Zion, St. George and Jtree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gouache and retirement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Udate 12-16:

Retired after 52 years of working

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

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

In the studio

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

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

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

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

Baked out of Darrington

Pam and I just got back from 2 days at Darrington. Forecast was for 95 but we thought it would be cooler, it wasn’t. We got three pitches up Till Broad Daylight before rapping off in the extreme heat and bailing for home. The climbing was lovely, I sailed up a runout 5.9. I almost felt like I had my mojo back…until the sun hit me.  There is zero shade at D-town. It felt like standing too close to a roaring palette fire at Jtree. Unbearable heat. Did I mention it was warm?

We ordered a canopy from a local company out in Parkland. It won’t be ready until October. It’s crazy how back-ordered all the canopy companies are. Some of the popup builders have one year wait lists. At least we will have it for the winter months. We are looking forward to having more room in the bigger canopy. I will have room for climbing, painting and a sleeping platform. For decades we had to haul heavy loads to the front seats and roof rack so we could sleep in the back. Now we should have room without a lot of heavy lifting.

I painted Comet Falls at Rainier the day after climbing Rattletail with Christine. It’s a palette knife painting and might be good. Three people asked me where my gallery was. Then the very next day I carried my heavy rock pack with two ropes up to three o’clock rock. That was 4 days of heavily loaded hiking in a row…in the heat. My shoulders hurt from the art pack backpack straps. That is my first hand sewn back pack, and the straps weren’t thick enough for 40 to 50 pound loads. Just tonight I sewed new 3 inch thick padded shoulder straps. They feel awesome, can’t wait to take them on another painting expedition.

Now that we are both getting SS checks I have less pressure to sell my paintings. Now, I paint because it’s fun, not because I need to sell them to make money. It’s kind of freeing knowing that I don’t have to sell my paintings anymore. I mean sure, it’s validating to have them sell, but knowing the good ones can stay with me is cool.

Vitaliy dropped by today with his wife and kid and new baby. So great to see him! He hasn’t climbed outside in a year. He is such a great climbing partner.

I have a bunch of new songs this summer: Difference between Whiskey and You, Cat’s in the Cradle, When you say Nothing at All, Shallow (Lady Gaga). I swore for decades that i could never memorize a song. Fletch persuaded me that I could, so I did. I’ve got Whiskey dialed.

Cow Number 2

I drew this a few weeks ago. I’ll let the work speak for itself. It’s 9 x 12 ink on paper. These climbing images are almost a month old. It’s Lisa and Pam following Plum pudding at the mid wall at Index.

Drawing a cow

I’ve always loved cow paintings. They are such an integral part of our culture going back a thousand years or more. I’m mostly vegetarian, though I will have a steak once in a blue moon. I’ve been sticking with the Plant Paradox diet for a couple months and have lost 7 pounds, keeping it off easily, even when not climbing. It’s more of a sustainable life choice than a diet. I’m not starving at all.

I do have to carefully calibrate now much carbs I eat. If I’m climbing hard, I will supplement the diet with some canned black beans and tuna. I’ve had a few “diet fail” days at the crags where I just hit the wall (The Dreamer route at Darrington). I can’t climb on a brocoli salad.

City of Rocks 2019

Alex, Kristi, Chris J. and Pam all spent some time at the City of Rocks with me over the last two weeks. I got there early and sketched for a couple days.

I did three pen sketches and two oils. We did a lot of the usual stuff on Elephant rock and the Breadloaves. My four days with Pam were the best as we are both hard core climbers, dawn to dusk.

Alex did do a hard lead on Crack of Doom 11c. I couldn’t get past the boulder move. I also got up Mystery Bolter with one hang. That thing is so intimidating. Those run outs are terrifying, yet the climbing is fine and quite sticky. You just have to stick to the main line, even left a little, as you pass the second to last bolt. Past the last bolt it’s dead easy right up to the anchor. We were surprised to find we could rap off with a 60 meter.

My hardest lead was Aspen Leaf 10a at the upper west breadloaves. I hung all over it, blew all the delicate stem moves. What’s weird is I think I led it clean with Julia ten years ago. Because of my constantly changing partners I never got on some of the harder trad lines like bloody fingers and private idaho. Still, two weeks of climbing in the city may have given me a good start on the rest of the summer at index.

 

Leavenworth and filmmaking

I’ve not written in two weeks and it’s getting hard to remember what I’ve been up to. L. and D. were vacationing Alaska and shared some exciting news, but I won’t write about it here, as it’s not my story to tell.

Sue has gotten into making the yard pretty. She’s been digging up dandelions and replanting grass seeds in the holes. I’m glad she likes doing that because yard work is just not my thing.

My niece and nephew met me at my uncles house in Leavenworth for a few days of climbing. John led a hard offwidth on the left side of Jello Tower and got my number 5 stuck. Normally a big cam like that comes out easily because you can get your hands on it. But this one got fixed. Both he and I worked on it and it was not coming out. By the next weekend it was gone. I haven’t stuck a cam in a decade, so I guess I was overdue. Still, I’d rather lose a cam than a nephew. He was in dangerous territory when he slammed that cam into the 4 inch crack, but as soon as he clipped it he was safe.

V. and I went to Private Idaho at Index the weekend before and I got on Istanbul and Battered Sandwich, both 5.9’s. That was a lot of fun.

My uncle had a cold, and now I’ve got it. Since I was resting over this last weekend, I decided to brush up on Adobe Premiere by posting some DIY tutorials on framemaking. I’d filmed the footage back in November, planning to eventually make some videos on the process.

DIY picture framing

There weren’t many good tutorials online about making pictures frames. It seems the good artists and frame makers aren’t into film making. There are some woodworkers posting picture framing videos…but they weren’t using the simple tools I’m using. Most of those guys have $20,000 woodworking shops. I’ve just got a borrowed miter saw and a couple of $80 picture frame clamps. I also cover the measuring, gluing, nailing painting and gold leafing processes.

What I do have is artistic knowledge and creative troubleshooting skills…plus some low level filmmaking skills. I filmed most of the footage with my iphone and or my little point and shoot camera,  mostly because they have autofocus and built in mic’s. I hand held some of the footage…so that should really be reshot…but most of it was done on tripods and is fine.

I put them up as 1080p, so the quality seems quite adequate. I’ve gotten a lot of help from youtube fixing things such as cars and appliances, so it’s nice to be able to give back to the community by posting some of my own tutorials.

How to measure and cut perfect miter corners to the right length:

Clamping, glueing and nailing with Rockler picture frame clamps:

Assembling the final frame pieces into the finished frame.

Applying gesso, handpainting with acrylic paint and adding gold leaf. It’s kind of like making a miniature painting, a painting of a frame, on wood:

Got past the blank canvas

Great 4 day weekend! Saturday started off with replacing the idler pulleys on my truck. It was making a squeaky noise on start up down in Vegas. I drove it 1000 miles all the way home while worrying about a breakdown. I loosened 2 of the belts and removed the idler pulleys. Water pump and air conditioner bearings felt normal. But on the idler pulleys, one clearly had a bad sealed bearing. When I turned it, it felt a little grabby, though still functioning. I had replaced them once before…so I guess they last about 120,000 miles.

None of the shops in town had it in stock, and quotes ranged from $210 to $23. When things get weird like that I drive down to Lloyd and Wilson Auto repair in Tacoma. He can order parts based on the vin number, they come fast, and are always correct. He instantly felt the bad bearing, which validated my concern. I’ve spent a lifetime working on bicycles, printing presses and cars, it’s good to know I can judge a bad bearing.

Sunday V. and drove to Index and climbed at Private Idaho. A crew of 5 with just one leader headed out of the parking lot 10 minutes ahead of us. They were nice, but took 2 hours on every route.

They had the easy routes locked up (Senior Citizens and Turkey) so I jumped on Istanbul, a nine I’d never led. Two fives would come in handy, though it was still safe enough with one. Love to get that one clean, now that I know what’s there. I sent Battered Sandwich cleanly next, as did V. We were each leading everything. I’d thought I was rusty….but getting Battered cleanly is a great indicator.

Monday I drove up to Paradise at 11 and did a hurried painting. Need to bring skis. The lighter load of hiking in boots is not worth the post holing. And I need to load my pallete in the parking lot to save weight. One bottle of water would be plenty. I poured out an entire bottle.

Tuesday I played pingpong from 8 to 11. Jan hadn’t been there in a month. I’ve been improving and she commented: “Jeez, I leave for a month and you go all pro on me!” Or at least I think that was her. It’s nice to hear stuff like that. At my age, it seems like I’m on a constant slide towards mediocrity…so anything that slows that down is welcome news.

After ping pong Lisa came over and we fabricated some sheet metal to mouse proof the other side of her Corolla trunk. It’s nice to hang out with the kids…though working on cars is not my favorite activity.

Put a biner in a figure eight knot

Climbed with Bobbi and Chris J. at 3:30. I tried my new trick of replacing a Yosemite finish with a round locker biner. Todd thought it would be fine. Before I went up I told Bobbi that he could write the accident report if things went badly, but it worked as planned. I took the big whipper, lowered off, pulled the keylock biner out and had a loose knot…sweet!

It’s kind of scary being your own guinea pig. No one online is doing that, or at least writing about it. Those darn knots are so tight after a whipper. I knew there had to be a solution. The biner in the knot is no different than the strand of rope from the Yosemite finish on the figure eight. Well, it’s slightly different because it’s aluminum, instead of rope. I made sure to tie a double grapevine backup knot after the figure eight. I figured that if the eight slipped due to the slipperyness of the biner in the knot, the grapevine would prevent the knot unraveling under load.

But all was well. I took the whip and was able to pull out the biner with minimal effort, which left slack in the knot and it was easy to untie. My next big project is to sew my own cam slings. I plan to do a bunch of load testing before I trust them. I will write about it later.

Violin number two

I’m not sure if this second violin painting is done. I wanted to do a free wheeling sloppy painting but it turned into my usual tight rendering. I’m really looking forward to warmer weather so I can get out to the mountains on the weekends where the movement of the sun forces me to work quickly.