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It's been a year and a half since the Palsburg Fire burned about 4, acres of mostly pine habitat in the northwest corner of Beltrami Island State Forest. The April 15, , fire started along the Palsburg Forest Road when sparks from a slash pile lit the previous November reignited underground, driven by stiff south winds. Numerous state, federal and tribal agencies responded to the fire, which burned in a fanlike pattern across about 7 square miles from south to north. Crews had the fire largely under control within about 48 hours, Tucker said.

It makes you feel really helpless. Tucker drove through the burn area Oct. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agenda for last week's LUP meeting also included a tour of the Palsburg Fire site and an update from DNR Forestry staff on salvage operations and ongoing efforts to re-establish pine forests. Fire area will regenerate with a mix of trees, including red pine and jackpine. For now, blueberries provide food for wildlife, humans. Munstenteiger said the fire burned about 1, acres of red pine that was 30 to 60 years old and another 2, acres of jackpine, much of which was too young to be marketable.

Eventually about 30, cords of red pine and 10, cords of jackpine were salvaged for sale. Munstenteiger said the DNR is grateful to the loggers who responded after the fire and to the forest products industry for their efforts to ensure the fire-damaged timber quickly was harvested and turned into products such as strand board and studs. Munstenteiger said the fire prompted the DNR to overhaul its policy for monitoring slash piles, though burning the slash remains a standard part of forest management. That protocol now includes using infrared cameras in the spring to better detect heat areas that may have lingered through the winter.

There's also more follow-up and documentation. Beth Siverhus, a Warroad birder, conducted surveys for the DNR each of the past two summers to gather baseline data on bird life within the burn area. Just as prairie plants such as big bluestem are becoming more common, so, too, are prairie bird species. Siverhus said black-backed woodpeckers also were drawn to the burn area to eat bark beetles and excavate nest cavities in burned-out pines. Siverhus said she observed a larger variety of woodpecker species within the burn area, including hairy and downy woodpeckers, northern flickers and a red-bellied woodpecker, relatively uncommon that far north.

Red crossbills, which were abundant in the burn area the first summer after the fire, were gone this summer, but indigo bunting numbers increased, Siverhus said.

For Rock-Climbing Guru, the Sky Is His Roof

Indigo buntings have increased dramatically in the wake of the Beltrami Island State Forest wildfire. In a time of speed-climbing records, he gained renown for his comically deliberate ascents. Once, he stretched an assault on El Capitan across two weeks, including three days spent pausing to consider some half-forgotten existential puzzle.

Dumb jokes congealed around his legend, for he projected a familiar and comforting sort of weirdness. Around a campfire or a cafeteria table, tourists and weekend warriors could find in Chongo a certain box to cross off, the obligatory aging hippie recounting unintentionally hilarious misadventures, denouncing the prison-industrial complex and rhapsodizing on junk science.

Chongo would claim, for example, to remember the fear he had felt at his own birth. He would say he did not believe in the afterlife, partly out of a feeling that to do so demeaned our plane of existence, but also because he reasoned that certain principles of quantum mechanics negated such a concept. As natural recreation in America gave way to luxury resorts, adventure travel and extreme sports, tales of Chongo grew outsize. He remained fiercely true to his vision of the outdoor spirit.

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While others burned out, joined the establishment or cashed in on televised feats of daredevilry, Chongo spent his days at Yosemite, revising manifestos on climbing, physics and philosophy. Nearly three years ago, Chongo abandoned climbing altogether. Rumors of his whereabouts began to trade around the big rocks and rope-walking fixtures of the Western states. Expelled from Yosemite, he found his way to Sacramento, where he beds down in a trailer yard, eats lunch at a day shelter and types articles on science in the ramshackle office of a homeless advocacy group.

In his guidebook, Muir likened the towering rock formations known as Half Dome, Sentinel Rock and El Capitan to the sight of a temple lighted from above. A century later, paved roads now carve long stone tunnels through the mountains, bringing carloads of visitors to hotels with wireless Internet access, conference rooms and wedding facilities. In the late s, hippies living in the park began to draw the attention of the superintendent, Lawrence C. On July 4, , around p. A lot of them seemed to be high on dope. Calling in support from nearby police departments, the rangers cleared the meadow and detained nearly people.

The young campers who had been whiling away their days climbing rocks and balancing on chains would long remember the confrontation. But the sports they were pioneering would lead down similar paths, split by accusations of commercial exploitation. Some, like Dean Fidelman, 52, would sleep in the park intermittently for years.

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Fidelman, a photographer who sells calendars depicting nude women climbing big rocks, still practices a form of rope-walking for exercise, meditation and pleasure. They come in, they do their thing and then they leave. And they have a photographer. Younger athletes like Dean Potter and Steph Davis, a married couple who are among the most successful climbers in the world, have lucrative deals with apparel companies.


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Their exploits have been chronicled in magazines and documentary films. Chongo parted his hair in the aimless manner of a river, a slapdash press of gray tangling down his neckline turning dun. Hash marks made a small gridiron of his forehead and wrinkles like ripples emanated from the corners of his lips to his gaunt, high cheekbones.

He draped his 5-foot-8, pound frame in layers of cotton, the better to adapt to temperature changes without adding much weight. Around his neck he carried a cellphone that looked as if it had come skidding to his feet from the window of a moving car.


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  6. By his own account, Chongo was born on an American military base in Japan , son of an engineer, the oldest of seven children. He started rock climbing as a teenager, learning to use a basic piton and hammer at Stony Point and Tahquitz Rock in Southern California. No matter how well you plan, things can still go wrong. In the s, Chongo moved to Mexico City , he said. He later told climbers that he had found the odd rubber he used to resole their shoes in the violent Tepito barrio, a claim that gained credence from his proficient Spanish. He stayed there for eight years.

    He learned the form of tightrope walking that was developing into the sports now known as slack-lining and high-lining. I knew that was a game I could play. In the s, Chongo started making the campgrounds and forests of Yosemite his permanent home. He befriended serious climbers, helping newcomers meet partners and borrow gear. Chongo earned respect as a journeyman climber, with accomplishments like rope-walking on the Lost Arrow Spire, but he gained more attention as a tinkerer.

    Climbers trusted him to resole their shoes.

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    They studied his jury-rigged ropes and harnesses. But when they spoke of the spiritual aspects of rock climbing, Chongo played the spoiler. Once he designed a complex set of tools allowing him to, in essence, hitchhike up the face of El Capitan. He stayed out on the rock for days on end, asking passing climbers to pull up sections of his gear. The same shenanigans that endeared Chongo to rock climbers drew less favorable attention from the authorities.

    Charlie Tucker-Across the Sea

    On July 9, , park rangers issued him a warning for exceeding the seven-day limit at the Sunnyside Campground. Though many people lived in the park for extended periods, few made such brazen spectacles of themselves as Chongo. In January , park rangers began to suspect him of running an unauthorized textile business from his tent at the Hidden Valley campground.

    Learning his nickname, they began including it in police reports as an alias. View all New York Times newsletters. He sought out places in the forest to unroll his sleeping bag, or else camped dangling from the great rock formations, out of reach in plain sight. Again and again, rangers cited him for camping violations like commandeering a bear locker to store his effects. The transient part was accurate.


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    But Chongo was actually devoting less and less time to rock climbing, turning his attention instead to writing. Beginning climbers took his oddball wisdom as a guide to technique, etiquette and culture. Every spring, as the California foothills grew thick with weekenders from San Francisco , Silicon Valley and beyond, demand for the book produced new sales. He keeps revising later editions to fix a period or a single word. At the same time, Chongo was growing disenchanted with the sport. The park was crowded with tourists, more than 3. Apparel companies were paying the top climbers to use their gear.

    The communal spirit was buckling beneath a new emphasis on setting speed records.