Thursday, July 24, 2008

We've Moved!

Don't worry, we're still in SoCal (for now). It's just the blog that's moved. After struggling with some of the more annoying and frustrating aspects to having our blog on Blogger (including added photos always being placed in the beginning of the post and having to be dragged into position), we decided it was time to move on.

So you can now find us at our new home on Wordpress.

I was able to move everything over quite easily, including comments. Also, posts are now categorized as "News", "Notes", "Trip Reports", "Tips", and "Guest Blogs", in addition to having all the tags that we already had on Blogger. Hopefully this should make it easier for you to find a specific trip report (just in case anyone does that) if you want.

We're also now burning our feed on feedburner. Click here to check it out and subscribe.

So check it out, change your feed/bookmark, and enjoy the new site!


Friday, July 18, 2008

Being a Better Belayer

So for many this may be old news, but a recent story has made me concerned about people misusing auto-locking belay devices like the Petzl GriGri or the Edelrid Eddy. A couple months ago, Splitter Choss and the Climbing Narc fostered some discussion about the "proper" way to use a GriGri. If you've not seen this video, created by Petzl, and you belay with a GriGri, I suggest you watch it:

The video shows 2 ways of lead belaying with the GriGri without taking your break hand off the rope. It also shows a 3rd method, which I think the majority of people I observe at sport crags generally use, where the break hand is taken off the rope to let out slack when the leader needs to make a clip. I think this was the way I was taught to lead belay with a GriGri and I have passed plenty of lead belay tests without being reprimanded, so my impression is that this is a generally accepted method of using the device.

The problem is that it isn't really an acceptable way to use the device. It fosters bad habits - I've seen plenty of belayers not returning their break hand to the rope, even when not letting out slack. It encourages the idea that it's ok not to hold on to the break rope, which is a bad habit to pick up if you also belay with a traditional (non-auto-locking) belay device or in the unlikely (but still possible) situation that the leader falls and the auto-locking belay device does not engage.

The reason I bring this up is that I recently heard of a bad climbing accident that occurred due to similar misuse of an Edelrid Eddy, which is an auto-locking belay device similar to the GriGri (it must be "pinched" so that the cam will not engage and slack can be let out). A climber was leading a sport route in Maple Canyon when he took a fall. The belayer did not have his break hand on the rope at the time. The Eddy did not catch on the relatively new 9.2mm rope and the belayer did not manually arrest the fall. The climber therefore took a 50-foot fall to the ground and suffered serious injuries, although luckily a full recovery is expected.

The moral of the story is clear: although auto-locking belay devices are great and make the life of a belayer much easier, they cannot be trusted absolutely to catch any fall. They do not grant the belayer the freedom to let go of the break rope.

When I encountered the discussion on the Climbing Narc's post, I was initially unsure that I even could change my method of belaying (I used to use the "bad" method, #3). I have quite small hands and I like to wear belay gloves, so I was unsure that the rope could still feed easily through my break hand while I was simultaneously pinching the belay device. However, Luke and I have both adopted method #2, which in fact works quite well, even with small hands and belay gloves. It requires a little more rope management so the rope will feed easily, but I think the increased safety is well worth this extra effort. I would never want to drop a leader because I was being a lazy belayer. I also think it's important, since I use a Reverso (just got the new one!!!) just as often as a GriGri, to foster good belay habits (i.e. not taking the break hand off the rope) rather than bad ones.

So to make a long story short, I wrote this post and brought up the video again because I think the biggest problem with auto-locking belay devices like the GriGri or the Eddy is a lack of knowledge. People just don't know that these devices are not a substitute for belay skills and safety. So now you know. Please think about the friends that you're belaying and make sure you're being a safe belayer.



Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bringing a Little More Green to the World

As you've already read, we were just out in New England for Adam and Kearah's wedding. Their wedding favors were pretty much the awesomest idea ever that I may just have to steal when my day comes around. Instead of silly, useless little gifts like "love spoons" (which Rebecca got as a favor at another wedding), they gave tree seedlings.

In case you didn't know, I LOVE TREES. I think they're pretty much the best thing ever. Apparently not everyone there loves trees quite as much as me, so a lot of the favors were left unclaimed. After already collecting my tree and Luke's tree, I decided to grab another two because I'd hate for these trees to go to waste (i.e. not get planted). I'm pretty sure I ended up with 3 western red cedars, my favorite tree ever and native to the wonderful Pacific Northwest. The 4th one is some sort of pine and it may have to grow a little larger before I can figure out what it is.

The main issue at hand: I live in SoCal. It gets to be over 100 degrees for several days in a row. It never rains. I don't think my Pacific Northwest cedars would appreciate this weather. So they're going to be indoor trees for now. I got each of them an 8-inch pot, filled it with soil, and arranged them in front of the window on my desk. Hopefully this should be good for them - moderate temperature inside my room, regular watering, and indirect sunlight.

And just so that my trees don't feel too out of place growing up in SoCal, I gave them names reminiscent of where I would find their wild relatives: 3 of my favorite PNW climbing towns for the cedars - Squamish, Index, and Mazama; and my new Washington home town for the fir, Poulsbo.

So hopefully I can keep my babies alive and plant them some day (when we live somewhere more appropriate).

Go hug a tree,


East Coast Crimping, a day in Rumney, NH

Rumney has to be one of my favorite sport climbing areas in the country. Beautiful rock tucked away in the rolling hills of New England. The various crags offer a variety of angles on interesting rock of many different colors. Climbing mid week we were able escape the Rumney scene that has developed in recent years.
It seems fitting that I returned to Rumney en route to my friend Adam's wedding for it was with him that I first visited Rumney. On my first and only other trip to Rumney Adam and I headed out for the 7+ hour drive from Bucknell on a Wednesday night. Some how we were both able to play hooky for a few days and wanted to get a bit of climbing in before the snow set in for the winter. We drove north through pouring rain too excited and stubborn to let the weather effect our mood. Despite almost two and half days of rain on a 4 day trip we had a blast, sent hard and vowed to come back to our unset projects.
This trip was to be my glorious return to Rumney and we sure had a blast. Lizzy and Rebecca had never been to Rumney and I was excited to show them the many fun climbs Adam and I had played on over a year previous. Our day started at Waimea and we had the cliff all to our self. The sun still hiding behind the rocks and we enjoyed to cool shade. The name sake climb and the easiest on the wall is Waimea 10d. This climb follows black water streaks up a vertical wall to a tricky crux on runnels and feet pointing the wrong direction.
Waimea sits next to some of the hardest routes at Rumney and while moderate in grade can be quite pumpy. In the second photo you can see Livin' Astro 14c, China Beach 14b, and Jaws II 15a. While not a great warm-up for those climbing 5.11 it was our only option. Lizzy was able to work through a trick top crux, ignoring my incorrect beta, and set despite a dizzying flash pump. Rebecca quickly worked her way up to the crux and could not figure out the sequence and took a nice clean lead fall. Working on her mental game she got back on the route and finished it up.
My main goal and unsent project from my last trip was Techno Surfing 12b. On my final burn last trip I had fallen post crux with only one draw between me and the anchors. While the technical crux is much lower there is one hard move right before the last bolt and then you are quite pumped making the final moves to the anchor. On my first try I wimped out at the crux and took. I was a bit out of my mental space and was not excited to see the same fixed draws on the route as the last time i had been on it almost a year and half earlier. I hung my way up the route and figured out all of the beta and lowered to rest. Lizzy was busy taking a nap recovering from our late night and day of travel so Rebecca went to work on Flyin’ Hawaiian (photo below). I had history with this line and was excited to see how it would feel. The start was quite bouldery with difficult moves over a rocky landing so we stick clipped the first two bolts. Rebecca worked through a good intro sequence but was falling off a strenuous left hand pinch. Lizzy woke up rested and excited to give it a go. She was able to refine the start beta and match the left pinch but could not keep body tension to get her feet up and make the next move. After many tries the ladies opted for some rest and I got back on Techno Surfing.

The first hard moves went well (photo below) and in no time I was resting below the crux bulge. I started off into the crux sequence and then the rope got stuck on my harness buckle while I was trying to clip. I dangled from the two handed jug and waved my legs around. Helpless to change it I heel hooked above my head and clipped. Energy sapped I forced my self to continue and made it through to the next ledge rest. Commitment and fast movement would be key for the last hard move. I crimped hard with my left hand committed and a few moves later found my self clipping the anchors.

Next I lead Flyin’ Hawaiian which was just as hard as I remembered and Lizzy and Rebecca top roped it. They both found it thuggish and fell at the tricky moves that gained the upper dihedral. Hoping to get in some more enjoyable for the girls we headed over to Orange Crush. This wall is steep at the top but offers some nice vertical lines in the middle of the cliff. I had hoped to link the full Black Mamba which Adam and I had done in two pitches but the top section was seeping. Technical moves on beautiful black rock make this route one of the best 5.11's at Rumney. The vertical small hold climbing allowed the girls to use their balance as they danced up this route. Rebecca enjoyed it so much she did it twice. Both Lizzy and Rebecca vowed to lead it when they return.I had time to finish up one more project and got on Captain Hook. It was a bit warmer and more humid at Orange Crush which was less than ideal for the small crimps on this route. After hanging the draws and remembering the beta I was able to send on my second try. The first crux deadpoint was much harder than I remembered but I was in control and only mildly pumped at the top crux. Also I found a left kneebar that allowed me to easily clip the anchors.

We were all tired and it was getting late so we got pizza in town. A nice treat after a long day of hard climbing! It was great to get back to Rumney and I cant wait to return!

- Luke

4 Reasons Why Alaska Rocks the Socks Off United

Luke and my recent travel to the east coast has got me thinking about flying. In this day of airlines that are expensive, limiting on your baggage, and charging you for any "real" food, I think it's ok to play favorites. You've gotta hold on to those few things that still make flying a good experience (i.e. being happy that you're not flying another airline).

(1) Baggage.
  • United: It's surprising how often they lose them. Once when my family was traveling back to Seattle from Florida our bags ended up in New Jersey. New Jersey!!! I've also had to physically GO to the baggage office to pick my bag out of a pile because they couldn't seem to find it there.
  • Alaska: Has never lost my bags. (Knock on wood)
(2) Food.
  • United: There is none and when there was, it wasn't very good. Although this seems like an airline standard these days.
  • Alaska: When they gave real food, it was great (like a piece of good coffee cake on a 1hr flight from Seattle to Portland). Now, even though you don't get much, they do give you milk and a warm (yes, warm) cookie on later flights.
(3) Lateness.
  • United: Although the occasional flight is on time, everything else is almost always late. Flying through Chicago generally guarantees you will be late.
  • Alaska: More often than not, I arrive early. (Although I'm usually flying between SoCal and Seattle, which makes things a little easier.)
(4) Mechanical problems.
  • United: Over 50% of the United planes I get on are delayed at least a little by them fixing some mechanical problem. More than once I've had to get on and off multiple planes as they change their minds about whether or not they could fix them.
  • Alaska: Maybe once or twice. I've never had to get off a plane to use another one because they just couldn't fix it.
Moral to the story? When flying on the west coast, fly Alaska. When flying across the country, expect suffering. When flying to Australia, fly Qantas - you get your own video screen (in coach) with tons of movies, TV, and games; they feed you a LOT, including yummy things like chicken curry and a little snack bag for overnight; and the flight attendants have Aussie accents.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Trip Back in Time: The Very Bad Day

Although we've got plenty of stories to tell about our recent trip to New England for climbing, visiting, and Adam and Kearah's wedding, I wanted to take a moment to recount something that happened to us a couple years ago.

It happened on July 11, 2006, and it was The Very Bad Day.

Summer 2006, I was living in the house of my friends John and Olivia, who run a guiding service called Northwest Mountain School. At this point in my life, I was still keeping alive the dream of becoming a rock guide - I had plenty of experience from guiding students in my high school and being a camp counselor at Camp Sealth, and I had my WFR certification. So I was trying to live the dream, living in Leavenworth, hanging out with the guide crowd, and not working... Luke, meanwhile, had decided to take a job in Bellevue, so we were both in Washington for the summer! (Although we were 2+ hours apart, which seems to be a common element...) Luke had spent the weekend with me in Leavenworth and had gotten up early (5:30ish) on Monday morning to drive to work in Bellevue.

En route to Snoqualmie Pass, Luke had just driven over Blewett Pass when a deer ran out into the road. The collision of the deer and Luke's beloved Justy totalled the car. Via a variety of phone calls from passersby and a state trooper, I got the message that I needed to go pick up Luke because he'd had an accident. I didn't realize that he had no cell service where he was, so I was terrified that something really bad had happened.

So I drove up to Blewett Pass and picked up Luke, who was safe and uninjured if a little shaken. We headed back to J & O's place in Leavenworth so he could make some calls to his insurance company and his mom.

The Justy, post close encounter of the deer variety

A little later that day, we realized that we needed to head back to the Justy to retrieve a couple more things, including the stereo, which belonged to Hartley. So we headed up SR-97 again. I was following a stationwagon going a little below the speed limit about a mile before the pass, when the stationwagon swerved aggressively into the left uphill lane. Luke yelled "tire, tire, tire", and I had a split second view of something large and black rolling towards me before it hit us as I was trying to swerve left out of the way. The impact of the tire caused the airbags to go off, but the car continued left through the other uphill lane and the the downhill lane, rolling onto the passenger side and hitting the rock embankment.

I said, "This is a very bad day." Then Luke helped me push open the driver door and we climbed up and out (a weird thing to do indeed) of the car, with me shouting at Luke to take out the car keys (something I'd remembered you were supposed to do), triggered by the eerie sound of the CD player still playing Jason Mraz.

I don't really remember the order that the next series of events happened, but I know that we were trying to take everything (all my climbing stuff and some of Luke's climbing stuff) out of the car, I was sitting on the gravel on the side of the road, shocked and crying, and Luke and a series of helpful people were putting out my car (yes, the engine was on fire).

R.I.P. RAV...

What happened was this: the dualy drive tire (2 tires and connecting metal parts) of a semi-truck coming down the highway from Blewett Pass came off the truck and started rolling down the highway. After trying to run down his tire to nudge it off the road, the truck was out-speeded by the tire, so he pulled over. The car in front of me saw the tire, so he swerved. I had barely any time to react, so my car, going uphill at 55mph, collided with the tire, which was coming downhill at something like 70-80mph. The impact totalled the car.

Some important parts appear to be bent.

A lot of people were wonderful and stopped to help us. There was the Homeland Security guy who helped put the fire out before rushing back to his armored van (he just happened to be there, we think he was transporting a suspect or something), the other people with fire extinguishers, the lady who comforted me and used her analog cell service to call for help, the truck driver (whose truck the tire belonged to) who also donated his fire extinguisher and information, the EMTs who offered to give us a ride back to John and Olivia's in the ambulance since we no longer had any transportation, and Jeff and Kristen, who lent us their van to drive to Wenatchee to get Luke a rental car so he could get back to work.

Notably absent from this group of people was that car that swerved before me, which sped off after the accident. Maybe they thought it was their fault, but whoever you are, you lost a LOT of karma points that day.

So ended the wonderful service of Luke's Justy and my '97 RAV4. Although we were sad to use them, we also felt incredibly lucky to be alive and, even better, uninjured. Luke got a little piece of glass in his knee from the broken passenger window, but that was the only injury. To this day Luke still gets extremely nervous around deer and I still get probably even more nervous around semi-trucks, especially on hills. Apparently accidents like this are not rare - plenty of people have been killed by accidents caused by tires coming off semi trucks.

So I guess the moral to the story... beware of deer during the pre-sunrise and sunset witching hours and GO AHEAD AND PASS that slow stationwagon in front of you instead of trying to be conservative - it could save you and your car.

Safe driving, everyone.


Maine Wedding

Adam, one of my best friends and climbing partner from Bucknell got married this past weekend. Lizzy and I flew out to the east coast for the ceremony and a bit of pre-wedding climbing.

We were able to see my mom in Boston on Wednesday for dinner and then drove up to Rumney Thursday morning with Rebecca who flew in from Detroit. A nice storm on Wednesday night dropped the temps about 20 degrees and made the summer a bit more bearable.

It was still a bit humid during our day in Rumney with a large helping of bugs. Regardless it was a great day of climbing and I was able to finish off some projects. More posts about that later once we get all the photos together.

The wedding up in rural Maine was spectacular and it was good to see many friends from Bucknell. We are scattered all over the country now and it is tricky to get everyone back together. From California to Texas, Maine to Michigan, Massachusetts to North Carolina, everyone has spread out from humble Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
I just wanted to give my best wishes to Adam and Kearah Donato who are off in Hawaii enjoying the Sun, Sea and Sand!

You two are great and I am sure the years to come will be amazing!

- Luke

Monday, July 7, 2008

More Fires in Cali

At the Needles this past weekend, we could see smoke from a new fire (started since our last visit to Kern County) burning east of Lake Isabella. Below is a GoogleMaps image of the fire, thanks to Kern County Fire Department.

View Larger Map

It's pretty crazy to be so close to a fire - we could easily see the big plume of smoke to the south and I'm sure Margee at the fire lookout has been busy with updates.

In other news, the Brickyard, a popular bouldering area in Santa Barbara, is also burning. Hopefully the fire won't cause too much damage for the climbing up there.

Fourth of July at The Needles

It's Monday again and we're again recovering from another trip to the Needles. This time, we headed out with Stein, Luke's friend from the gym, and Stein's visiting friend Traian. After a brutal 9+ hour drive from San Diego (complete with horrendous LA traffic) and a stop at Bakersfield's sketchiest grocery store and gas station, we arrived at the trailhead camping just before midnight. Luckily for us, Traian's friend Olivier, who had driven down from the Bay Area, had already arrived and staked out the last campsite for us.

The next morning, we packed up the gear and water and headed off on the long approach (the first hike is always the hardest because there are more hills on the way in and you have all the gear the first day). Luke and I left with a little headstart so we could rest and wait at the base of the Fire Lookout stairs.

Taking a break on the hike in.

After finally reaching the Charlatan/Witch notch, Luke and I racked up and walked up to the top of the Charlatan, where we rapped in to the base of Spooky, a classic, wild 5.9. Stein, Traian, and Olivier headed up the 3rd class approach to the base of the 2nd pitch of Airy Interlude, which they planned to do as a warm-up since their objective on the Sorcerer was still in the sun.

Luke at the base of Spooky.

Since we managed to rap to the base of Spooky in one 60m rappel, we figured we could probably climb it in a single pitch (although it's usually 2 pitches). Luke headed up the initial handcrack/layback corner, grunted up the offwidth, and had a blast on the money part of the pitch, wild climbing between granite tufas. I struggled on the offwidth, but still enjoyed the upper part - quite unusual climbing for granite.

Looking up at Spooky from the base.

Meanwhile, the trio made good time on Airy Interlude. We had a great (though distant) view of them from our position on the Charlatan. I was pretty tired from the approach hike and grunting past the Spooky offwidth, so we relaxed on the summit of the Charlatan for a bit to eat our sandwiches.

View of the Witch from the top of the Charlatan.

Chillin' atop the Charlatan after climbing Spooky.

Afterwards, we all met back in the notch and headed over to the east face of the Sorcerer to try 2 classic routes. Stein and crew planned on climbing the Don Juan Wall (5 pitches, 5.11b), which had a reputation for being challenging and sustained. Luke and I wanted to do Ice Pirates (2 pitches, 5.11b), a dead-end variation to Thin Ice, which we climbed last weekend with Gordon. The first pitches for both rope teams went well and Stein and Luke set off on their respective crux pitches. Stein powered and finessed his way through a pumpy layback for the send! Traian took a big whipper on the next pitch (pulling out a cam), but Olivier finished the lead for him. After this, the route took the trio around the corner, so they were out of view until summiting. Meanwhile, Luke was making good progress on the crux of Ice Pirates, managing the fiddly gear and balancey layback moves. However, near the top, the gear became sketchier and more spaced out (the flake becomes quite thin and fragile) and Luke became worried about falling and ripping pieces, so he pulled on cams a few moves until he could do the last move to the anchor, a crimpy sport-climbing-ish move. I was able to follow cleanly until this move, but fell here once before reaching the top. The route was definitely challenging and a little weird and intimidating (with tricky, questionable gear).

Olivier leading the first pitch of the Don Juan Wall.

Stein, Traian, and Olivier on top of the Sorcerer.

The Don Juan Wall was a much longer route, so Luke and I finished early than the other three. We waited for a while in the notch, which was getting quite cold, before attempting yell-o-phone communication with the other party that we were taking the car keys and hiking back so we could start cooking dinner (tofu and veggie stir-fry, one of my favorites!). It was a nice time to be hiking back - not too hot anymore and beautiful, pre-sunset views!

Beautiful view on the hike back to camp.

After struggling a bit on Ice Pirates, Luke and I decided to take an easier day on Saturday. We started the day with Witch Doctor (3 pitches, 5.10a), a route recommended by some other climbers we met. Although we were wishing we had brought our 70m rope, the pitches were fun and varied. Luke struggled a bit with route-finding on the last pitch, which wandered through crazy, often questionable rock. As we were summiting on the Witch, we saw Stein, Traian, and Olivier, who had left camp a little later than us that morning, topping out on the Wizard after climbing Yellow Brick Road, which is a classic 5.9.

On top of the Witch after climbing Witch Doctor.

Luke and I ate our sandwiches and headed back down to the notch to wait for the other three. Stein had gotten a look at the classic Tony Yaniro route Scirocco (5.12a) from the Don Juan Wall and had wanted to climb it with Luke while I took a midday break and photographed. However, when the trio finally reached the notch (they had decided to climb Spooky on their way back), Stein said he was too tired for Scirocco today. Since I had gotten a break and a short nap anyways while waiting, Luke and I decided to go for our planned 2nd route of the day, Fancy Free (3 pitches, 5.10b) on the Charlatan while the others squeezed in one last pitch (the first pitch of Thin Ice). Although the first pitch of Fancy Free was a little weird (there was some oozing at the base of the crack), the crux pitch was amazing! After a weird start, the pitch ascends a beautiful thin hands crack in a corner. The corner then changes (from left-facing to right-facing) and the crack shrinks to fingers (yellow and grey aliens, so big fingers for me) and powerful moves with only smears for feet lead to the anchor. My calves were so pumped from pushing on smears! It was definitely nice to climb a normal jam crack after doing so much laybacking on all the other routes in the Needles. The last pitch was a little weird, but it brought us to the summit just before sunset. As always in the Needles, it was beautiful.

View just before sunset from the top of the Charlatan.

Although tired, we were both psyched to have climbed such a cool route. We headed back towards camp with full packs and arrived exhausted. We were excited to find Traian and Olivier still awake, with warm dinner ready for us (returning the favor from the previous night). We enjoyed a relaxing morning of sleeping in on Sunday while Traian and Olivier woke early to hike out for one last route. Thankfully, the drive back was much less traffic-y, taking only 6 hours.

Overall, it was a pretty good weekend. I didn't end up doing any leading, which I think was due to me being especially tired from the altitude and the hiking and especially intimidated by the Needles (I do hate being so easily intimidated - I really need to work on this), but I had a lot of fun on the routes we did.

Also, I recently got a new camera to replace my dropped Olympus. I got a Canon Powershot SD1100 IS Digital Elph (in pink!!) and a sturdy waterproof and shockproof hard plastic case for it (the kind they make for kayakers). Although I still have some work getting used to the camera, we're pretty happy about the quality of the pictures we took. Hopefully this camera will accompany us on many adventures to come.



Monday, June 30, 2008

Speaking of Cameras...

Due to the recent accidental dropping of my trusty Olympus Stylus 800, I may be in the market for a new, small digital camera to bring climbing (because we don't always want to bring Luke's larger DSLR to the crag and definitely not on multi-pitches). I'm looking for something not too expensive with a reasonable amount of optical zoom that's small and not too fragile (so it can survive a little abuse in my pack or on my harness, although within a case). Good battery life and features would be a plus (i.e. modes for shooting sunsets or through glass). Any suggestions?

Needles Trip Report

I'm just now starting to recover from the exhaustion of our recent weekend at the Needles, which was fun and challenging at times.

We started our trip Wednesday night, picking up Gordon at LAX around 9pm and heading straight towards the Needles. We stopped in Bakersfield for gas, somehow avoiding the terrible air quality that the fires up north have caused there (the smoke gets blown towards and trapped around Bakersfield). After a little bit of hallucinating on the Great Divide Highway (seeing deer or other small animals...), we finally reached the campground some time after 1:30am.

Needless to say, we were tired. So we took a more relaxing morning on Thursday, not worrying too much about sprinting out to the crag. After organizing and divying out gear, we headed out the 2.5 miles of hiker trail to the fire lookout.

At the fire lookout

We stopped on the climbers' trail between the Magician and the Charlatan to warm up on Poof, a 3-pitch 5.7 on the east face of the Magician.

Gordon follows the 2nd pitch of Poof

Luke and Gordon shared the leads, with fun moves and manageable, but still exciting, runouts. There were also tons of tiny reddish orange mites that we got squished all over our hands and feet.

West Face of the Sorcerer and Charlatan from the Magician. The air is hazy because of the fires.

After eating a late lunch, we headed up the fire tower stairs to chat with Margee for a while. Afterwards, we re-hiked the climbers' trail to our packs and continued to the notch between the Witch and the Charlatan, where we re-racked for an afternoon/evening ascent of the classic Airy Interlude (5.10a, 3 pitches). I got the first lead of a long (Luke and Gordon had to start climbing so I could reach the belay ledge and we were using 60's) 5.9 pitch that was marred by some intimidating moves above questionable gear and long-ish runouts near the top. This really tired me out, so I asked Luke to lead the crux "Airy Interlude" pitch, which was pumpy, wild, and fun. I definitely want to go back (skipping the first pitch via a 3rd class scramble) so I can lead it. I did lead the final pitch (5.9), which Luke and I had climbed before via Igor Unchained. It was fun, with interesting moves and nice fingerjams, much more fun and less stressful than the first pitch.

After successfully rappelling to the ground after sunset, we headed back to the campground (with the car keys, this time), arriving around 10:30pm to cook dinner - another late night.

Gordon leading the 3rd pitch of Poof

The next morning had another slightly late-ish start because of our late return on Thursday. However, armed with only our refilled camelbaks and more food (we stashed our packs at the Witch-Charlatan notch), the hike went much faster. Our plan was to climb Thin Ice, a classic 5.10b (3 pitches) on the Sorcerer, Fancy Free (5.10a, 3 pitches, on the Charlatan), and Spooky (another classic, 2 pitch 5.9 on the Charlatan).

Luke and I at a belay on Poof

Another party was just starting on Fancy Free, so we decided to start with Thin Ice. Luke headed up the tricky layback, rested on the ledge, and pulled through the powerful 10b crux sequence for jugs that lead to the anchor. As Gordon and I followed the pitch, my camera somehow unclipped from Gordon's harness and fell at least 40 feet to the ledge we'd started on. (R.I.P. camera... although it wasn't totally obliterated, the lens cap mechanism is broken and the compartment that holds the memory card was damaged). Oh well. I've always thought that one should never be really attached to anything that you clip to your harness, so I didn't let it stress me out.

Leading the 1st pitch (5.9) of Airy Interlude.

Gordon hasn't done quite as much crack and trad climbing as Luke and I have, so he found the steep cracks a little challenging, but still managed to make it up the pitch with only one fall. The second pitch started up an intimidating-looking flare. Luke thrutched his way up the flare before it yielded to easier moves. I had a size advantage on the pitch since my narrow shoulders allowed me to reach both hands and both feet into the finger and thin hand jams in the crack in the back of the flare, while Gordon's wider shoulders meant he had to use the insecure layback instead of the flare. The last pitch headed up some easier, though still awkward, corners to the top of the Sorcerer, where we relaxed for yet another late lunch. By the time we got to our packs, it was already past 5pm and we were pretty tired from the route, so we decided to call it a day early and get back to camp before dark.

Luke leading the 1st pitch (10b) of Thin Ice

We decided to try something a little easier for our last day so Gordon could lead more pitches, so we selected Magic Dragon, a 9ish pitch 5.8 that heads up the long southwest face of the Magician. Having re-stashed out packs in the saddle before the fire lookout, we had even less far to hike, which was nice. We managed to make our way to the base of the route without too much trouble. Luke lead up the first 2 pitches, which had a ton of loose rock on the belay ledges. He also nearly pulled off a torso-sized block at the top of the second pitch. Worrying that it would become dislodged on Gordon or I, he decided to trundle it (there were no parties below us). Although Gordon and I were out of the fall line of the block, I still got hit on the nose by a high-velocity ricochet fragment, which lead to a little cut and some bruising, but thankfully no broken nose. Gordon lead the next pitch to the base of a 5.4 slab. Although I had planned on leading this, I was getting a headache from my rockfall collision, so I asked Luke to lead it instead. With a little confusion about belay placements, we made our way onto the easy slabs on the upper part of the Magician and one final, fun pitch right up onto the fire lookout (to the surprise and pleasure of the tourists up there at the time). We stopped there to have lunch at 4pm (late again) before heading back to the campground for a final time.

Since we had some extra time (back at the campground by 5:30pm), we decided to take advantage of our location in Sequoia Nat'l Forest to go see some giant sequoias. We drove down the highway a bit to the "Walk of 100 Giants", where we saw a ton of HUGE trees.

Luke in front of a huge Sequoia

All of us inside one of the trees!

A final early morning on Sunday got us on the road back to LAX, with a few stops on the way, including a trip to In-N-Out to complete Gordon's California experience. It was a great trip!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

More Fires in California

The big news right now are all the fires up in northern and central California, many of which I believe were ignited by lightning strikes. Best of luck to the firefighters up there right now.

On our way back from our trip on Monday, we saw some evidence of fire down further south. This was the view from a gas station in Temecula (north of San Diego on the 15):

Pretty crazy, right? Apparently this was smoke from a small brush fire caused by "hot parts from a wheel assembly [coming] off and ignit[ing] the brush" on the 805 near La Jolla. It sounds like it was pretty small and was almost immediately contained, but still made plenty of smoke that we could see from pretty far north.

At least LA managed to make it through several days of 100+ weather without anything major burning... let's hope that luck lasts the rest of the summer.

Getting Psyched on Nevada Limestone

With temperatures blazing in the 100s in the SoCal area last weekend, we headed out to Mt. Charleston, just north of Las Vegas, to beat the heat. Mt. Charleston rises above the glitz and garbage of the strip to over 10,000ft elevation - a tree-shaded, snow-covered (for part of the year) alpine oasis amid the southern Nevada desert.

This was our first extended experience sport climbing on limestone and we had some struggles with the many challenges presented by the rock - finding where the holds were, trusting the rock (especially when broken holds had not proven it particularly trustworthy), and (in some cases) dealing with the mental crux of distantly-spaced bolts.

By far the highlights of the trip for me were the campground we stayed at on Sunday night (Hilltop campground - absolutely beautiful) and the route I projected on Sunday, Los Banditos, 5.11c.

The campground was at fairly high elevation and our campsite was shaded by tons of somewhat stubby, twisted alpine trees - you could tell that they were covered in snow for part of the year. The views down into the desert, the sunset, and the sunrise were amazing. Quite a far cry from some of my less enjoyable campground experiences (Camp 4, I'm thinking of you here).

And then the rock climbing. On Saturday afternoon, after a morning at the Imagination Wall, we headed to Robbers Roost for a few more routes. After re-warming up, Luke onsighted Los Banditos (11c) and I headed up on toprope, climbing it clean first try and only feeling pumped after I'd been lowered to the ground, which was pretty sweet. The climb had a variety of fun moves over slightly overhanging rock that still allowed me to get several no-hands rests and a lot of balancey moves. This was a pleasant surprise since I worried from the ground about the route being a pure grunt-fest.

It was so much fun that I decided to go for the lead when we returned on Monday morning. At first I struggled with the crux clip, but on my second try, I overcame my fear and figured out a key heel hook to make the clip more doable, although I got stuck on the moves right afterwards and made it to the top after hanging once. I don't know what it was (maybe the altitude), but before my second try, I was feeling pretty exhausted. But after laying in the sun for a couple minutes and feeling the adrenaline of the second lead, I wanted a third go.

I made the crux clip without much trouble, although with a different (but better) sequence and launched into the last moves on bad holds before the series of jugs that led to the anchor (these are the most amazing jugs I've ever experienced outside - huge and wonderful). But my tiredness kicked in and I slipped from the last bad crimp below the jug - so close! I was a little disappointed, but also proud of myself because I had fully committed to the sequence and was pushing hard for the jug, above my last bolt, and took a small whipper when I fell. For a girl who has a tendency to downclimb instead of committing, this, I felt, was progress. Even as my hands shook, I was totally committed to the route, not thinking of falling or downclimbing once.

Also, this was the first sport climb of the grade that I've attempted. I've lead several 11a's and an 11b, but I'd never really felt confident enough to step up the grades, which is really something I need to start doing to progress in my climbing. It was great to feel motivated and excited enough to push my limits and bring some of the motivation of my Indian Creek crack climbing (where I attempted to lead my first 4 5.12s) into sport climbing. I'm hoping this will be a good sign as I start to push my limits harder and make some improvements.

In other news, tonight we're picking up Gordon, one of Luke's friends visiting us for a couple days, and heading out to the Needles! For the first time this season! I'm super excited and can't wait to get on the sharp end on some of that beautiful granite.



Alpine Retreat - Clipping bolts at Mt Charleston

I needed to get out, I just wanted to leave, go somewhere, change the flow of things. But I am not a spontaneous person, I like to make plans and follow them. This balance always strikes me and I don’t know what to do, which furthers my problem. I like doing things, keeping busy and chugging forward. I enjoy keeping my schedule full so that when I do have some free time I enjoy it and truly relax.

Friday came around and plans for the weekend were far from settled. Lizzy had been spending time in her Air Conditioned room away from 100+ degree heat while I had been plugging along at work. Even climbing in the shade we would be met with 90+ degree weather and would likely melt before sending anything. Our drastic times called for drastic measures and I came up with a plethora of plans. This can easily become a problem as Lizzy and I try to sort between the nuisances of each possible climbing location. The common theme was high elevation and camping. We would need to spend the whole weekend out of LA and somewhere cool. Fearing the hoards and with a slight dislike of the granite of Big Bear we decided on Mt Charleston.

Gas these days I at a premium and adds new words to the American vocabulary like “Stay-cation” but honestly who the hell wants to do that. I want to explore the world, I want to journey to new places and I want to get out of here. NOW! Adjusting to meet the best temperatures I worked on Saturday and we left for Vegas on Saturday night. The five and half hour drive was traffic free but required constant AC as we made our way into the Vegas heat. After passing by the strip we headed north on the 95 out into the unknown. A small turn off and a sign for Mt Charleston signaled our rise to elevation and a retreat into cooler temperatures. Reservations were suggested but required three days of advanced notice for the Kyle Canyon Campgrounds.
With the two main campgrounds full we headed to the Mary Jane Area. This multiple abuse site, once home to a historical ski tow, was a gravel parking lot near the Mary Jane trailhead. All of the “spots” on the periphery were taken so we parked near the center and set up our tent. Bugs instantly flocked to our headlamps but the temperatures had dropped and we were quickly asleep. With the sun rising around 5am, I was excited and anxious to go climbing. Getting up to go to the bathroom at first light I had seen towering limestone walls and had a hard time going back to sleep.Unable to wait any longer, I roused Lizzy and we packed up and had breakfast by 6:30. After a bit of confused driving, undoubtedly caused by our mere 6 hours of sleep, we wound up hiking up the trail next to the ski tow. Our trail led us to the base of the north facing Imagination Wall, 500 feet of glorious limestone. At the base of our warm-up the rock was intimidating and devoid of familiar features. Sharp crimps and runnels dotted the face and without chalk the sequence was far from obvious. The base of the Imagination wall is slabby and the rock offers excellent friction, the climbing requires subtle body movement and a keen eye for “holds”. After warming up I jumped on a 10d that might make a good lead for Lizzy. This however was far from the truth. After breaking a foothold, stick clipping the second bolt and shakely climbing to the 3rd bolt at 40 feet I decided to bail. The next bolt was 15 feet higher and I was not yet confident on this type of climbing. I had fallen prey to the Exacto Blade (the route's name) and did not have the mental energy to complete this route that was undoubtedly bolted on lead.

Confidence shattered, we moved down the cliff to try a few of the other “moderate routes”. After bailing on three different variations of this 11a, I found passage on one of the harder neighboring routes. While not a clean lead I was finally able to make it to the top. The ending of this 11b had what I wanted, wonderful pinches and crimps, tricky footwork and tension moves, most importantly real HOLDS! Finally getting to climb after my flailathon Lizzy mad quick work of this balancey climb.

After one more fun 11b, evidently the good grade to climb at this wall, and a bit of heinous top roping we departed for Robbers Roost. The weather had been ideal and the wall was completely in the shade causing Lizzy to don all of our jackets. Even though we were a bit tired I convinced Lizzy that more climbing was in order and with the promise of a five minute approach we were on our way. The scene at Robbers Roost was the opposite of the solitude of the Imagination Wall. There were tourists and climbers sandwiched in the cave like venue. The walls were covered with fixed draws and chalk and most of the climbs were overhanging.

With some friendly advice from one of the locals we warmed up again and we did a few more climbs. While these routes had tricky cruxes they had nice holds and jugs and one even had a sit down rest. Excited by a more athletic style we decided to return the next day so Lizzy and I could work on some harder routes. Hilltop, the third campground in the area, was close by and we still needed a place to sleep. With showers and a toilet this was a big step up from the Mary Jane Area. Hiltop hade excellent views and is about 1000 feet higher than Kyle and Fletcher campgrounds. Since it was Sunday night we had no problem finding an excellent site in the shade. If you are ever there I suggest site number #21 despite not having a view it was fairly wind protected and had evening shade.
Monday we returned to the Roost and climb the namesake route (photo below). This climb, another lead bolted scare fest, was technical with bad falls on sharp rock. The movement and hold variety was classic limestone and excellent if you could move past a fear of falling. This climb had deep runnels and great pinches. I found the crux to be a tricky bit of stemming after a good rest about midway through the route. While this did not function as a good mental warm-up it got the blood moving and allowed me to focus on harder routes. First up was an onsight attempt on a route that had been occupied the previous day. After a bunch of tricky climbing I gave up a foot below a hidden jug. Lack of commitment and a bit of memory loss left me hanging but with no regrets as I made my way to the top I encountered a much more beta intensive crux that would have blown the onsight. Next go, much more relaxed, I sent Bubbleicous.

Lizzy was in the projecting mood and jumped on Los Banditos, an 11c that she had done clean first try on TR the day before. This would be her first of the grade and over the day she made excellent progress. Between my attempts on different routes she gave this route three good burns and on her final try fell one hold below jug at the end of the crux. She made good progress with each try and feeling fresh on our next visit I think this climb is within her reach.

I attempted some of the classic harder routes in the area but was stopped by tricky beta, fatigue and altitude. Leaving tired we made the journey back to San Diego happily avoiding Vegas rush hour. Despite a lack of hard sends I feel the weekend was quite satisfying and have a new respect for the complexity of limestone. I am excited to go back, since according to the locals you can climb there all summer.

- Luke

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Awesomeness of Yoga

There are a lot of difficulties associated with being a Caltech student. The main one is an utter lack of free time during the academic year because there is just so much work to do. However, Caltech student-dom is not without its perks. For example, we get free membership to the gym and can go to as many of the aerobics and yoga classes as we want. Now that I'm free from the burden of having to constantly be doing homework, I finally have time to start going to yoga classes again, so I started this afternoon. At the REI used gear sale this past weekend, I nabbed a nice (originally $50), practically unused yoga mat for about $16 and was excited to start using it right away. REI also tells me that my new yoga mat is made from environmentally friendly rubber - how sweet! Take a look:I could feel the decrease in flexibility and strength since the last time I'd taken a yoga class (its been way too long), but stretching and relaxing felt amazing and my yoga mat has a cool, colorful pattern on it that's nice for staring at while breathing from downward dog.

I'm hoping that getting back into yoga will help me with the rest of my climbing training. I have found in the past that strengthening and stretching all your muscles, even those not directly related to climbing, can help one move more confidently and fluidly, which I think is an important thing to balance out all that power gained from bouldering in the climbing gym.



Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Public Transportation Adventures, Part 2

Gas is getting really expensive. I had my first >$60 fillup the other day. So it seemed like a good time to save some gas and ride the trains back from San Diego again.

The more I try to understand the Metrolink trains, the more confused and frustrated I get. As you may recall from my previous post on this subject, I thought I just needed to get on an earlier coaster to make an earlier Metrolink train. But, as I discovered last night as I was figuring out how early we needed to get up this morning, the latest Metrolink train from Oceanside that goes all the way to LA Union Station leaves at 6:41am. The first Coaster doesn't get to Oceanside until 7:33am. This is kind of a problem... so much for taking the trains in the morning. It turns out there is only one train after noon that goes all the way from Oceanside to LA. One.

As I discovered this strange phenomenon of utter disharmony between the San Diego (e.g. Coaster) and Metrolink train systems, I figured there MUST be some way that you can easily ride trains from San Diego to LA. I figured that maybe I just needed to catch a different train from an intermediate location (because more trains do leave Oceanside, they just don't reach LA). The trains leaving from Oceanside are all on the "Orange County Line" route. Most of them reach an intermediate station in Orange. This station is also on the "91 Line", which runs from San Bernardino (which is out east, for LA neophytes) to Union Station. Theoretically, one could catch one train to Orange and another to LA from the Orange Station. But the latest train one can take from Oceanside is the same 6:41am train that goes directly to Union Station. The same train that is too early to catch with a Coaster.

Ok, I could understand why maybe trains operated by different systems might not run in perfect harmony (e.g. Coaster and Metrolink trains). But even different Metrolink lines clash with each other. Here's a good example: Train 850 leaves Oceanside at 7:30am and arrives in Orange at 8:32am. Train 685 starts in Orange and heads for Union Station. Logic might have these trains leave and arrive at times so one could make the connection. But instead, Train 685 leaves Orange 10 minutes before Train 850 arrives. So if you were unlucky enough to get on Train 850 to Orange, you'd be stuck there until 4:38PM waiting for the next train to Union Station.

It just seems a little ridiculous to have a train system and not have it scheduled such that it's easy to use and transfer to different locations. It seems that in the future, I may just have to bite the bullet and buy Amtrak tickets. If I think I will be going back-and-forth enough, I can buy a 10-ride ticket for $150, which is a $7 discount per ride, with a $70 total savings. The only problem being that it's only valid for 45 days.

I can only hope that as (if) more people start to use public transportation as fuel prices are rising, they'll take another look at their infrastructure and improve a few things.

However, to avoid being totally negative, the LA Metro system, which includes 4 light rail lines and all the buses, is pretty good. The light rail lines run pretty often (often enough that I don't need to worry about the schedule) and serve a lot of the greater Los Angeles area. Too bad everything couldn't be this easy.



Climbing at Horse Flats and the Riverside Quarry

Summer is here and we have been banished to the shade and the mountains. The sun quickly heats the rock and friction becomes non-existent. We spent Friday night camped out at REI to attend one of their Scratch and Dent sales. Despite arriving at 10pm there were 10 people ahead of us in line. Some arrived as early as 4pm. We managed to get a bit of sleep despite the random urban setting of Arcadia. The sale was fun but not very eventful. One of my friends, Hartley, from Santa Barbara was supposed to come down for the sale and an afternoon of bouldering at Stoney Point. A case of food poisoning kept him grounded in SB.

With my schedule free I decided to tag along with Lizzy and Julie who had been invited to go on a Mad Rock catalog shoot. One of the local climbers recruited these girls and was planning on a day of bouldering to get some shoe photos.

We headed up to Horse Flats which is in the Angeles forest in the hills just north of Pasadena. Windy roads and pretty scenery brought us up a few thousand feet to a granite boulder field. My last experience on granite had been less than fun and I was a bit skeptical of what this area had to offer. Fortunately the rock was highly featured metamorphosed granite. It has lots of crystals and despite being a bit flakey offered fun problems.

Josh Wagner, from the Arcadia Rock Gym, and I bouldered while the ladies played with new shoes and took photos. Josh gave me a tour of a few classics and showed me some problems that were not in the guidebook. After taking a look at a super-project we tackled a possibly unclimbed block. Crystals were still falling off at the base and showed no evidence of previous ascents. There was a steep holdless fin and that formed the right side of a dihedral. The angle and lack of holds prevented us from the obvious stemming solution.

Starting from a good right hand you could gain a small sharp two finger crystal with your left hand. Then you had to make a full span to a decent right hand pinch. The remaining moves to the top were less obvious. After reaching the pinch I could make not make any further progress. I shifted my focus to the arête on the left side of the dihedral. A span start and some tenuous smears on the arête allowed you to gain the same crystal as a gaston with the right hand. Using this to bump my left hand up the arête I was able to stand on a high crystal, bump to another sharp gaston and finally bump my left hand to a good hold around the top of the arête. Possibly a FA but most likely done by Wills Young back in the day. I needed a break after the send and went and check on Lizzy who had flashed a crimpy problem and was spotting while the other two girls tried it. Upon my return Josh had solved the right variation and was sitting on top of the boulder. A possible FA each within an hour, pretty good work :-D

My elbow, which has been hurting, needed a rest so I followed the girls around helping light the problems by holding a bounce card. The two bounce cards did an amazing job of adding directional light to the photos. I was super impressed and hopefully can get some in the next six months. I only saw a few of the photos but they looked pretty good and can be found on facebook! When we got back to Pasadena we crashed early with a serious lack of sleep and full day in the sun.

Sunday we got up early for some shady sport climbing at the Riverside Quarry. We had not been to the quarry in six months and it was fun to clip lots of bolts. Stein, my climbing partner from San Diego, met us with one of his friends for our early session. Stein is quite the quarry master and was excited to clip some bolts outside for a change. We have spent many more hours training on plastic than actually climbing routes. Stein helped me to get in a hard climbing mindset and put draws on a bunch of climbs for me.

After Lizzy and I warmed up we got on Salutations a nice 11c that Stein and George had just finished. The quarry is filled with boulder problems separated by good holds and hand free rests. This visit I embraced this style and had much more success. I flashed/onsighted (I saw a bit of beta) the first route and set up a TR for Lizzy. She cruised the starting moves but had to spend a bit of time figuring out the reachy crux. After finding a powerful sequence she pulled through the small holds and gained a good jug. After some slopey holds she finished off the route. The crux was definitely challenging. Focusing on the jug allowed me to commit to the 3 or 4 hard moves on the small crimps.

Stein had finished an impressive onsight of the neighboring Balrog 12b and I got to watch George as the top roped it. I got a sense of where some of the good holds were and what sections would prove difficult. There was an obvious high crux that I would need to save my energy for if I was to send. The first two bolts were simple with a fun mantle onto the slab seen in the first photo. The slopey holds in the second photo blew my confidence and I was insecure and overgripping. I made the third clip from a bad hold and was happy when I got the next hold which happened to be a jug. The next few bolts were easy until a tricky clip. Following this clip were more slopey holds and bad feet. I figured out a heel hook sequence that worked well but I was getting tired. I now was one bolt below the crux and was quite pumped and being unsure of the sequence I gave up. I figured out a way to set up for the clip below the crux but it was quite powerful and zapped my energy for the crux. I hung again and tried to figure out a good way to do the crux. A few more takes and I was through the crux and at the anchors.

Stein had enjoyed the route so much he ran another lap to get some mileage. I watched closely on the parts I had struggled on and figured out a better way to setup for the crux clip. After some rest I went up again making sure to stay relaxed and to flow through the moves. The crux was a tricky gaston cross over sequence right after a powerful clip. I got up to the clip and was able to make it but the next sequence Stein had used proved a bit too reachy and I could not get the same heel hook he had. Hands out of sequence I committed to a higher heal hook that I was able to perch on. This enabled me to rest a little and switch my hands to prepare for the crux. I got my high left foot and right gaston but it felt much worse than my last go. I grunted and fired left hand across to the next good hold. I stuck it and quickly move my feet up to the good holds on the right. A few more moves gave way to an ok rest. A few shakes and I set up for the final tricky move to a crack below the anchor. I trusted my smear and shot my right hand to the undercling crack. Two more adjustments and I was clipping the anchor! I was tired and my climbing was still a bit sloppy but I had committed at the crux and this was important mental progress!

Photos thanks to Lizzy!

- Luke