Saturday, January 30, 2010

Gettin' My Goat? NOT!

Typos are bitch!

One Enjoyable Night!
Last night wasn't one for the Ages...but I'll take it! No weather, everybody made it to work on time, and we groomed the Mountain from Wall to Wall. We groomed every Groomable Acre...and did some plowing to get ready for the coming weekend.

Getting every groomable acre done in a single night used to be like finding a needle in a haystack, or finding the Holy Grail! Last time I remember feeling this good by accomplishing this feat, it took thirteen shifts (when we had twelve shifts scheduled) back in the BR275 days.

Last night we got'er done with seven BR350 shifts. Three winch shifts...four free cats. Granted, excellent conditions made the going good, the winches made quick work of the steep ungroomed trails that we hadn't gotten to before last night. My Swing Shift winch Operators are dilly-dallying with these guys...they take no prisoners!

I'm still high from one of last night's projects...the one I was called away from twice the night before. I even got a little Free-Fall action on three of the passes! Normally, we'd winch anything steep enough to get a snowcat to toboggan into free-fall, but this little corner of my Mountain is thick with lift towers and outbuildings, while trees and other potential pick points are MIA so no winches need apply. Oh, we could park a groomer at the top and use it as a winch anchor, but that's so last Century!

What can I say...the only thing that kept last night from being perfect was the high cloud cover. It wasn't deep enough to obscure the moonlight, so our world was totally illuminated, but it did hide the moon from our direct gaze. We did catch a short unfiltered glance at Earth's only Natural Satellite shortly before it set into the approaching storm front's harbinger clouds. What a beautiful icy sight! I imagined what our moon would look like in the heavens if the moon was made of snow instead of the gunmetal gray Moon Rock that the Apollo astronauts collected on the moon and returned to earth for study.

I saw some Moon Rocks back in the 70's on display at the California Academy of Science in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. For a total NASA-head like me, that was a wonderful thing to see!

Friday night is the night of the Full Moon. It will be a stunner! If you think tonight's Moon looks unusually big, you're right. It's the biggest full Moon of 2010. Astronomers call it a "perigee Moon," some 14% wider and 30% brighter than lesser full Moons of the year.

I hope the forecast is off, I want to view the Perigee Moon in all it's glory...I may see it through the cloud deck...or not. Time will tell...

Friday, January 29, 2010

The One that Got Away

We had a good night going last night, even though I was driving someone else's snowcat. My cat was downed on my days off by a drive problem.

Scenically, the night was stunning. The nearly Full Moon shone on my Mountain from a cloudless sky, and a modest East Wind kept things crisp without blowing any corduroy away.

Things were going swimmingly when the first cat of the shift broke down...a major hydraulic leak stopped it in it's tracks...on the final pass of the Homerun he was working on. I picked the operator up and drove him back to the shop where another cat was waiting. Chalk up my first lost hour...

Back to my project...opening some new trails that had enough new snow on them, that I couldn't till uphill. I climbed with my tiller in the air, and was making modest progress when our winch operator called. He had his cable hooked to a chair over a steep Double Diamond trail on the farthest away peak from my location. Compounding his troubles, his spotlight wasn't working, so he couldn't even see his predicament! The winch's super bright zenon boom light focused beneath the chair.

I left my project again, and rolled over to help him out. On my way over, I woke up my boss and got the Cavalry alerted. I wanted the Lift Mechanics input and advice...when you find yourself in a hole...stop digging!

So I rolled up the trail as close as I could get to the chair in question, and put my spotlight on it. The winch cable was laying across the seat back, and didn't appear to be wrapped or trapped. I called the winch operator on the 2-way and had him dial up the winch pressure gradually while I monitored the situation. No the fog started blowing in on the freshening East Wind, obscuring my view of the cable/chair package. My phone rang, the Boss let me know the Cavalry would ride in just after sunrise to climb the lift and disengage the winch cable manually. I transported the winch operator back to the shop, and he got another cat to finish the shift with.

Chalk up another lost hour and a half...

Hero Snow conditions sped our recovery, but we didn't get as many new trails busted out as we'd planned. We got the remodeled Work Orders completed with time to spare, when the 2-way called me to transport the winch operator back to the scene of the crime.

Watching the Ski Patrolman climb down the chair's haul rope to the chair with the winch cable on it, I noticed just how deep the snowpack has become. This is why the cable got into the chair in the first place! The Patrolman lowered himself to the chair and unceremoniously kicked the winch cable free...the winch operator chose that exact second to look at something on the ground and missed the whole thing!

Lesson learned? As always, it's better to have Gravity on your side! I'll be giving a little talk at shift change it my attempt to ward off the Cavalry in the future! I just want my guys to tighten-up their thinking going forward...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Up and Across

After today's drive across the Big Valley and up the mountain, I was truly humbled by the beauty of it all. Unnoticed on my way down, the south facing slopes of the newly green rolling hills were covered in wild mustard in full bloom! It's only mid-January, and I associate mustard flowers with Spring!

I was tempted to pull over and deploy my camera at every turn, but I got a late start, and every minute spent dallying meant a minute of sleep lost. The fresh snow on the mountains and trees, fully illuminated against the back-drop of the cloud-filled sky made the Crystal Basin live up to it's name, and spawned a big sly smile on my face!

I was blessed with dry roads all the way up to Donner Summit, and even my driveway was snow-free! I can't wait to get out on the Mountain tonight! There's a waxing Moon that'll be full Friday, so there should be some awesome sights out there!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Resting Up

Well, after my two week grinder and my drive down the hill and across the Big Valley, I took a twelve hour nap yesterday! Oh, I threaded the needle weather-wise...I missed the heavy snow in the morning, skirted the chain control checkpoint, and just slipped through before the deluge in the afternoon.

Everything has turned green with new shoots of grass turning the East Bay hills bright Kelly Green! Today I was out doing errands...with everyone else in the County, it turns out! I gave up on COSTCO when I couldn't find a place to park after orbiting the lot for 10 minutes! Next I gave up on Trader Joe's too! I did get into TJ' a different town! I guess the folks here in Rain Country hunker down like mountain folk do when it storms day in day out!

You know, now that I give it some thought, I moved to the mountains precisely because you can't shovel rain!

So, we get a little break from El Niño's strengthening wrath, a little respite to measure the reservoir levels, calculate the snowpack, and catch up on the shopping!

I'm clearing all my tools out of the garage at the Ancestral Digs before I head home. I need to do a little remodeling to the DaveCave...thanks to those Kamikaze Squirrels, I procured a new laundry stack on my last trip to my Mom's. Found on craigslist, it's a heavy duty model, and it's a full three inches wider, deeper, and six inches taller! It pretty much took up the whole pickup bed (with the dolly I brought down with me) leaving precious little space for my tool collection. Wouldn't you know it, I needed my Hole Hawg and a big Hole Saw to facilitate shoehorning that new machine into the pantry! I brought home one drill kit...needed the other one...I'm convinced that "Outsmarting One's Self" is a learned skill...

Before my nap yesterday, I spent a few hours in the horizontal plane...surfing craigslist for some kitchen cabinets to replace the lost storage in the DaveCave Pantry. No luck so far...just like the Laundry...truth be told? I was shopping for a new laundry stack for more than a year before the Squirrel administered the coup de grace!

So after two days of mostly catchin' up on my R&R, I took a look at my weather websites...the AFD's say we're in for a few nice days this week.The Climate Prediction Center Folks posted their latest 90 Day Climate Outlook Discussion...they said we have a Strong El Niño in place now...and went on to waffle in regards to it's potential effects...sigh...suddenly I'm not so rested anymore...

I will really enjoy my trip up the hill tomorrow afternoon...the Big Valley is just beautiful this time of year when the sun is shining, the Foothills as well as the High Sierra will remind me of just how awesome Mother nature's handiwork is...should be hero Snow on the Mountain, too!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Break Time

We finally get a little break from the string of storms that have been marching through the High Sierra! All told we got better than six feet this week. We ran extra shifts to get ahead of the digging, and we got most of our groomable trails groomed.

I finished a long shift wearing my RayBans, so a little sunshine did make a brief appearance. By the time I finished my paperwork, we were in Full-Squall Mode again. I drove out of the cloudburst and into the sunshine on the newly re-opened old highway, and savored a mellow ride home.

There's something special about the ride down the old highway...especially on Sunday mornings. I make the last trip home for my week on Sunday morning. I begin my days off decompression on my way down the hill. I'm usually wearing my cockeyed grin, as I crest the old summit and shift the tranny into 2nd gear...riding downhill against the compression in the engine...I admire the view on clear days, and watch for foolish drivers on snowy days. I'm usually not thinking about anything...just takin' in the sights, or listening to the mind's already on vacation.