Mt. Baker: Wonders, Crevasses, Beneath the Surface, Paradigm Shifts, Charlottesville and 1 November 1963

Looking into a deep crevasse; note collapsing ice bridge.

Looking into a deep crevasse; note collapsing ice bridge.

Our Peaking At 70 mission is not to just create paradigm shifts within ourselves, but to offer new perspectives, and to stimulate similar shifts in others.

Staging: The Airbnb we rented turned out to be a funky, aged and sagging cottage, but the site on Samish Island was ideal, and was a perfect place to recuperate after the climb.  

Cara at dawn taking photos of the blue herons. We staged at Samish Island.

Cara at dawn taking photos of the blue herons. We staged at Samish Island.

Approach: We cannot see the mountain. To the north, in British Columbia, 840 wildfires are burning 426,000 hectares (1,052,668 acres). We ride north on Rt 9 to 542, cross the North Fork of the Nooksack River, head down Mosquito Lake and Middle Fork roads to National Forest Road 38. As we approach the trailhead the sky is hazy; the air smells of wood fires. It will give vista photos interesting shading, and be a factor as we climb.

As we broke above the treeline the ridge was a tapestry of wildflowers.

As we broke above the treeline the ridge was a tapestry of wildflowers.

Ascending and Mid-camp: On Thursday we ascended through the lower forest, above the treeline, and onto a rock strewn ridge with waterfalls and wildflowers. I made a serious error at the end of the last post saying Baker should be easier than Shasta as it isn’t as steep. My misinterpretation—I took the total trail distance as one way when it was round trip. Baker is similar to Shasta but stepped—that is, longer gentle sections interspersed with steeper climbs. Adam’s video gives one a sense of the conditions.

For a short time the wind shifts and the smoke dissipates. We cross to the next zone, the lower edge of the glacier, pause to put on crampons and to rope up. This section is quite steep. The crevasses here, though deep, are narrow slits.

Up, up. Looking from below Black Buttes looks close, but the size of the crag is deceptive, and the climb to our mid-camp site at 7900’ takes much longer than expected. Black Buttes is a weather-beaten volcanic arc, the remnant of an ancient volcano which eons ago encompassed Mt. Baker and much of the surroundings, which blew its top, and which, for millennia, has been eroded back by the Deming glacier.

On the way up we saw only a few hikers on the trail—only one other group going to the summit. Uphill from our camp there’s a small tent with two people (we’ll cross paths the next day—father and teenage son), and a very large tent with what appears to be a dozen climbers (certainly a guided group). Below us is the group we passed that was setting up at a lower site… six or seven adults and four children ages 6 to 8! That’s it. Spread over this side of Baker it means we’re seldom in view of another climbing party—so unlike Shasta which by comparison was crowded. Ninety five percent of the time we are alone. It makes the deep upper crevasses more serious.

Smoke from over a million-acre wildfire in British Columbia painted the vista in varying shades of gray.

Smoke from over a million-acre wildfire in British Columbia painted the vista in varying shades of gray.

On breathing: Climbing. My breath is short and my lungs feel tight. I pause to do a modified Wim Hof exercise—five deep breaths with forced, full exhalations. I’ve been doing this since Zach introduced me to the technique four months ago. By breathing in deeply and forcefully blowing out the CO2 your body re-oxygenates. But it’s not working on Baker. I can’t take in a deep breath because of the smoke. Deep breathing only produces coughs. Pause over… time to move... shallow breaths or not.

Adam beside a crevasse with more behind him. Note the striation of the glacier.

Adam beside a crevasse with more behind him. Note the striation of the glacier.

Crevasses: These slits and chasms are phenomena of gravity (glaciers are always moving downhill), of the properties of water and ice across the bandwidth of temperature change, and of the underlying terrain. They develop above rock ledges and cliffs. Motion, melting, refreezing, refilling with new snow each winter, they collapse, close, reopen, develop anew. In late spring and summer snow bridges spanning the gaps collapse into the abysses. Melt runs through, into and under the glacier; trickles converge to form under-ice rivers. A friend of Cara’s, an experienced mountaineer, was boarding down Mt. Rainier on 3 July; crossing an ice bridge that collapsed he fell in and was swept under the glacier. His body has not been recovered. It is a reminder to us that the magnificence is not without peril.

Roped up and ascending somewhere below the peak.

Roped up and ascending somewhere below the peak.

Paradigm Shifts: Perhaps I’ve said this before—in everyday life we tend to live in a geometric plane of the two physical dimensions of width and depth. Indoors the plan is a slab perhaps eight to ten feet thick, the distance between floor and ceiling; outdoors the plane may be rolling, may be thicker, sidewalk to treetop, road surface to overhead signs. Of course we look up. There’s the sky, the sun, clouds, birds, passing planes; but we don’t live there, and we often keep our head down and nose to the grindstone. Climbing adds another dimension.

It is more than just going up high, more than just adding the dimension of height, as not perceived properly height by width is just a vertical plane, the side of a building, a glass pane; or height and depth equals the view down a narrow canyon. Height by width and depth changes the plane into a volume. A’, so what?

So What?! Paradigm shifts require us to think in volumes, to change from thinking along lines (lineal, bi-partisan, left-right), or worse from dots (single point perspectives), or even in sheets (areas, planes), to thinking in spaces, volumes, spheres. Paradigm shifts require us to abandon the chess board and move into the realm of 3-D chess in a 3-D world. And we must add the fourth dimension of time. That is, volume considered across time reveals meaning. Only then can we make the paradigm shifts to improve ourselves, our lives, our families, culture, and nation. It is more than saying go up, go down. Our thoughts, our explorations, contests and arguments need to be in volume, in space.

It seems to me one of the root problems we have right now as a nation is that so much of our social and/or political conversation is along lines—one end or the other, a dialectic, left-right, rich-poor, black-white—where even mid-line tends to be inane. When the line is our model of thinking we close off the vast possibilities of the volume, and adopt blinders to potential thought, feelings, observations, interpretations. In our last blog post we looked at the healthcare debate and the superficial national discussion (screaming match) about how to pay Big Pharma, corporate hospitals, Big Insurance, etc. Today, let’s jump topics.

Inspirations and Generations: This is an aside, a quick time shift before we look into the crevasse. As I climbed with Adam and Cara I made this note: If you inspired your children when they were young, they will inspire you as you age. That’s pretty self-centered. Let me change it to: If our children were inspired when they were young, they will inspire us as we age. Or better yet: If we inspired the younger generation, we will be inspired not only by their contribution to humanity, but by their vigilance in preserving the fundamentals which have given us the ability to explore, to seek wonderment, to accomplish and to benefit from accomplishment.

An old friend suggested I adopt Tony Bennett’s 1956 recording, Climb Every Mountain, as my theme song. I’ve liked it since I was a kid; and Bennett is actually Anthony Benedetto. Family lore says he’s Castlefranchese--from the same town in Italy as my paternal grandparents. I mention this to Cara. She responds, “Boring!” and suggests Avicii’s The Nights with the lyric, “My father told me… Live a life you will remember… Don’t let it slip away.” The music is lively, fast-paced, fun. Yeah, why not? Audible paradigm shift!

In the days since the climb, events have caused a far more serious paradigm shift to build in the back of my mind.

Adam on peak with Yeti and Sasquatch (friends of his kids!).

Adam on peak with Yeti and Sasquatch (friends of his kids!).

On the peak: You cannot see evidence of it, nor hear it on the YouTube video (it’s there on the raw footage), but the wind is howling. We’re on top! Feels like the top of the World. There’s a small, weather-tight box here. Adam opens it and we record our names on the notepad inside. I add, “…and happy 70th birthday to me.” It feels great to be here. Despite the smoke the multi-shaded views in every direction are… well… cool. I’m tired. We have been climbing for eight hours. This was not an easy climb; at least not for me. It is now two in the afternoon. Tired or not, this is only the halfway point. It is a long way down, and the stop at mid-camp will only to be to pack up the tents before continuing down to the trail head. We set out on our descent.

A personal journey with paradigm shifts: Sometimes I feel like Saul of Tarsus. “The things I once loved, I now hate; and the things I once hated, I now love.” But different. The things I once trusted, I no longer trust; and the things I distrusted, I now find loathsome, abhorrent, dangerous!

I’m not new to paradigm shifts. My views and understandings of the realities of events in Southeast Asia shifted dramatically during the five years I spent studying the Cambodian Holocaust and the actions, policies and procedures of the communists, while writing For The Sake of All Living Things. For decades now I’ve been writing about the ambient cultural story (or national narrative), and how flawed and skewed it was from reality. (see: The Importance of Story: Individual and Cultural Effects of Skewing the Realities of American Involvement in Southeast Asia for Social, Political and/or Economic Ends) But for most of those years I stayed close to my core focus. 2007-10 brought a new paradigm shift. I began a book on the mortgage crisis and found the self-serving narratives developed by Wall Street, the Big Banks, and associated governmental departments to be as skewed fro reality as were the facts regarding American involvement in SEA. The more one looks the more one finds that in many fields we’ve been sold a bill of goods, a national narrative that simply is flawed and/or false, skewed by omissions of data or purposeful distortions, designed to benefit some elite group or some special interest.

When we’re talking about paradigm shifts we’re talking about how our beliefs and worldviews are created by the stories we’re told or have been exposed to throughout our lives, about how those stories create our self-image, about how beliefs, worldviews and self-image control behavior—essentially about how story is a primary element in individual and cultural behavior. The mechanics of this were well understood by Pol Pot and Mao Zedong as the Year Zero and Cultural Revolution campaigns were designed to wipe out cultural memory and replace it with the society of the new socialist man.

Charlottesville and 1 November 1963: This moment in time, in the history of The United States of America, feels very much to me to be paralleling events that happened 54 years ago and half a world away. It feels as if we are descending into a crevasse from which we may never be extricated.

Allow me to jump forward to August 16th, 2017. What follows is an email I sent to my local Congressperson, Rep. Elizabeth Esty, in response to a video she sent out to constituents about the events at Charlottesville, VA.

--8/16 @ 0820: Although I agree with everything you said, your omission of facts and the shallowness of your statement are appalling. Both the neo-Nazis and the Antifa "counter protestors" (an absurd euphemism) were bussed in from afar. The Antifa group came armed, looking for violent confrontation. The police were withdrawn on higher orders from standing between the groups. This was a well-planned, well-staged event. Who paid for the busses? Who was behind organizing the actors--whether they believed in what they were doing or not, they were playing a role in a directed play. Were any of the actors paid? If so, by whom? Who ordered the police to stand down and allowed the clash to go forth? There is no love in polemics. Please give us an in-depth report.

She has not responded.

Back to 1963: Sixty four days before the fateful day, Henry Cabot Lodge landed in Vietnam and took over as the new American ambassador. Lodge had been Nixon’s running mate during the 1960 election, and had come out of the fray as a possible contender for the 1964 Republican nomination. By offering him an ambassadorship to this remote corner of the earth, Kennedy was essentially exiling him, sidelining him so he wouldn’t or couldn’t begin developing a campaign organization. Accepting that challenge, Lodge, upon arrival, immediately responded by ignoring General Harkins (commander of the Military Advisory Group) and other top American advisors, and turned his focus and attention instead to the elite of the American news corps. He would play to that group, which included amongst others Karnow, Sheehan, Halberstam, and Brown, for he was an ambitious politician and he saw them as his press outlet to America. Unfortunately these newsmen were convinced that South Vietnam’s Premier, Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic, was unsuited to run a largely Buddhist and Confucian nation. Others reported different facts. President Kennedy skeptically questioned Lodge’s adherence to a seemingly skewed narrative.

Communist agitators had established numerous social groups with narrow, righteous causes, and had thereby fragmented traditional culture.  Most notable was the dissatisfaction of segments of the Buddhist population. Major Buddhist protests broke out early in 1963. The newsmen focused on the violence. Recall the staged self-immolation of Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc. The powerful and emotional photos and the film by Brown were published worldwide. They have since become part of the iconic images of The Vietnam War. Lodge and others, both in VN and in the U.S., believed the stories represented the views of most Buddhist in SVN. They blamed the Premier for the fragmentation of Vietnamese society. No matter what Diem said or did, they were against him. Some journalists and commentators pointed out that many groups were being used as pawns in this upheaval, but those voices were muted. This has been a consistent pattern of both far right and far left insurgencies since at least 1917. The current pattern in not more sophisticated, but it is more digitally and technically capable. Details of Diem’s demise can be found in Dr. Mark Moyar’s history, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965, Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Diem’s assassination on November 1st came close to toppling the Republic of Vietnam as it ushered in both years of governmental turmoil, and was the catalyst for the North Vietnamese government (and supporting communist nations) to escalate from guerilla warfare to conventional warfare. In Saigon coup followed coup; in the countryside leaderless military units lost vast tracts of territory to communist insurgents.

In response to those developments President Lyndon Johnson (JFK had been assassinated three weeks after Diem) found it necessary to send in the first U.S. conventional forces… all this leading to the early battles between battalion- or brigade-sized units in the Ia Drang Valley, as made more famous by the film We Were Soldiers…, and to the ever increasing commitment of American conventional forces from 1965 to 1969, and then the painful withdrawal to 1973.

Why should one tie Charlottesville in 2017 to Saigon in 1963: Whether you believe historic monuments that are offensive to some should be removed or you believe this is a form of book-burning; whether you believe the alt-right was 100% wrong or you believe the antifa group was at fault; whether you believe the police were incompetent, left too early thinking the demonstration was winding down, or were purposefully told to stand-down—MAKES NO DIFFERENCE.

Arguing about who was at fault or whether President Trump condemned the alt-right soon enough and harshly enough is linear thinking.

No belief above is as important as the fact that the planning for this event began at least 100 days prior to the onset of violence, and that the event was purposefully designed and managed to be violent and to attract massive media attention. Why? What is going on behind the scenes that we don’t see, that we’ve not been told?

Forget the groups: Who or what are the sources, and resources, behind these groups? Forget the polemics: Who was behind the rabid attempt to instantly establish a homogenous national narrative slanted to one end of the polemic? Slanted national narratives have ramifications. What or who has the power to produce that virtually lock-step narrative across a broad spectrum of mainstream media outlets, to do it instantly, and to coerce others to collaborate or be labeled racists?

True understanding requires an additional dimension, an expansion into space, into volume. To answer the above questions requires deep, broad, bottom-to-top analyses, and that mandates a paradigm shift from the absurd polemics playing out in the national press.

The lack of true understanding of both the culture and the people of Vietnam, the manufactured dissent and manipulated dislike for the government, the premier and the cultural-social norms of the time, plus the organizing of resistance groups representing small demographics, and the tapping into the natural generational rebelliousness of youth looking to establish their own identity, all lead to the atmosphere in which Diem was murdered. All these elements are present in American politics today.

Right now our media seemingly is foisting disenchantment by publishing stories and broadcasting news with highly limited scope—what I call skewing the story, what Trump calls fake news. What we all must realize is that a governmental collapse here similar to what happened in Vietnam in 1963, with or without assassination, will result in chaos, and in fertile ground for all enemies of American and western culture. AND THERE IS NO ONE CAPABLE OF BAILING THE U.S. OUT, no LBJ to reluctantly send in the Marines.

The end game of those sponsoring events like Charlottesville is not the removal of President Trump from office, any more than the end game for the communists in Vietnam was to remove Ngo Dinh Diem from office. The end game for those behind our American violence is complete upheaval of the government and our culture, and the replacement of both with forms that will benefit but the hidden elite.

Descending: We cautiously descended from the peak of Mt. Baker. The day has been relatively warm and by mid-afternoon surface snows are soft. Where the morning crossing between two deep crevasses had been on firm footing, the afternoon crossing was on what skiers might call wet corn. Slush quickly balls up under crampons making them useless until cleared. The slope became slipperier.

Ascending and descending took 23 of the 36 hours we were on the mountain. Certainly the kids could have done it quicker without the old man, but I was fairly close to maxed out.

Today, I fear we are on a different kind of slippery slope descending into political and cultural chaos… and all I can do is whisper, “Caution. The crevasses to each side are deep, and quick rivers course in their depths.”

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