Volume 30, Number 3
October 1, 1999
On September 30, 1999 Frank Hawker formally retires from the University of Toronto after 48 years of service. This makes him the longest serving person ever to be associated with astronomy at U of T; even the venerable Dr Chant retired after 44 years, and Frank's longtime friend and associate, Gerry Longworth, only lasted 46 years before the 'Gone Fishing' sign was tacked to his door. The University had already noted Frank's staying power when it awarded him a Sesquicentennial Medal for long service 22 years ago!
Frank joined the DDO staff as an electronics/electrical technician in 1951, a time when he was most needed for such things as servicing dome motors and designing electrical relay systems. Data capture by high speed solid-state electronics and computers was still a long way in the future. When I joined the staff in 1961 it was in part because the then Director, Jack Heard, wanted to introduce photoelectric photometry to DDO, so Frank and I were pointed at each other and more or less told to get on with it. We borrowed designs, both electronic and mechanical, from many sources, and tried many experiments of our own. DC amplifiers were the thing to use then, and with their very high meg resistors they drifted with every notch of humidity and temperature. Endless calibrations were needed constantly. Output was to a strip-chart pen-recorder, and in winter we agonized over how much alcohol to add to the ink to stop the pen from freezing while keeping the record still visible. (Needless to say, there were no warm rooms. You lived your observing life on the floor of the dark dome itself.) I laugh at the almost ludicrous comparison with today's systems.
But Frank has been much more than a good companion at work. He is an endless source of knowledge about the people and events of DDO's long-ago, not to mention all the innumerable details and subtle nuances of mirror aluminizing and other technicalities. And his photographic history of the observatory is without par; he recently treated DDO denizens to a sample of his 35mm slides going back to the days when the car park still faced the front door, and there wasn't a tree to be seen around the building.
Frank retires to four acres of unspoiled countryside up north and
a considerable family of dogs
and cats. May you enjoy every minute of it, Frank. We shall
Please join me in congratulation Chris Burns and Mark Brodwin on receiving Sumner awards, Chris for the second time, Mark for the first. These awards are made to excellent Canadian students who are pursuing doctoral studies at a select group of Canadian universites (other than the one at which they received their bachelor degree). Eligible fields of study are Chemistry, Physics and Electronics - so we're competing head-to-head against physics students.
This is is an exciting time for librarians- we are in the midst of sweeping and profound changes, as in academia and elsewhere in society. Teaching and research methods are changing. Publishing is changing dramatically. And what is driving it all is, of course, great advances in communications and technology.
People sometimes ask me whether electronic publishing and the web will render my profession obsolete. Of course I can't predict the future any better than anyone else, but I believe the answer is no. Research and teaching and learning are not about technology. They are about using intellectual capabilities to solve problems and explore puzzles about human nature and the world. The role of libraries and librarians will certainly change, it has changed already. But librarianship is not about technology either. It is about collecting, organizing, preserving and making available the results of that intellectual activity. We're just doing it in different ways, that's all. Our new challenge is to absorb the information overload shock that we are all suffering under. We hope to continue to work effectively together with the other elements of the scholarlship team.
I wish to thank the UofT Astronomy Department for giving me their unstinting support in this endeavor and to thank them for their vote of confidence, manifest in their nomination of me for this award. And of course, I wish to thank OCUFA too, for my award in particular and for the award programme in general. Thank you.
Lynn and I are delighted to announce the birth of our daughter Miranda Kassiopeia Kovacs Reid at 1:45 PM on May 14. Her mass at birth was a hearty 3495 g, and she has lots of blond hair. Mother and daughter are healthy and came home Sunday afternoon.
I am happy to announce the birth of Joel Christopher Netterfield on June 18. He and his mother are happy and healthy
Well the new kid has finally arrived - its a boy! Everyone is doing well! Here's the data:
Name: Kintaro Roman Birth Place: North York General Hospital Birth Date: Friday, July 2 1999 18:13:23.3245 EDT Weight: 3635 g Length: 52 cm Mass-energy: 3.27e20 ergs Temperature: 310 K Velocity at Birth: 0.99 c Fingers & Toes: 10 of each Colour: Pink Hair: Black and Straight Eyes: Brown
From 1-7 July 1999, we had the pleasure of hosting "Partners in Astronomy", the first-ever joint meeting of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and the American Association of Variable Star Observers. The meetings were held at the University of Toronto, St. George Campus, with side trips to the Ontario Science Centre, and the David Dunlap Observatory, just north of the city. The meeting had many components. As well as the individual scientific and business sessions of the three societies, there was a three-day Teachers' Workshop (attended by 270 elementary and secondary school teachers on a holiday weekend!); a workshop on partnerships between astronomers (both professional and amateur) and school teachers; two days of non-technical public lectures by 20 of the best astronomy communicators in North America (with Geoff Marcy as the keynote speaker); a day of lectures on the history of astronomy; and a three-day symposium on "Amateur-Professional Partnerships in Astronomy Research and Education". The Proceedings of this Symposium will be published in the ASP Conference Series, with John Percy as the editor.
The Teachers' Workshop was an outstanding success. What was the secret? For one thing, astronomy is now part of the elementary and secondary school science curriculum, and the teachers are desperate for support. We also had some of the best presenters in North America: Andrew Fraknoi, Philip Sadler, and Dennis Schatz - not to mention Canada's first woman in space - Roberta Bondar. There were about two dozen other presentations, with parallel sessions for elementary and secondary school teachers, including several workshop-type sessions.
The Symposium, attended by almost 200 professional and amateur astronomers and educators, highlighted some of the technological and organizational developments which will enable amateur astronomers to increase the quantity, quality, and variety of their contributions to astronomy; these contributions are already outstanding! One day was devoted to issues in astronomy education, and the importance of partnership. A feature of this Symposium (which I would recommend to others) was the use of panel discussions and general discussions to enable many people to contribute. There were also 80 posters presented. The discussions, and summaries of the posters, will be included in the Proceedings.
We are especially grateful to NASA, the US National Science Foundation, the Canadian Space Agency, and the University of Toronto, for funding travel grants for many of the non-professional participants in the symposium. Several other organizations provided major funding for other parts of the meeting.
We are grateful to the many people in the department who helped in
so many ways.
Last December I circulated an e-mail noting that the Department of Astronomy had passed its 80th birthday in 1998. This was based on a history of the Physics Department by Elizabeth Allin, written in 1981, in which she noted "When in 1918 Astronomy became a department separate from Physics [Chant] became its first head." Since then I have done some digging in the University Archives and have concluded that this statement is wrong. DA is actually much older if we allow that for its first fifteen years or so it was called the Department of Astrophysics, which was established in 1904 or 1905. Here is an excerpt from Chant's autobiography:
My continued interest in the Astronomical Society impressed upon me the fact that the University was not giving to the subject of Astronomy the attention it deserved. Two lecture courses in it were offered. One was a course in Elementary Astronomy which was taken by some of the students at the School of Practical Science and could be taken by students in the Pass Course in the Faculty of Arts. The other was an advanced mathematical course which could be taken as an option by honour students in Mathematics in their fourth year. Neither course included the application of Physics to Astronomy, i.e., astrophysics, although in the previous thirty years it had given new life to astronomical questions and had increased popular interest in the subject.
I consulted my colleagues in the departments of Mathematics and Physics, and asked if they would support me in an endeavour to improve the position of Astronomy in the University. They all cordially agreed to do so. For about twenty years in the well-established course in Mathematics and Physics, candidates had an option in the final year-they could graduate in Pure Mathematics or in Physics. It was now proposed to add a third option, namely, Astronomy and Physics. Near the end of 1904 the University Senate passed a statute establishing the new graduating course....
The subjects to be taken in the final year were: Elementary Astronomy, Advanced Theoretical Astronomy, Practical Astronomy, Celestial Mechanics, Differential Equations, Theory of Least Squares, Physical Optics (including Spectrum Analysis). This addition to the curriculum made desirable a change in the organization of the department. Hitherto I had been a member of the Department of Physics. Now the sub- department of Astrophysics was created, with an appropriation of its own, and I was in charge of it.
I think the stumbling block for Allin was the word 'sub-department', which she apparently took to mean 'within the Physics Dept', but which may have been used simply because the University found it difficult to call one professor a department. Note that Chant says 'Hitherto I had been a member of ... Physics', implying that he was no longer a member, and that he had a separate 'appropriation', i.e. budget.
This is strongly bourne out by the archival record, such as survives. From the start in 1905 Chant deals directly with the university president; no head of Physics or dean or provost is layered between them. In the spring of each year Chant submits to the president his proposed budget for the coming academic year, and receives a reply from the Bursar's Office (i.e. Comptroller) as to its acceptance or modification. This reply is addressed to Department of Astrophysics, the 'sub-' having been dropped almost from the start. Moreover, this procedure sails right through 1918 without the slightest indication of any change in the department's status.
What does happen, though, in March of 1919 when Chant submits his annual estimates he notes in the letter "I would request, also, the appropriation be put under the heading 'Astronomy' instead of 'Astrophysics'. This last word has been a puzzle to many people and ludicrous mistakes are continually being made." Evidently this had little effect because a year later, on April 9, 1920, he writes "I would suggest again that the estimate be headed ASTRONOMY, not Astrophysics, as the latter term is often misunderstood and caricatured...." This took effect, and thereafter the department was known as the Department of Astronomy. So I think we can reasonably claim that DA is now 94 and its 100th anniversary will be in 2005.
Incidentally, budget making was not a big deal in those days. Chant was
promoted to full professor in 1918 with a salary of $3300, and his
budget comprised two lines: one assistant, salary $700, and supplies
and apparatus, $850.
I saw the eclipse from outside of Stuttgart with my German and
American family. Traffic was backed up on the autobahn about 30k from
Stuttgart, which was on the center line of the eclipse, so we just
pulled off the road and parked at the top of a little hill in
Schwabish Hall. We set up our tailgate party about an hour and a half
before the total eclipse and watched the partial eclipse while
picnicking. The weather was partly cloudy and at times we had 13
people ranging in age from 4 to 74 yelling in English and German at
the clouds to disperse or at least for any particularly dense cloud to
pass quickly by. Other groups of people soon joined us along the
ridgeline, and an older woman biked slowly by calling out (auf
Deutsch) "The Savior is coming!" She was headed in the direction of a
small church. At noon, half an hour before totality, the church bell
rang out an alarm for several minutes, and then the woman biked back
the way she came, repeating her tidings. The wind picked up speed and
we watched the sun disappear through passing veils of mist. Only in
the very last minutes before totality did we notice a dimming of
light, because the lighting had been so variable due to the clouds
that we couldn't trust it was the fading sun until it was a quite eerie
evening light. A flock of ducks winged in their awkward way by, which
might have been just a normal ocurrence, but I'd like to imagine that
they were confused into heading home for nightfall.
At the moment totality was reached, the sky between us and the sun was
clear! We all saw the ghostly coronal halo around the sun, and those
who were collected enough to make detailed observations (my dear
mother among them) saw "red beads" along the rim. I was too excited
to even pretend a scientific observation of the details or the timing.
A cloud did cover the sun partway through, allowing us only maybe 30
seconds of clear viewing, but no one was disappointed by the show. Venus
was also visible but we were too distracted
by the Sun to look for any other planets or stars during the eclipse,
and besides which, the sky was mostly cloudy. It
was pouring rain in Stuttgart during totality, as we saw on TV later,
so in fact we were lucky that we couldn't make it to the central line.
As the diamond ring appeared on the opposite side of the sun everyone
applauded the sun and moon for their perfectly executed pas de deux.
Click on image to see full-sized version.
Click on image to see full-sized version.
In the summer of 1998,
following the southern branch of the ancient Silk Road,
I traveled a thousand kilometers overland up
the Indus River from
Islamabad on the Karakorum Highway, skirted the western edge of the Great
Himalayan Range, crossed the Karakorum over the windswept, lonely Krejuber
Pass and into the high steppe of central Asia in Chinese Turkestan, the
province of Xinjiang.
The destination was Muztagh Ata, ``The Father of Ice Mountains''.
At 7546m, it is the second highest peak in the Pamirs, the ``hub'' from
which all the great mountain ranges of Asia emanate.
Day 1, July 20, to Basecamp
We are finally on our way to BaseCamp: the camels packed, the mountain in front of us. The four long days of riding in the expedition buses have been grueling. After a fitful night sleeping nine to a yurt (a type of mongolian semi-permanent tent, which is what most nomads live in in central Asia) at the shore of Lake Karali, I got up before sunrise to take my first close look at the Mountain. It was just like the picture I saw 15 years ago in Galen Rowell's book Mountains of the Middle Kingdom, the first time when I became aware of Muztagh Ata. The gleaming golden yellow of the early morning sun on the glacier 4000m above, huge in scale and brooding.
We start the trek to Base Camp from the small settlement of Subax, just off the KKH. It's an 800m climb on gentle open grassland and lateral moraines to Base Camp at 4350m. The 20 camels carry most of our gear, with their drivers walking and singing next to them.
The expedition is led by Dan Mazur of Seattle, a summitter of five 8000m peaks who has been privately leading what are called ``commercial expeditions'' for many years. I learned of the existence of guided climbs of high altitude mountains in 1996, when I first heard of the tragic disaster on Everest, where eight members from two guided expeditions perished high on the South Ridge. The advance in technology in the 15 years since I last successfully climbed a (somewhat) high altitude mountain, Huascaran Norte in Peru at 6600m, and the dramatic popularization of adventure travel and mountain climbing have changed the landscape of high altitude mountaineering. The giant 8000 and 7000'ers, once the domain of the elite mountain climbers, are now possibilities for all those weekend mountaineers who are willing (and foolish enough) to put in the time and the cost, and tolerate the physical hardship and the risk. Many professional climbers, instead of making their living solely by writing books, giving lectures, and endorsing products, now also often become high-altitude mountain guides.
There are two types of commercial expeditions. One is the fully guided climb, in which the leaders act as mountain guides in the traditional Alpine sense, taking the clients up the mountain step by step. The tragic Everest guided expeditions in 1996, described in Krakauer's Into Thin Air: Mountain Madness, led by Scott Fisher of Oregon, and Adventure Consultants, led by Rob Hall of New Zealand, were examples of these. The other is what are called ``commercial'' expeditions, in which the main job of the leader(s) is to organize all the logistics: permits, land transportation, porters, sherpas, cooks, food, and tentage. Once on the mountain, the climb is then run in a manner similar to a regular expedition. Almost always, the leaders are the strongest and most experienced mountaineers, and hence they are the ones who put up the route and fix ropes along the more technical and dangerous sections. Dan has led many of these trips in the Himalayas and Karakorum, including in 1996 an expedition to Lhotse, the neighbouring 8000m peak of Everest, sharing the same basecamp with the ill-fated Fisher and Hall expeditions.
Everyone is eager to get going after six days in Pakistan and China, mostly spent in crammed buses. We walk on flat grassland. Muztagh Ata looms to our left with its glaciers and 1000m high cliffs. Soon, I drop far behind the group as my cough intensifies. I caught a bad cold on the day I left Toronto. Spending two nights in airplanes with a cough, fever, and a running sinus was not an auspicious way to begin an expedition. The hard overland travel did not do me any good. And so, my hope of losing the cough before getting to high altitude is dashed.
After wading a wide roiling glacial river, we turn towards the mountain and climb up steadily on giant lateral moraines. I have lost sight of all others, as I approach 4000m; I find I am no longer able to walk and cough at the same time.
Basecamp is in a bowl beneath a steep section of the moraine separating two giant glaciers coming down the mountain. The glaciers on Muztagh Ata have carved out these gigantic gullies of ice right from the summit, with vertical sides of 1000m high. The route up the mountain is simple. Follow the moraine up to the snow line at 5350m to the location of Camp I. From there, the ridge separating the glaciers becomes a fairly smooth glacier itself with a few easy icefalls and cliffs, leading up to a gigantic, flat and ice-capped summit plateau. Unlike many mountains of this height, Muztagh Ata is a massive block with a convex profile -- it gets flatter as one climbs higher. This unusual profile, although it makes climbing at high altitude easier, creates the problematic situation that once past Camp II at 6000m, one is out of radio communication with the lower camps.
It has taken two hours to put up my basecamp tent, a task that normally would have taken less than 15 minutes. The altitude, 4350m, is clearly taking its toll. But I am glad that we have enough tents so that we each have our own at Basecamp, for it will be home for the next 3 weeks.
The Chinese Mountaineering Association has made good use of Muztagh Ata as a source for foreign currency. They have set up at Basecamp a number of tents and shacks permanently, and staff them with local people during the climbing season. All expeditions must pay (at a relatively high price) for their services at Basecamp, which consist of providing an expedition cook and meals. They have a continuous train of donkeys and camels coming up from the road head, stocking the camp with fresh food, Pepsi, and yes, Xinjiang beers and the incredibly fiery rice liqueur. There is one other sizable expedition on the mountain at the moment -- a group of 14 French climbers -- but no doubt more to come.
Day 3, July 22, Basecamp
We have set our tents about 100m away from the center of the Basecamp. And even the simple act of walking the boulder field to the mess tent for meals in these first few days has been a struggle. The combination of coughing and headache has prevented me from resting properly. Coughing is a real chore at this altitude; and what is worse is the implosion-like headache it produces. I have problems sleeping, eating, and even talking, with this constant coughing. And in times when I do fall asleep, altitude-induced illogical dreams trouble me.
The total number in our expedition is 19. There are 14 paid ``clients'', (a somewhat large number, we all thought); Dan and the assistant leader, Jon; Dahu, the Chinese liaison officer; and Phurba and Kaji, two high altitude porter sherpas who have traveled all the way from Nepal to assist the expedition. Of the 14 climbers, most -- six -- are Americans. The others include four Britons, two French, and two Canadians.
Yesterday, Phurba and Kaji scramble up the moraine ridge a hundred feet above our basecamp and strung two strings of prayer flags. From our tent sites, we can see the multi-color flags fluttering in the wind. They then performed a simple Sherpa Buddist ceremony (even though we are in Muslim country) to ensure our good health and safety on the Mountain. We each ate some grains and nuts out of their hand, and they then presented each of us a yellow colored cord which we tied around our neck. I knew I would not be taking this off till I am all the way back home.
Somewhat incredibly, a good number from our expedition, including the three Coloradans -- Angela, Ellen, and Steve, who obviously are initially less affected by altitude because of their high altitude home -- made a carry up to Camp 1 yesterday, after getting up at 5AM. And more went up this morning. With questionable weather, and the effect of my cough and altitude, I have found neither the will nor the energy to head up towards Camp I until mid-afternoon, when the weather suddenly cleared. And even then, it was intended as a test hike of a couple of hours, to prevent myself from becoming too inactive. I hiked up with Patricia, the other Canadian in the group. She grew up in Ottawa, but has lived in Paris for many years where she is a lawyer in international law with a Dutch firm. We both want to take plenty of time to acclimatize, and prefer not to rush up the mountain like some of the younger, brasher, and apparently stronger climbers in our group.
Camp I is set right on the rocky slope just below the permanent snow line at 5350m (17500ft). A very steep, rocky, and ball-bearingly slippery trail leads most of the 1000m up to it on the moraine dividing two deeply canyoned glaciers. Somewhat to my horror, less than 2 minutes after I started up the steep trail, carrying an almost empty pack, I found myself gasping for air, and coughing incessantly. I was only able to settle into a steady pace after putting myself in a one-breath-per-step pace. (The normal walking gait is 4 steps per breath.) In two hours, I climbed about 400m, (climbing at this altitude, the sole gauge of progress is elevation gain. I have very little idea of the horizontal distance covered throughout the whole expedition), and sat on a rock for a long time to take in the stupendously expansive view the ridge afforded me.
To the right, below the moraine is the Kmatoja Glacier, gouging a deep gorge from the summit snow cap. At this lower level, the desert sun has carved the ice and snow into a countless number of giant sharp ice pyramids. In front of and 1500m below me to the west lies the huge, flat, brown valley that separates the purple sharp peaks of the Tdajikastan Pamirs and Muztagh Ata. Rivers and streams come down in full fury from the glacial mountains, meander and disappear into Karali Lake. The Karakorum Highway, invisible in the grand scale of the landscape, threads its way along the ancient silk route below. Marco Polo had supposedly passed through here, taking note of the ``Father of Snow Mountains''. The air was incredibly clear; I could see ranges and ranges into Tdajikastan, until the snowy peaks disappeared into distant clouds beneath the setting sun.
Day 4, July 23, Basecamp
The hike toward Camp I yesterday did me quite a bit of good, not so much physically, but mentally. After suffering from my cough for almost ten days, and having sat in Basecamp for two days seeing others moving up, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get up the mountain. My body felt like a wreck, it didn't seem to be acclimatizing. The short hike got my body moving again, and put me in a better frame of mind.
And so, today my plan is to do a carry up to Camp I.
The general plan for climbing the mountain is simple. It is done in repeated stages, to build up acclimatization and stock up intermediate camps. So, the first step is to carry up to Camp I, dump the load, and come back down the same day. Then one goes up again, with another load, stays overnight, and comes back to Basecamp. Next one goes up to Camp I again to sleep, continues to Camp II the following day, again to sleep and leave a small load, and returns the following day all the way back to Basecamp. By this time, after sufficient rest, and if one is deemed acclimatized and fit, one then goes on a 4 day push to get to the summit, by repeating the process of sleeping in Camps I and II, then on to Camp III and summit.
Not being in the forward group, I have to simply follow the route established by the leaders. The two sherpas have the job of carrying most of the tents and climbing ropes to the higher camps. There is a sufficient number of tents so that they populate all three high camps: little island havens in an incredibly inhospitable landscape. We carry our own personal gear: clothing, personal climbing and sleeping equipment, food, and fuel. Each time we head up to the intermediate camps, we carry more than we need and stock the camps with material that we will use for the final summit attempt.
The climbing organization is somewhat alarmingly loose. We are left by Dan to formulate our own precise plan with the general principle in mind, and hope compatible groups will form naturally.
It has taken me a struggling 4 hours and 40 minutes to climb the 1000m to Camp I carrying a relatively light pack, a very slow speed compared to reported times of as little as, e.g., 2 and 1/2 hours by the sherpas. I carried mostly climbing gear on this trip: my snow shoes, crampons, harness etc. to store at Camp I for later use. Our Camp 1 clings onto the black-rocked slope just below a huge snow field and is a good 100m above that of the French. Tent sites are flattened into the slope and completely exposed to the elements. It is windy, rocky, desolate, and sterile.
An expedition from New Zealand, which arrived two days after we did, has also set up their Camp I next to us. We met them at the Pakistani border town of Soust a week ago. It is a guided expedition with three clients led by Guy Cotter of Adventure Consultants, the company of Rob Hall that was involved in the Everest disaster of '96. Cotter was Hall's business and climbing partner, and bought Hall's half of the company after his death. Although at Soust, Dan greeted Cotter warmly and said, after learning that they were going to the same mountain, something like: ``I hope we will be meeting on the mountain under happier circumstances than last time'', referring to Everest, it was clear from comments from both sides in the last couple of days that there has not been a lack of professional jealousies between the two camps. We also learned that this is the first time the company is on this mountain, and it is viewed as a trip to test the ability of the clients who are planning to climb Everest in the following year.
I sat at Camp I for a couple of hours to maximize the acclimatization process, staring north-west to Lake Karali and Mount Kongur, at 7700m, the highest peak in the Pamirs. Muztagh Ata now looks like an endless upsloping snow field, too grand to contemplate, with the summit infinitely far away in my mind. The idea of climbing it seems both intimidating and ludicrous. All I could do was sit there and try not to make any sudden movement, lest I start gasping for breath. I made a quick trip on the slippery steep trail back down to Basecamp, realizing that I should have brought a ski pole or a walking stick.
And tomorrow, I will go right back up again, this time to sleep.
Day 6, July 25, Camp I, Basecamp
The climb back to Camp I yesterday, with a heavier pack, including warm clothing, food and fuel, was easier than the first time. My cough has improved slightly; very bothersome still, but not as debilitating. By now, I have accepted that this cough will be with me for the rest of the expedition, until I get back down to sea level again. The body simply no longer has the spare energy to fight any respiratory infection. If anything, according to the experienced people, it is expected that everyone will have some sort of respiratory problem as time goes on. I have taken to rationing the small number of cough drops I have. I need to take at least one before I try to sleep.
Our expedition is a virtual high-altitude pharmacy, carrying all kinds of drugs one can imagine: many types of antibiotics, painkillers, morphine, diarrhea medicine, and drugs that I don't know about. But I have resisted in taking a course of antibiotic, partly due to my general dislike of taking any medicine unless absolutely necessary, and partly because I have no idea what interaction it would have with my body at altitude. Others seem to be much happier popping pills. An interesting phenomenon I have found is the prevalent use of the drug Diamox by climbers. I first learned about this in 1983 in Peru, when it was still somewhat of a novelty. It is supposed to change the water content of one's blood, helping the body to acclimatize. It seems a good number in the expedition are taking it, some because they feel they are not acclimatizing well; others, simply because it gives them an edge. It almost seems as if it is the steroid of high altitude climbing.
I have hiked up with 5 others yesterday; among them: the two sherpas, Patricia, Joe--a computer engineer from Britain, and Clint--a young banker-turned-geography-graduate-student from Berkeley. The forward group who have been up at Camp II was also here, creating somewhat of a traffic jam at Camp I. I was stuck in a tent sleeping three last night, with large sharp rocks sticking out underneath my thermarest sleeping pad. But I survived the uncomfortable night without too much ill effect from the additional altitude.
The main task today was simply to climb up a few hundred meters on the snow field to aid in acclimatization and also to try out the snow/ice gear for the first time this trip, before heading back to Basecamp.
This was especially important for me. Before the trip I had finally ditched all the expedition climbing gear that I have had for the last 15 years, and bought completely new, higher tech equipment, most of which I have not field-tested, as it was difficult to find snow and ice in July around Toronto. The main two pieces of equipment I was eager to try out are the double boots and these new ``rapid" clip-on crampons. Frost-bitten toes have always been the bane of high-altitude climbing. Now, plastic double boots with high-tech insulation have become standard in even moderately high-altitude mountaineering, making amputation of toes due to frost bite a much rarer occurrence. Climbers have survived incredible feats of bivouac at over 8000m without ill effects to their feet. I found the warmest of double boots available in Toronto. They are unwieldy, stiff, but light; and I wonder how my feet will like them.
Day 7, July 26, Base Camp
A rest day. Having slept in Camp I successfully, I begin to feel better about my chances. The number of expeditions arriving at Base Camp has taken a jump. A Spanish expedition pulled in this morning. Two Japanese climbers have also arrived. They are part of a larger expedition to climb Manaslu, an 8000m peak in Nepal, later in August, and are here to climb Muztagh Ata as a warm-up. The Japanese told us that in a few days, a large Japanese expedition, not associated with them, will arrive.
The weather has turned unstable again in the afternoon, but Jon and Dan, with a few others, left late in the day to hope to sleep at Camp II the next day, and start the process of setting up Camp III in two days' time. Meanwhile, the rest of us begin to formulate time lines for summit attempts. I am hoping to join a group heading back up to Camp I tomorrow, sleep in Camp II the following day and then return to Base. After a one day rest in Basecamp again, we can then begin the summit push on day 12. This will allow me to attempt the summit as early as day 15 or 16. This may be too fast a pace, but my own rationale is that this schedule may allow me a chance for a second attempt if the first one fails. This would mean coming back to Camp I to rest, and starting up the mountain again by day 18 at the latest, in order to summit and return to Base by day 21, the last day of the expedition.
Day 8, July 27, Base Camp
Today, a large group, including Joe, Patricia, Steve, Alex (an Irishman) and Olivier (a young professor of mathematics from Paris), wanted to head up to Camp I and onto Camp II. The weather continued to look bad. Joe started up to Camp I right after breakfast, but the rest of us have decided to wait out the uncertain weather at least till after lunch.
And indeed, right after lunch there appeared to be a break in the weather, the sun was coming out. I quickly packed, and started up the moraine behind our camp, with Patricia and Alex saying that they would follow in a few minutes.
After 30 minutes of struggling, I finally settled down into a steady rhythm and feeling reasonable well moving up the steep trail. But perhaps I have been too optimistic about the weather -- as I got higher, I began to see large areas of precipitation across the valley and on the mountain. Then I turned to the south and saw this huge dark menacing storm over the Kaloong Ridge, moving at a fast speed toward this part of the mountain. All the sudden, I felt a chill in the air, and heard thunders approaching. I stood and wondered if the storm will pass below me, or if I should continue on and hope it will blow by quickly. The wind became fierce, and soon, ice pellets were beating down on me. I stopped and put on my gortex trying to cover as much exposed skin as possible. Realizing that the others were almost certainly not going to come up under this kind of weather, and not wanting to be out of sync with the others, I decided to go down.
In a blowing mix of rain and ice pellets, I ran down back to basecamp on the slippery steep trail, and found everyone has squeezed themselves cozily into the Sherpa's large tent drinking milk tea.
The rain finally cleared up around 4PM, and Olivier and Steve began to try to convince people to start up to Camp I again. I simply felt that this was too tight a schedule, I would barely make it into Camp I by darkness even if I could improve my pace by a large margin. They managed to convince Patricia, however, and then the sherpas. They made Camp I right at darkness, and now, I was in danger of being out of sync with the sherpas.
Day 9, July 28, to Camp I again
Andrew, the young American who teaches English in Korea, has graciously lent me one of his walking sticks. (``Walking sticks'' have also gone high tech in the last few years. They are no longer your old wooden staff, but high-tensile strength ski-pole like, telescopic, with tungsten tip and ski baskets, that could cost over a hundred dollars.) There will be at least four of us going up today. Andrew, Alex, Clint, and myself; and possibly Dahu, the Chinese liaison officer.
I start in mid-morning with fine weather. Although I am feeling reasonably good, I am still walking with the laborious one breath per step slow pace. High up at the rocky outcrop that we have dubbed the ``fortress'' where the moraine turns into a boulder slope, I see Joe, who is on the way down. He is sitting on a big rock, looking exhausted, more tired than someone who is going up. He has a racking cough, and complains that he had a very poor night with headache and nausea. At 28, Joe is the youngest in the group, and also one of the three or four with very little mountain experience. (The other two being Andrew and Alex, both also among the youngest in the group). Poor fellow, he was sick as a dog on our very first day at base camp; we almost had to take him back down to the roadhead that night. But he did reasonably well during the first time we went to Camp 1. Now he looks completely defeated.
Arriving at Camp I I have taken 4 hours and 30 minutes. I am disappointed at not seeing an improvement, and wonder how I'll do tomorrow to Camp II. Camp I is empty. All those who were up yesterday have either gone up or back down. We assume that Patricia, Jon, Steve, Olivier and the sherpas have gone to Camp II. It is not clear who will be going up to Camp II tomorrow; it could be a rather inexperienced team.
Andrew, Alex, and I crowd into one tent in the blowing wind to brew up and make soup and tea. Andrew drops a burning match onto my thermarest mattress in his clumsy attempt to light the hanging stove. And now I have a leaking air mattress. Another lesson learned at high altitude: cover up the mattress when playing with fire. A leaking mattress would mean an unbearably cold sleep. But after my unpleasant experience of sleeping on a Greenland glacier on a leaking mattress, I have taken to having a repair kit as an essential item. I spend the rest of the afternoon fixing the leak.
In the late afternoon, we see three people coming down from the glacier above. It is Patricia and the two sherpas. It turns out that they have not gone up to Camp II to stay; partly because of not having enough tents set up there yet. Jon, the assistant leader, Steve, and Olivier are staying up and will attempt to establish Camp III tomorrow. Patricia and the two sherpas plan to go back up to Camp II to stay tomorrow, with the sherpas ferrying two more tents up. This makes for a rather tiring trip for Patricia, but it does put me back on the same phase as her and the sherpas.
Dahu, who has started late, finally gets into Camp 1 just at dusk. We are all a bit worried about him. Although he is a cycling champion, and an avid rock climber, he has no experience as a mountaineer. Also, it is puzzling that he has no English whatsoever, other than very simple words. This presents a problem as he often is the person who needs to act as a go-between between us and the local basecamp staff. He got this job as the liaison officer because he is a good friend of Jon in Beijing, and the two are working on starting an adventure travel business in China. Jon, a Minnesotan with a physics degree, has lived in China for a few years and speaks impressively fluent Chinese. When Dahu and Jon's Chinese girlfriend (who stayed in basecamp for the first week with us) saw me at the Chinese border post as they met the expedition, their eyes sort of lit up -- a ``foreign'' Chinese person who is actually going to climb the mountain. But they were disappointed at my poor Mandarin, and conversation just became too difficult once we got to 4000m; the brain is no longer willing to work on speaking an unfamiliar language.
Day 10, July 29, Camp II
We all woke up too late this morning; but I had a good sleep, all things considered. This could be regarded as the beginning of the real climb, onto the much less secure world of ice and snow, glaciers and crevasses. Alex had a bad night, and elected to go back down. Andrew wanted just to hike up a bit to try on his snow and ice gear. Knowing that I would be slow, I started out on the snow slope first at 10:30AM. Five others were going up: Clint, Dahu, Patricia, and Kaji and Phurba.
We have learned that we have to stop referring to Phurba and Kaji as ``sherpas'', even though we continue to do so. They are in reality Tamangs. Sherpa is actually a name of a clan. There are other clans in the region of Namche Bazzar, under the shadow of Everest in Nepal where the legendary climbing sherpas live, with the Tamangs being the next biggest. Dan has regaled us with story of envy, infighting and even physical violence between the different clans in the region during expeditions.
Over the last few days, I have learned more and more about Kaji and Phurba. They are cousins, and now both live in Katmandu, working for trekking companies. Although they are Tamangs, they have plenty of high altitude experience, having both been high up well above 8000m on the South Ridge of Everest. They are both professional climbers in their own right. Other members of their family have also been involved in the expedition business. And almost as expected, the mountain takes its toll; Phurba's bother died on Everest in the Eighties on a West Ridge expedition led by the British climber Doug Scott.
The slope is unrelenting, but I am actually moving up at a faster pace than last time, even with a moderately heavy pack. We all gather at the base of the ice fall where we meet Steve on his way down. He has decided not to help establish Camp III with Jon and Olivier. Patricia told me last night that Steve looked really tired yesterday on the way to Camp II, almost didn't make it.
The ice fall is a place where there is an abrupt change in the slope of the glacier, often a place of falling ice blocks, and large crevasses. This one did not look too menacing to me, despite what Ellen and Angela, who were up here 2 days ago, have been telling me. They wanted, as principle, us to rope up more sections of the mountain, especially in the ice fall. Ellen was especially adamant about it. She has lost many friends to glaciers, and most recently a month ago in Italy where she has just competed in a high-altitude marathon. So far, the leadership's intention is to continue the policy of unroped climbing on the glacier, but with well marked and wanded path. They did concede to put up several sections of fixed ropes between Camp I and Camp II. Here in the ice fall, we come to the first roped section, winding down into a gully traversing along a huge crevasse. This ice fall is really the only ``interesting'' bit on this relatively smooth mountain.
The next section of fixed rope is at the headwall of the ice fall -- a 30m stretch of the steepest slope on the whole climb, at about 50 degrees. The slope is not overly steep, but a fall there may be problematic as the bottom of the slope leads to a huge gaping crevasse, the biggest I have seen on the route so far. I clip on to the fixed rope for protection, but intend to free climb the slope without using the rope. At 5700m, carrying a 20 kg pack, and having only one ice tool makes that a rather strenuous exercise for me, leaving me desperately out of breath near the top. And it is also here that the exposure becomes the most palpable -- having to do a short three-step traverse directly over the wide open crevasse. Now that I have free climbed this slope once, next time, I will climb up on the rope. But I wonder if I have unnecessarily expended the much needed energy reserve for the remaining half of the climb to Camp II.
After the ice fall, we are on a long, steep, non-relenting slope of about 35 degrees, considerably steeper than the slope below the ice fall. Along that steep valley, there are several places where there are sign of hidden crevasses, and the forward team has marked those areas with wands and put fixed ropes along a few particularly ``porous'' sections.
The slope seems to go on forever. The mind numbs to the slow upward progress. And now most of us are climbing up together at about the same pace. Except Dahu. We have not seen him (well below us) since the base of the ice fall.
Then suddenly, we see the tents of Camp II. It sits on a ledge of a ridge on top of the long slope, so that we don't see it until we literally come up on it. It has taken us slightly less than 5 1/2 hours -- not an unreasonable time, even if we, with the exception of the Sherpas, are all exhausted.
As we are getting into the routine of settling into the now three-tent camp, we see two dots sliding down in the golden light of the setting sun on the slope above us. It is Jon and Olivier, skiing down, having successfully established Camp III. Dan and Franck carried two tents part way up the day before. Jon and Olivier, moving them further up, and setting our Camp III at about two hours higher than the French Camp III. They are a bit fuzzy about the exact altitude, but the opinion of our expedition is that the French Camp III at 6500m is too low. That leaves a 1000 metre plus climb for the summit, a daunting task at these altitudes. Perhaps this explains why the French team has not been able to place a climber on the summit yet. But of course, by setting Camp III higher, the trip between Camps II and III become a much longer slog which has to be done with a full pack.
Jon and Olivier continue down on skis after a brief rest, hoping to make Basecamp before dark.
Day 11, July 30 -- Back to Basecamp
It was almost dark last night when I saw Dahu's head peeking up from the slope below Camp II. We all thought he had turned back. He looked like a shell of a man, with vacant eyes and on the verge of collapse. My tent was the only one with another space, so, I helped him in, and gave him some water, while asking the sherpas to make some hot soup for him. Between my broken Mandarin and his broken English, I was able to establish that he managed to climb the ice fall on his own, continued up, but became so exhausted half way up that last slope that when he came up upon the load stash of the New Zealand expedition, he was about to simply settle there for the night. But Jon and Olivier saw him on their way down, and told him that it would be dangerous (clearly!) to stay the night out. And somewhat to my astonishment, Dahu's decision was to continue up (rather than go down with Jon, perhaps Jon told him he was only 1/2 an hour from Camp II). And it took him almost another 2 hours before he finally pulled himself over the edge to Camp II.
Last night was hell. I was in the smallest tent there, and then had to shoe-horn Dahu, who is tall for Chinese, into it. And he basically drifted off to unconsciousness right away, squeezing me into 1/3 of the tent against the tent wall all night. And even worse was that my sinus has become completely blocked, for some reason. I was not able to breath except through my mouth. At these altitudes, the air is incredibly dry. And I found that as I drifted off, my mouth and throat would get so dry in just 10 to 15 minutes, that I would wake up gagging, and had to take a sip from my water bottle. That went on for hours, until perhaps 4 A.M., when I could finally breath again. But I also seemed to be taking in the altitude in stride, despite the terrible discomfort all night -- I had no nausea, and only a slight headache. That, along with lethargy and shortness of breath, is normal.
The agenda for the day would be to climb up above Camp II for a few hours to help acclimatization, and then return to Basecamp in the afternoon. I had no success in rousing Dahu from his comatose sleep, but was able to ascertain that he was not gravely ill before I headed up slope at 11AM. These late starts have become somewhat worrisome. The group never seems to be very good at getting going in the morning, which becomes increasingly important as we go higher. Almost all of this has to do with exhaustion and lethargy at altitude.
I climbed up alone on the slope behind Camp II, following existing steps on the snow and ice, and aiming for distant wands. It was an open slope above Camp II, with tremendous view to the west. Soon, both our and the French's tents looked like little color dots clustered on this snowy ledge with a huge drop down to the brown valley below. The snow slope was bordered with gigantic crevasses on both sides, dropping off to the huge 1000m deep gullies that we saw on our Basecamp approach. After about 2 hours, I topped the slope onto a flat. I estimated that I have climbed perhaps 250m. The mountain steepens again after this flat I decided that this was far enough, and headed back down to Camp II after a bit of a rest.
When I got into Camp II, I saw, somewhat to my relief, that Dahu has got up and descended. The younger of the two Japanese Manaslu climbers arrived at Camp II from Basecamp at the same time. He has basically forsaken the standard high altitude acclimatization routine, and was climbing this very fast and in alpine style. Other than making one carry to Camp I a couple of days ago, he was now on his summit attempt, carrying everything from camp to camp, and attempting the summit solo and in one single push. Somehow for him, this must seem just like a little stroll up some snowy hump that he could do at will (or at least in 3 days).
And just as I was about to leave, Ellen and Angela poked their heads over the lip of the flat where Camp II sat. They will be part of our summit ``Team A'', which evidently consists of Dan as the leader, the two, and Richard, a Californian who has his heart set on setting the altitude record for snowboarding. They would stay in Camp II tonight, go to Camp III tomorrow, and hopefully summit two days from now. Summitting 13 days after arrival at basecamp seems like a rather ambitious schedule, (the Japanese climber's superhuman effort notwithstanding); but evidently many of the other expeditions do not give themselves much more time than 15 days, somewhat naively, I thought; and mostly due to the pressure of commercial trips having to confine themselves to a total of 3 to 4 week schedule, including travel, to fit into the general vacation length. But both Ellen and Angela were in high spirits.
The steep slope below Camp II that had taken what seemed an infinite time to climb now looked just like an easy snow face of a couple thousand feet that I could run down. I followed the fall line and plunge-stepped down. In my slightly unthinking mind, I did what I usually have done in North American mountains of much smaller sizes -- I decided not to follow the zig-zagging foot step path on the snow, thinking that I did not want to ruin the kicked steps for those who were coming up. About 1/3 way down the slope, my body sunk suddenly and I found myself buried up to my hip in snow, and instinctively I spread my arms out. I have fallen partly into a crevasse. But I wasn't alarmed as I stablized myself, and examined it by poking my ice axe into what seen to be a hole going into the slope horizontally at chest level. It was indeed a good size crack, as I heard ice chunks falling. I have half sunk into the down-slope side of the lip of a small crevasse that appeared to go into the 45 degree slope that I was on. Phurba, about a 100 ft above me, yelled at me: ``Keep going!''. At first I thought he meant I was doing fine, and should keep going. Then I realized he meant ``move out of there quickly!''. I leveled myself up slowly, and moved carefully a few metres back to the established trail. It was only then I realized it was a stupid mistake to have run down an untested path -- I forgot I was on a glacier, not a snow field, and unroped; and perhaps it was only my downhill speed that carried me over to the far lip of the crack. It was much later when I realized the reason why I wasn't alarmed as I sat there on the edge of the crevasse examining it with detached curiosity. I was thinking to myself that this was a much smaller crevasse than the one I fell into in Greenland a few years ago. But of course I forgot that, that time, I was on a rope, and couldn't have been safer. My mind was clearly running at fractional speed at these altitudes.
To be continued next issue...
We understand that Hugh has been very busy lately, cleaning up after hackers - putting out fires, so to speak. The following seems appropriate.
"Three friars were behind on their belfrey payments, so they opened a small
florist shop to raise the funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the
men of God, the rival florist thought the competition was unfair. He asked the
good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the
friars to close. They ignored him. He asked his mother to go and ask the
friars to have mercy on her son and close their shop. They ignored her too.
So, the rival florist hired Hugh, the roughest, toughest, most vicious thug in
town to 'persuade' them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their
shop, saying he would be back if they didn't close their store. Terrified,
they did close, thus proving...that Hugh, and only Hugh, can
prevent florist friars." (from a friend)
Extracted from Robert Roeder describes his [1979/80] sabbatical and other recent activities, appearing on p. 12 of the January 1981 issue:
The people [at the Centre for Theoretical Physics at the University of Texas, in Austin] went out of their way to make me feel at home. One interesting result was the permission, procured from the U.S. Defence Dept. by Prof. Wheeler, for me to use the ARPA computer net. My reason for being interested in the network is that via ARPANET one can access at high speed the computer run by the Mathlab Group at M.I.T. on which MACSYMA resides. The MACSYMA system enables one to do symbolic algebra on the computer, shortening many otherwise tedious calculations, and reducing chances of error. Unfortunately, aside from Prof. Charles Dyer and muself, UTCS apparently receives little inquiry about the availability of MACSYMA, so from this location we shall have to continue access by long distance telephone, a procedure which is much slower and error-prone.
As a result of unexpectedly fast developments in the case of the double quasar, 0957+561, my major research efforts in Texas were devoted to collaboration with Charles Dyer in attempting to stay abreast of the situation. In this I was helped by the fact that UTCS subscribes to DATAPAC and TELENET. After acquiring a video terminal in Austin, I was able to dial the Austin number of TELENET and reach the UTCS DEC-10. This meant that Charles and I could send messages, initiate and run programs, write and edit manuscripts, all via the computer link in a matter of seconds, while letters and documents sent by post took about two weeks to travel one way (as Pamela may remember). In fact some items just vanished!
With the help of the computer networks, we were able to write two Letters to the Editor of the Astrophysical Journal, an essay for the Gravity Research Foundation (which received Honourable Mention in the contest), and to start work on a major paper for Part I of the Ap.J.. All of this was done while the authors where 1500 miles apart.
Ensslin, T. A. Radio ghosts. 28-Jun-1999. Preprint No. 99-0385
Ensslin, T. A.; Kronberg, P. P.; et al. 74 MHz-VLA- observation of coma berenices with subarcminute resolution - observation, data reduction, and preliminary results. 28-Jun-1999. Preprint No. 99-0386
Hamilton, D.; Lester, J. B. A technique for the study of stellar convection : the visible solar flux spectrum. 25-Jun-1999. Preprint No. 99-0376
Johnstone, Doug. Physical processes responsible for the removal of circumstellar disks. 22-Sep-1999. Preprint No. 99-0560
Percy, John R. Effective learning and teaching of astronomy. 24-Aug-1999. Preprint No. 99-0492
Percy, John R. Light pollution : education of students, teachers, and the public. 24-Aug-1999. Preprint No. 99-0494
Percy, John R.; Kolin, David L. Studies of yellow semi-regular (SRd) variables. 10-Sep-1999. Preprint No. 99-0536
Percy, John R.; Mattei, J. A. "Hands-on astrophysics" - and beyond. 24-Aug-1999. Preprint No. 99-0491
Percy, John R.; Wilson Joseph B. Another search for Maia variable stars. 10-Sep-1999. Preprint No. 99-0535
Percy, John R. Building an "Astronomical Community". 24-Aug-1999. Preprint No. 99-0493
Rucinski, S. M.; Lu, W. Radial velocity studies of close binary stars. II. 24-Jun-1999. Preprint No. 99-0375
Rucinski, Slavek M.; Lu, Wenxian. W Crv : the shortest-period
algol with non-degenerate components?. 4-Aug-1999. Preprint No.