Sunday, November 11, 2007

I Saw My First Bobcat!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So – that was Saturday morning.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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