Friday, July 30, 2010

Do Not Approach Buffalo!!

Our next stop would be Cody, Wyoming, but we decided to take our time getting there and drive through Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. The trip would not be without minor incident.

When we were passing through Idaho Falls we stopped for dinner and I noticed the right rear tire was a bit flat. 'No big deal', I thought, I'll just keep an eye on it, maybe stop at the next gas station and put some air in it. Of course I completely forgot about it.

So, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, with hail raining down on us, I was thinking, 'man the car's not quite handling right'. I pulled over, and of course the tire was pretty much flat. Not that big a deal, I've changed my fair share of flat tires. We waited out the rain (thankfully only about 10 minutes), dug out the jack (a pain in the ass thanks to the platform we built in the back) and proceeded to take the flat off.

Except it would not come off. It was rusted on good. No amount of fandangling (brute force) seemed to make it budge. A couple of yuppie mountain bikers, who happened to stop in the same pullout to check out the river below, came by and proved even more useless than I. I banged at it a bit more, stared at it, banged at it more, stared at it even more, then, with light fading and having resigned ourselves to a long walk to the nearest town, I went down the slope to 'water the plants'.

While I was gone for two seconds someone else had stopped by. As I was walking back I was thinking 'Wow, it didn't take long for the lone female in need card to work!' Go Kristal. Turns out Michael was just stopping to let his dog do its business.

Sometimes in life you just need someone who knows how to get shit done. Micheal was one of those guys. Living in his van with his puppy, going wherever the road may take him. He promptly showed us how to really take a tire off, and within a few minutes it came clanging to the ground. Then he was off, accepting nothing more than our gratitude. Wherever he is we wish him well.

Our minor ordeal behind us, we got back on the road and managed to snag a campsite outside of Jackson for the night. The next day we took in as much as we could of the Tetons and Yellowstone.

The Tetons are real honest to goodness mountains. Unfortunately we did not stop to do any climbing. Next time...

Yellowstone is full of all mannor of geysers, hot springs, steam vents, etc, which are all really cool. Here's a shot of Mammoth Host Springs.

Unfortunately the beauty of Yellowstone is slightly marred by the ridiculous number of tourists you have to deal with. You always know there is something to see when you come across this sight at the side of the road.

Apparently there was a pack of wolves way off in the distance, barely discernable to the naked eye. We did not stop to look. We did stop to admire some of the herds of bison though.

We got the most ammusment out of rear view mirror hanger they gave us at the park entrance.

Really? Like I might think it's a good idea to drive up to a wild buffalo and get ouf of my car, but at the last minute I'll see the sign hanging from my rearview mirror to remind me that it might not actually be the best idea in the world. Stupid visitors.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

City of Cows

Our first major stop on the way back east was City of Rocks in Idaho. There were definitely some places in Oregon we could have stopped, but we decided to drive right on through and save those for another trip. We did stop just outside of Boise though, for a quick one day session of bouldering at Reynold's Creek. It was a cool little local spot with some nice problems. We didn't take many pictures of the bouldering, but here is Kristal enjoying some refreshing watermellon in the heat, with the campground boulders in the background.

We spent six day in City of Rocks, which is similar to Joshua Tree in it's formations.

It's made up of Granite though, so it's a lot nicer on the skin. It's also filled with life, the most notable of which are cattle. Not a day went by that we were climbing and couldn't hear the sweet lowing of cattle in the background. There were also a tonne of rodents. Ground squirrels, gophers and mice all made regular appearances at our campsite. We were prepared for them this time though, and put into practice our Rodent Relocation Program. Here is Kristal manning the trap.

No, we did not actually relocate any rodents, but we needed something to do to while away the sweltering afternoons. Since the camping is right in the thick of the climbing, it was easy to do all of our climbing in the mornings and evenings, and siesta during the heat of day. We actually caught a few ground squirrels, some more than once. They didn't seem very smart.

The climbing at City of Rocks is a mix of trad and sport, mostly single pitch, with a few multi pitch routes thrown in for good measure. It was fun to jump on some harder sport routes again, but we spent most of our time climbing some really nice single pitch trad routes. They also have some super easy, ridiculously tightly bolted, sport routes. Here's me at the top of Stienfell's Dome after we climbed Sinocranium, a 600 foot, 5 pitch bolted 5.8.

One of the goals for our stay was to get to the very top of the Morning Glory Spire, pictured on the left below.

Our first attempt was from the back, on an easy 3 pitch sport route. Unfortunately our easy '5.10d' sport route was a bit sandbagged (don't even get me started on the quality of the guidebook), and by the time we had made it to the top of the second pitch we were running out of daylight, it was cold, the wind was howling, and we'd had enough aid climbing. For the first time on the trip we abandoned a route and rapped down.

Thankfully there was another route up, on the side, a super fun 5.8 trad line that ended up being the last climb of our stay. It was a great way to finish our visit. Kristal had no problem standing at the very top of the spire, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Here I am about three feet away, feeling thoroughly uncomfortable from the exposure.

City of Rocks is a pretty cool place to visit, even just to hang out.

Just take the guidebook with a grain of salt. If it says the sport route has 15 bolts it might actually have 18, if it says you can rap down the route you might need two ropes to actually get to the ground and if it says the route is well protected you might be in for 50 feet of runout face climbing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

California Dreaming

When we were in Red Rocks two months ago we were at a bit of a crossroads on where to go next. We could head east up into Utah and Colorado, or continue west up through California. It was plain to see that four and a half months was not long enough to visit all the destinations on our tick list. It would have to be one or the other. In the end we decided to head up through California. I'm sure Utah and Colorado hold some equally amazing destinations, but California has been pretty incredible. Between Joshua Tree, Bishop, Yosemite, Tahoe and the coast we spent almost two months climbing there.

After leaving Tahoe, we headed back to the coast. One of the few non-climbing destinations on our list was Redwoods National Park.

In Humbolt Redwoods State Park we stopped to tour around a bit, learning all about these incredible trees. The loggers used to call the dead limbs hanging hundreds of feet in the air Widowmakers, for somewhat obvious reasons. So, as we moved north to Redwood National Park, to find a site for the night, it was with a little trepidation that we set up our tent with these looming above us.

Incidentally, never believe the 'Campground Full' signs. Twice we've come to a 'full' campground and managed to still snag a site for the night.

Redwoods are also surprising good for climbing. We managed to make it quite a ways up several. Some of the bark is full of holds, although we came to the conclusion that ice climbing gear would probably be the best way to tackle these beasts.

Our last climbing stop before leaving was Lost Rocks. We heard about this bouldering destination, on the beaches of Northern California, from a cool group of guys we climbed with in Bishop. There's not much info about the place online, except how to get there, but that's all you need. Days spent there are incredibly fun and relaxing. There are no grades, no need for crashpads, just some awesome boulders on the beach.

The approach makes you feel like you are entering a different world. The path is barely discernable in spots as you make your way through thick (thick!) brush that rises above your head. So much different than the sparsly vegetated regions we've been in over the last few months.

Here's a rare glimpse of the beach from the approach trail.

Then you emerge into an awesome pebble beach with boulders stretching in either destination. Here's me at the end of a cool 30 foot lip traverse.

Kristal on one of several cool problems on this overhanging face.

It was pretty foggy for the most part, but the sky did clear up a bit in the afternoon. The boulder Kristal is on below was full of really nice problems, with enough height to make them exciting.

The water was quite rough while we were there too.

Lost Rocks was an awesome end to our California experience, and the furthest west we would go. After that we began heading east for the long trip back home. Next up, somewhere in Idaho.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Water in the Sky???

Although we were sad to leave Yosemite, it was time to move on. The weather was nice when we left the campground...

...but the clouds were moving in, and by the time we had done laundry and checked e-mail in Lee Vining the thunder storms were on the horizon. During the drive up to Lake Tahoe we experienced something we haven't seen in a long time - rain.

We'd been in arid environments for so long we almost forgot that water could fall from the sky! Tahoe also brought another unpleasant weather phenomena we were no longer used to - the dreaded humidity. The temperature was pretty reasonable, highs in the mid 20s for the most part, but climbing in the sun was ludicrous. We couldn't understand what all the people were doing, baking in the sun on the cliff in the afternoon. We did all of our climbing in the morning, while the cliffs at Lover's Leap were in the shade.

Thank goodness too. On our second day, just after topping out Corrugation Corner, a 450+ foot sustained 5.7 with an awesome variety of climbing (including and incredibly exposed arete a few hundered feet off the deck), the sky opened up. By the time we made it back to our site, and for the rest of the afternoon, it was pouring. There was even a little bit of hail thrown in for good measure.

We spent 4 days at Lover's Leap, climbing some super fun multi pitch trad routes, then it was westward once more to the coast. Along the way we stayed at this awesome free campground, which was, from what we could tell, full of hippie and redneck squaters. One lady introduced herself to Kristal and warned us that a homeless man was wandering around stealing stuff. Not that she had anything against homeless people, because, you know, we've all been homeless at least once or twice.

We passed some nice scenery on the drive.

Stopped on some random beach for lunch.

It was super foggy and cold along the coast (and now that we're baking in the sun again we wish we were back).

Our time in California would soon come to an end, but not before one last bouldering stop...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Snake vs Squirrel!!

The most exciting thing we saw in the valley was not El Capitan, Half Dome, The Lost Arrow Spire, Midnight Lightning or the Waterfalls. Nope, it was this...

These guys had a showdown when they crossed paths. It was quite the standoff for a couple of minutes, but it ended in a draw and they went their separate ways. It was pretty interesting. The squirrel was frantically waving it's tail back and forth, I figured in an attempt to make itself look bigger. We later learned adult squirrels will eat and rub shed snake skin into their tails in an effort to confuse the rattlers, and hopefully dissuade the snakes from trying to eat their young.

Oh yeah, all the other things I mentioned about the valley are pretty awesome too....

El Capitan.

Us in awe of El Capitan.

Bridalveil Falls. 617 feet high!

Below you can see the top of Yosemite Falls to the left. A bit right of center you can see the Lost Arrow Spire, slightly detached from the main cliff. Highliners often set up a slackline from the top of the spire to the main cliff. Crazy exposure!

Half Dome.

We look forward to returning to the valley at some point when the weather is more condusive to climbing (and there aren't so many tourists). In the meantime, our next stop was Lover's Leap, just outside of Lake Tahoe...

Credit to Kristal's Dad for some of the above pictures. Thanks Lyle!

Monday, July 12, 2010


Tuoulumne Meadows is surrounded by skyscraping granite domes with awesome mulitpitch climbs that top out with stellar 360-degree views. After hours of pouring over the guidebook, I had a ticklist nearly as tall as El Cap and managed to drag Jason off the boulders long enough to do some climbing. Here he is after clipping manky old ¼ inch bolts on The Boltaway on the Stately Pleasure Dome.

And one of the epic dome decents

As a bonus, my parents came down for the long weekend for a visit. We managed to do a bunch of hiking and touristy stuff, but the highlight was probably climbing the Lembert Dome with them. Here's my mom and Jason on the top of the second pitch. You can see Cathedral Peak off in the distance.

The hike down from the dome was a bit of an excursion.

Early on in this trip, we met some guys in Arkansas who raved about how great Cathedral Peak was. An almost alpine setting, 700 feet of climbing and a top out on a tiny pinnacle. And after we arrived in Tuolumne and saw the peak off in the distance, it seemed impossible to leave without climbing it. So after taking a few days to acclimatize (seriously, the air up here is thin!), we figured we were up to the challenge.

The approach was pretty grueling, 4.5 km with a huge elevation gain and a fair bit of snow to hike through. The second crux of the climb was defending ourselves from the marmots, who will eat absolutely anything you leave on the ground, are unafraid of people and seem to climb at least 5.6. One followed Jason to the top of the first pitch.

The climb goes up a massive featured slab, through an narrow chimney, up a series of cracks and then tops out on a pinnacle the size of a kitchen table. And the views from the top are pretty impressive.

In the distance below you can see Lembert Dome, which seems tiny from this angle.

After tens days, five domes, an awesome peak and a great visit with my parents, I’m a little sad to be leaving Tuolumne. But, the temperatures have warmed and the mosquitoes have moved in, so it’s time to head west.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Serenity Now

For starters, this is where we are.
Immediately recognizable to most climbers: Yosemite National Park.

Well, to be honest we haven't climbed at all in the valley. We went down to check it out, but it's too hot and crowded for our liking. Not to mention full of mosquitos. We drove right on through when we arrived, except to stop and take some pictures.

We spent most of the last week and a half in the eastern half of the park around Tuolumne Meadows. Yet again we arrived at a destination off season, but for a change we were actually early instead of late. As most of the climbing is over 8000 feet in elevation, spring is just arriving. There is snow everywhere.

The Tuolumne Meadows campground wasn't even open when we showed up, along with several state campgrounds just outside the park. We ended up sleeping in the car, and barely got a site in the one campground that opened the next day.

Our campsite is at 9500 feet in elevation. Advantages include no mosquitos and a snow bank outside our tent. At least for a while we don't have to buy ice for the cooler.

I'll post about the climbing here (which, not surprisingly, is pretty awesome) later, but today marks 3 months since we started our trip. With little more to do than manage our day to day life (pretty much climbing, eating and sleeping), there has been a lot of time for reflection. What comes to mind now are the recent times on this trip that I've felt completely content.

Like the day, driving back to our campsite from the grocery store in Bishop, with the beautiful Eastern Sierras in front of me, and the song 'Peaceful Easy Feeling' by the Eagles playing on the radio.

Or just last week, belaying Kristal on the 4th pitch of The Boltway, sitting high over Tenaya Lake, with a clear blue sky and an incredible view, watching the tourists, probably only here for a weekend getaway from their hectic lives, scramble around on the slabs 300 feet below me.

Or yesterday, when we spent a rare morning just relaxing around the campsite, sitting in the warm sun with a cool breeze blowing, the sound of our nearby creek rushing and birds singing in the background.

It's hard not to be content when you see things like this every day.

There are things I miss of course. Friends and family for sure. As incredible as this trip has been, I look forward to hitting some of the old local destination with the climbers back home.

We also aren't as up to date on what is going on in the world. I wish I could have watched some of the World Cup. I will miss watching the stages of the Tour de France. But those are minor things compared to the life we are living. We go to bed and wake up with the sun. We spend our days outside, doing what we love. For now I can think of nothing better.