Saturday, August 23, 2014

3D printer test

We got a 3D printer, sort of for ourselves and sort of for Leo's birthday (after all, kids are just a fancy excuse to buy what you want for yourself!). It sat in a box while we were in China. I finally devoted time to getting it going this evening. Here it is printing a fan shroud.

The next project was Leo's. He downloaded Sketchup and took a tutorial. I suggested he make something simple, like a box to put stuff in. We were going through plastic filament fast (just like a regular printer, they make their money on the plastic filament. the printers are pretty inexpensive), so I scaled it down when I printed it:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Wild Basin Backpacking Trip - Moose, Porcinis, and Alpine Lakes

We took our annual backpacking trip to Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park this past week. We booked permits for one night up at N. St. Vrain campsite (3 miles in) and three nights up at Ouzel Lake (2 more miles in) and one night back at N. St. Vrain, just in case we couldn't hike all the way out on the last day. The ranger warned us that recent sightings included a black bear and cub and a moose and baby moose. And a bear had torn apart someone's tent - if the bear did it a second time, the bear would be put down. We started at 8500 feet at the trailhead.

Leo thought his backpack was heavy but he was a real trooper. He had 13-14 pounds and did especially well when discussing Minecraft, his favorite computer game. In fact, if he got tired, the way to get him started again was to propose a modification to Minecraft, like a Star Wars or roller-skating or veggie mod. I had a bit over 30 and Paul had 40 some pounds to carry. Luckily we got new backpacks last year which helps tremendously with all the weight. We spent a lot of time figuring out what food to bring and filled two large bear canisters plus extra food for the trip. We were armed with a fishing pole and a knowledge of porcinis that we thought would supplement the freeze-dried food (which is sort of tasty in a freeze-dried kind of way but gets really tiring on day 2 or 3).

We did get lucky on the porcinis. We found a bunch of large ones, many of which were pre-munched by various chipmunks, squirrels, etc. In fact, we saw two squirrels with very large porcinis in their mouths running off to have a feast. We did fry up a porcini with our 'lasagna' one night. The trick to identifying them is to score the underside and make sure it doesn't turn blue. It was very tasty. Unfortunately, about 6 hours later, I had pains in the my stomach and they were especially bad, stabbing pains all morning. I'm not sure it was food poisoning, as I had some stomach issues the day before as well, but we didn't eat any more.

We made it up to N. St. Vrain without a problem and Paul decided we should try to hike up the steep cliff above the camp to the Twin lakes above. We luckily found some cairns, but the trail was very steep with slippery rubble and the Twin lakes were buggy. Actually the entire Wild Basin is full of mosquitoes. You can't really escape them unless you're on a ridge and it's windy. And there are other biting flies that don't just itch, but hurt. Here's one of the Twin lakes, full of lily pads:

Paul says the the terrain there is "very textured". This is code for giant fallen logs that you need to crawl over and marshy, wet grass that you need to wade through.

The great thing about camping is how much sleep you can possibly get. If you can actually sleep from when it gets dark at 8p to when it gets light at 7a, that's just wonderful. Leo loves my mummy bag - cuddles up in it, pulls the hood over his head, and sleeps well. I think I might sleep if my feet and head weren't hanging over the edges of my 3/4 length thermarest.

The next day we made it up to Ouzel Lake and set up camp.

This moose, with his giant rack, ate grass in the field next to the campsite all day. We had a great time quietly photographing and videoing the moose. Then some kids saw the moose and proceeded to scream to their parents about it nonstop and then decided to try their best moose impressions and see if they could get the moose to charge them, or at least pay attention to them.

We spent the afternoon making our way around Ouzel Lake which consisted of walking on logs back and forth over various streams. I know it doesn't sound that hard, but crossing one major stream took about 5 back and forth log crossings because there were lots of mini streams and the logs didn't line up serially. Leo and I decided this was a lot more fun than scrambling up a steep, slippery cliff to a buggy lake though.

We got back to camp to find a couple had joined our site. We were pretty bummed that the Ranger had messed up the permits and double-booked the site. We basically had to camp in each other's laps. At N. St. Vrain, there were two campsites and we couldn't even see the other campsite from our tent. Luckily our neighbors were the nicest folks, a young newlywed couple from Kansas.

The next morning we went for our long hike. This was day I was sick, so the morning was pretty brutal. But despite the late start we made it up to Bluebird Lake (just shy of 11,000 feet):

The wildflowers were in full bloom:

We saw lots of marmots, including two families:

We had to cross a small ice field. This was a lot easier to go down than up. You just point your feet and slide!

I'm not really sure how we got talked into this, but after Bluebird Lake, we went up to Lark Pond, and then up to Pippet Lake and finally to our "stretch destination" of Isolation Lake. There aren't really trails after you get to Lark Pond. With a map and GPS and a bit of bushwhacking and rock scrambling we made it up. This rock fall was particularly grueling at high altitude and after miles of hiking already. I've circled Leo (in the middle) and me (left side).

I don't have a picture of the intense bushwhacking but at one point Paul had to remove his pack and crawl through the tall vegetation. Later Leo made a mockery of it all, swimming through this shrubbery:

Isolation Lake is at 12,000 feet, right under the Continental Divide:

We had a fun time rock-hopping in this little un-named pond:

We eventually made it back to camp, right before nightfall. We were surprised that our neighbors were gone and then found a note. Apparently an animal had ripped apart their tent and they had to pack out at 5pm that day. Our tent was untouched but the trash bags that protected our backpacks were all torn. Our bear canisters, which were pretty far away, had also been knocked over. I'm not sure what animal did all this, but assume it was pretty big with sharp claws. We were very bummed for the newlyweds having to pack out after one night, having driven here from Kansas. The next day when we went out on our hike, we took nearly everything out of the tent, trying to hedge our bets.

The next day we went up to Bluebird Lake again, and tried our hand at fishing. We had already tried at Ouzel Lake, where the shallow waters revealed many small trout. But at Ouzel, we really needed waders to get to the deeper part of the Lake. Bluebird was deep along the shore. Leo got really good at casting:

But alas, no fish! I'm not even sure fish make it up to this lake!

We ate lunch and then realized we had burnt through our stove fuel. It was 2pm and we were 2 miles above our campsite which was 5 miles from the car. We considered eating cold, wet, freeze-dried food. Then we came to our senses and hiked back to the camp, packed up and made it back to the car by 7pm-ish. A big, hot dinner of meat plus some beer in Lyons helped end the trip well.

We decided that we liked the Hutcheson Lakes from last year's trip a little better. They had lots of fish. Pear Lake is big and less marshy than Ouzel. Isolation is higher than Cony but getting to Cony is quite the adventure - crossing large streams on small rocks, lots of ice fields. The hike to Bluebird is gorgeous though. We'll definitely be somewhere up there again in a year's time!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Chihuly and Children!

Chihuly exhibit at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Leo, Sami and JJ had a great time, not just with the cool glass sculptures but also with all the wild plants. It was hot and crowded, but we ended up spending most of the day on a treasure hunt for Chihuly sculptures!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

China trip 5 - Shangrila

We went up from Lijiang to Shangrila, passing through the Tiger Leaping Gorge area. I had read a lot about the two-day hike through the gorge but we decided it would be too difficult with the kids. The Chinese advice was that it was too dangerous and not worth visiting if we were from the US where there are a lot of canyons. So we drove to the main overlook of the Tiger Leaping Stone with the rest of the tourist masses. The Jinsha River flows violently through this part of the gorge. It's spectacular.

Shangrila used to be Zhongdian but they renamed the town to turn it into a tourist destination. Many Tibetans live along the road to Shangrila.

Some houses had one or three flags on their roofs. Our driver Mr. Chen explained that the flags signified that a 'living Buddha' had come from that home. A 'living Buddha' was someone who had been identified as a Lama (Buddhist priest). The home in this picture has one flag.

The circumference of the large round timbers that make up the front of the house signify the wealth of the family. Rich families can afford bigger timbers. Apparently the forests here cannot be cut down because the government is trying to reforest the land, so large timbers are rare and expensive.

There are wind farms along the road between Kunming and Shangrila. Mr Chen said they had been installed last year.

The old town of Shangrila was unfortunately burnt down earlier this year in a big fire. We stayed just on the edge of the fire zone. Somehow, the only thing that survived the fire was the toilet:

Leo on a yak below the giant prayer wheel:

Had a great time horseback riding. Leo and I even got to gallop, which was exciting.

China trip 4 - Lijiang

We went to Yulong Shan, the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. We saw this awesome show about the various minority peoples, directed by Zhang Yimou. It was a giant spectacle. Outside and with the 22,000 foot mountain as a backdrop, we watched about 300 performers dance, sing, ride horses on a grand stage that encircled us.  

Cost a small fortune but well worth it. Even Leo enjoyed it. Apparently, you have to wait in line two days before the show, just to get tickets. The travel agency was hugely useful in letting us know about the show and getting us the tickets.

We never saw the mountain peak but the glaciers were occasionally visible. 

We visited the Blue Moon valley which was a series of blue glacial-fed lakes. 

We saw a minority group (the Naxi?) perform local music:

The travel agency invited us to a local Naxi hot pot place for dinner. Leo ate next to nothing but what else is new! 

Then we were off to se the Torch Festival which is a Yi people tradition. All the kids and some adults had bundles of sticks wrapped in flowers that they lit and waved around. 

Hugely dangerous and entertaining. At 9pm, the main plaza torch which was huge and which people were dancing around, was promptly doused.  

We stayed in the small town of Shuhe, which is on the Tea Horse Caravan Road. The road was established to bring tea to Tibet. Tea and salt from Yunnan went up to Tibet on the road. Yak products came down. They say that Tibetans drink a lot of tea because of their meat-based diet.  And if you've ever had the Tibetan yak butter tea, you'll often find it salty, which is sort of awful tasting.

Anyway, we stayed in a fancy hotel in Shuhe, the Huifeng New Resort Hotel, which were fancy suites, about $110, and good for parties with kids.