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

Thursday, June 12, 2008

School's OUT

I just finished the last final of my junior year at Caltech about 5 minutes ago!!! (It was, like all Caltech finals, a take home final, which is how I can be blogging about it already.) Which means that (hopefully) the most stressful year of my undergraduate career is over and it's all downhill from here.

I have very few requirements left for next year, which I'm hoping will give me more freedom to climb (in what may be my last year living in SoCal, yaaaaaay)! We'll see how things go with having to do grad school applications and possibly doing some research for a senior thesis.

Luke and I are planning on an REI used gear sale this weekend, but we'll definitely be doing some climbing, too. Hopefully it will be a good start to a new leaf (or returning to a previous, more in shape leaf) of my climbing career.



Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Good Numbers

As climbers, we're pretty good (or bad?) at measuring our progress, success, etc. with numbers - whether you're working your way up towards 5.15 or battling through the V grades, like it or not, numbers at least claim to give us a feeling of how we are doing. How much stock we put in these numbers and how much we let them control us is a whole other issue.

Today, I took part in an entirely different, number-related measurement of my awesomeness, or lack thereof - the GRE, the required, slightly beefed up version of the SAT that you have to take to apply to grad schools. After a couple days of practicing and stressing (and trying to get some finals done as well), it was finally time for the test.

I definitely think my studying paid off. Although I only got 680 on the verbal section (honestly, my vocabulary is great compared to everyone I know at Caltech, but they just have to include words like jejune and saturnine that just aren't in my everyday lexicon - I studied these, although neither were on the test), I think I did well on my essays and I got an 800 on the math section!!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! I have proven that I am competent at tricky high-school level math!

So although I question how much this really will tell anyone about how qualified I actually am for grad school, it should at least tell them that I haven't gotten too much dumber (in fact, perhaps even better at math) since high school, which has got to be a good thing.

That's all for now,


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

An Idyllwild Weekend

This past week I had my off Friday and due to some technology problems on Thursday I got to leave work early and get a pseudo 4 day weekend! With finals quickly approaching I surprised Lizzy by coming to LA on Thursday and we packed up and headed out on Friday to Idyllwild.

We made good time on the 10 and the 243 but got a bit confused about where the proper campground was. There are five campgrounds within 10 miles of Idyllwild. We were looking for the cheapest, Fern Glen, but could not at the time remember the name. We took the turn for the main group of campgrounds but the scenery looked all wrong. So we kept going expecting a turn on our way to Idyllwild but to no avail. Worried that the campground would be full we turned around and headed 6 windy miles back to explore the first set of campgrounds further. After driving around for a while on steep and switch backing roads we found managed to find the $10 campground. The cost per night was quite varied and we found $20, $15, $12 and $10 per night.

After sorting the rack we set off to suicide for some afternoon crack climbing. We still had two or three hours of daylight and though we could get a few cracks in before dark. After we parked our car we couldn't find Lizzy's approach shoes. They had vanished and the approach was not well suited to flip-flops. We turned the car inside out and could not find them. We both distinctly remembered her bringing them down to the lawn and setting them down when I was packing the car. However neither of us could remember her putting them in the car or ever seeing them in the car. Possibly we had left them one of the campgrounds so we went in search of her fairly new CTC's. With no luck and much time wasted we even tried to buy a new pair that night but the store was closed. Instead of climbing we explored Idyllwild and had dinner at the Idyllwild Pizza Company, which was quite tasty.We got up early the next day, picked up a new pair of shoes at Nomad Ventures and hustled up to the northern side of Suicide rock. We passed a few parties on the steep approach and Lizzy was happy to have shoes on her feet. We started with Flower of High Rank, shown above, which was supposed to be one of the best 5.9's in Idyllwild and in the state. I decided to lead the crack in one long 200 foot pitch using the harder right crack exit above the tree. The climb had a fun and varied finger crack that split at the tree and became a 3" wide crack on the right side leading up to a roof. The bottom of the climb was balancy and fun and the tree provided a nice rest before switching to the right crack. I got the roof quickly and was stumped by what I found. The crack above was quite flaring and without a good foothold would not yield easy passage to the slab above. After much struggling and going up and down I was able to use some face feet and reach to the left crack. This gave me enough balance to get my right foot over the roof and allowed me to climb the slabby grove. Fun large flakes lead to the top and after setting up a belay I brought Lizzy up. Full value for 5.9 but not necessarily one of the best I had ever done.

Next we headed around the corner to Johnny Quest. I had been told this climb was excellent and I am a big fan of finger cracks. I was expecting it to be a bit harder at 10b but the climb fit my style perfectly and it was my favorite of the weekend. We soloed 50 feet of 5.2 to belay at the tree by the base of this short beauty. A tricky opening dihedral gave way to some jugs and then a thin finger crack. Wonderful pinscars and constrictions with good feet gave way to a ledge 20 feet higher, which is too bad since I could have kept going since the crack was so fun!

I lowered from the bolted anchor and Lizzy gave it a burn on TR. Anxious to climb some more routes we both rapped off and made our way back around the corner. Feeling good on 10b I felt ready for the route of the day, Etude, 11a. It was longer and steeper but I was feeling good on the thin finger locks of Johnny Quest. As I made my way up to the piton protected crux I was shocked to find no holds. The crack was non existent and progress could only be made by stemming and crimping up two grooves for 10 feet before another hold and anther pin appeared. Unable to see a viable sequence and scared of a potential 20 foot fall onto an old fixed pin I precariously aided through the crux. Standing on the highest pin and using a marginal nut to make a blind 2 lobe placement. I was able to clip the high pin but had lost most of my lead mojo.

The final thin hand and finger crack to the anchor was easy once I got my feet up above the high pin and I set up a TR so Lizzy could give it ago. I had confidence that her slab skills and balance would allow her to find a way up the climb. Using tricky sequence with the arête she was able to alternate pulling on the left and the right grooves to slowly stem her feet up. Despite falling off she was able to link all of the different sections and made it to the top. Excited by her success I gave it a go and eked my way up the grooves. While I failed to exhibit her grace I was able to barely make it to the top without falling. Going back I am sure it would be an exciting lead.

We did a few more easer 250 foot slab climbs using the full extent of our 70m rope and a bit of simul climbing and then retreated to the tent. Below Lizzy points to Suicide rock from her high stance on Tahquitz.

Unsure of having to return to San Diego to work on Sunday we got up late and made our way to town to check voicemail. Still sore from all of the hiking and descending from the previous day we enjoyed some Raspberry pastry bread from the local grocer. After giving up on work we made our way up to Humber Park and started the steep hike up Tahquitz. The trail seemed better than we both remembered and we made good time to Lunch Rock.Veering left we set our sights on the bulge routes home to the Vampire and Super Pooper. The base of this area is super slabby and leads up to a series of ledges. We soloed up the first 100 feet of 3rd and 4th class and then Lizzy started leading up to our ledge. Unsure of the correct way to go we made it up to a good ledge right below the start of Super Pooper. Despite the suggestion of moving the belay up another 40 feet I decided that we had enough rope and I did not want to waste the time. The 40 feet was quite easy so I only placed 2 pieces so there was minimal rope drag.

I was not quite mentally ready for the bulges and took over an hour to lead this 200 ft pitch. The first crux was quite cool and involved a transition over one roof via a set of crimps and a crazy arête to a small ledge/jug. Protecting this was tricky and after psyching my self up I was able to get through it. After standing on this ledge for a while I summed the courage again to get through the crux bulge. An awkward sized crack with no feet below it allowed passage over the last bulge. Thruching through a work able sequence my foot popped mid way but I was able to stay in my jam. In the photo above Lizzy approaches the belay after the crux pitch.

I was able to link the next two pitches but since due to improper slinging and getting a rope stuck in a crack I had horrendous rope drag for the final slab. Standing on a ledge with decent prow 10 feet below, I pulled up 10 more feet of rope and smeared my way up the final slab, pulling more rope up from good stances. The angle quickly eased and we were at the top! We ate lunch and enjoyed the views. A superb climb with tricky movement and fun jamming.

Despite getting lost on the decent we made it back to the car and returned to San Diego. We had split up on the way down so that I could get our packs from the base of the route but we both managed to go to the same wrong way and met up after I got our packs. It was nice to be out in the woods and camping for a weekend! School is over for Lizzy soon and I hope we can get out more in the months to come!


- Luke

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Public Transportation Adventure

Gas prices just keep getting higher. And although my beloved RAV4 has pretty good gas mileage for how much stuff you can cram into it (~25 mpg), the cost of gas adds up with all the driving to and from climbing areas or San Diego.

There has got to be something better than sitting in traffic on I-5 burning up gas and not get any work done, right?

So this weekend Luke and I decided to experiment. He drove up here to Pasadena on Thursday afternoon because work got cancelled. Then we headed out together (in Luke's car) to Idyllwild for some high-elevation trad climbing (more on that it another blog), returning to San Diego on Sunday night.

Then, this morning (Monday), he dropped me off at the Coaster station in Sorrento Valley. The Coaster is a train that runs between San Diego and Oceanside along the coast. The ride was fairly short and cost $5 for a one-way ticket. In Oceanside, I had to navigate the transit center to try to get a Metrolink train to Union Station. Unfortunately, this was not as easy as the Coaster had been. There were only 2 ticket kiosks at the transit center and both were broken (there was no alternative method to buy Metrolink tickets). Furthermore, the schedule on the website had made it seem like one could ride most Amtrak trains with any Metrolink ticket, but in fact you need the nearly $400 monthly Metrolink pass to ride Amtrak trains.

So, I missed the earlier train due to general confusion and ended up buying a $22 ticket for the next Amtrak train (and waited for an hour). The next Metrolink train wasn't til after 3pm and the earlier one had been at 7:30am. So not great service.

However, once I got on the Amtrak train, the ride was fine - the seats were comfortable, the views were nice when we were on the coast.

Once I arrived in Union Station in LA, it was easy to find the platform for the Gold Line rail to Pasadena. A one-way ticket cost $1.25 and the ride was fast and easy. It left me a short walk from my house.

Overall, the trip coast $28.25, a bit more than gas for the one-way drive from San Diego, but less than if I had brought my car to Idyllwild and back in addition to Luke's car. I also got a ton of reading done, which was really useful. The Metrolink system seemed to be most lacking in terms of regularity of trains or ease of use (like, no way to buy a ticket...), but in the future (now understanding the schedule), I will hopefully be able to better plan around its challenges and lower the overall cost of the trip to $17.75, which, as gas prices increase, starts to be very economically favorable.