt.

KC isn’t exactly a climbing mecca, which is one reason I’m glad I moved.

But all the same, sometimes one needs to rep the hometown.

Anyway, after an appropriate time resting and gawking at the view, JB and I skirted around the college kids hanging out on the summit, and started making our way back down.

As I referenced before, the fencing embedded into the steeper parts of the trail was a huge help on the way back down. JB and I made it fairly quickly down to the bottom of the saddle once more.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Heading back up the south section was brutal, but once we got going steadily downhill, we were able to take our time and pick our way down, chatting and joking as we went.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

We made it back to the big exposed area on the south end of the south summit, and trudged down the trail.

At one point, we came across two hikers and their dog, a massive German Shepherd mix laying on her side, breathing hard, with her feet wrapped in handkerchiefs and rags. We asked the hikers what happened. Apparently it was a combination of heat exhaustion and damage to her paws from the fencing on the trail. We offered to try to help carry her down the trail, but they informed us they had already called fire and rescue, who had claimed a 30 minute ETA. We pondered trying to use a spare t-shirt as a hammock to try to carry the dog, but it seemed likely to tear, as well as be difficult to handle. It sucked walking away, but they told us they preferred we keep moving. So we did.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I should note when we finally came across the fire department volunteers hiking up past us, it had already been longer than half an hour. We also were skeptical that their big one wheel off-road stretcher dealie would have been easy to wrestle across that slippery bridge… but it was out of our hands at that point.

A little after 3 pm, we staggered back to the parking lot. It had been a fun hike, with some amazing (albeit hazy) views. It was also a little more intense than we expected.

Compared with my recent hikes, I would say Saddle Mountain is quite a bit faster and easier than Mount Defiance, but maybe on par with Dog Mountain. It’s a little shorter than Dog Mountain, but has a tougher final push.

In a couple weeks, I’ll be (hopefully) heading out to Silver Star Mountain, and if all goes well, at the end of the month will be my attempt on the South Sister. I will almost certainly be posting my reports of those hikes here.

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Hiking Report – Mount Defiance

This is my account of my hike up the Mount Defiance-Starvation Ridge Loop – or, how I learned to stop worrying and drag myself up and down a really big hill.

So, I promised to do this one again. Well, this blog feature.

The Dog Mountain hike back on my birthday got that hiking bug going again. I’m hooked, and I need my fix. Fortunately, the peak of the last one provided a great view of my next target.

Right across the Columbia River, just an hour(ish) east of Portland, sits the hulking mass of Mount Defiance, the remnants of an old shield volcano looming up against the river.

Mt. Defiance has a reputation for being a particularly grueling hike – arguably the toughest in the Columbia River Gorge. Naturally, this intrigued me. After all, Dog Mountain was reported to be somewhat taxing, and I handled it fairly well, so what’s so hard about a longer version of the same thing?

Yeah, you can see where this is going.

First of all, it’s amazing what just a couple weeks of time can do to insulate one to the memories of hardship. The Dog Mountain hike wasn’t the most intense I’ve experienced – but it wasn’t easy. My leg muscles were sore for days after, and my ankles are still experiencing twinges from when I kept rolling them on the way down. A lot of that was due to my lack of conditioning – but also – these hikes aren’t easy.

And Mount Defiance was significantly harder than Dog Mountain. Those who said it was a rough one weren’t joking. Naturally, what I really wanted was the longer version of the hike – first up Mt. Defiance along the Mt. Defiance Trail, then back down along the Starvation Ridge Trail, creating a nearly 13 mile loop. Almost 5,000 feet of gain, followed by 5,000 feet back down. It sounded a bit daunting, but mostly just fun. And again, with the hard parts of Dog Mountain fading into memory, the daunting aspect wasn’t my primary concern.

Overconfidence is a silly thing.

Anyway, let’s get into it.

Last Saturday, (Happy Bastille Day!), I drove east along the Columbia River, and arrived at the Starvation Creek Trailhead, about 50 minutes from downtown Portland. It was 6:30 in the morning, and the parking area was quiet. There’s a decent bathroom facility at the site, with a water fountain. There are multiple trails that lead off from the trailhead, but the one I wanted led down along the highway, back the way I came.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I tightened my boots, stuffed my pockets with protein bars, strapped on my water pack, and posed dramatically. Well, for a moment. Then I looked around self-consciously, because I realized I looked really silly.

And I started off. Down the path I went!

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Um, the paved, level path, running along a major highway. Huh. Well, the Defiance trail runs about a half a mile along the road, shaded with trees. It feels like an urban park for a short while. It’s almost idyllic.

After a short distance, I came across another path connecting with this one. It came from the woods to my left, and is currently blocked off with barriers and signs, warning of danger.

That’s a good point to briefly segue here. Late last summer, the Eagle Creek Fire burned around 50,000 acres of forest throughout the Gorge. A 15 year old was playing with fireworks during a particularly dry time of the year, and… well, the kid screwed up. Even now, 10 months later, many trails and hiking areas are still closed to the public. The eastern border of one of the closed zones is literally my southern leg of this hike. So it made sense that other parts of the trail might be closed.

Now, the section in question was the Starvation Ridge Cutoff – which would come up for me later on. But for now, scary signs told me to keep out. I wasn’t heading that way anyway, but it was a glaring reminder of the damage that can be done by a single careless person. So kids, listen to Smoky the Bear, or something.

I carried on down the nice clean path that wasn’t burned to a crisp. As I walked in the early morning light, enjoying temperatures in the low 50s Fahrenheit, I heard a loud screech over my head. It took me a second to realize what I was looking at, but there was an actual bald eagle soaring past me, heading along the path before veering right toward the river. The thing was huge! I wasn’t sure whether or not I should salute, or alert the FAA.

I looked up past the eagle, and got a glimpse of my immediate future. The mountain loomed over me.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Further down this path, on the left side, was my first waterfall of the hike. Cabin Creek Falls, a multi-tiered, 220 foot fall, was partly hidden by a huge boulder, that created a natural enclosure for the pool at the bottom.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Finally, after the surprisingly long jaunt along the highway (still at river level), the path veered off to the left, away from I-84 and into the woods.

At this point, there still was no significant elevation change. The pavement remained for another few hundred feet, when the path passed through a picnic area.

A lone hiker passed me coming the other way, looking pretty disheveled. I hoped that it wasn’t a sign that the trail would be overly crowded. I also hoped it wasn’t a sign I would look that rough by the time I reached the end.

Past the picnic area, the trail continued feeling like an urban park.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Finally, the trail got interesting, as I came up on my second waterfall of the day.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Hole in the Wall Falls, a 95 foot high man-made waterfall loomed behind a small wooden footbridge.

This particular waterfall was created as a tunnel diverting water from Warren Creek higher up the mountain, to prevent the creek from damaging I-84.

Considering it was created back in 1938, it seems like a fairly impressive piece of engineering. But more importantly, it acts as a lovely backdrop, as well as sort of a gateway to the serious start of this hike.

Because as soon as I crossed the footbridge, the path turned rougher, and became far more vertical than what I’d been experiencing. After a short while, I found myself

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

in the powerline corridor. The Starvation Ridge Trail junction came into view. This was

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

where the return leg of my journey would meet back up with this part of the trail.

According to the really handy guide on oregonhikers.org (they aren’t paying me, I swear), this was where the real fun was about to begin.

Well, pretty soon. The steep switchbacks where still a few minutes away.

And as I entered more exposed parts of the path, I got some great views of the Columbia River Gorge, including my old pal Dog Mountain, over on the Washington side. In the early morning light, there was a serene quality to the view that I can’t quite articulate.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After gawking at my old friend, I had one more waterfall to contend with.

I came upon Lancaster Falls, another two-tiered waterfall system. This one was technically the largest of the three, but from my vantage point, I could only see the relatively short (maybe 20 feet) lower tier. The 250 foot high upper tier was apparently best viewed from a weigh station about 200 feet below me. Well, that wasn’t an option.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

You know what else wasn’t an option? Staying dry.

So, to backtrack slightly, I was spoiled by the Dog Mountain hike. Other than a brief issue in the woods on the far side of the summit, I never had a problem staying on the trail there.

Mount Defiance, I quickly learned, was a bit different. Technically, the trail I was taking this day runs as a complete loop up the mountain, around the summit, and then back down along Starvation Ridge. But there are spots when the trail seemingly disappears, and one had to clamber around on rougher terrain to locate the trail on the other side. Further up the mountain, this took the shape of talus fields, which I’ll be talking about later. At this point, it was the 50 foot (or so) wide basin of Lancaster Falls. I was annoyed at myself as I spent probably five solid minutes bouncing around on the east side of the basin, trying to find the spot the trail continued. After some time, feeling embarrassed despite being alone, I noticed the trail picked up again – past the boulders and ankle-deep pools underneath the falls. There was a slight slope to the basin, and I suppose a reeealllly reckless person could find themselves slipping and sliding to the edge, which would result in a briefly exhilarating fall into the trees below. But I was cautious, and tend to enjoy not dying on a rock in rural Oregon. So I eased my way across, and picked the trail back up on the other side.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

It wasn’t long before I would get one final gorgeous view of the Gorge looking west, and then the switchbacks finally started. From there, the trail started it’s winding path south to the summit.

And from then on, I just went up.

And up.

And up.

Oh yeah, did I mention I went up?

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I don’t believe I’m in terrible shape, but I’m also not exactly at my best. Plans to ramp up my cardio pre-Dog Mountain were halted after tearing up my ankles on that hike, and I haven’t really picked it back up since. So it wasn’t long before my breath was ragged, my heart felt like a drum solo in my chest, and my legs were burning.

And I was having an absolutely marvelous time. I wasn’t keeping count, but according to the trail guide and my GPS, there were something like 21 switchbacks over the next mile. My still-sore legs (eight days later!) can believe it.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Occasionally, I would get a glimpse of the Gorge through the trees.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trees themselves were gorgeous. Although around switchback number six or seven, I started to notice burn damage on many of the trunks.

There were also plenty of trees on the ground, although not so much that it badly disrupted overall coverage. From what I could tell, most of the fire that burned through this section was ground fire. There were some trees felled, but for the most part it resulted in scorched trunks, but still living trees.

Sometimes I would have to hoist myself up and over a log blocking the path. Sometimes the logs were blackened and charred. I’d pull my hand away and realize that it turned black from the carbon residue. I remember at one point taking a selfie and realizing there were black smudges on my face where I wiped away sweat using my charcoal hands.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

This log provided me a nice step instead of making me vault over.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

A little before 8 am, the switchbacks became less tightly packed, and the slope itself gradually turned less drastically steep. There was less exposure, and the surface felt more like a hill and less like a cliff.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I finally took my first break at around 8:10. I tore into a protein bar and took in the sounds of the birds.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After I stopped moving, I was able to pay more attention to the wilderness around me. By this point, I could no longer clearly hear traffic along the highway.

As I paused, it felt like I was first really paying attention to the fact that I was no longer near “civilization.”

I could see what appeared to be a blue jay, yelling at a squirrel.

A chipmunk saw me and dove under a nearby log.

It’s really amazing what one can observe just by being still and quiet. I think people miss a lot as they go through the bustle of their daily lives. I know I certainly am one of those poor souls… at least much of the time.

Sitting on a log in the woods, with only the sounds of nature around me… it was a clarifying experience. I took so much in that didn’t involve other people, or traffic, or glowing screens.

For a little while, I couldn’t move, because I didn’t want the feeling to end.

Also, my legs were tired.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Anyway, eventually, I dragged myself up off the log, and started trudging back up the mountain. By this point, it was around 8:30, and the slope had straightened out and was heading pretty directly south.

By 9 am, the trail was growing steeper. It was curving through the trees, and with the ash on the ground, felled branches, and lots of leafy debris, it was a little hard to follow for a few minutes.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Not completely sure how this log was staying in this position… Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I was getting tired, and having to take more breaks. I also realized I may not have filled my water pack as far up as I should have, because even though I was trying to sip from it at a measured pace, it was already running low.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

And in the distance behind me, I could start to hear voices. Two hikers were coming up behind me, punctuating the solitude. I could feel myself growing irritated, though much of that may have been fatigue and annoyance at my own lack of preparation.

Still, I wasn’t making terrible time, and I knew I was getting within around a thousand feet in elevation from the summit. Distance was still at least a mile, though.

I continued on. Even though I was dripping with sweat, there was enough of a breeze coming through the trees to keep me from feeling overheated. And I still had enough food and water to keep my going for the time being. I mean, it was just supposed to be a dayhike. I wasn’t on a Himalayan expedition. Not yet, anyway…

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Finally, after rounding the bend on a particularly steep and narrow corner, I came out into a clearing. Forgive the language, but holy shit, was the view incredible. From the northwest corner of the mountain, a bit below the final summit, I could see… well, everything. To the northwest was a clear view of Mount St. Helens, looming in her volcanic, intimidating way. To the east from there was Mount Rainier. I hadn’t realized that I could see that far… and indeed, it was clearly more distant than St. Helens. But there it was. And then, further east still, was Mount Adams, looking pretty much exactly the way a mountain should look. Snow-covered, bulky, but still graceful.

These next few pictures will hardly do the views justice. My battered Samsung phone is hardly a substitute for one’s eyes. But it’s worth posting:

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From left to right – Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams… Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Mt. St. Helens – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As I stood admiring the view – and maybe catching my breath, the voices that had been growing louder behind me came around the corner.

Two other hikers came bounding up. Both were significantly younger and in better shape than I was.

Sort of like how I felt back on Dog Mountain a few weeks back, my irritation with having to share the

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Mt. Rainier – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

mountain with others faded as I actually interacted with them. My introversion is a powerful force – in my own brain. But now and then, people don’t suck quite as hard as I make them out to in my mind.

So, after a very pleasant chat, commenting on the scenery, as well as discussing other hikes, my two fellow hikers moved on, while I scrambled around on some boulders,

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Mt. Adams – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

trying to force my phone into taking better photos.

Also, I may have used that amazing photo-op as an excuse to take yet another break.

Finally, I bid the clearing adieu, and set off after the now-fading voices.

The trail started to narrow, and was winding its way through thick brush. The dirt path ran into a massive rock field. In the climbing parlance, the fields are called talus. Except when they’re called scree. Or something like that. Anyway, I think these were talus fields. Also, along with the loose rocks covering the slopes, the trees were becoming more sparse.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

A little before 11, I came up to the final summit trail, a junction that formed a loop around the summit, and joined back together. I decided to go right, because the guide page said it was longer, prettier, and more difficult. In theory, that would mean the way back would be easier, which I could probably use by that point.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Now would also be a good time to mention that both the fly and bee population of Mt. Defiance were… substantial. And every time I’d hunker down on a rock or log to take a breather, I would feel/hear dozens of the little suckers buzzing around my ears. It wasn’t completely intolerable, but it was annoying.

But I digress.

By 11:00, I was firmly on the big talus fields that covered the west side of the summit. It was bright, exposed, and a bit unnerving. Also – it was gorgeous to see. I’m glad I decided to take the full loop around the summit, because I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

There were a couple sections of the talus that had paths built in, but there were a couple others that were just the boulders, and I had to scramble along them until I figured out where the trail picked up on the other side.

It was about this time, as I stopped to admire Mount St. Helens to the northwest, that another hiker overtook me on the boulders. At least twenty years older than me, with a pair of hiking poles, he appeared to move slow and robotically… but somehow was ripping along the rocks without a sign of stress. If I weren’t annoyed at being passed by an old guy, I’d be impressed.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

So, as I tried to shove away my own neuroses, nature once again decided to work its magic in distracting me.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I lurched around the bend, now on the south side of the summit loop. And there was Mount Hood, being the perfect mountain once again (sorry, Mt. Adams, I still love you).

I paused on yet another talus field, just above a massive forest, and took in the sight of Hood. I’m normally used to seeing the mountain from the other side – and a bit further away. This was a nice change. One day, I’d like to get a crack at Hood, but since Mount Defiance was kicking my ass on a dayhike, I’d imagine it will be some time before I’m ready for that one.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Eventually, I pressed on, now turning back north to the summit. And, at exactly 11:16, the summit came into view, where I was greeted with… a radio tower and fenced-off communications compound, complete with a gravel access road. Yeah, that takes away a bit of the romance from the journey.

But there were a bunch of boulders on the south end of the summit, and sitting on them allowed me to relax and enjoy lunch while gazing at Mount Hood. The three climbers that passed me were all on the rocks, enjoying a well-earned break.

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Me on the summit of Mount Defiance – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After nearly five hours and six and half miles, I had done it. Well, half of it. I was at an elevation of either 5,010 or 4,959 feet, depending on the source.

By 11:30, other hikers were arriving at the summit. My goodwill toward other human beings was starting to diminish once again. So I bid farewell to people who would doubtless pass me up again soon, and wandered around the back of the communications compound to pick up the northbound summit loop, and headed back down.

The route down somehow felt steeper. Some of that was fatigue, I’m sure. Also, I had run out of water, and was really wanting to get back to a water fountain.

It took about an hour, but the steepness eased a bit, and I came up on Warren Lake. Campsites dotted the shoreline. The view was tranquil and quite lovely.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

It also gave me a chance to wash off my charcoal-covered hands and face. Priorities.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Moving on northeast from the lake, the path was fairly flat for nearly a mile. I came across a junctions for other routes, and after some time, the trail began dropping faster once more. I was heading more or less north, back to the Columbia.

My legs were getting sore, and balance was increasingly shaky. I wasn’t turning my ankles like I was going down Dog Mountain, thanks to better-laced boots and ankle braces – man, I’m getting old. But I was feeling run down. The hike wasn’t THAT long, but even with the gorgeous scenery, it was feeling more like a slog.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At around 1 pm, I got a glimpse of the peak of Defiance through the trees. Several large talus fields lay beyond, paths only marked by large cairns. My clumsiness made some of the scrambling rather interesting. But I survived, and continued hobbling along.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

By 2 pm, I was hitting some tight switchbacks. A lone trail runner came zipping past me. He gave a brief hello, and kept jogging. He was the last person I would see until I got back down to river level.

Around 2:20, another massive talus field beckoned.

Only this one had an incredible view about halfway across.

I hunkered down on a rock for yet another break, and took in the sight of Mount Adams, posing majestically to the north, dominating the skyline of southern Washington. It was magnificent.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After that was just a long, steep, winding drop through the woods. The views largely disappeared, as the path sunk down in between the valleys.

I staggered on for another hour or so. My mouth was dry, I was drenched in sweat, and my left knee and right ankle were both giving me grief. I was still enjoying myself, but lamenting my lack of conditioning. And I was moving slllllooooow.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

A little past 3:30, I stumbled into a clearing. Well, make that the top of a cliff. Here I was, back at the Columbia River. Or, about 1,400 feet above it. At the top of the field was a massive powerline structure. I could hear something screeching at the top of the framework. It took me a minute to locate, but when I did, I realized I came across an osprey nest. And Mama Osprey made it clear I wasn’t welcome. I tried to move quickly underneath the power lines to pick the trail back up.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I looked down to catch a great glimpse of the Gorge below, as well as the exposed switchbacks that would take me down for at least the next 400 or so feet.

The osprey kept swooping down close to my head, so I made a beeline for the trail, and motored for the first switchback, hoping she would chill out once I got down below the top of the cliff area.

Fortunately, that did help, and she went back to the nest. Meanwhile, I was feeling increasingly off-balance and tired. The view below me was spectacular, and just a bit unnerving. Also, across the Gorge was a clearer view of Dog Mountain. Of course, Dog Mountain is “only” 2,900 feet from top to bottom, but it was a cool moment to look at a massive formation and be able to say to myself, “I climbed that.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Dog Mountain – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After snapping out of my self-indulgent reverie, I continued staggering down the hill.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The exposed section finally dove back into the trees, giving me much-needed shade.

I could hear I-84 clearly now, and I thought I could make out the sound of one of the waterfalls.

Naturally, every time I managed a glance through the trees down to the river, it still seemed like it was miles away.  My glacial pace lurching down the trail wasn’t helping matters.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Finally, I came up on the Starvation Ridge Cutoff Trail Junction. This point, around 600 feet above the river, would represent a significant shortcut to my return journey.

Naturally, it was closed.

I will admit to being tempted to try to rush the return, braving whatever hazards lay beyond. In the back of my fatigue-addled mind, I figured if I came up to an obstacle I didn’t think I could clear, I would just turn around and take the long way home.

On the other hand, I like living and all that. If the Forest Service or whomever thought it was important to close the cutoff at both ends, it probably wasn’t worth saving half an hour if it also meant risking a nasty fall.

So, a deep sigh, some grumbling, and I turned around and took the long way, back west parallel to the river, and around and down.

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Can you see the power lines with the osprey nest? – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At around 4:30, I found myself back on the paved road, strolling along the highway. It made for a nice cool-down period, as I moseyed back to the parking lot at the trailhead. It took me around 10 hours to stumble around 13 miles, as well as 5,000ish feet up and 5,000 feet back down. There are people in better shape who could (and did!) do it in half the time. But for someone only just getting back into serious hiking, I felt accomplished.

As I was driving back home, I didn’t want to think about clambering around on rocks again for awhile. However, a week later, I’m already preparing for the next one. Ideally, I’ll be getting into better shape for future hikes, too.

Tentatively, the next couple hikes will be Silver Star Mountain in Washington, and Saddle Mountain on the Oregon coast. I’ll probably be boring people with my experiences (and photos) from those hikes as well.

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Acting Guilty

Generally, when one is accused of a crime, and one doesn’t want to be thought of as guilty (whether actually guilty or not), said individual would be wise to not… y’know… act guilty.

Okay, I’m starting off on a snarky foot. Lemme backtrack just a bit here.

Within Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence operatives for election tampering, was a paragraph that explained those operatives were working with somebody connected to the Trump campaign.

That individual wasn’t named, but I think it’s a safe bet the Trump team will distance themselves from that person as soon as the name is revealed.

Once the specifics of the connection are publicly established, I would bet it wouldn’t take all that long to figure out how close to Trump the conspiracy gets. Special Counsel Mueller may already know that answer by now, or at least have a good idea.

I use the word conspiracy, as “collusion” is a largely meaningless term in a legal sense. But a criminal conspiracy charge (or something similar), seems increasingly likely to be directed at one or more people within the Trump campaign.

Now, this part alone makes the “witch hunt” mantra laughable. But what’s more significant is figuring how closely connected this individual is with Trump himself. To quote Senator Howard Baker, “What did the president know and when did he know it?”

That’s a question that deserves an answer.

To those who are screaming at Mueller and Rosenstein to “hurry it up,” and “end the witch hunt already,” I only have this to say:

*     It took two years and two months from the Watergate break-in to Nixon’s resignation.

*     Iran-Contra resulted in indictments of a dozen high ranking people, took six and a half years for the final report to be published, and arguably should have led to the downfall of both the President and Vice President.

*     Whitewater started as an investigation into a money-losing land deal in Arkansas in the 1980s, lasted eight years, and eventually transformed into a sprawling investigation that uncovered the fact that the president lied about an affair. Oh yeah, and there was no criminal action involved in the land deal.

*     Meanwhile, in the year 2018, Robert Mueller is investigating whether or not a successful American presidential campaign knowingly sought and received assistance from a hostile foreign power in order to improve their election chances.

With these things in mind, my question is, what’s your hurry?

I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to note that foreign election meddling is at least as significant to the American people now as Watergate, Iran-Contra, and Whitewater were in their days.

So why not wait and see where this goes? If one is a supporter of Donald Trump, isn’t it important to know whether or not he conspired with a foreign entity to defraud the American public? If it were a president I supported, I sure as hell would want to know the answer to that.

Innocent until proven guilty? Sure. But a hint of guilt requires investigation. And persistently guilty behavior warrants a persistent investigation.

If Trump wanted to prove he wasn’t in Putin’s pocket, he should probably stop doing his best to tear apart alliances that provide a counterweight to Russian influence. Like when he called the European Union “a foe” of the United States, or demanded that Russia be returned to the G7, or when he vaguely threatened to dismantle NATO.

It would probably help if he didn’t insist on meeting with Putin after Mueller’s fresh round of indictments, or stand on a stage with Putin and admit he believed Putin’s denials of election interference over the evaluation of the entire US intelligence community.

Oh yes, he did that. When asked directly about whether or not he would denounce Putin for the Russian election hacking, he rambled on about Hillary’s emails for awhile, then his rambles veered to the topic, and he said, “…With that being said, all I can do is ask the question, my people came to me, Dan Coats came to me, and some others, they said, they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server, but I have—I have confidence in both parties.”

And then he rambled back over to Hillary for awhile longer. He does that often. But in the middle there, he did this other thing, where he said he believed a dictator of another country over the word of his intelligence chiefs. He did this right next to Putin himself.

Former CIA chief John Brennan described Trump’s meeting and comments with Putin as treasonous. While it’s true Brennan has made no secret of his personal distaste for Trump, is there an argument there? As I’ve written about before, Trump himself is no stranger to tossing around the word treason rather loosely.

As I described in that earlier piece, treason is described as (according to Title 18 of the US Code), Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States. 

Can we describe Russia as an “enemy?” Well, we know quite clearly that the Russian military intelligence coordinated and carried out extensive hacking operations against American political institutions, primarily those allied with the Democratic Party. We have solid evidence that they funneled money and assistance to Republican candidates, using groups like the NRA. And of course, we know of plenty of examples of communication between persons associated with the Trump campaign, and Russian government and business officials.

“If it’s what you say, I love it.”

Remember that gem from Don Jr., responding to Russian offers of dirt on Hillary Clinton, and the subsequent meeting, of which details have changed several times?

Remember the emails between Wikileaks and Roger Stone? Or the other emails between them and Don Jr.?

Remember George Papadopoulos bragging about his Russian contacts?

We know the Russians DID compromise both campaigns and actual voting infrastructures. We know Trump himself publicly requested these acts. We know members of the Trump campaign sought out Russian (and others) assistance.

We know quite a lot.

As of this writing, July 16, 2018, we don’t know for certain if Donald Trump knew what was happening with Russian interference, while it was happening.

There are those who might know. There are those who do know, one way or another.

Whatever the truth is, it’s clear that Trump doesn’t know one thing in particular: It’s better to swallow his ego and acknowledge what everyone else knows, than to act guilty.

He was willing to stand on a stage in Finland, and tell the world he trusted a dictator over his own intelligence officials.

I don’t know for certain Russia is an “enemy” in the sense the Founders intended. But any nation that seeks to undermine free and fair elections in another is – at the very least – a foe. There should be no question that they attacked the US in 2016, and seek to continue those attacks two years later.

And for a national leader to blatantly support such a foe certainly feels wrong, if not specifically treasonous.

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Civility

Yesterday, I penned a brief missive on my Facebook page regarding pleas for civility in the political world. I’m not sure I said everything I wanted to in that initial post, so I’m going to spit out a quick follow-up. I hope this makes some degree of sense…

Ahem.

Less than two years ago, a famously vulgar man managed to eke out an electoral college win in the US Presidential election, despite frequently uttering crass language, owning a long history of racism and misogyny, and frequently calling for violence against his opponents. Oh yeah, and that whole… whaddyacallit… constant lying thing.

And believe it or not, despite this, I have previously found myself agreeing with those on the left (and some of the more genteel pundits on the right) who argued that Trump opponents would be best to avoid sinking to his level. Michelle Obama famously exhorted the Democratic Convention to “go high, when they go low.”

Nearly two years after that convention, Donald Trump is president. And to list the failures and harmful acts of his administration in a comprehensive manner would now take many thousands of words. Hell, it took me almost 6,000 words just to list his faults and failures BEFORE he became president.  If one has been paying attention (and has avoided trapping themselves in a self-sustaining media bubble), they likely already comprehend the disaster that has been the Trump presidency.

Suffice to say, while a lack of civility has been a good way to describe the atmosphere of this administration – it isn’t even close the root of the problem.

Yes, Donald Trump frequently tweets insults about people he feels have wronged him – usually celebrities, politicians, and members of the media. Yes, he famously bragged about sexually assaulting women with impunity. And he certainly implored his supporters to physically harm those who opposed him.

Donald Trump is an uncivil man (to be extremely generous). And doing the same things he does back to him would be a pointless and unfortunate endeavor. I personally don’t recommend it.

But lately, something else has been happening, thrown under the larger umbrella of “uncivil” behavior. Citizens opposing the words and actions of the President have been pushing back with more than just scathing thinkpieces, or participation in the occasional subuded march down their local Main Street.

The White House press secretary was asked (politely and discreetly) to leave a restaurant. A senior policy advisor and the head of Homeland Security were both heckled at other restaurants. The Florida attorney general – a prominent Trump supporter – was heckled at a movie theater. A comedian called the press secretary a liar to her face. A Democratic congresswoman expressed support for the aforementioned shenanigans.

Naturally, politicians and pundits on the right have had a field day with this. “So much for liberal tolerance” is basically a reflex statement for many American conservatives. Yet, those snowflakes have been blowing up at every perceived transgression against them for ages now, so it’s not like there’s any surprise recent events have, um… triggered them.

But now, prominent centrists, and even liberals have also been aghast at the perceived poor manners of those opposing Donald Trump. There seems to be a reflexive urge among some to treat “civility” as an overarching principle that must never be compromised.

But this definition of civility has such a narrow scope.

When I mentioned near the beginning of this piece that I agree it’s best not to behave like Trump in opposing him – that’s not the same as saying “confrontation should always be avoided.” Telling a liar to their face that they are indeed a liar isn’t what I would call uncivil. Allowing a harmful lie to spread and be accepted by the populace as fact – well, I think that’s far more harmful to civil society.

Being polite and attempting to stick to the old norms clearly isn’t working. The Trump Administration doesn’t care about facts and rational debate.

I’m not saying we have to act as though norms are meaningless. But we do need to understand that only one side cares about them anymore, and if we ever want them to exist again, we may have to stop pretending that David Brooks and Thomas Friedman represent the modern conservative consensus.

Sarah Sanders is the propaganda spreader. She parrots the lies of her boss – and the rest of this corrupt and incompetent administration.

Kirstjen Nielsen is in charge of an already highly problematic law enforcement organization that exists primarily as a massive overreach against supposed threats to national security. Much of the blame for the manufactured humanitarian crisis of forcibly separated refugee children lies at her feet.

Stephen Miller is an avowed white nationalist, and is the primary architect behind explicitly bigoted policies like the anti-Muslim travel ban.

Pam Bondi, as Florida Attorney General, solicited and (then received) a bribe from Donald Trump in order to back away from prosecuting his tax fraud.

All of them have supported and defended (and in 3 cases, worked for) a man who has averaged more than 6 public lies a day for the past five hundred plus days, who is a confessed sexual predator, and whose administration is guilty of providing aid and comfort to dictators, disrupting global trade, badly crippling the chances of slowing climate change, worsening economic inequality, rapidly increasing the national debt, and disenfranchising millions of voters (to name but a few misdeeds).

Why are we allowing the conversation to shift to civility?

Let’s look at it another way:

Have you ever pointed at something in front of a dog? Generally, the dog doesn’t look where you’re pointing. They usually look at your finger. They miss the… um, point.

That’s what we’re dealing with here.

Worrying about civility is completely missing the point. If protesters physically harmed Nielsen or Miller, or the restaurant owner gave other customers Sanders’ home address – or if something equally wrong had occurred – THEN we could talk about the need for civility.

That’s not what happened. But what did happen isn’t what’s important here.

People who have been entrusted with running the American government are committing long-lasting harm against this country, and its people. They’ve managed to cause harm to people who aren’t even citizens.

For months, they’ve been HOLDING CHILDREN HOSTAGE for the sake of scoring a potential legislative victory.

Why should we allow them to be comfortable about this? Why should we, as citizens – THEIR BOSSES – allow them to cause the harm they’ve caused without some pushback? Sarah Sanders, Kirstjen Nielsen, Stephen Miller, and Pam Bondi are supposed to be accountable to the citizens of this land. Americans exercising their right to protest is something that only strengthens our democracy.

Protest isn’t always “civil.” So what? Why is that suddenly the point? Why is the party of “Grab them by the pussy” so worried about people playing nice? And why is the opposition so worried about offending the pussy grabber?

Why the hell are we looking at the finger, and not the problem that its pointing to?

I do my best to be civil in my personal affairs. I say please and thank you, and do my best not to interrupt. I try to avoid using personal insults. When all things are equal, I think this is the best way to operate on a daily basis.

However, things are not equal, and have not been equal for some time.

Push aside talk of civility. Don’t let them distract you. There are serious problems we need to talk about. If it takes making the causes of these problems a bit uncomfortable from time to time, so be it. Sometimes that’s what it takes to force change. Being nice certainly hasn’t helped.

Sarah Sanders had to take her dinner to go. Her boss instituted a policy of taking children from their parents as they came to the border to seek asylum, then held them in detention in order to force a vote on his pipedream of a border wall.

Why are we focusing on Sarah’s dinner?

Posted in immigration, Politics, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Hiking Report – Dog Mountain

And now for something completely different…

The world of politics, diplomacy, refugees, and climate change isn’t going away.

But, once in a while, a vacation is helpful.

This is going to be the start of what I hope to become a (semi) regular series… I want to talk about hiking and climbing. In particular, I want to actually hike a trail and/or climb a mountain, and then talk about it here. These pieces won’t necessarily be trip reports in the same vein as what you might find on http://www.oregonhikers.org/ or https://www.summitpost.org/. But they will be my personal thoughts on the experience of these trails.

Last October, I moved to Portland, Oregon from Kansas City, Missouri. The move was for work, but I’ve always loved the Pacific Northwest, and always hoped to end up here. In particular, I loved the mountains and the hiking. This is – for my money – possibly the most beautiful part of the United States. And since hiking and climbing are already among my favorite activities (apart from online rabble-rousing), I was excited for the chance to spend time wandering around this area. So, I decided to give myself a birthday present. I took the day off work, and set out along the Columbia River for my first serious Northwest hike in about a decade.

I knew I wanted elevation, but I also knew I’m in mediocre shape – and now closer to 40 than 30. It would be wise to build myself up before trying to tackle something serious. So, after some research, I came up with Dog Mountain, in the Columbia Gorge, on the Washington side. Fairly steep and strenuous, but not particularly high, long, or dangerous. The vistas look lovely, and every trip report seemed to be enthusiastic. If Dog Mountain proved to be something I could handle, then perhaps in a couple weeks, I would look across the Gorge at Mt. Defiance – a hike nearly twice as long and twice as high.

So, emboldened by this research, just this past Friday morning, I set out from my home in Portland, and headed east down the river. Dog Mountain is just past the town of Stevenson – about an hour from downtown Portland. The trailhead is a wide gravel parking lot right off of Highway 14. It tends to get busy on the weekends, so I made sure to be there on a weekday, relatively early. At the time I arrived, there were only a couple other cars in the lot.

An information/pay station stands near the start of the trail, as well as this sign:

Dog Mountain Trail Start

Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

3.8 miles to the top? Piece of cake.

Mmmm… cake. Dammit, now I’m hungry.

Okay, where was I? Right… time to start walking.

At this point, it was about 8:15. I originally wanted to show up earlier, but a warm bed slowed me down just a bit that morning.

Speaking of walking, I have to emphasize that a good pair of hiking shoes is invaluable. Maybe something with some ankle support. You’ll appreciate that – especially on the way back down.

The trail gets steep right from the get-go. It starts off wide and is initially mostly gravel, but gradually turns into dirt – albeit with a healthy amount of fist-sized rocks scattered along the way.

There’s a pair of restrooms (compost toilets, no sinks) just a few hundred feet from the start, but then after that, it’s just you, the trail, and the woods. And possibly many other hikers, though at just past 8 AM on a Friday, the trail was mostly empty.

Dog Mountain Trail lower trail

Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail inclines steeply, with plenty of tight switchbacks through the woods. Now and then, a gap will appear, providing lovely (but still low) views of the Columbia Gorge.

Dog Mountain Trail early - view through the forest

Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

And now and then, obstacles – usually trees – dot the path.

Dog Mountain Trail - a tree in the trail

Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

You’re going to take this path for the first 0.7 miles. And I will admit, after scoffing at “only” 3.8 miles at the start, I quickly gained respect for that whole gravity thing. Walking 0.7 miles on level ground with a smooth surface is pretty easy. Doing it uphill on dirt and rocks is… well, less easy, especially if you don’t pace yourself. Despite the 55 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, my hoodie came off pretty quickly. Stylishly wrapped by the arms around my waist, of course. I felt kind of silly even bringing it, as I was quickly dripping with sweat. And now I looked like a scruffy imitation of an 80’s preppy teen bully.

Dog Mountain Trail - Early switchback

Look – a switchback! Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As one heads up the trail, it’s highly recommended to stay on the trail. Poison oak abounds, and an attempted shortcut between switchbacks might end up being rather… uncomfortable.

Dog Mountain Trail - a tree off the trail

Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

But the vegetation is lovely, even from the trail. And animal life is plentiful, although they make themselves heard more than seen, as birds chirp overhead, and the branches shake with squirrel gladiatorial games being waged in the canopy.

Well, that’s the mental image I had. Maybe hiking alone was a bad idea.

But I digress.

Meanwhile, after those 0.7 miles that feel just a teensy bit longer – you come to a junction. This is the “difficult” path versus the “more difficult” path. Every guide I’ve read tells me there isn’t actually a huge difference in difficulty between the two paths – but the merely “difficult” path to the right (a newer and shinier one, I might add), is vastly more scenic, running along the edge of the mountain closer to the Gorge.

Dog Mountain Trail - Fork in the road

Decisions…  Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I’m more than willing to take the advice of people who’ve already been there – and I did kind of show up for the vistas. So, about 25 minutes into the hike, I took the path to the right, and plunged into the woods.

I noticed the wind was picking up a bit, but I was still warm enough to justify the hoodie remaining firmly around my waist. But my now sweaty legs were objecting to my choice of wearing jeans, instead of something lighter and looser.

As I pushed forward – and up (mostly up), I found myself in a wide forest, where the path was mostly straight, and the forest was filled with evenly spaced, mostly bare trunks. The effect was surprisingly spooky, but also quite serene. At this point, I had only encountered one other pair of hikers on the path, and they were on their way down. I had the mountain to myself, and it was exactly what I was hoping for.

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More switchbacks!   Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Look up! Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Oh yeah, and there was also the spooky hut. It showed no sign of recent occupation, although my expertise in these matters is limited. Also, my urge to suddenly re-enact Scooby Doo was powerful at that point. I let out one Zoinks!, and moved on.

Finally, 1.2 miles past the juncture – and about an hour into the hike – I came out of the forest to a clearing – the lower lookout. There were views of the Gorge in both directions, and it was absolutely stunning. It was also fairly windy up here. The hoodie ended up coming back on.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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It’s me, being stoic. Or, maybe just silly. Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After some time enjoying the view, I headed back up the trail, back into the forest.

The trail was noticeably steeper at this point, and the bare lower branches of the trees at this point were covered in moss. They looked kind of like broken green ladders.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At 9:30, I reached the point where the “More Difficult” trail met up with my bunny slope. A sign very kindly informed me of my progress:

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The sky had darkened at this point, and a mist had started to fall. I’m not sure what the difference is between fog and a cloud, but I was in a light version of one of them.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At around 9:50, I finally caught a glimpse of the summit meadow, just above me. The trees were now mostly behind (and below), and the trail was more exposed. Also, the cloud/fog/poison mist was pretty heavy, and I couldn’t see the gorge, or even much of the mountain below – which was admittedly disappointing. I was hoping the covering would be on its way before I reached the summit. I did get a brief glimpse of the gorge below through a fleeting gap in the clouds, and it felt like a bit of a tease.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The wind was also picking up strength. I rounded a bend to the left, and there was the old fire lookout point, also known as Puppy Dog Lookout. It was just about 10 AM. At this point, the view was still pretty minimal, but I could tell I was up high (2525 ft), and quite exposed. It appeared that the final push to the peak was starting here. So, I rounded the bend, and trudged into the wind and mist through the meadow.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The next sign on the trail was not all that useful.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The meadow became steeper on both sides, until it turned into a ridge, complete with some rocky outcroppings. The steepness of the path, the limited visibility, and the high winds, all combined to create a disorienting effect. I had to slow down. I can’t say I felt like I was in danger, but the conditions were harsher than I had anticipated.

Finally, as the trail narrowed, it switched back one more time, and then up to the top of the summit meadow. There were some wildflowers left, but not like some of the photos I’ve seen from late May and early June.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The path itself started to level, no longer heading steeply up. This was a bit of a relief.

The wind, however, was stronger than ever. I’m not a great judge of guessing windspeed, but a very rough estimate of 30-40 mph seems about right. Gusts maybe closer to 50. The grass and the flowers were dancing with some enthusiasm. A few hundred feet past the last turn, there was a spur up and to the left, that went hundred feet or so. It ended up in a dirt covered clearing, with a small ring of trees at the top. This was the summit. Further behind the summit were much larger trees, towering over me. I recognized that they started behind the ridge, much lower, but it was a strange effect, to be at the top of a mountain, looking up at treetops.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Anyway.

I lingered for a few minutes, but the view wasn’t improving, and a couple pairs of hikers were appearing on the summit with me. I headed back down the spur to the main path. I had the option of returning the way I came, or heading forward down the path.

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The summit grove. Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

According to the maps and guides, this would take me back to the fire lookout through more forest.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I figured I should see as much as possible – and maybe the forest would help block some of the wind.

It was only a few hundred feet from the summit spur to the start of the forest, but I quickly discovered that this was much denser and heavier than the woods on the lower part of the mountain. The rain had made the leaves wet, and the ground mushy. At points, the vegetation was so heavy that I couldn’t see where my feet were stepping – which is not a good thing when walking down an unknown (to me) trail 2900 feet above the ground below. I didn’t last long. Pushing through the brush, stepping off the trail repeatedly, and having to duck beneath branches that would make Danny DeVito do the limbo was more than I felt like dealing with. At least the path back had the potential to be scenic – and more importantly – I could see where I was going. So I turned back. I found myself back on the summit meadow. I even ran back up the spur to the summit itself, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the clouds would start to clear. But… not yet.

At about 10:35, I decided to start heading back. Back down the meadow, back to the switchback and the ridge on the west side of the summit slope.  Then, as I glanced to my right, I could start to see a shimmer through the clouds. It was clearing up! And I could began to see this great view everyone raved about.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I followed the path down the ridge, heading back to the fire lookout. More people were now popping up on the trail. I was grateful I started out when I did, so I was able to enjoy the first half in solitude.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The winds were still strong, but they were blowing the clouds away, so that was something. Just before 11, I made it back to the lookout. And by then, the clouds had largely cleared. Just in time.

Yeah, a written description couldn’t do it justice. The photos really don’t, either, but it’s closer. Please enjoy these, and consider taking a trip to Dog Mountain, yourself:

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Below is me again, pointing at my next target – Mt. Defiance. If the image were better, you could get a better view of the peak of Mt. Hood just poking over the ridge.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After a few minutes of photos and gawking, I turned back down the way I came.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

No longer fighting gravity, the path was quicker… but I also failed to tie the top part of my hiking shoes, and I kept rolling my ankles on the rocks in the trail. Part of the problem was me being clumsy, and part of it was my rubber ankles… Still, to the poor souls slogging through this, make sure you have good hiking shoes, and make sure you have ’em laced up all the way. Because ouch. My ankles are still sore, two plus days later.

But I kept staggering downhill, now muttering hello to hikers coming up the other way every few minutes. Definitely glad I started early.

Funny thing was, despite my general disinterest in interacting with strange people, I was pleasantly surprised to note that there was a sense of camaraderie among my fellow hikers. People asked me how the hike was, if there were flowers on the upper meadows, even just how I was doing. It was all pretty normal stuff – but for me, it was a good feeling. I stopped to chat briefly with a couple groups as I made my way down, and I didn’t hate it. And that seriously is a big deal for me.

Just about 4 hours after starting, with aching ankles, I clambered down to the trailhead.

I’m not an expert hiker. I’m not all that experienced. But I’m now living in an excellent area to become more experienced. If things go well, I’m going to do this again in a couple weeks. Dog Mountain got me hooked. It was long and intense enough to feel like I made a real effort, but it also wasn’t so grueling that I couldn’t handle it. The views were stunning and the environment was just lovely in general. And even the people I encountered were universally friendly.

This was a good day, and I hope to share more of them in the future.

 

Posted in Adventure, Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Political Hostages in Texas

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U.S. Customs and Border Control – public domain

When I discuss current events, I do my best to do so in a logical, fact-based way. It’s important to make sure the truth is told. Emotions can cloud that truth. Getting angry about a situation frequently leads to overreaction and overreach.

That said, Spock was (somewhat) wrong. Emotion isn’t necessarily the antithesis of logic. One’s emotions can positively inform one’s logic, and vice versa.

So I’m going to embrace some emotion right now, and let that feed into my thoughts on current events. Change is tougher if one doesn’t feel outraged from time to time. And right now, at the American southern border, there’s plenty of reason to feel outraged.

First of all, let me just start this off bluntly:

Donald Trump is holding thousands of children hostage in order to solidify his political base.

Whew. That felt slightly cathartic to write. At the same time, I feel sick to my stomach, knowing this is our country now.

Okay, deep breath. Let me take a few steps back.

It’s no secret that Donald Trump ran for the White House on a platform of demonizing immigrants. His kickoff campaign speech included an explicit claim that immigrants from Mexico were primarily criminals. One of his first executive orders was an attempt to ban the entry of all persons from seven majority-Muslim countries. Much of the success of his election campaign came from stoking the fear of the Other among white Americans. Donald Trump made it abundantly clear that “Making America Great Again” was a dogwhistle to white people who were afraid that progress for marginalized groups meant a loss of status and influence for themselves. Black and brown people moving in from other countries with weird religions and strange languages  were a danger to the comfortable white supremacy they were used to. And that supremacy wasn’t always explicitly racist in the hood-wearing sense of the word (although it sometimes was that). The supremacy that Trump harkened back to was often a more recent one where white people felt comfortable watching Will Smith movies, and occasionally voting for a black city councilperson. But beyond the occasional token nod to the existence of others, this was still a world where white people – particularly straight, white, cisgendered men – still remained the American default position.

Donald Trump didn’t create that longing among America’s whites – but he did help give it strength. He gave it a voice. He was the backlash to the white fear of losing dominance. Because to many, losing dominance doesn’t mean equality. It means subjugation. It means suffering through what you’ve been dishing out all these years. And that idea – misguided as it was – is scary.

I digress a bit.

Yes, Donald Trump scared white people, and he certainly pushed for a harsh immigration policy. Hardliners on his team like Jeff Sessions and Stephen “Uncharismatic Dracula” Miller have been the primary architects of the worst of the Trump immigration policies, including the (shhh… don’t call it that) “Muslim ban.”

Then came March 2017. The Trump Administration – still new and flailing – considered implementing a policy that they described as “deterrence.” They would separate children from their families when those families arrived at the border. The idea was that such a harsh practice would scare families from even attempting to enter the US, thereby reducing immigration. At least, in theory.

By October, the Trump Administration was ramping up border enforcement, and had already started the practice of family rupturing – although they attempted to keep it quiet at that point. Between October 2017 and April 2018, more than 700 families had been broken up at the border. Many of these were asylum-seekers – basically refugees from dangerous and sometimes desperate lives.

On May 7th, the administration officially announced their “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared that all undocumented entries would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law – including families with children. This was a notable change from the previous practice of allowing families, children, and people deemed non-threatening to find a place to stay with friends or relatives while awaiting processing.

This was where the Trump team officially admitted they were taking children from their parents and holding them indefinitely. They also claimed that a pilot program instituted in El Paso from the previous year had met with great success – and as always with this bunch – it turned out to be a massive lie.

From then on, the Trump Administration engaged in constant obfuscation and contradiction regarding what was happening at the border. Jeff Sessions would admit that family separations were taking place, and pushed the “deterrence” theory as an excuse. He pretty much blamed his boss for the current situationHe would also cite the Bible – Romans 13 – as a justification for the separations. It should be noted that Romans 13 was used by the American right to justify slavery and later Jim Crow. So there’s that.

But at the same time, Donald Trump himself would make the remarkable claim that “a Democrat law” was forcing the administration’s hand. He didn’t want this to happen. These poor kids deserved better. All that needed to happen was for the Democrats to “fix their law.” If only that mean old marginalized minority party would use their 47 votes in the Senate and go along with all of Trump’s personal demands on border policy, then those kids could be reunited with their parents. Back in Mexico, of course, but reunited nonetheless.

Oh yeah, and somewhere in there, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, flatly claimed there was no such policy of family separation.

Well. There’s a lot to unpack here. I’m not entirely sure where to begin.

When in doubt, use bullet points. They make for less unwieldy (more wieldy?) reading. Especially when one is slogging through my paragraphs.

So here goes:

  • Trump’s position(s) is a lie. As always. There is no single law that mandates children be separated from their parents at border crossings.
  • The Democratic Party has been in the minority in the Senate since January 2015, and in the minority in the House since January 2011. They cannot make or change any laws alone.
  • The Democratic Party (in the Senate, anyway) has actually unanimously agreed to support a bill banning the practice of separating families at the border.
  • There has been one law in particular cited by Trump defenders and surrogates to defend the position that “the Democrats did it, too.” In 1997, the Flores settlement obligated the government to release children as soon as possible into their parents care when said families were detained by immigration authorities. This claim was used to argue the opposite of reality. The Flores settlement simply was not a law that mandated the separation of families. It was essentially the reverse.
  • The Obama administration’s policies are frequently brought up by Trump defenders. This part requires its own section. *cracks knuckles*
    • The Obama Administration’s record on immigration was decidedly mixed. DACA was a real accomplishment, but the Obama Administration also oversaw 2.8 million deportations over 8 years. And family detention became a major controversy in 2014 during a surge of immigration that nobody seemed ready for. However, the Obama team attempted to reverse course on the old harsher detention and deportation policies – with inconsistent results.
    • Obama seemed willing to learn from his mistakes. There was a slowness that could be frustrating, but efforts were made to reduce the harm done to those at the border. Enforcement of immigrants with criminal records became the priority, and the much vilified “catch and release” returned – kind of – where children, families, and those seeking asylum were allowed to remain in the States while their cases were processed. Obama represented imperfect and belated attempts at humanity on the southern border. Trump’s response was: why bother with humanity?
  • Right now, as of June 19, 2018, nearly 2000 children have been separated from their parents at the southern border over the last six weeks – and around 2700 since last October.
  • The current rate is around 45 children separated per day.
  • They are being held in absolutely appalling conditions. There are multiple hoops to jump through, and many of the children themselves have largely been kept in the dark. There is little guarantee that they will be reunited with their parents. And the process of finding them homes is taking more than a month at a time. Imagine you are a child. You may not speak much (or any English). Your parents have just dragged you along a harrowing journey toward the prospect of a better life after years of fear, poverty, and violence. And then police forcibly take you from your parents, place you in tents and cages, and prevent you from knowing what the hell is going on, or where you’ll end up. That’s what’s going on right now.
  • All of this is just what’s recent. In total, more than 10,000 immigrant children are being held without their parents in detention centers across the U.S..
  • It’s important to note that those who use the policies of previous administrations to defend Trump are engaging in blatant whataboutism. Even if their claims about the earlier administrations were completely true (and they usually aren’t), they’re still making the argument that mistreating children is okay because someone else used to do it.

There are plenty more points to make, in both bullet and mortar form. But I believe the basic point is becoming clear here:

The endgame of the Trump team is to try to force Democrats into voting for his proposed immigration reforms. He’ll agree (he claims) to legislation banning the practice of ripping apart families in order to get his border wall, and to be able to drastically limit legal immigration.

That’s what this whole thing is about. Donald Trump is holding 2,000+ children hostage in order to be granted full Congressional blessing to wall off the country from foreign invaders. Remember when I talked about Trump fanning the flames of fear and resentment in white people? That’s what the whole point is. He wants white people to think that scary brown people from other parts of the world want to come in to the States, leach off our (rather tattered) safety net, and get away with all manner of crimes.

The narrative of immigrant criminality has been one of the constant themes of Trump’s political career. And it’s been one of the most thoroughly debunked. Study after study has demonstrated that first generation immigrants, both legal and otherwise, commit far less crime than their more established neighbors. Good information on this can be found here, here, here, here, and here. They pay taxes, yet receive fewer services. They contribute mightily to the economy, and take jobs that native rarely want.

But remember, from the beginning, Donald Trump has wanted you to know that people don’t come to the United States for a better life – they’re here to rape and pillage. And the only way to fight the melanin menace is to institute draconian border laws, and turn the United States into a fortress.

And he’s willing to place children into internment camps in order to get his way,

If your first reaction to criticisms of Trump breaking apart immigrant families is, “Obama did it, too,” then your problem is that partisanship is more important to you than morality.

If you’re told that children are being placed in cages for months at a time without their parents, and you respond, “they should just come in legally,” then congratulations – you just dehumanized thousands of refugee children.

Okay, still with me? I’m almost done here.

Thus far, I’ve taken over 1800 words to say what should have been one simple paragraph:

The safety and comfort of children should never be used as a political bargaining chip. No immigration policy is worth the suffering of children, whether it be honest policy, or like Trump’s – policy built entirely on lies. No child should have to spend night after night in a cage somewhere in southern Texas, not sure if they will ever see their parents again. This is sick and cruel, and should be beneath any human capable of comprehending the situation. We as humans have a near endless capacity for dehumanizing others – but I desperately hope that most people would be willing to put aside ideology for the sake of the defenseless and the innocent.

I fear my hope may be misplaced – at least in Trump’s America.

This is a humanitarian crisis, and our reactions to it over the coming days and weeks will go a long way towards helping us as Americans figure out just what kind of people we want to be. Do we want to take forward steps to a more humane future… or (apologies to Godwin) goose steps… back to a more barbaric past?

Posted in foreign policy, Governance, History, immigration, Law Enforcement, Media, Politics, Rant, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Space Days!

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The Pale Blue Dot – NASA

Time to shift gears a bit…

The primary focus of this blog has been politics and current events. Occasionally I muse about other topics, but I definitely have skewed my writing toward the political world. I’m not going to stop doing that any time soon. However, I would like to redirect my focus now and then, specifically toward topics that actually provide me with some optimism. Politics, especially American politics over the past few years, generally does the opposite.

Soooo… let’s talk about space!

I want to start a regular feature discussing space topics. But it will probably end up being more sporadic and random than it will be regular. Of course, if people read it, then it may become a bit more regular. In theory.

Anyhoo…

I’m going to cover subjects ranging from overviews of objects in our solar system to musings on space exploration (both past and future), and then on to the wonders of exoplanets, and eventually to the possibilities of alien life.

These will be topics that interest me. I will provide information as accurately as I can, and I will endeavor to make it entertaining. But I do need to stress that I have almost no formal scientific training. Everything I write is information I’ve researched myself. So it’s possible this stuff will be riddled with errors. It may even be as ridiculous as my political commentary – shocking as that sounds.

Growing up, more than *almost* anything else – I wanted to be astronomer. Even if I never physically left Earth, I wanted to explore the cosmos. As a kid, I followed the final planetary legs of the Voyager missions (Voyager 2 reached Neptune when I was 7), I watched every episode of the original Cosmos, read up on every shuttle mission, visited Powell Observatory in Louisburg, Kansas to watch Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smash into Jupiter, and hung out on a roof of the University of Missouri-Kansas City to look through telescopes on summer evenings.

My formal schooling largely ended after high school, but I continue to educate myself as best I can into adulthood. I have been a member of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City, and am a frequenter of many blogs and publications. There are a ton of good resources on the interwebs for learning about space and science in general. I’m going to list a few of my favorites below as just a small sample of what’s available out there.

I would advise anyone who’s interested to check out these links. And maybe even if you aren’t interested… perhaps a new passion might take hold.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue to blather on about the world of politics and current events. I’ll occasionally vent about pop culture, and toss some boxing musings out on my other blog. It’s a big universe. There’s room to talk about… well, everything.

I better get started.

http://www.nasawatch.com/ – It’s not affiliated with NASA – but it does, um, watch it.

https://www.universetoday.com/ – General space and astronomy blog. It’s one of the older ones still being regularly updated.

http://www.planetary.org/ – The official site of the Planetary Society.

https://www.centauri-dreams.org/ – A blog discussing the possibilities of interstellar travel.

http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/ – A fun personal blog that officially ended in October 2017 – but the archives are still available dating back to January 2008.

http://www.syfy.com/tags/bad-astronomy – Astronomer and writer Phil Plait’s current space blog, hosted by SyFy.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy.html – Phil Plait’s blog from 2012 to 2017.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/#.Wsp2HogrImI – Phil’s blog from 2008 to 2012.

Finally, for just a little more Phil Plait, here’s his first episode on YouTube of Crash Course Astronomy. These short (10-12 minute) episodes are educational and addictive.

 

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