Sufferfest at the Banff Mountain Film Festival

April 6, 2014

Every year we travel to Downieville to watch the Banff Mountain Film Festival movies as part of their annual tour. Downieville might be their smallest stop in the world, with a theater that seats about 200 good friends. It’s an hour drive on windy roads from where I live in Nevada City, but once we’re there it’s always a fun party, including the annual intermission frisbee-fest.

This year my favorite film was The Sufferfest, featuring Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright. You might remember Alex from all of movies and articles about the crazy free solo climbs he’s done, but Sufferfest is a different kind of adventure – he and Cedar climb all of the California 14ers, biking between the peaks.

What made it extra cool was that Schmed & I climbed these same peaks 20+ years ago, as part of a goal to summit them by the time we turned 30. And we also biked part of the way up White Mountain on our way to Barcroft right before Schmed’s knee surgery.

During the film they showed a shot of the register box on the top of Polemonium Peak, which I’d hauled up and installed in 1991. The register has a sad back-story. In 1988 Robin Ingraham was climbing with his friend Mark Hoffman at Devil’s Crag #8. A talus chute slid during their descent, and Mark went over a cliff. He was still alive, so Robin made an epic hike to get help (from back country ranger Randy Morgensen, see The Last Season) , but Mark didn’t survive the night. As a tribute to Mark, Robin started making summit registers, and I wound up getting a box from him for Polemonium.

Here’s me installing it back in 1991…


And proof that it’s still there, from The Sufferfest movie…


Good to see it’s still in place, as many of these registered have been vandalized, removed by rangers, or stolen over the years. There’s an article written by Robin Ingraham in 2008 about the history of registers in the Sierra Nevada, for those interested. What’s interesting to me is that Robin is strongly opposed to any mention of registers online, as he feels this gives would-be thieves more information about what to steal, and how. My views on this have evolved into treating registers more like prayer flags, which are left in place to fade as the years pass – I think historical records should be copied, but the originals left on the tops of peaks. If they get stolen, or water-damaged, or struck by lightening…that’s part of their story too, and someone will have to start a new register.

Project Vote Smart Rocks

October 25, 2012

I got a letter recently from Project Vote Smart, thanking me for being one of their original supports (beginning around 1990 or so). They also sent a nice pin.


But what I really like is being able to go to their web site during this gnarly election process and find real data about candidates, instead of having to sift through the endless commentary that floods the news.

I realize they’re a small voice compared to all of the Super-PACs that are pouring money into races & ballot measures, but they also are one of the few rays of light I can find in the political landscape. If you’re a voter who likes to make their own decisions instead of voting the “party line”, I’d strongly encourage you to support them.



Tube of Terror post-mortem

October 4, 2012

So in the end, we didn’t win.

We did avoid hitting other vehicles, or crashing into a hay bale, or crashing into somebody (like a race volunteer), unlike a few other vehicles I could mention.

And we looked good…

Turns out my near-death power slide on Nimrod during a test run caused the rear axle frame to bend, leading to toe-out (or toe-in? I can never remember).

So we were scrubbing off wheel rubber the whole way down – which was…disappointing.

But we’re ready for next year’s race, this time with a properly aligned frame…

Can Ken Climb Aconcagua?

September 2, 2012

Schmed & I have decided to attempt Aconcagua this December.


Which doesn’t leave much time for travel planning, setting up Big Data training in Buenos Aires, finding mule packers to help get gear up to base camp, and (most importantly) implementing a training regime appropriate for getting to almost 23,000ft.

We’re planning to make it a business-climbing-vacation trip, which means the family flies to Buenos Aires in mid-December, and we spend two weeks exploring the city and surrounding areas.

Tube of Terror Test Run

May 27, 2012

Time to see if the steering adjustments are working…

…and the brakes too :)

How a Programmer Works on a Soapbox Derby Racer

April 27, 2012

Once I knew I had a winning ticket for the race, I did what any programmer would do when getting started.

No, I didn’t make the t-shirt. I wrote a simulation.

Step #1 was to get the profile of the race course. Google Earth has nice support for generating a profile from a path:

Next was figuring out how to simulate the race. For every meter down the course, the profile lets me calculate the change in elevation, and thus the change in potential energy. Once I have this, and the mass of the vehicle, and the resistance due to wheels and air drag, and the moment of inertia of the wheels, then it was a simple matter of mapping from delta PE to delta KE:

And then I could turn these equations into code:

Finally, I could generate results with different weights, and graph them.

The sad result was that more weight == better results. Though I imagine rolling resistance isn’t linear with weight, as the “footprint” of the tread expands under increased load. Plus there’s the issue of being able to stop at the bottom of the hill…

Dad vs The Soapbox Derby Wheel

April 25, 2012

I’ve been keeping a collection of emails sent by my Dad, as he works in his shop to get a disk brake attached to our (small) wheels. I think it’s pretty amazing that he’s got the energy and persistence (at 85!) to keep working away at a problem until he solves it.

Two days ago:

I have been chasing my tail for several days trying to get the brake discs to rotate without ‘runout’ when installed with the wheel on my support brackets. I have gotten as close as +/- .005″; not good enough.

Each time I lapped the face the disc bolts to, and reinstalled the disc, I got different results. I tried adding shims to the bearing outer races – no luck.

Finally, tonight I removed one of the spacers from between the bearings and measured the length at 4 points with a micrometer. 1.0303, 1.0302, 1.0295, 1.0288. That calculates to an angle of 0.1836 degrees.

Now I wonder how to true up the sleeve. I don’t know which end is off. And I don’t know if my lathe and chuck are accurate enough. I can also chuck it in my milling chuck. If I grind off a little I will need to add a hard stainless shim type washer to compensate and keep the length to 1.030. I have shim stock in various thicknesses.

Yesterday was:

1) I checked out the lathe; it is pretty accurate.
2) I trued up the sleeves by chucking in the lathe and grinding with my Dremel. One end was off on each of them.
3) Brake disc run-out, and the wheel still wobbles!!

And today, victory!

Today it finally dawned on me that the top hat we made to mount the brake disc to the wheel really forms a backbone for both. The disc is pretty flexible; the wheels are made from fiberglass reinforced plastic which has a low modulus of elasticity. In between is the rigid metal top hat.

By adjusting the bolts to the wheel, I have the one wheel running less than +/- .002 instead of +/- .020. Now I am working on the face of the hat against the disc. If need be I can shim and get it accurate. The gap in the brake clamp is .090 with a little drag on the feeler gauge. The disc is .070 thick, leaving less than .020 total.

I’m glad he’s on our team :)


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