Solo at the Creek in April

May 9th, 2023

April 5, 2023 Creek Pasture campground, note, all photos on this trip taken with my iPhone 14 Pro. I had my full frame camera, but my pack was too heavy already. I also have a couple hours of video, which I will edit and post later.

I left home Sunday at 1pm and drove to Farewell Bend campground arriving at dusk. I passed a couple campgrounds in the Blue mountains because they were either too expensive (Emigrant Springs) or closed In winter (Hilgard Junction State Park). Farewell Bend is all closed except the $33 electric loop. I slept until 9:30.

Traffic was ok in Boise though their 10 year freeway improvement is starting to feel like Tacoma’s never ending construction.  Salt Lake traffic was hell due to snow flurries. When I started up Soldier Summit towards Price there was deep snow and slush on the road and a long line of cars following slow moving 18 wheelers. Occasional idiots tried to pass and I watched them fishtailing out into the oncoming traffic. It was clearly an accident waiting to happen. My Tundra has Nokian Hakkapeliitta studless snow tires and would have been fine, but I did not trust the other drivers.

This wasn’t my first rodeo on this road, I took a right  at the first paved turnoff  (Hwy 89) about 20 minutes up. I crossed the tracks and took the first non-private road (Lake Fork?) into the Utah County Sheriff’s Gun Range. Sue and I discovered this crash spot a few years ago under similar circumstances. This is the one that has a hidden entrance to a huge underground cave. Kids have covered the walls inside with graffiti. On our last visit I crawled down the body slot into the cathedral like interior. It was really cool, and maybe as long as a rope length, but the air was full of cloying paint fumes from the last group of teenage vandals. It’s not like there is any ventilation so the chemicals have nowhere to go. 39.99409° N, 111.49673° W. 

I texted Sue on the inReach to let her know I was ok. It was a little eerie being all alone there in a blizzard. The winds howled all night, blowing 5 inches of wind drift past my tailgate and onto my gear. 

Snowy camp spot
Snowy bivy spot, blizzard conditions

A pickup mounted snowplow woke me up at 6am. He had a key to the Range so must have worked for the sheriff. The storm had tapered off at 2AM leaving 4 inches of light powder. As I headed up the pass I’d hoped for easy driving but the snow plows up on Soldier Summit were kicking up huge blizzards of feather light powder. What should have been easy driving was white knuckle conditions. With no place to pull off, I followed the damn plow at a distance for half an hour. I had an 18 wheeler riding my bumper the whole way. He must have been able to see over the plow plume. After the plow turned off it was fine and I arrived at Creek Pasture at 3pm Tuesday.

Weather was a mixed bag. Windy, warm and sunny, overcast and cold. There are threatening gray clouds on the horizon with tendrils of precipitation coming down but so far it been dry. Chandler the camp host and climbing steward (climber coffee) person came by and introduced herself, asking where in Washington I was from. She’s from Marblemount and we exchanged a few words about how ridiculous it was to get partners to join us down here. Before leaving we were both sitting at home frantically sending out emails and texts to everyone we knew and getting totally shut down. 

She, like me had decided to just show up and meet new friends.  When you are sitting at home it seems like it would never work. But once you’ve experienced the magic you realize it’s effortless. Think about it: people who are serious about the Creek know that it takes weeks to acclimate. People with that kind of free time are few and far between. The chances that one of your local climbing partners has 20 days available is less than zero. The reasons I heard most frequently were: “I can’t get time off work” or “My kids are in school” or “I’m working extra shifts to pay for blah, blah, blah”. So you take a leap of faith, pack the car and drive.

Speaking of meeting partners: Wednesday I was zoning off in my camp chair, jet lagged from the drive. Couldn’t paint or climb. Seemed like a good day to watch the world go by. Climbers would walk by occasionally and I’d give a friendly wave. It’s kind of like swipe right on a dating app…except in real life. If the person walking past likes the look of your wave, they’ll wave back, and if you really play your cards right, or you’re both super desperate…maybe the same thing?…they’ll walk into your campsite and start talking climbing.

That was how I met Phil, The Guide. He was on a Winter long road trip that started when the Squamish guiding season ended. His journey had taken him deep into southern Mexico, not just the usual pass through El Potrero Chico. While climbing down South he had felt sorry for, and fed, a feral kitten, which shortly became his traveling companion.

Later when I knew him better we had a fun riff about how he was doing a public service by broadening the definition of “cat lady”. It’s not just lonely single women who collect cats.

Piton was shy with strangers but could usually be found hidden in the closet up in the ceiling. Phil tried to chase him out so he could roam around during the day, but he often preferred sleeping. He’d ask it patiently what it wanted to do that day, and the cat would just look at him. They seemed to communicate on some level. It was very cute. On the few times where I paid attention he would leave the roof fan on, saying that Piton would be fine. They were 5 months into their journey together and had worked the kinks out. He also mentioned that Piton preferred to prowl around in the safety of darkness.

I asked him if Piton ever got lost, or failed to come home. He showed me a stick with some jingly cat toys. When he was leaving he would shake the toys and Piton would come running out of the bush. He knew which side his bread was buttered on.

Thursday April 6. Phil met some new friends, a couple: Carson and Emily, along with a third 5.12 guy whose name I don’t recall. The couple had been there a month, climbing between showers. They were in their late twenties, super strong climbers, very young and ultra fit. She had long blond hair and a smile that could light up a room. Because I was so far from their level, and several generations older, I really didn’t have much in common with them. They were perfectly kind, and offered me top ropes and stuff…but I felt awkward around them. Maybe I was the one being shy and awkward…I don’t know…more on that later.

The five of us hiked up to 3D wall. Emily led a very hard looking 5.11 while Phil led a nice 10 that started with fun hands, and ended with #5 hand stacks. Phil has mastered almost the entire gamut of trad climbing from fingers and 0.75 greens up through #6. I rarely saw anything slow him down.

For my first day at the creek I did ok. I fell out of the 10 a couple of times, especially on the hand fist stacking section. There may have been a couple others I climbed. The unnamed guy led the 5.12 Positraction with a couple falls. He walked a couple of yellows so high that he would have decked…but that seems to be a thing at the creek. If you don’t have the cams, you make it work. Later in the trip I did it myself on a #6 crack.

Positraction 5.12
Positraction 5.12

This crag started a trend that continued throughout the trip. I’d follow my 5.11 (5.12) partners out to crags that had very little stuff I could lead. They’d warn me ahead of time that there wasn’t much easy stuff, but I’d say: “I don’t care, I’m just happy to see a new crag”. I might get a few top ropes in, but much of the stuff had long sections of 5.11 red #1 climbing.

Despite years of trying, I struggle with reds…so I’d often end up belaying or sitting around wishing I had my drawing pad. Reds always get a little easier towards the end of a trip. Part of it is stamina, which has to be built over time. Also, I’ve noticed that people who have big hands like mine, and are also good at reds, have arm muscles twice the size of mine. I need to build a crack machine at home to muscle up!

Friday April 7 Phil and I went up to the left side of Donnelly, which is called Battle of the Bulge. I hung dog the red section of Binous 5.9. Phil led Battle of the Bulge 5.11. Though hoping to get it clean, he fell at the crux…which is the bulge. It’s greens most of the way, which for me is an even worse size than reds. We also climbed a 10 up and left from Binous. It started in a body slot then exited left past a small roof into a double crack of rattly fingers, which got tighter towards the anchor. It was a fun climb, but I can’t find it on mountain project.

Battle of the Bulge
Battle of the Bulge 5.11, mostly green 0.75

Saturday April 8 Phil met his buddy Anthony (from both Mexico and Squamish) and the three of us went up to Power Wall. Anthony (28) was also on a multi month road trip. He was in a Chevy Van, maybe an Astro? He had a nice build out with some handy sliding shelves. He was running a small electric fridge on an even smaller battery (300 Amp Hr) recharged with a 100 watt solar panel. He works as an HVAC installer in Victoria, BC.

Anthony is a super gregarious guy, really a lot of positive energy. Christina was a huge Anthony fan: “He’s got a killer smile, just sayin!”. Anthony and Phil together are a fun couple of guys to hang out with. Phil has that amazing guide personality, plus being super strong. He plays and sings guitar like a dream, has all his songs memorized..and he has a cat. I mean, what’s not to like? Phil reminds me of myself at that age. Except I was never that strong, I was never that good on the guitar, wasn’t a guide, and didn’t have a cat. Other than that, and the 35 year age difference, we could have been the same person 🙂

Anthony and Phil became the nucleus of a climbing crew that I hung out with for the next three weeks. I felt very lucky to be included in their adventures. At Power Wall, I led Batteries not Included and got it clean…or if I didn’t I got it clean I got it when I came back a few days later with Dave. Phil flashed Power Play and Power Paws, both 5.11. I followed Power Play and Phil was very kind to give me the Senior Hoist belay when I ran out of juice half way up. Phil and Anthony took a TR on the 5.12 finger fest Power Line. It’s rattly fingers in an impossibly vertical featureless wall.

Phil on Power Play
Phil on Power Play

Sunday April 9 all the Colorado folks crowded into the campground and we took a rest day. I drove into town for the first time in 6 days. It was fun checking in on the family news. Lisa and Dan had finally bought their back ordered Tacoma. It took half a year to arrive and was a replacement for Lisa’s old 2008 Corolla which had been tail ended by a semi truck on I-5 almost a year earlier.

Monday April 10 Phil, Anthony and I drove up to Petrified Hornet crag. You drive towards Bridger Jacks but after a mile you take a fork to the left towards the Optimator crag. 8 years ago on my first trip to the creek with Daphney she led me up Soulfire at Optimator, a 5.11 tight hand crack. There is a fun 10 up there called Mudslide that I’d like to get back on. Anyway, from the Optimator parking lot…if you are looking at Optimator, turn 90 degrees to the left and you are looking at Petrified Hornet.

I got my first good onsight lead at Petrified on a splendid 10B corner splitter called Crescent Crack. I’d watched a Swiss girl lead it very cleanly with far less gear than I brought. What I didn’t know was that she leads 12’s…which was why she made it look so easy. I’d been hanging out with Phil and Anthony as they projected a 12- called Sting. Phil led it twice that day. The first time he took a pretty big whipper. I jumped a little as the rope came tight. “How was the catch?” I asked. “Perfect!”.

Phil leading Sting 5.12B. He got it clean.

But eventually they took a break and Phil gave me a catch on Crescent. I led it with 2 reds, 3 yellows, 6 blues and 3 #4’s. My monster mitts got decent fist jams through the last section but it’s definitely pumpy. It reminded me of a couple different routes. 4×4 crack has the same sustained section of blues, as does RattleTale at Index. Also Fisticuffs at Joshua Tree has some similar fist jamming at the end. It’s a lovely route, and I felt lucky to get it clean. As I walked my fours up the 20 feet of finishing flaring fists at the end I was puffing like an overworked cart horse.

I could hear my friends, even the Swiss couple, cheering me on down below. They all knew how badly I wanted to lead something cleanly after following and flailing on so many elevens. I was so happy at the top I may have even yodeled.

Crescent Crack
Crescent Crack

We started that day on the namesake route called Petrified Hornet. Both Phil and Anthony led it. I TR’d it and got most of it clean. With the exception of the bouldery start I probly could have done a hang dog ascent. It’s very nice with a short section of reds but mostly hands.

Petrified Hornet
Phil leading Petrified Hornet

We finished out the day on a pretty 5.11 called Kiefer Ari, named after the Creek Freak guidebook author’s son. Anthony tried to lead it first and kept falling off the boulder start. As his belayer, I was quite nervous. I had a couple sketchy cams protecting my belay perch above a 40 foot drop. He had two cams in also, but the rock looked sandy…not wingate. I kept imagining him blowing his cams and the two of us tumbling down the cliff.

Eventually he handed off the lead to Phil who sent it cleanly after a few ups and downs. I was glad to be team photographer after that. It’s a super sketchy ledge. I was creeping back and forth on the unconsolidated sand and boulders wishing for a belay. But then the two Swiss climbers came waltzing up no handed, completely unconcerned, easily and effortlessly stepping across the sandy downscoping ledges above the sheer 40 foot drop. Some people just have no fear.

Sue and I started as mountaineers in 1977. But even then, we would stop to belay things that our friends would scramble past, not bothering with a rope. There were times in the Cascades when we were so slow and careful that our friends would come free soloing down from the summit while we were still going up. Despite having left high camp at the same time. We’d look at each and say: “Those are the real mountaineers!”

Kiefer-Ari 5.11
Phil leading Kiefer-Ari 5.11
Phil leading Kiefer-Ari 5.11
Phil leading Kiefer-Ari 5.11

When we drove up to camp Handsome Dave was parked at my site. Sadly he only stayed 3 days, chased off by a short weather window.

Tuesday April 11 Phil, Dave and I drove to Trick or Treat, which is right of Fist Fight wall. Phil led Zits. It’s a nice climb for red #1 climbers. I cleaned it but cursed the entire way. I wonder if hanging a one inch gym rope from a tree in my back yard would help me build red power?

Next Phil led Horse Crack 5.11 There was a famous Creek pioneer called Steve Hong and his routes are legendary. He put a 12 minus extension on Horse crack called: “Hong like a Horse”. Originally there were no guidebooks to the creek, so the people who put up routes would carve the particulars on a football sized plaque at the base.

Hong like a Horse
Hong like a Horse route plaques

I tried to follow Horse, but it was almost all reds and I backed off at the bulge. Dave got it no problem. On days like these golf begins to look very attractive.

Dave on Horse
Dave on Horse

We went looking for Cow Crack but couldn’t find it. On the way Phil led an awful finger crack called Shine. It was a bit like Angel at Castle Rock. I tried it but my fingers were screaming and I came down. Dave had no problem.

Next Phil led Overthruster 5.11. It looked like I might have a chance since it was blues at the top, but I couldn’t get past the 20 feet of reds at the bottom. Dave cleaned it easily. This route was extremely pretty. A total splitter up a free standing pillar. And the top 40 feet is overhanging blues. Man I wanted to get that.

Dave following Overthruster

Wednesday April 12 Dave and I went back to Power Wall while Phil took a rest day. Dave had noticed that I’d got shut down on every route at Trick or Treat and recommended Power because of the eight and nine. Surprisingly, I led both of those cleanly. The nine is a few yellows then about 7 blues and a few fours. I found that the flare was easily passed by simply getting my feet as high as possible. That allowed me to reach past the flare into the good blue hands again. Super lovely route that fits me perfectly!

Chad and Sam on Unnamed 9+ in 2021

By Thursday April 13 we’d been climbing hard for 3 long days so I took a rest day. Dave rode his mountain bike all the way from Creek Pasture campground, past Newspaper Rock, up the hill to cell service. Then he turned off on Harts Draw road and circled back on the high plateau, eventually coming out near Hamburger Rock? Somewhere above 30 miles, much of it cross country carrying the bike.

I painted Bridger Jacks. Previously I’d done them in monotone, but this time I let my freak flag fly and did them in full color palette knife. It rained that night. In the morning Dave, who’d only been there a few days, decided to head to town. He hates boring rest days and after few hours in town decided to drive home. I thought that a little strange, but whatever, we’ve all got our own agendas and time tables.

Bridger Jacks rest day
Bridger Jacks rest day

Friday, April 14 was a forced rest day from the previous nights rain. I set up my easel in our campsite and began tuning up a few loose ends. I never get knife paintings completed in one day as they take longer than the light lasts. Think of buttering sandwiches for a crew of hundreds. It’s just so much hand work. As I tinkered with variations on color, many rain blocked climbers walked by and offered compliments. It’s a refreshing change from my climbing days. When I climb, especially early in a trip, I’m nothing remarkable, save for my white hair.

“Dude, it’s so cool that you’re still climbing, how old are you? I can’t imagine doing this at that age!”

But painters, of any age, are very thin on the ground, so it’s fun to be that guy doing something cool and unusual. But of all the people who came over, my most heart warming visit was Carson and Emily, the 5.11 climbers from day one in the creek.

I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t really able to “bond” with them because they were so far out of my league. They were kind, and I could be wrong here, but I felt like they saw me as just a washed up senior citizen, someone who may have been a climber decades ago, but now was just someone who needed a top rope.

But it turns out Emily is a painter and she asked if she could look at my painting up close. She walked over and leaned in close to my easel. When I saw her eyes get big, and that huge smile light up over my simple little painting…I was surprised.

The climbing community has some of the most beautiful people anywhere. Emily was pretty much at the top of the food chain. Tall, young, blonde and lean, with a great smile, she was a goddess…and frankly I found her a little intimidating. And I know that’s on me. She had been perfectly kind the day we climbed together.

But over the decades I’ve noticed that younger climbers tend to not “see” older climbers. It’s just the natural order of things. There are exceptions of course. My friend Sam was super friendly from day one, but she was climbing closer to my level, so we had things in common.

As Emily stared at my work, seeming to want to memorize every stroke, she told me a story about how she paints, but they didn’t have room in the Sprinter for her easel and canvases and it made her sad. Suddenly we seemed like peers as she asked questions about my choice of mediums, why I like palette knife oil painting, do I work in acrylics or water color? She also enjoys Gouache and we had a lovely conversation about art, her boyfriend Carson hovering nearby. He had admired the painting too, but wasn’t a painter so had less to say. They eventually wandered away and I kept working, my AirPods sound track calming my mind, keeping the demons at bay.

Bridger Jacks day 2
Bridger Jacks day 2

Later that day all my friends came by, Phil (So that’s the whole set up, eh?), Andrew (Can I take some pictures of you painting?) and a new friend Christina and her two friends. Everyone loved the painting.

It was nice to be good at something, even if it wasn’t climbing.

Saturday April 15 (I may be a day off?) we all drove to Donelly. In my Tundra were Phil, Anthony, Alex and me. Diana met us there and we all paired off. Alex and Phil went off to do hard stuff at Battle of the Bulge while Dianna, Anthony and I did Drainpipe and it’s neighbor, to the right of Chocolate Corner. These two tens are in one massive corner and were quite fun. I finally mastered the drop knee rest, thanks to excellent demonstration by Anthony. I couldn’t have led either, but enjoyed large parts of them. There is an awkward bulge on Drainpipe where the drop knee got much harder due to the flaring reds. But I hung in there and got up.

Drainpipe and Crack to left of Drainpipe
Drainpipe and Crack to left of Drainpipe. Diana belaying drop knee Anthony

We walked by Chocolate Corner and Binous but they were all swamped with weekender crowds. Finally we found a crack to the right of Rail Road crack with only two people in line. And it was a 9! That was fun. Diana is a super strong creek climber and decided to top rope Swedin-Ringle 5.12.

I walked over and found Phil and the crew at Battle. Alex led a 12C horror show called Digital Readout. Alex is a super strong climber. He is very slight, not at all a big muscled out hard man. But damn he can climb hard!

On the way through the parking lot I saw a crew of 5 climbers standing by the bulletin board. Their packs were at their feet and they looked like they were waiting for a bus. I could tell something was up so I said:

“How’s it going guys? Good day?”

“Yeah, we had a great day, but our friend fell and broke her finger. Our driver had to take our car to get her to the hospital…you’re not headed to Hamburger rock are you? We need a ride.”

“Uhhh, maybe? Oh hell, let’s look and see, it might work. I’m in that white Tundra.”

Their 5 added to our 4 made for a packed truck, considering that was also 9 full packs of Creek racks. But it was the right thing to do, and I was happy to help. My Tundra definitely has the muscle to carry large loads. It was a happy crew that motored out to Hamburger, which was only 5 miles past our campground. When they piled out everyone shook hands and they plied us with warm beer. They also passed out some little green buds in baggies…I think it might have been oregano? They were very grateful.

It felt good to be part of the rescue, they were cool dudes, members of the tribe.

Sunday April 16, 7 of us drove to Way Rambo. We started with me, Phil, Anthony, Christina and Haley. But as we drove down the hill from the Meat Basin outhouse towards the first river crossing, we saw Jacs and Alex backing up from the high water. It was too high for his Town and Country minivan. They returned to park at the outhouse where I picked them up in my amphibious crag mobile.

The first crossing wasn’t too bad but the second crossing at the Cottonwoods campground was much wider and the current reflected all the snow visible on the distant mountains. Phil got out and waded it, searching for the most shallow section. It came up to his lower thigh, or, a few inches above his knee…but Phil is 6 feet something…so some serious water, with current. No other cars were crossing…word had got out.

Eventually I said, hell with it, let’s do it. We motorboated across. Full speed ahead captain! Everyone cheered as we drove up the far side into the deserted campground. When we got to the trailhead for Way Rambo there was only one other vehicle: a ultra lifted diesel Ford F-450 with an overland conversion. He looked like he could ford the Mississippi. No other cars showed up all day, though a few folks walked in from the main road.

Way Rambo view
Haley enjoying the Way Rambo view

This was a new crag for me. I was at Pistol Whipped last year, but that’s a mile off to climbers right. Way Rambo has at least two routes I can lead. Blue Sun is a 10B that I was able to onsight with 7 yellows and 5 blues. Blue Sun turned out to be my favorite lead of the trip. It’s absolutely flawless hand jamming that just goes on for days. It’s never desperate and eats gear, with a couple zig zags that make for perfect rests. I like it better than Incredible Hand Crack. This photo is courtesy of Dan Mottinger on Mountain Project:

Blue Sun 10B, Photo credit to Dan Mottinger on Mountain Project

Phil and Alex both led an awful off width called Serrator. About 10 feet up it goes from climbable to bigger than fists. And there’s a pinch with a bombay below. So you reach up, do a hand fist stack, and try to jam your foot by your chin, above the pinch. If you can get past that, you’ve got hand fist stacking for 15 feet before you can get your knee in. At that point you can do the Levitation move, which is a no hands rest. This is assuming you can avoid getting your knee stuck. I got mine stuck twice.

Haley on Serrator, Alex on right

When your knee is stuck in a splitter offwidth, it often means that you put your knee in, and it fit, but then you weight it and it slips down, lodging itself like a cork in a wine bottle. You need to move up to get it out, but the pain makes thinking difficult. Panic sets in, you forget how to hand fist stack, and there is nothing anyone can do to help.

The crack gets progressively wider as you ascend, eventually it’s a body slot near the top. But it’s a pain the entire way. In some sections the only viable option is to get out of it and layback the edge. Other than Battle of the Bulge and Powerline, this is the only climb I saw Phil struggle with.

I belayed him, and some of his comments were:

“I don’t feel safe here!”

“I’m crossing this off my tick list and not coming back.”

“I have no idea what to do at this move”

“I am an off width climber, I am!”

“This big bro placement sucks!”

We were all worried for him, the runouts on the fives and sixes were large. He got up it though. Phil also led Layaway Plan 11C. It’s a long and sustained red #1 climb, with a roof traverse at the end.

Phil on Layaway Plan 5.11
Phil on Layaway Plan 5.11

Phil and Alex also led Slice and Dice 5.12, which is all 0.75. I missed that because I was looking at a new 5.9 called Rochambeau. Phil and Andrew also led Way Rambo 5.12. I’ll go back to this crag, it’s great!

April 17 Monday was a rest day. Phil had proclaimed two on, one off and it felt right to me also. The Creek wears you down. I drove to town for supplies, watching the views for potential painting spots. On the way back I parked at Scarface – Power Wall and painted in the shade of the truck. I was really worried about this one. It was an unconventional composition and towards the end I couldn’t decide what color to paint the light rock. Tan didn’t look real, nor did pale green.

I kept throwing wild guesses and getting shot down. Fortunately no one was around to see all my bad decisions. I’ve noticed a pattern when people walk past my easel. If the painting is bad, they walk by, pause, and keep walking. What they do in the “pause” is what matters. I’m so close to the painting that I rarely know if it’s any good…literally don’t have a clue.

Towards the end of my session a couple climbers came walking up from Scarface talking animatedly about finger jamming:

“So yeah, I think I need to practice those ring locks at the gym, because that crack was just so sustained with .6’s that I got totally pumped out. Oh, look a painter, that’s cool.”

And then as they passed and looked back to where they could see the painting in the afternoon light there was a pause and then: “Oh my fucking god! That is amazing! Holy shit! I did not expect to see that!”

“Four Star” reaction for sure.

Scarface parking lot view
Scarface parking lot view, day 2
Scarface parking lot view
Scarface parking lot view, day 1 of 2

I was still unsure what I had so I waited until morning to show the first days work to Christina. She had asked me at camp how the painting went and I told her I was scared to look at it. After my morning coffee I decided to man up and let it see the light of day.

“Ok Christina, this might be a total train wreck, but here it is, what do you think?”

“Oh my, that’s not a train wreck at all, that is really nice! Good job Mark!!”

The morning after, painting or a train wreck?
The morning after, painting or a train wreck?

By this time Christina was camping with me to be closer to Phil and crew, who were down in site 5. We’d all meet for morning coffee around his table and talk about where to climb that day. One day, she got frustrated with the 11AM alpine starts and spent the morning reading in her van, waiting for ‘the crew’ to get ready.

After hearing about her frustration with our slow pace, I was trying to hurry the next morning, thinking maybe she and I could get an early start and meet the main crew later. But I had to visit the restroom next to Phils site, so I brought my cup of coffee over to see what ‘the crew’ was planning, before I went to see what Christina wanted to do. To my surprise, there she was, lazing around at the picnic table with the crew. And by the way, the crew was: Phil, Andrew, Haley, Jacs (Australian with minivan), Peter (Pharmacist from Norway), Nat (Squamish) his girlfriend Huly Nam and Alex, with maybe Dianna.

April 18 Tuesday seven of us headed towards 4×4 wall. As we approached the first crossing we saw Nat and Huly Nam on the far side afoot. They had parked at the restroom and forded the river on foot. They were just drying off their feet as we approached in the amphibious Tundra. I was feeling a little cocky and maybe going a little too fast. This was not my first rodeo. I hit the water hard and sent up a huge bow wave that went over the wind shield. As we motorboated across we could see Nat and his girlfriend laughing hilariously at my stupid driving. But it was all in good fun. We pulled up next to them and asked if they wanted a ride the last mile to the trail head. They were like, hell yeah! They joined the crew in the back of the truck and we drove up to the parking spot. It’s the one on the left that has the deeply slanted shoulder by a fence where I camped once with Chad and Cole.

We hiked up and spread out. Christina and I went looking for tens while the rest of them headed for 11’s, 12’s and 13’s. Nat was working on Carbondale Short Bus 5.13C that day. Christina and I found a slightly leaning over 10 that looked do-able. I led it, thinking the long red section would be ok since it leaned over. It also had a nasty bombay pod up high that was really frustrating. I had a decent arm bar, and a cam at my knees, but nothing to grab on to pull up into the pod. It was a fine adventure, but I didn’t get it clean.

Next Christina led Hookers and Blow 10C. It wasn’t an easy send for her either, though she is a trooper and got up. When I followed it I was fine until I got to a 8 foot section of reds. She had motored right through that, it being her favorite size, but I got shut down. Finally I spotted a rounded handhold off right and used that to gain a little reach. A couple of manky red jams got me up into the yellows and life was good…until I got to the pod. Seems all creek routes have a pod.

She had got past the pod by yarding on and pushing a #4 through the entire 7 foot tall pod. I could still see her #4 handhold, seven feet out of reach above me.

“You took the 4 with you! How am I supposed to climb this?”

“Sorry about that…can you chicken wing it? What about a double arm bar?”

“F&$k my life!!”

Properly humbled, we ambled over to see what the crew was up to. Andrew was rumored to be getting ready to lead 4×4 crack. It’s the namesake route at the crag and rated 5.11. It looked like it had my name all over it, being 70 feet of blues, with a seven foot #4 roof finish. I proposed leading it before Andrew. That way, if I bailed, he could rescue my gear…he being a third of my age (28) and far, far stronger.

I fell out of the start twice, with great catches from Christina. It was red’s down low, then tight yellows. Thankfully I had mastered the drop knee rest and used it extensively. I even had Jac’s throw me up an extra yellow. But then it turned into pure blues, for days. That meant cupped hands for me, too small for a fist jam. I motored upward. The climbing was the exact same move over and over. Get the knee bar (drop knee) secure, move up the jams. Pull on the jams, reposition the knee bar 7 inches higher, rinse and repeat. Oh, and push the blue cam up, or place a new one if ground fall was a concern. After about 50 feet of that I had to hang and rest. Technically the climb was easy…stamina was my problem.

After 4 hangs I arrived at the crux 90 feet up. The crack was capped by a seven foot roof. If I’d been fresh, and had seen the extreme stem off to the left I might have had a chance. As it was I french freed my way through with the three #4’s I brought along. What the hell, at least I got up. It’s a creek eleven.

Andrew on 4x4
Andrew resting with a drop knee on 4 x 4, crux roof finish is above

The crew was cheering as I lowered off. Peter, the 27 year old pharmacist from Norway said:

“I have a lot of friends at home in their thirties who would not even attempt something like that. You’ve got some real stones to lead that climb!”

Peter was a cool guy. He was on a 6 month trip before starting his Masters. He had no car and was completely dependent on the kindness of strangers to get him around. He’d met a girl from Colorado in Vegas(?), and she had liked him so much she drove him 3 hours out of her way to the Creek. Now he had a promise of a ride with someone else to Denver where he had a flight home.

Several of the crew had asked me how the painting had gone the day before, and a couple had not see either painting. I promised to show them when we got back down to the truck. As the nine of us arrived and threw our dusty packs on the ground I dug my paintings out and tossed them on the tailgate. It was nice to hear the oohs and aahs.

In an ideal world artists would work in a vacuum, painting for the pure joy and self satisfaction, but the fact is that we are driven to share our work with others, whether it’s good or bad.

Here we are loading up after a fun day at 4×4:

loading up
Haley, Nat, Huly Nam, Peter
Haley, Nat, Huly Nam, Peter in the amphibious Tundra

April 19, Wednesday I was tired. 5.11B is hard, I took a rest day. I bought some crushed ice at the trading post, took a muddy road side shower, and painted at Scarface again, polishing up some details. Nat and Huly Nam walked out and took pictures of my painting in the evening light. He said he was trying to slow down and take more photos of his friends. I was flattered. The guy leads 5.13! He is from Squamish though. People up there are nicer than us south of the border folks.

They put on a going away party for Phil that night. He and Andrew were headed out to do Fine Jade and something else on Castleton. Phil planned to drive north after that while Andrew was coming back. I’d already known Phil was a fine singer and guitar player, but he really pulled out all the stops that night. After his long set of amazing songs he asked if anyone else wanted to play. Haley sang a few songs and then Christina asked me to play Fast Car. A couple people got excited at that. “You know Fast Car? Dude, you have to play it!”

Phil is a hard act to follow but I gave it a shot and saw a few feet tapping. They saw I had the sheet music for Taylor Swifts: All to Well so I played that also. And then Love Yourself, by Beiber. It was a very mellow crowd, no one was drunk or crazy, just a lot of smiles. Phil seems to attract really nice people.

April 20 Thursday The crew was on a rest day so Christina and I headed to Habitado. There was an eight and a nine there plus a crack where I could use my new to me #6 that Twin Falls Tony had sold me on the way down. I got up the nine cleanly but hung all over the eight. That eight is tight yellows at the bottom and feels more like a ten to my fat mitts.

Next I led a Mariposa, a 10C off width. I had two sixes (one borrowed), a green big bro, two fives and a couple fours. I had to pull on a five to get past a low crux but other than that I made every move, though there was hang doggery. It was a lot of double fisting, or a fist stacked on a cupped hand. This was supplemented with all manner of hip jamming, knee baring, heel toe action and plain old prayer.

They say there are no atheists in a fox hole, and there sure as hell aren’t any when you’ve walked your last six so high you are looking at a certain deck. Or as they used to call it when I was young: “A classic smack and drip situation”. Why did I let Dave take my valley giant home? I could have really used three number sixes up there.

At one point my friend Ronnie (retired FBI agent from Seattle) offered to give me a top rope. Apparently the sound effects were quite piteous.

“You know, that was my back up plan from the beginning…but for now at least, I think I’m ok. I’m really careful as I push this last six. It’s all that’s keeping me safe now until I top out.”

Later Christina said they asked her also if I needed a top rope rescue. I didn’t hear it, but she told them I was having too much fun to need a rescue. That was a super fun sufferfest. I may have even yodeled at the top.

We walked to the far left end of the crag where Christina led this Unamed ten. It was almost all reds, the entire stinking way. She fought hard and got up it but didn’t get the clean send she wanted. We’d both been at the creek for weeks by then and it was taking a toll on us. I cleaned it for her and remember hollering down:

“When is this crack going to fit my hands. I just want one stinking hand jam!”

“Never!” came her response, floating up from far below.

April 21, Friday. I was really sore in the morning and wondered if I’d have to start doing a one day on, one day off climbing pattern. We carried our coffees down to the crew to see what was up. We’d had a going away party for Phil the night before so only Haley, Jacs and Peter were around. They were headed up to Scarface and said I should join them, that it would be “awesome!”

I just wasn’t feeling it and walked back to camp. In my head I was doing the math. If I left immediately, I’d get home Sunday the 23rd. Sue wasn’t leaving for Arizona until the 26th. That would give me 3 days to hang out with my favorite person before she left for a week. I hadn’t seen her since April 1. In one hand, I had all that hard won climbing skill and stamina, coupled with great and reliable friends raring to go climbing. In the other hand, I had a broken down body that was sorely missing home and my amazing family.

Finally making the decision to leave, I told Christina: “Oh, Sue will be so happy!” We said our goodbyes and I headed home, arriving Sunday afternoon. It was two long days of driving, with a layover at Farewell Bend campground.

I hate to end a trip report like this, but the fact is that those achy joints and that light cough I had the last week? That was Covid. Sue caught it immediately and had to bail on her trip to Arizona. It’s now 18 days later and we are still weak as kittens. We bailed early on a trip to Leavenworth. I could barely hike up to Dinosaur slab. The lingering aches in my knee joints are awful. I’m now required to carry a Covid test kit in the Tundra. Sue: “If you get sick on a trip, don’t come home!”

Shifting whiteness

May 3rd, 2023

I got Covid during my last week in Utah and brought it home to Sue. We both suffered through 4 bad days and nights on the couch with a lot of coughing and joint aches.

At least for us, Covid is more like a bad flu used to be. This matches what we hear from our ER nurse kids, people rarely get hospitalized anymore. It is strange to get it though, for the second time, considering all the vaccinations we’ve had.

She had to cancel and bail on her vacation to Arizona with Lisa, who ended up flying alone with Olivia to see Dan. Dan was on a one month work assignment down there.

I watched a lot of Amazon Prime movies while I was welded to the couch. One of them (Men, Women and Children) was about a bunch of interconnected teenagers and parents addicted to social media and the internet in general. Tim had quit playing football because he realized it was pointless. He had read that all of the atoms on the planet were getting constantly recycled into new forms. It’s the ‘dust to dust’ philosophy. And whether he won or lost a football game meant nothing in the grand scheme of the universe.

I got to thinking about how astrophysicists believe neutrons from outer space are constantly passing through everything on the planet, and it really does seem at times that our little lives are insignificant.

Decades ago I did a nine day solo hike through Necklace Valley. Sue was working a new job and couldn’t go, would have been around 1977. I hiked up into the wilderness towards Mt. Daniel past a chain of small lakes. I was around 9 miles in when I came upon an absolutely flat plateau half a mile square. It had a small incline to it and smack dab in the middle was a house sized boulder, just sitting there as if it had dropped from Mars.

Because it was a rainy weekday I was completely alone up there at 7000 feet. I dropped my 70 pound pack by the boulder. Dad had given me 3 loaves of bread for the trip. “They didn’t rise for some reason, but that makes them durable and they’ll pack small!” With the weight off my back I pondered the slow march of geologic time, and the difference between that and our rushed and frantic lives.

Back to the present: because of her Covid cough, Sue has been sleeping in our Lazyboy recliner for a couple nights. I was getting better and able to sleep in the bed. Normally if I dream I have PTSD nightmares about printing, but this time I had a nightmare that my life had never existed. In the dream my entire consciousness was wafer thin white planes of light, swooshing through a seamless white room, maybe 60 feet square. There was no color, no anything, just this sense of constant movement of white on white. I could just barely tell that they were shaped like diamonds, or elongated hexagons.

Some part of my dreaming mind knew that there had once been so much more. That there had been real life and love, people and trees, mountains and color. But all that was gone, replaced with ever rushing whiteness, and I was unsure what was real. I believe in the here and now, and all I could see or hear was the white on white movement.

The small part of my brain that was lucid knew I was probably dreaming, but the overwhelming power of the white vision was frightening. I wondered if this was reality, and my former existence was the dream. It became quite perplexing. If this is it, this is really going to suck for a long, long time!

But then I gradually woke up to the bright light of morning streaming in though the window. The house was dead silent, no coughing, no footsteps as Sue made her morning coffee. I worried that her Covid had worsened during the night and leapt out of bed to check on her. I found her asleep on the couch and gathered her in my arms, so happy she was ok. We had been apart for 23 days. Utah was awesome as always, and the new friends I’d made were super nice and welcoming, inviting me to join them at the crag the day I left, saying: “You should come, it’ll be awesome!”

But I’d heard the loneliness in Sue’s voice on my last trip to town. None of my new friends had a significant other at home. They were all single. I had a beautiful woman waiting for me at home, plus two amazing kids and now 2, soon to be 4 grandkids.

I’d had a morning cough for a week, along with growing soreness in my joints. I chalked them both up to a cold and too many long approaches with the heavy pack of splitter gear. I was so tired I was considering a one on, one off climbing schedule.

As I mulled it over, preparing for another 10:30 AM dawn start, I realized I was more excited about seeing Sue than going climbing. Plus my left hand had two small bleeding splits in the finger tips. I had neglected daily hand lotion.

I told Christina, my most recent climbing partner, and who was sharing the campsite, that I’d made my decision. I’d get home in time to see Sue and the family for a few days before they left on their vacation.

“Oh, Sue will be so happy!” was her response. And she was, until we both got sick. It’s 9 days later and we are finally feeling better, maybe even ready to get some exercise. My next post will be about the trip itself.

Nomadland Movie

May 1st, 2023

This is my review of the movie.
Ideally when you get to retirement age everything is paid for and you have a nest egg in the bank to cover unexpected costs. You hopefully also have a spouse and both of you have Social Security and or pension checks coming in. If you are really lucky, you will have grown children in town who are gainfully employed and can offer assistance if needed. This is our situation and we fully realize how lucky we are.

But if the dice roll the other way, you may have none of those things. No home, no nest egg, a pittance of retirement funds, no spouse or family, and a broken down untrustworthy vehicle.

This movie is about that life. She is a proud independent woman, grieving for her spouse and the good life they used to have. She must work to survive…basically until she dies. She finds a community, a tribe, amongst the nomads living on BLM land in the desert. It’s not much, but it’s far better than living in gas station parking lots.

I travel a lot for rockclimbing, sleeping in the back of my pickup truck under a simple plumbers shell. I never stay in hotels, preferring a more frugal lifestyle. I sleep in those same gas stations lots and BLM camps. I’ve sung songs and shared fires under the stars with “the tribe”. They are instantly recognizable. It’s always campers, vans, trucks and built out SUVs with the occasional tent. Often the people are one car breakdown away from being truly homeless.

But whereas I’m living the retirement dream: traveling by choice, often with my wife, in our new truck to our national parks, the people shown in this movie are in their sixties and seventies living lonely lives of quiet desperation. The community they find amongst their peers in the desert is a beautiful thing.

This is not a cheerful movie, nor is it a love story where a happy young couple sail off into the sunset. It is however an important story about our forgotten seniors.

P.S. Bob, the man with the big white beard runs a youtube channel called CheapRVliving. He is real, not at all an actor. I’ve learned a lot from him about how to live in a vehicle.

I sewed a tent

April 1st, 2023

Our Bibler tent got destroyed in our aborted Joshua Tree trip in February. I was outside watching it flexing in the 85 mph wind. As I watched, it blew off it’s stakes though I grabbed it before it could launch skyward. The holding ground in Josh is generally terrible. It’s unconsolidated coarse sand, usually sitting on top of rock slabs. I knew it was bad so I’d anchored to boulders, but they weren’t big enough.

Sue came over and helped hold it as I found bigger boulders. As soon as it was somewhat stable our friend Dianne, who was visiting, popped her hood and asked me to take a quick look at her engine. Sue said she was fine holding the tent for a couple minutes. I looked at Dianne’s car briefly. Meanwhile, Sue got bored and walked away from the Bibler. A violent gust picked it up and threw it skyward 20 feet and across into the next campsite where a waiting gotcha bush grabbed it securely, poking 10 new holes all over the tent.

I suppose it could be patched if I had the patience. But it leaks in heavy rain, both top and bottom. It’s really only good in wind, and I bought it used and abused 10 years ago from blind Paul.

I’ve had a tent project on my radar for over ten years. The shredded Bibler finally gave me a reason to sew one. I’ve been reading about Cuban Fiber – Dyneema tents, but word on the street is that they start to delaminate with excessive abrasion. And it happens far to quickly given the $1000 price tag.

We already have a light tarp tent for backpacking, so what is needed is a bulletproof car camping tent. Weight is not important. What is important is that it be hurricane proof. It’s got to be so strong that even if it does blow off it’s stakes that gotcha bush is the thing getting destroyed, not the tent.

The strongest fabric I’ve ever encountered is 40 Ounce PVC Vinyl Coated Polyester @ $26.95/ linear yard x 60″ wide. It’s the same fabric used on climbing haul bags. I have one that is 20 years old, and it would still work except I cannibalized the shoulder straps for another bag. So I bought 7 yards of that from Seattle Fabric and some budget aluminum 9.5mm poles on Amazon. Another good thing about the vinyl polyester is that you can glue it with HH-66 vinyl cement. I used that on the roof seam, though I backed it up with two rows of stitching. The HH-66 can also be used as seam sealant.

I got real fancy with radius times Pi, thinking that I could use half the circumference of a circle to create a tent with 4 inches of headroom. Turns out that poles don’t bend in a perfect arc and Pi (3.14) x R is useless. I sewed the roof to the floor 3 times before I got it right. The first two times, I had to rip out stitches or simply cut fabric off the floor or the roof. By the third time I had accurately figured out how to measure and cut a pole to match a roof arc.

The final height is this: I can sit in it just fine but my head is touching the top of the tent. Any higher and it’s a sail. Any lower and it’s uncomfortable to put on jackets and stuff. I wanted a minimalist hurricane proof shelter.

Note to self: Don’t cut all the poles at once, just do one and test inside the end of the tent. Anyway, I finally got the correct dimensions of the tent and all the poles cut and assembled. I erected the shell out in the yard and thought about how to make doors.

test run

Note that before I sewed the floor to the roof I had to sew on all the tie outs, pole guides and anchor point hardware. That was a learning curve all on it’s own. I didn’t start with the ring pins. I started with leather grommets…they bombed…don’t ask. Basically anything that had to be attached to the floor or the roof had to be done before connecting floor and roof. This fabric is so thick, bulky and heavy that it won’t fit in my machine once the top and bottom are sewn together.

The Doors

I agonized over the doors. Should they be Goretex, ripstop, vinyl, ultra waterproof nylon from JoAnns Fabric, or ultra strong coated cordura from Sailrite? In the end, I went with what I had on hand: cordura. I’ve made several backpacks from that fabric and know it to be uber strong. Plus, the coating is completely waterproof when it’s new. I would have gone up to Seattle Fabrics and wandered the aisles, but they are still closed (mail order only) from Covid.

To get the pattern for the door, I held cardboard up to the tent and traced. I made notes on the cardboard to add 1.5 inches of hem all the way around. And to insert a zipper 2 inches in from the seam, stopping 3 inches from the ground to get the bathtub floor effect.

door pattern
door pattern

Despite watching some youboob tutorials on curving zippers, I still got massive bubbles in my doors. I took some tucks to compensate, and may take more later if it flaps badly. I didn’t really trust the plastic zipper pulls despite their smooth action, so one door has plastic zippers and one has metal. I put windows in so it isn’t pitch dark inside. Even hung over dirtbags need to know when the sun comes up. The clear vinyl is left over from a rope bag project. It’s flexible, uber thick and has survived 5 years in my rope bag. As usual I can’t sew anything without bubbles (pooching). The windows are no exception.

Sewing the doors on was extremely hard. Imagine, if you will, that you are a taxidermist and you are sewing on the head of an elephant. Never mind my pooching problem, or that I suck at measuring circumferences on round things. I just had to make it work. Sue helped me wrestle the 40 pounds of stiff fabric around on the ping pong table. My machine was just off the end of the table…so I sort of had a workable sewing space.

When I got the first door on and a couple poles in I was totally shocked. It could have gone soooo much worse.

first door in
first door in

Oh, I forgot to mention: I just received my first binder attachment and it is the bomb! Hemming unfinished edges by hand has always been a monstrous headache involving arduous folding or binding tape and long sessions of frustration. Followed by a terrible looking finished product. My new Binder Attachment from Sailrite is simply flawless. You insert the one inch binder fabric and sew normally. A perfectly finished edge flows out of the machine. It’s rainbows and unicorns as far as you can see.

I also bought the Sailrite servo motor. My 13 year old Juki came with the standard clutch motor, which worked fine. But for 10 years now I’ve been hearing about these new servo motors. They are dead quiet until they need to move, and then they are capable of starting very slowly, a stitch at a time if need be. My old clutch motor was like a runaway horse. I had control…but it required constant vigilance. In the end I just wanted something easier, and the servo is great. Installation was about two hours max, including some tinkering with the pedal height.

binder attachment
binder attachment and round bound edge

I considered sewing in mosquito netting…but…did I mention I suck at zippers on circles? Instead I attached velcro strips to a door sized piece of netting, and the door. So that’s ready to go. The beauty of this design is that it is based on the legendary Early Winters Omnipotent. We had one with us when we did our winter ascent of the Gib route on Rainier. We cached it on top of Gibraltar Rock as an emergency shelter in case the weather socked in. On the summit the winds were so high we couldn’t even stand erect. As we raced down to the buried tent, we prayed we’d get there before the rising clouds shut off visibility. We hadn’t wanded the summit push, though we did wand Muir to Gibraltar. Winter climbing is so dangerous. They say Rainier in winter is as severe as the Himalaya’s.

Anyway, the zippers are protected by the scalloped tie out end pieces. I guessed at the arcs and have pooching, but who cares. I could either take in tucks, or use 3 stakes on each end…can’t decide.

It’s a window!
end view
end view
man of leisure
man of leisure

It got through a night of rain dry as a bone, except for a teaspoon of water that leaked in through an unfinished corner. The fabric is too bulky to sew through the corners. I’m going to have to sew them by hand. It’s only a quarter inch gap so should be easy.

Custom Framemaking

February 13th, 2023

I made 5 frames this week. My youtube channel has more details on this process. I buy the moulding at home depot. I’ve sort of invented my own technique for measuring out the wood, and hand painting – foiling the frame to harmonize with my normal painting color schemes.

It’s a fun process and feels artsy. I have so many unsold paintings and make more each climbing trip. I was overdue to frame and sell some. I need to find a gallery that is interested in my climbing paintings.

I’m taking a couple to Joshua Tree and will maybe visit a gallery down there.

Lazy retired mornings

January 25th, 2023

I love waking up in the morning and doing nothing. Sue is across town baby sitting while our son sells his turbocharged 2009 Subaru WRX. It’s been a great car, super reliable. But now that he is a family man they need something larger. They just got a new Tacoma, but because he and his wife both work full time they need two family appropriate cars.

Yesterday morning we played doubles ping pong at our local gym. On the way in I overheard Carol and Lizzette debating Norton VS McAfee antivirus. I heard the doubt in their voices and offered to consult. After pong Sue dropped me at Carols and we went through her new Windows 11 box. It’s an HP touchscreen monitor without a tower, called an “all in one”.

We uninstalled McAfee and Office, both of which were on trial installs and asking for money. I activated, or rather, enabled, enhanced? Windows Defender. In case you don’t know, Defender is the built in antivirus that has shipped with Windows since Win 7. It’s all I’ve used on my 2012 hand built windows video work station. Which, by the way, I haven’t turned on in a year.

Windows 11 and her sparkling new touch screen computer were very nice. They moved the start button to the middle, and for a while I couldn’t get oriented. I had to google how to find the control panel. But once that opened we found the familiar menu for Install / Uninstall programs. Thankfully they left some things alone from Windows 10. It’s the old: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. After Office was gone we downloaded the free Office replacement called LibreOffice.

[*Begin Word Rant]

I spent two decades using and hating Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. My boss bought it for me until she didn’t. I bought it once but just wasn’t using it enough and switched to the open source version. I think my old Windows box still has one of the earlier Office versions that wasn’t on a timer. Like, you bought it once and it worked forever…imagine that!

The only thing I use a word processor for now is preparing free online sheet music to fit on a single sheet of paper suitable for a 3 ring binder. My music must be campfire ready! I have a whole folder of it here. Other than that I never touch Microsoft products. On the job I used to have to prepare syllabuses in Word. I was a self taught Word user and could never figure out even the simplest stuff…like how to control simple stuff like indents and leading inside tables…or how to get rid of mysterious blank pages that wouldn’t go away. And all those buttons on the Ribbon, I mean really?

Occasionally I’d have to ask our office manager (the Dean’s assistant) for help with a Word problem, and she could usually fix it with 3 mouse clicks. God, I used to hate that software! I could literally do better word processing in html than I could in Word. You are reading it right now.

[*/End Word Rant]

It was fun helping Carol. She is a retired medical office manager and has spent a lot of time on computers. She was really quick and observant. I was my dad’s computer consultant for the last couple decades of his life, and it was a constant struggle. Some people just get computers, while others never seem to click. Mostly it’s what you need to do with them that seems to matter.

Mary has started scheduling a third day of ping pong each week on Wednesdays. Colleens daughter H can’t come to morning pong, but she can come to the afternoon sessions on Wednesday. H is a former state champion pickle ball player and is also a formidable ping pong player. I mean, she is fast! We’ll send a ball over the net that looks absolutely un-returnable, but she leaps into position and sends it right back, carefully aimed at the middle of our side. The woman is amazing. Her mom is really good also. The two play together and lately it’s been me and Norm against them. It’s some fast and furious pong, so fun!

I road my uni on the waterfront bike path yesterday in light rain at twilight. Sue wanted to hike the hills so I dropped her there and drove to the north end of the asphalt path. There were long stretches of pavement with no walkers so it was very peaceful. The reflected lights of moored container cargo ships out on the bay were lovely in the light mist. The rain was so light that walkers had kept the path more dry than wet and it wasn’t slippery at all.

Sadly I was low on energy and had to jump off every block to rest. But I’ve learned that’s part of the process. You have strong days and weak days. But always someone will see me pedaling by and tell me I’m amazing. “Dude, you’ve got some serious skills!” It’s nice to hear that. In my own mind I’m barely hanging on and I’m cursing my lack of talent. I’ve seen videos of good riders, so I know just how bad I am. But to these walkers and One Wheel riders, I’m a greek god of balance and skill. Weird how that works. I guess it helps that I’m the only uni rider in a town of 200,000 souls.

Oh…my Amazon Prime buying binge continues. Sue gives me grief for my constant stream of packages at the yellow box, or on the porch. Some of my recent dumb purchase were:

A good dependable all season lighter is hard to find. Even the 8 inch long campfire lighters suck. They all seem to be made using the absolute cheapest materials possible.

Good Lighters

I’m still on the intermittent fasting diet. I’ve lost a few pounds, up to 4 though it varies by the day. I love the clarity of mind that comes with regular fasting. In the evenings I’ve been binging on HBOMax’s True Detective…or at least the first season. Years ago I saw one of the actors in a movie called White Men Can’t Jump. I think I’m going to get on my antique Schwinn Aerodyne and work up a sweat while I re-watch it.

Intermittent Fasting

January 15th, 2023

I’ve not written in 6 weeks. Guess I burned out on that long Indian Creek story. We spent Christmas doing the family thing. Sue’s mom likes it when I play xmas carols. It was fun to hear a few sing along voices too.

We’ve skied twice at Paradise. It’s only open on weekends this year, so timing trips with good snow is challenging. I’ve been eating too much. I lost 5 pounds climbing in Utah for a month. And then I had a stomach flu for 4 days on my return home. Put them together and I was down to 166. But this Monday I was up to 175!

During that period I watched myself eating steadily all day long and just let it happen. I had started climbing strong at the gym so the weight wasn’t really hurting me…but 175 is unacceptable.

I stumbled across a video on intermittent fasting. She made a lot of sense. I like the idea that you are doing a *cleanse* every day. And the gurgles my stomach makes after 16 hours of fasting every day is entertaining. It’s like: “Where’s the food?” There is also a clear headedness that happens. It’s like your body is paying extra attention in the hopes of finding food? Things seem brighter…it’s hard to describe.

When I do eat at 6 PM, I’m eating a lot of veggies: brussel sprouts, red beets, cabbage, broccoli. But after my vegan dinner I found myself snacking until 11, which is not wise. Last night I had some chicken and sausage that completely filled me up and I didn’t snack after 10 PM. My body seems to hunger for animal protein and fat…like the veggies aren’t enough?

Anyway, I’m loosing weight, down to 171 today. I enjoy the day long hunger, and I’m strong enough so we’ll see if it’s a long term lifestyle choice. I’ve done this fasting before but I didn’t stick with it…must have got lazy. I’m far from a nutritionist, but this lady is, and she makes a lot of sense:

Tedx talk about Intermittent Fasting

I really enjoyed learning all the carols this xmas. It’s sad when the holidays are over because I have to give up on those great timeless melodies for another whole year. But the good news is that I’ve been learning some equally good new (to me) songs.

I watched the new Elvis movie. And while it was kind of depressing it did get me interested in a few more of his songs. My latest is Suspicious Minds. We have the same vocal range, Elvis and I, so I can usually sing them in his original key.

I get all my music now from the ultimate-guitar website. Because it’s crowd sourced, they often need massaging in a text editor. I hate paying for Microsoft Office, so I use the free LibreOffice software. When I finish them I print them out. And I upload them to have an online backup. It’s nothing fancy, just a directory folder. Someday maybe I’ll make a webpage that is all my pdf songs organized alphabetically. I’d love to get an iPad someday and keep all my songs on the hard drive. It would be a lot smaller than my 3 ring binder.

My free online folder of one page campfire ready songs:

Songs are here.

I’ve also been building up my stamina. I had given up on the unicycle in Utah…climbing was more important. But since coming home I’ve been taking advantage of breaks in the winter weather and gradually built back my uni skills. I was literally scared to ride it at first: I feared breaking a leg or an ankle, or falling backwards and hitting my head. But even after a month off I found that my basic skills were still there. Thankfully now I’m almost back to where I was before Utah. I can ride several blocks before I need a short rest.

Reaching through the veils of time

December 3rd, 2022

This is my story of a day I spent drawing some ruins in the Bears Ears National Monument near Moab, Utah. Climbers call it Indian Creek.

November 18, 2022

My climbing buddy Dave and I had discovered this place a week before during a snowy rest day. He had seen the ruins from afar, but had never visited. What better time to find them than during a blizzard in November? So this was my second visit.

Scene of the Vision, look at the upper window

I’d hiked up in the sunny morning with Samantha, Gus and David. But they had descended, leaving me alone knowing I would be painting for hours. After an hour of work I was deep into the creative zone that only artists know. All of my India Ink lines were steady and true as I traced the edges of the stones protruding from the 900 year old mud based mortar. Drawing with ink forces me into the zone faster than any other medium because you can’t erase. You must draw perfectly, so you do.

Drawing this well is mesmerizing. Many activities, if you reach excellence, can have a flow state. But with art, you are creating something you can look at later and treasure. I feel fortunate to have the gift.

As I drew each stone on the paper I could almost feel the ancient artisan working with me, one stone at a time, building a structure that would keep his family safe from intruders and the howling wind.

Somewhere in here it happened

It can feel like a higher power has taken over my hand and I’m just along for the ride. Now, obviously I know that neither God, Buddha nor Vishnu is directing my art…but it does seems as though I reach a higher or purer state of consciousness. I’ll be like, whoa! This is amazing work, who is this person?

While blowing on my fingers to keep them warm, I wondered how life was back then, trying to reach back through the 900 years that separated our parallel lives. What fluke of circumstance had placed me and these ancient people on this narrow ledge above the 60 foot tall cliff below the overhanging roof of orange sandstone. My mind wondered through all the old tales of mysticism concerning ghosts, spirits and afterlives. I was miles from another soul, and the bitter wind tugged at my clothes as I drew.

I kept feeling a presence and wondered if it was something dangerous, perhaps a mountain lion? Isolated cowboys ranch on the basin below and surely they had long ago pushed all the cougars out. There were three stories to the tower ruins. I’d peeked my head in the two lower rooms, being careful not to touch anything. It was all just bare dirt and small stones, with a ceiling of thin woven sticks over ancient timbers, as thick as my arm and covered by mortar.

But the upper third story was inaccessible. You would have to climb up the wall and stand on the protruding rafters…definitely not OSHA approved. It was pitch dark in the window of that upper story. As I shaded it in I was careful to leave it a little less dark on the right, as there was a tiny bit of reflected light getting in there.

At about 2 hours in I was freezing despite my thick down jacket. Temps were in the upper 30’s and the wind was light but bitterly cold. I was dehydrated, my water was still partially frozen from the 16 degree temps of the night before. A hot thermos would have been lovely. I realized this would just be a pen drawing, there wouldn’t be time to add color until I got home.

The Vision

I was shading the back wall and the window there in the growing gloaming when my sense of a presence electrified. I looked up at the upper window and saw an ancient Anasazi Indian step outside onto the rafters.

Because I was in that higher state of consciousness, the appearance of an ancient Indian seemed plausible. I was like, well, he might be real, or he might be a figment of my imagination.

He had ragged dirty black hair down to his shoulders and looked about 40. He wore a brown leather tunic that fell to his knees. It was unadorned and dirty from long use. He was barefoot and simply stood there looking at me. His gaze was very direct, not threatening, but not friendly either.

His black eyes appeared bottomless. I could sense that he understood what I was doing. His peoples pictographs and petroglyphs are all over those canyons, so at some level he could see I was also a maker of marks. For a few wary moments we simply stared at each other across the 40 feet and the 900 years. There was no possibility of running away, the ledge on which I had placed my easel was far too narrow. Slowly I drew another stone…and when I looked back at the window he was gone.

I remember having a moment of: “What the hell just happened?” But I didn’t take a lot of time to think about whether he had really been there or not. I had a drawing to complete before my hands turned to blocks of ice. As I packed up my stuff though, I considered the possibility that he might have been real.

I know it sounds crazy, but maybe, just maybe, my intense hours long focus on rendering the precise edges of his stonework had caused a ripple, or rip in time that resonated back through the eons. He, or his soul, spirit, ghost, avatar, whatever…felt my focus on his life’s work and was pulled however briefly into my presence and that moment. Maybe he was thanking me for honoring his work.

Or was he just a homeless guy who is living up there right now..or the last living member of the ancient peoples? But there was no sound at all, only the sussing of the wind amongst the ancient stones. The dress and the overall vibe suggested he was not from this time. Plus, there was no sign of anyone living there currently. Everything was ancient… dirt and stone. Even the park service knew it was ancient. They had plastic signs on the ledge and in each room telling people not to steal artifacts and to leave no trace.

I packed up and skedaddled out of there, shivering as I stepped delicately over a few of the yawning gaps in the eroding path along the cliff towards the safety of the trail down. I saw my Tundra waiting patiently on the flat ground far below. I was very glad to get out of there. That was some trippy shit!

Later I told a few climber friends around the campfire about the experience. And on the way home I called a few more friends and got a number of different reactions. One guy said I might have had a mini stroke, with a resulting hallucination. Brett, a PHD scientist, said that it may not have been real, but it was real for me, and that’s all that matters. Several of my more open minded friends, Landon, Cass, said that my artistic mindset opened my ‘chakra’ to a much fuller state of awareness than is normal and this higher consciousness allowed me to see things that aren’t normally seen.

Others said it might have been an acid flashback, dating back to my last trip in the 1970’s. But why now when I’ve never had one before? Plus, I was stone cold sober. All I’d had was a cup of coffee in the morning. It’s true that I’d stood around a couple campfires the night before and inhaled some second hand wacky tabacky, but not nearly enough to get high. I may have simply had a daydream too, I mean who knows?

I had intentionally gone up there to have an experience. I knew that it was, in some respects, a holy place. There is much mystery surrounding these ancient abandoned dwellings. No one knows why they left their homes so suddenly though there are many theories. At the end of the day though, I have a drawing and a few photos to remind me of a remarkable day.

22 days at Indian Creek November 2022

As far as the climbing goes, I’m putting the visual stuff first, with the more narrative story last. It’s taken me more than two weeks of part time work to write this trip report.

I left t-town at 4pm Saturday and got to Immigrant Springs campground at 10pm. With a 6am start I rolled into the Rest Area past Price at 11pm and Indian Creek the next day (Halloween Monday) at noon. Handsome Dave from Wenatchee was already there, and well warmed up from a week of climbing.

He had unknowingly grabbed the unofficial party site. When we pulled in there were costumed people setting up 3 foot tall speakers on the picnic table, connected to car batteries. More party ready people were drifting towards the site from all over the campground. The guy in the bright red crowned king style top hat said we were welcome to stay, but that we wouldn’t get much sleep. We bailed out to Beef Basin.

Tuesday Dave and I went to Nuclear wall AKA Sin Bad. You park at the wide spot on the right just beyond Donnelly, then hike up and way around back climbers right toward Donnelly to the sunny side.

Dave took me to a cool route called Hot Sex which was 5.9 reds and yellows. It has a double crack so you can choose whether to climbs reds in the corner or yellows on the right. I was very glad to have a nice hand crack option. This was my first day of climbing and I was rusty.

Wednesday we went to The Fin, which can be found by looking for the Broken Tooth, a 100 foot tower leaning on the buttress in back and to the right of The Fin.

Dave led : Nagasaki & an Undercling 8. I tried to lead the 8, but the slippery undercling stumped me. I’d like to go back when I’m more warmed up. The upper section was nice hands. Nagasaki is an 11. For me to get up an 11 on day two required some serious effort. It has a long section of greens (rattly fingers) that would be impossible except there is a 6 inch protrusion on the left. It runs up the cliff about 2 feet away from the main crack during the green section. So, if you get that high, you can set your back on it and chimney. But it’s so narrow that you never get a solid hip jam, your feet constantly feel like they are going to skate off…and the fingers are rattly nonsense. It’s solid 5.11.

Nagasaki 5.11 Chimney section is right above Dave

Thursday we had two days of snow so did some exploring over by Jupiter crack on Sparks wall. Look for the black streaks. The rock was wet so I spent the next day painting and riding my unicycle. As I was painting I saw a couple other climbers painting nearby. He walked up the hill to look at my painting, and later I walked over to see her canvas and to compare our work. I couldn’t believe that they also had unicycles! I’ve never seen another unicycle in the wild.

My painting of the Creek Pasture campground view

Saturday Crystal from Durango joined us for 3 days. She had a little crag dog with a big personality. Between her and Dave they seemed to know everyone of consequence at the creek. She pointed out the well known developer named Devin who was walking around in blue jeans.

Crystal, the double headed woman, super strong Creek climber!

After scarfing up Climber Coffee they guided me out to Cat wall. It’s named for a little promontory on top of the wall to climbers right shaped like a cat holding it’s little paws up in the air. The road wasn’t too bad though I had to pull Dave’s sedan out of a hole.

On the way up we saw the Access Fund crew building the trail with a crew of native Americans. We later learned that Kyle and Lauryn work for the Access Fund 10 months a year building trails. Their work crew is on shorter rotations and is paid through the government America Works program…or Peace Corps…something along those lines. We’d look down at them as we were climbing and they seemed to spend a lot of time leaning on their pick axes…like a city works crew. But I don’t mean to sound critical. Moving heavy boulders and swinging sledgehammers is really hard work.

Despite the leisurely pace, they got stuff done. On the way up, the trail was clearly under construction, very rough. But as we came down after climbing all day the trail was amazing! They had moved and carved a lot of huge boulders, turning the trail into cleanly carved switchbacks.

Then I noticed their Access Fund van was parked at our campground in a government paid site. They were basically working a 9 to 5 job, every day. A week later when Sam arrived it turned out that her friend Gus was also a master trail builder for the government. As Gus said: “The community of federal trail builders is extremely small. We all know each other.” Kyle, Lauryn, Gus, Sam and Landon all hung around our small campfire talking trail building and some fascinating stories about the ancient peoples of the area.

Dave leading the badly named route: Child Abuse 5.10, PC: Crystal

Sunday Dave and Crystal took me to Fist Fight wall, it’s across from Donnelly. It’s in the book but not on Mountain Project…which is kind of cool. Neither had been there and the trail is still in it’s infancy. I love going to new crags. As long time creek climbers like to say: “Every crag is a Donnelly. There are Super Cracks and Incredible Hand Cracks all over, you just have to explore.” Beside avoiding crowds, going to lesser known crags means the climbs will be crisper. They won’t have those rounded off edges from thousands of boots. In the photo below, note how crisp the crack is.

Electric Glide

Crystal did a beautiful job leading this, though I have to say her hands fit in the reds at the bottom. I was able to follow it cleanly by stemming across to the high boulder to avoid the reds and jump right into the yellows. There is a roof up high (bring a 70 meter) that would benefit from a couple #4’s. And it’s big down below as well, so having…dare I say four fours?…might be wise. I was able to jam my big mitts nicely in the roof and might be able to lead it next trip. There is a nice looking fist crack off to climbers right that we never got to.

Electric Glide Fist Fight wall

Monday (also went again with Sam, Zac, william and Landon later) we went to Selfish wall up a long dirt road, very rough. My Tundra bottomed out going in and coming out. We had to get out and scout the holes for a safe passage. There was a Subaru up there but they have a shorter wheelbase so maybe it’s easier? It is beyond a gate towards the campground from beef meat basin. The gate is across from the large metal barn with just a roof, no walls. There is a lovely 5.9 up there that I called Mini Generic for obvious reasons. It’s actual name is Hand Solo. Crystal led a purple finger flake called Tag Team. There is a 5.9 off to climbers left I led called Instagram Sex Worker. It has a huge chopper flake at the top that did not look or feel safe as I pulled on it to reach the anchors. There are good Fist cracks off to climbers right that I have yet to check out.

— second trip did 5.8 Bromance with umbrella #6 top out

Selfish Wall purple fingers

Tuesday was a rest day before a storm. I’d misjudged the weather in November. I thought it would be warm and only had my summer bag. I called Sue and had her put my 1979 Stevenson winter bag in the mail addressed to me, general delivery, the Moab Post Office. Handsome Dave (also known as Wenatchee Dave) left after two weeks at the creek. He didn’t like the looks of the bad weather approaching and I can’t blame him. I’m lucky to have hobbies like my guitar, unicycle and painting to keep me entertained when the weather shuts down the climbing.

Wednesday a huge 40 mph windstorm Tuesday PM through Wednesday AM, no precipitation at Creek Pasture CG but the place emptied out. Everyone must have been in town re-supplying.

Thursday the 10th Samantha rolled in at 8pm. We were communicating via my inReach so I managed to get my brand new stove top oven working on the first try. She arrived to hot pizza at the picnic table in 35 degrees weather! Her friends Zack and William also rolled in that night. Zack is the ukulele guy featured in the video above.

Outdoor stovetop Pizza oven worked like a charm!

November 11 to 13, Friday through Sunday, Sam, Zack, William, Landon and I climbed at Cat wall, Selfish wall and the inner wall out to to climbers right of Chocolate corner…which Sam led cleanly. I led a 5.10 route called The Thing. It looked easy but I hung all over it. Still, it was fun and had some cool moves through barn door hand jams and chimneys. The anchor was glued in angle pitons. We did some other stuff but I didn’t keep good records. With a crowd that large it’s a party night and day, we had a blast. They left Sunday night.

Monday, Sam and I drove in for showers, shopping and I picked up my winter Stevenson bag. We got back in time to hike out to a new wall in back of Donelly called Habitado wall. In the parking lot Sam met some other seasonal friends from the valley: David, Annalisa and several others. There is some excellent climbing at Habitado wall. It’s so good that we went back the next day. There are eights and nines, and even two over hanging sport routes sort of similar to 9 gallon buckets at Smith. Gus showed up that night and we had more hot pizzas ready when he arrived.

Tuesday November 15

Went back to Havitado to climb the lightning bolt 5.9 yellow crack shown below. This thing is sooo good! It was also a nice little alcove out of the wind.

Lighting Bolt Crack yellows and blues Habitado Wall

Wednesday Nov 17 Cat wall

Led Child Abuse 10b? I needed 8 blues 8 yellows. Hung when I ran out of gear. Easy jamming the whole way. There is one awkward move into a pod, but it’s very safe. It is an endurance fest. Sam, Gus, David & Annalise  were all up there doing various things.

I led Bromance, a 5.8 off width with a tipped out 6 protecting a 40 footer

Bromance with black widow at bottom

Thursday was a rest day from pushing hard on tens. We decided to climb the desert tower called South Six Shooter with Sam, Gus, Annalise, Boris, David and Katie. See video above. Thanks to Gus for offering to lead every pitch and carry the rack. Also thanks to Sam for carrying the rope and the beer. I carried…a harmonica? No, wait, Sam carried that too. With my super light mostly empty Hyperlight pack I was able to keep up with the young people. These guys can really move!

Super fun crew on the summit!


Friday was a true rest day…meaning no climbing. I hiked up to paint the ruins. See story at the top of the page. Later I hung out at our propane campfire with Kyle, Lauryn, Gus, Sam and Landon.

During a long period of good climbing weather I’ve noticed that most people run out of firewood. Because re-supply is an hour away in Moab, the campground goes dark, unless you have a propane campfire. My 5 gallon tank lasts at least 9 nights. We met some very nice people when they stopped by to warm their hands.

We met our neighbor Landon from site 7 a week earlier when he saw my campfire and walked over with a six pack. I also heard from Crystal that the best way to get a campsite in a crowded climber campground is to walk up to the fire with a six pack. “Y’all need any more beer?”

Cass was overdue but showed up later that night. She’d had a bunch of problems with her Sprinter, including a broken interior heater. I was standing around a campfire at the Squamish neighbors when a woman reached out to give me a hug. I was startled because I thought she had bailed. But it was super nice to have one of my homies from t-town show up. I’ve known her for about a year and we’ve been on a few trips and had some fun adventures. She is also a gym regular here when she is visiting her mom.

Earlier we’d seen the sign (below), and could hear the music and shouting from the unofficial ‘party site’. A couple Canadians had been over and said there were people getting naked. I didn’t think they would really do that in the 25 degree temps but Cass and I decided to check it out.

When we got there we saw a roaring bonfire with both men and women stripping naked…at least on the top half. They also had a set of large speakers pumping out rock and roll for the costumed booty shakers. Later I heard that the Halloween party was even wilder, and that there is a strong culture of skinny dipping in Yosemite, where many of these folks were from. Clearly I’m out of touch.

They were playing a drinking game that involved whiskey poured into the natural ‘cup’ formed by the clavicle bone. There are other cups on the body also…as you can imagine. Anyway, they poured it in, drank it out, and then other shenanigans ensued. It’s definitely a young persons game. I have distant 60 year old memories of my carefree hippy days when parties like these were the norm. But in my retirement, getting wasted is just not my thing. We enjoyed the show for half an hour and then left them to their fun.

Naked campfire party sign on the outhouse


Cass drove us in her Sprinter up to Pistol Whipped wall. The road was rough and her house on wheels was rocking and rattling like a ship at sea. We should have taken my Tundra. It’s the road that goes right at the fork past the Willows campground out at Beef Basin. We climbed Spaghetti Western and Short Dumb, which I ended up hang dogging to the second anchor.

This little red #1 crack is only rated 5.8. IMHO this rating is completely bogus if you have big hands like mine. I pulled on 4 reds to get above the chains where it turned into a very nice yellow and blue hand crack. The last 6 feet involved pulling on a loosely seated refrigerator sized block. As I pulled on the top, it creaked out away from the wall. I quickly let go and it thumped back in place like a dinosaur awakening. That block could kill someone some day.

Short dumb 5.8 with a 5.10 extension


I followed Landon up Super Crack. He flew up that thing so fast it was hard to believe. He was cruising towards the anchor when I suddenly felt a big fall. The guy who was racking nearby saw the 30 foot whip and called it correctly: “Victory whip!!!”

When I followed it to clean the anchors I fell out of the boulder move at the start. The secret seems to be to get your right hand fingers cammed into the crack on the left above the bulge. Once past that move I hiked up the rest like it was a long 5.8. Cass also TR’d Supercrack. She made some progress on hand-fist jamming. It was fun to see her smile.

Next I led The Incredible Hand Crack with one hang. I could have led TIHC clean but there was a crowd on it and we did Supercrack first…which made my arms tired. At my age, it takes weeks to build up the power for the creek. There was a crowd of young people top roping TIHC all morning. When I walked over and led it with one hang they were impressed and offered me a shot from their flask of whiskey.

At my side is Landon, my trusty belayer and neighbor in site 7. Landon is a really cool guy. He is an Air Force veteran and one of my only partners down there who would actually slow down to my hiking pace on the approaches. Most of my partners would leave me in the dust. And I get that, they are young and fit and loved to move. But Landon was a real gentleman and would hike along at my old man pace so we could talk about life and stuff.

Landon and I, happy after leading The Incredible Hand Crack at 68 years old. My last lead of the trip.

I left Creek Pasture campground yesterday at dawn and drove up through Price and Salt Lake City to the open but deserted Farewell Bend State Park at 10PM.

At Salt Lake City google said I needed to drive 636 miles before turning right. Geez!

From Farewell Bend State park, Google Maps said I had a 7 hour drive home. Despite a 6 AM start I didn’t get home until 4PM thanks to a snowstorm on Snoqualmie Pass. Cars and trucks were stuck and flipped over everywhere. It doesn’t take a genius to know that there can be snow on the mountain passes. Why don’t people carry chains? My 4WD Tundra was a rock with Hakkapelita studless snow tires. But I think my windows blew a fuse. They froze in place and only the drivers side moves.

Since I’ve been home we’ve fallen back into our routine of ping pong twice a week plus skiing at Rainier and the occasional trip to the climbing gym. I set up my easel in the kitchen and tried to talk myself into being a studio artist. It was fun adding color to the rocks. I went a little crazy only because bright colors make me smile. I’m not trying to make something real. It is after all the story of a vision…or was it? I’ll probably never know what really happened up there.

Finished the ruins in my studio (kitchen)

Two paintings a bear and a fox

October 21st, 2022

Sue and I drove to Chinook Pass to meet Lisa. They went hiking 8 miles to Sheep Lake while I painted Lake Tipsoo in oils. It was my first oil painting of the year.

I’ve been missing my hand held ham radio for almost a year. It was sitting at the bottom of my oil painting backpack. I’d searched high and low for it. I’d looked in every box, shelf and backpack multiple times. But I’d never looked in the bottom of the oil painting backpack. I guess I must have brought radios to Paradise so Sue and I could communicate. Then, when that last oil painting bombed, I totally forgot that I’d left the $300 radio sitting in the pack.

My painting sucks, but I expected that after not using the medium for that long. Passages of the piece were fun to work on, but it needs a lot of work. Oils give you second chances and then some. There is a reason most serious painters work in oils.

I seem to be in a place with my art where I enjoy creating it, but lack the work ethic to polish it after the fact so it is sellable. I had such a strong work ethic before I retired. I was always pushing for excellence. But the steady pension checks have removed the need for the extra income from gallery sales. I like having the experience creating something on the blank canvas and living in the moment seems to be all I want to do.

Alex and I were talking about that at the gym recently. I said it’s like going climbing without a camera. I just want to have the experience of climbing. I don’t need to document it. The experience is enough. Painting is like that now…the act of creation is self fulfilling in and of itself. I still have a small desire to share my work. But social media seems so weak and ephemeral compared to face to face with friends or in a gallery.

We slept at the Buck Creek airport campground near Crystal Mountain Ski Area. It’s an awesome find. It’s free and there are tons of sites. It’s almost like Vantage, but with picnic tables at the spots. The next day we drove up to Sunrise fearing smoke…but lucked out with relatively clear weather. We were going to hike to Mt. Fremont but on the drive up I realized I wanted to be closer to the glaciers. And for that there is only one choice: Bouroughs Mountain.

I was fresh from standing at the easel all day at Tipsoo. Sue was sore from hiking 8 miles to Sheep Lake but she was game and we trudged up to second Bouroughs, which I determined was pretty enough. I painted another lame painting in Gouache and pen. My Sunrise paintings always bomb. The mountain goes into complete shade by 3pm. All the light is gone. Whereas on the South side (Paradise) it doesn’t lose the light until 6pm. I’ve been known to still be painting at 6 at Paradise.

But at Sunrise…the light is gone at 2. I must have done a dozen paintings up there over the decades…they all suck, without exception. I even did a dawn start there once. We camped in the meadow to be able to be on location at 8:30 AM. Total failure, the painting bombed. But the hike is super fun with dramatic false summits and views that open up like a curtain in a theater.

On the way down we saw a black fox and a family of 5 mountain goats, but the highlight of the day happened at Frozen Lake. We’d heard there was a large carnivore down there. As we approached within a few blocks of the lake, we saw a group of people gathered closely together. They were looking intently at something on the hillside, close to where we were hiking down.

As we got closer one of the guys started waving frantically and pointing. I slowed down and looked in the direction he was pointing. I saw a large, cow sized black back moving slowly just beyond a boulder. It was a full grown black bear, 60 feet away. Sue was just ahead and I told her to get out her iPhone. Mine was buried in my pack.

She quickly handed me her phone, saying: “Take some pictures!” then walked briskly down the trail to the relative safety of the group of 10 hikers watching the bear. I slowly raised the phone and began shooting video…watching carefully for signs of unease in the bears demeanor. I’m no bear expert…but it looked very happy, munching heather like a cow in high clover. Really snuffling it up. You can see it in the video. He has zero interest in me and is clearly used to people being around.

In hindsight though, it’s clear why women live longer than men. She handed me the camera and vamoosed! As we walked away, we both commented on the fact that the bear was the highlight of the trip…far out shining the two paintings. To see such a powerful apex predator ambling along eating grass and heather…completely at ease in nature. Wow! That was super cool to think this was his or her natural environment. We were the visitors, he or she lives here year long.

And this was no zoo, and we had no bear spray…and certainly no guns of any kind. We’d decided earlier that we: (1) never saw bears, and (2), they aren’t in attack mode if and when you do see one. My legs are sore from hiking, but I have a glow from the two paintings…and the bear encounter. We haven’t seen a bear in 15 years.

We ran into two young women a block further down the trail. We told them about the bear. They were worried.

“Should we be scared?” they asked.

I was like: “It’s ok to be scared. I was scared….he was 60 feet away….but he was too busy eating to pay me any mind.”

I’ve started in on my usual fall still life painting series. Just today the rain started falling for the first time since early June. I’ve been unicycling past this old retired ferry on the public bike path. It seemed like it might be paintable so I took my sketch pad down.

Fletch is back in Leavy for a few weeks and invited a dozen friends over to climb in the smoke. Five of us showed up. We climbed at R&D, Careno (his new routes), Parasol Rock and Classic Crack. By the last day I had warmed up and led Classic cleanly. This was a huge improvement over earlier in the summer when I hung on every cam. And this on a route I’ve been leading with 3 cams for 20 years.

Fletch and I are lucky to have a two pronged relationship. Not only do we climb together, we also both play and sing on the geetar. I brought some of my newly prepared sheet music over. Brian also plays, and Dave invited a friend out who knew the blues. A grand time was had by all. Nice to play the blues harp again, it’s been a while.

A drawing a day and zen on the unicycle

September 27th, 2022

I haven’t written in 16 days. We did so many things I barely know where to start. The first thing was Sue and I backpacked two nights at LaPush to Rialto Beach. It’s a 3 mile round trip and people were towing wagons with full size beer coolers up the deep gravel of low tide. I painted two moderately good plein air landscapes, though both frustrated me and I was wishing I had oils. Water colors and pen are so difficult when the light is bad or there is too much movement.

Next we went to Uncle Ed’s funeral. He lived a grand life and died at 95 with his 4 kids and wife by his side. He knew it was coming and they told me he was joking right up until the end.

We saw him in the spring and could see the natural slowing down that happens at that age. Ed was a huge presence in my life, and our kids too. I guess that’s what an uncle should be. We were lucky to have him just a few hours away. Even as we had grown kids of our own we continued to visit Ed and Mary Ellen. Their new earth home was right next to one of our favorite climbing areas, so we naturally stayed at their house from time to time. After my parents passed, Ed and M.E. were as close as I could come to still having parents. Staying at their house was almost like being home. They had great grandma’s old dining room table, featured in over a hundred years of our family history. My mom was also named Mary, so my dads sister Mary, who Ed married, was early on called Mary Ellen (ME) to cut down on confusion.

Back when I was a kid, we lived 15 minutes from grandma. All her kids and grandkids (me and the cousins) would gather every holiday…which at least meant Thanksgiving and Christmas, if not more.

Dad had a ping pong table in the basement as long as I can remember. I’d play with my friends, and I’m sure we played a bit in the family too. But dad and mom were never really that into the game. I know my cousins played a bit, definitely remember a few of those games. But the real player in the family was Uncle Ed. He must have been about 50 when I first became aware of his talent. I had been slowly growing into my game through my awkward teenage years. Meanwhile, he played at work with the guys on the Prosser cattle station where he worked as sort of a scientist slash cowboy. They tested different feed on cows and put plastic windows in their stomachs to research how food got digested.

I was gradually growing up and becoming a talented player while he was hitting the downward slide of his 50’s. Ed was very, very good…but I was young, fast and learning quickly. * Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance. * – David Mamet. The family used to watch me and Ed play. We’d have 20 people down in the unheated basement cheering us on. They were epic times.

But then I decided to drop out of high school with only 2 credits needed to graduate. I wanted to march in the streets protesting the Vietnam War. I felt it was my duty to ‘go back to the land’ and live naturally…to stop consuming…basically stop pursuing the American Dream. I cut down 20 slender fir trees for tipi poles, sewed the tipi and began living the dream. I had a part time job as a printer, but spent most of my time embedded in the hippie culture of 1970 Olympia. When the tipi got too cold I’d hitchhike to California and live on the beach off the kindness of strangers. Dad had wisely kicked me out…can’t blame him looking back…I would have done the same. I spent 3 years off the rails before I came to my senses and went back to college.

There was a period there where I was estranged from the family, for obvious reasons, living in my lonely tipi. But dad felt bad. He knew I was a good kid, just a bit lost. He called me up to invite me to Thanksgiving Dinner. I thought about staying pure sitting around my campfire in my lonely tipi, eating my lentils. But then he said that Uncle Ed would be there….and wouldn’t I like to play some ping pong?

Ed, through the magic of ping pong was able to reach out and make me feel included. I’m not saying it was a turning point, I really had to hit bottom before that happened. But it was a huge step in the right direction…and boy, did we play some wicked ping pong!

Since we moved to town Sue and I play ping pong twice a week at the community center. We usually have 3 tables playing doubles for a couple hours. It’s one of the highlights of living in town. It’s social, it requires a lot of skill, and there is a ton of raucous laughter. Trash talking is expected. I really miss it when I go on trips.

My other town sport is unicycle which I do almost every day. I’ve been pedaling my unicycle in the local baseball stadium parking lot. But the last two times I went there they were either having a game, or paving the parking lot. I like it there because, unlike the tennis courts and those annoying tennis players, the stadium lot is almost always deserted, other than a few skateboarders riding the public ramps. I’m just another weirdo wearing wrist guards.

Plus the lot is big at about 3 city blocks across, and there are posts and walls for me to lean on as I start. I need that help because I can’t get on the uni without a wall. So, to make a long story short…I’ve been having wind problems. Meaning, I run out of breath and have to stop to rest after crossing the parking lot. I’m not just winded…I’m literally heaving for breath, like a horse that just ran a race. It’s awful. My heart rate never gets above 145, but that rate feels unsustainable and I have to stop and rest until it calms down.

I can go back and forth across the lot just fine…usually. But with all the stops it takes 45 minutes to go a mile. Sometimes I push it up to one and a quarter. The wind problem has been very frustrating. I was plateaued for months. Oddly, my climber friends and Sue noticed that I was hiking uphill faster, so my wind is improving…just not noticeable to me on the uni.

But, today. Today there was another darn baseball game…the nerve of those guys! Don’t they know I need that lot empty?!? So I drove to the tennis courts where I first learned to ride. It was a Sunday morning, in late September and no annoying tennis players were in evidence. Sweet!

I suited up with my knee, elbow and wrist pads and launched off the fence inside the 3 court enclosure. I nailed the launch and was quickly heading for the first narrow opening between the end of the far net and the outside fence. I sailed through the gap with only a slight wobble and accelerated out into the open court headed West.

As I ride I often try to focus on what I can do better in the moment. Like:

  • put more weight on the seat, and less on the pedals;
  • lighten the pressure on the pedal coming up in the back
  • lean forward just enough to keep the wheel turning…it wants to turn, give it permission
  • keep my back straight in that slight lean
  • focus my eyes forward, not too far, not too close
  • breath evenly and deeply
  • keep my arms low, they don’t need to be flailing around
  • look where I want to turn, don’t force the turn, let it flow

And to my great surprise, I was able to do all those things at once! I finished a loop from West to East and back to West. I was closely monitoring my wind and remaining power. All systems were in the green and I decided to go for another lap…something I’ve only done once before. I finished that lap, checked my wind and thought, hell, let’s set a record, a personal best. I kept going…and going…and going. I did so many laps I lost count. I was in the zone and the damn, hateful, horrible excuse for a bicycle felt (almost) like a normal “I can ride this forever” kind of two wheeled bicycle. Except it was a unicycle.

Damn. I felt like I could have gotten on a real bike trail and put in some distance. Which has been something I’ve been wishing for ever since I got my first Good Will unicycle 6 months ago.

One wheeled bicycle:

First time on a bike path, two miles in 50 minutes, including rests

Rather than start a new post, I’m going to tack onto this one. And by the way, I rode my uni 2.25 miles yesterday, and 3.3 miles today. I’m really liking the views down on the waterfront. It’s better than either the stadium or the tennis court. My wind has kind of broken through a ‘glass ceiling’ of sorts.

I spend far too much time on a climbing website called mountain project. It’s more entertaining than netflix when I don’t feel like drawing the evening away. And real conversations happen there…along with the usual angry rants from keyboard warriors.

I replied to a rant about dogs off leash at the climbing crags. It’s a problem that is not easily solved. Anyway, I wanted to preserve my words in case mountain project goes down. Here is my reply:


I’m late to the party. 15 pages about dogs, and people will still bring their unleashed dogs to the crags. It’s a thing.

Sue and I didn’t feel the need for a dog during the nine years we climbed together before our first kid. We were happy with each other, no fur needed.

We used to see all these hard core climbing women in their late twenties, mid thirties who had chosen not to have kids. But they often had a dog, and would treat it like a human baby. I’m no shrink, but it made me wonder.

When my son was six months old, we went to a huge palette fire in Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, New Years eve. All of those women (and men) were there with their dogs. They were super strong climbers, crazy devoted to their fur babies. When they saw we had brought a real *human* baby to the bonfire, they all wanted to hold him. Sue walked around with Clint, letting all the women coo over him.

I stood there watching the scene. When they were holding Clint, they completely and totally forgot about their dog. What, I have a dog? They seemed, in the moment, like they’d make great human parents, but they had chosen the climbing life and a dog. The longing on their faces as they held my son is still a vivid memory 37 years later.

Oddly enough, both of my kids got dogs in their twenties, and then had their human babies. Nobody listens to old dad


Photos of Sue and I with Clint that year are here