Frank Whitby

Tuesday, 05 August 2014 22:29

HellFire 19 - The View From On High

HellFire 19 – The View From On High
By Frank Whitby
In case you ever wondered, HellFire can be seen and enjoyed, as a spectator, from 4 miles away and 2000 feet above the salt.   My friend Joe Zachary accompanied me on a West Desert Adventure to photograph HellFire 19 from the top of a nearby mountain on the edge of the Bonneville Salt Flats.  
For the purposes of this adventure, we decided to hike to the top of Lamus Peak, elevation 6284 ft., coordinates  40.88530°N / 113.8341°W, the 5th peak of the Silver Island Mountains on the northwest side of the salt flats.  You may have noticed these barren rocky summits to the North and West of the salt flats.  Once the HellFire 19 flight line had been established, Lamus Peak turned out to be essentially due north of the launch site.   There are other nearby summits that might serve as a viewing platform, including: Floating Island Peak – half as tall, three times further away; Jenkins Peak – somewhat further away north of Lamus Peak, taller, and more difficult to climb; Tetzlaff Peak – similar distance from the launch site as Lamus Peak, slightly lower elevation, probably would be a good choice as well.  
A short 4-wheel drive track up a canyon on the southwest side of Lamus Peak provided a good starting point, leaving a hiking distance of only about 1 mile and 1200 feet elevation gain.   The short hiking distance and modest elevation gain suggest an easy hike.  Without formal hiking route information, and no obvious trail to follow, we picked out way up the west face of the peak.  The approach is straightforward scrambling through scratchy bushes, gravel, and scree.  Cliff bands of class 4 climbing with substantial exposure high on the face allowed us to gain the west ridge just below the summit.  Hiking time to the summit was about 2 hours.  
We set up our sun shelter/tarp on the summit at about 9:30 and soon observed Jim Yehle’s hybrid launch with the distinct sputtering sound of the motor reaching us about 20 seconds after the launch.  This was soon followed by a couple of highly visible smoky motor launches that I assumed to be J or K motors.   We were 200 feet above the salt and we estimated that we were 4 miles straight-line distance from the launch site based on the time it took for sound to reach us.  With the naked eye the flight line of vehicles could be seen to grow as the morning progressed.   The mid, far, and away pads were barely discernable without binoculars.
We stayed on top, observing and photographing as much as possible, and trying to stay out of the sun.  We witnessed the unfortunate demise of Sir Winston and got photos of Neal Baker’s successful Level 3.   With binoculars we could tell when people were loading rockets on the pads and we could estimate impending launches based on when the range was clear.   All of this required diligent observation with binoculars and telephoto lens for hours on end, while hunched under our feeble sunshade in a cramped cross-legged sitting position.   Fortunately we had foam pads to sit on and we had cell phone and 4G wireless services, allowing us to communicate occasionally with Neal to anticipate launches.  We packed up and headed down late in the afternoon, exposed to the full scorching sun on the south face of the peak.  
Is Lamus Peak a great place to observe HellFire?  That depends on your personality and your definition of great.  If you enjoy hiking and bushwhacking in remote rugged terrain with no respite from the sun, then you should go.   If the intense heat of the salt flats is already enough for you to deal with, without adding serious physical exertion and exposure to significant risk of fall, then you might prefer to observe from the flight line.   If you dislike looking up and straining your neck to watch launches, then you might skip the flight line and go to the top of the peak where you observe looking down and straight out.  From Lamus Peak the rockets are far away, you have no idea who is launching or when they might launch, and you see mainly just a smoke trail or a bit of flame.  We were unable to see any rockets under chute.  Recall too that you must carry everything you need on your back.  We carried nothing extra, just binoculars, camera, telephotos lens, tarp, water, and foam pads to sit on.  The foam pads were critically important, as we sat all day on the sharp rocks waiting to photograph launches.  On balance, I love an adventure and this was a fun trip that required minimal planning and preparation and provided a unique rocketry and wilderness experience.
If you go, check out for a route description.   We somehow failed to do this, and as such we missed the fact that there is an easier route that starts at the same spot and loops through a canyon on the west and north sides of the peak to access the north ridge high on the mountain.   We instead picked our own route and descended the same we went up.  After reaching the summit, it was not obvious to us that there might be an easier way down so we felt safest reversing our course.  There were some tricky parts where good balance, modest rock climbing skill and steady nerves were necessary.  The southwest side of the peak looks like it offers some interesting technical rock climbing opportunities for the intrepid climber.   The rock is solid, volcanic rock with very sharp edges that cut and scratch easily.   The better season to climb would be fall, winter or spring, but that would preclude watching HellFire from the summit.  I would discourage anyone from taking their dog up the peak without some sort of foot protection given the sharpness of the rocks.  A dog would have to be carried up and down the upper portion of the route that we followed.  The only other peak of the Silver Island Mountains that I have hiked up is Floating Island Peak, which is a much easier, shorter climb, and would be a good choice for your dog.
Map of Lamus Peak
Monday, 19 June 2006 11:00

Salt Flats Condition

caronflats_061806For fathers day we went on a complete circumnavigation of the Great Salt Lake.

This is about 400 miles of driving, about 1/3 of it on dirt.  It took us about 12 hours, stopping a-lot to see stuff like the Salt Flats, the Sun Tunnels, The Golden Spike, The Spiral Jetty, and lots of wildlife.

Friday, 13 August 2004 03:52

Scribble Nibble's Last Flight

Scribble Nibble lay in a heap.  The motor casing was still in the fin can.  The fins and motor-mount canister looked like they could still serve another rocket some day, but what would be the point?  Shock cord snaked throughout the mess, tangled and twisted.  The chute was still nicely bundled, pink against the salt.  The airframe was mangled.  The altimeter was a total loss.

Chapter 1: Family Guy - It was Saturday night. The kids had been busy all day and Maria's friend Ruby was over. Carrie and I had been busy all day too and it was time for dinner. We all went to get a burger, came home, and decided to just relax and have fun. We started with a game of Bananas, a simplified sort of Scrabble-like game in which each player builds words in his/her own array. Players draw additional hidden letter tiles as they consume all of their own and they can exchange duds for new letters, but at a rate of 1-to-3. If not careful, a player can amass a large number of tiles.

When the pool of letters has been consumed and a player has utilized all of his/her letters in his/her array of words, then that player ends the game by declaring "Bananas". Like Scrabble, the player must then justify all of the words he/she has spelled. Any misspelled words or questionable spellings and the would-be winner is declared a rotten banana.

In the past I have been declared a rotten banana on more than one occasion and I am also considered a curmudgeon who, rather than choose more tiles from the pool, which I would then have to incorporate into my array of words, I prefer to sit idly by (doing nothing) waiting for the pool to dwindle so that I maintain just the minimum number of tiles. When the pool is then depleted I quickly finish off the game. Curiously, despite the apparent simplicity of this strategy, being well within the bounds of the rules, mind you, I am routinely declared a rotten banana. I am still studying the dynamics of this seemingly simple game to try understand why abuse of power does not guarantee success.

As a concession to Carrie, on Saturday night I agreed to adhere not just to the letter of the law, but to play in accordance with the spirit of the rules. Bananas is a family game. I consumed my initial 21 tiles pretty quickly without exchange and so I was soon acquiring tile after tile, one at a time, and incorporating them diligently into my array. I could see that Carrie was about to finish, so I went out on a limb, as I often do, and declared "Bananas". I argued that our internet connection was broken and that everyone should believe me that "shance" is an old Irish spelling of "chance" and is found in the OED. I thought this a fairly reasonable approach and much more believable than saying that "shance" is the proper, but little known, spelling of "shants", those pants with the zipper legs that can be removed and converted into shorts.

Needless to say, play continued as I, the rotten banana, sat, sullen and licking my wounds. The next round ended much better, I thought, until I was questioned on my word "punity". Hey, if "impunity" is a word then I darn well ought to be able to declare "bananas" with "punity". I guess that sort of sums up the whole problem that I have playing bananas.

Chapter 2: Fine Wine - So there we were, sharing family time, the five of us (with Ruby) playing a friendly game of Rotten Bana... er, Bananas. My credibility already damaged, Carrie instructed me to do something useful and get her a glass of wine. I was already sipping a glass of "Vieille Ferme", a $5.99 "house wine" that we only consume when we are alone and want to pamper ourselves on the cheap. Problem is, the bottle from which I was drinking had been opened a few days before and somehow the screw cap had been lost.

For me, such red swill evokes the smells and tastes of the old farm regardless of the extent to which the bottle has breathed. Carrie screwed up her face and said that I should open a new wine, as the Vieille Ferme was off. I obliged by going to the "wine cellar" to retrieve a fresh bottle. The first bottle that I pulled out of the cardboard box in the dining room, called "Well Red Organic", had a drawing of a library of books on the ticket. Ahhh, one of those wines with a name that is a play on words. Not a good sign. Carrie said that that bottle had been one of 45 bottles given to us as gifts at our recent housewarming party and that that particular wine had been given as a door prize at a Reach Out and Read fundraiser last year.

I proceeded to open the re-gifted bottle at Carrie's request. At the first sip, she grimaced and raced to the sink to spit it out. I too thought that the wine might not be the best, as the smell, when I opened the bottle was not attractive. I reminded Carrie that she was the one who had requested the Reach Out and Read wine, so I could not be blamed for serving her a sub-par swill. I offered to find her a better wine, but she was put off by the idea and decided to drink tea.

At that point I should have remained silent but instead proceeded to discuss all the bottles of wine that we had received at the party. I had inventoried them, checking to see the value of each online, so that we could be sure which bottles were worthy of guests and which were more appropriate to an evening of Bananas. I recalled reading a review of Red Well Organic. The reviewer had said something to the effect "I am all about living Organic, but this stuff is killing me". Carrie suggested that if I loved her, I might have revealed prior knowledge of the wine to her before serving it. What the hell, occasionally one has to go out on a limb.

Chapter 3: Romantic Comedy - With Bananas ending in frustration and a bad taste in her mouth, Carrie suggested that the kids take their DVD movie upstairs and watch TV in the sleepover room while she and I watch an adult movie downstairs. This seemed reasonable to me and I had three movies from which to choose. I had been to Blockbuster to return some movies recently and had browsed the shelves for interesting films that I knew nothing about.

One sounded like a drug-violence shootout on the Mexican border requiring the audience to wear bullet-proof vests and the list of actors included no recognizable names. Another seemed more main stream but one has to wonder why the reviewer quotes on the box appear without stars or thumbs. If this movie is so great, how did we miss it last year? Also, it was 2 hours and 48 minutes in length. How 'bout the third one? Well, it was of normal 2 hour length. It included 4 well-known actors although the lead was an unknown with an unpronouncable name. The description was of a mysterious figure traveling to Spain to meet someone. Vague-sounding description, exotic locale, handsome unknown actor, the word "sexy" appears in the synopsis AND in the reviewers notes. Hell yeah, this was the one for me.

Carrie harbored doubt. She wanted to go for the nearly-3-hour film, as it had apparently actually been released in theatres at one time. I convinced her that an exotic adventure in Spain was just what we needed to see. I recently watched Dead Man, directed by Jim Jarmusch and enjoyed it quite a-lot. This one, Limit of Control, is another Jim Jarmusch film and is touted (on the DVD box) as the "ultimate Jim Jarmusch film - Surreal".

We watched the film. Carrie hated it. I found it fascinating and could not understand Carrie's accusation that "once again" I had duped her into watching some awful movie. Then I made the mistake of looking up the reviews online. Representative reviews include such statements as, "two hours of my life that I can never get back", "designed to test the limits of our patience", "I've only ever seen one movie worse", "patience-testing and vacuous", and "Boiled to a facetious essence". What does that mean, boiled to a facetious essence? I think Jim Jarmusch should make a film exploring just that question.

Epilogue: Poor Pitiful Me - I am unable to defend myself. I am perceived as having bizarre taste in film, as being a snobby cheat at Bananas, and of trying to poison my wife. I tried to explain to Carrie that these are all just tests that we face in life and that deep down I am a romantic. She scoffed and left me to puzzle over Spanish neo-contemporary facetiousness. She joined the kids to watch an episode of The Partridge Family and to fill the mental void left by Limit of Control with something meaningful.Poor misunderstood me. I do everything I can to pamper my lovely wife and she still thinks I am negligent. Poor, poor pitiful me.

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