Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mount Hood

Having climbed Mount Adams in the spring, we had set our sights on Mount Hood as our next Cascade volcano to ski. Our friends Ben and Emily had moved to Portland recently and are always up for an adventure so after a bit of coordination they were on board, as was our friend Andrew who lives in Tacoma. Roanne and I picked up Andrew on Saturday afternoon on the way to Portland, and by Saturday afternoon the five of us were driving east from Portland toward Government Camp which is close to the Timberline Ski Resort where we would be starting our ascent of the south side route the next morning.

We checked into our hotel room which had room for six people in the form of 3 bunk beds rammed into a tiny room with barely enough room to squeeze between them, and after sorting our gear out for the next day we headed to bed around 11am. The alarm went off at 3am the next morning, and we headed to Timberline Lodge and after signing the climbers register we donned our skis and started skinning up the cat track by headlamp next to the groomed ski runs.

It was a perfect clear ski as the sun began to rise, and pretty easy going aside from a bit of slippage on the frozen crust. Here is Emily leading the charge up the mountain as the sun begins to rise with Mount Jefferson visible to the south on the horizon.

We made steady progress as the sun began to creep above the horizon, and it was cool to see the shadow case by the triangular profile of the mountain that we were climbing. Here is Andrew chugging up in his new AT boots (Andrew is a former split boarder who recently saw the light and converted to AT gear).

As we neared the top of the ski resort at 8,600 feet the sun began to illuminate the rocky features above, here is Roanne headed for the light.

As we progressed higher the slope steepened and Emily, Ben, and Andrew decided to change over to crampons while Roanne and persisted on our skis, feeling that the reward of extra skiing would justify the effort of trying to maintain traction with our skins on the frozen snow. Here is Roanne starting to move past the ridgeline.

Before long we arrived at Crater Rock where Roanne and I decided to ditch our skis, and we all headed up towards the Hogsback (the sharp ridge visible below) on our crampons.

Here is a shot of the Hogsback head on, with the bergshrund visible near the top. It seemed like most parties were heading up another slope to the left which didn't have a bergshrund and might not have been quite as steep. I thought the Hogsback looked pretty awesome and was psyched to climb it, but other members of the party were significantly less psyched on it so we collectively decided to stick with the more well traveled route to the left.
Did I mentioned that a lot of people climb Mount Hood? In case there was any doubt, and to erase the feeling of solitude that my selectively cropped images might be leaving with my gentle reader, here is the view that presented itself when I swiveled 180 degrees after taking the photo above:

Having decided on our route, we set about the final push up to the summit. Our route started with snow slopes that gradually steepened and funneled into some icy chutes. Luckily were able to kick good steps and in many cases use pre-set ice axe holes, so it never felt too insecure and we didn't bother roping up. Here I am loving life and getting ready to head up the final chutes.

And here is Andrew equally psyched as he emerges from the chute with Roanne visible in the background about to pop up out of the chute. Climbing is so awesome!

After a few more steps up some gentle snow slopes we were on the summit, soaking in the sunshine and the incredible views. Here is a shot of Roanne and myself with Mount Jefferson in the background.

And here is the group shot of the complete summit party, with Andew and myself in the back row, and Ben, Roanne, and Emily in the front. This was Ben's first day out on his skins, not a bad showing!

With our summit celebrations complete it was time to head down. We decided to head down a different chute than we had come up, which required an exciting stroll across some really narrow and exposed ridge lines. Here is Roanne making it look like its no big deal, just another day in the office.

The initial part of the descent was quite steep so we down climbed facing in to the slope, but lower down the angle lessened and we again made rapid progress down toward our ski stash.

Roanne and I reached our skis at Crater Rock and happily clipped in while the others continued a little further down to where they had left theirs. The skiing was awesome, with the sunshine and southern aspect having warmed and softened the top few inches of crust to a perfect corn consistency. Yee-ha! Here is Roanne putting on a clinic in alpine descent.

And here I am looking a little less adept but having just as much fun.

And here is Andrew knocking it out of the park on borrowed skis on his first time out after eschewing the ridiculous idea of having both feet strapped to one board.

What an awesome day! Before long we were all back down at Timberline Lodge wondering why anyone would bother riding lifts to ski tracked out slush with the amazing snow on offer higher up the mountain. Here is the GPS track from our pretty straighforward route:

And here is the equally boring elevation profile, from our starting point at just under 6000 feet to the summit at 11,240 feet:

And finally the Google Earth shot showing our ascent:

So awesome! Despite having a lot of people on it this was definitely a worthy outing. Next year we'll be back to ski off the summit.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Petzl Zoom Headlamp Upgrade Revisited

Long-time followers of my blog (Hi Mom!) may recall a post from last October where I wrote about an upgrade for an old Petzl Zoom headlamp that I had started working on. The first version which I had completed last fall replaced the bulky 4.5 V alkaline battery with a thinner and lighter (2/3 of the weight) single-cell rechargeable Lithium Polymer (LiPo) battery and replaced the halogen bulb with a cluster of 4 high-output LEDs (along with some circuitry for stepping up the battery voltage to drive the LEDs and charging the battery from a 5 V wall adapter). The schematic for the first version is shown below (if you click on it you will see a larger version that is actually readable):

As you can see it is pretty simple, and the brightness of the LED cluster is set using a potentiometer. All of the electronics were put onto a circular PCB that fit into the "head" of the Petzl Zoom unit. While this was made for a clean design since everything was on one board that I just popped in to replace the halogen bulb, there were three problems with it:
  1. I ran into thermal issues: in the spirit of going overboard, I was trying to push as many watts through the LEDs as I could (about 9.5 watts to be exact) which of course generated some heat. The boost regulator that I was using to drive the LED also cranked out some heat since it was only about 85% efficient, and these two heat sources being on the same PCB meant that things got pretty stinking hot and the boost regulator would overheat and shut down.
  2. I wanted to use the headlamp for running in the dark on early winter mornings, and so for safety I thought it would be useful to have a flashing red LED in the back.
  3. 3. There was no intelligence built into the circuit (in the form of a microcontroller), which meant that it was a bit boring.
So, to rectify all of these problems, I decided to make a new version of the headlamp electronics that split the circuit into two PCBs with just the high-output LED in the "head" of the unit, and put everything else in a separate board in the rear battery enclosure of the headlamp. This allowed me to add a red LED at the back, split up the two big heat sources (I also added another boost regulator so that each one was only driving two LEDs), added heat sinking, and added a microcontroller (an Atmel ATTiny13) to run things.

I had to go through a couple revisions of the PCB to get everything dialed in (if anyone ever wants to get super cheap prototype PCBs made check out Dorkbot PDX), but I'll spare you the details of how things slowly progressed over the course of many months of sporadic effort and just describe the final product.

Here is the schematic of my final version (this is just the rear board, the front board is really simple and just has the LED cluster on it), note that it is more involved than the first one:
Schematics and layout were done using Eagle PCB Design software, which though it is a bit cumbersome to use, has the big advantage of being free (as long as your board is only 2 layers and within a specified area). Here is the rear PCB layout, also created in Eagle:

After the PCB was designed it was time to send it off to get made at bargain basement prices by the good folks at Dorkbot PDX. I can't say enough about how amazing the service that they provide is, it is shockingly cheap and they are super responsive and friendly. In the meantime I ordered the parts from Digikey, and once the boards were back I assembled everything in the Dorkzone.

I wrote the firmware in C using the open source and free WinAVR development tools, which include the GNU GCC compiler. This gave me a hex file which I needed to download to the microcontroller using an in-system programmer (ISP). You can buy expensive hardware and software to do this, but a much cheaper option is to load a $20 Arduino with the ArduinoISP sketch (this forms the hardware part of the ISP), and then use AVRDude on your PC to drive it. A fully functional AVR ISP for $20, awesome! So this is what I did, and after a bit (okay, a lot) of tweaking I had the firmware where I wanted it and was able to load it onto the assembled PCBs.

Here is the front of the main board where most of the components are mounted:

And here is the back of the main board where the red LED is mounted, this protrudes through a cut-out in the rear battery housing. The USB port also protrudes through the rear battery housing (I have it mounted on the wrong side of the PCB in the photo above - oops!) and is used for charging (since I have myriad other electronics which charge through USB and I wanted to be able to use those wall adapters).

And here is the front of the LED board that fits in the front compartment of the headlamp. You can see the 4 individual LEDs in that part if you look closely. Aside from the battery, this was far and away the most expensive part in the electronics assembly. You can see that there is a large plated area that is perforated with plated through-hole vias, this is to help with heat sinking for the LED. I have a similar set-up under each boost regulator in the photo above.

And finally, here is the back of the LED board with a heatsink mounted behind the LED cluster:

Here is a shot of the battery compartment. The battery compartment was just large enough to house the original 4.5 V battery, but luckily the LiPo battery that I replaced it with is much thinner which freed up space to house the main PCB:

And here is the open front unit of the headlamp with the LED PCB fitted inside of it. The original reflector unit then screws in and holds the PCB in place.

And finally, here is the complete finished unit:

You can see the LED cluster in the middle of the reflector, and on the battery compartment you can see the protruding USB connector (for charging) on the left, then the red LED (which appears as a white square since it is not illuminated), then two buttons. The yellow button is used to turn the unit on and off, and the red button is used to cycle it through different modes when it is on. The modes include three different brightness settings for the front white LED (varying from "I'd like to incinerate whatever is in my path" to "I'd like to read this nice book") and having the rear red LED either flashing or off. When the unit is plugged in and charging, the rear red LED pulses slowly, and then switches to a steady illumination when the charging is complete.

Here are some short videos showing the headlamp in operation. First, the pulsing behavior when plugged into the 5 V adapter and charging:

Second, here is one demonstrating the different modes and how they are accessed using the single button:

And finally, a brightness comparison to a Petzl Tikka 2 with fresh batteries:

For some quick stats, the upgraded Petzl Zoom headlamp consumes 8 watts of power and cranks out 750 lumens on the highest brightness setting, and the battery lasts 2.5 hours. On the lowest setting it is still pretty bright and the battery will last 50 hours.

So, I think that pretty much covers it. I have used it a few times already, once on Mount Shuksan in a previous iteration and once on Mount Adams in the current iteration and it has held up well and performed admirably. If you happen to have an old Petzl Zoom kicking around and want to convert it into a real barn-burner, send it to Seattle and I'll perform surgery on it and give it a second life!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Birthday Grinder

Today was my birthday, and while I had planned to take the day off to carry out a birthday challenge, the 4-letter W word got in the way and I was unable to do that. I still plan on doing a challenge, so this gives me more time to brainstorm something good that I can carry out over the next few days. I still ended up having a good day, as I took the afternoon off as did Roanne and we did a bicycle tour of Seattle coffee shops that culminated with dinner at a great restaurant called "How to Cook a Wolf" in Queen Anne. The main intent of the tour was to procure various coffee samples to use with the present that Roanne gave me:

Holy smokes! Is that a Mazzer Mini coffee grinder straight from Italy?? Yes it is! The Saeco Aroma coffee machine is not new (though I did receive it as a birthday present last year), but the grinder sure is! It actually dwarfs the espresso machine, so in coming years this may force my hand into an espresso machine that is larger and more imposing which will then require a larger grinder, and the cycle goes on. Best of all was the notice that came with the grinder:

I had a feeling that I was going way overboard in selecting this grinder, but it was nice to receive the above confirmation! In any case, it sure makes a mean espresso and I'll be enjoying it for years to come!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mount Adams

I have been meaning to ski Mount Adams all spring, so when Roanne asked me what I wanted to do on the weekend before my birthday I jumped at the chance. Roanne and I had both missed out on the Memorial Day long weekend due to the unmentionable 4 letter word that starts with "W" (and ends with "ork"), so we decided to take the Thursday and Friday off of the following week. Roanne had just stepped off of a plane from Asia the night before, but Thursday morning after I had packed everything up she shook herself out of her jet-lag induced haze and jumped in the car and we headed south on I-5.

After a lunch break in Hood River where we enjoyed delicious Blizzards from DQ we continued on the town of Trout Lake where we stopped at the Ranger Station to obtain our Cascade Volcano climbing passes. The elderly female ranger did all that she could to scare us out of our planned ascent by telling us how terrible the weather forecast was for the next four days (this was completely opposite to the forecast that I had seen which called for partly cloudy skies and just a 20% chance of rain). Having just driven 4.5 hours we weren't about to turn around without even trying our objective, so we thanked her for the warning, picked up our poop bags, and headed up the forest service road towards the trail head.

From reports that I had checked while planning the trip I knew that we would only be able to drive within 5 miles of the trail head before being stopped by snow, so when we saw a few parked vehicles and the first serious snow blocking the road we pulled over and started sorting and packing our gear:

We knew we would have a bunch of walking at the start before we hit solid snow to be able to start skiing, so we decided to start out with our shoes on. Actually, the preliminary plan suggested by Roanne was to wear flip flops, to which I immediately agreed thinking only of how comfortable flip flops are. Upon further reflection I came to the realization that while flip flops are very comfortable while walking on warm, dry ground, they are considerably less so while walking in snow with a 50 pound pack on your back, so shoes it was. It was pretty warm out so we started out in our long underwear, here I am modeling my outfit of choice:

I guess in retrospect it actually doesn't look all that crazy, because in the photo my long underwear is indistinguishable from very tight pants so if you ignore the ski poles and backpack I could just be a hipster out for a stroll in the forest. After about 30 minutes of walking over patchy snow we finally hit what appeared to be continuous (though dirty) snow, and were more than happy to ditch our shoes in the forest and put our skis on. Here is Roanne buckling up:

We continued to head up the road with our skis on, as it gradually steepened and the snow-to-pine needles ratio slowly improved. Eventually the road began to switch back and there was enough snow that we could head straight up through the switch backs and shave off some distance. We eventually emerged from the forest into more open terrain, and continued chugging uphill while enjoying the last remnants of sunshine:

We decided to stop and set up camp at 8:30pm (4 hours after our starting time of 4:30pm), so when we reached a nice shoulder at 7,000 feet (we had started at 4,300 feet) we didn't hesitate to drop our packs and scope out a sheltered spot for our tent. The summit had been coming in and out of clouds as we ascended, but at this point it was looming clearly visible above us. Here is Roanne pointing out the next day's objective:

We dug out a flat platform for the tent and set it up (anchored down this time after my learning experience on Mount Shuksan) and unpacked our sleeping and cooking gear. We had great views of Mount St. Helens (which we had skied a few months prior) as the sun was setting, here I am taking the opportunity for some photography:

And here is one of the resulting photos:

It was starting to cool off so we headed into the tent and cooked up some pasta in the vestibule and enjoyed a delicious dinner before drifting off to sleep just after 11:00pm. In conversations with Roanne that evening I had gathered the information that her expectation was to be awoken in the morning by the sunshine hitting the tent, which ran counter to my expectations that we would be setting our alarm for 2:30am and starting to climb by headlamp. I decided to go with a happy medium of a 5:00am wake-up call, and when the alarm went off I opened the fly and was greeted by clear blue skies and a great view of Mount St. Helens bathed in the morning sunshine:

So awesome! We brewed some coffee and enjoyed a delicious breakfast of oatmeal and raisin bread with nutella and then started gearing up for the day's festivities. We stepped outside and looked up to see the sunshine just hitting the top of Mount Adams 5,300 feet above us:

After gathering up the last of our gear, we clicked into our skis and started skinning up towards the saddle that separates the South Butte from the Suksdorf Ridge that we would be ascending. The snow was completely frozen, which along with our lighter packs made for easy going and we quickly gained the 1,500 feet to the saddle, here is Roanne striking a pose in the morning light:

We continued up the ridge, and at around 9,300 feet we gained the formation called the "Lunch Box" where we could see the south false summit (named "Pikers Peak") looming above us:

We stopped for a quick snack here and then started trucking up the wide open face above us towards Pikers Peak. It was pretty steep skinning, and the still frozen snow made for slippery conditions at times. Here is Roanne making her way up the slope:

About 3/4 of the way up this section it started getting steeper and a little sketchy on the frozen crust (it would have been perfect for ski crampons but I had left mine at home since we didn't have any for Roanne) so we swapped out our skis for crampons and continued up with with our skis strapped to our packs. We soon crested Pikers Peak at 11,600 feet, and paused for a breather in the saddle between Pikers Peak and the summit:

Check out Roanne's cool orange crampons! We actually bought them when we lived in Washington previously since we had intended to climb Mount Rainier together, this didn't happen so they were getting their first use 6 years after being purchased. Better late then never! At this point we were starting to feel the effects of the thin air, which for me manifested itself with some lightheadedness when I paused from climbing and with my stomach feeling a bit off. With break time over we continued up, and before long we were cresting the shoulder of the summit. Here is Roanne working her way up the final section with some clouds starting to swirl in below:

Great success! Before we knew it we were standing on the 12,300 foot summit enjoying the sunshine and the spectacular views. Here I am happy to be on top with Mount Hood seen to the south in the background:

And here is Roanne celebrating the long-awaited first ascent in her orange crampons with Mount Rainer in the background to the north:

And the Team Charles-Sones celebratory group summit shot:

We lounged in the sun for a while, until we started to get a bit cold and decided it was time to carve some turns back down the 8,000 feet that we had ascended from the car. Yee-ha! We stepped into our skis, locked down our heels, and headed down. The upper 700 feet down to Pikers Peak was still frozen and a bit variable which made for good but not great skiing, but once we crested the shoulder of Pikes Peak and began dropping the next 2,300 feet to the Lunch Box we hit awesome conditions, perfect corn snow with just the top few inches softened up by the sun. Oh man, SO AWESOME! The slope was a perfect steepness and totally even, making it really easy to effortlessly link nice turns as we floated down. Here is a shot of the man in black making his way down the hill with the dubious form of someone who just learned to ski 3 years ago:

And now to erase that image from your mind, here is a shot of Roanne carving turns with the proper form of someone who has been skiing their whole life:

So. Stinking. Awesome. From the Lunch Box we continued on down towards the South Butte, with the skiing still fun but not quite as good since the snow was starting to get a bit too heavy at these lower elevations. About 45 minutes after leaving the summit we were pulling up outside our tent (which, in contrast to my last tenting experience on a mountain, was still there) and we were happy to take off our ski boots and head into the tent to lounge a bit in the early afternoon sunshine:

We slept in the sun with the fly off for about an hour, then ate some lunch before packing up and clicking back in to head back down towards the car. We made it back to the car in just over 2 hours, finishing up just before 4:30pm which made for a nice 24 hour total trip time. Here is a topo of our route, which totaled just over 33 km of distance:

And the elevation profile, revealing our 8,000 foot total ascent and descent:

And finally the Google Earth view, showing our route up the Suksdorf Ridge:

What a great trip, I think this might have been my favorite mountain that I have skied to date. If you own a set of skis and are thinking of heading out one last time before summer, go ski this RIGHT NOW.