December 20, 2010

Killing Pablo

Title: Killing Pablo
Author: Mark Bowden
Publisher: Peguin Books
Pages: 285
Genre: Non-fiction

Pablo Escobar, referred to as the World's Greatest Outlaw, arguably was the richest, most successful drug lord to have ever lived.  His career began in the early to mid 70's while Pablo was in his 20's.  By 1976, Escobar was the unofficial king running drugs from the jungles in the hills around his hometown of Medellin.  Rising to power through merciless killings, Pablo tried to portray himself as the south American Robin Hood.  With the support of the local police and populace, he rose to an unimaginable rank of power.  In 1989, Forbes magazine declared Pablo to be the 7th richest man in the world.

By the late 80's Pablo had become a sort of drug war symbol.  The US offered to Colombia manpower and state of the art assistance in tracking and eliminating the man.  The majority of the book follows the CIA and the Colombian federal government in their 16 month manhunt for the drug lord.  The search took many twists and turns as they tracked the man through mountainous jungle terrain and neighborhoods of sometimes violent Escobar sympathizers.  In Medellin, to many, Pablo was the law.  They were a region within a country, but with little loyalty to that country.

Basic law enforcement was very weak in the mountainous jungle region of Medellin  It was a forgotten region of Colombia populated by mostly poor natives.  The law that takes precedence is the law that it is enforced. It is possibly reminiscent of the US southwest in the 1880's and 90's.  Pablo was able to enforce his version of  law in Medellin and become its unofficial dictator and self entitled protector.  Cocaine grew in abundance in the region.  The cocaine being exported to meet the increasing demand in the US brought billions to the region.  The combination of Pablo's position as kingpin and the high demand of coca propelled Pablo to the title of World's Greatest Outlaw and drug war symbol.

November 6, 2010

Book Review: Relentless Pursuit

Title:  Relentless Pursuit: The DSS and the Manhunt for the Al-Queda Terrorists
Author: Samuel M. Katz
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
Pages: 297
Genre: Intelligence Non-Fiction
Related Books: Jawbreaker by Gary Berntsen

On February 26, 1993, an Econoline Van filled with 1,500 pounds of homemade fertilizer based explosive urea nitrate was parked in the basement of the World Trade Center Tower One.  Strategically positioned next to a support beam, the blasts intention was to topple Tower One into Tower Two, killing tens of thousands.  Underestimating the structural strength of the building, the explosion carved a crater 150 feet in diameter and 50 feet deep killing six, but terrorizing millions.

Relentless Pursuit chronicles the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) manhunt for al-Queda terrorists.  From the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 to the notorious and fateful day in September 2001, the book follows various Special Agents offering worldwide security and investigations in areas touched by the menace and murder of al-Queda.  From New York City to the Philippines to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Lebanon, Sudan, Afghanistan, Islamabad, Beirut, Tanzania and back to New York City, bombings, assassinations and the subsequent investigations are detailed in this book.

There are a lot of individuals presented , good and bad, some reappear throughout the book, others are mentioned once or twice.  Each bombing could provide enough information to warrant its own book.  The setting changes quickly.  The book becomes heavy with the large amounts of information.  Also, the book could use another round of editing.  However, this book wasn't released for its literary prowess, but instead to provide information.  It is an excellent source of knowledge into the minds and actions of an organization that does not easily forget; holding revenge and hatred in very high esteem.  Al-Queda still uses the Crusades as a rallying cry.  In the United States, our memory span is very short.  Who remembers the details of the WTC bomb from 1993?  These are not things that we should forget.

November 1, 2010

Book Review: Atlas Shrugged

Title: Atlas Shrugged (1957)
Author: Ayn Rand
Publisher: Plume (1999)
Pages: 1168
Genre: Philosophical fiction

Atlas Shrugged is the philosophy of Objectivism argued in the form of a fiction novel. Objectivism is the doctrine that reality exists separate from consciousness. Reality is that which we can sense. We can sense our creation of an object, but we cannot sense the idea of creation. It is not real until it is created and when created, it is ours. The philosophy is a strong proponent of capitalism, private property and minimal outward influence from regulations and rules. Man can only truly live life through the means of action and the fruition of his interests and skills.

Storyline: Men of action are disappearing from the country. Men of inaction are gaining control of the government and creating regulations which limit freedom of business. When the population recognizes that those with ability are taxed and those with need are pampered, the cities, infrastructure and lives of a once great nation crumbles at its core; spiraling into destruction without the freedom of competition. The men of ability create a retreat in which they may exist as they know man must live.

Creating a fictional world to portray a philosophy that is supposed to apply to our complex and real world is not very convincing. The antagonists are extremely shallow and stupid, performing their role of supporting Objectivism as if it were scripted. The book is overly long and repetitive. The countless dialogues between good guy and bad guy is almost always a repeat of the first dialogue between good guy and bad guy. The exchange of speech is good argument verses nonsensical repeating of meaningless phrases. Ignoring human nature and God except where it supports the agenda, this is a frail attempt to support a philosophy that has respectable and strong ideas.

October 19, 2010

Hike Review: Ontario Peak via Middle Fork Trailhead

Location: Lytle Creek, CA
Distance: 16 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation change: 5700 feet
Time of year best to hike: Spring thru fall
Recommended maps: San Gabriel Mountains

Trail Head: From Lytle Creek, CA, the trail-head is three miles east on Middle Fork Road. Approaching Lytle Creek from the south Middle Fork Road the second left, the first being South Fork Road. If you see North Fork Road, you have gone too far. The approach to the trail-head is a rough and rocky dirt road. Trucks should have no problem and most cars can make the drive if done slowly and precariously. After the three miles there is a dirt parking area and a hole in the ground bathroom. Park here and begin. Because the trail head is remote, difficult to get to, and seldom patrolled, I have heard tell that cars parked here are sometimes vandalized; so be warned.

Summary: Begin at 3,000 feet. After 2.3 miles of hiking above and along the Lytle Creek, Third Stream Crossing is 5,000 feet. At the camp there is a lot of water year round and lots of shade. From here, the trail leaves Lytle Creek. After a mile and a half of very intense uphill grade and eroded trail, Comanche camp is located at 6,400 feet in a side canyon with limited water. In the latter part of summer there was patches of water in this canyon. Near the camp there is a rock spring on the wall of the canyon. Unsure if this spring is year round, play it safe and fill up with water before leaving Lytle Creek. Thus far into the hike there are dramatic rock canyon walls.

Leaving Commanche Camp, it is 1.7 miles of tough hiking to Icehouse Saddle (7,800 feet). Icehouse Saddle links up with four other trails, one of which leads 2.5 miles to a very popular trail-head; expect a crowd. From this junction there are a variety of choices:

North: Three T's Trail: Timber Mt. .9 | Telegraph Peak 2.9 | Thunder Mt. 3.9
Southeast: Cucamonga Peak Trail: Cucamonga Peak 2.4
West: Icehouse Saddle Trail: Trailhead 2.5
Southwest: Ontario Peak Trail: Kelly Camp 1.0 | Ontario Peak 2.8

Heading southwest, Ontario Peak Trail climbs past Kelly Camp onto a ridge line with great views both to the east and west. The last 2.8 miles are the easiest part of the entire hike. The peak (8,693 feet) offers wonderful views of the great Inland Empire.

October 8, 2010

The Love of Money

There is a passage in the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand that I wanted to post. It is a reply to a statement on money. It is well worth the 20 minutes it takes to read:

"So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is that what you consider evil?

"When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others. It is not the moochers or the looters who give value to money. Not an ocean of tears nor all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into the bread you will need to survive tomorrow. Those pieces of paper, which should have been gold, are a token of honor-your claim upon the energy of the men who produce. Your wallet is your statement of hope that somewhere in the world around you there are men who will not default on that moral principle which is the root of money. Is this what you consider evil?

"Have you ever looked for the root of production? Take a look at an electric generator and dare tell yourself that it was created by the muscular effort of unthinking brutes. Try to grow a seed of wheat without the knowledge left to you by men who had to discover it for the first time. Try to obtain your food by means of nothing but physical motions—and you’ll learn that man’s mind is the root of all the goods produced and of all the wealth that has ever existed on earth.

"But you say that money is made by the strong at the expense of the weak? What strength do you mean? It is not the strength of guns or muscles. Wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think. Then is money made by the man who invents a motor at the expense of those who did not invent it? Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? By the able at the expense of the incompetent? By the ambitious at the expense of the lazy? Money is made—before it can be looted or mooched—made by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability. An honest man is one who knows that he can’t consume more than he has produced.

"To trade by means of money is the code of the men of good will. Money rests on the axiom that every man is the owner of his mind and his effort. Money allows no power to prescribe the value of your effort except the voluntary choice of the man who is willing to trade you his effort in return. Money permits you to obtain for your goods and your labor that which they are worth to the men who buy them, but no more. Money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by the unforced judgment of the traders. Money demands of you the recognition that men must work for their own benefit, not for their own injury, for their gain, not their loss--the recognition that they are not beasts of burden, born to carry the weight of your misery--that you must offer them values, not wounds--that the common bond among men is not the exchange of suffering, but the exchange of goods. Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men's stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best that your money can find. And when men live by trade--with reason, not force, as their final arbiter--it is the best product that wins, the best performance, the man of best judgment and highest ability--and the degree of a man's productiveness is the degree of his reward. This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money. Is this what you consider evil?

"But money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver. It will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires. Money is the scourge of the men who attempt to reverse the law of causality--the men who seek to replace the mind by seizing the products of the mind.

"Money will not purchase happiness for the man who has no concept of what he wants: money will not give him a code of values, if he's evaded the knowledge of what to value, and it will not provide him with a purpose, if he's evaded the choice of what to seek. Money will not buy intelligence for the fool, or admiration for the coward, or respect for the incompetent. The man who attempts to purchase the brains of his superiors to serve him, with his money replacing his judgment, ends up by becoming the victim of his inferiors. The men of intelligence desert him, but the cheats and the frauds come flocking to him, drawn by a law which he has not discovered: that no man may be smaller than his money. Is this the reason why you call it evil?

"Only the man who does not need it, is fit to inherit wealth--the man who would make his own fortune no matter where he started. If an heir is equal to his money, it serves him; if not, it destroys him. But you look on and you cry that money corrupted him. Did it? Or did he corrupt his money? Do not envy a worthless heir; his wealth is not yours and you would have done no better with it. Do not think that it should have been distributed among you; loading the world with fifty parasites instead of one, would not bring back the dead virtue which was the fortune. Money is a living power that dies without its root. Money will not serve the mind that cannot match it. Is this the reason why you call it evil?

"Money is your means of survival. The verdict you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life. If the source is corrupt, you have damned your own existence. Did you get your money by fraud? By pandering to men's vices or men's stupidity? By catering to fools, in the hope of getting more than your ability deserves? By lowering your standards? By doing work you despise for purchasers you scorn? If so, then your money will not give you a moment's or a penny's worth of joy. Then all the things you buy will become, not a tribute to you, but a reproach; not an achievement, but a reminder of shame. Then you'll scream that money is evil. Evil, because it would not pinch-hit for your self-respect? Evil, because it would not let you enjoy your depravity? Is this the root of your hatred of money?

"Money will always remain an effect and refuse to replace you as the cause. Money is the product of virtue, but it will not give you virtue and it will not redeem your vices. Money will not give you the unearned, neither in matter nor in spirit. Is this the root of your hatred of money?

"Or did you say it's the love of money that's the root of all evil? To love a thing is to know and love its nature. To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men. It's the person who would sell his soul for a nickel, who is loudest in proclaiming his hatred of money--and he has good reason to hate it. The lovers of money are willing to work for it. They know they are able to deserve it.

"Let me give you a tip on a clue to men's characters: the man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it.

"Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper's bell of an approaching looter. So long as men live together on earth and need means to deal with one another--their only substitute, if they abandon money, is the muzzle of a gun.

"But money demands of you the highest virtues, if you wish to make it or to keep it. Men who have no courage, pride or self-esteem, men who have no moral sense of their right to their money and are not willing to defend it as they defend their life, men who apologize for being rich--will not remain rich for long. They are the natural bait for the swarms of looters that stay under rocks for centuries, but come crawling out at the first smell of a man who begs to be forgiven for the guilt of owning wealth. They will hasten to relieve him of the guilt--and of his life, as he deserves.

"Then you will see the rise of the men of the double standard--the men who live by force, yet count on those who live by trade to create the value of their looted money--the men who are the hitchhikers of virtue. In a moral society, these are the criminals, and the statutes are written to protect you against them. But when a society establishes criminals-by-right and looters-by-law--men who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed victims--then money becomes its creators' avenger. Such looters believe it safe to rob defenseless men, once they've passed a law to disarm them. But their loot becomes the magnet for other looters, who get it from them as they got it. Then the race goes, not to the ablest at production, but to those most ruthless at brutality. When force is the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket. And then that society vanishes, in a spread of ruins and slaughter.

"Do you wish to know whether that day is coming? Watch money. Money is the barometer of a society's virtue. When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion--when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing--when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors--when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against you--when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice--you may know that your society is doomed. Money is so noble a medium that is does not compete with guns and it does not make terms with brutality. It will not permit a country to survive as half-property, half-loot.

"Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying money, for money is men's protection and the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave to its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values. Gold was an objective value, an equivalent of wealth produced. Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Paper is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it bounces, marked, 'Account overdrawn.'

"When you have made evil the means of survival, do not expect men to remain good. Do not expect them to stay moral and lose their lives for the purpose of becoming the fodder of the immoral. Do not expect them to produce, when production is punished and looting rewarded. Do not ask, 'Who is destroying the world? You are.

"You stand in the midst of the greatest achievements of the greatest productive civilization and you wonder why it's crumbling around you, while you're damning its life-blood--money. You look upon money as the savages did before you, and you wonder why the jungle is creeping back to the edge of your cities. Throughout men's history, money was always seized by looters of one brand or another, whose names changed, but whose method remained the same: to seize wealth by force and to keep the producers bound, demeaned, defamed, deprived of honor. That phrase about the evil of money, which you mouth with such righteous recklessness, comes from a time when wealth was produced by the labor of slaves--slaves who repeated the motions once discovered by somebody's mind and left unimproved for centuries. So long as production was ruled by force, and wealth was obtained by conquest, there was little to conquer, Yet through all the centuries of stagnation and starvation, men exalted the looters, as aristocrats of the sword, as aristocrats of birth, as aristocrats of the bureau, and despised the producers, as slaves, as traders, as shopkeepers--as industrialists.

"To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of money--and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. For the first time, man's mind and money were set free, and there were no fortunes-by-conquest, but only fortunes-by-work, and instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being--the self-made man--the American industrialist.

"If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose--because it contains all the others--the fact that they were the people who created the phrase 'to make money.' No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity--to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words 'to make money' hold the essence of human morality.

"Yet these were the words for which Americans were denounced by the rotted cultures of the looters' continents. Now the looters' credo has brought you to regard your proudest achievements as a hallmark of shame, your prosperity as guilt, your greatest men, the industrialists, as blackguards, and your magnificent factories as the product and property of muscular labor, the labor of whip-driven slaves, like the pyramids of Egypt. The rotter who simpers that he sees no difference between the power of the dollar and the power of the whip, ought to learn the difference on his own hide-- as, I think, he will.

"Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to be the tool by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of men. Blood, whips and guns--or dollars. Take your choice--there is no other--and your time is running out."

October 6, 2010

Book Review: The Brothers Karamazov

Title: The Brothers KaramazovThe Brothers Karamazov (Bantam Classics)
Author: Fyodor Dostoevsky
Publisher: Bantam Books (1970)
Pages: 936
Genre: Classic Russian Literature

Set in 19th Century Russia, four adult brothers, each with different ideals and standards come together in a story of depression, drama, disagreement, crime, mystery, and jealous romance. During their upbringing their father, Fyodor, is negligent of his children and each is raised separately. With an unconcerned father each brother sinks into his own unique form of depraved and amplified human nature.

The oldest, Ivan is trapped by his intellect. Dimitri is trapped in his passion. The youngest brother, Alyosha is the proclaimed hero and he adds the only hope and love to a tragic tale, but he is trapped by his faith in a God that allows salvation through a means of self proclamation. And lastly, Pavel is trapped by his circumstance. Once each character is established, Fyodor is murdered. Dimitri is suspected and a trial begins.

The struggle presented is that of morality and how one deduces it. Each character provides different methods of moral deduction. The details are crisp in a dull and dark landscape. The story is sharp in a daft and dreary town. The discussions are interesting. The characters are complicated, several of whom have name changes throughout with no warning.

October 5, 2010

Book Review: Crime and Punishment

Title: Crime and Punishment
Author: Fyodor Dostoevsky
Publisher: Signet Classics (2006)
Pages: 534
Genre: Classic Russian Literature

"Early one evening, during an exceptional heat wave in the beginning of July, a young man walked out into the street from the closet-like room he rented on Stoliarny Place." (1st sentence in the book) This unimposing man is walking out into the street to commit a horrible crime, a crime which he believes to be morally acceptable. If Napoleon had committed a single crime in order to secure his position in the world so that he was able to liberate a nation, would he be morally permitted?

The majority of the story is the consequence of the crime and the effects that this crime has on Raskolnikov, the perpetrator. If he truly were a great man who will benefit society, then his crime should transgress human emotions and the law. He struggles with depression and paranoia to the point of physical deterioration. Is his theory of transgressing the law incorrect or his he not destined to be a great man?

The descriptions, the theories, the perspectives, the thought provocation, and the storyline all make this a great valuable read. Everything is justified to some degree. Even murder may have a supposed admirable motive behind it. It all depends on your perspective. It appears that nothing is black and white.

September 30, 2010

Book Review: The Historian

Title: The Historian
Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Pages: 642
Genre: Historical Fiction

The setting is Cold War Europe and the book spans two generations of historians who find that their research of the past has followed them into the present. The topic of their research is the legend of Vlad Dracula the Impaler. As the characters meander their way through England, France, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey the plot slowly unravels and leads to something dark and mysterious.

The two generations of historians have separate stories playing off of each other, but unraveling at the same time. The characters travel through a broad range of different lands and meet many peculiar memorable people from distinctive cultures.

It is an exciting, but very anticipatory read. A book on Dracula is difficult to take serious, but it was worth reading about the vast and non-exhausted travels through the forgotten regions of eastern Europe.

September 29, 2010

Book Review: The Shack

Title: The Shack
Author: William Young
Publisher: Windblown Media
Pages: 256
Genre: Religious Fiction

The book follows the life of an injured father of three who is slightly depressed and bored with his life as a church going Christian. During a camping trip, his youngest daughter disappears and the entire northwestern region of the United States is put on alert. The trail of the murderer leads to an abandoned hunting shack in a remote forest. There is evidence that the child was raped and murdered. After long and tiresome attempts the search is given up. The man can no longer cope with life. He receives a letter in the mail from God with instructions to meet at the remote shack.

The story is the tale of the man meeting the God Triune. He spends a long weekend with them, learning about them, and building a relationship with each. He learns in three days at the shack what a lifetime at a church never would have taught him. The man learns that the traditional God whom we hear of at church is a bore. Religion is a bore. The "true God" and the "true Trinity" are beings with whom we should have a deep and meaningful relationship. Each of the three has a different personality and a different role.

The author makes an attempt to define God. However it is a God as defined by the new age evangelicals and non-denominational churches. There is very little Biblical basis for a God of the type as defined here. The God of the Bible has not changed for over 6,000 years. He is still a powerful, vengeful, jealous God whom demands our respect and reverence. The book became frivolous and fallacious as soon as the man met God. In order to define the true God, one should be wary of breaking one of His commandments in order to do it. The 2nd commandment as issued by the same God that this book contended to define is:

"Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,"

The author made God into an image and a false one at that. This is a book written for a specific and large body of non-denominational Christians who will pounce on anything that gives them an emotional high. Also, there was no literary contribution. If there wasn't an eager group of non-denominational Christians waiting in line to purchase whatever might help them in their pursuit of the false and people friendly God, this book never would have made it to press. Read the Bible if you want to know who God is.

March 31, 2010

Hike Review: San Gorgonio Peak

Location: Angelus Oaks, CA (Trail head); Forest Falls, CA (Exit Point)
Distance: 19 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation Change: 6000 feet at trail-head to 11,499 at peak (6100 foot elevation gain)
Time of year best to hike: Late April thru October
Recommended Maps: San Bernardino National Forest

Trail-head: I began at Southfork and took Lost Creek Trail to the top and came down via Vivian Creek Trail into Forest Falls. I will give directions to both.

From Redlands - take the 38 East. Stop at the Mill Creek Ranger Station to get your permit, if it is during the week, you will probably be okay if you are early. If it is a weekend, you might want to get your permit in advance, contact them for instructions ((909)382-2881).

To get to the Lost Creek Trail, continue on the 38 East for approximately 22 miles to the South Fork Camp/Trail-head. There will be several places to park on either side of the highway. The trail is on the south side of the road. There will be signs pointing in the direction of the Lost Creek Trail.

To get to the Vivian Creek Trail, veer right off Highway 38 onto Valley of the Falls Road approximately 6 miles from the Ranger Station. Stay on the Valley of the Falls Road for another 4 miles and the road will end at a picnic area. You can park here. Vivian Creek Trail can be found by hiking a 1/4 mile futher up the river and crossing to the opposite side. A trail sign can be found here.

Summary: The hike is very steep and rough. The Lost Creek Trail is 11 miles to the highest peak in southern California. The trail finds itself switching back up very steep mountain sides. At the lip of each ridge, the sound of water running far below can be heard. There are several mountain streams to be crossed and enjoyed. Once Lost Creek Trail hits Grinnell Ridge Campground, the trail becomes South Fork Trail, follow this trail to the top. The trees are pine, fir, oak. Eventually one will find themselves above the treeline, but just before this, you should be greeted by some of the oldest trees in the region. The lodgepole pine has twisted, bent, and scarred itself into surviving a very extreme, unforgiving climate.

There are several campgrounds in the area. The Ranger Station will be able to assure you of which are suitable at the time and where the running water is. I hiked this in June and there was a lot of water at that time. The evening can bring very low temps in the summer and the wind is usually quite strong. UV rays are potent and there is snow pack at the upper levels year round. This is a very rewarding hike. The view from the top is stupendous and unmatched by any other in southern Califonia.

January 23, 2010

Hike Review: San Bernardino Peak

Location: Angelus Oaks, CA
Distance: 15.8 miles
Elevation Gain: Trailhead (5,960 feet) to the Summit (10,649) for total of 4,700 feet
Time of Year Best to Hike: Spring thru Fall
Recommended map: San Bernardino National Forest

Trail-head: To get to the trail head from the populated area of Southern California, head east on I-10 into Redlands. Exit University, heading north, and turn right (east) onto Lugonia Blvd, also known as Highway 38. Continue on Highway 38 for 20 miles into Angelus Oaks. There is a sign for the trail-head off to the right (on Manzanita Drive) once you enter the city limit. Once you have left the highway, the road to the trail-head is a half mile dirt road passable (when dry) by most 2 wheel drive vehicles. The road opens up to a dirt parking lot. Park here.

Summary: The hike is very steep. This trek makes use of some serious switch backs on the side of almost eerily steep slopes. You will walk through a variety of pine, oak and fir trees. The majority of the hike is shaded, however there are several portions of the hike that are open and here the trail takes you through brush and boulders. Near the top on the north facing slopes there is snow pack year round. Although it can get hot in the summer months, a wind breaker is recommended. The wind chill can be very cold. Several creeks are crossed. Not all run year round. There is overnight camping for which a permit is needed. Contact the Mentone Ranger Station for more year round weather related details and to obtain permits.

Best Season: July thru October

Recommended Maps and Books: National Geographic TOPO! Weekend Explorer 3D (Los Angeles, Los Padres, San Bernardino National Forest)

January 15, 2010

Book Review: The Road

Title: The Road
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Publisher: Vintage International, 2006
Pages: 287
Genre: Post-apocalyptic fiction

The Road chronicles the travels and relationship of a father and son in an astonishingly and presumed wicked world of death, darkness and degeneration. The relationship is a struggle of ignorant trust against distrusting deprecation.

The world has been wrapped in a gray cloud of death. The sun is not able to penetrate this orb and all living matter other than mushrooms and man have ceased to exist. Chances of survival are not great. Mankind has been reduced to acting on their instincts to survive. This instinctual simplicity is highlighted in the tone of the dialect between father and son.

The father is determined that survival in this post-apocalyptic world can only be accomplished through avoidance of the others who survived. He has seen evidence of their savagery. His view is that man has lost all decency and all are completely shameless acting on self preserving motives of survival.

Yet, the son grasps glimmers of hope that not all man is evil. The sense in the child seems to be natural in that he has lived his entire life in this dark lifeless world and has almost no good or decent memories of what life used to be. In his simplicity he demands that humans, in the face of utter destruction, can prove to be more than just crude and instinctual. He struggles to convey this upon his obstinate father.

The book is written very well and entraps the reader with its suspense and description of a familiar, but unrecognizable world. Albeit, despondent, the story communicates renewed joy at our own blessed and comfortable lives.

January 13, 2010

Book Review: Hirohito Emporer of Japan

Title: Hirohito Emperor Of Japan
Author: Leonard Mosley
Publisher: Prentice Hall Inc., 1966
Genre: Japanese Non-fiction biography
Pages: 371

This book was written as a biography of the Japanese Emperor Hirohito (1901-1989) who reigned as a supposed divine being during World War II. The author outlines the Emperor's life describing the man's emotions, decisions, actions and relationships.

The author does an excellent job of painting the Emperor as a fair and humble man made impotent by the lies and guile of his entourage of government mentors. From his birth to his enthronement at age 26 to World War II and beyond, Hirohito was timid and skeptical of his own divinity. By his actions, it was apparent that he would rather perform his hobby as a botanist than dictate the direction of a nation. He had few meaningful relationships and he resented being subject his advisers, the majority of whom toyed with the Emperor as their personal puppet using him as a means to an agenda. He was a pacifist who often believed the lies of his advisers. Military fanatics used the Emperor's name in order to erupt national pride in the face of an oppressive world.

The book also does a good job of concentrating on its goal: to follow the life of the Emperor. World War II literature can fill aisle after aisle of library shelves and yet Mosley examines his topic without falter and without falling into any detail of the war that does not address the Emperor. A lot of the war is not mentioned because the Emperor was left ignorant for most of it. The author conveys the feeling that the Emperor was blind to much of the happenings and devastation of the war.

I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates Japanese culture, enjoys World War II knowledge or needs a new perspective on history. After reading the book, I felt as if I had a broader view and a new understanding of Japan and her history.

January 12, 2010

Hike Review: Grand Canyon - Bright Angel and South Kaibab

Title: Grand Canyon - down Bright Angel trail and up South Kaibab trail
Distance: 17.5 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation change: 7200 ft to 2400 ft
Time of Year: Late December, early January
Recommended Map: Trails Illustrated Grand Canyon East #262

How better to usher in the New Year than from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Our itinerary had us hiking down Hermit Trail and staying at Hermit Rapids camp for two nights. This is supposed to be a more remote and intimate experience of the Grand Canyon than the popular Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails. Weather demanded our plans to be altered. The road to the Hermit Trail was closed due to snow.

Grand Canyon from Bright Angel
We arrived at the park ($25 vehicle entrance fee) in the mid afternoon. Sunset is 5:30. We visited the Back-country Office and because the winter is the slow season for the Canyon we were able to dilatorily modify our plans.

We started out heading down the Bright Angel Trail and stayed at Indian Gardens Camp the first night. The camp (4800 ft) is approximately 4.5 miles down trail from the rim (7200 ft). Despite this being the Canyons slow season the trail was tangled with visitors. We hiked the last mile in the dark. The snow on the way down was slippery and crampons are highly recommended. Most backpackers do the this route in the opposite direction, staying at Indian Garden on the way out so as to cut the out hike in half. Indian Garden was about 2/3 full. We found a quiet spot among the fir and oak trees. The camp has drinking water, picnic benches with awning, a pay phone, and hole-in-the-ground restrooms (a spot distance away from the camp for obvious reasons). The temperature fell to the mid-20s.

The next morning the late blooming sun deceived us into waking much later than anticipated. We quickly ate, packed and got back on the trail. Starting time was 10:00 am. From Indian Gardens we hiked 3.5 miles to Pipe Creek Beach. The trail down was quiet and concealed from the sun. A handful of other hikers were encountered. Pipe Creek flows through an amazing canyon which leads to the Colorado River. The big river is a pleasant surprise as it immediately aggrandizes after a sharp turn in the Pipe Creek Canyon. We lunched at Pipe Creek Beach (2400 ft) to the roaring of the river.
Colorado River from Bright Angel
Grand Canyon, Phantom Ranch
From Pipe Beach, the hike to Bright Angel Campground (2400 ft) is an easy flat 2 miles of river walk. Bright Angel Camp is on the opposite side of the river. We crossed Silver Bridge and arrived at the campground shortly before 2:00 pm. We were welcomed by a herd of mule deer amiably eating the wild grasses utterly unconcerned with their surroundings. The camp was about half full. We found a beautiful spot along the clear Bright Angel Creek and rubbed elbows with the mule deer the remainder of the day. We explored the area. It is recommended that one visit Ribbon Falls. The falls are an easy 12 mile round trip from the camp up Bright Angel Creek. The Bright Angel Creek is in a canyon called the Box. The walls are almost vertical and over several hundred feet tall. The temperate full to just below freezing that night.

The next morning we anticipated the trickery of the Grand Canyon walls and awoke much earlier. We began our ascent at 8:00 am. The hike out lasted four and a half hours. We ascended South Kaibab trail which is a 7.5 mile trek to the rim. We climbed at a quick pace.

Grand Canyon from South Kaibab
At the top, there was a free shuttle to bring us to the Back-country office which was where we had parked.

I highly recommend this hike to anyone, young and old. Although, it might behoove you to get an early start and run the route in the opposite direction in which I have described it. It is not as difficult as one might anticipate if you take your time, plan well, and exercise before hand. Permits should be obtained months in advance as this is an extremely popular hike. You will encounter people from all over the globe on this hike.

January 11, 2010

Hike Review: Morton Peak Trail

Location: east of Mentone, CA
Distance: 3 mile out and back
Difficulty: Easy
Recommended Map: National Geographic TOPO! Weekend Explorer 3D (Los Angeles, Los Padres, San Bernardino National Forest)

This was an easy 3 mile out and back trail. The easier and shorter the hike, the easier it is to review the excursion. And seeing as this is my first post, easier is better in familiarizing myself with the setup and process.

The trail head is above Highway 38 to the north east of the Mill Creek Ranger Station and just west of the picnic area along Hwy 38 known as Thurman Flats. The turnoff from Hwy 38 is a dirt forest road designated 1N12. This road can be navigated by most two wheel drive vehicles. The trail head can be recognized by a giant gate along this forest road about 1.5 miles from the highway. Park here, but do not block the gate.

The trail is more of a fire road. It climbs steadily, but not strenuously for 1.5 miles. At the top you will be welcomed by a beautiful view of the greater Inland Empire and on a clear day one may be able to see into LA. At the top you will also be greeted by the lookout tower. The tower can be rented for overnight stays. I believe they charge $75 per night and the Rangers at the Mill Creek Station will give you the key to the gate and allow you to skip the hike.

This is a very easy, accessible and scenic hike. I hiked it with an 8 year old who had no difficulties. I recommend that this trail be tackled in the colder months. There is no shade along the trail and the view from the top can be clouded by smog in the summer months.