Friday, August 31, 2007

A Word from the Program Director....

You know, it occurred to me this morning that I ought to thanks you all for taking the time to check in and see what I'm up to. It's been fun, this last month, as I rededicate myself to this project. Lot's of work too....I have GOT to start short-roping my blog entries! hahahah

So - without further ado - THANK YOU!!!

I've sort of felt a little-one-sided on the thing, and though of course I read those comments that have started coming in, I feel sort of like...."Well, then what!? What happens to these people, and will they be someone who I run into next season who says 'Hey - I commented on your blog! Remember...."

Why wait for that! It occurs to me that I DO already have a discussion forum put up, which I started to highlight the designs I make for ClimbAddict, my online t-shirt shop.(*See credit for idea below) So....why not make use of that as a way for people who've been interneteddly introduced, through my blog, to build our community?

The forum has never really taken off, and I think maybe it's because it doesn't offer much diffence than most other climbing forums, so I've asked for suggestions as to how to improve it here.

One other thing - If YOU make a blog yourself - about any outdoor rec sports topic - there IS a place on that forum to create a thread and tell people about it. I hope you'll take a head over there and add yourslef to the list. It's also a place for pro sites, so....if you love the photgrpahy of Galen, or think everyone should know about Tommy and Beth's lastes record-breaking ascent - please do post a link for them. We know they're...out friggin climbing and....well, Galen's probably not got internet yet up where he is. They say Heaven's whatever you want, but do we see broadband connections coming down from 'Up There' yet? hmmm...maybe that's telling us something...But I digress.

* This idea came to me through reading another blog about....blogging! The entry, found on Daily Blog Tips, is geared towards helping bloggers grow. If you write a bog, this is an excellent resource. Check them out!

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Nature Photos from the Gunks

Here's a photo essay on a hike/walk I took last Saturday, instead of climbing....

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Looking toward the Overcliff Trail

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Colorful Boulder - Gateway to the Gunks!

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Vines suctioned to a boulder

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Interesting little colorful bug

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Pretty yellow wildflowers dotted the carriage road

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Snakes Alive!

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Head Shot

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Another yellow wildflower, and a big old bee getting some pollen

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Yet another yellow wildflower

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Work In Progress

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Nearly anyone who's been a visitor to the Gunks in the last several years recognizes the location in the picture above. It's the "Bunny Slope!" Located in the Trapps, this steep section abuts the rock wall as you come into the Uberfall area.

It's not actually part of the cliff, as it consists of a mixture of loose rocks and dirt. Corralled by a low fence of Gunks conglomerate laid down by volunteers on a National Trails Day in the 1990's, the slope is anchored in place by a few small trees and partially buried boulders. It's not really talus, nor is it woodland. The Bunny Slope inhabits a sort of netherworld between rock and (carriage) road.

I've only been a preserve member for the last four seasons, but I've passed this spot hundreds of times. As for the natural beauty that dominates the preserve, this spot seems a bit of an apparition. Because the slope is very fragile, even the smallest amount of interaction with humans(a child allowed to scramble on it, a dog left to dig for buried treasure, or a belayer with a less than average level of common sense), the majority of the section is roped off with accessory cord, and hung with a sign that advises "Slope Restoration in Progress," reminding us to stay off.

I assumed that the timeline for this particular restoration process was to be measured in generations, if not centuries. Being that the ethic of the Mohonk Preserve is to allow the land to regenerate to a pre-industrial era state, I just thought that over time - lots of time - the idea was that silt would wash down from the enormous off-width fissure behind the Herdie Gerdie block, eventually creating..... well, something more attractive than what we see above, at least.

Not to be so! In fact, the revolution has already begun. Volunteers who work on trail maintenance in the climbing areas of the preserve have spent the last few Sundays preparing for major restoration of the Bunny Slope.

A little over a month ago, we began harvesting rocks form the talus slope to the west of the area. Most of these have already been used though, in the creation of a "patio-type" surface at the base of the Herdie Gerdie Block, which was phase I in this project - to preserve, protect and highlight an area what is tantamount to the "Gateway to the Gunks."

Some might think that this is all simply an unneeded "beautification project;" even unethical, since the preserve looks to recreate an environment reminiscent of the early 19th century. But they would be incorrect in that supposition. The layer of rock actually serves to protect the fastly-eroding slope that fronts that highly-trafficked spot.

As you can see in the photo someone is just starting up "Nurdy Gerdie"(a/k/a "Dogs in Heat," a 5.10+(crack around the corner is off-route) face climb. That, and the two more popular routes on that short bit of rock easily see more than a dozen ascents on an average weekend day in season, frequently groups of three or more, including posses of families and other bystanders. People scamper over that short slope, set out picnics, kick at the dirt out of bored habit as they lock off their hang-dogging partner.....

In short, the area sees a tremendous amount of abuse, which is only increasing as gym climbers not yet (or never to be) experienced with placing gear on lead flock to the easily accessible top-roping climbs of the Gunks.

It wouldn't be so much of a problem had a few poor old trees not had the foresight to realize how much the neighborhood would change when they set down roots before most of us were saplings.....

Root damage.

It's an aspect of conservation that even the most conscientious of us may be unaware of. You see - when we tread over a tree's root system, we wear off miniscule bits of the protective layer that is utterly necessary to insure the health and natural life-span of that tree. Over time, any tree with exposed roots (which is a prevalent feature in the Shawangunks area) will suffer due to this loss of "skin." With extreme abuse, the tree simply cannot survive.

The Herdie Gerdie block is partially popular because it offers shade from a hot summer's sun. That shade comes from the few trees growing in the vicinity. Trees that see such a tremendous amount of irritation to their roots that they surely can't stay healthy if the trauma were to continue.

To counteract this problem, volunteers placed rocks within the spaces of the labyrinth of roots. Building up a sub-floor that allows for proper drainage(for built-up moisture would rot the roots and kill them even more readily than being trammeled), the "patio" protects the tree roots while at the same time also provides climbers a safer platform to work from. No more tripping over intertwining roots as belayers shift stances. Climbers coming off from a low level won't risk an ankle-breaking impact by hitting an uneven surface.

After completing that work, we went out in search of more rocks to use in our reclamation project of the Bunny Slope. Last Sunday, we spent an entire morning trundling from the lower talus slope in the vicinity of the "Stairmaster," or East Trapps Connector Trail, as it is officially know as.

As most people know, trundling rock is a BIG no-no at the Gunks. It's dangerous too, as impact from even an incredibly small rock coming from above can be fatal.

And that's just for innocent bystanders! Imagine standing in the talus field, amidst a herd of heavy smallish boulders(Gunks Conglomerate, the local breed of rock) weight 155 pounds per cubic foot). Each rock rests upon the one below it, sometimes solidly. Sometimes very precariously. Sometimes the top rock anchors the ones below.... Move one - and you have potentially upset the masses. Move the WRONG one, and the herd stampedes!

I was well aware of this aspect of talus-picking, as I got my on-the-job. I didn't want my tombstone epitaph to read "Trampled While Trundling." Even one of those bulls on the run would have snapped my leg like a tiny twig if it had cut loose. The fact that the rocks crash against each other, emitting a smell very much like that of explosives, also helps put everything in perspective.

In fact, I DID have a close call at the day's start, when a rock reoriented itself and landed on my pinky. I hadn't even touched it; simple vibration from....somewhere... seemingly launched the motion, and it made a minor adjustment. The pain was severe, and I really was worried about what I'd find when I removed my workglove. The rock had been only about the size of a Honeydew melon(which meant it weighed somewhere around 20 pounds), but I half-expected to see a mangled and bloody fingertip. I was very relieved to see just a red bruise.

In case you wonder why I mention all this - it's to apprise anyone not aware of the inherent danger. Do NOT try this at home(if your home away from home is an area where rocks hang out).

One unintended benefit of the trundling is that one intentional avalanche opened up a beautiful vista in the lower talus field we were working in. Al, a longtime trail crew volunteer, had nudged two small rocks(by trail crew standards, though the rocks weighed about 70 pounds each), and the shift set in motion a rock slide that brought down a great cache of sizable rock. We'll gather and use them for the retaining walls we create on Bunny Slope.

If you happen by the Connector Trail in the next few days, you may notice the pile. They sit at the talus base about 20 feet west of the wooden trail marker sign. You would recognize them because they seem to have been attacked my a Tick Marking Maniac! White chalk-like scars, about three to four inches long, seemingly point to many of the corners on these rocks. The pile has the appearance of a natural rockslide, which it was, even though started with a helping hand.

Bring your eyes upward to the large multiple-trunked tree that grows about 40 feet up from the carriage road, and notice the wonderful rock ledge the tree is growing from. It almost has the appearance of a sculpted oriental garden...on a grand scale, of course.

Another benefit that came of Al's slide was the displacement of "a few good men;" boulders that are going to be the cornerstones of our project. By moving two melon-sized rocks, the cascade let loose about 50 others, which in turn allowed the downward march of some hefty hunks of the Gunks. These rocks a BIG - probably weighing close to a thousand pounds and the size of dorm refrigerators. Earlier this week, Dick Williams, who leads the trail crew, worked with another preserve volunteer, on the removal and transportation of these boulders. They are to be brought down to our work-site in the jaws of a bull-dozer type machine.

You'll see the smaller rocks we have gathered already at the work area; we've plied them on the edge of the carriage road, near but not impeding, at the starts of Bunny, Retribution, Bo Solution and Nosedive. This rock pile consists of an estimated eight tons of rock! Thanks to ranger Bob Elsinger, who assisted in loading his Preserve tuck and hauling them to the destination. Eight times. The pickup had a load limit of one ton before the bed began to bottom out, and so back and forth we went. This constituted about 3 1/2 to 4 hours of steady work.

So - If weather permits, and enough volunteers arrive, we will begin placing these rocks on Sunday. This is going to be hard labor, and strong people are needed to do the job. If you've been wondering about how you can give back in a place that has given you so much, this might be your opportunity! We meet atop the Steel Bridge at 9am.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Photography Tip - Comfort at Ground Level

If you get out there enough, there are surely going to be days you won't be climbing; rest days, weather distress days, partner bailed days and so on.

Laying around isn't really the most attractive option for me; I like to get out and take a hike most often. If I am alone, or it's just me and Teddy, all the better. Then I can get out my camera and go shooting.

Last Saturday was one of those days. I can't really be too mad at my partner for bailing. It was a last minute arrangement and truthfully, he cancelled before even making a firm commitment(though it was implied). Still, when I woke up the morning we were to climb and saw fog like one expects in an English murder mystery wafting outside my tent - accompanied by a soggy wet 80 degrees temperature - I was grateful at least SOMEONE had had some sense...

The rock was visibly perspiring - heavily - to the point of dripping crimps. Even the chalked sections were water-logged. I like climbing, and am not adverse to getting out in inclimate weather, but this was pretty bad, especially considering my partner was someone I'd not yet met, much less climbed with....

And so, it was with relief that I pulled gear from my pack and replaced it with photography gear. A foggy morning is a good one, for the shutterbug.

Apparently, there were those not intimidated by the conditions, like these two, geared up and ready to go.
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It was for sure a good time to take a romantic walk with your lover, and these people(not the same as from above) looked to be taking full advantage.
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But I was on my own. Even Teddy was still dozing in the tent when I went out for the day's first pee and grabbed my camera.

Later in the morning, I headed over to the Uberfall with the hopes of NOT finding a partner, for once. I knew the day was going to be a tough one, and the last thing I wanted was to be tethered to a stranger, to be honest. I gave it about 15 minutes at most, before opting for a walking tour instead.

I got in a good number of pictures that day, but haven't gone through the files yet. I'm not a very good shot, to be honest, and so there's a lot of chaff to separate.

However, I did come up with one thing I wanted to share; something that I'd thought of the last time I was out in a fog, actually. And so, the purpose of this post - to pass the idea along.

If you like to shoot, you might also like getting close to your subject - the macro shot. For me, it's one of my favorites, next to shooting landscapes and climbing action shots. And Teddy portraits. Of course.

Shooting macro - one thing I have found for myself is that often my shots are down low, extremely close to the ground. Where it's muddy. Or pebbly. Or some other condition that makes you take pause....

But to get that perspective, nature and it's more diminutive state, you've got to get down and place yourself at a Liliputian's eye level. Hence - my suggestion....

I have taken to bringing my sleeping pad along when I go out shooting and I know it'll be a low-down day.

What an amazing difference it makes, to lay down that pad before getting down in the dirt. I have two pads, actually, because I have my dog. I leave the inflatable one in the tent, of course. The one I use for a photo crashpad is one of those Thermarests that folds accordian-style; it's called the z-lite. I like it because the eggshell pattern does mean less contact with the ground. Because of the pleated design, it stows to a small size, about 6 x 18 inches or so. Also, you can fold it to half-size, into thirds, or use the full length. If your subject is surrounded by beautiful plants, you can set down just a small section of pad. Which brings me to the next point.

Be careful about placing the thing, of course. Think like a conscientious boulderer, and take care not to damage delicate foliage. Once you lay down the pad, you'll be on top of it, making creeping adjustments to get the best angles. Your body will be placing pressure points in contact with the ground, and the movements you make in repositioning yourself will pull at the plants and earth underneath. Tread lightly!

The padded layer makes me so much more likely to get down there and really try for a good shot. Kneeling on gravel is a masochistic exercise of the past. I don't have to worry about wet mud soaking through my clothes on a chilly day, and when I get flat on my side or stomach - which is where the action's really at.... I can make the most minute adjustments without feeling the pain(of sharp twigs in my ribs, for instance).

Here's a shot I got, using my pad for a base layer. These funghi were alongside the Old Minnewaska Road on the Mohonk Preserve. They are probably about five inches at the tallest, and so I was flat against the ground for my shot, with my elbow propping me up a bit.
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I wanted a viewpoint from slightly above to catch their dappled tops, but also to include their stems in the shot. The grouping of four presented many attractive angles to shoot from, spanning an arc of about 90 degrees. I took shots from several angles. Had I not had that soft pillow to lay against, I am sure I'd have taken but one or two, and might have even settled for shooting from the unstable crouched postion. (I haven't got the patience, unfortunately, for becoming adept at using a tripod).

So - if you like to shoot nature at a macro level, and also find yourself resisting going to the lenght(or depth) needed to get the shot - try using a pad next time you're out there!

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Friday, August 24, 2007

I Got Good Guidance

Like so many people, my first "climbing" experience was in a rock gym. While it was sublime, it didn't take all that long for me to understand - clearly - that there was climbing(as I was "doing"), and there was "climbing" (as in....outside, or rock). Later on, of course I realized there was yet another kind of climbing (as in the crap-my-pants, 'GottaGettaPieceAndThere'sNoPlacement-AAAAGGGHHH!!!! Save me, Jesus!' run-out kind of climbing), but let's not get too far ahead of the story.....

Just as with "their," there" and "they're," the three "climbing's" may be spelled the same, but everyone except those still in Phase I (gymboree) understand that's where the similarity ends.

In the spring of 2004, there I was - no shit - stuck solidly in Phase I and knowing - with an aching, all-encompassing, kind of knowing - that I had to go out there and get it, if I wanted to climb for real. I desperately wished for some other gym members to take me to the Gunks. I knew they went up there; I could hear them making plans as the week rolled along towards Friday. But I was too intimidated to ask to be taken out. I do carry a card in the "Why Would Anyone Want Me" club, unfortunately, and that self-centeredness has cost me dearly.

One of those costs ended up being that of paid guides, who I hired to elevate my status from "gymboree" n00b to "Potential Hazard" (to the safety of my climbing partner, that is). All joking aside - I had incredibly rewarding experiences every time I went out with a guide, and I think I have a deeper respect for ethics and style than I would have gained on my own. Since, oftentimes new climber's are desperate to get out there, they might be apt to rope up with those who really are just a few steps ahead of them on the path. Some even latch onto another adventurous soul with the same lack of experience, and head for the hills.

I consider myself very fortunate, for having put myself in the hands of guides for the various "rite of passage" events in my early climbing daze (typo intentional). My first time climbing outside was with a guided group, and on the second day, I made seconded for the first time, following a guide. No welded nuts and over-cammed pieces for me! My first real road trip, to Seneca Rocks, was with Marty Molitoris, who operates Alpine Endeavors, a well-respected service up near the Gunks.

Marty goes with a low guide to client ratio, and he had brought along one Nick Sisk, who had guided and dirtbagged at Seneca years before. Nick was my personal climbing partner on that trip, and every time another group of climbers came along the trail, it was like a reunion of old friends. Everyone knew Nick.

When Marty mentioned the other areas he holds guiding permits at(an extensive number of locations across the US), and I heard the word JTree(yes, one word), I signed on immediately. Again, Nick came along as my one-on-one partner, and during that marvelous 10-day trip, I learned he had spent some years out there, dirtbagging as well.

Nick's specialty seemed, to me, to impart the values of old-style ethics. Because of him, I learned that a campsite was marked "reserved" simply by the presence of a fuel canister on a picnic table, or an overturned Crazy Creek chair anchored in the parking spot.

So much more, of course, and I'll go into greater depth on my next post. It's time for me to get packed and head out for a weekend at the Gunks.

Have a great weekend, have fun and be safe!

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Glamping: Outside Magazine, Whose Side Are You On?

The first time I heard the term "glamping" it was from some online news
source like this one. The article seemed to be promoting high-end guiding services that had discovered a niche market based on what might be referred to as "Everest Angst," wherein the biggest, best, most highly coveted goals can be earned simply through the swiping of a credit card.

It seems that commercial advertising has so focused on outdoors recreation as an exciting way to market products - everything from clothing to cars - that people actually have begun to believe the boring old Jones' next door have gotten out of Indiana and are headed straight for an adventure in the Temple of Doom.

Not wanting to be left behind, they jumped in their old cars and headed right out to get that gas-guzzling SUV, and those high-tech clothes designed for temperature extremes, just KNOWING they’d soon be out livin’ the life; cruising through desert dunes, splashing across rocky rivers, sliding down tree-filled snow slopes and parking atop crested buttes. Preferably all in the same day.

These people had the cash to go out and grab that adventure and dammit, that’s exactly what the marketers intended for them to think about doing. But then…reality hit. And though those cars, or trucks, or vans or whatever they are’s, all come with GPS, and the technical gear comes with hangtags detailing the finer points of each item, they don’t come with the faculty to know "what’s next" once one gets wherever it is they’re dead set on getting to.

Enter – the glamour-camping guided service, selling gentle hikes that will be touted as 'strenuous.' With back-country settings that…conveniently…have access roads to minimize approach times, enabling clients to get to the heart of their getaway more readily. And double occupancy tents that could hold twenty people if they were sleeping in bags, on pads, and not in king-sized four-poster beds piled high with down bedding and fluffy pillows. The packages seem to focus on comfort in the way of sleeping and eating, with beautiful scenery as a backdrop. For three, four and more times the cost the same guide service can charge for the same trip sans the luxury goods.


I didn’t give much thought to the thing, except that I knew we’d probably get to hear the occasional funny story n the online forums, from those of us who’d run into this "species" when we were out there.

But then someone lent me a recent issue of Outside magazine, which had a story about the debauchery that is Everest’s base camp, and another on the new phenomenon of glamping. That changed things. Conveniently, the story’s also in their website here, and if you care to take a gander, it is a read worth taking, if you have concerns about land stewardship and access issues.

As a marketing niche to keep guide services afloat, I haven’t really got quarrels with this attempt at creating a trend in luxe al fresco living. But “Outside” doesn’t cater to the uptown crowd. I am fairly certain their demographic is the urban male, mid twenties through early thirties, based on the style and content of the publication. They don’t seem overly concerned with writing about things from a woman’s perspective in many cases, although this glamping story actually could be seen as "something for the girls" (well, at least for some city girls who might want to try on a modified outdoors experience).

Now, it should be noted that the same issue of the magazine DID have one or two small blurbs about locations that would have catered to the luxury camping crowds, but chose not to link the glamping term with those places. Spin, I suppose. Outside knows their reader isn’t spending $1000 plus on a weekend getaway. But glamping is a buzzword they must have wanted – well, needed - to explore, if they were not to be left in their competitors dust. (Oh, the trials of being a magazine editor…). So….why not create a working person’s version of the fad?

Why not, indeed!

As if you hadn’t seen this coming…. Here’s my opinion as to "Why not?"

The version of the trend that Outside exemplifies amounts to no more than suggesting a bunch of drunk twenty-somethings head out for a weekend of partying, with no regard to the effect this will have on neighboring campsite visitors, natural resources or access issues.

Young people already grab a case (or three) of beer and a tent and have at it, as anyone who’s ever camped at a KOA, State or National Park site knows. It’s a rite of passage that some of us never quite seem to grow out of. On any long-weekend holiday it’s almost a given that your campsite neighbor on at least one border will consist of a group of fifty year-olds, drinking away time and sleeping off the daylight.

But at least people opt for some sense of stealth in this pursuit. They may get rowdy and annoying, but they usually have some semblance of an understanding that it isn’t quite right to be loud and falling-down drunk till the sun comes up.

The "Outside" article goes above and beyond the call of responsible outdoor rec journalism in touting the idea that this type of revelry is…cool.

Not only that, but peruse any climbing forum out there and you’ll see threads dedicated to activism in keeping access for campsites across the country. Closures are constantly a threat due to things like trash being abandoned. The pendulum swings the other way too, with user fees increasing faster than inflation in order to provide “services” like flush toilets, showers and paved drives. In the former instance, I can’t help but find it…difficult… to believe the glamorous glamper is going to pack up their empty beer cans, wine bottles, disposable…everything…and those fancy sombreros and tent decorations so necessary to provide the right "ambiance."

In the latter instance – it’s NOT the person truly interested in getting into nature who desires those modern conveniences. Most people who spend more than a few weekends a year on the road DON’T want to see campsite fees competing with gasoline for the title of “Largest Expense of the Trip.” They’re more than happy to squat over an outhouse pot or dispose of their poop al fresco. If a body begins to reek, they have highly enough developed route-finding skills to locate water. For these folks, taking a shower within walking-distance of a campsite is tantamount to being a gym climber.

Here’s a photo I took a few years ago which, to me, is a fair example of what one could anticipate with an increase in glamour-camping.

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This porta-potty is one of the few amenities offered at the Multiple Use Area in Gardiner, NY. It is one of two free camping areas near the Gunks. The other niceties include a driveway/parking area that in a great place to test the suspension and clearance of your vehicle, and….well, I guess that’s the only other convenience, actually.

There’s no running water, no picnic tables, no designated parking spot per site, and no trash receptacles. There IS a small bulletin board, which states the guidelines for use; one of which is that – what you bring in, you need to take along when you leave.

Most weekends someone will leave SOME trash they shouldn’t have, simply out of laziness. Bottles and cans can be recycled a half mile down the road at the little store where the items may very well have been purchased in the first place. Rock & Snow has provided access to their trash cans for me when requested, and it doesn’t take too much for brains to come up with a plan for disposal utilizing one of the chain store drive-through trash cans on your way back to the highway….

Somehow, I just can’t imagine someone so “fabulous” that they think a smattering of glitter and confetti would be a great way to spark up the drab dirt of a campsite’s ground having the consideration to do anything more with their garbage than what is shown in this picture above (which was a fluke even for the MUA, which has a history of drunken revelers anyway).

The United States is NOT Europe, where this low-budget idea seems to have originated. We have incredibly powerful government lobbies jumping at any chance available to close down our recreational areas. Developers chomp at the bit when even the slightest whiff of an “eau du natural” bit of land appearring precariously protected wafts past their noses. The LAST thing we need is a stupid trend weakening links in the chain that safeguards what public lands we still do have available.

Please don’t promote the idea of glamping. If you hear talk of the idea at the company watercooler, be the first to offer a “helpful” dose of beta, emphasizing aspects of outdoor living such as…Oh, such as big spiders that seem to invade even the tightest zipped tent entrances, 10pm quiet hours, smelly outhouses and the like…

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Monday, August 20, 2007

HitchHiking and the Mohonk Mountain House

Getting from New Paltz to the cliffs with no car is very easy. I have heard others - men, big and apparently able to fend for themselves men - say they just take a taxi from the bus station. I tried that. Once. It's a long story. Let's just say that I won't be doing that again.

Instead, I hitchhike. Getting off the bus, I hightail it down Main Street to the stretch of curb in front of The Gilded Otter. This is a good spot for thumbing it, because it allows oncoming drivers a distance of space in order to process the information they are receiving, which would be: Hitch-Hiker, female, backpack, climber. Minimal brain activity required to surmise that I am probably not dangerous; just looking to get out to the Gunks and go climbing.

If they have quick reflexes, and decide to stop where I stand, it is a section of the road that allows them to do so without being rear-ended by an unobservant driver in a following car. If they are smart, and decide to pass me and turn the corner a few feet ahead, they can stop and not concern themselves with unsafe driving practices at all. I'll simply run down to the corner, throw my gear in the back and hop in. Then we'll turn around and be on our way.

The reason I rush to this spot is because sometimes there is another person on the bus heading to the cliffs who has gotten their partner to pick them up at the bus station. They might have room for me, and I want to be in place when they drive by.

You might think "Why not look around at the bus station and ask for that ride?" I will tell you why not. Because more often than not, they won't have room for another rider and their gear. or they will be wanting to stop at Rock and Snow, and then at the grocery store for power bars and water. And then at the Mountain Deli for breakfast. Like the time with the taxi; I did that once. Another long story, which gained me the revelation that it is often a big waste of time and energy to tackle the project with that plan.

Anyway..... This past Sunday was like any other hitch-hike day and I got a ride directly to the cliffs within a few cars passing. New Paltz is one of the few cities in New York state, I am assuming, where it is still relatively safe for a woman to put herself in the hands of a stranger on the road. The place is special that way.

On Sundays, I volunteer on the trail crew. We have a small group that works steadily, during season, to reinforce eroding sections of the cliff side trails, improve areas that are difficult to manage when evacuating an injured person laid out in a litter, and maintain the thing in general. It's my pleasure to do so, and I look forward to the day each week. There are long stretches of the trail that I helped fix up, and the work will endure for years. That's a very satisfying thing, to me, and one of the few ways I have to give back to the climbing community that has given me so much.

But this Sunday, we didn't have much help. Just myself and the crew leader. Our current project involves rock collecting and though the old saying goes "Three's a crowd," that's certainly not true in this case. The rocks we are looking for are more aptly called boulders, at least by the layman. A
boulderer would call them "bad landings" if they happened to be under what THEY consider a boulder.... The rocks we want weigh between 100 and 1000 pounds and range in size comparison to basketballs, microwave ovens and dorm-room style refrigerators. They aren't moved by one person hoisting them, but with rock bars and grip hoists

So - with just the two of us, no work could be done. Disappointed, I headed to the Uberfall, which is to the Shawangunks climbing community what the barbershop was to Mayberry, R.F.D., in the hopes of picking up an impromptu climbing partner.

Now, I have never been successful in doing this, and unlike the taxi game, I still haven't learned it's a waste of my time. Maybe it's because so many other people have success in finding partners that way; I know that it works. At least for some people....

It's just a paradox that I can stick my thumb out on a state highway and ask a ride of someone I can't even really see, but am unable to do the same on a more personal level. I get uncomfortable, sulky and introverted. I pull out a book and burry my nose in it, hoping "the perfect partner" will stop, and ask me to climb with him. (Yes, it's a him. Tall, smart, long, curly hai....Ummm... Well at least someone with plenty of experience.).

The truth is that I am not good at saying no, and when it comes to life/death situations, which climbing entails, one had better be prepared to do so. I have heard way too many stories of people roping up and finding themselves in serious trouble because they didn't vet heir partner beforehand, and found themselves climbing with someone who had misrepresented their abilities, whether intentionally or through naivety.

Combine that with some of the assinine scenes I have witnessed being enacted by FWDKTDKS (Folks Who Don't Know They Don't Know S***)...and I get a little...scared.... just roping up on the spot with just anyone. While I have climbed blind with well over a hundred people over the last few years, and had great days of it, I DO vet heavily beforehand. Someday I'll write a post about that experience.

I pride myself in an ability to stay safe. That's another story in itself; this one's supposed to about the Mohonk Mountain House and hitching a ride. So - let's get on to the Mountain House....

After a weak attempt at searching for a partner, I decided I'd hike over to the Mountain House. Because I usually have my dog, Teddy, with me, and dogs aren't allowed on MH property this was a good day to do it. By the way, if you are not familiar with the Shawangunk ridge and the Mohonk Mountain House, it's an interesting story.

I knew the Undercliff Road eventually led there, and was fairly certain it would be easy to figure out. The carriage roads, paved with shale and well-maintained, are hiked every weekend by families. I have only once seen someone in duress while doing so, and that was a man who called a gentle incline of less than 5 degrees "a hill." And, I've never heard an horror stories of anyone being lost overnight out in the wilderness of the Mohonk Preserve. The walk would be cake for me, and though I was a little concerned I'd be bored(it IS a flat road-like trail, after all....), I cheered myself up with thought of being able to take photos along the way.

That lasted about two seconds, before I realized I'd passed up the opportunity to restock in double A batteries for my camera. It's an energy hog, and I knew I would be lucky if I had enough power for a day's shoot. Berating myself for neglecting the item(for it had occurred to me to restock at home and then again when I got off the bus that morning), I had to stop myself from stepping into the quicksand of self-pity.

Soon enough I came along a bit of greenery that was photo-worthy and unpacked my camera with intrepidation. I knew what I would find, and was not surprised when the thing would barely power up. The half-press to fix the focus shut the thing down. "No photos for you" I heard, in the chiding voice of Soup Nazi from the Seinfeld series.

Again, I knew it would be a bad thing to allow myself to wallow. Oh - I had ammunition all right. I had no man, nor a climbing partner, nor even my dog for company. I wasn't going to be getting the heavy duty workout that a day on the trail crew brings; an exhaustion that is surprisingly satisfying, in a sort of masochistic way. I didn't even have use of my (sniff, sniff, dab away the tears) crappy little, barely beyond a point and shoot, FujiFilm camera..... I would have to be - oh no! - comfortable in my own skin, staying in the present. Laugh if you will -but when was the last time YOU really did that? I don't even OWN an Ipod, and use my cel phone only for the most basic communication; can you say the same? Hmmmm?

Well - it was what it was, and what it was, was a walk along the carriage road at the Trapps, listening to people yell climbing signals, as I trudged my day's destiny....

Of course, one can't really have a bad day out at there, or at least I can't. Before long I was happy in my thoughts, looking at pretty plants and noticing other small details of nature. Just before I hit the trail I usually take for Sleepy Hollow, I noticed a big boulder(climbing-sized) that looked pret-ty sweet. With an impromptu access trail barely discernable. Definitely not an *approved* trail, but one that was a hella lot easier to walk on than the one that had been put in officially. With just a tinge of guilt, I took it.

In my defense, I made absolute certain of my footwork, stepping on rocks wherever possible. I went out of my way to tread open ground when no rock was available, and avoided delicate mosses at all cost. well - except to gaze at their beauty. Sleepy Hollow is quite wonderful, in it's heavy mantle of furry moss. If you are reading this, and are wont to go "off-road," please try to at least do the same. The difference between traveled areas and the places one doesn't go, when it comes to nature, are actually pretty astounding. It takes surprisingly little traffic to maim fragile growth, and the half-life for destruction is a long one. Recovery, when possible, takes a timeline measured in generations.

The boulder, by the way, was a good one. Local boulderers know which one I'm speaking of, of course. Already chalked up extensively, I still noted several virgin paths of least existence. Lines I would never follow, simply because I didn't have the skill, but also because I was traveling alone and couldn't risk making one of those "bad landings."

That was good for a bit of time and soon I was back on the road, headed for the Mountain House. I figured I would do a rock scramble I had heard of along the way, called the Giant's Workshop. The walk was pleasant and, with just a few people passing by on bicycles, I was pretty much in solitude the whole while. At one point, I came to an intersection of paths (at Rhododendron Bridge) and decided to follow the Laurel Ledge Road.

Rounding a corner, I came to a very small cliffband right along the way, which reminded me of a mini Uberfall area, and shortly thereafter, a deer in the woods caught my eye.

Upset with myself about the situation with my low-energy camera, I slowly and quietly unpacked, hoping to try for a picture or two. She was happily grazing, but became aware of my presence immediately. I was able to get a few shots off, but wished for a better vantage point. She was further away that I'd liked and there were downed branches and trees hindering the sight line, being the woods and all.... However, I knew stepping so much as one foot off the road and into the wooded area would scare the deer off. She looked so content, laying down and munching greenery that I knew it would be incredibly rude to invade the territory in even the smallest way.

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Not much further along, I came to a side road, The Old Minnewaska Road. To the west, this comes out to a bridge running over the Coxing Kill, and Split Rock swimming hole, a nice little summer laze-about spot that can be quite the local scene on a hot summer weekend day. It was interesting to put another disjointed piece of my Mohonk Preserve topographical puzzle in place.

This part of Laurel Ledge Road was fairly picturesque, carriage road-wise, and is a trip that would be incredibly beautiful in autumn with the foliage color change.

To the right, soon came a marker for the Giant's Path, which I assumed led through the Giant's Workshop. I took it, and soon enough found myself in that scramble.

For some reason, I had assumed this area was going to be a much larger maze to meander, but was not disappointed. The 'trail' through the thing is, in my opinion, not as clearly marked as it might be. I am a chicken, frankly, but considering that people who may not be aware of just how deadly a fall onto rock can be, the level of 'think for yourself' that folks are left to surprised me.

At one point, I misread the marking and headed in a way I thought would be a natural route. "Holy crap!" I thought, removing my pack to get through a tight spot. "This is a pretty big move for a novice to make, and a fall would definitely have potential for a broken ankle." Not the brightest start in the galaxy at times, I continued....

An easy step or two and the route I was on led through a slim vertical shaft toward daylight. I moved ahead...and looked down. "Holy crap!" I thought. "Sure, you can sort of shimmy/chimney through here, but the foothold is friggin' thin! Miss it and you are going down for a while, until you wedge into a constriction!" Knowing that families bring young children out to scamper in this thing, I was....beginning to think I may be off-route.

Still....I proceeded. The route WAS there, after all. I saw it clearly. I moved through that fissure and out towards the corner. The point of no return was one step ahead, and at least I had the sense not to blindly go forward. Stretching as far as I could, I saw that - yes - one could work their way to the outside. It was 4th class climbing though, and that was just the next few moves. Once past the corner, I'd be on a rock wall, and at least twenty feet above the ground, into 5th class range.

"This ....must not be right." I told myself, and headed back. Reversing the "big" move mentioned earlier wasn't difficult (again, for someone who has climbing skills) but still....

Looking at the trail blazes again, I realized that the person who had marked it used a symbol that hikers know as "turn this way" more as if it were an arrow, with the center pointing the way. I guess that was the crux.... At any rate, the "correct" way was.....just a little easier than how I had almost gone.

Coming out the top, one gets a very nice panorama of the valley below and the Trapps, Near Trapps and Millbrook ridges off to the southwest. And, a choice of several routes going forward. Being that I wanted to get to the Mountain House, I chose the one that said...."To Mountain House"....and had a nice little walk though, again, the trail was not well marked. It's just obviously been a while since someone's been through to touch up the blazes and though I suppose it's difficult to get lost out there, I wondered why the maintenance hadn't been done. (Probably for the same reason I was out there that day, instead of doing the trail work I'd intended; a lack of volunteer help!).

At any rate, in not to long a period, I came to more choices in my path, by way of carriage road. I couldn't help but be impressed, knowing as I do, that all these carriage roads were created in the late-nineteenth/early-twentieth centuries, and the work was done with manual labor using hand tools.

Headed in a northwest direction along the outer edge of a highpoint in the topography, I came across a pretty wooden pagoda, one of many that I knew had been put in place by the Smiley family, owners of the Mountain House, for the pleasure their hotel guests out enjoying their nature walk. Thinking back to what it must have been like, to be a young woman in corset and long dress along on this road, I can imagine it must have felt like quite the workout. Thinking back even further, hundreds of years before the slate roads and wooden scenic lookouts, to what it might have been like to be one of the area's original human inhabitants.... I couldn't help wondering how romantic it all must have been.

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Eventually, I came to a clearing and saw that I was coming to the Mountain House grounds proper. A baseball/soccer field led way to tennis courts and soon enough I a different world, and feeling a bit like a dirtbag, with my casual clothes, disheveled hair and huge, seen-a-bit-of-backcountry backpack, and my climbing shoes and camera bag dangling from daisy loops. Casual attire by way of being a Mohonk Mountain House guest is just a wee bit different than the casual attire I had on.

But! I knew there was a gift shop. And that meant I could replace my camera batteries and try for some photos of the place. Boy....did I feel weird, walking past the valet parking, moving off the road for fancy cars. I knew that, as a preserve member, I was allowed access to the grounds, but it sure didn't feel right. I kept expecting a butler in tuxedo to appear at my side, nose tilted to the sky as if I had BO, affecting that tone and asking "May we help you?"

No butler that I could see, though there were plenty of young, attractive guys in green polo shirts, the uniform of the hotel. Plenty! Almost an equal ratio to the guests, it seemed....

I can steel myself as well as anyone, and though I definitely felt out of place, I emboldened myself and stopped one of these guys to ask about getting batteries for my camera. I didn't think I would be "allowed" in the hotel, but thought maybe there'd be "some way" I could get those batteries. I'm not sure if I was supposed to be given carte blanche, and maybe I caught him guard but he directed me to the main entrance and gave directions as to where I'd find the gift shop.

The entryway was a zoo. Busy with arriving and departing guests, I felt like the obvious interloper at the wedding, or a salmon swimming upstream, instinctively needing to do so in order to carry on. Walking through the maelstrom as if I belonged there - as if I were, in fact, a paying guest and gawd help me but I was just that cool, not deigning to wear fashionable designer dungarees....

The hotel is...beautiful, and after I got my batteries, I headed out the back, where I understood Lake Mohonk resided. Just before exiting, I found a wonderful old Stickley settee. I touched it. How could I not!? I really love Stickley and though the pieces I have in my apartment are recently produced reproductions, there ARE Stickley, and have been made to the same standards as this antique; of radiant quarter-sawn oak. And I felt the energy, from the hands that crafted the piece in the first place to the years and years that piece has been standing, like an old tree in the forest, having seen it all and stood by, quietly.

Mohonk Lake is indeed very pretty, but I have to say - I did not really like the feeling I got, standing on the back porch of that hotel. I hadn't gone unnoticed, and though I generally don't really look at people, I DO glean sensation. It's a trait I've had all my life. It's not very helpful when running into people throughout my travels, since I rarely recognize faces or remember names. Such a problem it is, since I am apparently known by an awful lot of people, that I have no option but to be honest and let people know this is something that's "wrong with me;" I simply do not recognize people I have met before, nine times out of ten.

But I get their drift all right. And the drift I got at that time was one of riff-raff, myself being the cause of the rift. There were all these....lazy...I'm sorry but that's how it felt....wealthy men sitting in rocking chairs, impatiently waiting for...something. Looking at me as I walked by, and wondering to themselves - in a Thurston Howell the Third voice - on earth I was doing there. I got away from there as soon as I could!

I had decided to go walk along the lake, figuring that, though I definitely was no supposed to be in the hotel itself, there would probably be plenty of other preserve members and day use visitors on the grounds. Well....I can't say whether that was the case or not, but it wasn't so bad. sort of was, actually. I came to a path that led to the famed "rock scramble." Deciding to take it I started down the path only to be quickly overtaken by families and young couples, moving like cars on the expressway upset that the little old lady(me) was driving too slow and in their lane. I had to "pull over" and let them pass, or feel their irritation as they impatiently tail-gated.

Almost immediately, a mom, dad and two young boys zoomed past. The youngest boy became frightened when he had to step over a crevasse. Not knowing how bad it was, I could see he was definitely scared and felt sorry for him. He cried and balked all the while she pulled and finally launched him over the thing and finished him off with a belittling remark. wow....

Now, I got lucky, because while I had pulled back to let this family get past and gain some space, I had taken time to look around. And you know what I saw? I mean besides several plastic drink cups, soda bottles, and food wrappers stuffed in the crannies between the rocks....

I saw - a porcupine!

Yes, I did. He was, believe it or not, coming out of what was probably his den, right there at the start of that rock scramble.

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The little buy ahead was still crying, now with shame as much as the residual affects of being scared silly and I thought. "Hey! I them about the porcupine, and that will break the negative feeling! Nobody expects to see a porcupine, certainly and the kid will be amazed!"

Well....not quite.

No response/reaction whatsoever from the two boys, but the mother crisply said "Unfortunately we can't make our way back there to see it." Only what she meant was "And why is it, may I ask, that you are speaking to us?"


Well, I decided to let them have a LOT of space. And so I stood waiting for the porc to come out and let me see him, and sit for a portrait. He did rollover onto his haunches and give his belly a good scratching - long claws, I'll say! - but he realized that I was probably going to be stupid and tell everyone I saw that he was down there and point him out, and then he'd probably get poked at with sticks and have his day messed with. So...he stuck it out, and waited until I admitted defeat and moved on....

Within short order, another set of people came up from behind and overtook me. Now - this rock is polished. I'd much rather have been scrambling over talus at the base of the cliffs than this stuff; it's got a strange smoothness in places and though it's easy stuff, the mix of smoothness, trash litter and impatient scramblers was a little disheartening. I didn't like it at all. At one point two people went ahead of me and stood in an opening. I could hear they were talking to others in their group, who had taken a different path, and were waiting for them to catch up. Since I could see them coming, I waited, and decided to let them go as a group rather than try to get ahead or go in between.

This, apparently, upset someone who came up behind me, who nearly pushed me out of the way while asking "Are you going?" wow.....

The rest of the scramble was pretty much the same, unfortunately, though it's probably much less icky on a weekday or in a less busy time of year.

Once out of the scramble, its a shale-graded path rising up a hill to the top, where the Alfred Smiley Memorial stands. People seemed much nicer up there.

There are some very nice views from Skytop, like the rockface of Lake Mohonk.

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And the memorial is a nice piece of craftsmanship too. Here is the iron gate at the front entrance.

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On the way down(Nooo...I didn't take the scenic way down. I walked the road, thank you.) there are pretty vistas, with stopping spots and those nice wood pagodas. Some give way to views of the majestic old hotel.
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As pretty as it is, I can't believe they have this ugly dock running through the lake. But I guess they have to be able to accommodate the leisure traffic, and a rustic smaller dock wouldn't be able to handle the load.
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Getting back to ground level, I realized that my day had been burning along fairly well, and it was probably past the time I should have started to make my way back to New Paltz. I had....wrongly...figured I'd simply get a ride back to town in much the way I do from the cliffs. That is - to go to the parking area, and ask people heading to their cars if they had room for me and my gear. I had dawned on me - sometime between walking in the back door of this resort and that moment - that my plan was flawed.... Little did I know just how badly.

I had wanted to walk the cliffbase of Skytop, and get a look at the fantastic climbing routes. But I was tired; I have no idea how far I'd walked, but had been pretty much going nonstop since 10am, and by my guess it was at least 3:00 at the time. As well, the sky was darkening as rain clouds began brewing.

Uh oh....

I decided to save Skytop(the real Skytop - the rock climbing!) for another day, when I was fresher, and make my way toward the parking area. I was worried about the ride situation; I could simply not imagine the reactions I was going to be getting from these people when I asked if I could hop in....

And so, I headed in the direction I knew was the exit. Along the way, I passed a section of formal garden, filled with pretty flowers. I took but one photo, probably because, as I said earlier, I was becoming tired.

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On the road to the exit, there is a truly magnificent old tree. It's not a Weeping Willow, but it has a similar sweeping mass of tendril branches. Up close, he tree is fantastic - an ancient, windy limbed beauty. Just spectacular. The hotel has placed a rather large and obvious sign asking to respect the tree's age and beauty, and to please not climb on it or carve it. Nonetheless, the limbs are scarred with cutwork initials.

So...I headed out, and off what I thought was the hotel grounds. I believed I was heading down a drive that would shortly lead to the road leading back to New Paltz.


Oh, and when I am wrong, I am wrong.....

I had not known that the hotel had a two-miles plus long driveway. I had been to the gatehouse entrance a few times in the past, only to find out the parking lot was full, or they wouldn't allow me in because I had a dog. I had simply assumed at the time that the hotel was just down the road, well camouflaged behind a heavy bank of trees. Suddenly I understood why I had seen several short-busses with "Mohonk Mountain House" emblazoned on the side......

Uh oh.

I knew, I just knew, that it would be bad to put my thumb out on the resort driveway. Disrespectful, and.... just bad. And so, I committed to the walk, thinking perhaps someone might see my pack and recognize me as a hiker, take pity and offer me a lift.

Then I came to a sign that said walkers MUST use a side path to get to the gatehouse, 2.3 miles down the road. The good news, the sign promised, was that the path was a half mile shorter than the road.....

Even if I had wanted to disobey the rule, the road really was too thin to walk along. There was absolutely no shoulder, and it was not a lazy country road. It was one way and winding, with cars winging around the curves every few seconds.

Oh, crap.

I had no choice.

Eventually I came to what I thought was the road..... I put my thumb out and each car stopped, only to say that no - they weren't headed to New Paltz, and unfortunately could not give me a ride. I had been wondering why the road seemed....thinner...than I had remembered it, since I'd driven it a few times last year when I had a car. But, as I said earlier ...sometimes I'm not so bright.

This road didn't have much of a shoulder either, and it was sort of scary. I had to go quite off into the woods edge in order to be safe and not frighten the drivers; I didn't want to upset them - it really was a thin pathway.... and I didn't thumb it if the road wasn't clear enough that I felt the car could stop without being in danger of traffic coming up behind.

Finally, another car stopped and strangely, they didn't roll down the window for me to query about a lift. Well - I was about out of steam. It was obviously going to rain at some point, I was worried about getting back to own, and had realized - some of these people...were not nice. At all. This was NOT the same as hitching a ride to the cliffs. These were not climbers and hikers and locals of the area, used to quirky climbing bums. At all.

So, I shouted through the window. And at the same time, I noticed the lady passenger was speed-dialing something on her cell phone. "Oh christ" I thought..."Do I REALLY look like an axe murderer?"

The man let the window down a crack, and I repeated my request. As if I were a moron (well...if the show fits, now that I think about it), he said "This road goes to the hotel."

Oh. Crap.

When I came off the walking path, I had mistakenly thought I'd hit the road, when it was actually the entry drive into the hotel. Now wonder it seemed like a one-laner..... It WAS!

The driver cheerfully told me that the road wasn't far back, really.....

I DID remember to thank them, by the way.

And so....I walked. It wasn't that far. Not really. Probably 10 or 15 more minutes. But then the fun really started.

If you know that road, you are aware that it is a very winding one, with lots of blinds sections and curves around steep embankments with guardrails set very close to the roadway.

Not a good place to be walking, much less hitching a ride. Especially from wealthy patrons to an exclusive resort hotel.

I walked for half an hour, listening very carefully for oncoming traffic. It wasn't their fault I had been stupid, and I intended to be considerate. If the road was not a clear enough stretch fro them to safely slow and stop, I would step well off to the side and not signal for a lift. In the instances where I could thumb, not a one of those expensive cars so much as slowed down even the slightest.

Thinking I was screwed, and wondering how many hours walk it would be back to New Paltz, I tried to make the best of it, while hoping I was forecasting wrongly in thinking rain was less than an hour away.

FINALLY a car stopped. Oh my god, was I relieved. It was a man who worked at the Mountain House, on his way to New Paltz for another shift at a second job.

And thus ends my little Sunday trip report.....

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Found: The Orion Society

A while back I was passing by my neighborhood Free Books Library. Now - this is not a branch of the public library that probably comes to your mind. This is an impromtu offering of books and magazines that sponatenously appears on the stoop of an Upper West Side residence(West 88th, between Amsterdam and Columbus, on the south side, more precisely).

It seems that the owner of the building, a brick rowhouse, allows another person(who manages a thrift store)to place books there so he can reduce the excess number of donations he receives at the shop. He simply gets so many books that he's unable to moove them through the store. So, he puts out a selection of ten to twenty books on this stoop every week or so.

Being an unstopable reader, I take advantage. The books are often old classics but sometimes they're lesser titles; things I'd never pay for, even at a used book store. But put them out for free and suddenly the Howard Stern and Monica Lewinsky biographies(both of which I found there) are worth taking a look at. I've also found The Nanny Diaries from these stacks(okay, I admit...and I took and read it). There have been how-to's on subjects like basketmaking and photography, wordy, weighty "what's wrong with the government" best-sellers, and historical accounts of various cultures around the world. Also paperback editions of good old reads - Mark Twain, Collete, Hemingway and many other wonderful pieces of literature; there is usually good stuff, left for the taking.

Back to where I started..... A few weeks ago, as I rounded the corner and noticed....books! I hurried my pace. Because I was currently without a lover(yes....I am a booklover; there are many worse things one could be), and here I was, about to entertain multiple options. I wanted first pick before some stranger swooped in and snapped up my first choice....

My eyes scanned the selection quickly, and landed on a slim magazine, obviously an arty publication. The cover featured a beautiful photo of a snow owl of some sort. My mother had saved a baby owl once(well....saved him for a few days; people didn't know to call animal sanctuaries back in the 60's. At least farm people from Wisconsin didn't). I have been enthralled by owls ever since I spent those days with little Hoot.

Noticing there were several issues of the publication, each with a cover more intriging than the last, I found myself in a quandary. Not wanting to miss out on something potentially very good, I als didn't want to be a hog and take the entire bunch if, upon later inspection, I found myself uninterested after all.

Then, a headline on one of the issues - "Edward Abbey ~ The Unpublished Letters" - caught my attention. I had heard of this guy, and I wanted to know more! So, I decided to choose that issue from the group, take a gander, and then decide whether to take or leave the rest.

Walking down the street and thumbing through the pages, I quickly realized that I had stumbled across something very good. The magazine was put out by a group called the Orion Society and it was fabulaous reading, on subjects galore. Big news, for a person interested in the natural world around themselves. I can see how a "be a jerk/go to work/get a job and do it right/life's a ball/tv tonight" sort of drone would be bored....(That's reference to a Frank Zappa song, by the way)...but you wouldn't be here, right now, if you were that sort;I know that.

So - I continue.

Click that last link and see for yourself! You can come back here some other time. This is too important to miss. you've returned(or haven't left like I said to). Did I lie? Of course not! The Orion Society is damned cool, and a wonderful resource populated by interesting writers, artists, experts and educators. It's not propaganda for the masses. They don't tell you what to think but rather ask "What DO you think?"

That bears repeating: WHAT DO YOU THINK? And what's more - What are you going to do about it? The Orion Society isn't going to do it for you; what they do is offer plenty of opportunites - to learn, to ponder, to experience, to act.

In case you stayed here with me, I will give a bit of an idea as to what's in that website, that I feel is important for you to know about.

First - their mission statement: The Orion Society's mission
is to inform, inspire, and engage individuals and grassroots organizations in becoming a significant cultural force for healing nature and community.

Next is the entertainment portion of the program, the magazine, which was what piqued my interest in the first place. Obviously, there is a paper subscription of the thing available, and I think it is well worth the price. But they offer an incredible amount of content right here online. Many of the articles have discussion available to, which alleviates any reason to feel alienated or pandered to. Don't agree? Have further thoughts? Just speak up say so!

The Grassroots Network portion of the site includes a list Jobs and Internships that is a great resource if you're looking to work with a group focused on helping nature deal with human impact.

I could go on....but it seems that the site I publish through is...having some serious issues today. I have written a LOT more about this topic but there seems to be a ghost in the machine. It saves the draft, and then...the saved version disappears, and I am back to a version I had....AN HOUR AGO! What a drag.

So - take my word for it, and please DO check out the links I mentioned. I'll probably come back at another time and mention the items, because I really do feel this is a great resource that has not gotten enough notice.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Camp Cooking: Brinkman Eggs and Toast

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I bought one of those camp toaster things when a few years ago; you know, the metal disk that goes over the cook flame, with wires that hold the pieces of bread at an angle? You’re supposed to put the flame on high to get the thing hot, then turn the flame down, place the bread on it and magically gauge the exact moment when the bread transitions from not toasted one bit, to burnt black in one small section. Turn over and repeat.

It sucked.

No matter how hard I tried – shield the thing from wind, rotate before flipping, pray to the ToastMaster…it still produced a fairly unsatisfactory piece of toast. No type of bread, from high brow to low bran seemed to have an impact.

I gave up after a few tries, though that didn’t stop me from buying a second toaster when Delta Airlines once lost my luggage with ALL my camp cooking gear and clothing inside(never, ever to be seen again, though they did reimburse fully without pause).

Besides – who needs toast, when there’s delicious oatmeal recipes to try (wait until you get the apples and maple recipe… I promise to put it down before autumn kicks in), and crunchy peanut butter and honey, etc. on a bagel. Or even French toast – which isn’t toast as I ever knew it.

But sometimes a person just wants simple eggs and toast, and though you can’t beat the Main Street Bistro in New Paltz for their special (2 eggs, toast AND potatoes for like $1.95), if you are like me, and don’t have a car to get into town, that breakfast is as unattainable as the halfway decent toast I was seeking in the first place.

Until now, that is.

I don’t travel light; that’s always been a problem of mine and even now, I still carry enough crap for a weekend upstate that I get at least a few comments each trip (“Is that ALL you have?” Or “Running away from home?” YES, dammit. To both those questions.) Usually I am up there for Friday night’s dinner, and leave on Sunday afternoon. And I have Teddy of course. So, I pack a lot of crap.

Usually, I bring a loaf of bread, to have with pasta one night and a sandwich on Sundays, when I do trail work and have to share a sandwich with Ted in order to keep him from cajoling others out of theirs. Even so, that loaf barely gets cracked, and back to the city it comes.

A few weeks ago, I was looking at that bread and thinking “I have got to find a way to use more of these loaves when I am up here.” Looking around, I accept the fact – Camp Slime is not Hidden Valley Campground at JTree, where there are dirtbags chirping at various nesting sites in the vicinity. Slime, even for it’s rustic (read: complete) shabbiness, is rarely host to anyone who might be hungry. Offering leftovers or unused goods at a stay’s close will bring looks of suspicion rather than intense gratitude. So, sharing wasn’t an option.

It was at that moment that it occurred to me I could toast the bread in a buttered pan. Now, having only one fry pan, I quickly understood I faced a dilemma. For toast is not really a stand-alone food; toast likes to partner up, usually with eggs. I could have done the poached eggs, in my small pot, I thought. Of course, that’s still always an option. But as anyone who cooks outside knows – everything needs to be cooked and ready to eat at the same time, unless cold food doesn’t bother you. I know – some people aren’t bothered; I am. Poached eggs are tough enough to time properly (in MY opinion), but to have decently made toast at the same time? I don’t know how I could expect that.

And out of that distaste for flawed food, Brinkman Eggs and Toast was born. I know I’ve kept you waiting for the recipe(instructions, really) long enough, but I think you can wait a bit more, as I should say it’s called “Brinkman” Eggs and Toast because my tabletop stove(2-burner, I told you I don’t travel light) is that brand. It’s a Coleman knockoff, but stainless steel. Classy.

So – here’s what you do.

First – use good bread. If you’re going to be taking my advice, take it properly or don’t blame me if you’re not duly impressed with your attempt. Grocery store pre-sliced bread-like food is not really bread as I understand it. To me, good bread is chewy and dense in the center, and the crust is NOT crunchy. I didn’t like scraping the roof of my mouth on Cap’n Crunch as a kid, and I don’t like bread crusts that remind me of the trauma as an adult.

Bread can be simple, or abundant with bran, seeds, olives, fruit and/or nuts. Your choice, but BE&T (Brinkman Eggs and Toast) was conceived with a more humble white bread. That’s not to say crappy (as in …well, we already discussed that in the above paragraph.

One issue that will arise is the fact that camp fry pans are small. Seven inches diameter, unless you’re car camping with the kitchen sink. I may travel heavy, but the cast iron 12-inch pan stays at home. So – choose bread that is not too highly domed. That leaves out round loaves, although I suppose you could simply cut one slice off and then halve it for your two pieces of toast(for toast also comes in sets; am I wrong?).

Alright….the other important thing is to get all your stuff ready before you turn on the stove. Pepper, salt (not needed, since using more butter than a French pastry for this recipe), eggs, plate, turning utensil, butter. Of course, you should slice the bread you’ll use before beginning too.

It should also be mentioned that these instructions are for one plus a small share for a dog. Or one person alone if you don’t have a dog like Teddy, who has become accustomed to sharing meals. Couples and groups – I’m sorry. You’ll have to figure it out for yourselves. It shouldn’t be too difficult. If I had a man (hint, hint), I would simply make one set and share it, and then make another one and share that one too. With buddies and groups, similar concept, only you’ll be sharing the pan, instead of the food. First one in line gets the first meal.

So – FINALLY – Here’s what you do.

Get all the stuff ready and set up your stove. Put a good sized pat of butter in the pan and melt it at a low heat. Oh, yes. I cook as heavily as I travel. If you don’t use old-style basic foodstuffs, you’ll be disgusted by my cooking. Or will have to adapt with ingredients you prefer.

So….the butter has melted. Be careful with the heat. Burned butter is gross.

Set the two pieces of bread in the pan and heat till the bottom is warmed through (you’d guess) but not fully browned. While this is happening, thinly slice some more bits of butter, and place them on top of the bread. You’ll flip the bread, when ready, and the softened butter will work better than having a dry pan.

Flip the bread when you feel like it, and try to get them placed toward the outer edge of the pan, with a ditch in the center. Crack two eggs and put them in that ditch. Depending on your bread choice, you may not have much of a ditch. That’s okay. Just put the damned eggs in the pan. We’re not having a beauty pageant.

Time for the pepper. I like a lot of pepper. And I like good pepper, too. Don’t use Roundy’s Crappy Cracked Pepper and think that’s pepper. Good pepper is….well, you know. Better.

If it’s cold out, cover the pan loosely. Or, if you are in a hurry, or wishing to conserve gas, do the same. Hell – cover the pan. Dinosaurs died for that fuel and there aren’t any more waiting to make the sacrifice. Your loathsome leader might have you believe we have good young men and women doing just that (dying so we can have gas), and maybe you hold that stance too. But, waste is waste. Cover the pan and save the fuel.

Now…. The eggs are beginning to set. It’s time for the flip.

Keep in mind that you’ll be toasting the other side of the bread now, and don’t overcook the eggs, if you like them less than over hard.

Take out a spatula (yes…you NEED a spatula. Well, maybe not. You could probably stab one side of the thing with a fork, pick it all up in one piece and turn it just fine). Yes – everything will be “melted” together. That’s the charm of the thing.

Now, continue to cook the other side…..

Time to eat! Get your plate ready, grab that fork or spatula and turn the entire thing out onto the plate. Now…you’re going to make a sandwich-y sort of maneuver. Remember, the eggs are stuck to the bread. Don’t try to separate them fully, or you’ll end up frustrated. Just get the most of each egg away and place them on one of the piece of bread (well, now it’s actually toast). Then, turn the other piece of toast on top, eggs layered inside.

I eat mine with a knife and fork, because the bread will have butter and eggs all over it. But you can eat it with your hands if that is what you want to do.

This is actually more like a grilled cheese sort of toast as opposed to an in-the-toaster sort of toast. But – the great thing is that it will ALL be one temperature. Nice and warm. And you won’t be buttering cold toast, while you’re eggs get cold in the interim. Unless you didn’t eat it right away.

Anyway –that’s Brinkman Eggs and Toast. The photo's the meal on my stove, just after the eggs were set in the pan.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Elvis Arm?

A few weeks ago, I was following someone on CCK(Cascading Crystal Kaleidoscope at the Gunks). It was my first time on the line, and though I’d heard it was as spectacular and real as that chick’s breasts on “Seinfeld,” I knew little else about the route other than to expect exposure. At the Gunks, that’s like saying to look for sunny skies in Florida; to expect the expected.

Climbing onsite, whether on lead, following or on a toprope, is my preferred style. I’ve found that, while I like repeating routes well enough, the fun is definitely in the unknown. I’ve also found that, on lines I hope to lead in the not distant future, to know what’s coming sometimes makes me afraid to get on the sharp end! Going in blind puts me on a higher state of alertness that makes dealing with events as I confront them seem more manageable.

But, I lead 5.5, and CCK on lead for me is not going to be happening this year or even probably in the next season or two. My partner that day leads 7’s 8’s and 9’s, which is a good challenging range for me to second. And so, when he asked what I’d like to get on, I suggested the route.

It was a hot, sunny day, and we were behind a party of three. Waiting at the hanging belay before the meat course of the meal, I found myself… a little nervous about the opening moves. Obviously, I don’t want to give away the goods, but suffice to say that…some things I’d have no problem with at ground level suddenly seem rather severe a hundred or so feet up in the air on the face of a near-vert cliff. One could consider that sequence an hors d’oeuvre for the main course at the crux, I suppose.

Giving myself just enough time to build up an appetite for fear, I took the plunge(or rather…I didn’t!), and the feeling of success was exhilarating.

Still, the climbing ahead was what had given the route its reputation as a classic line, and though I am able to block observing sequence information as I belay my partner (it’s actually very easy, if you focus on giving your best belay), I couldn’t help but get the feeling that the operation was a delicate procedure.

Again, I don’t want to detail anything, in case you haven’t been on the route. I will say that I wasn’t completely sure I could grasp the matter at hand and stay on my feet (I wear size six street shoes, and I like footholds that fit!), and the path of trajectory should I slip would be…unfortunate.

Alas, as in all things climbing, the best way through is usually up. And that is where I began to head. Timidly. Very, very timidly. Even my sense of humor was tainted, as I came up with old standby nervous energy chatter. I pride myself in a quick wit, but what came out of my mouth was “I don’t think I like this route! Whose idea was it to climb this thing anyway?” Who hasn’t heard THAT one a million times already….

Compounding matters, there was another party coming up from below, on the direct version of the route(We had taken the original, traversing line). So, there I was, on thin moves facing a penji, with a partially innocent stranger coming into the line of fire. I couldn’t help but giggle(but just for a moment, and I kept it to myself) at the vision of swiping this guy off the face as I tarzan’ed past him. I’d definitely have making SOME sort of guttural scream, and who knows – maybe he’d have become tangled in my vine, I mean my line, and, clinging to me like Jane or Boy, went along for the ride. That was certainly more exciting that the imagery of a dull “thwack” and dead drop, which was more realistically what would have happened.

Scared for him as well as myself(ever the thoughtful one, I am) I told him I wasn’t sure I’d stick. This guy looked up at me with the calmest, just out enjoying a day, eyes I’ve ever seen on a leader. If Disney ever makes an animated climbing film, this would have been a “hakuna matata” moment. Even as he sacrificed himself to the moment, he was in complete control, and had no worries.

He patiently told me he’d wait if I preferred.

I did.

Between his encouragement, and my partner’s patient and attentive belay, I eventually committed to the sequences needed to get out of there. Again - I am not going to give beta, but if you are like me, this climb with have you swearing, crying, wishing for an exit stage left miracle, and generally trying to stay composed at least enough to avoid complete meltdown.

It was pretty ugly and embarrassing. But I know one ethic about climbing is that it’s cool no matter what happens, so long as you don’t fabricate the style you did it in. So let it be known – I stunk up the wall with noise pollution and a traffic jam.

Finally I made some moves and came to a gear placement that held a blue Camalot. I set my stance and pulled the trigger. Out the piece came, easily enough. A perfect extraction.

But then….THEN! Then I couldn’t believe what happened. As I adjusted my finger position to move toward clipping the piece to my harness, I noticed a most unusual sight…… My forearm was doing the rhumba! Or acting like a drunk on Red Bull trying to walk a cop’s commanded straight line. Wasn’t happening.

I seemed to be seeing double, I knew my arm was bent at the elbow, with the cam still trigger-pulled in my hand, but my hand and wrist were just….not…behaving. Mexican jumping bean, the tracers of a fire-dancer at a pagan festival. Use whatever imagery you prefer; the fact was – I was under the effect of Elvis Arm!

What a rip off! I have to tell you(and if you have ever climbed with me you already knew this). I always prided myself in having never experienced the sewing machine leg. Seen it a million time(well, maybe not that many) in others, but I’d never had so much as my foot tapping a rhythm. And I was good about adjusting my stance when I felt a little stiffness too. Hold my heel down, take a breath, make a body shift to reduce tension. Whatever was needed, I seemed to automatically render the adjustment and avoid yet another Elvis sighting from cliff bases across the country.

I just have to be different, I guess. Elvis leg is for….other people. I got the King’s Swing in my front legs, dammit.

And so it was. I was astounded by the betrayal and brought attention to the scoundrel arm immediately. As if it wasn’t a part of me…. I could have stayed there longer, in awe and shock. But of course, I had kept my partner waiting too long already, and the guy below probably would have liked to get on his way too. And so, I continued on the route.

I don’t recall right now if there was still more difficult(for me) climbing ahead. I believe there was. But forevermore, my memory of CCK will not be about the beautiful colors - twinkling quartz crystals glinting in the sun, as it was for the supposedly tripping first ascentionists. Nor a slow-mo recap of the delicate traverse to powerful pull through sequence. It will be the bad, truly campy, impersonation of the elvis leg phenomenon that my body performed that day.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007


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Supposed to meet my partner at 8:30am in the Uberfall, and I was hurrying because I was late. Only by a few minutes, but I do like to be prompt. Besides, I had not had my morning constitutional yet, and that's something one doesn't want to leave til the last minute, which usually occurs at some point,finding ousrself deep in fear leading a wild pitch or slung into a hanging belay while our partner takes.....waaaaayyyyy to lonnnnngggg.

Scurrying toward the area, I don't see David anywhere. And I spy the UberPooper, as the outhouse at the Trapps in commonly called. There's no pack set on the ground out front, nor is there a line of people, so that means it's available. David seems like the sort to be on time too, and so I am pretty pleased to get this reprieve from his punctuality.

As I pass Ken's Crack, a popular classic route that is one of the few true crack lines at the Gunks, I notice a blue backpack along the trail.... Not thinking twice, since my eye's on the stall and I don't want to get sideswiped by someone in the short distance I need to travel, I ignore it.

Almost to the pooper, I become aware of some movement on the wall and look up to see a person climbing the route Boston(5.5). Realizing it's my partner, I look down to see who he's roped up with. Nobody! He's freesoling the route.

Now, I knew David was a punctual sort of person, but I never figured him to be a freesoloing type. I was a bit taken aback, since I'm such a chicken that I can get nervous on a Less Than v0 bouldering traverse if it goes more than four feet off the deck. It always surprises me when I realize someone else has a different mindset than I do.

Not wanting to disturb him, I try to sneak off to the side, while getting out my camera. The big question was...of course... Do I snap the shutter if he starts to come off? I KNOW! That's terrible. But...well....? Would YOU, or wouldn't you?

At any rate, David has seen me, and he shifts his stance to downclimb. He's just coming into the crux of the route, an offwidth chimney with a tricky exit, and I suppose it would be a good time to bail. If there was any hesitation on his part.

Still unsure what was up, I told him to continue, and not worry about keeping me waiting, which was his reason for starting down. After all, it was my lateness that gave him so time that needed filling in the first place! And so, up he went.

I did get some shots, and was pretty nervous as he hesitated at the crux. I guess perspective is a little bit sharper when your climbing style passes the realm of a clean lead into the purity of freesolo. At any rate, David took his time, assessing the moves needed and being sure he was solid as he made the sequence. Relief was palatable as he topped out.


Funnily enough, that UpberPooper is featured in an other freesoloing experience I witnessed at the Gunks. It was probably two years ago, and I was climbing with Richard, known to many in the climbing community as DrKodos. We were headed to get on Apoplexy and I stopped to use the john. When I came out, Richard was nowhere around. Then, I spied his pack, a grey haulbag, resting along the trail at about the same spot as David's blue one in the story above. But...where was Rich?

I finally saw him; he was soling Ken's Crack, as two young women dilly-dallied over starting the route on a toprope.

That was my first time seeing someone climb completely free and it shocked me that he'd choose a stage such as this, in the overly popular Uberfall, on the most visible 5.7 in the Gunks, on a beautiful(crowded) Saturday afternoon.

But...that's Richard. All the world's a stage, and he's taking the lead role.

Watching his intentional movements scared the crap out of me, but he told me he'd done this line, in this style, literally hundreds of times. Even so - I couldn't help feeling a sense of outrageous fear, as I imagined myself up there.

Freesoling is not for me, I'm pretty sure. Although, I was watching some friends climb Three Pines(5.3) last weekend, and I sort of had an urge to go for it.(Boy, would they have been mad. I had turned teaming with them on the route!). I knew, beyond all doubt, that I could do that first pitch, up and down, with no problem.

And I have done some scrambling in Joshua Tree - a place where the line between third and fifth class climbing or highball bouldering is all a matter of personal perspective. But, I'd kept a read on each move's reversal, and backed off when I couldn't fully guarantee the next move upward.

I still have plenty of room to grow with my climbing experiences before freesoloing would be a viable way to take it to another level. Perhaps I'll never know what it's like to go fully free. But I do admit that I have some admiration for those who can. The most common arguments (selfish, dangerous) may make sense to some people, but I have witnessed enough of those same folks making selfish and/or dangerous decisions on high to question their authority on the topic. Dead is dead, whether it's a freebird who took a mistep and found their wings clipped, or a roped climber who fell on badly placed gear and one piece too many pulled.

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