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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Two Music Mixes for the Holidays

I've been obsessed with music of late. It aids me in my work, and it's a shared passion with my son, Alex, whom I have debates with - most recently, on the merits of J. Cole, whose song Neighbors is my current favorite, but whom Alex finds too mainstream (he's heard his music played at Frat houses) to be counted among the best rappers currently in the game. I don't disagree - Cole's most recent album doesn't have the overarching vision of the most recent albums of Kendrick Lamar or A Tribe Called Quest - but I still think Neighbors, which is on the first mix below, is a great song. 

I've compiled some of my recent listening into two mixes. The first is of recent releases, all by African American artists, while the second is of tunes from the 70s, some of which I remember my parents playing, but most of which I'm just discovering. It's fun to explore new music and is so easy to do with Spotify.

JB Xmas Mix 2016 #1: Recent Releases, African American Artists

JB Xmas Mix 2016 #2: 70s 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Mathematics and Denmark

Jim Nagy and I in Copenhagen.
Looking back over the path that I've traveled in my career, I often ponder what it was that originally attracted me to mathematics, and then what it was (and is) that kept (keeps) me engaged through the good times and bad. Some things stand out. 

One is my first mathematics professor at Montana Tech, a severe and demanding, old-school Indian man named Dr. Nagendra Pandey. He's since passed away, but I've saved the link to his obituary, which I return to every now and then for inspiration. He was a simple, devoted man who lead by example. After taking his Calculus class during my first semester at Tech, I switched my major to Mathematics and never looked back.

After graduating from Tech, I went immediately to Montana State University and met another mathematician, Dr. Curt Vogel who shares with Dr. Pandy a certain hardness of character. As my PhD advisor, Curt has easily been my biggest influence as a mathematician. He grew up on a ranch in Eastern Montana and once told me that the ranch work in summer was so physically demanding that he would look forward to two-a-day football practices in mid-August as a relaxing break. My upbringing in Butte was, I think, also stark and demanding, though in a different way, and so I connected with Curt. I also clearly look up to, and want to emulate, individuals like Curt and Dr. Pandey. 

Through Curt, I met Jim Nagy, who can be seen in the photo above. I saw Jim (now a Professor at Emory University in Atlanta) give a math research talk at MSU in my first year of graduate school 20 years ago. I remember thinking, "That's what I want to do." And now here I am doing it. Jim was in Copenhagen this last week, where we were both giving talks in a workshop put on by Per Christian Hansen, a giant in the field of Inverse Problems, which is also Jim and my research area. Jim and I have been friends and collaborators since I obtained by PhD in 2002. 

What drew me to mathematics was, of course, a passion for the subject matter, but also, at least as much, the example of my professors. It was a long road getting to where I'm at, with eleven years of study and several kinks in the road, before I got my current job at UM in 2003. When that first spark was ignited in Dr. Pandey's Calculus class back in 1992, I never could have imagined where mathematics would take me, and I look forward to what is to come.
Tivoli Gardens #1
Tivoli Gardens #2.
Tivoli Gardens #3.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Inner World/Outer World/Xmas Music Mix

Chillin' at my birthday potluck.
Jim James concert on my birthday. This man knows about the inner world.

Probably one of the last Mt. Sentinel hikes of the winter.
There's a tension between the demands of the inner life and of the outer life. For me, when the two become imbalanced -- usually due to neglect of my inner life -- I slip, no matter how great my outer life is going. It takes vigilance; the inner life is easy to neglect.

The fall shoulder season is usually a good time for the cultivation of my inner life: meditation, music, long walks, time with friends and family -- we all know the things that feed our soul. Before long, however, I start to feel a tension again, pushing me toward more ambitious outward action.  

Next year, I'd like to be more consistent in the cultivation of my inner life through the year. In 2016, I let it go during the summer, and then paid the price once work started in earnest in September. 

Here's a music mix that I've been working on for a month or so: JB Xmas 2016. It's all music by black artists (no Jim James on this one) released in the last year. So much great music coming out right now!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Spending October and November Close to Home: Missoula Area Hikes

Jen on Pistol Creek Lookout.
I really tapered off my trips to the mountains in October and November this year. It's been nice being close to home for a solid stretch. In October, I enjoyed the last half of the cyclocross season, and then have been visiting local summits around Missoula in November. These hikes have included several up Sentinel via the Hellgate Canyon Trail; a couple up Jumbo via the south side trail; a trip up Blue Mountain with Finnish friend Heikki Haario; a hike up Woody Mountain from the Marshall Mountain Road; and most recently, a trip up Pistol Creek Lookout, just out of Arlee, with Jen. I love all of these hikes and try to do them each once a year. 

It's been nice to scale back and focus on gratitude for the essential things of life: my family, my home, the place I live, and my work. I have much to be grateful for.    

Pistol Creek Lookout has one of the best views of the Missions around.

Looking south toward the Rattlesnake from Pistol Creek Lookout.

On the way down from Pistol Creek Lookout, looking west over the Jocko Valley at Ch-paa-qn.

Pudge on one of our regular Sentinel hikes.

Pudge on the south side trail on Jumbo.

Another on Jumbo.

Pudge on the summit of Woody Mountain, which sits above Bonner to the north.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Stanley Hot Springs, Idaho

On the hike out.
On the weekend before last, Jen and I drove over Lolo Pass into the Lochsa country, Idaho, and hiked in to Stanley Hot Springs. The hike begins from the Wilderness Gateway Campground on the Lochsa River, about 95 miles from Missoula. It is 5 miles in to the springs, which you would think would keep the people away, but every time I've gone - always in October or November - it's been busy. I think this is due to the fact that Stanley is relatively close to several small colleges in Eastern Washington, so invariably on weekends in the fall, there's a college group on a backpacking trip to the springs. It's also one of the few late season backpacking options in the area, period, so it draws other groups as well. Even given its busyness this time of year, I recommend it. 

After a relaxing hike in, soak, and hike out, Jen and I stopped for dinner at the Lochsa Lodge on the way home, where the food was good as always. All-in-all, a great day.

If you go: don't miss the right-hand fork in the trail just after the 4 mile mark, after which the springs are about 1/2 mile.

Jen in the upper pool at Stanley Hot Springs.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Wolverine and Carmine Peaks, Swan Front

Self-portrait, looking north from Wolverine Peak in the Swan: Carmine Peak is in the foreground, and Holland Peak is the big one in the distance.
September was a big (almost overwhelming so) month for many things, including climbing peaks. Summer-like weather continued throughout the month, and I was lucky enough to get into the high peaks of our local ranges multiple times. The only one of those trips I've yet to write about is the one I made to Wolverine and Carmine Peaks on the Swan Front. These are the first two peaks along the Front south of Holland Lake. They are very accessible -- in terms of mileage and route finding -- from Clearwater Lake Road, but the route is quite steep, strenuous, and contains some class 3 climbing.  My GPS route can be found here, where you'll see that I ascended the west ridge of peak 8535, just south of Wolverine. From 8535, I then walked north to Wolverine and then on to Carmine. There was a bit of class 3 getting up to Wolverine and then again on the walk over to Carmine. For a better dog route, I left the south ridge of Carmine and traversed to the east ridge before ascending, but I could easily have stayed closer to the south ridge. 

I go to places like these, in part, for those moments, often towards the end of the day, when my mind stops churning and a sense of well-being pervades. Such moments are illusive for me, even in the mountains. I know that I'm not alone in this -- that countless others seek well-being and uplift in places like these.

The Missions in the morning with the Swan casting a shadow on the valley.

Along the ridge we walked up to 8535.

Once on the Swan Front, looking over to Wolverine.

Pudge and Wolverine.

The Missions from the summit of Wolverine Peak.
Looking back at Wolverine on the traverse to Carmine.

Carmine summit cairn.
Looking back at Wolverine.
Looking into the Bob from the Swan Front.
Pudge on Wolverine.
Pudge tired in the heat on Wolverine on the way back to the car.

From Clearwater Lake Road on the way out: the left-hand peak is Wolverine, and the right-hand peak is Ptarmigan Benchmark.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Finally Gray Wolf

The view north from Gray Wolf into the heart of the Missions.

For Missoula area folks that are drawn to high places, Gray Wolf Peak, in the Missions, looms large. Every time I drive up through Evaro on a clear day, it sits massive and beautiful on the horizon, and I think, "I've got to go and climb that!" In fact, it had become a bit of an embarrassment for me, with all of the climbing that I do, that I had yet to summit Gray Wolf. So on a clear day a while back, I got it out of the way. Even without the summit bid, this is a beautiful hike, through the Riddell and Scenic Lake Basins, but the climb to summit is also one of the best in the area, with a couple of class 4 spots that require some route finding and a steady head. 

Sometimes I get into these places and think, "Pay attention, John!" And not just because danger is close at hand, but because the surroundings are so beautiful and unique, and I am there in that moment, and yet still often lost in my head. 

For directions to Gray Wolf, see the summitpost page for the peak.  
Looking east from the NE ridge of Gray Wolf over Gray Wolf Lake to the Swan Range.

Looking off toward the Swan from the NE ridge.
Looking north from the NE ridge of Graywolf.
Summit cairns on Gray Wolf.
Looking up at the NE ridge of Gray Wolf. You can see 'The Notch', where the 4th class spots are on the ridge.
McLeod Peak on the way down.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Rattlesnake Crossing, 2016: with Jen, Kara, and Charlie

Kara and Jen descending from the Rattlesnake Wilderness boundary at the top of the Finley Creek drainage. 
The week before last was a tough one for me. Life and work piled up, I lost my sense of calm, and was knocked off center for a few days. Thankfully, I had a plan to walk across the Rattlesnake with a group that Sunday. There were four humans -- Jen, Kara Daume, Charlie Katerba, and myself -- and four dogs. The group gelled (dogs included), the country and route were grand, and over the course of 10 hours and 20 miles, I found my center again. 

I've done this walk three times now, and it's one of my favorites. It starts up Finley Creek, which you get to by turning east off of Highway 93 onto McClure Road, a few miles south of Arlee, and then right (south) onto Finley Lakes Road, at the end of which the trail begins. You follow good trail up to lower Finley Lake, and then continue on to upper Finley Lake on intermittent trail. From the upper Lake, you then head off trail to the Wilderness boundary above Sanders Lake, from which the photo above was taken. From the boundary, you descend to Sanders Lake, and then walk good trail, with a detour to Mosquito Peak and along the ridge to Stuart Peak, and finally, out to the Rattlesnake Trailhead in Missoula.  

Charlie at Lower Finley Lake.

Jen, Kara, Charlie

Jen and Kara at upper-Finley Lake.

Jen climbing to the wilderness boundary.

And another shot, with upper-Finley Lake in the background.

On the divide overlooking Sanders Lake.
Sanders Lake.
Looking toward Stuart Peak from Mosquito Peak.

Looking north on Mosquito with McLeod Peak in the background.
At the Rattlesnake boundary only 8 miles to go.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Mount Powell with Al and TC

TC climbing the final slope up to the summit of Mount Powell. Note the larch on the near ridge and the Pintlers in the background.
For the past week, I've had a research visitor here in Missoula, named Tiangang Cui, or TC to his English speaking colleagues. He's from China and is in between a job in Houston and a faculty job at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.  TC is both a top notch computational mathematician and an all-around great fellow. I met him on my sabbatical in New Zealand; one of his PhD advisors, Colin Fox, was the guy I visited at U. Otago in Dunedin. Colin was also the post-doc advisor of my good friend Al Parker, from Bozeman, so Al has known TC even longer than I have. In order that Al and TC could see each other, and also so that TC could enjoy a uniquely Montana outing, we all decided to get together for a hike this weekend. We chose Mount Powell outside of Deer Lodge, because it's in between Bozeman and Missoula, and Al's been wanting to do it for a while. The hike is 12 miles round trip with 4000 feet of elevation gain. It has some steep off trail sections and is challenging, but there's nothing too difficult about it, so it turned out to be a great choice and a great day. As Al said in an email to me after the trip, "TC's like us, he likes to connect with people and places. He'll be back."

For directions to the trailhead and the route we used, see this Summitpost page.
TC and Skila on the climb up.
TC and some alpine larch.
Walking tundra before the final slope up to Mount Powell.
Al in the same spot, with peaks of the Flint, and turning alpine larch, in the background.
TC and the view south on Mount Powell.
Pudge looking off toward Deer Lodge Mountain.
Same shot, Pudge and Skila.
Old friends on the summit of Mount Powell.