Thursday, December 20, 2007

The South Side of Joshua Tree

Note: I still have a few installments to make from my November trip out to Joshua Tree. Here's one of them!

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So, when I headed away from the BLM land, site of the JTree SushiFest, it was about 10am. After heading into town, waiting...and waiting...and waiting for a shower(when finally a nice, clean couple stumbled out the door with big grins on their faces), it was after noon. I quickly went to set up a site in Hidden Valley(where, as I had hoped, I got the Stem Gem site - #23). My partner for the next day was in Jumbo camp so I needed to go leave him a note, and I figured I'd spend the rest of the daylight taking a drive down toward the southern part of the park.

And so, after dropping the note, I headed back down the road and turned right at the road that heads towards the Cottonwood entrance. This area of the park I had never been through, and had been told it's interesting how the land transitions to a more lush terrain.

The person had told me there were a different sort of cactus in the area, very unlike what I would see in the sections of the park most frequented by climbers. I had never heard of the type of cactus he mentioned, and was not all that familiar with much beyond the Prickly Pear and Barrel catus' anyway, so what I was imagining was the giant saguaro. I couldn't wait to see these icons of wild west lore.

As I headed down the drive, I did notice the subtle shift in colors and textures and as I rounded a bend, suddenly I saw hundreds upon hundreds of the cutest little cacti imaginable! I wanted to stop and get out and walk amidst the friendly-looking fellas. Really. They were that inviting....

But a road sign said "no!" and also mentioned a "Cholla Cactus Garden" coming up, where presumably one could park their vehicle and get up close and personal. Even though I'm not a huge fan of taking the "tourist trail," I felt it would be okay this time, since these were an additional surprise on my way to the big cacti.

The road wove circuitously amidst these fields of cacti, first on one side and then the other, and then the entrance to the gardened area appeared. I pulled over, got my camera out and headed down the path along with 3 or 4 others who had happened along at the same time.

There is a large WARNING sign as you enter the site, telling you these cacti may LOOK friendly, and they may have been nicknamed "Teddy Bear Cactus," but it was all a ruse.... Apparently, the quills practically jump off and spear you(hundreds of micro jabs at a clip) if you so much as wander within their airspace. That's an exaggeration, the sign says, but it seems so, because the spines are so tiny that you don't realize you've gotten too close until... you have gotten to close. The sign warns, very clearly, to keep children and/or animals roped in, and that removal of the barbs is tedious, difficult and worst of all, painful.

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Here's what the famous Cholla, or Teddy Bear Cactus, looks like. Notice the overgrowth of brush at the base of the dried bush in front? What looks like dark patches? If you've been to Jtree, you've probably noticed this around a bit. I always thought it was that the wind blew loose bits of dirt, dry twigs and stuff, and when they snagged on things, eventually the mess would build up, looking thusly... Wrong. The piles of junk(literally) are the homes of desert packrats, who will take whatever they can find, and build a beaver-like den. This photo is actually not a very good example. In another installment of the trip, where I visit an abandoned mine, you will see what I'm talking about.... I hope I'll get to that sooner than I did on this page.

When one rat moves out, another will take up residence, and there are actually some rats nests in Josuha Tree that are more than two thousand - two THOUSAND - years old! The nests have multiple entrances, and the sharp, barb-like branches of fallen desert fauna allow for a great protective barrier. The small rodents can race between the sabres, whereas a larger animal, in hunt of the rat, will get poked in the eye, nose, tummy, and/or foot if they try to dig in!

After learning about the pack rat homes, I started seeing them EVERYWHERE, as I wandered around this time out in the park.


The bottoms of the Teddy Bear cactus die off, but remain solid enough to support the upper sections of the plant, as you can see here. The appearance is that of having had a fire sweep through, but that's not the case.

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Here is a close-up of a Cholla that has been weathered for who knows how many years. The dry air decreases the rate of decomposition so drastically that a plant one sees one year may very well be there the next year, in exactly the same condition. That's a good example to show just why it's really very important that we take care in these type of environments. One might think tossing a banana or an orange peel aside as we stop trailside for a snack is okay, but how long will that trash remain? The timeframe is measured in years.


Here you can see the dead base/living top again, but if you look on the ground, surrounding our Teddy's, you'll notice what looks like fallen parts of the cactus. Someone has been out abusing them, maybe some redneck striking them with a stick, is a reasonable first impression. But that's not the deal. The Cholla cactus is made up of a number of delicate, jointed parts, and the slightest breeze tears them away, depositing them nearby. A coyote brushing aside a low-bearing cactus might get a few pods snagged in their fur and carry them who knows where before they come off to rest.

Interestingly, this is part of the Cholla's adaptive evolution. It's how they regenerate! Amazingly, the spiny pods will take root very quickly and soon enough, a new Cholla is growing from that singular discarded bit. Here's one of them up close. The rock shown is about the size of an average man's fist.


The Teddy Bear Garden was a really nice exhibit, and I am glad I stopped. All the information I presented above is posted in a small pamphlet available at the garden's start, with a numerical index that helps you identify the various things to look for. I never would have found any of this out had I not taken this self-guided tour.

I got back in the car, happy with the detour, but still on the hunt for those giant cowboy cacti! As I drove along the road, I noticed pretty flowers and lots of greenery carpeting the desert floors.

Suddenly - I saw something strange! Giant cacti for sure, but of a different sort than I'd ever imagined... These succulents were the size of trees, and looked like the sort of plants one finds in a tropical fish tank. Several long, swaying tentacle-like branches emanating from a common base at the ground. WOW - They were magnificent!

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What can I say!? The Ocotillo are so cool, and so far from what I would have expected to see. Here
is a page telling a bit more about them, as I really know nothing myself.

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Here's a partially dried out section, close up. How beautiful!

As I mentioned, I saw some beautiful flowers along the way, and though I didn't seem to be having a very good photographer's day, I did manage to get a few to share. The size of this cluster of purple flowers was about three inches in diameter - the photo is actually larger than life-size.

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Here's a stunning beauty commonly found along the roadsides, and not just in this particular area. I don't know anything about the plant, but it differs from most desert flowers in that it almost seems like something found in a woodland environment. The actual flower is large, which also seems a paradox, in a land where water is so precious that living things seem to stay small in an attempt to ration the supply. In contrast, this plant seems oblivious to the drought-like conditions!

I wish I'd taken some shots of the mountains in that area, but I knew I just didn't have the equipment, patience and skill to capture an interesting image. What I learned, though, was that the fertile base blanketing the area was actually topsoil which had flowed down along weaknesses in the massive mountains so long ago. In the way a glacier is a giant frozen river coming onto a flat plane, the same had happened here, but the ice was swathes of silted rock instead, creating wondrous wide avenues amidst the formations.

The Cottonwood road is something that anyone interested in geology would probably like to experience, so if you have a rest day next time you are out climbing in Josh, I can definitely recommend taking the drive out there. There are a few established hiking trails, too, though I don't have any details.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Fire Sale! - Proceeds for Alpinist Magazine

Most of you have already heard about the warehouse fire suffered by Alpinist Magazine, and their huge loss of inventory. Luckily, nobody was injured in the tragedy.

People have been ordering subscriptions left and right, from what I am gathering. But here's someone stepping up with help in a way that is really heartwarming. Instead of going into unnecessary detail, I'll post the words he wrote himself.

From professional photographer Randy Wenzel, as posted on Supertopo:

I'm sure you all know by now about the tragic fire at Alpinist Magazine's warehouse. Referred to by a member on summipost recently as, The National Geographic of climbing magazines...", Alpinist magazine is quite a special publication. I really believe in what Alpinist is doing and can't think of a better group to support as my "good deed of the year".

To go a little further towards helping out, I'll donate 100% of the profit (profit = minus printing, matte, framing and shipping) of any of the prints on my website bought by supertopo members. I'll send the money directly to Christian Beckwith, the man behind Alpinist. I've worked with Christian - he's a great guy and believes in what they are doing at Alpinist. He'll put the money to the best use for the company.

To go a little further, as I know art is expensive (yet we make less than starving magazine editors, go figure), if you make a reasonable offer on a print, (below the listed price - above the cost), I'll accept the offer and donate the profits still. Kinda like Karl's "dirtbag special".

My site, for those who haven't been there is (Note: hotlink enabled by the myself, the artist did not directly link on his post) You can use the ordering process there or contact me directly here (my email link here works). If you use the online order forms in my galleries, please be sure to leave a note in the comments section stating that you are a supertopo member. Thanks.

Also, I haven't yet gotten the blurb up, but there is a 20% special on my "Print of the Month" selection. I haven't gotten them all up yet, but you know... It's the holidays, end of year, etc. It's a busy time.

Renewal and Gift Subscription links are available right on Alpinist's front page HERE.

note: I thought a bit about doing this, before I posted, which is sad. I'm sure there are those who will try to find a negative in this. Well, so be it and that's their personal issue. I spoke with Christian last week and he's appreciative of all of the support the community is giving. That's pretty much all that matters.

Thanks Folks!


I am enjoying Randy's work right now, viewing his site as I write this entry. He's wonderfully gifted. Please take a moment yourself to see if you might like to take him up on his offer, helping the folks at Alpinist and receiving a beautiful piece of artwork in the act. As well - if you know people who aren't all over the web, or may not check in at Supertopo - please, send them a link to the thread mentioned above, or forward this entry directly by clicking the button below.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Posture, Please!

According to recent study, as written about here, in an article from story has been all over the news recently; this is one citation), women's bodies have evolved differently then men's, to assist them coping with weight shifts that occur during pregnancy.

An excerp from the article states:
"The maternal center of mass shifts forward about three to five centimeters during pregnancy, so that it's no longer beautifully aligned with the hips and feet," said study author Katherine Whitcome, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University's department of anthropology who began the research as a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin.

Whitcome explained that the female body compensates for this shift in several ways. One is to recruit more back muscles. Solely using these muscles, Whitcome said, would quickly cause muscle fatigue and make women more prone to injury. Instead, the female back has evolved to allow three lower vertebrae to form a larger curve to support the growing fetus. In men, only two vertebrae form this curve, called lordosis, she explained.

Females also have a key hip joint that is larger and can flare out further, according to the study, published in the Dec. 13 issue of Nature.

I'm 45 years old, and it's likely I'll never have firsthand experience with the pregnancy issue, but I am thinking I still may gotten benefit from this evolutionary process. Namely, I climb like a girl!

Now I'm thinking that the climbing world isn't really backed by the kind of funding that entailed to make this physiological study, and so there's probably not much data on how this change in women's vertebrae and hip joints affects our climbing. But I have the feeling it may just be one of the keys in unlocking that mystery as to why women are almost always more graceful as climbers then their male peers.

I decided to take my query to the streets, and have posted it here, in the Techniques and Training forum of the most-visited rock climbing website I know of. Of course, the place is....odd...and I have no idea how the thread will develop. There's as good a chance that the topic will devolve into grunts, groans and unintelligible acronyms as contain useful information from climbers in fields that may have insight into the topic. Follow the link, and see what happens.....

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

An Update on My T-Shirt Shop - Just in Time for Xmas!!!

Well..... My blog byline does say "where I've been"... And where I have been since the cold weather started kicking in is here at home, wishing I had logistics in place to head off for a nice long road trip. But one can only spend so much of their day wishing around.... And so I have been filling in by doing some new designs for ClimbAddict, my online t-shirt shop.

It's true - that this is a blatant plug for the shop - you've got to understand that going in! But I'm not begging, not pleading or any of that, for you to go and buy anything. But - some people actually do, on occasion, and so I have to believe that it's worth the effort I put into it. So...if you are wondering what to do with that extra cash just lying around, or just want to see what I'm doing, might as well pop over.

The most recent design I added(just yesterday) is this one, based on one of Picasso's well-known pieces, that I am calling "Your Lead/Nut Bouquet."
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But, as you can guess, shipping time is getting tight for the xmas rush, and even with the guidelines, they have included the caveat "your experience may vary." Here's what they have listed:

For delivery by Dec. 24, please order by 11:59 p.m. EST on:

Shipping Method
Economy Sunday, December 9
Standard Thursday, December 13
Premium Tuesday, December 18
Express Wednesday, December 19
Canada Friday, December 7
International Saturday, December 8

Order deadlines apply for all items except books which have a longer processing time. Delivery dates are not guaranteed and may include extra transit time in case of unforeseen delays. Late deliveries are always a possibility, but CafePress will do its best to ensure late deliveries are as infrequent as possible.

On the other hand, CafePress(the company that hosts the store, and handles fulfillment) has introduced Gift Certificates this year. They are sent by email, which is a good thing for last minute people like myself.

So - You can go to the shop, pick out a gift for someone and add it to your shopping cart. Then, when you get to the check out, there is an option to give a gift certificate instead. You can set it up so the item you chose is featured, with a note saying "(Mr. Wonderful Friend) thought you might like..." with a link to the product you chose. The recipient can adjust the order - sizing, color choice, change to a different item - and then they're done. The only thing I would suggest, if you choose the gift cert option, is to include a little extra on the amount, so they aren't stuck paying additional for shipping. There is an option listed that enables that.

Confusing...But I think it's pretty user-friendly in real life. Plus, CafePress has awesome customer service. Even though it's print on demand(each item is made up after ordered), if there is something you don't like - wrong size, whatever - they will refund or replace(or credit for something else, in the case of gift certificate) with no hassle whatsoever.

Anyway - I ramble, as always.

Thanks for taking the time to read my self-promoting blog entry, and also for your continued interest. It really makes me happy to see that I have a nicely developing community of readership, people checking in as new items post. It's definitely appreciated!

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Beam Me Up Some Beta, Scotty!

A while back, I was following someone on Bloody Bush. On the ground, he'd asked if I would like to take the second pitch, but for some reason the decision wasn't made before he set off.

Worried about the lead, because I had no idea where the route went, I tucked my guidebook in my windjacket so I could review it at the belay. The pockets weren't big enough, of course, and so I just slipped it in through the front opening and zipped up. My harness was cinched over the jacket's bottom, and I figured the book was secure.

Within a few moves, the book navigated from flat against my torso to a side-poking position, and eventually settled uncomfortably, prodding various places along my backbone.

Continuing on my way and enjoying the climb, I soon came to the crux move - a crouching, reachy and insecure, committing lunge move over a bit of air. Gulp....

Timidly I went for it, scared as I was, since the fall would have been a pendulum. There was no other choice. Halfway through I knew I could do it and was beginning an exhaling sigh of relief. But then I had to stretch just a liiiiittle more, reaching for the security of a hand hold.

Suddenly - a fluttering noise broke through the quiet in the autumn afternoon. My first thought was that I'd unknowingly disturbed a nest of bats! AAACCCKKKK!!! I crouched further, dropping my head to my chest in a protective reaction, almost sliding off the slab-like feature I was perched upon. At the same time, I hear my partner yelling ROCK!

"ROCK! ROCK! ROCK!" he screamed, warning anybody below.

"What the...?" I thought to myself. My fear of bat attack was quickly replaced by a more ominous dread; that I'd dislodged a rock and sent it on a downward spiral, possibly directed at some innocent below. And not only that, but I'd done it completely unaware - the absolute WORST error a climber can make in a populated area.

I looked down, ready to yell further warning, since I had a more direct view, and saw that my boulder had transformed to a beautiful white dove, fluttering it's wings upward. Time stopped, and with joy I watched the sunlight glittering off it's wings, realizing no one would die at my hand that day.

Of course, it wasn't a dove. It was my guidebook, which had slipped out the bottom of my jacket as I pushed for that reaching move..... The white feathered wings were the paper pages sandwiched between the dove grey cover of my Dick Williams guidebook....

I felt like a jackass gumby.
Which brings me to the point of this post.

Scotty, a local Gunks climber most anyone who's ever been there would recognize by his long thin beard and beret, has been making and selling an excellent pouch that perfectly fits the Gunks guides. They are simple in design, which is important in climbing. No extraneous doodads to snag in your rack while you're sketched and run out, with only enough left inside to make a grab for your nuts.

And, of course, no loose guidebooks flapping in the breeze, sailing off the cliff like skittling gravel under a fool's foot on a belay ledge.

His web page modestly compliments the humbleness of the design. Take a look for yourself!

My friend and climbing partner Irina has one of Scotty's bookbags, and so I can say from experience that the thing does what he says it does! Lots of experience...for Irina always makes me clip it on my harness, along with her small Nalgene of water, whenever I am seconding her on a multipitch. I draw the line at carrying her camera, though, although that doesn't stop her from trying to get me to snap that on, too.

Scotty's bags are just the right size for the Gunks books. He says they hold both sizes of the local books - Swain's or the Big Grey Dick. We use William's grey book, and it does slip easily inside the pouch. With a gentle pull of the zip, which does seem to be of a high quality(Believe me, I know from crappy zippers, having been a designer of cheap, imported handbags for many years), the closure holds securely. Despite many days at the crag, the zipper still pulls without a snag along the way.

Finally, not only is the bag good for carrying a guide on multipitch, but it also helps to keep the book clean and in good condition between cragging days. Bag it and toss it in your gear bin; you won't have crumbled or dirty-stained pages as happens to most guidebooks that see a lot of use.

The reason I am writing this bit of a promotion is not just to promote a good, locally made product, but because I noticed that Scotty has posted an announcement of the goods in the for sale section at You can see what others have written as well, so don't take my word for it!

I'm going to ask if Scotty can do custom sizes, since other areas may have books that are larger than our Gunks books. Check the thread above to see what his answer is!

EDIT 12/12 - Scotty says that, yes, he can do custom sizes. Just email him to discuss!

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Alpinist Magazine Warehouse Destroyed by Fire

While scanning the forum pages over at Supertopo this morning, I was jolted on the sight of a thread title "Alpinist Warehouse Burns to the Ground".

The magazine is undeniably the best available when it comes to print media reportage and photojournalism in the field of climbing. They shun commercial advertising from their pages in order to bring a more intensive experience for the reader, and thus run it out on a thiner cord than most any shoestring-budgeted company out there.

The depth of such a catastrophic blow registered immediately to me. And in reading a provided link to the Alpinist website, my thoughts were confirmed.

Their entire back inventory has been lost, along with all their stock in promotional items such as t-shirts, hats, stickers, etc. (NOTE: Since the link brings one to the current front page of their site, I've pasted the story below, for future reference. The buttons on this image do NOT bring you to working links.)

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Within the story is a hotlink to a local news article, with just a little information, as would be expected. For a municipality, this is not a sensational story. Of course in the climbing world it is big news.

For updates on details, you can follow the Supertopo link I first listed. Here it is, again, for easy reference.

The folks at Alpinist ask a favor of support in this difficult time, and I think most of us are all too happy to step up and do so. I'll be ordering a subscription right away(as soon as I get back from walking Teddy....he's wondering why his walk is delayed!). And I also need a new calendar for 2008 - Can't think of a better one to have. Hopefully my local dealer still has one when I contact them, but if not - that's a good thing too!

Please - help get the word out to others who may not be as much an internet junkie as myself. Email this page, or the links to either the Supertopo thread or the Alpinist site to those you know.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Ranger Gord Helps Me Tide Things Over

I knowwwww..... I have been remiss in my personal storytelling!

Ever since I got back from Joshua Tree, and the season ended at the Gunks, I have been procrastinating on this blog. In one way, it's bizarre, since I actually have tons more time right now. Stuck in the city, hunkering down for the winter.... But on the other hand, it makes sense. I haven't got new, exciting inspirational adventures to go on and on andonandon(That's really a word, you know. If you don't believe me, Google it!) about.

I've uploaded some pictures from the Jtree trip that I want to tell about, but need to go through my notes to get some information for the text. And the devil certainly IS in the details, because I just can't seem to garner the energy to see where I left those papers once I unpacked.....hahaha.

So, in the interim, I'm going to pull another internet 'EZ Post' and post about an item I found while whiling away my hours on the web.... Third time's the charm, they say. Since this will be my 3rd EZ, maybe it'll help me get back to my usual format; the one which so many of you love dearly - the The Blah, Blah, Blah Blog Entry.

But - as usual - I digress. Let's get to the point.

I'm gonna send you over to Ranger Gord's Campfire Stories for a while. But don't click the link yet!

Why? Because I need to say that I think this is a great find; a blog from a ranger who has got some really good stuff, and is a damned fine writer! His byline reads "Stories about parks, the people who work there and the people that visit them." And that is exactly what you will find. Let's hope what you don't find is a story about yourself....

This is one of my favorites. I'm not going to give the title. You'll just have to trust me.....

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Are You the OutDoorzy Type?

So, winter's on it's way. Rock season at the Gunks is on hiatus til spring(for me, at least), and I ain't got the money to go west for the winter. What am I to do!?

The bad news is - it seems like the answer to my question has been to spend yet MORE time on the internet....UhOhhhh. But, the GOOD news is that, in doing so, I came across a new discussion forum site that I think will become a great new resource.

It's called, and as you might guess....the focus is on outdoors-related activities.

The forum section has sections for Land, Water, Snow, Air, Urban and Other things to do, which covers a pretty wide array of lifestyles for the non-sedentary sort of person. And it has a very friendly vibe; I get the feeling that the inane trash that passes for interaction at would not go over well here - which is a really good thing. The "Campground" forum on that site is looking more and more like Craigslist Rants every time I log on.

It looks like the site is about a year and a half old, so they've had time to gather a decent number of members and develop a character, but with such a wide array of sports in the mix, it can feel sort of unpopulated at times. In short - the more, the merrier, and with winter coming, why not join in and make some new friends ?

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Adirondacks MountainFest

I ran across an announcement for the 2008 Mountainfest today, and thought I would post the link for those of you who might be interested.

Looks like there is a good time to be had - excellent slideshows, a spaghetti dinner, gear demo and workshops in ice climbing, snowshoe mountaineering and avalanche preparedness.

I'm thinking on going; I've been putting off learning anything about ice climbing for 3 seasons already. Maybe it's time I took a swing at it...

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Friday, November 16, 2007

The Amboy Underwear Bush

The Amboy Shoe Tree, which I wrote about here, on my winter 2005 trip(scroll to near the end to find photos), has competion!

Now - if you don't know much about Amboy, or the Amboy Shoe Tree, all you have to do is Google, and you'll soon have a plethora of pages to wile away while you're busy wasting time at work. Sure, I could provide links, but...there are so many to choose from, and half the fun of surfing the net is deciding which wave you want. So - get to it. Or not.

Okay....If you truly need help, here's one to see.

I don't know how long the amboy Shoe Tree's been bearing fruit in the form of Keds, Pumas, Nikes and all manner of flip-flops and boots, but it's been there since I first noticed in in December of 2005, and was obviously not a mere seedling at the time.


The new, Amboy Underwear Bush IS a mere wisp of a bush, with just it's first few skivvies snagged on it's desert prickly limbs. When I drove by on my way back to the Las Vegas airport last week, there were butt only four pair of shorts adorning the little bush. I had thought it was a Creosote, but to be honest, I didn't make a note of it. So - if you happen by and get the details, please do let us know.

What's so special about the Amboy Underwear Bush? Well - if you can't figure that out for yourself, then you should just stay at work, getting away once a year to visit the relatives at holiday time. Amboy in itself is an icon of an era gone by; near as a town can be to being a ghost town and still have a few living members of it's population. Once a stop along the infamous Route 66, the town lapsed into despair when the highway was decommissioned(or something - If you want specifics, Google is your friend)and renamed things like National Trails Road.

Amboy is also one of the very few spots along the back road from Vegas to Jtree where there is sign of human interdiction(if you can forget you're on an asphalt lane and running alongside a railroad track for much of the way, I should say). One can cut at least an hour off the travel time by choosing this route over the boring - but safe! - US Highway System.

I have made the voyage in two and a half hours several times(though this time I took three, since I had plenty of time due to a later flight). There's fun in the sun and something decadent about knowing you can run a road as fast as your (and your car's) heart's desire, with no worry about a speeding ticket(for going 50+ miles over the limit....). Plus, after a few trips, you'll figure out how to manage the bottom-out washes and get through without damage to your undercarriage. I cannot guarantee the avoidance of motion sickness, however. So far, I've not been able to get away without at least a little bit between Kelso and Amboy, where the road sign says "Dips - Next 15 Miles."

Until now, Amboy has been known for a few things:
- The exquisite "Roy's Diner" (.....Google, if you don't know)
- The Amboy Crater (someday I will go out and see it; I actually didn't know about it until this last trip
- The fact that the town was auctioned off on Ebay, in hopes to save it's financial soul(don't know how that went)
- The Amboy Shoe Tree

Depending on what you're into, be it geology, 20th Century Americana, or something flavored by some other factor, one of the above would be what you think of when you hear mention of the town called Amboy.

For me, it was first the restaurant - hard to ignore! What a beauty, with it's glorious sign that has somehow been saved from the degradation one might expect in such a desolate location. There must be some desert charm protecting the thing.....

But, if one takes the time to look around, they notice Amboy's got quite a bit more to offer. If you've never been the route, next time you're headed to the Tree (or elsewhere in the direction needed) from Las Vegas, I hope you'll do the right thing - Get some gas and refreshments and make the trek. It's worth it.

I never hoisted a pair of shoes to the shoe tree, but obviously many, many other people have. The think is covered(though there's room for many a future generation to add). But when I drove past, getting a little bit of joy from the thing, I couldn't help but chide myself for being stingy all these times.

I was still in that mode when a flurry of color hastened by my driver's side window.... "What was that?!" I wondered. Looking in my side mirror, and then out the rear-view, I wasn't sure....But I believed(as was later confirmed) that I saw some pairs of boxers blowing in the breeze of my tailwind.

Screeching to a halt, as there really is no other way, if one wants a dramatic tale to be told, I quickly ascertained the coast was clear and threw a U-ie (is there a correct way to spell the word?)

Heading back to the west, I slowed down on the reapproach (yes, I had been going quite fast, if you are wondering - as I said, it's part of the deal. Don't - I repeat DON'T do this tour if you can't drive more than 55. Well, actually it's fine. The whole stretch is flat as a pancake(except those dastardly washes....) and anyone can sail by without much incident).

And so - since I need to go do some work, I'll leave the rest of the story to be told in the photos. But - I will suggest that you be prepared to help this new icon floursih, and if you head out that way - think about helping the legend continue and losing your shorts at the Amboy Underwear Bush.....

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Here's the bush

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Red Boxers

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Blue Ones

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Blue Plaid

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First pair of women's panties on board. Now....there's something to be proud of....
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Sunday, November 11, 2007

I Saw My First Bobcat!

Yes, I did, though there’s not much more to the story than that. It was another day of playing solitaire(on Friday), and so I’d decided to explore the area northwest of Barker Dam. I chose the location because I could drop by Gunsmoke and see if I had gained any courage, strength and/or determination overnight(I hadn’t, but my tips reminded me at once of what I had …accomplished…the last time I had tried it(I’d mapped a topography in bas relief of the crystal patterns for the first two moves on the traverse…..).

After a feeble go on the start, I started to get melancholy; this is the loneliest trip I’ve ever had, and I am a person who requires heavy doses of solitude. If I haven’t provided this tip before, I’ll put it out there for you now: Do not come to Jtree in early November if you’re counting on an international contingent of traveling dirtbags for partners!

Before I get on with the bobcat story, I have to say that it was with some relief that I saw my 6am rising neighbors packing their camp on Friday. They’d actually gotten up at 5:15 that day! Yes – I will outright say I was not sad to see them go, even though they were quite congenial. My feelings shifted later in the day when I returned and saw they’d left me a gallon and two-thirds of water, but only enough to realize that I really should not expect the world to be on my time schedule. (I don’t, of course. But my reports on this trip would be pretty mundane if I didn’t scrape the barrel for the smallest of topics! Really, I was not all that peeved – I’m taking poetic license).

It DID occur to me, as they were heading out, that I should probably be grateful, since the next day would be Saturday, a weekend in prime time tourism season at the park….

Sometimes I wish I could step back in time and erase the ideas that form in my consciousness, because often they bear out to be forebodings of the future…. And that was certainly the case this time! On Saturday morning, at 6:10, a very LOUD voice yelled out something to his apparently still sleeping tent partner.

And with that, I was awake. He kept it up, until I felt he simply didn’t realize how easily his voice carried, and yelled over to something (exactly) akin to “What are you DOING? It’s 6am!”

His reply, to self, was “uhhhoh….” And he stopped. For a full minute or two, when he apparently forgot himself again and launched off with the same level of gusto. His friend groggily told him to lower his voice, but that only served as stoke for the furnace, it seemed.

Strange. And I am not too ashamed to put in writing that I again told him to be STFU. This time I yelled out “Hey! Your voice really carries. Can you please be quiet?”

It didn’t actually work. He made some sort of reply, and I will tell you that all this time I was unable to make out one word of what he was actually saying, but his partner did then tell him, in a more detailed way, that he should try not to be so loud.

That’s when he started the morning cooking….. His pots and pans and package-opening skills matched his voice. The guy was just, I guess, a member of the Loud Clan.

About this time, the sun was juuuuust beginning to make it’s way into over the horizon. A nearby camper was walking down the road, and sang a short verse in some native dialect. It was obviously some sort of prayer type, which my friend confirmed in short order. He said it was some sunrise prayer.

Anyway, after I got up, I said hello to the neighbors and chatted for a while. I had accepted that not everyone can comprehend the idea of quiet hours, and it seemed this guy had not made the connection between a woman’s voice shushing him form a nearby tent and the one coming out of my mouth face to face.

So – that was Saturday morning.

Friday, I actually did finally have a climbing partner. A guy named Mark, from LA, had just been laid off work and driven to the Tree for a day trip. He asked if I wouldn’t mind belaying him on a 5.10 sport route he’d been projecting, and I was so thrilled at the prospect of climbing that I’m sure I agreed with gusto. Mark did offer to get on some easier stuff too, and so we were off.

As we headed to his car, parked near Intersection Rock, he looked up and asked if “I’d ever done Northern Overhang(5.9). I told him how I’d followed and dropped off at the crux, to get through on prussiks, but was willing to follow again if he wanted the lead. He offered the 5.7 variation(Overhang Bypass) instead, and I was psyched, because I knew I would be able to follow the line up till the route shifted away from the overhang, and most likely be able to finish clean.

But when we got there, a leader was about halfway through the first pitch, with two partners in wait. I was worried about what would happen next –and here’s another of those “why, oh why, do I have these thoughts” moments, because – as I’d feared, he spotted the gorgeous line of The Flake…..

Now, I knew that someday I would attempt the route again, but frankly, I was hoping to let a little more time pass than three days…..

Off Mark went, and got his ass chewed up just as Tom had earlier in the week. “Take!” The one thing I should mention is that, in my earlier entry about the route, I’d said “big gear,” and that is not actually correct. As Mark was readying to cast off, a party who’d just done the route came to collect their packs, and we talked about gear. They’d done the route with a gray alien in a slot at about 15 feet up, and a number two Camalot …..placed after the chimney let up.


Luckily, for both me and Mark, he did have a big cam to stuff in the wide section. Lucky for him as he hung, and lucky for me as I didn’t have to become a crashpad.

Well – after a while, Mark figured out the sequence, and got through with just a little groveling. The rest of the route was easy for him, but as time went on, I had too much opportunity to recall just how NOT easy it had been for me. And though I had intended to stick to the spot where I’d become stuck before, it ended up not being the case. Stupidly, I faced the wrong side as I went up – I KNEW which way had worked for me before! And when it came to the tough spot, I was hosed. I couldn’t move up, and turning around was going to require an act of grace I’ll probably never master.

Off I came, and with the fall went my commitment. I got back on, and knew that, if I free-climbed the route I’d be whipped for the rest of the day. I was looking forward to the “easier stuff” we’d agreed to, and getting on some routes I’d never climbed before, and so I decided to get the F through the chimney on prussiks. Which, I did quite efficiently. And, of course, the rest of the route was within my ability and I enjoyed. I was a little sheepish about my decision, but I figured at least I wasn’t dogging all the way; Mark had a period of holding me while I ascended, and that was probably better than the bonking on the rope that he’d have endured as I struggled and fell up the line.

We rested and had a bit to eat, and headed over to his project route, a closely bolted traversing line just around the corner from Fun Stuff at Echo Cove.

Oh yes…it was a route. The first move was way beyond my ability; that I could see with certainty. So Mark hung a two foot sling from the second bolt, the end of which was at a level that would still require me to stick the opening move which I knew was beyond me. Oh well…..

Mark did not make his redpoint that day, but he did discover some errors in his decisions as to how he’d get through the line, and I think he’ll probably be successful the next time he makes an attempt.

Next we did Fun Stuff, and I flailed at the start. I don’t know why I didn’t just commit and go. I had the feet in place, and knew it was a quick power hop up to a stance. Perhaps it was that Mark also had difficulty on the start, but I went from being 100% confident in my ability to second-guessing myself in the time I spent flaking the rope to getting on the line.

I discarded my move after stepping up and waiting, and grabbed the draw and wanked over the lip! Gawd – how I rue the day I first discovered the cheating way out of a situation! It was actually in a Jtree route that I’d first pulled gear, and though I made sure my partner knew what I was doing, the fact is that in my mind I always know there’s a soft way when commitment fails me….. Sad.

Mark had not heard me say I was grabbing the draw, and he exclaimed excitedly as I seemed to rise above the crux so easily! I almost fell off laughing.

The rest of the route was no problem for me, and it really is, as the name says, Fun Stuff. Gunkies will like this route as it is not what most people think of as typical Jtree climbing.

The afternoon was waning by now, but there was still time to get in another route if we stayed in the area. Mark suggested Touch and Go, a very classic Jtree route that goes at 5.9. I’d had someone point it out to me earlier in the trip, and I have to admit that I was not expecting to get on it at this time in my life. I recall looking at it and specifically thinking “Someday. Some day I will be able to climb that route. Maybe even on lead.”

And so, it was with trepidation that I agreed. Mark was so excited, since he’d never been on the route, and I’d had such a dismal display of climbing that day that I just didn’t have the ability to say no. After all, I was just seconding, too.

I could see that we’d have barely enough time to run the route and get to ground before darkness – if we were efficient…..

The route gave Mark more than he’d bargained for and – hope he doesn’t mind if he ever reads this – he sport-dogged at two spots. Just not able to commit to the moves. As he took his time, I watched the sun moving west and finally I could not stop myself from mentioning that I beleived we’d not have enough time. I asked him if he knew what the top was, and he said he thought it was bolted. Then I said – “Okay, so if I can’t get through the start, then I’m cool if you rap off and retrieve gear on the way.”

I thought this was being considerate, as I could see that there was no way on earth I’d be able to get to the top before dark. If the route had been a wanderer, I wouldn’t have suggested it, but the line was straight, and gear would be easy to pull.

But when he got to the top, there weren’t bolts(plenty of good gear placements, I saw when I did get up there. So by Jtree ethics, bolts would be unacceptable). As he called down with this information, a moment of darkness began clouding my head. “I hate epics, dammit” I thought to myself. “I really don’t like epics, and I can see this will be one going in, if I take any time beyond a clean climb consistently and efficiently.”

I knew I couldn’t do it,imply from watching his lead. And so I grabbed my headlamp from my pack and called “Climbing!”

At the first tough stance, I saw I’d have difficulty on the route. With a decent amount of time available, I’d have loved to give it my full effort, and maybe I could have done it. But this was not that day.

With darkness coming in shades of gray, and an unknown descent route, I had to get hauling, in order to minimize the epic factor. Now, maybe Mark is not afraid of down-climbs in the dark, but I don’t know him. What I DO know is that Jtree has some walk-offs that include fifth class moves, And I didn’t know if T&G was one of them.

I told him I was going to aid the route, and that was just what I did. As fast as I could go, I grabbed gear and asked him to take my weight. It was a struggle, and I got a workout, since I had to find stances while the slack was still in line when I had no gear to yard, ut it was pretty disappointing, because the route is magnificent. Truly worth every star in the book it has garnered.

The last part was in my easy ability and I did at least get to climb that part, but it was only 15 feet or so. Then we were on the top, looking to get out of there as daylight turned to darkness.

Mark led the descent, and though there were a few areas that gave me worry, it was not difficult. We reached our packs and got back to the desert wash just as nightfall was taking the last of what the day had given. Epic avoided, and I was a happy camper.

And it looks like that was the last bit of roped climbing for my trip, unfortunately. Saturday saw no partner available, and so off I headed, as I said at this page’s start, to the Barker Dam/Outback area.

I had been perusing a bouldering guide that I brought along, and saw mention of a spot called Allistair’s Cave,” which had a tough scrambling approach, and native pictographs along the canyon floor below.

I decided to – nooooo, not try the ascent….as you already know. I went to see the drawings, of course.

I must be getting good at reading Jtree’s outlay, because I got myself to the area with no delay, and I have been able to locate myself at all times so far this trip(Oh! Don’t THINK about getting lost in the Wonderlands!!!! That is my plan for today….crap. Can’t take it back now…. But don’t worry. If you are reading this – online, at least – I made it back okay).

The pictographs are located on a grand bit of rock. No wonder those people chose it as a place to hang out. I did a lot of exploring in the area that day, and came upon several places where people’s had made camps. It seems to me that they all(or, I should say, the ones that are off the canyon floors) seem to have some sort of camouflaged frontage, and then an easy rock staircase ascending to the camp. It’s even possible, I think, that some of the rocks have been manipulated to form the steps. As well, there are several options at egress, and most of them are very easy, with one or two being of third to fourth class effort.

One interesting thing I found, in a crevice near the base of this historic site, was a black stone, completely out of place amidst the others. I am fairly certain it was a useful hand tool, as when I picked it up, there were several perfect ergonomic positions which offered a cutting edge, a point, and a flat plane.

Oh….I wanted to bring it home with me. I have another native rock I found in Wisconsin, which has inked drawings and carvings, and it’s one of my treasured possessions. But I decided to leave this rock where I found it, so others may stumble upon and have the experience I did.

After viewing the area, headed off to see what else I could find, and soon enough I found myself following a trail through a maze of boulders, coming to a site which I am certain once must have been a fine shelter from the burning sun. There were three or four large flat stones, seemingly placed upon rounder ones, set at a perfect height for seating. They were all stable, and they formed, along with other, singular stones, circular shape. One of the stones was set at an angle where it appeared a boulder behind could provide back support, and I felt an inviting call to come and try out “the comfy chair”

It sure was comfortable! The interesting thing was, that there was another stone right in front of it, which had a ridge-like top. As I sat in the spot, it occurred to me to set my left leg atop the ridged stone, and my leg conformed perfectly to it’s contour, completely stable. Maybe it is all my imagination, but when I did this, I looked at another nearby rock(one set on three rounded stones) and got the idea that, if I were a medicine man, this might be my place to do my work. I got an impression of broken legs(and considering the area, and the fact that the advent of sticky rubber was many centuries into the future) and an ancient form of healing. That a healing person might preside over the patient in this locale.

Maybe. Maybe not. But I was there, and that’s the impression I recieved. It’s also of interest to note the place had a higher degree of camo than other identified native sites, and though it did have one “easy” access area, with stones seemingly placed for ascending, the other exits were quite difficult, comparatively. I scoped out two. One led further into the narrowing, canyon, and the other to probably a wonderful series of other places, but it would require a sequence that I didn’t take the time to look for. I am a chicken, as everyone knows, and a false move out there would have been disastrous. Even if I WERE able to make it back to the shaman’s office, he would not be there to mend my broken bone…..hahaha.

While I was trying out the various chairs in the place, I saw my first desert rat of the trip. Nests are everywhere, but the actual rodents are not out and about in daylight. Since this space was cool and well-protected from sunlight, I assumed that was why he’d been out, possibly because he knew there was potential for food(in my backpack). He DID head right over there, but before he made it, I moved, which helped him to change his mind…. He veered at an angle and disappeared within the rocks. But not before I got a good look, and saw that the guy had gigantic eyes, much larger relatively, than rodents I know if in the eastern parts.

So…..I am spending too much time writing this morning. I got off on a run, and time has been passing. I will save the rest of the story for another time. Don’t worry, I won’t forget about the bobcat!

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Friday, November 09, 2007

The Best of Worst Times

Well….yeah. It’s certainly looking like a solitary,hiking intensive trip for me. But, before I get on with the delightful surprise(s) from yesterday, I offer yet more proof that I have - not missed the boat, but boarded too early.

The guys next door rose again at 6am. I can see their point; it gives them plenty of time for coffee, breakfast, racking up and planning their day, and still allowing them to be on the rock by 7:30. Which, in turn, allows them to make the most of the day’s sun, which begins it’s passage over the western horizon around 5pm and concludes by 6.

But I don’t wanna get up at 6am!

They are considerate, for sure. They keep their voices in a lower decibel range. But it’s a fairly constant chatter of mundane minutiae, which I can clearly make out. I don’t need this information, especially not while I’m trying to enjoy my own golden hour, that delicious time before the sun warms the tent enough to get up and get started. At 7:30 or so – a reasonable hour, dammit!

The other clue…. Is that the group of boulderers (and I use that term loosely, as you’ll see), also next door , vacated the place two days ago. I know they were boulderers because they had 3 or 4 crashpads. Which they slept on. They also partied till 1am, drunkenly extolling the wonders of Hobbit Hole and Chasm of Doom. And the loudest one promised to delight the others by bringing along his Tibetan Singing Bowl. Apparently the girls he was trying to impress didn’t get it, and he had to repeat himself. Several times….

Anyway, they cleared out on Tuesday, and left some giveaway stuff on their table. And there’s where I know they weren’t really the bill of goods they had presented(which had appeared to be dirt-living savage boyz).

Left for the next tenant or passerby is a new skillet, a can of Spaghetti-O’s, two boxes of wood matches and an almost full can of butane/propane mix.

Now, it’s a rite of passage for the traveler to leave what they don’t need or can’t carry on a flight. These gifts are usually sucked up at the crack of sun’s warmth by the sort of person who’s wintering here. But this stash has been sitting on the table way beyond the expiration date. No one in need is around. Which also saddens me a little, because I’ll have my own goods to part with on Sunday, and probably no one to give them to. I always enjoyed making the rounds on my last night, passing things out as I went. But at least I can drop the fuel at Nomad’s, where they will pass it along to a needy individual at the appropriate time. I’ll for sure snag this giant cannister left by those other guys too. That’s a score and a half.

So…..nobody to climb with yesterday, and it looks to be the same thing today. I’ll head over to Gunsmoke after I finish this writing, and then into the Wonderlands again, from the Mill Street area.

Yesterday, as I had said, I explored the Wonderlands via the Boy Scout Trail. I was a little confused at first, because the guide book lists the entrance as Key’s Corner, and the park says Boy Scout Trail. I knew it was the BST from listening to locals give beta, but….I am one of those who easily questions incongruity. Still, off I went.

It’s a bit of a walk in with not so much to entertain one, which sort of sucks. But in a while, I came to the rock formations, and things started to get interesting. First is Brownie Girl Dome, then Mustang Ranch and some other formations, and I passed them by because I wanted to get more deeply into the place, and surrounded by rock. Those ones are fairly separate from others, and on the approach to more dense spacing, so I decided to continue onward.

At that point, I was still not certain I was on the route I was reading in my book, but I could definitely see interesting rock ahead, and so I kept going, ready to just enjoy what experience I found. As I rounded the corner of the first massive grouping of rocks(which turns out to be Ellsmere Island, etc.), I came to the landmark that showed me I was where I had expected I was. The fork in the trail where one can choose to go to Indian Cove(The Boy Scout Trail) or forward on the Wonderland Trail. The Vogel guidebook clearly mentions this spot, and so it was with a little relief that I was able to identify the names of the various rock outcrops.

It was also the point where I was getting itchy to get on some rock, even if just in scrambling, and so I was happy about that. The Ellsmere area seemed just too complicated to me. A large talus base of boulders ranging in size from medicine ball to house and larger, it was difficult to see access paths from where I stood. It was also in direct sunlight(hot!), and none of the routes jumped out to catch my eye, so I passed on exploring that one, though I did see two groups of climbers getting on things while I walked through.

As I came round the area, heading to the Northeast, things began to get interesting. The crag called The Shady Spot seems like a place I’d be interested in getting to, and the entire back of the rock is cool from a hiker’s standpoint. One could do a little scrambling if they wanted to(I pass=, as I had decided to go further to the next area for deeper exploration, since I saw many interesting lines that looked like things I might be able to climb. If I had a partner, that is…..grrrrr.

The back of Ellsmere Island, as I said, is pretty cool looking. There are trees and lots of large, lush(desert-wise) vegetation. Clearly there is water in the area. And so, I decided to put off the move east and take a look around, hoping to maybe spot a bighorn sheep or two.

Alas, that was not to be the case. They probably aren’t much for hanging out in the noonday sun, I gather…. But, I did see many lizards scurrying along the underbrush and a few bunnies cotton-tailing it down the trails.

Then, I came to a group of boulders that were an easy scramble, and something drew me onto them. Within a few leaps/bounds, I came to a very large greenish yellow stain on one of the faces. I was guessing, and hoping., it might have been fresh sheep pee…. A few yards further and a second stain appeared, but if they were animal markings, the animals weren’t around. I should add that there was plenty of scat in the area. I’m not sure what sheep poop looks like, but I don’t think this was all coyote.

I was enjoying myself anyway, and looking around the various crannies in the formation I was on, when I rounded a corner and beheld a really wonderful siting. The most incredibly beautiful cactus I have ever seen in my life. Here he is:
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Here he is from atop!
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And here's a closeup of his hair....
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And here he is, as seen from beyond his protective rock facades.
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The cactus was entirely protected from molestation of any sort. Boulders guarded him on all sides, yet were situated far enough away that the cactus will have room to grow for as long as he may live. The airspace is open above and plenty of sun shines in. A bunny seems to live nearby, and there’s bunny poop in the vicinity, but that should provide some nourishment even if a few turds happen to blow his way and become stuck in his spines(I made some effort to remove several ; they looked like black olives on toothpicks! Actually…they seem a little too big for bunny crap, now that I think about it, but I don’t know what animal makes football-sized dark poop pellets, about the size of…. A small olive!).

After spending some time with the cactus, I headed down the formation and off toward the larger climbing areas to the east. On the way down, I noticed another cool thing. One of those conical shaped oits that the natives of the area would carve into the rock for use in grinding the various plants down to make a flour-like product.

There are a few places in Joshua Tree that are known indian habitats, and they tend to be very well traveled and documented. Not only that, several years ago Disney filmed in the area and damaged a lot of the relics. They painted over petroglyphs that they might show better on film, and cemented a cage to a large boulder, where they kept animals for the movies. The boulder is in an obvious native site, as there are drawings within feet that are impossible to miss…..

But the one I found is very possibly undiscovered by anyone else at this point; it’s simply in an out of the way place that climbers probably wouldn’t get to. And, it is huge! Compared to the others I have seen, this one is easily twice to three times as big. Here are pictures; one with a guidebook(appx. 6 x 10 inches) for size reference.
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These two finds were, of themselves, enough to make my day and forget about feeling sorry for myself in having no climbing partner. I will look forward to visiting this spot in the years to come, to check on my cactus buddy and commune with nature through the ages by the grinding pit. I could see exactly where the people would sit when working there, and when I did the same I really sensed some sort of energy; one of family, happiness, safety and comfort. It was pretty cool.

I watched a falcon or hawk of some sort circling the cliff base on the hunt in the same area too, and later when I was over by the larger formations, saw a pair of crows come in for a landing at their nest. Well – one landed. The other headed in and at the last moment caught an updraft and let itself be carried above the rock wall, lilting in the wind. No doubt it was the male, and in short order I heard a chiding “CAW!” and imagined Mrs. Crow was telling hubby to get his butt home. He made a return call, and out she flew. It seemed the air currents were a but of a lark, and when she came out, up she went! Both crows spent the next few minutes playing in the air, seeming to have a bit of unexpected fun before heading to the nest.

The rock formation I headed to is called The Techulator, and is just at the beginning of the area in the Wonderlands called The Middle Kingdom. Pernicious Dome and El Dorado are nearby as well. The guidebook lists only a few routes on each of these piles, but there are many more routes - face, slab and crack - easily seen, with levels of difficulty from 5.pretty easy to 5.friggin’ impossible. I need a partner!!!! One who wants to do new routes! There’s just so much climbing available here that it will never be possible to climb the area into submission. Not only because of the vast amount of stone, but also because people simply can’t yet climb as hard as some of these lines require.

I decided it was about time to be heading back to my car, and on the way I heard and saw more people on the Ellesmere formation. At one point, I heard a woman call out “Oooh - Falling!” Incredibly, I was able to focus in on her exact location immediately, and that is pretty unbelievable, considering just how complex the wall is.

She had come off a roof on a route called Aftermath(5.10)and was dangling just far enough below that – you guessed it – she was unable to regain her stance. It was clear she hadn’t come prepared that day, and had no prussiks to climb the rope. I watched her struggle in vain, trying to pendulum onto…something. Then she asked her partner to lower her a but, which didn’t help. Finally, he threw down an end of cord that he’d fixed up top, and told her to climb it hand over hand…..

I knew I was in for a bit of entertainment, and watched from afar as she tried it. Her partner was quickly becoming frustrated and called out in exasperation “Why can’t I bring in your slack?” (The idea was that she’d climb the fixed rope and he’d bring up her toprope as she (progressed). I was pretty surprised he couldn’t figure out that the reason was his partner wasn’t able to batman the rope!

After a few minutes, I grew a little ashamed of myself for my vicarious enjoyment of their plight, and headed onward, wondering just how that team was going to either get her back on the rope or retrieve the gear if it proved not doable. Still, I couldn’t help but feel a little self-satisfied knowing that, had it been me, I would have been prussiking the line and back in business as soon as possible.

And so – that was my day. This morning(actually Thursday morning, as I am posting at a later point than this writing), I had noticed a neighboring camper who is also solo, and went over to see what was what. I was so happy to find out he’s a climber and we agreed to get on some routes later in the day.

He said to come back around one or two, and so I cut short my hike to do so. But when I arrived, it soon became clear that he was going to dawdle and probably avoid climbing….Which, after a while, he did, by saying “You know…this is fine with me”(referring to sitting in his camp and talking). Out of politeness, I agreed, and stayed for a bit longer. Disappointed, I moved on though. I don’t climb hard myself, but at least I admit it. I got the feeling that this person, who had sprayed a little bit, wasn’t able to put his boots where his beta had been….

And so I went over to Real Hidden Valley, did some hiking and some rock-hounding, trying to spy various routes. Then I scrambled into an area that is very protected from the elements and the sun was behind a large formation. I laid down my backpack and took a quick nap, before continuing on and back to camp in time for the sunset.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Timing Is Everything

I wouldn’t have missed the SushiFest for anything(relatively speaking), but I am coming to realize that Joshua Tree in early November seems to be too early on the migratory path for the solitary traveling climber.

My autumn trips here for the last three years were always a month later, just after my Thanksgiving Day workload finished, and before the clients began calling again looking for service during the Channukah/Christmas/New Years time frame. I’ve come alone for all but two of these trips and though I usually had a day pr two without climbing, there was always three or four dirtbags in residence to hang out with. I’d simply post a note on the bulletin board and they would come wandering into my camp, either at evening’s fire or morning coffee-brewing time. We’d sit around and get to know each other, and soon enough, plans to climb were hatched and I’d be off on some interesting adventure with someone.

This trip doesn’t appear to be of that ilk, and I’m not quite sure what to do about it. I’m awful at imposing myself into groups, and if I want to climb with any of my neighbors, it looks like that’s what I’ll have to do. It seems everyone here is on their annual vacation from work or a couple out enjoying the road in each other’s company…. So far, I’ve seen no units of one, like myself……

The Fall Backward time shift occurred last weekend, and the sun crests the easter formations here at Hidden Vally at about 7am, but the warm, gentle nudge of the sun isn’t what’s waking me up; it’s the roosters crowing about what climbs they’re getting on first, the coffee pots clanging, and the small talk – which seems to focus on injuries and preventative measures. And I’m not talking about torn muscles and tweaked tendons, multi-lingual belay signals and polite offers to "climb on my rope today.” This morning I heard someone talking about their health, and mentioning "the purple pill." That he went on to add the trademark name was superfluous; his partner knew what he meant.

Not only that, everyone is up and at it, on the rock or road before the sun has even had time to warm the air! An aura of "gotta get those routes ticked" pervades the air. It seems as if time is limited, and one must make the most of it. But, god bless the working soldier, for without them we’d have no ...ummmm, yeah. I’m so glad I don’t have to cram my trip, getting my year’s worth of climbing in before going back to the job.

A lot of the campers here are also non-climbers. Big tow-along pop-ups and brand new automobiles(!) dot the parking spots. Though there is certainly the smattering of old Westies, and even TWO Toyota minivans just like my old Junior, the fact is, these folks are not dirtbags.

To further my point, someone has tacked a brand new Walmart-style thermo mug to the bulletin board, with a “Free Mug! Come on, dirtbag climber, treat yourself and save $$$!” The spotlessly clean, used for one weekend, cup has stayed there, untouched, since I got here on Monday. Guess nobody can use a booty cup…. And that, my friends, is proof enough to me that I’m here a little before the season I desire.

Not only that – there don’t really seem to be any boulderers. I have got my fave site - #24 - at the Stem gem problem. I love this one because it gets the early sun, and a nice view of sunset if I happen to be in camp, it has a generous walk-through wash for people heading between The Old Woman and The Blob formations, and of course…, the mighty Stem Gem.

Because I travel alone, I have made many friends here, as they come to get their asses whipped. Or send it, on occasion. Stem Gem is a destination, and I enjoy the hospitality of hosting the problem’s campsite. So far, I’ve not seen one person so much as come over to caress the poor thing. There’s not even a cheater stone laid down! There’s almost ALWAYS a cheater stone down, and I consider it a rite of passage to remove it, and hide it far away, preferably as a tie-down weight for my tent. When I come back to camp each night, If someone has located a rock and placed it, I taake it away. If someone can’t work the problem’s start, they should at least have to work at finding their cheat stone, in my book.

So – not signs of life at Stem gem, and as one of the SushiFester guys who is a cop said…. “And that is what is known, in law enforcement, as a clue.” You KNOW nobody’s been round.

It’s wonderful anyway, of course. No doubt. There are plenty of mellow climbers out getting on routes and having fun. The weather is wonderful! Tank tops and lightweight pants in the day, no rush for cover to add the base layer before the sun goes on the night shift and temperature drops by 30 degrees in the same number of minutes. I don’t need a hat to contain body heat while I sleep, and no Nalgene hot water bottles need be planted in my sleeping bag.

And so, I will make the most of my trip, but I think I may have a lot of hiking days, and that is disappointing. So far, I have gotten 3 days out of 4 on the rock, and the off-day was when I transferred from the SushiFest site to Hidden Valley, so maybe I am going to be pleasantly surprised.

By the way – here’s what I’ve been on so far:

Saturday, I climbed with Blair, who goes by Zip on Supertopo. That guy came to the fest in style…. A very new, custom designed by himself, Sportmobile. What a BIG rig! Oh my. The good news is – I could clearly see it was much, much more than I would need, or even want really, on the road. I mean – do I really need a hideaway toilet and two showers? The answer is – no. But! The thing had a hidden compartment basement, and that, I can tell you, is a pretty nice amenity. And, he had it outfitted with a powerful spotlight, which came in very handy that night when we were sucking down sushi and he told me that Nature’s(the host) dog, Summit, had gone missing. But…it was activated with a remote control. A dirtmobile…not!

But I was telling about the climbing, now, wasn’t I…. So, Zip and I headed out on Saturday, and were supposed to hang with another group in the Wonderlands. But we didn’t see that they’d pulled into the gas/convenience store before heading into the park, and so we lost them. Instead, we headed to Hidden Valley campground and he led Bat Crack That is probably the most burly 5.5 I have ever followed here at Jtree. Maybe the start of Son of Bitchy Virgin at the Gunks is harder, but that’s just for a few moves, whereas this one is sustained.

Then we decided to go the easy route, and get on The Eye, which is the classic 5.1 that’s really more like 5.4 at the Tree. And then we headed behind and goofed around on some boulders. Note, I did not say we did some bouldering…. I can’t do any of the problems out there. But! We did find a banjo(with a strap of yellow nylon with “Police Line – Do Not Cross” printed on it) stowed in the brush on the way back. Ill have to go over and see if it’s still there…. I am fairly certain someone just stashed it for a short while, but nobody was anywhere nearby, for a long way off. Odd.

Sunday, I went off with Phil B, Marty(r) and MountainMun from Supertopo(I may have the names wrong…or spelled wrong, but these guys were great). We went to Echo Rock area, and they led some 5.8’s and 9’s and hung topropes for me to get on. The we went over to Real Hidden Valley, and did a 5.9 on The Great Burrito. I had thought that was the route name, but now, looking in the book, I see that’s the formation. Not sure if the route we did is Tonto and Kimosabe, but it looks about right, so far as one can tell…. At any rate, I was so happy to follow clean, but truth be told, I am surprised at the grade. Either it’s not 5.9, or I am getting better at climbing that I realized…. And I know I’m not.

Then, Mountainmun had brought a cookout picnic! It was his birthday, and he treated us to grilled burgers and the best corn on the cob I have had all year. What a wonderful surprise!

Monday was transition day – no climbing for me. But I drove out to see the Cottonwood entrance area of the park. It was very pretty, and of course the only way to appreciate the desert is on foot, and so I stopped the car often to get out and see what I could see.

Yesterday I climbed with Tom, who actually lives in New York City and I have climbed with one time there. He saw my post for partners on and we made plans for the day. It was a day with off-width and chimneying as the theme.

He led West Face Overhang, a 5.7 that gives one their money’s worth; that much I could see watching on belay! It was the most insecure chimney I’ve ever snuck up, and I really felt like I could go flying out at a moment’s notice for most of it. The start was grunty, too, and it had a crouching in half traverse with slab foot placements, an interesting combination! After the top traverse, you go into an off-witdh again, and to the top. And then, of course….you have to get down. One can’t tick the route till the ground touch down in Jtree….hahaha. I was quite happy with myself for following clean, as I was definitely tempted to pull gear to gain entrance on that top off-width.

Next he led the Flake, a ultra-classic 5.8 on Intersection Rock. As he scoped from the ground he commented about the wide…and mentioned his big gear left in the car. He said "welllll…. Maybe I can get my number 4 in there…” Hah Hah Hah. I laughed. “Number 4?” I questioned incredulously? “The car’s just a short walk away!”

He ran back, and arrived fully stocked for the job ahead, with two number 5’s and a beautiful, gleaming number 6.
He needed them.

I watched him work – harrrrd – to gain the first chimney. And I hope Tom won’t mind my mentioning that he did fall off. I could see it building up for a long way off, reaching a final crazed-eyed crescendo before his feet gave way as if someone had pulled the carpet from underneath and he pin-balled a few feet downward, bouncing from bumper to bumper….

Good thing he’d brought the big cams.

But, he got right back on the route and worked harder still to gain altitude. Finally free of the monstrous width, he continued on to enjoy pleasant climbing. Exceptionally pleasant climbing. The Flake is a wonderful route, and you can see that from the ground.

My turn, and I started out okay. After all, I’d had the chance to see what I would be getting into, and I knew I had to be sharp-minded and hold my stances solid. I was SO upset when, about halfway through the beginning chimney, I pasted my foot to an obvious polished area and weighted it. Wooops! Of I came. GRRRRR!

But, like Tom, I got back on and worked – HARD. Harder than I have ever had to on a chimney before. And I gained the route. A nice surprise at the top, as ine moves from face holds into slab, the route has it all. Highly recommended for the competent leader, but if you’re from the Gunks, you’d better borrow the gear, or you’ll be 30 feet up on sustained, core-wrenching 5.8 before you can protect.(So far as I noticed – perhaps I am wrong).

Next we went to Hemingway, to get one more route in before Tom had to head off and catch his flight. He led Dung Fu, a 5.7 that I have followed twice before. Maybe it was because I[d worked hard on the two other routes, but this time, I got my money’s worth. Dung Fu tried to fool me all the way up that beginning crack. But – I did it, and did it confidently. We were also gifted by a neighboring pair of climbers who had placed a fixed rope on the rappel and told us to make use of it.

So – my trip has started off very well, and although today I have just spent most of the morning hours writing this post and hoping for a walk-in partner, I am ready to get on my way. I think I will head over to the Wonderlands from the west side and wander around for a bit. I've never been there yet, and so it will be a good thing, even if all I do is picture take and scramble a bit.

On the other hand – if anyone has any friends out here – please tell them to come and save me! I’m in camsite #24, and have left a paper/pen on the table. If they want to climb any day this week have them stop in and let me know!

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Cold Feet....

The SushiFest SetUp rolled out of town last night and the last dregs of us ...well, most of us.....split this morning. Chuck is still probably sleeping; he didn't look none too happy for me to rouse him to say goodbye at 9am....

The PortaPotty truck also came by to haul off the john - and none too soon! The last of the TP was wiped away sometime in last night's evening hours and the choss pile was bearing a frightening resemblance to an imaginary Everest shit pile.... A few attempts and the sit down start would be a short route to the top out... Ewww!

I'll post more about the party and daze as things come to mind and I have the time, but for now I'd like to give out a tip I came up with the other night. It was cold.... and instead of suffering, it occurred to me to slip my nice down jacket over the foot of my sleeping bag. This gave me an almost immediate extra warmth right where I have the most problem with cold. I think if I was reeeeally cold,.... I would zip the jacket up, tuck in the hood, and slide it over like a prophylactic. Snug as a bug in a rug...Oh...that's some imagery there....ewwww.

And so -

I'm waiting here at Coyote Corner for my first shower of the trip, and I screwed up! I got here half an hour ago, before the store opened, and started hunting and pecking online. Now....I'm already 3rd in line for a shower! I'd better get myself in there officially before it gets worse.

Last night, HVCG was FULL UP. Hopefully, now it's Monday, I'll roll in and get the Stem Gem site(my favorite). Send me Stem gem juju!
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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

JTree Pre-Trip Post

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In less than two days, I'll be arriving in Joshua Tree for my seventh time. The picture above was taken the first time I was there, in December of 2004, from near my campsite in Hidden Valley Campground. I love getting up early to watch the sun rise over the formations.....

This and my last trip to the Tree have been kicked off by parties known as SushiFests, where a group of climbers(mostly) from Supertopo(mostly) gather in a camp space and...have sushi. LOTS of sushi. GOOD sushi! Sushi by Nature! Here's one of his creations from the April event, out at Snow Canyon in Utah....
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Now, I couldn't eat a whole...prawn?.... legs and all, deep-fried and smothered in - I think it's called Uni. But plenty of the others sure did, and they seemed to be ecstatic. I do know that his sushi is really, really good, and I have been on a sushi fast in preparation for the sushi fest! I can't afford the high quality that Nature provides, and because I've been trying to save for this trip - not even the delicatessen sushi at $10 an dish! It's strictly been canned tuna for my fish intake this last few weeks.... I'm ready for some fresh fish!

The party will be this upcoming weekend, with climbing at Joshua Tree during daylight, and live music, wonderful food, and fabulous folks after sundown. Should be fun....and that's an understatement.

Then, I will stick around and have another week of climbing, relaxation and general Joshua Tree living. Can't wait to meet new people, climb new routes, get spanked on some others and take some time out to live the life.

My return will allow me the weekend before Thanksgiving to get another Gunks weekend in, so long as the weather permits, and's holiday season(lots of work for me) and the dreaded...cold months of winter(I haven't started climbing ice, and though I do like the idea, I think my dislike for the cold is going to issue).

I'll keep this site posted as to my goings-on while out there. Recently I purchased a laptop and so I will be able to update as I go. I'm worried that I won't be able to upload pictures though, since this system runs on...Vista. Guess I'd better sign off and see what I can do about that, in case I need to deal with some horror of the evil Microsoft Empire.....

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Humble, Yet Delectable Potato(e)

I am not a Cliff Bar and coffee, nor a liver on beer alone sort of climber. I like real food, and while car(less) camping may reduce options, I'm not about to go without.

This last weekend was the annual Gear Swap at Rock and Snow, and I had stuff to sell. So, I had a choice -bring the gear, or bring my cooler. With a one-ass width and perfect height for sitting, it doubles as a camp chair, but the real reason I bring it is so I can have real eggs, fresh cheese and a packet of sandwich meat(for Teddy). And icy water, cold juice, un-melted get the idea.

But, autumn has begun to fall, and I figured, that with a little innovation, I could pack a full weekend's worth of good food that would be fine without being iced. You have to understand what an issue this is for me....

I am overly picayune about the freshness of food, and have always been so. Even as a kid, I would get grossed out by some of the food prep methods I witnessed, like when Kelly Hinkley's mom basted a Thanksgiving Day turkey with - UGGGHHHH - mayonnaise! This would NOT do, I thought, and there was no way on EARTH I was touching that bird. I can't recall how I got around it without arousing notice, but I do remember being extremely grateful, and knowing there was a God, when she whipped out the Knorr's Brown Gravy packet..... My own mom knew gravy, and how to create a wonderful sauce with the pan drippings. But Mrs H was a modern, platinum blond, 1970's divorcee; cooking was not the one way to a man's heart in her experience.....

I had been dreading the dinner, since the gravy is the binding ingredient in a T/Day dinner. It graces the potato(e)s AND the stuffing, and makes a dry bird palatable. Not to mention leftovers and the final base for soup stock.... I feared it would be green beans and cranberry sauce for me that year. Knorr's saved the event that year.....

And so - I will tell you that my potato(e) recipes to follow here are graced with the magic Knorr's Brown Gravy; surprisingly good, actually, considering how overly salty and otherwise tasteless most packet-based food products can be.

But back to the supposed reason for my food phobia...... Several years ago, one of my friends talked me into visiting a spiritual channeler, who would look into my eternal life, and explain where I'd been and what had happened while I was there...

At one point he mentioned my food issues, and how I felt a real need to insure the preservation/ preparation was properly done. He talked about how I would never - ever - order a deli sandwich consisting of something like tuna or chicken salad, which could have...gagggg, even writing the words....been sitting on a back counter courting Sal Monella and who knows what other unsavory sorts of characters.

It seemed, he said, that I had inadvertently poisoned, and subsequently killed, my own daughter. This was back in the medieval period, before refrigeration, you see. It wasn't totally my fault. But a mother guilt is not so easily diminished, as we have found through - well, certainly not through Freud. But somewhere. Who hasn't heard a mother exclaim "What did I do wrong!" whenever her darling(usually son) was naughty?

So - I poisoned my kid and was apparently skittish about having history repeat itself. And that's why I was a Tupperware Locked-In Freshness sort of girl(I DID love their old tv spots where the fruits and vegetables had deadbolt locks and skeleton key closures... Hmmmmm, it's all falling into place now....).

But first, I have to tell you how I took care of Teddy, who NEEDS meat! At least on Sunday during the trail work lunchbreak, when Dick pulls out roast chicken or a roast beef sandwich.... He won't STND to be excluded from the meat fest, and I can tell you - when teddy talks, people listen. He's part Jack Russel, and he is....persistent.

This was a quandary, because I just didn't know what meat, besides a stick of sausage, I could keep for two and a half days without eliciting my fear of poisoning a loved one. Of course, there was the old standby - canned tuna. But what to do about the (insert late night television horror music) dreaded mayo malaise?

Well - I came up with an idea while scouting my kitchen. I had figured that an onion(which will come into play in the potatao(e) portion of this program) would be okay if I sliced off a bit on Friday night, and kept it in a cool, shady spot for Sunday. This was risky, I tell you, but I thought the temps would probably be in the forties at night, and not rise above the low sixties.

Same with a green pepper, though his fist cut would come on Saturday morning(again - potoao(e) recipe following.....

And when the weather was sunny and warm, I did have a moment, or three, where I second-guessed my commitment. It was bad enough that I had brought a chunk of butter(you'll see...po(e).... But that HAD to be okay, since my mom had kept the quarter in the kitchen cupboard twelve months out of a year, shielded from evildoer microbes by only a plastic-lidded butter dish, and not even Tupperware!

So - the mayo-less tuna salad recipe secret ingredient was....balsamic vinegar! Yeah! I was saved. And - it was damned good, I can tell you. teddy like it too.

What I did was - Dice the onion, dice the pepper, and put them in a (sandwich-bag sized) ziplock baggie. Sprinkle the vegetable liberally with good ground pepper, and toss in a tablespoon or so of the balsamic. Shake it up, zip it good, toss it in another plastic sack(to protect my backpack from the hazard of a toxic spill - I guess maybe that was a bit of transference, but one has to care about something, don't they?).

Don't add the tuna! Let the vinegar do it's marinade mamba for the morning. At lunchtime, open that tuna(I used a can, because for one thing, those packet things are a price rip-off, but also because the portion would be too small to share with Teddy, and also because I wanted to have the additional moisture of the water - well, I had accidentally gotten packed-in-oil, and it was just right. Maybe add a little olive oil if you use water-packed or the rip-off packet).

Don't forget a can opener if you don't have a flip-top can, by the way. So, add the drained tuna to the marinated veggies, and shake it all about. Don't forget a fork either, I suppose I should say. Unless you want to use it on bread, and then you can sort of pour/squish the mixture out of the baggie.

I found this quite refreshing,. and will most likely repeat the thing this week. And Teddy was happy too, especially since he had to exert himself a bit to get to the corners at the bottom. Plus the licking! A dog loves to lick, as everyone knows, and Teddy was in seventh heaven. licking that baggie clean.

So...."What about the potato(e)s?" you are maybe asking. Finally - Here's the potato(e) part:

I bought a bunch of Red Jackets, but maybe I will try Yukon Golds next time. The point is - don't go with boring bakers. Go for the flavor a good potato(e) offers. You're not going to be skinning them alive, so utilize the thinner-skinned tubers.

For Friday night, it was sumptuous mashed potato(e)s and gravy. No more is needed for a comfort food feats, if you ask me. Saturday morning, I used the leftovers for a meal of home fries. Laced with the leftover Knorr's Brown gravy - oh, dear...yummy.

If you're going for the double duty dishes - you've got to plan and cook the batch all at once. Cut them up into small, but not too small, chunks. The smaller you go, the less fuel used to cook, and the faster you get to eat!

Don't start the water heating beforehand. Fill your biggest pot, but not too full; it's fine if the potato(e)s aren't submerged. Cut up all those potato(e)s and commit to reserving some of them for tomorrow's breakfast. Don't forget!

Start cooking, stirring on occasion to get the bottom ones atop and vice versa. While doing that, start the Knorr's Brown Gravy mix. When the potato(e)s are soft, but not quite mashable, remove the biggest ones from the pot and set aside. Those will be the home fries for the morning. let those cool, then put in a ziplock or some other container.

Back to your mashies....Don't forget to keep an eye on the gravy! Stir it often to avoid lumps and burning.

So - the potato(e)s are ready for mashing.....

Pour off a good amount of the water, into a container. You'll need some of it, probably, to get the right consistency, and since you're in camp, you don't want to waste perfectly good water.

Add some butter to the potato(e)s and chop them up a bit. Then add some pepper and sprinkle some dried milk on the top. There's already some water left in the bottom, so start mashing it all together. A camp fork is fine - no, I do not bring a potato(e) masher along on my camping trips.....


If you need a softer consistency, add some of that potato(e) water, but be careful unless you want a soup!

Done! Dish it out, or leave in the pot. Top with the gravy and dig in!

For breakfast, chop some onions and green pepper. Put a chunk of butter in a pot(don't use the fry pan, unless you have a big one.... Fry pan, I mean. Sheeeesh!).

Cut up the potato(e)s into chunks the size you prefer. Start cooking.

Warm up the leftover gravy from last night(if you saved any, that is).

Be sure to keep an eye on the tater(s)..... Don't let them burn. Cook until they're at least heated through, they were pre-cooked last night so that's not an issue, unless you didn't cook long enough. Then, it's an issue. Think about how crispy you like them; if you're like me - you like them crisy, and that means more butter and careful tending, as you need to cook longer without turning, but not tooooo long.

Done? Pour on some gravy. or not. And have a delicious hot breakfast.

That's it! Gotta catch the 2:51 Metro North to Poughkeepsie..... Hope you have as good a weekend as I intend to. Climbing tomorrow with a great partner, and then heading into town for the Fred Beckey slideshow.

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