Thursday, February 24, 2011

"This city is honestly a warzone" A firsthand account of the Christchurch quake

What follows is an email from a Kiwi friend of mine, Becki, who goes to school at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. I knew Becki mostly through Narva, who forwarded me her letter, sent to friends and family shortly after the quake. The descriptions of the devastation in Christchurch are powerful, and yet some of the best illustrations of what's actually happened there that I've yet seen. With her permission, I've reprinted it below.

"Hello to my amazing family and friends. Thank you for your messages and support. Really wanted to let you know what it’s been like, so thought this would be the easiest way. Please forgive that it’s sent in group messages, but explaining it a dozen times over would be too time consuming and emotionally taxing. Anyway, here's the deal.

My flat is standing, but nothing inside it is. The fridge was thrown across the kitchen, ALL our plates and glasses smashed, everything thrown from cupboards and broken on the floor. The fish tank emptied its water all over my uni notes and textbooks. My bedroom is in pieces, drawers smashed and broken picture frames and potplants everywhere. I'm staying with friends because my street is within the boundaries of the city that have been cordoned off by police. Entire cars have been sucked into sinkholes only a few doors down from my place, and the roads are buckled and have splits in them a foot deep.

I was at uni when (the quake) hit, I dove under a table, but the wall beside me split and water and sewage pipes burst. I looked out the window and the seven story building next to us was swaying so much that its windows were exploding – I thought it was going to come down onto our building. We got outside before the next aftershock hit, which was so bad we could see the road rising and falling in waves, and a few trees near us very nearly were uprooted. We've had nearly two dozen aftershocks since then.

The mates I'm staying with and I pushbiked to check on family and other friends, all of whom are ok. We moved much faster on bikes, all the traffic lights are down and the roads were bumper to bumper with cars. Saw lots of traffic accidents as we went – people are scared and driving like idiots. Every sewer grate had liquefied silt spewing up out of it, people’s whole front yards were buried in sand and flooded. Every road has cracked, even in the suburbs, and every crack has sewage seeping up through it. This city is honestly a warzone.

I don’t know when I'll be able to go home. My house keys, laptop, uni work and my car are all trapped inside the university cordon so I can’t go get them until further notice, and I can’t go home because the cops won’t let me. I have my cellphone, my wallet, and a change of clothes. I'm safe though, so that’s the main thing. We're some of the lucky ones who got power back on last night. Over half the city still has no power, and 80 percent are without water. We have bottled water so we should be ok for a few days, and we dug a latrine in the backyard. Power means we can at least watch the news bulletins – 38 confirmed dead, hundreds still trapped. One-hundred and twenty were rescued overnight, but a large number of those needed limbs amputated in the field in order to free them.

I’m still in shock to be honest. Nothing seems real. Major shakes every hour or so snap you back into panic, but luckily the house I’m staying in has suffered no damage – it’s a wooden one so it flexes with the movement. As I type this we're getting another aftershock. Damn them! The main thing is that we're safe and unhurt. It’s a daunting thought, how long it will take Christchurch to pull together again. If it wasn’t for my studies I'd probably be moving. Mind you, it may be time for a holiday; campus is closed until further notice.

Love you all, and thank you again for your support and prayers.xxxx Becs"

Echoing my complaint that the media has given this disaster incredibly short-shrift, one friend I already passed this email onto said, "That was definitely different from how the (Wall Street Journal) described it."

As of Thursday afternoon Becki reported she had left Christchurch and was back in her hometown at the top of the South Island until she has a home to return to in CHCH.

For better coverage than what seems to be available Stateside she recommended

If you have a minute, now would be a great time to make a donation, no matter how small or great. Donate to NZ Red Cross, or donate to NZ Salvation Army's Canterbury Earthquake Appeal. Both have easy online options.

Thank you for your help.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A taste of what's to come?

Before this post gets going, I just want to take a moment to mention that, while the news is old now, the very reason this blog is even here, or the place really, has been swept off its feet by a devastating earthquake.
I can only imagine. CHCH was by far the nicest place I've ever lived, and I'm concerned as to how it will rebuild itself. It's easy to say "donate," that's probably enough, and I plan to, and hope some readers who feel so obliged might follow suit. But filling out some online form and clicking a "submit" button just isn't all that satisfying when you have a lot of memories tied to where that money is going, and knowing that no matter how many times you click that button, it may not ever be the same.
I want to be there now, doing anything, doing something, not clicking keys on my keyboard though.
I should say also that the disaster in CHCH hits home not just because it once was home, but also because just a bit less than 50 years ago, the city that I now call home was basically leveled by a quake, and may very well suffer a similar fate again someday.
It seems, however, that disappointingly, a hot-headed and soon to be out-of-power third-world warlord's speech has managed to syphon off most of the global media's attention from NZ. Neato.
I'm still with ya m8's.

On a much less somber note, the Kenai Gods were smiling this weekend. Friday saw the arrival of a rather strange but cold little snow storm that brought percipitation in an odd pattern.
The storm tracked up Cook Inlet, but instead of depositing it's load in the Western Susitna Valley or the Anchorage Bowl as such storms usually seem to do, it spun down Turnagain Arm and dropped a foot or more in Indian - not exactly an area known for heavy snows.
Even more strangely, a band of percipitation became sandwiched over Summit Pass. Typically these Cook Inlet-track storms deposit little if any snow in the Kenai Mountains. In this round however, Summit picked up 12-16 inches by Saturday morning, yet neighboring Turnagain Pass, which ussually picks up three times or more what Summit gets, only got half of that.
Best of all, unlike the majority of storms that have come through the region this winter, this one was unaccompanied by wind or rain. Indeed, the temps were pretty bitter and the snow that fell had a dream-like quality, literally exploding into billowing clouds when torn through by board or skis.

With the avalanche forecasters raising the skull and cross-bones in Summit on Saturday morning, I hitched up with Jack, and headed to Pete's North at the south-end of Turnagain. There we rendevouzed with Josh O, who was accompanied by the "Seward Crew."

While Jack and I were generally out of sync with everyone else on the mountain, we traded intel with Josh and co. and stories as our laps crossed.

Over on Lipps, a little abstract ski art to add to my collection.

Josh defines "blower pow."

The trees are the keys. Down in the woods the snow was deposited at least a foot deep. In the alpine the snow as shallower, and as the day wore on and the wind picked up, the ridge lines were blown clean.

Nature's snow guns. Jack is blasted by a constant jet of snow, funneled up the slope and through a cut made into the cornice near the summit of Pete's
With unbelievably rare consistent snow conditions from summit to highway-level, Jack, and I took advantage of the well-established uptrack and pumped in five laps that tallied apx. 1,500, 1,200, 1,200, 1,000, and 2,500 feet, for an epic 7,500-foot day. Temps at launch at the highway were single-digit, and wind gusts at nearby ridgetop weather stations reported winds topping 40 mph.
Even as my legs throbbed on the drive home, I knew damn well these were the best conditions of the year and reports from Summit, compliments of Tele-Pete, told me I'd be a fool not to go Sunday. With not too much convincing, Josh signed on for more.

We headed for Sugar Ridge, which is actually the lower part of a thin ridge line that runs just east of Ravens Ridge and forms the long northeastern shoulder of Halebop (LINK).

While winds had knocked down overnight, they were predicted to pick up again through the day, and Sugar sits in the lee of Halebop and Raven's, and is also well-treed and lower angle, meaning it offered protected skiing in lower visibility conditions with lower risk in regards to Summit's stability concerns.

Temps were a bit more comfortable in the high teens, and heavy fat flakes fell through most of the day, yet, in classic Kenai style, the sun was almost always shining, even as the snow fell sideways. The shoulder of Colorado had the same sun lighting it all day, though no opera music emanated from the clouds as the picture would suggest.

A "Dante line" through the trees.

Since Josh still hasn't updated his blog, I stole two of his pics from the Facebook of yours truly. He gets credit for both.

Is it next weekend yet?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

15 Below

Wow the temperature dropped

30 degrees Friday night from 15 above to 15 below. Ohh.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cat Skiing

Last week Dan H, who I met a few weeks ago skiing on Pete's North, shot out a message looking for extras to fill seats on a cat skiing trip in the Girdwood area.
He didn't have to ask me twice.
Cat skiing, for my non-snowsport enthusiast readers, has nothing to do with felines, but instead involves catching a lift up the mountain, generally in the backcountry, on a converted snow cat fitted with a cab in the rear for hauling passengers instead of grooming equipment.
Girdwood-based Chugach Powder Guides (LINK) runs just such an operation less than an hour from Anchorage with two machines that depart from The Hotel Alyeska's backdoor and take skiers and riders into the snow-hammered slopes of the Winner Creek area.
The price of admission was better than right for this adventure, and while it was still more than twice the cost of a lift ticket at the ski resort, and well over 100% more than the cost of a self-powered day in one of the passes, it was still a neat and new experience not worth passing up. Unlike the former two options, this offered relative exclusivity (our crew was comprised of 12, and CPG's second cat was operating in the area with another group of roughly the same size), as well as the ability to cram in more vertical feet than would be feasible this time of year under human power. Our total vertical for the day was 11,200.' Such a day under self-power would be a truly epic feat, possible only in April or afterwards.
Dan deserves a great deal of credit here too, not just for handling the logistics, but also for putting together a group of 12 skiers, tele-nuts and single-planker-wankers, that were about as close in abilities as such a group of that size can be. While I don't remember half of everyone's names, everyone was incredibly courteous and friendly. Our guides actually made fun of us through the day for being so courteous to eachother and trying to make sure everyone got a chance at first tracks.

Our two guides for the day in the orange jackets (whose names' I regret to say I've also forgotten) prepare the group for the first run. As with the fishing industry, not all guides are created equal, and sometimes a truer test of quality is not whether they can catch fish, but can they find the fish when the fish are thin and still keep the clients happy. Our two CPG guides had far from the greatest conditions to work with, but they sniffed out what good snow there was for us, kept everyone together and safe, and kept the attitude light and positive all day. You can't ask for a lot more.

The weather was perfect: temps in the high-teens to mid-twenties, blue sky most of the day and breathless wind. Unfortunately, calling the snow wind-licked would be an understatement. Wind-slobbered would be more fitting. Much of the snowpack looked either like this (a mostly supportable wind crust ontop of some cush powder) or was rain/wind/melt crusted in the trees. There was a narrow sweet spot inbetween where the blown powder was deposited, but not affected by the recent warm temps.

Unloading for another run.

Inside the cab. Skylight windows, buckets seats, and tunes to go with. That's a lot more comfortable than skinning.

Michael enjoys the view out over Turnagain Arm.. The cat could get to some pretty tight spots and plenty high-up.

Dan tears down a slope.

John B. makes some choppy conditions look smooth.

John again.

Dan lands a 2-3 foot drop off a wind cornice.

Getting the low-down at the top of a run called Rock Star, which proved to have some of the best snow all day.

A maritime mist rolls off the Arm and into the valley below. The peak to the center-right has some excellent looking epic-day lines.

Last run.
Glad my computer cooperated to get this post out!