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 ?

If you enjoy my blog and would like to subscribe through RSS, you can click the FeedBurner Badge here. Thanks for your support!  Subscribe in a reader

Stumble Upon Toolbar

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...

If you enjoy my blog and would like to subscribe through RSS, you can click the FeedBurner Badge here. Thanks for your support!  Subscribe in a reader

Stumble Upon Toolbar

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.....

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Here's the bush

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Red Boxers

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Blue Ones

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Blue Plaid

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
First pair of women's panties on board. Now....there's something to be proud of....
If you enjoy my blog and would like to subscribe through RSS, you can click the FeedBurner Badge here. Thanks for your support!  Subscribe in a reader

Stumble Upon Toolbar

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!

If you enjoy my blog and would like to subscribe through RSS, you can click the FeedBurner Badge here. Thanks for your support!  Subscribe in a reader

Stumble Upon Toolbar

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:
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Here he is from atop!
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

And here's a closeup of his hair....
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

And here he is, as seen from beyond his protective rock facades.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to subscribe through RSS, you can click the FeedBurner Badge here. Thanks for your support!  Subscribe in a reader

Stumble Upon Toolbar

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!

If you enjoy my blog and would like to subscribe through RSS, you can click the FeedBurner Badge here. Thanks for your support!  Subscribe in a reader

Stumble Upon Toolbar

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!
If you enjoy my blog and would like to subscribe through RSS, you can click the FeedBurner Badge here. Thanks for your support!  Subscribe in a reader

Stumble Upon Toolbar