Thursday, July 27, 2006

Hike Blogging: Mt. Etna, Sicily

Editor's Note: Mount Etna is an ACTIVE volcano, so always be careful when attempting anything it's slopes.

Spurred by the Cap’n’s descriptions of his hikes to the tops of local mountains, the Great El-ahrairah has decided to take up the challenge. What follows is a report of my hike up, not some wimpy mountain but to the top (well not quite but close) of an active volcano, Mount Etna on the island of Sicily.

Mount Etna is Europe’s tallest active volcano. It erupts about every two to three years and depending on the eruption, it could be something rather destructive (like in 2001) or just a few volcanic belches (like today). It dominates the skyline of Catania and eastern Sicily at it highest point of 3,350 meters (10,990 feet). It is currently belching lava, but there is no danger to the surrounding communities since it’s all flowing down into a natural catch basin called Vale del Bove.

There are two ways to get to Etna, from the south thru the town of Nicolosi or from the north thru Linguaglossa. Since Nicolosi is just above Catania, I decided to go this way. The road winds up the side of the mountain thru old lava flows until to you arrive at Rifugio Sapienza at 1,892 meters (6207 ft) in altitude. Rifugio Sapienza was somewhat destroyed during the 2001 eruption, but this is the quickest way up the mountain to see the lava. There is a gondola ride that will take you up the mountain to 2500 Meters (8202 ft) at the foot of the Montagnola crater from the 1763 eruption. There you can take a special bus which will drive you father up the mountain to see the Torre del Filosofo crater at 2900 Meters (9514 ft) which will also get you much closer to the site of the current eruption. The whole round trip (up and down the mountain to see the whole shebang) costs 45 Euro. When I first came to Sicily in 1999, I went up to the top of Etna on one of these tours, but I don’t remember much about it other than it was windy and cold (for June) and I got to see actual, hot, flowing lava.

I poked around on the Internet and found a hike up the mountain to the site of the Montagnola crater and then back down. From there I thought that I would be able to see the lava in the Vale del Bove. The hike would take about four hours and would rise about 750 Meters (2469 feet). Before I started the hike, I wandered over to look at the twin craters of M. Silvertri Superiore and Inferiore. The road to Zafrerana Etnea runs between the two and back in 2001, they were still smoking. The end of my hike would have ended here, so instead of trying to find the trailhead to start my hike, I decided to go backwards and start at the end of the hike.

The first part of the trail passed thru lava fields and I was able to see the vent where the lava came pouring out in 2001 and destroyed some of Rifugio Sapienza. After that, I kind of lost track of the trail (it happens) and strayed off a bit, but since there is basically no vegetation on the side of the volcano, it wasn’t all the hard to see where I was going.

After about two hours of doing switchbacks up the side of the mountain thru volcanic sand and rock, I arrived at the top where the trail was. From there I could see the lava in the Vale del Bove

and also the summit where the lava was belching out.

From the parking lot down below, you could hear the lava exploding out of the crater and I expected to see a Hawaii witch doctor running around warning everyone that the "gods where unhappy today".

Here's a shot from the trail at the top showing three craters (M. Silvestri Superiore and Inferiore, another crater and Rifugio Sapienza in the distance and beyond that is the cities of Nicolosi and Catania.

My trip down the mountain was much less taxing because I basically pussed out and paid 12 Euro (Ladri!!!) and ride the gondola back down the mountain to Rifugio Sapienza. Lest the Cap’n think that I’m not the rabbit that I used to be when I dragged his furry rear-end up Timpanogos, my boots where starting to make hamburger out of my feet, so I decided to pay the 12 Euros and save my feet for another day. At the bottom, I kind of wandered around looking at the tourist trap shops that are located at the parking lot and then called it a day.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

If this is victory, I'd hate to see defeat

In the latest MSM effort to help the liberals delude themselves, this article suggests that recent Democrat victories in the Intermountain West mean the area is now "in play" in the 2008 elections.

However, in reading the article one finds that western Democrats who get elected are essentially moderate Republicans who to win must actually criticize the national party.

Note to the DNC: If your candidates have to pretend they're Republicans and distance themselves from other Democrats, that's not winning. That's another example of just how unpopular your party is.

Another example of media bias

This story from the front page of the local section of the Deseret News caught my eye yesterday. It seems that a neighbor of a family with a mentally-disabled son got fed up with his antics and posted a sign saying "Caution: Retards in Area".

The impression one got from reading the story was that this neighbor was picking on this poor family because their 13 year-old son is roughly equivalent to a 3 year-old in terms of mental capacity and like most 3 year-olds, doesn't understand the concept of property. Most of the article dealt with how everyone involved agreed the neighbor was being "hurtful" and how greater "sensitivity" towards the handicapped was needed in Juab county.

What a difference a day makes. In today's paper, a small byline article gave an update to the situation. It seems the police visited the neighbor and convinced (or threatened) him into taking down the sign. But what is really interesting is that we now find out this "loving little guy" who according to yesterday's article "frequently wanders" onto neighbor's property has actually been entering their homes uninvited, eating their food, and rifling through their possessions. In other words, committing acts that could be considered felonies if he had the mental capacity to establish criminal intent.

We also find out that this boy didn't just throw rocks at the neighbor's daughter; he actually hit her in the knee and elbow. Although I think the neighbor was wrong to post the sign, I can now understand the frustration that caused him to do it. It would appear that the boy, far from being a harmless little fuzzball, is actually becoming dangerous to others and his mother is either unwilling or unable to control his behavior.

I suppose it would be cynical of me to suggest that the reporter in the original story colored the facts in order to make the boy appear harmless and the neighbor appear bigoted and cruel. But if that's not the case, then he's a poor reporter because those facts shouldn't have been glossed over in the original article. If anyone ever wonders why I am so distrustful of the MSM, this is a perfect example. The article was written in a way calculated to produce outrage among the Do-Gooders of Salt Lake, probably to satisfy their appetite for moral superiority.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Hike Blogging: Ibapah Peak, Deep Creek Mountains

I spent a couple of days last week climbing Ibapah Peak, the highest point in the Deep Creek Mountains in extreme western Utah, about 60 miles south of the gambling oasis of Wendover, Nevada. It's quite a remote area and isn't that well-known (yet).

At 12,087 feet tall, Ibapah towers almost 7,500 feet above the valley floor. The Deep Creek Range can be accessed from Wendover or if you're looking for adventure, by way of the old Pony Express Route. But if you go that way, be aware that you need to take extra supplies. You're about 100 miles from the closest civilization.

The trailhead to the top of Ibapah is located in Granite Canyon. And there is plenty of granite in the canyon, as this picture shows. It looks very much like the City of Rocks in Idaho. In fact, I predict if the area is ever designated as wilderness it will soon be overrun with climbers wanting to try new routes, just like at City of Rocks.

Up near the top, the vegetation changes from pinon-juniper woodlands to lush spruce-fir forests and meadows. This is a picture of Red Mountain, the peak south of Ibapah. It looks strikingly like a mountain in the High Uintas Wilderness Area.

If you look closely just to the left of center in this picture, you'll see a mountain lion (Felis concolor) running up the hill. We surprised him while walking through a meadow. The wind was in our faces and he had no idea we were there until I made a noise. Then he was off like a shot and over the rocks and ridgeline -- about 200 yards -- within 10 seconds. The fact that he was out sauntering around in broad daylight demonstrates that this area doesn't get many visitors.

Ibapah peak is just a giant block of Tertiary granite. Up on top, there's the remains of an old heliograph station, which is a very nice place to have lunch. The trail going to the top was in pretty good shape and is marked by several rock cairns. The altitude didn't bother me as much as I thought it would, although the hike was pretty strenuous.

From the top, you can see almost 100 miles. This is Haystack Peak, which is located only a couple of miles to the north of Ibapah and is almost as high.

Overall, it was a great hike but one of the hardest I have ever done. We backpacked in the night before, and that part was very taxing due to the heat and the steepness of the trail. One could camp down by the trailhead -- there are several nice campsites and a creek with small trout in it -- but it's about 13.5 miles round trip from there to the top. Quite a hike for one day, especially since you're going from 6,800 feet to over 12,000. It's better to split it in half, or even thirds.


Friday, July 14, 2006

The Tour de Americans???

Yet again, the United States has shown that it is a force to be reckoned with in the Tour de France as American Floyd Landis has moved into first place in this year's tour. What makes this all the more surprising is that he is riding on a bad hip, a legacy of a training accident a few years back. So, I guess that American riders have to either be recovering from gunshot wounds (Gerg Lemond), cancer survivors (Lance Armstrong) or hip-replacement candidates (Floyd Landis) in order to race in the Tour de France just to make it fair for the other countries riders. If not, the Tour de France would probably be called the "United States Cycling Invitational, French Edition".

One other American with ties to the Great State of Utah, Levi Leipheimer, also did very well during yesterday's stage, but he is over 5 minutes back from the leader. Salt Lake's own David Zabrieskie had a bad day, and is way back in the standings. Discovery's George Hincapie also didn't do too well, and the team trainer for Discovery has already conceeded defeat. Oh well, at least we aren't the French. The last Frenchman to win the Tour was 1986, so hopefully, we can keep this streak going.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Yeah! Italy won!!

Italy was able to overcome a bogus penalty shot and win the World Cup on penalty kicks. Others have said that this year’s edition was rather boring and I will admit that at times it was, but at least they were able to keep the French from winning. Zinedine Zidane won the award for most valuable player of the World Cup but I think that was to make up for him being sent off for a head butt just before the end of the game. The Italian goalkeeper, Luigi Buffon should have won that award.

The Italian team produced 12 goals over seven games during this World Cup which equaled it’s output during the 1982 World Cup in Spain. However, these 12 goals were spread across 10 different players with only two, Luca Toni and Marco Matarazzi getting more than one (2 each). You might say that the Italians didn’t have a very good attack but you could also say that all the members of their team could score goals and shutting down one player wasn’t enough to shutdown the Italian attack. The Italians gave up two goals, with the opposition only scored one real goal against them (the French had that honor), the other being the "own goal" during the US game. However, the US had a goal taken away and the US-Italy game ended tied. Since Italy won the World Cup, the US-Italy tie takes on a whole new meaning since the US was down 9 men to 10 and they were able to play the Italians to a standstill. Too bad the US didn’t win that game.

Now, let's hope that the US can get it's head out for the World Cup in 2010.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The post-Armstrong Tour de France

This year's edition of the Tour de France has started and has been already rocked by a doping scandal. In fact, two of the favorites for this year's tour, last year's second place finisher, Ivan Basso and previous winner, Jan Ulrich, have been already kicked out due to the doping scandal. So this year's tour is wide open and Lance's Discovery Channel teammates, George Hincapie, is now one of the favorites. This year could also be the year of the Americans because along with Hincapie, there are four other Americans, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Bobby Julich and Salt Lake City's own David Zabriskie who have a decent shot at either winning or finishing in the top ten. Of course, this is all a part of the evil BusHitlerChennyRoveRumsfled plot to undermine the French economy, take over the oil fields of Iran/Iraq/Saudia Arabia, kill the whales and rape the environment, so don't be surprised if this gets no air time in the MSM. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

The other shoe drops

The Italian World Cup success has been overshadowed somewhat by the Italian soccer scandal where the managers of four clubs (Juventus, Fiorentina, Lazio and Milan) would arrange to get certain referees that were favorable to their teams assigned to their matches. The worst offender was Juve so the scandal has centered around them. The prosecutor has finally come out with his recommendations for punishment and they are not good. Juve would be relegated to Serie C (a third division) with 6 points of punishment while the other three teams would be relegated to Serie B (second division) with 15 points (Fiorentina and Lazio) or 3 points (Milan) of punishment. Since Juve is kind the New York Yankees of Italian soccer, there is lost of "schadenfreuden" for the rest of the Italian soccer teams, but especially Torino, the other soccer team from Torino (duh!). The managers/referees/etc. involved would also be banned from soccer for from five to two years, depending on the person.

Since these recommendations are very harsh, expect them to be watered down. The recommendation for Milan could be very easily watered down to just staying in Serie A with some type of punishment along with Fiorentina and Lazio, but expect to see Juve relegated. The team has never played in anything lower than Serie A, which they constantly remind everyone, so the long knives have come out and Juve will pay the consequences.

Forza Italia!!!

Wow!!! All I can say is that the Italians are fast becoming the "cardiac kids" of this World Cup. They beat Australia in the final seconds (certooooooo, on a disputed penalty shot) and then thumped the Germans in the dying seconds with not just one but two goals. Wow!!!

The Italian media were making a big deal out of the German papers printing "Arrivaderci Pizza" on their front pages. Now it will be the Italian papers printing "Auf wiedersehen Kartoffel". It seems to me that the teams that think they are "destined" to World Cup glory this year (Brazil, Germany, the US) all seem to crash and burn while other teams (Italy, France) just seem to peak at the right time. All I need know if France to win and I'll be in a real predicament: Who to cheer for? I like both teams and would like both teams to win. I guess I'll decide by a coin toss. Heads: Italy. Tails: France.

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day! The Great El-ahrairah wishes all the readers of the Warren a very happy Independence Day. For those of you not from Utah or a part of the state's dominant relition, Independence Day is not only a national holiday, but a holiday with religious overtones for members of the LDS Church. Members of the church are taught that an ancient prophet foresaw the events that would bring forth the creation of the United States in 1776. For the LDS Church, although there are members of the church around the world, the United States is "God's Country" and the words to our national anthem and other patriotic songs (my favorite being "God Bless America") are almost like hymns (in fact, the "Star Spangled Banner" is included in the LDS Church Hymnal in the US). So, as I segue into plug for Mitt Romney, what better man to elect to be president of this great nation than one who has been taught from his youth that the United States is a divine country and under God's protection and whose religion thinks there is nothing wrong with flying the US flag at it's churches and temples? Makes sense to me.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Thank you France

The Great El-ahrairah just got back from another quick trip to the island of Malta (it didn't rain this time). Since the Maltese are big-time supporters of England, I was hoping that Portugal would beat England, just to shut up all the boorish English fans. I also wanted the French to win against Brazil since everyone (including Brazil) thinks that all they need to do is show up for the tournament and they will be awarded the World Cup.

Well, it seems that great gods of soccer heard me as England lost to Portugal on penalty kicks and the French showed Brazil that World Cup 1998 wasn't a fluke by beating them 1-0. I wasn't able to watch the England-Portugal game, but I did watch the France-Brazil game as the only French supporter at the bar and it just warmed the cockles of my heart to watch France beat the Brazilians at their own "joga bonita" game.

Now, with the German and Italian wins, the final four teams will be an all European affair. Three of the teams have won before but Portugal never has. The Italians play Germany on the 4th of July and the French play Portugal on the 5th. I'll pick Italy over Germany by the score of 2:1 and the French over the Portugese by 2:0. Allez les Bleus!!! Forza Italia!!!