Amtrak, Colorado Plateau, the Grand Canyon, and CMC's...

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by doug grosjean, Jun 14, 2011.

  1. Hi al
    Been back from my Amtrak / Grand Canyon trip for about a week now. Going through gear, cleaning and putting it away, having film processed and scanned....
    Recap: I had the opportunity to boat 280 miles in the Grand Canyon on a private launch permit, as part of a small 9-person group. Three rafts, three kayaks, and a catamaran. The catch? I'm a kayaker, and the group needed somebody to row an oar-raft. I was told by raft guide friends that with my 25 years of kayaking (and reading) whitewater, I'd catch on right quick; so I went for it. I figured the raft would be a great platform for photography, and it was.
    I'd never boated the Grand Canyon before, and had never been in an oar-raft before we put-in. My tutoring started right then, as soon as we put in. My mentor had 15 runs down the Grand Canyon under his belt, and teaching experience, and vast knowledge of geology and Canyon hiking trails, so for 6 days I was taught how to row an oar-raft, geology, and told about hiking trails - plus went on some hikes as well. At the end of the 6 days, my mentor hiked out - he could only get so much time off work.
    My plan was to use a digital waterproof Olympus Tough 3000 as my workhorse camera. Cheap, droppable, and with the accessory strap it would float. But there was a problem - I couldn't generate enough electricity from solar power to keep it charged reliably. Not a huge problem - I packed some classic film cameras and 40 rolls of 35mm film, and 40 rolls of medium-format film.
    The cameras I took into the Canyon were all either rugged or cheap, except for my Widelux FV. It got babied, riding in a drybox in a drybag, only coming out when there was very little wind to kick up sandstorms. The rest of my cameras? Olympus XA (my first camera, bought new in Phoenix in 1982), an Argus C3 I bought for $10 at a garage sale, a borrowed Nikonos III, a Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 6x9 folder, and a Ciro-Flex TLR, the Tessar-lens model. The only two cameras I worried about were the Widelux and the Nikonos.... Widelux due to price, Nikonos due to being borrowed.
    Anyway, things mostly went well. But the sand in the Grand Canyon is so fine, that every camera I used (except for my submersible digital, and my two sloppy medium-format cams) was somewhat affected by it. My XA feels a little grindy now in the advance wheel, my Widelux also has some grit in the aperture dial, etc.
    But I did get photos!
    Overall vacation plan was to take a train from Toledo to Flagstaff, where I'd meet up with the rest of the party. Train ride was memorable, as well - and photographed. Photos attached below.... Enjoy.
  2. The train would sometimes make prolonged stops at the larger stations, due to number of passengers coming / going, and to allow smoke breaks for smoking passengers, since there is no smoking allowed on the train itself. Here is the Raton, New Mexico train station.
  3. I ended up shooting a LOT of Widelux panoramic scenes - more than what I can / will share here. Suffice to say that I'll move along here, and try not to bore with too many photos... Here's a vertical panoramic, taken during one of the times that I was getting to enjoy passenger status on my raft, and taking photos....
  4. And a couple more conventional shots, with the Ikonta....
  5. And pulling into camp in the afternoon - Ikonta.
  6. Loving the pictures so far, Doug.
    It must've been quite an adventure.
  7. Thanks! It was, it was. I'm into whitewater kayaking about as much as I'm into photography, and I had a LOT of doubts about learning to run a raft through such big whitewater in only 6 days, but it worked out. The total trip was 17 days in the Canyon, and 280 miles. We had high water the entire time (24,000 CFS), because Lake Powell was being drawn down, and the water sent downstream via the Grand Canyon to Lake Mead, to make room for Rocky Mountain snowmelt that will soon be on the way. But we had warm days and cool nights, a million stars, great hiking.... and the adventure of arriving in Flagstaff in sandals, and it was snowing heavily, and my boating luggage (including real shoes) continued west without me.
    So yeah, it was an adventure in every sense...!
  8. Then an informal group panoramic, when somebody arranged the camp chairs in an arc.... Not me, I swear!
  9. We'd have to obtain water every few days. We could get it from the Colorado River, let the sediment settle, and then run the water through purifiers.... But it was quicker and better-tasting to pull into the mouth of creeks and get the non-sediment water there. Here's one water stop... I didn't go ashore, as the water had poison ivy growing along it. No need to risk being itchy for the rest of the trip....
  10. The whitewater would seem to be the primary attraction, but... not really. The Canyon has amazing geology, lava flows, Indian ruins and petroglyphs. So while the whitewater was nice and thrilling, I've seen / boated bigger and tougher stuff. The boats were used to take us from campsite to campsite. Most campsites were at the mouth of side canyons. In flash floods, the side canyons dump boulders into the riverbed, creating a rapid, and also creating a spot for sand to accumulate. So typically a campsite would be on a beach, with boulders, a side canyon going away from the river, and a rapid making white noise all night. After my mentor hiked out on the 6th day (as planned ahead of time), I slept on my raft. The rocking raft would lull me to sleep, I'd get cool breezes from the water, and no worries about scorpions or rattlesnakes. My raft did have mice, though.... I had a lot of fresh produce in my raft, ie, mine was mostly kitchen stuff. But the mice never bothered any of my gear, so we got along all right.
    The downside to sleeping on the raft was every now and then waking with a start to an odd movement or bump of the raft, and seriously wondering if I tied my boat properly to the trees on shore. Never had a problem, but there are stories of boatmen waking up in the dark in their sleeping bag, and realizing they're no longer connected to the shore. It would be a rude awakening, to say the least.
    One of the cool features is Redwall Cavern. The river has sculpted a huge hollow out of the base of a cliff... I'd guess you could put several thousand people in there for a concert. Many trips stop there to play Frisbee, as we did. The sand is fine (like powder or flour, which is how it gets into everything), and the cavern is shaded, so it's a great rest stop.
  11. The hikes can be incredible, amazing, scenic, cool, wet, dry, long, grueling; or all of the above, like this hike was. This was the hike to Thunder River, an 8-9 hour hike, round-trip. We had to take purifiers, to resupply with water at the halfway point from Thunder River.
    Thunder River required 3 water crossings, one at the base of a 6' tall waterfall, with the boiling waters gurgling violently around our groins as we crossed. A slip would be very bad, as the person would be swept downstream and get beaten up badly, if they didn't drown. We set up safety people on each side, to catch anybody that slipped. Happily, only one of our party slipped, and we caught her and pulled her in to shore before anything bad happened.
    The other thing about that hike is that the return trail is on a ledge, and in places it's only about 4" wide, and it's about 150' down. It would be bad to get faint there.... A wide spot in the trail is visible on the RH side of this photo. Bear in mind - the trail visible in the photo is one of the easier stretches. I was totally spent at the end of the 9 hours, when I hobbled back into camp.
  12. Almost back from the Thunder River hike, we checked out the next day's first rapid.... Ciro-Flex, the Tessar-lens model.
  13. I think I mentioned that although the Grand Canyon rapids are big, and it was high water, most of them were not any bigger than rapids I'd done in West Virginia in my kayak at flood. The one exception to that was the rapid named Lava Falls. Millions of years ago, the river was dammed by a lava flow. Lava is more resistant to erosion and downcutting by the river, than the sandstones in most of the Canyon, so this rapid is extremely bad if you miss the correct route through it.
    What makes it bad is a huge hydraulic / backwash / reversal right in the middle of the river, so you need to either go right or left of it. Problem is you can't see it from upstream, so you have to land, climb above the rapid, figure out the route you want to take, then figure out how you're going to be able to see the route from river level.
    If you stumble into the hydraulic, you'll have a very bad swim and the raft will flip. But that's not the worst of it. The raft will stay in the hydraulic, getting cartwheeled, and it will break apart bit by bit, until it's totally destroyed and everything aboard is lost. A raft costs about $10,000... although they are rented, each of us boatmen were highly motivated to follow the correct route.
    Lava Falls is so big that there's a lot of superstitions surrounding it. For instance, it's normal to drink some tequila the night before you run Lava Falls. Just a small amount. And in our group, the veterans also said it was normal to let the ladies in the group paint the men's toenails the night before, for good luck. Who am I to argue with that, if it has worked in the past? So I got my toenails painted; we all did. And it's also considered prudent to pull your raft in behind a particular volcanic rock in the middle of the river, above Lava Falls, and kiss it for luck. Nobody told me whether it should be the kind of kiss you'd give your mother, or the kind you'd give a lover, so I gave that rock both kinds of kisses just to be sure I had covered all bases. And then we went and scouted Lava Falls, before running it.
    Outcome? Perfect line through the rapid, a digital photo taken by another member of our party shows me grinning ear-to-ear in my 18' raft in the midst of all that chaos. My raft hit nearly 20 MPH in just a few seconds according to my handheld GPS; it's a steep and fast rapid. Veterans tell me that rafts have been clocked at up to 35 MPH through there, which is pretty darned fast for a boat that I can only get up to 1 MPH on flatwater.
  14. For the other whitewater fans, I took the left line... the right line had huge swirls which looked like they'd throw a raft badly off-course.
    Lava Falls is the last big hurrah. There's another 100 miles of river, but if you make it through Lava intact, nothing in the remaining miles will be a problem. So towards the end of the trip, the kayakers climbed into the rafts, strapped their kayaks down, and helped row. This is Charles, helping me out....
  15. And that's all I'll share. I have more, but it's late and I'd rather leave you begging for more than wishing that I'd shut up. <grin>
    It was a great trip. I'm still not fully re-intregrated into society afterward. A cold drink with ice in it, or a hot bath, are appreciated now in ways they were not just 2 months ago. Flush toilets and water that comes out of a faucet? Modern miracles, I say.
    I didn't mention that all trash and waste has to be hauled out, did I? Including human waste? Yes, flush toilets are wonderful.
  16. One other thing - I wasn't sure which method of recording images would be best once in the Canyon. So I took digital gear, film gear, and .... a drawing pad made of waterproof drawing paper. I used a Fisher space pen to draw on it, on a lanyard around my neck. Before big rapids, I'd put the drawing pad under my T-shirt, tuck my T-shirt into my shorts, strap on my helmet, and then do the best I knew how to do in the rapids themselves.
    In the end, none of the rafts flipped. All media made it out safely. So I have about 200 digital images, about 30-50 drawings, and I shot 30 rolls of film (24 rolls of 35mm, and 6 rolls of 120). Had a blast. Would leave again tomorrow to do it all again, if I could, but.... that's not allowed. Park rules say only one trip per year, even if I could afford more than that. Sigh...
  17. Beautiful pics! Thanks for posting. We drove up to the Canyon in December 1977. It was a foggy morning and by the time we reached there it was past 10:00 a.m. They told us not to go down, as it was past time for a safe return! Most enjoyable! thanks. sp.
  18. You're welcome, Subbarayan. Glad you liked.
    The trip was a lot of work, physically. I've never worked that hard, for so long, in my life. I lost flab on my stomach, and my arms and feet gained muscle. My hands gained callusses. I ate, and processed, about 4x my normal amount of food at home - and still I came out the west end of the Canyon thinner than I went in.
    My normal boat is a kayak, which weighs 30 lbs. The raft, loaded, weighs about 3,000 lbs. Amazing to me that one person can operate it, but ... that's the way it's done. When you start rowing the raft, not much happens. They accelerate, stop, and change direction very slowly. Almost imperceptibly. So navigating one down a whitewater river is an excercise in thinking waaaaaaaaaaaaay ahead.
  19. Wonderful images and great write-up. Almost like a documentary.
    The wide-angle shots really add to the perception of scale of this rugged terrain (Well, it's not called the Grand Canyon for nothing d'uh).
    Great use of CMC's. I hope the sand that got into them won't do anything too destructive to them.
  20. Thanks, Rick.
    Actually, it's called the Grand Canyon because the river in the bottom, the Colorado River, was originally named the Grand River. It begins at Grand Lake, near Granby CO, flows past Grand Mesa and Grand Junction, and carved the Grand Canyon.
    The name was changed early in the 20th Century to promote tourism in Colorado.
  21. Doug these shots are fantastic, i have never been there but would love to go, very nice work.
  22. Wow! Thanks, Doug!
    Your pix are superb. I particularly liked the verticle Widelux.
    Post some more train pix, please.
    Thanks again.
  23. John, thanks!
    Paul, thanks also - but I don't have many more train shots. I drew more on the train, because low light coupled with the train constantly moving around under me, made it very hard to shoot with the kind of settings I'd prefer (slow shutter, small aperture). Plus a lot of that ride, especially in the East, the lighting was dreary due to rain. So I often drew train scenes, instead of photographing them. Couple of my favorite images on the train are a group of adult siblings in the lounge car, late, drinking and talking .... and a little old woman asleep late at night in the panoramic / viewing car. Neither scene had enough light for photos, given the constant movement of the train. A tripod wouldn't have helped.
    If interested, here's additional images from that trip, on my Facebook page. Including drawings. One drawing, of a shooting star in the Grand Canyon, was done as a negative image, then scanned and the colors inverted, so the white paper became the black Canyon rim at night, and the black dots that were stars became white dots:
  24. Looks like a GREAT trip, Doug. Really enjoyed your photos very much. Many thanks and looking forward to more.
  25. Outstanding!
  26. Awesome shots - thanks for sharing your trip. I love how the colourful equipment actually works as a part of the composition in many of the shots, but I think my favourite would be "playing frisbee..." - love that shot. I think you made great use of all your classics.
  27. Doug--thanks for the tip on the Facebook page--what a visual treat!
    Glad you had such a great time.
    Thanks for sharing--you've shown us parts if the GC we'd never see otherwise.
  28. Louis, Donnie, Peter, Paul: thanks!
    So many things aren't seen in the photos.... Bathing in the sediment-laden river, and though ending up clean, having a bit of sand on the skin. Razor blades, good for a couple dozen shaves here in Ohio on my face and scalp, were good for about 1.5 shaves in the Canyon. I gave up, didn't have enough blades to shave 17 days. Peeing in the river, while all solid human waste had to be packed out in a sealed box (former militiary ammo can). The animal life that would flit through camp: ravens, rattlesnakes, scorpions, frogs, hummingbirds, mice, bugs I can't even identify.... The incredible geology all around us: sedimentary layers uplifted, lava intrusions into the layers, places where a lava flow filled an entire former side canyon, water sculpting of so many rocks into beautiful shapes. The fear of the day's upcoming big rapids, and then the feeling of accomplishment at handling them well. The wonder and worry at which of my drawing / photo methods would survive the trip. The frustrations when things went wrong, as they will sometimes. The sharing and support of the rest of rest of the group, which hopefully I returned. Physical exhaustion at the end of each day, and sleeping so soundly as a result. The feeling that every day was an adventure ahead, and the joy at the end of the day at having deal with everything successfully. The simultaneous joy and sadness felt when we reached the boat ramp in Lake Mead, which was the end of our trip. Wanting a cold drink with ice, cellphone recetption, and a hot shower when hitting civilization again.... then being so amused when we hit Kingman, got to use toilets in a grocery store while buying fuel, and then ordering a slushy drink using a speaker at a Sonic drive-in.
    It was quite a trip.
  29. I have a few more pics to post... I'm going through the 30 rolls, had them processed, scanned, and printed; and finding the good stuff. Plan is for all the photogs that were on the trip to share their work with all group members.
    Anyway, because this was a solo trip, I visited, and hiked in, places that have interested me for years, but that I usually couldn't get any travelling companions to visit due to hikes / temparature, etc.
    One of those places was Petroglyphs National Monument, outside Albequerque NM. This photo is Rinconado Canyon. There, travellers for thousands of years have made drawings in the desert varnish on the rocks. The 3-mile hike is easy, flat, and the park pamphlet states that there are 700 drawings visible.
  30. Later, outside Flagstaff, I rented a bicycle and rode out to Walnut Canyon. Walnut Canyon was settled about 1,000 years ago by cliff-dwellers fleeing the eruption of Sunset Crater outside Flagstaff, by ancestors of the Hopi.
    The ride was tougher than expected. Mapquest said it was 7 miles to the place, but that was simply the entrance. The actual visitors' center was quite a bit farther. And all of this was uphill and downhill, at high elevation. I was overly ambitious and a little ignorant, and by the end of the day had ridden over 25 miles (instead of the planned 14), all at 7,000' elevation, bucking headwinds, riding uphill and downhill. I have a newfound respect for mountain bicyclists.
    Once at Walnut Canyon, the hike takes many steps into the canyon, and then winds around among the dwellings. The two smart things I did that day were to take lots of water, and to shadow Bill Lee, a volunteer docent, on the trail. The trail had an intended direction, and Bill went the opposite way, intercepting tourists, and answering their questions. We had a deal - I could tag along as long and we could talk about the place, as long as I just sort of melted into the background when he was doing his job as docent. Great deal..! Walking with Bill made this one of the best visits to a park I've ever experienced. He told about history of the place, destruction of many of the sites by tourists in the early days of Western tourism, architecture of the sites, archeology in general, geology, local plants, and how and why he became a docent. Fantastic!
    Here's Bill, in one of the cliff dwellings, doing his work, while I simply blend into the background.
  31. In the Grand Canyon itself, there are numerous Indian ruins as well. This is Unkar Delta, a large delta that was settled / farmed by Native Americans approximately 1,000 years ago. The high ground of the delta is covered with the ruins of foundations of homes and outbuildings, and pottery shards. The rules concerning relics is we can pick them up if laying on the ground, we can touch them - but we are not to remove anything. We must put things back the way we found them, leaving them for future study.
    What a great museum this is..!
  32. I think its a testimony to your photos that when I see them I want to experience the places they show and momentarily make me forget that I want a Widelux... damn, I done gone and remembered myself that... ;)
  33. Darn, the Unkar Delta photo didn't attach. Here it is....
  34. One of the many little side canyons we hiked. Interestingly, if the side canyon had pools of water, the pools had tadpoles. That was a surprise because the Colorado River itself seems to be empty of fish, I guess because the water is cold year round now due to the dams.
  35. And perhaps one last image, this one from my Olympus XA but cropped to delete uninteresting space - the most comfy / cozy land-based campsite I had. This was around Night #5, at a place called Randy's Rock. The sedimentary layers of rock had framented into ledges and in places, overhangs. The overhangs had mice scampering through the nooks and crannies to check us out, but they tended to run away if we got close, so I put my cot under one of the ground-level overhangs. Some of my companions warned me it would be hot, there would be spiders and such.... Perhaps. But we'd had cool nights, and I figured the rocks would give back the heat collected during the day, and if it rained (it looked like it might), I'd be fine.
    Plan worked perfectly - best night of sleep I had while on land! There were only a few drops of rain, but... the temperature in my little alcove was nearly perfect for sleeping. Was careful not to get up quickly in the morning, though - not much room above me.
    One of the women didn't like the alcove idea, because while she was away doing something, a mouse had gotten on her cot, and instead of shooing it away, several of the men took photos of it. Was a cute little thing, but she didn't think so.
  36. Doug, Excellent! The panoramic photos are incredibly interesting. I'm glad to see you had a great adventure after careful preparations with the camera gear. You did a fine job with your photos and your descriptive commentaries. Seems you have more than enough material to do a book or some detailed chronicle of the trip.
  37. Great narrative and wonderful photos, Doug!
  38. Thanks, David and Mark.
    David - the subject has been done to death in books. I've read many of them, in preparation for my trip. Some very experienced geologists and raft guides have written volumes, and the funniest book (titled: We swam the Grand Canyon) was two surfers from California who swam the 280 miles from Lee's Ferry to Pierce Ferry in the 1950s.
    So a book is not worth the trouble, but what I will likely do is put together a presentation for local libraries and interested groups here in NW Ohio and SE Michigan. I've got photos, drawings, and good notes / records. I've done public speaking before, on subjects I know well that are interesting, and this meets those criteria.
    To me, the unique angle is simply that I didn't know how to row a raft when I climbed into one at the start, and learned on the fly with the help of experienced people. But I think to people who would attend a presentation, it would be the geology and the history and the photos and the rapids.... My fears about learning to raft probably wouldn't matter much.
    I did accidentally irritate one or more of the kayakers, after Lava Falls, when I said out loud "It really wouldn't be a bad rapid if I was in a boat that could turn; it would be easy in my kayak." It's way too big to be easy.... was one of those things where I should have just thought to myself instead of speaking out loud. :)
  39. Ahh, what a great place, with very colourful photos as well, thanks for sharing these! I have rafted the Snowy river here in Australia, quite a bit narrower than your river, but full of rapids...yep, and I know about those reversals!
  40. Thanks for adding me on FB, Doug.
    Another great way to get started this morning, More photos and more narative of your fantastic trip.
  41. You're welcome, Rick. I only put the film photos on here - drawings and digital images aren't in keeping with the purpose of this forum, and that's OK.
    There were several very good photographers on the trip, all with different kinds of gear, and ways of seeing. And we all agreed to share what we shot with the group; the most experienced photo / video editor is making the choices of what will go into the final CD / DVD which will go to everybody. So I'll be sending him my digital images, my scanned film images, and scans of the drawings that I made as well. Oh, and video. So the final CD / DVD that each member of the party will get, will have all kinds of creativity in it.
    John, the editor, is extremely skilled photographer. He was shooting star scenes at night, of the Milky Way and such - beautiful work. Everybody else was using modern dSLRs (with big zooms for river action, to shoot each other in rapids) and submersible point-n-shoots, with extra batteries. Since my gear and its capabilities was... different .... I took mostly panoramics - both landscape panos and in-camp panos.
    I think the combined result of everybody's work will be wonderful. My skills weren't superior to others on the trip; all the photographers were good.
  42. Wow! Amazing photos and story, Doug! Ever since you posted your first pictures while you were on your trip, I was waiting to see how it went. That definitely sounds like an adventure, something you'd remember for the rest of your life. While I was reading your story and looking at your pictures, it seemed like the theme song to National Geographic should have been playing!
    Very cool!
  43. Thanks, Chris! I agree 100% it was very special... Not sure I agree it's once in a lifetime. The veterans on the trip had between 6-15 Canyon boating trips apiece in their past. And now that I can oar a raft competently (perhaps even well), combined with my kayaking and swiftwater rescue training, plus have one Canyon trip under my own belt, I'm a more desirable candidate for future trips.
    I hope to go there again someday.
    Another Widelux photo, of two parties assembled at the put-in at Lee's Ferry. This should give you some idea of where the 5 tons of gear went....
  44. My baby being born.... I mean my raft being assembled, at the put-in.
  45. And finally, the process in reverse, at the takeout.
    I mentioned the trip was strenuous, and that everything had some wear and tear from the experience, even me.... That statement includes my Widelux. If you look at this final photo, there's evidence of mild banding in the blue sky. This is at 1/125 and F11 (almost every shot in the Canyon was at that setting), so I guess it's time for a CLA. If I recall correctly, Bob Watkins in Chicago worked on it last, in 2006. Time to look him up again...
  46. One last post on this subject - one of the other photographers, a very talented photographer named John Neibling, put together a quick video using footage from a helmet cam. John's photos of the Milky Way from the bottom of the Canyon are incredible... Anyway, this video is a pretty neat cross-section of what a Grand Canyon whitewater trip is like, as far as the whitewater part goes. At 3:30 he gets flipped (and rolls) in a rapid, and at 9:50 he's a passenger on my raft, recording, when the raft goes vertical on a big wave.
  47. OooooH.....
    I love this. I was en vacance in Civil War Virginia and missed the start of this.
  48. Thanks, JDM. Glad you enjoyed! It was the most fantastic vacation I've ever taken; the only limits were my own. I found them - I'm not the hiker that some other group members were. Group members are putting their best photos together, and sharing with other members of the group. So the members with modern dSLRs and zooms, who photographed the boats running rapids, will chip those shots into the pot. My Widelux photos will definitely go in, as well as my more conventional photos, plus I drew about 100 sketches of scenes / scenery / action while in the Canyon. So all members will end up with tons of photos, videos, drawings - and memories.
    I don't think we'll have missed anything, compared to a commercial trip. :):) Sure had great people in that group. I'm still coming back to reality now, 12 days after getting off the river.
  49. Jeez Doug, what a fantastic post. Seems like a trip of a lifetime.
  50. Thanks, Rob & Les! I'd read a lot about Lava Falls ahead of time, and until you've done it you have no way of knowing if all the hype is hype, or reality. Lava Falls is *big*.
    The feet are mine. That's "my" raft. The last day, we had to make 30 miles by 2:00 PM to rendezvous with our ride out. It was all flatwater, with a 5 MPH current, so the kayaks were tied on each raft and everybody took turns rowing, so that we could just keep moving constantly.
    The Widelux has such a wide angle, and my raft didn't have seats for passengers, so all I could do was lay on the luggage in the bow (drybags of camping gear), and shoot. The viewfinder of the Widelux doesn't show as much as what will actually be in the photo, so things turn up in photos that the shooter didn't see.

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