Saturday, October 10, 2009

Week 14: A True Adventure Oct 2-4

My job occasionally involves travel. As a 28 year old guy, thats for the most part a good thing. Meet different and interesting people, see neat places, be a little more independent than a day at the office. But as a get a little more settled in a life involving someone else (that is you Eliza) the time away this year has occasionally become more than I would otherwise enjoy.

But when the destination is Southern California, i get a weekend to do whatever I want, and I get the chance to hang out with some long lost friends... my planning mind goes into overdrive. I can see Anne Marie, in San Diego, go to JTree, Maybe do a thing or two or the southern Sierra. All in 40 hours.... my flight home is on Sunday at 8 pm... Seems reasonable so-cal isn't that big right???

If you have ever lived there. or perhaps looked at a map, you might laugh at my folly. Southern California is approximately the size of the entire northeast. Also looking at my itinerary... i am traveling in the wrong direction going from LA to SD before heading further north.

So I pick up my Kia at 5 on friday afternoon. Always interested in my mileage on trips like these i try and switch out from trip mode which is displaying 150 miles. On the 405 going south at 5:30 on a friday this is proving to be more troublesome than perhaps it could be. 10 minutes in I realize my mistake, the car only has 150 miles on it.... total Neither I nor the car have any idea what trouble we will get into in its early life.

2 and a half hours later I arrive in San Diego to meet Anne Marie for a night out on the town. Some friends surpass distance, time, and occasional lack of effort (on my part) AM happens to be one of these friends. And though our visits are brief and infrequent we manage to reconnect immediately, divulge our most pressing issues we are currently dealing with, and give and receive insightful advice. Talk about high efficiency friendship!

After a great night out, they gracefully let me stay in the guest room at their new house. The adventure fire still burns and at 4 AM I am in the car and driving north. AM couldn't get to Jtree for the weekend so I decide to go up to the Needles and try and get on Dome Rock where I had been a few months before.

I love driving a road for the first time. Especially at first light, and coming up the 15 through San Bernadino and on into the Mojave as dawn comes around was pretty special. From desert to metropolis up over the hills and back down into the desert.

The crowded commute, near Lake Isabella 7am Saturday morning

I drive around lake Isabella (the last bastion of civilization) and up into the southern-most foothills of the Sierra Mtns. 80 miles laters, and up at 8000 feet I get to Dome Rock.

Dome Rock is my Needles cop-out. The needles are steep and hard with climbs starting at hard 5.9 and getting harder, not that I cant climb that... but solo, at 8500 feet, and 3 miles from the nearest "road" that is pushing the envelope out a little farther than I would like. So Dome Rock is the same perfect rock, but lower angle, and longer up to 5 or 6 pitches!

Rope soloing is a funny experience. The climbing by design is technically easy, but regardless the amount of work to do to get up a sizeable chunk of rock can be immense. For every pitch (in this case 150 feet or so) you have to first climb, then build an anchor, rappel and clean the pitch, then climb it again. Repeat till you get to the top. The beauty comes in both the rhythm you get into, and the total self-sufficiency.

Hard to even explain how enjoyable this experience was to me. Perfect rock, place, movement, and for me that day being alone made the experience so much more visceral. Suffice to say this was the best rock climbing i have done in a very long time.

On top after 3 hours of sustained movement, I am in a good enough mood to make friends with strangers *gasp* and even chit chat with fellow climbers for an hour or two at the parking lot.

Looking up at the namesake pine tree, mid way up pitch 1

Some next door neighbors on Anti-Jello Crack

Looking up at pitch 2, it doesnt get any better than this

The setting isnt too shabby either

Some nice texture on this hdr of an anchor

The obligatory summit hdr pano, check this one out, i am working through a new flash panorama viewer just click the picture.

Chatting with the climbers on AJC back at the lot

Its still only 4pm and the previous nights short sleep and the mornings long drive havent caught up to me yet. I head over to a little pullout I saw earlier about 10 miles back down the road, 100 Giants.

If you have never seen a Giant Sequoia, they can be hard to imagine. These things are massive... for example find me in the following picture.... you probably need to use the link and zoom in...

After an hour or two walking around the grove, I head out, near sunset to go grab some food at the only establishment for 50 miles. It takes me a while to get there as the sunset is suitably stunning.

Stunning sunset number 1

Stunning sunset number 2

Stunning sunset number 3

Dinner at the Ponderosa Lodge ends up being the only thing to mar the day... sub par service and worse food. Though the beer in large mason jars is pretty tasty. Its 7 or so, im finally tired, but the flame of adventure still burns.

I had seen a trailhead called Mineral Spring not too far north... if i could fly. 3 hours of paved road... all the way down the valley up to Visalia then back up into the mountains. Once off the main road. I turn onto the road up to Mineral King only 20 miles to go.

The next day i will see what I have driven up... but at midnight after 20 hours on the go I am glad it is dark. 120 switchbacks take me more than an hour until i finally pull my car into a small pullout at 9000 feet. When i step out to pee i notice it is very cold.

My alarm goes off at 445 am, the temperature gauge on my car reads 18. But with only 15 hours till my flight takes off i dress quickly and I am on my way. There is no set goal but I hike in the general direction of Sawtooth mtn. an 11500 foot mtn 7 miles from the the trailhead.

Despite the cold i warm quickly (no flat ground here) and as the sun rises i am greeted by spectacular scenery. In every direction the land juts to the sky and boulders and talus lay strewn below the peaks. It as if the ground grew too rapidly and violently, brusquely throwing anything and everything out of its way on its race skyward.

An hour or two later, at monarch lake i stop to take a few pictures. From here the trail goes up to the ridge and then a short scramble to the summit of Sawtooth. I do not take it. The temperature has dropped precipitously just standing here taking pictures and my light jacket is warm if I am moving only. I have pushed the time, weather, and safety envelope as far as i care to.

On the way down it snows from a clear sky, the moisture precipitating snow directly from the heavy air. Back at the car i feel the tug of responsibility pulling me back down the mountain. I regretfully point the car down hill and leave the crisp clean air, and ragged untamed peaks behind. I leave only with a greater sense of self.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Week 13 Back in the Swing September 26-27th

Ok for sure no pics this week. Thats because it rained the whole time.... which is ok! it makes for better adventures :)

If you recall I mentioned Nate... looking to learn a bit of aid climbing.

So never having met Nate I pick him up at 6am. He (like myself) is really into climbing... and only 20 miles into the drive we are old friends.

While not out-right raining it is not pleasant. A drizzle that looks locked in for the day. Luckily Nate and I are eerily similar. Climbers, photographers, we have maps all over our walls, and a penchant for of siding on the side of adventure rather than comfort.

So the rain seems like a good thing. Annapolis rocks can be busy, and since we are aid climbing anyway,it will keep most of the climbers away.

The rain is certainly not stopping, but the hike goes quickly and we set up below a short overhang. I lead up... which ends up being 5 aid placements and then quickly 4th class to the top of a fin.

Unsatisfied we set up move over to Black Crack...a great sustained 5.9 to free climb. This ends up being perfect... long for A Rock with decent but thoughtful gear.
I give Nate the lead... testing the second piece... he pops it and takes it a 8 foot fall grounding and just barely missing an ominous stump.

Now climbing, and even more aid climbing is a game of the mind. Not only in the specific motions of being deliberate... but in the momentum and in the case of a fall convincing yourself that you can get back up there and do it differently next time.

Nate clearly has the head for aid.... I think it is ingrained in genetics. He hops up and 5 minutes later is up past the initial stuff and plugging away. An hour later he makes the top... not bad for a first aid lead.

Something about aid belaying... it is perhaps the most boring thing you can imagine... an hour (up to 4 at times!) of just sitting there watching. Not much else. Usually i go aid soloing for just this reason.

Today i had a strange experience.

When i was in college I made my first 3D movie about the juxtaposition of scale in climbing. Here we are climbing these large formations, but our success depends on such tiny, even microscopic, connections of the rock. Similarly sometimes a small piece of rock can all of a sudden change size and the 6 inch piece I am looking at becomes a perfect 200 foot tall corner. Hey we can all dream and aid belaying certainly spawns thoughts like this.

I re-lead the pitch and we call it a day, and hike down.

So a good day aid climbing? or perhaps more importantly a new friend... and someone to keep me motivated for the bigger projects that have taken a back seat in the last year. Stay tuned.

Week 12: The mid-atlantic is crowded September 19th

Things aren't what they used to be. And by things... perhaps I mean my own temperament.

I have recently gotten a request from a Mountain Project user Nate Miller who wants to start to learn some aid techniques. Apparently I know how to aid climb and would be able to teach someone. So to make sure that was actually the case I went down to Great Falls VA to do some solo aid climbing and brush up on some of my long rusty (no pun intended) aid skills.

I never expect Great Falls to be quiet... and on a beautiful September day my worst fears are realized. It feels like an ant hill as i drive in and see the swarms of people. And not just hikers, but every kind of climber as well.... boy scouts, parents with 9 kids (we only had 8, geez) guided camps... and of course, one pitiful aid soloist looking for 30 feet of rock free from the swarm.

Of course the route I am looking to do... appropriately called the aid crack, has with sticky rubber and years of piton use, become a very popular 5.10 free climb. There is a line halfway back to DC at the base.

I manage to find a 9 to TR a ways down the river... and eventually get back and get on the crack. The aiding is as tedious and painless as i remember. I meet another solo climber and we TR the crack and then put up a rope on PVO. PVO (Potomac Valley Overhang) is a 12d roof problem with awkward moves through the roof and teeny tiny crimps after.

At the top of the aid crack

All in all good climbing.... but the crowds and atmosphere remind why I do get out and climb... and it is certainly not the day i had today.

A Helicopter rescue?

Increasingly it is not the quality of the climbs that draw me to the sport... but the quality of the experience that surrounds the climbing experience. I am still convinced that this sport fosters a good experience, but at times.. and certainly in the crowded Mid Atlantic... these experiences can be challenging to find.

Week 11 Not too Adventurous, but a lot of fun September 19-20th

Ok a weekend with good friends at a well appointed lodge in Western MD is not particularly high on the adventure scale... but it is a heck of a good time.

Ill keep this one rather brief...

One day of fine food making, including some grilling of tasty sausages and potatoes. Theme of the night... babies! Our good friends Kendall and Mark are expecting in a month or two... as well as Marks cousin. Strange to see so many of my peers in the baby making phase!!! I am imagine myself playing the game of life... driving my car.. my little peg man all alone barely over that little green hill after you get out of college.

Still I imagine my use of metaphors here leaves a couple of the subtleties unspoken.

We finish the night with a nice paddle out on the lake.

Day 2 we travel to Swallow falls... just so i can get some pictures.

Mark posing on top of the falls

Mark contemplating fatherhood

Kendall contemplating motherhood

And of course the obligatory pano

Ok I know this isnt an adventure... I wasnt ever in peril... i didnt push too many boundaries, but sometimes even a loner like me needs some good old fashioned friends with whom to hang out.