Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Timing Is Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good thing he’d brought the big cams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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