Letters – #180

We’re in the market for decorative envelopes to help beautify our Letters pages. If you’ve got an artistic envelope bent, pull out your weapons-of-choice, decorate an envelope with our snail mail address on it, mail the resultant envelope to us, and, if we print it, we’ll give you a year’s subscription to the Mountain Gazette.

Little Dog lives!

Dear Gazette Readers: For those of you concerned about the welfare of Little Dog Casey (Smoke Signals, “Little Dog,” MG #176), rest assured, your concerns are unwarranted and needless. Having just spent several days with M. John and Little Dog, it is easy to see the Karmic Dog Gods were smiling on Casey when she landed in the laps of John and Gay Fayhee, literally and figuratively speaking of course. A couple trips a day to the friendly confines of the Silver City dog park, where she has already made several friends, more toys than one dog could possibly need or chew up and a comfortable dog bed at night! Inside, I might add. Having been a surrogate “uncle” to Cali for nearly a dozen years, I know what Fayhee dog love is all about and having just witnessed dog love part II, Little Dog has a wonderful home for the rest of her doggie years. If all dogs go to heaven, Casey is already there.
Fayhee does need to be concerned about one thing though — if he is not careful, Little Dog Casey is going to think her first name is Sweetie!

M. Fox,
Frisco, CO

Spreading our legs, er, wings

Hi, Fayhee: The recent issue of MG seemed like you are reaching out to other mountain places more. The piece on Bear Valley (“Terror and Wonder at the Mountain Roundup,” by Vince Welch, MG #177) struck me. We drove up that BV highway over and over seeking our caretaker winter paradise in our old Landrover 88. Her name was Galushka. She deserves to be remembered. I would buy her back for 5X.
Yes, reach out to these other island mountain worlds from which we look to the plush and verdant mountain lives on the Great Divide.

Sorry. The magazine means a lot. We still carry around these boxes of the primal Gazette magazine, never wishing to throw them out in spite of each year’s recurring, attempted self-stripping to the bone, to somehow become as light as we once were.

Love yuh. Don’t drink too much. Live On.


To go or not to go

John: Your piece on Bull Sluice rapids (Smoke Signals, “Deliverance,” MG #177) raises one of the essential ethical conundrums eventually faced by many non-solitary adventurers, particularly in the mountains — the question of whether to proceed in the face of exceptional hazard or to turn back/go the long way/portage around. A split group must address a variety of ethical dilemmas and psychological negotiations on the spot, often with rapids roaring/blizzards blowing in their ears and elevated adrenal production in their blood. The story is also a reminder that we never really leave behind the social politics of the playground, with its herding behavior, unspoken codes and uncompromising dichotomies. The field of avalanche safety and winter backcountry travel in particular is rife with case studies in these group dynamics.
Adventure Orgy Guy was right on script when he expressed disappointment in your choice to demur at the last minute. However, he overplayed his hand when he tried to pin the blame on you for his own decision to continue. In some such situations, the go/no-go question has implications for the entire group, as when it changes the route, or when each alternative entails risks of its own. But in this case, with portage as an option, Adventure Orgy Guy’s choice to run the rapid anyway does not give him the right to place the burden of his choice on you, and in particular does not absolve him of essentially ordering an employee to go in your place. As with those formative confrontations on the playgrounds, we indeed find ourselves replaying the dramas in our heads again and again, long after the fateful day.

On the other hand, a more generous interpretation of his comment would be merely as a wistful expression of regret for an opportunity missed.

It strikes me that this question of field ethics would be a fine feature idea for a future MG issue.

Malcolm McMichael,
Carbondale CO

Granite, schmanite

Dear John: Having read George Sibley’s article in MG #177 (“Sera and the Wildernext”), I have one small correction. Judging by his description of a magnificent marble entrance to a bridge in Lower Manhattan, one can deduce that this is the Manhattan Bridge, which connects downtown Brooklyn to Chinatown in Manhattan. This is the only East River Bridge with any monumental ornamentation. The columns, beaux arts reliefs and friezes are not of marble, as Mr. Sibley states, but granite, a much more durable material.
The frieze above the massive entryway to the bridge was sculpted by Charles Cary Rumsey. It depicts, oddly enough, a buffalo hunt by four Indians on horseback.

The urban wilderness has had for me, as well as Sibley’s daughter, a haunting draw for the unexpected and profound.

Well done.

Allan Cox,
Silver City NM

Editor’s note: Mr. Cox was a monument restorer for the Department of Parks, City of New York, from 1970 to 1996, and retired as the chief monuments restorer.

Dear Mom

John, You deliver again with the “Scar Tissue” story.  (Smoke Signals, MG #179.) My mom is visiting, and you’ve elevated my appreciation for the time with her. Your stories frequently hit home, I’d put you up there with the best writers to have graced this crazy globe. Thank you.

BS (serious)

Off the map

John: I too spend hours looking over atlases (Smoke Signals, “Injun Joe,” MG #178). I look at them both when traveling to new places, or occasionally even when going somewhere I have been dozens of times; actually, I think I might spend more time looking at them when I am going somewhere that I have already been to dozens of times. Atlases and maps are some of my most prized possessions; this may be partially due to the time I’ve spent backpacking and on paddling trips when maps are one of the few things along for the ride, but it is mainly because they, often more than photos, are tied in with memories — and anticipated further travel, of course. I have never tried using a GPS system, nor do I have any interest in them; maps are amazing things and it makes me sad to see someone looking to yet another display screen for direction.
The atlas is like a table of contents for trips. The atlas highlights an area and then I look over topographic maps for specific places to go. I am not much into following trails, though on family trips we usually do; I suppose I get my share of trails then. I enjoy seeing what is on the map on my own. For me, I like to look over the atlases and maps and tie my memories to them; a map of a region I have explored on foot or by kayak or canoe come alive when I glance at it. A map is like a beautiful work of art for me, I would rather have a map of one of my favorite regions hanging on my wall than nearly anything else.

I have an old atlas with random points of interest listed, but it does not say what the points-of-interest actually are or even assign names to them. Many of the highlighted points-of-interest are not located on roads; they are out in the middle of heavily forested areas or marshes. I have to wonder if some of these places are the sites of plane crashes, buried treasure, UFO landings or Bigfoot sightings. I recognized one of the places, marked along a creek several miles from the nearest trail,  as the location of a turn-of-the-century logging camp where smallpox had hit and every logger died. The place is now the site of the mass grave where the loggers were buried. Most of their family members, if they had any, were probably still living across the Atlantic when the men died. It was strange the first time, every time I guess, to see the small dot marked “POI” on that spot; the only reason I knew what the dot marked was that I knew the history of the area — it made me wonder what the other dots could be. The atlas presented many puzzles. I wondered if whoever compiled the atlas had wandered into small cafes and asked where interesting things had happened but had lost their notes before everything was marked.

Old mines and ghost towns in the mountains have always struck me as being of the sort of wilderness George Sibley wrote about in the April issue. The mines a century later do not seem quite so imposing; they are an altered landscape that sometimes make me think of post-apocalyptic movies when I stumble across them; finding places like that is something that topographic maps have helped with before too. There were many times when I picked a route and found an old cabin or two, or old mining works, and suddenly I was not just a lone man wandering through the wilderness, but a lone man wandering through an abandoned world too harsh for others to live in and could expect to encounter armed bands of cannibals at any time.

The mines and ghost towns are the rural Western equivalent of abandoned warehouses and factories in the long-inhabited cities and regions of the country. In the Twin Cities, where my brother roams, there is a strong vein of explorers that goes out to the abandoned buildings and especially the caves along the banks of the Mississippi. Many of the caves were used during Prohibition as speakeasies and distribution points along the river, and now abandoned warehouses holding large amounts of explosives back up to caves there also. This sort of new explorer is the subject of the documentary film “Urban Explorers,” which I recommend to anyone interested in the abandoned and decaying sections of cities. Some of these abandoned places are amazing to see, and I have to admit that they are quieter than some of the designated wilderness areas I have been to.

I cannot imagine this new sort of exploration becoming a huge new trend with special clothing and gear lines, mainly because the majority of the areas that are being explored are privately held and kids could end their adventures in jail (of course that happens when the kids head out to parties or the bars, so maybe it is not a very strong argument), but with scarcity of resources and a growing outspoken segment of society deciding to stay in their own backyards, there could be more kids taking to the abandoned factories and sewer systems in the coming years — where else can you go to be wild in a city surrounded by cities?

Bottoms up,

Joseph Van Nurden,
Gunnison, CO