Zion, St. George and Jtree

January 26th, 2021

It’s been 20 days since arriving home from my 22 day holiday trip with James. We left on the 18th after the fall quarter ended. and drove to Zion in two days, sleeping once in the snow up on the Blue Mountains. It was a weird campground. Who keeps a campground open with 6 inches of snow on the ground? The rain and melting snow were pelting down at a furious rate all night. I wondered if we might be snowed in for the winter, but there were a few other campers around and I knew we’d get out eventually. The freeway was only a block away.

Next day we made it to a free camp spot outside Zion near Springdale / Virgin. Sue and I have camped there before. James left his tent up for 4 nights with no problem. The most we saw there was 5 cars. The next day we got to the Angels Landing parking spot around 8am and as soon as I drove into the crowded gravel lot I was immediately surrounded by other cars jamming in.  It was merciless. I backed up into a fishy spot that potentially could have blocked other cars from leaving, unless they drove backwards and around the lot. But I had no choice. My truck was too big to back out, that was like swimming up river. I was soon blocked in myself by cars doing much worse parking jobs right beside me. James was like: “Well, you’re not in Kansas anymore.”

We cooked breakfast in the dirt then packed up and started the hike. To save weight I took my oils out and put my gouache kit in my rock pack. Angels Landing is an extremely dangerous hike. It’s far worse than the cables route on Half Dome. The chain railings are secure enough, assuming some out of shape tourist doesn’t fall off and cause a chain reaction. But what if you pull a muscle in your hand, or slip, and and can’t hang on? The worst spots were some sandy slabs where there were no chains. Who decides these things? On a climbing approach we’d belay the hell out of slabs like those. There were huge drop offs below them.

The trail looked endlessly dangerous…but was actually quite do-able….as long as I kept my cool. People hike it all day long. I did regret my huge pack. No one had as large a pack as my art pack. But, I did do a reasonably good painting considering we’d just driven a thousand miles in the last 35 hours.

I need to sew a lighter pack, one that isn’t so overly re-enforced everywhere. It just needs to be good enough for skiing and gouache painting days. Probably should have a zipper in the back for repair access…with a vinyl bottom.

Next day I painted Upper Emerald Pool, badly. I just couldn’t seem to get my game face on. Day after that, our third day at Zion, we tried to climb the Mountaineers Route. It used to be like Angels Landing with cables everywhere, built around 1920. It was chopped in the eighties when maintenance became too expensive. There is lots of evidence of the old tourist route in the shape of chopped one inch iron bolts and polished footsteps carved into the sandstone.

James was totally comfortable free soloing death slabs but I hated it. At one point, I was traversing a slab with a huge drop off. There was a bush 50 feet down that might have stopped a slide towards the drop off, or maybe not. We actually had a discussion about the odds of landing on the bush, versus missing it and plummeting into air. James was already across with the rope. The cliff  ahead got steeper and was forcing me backwards. The ledge narrowed down to 2 inches of horizontal “trail” on the steep sandy slab. It was about as steep as Slender Thread at Peshastin.

As I stepped forward there was a prickly bush that forced me even farther backwards off balance toward the drop off. I thought of calling James for  a belay, but he was out of sight around a corner scampering happily along. With no other options, I grabbed a half inch thick branch of the bush and edged forward thinking: This is a really stupid way to die. I made the move, the flat spot on the slab got bigger and I was able to “hike” another block or so before the same scenario repeated itself. This time I hollered for James. He came back and was able to get me a top rope by scampering up to a 2 inch bush behind which he could belay. All together there were 5 places I had him belay me in the thousand feet we climbed. People on Mtn Project were saying they either free soloed everything, or belayed maybe twice.

I have zero tolerance for mountain climbing. People who enjoy the danger are made from sterner stuff than me. I like the “relative” safety in rock climbing. Sure, it’s dangerous, but so is driving in the dark in a heavy rain storm at 70 miles an hour. Mountain climbing involves a lot of movement over 5th class terrain with no rope. It’s more like that same rainstorm, in the dark…but on a motorcycle. Your margin of safety is very narrow while mountain climbing. I’ve had 8 friends die mountain climbing. Any serious mountaineer will tell you the same stories.

But back to the cliff…we were only half way, a thousand feet up, and it was 2pm. I didn’t want to descend in the dark so we bailed. The rangers told us they were locking the gates next day, which was Xmas eve, the 24th. For three days we had been able to drive through the gate at 6 AM before the rangers arrived.

Beginning in the morning you would only be able to come in via shuttles, and only if you had a reservation. That was a non-starter for us and we bailed at dawn, driving to St. George in a few hours. We lucked out with a $20 camping spot at Snowy Canyon campground. Full service hot showers and everything.

Just Deserts is a lovely three pitch 5.8 with modern bolting…so fun! There is a three pitch 5.7 to it’s right. I led the first pitch, but bailed on the second after Dennis took a 20 foot whipper on a pin. It’s protected with half inch angles…but they held his whipper…I just didn’t want to chance it.

It was good we bailed because at the bottom James suggested doing another route, but I realized Dennis and Julie were probably having trouble finding the walk off. They should have been down an hour earlier.

I hustled around to the walk off an saw them at the very top, belaying down the wrong way. I hollered  to look for a hidden manhole style tunnel to skiers left, then began climbing up to guide them down. James and I had just done the walk off earlier on Just Desserts, so I knew it well.

We got all got down and had a nice wood fire that night. Dennis brought the wood.

The next day they did Just Deserts while James led a horror show of a 5.6. 50 feet to the first manky cam, and it got worse from there. He has a dangerous ability to basically free solo chossy rock. He just keeps going up as the pro gets worse and worse. And he does it in guide tennies.

We joined Dennis and Julie where the routes converge and sailed to the top, where it started to rain, hard. Dennis set up a 3 cam anchor for a handline, which I happily used. Then we slid on our butts down the 4th class slabs. That night, they guided us up to Prophesy Wall where there is BLM camping…and 3 inches of snow.

In the bright white morning we drove to Jtree with a stop to see Aaron + Katie and the ham store in Vegas. I ordered the FT3DR general delivery to Jtree post office where it arrived 4 days later.

Jtree was fine, I led Hands Off, Damper, Toe Jam and a super fun new route called Penny Lane left of Double Dip. I tried to lead Stick to What and Touch & Go, but there were crowds of top ropers so we bailed to a nice little 5.8 chimney route left of Chalk Up Another One.

That’s basically the trip. It was 22 days on the road in the Tundra. I never got very good. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older, or if it was all the interruptions. Driving here, driving there, bad camp spots many miles from the cliffs, endless hours of driving, unfamiliar climbing areas….I have lots of excuses.

One of the things I really like about jtree is those lazy mornings at the campground. This is pre-covid of course. You get there, you stock up on food and you live the life until the food and water runs out. All the climbs are familiar, like seeing my cousins at a family reunion. There is very little stress. It’s conducive to getting real good real fast. Can’t wait get back down there after covid eases up.

Gouache and retirement

January 18th, 2021

I’ve been racking my brain for a way to make my painting pack lighter. Sue loves to hike, and I’ll put up with a hike if I can paint,  but my art pack is too heavy. I tried acrylics, but so far I don’t like them. I’ve been seeing some nice work done with Gouache. It’s used like a little water color set, but with the ability to have opaque white, like oil. It also blends a bit better than acrylics, since it’s more like water color.

It drys instantly, between watercolor and acrylics for speed. So I don’t need a wet painting carrier box as with oils. I can go on a long hike with just a few sheets of paper, paints and my easel. So it should be extremely light…which means we can hike farther.

Don’t get me wrong. Oil is my go to medium. But for long hikes, it’s just so heavy. The squash was my first gouache painting ever. I’m about 6 hours in and liking the process very much. I predict a scenario where I do sketches plein air in gouache, then expand them in the studio with oil.

Update on 12 – 15: I’ve started combining pen with Gouache. Pen is great because if forces me into right brain mode faster. You can’t erase with pen and ink….so you either draw well quickly, or quit. There is a whole movement called “urban sketchers” that combines pen and watercolor in little 6 x 8 sketchbooks. You can pack the whole thing in a laptop bag and bicycle around town…or Europe.

California has locked down the campgrounds due to ICU capacity being below 15% in most counties. I’d planned my usual jtree trip as soon as the quarter was over…but now I’m hesitating. Even though Sue and I and C L probably had covid in February, I really don’t want to be ‘that guy’ who travels during a statewide stay at home order. I have the rest of my life to travel…don’t have to jump in the truck with no partner and violate all kinds of civic responsibilities because I want my vacation no matter what.

I have to clear out my desk at work Wednesday, and hand in my Master Key. I wonder if I’ll get a golden watch? Seems appropriate…but unlikely. I have over 600 hours of unused sick leave…wonder if it’s worth anything. I claimed two sick days in 20 years at this job. I’m going to miss John, Darryl, Ken and Joe. All really good teachers and top notch human beings trying to do their best.

Udate 12-16:

Retired after 52 years of working

Cleared out my desk today. Ken was there, and Shawn in studio A. Went over to security to hand in my key and badge. Bunch of cars out front, lights were on, it wasn’t quitting time but they weren’t answering my knock. I think they were hoping I’d go away. I stood there under the porch in the heavy rain, lit by a small lamp, thinking: not much of a retirement party.  I called the night number and Mark came over and let me in. I’ve had many long conversations with Mark going all the way back to Nancy in 1999 when I was a student there. But the lack of excitement was palpable: “Retiring after twenty years, huh, cool.”

Retiring is something you only do once. I guess my big event was back when our main program closed and I went from tenure to part time contract work. I met with the pres’ that day. I remember him saying: “Closing his program huh? We are losing a lot of experience and training here, shame to see you go. But now you’ll have more time to pursue other interests.”  That must have been about 4 years ago now.

In the studio

November 22nd, 2020

I am really liking having a painting going in the studio (our heated shed). It may be my best turban squash painting ever. And even if it’s not, it’s given me a lot of satisfaction. I haven’t painted large since my 30 inch water colors in the early nineties. This one is 24 x 36 inch. When I’m out there painting, I get a deep sense of peace, like, this is where I should be, and what I should be doing. I know it sounds like psychobabble but my mind gets very clear and I enter a “zone” where it’s just me and the painting. Everything else is forgotten. I’ve missed this…a lot.

Because it’s so large, it has a presence that’s undeniable. It seems to say: “Like me or hate me, I’m big, and I’m here to stay!” But speaking of that…this one is painted on 5 ply cradled maple plywood. It’s huge, it’s heavy and it will be difficult to store. Here I was thinking I was so clever to cradle a couple 36″ boards.

I’m realizing there was a reason Van Gogh painted on large canvases. He could take them off the stretcher and roll them up. When Vincent died, his  brother found a shed full of rolled up canvases in perfect condition. They make for a very compact storage option. Even some modern painters prefer to work on unstretched canvases. They tape them to boards for plein air work. If they turn out, they can be stretched and mounted later. If they don’t turn out, they can be painted over like any bad work.

To that end, I just bought 3 yards of medium weight canvas for $36. I’m priming it for oils as we speak. Perhaps I’ll do some big jtree paintings. With this studio work, I should be warmed up enough to do some good work down there.

Early season cement snow

November 18th, 2020

Last weekend we saw a big storm coming. The passes were already closing down. But we have a four wheel drive truck with brand new snow tires and decided to drive up to White before it shut down.

I-5 was terrible in the dark with heavy rain in rush hour. We didn’t know it but having a full size truck means we are above much of the tire spray coming from ahead. That almost makes up for the scariness of driving a bigger truck.  The thing is so big I haven’t learned where it’s edges are. Our RAV4 and Tacoma are much smaller and easier to drive. Once we got past Packwood there was no one on White Pass and we motored up toward the top where the last 12 miles was in snow. Our new Hakkapeliitta R3 tires seem very good. Not a single slip, just like their 10 year old studded cousins on the RAV4.

At the summit we turned into the ski area parking lot and were pleased to see 8 other vehicles camped in the snow. They varied between a full Grayhound bus sized RV to a 5th wheel, a popup on a Tacoma and SUV towing a small trailer with a wood stove. We opened the gate on our Canopy, shell, topper…whatever it’s called and crawled in while the snow fell quietly outside.

I lit our Mr. Buddy heater and it quickly got cozy. When I crawled in my sleeping bag, I disconnected the hose from the tank down on the ground. I brought the hose inside but left it connected to our heater. In the morning, I connected the hose to the tank and lit the stove while it was sitting in the canopy, with the upper door open.

I’d assumed the connections were tight as I’d not loosened them the night before. Bad mistake!!! After a minute of normal burning, I got a football size explosion of propane at the stove connection. It burned wildly for a long 15 seconds as I leaped out and shut off the valve at the propane tank. The flare up shut itself off automatically probably due to the little propeller spinners in the fittings.

It turns out, the hose and stove fittings at the propane filter had loosened. I’m wondering if it was because freezing things causes different metals to contract at different rates. For example, to loosen stuck bolts in an engine block, you heat them with a torch.

Anyway, that was a wake up call. Never assume your propane fittings are tight…always check, every time you start it up! We could have burnt down our new rig.

To make matters even worse, we skinned up to the summit and found that the snow was awful. Cascade Cement is a term used to describe snow that is so deep and thick that you literally can’t ski through it. Still, it was a fine adventure, great to get outside and do a little skiing.

 

Painting and the election

November 18th, 2020

It is squash season and we found a great one in Leavenworth. None of my squash paintings have ever sold (one exception) so I decided to paint 24 x 36″. I’m operating under the go big or go home principle.  I painted for 5 hours the last three days  and made some good progress. I’m not sure where I’m at with it. On the one hand, it’s well drawn, and it’s big…so there’s that. But the composition and colors could be better.

The challenging part of being a rusty painter is that nothing I do can be good.  I can’t jump start my talent with will power. It takes time and practice. By nature, everything I paint will be a train wreck. And yet, the only way to get better is to paint train wrecks…a lot of them.

I  could post my work on Instagram, where 20 artists would like it. And that would be my “pay”. But I like to think that I’m smarter than that. Van Gogh didn’t have social media. He got good because he believed in the process.

We bought Nokian Hapelitta R3 tires for our truck today. Now it’s as stable as our studded RAV4. I didn’t want to put the darn thing in the ditch during a snow storm. It’s painful to invest in rubber…but that is the nature of owning cars: you have to maintain them. And a new one has to be brought up to snuff. Now it can go anywhere, snow or not.

Biden may have got elected and there is a lot of celebration on the news. Trump did a few good things I didn’t know about. Clint says he got money for the National Parks.

But his extremely bad speaking style made him seem far more of a monster than he really is. With Trump as the face of America it was very hard to feel any patriotism. As soon as Biden was elected this showed up on youtube. I haven’t felt a speck of patriotism in years…but this  made me feel some tingles:

It puzzles me why we couldn’t find anyone better than Biden. I mean, with all those younger politicians, isn’t there someone who could have risen to the top? Kamala is amazing. She has it going on. And perhaps Biden does too. It’s just hard to get excited about him. Nevertheless, at least he seems to have integrity, and his speaking style is ok…lightyears ahead of Trump.

Steel Grill

October 22nd, 2020

I’ve not written in a month. My interest in keeping this journal goes in cycles. I guess the main reason is that I enjoy reading older entries. So much of life races by and gets forgotten. Only the big events stick in memory. Having this journal is a way to check in 10 years later and have something concrete to read. I read these old entries and say, oh yeah, I remember that. Otherwise they’d be lost forever.

Starting with the most recent things:

Sue and I camped at Vantage in our new rig and hooked up with Fletch, Lisa G. and Vitaly. I jumped on Steel Grill since it was the only thing open in my price range. The place was packed, biggest crowds I’ve ever seen. It was a Saturday, and the only dry crag in the state, still, those crowds were not sustainable.

I did OK on the lower section of Steel Grill. It’s just reachy crack climbing. But the crux stopped me cold for at least 20 minutes. I finally was able to jam in a good #1 red above me. It requires a lot of up and down to get comfortable in a spot where you can place the high red. After that I had to hang, and slowly put a layback together with Fletch giving me tension. I totally cheated…but at least I got past the crux.

I need to trust that layback early. It’s only two steps with a great edge to pull on and then you rocker in on your feet and Bob’s your uncle. I would benefit from three number fours, 4 #2’s and 3 blues. The five would be heavy but useful on the move above the crux out of the last pod.

After our day of climbing we had a jam session around our propane firepit. Must have been 15 people from the gym. It was so nice to just hangout normally like the old pre-covid days. We all felt safe around the fire because the wind was blowing hard and not much chance of disease in the air. About half the people there were nurses or doctors. It’s crazy how this sport attracts medical people. I had to drive home in the dark afterward in the new rig, so I abstained from imbibing. Sue said Fletch and I performed our campfire songs better than usual…perhaps being totally sober was the reason.

In other news, Chad talked me into a Track saw. Much more convenient than a table saw. I love the way it’s just like cutting matts for framing paintings. We also just today bought a Mr. Buddy propane heater to keep the canopy warm while winter camping. Craig and Ken D. both have one in their rigs. The canopy is water tight, even at highway speeds. I think we made a good decision. And at only 100 pounds while being high enough for us both to walk around in, plus Toyota reliability…gotta love it.

I painted at Paradise a couple weeks ago. It’s unfinished, I’ll post pictures later. I also bought some German cobbler glue. I used it to fix a de-laminating problem on my new custom rock shoes. I sanded and scraped off (razor blade) the old glue with lacquer thinner and lighter fluid.  I brushed on a single coat, let it dry 30 minutes then heated it up for a minute with a hair dryer. This activates the glue…making it sticky again. I put the shoe on , then stepped into a block of that kayak brace foam until the glue cooled down…about 5 minutes. I took the shoe off and used finger pressure to smoosh it down even more. This guy explains it well:

City, Smith and a leather hat

September 27th, 2020

Sue and I had planned to leave for Lovers Leap on the 18th after getting our new canopy installed. We were going to hook up with Chad who would have just finished up a week at Yosemite with Annie, Brian and Liz.  However, Chad was on his way down two weeks ago and couldn’t get past Centralia due to bad smoke from the Eugene Oregon fires.

He stopped by our house to drop off a coat of mine. I was sewing my new leather hat and we discussed options. I mentioned that the City looked relatively smoke free…and we could possibly bring our plans back to life by going there. I had plans to climb with Kena on Sunday but was free after that.

So off we went Sunday night, crashing at midnight up a dirt road on Swauk pass, then getting to the City Monday at 6pm. Highlights of the City were my cruise up Private Idaho, and a couple 9 and 10b slab leads at Lost World. Sun and smoke were a problem, but it was still awesome as always.

We climbed hard until we woke up Wednesday, 9 days later and realized we needed a rest day, plus that  BLM road was getting irritating in my two wheel truck. The ruts are a full two feet deep. But rather than a rest day, we decided to spend it driving closer to home. We drove to Smith, arriving at 10pm to a half empty Grasslands. I led Outsider and second pitch of Pack Animal while Chad led two 11’s at Morning Glory: Zebra seam and Lion’s Chair. Not sure of those names…

He also led Pack Animal Direct, which I fell off of at the top. It was totally covered in Guano. The Covid shutdown has brought back the nesting birds. I had to rest following him up Karate before the traverse. I blame that on the lack of gym power. Can’t be that I’m getting older.

I got home Friday. Today I sewed a beaded hat band for my new leather hat, which survived the two week road trip in perfect shape. I chose to use a pattern size of Medium, since I was in the low side of that hat size at: 22.6 inches. Turns out, that made a hat too small. But my experience with leather phone cases told me that leather can always stretch…though shrinking is less likely. Almost twice a day I had to sponge water on the hat opening and wear it too tight. Finally, it is starting to remember my big head.

Just in case though, I ordered a hat stretcher from Amazon. It was really awesome seeing Sue today. We are both very independent people…but absence does make the heart grow fonder. I wish dad was alive to see my hat and hear all the family news. He would be proud. Pictures to follow later .

Storage Bin

September 8th, 2020

I bought a new rubbermaid bin recently and it only lasted 3 months. I suppose it might have frozen in the bitter jtree snow storm, but still, I’ve had them last 10 years.

I bought some nice plywood from Architectural Woods downtown: #2500, 1/4 x 4 x 8, C2 white maple appleply 5 ply NAUF carb 9310 phase 2 compliant

The key to a tight box seems to be to cut  the bottom and long sides same measurements. Then cut the short end pieces 0.5″ shorter. Assemble it with the short sides attached to the longer bottom first, using temporary shim pieces for alignment. It’s kind of a no brainer…but it took me 4 bad wood boxes to figure this out.

Cheap DIY tonneau cover

September 8th, 2020

Our new custom contractor canopy from canopy-world.com won’t be here until October-ish. Our trucks been sitting since it’s useless for camping without a storage area.

I decided to build a DIY tonneau cover from 3/4 inch plywood. I can re-purpose the plywood later into ourcanopy bed…and it was a fun project. Total cost was around $200.

Because I built it on a Sunday, the metal shops were closed. I mickey moused the C channel with some drilled square pipe cut in half. If I was going to use this long term I’d cut the post 2 inches taller and mount proper 8′ long C channel directly to the posts, thereby skipping the 2 x 2 and all the leaks inherent in my current system of partial coverage C channel.

There was one major problem. Once I started measuring for the proper panel widths I discovered that the post holes in the bed are not in a straight line. They curve. This made the C channel curve caused fit problems. I solved that by redrilling the last post off center to true the 2 x 2.

 

Back from a week at the Leap

September 8th, 2020

I’ve been having some challenges finding partners who have more one or two days available. But bless the stars above, out of the blue I heard from James. We’ve been on many the long trip over the 14 years since we took that first Jtree trip with Austin and Brett.

We left on Sunday around 10 and arrived at 1pm the next day. We stopped to sleep near Shasta Lake in a city park outside of Redding. It was sketchy, but at least there were no signs forbidding camping. I might of slept a couple hours….kept worrying about getting busted.

We did some exploratory hiking the next day. I’ve been there 3 times but could barely remember anything other than Bears Reach, Corrugation and Haystack Crack.

We ended up climbing all of those plus East Crack, which is a much safer start to Bears Reach. We discovered a ton of stuff over on the Hogsback. Ham and Eggs was a standout with 4 pitches at 5.6.

I backed off Corrugation Corner 40 years ago but got it clean this trip. It’s a 5.7 that feels like 10B due to exposure and runnouts. 50 year old bent pitons are considered ‘good protection’. The trad ethic is in full swing down there. They don’t even allow bolted anchors or rap stations.

I’ve had a few nibbles on my blue car. We parked it in front of the house with a for sale sign. Someone test drove it today and seemed to like it.