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Saturday, September 25, 1999

The picture of today -- skis:


Y2K Update:  You will be glad to know that your State Department is spending millions of dollars checking up on the Y2K "problem" all over the world. But it's worth it! You can rest easy knowing the Y2K status of the Marshal Islands:

"The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is not heavily reliant on computerized systems, and each sector is working with the international community to minimize any impact as a result of Y2K. The RMI appears to be generally prepared to deal with the Y2K problem. The power plant in Majuro has had the only questionable piece of machinery checked and it is Y2K compliant. The port authority is not reliant on computers for ships to dock and offload. The national telephone authority states it is Y2K compliant and it does not expect disruptions in January. Although the RMI continues remediation efforts and contingency planning, at the present time, it appears that there may be a moderate risk of potential disruption in the key sectors of government and private services."

Last week President Clinton announced that there would be no more direct military to military contact between Indonesia and the United States because Indonesia is not being nice. Yesterday I was wondering who cared and why there should be military to military contact in the first place, when they announced that U.S. Secretary of Defense Secretary William Cohen will meet with the chief military commanders of Indonesia in Jakarta next week. When asked about this apparent contradiction President Clinton explained, "Well, that doesn't count."

About 11 years ago I was in Colorado with Cathy and the kids and decided to climb Mount Princeton. We drove up as far as we could, and I headed up the mountain. Straight up. Never mind a trail, I could see the top. I was climbing over the boulders on the top of the ridge, gagging and wheezing. Besides being out of air, I was 20 lbs heavier than I am now and in a lot worse physical shape.  Here's a picture of me on the way up. Notice the clear blue sky:


When I finally made it to the top, I figured out right away that I had been tricked. On the south side of Mount Princeton is a sub-peak called Tigger Mountain, and I had a LONG way to go before I got to the real top.

Eventually I made it. I sat on top for a few minutes and took some video with the camcorder I carried up. By then, those white puffy clouds I had seen were getting dark and had strings falling down from them. Then I could see some lightning and hear some thunder.

I decided right away that I wasn't where I should be, so I headed down as fast as I could. I took the trail down, since it was pretty obvious to me even in my hypoxic, exhausted state that the trail was a LOT easier than those boulders were. It started raining, then lightning, then hailing on me. Well, it didn't lightning ON me, but I thought it might at any time. I don't like it when things come down out of the sky and try to kill me. At one point, being a little less careful of my footing than I was in the nice weather, I slipped on the hail and fell down backwards. My backpack hit a rock and absorbed the shock.

Finally, I made it down. I was REALLY tired, and felt REALLY bad from the altitude, and I might have been just a little bit grouchy. What seemed like years later back in the motel room, I emptied my backpack and noticed that there were loose camcorder pieces on the desk. The camcorder was dead. Radio Shack's diagnosis: "Not economical to repair."

A day or two later I was relaying my amazing mountaineering feat to Cathy's Aunt Julia who lived in Colorado Springs. She said, "Just 49 more to go..." I thought she was nuts. Who in their right mind would ever climb 50 mountains like that?! Now there are 54 "fourteeners" in Colorado (four grew I guess) and I've been up 20 or so.

I've climbed Mount Princeton two more times since then. Now there's a trail along most of the ridge. Also, there's a memorial to a girl killed by lightning on the top:


Wednesday, Mike and I climbed Mount Lincoln, Colorado:


It had snowed! I did hit Mike with a snowball. Mount Lincoln is the 8th highest mountain in Colorado. Depending on who you ask, that is. It's not real clear what is and isn't a mountain.

A lot of years ago, some people had the goal of climbing the 50 peaks in Colorado over 14,000' high. Some of them even did it. It got to be pretty popular, in fact. Now, hundreds of people have done it, maybe thousands.

But how many 14,000' mountains, or fourteeners, are there? About 54 in Colorado and about 70 in the lower 48 U.S. Why "about?"  It depends on what you call a mountain. How close can one mountain be to another before it's part of the same mountain? How much vertical drop does there have to be between peaks until the lower one is just a sub-peak or part of a ridge?

Then there's the debate on what constitutes "climbing" a mountain. Does a helicopter ride count? Bicycle? What if you drive almost to the top and hike fifty yards?

The most common "rules" are now that two mountains don't have to have any horizontal separation, but they have to have a dip of at least 300' between them. It used to be some different combinations of the two. What's a climb? The socially acceptable climb is somewhere between 2000 and 3000 feet on foot. How were these decided upon? A guy named Roach wrote the most popular book about climbing Colorado's 14'ers, and he thought they were pretty good rules. And they stuck. Now, the USGS and the Colorado Mountain Club (http://www.cmc.org/cmc/index.html ) have adopted the 300 foot rule.

My rules, which are generally somewhat out of sync with the rest of the world, are a little different. I say a mountain qualifies as a separate mountain if it looks like a separate mountain. For example, the Maroon Bells look like two mountains. They also have two names, and people usually consider them two peaks:


But they don't quite meet the 300' rule because there's only a 234 foot drop between them. North Massive, on the other hand, qualifies for the 300' rule but doesn't look like a separate mountain, so I have not given it diplomatic recognition as a mountain. I might climb it sometime anyway:


My climbing rule is a bit different also. My rule is if you drive on wheels as close to the top as you can get, and then walk, run, climb, or crawl to the top, you've clumb it. (This makes Pikes Peak and Mount Evans pretty easy to climb.)

Of course, my rules don't matter any more than Roach's do, because climbing is for fun and for the challenge instead of for credit (unless you're going for a record). A lot of times it's more fun to climb mountains under 14,000' anyway because there usually aren't many people on those, and there aren't always trails to the top.

So if you wanted to go out and officially climb all 54 official fourteeners, how long would it take? In the 1950's, a guy from Boulder (Cleve McCarty) climbed all 54 peaks in 54 days. Two weeks ago, Andrew Hamilton finished all 54 peaks in 13 days, 22 hours, and 48 minutes, a new record for all 54. That's amazing. He's from Boulder too -- must be the water there. Here's a preliminary write-up on that trip. It's really interesting:


NPR story of the week:  NPR reported this week that people in the United States are fat. Except they used the more modern and polite terms of "overweight" and "obese." (These are official government terms now that apply to people depending on just how overweight they are.) About half or more of people in the U.S. are too fat, though. But this was not the gist of the news story. This story uncovered a diabolical conspiracy and exposed who is responsible for all our overweight problems. It's those farmers! They're in cahoots with the FDA and the food companies. They grow too much food and THAT's what's making us all so fat. I am not making this up! I heard this on National Public Radio. This was reported by an NPR reporter -- it was not some call-in nut. (I tried to get it off their web site just now to provide proof, but their computer is broken. Must be a Y2K problem.) But now that I think about it, it does make sense. There's just not that much obesity in Ethiopia...

In other news, the Iranian government arrested about a thousand students because they did some protesting about freedom of the press. Not to be outdone, the Chinese government "detained" about 100,000 people in preparation of the 50-year celebration of communist rule next week. They're also having some rallies in the next few days where they're sentencing a couple hundred criminals to death. (I'm not sure if this is a traditional thing or not.) They missed me:


Speaking of China, in an earlier junk mail I mentioned Roosevelt's Open Door Policy. It turns out that William McKinley was president then. Oops.

The Autumnal Equinox AND the first day of fall were this week. By coincidence, there were 12-hour days and nights everywhere on earth (except maybe the north and south poles.) Around this time of year there are problems with the sun interfering with some geostationary satellites. (A geostationary satellite is over the equator about 26205 miles from the center of the earth. Its orbit keeps it over the same position of the earth all the time because it orbits the earth every 24 hours in the same direction as the earth's rotation.)

There are two reasons for this disruption. One, sometimes the sun gets directly behind the satellite and the satellite dish picks up enough interference from the sun to mess up the satellite's signal. Two, sometimes the earth's shadow blocks the solar cells on the satellite for a while and the battery runs down on the satellite.

I've read a few times that GPS satellites might be affected by the sun during the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, but that's just plain impossible. GPS satellites orbit the earth a little faster than every 12 hours, and they don't go around the equator. There's as likely to cross the sun's path on June 7 as they are on September 23, and they don't spend enough time there to hurt anything.

Here is the source of these equinox problems:


(taken from the SOHO satellite.)


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