Friday, July 18, 2008

Ascent of the Northwest Face

I met up with Chris again while the airplane was in the shop, and we had a closer look at Utah by daylight. The plan was to hike up Big Cottonwood Canyon (which is apparently the smaller of the two canyons named Cottonwood) to a trio of lakes called the three sisters. We would then cheer for ourselves, and hike back down. We parked at the bottom of a ski-lift and started up.

It's not really a trail at this point. It's just walking under the chairlift; the trail proper starts further up because the old trailhead was closed to protect it from erosion. There are large patches of snow still on the slope, and we're walking in the damp muddy parts in between. I saw a number of small, fast moving gopher-like creatures, and a raptor of some sort, maybe a hawk. The dirt slope with patches of snow quickly becomes a snow slope with patches of dirt and then a snow slope. Fortunately it's not very slippery because it's warm enough outside that the snow is soft and mushy, so you just kick your foot in and make a step. In full honesty I should admit that Chris just kicks his foot in and makes a step. I follow along in the steps, gasping slightly.

I'm no stranger to going up slopes. It's just that normally if I say I hiked up a six thousand foot mountain, I mean that it was six thousand feet at the top. Here the road to the parking lot starts at 6000'. My lungs and muscles noticed the lower pressure of oxygen. The only thing that spared me from having to call for embarrassing rest breaks every ten minutes or so was that my boss kept texting me to ask me questions about the ongoing maintenance. So I would then stop walking, call the maintenance shop from half way up a mountain, ask the question, and text my boss back. The middlewoman was necessary because my boss was driving through less technologically enhanced mountains somewhere, and when he called the shop his cellphone kept cutting out. I promise I didn't arrange for the diversion in order to get regular breaks.

Despite my cellphone-retarded progress, and the increased snowiness and steepness of the slope, we came out at a bit of a plateau with a big rock on it, and a lake called Dog Lake. The dog in question must have been a Pomeranian, as it was a very small lake, kind of a bog. I had my picture taken, standing on the rock, with mountain peaks in the background, while I'm furiously texting on the cellphone. Seems kind of appropriate for the morning's adventure. I took a picture of Chris, my intrepid guide, and was going to use it as the symbol of my expedition, but the shot wasn't as flattering or as dramatic as Hillary's of Tenzing Norgay, so I cropped it to just scenery, and you'll have to trust we were there.

The trip down was quick, and we managed not to slip and make it even quicker. Chris then acceded to my tourist request to "see the salt lake." Primed by Phil to expect a smelly nasty fly-infested marsh, I wasn't put off by it. It was a bit smelly, and kind of marshy and there were a lot of sand flies. But I just wanted to see the salt. There was an area where people had walked in the marsh and their footprints had filled with water, then evaporated, so each footprint was a plate of crystalline salt. I tried to pick some up, but it was kind of mushy. Another area had firmer sand and a procession of people walking out to try and float in the lake. (The high salinity makes it very easy to float, and so it's probably fun, if you are dressed for it, and want to wade out far enough for it to be deep enough to float. It's a very flat, shallow lake. I didn't taste it, just took Chris's word for it that it's even saltier than an ocean. Apparently brine shrimp live in it. There were an extraordinary number of dead birds on the sand, though, so I guess they don't live well in it.

After lunch I went back to the maintenance hangar to rearrange the dirt on the airplane. It turns out that my company's mechanic got turned back at the US border for unknown reasons, so local mechanics are doing the work. At least it's getting done. I ask if the inspection has turned up anything that will result in a delay for parts or a lot of extra work, but apparently the inspector won't be here until Monday, they're just doing the routine servicing.

The mechanics are very sweet to me, finding me a mat to sit on, as if it were important that some part of me not get filthy as I tried to clean the flaps. I think there is a special sort of dirt that clings to the underside of flaps, because it knows how hard it is to scrub at that inverted angle. It's more tenacious than belly grime or under nacelle grime. And the parts of an airplane that are easy to stand and scrub hardly get dirty at all.

Once I had made most of the airplane closer to white than black, I started wiping down the wing boots, something that is supposed to be black, and a mechanic came up to chat. I'd listened to his accent earlier when I had asked him where to dump grease-contaminated water (some states prohibit it in drains, but in Utah it was okay to pour it down a grate in the hangar floor). He wasn't from the US, and I had been trying to decide where he'd come from. I was guessing somewhere in west Africa, but it turned out to be Kenya.

He asked if I were my company's mechanic and then expressed surprise that the pilot wasn't off golfing while the airplane was in the shop. (Reminds me of someone who once asked me "doesn't your company have people to do that?" My company does. They're called pilots.) He liked the idea of a pilot who would stick around to make sure the job got done, and then he talked about his job, and he couldn't be contained in his passion for fixing airplanes. It turns out that Kenya uses the same aviation terminology as Canada: I suppose both countries got it from the British, so he knew what a snag was and how to read a journey log. He managed to stop a diplomatic safe distance from saying anything negative about the non-ICAO systems the USA uses, and it was fun to have an ally in a strange land.

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