Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Heil Valley Ranch

I took a mountain bike trip up Heil Valley over a year ago. It's a decent ride. Never very steep or rocky it climbs through the woods from Lefthand Canyon to provide some great, if infrequent views west to St. Vrain Canyon and north to Lyons. I've rarely visited the place since because they don't allow dogs and when I run on my own I prefer the high mountains. But with weather putting that out of reach it made a logical choice for another early morning run when I had only a little time available and no dog with me.

The trailhead is just 2 miles from my home, so the convenience alone made it a great choice - leaving home to setting out on the trail took only 15 minutes. And it was completely deserted. With the ranch lying north to south between high ridges, this meant that much early running was in shadow...and it was cool. Seeing the sun touching the treetops didn't help and it an hour before the warmth of the morning arrived.

I have met a lot of very well-educated people who should know better, yet it is remarkable some of the nonsense they believe. I know health is a very personal thing, but it is surprising to me why so many people who, while normally rational on most things, engage in pure pseudoscience and quackery when it comes to health. I suspect that part of the "reason" (if there is one) is due to the bad press of "big pharma" and the fact that companies who should act with supreme integrity often fall short, but the behavior of people with respect to their own health is often diametrically opposed to the very best evidence.
Trail junction - Picture Rock goes right to Lyons, the Wild Turkey trail goes left

I was particularly struck by a comment made by a family psychologist I met some time ago who commented exasperatingly "Oh no, not evidence based medicine again", as though this was somehow the cause of a major problem. It seems that, as Michael Shermer put it, people believe some weird things. The most popular pseudoscientific nonsense among the chattering classes seem to be acupuncture, homeopathy, reiki and vaccine denialism. Scientifically speaking, these are all on a par with faith healing - they just don't work.
Distant view of Long's Peak

It's difficult to keep pace with the proliferation of nonsense that spews forth from the advocates of CAM, or its updated title Integrative Medicine. The fact that these "alternative" treatments are called "alternative", is that if they were effective we would simply call them "medicine". "Alternative" is the term used to describe medical treatments for which no evidence exists regarding their efficacy. And the problem with zero evidence is that it means ineffective. They plain don't work. Two of my favorite websites track this kind of nonsense and debunk it daily...sometimes hilariously, sometimes savagely. I suggest you check them out.
View west across St. Vrain Canyon from the Ponderosa Trail

After a 2.6 mile approach on the Wapiti Trail I decided to run a counter clockwise loop combining the Wild Turkey Trail and the Ponderosa Trail. It was steady running the whole way. However, I do find running mountain biking trails to be a little tedious - the routing is nearly always circuitous and the heavily rutted ground makes for awkward foot placements. Although the views aren't great on this trail - there are just too many trees - the places where open country breaks out are all the more special.

It is that time of year when animals are on the move and, just like yesterday at Dowdy Draw, I encountered a herd of deer moving through the forest close to the trail summit. After a rapid, sweeping descent of the Ponderosa trail I reached its junction with the Wapiti Trail and a quick return to the car.

View from the Lichen Trail
On the way back I decided to detour via the short Lichen Trail.This is really just a short walking loop for those unable to complete the full circuit and it a very pleasant diversion. Just over 10 miles and a great start to another stunning Colorado day.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Low-level running

I wouldn't write-off the prospect of higher level running just yet - the current warmer temperatures are melting a lot of early season snow - but it is unlikely I'm going to get above 11,000 feet again this year. If the snow holds off for a week or so I might try this coming weekend. I didn't have a lot of time today and decided that a short, brisk trot in the hills of south Boulder - with good exposure to the early morning sun - would be ideal.

The mountains south of Eldorado Canyon are a bit of a mystery to me. They aren't accessible from any trail system that I can see and the east approach (shown above) would require crossing the Rio Grande railway tracks. It isn't a particularly busy rail line, but being caught in one of the tunnels at the wrong time would be disconcerting as well as potentially illegal.

The advantage of starting from Dowdy Draw trail head is that the initial half mile of trail is hard gravel and less muddy than what is found around Chautauqua. It's a gently rising trail and it is possible to step out quite briskly. It was deserted this morning - only one car in the parking lot - and a cool breeze swept the grassy slopes. Turning a shoulder I encountered a herd of deer. These magnificent creatures were grazing in the morning light, ever anxious of the unexpected and alert to threat. They shuffled a little nervously as I tracked along the hillside before nonchalantly strolling up the hillside and into the woods. There are people whose first thought on seeing these animals is to reach for a gun - I'll never understand why.

The Fowler Trail is reached at the point where the Goshawk Ridge Trail crosses the drainage ditch and I ran down the old quarry trail to the north. The cutting above led to a cold stretch in the shadow but it afforded beautiful views of the entrance to Eldorado canyon.

Eldorado is one of my favorite climbing destinations, and I like to follow the Fowler trail all the way into the park, but time didn't allow that today and, instead I aimed for Goshawk Ridge.

I heard the train as I started the steeper climb to reach the ridge. There's an 8.30am departure for a passenger service from Denver to San Francisco (which takes a day and a half to get there) and this was the train I could see now. My wife and I have spoken about how we would love to take this train journey across the Rockies. The route traverses the higher slopes above Eldorado Canyon and is famous for the very long Moffat Tunnel, which is the starting point for my runs in the James Peak Wilderness.
Climbing to the top of Goshawk Ridge it is possible to look back at splendid views of the slopes of South Boulder Peak (left above) and Bear Peak (the last high point to the right). I was looking at this summit from the north just a few days ago.
From the top of the ridge it is a really fast descent back to the trailhead. The deer I saw earlier were now in the woods to the west and I made quick ground on the firm trail surface. It was a great morning.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mesa Trail & Green Mountain

Out of control dogs are a menace!!

When we first moved to Boulder almost 2 years ago we rented a cottage at Chautauqua. We were only there 7 weeks while we waited for our house to close, but our proximity to the Flatirons and the Mesa Trail provided partial compensation for our cramped living space. We were glad to leave, but only because we wanted our house and bigger living space - the area is beautiful.

I avoid Chautauqua from March through October. It gets so crowded in the warmer weather that it makes a trip unpleasant. Once the first snows arrive though, the ice and mud deter the casual walkers. I arrived early today and found the parking lot barely half full. I would be out of the busy area in a mile or so and once past the NCAR station it should be really deserted. My plan for today was to do most of the lower level running early while the ground was still frozen. I aimed to head south from Chautauqua, then climb Bear Canyon to the West Ridge of Green Mountain. I wasn't sure about the descent route, but there were a number of options and I decided to leave the decision til later.
Early morning sun on the Flatirons as we climbed Chautauqua Meadow

Leaving the trailhead it was cold, but not as cold as yesterday at Button Rock. Livvy and I struck a steady pace on the gradual uphill section and passed by a few walkers. We could see an elderly couple up ahead with two dogs off leash - I really don't know what part of "Keep your dogs leashed" people don't understand, but the signs are pretty obvious. Livvy is a little apprehensive because she has been startled by aggressive dogs before, and as we approached them she held back. As soon as the two dogs saw Livvy they ran for her. I managed to fend one off and kick the other on the throat to keep it at bay. I wasn't best pleased and remonstrated with the owners for failing to control their dogs. It seems they didn't bring a leash and thought their dogs would "be OK".  I'm about done with these people and wish the park service would effect more punitive measures.
Contouring above the NCAR before turning right up Bear Canyon - frozen mud

But Livvy wasn't too concerned. She was surprised more than scared and was trotting ahead in no time...and then we met two more dogs off leash and, although they were under control, their owner "got the treatment" for not having them leashed. I'll link this post to the Boulder Park Service and invite them to take more action. These dog owners annoy me because they ruin it for everyone.
In the lower reaches of Bear Canyon

It was such an enjoyable morning that thoughts of irresponsible dog owners quickly faded and the beauty of our surroundings took over. After a stiff little climb we turned east to the entrance to Bear Canyon and the more serious ascent began. I have never seen a bear in Bear Canyon - in fact I've never seen one on Bear Peak - and felt cheated again this morning as we climbed in apparent solitude. The canyon is a dark and cold place in winter. The sun barely penetrates the canyon floor because of the towering cliffs and steep canyon walls, but after about 5 miles and at 7000 feet the trees thin out and we were warmed by the sun. In fact it became very warm and I regretted overdressing.

There is a completely new trail ascending Green Mountain from the south - whatever map you might be looking at is definitely wrong - and as the Bear Mountain trail splits left there is an extremely runnable, gently rising trail all the way to the junction with the West Ridge trail. The park service has made an excellent job - they have controlled erosion and managed to avoid some nasty little climbs with unstable ground. The new trail adds about a half mile in distance, but this is barely noticeable and the trail contours through some lovely wooded hillsides with great views south towards Bear Mountain and South Boulder Peak.
On the new section of trail on Green Mountain

Junction with the Ranger Trail with views across north Boulder
We reached the summit in no time and spent a few minutes talking to a very pleasant lady who had a friendly black Lab. Livvy was allowed to share a water bowl and we took in the views across Boulder to the plains in the east. We are so lucky having such great countryside to explore.
On the summit of Green Mountain with Bear Peak in the distance to the south. Livvy was able to share the water bowl

Descending the tricky icy trail I decided to head west to the Flagstaff Road and then down Long Canyon. We made rapid going. Once we hit Flagstaff Road it was only a half mile to the junction with Long Canyon. From there we would pick up Gregory canyon and be back at the car.
View east across Boulder from the summit of Green Mountain

Annoyingly, we arrived at Long Canyon to find that dogs were prohibited from this section of trail. This is ridiculous. Here was a trail running parallel to a busyish road and I was going to have to take the road. And this is why I get so annoyed at irresponsible dog owners - if they would only keep their dogs on leash AT ALL TIMES there wouldn't be the need to ban them from some trails. This is an issue I will raise again with the park service, but after my encounter earlier this morning I feel my protestations will be futile.
Descending Gregory Canyon in warming conditions. The trailhead is on the far side of the obvious snow patch

Livvy and I descended the Flagstaff Road to Realization Point and then quickly ran down the Gregory Canyon trail. It was warming up considerably as we lost altitude and when the sun penetrated the clouds I wished for shorts and a tee shirt. Unfortunately, the warmth had melted the lower level ice and the Chautauqua Meadow trails were a mud bath. Approaching the car I found a patch of deeper snow and cleaned my shoes and Livvy's legs and paws before climbing back in the car.

Running on Empty

11 degrees below zero at the Button Rock trailhead

Gaining altitude on the Sleepy Lion trail
If I'm honest, my dislike of Romney is one of judgment. How can an individual who believes that magic underpants will protect him, that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri, or that the "curse of Cain" was the reason black people exist, be fit to be President? I'm not short of reasons to dislike Romney but at a fundamental level I can't get past how someone with apparent intelligence could believe such silly things. And I know when I point this out I get the usual criticism from those whose religious sensibilities are offended, but no-one has the right to go through life free from offense, and if your personal philosophy is built on a set of really bad ideas then claiming special privilege for them being "religious" in no way immunizes them from criticism. If religious ideas are deemed free from criticism (something Islamists are attempting to achieve at the UN through the promotion of blasphemy laws) then all bets are off and the incompatibility between the competing claims of different religions becomes an impossible, and undiscoverable, contradiction. We seem to have no problem going after each others' political opinions (as I am doing here...and as others do with me), and the same should apply to religious any ideas. And before anyone starts launching in to a First Amendment defense, I am perfectly happy respecting the rights of people to believe what they want...but that doesn't mean I can't point out how silly those beliefs are.

But I digress.

Looking up towards Hall Ranch

Romney simply can't tell the truth about his position on important issues that will define America, indeed, the world. This seems to be clearer to pretty much every citizen on this planet outside the US, except Pakistan, as thus survey seems to make clear.  The flip-flopping label that was attached to John Kerry with such devastating effect in 2004 seems insufficiently descriptive to truly capture Romney's pirouetting. Exactly one year ago, with the Republican primary steamrollering along, ABC news was already pointing out the glaring contradictions in Romney as a candidate. Only this week Stephen Stromberg, writing in the Washington Post, pointed out yet again, how Romney has changed his position on pretty much everything in his desperate attempt to get elected. It is embarrassing to see an American electorate so complicit in this duplicitous behavior, or so easily fooled.
Cloud on the horizon obscures Long's Peak. Our route can be seen climbing the right side of the dam. We would skirt the right shoreline before heading back east to the trailhead

One explanation has less to do with positively supporting Romney as it has to a vitriolic and contemptuous hatred of Obama. It's difficult to understand how this hatred is justified - I certainly don't hate Romney. I think he has integrity issues and isn't as smart as others make him out to be, but I have respect for him as a fellow human being. I'm also not a huge fan of Obama. The fact that there is so little difference between his foreign policy and that of the Bush er, as outlined in this excellent analysis, and that he has failed to abolish (instead he extended it) Bush's "Faith-Based" initiatives, along with his failure to correctly address Gay marriage, makes for a poor record by my book. The fact that he has failed to enact any gun control legislation is egregious notwithstanding the political difficulties of the last two years. But while I can disagree with Obama on points of specific policy, I share his world view and philosophy regarding the kind of society we all should be seeking to build. By contrast, if I could find a policy of Romney's I could agree with (and it's hard because they change so much over time) I completely reject his world view. The kind of society he says he wants to build stands in stark contrast to the policies he says would create it. You don't build social cohesion by taxing the middle class and letting the extremely rich get a free ride. For Romney, the increasing gap between rich and poor is both inevitable and desirable.
Climbing the trail by the dam, looking back to where the previous photo was taken

Easy running all the way back to the trailhead

It is difficult for some Republican politicians to conceal their racism in expressing their hatred of Obama. We are really not short of examples. The vitriol of these politicians is inflammatory. It started with Sarah Palin and those crosshairs. And while Romney has been very careful to avoid direct comments, he has been keen to continue to support those whose racism is on public display. The overall effect of this appalling lack of moral leadership is evidenced in this poll (with a better written analysis here) which shows attitudes are heading in the wrong direction. With Romney failing to condemn Sununu over his racially tinged accusation that Colin Powell backed Obama because he is black, and we have a presidential candidate unfit to be President.
Re-joining the trail after descending from the reservoir

I have already attacked Romney in another post for his anti-science and anti-Gay stance, so won't dwell further on those points here.

Americans have to decide what kind of society they want to live in. They can...and may...choose to live in Romney's society, but in 4 years time their regret will lead to a Democrat landslide. I just don't want to have to put up with 4 years of embarrassing leadership in the meantime and watch the United States become the international laughing stock it was during GWB's tenure.
Livvy loves running in the snow and is alert on the banks of Longmont Reservoir as she watches some geese on the far bank

Saturday, October 20, 2012

St. Vrain Mountain Loop

...and more on Deepak!!!

I received some criticism for my demolition of Deepak Chopra in a recent post. This was hardly unexpected. With so many gullible and sycophantic followers, one of them was bound to track me down sooner or later to defend their guru. And by "defend" I don't mean in the sense of refuting my criticisms with evidence. No. I mean it in the sense of a New York Yankee fan responding to the opinion that A-Rod is over the hill and a liability. It was a pure, emotional diatribe of...well, nonsense. The fact of the matter is that some babies really are ugly and my pointing out just how ugly Deepak is was just too much for this "mother" to bear.
A freezing pre-dawn climb onto the exposed ridge.
It seems my main "error" was in the area of "quantum consciousness", so I thought I'd give this a little more treatment. Apparently it is me who doesn't understand the term. Here's what Deepak has to say in this article.
Quantum physics tells us that objects exist in a suspended physical state until observed, when they collapse to just one outcome -- we don't know what happens until we investigate, and our investigation influences that reality. Whether or not certain events may have happened some time ago, may not actually be determined until some time in your future -- it may actually be contingent upon actions that have not yet taken place.
 Chopra is confusing three separate issues in this paragraph - wave particle duality, quantum entanglement and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle - and he gets them all completely wrong. Let's start with the simple one first. Wave function doesn't collapse just because it is observed. This is a 4th grade error and he should be embarrassed to be discovered repeating it in full view. Quantum mechanics states that photons, electrons and all fundamental particles  don't exist discretely but are spread out as a wave. The wave function is simply a description of the probability that they will be in a specific place at a specific time. We know that when particles are free from interactions with other matter they behave like a wave. Simple double slit experiments have proved this beyond doubt.
Just before sun-up
But when a particle does interact with other matter it collapses to a point. This is the wave particle duality of matter. This collapse has got zero to do with an observer. We don't need an observer to make this prediction and calculate the effect. Deepak is dead wrong. But let's not allow proper science to get in the way of a whole stream of stupid. here's Deepak again...
Scientists in France shot particles of light "photons" into a measuring apparatus, and showed that what they did -- now, in the present -- could retroactively change something that had already happened in the past. As the photons passed a fork in the apparatus, they had to decide whether to behave like particles or waves when they hit a beam splitter. Later on -- well after the photons passed the fork -- the experimenter could randomly switch a second beam splitter on and off electronically. It turns out that what the observer decided at that point, determined what the particle actually did at the fork in the past. At that moment, the experimenter chose his reality.
A cold stretch heading toward the eastern flank of St Vrain mountain
 Here Deepak completely bastardizes quantum entanglement in order to compute with his worldview about consciousness. Again, he gets the science dead wrong. Unfortunately for Deepak, these experiments do not describe the future affecting the past. We know that when particles are linked, some of their properties are also linked even while still being in a wave of probability. As this description of quantum entanglement makes perfectly clear,
quantum entanglement does not enable matter to convey genuine information beyond the relativistic speed limit of normal spacetime.
A view out to the Flatirons above Boulder as the sun rises
 No matter how much Deepak lies, he cannot get quantum entanglement to mean that the future can affect the past, which is a central claim of his quantum consciousness BS. Either Deepak is genuinely confused, or he knows what he is doing. It is difficult for me to be charitable. Let's get back to more of his claptrap.
It was only with the advent of quantum physics that scientists began to consider again the old question of the possibility of comprehending the world as a form of mind. Since that time, physicists have analyzed and revised their equations in a vain attempt to arrive at a statement of natural laws that in no way depends on the circumstances of the observer.
It's hard to know what evidence would support Deepak's claim that the universe is really a "mind". It's difficult to even begin to think of how such a claim could be falsified. It is certainly not a scientific claim even though he makes it as one. And this is Chopra's ultimate deception - by incorrectly using scientific terms (terms that actually have specific meaning) and liberally sprinkling them in his also playing on his medical background by pretending to be a scientist...he intentionally fools the masses. He also fools the chattering classes - those who have read enough books to be dangerous, but without really understanding any of them. Jeeez...I'm not a scientist, but even with my limited understanding of particle physics and quantum mechanics it is trivially easy to completely destroy Chopra's pretensions.
Just prior to the descent
The problem is that Chopra thinks quantum measurement applies to everything and, again, he is dead wrong. He writes...
quantum theory implies that consciousness must exist, and that the content of the mind is the ultimate reality. If we do not look at it, the moon is gone. In this world, only an act of observation can confer shape and form to reality -- to a dandelion in a meadow, or a seed pod, or the sun or wind or rain. Anyway, it's amazing, and even your dog can do it too.
Oh dear. Actually, there is one part of that paragraph that has the potential to make some sense and it is the suggestion that a dog can do something that Deepak can't. But let's not go there. Unfortunately it seems that Chopra hasn't seen or understood  de Broglie's equation.
λ = h/mv
You see, all objects no matter how large or small, are also waves and particles. But the wavelength of matter decreases with mass (m) and velocity (v) as de Broglie clearly established. So with λ the wavelength and h Planck's constant, when you start to get larger than a large molecule the quantum wavelength shrinks to insignificance, and when a wavelength gets close to zero you can treat it as zero. What this means is that items like dandelions, seed pods, the sun, wind and rain, (for any macroscopic object), all the particles in that object are interacting with each other and decohering all the time and will all behave like objects in classical physics absent of any quantum indeterminacy
Livvy thawing out in the back of the car. This dog knows more about quantum mechanics than Chopra
Deepak suffers from "stopped clock" syndrome. He's wrong all of the time, except the two times a day when he isn't. Unfortunately, he has absolutely no idea when that is.

By the way, if there are any more of Deepak's "silent observers" reading my posts and not liking them, please publish your comments for all to see and then I can point out why you are also misguided.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Winter approaches

I like to live in a place with four seasons. I find this a refreshing experience after living for 45 years in the UK where there were only 3 - winter, rain and fog. And while summer, and the discovery that the sun isn't some object too embarrassed by its exposure to full view that it constantly scurries for cover behind rain clouds, is extremely pleasant, I really enjoy Fall and the approach of winter. In truth, I actually prefer Fall to Winter, but I realize it's hard to have one without the other.

I like visiting San Diego, but I couldn't live there. The sheer monotony of 70 degree temperatures and constant sunshine would wear me down. I need winter to shiver through in order to truly appreciate the warmth of summer. Yes, relativity at its finest, but that's just how I am.

These last few weeks in Colorado give every suggestion that the mild winter of last year might not be a pattern for this year. We've had no snow in the foothills yet, but the high mountains have an early covering, and although temperatures are set to rise again over the next few weeks, it is doubtful this high level snow is going to disappear. Warmth at lower elevations, beautiful fall colors, snow on the high peaks and brilliant blue skies is very difficult to beat. It is only a matter of time before trips to the high mountains will be impossible and the trailheads will be inaccessible. I intend to enjoy them for as long as I can and then look forward to those cold and frosty runs on the plains.

But the weather in the Indian Peaks Wilderness can sometimes be unpredictable. Last year, in the early part of winter we were experiencing a 70 degree day in Boulder and I headed to Brainard Lake with Livvy to complete a 6 mile circuit from the Red Rocks trailhead. This involved jogging along the approach road (closed to vehicles in winter).
My breath was taken away by the cold as we left the parking lot. It was negative 11 degrees with a 45 mph mean wind speed. As we trotted up the road and sidestepped huge snow drifts, the wind whipped up ice particles and spindrift and battered us from all angles. It was like falling asleep in Hawaii and waking up in Antarctica, the contrast was so extreme. Of course, I was appropriately dressed in shorts although I remembered my rain jacket, hat and gloves.

But as brutal as it was in those appalling conditions, there was no other place I would have rather been at that time.
We were fortunate that, on some sections, the trees provided a little shelter and we were able to run along quite quickly, but we were following only cross-country ski tracks and snow shoe prints and when we eventually caught and passed their owners, we drew some strange stares. I can only imagine these surprised individuals going home and telling their stories over the evening dinner table about this idiot and his dog running in shorts in a blizzard. I would have signed my autograph had I remembered a pen.
I've always been attracted to more extreme conditions. It's more than just a test of self - it's certainly not a test of equipment because I rarely bring any - but there is something deeply satisfying at being exposed to such extreme environmental challenge and surviving...even enjoying it. Given the choice between an easy option and a hard option I've never even considered the choice a real one. A gentle slope or a steep one? An easy climb or a hard climb? These are decisions that take so little processing power. That's why Brainard Lake in a blizzard and sub-zero temperatures makes so much sense.

Livvy loves running in the snow, although I am always concerned to check her paw pads for cuts or abrasions on the ice. I also have to be careful she doesn't stand for too long and lose body heat. But Borzoi were bred in Russia. They are an extremely hardy breed, and this makes running with them in winter so enjoyable. Even if sometimes even Livvy has her doubts....

Winter...just around the corner, and I can't wait.