Geeks, mountains and meteors

Statically, everyone else in Oregon was downhill from us.

The Science Sleepover at Silcox Hut included 25 adults, mostly centered around the Nerd Nite crowd, 3 telescopes, 2 suburbans, and Mount Hood. And thousands of tiny rocks, below, and above. We gathered at Timberline Lodge, the flagship CCC structure that sits at 6,000 ft elevation on Mt Hood, looking at the stonework and double-notched beams as we sat in the busy 3rd floor bar. Once our crew was ready, they loaded up the vehicles with All The Stuff and quite of a few of the people and drove up the snow cat trails, now mostly snow free in mid summer.

I hiked. Kit, Nina, and Alice strolled with me. The lodge desk had hiking maps for other locations, but not for their own backyard, and the chauffeur had claimed there was no trailhead (?!), just take that trail up and kinda head over the ridge. I gathered they didn't know what the term 'trailhead' meant, as we went to 'that trail' and walked up hill. We stopped often, as the air was thin, and in addition to Kits hip, Alice was just done recovering from a broken tibula – and I certainly didnt want to have them start out the adventure being pushed more than they were willing. The trees disappeared quickly (Daniel had complained earlier that Timberline was not technically above the tree line, but really, 50 feet vertical did it). There were some succulents here and there, and the golden mantled ground squirrels that fed on them, but mostly, the ground was gravel and dirt that had been scoured by snowmelt and wind. We passed the water tank and could see our destination – Silcox Hut, a B&B created out of a former ski tow line hut and the best LED showerhead, with Carter standing out front playing “The Girl from Ipanema” on his trumpet.

It was only another 1000 feet vertical, and barely a mile before we rejoined our party as they explored the rock and wood structure. Ines, who had taken the vehicle route, apparently commented that the long snaky entrance looked like we had a pit toilet, but Steve our host said “no, it has a light.” Actually, it had electricity, plumbing, starched napkins and cozy bedding, though the building is basically a handful of 4-person bunk rooms, a bank of toilet rooms, and a large dining/hanging out room. With windows looking up to the peak.

As we wandered outside, we watched the US Olympic Ski Team doing their daily summer workout on Palmer Glacier above us, and snow cats moving equipment and people up and down the tongue of winter that extended past our hut and down towards the lodge. Beyond the lodge, we saw the forest undulate over the foothills and disappear into a cloud bank, from which Mt Jefferson occasionally peaked out in the distance. Lots of magnetic bits were rearranged into jpg files….

The dinner gong sounded and we all trooped into the hall. The lodge sent up fresh ingredients and Steve had assembled lasagna (with meat, without onions!), salad, steamed veggies, grains, and options for our gluten- or meat- avoiders. Conversation slowed as we dug in. Then we headed back out – the fireplace and stone walls were neat, but outside, that's where the view was.

Sunset sent our photographers off to a ridge line behind the skier's current chairlift (closed for the night), and then back. Scott and Jay had various alarms going off when astronomical or oribital events were due, and thus the whoop-whoop of the Star Trek klaxon gathered us to watch the International Space Station pass from west to east over the mountain. He pointed it out with his green laser, prompting us to discuss if the astronauts in the IIS could see the glow, and who was up there. Then Steve called us back in for a peanut butter mousse with cream.

At this point, the sun has dropped, the wind picked up, and temperature fell. Steve kept a fire blazing in the grate of the massive fireplace, and as people decided on layering, there was a constant stream of people going into the hut, warming up, then bundling up and heading out to look at the night sky through cameras, telescopes, and naked eyes.

Eventually, I settled down just uphill of the hut, with Paul, Kristin, and Amanda int their sleeping bags on my right, Ines and Carter to my immediate left, Niki and Dan slightly lower, and Scott with his tracking mount whirring in our ears just above. Random other voices sounded o. Occasion, but i didnt know where they were, or when they showed up. I had brought a fleece blanket, but lay on the dirt and gravel between folks in subzero bags – they were much warmer. Carter would pass a flask of whiskey on occasion, which helped, but mostly I stayed low and out of the wind.

Looking straight up, the Milky Way drew a fuzzy line across the sky, and the star field was abundant. It quickly becomes apparent that any light that moved steadily was a satellite, blinkers were airplanes, and the second-long bright streak was the piece of matter vaporizing on the atmosphere.

“Perseus: that's ice, right?”

“Perseus was Zeus? No, he was Neptune's. haven't your read the Lightning Thief?”

“Was Neptune the god of the underworld?”

“No, that was Hades.”

“Hades? I thought that was Pluto.”

“Pluto is the roman name for Hades.”

“Them Romans had a different word for everything.”

“But what is burning up?”

“Is something on fire?”

“Yo crotch is on fire.”

“Oo ooh ” (many voices)

“Yay, that was a good one!”

“I missed it!”

“It was to the left and low.”

“The meteors are vaporizing.”

“But what are they made of?”

“Bits off a comet.”

“So they are made of ice.”

“Oh, was that what you asked? I thought you'd said Zeus!”

And the evening continued with rapid fire commentary, a fine mixture of observation, science and humanities discussion, and crotch jokes.

A lot of crotch jokes.

And a lot of meteors. They average one every minute, but that's a lot of sky to be scanning, and many are quite faint. Mostly, we looked up, and any bright streak would catch the eye, and a Greek chorus would oh and ah.

Scott eventually stopped shooting and came to join me under the blanket, which increased my exposure to wind and gave me a heat source. But around midnight, I decide I needed to go in. Some others stirred to join me – apparently Niki had fallen asleep out there.

Back in the hall, there were abandoned sleeping bags and Alice, sitting by the fire, reading (was it Connie? I was half asleep and don't recall). I warmed up a smidge then headed to the bunk rooms, found my toothbrush & took care of business before putting on pjs and crawling into the top bunk. Ear plugs and sleep mask as handy as I could make them, I nodded off quickly.


Others didnt sleep so well – light, noise, snorers, skinny beds, etc. Scott apparently got up at dawn and did some early photos, others had woken even earlier. I crawled out of bed just as Steve was starting the waffles.

After breakfast, there was more photo taking, and then we packed up and took the chairlift down, while Carter played the theme song to Star Wars on his trumpet.


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