Friday, November 09, 2007

The Best of Worst Times

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

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

But I don’t wanna get up at 6am!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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