Absaroka Mountains: Elephant Head Summit

Elephant Head is a full day hike to a large flat summit in the northern Absaroka Mountains of Montana. The thigh burning final approach of 1500 feet up a loose talus slope is sure to have you aching the next day.

The dirt

  • Length: ~9 miles roundtrip
  • Difficulty: advanced
  • Elevation gain: about 3500 ft
  • Fun fact: Large flat summit with excellent views down the front range of the Absarokas

Location

Download the GPX file.

Bridger Mountains (MT): Sacagawea Peak

This relatively easy and short hike is close to the Bozeman, Montana metropolitan area. It is suitable for everyone in reasonable shape (including kids) and ends up with a 360° panorama of the area.

The Dirt

  • Length: 4.5 miles roundtrip
  • Difficulty: easy to moderate (due to elevation gain)
  • Elevation gain: about 2000 ft depending on trailhead
  • Exposure: none to slight (on the summit only)
  • Family-friendly: yes
  • Optimal Season: June – October (with significant snow in June likely)
  • Fun fact: Great views of the Bridger and Crazy Mountain Ranges, with the Tobacco Roots and Beartooths in the distance. Access road passes the Bridger Bowl Ski Area.

Flickr Photos

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Location

Download the GPX file.

Evil Western Spruce Budworms

I used to think that the most reviled creature on earth was the grasshopper. Last year we had an epic infestation. They ate everything, including our spruce trees.

But I’ve recently discovered something even more evil, more voracious, the Western Spruce Budworm (Choristoneura occidentalis).

I don’t have much capacity to hate. But I hate these things to the center of my being.

Budworms have a one year life cycle. The adult stage is a small mottled moth. After mating in mid-summer, females lay batches of eggs on the undersides of spruce needles. Larvae hatch about ten days later then hole up for the rest of the year. In the following spring, larvae migrate into new buds, forming silken cocoons. The destroy the new growth and cause massive defoliation.

This year, they’ve been going to town on our blue spruce. Our green spruce our relatively unaffected.

Now normally I’m not wont to use the nuclear option of pesticides. We drink from a well, our house resides on a bluff above the free-flowing Yellowstone river, and we have carefully created a bird habitat around our house. We don’t want to disturb any of these things. But watching our blue spruce getting savaged is just too much.

I sprayed our trees with Sevin today in the hopes of decimating the budworm cities. Without it, I think our spruce would be dead in the next few years.

Why I'm dumping the iPhone and AT&T

Don’t get me wrong. I love my iPhone.

In fact, I just upgraded to a new 3GS and extended my AT&T contract for two more years. But the privilege of being an AT&T customer has worn out. This morning, I got a message from AT&T saying that my off-network data usage was violating the terms of my contract.

Apparently, my > $100 a month phone bill entitles me to *6 MB* of off-network data transfer. How is one to know when you are off-network? Well, if you haven’t yet been notified by AT&T, your signal strength indicator probably always says “AT&T”. Clearly this is done to fool you into thinking that AT&T’s coverage is expansive. It isn’t. In fact, it sucks. But at least now I know that. AT&T has now kindly changed my signal indicator so that it reads “Off” when I’m not on AT&Ts network.

If you’re thinking about an iPhone on AT&T, consider the following points:

1. AT&Ts coverage sucks

It’s bad. It’s really, really, really bad. Some people who live in major metropolitan areas will say their coverage is great. It’s not. It’s horrid.

I’ve traveled around the immediate vicinity of LA, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Salt Lake, Denver, Seattle, Dallas, etc, etc. More often than not I’d have shaky signal at best or none at all even while people on other carriers were happily chatting away. And don’t even get me started on the frequency of dropped calls. I suspect this poor coverage performance is due to AT&Ts low bandwidth partner carriers; still, with masking of the signal status to read “AT&T”, you can only assume it’s the fault of AT&T. For me: this isn’t a deal breaker since I hate talking on the phone anyways. But I still need voice capabilities periodically and AT&T can’t even provide that reliably.

2. International travel plans are expensive and underwhelming

A stock AT&T-issued iPhone performs poorly overseas (test countries: Japan, Germany, France, Mexico, England, etc). The travel plans are expensive and confusing. Forgot about data roaming unless your last name is Hilton. It ain’t happening. The global calling and data plans for Blackberries are far and away superior. Forget about swapping the SIM card, too.

3. AT&T moves at glacial speed

Expanding basic network coverage. Expanding 3G coverage. Rolling out MMS or tethering. What exactly is AT&T doing to improve their service? Nothing that is readily apparent.

4. AT&Ts iPhone bills are ridiculously long and incomprehensible

If you need to track phone usage for, say, invoicing purposes, you can’t rely on AT&Ts bill. Oftentimes it lists that I’ve calling MYSELF instead of the actual number. Odd. Not to mention the pages and pages of meaningless details. At least it’s delivered electronically.

5. Conditions, conditions, conditions

Take a browse through AT&Ts website. You will see nothing but conditions listed specifically for the iPhone. Conditions on usage. Conditions on upgrade pricing. Conditions on contracts. It’s clear what AT&T thinks about their iPhone customers – clearly second rate and second-tier.

In short, if you travel — often, either domestically or internationally — the iPhone/AT&T pair is a bust. It’s a sad state of affairs given what a joy to use the iPhone is, but the quality of AT&Ts network and customer service cripple the phone. I’ll miss OmniFocus and iTunes integration, but not AT&T. Good riddance.