Friday, August 31, 2007

What's next?

The recent spate of employee departures from the Tower has signaled the beginning of my usual late summer musings about the upcoming winter. Of course I have lots of schemes but nothing planned concretely. The original plan was to join my brother in some tiny mountain town in Colorado featuring a ski resort and lots of snow. This still may happen, but he has received a job offer not to be turned down in Patagonia, Chile. Those pesky visa requirements stand in the way though, and preclude him and thus me from making any concrete plans in the near future. There is also the opportunity to go back to Bend, OR. I would enjoy that, but I am also lusting after some dry Rocky Mountain snow. And finally, there are of course NPS jobs for the winter season. There is much pondering, fretting, and nail biting to be done in the next few weeks.

On another note, I finally summited the Tower via the Durrance route. Its quite a climb. Considering my infantile crack climbing skills my success was due more to brute force and a lot of heavy breathing than to efficient technique. The reality of the climb struck me most on a move called the "jump traverse." The traverse requires a horizontal move across a gap that descends through three hundred feet of air to the ground. The trick is there are not good foot holds, so one has to rely on rather small hand holds. The move is not that physically hard, but the mental aspect is a whole different matter. Nonetheless, standing on the top of the Tower was satisfying if rather anti-climatic. You see, the summit is about the size of a football field, slightly dome shaped featuring a prairie landscape. If you sit in the middle of the summit, it is impossible to tell that you are in fact on top of a tower. It looks more like you are on the top of a gently sloping hill. Sitting on the very edge, dangling your feet over and gazing down at waving tourists 700 feet below is more exhilarating.

I had the chance to climb the Durrance route a second time as well. But this time I was paid for it. On two successive nights, I observed the Tower get pounded by lightning. The day after the second storm, a local climbing guide reported that a large boulder had been blasted apart and a refrigerator sized rock was in danger of falling. This was quite significant since a boulder has not fallen off of the tower in recorded history. Despite or efforts to coax it off during a "rock falling" party, the boulder remained perched two thirds of the way up the tower. So I was recruited, along with one of the climbing rangers, to climb to the boulder, inspect it and take pictures. My technique proved more efficient this time and we accomplished our goal. Much to our dread though, a large thunderstorm approached rapidly and we made a narrow escape to terra firma under lightning and hard rain.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Hog Wrestlin'

This weekend marks the annual start of the Crook County Fair in Sundance, WY. As a temporary resident of Crook County I did my civic duty and attended the hog wrestlin' event last night. To get prepped for the fair, I was treated to a favorite local song on the way to the fair. The song is titled "CCCS'er," pronounced Triple C S'er. The acronym means Campbell County Cock Sucker. Campbell County is an adjacent county home to Gillette, Wyoming. Gillette is a modern-day western boom town. The area surrounding Gillette has every energy producing substance you can imagine, from oil, to natural gas, to coal. There is currently a huge natural gas boom. There are not enough people to fill the jobs. Even McDonalds is paying $10/hr. to start. In consequence, Gillette is a the largest town around, and its residents, according to the song "make 50 grand a year, but are 200,000 in debt." They also drive "2006 Tahoes."

With my Crook County pride sufficiently stoked, I attended the annual pig wrestling event. There is a circular area about 30 feet in diameter fenced off with a large bucket in the middle. The whole area is covered with bentonite, which, when wet, makes regular mud seem like concrete. Teams of 4 are set loose chasing a pig around this muddy enclosure. The team has 1 minute to capture the pig and drop it in the bucket. The little kids went first, with little pigs and a little bucket. Then came the men's and women's divisions. Each team was bid on by the crowd, with the winning bidders of the top two teams receiving cash. With the adult divisions, the pigs are about 220 pounds for the men, and 160 for the women. The bucket in the center of the ring becomes a 55 gallon drum. One women's team was "purchased" for $2000, the top men's team going for around $1000. The fastest time was an astounding 13 seconds set by a men's team. Several teams failed to catch the pig at all. The pigs had much better traction in the bentonite, and were lubed up with mud (KY was also rumored to be used). The best part was the squealing the pigs made when they were almost caught. Good old fashioned fun.