Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Mortality of Aircraft Wheel-Well Stowaways

Cross-posted to my cognitive science blog.

The FAA gives a report of 11 known stowaway incidents from 1947-1993.

Of these 11, 6 died. 2 of them had definitely frozen to death. 3 more fell after the plane made it to cruising altitude, and could have frozen to death. Another fell on takeoff. This means that you have a 55% chance of dying if you attempt this, and if you die the chance is 33-87% that you will freeze to death.

Of course it's likely that other fatalities occurred but were not discovered because the plane was over water or the body landed in an unpopulated area; it is also likely that people stowed away and were not discovered, so it's hard to say which way the sample is biased.

The mechanism cited as probable pathway to fatal hypothermia at altitude seems very likely to be the same one that explains the strange behavior of high altitude mountain climbers who succumb to a similar fate, and are found having taken off most or all of their layers. Under conditions of low ambient O2, the hypothalamus becomes hypoxic and can longer thermoregulate. In climbers, their frontal lobes are hypoperfused, and they feel hot and can't reason themselves out of/inhibit themselves from taking their clothes off in the middle of a glaciated mountain. Stowaways are crammed in and can't move anyway.

Management: don't be in a plane at cruising altitude outside a warmed and pressurized cabin.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Best Trail Running in Southern California

After five years in SoCal, I accumulated some pretty fun outdoor experiences. SoCal's funny, in the sense that it doesn't have a culture as outdoors-oriented as the Bay Area, and yet down here we have 10,000' peaks and big national forests right in our backyards. And, it seems like even in my short time here, SoCal people have clued into this more. Great! Help protect these places! Here are my favorites:

The SoCal Triple Crown - San Gorgonio in San Bernardino Natl Forest, San Jacinto, and Baldy in Angeles, in decreasing order of how neat-o they are. They're all pretty cool. San Gorgonio is really isolated and more forested than I expected, and get your permit ahead of time (they were pretty disorganized when I went, and yes they do run out of them!) San Jacinto often seems longer than it actually is, and from the Humber Park/Devil's Slide area it's 16 miles round trip. My favorite thing about Baldy is Devil's Backbone, which is actually not as exposed as reports may lead you to believe.


Baden-Powell - my favorite peak in the Angeles, for the last quarter mile if nothing else. This is a trail that does not screw around, and neither should you!

Any trail in Angeles NF starting from Chantry Flats - because it's super green.

Santa Monica Mountains - Backbone Loop/Boney Trail. There's a lot more up there than you think.

Griffith Park - better than I thought it would be for an urban park.


Crystal Cove State Park - go in the spring when it's green, but really any time of year it's great.

San Juan/Bluebird Trails, southern Trabuco Unit of Cleveland NF - forest, nice climbs, waterfalls, plus I saw my first horny toad on this trail, and no that's not a euphemism.


Cactus to Clouds - from Palm Springs up San Jacinto the hard way. Don't let the rangers discourage you, they really tried to scare me off when I called. Do take a lot of water (I took 4 liters = 1 gallon, and it was just barely enough). Do it in spring or fall, although fall is the best time (mid-late October, start early, no snow or ice leftover from winter.)


I lived here so I got a little more specific in this other post.

There were also outdoor things in SoCal that underwhelmed me (i.e., in terms of reputation vs. my experience). I'd definitely rather have the open space than not have it, but I'd also rather have had some people temper my enthusiasm to set aside time to do these things:
- Trail running in open desert, even in desert mountains. It kind of takes the wind out of your sails if you can see continuously exactly where you're going.
- Palos Verdes Peninsula
- The southern half of the Descanso Unit of Cleveland NF
- Crystal Lake in Angeles NF

Of course I am indebted to the many people who, out of passion and altruism, put resources online to help others find their own experiences. These are just some of the ones I used a lot but I can't possibly remember or list them all.

Photography on the Run (Ventura, Northern LA)
Dan's Hiking Pages (Angeles NF)
Dave Stillman's blog (Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Padres NF)
Nobody Hikes in LA
Mountain Bike Bill (San Diego County)

And if you use and enjoy the trails, get out there AND VOLUNTEER! AND VOTE TO PRESERVE OPEN SPACE!

Where Is Your Geological Midpoint?

Above: the center of U.S. population over time.
From the U.S. Census Bureau.

In November 2012 I became more Western than the average American, when my "average" location in the U.S., based on where I've lived throughout my life and for how long, passed by the more slowly west-migrating U.S. center of population. Where's yours?

Sherpa Everest Guides: Eleven Times Deadlier Than Being a U.S. Soldier in Iraq

Ain't nobody getting up Everest without Sherpas. It's over 11x more deadly to be a Sherpa guide on Everest, as of the last 10 years, than to be a U.S. soldier in Iraq 2003-2007.

Years ago, we didn't used to count Sherpas' ascents on Everest. Go up with someone else who's carrying your stuff, it counts...go up carrying your own AND someone else's stuff, it doesn't Go figure! It sometimes seems even in the case of the first two people who summited, we've done our best to remember the non-Sherpa, and forget the Sherpa. This, despite the non-Sherpa constantly reminding everyone that he was part of a team of two. Neither Norgay nor Hillary could have done it alone.

The thing that made me personally so angry about this tendency and the most recent tragedy, and at the continued lack of recognition of what the Sherpas do in getting people up old Sagar Matha ("guide" doesn't begin to describe what they do) is that without Sherpas, there would be no climbing season. Every year these guys lay ladders across the Khumbu Icefall, a treacherous place of crevasses and seracs - which do sometimes move. Every year these guys put up fixed ropes. Ever climb a glaciated Cascade? I bet you didn't have fixed ropes there, or (obviously) people risking their lives to fix them for you. For climbers who come from outside Nepal, ultimately Everest is a big lark; they're there for fun, and that's all there is to it, no matter how big the words are they use to describe it. It's not like they're delivering critical medicine to someone at the summit (or something equally important). For the Sherpas, it's how they support their families and create a better life for their kids.

So today, take a few seconds to think of the people who dedicate their lives to the outdoors in a very committed and profound way, far beyond anyone who travels to the Himalayas to score a personal point.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Best Trail Running in San Diego County

Now that I'm leaving San Diego, I thought I would share the spots that I grew to love during my five years in these here parts.

Los Penasquitos Canyon. Multiple ways to get into it (Black Mountain Road, the 5/805 merger, Camino Ruiz, or Del Mar Mesa to the north.) A nicely wooded fairly wide canyon with a waterfall smack in the middle, halfway (3 miles) from either 5/805 or Black Mountain Road/Canyonside Park. Not far north of UCSD campus. My favorite.

Del Mar Mesa. With connections from the waterfall area of Penasquitos, the state has been stalling on opening this for years. That said, the Tunnels section is supposedly the furthest south riparian oak ecosystem on the Pacific coast.

Marian Bear Canyon, the western portion of the 52. Yes, it's short, a freeway runs along one side, but green and nice and well-preserved. If you work along the 5 or near UCSD it's a great weeknight run. On the west side along I-5, it connects to Rose Canyon, which is wooded in the west end. Don't miss out on the trails that connect to Marian Bear just east of Regents, going both north to the park on Governor Drive, as well as to the south.

Cedar Falls/Upper San Diego River Canyon. The falls are cool, but turn right and head south toward El Cap Reservoir. The most deserted and biggest canyon in San Diego County, partly because you're trespassing. (The chance of being caught is very close to zero, but you didn't hear that from me.)

Santee Lakes/Sycamore Canyon/Secret Valleys/Scripps Ranch. Start at Santee Lakes, and run up into Sycamore Canyon. OR, start at the next canyon west of Sycamore Canyon and run south to the lakes. In the spring these valleys are lush and green and beautiful, but in that valley to the west, you're technically trespassing on Miramar Air Base. (And if you are, you'll be there with lots of other folks.) If you're an urban explorer type, in these parts there are abandoned buildings and blast tunnels where they built and tested Atlas rockets in the sixties.

Black Mountain Ranch Park via Lusardi Creek to Lake Hodges Dam. What the hell am I talking about? Look at satellite maps sometimes and ask what this canyon system is. Stop by for a beer and chow afterward at Hernandez Hideaway in Del Dios.

Lake Hodges - the north side is fun and you can make it to Del Dios (and if you're really hardcore you can keep going, and do Lake Hodges Dam to Black Mountain as above, except in reverse.) But my personal favorite is the south side of the lake. Near as I can tell though, the trail fortunately ends at that peninsula with the American flag waving. "Fortunately" because that means you'll have this rugged trail all to yourself. Unfortunately because you can't go down the south/eastern shore of Hodges to the dam, which would be a great way to connect to Lusardi Creek.

Mission Trails - in particular, Mt. Fortuna and the Stairs. Mission Trails is decent-sized for its proximity to the rest of San Diego and it's another nice one you can do during the week.

Torrey Pines/Blacks Beach. There are a lot more ways to get down to the beach from the cliff tops than you think. Going south from Torrey Pines Beach:
- The trail from the parking lot at the T.P. visitor center
- Another trail that comes down from the straightaway further south, that joins the other one shortly before the beach
- The scary unofficial cliff trail at the far north end of the Torrey Pines glider port lot.
- The official but still steep way down to Black's Beach.
- The road down from La Jolla Farms/Blackdog Road
- Summer Canyon
- Going up Summer Canyon, if you turn left (south) fairly early on, there's a pretty scary scramble that I don't recommend, unless you want an upper body workout and a serious risk of falling (i.e. if you do it and break you head now that I told you that you can't sue me you dumbass). I hate to admit that it was still a lot of fun.
- You can make it on the beach to Scripps Pier *at low tide*.
Also don't miss the disconnected piece of Torrey Pines in southern Del Mar. You can run through Del Mar to Crest Canyon and have your own La Jolla Trail Half Marathon.

El Capitan Mountain. Often times more of a hike than a run, given the steepness and rockiness/erosion of the trails. TAKE WATER. Stop in for some tasty tacos at nearby Barona Casino.

Noble Canyon. Don't wuss out. By that I mean, go from the bottom to the top, not the other way around. The mountains in San Diego County aren't high enough to be significantly cooler in the summer, so TAKE WATER.

Also, here are some "projects" you might want to try:

The whole coast of San Diego County. Don't try this unless you're as cool as me. Because I'm pretty cool.

Coast to Crest. From the County Fairgrounds in Solana Beach to Julian, along the San Dieguito River. Parts still under construction as of spring 2014.

Sea to Sea - from Torrey Pines Beach to the Salton Sea via Anza Borrego. Parts still under construction as of spring 2014.

I look forward to the time when Mexico's infrastructure allows us to be a little bolder in its isolated areas. Seriously. Here's this fascinating, unique, beautiful country on San Diego's doorstep, and we (sadly with justification) consider its open spaces largely off-limits.

Finally: San Diego's outdoor culture is growing by leaps and bounds. Get out there and volunteer, and VOTE ACCORDINGLY FOR CANDIDATES WHO PROTECT OPEN SPACE. They don't just protect themselves you know!