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BNSF’s Proposal For One-Person Train Crews Concerns Rail Workers

KPLU News - 1 hour 9 min ago

Railroad workers are speaking out against a proposal by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to have single-employee freight train crews. They say the idea is unsafe, especially in light of the increasing transportation of crude oil by rail.

Patty Murray Praises VA Reforms But Warns Of More Troubling Revelations

KPLU News - 1 hour 21 min ago

Washington’s senior U.S. Sen. Patty Murray says a new deal to spend billions on fixing the Department of Veterans Affairs is an essential step, but she warns the reform efforts are likely to unearth even more problems.

Bipartisan negotiators in Congress took a while to settle on a $17 billion package of reforms meant to address long waits for care at VA hospitals and clinics across the country.

As the Senate voted to confirm Robert McDonald as the new VA Secretary, Murray, the former chairwoman of the Senate veterans affairs committee, praised both the nominee and the reforms he’ll be overseeing. But she also warned there could be more troubling revelations to come.

How Blind Seattle-Area Climber Bruce Stobie Fared On North America's Tallest Peak

KPLU News - 5 hours 15 min ago

Editor’s note: This piece is an update to our previous story on Bruce Stobie, which ran in May. 

When Bruce Stobie arrived at Denali last month, he could feel the presence of the mountain, even if he couldn’t see it.

“I felt like a guest — not a welcome guest,” said the blind climber from Des Moines, Washington. “All there was: rock, ice and snow. And cold and warm temperatures. And that’s it. There’s nothing else.”

How blind Seattle-area climber Bruce Stobie fared on North America’s tallest peak

Quirksee - 5 hours 50 min ago

Editor’s note: This piece is an update to our previous story on Bruce Stobie, which ran in May. 

When Bruce Stobie arrived at Denali last month, he could feel the presence of the mountain, even if he couldn’t see it.

“I felt like a guest — not a welcome guest,” said the blind climber from Des Moines, Washington. “All there was: rock, ice and snow. And cold and warm temperatures. And that’s it. There’s nothing else.”

But 51-year-old Stobie was prepared for a difficult journey to the top. He’d been training hard for nine months in hopes of summiting North America’s tallest peak. He’d already summited Mount Rainier five years prior with the help of two guides. This time, he wanted to conquer the peak that towers more than 21,000 feet over Alaska.

And so he and two guides set out for what they expected to be a three-week climb to the top.

Bruce Stobie, left, is seen with a fellow climber. (Courtesy of Mark McCcracken.)

A strong start despite the scorching sun

“We started out strong. There was basically three days of hard climbing. The first day, we carry all the gear, basically for six miles, but it’s all flat. From that point on, the loads are broken up and you carry what you need to up the mountain,” Stobie said.

Stobie felt prepared. Even the wild swings in weather from day to night seemed manageable.

“When the sun came out, it came out hard and strong. And then on the other hand, the cold. We weren’t there for the worst of it. I believe it got down to minus 20 [degrees Fahrenheit], to minus 25, and that was chilling, to say the least,” Stobie said.

The crew aimed for alpine starts, setting out at 1, 2, 3 a.m. to gain ground before the sun grew too strong.

At night, a ‘total void of noises’

“I obviously did not see anything of the environment,” said Stobie. But it so happened it was his guide Josh’s first time on the mountain, too, and Josh’s observations helped fill in the blanks. “So I lived vicariously through Josh, because he was, in a way, gobsmacked.”

But one of the most memorable moments didn’t require Josh’s eyes or words: the “total void of noises” at night.

“I would just hang out at night and it would be totally quiet. No noise. Absolutely no noise,” he said. “I cannot experience that down here. Even in the wilderness down here, there’s noise.”

A change in course

The crew had no problem reaching base camp at 14,000 feet, the height of Mount Rainier. But when they switched from snowshoes to crampons, the terrain  — and the journey — took a turn.

Stobie’s feet began slipping on the steep, 55-degree slopes covered in powdered-sugar snow.

“I was taking two steps instead of every one step, and I wasted a lot of energy,” he said. “Basically I was inefficient in my foot movement, and as the terrain got steeper, that inefficiency became more obvious.”

The crew reached 16,200 feet on the ropes during an especially difficult day that stretched 10 long hours. But it soon became clear their journey would end before the summit.

“I was breathing harder than I needed to. You know, with the higher altitudes, there was no room or tolerance for inefficiency,” Stobie said. “That night, I had an anxiety attack in the tent and had trouble breathing … Imagine being just maxed out on just breathing and not getting enough air.”

The following morning, Stobie went to see a doctor at base camp for a precautionary checkup. A clean bill of health left him with a heavy decision: Push on or turn back?

“I kind of struggled back and forth with it, but I think intuitively, I knew it was the right thing to do. I liked to visualize climbing and moving, and seeing the summit. And I was not seeing that happen, especially after that really long day. I knew what I was going into,” he said. “It was just not getting any better. And it was like, ‘OK, I’m done.’”

Bruce Stobie’s wife, Gwyn Stobie, snapped this photo shortly after his descent from Denali. (Courtesy of Gwyn Stobie)

‘Being on the mountain, it definitely exposed things’

Stobie and his guides decided to come down the mountain. It took eight hours to reverse the efforts of their two-week climb.

“Definitely, being on the mountain, it definitely exposed things, like this inefficiency in movement,” he said.” You know, had I been 10,000 feet lower, that would’ve been fun. I would’ve figured it out. There was just not any luxury of doing that [at high elevation].”

Now, three weeks later, Stobie still hasn’t fully processed his experience. He’s disappointed he didn’t summit, but he says he’s not done trying yet. And when he returns, he plans to be better prepared for tackling steep slopes with crampons.

“I would say that it was an adventure that I was looking for, and it was an adventure that I got. It was both an external one and an internal one,” he said. “The important thing is I was up there, doing my best.”

Fist Bumps Pass Along Fewer Germs Than Handshakes

KPLU News - 6 hours 34 min ago
A few weeks ago, we took a look at nonverbal greetings around the world. In Japan, they bow. Ethiopian men touch shoulders.

Chances Are Pretty Good That's A Bill Collector Calling

KPLU News - 6 hours 36 min ago
In about one-third of U.S. households, the sound of a phone or doorbell ringing may trigger a desire to duck.

That's because roughly 77 million adults with a credit file have at least one debt in the collection process, according to a study released by the Urban Institute, a research group. A credit file includes all of the raw data that a credit bureau can use to rank a borrower's creditworthiness.

Some of those debts can be quite small — perhaps just a $25 overdue water bill.

Report Says Big Changes Are Needed In How Doctors Are Trained

KPLU News - 6 hours 39 min ago
The way American doctors are trained needs to be overhauled, an expert panel recommended Tuesday, saying the current $15 billion system is failing to produce the medical workforce the nation needs.

"We recognize we are recommending substantial change," says health economist and former Medicare Administrator Gail Wilensky, co-chairwoman of the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine panel that produced the report.

This One Is Worth Watching: New Zealand Retirees Join 'Happy' Meme

KPLU News - 6 hours 42 min ago


For Two Years, He Smuggled Photos Of Torture Victims Out Of Syria

KPLU News - 7 hours 37 min ago
Warning: This report contains descriptions and an image that could disturb some readers.

The savage and protracted conflict in Syria has left more than 170,000 dead.

Could Specialty Cocoa Be Haiti's Golden Ticket To Prosperity?

KPLU News - 8 hours 15 min ago
In Robillard, a tiny hamlet deep in the Haitian hinterland, Valmir Mamonvil is standing next to a would-be national hero: Maman Pye cacao, which in Haitian Creole means "mother cacao tree." His father planted it 30 years ago, but for Mamonvil, the tree is more than a family heirloom. It could be his kids' ticket to prosperity — and his country's chance to cash in on surging chocolate demand around the world.

Maman Pye is one of about 600 "supertrees" scattered throughout northern Haiti. Supertrees are not unique to Haiti. They don't even seem remarkable, until you look closer.

Medicare's Costs Stabilize, But Its Problems Are Far From Fixed

KPLU News - 8 hours 19 min ago
Medicare's Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, which finances about half of the health program for seniors and the disabled, won't run out of money until 2030, the program's trustees said Monday. That's four years later than projected last year, and 13 years later than projected the year before the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

But that's not the case for the part of Social Security that pays for people getting disability benefits.

Blue Angels' Flights Won't Damage Hearing, But Will Affect Traffic

KPLU News - 8 hours 23 min ago

People can expect to hear the roar of the Blue Angels zooming above Lake Washington this weekend. After missing last year’s Boeing Seafair Air Show due to sequestration cuts, the Blue Angels are returning to Seattle on Thursday, July 31.

The noise of the planes may be bothersome to neighbors, but audiologist Susan Anderson says it doesn’t pose a health risk.

NCAA Reaches $75 Million Settlement In Head-Injury Lawsuit

KPLU News - 8 hours 26 min ago
The NCAA has reached a settlement with former athletes that provides $75 million for medical monitoring and research into head injuries. The settlement also calls for a change in the way schools handle head trauma.

As USA Today explains, the NCAA currently requires that member schools only have a concussion management plan.

Getting Hospice Care Shouldn't Have To Mean Giving Up

KPLU News - 8 hours 30 min ago
It's a painful dilemma for seriously ill Medicare patients: In order to receive the extra support, counseling and care provided by the program's hospice benefit they have to agree to stop receiving curative treatment for their disease.

Faced with that stark either-or choice, many forgo hospice care until the last days of their lives.

Penalties On Idaho Mine Still Unpaid Three Years After Miner's Death

KPLU News - 8 hours 32 min ago

It's been more than three years since a tunnel collapse at a north Idaho silver mine killed miner Larry Marek. Yet federal records show a series of federal penalties issued to the mine's owners still have not been paid.

In 2011, federal inspectors determined the Hecla Mining Company violated rules meant to prevent collapse at the Lucky Friday Mine. The inspectors issued four citations directly related to Larry Marek’s death with federal fines that totaled almost $360,000.

To this day, those fines remain unpaid.

Power Outages Persist In Fire-Swept North-Central Washington

KPLU News - 12 hours 54 min ago

The lights are coming back on in fire-swept north-central Washington. A major transmission line was restored late last week, but not everyone has their power back.

As of Monday about 900 customers remain in the dark as a result of the state’s largest wildfire.

Judge Orders Medical School To Reinstate Deaf Student

KPLU News - 12 hours 54 min ago

A Northwest medical school has been ordered to reinstate a deaf student who took the school to court after it wouldn't let him begin classes.

As KPLU reported last month, Zachary Featherstone sued Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima after it admitted him, then wouldn’t let him attend. The university said his admission might harm the training of other students and put patients at risk.

Tunnel Company Says Bertha Rescue Is Already A Month Behind Schedule

KPLU News - Mon, 07/28/2014 - 16:55

Just six weeks after the contractor managing the State Route 99 tunnel project laid out its timeline for getting back to digging, the company said it’s about a month behind on repairs to its tunneling machine.

Crews are working to burrow down from the surface to where the machine known as Bertha is sitting idle. An early step is to sink a circle of interlocking concrete pillars that will line the access shaft and protect surrounding structures, but that’s proving harder than what the company was planning for in mid-June.

USGS Tries Listening To Human Racket To Understand Seismic Hazards

KPLU News - Mon, 07/28/2014 - 05:00

Research geologists have just finished a field trial to test a less invasive way to complete seismic hazard surveys.

The federal scientists attempted to map an earthquake fault under Seattle simply by listening for underground echoes from all the noise we humans create at the surface.