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Dec. 30, 2004

The Weekly Wrap

Treading lightly
Bouldering among the sacred stones of the Yurok


The Weekly Wrap

ALLEGED OWNER OF DEADLY TRAILER NAMED: There may soon be charges filed in the fatal accident caused by an abandoned boat trailer on Eureka Myrtle Avenue earlier this month. Officer Stefanie Barnwell of the California Highway Patrol said Tuesday that her agency will soon forward files to the District Attorney's Office for possible prosecution in the case. Barnwell said she could not divulge any names associated with the investigation, but court records released Monday showed that the CHP searched the home of Eureka resident Richard Knife in connection with the incident two weeks ago. Speaking about the search, Barnwell said that it did not find any evidence that would point to who may have pushed the trailer in the street. However, it did find evidence that the person indicated in the search -- Knife -- owned or was otherwise responsible for the trailer. "There are certain things that we located that will tie him the trailer, but there's still some follow-up that we have to do to put that together," she said. The Dec. 4 crash killed two Eureka residents: Timothy Robertson, 21, and Cody Wertz, 19.

TENET OFFERS TO SETTLE: The former owner of Redding Medical Center, Tenet Healthcare Corp., last week offered heart patients who received unnecessary surgery at the hospital $395 million to settle fraud and malpractice lawsuits against the company. On Tuesday, Eureka resident Patrick Williams -- one of several local plaintiffs in the case --was preparing to head to Redding for a meeting with his attorney and some of his 768 co-litigants to discuss whether they should take the offer. "I'm inclined to accept it, and I have the feeling that most will be feeling the same as me," he said. Williams ended up at Redding Medical after his doctor advised him to get some tests done -- he sometimes felt short of breath. The cardiologist there gave him what turned out to be a false diagnosis of angina, and urged him to undergo a triple bypass operation the next day. To his regret, he accepted the doctor's advice. Last year, Tenet paid the U.S. Department of Justice $54 million to settle charges that Medicare was billed for unnecessary surgery similar to Williams'. For more background on the story, see "In Their Hands," the Journal's Nov. 20, 2003 cover story.

HOLDING PATTERN AT THE PULP MILL: The end of the year finds employees and owners of the Stockton Pacific pulp mill uncertain about the future of the plant -- the last of the two big Samoa pulp mills that dominated the Eureka skyline (and the odor of its air) for decades. Threatened by financial insolvency and the possibility of criminal charges, some at the mill nevertheless felt they had reason to be optimistic. "Everyone is sitting here in anticipation of something good happening," said Alan Lindgren, Stockton Pacific's vice president of logistics. It appears that the mill's last hope lies with Lee & Man, a Chinese company that is in talks with the Chicago bank that owns the mill's $30 million debt. Last week, a management-led plan to buy out the mill was withdrawn after union representatives declined to take permanent pay cuts. Meanwhile, Deputy District Attorney Paul Hagen said that he is waiting for chemical, documentary and electronic materials seized at the mill on Dec. 7 to make its way back to his desk from the various local, state and federal agencies examining them; until then, the office does not know if accusations of environmental crimes made by a company whistleblower earlier this year will result in charges being pressed. "The District Attorney's Office is very pleased with the execution of the search warrant, and we anticipate getting all the evidence so we can conduct a thorough review of it," he said. But there is simply no telling when that will be.

NEW CHARGES AGAINST SAMOA RAPE SUSPECT: The Humboldt County District Attorney's Office announced last week that it had filed additional charges against Donald Erskine Lilly. Lilly, who is being held in the Humboldt County Jail, was arrested and accused of rape earlier this month. Like the original case, the new charges stem from incidents that took place on the Samoa Peninsula between March and December of this year, according to Deputy District Attorney Worth Dikeman. Lilly is charged with raping or assaulting six women after they got into a car driven by the suspect. Investigators believe it may be possible that Lilly victimized other local women in cases that went unreported. They are asking that any such victim call Sheriff's Detective Tom Cook at 445-7251. Lilly is alleged to have used at least two different cars -- a white 1987 Volvo station wagon and a blue 1989 Toyota sedan.

MORE FLU VACCINE: The rationing of flu shots that went into effect earlier this year has been loosened somewhat, after the county received an additional shipment of the scarce vaccine. The Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services announced earlier this month that all people over age 50 and caregivers for high-risk patients can now receive the vaccine from their regular doctors.

COUNTY PASSING BAD CHECKS?: At least one of the 439 local residents who put in a day's labor as a Humboldt County poll worker on Nov. 2 got a lump of coal in her stocking this Christmas -- a bad check from the county for her efforts. According to Humboldt County Auditor Mike Giacone, the poll worker -- one of the army of citizen-volunteers who staff polling stations on Election Day -- came into the office last week to say a bank would not cash the paycheck the county had sent in the mail the week before. The problem wasn't that the county didn't have enough cash to cover the payment; it was that the check had been misprinted in a way that left off the county's account number. Giacone said that he couldn't tell if any other checks in the same run were likewise deficient, but said that any poll workers who ran into problems at their bank may call his office at 476-2452 to arrange for a replacement.

Treading lightly
Bouldering among the sacred stones of the Yurok

story and photos by BENNETT BARTHELEMY

Lost Rocks is not a name found on any official maps. Climbers, boulderers in particular, have come to call this Del Norte County coast area Lost Rocks due to the shifting sands that swallow and expose huge boulders from visit to visit.

Lost Rocks sits in Redwood National Park, a half-mile south of Klamath River, and continues down the coastline to Split Rock seven miles north of the Humboldt County line.

Ten years ago I stood at the base of the massive Flinthead Rock as the surf surged around it, and felt something bordering on the sublime. Every day I return there this feeling rushes back, as do the words of Jack Norton, a retired Native American studies professor. He told me and other students in the early 1990s that this area and many of the stone monoliths are considered the sacred and part of a complex Yurok cosmology.

Just about every climbing area across the country has a time-tested ethic concerning environmental impact, cultural sensitivity and local style. Jason Keith, tireless lawyer for the climber advocacy group, Access Fund based out of Boulder, Colo., said it this way: "Know where you are -- know what the rules are, as ignorance is not a valid excuse. Land managers are often not well informed about climbing and uninformed decisions will continue to be made affecting climbers if we are not involved."

The dialogue has barely begun here at Lost Rocks and given the influx of climbers over the last few years, it is the time to work on the relationships with the Yurok as well as Redwood National Park. On weekends, the roadside and parking lot swells with the cars of Northcoast and out of state climbers. There are an estimated 1 million active climbers in the country and that number is growing -- the pursuit of bouldering is bringing in the bulk of the newcomers. This huge jump in traffic has not gone unnoticed by park officials or the Yurok tribe. Many local climbers fear that a lack of communication might bring into reality another meaning for the name Lost Rocks by closing to climbers altogether.

Other controversies between climbers and Native Americans have ended in expensive court fights. Devil's Tower in Wyoming is a classic example of what happens when there is not enough communication early on between climbers, land agencies and Native Americans. A group of climbing guides, not supported by the majority of the climbing community, sued to fight a climbing ban that had been instituted in deference to spiritual use by Native American groups. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2000 against the plaintiffs.

Cave Rock in Nevada, and popular Southern California climbing areas have also ended up or are headed for major litigation.

It has become common knowledge among local climbers to stay off of Split Rock out of what we have felt is respect to the Yurok. Through conversations with park officials we know to get to the boulders via the Flinthead Ridge Trail and not through the Yurok ceremonial dance ground. The challenges arise when climbers from elsewhere visit the area. There are no signs to indicate which trails to use and which rocks to climb -- invariably trails and rocks that should not be climbed are, and not out of disrespect but because there is no indication that it is not OK. Local climbers thought it could be beneficial to show that we understand that Lost Rocks is sacred to the Yurok and that we want to climb in an informed and respectful way.

[Photo above right: Paul Humphrey tackles a boulder problem, called the Yogi, with Adam Wanden spotting him. The climb is maybe 10 moves long and does not go to the top, probably no more than 12 feet high.]

So I visited Tom Gates, the Yurok Cultural Preservation officer at the tribal offices last year in Klamath. I was hoping for definitive answers as to what the tribe thought about climbing in general, and what specific rocks the tribe would like climbers to avoid. I said that while climbers wish to respect their concerns, climbers hope to keep access as open as possible to the Lost Rocks area.

To paraphrase Gates, he said that all rocks are sacred on the beach, and you can't really put a value system on them and say that one rock is more sacred than another. I got the impression that he did not want to say anything finite about climbing until the proper channels were gone through. We were added to the roster so that we could address the elders at a Yurok Cultural Committee meeting the following month.

At the meeting, the elders said that they would take a serious look at climbing. They also said that they would like to be involved in a Climbing Management Plan with the park and the climbing community.

[climber on Flinthead Rock]

In addition, they wanted to have a say in what things are named in any forthcoming guides. The original self-published guide had called Flinthead Rock "The Crack House" because of its several challenging crack climbs, yet the analogy was lost on the elders as they inferred it was a drug reference. I realize that this was one example of an issue that can be easily addressed with open dialogue -- open communication can easily fortify cultural bridges rather than challenge them. [photo above: Adam Wander boulders at Flinthead Rock]

More than a year has passed and area climbers are organizing into the Bigfoot Country Climbers Association. We continue to work through the channels of bureaucracy with the tribe and the park. Each entity has a litany of its own challenges, and it is easy to get the feeling that climbing is another Pandora's box of issues that the tribe and the park are leery to open.

When I have doubts I remind myself that dialogue and negotiations take time. Like a good boulder problem, if it is worth unlocking the sequence of moves to climb it, then the time it takes to realize it becomes much less important.

Bennett Barthelemy works as a freelance writer, photographer and
outdoor education instructor. When not traveling, he
calls Arcata home.


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