Saturday, August 9, 1997

Chillin at the Peak

What a Saturday. I had been planning to go to Chews Ridge with Hales and Shade, but my son had demonstrated his persistence admirably in pestering me to take he and his sister boogy-boarding at one of the beaches south of Santa Cruz. I had bought a wet-suit and board the day before, again, at my son's insistence, so there was no getting out of it on Saturday. I'll make this part of the report short. I had fun, my kids had fun, the water is bearable when clothed in a rubber suit. The rip-tides were quite strong, and I think I was drained from the exertion.

After arriving home, I packed up both kids and my equipment in the Suburban and headed over to Dean's. In went all his equipment. There was no spare room in the truck when we pulled out at 6:30pm.

Arriving at the Peak, we found Alan Nemls, Richard Navarrete, Ken Head and Rich Neuschaefer. There were also a couple other unknown observers. All were over by the ranger's house, nobody was at Coulter or the SW lot.

The weather was perfect. When we left San Jose, the wind was strong and dense clouds hung ominously over the coastal range. But, here, at Fremont Peak, we were in an oasis of calm and clear.

The moon hung high above the transmission towers as darkness rose in the east. Soon, our eyepieces were all brightly illuminated and lunar detail was quite good, although there was some atmospheric distortion due to not very steady seeing. Still, Luna was putting on a good show.

There was a public program at the observatory, and a good number of astro-tourists. Rich was handing out TAC information sheets, and Ken was gathering signatures on the "change-the-name" petition, as the visitors viewed through their scopes.

Meanwhile, I was enjoying bright views of M22, M13, B86 (well, a "bright view" is a true misnomer on that object), M57, M27, Alberio, the Veil Nebula, M28, and assorted other big-n-brights.

Over the towns surrounding the Peak, heavy fog and clouds settled in. It was one of the darkest nights in recent memory. Faces lost all detail, and only by someone's voice could you recognize them. However, all was not well at the Peak.

Dew soon fogged my eyepieces and Telrad. And, a slight breeze began.

I continued to observe, fighting the dew. How could I forgo such a dark night. The moon was going to drop soon, and my "real" observing could start.

Mother nature is certainly in control at the Peak. For a mid-August weekend, it was rather chilly. I had on my thermals, jeans, sweat pant, t-shirt, sweater and heavy jacket. I even had to put on my winter hat when my ears became chilled. The cold was becoming more noticeable, as the breeze was becoming more pronounced.

Moon set brought out the wind. The breeze had changed into a strong wind blowing from the south. It was cold, and dobs were useless. We spent some time observing through a 5" AstroPhysics and 5" Takahashi refractor. We saw two limb-events on Jupiter, probably the same moon crossing onto the face of the planet, and later emerging. It is amazing to watch. There was also an easily seen shadow transit, GRS and several white ovals to be seen.

But the wind kept up. The dew was gone, but the wind was really a worse problem.

One of the unknown observers, looking at the dark clouds now starting to hide the Great Square of Pegasus, worried aloud about rain. He was set up to sleep on a chaise lounge. Dean and I had cots and sleeping bags. My kids had the truck. I thought, there was no way it would rain.

We had anticipate possible observing problems for the evening, so a few members of our group brought up bottles of wine. We sat at the bench behind the restrooms, which provided a wind block. We kept listening to the wind howl, we'd sip some wine, and talk about telescopes, mounts, eyepieces, observing trips, storms of the past, and other subjects.

The hour grew late, and no more observing would take place. Members of our group who were not camping over left for home. The wind was still strong, and the clouds thick overhead. There were no city lights.

I crawled into my sleeping bag, tired from fighting the ocean in the morning, the wind and cold at night, thinking about rain.

Just then, the zipper on my bag opened all the way up to the bottom. My bag was shot. I put on my winter boots and more warm clothes, and tried to sleep while listening for rain.

Such trips to the Peak make the exceptional nights all the more special.

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